Thursday 28 June 2012

In Which I Get My Comeuppance For Being So Smug Last Week, Also Some Stuff About My Book

I guess it serves me right for posting so smugly last week about my uh-may-zing relationship with my boy - this week has been an unremitting nightmare. The children have been awful, I mean awful, i mean the kind of awful that makes me want to shout "are you HIGH right now?" at them.  And throw things. I asked Jay whether he had signed them up for some kind of psychotropic-drug clinical trial without telling me, because that's what this week feels like. He says no, but is clearly lying - I hope he is being well paid for his perfidy, that's all I can say. 

So that's incredibly annoying. Anyway. In other news, I'm inching closer to finishing this book that I keep talking about. Some people have now read it (most nerve-wracking thing I've ever done, I think, asking for that feedback) and in response to their comments, I'm going to start re-re-drafting while on holiday next week. (Which reminds me - I'm on holiday next week. And the week after. Probably with no internet access). 

I've been back-and-forthing about whether to seek traditional publishing for this thing, or do it myself, and after a ton of research I'm thinking maybe the latter. I was planning to write a post on publishing, but that's probably boring for 99% of you, and I think I can sum it up in a few sentences so I'll do that instead: 
1. Self-publishing is not as uncool as it used to be, what with Amazon Createspace and all. We can call it 'independent' publishing now too, which makes it sound forceful and dynamic instead of a little bit sad. As in: "I am independently publishing my book, because I am that creative and gung-ho", rather than "I am self-publishing my book, because I am that desperate". Yay. 
2. Every 'should I self-publish, or seek traditional publication?' article says 'If you are writing for a niche audience, you may find that self-publishing is your best option. Traditional publishers probably know no more about distribution channels in your niche than you do". The Adoption / Loss / Infertility crowd is the very definition of a niche audience, aren't we? 
3. Related to the above: I think that approximately 89.4% of adoption books are probably purchased online. Getting into bricks-and-mortar stores isn't a big deal like it would be for, say, crime fiction. 
4. Something I didn't know until I started researching this stuff: a large chunk of the books about adoption (except those written by established authors) are self-published. (Sorry - independently published). You can find this out by googling the name of the publishing company of each book, which can be found by looking at the Amazon listing. I didn't know most of these books were independently published until I did this - I had read a lot of them, and I would never have picked up on it. They weren't full of typos. Some of them even had really good covers.  I mostly found them at amazon - my local bookstores don't carry any books about adoption at all, no matter who publishes them. Which comes back the point in 2, I guess.

So anyway. If I do this, it means I have to do (or contract out) everything that a publisher would do to get this book finished and printed.  So I've been thinking about book covers, which is a lot more fun than fighting with my temporarily-psychotic children. Suddenly, I can see why there are so many bad independently published book covers out there. I mean - seriously - how can you visually represent an entire book with one image?  I can understand the temptation to just pile everything in there, like the author is saying -  It's a picture of a tree, because that represents growth, but also wood because the love interest is a carpenter. And the sky is pink because that's that's the heroine's favourite colour. And the stars are out, because there's a great scene in a planetarium, but it's daytime because of that thing that happened with her aunt in the last twelve pages. Also, the heroine owns a bakery so the tree is full of cupcakes. And one of the cupcakes is shaped like a cat. Get it? A CAT!

Yeah, I don't want to do that. I also don't want anything to do with the adoption staples of orphans, Africa or travel. It's not really a book about travel. It's about my life, and I'm not an orphan or an African, so those visual cues aren't right. (Also - both 'orphan' visuals and 'Africa' visuals tend to creep me out bigtime. Can you spell c-o-m-m-o-d-i-f-c-a-t-i-o-n?).  I was thinking about maybe something to do with a baby bottle, but that would make La Leche angry (and frankly, I'm frightened of them) or a pacifier (but we couldn't actually get our kids to take a pacifier) or something else that says baby, but well, I kind of got distracted. 

