A Novel Question

 

 

My novel question is this:  why admit to trying to write one?

Why confess to spending hours in a head all by yourself, obsessing over things that aren’t real and trying to write them down?

The vast majority of novels are barely read;  people who write them must be egotists. How else do they persuade themselves for thousands of words to keep writing; that their work is good enough to finish the thing?  There lies, perhaps, a barely distinguishable line between someone with confidence in their outstanding abilities (like JK Rowling), and someone sad, deluded and hopelessly over-committed (like me?).

Yes- that’s right.  Deluded!  I nearly fell off my unicorn at the thought.  Honestly though:  why admit to trying?  Who wants to publicly end up like the woman who wrote this?

https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2017/apr/01/what-im-really-thinking-the-failed-novelist

In the beginning, I decided not to answer such pivotal questions.  Sidestepping is easy:

–   *surprised look*  – ‘But I’m not trying to write a novel

–  ‘You’re not?’

–   ‘No.  i’m just writing a story.  For fun.  Just for me.’

It’s a great line.  It re-frames the whole idea:  suddenly, I am not some desparado bent on creating a masterpiece, but someone who sits there for hours rearranging the structure of a few sentences because it gives them mental satisfaction.  Readers?  Smeaders.

Reputation intact then.  But is it true?

Who cares?  I used it anyway.  I used it when I started to ask my friends about stuff I didn’t understand.  If they smiled to themselves, I didn’t notice across cyberspace.  I just appreciated it that they helped me out.

In fact, I grew in confidence until I stuck a few of them in a Facebook group, and even sometimes picked up the phone.  I found myself having all sorts of hypothetical conversations with this generous expert gang.

So then I got brave and contacted Sheffield University.  I told them I was a writer doing research: technically true, because I write.  They invited me in and were nice to me and showed me their department.  I went out feeling as though I’d been right to go there and was a step closer to my goal.

Nearly a year later, I’ve finished the first draft of my 110,000 word ‘story.’   Unable to contain myself, I Face-booked that I’d just written a novel.

Then I read it back and gulped.  When had that happened?  Was ‘novel’ actually my word for it now?  It must have crept in steadily over the course of a year;  I’ve become one of those weird egotists after all.  A potential delusional being who likes to spend all evening with her lap-top.  I felt as though, in using the n-word, I had just laid myself bare.

I was still sitting blinking, when a strange thing happened:   ‘likes’ started pinging in.

In fact, people were saying positive things.  Quite a few who’d enjoyed the blog even asked to read it, which made me happy.  Then I thought:  ‘Not yet.  I’ve got to make it as good as I can get it, first.’

So I’ve nonchalantly sent it to a very few (well, two) trusted people, to try and flag up the story’s main problems.  Nonchalance is a must:  I’m obviously not on tenterhooks to learn whether my perception of the current draft’s problems is anywhere consistent with theirs.  I don’t want to put them under any pressure, other than to be honest and tell me every tiny bit that is shit; not to give it praise it doesn’t merit.  I know everyone says that, but it’s true.  I want to know how to make it better, after all.

Anyway, where was I?  Nonchalant.  Yes.  I nonched home from printing and posting out the snail-mail copy, then nonchalantly sat down.  Hubby looked over at me and said mildly, ‘So your sent it second class, I take it?’

Well, obviously – er – I mean, no.

But there’s no point in being ashamed, I suppose.  I’ve put more hours of my life into that than my career for the past year.  I am a person who has invested hours in hoping that I might write something that someone might want to read.  One day.  After some small improvements.  Possibly.  And then, I’ll let it loose on someone.  Somewhere.

So yes.  I am presumptuous.  I am weird.  I am possibly delusional.  I am, after all, an unpublished novelist.  And what’s really weird about it is that I am actually okay with that fact.

Only since I started using the N-word, I have realized that I am not as much as an out-lier as I thought.  Did you know that Sheffield has a novel-off, where people read out bits of their novels in a competition a bit like the X-factor?

In the library, I found out that there’s a group, with other people, all trying to write novels, too!  They are probably human, because they meet in a pub.  I might slink in there one day, and join in.

