Sunday, 14 September 2014

Going back to work full-time mania

This week I started a new job - the first time I’ve worked full-time for about ten years.  So yeah, culture shock.  The main way I have prepared for this life-changing event has been through developing a colour-coded childcare spreadsheet which impresses even my most anally-retentive leanings.  Possibly The Childcare System frightens me more each time I look at it and, what with more INSET days than I thought it was possible to cram into a term, it seems likely that it will test the goodwill of our families to the limit.  But week one and there have been no sickness bugs.  [punches air]  Although two weeks into term and everyone is doing a nice job of developing hacking coughs.

So, going back to work then.  Obviously ten years on and my old working wardrobe has seen better days, so I have eked out this week trying to smart-casualise my interview suit (it’s a thing), while doing some participation observation of what everyone else is wearing (more funky, yet smarter, gear than me).   The night before my first day I was, predictably, a nervous wreck, a situation which I countered with some hardcore school uniform labelling - a job during which it is impossible not to get obsessed with how variable the quality of labels are these days. And of course asking myself, yet again, why I never invested in a permanent marker.  The journey to work, planned out to within an inch of its life, turned into a farce.  A journey that should take 40 minutes took 2 hours.  So professionalism.  I now realise that my first day travel arrangements fall into the category of doomed.  My first ever day at the job I did before children was victim to a freak storm with all trains from the South into London cancelled. You couldn’t make this stuff up. I spent most of the day inexplicably stuck in Fareham, which is neither near my house, not - obviously - London. Perhaps I should endeavour never to change jobs again.

But when I finally arrived at work, considerably more flustered than I’d hoped, my boss was nothing but lovely about it.  And when she showed me my office (my OWN office!! Headspace, luxury of the highest order), with loads of light and yellow roses, she fast became the best boss ever.  Did I mention the sign on my door??  For the first time in years, I felt like a grown-up, not just someone who is failing at the social minefield of the playground, and sending the kids to about 30 less activities than they deserve.  Of course, at first I barely understood a word of what was going on, so badly was I drowning in information, but by day 4 I felt like I was surfacing from the black hole of moving to a new computer, and actually starting to produce work that wasn’t completely leftfield.  There has actually been time to plan and finish tasks!  This bit has been a revelation - part-time, I was constantly in guilt mode that I wasn’t pulling my weight compared to colleagues who were in every day, and desperately working into the early hours trying to compensate.  It has in fact been that rare and treasured thing of a good first week, helped no end by my colleagues, who, without exception, have all been interesting, welcoming, and had a healthy dose of self-depreciation. And going out to lunch, every day!  What, really, is not to like in this situation??

All of which made me feel slightly guilty about how happy I felt coming home on Friday, as it’s obviously been a big change for everyone.  Every minute of the week is now structured.  I get up earlier and cack-handedly blitz the domestic stuff I would usually have done after the school run, drop everyone off at the bus-stop and school, before driving into work (an unanticipated bonus has been the extra dose of Radio 4 I get in my day).  And then we have The System to rule the after-school period, after which Charlie picks them all up and deals with baths, sandwich boxes and supper.  It’s this end of the day that I appreciate I’ve had the good deal on so far.  No more the after-school gumpiness – when I get home my children are all fed, and full of hugs and a zillion things to tell me.  Long may it last, for this bit is amazing.  And then we launch into another hour or so of manic activity before bedtime.  God, that Friday night beer was good this week!

I had thought that this weekend would be all lie-ins and chilling.  But it turns out that you just need to squeeze in more of the stuff you’d normally do during the week.  Dur!  And I have not even begun to think about what a hovel our house is looking like, or how neglected my friends and family are.  One step at a time …

This week I am very lucky to the Newbie Showcase on PoCoLo, which the lovely Rachel at Umeandthekids is so ably hosting while Vicky's off enjoying the sun.  So please do join in with all the wonderful bloggers over there this week:

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Thursday, 4 September 2014

Singled out in a theme park queue

I’ve rather lost my blogging mojo recently.  Between redundancy, taking on more consultancy than I can comfortably cope with, and the relentless search for another job, it’s just been firefighting.  Just as it was starting to look a bit desperate I finally I got a job, which I’m starting in a few days now.  Full-time, so - I know - scary.  But also exciting, and doing what I’ve longed to be doing for a while now.  So the summer holidays have been bittersweet, knowing that next year it will be very different.  And now big changes are afoot – K starting school and H moving up to middle school.  There’s been too much to blog to know how and where to start.  But last week something happened that I’m getting stuck on, and I’m hoping that by blogging about it I’ll find out what to do.  I apologise in advance for the rambling.

