Sunday, July 31, 2005

House music

When my current employers first informed me that I'd been successful at interview and the job would be mine, Barry and I promptly arranged to head off to the area in question for some house-hunting. We were in the best possible position for would-be buyers - having sold our house the previous year, we had no chain and a huge amount of ready cash, plus my upcoming steady job and salary slip. And, without too much ado, we found the house of our dreams. Unfortunately, the people who currently own it are aiming to break the world record for World's Slowest People At Completing A House Sale. Everybody needs an ambition in life, I suppose.

So, why has it taken them over three months to make, um, precisely no progress at all in finding somewhere to move into? Because they're looking for a good-quality house built within the last three years. Since these two conditions are almost completely mutually exclusive, they've already narrowed their options almost to zero. Unfortunately, three fruitless months have completely failed to get it through to them that good-quality houses just aren't being built any more, and they'd actually do a hell of a lot better to look for stuff built, say, ten years or more ago. Not only that, but until a few weeks back the husband couldn't even decide whether to stay with his current job or go for the new one, some distance away from the first, that was headhunting him, so for the couple of months it took him to dither over this they were limited to looking at houses that were a potentially commutable distance from either job. And, no, they can't rent. Because last year, despite knowing that they wanted to move in the imminent future (the husband's job is several hours drive away from where he lives, and he's currently spending half his day commuting), they took on a mortgage that they can't get out of for two years without paying a huge penalty clause. They can transfer it, but they can't pause it while they go into rented accommodation. So renting is out. Which is a handy excuse, since they don't really want to rent. They want us to rent, so that they can find a house in their own time, at their own convenience, and move into it and sell theirs without any awkward hassle.

As Barry points out, it's just as well we weren't in a chain. Our sale would have long since fallen through, and we'd be bloody furious by now.

Anyway, we were strung along for week after week after week after sodding week of this, with promises that the R's were looking at lots of places, they were really trying hard, they just weren't finding anything suitable. I'm sure all of that is true - unfortunately, they seemed incapable of getting the idea that they needed to alter their expectations. By the time we faced the fact that they weren't going to get their act together in time, it was far too late for us to find another house to buy before the date I had to start work, and we ended up in a panicky last-minute dash to get a rental sorted out in time. It's just as well we got this one, or we'd have been seriously stuck.

So, Barry gave the R's a deadline of the end of July, and we started house-hunting again.

Last weekend, we saw a place that, with a fair bit of work, could end up being just what we wanted - and since the price is considerably lower than the one we were originally going for, and since we're now paying for this rented house until late December regardless of what happens, we'd be in an excellent position to arrange the work. So that's a possible option, although Barry is not at all keen on the hassle of trying to organise the work, and I can't really say I blame him. But this Saturday, we found the ideal place - same road as the one we're currently trying to buy, but even closer to the various amenities, and with a much better garden. What's more, I actually prefer this one - the bedrooms are closer together, which is going to be a damn sight more convenient for the years of getting up for child-related stuff that lie depressingly lurking in my immediate future. Barry still has a slight preference for the original house, but he'd be happy to take this one.

So, the ball is now in the Rs' court (I'm still trying to work out how to do the apostrophe for that one. Suggestions?). If we hear back from them before the end of July (which would be, ahem, today) with a definite commitment to a moving date, then the deal's still on. Reluctantly, on my part, but what the hell - we made a promise. If not, then on Monday Barry gets in touch with the estate agents for the house we saw yesterday and starts discussing offers.

Talking of strive

The other day, I got one of those "You Too Can Build A Better Child Through Weekly Get-Togethers" leaflets through the door. This one was for Tumbletots. Amidst all the usual blah about how it would develop his physical development and language skills (sure it will - so will pulling himself up on the coffee table to cries of "Well, look what a big boy you are, standing up like that!", and that doesn't cost £4.50 a session), it pointed out that this was also a good way to meet other parents.

Seemed worth checking out. While I'm really not that good with the whole social life thing, I do, now and again, have a hankering towards meeting some people on a more close-up-and-personal basis than words appearing on my computer screen, and it would be interesting to meet some other parents and see what's going on in Parenthoodworld these days. So, recently, I've been looking into the possibility of doing the conventional middle-class thing and signing up for some sort of regular child-related activity.

I got quite excited when I checked the on-line listings for UK La Leche League groups and discovered there's one listed right here in the town I live in. I figured either I'd go along and discover a group of wonderful, like-minded women who would become bosom friends (pun not initially intended, but it was so good I left it in), or I'd go along and discover the kind of ghastly breastfeeding Nazis that people complain about, who spent their time plotting up new ways to make formula-feeding mothers feel guilty and inferior, and I would have tremendous satisfaction cutting them down to size with Very Polite Irony (I want to be Albus Dumbledore when I grow up). Either way, it was bound to be fun, and well worth trying out. What actually happened, alas, was that I e-mailed them several weeks back to ask for the details, and never heard a darned thing in return. There is a number I could ring to find out more, but it seems to be the national helpline number, and my concern is that I might ring at the precise moment that some desperate, exhausted mother with smarting nipples and a screaming baby is trying to get through for some badly-needed advice and when she can't manage it due to me tying up the line she will dissolve into a sobbing heap and send the nearest person running for the formula. So, I've been avoiding phoning them. Maybe I should e-mail them again, but I've got a feeling that, unfortunately, the rumoured local group will never come to anything more than a rumour.

I've had more luck checking out the details of babysigning classes, since they actually post details of the times and places of their meetings on line. And, yes, to my delight, there is a group within a half-hour's drive from here on my weekly day off. I haven't yet had a chance to get to it, since so far there always seems to have been something else I've needed to spend that day doing (recovering from the move, taking Jamie to the GP about his squint, taking the car to be serviced, and spending the day with the visiting in-laws, respectively), but I definitely mean to go this week.