Before-hand, I’m going to do a recce though.  I’m only going in if there’s a ring on the wall outside, that I can tether my unicorn to.

Running Fails and Christmas Puddings

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“What did you fail at today?”

I ask my daughter this a lot.

I myself have multiple failures most days.  I am particularly prone to forgetting things that seem minor until some crucial moment, like how many carbohydrates in the biscuit I just ate (for insulin purposes); or that my current work-place requires me to manually write any drug I use in a book for reordering; or to sign in when I arrive (£100 parking ticket for that one – ouch!) or how to spell my daughter’s spellings when I get home.  I still occasionally snap at my children when what they really need is a hug.  This morning I even got sucked into an argument with my five-year-old about the feelings of a teddy:

‘Muuuuummyyyyy!  We forgot Bruce!’

‘Bruce is fine, love.  I looked in on him and he was fast asleep.  He’s had a very busy few days-‘

‘No Mummy!  He’s not sleepy at all!’

‘He really was, love.  He had his eyes closed and everything.’

‘WASN’T!’

I raised my voice slightly.

‘Yes he was!’

‘No he wasn’t!  He slept last night, when I slept!’

‘Well bears must need more sleep than girls, because he was honestly fast asleep.’  (in a ‘case-closed’ sort of voice).

‘He WASN’T!’

‘I told you, he had his eyes closed.’

‘He DIDN’T!’

‘He did!’

Becky, my friend, decided to step in.  ‘It doesn’t matter, does it?  He’s at home at the moment and there’s nothing we can do about it.’

My five-year-old and I probably both gave her the same glare then, but nothing fazes Becky.  She teaches teenagers.

The point, anyway, is that no-one’s perfect, especially not me.  Toddler (5) needs to learn to accept and even laugh about her mistakes, to believe that she’s still a decent person and focus on what she can do better next time.  I don’t want her failures to trigger feelings of shame, or the blaming of other people.  I hope that talking about mine for five minutes every night might somehow help both of us.

Anyway, there’s something big that I’ve failed at this year:  writing my blog.  I sincerely hope that you’ve missed it.  I’ve been writing another novel, you see (having figured out where my last one failed) and it’s taking up a lot of time.

With the blog, come more failures.  Why would you keep a new years’ resolution about only eating when you’re hungry, if you don’t get to blog about it?  I failed to do exercise most days, because there’s often time for novel-writing or exercise but not both.  I failed to train properly for a repeat run of the 9-edges, although I trained better this time than previously.  I even got so fit that I could run so fast that my legs ached, which has never happened to me before.  Then I forgot to get a delivery of cannulas organised for August, ended up reusing old cannulas on holiday and gave myself a cannula abscess just before race-day.  Upshot:  I failed to run.

I entered the Wirksworth Undulator, though.  Andy ran it too and we had a conversation at the start about how it doesn’t pay to start too fast.  I failed to listen carefully enough:  I was struggling after the first hill.  I was three minutes slower than two years ago (when I almost caught Mick Fowler) and Fowler was three minutes faster.  Damn.

I got a place on the Percy Pud however, and proclaimed it to be ‘Run-vember’ with the idea of training every day (growing a mustache is so old-hat).  I kept this up for the first week, before the temperature dropped.

‘Why did you fail to go running, Mummy?’

‘Because I could go running in the dark, or I could be at home snuggled up reading with you, which is a far nicer option.’

She smiled.

Anyway, with a few days to go I mailed my friend to discuss whether to run together.  I run (very slightly) faster than her, but hadn’t trained.  Had I trained, it would have been a no-brainer:  I’d have run on my own.  Having not trained, the choice was between doing my best (and risking being even slower than I thought I was – mortifying if my friend showed up and beat me) or running round slowly with rare and fabulous company.

‘No!’  Hubby said, when I explained my dilemma.  ‘You’ve been saying for ages that you need to know how fast you are.  You have to try.’

My hubby was right:  I went for the riskier, selfish option.

