Anti-prostitution laws: the trouble with the Swedish Model

It's Friday the Thirteenth, so I'm blogging for decriminalisation of prostitution.  For the backstory to that apparent non sequitur plus my general views on the matter, read this post.

This time around, I thought I'd write about a commonly-discussed prostitution law that's usually known as the Swedish Model (as that was the country that thought it up) and sometimes as the Nordic Model (as other Nordic countries have since adopted it) and is often put forward as The Answer To The Problem Of Prostitution.  I picked this one because it's a prime example of a law that's supposed to be for the benefit of prostitutes, but in practice causes them major problems that could be avoided by decriminalisation.

The Swedish Model, simply put, is to make it technically legal to work as a prostitute, but illegal to visit a prostitute.  Well, not literally 'visit', of course – if your best friend happens to be a prostitute, you're still quite free to pop round to her house for coffee any time she happens to invite you.  'Visit' in the sense of 'be a client of a prostitute'.

Let's look at what this means.  Supposing I were to experience some cash flow problems and to decide, after some consideration of the options, that my best bet for making the necessary money was to charge for sexual services (1).  Accordingly I find an interested man, we agree on a price, we do the deed, and he pays me (and I presumably then go and pay my latest mortgage payment or gas bill or whatever I needed the money for).  If this were to take place in a country that's adopted the Swedish Model of prostitution law, then that man would now be a criminal.  For engaging in a mutually consensual and mutually acceptable act,he could find himself subject to a fine, a criminal record, and possibly a prison sentence.

It would make not a blind bit of difference how carefully I'd considered my decision beforehand, how certain I felt of it, how polite and pleasant he was while hiring my services, or how happy I was with the whole transaction after it had taken place.  It wouldn't matter that, according to the law in my country, I have been considered fully capable of making my own sexual decisions for the past twenty-five years.  It wouldn't matter that, had we chosen to do the identical things for free, the law of the land wouldn't have had the slightest interest in us.  In short, under the Swedish Model the question of whether I had consented to what had just gone on would not matter, because I would not be considered capable of giving consent to it. 

So what, exactly, is the idea behind criminalising consensual and harmless activity?

The Swedish Model seems to be based on the beliefs that

a) having sex for money is the one job so unpleasant it's impossible that nobody in their right mind would ever willingly choose it.  Therefore, all women in the job must either have been forced into it by violent pimps or traffickers, or they must not be in their right mind and therefore their opinions on the matter can be disregarded.

b) prostitution is inherently a Bad Thing anyway, and thus ought to be stopped, but doing this via a model that frames women as helpless victims with no say in the matter is more politically correct than doing it via a model that frames them as evil fallen women.

Now, the fundamental problem with this is of course that the first of those beliefs isn't true and the second is an extremely questionable opinion. And, while people are entitled to their questionable opinions, if they want to enshrine them into law to be imposed upon others then they ought to be held to a rather higher standard of evidence. 

Even in the one area where the reasoning behind the law does hold up as ethically solid – the desire to help those women who actually have been forced into prostitution – it's very debatable whether it's doing a blind bit of good.  Dodillet and Ostergren's paper The Swedish Sex Purchase Act: Claimed Success And Documented Effects, and Jordan's newly-published essay The Swedish Law to Criminalize Clients: A failed experiment in social engineering, both examine the effects of the law in practice, and both point out that there is simply no conclusive evidence as to whether the law has helped reduce forced trafficking in the sex trade in the countries where it's been implemented.  (One particular concern that neither paper mentioned on this subject, by the way, is that some women in this situation have actually managed to escape their plight thanks to the help of a client who found out what was going on.  A law that puts clients at risk of being arrested themselves if they approach the police with concerns therefore has the potential to backfire tragically as far as protection for trafficking victims is concerned.)

In addition, the above two papers raise a number of concerns about the impact that this law is having on prostitutes themselves.  I'd strongly recommend that anyone interested read one or both of the full papers (available online at the links I gave above) as there's no chance of me doing the full arguments justice.  However, probably the most worrying are the reported accounts of the effects that it's had on streetwalkers. 

Streetwalkers – prostitutes who pick up their clientele on the streets, rather than in brothels or via escort agencies or personally advertising – account for a minority of all prostitutes, but are the group that best fit the stereotype of prostitutes as vulnerable women living a desperate existence.  The huge spectrum of working conditions that a prostitute might experience, starting at the top end with high-class escort workers who spend much of their time in expensive hotels and command huge hourly fees, hits bottom here.  Much of the streetwalker trade takes place in their clients' cars, which is an extremely dangerous place to be if your client turns nasty.  Their rates are a lot lower.  They're much more likely to be arrested than off-street prostitutes.  Rates of drug addiction are much higher.  They're a lot more likely to be in desperate straits emotionally and/or financially.  So, if the Swedish Model actually was – as its supporters often claim – helpful to all those poor vulnerable prostitutes who need rescuing from the misery of their lives, this is exactly the subsection of the world's oldest profession that you'd expect to see benefiting from it.

According to reports, it is in fact causing them significant and severe problems.

