Sunday, 13 April 2014

I Just Have Two Things To Say

The last few weeks, I've pretty much been off social media altogether. It makes me feel weird, being so disconnected, and then I think shouldn't that be the weird thing, that I feel the need to be on social media all the time? It wasn't a deliberate detox (I'm not that organised) it's just that things got kind of hairy around here for a while and even I couldn't argue that getting up to date with my feedly feed was my number one, topmost, pressingest priority.

It's been kind of good, though. I've been wondering lately about deliberately cutting myself off from the internet for, say, a day a week. I was thinking that i could call it Media Free Monday. And then I thought I should write about that on my blog, and see who else wants to get involved. And then I exploded in a puff of irony. So anyway, I never quite did get around to doing that, but these last few weeks (novel month, followed by the aforementioned hairiness) have been an interesting experiment in living like it's the nineties - no web 2.0. In summary, if you're interested, living without social media hasn't killed me and it's probably saved a lot of time but it has been pretty annoying. (And that's as far as that particular social experiment will ever go in my house).

The hairiness I mentioned isn't anything interesting, by the way - I'm not pregnant, nobody has been arrested and the kids are fine. It's just been more health stuff, mainly for Jay. Did I mention that he needed to have a nerve blocking injection for his back? Well, he did, around the last day of novel month, and it's helping his back a lot (we think) but for the first time in his life he's been having what seem like migraines - unbearable headaches with nausea, dizziness etc. Apparently that can be a side effect of an injection in your spine - who knew? Not us, that's for sure, probably because the clinic never got around to sending us any information leaflets about the procedure. But anyway, the headaches seem a lot better over the last few days and our world seems to be tilting back towards 'manageable'. I want to write 'normal' but a few people have reminded me lately that there is no such thing as normal - what we think of as 'normal' is actually everything going well, everything going according to plan, and let's face it, that's the opposite of normal.

It struck me this week (I'm a very, very slow learner) that Jay's ongoing health concerns are a proper Thing in our lives now.  It's like an annoying family member, or an incontinent pet - don't know how to live with it; can't make it go away. It's why I've been quiet here, I realised - this isn't a My Husband Has Chronic Pain Issues blog, and that's been the biggest thing going on in my life.  In some ways, the 'when will this end'-ness of this all reminds me of our wait to become parents, but with one extremely large difference - it's easy to talk about, and it's no kind of secret. Everyone we know knows what is going on and is very sympathetic. People have cooked us meals. (Not dozens, but some). People have offered to babysit for doctors' appointments. And really, this understanding and support makes the whole experience so totally different. It's difficult, but it's not humiliating; it's not alienating us from our friends.

(Although of course I realise Jay may feel differently about this. If so, he can write about it on his own blog).

(Just to be clear, he doesn't have a blog).

(Not that I know about, anyway).

So, that was the first thing I wanted to say.

Here's the second thing: Novel month. Novel month was great. I mean, it was really, really, great. 

If you have ever looked at your life - with your work, your kids and all your other responsibilities - and thought what my existence needs is another insanely demanding job - then you should definitely, definitely do novel month. Writing 50,000 words in 31 days is a crazy, stupid endeavour and that's why it is so stupendously great. If you have sort of vaguely always wanted to write a book, but never been sure if you could do it, then this is how you find out. It is  so many words, so quickly that there is absolutely no room for self doubt or procrastination. You have to just do it and that is amazingly, incredibly freeing. No opportunities to think oh, maybe this is stupid because there's just no time to think that. There's no time to do anything except think and type, and some days there's really only time to type.

I had no idea how different it would feel from writing Hypothetical Future Baby - it was a totally different experience. Writing the first draft of a memoir took me 18 months, and felt like this:

whereas writing a novel in a month felt like this:

in other words, FUN.  I was terrified of writing fiction, but in the end it felt a lot more familiar than I expected it to, undoubtedly because I 'recognised' so many of the writing conventions. A few times, I thought 'oh, I know how to do this bit' and it's because I'd read I'd read 'that bit' so many times, in so many other books. I'd never written an arrest scene, but I'd read enough to have a general idea how it should go, and that sort of thing helped a lot.   Fiction is nothing short of everyday magic, and it was brilliantly fun to do a little bit myself.

Having said that it was fun, it was also hard hard work. I kept thinking that I just had to crest the next hill (ten thousand words, then twenty five, then forty) and it would stop feeling like work, but it never did. It always felt like work. Was it Hemingway who said that the cure for writers' block is to apply the seat of your pants to the seat of your chair? If it was, he was right.  Every day when I sat down and opened up my file, it took effort (lots of effort) and at the end of the whole process I was completely spent and exhausted. I got sick straight afterwards, and that's probably no coincidence. I think that because creative things can be fun, it's easy to expect that they should be fun, but there's a whole lot of typing and wrist strain that go with the few-and-far-between moments of oooh, nice sentence, Claudia. 

