Saturday, 25 April 2015

Of Course I've F**king Changed

Last night, my brother-in-law casually told me that he 'ignores half the shit' I post on Facebook. My Mum then helpfully told him that he ought not feel bad because 'loads of people do'. We were talking about my one woman crusade to make sure that all children are vaccinated against preventable disease, but I also post a lot of parenting links about other issues so I assume that their apparent distaste at my reading material extends to those as well.

So, to those who are on my friends list who think I'm boring I say this: I'm sorry that I care about things that are relevant to me. Perhaps they're not relevant to you and therefore I suppose I have absolutely no right to clog up your newsfeed with the things I believe to be important. After all, there are far more interesting things on Facebook that you need to see; I mean, your cousin's neighbour's sister might have just posted a fucking hilarious meme about hairbands and I wouldn't want you to miss that, would I?

I see an awful lot of stuff on social media that I don't consider to be either entertaining or relevant to my life. In those situations, I too ignore the poster and scroll right past the link. What I don't do is make a point of going to the person in question to inform them that I'm ignoring them because their interests are not specifically aimed at me. Because, you know what, the attentions of the masses are caught by different things and actually that's okay. In fact, I'd go so far as to say it's a good thing. It'd be a fucking boring world if we were all that obsessed with kittens.

You're probably wondering why I can't just read the articles that interest me and move on; why do I insist on sharing them with all of you? Well, in terms of the vaccination posts, I believe it's important that as many people see and read them as possible. Even if you don't have children, disease is an issue that affects us all and prevention is far better than cure. But in terms of the constant 'mum blogs', I share them for one simple reason: there's something in each piece that I share that sums up something about how I feel or think. By sharing the link, I hope that someone will read it and perhaps understand me a little bit better at a time in my life when I've changed so much that I actually feel a little bit isolated. Because of course I've changed, I've changed in ways that I didn't even think possible, but I'm still just me and I still want people to know me and even to like me occasionally. I share what I've read because I want to invite you into my mind.

Here are just some of the ways that I've changed since becoming a parent:

1. I think my son is the best thing in the entire world.

Women have babies all the time. It's no big deal. Except that, to me, Blake is a big deal. In fact, as far as I'm concerned, he's the best, most hilarious, handsome human being to ever grace the face of the planet. He might look the same as every other toddler to you, but I could say the same thing about the 'amazeballs' chicken salad you just posted a picture of.

2. My social life plays second fiddle.

I went out one night last year and drank one too many tequilas. My husband was home with Blake and I got a tiny bit carried away. When I got home and fell asleep, I promptly began sleep-walking around the house and woke to find myself naked in the kitchen, trying to clean Blake's high-chair. I was obviously on parental autopilot and it terrified me. What if I'd gone into my son's room and taken him out of his cot? What if I'd tried to take him downstairs when I was both drunk and genuinely asleep? What if he'd wriggled and cried and we'd both fallen? It doesn't bear thinking about, and I've not been drunk with him in the house since. He comes so far before my social life that he can't even see it on the horizon.

3. I care about different things because the world is a different place to me.

Things like vaccines and politics and human rights and the environment. I care about them because I want my son to grow up in a better world. I want him to have the best life possible. 

4. I feel crap sometimes.

Particularly when I'm told that I've clicked 'like' on too many Facebook posts and people are sick of seeing my name pop up, or that people have gone to my mother to specifically tell her that I'm boring.

Well people, here's the thing, I find a lot of things boring too. It's human nature because we're all different. A lot of you don't have children but will have some day, and I hope that you're never made to feel as shitty as I do sometimes. So I will continue to scroll past the Youtube videos of music that I don't like and the pictures of cars that I think are ugly and I will accept that, in this age of social media, we all just want to be a little bit heard and a little bit understood.

Saturday, 21 March 2015

Poverty and Parenthood

Two and half years ago I got married to the man of my dreams. I had never wanted an overtly extravagant wedding, but I also knew that I wanted to share the day with as many of the people that I cared about as possible. While I admired the people who were able to elope with just their beloved and marry in front of two unknown witnesses, I didn't want that to be my wedding. I wanted to celebrate my nuptials and to show everyone I knew how in love I was with the man standing next to me. We succeeded and our wedding day was absolutely perfect. It was also achieved on a fairly reasonable budget. That said, it still cost us around five thousand pounds. We were lucky enough that we had friends and family that were generous enough to help enormously toward to the honeymoon of a lifetime but still, that few weeks of our lives didn't come cheap.

Shortly after the wedding, we moved out of my parents' house and into our first marital home, naturally incurring all of the costs that come with that. Those two huge events meant one thing: debt, and a shit load of it. However, we were both working full time and were managing to get things paid off, however slowly.

