Tuesday 24 December 2013

No Crib For A Bear

Well, it seems that once again this is not the year for a serious post about the meaning of Christmas.
Instead, here is 35 seconds of my children singing, because unless you're their grandmother I doubt you can take any more:

May all your bears have cribs - not just at Christmas, but tonight and every night, and may nobody tell you you're doing it wrong. I think you're doing a fine job.

Merry Christmas to all - it's been lovely spending this year with you.

Monday 9 December 2013

In Which I Cannot Find A Snappy Title For A Post Where I Try To Gather My Thoughts About Parenting Children From Hard Places Who Often Display Harder-Than-Average Behaviours, Which May Or May Not Be Due To The Aforementioned Hard Things They Have Experienced (But On Balance, Probably Are, At Least Partially)

Lately, a few people in the adoption-o-sphere have written really interesting posts about the realities of parenting kids with trauma. I've wanted to add my two cents to this topic, but I haven't until now because it's taken me this long to scrape my thoughts together. (This is why I stink at twitter, incidentally. #TooSlow). 

Looking around me, I do think that children who have been adopted are more likely than average to be ...intense kids. Did I want to believe this before we adopted? Probably not. Does it matter what I believed? Not really. The thing is, before you're talking about a real kid, you're just talking averages and likelihoods and risks and none of that is particularly meaningful, in the long run. A child who has been in institutional care might be, say,  45% more likely than an 'average' child to struggle with clinical anxiety, but when we adopt we are adopting only one data point, and how the rest of the bell curve looks quickly becomes kind of irrelevant. (By the way, I'm a bit of a data nerd - thinking about this stuff is what I do for a living - so referring to my kids as 'data points' is a sign of love. Honestly). 

After all,  child's behaviour is due to a complex soup of how tired they are, how hungry they are, their age and stage, their proximity to something that they want and can't have, their general state of health, how annoyed they are because of something you just said they couldn't do, how annoyed they are because of something you told them that they do have to do, whether they have just been hit/ pinched / poked by a sibling and what phase of the moon it is.

The irony here, of course, is that kids from hard places often have a really hard time learning to regulate their eating and sleeping. So yeah, there's that too. I think this is why it's hard to get a real grip on how much adoption has affected my kids lives. I know my kids have been through some pretty hard stuff in their little lives, but that is nowhere near the only thing that defines them. If they are intense kids - and believe me, they are intense kids - who says that has anything to do with what they've been through? Maybe this is because she's a girl. Maybe that is because he's a boy. Maybe all the rest of it is because they are twins. 

Statistically speaking - forgive me - this is actually where things get kind of interesting. The data is complex both horizontally and vertically  - horizontally, lots of kids are adopted, and that affects all of them in different ways - vertically, each of those children is the sum of a whole lot of things that make them who they are, of which their adoption and pre-adoption experiences are only a part. Add to this the fact that nearly everybody doing research into adoption has got some kind of agenda to push, and it is pretty freaking close to impossible to draw any conclusions without hedging everything around with a thousand caveats. On average. On the whole. In some cases. Anecdotally. In most cases. Occasionally. Often.  However, I'm about to write down some of my thoughts about it all anyway. Clearly, your mileage may vary. I'm not going to type all of the disclaimers (just my observations, I get all of my information off the internet, Pink and Blue are my first kids, I'm typing this quickly, I'm not a sociologist or a social worker) every time, so I've put them in bold just so that you remember that I did type them once).  

Anyway, here are All My Thoughts, Except For The Ones I've Already Typed Above. I'm going to start with something I do know for sure: 

The effects of trauma and deprivation on the brain are real. Scientists have done brain scans and proved it. I have nothing more to say on this point. 

Oh, who am I  kidding? That last part isn't true. Okay, here goes: I think that there can be a level of hypocrisy about this from society when our kids display really challenging behaviours. On the one hand That's totally normal! He'll grow out of it! but on the other - 

Call it loss, call it trauma, call it whatever you want, but the stuff our kids have been through is the kind of stuff that other kids have nightmares about.  Why are people reluctant to believe that waking up one day to find that your mother is gone would have a deep and lasting effect on a child? That, together with one or more of deprivation, neglect, loss of other significant caregivers, fetal malnutrition, childhood malnutrition, maternal post-natal depression, extreme maternal stress, and all the other stuff that makes its way into out of our kids' lives and onto their paperwork - we know that all of this things have harmful effects on babies who remain in parental care -  we have laws and programs and interventions to stop them happening - why on earth would they have any less of an effect on children who are later adopted? 

I completely agree with Staci that the other parents I identify with most often have kids on the autistic spectrum. There are not very many other people who understand the whole noise sensitivity thing, for starters - that it's not just a preference, it's a life-or-death, climb the walls, anxious-about-it-for-days phobia. Last year, before I reallyreally realised this, we stupidly joined Jay's family on an everybody-together-won't-this-be-fun Christmas outing to the theatre. As soon as the amplified music started, so did the panic. I thought it would go away; I thought Unspecified Child would relax eventually, but boy howdy was I wrong about that.  This year there have been several other similar noise-freakout incidents - one at a wedding, super funly, which the other guests aren't going to forget anytime soon. The very thought of loud noise now sends said child into a total, all-my-logic-circuits-have-shut-down tailspin. This is not normal childhood stuff. I'm not quite sure exactly what it is, but it's certainly not normal.

This year, we said no to the theatre. I decided that I'm not paying fifty pounds for my child to go into wild-eyed mental lockdown; I can get that at home for free. 

Don't even let me start on what happened the one time we tried to go to the movies. 

One thing's for sure, and I know this is related: I always see an increase in difficult (read: impossible) behaviours and anxious behaviours at the same time. The days that start with panicky hold me hold me hold me in the morning are far more likely than most to end with hitting and punching in the evening.

