Category Archives: Uncategorized

Making memories that will last a lifetime (or at least until they can afford therapy)

It started with a wish. A wish to celebrate my precious first born finishing nursery and getting ready for big school. I’ll take him out for the day, I thought, and make some magical memories to show how proud I am of the kind, funny child he has become. I spotted a half price online ticket deal to Groombridge Place, and when I realised that under-3s go free I factored Baby Bones into the equation too. It will be wonderful, I thought. Even though thunderstorms are forecast, we will have an amazing time. We’ll marvel at nature and turn over leaves and dash through rain showers and I’ll even get someone to take a picture of the three of us so that I am in a bloody family photo for once.

Today was that day. Here is what actually happened: PFB son started moaning halfway through the hour long drive to get there, and carried on for most of the trip (are we there yet? It’s taking aaaaaages. I’m just hot and thirsty and I want to get there. Why are you telling me off? I was just…ufff. I want to go home!) PMS me defaulted instantly to pissed off. The peacocks on the lawn, the hawks flying to command and the beautiful ornate gardens were mere backdrops to our hissed disagreements and the occasional ringing sound of a cast iron bollocking. No thunderstorm, but a sticky heat that bore down on us all like a fat man in a bad suit. Toddler daughter was cheerful, but her adamant refusal to rest little legs in the pushchair grew a bit tiresome after the fourth or fifth mile of walking. The high point of excitement for PFB was getting to use his new lunchbox. Which was, admittedly, gratifying, but we could have done that at home and saved eight quid.

Is it me? I wondered, head in hands, as I tried to explain for the sixth time that no, I couldn’t play Swashbuckle while trailing a snail’s-pace toddler around a two storey wooden climbing frame. Am I doing it all wrong? Where is the magic I so hoped to create? As someone whose own lovely, magic-making mum carked it long ago, my first worry is always ‘how do I know if I’m getting it right?’ How do you know if the memories they’re making are the kind you want to hang onto?

I welled up a little hearing my son make friends with another small boy and tell him all about our family, my sentimental heart clutching at how quickly he is growing up. But then I passed a couple of stony-faced South African mums barking ‘all you’ve done from the minute we got here is complain’ in the direction of their sullen offspring and was reminded that actually, kids of all ages are a pain in arse quite a lot of the time, and that’s ok. Hell, it’s normal. Being bollocked for arselike behaviour is also normal. How else does one learn not to be an arse?

And then we caught the boat back to the cafe and I received a lovely compliment from the boatman about my tattoo (‘it looks like someone’s taken a watercolour brush to you!’ Thanks, lovely and peerless Hannah Aitchison). I drove us home in a kind of cold beer tractor beam, propelled only by the throbbing image of refrigerated ale. I shooed two hot, dirty children into the knackered arms of Mr Bones, who had only just finished cleaning the paint off himself after a long day’s decorating. And PFB son, the moaning wonder, ran straight in to say ‘hey dad, I had a GREAT time today! I saw lots of animals, I climbed on a pirate ship, and we went on a boat! And I used my lunchbox and had my own lunch!’

I guess they make their own memories.

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The unbearable shiteness of being (a grown up)

There are many times in life that I give thanks for being over my irresponsible teens and twenties. Being in charge of my time (minus the inevitable child-centred interruptions), being able to drive myself places, not having to explain why I’m wearing that – all peachy. Sometimes, though, I just want someone, a proper grown up, to come along and tell me what to do.

My boy cat is 13. He has always been loud, active, boisterous, annoying, greedy and fun. He was a pretty magnificent looking animal in his prime, if I do say so myself:

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Over the last six months or so, he has developed pancreatitis as well as possible kidney dysfunction. He’s been back and forth to the vet, is on special food, has lots of medications that he has been mostly willing to take if I crush them up in some tasty meat or fish. His back legs have wasted away somewhat and are quite weak, sometimes to the point where he can’t even bounce himself up onto the toilet lid or our bed. He is gaunt, with a big head, and his fur looks greasy.

This week he had to spend two nights in kitty hospital being rehydrated as, due to a flare-up of pancreatitis, he had stopped eating or drinking. Came home on Tuesday with another bagful of medicine. Once at home he ate a little, drank a little, mostly refused the food with medicine in it. He was sick on Thursday morning, despite the medication that is meant to suppress the sickness.

