Sunday 26 February 2012

Fundamental Error

A few days ago, a friend with no kids said something about my kids that annoyed me, something that made me think 'you have no idea how hard my life is', that made me think 'you should be more sympathetic about the difficulties that I am facing, even if they are not your difficulties'. 

And then I remembered  thinking exactly the same thing from the other side around three years ago. I was talking to a friend with children about waiting to adopt and she said what no woman with empty arms wants to hear: 'Hey, if you really want kids, you can have one of mine!' 

I felt like I had been punched. 

At the time, I thought she was saying 'It's hilarious to me that you are aching for a child'.  Now, I wonder if she was really saying 'I'm struggling with this. Please help me'. I didn't help, of course. I just turned away, burning with anger. 

That comment wasn't an isolated incident. Most women who face fertility problems could write a masters thesis on Awful Things That The Fertile Woman Says and Does. Chapter one is Complaining About Her Children and some of the rest are Not Realising How Hard This Is, My Childless Life Is Not One Long Carefree Vacation You Know;  She Said WHAT? Doesn't She Care About Our Friendship At All?; and Even If She Hasn't Been Through This Herself, Has She No Imagination? 

It hurt me so much that my friends didn't understand how hard my experiences were. It hurt me so much that they minimised and ignored the pain of wanting a child. This is so much harder than it looks from the outside, I remember thinking. I wish you could see just how hard. You think your life is hard, so mine must be easy and it's not, it's not. 

I didn't see that I was falling into the same trap they were. 

Honestly, I had no idea how hard their lives were, and I didn't really want to know. I certainly didn't ask; I certainly didn't want to listen. They underestimated my difficulties but I did it to them, too. It's so strange to be on the other side now. Even after years, I still struggle to reconcile the pain of disconnection and isolation I felt then with how connected I feel to that equal-and-opposite shared mothering experience now. 

I do think that they should have been nicer to me. More understanding. But I'm sure I should have been nicer to them too. 

I suppose we were both in the wrong, my friends with kids and me. We could see that what we were doing was hard, but we couldn’t see that what we weren’t doing was hard too.

Fundamental error of logic.

Fundamental error of empathy.

I think the moral of the story, probably, is that everything is harder than it looks when you’re not doing it.

Saturday 18 February 2012


  • I haven't done the chidlren's lifebooks yet. I know, I know. If you had asked me before we adopted, I would never have believed that I wouldn't have done it by the time they were two and a half.  In my defense: I was waiting for information from the search we did back in July, then I was waiting for the searchers to do some follow-up investigations, then I got super-committed to finishing the first draft of my book. That's done now, though (HOORAY!) so it's time to get other tasks knocked over while I give myself six weeks off before going back to start redrafting. The task at the top of the lists is lifebooks. Any tips much appreciated. On a related note: 
  • We are a two-parent family, but for some reason tasks like lifebooks fall entirely to me. On the other hand, J does all the heavy lifting and gets things for me off high shelves. I think we have a nice balance. On a related note: 
  • I love that J works three days a week and does the parenting two days a week. I'm planning to interview him for the blog about this because I think it's interesting. I talked to him about it yesterday and we both think the key to sharing part time work and parenting is that neither of us is particularly into our careers (unless anybody from work is reading this, in which case I am totally into my career). On a related note:
  • A few days ago, I was in a meeting at work with a thoughtful expression on my face. My boss asked 'what are you thinking about, Claudia?' and I said 'I'm thinking about how we will get buy-in on key internal stakeholders for this project' but actually, I was thinking about some bathroom tiles that I saw on Pinterest.  On a related note: 
  • We haven't had any internet all week. It's been broken (and okay, by 'broken' I actually mean 'unplugged', for reasons that are too complicated to go into. (And - double bracketing here -  by 'complicated', of course, I actually mean 'boring')).  A whole week without being able to pin anything! A whole week without reading or commenting on blogs! A whole week only being able to read email on my phone! It's been incredibly difficult. I'm kind of horrified by how difficult. Now I know what suffering is. On a related note: 
  •  I had to go back to the doctor and got my dosage of brain medicine increased.After three weeks of sick kids and sick self and getting really uptight and upset again, I finally admitted that it was time to move up a notch.  It was strangely difficult - I felt so good after the first few weeks that I was sure everything was going to be fine again, forever.  I felt so angry with myself when it wasn't.  I was in a bad place in my head again, and this time the conversation went 'Claudia, you are such a loser than you can't even get it together when you're taking antidepressants. Wow. All of the stigma of medication with no actual benefit. You really DO make bad choices about your life'.    Fortunately I remembered that tone of voice and knew enough to at least try not to listen to it. And apparently it's pretty normal to feel great after starting and then slip, and now that I've got a few more milligrams in me, I feel fine again. Not swinging from the chandeliers, just normal, which is what I want. Isn't that what we all want?   I'm saying this here because a lot of people have read the original post I wrote about this stuff, and I think it's only honest that I do this follow-up. I've been extremely positive about the brain medicine, and I still am, but I probably was a bit overeager to say 'I'm cuuuuuuuuuuured!' and to use the phrase 'magic bullet'. I'm sorry if I said that to any of you. On a related note: 
  • I've had to apologise more since I started parenting than ever before in my life. Right now, I've left my children 'napping' despite the fact that they have been wide awake for the last half hour. I'm not going to apologise for that though, since they can't tell the time and don't realise how late it is. I'd better go and get them up now, though, and wash their hair.  But first, on a related note: 

