Tuesday 25 December 2012

Merry Christmas

From our house to yours.

Friday 21 December 2012


It used to be that I couldn't hold other people's babies; I didn't know how to do it. Babies were floppy and wriggly and fragile and a little bit frightening. My sister was good at babies (she still is)-  I would hand them to her and that suited everybody, baby included.

Then it used to be that I still couldn't hold other people's babies; I didn't know how to do it without crying. I wanted one of my own, so much - if I held someone else's, I was worried that I would dissolve with want and longing. Or maybe just run away and steal it.

Then it used to be that I didn't want to hold other people's babies. They made me too angry, these small defenceless beings, all fluffy and warm and fed and doted upon, these tiny little barnacles sleeping contentedly, unaware of how lucky they were. It made me angry to see them grabbing onto their mothers' fingers with their little tiny fists, when I knew my baby was out there somewhere and grabbing at nothing, nothing at all.

Then it was that I couldn't hold other people's babies because my arms were too full of my own. My own! Two! Babies! I couldn't believe it.
Neither could they, by the looks on their faces.
Lucky me. I know. I knew.

Then it was that I couldn't hold other people's babies because I was too exhausted. Two toddlers running around constantly? There isn't enough coffee in the world to deal with that. 

But now my two are bigger, and somewhere in the last three and a half years, something has happened and I've realised that I could happily hold someone else's baby. I find this to be little short of miraculous - I didn't think that I would ever actually want to hold someone else's crinkly newborn, I thought that knowing my babies spent those days alone would always make it too hard. It's funny, though - I feel like I've finally reached a point where I know that those babies are not my babies, that those babies have nothing to do with my babies, that I can separate these privileged babies from my own experiences, my children's experiences. I know that I might feel differently again if we dive back into another adoption process, but for now I'm enjoying this feeling- I'm enjoying it a lot. A friend of mine recently had a newborn and I grabbed him the first moment I could. He's so squidgy and light and sleepy and I enjoyed it but I didn't wish he was mine. If I've ever held your baby and you're reading this, you're probably freaking out right now when you realise I'm only just getting to this point in my life. Sorry about that. 

So anyway, I was having a nice moment and enjoying myself, patting the baby and reflecting on my sudden acquisition of emotional maturity. However! It seems that I still can't hold other people's babies. My son saw me with this child in my arms and lost it. I mean, he LOST IT. 

I have to admit that in the moment, I didn't deal with it very well. Honestly, I didn't want to think about his problems. I was having my own little emotional epiphany and was not in the mood to have that interrupted by a three year old boy. Go to your father, Blue. That didn't work. Jay came and got him and took him into another room where he wailed and freaked out and I held grimly onto the baby (who I'm going to call Buzz, because wouldn't it be fun if he really was called Buzz?) for another minute or so. 

I should have known better. It's been a year since I last held a baby - who I'll call baby Squeak - and he saw that too and now he regularly wants to 'play baby Squeak'. Playing baby Squeak means lying down in my lap - all three and a half years old of him - and making throaty baby noises like I imagine baby vampires would make and demanding pretend milk, all while telling me that my name is baby Squeak's mother's name. IT'S PRETTY FREAKING WEIRD. And it's not like he doesn't see babies - he sees plenty of babies - but that is the last time he saw me cuddle one.

Recently - this is related, I promise - we made the decision not to send the twins to preschool. It just seems that Blue isn't secure enough to be spending days away from us. Actually, not so much away from us as being cared for by someone else. He gets ... confused. Nothing exceptional, just your average, run-of-the-mill insecure attachment stuff. A bit of mummy shopping, particularly. A bit of clinginess (to me). A bit of overenthusiastic affection with people he doesn't know very well. And if you think it's contradictory to have a child who is simultaneously clingy and then running off to snuggle with strangers well, welcome to the club.

This is not to say he isn't generally well attached - I really think he is. It's us that he wants. He may be confused about this relationship, but at least he knows this is the relationship to be confused about. Every night before he goes to bed, and several times during each day, he checks in and says 'you look after me tomorrow, mummy?' and I say yes, if it's me tomorrow, and if it's Jay's turn I say 'Tomorrow Daddy will look after you!' and as far as he's concerned, both of these answers are good answers. He says 'okay, and then after Daddy, you look after me again' and I say 'yes, Blue, then I will look after you again'. 
And sometimes, if I'm honest, I get a little frustrated. Little Dude, it is alwaysalwaysalways me or Daddy. We always look after you. You know how we used to have full-time jobs and now we both work part time? Well, that is so that we can always look after you. It's pretty much always me or Daddy. It Really Is Not Complicated. 

But clearly it is complicated for him. 

A few weeks before we made the decision about preschool, one of our friends had spent the day looking after the two of them and it pretty much flipped Blue on his head. We spent a few weeks leading up to it - and then, Veronica will look after you! and he loooves Veronica (he's a really social kid, by the way - with both kids and adults) and he was really looking forward to it. And he had a great time - so did Pink - and Blue was pretty much shoving us out the door when it was time to leave.  It's really sweet to see him making friends, but this was something more, it was not hooray, I have a new friend who loves me behaviour, it was I am so freaking confused behaviour. Totally related, I'm sure - the next few days he was awful. I mean really, really terrible. Totally dysregulated and miserable and all over the place. 

Back to babies.

Blue was hugely upset by the Baby Buzz incident. It took him a long time to calm down, and then he kept referring to it. We talked it through again and again, but clearly he had a lot to process. And one of the strange / wonderful / terrifying things about his developing language is that suddenly, he can talk about these things. He's got big feelings and suddenly he can actually share them. (A few days ago, when he wasn't very well, I asked him what was wrong and he looked at me sadly and sad Mummy, I've got FEELINGS! Indeed, little man). 

So he brought it up a few times, and then a few days ago, in the middle of something totally unrelated, he said:
You hold Baby Buzz and I feel very, very sad. 
Clearly it was still worrying him - it was still right at the surface. And I had a thought and I asked him:
When I was holding Baby Buzz, did you think that meant I was his mummy? and he said Yes. And his little lip quivered. (He does not like the thought that I might be someone else's Mummy - we've been here before, with both of them. I know this isn't atypical, or just an adoption thing, and I have to admit I rather like Pink's direct and aggressive way of dealing with this issue - sometimes, totally unprovoked, she marches up to children (strangers or friends), squares off at them, narrows her eyes, then points to me and says THAT NOT YOUR MUMMY! THAT MY MUMMY! and then marches off again. Okay, Pink. Just as long as we're clear).

So anyway. His little lip was quivering, and then suddenly I had a moment of all-these-issues-are-interconnected-type-clarity and I asked him When Veronica looked after you, did that mean that she was your Mummy? and he said yes, Veronica is my Mummy in a totally matter-of-fact way. And I just wanted to bury my head in my hands and howl. He's been home three years - three years - and he still gets confused about who his mother is. It breaks my heart.

It breaks my heart, but in a way it doesn't really surprise me. I look at all these happy secure newborn babies, the ones I so recently want to cuddle, and think about how the first three months of life sometimes get called the Fourth Trimester because of the intense closeness and intimacy between mother and infant. The very idea of separating one of these squishy ones from their mother, of putting them instead in a place where they are unloved and undernourished is ... unthinkable. It's too horrible to think about, except for the fact that it does happen, except for the fact that it did happen, and maybe the question really is not so much why does he still struggle with attachment at this point? as why does it seem that his sister does not? Sidebar: one thing for sure about adopting twins is that it makes me hyper-aware of how different children, even in the same circumstances, cope so differently. I think that once I would have thought that one set of people were exaggerating about adoption issues and another set were in denial. Now I think that people who say their kids are really struggling are probably absolutely right and people who say their kids are untroubled are probably telling the truth, too.

So after taking a day or so to think, recently Blue and I have started playing the Mummy or Friend? game. This started with me saying that I didn't cuddle baby Buzz because I was his Mummy, I just wanted to cuddle him because he was my friend. And we went through more children that he knows. Am I their Mummy, or just their friend? And then we started going through the list of adult females he admires - it's a long one - and saying how about Mary? Do you cuddle her because she is your mummy, or because she is your friend?' and it was interesting (if a bit terrifying) to hear him stumble about the answers a few times until we reached a point where he knew that every other lady he cuddles is not his mummy, than only I am his mummy, and that when I cuddle other children, I am not their Mummy! Oh no! I am only Pink and Blue's Mummy! I am only Buzz / Squeak / etc's friend!

