Project Awesome

Making my life more awesome

Brain failure

My depression is playing up at the moment.  Having increased the dose of my previous medication to the point where I was falling asleep while putting the girls to bed and had no time or energy left to do even the most minimal of housework, my GP suggested I tried a different drug.  So I weaned myself off Drug One (having a moment of giddiness and euphoria on the way down, when the soporific side-effects were first removed) and started, very cautiously, to take Drug Two.  Drug Two has not improved things.  Drug Two has left me feeling gloomy and tired, unable to make conversation, indecisive, apathetic and troubled by constant morbid thoughts.

It is like being swarmed by wasps at a picnic – no matter how much I shoo them away, they come back, relentless, until I give up.  And my surrender, in itself, becomes another shameful failure to despise myself for.

It is like trying to swim to shore.  I know that when I get there, there will be sandcastles and ice-cream.  And I desperately don’t want to drown.  But I’m tired of fighting the tide.

It is like running, unable to keep up, struggling under a weighted pack which no-one else is carrying; trying so hard and moving so slowly.

It’s a lack of oxygen, struggling to breathe.

It’s a surge of tears, threatening, behind my eyes.

It’s looking for something good and finding nothing.

It’s flatness and inadequacy, conversation dying on my tongue.

It’s a fear of something terrible, just out of sight.

It’s a wasted day, inert and immobile.

It’s self-accusation: blessed with abundance and unable to enjoy it.

It’s the hope that if I cry, or sleep, or run, this anxiety might be released.  But it never is for long.

It’s merely a failure of brain chemistry.

I think about my depression as a physical illness.  It’s not a rational response to something terrible which happened to me, and I don’t need to pick apart how I feel about to find a resolution.  I just think my brain got too tired last summer and stopped doing all the things it needs to do with chemicals.  I spoke to my GP this morning and she reassured me that, with a bit of scaffolding in place for a while, my brain may well get back to what it’s supposed to be doing.  There are probably things I can do to help: exercise; eat well; train it to look for positives rather than negatives; send it to bed at a sensible time; avoid too much stress.  And we’re moving onto Drug Three, which I hope will be more successful, at least, than Drug Two.

I feel fortunate to be able to see, most of the time, that there is a difference between my depression-warped perception and reality, even if I’m not entirely sure what reality is.  I know that what I feel about myself and my life and my abilities is probably not the truth.  I look at my friends, who seem to like me, and think that if I really were all the things I sometimes feel I am, they probably wouldn’t like me, so I’m probably not.  I’m engaged in a battle with and for my brain*, and it’s one I’m hoping to win.

*There’s a sci-fi film in there somewhere, I’m sure there is: The Girl Who Battled For Her Brain. Awesome B-Movie stuff.

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Achieving

Completing the Manchester 10k last Sunday was quite an experience.  So many people were running for charities (I started just behind a man wearing a lifeboat costume who lost me quite early on, much to my disappointment), and it felt as if all the supporters, spectators and organisers were working together with the participants to get us all to the finish.  People came out to stand and watch and clap and cheer.  Small children high-fived us.  Charity volunteers held up signs saying ‘Smile! You paid to do this’ and ‘Run like someone called you a jogger’ and passed out jelly-babies.  I ran the first 4k then alternated running and walking until a stitch hit at around 6k.  I tried to pick up the running again for the last couple of kilometers and then, finally, went for what was intended to be a sprint finish, but probably looked more like a desperate stagger across the line.  It was incredibly emotional – the culmination of a few months of training, the support of family,friends and random strangers, and a sense of achievement and relief.  I was delighted to have  actually finished the course, and in about 15 minutes less than I had hoped to, and elated and exhausted all at the same time.  I found my family and we went for food, and then cake and cocktails.  I’m now looking for another 10k to run – now that I know what a 10k feels like, I think I could run it faster and, probably, with more running and less staggering.

Today has also felt quite special.  It’s my divorciversary – the first anniversary of getting my divorce.  I stopped last night with friends who I haven’t seen for a few years, and spent the day with them and their children, and had a wonderful, relaxed time catching up, discussing politics, playing in the park.  It wasn’t planned to coincide with the divorciversary and it wasn’t something we discussed much,except as part of catching up on the past two years, and I’m spending the evening cleaning out my guinea pigs: a lovely-but-normal child-free Saturday.  I’d had vague plans to go out to mark the anniversary but they never quite came together, and I’m glad.  Firstly, the guinea pigs had got quite stinky, and now they’re not.  But, more importantly, the divorce no longer seems significant enough to need any kind of celebration.  A year ago it was a significant event, the culmination of a process which shut the door on a painful experience, but the celebration of that is in living this new, good, normal life I have, every single day.