A few days ago my boy totally lost in, a really scary sort of way, for reasons that aren't the point of this story. I had no idea what to do, and I silently said to myself This child is out of control. And I realised that this was true, but not in the way I originally meant it. This child is out of control in the same way that I am currently out of milk - it's gone. It's all used up. This child has run out of control. He has a finite supply, and for now it's all gone. If I don't like this, I need to be the one to change what's happening because right now he literally cannot help himself.

I know that every child is probably like this occasionally, but for other kids (okay, mine) it's a regular pattern. That's not the same thing, and it's really frustrating when some people tell me that it is, that this is normal. 

This is not normal. I promise. 

I've made this point before, in countless other posts, but I'm going to make it again - I always feel nervous about talking about the difficult sides of parenting my kids, especially as they specifically relate to adoption, because I don't want to do it in a way that would make it sound like they are anything other than unutterably precious; unutterably dear. I'm speaking very frankly because I assume that I'm speaking to people who love kids like mine, and who wonder if they are the only ones thinking is this just us? 

It's not just you, I promise. 

Sometimes when we are out, Blue starts to perform for strangers. He sings, he dances, he bats his beautiful eyelashes. Whoever his audience is can't get enough - when he does this, it's adorable. Then the audience members look at my worried face and think why can't that woman see what an adorable little boy she has? Thing is, I can totally see how adorable he is, but I also know that this is act one in the "Blue Has A Raging Meltdown In Public" show. It starts with cute performing, followed by an interval of dizzy craziness, then an interlude of anxious clinging and then the curtain finally falls on inconsolable screaming. This show is not getting very good reviews from the critics.  This behaviour pattern is described with frightening accuracy in Patty Cogan's Parenting Your Internationally Adopted Child, and I don't know whether I'm more comforted or terrified by the fact that there are thousands of other kids out there dancing their hearts out for strangers in their doctor's waiting room. 

He is an awesome singer and dancer. If we can break the dizzy-clinging-screaming cycle, I'm pretty sure he's going to make us rich. 

Seeing the anxiety, though, breaks my heart. I wish I could fix it. 

I wonder, sometimes, whether too many of us labour under a delusion that there is some kind of magical THING - post adoption services, better parent education, better institutional care, therapy - that would make all of this go away, if only we could find it. 

I wish that was true - and if it was, I wish someone would tell me what it was - but I don't think it is. I'm automatically wary of anybody who thinks that they have the only way to help us help our kids, who people who think that whatever they are doing (or selling) is The Answer. I think that there is a huge appeal in finding The Answer, but I don't really think that it's out there. Kids are different, parents are different and every day is different. This kind of thing is way too hard, way too complicated, to know for sure that everybody who isn't doing it your way is doing it wrong. Surely? 

There is a person whose job it is to go into bat for my kids, to get them what they need, pay for it and then do it again the next day - the problem is,that person is me and most days, I'm bone-tired. 

Sometimes, my kids are horrible to me (and to each other) for reasons that have nothing at all to do with adoption. Sometimes they're just plain crazy. Of course. But if I've decided that my kid fits in a box (the trauma box, the anxiety box, the sensory integration challenges box, or the however-we-want-to-label-it-box) sometimes it's easy to forget that there are lots of bits to my child that do not belong in that box.  What I mean is: our child may genuinely have serious issues with attachment and anxiety, but that doesn't mean that they can't also just be a disgusting little snot-nosed brat some of the time, just like every single other child on the planet. There is nothing that explains all of our children's behaviours - no diagnosis, no experience, no label, no category. Sometimes kids - all kids - really are just feral. 

I don't think this was about trauma. 
I'm not going to lie -there are some times when I find myself thinking what have I let myself in for? But I would probably have thought that even if my kids were perfect angels, because having children really cuts into my Project Runway watching time. 

I love my feral kids. I love them so much. But sometimes they make me so angry that I want to spit. I was talking to a friend at work about finding a parenting / work balance.  We were talking about the things that are easier about work; the things that are easier about home. And I said The best thing about being at work is that I am pretty certain that nobody is going to make me lose my temper at work; not even once. 

My children both struggle with anxiety and anger and control more than the average child, and one more than the other. I have to remind myself, daily, hourly, that they really do need extra help, extra patience, extra not-sweating-the-small-stuff. However, I don't really think that I get to decide that other people are going to make allowances for my kid. If my kid is horrible to someone else - or someone else's kid - I can guarantee that person isn't going to care how much time my child spent in institutional care. 

I'm always looking for reasons that this is all a phase. If it's not a phase, then either there's something wrong with my parenting or there's something wrong with my child. I don't like either of those options.

Honestly, I no longer think this is phase.

I'm pretty sure that, on average, becoming a parent the normal way would have been easier. 

Of course, easier doesn't mean better. 

However, it also doesn't mean worse. People who have 'easy', 'neurotypical', 'normal' kids don't deserve any less oxygen than me. 

I have a general rule that I think applies to intensive parenting just as much as it applies to the rest of life: when you think one or two people are against you, you may well be right. If you think the whole world is against you, the problem is probably you. 

By which I mean - parenting difficult kids is really, really difficult, no two ways about it, and sometimes you might need to butt heads with people who are really dumb about the stuff you need to do to help your kids, the choices you need to make. But if talking to everybody about parenting makes you want to reach for the firearms, it's time to check your own head. 

And I think that it's important (really, really important) to remember that other people have difficult kids too. I am not imagining that my kids take extra work, extra love; If others tell me the same thing, I have to give them the same grace and assume that they are not imagining it either, no matter what their family story is. 

Those would probably be great people to have as friends. 

