Thursday, 13 September 2018

Turning over a new leaf, or conker..,

I've been home late a fair amount recently. Either because I've been seeing family and they live a fair drive away or I've been to a show and it's finished late. So when I get back the boys are already in bed, sometimes asleep and always looking adorable. The cat miaows at me as if to say, "what time do you call this ?" and Hubbie catches me up on the post-school antics. It's how life is now I'm a working mum. This is the first time I've been at work full time since I've been a mum. I'd always worked flexible or shorter hours to fit in with childcare before and since Blue Bear came to live with us I've been home full time. It's a big adjustment for all of us, but so far it seems to be fine.

There are some things about being a stay at home parent that I won't miss. The main one is the school gate. Not the actual gate you understand - that hasn't done anything to offend me and is quite pretty really. My boys used to race on ahead and hide behind it and jump out to shout "Boo !" at me when I was on the school run with them. No it's the banter in the playground between parents. I will greet people with a smile when I'm on the zebra crossing without breaking my stride. I'll happily have a quick, "How are you ?" while still moving and sometimes I'll even walk alongside a parent I know. What I won't do is the standing 'chatting' with arms folded ignoring entirely that there are small children all around.

Then there's the whatsapp group of doom. Where one parent will ask if anyone has found their child's jumper and 30 'don't have it hun' messages will pop up. I have muted our group now as I can only stand so much inane chat about the new PE kit not being in stock. Also, don't ask other parents how to explain where babies come from on a class whatsapp group. I am completely honest with my kids. They weren't delivered by the stork, Mummy didn't swallow a magic seed and  Daddy didn't 'give' her a baby FFS ! They both know that Brown Bear grew in my tummy and Blue Bear in another mummy's tummy. Thanks to an episode of friends they now also know they came out of the tummy through a cut the doctor made. See, learning is fun kids !

I am less than keen on having a 'social' with people I only know because our kids are in the same class. I've got friends and they are lovely and we have things in common. I prefer not to spend my evening listening to people complaining about the school or asking me to confirm if what they understood to be the times of forest school are correct. Of course the other side of this is the gossip. At the end of last term a few parents told me they had heard my kids were leaving the school. When I asked who they had heard this from they became coy and refused to tell me.

A few weeks ago a parent I have known for a few years and who has helped me out a lot told me she had said something to another parent. It was an apologetic message confessing she had told this Mum that Blue Bear was adopted. I don't know why it came up or how it was relevant to the conversation, but I was thrown. It isn't exactly a secret, after all the school know and a lot of parents who knew us at the time he came to live with us know already. What we had chosen was to not tell the parents in his class unless it was relevant. It hasn't been up to now and it continues not to be.

We have been asked to provide baby photos for the topic this term, 'all about me.' This is one of the things we were told about during our assessment to become adopters. How we hold and present his past to him in a way that is manageable and not overwhelming. Blue Bear wasn't with us when he was a baby so while I can get photos of him we were not in his life at that point. I have spoken to him about his early life and answered all his questions honestly. We saw his foster carers recently so we had a chat about how he lived there when he was a baby. He doesn't remember it, but it is important to hold that part of his past safely for later life when he will have more questions.

I realise that when people ask questions like, "where was he born ?" "why are his eyes blue ?" "is he like his Daddy ?" they aren't necessarily being intrusive. However, I am protective of this little boy and his past and I don't want anyone to feel sorry for him or to look sideways at me and say, "Oh, you're so good." As if adoption was an act of pity or charity. My kids don't need sympathy, they are amazing and loved and precious. I don't describe them by how they came to be in this family. They are so much more than that.

Brown Bear is a force to be reckoned with. He is smart, funny, a talented sportsman and is fiercely protective of his brother and cousins. He has a quick wit and is frustratingly direct. He has obsessions which take over his whole life (Rubik's cube, fidget spinners, Panini stickers, etc.) When he is with boys he's one of the lads and in the company of girls he listens and observes and is kind. I think he could be a leader of men (and women) in the future.

Blue Bear is my little park ranger in training. He will stop to pick up conkers, acorns and pretty leaves on the ground. He loves animals and overcame a fear of dogs to now asking if he is allowed to stroke them (so long as they are not too big). He will make sure no one steps on a worm on the ground and if I want to motivate him to leave the child-minder I can say, "hurry up there is a snail crossing the path and if we don't get there in time it will have gone." He will be out like a shot to watch the snail.

