Tuesday, 9 August 2016

They f*** you up

It's said that once you become a parent you will get to know someone who you have known all your life but never really known. Your own parents. Usually this is said with tenderness and often forgiveness.
Since I became a mum I have got to know mine better too. Only they don't come out the better for it. It has stirred up a lot of deep seated resentment and anger.
You see … I was the compliant one. I did well in school and at after school activities. I never caused much trouble. I had self-obsessed parents, who lived knee deep in their own problems. They simply had little time for me. I definitely got more attention from them if I did well and was helpful.
Our home was a good middle class academic home. Liberal, tolerant and forward thinking. Members of the chitteraty. You can tell them by their unfailing and superior persuasion. My parents imparted a lot of knowledge. Mainly about astrology, politics, STD and contraception.
My parents got drunk at parties and it being the seventies had multiple partners. Before I turned 14, I had had 3 stepdads, 3 stepmums, not counting the lovers. I could tell these lovers by their unnerving, disproportional interest in me, and then they’d suddenly be out of our lives again. I also had 6 stepsiblings, some of whom I never saw again after our parents split up. This did not faze me too much. This was normal.
One day a week I would cook for the family. Thursdays. I started aged six and stopped when I moved out aged 18. There was a purse to go shopping for ingredients. If mum forgot to put it out I would cook from whatever I could find in cupboards and the fridge. I painted my first wall in our new house aged 8. From aged 10 I cleaned the house every week. I babysat for people in the neighbourhood and my younger siblings from aged 12. And so on… None of this ever seemed unusual to me. Until I became a mum. Now I think blimey, I was a kid. I also think it strange that my siblings and I spent so much time home alone.
My siblings never really learned to cook or clean. They spent their time getting angry and shouting at the grown ups a lot. They wanted to be seen. I reasoned with them, telling them our parents loved us but agreed they could be silly. That they – my siblings – should grow up, stop shouting and stop expecting things of my parents that they would never get. But they just kept on slamming doors and moved out as soon as they could. I now cringe at what I said to them.
As a good adoptive parent I read a lot about parenting and trauma. But I’ve been surprised at how much I seem to be reading about my own family rather than about my daughter. I understand that my parents had awful upbringings. I see their pain. That they did try to do their best. But at the moment this knowledge does nothing but anger me. For crying out loud they had four kids with ten fingers and ten toes. Who have all done reasonably well in life.
My parents were well educated and affluent. I flirt with the idea that they had a moral obligation to get themselves sorted. Instead they indulged in decades of extended adolescence. Once they became parents why did it not dawn on them to try?? My mum did. But in effect this meant that she spent my adolescence in therapy. Emotionally unavailable. She was licking her own wounds. I get that. But I'll be damned if she didn’t inflict a few new ones.
I could tell my mother's mood from the way she turned the key in the door when she got home. And usually it meant I would get out and stay out of her way. Turn off the music, gather my things and go to my room if I had been daring enough to spread out and enjoy the living room.
It seems more customary to get angry at your parents in your teens and twenties. Not in your forties. I admit these thoughts and feelings of mine are puerile. I’m having my teenage go at my parents in my late forties.
But that's where I am.
Really really f***ed up at my parents.
I'll be damned if I want to repeat those mistakes.
I'm working so hard at understanding my past. I am especially trying to turn certain knee jerk reactions around. Like the short sneer at my daughter or a quick scolding of her when I can't contain her needs and demands. Those moments strike me with pure fear. Because I remember how it felt on the receiving end. So I work at our relationship. Moment by moment. Event by event. And I apologise to her when I mess up.
Being an older parent and having waited for so long to become a mum, I used to think it was a weakness, but now it seems it is a strength. I’ve done career, I’ve proven myself – of sorts – to others, I have a mortgage, a car, I can decide my own bedtime and what is in my fridge. By all accounts I’m a grown up. My parents were children when they had me. They only just finished school. I was a whoops. Born just before free abortion…
My daughter is the focus of my life.
I am very happily resigned to being second forever more. I want to be a mum till I leave this mortal coil. As a child, I often felt we were in the way of our parents’ happiness. Their sighs were a give away. I know they loved us, but did they like us? Do they?
I am determined to do it differently, better preferably.
Playing has been an excellent place to start. Enjoying each other.
Getting to know my daughter.

