Books are for People, Not for Genders.

Winter Boy is just learning to read. He loves Thomas the Tank Engine. I thought he would have grown out of this almost 4 year long phase by now, but he loves is as much now as he did when he got his first Take and Play train. When it comes to books, he’s pretty clear about his interests. If it’s about Thomas the Tank Engine he will try to read it, stick it, colour it, press buttons on it. Although, i will give him his due, he is just starting to read actual words in books, and he eagerly reads whatever books he has from school, and he will attempt to read the words on anything that happens to be lying around.

Even bedtime is Thomas related if he has his own way. We try to break it up, for our sake as much as anything, as reading about a Really Useful Smug Engine can get quite annoying. Outside of the Land of Sodor, Winter Boy has no preference for ‘boy’ stories or ‘girl’ stories, whatever is easily reachable tends to suffice.

Summer Girl has gone through a (big) phase of insisting on ‘girl’ books. Glittery, princesses, fairies in tutus and pink sparkle everywhere; it has adorned her bookshelves since she has been able to read herself and be in charge of the book choosing. She has insisted on having the Rainbow Magic books, which are, in my opinion, dull, badly written and without imagination. However, in the spirit of wanting to encourage her to read, read, read, and not restrict or discourage her, I bought her a box set of 15 from the Book People, to place along with the classics on her bookshelf – Enid Blyton’s through to the complete Roald Dahl collection, and my absolute Favourite Book ever as a child – The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett.

I am unashamedly delighted that she has tried and failed to get to the end of a single one of the Rainbow Magic books, which are deliberately targeted at ‘girls’; the covers are marketed for girls – pink and sparkle and fairies, the fairies in all books are girls, the main characters are girls and beyond the lure of maybe finding your own name it has very little substance. Not surprisingly, she has quickly become bored and has even forgotten which ones she’s started reading.

Summer Girl has on occasions been drawn into the ‘boy/girl’ advertising, struggling to have the courage and strength to choose what she would like. She is only 8 so I wouldn’t expect her to have those skills yet. Instead she has been guided by the glittery lights and pinkness of the bookshops, posters and book covers around her, and by what her friends are reading. She once stopped in her tracks when I suggested she bought a dinosaur sicker book, (having watched her delightfully help her brother do his) and hesitate, before reaching for the Fashion Dressing Up sticker book, again.

I have tried to not dictate to her what she can and can’t read, stick, colour, draw. But R and I have encouraged her to think about what she likes, have the confidence to look beyond the dazzle of pink and flowery, and to read all the things around her that might interest her. Conversations about it being ok to enjoy science, have ribbons in her hair, play with her dolls and playing football have included book reading and it’s starting to sink in.

Last month we all went to London. She dragged me, literally, into an antique bookshop and browsed the dusty old books, and marvelled at them with wonder, while Winter Boy sat himself on the floor, flicking through the solitary small ‘new book’ box tucked in a corner, reading (you guessed it) Thomas. Bella picked a book; 105 years and one day old, from the day it had been inscribed with a message to its first owner. The cover is dark green, with no pictures, with real typed pages. No sparkle, no pink. ‘please? can I have it?’ So i bought her Tom Brown’s School Days. It’s her prized possession, although she is waiting for the Secret Garden to be finished so we can read it together.

If she didn’t have the courage to ignore the mass advertising and inevitable impact on her peers, she would have been denied this experience of choosing a book that has inspired people for years. She wouldn’t be able to enjoy all books to escape on the many journeys they can take us; she would miss out on so much.

Luckily, she is learning that its ok to read what she wants. which, at the moment is everything she can get hold of. But this hasn’t happened with the help of bookshops and publishers, who continually thrust in her face that she, as a girl, shouldn’t be reading Star Wars magazines, but should be reading magazines about make-up and jewellery; she can do those things, but as well as, not instead of. Although if you asked her directly she would probably still chose the make-up magazines if I didn’t heavily encourage her to get something (anything) else.

I will continue to encourage her to push through the constant barriers set around her to define her femininity as one-dimensional. I will continue to encourage her to be anything, and everything she wants to be; to read anything and everything she wants to read.

I shall also encourage Winter Boy to do the same, But, I won’t be encouraging him to read the Rainbow Magic books; not because i don’t want him to read ‘girl’ books, but because they are shit.

Camping is Good for The Soul.

IMG_6563I’m not always moaning and complaining about back pain. Sometimes. I have fun. This summer I had fun camping. Lots actually. CAMPING?! yep, that’s right. It’s potentially the worst thing to do if you have a bad back. But, it’s absolutely the best thing to do if you live in the South West, if you have children, and if you have friends with children.

I love camping and I will never give it up. I have lost so much of the fun in my life over the last few years; can’t bodyboard, kayak (well I can, but it means so much more hassle than I can bear), run, dance (ok, I never could do that), just living and being the person I used to be, but I won’t stop doing this.

