Saturday 31 August 2013

What Its About

"So.... what is your book actually about?" people ask me. I usually say "Ummmm, you know, stuff!  Important stuff! Interesting stuff!" and they generally nod politely, but really, that's not what anybody wants to know.  After all, I think nachos are important and interesting, but I don't think anybody wants to read a book about them, do they? 

"But what is it actually about?"  they repeat, and I always used to think  gosh, I wish I had a back  cover I could point to. Eventually I realised oh right, I guess I have to write that. So I did, and here it is - the back cover of Hypothetical Future Baby: An Unsentimental Adoption Memoir. 

This is what the book is about. 

(This is post number two of BOOK WEEK! Don't forget that I'd love you to come to my online launch party on Tuesday... it's happening over here at the book's facebook page).

You're Invited!

I'd probably better warn you that I have decided this week, when Hypothetical Future Baby is released, is going to be BOOK WEEK. I'm going to post incessantly about book things for the next week AND THEN I WILL STOP. I promise. But where better to start than with an invitation to a book launch?? 

Everybody is invited! Tell your friends. 

There wasn't enough space to explain this properly on the invitation (because OBVIOUSLY, I needed to leave lots of space for that glittery circle) but I'm going to be giving away a ton of my favourite adoption books as part of the book launch. A few copies of a different book every hour. 

I may possibly make you post pictures of your drinks to get giveaway entries. Possibly. Anyway, here are the details. I'll post the book blurb from the back cover tomorrow! 

Please come! A note about the facebook thing - the book page is public, so you don't have to friend me on facebook in order to come. (If you DO want to friend me though - and that would be great - click on the f button on the right of this blog and you'll get my profile). 

See you there, I hope! 

Tuesday 27 August 2013

To Three Or Not To Three: Surprises

(Periodically, I've been writing some posts about whether or not to go from two to three children. This is one of them, but no, in case you're concerned, I'm not pregnant - this is not about THAT kind of surprise).

Babies are cute. Babies are so cute. 

Seriously, how cute are babies?

Wanna know what's cute? Little tiny people (I'm talking about babies).

Goodness me but babies are cute. 

Know what else babies are? Snuggly.

Smiley. Funny. 

Sweet. Adorable. 

I'm a bit of a hard-edged, cranky lady at times, but I absolutely love babies. I always knew I would love having a baby, and I did.

Can I be honest? Part of the reason I have wanted another child was that I didn't feel ready for the funnest part of parenting - ie, the baby part - to be over. (Uh, anybody else? Just me? Okay).

But lately, life has hit me with a few surprises. My kids are well and truly not babies any more, and there are no more babies on the horizon for us. But I'm surprised by how not-sad I feel about this. I didn't know that I would love my children more now, as four-year-olds, than I did when they looked as cute as they do in these pictures.  I didn't know that they would delight me more because I would know them better.

I didn't know how much time with a four-year-old girl would be spent watching her hopping. "Look, I'm hopping! I'm so hopping!" and skipping "Look, Mummy, this is how you skip. I'll show you". I don't have the heart to tell her that actually, that's not how you skip.

I didn't know how unexpectedly innocent a four-year-old boy could be. He found his cousin's toy gun and pointed it at his own head and clicked the trigger. I looked on, horrified, while he beamed and said "Oh look, Mummy, a hairdryer!"

I didn't know how wonderful it would be to have a child who could take themselves to the bathroom.

Lately Pink has become convinced that she can run much, much faster if she is wearing very short shorts. "Mummy, I can do hard things if I am in my running shorts!" she says, and sometimes "Look, I did it because I kept on trying!" Magical thinking and determination? I think this girl will be able to do anything she sets her mind to.

It's not all sunshine, of course. Pink, particularly, can't stand being wrong. "I was NOT biting my toenails, Mummy, I was only LICKING them". (Well in that case, carry on).  And Blue can't seem to stop needling his sister until she snaps and bites him. Sometimes they still drive me to the edge of distraction, then over the border and into the neighbouring counties of frustration and despair.

But I love them more than ever. And they are more fun than ever.