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Finishing what I started

I’ve just done my final training run before the Great Manchester Run this Sunday.  Because it would be illegal to go out running leaving a 3- and 5-year-old alone in the house, and because I like lie-ins, I’ve not managed to train as much as I had hoped.  But still, I’ve come to like running.  And here’s why:

  • All day after I’ve been out for a run my legs feel a bit more alive.  It’s as if they are saying “Hell yeah! I think we just did something!”
  • I like the feel of pushing myself mentally – there’s something good about making myself do a little bit better.  Often when I’m paying attention to what I’m doing, I find I’m going at a comfortable (a.k.a. ‘slow’) pace.  I tell myself to go a bit faster, and then I do it.  Then I feel like a champion.
  • It provides opportunities to spend hours mapping runs rather than actually running, giving a sense of productivity and achievement without any actual effort.
  • I’ve improved.  I’ll never be a great runner, but I’ve gone from staggering round a 2k run to (this morning) doing 5k, probably 85% running rather than walking for most of it. (Yes, yes, Sunday’s run is 10k and 5k is not 10k.  I know that.  I’m going to get half-way round the course and demand that someone brings me a cup of coffee).
  • I like the idea that if someone tries to attack me in the street, I’m probably fit enough to get away from them.  As long as they wait for me to put on my sports bra and are willing to slow down and walk every once in a while when I get tired.
  • As long as I finish the 10k, I’ll get a medal.  You can’t argue with a medal.

Quite a lot of people I know are doing the 10k on Sunday (and about 39,080 people I don’t know), so it’s nothing that special, but for me it is an achievement.  And it has a particular significance for me – I signed up for the Manchester 10k 6 years ago, raising money for Christian Aid, and then found out I was unexpectedly pregnant with Big Girl.  I pulled out because I didn’t want to put the pregnancy at risk, but as it was too early to tell people, said I was ill (and I was! I felt *so* ill!).  Six years later there’s been a lot of water under the bridge – two babies and a divorce – but I’m finally finishing what I started.

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Finding space for silence

It’s much harder to find time to be silent in between getting up, getting the girls up and getting to nursery and work on time, than it is when on retreat.  It’s hard to find the energy for silence in the evening between the chaos and stress of bedtime and the desire to be asleep, not forgetting to feed the guinea pigs and take all the poo out of their cage.  It’s hard to settle into silence with thoughts of a hundred things I need to do and arguments replaying in my head and emails to reply to and plans to make.  And the more often I give up on silence to do something more urgent, more achievable, the less rewarding it feels, the less I expect it to be beneficial, the harder it is to commit to doing it.

Until Sunday I’d had the girls non-stop for two weeks, including a weekend away with the Quakers which I helped to organise, and a six-and-a-half hours-each-way trip to visit my grandparents.  By Saturday we were all tired and grumpy.  Big Girl had been a bit poorly, and she and Small Girl were arguing.  Small Girl wanted constant attention and to be cuddled and picked up, which is fine except for when I am trying to make breakfast.  Or get dressed.  Or make a cup of coffee.  Any attempts to put her off for five minutes induced crying and clinging and attempts to climb up my body, all of which made me want to hide in the bathroom and lock the door, except that they know how to unlock the door from the outside. Sigh.

So, when things were a little calmer, I thought I would try to have a little bit of silence, hoping to find a sense of peace to get me through the rest of the day.  I went to my bedroom.  The girls followed.  I explained that I was having some peace and quiet, and they were welcome to stay, but they had to sit still and be quiet – I want them to learn to respect my needs like I respect theirs, and to see how I practise my faith.  Small Girl got into bed next to me.  She wanted to sit on my knee.  I explained that she could sit next to me but she had to be quiet.  She asked me to pretend she was a dog.  I explained that she needed to be quiet while I was having some peace and quiet. Big Girl got into bed too.  She pretended that Small Girl was a dog.  Neither were sitting quietly.  So I decided to abandon my bedroom, leaving them playing at sleeping dogs, and make a new plan.