Now he always gets it right - so much so that he does the dramatic pauses before the answers. Mary.... is.... my....FRIEND! And sometimes he gives the wrong answer on purpose then he laughs and tips his head sideways, looks at me through his giraffe-like lashes and says that's a little bit funny.  Which it would be, except it's still sort of not. We've progressed to level two now - aunts and uncles - and he's really getting solid on that too. She not my Mummy! She my aunty! I'm sure this is good for him, this articulating of these relationships. I want this to be something he doesn't have to think about. I would prefer he knew it by instinct, but the next best thing is to know it by rote. Or maybe a better way to say it - I want him to know this by heart.

But sometimes I have flashes of thinking shouldn't we be learning the alphabet or something? What are other people talking about in their cars while I'm teaching my three-and-a-half-year-old son who his mother is? And I have moments of fear, too, that he won't be ready to go to school when it's time to go to school and I really, really, really don't think I'd be a good homeschooler (and I don't think Pink would be either, but I couldn't separate them, and what is more important, her need for a classroom environment or his need to have regular care from parents for a few more years?) And I know that some people think that this stuff happens because he has full-time parental care and I really really really don't agree and how dare they judge me for my choices, choices made for my children and whose business is it anyway if my children don't go to preschool? They will be just as ready as any other child for whatever is ahead. Except that they still can't count, or paint, and frankly their glitter skills leave a lot to be desired. I'm failing them. I'M FAILING THEM!

(I think I've mentioned the attachment spiral of crazy once before.  Ahem. I really should know better by now).

And so it continues. How crazy, that I used to think attachment was just something to think about during the first year home. How crazy, that I used to think that attachment issues meant that the family was doomed to fail (whatever fail means). How difficult this all continues to be, sometimes. I think what's changed in the last three years - for me - is that I love my kids so much more than I used to. I would fight to the death for my little guy, for my little girl, whatever attachment challenges lie before us.

Last night, I had a terrible headache and I'd told the children I wasn't feeling very well. After a spectacularly unsuccessful dinner , I had them upstairs to get ready for bed. I sat down on the stairs and winced with pain and put my hand up to my forehead. Blue came over to me and said You still got a sore head? And I said yes. And he said I give you a pat, Mummy and then he stroked my hair and then he said and now I give you a kiss, and that will make you all better. 

If only I could do the same for him. 

Thursday 20 December 2012

Ungracious Grace

I've been sick again (hence the lack of posts). Nothing dramatic, just the low-grade yeuch that so often accompanies December. I've been dragging myself around and today's dinner was the last straw. I don't liiiiiiiiiiiiike it!     Really? I'm not actually that interested in whether you like it, my dearest sweetheart. I just want you to eat it. Nobody is coming out of this evening well so far. 

Here's Pink on the beach last week, and this pretty much sums it all up. So, here's tonight's pre-dinner grace, verbatim. 

Dear Lord, Thank you for this food. Please help Mummy not to be cranky at Pink and Blue. You know how hard Mummy finds this time of day. You know that Mummy finds it especially hard not to get upset when they tell me that they don't like their dinner when they haven't even tried it. Especially when Mummy feels sick and it was very hard work to make dinner. And Mummy is letting them eat it as a picnic as a Very Special Treat. Please help Pink and Blue to eat all their dinner and not complain. Please help Pink and Blue to understand how important it is to eat good food. 

And also please help Mummy to stop being so passive-aggressive during mealtime prayers. 
In Jesus' name, Amen. 

I'm thinking I probably should have stopped after the first sentence. 

Now they have left their food on the floor and Pink is dancing to Two Door Cinema Club while Blue brushes my hair with the tangle teezer as I type. They'll be terribly hungry in the morning (if you don't eat your dinner in this house you don't get anything else), but Friday is my day at work and ehhhhh... that's Jay's problem. 

Friday 7 December 2012


This week, we have been busy. As Jay would say: Bee. Zee.  We have had four different sets of people over to our house in the last four days, three of them for dinner. I've said before that I'm not so good at that kind of thing. Pressure gets to me, and I think why can't I organise my life better? Why can't I set boundaries?  Why can't I organise my life to be simple and meaningful? Why can't I stop running around and just be intentional? Shouldn't I be living simpler? SHOULDN'T I BE LIVING SIMPLER? 

Something I've realised recently: I have never heard a man talk about trying to live life simply, or live with intention. How marvellous, that we women find a way to beat ourselves up about the stupidest things- like not succeeding at being simple enough. I dunno, but I think that once you have to aim for something, once you feel bad that you're not achieving it, it isn’t really all that simple any more. (Also, once you have to have a magazine called Real Simple to tell you how to do it, that kind of nixes the actual simplicity thing too).

And so I officially decided this week - in the middle of sauteeing things and sweeping, I've decided that I don't care about simple. Simple is one thing that has not earned its place on my guilt list. I think that simple, to women, means pared-down-but-strangely-perfect and I can't be bothered either with the paring or with the perfect.   Simple can take a running jump. I think that what I want these days is easy. Big difference: If simple is a homemade loaf, easy is a miscellaneous pork product, pumped full of nitrates and smelling delicious as it rotates in my microwave. Simple is handmade upcycled presents for Christmas. Easy means going to a big box store with a fistful of dollars and fifteen minutes and using the time to buy fifteen presents in an explosion of plastic and batteries. (I may have done that this week, as well as the cooking. Possibly). 

Anyway. Back to my attempt to live an easy life.  One of the guests - Mr Tuesday - invited himself over, urgently. I had nothing - nothing - in the freezer that I could use, and the easiest thing I could think of was a lasagne (hooray for easy pre-grated cheese, that's all I'm going to say about that).  I stirred and prepared and got it done and it wasn't delicious but it was okay. And it turns out that our friend wanted to visit us because (wait for it) he had (wait for it) a prophecy for us, straight from God. Not even kidding. (Do not get me started on this guy's theology- let's just say that we have some pretty different views). Anyway. Apparently he has direct information that I'm going to have a child of my own, and the urgency to visit was because 'he wanted to tell me the good news as soon as possible'.  Yuh huh. Thanks, dude. For that I cooked you lasagne? 

Hmmmmm. A child of my own? I guess technically, you're right, but.....

 You're three-and-a-half years too late, dude. 

Now that's  simple. 

Thursday 29 November 2012

To Three Or Not To Three: Capacity and Velocity

(First! In! A! Series! of short posts about the possibility of another child. I just don't know where to begin with all of this, so I'm going to begin here). 

So I find that I'm thinking about another kid. Another kid for our family, I mean. I think maybe Jay and I have spent too much time watching series one of Parenthood, and he keeps saying I want a big family like that, I want my children to have lots of brothers and sisters to depend on when they are old and have kids of their own and we're totally self-absorbed and unreliable. 

I would like that too, but we can't seem to make any kind of decision. If we go back into the adoption process, I don't know that I can take it. I don't know that I can handle going crazy again (because believe me, I went crazy last time).

And hey, forget that, some days I just think that if we had another kid in the house I don't know that I can take it. My life is already so full of yelling and poop that I do wonder where I'd find the time to yell at another child. And I keep getting hung up on how much harder it would make my life. Am I really ready for that? My sister told me, not long after her third was born be very careful going for a third, three is exponentially harder than two. And I can see that. Right now I have two arms and two children - I can cuddle them both at once and that's really nice. My children are much snugglier (read: demanding) than lots of other three-and-a-bit-year-olds I know and they go kind of mental when I give one of my arms to someone else. They talk a lot about babies (you gotta bayybee in your tummy mummy? You gotta bayybee?    No, honey, not today, not when you asked me yesterday and I think the answer will still be no when you ask me again tomorrow), but who knows how they would really react if there was a little competitor in the house. Actually, I think I do know, and I don't think it would be pretty.

Thing is, though, I do like the idea of another FascinatingBaby. I was cuddling someone else's baby recently and my body thought hey, I remember this. The weightlessness, the wriggling, the soft downy head, the way the skin on her little tiny face felt like velvet. And that's part of my decision paralysis, honestly - personally I would like another baby, if we decide to Three (yes, that's a verb now). Not a ten year old, not a child with significant and known preexisting condition. A healthy little baby.

