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.

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.

My Letter to Father Christmas

Dear Father Christmas.

I have not kept my room tidy and have not always taken my medicine when I should, and have not always done what I have been told – sometimes I have carried heavy things, including my children, and last week I went down some water slides – and sometimes I have been angry and not controlled my emotions well.

But, mostly I have Been Good. I have been a Loving Mother, even if I have not done my share of the School Run. I have been a Loving Wife, even if I have not always shown it as well as I should have. Ok, I have been an appalling employee but I have tried my hardest to get there.

In fact, I have tried hard this year to be as good as I can be at everything I do and I have tried really hard to find a way to manage my back problems.

So, I only have one thing I would like this Christmas, please, if you can find it in that massive warehouse of yours:

Can I please have some respite from this back pain that means I cannot walk, or play, or help with anything, for Christmas Day? Just that one day would be fabulous. Right until Boxing Day Morning.

Many Thanks

Wine.

“They Fuck You Up, Your Mum and Dad…”

“…they may not mean to, but they do.”  This Be The Verse – Larkin.

I worry a lot about how my chronic pain is affecting the children and how it will in the future. R and I try to keep the day to day stuff discrete – I don’t advertise taking my medicine and R and I discuss serious stuff, complication, future plans, possible surgery/not surgery and my fears in private, I try not to show when I am very upset. But this pain is all-encompassing. It is ever-present no matter what ‘phase’ I am in. At best, I am cautious in what I do, how and when in case I relapse, at worst I can’t do anything because I have relapsed and am in pain. And there is no way of hiding this from my babies.

It breaks my heart when I cannot get up off the floor due to a back spasm and Summer Girl helps scoop me up. When she strokes my hair after I have been sick and asks me what I need. Admittedly she has always been a compassionate and empathic girl. I suffered from Hyperemesis Gravidarum with both my pregnancies, and more so with my Winter Boy. My Summer Girl was just 3 years old, and would be rubbing my back as I hurled into the Great White Telephone. I would be unable to stop her as I was ‘busy’ and she was soothing and reassuring even then. But then it was different, it was always going to pass, there was always going to be an end to that difficult patch (and it ended literally the moment the placenta was ‘born’ I almost immediately asked for coffee and toast having not really eaten for 9 months) and I could explain that to her with certainty. I can’t do that now, although I lie and tell her it will most definitely get better, just in a little while.

I am less concerned about Winter Boy. I mean yes it does affect him, he can’t always have cuddles and sometimes I get cross when he jumps on me from the top of the sofa, or bounces on my stomach and I have to stop him. He understands that if he kisses my back it will make it all better, and tells me he is going to look after me. But in time, should this situation ever resolve, it will hopefully leave his memories for better times.

But Summer Girl, she is 6. She understands so much more. She as memories already and this is forming a huge chunk of them right now. Last week she went to school in tears on several mornings, in particular on Wednesday, my Dark Day when I had to crawl to the toilet and cried from pain and vomiting. She did not want to go because she was scared to leave me. And this evening, having again witnessed me vomiting she was hushed away from me by R while crying hysterically ‘mama! mama! I want mama!’ and crying that she does not want me to be sick and have a bad back any more, and even as I threw up I cried at not being able to stop it coming up, so that I could go and hug her and tell her it will be ok.

I cannot make this go away for her. And It might not go away at all, if surgery is not viable this could remain for a long time. Years. And what memories will they have? of a sick mummy, who they had to be careful around, who had mood swings and who did not do what other mummies do? I cannot bear that their childhood is being clouded by this. It dominates everything at the moment. It was never meant to be like this for them. This is not their future. No. I am not going to let that happen. I have to change it.

So, having been torn in many directions regarding medication, and pressure from my GP to take it, I am not going to take the Pregabalin prescribed today, the nerve blocker that is just as likely to send me into a zombie like state and struggle to function any day of the week as the other never blockers. I am not willing to put my children through another 4-6 weeks of me trying adjusting to it, and for the side effects to mess us up even more than we are now, and I am going to find a way to accept some level of pain, manage the ups and downs differently and Get The Fuck Over It. Somehow. I will resolve myself to adjust to this properly, emotionally. For the sake of my children. I will still have good days and bad days, but if I am not high on medication every single waking hour, then I stand a chance of the good days being really good.