The problem is, of course, that if someone is working in such an unsavoury job it's generally because she's very, very short of other options in her life.  Using the force of the law to drive away a large proportion of their customers doesn't change whatever life circumstances have led them to this point.  All it does is to limit their already limited options even further.  They still need to earn the money, but they have fewer clients to pick and choose from.  That means they may be more likely to feel their only option is to accept unpleasant clients or to agree to acts at which they normally would have drawn the line (potentially including sex without condoms).  On top of that, because of the need to avoid the police, they have to ply their trade on the less well populated, more dimly lit streets.  They have to rush through the initial negotiations for fear of being caught, and that means less chance to assess their potential clients and pick up any worrying or off-putting vibes from them.  All of which can put them in a lot more danger.

So, overall, the Swedish Model looks like pretty bad news for prostitutes.  It's bad news in practice because of the extra difficulties it causes for them and the significant extra danger it inflicts on the most vulnerable women in this job.  And it's bad news in principle, because it's fundamentally based on the idea that prostitutes are not considered capable of making their own decisions about something as important as what work they choose.  That last, of course, could be bad news for other women as well.  Speaking for myself, I really don't want a law on the books that boils down to 'If a woman makes sexual choices outside of what society sanctions as appropriate, she can thereby be considered incompetent to make her own decisions.'  That could be a very scary road to go down.

 

(1) I do wish to point out that this is a hypothetical example.  In the first place, I wouldn't break my marriage vows for love nor money; in the second place, I already have a way of making money from activities that involve seeing people in states of undress and doing a lot of the sort of things that make many people wince "Ick! I could never do that".  Of course, working as a doctor doesn't command nearly as high an hourly rate as Maggie used to earn in her career, but it's still the job I love and I'm sticking with it.  And I defend the right of a prostitute who wants to keep her job to do the same.

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Life with my son

Welcome to the March 2012 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Parenting With Special Needs

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama. This month our participants have shared how we parent despite and because of challenges thrown our way. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.

 


For the second time, I’m taking part in the Carnival of Natural Parenting despite not considering myself a Natural Parent, in response to a topic that happened to be relevant to my unnatural self as well.  The topic this month is ‘Parenting With Special Needs’.

My son Jamie, now aged seven, is autistic.  He’s not what you might think of when you think of an autistic child; he doesn’t spend his days sitting in corners rocking unresponsively, locked into his own little world.  He’s fully verbal, attends a mainstream school, and loves to tell you about his computer games, cooking, and the things he’s learning about space and planets at school this term.  But, if you met him, you’d pretty soon notice some unusual things about the way he acts. 

When I say that he loves to tell you about his computer games, that doesn’t really cover it; he will talk incessantly about his computer games, and, while I appreciate that this is within the bounds of normal behaviour for a seven-year-old, the way that he does it isn’t.  He’ll describe the game in obsessive detail without ever giving you any sort of general explanation of what it’s about, unable to see the wood for his focus on every tree.  If you try to stop his monologue to do something else it will freak him out.  So will any attempt to stop him when he’s fixated on an idea or way of doing something (including an idea that someone else in his life should do something in a particular way).  It’s often not obvious in advance when that is – he’s not one of those children who need every little detail of the routine always to be the same, but, when he has got it into his head that things should go a particular way, any expectation that he change his plans without warning will cause all hell to break loose.  He doesn’t really understand how the way he acts can affect the feelings of others.  He doesn’t really get the normal social conventions that other people pick up easily enough to take for granted.  He manages at school only with full-time one-to-one assistance from a teaching assistant and a lot of flexibility on the school’s part about how much of the curriculum he actually does. 

Communication can be a problem because, while Jamie superficially seems to have very good verbal skills, but it really isn’t the way that he most easily takes things in, and I’ve had huge problems with getting his attention to ask him or tell him things.  This can be extremely frustrating, all the more so because he seems able to understand perfectly well when he wants to and it’s so easy to fall into the trap of thinking he’s just being naughty and ignoring me.  But he isn’t; he genuinely has a problem processing what he hears, and the fact that he often does manage to deal well with that problem doesn’t change the fact that it is a problem.  He’s a lot better at it than he used to be, but it will never be the easiest way for him to take things in.

The key, with this, has been to write things down.  Whether it’s something as simple as the choices available for lunch (for a good while, I had a standard menu saved on my computer to print out a list of choices from which he could pick) or a more complicated issue that needs a social story to help him understand what he should be doing, writing rather than talking has been a huge help.  It seems appropriate; my husband and I met on a social group on the Internet, and now, twelve years later, here we are communicating with our first-born child in writing.

I’ve written before about my attempts at trying positive discipline with my children.  Jamie’s difficulty in communicating his wishes definitely made this harder at first.  Before I’d ever heard the term ‘positive discipline’, I’d devoured Faber and Mazlish’s ‘How To Talk So Kids Will Listen And Listen So Kids Will Talk‘, with their description of solving discipline problems by presenting the dilemma to the children in an empathetic way (“Oh, no!  You and your sister both want to have the yellow cup!  Looks like you both really want it!  What can we do?”) thus inspiring the child to come up with his or her own answers.  I loved the idea and looked forward eagerly to trying it out with my own children as soon as they were old enough (I read it when Jamie was a toddler).  But, for a long time, it was an absolute non-starter for Jamie – he would carry on screaming with no concept whatsoever of the possibility of trying to solve the problem, leaving me wondering unhappily what I was doing wrong.