Last week was Katie’s 4th birthday and we went to a local themepark, which has a sub-themepark based around a popular children’s character (bear with me on this, I’m trying to anonymise things).  We have season tickets here that my mum has bought us as Christmas presents for the last two years, and the children know it inside out.  The older two would normally spend a trip completely focused on out scary-riding each other, but today everyone was on-message that it was Katie’s treat and she was calling the shots.  So obviously the sub-themepark it was.

Things were going well: we’d got there relatively early and managed to dodge some of the more horrendous queues.  But then K wanted to go on her favourite ride, which was already nurturing the wait from hell.  For the sake of making it visual, let’s call it The Giraffe ride.  What you do (after queuing) is ride around on a small giraffe set on a track, the giraffe rocking gently all the way.  I know.  We got warm doughnuts and caffeine to take the edge off the queue and amazingly managed to get through the next hour (no exaggeration) without too much chaos breaking out.  Or anyone dying of boredom.  Excitement was building as we got to the front.  Followed by the dampest of damp squibs.

As the kids lined up ready to claim their ‘giraffes’, the stallholder opened the gate and said, “I’m not sure she can go on,” pointing at Charlotte, my eldest.  Charlotte is 9, and tall for her age anyway.  I must have looked confused - because I certainly was.  He pointed to her little hand and mumbled something about it not being safe.  Charlotte, incidentally, was born without a left hand.  This, however, is very far down the list of distinguishable things about her.  Obviously I am biased, but to me she is beautiful, brave and astounding astute, the combination of all of Luna and Hermione’s best qualities.  Throw in a bit of Buffy too.  Anyway.  Taken aback and trying not to come across as some kind of gibbering idiot, I told him there was no safety issue.  Charlotte had been on it many, MANY times before, as indeed she had on every ride in the themepark, and no one had ever raised an eyebrow.  The one time I had thought another ride looked a little hairy I’d mentioned it to the stallholder who’d assured me that it was no risk whatsoever.  I was pretty calm in making these points, trying not to attract any more attention than necessary to a situation which was clearly mortifying for Charlotte.  But the stallholder just looked worried and said he’d have to check the safety rules.  He did this, and came back saying that The Rules stated that you needed to hold on with two hands.

I explained that Charlotte could do that perfectly fine – her little hand is very far from redundant, she has a wrist with lots of mobility, which she’d naturally use to grip onto the groove in the giraffe’s neck.  Without giving it a second thought, just like any other child would.  Besides, the ride is geared at MUCH younger children and height-based.  Katie’s had to ride on it on her own since she was three-and-a-half, and it is fair to say she is not totally reliable on the holding on tight front.  Indeed there is a camera half way around the ride that takes pictures which they later try to flog you, and which you’re encouraged to wave at.  The point I’ll eventually get to is that is that holding on with two hands is certainly not something that the ride is attempting to enforce in any way, and if there was the slightest risk then I suspect they would have installed seatbelts some time ago (as they do on many other rides).  But the stallholder just looked more worried and said he’d have to call for his manager.  Which he did, and for some inexplicable reason he was unable to get an answer there and then, and we had to sit out an excruciating ten more minutes for the (stepping up a gear now, to two) managers to arrive.

This is the bit that made me the most cross/upset/frustrated.  That my daughter was forced to stand there patiently, while some idiotic problem was resolved, enduring the humiliation of standing at the front of the queue while smaller children were waved past her.  People overhearing the exchange and suddenly looking at her differently.  This the bit that I think was particularly badly handled, and is no way to treat a child.   On the positive side, I am eternally grateful to the mother behind me who muttered as loudly as she was waved through about how ‘f’ing ridiculous,’ the whole thing was.  There are times when you just need someone to tell it how it is.

The managers eventually arrived, the stallholder spoke to them and they asked me what the issue seemed to be.  I replied I didn’t know.  We’d been coming on season tickets for two years, no issue had ever been raised before, which made it all the more mystifying that it had come up on one of the park’s most gentle rides.  Also - just plain rambling now - that the way they were dealing with this was completely inconsiderate of my daughter’s feelings.  Acting like she couldn't hear.  Somewhat pathetically I was nearly in tears at this point.  Meanwhile Charlotte looked stoic, or did a very good impression of it.  She does want to be an actress, after all.  Thankfully the managers looked embarrassed, and mumbled, “Yeah, yeah, that’s fine,” and waved us through.