[This post was first published via We Are Family last year. I now will stand by it.]

Monday, 22 February 2016

Breakfast in other peoples’ families

 Last week, I had one of those days, when I had to have someone look after Digger all day, as I had a whole day meeting a couple of hours from home, and Pierre was out of town. Our usual go to people couldn’t help out, so I asked a nursery school mate. Not a family we are that close to – having only known them since September - not even one of Digger’s best friends, but one that both he and I feel very comfortable with, and one we had a few play dates with. I admit I was rather desperate. I had to leave our house at 7.30pm. They immediately asked if he wanted to have breakfast with them. Great idea, I thought, and so we settled on a 7am rendezvous.

I prepared Digger as best I could, talking to him about it, wondering about it with him, drawing it etc, and he was puzzled, and not especially keen. As we headed off some anxiety surfaced. He was definitely apprehensive, which fed straight into feeling like a terrible mum, for choosing an exciting grown up day above him.

We arrive at Sophie’s house and the family flung open the door, and welcomed him with big smiles. The oldest hid behind the front door only to jump out with a ‘BOO!’ he startled Digger. But not too badly. Digger loves startling us – and he has a surprisingly high strike record...

Not unlike settling in a nursery, Digger wasn’t initially happy to be left there, and wanted me to hang around for a while. I pulled off his snowsuit, hat, mittens and boots. Meanwhile, the family milled down towards the breakfast table in the kitchen, Digger was still not keen. And then… the stroke of genius from the dad: He came back up, bent down and – as you would with a toddler – suggested to Digger that he would lift him up on his arm (this dad is very very tall). No words, just a gesture and a smile. He got enough of a response to proceed and he lifted him up. One hand on Digger’s tummy, one under he bum. A very safe grip.

‘Would you like to come down and have some breakfast with us? We’ve got two kinds of cereal. How do you normally have cereal? Do you like milk on it?’

Digger nodded a bit.

It sounds so little and so mundane when I recall it, but it was perfect. Daddy took him down, and sat him at the end of table.

‘This is your place. Sophie and Chipmonk have been so looking forward to you coming over for breakfast.’

So calm and lovely. Daddy put a bib on Digger, and Chipmonk, the older brother, aged 8, poured some milk over the cereal Digger had chosen. I stood in the hall, peeking in. Soon I saw a true Digger smile spread across his face.

They had made him feel safe. And it was all going to be ok. He didn’t even look up at me. Only when prompted to say goodbye.

It made me think of being a child of the 70s in Scandinavia. In forth grade, we had some extraordinary homework:
‘Swap family for a week. Move in with one of your class mates. There are many ways of being a family.’ Something like that. 'Preferably not one of your closest friends, but someone whose family is very different to yours.' I remember it blew my mind, as we discussed who could stay with whom. The experiment would work best if the kid you know wasn’t there, but with another family. Whaaaaa…?

My class teacher suggested I stay at Bo’s house. Bo was tall and strong for his age. He seemed only to be interested in tin soldiers. He was an only child, and like his mum and dad he seemed eerily quiet. These two latter facts stood in stark contrast to my own family. A divorce child smothered in a sprawling family tapestry. My teacher had let me know that she thought I had one of the most complicated of families she has ever come across, and she could never find head or tails in it. ‘It’s easy!’ I’d say and explain it all over again. I remember at least one sigh of hers. Clearly not helping matter.

I had step siblings, and step parents, sisters, brothers, mum and dad. At least two of each. And every one seemed to talk all the time. In fact I still don’t really think it is rude to interrupt, because everyone in my family did that all the time! Pierre thinks is it extremely rude and shuts up if I do. Which kinda hurts me, coause I am only joining in, but I am beginning to get what he is saying. Aged 44.

This ‘Swap family for a week’ was optional – but still. I was terrified. I think I did one night with girl who wasn’t my best friend in the class. That was way enough experiment for me. There was an adopted girl in our class, Eva. I cannot remember if she did it. Or indeed if anyone else did.  