But seriously, Claudia, did you just say that out loud?  I've already been greedy enough to have two of those. I do feel sometimes like there is some kind of hierarchy of worthwhile adoptions. Older is better. Adoption from foster care is probably better too. Special needs is definitely better. And I absolutely understand this.I absolutely understand that medical problems or emotional problems and age and a hundred other things make some children harder to place, and that these children are absolutely not less valuable, less worthwhile, less wonderful than chubby healthy babies. I know this.

I know how precious these higher-needs kids are. My problem is not with higher needs kids. My problem is with me.

I always thought that we would do an 'easy' adoption first time around, and then when we had more experience as parents, we would adopt a child with higher needs than a healthy baby. And then we brought our twins home and they kicked my butt.  Babies are really hard, and they turn into toddlers (who are really hard too) and so are preschoolers and I'm guessing that the stages to come have their challenges too. I find parenthood to be something that stretches me to breaking point and beyond most days of the week. I am good at bits of it ( playing imaginary games, as long as I can do them from the sofa) but I am terrible at other bits of it. If my children are sick, I usually forget to give them at least one in three doses of their antibiotics. Not something I'm proud of. This makes me think that maybe I'm not the ideal person to parent a child who needs, for example, regular medication.

And I can't stop wondering: where does our awareness of our own capacity need to fit in to decision making around all of this stuff? Where should it fit it? How about the capacity of my current children? They have got pretty big needs, pretty big demands (but doesn't everyone?) And even if they are higher-needs than most (and I think they are, particularly one of them) other people have multiple complicated kids and live to tell the tale.

I just mean that - an 'easy' adoption feels pretty hard to me. Being a mother to two children who were adopted as babies feels pretty challenging. I am much more aware of my own limitations now than I was three years ago, and I no longer feel at all sure that we are prepared for another child who has bigger needs. I know that I get wound up and freaked out, maybe more than other people (although who really knows what is going on in everyone else's house). Sometimes I do think that maybe I just have less capacity than other people to deal with.... life. I mean, general ability to get out of the house before midday with everybody fed and clean must be in some kind of a curve, right? Someone has to be at the bottom and I think it's me. The very thought of buying the 28 presents I need for Christmas (yes, that's BEFORE I get to my own kids, yes, we HAVE tried trying to reduce the number of people we buy for; one family member pretty much stopped speaking to us the year we brought that up) makes me want to dry heave. I will almost certainly forget to even buy any tinsel.  The children live on pasta.  We don't own fingerpaint. I am hardly any kind of earth mother. When I've said we are not sure that we will stop with two, people look at me and say Really? YOU want MORE? as if it is totally crazy to think that I would handle that.  And maybe it is, I don't know. I'm not even sure that I want to do it, although I do think I do.

This should probably make me go awwwwww but it actually makes me go ARRRGGHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!
Sometimes, though, I wonder if what I feel is partly the appeal of the decision. Making a definite yes decision would feel really good, even if it was actually really dumb. I've mentioned this before - I think that there is a huge psychological appeal in having some kind of velocity in our lives. It's nice to feel that we are going somewhere, we are doing something, we are aiming for an outcome. I think that the feeling of moving forward can trick us into thinking that we are making good decisions, whether they actually are good decisions or not. When we have something to look forward to, everything looks better, even if the thing itself is not actually very smart. Even if, to pull an example out of the air, our family adopting a sibling set of five would not actually be very good for  us or for them, I bet it would still feel good to decide that we were definitely going to do it.

I wonder if- can I say this? - what makes me wary here is that I think I have seen people make decisions on that basis - deciding on another adoption (or another bio baby) because life is a bit flat or a bit hard, as if another child to plan for will fix that (it won't; it never does). That might sound harsh, but it isn't meant to. I think that another child brings the promise of newness, of freshness, of starting again for a family, and that certainly appeals to me.  It certainly appeals to me when I'm standing in baby gap, looking at the adorable tiny clothes that no longer fit my twins and feeling like I can hear the sound of a whole corridor of onesie shaped doors shutting behind me. I'll be honest, it feels really weird to me that we might never have a new child. It sort of makes me think is this really it? Is this the way our family story ends? Is this the end of the upward portion of our narrative arc? Sorry to be a nerd about that last one, but I hope you know what I mean - as women, particularly, it feels everything is always pointing towards the next relationship-focused thing-  we want to meet a guy, then we want to kiss that guy, then we want to get engaged to that guy, then we want to marry that guy, then we want to have kids with that guy and if that's over, then, well, is this really it? 

(A non-baby-related and totally serious aside - I'm sure we all feel like this sometimes, whether we admit it or not, and I think it's an echo of how empty every earthly thing ultimately is - it's all just a chasing after the wind. Nothing is ever going to be enough here - even if I had a hundred children, they would all grow up, the most amazing career will end,and if I live long enough, I'll probably get terrible arthritis by the end anyway. I need to remember that only Jesus is the answer to what's my purpose and only he will never disappoint me. The only destination really worth aiming for is Heaven, is being with Jesus, although that's frighteningly easy to forget). But - back to the topic in hand - it would feel odd to me if this was the end of my life's big happy events. I feel the pull of a baby, but I also feel the pull of velocity. I would like there to still be something significant standing between me and the onset of the inevitable eventual funeral invitations.

Also, babies are really cute.

But we cant' seem to make any kind of decision. And I wonder: how does everyone else know when to stop? How do other families with two children know that two is enough? Or otherwise, how do other families with two children know that they want a third?  Those who have three, that they want a fourth? I have no idea. (I'm so curious; please tell me).

I think that we could be very happy with whatever we choose to do. But I do want it to be a choice - I dont' want to drift into a third because it seems inevitable, or into staying with two because we never quite get our act together. Do we have the capacity for this? For a baby? For someone with higher needs? Or are we just attracted by the velocity? I try to be honest with myself and really examine my heart, but honestly: I have no idea.

Thursday 22 November 2012

Why The Internet Makes Normal People Feel Unpopular. With Pie Charts!

I was meant to be writing something sensible this week, but it turns out my little boy has pox o' the chicken and I've been kind of, ummmm, preoccupied. Instead of writing stuff, I got to thinking about how it feels like every blogger but me is paid, or gets a ton of free stuff or a bunch of advertising revenue because they are more popular than me. And then I drew some pie charts to make myself feel better.

After all, I know that this is true:

It's just that those really popular ones are the ones people are actually reading, right? Therefore:

And of course, this means that I'm reading more than my fair share of popular blogs too.

So it seems to me that the world is full of people who are quitting their jobs and being paid to renovate old houses with the profits from advertising bespoke designer rugs. Or being begged to try out fantastic baby equipment (for free) or staying at hotels in Venice (for free) or meeting up with other fabulous people (for free) and just generally having a ton of fun (for free), funded by sponsors and ad people.  And while I'm sure it's lovely to live like that, if I'm honest it doesn't make me aspire to buy whatever they are advertising, it just makes me feel jealous and left out. Because it just makes me feel like this.

Even though I know I know the top graph is true, it's the bottom one that sticks. Being normal makes me feel way, way way below average. Because of the statistics, people. Because of the statistics. As if we didn't already have enough reasons to hate statistics. 

Oh, and just in case any advertisers feel sorry for me and want to give me some free stuff, I would like to let you all know that I would be very happy to test drive a) some really nice wine b) a trampoline and c) a bigger yard to put the trampoline in. (Oh, and I should probably also say d) a cure for my son's chicken pox. But if I could just have one, I'd probably go for the trampoline). 

Tuesday 13 November 2012


With hindsight, it was probably a mistake to let the children eat cake for dinner. When I finally compile my definitive list of 'Things That Annoy Me About Small Children', right there at the top will be they don't really know how to have fun. Don't get me wrong, I know that they do have a lot of fun, but only by accident - they don't know how to determinedly have fun when they might not be in the mood but the situation demands it. I forgot this entirely, last week - after a long, long day of waiting by the phone for news - which turned out to be extraordinarily good news, as I've already told you - I wanted to celebrate. I didn't really feel like celebrating -I was too shocked, and more on that below, but it seemed important to celebrate so I wanted to do it anyway. I got a text from my husband saying I'm going to be late home again and so I thought I know it's dinner time but I don't want to just sit here all evening on my own; I'm taking these children out for a babyccino, dagnabbit. (See, I know how to have fun, even when I don't want to).