However, the Tumbletots leaflet provided me with a possible alternative, as they also have a local class on the appropriate day. While it sounded less interesting and less useful (Jamie's physical development and language skills are likely to develop just fine without needing any teaching, but the same isn't true of sign language, and that would be a cool thing to know), it still sounded worth checking out, and does have the advantage of being closer. Besides, let's face it, I suspect I'm overestimating the amount of sign language Jamie's likely to learn from the Tinytalk classes - yes, he'll probably learn such currently crucial terms as 'milk' and 'biscuit', and the lyrics to the odd nursery rhyme, but I doubt if he's actually going to learn enough of the language to be useful to him in the long run.

So, I checked out the Tumbletots website to see what they had to say. Tumbletots, apparently, is 'the springboard to developing children's skills for life', and 'instils in them, a healthy and active lifestyle and the confidence, to reach their maximum potential' (though not, apparently, appropriate usage of the comma). I was also assured that 'Child psychologists and educators agree that a structured program in movement should be a part of every child's education.' Sadly, I think that one is most likely true - there probably are child psychologists and educators out there who agree on that sort of rubbish, though I think it's less likely that any of them could, if pressed, come up with a satisfactory answer to the question of precisely what dire fate awaits those children so poor and underprivileged they don't have a structured program in movement to call their own. They did have a 'Click here to see what the experts have to say' link, which I clicked on, intrigued. What they have to say, apparently, is that National Tumbletots Day is on 11th September and is being celebrated by a 'funtastic' day at Legoland. Well, either that or somebody hooked up the wrong link on the webpage.

Anyway, I waded through all this and found the bit about dates, times, and places, only to discover that Tumbletots shut down a week ago for the summer holidays. So why anyone was choosing this time to push leaflets about it through people's doors is anyone's guess. Oh, well - I shall probably check it out when it reopens. Meanwhile, Tinytalk awaits.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

In which I write the post that should really have gone with the last title

The last post was getting so enormously long and unwieldy that I went ahead and posted it, which meant that I didn't get a chance to cover one of the most interesting points raised by the article. Namely: if your style of mothering was a Greek letter, which letter would it be?

Thought-provoking stuff. I rapidly rejected the idea of just going for 'Omega'. Too obvious, and I don't want to define myself solely by not being Isabel Kallman. I see that one blogger has gone for 'Zeta', which has a ring to it, but I wanted something with meaning.

At first, I thought I'd go for 'Pi', which came to mind because I'd just been doing the Geek Test. It's a number as well as a letter, it's geeky, it's got character. And if you just add an 'e', it becomes a tasty carbohydrate source.

Then I toyed with the idea of 'Sigma'. If my vague and scattered memories of Maths A-level are correct, this means 'sum of', which is fairly appropriate for my parenting philosophy - I believe that whatever effect your parenting has on your child will come from the overall sum of your parenting, rather than from the one day where you feel you really screwed up or that one thing you did that other people disapprove of. (Hence my scepticism about the claim that sleep training necessarily teaches your child that he's alone in a hostile world and Mummy won't come and get him when he cries; I can't help feeling that if, say, your child's experience of life is of loving attention during most of his waking hours and of fifteen minutes of crying in a cot, it's a bit of a stretch to think that he's going to base his conclusions about life solely on that fifteen minutes and not on the other 23 hours, 45 minutes of the day. What he'll probably learn is that Mummy will usually come and get him, but, now and again, in certain uncomfortable but non-life-threatening situations, he's going to have to deal with it himself. Which doesn't strike me as something likely to warp him for life.)

However, after due consideration, I now think I'll go for Delta. If I remember correctly (my geography was one heck of a lot worse than my maths), a delta is a large fertile area. That sounds pleasantly positive. It's also an airline, so it has associations with travel, broadening the horizons, and just generally getting away. And it has the advantage that if any mothers hate me or my child so much that they don't want their children to go near us, they can play recorded voices under their pillow during their sleep saying "Oh, no, I don't want to play with Delta children." (Hooray! For years I've wanted to find a way to use that quote in conversation. My work here is done.)

So, unless anyone has a better suggestion, Delta Mummy it is.

Motherhood by the Greek alphabet

I found this interesting link on Julie's blog.

I wasn't sure whether it was real or a satire - it sounds like the plot of a badly written film. Plenty of stuff written about parenting these days implies that there's some sort of goal of Perfect Motherhood out there for which we should be aiming, and plenty of other stuff deplores this attitude (and some stuff even manages to do both simultaneously, but that's by-the-by). But I've never previously read anything that flat-out in-your-face states that perfect motherhood is a desirable and achievable aim, and, by god, did it sound like a satire, from one of the this-is-the-hell-that-the-world-of-parenting-is-heading-towards-so-tremble-in-your-boots brigade. However, this doesn't seem to be a satirical journal, so, no matter how much this woman might sound like an anthropomorphic personification of a stereotype, it looks as though she's actually for real. Bloody hell.

As you can hopefully deduce from my blog title and rather garbled summary (I keep meaning to rewrite it so that it actually sounds a bit more coherent), my attitude towards parenting is pretty much the antithesis of this mother's. The extent to which we're on different pages here is nicely summarised in my reaction to her business partner's quote on the subject of the whole striving-for-perfection issue: 'If not to become strong, for what should a modern mother strive? “Soft and mushy mom?”' The possibility of not actually striving for anything seems to be a concept beyond her ken.

As for me, my parenthood style just isn't really about the striving. Admittedly, I've had my strivey moments - there was the whole tongue tie saga and the subsequent breastfeeding problems, which meant I really had to strive to make the breastfeeding work. So, for that one, I strived. Um, strove. And I do feel that that was worth it. But, on the whole, when it comes to motherhood, I just don't do strive. My mothering is a strive-free zone. That is how far apart I am from this woman.