But of course it  was very far from fine.  I doubt if there was a split second of that ride which didn’t stick in Charlotte’s throat, and she was subdued for the rest of the day.  No-one wants to be looked at as the one that’s different.  She is such a capable, daredevil child, she takes on so much physically that I never could – she rode a bike without stabilisers before she started school, is the most graceful swimmer I’ve ever seen; she surfs, cartwheels and backflips.  It was demeaning for her to have to go through that nonsense, and to have no voice.

The more I think about it, the more utterly convinced I am that there was no safety issue at stake and that the stallholder was just inexperienced and covering his back.  I don’t even really blame him so much as the managers who didn’t shut the issue down as soon as he phoned them.  The waiting was the soul-destroying bit.  I lay awake for several nights afterwards feeling too angry and disempowered to do anything.

Now obviously I have some perspective, I know that in the scheme of things this is a little problem, and Charlotte’s stoicism is some reflection of the amount of times she copes with this kind of reaction in various forms.  But that doesn’t make it ok, and here’s what I need help on. 

I want to write a letter that will have an impact.  I’m pretty sure that will happen if I present the facts as I am doing now is that I’ll get a standard health-and-safety line thrown back at me.  And there will have been no point ever having written it.  And I don't accept that line, it's a cop-out.  The themepark is a place which has built itself up as being disability-friendly (not that Charlotte sees herself as disabled, but that’s the point - this man clearly did).  If things stay the same and this happens to someone else, who knows what the lasting effects of all these cumulative disrespects will be? Here’s what I think needs to happen

-          The ‘rules’ that the stallholder consulted are clearly badly worded, and need rewriting to reflect people’s differences and their different strategies for personal safety.
-          If staff don’t feel confident applying safety rules and are doing so in a way that is misguided, then whatever disability awareness training goes on is clearly not working, and needs to be changed.

Is this really so unreasonable?  The thing is how can I get this across, without sounding aggressive? Because I do feel really strongly about this and will go to the press to campaign if necessary.  But anger is never helpful in getting people to see things from your point of view.  How can I make something positive out of this?  

And thank-you - if you’ve got to the end of this, you are amazing, and I really will hang off your every word of advice.

Thursday, 22 May 2014

(Breast) Pumping my way to insanity

I had one of those moments yesterday, zoning out in Costas, that the endless faffing about with coffee machines was not dissimilar to the mechanical putting together of a breast pump.  My husband used to liken this to my assembling a machine gun.  I suspect that this was a stoic, if fruitless, attempt to make me feel that I struck a glamorous and edgy figure in the kitchen.  As opposed to just being some task that I was destined to do approximately 8573 times, in preparation for the ritual throwing out of the OCD quantities of frozen breast milk that had been stockpiled once several thick lines had been drawn under breastfeeding.

Breastfeeding.  Ah yes, how could I forget?  That quagmire of failure, bastion of middle-class competency.

It is fair to say that I was not a natural at breastfeeding.  I shall spare you the exceedingly long and very dull story, but my eldest daughter ended up being mixed fed.  Which I can tell you for free is the worst of all worlds.  My inverted nipples didn’t exactly help matters in an already sorry state of affairs, so we ended up with this ridiculous, self-patented scenario where – apart from the very occasional concession to a nipple guard – I ended up pumping and feeding it to my daughter in a bottle.  In addition to formula feeding, as I was convinced my milk wouldn’t be enough.  Basically a one-way ticket to insanity.  There is very little as pointlessly time-consuming as pumping and then bottle-feeding it straight back to your child, but that was the way I rumbled.  For 13 sodding months.   And then I wisely stopped, had a good drink, and promptly fell pregnant again.

You’d think that there would have been some lessons learnt here, wouldn’t you?   But no, with my following two children – who miraculously breastfed ok - I continued with the nonsense of pumping.  Nominally in case of some emergency scenario like alien abduction or a burst appendix.  I say they fed ok, obviously I mean ok in the sense of the obligatory 3 months of toe curling and health visitors sending you well-meaning (but essentially useless) articles on wet-wound healing.  It’s magical stuff.

