Letting children make their own choices (or not)

Tonight I am pissed off about lots of things.  But for clarity’s sake I’ve decided to focus my energies and attentions (for that read: violent rage) on one particular topic.  (You have been warned!)

Now I am the first, ok, usually second or third, to admit that I am slightly, a teensy tiny bit of a control freak.  This should not really come as a surprise to anyone, least of all myself.  I spent the first sixteen years of my life able to control precisely nothing, so these days I find it hard to pass the baton, to, well anyone.

However I was delighted this morning to discover that I am in fact a control freak lite, controlling what little I can, and worrying about what I can’t, without actually stepping into the realms of Nazi-ism, unlike the woman being discussed in the article I read this morning.

The article is about whether or not Mums should be choosing their children’s friends for them.  Yes, you heard me right.  Remember that old saying “You can choose your friends but you can’t choose your family”? Well scrap that.  Apparently these days kids can’t choose either.

I made the mistake of clicking through to the original article even after I saw it was in the Daily Fail.  So really, this seething rage I’m struggling to quell right now is entirely my own fault.

Look, straight up, I don’t watch the fucking Apprentice so I don’t know who Katie Hopkins is, although apparently she’s the “star” of it, or some shit.  But regardless of her place in pop culture, she is a mother.  A mother who doesn’t want her children mixing with, and I quote “friends that i deem beneath them”.

She postulates that because “intelligence is catching” (this based on a recent study she heard about but doesn’t cite) she only wants her children to mix with the clever and motivated kids at their (state) primary school.  This doesn’t sit right with me, but if that was all she said, I doubt I’d have been so moved to write an entire blog post in reply.  However, the actual article begins with:


“Looking at the garish party invitation in my daughter’s hand, my heart sank. The venue was bad enough: the dirty, sticky soft play area at our local leisure centre. But the name of the birthday girl told me all I needed to know.
With her pierced ears, passion for pink leggings and array of electronic play equipment, Charmaine is definitely not the sort of child I want my daughter associating with.” *
 
Can anyone else pick out the part there that refers to the child’s academic abilities and/or dedication to her school work.  Or did that just sound like she was describing your typical seven year old girl? Oh no, my bad, your typical working class seven year old girl?
 
Hands up, I don’t personally agree with piercing children’s ears but as of yet I haven’t seen any evidence to suggest it actually impairs their ability to succeed at school.  I mean, she has a point with the passion for pink leggings, many a high school drop out has started that slippery slope to the Job Centre with a passion for motherfucking pink leggings.  I’m sorry for the swears.  It’s just so GAH! Is this woman for real?!
 
What she wants to say, but seemingly doesn’t dare to is that she doesn’t want her semi-posh kids mixing with kids that come from families that don’t have as much money and/or social esteem as hers. End Fucking Of.
 
It’s amazing how far we’ve come as a society isn’t it? Truly breathtaking.  We’ve come so far around it’s like we’re right back where we fucking started.
 
Ok, enough, I have to stop with the f-word or you’ll all be thinking I’m exactly the kind of kid she is talking about.  Well I was. Working class, broken home, constantly changing schools, a whole manner of quote social issues unquote.  I was also incredibly bright and to my teacher’s delight, eager to learn, I excelled academically, although Katie would apparently still have thought I was a failure because I was pretty much always late.  In primary school (all 5 of them) I was often late because my alcoholic father drank too much.  He couldn’t organise himself or attend to his own commitments, i.e. me and my sister, never mind any extra-curricular shit like getting me to school on time.  Oh hang on, that would be just curricular then.  When my Mum dropped me off, I was on time, but I suffered panic attacks so then I’d run back out after her, thus the end result was very similar (late for registration and caused disruption to fellow classmates, sorry you guys!)
 
It would usually go something like: Mum dropped me off at school, I’d go in, take my coat off, and hang it on my little peg, which in at least one of the schools had a picture of an umbrella over it, then I’d make small talk with other 7 year old friends, sit down on then mat or carpet for register and zone out waiting for my name (always near the end)
 
At some point my brain would pipe up: “What if she leaves?…”
“Huh? Wtf you talking about?” (I didn’t swear when I was 7, not even in my mind, I just added that in for affect, sorry)
“Well, what if today is the day she leaves your Dad?”
“She wouldn’t do that, she wouldn’t leave him, she wouldn’t leave us”
“She might.  She might go today.  While you’re at school. And you won’t know, until you get home.  By then it will be too late…”
And so, tormented by the idea of being left with my loving but inept father and 2 year old sister I’d sprint out of the classroom, out of the school, out of the grounds and up the road after her.

In the article Katie says:


“If his parents can’t be bothered to get him into class on time, they clearly don’t care about the  education of their child – and, worse still, are hindering the learning of others. My girls are as frustrated with this continual tardiness as I am. Is it beyond the wit of a parent to get their child to school on time?”*


I’m not sure that the words “worse still” are really being used in the right context there, since I doubt many people would agree that not giving two shits about someone else’s kids’ education is worse than not caring about your own child’s future, but I digress.


See what people like Katie might fail to realise is that for some children, school is a wonderful escape from their troubled home lives, and that was definitely the case for me. But for other children, and indeed other parents, school is just yet another load to add to their already over-burdened life.  They can’t get their children to school on time because it’s beyond their capabilities at that time.  Maybe they have substance abuse issues, maybe they have mental health problems, maybe they find it difficult to wake up in the mornings, maybe they are useless cretins and should never have had children, I I DON’T KNOW, but what i do know is this:  Children who come from less educated and and less priveleged backgrounds don’t need judgement from those who do.  They don’t need ostracising, they don’t need their attempts at friendship rebuffed because their classmates parents’ don’t think they’re “good enough” to socialise with their precious offspring.  They need nurturing and encouragement and inspiration and social inclusion.
 