Reading the article, I realised I was having two rather contradictory reactions - "Why do people make so much fuss about how to mother when their kids are likely to turn out fine pretty much whatever they do?" and "How the hell can she get it so wrong?" My firm belief that most children can deal perfectly well with a range of almost any form of childrearing without suffering permanent damage was sorely tested by this article, and, yes, my initial reaction was that this poor child was being Damaged For Life. I still think that that possibility is fairly high on the cards, because I don't think it's healthy to grow up being the litmus paper for your parent's sense of achievement. Still, after further thought, I have had to conclude that this boy's future breakdown and disintegration aren't actually the given that I at first thought they were. This child has a mother who genuinely loves him and lets him know it, even if it is in a rather scary manic back-away-closer kind of way; a father who seems to have the calm instinctive approach to parenting that's just what his mother lacks; and a village, albeit a hired one, watching out for him and helping out. I suspect he's actually in with a reasonable shot at doing OK.

The other thing that initially really concerned me about her method of bringing him up was that she seemed to be raising New York's answer to Verruca Salt. On further thought, I've realised that this may not be the case. The acerbic comments I planned to make about how odd it was that her extensive reading on the subject of parenthood had somehow missed any half-decent text on basic issues of toddler discipline dissolved into a realisation that, actually, yes, that was odd, and it was actually less odd, when I thought about it, that a journalist might have simply got something wrong. The paragraph about Isabel giving Ryland everything he wants to make him happy comes right after a paragraph about her seeing limit-setting as one of the crucial parts of parenthood, and one that she feels she gets right 80 - 90% of the time. Which is probably better than a lot of us poor saps manage. So, maybe the things she's described as giving in on are things that she genuinely feels don't matter very much (the occasional cookie is not going to doom the child, and so what if he wants to take his shoes off in the car?) and the idea that she's giving in on absolutely everything is either a genuine misunderstanding or a deliberate misrepresentation on the part of the author of this article. So, one "She's putting too much pressure on that child" on rye, hold the "She's spoiling him rotten".

My main reaction, though, was that I didn't know whether I felt more sorry for the child or his mother. Having thought about that one again, I decided it was, in fact, reasonably obvious that it should be the child. He has rather less say about any of what's going on, and he is not currently making programmes that, however well-meant (and, yes, I do believe they're well-meant), are destined to send countless mothers spiralling into gloom and despondency.

But while Ryland wins out in the sympathy stakes, Isabel does come in a close second. This is obviously a desperately insecure woman. She doesn't ever seem to have learnt how to rely on herself for validation. What invisible, faceless Parenting Authority does she fear is going to come along and grade her, on what scale? She is constantly trying to measure up to some nonexistent benchmark, because she simply doesn't know how to say "We're all happy with this way of doing things, so sod whether it scores appropriately on the GoodMommyommeter."

If this child's life does indeed go seriously wrong in any of the clichéd and expected ways, then she will not only be devastated in the way that any of us would be devastated to have a child go off the rails. She will also lose a huge chunk of her soul, her identity, because it's so tied up in her achievements, and Ryland is one of those achievements. She will, in her own eyes, be a Failure and a Bad Mommy from that point on.

It's slightly disturbing how many of the commenters on Julie's blog seem positively to relish this thought. A minority of them also sympathised with her, but the prevailing reaction seemed to be that of dieters offered calorie-free chocolate. Hooray! We get to have all the fun of being judgemental about another mother! Even though that's normally a Really Bad Thing, it's quite all right in this case, because the bitch deserves it! Just as she deserves the devastation that will fall on her family, because it's All Her Fault! It's a witch! Burn her! Burn her! Burn her!!

I'm being hypocritical. I love a good judgementing as much as the next self-righteous bitch. I just didn't feel moved to take that line in this case. Which got me thinking about why my reaction differed from that of so many others.

I think most of it comes down to that darned Perfect Mother channel she's trying to set up (or whatever the hell she's calling it). I totally agree that this is a terrible, ghastly idea that is going to do considerably more harm than good, but somehow I don't see it as what Grrrl labeled a 'mommy drive-by'. Which led to a whole new and interesting train of thought - what is so totally obnoxious about mommy drive-bys? Why, the implication of "You are doing a Bad Job of parenting your child, and need my sage counsel in order to do a Good Job". And I think that's the message a lot of people are getting from the existence of Isabel's parenting channel.

Except that I somehow didn't hear it that way. I don't think that Isabel actually is judging her target audience and concluding that, in the absence of her needed input, they are doing a Bad Job. I doubt if she has enough mental energy left over from her own dread of doing a Bad Job herself, and her efforts to do a Good Job, to have much of an opinion about what all those other mothers out there are doing.

What I think is that her mental picture of her audience is of women who are going through exactly what she went through - passionate desire to Do It Right, panicky terror that they're not managing that, and a desperate need for some support. Which is, in fact, completely realistic. If anything, it's laudable that she wants to help.

Her fatal error, of course, is her belief that what these women most need is someone to come along and tell them how to Do It Right. When, in fact, what they most need (apart from sleep) is to a) realise that there just isn't a Right, and b) find their way to whatever parenting style works for them, their children, and anyone else in the immediate family without actually having dire long-term consequences. It's Isabel's tragedy that this is a concept that she just can't get. And it's the misfortune of New York's mothers that she is, with the best of intentions, rushing in with a solution to the problem that is, in fact, set to perpetuate it.

And yet, as convinced as I am that this channel is a disaster in the making, I can't find it in myself to be angry with her rather than sorry for her. She genuinely is trying to help other women out, by supplying them with what she really felt she needed at her time of crisis. (Which is, of course, why the Golden Rule is a frighteningly dangerous idea.) Given the amount of harm done throughout history by people rushing in with that attitude, I'm not even sure why I don't feel as disgusted by her as the people on Julie's blog. But, right now, I just can't stop myself from thinking - if people who get it wrong with the best of intentions can't be cut a little slack, then heaven help the lot of us.