I'm not at all sure I've found the picture I need for this book, but I have found pictures for the front covers of these forthcoming publications, which I thought I would share with you: (I don't own these photos. You can buy them at shutterstock).

Sadly, I didn't get time to mock up Twenty Weeks Gestation is Not Too Early To Have Your Therapist On Speed Dial. But wow, searching around, I sure found that pregnant women really, really love having their photos taken. Often - very disturbingly - with props. While I get this - kind of - I don't really understand why photographers think that these photos are going to sell to other people, people who are related to neither mother nor fetus. Pretty much every search term I used brought up artfully posed pregnant bellies, sometimes (but not always) with heads and legs attached. Rubber duck? Pregnant torso. Baby Bottle? Pregnant torso. Seriously, who is entering these tags? Somewhere, someone is searching for 'Israeli / Palestinian conflict' and getting a pregnant torso. Well done, internet. Because I am totally planning to publish this: 

So anyway. That my life right now, and that's what's happening with the book. Enough of this silliness, and back to the hard work of editing parenting. 

Tuesday 19 June 2012

Lessons From The Lightroom

Recently, I got a copy of Adobe Lightroom. (Well, technically, I've downloaded the trial version but it's so fabulous that I'll be getting the real thing as soon as my trial expires). I got some free presets - also fabulous - and was thrilled to find that I can finally get some decent black&white conversions of my colour pictures. Call me stupid, but I've never been able to get the hang of doing this properly in Photoshop Elements - my black&whites were always annoyingly flat. But now: 

Yay, right? This is Pink against a brown wall - look at how well it brought out all those lovely midtones with just a few easy clicks! So, buoyed by this initial success, I shoved my big memory card into the computer and started looking for other pictures to mess around with. I don't know about you, but I use my primary memory card as an extra backup  for some of my favourite pictures.  I download photos to the computer, and delete most of them off the card, but I always leave a few from each session saved, just in case the house burns down or the computer and external hard drive both expire on the same day. (You know, but my camera is somehow miraculously okay. Whatever. It makes sense to me). Anyway, the card I'm currently using is absolutely huge, so it has about two years of stuff on it, ranging in time from this:

April 2010

To this: 

This last weekend, June 2012. I love the way he sticks his tongue out when he runs. In fact, I love everything about how he runs.  Remind me to tell you about the cat stuck down the front of his Tshirt some other time. 

Two years worth of Us, all appearing in front of me at once. And wow, it brought back a lot of memories. Some of the time I just kept catching my breath because wow those babies were cute. I mean, seriously:

So squishy. 

But one of the weird things about seeing all the photos in front of me at once was seeing what wasn't there. When they were small (not tiny-floppy-infant small, but the next size up) there is not one. single. photo. of Blue looking relaxed and happy in my arms. His father, yes. Me, no. 

There are a few awkward photos of me trying to get us in that kind of pose - which I will spare you, for the sake of our dignity - but nothing that worked. And seeing those awkward photos - me smiling tightly, him turning away - brought it all flooding back to me, how when he was little, he didn't want to snuggle. He didn't want to burrow his head into my shoulder. I don't mean that he never did it, but it wasn't his default. Not by a long way. He liked me a lot - he loved me, in his little baby way, I think - but I wasn't a totally safe space for him. He wanted to interact with me, but he wanted to do it on his terms, often at arms length. 

I knew it wasn't normal. I had seen enough infants and mothers together to know how that particular dance goes. He never rejected me, but I knew that he didn't think that we were a part of each other, either. It was sad.  

