Thursday 23 August 2012

A Horrifying Moment of Startling Clarity

[Technical note - Despite where I live and how I actually talk, I'm going to use 'Mom' instead of 'Mum' in this post because in context, I think it makes more sense. Sorry to everyone reading in the UK. Yeah, both of you]. 

So I was on the internet a few days ago (okay, okay, it was Pinterest) and I came across an article that promised easy alternatives to the "mom hair" messy bun. And of course, I thought "What? A messy bun is not "mom hair!" A messy bun is what young, stylish people wear because of their busy schedules!" I mean, seriously. I wear a messy bun all the time. All my friends wear messy buns. 

(You can see where this is going, right?)

It's just that I think of myself as being a mom more in a technical sense than any kind of fundamental sense. It's my parents and their friends who are the real mothers and fathers, surely?  Quite often, I find myself doing something parental (lately: picking up poop off the floor with my hands) and thinking:  Shouldn't there be someone older around to do this kind of thing? And when it comes to making dinner, I think: How is it that this is my job every night? Why are all these people relying on me? Who made me the grownup?  Can't I just go to my bedroom and read?

I still think the moms are not me. The moms are the generation above me. This means that I think Mom Hair looks permed and short and somehow simultaneously both wispy and helmet-like, like this: 

(Found here)
But. But but but. The woman in this photograph will be a grandmother now, I suspect - this was filed under 1980s hair, and the 1980s were thirty years ago. THIRTY.  Obviously, my own mother is a grandmother. And now it's me that's the mother, not just technically but in every other way too.  Most of my friends are mothers. We are the moms now.  Ergo, the hair that my friends and I all have is mom hair. IT IS MOM HAIR. 


 I knew that  was a mom. I just didn't realise properly that I belong properly to a whole group of us with trends and characteristics that were 'mom' characteristics. I suddenly realise that my children's generation are going to refer derisively to 'mom hair' and they are going to mean my  hair and they are going to think the same thoughts about me and my fabulously chic messy bun as I think about the hair helmeted woman above. 

And just like that, I went up a generation in my head. Ouch. 

How about you? Are you a mom in your head? The weird thing is, I sort of felt more 'mom-like' before I had kids, in a disenfranchised kind of way - the wanting of children took up so much of who I was that I felt like it defined me. And it was weird how nobody else could see that - either by looking at me or at my life. Whereas now maybe the reverse is true. 

I thought about my most recent trip to get my hair cut.  I really don't like what was done to me - my hair looks just a bit too wash'n'wear, as if it's I'm saying to the world "Hey, I really don't want to bother too much  with how I look". And then I scrape it back into a messy bun. And now, apparently, I have mom hair. 

I thought it this haircut was some kind of terrible mistake, but on reflection, I've realised that the stylist did it on purpose. ON PURPOSE!  She was a talker (I hate that) and I had nothing to say so I kept wittering on about my children (I bet she hated that) and I guess she thought 'well, this woman is clearly defined by her children, so let's make sure that everyone knows she's a mom before she even opens her mouth her hair is easy to manage'. I sort of thought we were the same age, but now I think about it I guess she was about twenty. (I'm not twenty). I looked at her and saw a young person - you know, like me. I guess she just looked at me and saw a mom. 

And then she cut me some mom hair. 

Clearly the Mom Hair has to go. So I guess that means I'm off to learn how to do a sideways braided french twist using only a hairpin and a few pieces of fusilli pasta. Before I go, though: I'm obviously having an existential crisis here, and doubting everything I thought I knew. When people said 'Mom Jean's I always thought I knew what they were talking about. High waist, maybe a bit of stonewashing, maybe a bit of elastic. But people, people - 

 Does this mean that now, my jeans are Mom Jeans too? 

Tuesday 21 August 2012

A Handy Guide to Racial Stereotyping For White People

I am super stressed and super cranky right now.  One word: WORK.  But I thought - hey, I haven't done a chart for a while.  So here's what I think the world needs right now: A handy guide to racial stereotyping for white people. 