Do y'all have babyccinos where you live? They are little espresso cups full of milk froth, often with a sprinkling of cappuccino chocolate on top, sometimes - if you go somewhere upscale - with a marshmallow on the side. My children love them - love them - and I thought this will be the ideal way to mark the occasion of me being not-particularly-likely-to-get-cancer. Special treat, kids, special treat! ("Special treat" is our code word for anything more exciting than a plateful of pasta and a handful of frozen peas). I said  Let's go out and have babyccinos and you can skip your pasta and just have cake for dinner! It seemed like a really good plan. They love cake, they love babyccinos. They said YAAAAAAAY! because they are highly suggestible and we will remember this day forever! I thought.
My children loving some babyccinos. Not the day in question. 
But of course when we got there, they were looking around thinking why are we in a cafe when it is dark outside? and they were thinking where is my pasta and Now it's in front of me I don't really WANT cake for dinner and then Pink threw her plate at Blue and his cake fell on the floor and he spilled his babyccino and then he howled and by that time all the sugar was starting to course through their veins and once I finally managed to bundle them up and out of the cafe to go to the supermarket to buy myself some no-longer-feeling-quite-so-celebratory-champagne, they were screeching their heads off. They were bad. I mean, they were bad. I turned my back on them for a second while we were there - I guess it wasn't obvious we were together at that point - and I heard two women next to me saying Oh my goodness, what awful children in the tone that people only usually use when it comes out that someone's teenager has hacked the Pentagon.I was devastated. I always carry around this hope that my children aren't really as bad as they seem to me - that I am super-sensitive to their behaviour because I am responsible for it. But no, on this day, a day when I wanted to have nothing but hugs and bubbles, they were so bad that total strangers were talking about them. I paid for my champagne and went home, face burning with shame. I think I will always remember that outing, but not for the reasons I hoped. I put them to bed and cried.

With hindsight, it was probably also a mistake to start new asthma medication while waiting for important news. I'm one of those people who gets extremely shaky on asthma medication and this new stuff was a whole grade up from my last prescription. While I was taking it, I could feel my heart beating in a sinister ker-thump-ker-thump way at all hours, and I constantly felt like I was on the verge of a major panic attack. Suddenly, in desperation, I took myself off it in the middle of last week and now I feel like I can function again. That's all to the good, but I wish I had thought of doing it earlier. I don't think the extremely high heart rate and chemically-induced anxiety did much for my coping skills.


With hindsight, I think it was probably also a mistake to assume that my husband would know what to say and how to act once we finally got my results. I had been warned that I would probably feel pretty churned-up either way - good news or bad- and this turned out to be absolutely true. I cried like a baby, actually, after I got the news - I know how stupid that sounds but it was so unexpected and it's strangely hard to reconfigure what you think your life is going to look like, even when what you thought was something that really stunk. Anyway. I was hoping that a meaningful evening of connection with my beloved spouse would help, which was probably pretty dumb.

Like I said, he was really late home, which wasn't a great start. And as for our conversation:
What I was hoping he would say: I have been so worried. Let me embrace you and show you how much I care by showering you with tears of joy, my angel. 
What he actually said: Wow, I'm so glad we never bothered to pay up for private health insurance! 
Cue me weeping. Cue him getting cranky at me for weeping. Cue me getting cranky at him for getting cranky at me for weeping. Cue a totally out-of-character-for-both-of-us huge argument that got ugly and personal.
Nearly a week later, I realise that he was pretty disappointed too. I think that it went like this for him:
What he was hoping to hear Now that's out of the way, honey, I have used up my quota of emotional crises for the year. Thanks for the support. Why don't you sit on the sofa while I fetch you some beer?
What he actually heard: I don't understand you / how can you say that at a time like this / why don't you love me? / Well why can't you show it? / Why did I have to buy my own champagne? / You don't care about me at all, do you? At ALL? 
I don't think either of us came out of that one particularly well. It was like finally getting the news was not so much like an ending to a story, but more like (apologies, particularly gross simile coming up) lancing a boil. Things were better afterwards, of course, but all the toxic stuff that we had been keeping inside had to come out somehow and that was never going to be pretty.


Once we were friends again, I decided that my act of penance would be to do a deep clean and tidy on our bedroom, which was full of electrical cords and a computer and a gigantic box of blankets from our loft (which he is renovating - and all the junk seemed to have ended up in my our bedroom). With hindsight, I think it was a mistake to make decorating decisions while under the influence of stress, arguing, an adrenaline let-down from the test results and (rather inconveniently) lady-hormones. Usually, my taste tends somewhere between 1850s London Club and Hipster Modern (I'M SORRY! I CAN'T HELP WHAT I LIKE!) This means that the bedrooms I usually lust after have things like a brown leather chair, a dark-painted gallery wall and an unread book about Italian typography displayed prominently, spine-outwards. The bedspread would have of silhouettes of some kind of non-cuddly animal, like a stoat or a weasel, in a non-girly colour like charcoal.
About half-way there. Needs some paper mache antlers. 
On the other extreme - I also love Minimalist Hotel. Either way - sharp edges, dark colours. However, over the last few weeks I suddenly found myself crazed for something totally different - florals. Long story short, I started hanging around Cath Kidston and last week I actually bought this duvet cover for our newly tidy room:
Where do I think I live, 1942?
I put it on the bed and it felt so wrong but SO RIGHT. In the end Jay had to stage an intervention, where he bundled it back into the bag before I had a chance  to sleep under it and then ordered me to return it to the shop. (Maybe he does know what I need after all). About a day later, I came off the asthma medication, saw sense and swapped it for a subtle, tasteful white-on-white beauty that I will no doubt love for years. A part of me does miss those pretty roses, though.


With hindsight, I think it was probably a mistake to start this blog post without any idea of where I was going. I think I just wanted a place to record that the aftermath of this whole experience was pretty weird, even though everything turned out okay, even though I'm sick of thinking about everything and have no need to think about it any more, even though I know that everybody around me is sick of hearing about it. I'm sitting up in my minimalist bed now, in my newly tidy room, listening to my happy cat purr beside me and writing this when I should be looking for a light for our hallway on the internet. And mistake or not, I think it would be a mistake to apologise for writing it, so I won't- every blogger (at least, those of us who have been doing it for years for no money at all) knows that you have to write from your obsessions, and sometimes your obsessions aren't what you wish they were, or what you had scheduled. However, I think I'm over this detour into medical stuff for the time being. Thanks for sticking around. Coming up next: Why Feeling Teary In Baby Gap Is Not A Good Reason To Start A New Adoption. 

Tuesday 6 November 2012

Pink Champagne!

The geneticist finally called.

It's GOOD news: no gene mutation. (Well, only the one I already knew about. Heh).

I can't believe it. My cancer risk is normal. In her words, I've been 'released back into the general population'. This means no crazy surgeries, no early menopause and I get to keep my own boobs.

I'm in shock.

Having said that, I'm not so in shock that I'm not going to enjoy reading my very trashy magazine from my pink bag (who that lady, Mummy?  That lady is Princess Kate, Blue. And who that lady? That's Princess Kate too, Blue. Oh. And that lady? That's Kate's sister, Pippa. And who THAT, mummy? Uhhhh, that's Princess Kate again. These pictures are pretty much all Princess Kate, honey bunny).

I want to say thank you to all of you for walking through this with me over the last few weeks (and, for some of you, the whole year since I wrote about this the first time). I have been really withdrawn over the last few weeks - I have been awful at replying to emails and comments and I'm really sorry about that. I didn't really have any idea how scared and anxious this was going to make me - it has really messed with my head and I can't quite take in that I don't have to think about it any more. Your kind words really have made such a difference - I'm sorry that I haven't said it at the time. You have made me feel less alone.

I think it's finally time to get on with the rest of my life. Wasn't I supposed to be finishing my book? And organising a weekend away, ummm, next weekend? Better get on that. And planning the final bits of a big DIY project? And deep cleaning the upstairs of our house? And teaching the children to count properly? And buying some vegetables? And cooking some proper meals again instead of relying on stuff in tins and packets?

On the other hand, I think I might put on an episode of the octonauts for the kids, make myself another coffee and find out exactly which shade of red the duchess of Cambridge is wearing this week. Poppy or carnelian? Ruby or vermilion? These are big questions, people.

