Saturday, 27 June 2015

Depressing CBeebies Reinterpretations

I have delved into the murky waters of CBeebies shows before, but if I'm honest, I would have to admit that I lacked conviction. My husband, on the other hand, does not. When I planted the seed in his head that these shows were open to reinterpretation, his dark little mind ran with the idea. Soon, he was coming to me with some truly depressing explanations for the seemingly bizarre plot-lines that we were subjecting our child to.

After that, it became something of an obsession. It began with his reasoning behind Old Jack's Boat and Mr Tumble, but led us to some pretty gloomy corners of our own brains. Because misery likes company, I've decided to share some of them with you.

Old Jack's Boat

Ah, Staithes; the place that our bleak, bleak journey began. I innocently wondered aloud one day why Jack's boat, The Rainbow, looked all rusty and decrepit right up until Jack walked aboard, when it would spring into bright, fresh colour. 

As I have already explained, my husband is quite dark, and a few days later he proposed a theory. His explanation for why the boat only seemed to sparkle with life when Jack was on board was that, actually, Jack has a severe case of Alzheimer's Disease.

Mr Meaney reckons that The Rainbow is exactly as rusty and un-seaworthy as we see it in the harbour. Jack, however, only remembers the boat how it was, and when it changes we're merely getting a glimpse into the mind of a horrendously confused old man who think his boat is still shiny and new.

This theory also goes some way to explaining Jack's fairly fantastical stories and why the locals of Staithes insist on talking to him with grating condescension.

Something Special

As if I wasn't feeling sad enough about the fact that Old Jack was slowly losing his mind, my husband then decided to move onto another family favourite: one Mr Tumble of Something Special fame. I cringed away; our boy loves Mr Tumble and I wasn't sure if I wanted to hear the sad stories behind his red nose and spotty bag. Unfortunately, I was hooked; I had to know what horrors my husband's brain was capable of cooking up.

There are several members of the Tumble family with which our hero interacts. We have Aunt Polly, Grandad Tumble, Lord Tumble, Fisherman Tumble and Baker Tumble, all of whom look exactly like Mr Tumble, but each wears a different variation of his trademark outfit. 

In steps Mr Meaney...

Mr Tumble is in a home. He has severe learning disabilities and requires round the clock care to make sure that he gets everything that he needs. Sadly, however, his parents were unable to cope with the difficulties that their son placed on them and have abandoned him completely. 

With no family coming to visit him, he creates the Tumble family in his own head. Dressing up in simple costumes (Aunt Polly's hat aside), he brings each character to life and engages with the family that he never had to stave off the crushing loneliness that he would otherwise face.

It also explains his proficiency with Makaton sign language.

Teacup Travels

Inspired (and completely depressed) by Mr Meaney's ideas, I decided to tackle a show myself. Namely Teacup Travels, in which two children, Elliott and Charlotte, visit incredible distant lands via the stories of their Great Aunt Lizzie and her precious teacup collection.

It's pretty obvious where my brain went with this one: Lizzie is drugging the children. I don't know why, perhaps she just worships chaos, but she is slipping hallucinogenics into those children's teacups, sitting back and relishing the results.

There are certain things that back up this theory, quite apart from the children in question being under the illusion that they're genuinely in ancient Rome/Egypt/China the second they take a sip of her 'tea'.

The children's mother features in both the opening and closing credits, dropping them off with Great Aunt Lizzie. Lizzie's very title would suggest that the two women are somehow related, even if by marriage only, yet the mother never steps foot on the property; she simply sends a child through the gate and leaves. When she returns to collect them, she waits again on the other side of the gate and never, ever goes inside or speaks to Lizzie directly. She also only ever drops off one child at a time.

Elliott and Charlotte's mother is desperately in debt. Lizzie is no relation to any of them, but she enjoys 'spending time' with the woman's offspring and pays generously for the chance to do so. The mother knows that something is wrong, but she needs the money, yet she absolves her guilt slightly by only ever subjecting one child to Lizzie's game at a time.


After that, I decided to take another look at Bing; the big bunny with the big heart. 