Children don’t look at other children and see earrings and pink leggings and electronic toys and sticky soft play parties and see someone of a different class, of a different culture, they see another human being.  Different perhaps, but of no more or less value than themselves.  We would do well to learn something from them.
 
It’s a bloody good job my best friends parents didn’t adopt a similar policy, I can tell you that much.  If they had I’d have been screwed! They are two wonderful, smart and kind people who I know without a shadow of a doubt want only the very best for their daughters, and yet they allowed their girls to make (and this is shocking) their own decisions about who to make friends with.  And I was one of them.  I don’t know if Emma ever saw me any differently than anyone else she hung around with, because we were nine years old when we met.  I noticed her house was bigger than mine, and it was on the other side of the school, her parents didn’t fight and when I went round to tea sometimes I got to eat stuff I’d never tried before.  Maybe when she came to mine she saw it was smaller and I do remember her once quizzing me on what I’d had for tea and being beyond confused when I tried to explain the concept of “savoury rice” to her.  That was the extent of it.  Because children don’t think like adults.  Thank god.
 
I left home when I was 15 and I had nowhere to go but my friends parents took me in for a short time, and without that initial practical, and more long term emotional support I dread to think how that decision might have worked out for me.
 
Maybe that is exactly the kind of shit this woman is trying to avoid.  If she doesn’t allow her children to mix with anyone from a lower socio-economic class then she’s unlikely to have teenage girls taking up residence in her spare room for several weeks while their crazy relatives turn up causing trouble. (I’d like you all to note it was the crazy folk causing the trouble and not me)  Although she might be in for a shock, because haven’t you head the latest? Turns out, children and adults from all walks of life can fuck up! I’m sure you’ll all be amazed to learn that even intelligent, driven, wealthy people can fail epically! The super smart, punctual, ambitious children she’s cherry picking to invite to her children’s birthday parties in primary school might wake up one day in high school, decide the parental pressure is too much and start snorting coke.  But by then they’ll be bosom buddies with her little ones, so I hope she has a plan B.  Might I suggest, just going out on a limb here, that she try actually letting her children decide for themselves who they want to spend time with?!
 
I want the best for my children.  Almost everyone who has children wants the very best for them.  The phrase “in with the wrong crowd” doesn’t come from nowhere.  Sometimes kids make poor choices about what to devote their energies to, who to spend time with, and I can imagine how heartbreaking it must be as a parent to feel that your child may not reach their full potential because they weren’t being inspired, and encouraged by their peer group, or at least not inspired and encouraged in a healthy direction.  I just think that our job as parents is to equip our children with the skills to make decisions for themselves, to allow them to make their own judgements about a playmates character, and to be there for them if later down the line it turns out they made bad decisions, or poor judgements.
 
In the meantime, I’m just grateful that, for all it’s pitfalls, my childhood allowed me to socialise with whoever I chose. So that I could inspire and be inspired by other children from all walks of life, so that as an adult going out into the real world I was able to interact with people from all sectors of society, and treat each and every one as a living, breathing, worthwhile human being.




*Excerpts from Daily Mail Online published Feb 2013

When things (films) aren’t what they seem

Films should come with warnings.  Other than the ones they already do I mean.

It’s all very well packaging them up and stamping “Strong language!” or “Violence!” or “Scenes of nudity!” across the back but what I want to know is: Is this film going to mess with my head? Am I in the right frame of mind to watch this? Is this film going to be a waste of two hours? Will it be what I expect or is it going to catch me unawares?!

Allow me to explain.

We watch a fair few movies Chris and I, and because I consider him to be “In the know” about such things, I always defer to him when it comes to guessing what a film might be about.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not one of these people who needs to know every twist and turn before I commit to watching something, or who watches trailers beforehand and therefore can anticipate almost everything that is going to happen in the full length feature.  All I need is just a vague idea of what topics the film will cover, so I know if my head is in the right space for it.

Usually Chris is spot on, he doesn’t often use traditional film categories such as “Rom Com” unless, you know, it is a romantic comedy, but he might give me a sentence or two that helps me to decide “Great, let’s give it a watch!” or “Not today thanks”.

Sometimes he doesn’t know much himself, so he’ll make educated guesses based on what little he can piece together.  And sometimes, just sometimes, he drops the ball and the consequences are nothing short of catastrophic.

Around the time of the anniversary of my Dad’s death I had my second miscarriage, and given both these factors I was feeling somewhat fragile mentally speaking.  We settled down together to watch a film but couldn’t decided on one.  “I don’t care” I said, not wanting to waste anymore time choosing “Just so long as it isn’t horror. I can’t be doing with horror right now.”

Chris put on “After.Life”  Have any of you seen this film? Chris thought it was a drama based in a funeral home. I’ll give you a clue, it’s not a drama. Although it is set in a funeral home.  It’s pretty much a horror movie. It didn’t take us long to find this out and after I admonished him about his false advertising Chris offered to turn it off so we could watch something that wouldn’t cause me to have a mental breakdown.  But I felt committed at that point (And no, I don’t mean in the straight-jacket sense, although…)

On another occasion I ended up watching “Scott Pilgrim vs The World” which I think Chris sold to me as a “coming of age” film. Again- for those of you who have seen Scott Pilgrim vs The World, I do not need to explain that this is perhaps not the most helpful and/or accurate description. And for those of you who know me, I do not need to explain that it is not my kind of film, at all. Really, what he should have said was “This is primarily a movie for guys or girls who like comics, with a certain sense of humour…not your sense of humour” but no matter.  I will confess there were aspects to it that I enjoyed, and you know, in the interests of being a well-rounded individual it’s always good to try something new and step out of your comfort zone…right?!

