Monday 30 January 2012

A Few Things About Today

  • Today, within twenty minutes of waking up, I knew it would be a day spent in the vortex of sick twins. It was tough. 
  • Within thirty minutes of waking up, I had decided that the DVD player would probably be on all day. 
  • Within forty minutes of waking up, I had decided not to battle about clothes (or, frankly nappies) and left them in their pyjamas all day. 
  • Being sick seems to make Pink bossy and demanding, and Blue very sad. To illustrate: Within an hour of waking up, Blue cried and cried because Pink wouldn't let him sit in the toybox with her. Pink seemed quite clear about the fact that Blue was not allowed to sit in the toybox, and told him so in no uncertain terms. She seemed less clear on the fact that she is not allowed to either. 
  • He also cried and cried because it was naptime, then because it was time to get up, then because he was still in his pyjamas, then because I changed him out of his pyjamas, then because I put him back in his pyjamas, then because it was time to make dinner, then because it was time to eat dinner, then because dinner was finished. 
  • During their putative nap, the doorbell rang. It was a friend from church, needing me to sign something. Defying statistics, she happened to arrive during the 45 minutes I was cramming potato chips into my mouth and watching Alias on DVD. I don't think my day looked to her like it felt to me. 
  • I got through the day without once losing my cool at them. I didn't achieve anything else, but I was proud of that.  
  • At about 6pm, I was so tired from not-yelling that I fell asleep in front of The Adventures of Spot the Puppy, even though Blue was on my lap and talking to me the entire time. 
  • For once, J got home from work at 7pm rather than 8 or 8.30 which meant that he could finish bedtime. It is possible that my frantic texts throughout the day had something to do with that. 
  • As soon as he got home, I put on my shoes for the first time, ran out the door and to the supermarket across the road. I dawdled and drew out my errand for much longer than I needed to. I found myself seriously wondering whether yes, I should really get some wok oil or hey, how about an ash removal attachment for my vacuum? In the end I just bought bread and milk. And also maybe some m&ms. 

  • I then spent the evening catatonic on the sofa, eating m&ms  with my feet in a foot spa. J gave it to me for Christmas as a joke, but it turns out I really like it. It's very soothing. The instructions say don't add bubbles, but I do it anyway because I'm a risk-taker. The challenge is to get the bubbles up to my knees without turning my lounge floor into a slippery skating rink. 
  • On a related note, I really need to get out more. 
  • They are sleeping well now, which is a relief. 
  • I went in to look at them a second ago, to give me that traditional parental night-time boost. You know, the 'awwwwwww, aren't they lovely, really?' boost that usually comes from watching sleeping children. Unfortunately, this time I just though 'sorry, kids, I still remember how much you annoyed me today'.  I love them, obviously, but.... you know. 
  • In eight hours and six minutes, I have to get up and do it all again. Give me strength. And give me calpol. 

Tuesday 24 January 2012

I Blame Post-Feminism

At work, recently, I was reading a study about post-natal depression. The researchers did a (very clever) intervention, and found that they were able to reduce the severity and length of PND episodes in post-partum women. They got lots of funding to take it further... to benefit child health. Because after all, post-natal depression is bad for babies.

And that's true, of course, but I couldn't help thinking: isn't post-natal depression also pretty bad for the mothers? Does that not matter?

Not as much as it should. When I was struggling badly a few months ago, I heard some stories from other people that made me incredibly sad. The worst I heard was of a doctor whose patient asked for help because she was struggling with depression and anxiety. When he asked her if she was thinking of harming the children (and she said no) he said "No therapy or meds for you at this stage. Come back if you're thinking about hurting the kids".


That man deserves a giant wedgie, obviously, but sometimes we talk like this ourselves, too. When mothers look at our lives, it's easy to talk as if the only excuse to help ourselves or improve anything is because it ultimately  helps our children. I don't think men talk like this. I think that when a man wants to, say,  go running, he just says that he wants to go running and shuts the door behind him. When a woman wants to go running, she usually has to find some reason why making the time to go running is going to make her a better mother (I'll be a better mother if I get some endorphins; I'll be a better mother if I have some time to myself) before she will let herself lace up her shoes.