  • I got one of these things(US link - and no, none of my links ever get me any money, just in case you were wondering) and I think I want to marry it. It's a hairdryer with a brush that rotates, ie it has magical powers. You know when a hairdresser blow dries your hair while using a round brush? This thing does all that by itself.  I've only had it three days but I have suddenly become very, very vain about my hair. It's so swishy! It's so shiny! You can't see me, but I'm flicking it right now. I'm so enamoured that I've bought one for my mother for her birthday and I'm pretty sure it's going to get me bumped back up to 'favourite daughter' status. I know my sister is reading this and I just want to say that you'd better get on it if you want to stay in that will. On a related note: 
  • I have no idea how to tip a hairdresser. I know that you're supposed to do it;  I just don't know how. My mother never went to the hairdresser (and she cut my hair at home so I didn't go either - is this making you re-evaluate the usefulness of my hair recommendation above?) so I never got to watch how she did it. I had to get my husband to teach me how to tip a taxi driver (because I never used taxis, either - right now I bet you don't believe that I grew up mostly in a major metropolis, not in a cave somewhere) but he cant' help me out with the hairdresser thing.  With a taxi, if the driver says 'eight pounds fifty' I know to say 'make it ten' and hand over a twenty smoothly  and get the right change.  But when a hairdresser says 'that will be six thousand pounds' - or near enough, it seems - I have no idea what to do so I just say 'okay then!' and give them the sticker price.  Because of this, I tend to only go to a hairdresser once. I don't want to get the butchering that would inevitably result from being 'that woman who didn't tip last time'. I really liked my last haircut, though, and would like to return to that salon, so I'd be grateful if you can help me out here, internets.  On a related note: 
  • Internet, I'm so glad to have you back. I've missed you - let's never break up again. 

Tuesday 7 February 2012

Hamlet Would Approve

I just had to apologise to my son for deliberately pouring a glass of water over his head. What can I say? Mealtimes ain't easy around here, and I finally snapped.

This is how I thought food worked: you try to feed your kids reasonably nutritious food. If they really, really really won't eat the good stuff, you may have to face a situation where you (gasp!) have to feed them (gasp!) nothing but sausages and mashed potato, and, on the bad days, nothing but  (double gasp!) pizza or mac 'n' cheese.

Turns out I knew nothing. Nothing! I would be so happy if my children would eat pizza - they won't even lick it. I'd be dancing on the ceiling if they would eat mac 'n' cheese - they will eat pasta, and they will eat cheese, but they will not eat pasta and cheese together. Seriously, we are talking here about kids who won't eat chicken nuggets. Their eating (or lack of) is off-the-charts crazy. Except that crazy sort of implies fun, and this is not fun. They don't really eat anything. I'm pretty sure they just photosynthesise.

Here is the list of everything that my children will not eat: Ummmm... actually, there's no point typing that out. Basically, it's everything. Everything that does not appear on this next list. So, here is the very short and specific list of food my children will eat:  jam sandwiches cut into the shape of dinosaurs, pasta with butter, fish fingers, pancakes, blueberries (Pink only), frozen peas (ditto) cheese (both, but only 20% of the time) and apples (ditto).

Oh, and they will also eat cake. Or, as they say it, CAAAAAAAAAAKE. It's the only food they truly love - they are like this about cake. Sometimes, in the middle of a totally un-cake-related activity, Blue will turn his little face towards me and say, in a plaintive voice, "caaaaaaaake?" as if I might have just whipped up a three-layer sponge for him while his back was turned. I never have, just for the record.

Thing is - I love food. Love it! It's pretty much my favourite thing. What's not to like about food?  I love cooking almost as much as I love eating, and I was really looking forward to sharing that love with children. Ha, ha, ha. One of my friends recently said "I can't believe that you have such fussy eaters! You are really into cooking, and your kids are, like, the worst eaters I have ever seen!" Ummm, thanks, I think.