When I come home and go into their bedroom, I watch their sleeping faces and lean in to kiss them gently so they don't wake up. Blue Bear doesn't move much. Brown Bear opens his eyes, smiles at me with his fingers still in his mouth and goes back to sleep. I tiptoe out so as not to wake them.

I love these two boys so much more than I ever could have imagined.

Then it's time to go to bed as I have to get up early to go to work again in the morning.

Saturday, 8 September 2018

How much is too much

It's been a long and tiring week. I've been up at 5am most days and have still been at work full time and also had a few late evenings. It's fair to say the boys have barely seen me and Brown Bear has been playing up to get my attention. It was yesterday that I realised that others think I'm doing too much. Friends have been messaging to check if I'm ok, they've been offering to hug me and Hubbie suggested I should lie in instead of getting up early at the weekend. If I have things to do it's just easier to get up and do them early - if I'm going for a run I'd rather it's at the start of the day, however, I'm not always at my best first thing.

I was told I worry too much. Of course I do. It's a side effect of anxiety, but actually I have always been this way. I can't recall a time when I didn't worry. As the oldest child I was always worried about my siblings. It was my responsibility to look after them a lot of the time and I would get the blame if anything happened to them on my watch. I also blamed myself if they got injured or if anyone did them wrong. I don't know why. I was also the typical worried first time Mum, protecting Brown Bear with a tigress' instinct. Woe betide anyone who fell foul of me in my first year of parenting, I was permanently worried. Then there was the whole adoption process and Blue Bear coming to live with us - that was fraught with worry. It's only now - more than three years later - that I can breathe and look at him and smile with happiness that he's happy and funny and boisterous like his brother. I do still worry, just about different things. It's who I am.

Is it possible to think too much ? I've always been told I do, so it's probably true. Of course I think too much. I wasn't one of cool kids, I wasn't popular and I was never a great beauty so I had plenty of time to think. I didn't have that instant appeal that cuts through having to make any effort. I learned to observe, to notice and to comment on life. My friend Ajay once said to me, "average looking people like us have to make more of an effort." I happen to think he's well above average looking, but that's not the point here. Really beautiful folk often don't have to try hard in life, with people flocking to them and being nice to them. The rest of us don't occupy that privileged place, so we have other skills. Mine is to analyse and try to make sense of the world around me. It's not for everyone.

For years I took offence at the assertion that I talk too much. I do, but I didn't like to hear it. I would fill silences with inane chat, make small talk and just talk over people all the time. I drove myself crazy with it, so I can imagine how much it bothered other people. It's not because I think I'm interesting or anything, it's nerves. If I have to keep filling the gaps with chatter it's because I'm uncomfortable. I have learned to stop and just let silence be. I also realised some years ago that people like to be heard so I learned to listen and reflect back what they said. It can be unsettling when they notice I haven't just been nodding along, waiting for a gap in the conversation to say my bit. I've actually heard what they've been saying and am responding to it.

I do too much. Ok this one I will admit to. I don't like to let anyone down so if I've said I'm going to do something I will do it. Even if it's to my own detriment. If it has a negative impact on those I love then I get annoyed with myself, but I will always try to do whatever I'm asked. This comes down to being unable to say no. I've read the books, I've got the prompts on the fridge door, I've even done mantras about it. I still struggle to say no. I practise on my children, it doesn't help. The people-pleaser part of me is much too established. However much I try, the instinct to say yes to everything is stronger than the realisation that I need to take care of myself.

So this week, when a friend sent me flowers and a message saying she was worried about me it touched my heart. Another assured me if I wanted to talk or not talk, be serious or silly she was there for me. When Hubbie said I needed to rest I realised he was worrying about me. When my Mum thanked me for taking the time to be around (why wouldn't I ?) it reminded me that I'm still her baby. More that anything it made me feel noticed. There was no criticism of me for not doing something or for being too much anything. It was genuine concern and kindness. I don't often need or ask for anything from others. I don't like to take or to impose.

How much is too much ? Well when it comes to feeling cared about it would appear there's no such thing.

Sunday, 2 September 2018

When will I ever sleep again ?