Paradoxically, I would say the whole thing was both less impossible than I thought it would be, and also much harder than I thought it would be.  I think the other women I was writing with would agree. (And if you do this one day, by the way, and I totally think you should, you absolutely need other people to do it with you. It makes all the difference).

I haven't read mine back yet. We're all going to read our own after forty days. And hey, it may be terrible (oh, please, let it not be terrible) but even if it is, I can always say that I got it done, and that I got to see these words:

and that makes the whole thing worthwhile. 

Thursday, 27 March 2014

I Just Have One Thing To Say

And that thing is:

Yes, that's a shot of the bottom of my screen saying that I have written 42,694 words of a novel this month. I need to get to 50,000 words. 4 days to go.

I'm behind with everything. Especially emails, because emails require typing and if I have access to a keyboard I'm chained to Squeaky Clean: a story about friendship, love and ....laundry.

(I just made that strapline up, right now, as I was typing. It's pretty awful, but that's okay. That's the spirit of Novel Month). 

Anyway, I'd better get back to it. Nadine is about to try to get her parents back together. (Come on, Kenneth and Yewanda. I'm sure you two still love each other. You've got about 1500 words to sort yourselves out or your relationship is toast).

I think what I'm trying to say is: I'm not dead. But my arms may be about to fall off.

See you in April!

Thursday, 27 February 2014

In Summary

Things have been complicated around here lately, so I'm summarising. 

Last Monday, I took our children to stay with their grandparents for two nights so that I could go to work while Jay was too incapacitated to care for the children. I got back home after an incredibly long rainy drive on the M4 and Jay said Claudia, I don't want to worry you, but I'm going to tell you something that's going to worry you. He told me, and it did worry me. It was also pretty gross, so I'm going to refrain from posting the specifics all over the entire internet, but two paramedics and an ambulance ride later, he spent that night in hospital. 

I got home from the ward at 3.30am, and I did not end up working on Tuesday. Instead, I went to pick Jay up. He called me from his bed - once at 7.30am (needing details of medication), once at 8.30 (by accident) and then at 9.30, to tell me he was being cleared for discharge. Could I come to get him? I thought you were getting a cab home, I said, blurry and still half-asleep. I can't get a cab, he told me. I'm far, far too stinky for a cab. 
Oh, well that's fine then. I said. I can't wait. 

By Wednesday his pain was pretty well controlled and he'd begun to wean himself off some of the more psychotropic medication. I quite liked the side effects of some of it - he was quite sincere and sweet for a few days there, sort of like finally having a spaniel.  I thought it was him just being really grateful to me for me being such an awesome wife while he was ill, but nope, turns out it was the drugs. He remembers nothing from the time he was on that stuff, which is awkward now because he did agree to me booking tickets to the States for a week in June on my own, even if he doesn't remember it now. (He did. I swear). 

Then Monday morning, we went to see the spinal specialist. He said Jay is probably going to need surgery, but he's not quite sure which surgery exactly. Recommended an MRI, which Jay had first thing this morning. (Sidebar - MRI in three days? How freakishly amazing is private health insurance!? We've only just found out that Jay has it through work and while I kind of disapprove of it in principle, it turns out to be pretty spectacular in practice). 

So yesterday morning, Blue accidentally locked himself in our hallway, possibly (okay definitely) due to some angry door slamming (by him, okay? By him!) He was there for an hour, screaming, while I called locksmiths and wiggled screwdrivers frantically into the latch mechanism. By the time he got out, he was catatonic with rage and shock and to be frank, I wasn't much better. 

Today I've begun to incubate a truly spectacular head cold. 

Tomorrow we have to go back to the spinal specialist for his opinion on the MRI and his recommendations about surgery. 

I feel like I could sleep for a thousand years. 

But Saturday? 

Saturday is March 1st so I'm starting a novel. 

Don't worry, I know this is a spectacularly bad idea. Writing a novel in a month was already  bad idea when I decided to do it a few weeks ago. Is this the dumbest idea I've ever had? I wondered. But with everything that's happened lately (and everything that is still going to happen) I can definitively say yes, this is the dumbest idea I've ever had. 

And yet! February has really stunk. I kind of suspect that March is going to stink just as much, but I'm doing the novel thing anyway. After all, I can't stop the stinky stuff happening, but when I look back to March 2014, I don't just want to remember discombobulation, cranky kids, a limping husband and the looming possibility of surgery. I want to remember oh yeah, that was the month I wrote a really bad novel. 

(obviously, all bets are off if Jay's surgery actually has to happen in March. I think novelling through that would cross me over from 'unstoppable to 'in serious denial about priorities' )I'm probably not going to blog much while it's happening - although I can't promise I won't be updating with breaking news like word counts  requests for help with naming characters outcome of consultations with the spinal specialist. 

It's not too late to join in - let me know on facebook if possible and I'll add you to a group where we can kick each others' butts into gear when we get lazy mutually encourage one another.  I'm really interested to see what genre people are writing in. Personally, my secret weakness as a reader is girly romantic comedy so that's what I'm doing. Here's my first sentence: 

Afterwards, Martha thought that it had probably been a bad idea to kiss her thesis adviser. 