I’ve really struggled to find somewhere which feels conducive to silence, even when the girls aren’t in the house.  My attic should be ideal, being a room the girls aren’t allowed in without me, and being a lovely room, but it feels isolated from the rest of the house.  In the lounge I feel likely to be observed by passers-by, which is distracting.  My kitchen is… well, between the piles of washing up and the crap on the kitchen table, it’s not a place I choose to be.  And my bedroom is about sleeping and getting up and putting away laundry, but not about sitting in peace.  However, as I crept away to hide from my girls I found an unexpected solution – their bedroom: it has a door which shuts and it’s remarkably comfortable due to the piles of soft toys, clothes and bedding on the floor.  And it has almost no associations for me – in my mental picture of the house it barely exists.  In my mind, it’s more like a big cupboard than a functioning room, where I put the girls away at night, and store their clothes, but not a room I spend any time in.  I tucked myself away, sat and found calm, and then returned to my girls and their chaos: I’m not sure they realised I’d been away.  I visited again yesterday, while the girls were at their dad’s house, and enjoyed the silence, shut away from the world and the rest of my life – my own space for retreat.

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Everything is awesome…

Something strange has happened recently. When people ask me how I find being a single parent, instead of being very clear that although it has its benefits, this is NOT WHAT I WOULD HAVE CHOSEN, or bursting into tears, or getting very cross at the suggestion that I might actually like being away from my children, I have started enthusing.  “It’s awesome!” I say. “I do miss them, obviously, but I really enjoy it.  It’s a great way to be a parent – when they’re with me I get to do things exactly how I want – no arguing or negotiating with the other parent about bedtimes or discipline, and if I want to let them come into my bed every night (which usually happens), I can.  And then, when they’re not with me, I can do what I want.  I don’t have to negotiate about what I’m doing, or who is looking after the children, and if I want to stay out all night, I can and no-one cares!” Obviously I miss my children.  Obviously.  Although by the time their dad picked them up on Friday morning, I was very keen for them to go and be somewhere else for a while, asking someone else for food and then not eating it, complaining that it isn’t fair, arguing, crying and demanding peacekeeping interventions, when all you want to do is go to the toilet.

I still think my children would prefer to see Mummy and Daddy every day, and live in a house with both of us, and I am regretful that none of us are having that experience.  But previously when a two-adult-household parent expressed the slightest suggestion that that there might be some good things about my parenting arrangements, I would have to hold myself back from physically attacking them while screaming “How dare you suggest that I might like this? How can you think I would want to be apart from my children? This is the worst thing that has ever happened to me!  Not just to me! This is the worst thing that has ever happened to anyone!”  Now, I’m more likely to say that yes, too right, they should be jealous of my awesome life.

I haven’t got to bed before midnight this weekend and I’m nursing a tiredness-hangover.  I’ve spent an afternoon and evening playing board games with friends, pretending to rampage around Europe raising an undead army as Dracula.  I’ve popped over to my best friend’s house, who lives about 90 miles away, to do some charity-shop shopping and have lunch.  I’ve been for a run, and been to a wedding, which I had to run out of, Cinderella-like, to catch the last bus home (but then was kindly given a lift and avoided turning into a pumpkin).  I had an unexpected visit from my parents and bought a new washing machine.

And now here I am, living the dream.  6.30 pm on a sunny Bank Holiday Monday, and I’m in my pyjamas on the sofa, preparing to watch Paddington on DVD, on my own.  My children are away and I am making the most of it.

Yes, fellow-parents, you should be jealous.

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Retreating and returning

By fortuitous coincidence, I had five child-free and work-free days at the start of this week.  (By ‘coincidence’, I mean that I booked the week off work for the half-term holiday and then arranged for Big Girl and Small Girl to stay with their dad for half the holiday).  Between work, single-parenting two lovely but demanding children, and the effects of my depression, it’s been quite challenging recently and I felt I needed a break.  So I’ve spent a couple of nights at Woodbrooke, a Quaker study centre in Bourneville, having a bit of a retreat.

I went to Woodbrooke about 18 months ago to go on a course for Quaker parents.  I’d expected it to be worthy and a bit lentilly, but the food was lovely, the grounds were gorgeous and it had a fantastic library with lots of interesting books.  I thought it could be a good place to head to for some space and a rest.  And I was right.

