Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Twenty unsolved mysteries of kid's TV

Due to the multiple illnesses mentioned in my last post, Duckling and I have spent an unhealthy amount of time sitting on the sofa watching children's television over the past few weeks. Mostly the channel stays firmly on cBeebies to escape the insufferable tat-peddling breaks of most other channels, but we have made the occasional foray into Nick Jr, where Duckling has also discovered the joy of Peppa Pig.  Normally I try to do other things while Duckling is watching TV, but his refusal to be parted from me while ill has meant I've had to endure enjoy a far wider range of children's televisual delights than usual.
Now I realise that most programmes aimed at kids are designed to engage young imaginations and inspire a sense of wonderment, but frankly, I think this ambition is too often used as an excuse for inauthentic characterisation, hole-riddled plotlines and stories that lack sufficient exposé, all of which leave the viewer with a series of frustratingly unanswered questions. This fatigued. stir-crazy and slightly grumpy viewer anyway. In the hope that someone out there can help resolve these vexing mysteries, I thought I should put them out there for discussion. Here are my top twenty:
  1. Where do Granny and Grandpa Pig fit in the Peppa Pig family tree? Are they Mummy or Daddy Pig's parents? Both Mummy and Daddy Pig refer to them as "Granny" and "Grandpa", so it's wholly unclear...
  2. Why is Mike The Knight such an insufferable git for the majority of every episode? I understand that the moral is to "Be a Knight and Do It Right" when you've been behaving like a bit of a dick, but surely "take 10 seconds to think about things and avoid pissing everyone off" would be a better message?
  3. Where are Sarah's parents in Sarah and Duck? I remain to be convinced that Duck is a sufficiently responsible guardian.
  4. Talking of, in Bing, what IS Flop? Soft toy come to life? An adult rabbit in a world where everyone shrinks and becomes knitted as they get older? A child's cuddly representation of his much loved nanny? I need to understand the symbolism!
  5. Why does Mr Tumble never, ever remember "The Magic", despite this being a fundamental element of every episode?
  6. Why do the residents of Greendale love Postman Pat so much when he is essentially the cause of everything that goes wrong in the village?
  7. A rocket, fuelled by rhymes? Seriously?
  8. Was Iggle Piggle actually modelled on David Cameron, or is the resemblance just a happy coincidence? (Yes, I know I'm not the first person to notice this, but it still tickles me.)
  9. Is Poi from Show Me Show Me pregnant for all the episodes shot in that weird shop / playroom place, or did she just decide to go with a billowy smock look for most of that series? 
  10. How do Kate's parents remain so unfailing upbeat when confronted with the clearly delusional, hallucinatory tales of their daughter's adventures with Mim Mim?
  11. Does Granny Murray get dressed in the dark? My eyyyyeeees!
  12. What is Baby Jake's Mum's secret to looking that slim and cheerful after popping out ten children in such quick succession? (I have my suspicions that she's actually an actress and they're not really her kids - shhh don't tell anyone...)
  13. Have the Cloud Babies writers ever actually studied basic meteorology?
  14. Why are all the 'cheebies' in Waybaloo so appallingly dubbed? Why is Waybaloo so appallingly awful?
  15. Given that Sid and Rebecca are so totally desperate for it to be 'them' that gets to dress up in Let's Play, why do they still grin like loons when they're not chosen? It reminds me of the way actors behave for the cameras when they don't win the Oscar.
  16. Balamory - has everyone had a lobotomy or what?
  17. Is Happy the Crocodile adopted? He appears to have an elephant for a parent, so I can only imagine he must be. (I LOVE Hey Duggie incidentally. Mainly because I am actually in love with Alexander Armstrong.)
  18. Is Mr Bloom's regular statement "Hello my dear, haven't you grown?" to Joan the "lovely" fennel just a touch creepy or is it me?
  19. Where is all the hitting and "Get off it's MINE you big Poo Head!" in Charlie and Lola?
  20. Why doesn't Justin bake a nice battenburg or tray of flapjacks rather than all those custard pies? He'd save Robert the Robot a hell of a lot of washing.
Answers on a postcard / in the comments section...

Saturday, 22 August 2015

The frustrations of looking after a poorly poppet

Duckling is under the weather again. Just a mild bout of conjunctivitis (so far) this time, but it comes hot on the heels of tonsillitis, a never ending snot barrage of a cold, then hand foot & mouth. The poor kid has spent more time ill than healthy over the past couple of months. And it's summer! God only knows what will happen when autumn sets in and the school germs start circulating again.

The neurotic part of me is worried that he has some kind of immune disorder. However, he never seems to get properly, worryingly unwell, he hasn't yet suffered a secondary bacterial infection and he has no wound healing issues either, which, Google informs me, probably all mean his immune system's completely fine. I can only conclude therefore that it's normal for a child of 18 months to get sick this much, as essentially he hasn't built up any immunities to anything yet (breastfeeding gives them antibodies my arse!). It doesn't make it any less frustrating though.

First, it's horrible seeing your child so sad and uncomfortable. Duckling does a good line in plaintive whining, looking morose, and melodramatically crumpling in the middle of his play mat because he feels so rotten. It's heart-breaking because I feel so powerless to help. Calpol is my only real weapon, but spat out and smeared all over clothing, the sofa and the curtains, it's not much use.

Second, the flip side of the heart-breaking lethargy is the rage-inducing clinging. Duckling is Mummy obsessed enough at the moment, but illness seems to have intensified his velcrosity by a factor of thirty. I completely understand why he wants constant cuddles and breastfeeding - I would too - but it doesn't make it any less frustrating when you're trying to cook / play a nice game with him / put your socks on / sleep. Constantly being in demand is totally knackering, however much compassion you have for their unhappy state.

Third, it often puts you in an impossible quandary when it comes to socialising. When your child is supposed to be coming out with you, you have to assess how ill they are (is it fair to take them out?), how infectious they might be (Day 2, probably very; Day 7, less so), the vulnerability / tolerance of the people you're going to see, your own energy levels and how much you need to escape the prison of your own home. If your kid's not coming with you, you have to try to balance the guilt of leaving them with an alternative carer (crap for both the child and the carer) with the urgency / necessity of your planned outing. I don't know about anyone else, but I find myself paralysed by indecision when trying to take all of these competing factors into account, as I know whatever choice I make, someone will end up with the shitty end of the stick. Possibly literally.

Fourth, in a similar vein, is the eternal 'what do I do about work?' question when they're too ill to go to nursery / the childminder / school. I have very laid back colleagues but even they have raised an eyebrow or two at the amount of time I've had to "work from home" over the past couple of months. Because we all know working from home is impossible with a child present, particularly a clingy, sickly child. Heaven knows what I would do if I couldn't pretend to work from home. I think my Mum would be called upon to rescue us every other week...

Fifth, there is always a point in all but the mildest of illnesses where you think "ooh, that doesn't look / sound good. I wonder if I should take him / her to the doctor?" You will then proceed to procrastinate for as long as possible ("I'll just see how he is in the morning") as you weigh up the severity of the symptoms with the pain in the arseyness of having to book and then undertake a visit to the GP, in the full knowledge that they will recover the second you step through the surgery door. So far we've only had to visit the doctor once but I do fear we're riding our luck a bit - most of my friends seem to have ended up in A&E at least once in their baby's first year or two.

Sixth is the mysterious nature of a lot of childhood illnesses. Three day temperature with no other real symptoms? What's that all about? (Viral tonsillitis for reference). Purple green poo? (Overdose of blueberries). Fever and spotty rash? (Chicken pox! Or maybe Hand Foot & Mouth. Nope, Chicken Pox. No, no, definitely H, F & M. Probably. Bloody clueless pharmacist.)

Seventh = snot, sick, spots, squits, scabs... Just yuck.

Eighth, the requirement to sit through endless episodes of Peppa Pig and other kiddies' telly delights (which is the only thing that'll keep Duckling vaguely content when he's sick). It will be better when he's older and can be left to have a duvet day on the sofa largely on his own, but for now, he'll only sit still and watch happily if he's on my lap. Which is kind of lovely for five minutes. Less so after an hour. Altogether now "Peeeeeppa Pig! Do do do do dodo, dah dah dah dah dah dahdah."