Last year I went to visit a friend who moved to Cornwall for a change of lifestyle after a serious illness and miraculous recovery. She told me that now her kids are all adults and she doesn't work full time she and her husband sleep in and get up late, "like teenagers." Of all the things I was jealous of; the view of the gorgeous countryside, proximity to the beach, living in Cornwall, having the freedom to just up sticks and swap houses with someone. The one thing I was most jealous of was that when I got up early in the morning to get to my meeting she was still in bed and didn't have to get up. 

Now I'm back at work full time my alarm goes off at 5.30am most days. I run every other day in preparation for the half marathon I'm doing in October and often I just autopilot my way to work. An early start suits me as I can get in before anyone else, work in a quiet environment and relax into my day. Then I leave in time to pick up my boys from school / summer camp / clubs. What is also means is that by about 8.30 pm I'm shattered. 

I go to the theatre a fair amount. Shows begin around 7.30pm so I'm fine for the first half, but to be honest unless it's an amazing (or very loud) show I'm unlikely to make it through the whole thing awake. I can function most of they day. I have to. Then at night I should recuperate. I should go to bed early and rest in preparation for the early start. However, I find I have a to do list that hasn't been looked at, never mind attempted. When the boys were away this week staying with grandparents I did a full day at work, went for a training run, watched a show at the theatre and was hanging washing at 1am. Even the cat looked at me in disbelief. Being judged by the laziest creature in the house - harsh ! 
So what I want to know is when do I get to sleep again ? I stopped sleeping when I had Brown Bear, well you do don't you ? Then when Blue Bear came to live with us he has serious sleep issues so I was up with him numerous times in the night. Now they both sleep fine - well Blue does wake up, but he calls for Daddy so I'm off the hook. I still find myself waking up frequently and looking at the time. It's exhausting ! 

Do I have to wait until my boys leave home to sleep ? Will I have to live in the country ? Am I ever going to get a night of sleep and wake up refreshed rather than creaking and groaning and wishing I had gone to bed earlier ? 

Who knows. 

I'd better go upstairs now. I've probably got washing to put away or something. 


Thursday, 23 August 2018

Things I've asked Hubbie this week...

that prove - beyond reasonable doubt - that we are meant to be.

If for no other reason than no one else would have us.

The other night: 

Me: when will Brown Bear be old enough to watch Father Ted ?
Him: What ?
Me: Well I think he's going to love it and it's hilarious. Not rude or too adult.
Him: *just looks at me*

At 6am the other morning: 

Me: Where is my towel ?
Him: On the washing line
Me: Still ?
Him: Yes
Me: That's 2 days now.
Him: ...
Me: Where are you going ?
Him: To get your towel off the line.

On the phone earlier today: 

Me: Shall we do something while the kids are away next week ?
Him: Aren't we going to the theatre already ?
Me: Yeah, but I mean maybe go for a swim together ?
Him: Oh that sounds nice.
Me: And we could order a takeaway
Him: Really ?
Me: Yeah. It's an annual event so let's go for it.
Him: Now that is a brilliant idea
Me: *smile to myself*

My phone rings at 8am: 

Me: Is everything ok ?
Him: Did you take the scooters out of the car this morning ?
Me: Dammit I forgot !
Him: Oh good. I thought they'd been stolen from the doorstep.
Me: We live in Croydon, not the Bronx (ok I admit I may have just thought this).

At 2am:

Me: Why are you awake ?
Him: I don't feel too well
Me: What happened ?
Him: I think the microwaved burger I had at football disagreed with me.
Me: It didn't occur to you that might not be a great idea ?
Hubbie: Nah.
Me: *roll my eyes and go back to sleep*

One evening: 

Me: do you want some chocolate ?
Him: Always
Me: Ok here's where it's kept - you can help yourself.
Him: What ? (looks aghast)
Me: Well after 14 years together I figure that you can be trusted
Him: I'm not sure I can
Me: I have faith in you
Him: *shakes his head*

It's a funny thing marriage isn't it ?

Thursday, 16 August 2018

I had blonde ambition because of Madonna

How is it possible that Madonna is 60 today ? I mean I realise it's perfectly normal and had they lived Prince and Michael Jackson would also be looking at cashing in their over 50s plans and popping out for the early bird oap special in the local Harvester. I guess I just don't see Madonna as 'older' and of course 60 is no longer old anyway.