Okay. My children are using power cords as pretend microphones and I'd better stop them before they strangle each other. Today, that's my biggest problem. I. Am. So. Grateful.

Tuesday 30 October 2012

I Am Not Roaring

Morning comes. Jay goes off to work, and I brace myself for the day. I shower and dress and then open their door and get them up.
"Mummy!" they say, and beam at me. I swoop in and kiss them and we all troop downstairs.
That's on a good day.

On a bad day, the yelling starts early, long before Jay has left the house. I am not a morning person and I cannot take yelling before breakfast. I stomp in before I've showered and say "WHAT IS GOING ON HERE?" in my scary angry voice, freaking them out with my scary pre-shower smooshed-up pillow face.

The answer to what is going on here is always the same: a plaintive little voice (Pink) saying "Blue roaring at me". And then I say DOES THAT MAKE IT OKAY FOR YOU TO YELL AT HIM? and she says no and looks sad and then I say BLUE DID YOU ROAR AT PINK? and he hangs his head and says yes and I say YOU BOTH NEED TO SAY SORRY and then they do and I say I DO NOT WANT TO HEAR ANY MORE YELLING OR ROARING FROM THIS ROOM  and then I march into the bathroom and turn the shower on and try not to hear the yelling and roaring, the roaring and yelling that's coming at me through the wall.

It drives me crazy, the way that he needles her and then she takes the bait. They are both half of the problem, but he always, always starts it. I wonder if he's ever going to grow out of it, this need to annoy her with dinosaur impressions in the morning.
An actual picture of Blue in the morning. Not actual size. 
And then a few days ago, I walked into their quiet room after my shower and he grinned at me and said "Mummy, I not roaring!" and you know what? He wasn't, although the temptation was obviously killing him. I gave him a big high-five.

Now he says it all the time, out of the blue. I not roaring! And I say Well done, little guy! and it makes me realise just how much of his effort is taken up with not doing things. Not bouncing on the sofa. Not hitting people. Not touching my phone. No wonder he's always so tired.

And the same goes for me, I guess.

So often, I am feeling bad because of all the good stuff I'm not doing. Like, I'm not answering my emails (really, I'm not) and I'm not cleaning the kitchen (really, I'm really not) but hey! Where's the credit for all the bad stuff I'm not doing either?

For example. At the moment, things feel really difficult and stressful and I am not doing anything useful, at all, ever, but I am NOT eating any more m&ms.
I have NOT killed anybody in my extended family.
I have NOT killed anybody else, either.
I am NOT buying any more bags on ebay this week.
I am NOT getting up from the computer right now to make a batch of caramel popcorn.
I am NOT calling in sick and staying home from work
 and I am NOT using this computer to book a vacation (alone) to the Caribbean or Italy or, well, anywhere.
(How about you? What are you NOT doing?)

All this stuff is as hard for me as Not Roaring is for my little guy. I guess it never ends, does it? So much of being a grown-up, or just of growing up, seems to be about developing self control, about NOT doing all the stuff that my id wants.  I was listening to a radio play recently (because that's how rock'n'roll my life is) and one line that really stuck in my head was beware of the things we do to get by. Beware, I guess, of feeling the emptiness and sadness from the things that go wrong in our lives and becoming the kind of person who loses all self-control and just lets themselves roar, metaphorically speaking. (Or, you know, sometimes literally too).

I probably give myself too many passes on this one. Sometimes I think I just need to grow up.

I go in and wake them up after their nap. (They still nap in the afternoon. So sue me). He looks at me and says again I not roaring, Mummy! and I say I know, I'm so proud of you and I really am. Every minute of every day that he is not roaring, I am proud of him.

And now I find myself thinking it myself, all the time. When they provoke me - when I'm annoyed - when things go wrong - when the cat vomits unexpectedly - when these things happen and when I (rarely) manage to keep my cool, I say it to myself. Hey look, Mummy! You not roaring! and then I high five myself in my mind and then I clean up whatever mess is in front of me.

Things are hard in our house right now, and who knows, they might be about to get harder. But I want to be able to say this more: I Am Not Roaring.

Yes, it's true. I'm aiming for the self control of a three year old.

(High five, Mummy, high five).

Wednesday 24 October 2012

...and that's why I have a headache.

Thanks for those bath flutes, Nanna. No, really.

And: yes, we have a problem with damp in our bathroom, and no, I didn't choose those tiles.

Also, no, I don't really know the words to that song and I have no idea why they demand it so often. I think it's about how girls would be happier if they would wear things that boys like and put on more makeup. I'm so glad my children are learning those important lessons in early childhood. 

And also also: parenthood sure is a weird thing. This is not the first time I've realised it, but it's the first time it's been so literal - in the video that is their life, I really am just the backing singer. I'd probably better get used to it. 

No news from the geneticist. It turns out that they are waiting for a lab to send them a sample of my mother's DNA in order to do a comparison. They have her genetic results from the test she had fifteen years ago, which should be enough, but apparently the whole way they name genes has changed since then and they can't do a conversion because 'we aren't sure where one of the zeros should go'. Awesome. 

I will admit that when I found that out - after phoning the lab - I went straight upstairs to my bright pink bag and grabbed the M&Ms out of there and pretty much inhaled the whole lot. 

Oh, I should probably mention that my mother lives in Australia, and that's where the sample is. 


Actually, I have just - as I was typing this - realised that there is probably a sample of my mother's DNA on the envelope that she used to send us the bath flutes. Maybe I should visit the lab and see if they can sequence her saliva from where she licked the seal. 

No, I don't think so either. 
I really  need to start thinking about something else. Lately, what's been on my mind (probably somewhat inappropriately, to be honest) is the whole are we going to acquire any more children? thing. There is too much swirling around in my head about all that, and I really don't know where to start. I think I might try to sort the issues into compartments and attack them one at a time. Here are my current contenders: 

Capacity (or how being a below-average mother should mean that I get to parent an easy kid)
Destiny (or how I'm trying to figure out the part of the Venn diagram where theology, loss, public opinion and adoption rules intersect)
Fertility (or how I was barely thinking about my actual reproductive system until I saw a nature documentary and realised I was jealous of a seal)
Velocity (or how the feeling of moving forward can trick us into thinking that we are making good decisions)
Responsibility (or how I struggle with reconciling the conflict between our current children's needs and a bigger family. Or maybe it's not a conflict. Is it?)
Doing & Being (or how being the person you want to be - or think you should be - sometimes involves doing a whole lot of stuff you don't really want to do)
Siblings (or how 'To Three or Not To Three' should maybe be 'To Four or Not To Four')

Yeah, okay, now that's in black and white it's really no wonder I haven't done any of that yet. Any suggestions for where to start? 
One more also. I should have said this earlier - I'm so grateful for all the support you have given me over the last few weeks. I'm sorry that I haven't shown  it more, but it really means the world. 

Friday 19 October 2012

Waiting For A Train

Still no mail. One way or the other: ring my doorbell, postman, ring my doorbell.

In the meantime. Here's the thing about living in an urban area:

Everything is right there. Our playgroup is so close we can walk.
However, on the way, we walk right past a strip club.

Also: our favourite park is right next to my favourite café.
However, it is also right next to a prison.

And also: we can go and eat our sandwiches at the train station anytime we like, since it is only about 150 metres from our house.
However, on the way, we cross about six super-dangerous ultra-busy roads. (Okay, two).

That's what we did yesterday, and and I feel like this picture sums up my life right now. Sitting, and watching, and waiting for something to happen.

Ring my doorbell, postman, ring my doorbell.

Monday 15 October 2012


We leafleted the neighbourhood, not really expecting anything. But in the middle of dinner we got a knock on the door and:

My boy is home!!! He's sleeping on my feet right now.  There may not be any fluffy bunnies around here, but I think I forgot that a fluffy kitten is even better.

Many, many hearts for all your sympathy earlier.

Compassion Fatigue

Honestly, I have compassion fatigue just looking at myself in the mirror these days. I'm so bored of being so whiny. I promised myself that I wouldn't post any more doom or gloom here.

But my cat has gone missing.

My beloved, furry, purry, sweet, handsome, hilarious cat that Jay got for me on the same day we applied to adopt. He is my first baby.

I have no idea where he is.

He never, ever, ever ever wanders. He's a homebody, an inside cat, a hungry hungry boy who has never ever missed a meal in the four years we have had him. Now he's missed three. He's been gone more than a day.

