Sunday, 29 July 2007

Who needs enemies?

This won't be one of my ordinary posts. I apologise to readers if this seems boring, trivial or lacking in any humour but I need to get it out. Apologies also if the writing style has gone to pot. (anyone new to this blog - advise you skip it!)

I haven't been able to sleep for the past couple of days. Each morning I wake up, my head spinning, working and fretting endlessly, over the best way to resolve a problem which has haunted me most of this year. I know I'm stressed because my chest has gone tight and my breathing a bit laboured; I know I'm obsessed, because I can't stop mulling it over wherever I am and whoever I'm with. I just can't focus.

So I'm using the therapeutic power of my blog, to put the problem out there and maybe get some insight or idea as to what to do.

So here's the problem - deeeeep breath:

On and off all year, my daughter has been having difficulties at school with one particular child.
From my perspective, this child - call her Janet - has taken against mine (call her Chloe). Chloe and Janet used to be friends because I am friends with the other mother, but they never went to the same school. Last year they were starting seniors together and wanted to be in the same class. Within a month, Janet had started being a bit mean to Chloe, saying she was annoying, telling her to 'go away', criticising her.

Janet is popular and nice to most of the other girls in the class, but snide, critical and undermining to Chloe. She comments on her hair, the faces she pulls, tells her to 'be herself' and stop trying too hard, stop being overconfident, says Chloe cries too much, is too competitive. It goes on.

Chloe is a sensitive child, very self conscious but fun loving. Though she is naturally sociable and has made wonderful friends very easily in the past, she has found settling back into school friendships back in the UK difficult and she feels like an outsider. Chloe is very kind and compassionate, but is also emotional and on occasions can really 'lose control'. During that time she can say horrible things which she regrets later. However, she is a truthful child, she admits when she has done wrong and usually feels quite mortified about it.

It got to the stage when I thought I ought to have a word with the mother as she was a friend of mine. She came to my house with a pad and pencil and took notes on what I was saying. Intimidating to say the least. She suggested I start and I stated the case above.

Then it was her turn. Apparently, Chloe made a personal remark to Janet on several occasions about her appearance and that's why she didn't like her. 'My friend' then went on to list all the ways in which my child was irritating (i.e. tries too hard etc.). I thought this unnecessary. Over the years I have known them I have always thought that Janet is a strong personality, very good at manipulating people and deflecting blame, she is also very prone to playing the victim and I have caught her lying several times. I said none of this to my friend out of respect for her.

We agreed to tell the girls to stop backbiting.

When I got her from school, I tackled Chloe on the personal comment. She told me that Janet had actually said it to her first and when she retaliated with a kind of pot kettle black - you are too kind of thing, Janet took offence (people in glass houses). I have later found this to be a pattern with Janet, she will dish out an insult in a 'jokey' way, but if it's given back to her, she can't take it.

Still smarting at my friend's attack on my child I thought I would at least put Chloe's point of view across. So I sent an email. My mistake. 'Are you calling my child a liar? ' - type thing. I got a tirade of abusive stuff about my child back in the email - most of it completely distorted and manipulated. I withstood the urge to respond like for like again. Apologised for anything my child had done but said that some of the comments had not been fair. I never got an apology back and I felt Chloe had been completely convicted without a trial.

My friend went away for a week and things settled down for a bit. Under strict instructions from me, my daughter ignored most of the snipes from Janet, but then it all blew up again a couple of weeks ago. Chloe made two big mistakes. First, she put slightly sarky and catty (but not personal) comments on Janet's Bebo and second, she was in a bad mood and got wound up in PE; she made a gesture which looked like a kick to Janet. For days afterwards Janet put highly unkind and personal comments on Chloe's Bebo saying she was ugly, she smelled bad, she's weird etc. She tried to cover herself by writing LOL, smiley face or Love you! after them. When asked to stop by Chloe, she said she was paying Chloe back - but anyway - they were a joke. Yup, right.

To complicate matters Chloe's 'best friend' is very very close to Janet and also backbites about Chloe behind her back. Today, the best friend was taking Janet's side arguing that what Chloe wrote was worse than Janet because Janet put LOL on her comments. Chloe lost it with her friend, said she 'hated her and has now done more damage. So her friend comes back and says nobody likes Chloe because she's so mean.

Trying to push my natural bias aside, this is how I see it. Chloe has been the subject of low level bullying from Janet on a consistent basis. Janet has a lot of sway with the others in the class not only because she is extremely persuasive but also nice to them. The only time Chloe has felt really comfortable and able to relax, have fun and be herself at school is when Janet isn't there. Chloe gets on fine and has no problems with any of the other girls.

On the other hand, Chloe is by no means blameless at all. She has undoubtedly been mean on occasion, said tactless and unkind things, however, it is no worse than all of them do and certainly no worse than Janet. Usually with girls, there is a spat, mean things are said and then life goes on, but Janet is bearing a big grudge and she's making Chloe pay. From where I'm sitting, it's one rule for Janet - who seems to be allowed to say almost anything to Chloe - and another for Chloe who get's jumped on for any slip, gesture or word out of turn. It's an impossible situation for her I feel, because even when she's trying her hardest to do nothing wrong, Janet will misinterpret a comment or gesture and condemn her further, when other people are doing far worse. Janet is creating a bad reputation for Chloe by always pointing out what she does wrong.

For me it's a question of fairness. It just doesn't seem fair to me that Janet can be consistently unkind to Chloe and no-one says a word, but Chloe does the mildest thing and she's made to pay for it in spades. I think that someone needs to stick up for Chloe and her point of view, but how do I do this? and am I really being objective here? To be honest, I can't take another five years of this and neither can Chloe.

Do I:

Get together with the mother again - this time holding nothing back and state Chloe's case more persuasively so that she can actually look at what her daughter is doing?

Write the mother a letter?

Avoid the mother and go to the school and talk to them about it?

Back out of the whole thing and let Chloe deal with it? (dangerous with her record!)

Get Chloe moved to a different class, hoping that she will be happier and the same thing won't happen again?

Ask for Janet to be moved?

Get Chloe - or me to confront Janet one on one (don't really want to)?

Move Chloe to another school altogether?.

Find some way of helping Chloe to manage her anger and emotions (if so - what?)

What do any of you think? Am I making a mountain out of a molehill here? Am I getting all stewed up over nothing? If not what do you think I should do? Opinions gratefully received and all suggestions welcomed.

Wednesday, 25 July 2007

Polls, pictures awards and restaurants

I've FINALLY got a tiny little window of opportunity to write a quick post. I have to fight for access to the computer now the children are off school. My son apparently 'needs' to be on it in order to look up wrestlers on eBay and Amazon (figures - not real ones) to buy with money he really doesn't have, or else to play a weird pc game called Worms 2; my daughter 'needs' to go on Rightmove look up properties which we don't have the money to buy and to chat to her friends on Msn or make comments on Bebo. I could go on my laptop - why is why I bought the thing in the first place - but despite doing everything according to instruction, I can't access the internet via the router we bought.

So, while I was paying attention to my mother, driving her around and about to look for properties to buy so she could be nearer us (yes, it's true) and vying for online time with the rest of my family, several things happened on my blog. First, the poll closed with a majority voting for me to put a less scary picture up. So now I have a new one. It's meant to serve as some kind of corny visual metaphor for my midlife crisis, it's not ideal, but I haven't had time to find another one and it'll do for now.

Second, I got a rockin girl blogger award - hurrah! - from Debio/Land of Sand which I now proudly display. Being new to this whole thing and being short on time lately, I've only become familiar with a handful of other blogspots, some of whom already have the award. But after careful consideration - I'm going to hand it to:
Keir Royale
Mutterings and Meanderings
Norway Nomad

Because I enjoy all of their blogs.