Monday 13 August 2012

And That's Why I'm Drinking Vodka At Two In The Afternoon

So we officially started potty training today. We've had to keep putting it off (travelling, visitors, a wedding) and we were ready. I mean, we were ready. 

Did we have potties? Check. Yes, we had potties.
Did we have about a million pairs of dry pants? Check. Yes, we had dry pants. (And by pants, I mean whatever it is that you guys call your underwear. This lost-in-translation stuff is confusing).
Had we been talking about this together for about a month? Why yes we had.
Did we have special potty books, one for boys, one for girls?  UH HUH. Absolutely.
Were they begging to be allowed to wee in a potty? Why yes they were.
And did we have a strategy? Heck yes, we had a strategy.

Want to hear about the strategy? Here it is: you don't teach them to use the potty, you teach them to keep their pants dry.   The idea is that you reward them (every ten minutes or so, at the start) for having dry pants, rather than rewarding them for using the potty.  Get the difference?  Also, the rewards are in the form of salty snacks so they want to drink and drink and therefore get lots of practice at weeing where they should. This  is a strategy my parents swear by, and my Dad  was waxing lyrical about it on their recent visit.  On rewarding dry pants vs rewarding weeing: "the thing is", he said, "you have to make sure that you are rewarding an outcome, not a process".  (And that, my friends, is everything you need to know about my childhood, right there).

Anyway. We started at about ten this morning.  I gave them their special dry-pants-day treat of new Hello Kitty water bottles (for obvious reasons) and some Octonauts toys (because who doesn't love the Octonauts?)

So. How's it going? Well. We have two kids here, obviously. And one of them turns out to be terrified of the potty, despite having begged to use it for weeks and weeks. This child is constantly crying and saying 'no! I scared, I scared!'. This child needs to be hugged while on the potty because of all the fear. This child needs to be sung to. However, this child has managed to wee in the potty twice.

The other child, on the other hand, has no fear of the potty. This child has no problem pulling pants up and down, up and down, sitting happily on the potty and singing while there. And this child has managed to wee three times.

On the floor.

This child also likes to yell at the frightened child while that child is on the potty, causing loud and abject wailing from the frightened one.    He (okay, it's Blue) then yells for more of the Octonauts DVD and she's saying "I frightened, I frightened!" and honestly, this is not going well at all. 

Did I mention that they covered our lounge in crushed salty chips?

And now I've just put them to bed (with nappies, of course - I'm not crazy) and am trying to work out the best way to get a lovely mix of urine and chips off my feet. And I know they are going to wake up soon, and I have to do it all again, and oooooooooh, noooooooooooooooo, this is it, my life is over. 

And that, my friends, is why I'm drinking vodka at two in the afternoon.  Not much, obviously, just enough so that I can say to them 'well okay, so I have to spend all day sponging up wee but at least I'm old enough to drink'.

Do you think that makes things sound better?

Yeah, no, me either.

Sunday 12 August 2012

Are You There, Parapet? It's Me, Head.

you have been warned

Recently, two of my (online) friends have announced that they are starting the process to adopt from Ethiopia. Both made the announcement with some level of trepidation. Both were clearly concerned that they were going to be attacked for their choices.

Other friends of mine - friends who are nearing the end of looooong waits to adopt - have been reluctant to ask for support during this last, most horrible phase of waiting. They are worried that the tide of sympathy is turning, and that they can't really ask for support because people no longer approve of what they are doing.

J and I began our Ethiopian adoption in 2008. I guess that things are different now, and that means that people who happily put their names on waiting lists in 2008 can be prone to a bit of sniffy judgementalism about people doing it in 2012.

I have a few words to say about that.

I was thinking: what's different about adopting in 2012 rather than 2008?  Here's what I think.

On the Ethiopian end, there is more oversight.
There are more regulations.
There is better scrutiny of paperwork and procedures.
There is at least one fewer dodgy agency operating.
For adopters from the US, your embassy is also much more serious about investigating paperwork irregularities.

