Thursday 29 November 2012

To Three Or Not To Three: Capacity and Velocity

(First! In! A! Series! of short posts about the possibility of another child. I just don't know where to begin with all of this, so I'm going to begin here). 

So I find that I'm thinking about another kid. Another kid for our family, I mean. I think maybe Jay and I have spent too much time watching series one of Parenthood, and he keeps saying I want a big family like that, I want my children to have lots of brothers and sisters to depend on when they are old and have kids of their own and we're totally self-absorbed and unreliable. 

I would like that too, but we can't seem to make any kind of decision. If we go back into the adoption process, I don't know that I can take it. I don't know that I can handle going crazy again (because believe me, I went crazy last time).

And hey, forget that, some days I just think that if we had another kid in the house I don't know that I can take it. My life is already so full of yelling and poop that I do wonder where I'd find the time to yell at another child. And I keep getting hung up on how much harder it would make my life. Am I really ready for that? My sister told me, not long after her third was born be very careful going for a third, three is exponentially harder than two. And I can see that. Right now I have two arms and two children - I can cuddle them both at once and that's really nice. My children are much snugglier (read: demanding) than lots of other three-and-a-bit-year-olds I know and they go kind of mental when I give one of my arms to someone else. They talk a lot about babies (you gotta bayybee in your tummy mummy? You gotta bayybee?    No, honey, not today, not when you asked me yesterday and I think the answer will still be no when you ask me again tomorrow), but who knows how they would really react if there was a little competitor in the house. Actually, I think I do know, and I don't think it would be pretty.

Thing is, though, I do like the idea of another FascinatingBaby. I was cuddling someone else's baby recently and my body thought hey, I remember this. The weightlessness, the wriggling, the soft downy head, the way the skin on her little tiny face felt like velvet. And that's part of my decision paralysis, honestly - personally I would like another baby, if we decide to Three (yes, that's a verb now). Not a ten year old, not a child with significant and known preexisting condition. A healthy little baby.

But seriously, Claudia, did you just say that out loud?  I've already been greedy enough to have two of those. I do feel sometimes like there is some kind of hierarchy of worthwhile adoptions. Older is better. Adoption from foster care is probably better too. Special needs is definitely better. And I absolutely understand this.I absolutely understand that medical problems or emotional problems and age and a hundred other things make some children harder to place, and that these children are absolutely not less valuable, less worthwhile, less wonderful than chubby healthy babies. I know this.

I know how precious these higher-needs kids are. My problem is not with higher needs kids. My problem is with me.

I always thought that we would do an 'easy' adoption first time around, and then when we had more experience as parents, we would adopt a child with higher needs than a healthy baby. And then we brought our twins home and they kicked my butt.  Babies are really hard, and they turn into toddlers (who are really hard too) and so are preschoolers and I'm guessing that the stages to come have their challenges too. I find parenthood to be something that stretches me to breaking point and beyond most days of the week. I am good at bits of it ( playing imaginary games, as long as I can do them from the sofa) but I am terrible at other bits of it. If my children are sick, I usually forget to give them at least one in three doses of their antibiotics. Not something I'm proud of. This makes me think that maybe I'm not the ideal person to parent a child who needs, for example, regular medication.

And I can't stop wondering: where does our awareness of our own capacity need to fit in to decision making around all of this stuff? Where should it fit it? How about the capacity of my current children? They have got pretty big needs, pretty big demands (but doesn't everyone?) And even if they are higher-needs than most (and I think they are, particularly one of them) other people have multiple complicated kids and live to tell the tale.

I just mean that - an 'easy' adoption feels pretty hard to me. Being a mother to two children who were adopted as babies feels pretty challenging. I am much more aware of my own limitations now than I was three years ago, and I no longer feel at all sure that we are prepared for another child who has bigger needs. I know that I get wound up and freaked out, maybe more than other people (although who really knows what is going on in everyone else's house). Sometimes I do think that maybe I just have less capacity than other people to deal with.... life. I mean, general ability to get out of the house before midday with everybody fed and clean must be in some kind of a curve, right? Someone has to be at the bottom and I think it's me. The very thought of buying the 28 presents I need for Christmas (yes, that's BEFORE I get to my own kids, yes, we HAVE tried trying to reduce the number of people we buy for; one family member pretty much stopped speaking to us the year we brought that up) makes me want to dry heave. I will almost certainly forget to even buy any tinsel.  The children live on pasta.  We don't own fingerpaint. I am hardly any kind of earth mother. When I've said we are not sure that we will stop with two, people look at me and say Really? YOU want MORE? as if it is totally crazy to think that I would handle that.  And maybe it is, I don't know. I'm not even sure that I want to do it, although I do think I do.