Bing confuses a lot of people, mostly because the parent type characters appear to be some kind of rag doll type things that the youngsters call by name. Also, why can't Pando keep his bloody trousers on for more than a minute at a time?

I can answer both of those questions. Bing and his friends are foster children. The little rag doll things aren't their parents and, although the nice people at social services have tried to match them with someone as similar to them as possible, they haven't quite found that perfect fit.

The adults are nice, however, and the children are largely happy despite their turbulent early starts in life. Sadly, some behavioural anomalies still remain. Bing, for example, has trouble coping with day to day life and is almost completely unable to follow simple instructions. And that sodding panda just can't stop taking his clothes off.

Happy watching...

Saturday, 6 June 2015

Second Baby Syndrome

There are certain questions that people tend towards asking when they see that a woman is pregnant:

1. When is it due?
2. Do you know what you're having?
3. Is this your first baby?

And it's this third question that I'm here to discuss today. In fact, I'm as guilty of this as anyone; I found myself asking a girl just the other day if the small human concealed under her considerable bump was to be her first. She said yes and I cooed and reassured her that it wasn't nearly as horrendous as people liked to make you believe. All in all, it was a rather lovely moment.

When I was pregnant with Blake, the same thing would happen; people would get so excited for me when I told them that he was to be my first child and made such a fuss of me and my ever-expanding belly. 

This time it's different. This time people ask me if the baby is to be my first and I respond with "no, my second" and, more often than not, the response is a slightly disappointed sounding "oh" and a change of subject. People just don't seem to really care about subsequent children.

I'm not complaining as such, because I'm just as bad. We toyed with the idea of not bothering to announce the pregnancy because we just didn't expect people to care. Not only that but I haven't really given the person growing inside me much thought. It's only now that I can feel it moving that I regularly even remember that I'm having another baby in a few months. Partly, I think this is because I simply don't have the time for sitting around and mooning over what my child might look like this time around. When Blake was still on the inside, I would spend hours each day obsessing over him. In short, my mind was completely preoccupied by my son. Well, my mind is still completely preoccupied by him, and the poor little one in my womb is having to settle for filling little gaps in my consciousness. 

Perhaps this is all to do with the fact that the mother knows what to expect with subsequent pregnancies and births. People are less compelled to give out advice because she simply doesn't need it, while she's less likely to give much thought to the pregnancy because she knows just how much feeling like shit is normal. Instead of obsessing over every ache and pain or googling gender prediction old wives' tales, veteran mums are far more likely to take the whole thing in their stride (between the vomiting if they're anything like me).

I do feel sorry for the child though. They haven't even been born yet and already they're having to compete with Blake for attention. There's also a very real chance that there's going to be a third (especially if this one is another boy), so they're probably going to have Middle Child Syndrome to deal with at some point too.

Poor baby number two. I think I'll spend some time rubbing my bump and telling it that I love it tonight. You know, just so it doesn't feel quite so left out...

"Hello? Is anyone listening out there?"

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

"It's Probably Just a Virus"

If there is a more infuriating phrase that us parents have to endure then I am yet to find it. I'm sure that doctors must find it tedious fielding a never-ending stream of worried mums and dads with snotty nosed infants, but is this really the best catch-all sentence that they can possibly muster?

Look, I get that viruses don't respond to antibiotics. I get that most healthy bodies are perfectly able to fight them off without the need for medical intervention, but sometimes what a parent really wants is for a professional to just have a good look at their child, put a name to the nasty that's currently poisoning their little bodies and offer some sodding reassurance. Is that really so hard? Is that really a million miles away from the services that the NHS is supposed to provide? Or does the fact that no physical medicine changes hand make the entire thing a waste of precious resources?

Oh, bugger off.

Blake has been ill since Saturday morning. At first, it was just a bloodshot right eye which had developed into full blown, gloriously gungy conjunctivitis by the next morning. Being the dutiful parent that I am, I marched straight down to the pharmacy and came away armed with antibiotic eye drops, the orders to administer them every two hours and a cold certainty that it wasn't going to be that straight forward. Blake was happy to prove me right and the Optrex wrestling matches quickly went from pretty tricky to completely traumatic within a few doses. Not only that, but they don't seem to be working; we're four days in, Blake's eyes are worse than ever and he is now tracking a pretty impressive fever as well as several other bonus symptoms.