See? Girly and trashy! (Spoiler - he does NOT kiss her back). I'm not allowed to write any more until we start on Saturday. 

Now - tell me... what surname goes well with Martha? 

Thursday, 13 February 2014

Love Is Like A Human Heart

Yesterday, first thing, there were paramedics in my bedroom. Jay's back has been flaring up a bit this week and and then yesterday he woke up in paralysing pain, completely unable to move. "Should I call somebody?" I said, expecting a curt "no" from the man who hates to admit he is ever unwell, hates ever to make any sort of  fuss. Instead, he groaned "yes, of course you should call somebody," and I did - I called NHS direct, who asked me questions and then sent the ambulance.

A few days ago Jay and I were talking about whether or not he should be quitting his job to renovate a house. Now, fewer than 72 hours later, I was calling a friend, asking him to come straight away, throwing some clothes on my unshowered body and packing a bag of needful things for the hospital.

It turns out we didn't need to go to the hospital - not at that point, anyway. The paramedics gave him an injection of - I dunno, something - and told me how to arrange for a prescription of some stronger painkillers. We ended up at the hospital later that day for an X-ray, though, and I helped him into his hospital gown and wondered at how quickly his strong body had deteriorated.

The X-ray didn't find anything, which pretty much just means there's no fracture. He'll need an MRI and a ton of other stuff, of course. His GP, horrified by what she saw, tried to get the spinal surgeon to see him urgently but it didn't work, although it was gratifying to see a doctor so visibly shocked by his condition. It makes me feel a lot less guilty for how badly I'm coping with this whole situation. Most of us assume that, no matter how flaky we ordinarily are, we'd suddenly sort ourselves out if there was a real crisis. I'm sorry to report that this is not true - as I had feared, I'm terrible in a crisis. Yesterday I spent all day dropping things and panicking; I even got Jay's date of birth wrong when speaking to the paramedics. I also spent far too much time focusing on the fact that I hadn't been able to shower and berating the children for their troll-like behaviour. This is not helping! I screeched, repeatedly. Mummy needs to help Daddy! Stop biting each other and watch the television! It turns out they are terrible in a crisis too, but that is probably forgivable because unlike me they are four. 

I'm glad to say that Jay is much more comfortable at the moment, largely because he's off his face on very high doses of drugs. It seems the short term immediate crisis has passed, and now we need to think about what happens next. He will see the spinal specialist next Friday. Hopefully this will mean proper medical imaging and a proper plan of action. I never thought I'd be pleased for my husband to have an appointment to have surgery on his back but right now it would be a huge relief.

The next week, at least, is going to be tough. I realised, when I finally sat down on Wednesday night, that Friday was Valentines' Day. I'll be honest, this made me feel a little bit sorry for myself - this Valentines' Day, I think I can guarantee there won't be much romance from my semi-paralysed, drug-addled husband. I know it's a stupid day in any case and frankly he hates it but I usually give him a card anyway, just to watch him squirm. I haven't had a chance to buy one this year. I won't be making anything special for dinner, and there won't be any wine because I already drank it all.

Oh, Valentines' Day, you evil fiend. Did you ever make anybody happier? My little girl is just waking up to the presence of romance in the world. She saw some pairs figure skating on television and described it to me like this: Mummy, there was a man and a lady and they were doing ice sliding and I think they really, really wanted to get married. And then she smiled, embarrassed. She will be a sucker for Valentines' Day, just like I was. Am.

I don't want to tell her yet that love is not really like figure skating.

Love is helping my thirty-five-year-old husband walk down a hospital corridor, bent double, and love is stealing a wheelchair so he doesn't have to walk back.
Love is having ten minutes of down time, and being desperate to rest but drawing up a drug chart for him instead.
Love is a sincere Thank You from a husband who hates, hates, hates to be needy.
Love is the friend who comes over at seven am to look after two anxious, acting-out children.
Love is taking my boy on my lap and singing to him when I would rather do anything but, and love is the hug he gives me when he sees me crying.
Love is the online grocery order, the meal in the oven, the text that says I'm praying for you, the friend who watches my children at her house and then sends me home with dinner.
Love is even the kindness I give myself as I step into the shower, finally, choosing not to dwell on my failings but instead letting myself enjoy the respite, letting the water wash away my sorrow and my worry, at least for now.

Love is nothing like romance. Love is not made of red cardboard. Love is not a heart covered in sequins and glitter, pretty but disposable. Love is like a real human heart, messy and bloody and powerful.

This Valentines' Day, I may be short on romance but I realise that I am surrounded by love. Wherever and whoever you are, may you find love this Valentines' Day too - even in the most unexpected of places.

