Monthly Archives: December 2006

Christmas

Christmas, this year, was spent with Barry’s parents, up in North Wales.  I was working up until the Friday and we drove up there on the Saturday.  Driving a couple of hundred miles through pre-Christmas traffic with a toddler somehow never quite made it onto my list of Things I Have Been Eagerly Looking Forward To All Year, and the fog-induced travel nightmares of preceeding days didn’t make me any more enamoured of the prospect.  But, in fact, it went better than I’d dared to hope.  The fog had lifted, everybody appeared to have either done their travelling already or decided to stay home (at any rate, the traffic was minimal), and Jamie put up with the whole thing wonderfully, aided somewhat by the episodes of Teletubbies downloaded to my laptop.  We stopped for lunch after a couple of hours and then Jamie (and I) napped the rest of the way until we got there.

Since Jamie’s long since outgrown his travel cot, my mother-in-law has been making up little beds for him on the floor as best she can when we stay, but this time she’d found something better – an inflatable mini-bed shaped like a car, complete with steering wheel.  It was actually a ball pool, but she spotted that it would do just fine to put a little mattress in and make into a bed.  While it unfortunately didn’t make Jamie any more inclined to leave the day’s enjoyments and settle down to sleep at bedtime, it did mean that at least he could be more comfortable at night.  And he did like the steering wheel.

We had a wonderful time.  We relaxed and enjoyed the presents, and the delicious meals (including goose for Christmas Day), and the recording of Hogfather that they’d saved for us (they get Sky and we don’t).  Which, although it’s something of a tangent, would be a handy point to mention that we also went to the Hogswatch meet in Wincanton earlier this year, which I meant to tell about in my post about December stuff but completely forgot about.  Not that there’s a huge amount to tell – the bit we could get to was mainly just market stalls selling stuff, which is the kind of thing that’s interesting for about half an hour.  Emms came down to stay with us for the weekend, which was great fun, and Elaine Stibbons and Melusine were at the meet as well, but there wasn’t anyone else there that I knew.  We couldn’t stay for the sausage supper and showing of ‘Hogfather’ extracts in the evening because of having to get Jamie home to bed (not to mention me – these days, by that point in the week, I’m ready to keel over with exhaustion) although fortunately Emms managed to find someone to give her a lift back, so at least she was able to stay for the evening’s events.  Most of the meet, for me, just consisted of stopping Jamie from running amok in an area fairly full of stalls, drinks and half-played games of Thud

But the meet did give us a chance to see Hex from the film (which was brought in for the auction) – I’ve got a photo of myself standing next to the keyboard.  And Emms managed to get us a few of the teeth from the Tooth Fairy’s palace, which were being given away.  So it was well worth going for that alone.  And Emms got Jamie a little ball with flashing lights and a Mr Potato Head, both of which he has found endlessly fascinating, so I think he found it worthwhile as well.

Getting back to Christmas, Jamie’s presents were as follows:

From my grandmother, one of those educational thingummies with letters and numbers that you can press to hear an electronic voice speaking the letter or number in question aloud.  While this is normally the kind of present designed for parents rather than children, for Jamie it was the perfect present.  He’s been fascinated with numbers for a while now, and, more recently, this particular interest has expanded to include letters – and, of course, buttons have long since been high on the list of his absolute favourite things.  A toy which has buttons shaped like letters and numbers and, just to round it off, flashing lights as well, might have been designed for him.  He played happily with it for hours.

From Barry’s parents, a magnetic easel/mini-blackboard for his letters and numbers – also a big favourite with him.  Also a doll designed for practicing buttons, zips, laces and the like, which rather mystified him – he pulled the clothes part way off, discovered he couldn’t get them off completely, and abandoned it as a bad job.  I have a feeling there was something else, but, if so, it’s escaping me.

From Barry’s brother, a little wooden fire engine, as well as a cheque for his savings account,

From Barry, a Tinky Winky that waves its legs in the air (looking worryingly like a stranded beetle) and laughs when you press its hand.  Well, it’s theoretically laughing.  In actual practice, it sounds more as though it’s uttering strangled choking sobs.  It’s among the more disturbing toys I’ve ever seen.   I’m not sure whether or not to be worried about the fact that Jamie loves it.

