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.

Monday 3 September 2012

Superego and the Giant Squid

Yesterday, my children had a huge fight about a vampire squid. We were driving back from church (church! Of all places!) and they were doing the whole "I play squid!" - "No, no, I play squid" - "I squid, Iiiiiiiiiii squid!" routine that ended, predictably, with then screaming at each other and me shouting over the top: "If you keep fighting, Mummy and Daddy will take your squid away". Not quite the conversation I  had hoped and planned to be having with my children on the way home from worship, or ever. It pretty much stunk. But then, this whole week has stunk. It's been awful, maybe the worst week ever. (Am I exaggerating? No, I don't think I am).

For reference, here is the squid. 

Low point: I'm pretty sure that would be what happened when we went to our first ever Ethiopian adoptive families weekend away. It was a great weekend - the family we all stayed with was really kind and so welcoming and hospitable- just the kind of people I want to be when I grow up.  That's not the bad part. The bad part was when Pink and Blue got up -when they were supposed to be napping - went through my bag, found my cosmetic purse, opened my super-long-last lipstick and used it to draw on the walls. You know, the walls in someone else's house. The pristine white walls of the really nice people who had us to stay.

That was pretty bad. It was also pretty bad when the children wouldn't say sorry, and I realised that we are raising sociopaths and came down and cried at the kitchen table in front of about fifteen people. (Hi, those people).  Yeah, I'd say that was the low point. At least, it was certainly the low point until a few days later, on our wedding anniversary, when I realised that the children had been raging for about 72 hours straight and J and I just stared at each other glumly and I could tell both of us were thinking that this was not what we had in mind on that sunny August day eight years ago.

They continued raging through the week, rage like I've never seen before, and I began to wonder whether I would next be able to spend a day with them where they didn't drive me to tears. One of them kept saying don't touch me, Mummy which is not in character at all, and I'm pretty sure that it was the weekend away that sent them crazy. They had fun, I'm glad we went and we'll go again next year, but I think we'll stock up on Xanax beforehand.  I did everything I could to keep things calm and regulated afterwards, but they seemed to want to be dysregulated, want to be miserable, and when a three year old wants to be miserable it's pretty hard to stop them.  We must be doing something wrong, I kept thinkingI would blame it on the fact that last week tied in with me being a big bowl of hormone soup, except J kept saying the same thing and everyone knows men don't have hormones.

 I was reading something recently about honesty in writing about what life is really like as an (adoptive) parent and as I sat on the kitchen floor on Thursday, next to the potties,  trying to dodge the biting from one child and the hitting from another (see? sociopaths) I realised why it's never really ever possible to get the raw honesty from other people that we all crave during our darkest times. Sitting on that kitchen floor, I found myself thinking nobody ever admits that things are as bad as this but of course, the problem is that there really aren't any words to describe what 'this' is like, afterwards, to other people. Even the most raw and honest way of describing those horrible moments falls short of really meaning anything to someone who wasn't there. By the time you actually get to sit at your computer and type it, it's all filtered by the fact that it happened days ago, or hours ago and it's written in complete sentences, not in some kind of frightening red mist. (Unless you have one of those experimental type blogs. Not me). It's just - she hit me. He bit me. Or maybe it was the other way around. Either way, it sounds bland, and not that bad, and in a few more days maybe I can put a funny spin on it (not yet).

All through this nightmare week, my superego kept pulling me aside for helpful little sidebars. [Gosh, you really hated it when you children behaved like trolls in front of all your friends, didn't you, Claudia?] Uh huh.  [And then you yelled. It's interesting to be experiencing this level of toxic shame, isn't it? See how it stops your brain working properly? Well, maybe you should remember this feeling next time you yell at your kids.] I guess, but your editorialising my life is kind of annoying me. [I just think you could turn this difficult time into a learning experience, with a little bit of effort.] Maybe I could, but I'm not sure I want to.  [You're having trouble making good choices right now, aren't you, because you've got so many stress toxins in your system? Well, what does that teach you?]  I think it teaches me that if you were a real person, it would be a pretty good choice to smack you in the mouth.  [Don't get huffy. I'm just saying.].

I hate that smug cow.

Anyway.  Maybe sitting on that kitchen floor trying to break up with a Freudian construct was the low point, or maybe the low point was when I fell face down into a puddle of wee because I tripped while carrying a full potty.Or maybe it's something else entirely, something I've blocked out.  It was such a bad week. Things seem much better again today but I feel rubbed raw.

Anyway. That's been me, lately. And now I'm going to show you some cute pictures of Pink baking that will make you think none of that is true. 

(don't judge the hair. That was what we did while we were waiting for the cookies to bake). 

Here's to better days to come.