Monday, 10 February 2014

The Next Thing

Thank you so so much for all your very thoughtful comments on my last post. I've been pondering all of them and, since I agree heartily with what each and every one of you wrote, no matter how diametrically opposed, I'm now even more confused. Since I wrote last, Jay has put an offer in on a house (which he didn't get, because someone else offered more). He then went to an auction, ready to bid his heart out on any one of eight houses that were suitable (and he didn't get any of them, because another guy bought ALL of them) and  now he's kind of licking his wounds.

I'm not quite sure what's going to happen next.

Also, this is happening right now in my part of England- it's been raining constantly (and I do mean constantly) since well before Christmas, and at the moment the end of our street is kind of falling into the river Thames. We've bought sandbags. The park opposite (on the other side of the river) is basically a lake - the sand under the play equipment is completely submerged and the base of the slide is completely underwater, which is fun. If it weren't for all the toxins that live in floodwater (and the impossibility of actually getting to said park, due to the flooding) it sure would be a cheap way to take the kids for their first ever experience of watersliding. Oh yeah, also if it wasn't winter. And if it would ever stop raining long enough to want to go anywhere. And if my children could be trusted not to lick any strange objects they find floating the floodwaters. What is it with licking, I ask? My children will lick anything at the moment. Please, please somebody tell me they will grow out of it.

What with one thing and another, it feels like a strange time in our family life. The big project at work that I was bracing myself for got cancelled. Outside my window, the rain continues to fall. Inside my windows, it feels like things are frantically busy around me. Jay has been on the computer in the Lady Room constantly (CONSTANTLY!) trying to research all this property stuff. I've been trying to come to terms with what I think about it all, trying not to get cranky at him for hogging what was supposed to be my space in our house (did I ever end up blogging about my Lady Room?), trying not to nag him about finishing off the projects I want done around here before he skits off to do an entire other house (the bedroom lights, please, honey? From last year? And the bathroom sliding shelf that you designed but never built?) and sort of wishing that he could suddenly discover that actually, he really doeslove his current job after all and feeling like whiny privileged scum for even having these choices to make. And then I just feel frustrated because actually, it doesn't feel like my choice at all. I guess that's why there's no 'I' in 'Marriage'. (Oh, hang on...)


All that to say - Jay has been hogging my computer because of his preoccupation with his project. I've told him that he can have it for the rest of February, but come March 1st, it's going to be mine for 31 days, for my project.  Want to know more? I'll give you a hint:

All this crankiness and career crisis-ness is getting me down. I need to get my head in a different space, and this seems as good an idea as any. I'll write more about this later, but basically the idea is zero to rough draft in a month, starting with a blank piece of paper and ending with 50,000 words, repetitive strain injury and a huge sense of accomplishment. People all over the world do this every November, but that month stinks for me so I'm trying March instead.

I've never written any fiction, and this terrifies me. But in a good way. I think.

More details later, but it would be a ton more fun if there are other people along for the ride.... anybody else want in?

Friday, 24 January 2014

(Pre) Occupation

I've been completely preoccupied over here. There's a very simple reason - Jay has become totally focused on quitting his job and finding a gross  old house to renovate.

I know. 

Is he insane? Maybe. The probability gets higher when I include the fact that he currently has a slipped disc. You know - in his back. I can't help thinking that a fully-functional back would be helpful if he's about to embark on a career of manual labor.

But he wants to do this so badly. Personally, I can't imagine wanting to spend my days hammering and gluing, but he does. I mean he really really does. He doesn't want to make a ton of money, he just wants to do a good job and make enough profit to pay for his own labor.

But ugh, who can forget what happened in 2008? And I'm extremely financially risk averse, and always was even before that happened. All those Victorian novels I read as a teenager, probably - too much Dickens has given me a morbid fear of Debtors' Prison, even though I'm pretty sure it doesn't exist anymore.  The thought of any kind of self-employment has always terrified me. What would we do if we had to pay our gas bill and there was no money at the end of the month to pay it? I have no idea.  (I'm aware how privileged this all sounds, by the way. Please don't hate me for admitting that money is a very useful thing to have). My big fears are silly, I think - we wouldn't risk any money that we couldn't afford -worst case scenario- to lose. Obviously nobody goes into one of these projects planning to lose money, but we wouldn't be out on the street if we did. I don't think so, anyway.

So should he stay or should he go? Here's the pro/con list.

Things I hate about his current job:
  • All his friends have left for other companies;
  • It's a ninety minute commute each way;
  • It makes him miserable. That's definitely my least favourite part. 

    Things I like about his current job:
    • He wears a suit, and he looks super cute in a suit;
    • They pay him. That's definitely my favourite part. 

    I hate that he is miserable at work. Right now I really love my job, and I wish he could have the same experience. I so want him to do something he loves with his life, and he really does love anything to do with houses and building - also, he's really good at it. I'm trying so hard to be a supportive wife, but right now I'm not entirely sure what that looks like.

    The housing market seems to be moving again - right now, we can just afford to do this. If it moves too much further, we won't be able to (at least not without a lot more risk). This is probably his last chance to do the thing he's always dreamed of. I should say yes, right?