I got him bits and bobs – a book with pictures of farm animals, a packet of magnetic numbers (which turned out to be a bit of a waste, as there were plenty with the easel), a box of picture dominoes, and an inflatable globe.  I chose the last because he’s fascinated by both maps and balls, so combining the two seemed like a good bet to me, and it certainly was – he was absolutely intrigued, especially when he saw Barry blowing it up.  He kept pointing excitedly and signing "Ball!"  The main fun he’s had from the dominoes is from tipping them out over the floor, but he does like the book, which I’m relieved by because after buying it I realised that it was actually below the level he’s at now – he’s moved on from the sorts of books that just have labelled pictures, and these days he ‘reads’ the sort that actually have some kind of simple storyline to them, even if it is just finding things behind lift-up flaps.  But he didn’t seem to mind – he’s insisted on reading the book with me over and over since he got it.  He picked it out as his bedtime book tonight.

I got lots of books – the Octavia Butler and Diana Wynne Jones books I wanted, and also, in a lovely burst of childhood nostalgia, the ‘Nurse Matilda’ books, reissued as a single volume under the title of ‘Nanny McPhee’ in honour of the film.  (Does anyone know why the name was changed, by the way?)  And a new pair of slippers (big fluffy ones shaped like teddy bears – or maybe small dogs, it’s not quite clear which) from my brother-in-law, which I was very pleased with, as my old ones were practically falling to bits and I hadn’t relished the thought of a shopping trip to try to find another pair I liked.  So I’ve done very well, as well.

The trip back on Tuesday afternoon didn’t go quite as easily as the trip up – Jamie was fine for most of it, but he did get pretty whingey before we stopped for lunch – and when I restarted work on Wednesday, the combination of the backlog of patients that had built up over the four-day weekend and the fact that I was on call meant that it was one of the busiest days I’d ever had in general practice  (how in holy hell did Dr Crippen manage to have a ‘reasonably quiet’ day?  How??) and I eventually managed to leave shortly after eight o’clock in the evening after my final visit.  But I was so relaxed after that lovely break that I didn’t even care.  Well, not too much, anyway.

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Random December odds & sods

A ramble through various bits and pieces of non-crucial recent events (none of which are actually terribly interesting, by the way, so feel free to go read another post):

While I didn’t exactly fulfil my resolution of last year to follow Flylady’s Cruising Comfortably Through The Holidays plan this time around (I did check out the day-by-day missions regularly, but in actual practice I don’t think I did more than a couple on the days allocated for them), it was still a resolution well worth making – I may not have been sticking to the letter of the plan, but I did stick to the spirit of it.  I started early, I aimed to do things bit by bit rather than in one huge panicked last-minute rush, and, although I suppose it was more of a Rowing Through The Choppy Waves Of The Holidays thing, it worked. 

Thus, by the first of this month, I had all of my presents either bought or ordered except for my sister’s (which is totally not my fault – I asked her three or four times to give me her list already and she never did.  So there(1).)  I had, for the first time in living memory, managed to order Barry’s presents far enough in advance to get the Free Super Saver Delivery from Amazon instead of having to pay extra.  I had most of my cards done.  I had the decorations up.  By the day that I’d booked off from work to go Christmas shopping, I had no Christmas shopping left to do.  I did have an extremely long Post Office queue to stand in to get my cards posted, but that was a doddle compared to what trekking round the local city centre with a toddler, two weeks before Christmas, would have been like.  Hah.  I believe I am entitled to feel just a tad smug.  (Not too much.  I have a single child, a husband who does wrapping, and a planned trip to the in-laws for Christmas which means that food-buying and preparation have not needed to figure anywhere on the to-do list, so my Christmas preparations are inherently easier than those of most other people.)

Jamie is very pleased with the installation of flashing lights in the living room and on the stairs.  He rapidly figured out how to switch the tree lights on, so now he puts them on as soon as he heads downstairs in the morning.  I was, as it turned out, being a little optimistic last year when I wondered whether he might be old enough to help put the ornaments on the tree this year, but he certainly enjoys taking them off – our tree is surrounded not by presents (Jamie is now at the age where he has the ability to open presents but not the comprehension to grasp the concept that one is expected to wait until Christmas to do so) but by a forlorn little scatter of Christmas ornaments, removed from their branches.  Interestingly, the wooden mitten that was his favourite last time has gone totally unnoticed this year.  He showed brief fascination for a red glittery star, and he also liked the little set of carol singers that I put on the windowsill, but his big favourite (apart from the lights) has been the Advent calendars.  He insists on getting them down several times each day and trying to open all the windows.