A lot of my time was spent in the Silent Room, a small room with a comfy sofa and a lovely view, reading, thinking, knitting and napping.  I wandered round the labyrinth in the garden, my mind wandering and creating metaphors for my life as I followed the path.  I went to the half-hour Quaker meeting each morning but failed to make the evening one as I was already in bed by 9.30 each evening.  I borrowed ‘Creating a Purposeful Life‘ by Richard Fox from the library and spent some time reflecting on how I’d like my life to look. In the Art Room I did some drawing.  I unpicked some questions I’ve had about God and found some new and interesting things to consider.  I ate delicious food and talked to interesting people.  What I most liked was feeling part of a Quaker community – feeling accepted and not quite a guest, not quite a visitor.  There was an open hospitality – cake at 4 pm, drinks and fruit available all the time, tea bags and little pots of milk near all the bedrooms, and the library open to all stopping there, with no concern that I might take advantage of this by stockpiling coffee or stealing books.  I was slightly tempted as I was about a third of the way through a novel when it was time to leave…

I’ve come home feeling that I have more inner resources (though how long they will last before my children deplete them by arguing with me and each other and threatening to ‘never be my best friend ever again’, I couldn’t say).  Practising silence at Woodbrooke will, I hope, make it easier to dip back into when I need to at home, like a swimmer lifting their head out of the water to breathe.  I’ve had time to think about who I am and what I would like my life to look like, and space for thoughts inside my head to unwind and rearrange themselves.

I’m glad to be home again (although after three days of not cooking for myself or anyone else I’d forgotten how to cook a meal so that everything was ready on time) and so pleased to see my girls again (there’s a thing, when they come back, where I just want to pick them up and hold them and put my face against theirs  and enjoy the sensation of having them physically close to me.  It wears off.  Quite quickly) and wondering: how long can this peace last?

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From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs…

I had a medication review this week for my anti-depressants. I’ve been struggling recently, feeling anxious and irritable and stressed at work and at home. And I’ve been so exhausted that I’ve been going to bed as early as possible, which takes over the time available to me for things like hanging up laundry and loading the dishwasher, which in turn makes my home life feel more pressured and me feel less competent and capable. In short, my life feels like an out-of-control disaster and I feel like a rubbish parent. But, as I explained to the doctor, work is quite stressful and I’m a single parent to two small children, so it is probably normal to feel under pressure. The GP suggested increasing the dose of anti-depressants and said that my life does sound quite challenging, and asked if I have support?

I do have very supportive friends and family. Big Girl and Small Girl go to their dad’s house regularly for two or three nights and I have almost no anxiety when they are with him. My parents will come and help if I need them, my sister babysits and talks to me about my children, and I have lots of friends who will help me in various ways if I ask. I feel very lucky. But I don’t feel that I have all the help I need. It’s quite hard to say this; it could seem that I’m being a bit needy, or criticising the amount of help my friends give me, or being passive-aggressive, or indirectly asking for help. But the reality is that I don’t have enough time to do all the things I need to do, evidenced by the state of my kitchen.

Sometimes I think I would like some ‘magic time’ – a couple of extra hours a day which no-one else has, between work and school, where I can get things done – do the laundry, tidy, sort, have a quiet cup of tea between the demands of customers and the demands of my children. There is a way to get this magic time – by buying other people’s time. I’d like someone to come in each day and empty the dishwasher and reload it, empty the washing machine and hang up the clothes to dry, put away the clean clothes, do any ironing, hoover and tidy. But I don’t want to spend money on it, or organise someone to come round, or deal with someone else being in my house.

There are lots of things I do ask for help with – things I don’t know how to do, or am not tall enough to do, or which require more than one person or a car or a different perspective or a sense of style. But it doesn’t seem fair to ask other people to give up their time to help me with other things, day-to-day things. I would be asking them to sacrifice their free time so that I could have more free time, and everyone has other things going on – children to look after, jobs, parents, their own DIY and housework.

One of the difficult things about being a single parent is having no-one to look after you and no-one to make sure your needs are met, or even recognised. This weekend, feeling incapacitated by my depression, I have started looking after myself. I realised, or decided, that my girls are now big enough to learn to have some respect for me and to put their needs second at times. This is not in the context of me being a selfish monster, but rather of having put my children’s needs ahead of mine almost constantly for five years. So today, after I had got their breakfast and they had eaten it, I told them I was going to eat my breakfast and drink my coffee and have some peace and quiet and read the newspaper. Small Girl wanted to be with me, and I told her she could, but that I was being quiet and not talking. And, mostly, I got some peace and quiet. They played with their toys and I explained that if they argued over toys I would take away whatever they were arguing about. Big Girl likes me to help her with almost everything. If she needed help or wanted to ask me something, she had to come to me. It was, largely, successful. It’s much easier at the weekend when we don’t have to go anywhere or do anything, but at least it’s a start.

