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Thursday, 29 December 2016

Is it OK to say my child is "bright"?

Duckling is now nearly three. Thirty-four months if we're being precise. He will soon be starting nursery, and we have been given a questionnaire by staff asking us to "describe our child". I imagine this is to help them get a sense of who he is and what he can / can't do. I like this as an idea, but it's a hopelessly open ended question and has presented me with a bit of a dilemma. How exactly do I describe him in the three lines we've been given? 

There are some obvious words that spring to mind. He is, as many of my friends and family have pointed out, something of a 'character'. I think this is a polite way of saying he's a bit bonkers / melodramatic. But he is also quite contradiction. Enthusiastic yet cautious, bossy yet initially shy, very imaginative yet also frustratingly single minded (a.k.a. stubborn) at times. The main word that comes to mind though is "bright". And here is where I'm struggling, because using that word makes me a bit uncomfortable.

As an example, I was talking to my midwife the other day and she commented on how articulate and chatty Duckling was. I obviously felt proud she thought so, but also awkward, so I ended up saying "Yes, he's a bright little spark and he certainly knows how to communicate. Mind you, he still can't properly climb the steps up the slide at the swing park". Then I felt completely awful. Why on earth couldn't I just accept the compliment? Why did I have to temper it with an apparent criticism of my own child, and even worse, while he was in earshot?

It seems, whether about me or my family, I do not take praise well. Like most English people (particularly women), the thought of showing off, putting others down by elevating oneself (or one's children) or appearing big headed fills me with horror.  It probably doesn't help that my school days taught me that having brains and voluntarily putting yourself in the limelight earns you no respect, and makes all but your very best friends hate your guts (and I'm sure some of them got pissed off at me from time to time too - and probably still do).

Anyway, I digress. Before we had kids, Drake and I often used to roll our eyes at parents who made out their infant was a bonafide genius while said child sat in a corner picking their nose and staring into space. We did not want to be THOSE parents. Now we have a nose picker of our own, we understand parental pride a bit more. We give Duckling heaps of praise and take and share photos of his achievements like anyone else. Nonetheless, that fear of appearing blinkered and naive remains. We still make a point of laughing at each other when we go too overboard on the admiration, knowing full well that five minutes after any major accomplishment, Duckling will probably be ramming a spoon in his ear or, like yesterday, trying to construct a shelf out of two bits of wood and his youngest cousin's head (good thing Goslingino is a pretty chilled little chap).

It's not just a self-conscious modesty or a fear of people rolling their eyes (or worse, contradicting me) that makes me balk at the 'bright' word though. It's easy to say Duckling is enthusiastic (the word "wow" gets used about 20 times a day) or bossy ("NO Daddy, you not do that!") but intelligence is so much more subjective. What exactly makes you clever? Is it academic brilliance? Verbal dexterity? Fantastic problem solving abilities? A high IQ? Emotional intuition and empathy? EVERY decent parent thinks their child is brilliant because we love them and choose to focus mainly on their achievements and skills, rather than their failures and challenges. What we may class as 'bright' behaviour might be totally different from the type of acumen another child displays though. Plus our kids develop so rapidly that every new skill learned and milestone achieved really does seem like an Einstein level accomplishment. Even with handy online guides, I still find it really hard to objectively assess whether Duckling is genuinely "advanced for his age" or if I simply think he is because I subconsciously ignore all the dumb stuff he does that's actually totally typical of a child of two (or, ahem, younger). And I know, realistically, he does plenty of really dumb things.

Yet, as my midwife pointed out, verbally, he IS doing very well. He speaks in clear, complex sentences, has a great memory and can understand and explain all sorts of concepts very clearly. Today, as a random example, he had a conversation with me about a broken tape dispenser (bloody Xmas wrapping) that went:
"Mummy, why you put that in the bin?"
"Because it was broken Duckling."
"Oh. But you can fix it?"
"No, the little tape cutter snapped off."
"Oh, that a shame. I can fix it Mummy? With my glue or my screwdriver? Can you get it back Mummy?"
"No darling, thank you, but it's properly broken. I don't think glue or a screwdriver will help."
"I can fix it Mummy! I juuuuust need my screwdriver."
"No, Duckling you really can't."
"Oh. Humph. Maybe we buy a new one?"
"Good idea, let's do that."
It was not all that dissimilar from conversing with Drake to be honest - he always thinks he knows how to fix things better than I do too...

My chiropractor's son of two and a half on the other hand is still stuck at the ten word level Duckling was when he was 17 months or so (you have to discuss something when they're sat on your leg, cracking your spine...), while another friend's daughter speaks in whole, descriptive sentences and she isn't even two.

So how can you compare? Should you even try? I think the answer is probably not. As every Health Visitor will tell you, children develop at different rates and will prioritise some skills over others. Being very verbal at this age has little real bearing on future braininess, however you choose to define that. Except maybe in those truly gifted children who are talking by one, doing long division by two and playing Beethoven by three... He is definitely not one of those. Furthermore, I'm not sure it really even matters. In the grand scheme of things, I'd rather have a healthy and happy child than a Nobel prize winner any day of the week.

After a lot of unnecessary overthinking, in the end what I wrote on the form (amongst other things) was our honest opinion: "We feel Duckling is quite bright." Because we do. Because he probably is. For a two year old anyway. He still can't bloody climb steps though, bless him.

Monday, 28 November 2016

Dear Playdoh (Baby No. 2)

Dear Playdoh (for that is what your brother has decreed you shall be called),

While you are still nicely contained in utero, I thought I might take a moment to pen you a little note containing a few small requests. If you wouldn't mind considering them over the next four months, I would be very much obliged.

  1. Your due date is 30 March.  I will give you a knock and let you know when this comes around.  Your brother wasn't particularly keen on making an entrance on his due date.  Or in fact anywhere close.  Then when he did finally decide to venture out, he took four days about it.  Less faffing about would be infinitely more comfortable for us both.
  2. When you make your final descent, if you could try your best to properly rotate yourself, rather than just shooting out like a wailing torpedo, you will save me an awful lot of blood loss, an ambulance ride and a whole patchwork quilt of stitches.  Better for me, better for you and better for your Daddy, who I'm sure would rather avoid sitting in a hospital room for eight hours with only a stale muesli bar for sustenance (poor lamb) and a wife moaning about the fact he forgot to bring her any shoes...
  3. If you've unfortunately inherited your father's genes and have a tongue tie, could you spend the next few months stretching it a bit? It's not much fun for any of us having to have it snipped. Especially not twice.
  4. I accept that sometimes you will be hungry / cold / hot / wet / burpy / tired. I will do my best to rectify these situations wherever I can, but if you could avoid apoplectic melt downs outside of these scenarios, I really would appreciate it. Your older brother cried pretty much constantly when he wasn't clamped to one or other of his beloved boobies, which was really rather tiresome and made life quite difficult for the first six (twelve, eighteen...) months. I'd prefer not repeat the experience.
  5. I will from time to time need to put you down - in a bouncy chair, on a change mat, into your father's arms... If you could attempt to be OK with that (for at least five minutes, but longer would be amazing), it would really help me out.
  6. One poo a day is generally considered an acceptable number. Poosplosions two, three, four or more times a day is a little excessive.
  7. Hospital is not a fun place to be, even if they do have an awesome playroom and macaroni cheese for lunch every day. Avoidance of fingers in doors and pneumonia causing bacteria is advisable.
  8. The pushchair is not your sworn enemy. If you prefer a sling, that's totally fine, but at some point it would be brilliant if you could also deign to be pushed about in something with wheels. Preferably some time before you exceed the maximum baby carrier weight limit / my back gives out.
  9. If you could possibly try to sleep through the night some time before the age of two and a half, the whole family would be eternally grateful.
  10. I am all for a less prudish, uptight society, but I'm afraid bearing one's breasts in public is still generally frowned upon.  If you could try not to extract them in front of others every five minutes therefore, you will save me a lot of blushes and yourself a lot of ticking off.
Of course if you do decide fulfilling these polite requests is simply too much of a crimp on your right to individuality and self expression, I will understand. You could ignore all of them to be honest and I would still love you more than life itself I am sure. I also recognise you'll probably come with your own unique set of fun traits which could well trump anything your brother threw our way. If you're half as entertaining and lovely as him, it won't matter a jot. Though, you know, I would prefer to reach forty before I go totally grey...

I live in hope and look forward to meeting you soon,

Love,

Your Mummy xxx

Saturday, 12 November 2016

Asking "Why?"

"Mummy, why are your trousers wet?"
"Because you squirted water all over me while you were in the bath my precious little sugar plum."
"Why Mummy?"
"Well I think you got a bit excited and thought it would be funny."
"Why?"
"Err, because you're a giant pickle!"
"Why?"
"Sigh. I don't know, you tell me!"
"Why?"
"Ugh. Right, lets do your teeth."

So goes a standard toddler "why" conversation. It's enough to make you want to put your head under the bathwater and not come up for air. But right now, in both America and the UK, WHY is a vital question to ask. People who didn't vote for Trump are furious. People who didn't vote for Brexit are too. But above all, they are confused and uncomprehending. They do not understand WHY people voted as they did. They simply cannot see how it could be possible for anyone not to see the truth that they do, not to be repelled by the deeply negative, regressive values pushed by these campaigns. I know I can't, not really. Yet something must have turned people into Leavers and Trumpers.  What was it?

