Still on the topic of gender – Small has female external sex characteristics and as such we have, until Small is old enough to make the decision for themselves, chosen to identify her as female-gendered as well (since the majority of people match gender and sex) so why if She is normally she.. does my brain occsionally absent-mindedly refer to her as He.
On a different parenting note – currently Small sleeps in a moses basket beside me and feeds 2 or 3 times a night; despite sensible precautions and anxiety management inevitably the 1st time I wake after feeding her I panic about where she is, often wondering if I dropped or squashed her but also paranoid she is somewhere else entirely, before remembering putting her down and being able to hear her breathing.
Seriously, someone make small talk with me for more than 5 minutes about something that is not Baby…
Back in a time before Baby, I had a lot of opinions about parenting.
One of the things I developed a fairly strong opinion on in the run up to starting a family was gender-neutral parenting. What modern ‘liberal’ free-thinking middle-class woman hasn’t thought about how to give children positive messages about the fluidity of gender and enable them to make informed choices in their life which are unconstrained by social conceptions of gender even if they are eventually conforming? I am keen to make sure traits and preferences are not gender-coded; that all clothing and job choices are seen as valid options. I want blue and pink to just be colours, fairies & dinosaurs to be fun. But what if we overdo it, I worry that our little family is not equipped to demonstrate and articulate expressions of traditional femininity – girly isn’t really our thing…
Then I look at the reality that snuck up on us.
A lot of the clothes we have for baby are second-hand or are gifts from relatives. Financially, it is daft for us to even contemplate not taking the help we have been offered. So pink it is.
Plus it turns out not only do some people just love buying girly stuff, only those with female shaped (and coded) babies been happy to donate clothing and actually it is surprisingly hard to buy things other than in very gendered blue or pink (ie no blue flowers or pink robots or green well anything)
But as I watch relatives and complete strangers flail around desparately trying to gender our child if they cannot see blue or pink cues I realise that this is not a battle that can even be fought just with accessories – perhaps it is more important that Small realises that even when they have to dress to conform for safety or other reasons that doesn’t restrict the way they fee lor their intrinsic worth.
One of my most difficult dilemmas is parent naming.
Small has 2 mummies and a daddy. But should the mummies have different names to her? How should we introduce ourselves? How should I enforce making relatives give Mummy W appropriate recognition? What if neither of the mummies have ever been entirely comfortable with the idea of motherhood? What if Daddy is wrapped up in a very traditonal 2 parent model?
And this is the key area of difficulty what are the boundaries and responsibilities of 3 parents? And how can we make that work for a small human who has her own needs?
So its been over a year since I last posted – I feel guilty, I do, but I do have an excuse or two.
- (chronologically rather than importance-wise) B & I became 2 out of 4 joint leaseholders of a pub; spent a month refurbishing said pub, opened it and set about making it a profitable business before; falling out with our business partners and thus needing to become more responsible for the project whilst having less time to do so because:
- I got pregnant and had a baby
yup. Here it is in (slightly less) brief:
Jan: Planned for pub & got keys
Feb: Spent 15hrs/day refurbing pub; opened pub
Mar: Ran pub; found out I was pregnant
Apr: Ran pub, prepped for beer fest; felt rubbish
May: Ran pub, saw proto-baby for the 1st time, climbed a mountain with my Dad
Jun: Hols with W, Ran Pub, visited in-laws
Jul: Ran pub, 2nd Scan, publically acknowleged pregnancy
Aug: Ran pub; failed miserably to organise maternity cover but did lots of paperwork
Sept: Ran pub beer fest, hol with B, failed to reconcile difference with business partners
Oct: Ran pub, desparately rearranged staffing, agreed change in role of business partners
Nov: Took maternity leave, went home, had baby
Dec: fed baby, changed baby’s nappy, tried to sleep
Small was born almost exactly 9 months after we opened the pub (probably not a coincidence) and in the meantime I navigated the ups and downs of running a small business whilst also trying to find my footing in the new way our relationships with the each other and the world would work.
W, B & I did not smoothly negotiate the new patterns in my working life, new timetables and new fiscal entanglements; we also did not resolve issues surrounding our desires and responsibilities to the precious life we have been gifted with
W’s parents have not been wholly supportive and she had a breakdown in her mental health in the last months of my pregnancy. Similarly, the failure of our business partners to put the time and energy we expected from them into the pub, coupled with differences of perspective led to conflict and a lot of stress.