This should probably make me go awwwwww but it actually makes me go ARRRGGHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!
Sometimes, though, I wonder if what I feel is partly the appeal of the decision. Making a definite yes decision would feel really good, even if it was actually really dumb. I've mentioned this before - I think that there is a huge psychological appeal in having some kind of velocity in our lives. It's nice to feel that we are going somewhere, we are doing something, we are aiming for an outcome. I think that the feeling of moving forward can trick us into thinking that we are making good decisions, whether they actually are good decisions or not. When we have something to look forward to, everything looks better, even if the thing itself is not actually very smart. Even if, to pull an example out of the air, our family adopting a sibling set of five would not actually be very good for  us or for them, I bet it would still feel good to decide that we were definitely going to do it.

I wonder if- can I say this? - what makes me wary here is that I think I have seen people make decisions on that basis - deciding on another adoption (or another bio baby) because life is a bit flat or a bit hard, as if another child to plan for will fix that (it won't; it never does). That might sound harsh, but it isn't meant to. I think that another child brings the promise of newness, of freshness, of starting again for a family, and that certainly appeals to me.  It certainly appeals to me when I'm standing in baby gap, looking at the adorable tiny clothes that no longer fit my twins and feeling like I can hear the sound of a whole corridor of onesie shaped doors shutting behind me. I'll be honest, it feels really weird to me that we might never have a new child. It sort of makes me think is this really it? Is this the way our family story ends? Is this the end of the upward portion of our narrative arc? Sorry to be a nerd about that last one, but I hope you know what I mean - as women, particularly, it feels everything is always pointing towards the next relationship-focused thing-  we want to meet a guy, then we want to kiss that guy, then we want to get engaged to that guy, then we want to marry that guy, then we want to have kids with that guy and if that's over, then, well, is this really it? 

(A non-baby-related and totally serious aside - I'm sure we all feel like this sometimes, whether we admit it or not, and I think it's an echo of how empty every earthly thing ultimately is - it's all just a chasing after the wind. Nothing is ever going to be enough here - even if I had a hundred children, they would all grow up, the most amazing career will end,and if I live long enough, I'll probably get terrible arthritis by the end anyway. I need to remember that only Jesus is the answer to what's my purpose and only he will never disappoint me. The only destination really worth aiming for is Heaven, is being with Jesus, although that's frighteningly easy to forget). But - back to the topic in hand - it would feel odd to me if this was the end of my life's big happy events. I feel the pull of a baby, but I also feel the pull of velocity. I would like there to still be something significant standing between me and the onset of the inevitable eventual funeral invitations.

Also, babies are really cute.

But we cant' seem to make any kind of decision. And I wonder: how does everyone else know when to stop? How do other families with two children know that two is enough? Or otherwise, how do other families with two children know that they want a third?  Those who have three, that they want a fourth? I have no idea. (I'm so curious; please tell me).

I think that we could be very happy with whatever we choose to do. But I do want it to be a choice - I dont' want to drift into a third because it seems inevitable, or into staying with two because we never quite get our act together. Do we have the capacity for this? For a baby? For someone with higher needs? Or are we just attracted by the velocity? I try to be honest with myself and really examine my heart, but honestly: I have no idea.

Thursday 22 November 2012

Why The Internet Makes Normal People Feel Unpopular. With Pie Charts!

I was meant to be writing something sensible this week, but it turns out my little boy has pox o' the chicken and I've been kind of, ummmm, preoccupied. Instead of writing stuff, I got to thinking about how it feels like every blogger but me is paid, or gets a ton of free stuff or a bunch of advertising revenue because they are more popular than me. And then I drew some pie charts to make myself feel better.

After all, I know that this is true:

It's just that those really popular ones are the ones people are actually reading, right? Therefore:

And of course, this means that I'm reading more than my fair share of popular blogs too.

So it seems to me that the world is full of people who are quitting their jobs and being paid to renovate old houses with the profits from advertising bespoke designer rugs. Or being begged to try out fantastic baby equipment (for free) or staying at hotels in Venice (for free) or meeting up with other fabulous people (for free) and just generally having a ton of fun (for free), funded by sponsors and ad people.  And while I'm sure it's lovely to live like that, if I'm honest it doesn't make me aspire to buy whatever they are advertising, it just makes me feel jealous and left out. Because it just makes me feel like this.

Even though I know I know the top graph is true, it's the bottom one that sticks. Being normal makes me feel way, way way below average. Because of the statistics, people. Because of the statistics. As if we didn't already have enough reasons to hate statistics. 

Oh, and just in case any advertisers feel sorry for me and want to give me some free stuff, I would like to let you all know that I would be very happy to test drive a) some really nice wine b) a trampoline and c) a bigger yard to put the trampoline in. (Oh, and I should probably also say d) a cure for my son's chicken pox. But if I could just have one, I'd probably go for the trampoline). 