(I eventually found Ross Greene’s books ‘The Explosive Child‘ and ‘Lost At School‘ to be useful reading here, although they aren’t about autistic children; they’re about working with children who don’t have the normal social skills and do need a lot more prompting through the whole problem-resolving process than the children in the ‘How To Talk…’ examples.  They didn’t teach me anything very new about the process, but the books did help me to realise that it was OK for my son to need quite a bit more guidance through the procedure, and that doing so was helping rather than stifling his development in this area.)

But, as the years have gone by and Jamie has matured further, I’ve found that problem-solving is starting to work.  It’s working more often in the short term, and, little by tiny, tiny bit, he’s picking up more of the skills of self-control and conflict resolution that I want him to learn in the long term.  And, as I’ve learned more about the principles of positive discipline, I’ve realised that they are, if anything, even more important with my son.  Instead of seeing unwanted behaviour as ‘naughty’ and something to punish him out of, I’ve learned to see it as his lack of ability to behave appropriately, and his need for more teaching and guidance.  Or as his response to the stresses that freak him out and that I need to learn to understand.  Often when Jamie acts in a way that seems ‘naughty’ or inappropriate, it’s because some seemingly ordinary part of life is freaking him out in a way it wouldn’t freak out another person, or because, for all his verbal ability, he’s just not very good at explaining his feelings to us. 

I remember one occasion, a couple of years back, when, in the middle of a screaming fit, he made up a rule that Katie and I weren’t allowed in the living room.  I don’t remember the exact rule – I think he defined a narrow age range that was permitted in and that would have excluded both me and Katie while including him – but I do remember him screaming it at us, screaming over and over “You are not allowed in the living room!  Get out!”  I was outraged – how dare he try to make up rules about who was or wasn’t allowed in a room of the house that we all shared?  And then I suddenly thought about what it must be like to be a little boy with autism who really needed a few minutes on his own, just a bit of space, but who wasn’t good at explaining his feelings in words and was feeling too overwhelmed by life right now to phrase his reasonable request in a socially acceptable way.

“Jamie,” I asked him, “do you mean that you want to be on your own in the living room for a bit?”

“Yes,” he said a bit more calmly.

“Then the way you say it is ‘Could you please leave?'”

He repeated the phrase, and I scooped up Katie and left.  Because, after all, once I’d got past the way he was asking to what he was asking, it was a perfectly reasonable request; heaven knows I’ve needed a few minutes (or hours) on my own for down time in the past.  He simply hadn’t known how to ask for it without having a meltdown.  By understanding where he was coming from, I’d been able to help him with the skill he needed.  (And, after that and other similar occasions, he’s since then been able to echo the phrase back when it’s needed at least some of the time.)

Life with Jamie feels normal to us because it is what’s normal to us.  It’s just the way our parenting experience has been.  Maybe it would have felt different if we’d had Katie first and were always comparing Jamie to a memory of a neurotypical (the autistic word for ‘non-autistic’) child of the same age, but, as it is, we pretty much take his differences in our stride and figure out ways to work with them or work round them.  Parenting is about accepting, respecting, and working with your child’s strengths and weaknesses.  Parenting Jamie, with his particular and less common strengths and weaknesses, is just the variation of that principle that we have in our lives.

People so often hear ‘disability’ or ‘autism’ as dark scary words warning of dire fates, but to me, those words have always been positive.  They’re words that open up new worlds of interest to be explored, worlds that hold some of the keys to understanding my son and to understanding more about people anyway.  And they’re words of comfort and reassurance; the words that told me – and still tell me, in times of doubt – that Jamie’s differences and difficulties aren’t due to any failing on my part as his mother, that they’re not evidence of anything I should be doing differently or more of or less of.  They’re words that have freed me to understand him as he really is.

Being Jamie’s mother is often difficult, usually interesting (apart from the whole listening-to-monologues-about-computer-games bit, which is mind-numbingly boring), often challenging, frequently fun, and nearly always exciting and intriguing.  And writing all of that kind of feels like a ‘Duh’, because, well, isn’t that what being anyone’s mother is like?  Obviously, if the genetic shuffle had dealt me a neurotypical child for my first as well as my second then my overall parenting experience would have been rather fundamentally different, but I’m glad that wasn’t how things ended up; I like having one child of each variety, one with whom I can have a fairly normal parenting experience and one who’s stretched my experience and my ways of seeing the world into new and interesting shapes.  Our story isn’t a story of tragic struggle or heroically overcoming the odds or finding new meaning in life – none of the traditional themes for Disability Stories.  It’s just about my two children – one disabled, one not – and about how grateful I am to have such a funny, interesting, challenging, lovable, wonderful little boy and girl in my life.

***

Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

(This list will be live and updated by afternoon March 13 with all the carnival links.)

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Revenant

Given that the whole point of struggling through NaBloPoMo was to overcome my writer's block and get me posting more, you'd be forgiven for thinking at this point that it really wasn't worth the trouble, given how scanty my posts have been lately. To be honest, I'm not sure what happened; first there was the scramble to sort out all the Christmas preparations that I should have done weeks earlier combined with trying to get that mammoth post about bedsharing risks written on my other blog, then there was the Great Bedtime Nightmare of the Christmas holidays where the children's always-shaky journey towards bedtime disintegrated completely under the weight of holiday excitement and one, other, or both of them would take until midnight or later to get to sleep every. bloody. night. that holiday, then shortly after I got that improved somewhat Jamie got worms and his sleep went haywire again, then I was trying to actually spend a bit of time with my poor husband after all those shattered evenings, then I'd got out of the habit of blogging, and suddenly here I am two months later with nothing written other than one post about Nativity plays and one about sex workers' rights.  (At least the content makes up in eclecticism for what it lacks in quantity.)

So, what's been happening?  I really do need to get back to posting the snippets more regularly, even if not on a daily basis this time; without that, life with the kids blends into a sort of general fog of thrilled contentment at their general wonderfulness laced with frustration at what little devils they can be when it suits them.  Some specific moments:

When it snowed, a few weeks ago, I showed Jamie the white-blanketed world from the window when he woke up.  "It's really cool that Great Britain decided to do that," he commented.

………..

Katie: "What's sawdust?  Does it come from a sword?"

………..

Jamie (who has been learning about the solar system at school, and also, as luck would have it, has a placemat at home with facts about the different planets on it): "Saturn is really big, and it's got 61 moons!"

Katie (whose placemat shows a map of the world): "Russia's really big also, and it's got THIRTEEN moons!"

…………

Me, to Jamie: "I was born in 1970."

Jamie, surprised: "How do you remember that?"

 

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Their bodies, their choice

Last year, clicking through links from different blogs, I came across one called The Honest Courtesan, written under the nom de plume of Maggie McNeill.  I've been reading it ever since; it makes a pleasantly interesting change from all the heated debate over parenting-related issues that is my more usual fare.  Maggie is a former escort worker who blogs in favour of decriminalisation of prostitution.

I've never had a problem with the concept that prostitution should be legal; I've always found it far harder to see why it shouldn't be.  I have never seen a voluntary exchange of sex for money as being something that should be the law's business (except insofar as any profession should be assured of good working conditions), and I'd like the portion of my taxes that's spent on law and order to be spent on clearing up things that actually do harm other people rather than wasted on arrests of/sanctions against people who weren't doing anyone any harm in the first place.  So the idea of decriminalising prostitution (1) wasn't a new or startling one to me.

However, reading Maggie's blog, and some of the sites she links to, has been an education on the complexities of the subject.  And an eclectic one.  Maggie writes a lengthy post every day, nearly all of them on the topic of prostitution, and she approaches it from every angle imaginable.  Current events, legalities, ethics, philosophy, personal experience (never written to be racy or titillating, but do be warned that she does get pretty frank and open about some of the details), history, and even the odd bit of prostitution-related fiction (and, no, it's never pornographic fiction).  As you can imagine, I've learned a lot about the subject, and a lot about anti-prostitution arguments and some of their flaws.

So, a couple of years back, Maggie made a suggestion.  For reasons explained here, she suggested making Friday the Thirteenth a day for speaking out in favour of decriminalisation of prostitution. I wasn't reading her blog then, and so I didn't see this until her follow-up post on May 13th of last year; as it happens, this is the first Friday the Thirteenth since then, and thus the first opportunity I've had to use this day to speak out on the subject.

While most happy to oblige, I wasn't sure where to start on dealing with the complexities of this subject and the many myths around it. As it happens, however, the perfect cue came up a couple of weeks ago; the subject of prostitution somehow came up in the middle of a blog debate about something utterly different, and one commenter summed the different positions up rather nicely:

What a certain sector of feminist thought argues is that sex work can be *chosen* and is a legitimate and potentially empowering choice for women. Those that disagree will often retort that no one would choose prostitution if other options were reasonably available and though they may not be “forced” at gun point they are “forced” by lack of access to education, poor support for addictive illnesses, shredded social safety nets, etc.

And so, for this Friday the Thirteenth, I want to reply to the position described in her second sentence.

First of all, there is an important factual error to note here: the claim that no-one would choose prostitution if other reasonable options were available. In fact, many women do precisely this. Last year, in Wales, researchers surveyed women in the non-streetwalker forms of prostitution (brothel work and escort work) to find out about their reasons for entering the world's oldest profession, and were surprised to find that – far from being forced into it by desperate circumstances – the majority of the women they spoke to had willingly left good careers in other areas to go into sex work.  Similar findings were emerging from research done in the USA.

While many people will have a hard time believing those findings, the fact is that a career in the higher-end forms of prostitution has many benefits – it's very well paid, women can set their own hours, working conditions are often excellent (they may see their clients at luxury hotels, and at least one post on Maggie's blog is a review of the quality restaurants to which her clients took her before, or sometimes even instead of, getting down to the part of the evening more usually associated with the job), and there is no doubt that they're going to have a lot of satisfied clients. So, in fact, it isn't so surprising to find that there are women such as Maggie who genuinely enjoy their work in prostitution and who choose to stay in the job in spite of having other perfectly good options available to them. In fact, the biggest problems that many women face with the job are simply those thrown in their way by the restrictive laws around the profession that have been put into place in misguided attempts to help these women.

However, it is also, of course, quite true that many other prostitutes are only in the profession due to being forced into it by straitened circumstances – they don't like the idea of having sex with multiple strangers, but they need the money and either they have no other way of getting it or the other jobs available to them are worse. (2) And this fact is often used as an argument for trying to stamp out prostitution – that anti-prostitution laws are needed to help and protect those women forced into the profession.  What this argument ignores, however, is that if someone has picked Option X as being the best available to them out of a limited selection of disliked options, all that removing Option X does is to leave them with the options that they've already concluded are even worse.