Plenty have, and will continue to make guesses. Some will be pretty spot on, others less so. In the USA there is now a sea of speculation to swim through. It was Hillary's robotic delivery, it was Bill's adultery, it was misogyny, it was pure racisim, it was the coal mines, it was the FBI, it was Russia... It was in truth probably all of these things and many more, with different issues being the vote winners for different demographics and different individuals within those demographics. Rather than left wing speculation however, liberal Americans need to hear the reasoning from Trump voters themselves.  However wincing and uncomfortable it may be, their voices have to be listened to because without this, as with Brexit, the other side just becomes a generalised characature, and not a set of real people with real lives and worries. And when you reduce people in this way, it becomes incredibly easy to ignore them, with the consequences we are seeing today.

More than just individual anecdotes, Americans will also need objective, broad studies of all voters. In the UK, the Lord Ashcroft poll for example went some way to providing this at a high level after the Brexit vote. While it served to confirm many common assumptions, it also showed there was diversity in opinions and voter profiles. Brexiteers had a generally more negative outlook on the current state of the UK (and life in general) and tended to be older, in lower social classes and less progressive in their beliefs. But not everyone was. Some 27% of leavers were under 24 and 43% were in the highest social grouping. People voted out primarily because they wanted decisions affecting their country to be made in Britain (49%) with immigration and border control concerns (33%) ranking second as the main reason. The assertion made by some trying to "excuse" Brexit - that it was not actually about xenophobia (overt or not) but the more palatable, fluffy promise to better fund the NHS - was shown to be a bit tenuous. It was a factor but only about 12% of people polled voted Leave primarily because of this.

Statistics aren't sexy, but gathered well and combined with more in depth, qualitative research, they can pinpoint the most common and deepest held reasons people voted the way they did. This matters because it is only by understanding why people do the things that they do that we can begin to come to terms with new realities, move on and make effective changes. Progressives in both the USA and UK need to look forward and plan how to address the fears and motivations of their populaces - from every walk of life - in a way that is based on realism, generosity and practicality rather than fear, negativity and untenable populist policies. This doesn't mean liking, condoning or even tolerating Trump, Brexit or whatever other right-wing nightmares are in the pipeline.  It does mean putting stereotypes aside and calming the anger to find effective, evidence-based ways of winning back the hearts and minds of people who clearly feel the establishment have left them behind. We must all be two year olds and ask "WHY?".

Tuesday, 8 November 2016

Trump

What is on your mind?" the app I use to write blog posts asks me every time I open it up. Well, mainly Duckling and his two year old melt downs. But also Brexit. Still. And Trump.

It is hard to know what to say about a man so odious, though many have tried. Screaming carrot demon is one of my favourite monikers (thank you Samantha Bee). Absolute arsehole (or asshole if we're being authentically American) would be my less creative version.

What depresses me more than Trump's vile personality though, and the vile policies and rhetoric it gives rise to, is the ardent support he enjoys from such a large proportion of the US population. There is much I could write about populism, the post fact society where feelings matter more than truth and reason and the bitter divisions within the US in terms of race, income and political ideologies. Trump has exploited all of these to get to where he is, just as the Brexit campaign did in the UK, to such unfortunate effect.

But this is about Trump the man. Why is it that so many are unwilling to recognise Trump for what he is? An egomaniac. A narcissist. A sociopath. These are undoubtedly big words, which, to be blatantly condescending, are unlikely to be in most Trump supporters' everyday vocabulary. The traits that define them - lying, cheating, manipulation, self-agrandisment, thin skin, lashing out, overt sexism, obvious racism, viciousness, pomposity, basic disregard for human equality and human life - should be easy to recognise though, and should start alarm bells ringing in the minds of anyone who has even a vague ability to recognise right from wrong, even the most basic notion of what happened in Germany in the 1930s and even the slightest idea of characteristics that might be undesirable in a democratic, decent, respectable President.

Hilary Clinton is of course not exactly a perfect alternative. The charity and email server scandals were very unfortunate (if not nearly as scandalous as Trump makes out) . But in terms of 'wrongdoing' this article from the Slate sums it up nicely. Major misdemeanours by Clinton = 1. By Donald Trump = 230.

Where are society, the State, parents, schools, the media, all of us - in the US and beyond (for there are Trump backers here too) - going so wrong that so many people are immune Trump's malignancy, or, worse still, are actively embracing it? Are half the US population missing basic emotional intelligence and compassion? Are the women that plan to vote for him really so hating of minorities that they'd rather ignore their own rights and vote for a pussy grabber than a fellow woman? Are children no longer being raised to be kind and respect others? And if they are, at what point does the message switch to "just look out for yourself and people like you. Everyone else is can fuck off?" I can understand how a tough life (or frankly a comfortable, well-off life that you want to protect) can give rise to this kind of thinking. But as with the xenophobia driving Brexit, it doesn't make it excusable.

Everyone is entitled to their political beliefs, and in his own unique way Trump does represent many dearly held by Republicans in the US, however unpalatable they may be to us more liberal minded Europeans (though I can no longer vouch for the liberality of roughly half my country to be honest). But there is a difference between being conservative in your beliefs - which in America is strongly tied to the concept of FREEDOM let's not forget (albeit really only for white middle class males) and being a power-crazed lunatic who just spouts whatever nonsense he thinks will put him ahead in the polls. Many voters at this juncture probably believe that being in Trump's 'in group' (white people) they will be protected, represented, have their lives improved. That's why they're voting for him. They don't care about all the many people he hates, the women he's assaulted, all the people he has alienated and stamped on. He doesn't hate THEM. He makes mistakes and talks like one of them. He GETS them. Until the day he decides they or the social group to which they belong, for whatever reason, have offended him, and then their lives will be made as miserable as the many Mexicans and Muslims he plans to piss all over if he comes to power. Fascism 101.

If there wasn't a chance this will all end in nuclear armaggedon, the idea of Trump actually having to navigate the complexities of leading a world superpower would be utterly hilarious. It would make a far more engaging reality show than The Apprentice. But it isn't funny. Whichever way the election goes today, there will have to be some serious soul searching in the USA tomorrow, and beyond, where Americans ask themselves "How did we allow this man to get so far, how is it so many found him acceptable and how do we stop something like this from ever happening again?" Let's hope it doesn't take four years of a living Trump nightmare to drive the message home.

Thursday, 27 October 2016

Judging other mothers

While flicking through the Huffington Post parents section today, I came across a post entitled "Why Was I Shamed For Having A Girlie Mini-Break Without My Kids?". Why indeed? I thought, that sounds very unreasonable. I read on. The author - a mother of two - had spent three days away with her friends in the sun, leaving her 10 week old baby and 6 year old behind with their Dad. She then documented her holiday on Facebook, and received considerable scorn in response.  At the start of the article, I had been ready to be huffy on her behalf, but when I read "10 weeks old" I tutted. I actually tutted. Then I tutted more loudly at myself. Evidently I was no better than the trolls who had criticised her for being "selfish" enough to have a break from her children. I read on, admonishing myself. But the conflict remained.

On the one hand, I totally applauded her decision. She left her children with their fathers, where she knew they'd be safe and happy (her 6 year old daughter often spent weekends with her Dad, so she wouldn't have known any different anyway), and put her own wellbeing centre stage. Far too few Mums ever do that (myself included) and then we bitch and moan about how knackered we are, and how we never have time for ourselves. Well more fool us. She doesn't breastfeed (she freely declares herself NOT an earth mother) and her children self settle so there were no concerns about milk supply or sleep issues while away. Her kids, I'm sure, were totally fine with the arrangement, so why on earth judge her? Just because society (and the Daily Mail, who got hold of the story) tells us mothers must slavishly and selflessly devote themselves to their children, doesn't mean society is right. As she points out, her husband doesn't "let her" go away or "babysit" her younger child. He takes on responsibility for caring for THEIR kid because that's right and fair. GREAT.

And yet. My knee jerk reaction was still to negatively judge and furrow my brow. Why?

I think there were several reasons. First, I am undoubtedly subconsciously influenced by social norms around a mother's inescapable responsibility, however consciously I try to reject them. Second, I projected my own experience onto hers - I breastfed my son, and he was a colossal pain in the arse proper high needs baby (he still is a bit). At 10 weeks, there was no way in hell I could have left him for 3 hours in his father's sole care, let alone 3 days. Unlike this mother's daughter, he WOULD most certainly have noticed, and would have made his displeasure known, exceedingly vocally and repeatedly. Third, because I know that separation from a parent can have long term psychological consequences. There is substantial scientific evidence to demonstrate this, and a member of my own family still bears the scars of being separated from his mother when he was very young, an experience that left him resentful and unable to properly trust her for the rest of his life. Being with trusted, caring fathers, it is very unlikely this woman's children would have suffered the same fate. But when you know what separation can do, the merest suggestion of it can make you feel uncomfortable. Fourth because the article was accompanied by a selection of pouty, bikini-clad selfies of the author and her friend. Fine, but I personally find selfies a bit narcissistic. Probably because I'm old and flabby. Fifth, because there was some judgement coming from the author too. One of her trolls "did look like a troll" (touché, but still...). If you haven't married a man willing to pull his weight in the childcare stakes, it's kind of your own fault (well, yes, unless you didn't actually discover that until you had the baby...). NCT Mums are the worst breed of female she's ever come across... (I am a despicable person, it's true.) Six, I am maybe a little jealous of her, and her ability to say "Fuck it all, I'm off to lie on a beach for 72 hours!"