Tuesday 13 November 2012


With hindsight, it was probably a mistake to let the children eat cake for dinner. When I finally compile my definitive list of 'Things That Annoy Me About Small Children', right there at the top will be they don't really know how to have fun. Don't get me wrong, I know that they do have a lot of fun, but only by accident - they don't know how to determinedly have fun when they might not be in the mood but the situation demands it. I forgot this entirely, last week - after a long, long day of waiting by the phone for news - which turned out to be extraordinarily good news, as I've already told you - I wanted to celebrate. I didn't really feel like celebrating -I was too shocked, and more on that below, but it seemed important to celebrate so I wanted to do it anyway. I got a text from my husband saying I'm going to be late home again and so I thought I know it's dinner time but I don't want to just sit here all evening on my own; I'm taking these children out for a babyccino, dagnabbit. (See, I know how to have fun, even when I don't want to).

Do y'all have babyccinos where you live? They are little espresso cups full of milk froth, often with a sprinkling of cappuccino chocolate on top, sometimes - if you go somewhere upscale - with a marshmallow on the side. My children love them - love them - and I thought this will be the ideal way to mark the occasion of me being not-particularly-likely-to-get-cancer. Special treat, kids, special treat! ("Special treat" is our code word for anything more exciting than a plateful of pasta and a handful of frozen peas). I said  Let's go out and have babyccinos and you can skip your pasta and just have cake for dinner! It seemed like a really good plan. They love cake, they love babyccinos. They said YAAAAAAAY! because they are highly suggestible and we will remember this day forever! I thought.
My children loving some babyccinos. Not the day in question. 
But of course when we got there, they were looking around thinking why are we in a cafe when it is dark outside? and they were thinking where is my pasta and Now it's in front of me I don't really WANT cake for dinner and then Pink threw her plate at Blue and his cake fell on the floor and he spilled his babyccino and then he howled and by that time all the sugar was starting to course through their veins and once I finally managed to bundle them up and out of the cafe to go to the supermarket to buy myself some no-longer-feeling-quite-so-celebratory-champagne, they were screeching their heads off. They were bad. I mean, they were bad. I turned my back on them for a second while we were there - I guess it wasn't obvious we were together at that point - and I heard two women next to me saying Oh my goodness, what awful children in the tone that people only usually use when it comes out that someone's teenager has hacked the Pentagon.I was devastated. I always carry around this hope that my children aren't really as bad as they seem to me - that I am super-sensitive to their behaviour because I am responsible for it. But no, on this day, a day when I wanted to have nothing but hugs and bubbles, they were so bad that total strangers were talking about them. I paid for my champagne and went home, face burning with shame. I think I will always remember that outing, but not for the reasons I hoped. I put them to bed and cried.

With hindsight, it was probably also a mistake to start new asthma medication while waiting for important news. I'm one of those people who gets extremely shaky on asthma medication and this new stuff was a whole grade up from my last prescription. While I was taking it, I could feel my heart beating in a sinister ker-thump-ker-thump way at all hours, and I constantly felt like I was on the verge of a major panic attack. Suddenly, in desperation, I took myself off it in the middle of last week and now I feel like I can function again. That's all to the good, but I wish I had thought of doing it earlier. I don't think the extremely high heart rate and chemically-induced anxiety did much for my coping skills.


With hindsight, I think it was probably also a mistake to assume that my husband would know what to say and how to act once we finally got my results. I had been warned that I would probably feel pretty churned-up either way - good news or bad- and this turned out to be absolutely true. I cried like a baby, actually, after I got the news - I know how stupid that sounds but it was so unexpected and it's strangely hard to reconfigure what you think your life is going to look like, even when what you thought was something that really stunk. Anyway. I was hoping that a meaningful evening of connection with my beloved spouse would help, which was probably pretty dumb.

Like I said, he was really late home, which wasn't a great start. And as for our conversation:
What I was hoping he would say: I have been so worried. Let me embrace you and show you how much I care by showering you with tears of joy, my angel. 
What he actually said: Wow, I'm so glad we never bothered to pay up for private health insurance! 
Cue me weeping. Cue him getting cranky at me for weeping. Cue me getting cranky at him for getting cranky at me for weeping. Cue a totally out-of-character-for-both-of-us huge argument that got ugly and personal.
Nearly a week later, I realise that he was pretty disappointed too. I think that it went like this for him:
What he was hoping to hear Now that's out of the way, honey, I have used up my quota of emotional crises for the year. Thanks for the support. Why don't you sit on the sofa while I fetch you some beer?
What he actually heard: I don't understand you / how can you say that at a time like this / why don't you love me? / Well why can't you show it? / Why did I have to buy my own champagne? / You don't care about me at all, do you? At ALL? 
I don't think either of us came out of that one particularly well. It was like finally getting the news was not so much like an ending to a story, but more like (apologies, particularly gross simile coming up) lancing a boil. Things were better afterwards, of course, but all the toxic stuff that we had been keeping inside had to come out somehow and that was never going to be pretty.


