Saturday, 27 February 2016

So, you know when...

Yesterday took the piss. Literally.

It started when (unknown to me) the toddler used the potty, put down the lid and merrily went about his business. Some time later he arrived back in the living room to tell me the potty was full and he needed to use it. I was a little suspicious when I realised that his socks, trousers and jumper were wet through and went to investigate. He had obviously decided that he needed to use the potty again whilst watching Paw Patrol and carried the full potty through from the kitchen to the living room, depositing said contents all over himself and the floor in the process.

He was incredibly pleased that he managed to move the potty such a distance without spilling any(!) so I dutifully stripped him, emptied the potty and left him to refill it whilst I spread towels across the floor and powered up the Vax steam mop.

I checked on him every few minutes but was told very firmly to ‘go away’ on each occasion. I carried on making the tea (which on his request were chip butties and cut up veg). Twenty minutes later, tea was ready and he was still firmly attached to the potty. Bearing in mind he had been constipated for a while I had been gearing myself up for the outcome. As he stood up I looked on in what can only be described as part horror, part confusion, part pride. A horse would have been proud of what his little body had produced.

Despite it being only 5pm he decided it was PJ time. Not one to argue at times like this I got out his minion onesie and steeled myself for the task ahead. As I executed the clean up operation he went to join the 7 year old at the table. The toddler then declared he didn’t like chips and so tea consisted of a slice of bread, a baby plum tomato and a Thomas the Tank Engine jelly.

Hours passed, the kids were in bed, beer had been consumed, film watched. (The Great Gatsby - amazing film). It was five minutes to midnight and I was ready to climb into PJ’s and snuggle under the duvet when a thought suddenly occurred. Turning to hubby I asked if he had put a Pull-Up on the toddler before bed. ‘No. Thought you had.’

I ran upstairs to find everything soaked. The sheets, the mattress, the onesie and the toddler happily sleeping in a puddle of his own making. Not only that but (for reasons which seemed relevant at the time but I can’t quite remember now) the toddler is sleeping with his brother in the cabin bed and there is now a puddle of wee creeping slowly towards his outstretched leg. So, here we have a situation where, in a somewhat cruel twist of fate, both boys are fast asleep and we have to not only wake them but relocate to other parts of the house and time is against us!

It’s midnight on a Friday and in a slightly twisted parenting version of The Crystal Maze here’s what’s happening:

Step 1: Lift toddler out of a cabin bed almost as high as my head. Strip him. Apply Pull-Up’s and new PJ’s - all against his wishes. He definitely perfected his sleepy evil eye look last night.
Step 2: Wake up the 7 year old as there’s no way we’re lifting him off the cabin bed. Tell him he’s sleeping with Mummy tonight. Cue bleary eyed confusion, turning into delight.
Step 3: Make up sofa bed in living room and find spare duvet, pillows etc.
Step 4: Relocate toddler from mummy’s bed to sofa bed, replace with 7 year old. Send hubby to sleep with toddler downstairs.
Step 5: Kiss hubby, 7 year old and toddler good night. Secretly wish you’d had another beer.
Step 6: Wake up at 6.15 with a 7 year old pretending he’s not trying to wake you up and remember there’s a soaking cabin bed mattress and a pile of wet clothes and sheets/duvets to deal with. Turn over and hope it goes away.

And that was my Friday night, ladies and gents. Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, 17 February 2016

Half Term Hell?

Another half term holiday, another opportunity to prove to everyone on Facebook how many activities you can physically squeeze into a week. Right?

I’m not sure about everyone else, but my kids were knackered when they finished school last week. Six weeks of lacrosse (just realised that makes us sound incredibly middle class!), rugby and swimming twice a week on top of all the normal school activities wiped the 7 year old out and the 3 year old was reeling from starting nursery five mornings a week. Mix into that the fact that everyone we come into contact with has a stomach bug or a virus or a cold and you have kids who are not only tired but full of every bug known to man.

Some parents approach the holidays with a timetable to shame even the most enthusiastic of tour guides.