The evening we settled down to watch “Tyrannosaur” really takes the biscuit though.  I’d not long had Rudy and still had that New Mama vulnerability, we weren’t getting much sleep, or time together, and in fact if I recall correctly it was possibly the first or at least one of the first films we watched after his birth. Bad bad choice.  Great film. Oh there’s no question about that.  Fucking fantastic.  But it was the single most depressing experience of my life to date.  I’m not exaggerating.  Although I do sometimes like to, for comic purposes.  But in this instance, I am not stretching the truth in the slightest when I tell you I was actually traumatised, for days afterwards. Only this time, we both were.  We’d known the film dealt with some difficult subjects, and that it was going to be bleak, but we weren’t at all prepared for just how bleak.

After that Chris stepped up his game.  When “Shutter Island” plopped on to our doormat courtesy of Love Film, Chris swept it up and like I was a child placed immediately on the highest bookshelf “You should NOT watch that in your current state of mind!” he said definitively. I was both taken aback and grateful, and asked him never to tell me why, because like many any avid reader before me, my imagination is a million times more effective than any screenplay.  He even managed to avert film-crises  without being actually physically present.  One night he was working and I wanted some light viewing, just something to be on in the background really, that I could enjoy but that wouldn’t tax me and most importantly would fill the silence.  When I lived alone, which I did for over three years before I met Chris, silence never bothered me.  These days it’s so foreign, I can only appreciate it in short bursts, anything longer than an hour feels alien and puts me on edge.

I scrolled through Love Film and came across something filed under “Romance” starring Kirsten Dunst.  Only when the credits started, I got this feeling that something wasn’t quite right…and then there was that name…Lars Von Trier.  Hadn’t I heard of that guy before? Suddenly I had a flashback to a conversation Chris and I had years before, when he’d come back from a nightshift at work telling me about some godawful film he’d been forced to watch, he’d described the main storyline to me and I’d been so traumatised by his description I’d put my hands over my ears and “La la la”‘d until he STFU.  Well that film was “Antichrist” and the director? You guessed it.  Lars Von Trier.  The very same.  I swear I’ve never lunged for the remote so fast in my life.  Still shaken from my close encounter with something that might have unravelled my tiny little brain and scarred me for life, I consulted our DVD collection and soothed myself with “Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion”.  Exactly the kind of thing I’d been looking for.  Sorry Lars Von Trier, I just don’t need your fucked-up-shit in my life.

So all this brings me to Sunday night.  We couldn’t decide how to spend our precious “one evening off together” but eventually settled on watching Looper, and drinking rum.  A fine choice.  Those who haven’t seen Looper should stop reading now.

I was struggling with the time travel thing but enjoying what I could follow of the story, then before either of us could really register what was happening Bruce Willis was stood pointing a gun at a small child. “IS HE GOING TO SHOOT THAT KID?!” I yelled at Chris, who was sitting right next to me “Looks like it” Chris said and we both looked at each other like Oh shiiiiiit, it’s happening again  Child killing?!  This was not the typical-action-movie-with-time-travel-thrown-in that we’d signed up for.

As it turned out, it really was not your typical anything, and yes he did shoot the kid, and yes we did both go to that place inside where I’m sure all parents go when a storyline, be it in a book or film, involves the death of a child.  That place where just for one nanosecond you allow yourself to think “What if…” and for the tiniest fraction of time the breath is knocked out of you and the tears are on your cheeks before you even register that you’re crying.  At the end Chris said “It should really warn you about that” and part of me thought, yes, that’s what I’ve been saying all along!

But in truth I probably wouldn’t have watched it if it had.  I’m not saying I wouldn’t have watched it ever, but I wouldn’t have chosen it on Sunday night, when I’d specifically requested “action and/or comedy” to avoid anything emotionally provocative as I’d have quite enough of that thank you, on account of my recent shifts in work, which I won’t go into right now.

And actually, if it had come with an explicit “death of innocent children” warning, and we’d picked some other film, well that would have been a shame.  Because it was a fantastic film.  Probably helped along by the fact I really liked the cast, but also the messages behind the story.  Or at least, what I took to be the messages behind the story, probably if Rian Johnson saw this he’d be like “Say what?! That’s not what I was trying to get across at all!” but the idea that life is what you make of it, literally.  That what will be is not yet written in stone and that it’s up to you.

Sure you don’t get to decide what happens to you, but you get to decide how you react and deal with it.  The idea that people can be saved, from others and most importantly from themselves, that a mother’s love can change everything, that cycles can broken, that you can write your own ending.  That is one powerful message.  I loved it.  Even today I keep thinking about it and being blown away.

So when it comes to films, I don’t like surprises.  Except now and again, when they knock me right off my feet (in a good way).  Then I do.

Love Mug

I know what you’re thinking: She’s going to tell us she loves coffee.  Well, don’t we all.  After all, coffee is one of the ultimate parenting tools.  Oh no wait, she’s British, so she’s probably going to tell us she loves tea.  I do indeed love tea. And coffee for that matter, as much as that makes me a traitor of sorts (“Off with her head!”)

But that’s not what I want to talk about.  This post is about the actual hot drinks receptacle itself, that is to say, my love mug.

To explain, I have to take you back to Valentines Day 2009. On that day, I woke up to discover, with absolute certainty, that I was miscarrying my first pregnancy. A lot has happened in the four years since, but if I close my eyes I can remember with un-nerving clarity how I felt that day. It was an early miscarriage, we’d only known I was pregnant at all for a matter of days so primarily I was in shock.  I’d barely begun to get my head around the fact I was pregnant, and then I wasn’t anymore.

That possibly should have made it easier and of course physically it was a million times easier than what some mamas must endure when their pregnancy progresses further before coming to a tragic end. But psychologically I was a wreck.  Emotionally I was devastated. No stranger to being let down by others, I am well versed in dealing with disappointment, but to be let down by my own body? It was the ultimate betrayal.