There is more information around, too, of course. Over the last few years, some really awful horror stories from the recent wave of Ethiopian adoptions have come to light. I think that's why people can look askance at those who are choosing to start an adoption now - as if they are saying "but don't you know what could happen?"

However - and I'm saying this cautiously - I don't think that this new knowledge is a reason for us to criticise people who are starting adoptions in this post-Fly-Away-Children era. They are certainly not a reason for those of us who were part of this first wave to feel any kind of superiority to those who are adopting now. After all, those horror stories are from our wave of adoptions. I think it's fair to say that we were much more at risk, ethically, four years ago, than new Ethiopia families are now, for all the reasons above.  And if we didn't  know that there were ethical risks back then, it can only be because we were not paying attention.

I know that the evidence is there now. But the evidence was there then, too. It was always pretty clear that there were going to be risks and there were going to be charlatans. There are risks now. We know it. But the same was true two years ago, and three years ago, and four years and always. Anybody who went into an adoption in 2008 thinking that they didn't need to be really, really careful about ethics was not paying attention. 

Which is not to say, of course, that I think every Ethiopian adoption now is a good idea, or that we shouldn't hold each other accountable for making super-dumb (or dangerous) choices. Anybody who goes into an adoption now without being really, really careful about ethics is doing something inexcusable, obviously  Anybody who goes into an adoption now should be incredibly careful, incredibly wary, incredibly sober-minded, incredibly willing to question themselves and everyone else, painfully willing to change course if red flags start to go up, incredibly aware of what those red flags might be, incredibly honest with themselves about the realities of how long the queues are (and I think that goes well beyond infant adoption in a lot of cases now), incredibly open and honest with themselves about what their real motives are, incredibly aware that most of the world's 'orphans' have living family, incredibly educated about post-adoption family reality and - of course - incredibly patient.

But that's always been true, and it always will be, whether international or domestic, infant or older child, special needs or not.  From time to time, a new place becomes the big thing in International adoption and it just seems like everything is going to be fine there - that there is a big room somewhere full of lonely babies and it's not like Guatamala, it's not like Vietnam, no, of course not, there won't be any corruption, the people of this country love children too much. It can make us feel like we don't have to pay attention. And now, I guess the PAPs for somewhere else are talking about how its not like Ethiopia. People, I bet you ten million space dollars that it is. Pay attention.

I seem to have become sidetracked. I just want to counter the idea that Ethiopian adoption was okay then, but it's somehow rotten now. That's far too simplistic. I don't think it's true.

Oh, and friends - you know who you are - I'm really, really, happy for you. Congratulations.

Thursday 2 August 2012

The Thing About Pinterest

I promise this is the last time I will mention my children's birthday, but I have a few words to say about the cake I made them. I will concede that the icing (that's English for frosting, y'all) was incredible. It was so soft and fluffy; it was like licking a pillow. But the cake itself tasted like an old boot, and I ran out of m&ms in the colours I needed, and the icing got totally full of cake crumbs (because the cake was so dry) and overall it failed to deliver the amount of self-satisfied, smug pride I was hoping for.

What happened was this: rather than finishing it and thinking 'hey look, I made a perfectly adequate cake!' I stepped back and looked at it and felt a huge rush of disappointment.  Because it looked like this:
Hey look! A perfectly adequate cake!

But in my head, of course, I was thinking it would look like this:

Now that's what I call a cake!
 So yeah, there was a bit of an expectation gap.

 Why would I feel disappointed? Why would I expect that my children should have some kind of food-as-sculpture experience for their third birthday? Frankly, I could have iced a shoebox and they would have thought it was great, so my disappointment was definitely not about them.