I've loved her since I was a teenager and was influenced by her in so many ways. The hair; rags, curly and messy, the platinum blonde phase I wish I could have carried off. The fashion; thrift store clothing, ankle boots, leather and lace. The attitude, her perseverance and  let's face it the self confidence. Of course she has her faults - who doesn't ? - but I honestly believe the influence she has had on many women (and men) of my generation is profound. So here - in no particular order - are my top ten reasons for celebrating Madonna.

1. She is a genuine poor kid made good. She literally went from rags to riches. Ok the rags were in her hair, but you get the point.

2. Mads is a fierce advocate of the gays - ok she wasn't the first, but she certainly wasn't shy about talking about sexuality. When her book 'Sex' was published my friend Jo pre-ordered it and when it was delivered we sat in her bedroom at uni looking through the photos in awe even though most of them had already been published by papers to prove how depraved she was.

3. I made my family come home early from temple one Sunday afternoon so I could watch the Blonde Ambition tour on an italian cable channel. I can't believe my Mum actually did that for me.

4. She is fluent in French and Italian - this woman is no thickie. She sent her kids to a french speaking school and values education very highly.

5. As a parent M is very strict - I like that she doesn't take any crap from her kids. It's far too easy to give your kids everything when you are loaded, it's much more difficult to say no.

6. Talking of saying which - Madonna doesn't need anyone to like her. Remember that scene in the movie 'Truth or Dare' ? Where Kevin Costner comes to see her backstage and she makes a gag face ? See she don't give a damn.

7.  As a business woman she has built an empire and maintained it. Other singers have been ripped off by accountants, record companies and even their partners, but M takes no shit from nobody. (sic)

8. Her acting is abysmal, but I did really enjoy her turn as Karen's flakey roomate in Will and Grace. It was self-effacing and hilarious.

9. When Madonna falls in love she gives it all she's got. Famously her love for Sean Penn has never really gone away. She turned herself into an English lady for Guy Ritchie. For a woman who is so strong and independent she falls hard for the men she loves.

10. The woman can dance. That is all. Watch any pop starlet and you will see her moves all over them.

So those are the highlights from my history with Madonna. It's not an exhaustive list by any means. I mean I didn't even talk about the music videos (stunning), the chameleon-like style changes (epic), the adoptions (best not), the feuds with other singers (legendary) and the fact that even after all these years she's still able to terrify with a look. I can't help, but admire the woman for that.

Sunday, 12 August 2018

You want me to put my boobs where ?

There are a few things that I have observed about getting older - I mean proper older not that "Oh I can't believe I'm going to be 30 next birthday" kind of rubbish. This is the realistion that two years from now I'm going to be 50. Oh shit ! What on earth have I done with all these years so far ? Well, a fair bit really. It's what's to come that fascinates me now.

I always took it for granted that I would grow old with my friend Soraya. We had our kids older than most women we know so shared a loathing of all things aimed at, 'yummy mummies.' When we were both back at work after maternity leave we used to go for a run at lunchtime. It was less about fitness and more about plodding round Green Park while having a natter and a catch up. One weekend while driving somewhere - probably to visit the in-laws - she phoned me. It wasn't unusual for us to have a chat outside of work, but it was often futile as one or other of us would be on the move. She told me that she had something to tell me and she was sorry not to tell me in person, but wanted me to  know something. I knew it wasn't going to be good news. It wasn't. Soraya had breast cancer. She apologised to me - I told her not to be so daft. Then we talked about all the practical things that she had to do, the treatment plan, the time off work, etc. I offered my help with anything at all. She thanked me and we went about our business.

Once the treatment started we would talk about how it was going. When anyone 'helpfully' suggested some woo-woo solution like herbs or light healing we'd have an expletive filled conversation about it. I mean me and Hubbie had heard all that guff when were told we would never have children. Shamanic drumming, acupuncture, sound healing, all sorts of magical waters to bathe in and even some specific foods were all suggested. When anyone told Soraya that this thing was better for her than chemotherapy we would discuss how, "it would be lovely to bathe in marshmallows, but I'll take the poison that has a chance of killing the cancer thanks." At one point she told me how guilty she felt about the 'poison' and I told her to stop thinking of it that way and to see it as medicine that was working for her and not against her. We spoke about hair loss and how crap she felt after chemo.