There was very little Chris could say or do to make me feel better.  There was very little anyone could say or do to make me feel better.  Their platitudes “It obviously wasn’t meant to be”, “There was probably something wrong with the baby”, “There’ll be a next time” were like the cold-water I kept splashing on my face in between crying fits, trying to orient me to logic, to statistics, to bring me back to reality, but like the water, they failed miserably.

We had never made a big deal of Valentines Day.  We celebrated our own anniversary, a date that was special to us and only us (and, alright, the probably millions of other couples who got together that day) but Valentines Day seemed like someone else’s celebration.  A fortunate happenstance given the timing of the miscarriage, although despite our lukewarm feelings on the occasion, it did feel somewhat poignant to be spending the day in bed crying and bleeding.

But when Chris went to our local shop to pick up supplies (chocolate, paracetamol, more chocolate) he brought me back this mug.  It has “Valentines Day” written all over it.  Well, actually they’re little pink and red hearts, but I’m sure you see what I’m saying.  I began using it immediately.  We have a bit of a problem with mugs.  Like so many addicts before us, we can always find some way to justify “Just one more” and consequently have not one, but two cupboards full of them.  I have nicer mugs than this one, bigger mugs, posher and pricier mugs.  But this is the single most beautiful and special mug I own.

The hardest thing about days like my 14th February 2009 is that awful, terrifying, hollowing feeling that nothing will ever be okay again.  Well I’m here to tell you that it will.  I’m not saying it’s alright.  No matter what comes next, you will always have that experience, those memories.  That terrible thing, whatever it was, will always have really happened, and happened to you. But there are very few instances in life when things are unsalvageable, where a situation, or a person, is broken beyond repair.

So when other people see me drinking from this mug, they might think “She loves coffee” or “She loves tea” or “That is one tacky Valentines mug” but when I see this mug I see Love. When I drink from it I know that with love, anything is possible.

I wrote this post for Theme Thursday.  Feeling the love? Click the squiggly button above to read other bloggers entries 🙂

The one in which it becomes apparent i know nothing about music

Chris and i don’t get many evenings off together at the minute but when we do, boy do we know how to make the most of them…

This evening for example: I put Toby to bed, Chris puts Rudy to bed, i’m downstairs first, so when get comes in the living room i’m sat drinking beer and painting my toe nails red (because i’m that classy).

We sit not talking to each other for a while, me painting, him singing along to some CD he left playing before we took the boys to bed.

Me: “So what do you fancy doing tonight?…Anything?…”

Him: Carries on singing along to music

Me: “Alright fine, so we’ll just sit here not talking to each other, drinking beer and breathing in the sweet smell of nail varnish fumes whilst listening to metal music that i don’t even know”

Him: “This is Tool.  It is not metal.”

Me: …

Him: “That would be like saying NIN is metal!”

Me: “Uh-huh”

Him: “NIN IS NOT METAL!”

Me: “Well what is it then?”

Him: “Industrial”

Me: …

Him: Reels of a few names of bands that apparently are metal that i haven’t heard of

Me: “I don’t know who any of those are”

Him: “Well, let’s see…like Kiss…oh no wait, that’s more glam rock…well, like…”

Me: audible sigh.

Quality time.  You can’t beat it.

Although i’d like to point out i have actually seen NIN live, therefore i believe this conversation demonstrates clearly that you can enjoy music without having a fucking clue what genre it is.

Hard Times

Whenever i’m having a hard time with the boys, and i tell people in real life about it, i end up regretting it almost instantly.  I mean aside from the fact that i hate to ask for help, never listen to advice and dislike showing weakness (Yeah yeah i have ishoos.  Care to pay for therapy? Thought not) It’s actually their reaction that usually triggers my “should have kept my mouth shut” reflex.  Inevitably they will say “It only get’s harder as they get older!” and/or “Enjoy them now, while they’re little! You can’t get this time back…it’s so precious…”
Both these things may be true. But they’re not helpful.  It’s like those people who tell you how painful labour is, after you’re already pregnant, or how easy Rover Metros are to break into, after you’ve already had yours stolen*…oh, is that last one just me?! What i mean is, it’s all well and good trying to pre-warn people that parenting at any age is never easy, and trying to encourage them to see the beauty of their current situation, but if that situation is them considering stuffing their cherubs in the understairs cupboard and taking up drinking during the day as a past-time, then your wise words are likely to fall on deaf ears.I’d be interested to know if people react similarly to non-parenting rants.  Like if someone has a bad day at work do they say “You should be grateful, at least you have a job!” or “But you applied for the job, you worked so hard to get it, you said it was your dream job and now you’re complaining?!” Maybe.  But i doubt it.

When people have a moan, it’s because they’ve got something they want to get off their chest.  And if you think that their grumblings are invalid and they need a little goddam perspective then that’s your perogative, but don’t be expecting them to come to you weeks, months, or years down the line when they have quote real problems unquote. Because that ship will have sailed.  If you can’t listen without judgement (or at least listen with silent judgement) to their little moans and niggles how can they trust you to do the same with The Big Stuff?

