Thursday, 27 October 2011

Giving and receiving (what's missing)

Newborn has started to walk, at the moment it is towards me, my husband, his brother, anyone who is holding something he wants. Walking has been an interesting difference between my lads, the first wanted to stand and jump and walk. Many hours were spent holding him up my thumb encircled by fat fingers, my lap a trampoline and launch pad. My husband and I used to compare aching arms after days spent holding him on our knees, looking like an old-school acrobat in a babygro learning to control his knees, desperate to get going.

Newborn is different. He's super speedy with crawling and a nightmarishly adept and fearless climber. Walking? Meh. He's just as happy to crawl, watch, think. He doesn't mind walking, and enjoys the sensation and novelty of me holding his hands and guiding him through the house as he combines heavy footfalls with his feather-light frame to both stomp and tiptoe at the same time. But he doesn't demand that. Doesn't seek it out as his brother did. And though he will walk to something we are holding out as a temptation, if we misjudge the distance, expect three steps not two, he will smile and slide down, and make up the ground between us far faster on all fours. But I can wait. Not least because it makes my heart go funny and my eyes go hot to think of the moment when his lightweight lumbering will reach the real destination - the moment when he realises he can walk away from me, just as he can lurch towards me.

I can't decide how much of the difference between Newborn and his brother is just his personality, his physical aptitude, his desire, his will, and how much is my attitude to mothering now. I find myself far less keen to leap from milestone to milestone with Newborn, or at least far less concerned if we see shifts and changes stop and start.

With Spider-boy I think I craved the momentum, his forward motion part of the great appeal and celebration of life that was him and our relationship. I wanted to see him fly, move on, do new stuff, learn, enjoy - like a forever skimming stone picking up skills (clapping, waving, crawling, kissing, walking, laughing, jumping, smiling, talking, counting, chatting, bossing). Not competitive with his peers, but eager to find the new chapter and see a positive in the momentum.

Perhaps it was  because that time in my life was so terrifying, and stuck. I felt paralysed and furious and desolate because I could never catch up and restart, reboot (and therefore get birth, recovery, early days 'right'). And I felt so guilty for that, for not having gotten anything 'right' for Spider-boy, both by being depressed and upset and not-good-enough, but also by being trapped and haunted and unable to 'move on'. I wonder if it is one of my many moments of incredible luck, that in a fogged up brain there was a chink of light which allowed me, if confused and confounded by my own experience of time not working in my favour, to at least embrace the speeding time exemplified by him as being a journey worth engaging with. And so I ran with it, and the changes.

With his brother I find it slightly different. The last few weeks have been so captivating with him. I feel awful typing this, but it is like having the most gorgeous baby-puppy following me around. He responds to simple commands and entreaties. It is all about physical love, about sharing and forging connections. He laps at my feet and grabs my ankles, climbs to my lap, nips at my food. He gives and fetches, brings me 'gifts' - a sock, an old ball, a shoe, (usually) an over-sucked biscuit. (The gifts are brief, of course, he wants the biscuit back so he can offer it to someone else, share his soggy treasure, but the simple basic exchange, the offer, the connexion, they are a treasure far greater than diamonds or even apple rice cakes). He's always at my heels, a huge comfort and an obstacle; this stage is not without a perilous edge, I trip over him several times most mornings.

I say 'always', he's at my heels when I'm not away or at work. And I miss him, how I miss him on those days when I can stride and stomp unimpeded, when my socks are nice and dry and my dress and tights aren't snotty or snagged. When I look down and can see my work boots not my on all fours shadow, pooled at my feet like the train on my wedding dress, curled like a kitten, sucking my socks. What I would give then for a snotty rice cake.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Testing times: Do you remember the first?

Today I sat in a coffee bar which seemed full of bulging bellies. Large, proud, clad in horizontal stripes as their owners (producers?) ranged around. I feel odd not being pregnant any more, though it was a distressing time which I don't think I could bear to retread and I felt buoyed by their laughter and enthusiasm. Most of what I've written about pregnancy I've written about carrying Newborn.