I didn't want to judge her, and yet I did. Because we ALL judge. It's how we make sense of the world, work out what we like and dislike, what's right and wrong, and distinguish our own preferences, styles and philosophies from those of others. It's not necessarily inherently wrong to judge. It is wrong to voice those judgements publically and unbidden (even via the tempting anonymity of social media) as though your opinion and experience is the definitive truth, all considerations of nuance or sensitivity be damned. So while I recognise I have just publically aired my own thoughts on this particular matter, I would underline they are just thoughts - and are in no way meant to shame the mother concerned. Her life is her business, and as long as her kids are happy and safe (and they almost certain are), then she should be left to live it without uninvited criticism. Preferably on a lounger with a cocktail in her hand, because who wouldn't want to be there?

Friday, 14 October 2016

Oh so lazy

There are many feelings I associate with motherhood. Some are obvious (exhaustion), others more subtle (ambivalence) and some need a whole new word to describe them (guilentment anyone?). I think it would be fair to say that the whole experience is something of an emotional roller-coaster.

There is one feeling that seems to pop up regularly however, good days and bad, and that's the feeling of laziness. It's somewhat ironic that I feel so consistently lazy when I'm in a period of my life when I am at my flat-out busiest. I will spare you the itemised list of all the stuff I do in a week, but let's agree that like any working Mum it's quite a lot and office time, childcare and housework all feature prominently. I am also pregnant, just to add to the fun.

Yet I have a cleaner who vacuums and does the bathrooms, and a husband who tidies and does the washing. I even get to go for a run or out with friends and colleagues in the evenings sometimes. On the face of it, I would appear to have ample support and escape, so why is the house always in a permanent state, why is my To Do list always mile long, and why do I still fail to squeeze in enough 'me' time to feel human? My frequent conclusion? I must just be lazy.

I know, rationally, I am not lazy. I am just time poor and expect too much of myself. I can't keep the house as tidy as I once did because I have a small person constantly (CONSTANTLY) messing it up, and sucking up the time I'd usually devote to tidying and filing and organising. Plus I am tired. So lacking in energy sometimes, that I find Drake's preferred 'proactive parenting' approach (monitoring your child's activities and behaviour so you can step in to prevent issues before they start) a laughable impossibility. And when I do have an hour in the evening to NOT be overseeing a toddler, an hour I should rightly devote to snack cupboard alphabetisation, sewing on buttons or window cleaning, I physically and mentally can't bring myself to do anything but sit on the sofa watching TV and writing blog posts like this.

Drake just sighs when I have my 'I'm so lazy' moments, and tells me to stop beating myself up (because I'm not lazy and an ultra tidy house is really NOT important), go to bed earlier (ha!) or organise things better so I have the time if I'm really so stressed about them. He is right, but the fact his pet name for me is 'sloth' (due to my former love of lie ins) does not help. Nor do his "Right, we really need to sort out XYZ in the house" monologues, which he likes to deliver randomly when something in the household inconveniences him, usually with a sense of authority and despair that implies he would have this all sorted and under control if it weren't for his scatty wife and her poor mastery of her Tasmanian devil of a son. This could of course just be the way I interpret it, as I am ultra-sensitive to accusations of slovenly behaviour, being constantly convinced I am slovenly. But still.

I should no doubt ask Drake to help more, but I feel lazy mainly because I so rarely seem to get anything done. Actually completing something makes me feel better. If I don't do it myself, the issue may as well have not existed at all. I didn't solve it; I don't get to take credit and convince myself that I'm not REALLY so lazy after all. Or feel justified for being so goddamn tired.

I'm sure all of this makes me a self-flagellating control freaky perfectionist martyr. However, it also demonstrates just how hopelessly brainwashed I am by society's placement of mothers in the housewife role, despite my best efforts not to be. Do I consciously think my worth is only gauged on how well I clean the kitchen or how many times a week I manage to roast a whole chicken for dinner? I consider myself a feminist for Christ's sake so I should hope not! And yet the feeling is there; the little voice in my head saying "this isn't good enough, you could do more".

Contrast this to Drake. He is a pretty modern guy. He "helps out" (I have written about my dislike of that term before). But the fact he gets annoyed at the mess, not at his own failure to tidy it says a lot. If we lose a bill, I get frustrated at myself because I haven't magicked up the time or conviction to properly file it. I feel lazy and a failure. Drake gets frustrated because he can't do his job and pay the bill. It's the bill's fault, or mine for having "moved it", but never his for having failed to put it in the box labelled "bills". I am never quite sure if this is a sign of very robust self-esteem (aka blindness to his own faults), an assumption of male superiority (household organisation is not HIS job! Others must be blamed for this situation!) or whether he does actually feel annoyed at himself and just buries it deep to save face. Whatever the case, it is quite the opposite to my own, usually pretty open and deeply annoying self-admonishment. I am as much a female cliché as he is a walking example of a 'typical bloke'.

So things continue, some days more productive than others, with the lazy scale fluctuating accordingly. Maybe I need to rename the feeling to "disappointed at lack of energy" or "frustrated by lack of time". Perhaps this way I can start to accept that the problem is not simply an inherent character flaw, but a disconnect between my own admirable ambitions and the reality of the situation I am in. Maybe setting myself just one or two goals a day ("get to the shops" or " play Duplo with Duckling" or "file my nails") is the answer. Consistently ticking mental to do boxes has to be better than constantly ticking myself off, no?

Friday, 23 September 2016

The fabulous Wheeldon Trees Farm

I don't really do reviews and stuff on this blog.  It's just not my thing, and I don't think I'd ever be able to bring myself to do one of those "company sends you a product and you 'review' it" type affairs.  Mainly because I don't have enough readers so they'd never ask me to.  Boo hoo.

Every once in a while though, I'll come across something that's just brilliant and I want to sing its praises - not because they've asked me to, but to highlight what can be done if people really think about their product properly.  If it makes my life better, then I want to let others know.

This week's revelation was not so much a product but a place - our lovely little holiday cottage up in the Peak District. Wheeldon Trees Farm, just outside Earl Sterndale in Derbyshire was basically awesome. Unsurprisingly for a place that features on the Baby Friendly Boltholes website, it was super child friendly.  You could pre-book a list of bulky baby and toddler paraphernalia (change mat, bed guard, potty etc.) so you didn't have to take them with you.  There was a mini farm, complete with friendly chickens, ducks, rabbits, sheep and two donkeys ("a big donkey and a little donkey!  Heeeehawwww" as Duckling repeatedly pointed out), and you could pop out to feed them with the owner (or the lovely caretaker Nigel) each morning at 9.30: not too early, but no so late that you couldn't then head off to do things during the day.  There was a fully stocked pantry and laundrette, a small swing park, and a massive games room, that kept Duckling entertained for hours one rainy afternoon (and Drake and I didn't do too badly either - even if I did have to suffer the usual indignity of being whooped at both pool and table football).  The kitchen was fully stocked with equipment we actually needed (I have written before about the hilarious set ups in some holiday homes), like bag clips and graters and a salad bowl and a fully working potato peeler (the same IKEA one we have at home no less!). There were laminated maps and directions for local walks, detailing which were buggy friendly (just one, but it involved a pub, so we were happy).  And, best of all, you got biscuits and homemade brownies on arrival, and a little edible gift on departure.  Tragically, I'm still in my first trimester and unable to stomach anything sweet but Drake and Duckling gave them a thumbs up.


Even when something did go wrong - like the shower developing a random drip and somehow leaking into the kitchen below (amusingly just as Drake and I were heading upstairs for an "early night". Romantic!) it was dealt with efficiently and quickly and without any fuss.  At least it was when we reported it the next morning...

This level of service does come at a bit of a premium, I will admit.  But the cost was really nothing outrageous, and I'd far rather pay a smidge more for a holiday where there's so much to entertain my child that I actually get that rarest of things - five minutes to relax and enjoy myself.  Why can't more places put this amount of thought in?  I mean really?  Forget designer taps, robes and sharp edged, toddler-head-damaging furniture: I'll take practicality, cleanliness and comfort any day.  God, I'm old.  And middle class.

Anyway, the final day revealed just WHY it was all so well thought through.  Every visitor is asked to complete a questionnaire on their departure (and provided with a pen) which specifically asks them if there was anything more they could have done to make the holiday better.  Our resounding answer - nothing at all.  Except maybe 25oC heat and sunshine.  Possibly a bit of a tall order for Derbyshire in September, even for the wonderful Wheeldon Trees team...

Saturday, 17 September 2016

The Lunch Box Dilemma

I'm not really one for getting publicly vocal about my feminist principles. Give me a bit of wine and I might hold an earnest debate with you about the patriarchy. But I am not going to lecture you if (as happened today) you force me to chose between a pink princess or a jungle explorer kids meal box. You're a nineteen year old cashier in a café at a tram museum. Life's too short.
None the less, The Lunch Box Dilemma irked me because it highlighted an aspect of modern childhood with which I have a real issue - just how stupidly gendered it has become. Gendering sells. But in the process, it also reinforces stereotypes that lead girls and boys to make assumptions about what they should and shouldn't like and what is and isn't appropriate behaviour for them (or the opposite sex). Equally brainwashed, many parents then line up to reinforce these assumptions in an effort to keep their child happy and conform to the norm.

So what lunch box to choose? Duckling was on the far side of the cafe so not around for me to ask. I had to make the call. Princess box = girl. Aspiration = youth, wealth, beauty and marrying a handsome prince. Explorer box = boy. Aspiration = bravery, adventure, autonomy and an all terrain vehicle. Why two boxes? I thought. Why couldn't they just have a jungle explorer box? Or a neutral castle box featuring both a prince and a princess, if they really had to? Why does LUNCH have to be gendered?!