If you are a pray-er, please pray for his safe return. If you're a pet owner, you'll understand why.

Saturday 13 October 2012

The Four Week Wait

So, right now I'm in the middle (I think) of the four week wait for my test results from the geneticist. (I talked in detail about these tests here a year ago - here's the link - if you want to know what's going on).

This waiting period has been much harder than I expected. I mean, I knew it wouldn't be fun, but I didn't expect that I would want to bury myself under a pile of sand quite as much as I do. (Out of interest, does anybody else experience this? When I am anxious or sad, I have a really strong physical urge to get underneath something. A table or a duvet or a piano or something. I'm not kidding, and it kind of freaks me out. Generally I just aim for the duvet but this time I kind of want something heavier). (Please don't hate me for admitting that). I guess what I'm saying is that life does not feel very much like a fluffy bunny at the moment. In fact, I would say it is something of a bunny free zone.

Here's where it all went wrong. (Well, it all went wrong the week before, but here's where it went wrong on the day I actually went to have my blood taken). The tests were in Oxford, in a hospital we haven't been to since we got my first set of genetic tests five years ago, and last time we went in a back entrance and really only saw one room. This time, we used a different carpark and went in the main entrance and once we had taken one step inside that hospital it was clear that it is the kind of place where nothing good ever happens.

Giveaway number one. You know how hospitals like to make a bit of extra money these days by selling retail space? I've been inside a fair number of hospitals, and it seems the shopping area usually has a cafe (mediocre) another cafe (truly awful) a gift shop (magazines that nobody wants to read, and sad dusty teddy bears with dead little eyes) and oh, another cafe, even worse than the first two. That's not what this hospital had. Oh no. Next to the obligatory cafe, directly opposite the entrance, was a shop that only sold one thing: wigs. Uh huh. The shop that expects the most customers from the people who frequent this hospital is the I can't help noticing your cancer treatment took away your hair shop.  

 Also. You know how hospitals have those big direction boards with how to get to all the different departments? Well, all the departments in this hospital were the 'oh no, you have to go there' departments. Nobody was getting their hip replaced. Nobody was having a knee operation. Absolutely nobody was having a baby. It was all sad, scared people, walking around in pairs holding tightly to each other's hands. It was really starkly obvious that this was the kind of place where all the patients need to bring their spouses to their appointments for support.  There was a strange, strained atmosphere so yeah, I guess we fit right in.

Eventually we trekked across the silent corridors of misery, got to see the geneticist, and she was super-nice. Really, really super-nice. She said she hardly sees any second-generation testees*, and she'd already been in touch with my mother's geneticist (in Australia - I was suitably impressed) so she knew exactly what gene deletion she was looking for. I think that because I've already had some conversations about the biology behind all this with my mother and cousins, I knew more than most of her patients do when they come for a first test, so she kind of skated quickly over all the basic information and got into the nitty gritty of some of the treatment options. I was glad to find her really knowledgeable, but I'm not really sure that I was ready to go into all the depth that we did - it has been a really big thing for me, deciding that I do want to know about what's going on in my body, whether it's going to try to kill me at some point in the future, and I wasn't really ready to think about 'hmmm, Total Abdominal Hysterectomy with Bilateral Salpingo-Oophorectomy or just oophorectomy? Mastectomy with no breast reconstruction or mastectomy with reconstruction using stomach fat [that's when she offered me the bonus tummy tuck] or reconstruction using back fat or reconstruction using synthetics?' I have no idea. I don't know. I don't know I don't know I don't know. I don't know. I don't even know if I have the gene yet, so I'm not ready to think about this stuff, but of course now I'm thinking about it all the time.

Then - because of her fascination with my ovaries - she was asking 'so, are you planning to have any children?' and I just laughed, in that wow, this isn't funny at all, why am I laughing**? kind of way and said 'ummmmm, well, we've already sat in this room once before' and she said 'yes, I can see that from your notes' and then I laughed hysterically again and told her we had two adopted children because of our initial trip to the geneticist, five years ago, but that we really had no idea what we might do next (if anything) in terms of more children and she says 'well, if you were to get your ovaries removed...' and frankly, who cares what someone says at the end of a sentence that starts like that? Have I mentioned lately that I'm thirty-three? I'm thirty-three. I do not feel ready to think about getting my ovaries removed. Or my breasts.

And by the way, sometimes I would be tempted to type br3asts instead of breasts, because I want to keep people who are searching for naughty stuff away from my blog. But this time, I'm leaving it there because the horrible men who are trawling the internet looking for naked pictures? Well, I hope they find this post instead of what they were really looking for. Cruising the interwebz for a cheap thrill, boys? Well, I HOPE YOU ARE HAVING FUN READING ABOUT OOPHORECTOMIES.

Also. I know that some people reading this have actually had cancer, and all of us know people who have died because of it. I am very aware that what I'm facing is not actually a diagnosis of anything except for risk. I'm not trying to be a drama queen about all of this. I know that I must sound to some of you like the person who has only been trying to get pregnant for six months and now thinks that they totally get infertility. I realise that I do sound a bit uber-dramatic about this wait, this anxiety, and I guess that's why I took an unintentional break for the last few weeks, waiting for all of this to feel a bit less raw and panicked before I vomited it out here. And actually, I didn't intend to even vomit this much, seeing as how this is supposed to be an adoption blog, but my fingers just seem to keep typing of their own accord. Bad fingers. Bad, bad fingers.

And yeah, I may feel pretty stupid if I get the letter on Monday and it says Negative for the gene mutation, no heightened cancer risk. But I'm pretty sure I can deal with feeling stupid. I can think of worse things than having to type 'guess what, it turns out I'm A-OK' Sometimes I picture myself getting the letter with the results (the one that is supposed to come within four weeks of the appointment) and opening it up and it says NEGATIVE! and then I jump for joy and drink some champagne and then I start to think seriously about saving for retirement, because hey, I might need to do that after all.  But twenty seconds later I wish I hadn't had those thoughts. After all,if I do get good news, I'm sure I'll figure out what to do without having planned the minutiae, and I don't want to have to put those fantasies away. I don't need them. After all, I'm okay with happy surprises.

Bad news, on the other hand - I do have a plan for that. Over the last week or so, I've been collecting a 'bag of treats' that I'm only allowed to open once I've got my letter. I know it's shallow, and trivial, but I wanted to have something shallow and trivial to look forward to during a week that might be really hard (and a month that has already been really hard).  The bag itself is bright pink***, and so far inside it I have:

and to be honest, I feel a little better just thinking about it. I'm also waiting on a mindless girly DVD I ordered from Amazon, and I am ABSOLUTELY taking suggestions for other things that should go inside. What would you put in a bag of treats? (Don't say a puppy, even though that is an awesome idea). The criteria are: entertaining, mindless, fun, not too expensive, able to be enjoyed immediately. And not a puppy.

So anyway, that's me right now. Believe me, I know how boring this is. I will start writing about adoption again soon, I promise, but right now this is eating all of my mind-grapes. I'm so sorry that I owe so many people emails, and that I haven't commented on anything at all lately. I think what I'm really trying to say is:

Normal service will resume shortly. 

*hee hee. That sounds like testes. I was going to find another word, but then I thought this post might as well have some male body parts along with all the female ones. 

**I've been doing a ton of this lately.I was filling in my sister in law on everything that has happened over the last few weeks and I was telling her "and then we had to take Blue to hospital and that was weeks ago and we are all still sick and now I'm waiting to find out whether I'm going get gene linked cancer HA HA HA HA HA!" and a part of me was looking on and thinking 'wow, it's really time to stop laughing Claudia' but it was that or head for the sandpit so, well, what can you do? 

***annoyingly, as far as I can tell, this organisation only exists in the US which kinda stinks for me. 

Friday 28 September 2012

Clues About My Mental Health

One day I'll do a proper update post about my mental health. This is not it. 

Right now, things are somewhere between 'Not OK' and 'Yikes'. (Silver lining: I ended up buying a really nice handbag from ebay). Things continue to be really tough, for about ten different reasons, none of which I have had a chance to process properly. (Okay, okay, this vagueness is mostly me avoiding a summary of my trip to the geneticist on Tuesday, because I'm not ready to write about it yet. Spoiler alert: she offered me a free tummy tuck, which wasn't weird at all. Okay it was). Also: dental work is more fun when they use enough anaesthetic. YES IT IS. I'm talking to YOU, root canal dentist lady from Wednesday. But there are two different family health things going on (nobody who lives in this house) and I feel more confused and anxious than I'd like to admit about it all.