And it seems so strange to remember all this now, because things are so different. How long has it been like this? I can't remember. But now, just when all of his friends have begun to separate from their mothers, he has drawn nearer. Much, much, much nearer. I used to say 'oh, I know what you mean' when friends would moan how their babies wanted to go to the bathroom with them, and couldn't bear for them to be out of sight. I was lying, though - I really didn't know what they meant, although I didn't want to admit it. My children were pretty much happy for me to go to the bathroom alone, and some days I wondered whether Blue would notice if I never came back.  But now - now -  Blue stands outside and says 'Come too? Come too, Mummy?' and I'm yelling 'No! This is Mummy's private time!' and wondering if I can have a two year old arrested for stalking. 

 This is something I wasn't really prepared for. I suppose I thought that his early attachment issues meant that he would always be less close to me than an average child of the same age. But that's not how it has worked for us at all. Instead, he seems to be making up for lost time. It seems that he is eager, now, to get all of the intimacy we missed when he was a little baby. I can't put my finger on when this started - it was a long time ago, I guess - but I feel like our relationship is playing out backwards.  In so many ways he is closer to me now than when he was an infant. He has a deep need for closeness, for physical touch. This in itself isn't quite normal either, but I can give it to him anyway. That's something I can do. Given the choice between this year's borderline-anxious and last year's borderline-avoidant attachment, I would choose anxious every. single. time. (But nobody does get to choose, do they? Not the children, not the grownups. That's partly why this all feels so hard).  

In some ways, at nearly-three, he's a bit like a baby, my snuggleupagus. He's like a different child. Has it really taken this long for him to build up the trust to let himself need me in this way? Once again I'm amazed by how deeply his early life has affected him, by how differently it has affected his sister. 

Today, after his nap, Pink was still sleeping and Blue and I went and played on my bed. I tickled him (he's always, always loved to be tickled) but we lay there with our arms around each other, too, him babbling away about bubbles (his current obsession) and me nearly falling asleep in the afternoon sun - still unable to believe that this boy wants to be close and be hugged, that this boy sees this mother as a physical refuge, at long long last. 

I think what I am trying to say is: take heart. If you are a new adoptive parent, and you know in your heart that your child is holding you at arms length - take heart. It can get better, and I think that it usually does. I'm not saying that everything is going to be easy from here on in, but sometimes it does my heart good to look back and see where we've come from and say: we've come a long way, baby. 

Thursday 14 June 2012

Now With 15% More Aster*sks!!

On an entirely different note, I want to say a huge thank you to everyone who left comments on my post about anatomy. Some of the things you said have really really helped me to think about how we talk about bodies in our house. If you're interested, here are some of my updated thoughts -shamelessly stealing from all your incredibly helpful comments (and if you haven't read them - do! People are smart.  I'll wait).

First up, I realised why talking about girls is comparatively hard. For boys, everything is simple. They've got one piece of equipment that does everything. What do you see when you look between a boy's legs? A pen*s! What does a boy use to wee with? A pen*s! Which part of his body is used in the act of babymaking? A pen*s! 

One thing, three functions.And I think that's why it's so hard to immediately answer the question boy is to girl as pen*s is to ________________.  Because - what function are we talking about?  If we're going for anatomical correctness, I guess the equivalents are, in order,  v*lva, ur*thra, vag*na. We ladies certainly are complicated creatures.  (Fancy on the inside! Thanks to Amy for that hilarious quote). 

So that's three options, so far. I'm thinking we've got a good few years where weeing is much, much, much more relevant to our little girl than s*x. So surely, if we want to just be accurate, the word we should go for is probably ur*thra. But! Even once we've sorted out which function we're talking about, there's a lot more to consider. I hadn't really thought about most of these until y'all raised them.  From what people wrote, and from my own feelings, I think there are three ways of choosing what to say. Because seriously, nobody says ur*thra. Do they? 

Firstly, What is the correct anatomical term? Secondly, What word will help them to be comfortable talking about their body - both for toilet training now, s*x education later, and also to help them be confident in speaking up if anybody was to touch them inappropriately? And thirdly - What word is everyone else using? 