And on that note, because none of you are real, i shall now tell to you the top three things i have found hard about being a parent.
1. Sickness
Let me fill you in: Children harbour germs, they swap them with each other, and transfer them to you, your partner, and any siblings you might have been crazy enough to have.  You all get sick.  But because you’re the one doing all the get-ups in the night, and running around like a headless chicken after everyone else, eating only things that take less than 10 seconds to prepare and drinking your weight in coffee, you get sicker than everyone else, and for longer, but it’s no matter, because when you’re a parent there is no such thing as a sick day.  Feel like shit? Congratulations! You get to do all the stuff you normally do, plus extras such as cleaning up other people’s (and possibly your own) vomit and poop, wipe noses endlessly, make trips to the chemist, haggle with GP receptionists for an emergency ‘on the day’ appointment, and wash endless loads of laundry, all whilst feeling like your insides were recently ripped out, thrown back in willy-nilly and sewn up by someone with my level of craft expertise.  Lucky lucky you.
Never being able to call in sick is one of THE single mostest hardest things i personally have found about becoming a Mum.  When i feel unwell i need to take to my bed and have everyone fuck the fuck off.  This is not an option with two small children, so i always always struggle when these occasions arise, and the delightful thing is, that there are so many different kinds of germs to go around, so arise they do, and often.
2. Isolation
Not self-inforced isolation to protect the general public from all your germs. I’m talking about how lonely it is being home with two small kids all day and no one nearby to just drop in on or invite around for a coffee.  When Toby was a baby there’d be some days when i’d just sit at home feeding him all day long, and not one single person would come by, or call or even send a text message to say “Hey, heard you had a baby, how’s that working out for you?”
I’m not sure if social isolation is a problem for all new Mums, perhaps it’s different if you have friends or family living nearby, but our closest family members are some 50 miles away and most are even further.  We do now have a small number of friends living locally but it hasn’t always been that way.  Making friends gets harder as you get older.  Becoming a parent bridges some of the gaps, and gives you an ability to talk to anyone, even people you just met about a whole myriad of typically taboo topics such as vomit and faeces, but it can be a challenge to take that to the next level, to move from inpolite chit-chat to being in a position where you could call that person on a bad day and say “Save me! I’m losing my mind!”
3. Guilt
Before i became a parent i had no idea how much time i’d spend feeling guilty.  It’s such a useless emotion i know, but knowing that and being able to stop feeling it all the time is a different thing.  I know have an uncanny knack for feeling guilty about anything and everything.  Here are a few of my favourites:
  • My children watch too much TV
  • My children don’t eat enough fruit/vegetables/fibre
  • I should be a better cook in general
  • We should bake more often
  • I am not “crafty” enough
  • Our house is a mess
  • I should care more that our house is a mess
  • I should care less that our house is a mess and just let the kids enjoy themselves
  • I should iron our clothes
  • We should go for more family walks
  • I should yell less
  • I should buy them more toys
  • I should buy them infinitely less toys
  • I should spend more time on the floor, actively playing with them
  • I should be able to feel more enthusiasm for lego/toy cars/train sets than i actually do
  • I should stop swearing in front of them
Obviously the guilt intensifies when it comes to more serious issues such as when either of them gets sick or injured (automatic guilt, regardless of whether you could have done anything to prevent it).  Or when they have to have something unpleasant but necessary, such as-
  • Eye checks
  • Immunisations
  • Foul medicine
Also, when i properly lose my shit in front of them (although i have no qualms about saying “sorry” to either of them if i genuinely feel i have been unfair/over-reacted).
Then there’s the times when i have to make big life decisions for them without knowing how they’ll feel about it later in life, such as-
  • Whether to have another baby
  • Which nursery to send them to
  • What schools to apply for
  • Moving house
  • My own career decisions which will impact them
  • Which family members to keep/break contact with
  • Which friends to expose them to etc
The opportunities for self-doubt, second guessing yourself, and feeling generally guilty are endless.
4. Fear
 
When my eldest son was born it was like a film had been lifted from my eyes and i was seeing the world clearly for the first time. And it was a baaaad place.  War, murder, rape, hatred, greed, intolerance, what the fuck had i been thinking bringing a child into this?! Alright it wasn’t quite that bad but i was suddenly acutely aware of the perils of everyday existence.  The previously mundane suddenly became terrifying.  Car travel. Walking down the stairs.  Crossing the road.  Taking a shower.
One evening, when Rudy was maybe 3 or 4 months old, i grabbed a rare opportunity to shower and wash my hair whilst both boys slept.  I was enjoying the peace and thinking what a miracle these ten minutes of “me time” were when i lost my balance and slipped.  Thankfully i managed to grab both the shower curtain and the wall and came to a halt contorted backwards over the edge of the bath.  I was absolutely fine.  Physically not harmed in the slightest but mentally i was scarred.  What if i hadn’t caught myself? What if i’d fallen and hit my head and been knocked unconscious? Chris was in work.   How long would one of the boys have to cry before the neighbours had suspected something was amiss? How many missed calls on my phone before Chris came home from work and found me? How long before i’d have gained consciousness? What if i’d never gained consciousness?  The question was unbearable and yet there it was, in my head, refusing to go away without a satisfactory answer- “What would happen to my children if i died?”
Now i have to be honest here and say at the time of this particular incident my mental state could be described as “fragile” so maybe if i’d been a bit more balanced, the entire thing would have been summarised as “Shit! That was a close call!” but because i was already feeling anxious, stressed and vulnerable, instead it only served as further evidence to add to my “The world is a scary place” file.
I’m in a calmer place these days, but by that i mean i’m a calmer version of me.  I wouldn’t be nominated for any zen mummy awards.  Unless someone was feeling ironic.
So those are my top four.  I imagine it’s different for everybody, dependent upon personality and circumstances so i can’t speak for anyone else but those are things i’ve struggled with the most since becoming a parent.
*Fortunately, the thieves were unable to actually steal my metro, as the battery was flat.  Unfortunately they didn’t realise that until they were already committed so i had to pay for a new ignition switch, and then it later turned out that the reason the battery was flat was because i needed a new alternator motor. The moral of this story? Driving heap of crap cars can sometimes pay…although, in truth i’d probably have been financially better off if they’d manage to steal the bloody thing.