I still believe that one day I will be domestically functional. One day my house will run as smoothly and easily as when Ex-Husband was here and doing all the housework. And every time I visit Ikea I know that if I can just find the right storage systems my home will be transformed. If only it were that simple…

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Finding strength

We Quakers – I like to say this now that I’ve been accepted into membership – worship in silence.  We sit, arranged in circular rows around a table with a vase of flowers on, and wait quietly.  We are waiting, together, for God, or the Light, or the Seed, or some kind of shared spirit of love (depending on how you think of God, or if you conceive of a literal deity at all) to speak to us.  When someone feels led to share something, they stand up and speak, and everyone listens, and then they sit down again and everyone reflects on it.  Good practice is that people do not respond directly to what has been said, and that people only usually speak once during a meeting, and it is always supposed to be something you feel ‘led’ to share rather than a nice idea you’ve had, or an interesting story you think people would like to hear. ‘Quakers’ got their name because, back in the 17th century, they would often feel so strongly pushed by the spirit of God to speak that they would be visibly shaking.  And even now, while some people seem calm and confident when they speak, others are clearly speaking because they feel they must, and as they come to the end of what they have felt urged to say, there is a sense of winding down, of coming to the end, almost abruptly, of the words they have been given.

Today I spoke in meeting for the first time.  In the silence I was reflecting, and suddenly felt that perhaps I would share something.  There was a nervous, sick feeling in my stomach and some sense of inevitability – not that I was compelled against my will to stand up, but that it was what would happen.  Despite feeling apprehensive, I realised that the very worst outcome would be me giving a rather dull description of the state of my life at this time.  I looked round to see if anyone else was going to stand.  I counted to five.  I looked round again.  And I stood.

My current state-of-life is one of pressure and overcrowding.  I feel sometimes, when I’m with my children, as if I’m being nibbled away by tiny crabs.  Their demands, and my anxiety about whether I am meeting their needs, can be exhausting.  Work is draining because I deal with people who experience domestic abuse and who think about suicide and who are stuck in unenviable situations, sometimes of their own making but often not, and people who ask me to help them when I don’t always have the resources or influence to do so.  And dealing with colleagues and establishing who should be resolving problems can be very challenging.  And then my house is full of toys and mess and books I probably will never read again, and baby items I hope not to need again, and clutter and chaos.

Since starting to attend Quaker meetings I have been drawn to the idea of simplicity – something I long for with the hunger of someone who knows they are unlikely to ever find the thing they seek.  I want it more *because* it is so alien to me.  I am trying to let go of all the things which fill my life and hold me back and weigh me down in order to make space to grow into, to do the things I want to do.  I am relinquishing responsibilities that are not right for me, and which often fail to fulfill anyway.  I am trying to let go of the inaccurate ideas I hold about myself so that I can live as myself rather than as someone I’m not.  And I’m trying to clear out some of the things I no longer use so that they can be used by someone else rather than being wasted in my house.  It feels like stealing, morally rather than legally, to keep something for myself which I don’t need or want, when someone else could be getting use or pleasure from it. So I’ve given my film SLR camera, which was a very special birthday present from my parents but hasn’t been used for at least ten years, to my brother’s girlfriend and now, rather than feeling guilty about not using it, I am enjoying imagining how much she will use it.  And some other things I was unsure what to do with because of their emotional link to Ex-Husband – well, my Warhammer models have been given to a friend’s teenage son, who tried to convince his friends that Warhammer was not completely uncool by virtue of the fact that I had played it.  This may be one of the best, if seriously misguided, compliments I have ever received.  And I sold the Magic cards back to Ex-Husband.  This was a bit weird, because he had originally bought them from a friend to give to me, back when we first started going out.  So essentially he has paid for them twice.  And it was a strange to be carrying out a financial transaction with him.  But I think someone might as well be using them, and he might as well be happy, and it’s an investment in us having a positive relationship even if I could have got more money selling them on ebay.