Today, I got home from work and almost burst into tears when I saw him. His eyes were puffed shut and thick with dried green gunk and his lips were blue and shivering despite his baking temperature. My first instinct was to call the doctor to try and get him seen immediately. I wanted someone to look at his eyes, to take his temperature properly with a more reliable thermometer than my own and to tell me exactly what was wrong with him. When a doctor called me back and I explained the symptoms, I got the exact response I expected:

"It's probably just a virus."

Well, yes, maybe it is, but why do these viruses never have a fucking name? A virus can be anything from a common cold to meningitis, so wanting a little bit more clarification is hardly a lot to ask. What type of virus? How long can I expect it to last? Have you seen these symptoms together before? Could it be an allergic reaction to the drops that I'm forcing into his bloodshot eyes while I pin his arms to the sofa? I don't want some umbrella terminology designed to placate me and make me go away; I want to know what's wrong with my son.

In the end, the doctor reluctantly made me appointment for tomorrow that I'm to cancel first thing if Blake shows any improvement overnight (his actual words) and, while I'm sure this ailment is fairly minor, I find it incredibly frustrating that parents are so easily dismissed as paranoid. Blake has some kind of complication revolving around conjunctivitis and I'm sure it'll clear up in time, but how often do we have to hear about a child being sent home with a vague virus diagnosis, only to end up critically ill in hospital a few hours later before doctors begin to take us seriously? As spoken sentences go, "it's probably just a virus" is particularly meaningless, and I for one am sick of hearing it.

*** UPDATE: Blake's 'virus' was actually a severe allergic reaction to his eye medication. ***

Saturday, 16 May 2015

Why I've Stopped Giving a Sh*t About What Other Parents are Doing

When my son was younger, I was all about keeping up with the proverbial Jones's. I spent my time on the internet reading about what other mothers were buying for their children or giving them to eat, and I ended up driving myself to the very edge of insanity. There was no way I could keep up with what everyone else was doing; my budget simply wouldn't allow it, and yet here I was torturing myself about all of the crucial developmental tools that Blake was missing out on. I truly felt that he was being held back in life by my lack of Fisher Price gadgets and Nuby feeding utensils.

It's only now that he's older, and as developed as I'd expect at his age, that I've realised that material goods in a baby's life are no different from material goods in ours; that actually they don't matter. It's just stuff.

For example, when Blake was a little less mobile (oh, blessed days) I was completely obsessed with the idea of the Jumperoo. It seemed like everyone else had one and the internet was basically telling me that if I didn't have one then I was failing my child at a most fundamental level; he would never learn to walk and his fine motor and communication skills were going to suffer irreparable damage thanks to my crap finances. In truth, not having a Jumperoo really meant that the only thing we were missing out on was having half our lounge taken up by a plastic monstrosity. The actual functionality of a Jumperoo was easily achieved with a bargain door bouncer bought from eBay and a reasonably priced (but perfectly sufficient) baby walker given to us by Blake's Granny. 

Blake never had a Sophie La Girafe teether. As I jumped from forum to forum, I was crippled with guilt over the fact that I hadn't invested in something that had brought so many other children such hours of joy. Let us not also forget that it's made with all natural materials, as though we're somehow poisoning our offspring by daring to let them put anything man-made into their mouths. I've seen people putting out impassioned pleas on social media to find lost Sophies because those sodding giraffes cost a small fortune. Can you guess what happens if Blake loses one of his cheap teethers that I buy from Boots? I buy another one.

When I introduced Blake to bottles, I spent hours online researching the best types to buy. I tied myself up in knots reading about Dr Brown bottles that prevent colic and will make your baby the happiest he can be and eventually save him a fortune in therapists when he's older. I read about techniques to alter the hole in rubber bottle teats to make the flow more resemble that of the breast, and stood in Tesco nearly in tears wondering what sized teats to buy in the first place. In the end, I bought the pretty standard Tommee Tippee bottles and now, sixteen months later, we're still bloody using them, alteration free.