‘Try someone else’s mum and dad, or just mum, or just dad, for a week.’ It was to be 'eyeopening’. Well… eye-widening really. We were only 9! I don’t recall what my parents thought of the experiment.

The idea was that it was anti-bullying. Opening your horizon. And such. I’m shaking my head as I think about it. This was clearly an adult who came up with this. A hippie perhaps. The kind that can not be trusted, because they don’t care about earthly concerns, such as clothes, cereals and a snack when you come home from school. Or the whereabouts of your favourite teddy. Perhaps it was a commune parent, if a parent at all. Just watch a bit of Lukas Moodysson’s ‘Together’, you’ll see what I mean.

Nice idea, but not very child friendly I think. And not one I will impose on my son. But why was I so worried?

Back in the kitchen of Digger’s friends, I could see the family magic working. Inclusive and warm and different to us.

When I got back from my (extraordinarily exciting!!) day, he told me everything they had done together. How they had cycled to school, him and Sophie in a funny bucket bike, while Chipmonk rode on his own bike. On the road!! Chipmonk and dad with bucket bike were in the road!! And so on.

It was an all round success.

Not that I will repeat it soon. But it has made me think. Perhaps we should eat more breakfast with other families. Breakfasts are intimate, and you have to leave the house a specific time, so it can be stressful. This morning wasn’t really, certainly not as we came to their house.

It has certainly made me think.

Mainly because he loved it. Because they made him feel safe.

I was uh'ing and ah'ing about whether or not to ask. Pierre just asked me:

'What would you say if they asked us?' The answer to that made me ask them. Because it will always be yes. They would only ask if they really needed the help. And if they trusted us. Which is what I felt.

It certainly takes a village to raise a child. And there is much inspiration to be gained from looking into other people's families.

Friday, 29 January 2016


When our son first moved in he was near as damn it 11 months – He had just learned to crawl. I can’t say it was love a first sight – I had to grow into that. But there was definitely a strong mutual attraction, a fierce sense of parental responsibility and  ‘he is ours to protect at all cost’ from the first time I lay eyes on him. We bonded well, at a pace that suited us all.

I guess the first sign I had that we had moved beyond the politeness of strangers was when he one evening lay on my tummy. All sprawled out. Legs bent up either side of him. Arms also bent upwards, along his sides. Like a small frog. He fell asleep like this. This seemed to me to be a position of a newborn or much younger baby. I asked his foster mum when we next met her if he used to do that with her. ‘He hasn’t done that for months.’ she answered. ‘How strange...’ I took that as a good sign of our bonding. And cherished the moments of going back in time. Time travelling.

I asked my friends, if their kids did the same. If they in any way regressed? Interestingly, those with kids of the same age as my son looked at me blankly. Shrugged. ‘Nooouuuu…’ They hesitatingly muttered. ‘Or at least I don’t think that is regression. But it is true… she doesn’t really do that any more…’ I think I should ask them again. Now. Another friend with a 12 and a 15 year old answered differently: ‘Yes. Sometimes. Less so now. Sometimes when they forget they are too old for holding hands or cuddling or sitting on my lap. It often happens when they are sad, or ill. But grab the moments with both hands! Cuddles from a teenager is like nothing else.’ I liked that answer. And that is what I still do. Grab such moments with open arms.

Why this now? Because we have just had the most amazing regression from son-o. Lasting over three weeks. All kicked off when he cut himself. Cooking dinner with me. With a children’s safety knife – not that that makes me feel any better about this episode, but that’s a whole other subject. While listening to funk – this I think is key to the momentary distraction that led to the part amputation of his perfect little finger tip.

It has been a nightmare. And we have seen some SPECTACULAR return of the toddler – or baby? – tantrum! Complete with a kind of crying I haven’t heard since he was a baby. The crying is different. Helpless but angry. So we have has to bring out all the tools from our therapeutic parenting book. Spanners? No. Alan keys? No. Hammer? Definitely no. Aha! The tweezers.