Eventually, after the cashier had started rapping her nails on the till, I opted for the jungle explorer. Ashamed as I am to admit it, I am not immune to the strong social stigma attached to boys playing with "girl" things. Encouraging boys to actively 'go pink' takes guts, probably more so than suggesting a girl might want to 'go blue'. I'm sure nobody would have said anything had I selected the princess castle and Duckling wouldn't have cared a jot as long as it contained the requested chips (BAD Mummy). It might even have made me feel proud to be so markedly 'gender blind'. But I'm actually not - I would have been deliberately contriving to push a particular counter-identity on my son, for the sake of MY ideology - one that he's not remotely going to understand. Besides which, I don't think the fairytale princess narrative is a particularly positive one for either sex...

Why is it that your sex at birth - the type of human body you have - now maps out virtually every choice you make, down to the colour of the straw you're expected to have in your milkshake?  Intersex individuals aside (and there is a whole other set of issues to be considered there), males and females do have different reproductive organs and different chromosomes. The male / female label really shouldn't do much more than describe our physical attributes however. Our brains for example are not intrinsically blue or pink, whatever the Science Museum may tell you (incidentally, I, straight, eternally scatty woman with one child and a bun in the oven, have a 'male brain' according to that test. Err, yay?!). Our identities are about so much more than our sex. Certainly some personality traits, skills, likes and dislikes may be more commonly found in women than men and vice versa. But it is very hard to unpick nature from nurture, and in most cases, we cannot categorically state that, for example, a woman is caring or a man is aggressive simply because her or his brain is naturally wired that way.  Evolution may be responsible for contributing to a general trend that sees women and men fulfill these stereotypes.  But it is also true that these traits are prominent because society tells us we should be kind as a girl and tough as a boy. Social norms reinforce and amplify any possible 'natural' tendencies (note tendencies, not inevitable traits), to a point where they are seen as fact, and deviation as abnormality. And that is dangerous. When our sex (physical attributes) doesn't seem to fully match our gender (social ideas of what we should be like) it leads people to commit unspeakable acts of violence against each other. For women to be eternally subjugated and exploited. For men to be excused for inexcusable behaviour. For young girls and boys to decide that, because they don't fit with society's identity expectations, there must be something wrong with them. They must have been born the wrong sex, and have the wrong body parts.

So yes, I know it was just a lunch box, but it represented a division that does nobody (except manufacturers and advertisers) any good whatsoever. Give me the neutral elephant, giraffe and monkey boxes at our local swimming pool any day.

Wednesday, 7 September 2016

The weirder side of pregnancy

So, here we are. Pregnancy No. 5... Like Mambo No. 5 but with less jumping up and down, fewer Ritas, Tinas and Monicas (they're not baby names we're considering) and definitely no gin and juice. So nothing like it at all really. Must work on my analogies.

Anyway, I am currently ten weeks in and as my last post may have indicated, I feel crap most of the time - sick, tired, headachey and generally grumpy. So far so normal. However, I've also noticed the development of a few weirder symptoms, which, given that I have no mental capacity to write about anything vaguely political or intellectual at the moment, I thought I would share.

First up is the hypersensitivity. Not one I've ever read about, but one that probably makes some evolutionary sense if you think about it - pregnant women needing to avoid danger and all that. Loud noises make me cringe. Unexpected hugs from Drake risk him receiving a swift karate chop to the neck. Uncomfortable knickers are torture. A completely overcast day requires sunglasses. Everyone knows about the sensitive smell thing (keep that beer AWAY from me!) but all the other senses? It's very odd and I fear my colleagues think I've developed some form of PTSD given the regularity with which I jump out my skin as they pop up behind my desk. Just give me some warning guys, OK?!

Then there's the weird throat pressure thing. Now this could just be related to the cold I had at the start of the pregnancy, but every so often I get a sensation like someone is throttling me, which is more than a little disconcerting. Thinking about it, maybe this is related to symptom one...?

Then there're the dreams. My God, the dreams. I've always been prone to odd ones, but my pregnancy dreaming really takes odd to new levels. The relief on waking up this morning to discover my new baby wasn't actually a sachet of tomato ketchup I had accidentally stabbed with a biro while trying to write my name on him/her/it was quite pronounced. No less random and disturbing was the dream in which my sister's ears went green and fell off. Then (stop reading now Drake) there was the one where I was trying to get jiggy with Tinie Tempah at my Nanna's house but kept being interrupted by annoying nieces and nephews wanting me to judge their art work. Though who hasn't been in that situation, right?

Then there's the really obscure symptom - the misreading of words. I don't know if this pregnancy per se or simply exhaustion, but last Thursday I passed our local bookshop and saw "My first book of pest control" in the window, complete with a picture of a smiling cartoon ant. Really? I thought. Seems an unlikely children's book. Before I realised it actually said "My first book of pen control" - a cheery tome to help pre-schoolers learn to write and draw. Obviously. "Is that boy really wearing an Abercrombie and Bitch t-shirt?" I wondered yesterday. (Um, no). "A Cub Scout Jumper Sale? Isn't that a bit niche?" I pondered last week. (JUMBLE Sale woman, JUMBLE!). Very strange...

Finally, I'm pretty sure my leg hair seems to be growing faster. Or maybe it's just because I have less energy to shave. Or indeed cause - the baby making bit being accomplished and the sickness putting a bit of a dampener on the libidos of both parties... Unless Tinie Tempah is involved apparently. Whatever, I definitely seem to be a tad more hairy than usual which is annoying in the current warm skirt-necessitating weather. Bring on autumn I say. And the second trimester. Weird symptoms I can cope with, and on occasion even find amusing. The sickness and bone-aching exhaustion are just grim. Still as my dearest husband keeps assuring me, "feeling awful is a really good sign!" Indeed, though I shall be telling him to jump up and down and move it all around under a bus the next time he says it.

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

25 things that make me feel sick now I'm pregnant (again)

1) Custard. I don't like it even when not pregnant. I now have an active phobia. Our tin of custard powder has gone to live in the garage.

2) The food recycling bin. An excellent excuse to get Drake to empty it.

3) Loud noises.

4) Johnson's Baby Bath. How does that scent not melt Duckling's skin?

5) Sorting out Duckling's potty. WHY did I chose the first trimester to do potty training? I am obviously a masochist.

6) Sorting out the stuff that doesn't quite make it into the potty.

7) Chocolate. What can I say. 

8) Drake's morning breath.

9) Drake's minty fresh toothpastey breath.

10) Brushing my own teeth.

11) Not eating

12) Eating

13) An article about the Mars rover. Because it made me think of Mars Bars and they make me feel sick.

14) Singing?!

15) Drake sitting down too heavily on the sofa next to me.

16) Drake turning over in bed.

17) Drake hugging me to make me feel better. Sorry dearest :-(.

18) The dishwasher, pre wash (particularly when it's been festering for a day or two).

19) People sniffing on the train.

20) Lying down.

21) Standing up.

22) Pigeons.

23) Bananas.

24) Fern raking up alpaca poo in "My Pet and Me".

25) Writing a list of things that make me feel sick. Let's stop.

Thursday, 11 August 2016

Dear liberal thinkers of America...

Dear liberal thinkers of America,

Unless you have all been living in an underground bunker for the past couple of years (which, given everything that's been going on would be kind of understandable), you will probably have noticed that the USA is approaching a presidential election between Hilary Clinton and Donald Trump.

The more switched on among you may also know that here in the UK, we have also just had a major vote - on whether to leave the European Union or not. Two very different votes about two very different things you might think. Yet there are a surprising number of parallels to be drawn, and some vital lessons to be learned if Trump's march towards victory is to be halted. Which, given that the man is at best under qualified, and at worst a terrifying narcissistic bile-spewing time bomb, is a bit of a priority if the USA is to continue to function and retain any shred of respect with the rest of the world.

We should know. The rest of the world thinks we're certifiable right now. There has never been much love lost between the UK and the EU. Being the somewhat arrogant, aloof and insular islanders that we are, we as a nation have always viewed the EU with soupçon of suspicion. Different languages, different cultures, different priorities and yet somehow they still get to pass laws by which we have to be governed? All a bit dodgy if you ask most people. We've thus kept ourselves at arm's length, refusing to join the Euro and carving out special dispensations and rebates.

Yet the benefits of EU membership are enormous: it's why we joined. Some perks are tangible - tariff-free imports and exports and bloc-negotiated trade deals, cheap and easy European travel, funding for our scientific community, international university exchange programmes, support for our struggling farmers, regional development grants, the right to work anywhere in the EU without a visa, protections for workers and consumers, the economic and social benefits of immigration (such as the provision of skilled staff for the struggling NHS)... Others are less so - for example the stability and peace that has been achieved by working together as a common, cooperative entity. We simply do not know what conflicts may have arisen or escalated since the end of the Second World War had the EU not been founded.

Despite all these benefits however, the UK chose to leave the EU. 52% of the voting public said 'let's get out'. Why? As a liberal, progressive egalitarian of mixed European heritage, who studied French and Spanish and has lived in France, it is a question I am REALLY not qualified to answer. But by talking to others, it is becoming clearer, and here is where some lessons for you, ordinary Americans who want sanity to prevail, can be drawn:

1) Don't assume the 'other side' are simply idiots. This is a mistake I made personally. Yes, it is tempting to think those who don't share your views are stupid. Your frustration their narrow-minded views and apparently wilfull ignorance will certainly pull you to feel that way. In some cases their intellect may indeed be below average, in others it will not. But bright or dim, people make choices based on a unique set of internal and external factors - environmental, circumstantial and psychological - and when all of these are weighed up, the choice they make will be rational for them. Calling people idiots just makes them want to tell you to f**k off and is likely to push undecided voters away from you, rather than towards. Keep the name calling to circles of like-minded friends (not your whole Facebook friends list or all of your Twitter followers!).