After I shared this, I sat down and reflected on the experience.  There was no bolt of lightening, no dove descending from heaven to land on my head, no feeling of euphoria.  But I felt glad to have spoken, because it will always be easier to do it again.  And after a while someone else stood up to speak, picking up the theme of simplicity, sharing his own reflections and the quote that “a simple life, freely chosen, can be a source of strength”.  It spoke to me, and felt like confirmation that I had been led to speak.  And afterwards other people came and talked to me about their experiences and their struggles to live more simply, and I felt drawn further into this community of people moving together towards the life they feel called to.

We Quakers – it’s how we roll.

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Because I didn’t have enough to do already…

I was never sure guinea pigs would be a good idea.  And when they first arrived home, it seemed that they really weren’t.  They hated being picked up, and ran away every time I tried.  And when Small Girl tried to hold hers, she cried and said he had bitten her.  But slowly, with lots of advice from friends, they are getting used to us, and we are getting used to them.  And I’ve decided I quite like owning guinea pigs.

Lucy

Lucy

Firstly, it satisfies my need to do things in the most complicated way possible.  I like to research my plans on the internet.  And whatever pet you choose, there is always someone out who will tell you that the conventional way of doing things is not good enough.  I like to feel sure that I’m doing the very best I can at all times.  So, rather than buying a cage from a pet shop, I have made my own monster C&C cage which takes up a considerable amount of floor space.  On the one hand, this did take quite a lot of effort and anxiety and, as I am not particularly skilled at, well, most things, I’m not sure how long it will last.  On the other hand, being 150 cm by 70 cm, my guinea pigs have lots of room, and it only cost about £25 to make.  And because woodshavings contain dust which can irritate some poor piggies’ chests, I’m trying every single type of bedding available.  Just to be safe.  This is satisfying my inner geek considerably, and using up bits of spare brain energy which might otherwise be busy worrying unproductively about whether my children are eating enough vegetables and the state of the ice caps.

Secondly, they make my children happy.  Big Girl has Lucy, a chocolate-coloured guinea pig who is technically male, but we pretend is female because (a) Big Girl still prefers girls and if she absolutely couldn’t have a rabbit then she definitely wanted a female guinea pig, and (b) I couldn’t tolerate the cognitive dissonance of calling it Lucy but referring to it as ‘he’.  Small Girl has Nemo, who we can all agree is male.  Small Girl runs into the kitchen excitedly to tell me which guinea pig she has just seen and what they were doing.  They are learning to be patient, and to consider the guinea pigs’ needs, and to take care of them.  And every evening when we take them out of their cage to be cuddled, I get to have a calm conversation with each of my children while they are settled quietly stroking their pets.  Already it is becoming a special part of my day.

Nemo

Nemo

But the main thing I love about having guinea pigs is the experience of being responsible for something so undemanding, with such low stakes.  I like watching my pigs eating vegetables and seeing what they enjoy, but if they don’t eat it, I don’t get anxious about their diet.  I make sure they get cuddled but I don’t worry about whether they are going to be emotionally damaged by the way I look after them.  Although I’m still having anxiety dreams about them getting out of their cage and running round my bedroom, this is unlikely to happen, and it really wouldn’t be the end of the world if it did.  They don’t ask for snacks five minutes before dinner.  And if they did, I’d just say no, and they (probably) wouldn’t cry about it.  Instead of spending hours putting them to bed while I also need to be getting their school uniforms ready, loading the dishwasher and hanging up laundry, and feeling anxious about whether I should be helping them to learn to go to sleep by themselves, and feeling frustrated that they just won’t stay in bed, I put the lid on their cage, and it’s done.  I do not worry about whether they are fulfilling their potential and whether I am doing everything I can to make this happen (short answer: no, I am checking Facebook and watching West Wing).  Sometimes they poo on the floor and this is normal and to be expected rather than something I need to help them to stop doing.  I don’t need to encourage them to be kind to each other if they fall out, and they never tell me that it isn’t fair.  I don’t worry about whether they feel loved enough, or about how they behave when we’re in public, or deal with tantrums, or try to make sure they get enough exercise.  If I want to cuddle them, I do, and when I’ve finished I stop, and there’s no arguing about it.  The worst thing that will happen is that, at some point, they will die.  I’ll do my best to make sure it isn’t for quite a while, but we’ll all get over it.  Compared to the impact my choices have on my children now and into the future, and to some of the stress I experience at work, guinea pigs are bliss.

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Three new things for 2015

Apparently December doesn’t exist for this blog.  December belonged to the land of fifth birthdays and fifth birthday parties and Christmas, and a rigorous timetable to achieve everything I needed to (almost) without hysterical crying in the toilets at work.