And then maybe the children will have memories of their mummy sometimes not being well but always happy and smiling, determined and fun, memories of their mummy being who she should be, not this shell of a woman who is here right now. And maybe I won’t fuck them up too much.

Living With Pain That Just Won’t Go Away. Part 2

As promised, the insightful well written post by an insightful writer,  that made me cry. Again:

Written by Jane E Brody, published 6 November 2007 in the Health Section of The New York Times.

Pain, especially pain that doesn’t quit, changes a person. And rarely for the better. The initial reaction to serious pain is usually fear (what is wrong with me, and is it curable?), but pain that fails to respond to treatment leads to anxiety, depression, anger and irritability.

At age 29, Walter, a computer programmer in Silicon Valley, developed a repetitive stress injury that caused severe pain in his hands when he touched the keyboard. The injury did not respond to rest. The pain became worse, spreading to his shoulders, neck and back.

Unable to work, lift, carry or squeeze anything without enduring days of crippling pain, Walter could no longer drive, open a jar or even sign his name.

”At age 29, I was on Social Security disability, basically confined to home, and my life seemed to be over,” Walter recalls in ”Living With Chronic Pain,” by Dr. Jennifer Schneider. Severely depressed, he wonders whether his life is worth living.

Yet, despite his limited mobility and the pain-induced frown lines in his face, to look at Walter is to see a strapping, healthy young man. It is hard to tell that he, or any other person beset with chronic pain, is suffering as much as he says he is.

Pain is an invisible, subjective symptom. The body of a chronic pain sufferer — someone with fibromyalgia, for example, or back pain — usually appears intact. There are no objective tests to detect pain or measure its intensity. You just have to take a person’s word for it.

Nearly 10 percent of people in the United States suffer from moderate to severe chronic pain, and the prevalence increases with age. Complete relief from chronic pain is rare even with the best treatment, which is itself a rarity. Doctors and patients alike, who misunderstand the effects of narcotics, are too often reluctant to use drugs like opioids, which can relieve acute, as well as chronic, pain and may head off the development of a chronic pain syndrome.

Why Pain Persists

The problems with chronic pain are that it never really ends and does not always respond to treatment. If the pain initially was caused by an injury or illness, it can persist long after the injury has healed or the illness defeated because permanent changes have occurred in the body.

Mark Grant, a psychologist in Australia who specializes in managing chronic pain, says the notion that ”physical injury equals pain” is overly simplistic. ”We now know that pain is caused and maintained by a combination of physical, psychological and neurological factors,” Mr. Grant writes on his Web site, http://www.overcomingpain.com. With chronic pain, a persistent physical cause often cannot be determined.

”Chronic pain can be caused by muscle tension, changes in circulation, postural imbalances, psychological distress and neurological changes,” Mr. Grant says on his site. ”It is also known that unrelieved pain is associated with increased metabolic rate, spontaneous excitation of the central nervous system, changes in blood circulation to the brain and changes in the limbic-hypothalamic system,” the region of the brain that regulates emotions.

Dr. Schneider, the author of ”Living With Chronic Pain” (Healthy Living Books, Hatherleigh Press, 2004), is a specialist in pain management in Tucson, Ariz. In her book, she points out that the nervous system is responsible for the two major types of chronic pain.

One, called nociceptive pain, ”arises from injury to muscles, tendons and ligaments or in the internal organs,” she writes. Undamaged nerve cells responding to an injury outside themselves transmit pain signals to the spinal cord and then to the brain. The resulting pain is usually described as deep and throbbing. Examples include chronic low back pain, osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, headaches, interstitial cystitis and chronic pelvic pain.