Friday, July 22, 2005

The naming of wives

A few weeks ago, Amber wrote a blog entry about her reasons for keeping her maiden name when she got married, and invited other married women to explain why they'd made whatever decision they'd made on the issue. There seemed to be a good blog entry here, and I've been meaning to get round to writing it, and here it is.

My feelings? I firmly believe that it's outdated and sexist to expect a woman to change her name just because she gets married. Personally, I would have been outraged at any attempt to force me to do so. I'm fortunate enough, however, to live in a society where this viewpoint is generally accepted, and nobody would have dreamed of trying to make me do any such thing. So it was completely my choice to change my name, and I did so.

This decision probably surprised quite a few people - I believe money changed hands between members of my immediate family over the issue of what decision I'd make. But it was something I'd thought about and was quite clear on, and have never regretted. These are my reasons.

It was a decision I made, really, when I was working in paediatrics as part of my training, when I found myself getting to know women in labour who had one name, then taking care of babies born to them who had a different surname. It seemed a little.... disjointed. It didn't bother me that the women I met did things that way, but it did make me realise that it wasn't how I wanted to do things. It made me think about what it would be like to spend years of parent-teacher evenings explaining to the teacher that, yes, I was Jamie V's mother even though my name was Dr W.

And what would it be like? Well, a pretty minor nuisance as such things go. I couldn't imagine any teacher in this day and age raising an eyebrow about it, and wouldn't have cared if anyone had. The point was, it bothered me. I realised that I wanted us all - me, the man I married, and our future children - to have the same surname. Marriage was the start of the new family we were creating. Having the same name was my way of showing the world that this was the case.

Of course, that didn't mean that it had to be me who changed my name. However, the other available options were distinctly unfeasible.

Double-barrelled name? Struck me as an effective way of getting the worst of all possible worlds. For one thing, both my maiden name and his name are difficult to spell anyway. Subjecting myself to a lifetime of having to spell them both out was not on the cards. For another, unless my children wanted to end up with triple or quadruple-barrelled names, somebody was eventually going to have to make the decision to drop something. It seemed better to me just to tidy things up properly at the start and leave the name in a fit state for usage by others.

And, for a third, it would singularly fail to solve anything. Not only would I still be subject to all the hassle of a name change, but my husband would be subjected to it all as well. Even if he had been prepared to agree to that (which he wouldn't have been), I wouldn't have put him through it. Why on earth would I have wanted to? Just to make the situation superficially more equal? That's the sort of muddled thinking that Jerome K. Jerome satirised in his story about limbs being cut off larger people in order to make them more equal to smaller people. Seeing equality as some kind of be-all-and-end-all rather distracts the focus, in my opinion, from realising that the whole point of equality is to equalise out the good things. Trying to ensure that my husband underwent the same amount of inconvenience as me in the name of equality struck me as a major perversion of the whole idea.

That latter disadvantage also applied to the possibility of combining both our surnames to form a new one. Besides, as it happens, we had surnames that simply didn't go together well to form anything that anyone would ever want to spend the rest of their life being called.

One possible other option that I had, and one that a lot of female doctors use, was to change my name for personal use and keep my maiden name for professional use - Dr W. at work, Mrs V. at home. Thinking about this option made me realise that, while I did have a certain amount of attachment to my surname and felt a pang at the thought of giving it up, I actually had a much stronger attachment to my title. My surname wasn't a fundamental part of my identity, just something I was used to having around - but my title, my label of 'Doctor', was a fundamental part of my identity. When it came to the point, I preferred the idea of giving up my surname completely to the idea of giving up my title part of the time. I just didn't want to be a Mrs.

Besides, it struck me as more confusion than I wanted to put myself through. I preferred the idea of just going through one huge lump of hassle right at the start getting my name changed all the way across the board, and then spending the rest of my life knowing what the hell I was called.

So, the only options I was OK with were for me to change my name to his, or for him to change his name to mine. I'd have been perfectly happy with either. Barry wouldn't. The options he was OK with were for me to change my name to his, or for us both to keep our own names, and he was perfectly happy with either. So the solution to that one was pretty obvious. Besides, although neither of the two names was a great option (after living with my maiden name for thirty-three years, couldn't I for crying out loud have got one that wasn't off at the tail end of the alphabet and was easy for other people to spell? I earned that, dammit), it was fair to say that his was the better option of the two. (Some of the people in the comments section on Amber's blog who also gave this as a reason seemed quite embarrassed about it, saying that they knew it was a pretty superficial reason. I don't get that at all - after all, your name is a pretty important part of your life. What's so superficial about wanting to have one you like, given the choice?)

So I changed my name. And while I did, as I've said, feel a deep pang of nostalgia about it, I didn't, as I've also said, feel that I was losing part of my identity. My identity is quite secure, thankyouverymuch, and, while it depends on all sorts of things, my surname is not one of them. The staff and patients at my job got used to it more quickly than I'd have believed possible, and I got used to it more quickly than I'd have believed possible.

And, although it was a fair bit of hassle having to send off marriage certificate copies left, right, and centre to everybody I could think of (almost two years later, I've only just got round to changing the last of the official records), I've also got to say that there were things I rather liked about changing it. For one thing, I liked the idea of having a new name to represent a new phase in my life - it was like some kind of tribal ritual, or like the Ursula Le Guin book whose name is currently escaping me in which everyone changes their name in early adulthood and then again in old age to reflect wherever they're at in their lives at the time. For another, I have to admit to getting a kick out of the very fact that it wasn't really the expected thing to do. I've lived my life to a general theme of "One of these things is not like the other one.....", and I don't like fitting neatly into an expected box. I'd rather strike out across categories, defy labelling, confound people's expectations. Otherwise, it just gets boring. And, for a third thing, it did mean that I got at least something of an upgrade in my quality of name.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Shakes rattles and rolls

Jamie is eight months old today, so here's the post I've been planning to make about him. So, if boring/gushy parental posts aren't your cup of tea, now is the time to go and read somebody else's blog entry for the day instead.