Being with these kids, aged four, makes me think, often, of my favourite African proverb about raising children. I'm sure you know the one beloved of Hillary Clinton: It takes a village to raise a child. This proverb is not like that proverb (and is yet another example of how 'Africa' is not a homogeneous place, but that's another blog post).

When I was growing up, my family spent a few years in Kenya and the proverb my parents often quoted while we were growing up came from the area we lived in while we were there. I don't know the whole thing in the original language, just the first few words that my parents used to sometimes say to each other as a kind of shorthand: abante bana. Abante bana means 'other people's children' and the whole proverb translates to mean: Other people's children are like cold snot. 

How true this is, right? I've got to admit that it resonates far more with me than the village one. And I think this is where I was going wrong when I was thinking about what it would be like to have older children. Thing is, I had no idea what it would be like to have my own older children. I'd only spent time with other people's older children, and once they weren't cute babies any more, I kind of lost interest. Anybody's baby is adorable, but other people's children can be kind of like cold snot.

Not my own children, though. Their unraveling limbs and changing faces and disappearing lisps don't make them less adorable, less precious to me. I worried that they might but they really, really don't.

I would have loved any baby, but now that they are older, I love them. 

And honestly, feeling that difference is the best possible kind of surprise. 

Thursday 15 August 2013

Save the Date

During the time I've been writing Hypothetical Future Baby, I've come across two fantastic quotes about the collision of writing and real life, about the desire to write versus the need to do other things. Here's the first:

It used to be that I couldn't write when there were dishes in the sink. Then I had a child, and now I can write if there's a corpse in the sink. 
 - Anne Lamott

I can't remember where I read the second one, so I can't remember who said it either, but I have thought about it often when I have decided to run upstairs to the computer during nap time to do some more editing instead of wash up. It goes like this: 

You can't have a finished book and a clean kitchen. 

This is painfully true. And so today I want to show you this:
My kitchen, right now. I can hardly bear to look.

and tell you that Hypothetical Future Baby is finally, being released on September 3rd!  

I'm so excited I can hardly stand myself. Online launch party invitation to come, as well as details on where to buy.  For now, please save the date!

Tuesday 6 August 2013

Ten Pounds

I look at this little dude, and all I can see is bacon

So Facebook thinks that I'm dieting.

If I just click on a link (and pay some money, no doubt), I can find out how to get rid of all my belly fat by just following one weird old diet tip.  Alternatively, I could join Weight Watchers (another click) or get liposucked (a third).

Facebook can't even see me - Facebook has no idea what size I am - but somehow it knows I want to be thinner. Because the  horrible truth is that I do want to be thinner. I don't even really know why, but it feels to me like life would be better if I was thinner. Curse you, Facebook, and your freaking omniscience.

To be clear: I am not a pixie, but I don't need a crane to hoist me out of bed, either. I'm a Medium. Shouldn't it be fine to be a medium? Shouldn't I be fine with being a medium?

And actually, I mostly am fine. I think I look fine. When I think about why I want to be thin, it's really got very little to do with how I look, and much more to do with how other people think of me. To be brutal, it's about power. Every pound a woman gains means that she loses a little respect from society, doesn't it? I like respect.

How did being thin get to be about power? I'm not really sure, but I do know that I'm not imagining it. I read a book last week where the heroine saw her old nemesis, Carly, and - shocker - in the ten years since the two women had last seen each other, Carly had gotten fat. Fat! And the heroine used to be really intimidated by Carly but now she doesn't have to feel intimidated by her anymore because Carly is fat! Oh the irony. Ha ha ha ha ha! Obviously, whatever the power dynamics were in the past, as of now Carly is the loser because Carly is fat. 


And not at all unique. Things like this are everywhere. It's kind of accepted that women who are bigger are less, and that leaves us all chasing some kind of thinner, better version of ourselves, even when we really should know better. We've all got ten pounds that we want to lose, don't we? (Don't we?) I like to think that I'm reasonably level-headed, but I've been trying to lose ten pounds for approximately ever. And then when I stopped pushing our twins around in a giant stroller last year, I actually put on five, so now it's fifteen. I'm sort of constantly trying to lose fifteen pounds, in a low-level not-really-doing-anything-serious-about-it way. It feels reasonable to me from day to day, until I look at the pattern it creates in my life and realise that what I'm really doing - what so many of us are doing - looks a whole lot, from the outside, like chronic discontent, like chasing after the wind.