Apart from the company (last year I ran with the fabulous Bea Marshall, whose jolliness and camaraderie I missed) 2016 was even better.  It was sunny, the brass band were playing, the atmosphere was buzzing and there were guys dressed up as a beer-bottle and a Christmas tree and a team pushing a guy in a wheelchair, all moving admirably fast.  The guy at the front won by miles, smashing the current record with a sub-thirty time.  The fastest woman broke a course record, too.  And at the end, a food-bank pitched up, so those of us who had failed to eat last-year’s Christmas-puddings could donate this year’s to a better fate.

I went home, all excited, and tried to spot my time on the results list:  it wasn’t there.  I searched by number, which came up with someone else’s name.  Then someone online told me to check that I wasn’t looking at the wrong year’s results – DOH!  I looked up 2016s results.  It wasn’t there, either.  I knew I’d been between 52 and 53 minutes, (enough to justify running alone; not outstandingly good).

I went back to the Strider’s website to pinpoint where I’d gone wrong.

‘Did you wear that electric tag thing that goes around your ankle?’

Bugger.  ‘Yes I did, but I wore it round my wrist….’

Reading the instructions:  utter fail.

Never mind though, because when she’s forgiven me for leaving Bruce the teddy at home today, I can tell my 5-year-old all about it.

Picture:  Mark Gray, Sheffield Steel-City Strider’s Website (that’s me in pink)

Wasps, Screams and Coffee

 

We’ve just been camping with family, and experienced some of those screams.

I don’t mean the excited screams when they see their big cousins.

Or the offended sobs followed by a distraught cry of:  ‘Mummy Mummy!  Tiddler said I was naughty!‘  (Toddler is now 5 and easily offended).

Nor even the sounds that accompany knees hitting gritstone, gravel or tarmac, which seem to happen thirty times a day.

No:  I’m talking about real screams.   The ones that make your blood run cold because you know there’s actually something wrong.

The first wasn’t serious; Toddler had an encounter with a wasp.

Here’s the thing with wasps:  they aren’t actually out to sting people.  The don’t think to themselves: ‘Look!  There’s a little person down there eating a sandwich.  Well, as a wasp I must give them a sting to spoil their day.’

No.  Wasps are like everyone else:  out for what they can get.  Stinging a human doesn’t get them anything (other than maybe squashed).  The jam sandwich in the human’s hand, however…

The Thing is, just don’t wave your sandwich.  And when the wasps do notice it, don’t flap at them or make them feel threatened.  If they want to walk up your arm, let them walk up your arm.  They see a surface near the food for walking along, not a weak spot to sting out of malice.  Chris Packham, wildlife expert, told the Guardian that he used to smear jam around his kids’ mouths to teach them this lesson.

Anyway, Toddler listened to my wasp-talk like is was Gospel, didn’t she.  No hysteria for her; her calmness and collectedness were cool.  While other people were flapping their way through breakfast, she concentrated on more important things, like making sure she got her turn at pushing the plunger on Grandad’s cafetiere.

Then one of the little shits, completely unprovoked, flew down and put its stinger in her hand.

wasp

One of those screams.  Although, five minutes and a fascinating chat about the inflammatory process later and Toddler had almost forgotten.

I had not.  I even considered leaving a jelly out in the sun (a trick of my mothers:  the wasps stick to it, then it sets overnight; the following day, you top it up a bit with boiling water and repeat the process.  The dead wasps make neat layers.  Art.)

A few mornings later I was lying in, when I gathered from voices outside my tent that one of the cousins hadn’t been seen for a while.  Perhaps she’d Toddled to the toilet.  Someone went to check.  They returned:  she hadn’t.  At this point, I got the impression people were mounting a search so I mounted my own search for some clothes so I could go out and help.

Then there was the scream.  A pair of quick little feet scampered past the tent and the voice, still screaming, articulated: ‘Daddy!’

I would have run out of my tent completely naked then, but Hubby was clearly there.

‘Hot coffee from the cafetiere,’ he called.  With the adults distracted, Tiddler had spotted his chance to have a turn at pressing the plunger.

‘Shit. Cold water for ten minutes.’

I dressed and followed the screams up the campsite to the hose-pipe.