Clearly this doublespeak feeding strategy was the cause of some frequent discussion in our house about the logic of keeping a freezer stacked with milk that was on a constant going-out-of-date watch.  But I probably wouldn’t have liked to push this point too strongly with me at the time either.  A sane person would have also invested in an electric breast-pump, in some sort of a nod towards efficiency, but I was much too far some down the road of crazy by now.  Instead I worked my way through about 10 models on eBay, learning along the way that I couldn’t get a drop out with some makes no matter how hard I tried.  I also learnt that if you want to stimulate the letdown reflex then don’t bother reading anything that might even vaguely stimulate your brain.  I became exceedingly skilled at zoning out, and imagine I was pretty amazing company of an evening.

In retrospect I think the feeling of total failure with my first was not exactly helped by the fact that I went on a post-birth NHS course where we learnt a series of outstandingly helpful techniques like how to brush teeth, and when to start thinking about weaning.  I am not even slightly exaggerating when I tell you that one session was pretty much dominated by discussing the versatility of an Annabel Karmel guacamole dip for dinner parties.  The dip, incidentally, was very good; I wasn't so big on dinner parties at the time so can't comment on that eventuality.  All stuff that I presumably could have read in a book, but in my state of new-parent panic felt that a good old course would settle one and for all.  After all, this theory had worked in most other aspects of my life up until now, and it also kind of distracted me from some of the scary health stuff that was rumbling on with my daughter at the time.  I was normal, see!  Anyway, the other parents on this course were totally rocking the breastfeeding thing, and the following few months were punctuated with this weekly drain on morale.  I’d gleaned that I probably wasn’t in the same social group as them from the off when they all talked about their husbands’ practices and Very Important business trips, but when a post-course knees-up was organised at one of their houses, my suspicions were confirmed.  My car recognition is poor at the best of times, but even I could see that there wasn’t a car in that cattle-gridded drive worth under £30k.  So I turned around, and drove home in my 10-year old Micra, punching air that being - nominally - a grown up I was free to go, and that the ritual humiliation was at an end.

The breastfeeding was actually rather lovely with the second two after the first horrific weeks.  But the pumping sucked big time.

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Fairies in the Wood: Furzey Gardens

Over the bank holiday weekend, when Charlie was off running his favourite marathon (Avebury to Stonehenge, in case you’re interested), we took ourselves off fairy hunting.  Furzey Gardens is this hidden gem in Minstead in the New Forest.  It's fairly unique in not being the traditional stately home and gardens set-up, but a charitable trust in which the wonderful gardens are tended by volunteers and young people with learning difficulties.  It was one of the first places we were brave enough to embark on day trip to when Charlotte was a baby (I know, we are pretty hardcore, venturing all the way to the next village: we should probably write a book about this kind of stuff!).  And it’s one of those places that keeps us coming back because every time there’s some new structure or discovery to be made.  And of course there are the fairies ...

Same child, same wall of pink ... eight years on

When we first started coming the fairies had just moved in.  Now they seem to be pretty well established, with over 30 fairy doors waiting to be found.  The great thing about these is they’re not set on a trail, and while there’s a vague kind of map it’s more a nudge in the right direction.  So you never discover them all, and finding a new one is genuinely magical.  Some of them are probably totally secret.  This time we found Midas’ Mansion for the first time, off the beaten track: a door at which fittingly a pile of coins had been left to be turned into riches.  It would be rude not to join in.  We found about 10 doors today, and the expression on Katie’s face – who thinks Ben and Holly totally rule, and who is gutted that there is no sign of the tooth fairy visiting her yet – was priceless.  Throughout the gardens little offerings of flowers have been at the fairies’ doors, and it struck me, particularly after Long Barrow a few weeks ago and the sudden death of someone in our village whose doorstep has since been decorated with pots and wildflowers, how compelling our need is to reach out to fairies and the dead with colour.
We’ve been to Furzey loads, but the spring is truly spectacular, I haven’t seen pinks and reds like it anywhere else on earth (I haven’t retouched any of these pictures).  There’s an adventure playground, inventively made up of a series of African treehouses, tunnels and a dry boat.  There’s a great three-floored treehouse with views over the Isle of Wight, a bug barn, eccentric scarecrows, alpacas studiously ignoring the interlopers, a giant’s picnic table, a hidden star-gazing hut, and 16th century cottage complete with a family of sleeping children guarded by a spider (you really have to see it to get it).  It’s a place for stories to unfold, and you don’t need to say very much at all because the children are immediately drawn in.    For the adults there’s a rather good coffee shop, art gallery and plant sale (I say for adults, like I would have the slightest clue how one negotiates a plant sale). But really, with the massive lawn looking down over the spectacular mass of colour, picnics win every time.