However, I do think that, on average, parenting adopted kids is harder. Sorry, Claudia-in-the-past. I think that we as adoptive families are more likely than other families to have the Really Big struggles, to feel totally, totally out of our depth with each other, to realise that our lives might look pretty different from how we pictured them when our babies were small. This way of parenting is not for the faint of heart. 

This way of parenting is not for the faint of heart. But then, neither is any kind of parenting. 

Neither is living, for that matter. 

Friday 29 November 2013


... that my children are still cute. 

Finally! Some photos that were not taken on my phone.

Moments like this are basically why I wanted to be a parent. It's 11am on aTuesday, and she's wearing her pyjamas, a gold medal and a box on her head. Because of course she is. 

Also moments like this. They went through a brief period of being obsessed with 'wotzing'. It was hilarious. 

This is the picture I look at when I'm reminding myself that actually, my children are not totally devoid of empathy. They are giving their toys medicine to help them feel better. And thank goodness for that.

At the end of September, two of our good friends got married. Pink and Blue were flowergirl and flowerboy. I possibly may have begged shamelessly for this to be the case; I'm admitting to nothing.  I also volunteered to do the photos, which was, frankly, dumb. For future reference - Mother Of The Flower Children is ENOUGH to do on one day. 

I only had to take about fourteen leaving-the-house shots to get one where they are both semi-smiling. 

So big / still so little. 
Face? What face? This is my everyday face.

In fact, we should probably both be models. 

Control your emotions, Pink. 
No, really. 
Control them. 
There's a reason that kissing should be left until we are much, much older. And then not with each other. 
This is probably my favourite photo of them all day. It's just a shame the lady they are snuggling is not me. 
My choices are this one, where  they are clearly thinking we could not possibly be more bored, Mummy

Or this one, where I appear to be part hammerhead shark. Oh well. 

Pink is going through a phase of being really, really into weddings. 
I'm sure the whole 'flowergirl' experience is part of the reason, of course, 

but a few days ago, she was doing something random like eating her dinner when she looked up at me, sighed, and out of the blue said Oh mummy, I am going to be SUCH a beautiful bride. 
And I just had to say Yes, Pink, I think you probably will'.

Another day though - also at random - she looked at me and said Mummy, I do not think that I am very keen on getting married. And we talked about how she doesn't have to get married, and not everybody gets married, and she should only get married if she really, really wants to. 

And she paused for a while and then said I just think that I want to live with Blue for all of the days. 

And if every day was like this, who could blame her? 

Tuesday 19 November 2013

On Hurled Insults

If you've been reading this blog for a while, you probably know that I like to make sweeping generalisations. Or, to put it another way, I never do anything other than make sweeping generalisations all of the time. With that in mind: 

I just cannot stand the way my children are so consistently negative about everything, always. 

Is this really true? I don't know, but it feels true. I remember reading something once -  I can't remember where I read it, but it said something like* negative feedback makes ten times as much of an impression on your brain as positive feedback. The idea is that you aren't supposed to say anything negative to someone until you've said at least ten positive things. I'm pretty sure that my children did not get that memo. Instead: 

On being asked to set the table, one of my children cries and said Why do I have to ALWAYS set the table for ALL of the days? as if I'm running some kind of table-setting child-labour sweatshop. All day, it's Yuck, I hate soup / I don't like that place / I don't like these people / You are telling me off! **/ I do'nt like to do that / I don't want to read / DO IT FASTER!/ She is hitting me / He is biting me /I hate potatoes /  I do not love you / You forgot the cups, Mummy / I hate bread / and so on. (And on and on and on).***

One of my children hisses like a snake when they are angry; the other screeches like a cat , and right now it's like living in a zoo. Nothing I can do is right, and it's is getting me down. It feels like there is a lot of drama in our house at the moment, a lot of drama and anger radiating at me from approximately the level of my elbows. Often it's anger about things I have no control over (the weather; how long it takes the laptop to fire up) and I feel battered and bruised. 

It drives me crazy, and my job, of course, is to do the opposite of be crazy. Instead: 

That's very good hopping / I can see you running / What fast running! / You are so gentle with the cat / I love to listen to you sing / You are growing every day / Well done for being kind to your sister.  So much positive feedback. It's everything short of I love the way you breathe, honey.  (And I do love the way they breathe, especially when they are asleep). There are so many lovely things about them. There are so many positive things to say. 

The problem is that they are going through a stage of often not being very nice****.  
we have no idea what she is talking about! We are freaking adorable!

I was making their breakfast this morning and Blue was losing his little tiny mind at me about something trivial. He was hissing at me (okay, he's the snake) and I felt this massive surge of anger well up within me.  How dare you I thought. You want me to be kind to you and I've just got nothing left. You've used it all up. You've sucked it all away. You're awful to me - you insult me, you hit me, you yell at me, you bite me and you still need me to love you. You hurl insults at me, and expect kindness in return. 

And then I realised exactly what I'd unconsciously quoted - When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. (That's the apostle Peter, talking about Jesus in 1 Peter 2). What I was really thinking, when I was angry with my son, was stop expecting me to act like Jesus. 

I am not very good at being like Jesus. 

Here's why I don't always like being a mother very much: they need me to be like Jesus, for all of the days. I cant' do it, of course - I need grace upon grace upon grace. Fortunately, I know a person who's giving that out for free*****. 

One good thing about this parenting gig - it sure does keep you humble. 

Next episode will be cute pictures, I promise.

*Pretty sure that's the standard format for references now. It's 2013, people!  

**I wasn't.

***If I had a dollar for every time I've said Let's try that again with respect!,  a la Karyn Purvis,  I'd have, well, an awful lot of money - although it turns out it's pretty hard to direct a child to say 'I don't love you' with respect. 