I thought of this title for a post about Jamie's development back when this blog was just a twinkle in my eye, and it was too good to waste, but it's way out of date - he mastered both those skills months ago. Now, he crawls on his belly like a reptile, as well. (Which nearly became the title, but I decided it wasn't quite as good.) He isn't wobbly any more when he's sitting up, and he's pulled himself up to standing a few times, and even took a step sideways at one point while he was holding onto the sofa. All of which is making it much easier for him to get hold of suitably dangerous/important things he can shove in his mouth. (On which subject - why is it that babies react to unfamiliar objects by trying to eat them? It really doesn't strike me as an evolutionarily optimised survival strategy.)

He also yells 'Ning ning ning' a lot, which makes him sound like a related order to the Knights That Say Ni. Come to think of it, most of what he says is just about as comprehensible and reproducible as whatever it was they said after they moved on from saying Ni. Before I had a baby, I thought of baby talk as being a less developed version of adult talk (well, without all the syntax and meaning and stuff, obviously - I'm talking purely about the kinds of sounds they make). So it came as quite a revelation to me to realise that it's an entire separate set of sounds in its own right. It's an amazing set of trills and aspirates and hints of consonants and gurgly shrieks that my adult larynx can't reproduce any more than he can reproduce my sounds. He does come out with the occasional transcribable sound like 'Harrooooo!' and 'Hab-a-bu!' and now 'Ning ning ning ning ning', but mostly he comes out with sounds you would need a completely new alphabet to record.

He loves lights. He has to be prevented from burning his eyes out staring at the little green light on the back of Barry's laptop, but he loves staring at the front of the laptop as well, since this involves lots of flickering changing images. (The other day, Barry downloaded some photos to the laptop while he was holding Jamie, and Jamie was so astonished by seeing a photo of himself appear on the computer screen that he lunged madly towards it, unfortunately managing to hit a combination of keys that - and we are still not sure how he did this - erased the picture for good. Which was rather a shame, since apparently it was a cute one. But then, he has an inexhaustible supply of cuteness should we wish to take replacement photos.) He has a giant piano keyboard with lights that flash on and off when you hit the keys, and a baby gym thingummy which rotates and flashes on and off and plays manic electronic music when anyone moves in the immediate vicinity, and either of these will keep him happy for ages, probably melting his little brain in the process. However, he's now decided that the new toothbrush we bought him for his first two teeth is an even better toy, and he screams his head off when we try to take it away from him. It's good to know that he cares about his personal hygiene.

He also loves food. Before having him I was determined that I would stay laid-back over the inevitable food battles. I would be one of those mothers who wouldn't get all stressed out about their child only eating three things one of which is chocolate. No, I would retain my calm in the face of food refusal and fads, just offering the food and not getting into any battles over him taking it. I was all genned up to do the calm-retaining, battle-avoiding thing. And, as it turned out, the only battle is whether we can spoon the food into him fast enough to meet his demands. We have yet to find anything he dislikes - he has happily eaten everything we've tried him with, including a wedge of lemon that my husband fed him over my strenuous protests. And he can now feed himself with baby biscuits while sitting in his chair, which is an amazing step forward from my viewpoint because it keeps him busy for long enough for us to eat supper and means that I can actually - get this - eat entire meals with both hands. I think you have to have tried being a parent of a small baby to realise just how cool this is. Well worth all the work of sponging smeary chewed-up biscuit off his entire body after dinner and then finding dried-up bits of biscuit lurking in the chair crevices the next day.

He has a smile so gorgeous I can't think of anything to say about it that isn't clichéd. His face lights up when he sees me at the end of the workday and he throws his arms round my neck in a massive hug. When he's nursing, he reaches up to grab random bits of my face and neck. He's worked out that if he sticks his fingers into my mouth and then pulls my lower lip outwards while I suck inwards, it makes a funny sucking sound, and he finds this so marvellously hilarious that I can't even bring myself to be bothered that he thinks clawing at my lower lip is a fun pastime.

Parenthood is getting so much better as it goes along. For me, the first few months were a necessary but dull and difficult precursor to all the good bits. Sure, he was incredibly cute from the start, but cuteness takes you only so far. I used to think - enough with all this lying there and being cute, kid. Do something! Develop! Pass some milestones already! What with him not only doing interesting things, but actually taking short pauses between feeds when I can do something else, like take a shower without having to sprint, I must say that - in spite of all the hassles involved in taking care of a person who has limited communication skills, no reasoning skills, and regards it as his mission in life to shove the universe into his mouth one piece at a time - the second half of his first year is a huge improvement on the first half.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

I've had better days

Today is my weekly day off, and, as usual, I have about a million things I either want or need to do - including, yes, writing something for this blog that's marginally more interesting than watching paint dry. (Got several posts I've been meaning to write but, yes, I was one of the many who spent a significant chunk of the weekend revisiting Hogwarts. And, my god, but those books are getting darker with each one.) Unfortunately, one of the things at the top of the 'need to do' list was getting my car serviced/MOT'd in time to avoid getting hauled off to jail, or fined, or whatever it is they do to people who don't pay their car tax on time. So I did that. By the time Barry and I had fought our way, driving in tandem, through the appalling traffic jams to the garage that had looked so easy to get to when Barry checked it on the on-line Yellow Pages map, and then back again in his car, and then reversed the process at the end of the day to pick my car up, and, oh, yes, fitted in a trip to the supermarket as well, and then a second trip to the supermarket because we'd forgotten tea bags, there wasn't an enormous amount of the day left. Add in the prospect of doing the trip yet again in the imminent future to pick up the radio front that I had to order from them because I've lost mine, a depressingly large bill for the expensive things they found wrong and had to fix (including almost £60 for aforementioned replacement radio front), and a baby who spent the evening in a more irritated mood than me after having a large proportion of his nap time replaced by time spent howling in traffic jams (yes, that was him, not us), and, all in all, the day falls pretty much under the category of 'Bah'.