So here in we are in 2015 with three new developments:

1. Bunk Beds: Big Girl has been asking for bunk beds for quite a while, possibly since she first learnt of their existence, and also growing.  As she was starting to reach the point where she was too big for her cot-bed (she couldn’t fit all her cuddly toys in with her, at any rate), and as the girls’ room is too small for two proper beds, bunk beds seemed the only solution.  My sister gave them both a new single duvet set in preparation, so I was committed.

After some discussion on Facebook, my favourite form of procrastination when I want a decision to be made but am not quite ready to make one, it transpired that a friend had bunk beds she wanted to sell, and was willing to deliver them and help me put them up.  So I found myself last night trying to get Big Girl and Small Girl to sleep in bunk beds.

Big Girl, of course, wanted the top bunk.  Until she was actually in it, and then she wanted the bottom bunk.  Small Girl wanted to sleep in the top bunk, but she is too young.  There was quite a lot of excitement, and then quite a lot of crying, but eventually they were both asleep.  Tonight, again, there was a lot of crying, and about 20 minutes of repeatedly putting Small Girl back into her bed while she tried to leap out to look for treasure, until she got hurt and required a plaster, and eventually, eventually, she settled down and went to sleep.

Currently bunk beds feel like a regrettable necessity.  But they’ve also changed our bedtime routine.  Instead of having a story and drink downstairs and putting pyjamas on downstairs and then going upstairs and chasing round and cleaning teeth, and then settling Small Girl while Big Girl plays in my room, and then settling Big Girl, we do pyjamas and wees and teeth-cleaning upstairs, and *then* a story each in bed, and then I settle Small Girl while Big Girl sits on her bed being shushes, and then I go up and give Big Girl a cuddle.  It feels faster and more efficient and better-controlled.  And yes, currently about two hours of nightmare bedtime ensures, but once they settle into the new routine, I can imagine improvements.  Yes, just like I imagined the novelty of bunk beds would mean they would both lie down and go to sleep.

2. Guinea pigs.  Big Girl would like a rabbit.  So when someone at work was trying to interest colleagues in adopting some very cute baby bunnies, I did consider it quite seriously.  I consulted Facebook as always, and was told in no uncertain terms that rabbits were a lot of work, needed a lot of space and would probably destroy my house.  In addition, they are not great for small children as they are too big to hold.  Ah, but guinea pigs! Guinea pigs are lovely! And ideal for children! Big Girl and Small Girl know people with guinea pigs, and really like them.  I decided that we would get guinea pigs.  I told the girls that we would get guinea pigs, but not until after Christmas, and only when Small Girl stopped pooing and weeing in her knickers and on the floor, as there is a limit to the clearing-up that I’m willing to do.

It’s now after Christmas and Small Girl has (hallelujah!) pretty much got the hang of using the toilet, albeit reluctantly.  We took a trip to Tameside Rabbit and Guinea Pig Rescue with my friend Jo.  I wanted the girls to choose.  This is, probably, a mistake.  They would probably have been quite happy to come home to two cute little cavies, ready to give them names.  Instead they were faced with an overwhelming selection of animals who quickly all blurred into one.  Big Girl is about as good at making decisions as I am.  So they tried to choose two guinea pigs which had already been reserved for someone else, and then settled on the last two that we had looked at.  We’re now getting a hutch and all the essentials sorted, and I’ll collect them on Saturday while the girls are at their dad’s house, to let them settle in in peace and quiet.  I’m looking forward to our new arrivals, but wondering quite what I’ve let myself in for.

3. Three-and-a-half.  This isn’t technically new, because Big Girl was also three-and-a-half, about 18 months ago, but seriously, what is this all about? I love the toddler years, the ‘terrible twos’ (despite all the evidence to the contrary on this blog) – toddlers are funny and fascinating.  But Small Girl has suddenly turned into a monster.  Still cute, but a monster.  She says ‘no’ to everything.  She repeats what I say. I ask her to do something and she tells me to do it.  She screams if she doesn’t like something.  She snatches from Big Girl, and hits her (often with provocation, I would add in her defence).  And every time we go in a shop she wants *everything* she sees, even if she doesn’t know what it is, and whines.  I’m not sure where this has come from, but I’m hoping it’s a phase she’ll grow out of.  She’s lovely and funny and she and Big Girl are very kind to each other, and we have a lot of fun.  But, well, three-and-a-half…

Happy new year? I hope so!

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