Then I got pregnant. We both strongly felt that waiting until having a baby was financially viable wasn't really an option; we'd be waiting forever. So we went for it, and I'm glad we did. I didn't want to be forty five with no debts and an achingly empty house; I wanted a family and I wanted it while we were young. In short, biology won.

Of course, the financial implication of that decision is that the debts haven't gone away but our ability to pay them off has. After nine months of statutory maternity pay (or 'peanuts' as I lovingly refer to it) followed by a necessary move into part-time work, money is tight. And by tight I mean that there is more going out than there is coming in. Luckily, I'm not a proud person and I am very good at identifying the problem and dealing with it. I don't ignore phone calls from creditors and I ask for help where it's available. My family are not going to starve any time soon. The debts won't be paid off until I'm around one hundred and seventy two, but frankly that's fairly low on my list of priorities right now.

I do miss having disposable cash though. Thanks to dropping out of school at seventeen and managing to survive on dead end jobs ever since, I've never had a lot of spare money, but I did at least have some once upon a time.

Here are some things that I currently need/miss being able to buy without much thought:

  • A pot of vaseline for my constantly dry lips.
  • Hair dye more than once every three months or so.
  • Night moisturiser.
  • A Friday night bottle of wine.
  • A new mascara. Back in December I picked up a blue one by mistake. I opened the tube before I realised and haven't been able to afford a black one since. So if anyone is wondering why I've come over all eighties in 2015, there you have it.
  • Lunch from the sandwich van at work when I fancy it.
  • New vests for Blake (it isn't all about me).
  • Hotels for the upcoming weddings we have this year.

There are a million other things, but thinking of them is beginning to get me down so I'll stop there. 

The thing is, I still don't regret my decision to start a family without a healthy financial situation. It has taught me some valuable lessons. For one thing, I now know that credit is the devil. A few years ago, I would happily buy anything I wanted and worry about paying for it later; now I have to think about whether I really need something before I commit. I also have to pay up front because my credit rating screams 'DO NOT LEND THIS WOMAN MONEY!'. It's made me incredibly resourceful too; when I do really need something, I have to find the money from somewhere and I've lost any sense of sentimentality with material goods. In other words: I'll sell anything that people will buy.

Most importantly though, being poor has taught me to be grateful for the areas in my life that are very full indeed, despite my empty purse. Every morning, when I'm greeted by Blake's beaming Disney smile, I realise that I'm a very rich woman indeed, and that's worth all the material wealth in the world.

Friday, 13 March 2015

Death Isn't Cruel - Merely Terribly, Terribly Good at His Job

I was an angst-ridden fourteen year old, standing at the top of my uncle Thomas's staircase, peering at his forever heaving bookshelves and wondering what to read next. I had always enjoyed books, but puberty had temporarily robbed me of my appreciation for my former favourite, and I was looking for someone to replace Roald Dahl in my heart. This bookshelf seemed like a good place to start.

Suddenly, a small paperback caught my eye. The busy artwork on the spine and the confusing way that the tome was titled grabbed me, so I took the book to 'borrow'. The white cover was decorated with darkly colourful illustrations, front and back, that sprawled confusingly with characters and action. The title was given as 'Faust' in gothic lettering, but this was crossed through in red, with 'Eric' printed in a font designed to look like scrawled handwriting. I was intrigued.

Eric may not seem like an obvious starting place when it comes to the Discworld but somehow, up until this point, its entire existence had passed me by. It was only after devouring my first book that I started to notice the signature busy cover art featuring on the bookshelves of almost everyone I knew.

It seemed as though I had stumbled onto some sort of a cult...

Over the following years, I read as many Discworld books as I could get my hands on. As my teenage years progressed, I found myself struggling with issues that I had never even imagined having to deal with and Terry's words gave me an entire world to escape into. His quick satire and dry wit put a smile on the face of a young girl who often worried that she might never smile again.

Crucially though, Terry taught me a love for words and for storytelling that would stay with me long after I'd put the books down. In short, he is the person responsible for making me want to write. I had always enjoyed stringing words together, and had always had a knack for doing it well, but suddenly I understood the power available to me. He gave me the words that I didn't realise I had; a voice that I was able to use to full effectiveness thanks to what he had shown me.

When I heard the news yesterday that Terry had died, a small piece of me shattered. I felt that the magic had been sucked out of the world and felt unbearably sad for all the new words that wouldn't be written. Luckily, I didn't feel that way for long. A few hours later, I felt altogether different. I felt inspired; I wanted to write. I was spurred on by the fact that Terry's life was unfairly short but he filled it with as many words as he could untangle from his head, and I owe it to him to do the same. I've been given a gift and I'll be damned if I'm going to do Terry the injustice of wasting it.