I was also tagged by Debio and am now duty bound to list my favourite restaurants. As we have so few decent ones where I live, I'm going to include eateries from other places we have lived. None of them are upmarket or particularly wonderful, but all hold a firm and nostalgic place in my memory. By some coincidence they are all Chinese or South Asian restaurants.


1. Omar Al Khayyam restaurant in Muscat - also known as Alauddin.

This was one of the very first places I went to eat when I moved to Muscat. It was incredibly busy at the time - mainly full of seasoned expats who all seemed to know eachother, including (unnervingly) my husband who had been out there for a few months before me. I felt so different from them all - pale, white, self-conscious, still wrapped in my London personality. But the food was good and atmosphere great. After that we frequently ordered takeaways from Alauddin's and it was one of the few places I really trusted when I was pregnant. My favourite order was Chicken Tikka Masala takeout/Vegetable Chow Mein.

10 years later we went there with our children on a visit to Muscat. Unbelievably, they remembered us and without any prompting we were welcomed by name as if we had never left.

2. The Chinese Garden, Al Khuwair - next to the Ice Skating Rink in Muscat.

I don't know if it is still there, but it was a funny little restaurant in a weird sort of complex which housed Muscat's only skating rink. The decor was fantastically kitsch with plastic flowers and greenery draped around white trellises which acted as table dividers. We went there often with our flatmates who included a very tall welshman and a diminutive Singaporean nurse who loved the hot and sour soup. My main memory of the place though was of the nurse, in her clipped Southeast Asian accent, ordering Chili Crap(crab) Balls.


3. India Palace

Abu Dhabi is full of fantastic restaurants - rather like Dubai. But I loved going to this one, not only because of the great Indian food, but because of the way it looked. Outside it was clad in a white faux palace, like the Taj Mahal which lit up with hundreds of white lights at night. Inside the tables were laid with shiny golden plates and massive brass lanterns hung from the ceilings. Most nights there was a little stall within the restaurant where you could watch a craftsman making jewellery and trinkets which were also available for sale. The children loved it, and like all places in Abu Dhabi, they were always welcome.

4. The Chinese Restaurant in the Novotel.

My husband used go there on his visits to Abu Dhabi previously when he was staying at the Novotel. He told me he would happily sit there in the evenings with a good book and a huge frosted glass of beer. We went there on the first night out on our own, leaving our children with the wonderful maid.

Though situated next to the disco on an odd kind of mezzanine floor with a strangely low ceiling, I loved the feel of this restaurant. It kind of reminded me of chinese restaurants back home in England, but offered far better food. It always felt like a bit of an escape to be there, plus I also adored the chilled lager which came in massive glasses.


5. The Gurkha Palace, Farnborough

I passed this restaurant many times before I finally went there. For some peculiar reason, it was my daughter's doing; her first choice of a place to go on her birthday. I later found out that she chose it to please me, just because I kept wondering about it and commenting on it as we drove past.

As it turned out, we all loved the place. Situated on a busy main road opposite the town's airport it was a haven of peace and tranquility - another escape. White walls, rich red carpets and chairs, decorated with beautiful pictures of Nepal and Kukri knives/Nepalese paraphanalia, gentle music playing in the background. On Sundays, they have a buffet full of all the things I love to eat and they also serve the obligatory huge glass of Nepalese lager that leaves me feeling all fuzzy. It has been our family choice of venue for a number of important days now - including Mother's Day. I think I particularly like it because it reminds me of our various lives overseas and takes me back there, albeit briefly.

So now to pass the tag on to:
Drunk mummy
At my Kitchen Table
Mother at large
Norway Nomad

Blimey, that took me ages, we haven't had any lunch yet and the kids have fallen into a TV-induced coma.