Anyway. I'm sorry I haven't been around much. This is the way things are here at the moment. I really appreciated the funnystuff you all posted last time- they cracked me up, which is no mean feat right now. Thank you. And now I'm off to watch some more Friends sort my children out.

Friday 21 September 2012

So Much For Recovery Week

Last week, we had three different sets of visitors from abroad. It was SO good to see all of these people. I got to spend an amazing weekend with a dear friend, meet two lovely new friends, and talk late into the night with one of my fantastic cousins and her super-nice boyfriend. It was great. It was also pretty full-on - I didn't get nearly enough sleep and had this week down as 'recovery week'. I'm due for some annual leave, so it was all lining up - days off work, no big commitments, some easy food in the slow cooker, lots of rice milk, some time to work on my book. AHHHHHH.

Yeah, right.

So on Monday night, things start to go south when I have to take Blue to the out-of-hours GP. He'd been unwell all day - coughing and so on - but at bedtime he started breathing rapidly and his pulse went right up. I took him up to the GP at the hospital where they listened to his chest and said 'oh, this doesn't sound good' and nebulised him. Then, they referred him to paediatric A&E. At paediatric A&E they sent him straight up to the children's ward, where the nurse measured his vital signs and gave him oxygen.  At this point, about 80% of my brain was really worried for my darling boy, but the other 20% was feeling smug about how right I was to get him checked out. And Jay didn't think we needed to bother!  I thought, while he sat there, uncharacteristically subdued, looking like a sad and tiny spaceman in his little-boy-sized oxygen mask.

 This is getting boring so I'll summarise. An hour later, we got to see a doctor. Two hours after that - 3.30 am - they found a bed for Blue and he was admitted to the ward. (They had the space for a bed earlier than that, they just couldn't find an actual bed, which seemed kind of like a fundamental thing to have lost. Note to self - do not get surgery at this hospital). An hour after that, they woke him up for more medication, and an hour after that and an hour after that and an hour after that until Tuesday morning.

 The whole experience was weird - I had no idea we were going to be staying at the hospital when I left the house with just my purse and my keys. Nobody really told us what to do, either - most of the parents there seemed to be old hands, but nobody was talking and I didn't know the drill. They didn't even explain that we were going to be staying until hours had passed - I know it is all routine for the staff, but it was pretty scary and disorienting for me. I know their job is to look after the children, but I think that taking better care of parents in this situation would probably help the kids in the long run. I know that nobody who makes those kind of decisions is reading this blog - I'm just sayin'. Would it really be so hard to print out a leaflet, people?  Anyway. I was also wishing that I had brought a toothbrush and some pyjamas, or at least was wearing some more comfortable underwear. I was telling myself be grateful for free healthcare, Claudia, be grateful for free healthcare. Millions of mothers around the world would love to be able to complain that their free, high-quality hospital service didn't quite communicate effectively with them. Millions of mothers around the world would love to find themselves unexpectedly spending a night in hospital because their child was getting good medical treatment. And all that is true, of course, but I couldn't help also thinking but those millions of mothers are not having their flesh crushed by this stupid bra. 

So Tuesday morning came and I had had about two and a half hours of sleep. So had Blue, but the asthma medication they were giving him (frequent, high) doses of has the same sort of effect on the human body as coffee. So at that point I have a tiny, sleep deprived three year old who is off his face on the equivalent of about seventy espressos. Also, I'm discovering that this virus must have about a 24 hour incubation period because my own throat and head and chest are starting to say hey, forget that small kid you're looking after, what about US? 

It was a pretty awesome day. It was made yet-awesome-er by the discovery that some nurses are mean. When administering drugs to a tired, hungry, jittery preschooler, it doesn't seem kind (to me) to shout "I do not have time for this silliness! I have lots of other things to do!"  That was fun.  Also fun - when Jay turned up with a bag of stuff for me, including new underwear that was even more unsuitable than what I was already wearing (because let's face it, men don't pick underwear based on comfort, do they?) and when the doctor said that we couldn't go home and he had to stay another night. 

Cue weeping. I was feeling so sick by this point, and so disappointed that we couldn't go home that I pretty much burst into tears in front of a nurse (who didn't care, obviously, because her job is to look after the children).  Again, I tried to talk myself into feeling grateful for this first-world-problem of too much medical care, but in the end I told myself to shut up and just let myself feel sick and miserable. Jay came up to swap with me, warning me that Pink was getting sicker and sicker at home.

At this point, it's Tuesday night. I'm so tired that I skip the shower when I get home, even though I'm disgusting. I crawl into bed and sigh with relief. The cat jumps up - he usually sleeps on my pillow - and I tell him how glad I am to see him. Then, for the first time ever, he decides to walk across my face with his claws out, just to say welcome home, I guess. Face bleeding, I fall asleep in about a minute and a half.

Wednesday morning, Pink wakes me up early, crying. I haul her into our bed and give her some baby paracetamol. She throws it straight up. I give her some milk and she throws that up too. My limbs have turned to lead. I put a towel over the vomit patch - mostly- and eventually we both fall back asleep.

Later that day, Blue is discharged from hospital. He comes home, still high as a kite, and immediately starts fighting with his sister. I look after them and try to stop them killing each other while Jay goes back to the hospital to get the prescription for more medicine for Blue. Except... he can't, because... someone has driven past our parked car in a truck and totalled it.

Yes really. On this day, of all days, someone has totalled our car. While it was parked. Fortunately our car was only worth about five hundred pounds, but still. 

There's no moral to this story, none at all. It's just a horror show. (So why can't I stop thinking Hmmmm. I wonder if we could handle a week like this if we had three?) We are still up to our ears in it all, and Jay has just tonight started saying 'hey, my throat is really sore'. Quelle nightmare. Please tell me something to cheer me up - just found out there's a way to melt 7lb of belly fat a week with one weird old diet tip? Found something hilarious? Got a cute video of a cat on youtube you're dying to share? Now's the time.

Seriously. Please.

Because next week, next week: On Tuesday, I'm finally going to see the geneticist. And then on Wednesday,  in a random medical scheduling collision of horror, I have a root canal. I think it might be a while before things look up around here.

Give me strength.

(Or at least - failing that - give me videos of kittens).

Tuesday 11 September 2012

Oh, and another thing

I'm going dairy-free for a month, in an effort to see whether it will cure my chronic wheezing. I hate the very idea of doing this- I eat everything. When people ask about dietary requirements, I always say it, smugly:  "No, I eat everything" as if my lack of food allergies makes me somehow morally superior (pretty sure it does).

And now I'm giving up dairy. (Well, milk-butter-cheese. I'm not giving up traces of lactose because I'm too lazy I don't think that will make a difference since I'm not properly allergic).

I started yesterday, and was suddenly more tired than I can ever remember being. I had an awful revelation that actually, milk is what has been giving me energy! I'ts been keeping me alive! I was never going to survive without miiiiiiiiilk! And then I realised that I hadn't had any coffee, because I usually have milk in that. Most likely that was the real problem.

Problem #2, along with yesterday's sudden onset of narcolepsy: I've just found out that soy milk is disgusting. Do I have to try every brand until I find one I don't hate?  Does anybody know how to make almond milk at home? (I've got a blendtec). Am I doomed to drink my coffee black from here on in, or no coffee at all? Will I ever be able to have a takeaway latte again? Will I? WILL I????

In short, I have no idea how to do this. I know that I should probably just google this stuff, but frankly I'd rather catch up on reading all your blogs. Any tips would be greatly appreciated.

The Penniless Princess: A Review, Plus Some Other Stuff

Okay, before I begin:

Personally, I think that creating Christian resources (books, DVDs) for kids has got to be one of the hardest jobs on earth. Creating Christian fiction is tough. I mean, it's really really tough. It's tough writing for adults, and a thousand times harder writing for kids because hey, are you preaching the gospel to these kids or are you teaching them how to live as believers? So your target audience is, say, eight years old, and their parents go to church. Really, that tells you nothing about who this child is, where they might be spiritually. And maybe that's why most kids Christian resources seem to fall into six categories.