    But what if his back flares up really badly? What if something happens and I lose my job? And even if none of that occurs, how will we survive for the length of this project without his income? When I first moved to the UK I lived on a tiny student stipend for years, and I know I can do it - eat nothing but dried beans and canned tomatoes - but frankly I also know it's freaking annoying and I'd rather not do it again if I can avoid it. I like the security - the easiness - of knowing I can buy a latte without having to save for it. Jay assures me that he's done the sums and it would all work but what if he's wrong?

    Did I mention that my job is part-time?

    I hate the risk, but what about what it would mean for him to spend (even more) years in a job he hates? I've always assumed that's just what you do, because hey, the kids gotta be fed, but what if it's not? Is my hesitation prudence, or is it just selfishness because I'm not the one who has to go into an office and do stuff I don't want to do?

    Should I be the voice of encouragement or the voice of reason? I mean, I'm not going to forbid him to do it, but if the house he's looking at now doesn't work out, should I be scouring the real estate pages for the next one or just saying a silent prayer of thanks? What would you do in this situation - not what you think sounds like the right thing (that's follow your dreams, right??) but what would you actually do?

    Curious minds want to know.

    Thursday, 9 January 2014


    My son and I have almost nothing in common except large heads, asthma and a shared love of music. My daughter, on the other hand - different story.

    She's just like you, said a friend at church. She's so...... verbal. 
    Ummm, okay, I said, thinking it's nice of her to do the whole 'you're so alike' thing, but it's really not necessary. We don't have to be alike to be a family. Hmmmph. 

    Then a few days later, Pink and I had a stand-up fight about angels (don't ask). Why am I having an actual fight with a four-year-old? I asked Jay, and he said because neither of you can admit that you're wrong. (This was a dumb thing for him to say - surely I didn't have to admit that I was wrong, because she was wrong. That should have been obvious).

    Later: She doesn't like to go with the flow, does she? said Jay. She's very contrary. She kind of reminds me of... you. 
    What do you mean? I asked. Watch, he said.

    Over lunch, Blue asked me Mummy, is it fun being a grown up? and I said Well, some of the time it's fun, Blue. It's good to eat as much chocolate as you want sometimes without anybody stopping you, and it's good to know how to drive. But being a grown up means working, too, and sometimes it means that you have to do things that you don't want to do.  
    He looked sad, and said Oh. I not like doing things I don't want to do. and I agreed - That's right, Blue. Nobody likes doing things they don't want to do. 
    Pink scowled at us both and said  That's not TRUE! I LOVE doing things I don't want to do.  And then she started to cry, clearly because nobody understands how complicated she is.

    Also. Blue was talking to me a few days ago about what it would be like being inside a shark (he'd been watching the Octonauts again). Would it be smelly? (yes it would be smelly). Would it be scary? (yes it would be scary). Would it be dark? (yes it would be dark). Then he told me that he did not think it would be very much fun to be inside a shark. I said that I agreed, that I didn't think anybody really wanted to go inside a shark. Then Pink, who I didn't even realise was listening, roared I do. I want to LIVE INSIDE A SHARK FOREVER! 

    Of course you do, Pink.

    My mother observed : she does find it hard when other people get things she wants, doesn't she? 
    She didn't have to say that I'm like this too, because I know I am and I hate it about myself.  And she knows me well enough to know that I know.

    Over dinner on Sunday, I told them that a friend of theirs was about to start school*. It's so exciting! I said. When you go to school on Tuesday, Jillian will be there! 
    And Blue said Hooray! Jillian is my best friend! (Right now, he has a lot of best friends).  Pink said Why is she at school? and I said Because she has turned five and she, of course,  wailed with unhappiness. Why is SHE five? she asked. Why aren't I five? 
    And I said ummmm, because she was born before you, Pink and she cried and cried, refused to eat any more food in protest, and yelled I WILL NEVER, EVER, BE FIVE!!!  It transpired later that this is, obviously, Jillian's fault.

    Another fun moment with my girl recently:

    Me: High five, Pink. Good job answering that question. You could not be more right! 

    I really have no words for that.

    She's stubborn, and annoying, and she can't bear to be wrong. She thinks she knows everything, she will fight about anything and does not let facts get in the way of a good argument. In other words, she really is just like me. It's kind of unbearable.  Am I really this difficult to live with? I asked Jay, and he whispered Yes, my sweetheart, you are, except actually he didn't say that with words, he just laughed like a maniac and nodded his head.

    My mother adores my girl, but she finds it hilarious that I have to parent her. She really is the only child I've ever met who is as stubborn as you were, she told me. Then I guess we're a perfect match, I said, and she just laughed, probably because she's actually come out the other side of parenting Pink I mean me. I asked her for tips and she just said Prayer. Lots of prayer. 

