Is it normal…

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…

Advertisements

Dressing our Daughter in Pink & other modern parenting dilemmas

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?

Mother’s Day Fear

It is nearly mother’s day here in the UK and I am terrified and miserable.
It would be fair to say that Mother’s day wasn’t a big deal in my family when I was a child so the notion of celebrating it still seems a little odd.

But this will be my first as a mother and I feel unprepared, undeserving and lonely. I feel like a fraud and I don’t know what to do.
I haven’t felt this much dread since and emotional conflict since the first year after my own mother died. The conversations amongst my peers about their preparations that became hushed as I passed coupled with the way that visual cues seemed to compound my sense of uncertainty and loss left me with a knot in my stomach and a feeling of being set apart from the world. Now, althoug it has remained a ‘celebration’ I tend to avoid, the intensity of emotion is back in a way it hasn’t been for so so many years.

Partly I listen to the other girls in my NCT group (my only child-rearing peers) talk about the joys of sharing motherhood with their own mothers and their excitement of having a first mothers day of their own and I feel completely left out.
But more I can barely see myself as a mother.

Technically it seems so ludicrous – how can someone who has carried a child inside of them for months then squeezed it out one of the most sensitive parts of their body and then has nourished and comforted it at all hours of night and day not feel like that child’s mother?

I dont feel like I conform to the expectations of what being a mother is supposed to be and so I’m not a real mother. I don’t feel like my life and priorities suddenly shifted profoundly and I don’t feel like I got new insights or made new connections with others.
When I talked it through with my therapist – yes I’ve been doing weekly CBT (ish) sessions since my little one was about 2 weeks old – we decided that one of my key issues is that I feel that I am going to be judged by everyone else because it seems like there is a stack of rules which I didn’t get, especially for motherhood. And that is probably true. Seeing it that way is comforting but it doesn’t make the ache go away.

Absent without leave

So its been over a year since I last posted – I feel guilty, I do, but I do have an excuse or two.

  1. (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:
  2. 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

 

 

 

 

Not working & Social Worth

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.

Holidays & “Not Working”

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!

Springtime (for Hitler?)

There is something about this time of year that I struggle with.

I love that the world is erupting into blossom, our veg patch is taking shape and small creatures of all varieties are being born (including a brand new ‘monkey’ born to some very good friends who will be suffering the 3 of us as godparents).
I love that W & I have our legal anniversary at this time of year.
I love that this is a time of beginnings and hope.

But its hard.
Its hard in part because the anniversary of mum’s death is coming up (17 years this time around) and its hard in part because the annual beer festival in our area consumes so much of my time and energy.
Its hard because its a time of beginnings and hope for so many people – after the cold, dark, wet of winter I watch people who hadn’t noticed their moods dipping begin to lift and shine, I watch their projects become invigorated and their activity levels rise and I know that isn’t me. Don’t get me wrong the dank, drear days of winter grind heavy for me too but unlike 75% of the population the lift that springtime brings seems to somehow emphasise that my depression is here to stay. It is like the way that the 1st lift of anti-depressants gives some people the energy for suicide that they had been lacking only on a broader scale, and frankly it makes me miserable as hell.

This year I get to be extra mopey about it though. This year real life is having a bit of a dig just to check I’m paying attention. W’s mum has been ill for a long time but its getting very bad and she needs to go and look after her for a bit. We need to sort proper full-time care and benefits and stabilise her condition as much as possible. I have known this was coming for a while and I think we are prepared for the financial implications (though it might put back my hopes to get pregnant in the next year) but I can’t say I’m not cross that ‘fate’ has let it fall over our anniversary, mum’s anniversary and my shoulder op date – quite frankly I expect to win the lottery as compensation.

So if I post over the next month expect whinges about the UK benefits system, my father-in-law and health-care professionals in NI and gushing compliments to my wife’s strength, commitment, care and honesty and to B’s patience and support.

 

I am not an Activist

I am not and never have been the person who goes to the rallies, I do not use my position of privilege to offer a platform for minority voices.
I have never started a petition or lobbied parliament. I don’t even blog about my politics very often.
I have to put my energy into being me and I don’t have the strength to do more but I have nothing but respect for the energy people put into that kind of fight (even when I don’t necessarily agree with their aims) and I am well aware that people with less resources than me, less physical and emotional stability than me try to make the world a better place and offer themselves up for causes I believe passionately in and a part of me is ashamed of my inactivity even as I know I can’t do it.