2) Consider all motivations. In our referendum, most remainers assumed that people voting Leave were simply xenophobic. They didn't like foreigners and they didn't like all the open borders imposed by the EU, or the level of immigration this led to. This was undoubtedly a motivation for a not insignificant chunk of Leavers, and the rise in hate crimes since has highlighted a very unpalatable seam of overt racism in our country, fuelled by the Leave campaign's anti-migrant vitriol. But people also voted Leave based on a promise to plough the money we save on EU membership into our creaking National Health Service. They voted because Leave promised change and to "Take back control" of a country they no longer felt they knew. Because they couldn't see what the EU had ever done for them personally. Because they were tired of arrogant, educated snobs and "so called experts" telling them what to do and making them feel belittled. Because they genuinely believed (and despite the fall out, maybe still do) that life would be better for them, their children and grandchildren. Because they got their news from one of several anti-Europe tabloids. Because they felt like protesting about the current government, and this was an accessible way to do it. Because they thought the Remain campaign's warnings were just fear mongering. Because they viewed the EU to be too socialist, or conversely, overly influenced by capitalist values and corporations. Because they believed the whole set up to be undemocratic (it's not, but anyway...). The point is, if you make assumptions about WHY the average voter might plan to vote for the "other side" you will almost inevitably be wrong, because you will be swayed as much by your side's rhetoric as they are by theirs. To truly change hearts and minds you have to understand why hearts feel and minds think that way in the first place and speak to them. This is something we can all do. Which brings me to...

3) Don't preach to the converted. People usually only follow media outlets that reflect their own views. The Daily Show can say what it likes; the vast majority of Fox News fans will never, ever, hear it (unless Fox News is complaining about the Daily Show of course). So you have to find ways to get 'alternative' points of view across. Forget the media, and reach out to communities, friends, families. I'm not claiming this is in any way easy. It requires creativity and the courage of conviction to loudly and repeatedly denounce the lies and hate being served up by your opponents. It also means identifying the values, hope and fears of the voters of the other side, and demonstrating how your side can address these, as well as highlighting how their representative cannot. Political campaigning 101 basically, but still worth underlining.  

In many respects, Trump is doing the job for the Clinton camp. In his comments relating to the parents of the US Serviceman, Humayun Khan, he made a calculated gamble. He hoped the US public would, in general, find the the Khans' religion more distasteful than his own comments about the family of a soldier and patriot; that anti-Islamic feeling would win out against deep-seated respect for military personnel. The dent in his poll ratings suggest his calculations did not add up. This is the kind of tasteless behaviour that needs to be highlighted and shared extensively. Remainers failed to get our message across for many reasons, but it was, primarily, and obviously, because we failed to reach and engage the people who would swing the vote our way. We were initially too wishy-washy, then too negative, too preachy, and too high handed, We also lacked a "man of the people". Which brings me to....

4) Don't underestimate the power of personal charisma and populist rhetoric. Trump is popular because people see him as 'one of them'. He doesn't talk like a politician. He jokes about and says "risqué" (a.k.a offensive) things. His fluency is of the slightly bumbling sort. He's clearly xenophobic (and misogynistic for that matter), but not in a way that is so completely and obviously Hitleresque that he repels those who don't really consider themselves racist (but actually are). We have a politician who ticked all these boxes too. His name is Boris Johnson, and he led the Leave campaign. Despite being about as highly educated and privileged as you can get, like Trump, he managed to persuade great swathes of the country that he was "their man" with "their interests" at heart. He won Leave the vote, looked very shell shocked, then promptly went silent. You see Boris Johnson didn't ACTUALLY want to leave the EU. In fact, he probably knew, deep down it was a ridiculous idea. But what he did want was to become Prime Minister and saw leading the side that opposed the incumbent Prime Minister's Remain campaign as an excellent way to achieve that. Like Trump (and probably most politicians, albeit far less overtly) he was guided by a massive ego. It backfired - he was stabbed in the back by his fellow Leave campaigner, Michael Gove, and Remainer Theresa May became PM instead. But hilariously (ahem) he is now Foreign Secretary. Everyone on the Remain side is sincerely hoping he will make a cataclysmic blunder and launch himself into disgraced obscurity for the rest of his days. But like Trump, the man is Teflon and there are no guarantees.

5) Never assume they cannot win. This is another major reason why Remain did not succeed. We didn't think people could actually, genuinely, be stupid / brave enough to pull us out of the EU. The consequences were too ridiculous to imagine, so we buried our heads in the sand and just shouted "we're right, you're wrong, wake up and realise that thickos!". It didn't happen. In a post-factual society, it doesn't matter who has the facts on their side. It doesn't matter who is backed by the experts (as Michael Gove of the Leave campaign said, people have "had enough of experts"). People are jaded by information overdose and proliferating voices on social media, and no longer feel able to trust anyone to be truthful, least of all aloof, distant 'experts' who issue warnings about intangible things many don't have the energy or resources to investigate, understand or even care about. They cling instead to preachers with a strong, clear message of a better future, who validate their views and make them FEEL good. Take Britain back. Make America great again. It almost doesn't matter what you say - just be populist and you will be popular. Talk down like a teacher and you won't.

6) Be positive. The remain campaign was branded "project fear" because it spent an inordinate amount of time shouting about how terrible the world would be if we left the EU. There was no hope or aspiration. Many of the predictions have of course proven quite accurate (others were a bit over egged and some were too long-term to yet assess given that we haven't actually Brexited yet). Our Prime Minister resigned, our currency fell through the floor, ratings agencies cut our outlook, the stock market crashed massively seriously affecting pension funds, and many businesses found themselves with shelved orders or cancelled deals. The lesson? You may know life under Trump will be execrable, but you really need to focus on how Hilary will be better too.

7) Understand the other side's point of view, but only up to a point. In a progressive, open, trusting society, values of freedom, liberty, equality and tolerance are ALWAYS better than negativity, fear and hate. You believe this because the evidence is overwhelming - and you are right to keep on believing it, and keep on pushing these values. It is a cliché that the worst atrocities in humanity happen when we do not tolerate each other, but it is true. As I say above, you should, by all means, get to know and understand the other side. Understand why they are fearful and why Trump appeals. Respect their right to have a different opinion. Agree to disagree on certain things. That is tolerance and you have to practice what you preach. BUT where freedom of speech tips into inciting hatred, where facts are patently wrong, where fear is whipped up without any solid foundation, PUSH BACK and don't be ashamed to do so. The Remain campaign did not want to brand the leave campaign as racist, and did not want to upset the mass of Conservative voting public who don't much like immigration, so they did not denounce the racism seen in the Leave campaign as loudly as they should have done. They did not sufficiently debunk some of the patently false claims of the Leavers and they did not adequately highlight the massive contribution that so many EU nationals make to UK society. None of us did.  We all dropped the ball, and now the more progressive and tolerant 48% of voters in our country - mostly younger, educated and aspirational people - feel like their identity as residents of an open, cooperative and liberal European country has been stripped away by a fearful and insular 52%. They are angry and grieving and profoundly worried for their future, and that of their nation. It has highlighted deep divisions, and driven wedges into the heart of many families. Never before in recent history has politics been so personal in the UK. A Trump victory will do the same. Like Britain choosing to leave the EU, it will mark a seismic shift from a country seen as comparatively open minded and liberal to one associated with deeply conservative fear politics. Freedoms hard won could be lost as the status quo changes, and nothing generates more anger, whichever side of the fence you're on.

So, in conclusion, understand but don't condone, be respectful but vocal, stay positive, spread the word widely and DON'T be complacent. Easy right?! I just wish Britain had tried a bit harder to do the same.

Yours hopefully,

The Different Duck x

Monday, 8 August 2016

Playing shops with a 2 1/2 year old

"Mummy! Let's play shopping!" says Duckling. I groan inwardly. Shopping is Duckling's favourite 'let's pretend' game at the moment and his enthusiasm for it knows no bounds. We play it in the bath. We play it in the garden. We play it in the sandpit at the swing park. As long as there are items to buy and sell and something that will serve as a 'beeper' (cash register) we're good to go.