I will actually try to get round to writing some proper posts some time in the not-too-distant future. Hell, if I'm really feeling inspired they might even have paragraph breaks.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

In which I actually write about something other than sleep training for a change

Today was my day off. I took Jamie to the doctors about his squint, and I did the healthy thing and walked there, so I got to have a bit more of a look at our general environs.

The house we are renting is in a large new estate in a small town, twenty-two miles away from where I work. It is, eventually, going to be rather a nice estate. At the moment, it's bits of rather nice estate interspersed with bits of building site, but that's OK - it means we're getting a discount on the rent, which is fine by me.

The house itself is smaller than the last one we lived in, and smaller than we really need long-term - right now we have a huge amount of stuff in storage and a huge amount more packed into the garage that comes with the house - but what we lack in quantity of house we're making up for in quality. The last place we lived in looked great at first glance - in fact, I liked the layout of the house so much that if we ever do end up building our own place, I think I might well base the design on that - but there were so many horrible, shoddy things about it. The poor-quality plumbing that meant your shower wouldn't stay hot if someone was running a hot tap anywhere else in the house (and I always managed to forget this and douse my poor husband with cold water by turning a tap on somewhere else while he was in the shower - he was not impressed, I can tell you). The dreadful drains that were forever backing up no matter how often Barry put drain cleaner down them. The doors that didn't hang properly and hence didn't shut properly. The kitchen sink tap that didn't swivel from side to side, but did wobble on its base, leaving me feeling I was living in a doll house. The malfunctioning gas meter that meant we ended up with a horrible exorbitant bill because the gas company refused to believe that something could possibly be wrong with the calibration of one of their meters. And let's not forget (shudder) the horrible heavy blinds that took two hands to raise (not easy when you're carrying a baby) and, worst of all, the cold stone floors that looked so good but meant there was NOWHERE to put a baby down. Aaaarrrrrggggghhhhhh.

So, while living in this house might be more crowded, it's also a damn sight more livable. I can't tell you how good it is to be able to put the baby down.

As for the general area, it's really beautiful. I thought the commute to work and back would be a drag, but this area has a rare and wonderful combination of good quality roads, minimal traffic and astonishing views make it a positive pleasure. And there's loads to see and do. I meant to go into town this afternoon to have more of a look around and do the walk round the town centre checking out all the interesting historical/architectural bits as recommended in the leaflet in the 'Welcome to Town X' pack some nice group sent us when we moved in, but when I'd nursed the baby to sleep on our bed for his afternoon nap I suddenly felt so tired that I just closed my eyes and napped next to him. I just nursed him whenever he woke up and he settled really well, so I had an absolutely mammoth nap of about four hours. He'll probably never get to sleep tonight, but by god it was worth it.

And I think that's about it for today's ramble through my life. Oh, yes - the doctor thought the squint probably wasn't going to be a problem and would settle with time, but she's going to get in touch with the squint experts to see whether they think it's worth seeing him, and refer him if so.

Some things just aren't meant to be said aloud.....

The other night, my husband had cooked the peas for slightly less time than usual and felt that this had left them with a slightly stronger flavour.

He commented on the fact that they tasted more of pea than usual. That, in fact, they had a stronger-than-usual pea-ness.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

And the consequence was.....

......that some rather nice, pleasant people came over here and stated moderate views on the subject in a polite and respectful way. And the people who'd compared CIO to abuse/refused to believe that Julie might actually know her own child better than they do/thought it was terrible that she'd admitted to a friend that she found the early months of motherhood really hard? Nope. No sign of them. Bah. And there was me really looking forward to telling people just what I thought of their comments.

On the plus side, it does mean that there's been some nice, civil, amicable discussion, and I appreciate that greatly. Thank you all.

Anyway, some comments on things people have said, both here and back on the mama-drama forum:

Yes, I agree that whatever your feelings on CIO, actually advising a parent to go where they can't hear the child at all is worrying. Fair point. Regardless of what Julie did, that does seem to be what the neonatologist advised. Though I suppose it's quite possible that she and Julie knew each other well enough to know that this was meant tongue-in-cheek.

No, I do not agree that Julie 'changed her story'. She clarified her story. There's a difference. Both versions of her story are completely consistent - we just had a couple of extra bits of crucial information in the second bit. Some people on the mama-drama forum seem determined to think Julie's a liar, just because they don't agree with her over the CIO thing. Yes, of course, because posting something as contentious as the fact that you let your son CIO (under a title that shows that you know perfectly well the kind of reaction it's going to get) is exactly what you do if you're the kind of person who's so desperate for approval that you're willing to lie about your actions to avoid opprobium from random strangers.

From reading Julie's blog for quite a while now, I do think she may well have had clinical PPD in the past (she was certainly going through a very rough time). She seems to be doing a lot better now, though. I didn't read her reaction to letting Charlie cry as being indicative of PPD. I think it's more likely that she genuinely has good instincts for his distress levels and can tell the difference between an "I need help!" cry and an "I want playtime!" cry, and I found her reaction to be reassuring evidence that, yes, this is what's working OK for her and Charlie.

No objection at all to people posting whatever links they want to post (well, as long as they're not to child porn or anything like that), but the Sears link that was posted doesn't seem to work. It may not be worth you posting a corrected version - I can pretty much guarantee you that the only people currently reading this blog are the ones who came here from mama-drama and have read that stuff already, plus two friends of mine who have no children and are probably so bored with this debate already they'll never visit this blog again - but you're more than welcome to do so if you want to.