I read this article recently (as did every other mother with an internet connection, I think, and if you didn't, FIX THAT NOW) and it made me think about some of this stuff, about how we value ourselves and each other as mothers, as women.

I'm in the thick of young-mothering at the moment. It's hard. There are lots of good bits, but it's hard. It does move fast, and parts of  it are incredibly wonderful, and I can see that there is something special about this time, something that will never come again. I will not always have a child who greets their naked reflection with 'Hello, nipples!' and I will miss that when it is gone. And of course, I already miss this: 

but when children are tiny, they are cute for a reason. If they weren't adorable, we would not put up with their insane demands. We would not let them ruin our lives and then pretend that we don't resent it. (Joking!) (Mostly). 

And people telling us oh enjoy it - enjoy it - enjoy it, it goes so  fast - that tells me that these are the only years of my life worth having. That all that will be left for me in ten years time, or fifteen, is a fading nostalgia for this time, now, when life was worth living.  

What nonsense. 

I think. 

 I hope that I will look back and see, through memory's soft-focussed, gilded  lens, how incredibly privileged I was to mother these two beautiful human beings through their infancy.  But I also hope that, as I am looking back, I will still be mothering these two beautiful human beings. They might not need me to choose their clothes and cut up their toast any more (and please, oh please let them take care of their own bathroom needs eventually) but this, here,  isn't the only way to be a mother. And being a mother isn't the only thing worth doing, either. My life didn't start when I became a mother. It won't end when they leave home. If we had never had children at all, I would still be a person. I love my children, but they aren't what makes me worthy of my space on the

(Fellow Christian mothers, I think we have our own specialist version of this kind of thinking. Churches are usually pretty good about valuing motherhood, but I think that sometimes the intense focus on that aspect of what Christian womanhood means can lead to us devaluing a lot of other amazing things that women can (and do) do for God. iwe let ourselves believe that THIS IS IT! the time that means something in my life! then we are going to struggle to lead worthwhile, Jesus-focussed lives as our children grow and leave us. Right now, this is my most important Kingdom work. Right now, self-sacrifice and loving like Christ means, most often, changing another nappy with a smile on my face and disciplining my children with consistent love and trying not to scream when they ask me to sing  The Teddy Bear Twist! yet. again. But it won't always be this way.  There will come a time when this job is done and that is okay. That will be a time to find new work, new ways to love other people, new ways to build the Kingdom. It has to be that way.  If we let ourselves believe that intense mothering is the only thing that matters, we are going to waste the next forty years after we have had our turn,  keeping our children's bedrooms like shrines to the time that they were ours rather than saying 'Okay, Lord, what do you need me to do next?')

They aren't what makes me worthy of my space on the planet. Which is just as well. And maybe, whether we enjoy this time or not isn't really the point. And who are the enjoyment police, anyway? No matter how much we enjoy it, or no matter how much time we spend climbing the walls, it's going to end anyway. I think that living, now, knowing that, helps me to keep these sweet and painful days in perspective. There is no amount of enjoying that will stop these days from ending. I cannot wring a day more from this time than I am given, no matter how upbeat my attitude. That's not how time works.

There has to be something else afterwards. I refuse to believe that the next forty years of my life are going to be a wasteland because I won't have toddlers. They are not my only reason for existing. 

So I am trying to learn to refuse to talk as if the only reason to do something I want to do is because it will somehow benefit the toddlers. I think the two are tied together. 