It’s true at one point Katie had a total meltdown after cruelly being taken away from the swings. (Am I the only person in the world who totally hates swings?  You spend your whole time either queuing or riddled with guilt that your turn might go a millisecond over the agreed norm.)  We made some cursory attempts at distraction, making grass guns, fountains and horns, which she treated with the disdain they deserved.  But such is life, and as my older children point out, it makes it somehow it more memorable remembering the various places where strops have been had.  It was only really when we discovered the next fairy door that some semblance of order was restored.  And such is Furzey Gardens that there are so many compelling new spaces to be discovered; it’s hard to maintain a funk for very long.

Saturday, 3 May 2014

The pros and cons of oil pulling

I’m not quite sure how the world got so polarised that oil pulling has already become more or less passé within the online community.  Yet whenever I mention it in real-life I get a ‘Huh??’  Followed, when I explain it, by a look that rapidly turns into mild suspicion, and finally backing away.  Indeed my dentist all but fell about laughing when I mentioned it, so bang go my hopes of being taken seriously as a human being there again. 

Monday, 28 April 2014

Avebury Stone Circles and Long Barrow West Kennet

On Easter Monday we returned to Avebury stone circles, which we’d discovered just after Christmas.  But it takes a while for us to drive there, and it felt like we’d only just skimmed its surface before. 

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Back to reality (again)

Something has always got in the way of blogging recently, with the result that now I sit down and try and catch up my head is a mess of disparate thoughts, and no hint of a theme to string them all together around.  Holidays are always a bit like this, pushing the door shut against the throbbing to-do list.  Pretending to be totally relaxed about this kind of stuff.

Sunday, 20 April 2014

Failing at Easter

Today being Easter, the social media backdrop has ramped up a gear, reminding me how ‘other people’ do this kind of stuff.  Providing a handy rulebook to substitute for the one I lack for all manner of social situations.  

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Blogging for One

I just noticed that I’ve missed my blog’s birthday.  Sorry about that, blog.  Having said that I’m not exactly up on the etiquette of a blog’s birthday, pretty much as I wasn’t up on the occasion that a baby’s first birthday calls for.  I think there is probably a life manual that I missed somewhere along the line.

Saturday, 8 March 2014

Postcard from Tanzania on International Women's Day #lastingchange

Today is International Women’s Day, and for the past month or so parent bloggers have been taking part in TeamHonk, a massive relay across Britain to raise money and awareness for Comic Relief.  It has currently raised over £22,000 and is now around the Manchester area on its way up to John O’Groats. 

This week, without fanfare and with their typical good humour, the architects of Team Honk – Annie, Penny and Tayna – set off to Tanzania to see how the money raised by Team Honk last year hasbeen invested by The Gatsby Trust to support female entrepreneurs in order to make a #lastingchange to theirs and their families’ lives.  Lack of education, hostile labour markets and gendered violence have seen women suffer disproportionately high levels of poverty, something with Comic Relief and the Gatsby Trust are fighting to readdress by working to create sustainable improvements in community life.

Team Honk have been sending back digital postcards of the inspiring women they’ve met, and I’m privileged to have Forestiana on my blog today, a wine processor, who sounds like a woman after my own heart. 

Team Honk have been stoically sampling her hibiscus wine, which people are literally knocking on Forestiana’s door to buy!  You can read more about her on Mammasarus’s (Annie’s) blog.  If you get a chance,please do have a look at some more of the inspirational women that Team Honk have been meeting, and you will get a glimpse of the ways that women have been investing their enthusiasm and grit into gradually making the world a better place.  Seriously, I struggle to think of things I would miss more than clothes, soap and wine, just some of the wonderful products that the women featured today have been making for their communities to give their families a better future.

If you would like to get involved further in Team Honk’s fundraising, you can donate here and help support these life-changing projects.

You can also retweet these digital postcards, and wherever you see the hashtag #lastingchange.

Thanks for reading and, whatever you do, have a wonderful International Women’s Day.