The thing about Consent is, if someone doesn’t want you to do something, then you should stop doing it.  Again, my kid had taken Mummy’s words to heart.

‘I don’t want you to, Daddy,’ he was screaming, while struggling, and kicking.   ‘MUMMY!  Mummy tell Daddy I don’t want to be wet!’

But when your child’s skin is blistering before your eyes, you just grab them and hold them still as you can for the hose-pipe.  He was beyond being reasoned with.  Then you remember to check that your missing niece has been located, wrap Tiddler in cling-film, cuddle him them all the way to minor injuries (it hurts too much to get him in the car-seat) and carry him in still screaming.

‘He’s got some very major minor burns.’

There followed a long, harrowing day.

By the time we left minor injuries, Tiddler was wearing a net to hold his dressings in place and had some pain relief on board.  He was quiet and cuddling a special teddy (importantly in his favourite colour) that he’s been very attached to since.

By the time we got to the Burns Unit, he was positively cheerful.  He spotted lots of toys in the waiting area and had to be told more than once not to ride the scooter into the other patients.

Then the nurse gave him more pain relief

‘What’s that?’

‘Morphine.’

‘But he’s not really painful n – Oh.  Is that because you’re going to change the bandages?’

She was.  And she pulled each blister away, too.

‘Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!’

I have to say that the care was excellent.  Tiddler had two relatively superficial burns, one one his inside wrist and the other on his abdomen.  There was a lot of waiting about, but that meant we were lucky: a burns’ unit is not the sort of place where I’d want to be at the top of a doctor’s priority list.  Tiddler is going to be fine.

Meanwhile, hubby had very soggy feet from the hose-pipe and I was suffering slightly from the disorientation of a short-sighted person who has left their tent with no glasses on.

By the time we got back to the campsite, Tiddler was asleep and it was natural to make a coffee.

But I didn’t quite have the heart.

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My Family and Other People

 

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Bigger parenting mistakes than mine have been made;  you must have heard about the woman whose child fell into a gorilla enclosure.

And the Dad who got so angry with his rock-throwing 7-year old on a forest-trip that he got in the car and drove away.  Obviously he looped back to pick him up, but by then the kid had vanished; he was missing in the Japanese forest for another six days before being found safe.

Anyway, both parents probably feel shit already and their position makes them very easy victims of social media outrage without my adding to it.

Instead lets explore greyer areas of parent-criticizing; let me tell you about my bank holiday.

We arrived at the campsite late, a biggish party of us.  We put up our tents, gossiped and  laughed, probably slammed more car doors than were strictly necessary and after a while the lady from the tent opposite came over to tell us, politely but assertively, to shut up.

Fair cop.  But of all the noise we were making, the thing she specifically focused on was how far the children’s voices carried.  In particular, Tiddler had woken up as we unpacked the car, wanted to get back to sleep and was sobbing gently.

We weren’t ignoring him.  Having established that Tiddler doesn’t have removable batteries, hubby was doing everything he could to jiggle and soothe him, including walking him a long way away from the tents while it was at its worst, while the others helped me to assemble the bedding compartment.

I understand that the woman has a right to a quiet campsite.  We shouldn’t have been laughing, talking or banging doors.  But it’s hard to know what else I could have done about Tiddler.  It’s not that we particularly like his crying voice ourselves.  I assured her that I was on it and then breathed a huge sigh of relief because once I could get into my sleeping bag, he slid in next to me and was out before he’d even finished demanding a story.

But it made me fret.  Next time we go camping he might not wake up, but perhaps I shouldn’t take him, just in case?  Should we only go if we can arrive at a civilized time (that would be never, with my job)?  Or carry a sign that says:  ‘Don’t worry!  He won’t do this all night, I promise!’

But what if something else, something largely unpredictable, made him cry in the middle of the night?  Is it OK to assume the goodwill of neighbouring campers in that scenario?  Of course the answer lies between two extreme viewpoints; that of  a mother who wants to camp and a childless couple who want peace.  The lines will always require negociation.  If you’re pregnant and have a bit of spare time, never underestimate the value of practising sheepish smiles.