***** I love them to the moon and back, obviously, but surely I'm not the only one who feels this way about my kids sometimes? 

*****That's Jesus again, in case you were wondering. 

Monday 11 November 2013

Hard Thanks

Things have been hard around here, and I find myself sitting at my desk chair, not quite knowing where to start with it all. There's one question that keeps going around and around in my mind, and that's when do you know for sure that your child is going to need ..more...than the other kids their age? At what point do you accept that you're going to spend their whole school career having 'special meetings' with their teachers?  

It's one thing to wonder, and another thing to know. At some point you look at them and say 'okay, this isn't normal anymore'. I think I've just reached this point with my dear little boy, and it's hurting. Please don't tell me everything is going to be okay, because either I will want to scratch your eyes out or I will cry, and I hate crying, and I bet you would hate having your eyes scratched out too.

I don't really have the words to write about any of that properly yet, so how about I just tell you a story instead; something that  happened last week. This is where it happened: 

You should all move here. It's super pretty. Not. 

Pink, Blue and I were walking to the park. Not a great morning- I can't remember why, but I'd lay money on someone refusing to get dressed and someone else feeling aggrieved about the colour of their toothbrush, probably. We'd finally made it out the door, on time, (miraculously) and were scurrying along when Pink fell over. She started screeching, and I turned to comfort her. As I knelt next to her, she screamed my pony ball, my pony ball and I realised that she wasn't yelling because she was hurt, she was yelling because the off-brand not-quite-my-little-pony ball she had been carrying was rolling towards the road. 

I turned around to see the ball and instead I saw Blue chasing it, ready to dive headfirst into four busy lanes of traffic. 

This is maybe the first time that I have really felt time freeze, as I saw him running towards that road and I sprinted - far faster than I knew I could - to stop him. Later I looked back and saw that my handbag had been thrown onto the pavement and was sitting there upside down, the DSLR inside somehow unbroken. I have no memory of sloughing it off but I must have, same as I must have shoved Pink back to the ground to stop her following me.  
I caught him, just.   This left the ball in the middle of the road, and Blue screaming the pony ball, mummy, let me go, I need to get the pony ball while I screamed stop, get back, get back!   He tried to wrest himself free of my grip and throw himself back towards the hurtling traffic. 

I had no idea what to do. In the end, after checking for a space in the cars, ran into the road to get the pony ball, accompanied by the wailing of children who aren't worried about my safety but worried I might not be quick enough to save their toy.  Once I had it back, they were nearly calm enough to listen to me yell at them. (Normally, I try not to yell, but if they run on the road I am going to yell at them as loudly as I can manage. Yelling is scary and evil, etc, but if they run on the road, I want them to be terrified. I want them to associate that action with every sort of fear and bad emotion they can muster, because however much it is it will never be enough). 

If the ball gets squished, we will get a new ball, I yelled.  If Blue gets squished, we cannot get a new Blue. Pink kept on crying. We can't get a new pony ball! She wailed. There was only one pony ball at the shop! Was there? I have no idea. How can she even be thinking about the pony ball? Her brother nearly got run over. But he was crying too. The pony ball nearly got squiiiiiished!, he said again, and couldn't quite believe I wasn't really entering into his sadness. They cried and cried. I cried and cried too, not just because of the near miss but because he would clearly do it again, given the chance.

They have no idea how fragile their little bodies are; no idea how much more precious they are than a plastic ball. They chase after the wrong things, even when it could destroy them. Sort of reminds me of someone else I know.

The whole thing was horrible. A man came out of a cafe and asked me if I was okay, and I said yes but this was a lie. By the time I got to the park I was a mess, and I keep thinking about what nearly happened and how terrifying it was. Yet in the middle of everything that is hard right now, this was a sharp reminder that, in an instant, everything could change. In a way, it reminds me just how idyllic everything is right now, at least on paper, even when it doesn't quite feel that way. 

In an instant, everything could change. But that day, they didn't. And I'm thankful. I am thankful for red traffic lights that held the cars just feet away from the part of the road my boy was trying to run onto. And I'm thankful for the newly-widened pavement that gave me extra inches to grab the hood of his jacket and tackle him to the ground. Most of all, of course, I'm thankful for these two precious, complicated, difficult, awful, wonderful kids that I still - after four years - get to call mine. 

Tuesday 29 October 2013


Very occasionally - every few years or so - I get terrible headaches that stay for weeks and won't leave, no matter what I do. I'm just coming out the back end of one of these episodes now (I'm also in Barcelona, but that's a different story).

As soon as I can look at a computer monitor without wincing in pain, I'll blog again. And then I'll delete this short and inconsequential post.

Wednesday 16 October 2013

On Cellphones And Judgement

I use my phone too much when I'm looking after my kids; I know it. If it beeps at me, I lunge for it. It's like a compulsion. I need to get over that.

What would I miss if I didn't have it with me? What would I miss if I left the thing alone rather than jumping for it as soon as it calls me? I wouldn't know that I could get 15% off winter coats at Banana Republic; coats I have no intention of buying. I might miss an incredibly urgent letter from my alumni association. Shock news: they want my money. I would miss knowing that a grand total of 8 people 'liked' my status on facebook. How would I ever cope?

 Like everyone else, I have to fight the 'switch on and switch off' temptation of the phone in my pocket.  Too often, actually, it's the phone in my hand. I don't really need to check for the price of silver wire on ebay right now, or read every single review of every single Barcelona guide book on amazon, or try to find the perfect rose gold shoes* whatever other compulsive activity I'm doing in order to block out whatever it is I'm trying to avoid.

On the other hand.