    I knew we weren't getting a blank slate when we adopted, but I really, really didn't think I'd be getting a mirror. Adoption has all kind of unknowns, but I thought there were a few things I did know. Surely the one thing you're not getting yourself into, when you adopt,  is that weird situation where you see yourself and all your flaws reflected in your children. Surely the one thing you can guarantee is that your children will be bratty and annoying in new and unique ways - ways that your family has never seen before?

    Apparently not.

    You have been warned.

    totally, totally, totally worthi t. 

    *Oh yeah, I never followed up on the school thing, did I? Our kids are enrolled at a new, small - read, tiny, Christian school that Jay and I are helping to set up. Bet you didn't see THAT coming - well, neither did I. We both volunteer there one morning a week, and the kids go along when we do. I'm currently the music teacher, which is so hilarious that I cannot even begin to tell you. 

    Tuesday, 24 December 2013

    No Crib For A Bear

    Well, it seems that once again this is not the year for a serious post about the meaning of Christmas.
    Instead, here is 35 seconds of my children singing, because unless you're their grandmother I doubt you can take any more:

    May all your bears have cribs - not just at Christmas, but tonight and every night, and may nobody tell you you're doing it wrong. I think you're doing a fine job.

    Merry Christmas to all - it's been lovely spending this year with you.

    Monday, 9 December 2013

    In Which I Cannot Find A Snappy Title For A Post Where I Try To Gather My Thoughts About Parenting Children From Hard Places Who Often Display Harder-Than-Average Behaviours, Which May Or May Not Be Due To The Aforementioned Hard Things They Have Experienced (But On Balance, Probably Are, At Least Partially)

    Lately, a few people in the adoption-o-sphere have written really interesting posts about the realities of parenting kids with trauma. I've wanted to add my two cents to this topic, but I haven't until now because it's taken me this long to scrape my thoughts together. (This is why I stink at twitter, incidentally. #TooSlow). 

    Looking around me, I do think that children who have been adopted are more likely than average to be ...intense kids. Did I want to believe this before we adopted? Probably not. Does it matter what I believed? Not really. The thing is, before you're talking about a real kid, you're just talking averages and likelihoods and risks and none of that is particularly meaningful, in the long run. A child who has been in institutional care might be, say,  45% more likely than an 'average' child to struggle with clinical anxiety, but when we adopt we are adopting only one data point, and how the rest of the bell curve looks quickly becomes kind of irrelevant. (By the way, I'm a bit of a data nerd - thinking about this stuff is what I do for a living - so referring to my kids as 'data points' is a sign of love. Honestly). 

    After all,  child's behaviour is due to a complex soup of how tired they are, how hungry they are, their age and stage, their proximity to something that they want and can't have, their general state of health, how annoyed they are because of something you just said they couldn't do, how annoyed they are because of something you told them that they do have to do, whether they have just been hit/ pinched / poked by a sibling and what phase of the moon it is.

    The irony here, of course, is that kids from hard places often have a really hard time learning to regulate their eating and sleeping. So yeah, there's that too. I think this is why it's hard to get a real grip on how much adoption has affected my kids lives. I know my kids have been through some pretty hard stuff in their little lives, but that is nowhere near the only thing that defines them. If they are intense kids - and believe me, they are intense kids - who says that has anything to do with what they've been through? Maybe this is because she's a girl. Maybe that is because he's a boy. Maybe all the rest of it is because they are twins. 

    Statistically speaking - forgive me - this is actually where things get kind of interesting. The data is complex both horizontally and vertically  - horizontally, lots of kids are adopted, and that affects all of them in different ways - vertically, each of those children is the sum of a whole lot of things that make them who they are, of which their adoption and pre-adoption experiences are only a part. Add to this the fact that nearly everybody doing research into adoption has got some kind of agenda to push, and it is pretty freaking close to impossible to draw any conclusions without hedging everything around with a thousand caveats. On average. On the whole. In some cases. Anecdotally. In most cases. Occasionally. Often.  However, I'm about to write down some of my thoughts about it all anyway. Clearly, your mileage may vary. I'm not going to type all of the disclaimers (just my observations, I get all of my information off the internet, Pink and Blue are my first kids, I'm typing this quickly, I'm not a sociologist or a social worker) every time, so I've put them in bold just so that you remember that I did type them once).  

    Anyway, here are All My Thoughts, Except For The Ones I've Already Typed Above. I'm going to start with something I do know for sure: 

    The effects of trauma and deprivation on the brain are real. Scientists have done brain scans and proved it. I have nothing more to say on this point. 

    Oh, who am I  kidding? That last part isn't true. Okay, here goes: I think that there can be a level of hypocrisy about this from society when our kids display really challenging behaviours. On the one hand That's totally normal! He'll grow out of it! but on the other - 

    Call it loss, call it trauma, call it whatever you want, but the stuff our kids have been through is the kind of stuff that other kids have nightmares about.  Why are people reluctant to believe that waking up one day to find that your mother is gone would have a deep and lasting effect on a child? That, together with one or more of deprivation, neglect, loss of other significant caregivers, fetal malnutrition, childhood malnutrition, maternal post-natal depression, extreme maternal stress, and all the other stuff that makes its way into out of our kids' lives and onto their paperwork - we know that all of this things have harmful effects on babies who remain in parental care -  we have laws and programs and interventions to stop them happening - why on earth would they have any less of an effect on children who are later adopted? 