But mostly I get the feeling that he has just given up. He’s been getting in bed with me every night (like, literally under the covers with his head on the pillow), hiding the rest of the time. He’s listless. He doesn’t seem to be washing. And he keeps giving me a look:

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How do I know what the right thing to do is? When I got the cats in my feckless youth, I just assumed that they would either be killed in accidents before their time or end up so undeniably ill that there would be no other choice but to PTS, like all my childhood cats. I don’t know if it’s kinder to keep forcing treatment and medication on the old boy just to prolong a tedious existence or if he’ll pick up to the point where he starts to enjoy life again.

It has also cost us a fortune. He’s insured and this is an ongoing condition so we’ll get some of the money back (eventually), but this week’s stay in hospital cost me nearly £500 that we don’t have spare right now. I can’t afford for him to go back in again, we simply don’t have the cash. I feel like a shit having to consider the financial burden alongside everything else, but it’s an unignorable part of the overall cost. If I knew that that £500 would result in him returning to a reasonable state of springy-pawed health I wouldn’t be thinking about it at all, but so far that has not been the case.

For comparison, we also have his sister who is as lively, glossy, hungry and curious as ever she was.

Meanwhile my son has become unusually attentive to boycat and insists on stroking him gently, giving him food, encouraging him to come inside ‘so he can be comfy’. Son is 4.5 and has accompanied us on most of our veterinary trips. I’m sure he’s old enough to read between the carefully phrased lines about next steps.

Never mind. I’m sure any minute now a kind grown up will be along to provide me an answer…

An open letter to Low

Dear Low,

I was talking to my husband about you a while back and he suggested that I write down what I’d said, that you might want to read it. So here it is.

We were talking about favourite Low songs (so hard to choose, you guys spoil us so) and I mentioned Shots and Ladders. He was surprised that it meant so much to me. But when we first started listening to your music, around the time Trust came out, my brother was seriously ill. He had been diagnosed with an incredibly rare sarcoma and had undergone some serious treatment, given by wonderful NHS staff with serious faces. Their faces told me as much as I wanted to know about what our future looked like. I spent a lot of time travelling to and from the town where I lived to London, hanging out in hospitals with my brother or keeping him company at home while he recovered from spinal surgery and underwent chemo that made him sick in every way. And travelling time is always good headphones time, so there was a lot of listening done.

Trust seemed like such a mysterious thing to me. All that space, all that power, that wonderful echoey production. The many references to illness intrigued and comforted me. It was like having a knowing friend along for the journey, one who didn’t bullshit me with upbeat smiles but didn’t look away in fear either. Your voices wrapped me up and offered succour and salvation without any annoying platitudes on the side.

I made my brother a copy, compelled to share the music I loved as we had both always been with each other. I don’t know if he ever listened to it. The cancer was eating his future and after a while he stopped wanting to think about new things.

I thought a lot about him dying, during the two years he was ill. It was pretty obvious that that was what was going to happen. Sarcoma is rare and not much understood, and the kind he had was particularly difficult to treat. I watched it strip away his life a bit at a time – his ability to work, his ability to walk, his interest in the world that would no longer be his – and wondered what the final scene would look like. Shots and Ladders came into my mind a lot. I loved the feeling it evoked of being funnelled up into a massive twister of sound, the essence of a person dissipating as kind voices said soothing things. I wondered if it would be that way for him, or if it would be a horror film kind of ending. I was very frightened.

My brother died in a hospital bed on the top floor of UCLH in London. The top floor is really high up, you can see all across the city from there. He slipped away over the course of five days or so, surrounded by people he loved. It wasn’t scary in the end, as I had feared – I mean, it was, it was awful, but it wasn’t like being in a horror film. It was peaceful for him. The last thing we talked about was Jimi Hendrix. I was there as his last breath hushed out and no more breath went in, and afterwards I went into the corridor and leant my face against the plate glass window, looking out at the clouds, thinking of Shots and Ladders, imagining him streaming into the sky.

When I listen to it now, I think of him, of that moment and how it wasn’t the nightmare I had feared but a horrible honour. Your music helped get me through that. You gave me a way to reframe a dreadful experience before it had happened.