I am also not a person who shares much in the way of links to blog posts and petitions and political rants. The two are very much related.
Since I am not involved in the fight I do not know the path that it has taken to that step and whether that course of action is the right/better/only way forward. Since I am not involved in the fight I don’t want my voice to drown out the voices of those who are.
And most selfishly of all I don’t want to be that person – the kind of person who jumps on bandwagons without understanding all the issues, the kind of person who nags people to be do-gooders with the press of a button without standing up there doing it, the kind of person who thinks liking a page on facebook is all the effort that they need to put in.
I choose to try and lead by example in my sensitivity to other people’s needs and rights and I hope that my comparative silence means that people will take a moment to stop and listen when I feel I must speak out.

Samhain

This pagan threshold of the living and the dead is my marker of a New Year begun.
It is also the date that marks the very first vows my wife and I exchanged.  The words of our handfasting were for a year and a day to give ourselves time to reconsider – but I knew as clearly then (11 years ago) as I do now that they are for the remainder of our lives.
I don’t earn as much money as I should, I don’t keep the house as clean and tidy as I could, I recklessly fell in love with someone else, I often cry for no good reason, regularly eat all the cheese and rarely cook but still she loves me.
She spends on fripperies for others and skimps on her own needs, is always losing something about the house, is hopelessly forgiving of her demanding family, has dreadful PMT and steals my chocolate but still I love her.

And so I say again:
I promise to take you as my best friend, and as my lover; to be yours and to keep you in my heart and soul through whatever we may yet live through; to support you, and to protect you – since we are one. I promise to learn to have faith in myself and to not falter in my trust of you and I promise to listen, and to give, so that together we can be strong. Lastly, I vow to live every day in consciousness of this gift and to remember and thank-you for our love.
And 
everyday I choose you, choose to spend the rest of my life with you. I take you as my wife, my friend and my lover, through the bad times and the good- through every twist of our lives. I promise you my respect and my trust, I promise to share my hopes and my dreams and to offer you my strength and my care.

Darling wife, you have ridden with me through the storms of our depressions and put aside your fear to live with my polyamory and I feel so privileged and so humbled by your love – tell me how to show you my joy and trust in you, how to demonstrate my love and trust in you. Together we are stronger than any storms, together we can face the unknown and build our dreams, even if we have to leap into the unknown. I will always be yours. Ta ghra agam duit my wolf

Outside the sanctuary I would pray for her, and to the last I shall continue to seek her.
From her blossoming to the ripening of her grape my heart has taken its delight in her. My foot has pursued a straight path, I have sought her ever since my youth.
By bowing my ear a little, I have received her, and have found much instruction.
Thanks to her I have advanced; glory be to Him who has given me wisdom!
For I was determined to put her into practice, have earnestly pursued the good, and shall not be put to shame.
My soul has fought to possess her, I have been scrupulous in keeping the Law; I have stretched out my hands to heaven and bewailed how little I knew of her;
I have directed my soul towards her, and in purity I have found her; having my heart fixed on her from the outset, I shall never be deserted;
my very core having yearned to discover her, I have now acquired a good possession.

What do you Want?

I read a very perceptive blog post recently in which the author commented:
“Wanting something, getting my hopes up, expressing a preference, letting desire creep in–that makes me vulnerable. To deprivation, to loss, to mockery, to pain. Not wanting feels safe. Ultimately, though, all it gets me is preemptive deprivation. There’s a lot of emptiness in not wanting.”

It would be fair to say that I am not very good about wanting stuff for precisely the reasons outlined above and because there is a little bit of my depressive brain that tells me that I do not deserve to want. I have not trained myself into the habit of creating a series of goals from the mundane to the fantastical and I am even more terrified of asking for things. In general I have got away with faking these things for most of my life – pick something that sounds a bit like what everyone else wants and amble towards it without commitment and/or work your life around aiming for the things that those nearest and dearest to you want.

It all falls apart somewhat when the expectations of normal life fall away (in my case through lifestyle and relationship choices) and those nearest and dearest to you are even worse than you are at picking things that they want.
B is actually a little more open about what he desires unless his mood has dipped significantly but whilst he does talk about dreams he is a little more conservative and often unclear about his plans. On the other hand, my dearly beloved wife, W, couldn’t admit to herself wanting even so much as a steak dinner for fear of imploding (and believe me she nearly always wants a steak dinner). Wanting is anathema to her being; it involves a consideration of the self (where only others are acceptable), it suggests a striving against the status quo (which might be non-catholic), it potentially involves conflict with those she has been taught to defer to such as her parents and the social order. In short getting her to admit to wanting to be my wife was a miracle & wanting  a lifestyle or even a holiday is beyond impossible.
I believe there are secret fantasies lurking there in her sub-conscious surrounding grandchildren and cake and deer-stalking but I can’t begin to coax something out of her that I can use to create a life-plan and this means I have to try and work on my own desires.

And what do I want?
A family, a little small-holding and a steady source of income.
I want my family to be happy and I want to help make it that way