    I completely agree with Staci that the other parents I identify with most often have kids on the autistic spectrum. There are not very many other people who understand the whole noise sensitivity thing, for starters - that it's not just a preference, it's a life-or-death, climb the walls, anxious-about-it-for-days phobia. Last year, before I reallyreally realised this, we stupidly joined Jay's family on an everybody-together-won't-this-be-fun Christmas outing to the theatre. As soon as the amplified music started, so did the panic. I thought it would go away; I thought Unspecified Child would relax eventually, but boy howdy was I wrong about that.  This year there have been several other similar noise-freakout incidents - one at a wedding, super funly, which the other guests aren't going to forget anytime soon. The very thought of loud noise now sends said child into a total, all-my-logic-circuits-have-shut-down tailspin. This is not normal childhood stuff. I'm not quite sure exactly what it is, but it's certainly not normal.

    This year, we said no to the theatre. I decided that I'm not paying fifty pounds for my child to go into wild-eyed mental lockdown; I can get that at home for free. 

    Don't even let me start on what happened the one time we tried to go to the movies. 

    One thing's for sure, and I know this is related: I always see an increase in difficult (read: impossible) behaviours and anxious behaviours at the same time. The days that start with panicky hold me hold me hold me in the morning are far more likely than most to end with hitting and punching in the evening.

    A few days ago my boy totally lost in, a really scary sort of way, for reasons that aren't the point of this story. I had no idea what to do, and I silently said to myself This child is out of control. And I realised that this was true, but not in the way I originally meant it. This child is out of control in the same way that I am currently out of milk - it's gone. It's all used up. This child has run out of control. He has a finite supply, and for now it's all gone. If I don't like this, I need to be the one to change what's happening because right now he literally cannot help himself.

    I know that every child is probably like this occasionally, but for other kids (okay, mine) it's a regular pattern. That's not the same thing, and it's really frustrating when some people tell me that it is, that this is normal. 

    This is not normal. I promise. 

    I've made this point before, in countless other posts, but I'm going to make it again - I always feel nervous about talking about the difficult sides of parenting my kids, especially as they specifically relate to adoption, because I don't want to do it in a way that would make it sound like they are anything other than unutterably precious; unutterably dear. I'm speaking very frankly because I assume that I'm speaking to people who love kids like mine, and who wonder if they are the only ones thinking is this just us? 

    It's not just you, I promise. 

    Sometimes when we are out, Blue starts to perform for strangers. He sings, he dances, he bats his beautiful eyelashes. Whoever his audience is can't get enough - when he does this, it's adorable. Then the audience members look at my worried face and think why can't that woman see what an adorable little boy she has? Thing is, I can totally see how adorable he is, but I also know that this is act one in the "Blue Has A Raging Meltdown In Public" show. It starts with cute performing, followed by an interval of dizzy craziness, then an interlude of anxious clinging and then the curtain finally falls on inconsolable screaming. This show is not getting very good reviews from the critics.  This behaviour pattern is described with frightening accuracy in Patty Cogan's Parenting Your Internationally Adopted Child, and I don't know whether I'm more comforted or terrified by the fact that there are thousands of other kids out there dancing their hearts out for strangers in their doctor's waiting room. 

    He is an awesome singer and dancer. If we can break the dizzy-clinging-screaming cycle, I'm pretty sure he's going to make us rich. 

    Seeing the anxiety, though, breaks my heart. I wish I could fix it. 

    I wonder, sometimes, whether too many of us labour under a delusion that there is some kind of magical THING - post adoption services, better parent education, better institutional care, therapy - that would make all of this go away, if only we could find it. 

    I wish that was true - and if it was, I wish someone would tell me what it was - but I don't think it is. I'm automatically wary of anybody who thinks that they have the only way to help us help our kids, who people who think that whatever they are doing (or selling) is The Answer. I think that there is a huge appeal in finding The Answer, but I don't really think that it's out there. Kids are different, parents are different and every day is different. This kind of thing is way too hard, way too complicated, to know for sure that everybody who isn't doing it your way is doing it wrong. Surely? 

    There is a person whose job it is to go into bat for my kids, to get them what they need, pay for it and then do it again the next day - the problem is,that person is me and most days, I'm bone-tired. 

    Sometimes, my kids are horrible to me (and to each other) for reasons that have nothing at all to do with adoption. Sometimes they're just plain crazy. Of course. But if I've decided that my kid fits in a box (the trauma box, the anxiety box, the sensory integration challenges box, or the however-we-want-to-label-it-box) sometimes it's easy to forget that there are lots of bits to my child that do not belong in that box.  What I mean is: our child may genuinely have serious issues with attachment and anxiety, but that doesn't mean that they can't also just be a disgusting little snot-nosed brat some of the time, just like every single other child on the planet. There is nothing that explains all of our children's behaviours - no diagnosis, no experience, no label, no category. Sometimes kids - all kids - really are just feral. 