So I'll write. Like Terry, I will continue to string these sentences together until Death comes for me. I only hope I can do him proud.

Sleep well, Sir Terry

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Tales from the Rejected Parent

Well, this week has presented me with an unprecedented set of challenges: Blake has decided he has absolutely no time for his Mama.

For the last two days I have had to struggle to get any sort of interaction from my previously loving and hilarious son. He sits amongst his toys, his glorious little face set into an impassive expression, aimlessly sifting through them for something that might peak his interest. Few things seem to. I decide that perhaps he wants me to play with him so I attempt to join in as he 'plays'. I'm met with either a cold stare, a sigh and his retreating form or, worse, he ignores me completely; point blank refusing to give me any eye contact or to acknowledge my presence.

In fact, only one thing seems to illicit any sort of genuine smile from Blake at the moment and that's his Daddy. As soon as Mr Meaney walks into a room, all indifference is shed and he breaks into one of his megawatt grins; all smiling eyes and biteable cheeks. They play and laugh as I watch, wondering what on Earth I've done to upset our boy. Mr Meaney is kind and tries to encourage me to join in, but Blake's face immediately drops the second I try to get involved with his Daddy time. If he's in the mood to give kisses out for Daddy, he will kiss me too, but with a sigh that suggests he's only doing it because his father insisted.

I can't pretend that all of this isn't breaking my heart. In fact, today I had a little 'woe is me' cry, which isn't something I'm particularly wont to do if I can help it. I wouldn't mind so much if I could figure out any sort of reason for why this is happening; I can't think of anything I've done or said that might have pissed him off to this extent. If anything I'm the more lenient parent. I'm far less likely to tell Blake off over minor indiscretions and I'm forever imploring Mr Meaney to lighten up as Blake explores his environment. My motto is: if it's not going to injure him or break, let him fill his boots.

I turned to Google to find out if maybe this is an expected stage in a child's development and it turns out that I'm not alone by any stretch of the imagination. It seems that twelve months is a common age for a baby to suddenly reject the parent that is at home most of the time. There were a few theories put forward, including that the secondary caregiver is more likely to engage in play, whilst the homemaker spends more time doing housework or cooking. Well, that doesn't stand in this house; I don't cook and I barely glance at the housework if it's looking like Blake wants to play. However, one desperate mother put forward an idea that I think I might latch onto. As her son continued to completely reject her in favour of his father, she theorised that he felt secure in the knowledge that his mother would never be far from reach. His father, on the other hand, was at work a lot of the time and she believed that her son was afraid that he might not return. I could see how that might be the case on the good ship Meaney. After all, I'm always here; the kid's probably sick of me, but he has to make the most of his father when he's here.

Of course, it's of little comfort really because he doesn't just ignore me when his father is here; it's all the time. So today I feel sorry for myself. Today I require cuddles and love and the attention of my only child. Unfortunately for me, it looks like today I'm going to get nothing of the sort. 

Sunday, 8 February 2015

Teething - A Poem

They're hateful things, these pearly whites,
Bringing snot and tears and bedtime fights.
With sleepless nights and swollen gums,
Sky high fevers and red-raw bums;
With watery eyes and scarlet cheeks,
My baby wails and howls and shrieks.
The nappy count goes through the roof
With every spiteful, evil tooth.
The misery seems to come in waves,
While Calpol is what what my angel craves.
We need teething toys and pain relief
If we've a chance against these horrid teeth.
Every shirt he owns is soaked with dribble;
On every toy he's had a nibble.
He chews those fists without much grace,
Agony etched on that perfect face.
If I could take his pain away, I would;
I'd do as much as I thought I could,
But I'm helpless here, this must be done;
He needs teeth just like everyone.
So I'll cuddle him up with all my might
And hope he'll sleep right through the night.
It won't be long before this has passed
Baby Boy will have cut his last
He'll have forgotten this once he is grown
'Til he gets wisdom teeth of his very own...

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

A Love Letter From a Mother

Not to my son; not this time. There have been several of those and there will be many more, but this is a love letter for someone very different.

Hello You

I bet you didn't expect me to be writing you a letter to tell you how much I love you, did you? After all, we're sort of in direct competition for Blake's affections. You are the sole individual who has the power to make me feel pushed to one side, and on more than one occasion you've made me feel like I'm just not needed at all.

However much those moments hurt, I have to appreciate and admire you for what you are.