If a woman has decided that prostitution is the least unattractive option available to her at this time in her life, making it illegal is not going to change whatever life circumstances have led her to that decision.  It may leave her with one of the choices that she has already decided to be more unsavoury to her (destitution, or working at a worse job); or it may leave her working as a prostitute anyway, with her lot made worse by the added burden of anti-prostitution laws.  Either way, it is not going to help her.  She does not need anti-prostitution laws set up in a misguided attempt to 'protect' her – she needs help and support coupled with an acknowledgement of the fact that, if she is an adult of sound mind, she is the person best placed to make decisions about her own life and that she should have the right to do so.

So, for the above reasons and many others: yes, I do agree that sex work can be freely chosen.  I do agree that it is a legitimate choice.  I do agree that it can be potentially empowering for women.  And, while I recognise that there are large numbers involved in the industry who do not find it empowering and would not want to be in that job if they had a better option, I also recognise that making it illegal is not the answer to that problem.  Today is my first Friday the Thirteenth of blogging for the rights of sex workers: I hope it won't be the last.

 

Footnotes

(1) There is, apparently, a technical issue of wording to be considered here: apparently legalisation is not the same as decriminalisation.  Legalisation requires prostitution to be subject to whatever laws and licencing procedures the government may deem relevant, and governments, apparently, have an appalling track record on that score; their attempts to set up legal frameworks to control and regulate prostitutes have invariably led to laws that have done far more harm than good.  Decriminalisation apparently means that you stop making it illegal without the requirement to throw in a bunch of totally unnecessary and problematic new laws.  I am not a lawyer and don't play one on TV, so I do hope I got that distinction right.  In any case, this is why decriminalisation is the term that Maggie uses and the one that I have used here, other than in the footnoted sentence describing my views prior to encountering her blog.

(2) I'm not, in this post, discussing the far more uncommon but far more tragic cases in which women are forced into prostitution in the more literal sense of being under threat of violence to themselves or their families if they don't comply, such as trafficked women.  I think that people from all sides of the prostitution debate can agree that trafficking is a hideous crime that needs to remain illegal, regardless of what happens with prostitution laws.  However, although making prostitution illegal is often advocated as a way of fighting sex trafficking, there is little evidence that it is of any help; meanwhile, anti-prostitution laws harm the women who are involved in the profession by choice.

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‘Tis the season

It's been a blur of last-minute on-line orders, frantic scribbling of cards, and vows to do Flylady's 'Cruising Through The Holidays' scheme next year like I should have done (hang on a moment – didn't I make that same vow before?) but I did, finally, get enough Christmas preparations done in time.  And, after that, Christmas itself was wonderful.  Barry's family were staying so I had people to fob the kids off on while I curled up for two blissful days of indulging in books and chocolate.  And, yes, I did emerge for long enough to help with meal preparation, but Barry did the bulk of that, producing a magnificent Christmas feast and some decent recipes for the leftover turkey this week. 

For the Nativity this year, Jamie's school gave a performance of 'The Supersonic Lamb', which, like 'The Hoity-Toity Angel' the previous year, followed the theme of 'Conceited being journeys to stable and, as a result, learns valuable life lesson about importance of not being conceited'.  As Jamie's in Year 2, he got to have a speaking part this year instead of just being part of the chorus, and chose to be one of the three kings.  We did have a minor crisis at one point when he decided, after everyone had learned their parts and it was far too late to change, that he wanted to be an old sheep instead and if he couldn't do that he wasn't going to be in the play at all – when I heard that I was all, good grief, child, even Edward VIII required rather more inducement than that to make him give up on kingship and, by the way, if you feel that way I happen to have this rather nice mess of pottage here which I'm willing to trade for the very reasonable price of only one birthright and would I be right in thinking that you might be interested… but, in fact, when I saw the production I did see where he was coming from on this, as the old sheep actually had really important parts.  (They had a dispenser-of-wisdom role, repeating the play's moral – "It doesn't matter at all whether you're first or last, just as long as you try your very hardest" – at frequent intervals throughout.  The kings had a couple of lines and one song.)  Anyway, after some persuasion all round Jamie reconciled himself to being a king.  And a very fine job of it he made, standing up there in his cloak and crown and joining in the lines and the song with the rest, and I wiped away a happy tear or two as I watched.

Katie's nursery had a short sing-song of children's carols and Christmas songs, which Katie had great fun singing around the house for days beforehand, occasionally with the conventional words but more often with her own misinterpretations and/or cheerfully scatalogical changes of the lyrics mixed in.  At one point, collecting the blocks of the marble run I'd been trying to put away, she told me they were food that we had to take to Away In A Manger's house to make the Baby Jesus lie down.  We were supposed to put her in a Christmas-themed costume, but when Barry found an angel costume in Sainsbury's for her she insisted she wanted the ballerina one instead – I came up with the idea of putting her in that and saying she was the fairy on top of the Christmas tree, but, when I told Katie that plan, she insisted that she was a ballerina.  And, no, not the Sugar Plum Fairy either (my next idea) – a ballerina.  (I did not succeed in explaining to her that the Sugar Plum Fairy is danced by a ballerina.)  So, a ballerina she was – I figured (correctly) that no-one was going to turn her away from the nursery carol concert because her costume was inadequately Christmasy to be allowed in.  Anyway, it was better than Buzz Lightyear, which had been her initial suggestion.