And despite the hertache I now have 2 impossible dreams growing in front of me…..
Now not to fail them
Like most people with ongoing depression issues I struggle with the holidays and find this whole time of year overwhelming.
Unlike several members of my intimate circle (friends and family) I like spending the christmas hols with my parents and siblings -our political differences are not so dramatic as to cause real hurt and we are quite good avoiding ‘issues’ where that seems to be required. Though they often don’t understand my choices we seem to have reached a happy détente and I feel no need to rock the boat so to speak.
Similarly, I am too far removed from office politics to give a shit about who I should kiss when or how I should frame our holiday schedules to make them make sense to monogamous folk.
And yet even having decided to not worry about whether people know about my intimate relationships or not, and whether or not that changes how I have to live my life – I am still stressed.
I am stressed not just because being open is not sufficient protection for the people I care about and they still have to deal with the judgements of others both on the basis of their decisions and mine – and yes some of our more poly sceptical friends our coming round to at least the “well I don’t approve but I can’t see anything obviously wrong with YOUR lives” view but its not quite making up for the “I’m not saying you can’t but you do know you are fucking up x’s life don’t you” camps… There are people I have known for years I just don’t know how to say to – “I get you care but back the fuck off because we are making this work by making our own rules and your constant whining/worrying is making it harder”… yes this makes it hard at this time of year when everyone is all about fucking hetero, mono family values but because actually its not as hard as just being expected to talk to people.
All the fucking parties. Organise this, make sure you have x,y,z together for when you see so-and-so…. leaving the house is a fucking struggle in spring when no one notices and you only have to get to the shops/see Mrs A./ go to your Dr.’s appt once a month or less but in december when everyone has a party and you need to do the shopping and getting a dr’s appt is a miracle, suddenly a week is a stack of unreasonable goals piled on almost impossible imaginary ideals.
And oh gods above they are all so cheery – if I believed what I heard at parties I’d know for sure that their relationships always got better and their jobs got more interesting
But that’s not what I feel as I curl up and battle back the tears before each time I venture outside, each time I wonder how to stop the shaking and hyperventilating to start a new conversation and everytime I want to apologise as someone starts to congratulate me on our new venture.
The desire to tear my skin apart is worse than it has been for nearly a year, my shoulder is hurting a lot again and I feel like a failure before we have even begun. Yay for self-fucking-confidence and all that shit.
I was going to write a post about why although I enjoy beer and know more than many people about keeping and drinking it, I am not and never will be a beer blogger or beer expert; it centred around my disinterest in beer reviewing on a personal writing level and my rather more serious inability to care about technical terminology and professional food-matching but apparently casual beer categories are trending (See here, here & here). So instead I shall jump on the bandwagon tell you what I give a shit about when I am picking beers.
I am not a scooper or a CAMRA spokesperson/committee busybody/member, I am not a beer sommelier, I am not (as mentioned above) a respected beer blogger or writer but I am a publican and a drinker. As such I can comfortably tell you that in the last decade I have tried over 5000 different beers and have prepared comfortably over 15,000 firkins for sale (no I didn’t count, yes it hurts) and although I didn’t write each one down I remember more than you might imagine.
Choosing beer will always have two elements for me… would I sell it in my pub and would I buy a pint of it.
With that in mind I tend to use the following 4 basic judgements: Is it in good condition/poor condition/off?; Is it well-made or thrown together?; Is it interesting or boring?; Do I enjoy it or not?
I haven’t really talked much about my volunteering at the archive here (normally discussing it over at my other blog) but it deserves a bit of a mention since it is currently my only truly regular activity outside of the domestic sphere.
The archive itself is dedicated to Mills and milling heritage and operates from a lovely listed building about 40 mins walk from my house. I don’t really have enough background in archives to have any idea how it compares to others but they are certainly working hard to do things right both in terms of procedure and with regard to making sure the material is used rather than simply stored.