Then the treatment was done and it was the waiting game until she had the 'all clear.' There were check ups and after effects and the constant fear that any twinge or headache was a sign of something far more serious. Two years ago she had a pain in her spine that wouldn't go away. Whenever I talked to her we were baffled that her doctors weren't taking it seriously considering her health history. Then a year ago she paid privately for an MRI and it showed she had a tumour on her spine. That's what was causing the pain. She was livid - understandably. We talked about what was to come next. Radiotherapy this time and she told people in stages that she had secondary cancer. She had the overseas holiday she'd wanted for years. We went to the theatre and spent time making radio shows together. Every time we met we would hug like long lost sisters and it was magic. It was her last year of life - even though we didn't know that at the time. I am so grateful I spent as much time with her as I did, albeit by accident rather than design.

So why is this on my mind right now ? Well a couple of reasons, but I'll tell you just one of them for now. About a month ago I was called for a mammogram. My first thought was, hang on who's going to go with me ? Don't get me wrong I am perfectly capable of going to appointments by myself. However, in this case it was one we had already discussed. Whenever Soraya had a check up I'd offer to go with her. We agreed when it was my turn she would do the same. I told Hubbie and he said he'd go with me. It was a lovely gesture, but when we arrived were told it is a women only clinic and he had to wait outside - fair enough. As I sat in the waiting room making small talk with the nurse I felt the panic begin. Not for me - that wasn't the issue at all. It was fear that the sadness would rise and overwhelm me. It wasn't via breast screening that she found out about her cancer. She did have a lot of them afterwards during remission though. We joked about the 'boob sandwich' and how only a man could have created such an instrument of torture. As I repeated the same joke to the kindly nurse who undertook the exam my face hurt from trying not to cry. Then it was over and I went to work.

The results came two weeks later. All fine.

Not everyone is so lucky. For anyone who has had different news I am thinking of and holding you right now.

Sunday, 5 August 2018

Things I learned about my boy this week

Blue Bear is almost five. It's a bit of a shock to realise he's going to be in reception in September and that he is a fully fledged kid now. Not a baby or a toddler, but a proper little boy. He can say so much more now and I find conversations with him are great fun. When I went to pick him up from the childminder the other evening he came to the door holding a box and as he opened it he said. "Ta-daaa !" and revealed the contents (which included slugs - eww !!) to me. He has a sense of drama, timing and knows how to create interest. It made me smile and I still do when I think about it.

He stayed with my parents this weekend while I moved his bed into the same room as his brother so they now share. When he got home he walked in and said, "Wow ! It's great Mummy. I lub it." He has a cute way of saying love and I hope he continues with it for a while.

Yesterday Hubbie was cutting the grass and Blue Bear said, "Daddy shall I bring my leaf barrow ?" He went to the back garden, found his toy wheelbarrow and brought it to the front to help gather up the trimmings to put into the green waste bin. Later I looked outside to see him crouched down watching as Daddy cleaned and repaired bikes. It was such a lovely father and son moment I just enjoyed it rather than trying to take a photo.

Today when he got home from my parents' house he asked me how Neo was. I told him he was ok and he went over to see him. He got down to the cat's level and I heard him say, "I missed you Neo," and he cuddled him. It was so sweet. I'm sure Neo missed the boys too - he does look lost when they aren't here.

Whenever I am outside running or walking home if I see an acorn, a conker or a pretty leaf I pick it up for Blue Bear. He loves nature and being outside. I saw a ladybird on the kitchen floor the other day and called Blue over to see it. He came in and was delighted to see it inside his house. Daddy offered to put it outside and Blue told him he wanted it to stay inside to keep it safe. We agreed it would be happier outside and he asked Daddy to be gentle.

The other day when the boys were eating their tea for some reason we were talking about family and Blue asked about his 'first mummy." I said I didn't know her, but we could ask 'Auntie' - his foster carer - about her. He nodded and got on with dipping chips in ketchup.

When I was arranging the childcare for this weekend I told my sister that Blue Bear is really good fun and she'd have a good time with him. She sent me a whatsapp message this afternoon praising his behaviour and how well he got on with his cousin. It made my heart sing to hear that.

Earlier when I picked up Brown Bear from scout camp I was called aside to hear the usual litany of things he did wrong. It made me sad. So much so that when we came home and were watching The Greatest Showman I kept bursting into tears. The emotional fallout of having my sons away for the weekend is plenty to deal with. When they get home I just want to hug and hold them - which they won't let me do for much longer anyway.

Oh well, I still have Neo to cuddle when the mum hormones kick in big time.