(Who is benefiting when I am chronically discontented with my body? I could blame the patriarchy or the diet industry or my husband and dissect what maybe they might get out of it but honestly, I don't think anybody at all benefits when I let things like this add a whole extra layer to my crazy).

One of the reasons I want to be thin, I guess - and one of the reasons we think it's okay to look down on people who aren't thin - is that thinness and self-control kind of look like the same thing. Bigger women must be greedy, or lazy, or something, right? They must be controlled by food, and who has any respect for someone who is controlled by food? I don't want people to look at me and assume that they see someone who lacks self-control. If I'm thin, I feel like I'm above reproach (and I know what I'm talking about: I was thin once; it was great). That's why I always want to lose that final ten pounds. Especially when that ten is really fifteen.

But honestly? Honestly, when I'm just eating food because I enjoy it, I'm not controlled by food at all. I'm just having a great time, because food is delicious and I get to eat it three time a day. Know when I'm controlled by food? When I'm on a diet. That's when I'm thinking about food all the time. That's when I'm planning and scheming and weighing and thinking and obsessing. That's when I can't think straight because I'm always wishing that I could find a good reason to eat some Haagen-Dazs and knowing that I never never can.

That's the crazy thing, here - slightly-squishy me looks like she is obsessed by food, but totally is not. Thin me, on the other hand, looks like a paragon of self-control but is actually thinking about food constantly. Those days when I'm really seriously trying to lose weight, that's when I'm controlled by food. (Food and, frankly, vanity. Not self-respect - vanity).

Here's an idea: how about I think less about how I look on the outside, and more about how things really are on the inside. How about deciding that I'm fine just as I am, at least until I hit the high-risk category for heart disease.

I choose contentment.

I choose not letting something as boring as fat control my mind and my thoughts.

I choose that. I really, really do.

Just as soon as I lose these last ten pounds.


(oh, and by the way - I finally got around to joining twitter, yikes. Welcome to the 21st century, Claudia. I put my new buttons on the side!)

Thursday 1 August 2013

Never What I'm Expecting

This story is in three parts.
Pink is devoted - devoted - to her baby dolls. She and Blue both got one for Christmas, and neither of them were interested. They sat on the toy shelf for about three months, ignored. "Do you want to play with your baby, Pink?" "No." "Do you want to play with your baby, Blue?" "Nope". And so it continued. Then one day, I picked up both dolls, handed them to Pink and said "Look, twins!" and a switch flipped in her little head - she had no idea what to do with one baby, but two babies? Now that's something she can get right behind. From that day, she has always referred to them as 'my twin babies'  and they go everywhere with her. "Where are my twin babies?" she asks, constantly, and I tell her: "In the pram / under the sofa / in the tree" or whatever the right answer is that day. Every evening, she forgets to take them upstairs at teeth-brushing-time and then, when she gets into bed, she yells "OH NO! MY TWIN BABIES!" and thunders down the stairs to get them.

(Did I mention that she calls them Pink and Blue? Well, not Pink and Blue, but Pink and Blue's real names? Unless she's having one of her girl power days, in which case she calls them Pink and Pink).

It's all pretty cute.


When I was in Australia, my sister and I were brainstorming ideas for my book cover.In the end, I've gone for this cover:

which - I'll be straight with you - I totally love, but getting there was no picnic. Laura was taking a ton of photos of me because hey, photos of me are free, and photos of other people have to be paid for. (The baby on the final cover is from a stock photography site, although Pink remains convinced that it is Blue). We were wanting to  find some way of getting across the concept of an anonymous baby - a hypothetical future baby - and were tossing all kinds of ideas around.
"How about a doll?" suggested one of us, and the other one thought that might be worth trying out, so we got the props ready. Then we suddenly stopped.
"Is this weird and skeevy?" I wondered. "White lady, brown doll? Like the child is some kind of accessory? Isn't that exactly what I don't want adoption to look like? A crowd of social workers might hunt me down and destroy me if I publish that."
"Hmmmmmm," she said. "Let's take the photo and see what it looks like.  Here, start with this white doll, maybe that won't look so weird - "
For the record, it did look pretty weird.
"Okay, maybe not that," she said. "Especially not the one where you are holding the baby by the foot as if it smells bad and you are about to drop it. Let me take a photo of you and Pink instead with all the dolls." And she did, and it was so horrifying that we immediately made an absolutely no dolls on the book at all decision.