Why do we talk like this, think like this? I don't know about you, but I blame post-feminism*. I think that feminism gave us the idea that our lives should be fulfilling (rather than just the self-sacrifice of motherhood) and then post-feminism told us that we could still get that fulfilment, but that we could get it through motherhood after all. Which, let's be frank, it some pretty serious mis-selling of the whole experience, right? Talking as if motherhood is the only worthwhile (or even the most worthwhile) thing we do reduces mothers to the sum of their mothering, and it reduces childless women to nothing at all. That can't be right. 

This book is very thought-provoking on the subject.  I would like to unpack this a bit more, but I don't want to make this post longer than it already is; I need to go and sit on the sofa for a while and drink some red wine.... (after all, I'm a much better mother if I get a break in the evenings. Ha). 

I think what I'm trying to say is: it's easy to forget that this isn't all there is, that the kids aren't the only people who matter. It's especially easy when we feel guilty about not appreciating this time enough (and we do, obviously, which is why that post resonated with practically the entire western world). 

Kids are nice to have, but we are people too. And that is reason enough to look after ourselves. You, on your own, are enough of a reason to take care of yourself, to go on a date night, to read a book, to occasionally leave your child in bed for a nap for an inappropriately long time while you take a bubble bath. If that self-care somehow helps your kids, that's great. But it's enough to do it for you.

Even saying that, I want to write after all, one of the best things we can teach our children is that the world does not revolve around them! They need to see us having the self-respect to care for ourselves! and maybe that's and true, but it's not the point. And the need I feel to write that is exactly what I'm talking about.

You are reason enough,  tired mother with a teething baby.

You are reason enough, mother whose children have left and gone
You are reason enough, just you, whether you have twelve children or none.

It doesn't have to all be about the kids. 

You are reason enough too. 

*I'm joking! Sort of. I do not have a degree in women's studies. If you do, please don't yell at me in the comments. 

Monday 16 January 2012

Two Things I've Noticed Recently

I've mentioned before that my children love - no, adore Miffy. In case you haven't met her, Miffy is a rabbit. A small, white rabbit.

Did I mention that Miffy is a white rabbit? Well, she is. Not the peachy, browny, not-actually-white-at-all-but-lets-call-it-white-anyway shade that some of us humans are, but glowing, arctic WHITE.

You know, like a rabbit.

Yeah. So - this is fine with me, obviously. We got series one of Miffy on DVD a while ago, and we loved it. I don't look at the pictures of Miffy and her friends and feeling uncomfortable about race, or worried about what it's doing to my children.  This is partly because actually, Miffy is very diverse programme. It does not only show rabbits interacting; no! Miffy's friends include pigs (pink, of course) bears (brown) and a dog (also brown).  Here are miffy and her friends, circa series one:

So, yes, very diverse. My point is -  I'm not watching Miffy and wondering 'why are all the rabbits white?'. Instead, I am asking more fundamental questions, like 'why is that rabbit talking?' 'why is that rabbit going to school?'  and 'in the wild, wouldn't that dog actually be attacking the rabbit?' 

Along comes series two, and a new character called Melanie. I'm sure the series creators had the best of intentions, but - how can I explain this? I photographed my TV so I could show you what I mean:

Yeah. Now I'm feeling uncomfortable about race. Epic fail, Miffy, epic fail.

And speaking of pointless, borderline-offensive tokenism: what's up with nappy packaging? What I'm about to describe may be a UK-only thing, (well, obviously in other parts of the world you don't call them nappies at all, but you know what I mean). Or it might be old news to you. But anyway. Here's what newborn nappy packaging looks like over here (this is every brand I could find):

Notice anything? Yeah, all those newborns are white. Here's one exception: 
A very cute kid of indeterminate ethnicity
However. Once you move into the bigger sizes, there are brown kids all over the packets. For example (this is only a sample; there are still white kids in these sizes too, of course)

  But only on the big sizes. It seems to me like all the brown kids are on the big sizes. This can. not. possibly. be a coincidence.  My guess is this: the newborn sizes are the stage where mothers are developing brand loyalty. Those first few sizes, people are still open to switching brands. But after a year or two, who wants to be still thinking about what brand of nappy to put their kid in? Not me, that's for sure. We picked our favourite (which also happens to be the cheapest, which is also not a coincidence) about a year and a half ago. I do not think about what brand to buy now, I just buy it. There could be a big sign saying 'Now with added BPA!' on the package and I would still buy that brand. 