Monday - The Museum of Science and Industry followed by lunch followed by swimming.
Tuesday - Cinema followed by park followed by dinner out.
Wednesday - Play-date in the morning followed by SeaLife Centre
Thursday - Legoland followed by a trek round Dunham Massey
Friday - Canoeing followed by Minecraft workshop topped off with movie night.

You get the idea...but it makes me wonder who it's for. Is it for the kids, the parents, or the hordes of people on Facebook who are intent on keeping up with the Jones'?

If you ask my kids what they would like to do, chances are they would say play on the Wii or watch a film. This clearly isn’t healthy 24 hours a day 7 days a week but every now and then there’s nothing wrong with it.

We’ve just spent two days at Grandma’s where we ventured out to the park once for about an hour (because it was freezing!) and spent the rest of the time playing games with family and watching TV. When it was time to leave, the 7 year old cried halfway down the M62 declaring he wanted to move in with Grandma.

Kids don’t need their life planning without a minute to spare. They need to discover how to entertain themselves, need to experience boredom every now and again and they need time to find their own ways to relax.  They don’t need dragging around every museum and tourist attraction available just so their parents can get kudos for providing a well rounded half term experience.

Let kids play in the garden and flop in front of the TV. Let them beat you at Monopoly and stay up late to look at the stars. Help them make gold in Minecraft or dance to the Frozen soundtrack in the living room. 

Let them do the things that they like to do rather than what you think they like (or think they should like). If that means rushing from one activity to the next, then that’s fine (some kids are like this apparently, although definitely not mine!). But if it means they’d quite like to play Mario Kart all morning followed by a back to back Toy Story fest then so be it. 

After all, they are on holiday.

Saturday, 6 February 2016

From Asterix to Zorro...

I remember graduating from the junior library to the senior library in my hometown and being vaguely disappointed. Whereas the junior library felt bright and airy with colourful rugs and posters, the senior library felt stuffy and grandiose.

The junior library introduced me to the likes of Asterix and Tintin, to Nancy Drew and the Famous 5. I remember being on a waiting list for Esio Trot by Roald Dahl and a stern looking librarian told me that I wouldn’t be able to renew as lots of other children wanted to read it. I went home and read it pretty much straight away, returning it the following week for the next lucky child in line.

We didn’t have a library card back then but little pouches made of orange card with your name on. Records weren’t computerised so the librarian would take the ticket out of the book, put it in the orange pouch and file it away until you returned. The book would be stamped with the return date and off you went.

I must have worked my way through the entire junior library and I loved it. The freedom to roam around the room and choose whatever book you wanted was liberating. We would go most Saturday’s to choose and exchange - wondering what I’d missed last week and filtering the selection down to two or three for this week.

The senior library was by contrast, quiet and echoey. The only sounds were shuffling feet and papers, the occasional muffled cough or sneeze echoing around the high ceilings.

The Young Adult section was tiny. Two, two-shelf bookcases configured in an L shape in the corner of the room.  The selection was made up largely of Sweet Valley High, The Babysitters Club and Judy Bloom books with the occasional Point Horror thrown in for good measure. The selection seemed geared to a stereotypical female teen audience primarily interested in horses, the latest high street fashion and whether Brad would invite Jess to the Prom.

My memory might be playing tricks on me but this is certainly how I recall it. It’s not really surprising that many teenagers (myself included for a short stage) were turned off books. I remember looking around the sci-fi/horror section in the senior library and being completely overwhelmed. Child friendly novels by Roald Dahl were replaced by huge tomes by the likes of Frank Herbert and Stephen King. Not that I was allowed to read Stephen King in my formative days. A sensible decision given that I had (and still have) a slightly sensitive nature and over-active imagination!

The books were intimidating. Tiny print on slightly damp yellowing pages. Huge hardback versions with serious covers and a vaguely musty smell. At the tender age of 11 or 12 I suddenly thought reading might not be for me anymore.

These days the Young Adult and Middle Grade markets seem to be expanding like never before and there are hundreds of choices for the 11-18 age category on every topic imaginable. There are more illustrated/comic style books to ease the transition from ‘junior’ to ‘senior’ and plenty of Young Adults books bridge the gap by appealing to a teenage and adult audience.