I know there's nothing important going on, but sometimes I just want something other than the thing that is happening. Is that really so awful? Sometimes there is a limit to the number of diet cokes I can drink during a 45 minute dinner marathon, and I want to look at pictures of tropical beaches and pretend I'm sitting under a baking sun rather than being yelled at by four-year-olds in the dim and grisly suburbs. Looking after kids is really, really boring sometimes, you know?** Boring and difficult; the worst combination. When I'm at my job, I always say that I can do boring or I can do difficult, but not together or I'm going to make mistakes***.  Parenthood has proved me right about that many times over.

When the babies were small, sometimes I would put them in the stroller and take them for an outing, and while we were walking I would put my ipod in and listen to music. At first I felt guilty, and used to hide the headphones under my hair, but actually it was great - they got to watch the trees, see the sights, and I got to enjoy something grown up. I do not think any permanent damage was done by me not leaning over the top of their seats and saying 'Oh look, a birdie!' every twenty seconds. I listened to a lot of Broken Bells at that time in my life; even now I can't hear any of their songs without being transported back to the river path near our house, pacing my way across the bridge, feeling that intense happy-sadness that comes with new motherhood and marking the hours until naptime.

That ipod technique doesn't fly around here any more. There's still a lot of music in my life, but it's mostly Mary Poppins and frankly, more often than not, that's what I'm trying to mentally escape from. And so I find myself on my phone.  

Am I doing this too much? Well, probably. Is it hurting my kids? Shouldn't I be stimulating their young minds more? Well, I don't know, but I think probably not. Personally, I think that if I'm the kind of mother who stops to wonder whether my child is getting enough stimulation, then my child is doing fine. Never before in the history of mankind have children been so thought-about, so played-with, had so much attention paid to them. Children do not need to be watched and adored every moment of the day. And I don't know what mothers did to distract themselves before cellphones were invented, but I'm sure they did something. (Maybe they cleaned the house. Imagine that!)

Kids give so much negative feedback, so much of the time (I won't / I didn't / I can't / I don't want to) that it's positively thrilling, at times, to know that there might be a tiny adult somewhere, inside my phone, who is going to say something encouraging to me, send me a nice email, do something that will make me laugh or maybe just give me ten seconds of respite so I don't yell. I need encouragement through my day, and often the place I get the most is through my phone. I don't think this is anything to be sneezed at.

(Sometimes I actually use my phone to take pictures of my kids, so there's that, too. Hey, look, I was already holding it! What a coincidence).

And yet I've read and heard a few people saying some pretty judgy things about mothers who spend too much time on their phones, and it bothers me. I don't disagree that probably, lots of us could do a better job to get the balance right between boredom, engagement and distraction (I talked about pushing kids through the boredom barrier recently, and I'm all too aware that sometimes I use my phone as a way to avoid pushing through my own). However, this attitude always, always makes me uncomfortable, and not (just) because it makes me feel guilty.

I don't know. I think that most mothers who I see idly thumbing on their phones are probably bored; bored and tired and wondering how much longer they have to stay at the swings until they can legitimately claim it's time for dinner. And if you think they shouldn't be bored and tired, if you would prefer to see them engaging their children more actively, I have a solution - offer to babysit and give that mother a bit of time to herself. Yes, that's right - walk up to her and say 'hey there, mama, you look like you could do with a break. How about I push that swing for you while you take an hour or so to read a book in that coffee shop?'

Is this too weird? Is it impossible? Would nobody ever, ever, do it, because they would seem like some kind of crazy kidnapper, offering to look after a stranger's children? Well, maybe this is right, but my opinion is: if we don't know a person well enough to offer to babysit her kids, we don't know her well enough to judge the fact that she is on her cellphone.

Perhaps we should, instead, try this. No crazy kidnapping involved. Every time someone judges a mother for being on her phone, they should be forced, by law, to shout something distracting and encouraging at her.  After all, if we don't like the fact that this woman is going to her phone for encouragement, for emotional sustenance, if we think she should be getting that from real relationships, well, we should be willing to be that real person.  And maybe we should all try it. Next time you feel tempted to shake your head at someone, instead do this: walk past and say 'you are doing such a good job' or 'those kids obviously love you so much, I can tell by the way they smile at you' or any one of the many things we find it easy enough to type on facebook but rarely say in real life or, if that's too uncomfortable, I dunno, just hand them a really funny picture of a cat.

Maybe this cellphone addiction so many of us have really is a sign that society is disintegrating around us, like people say. Maybe it's reason to worry. Maybe it's an epidemic. But if it's an epidemic of anything, I think it's an epidemic of loneliness rather than laziness, and we can all do something about that.

I think what I'm trying to say is this: don't be the judgement. Be the encouragement instead. Free babysitting or friendly shouting; that's your choices. But from here on out: no judgement. Shout something nice at a stranger on her cellphone today.

I dare you.

*Found 'em! And what is it about Autumn/Winter 2013? Suddenly I'm all about rose gold everything.
**And if you don't know that yet, I genuinely apologise if this post is annoying.  
**Employee of the year, obviously. 

Monday 7 October 2013

Why I Don't Want To Talk About School On The Internet, Ever

There's stuff I keep wanting to write, but most of it would involve my thoughts about school, and, well, I keep thinking about how I fear this:

Anybody want to guess where we're sending our kids?

(By the way, I showed this to Jay, and he pointed to our row and said 'but I don't think any of those things!' and then he pointed to all the other rows and said 'I'm pretty sure they are true, though.' And I said 'Yes, that's the point, Jay. The diagram is about fear of judgement rather than actual judgement, okay?' He still wasn't sure and thought I should make that clear, which is why I'm including this little note at the bottom in case anybody is actually offended). 

