Saturday, 19 August 2017

Post-holiday blues

Last weekend we arrived home from holiday. It had been a lovely (if damp) holiday, lasting two weeks for me and LittleBear. I went feeling angry, tired and stressed. I'd been fantasising about resigning from work, feeling desperate and over-whelmed. And a fabulous two weeks away from work changed that completely. I stopped thinking about work. I climbed rocks, I paddled in rivers, I dammed streams, I ate cake, I drank wine. I had a lovely, lovely time with friends, with family and with LittleBear.

And then we came home.

Within the first 18 hours I had done 6 loads of laundry.

The first morning I made the mistake of weighing myself and discovering the impact of a month of eating cake and drinking wine (because I started before the holiday, just to get in training).

The second night as I sat on the sofa, the walls felt like they were closing in on me. The bookcases loomed. Though our house is considerably bigger than a small, slate, former miners' cottage it felt confining, restricting and claustrophobic.

The email about (horrendously expensive) repairs to the back of the house lurked malevolently in my inbox. At some point it requires answering. And I've already deferred answering twice.

The last week of the summer holidays yelled at me, reminding me that I had organised nothing for LittleBear to do, and that we needed him to be looked after for 5 days*. BigBear has only 4 days leave left for the rest of the year. I have more than that, but I'd be taking the piss if I took any more time off right now after 2 weeks, followed by another week coming up in a few days time.

I wrote a list of Things To Do, and every Thing on my list felt like a millstone round my neck. I even ended up putting "have a conversation with BigBear" on my list. About the (horrendously expensive) repairs to the back of the house**.

I went round to a friends' house and felt envy at the elegance, and style, and calm of her home. It was light, and airy, and beautifully furnished, and clean, and tidy. Even with a young child. I came home and trod on Lego and glared at the heavy, dark, gloomy furniture that I own more by accident than design. Back in the mists of time I was left with no furniture and very little money. Ebay came to the rescue. And since there's nothing technically wrong with the furniture, and it fulfills all the requirements we have, it stays.

The cleaner came this week, and though, in truth, I am enormously grateful that I have a cleaner, not only because it means I don't have to clean, but it means I do have to tidy up at least once a fortnight. But the process of attempting to tidy up left me with a simmering resentment at all the stuff that doesn't have a home. The boxes of CDs and DVDs squatting beneath the sideboard that no longer have a shelf because we own too many books.*** The stashes of paper and card and half-completed artwork slid down beside the desk. The in-trays that are more "I don't know where else to put this" trays. The plastic boxes full of random, but apparently precious, bits of plastic tat.

So, here I am, home from holiday and restored to a state of not wanting to quit my job and live in a yurt. But I wish I was still in the Lake District, paddling in streams and scrambling up rock faces, instead of facing the tedious realities of daily life.

Mini Positive Posts seem like a distant dream at the moment, but for the good of my mental health, I might have to return them.

* We have a plan. It will probably all be fine.

** We've had a conversation. We've still not decided anything.

*** Technically there's no such thing. We merely own too few shelves.

Monday, 14 August 2017

Getting wet in the Lake District

Anyone with even a passing familiarity with the weather and general topography of this country will be more than aware that going to the Lake District is an almost sure-fire way of getting rained on. You don't go to the Lakes for the sun. You go with head-to-toe waterproofs, even in mid-summer. So it should come as no surprise to anyone that I ended up wet through. It might come as more of a surprise that this drenching occurred when I was inside our cottage. And that it necessitated removing my trousers and paddling across the bathroom floor.

Let me introduce you to some basics of plumbing. Generally speaking, a bath is fitted with an overflow pipe. This connects to the main drain from the bath, and ensures that, should a tap be carelessly left on, the water will pour out of the overflow and not all over the floor. I bet you think you know what happened don't you? But no! The bath was not over-filled, it did not overflow. Or not exactly. It all started innocently enough. A child was bathed. The bath was emptied. All was well. Some time later a second child was bathed. All was still well. And then the plug was pulled out, and suddenly, and unstoppably, water streamed across the floor.

A properly plumbed-in bath has the overflow connected to the drain, thus ensuring all water exiting the bath by standard methods also exits the bathroom, thusly:

Perfect plumbing, imperfectly drawn

An incorrectly plumbed-in bath, where the overflow pipe is not connected to the drain, will function under certain circumstances. If one is parsimonious with ones water consumption, one will observe no adverse effects:

Getting away with poor plumbing

If, on the other hand, one is partial to a somewhat deeper bath, the irritating habit of water finding its own level may give rise to flooding issues, to whit:

The purpose of correct plumbing is revealed

We experienced both of the latter two situations. One was more tedious than the other and required the removal of clothes and the sacrifice of Towels of Desperation to staunch the flow of a rather large proportion of a bathful of water onto the floor. On the plus side, it's a downstairs bathroom, so there was no risk of bringing a ceiling down with the flood. It's always important to look on the bright side, especially when you're on holiday and paddling round a bathroom in your underwear.

Friday, 4 August 2017

Ginger pop and jolly good fun

I'm writing this post from a location firmly entrenched in the entirely fictional world of delightful childhoods of the well-to-do in post-war rural England. It is a world without telephones, without television, without radio, without central heating, and almost entirely without the internet (we'll gloss over borrowing the neighbour's WiFi connection through a couple of feet of slate wall that only lets some of the bytes through). It is a world in which Jolly Times are had in the Great Outdoors by ruddy-cheeked children who like climbing trees and having Splendid Adventures.

It is a world in which for one brief moment I felt a glow of triumph as I managed to do something properly old-fashioned and outdoorsy and three small children actually enjoyed it.

I set a trail of arrows for said small children (my own LittleBear plus GirlTigger and BoyTigger who are 10 and 7 respectively) to follow. It led them up hill and down dale, over walls, through bogs and under trees to a small treasure cache. I suspect I had marginally more fun making and laying the arrows than the children had in finding them, as at least two arrows were trampled on without being noticed, and there were repeated bleats of, "he found the last one", or "it's not fair", not to mention some minor caviling about rain and cold and an insufficient supply of chocolate, and the occasional request to return to the cottage for more iPad-time. I don't really think they'd have enjoyed the 1950s much...

However, since the children did, relatively rapidly, work out their own method of walking in a line, taking it in turns to lead and be Chief Arrow Finder, and since the treasure was chocolate, and since both mothers had had the wit and foresight to secrete extra snacks about their person, a Good Time was Had By All. Especially by me.

A fine selection of arrows

The Tigger family has now departed for parts further south once more, and I await the arrival of BigBear and GrannyBear later tonight. LittleBear has gone to sleep planning a treasure hunt to create for GrannyBear to follow, which may or may not be just what GrannyBear wants, but I think is probably a measure of the degree to which LittleBear thought it was a Splendid Thing To Do.

Sunday, 30 July 2017

MPP: Holiday!

So, here I am, sitting on holiday, glass of wine by my side, small boy asleep in bed, exhausted by running around in the rain. And I thought, "Aha! I shall write a blog about the soul-restoring properties of lovely holidays with lovely friends in a lovely place doing lovely outdoorsy things."

And then I realised I was still so tired from work, and life, and work, and wrangling small boy, and driving from one end of the country to the other, and work, and wrangling small boy, and, and, and, and... that I'm more or less incoherent.

So I shall simply put it out here that I'm very happy and very lucky to have the chance to climb cliffs, leap across stepping stones, eat chocolate biscuits while sheltering under a tree from a passing rain squall, run, jump, chase and giggle with the best and most beautiful boy in the whole world.

I might write more when I can make more sense.

Sunday, 23 July 2017

Meeting an axe murderer

That got your attention didn't it?

I should probably point out at this juncture that I didn't in fact meet an axe murderer. I met a lovely woman who bore no ill-will toward me, and showed no violent tendencies whatsoever. The notable thing about this particular lovely woman is that I've known her for (I think) 12 years, and yet had never actually met her. Such are the wonders of the internet.

Back in the mists of time, I had a different husband, and he turned out not to be The Right One. In fact, he was categorically The Wrong One, and in retrospect did me an enormous favour by declaring that he was leaving. At the time, this was not quite so clear, and in my distress I found solace within an online forum, amongst a group of women in similar situations. We wrote screeds of heartbroken descriptions; we ranted and railed; we plotted elaborate (and unexecuted) acts of revenge; we offered advice: emotional, physical and legal. Time passed. Pain passed. Life continued. Our forum did not. It collapsed, only to rise phoenix-like from the ashes, a place to continue our friendships, to share our continuing life-stories, our triumphs and our tragedies. The reasons for our original coming together disappeared into the past. That was no longer what mattered most. We were just a group of women with a shared history.

Eventually, that forum sank into the depths too, as the costs of maintaining a website became too high in a world where we could have private facebook groups, and group emails.

But, through all of this, we remained friends. We shared the mundane details of our lives. We knew about each others children, grandchildren, graduations, jobs, illnesses, pets, partners and hobbies.

Here’s the thing though. Most of the women who were part of this group were in North America. There were a handful in the UK, and over the years I’ve met them, and made friends in person. But most of the others? They are only a virtual presence in my life.