At the pub the following night, despite having booked, our group waited an hour and a half between ordering our food and its arrival.  My kids were knackered – but they were also awesome.  They didn’t argue or fight or scream much; they read books, chatted in a civilised manner and went in and out of the open side-door to play hide and seek on the lawn.  Sure, one of them knocked my glass over at one point, but they were great.

Or so I thought.  The lady at the next table calmly complained that the children walking past to access the lawn had been impinging on her ability to relax.  She obviously had no idea what an achievement for a three and five-year-old she had just witnessed, or how much worse her ability to relax would have been if I’d have insisted they sat at the table with their arms folded.  I’m afraid that I (equally calmly) explained it to her.

Those who don’t want to have to run into children during their bank-holiday breaks are always welcome to stay at home with the door locked, because I’m of the view that kids are part of our society and should be accepted in public life.  Yes, their needs and abilities are slightly different to most adults, but then we wouldn’t tap an elderly person on the shoulder and complain that they got up to pee too much, would we?

Anyway, on the last morning of the holiday the kids were being little sods and knowing their limits, I hadn’t bothered to do anything about the fact that they looked as if they’d been dragged through a hedge backwards, twice. Spotty faces (midged), covered in cuts and bruises, with hair you couldn’t have got a cat-brush through, at least one of them had lost its shoes (the other might just have been refusing to wear any – or any trousers).  The pub we stumbled on turned out to have a gorgeous beer-garden, an expensive menu and an exciting condiments tray.  Tiddler ate more condiments than anything else.  He was having a great time.  We sang ‘we’re going on a bear hunt’ more than twice (with a supermarket:  ‘scuse me, scuse me, scuse me’) which caused loud hilarity.

I winced when I saw a woman walking towards me.  I nearly picked up the kids and ran.  But when she said hello she had a North American accent, which stereotyping suggested was a good sign, so I stayed.

‘I just wanted to say, how nice it is to see children who aren’t overly controlled.  You know, shoes thrown aside, hair tangled up, being allowed to be a little bit wild.  It’s just great.’

I nearly hugged the woman.  But I didn’t in the end, because parents can be dangerous animals.  If you interact too closely with the other species and an outsider interprets it wrong, you never know when up might end up getting shot.

Buying my first Bikini

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Two steps to a bikini body?

Get a bikini and put it on your body

I love this.  I have been quoting it for years.

And yet, I reached the age of 33 without ever buying a bikini.

‘Why not?’  says hubby.

It is a weekday night.  Hubby is unexpectedly home for a few days; I have mentioned this to Naomi and we are going to theirs for dinner.   Toddler (now 4) really, really loves clinging nervously to the side of swimming pools and I mentioned this to Naomi too, so we are all going swimming after school / nursery pick-up.  It’s my half-day; pick-up’s in thirty minutes.  We are in the clothing section of a cheap supermarket because I just remembered that I don’t have a swimming costume.

There are two main styles of cozzie in the shop.  The one-pieces are floral, low-cut at the top, have ‘skirt’ details over the hips and, on closer inspection, don’t go down as low as my size.

The others are all bikinis.  I don’t wear bikinis.

‘Why not?’ Says hubby.

I take a big inward breath and tell him why not.  Bikinis come in two pieces, for a start.  You know how frustrating it is looking for a matching pair of socks?  You know how frustrating it is to find your swimming costume whenever you need to swim?  Well, combine these two frustrations and there you have a bikini.

And then there’s the size:  my chest changes size all the time, with the time of the month, my muscular coverage and general fatness.  My bra collection ranges from tiny padded decorations to reinforced heavy-restraining apparatus, spread over two back sizes and at least four cup sizes, all of which I have worn within the last two years.  So how useful – actually – would buying one single bikini be?