Running- Plan B

Actually that should say “NOT Running- Plan B” to be accurate.
So as some of you know my GP recently advised a weeks total rest (what a joke!) and 6 weeks of no running in order to allow my knees time to heal before being referred to physio and to prevent me causing long term damage (eek).
That was 2 weeks ago now, and it’s just over 3 weeks since the run during which the pain started. So i have begun exercising again, as i was assured exercise itself is unlikely to cause a problem as it seems to be specifically the action of beginning to run on concrete pavements that has set it all off.
Forrunately there are lots of other ways to exercise. Unfortunately not many of those can be done indoors with two small bored children under foot.  Thus, so far i have been limited to following an aerobics workout dvd and taking the chance that one of them won’t mow me down on the sit-and-ride-train, mid-crunch.  Our local pool (which is on the brink of being closed down, more about that later) has casual swim sessions every weekday evening so i’m intending to make good use of those while i can.  Although this obviously only works when Chris is actually home of an evening, meaning i can leave the house without fear of prosecution for child neglect.
I am no longer taking the prescribed co-codamol as i just can’t function well enough to trust myself on it. Taking 60mg leaves me feeling stoned, lying on my sofa incapable of doing much more for my children than putting on Cbeebies and changing nappies as required. 30mg allows me a higher level of functioning but makes sleepy and liable to doze off mid-sentence. I certainly wouldn’t want to take any immediately prior to driving and/or working. So i’m taking 400mg of ibuprofen 4 hourly throughout the day alongside paracetamol as and when i feel i need it. I’m still wearing knee supports for walking/work/exercise/general activity and using deep freeze spray before and after activity too.
I refuse to entertain the notion of NOT completing either of the runs i have entered for.
I’m doing The Great Manchester Run in May, by which i am hoping to raise much needed funds for two very deserving children, Findlay and Iona and then in June i’ll be doing Race for Life to raise money for Cancer Research to show my support for my work friend Nic who has recently been diagnosed with non-Hodgkins Lymphoma, and whose journey you can follow here.
I’m not a total fool (at least, not all of the time) so i am aware that if the knee problem persists i may need to consider the possibility of walking the courses but walk or run, either way i’ll be there, i’m determined!
And i’d really really appreciate your support in any way you feel able.  Messages of encouragement, donations through my Just Giving page, tips on running with patellofemoral disorder, free physio sessions 😉 whatever you can spare, that you think might help would be brilliant.
In the meantime i’ll still be finding new ways to improve my fitness so i’m ready to begin training again at the end of my 6 week break.