The second type, neuropathic pain, ”results from abnormal nerve function or direct damage to a nerve.” Among the causes are shingles, diabetic neuropathy, reflex sympathetic dystrophy, phantom limb pain, radiculopathy, spinal stenosis, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, stroke and spinal cord injury.

The damaged nerve fibers ”can fire spontaneously, both at the site of the injury and at other places along the nerve pathway” and ”can continue indefinitely even after the source of the injury has stopped sending pain messages,” Dr. Schneider writes.

”Neuropathic pain can be constant or intermittent, burning, aching, shooting or stabbing, and it sometimes radiates down the arms or legs,” she adds. This kind of pain tends ”to involve exaggerated responses to painful stimuli, spread of pain to areas that were not initially painful, and sensations of pain in response to normally nonpainful stimuli such as light touch.” It is often worse at night and may involve abnormal sensations like tingling, pins and needles, and intense itching.

Some chronic pain syndromes involve both nociceptive and neuropathic pain. A common example is sciatica; a pinched nerve causes back pain that radiates down the leg. In some cases, the pain of sciatica is not felt in the back but only in the leg, making the cause difficult to diagnose without an M.R.I.

Beyond Physical Problems

The consequences of chronic pain typically extend well beyond the discomfort from the sensation of pain itself. Dr. Schneider lists these potential physical effects: poor wound healing, weakness and muscle breakdown, decreased movement that can lead to blood clots, shallow breathing and suppressed coughing that raise the risk of pneumonia, sodium and water retention in the kidneys, raised heart rate and blood pressure, weakened immune system, a slowing of gastrointestinal motility, difficulty sleeping, loss of appetite and weight, and fatigue.

But that is hardly the end of it. The psychological and social consequences of chronic pain can be enormous. Unremitting pain can rob a person of the ability to enjoy life, maintain important relationships, fulfill spousal and parental responsibilities, perform well at a job or work at all.

The economic burdens can be severe, especially when the patient is the primary breadwinner or holds a job that provides the family’s health insurance. Only about half of patients with chronic pain ”who undergo comprehensive multidisciplinary pain rehabilitation are able to return to work,” Dr. Schneider reports.

As for the notion that chronic pain patients are often malingering — seeking attention and escape from responsibilities — pain specialists say that is nonsense. No one in his right mind — and most patients were in their right minds before the pain began — would trade a fulfilling life for the misery of chronic pain. 

Simply. My Daughter.

I was going to write down boring thoughts about my first day into my second week back at work, about my new £800 orthopaedic chair that arrived with a little blood pressure type thing at the back to adjust my lumbar pressure, about how spun out I was on my medication that I struggled to focus on conversations with colleagues and just hope they did not notice thanks to my fab think rimmed glasses (I knew there was a reason for this style of glasses).

I did not feel particularly inspired about it all. So I asked my 6 year old daughter what I should write about. ‘ME!’ she gushed and then bounced over to sit with me so she could see what magical words I was going to type. ‘what shall I say about you?’ ‘you can tell them I am beautiful and clever!’ she grinned. Well, I can, and I will. She is both beautiful and clever.

So this post is for Bella. She is the most adorable girl in the world.  She oozes fun and character. She beams her smile everywhere she goes, her hearty wild laughter and bold confident character reels people in and they fall in love with her. She is not big on tantrums although we have seen more of those in her 6th year than in any other year so far, she is great at arguing her point, questions and knows almost everything, but not as much as her teachers.

She loves fairies and all things princess, she loves pink things and fluffy things, angel wings and sparkles. Sometimes she loves nothing better than quiet time on her own with some of her small dollies and her dolls house, making up stories. She loves dancing and ballet. She also loves gold and silver which are her favourite colours, loves climbing up slides the wrong way, climbing trees in her favourite dress, riding her bike down hills as fast as she can go, even though she is still learning. Her favourite ‘celebrities’ are Tom Daley as she wants to be an Olympic diver, and Moe Farah because she thinks he is handsome.