There are a few basic rules to "shopping":

  1. Everyone must call everyone else 'sir'. I am sir, Drake is sir, Iggle Piggle is sir, Duckling is sir... This has led to some interesting looks when we're out and about and Duckling yells "You like a Pom Bear SIR?" at me from the pushchair. They must think I'm a female version of those overbearing American fathers who insist on their kids calling them 'sir' as a sign of respect. I have tried to explain it's 'madam' when you talk to ladies, but to no avail. And I suspect that might actually sound worse when out in public. So sir it is. A warped victory for equality I say.
  2. Customer service is not always a priority. Take this exchange from this morning:
    Duckling: Hello sir!
    Me: Good morrow my fine fellow! Pray tell, what delightful wares have you in your emporium today? [Have I ever mentioned I did A-level Theatre Studies?]
    Duckling: (laughing) Mummy! What you saying?!
    Me: Sorry. What can I buy?
    Duckling: Umm. Some tings.
    Me: Hmm, things eh? What about this digger? Can I buy this?
    Duckling: No you can't. Is MY digger.
    Me: Oh. That's a shame. What about a helicopter? I see you have two!
    Duckling: No. They MY helicopters. I keep them actually. You not buy them.
    Me: Oh dear, this isn't going very well. Can I buy this book then?
    Duckling: No. Is too heavy.
    Me: Too heavy?! Really?
    Duckling: Yes. You buy this book (profering Mr Topsy-Turvy my way). Is niiiiice and clean.
    Me: Um OK, I like clean books. Sold!
    Duckling: No! Give it back! I have to BEEP it Sir Mummy!
    Me: Oh, right.
    Duckling: (waving the barcode scanner on his plastic till at it). Ugggh! Is not working! I sort out numbers. (Mashes all the keys on the till at once, causing cacophonous bleeping). There!
    Me: Good. How much do I owe you?
    Duckling: £20!
    Me: Gosh, that's a bit steep! Let me see if I have enough (rummaging in Duckling's purse for some plastic coins). Here we go!
    Duckling: Thank you! (Opening till) Oh. I not got any change. I borrow your purse sir.
    Me: Umm, I'm not sure that's quite how it works...
    Duckling: Yes. (Dumps all the coins from my purse into his till then gives me back the purse). Here you go sir! Keep the change!
    Me: Err thanks....
  3. As per the above, every transaction must end with "keep the change", regardless of whether Duckling is playing the shopkeeper or the customer. I don't know where he got this phrase from, but apparently no game of shopping is complete without it
  4. Also as per the above, everything always costs £20. Doesn't matter what you've bought, or how many items you've stuffed in your bag, your shopping will always come to "£20 please sir". Unless I'm the shopkeeper, in which case Duckling's purchases come to somewhere between 10p and £185 million. It's OK, I accept credit cards.
  5. Making announcements into the till's microphone (which distorts your voice in a shop tannoy fashion) must always involve actively putting the microphone in your mouth and drooling all over it. 30 months and still teething. Is that normal?
  6. There is NOTHING funnier you can buy in Duckling's shop than a small, anatomically correct plastic doll. The unwisely named 'naked baby' gets purchased a lot, and generates particular mirth when stuffed head down into the shopping bag with his bottom sticking out. Poor old naked baby.
  7. At the end of the game, all of the items for sale must be violently scattered all over the floor. Any requests to pick them up will be ignored until threats to drop bedtime stories or bribes involving biscuits are cracked out. Actually, this scenario is not unique to games of shops now I think about it...

Like much else in parenthood, I both love and loathe playing shopping. I loathe it because we have to do it about a bazillion fricking times a day and the repetition can get a teensy bit boring. I love it because, well, I quite like shopping and it's the closest thing I get to a decent spend fest these days. But more seriously, because Duckling plays it with an innocent enthusiasm that is a joy to behold. He is both brilliantly aware and woefully ignorant of normal shopping protocols: sequence (greeting, selection, check out, money), great; social niceties and correct monetary exchange, well, not so much. It is incredible to see him engrossed in a make believe world that simply didn't exist in his brain a few months ago. This morning he tried to sell me the bed I was lying in, which I thought was particularly enterprising. So as much as I wish I could duck out sometimes and leave him to play shops with Iggle Piggle, I keep finding myself suckered back in to being his customer, because even when he's stealing my money and throwing my carefully selected cabbages on the floor, seeing his imagination take off is a Mummy privilege that I wouldn't miss for anything.  Plus it's completely hilarious...

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Sandpit wars

I loved my NCT classes. I was lucky enough to have a really sensible, down to earth teacher and some lovely classmates that I still meet up with now. There is only so much they can teach you however. Beyond birth and breastfeeding, there is a whole world of lessons you are left to learn for yourself. I suspect these never really end, and I'll still be wondering how on earth to negotiate Duckling-related dilemmas when he's 21, 30, 45... ("How do I tell him that suit makes him look like a gangly undertaker?", "Should I tell him his wife's a narcissist?", "Is it reasonable to let him move back home after his divorce...?") Nonetheless, some basic pointers on negotiating the first few years would have been nice.

Today's quandary: how to react when all the other kids in the playground steal your son's toys. As I'm sure any parent will know, playgrounds are a breeding ground for tantrums, arguments and shoving. Against my advice, Duckling decided to take his small cement mixer, digger, and tipper truck to the sandpit today, along with his bucket, rake and spade. I agreed after deciding a nice quiet sandpit session was probably preferable to him running around, given he's currently battling his usual cold-induced chest issues.  Unsurprisingly, he quickly became a magnet for other children wishing to "share" this bounty, it being far more alluring than the existing selection of discarded, sun-bleached plastic tat to be found in The Pit.

Duckling did not take kindly to this. "No! Is MY bucket! Give it back!" he shouted to the little (as it turned out) quite violent sub-two year old who first appeared on the scene. Duckling tried to grab the bucket, but Violent Victor was having none of that. In full, plain sight of his Mum, he yanked the bucket out of Duckling's hand, turned his back on him and started to fill it with sand.

His Mum asked Violent Victor to give the bucket back (at least I think she did - she spoke Russian). Victor ignored her and carried on shovelling. His Mum gave up instantly and just sat and watched him. Duckling sat and pouted. "Mummy! He protested. "That boy took my bucket! Get it back!". 

What to do? Had Duckling done the same to Victor, I would probably have reprimanded him and made him return the bucket, explaining it didn't belong to him. Or I might have instructed him to ask nicely if he could share (or asked on his behalf if, like Victor, he was still preverbal). His Mum, perhaps because of the language barrier, or because she didn't realise the bucket was Duckling's, did neither. I think she may also have been as scared of Victor as we were. 

So, not willing to wrestle a bucket off a toddler in full sight of his Mum, engage a mother who really didn't seem to want to engage, or send my child to his likely doom to retrieve it, I told Duckling the boy was just borrowing his bucket, and would give it back later. And Duckling, being a bit of a pacifist wimp accepted this, and carried on playing with his trucks, while keeping a wary eye on young Victor. As did I.

For a while all was calm. Then Victor returned for round two, and tried to take Duckling's tipper truck. "My truck!" said Duckling, but was too slow to grab it back. I looked at his Mum. She looked away. 

"Hey, I know," I said to Victor, "Let's do a swap. If you want to borrow Duckling's truck, you need to give his bucket back." I picked up Duckling's discarded bucket and gestured my intention. "Neeeeeee!" screeched Victor and lunged at the bucket, just grabbing the handle. We had a small, embarrassing tug of war before I relented, slightly scared Victor, who was now actively growling, might bite my hand. Thankfully in the tussle, Victor had dropped the truck, which I grabbed and stashed out of sight behind Duckling. Victor, who was legging it with the bucket, failed to notice initially but on turning round was dismayed to see it had disappeared. I did an internal cock-a-snook. Duckling looked on goggle-eyed. "I no like that little boy," he said. I didn't disagree.

Victor settled himself a little way off next to a small girl who was peacefully shovelling sand next to her Mum. At first I thought he might try to grab her spade, but Victor had much grander plans. He filled his bucket with sand and poured it over the girl's Mum's sandals. She was rather surprised. Victor's beleaguered Mum did react to this and apologetically dusted down the lady's shoes for her. Still no real reprimand for Victor though - at least not until he started whacking the poor lady's feet with his spade, at which point she removed him to the other side of The Pit. Clearly he believed gladiator sandals to be rather 2012.

While watching all of this, I had failed to notice a young girl approach Duckling. She was probably also two, but tall for her age so initially I took her for older. She took a shine to Duckling's cement mixer. "Ooh!" she cried and grabbed it. "No! Mine!" cried Duckling like a broken record. "Um, sweetheart, that's not actually yours..." I cried lamely, but Light-fingered Lucy was off, gambling awkwardly across the sand. Thankfully her Mum stopped her and brought her back. Phew, I thought, at least she's on the ball. "Would you mind if she borrowed this for a bit?" asked her Mum. "She really likes cement mixers." I was a bit taken aback. "Oh, err, sure," I said. "Do you mind if this little girl borrows your cement mixer Duckling?" I asked, feeling awful that I'd just loaned out another of his favourite toys. "Humph. OK" said Duckling in a small voice. "Well done," I said relieved, "it's very kind of you to share. She'll bring it back soon, I promise."

It was while I was standing, meerkat like, watching Lucy drive Duckling's cement mixer up a climbing frame, that his green rake was swiped by an older boy, probably about six. "My rake!" yelled Duckling. "GIVE IT BACK". Rakish Ryan ignored Duckling. Now this boy should have been old enough to know better. "Excuse me!" I said in my politest stern tones. "That's actually my son's. Could I swap you for this one?" I proffered a wonky blue rake with no handle, figuring it probably didn't belong to anyone (at least not any more). "Oh sure, sorry" said Ryan, handing back the rake but ignoring my offering. "Don't worry, I'll take this one instead." And he picked up Duckling's spade and charged off. "My spade!" yelled Duckling. "Oh FFS!!!" I muttered a little more loudly than I probably should have done.

In the end, the goodness of humanity prevailed. Violent Victor's Mum brought Duckling's bucket back (along with someone else's sieve and a plastic fish that he'd apparently also pilfered), Light-fingered Lucy's Mum returned the cement mixer while Lucy was busy stealing another child's scooter, and I reclaimed the spade off Ryan's friend's Mum, who was profoundly apologetic, even though she couldn't have had any idea where the spade had come from.

By the time we got home, I was exhausted by the social awkwardness of it all, as was Duckling. Had I let my own son down because of my personal dislike of making a scene and confronting strangers?  Should I have stood up for him more?  Or should I have made him stand up for himself?  Was it wrong not to pull him up for shouting at the other children?  Or, conversely, should I have praised him more for being so accommodating?