But these women, they must have been first timers. They looked so shiny and taught-skinned and excited, a sight that always makes me feel glad. And hopeful. Hopeful that they can cherish the brilliant lack of knowingness of the things which can happen, bad things, dark days, which can make being pregnant, getting pregnant, deciding to try and get pregnant even, one of the hardest bravest things the more knowing woman can do.
And yet suddenly, watching them waddle to the loo in a trio, hearing their laugh and snippets of chat about going home to chill on the last days of maternity leave I remember the thrill, of the first time I was pregnant and when I was truly and simply excited at the momentous ordinary thing which was occurring inside me.
That moment began when I had a sudden urge to buy Christmas presents after an enduring three day hangover which still hadn't abated, as I was walking down Wood Green High Street in November my tits aching in the wind. A week after we’d decided to cool the trying for a baby thing as it was so disheartening, take a breath, get drunk at Christmas then regroup, start properly charting and speak to a doctor. The moment when I though: ‘hang on…’.

I had the day off work. I had bought so many tests, wasted so much money, even the trip to Boots was a trial. Waste £10-£15 on a digital one? Be enticed by an offer, a multi-pack (would the latter be giving in, to more needling)? Buy cheap? Go own brand? All these labels and none which would could sell itself on what I really wanted, a test which would tell me what I wanted to know. Finally, exasperated, I chose one which promised 'first' results. Despite trying and wanting a baby, and being able to read and understand enough about numbers to look in books and online I was never exactly sure where I was supposed to be in my cycle.

I casually dropped my test in the shopping bags and forced myself to be slow on the walk home. No excitement, no tempting fate. The testing wasn’t a new thing. I can remember the first time I did a pregnancy test, at university, fearful of a yes, and praying fervently I wouldn't get one. And the hundreds of tests I took at a hint of an imaginary symptom each doleful, saddening maddening month when we hadn’t hit the dual line jackpot.

All those empty windows, all that admonishing for lost time (which hadn’t happened yet), and wasted strands of a story of me that were not to be but which still strangled my heart if I let them. All those Summer and Spring and Winter and Autumn pregnancies that never happened because I wasn't bloody pregnant. Such a crock. And yet that time, that November morning, as I went upstairs, not even with my first morning urine, weeing and waited, I knew my luck was in. I had a funny feeling, a sense I might be pregnant.
Of course I’d had that sense every single fucking month of trying so it wasn’t new. Although this time as I gazed at the stick ignoring the hygiene issue there was a knock at the door.

A man stood, cold in his suit jacket, holding a clipboard with an NHS survey on it which was incidentally spattered with rain spittle.

‘Are you busy?’ he asked. Noting my dishevelled dress and slightly manic eyes, perhaps even my hands behind my back. ‘Did I interrupt something?’

I glanced across at the test which I’d brought downstairs and then placed on the radiator cover in the hall remembering on my descent I was supposed to leave it somewhere horizontal rather than hold it like a lucky Olympic baton. I looked down at the window which had, bugger me, a cross appearing.

‘Actually’ I said, ‘I think you did’.

So many details are with me still. I still have the test, so I know she was sentimental. And I still have the dress, so I know she was a size 14. Until recently I still had the text she sent to her husband, which shows she was impatient, and his (typically understated) reply: 'tee hee', which tells us she was in a conspiracy of love with him.

But that woman, so excited she had to practically put both hands over her mouth not to immediately tell survey guy, so giddy she had couldn't wait for her husband to come back from work, that woman enthralled by the magic of it all, who used a ruler with a colleague to check the size of the foetus every week and planned on making the pregnancy book measurements real in a woolen package of fruit and veg corresponding to developments week by week (called 'In Fruit A Row'), who eagerly sported a 'bump' before the intruder was visible. She, I don't always remember, but I'm glad today I did.

Monday, 10 October 2011

Not in the mood to be mental (milking it)

I am travelling back from Edinburgh to London after a three days away for work. I don't often blog on the go, so this is a new experience for me. Nevertheless I'm tired and grumpy and missing my boys. I'm totally in a snark, even though the trip in many ways feels like a success, (I very much enjoyed the work over the last couple of days and think it was almost worth the distance travelled and time away from family).