My point is, I don't think it really makes any kind of difference, marketing-wise, what picture the brand puts on the big sizes. So, yeah, when I look at all the white kids on the newborn sizes and then the kids who look like mine on the big sizes, it feels to me like they are saying: We will totally put brown kids on our packets, because we are super-inclusive like that. Just - you know, not at the point in the market where people are developing preferences that result in three years of brand loyalty. 

Did that conversation really happen in marketing departments all across the land? I guess it did.

Am I imagining this? I don't think so. I don't think I'm imagining this.

And then I thought about it, and remembered why I noticed it in the first place. When I was buying tiny nappies, I was looking, (subconsciously at first, then consciously), for a package with children that looked like my own children. I would have bought that brand, if it had existed. And I guess the white mothers mothers with white children want the same thing. And I guess the market says that there are more white children out there than brown children (that's definitely true in the UK).

We are all drawn to children who look like our children, even when - perhaps especially when - we are spending our money. Is that wrong?

I don't think it's wrong. Is it wrong that marketing departments just want to give us what we want? I'm not sure. That's much more complicated.

But it's probably worth noticing, whatever our market power is, whatever colour we are, whatever colour our kids are.

Thursday 12 January 2012

Please Forgive My Nerdiness

I'm in denial about the fact that 2011 is over. I'm still trying to tick off December tasks, to finish up a few things that fell  under the bus that was my life at the end of last year. Bloggingly, I have three (THREE!) book reviews that I am determined to get written and up here by the end of 2011. Yeah, in the past. That self-imposed deadline isn't working out very well for me, as you can see. They are great books. I can't wait to write about them, I just haven't done it yet. (I'm also finishing up the first draft of my own book, which I am definitely going to get done by Christmas 2011, no matter what. Definitely. Oh, hang on....). 

But January is going better than imaginary December. I'm trying to get all of the typical new-year-y type things done, the things that involve being both more (organised) and less (lazy). I haven't skipped a run yet. Aaaaand... I sorted out my computer desktop. I know that sounds like a total non-achievement, but it's been hanging over me for the longest time and in the end it only took about an hour and a half. And now, nerdily, I'm going to share the process with you in case anybody else wants to do something similar. I'm sure I'm not the first person to think of this idea for visually organising a desktop, but I haven't seen it anywhere else so I thought I might as well share it. If you weren't into this kind of thing at least a little bit, you wouldn't have worked out how to read this blog, right? 

Here is my computer desktop as it has looked for longer than I care to remember. It was a good reason not to do any work on the computer. Please note the horrible background (what was I thinking?) and the six million icons for programmes I have never actually heard of, let alone used.  Hello, I'm talking to you, blackberry update utility. I do not own a blackberry. I have never owned a blackberry. 

So. I went to flickr and searched for 'graphic'. On the first search, I found this fabulous picture that is free to reuse (and modify) under creative commons licensing. I downloaded it (by going to view all sizes > download large size). Then I went to, opened the file and labelled the bubbles with the categories I wanted using the text tool: 

I then saved the modified file to my computer, opened it up, right-clicked and chose 'set as desktop background'.  (If any of you want to use / modify this file - please do - just click and download. It's creative commons, like I said. Let me know if the uploaded resolution here is too low). 

I've done a similar thing for work, keeping the 'programs' label, but using the other bubbles for the different bits of my job (because otherwise, everything for work would just go in 'boring stuff'. Amiright?)  