And then, out of the blue, S, from Calgary, told us she would be in London for a week, and was there any chance of any of the UK people meeting her? So I did. And on my way to London to meet her, I realised that what I was doing was perhaps a trifle odd. Do "normal" people jaunt up to their nearest large city to meet virtual friends? And I had a slight sense of trepidation, not that she might be an actual axe murderer in truth, but that meeting someone in the flesh, and talking face-to-face might be slightly harder than knowing one another online. I've already mentioned here how much easier I find it to express my feelings in writing than in person. I had a sudden fear that I would clam up, not know what to talk about, discover we had nothing in common, or generally have some horrifically awkward evening. I wasn't concerned about whether S would be lovely - this is the person who sent me an emergency back-up penguin when LittleBear became utterly devoted to a cuddly penguin BigBear had acquired on his North American travels, and I feared for what would happen if we lost The Precious Penguin. S also sent a lovely National Geographic book about penguins at the same time, which proved to be a launch-pad for LittleBear's devotion to penguins (he currently takes five penguins and one dinosaur to bed with him). As I said, I had no doubts about S's loveliness. It was my own social eptitude that had me worried.

Naturally, I was wrong. Sometimes being wrong is the best thing in the world. I had a lovely evening, chatting about Canada, and Egypt, and families, and life in general. And because S is lovely, and has followed the goings on in LittleBear's life, she brought with her three beautiful books for him. We have already danced and giggled with the Dinosaurs of Drumheller.

Real friends aren't only the ones you meet in person first. Sometimes they're simply the ones who are in the right place at the right time, even when that place is the internet.

Monday, 17 July 2017

MPP: Always look on the bright side of life

Despite feeling thoroughly dejected (still) about work, there are some bright shining lights in my life.

My former colleague, and perhaps the man best positioned to know exactly how I feel at work, sent me a message sympathising and asking the Bear family round for a barbecue.

LocalFriend emailed me and empathised.

Tigger sent me a text message telling me how awesome she thinks I am.

Piglet phoned and suggested I pop round for a cup of tea this evening.

I must try not to let work dictate how I feel about all aspects of my life. I have a wide array of lovely people in my life, who reach out to me when I'm in need, who love and appreciate me, who pick me up when I'm down, and laugh with me when I'm not.

There is so much to be grateful for, and happy about.

Sunday, 16 July 2017

Up and Down and All Around

Somewhere in here there's probably a Mini Positive Post. Somewhere in here there's certainly a Major Negative Post. There's also scope for a Rant. I've spent several days explaining, in my head, what exactly has irked and upset me so massively that I left work early on Friday and came home and wept for an hour. And it just all gets too complicated, and too technical, and requires too much of a long and rambling explanation of the curious personality-types I work with, and too much knowledge of 18 years of back-history of working where I work.

So, instead of trying to explain why I feel the way I do, I'm just going to say how I feel. No explanations, no justifications, no he-said-she-said, no rights or wrongs. Just feelings.

I feel disregarded, unappreciated and ignored. I feel as though my job title (R&D Manager) is simply a sop to keep me quiet, and has no real meaning or relevance. I feel as though my contribution, during working hours and in my own free time, is under-valued, even taken for granted. I feel as though the amount I'm paid for what I do doesn't compensate for the level of emotional and psychological commitment I make, or the stress I feel. I feel physically and emotionally exhausted from trying to do two full time jobs in one set of part-time hours. I feel like giving up on a project on which I've simply hit a brick wall, with no support, understanding or ideas from my colleagues. I feel patronised. I feel marginalised. I feel as though I'm being treated with contempt.

But I also feel, perhaps because of all of the above, as though I'm not good enough. I feel as though I don't, and can't, and never will, measure up. I feel as though I dare not speak up, to defend myself, or my ideas, because I'm probably wrong; I'm probably too stupid to have understood some subtlety or other that my colleagues have already identified. I feel as though I have to keep trying, keep banging my head against the same brick wall, because if I don't and someone else takes over, they might solve the problems that are stumping me, and might reveal my inadequacy and stupidity.

I feel isolated.

I feel trapped, because I don't feel competent enough, or clever enough, or brave enough to look for another job. I feel trapped because I have the world's best working hours for a mother of a young child, and a flexible environment for fulfilling those hours, and I'd never find anything quite as easy to fit around school. I feel trapped because though on paper I can make myself look and sound good, I feel inadequate. I feel like a fraud. I feel as though I'm only masquerading as a physicist and am getting away with it for now, but it wouldn't pass muster in the "real" world.

I feel as though I should speak up, should say, "enough", should explain that I cannot function this way any longer. But I fear for the repurcussions. I fear being told that I'm not good enough. I fear being told that I'm not worthwhile, that I'm not needed, that my opinions are not valuable. It's hard not to feel that way when the last time we attempted to recruit someone, one of the major criteria was that, "they need to be better than you, PhysicsBear".

I spent Friday afternoon weeping.

I spent Friday night lying awake imagining resigning.

I spent Saturday evening weeping.

I don't want to go to work in the morning.

I don't want to carry on as though none of my feelings exist, but I don't want to attempt to articulate any of them when I'm simply liable to start crying if I do so.

I bet you're beginning to wonder where the positive part of this post happens aren't you?

I'll replay those last few events in a less selective manner...

I left work early and spent Friday afternoon weeping.

While at home, I received the following text messages from my colleagues, referring to two separate incidents:

"<boss> asked where you were. I said nothing. I have thought about telling him. But the risk there is that he apologises and then your venom will be undermined and you would be obliged to forgive him"
 "Hi PhysicsBear. I'm guessing you feel pretty sore after this morning's episode with <boss> . Try not to let it get to you. Thank you for coming to help me and I'm sorry you got caught in the crossfire. The rest of us really do respect your skill and experience (if that helps at all)"

I spent Friday evening drinking wine and eating cheese with some of my friends, and we set the world to rights. We giggled, we bitched and we shared embarrassing stories.

I spent Saturday afternoon making paper snakes for SnakeWorld with LittleBear, and solving a Rubik's cube every time he messed it up.*

I spent Saturday evening weeping on my mother's shoulder, while she reassured me I was splendid.

I spent Sunday morning playing with LittleBear, and he made me a "certificate" that reads, "Thank you for being a great parent". (And I shall omit the fact that I'm 99% certain he did so to make up for yelling "I hate you!" at me in a fit of pique when I said we had to stop playing football...)

I spent Sunday lunchtime drinking and talking and laughing with old friends. Some of whom I first met when I was 4.

I am blessed with a lovely family, good friends both old and new, and the best LittleBear in the world. I'm going to go to bed and try thinking about those things, and not about going to work.

* I followed instructions on the t'interweb, I'm not a Rubik's maestro. See, I told you I was a fraud...

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

The counter-argument

Because no day is wholly bad, and LittleBear can always find ways to rejoice my heart...

I may be wallowing in the treacle of a project at work, but I have a job and I'm paid to do something that mostly I enjoy, among people I mostly like, in a mostly incredibly supportive environment.

I am battling trying to sleep in a house that persistently remains above 26C inside, but I have a warm, dry house that is, above all else, a home.

I have volunteered for a task that requires me to approach virtual strangers and ask for donations, but I've done so because my friends suggested I could, and they believe in me even when I don't believe in myself, and are helping me now I've had the guts to admit I'm struggling.

I have invited friends round for a drink later in the week. This will be a relaxed and enjoyable thing to do. I have friends. They like drinking wine. What's wrong with that?

I am meeting my old school friends for a reunion this weekend. The fact that I have friends that I first met 32 years ago is pretty cool. And I don't think we'd have lasted this long if they didn't find something of value in my company.

And, worst of all, yesterday and again this morning, my beautiful, clever, funny, loving, wonderful LittleBear told me, "I feel as though I should be on the cloud every day because I'm a horrible person". But today he asked me, "Mummy? Will you still be going to work when I start going to work?" When I assured him that I would be (because which of us can honestly afford to retire?) he replied, "That's good, because when I go to work, I want to come and work at the same place as you." I shall gloss over the fact that he also said he didn't think he'd be very good at it, and instead rejoice in the fact that, among a host of lovely things, his first ever school report said that he was growing in confidence, and that he was kind, and that he has good friends. And if those things are true, then I can't be getting everything wrong.

And today, we didn't spend an hour after school with LittleBear running around like a lunatic with his friends getting exhausted, or play football to add to the exhaustion. We came home and we played ludo, and I positioned all my pieces where LittleBear could jump on them, and I avoided jumping on his, just so he could have a happy, peaceful game, and we had a lovely, cuddly, happy time together. And I put him on the rainbow.

Mini Negative Post

I will probably do my best to return to Mini Positive Posting soon, but today that doesn't feel possible. Today the grey wraiths of anxiety are wrapping their tendrils around me. They are invading my dreams so I wake, sweating, afraid of an event that has never happened and will never happen. Recurring nightmares from decades-past are crawling back to the surface of my mind, forcing me to re-live almost-forgotten fears. They are tainting my interactions with my colleagues, with my friends and, worst of all, with my LittleBear.