I actually did like whipping up the occasional three layered sponge, before I began to find the kitchen the most demoralising room in the house. Honestly, honestly - there is nothing much more depressing than making meal after meal after meal, day after day after day,  knowing that in thirty minutes time I'll be scraping it into the bin after they have said nooooooooooooooo and cried. Again.

If you've been there, you know the feeling. Unfortunately, many people who haven't been there seem to want to dish out advice about how to miraculously get my kids to eat. As if I haven't been trying, or aren't really interested enough to put some effort into making this situation better. Of course, it feels to me like I do nothing but try to make this situation better. And this means that,  whatever they are all primed to tell me, I already know it. I already know it! I'm sorry for sounding prickly about this - it's because, well, I am. It's just so hard to not be able to give my kids food effectively, you know? It's not like I don't care. So. Here is a (prickly) list of things I already know and do not need to be told about my children's eating:

Children object to texture more than taste
They will eat as much as they need and they won't starve themselves
Children need to taste a new food several times before they will accept it
I need to not make a big deal out of it, because they are picking up on my stress
If I was a better person, or at any rate more like the person giving me advice, my children would be snacking on jalapenos right now

And, my favourite: it's mostly mind games, and I shouldn't let it get to me

This is true, of course. I know it must be largely psychological mind games, because they will eat pretty much anything if the person feeding them is someone they don't know very well. Here's the thing, though: not letting something get to you is incredibly easy to say and incredibly hard to do.

 I know that the only way to survive the mind games is to just not make food a battleground. It's not a moral issue, it doesn't have to be a fight. The way we try to do this is following the Ellyn Satter approach of: my job is to decide what we eat and when we eat. The children get to decide if they eat and how much they eat. If they don't like what I serve out, they can eat plain bread but I will not short-order-cook. Neither will I wheedle or plead or emotionally blackmail or bribe or make food into an emotionally charged issue. So, we have an anti-mind-games plan. We even stick to the plan. We do not fight battles about food. Really, it shouldn't be getting to me at all.

What Ellyn Satter never says is that it's also my job not to lose my FREAKING MIND about faking being okay about all of this, and that's by far the hardest part. It's not a decision you make once; it's a constant drain. On a daily basis, 'not letting it get to me' actually looks a bit like this, and it usually starts at lunchtime:

12.15 choosing not to get mad that they push away their sandwiches (even though they are jam, in the shape of dinosaurs, of course) and ask for cake
12.25 choosing not to get mad that they ask for an apple and then don't eat it
12.26 choosing not to get mad that they won't drink any water because it's not in the right bottle, even though the only Blue-approved bottle has been discontinued and I can never buy more, ever again
12.28 choosing not to get mad that they didn't end up eating or drinking anything at all for lunch
12.32 choosing not to get mad that the table is still a disgusting mess despite the lack of eating

Many days, I feel like  choosing not to get mad about food is my full-time job. It sounds trivial, but it's not trivial. It uses up all my daily resources of willpower. , which is particularly hard when there is other stuff going on like sickness (hello, right now) or boundary-pushing (hello, most of this year).

They nap. They wake up. It continues. So:

17.01 choosing not to get mad that they are screaming for dinner, when they wouldn't be so  stupidly hungry if they had actually eaten their lunch
17.22 choosing not to get mad that Blue cries and says No peas! No peas! because he sees me getting the peas out of the freezer, even though I am only adding them to Pink's bowl, like I do every single day
17.43 choosing not to get mad that they don't actually eat anything once it's in front of them
17.44 choosing not to get mad when they ask for cake - again
17.45 choosing not to get mad when they suddenly start frantically shovelling their food in as soon as I take it away
17.45 and 30 seconds: choosing not to get mad when they abruptly stop and decide not to eat anything after all
17.46 choosing not to get mad that Blue wants water, then when I give him water, says 'NO WATER!' and then ten seconds later wants water again, then says 'NO WATER!' when I give it to him, then wants water again, then shoves the water away when I put it down

And that is why, at 17. 47, I picked up what remained in the cup of water and poured it over his head.  He looked at me, shocked and speechless, then said "Blue naughty!" and I said "Yes! You WERE!" and then I took him upstairs and changed his clothes and apologised for getting mad.

And I shouldn't have gotten that mad. Was it mature? No. Was it appropriate? No. Do I recommend it as a parenting strategy? Definitely not. Would my social worker approve? Again, no, no, no.

But, on the other hand: did it do him any lasting harm? No.

And was it a long-awaited, Shakespearean-tragedy-level cathartic experience?  Might as well be honest.