The grumpiness comes in part from the glorious indignity(?) undignity(?) dearth-of-dignity (?) that is being a lactating woman with nothing (and no-one) to lactate into. I came armed with my weary old breast pump but the lid cracked. So I was left with a ballooning bosom, or a train toilet. Nice choice.

But it isn't just the whole maintaining breastfeeding supply in an East Coast Line bog which leaves me struggling to express myself. I'm once again torn. Part of me thinks I really must write something in support of World Mental Health Day. I'm just not entirely sure how to do it or what to write: I find I'm just not in the mood. Not in the mood to be mental, or not mental. Not in the mood to discuss or analyse or share or over share. Not tempted to work out whether I'm tired, or upset, or depressed, or just a little bit meh because I have a headache and I'm on a train and I just had to MILK MYSELF over a toilet bowl.

I know I should do it though, not because I have a narcissistic sense that the world, charities who do amazing work for mental health in the UK (like @MindCharity), or anyone really * really * needs me to, but because actually some readers have contacted me over the last few months. I've never mentioned it because I couldn't think how, but perhaps today is the day. I've had a few emails from readers, some I know, some whom I have never met, who have talked about their own depression (postnatal and otherwise). Who have read my stories and felt moved to confide in me, to share this blog and space as a dialogue in which, in the half-light of cyberspace they could be open without being exposed. The correspondence was electronic, but the bravery, and relief at briefly unburdening, was clear.

Today people everywhere are tweeting and discussing, dedicating funds and campaigning publicly, talking all over the internet and the media about mental health and the importance of access to help and the ending of stigma and discrimination.

I applaud this. In my own experience I had mostly marvellous care. But I do know about the hesitating looks and the clear palpable difficulties some people have with understanding or responding to mental health issues and crisis points, and can only imagine how hard it is to function when surrounded by people who find helping, understanding, or responding to a friend, parent, child, employee with a mental health issue hard, for whatever reason.

But I want to reiterate something I mused on a while back, which is that I understand the stigma has to be beaten out, publicly overturned and renounced. And I understand the need for public discussion with no cowing to stigma, and the need to talk about depression and anxiety and all the rest in the same way as we talk about a broken wrist or cancer. And I know, especially as people who have read my blog have written and said reading my experiences has helped them, that it is a fight which must continue.

But I am still not in the mood today. I am not in the mood to explore or confess (and it feels like a confession, though it shouldn't of course). I, someone who has discussed in a (partially) public space the experience of being completely crackers, have a lot of sympathy for those not quite able to say anything. After all mental health is intensely private. I found when it went wrong, when my mental health teetered and trembled and collapsed, that one of the biggest shocks (and perhaps the most profoundly distressing elements, after the research I read about how a parent with mental health issues may affect their children) was the sense that this crumbling and dissociation, this misaligning and confusion of me was public. I was completely and utterly humiliated by that idea. And still am, I realise, shocked to burning cheeks and nausea even as my train pulls in to London.

I won't delete this post to save my blushes, but I will say today, that I am supporting and will support all initiatives I find which are working towards a place where mental health is viewed without prejudice. And I have applied to Mind to become a Mind Campaigner, to help as much as I can in what I see as a policy fight I have a duty to engage in. Not least as having been that weary soldier with mud and blood on my boots and a referral letter to my local START team I am mindful of the help you need. And I owe something to those at the front, now that I'm just a little way back from the face to face fighting. Because I don't think the tension of the skirmish ever leaves, even if you're closer to the role of an older general; experienced and observing and offering (pitiful) help from behind the lines. But I am also offering a shout out to and a shhhh for those who for whatever reason don't want to talk about it just now: whether because they're are frightened, embarrassed, shocked, confused or just not in the bloody mood.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Comic Timing

Last week, in a mad dash to get to school on time (among many other pretentious goals I've set myself I'm now grappling with the task of being a new person, an 'on time' person, when it comes to school), we got our timings wrong. So wrong that we arrived to the unpopulated playground. I heard a quiver in my son's voice as we surveyed the empty tarmac.

'Are we late again Mummy?' he asked fearful of the inevitable. 'But we didn't want to be late, did we?'