I don’t feel so disabled when I am camping, and this is why: Friends. And R. And the children. But mostly R and friends. When we go camping, we all muck in, everyone helps each other. Someone has normally forgotten something, another normally has a spare. We work things out, we lend a hand without being asked. We share beer, burgers, music and laughter.

R and I have a Golden Rule. We must, absolutely always have a bottle or two of Good Beer while we pitch our SoulPad Bell tent. My job nowadays is a supervisory role, directing where the doorway needs to go, barking orders about the distance of the pegs from the groundsheet, reminding R for the umpteenth time that the front guy ropes need to be placed first to get it hanging right, getting more beer.

We often get to our pitch first, closely followed by another of our party, one of whom grabs a beer, the other grabs a mallet, job done and we move on to the next tent.IMG_1804

This leaves me to do what I do best. I pretty it up. I have swathes, bunting, fairy lights, hippy throws, lanterns, tea lights, hanging hearts. At the last camp we had chinese style lanterns, a coffee table and rug, and a large plant at the entrance to our ‘front room’. Ok, so that was not a planned piece of decor, a friend, M, got it from the plant sale at the site we stayed in, but what a magnificent touch! That’s going to be a new feature for camping. Plants. It hurts to do the prettifying you know, bending, kneeling, twisting, but so worth it, to look at the finished effects with a beer in hand, then tweaking, and moving. There are no shoes in the tent. There is no bouncing, no swinging on the middle pole like pole dancers; not R, he’s never been good at pole dancing. There is also no food, no fizzy drinks, no pens. And, as you can probably guess when there are 8 children ranging from 3 to 11, that these rules absolutely get obeyed. Never. We used the puncture repair kit on our last trip, when typically, my side deflated.

IMG_7027While the tent is going up, the children are gone. To the nearest park, tree, flat ground for scooting/bike riding, popping back for snacks and drinks; And once the tents are in situ, the adults drink tea, or beer, cook food, play guitar, sing songs. We see the children occasionally for snacks, drinks, the odd minor scrape, but rarely until it’s time to eat.

I take lots of painkillers when I camp, I ramp them up. Because, while its fabulous, it does still hurt, but it’s manageable with opiates, naproxen and diazepam. And lots of preparation. and a good mattress.

I help however I am able, which tends to involve removing rubbish from around the place, sorting out recycling and keeping the place looking tidy. But, there is no pressure to be or do anything particular, I am not messing anyone’s fun if I sit down or go and lay down in the tent. I am not getting in the way, and I am not being ‘looked after’ if I need some help doing something. Except I am, I just appreciate the subtlety.

Trewan Hall Campsite in Cornwall is beautiful, and is disabled friendly. They kept a pitch free for me when we visited, near facilities, shops, on flat ground, and their site is largely wheelchair accessible for those who need this. I celebrated my birthday there this year and we returned for our last camp of the summer. It’s peaceful, with magnificent grounds, walks if you can manage them, a fabulous pool with a diving board, much to Summer Girl’s delight (a Lido with a removable dome for bad weather).  It’s close to Padstow for spectacular fish and chips, and some of the best beaches in Cornwall.

So, as you see. People with back pain can have fun camping, as long as you have the essential ingredients of friends, beer, music and good food. And did I mention a good mattress?

Sleeping with Darth Vader and Emmet. It’s Wrong.

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I am writing while sandwiched between two sleeping children, two Lego alarm clocks and a glass of Weak Lemon Squash that I can’t reach. On a Saturday night. The rock and roll lifestyle is to be envied across the world. I am hoping that I don’t need to take a pee anytime soon as the process of clambering over them fills me with dread as my back is not in a great shape today.

We have been watching the Lego Movie in bed. To celebrate their new Lego Alarm Clocks – Winter Boy has Emmet and Summer Girl has Darth Vader. The purchase of said alarm clocks was to install a sense of time in them and not wake me by pretending to be invisible, crawling through the slightly open door and along the bedroom floor, while almost silently giggling. At 6am. On a Saturday.  The message was clear. The alarm clocks will go off at 7:30am tomorrow. They are not to leave their room apart from to use the loo, if they really absolutely have to. They are not to play music, musical instruments, whistles, sing, laugh loudly, go into the kitchen and try to make me breakfast, put the tv on. They can play with their Lego, tidy their bedroom up (they actually laughed at that one), read to themselves, read to each other. And most importantly, in the ‘not to leave the room’ bit they absolutely must not Wake Me Up.

The irony is not lost on me. They have carried these alarm clocks everywhere today. Winter Boy in particular has not let his out of his mitts. Except now, as they snore (not so) gently next to me, their alarms are still set for 7:30am but by my head, one on each side. And I can’t move the sleeping babes as I can barely stand straight. I forgot R was away tonight, so his usual putting of them to bed when he comes home is not happening. They are staying put until 6am. Instead of in their own beds, until 7:30am with me in my kingsized bed All On My Own.

Bollocks.

I might sleep on the sofa.

For My Summer Girl. “HOME”.