In our case the tool kit consisted of :
·      baby bottles with warm milk several times of day
·      re-introduction of pacifier
·      swaddling
·      carrying, lifting, helping, sitting on parent laps – especially during mealtimes
·      singing, humming
·      cuddles, sometimes of the extra hard grip, sort of exaggerated hug – holding him tight
·      touching, holding, caressing, stroking, snuggling, patting,
·      sofa time in piles of duvets and pillows
·      ice cream, bananas, rice pudding, chocolate
·      Ipad and TV and endless streams of books
·      sleeping in our parental bed – for some of the time, we were a bit freak out, fearing we might end up rolling over on his bad hand, which we both did at one time, or rather I accidently sat on it! I have been an amazingly cack handed mum in all this.
·      talking about and acknowledging his fears. Which was mainly: ‘Will it bleed again?’ Which it did. In fact that was the worst bit about it.
·      more talk, pondering, wondering and acknowledgement and prep for hospital check ups. They were fun. Not.

I was given the advice to not look at it as trauma. To go over the whole episode with him. Think of the nice things in the hospital. We did that too. And it helped.

The first many days afterwards there was no play. At all. That’s only now returning.

There were times in the tantrums when nothing – and I mean nothing! – would help. So there was no option but to sit it out.

We had a babysitter in. And oddly enough, she who normally is perfect and funny and full of love, couldn’t handle it. So I handed her the tweezers and what ever else seemed to work a bit. I handed her baby bottle with warm full fat milk. Swaddled him in a rug like a baby and handed him to her. They too needed connecting. I told her that it was a compliment that he got upset and angry with her. She stared at me. ‘Huh? Really?’ ‘Yes.’ She got the hang of it a bit later. And he calmed down.

So I love regression. To me they provide fantastic opportunities to unstick some pent up feelings. In his case mainly fear covered by lashings of anger.

But don’t be fooled: it is f•••ing hard work. There were times when it was just like leaning into a gale force shit storm, telling myself ‘just keep on walking’ into the eye of the storm.

I am knackered. And so is my husband.

I just want to sleep. And I wonder whether I can feel this because we have turned a corner. And he and his finger tip will be ok. I can see that with my on eyes. Eventually. But perhaps more so because it has been nearly four weeks of this regression and anger.

It felt like there was much more to this than the finger tip. And I hope we have done right by him in the end. Cause this is all we could do.

He was so brave in hospital. Several times. At times ridiculously brave for a four year old. It seems he saved it all for us at home. Later. When the sense of emergency had gone.

He is now back in nursery. Today his teacher told me that he has kept the whole class spellbound telling them exactly how it all happened. A true blow by blow account. He was cutting a cucumber [parnips but what the hell], then snip! And SO MUCH BLOOD! EVERYWHERE. She told me he gesticulated. I could see it. Flapping his arms. Excited. He tells stories with his whole body. He is a good story teller. 

I was delighted to hear that fragment of his day. There is life in the tale of the finger tip, his emotions around it and he is shedding stuff. When the finger has healed there will be a scar to talk about. An honourable scar. One to be proud of. Male friends offered that that may be the case. I cut one or two of them off with curtly 'I very much loo forward to that day.’ But I now see… they are probably right. That day is on the horizont.

Tuesday, 12 January 2016

sleep as a place of safety

Well, our boy still sleeps in our bedroom, still in the mega cot (though he will be growing out of it soon). Needless to say I still love having him there. No big surprises there then. Not much change from my last blog not he subject.

We had a short interlude of c. two months when he slept in his own room, directly below ours. By his own choice. We'd been to IKEA brought some new shelving and some boxes that slotted into it perfectly - can't remember the name, but it could have been something like Støblø.

Digger helped put it all together. His very first flat pack assembly. And it was fantastic. He loved it, we loved it. And the improvement to the ease of getting to (and tidying!) his toys was instant. As we marvelled at the finish product, he proclaimed he want to 'sleep in my room tonight.' So that's what we did. It worked for a few weeks. With us parents slogging up and down the stair during the night. But then Digger started nursery, and got ill, typical first term stuff. So he moved back into the old cot in our room.