Big lightbulb moment for me - sometimes these three questions have different answers.  I've been feeling like there should be one word that is somehow the 'right' choice, but thinking about all these options has made me think that probably, that's not the case. The English language is full of synonyms - we use different words in different situations, even when we are talking about the same thing. Why should this be any different?  In my house, growing up, the focus was very much on anatomical correctness. I think the logic was: if something is correct, how can it be embarrassing?  But anybody who has stayed silent rather than say the word v*lva out loud knows that the answer is well, some words are just made for cringing.  And I didn't really feel like I was 'allowed' to say anything else. So while it's been driving me crazy that people say vag*ina when they are talking about the whole area - girls do not wee out of their vag*nas! And that's not what you see, either! -  I'm realising that probably, that's the word that other children my daughter's age are going to know. And no, I don't want her having long discussions about that area of her body for a good few years yet (and that specific area - not until she's married, please) but I don't want her to be confused because she thinks that other girls have something in their underwear that is different from what she has in hers. And therefore,  I want her to know that word too. 

So. My takeaway from all of this has been that we are going to deliberately use a whole lot of words. V*lva - because that's what you see. Vag*na - because that's what she will be hearing from other kids (although I'm yet to actually make myself say this in context. Call me old fashioned, but I don't really think little tiny girls should need to know they have one of these. If someone touches them inappropriately, it's wrongwrongwrong LONG before it specifically gets to touching that particular part). Private parts - because that's what they are. And if a cute word makes her comfortable, we'll use that too. 

So again - thank you very much for leaving such incredibly helpful comments. On behalf of myself, my daughter and her future therapist - it's much appreciated!

Telling Stories, Telling Lies

Wow, it's really complicated having kids who suddenly want to talk about stuff.

Kids in Britain (and America, I think) live in this really weird space where every story that we tell them is positive and joyful. Their storybooks are full of lions and crocodiles, and in these books those vicious carnivores gambol happily with an assorted cast of prey-animals, with nary a thought of dinner. If they fight, it's not a to-the-death bloodbath, it's an argument about something cute, with a moral, like who is going to help Mr Leopard bake a special birthday cake for Mr Rhino. And in the end, they all help, because they all have different skills and everybody is different and that's just what the world needs.  (The biggest exception on our bookshelf- I really want to eat a child.
 This book about a hungry crocodile is hilarious, in a slightly-wrong, very French way. Unlike most of us, the French don't seem to feel the need to make children feel safe, and it makes their books pretty confronting for British and American audiences. A few times in bookshops I've looked at books that have made me go Whaaaaaaa? and then I've looked at the back and seen translated from the French by..... and though oh right, okay then and usually I put it back down again and pick up something lovely by Sam Lloyd).

Anyway. We are still very much in this rainbows and unicorns stage in our house, and I think it's an entirely good thing. Life is going to get hard soon enough - I want them to have a period in their life where the world feels as safe and calm and secure as possible.


We look at their 'special book' a lot at the moment. And they want to hear so many stories about themselves, all the time. Pink, in particular, has a need to hear her adoption story again and again and again. I think a lot of this is just normal little-girl-ness. She's becoming very aware of family relationships and working out her place in the world. She's working out (because duh, I'm telling her) that she was born from another lady's body and so we talk a lot about how we adopted her and how we are a family. Right now, I know this is absolutely the thing that we need to focus on. Security, certainty, family. And the stories always include how we said to the judge 'yes! We want them to be our babies forever!' and she beams and I tell them both how happy we were when they were finally ours. And they are used to hearing this; they know that it's true. I know that their little minds are thinking 'well of course you were happy when I turned up; I am awesome. What was not to be happy about?' (Also, Blue is thinking 'enough with the stories. Can we have cake now?')