The End of Breastfeeding

I stopped breastfeeding recently.  No, wait…don’t leave! I promise there’s more to this post than that!
It was four weeks ago today actually that he had his last feed.  I didn’t make a fuss of it at the time, because I wasn’t sure it would be his last, and anyway I didn’t want to make myself all emotional when in fact I was feeling pretty ok with it all, and seemingly so was he.
I breastfed him for just over 15 months, that’s two months longer than I fed his big brother for.  It was my choice both times, on when to stop feeding, neither boy self-weaned, and truly, if I’m honest with myself and anyone reading this, I am not sure they ever would have.  Well, of course they would, eventually, but what I mean is, given the choice they’d certainly have kept feeding for quite some time.  I know this because despite not being breastfed anymore, Toby continued to have a bottle before his nap and one before bed right up until he was about 22 months old, when he stopped napping.  But  the bedtime bottle continued until he was 2.5  years old,  when he gave it up without issue after we suggested he have a cup of milk downstairs before bed in his new Disney Cars cup instead.
That doesn’t mean either of them were distressed at being weaned off the boob though.  One morning about a week after I stopped feeding Rudy he seemed to have a realisation that he’d not had any for aaaages and tried to get at them but I felt committed at that point so refused (gently).  He settled for a cuddle instead.
It hasn’t been hard on either of us either time.
And yet.  I’d probably have kept going a teensy bit longer with each if it hadn’t been for external factors.  When I stopped feeding Toby it was because I was pregnant, although I ended up miscarrying anyway I felt it was the right thing to do, and I stand by that decision.  This time, although I was ready to stop anyway, I was also acutely aware that I’m going away next month for a weekend and that he needed to be weaned by then in order to be fair to both him, and to his Dad looking after him, and to me too, as I don’t fancy another bout of mastitis.
So I might have made it a couple more months each time, but I didn’t and I’m ok with that.
The trouble is, I’m caught in the middle.  There are people who don’t breastfeed at all, or do for a very short time, or who hope to breastfeed for several months but run into difficulties and so stop.  To those people, I am waaaaaay out of their sphere of understanding, far over in “Hippy Land” they’d consider my 13/15 month efforts as extended breastfeeding, if they’d even heard of the term.  If they’re feeling charitable they might tell me i’ve done really well to do it for so long, but if not they might tell me about their struggles, suggest I’m crazy, and start asking me questions about teeth and biting. The word “bitty” might even be mentioned.  But I don’t watch TV, or indeed participate in mainstream society at all much so I only have a vague awareness of what the hell they’re talking about.
Then there are people who breastfeed for a long time, whose children have never had formula or cow’s milk, or even bottles of breastmilk in some cases and who plan to keep breastfeeding until their children self-wean.  And I fall outside of their sphere too, because my children did have other milk variations out of other drinks receptacles, and I actively weaned both of them.  To those people I definitely don’t qualify as extended anything.
So feeding for 15 months puts me somewhere in-between those camps.  In breastfeeding no-man’s land.
I wasn’t going to do a “I stopped breastfeeding” post because there didn’t seem to be much to say other than exactly that.  I do get a wistful feeling when I think that Rudy is probably our last child, and so those are probably my breastfeeding days done with but I get that feeling about lots of other stuff too.  If indeed he is our last child that is also my pregnancy and birthing days over with, so there’ll be plenty of wistfulness to go around when I get to the point in time in which our number of children becomes Final and Definite.
But on Thursday night I read this New Statesman article by Glosswitch: Our regressive, insensitive and cultish attitude to breastfeeding
I found it so refreshing and honest, I decided I should share my “End of Breastfeeding” journey on here, because even if no one reads this blog, maybe someone will stumble across it sometime and maybe it will be just what they were looking for.
I have been breastfeeding for 28 months out of the last 40 (i was pregnant and/or miscarrying for the other 12)
So how was it for me?
Well let’s not forget I had some pre-conceived notions about breastfeeding before I even started, as a result of my line of work.  Which basically meant I had lots of technical information but very little idea how to implement it into practice, and I had gained a lot of exposure to breastfeeding not working out, as is so often the case on the neonatal unit, because lets face it, everything is harder and more complicated when you have a sick and/or premature baby.
So I said I would “Give breastfeeding a go” but not beat myself up if it didn’t work out (Ha!) and in fact the closer I got to my due date the more sure I was that I wouldn’t be breastfeeding for long.  Then he was born.  And he knew just what to do.  And so did I.  And it was easy as pie.
Oh no wait, sorry I fell asleep there for a minute and was writing that from Dream Land.
I never had any major issues with breastfeeding.  And there can be major issues with breastfeeding, but I avoided them.  That doesn’t mean I didn’t find it toe-curling at first.  I’d liken the experience to having a mini Dyson attached to your nipples, which unless you’re into some kinky shit, you’re probably not used to, and neither are your nipples.  I got a blister on one of mine from where Toby would jerk his head backwards whilst not breaking suction, in a gesture that it turned out meant “I’m full now!” I later learnt to break the suction pronto using my little finger in his cheek and so the nipple trauma was a short-term issue for me but some people have cracked nipples, bleeding nipples, infected nipples.  It can get bad.  I didn’t have any of that.
No one told me about growth-spurts.  For the un-initiated this is when a normal healthy newborn baby suddenly acts starved, feeds constantly, and the mother eventually assumes she isn’t producing enough milk, feels shit about herself, breaks down and gives the baby a bottle of formula milk.  Except although I’m a sucker for feeling shit about myself i’m not very good at admitting defeat, so I did break down but did not give him formula.  I fantasised about it.  We had “emergency formula” in the kitchen cupboard that I’d sensibly bought in, along with the bottles, “just in case” so I sat on the bed, feeding my apparently starving baby and conjured up the image of said formula carton in my head and daydreamed about pouring it into a bottle and feeding it to my little squish, and then daydreamed about how gutted I’d feel that I hadn’t persevered, sighed and told myself “just one more hour“.
Fourteen hours later Chris returned from work to find me rocking on the bed.  Literally.  I’d lost all feeling in my butt cheeks. Still feeding the baby.  Posting one-handed on an online parenting forum “OMFG is this NORMAL?!” and crying.  A lot.  He’d been due home about two hours earlier, in which time i had thought up a whole heap of shit to yell at him including “YOU DON’T EVEN CARE ABOUT ME OR THIS BABY” “YOUR LIFE HASN’T EVEN CHANGED AT ALL” and perhaps more pertinently “WHERE THE FUCK HAVE YOU BEEEN ANYWAY?!” Poor guy.  In all the years we’ve been together he chose that night, of all the nights to have a couple of impromptu beers after work to celebrate becoming a Dad, blissfully unaware that back home both his baby and girlfriend have succumbed to demonic possession courtesy of breastfeeding.  He was suitably sorry and on discovering that i had not in fact eaten all day, having not left the bed for fourteen hours due to having a baby attached to either one of my breasts at all times,  he ordered pizza.
Toby also had reflux.  In a practical sense this meant lots of bibs, and lots of washing.  On a psychological level it meant I could sit and feed him for literally hours only to move slightly and have everything he’d just drunk regurgitated all down himself and me, and he’d be starving again almost right away.  It also meant he liked to suck for comfort to ease the griping and acid pains the reflux gave him.  So he was on the boob constantly.  And he was sick a lot.  And people liked to say “Maybe the problem is that you feed him too much?!” and I liked to fantasise about punching their faces.
He took a bottle without problem at the age of 4 weeks so we congratulated ourselves on having such a smart kid and sensible approach to feeding and didn’t bother trying again until he was about 3 months of age, when he screamed like he was being torn limb from limb and refused point blank to even have the teat in his mouth.  He did, eventually, after much stress, and worry and money spent on various types of bottles and teats start taking a bottle just in time for me to go back to work when he was 9 months old.