Once we were friends again, I decided that my act of penance would be to do a deep clean and tidy on our bedroom, which was full of electrical cords and a computer and a gigantic box of blankets from our loft (which he is renovating - and all the junk seemed to have ended up in my our bedroom). With hindsight, I think it was a mistake to make decorating decisions while under the influence of stress, arguing, an adrenaline let-down from the test results and (rather inconveniently) lady-hormones. Usually, my taste tends somewhere between 1850s London Club and Hipster Modern (I'M SORRY! I CAN'T HELP WHAT I LIKE!) This means that the bedrooms I usually lust after have things like a brown leather chair, a dark-painted gallery wall and an unread book about Italian typography displayed prominently, spine-outwards. The bedspread would have of silhouettes of some kind of non-cuddly animal, like a stoat or a weasel, in a non-girly colour like charcoal.
About half-way there. Needs some paper mache antlers. 
On the other extreme - I also love Minimalist Hotel. Either way - sharp edges, dark colours. However, over the last few weeks I suddenly found myself crazed for something totally different - florals. Long story short, I started hanging around Cath Kidston and last week I actually bought this duvet cover for our newly tidy room:
Where do I think I live, 1942?
I put it on the bed and it felt so wrong but SO RIGHT. In the end Jay had to stage an intervention, where he bundled it back into the bag before I had a chance  to sleep under it and then ordered me to return it to the shop. (Maybe he does know what I need after all). About a day later, I came off the asthma medication, saw sense and swapped it for a subtle, tasteful white-on-white beauty that I will no doubt love for years. A part of me does miss those pretty roses, though.


With hindsight, I think it was probably a mistake to start this blog post without any idea of where I was going. I think I just wanted a place to record that the aftermath of this whole experience was pretty weird, even though everything turned out okay, even though I'm sick of thinking about everything and have no need to think about it any more, even though I know that everybody around me is sick of hearing about it. I'm sitting up in my minimalist bed now, in my newly tidy room, listening to my happy cat purr beside me and writing this when I should be looking for a light for our hallway on the internet. And mistake or not, I think it would be a mistake to apologise for writing it, so I won't- every blogger (at least, those of us who have been doing it for years for no money at all) knows that you have to write from your obsessions, and sometimes your obsessions aren't what you wish they were, or what you had scheduled. However, I think I'm over this detour into medical stuff for the time being. Thanks for sticking around. Coming up next: Why Feeling Teary In Baby Gap Is Not A Good Reason To Start A New Adoption. 

Tuesday 6 November 2012

Pink Champagne!

The geneticist finally called.

It's GOOD news: no gene mutation. (Well, only the one I already knew about. Heh).

I can't believe it. My cancer risk is normal. In her words, I've been 'released back into the general population'. This means no crazy surgeries, no early menopause and I get to keep my own boobs.

I'm in shock.

Having said that, I'm not so in shock that I'm not going to enjoy reading my very trashy magazine from my pink bag (who that lady, Mummy?  That lady is Princess Kate, Blue. And who that lady? That's Princess Kate too, Blue. Oh. And that lady? That's Kate's sister, Pippa. And who THAT, mummy? Uhhhh, that's Princess Kate again. These pictures are pretty much all Princess Kate, honey bunny).

I want to say thank you to all of you for walking through this with me over the last few weeks (and, for some of you, the whole year since I wrote about this the first time). I have been really withdrawn over the last few weeks - I have been awful at replying to emails and comments and I'm really sorry about that. I didn't really have any idea how scared and anxious this was going to make me - it has really messed with my head and I can't quite take in that I don't have to think about it any more. Your kind words really have made such a difference - I'm sorry that I haven't said it at the time. You have made me feel less alone.

I think it's finally time to get on with the rest of my life. Wasn't I supposed to be finishing my book? And organising a weekend away, ummm, next weekend? Better get on that. And planning the final bits of a big DIY project? And deep cleaning the upstairs of our house? And teaching the children to count properly? And buying some vegetables? And cooking some proper meals again instead of relying on stuff in tins and packets?

On the other hand, I think I might put on an episode of the octonauts for the kids, make myself another coffee and find out exactly which shade of red the duchess of Cambridge is wearing this week. Poppy or carnelian? Ruby or vermilion? These are big questions, people.

Okay. My children are using power cords as pretend microphones and I'd better stop them before they strangle each other. Today, that's my biggest problem. I. Am. So. Grateful.