But of course, truth is, I wasn't really all that happy to start with. I was totally freaked out. I was practically having kittens.  I wonder about this a bit sometimes. I find it hard to know - when we tell them stories about their lives, where is the line between developmentally appropriate and outright lying? Even if I had been outrageously happy, there's a lot about their story that isn't happy. How much of that do we talk about now? There's a lot of adoption loss that we need to talk about, and that we do talk about.  There's a fair bit of information out there on how to talk about birth family and the complicated emotions that surround that, but that's not really what's complicating things for as at the moment. As well as skating lightly over Mummy's slight and temporary nervous breakdown, I'm totally stuck on how to talk about where they lived before they came to us. At the moment, a lot of their interest centres around the care home where they lived before they met us. They want to talk a lot about it, and I always say positive things - because they are two- but actually I want to shout that place was horrible! Being in that place nearly killed you! Instead, I'm all oh, look at all these lovely children in the pictures! and hoping my pants don't catch on fire.

There are lots of really good reasons why they needed to be adopted. There are not lots of really good reasons why, for example, their care home was so bad. I still feel angry about it (can you tell???) and I know that some of that anger makes it hard for me to be objective about how we should talk about it.  (Just for the record -this place was not like an American agency care home. Believe me when I say it was bad). There aren't really any good reasons why I struggled and struggled during the first few weeks they were with us, either, but that's the way it was, although I don't really think it would do them any good to hear it.

We need to keep their story simple for them at the moment, because they are only tiny. But the story itself is far from simple. I don't want to give them more than they can handle, before they are ready for it. But I also don't want there to be a horrible moment when they realise we've been sugar-coating bits of their life story and the reality was actually pretty different. I'm sure that a lot of this is not just adoption-related. Mothers who had post-natal depression must have similar issues when they look through their children's baby books with them, I guess. Sometimes it's hard to reconcile what my kids need right now with the fact that they also need truth. I don't want to be one of those mothers who keeps things cosy and it's too late to get real. Also - to be honest - Pink has started talking a lot about how she wants to visit Ethiopia (Eee-feee-o-papa, she says - it's adorable). We want to take her - of course - but she keeps talking about how she wants to visit the care home, and I've suddenly realised that when we do that, it's a loooong, long way from the image she has built up in her little baby head and I know it would distress her - both the place itself and the disappointment, the difference, between what she expected and what it really is.

I guess that is what started me really thinking about this whole thing. I was hoping that writing this down would give me some clarity, but it hasn't.

Wednesday 6 June 2012

Advice: I want some.

(Warning: This Post Has Lots Of Aster*sks)

(oh wow, they were beautiful babies). 

So, as you know, I have twins.
Boy / girl twins.
Boy / girl twins who bathe together. Get changed together.  Do pretty much everything together. Often quite nakedly.

And yet, neither of them ever seemed to have noticed, ahem, you know, the whole  boy girl thing.  It was actually getting kind of insane. I mean, these kids are nearly three.

And then a few days ago, I was changing Blue. I stripped him off, then Pink peered over and and pointed at his groin and said Mummy, what is THAT? And I said That's Blue's pen*s. (Because, well, it was).  And she looked at me and said Pink have a pen*s? And I said No, Pink, only boys have pen*ses.  After that, there followed a conversation about who, specifically, in her life must therefore have a pen*s. Names were named. (I will spare you the details of that conversation).

Aaaaanyway.  This conversation, of course, led onto a technical discussion about what girls have. A discussion that we have now had about twice a day ever since.  She points at him and says what's that? and I tell her again, and then she points at herself and says what's THIS? and I say....  well, actually, I keep saying different things because actually, I have NO IDEA what word to use for that particular area.

You'd think it would be a simple question, but there isn't a good word, really, is there? I know some people go for vag*na in these circumstances, but I'm not really happy with that. I mean, reproductively, I guess that a vag*na is the equivalent of a pen*s, but when you take a girl's nappy off, that's not really what you see, is it? Is it? I'm embarrassed to say I'm kind of stumped. And what's the internet for if not to answer these awkward questions?

So, I wanna know.  Got any advice for me on this one?