I had to express at work to keep up my supply, prevent myself getting mastitis and provide milk to leave for him to have the next time I was in work.  Working on a neonatal unit this should have been simple, and in some ways it was.  But I was told that I had to express in my own time, aka my lunch break, and although I now know that not to be true, I didn’t at the time so I had to choose between food or expressing, often attempting both (eat toast with one hand, express with the other) and not doing particularly well at either.
He didn’t get teeth until the week before his 1st birthday after which I only fed him for a few more weeks anyway, so biting wasn’t an issue, except of course that teeth don’t come from nowhere so he was perfectly capable of biting me without teeth, aka “gumming” down on my poor unsuspecting boobs and triggering a reflex in me that was so violent I was only just able to stop myself from flinging him across the room.
Breastfeeding was much easier second time,because I knew exactly what to expect.  But Rudy was new to it.  Oh don’t get me wrong, he could latch and feed, but he had colic instead of reflux, which was a refreshing change, except in the way that it wasn’t at all, because reflux we were prepared for, colic, not so much.  Also there was the challenge of breastfeeding a newborn on demand whilst entertaining and caring for a toddler.
I got my first ever bout of mastitis when Rudy was 9 weeks old,  just in time for my 27th birthday, i didn’t know what it was at first, never having had it before but it soon became clear.  I thought i might die, but I didn’t.  And when I got it for a second time, almost a year later I again thought I might die, but again I didn’t.
I also decided, for some altruistic reasons that aren’t clear to me now, that life wasn’t quite challenging enough for me so I started expressing for my local human milk bank and donated two litres of my milk to them before I gave up so that I could start harvesting a stash of milk in the freezer for when I went back to work.
Rudy got teeth much earlier than his brother (a whole half a year earlier) and quickly discovered the joys of boobs as teething aids. I flirted with the idea of giving up almost daily, particularly as I approached going back to work, as the idea of expressing in the resource room again didn’t appeal for some strange reason.  But I had this notion that I should feed him for as long as I fed his brother for.  In the interests of sibling equality or something.  Just in case I was ever audited on such a thing.  So I did go back to work expressing, and in fact I provided something for Rudy I never managed with Toby- a full year of exclusive breastfeeding.  Way to go me.  All my colleagues thought think I was am nuts.  But that’s ok. And i do feel proud of myself, even though I’m not allowed to celebrate the fact EVER in case I upset someone who didn’t manage it.
Which is a bit like A-level results day, when, not to blow my own trumpet or anything, I achieved two A’s and two B’s and got the university place I wanted, but my (ex) boyfriend and one of our friends didn’t.  So instead of celebrating I had to commiserate with them instead.  But don’t feel too sorry for me (hard not to, I know) because it turns out that celebrating and commiserating when you’re 18 are basically the same thing as both involve drinking alcohol until losing consciousness.
I digress.
My point (I think) is that even though I found breastfeeding straightforward, and never had any major difficulties, and even thought when people ask I tell them it was fine, really, when I think about it, it was a labour of love.  Literally.  It wasn’t easy, not really.  But I loved it.  I loved all of it. Even all that shit I just bitched about up there.  Well, ok, maybe not all of it.  But it’s still part of our journey. And there was plenty about it that I did love…
I loved the feeling of closeness, physically and emotionally.  The milky smell.  The giant boobs.  The excuse not to wear underwire for months at a time.  The excuse to eat more, even after your pregnancy has ended.  Co-sleeping and drifting off together, courtesy of those lovely hormones.  The cuddles.  The excuse to not let anyone else hold or feed your baby if you don’t want them to.  I loved getting both boys weighed at the clinic and knowing that whatever they’d gained was because of me.  Squeezing their chubby thighs and blowing raspberries on their fat tums and thinking how fucking amazing the human body is that i could grow an egg and a sperm into a human baby, push it out and feed it milk from the very same body to nourish said baby and make it grow into this heap of deliciousness.
I breastfed because I wanted my boys to be healthy.  They still got sick.  I breastfed because there’s evidence to suggest it reduces the risk of eczema, asthma and allergies.  They still both ended up with eczema, but it’s only mild, and while I hate that they have it at all, I like knowing I reduced the risk, and in the process may have decreased the severity of the condition.  I breastfed because I wanted to decrease my own risk of cancer.  I breastfed because I am lazy, and the idea of actually leaving the bed in the middle of the night, multiple times, in order to make up bottles to feed a hungry baby horrified me.  I breastfed because i know myself well, and I would have found it hard to make up bottles and then remember take them out and about with me.  Boobs are handily attached, you can’t forget them.  And they don’t require pre-warming or mixing, which I personally found super convenient.
Some people breastfeed because of all the above, or some of the above, or for another reason entirely.  Some people don’t breastfeed because of any of the crappy things i mentioned earlier in my post, or all of them, or some other reason entirely.
Some people want to breastfeed but can’t.  Some try but it doesn’t work out.  Some don’t want to but do anyway.  Some don’t want to so don’t.  Some people feel good about their choices and some people feel bad.  Some people feel good about other people’s choices, some people feel bad about them.  Some people don’t care either way.
I support mums breastfeeding at work.  I’ve supported mums who never intended to breastfeed but are expressing milk because they feel it’s the right thing to do given their baby’s condition.  I support mums who have never considered anything else other than breastfeeding but are having a really hard time with it.  I can support anybody with anything, so long as they’re honest with me.  And sometimes they’re not, and it’s frustrating to have put so much effort into helping someone establish breastfeeding only for them to stop because they never wanted to in the first place.  I’d rather be told the truth.  I’m a big girl, I can handle it.  But it seems not all health care professionals can and there are definitely a lot of mums I meet who really never wanted to breastfeed but because someone told them “breast is best” they feel they’ll be vilified if they don’t at least be seen to try.
One of those A-Levels that I got a B in was Philosophy of Religion and Ethics.  It was like Religious Studies but we yelled at each other a lot and my friend and I doodled pictures of Kant saying funny stuff in speech bubbles like “I think therefore I am…(a) Kunt” Ho ho.  Aside from all that we did a module on Deontology and Teleology.  Which, as an A-level module is quite complex but for blog purposes boils down to Motives vs Consequences.
Applied to breastfeeding this is like saying, “Does it really matter why someone breastfeeds, as long as they do it?!” Well you could argue no, because the effect for the baby will be the same no matter what their reasons and/or feelings on the matter – same nourishment, same antibodies, same weight gain, same health benefits for mother and baby.
Except it sort of does matter if the Mum is unhappy.  If breastfeeding is sucking the very life from her, if she had to come off medication in order to do it safely and now really needs to be back on that medication, if she was a victim of abuse in the past and breastfeeding is causing her to have flashbacks, if she’s got other children she’s struggling to care for because so much of her time and energy is being absorbed by breastfeeding.  If she is starting to hate herself, hate her body, hate her baby, dreading every feed.  If she just doesn’t want to do it.  Then of course it matters.
Yes we can and should be doing things as a society to make breastfeeding the easy choice for everyone, to improve the health of infants and new Mums.  But we’re supposed to be supporting mothers to make choices for themselves and their children, not bullying or coercing them into making choices that will then leave them feeling guilty hours/days/weeks/months later when it turns out that wasn’t the right choice for them.
So breastfeeding: it wasn’t always easy.  I really loved it. I truly believe it’s awesome.  But not everyone feels that way and that’s ok.
Our breastfeeding journey is over but it will always stay with me, and I hope I can use what I’ve learned from it (good and bad) to better support other mums, whether that be at work, online, at friend’s houses’, at playgroup, wherever.
(Feeding Toby, December 2010)

(Feeding Rudy December 2011)