You are my son's best friend, his confidante, his soul mate. You are the one for whom he saves his most beaming of smiles. Whenever he sees you, it's as though he hasn't laid eyes on you in months, even if it has barely been a few hours since you were together. There are so many times that he has picked you over me when he's needed comfort, and painfully few moments that he has chosen the other way around. Of course, that's for a very good reason; you see, you provide a love for my son that I simply cannot compete with.

You are there by his side when I'm paying attention to the housework instead of our precious boy. You sit by his side, reminding him that he is loved and never alone.

You are there with him throughout the night when he's poorly or when his teeth hurt. While I sleep in the other room, you sit up with him on your endless nighttime vigils; making sure that comfort is on hand when he needs it.

You are tough in the face of his sometimes violent displays of affection. While I have to gently pry his fingers from around my neck during his overwhelming hugs, you happily let him throttle you with his love.

You are there for him at daycare when I can't be. You are there for him when he can't get to sleep at other people's houses while his parents are out working. You remind him of home and that he'll be back there soon.

Just the smell of you is enough to calm him when he's upset; he doesn't even have to open his eyes to know that you are there for him. As soon as he senses you, he settles and you sit there serenely waiting; ready to greet him the second he wakes up.

Yes, you are my competition, but I love you for everything that you do. I love how much Blake loves you and for all the ways that you provide for him when I cannot.

You are Mugglewump.

Thank you for everything

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

The Babadook - A Mother's Perspective

*** Warning: Contains spoilers ***

There has been a lot of hype about The Babadook with many hailing it as the best horror of 2014. Some have even said it's the best film of 2014. However, I was incredibly nervous about watching it. Why? Because I'm a Mum. 

After years of being a horror devotee, I have become sensitive to the genre since having my son and I was acutely aware that the roots of this film are in a mother's relationship with her child. As one reviewer put it 'The Australian thriller The Babadook is one of the most terrifying horror movies this year, because it roots its shocks in the most primal of emotions: mother love.'

Unfortunately for me, I'm a sucker for punishment and let curiosity get the better of me when I was given the opportunity to see the movie for myself. 

The film was fantastic and I'm glad that I set my own fear to one side. The clever use of muted grey tones throughout and the minimal but effective use of the score meant that the tension was ramped up to an almost unbearable level. For me though, the triumph was in the characters. Unlike most horror movies, you genuinely cared about what happened to the main protagonists, Amelia and her son, Samuel. By the time things turn nasty, you are really rooting for a happy ending for them. 

The horror itself is done beautifully. As the terror unfolds you begin to feel as though you are trapped in one of your own childhood nightmares; as the film keeps you guessing about The Babadook's physical reality, this is wonderfully effective. Similarly, the true appearance of the monster is left to the viewer's imagination; a shrewd move as we have learned time and time again that the image of the monster is never nearly as scary as the ones in our minds. 

As suspected though, the true horror of The Babadook did not lie in the monster or the nightmares; it was in the real core of the story. For me, the real fear came from how easily a mother can damage her own child. Long before the scares start coming, in fact right from the beginning, the narrative is tense and uncomfortable. A mother who is trying to raise a difficult child alone, she struggles with her conflicting emotions of wanting to protect him and quietly resenting him as she mourns her dead husband.

I watched the film with Mr Meaney and it was interesting to see how we both approached the story from different directions. He was firmly on the side of the mother; focusing on her struggles as her child becomes more and more out of control. However, I felt sad for Samuel; a small boy whose mother is his only friend and confidante, whom he worships unconditionally. Yet he believes in his monster so completely that it overrides everything else. Some of the most touching, yet heartbreaking moments in the film were when Samuel tries to show his mother affection, or expresses his overwhelming desire to protect her and gets nothing from her in return.

There's also an ongoing theme of sleep deprivation, which all parents can relate to. We're all too aware of how lack of rest can make us irrational and, occasionally, cruel. The film illustrates that starkly and it's incredibly hard to watch as a parent. Then as the monster overtakes her, the viewer is left guessing as to whether he's real or just a manifestation of her creeping insanity, and we're left with the very real impression that the real evil comes from the family's increasing isolation.

I'll admit that I tucked myself tight under my duvet the night after watching The Babadook and I saw a great many more shadows in my bedroom, but the lasting effect on me hasn't been to be afraid of monsters under my bed. I have gone away from The Babadook with the fear that, as a mother, I could be the monster and that's where the true terror lies. The story will resonate with me every time I lose my temper or let an angry word fly at my child and I will realise that I am meant to be his protector. To have the one person that you love more than anyone else in the world, the person that is supposed to look after you, turn into the thing that you fear must be the greatest horror of all.

Sweet dreams.