We’ve changed our evening routine a bit.  Until recently, Jamie had an 8.30 bedtime, but he’s been taking longer and longer to fall asleep, leaving me sitting outside the door on toddlerwatch duty ready to put him straight back to bed whenever he tries creeping out.  While this was not a huge problem for me (what are laptops for?  Besides, it meant I had no excuse for not keeping up with my journal reading), I did realistically have to recognise that a huge part of this was that Jamie just didn’t need as much sleep any more.  He’s still napping for two hours or more in the afternoon, and the books say that by the age of two the average child doesn’t need more than an hour’s nap, so we either had to cut back on the nap or move his bedtime later.  We went with the second option because that suited us better (we do not want to lose that nice long break in the middle of the day!) and it seemed to suit Jamie just fine as well – after all, it was the pattern he was falling into naturally. 

So, now bedtime is officially 9.30 – after his bath he comes downstairs to play for a bit before I take him upstairs to his room at around 8.45 – 9.00 for a bit of a wind-down (I’ve moved more of his books and quieter toys upstairs, so that we have things to do up there) and then at around 9.15 I start the final count-down (teeth-brushing, into bed, two stories, a look out of the window after Ten Sleepy Bunnies, to say goodnight to the moon, lights out, my final little talk to him about the exciting things he did that day and will do next day, and a goodnight hug and kiss for him).  I hadn’t been looking forward to this change, as by the end of the day I’m usually more than ready for some child-free time, but it’s working out very well – I’ve found I like having more time for his bath and not being in a rush to get him to bed afterwards.  It’s a pleasant little unwinding time in his room, reading books and chatting to him about things.

The other change that we’ve now tried for the past couple of evenings is to eat dinner at 7.30 with Jamie instead of leaving it until after he’s in bed.  This isn’t going to be possible every night because it depends on whether Barry can get dinner ready by then, but Jamie is now old enough that he can usually be parked in front of the television amuse himself uncomplainingly for brief periods of time while Daddy does something else.  It’s amazing how much more time it seems to make in the evening, having dinner early.  I’m starting to cherish remote hopes that I might manage to catch up on sleep some time in this lifetime.

Monday just gone, December 18th, we went to the carol concert at the local nursing home.  Last year it was almost impossible to keep Jamie settled enough for us to listen; this year he was brilliant.  He did eventually get bored and wriggly and Barry took him out, but he behaved himself for nearly an hour before that!  He danced to the music, looked at the dog that someone had brought along, played a bit with his calculator (the only child-distractor I could find that wasn’t noisy, didn’t have distracting flashing lights, didn’t require Mummy or Daddy to be talking aloud, and didn’t have numerous small pieces to be lost in corners of the nursing home), and spent time sitting quietly on my lap or Barry’s.  It was, as it happens, the seventh anniversary of the day I met Barry.  There couldn’t have been a better way to spend it than sitting there listening to carols with my husband next to me and my son snuggled up to us, listening (and bopping along) to the music like the wonderful big boy he is.

(1)  And, Ruth, if you’re reading this – this still applies.  Let me know what you want before we next meet up.  Otherwise, it’s the lump of coal for you.

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For Shay

I never met Shay, or spoke to her.  Now I never will.

I’ve never met her mother, either, but I’ve known her for seven years now.  We met on an Internet newsgroup, one that was started up by some renegades from the Stephen King newsgroup to talk about non-King related stuff.  It was a place to chat, to vent, and to get to know each other.  Missy told us about her two teenage daughters, Shay and Cassie.  Shay had been diagnosed with leukaemia when she was four or five – I can’t remember exactly.  Missy posted a quiet little piece she’d written about the experience of first finding out Shay had leukaemia – I wish I could find it on-line to link to, because it was a damn good piece of writing.  When Missy first started posting to the group, Shay’s leukaemia was in long-term remission – an ever-present lurking background threat, shadowing their lives with regular clinic visits and blood counts, but not an acute danger.  Her chances were very good.

When Shay relapsed and the only chance was a bone marrow transplant, we heard about it on the group.  When Cassie was tested and turned out to be a perfect match, we rejoiced with Missy.  When Shay went for the transplant, Missy posted regularly to let us know what was happening, each nail-biting day, until the transplant was successful and Shay started making healthy blood cells again.  We were overjoyed.  The start of a happy-ever-after for the family.  When Missy posted pictures of Shay in her ball dress at her high school prom, it was a beautiful moment.  When she relapsed again and Missy had to face the fact that she would probably only have a few months left with her daughter, it was devastating news. 

We knew it couldn’t be long, but… Shay had seemed to be doing better.  Then she crashed completely on holiday, just a few days after her blood tests had been looking very encouraging, and went into severe septic shock that ate her body inside and out.  If she’d lived, she would have lost her right hand and probably both feet.  She died yesterday morning.  She was in her early twenties.