I blame Pinterest. And this is about more than cakes, and more than Pinterest. It's about how easy I find it to be disappointed with every aspect of my life, when I compare it to what other normal people are doing in the online-o-verse: blogs and facebook and all of it. I can ignore magazines - everybody knows that stuff isn't real - but these days there is a new level of voyeurism (and, okay, exhibitionism) about ordinary people's ordinary lives. I feel like every aspect of other people's lives is displayed on my laptop screen, and what I'm looking at always seems so fabulous.  

If I'm being honest, I find it weird and sometimes difficult, being surrounded by this much fabulousness. I find that after too much time on social media, I feel like I must be unusually blobby and uncoordinated, live in an unusually small house, work in an unusually boring job, sew an unusually small number of hand-printed hand-woven organic toys, eat an unusually bad diet which is unusually low in kale, overall live an unusually mundane life and  - also - make unusually bad cakes.

I wonder: is it because people stick whatever it is that they are best at all over social media? The cake people cover pinterest in cakes. The amazing photographers fill their blogs with lust-worthy photos. The people with incredible houses show us their spectacular interiors. The super-fit post their running updates. The crafters display their creations. The people with fabulous, flexible, jealousy-inducing jobs tell us about their schedules and their travel arrangements. And I...just have to admit that the conglomeration of all of it makes me feel bad about myself. I feel like everyone else is doing everything because I can see all of it all at once.

I know in my head that it is very, very unlikely that anybody is fabulous at all of these things. But somehow, that head-knowledge doesn't matter. All of this stuff blends together in my consciousness, and it feels like everyone blends together into a perfect, all-capable internet woman. She's vaguely crunchy, conscious, and intentional about everything she does. She's not perfect - oh no! but she's imperfect in an interesting, self-deprecating way, rather than a messy, boring, selfish way (like I am).  In short, she has the  'I made it myself during my layover in Hong Kong and then I used it as a teachable moment and then my children wrote a song about it' life that I feel like everybody on the internet is living except for me

(Please don't tell me that I shouldn't feel like this. I know I shouldn't feel like this, but the thing is, I do. And see, I think that you are judging me for feeling this way because you are Internet Woman, and Internet Woman doesn't give in to negative thought patterns like I do).

So the problem with Pinterest - and the rest of the internet -  is that sometimes, it makes me really dissatisfied with myself and my  life.

Apart from that, of course,  I think it's fabulous. 

I was talking a bit to my father about this (my parents have been visiting; hence the lack of posts) and bemoaning my lack of mad cake skilz. I had to make a second cake (a few days after the perfectly adequate one) for all the grandparents and he offered a solution culled from his favourite female columnist. (Incidentally, do not get me started on columnists - is there ever a job that was more alienating to the 99% of us who have to go and sit in an office to earn money? It seems to me that being a lifestyle columnist means being paid to write about problems with things that most of us will never experience. Maybe it's a UK thing, but it always seems to be witty anecdotes about how their favourite organic deli was out of cruelty-free salami or how the nanny doesn't speak fluent Japanese. That is NOT A REAL PROBLEM. Do you know how to get puke out of a twenty-dollar IKEA rug?  Because that's the kind of life advice I need right now). Anyway, apparently this woman isn't that kind of lifestyle columnist, and I warmed  to her when I heard the cake solution - basically, forget the cake. Buy a tub of icecream, buy a whole bunch of sweets (that's English for candy, y'all) and press the sweets into the surface of the icecream as if it was an iced cake. 

I thought this was genius.

I'm going to cut a long story short here, people, and just tell you that it was a hot day. Hot day + ice cream + trying to balance large round chocolates on the edges of a rapidly melting tub of ice cream = NOT SMART. NOT SMART AT ALL.  The takeaway here is that in a fight between gravity and a malteser, gravity is always going to win.  And an idea that sounds too good to be true probably is.

And because I would hate for any of you to ever think that I am Internet Woman (not that I think there's much danger...) I'm going to show you a picture of the finished product, complete with m&m avalanche. Yes, I really served this to guests. So, jJust in case any of you struggle with feelings of internet inadequacy, I've got two words for you: