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Friday, 25 March 2016

Am I a "Mummy Blogger" if I don't always write about being a Mum?

I have now been blogging as The Different Duck for just over a year. When I first started out, the plan was to write about my experiences as a new Mum, probably for the same reasons that the thousands of other Mummy bloggers out there do: I needed some form of brain exercise beyond inventing bathtime songs and critiquing cBeebies to my husband via WhatsApp ("Mr Pontypine's moustache just flew off! I mean what the actual f**k???!"). I was also a little overwhelmed by the full on nature of parenthood and wanted a forum to share my thoughts and experiences that would allow me more waffling space than a Mumsnet message board and result in fewer eye rolls than I get from Drake.

What started out as a pure Mummy Blog quickly turned into a "little bit of everything" blog. I wrote about politics. I moaned about advertising. I wrote some dubious poetry. Before I knew it, my blog had become part diary, part soapbox, part literary experiment and all pretence at sticking to a theme had evaporated.

The question is, does this matter? Part of me is disappointed by my lack of discipline and scattergun approach. I know the golden rules of blogging, and I know that it is very hard to engage long term followers if you constantly change your focus or style (mostly I try to be funny, but sometimes I can't help but be serious). Plus you're never going to be blog of the day on Mumsnet if you're not actually writing about being a Mum. 

Another part of me is perversely pleased that my blog is such a rambling mess however, because you know what, that's what life is like. I am a whole, complicated person, as we all are.  Being a parent is inextricably linked to all the other roles and experiences in your life, and while I am a Mummy and my blog could thus be described as a Mummy Blog, I am not ONLY a Mummy. So many female bloggers (and really good ones that I read regularly) describe themselves as "A Mum to Fred and a Wife to Barney" and I often think, great, but it's 2016 not 1956 - who are you in your own right? I am of course a wife and mother and that is a big part of my identity, but I'm also a manager, a runner, a writer, a singer, a (lapsed) clarinettist, an atheist, a feminist (or at least a liberal egalitarian, whatever that is), a reasonably decent cook, a daughter, a clumsy clot, an MSc holder, a great problem solver, a flat pack construction whizz, an appalling tennis player, a frustrated ballet dancer (damn you strapping Dutch genes!)...  I could go on.  All of these things do not fit with the one dimensional stereotype of a "Mummy", and I'm proud of that.  If my blog is about anything therefore its being different and complex, which I guess I knew all along, given my profile and chosen moniker...

So no, my blog is never going to get a million followers, and I'm never going to make a fortune off it, but I'm fine with that. It would be lovely to have a loyal following, but a lack of it isn't going to stop me writing, and to be honest, if you take away the imperative to attract and keep followers, it gives you more freedom to write what you want.  Plus I don't have the time or inclination to go chasing readers or the stomach to promote brands and host adverts, so a handful of post views a month and zero income is just fine by me. And hey, if one of my readers turns out to be a fellow scatter-brained flat pack loving odd-bod, and they find kinship in my blog, well then that's just peachy.

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Colonoscopy capers

After repeated doctor's appointments and a range of inconclusive blood and stool tests, yesterday I finally got the chance to receive a definitive diagnosis on my gippy belly issues, by way of a gastroscopy (camera into my stomach) and colonoscopy (camera up the bum. Lovely.)

For those of a squeamish disposition who don't cope well with Too Much Information, I would advise you not to read on. Neither procedure is particularly pleasant, though to be honest, the prep is the worst bit, if only because it induces symptoms far worse than those that prompted the investigation in the first place.  To be diagnosed and thus cured, you have to make yourself sicker - it's faintly ironic.

The whole thing starts with a couple of days of eating a "low fibre" diet - essentially the opposite of everything a doctor might normally tell you to eat. White bread, white pasta, white rice, butter, cheese, and no fruit, veg, nuts or wholegrains. Sounds kind of fun in theory, but it's a bit of a blood sugar roller coaster in reality.  Then, 24 hours before the procedure, comes a total ban on solid food and ten (TEN?!) senna tablets, the purpose of which is a bit unclear as you follow this 'gentle' laxative with two rounds of Picolax, which produces an effect akin to being washed out by a fire hose on full. Repeatedly. For hours.

Once I had accepted this was happening, it wasn't too bad. I just wish the evacuation hadn't kicked in midway through cooking Duckling's tea, necessitating multiple dashes between the loo (upstairs) and kitchen (downstairs) to avoid pan fires / put foodstuffs in bowls / stick on the Thomas the Tank Engine film / check Duckling wasn't choking or throwing himself or his dinner out of the highchair. Typically, Drake waited until Duckling was fed, bathed and in his PJs, I'd missed two knocks on the door, a call from my Mum and I'd angrily hung up on a "accident claim line" caller ("No, I haven't had an accident in the past three months but I bloody well will if you don't let me go back to the toilet!") before he came home. By this point the fire hose bursts had become a little more intermittent and I was in full story reading mode, so there was not much left to do.  He did kindly fetch me a mug of hot marmite water though. Mmm, delicious.