I never knew Shay, but I wish I had.  And, my god, my heart goes out to Missy and Cassie today.

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A brief rant (of My Own)

Karen has been writing about her experiences with society’s widespread belief that adoption is a sort of Child Lending Library whereby you get the child on some sort of extended loan, or maybe extended rental – I’m not clear.  The assumption Karen, and other adoptive parents, have to deal with is that a child who arrives in a family via the mother’s uterus is thereby her Own Child, whereas a child who arrives via an incredibly tiresome amount of paperwork isn’t.  Plus, the mother in the first scenario is that child’s Real Mother, whereas the mother in the second scenario is – presumably – a cleverly constructed wooden puppet, or something of the sort.

This isn’t coming from people like the vehemently anti-adoption Tricia Smith Vaughan, who is absolutely up front about her conviction that adoptive parenthood is an oxymoron, but about people who are expressing what they genuinely believe to be pro-adoption sentiments – people who don’t even notice the ‘but’ attached because it’s so ingrained in their thinking.  The ‘but’ that isn’t spoken, but implied in the protesting-too-much of "You love your child as if…."  ‘As if’ she were Your Own.  "As if" you were her Real Mother.

The extremely real Karen, who feels no ‘as if’ whatsoever about her love for her daughter, is expected to put up with this, since, after all, she Knows What They Mean.  "You know what I mean," a family friend brushed her protests aside, after she’d objected to his use of ‘real’ to describe an adopted man’s first father.  Well, that’s all right, then. Thing is, sunshine, Karen knows exactly what you mean.  That’s the problem.  What you mean is that, at some deep-down level, you think that adoptive parenthood is just that little bit less real than parenthood by birth.  Oh, not that Karen isn’t a Real Mother – no, no, no, you’d never think that.  All parents are Real.  It’s just that some are less Real than others.  It’s the fact that you think that – and see no need to apologise for it or rethink – that bothers Karen.

While the main purpose of this post was my irresistible desire to indulge in that particular rant, I do just have to add this, while I’m on the subject:  What’s with this whole "own child" thing, anyway? 

I don’t just mean the tactlessness of using the phrase to imply that children who entered the family by adoption don’t really belong in it to the extent that birth children do; I mean that it’s a bit of an odd phrase to describe any parent-child relationship.  Sure, I – as the saying goes – Know What They Mean.  But… my own?  As though I had title rights over him?  The phrase crumbles into meaninglessness when up against the reality of Jamie.  He’s his own, and has been from the start – his very own little person.  Is he supposed to be somehow my possession just because some of his DNA matches mine?

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Filed under Grr, argh

Material World

"What are your toy-related concerns this December?" Jody asks.  I realised, to my surprise, that I don’t really have any right now.  We’ve bought enough presents for Jamie (a book about farm animals, a set of magnetic letters and numbers, a box of picture dominoes, and an inflatable globe from me, and a Tinky Winky that waves its arms and legs around from Barry).  They haven’t been wrapped yet, but that’s Barry’s job, not mine.  We aren’t trying to get rid of any toys right now as we’re still hoping and planning on having someone else to play with them in the fullness of time.  So, right now, the whole toy-related area is a concern-free zone.  It’s a weird and pleasant feeling for a neurotic like me to focus on something I’m not worried about.

However, even if Christmas Present is under control, there’s still the ghost of Christmas Future to haunt me.

The latest edition of Right Start, a free parenting magazine that gets given out at Tumbletots, has, among its list of articles on the front, ‘Why Xmas is not all about money!’  Of course, it did seem just a touch ironic that this was less than three inches above a red-highlighted headline exclaiming ‘FREE!  32-page Best Toy Guide for Christmas’.  Then there was the free Toys ‘R’ Us catalogue that was also enclosed with the magazine.  And the full-page advert for some toy shop on the back of both the magazine itself and the aforementioned enclosed 32-page Best Toy Guide, which depicted a quite unbelievably gaudy, unnecessary, expensive-looking toy and the slogan "Give her the Fairy Wonderland and who knows what she’ll grow up to be."

However, in all fairness, the only way most publishers are going to be able to afford to hand out a free magazine is by making the costs back in some other way, and that usually is going to be advertising, so let us not be too much the purists over this.  I appreciated the fact that they were making the effort to inject the token touch of non-materialism, and turned to the article in question with some interest. 