And you know the trauma of finding a bra to fit?  How the assistant marches in and tries not to look curious about your insulin pump and measures you and says confidently ‘You’re a thirty-four C luv,’ before bringing one through that’s really ugly and doesn’t fit, then going off to get a D and coming back to find that that doesn’t fit and then going off to find a… *ahem*.  And how bra-fitters portray enviable personalities – not only cheerful, but focused –  so inevitably you get tired before they do and end up settling  for something they think isn’t quite right?  Well imagine all that, for a bra-like construction that people are actually going to see – imperfections and everything – on the outside.  And we’re on our own with 25 minutes left?  This is so not going to happen.

Furthermore, it’s only just Spring. I’m still embracing my winter grooming routine.  I’ve got hair – well, in lots of places.   And to be honest, there will probably still be hair there in August.  Not to mention the cannula poc-marks all over my tummy, or the purple mark where one of them became an abcess a couple of weeks ago, or the very inoffensive rash that my doctor thinks might be still be something-or-other-rosea and nothing to worry about, provided that it disappears in the next fortnight or so…..

And anyway,’ I think of something else.  ‘It’s a supermarket.  No changing rooms.’

‘They’re over there’, says hubby dismissively.  ‘Hey!  We can look out for your colours!’

He passes me a little balcony number in several sizes.  I mutter something feminist, and toddle off.

When I come back, I am spitting.  ‘Look here!  When you go swimming you need to do this,’ I lean forwards and reach in front of me with both arms.  ‘THIS is simply not possible.  What is the point of a bikini you can’t do THIS in.  If you’re going to be sitting on the side looking gorgeous I heartily recommend it (and I did look gorgeous by the way).  But if you want to navigate across a swimming pool lying down either way up and using your arms in any way at all…..

‘Not that one then,’ says hubby blandly.  ‘Here?’

Twenty minutes later I am still at it.  It’s a spookily quiet time in the shop; every time I manage to get a few bikinis back on their hangers and deposit them on the reject rail, the ones I placed there a few minutes ago have already gone.  I have grunted to the assistant ‘This is the LAST TIME, I promise‘ at least four or five times now.

Suddenly she knocks on the cubicle door.  ‘Are you the lady trying on bikinis? Your husband’s gone to pick the kids up.  He says to give you this.’

Black.  Yellow and pink flowers.  B-C cup.

‘Er- Nah.’

But suddenly I realise something.  Have all the bikinis he’s handed to me been a completely different size to the ones Id been asking for?   I remember one that might have been OK, a bikini or three ago, had it fitted……

‘Last time,’ I say to her, get dressed yet again and toddle back into the shop.

What sort of wally doesn’t double-check the sizes?

Anyway.  I have a bikini.  I’m not posting a picture of it here, because frankly you don’t need to know what it looks like.

What matters is that I found one I felt generally comfortable in.  And that I could swim in, too (or at least, hang out at the edges in, with Toddler).

Putting it on isn’t the easiest.  I’ve always been proud of the way I approach bras – none of this do-it-up-with-the-hooks-at-the-front-then-swizzle-it-round awkwardness for me.  But I have to admit defeat with the bikini – at least while supervising two children in a family changing room (‘Toddler don’t drop your pants there you’ll need to put them on afterwards’ and ‘Tiddler!  Toilets aren’t for splashing in!‘)

But let’s not detract.  I found a bikini and put it on my body.  I went swimming in it at a posh hotel and it wasn’t at all scary.  Or remarkable.  There wasn’t even much looking speculatively in the mirror.

I’m actually wondering what the real reason is that I didn’t do it years ago.

 

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Being like Liz

This is Liz.  (from www.clipartpanda.com)

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Not me Liz.

No.  Liz is the Facebook-perfect version of me; the one that I would like to believe (and like you to believe, for that matter) that I am.  Liz is the me that I fantasise that I could be.  I like and admire the woman.

Liz doesn’t start her day by scowling and hitting snooze.  He first words aren’t an irate reminder to her sprogs of what time it was when they finally fell unconscious last night.  She just gets up, stretches a big, ginormous stretch (taking care not to knock the kids out in her enthusiasm) and sings:  Good Morning!

Liz has woken with a perfect blood sugar level because she stopped snacking well before bed time last night and then tested.  She therefore feels full of beans this morning.