My night was fairly sleepless, though thankfully I only had one howling session from Duckling (who is sleeping terribly at present and was in bed with us by 2am) as I unceremoniously bundled him over onto Drake's side of the bed and rushed to the toilet. Nothing like pooping while a toddler wails "Mummy! Where you gooooo?! Boobie Mummy, boooooobiiiieee!" outside the door.  Come the morning, I  managed a few minutes extra sleep while Drake (who had kindly taken the day off to escort me to and from the hospital) took Duckling to the childminder.  However, being the practical multi-tasker he is, he had also booked in to have some scaffolding put up on the side of the house and a few blown window panes replaced. My lie in was therefore totally ruined by clanking and swearing outside the bedroom window, and the need to clear our windowsills of five years of accumulated crap. Plus the need to empty myself of my remaining crap.

Once installed in the hospital I was given the usual flattering bum revealing gown to wear (no sign of the 'modesty pants' my letter promised disappointingly) and entertained my nurse with some fainting as she put the cannula in for my sedative. I reassured her that I have notoriously low blood pressure and faint a lot (particularly after 24 hours of no food and major bowel evacuations) so it really wasn't a big deal, but given the frequency with which she subsequently checked I was still alive, I'm not sure she was convinced.  Then, when I had recovered my poise and my blood pressure had returned to something close to living, it was off to the endoscopy suite, where I was asked, for the fourth time, my date of birth and whether I had any allergies (none, apart from nurses with cannulas apparently), before being wheeled in to meet my consultant. Who if I'm honest, I may have a teensy bit of a crush on. Somewhat awkward when you know they're about to stick a camera up your bottom.  Glad I'd trimmed the hedge (front and back garden, just to be sure).

In the event, the endoscopy was actually more unpleasant than the colonoscopy, mainly because it involved some involuntary gagging and an odd banana flavour throat numbing spray. The sedative was nice, but it had largely worn off when it came to the colonoscopy, so I remained awake for the whole thing and watched the little camera go on its merry journey round my colon.  It was surprisingly interesting, even if I was faintly concerned a lurking conger eel or tunnel web spider was about to leap out at us at any moment. It's possible the sedative may have had more of an effect than I realised. 

In the end, nothing of any interest whatsoever was found, meaning the official, definitive diagnosis is: I have Nothing Serious.  Whether this Nothing Serious is a food intolerance, irritable bowel syndrome or something else remains to be seen, but for now, I am simply happy that I can get on with my life without perpetually wondering "but what if...?". And that I can eat normally again. Oh Soreen, how I missed you....

Saturday, 19 March 2016

Surviving the annual haircut humiliation

As you may have gathered, I am not a lifestyle / beauty / fashion type blogger. I just about know my eyeliner from my eye shadow and my Primark from my Prada, but looking perfect does not feature high on my priority list - even less so now I'm a Mum.

Trips to the hairdresser always feel like a voyage into a foreign land therefore, fraught with the potential to show myself up as some clueless outsider, totally unfamiliar with the ways of the locals - you know, the ones who wear lip gloss, perfume, proper heels and bat-wing tops (my hairdresser today had fronds on hers that I was convinced she was going to accidentally snip off at any moment) and know about fashion. The unashamed, dedicated focus on appearance makes me feel uncomfortable and frumpy, even though I normally don't give much thought to how I look.  I never see the same hairdresser twice because I can't face the horror in their eyes when they figure out it's been a whole year since I last had a trim. It's ridiculous because I know I'm not really being judged, but I still feel as if I'm letting them down by allowing all their hard work to grow out and go frizzy, and convince myself they're going to label me as a failure to womankind and give me a shoddy cut.

So, as I sat down in the chair today, I told my usual fib about it being about six months since I'd last visited (ahem) and vaguely gesticulated that I wanted some hair cut off. As ever, this was not enough for my stylist du jour and a full beauty exam began: how much hair she should take, where did I want my parting, how many layers did I need, what shape should my fringe be, would I prefer the glossing or moisturising treatment, was the water temperature OK...  Mostly I just answered "err... I'm not really sure. What do you think?" like an unprepared amateur who would probably agree to a lime green mohican if someone suggested it was "on trend" right now.