See, there are lots of good things and lots of bad things about independent publishing. One of the good things is that you get to have total control over all of the fun bits. I've always loved book covers and I love that I got to design my own for this project. But then one of the bad things, of course, is that if you end up putting a weird, unflattering and borderline-offensive doll-photo on the front, you have nobody to blame but yourself.

Also, obviously, it's a truckload of work. I really had no idea how much until I started doing it.Turning a book manuscript into a book object is actually insanely complicated. How can it be so hard to just insert page numbers logically? And how can Garamond italic be so offensive when standard Garamond is so beautiful? All this stuff is interesting and fun, but sometimes incredibly frustrating and astonishingly time consuming (hence my quietness around here lately).  I was reading a writing blog that made a great point: we are all so familiar with books, so used to handling them, that it's easy to underestimate how complex they are. So. Very. True. (And I thought - that reminds me of parenting. Because I saw other people's kids all around me all the time, because I was so familiar with their presence around me, I underestimated how complicated it would be to actually DO all that family stuff. But that's a different post).

On Tuesday, we were playing upstairs with the children's birthday toys - a train set and a play kitchen, since you asked. I was all for them sharing the two, but Jay thought they should start learning about having individual things, and I daresay he's right. On the morning of their birthday, when they unwrapped them (to squeals of delight), Pink's rapturous comment was "Oh hooray! Now Daddy and Blue can play with the trains and Mummy and Pink can do girls' things!"  Uh. "Girls can play with trains too, Pink," I said weakly, but my voice was drowned out by the sound of her offering everybody pieces of plastic chicken and slamming the oven door enthusiastically.

By Tuesday, the constant catering was beginning to pall and she flopped dramatically onto the bed and sighed deeply. "Mummy," she said, "when I see my new Mummy again?"

Uh, what? 'The new Mummy and Daddy' feature heavily in our adoption stories, but that's Jay and me - and then I realised she meant her first mother, and said "Do you mean your birthmummy?"
She nodded her head. "My birthmummy AND my birthdaddy" she said.
Woah, this is important. I thought.
"Does that make you feel sad?" I asked. "Would you like to see them?"
An emphatic yes.

I paused while I tried to think of something to say that would let her know she could share her feelings openly and freely; that this was an important but un-threatening topic; that she has the right to feel however she wants to feel about her own important and complex relationship with her other mother. Blue, of course, was still playing with his trains.

"And what would you say to her, sweetie, if you could talk to her now?" I asked, as gently and neutrally as I could.
"I would say 'YOU HAVE TO HAVE ANOTHER BABY!' " Pink said. "And then she would have another baby and we could take it home".
"Uhhhhhhhhh...." I said [and yeah, what would YOU have said????] and then - (when in doubt, ask another question) - "Why would you say that?"
"Because I want MORE BABIES!"
"Uhhhhhh.... okay." Clearly she's not having issues deciding whether this family should stop with two children. I envy her certainty. "I don't really think that's how it works, though, sweetheart." Does it? "If she had another baby, Pink, that would be her baby. It wouldn't be our baby".
"I want to go to my Ethiopia and get another baby!" she wailed. She then told me what she would name the babies (turns out that actually, it's twins again! What kind of luck is that?) and in the end the conversation - which really did start off being about her other mother, I think - was totally about wanting to be a big sister and control the lives of two babies who are - coincidentally - also called Pink and Blue. Just like the real children. And the twin baby dolls.
"Well, when you're a grownup, Pink, you can have as many babies as you like," I said.
She scowled at me.

No matter how much I've read, no matter how much I've thought, these conversations are never, ever, ever, ever what I'm expecting.

"I want another baby NOW!" she said, and I, lost for words, just had to say "I'm sorry Pink, but for now I think you're just going to have to be happy...
look away!!!!

...with the dolls."