I am wallowing in the treacle of a project at work that will not function, will not die, will not survive, will not end.

I am battling trying to sleep in a house that persistently remains above 26C inside, even when the outside temperature is ten degrees or more lower.

I have volunteered for a task that requires me to approach virtual strangers and ask for donations, and it's pushing my social anxiety over the edge. I nearly broke down in tears in the car today as I contemplated accosting more people to ask them to contribute. I've managed 4 people in a week... only another 20 to go...

I have invited friends round for a drink later in the week. This should be a relaxed and enjoyable thing to do. But in my current state, every aspect of it now feels like a potential judgement on my worth as a human being. Will people come? Will they enjoy themselves? Will I manage to converse without making an arse out of myself? Will they all secretly talk behind my back? Will my home be found lacking? (Yes, yes, yes, no and no respectively, but facts don't matter).

I am meeting my old school friends for a reunion this weekend, with BigBear and LittleBear. Another social event, another reason to feel anxious, to fear judgement, to fear failure. Is it actually possible to fail at attending a picnic? In my mind it is.

And, worst of all, yesterday and again this morning, my beautiful, clever, funny, loving, wonderful LittleBear told me, "I feel as though I should be on the cloud every day because I'm a horrible person". And every cross word, every criticism, every correction, every reprimand I have ever uttered came back and swamped me with remorse and guilt. Is this what I've done to my baby? I have wanted so badly, and strived so hard, to assure him that he is loved, that he is splendid, that I'm proud of him for all the things he tries so hard at. And yet he says he feels like a bad person. He hears only the moment I say, "that wasn't very helpful. Please can you do what I asked you to do and not just ignore me?" He doesn't seem to hear the, "well done" or the "thank you", or the "that's really good!" Am I praising him in the "wrong" way? Am I knocking him down instead of building him up? Am I undermining his sense of self-worth without knowing how I'm doing so? Have I inadvertently done the exact opposite of what I hoped? All I ever wanted for my child was that he didn't suffer the excruciating self-doubt and lack of confidence that besets me. And somewhere along the line I have failed. And that failure is more painful than any other.

Sunday, 9 July 2017

A guilty conscience?

Last night I had a dream.

It wasn't a dream about the end of racial inequality and all people being treated as equals.

Instead it was a dream in which I was in the headmaster's office (which I've never seen) having some sort of Parents' Evening type chat (which is not what happens at LittleBear's school). As we approached the end of a perfectly amicable chat, the headmaster produced a scrap of paper, on which he'd jotted a few notes down. They were quotes from this blog that he wished to ask me a few questions about, so that he could clarify a few things.

That's right. I got carpeted by my son's headmaster over what I've been writing here.

I'm pretty certain I say nice things about the school. I think it's an awesome and lovely school, with delightful teachers and a really nurturing environment. And LittleBear loves it. So I have absolutely no idea why I'm worried about being told off by the headmaster. Well, obviously, I have a deep-seated fear of doing something wrong and being told off for it, which taints my every choice and action in life. And that deep-seated fear tends to mean I assume that I am going to get told off, no matter whether I've done anything wrong. And it means that inside I perpetually feel a little bit like a six year old child who's used pen to do her maths schoolwork when the rules state that we have to use pencils (true story). I'm just waiting to be told off.

Wednesday, 5 July 2017

MPP: it's never all bad

There are days when it's harder to think of something positive. Days when I'm hot and tired and crabby, and I've just had to throw in the towel on part of a design at work and commit to another month of delay while I get a new precision part machined and electron-beam welded. And even then I don't know if it's going to work. But at least I tidied my desk today. Not that that's my Positive Thought for the day.

Today I'm wearing a bracelet. I don't usually wear bracelets, not because I don't own them, or because I don't like them, but because I generally stumble through life wearing my wedding ring, engagement ring and watch and forget to open my jewellery box and get anything else out. But today I thought it would be nice to wear something nice. So I chose this:

It's not made of precious metals, or studded with gems. It's not flashy or gaudy. But it has a story, and one I can be grateful for.

It was my thirtieth birthday present from BrotherBear. And we chose it from a stall on the Street of Facades in Petra. I've written before about the distress and misery that aspects of that holiday caused, but actually, this bracelet reminds me of the things that were awesome too. About how mind-blowing it was to walk the collonaded streets of an ancient Roman city, about how utterly, stunningly beautiful Petra was, and how unbelievably lucky I am to have been there. About my first (and only) experience of scuba diving. About the fact that my family are actually really rather nice, even though sometimes BrotherBear does try and wind me up on purpose. He's my brother, it's virtually part of the job description.

Monday, 3 July 2017

MPP: The first rule

I have hummed and hahed about writing this post. Not because it's not a Happy Thing. Not because it transgresses my own rules about invading my family's private life. No, because it transgresses the First Rule of Good Sleep.

You haven't heard the First Rule of Good Sleep?

Lucky you.

That probably means you've either never had a child, or you were blessed from the outset with a Good Sleeper. (Or you've forgotten, because it works like that. Time can dull even the sharpest of pain).

The First Rule of Good Sleep is that you don't talk about Good Sleep.

There are two reasons for never talking about Good Sleep. The first reason is that by the very act of speaking about Good Sleep, you immediately jinx it, and for the next year at least your child will wake several times a night and want to get up at 4:30am, and there will be nothing at all that you can do about it. The second reason is that some, one, or all of your friends will have a Bad Sleeper, and will be haggard and drawn, dribbling into their seventeenth cup of coffee of the day by 9:30 and wondering if they will ever have a full night's sleep again. Mentioning a Good Sleeper to someone in possession of a Bad Sleeper is not simply bad form, it's downright cruel.

It is with immense trepidation, for both the above reasons, that I mention the morning of Saturday 1st July 2017.

On this notable morning, LittleBear did not get up and enter our bedroom until quarter to eight. That's right, not just a time starting with a 7, but a time closer to 8 than to 7. And the reason for this was not because he didn't wake up, and not because he was dutifully observing and obeying his GroClock, it was because he decided to open his curtain and read his book for a while after waking up. And when he did trot into our bedroom, he informed me that it was later than usual, and that he had read to himself, "because I knew that you would want to sleep for a bit longer Mummy".

This either shows the most adorable level of empathy, concern and consideration, or it reveals what the rest of my family have long known - I am despicably bad-tempered in the morning. So bad-tempered that I have cowed my poor little boy into staying away from me. And because this is my blog, and my happy post, I shall claim it's the former. BrotherBear and GrannyBear are free to disagree. (BigBear is unable to comment accurately on this tendency, as he is more-or-less comatose, even if nominally awake, until after three mugs of tea, and therefore fails to notice the manner in which I stomp around the house muttering dire imprecations.)

I would like to say in my defense that LittleBear did not "sleep through" even once until he was 8 months old, and did not reliably sleep through the night until he was 21 months old. I know the pain of Bad Sleep, and I know I am fortunate now to have Good Sleep. Please do not hunt me down and stab me to death with a blunt pencil for daring to mention Good Sleep. Please.

Sunday, 2 July 2017

How did I get here?

You know those days when you pause, brought up short by the absurdity of the situation you find yourself in, and you wonder how exactly your life reached that point?  Last week, I found myself in just such a position, as I carried a sobbing five year old out of Dunelm Mill while he insisted that what he wanted more than anything was a suitcase.

How did I get to this?

Let me take you back in time to Christmas...

We were having a jolly, festive, merry family Christmas. Nobody had drunk too much sherry, nobody had been given socks, nobody was gazing at an unexpected garden implement in vague bemusement, nobody had been served an unacceptable quantity of Brussels sprouts. In short, all was going surprisingly well. And then we pulled the crackers. There were miniature packs of cards, there were irritating little interlinking pieces of metal, there were strange plastic rings. And there was a clip-on plastic luggage label. For a suitcase. This was perhaps the best thing that LittleBear had ever seen. He gazed upon it with awe and wonder. And then he lifted his eyes to mine, tears welling in the corners, his bottom lip atremble, "but I don't even have a suitcase" he informed me, "I will never have my own suitcase."

Hoping to preserve the fragile tranquility of a harmonious Christmas, I hastened to assure LittleBear that one day he would indeed own his very own suitcase, and that certainly I would add "suitcase" to The List Of Things That LittleBear Really Wants*. And I haven't exactly forgotten about this promise, but nor has "buying a suitcase for my five year old" been right at the top of my list of priorities.

Fast forward to the present day, when we went shopping. After school. Near the end of the week. Near the end of LittleBear's first year at school. Those of you without small children may not be aware that this set of circumstances constitutes a full panoply of errors. It ticks every box of fatigue, misery, desperation, hunger and need. First, we went to the hardware shop to buy shed paint, because that's how rock 'n' roll my life is. Then, we went to Dunelm Mill, purveyor of random household objects and cake. I was tentatively seeking a footstool. We used to have a rather nice cow footstool. Then the Idiot Cat got fleas. And the carpet got fleas. And the footstool got fleas. The carpet and cat were treated for fleas. The footstool was forced to leave home and never return.