I bought the cheapest travel system that I could find that still had good reviews, and I absolutely love that thing; I'm pretty certain it could survive a nuclear holocaust.

We used a mid-priced Moses basket and put it next to the bed instead of bothering to hire a Bed-nest. 

We put the landing light on and opened his bedroom door a crack instead of buying a night-light that projected stars onto the ceiling. 

I downloaded a free lullaby app on my phone instead of worrying about a Slumber Buddy. 

We used a hand-me-down baby monitor that does nothing but transmit sound instead of investing in an Angelcare mat that sets of alarms in case of an emergency. 

It's not that I didn't want any of these things, because I did. The more time I spent on Google and Twitter, the more I convinced myself that I was somehow failing my child by not keeping up with everyone else, but then something strange happened: Blake stayed alive. He started to crawl, and then to walk and kept up developmentally with all of his peers despite the fact that our house was more 'car-boot' than 'Mothercare'. So I relaxed and I learnt that things are just things. Clever marketing is designed specifically to make us feel like shit if we can't afford a particular product but, chances are, you can probably do just fine without it. 

I began to work on the principle that my Mum never had any of this crap when she was raising us and we all still grew up into (mostly) fully functioning adults. I mean, look at me: I can read and write and I never even watched one, single episode of Baby Einstein. 

Monday, 11 May 2015

Here's to The 'Middle' Mums!

I've seen a lot of things said about the benefits of being both a young and an older mother. From this lovely meme on Facebook:
to Huffintgon Post's article about why it's awesome to have a baby past fifty, and while this is all well and good, it got me to thinking that there doesn't seem to be many articles heralding parenthood in the dirty thirties. So I thought I'd write one.

I was one month away from twenty-nine when I had my first baby, I'm now carrying my second at thirty and, for me, my child bearing years have come at the best possible time in my life. Both young and older mothers have advantages over the other, yet here I am, smack bang in the middle of them all, reaping benefits from both sides.

So let me tell you why I think that being a 'Middle' Mum is the best.

1. You've lived but you haven't quite finished yet.

From the young mums cry of 'I will be young enough to enjoy my child as an adult' to the older women citing a full life behind them, it seems to be accepted that life in general is popped temporarily on hold during the baby-bearing years. If we accept this premise, then I think that I'm perfectly placed. I've had my selfish single years pre-parenthood, but I can also feel secure in the knowledge that I'll still be reasonably young once my offspring are old enough to buy me a well-deserved glass of wine.

2. Lots of  your friends are at it.

The late twenties and early thirties are very much an average time to start popping out babies these days. Both very young and much older mothers are more likely to find themselves suddenly isolated from their peers once a baby is on the scene. Not so for us Middle Mums. Everyone is at it, so we always have plenty of puke-stained company.

3. We remember what it's like to be young.

Just humour me here: We remember because it wasn't that long ago, really. Honest. Please agree. This puts the ultimate patience on our side. Being young can really, really suck sometimes and we know, because we did it fairly recently. Really.

4. But we're far enough away from our own childhood to not want to repeat it.

You won't catch me engaging in circular arguments with a toddler in full temper tantrum, put it that way. I can outwit them with my knowledge of the world and my unexpected use of big words and actual, genuine logic.

5. We have energy, but we also appreciate decent 'down-time'.

Because, let's face it, post-lunch we're about as ready for a nap as the child is. But don't underestimate us! One, or maybe two cups of coffee is all it takes to have us running around the garden with a football or building Mega-Blok giraffes with the best of them.

So here's to the Middle Mums! The often overlooked women in their late twenties and thirties, who have perhaps taken breaks in much-loved careers and partying lifestyles to have their babies in the middle of the parenting age debate. That said, while this is the best age for me, I don't really think that there is a perfect age that spreads across the entire board of motherhood.

The  best age to have a baby is the age that is right for you, personally, and if you go by that, I don't think you can really go wrong.

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.