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.