My flat is my favourite place to be right now, shall I tell you why and how? I don’t have too much. ok, perhaps too much clutter. but material things, well they don’t really matter. I can’t open some cupboards as the hinges are broke, the kitchen wall’s falling down and the garden (yard) is a joke. We’ve not fixed the skirting and the kids room needs some paint. But we have other priorities,  stressed? well we ain’t. So what do I love about this place that is mine? I sleep here, I love here, where I spend all my time. My children were raised here, memories were formed, it’s cosy and comfy and snug and it’s warm. We have a door with a lock to shut the world out there. We have colour and brightness and laughter and cheer. There are books everywhere, cooking smells and incense, drums and guitars, music and fun. Toys are not kept in one place hidden, there is no room to which entry’s forbidden. We have plenty of space with high ceilings, nooks and crannies, room to play hide and seek, room to put up visiting granny. Big bay windows that let me try to grow plants in pots, although if I’m honest, green-fingered, no, I’m not. I feel safe here, I belong here, I don’t want to leave this place, would not trade it in for lots more space. It’s my home, the kids’ home, R’s home, and also our cats’. There is Nowhere I want to be more than snuggled up in this flat. 

– For My Summer Girl aged 6 and a half.

Back From a Blog Break

I needed some time out. I have had a really hard few weeks. In many ways, but not least due to a major relapse. And yes I know the whole point of my blog is to moan and whine (wine) about my back problems, but it has been so all encompassing I needed to step back from it a little. As it happened, I didn’t do that, but was thrown full force into my back problems swallowing me whole and eating the identity that was once Me.

But that must change. So this blog may take a new direction. I don’t know how, but, I cannot just be, as my daughter stated last week when I put some make-up on for the first time in a while, as I was so sick of being asked how I was, people commenting on how bad I look, how much weight I had lost etc etc, I wanted to be seen as someone who looked well again – that I was ‘wearing make-up to show that I have beauty and not just a bad back.

I have bought some new clothes (I really have lost a lot of weight – my new ‘butt-lift’ jeans have nothing to lift up, so just hangs there baggy), some new make-up (got some free with No.7 voucher and a little spend, just my colour, sparkly black eye shadow!), had a child-free day today. Rock and Roll me!

My Husband Stabbed My Leg!

I am taking a low dose of amitriptyline for nerve pain; sciatica.  I am 3 weeks in and it has almost stopped my back, hip, stomach and leg pain completely; it is working as it is meant to, pretending there is no sciatica. Unfortunately one side effect of amitriptyline is that my spatial awareness has gone out the window and I am constantly walking into things, causing bruises that have me hastily explaining to all and sundry that R has not completely lost his patience with me, and really, yes, I did walk into a Mother and Child Parking sign, while R howled with laughter in the car.

Talking of bad impressions. Reduced pain is great, but I am now left with constant pins and needles in my left foot, calf and thigh. Yesterday I was pretty sure I could sense numb patches on my calf. R walked into the kitchen and looked on in amazement as I sat at the kitchen table, casually tapping at my calf, foot and toes with the sharp point of the parring knife to check if I was right. However I learnt that you can’t check your own leg with any useful results.

Two minutes later, my slightly unconvinced husband was also sat at the table holding the parring knife to my calf. ‘just do it!’ I said, with my hands over my eyes to make sure the test would be accurate. ‘I am!’ said my husband, alarmed at how hard he was tapping my leg with the knife to no response.

And there is the confirmation. I have an actual numb calf. The nerve damage is being hidden by amitriptyline, the wonder drug. I’m not entirely sure what, if anything I am going to do about that. No-one medically seems to listen. What more do I want than the handfuls of drugs that turn me into a dribbling shell of my former self? I am not in lots of pain; the sciatica is under control, so I should be thankful. And I hope that the numbness was always there just hidden by the pain.

It’s not often that one can say their husband stabbed them in the leg without it leading to a criminal conviction is it?

Out of the Mouth of Babes…

‘Please will you sleep with me?’ said my two-almost-three- year old adorable boy, eyes pleading, little plump fingers wandering gently over my face, as I lay down beside him way past his bedtime. How can I resist? ‘just for a little while’. ‘Yey!’ he said sleepily and nuzzled his face into mine. Then, he held my face still with his gentle hands, his face almost touching mine, and whispered ‘mummy, I wish, I wish your back would be better, I wish it not be ouchy any more’. My heart almost broke as I said ‘it is getting better my sweet boy, you make it better by being my wonderful son’ and he sat upright ‘I give your back a kiss now mummy’, leant over, lifted my t-shirt and kissed the small of my back ‘is it better now?’ ‘yes my sweet lovely boy, it is so much better’.

This is the boy whose wish when a friend’s chinese lantern drifted into the night sky was that it would come back. Two hours later a chinese lantern drifted across the same sky in front of his very eyes. So this wish, touched with a magic kiss, must also come true. That innocent belief, and that love heals me more than medicine can. And tonight I go to sleep with very little pain.