She is a risk-taker – she broke her arm aged 5 trying to climb ‘big boy’ monkey bars, snapped both bones in her wrist, luckily straightforward to fix without surgery. Admittedly she shed some rare tears then, but not for very long. After the initial shock of the fall,  being brave when they pushed the bone back in place, only using gas & air to help with the pain, she was more upset about not getting a pink cast and not going to sleep for an operation and it did not slow her down. She loves adrenalin rushes, fast things, high things, crazy things. She gets very excited very easily and sometimes has to be asked to slow down as she wants it done now. not tomorrow. not next week. now.

Bella is a bookworm. We have read to her from the moment she was born. R loves books too and reading bedtime stories was something he was able to do during the first few months of newborn breastfeeding and Mummy Hogging The Baby. She reads everything now ‘the switch has clicked’ she reads signs, graffiti, magazines, books and I now have to hide newspapers from her, so she does not see the whole “JS” business, or guns,or photos and stories stories of death and violence. Although I am not sure how much longer I can keep things in the news from her as she pays a whole lot of attention to things around her and takes more in that I realise.

Today was the first day of her half term and while I spent it at work checking out my new fancy gadgets on the Expensive Chair, she went horse-riding, with one of her best friends, her best friend’s daddy, R and Roo. Her best friend’s nanny lives on a farm and owns two horses and she gave them both a ‘lesson’. She got soaked and muddy and had the ‘best day ever’. This evening she had the biggest bubbliest bath that even I envied, although it was short lived because her two-almost-three year old brother shared it with her and inevitably ended in tears. After her bath she snuggled with her mama for a story , a lovely story about a mermaid from a beautifully illustrated book – ‘Magical Fairy Tales’.

But not before she brushed my hair and massaged my head for much longer than she wanted. That was The Deal. I write about her and she massages my hair. Not a Bad Way to end my day.

Tonight My Husband and I Are Sleeping in Position No.2

There is no noise. It is hushed as my children settle down to sleep. After getting up several times as they often do when their daddy goes out for the evening. Playing Up  – isn’t that how the Behavioural Books scientifically refer to it?

Then I hear the tiny ‘th-th-th’ of gentle creeping footsteps on the deep soft carpet that leads to the loft room which is Mummy and Daddy’s Bedroom. The bright pink door (used to be Summer Girl’s Room) swings open and there in the dark of the doorway, silhouetted by the hallway light stands my two-almost-three-year old Winter Boy, one hand rubbing his eyes. He casually walks over to me at the computer desk and announces ‘I can’t get myself to sleepees, I tried an I jus can’t do it’. ‘do you want me to tuck you back in?’ ‘noo. I really can’t get to sleepees. I wan to sleep witchuw’ he says in his sing-song, Cant-Be-Resisted voice. I never let him sleep in my bed first thing at night. Not unless he is ill or R is away, then sometimes I do and then he stays there all night. Usually though I tuck him back in to his own bed and stroke his hair. And Repeat.

This evening, I look at him and my heart melts. How can I resist that little coy smile and angelic voice?  I say ‘quickly, get into bed and go straight to sleep, I don’t want to hear a peep ok?’. Before I even finish my sentence he has scampered across the bedroom, onto MY side of the bed I note, jumps into bed, tucks himself up neatly in the duvet and smiles sweetly at me. I walk over to kiss him goodnight. He does not fuss or fidget, but unusually lies completely still. By the time I return from popping down to turn Winter Girl’s light off, he has both arms spread eagle, one hanging over the side of the bed and is gently snoring, in a deep, happy sleep. It has taken him less than 2 minutes to go from standing by me to fast asleep in exactly the same position as when he climbed in. Why does he look far more content there than he ever looks in his own bed? And did I say it was My Side?

R is going to be less impressed than I was, when he returns home later. He will need to make a decision whether to wake a sleeping boy and somehow get him into bed without him waking and realising what crime is being committed against him, adopt The Position Number Two, or accept that through the course of the night Winter Boy will likely assume most of The Positions. Unless he finds himself in Position Number Two that is.

Maybe I should make up the spare bed now…