So, there we were, vaguely looking for a footstool. But, not being a complete novice at parenting, our first port of call was the cafe, so I could top LittleBear up with banana and cake, because I know that a hungry child is a difficult-to-handle child. I'd even deflected him from the sugar-rush-insanity of millionaire's shortbread onto the slightly-less-calamitous chocolate eclair. (This in itself may have been an error, as careful observation of LittleBear's face while he consumed his half of the eclair revealed a slight wash of disappointment on discovering that the cream was, "a bit plain Mummy", which roughly translates to "not filled to bursting with sugar").

And, as we meandered around failing to find any suitable footstools, we walked past a large display of suitcases. And they weren't just any old grey, black or blue suitcases. Oh no. These were lime green suitcases. There is no colour more beloved by my LittleBear than green. There could be no greater desire in his little heart right then, right there, than to own a lime green suitcase. Being the heartless, mean, inconsiderate mother that I am, I said "No". And that was when the tears began to fall. The tears for a lifetime of suitcase-deprivation; the tears for all the packing that he wouldn't be able to do; the tears for the poor, neglected luggage label with no suitcase to call its own; the tears for the life of hardship to which LittleBear has been condemned by the terrible accident of birth that means I am his mother.

In vain did I point out that we already own suitcases. With utter futility did I mention that we weren't going anywhere that requires a suitcase right now, so buying one today was not necessary. Forlornly did I suggest that it really wasn't worth being this sad about. Instead, I picked LittleBear up and carried him out of the shop. Sometimes, there's no other option.

* How I rue the day that I allowed LittleBear to become aware not only of Amazon Wish Lists in general, but the specific list I maintain for him...

Friday, 30 June 2017

MPP: seizing the moment

Just lately I've been feeling a tad glum when I pick LittleBear up from school. All the other parents seem to be pairing up and leaving the playground together, heads tipped towards one another, engrossed in their own conversations. No, not that kind of pairing up, they've simply been organised and competent and arranged play dates for their children. And I've been gazing wistfully at all these other people and wondering why we're never involved in play dates. And then I remember that I never organise any. So I've been trying to make more of an effort, and today I decided to simply seize a moment.

We were walking back to our car, and passed SmallFriend and MummyFriend getting into their car.

"Are you busy?" I enquired.

"What, now?"

"Yes, now. I was wondering if you wanted to come round and play?"

Since SmallFriend was in the process of sulking because he didn't have anyone to play with, this was a fortuitous moment to ask.

It was only as I drove home that I remembered the state of the house. And given it's only a mile from school to home, I wasn't going to gain a time advantage by putting the pedal to the metal. I was just going to have to brazen it out.

I wasn't quite prepared for the cat sick on the carpet.

And I'd forgotten the (clean) laundry heaped up in the play room.

And the kitchen was rather less clean that it had seemed when I sprinted out of the door fifteen minutes late this morning.

Fortunately baby-wipes are basically a gift from angels, able to remove cat sick with remarkable speed, and a quick wipe of a hot, soapy cloth around the kitchen made it at least hygienic, if not tidy. And my friend very kindly either didn't notice, or didn't comment upon the lace knickers draped across the vintage Atari ST in the play room. They were clean. Honest. And everyone ends up with piles of clean laundry around the house don't they? Come on guys, work with me here. Knickers on vintage computers is not weird. It's just laundry. And vintage computers. You know what? I'm definitely hoping friend didn't notice, rather than politely avoided commenting...

Anyway, this is me being positive, and not publicly shaming my own, frankly sub-standard, housekeeping habits. And I'm not focussing on MummyFriend commenting on how good it was that I felt able to invite people round when my house was a mess rather than being retentive like she is*.

There's no point feeling left out when all it takes is a moment to reach out. Everyone wants a friend. We had a lovely afternoon.

* In all fairness, she was genuinely rueing the fact that she doesn't spontaneously invite people round, and wishes she did so. When written down it sounds much more critical than it did at the time!

Thursday, 29 June 2017

Work-life imbalance

I'm actually so tired and fed-up I almost don't have the energy to rant. So this isn't going to be a carefully crafted post, in which I labour over the perfect phrasing of every paragraph (which obviously I do on every other post, can't you tell?) No, this time, the words are simply going to spill out, as my hands rattle across the keyboard, trying to allow my thoughts to form coherence of their own accord as they materialise. It's perhaps not the best strategy, but it's the only one I've got.

I admit, I have a pretty good arrangement with my employers. They are understanding and flexible; they have accommodated maternity leave and a part-time return to work without caviling. I know I'm lucky. But that doesn't actually mean that every aspect of my working life is golden.

Take the current situation, for example.

For the last eighteen months, we've been short-handed. There appears to be no drive to change this situation. We've only just managed to replace the Problem Employee (who was himself a replacement for the Departed Employee). So for 18 months I've had an assistant/employee who was either new and/or useless. The current New Person is turning out to be awesome, but he's still new, and still needs a lot of training, and that takes time, and effort. And it means there are a lot of jobs that I'm still doing, 18 months after Departed Employee departed, on top of all my own jobs. And some of those jobs are going considerably slower than normal as I'm training New Person to do them. In the long run this will be a Good Thing. Just now, it's an extra loading on my time, and mental energy.

Meanwhile, over the previous umpty-tump years, we've generally built half a dozen large, bespoke scientific instruments per year. This gives us time to design, build, test, commission, document and ship each one. It also gives us time to find mistakes in the designs and modify them so that next time we build one, it's better than last time. But all that has changed in the last 18 months as well. Our entire business model has changed, and we are currently, simultaneously building thirteen instruments of three different designs (6 of one, 5 of another and 2 of another). And we have simply not adjusted, individually or as an organisation to doing this.

We don't have the man-power to build this much stuff in one go.

We don't have the space to assemble this much stuff in one go.

We don't have the brain capacity to remember every detail of every instrument as we go.

We don't have the systems in place to avoid screwing everything up horribly when we build multiple large instruments in one go.

The set of five identical instruments is my baby. I've nurtured this project, and its predecessors, for the past decade. I've sweated blood and wept bitter tears over this design. The first of these five instruments was due to be sent to the customer in December, with the subsequent four following on at monthly intervals. Not only have I missed the first deadline, I've missed the following four deadlines as well. I have five eviscerated, non-functioning scientific instruments scattered around my lab, and I cannot manage to engage the interest of anybody else in the company in helping complete them. Their attention is elsewhere - on the next thing, the next problem, the next customer, the next crisis. In fact, the only person who seems to care is the Finance Director, who comes and hovers beside me once a week to ask why I haven't finished yet. Which helps.

When I attempt to gain the attention of my Managing Director, he tells me that the next two projects are now more important. Unfortunately, despite the fact that we're already most of the way through building both six giant instruments, and their two smaller brothers (sisters?) I haven't actually finished my part of the design. So, when I'm not beating my head against the brick wall of five non-functioning machines, I'm fighting a desperate rear-guard action, and trying to design electronic control systems more than three days ahead of when our electronics team will build them. Today I ran downstairs to tell them to stop building the set of ten circuit boards they were working on, as I'd realised I'd missed a vital component off.

On top of all this, I'm also (still) trying to deal with a man with a turnip who won't place an order with us, but wants me to promise that his turnip will do what he wants.

Have I mentioned I technically only work 22.5 hours per week?

Have I mentioned that my current workload is enough to fill that time more than twice over?

Have I mentioned that I've worked here for nearly 19 years, and I have an over-developed sense of responsibility?

Which is how I've found myself working until 10pm four evenings this week.

Which is how I found myself driving home from Homebase and Dunelm Mill and other Exciting Places this afternoon on the verge of tears, for no reason other than utter exhaustion. And frustration. And loss of morale. And a growing sense of being hung out to dry professionally. And feeling undervalued and unappreciated. And having no end in sight. So not exactly "no reason".

So, while I might be completely aware of the positives of where I work, there are days when I'm not entirely sure they compensate for the negatives.

MPP: work-life balance

Today is a day for feeling fortunate in working where I do.

Obviously, there are a lot of things I can (and do!) complain about. And you can consider this post a means of making sure I acknowledge the positive in a futile attempt to stave off the frothing rant that is approaching. Because, no matter what I say, I know that I am extremely fortunate to work in an incredibly flexible company.

I leave for work only ten minutes before LittleBear leaves for school with BigBear. If I need to, I can take LittleBear to school from time to time, even though I arrive at work late.

I can take afternoons off to do such things as join in LittleBear's "history walk" around the village, as long as I catch up on a couple of hours work by taking my laptop home and working in the evening.

I collect LittleBear from school every day, which is a joy in itself. I see his beaming smile at the gate. I have his warm, soft arms thrown round my neck for a cuddle. I play with him and read with him and share his day, every day.

In the holidays I shuffle my days around so I can spend as much time as possible with my LittleBear, and still get some work done. Normally I work 2/3 of a full day every day, and yet this school summer holiday I will spend one week working mornings only, then take two weeks holiday, then spend a week working three mornings and one full day, then a week with three full days, then a week with two full days.

And I get paid to do this.