Finally, at nine, is the knowledge that however fastidious you are about hand washing and quarantining soiled items, at some point your darling offspring will sneeze / throw up in your face and you WILL get whatever they have. The only thing worse than looking after a sick child is doing it when you're sick too.

Essentially, in a shock revelation, looking after a poorly baby is a bit rubbish. Who knew?!  It is ripe with possibilities for self-flagellation ("I know I was threatening to spit roast Peppa Pig, but I can't believe I took him to the park with that cough. I'm such a terrible mother!"), exhausting, upsetting, miserable if you catch it too, deeply inconvenient in terms of work and your social life and generally a bit gross. On the plus side though, at least Duckling will already be immune to a whole bunch of stuff by the time he goes to school.  That'll mean fewer illnesses once he's there, right?  Right?!

Sunday, 16 August 2015

A letter to myself, two years ago today

Dear Duck at 4pm on Friday 16 August 2013,

As you read this, you are sitting on the sofa, phone in hand, both willing it to ring and wanting it to never ring again. A week ago, you were told that your 13 week-old baby-in-the-making had a 94% chance of having Down's Syndrome. You are terrified. The Harmony Test the clinic used has a false positive rate of less than 1 in 1600. It's far, far more accurate than the standard combined test, which you also took and confusingly gave you a 0.007% chance. The consultant who stuck the giant needle into your placenta, making you faint on the Tube home is puzzled, and has given you a 50% chance. You are drowning in meaningless statistics and don't know who to believe. Google has been no help whatsoever as the Harmony Test is new and nobody else in the world seems to have been in this situation before.

You honestly have no idea what you're going to do if the news is bad. Before you agreed to the test, you were certain that the result wouldn't matter - after two miscarriages and a threatened loss early in this pregnancy, you just wanted a baby to hold, no matter what their abilities and needs might be. Now you're not so sure.

You've worked with young people with Down's Syndrome. You know they are individuals first and foremost, unique people with unique personalities, likes and dislikes, strengths and weaknesses, just like anyone else.  That extra chromosome does undeniably brings some challenges with it though. The problem is the unknown.  The severity of the health problems associated with DS can vary enormously, as can the extent of the learning difficulties. You don't know what their temperament might be or how much social awareness they will have.  You don't know many operations you might have to put your child through, or how much of your longterm independence you might be signing away. You don't know if going ahead is a decision that, in your heart of hearts, you might one day regret.  Just that admission has you wracked with guilt. You desperately want to be noble and selfless and liberal and say you don't care, but the reality is you do. This is your child, and your life, and you know with Drake away with work, you will be raising this baby solo for much of the time.  There will also be judgement from everyone, including yourself, whatever course of action you and Drake decide upon, and you're not sure you can handle it. Or the new fissure it will create in an already cracked heart.

I want you to keep it together though, because everything is going to work out fine. You had that one in a thousand false positive result. In a minute, the phone is going to ring and a lovely doctor is going to tell you that your CVS test was normal - your baby has the right number of chromosomes and there are no signs of any issues. And it's going to be a boy, much to your surprise. You will hang onto the windowsill for dear life as she tells you this, then you'll collapse onto the lap of your amazingly strong husband, a crying, shaking, laughing mess, not because your baby is 'normal' but because you no longer have to decide what to do if he's not.

In the days that follow, once the elation wears off, you'll wonder why the Harmony test gave you the unharmonious result it did (I'm afraid you'll never know). You'll spend some time feeling guilty that you got handed a golden ticket when so many others do not, and that you even contemplated ending the tiny life inside of you (that guilt will get worse when he arrives and you realise what unconditional love is like). You'll also be scared that after all this, you might still lose him, or that the CVS test will turn out to be wrong, all at the same time as feeling resentful that PITA (Pain In The Arse) as he will be known for the rest of the pregnancy and a little while beyond has caused you so much stress. You'll not want to be bloody pregnant any more, you won't want to see any more midwives or talk to any more doctors. You'll want to put your hands over your ears and shout "la la la" at everyone and at the contradictory maelstrom of thoughts in your tired hormonal head.

When he starts moving though, and you feel the strength of his kicks, you'll understand what a tenacious little boy you have on your hands, and how nothing was ever going to stop him making his way into this world.