I wish these books had existed when I was an early teen. Libraries are no longer scary places for old men in smoking jackets, although those types still exist if that’s what you’re looking for. They’re welcoming places with book groups and baby sing along sessions, author talks and kids craft events.

I don’t take my kids to the library as much as I’d like. They’re incredibly fortunate to have access to a large supply of books at nursery and school and we have enough books at home to open our own mini library.  But I loved the freedom available at the library when I was young and libraries aren't just about the books, but about the experience.

We need to protect our libraries. We need to visit them and celebrate everything they have to offer . What better day to do it than National Libraries Day - Saturday 6th February 2016.

Thursday, 4 February 2016

Time to Talk

Today (4th February 2016) is Time to Talk Day. The aim is to get people talking about mental health so I find myself asking, is it time to talk? Because I’m one of those ‘1 in 4’ people who struggles with mental health issues.

I’ve had counselling both through work and the NHS and finally resorted to medication. I say finally because to me taking medication was admitting that there was a ‘problem’, a last resort for people who can't cope. Other people cope with kids and jobs and commuting, why can’t I?

I changed jobs, eventually giving up work altogether and decided to concentrate on home and family life. I threw myself into school life, even volunteering to co-chair the PTA whilst 8 months pregnant! But none of the issues went away, and I found if there’s one thing you can’t run away from, it’s yourself.

I’ve suffered panic attacks in lots of different places. Walked half-way into Manchester after having to get off the tram, thrown up down the aisle of a packed train from London to Colchester, had to abandon nights out after feeling sick or worse…

When I looked back I realised that this wasn’t a new thing. I can remember sitting in the playground at primary school staring into space whilst friends played around me. Laying awake at night in high school worrying about events completely out of my control. Crying uncontrollably at University every time the slightest sip of alcohol passed my lips which, let’s face it, was most days at University.

All the time I felt labelled as over-emotional; sensitive; a drama queen. It never really occurred to me that there was anything I could do about it. It was just the way I was.

It came as a shock to me how mental issues manifest themselves in physical symptoms. When I was at my worst I felt ill most days. I suffered from IBS and headaches and generally felt shattered. I had all kind of tests and became convinced that I was ill which just further fuelled the anxiety. Turns out I was ill, just not in the way I thought.

It’s strange how I felt responsible for my anxiety, that I must have caused it somehow. I was embarrassed to talk about it with anyone. It was a sign of weakness, a declaration of failure and I was scared that people would treat me differently. My doctor tried to convince me that I wouldn’t feel responsible for contracting an infection or breaking a leg and this was no different. It took me a long time to see his point.

Having taken the medication for a while now things are definitely looking up. I’ve taken up Pilates, thrown myself back into writing and I’ve got a fantastic group of friends. We go to the pub quiz every week, a pub where I’ve suffered more than one panic attack in the past, and I’ve only had to step out ‘to get some air’ once! The physical symptoms have virtually disappeared and I generally feel happier and more confident.

Medication is not a long term plan but it's there to help out for a few months whilst I get back to being me again.

There’s still a stigma surrounding mental illness and the Time to Talk Day is just one way of trying to address this. I want to live in a world where mental illness is dealt with in the same way as physical illness and people don't feel ashamed in asking for help.

I hope you’ll agree, it’s Time to Talk.

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

Another Week, Another Facebook Challenge.

The latest one doing the rounds is the Motherhood Challenge where mums post pictures that make them happy to be a mum and then nominate other mums to do the same. (Sounds like too many mums to me...) 

It follows the likes of the Ice Bucket Challenge, the #NoMakeUpSelfie, the bra game and the 'I like it...' game (remember those?!)

Unlike those challenges there doesn't seem to be a reason for the Motherhood Challenge, other than a desire to spread a bit of love and positivity.