There are few people I know who have colleagues and management who are quite so relaxed and family-friendly as to ebb and flow with what my son and my family need from week to week.

I must try and remember this.

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

MPP: days like these

It is days like these when I need the discipline of making myself think of something positive. Days when I'm tired, when work has gone badly, and has come home with me. Days when I've got soaked through to my underwear collecting LittleBear from school. Days when I've spent too many hours fretting about this, that and the other.

So, as an antidote to all the fretting, weariness and feeling sorry for myself, here instead is something that has made me happy...

Having had my heart break very slightly that LittleBear now wants to read at least some of his own bedtime stories, I spent an hour, both yesterday afternoon and this afternoon, curled up on the sofa with my precious boy, reading stories to him. And today had the added variation that this story-reading was also for the benefit of a small array of dinosaurs, whose voices I had to provide at suitable intervals. The Ankylosaurs needed to be interested in what gingko fruit tasted like; the Triceratops had to be worried about whether the T.rex would catch the Wannanosaurus; the Corythosaur had to be confused by what "people" were etcetera etcetera. It was a return to the days when I had to play the part of a moronic mammal in almost every game with LittleBear, which was deeply tedious when undertaken every single day, but rather lovely to return to in a small dose, as an opportunity to remember times past with my little boy.

I will still get plenty of chances to read to my baby, even though he's no longer a baby, and even the games that I think are long past will occasionally return for a reprise. There is joy to be had in the simple, happy pleasures with my boy. (Just as long as I don't have to pretend to be a complete idiot every day again...)

Monday, 26 June 2017

Had enough of experts

There have been very few occasions in my life that I can even come close to agreeing with anything Michael Gove has said. But sometimes people who purport to be experts, and yet directly contradict each other, really do vex me quite considerably.

I'd been having a lovely day today. I was thinking that writing a positive post tonight would be a walk in the park, because I was feeling genuinely upbeat and happy.

And then I took LittleBear to the dentist.

We've been to the dentist before. The first time was mostly a "hello". The second time involved looking in his mouth. The third time was the rather traumatic occasion when I carried a small boy in, sobbing and dripping with blood from a mashed up face to be inspected, after coming off his bicycle face-first. On that occasion, the quick thinking of one of my friends had resulted in a knocked-out tooth being replaced. The lovely dentist was quite content with this, and told me the tooth might take root again, or might not, but it wouldn't be a problem either way, and (this is the important bit) that we'd done the right thing. 

The tooth re-rooted, and has caused no problems.

The lovely dentist has left.

We have a new dentist.

This was the first time we'd met the new dentist.

He informed me that we shouldn't have put the tooth back in. He suggested that the correct course of action would be to extract the tooth now, in case of infection, as the gum looks a little bit red. The tooth has been back in, and perfectly happy, for SEVEN MONTHS. Seriously? He wants to pull it out, just in case a slight redness of the gum is because it got infected when it was put back in seven months ago.

As the tooth in question is already wobbly, and likely to come out perfectly naturally in the next few months, I decided to go with his alternative (reluctant) offering of "wait and see". It's not that I don't take my son's dental hygiene seriously, or the protection of his teeth and gums, but I'd much rather keep an eye on a gum and see if it becomes any more red, and let LittleBear's tooth fall out of its own accord if possible, than inflict a tooth extraction on a small boy and potentially put him off dentists for life. I'm pretty certain that hating dentists and all their work would do his long-term dental health a lot more harm than "having a slightly red gum". 

And I'm left with a Govian distaste for experts, having had two different dentists tell me diametrically opposite things about LittleBear's tooth. One of them must be wrong. And since I clearly don't want the one who agreed with my friend's actions, and who reassured me that I'd done the right thing to be the Wrong Dentist, I'm left being forced to disagree with the expert opinion of my current dentist. Who'll be looking at my teeth on Wednesday.

My lovely happy day has turned into a stressful, annoying day with a looming sense of dread at having to see New Dentist again, and find out all the things that are wrong with my teeth as well. I'm already worried about what he'll say about the wire that cements six of my teeth together...

Not to mention that horrible lurking sense of doubt about whether I've taken the right path, whether I've actually risked the development of LittleBear's big teeth, whether new dentist is right and that tooth is best off out, and always was best off out. Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe I'm being a bad mother. Maybe, maybe, maybe...

So now my Happy Day has been turned into a Fretful Week. Bother.

Sunday, 25 June 2017

MPP: Out of the mouths

Truly a mini-post today...

It is impossible to be sad on a day when your son says to you,

"Marks and Spencers always makes me think of Massospondylus."

I will never look at M&S in the same way again. Or Massospondylus. So here, for your pleasure, is a badly photoshopped Massospondylus in big pants:

Definitely too fast

A short while ago, I wrote about my lovely boy growing up too fast. And now he's busy doing it again, and I'm not ready for this.

On Friday night, we had friend Piglet's little boy, who is 7, to stay for the night. He and LittleBear have known each other since before they knew what being friends was, and after the initial insane giddiness of having BoyPiglet staying, they had a lovely time, and both went calmly and happily to bed. Which was something of a surprise, if I'm honest. I was expecting mayhem.

However, BoyPiglet, being an older boy, and being quite capable of reading his own stories at bedtime, has a slightly different bedtime routine to LittleBear. BoyPiglet might have a parent read books to him at bedtime, but he also gets to read his own books until a parent comes back for Lights Out time. LittleBear thought this was a wonderful innovation. So wonderful that he wants to do the same thing.

So, last night BigBear read a story to LittleBear, snuggled up in bed together, and then... left him with his light on and a book to read... Ten minutes later I went up to turn the light off and kiss him goodnight. And I found that my beautiful boy had read two and half chapters of his book, on his own. And he declared, "this was the best bit of bedtime ever". And my heart broke a little bit.

I am so happy that he loves reading. I'm so happy that he wants to read. I'm so happy that he's discovering the joy of reading in bed before going to sleep. But I want to read to him. I want to have the warm, snuggly cuddles. I want to share his joy, and giggles and excitement as he explores new stories. And I know we'll carry on having bedtime stories, and we'll carry on having cuddles, and we'll carry on snuggling at bedtime. But this felt like a big and sudden step away from me. A step into indepence. A step into having his own world that I'm not a part of. A step that he's ready for. A step that he's delighted about, and that I cannot and should not spoil for him. But it's not a step I was quite ready for yet.

Don't go too far my baby. Don't go too fast.

Friday, 23 June 2017

MPP: Double the fun!

Two reasons to be happy today!

Last night, Piglet and I went out to dinner at a sushi restaurant. Neither of our husbands eats sushi, so this was a delightful treat. Any dinner out with Piglet would have been fun, as we talk non-stop when allowed to by the absence of our children, but a dinner out with Forbidden Foods was even better.

Today I have booked a long weekend trip to go fossil hunting with LittleBear in August along the Jurassic coast. Just the two of us. LittleBear is more excited about this than any other part of his approaching summer holiday. And, because I have lovely palaeontological friends, one of them has promised to drop a word in the ear of his friend, the Chief Fossil Hunter, when we go on a fossil-hunting walk (also booked).

Because I can't help myself, there are also downsides to the fossil hunting trip. The disappointment is that BigBear will not be with us. We have a dearth of annual leave, so aside from one week taken together in the middle of the holiday, we're having to tag-team the rest of the summer. I will therefore have two extremely long drives with just LittleBear. And I'll be sharing a double bed with LittleBear for three nights. But despite these things, I'm feeling almost as giddy as him at the prospect of going.

Thursday, 22 June 2017

MPP: Anatomy 101

This is perhaps a bit of a cheat for today's Mini Positive Post, as the event actually occurred last week, but I was tidying the dining table today and found this picture, undertaken by LittleBear:

LittleBear undertook this masterwork with minimal intervention (BigBear was allowed to tell him how to spell certain words, but only from a distance, so that BigBear didn't inadvertently ruin the surprise by actually seeing the work prior to completion).

There are two particular things I love about this picture: firstly, the "poo pipe", because basically I'm a 5-year old at heart, and pooing and farting is funny; secondly the decision to write "intestine" in mirror writing, which reveals something wonderfully flexible about what writing is and should bein the mind of a small child. Or perhaps only in the mind of my small child. A data set of one is pretty limited. However, LittleBear wanted to label the intestines on the left of the picture, and he wanted to start the word beside the object, so the obvious solution was to write from right to left.

I love my LittleBear, and he makes me happy.

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

MPP: so far, so good

I will preface all new posts that are part of my "trying to be a bit more positive" with MPP - Mini Positive Post. 

A few months ago, we made the difficult, but utterly necessary, decision to terminate the employment of Problem Employee. Which was all well and good, but left us short-handed and struggling, again, to recruit the right person.

Three weeks ago NewBoy started. Already, he is undertaking quite tricky tasks independently (and getting them right). He listens to what I tell him. He does what I tell him. He asks me what I'd like him to do next. He asks intelligent questions, and makes helpful suggestions. He seems to not only be intelligent, but also competent and capable.