Liz knows that her kiddies like to choose what colour breakfast bowl they get, and that crashing a boringly-coloured one full of already-soggy Shreddies in front of them while growling ‘Come on, we’re going to be late’ will make them sad.

While they are eating, Liz gets ready for work.  She smiles at her reflection as she puts her clothes on.  She feels good because she did yoga last night.  She makes just enough time to dress carefully enough that she feels okay about herself.  She doesn’t use make-up.  This is not because doesn’t know what to do with make-up, but because she’s so confident that she doesn’t need it.  Liz doesn’t get hung up about what other people look like.  She knows that it doesn’t really matter.

Once she’s dressed, Liz brushes her daughters hair.  Slowly and very gently.  Even when Big Sprog starts screaming ‘No Mummy!  It hurts!  I don’t WANT my hair brushed!’ for no discernible reason, Liz negotiates gently and doesn’t say ‘but that can’t possibly have hurt!’  Or ‘just stand still, will you!’ or even threaten to drag her outside and cut the whole lot off.  She just gives her a hug.

So Liz and her daughter haven’t fallen out by getting-dressed time.  Liz then doesn’t need to turn out the washing pile looking for a worn school sweatshirt that isn’t too filthy, because she thought about this last night and washed one.  She doesn’t need to hunt for Big Sprog’s book-bag or shoes, because she encouraged Big Sprog to tidy them away last night, after they’d read together.

In fact, if you were to photograph Liz and the children now, you’d find that they all looking much happier than the children and I did last Wednesday morning.  Liz wears her cheerful start all around her, like an aura.  It  lasts for the entire day.

Liz isn’t perfect though.  She never acheives the impossible:  she wouldn’t get up at 6am for solo yoga because that’s the time she most likes to sleep and it’s hard to motivate yourself at your sleepiest time.  She will never have an immaculate house because it doesn’t matter enough to her, although she does tidy up and put the bins out before the place stinks and she can’t find anything.  She often makes mistakes, like asking awkward questions too loudly, or enthusiastically teaching her children that it’s great fun to howl like a wolf-dragon.  She doesn’t dwell on it though.  The main thing is, that whatever Liz does is good enough for Liz, because she always does her best without being unreasonable and without pushing herself too far.

The fact is, that I want to be more like Liz.  I want to be the best Liz I can possibly be.  Hence my new silly game: I keep asking myself what Liz the character would do.  Liz the character, when she’s having a cool, calm and collected day.  And then I do it.

Today I am writing this in a clear(ish) house.  I went for a walk at lunchtime and yesterday I sent away a journalistic article for a weekly veterinary magazine.  I just stopped writing this blog to do a number jigsaw with Tiddler becuase he needed some of my time, and now I am back to it again.

And do you know what?  Being Liz is great.

From now on, I’m going to Be like Liz.

In Admiration of Single Parents

Did I tell you I admire single parents?

Well, I don’t think I used strong enough language.  I don’t understand why those strong, resiliant super-heroes don’t dress themselves like this:

Perhaps they don’t see themselves that way; perhaps they evolve tough as nails without noticing.

I have been lone parenting for four weeks now – and have mostly evolved into a mushy heap, while other life forms are evolving within my washing pile.

I knew it was coming.  Early mornings; frantic, coffee-fuelled activity; coaxing and getting-ready and stamping and not-wanting-to-get-ready and loosing things and chaos and the spilling of breakfast cereal.  Leaning over, holding Big Sprog’s trousers out, waiting for her to step into them; the frustrated words that mean hurry-up-stop-looking-out-of-the-window; the inevitable crying; the Mummy-feeling-crap.  And while we’re talking trousers and crap, there’s the shitting-down by Toddler of Mummy’s clean ones last week, two minutes before nursery drop-off and work.

Yes, I’m working:  2.5 days.  The children go to a babysitter they love so much that they don’t like going home.  I’m too relieved to be disappointed.

Tiddler has been weeing in a potty.  He likes to clean up after himself.  I glance round to see him precariously carrying a full potty on the stairs to empty into the toilet, or the bathroom floor if he misses, or worse still the waste paper basket.  All kinds of things end up in there; except waste paper which belongs on the floor.