That’s not the only thing your music has given me, obviously. But today is the 6th anniversary of his death and it was on my mind, so I hope you don’t mind me writing it down.

Looking forward to the Barbican gig on Tuesday!

A comparitive study of tiredness

Recently I’ve been experimenting with the 5:2 diet. Although it hasn’t really got past 6:1 with me, because fast days seem to result in a two day hangover of headache and fatigue. On the fast day itself, though, I’ve felt terrific: clear headed and full of energy, instead of thick headed and full of food.

So on Saturday night I did something pretty rock and roll. It was out there, I know, but…I decided to stay up late for no reason. I got home from babysitting for a friend at around midnight and had to make a cheesecake before I went to bed. This makes me sound like one of those mummy bloggers with shiny hair and well organised storage who put up artfully composed photos of home made jam. I am not one of those people. In case you need evidence, here’s a shot of my front room right now:

my front room

But the cake had to get made, so I cracked open a beer and got on with it. The house was quiet, my thoughts were my own, the beer was good. I was enjoying myself.

So when the cake was done at 1am, I thought ‘why not sit down with another beer and do some stuff?’ Reasons not to do this included the fact that it was my turn to get up with Loki the queen of 5am starts, and the busy day with friends that the cake was for. But I just couldn’t resist the chance to be alone in my own head for a bit longer.

So I accepted the fact that I would not sleep much and probably feel like shit all Sunday, and I spent a very enjoyable couple of hours reading blogs, writing emails etc. Went to bed at 3am, madam was up at 4.30am.

NOW, to the point. Once the initial hibernation feeling had worn off, about 3 lightning speed cups of tea into the day, I felt alright. Better than alright – I felt good. It was fun to hang out with a chatty, bumbling companion, physically I felt no pain and there was a pleasant floating feeling in my head. It was a bit like being on E, except that it didn’t cost me £5 and there was much less likelihood of interrupting a conversation with someone in order to vom on their shoes.

Not only that, this feeling stayed all day. We went to our friends’ house and had a fabulous time, loads of food, conversation, laughing and minimal need to parent. The kids immersed themselves in an imaginary guinea pig world for about four hours while we sat in the kitchen and spraffed. AND THEN we all went to another friend’s house for a child’s birthday party and while a gang of feral preschoolers ran between our feet we hung out in a kitchen, drank out of plastic cups and kind of sort of partied. It was some perfect Sunday fun.

There have been a lot of times since having kids that I have been so desperately, painfully tired that I felt everything was impossible. Sustained sleep deprivation is of course used as a form of torture and anyone who’s dealt with a small face in the night could tell you why, if they weren’t so bloody knackered that they couldn’t form a sentence. What seems to have made the difference this time was that I chose to stay up that late rather than having it inflicted upon me, and I used that time to satisfy myself (steady now). I’ve always been a night owl, creatively speaking, and it looks like that hasn’t changed. Staying up till 3am isn’t really a sustainable solution to the pram in the hall conundrum though. I got in bed at 9pm last night and zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

It is also undoubtedly true that I wouldn’t have felt so great on Sunday if we had spent the day vacuuming the car or going to Ikea. Maintaining your own social life when you have kids is important. So thanks Hannah and Rich, Leo and Kat, Estelle and Pete, lovely awesome friends. You make driving round the North Circular worthwhile!

Parenting the toddlergeist

My 20 month old daughter wants a big girl bed. I know this because a couple of nights ago, following several nights of unusual bedtime hysterics, she ran into the bedroom she and Boy Bones share and demanded to get up on his bed. Once on the bed she wriggled under his duvet, sat up against his pillows and beamed at me.

So we cuddled together just like I do when reading the boy’s bedtime stories and when we’d finished she lay down and got comfy on his pillows. Thinking she might want some company, as he often does, I laid down next to her. This triggered a flood of angry noises and emphatic pushing of me away from her. No, she did not want me in the big bed. She wanted herself, alone, in a big bed. She gave me a meaningful look, one which said ‘I hope we understand each other.’