Starting nursery is BIG! And it is clearly affecting his dreams and sleep. He often wakes around 4am, and we have an exchange like this:


'...Yes, sweets..?'

'I'm scared.'

Then I get up, and go to his cots. To stroke his chin, hold his hand tuck in him, etc. And stay for a little while. But other times, he just comes to our bed.

And this is what started me on this blog: that space between daddy and me I think for him is the safest place on earth for him. He will wiggle and move around, being little spoon of either of us, while always making sure he can reach the other. A toe on my leg. A hand on daddy's arm. Just some connection between us all.

This works for us.

And I have little doubt that he will grow out of it. He already has once. But then needed us again.

He is such a big brave boy, and they too are allowed to be scared, and cry - a lot sometimes - and need their mummy and daddy. That is what I tell myself, as I brace myself for his first operation later today. Emergency. Of a partly amputated long finger with a damaged artery. Under general anaesthetic.

Once that is all over, I cannot wait for the long night's sleep that will follow. Be it in little bed, big bed or a combination of the two. I hope the latter.

Wish us all luck. But most of all him.

Sunday, 27 September 2015

Head colds and snot in preschoolers - what I have learned



Hallo autumn. I haven't missed colds. At all.

Sorry about the title but there have been times when we seem to be downing in the stuff and I had to learn fast.

With kids comes snot. I could write a novel on the stuff and on head colds. Digger had them coming like the London tube trains in rush hour for the first few months after he moved in.  I guess we gave him lots of new germs as did the kids in local playgroups.

Of course all this illness spelt excellent bonding time. Lovely times of physical closeness with my son in the sling ... never far from a tissue or a muslin.

Here a few thing I've learnt about snot. Do add further comments below.

  • As a parent you will touch snot and there is a 100% probability that it will also end up on your clothes. 
  • It is amazing what these kids can produce. I would swear my son produces more than the estimated 1dl per head cold.
  • It spells bad nights' sleeps. In my experience - three years in, the first two nights are the worst. 
  • You can elevate the bonged up nasal passage a bit by raising the head of the bed. A pillow under the fitted sheet has been suggested by many a friend and website. And so we tried it. Prob Good for kids who lie still all night. Digger doesn't. So instead of sleeping uphill, he ended up down hill and so much more bunged up. 
  • Rubbing his chest in mentholated petroleum jelly on any sort can keep everyone awake and unable to sleep.
  • A Nasal Decongestor is good news. Digger hated it but eventually got used to it. It is an excellent tool to avoid raw red nose and nostrils. 
  • Warm steam baths will help empty them, but also stimulates production. 
  • The colour matters. 'What colour is it?' My mum would ask. Ouh gross mum. Now this is what I ask of my husband. And of Digs himself. So here's the load down:
    • First day or two means dripping watery clear consistency. 
    • Third day this should slow down as the snot become more viscous. Digger would often be able to blow snot bubbles from his nostrils on day 3 and 4. The consistency would now be mucous. But pale. And very stretchy/ smeary. 
    • Once the colour turns a pale yellow you are over the worst. Usually this is on day 4 or 5 onwards. 
    • A good yellow and finally green sees you through to the thick and sticky end. This makes for big bogeys. Cubic centimetres stuff. 
  • A slight elevated temperature is normal at the beginning. 
  • Real fever (above 37.8 degree Celcius) is not.
'Does my kid have to stay home when he has cold' I asked my friend, a mum of four, early on. 'No.' was her short answer. By now she pretty much ignores colds from any of her children. What she does (and what I do now too) to check if they are really ill, is to whispers 'would you like some ice cream' behind their backs. If they turn around and eagerly pronounce that they would, they are not ill. Simple, and very true. Doesn't mean they don't need a bowl of ice cream and some down time with you. They probably do.

I'm not fond of seeing elevens of snot on toddlers. In fact I went to see a kindergarten and when I saw most of the kids with the number 11 written under their noses, I was certain this was not the place for my son. It is not so much about cleanliness, or even that snot is like drool on a sheepdog:  it's bound to end up somewhere soon. No, it was the lack of caring for them.