The theory is that I go two afternoons a week – the minimum commitment for a volunteer is supposed to be 1 full day a week but in a fit of self-awareness I acknowledged mornings are hard for me and therefore 2 afternoons are more achievable and also get me out the house twice rather than once a week. However, I still struggle; it turns out that going into an office ticks all of my social anxiety boxes and that heading out of the house in the middle of the day might allow me to wake up appropriately but does also give me time to worry about going. Usually once I get there I can relax unless someone tries to talk to me or worse I need to ask someone a question… which fortunately doesn’t happen very often because actually cataloguing stuff is pretty straightforward and I now know as much or more about it in this context as anyone else. (It is more interesting than it sounds too)
Its good to get out of the house, and not just to walk the dog, because I am finding socialising pretty daunting at the moment. Not being at the pub means that people notice when I walk in and then I feel pressured into making conversation but without the safety-net of a bar between us. This effectively means that I only go in when there is someone with me and worse I have been semi-avoiding other bars in town because I know that there will be people I know in them as well. I need to push myself to break through this not just because its bad practice to ‘give-in’ to my anxiety but also because otherwise I will end up totally out of the loop with regard to new beers and best-sellers. I need to know what is available, what tastes good and what is doing well in the area if I am going to retain my position as ‘guru’. I don’t want to lose touch with what is going on in the world of beer just because I am currently between jobs, especially if I am going to order beer for next year’s beer festival and even more especially if I am ever going to run a pub of my own…….
When (and where) I was growing up working was one of those things everyone did. Sure, there were unemployed people around me (largely out-of-work builders which are a special sub-category) but they were always between jobs or at least full-time single mothers looking forward to going back to work. People started working young, finished working late and people never failed to ask you what you did for a living or what you were going to do when you grew up. The rhetoric of benefit scroungers hadn’t begun – though everyone knew at least one person ‘doing the double’ – if you could afford to not work you were probably some rich layabout, toff slacker but in essence the idea was similar – if you weren’t working you weren’t contributing to your family or to society at large.
This attitude to working that categorised it as a) only being real if it was paid b) a defining part of your personality and c) a measure of your human and social worth snuck into my subconscious very young. Interestingly though, the amount one was paid was never considered an important factor and there was some kudos attached to working very hard for little pay to feed your family and see them or choosing vocational roles like nursing which traditionally are poorly paid. What it did was teach me that my value as a member of society and as a member of my family is based on the amount of time and energy I put into supporting them through paid employment.
By not working I have transformed myself from being slightly feckless to a burden on those around me. I immediately become a fundamentally lazy and thoughtless individual (doubly so because I have the physical capability to work); my opinion matters less; I forfeit my right to welfare; I am simply not trying hard enough.
The political landscape in this country has increasingly reinforced these ideas – idle benefit scroungers are a daily feature of the news, (Today: Freeze unemployment benefits – which only last a few months anyway – but not working tax credit…), there is an idea that people who don’t work only ever hang around in pubs and cause crime and that there is a right sort of work [often ‘not pub work’]. This means that a graduate who refuses a job in a supermarket is a scrounging snob but ‘that kid over there with the brightly coloured tatts’ behind the counter at the supermarket twice a week is too lazy to get a full-time job… damned if you do and damned if you don’t. Oh and overlaying it more strongly now (and perhaps here – now I am in a town not the sticks) is an anxiety about spending enough to dress right, to have the appropriate gadgets but not to spend so much that you look profligate and reckless; about saving for a holiday but not necessarily a pension; about telling people you have no money so they won’t hate you but spending enough so you don’t seem stingy or like you really have none because you didn’t get paid very much/work hard enough to earn ‘enough’. Work harder, spend less, prove you can support your family, work harder, don’t ‘look’ poor…
Its all reassuringly liberal-capitalist: work hard and you’ll go far; count your success with your pennies and your consumption; useful = worthwhile; pay some taxes in (but not too much) don’t expect anything back; Earn it – Deserve it
As with many of these things I find myself stuck behind my own double standards – I fundamentally believe (intellectually) that one should be able to contribute to society and family in many ways, including voluntary work, political campaigning, house-keeping, etc. . I believe that I personally pay my taxes in order to provide schools and hospitals and nursing homes regardless of the work-status of families – I am proud to pay taxes to support people less fortunate than myself (though that doesn’t mean I don’t also believe that encouraging people to take responsibility for themselves and work towards an appropriate degree of self-sufficiency isn’t a goal of that support; or that some people do take the piss and don’t try to support themselves financially).