Some months ago, as he was getting ready for bed, my son complained as I cleared away the tiles from a game we’d been playing: “But they’re my lots of eggs, mum!” I asked what they were going to hatch into. “Ten baby Girl Bones!” he yelled with glee. A grinding shudder ran down my left arm, the extra achy one, the arm whose shoulder grinds a bit whenever I pick up my one baby Girl Bones. Ten of her…what would life be like? She is an elemental force, a mischievous imp, a toddlergeist. She is the reason my boots are full of blueberries and there is play food down our toilet. If I were to rename the kids based on what they’re like, she would definitely be Loki.

She is the most direct and unwavering personality I’ve ever known. Even my pregnancy with her was direct. With my son, I had no clue. It took five days of lateness for me to half-arsedly mumble something about doing a test and then a further five minutes of slack-jawed shock to absorb the second line. With her, five days before my period was even due I was smelling the ghost of food long after it had decamped to the outside bin. After two consecutive nights of dreaming about going downstairs to take a positive pregnancy test, I got the message, went downstairs and took a positive pregnancy test. I wouldn’t have been surprised to see the words I AM HERE stencilled across my uterus at the twelve week scan.

Before I had children, I thought that people who said babies come with their own personalities were probably on drugs. I mean, a baby is a sack of needs with a mouth, isn’t it? But both of my spawn have made me eat that half formed opinion many a time, and Girl Bones’ blunt and direct ability to communicate is just another illustration of my own stupidity on that score. From her refusal to sleep anywhere but next to me in our bed (until the day she decided she preferred her cot, at which point she refused to sleep anywhere else), to her early mastery of the point-and-meaningful-look combo, to her love of the tactical facepalm during particularly expressive tantrums, she’s a girl with a lot to say and small tolerance for repetition, hesitation or deviation. She knows what she wants and she wants you to act upon it now, while she’s busy growing up enough to do it herself.

Despite the fact that this makes parenting her bloody hard work, I do hope she carries these attributes along into adult life. Because the thing that makes the shouting, the bossiness, the stubbornness okay, more than okay, is the spark in her eye that says life is so fucking wonderful. Life to her is a wonderful game, a game that she can win. I want her to feel like that every day of her life. When she crosses paths with haters and abusers and ignorami and loudmouths and tailgaters and twats, I want her to look them in the eye, laugh her head off and carry on winning. Which is why, when I’m listening to her cackle with joy as I chase her down the street for the twentieth time, I’m laughing too.

Mother’s day

Perfectionism. The sneery big sister of procrastination, it is the curse of my life. It undermines everything I think and stifles every dream of mine at birth. We have a long and toxic relationship, perfectionism and I. We have been locked in battle since I was tiny.

When I was a kid, I didn’t think perfectionism was that bad. Sometimes she was actually my friend. I would strive and slave over something and the brief flicker of triumph I felt when it approached my unattainably high standards was, I thought, what satisfaction felt like. The litter of half-started or unfinished projects rustling around my ankles was studiously ignored. As I waded through them to reach my desk and start work on another cherished idea, I thought only of how happy perfectionism would be when this time, finally, I got down on paper what was glowing in my head. But she never was happy, and after a while neither was I. Going back to an incomplete task began to feel like a struggle; having to face my shortcomings on the page, not knowing how to address them. I began to stay away.

As I got older, the pain of constantly failing began to take its toll and I started to think ‘why bother?’ Because perfectionism doesn’t like success. Perfectionism is a recipe for failure, the great excuse to do nothing. When you know in advance that you can’t achieve what you want, why bother even trying? Why bother to start? The pain is too much, the pain of trying something once, not being perfect at it and having to confront your utter worthlessness. Much better not even to start but just to stew quietly over everything you could have done, if only you’d had the chance/been given the opportunity/had all the breaks that that guy had. And of course, the more time you spend doing nothing, the more time you have to think about how crap you will be at anything you care to try, so y’know…why bother.

Perfectionism is evil. It engenders nothing but negativity in the mind of the sufferer: other people’s hard won victories are to be envied, while your own successes are invisible and worthless because they are not perfect. You cannot learn, as a perfectionist, because you never understand that failure is GOOD. It has taken me over twenty years to grasp the concept that failure is necessary to progress, twenty years in which I have thrown away opportunities, cowered away from things I wanted and stifled myself in every conceivable way.