Previously, I attempted to train two muppets in a technical procedure, and it was a deeply depressing experience. I've trained NewBoy in the same procedure, and after only one attempt, he's now quite competently continuing independently. He made notes in his lab book without being told he needed to do so. He read the documentation I gave him about the purpose of the tests. and actually seemed to understand it.

It's all splendid so far, and I feel somewhat reassured that the issues with Problem Employee were not my failings.

I actually think we might have the Right Man for the Job.

This is awesome, and it makes me happy.

Fingers crossed...

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Reporting bias

After my most recent miserable blog post, BigBear was prompted to comment that he didn't recognise the person writing as the person sat next to him - I only ever seem to be miserable in writing, which doesn't reflect the "me" that he knows. Since I was feeling miserable at the time, I came close to a knee-jerk reaction along the lines of, "but I do feel like this, so it must just be that you're failing to observe or care about my feelings." A calmer head prevailed, however, and I realised that BigBear was (rather irritatingly) right. I do tend to write more about negative feelings than positive. And I stopped to think about why. 

I think there's more than one factor at work. For one thing, despite my very un-British willingness to talk about my feelings, I still possess a certain self-effacing tendency that makes me reluctant to paint a picture of bliss and harmony. Nobody wants to read about someone else's lovely life after all do they? The warts are far more interesting. And this sense that misery-blogging is more interesting to readers has been reinforced in my mind by looking at the statistics of my most-read posts - political ranting and emotional over-exposure have consistently attracted more visits than any other posts.

Besides which, we all know people who only ever portray the positive in their lives, who tell you about their perfect children, their extraordinary holidays, the wonderful meals out they've had, the impressive project they've just completed at work, the stylishly renovated listed building they live in. And I don't want to be either the person who seems to live in a perfect world, untouched by everyday stresses and strains, or the person who erects a facade of perfection that everyone knows is a facade and nobody feels able to broach, leaving me alone and isolated as I strive desperately to maintain an illusion of calm and beatitude because I dare not admit my failings publicly.

And then, there's everyday life. And, quite frankly, there are a lot of days that possess nothing in them of any great noteworthiness. Days that have their ups and downs, but barely contain enough interest to manage to sustain a conversation with my nearest and dearest, who might be presumed to care about the minutiae of my life, let alone being worthy of writing about.

So I thought I'd draw an utterly unscientific graph to illustrate my point. There are no absolutes here, no scales, no quantification, just a vague hand-waving towards the general shape of my life:

Totally made-up graph

Mostly, I don't write about the boring, relatively happy, but uneventful stuff. Nor do I tend to write about the super, lovely, makes me sound smug stuff. Instead, I find it easiest to write about that which is notable, but not smug, i.e. the dips in my mood. And that means I am tending to depict myself as considerably more anxious and unhappy than the bigger picture would suggest. And there have been times in my life when I've been told, in rather unsympathetic terms, that all I ever do is complain...

So... I'm going to try an experiment. I'm going to try writing regular, short, posts in which I recount something upbeat from my life. In the past I've used this technique on paper as a deliberate strategy to force myself to focus on the positive. While recovering from post-natal depression I wrote in my "Happy Book" every evening at bedtime, and the rule I set myself was that I had to write something positive about my day with LittleBear. This not only gave me a book of happy memories to look back on, but also made sure I went to bed thinking about the good things that had happened during the day. This may mean I post rather more "isn't my adorable boy adorable" posts, because those are most of my happy moments, but it may also mean those of you who think I'm a miserable cow might discover I quite like life most of the time.

Naturally, as well as the new pseudo-micro-blogging happy posts, I shall maintain a background level of political ranting and anxious meandering. You've got to keep the punters happy after all.

Sunday, 18 June 2017

Tears of nothing

I'm sitting on the sofa, on a warm summer's evening, and feel like crying. And it's not entirely because I'm watching England playing rugby, though that experience has been known to induce tears in my fiercely competitive soul.

No, this time, the tears are just... nothing...

I've spent the weekend "glamping" (of which more another time) and seeing my family for BabyCousin's 40th birthday party. I guess he's not really BabyCousin any more. But he'll always be the littlest, and I have to differentiate him from the others somehow.

Really, I should be happy. Except...

... I saw my mother, my aunt, my brother, my niece and nephew, my cousins, their children, and assorted other relatives that are more or less related but defy description. And it feels as though I only managed to exchange a few sentences each with anyone, and at least 50% of those sentences were, "I'm tooooo hot and I don't like it!"And I was reminded how much time I used to spend with various parts of my family, and how much I used to enjoy doing so, and I feel a welling sadness at the passing of time, and the losing of connections, and the inevitable changes that growing older brings.

... I tried to spend time talking to my family, and so I neglected my LittleBear, who was rather forlorn, and for whom I hadn't provided enough toys or games. And he was very good, but I felt like a heel telling him to go and play on his own when there wasn't much for him to do. And I felt like even more of a heel because I didn't really gain much benefit from not playing with him in terms of talking to my family.

... I've woken up at 5am for the past two mornings as the sun streamed into my shepherd's hut (see reference to "glamping", above). I don't function when tired.

... my LittleBear has been poorly, in a vague sort of a way, since Thursday. He was sick (from an empty stomach, so not very sick) in the morning, and then fine. Since then, what with the heat, and the vague illness, and not sleeping well, he's now not really eating properly. And so now he's more-or-less-constantly tired, hot and low on energy. Therefore he whinges. And my reserves of sympathy and motherliness decrease in direction proportion to both my own tiredness and the ambient temperature. And once I start being crabby and short-tempered with a tired and pathetic little boy, I start to castigate myself for my own unkindness.

... I am, if I dare say so, a tad hormonal today. (BigBear did dare, and is alive to tell the tale).

... I drank a reasonable number of glasses of Pimms today. And, as everyone knows, Pimms contains gin. And, as everyone also knows, gin is Mother's Ruin.

In truth, I could probably chalk up all incipient tears to being due to insufficient sleep, and a surfeit of gin. But the rest of it feels like it matters more. Just now anyway.

Monday, 12 June 2017

Never too early...

Over the past five and a half years, I have done my best to simply lead by example. Because, obviously, I make an awesome example to my son at pretty much everything. All joking aside, I have made sure that LittleBear knows that I am a scientist and BigBear is a programmer (or "expert at telling computers what to do" as we term it round these parts). I have made sure that LittleBear knows and sees that I can top up the oil in the car, drill holes in the walls, saw up pieces of wood, mend broken dinosaurs, make fancy-dress outfits, sew curtains, bake cakes and get tetchy when over-tired from doing all of the above. I've left it to BigBear to model non-stereotypical male behaviour such as watching and playing football, bicycle maintenance and beer-appreciation*.

And today, finally, came the day when LittleBear came out with a classic, retrograde, old-style girl-boy stereotype. "You should like pink more than white Mummy, pink is a girl's colour"

Before launching into my treatise on why this was a wholly incorrect and unacceptable statement, I demanded of my poor unsuspecting son who had told him this. It turns out, unsurprisingly, to have been one of his little friends.** And not just any friend, but the Friend who was literally designed for the phrase, "If Friend told you to jump off a cliff, would you?" Because LittleBear currently does whatever Friend tells him to do, to my great concern. LittleBear sings Friend's favourite songs. LittleBear mimics Friend's speech mannerisms. LittleBear adores Friend.

But I still, just about, have some sway with my son, so it was time to quash the views expressed by Friend.

So I launched into my treatise. At one point, I'm fairly certain LittleBear said, "yes Mummy, can I go and play now?" but I soldiered on regardless.

And, to give him his due, LittleBear did want to know why toy manufacturers make toys that are labelled as being for girls, and why they make them pink, rather than just making toys for all children, and making them in all sorts of colours. And at that point, I got stumped, because I thought adding the evil empire of profit-driven marketing and advertising onto the issues of structural sexism was too much for a Monday evening.

So in the end, we finished with, "colours are just colours, people are just people, and anyone can like anything. If anyone ever tells you that some colours are for girls and others are for boys, you can tell them your Mummy says they're wrong." Which will probably see him through at least the next 12.5 hours. Or approximately the length of time before he goes through the school gates again.

But no-one is going to tell me I haven't tried to raise a decent feminist child.

* This is a vicious calumny inserted for comedic purposes. LittleBear witnesses BigBear cooking, washing up, fixing things, playing lego, reading, writing, drawing, and assorted other activities. Not so much sewing or cake-baking, but you can't have everything!

** I was fully prepared to have a show-down with any adult who'd dared say such a thing to my child. Really, I am rabid on this issue.

Thursday, 8 June 2017

Glumness takes hold

Today's post will be brought to you in a series of vaguely disconnected half-thoughts, tangled up in a headache with a side-order of sciatica....

Today is election day. And I awoke feeling very depressed about it. Not glad that I live in a time and a place where I can vote. Or looking forward to making my voice heard. Or optimistic about the next five years.

Last time there was a general election, I went to quite some length to express my views as calmly and dispassionately as possible. I can't really be bothered this time. You're either with me or not. And there's only a couple of dozen of you reading this anyway. What does it really matter what I say?