I also (emotionally) believe that I personally do not work hard enough and that by not being paid to work and therefore bringing money into our household I am of less use and thus worth. No amount of housework or emotional support or admin support or financial planning on my part will ever be as much of a contribution as being able to pay the bills and the mortgage and buy the food. Sad but true.
Sometimes the Cancer Research adverts still make me cry.
I have just got back from a trip to Scotland with my beloveds.
We ambled gently in the autumn mists, fought and made-up, drank copious beer, laughed and enjoyed each others company as only a family can (there were even board games). Although we didn’t manage to do as much walking as I would have liked, it was beautiful countryside.
September is one of my favourite times to go away and we had started planning this in about January but this year has been a little different to expectations, not least because it is hard to feel like its a holiday when you are not going back to work afterwards – though to be fair both W & B have some of the busiest parts of their working years coming up.
I, however, am unemployed for the first time since I was 19. I have juggled other commitments but largely I worked every weekend and a more than a few weekdays that I could. I don’t think I have even ever taken more than about a week sick leave, even when I was signed off sick from my PhD by my GP when the depression was really bad, even when I tore the cartilage in my knee… I didn’t take time off after my shoulder op either but by that time I knew it was coming to an end. So as you can imagine it is a very odd sensation to wake up with no obligation to ‘do’ anything except housework and no clear idea what the future holds.
At some point I may choose to write about my reasons for leaving but suffice to say that there is only so long one can carry on in certain circumstances and I had reached the end of the line. For obvious reasons I am concerned about the future, financially (£120 a week isn’t much but its a) better than nothing b) better than benefits) and emotionally but also oddly optimistic. Realistically, we managed on a lot less not that long ago and I believe we can again. I hope that I will have a chance to finish a few things round the house, to get some more reading done – for pleasure?! -take a few trips, submit a real academic article based on my thesis (i.e. stop procrastinating) and maybe even do some new research again, and perhaps eventually get a job on my own terms.
For the immediate future though I’m going to fret about the best ways to save money and revel in having evenings and weekends to myself!
[Content Warning: Post discusses depression, self-harm & suicidal ideation]
Its funny isn’t it how the ordinary indicators for depression don’t mean much to you as you slide into the pits when low-level depression and anxiety are the norm. I don’t really start noticing a magical downturn in mood or a particular pessimism creeping up and except for sudden irritability above and beyond hormonal shifts I’m not sure how this fits with DSM…
What I notice is:
The shift in sleeping pattern – I need more, a lot more (less than 12 hrs feels like torture), but I struggle to get comfortable and wake early and the nightmares creep in more and more…
Aches – I think its a sleep thing but every joint, every muscle that has ever plagued me makes itself known, I start getting headaches and stomach-pains; painkillers seem the only sensible option.
Fogginess – I can actually feel my inability to concentrate, the blank space between my internal thoughts and the next step, the failure to form words and a sense of being withdrawn from the world that may or may not result in long silences.
Clumsiness – I realise this might seem odd but when I am low my ability to judge distance apparently disappears, I start walking into door-frames, beds and beer barrels; and I start dropping things and tearing things. If I am covered in bruises and paper cuts and keep knocking over glasses and mugs chances are I am depressed.
Itchy Skin/Self harm – the straight-forward urges never go away (though sometimes there is longer between them) the temptation to dig the blade into my skin or cause pain eats at my psyche at the slightest moment of doubt, fear or stress (and trust me I haven’t gone a single day without thinking about it, especially while working, in over 15 years) but as I start to slip it feels like there is glass underneath my skin that I need to get out, everything itches, and the desire to feel my own blood trickling over my skin jumps up at every unguarded moment.
So yes. I’m feeling a bit low right now.
But ya’know lets call it hormones or worry about the future and lets say ‘this too shall pass’; lets not fret about it or make a big deal about it and lets say “it’ll be ok”. Because I’m fed up of inane therapy with 6 month waiting lists and I’m not sure I’m ready to take new drugs. Just don’t say “cheer up” or “don’t worry” and I’ll get somewhere again… like I always do.