Thanks for the invite, but, no, there isn't the slightest chance of me becoming a regular poster on mama-drama. Right now, I need another forum to spend my time reading somewhat less than I need a hole in the head. Even an interesting, friendly, witty forum. Sorry.

Thanks also to the people who said they'd love to read more about me. I do plan to post stuff about my life at some point, but one of the fundamental things about me is that I love debate, and I love giving my opinion on contentious topics. And that was really the main reason I went ahead and got this blog, now that I think about it. But, yes, I will hopefully get round to actually writing stuff about me in between spouting off about my disagreements with various bits of the world.

And thank you for the sympathy about the London bombings. My mother and sister live in London, but fortunately are fine, as is a friend of mine who was in London at the time. I am so sorry for those who were not as lucky.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Cat, pigeons....

I finally found the link on Julie's blog to one of the forums where she was reportedly getting excoriated, and went along to see what it was all about, and walked in on the tail end of a massive debate. Being me, I couldn't resist joining in, so rather than try to follow up on a zillion points of contention on there I posted a couple of questions and invited people back to this blog for follow-up. This could get interesting. Well, for certain very specific values of interesting that actually equate to extremely boring for most people apart from me.

And, yes, people were excoriating Julie. In fairness, a lot of that was in reaction to a badly-phrased post on her part which did make it sound as though she'd simply left him for an hour with no way to tell how hard he was screaming and whether he'd vomited, shit himself, or even choked. She's since clarified that she could actually hear him through the open window the whole time and hence knew that he was sleeping for the first three-quarters of that hour and grumbling for the rest of it, which is a rather different kettle of fish. But, even once she posted that, people accused her of backpeddling and claimed the fact that she was bothering to explain this proved she must be feeling guilty about her terrible misdeeds. Then there were all the people who compared it to child abuse. And a couple of people who blamed her for even daring to utter negative sentiments about the experience of parenthood (or maybe for daring to feel those sentiments in the first place, who knows). And, when she'd had enough of the discussion & turned off the comments section on her blog, she got criticised for that as well. You get the picture.

To be fair, there were more thoughtful and sensitive posters as well. We shall see how this goes.

At some point, I probably should post about something other than CIO. I do actually have a life, though I wouldn't blame anyone for doubting it at this point. I just get distracted from it by my addiction to debate, which is far more interesting.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

In which I venture forth into the murky waters of the sleep training debate, and see whether I can find anyone left to alienate

In the week that I spent without having a chance to update this, it seems the scandal of the blogworld (or the small part of it which I read, anyway) is that Julie, brave lady, let us know that she’s been letting her seven-month-old son Charlie CIO.

Since the only people remotely likely to be reading this are non-parents and not au fait with the jargon, here is the translation: CIO stands for ‘cry[ing] it out’, and is one of various methods for getting children to sleep. Basically, if the kid wakes up before nap and/or night-time is over, instead of going to get them you leave them crying until getting-up time, and repeat this as needed until either you crack or the child figures out that he’s not going to get picked up right then and had better just deal with it and go to sleep. Or, according to other ideologies, figures out that he’s been abandoned in a hostile world and enters a state of learned helplessness where he no longer bothers to cry because he knows his needs won’t be met.

You will gather that the method is a source of some contention.

Basically, telling people that you’ve done CIO with your kid is the equivalent of telling people that you support the war in Iraq, or that anyone who hasn’t accepted Jesus Christ as their personal lord and saviour won’t make it to heaven, or…… You get the idea? It’s light-the-blue-touch-paper talk.

Actually, most of the people who disagree with Julie have stayed off her blog – I gather from another blogger that she’s been excoriated on various other blogs and forums, but most of the comments on her blog simply expressed delight that she’d found something that worked for her. However, inevitably, there was the occasional dissent.

There was, for example, the anonymous commentator who stated herself to have been ‘alienated’ by what Julie did. After all, Charlie was learning that “when he cries, mommy may not come and get him”. Um, yes, sounds as if that’s pretty much the idea. But, you see, this is apparently a Very Bad Thing. “He feels abandoned and his primal instincts kick in for self-preservation (I’m alone in the world, I must conserve energy or die).” And seeing Mommy turn up again at the end of the nap with a bottle and a cuddle doesn’t clue him in that, phew, he was wrong in that conclusion and he can actually survive a short stint in his crib perfectly well? Apparently not. ‘[H]e will trust you less and that will carry on into adulthood’, the psychic Anonymous assures us. Fortunately, we don’t have to abandon all hope for Charlie’s emotional well-being quite yet – “It’s not too late. Maybe you can rebuild his trust.” Phew. I bet Julie’s relieved to hear that.

Then there was Ellen, the psychologist who gave it as her “clinical belief” that CIO was “the start of a slippery slope into justifying all kinds of parenting choices…. which ultimately are about getting the adult's needs met at the cost of the child's”. Yes, because, of course, a parent couldn’t possibly manage to respond differently in different circumstances. Just in case anyone thought that kind of thinking was the preserve of the anti-CIO brigade, Susan weighed in with “Take a moment and look around you in a grocery store. The child who is screaming because his mother initially said no about a candy bar, who then escalates his cries to the aforementioned ear-splitting shrieks and eventually gets his way... Those parents did absolutely no one any favors by letting that child train them so long ago while the kid was still in the crib, that louder = I get what I want.”

Rounding it all off with probably the strongest contender for the ‘Oh, please’ award, was nzmom: “These babies are your skin, your bones, your cells. They have evolved to thrive on touch, skin to skin contact, the sound of their mother's heart beating, the warm milky rush of breastmilk and the strength of your arms in the night.” I suspect they’ve also evolved to be tough enough to handle worse things than being left in a cot on their own for a bit.