And then I realised. We were early. A pair of Mirandas, or, more correctly, travellers to her strange new, brave new world. Trespassers in the zombie playground: empty, unscuffed and new. We were the first two people at school.

This was great, not only as part of the steep learning curve surrounding school days for both of us, an arrow in our school quiver and a tick on my internal spreadsheet of things the way I want them to be, but also because we had our pick of where to play. The painted out grid for 'What's the time Mr Wolf'? The slide with the tempting bar to roll over for a speedier decline? The relic from the 1990s a dangerous and thrilling twist of primary coloured metal for hanging from?

Son elected the pirate ship, so we set sail. He stood on the bow and stared over the safety play surface ocean and said:

'I've been driving ships for aboot twenty year, so Ah nooo what Ah-m talkin aboot. Wha-tch an learn bairns, wha-tch and learn' before throwing himself out of sight.

The pratfall was perfect and just before I my laughter rang out, he popped his head above the ship and added 'Champ-yun!'.

The reference, for those without four year olds, was Keith Fit, from Justin Fletcher's tour de force kids' TV show Gigglebiz. The show is simple and knowing, old-fashioned but not twee. It is a sketch show interspersed with 'your Giggles', or jokes from kids who often fluff their lines but enthusiastically share their cracker jokes and silliness with the jovial host.

Like a pickpocket on a tourbus through the history of TV comedy, Fletcher and his writers have snaffled and pinched, reinvented, refreshed and in some cases, dare I say it, improved on the laughter of the past. It is The Two Ronnies here, Morecambe and Wise there, snatches of Harry Enfield, the best and cleanest of Little Britain, with characters Paul Whitehouse would have killed for. And then, for good measure some classic joke ideas personified - Doctor Doctor, for example, who is chapters from the The Ha Ha Bonk Joke Book brought to life, or  Nanna Knickerbocker and The Lost Pirate, children's pantomime staples forced to navigate their way through mundane situations like eye tests, and changing light bulbs and getting lost in Brent Cross.

In our house we regularly have to list our favourites. After connoisseur's choice King Flannel, a bandy legged monarch who speaks in mumbles and is in a never ending quest to get one up on his bossy butler, my favourites (unsurprisingly) lie in the pun-makers. I heart Dina Lady, a cook who creates uneatable dinners by ignoring language nuance, rock cakes with rubble, yule logs with twigs and chocolate sauce, at her best a full size chocolate moose, all to the increasing despair of Tommy Tummy her sidekick who she publicly characterises as nice but silly. And look forward each evening to Arthur Sleep, a local newsman so perfect in look and cadence to the newsreaders of my youth, complete with brown telephone, twirly chair and mug of coffee by his papers, a line in self-congratulatory jokes and disparaging attitude to his roving reporter and weathergirl Gale Force, he has twice reduced me to tears.

And as a media studies type, the meta levels of Farm Dung, ostensibly a country man with an appreciation of good word play, astound me as much as they tickle my son. For the real joke is on the RP voice over, the city dwelling documentarian who is always asking stupid and inane questions and repeating his views back to him as if she knows better.  Like when he says he has something adorable in his farmyard.

'Are you going to show us something adorable Farmer Dung, something cute, like a rabbit?' she gushes, all condescension as sickly and thick as condensed milk.

'Yea' he says, fixed camera pose, smiling with discomfort. He looks behind at the barn. 'See?' he profers to confusion off screen. He stares, bemused and opens the top of the barn door to reveal a bull. 'SEE. A door. A bull.' And then, as she doesn't take it in, pisses himself laughing with his sidekick and best friend Reggie.

But Keith Fit, a fat and breathless Geordie PE teacher, an ever-expert, who's done everything for 'twenty year' and who cheats to show off to youngster has the winning streak when it comes to physical humour. His catchphrases are as good as anything the Fast Show ever managed, but his real charm is playing up to exactly what you want him to do - mess up his demonstration and get his for bragging - and then top it with an unstoppable, inevitable falling over gag approached with grim determination by the chameleon performer Justin (who seems genuinely endangered). Slapstick, after all, is at its funniest when it looks like it hurts. And his secret? Like Spider-boy's, the comedy is in the timing.