The first is a kind of junior prosperity gospel. The message here is: trust in Jesus and your life will be okay. Things might be hard at the beginning, but if you trust in Jesus you''ll be picked for the team / pass your test / get a boyfriend, depending on the age the book is aiming at.  As if the point of coming to Jesus is to make our lives better, rather than to save a people for himself.

The second is straight-up moralism. A lot of sunday-school type fiction goes into this category. Jesus loved his friends, therefore you should love your friends. The End, as if Jesus' primary purpose was to show us how to live rather than to sacrifice himself for us exactly because actually, we never will be able to live like him.   As if the point of Christianity is learning to live by a set of rules for their own sake, rather than living in a restored relationship to our creator and redeemer.

The third is probably my least favourite of all. This stuff doesn't really have a message at all - it's just milky and sappy and fluffy and its only virtue is that its not offensive. It's like aspartame for the soul.  The characters might go to church, they might mention Jesus a few times, they might pray a bit, but if you took all of that away the story would be exactly the same. There are no meaty themes, it's just the Disn*y Channel with Christian sauce.  There's nothing to wrestle with.

And hey, I have nothing against the Disn*y Channel, or against mindless entertainment. (Maybe I should, but I don't). But ugh, what a waste if we're trying to engage our kids with the meaning of life, and what do we, as Christians, think that Christianity is if not the meaning of life? Why are we buying them Christian books and DVDs if we aren't trying to teach them about God, to shape the way they think? (Personally, I think that we can be a bit too apologetic about that. I believe I've found the truth in Christ - of course  I want to teach my children that same truth. Their spiritual life is their own, of course, but I would be bemused by anybody who had any kind of deeply held faith and didn't want to share it with their children). Christianity that is merely cultural is nothing but a waste of time.  My point is this: Christianity is the meatiest subject in the whole universe. Hello, justice, atonement, sacrifice, redemption, everlasting love, restoration and justice.  Do themes come any bigger than that? Christianity is the meatiest subject in the whole universe. There is no excuse for Christian fiction to be sappy or fluffy. Not for kids, not for anyone (and most of what I've said on this third point covers a huge, huge chunk of women's Christian fiction too, unfortunately).

The fourth and fifth tend to be much better, I think. The fourth is re-told bible stories. I'm a fan. Done right, these have all the meaty themes missing from Type Threes, lots of opportunity for discussion and also some truly fun ancient Hebrew names.  The fifth is allegory - a genre that can go horribly wrong but also very, very right. I really think The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe did as much for me spiritually as any other book I read as a child (and yes I know CS Lewis said that it wasn't strictly allegory but does this look like a literary analysis blog?)  The interesting thing about Type Fives is that they don't ever actually talk about Jesus - instead, they have a story that runs sort of parallel to the gospel story. There's usually a character who is pretty much perfect, who engages in some kind of act of sacrifice, who redeems one (or more) of the other characters, who often follows the riches - humiliation - restoration arc. That can get verrrry messy, but again, to see it done right: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. 

The sixth, elusive, category is set in the real world and deals with real characters grappling with the real-life implications of what it means  - or what it would mean - to follow Jesus. I hardly read any of these when I was a kid, because of the aforementioned elusiveness. If you know of some good ones, please let me know.

All that to say: good Christian resources for kids are really hard to find. So when, a few weeks ago, I was approached by the people at Veggie Tales to review their new DVD, and I was really happy. I really like the idea behind Veggie Tales - Christian stories for kids. Told by vegetables. Okay, when I write it out it just sounds silly. But I like that they are funny (hello! Vegetables with foreign accents! I love it!) I like the idea of all the re-told bible stories, I like that they are genuinely amusing and kids really seem to enjoy watching them. I haven't bought any for my kids yet (thinking they are probably a bit young) but nieces / nephews / little friends have been watching them for years. I've been eyeing up Silly Songs and trying to work out when my kids will be old enough to start really enjoying them. (Now, probably. I'll get on that).

And all that to say - I really wanted to enjoy The Penniless Princess, but I didn't. It's a re-telling of The Little Princess, by Frances Hodgson Burnett (which I read many years ago, but can't remember in too much detail). In the book, a little girl (whose mother is dead) is placed in a boarding school by her very rich father. After her father dies, the headmistress goes back on her promise to treat the little girl well and turns her into a servant. She remains steadfast and befriends some difficult characters.  Eventually it turns out that her father's best friend has been looking for her all along and she is restored to her rightful place as the rich kid.

And the 'Christian' DVD is.... pretty much exactly the same. This is one of my two major issues with the film. The protagonist (a stick of rhubarb, of course, named Sara) talks about Jesus, talks about praying, but it all feels very pasted on top of the 'real' story (which, I guess, it is). It feels sort of like a cross between a Type Two (moralism - in this case, even when people are nasty to you you should be nice to them) and a Type Three (a story with Jesus bits that isn't really about Jesus at all) and a Type One (if you trust in Jesus, in the end you'll be rich again).  To make it even more confusing, there are elements of Type Five in there too.  In a way, I think the Christian themes would be more successful if the whole thing was treated as allegory, and since the source novel was written in 1905 (thank you, Wikipedia) I wouldn't be surprised if it was read that way, at least partly, when it was first published.  The whole riches - humiliation - restoration formula is sort of Jesus-ish, and the protagonist is entirely perfect the whole way through- again, she seems more like a Jesus allegory than anything else.  Is Sara the saviour or the saved? In short, it feels a bit like a genre-bending mashup and I think it's actually all a bit confusing, or at least not particularly helpful. I know I can be prone to overthinking things (cough *understatement* cough) but this really does feel fundamentally flawed at the story / message level. All the words sound Christian-ish but I really wouldn't recommend it as being particularly helpful in understanding the gospel.

My other big issue with this is that the strapline is 'A Lesson in True Worth'.  All through the middle section, when Sara is banished to the attic to work, she says to her friend: "Even if you look like a servant on the outside, you can still be a princess on the inside". On one level, okay, yes, that is absolutely true. Man looks on the outside appearance, but God looks on the heart. No matter what our position in life is, if we are Christian women and girls, we are daughters of the King. If that makes us princesses, I guess we are princesses.

However:"Even if you look like a servant on the outside, you can still be a princess on the inside". Personally, I feel like this is entirely missing the point. What does it really mean to be a daughter of the King? Does it mean sitting around all day in tulle? No. (Unfortunately). Servanthood isn't the opposite of being God's girl - it's the reality. The absolute reality. Here's what Jesus has to say about that:
Matthew 23:11 The greatest among you will be your servant.
Mark 10:43 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant,
Mark 10:44 and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.
Luke 22:26 But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves.

Follower of Christ = servant. Being a daughter of the King, a princess, means being a servant. This is not a trivial point.  Particularly because - have you met little girls? I have yet to meet even one who doesn't truly believe that she is a pretty special person. Barring abuse or neglect, I think that most little girls have no trouble at all believing that they are worth it, they are special, they are definitely a princess on the inside no matter what anybody else says. Maybe this isnt' the case all over the world, but this DVD is... well, it's a DVD. Any girl who is going to watch this is probably in the top 10% of the world, economically speaking. I do not think that most little western girls are struggling for Christianity to tell them that they are worth their oxygen.

Quite the reverse. I think the real shock of real Christianity for little girls (and big girls, and boys and men too) in our uber-privileged society is that that it is not all about us. It is not about how great we are. Instead , it tells us that we can't save ourselves, tells us to put our trust in a man who died and rose 2000 years ago then calls us to a life of service. Not really very much like a fairytale. Jesus' little sisters are not going to have an easy life. That's the real deal. If we are telling our kids that Jesus is coming to save us from a life of servanthood, well, I'm afraid we're lying to our kids.

And it's this second issue that means I won't be playing this DVD for my kids again. They enjoyed it the first time, and Pink particularly liked the peas (I did, too).  But I don't want her ever hearing "Even if you look like a servant on the outside, you can still be a princess on the inside" again. She can wear all the frilly dresses she wants (and oh, she is adorable in a frilly dress) but I don't want her thinking that means she gets a pass on service.  I don't want her thinking that servanthood is something to be avoided, something for Other People.

Instead, I'm going to wait for something where the frequent quote is: "Even if you look like a princess on the outside, you can still be a servant on the inside".  Now that's a message worth teaching. That would be a film I would like my daughter to see.

That would be a lesson in true worth.