All of this is pretty much business as usual in the perennially long-running series of “A Mother’s Place Is In The Wrong”, and, given that the dust has now well and truly settled on this particular episode, I probably should just leave it settled. The reason why I’m posting my two cents – apart from the whole congenital-inability-to-shut-the-fuck-up-at-times-of-contention thing – is because Julie said something in her entry that has barely been commented on, and that I thought was worth highlighting:

See, I don't interpret those premature-end-of-nap cries as "Help me, I'm alone and frightened and I'm worried you'll never come back." I hear it more as, "Hey, here I am, ready to play! Hey! It's time to wake up! Heeeeeeey! Big lady-shaped person! C'mere! I've had enough sleep!"

To read the vast majority of the whole sleep training debate, you would think that a child’s crying in his cot could only indicate a single possible response. The ‘gentle sleep solution’ advocates insist that the crying must indicate terror, despair, loneliness. The CIO advocates don’t think it means anything of the sort. And there is remarkably little acknowledgement of the fact that, actually, it could quite possibly be either. Or it could actually mean that the child’s overtired and desperately needs to sleep. Or it could mean that they’re hungry earlier than normal, or thirsty, or in pain…. but the point is, it will depend on the child’s personality and developmental stage, and, even then, it’ll vary from day to day. Just because Charlie is currently crying at the end of naps because he wants more playtime rather than more sleep doesn’t mean that he won’t, at some point in the future, have a nightmare and cry out of genuine fear. I suspect that, if and when that happens, Julie will pick up on that just as she has picked up on his current lack of fear, and respond appropriately. (I also suspect that if she’s being a bit slow on the uptake that day and doesn’t do so, any trauma incurred by Charlie as a result will be of a level that takes a few days of extra cuddling rather than a few years of therapy to sort out. JMNSHO.)

And I think that a near-complete failure to recognise this underlies quite a lot of the passionately heated debates. Parents who are leaving their children to cry because they want more playtime are being excoriated by people who can’t imagine that those children could be crying for reasons other than abject fear. Parents who recognise that their children are crying from abject fear and just aren’t suitable for CIO are being excoriated by people who can’t imagine that those children could be crying for reasons more serious than wanting more playtime. A lot of people are making money writing a lot of books on The OneTrueWay™ to deal with children’s sleep. And there is a quite astonishing lack of flexibility about the whole thing. Thinking about it, it’s ironic how much of the failure to appreciate the individuality of children in this regard comes from the camp who are loudest in insisting that Children Are Just Little People.

Goodness knows I can understand this kind of rigidity – I haven’t exactly been any better myself. I have also wasted more time than I like to think on the search for the OneTrueWay™ that’s guaranteed to work for all kids and produce perfect upbringing. What I don’t really understand is how that kind of mindset survives contact with real mothers, real children. Well, I suppose by the law of averages a lot of people must end up with babies who happen to thrive on the methods that their parents happen to espouse, and I think a lot of babies are flexible enough to fit in with whatever their parents are doing anyway. But don’t these OneTrueWayers ever listen to the stories of parents who’ve found that a different way turned out to be what worked better for them?

I guess a lot of them just don’t.

Oh, and in case you were interested – Charlie, who hasn’t yet read any attachment parenting theory and doesn’t quite realise how traumatised he’s meant to be by his time fussing in his crib, is apparently doing just fine, thank you. And, these days, his mother’s doing a lot better as well.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Some background

Since we have now moved (phew), and unpacked a reasonable amount of stuff, and have an Internet connection up and running (no thanks to BT, who were aiming for the Chocolate Teapot award of usefulness), I thought I'd write about what decided me to start blogging.

When I was on maternity leave, and spending my time browsing through maternity-related newsgroups, I found a link to Julie's blog, and via her to the rest of the Vagina Posse (believe me, it isn't what you're thinking) and to a bunch of other, related blogs, and thus I discovered an entire, hitherto unsuspected, community of blogging mothers/expectant mothers/would-be mothers who have the following in common:

1. They achieved motherhood (or, to date, didn't achieve it) by an unusual, and frequently rocky and torturous, road. They had infertility problems, and/or recurrent miscarriages, and/or underwent fertility treatment, and/or sought adoption. All of which, plus the actual experience of motherhood itself, left them with unusual, thought-provoking perspectives on motherhood in its many varieties.

2. They can write. I don't know whether there's some sort of inverse correlation between fertility and writing ability, but, dammit, there are some seriously good writers out there in blogdom. More than one of them could simply send her blog off to a publisher with extremely minimal editing and get it published just like that, and it would be a bestseller.

The result of 1 and 2 combined is that there are some inspiring, soul-stirring, moving, hilariously funny and extremely readable blogs out there, and I have a new addiction to feed.

I don't (still to my own astonishment) qualify for 1. I'm embarrassed to admit this, because I know how dull and how disgustingly lucky it makes me sound, but I achieved motherhood in the completely conventional way - stopped the Pill, had sex with my husband now and again, found myself staring in astonishment at that magic second line a mere three months later, proceeded to have an entirely straightforward pregnancy and birth, and now have an extremely gorgeous seven-and-a-half-month-old son. Um. Sorry. Don't hate me 'cause my ovaries are beautiful.

So, if my inverse-correlation theory in 2. above holds true, this will probably be a boring, uninspiring, dismally badly written blog. But I've been inspired enough by the blogs out there that I eventually decided to go for it. After all, however I got here, I'm a mother too, and have occasional thoughts to publish on the matter. And I'm also a doctor, which, as my friend Emms pointed out, gives me some other stuff to write about. And, most of all, I'm an opinionated loudmouth. Ultimately, I couldn't resist the temptation of having my own forum in which to be opinionated.