Friday, 20 July 2007

In the sick of it

My son has just been sick for the third time. I heard him wretching in the next-door room, but instead of rushing to his side, I carried on reading other people's blogs. My daughter screamed for me to come. 'Just a minute!' I shouted back casually, in time to take in a couple more paragraphs.

I'm no monster. There was a time when the merest sniffle would have had me hovering anxiously at my children's side, desperately trying to 'be there' for them in their pain. But years of mothering have hardened me. I'm now about as sympathetic and nurturing as Nurse Ratchet or the infamous 'matron' (ooh matron!) at my school - whose answer to everything was a dash of Witchazel (is that how you spell it?).

I blame it on too many false alarms, too many overreactions and far too many hours wasted in A and E. But I'm beginning to worry that it's pushed me a little too far the other way. When my daughter broke her thumb, I wrote it off as a sprain and took her to football practice (well, she could move it!); when my son announced that he was going to be sick in the car - I shouted "NOT NOW! Hold it in till I get beyond the roundabout!" (he didn't, he caught it in his lap poor lad); when my daughter put her hand through the downstairs window, I 'made' the right noises but cursed under my breath that once again we'd have to grace the corridors of our local hospital; and whenever I hear a scream from the trampoline in the garden I positively ignore it - so far, there's never been a real injury, but one day there might be.

The actual impact of my hard-nosed attitude towards illness in others hit home the other day when my daughter described just how irritated she'd felt towards another child who was crying during PE because her foot hurt. "For goodness sake!" she said "It wasn't even broken!"

What have I done?

I'm posting this blog in a rush, not to tend to my ailing child of course, but because my mother's coming to stay tomorrow and there's no telling whether I'll get a chance to blog in between mopping up the vomit or tending to my demanding guest - that is if I even survive the trauma.

Thursday, 19 July 2007

Decaying faculties

Even though I still feel twenty five, there are horribly cliched signs that I really am an 'older woman'. Slowly but surely, insidiously and sneakily, I'm deteriorating. There are the usual markers of decrepitude of course: wrinkles - including some bizarre trench-like ones on my chest (how? why? whose are they?); the increasing need to hold books further and further away before the letters come into focus (but I don't need glasses yet - I really don't); random aches, pains and stiffness, including difficulty getting up after sitting down for too long; and an inability to do things like cartwheels or headstands without doing my back in/straining some body part.

However, the one sign of age I never bargained for quite so early on, was increasing idiocy. I've always been bit of a daydreamer - which sounds more romantic than it actually is (once I jumped into a swimming pool fully clothed for no apparent reason other than my mind was somewhere else). But my mind has always been pretty sharp and I've always fancied that I had a pretty good memory - capable of remembering events, names, phrases from way back, able to pick up a tune, grasp a complicated plot, do a difficult crossword.

For a while now, I've noticed a few minor cracks in my mental faculties. I do the usual things - calling my child by my sister's /husband's/random relative's name etc and referring to common household objects as thingummyjigs/whatsits. That's standard. But lately these slip-ups have become a little more alarming. A few weeks ago I completely forgot to attend a school play even though I had actually written it down (bad mummy - bad,bad mummy) and just yesterday I was sure that the lyrics to a song I had been singing in choir only a week ago with my daughter were 'Pick me up Buttercup' - so sure that to prove my point to her, I looked it up on the internet. There it was in plain print: 'Build me up...' Of course, she was right.

I remember being exasperated and baffled by the inadequacy of adults in this respect. My friend's mum drove us mad by repeatedly singing 'Shaking all over' wrong; wasn't she listening to the same song as us?? And my mum used to irritate me too by getting phrases wrong - we thought deliberately (the most recent wrong-phrase she used was 'eye-cake' instead of 'eye candy'). I would correct her with the utmost scorn, but now I'm having it thrown right back by my own children.

Maybe this is what it is to be truly middle-aged: you're still young enough to remember what it was like to be a child, but old enough to finally see what it was like to be your mother. Now...what was it that I was just about to do?