On the day itself, Katie squealed in delight at all the new Duplo she could add to her collection and sneaked Pringles and chocolates throughout the day, and Jamie accepted his new gifts with equanimity and spent the day playing his various electronic games both new and old.  And I enjoyed my time off, dived into my stack of new books, and am feeling quite refreshed and at least somewhat ready to face whatever the new year may bring.

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Magnum opus

You might quite reasonably have assumed that my long absence from here was due to post-NaBloPoMo burnout, but you'd be wrong.  I was actually working on the first post written specifically for the Parenting Myths and Facts blog.  And, good lord, was it ever a project.

The topic was one I'd been meaning to write about for several years, but never tackled due to its sheer enormity – a summary of the research on the safety of sharing a bed with your baby, and why different factions reach such completely opposed conclusions on the subject.  (I was originally going to title it 'Why almost everybody in the bedsharing debate is wrong', but decided that might be too contentious.)  I was finally kicked into action when Jenn at Monkey Butt Junction came up with the idea of a blog carnival on safe co-sleeping, and I figured I'd have a shot at getting it done in time to submit it.  And, after days of frantic rewriting and doubting whether I had a hope of making it, I finally got it finished the day before the Carnival and edited (when I woke up on the Carnival morning and remembered a study I'd omitted) about five minutes before it went live, which it did a week ago.  It was worth it – if I say so myself, I'm proud of the finished product.  Do please check out The truth about bedsharing risks – and why it may not be what you think.

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Finito

I heard noises in the hall above as I was finishing my breakfast and thought ah, good, Jamie's woken up before I came to get him and that'll mean one fewer child to roust out of a sound sleep, which will save time.  So I finished my last few bites and went upstairs and discovered that Katie had apparently translocated to the hallway, bedding and all.  She must have woken up and decided to drag her duvet and pillow out into the hallway and make a bed for herself there, and there she was, all snuggled up.  I wish I'd thought to get a photo.

Since I had today off, I'd expected it to be one of my easiest NaBloPoMo days, something to look forward to during all the days on which I struggled mightily to find time; if I could find time for the first twenty-nine, I'd be home free for the thirtieth.  The strike, of course, put a crimp in that – Jamie's school was closed and, as our childminder was rather understandably not keen on having him dumped on her for the day, I had him at home.  Fortunately the nursery, which Katie goes to on Mondays and Wednesdays, was still open, so at least I could get some stuff done while Jamie played on his computer, which was lucky as I'd planned today as the day of the Great Annual Clothes Swap-Over from the outgrown to the new ones, and they're both so obviously outgrowing their old stuff I didn't want to leave it any longer.  So I've been sorting out what can be saved (of Jamie's clothes) or donated (of Katie's) and what should simply be culled, and getting the shop labels off the new ones to put them in the drawers.  I haven't done all of it (still need to finish sorting through Jamie's saved hand-me-downs for age 4 – 5 to decide which ones to save for Katie) but have done the bulk of it, which is a major relief to have out of the way.  I managed to read a couple of old journals from the Journal Backlog Pile as well, so, all in all, it has been a passingly productive day.

And, of course – holy cow – I've also completed NaBloPoMo.  Bloody hell – I actually made it.  Crack open the champagne, start the trumpet fanfares and drum rattles, bring on the dancing horses.  Oh, yes, and remember to hit 'Publish' here so that I don't actually fall at the very last fence.  Aaaaaaand… done.  Goodnight, and wishing one and all a happy December.

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Penultimate

"Why can't children say all the words?" Jamie wanted to know.

"What was that, sweetheart?" I was pretty sure I'd heard him, but he was chewing his dinner and I wanted to check.

"Why…" Jamie's brown eyes locked on mine, his face serious with concentration as he tried to figure out how to phrase the idea he was trying to get across.  "Why are there words that children can't say till they're eighteen?"

"You mean like on the telly last night?" A word in a speech shown on the news had been bleeped out, and Jamie had wanted to know why; I explained to him that there were some words that children weren't allowed to say until they were eighteen, and so they wouldn't put them on the telly in case children heard. "Well, there are some words that people think are not very nice, that might offend people – that means upset them – and it's harder for children to know when the times are that you shouldn't say those words, or to remember when not to say them, so it's better for children just not to say them at all until they're old enough to know more about when they can say them and when they can't."

Jamie seemed to accept that.  I'm sure we'll have further interesting conversations on the subject over the next few years.

……………………………………………………………

Katie continues to approach life with unabated enthusiasm.  This evening, running up and down the hall before her bath, found a red-painted shell lying around.  I can't even remember where we got it from – it's one of those little trinkets that you collect like fluff on the journey through life.  Katie reacted to it with a passion on the level of that girl from Twilight going on about that boring vampire hero Whatsisname.  "I love my shell so much!  I'm going to take it to my nursery and show my teacher!  I'm going to take it to Christine's and nursery and everywhere I go!  And if I go somewhere else I will take it with me there!  Because I love it so much!!"  Who knows – she may even remember its existence by tomorrow.

Later on, we read The Very Hungry Caterpillar, one of Katie's many favourites.

"In the light of the moon," I started out, "a little egg…"

Katie flopped onto the open pages, curled up into a ball.

"Are you being a little egg?" I inquired.

"A little egg on the moon!" she told me.