What does this have to do with Mother’s Day? Well, I was always a perfectionist kid with massively high stress levels, but when my mum killed herself it sealed those corrosive habits right in. Her death at her own hand was an eloquent abutment to the belief, carefully nurtured by her over the fourteen years of my life, that I could do anything. Perfectionism, enemy of progress and lover of stagnation, whispered in my ear ‘Why even try? You will end up here sooner or later. Your mum tried, and tried and tried. She didn’t succeed and now she’s dead. Don’t even try. Be kind to yourself.” At a time when I needed kindness so badly, the voice was seductive and I gave in.

Now I have my own kids. They have just this minute brought me the most awesome mother’s day card, by the way, and a lovely present too:

Mother's Day awesomeness

Do I care that what they do isn’t perfect? No. I love them for it. I see them learning every day through their mistakes and grapplings. I respect them for it, the same as I respect my husband for sitting down to finish a drawing or a bit of music whether or not he feels it’s started off sufficiently well. I encourage my children to try and keep trying when they don’t at first succeed. If ever there was a time to embrace my failures, surely it’s now.

So up yours, perfectionism. From now I pledge to embrace halfarsedness. I pledge to write that blog post I thought of earlier, rather than obsess over the detail before it’s even begun. Reader, I pledge to give you sloppy work and badly formed sentences on the page rather than that elusive perfectly formed sentence in my head. Hell, there might even be a spelling mistake in there sometimes.

Failure is my new benchmark for success.

A weekend in the country

Misty, frosty morning. I couldn’t sleep past 6.30am (backache/need a wee) so here I am, staring out at the quiet frosty fields. The cars are coated in ice and there is a chilly peach glow in the sky. My kinks ache pleasantly, the kind of ache that comes from rest rather than clocking wearily on once more. I’d forgotten what it felt like. I had forgotten it all.

I am on a weekend away with a group of friends, who also happen to be fellow mums of at least one 4 year old. We met through coincidental pregnancy but we are friends through five years of gossip, advice, worry, online shopping tips and plain old cackling. We live at all ends of the country so to spend a whole weekend together is quite an achievement. Our children have been palmed off on various relatives and for two glorious days we revel in the privileges of the individual: answering to our names, wiping only our own arses, showering in blissful solitude.

On Saturday we go for a walk along the towpath. The ground is muddy but the sun shines in a flawless winter way. We pick our way along, marvelling quietly at how we have left the house with only our coats and scarves – no bag full of other people’s layers, no spare everything, not even an emergency banana. It is a revelation: the quiet space inside my head and out; the way the stiffness slowly eases itself out of knee and neck and elbow, lazily unfurling in the sun; not having to raise my voice in order to chivvy people along or inventory numbers/items/behaviour. Being able to look at things. The shiny mirror surface of the aqueduct. The brightly coloured coats of my friends.

Not to mention being able to walk to a pub, order a pint with lunch, have another just because the first was so good, then amble mistily back along a busy A road where – oh no! – one of our number has a blister issue that forces a stop at another pub. When was the last time I strolled? Really can’t remember.

The cottage we’re staying in advertises itself as luxury, but it’s not. The pool is not heated and there are dead things drifting along the bottom.The bathroom lights are motion sensor activated, so they ping on to an initial ‘ooh!’ of satisfaction as you open the door, but they are also on a timer so they ping off again after ten minutes of showering unheated pool water from your hair. There is no wifi access. The iPod dock causes our music to skip.

None of this matters at all though because we’re here for the company and that has proved to be luxury beyond price. We talk, and talk and talk and talk. We plunge in the chilly swimming pool, and talk. We drink ten thousand hot cups of tea, followed by ten thousand bottles of fizzy wine, and talk. We talk fast, slow, uninterrupted, swearily and with vigour. We occupy space in a way it is very difficult to do when in charge of small people, because your mind is always registering them – where they are, what they need, who is about to fall into the canal, who is going to need a wee in about ten minutes – and editing itself as a consequence.

I had forgotten what it felt like to completely own my mind. The memory, restored by my weekend away, has already carried me through a horrible week of toddler illness and preschooler strops, so thank you, friends. Let’s do it again sometime.