The aim of the Ice Bucket Challenge was to raise money for the ALS Association, (ALS is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord) and the aim of the #NoMakeUpSelfie was to get women to check their boobs (the idea being it takes less time time to check than to put on your make up) but ultimately turned into a reason to raise money for Cancer Research UK. 

All very well and good but the message got lost somewhere along the way. My timeline was flooded with people chucking water about (no pun intended) and pictures of women with no make up (shock horror!) without any mention of why they were doing it. 

It subsequently turned out that a lot of people had no idea why they were doing it, other than someone had told them to on Facebook.

Like old fashioned chain letters there's a herd mentality when it comes to these things. Whether it's a fear of missing out, a desire to be part of the crowd or just enjoying a harmless bit of fun, lots of people are happy to be carried along like lemmings headed for the cliff edge. 

I have no real problem with this. Feel free to post whatever you like on Facebook, it's your timeline.* Just don't expect other people to like it or join in. 

When the #NoMakeUpSelfie craze was big I posted a question on Facebook asking why it was brave to post a photo of yourself with no make up on and I got shot down in flames. At this stage I had no idea what the challenge was about - all I could see were lots of pictures of women with no make up declaring how brave they were for doing so. In my mind it's not brave to go without make-up, it's pretty normal. 

I was accused of being a cold heartless bitch (OK, maybe not in so many words but it certainly felt like it at the time.) I was accused of not caring about other people and all because I dared to question something that Facebook had told me to do, and there lies the problem.

I donate to charity, I organise charity events, I sort out my unwanted goods and take them to charity shops and I support friends when they are raising money for their chosen charities. To suggest that I'm heartless because I don't participate in a Facebook challenge is not only idiotic, it's offensive.

It raises an interesting question about how much we think about others when we post, and indeed, whether it's important to. Maybe when I posted my #NoMakeUpSelfie question I could have been a little more diplomatic, but surely we all have the freedom to express our opinion, to encourage debate without being vilified.

Comments have been posted across the internet about how the Motherhood Challenge is offensive to people who don't or can't have children. I'm not sure I'd go so far as offensive but I can see how having your timeline flooded with examples of 'amazing mothers' if you are unable to have children, or have sadly lost children, could be incredibly upsetting. 

But does this mean the Challenge shouldn't exist just in case it upsets someone? What about Dad's? Are they not worthy of a 'Fatherhood Challenge'? Or do men just not feel the need to publicly declare their undying love for their children on a regular basis? 

We're increasingly encouraged to live our lives in the public eye. To publicly grieve when a celebrity passes away,  pledge our support to charity (often those with the biggest marketing budgets), and generally jump on the bandwagon of the latest big craze. 

It's fine to grieve when someone you love or respect has passed away. To donate to causes we feel worthwhile and to take part in any event that brings us joy. But if the first thing we consider is 'how do I share this with the world on social media?', maybe we need to question our priorities. 

Unless it's racist, homophobic, sexist or generally offensive cos let's face it, then you're just being a dick.

Some links you might be interested in:

Monday, 1 February 2016

Coffee, cake and wonky windows

The highlight of my weekend (besides the hotel stay, the red wine, the Prosecco and the general absence of children...) was a visit to Nantwich Bookshop and Coffee Lounge. 

The original features of the 16th Century building have been preserved in the cafe area upstairs and there's even the opportunity, by request, to visit the top floor of the building via a steep windy staircase.

It's great to see a book store with a bit of character. You can browse the book store downstairs and relax on one of the comfy sofas or head upstairs and marvel at the quirky, wonky windows!

We chose a cup of coffee (strong and amazingly tasty), some home-made cake (ginger and lemon for me, apple for hubby - both got the Crosby seal of approval!) and a natter. But there's a full menu of snacks and meals and they even host themed evenings as well as book signing and talks. 

It was pretty quiet while we were there and we received a very friendly greeting from the owner. I was surprised that the majority of Nantwich seemed closed, unusual even on a Sunday these days. 

It's the perfect place to spend a lazy Sunday morning with a coffee and the paper. Hopefully we'll return in the Summer months and dine al fresco, where there's no danger of a toddler kicking out a 16th century panel.