We moved on to the caterpillar, which Katie illustrated with a wiggly finger that she poked into each of the holes in turn and which, on the last page, duly hatched out into a butterfly made with linked hands flapping.  (She used to flap her arms when we got to that page – the caterpillar/butterfly hand is a new development these past couple of days.)  Then the caterpillar/butterfly was still hungry, so he had to keep on eating his way through the different items in the book while I took Jamie to use the toilet and get into his pyjamas, and then go for a crawl around the room (the caterpillar, not Jamie).  Eric Carle seems a positive amateur by comparison.

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Evening routines

Pushing against the clock, always pushing uphill.

As soon as the first child has finished pudding, I whisk them off upstairs and start them on the bedtime routine while waiting for the second child.  If it's Jamie, I can usually persuade him to get undressed and put his clothes in the laundry basket quite quickly and then get him into the bathroom to use the toilet, have me brush his teeth (must teach him how to do it for himself, must get round to doing that, but somehow every morning and every evening it's too much of a scramble, never enough time to teach anything), get him into the bath and have me wash him.  If it's Katie, it takes rather longer to distract her from wanting to run up and down the upstairs hall/do flumps on the beanbag/defeat Bowser in order to get her clothes off her and get her into the bathroom, whereupon she insists on taking up long-term residence on the toilet.  She's going to grow up to be one of those people who take the Sunday Times in there and sit there for half an hour reading the whole thing.  Then we have some negotiation around getting her teeth brushed and then I get her into the bath and wash her while she tries to play pouring games and whisking the water with the eggbeater (which she used to call an eggdbeater but can now pronounce properly).  Katie gets her hair washed every day; Jamie gets his washed Tuesdays and Saturdays, and rinsed off on the other days when I shower him off, and he's also a bit simpler to wash because I can use the same soap all over him instead of negotiating eczematous areas with medicated lotion.

As you can imagine, I prefer it when I can get Katie upstairs first and at least get Jamie ready for bed while she's sitting on the toilet – the time works out better that way – but she's also the one who usually takes longer over her dinner and pudding, so it's usually Jamie first.  At least that means he can use the toilet and get it done without having to compete with Katie.  But they'll compete for my attention while Katie sits on the toilet and Jamie in the bath.  Apparently the bathroom contains an invisible remote on-switch for Super Mario monologues, because Jamie will invariably start up during the getting-ready-for-bed process with 'Let me tell you about the different worlds in Super Mario 64…' or something similar, and keep going on and on and on and on and on.  Katie will promptly start screaming about something random, which is partly because she's learned perfectly well that once Jamie gets started she isn't going to get a chance to get a word in edgeways any time soon and partly because she just plain doesn't like the idea of anyone who isn't her getting my attention.  Both of them start screaming at each other and I have to calm them down somehow, make a joke out of it, or try to discuss things.  Or just get out of the bathroom for two minutes and leave them to it while I get a bit of space.

When Katie's washed, I try to get her to stand up so that I can lift her out easily – we have a game where she pretends to be a seed and I water her with the blue measuring cup and get her to grow into a plant while chanting "It's growing, it's growing… it's biiiig" (her script).  She likes the game when I can get her started on it, but all the other fun things to do in the bath are too much of a distraction and it can be quite difficult to get her to do it.  If I really can't, I just lift her out.  Jamie has usually got out himself by now and gone into the bedroom to wrap himself up in the towel I hang on the end of his bed and climb up onto his bunk, often with a continued Mario-themed monologue drifting back towards us.

On to what I think of as Phase 2 of getting ready for bed.  Jamie needs to have his night-time nappy on (and I get him to go to the toilet one last time beforehand – the nappies are no longer enough for the night and I'll be in his room changing him a couple of hours later before I get to bed myself, in hopes of keeping him from leaking through before morning) and then get into his pyjamas.  Katie needs to have her hair brushed and her pyjamas and night-time cream put on her and she wants three stories, so, since Jamie will usually entertain himself with a book or continued Mario monologues, he's unfortunately the one who gets short shrift at this point.  (I'd be happy for him to come and join in the stories, but he just isn't that interested.)  I go back and forth between children, trying to get the bits done that need to be done and avoid either of them being left alone for long enough to decide to start getting a game out or inventing something exciting to play.

Lights out time. There's a 'so near and yet so far' feeling now.  If it's a day when I wasn't working in the afternoon, there's a good chance I'll be sort of kind of vaguely close to on schedule for when they should get to bed.  If I was working in the afternoon, there won't be a hope – I always overrun, Barry has to collect the children, and by the time he's finished work and driven to pick them up and got them home and got dinner cooked and the children have eaten it and been through the above, it's going to be later than it should be and that's all there is to it.  By then, it's damage limitation, trying to get them to bed as soon as I can, knowing I'm facing the double whammy of losing my evening time and having a struggle to get them woken up in the morning when they haven't had enough sleep.  If they could just settle down quickly now, it would help, but they don't want to – Katie is bouncing around and wanting me to watch her hang on the side of the top bunk and then slide down and in to drop onto her own bunk.  Jamie may well be on his bunk and ready to settle, but, if he's wandered off and found something he wants to play with, I've got practically no chance of redirecting him.  Sometimes it's quicker just to send him to the study down the hall to play while I at least get Katie into bed.  But usually, by this stage, both of them are in bed, with Katie insisting that she's not ready for me to put the lights out and me telling her unsympathetically that she can hurry up and get ready then.  I count down from five before putting the lights out, but somehow that never seems to work out as planned – instead of the countdown being the warning it's somehow become part of the ritual, and she insists she has to be ready (whatever that means – some arrangement of stuffed animals, herself snuggled under the duvet, and random variations that she comes up with on the spur of the moment) before I can start counting.  OK, enough.  Five, four, three, two, one, zero.  Too bad, Katie, you had plenty of warning and you could have done whatever it takes to get ready more quickly.