How many times do I pick paper up?  How many times do I retreive the little plastic bits of games that they never seem to play, just spread around the carpet to make the hoover cough?  How many times do I replace books on the shelf; pick up five mugs, each with a bit of sour milk in the bottom; retreive discarded pyjamas, shoes and socks?  How many times do I clean spilled coffee?  Toss the Duplo bricks back into the bucket?  Fish a stash of books out of Big Sprog’s duvet cover, before putting said cover back around the duvet?  Soak up a flooded bathroom using another towel that will now need to be washed?  Not enough, I guess.

Why do the pesky critters eat so much?  Or why do they request food, graze for a while, then request something else?  I’ve read so much about letting kids eat when they are hungry and not judging or not force-feeding them. But as a result there is always food lying about and the only thing they consistently finish is melon.  Melon hands are sticky hands and the best place to wipe sticky hands is on mummy’s trousers – having first inspected them for signs of poo, of course.

Eating makes them grow.  One of them has always grown out of something: wellies; school-tights; trousers; socks.  The financial aspect is one thing:  finding time to pop to the shop to get it is quite another.

There’s no ‘popping’ anywhere.  There’s dragging, coaxing, bribing and the employment of silly games.  We walk through W H Smith wriggling our fingers in the air like demented witches, to stop us from touching.  But Popping?  Not so much.  I had some improtant vet-related paperwork that I had to ‘pop’ to the Post Office at the start of January.  I carried it round with me for weeks, but every time we passed a Post office there was an enormous queue, and Tiddler was crying, hungry or wanting to climb the walls.  Eventually I decided to make a special Post-Office trip in the car, but there was a tantrum on buckling the car-seat.  I rested the envelope on top of the car while I soothed things out.  That’s the last time I saw it.

But as I said before, I expected all this.  It’s the fabric of having kids.  It’s the unexpected things that cause the problems.

Loosing my phone.  I couldn’t ring for help or sympathy.  I couldn’t even call myself on hubby’s phone and see if I could hear it ring.  I Facebooked and Big Brother helped me out.

The dishwasher broke.  Doesn’t sound like much, does it?  We didn’t have a dishwasher for years.  But suddenly there was nowhere to hide the pots.  Put them on the surface and there’s no surface left.  With my kids’ style of eating, washing-up-as-you-go-along is frustrating.  The house took a day to go from chaotic and a little bit grubby to absolutely gross.

It’s hard fixing dishwashers with Toddler on your back.  Never-the-less, I downloaded the Destructions which told me to check the filters.  They were clean.  So I called the lady on the helpdesk who said I needed to clear my sink’s u-bend.

She didn’t say that when you take all the pipes apart under the sink, you’ll need to remember how to plug them back together.  Now I couldn’t use my sink OR my dishwasher.  Thank God Gareth came round and helped me out.

Another time my phone-charger died and the battery had no juice to wake me up next morning.  There’s an alarm on our cooker so I tried to set that, but I wasn’t sure if it had worked or not.  There’s an online alarm-clock feature you can use, but I happened to know that my lap-top sometimes does automatically shut-down when it knows I’m not watching, and I couldn’t work out how to turn this feature off.  Then I remembered an old alarm-clock, a relic of my Grannie’s life that hubby wouldn’t let me throw away because it says ‘Made In Glasglow’ on it.  I wound it up, tested the alarm a few times.  It wasn’t consistent.  I set it anyway and lay awake half the night, worried I’d never wake up.

Dunno why.  It was like that scene in Four Weddings where Hugh Grant wakes up to a roomful of alarms.   The kids didn’t stir but I raced round the house, pump dangling, swtiching them all off.  Then I started to laugh.

There’s the hardest thing about lone parenting.  You’re laughing at your desperation, or you’re happy because they’ve gone up a reading-book colour, or you’re about ready to put them down the loo, and you look for someone to tell.

I guess it’s why the super-single-parents I know are so very good at reaching out and cultivating friendships.  Anyway:  they’re heroes, those people.  Heroes.

 

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