In the end I decided I didn't have a bloody clue, and nor does anyone really.  You don't know other people's kids, you don't know why their parents parent them as they do, and you don't know how they (or their parents) will react to whatever type of intervention you try.  So muddling through and trying to stop your own child dissolving into a rage of injustice is really the only option.  Or you move to Finland, where the local authorities provide a shed load of toys in every public sandpit. It's definitely a bit easier to referee when the plastic digger with a missing wheel being fought over doesn't actually belong to either child. Or, more realistically, you say NO when your toddler asks to take half his toybox to the playground. Strictly bucket and spade only in future.  With his name written on them.  In caps. And maybe GPS security tagged for easy tracking.  Surely there's an app for that?

Monday, 18 July 2016

What it's like to have a miscarriage (or three)

Since I embarked on the whole parenthood project, I have had three miscarriages: two before Duckling came along, and one last month. All have been pre-12 weeks, and for that small mercy I am grateful. I know many people who have lost babies after this point and it is a whole different ball game - one I hope I never have to experience. Not that miscarriage before 12 weeks is a picnic by any stretch of the imagination.

Every miscarriage has been different. My first wasn't really a miscarriage at all, in that I did not spontaneously lose the baby. I went for my 12 week scan, and they basically told me the baby had died at about 8.5 weeks - what's known as a 'missed miscarriage'. I had an ERPC* to deal with that one, which wasn't exactly fun, but did mean I wasn't waiting weeks for my body to let go of its tiny cargo. My second was a 'classic' miscarriage at seven weeks, though I don't think the baby had got much beyond five. No surgery needed thankfully - just lots of toilet trips. My latest one was very early, around four weeks. I got a positive pregnancy test the day before we went on holiday, and three days in, my period started. So essentially a 'chemical pregnancy' - had I not taken an early pregnancy test I would probably never have known (apart from the week of ridiculous hunger and total aversion to bananas).

Miscarriage is little discussed in the public domain, or indeed the private. Plenty discussed in Mummy blogs and the odd article entitled "Why does nobody mention miscarriage?" but barely examined beyond, which is perhaps surprising given how incredibly common it is. Too yicky, too female, too depressing I suspect. Nobody likes to make others (or themselves) cry.  So before I had my first miscarriage, I had no real understanding of what it would be like to have one, other than the fact it would involve bleeding and medical examinations and much sorrow. All of these were accurate assumptions (although I didn't bother seeing a doctor this time around) but the whole multiple miscarriage experience has been far more complex than I would ever have imagined. I don't for a second want to suggest that every woman feels the same about miscarriage, but I would imagine most would be able to identify at least one or two of the following emotions:

Shock
When you realise the inevitable (be that seeing your tiny silent foetus on a screen or that first, true heavy streak of blood), you go into shock. Ear ringing, heart thumping shock. You may have expected it deep down (and I did with all three of mine) but you're still taken aback by your fear becoming a reality.

Sorrow
This is the emotion most people associate with miscarriage. My first loss was undoubtedly the saddest. I was unprepared and the rapid freefall from excitement to despair was devastating. But it's not just the fact your baby has died and your pregnancy is over. It's a loss of a future that must now be put back on hold indefinitely. A due date that no longer means anything; the pregnancy notes that are now redundant; the mat leave departure date postponed; the tiny impulse buys that must be pushed to the back of the drawer...

Vain hope
You know it's over in your core, but part of you still wants to believe your fears might be unfounded and yours will be the miracle baby that survives when everyone says it has gone. It never is.

Relief
At the same time as the vain hope, I find I usually feel some sense of dark relief. The prospect of miscarriage makes the first twelve weeks of pregnancy (and beyond) deeply stressful for anyone; but this is amplified ten fold when you have past evidence that your body cannot be relied upon to take a pregnancy to term. A miscarriage, despite being the thing you fear, puts an end to the uncertainty, the stress, the constant preoccupation and the feeling of impending doom. It's over, and once you've recovered, you know you'll get to start afresh and try again.  Also, being in France for the last one meant I could suddenly eat gooey cheeses and drink rosé again, which was kind of a bonus.

Fear

What if I can't get pregnant again? What if I can but my next pregnancy ends this way? What if this means I can't have kids at all? What if my body is broken? I felt the fear particularly acutely after my second loss, where it dawned on me that there could be a problem beyond it being 'just one of those things'. This prompted me to see a private specialist (the NHS won't test you until you've had three miscarriages) who for a small fortune diagnosed Polycystic Ovary Syndrome - which I'd always suspected but never had confirmed - and a possible problem with my immune system. He prescribed aspirin, progesterone and prednisolone, and they worked (or it could have been a coincidence - who knows). Either way, after a very bumpy 9 month emotional rollercoaster, Duckling was born safe and sound in February 2014.

Curiosity
This strikes on two levels. Firstly, when I had my second, "proper" miscarriage, I was kind of grimly intrigued as to what would actually appear. I fully recognise many women would absolutely not feel that way, but for some reason I wanted to see what came out as some kind of validation that I had actually been pregnant. As it happened it was just a lot of blood and a couple of nondescript grey blobs, which was probably for the best given my mental state. TMI I'm sure.

Then there's the question of WHY. Sating my curiosity on this front started with endless Googling (of course), but it also drove me to see the specialist, who ran a bunch of standard tests plus a few additional ones. The PCOS almost certainly plays a role (it increases miscarriage risks for a whole host of reasons) and the immune system theory is also a possibility (I'm not so convinced of that one though) but I think I may also have something called super-receptivity, or an "unfussy uterus" in more layman's terms. This essentially means I get pregnant very easily, but I do so because my uterus does not discriminate between high quality embryos (which will go on to develop into a healthy baby) and low quality embryos (which have cell division issues or genetic defects and are doomed to fail). My womb is basically a totally rubbish nightclub bouncer. It lets anyone in, only to have to chuck out the bad'uns later in the evening, causing much kerfuffle in the process. As much as I am lucky that I have no problem falling pregnant therefore (I'm sure many women with PCOS, and many without, would kill to be this fertile), I kind of wish my uterus was a bit more discerning so I could avoid all the heartache and bleeding that results from its free-for-all policy.

Denial
"I'm not pregnant, I'm not pregnant, I'm not pregnant, AHHHH I'm so pregnant! NO, stop it, I'm not pregnant, don't think about it, don't acknowledge it, it's never going to stick, so just pretend it's not happening. I'm not pregnant.... Oh, bugger, I'm really NOT pregnant now."

Guilt
Oh the guilt. The irrational guilt I may have done something to cause my losses (was it the stupid amount of wine I drank at that restaurant before I knew I was pregnant? Was it those two days I lived off custard creams? Was it that cold I caught?). The guilt that I'm letting everyone down.  The guilt of having to take time off work. Again. The guilt that you can't see your tiny bundle of cells as a baby because attaching that label to it makes it too difficult to process (I am not one of these people who refers to them as rainbow babies / angels I'm afraid). The guilt that I feel and express things other than 'devastation' each time (which is the only acceptable emotion in the face of miscarriage, or people think you're a callous bitch) or that I dwell too much and bring everyone around me down. The guilt that I cried more about Brexit than I did my latest loss... The Guilt.

Stress
All of the above combine to create a buzz of stress that bothers you like tinnitus the whole time you're trying for a baby, growing louder in the two weeks leading up to The Test and reaching a crescendo with that first blue line that doesn't really die until your pregnancy does, or you reach some kind of "and relax" point (which for me, if I'm honest, was about 6 weeks after Duckling was born). It's exhausting, but life continues. You make dinner and wipe countertops and fiddle with Excel spreadsheets and sigh about politics as though nothing is happening because what else can you do? I wish I had control. I wish I could know the future. I wish I could have reassured my pre-Duckling self that it would be all right, I would get my baby in the end. I wish a future me could come back and say "keep going, you'll get number two", or " take out a second mortgage and go back to your specialist" or "don't bother, it's just not going to work out." That isn't how life works though. So I shall persevere, and hope that three does not become four, five, six or more... And if we don't get a second child? Well then we'll just love the first all the more.



*Evacuation of Retained Products of Conception.  A charming term I'm sure you'll agree.

Sunday, 26 June 2016

The questions you ask yourself when you lose a referendum

Could I have done more?

I researched and read endlessly. Propaganda from both sides, and neutral stuff. I wrote a blog or two. I shared and commented on Facebook and Twitter. I talked to friends, most of whom were already Remainers, a few who weren't. But I could have formally joined the campaign. I could have done and said more. I didn't because I naively assumed we wouldn't actually leave.  That we couldn't possibly actually leave, because that would be an utterly insane thing to do.  Apparently half the nation didn't get that memo, and I wish now I had shouted it repeatedly from the social media rooftops.  I would have bored the pants of everyone, but I would feel better now that I did all I could.

Does this make me wrong?

I am in the minority. I always am with the way I vote, but this felt different. Binary. Personal. More people than me felt Brexit was a good way to go and were convinced of the arguments. I felt they were being duped, but perhaps I was the blind one. The Leave campaign's facts were certainly demonstrably wrong, but maybe their hope was not...? Alas, I still don't think so. I want to believe our country will be better off going it alone, I really do.  I want to believe the Gove and Johnson promises. But the first few days post-referendum have not exactly filled me with confidence. I remain quite certain that for all its faults, the ethos of the EU, what it represented, and the stability and benefits it brought was too important to cast aside. Brexit is going to be horrifically detrimental to the UK, as countless very well informed people have said loudly and repeatedly (see here and here and here and here - I could go on... ) not to mention the damage it may do to the EU and the rest of Europe.


Why oh why did I imply Brexiters were idiots?