Then came the lecture about how I should look after my hair (invest in a decent heat protector spray and always leave your home hair masque on for an hour covered in a hot towel girls!) followed by some twaddle about cuticle smoothing and hydroxy amino peptides (I may be paraphrasing). I wanted to shout "look, I'm out of my comfort zone here. Please just cut my damn hair!". But I didn't because my hairdresser was perfectly well-meaning and lovely, and was just doing her job - infinitely better than I ever could I might add (as Duckling's first haircut will attest. Wonky tufts are in for the under threes, right?).

It's not that I don't care how I look. I am a feminist and as such I dislike society's excessive focus on the perfection of women's bodies, but I'm also a realist and I recognise that, male or female, to get on in life it helps to look a few steps removed from a tramp (no offence to tramps). I do like to wear clothes that flatter, my wardrobe is certainly not empty, and I just about still care enough to put some concealer and mascara on before work. I just can't take the beauty industry seriously or get enthused about the detail of "glamour" because it just seems so shallow and unimportant in the grand scheme of things.  Plus looking permanently perfect must be damn exhausting. Hats off to you if you manage to pull it off - particularly if you're a parent.  Given the choice between an extra 10 minutes in bed, and poker straight hair, the bed wins every time for me.

All this said, I would be lying if I said I didn't give my new hair a little swish and admire it in a few shop windows on the way home. It IS undeniably nice to feel a little bit beautiful sometimes, which is why I still put myself through the uncomfortable process of going to a proper salon, rather than just going DIY.  Plus not looking like this all the time just makes me appreciate it all the more - I'm just glad nobody (not least myself) expects me to keep it up.

Saturday, 5 March 2016

Needing God (or not)

Following a lengthy chat about our respective health issues this week, a Muslim colleague of mine told me I was in her prayers. As an atheist, I appreciated the sentiment but found responding a bit awkward, so I just said thank you, and that she was in my prayers too, in a non-religious sort of a way. She laughed and said "I am always amazed that you're an atheist - you're so together. How is it that you don't need God?" This wasn't a challenge, it was a question borne of genuine curiosity, and one I never really got to answer as our legal rep appeared and started grumbling about IR35 legislation.

The question has played on my mind since though. The assertion that I am "together" aside (umm, nope), why is it I don't need God? I suspect the answer is pretty simple - I don't need God because I've never had Him (Her / Them) in my life. God has never been who I turn to in a crisis. It wouldn't occur to me to seek his reassurance, blessing or guidance, and my moral compass has never been calibrated by the Lord. My fellow humans, my instincts and the rules of the society I live in do these things, as do the principles of fairness, equality, acceptance and compassion by which my parents raised me. I still need a structure of values, but for me, this doesn't come from religion.

Not needing God doesn't make me superior, or more intelligent, or more "together". It's just the way it is.  I was raised an atheist, and am lucky to have a support network around me that means I have never had to turn to a deity for solace. I can completely see why other more pious souls may be concerned for me, or worry that my heathen ways mean I might lack focus or purpose, or indeed that I need redeeming pronto to avoid an afterlife of eternal fiery torment. Just as I can't imagine living with God, if you do have him in your life, it must be very hard to understand how anyone could live without him. He is woven into the fabric of your existence and underpins your sense of self. If I'm honest, there are times, when things are very bad, when I wish I did have someone to pray to, so I could feel like I was doing something proactive to change my circumstances. But I could never really bring myself to pray seriously, because I know in my core that no-one is listening, and, even if they were, it seems unlikely that they would answer the prayers of someone who has so vocally denounced them as a mere fairy story her whole life.

So I talk to my family, I talk to my friends, and I do everything in my power to make things better by myself. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't, just like prayers are sometimes answered and sometimes they are not. And while I would like more certainty and control at times, mostly I'm OK because I know that life is essentially chaotic and random and there is nothing I, or any other person on this planet can do to change that. When we've done our best and things don't work out, well then that's just how it is. It's oddly reassuring to know that it's not God's will or his punishment, just as good things happening aren't his reward. I don't have to feel guilty (unless of course I have done something wrong) or let down, or tested, or wonder why this was in God's design - I can just say "shit happens" and after I've processed and healed, I can move on. In theory at least...

So I don't need God, but that doesn't mean I don't need the compassion, beauty, wisdom or love that he brings so many - I just seek these things down here on Earth, in science, nature and other people. And I don't consider myself superior for not believing (unlike some outspoken atheists) because, despite all the logic and evidence that God does not exist, religion is fundamentally about faith, not evidence, and I cannot say for sure that I would be an atheist now if I had been brought up with God in my life. I understand why so many do need him and if he brings them comfort and clarity and makes them a better person, then who am I to question on denigrate that? Of course if God provides them with an excuse to harm, exploit or shun their fellow humans, then that's a whole other matter. But that's a post for another day.