Thursday 26 September 2013

Strategic Neglect

Before we had kids, I remember buying a book called 'The Idle Parent' because it tied in so well with what I wanted my parenting to be like. I want my kids to be kids, with all the skinned knees and boredom that entails. I didn't want to helicopter them - I wanted them to learn that boredom is a part of life, and that if you push through it hard enough there's usually something fun on the other side. I had - and have - no problems with not being a cruise-director parent. I used to openly mock cruise-director parents.


When my kids are bored, they don't role-play or imagine or read books or even beg for TV. When my kids are bored, they fight.  One child needles, the other child squeals, then the first yells and the second bites. It's like the totally predictable steps in a dance that I've seen too many times before. I'm not talking about ordinary fighting, by the way. People who see this are all oh wow, your kids are awful fighters and I'm all I know and then we both run and prise them apart before anybody ends up in hospital, or jail.

A post-fighting time-out. In a department store. Because they had just pulled over a mannequin. I am not making this up. 

I can't stand it. I can't stand the fighting, obviously, and I can't stand the way it means that they never ever push through to independent, sustained play. It's kind of pathological and I feel sick just writing about it.

It can't go on. They are getting big - they are four, for pity's sake - and lots of kids their age are in school. We decided we wanted to have them home with us until they were five, for attachment-y reasons, and I'm glad that we did that. I'm aware that if we'd done something different, I'd probably be glad that we had done that, too; I know our brains are predisposed to think that we've made good choices, so my lack of regret means nothing, really. I have some Big Thoughts about school readiness, and how attachment stuff ties into that, but I don't know how to write about it without sounding like I'm being judgy. And believe me, I am in no position to be judgy. I met the lovely Dr Spouse recently, and during the two-or-so hours we were together, my children whined constantly, had tantrums, did constant baby talk, tried to drink HER coffee (after I'd already let them drink MY coffee) and then one of them ran out onto the middle of the road. She will back me up that I am not in a position to make statements about how anybody else does parenting. And did they hit me, K? Yeah, I'm pretty sure at least one of them hit me.

But anyway, yes, I'm glad that they've been home with us. Attachment-wise, I do feel like they have needed it. But if I'm brutally honest, sometimes I fear that I mistake ordinary clinginess for attachment stuff, or that I've enabled what I should have been helping them to overcome. It's all very chicken-and-egg:  what came first, the parent who stayed home and did attachment parenting or the child who sobbed with fear when he had to spend ten minutes being looked after by someone he didn't know? 

Yeah, I don't know either.


I think that they are well and truly old enough - and mentally and physically developed enough - to be playing on their own, but the problem is that they don't know how to do it. Most kids learn from when they are tiny, but not my two. Because boredom has always turned into fighting, then into intervention from me, they do not know how to push through that boredom barrier. They have no idea what might wait on the other side. They are too old for this. They need to learn.

So: my kids need to learn to do some basic independent play, but it seems that they can't do it at home. I can't just neglect them and leave them to get on with it, because of the violence.  The only way they can seem to play for any sustained period is if they are at a park or one of those horrible indoor play centres. For this reason, I have determined to start neglecting my kids in public places. The way it works is that I sit on a bench or a chair, within their line of sight, but I refuse to get up and play with them. I'm explicit with them about what is happening - I am staying here because you need to learn to play without any grownups - and then I shoo them away.

The advantage of all this is that I'm there - no need for anxiety - but I'm not cruise directing. Occasionally, I give them tips: for goodness sake, you have a twin. Go on the see saw, obviously, but I refuse to leave my chair.

Two minutes later: Mummy-mummy-mummy! I am on the slide! and then I say Yuh-huh, that's great, now keep playing. And if they say Come and watch me on the slide! I say no, I am staying here because you need to learn to play without any grownups. 

Because really - really- they do need to learn to play without any grownups. When I write it there, it sounds kind of harsh. Either harsh, or utterly ridiculous, that I'm so panicked about doing the wrong thing by my kids that I'm even subjecting them to strategic neglect.

I won't lie, though, it's also kind of awesome. Goodbye, boiling park-rage that I usually succumb to. Hello, twenty minutes to actually read a book (with one eye, at least). Hello, time spent just staring into space and calling it parenting.

Strategic neglect. It's all I can come up with. And it's working okay - they can manage playing together outside for much longer than they used to - but it doesn't seem to be spilling over into how they deal with each other or themselves when they are trapped inside our small house.

And winter is coming.

I'm afraid.

Tuesday 17 September 2013


So let me tell you why you cannot just turn a blog into a book.

I guess that's what I planned to do, at the beginning of this process. I knew it wouldn't be easy to turn a blog into a book - after all, I post without any proper editing; sometimes I write in present tense and sometimes in past tense; sometimes I just post photos. I knew that in order to get that stuff into book format, I'd be doing a lot of rearranging and fixing.

But then I downloaded all my text into a word document, and I found out that the real issue is not typos or editing or tense or any of that other kind of stuff. The real issue is pace. 

Do you know what I mean by pace? Pace is, basically, how quickly the interesting things happen in a story. A good book has a reasonably constant sense of narrative tension running through it - this narrative tension acts like a tug on a string that is tied to the reader, pulling you forward into the next chapter and the next and the next. Some books pull you gently and others yank you in and give you whiplash, but an interesting story will always leave you wanting to turn the next page.  To make this happen, authors need to make time behave in strange ways. Look at nearly any book, and you'll notice that three weeks happens in half a page, then two chapters are devoted to a one-hour party*. This is usually because no interesting things happened during that three-week stretch, and then lots of interesting things happened at the party.

This is basically the opposite of how blogging works. A blog is a chronicle of life as it's being lived. I post about once a week, so that means that I had about a hundred blog posts on waiting for a match (when nothing interesting happened) and ooh, about one on being in Ethiopia (when lots of interesting things happened). Yeah, that's not going to make for a very interesting book.