Things are lot easier now that the colds have slowed down and he is able to blow his own nose, aged 4. Well... Sort of. Almost. Nearly. On one such nearly-done-it-myself occasion I spotted a big bogey had ended up his cheek, and quick as the wind - we were in fine company - I mopped it up with a clean tissue which I tossed in the bin. All this in a nanosecond. This resulted in a spectacular melt down of the surprising sort: 'Puttit back! Mummy, put it back!' Well, I didn't.

Oh and if you feel a sneeze coming on and you want to provoke: look into a bright light.
If you feel it coming and you don't, just press the tip of your tongue into the roof of your mouth.

That's it. That's what I have learned. 

Saturday, 26 September 2015

Sometimes I'm not so sure

 I tell my son many times every day that I love him. Especially when we snuggle.

I add 'I love you when you sing, when you shout, when you eat. I love you all the time!' And for laughs I add 'I love you when you fart, and I love you when you poo. I love you always!' He loves the notion and the affirmation. So I try to come up with new combinations and situations. 

'I love you when I tell you off. When I say (for the hundredth time) 'Digger! Pleeease.... Just put on your shoes now. We are running late.'' Not a very conducive sentence I know. (Running where? Mummy never runs - or only when chased. Late?! For what??) But the reaction is common and human. 

That didn't compute. He looked up at me. Puzzled. 

'Really? When you are crossed?!'

'Yes. I always love you. Even when I am angry. Or annoyed.'

'Mummy, sometimes I am not so sure...' 

Outch. I'm glad he said it. It hurts. It's a wake up call. 

We can't stay connected all the time. And I am only human. I tire. I stress. I loose my patience.

That's not his fault. I'm ashamed that he would think it made him less lovable. But it is not rocket science if he did. 

Instead of just acknowledging his feelings with a look, perhaps a touch, a nod, but mainly silence - because he has just said something important and painful - I immediately launched into 
'Oh darling but I do!! Always .... bla bla bla blaaaaa'. As usual I was trying to be reassuring. Yet all I really did was letting him know that there was no space for feeling like that. At best. At worst it suggested he was wrong in feeling like that. And surely he did know best how he felt. 

I do the same to my husband when he complains about something at work. 'Oh he probably didn't mean it like that.' Not a great conversation opener. Neither is 'Gosh... Why would she do such a thing to you? She sounds like she really stressed out. Poor her.' Yep. I say a lot of unhelpful things to both my men.

Friday, 25 September 2015

20 seconds

Mindfulness. It's bloody everywhere isn't it. I tire of the word and the pressure it applies of smooth perfection and graceful presence. In clean minimalist homes. Smug. 

Yet I'm curious. And I freely admit - as I have done here many times - that I could do with a dose of slowing down to check in with all my senses. I'm a better mum and wife when I do. I stress less when I remember to slow down. And so I snap less, yell less, rush less, burn the toast less, cut my fingers less. And so on. 

So when I came across the idea of just looking your loved one in the eye for 20 seconds I was intrigued. I do that all I the time I thought. Truth is I don't. 

20 seconds is no time at all. Or just right. Or very very long. Definitely can be too long. 

Keep the gaze. Leave the world around. Just be. Right here. Right now. Connect. 

Larry Cohen talks of eye love. Of holding that loving gaze. Of the flow and deep sense of belonging that springs from it. 

The gaze. We do it when we are in love. Mothers and fathers do it with their children. Babies do it with their parents. 
And they turn away when they have had enough. Wonderfully clear message of 'Fanks but no fanks.' If not 'Buzz off.' Which of course can leave us feel rejected. Unhappily in love. Unfulfilled. Unconnected. 

So powerful is giving or withholding eye contact. So aggressive. So loving. So calming. So needy. So personal. 

What do you see? 

Look your child in the eyes every day. 
I'm guilty of forgetting that. 

Look your spouse in the eyes. Every day. 
I'm guilty of forgetting that too. 

Stopping to look. Not to look at. Just to look. 

It is so simple. And such a lovely way of slowing down. 

Try it ... 

What did you think? 
How did it feel? 

What did you see?