There are two major factors that make me shrug my shoulders when I see anyone try and predict the outcome of the election. Firstly, there is the recent, and widely mocked, inability of the pollsters to accurately forecast how people are going to vote. Secondly there's our ridiculous electoral system. Just as a reminder, last election the percentage change in the vote was as follows:

Conservative    +0.8%
Labour             +1.4%
SNP                 +3%
LibDem            -15.1%
UKIP               +9.5%
Green              +2.8%

And yet the change in numbers of seats was:

Conservative    +28
Labour             -24
SNP                 +50
LibDem            -48
UKIP                +1

And every time I look at those figures, I shake my head in disbelief. Not because they don't reflect the election bringing about the result I wanted, but because they're ridiculous. So, no matter the outcome today, I'm just nailing my rather tired colours to my rickety mast - I believe we would have a healthier democracy that would be more representative of the people if we implemented the recommendations of the Jenkins report and moved away from FPTP to an AV+ electoral system.

The upshot of which is basically I wouldn't be very surprised by almost any result, ranging from a massive Conservative landslide, through a narrow victory, a hung Parliament to a Labout squeak. Honestly, some days it feels like anything could happen, and I have no real gauge on how most people will vote, or how that will be reflected in actual seats. Because I live in a bubble. Not the oft-criticised filter bubble of social media, but a real-world bubble. My friends, for the most part, are liberal (with a small "l"). They're generally left-of-centre anyway. Some of them are more right-wing than I am, but they're in the minority. I go to the pub and find myself socio-politically aligned with most people I talk to. I sit at home and feel despondent with BigBear when we watch the news. My colleagues are generally left-leaning. Over lunch we discuss the burning issues of the day, and mostly have the same slant on them. I can't choose my family, so I don't talk politics with them, and besides which, I don't see any of them very often, and the only one I talk to frequently is a paid-up LibDem. So they never have a chance to prick the bubble of my leftism. Social media hasn't much to do with my bubble, which is physical and rarely impinged upon.

So I trundle along in that little bubble. People who care about the same things as me, who share common values and priorities, and who see the same solutions as me. And then I walk to the shops and see the front page of the vomit-inducing Daily Mail, and Sun, and Daily Express, and I realise that there are millions of people who think in a different way, who believe things that I find genuinely abhorrent, and I want to weep. And I know my small world is small, and my voice is quiet and ineffectual, and I am crying out in a storm.

Despite all that, I will be voting.

I will be voting against the funding cuts to LittleBear's school that will see them receive over £100,000 less every year.

I will be voting against scrapping human rights legislation, because it's not possible to take away the human rights of only "bad" people without taking away mine as well.

I will be voting against the continuing erosion of state support for those in need.

I will be voting against tax cuts for the wealthy and benefit cuts for the poor.

I will be voting against a rise in child poverty.

I will be voting against the creeping privatisation of the NHS.

If you are voting, or planning to vote, Conservative, it doesn't mean I don't like you, but it might well mean I hold you responsible when my son's school can't afford books; I might hold you responsible when my 26-year old friend with a brain stem injury doesn't receive sick pay because zero-hours contracts are such a great idea; I might hold you responsible for the next five years of austerity. I might not. I might just emigrate instead. Because at the moment, I don't really like this country any more.

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

An unexpected intersection

This is not about a motorway junction that sprung upon me in a surprising fashion. Instead it is about my experience today of an overlapping of two of my major preoccupations: anxiety and politics.

Those of you who live in the UK, and probably even some of you who don't, will have noticed that we have a General Election approaching.

Those of you who've read more than the occasional post here will have noticed that I have a tendency to express reasonably strong political opinions, and that those opinions tend towards the left-wing. I'm not ashamed of either of those things. I stand by my words.

Those of you who've really been paying attention will also have spotted that I have a tendency towards self-doubt and anxiety.

And it turns out that having strong political opinions, using Facebook, and suffering from anxiety and a fear of not being liked are a disastrous mixture. I'm going to preface the rest of this post by saying that it all turns out fine in the end. I wouldn't want anyone worrying on my behalf.

I had been planning to write a blog post about the Conservative manifesto position on social care for the elderly, and their subsequent change in position. Mostly because I think there's an interesting and worthwhile debate to be had about welfare spending on care, on what we (as a country) can afford, what those who have spent 40-50 years paying into the welfare state can expect in return, which benefits should be universal and which benefits should be means-tested (and by benefits I include the social benefits of education and healthcare as well as the financial benefits of child benefit, disability living allowance, income support etc).

I do have serious qualms about telling the elderly that they "should" pay for their own care if they have the money or assets to do so and that they "shouldn't" expect the younger generations to pay for them, when those elderly have spent a working lifetime paying into the welfare state for just this eventuality. They set out on their working lives within a state which promised them care from cradle to grave. And yet now the social contract they signed up to has been broken, and they're being told that we can't afford it, and that we'll look after them if they have a medically treatable condition, but that we won't if they have a medically untreatable condition that nonetheless requires a great deal of care.

Clearly, there is a problem with not enough money in the coffers, and an ageing population requiring more and more care. And there is a problem that wealth inequality in this country is increasing, partly fuelled by the absurd rise in house prices. So I can see there being arguments in favour of trying to ensure that that inequality is not exacerbated and that we don't bankrupt the country in trying to fund everything for everyone. We do need to prioritise spending. We do need to decide what can be afforded and what can't. We are already forced to do so within the NHS, with NICE assessing which drugs and treatments have a good enough cost/benefit ratio. But I cannot find it in me to agree that those whose minds deteriorate, through no fault of their own, are uniquely required to hand over their capital to fund their care, while those who suffer from other ailments are not. It seems fundamentally unjust. I would far rather see a lower threshold on inheritance tax and tighter controls to close the various dodgy loopholes that allow IHT to be avoided*. My idealism would rather we all pay a percentage to mitigate against the vicissitudes of life, not knowing whether we will fall victim to the stroke of terrible fortune that robs us of our minds, than that only the victims of misfortune pay.

Anyway... that was the blog post I wasn't going to write...

What I was really writing about, was making a few remarks on this subject on Facebook, and then finding myself defending my point of view to a friend. (Hello friend! Please keep reading!)

And then I went to collect LittleBear from school, knowing full well that I would be likely to bump into said friend. And I was wracked with fear and anxiety. I kept my sunglasses on, my head down, and sought out a fellow anxiety-sufferer to hide beside in the playground. I didn't want to engage in conversation with anyone, just in case. Just in case my views are weird. Just in case I've been too strident. Just in case I haven't thought things through properly. Just in case I've caused offense to a friend. Just in case she now thinks I'm an idiot. Just in case she doesn't want to be my friend anymore.

I know that for those of you with a rather more strong and stable disposition** this response will seem rather extreme. You may be bemused to hear that my hands were shaking and I was struggling not to cry in the playground waiting to collect LittleBear. I can only try to describe the effect that anxiety has - the cold wash that sweeps through me, the desire to run away, to hide from the world, to never have to speak to another human being. The welling tears that I fight to hide from the world. The terror that I may have put myself beyond the pale, and the escalating thoughts of catastrophe, of not only having lost one burgeoning friendship, but that this effect will sweep like a contagion through the school until there is no-one left who will speak to me. I am not exaggerating. The tears are returning even as I try and write this. The terror, the sick feeling in the pit of my stomach, the dread of confrontation, the fear of rejection.

I am blessed in having one particular friend who I know gets it. I know she has had and still has her own battles with anxiety. And I managed to find a few seconds alone with her, to confess, to seek reassurance, understanding, absolution.

And then a voice piped up beside me, "we should carry on our political debate over a glass of wine!" Because the friend I was worried about offending is a normal human being, who interacts with other normal human beings in a completely normal way. And discussing interesting and controversial subjects with empathy, and intelligence, and wit is a completely normal thing to do, and not one that renders normal people into shaking, paranoid messes.

So we went on (without the glass of wine, sadly) to have a perfectly civilised conversation about the subject. And I'm relatively certain she doesn't think I'm a lunatic. Well, relatively certain she didn't think I was a lunatic.

Then I wrote this.

And this has been a hard post to write, and it may be that if you're reading it, the "today" that I refer to is now many days in the past, because I'm not sure that I'm able to admit all this just yet. It feels like a burden to place upon those who know me, who may feel that they have to temper their views, or filter what they say to me just in case PhysicsBear has one of her funny turns again.

But I don't want you to do that, I am not making a comment on you, nor do I want you to feel you have to moderate your words or actions towards me. In fact, please don't. Please, please keep being yourselves, and allow me to be responsible for my feelings, my failings, my fears. And if sometimes I write about those fears here, it's only to try and shed some light on how my mind works, so that if I sometimes seem to react in unexpected ways, those ways don't have to come as a total surprise. And if you too find your mind works the way mine does, you might not feel quite so alone. None of us should feel alone.

* In 2013-2014, only 7.2% of deaths led to payment of inheritance tax. See table 12.3 from the Office of National Statistics for raw data. Generally speaking for the past few years, HMRC are notified of approximately 250,000 estates per year on which tax is not due, and between 15,000 and 20,000 on which tax is due. There really is scope for the country as a whole to move away from the continuing concentration of wealth in fewer and fewer hands. Instead of a few unfortunate people spending the bulk of their life savings on end-of-life care, perhaps all people should contribute to the care of the few, just as we do through the rest of our lives via taxation and national insurance. I know this is not necessarily a popular point of view.