I want you to know that if that call hadn't been good news, whatever you decided would have been the right thing. Being a Mum is all-consuming, and if you'd gone ahead with the pregnancy, you would have loved your baby from the moment he was born and done everything in your power to make his life a happy and fulfilled one, regardless of the difficulties and the problems.  It's a cliché, but love does always get you through.

If you hadn't then I wouldn't have blamed you either. For all the joy and love, motherhood is also incredibly hard work, precisely because your love makes you give your all. Love makes it worth it, but it doesn't make it easy.  The dedication required is unrelenting, even for a baby with normal needs, and it drives you to the brink on a regular basis. The prospect of that child never really growing up, of potentially needing you, as a child does, for the rest of your life, then of having to rely on strangers for care and guidance after you've gone... You would have coped because you'd have had to, but you would now be bruised and exhausted beyond belief. Except you'd never be able to admit that because you picked this path.  Having a difficult life handed to you is one thing. Actively choosing a more difficult life - for you, and your child - is another.

For now though, just keep that phone within arm's reach, and stay strong. One day this will all be ancient history; a tale to be told to the baby growing inside you, and to his children too. If I could hug you, I would, but as I am you in the future, you might have to settle for hugging yourself.
I should go before this gets too confusing.
Lots of love,

Duck at 4pm on Sunday 16 August 2015 x

Saturday, 8 August 2015

The challenges of asking for "help"

Life in the Duck Pond has been a trifle wearing over the past few weeks. Duckling is going through some manner of ultra clingy developmental stage, he's all over the show with naps as he drops from two to one, he's had a snotastic cold (as have Drake and I) and as of Wednesday, we added Hand, Foot & Mouth to the mix too. I thought I was coping pretty well, all things considered, but as ever, you think you are until you're not. Cue a day of arguments with Drake, shouting at poor spotty Duckling and ultimately tears of the "why is this all so hard?" variety from me.

Part of the problem is that I'm rubbish at asking for help. For much of the week, I am on my own. I don't really have any option but to get on with things and immerse myself in the routine. Shattered? Tough. Craving adult company? Tough. Want to go for a wee without a child trying to post bits of loo roll between your legs? Tough. You'd think that when Drake comes home, I'd hand over the reins, but I don't - my gritted teeth determination simply spills over into the weekends as though the train might derail if I slow down too much. I still do at least one weekend breakfast, most morning dressings, all nap times, most nappy changes, lunch, dinner, bath time, bedtime, and all the breastfeeds and soothing of injuries in between. Drake is great and does most of the washing and hanging up of clothes, odd jobs, DIY, gardening, cleaning and general tidying. He also cuddles and plays with Duckling a lot (he's much better at it than me), and will take him out for a walk and a push on the swings if I really need to get on with something uninterrupted (like filing or cleaning the fridge - the thrills). But the mundane childrearing activities are still mostly me.

I am a feminist (in as much as I consider myself an egalitarian generally) so I'm not really sure how we've ended up with such a traditional division of responsibilities in our house. I honestly can't decide if it's a practical response to circumstance, or whether some more sinister and pervasive gender brainwashing has occurred somewhere along the line. I imagine it's a bit of both, given that our circumstances are the result of a traditionally gendered job set up - Drake has a well-paid role in the (male dominated) IT Sector, and I have a less well-paid position in the touchy-feeling and very flexible (female dominated) charity world, so practically and financially, it makes more sense for me to work part time and do much of the childcare. Duckling's personality plays a role too - he's very Mummy focussed, and won't settle for Daddy for any length of time if he knows I'm in the house (though he's fine when I'm not). I still breastfeed Duckling, so all things related, such as sleeping and comforting, are primarily me. I've always cooked (because I like it), so that lands on my plate, and bath time always seems to involve lots of singing, which I'm better at than Drake, so, err, that's somehow me too. Mostly, it's fine. But sometimes, like today, I have simply had enough of wrangling a cling monster, and I just desperately want to have the 'Mummy' responsibility lifted from my shoulders completely while I do something else for fifteen minutes - preferably sitting on the sofa eating chocolate and watching something exorable on SyFy. I find it almost impossible to ask for this though, which really, really annoys me, and really, really annoys Drake too. For him, in man-land, the process is simple:

Duck has had enough. > Duck asks for help with whatever task she doesn't want to do. > Drake helps with task. > Duck feels better and Drake feels helpful.