It was, apparently, about "two families with very different approaches to Christmas", summarised as "Budget vs. bonanza".  What I noticed immediately was that although the total amount the two families spent was indeed colossally different, the amount they spent per child really wasn’t all that different.  The ‘budget’ family weren’t paying for a skiing holiday or for incredibly expensive presents for each other and they were managing to buy their food and their decorations a lot more cheaply, but, when it came to their children, they were going to town.  With four children, they were spending around £80 on each of the younger two (aged one and three), and £150 on each of the older two.  The only reason they were able to keep it that low, the mother explained, was because they started buying months in advance to take advantage of every bargain they could find.  In comparison, the ‘bonanza’ family spent around £200 on their child – a single big present worth around £50 – £75 ("We try not to go overboard", the mother reassured us), plus enough little presents to make it up to that total.

Now, I had my usual moments of self-righteousness about what is the world coming to and doesn’t anyone realise that Children Should Learn To Appreciate The Small Pleasures In Life.  (I don’t know exactly how much we’ve spent on Christmas presents for Jamie specifically, as we bought presents for both Christmas and birthday collectively and only separated them out into one or the other category at a later stage; but I do know that the sum total for Christmas and birthday comes to under £60.)  But I also faced the fact that it’s easy for me to get moralistic here.  My child is two years old.  Pester power and peer pressure are things of the future, for us.  So I have to wonder – how on earth am I going to handle the Everybody Else Has One category of complaint, when that day arises?

There seem to be so many issues tied up here.  Of course I want my son to enjoy the simple pleasures of life without getting sidetracked by materialism.  I have a romantic dewey-eyed image of a child like Laura and Mary in the Little House On The Prairie series, so overwhelmed by getting a tin cup and a stick of candy and a little cake each that they can’t believe they could possibly have been bought anything else and have to be shown that they have a penny each as well, whereupon they go into a trance of bliss.  But I also have to face the fact that, well, we’re not going out to live in a little house on the prairie.  That, no matter how much you enjoy the simple pleasures of life, there’s also a lot to be said for the more complex pleasures – specifically, the expensive ones.  That, after all, I’m not writing this blog by hand in a cheap notebook, and I’d miss out on a great deal if I was.  That we live in a world where my son is going to want expensive things. 

How am I going to handle this?  How am I going to draw lines between wanting to keep him happy, and wanting to teach him that the responsibility for his happiness isn’t something he should root in the amount of money that someone else can spend on him?  Am I going to make his life a miserable hell by my insistence that I don’t want to spend a fortune on the latest brand-name trainers just because Everybody Else Has Them?  Am I going to be able to resist the temptations to equate love for my child with money spent on him and get drawn into keeping up with the Joneses?  And will I be able to bring him up to understand that he is, in fact, incredibly privileged as such things go (yes, I do realise that there will be people reading this saying "Almost sixty pounds on birthday and Christmas presents, and she thinks she’s doing this cheaply?"

By and large, I have all this mentally filed under "Future Concerns – Do Not Open Until 2009".  I’m getting passably good (only passably) at this ‘don’t solve the problem until it happens’ approach.  But that article did bring home to me the fact that I’m highly likely to have to face it all at some point in the future.  I hate it when people tell me sagely that parenting only gets more difficult as children get older – if there are things out there more difficult than a day spent trying to stop a fifteen-month-old from getting into everything he wants to get into, I’m not sure I want to know.  Sufficient unto the day, and all that.  But, realistically, I recognise that I’ll have parenting challenges to face in the future that, right now, I can barely imagine.

So, although I don’t have any current toy-related concerns this Christmas, I can see plenty looming ahead of me in years to come.

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Nablohellyeah!

As NaBloPoMo draws to a close, I can say that I’m rather pleased with myself.  Twenty posts in the course of the month (and would have been twenty-one if I’d been a few minutes quicker with this one) has got to be a new record for me.  Looking back, that’s as many as I managed in the previous two and a half months.

Of course, that still isn’t a post every day as participants were officially supposed to do (in fact, it’s not even a post on twenty days out of the month, but an average including some higher-output days).  I’m still glad I didn’t choose to take part officially – trying to get a post up every day would have driven me nuts, and I’m not ready to sacrifice quality for quantity to the extent that I’d have had to do.  But I’m also glad I chose to enter into the spirit of it despite not being able to follow it to the letter.  I needed something like that to kick me out of my writers’ block, and I’ve found that being able to say "Who cares whether this is of a sufficiently high standard?  It’s NaBloPoMo!  I am officially entitled, and indeed encouraged, to post what the hell I like!" was exactly what I needed.  As NaBloPoMo draws to a close, I shall try to keep the spirit alive on this blog.

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