** This is a deliberate joke. I feel the need to explain, in case my American friends don't get it. "Strong and stable" is the election slogan of Theresa May. There have been a lot of comedic riffs on this phrase. That is all.

Saturday, 13 May 2017

More awesome parenting

Today turned into One of Those Days.

The kind of day, when I spent at least 75% of it wondering if it's bedtime yet, and then when it came time to tuck LittleBear up in bed, I ended up holding him extra tight, for extra long, and reading him twice as many pages of his book as normal because I felt horrible for how horrible I'd been.

Let me take you back, 24 hours....

The PTA quiz night. BigBear wasn't feeling quite as keen as mustard, so I tootled along sans husband, and proceeded to have a raucous time with my friends. I think, but am not entirely certain, that I drank the best part of a bottle of Prosecco on my own. And then shared a bottle of beer with another friend, because I'd run out of Prosecco. Subsequently I have been informed that I'm "really competitive" and also that I'm "very like a man". The first of these I hold my hands up to. It's a fair cop. The second seemed potentially harsh to both me and men, as it was based upon my admission that the more I drank the more certain I was of my answers, and the higher the probability was that they were wrong. (It's not the first time I've been compared to a man. In fact, my colleagues have a tendency to make sweeping statements about women, and then append phrases such as, "but not you, because you're not a normal woman, you're more like a man." I digress. There's probably a whole thesis to be written on the men I work with...)

I managed to cycle home without incident, and then had a rather sweaty, disturbed and head-spinning night's sleep. Needless to say, I was not at my perky best this morning. I did start the morning reasonably well, as LittleBear and I cycled to the library and then retired to the local cafe so I could top up my caffeine levels and read the much-coveted books we'd collected to LittleBear.

So far, so splendid.

And then we went to a party.

In a soft-play centre.

With the remains of a hangover.

LittleBear ended up exhausted, dripping in sweat and tanked up on cake.

I ended up hoarse, aurally assaulted and randomly weeping in front of a good friend, and a new friend that I barely know. Because I find the best way to break down the stigma about mental health is to discuss post-natal depression at the top of my voice in a crowded public venue and then start crying.

The afternoon went downhill from there.

Once exhausted, LittleBear and I are both prone to irrationality, irritability, and inexplicable fits of weeping. We indulged in all of these pastimes liberally all afternoon.

LittleBear accused BigBear of kicking him during a game of football (untrue). LittleBear did kick BigBear in a fit of pique. Twice. LittleBear sobbed at the injustice of me scoring a goal in football when he "wasn't ready" and then he became immensely overwrought at his inability to play golf(!) on his first attempt*. Then it became clear that a certain amount of confusion existed about how exactly one played golf - "I threw the ball in the air ten times and I didn't hit it once Mummy!". Things didn't improve when I showed him that the traditional method is to start with the ball on the floor and to swing the club at it. He ended up hurling the club on the floor and stamping on it. Which is a state attempting to play golf has reduced me to in the past as well, to be honest. But nobody really wants him to grow up like me, so we had to Have Words.

Meanwhile I exercised all my best parenting skills: I shouted at him. I ignored him. I told him he was doing things wrong. I threatened to take his toys away**.

And then it was, finally, bedtime. And I cuddled him, a lot. And I said sorry for shouting. And cuddled him some more. And read to him. And cuddled him some more. And read some more. And cuddled some more. And we whispered sweet nothings to each other, and it will all be alright tomorrow. Because tomorrow is another day.

* Instead of the usual collection of random objects in a party bag, the children were all given a miniature golf club and four plastic golf balls. It would probably have been a good idea not to simply say, "yes dear, you have a go with them in the garden while I cook dinner."

** To do myself justice, I did also sit on the floor and write a new story with him, and read books to him, and giggle and play with him. But the crappy bits are easier to remember, and always feel as though they dominate.

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

The looming cloud

LittleBear has, in general, been a well-behaved and kind little boy. Not the sort of little boy to get into trouble. The sort of little boy, in fact, who becomes immensely distressed and remorseful if he even approaches being told off. Which is why it was such a surprise today to be taken aside after school by his teacher to be told that he'd been "put on the cloud".*

I was informed that he had been seen holding child "A" still, while child "B" hit "A". Which sounded pretty horrific. I was assured that LittleBear had immediately apologised to "A" and that it was completely out of character, and not something they'd expect from him at all. Which I suppose is a good thing, but nonetheless alarming.

And lo, a very woebegone little figure straggled his way out of the classroom, burrowed his way into my arms and promptly burst into tears. He was incoherent and begged only to go home. We sat on a bench for a little bit while I cuddled my forlorn LittleBear and assured him that I loved him and wasn't cross, and that I just wanted to know what had happened. Which proved too big a demand on his powers of explanation. So we went home. Except we didn't, because by the time we'd got to the end of the road he'd found two little friends who (with their mothers) had their eyes set on the nearby cafe. So we went there instead, since I decided chocolate was required to restore equanimity more than an interrogation was needed.

Once more or less restored to his sunny little self (a self that was going out of its way to be enormously helpful and accommodating I couldn't help but notice!) I began to get to the bottom of the police-brutality-style incident.
Naturally, LittleBear's version of events involved the obligatory "he hit me first" and "I wasn't even doing anything" statements. However, once such pronouncements are tactfully put to one side and greater detail obtained, it becomes possible to plot the middle ground between the playground supervisor's view, and LittleBear's view. I then come up with something that sounds more realistic...

It seems that LittleBear and two of his friends were playing on the pirate ship in the playground. Another group of friends (including "A" and "B") wanted to play a different game on the same pirate ship. LittleBear's group deemed this an unacceptable intrusion and refused to countenance it, citing the irrefutable logic "they'll spoil our game". It is unclear what form this refusal took - verbal or physical. The secondary group attempted to seize control of the ship by force, at which LittleBear's group responded in like fashion and prepared to repel boarders. A mêlée ensued. LittleBear attempted to grapple "A" off the ship, only to have "B", inexplicably in LittleBear's eyes, land a blow on "A".

It was at that fateful moment that the playground supervisor took note of the events, and reported back to LittleBear's teacher. You can see how it would look bad.

LittleBear feels that he has been unjustly victimised in being the only recipient of a "cloud". Though this in itself may not be true, as my drama monkey is fond of the absolute declarations still, and "I'm the only one on the cloud" is a statement to be taken with a pinch of salt.

So, here I am, using all of these events as a "teachable moment"...
  • we can learn empathy ("which human babies start to learn when they're 2 Mummy. It said so on the Blue Planet"). The other children also wanted to play on the pirate ship, and they would have felt sad if you didn't let them wouldn't they?
  • we can learn to share. If you'd taken it in turns, or found a space for two games, that might have worked better mightn't it? 
  • we can learn that violence is never the correct solution to a problem.
  • we can learn that life's not always fair. That sometimes you'll be told off for things that you didn't do, and that sometimes you won't be told off when you did do something wrong.
  • we can learn that it's important to always tell the truth. If you admit when you've done something wrong, then people will trust you and believe you, because it takes courage to admit to wrongdoing. And then if you ever need to say, "but it wasn't me!" you'll be believed. But if you always say, "it wasn't me" nobody will believe you, even when it's true. Just like admitting to hand-ball when playing football with Mummy and Daddy means we believe you when you say it wasn't hand-ball. (LittleBear is remarkably honest about declaring when he commits this particular infringement).
And when I write all that, it sounds to me like I've really cracked this parenting lark. Look at me, finding ways to help my son become a better person! See my smugness as I guide my son's development and understanding! I should be on the sunshine for that.

But I still want to tell LittleBear's teacher that it wasn't what it looked like, that he's a good child and that he didn't do what she says he did. I want to defend him. To insist he's not a thug and a bully. I want to clear his name, un-blot his copy-book, restore his reputation. I become one of those awful parents who never believe ill of their child, who insist that their angel wouldn't hurt a fly, who deny all wrongdoing even when they have no evidence to back their position. I want to rush in and change the narrative, restore my boy to his position as the child who's never been on the cloud.

I won't though. Because I wasn't there and I didn't see it. Because, no matter what I believe, I don't know what really transpired. Because helping LittleBear manage these events is a more important part of being his mother than defending him from all accusations of wrongdoing, justified or not. Because I need to let it go.

But if any of you see me heading towards LittleBear's teacher in the playground tomorrow, you have my permission to restrain me...

* LittleBear's school has a weather-based system for good and poor behaviour. General helpfulness, kindness or goodness and your name label is placed on a sunshine. Acts of helpfulness of kindness above and beyond the call of duty and you are elevated to the dizzy heights of the rainbow, complete with receipt of a rainbow sticker. Poor behaviour will provoke a visit to the cloud. Persistent or extreme acts of poor behaviour warrant the rain cloud and the parents must be involved.