Then I did the very unpleasant - but surprisingly quick - task of sorting through all my icons. I deleted a lot of stuff (anybody else have a desktop full of blank word documents, all called 'Doc 1'? What is wrong with me?) I also created a new folder in the 'boring stuff' area called 'I have no idea what this is' and I have to admit, I shoved a lot of things in there. I will probably never need to actually open that folder, but the mystery shortcuts are still there if I ever need them. I don't have to see them, and I don't have to deal with deleter's remorse. Perfect.  

So now, my desktop looks like this: 

and I have to say, I love it. Totally worth the time. Also - easy to maintain because any rogue icons in the top left hand corner will be immediately obvious. So, please forgive my geeky need to share, but this is currently ranking up there with our dinosaur sandwich cutter as my number one favourite thing, and where can I share my geekery if not the internet? 

So. That's all I have to say about that. Book reviews coming very soon. The End. 

Monday 9 January 2012

And So It Begins

Just before Christmas, this happened:

And I took a picture of it, because I couldn't believe that they were actually playing together. Playing together! I planned to post this picture here with the caption 'It's a Christmas miracle!' because I was pretty sure it was never going to happen again. (I did a similar post in July and that did turn out to be a totally isolated incident).

But before I could post it, this happened:  

She voluntarily climbed up to join him in tooting out tunes on the auroscopes from their new toy medical kits - which they think are kazoos. Again, I ran for the camera thinking it was a one-off. 

But then - then - their medical kits also came with stethoscopes, and shortly after this picture was taken they started running up to each other and shouting 'chestandback! Chestandback!'  as a signal for the other twin to lift their shirt and submit to an examination.  And then they kept on doing it. Taking turns. And now, it suddenly seems that they get it. They have finally worked out that the other twin is a playmate, not just a competitor. We went to the park, and this is what happened: 

She's pushing him in one of the doll strollers....

Then she is kissing him. Yes, it's true, she's actually KISSING HIM... (okay, I prompted, but she did it)

Then he said 'Blue turn! Blue turn!' and they happily swapped places and he pushed her for a while. 

At first, I wondered if I was imagining it. Am I just perceiving things to be better due to the effects of the brain medicine? J says no, no, no - things are definitely changing, and his neurochemistry is unaltered so I guess his assessment is reliable. There is still a bit of squabbling, but that's not the only way they relate any more. This morning when Pink started yelling, I knew that she had probably fallen over before I even turned around. A few weeks ago I would have just assumed that Blue had bitten her.

It really seems like a corner has been turned. They sing together. They play together with their new teaset (Pink calls the teapot the pee-potty, cracking me up every single time), they cooperate to build towers.  It. Is. Absolutely. Incredible. 

Yeah, it is THIS good. 

This morning,  I had fed them their breakfast, then I decided to see if I could do the cleanup right away, without waiting for them to be asleep or otherwise restrained. It's never been a good idea, because if I left them alone they would attack each other, but I thought - no, I think they can do it! Today is a great day to try! and I decided to empty the dishwasher while they played with toys in the next room.  As I scraped and stacked and put away, I spent quite a long time just consciously dwelling on how happy this was making me. Mark the little things, right? It went a bit like this: 

This is probably the first time ever that they have really played together for this long... it's so great.... my life is so wonderful.... I can't believe how awesome my kids are...... it's fantastic that they can finally amuse themselves....I would never, ever have believed that they could turn this corner but they have.... hey, now I've finished the dishwasher and I can start on the sandwiches..... man, life is so good today.... I can't believe they aren't pulling my knees and whining.....oh, here they both come, peeping around the door to check in and say 'hello mummy' .... hello my honeys, mummy loves you!.... this is awesome, my children are so well behaved AND so well attached.... I wonder what they're doing over there, probably posting duplo people into the toybox.... it's so cute that they do that.... I love that their new affection for each other has opened so many new doors for them into creative and cooperative play.... maybe I should open a home daycare, I am clearly such an awesome mother....Oh, I can't resist, I have to go and see what my smart adorable children are up to: 

And then I found out the downside of the sudden appearance of Team Twin in our house: 

They were drawing on the walls, of course.