I settle down on the ground next to Katie's bunk for a tiny little sleep with her, as she always describes it.  (I used to lie on the bunk next to her, but then came the evening I staggered through from the bathroom with Katie in my arms and sat down heavily on the side of the bunk and it cracked under our combined weights landing on it so abruptly – Barry managed to screw the wood back together, but he's forbidden me to put weight on it in future.)  It's usually just a matter of waiting now, waiting to make sure they do settle down.  They've mostly grown out of the stage of setting each other off into an escalating spiral of overexcitement the way they used to.  Mostly.  I can't ever quite exclude the possibility that one or other of them will decide to kick off.  For two years, I had the cot in our room as backup to put Katie in if she did get too noisy, but by now Barry and I are more than ready to reclaim our room as our own space, and as Katie approached four I felt she was getting too old for a cot anyway – so I've deliberately avoided that fallback for the past couple of months.  There's always the spare room – I'm not wild about using that option, but I have put Katie in bed there a couple of times until she settled and it's worked out OK.  That's what I had to do tonight.

But mostly by this stage it's just waiting them out, waiting for them to settle.  Past a certain point it's OK – tiredness takes over, they can't summon up the energy to start kicking up a fuss or to get out of bed – but it's never very clear when that point's been passed on any given evening, so I just wait and hope.  Katie's the wrigglier one, but usually also the quicker one to fall asleep, younger and more tired out by the day.  Jamie will usually be quite happy to stay in bed and read or just lie there, turning his hand-held light back and forth in slow hypnotic rhythms that he stares at, but in recent days he's been prone to getting out of bed wanting to know how long it's been since he went to bed and insisting he's not tired – an unwelcome development, I do hope it's just the effect of the bad cold he had last week keeping him awake.

Settled enough that I think I can leave them.  I sit on the floor outside their room, ostensibly waiting to be sure neither of them gets up but actually snatching a bit of time to sit and read before having to summon up the energy to face the rest of the evening's jobs – I'm drained.  If I'm feeling virtuous, I might tackle some of the eternal journal backlog – more usually, it's whatever piece of fiction is handy.

Finally, finally, they're asleep.  I manage to make myself get moving, which takes even longer.  Still the lunches and drinks to get ready for tomorrow, the kitchen counters and dining room table to wipe down, laundry to be put in the washing machine/dryer/hung on the clothes horses.  A few minutes for myself, time borrowed from my sleep time, knowing the price I'll end up paying in tiredness is probably going to be higher than I want.  Browsing the Internet, putting off the final effort to get up and finish the evening.  Shower.  Bed. Tomorrow, tomorrow, I'll start earlier, finish earlier, find some extra depth of organisation.  Always more days.

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Sundries

Katie's actual birthday was on Friday – again, we didn't do anything much to mark the day after having had the big present-giving occasion the previous weekend, but she did get one present on the day (a Peppa Pig top from our childminder, who had previously given Jamie a Transformer's T-shirt for his), and cards from the childminder and from Jamie, as I hadn't been organised enough to get him to write in his card for her in time for last week's festivities.  Actually, I wasn't really organised enough to get him to do it for this week – I just took advantage of the fact that he had as usual finished dinner before her to haul him into my study (an extension of the dining room) and thrust the card and a pencil in front of him as unobtrusively as possible.  Katie was pleased with the card, anyway – a picture of a dinosaur holding up a large number 4. 

"Look!  He's etten a bit of the 4!" she squealed in delight.  So he had – I hadn't actually noticed, but the designer had drawn a large bite mark in the top of the 4, which was a rather cute touch.  Katie certainly appreciated it.  "It must be made of cheese!"

She chose her birthday cake the next day at Sainsbury's – a giant chocolate hedgehog, though we didn't bother with any candles this time around in the general Saturday evening kerfuffle of getting the children fed and upstairs to bed – and we also gave each child one last present on the Saturday morning, the new Cars 2 DVD for Katie and the Wii Super Mario Galaxy game for Jamie.  And that's that over for another year.  I really must get round to doing something about Christmas.  Present lists, please, family members of mine!

The walk that Barry's workplace had planned for today was, unfortunately, cancelled at the last minute due to general lack of interest, so we went for a stroll in a local scenic village instead, where the kids had a great time climbing on the stone constructions in the village centre.  Jamie decided to have a climbing competition but wasn't very clear on what the rules should be, so the two of them ended up running round the central stone steps a few times instead.  Katie was most proud of herself for managing to climb up on the other stone marker.  "Would you like to see me climb up there?" she wanted to know (I'd been with Jamie on the central stone construction while Barry was with Katie).

"I saw you from over here," I explained.

"Would you like to see me do it closer up?" Katie suggested, clearly not about to take no for an answer.  So I watched her climb up several more times, and we had a lovely time walking through the village and enjoying the end of autumn.  Now we're all back home in the warmth, with Jamie busy playing Super Mario Galaxy and Katie snuggled up with Barry on his armchair playing games on his phone and looking at pictures on his computer.

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