A friend called me out on a Facebook post that suggested people who paid no attention to expertise, history, evidence, reality and fact in any other context would be branded idiots. It was a 2am post borne of anger (not just because Duckling wouldn't sleep). I felt uneasy posting it, though I stupidly did not remove it. Fatal social media mistake. She said arrogance like that would not persuade the undecided to vote my way. She was no doubt right (though annoyingly criticism of other's reactions was her only contribution to the debate) and I wish now I had not said it, as it invalidated the more considered arguments I had made before. I guess when you think half your country is about to do something idiotic though, you open yourself up to doing idiotic things yourself.

Am I just angry at people who voted leave because I'm a member of the white, middle class, privileged elite and I don't understand them?

Oh the handwringing... I am undoubtedly white, privileged and middle class. Not a lot I can do about that. I earn well and am married to a man who earns well too. Does that mean that I cannot understand why Leavers - mostly working class - voted as they did? No, I don't think so. For a start, not all Leavers were working class. My 'idiot' posts were directed squarely at various fellow comfortable, educated, middle class friends (mostly of my parents) who voted 'out' based on a massively rose tinted view of the past, and information that a two second search could show to be false. BUT I can see why they - and everyone else - were swayed by the message of "taking back control" delivered by the Leave campaign. They presented some very convincing, solid-sounding arguments and made appealing promises that people thought would change their lives for the better. They evoked feelings of hope, nostalgia and national pride. They also played beautifully to those most affected by the very real social and economic inequalities in this country, who rarely get such a direct say in how our politics are shaped. I don't for a moment assume that Leavers didn't do any research or were all raving racists.

Nonetheless, smouldering beneath it all, fanned by the tabloids, was the immigration issue. It is not wrong to talk about immigration, to look at the positives and negatives and debate how it might best be managed (because it does need to be). It is not wrong to question how those arriving affect those already resident.  It is wrong to distort the facts about migration to make it look 'bad', simply to play to the fears of those with most to lose. I do not know what it is like to live on the breadline, and feel like outsiders are taking away what should be rightfully mine. I would probably get a bit pissed off too. This is why fear of foreigners is always the first thing to rear its ugly head when times are tough - it's an evolutionary instinct that has driven the rise and fall of civilisations over millennia. Understanding where xenophobia comes from does not mean condoning it though. So if I am angry at some sectors of the Leave camp, it's not because I'm a white middle class snob who doesn't understand them, but because racism - unacknowledged, subtle or overt - is never, ever, a good reason to make a decision on anything. If it is privileged and elitist of me to say that, then please call me the queen of snobbery. 

Oh, and the fact people adulate Boris when he's a tricksy bald faced liar makes me a teensy bit cross too.

Can I still be friends with people who voted out?

Yes. It's probably a good thing I'm currently on holiday though. It could take me a while to calm down enough to speak to them through ungritted teeth.


Why am I so angry / sad / scared?


So many reasons. My anger is explained above.  Mostly though, I think I am grieving. Grieving for the loss of a country I felt I knew. Grieving for the bonds we just severed. Grieving for my belief in the majority of people being rational, open minded and pragmatic. Grieving for the lost opportunities for my son. Also, I know that most people will have voted based on heart foremost, and used their head to back that decision up. I did. So that means a majority of people don't feel and think like me, and that's hard to accept, however open minded you might consider yourself to be. 

As predicted, I am ashamed of my country's choice, and what the decision says to the world at large.  As the Brexiters so often accused, I am scared of change too, but who wouldn't be when you fear that change could be catastrophic and will cost an insane amount in administration and legal fees to boot?

Finally, I feel just a little worried for my family. My father is Dutch and does not have a UK passport. He's never needed one (a shame really, as he didn't get to vote). I don't know what will be decided about his right to remain and I'm sure it won't be impossible to sort whatever happens but with stories such as these emerging, he feels distinctly uneasy right now. Quite frankly, so do I.

What is going to happen now?

Who the fuck knows. At one end of the scale, you have a massive recession, endless political in-fighting, race wars, general chaos and the break up of the UK. At the other you have a reasonably orderly exit, minimal disruption and a series of trade deals that mirror what we had before. Most likely we'll end up with something in the middle - or no exit at all because nobody has a plan and nobody can agree on anything. We will get through it. But it isn't going to be quick and it isn't going to be pretty. The key is not to give up.  The liberal minded may have lost this one, but this should be all the more reason to fight for the best possible outcome as the fall out begins.

Thursday, 23 June 2016

Holy crap. Are we actually about to leave the EU?

So much has been written by so many about the EU referendum that I'm honestly not sure I can find anything novel to say. That's why I attempted to keep things light with my last post on the subject. But with less than 24 hours to go and the latest polls suggesting the UK may actually be about to leave the European Union, I am seriously worried that my country is about to do something monumentally stupid.

I honestly don't know what will happen if we leave the EU. I am quite sure that nobody truly does, but I can categorically state that Britain will not become the halcyon green and pleasant land of white-faced English speakers, plentiful well paid jobs and affordable rose adorned cottages so many Brexiters seem to think it will. 

I wouldn't mind if the arguments for leaving focused on the flaws of the EU itself.  It is far from a perfect institution, and there are plenty of things that need addressing.  I have waded through the impenetrable bureaucracy of the EC's myriad grants and funding schemes enough times to know that the left hand often does not know what the right is doing, and indeed may not even be attached to the same body.  It's too far in the pocket of corporations (the planned 'TTIP' free trade talks are very worrying) and few have any real idea what MEPs actually do (or even who they are), so transparency (though NOT democracy) is something of a problem.  I can understand why many die hard socialists want to leave. But the at the heart of the Brexit campaign is not reasoned critical analysis of a flawed institution, but pompous rhetoric, prejudice and more than a little wild speculation.  This is why I am dismayed that at least half our country agrees with what the Brexiters have to say.

At one end of the campaign's class spectrum you have the likes of Boris Johnson.  Right wing posh boy, brought up revering a bygone era of British colonial wiff waff greatness.  A time when we ruled large swathes of the world through blinkered bombast and the simple conviction that we were superior to everyone else.  The UK is the fifth largest economy in the world he likes to tell us, we should be able stand on our own, make our own decisions.  Yes, we are pretty wealthy all things considered, but our wealth has been gained as a member of the EU.  To leave would be an act of quite unparalleled complacency and arrogance.  Two words that sum up Mr Johnson quite nicely IMHO.

At the other end are those who actively fear what they think the EU represents. The people who want out because of the belief that European migrants are taking away what is rightfully 'theirs', whether this be jobs, benefits, school places, housing, GP appointments...  It's an understandable concern when you don't have much to start with, and in areas with recent influxes of migrants, there is undoubtedly more strain on local services. Post financial crisis austerity, inflicted by a government we elected, has more than a little to do with this however, and nationally, migration has an unarguably positive impact - as others have explained far more eloquently and thoroughly than I ever could. Furthermore, migration is not even a financial 'problem' that Brexit would solve, as any deal we do after leaving is almost certainly going to involve comparatively open borders if we want to continue to benefit from free trade with the rest of the EU. Migration is going to continue to be vital and only partially controllable whether we are in or out.  People just need to get over it.

More dangerous and disturbing is the dark, undeniably racist underbelly of the campaign. I don't think all Brexiters are racist, but I do think most probably read newspapers that basically are. It shouldn't need saying that migrants - European or otherwise - are just people. Some are 'bad', some are 'good', just like human beings anywhere. As the late Jo Cox so eloquently put it "we are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us". You wouldn't know that from the vitriolic tabloid press though.  The 'othering' is everywhere in this referendum.  "Turkish invasion on the cards if we don't get out now!" Um, really not likely any time soon. "Brussels tells us what to do!"  No - 'Brussels' DOES NOT tell us what to do.  The European Parliament (based in Strasbourg, incidentally) passes the laws, OF WHICH BRITAIN IS A PART.  "Europe has too much control!" Again, last time I checked, we were part of Europe. "Fat German bureaucrats are the wurst!" OK, I made this one up, but you get the idea...

What angers me most about this whole campaign is not that people are arrogantly nationalistic or unjustifiably prejudiced - you find this wherever you go in the world sadly.  It's that the Remain campaign - headed up by our Prime Minister, let's not forget - have not done more to fight the underlying xenophobia that is utterly tainting this referendum (and indirectly inspired it in the first place).  It is, I'm sure, in part because our PM and the party to which he belongs are not exactly immigrant huggers either (think his 'swarms of migrants' speech).  But still, to win their case, why are the Remainers not doing more to push back against those who have so little evidence on their side and win the hearts of the undecided? Apart from Ruth Davidson, who was outstanding in tonight's TV debate, there has been a frustrating lack of conviction  from the Remain side. Where are the TV ads and literature, breaking down the myths, explaining what the EU actually is and what it does, how it benefits everyone's lives and denouncing the hate-mongering stories you read in The Daily Mail and the like?  The leaflet that came round from the Remain campaign was frankly insipid, and the TV ads I've seen have been mostly fluff and nonsense.

As I say, I do not know what will happen if the UK leaves the EU.  But it almost doesn't matter.  It is the symbolism that I care about.  I want people to think my country is one with its head screwed on, that works, pragmatically, in collaboration with its neighbours to create a more prosperous, peaceful and fairer society for all. This may sound trite and idealistic, but these are the values that make our country worth living in.   I don't want to live in a parochial, insular, prejudiced nation, and I don't want my son to grow up in one either.  One only has to look at the terrible fate of Jo Cox to understand what can happen where putting "Britain First" becomes your sole obsession. I want to be proud of my country.  If we leave I will feel nothing but shame.