In the end - because of this stuff about pace - I basically ditched everything I had blogged and started writing again from scratch; I knew that was the only way to start winding a thread that might draw a reader in. And it made me think a lot about the difference between how we remember things, how we tell things, and how they really are.

Why don't we tell stories as they really were? Why don't we take the same amount of time to tell something as it really took to happen? I think the answer is - the hard bits, the waiting, the not-knowing, the uncertainty, the suffering - all those bits of our stories? Boring! So boring. This is why Hollywood gave us the magical thing known as: the montage. You know what I mean - a song is playing, the hero/ine is working** for something they believe in, and  we see everything happen, but quickly, with music and drama. It's very clever, because in  in two and a half minutes all the effort and waiting is over. We feel like we've been there, without any of the pesky, you know, actually being there. Here's the most famous example:

But what does this scene from Rocky have in common with your life? Oh yeah, that's right: nothing. Real life does not have montages. In real life, the  the hard bits, the waiting, the not-knowing, the uncertainty, the suffering - those bits don't have any drama, and they don't have any music either. They're just hard and horrible and make you crazy.  And by you I mean me.

The strange thing is, when we remember things, we don't really remember them they way they were - we tend to remember them the montage-way, remember them more like stories. We put put the stages we went through into neat little boxes - or I do, anyway. When I'm thinking about what we went through when we adopted, all the bits fit into one of these little boxes:  The Fertility Horror Show, The Deciding, The Waiting, The Meeting, The Transition, And Then The Final Bits. So, even though the Waiting took approximately a hundred times longer than The Meeting, they kind of occupy the same space in my head. They are the same amount of story, even though they took vastly different amounts of time. It was a shock to me to go back to old bits of my blog and see just how long it all took.

I know that it was years between me getting an unwelcome, fertility-affecting genetic diagnosis and me becoming a mother. I know that I waited years - and I'm still kind of mad about it, sometimes -  but that's not really what the memory feels like. Now that I'm out of it, the Waiting doesn't occupy a hundred times more space in my memory than the other bits, even though it took a hundred times as long.

Sometimes, if I'm honest, this probably makes me unsympathetic to people who are still in the middle of those things, whether adoption things or other kinds of hard-ness-es. I get bored when people continue to suffer and it's outside my limits of patience.

I need to remember to be kinder to people I know who are still living in the middle of a montage, who are in the thick of things. And today, I just wanted to say, if that's you, I hope you're doing okay. I'm sorry if the world's impatience with your suffering is making you sad.

Because I can remember that I've suffered, I think that I know what it's like, but I'm not really sure that I do. As someone who is out the other side, the memory of Waiting is just a tiny piece of my brain -whereas when I was a person who was Waiting, I'm pretty sure it took up all of my brain, entirely.

Once it was my whole life, now it's just a remembered montage. Now it's just a few pages in a book.

I'm trying to remember that this isn't what it felt like at the time.

*Unless you're reading something like 1984, by George Orwell. There are very few parties in Orwell.
**Or, in the case of Pretty Woman, shopping. Worst movie EVER. (And that's from someone who loves shopping).

Friday 6 September 2013

Book Launch Day: Fantasy vs Reality

Ever wondered what it's like to finally publish a book, after years of writing? Wonder no more! 

When I woke up on Tuesday, I knew immediately it was book launch day. Or, to give it its due worth: Book Launch Day. I had a plan:

Book Launch Day: Agenda

8:30 am: Lazy pancake breakfast with darling children. Wallow in happiness regarding a big goal finally achieved.
9:30 am: Post pre-drafted blog post announcing book release.
9:31 am: Play with toys with darling children.
(ongoing) Reflect on how lucky I am to have darling children.
10:30 am: Go to park with darling children
12:30 pm: Eat lunch with darling children
1:30 pm: Darling children nap due to park-induced exhaustion. Prepare for super-fun book launch party.
3:30 pm: Outdoor water play with darling children (possibly including enriching educational experiences, if I can think of any)
5:30 pm:  Dinner for darling children, handing over to sweet husband at 6pm for
6:00 pm Book Launch Party! Pour the champagne. Announce book giveaway #1. Say hello to lovely friends.
7:00 pm caramel popcorn smoothie. Give away book #1. Chatter. Maybe tweet a little.
8.00 pm Probably I'll need a coffee at this point. Give away book #2 Chatter some more. Continue tweeting.
9:00 pm Sprite zero! Give away book #3 Chatter yet more. Keep up the tweets.
10:00 pm Peach smoothie! Give away book #4. More chat, tweeting, etc.
11:00 pm Wind down with some tea. Give away book #5. Keep talking to lovely people. Continue to dazzle the twitterverse with razor-sharp wit.
12 midnight: Give away book #6, say goodnight, go to bed!

Yes, I really had my drinks planned, hour by hour. I was that excited. This day was going to be awesome. 

Book Launch Day: What Actually Happened

8:30 am: Children are screaming at each other as if they are being stabbed with knives. Quickly abandon pancake plan. Pour bran flakes for all. Screaming continues.
8:35 am Realise I have scheduled a play date for this morning. At our house.
8:40 am: Realise I forgot to draft a blog post with details about where people can actually buy the book
8:41 am: Bang head against table
8:42 am: Screaming continues
8:43 am: Rush around house tidying up for play date
9:30 am: Children have finished breakfast. Desperately sit them in front of Peppa Pig. Run upstairs to write blog post.
9:31 am: Realise I don't have any amazon 'buy' buttons. Suddenly, writing blog post without these seems impossible.
9:32 am: Find amazon buttons on google images.
9:33 am: Realise I don't know how to get images to link to an external website.
9:34 am: Decide that this would be an excellent time to learn a little HTML.
9:45 am: Bang head against table
9:57am: Publish blog post, including fraudulent photograph of champagne drinking that was actually taken the previous night
9:58 am: Screaming has started again downstairs.
9:59 am: Realise I haven't showered, and smell terrible. Am desperate for a shower.
10:00 am: Doorbell rings. Play date!