    I don't think this was about trauma. 
    I'm not going to lie -there are some times when I find myself thinking what have I let myself in for? But I would probably have thought that even if my kids were perfect angels, because having children really cuts into my Project Runway watching time. 

    I love my feral kids. I love them so much. But sometimes they make me so angry that I want to spit. I was talking to a friend at work about finding a parenting / work balance.  We were talking about the things that are easier about work; the things that are easier about home. And I said The best thing about being at work is that I am pretty certain that nobody is going to make me lose my temper at work; not even once. 

    My children both struggle with anxiety and anger and control more than the average child, and one more than the other. I have to remind myself, daily, hourly, that they really do need extra help, extra patience, extra not-sweating-the-small-stuff. However, I don't really think that I get to decide that other people are going to make allowances for my kid. If my kid is horrible to someone else - or someone else's kid - I can guarantee that person isn't going to care how much time my child spent in institutional care. 

    I'm always looking for reasons that this is all a phase. If it's not a phase, then either there's something wrong with my parenting or there's something wrong with my child. I don't like either of those options.

    Honestly, I no longer think this is phase.

    I'm pretty sure that, on average, becoming a parent the normal way would have been easier. 

    Of course, easier doesn't mean better. 

    However, it also doesn't mean worse. People who have 'easy', 'neurotypical', 'normal' kids don't deserve any less oxygen than me. 

    I have a general rule that I think applies to intensive parenting just as much as it applies to the rest of life: when you think one or two people are against you, you may well be right. If you think the whole world is against you, the problem is probably you. 

    By which I mean - parenting difficult kids is really, really difficult, no two ways about it, and sometimes you might need to butt heads with people who are really dumb about the stuff you need to do to help your kids, the choices you need to make. But if talking to everybody about parenting makes you want to reach for the firearms, it's time to check your own head. 

    And I think that it's important (really, really important) to remember that other people have difficult kids too. I am not imagining that my kids take extra work, extra love; If others tell me the same thing, I have to give them the same grace and assume that they are not imagining it either, no matter what their family story is. 

    Those would probably be great people to have as friends. 

    However, I do think that, on average, parenting adopted kids is harder. Sorry, Claudia-in-the-past. I think that we as adoptive families are more likely than other families to have the Really Big struggles, to feel totally, totally out of our depth with each other, to realise that our lives might look pretty different from how we pictured them when our babies were small. This way of parenting is not for the faint of heart. 

    This way of parenting is not for the faint of heart. But then, neither is any kind of parenting. 

    Neither is living, for that matter. 

    Friday, 29 November 2013


    ... that my children are still cute. 

    Finally! Some photos that were not taken on my phone.

    Moments like this are basically why I wanted to be a parent. It's 11am on aTuesday, and she's wearing her pyjamas, a gold medal and a box on her head. Because of course she is. 

    Also moments like this. They went through a brief period of being obsessed with 'wotzing'. It was hilarious. 

    This is the picture I look at when I'm reminding myself that actually, my children are not totally devoid of empathy. They are giving their toys medicine to help them feel better. And thank goodness for that.

    At the end of September, two of our good friends got married. Pink and Blue were flowergirl and flowerboy. I possibly may have begged shamelessly for this to be the case; I'm admitting to nothing.  I also volunteered to do the photos, which was, frankly, dumb. For future reference - Mother Of The Flower Children is ENOUGH to do on one day. 

    I only had to take about fourteen leaving-the-house shots to get one where they are both semi-smiling. 

    So big / still so little. 
    Face? What face? This is my everyday face.

    In fact, we should probably both be models. 

    Control your emotions, Pink. 
    No, really. 
    Control them. 
    There's a reason that kissing should be left until we are much, much older. And then not with each other. 
    This is probably my favourite photo of them all day. It's just a shame the lady they are snuggling is not me. 
    My choices are this one, where  they are clearly thinking we could not possibly be more bored, Mummy

    Or this one, where I appear to be part hammerhead shark. Oh well. 

    Pink is going through a phase of being really, really into weddings. 
    I'm sure the whole 'flowergirl' experience is part of the reason, of course, 

    but a few days ago, she was doing something random like eating her dinner when she looked up at me, sighed, and out of the blue said Oh mummy, I am going to be SUCH a beautiful bride. 
    And I just had to say Yes, Pink, I think you probably will'.

    Another day though - also at random - she looked at me and said Mummy, I do not think that I am very keen on getting married. And we talked about how she doesn't have to get married, and not everybody gets married, and she should only get married if she really, really wants to. 

    And she paused for a while and then said I just think that I want to live with Blue for all of the days. 

    And if every day was like this, who could blame her?