For me, it goes something like this:

Duck has had enough. > Duck would like some help, but she doesn't really know exactly what with, or how to articulate the fact she's had enough without sounding like she's moaning about how hard this Mummy thing is AGAIN. And besides, Drake did look after Duckling for a couple of hours in the park earlier while Duck got to see her friends, so she should really be feeling refreshed and relaxed, not shattered and grumpy. > Duck carries on and ignores fact she's had enough. > Duckling has a screaming fit in the bath. Duck has now REALLY had enough. > Duck snaps at Duckling. > Drake comes up to see what the issue is, but conveniently doesn't notice Duck's at her wits' end so doesn't offer to help and wanders back downstairs once Duck has dried the Spotty Goblin (sorry, Duckling) and he's stopped screaming. > Duck carries on with bedtime, cursing Drake for being oblivious, and for the fact he's now downstairs with his feet up, watching the cricket. Although, she supposes he did have to clean up the dinner mess, so it's not like he's spending the whole time relaxing. > But FFS, he has almost definitely spent at least 5 minutes doing bugger all hasn't he?! > Duck's resentment festers as she attempts to get Baron Von Lotsaspots to lie down in his cot and not wail like a banshee. > Up, down, up down, feed feed feed. Duck decides this is probably all that 'no feed to sleep' sleep training out the window, goddamit. She is so crap at this. > Finally asleep, Duck returns downstairs, muttering obscenities under her breath. > Drake makes a comment along the lines of "ho hum, that's just what parenting is like I'm afraid." > Duck explodes.

It's not that I'm not capable of asking for help generally - Drake is forever running up and down the stairs to fetch things for me that Duckling has discarded in another room. It's that I find it very hard to ask for help with things that have somehow become 'my job' - i.e. the childcare stuff. Because I CAN do it - of course I can - it's not rocket science and I do it every day. I just DON'T WANT TO. As much as I know that it's important for parents to give themselves a break, it feels lazy and unfair to pass something over to Drake that I don't want to do, because why would he want to do it any more than me? He works crazy hours when he's away, so needs his weekend downtime too. Plus I'll just feel irrationally guilty if he does do it, so cancelling out the pleasure of not having to do it myself. And, if I ask this one time, I won't have the 'right' to ask again for at least a couple of weeks, and what if I really need to, even more than today?! Or, what if this opens the floodgates and I suddenly can't stop offloading and I turn into a dreaded Lazy Mother?!!

So, yes, it would be much easier if Drake would just offer sometimes so I could avoid all of this idiotic internal melodrama over my totally self-imposed rules of childrearing responsibility. It might also make me feel slightly less taken for granted. But it simply doesn't occur to him, because we're both in our little routines, he feels like he's doing plenty of useful stuff already, and he's not the one in demand 24/7. When you're away a lot, time with your child is precious, so I'm sure it is hard for him to understand why I resent being with Duckling sometimes. Although at the same time, let's be honest, why would he actively want to do the (literally) crappy bits?

I did say a lot of this to him this evening, and I think I got through, after a bit of umbrage had been taken on both sides. I have agreed to be more forthcoming, and am going to start requesting he does at least one bath time over the weekend (even if this means I have to clean the fromage frais off the wall, post dinner). Ultimately though, I think I need to keep reminding myself that beyond breastfeeding, there is no rule book that says any of the childcare stuff is intrinsically My Job. I am not technically asking for "help" therefore, but simply stating that I believe it to be Drake's turn to do the task in question.  Drake is eminently capable (I can even live with his interesting sartorial choices for Duckling), so it is perfectly fine to ask him to do more. It doesn't make me lazy and he can always say no if he really doesn't want to. This shouldn't need saying. And yet here we are. Does anyone else over-complicate things to this extent, or is it just me?

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

Breast is best - but for how long?