[The next section of the day is rated R for violence, including hitting, biting and punching. Not suitable for a family blog. Censored].

4:00 pm Still unshowered. Probably too late to bother now.
4:01 pm Something has really gotten into these children today. They don't want to play with their kitchen.
4:02 pm Or their octopod
4:03 pm Or their animals
4:03 pm Or read a book
4:04 pm It seems they just want to hit each other.
4:05 pm Cannot help thinking that Launch Day would be a lot more fun if I didn't have to do all this mothering stuff.
4:06 pm Consider topic of book and realise the irony
4:07 pm Bang head on the table
4:08 pm Honestly, does there have to be THIS much screaming? If I yell at them, that would probably help make the house a bit quieter.

[The next section of the day is rated R for yelling. Not suitable for a family blog. Censored].

5:59 pm Jay gets home. Frantically hand over children. I really want to be on time for
6:00 pm Facebook Book Launch Party time! Hooray! Pour champagne. Wallow in happiness for thirty seconds. Realise the champagne is full of drowned fruit flies.
6:01 pm Uh oh, I forgot I'm terrified of parties. 
6:02 pm Pull yourself together, Claudia! 
6:03 pm Pull myself together and start typing.
6:04 pm Realise that I can't see anybody and chatter to myself for a while.
6:05 pm Hooray, some people are here!
6:06 pm I think I might be using too many exclamation marks!!!!!
6:09 pm This champagne tastes sort of ... meaty. Is this how dead fruit flies taste?
6:10 pm Hang on, where have all the posts gone?
6:15 pm I get my first message telling me that nobody can see the posts.
6:16 pm I have no idea how to fix this. More messages.
6:17 pm Realise that I don't even know how to change my facebook profile picture, and there is no way I'm going to be able to sort this out.
6:18 pm Bang head against table.
6:19 pm Shout loudly at Mark Zuckerberg and all his evil minions, even though nobody can hear me.

[The next section of the day is rated R for unkind thoughts about a certain billionaire. Not suitable for a family blog. Censored].

7: 30 pm How is it 7:30? I haven't given away any books!
7: 35 pm Give away some books.
7:36 pm Realise I can't tag people when posting as a page manager, so people may never know they won
7:37 pm Bang head against table
7:38 pm There are actually people here! If the posts didn't keep on disappearing, I might even work out how to say hello to them all.
7:39 pm Realise I'll never be able to tweet while trying to keep track of the Disappearing Party. Secretly pleased.
7:40 pm Wish I wasn't having chest pains
7:41 pm Realise it may be hunger. Holler downstairs at Jay to make me nachos.
8:30 pm Jay brings me nachos with barbeque sauce. Coffee Chipotle, if you're interested.
8:45 pm The book is at #13 in the adoption category at Amazon! Yikes! [The next day it got to #2 in adoption overall, and #1 in Kindle which made me squeak out loud. Not that I was checking Amazon while at work, OH NO].
9: 15 pm How is it 9:15? I need to give away some more books!
9:16 pm Change into PJs and make some tea.
10:00 pm I know I'm using way! too! many! exclamation marks, but I just! can't! stop!
10:01 pm I must be chanelling a 13 year old girl.
10:03 pm: Why is there barbeque sauce on my floor?
10:04 pm: Why is there barbeque sauce on my foot?
11:00 pm: How can it be 11pm? I have to give away some more books!
11:02 pm: Realise I'll never be able to give away my stash of books in this amount of time. Decide to leave the final giveaway open until tomorrow. Keep chatting.
11:59 Keep on chatting. Goodness me, but adoption people are so nice! I love having so many of them in the same space.
12 midnight I've finally hit my stride! So the posts are disappearing, so what! I'm drinking tea and having an imaginary party on the internet in my pyjamas! The book is finally out! Life is good!
12:01 am: Realise I have to go to work tomorrow.
12:02 am: Bang head against table.
12:45 am: Post photograph of myself in my pyjamas, pretending to sleep, still unshowered:

I appear to have a beetroot for a face in this photo. It's just the reflection from the pink velvet chair. I hope. 

12:46 am  Say goodnight and go to bed
12:47 am Realise that despite screams, yelling and Mr Zuckerberg's best efforts, this day WAS awesome. Right, what can I write a book about next??? 

This was nearly-the-last post of BOOK WEEK! Back to normal scheduling very soon, I promise. In the meantime, I have a spare book from the launch party giveaways - a copy of Parenting Your Internationally Adopted Child, which is a really fantastic resource for anybody parenting a child from a hard place, even if not through international adoption. One of the lucky winners already had a copy, so she kindly suggested I find it a new home. Any takers? Let me know if you're interested and I'll let the good people at random.org decide. 

Tuesday 3 September 2013

We Have Lift Off!

It's launch day! I'm thrilled to let you know that Hypothetical Future Baby is finally out! At the moment, it's available in paperback and on Kindle on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk - it will be out on Nook and Kobo by the end of this week.

Here are the links:

Call me an amazon nerd, but when I typed 'Hypothetical' into the search box, and saw 'Hypothetical Future Baby' come up in the drop down menu, I nearly had kittens. THAT'S MY BOOK! said I. And I know it's only 10 in the morning (and yes, I am still in my dressing gown, and yes, I have to look after my kids today) but:

(Don't forget to join me this afternoon for the online launch party!)