As I think I've mentioned in a few posts (see here and here), Duckling is a huge fan of breastfeeding. Despite having a tongue tie, he latched on within minutes of his arrival and remained clamped on almost permanently for the first three months or so, until we got the tongue tie properly sorted and he was able to feed more efficiently. He continues to breastfeed with great enthusiasm and acrobatics, and has never refused a feed in his life (except the one time I put cabbage leaves in my bra to alleviate the pain of a blocked duct. Apparently the smell was not to his liking). Through necessity as well as philosophy, we adopted a 'feed on demand' approach from the start, which seems to have resulted in a (mostly) very happy and healthy little boy. However, I'm now really starting to feel the pressure to give up.

While a few of my nearest and dearest have raised an eyebrow at my continued dedication to breastfeeding, the pressure, oddly, comes mostly from my own expectations. Even though I believe in letting babies wean themselves gradually, at their own pace, for some reason I've always had eighteen months as an ideal stopping point in my head, perhaps because that's the age at which my Mum stopped breastfeeding me. I suppose I always assumed that Duckling would have naturally weaned himself by this point, or at least shown some signs of wanting to give up, but his love of my mammaries continues unabated, and as the 1.5 year mark approaches, I'm finding myself getting a bit twitchy about this. I love breastfeeding, I really do. It's relaxing, it's snuggly, Duckling adores it and it keeps him quiet and content for whole minutes (!) at a time. His excitement when we get home from the childminder's and the boobies come out is both touching and hilarious. I genuinely think he will be bereft when we finally pack it in, which is the primary reason I wanted the impetus to give up to come from him. My patience is, nevertheless, starting to wear thin.

For starters, having been fed on demand from birth, Duckling sees my breasts as 'his'. He is prone to trying to hook them out in the middle of Sainsbury's, and does not take 'no' for an answer (at least not quietly). I don't particularly care what other people think about me breastfeeding a toddler, but I do have some issues with my lady lumps being put on display in public places. I am attempting to help him understand that my breasts are mine and he needs to ask before engaging with them (and accept denial with good grace), but he's 17 months old - impulse control is not his strong suit.

The love of the boob also means that on days involving any kind of boredom / tiredness / illness (like today - he's poorly so I've been 'working' from home), he will badger me constantly for a breastfeed. Distraction and offering alternative sources of nourishment work, but only for a limited time, so I end up in an infinite loop of breastfeeding, singing and dancing like a loon, snack cupboard rummaging and tantrum regulation. Constantly having a small person climbing up your leg / pulling at the front of your top / twiddling your nipples is beyond aggravating, and I think this is what is getting to me most at the moment. I don't want breastfeeding to turn into a power struggle, but I really want some personal space back.

Then there's the sleep issue. Breastfeeding and sleep are closely intertwined for Duckling. Though we don't feed to sleep at bedtime now (just a short feed before story-time), I usually have to feed him in the night to get him to go back to sleep, and at some point he will come into bed with us and will latch on and remain there until I wake up to detach him. I'm sure it's habit that wakes him so often in the night to feed, and I suspect as long as I'm breastfeeding, I'm not going to get a proper night's sleep.

Finally I have the issue of my fertility. I haven't had a period since before I fell pregnant with Duckling, and I suspect I won't as long as he continues to feed as much as he does. Unless I seriously curb his appetite therefore, it's unlikely I'll be able to get pregnant again, should Drake and I be foolish enough to decide this might be a good idea. We have no plans to do so for the minute, but there may come a time when we do, and at that point, letting him wean 'naturally' may not be an option.

So I am very torn. Breastfeeding for me is starting to lose its charm, but for Duckling, it's as wonderful as it ever was. I don't want to take away something he clearly loves so much, but nor do I want to be breastfeeding a five-year-old only-child, who feels it's acceptable to claim my breasts as his property. I've put up with the inconveniences until now by repeating the mantra "only another x months and he'll probably be giving this up" in my head, but now my arbitrary cut off point is fast approaching, I'm not quite sure what to do . I suppose the answer is to find a balance - cut down gradually (and this will gets easier as he begins to better understand the concept of 'later darling'), teach him to respect my autonomy, up the use of alternative sources of comfort, and hope that eventually he will decide that breastfeeding is all just a bit passé. Of course, I'm sure when that moment comes, I'll be very sad and nostalgic for the cozy, warm, nuzzly times. For now though, I shall persevere and dream of the day when I can wear a crew-neck dress again without a second thought about the practicalities of breast access (seriously, ideas on this one welcome - I have half a wardrobe gathering dust...).