Monday, 16 July 2007

What goes around...

I remember what it was like to be twelve/thirteen and being made to go somewhere I really didn't want to go to. I can still recall that sense of sullen resentment at being dragged to a classical concert/christmas carols/an adult party/some stranger's house for 'drinks' - whatever my mother had on her calendar - when I would much rather be with my friends, or at the very least indulging in pursuits appropriate for my age.

I must have sat on hundreds chairs, in living rooms all over London, listening to my mother chat to one or other of her friends (all of whom, she would insist, had been 'very good' to us - as if that should make me want to be there) mentally
willing her to finish her (seemingly) trivial conversation and get up to leave. I would stare at her hard to try to make her stand up and go to the door, but naturally she would carry on regardless, oblivious to my presence - let alone my thoughts. Sometimes, tantalisingly, she would get up as if to leave, only to sit down again as a new topic of conversation was broached.

I'm not sure why she took me along on these occasions - presumably I couldn't be left at home - or else she genuinely, but misguidedly, thought I would enjoy myself. What I have never been able to understand is that she didn't seem to recognise, or even acknowledge, that the things which she enjoyed and wanted to do, might not be my idea of fun. If I put on a 'face' or acted 'surly' I would be lectured on how I should enjoy myself, be happy, be grateful etc. And then she would get upset because I had 'spoiled' her enjoyment.

These memories are vivid, because she hasn't changed. She still gets cross or upset if I dare to suggest that what she likes to do, read, eat, believe is not my cup of tea. I think it thoroughly true to say, that this is one of the many but key
issues I have with my mother. And yet, this weekend, to my shame and horror, I did exactly the same to my own daughter.

It was the day of the music festival. I had to be there early to perform in my Rock Choir. It was a big occasion for us oldies - opening act on the main stage, headlined by Madness. We were excited. In my enthusiasm, I'd bought my husband a ticket for the day and the kids got in free.

The performance went well. Surprisingly, there was a big crowd already gathered to watch us amateurs. I spotted my family coming into the festival, but couldn't see where they were sitting. Loads of family and friends of choir members had gathered near the stage, waving, grinning, pointing and supporting, but mine was nowhere to be seen. I spent a lot of time scanning the crowd to locate them - for some reason, I felt I needed to make eye contact, to feel they were with me - but I never saw them.

The performance went well, we gave it our all and we all left on a serious high. When I finally found my family, my hyper-raised spirits were immediately shot down. They had been sitting far away at the back, my husband looked annoyed and there were black looks all around. My daughter clearly didn't want to be there - or anywhere near me in actual fact. She hadn't wanted to come closer to the stage (someone might 'see' her watching a cheesy Rock Choir) and apparently hadn't 'allowed' my husband to even tap a foot or nod his head during the performance, for fear of looking uncool.

I felt hurt and furious. This was the one and probably only time I would ever do anything like this and my daughter had spoilt everyone's enjoyment by her nascent teenage self-consciousness. I had to take off my choir top (embarrassing!!) and she tried to make me promise not to move when the next band came on. 'LOOSEN UP!' I spat, 'I'm here to enjoy myself and I'm damned if you're going to spoil that for me!'

She spent most of the day sitting on the ground, staring at the ground and it seriously wound me up. My son constantly whinged about buying something and my husband was at the end of his rope. All around us there were families really enjoying themselves, but mine all looked as though someone had died. Clearly they would rather be anywhere else and with anyone else. I started to have a go at my daughter for 'spoiling it' and humiliatingly, tears started to gather and drop, despite my best efforts to control them. My husband then pointed out that he hadn't really wanted to stay on at the festival, he'd assumed we would leave soon after my performance. He also said that I was acting just like my mother.

With the hot/cold shiver of realisation, I made myself face the truth. Oh GOD! He was right. Just because I'd wanted to be there I'd assumed everyone else did - just like my mother. And when it was clear that they didn't want to be there - I got upset with them - just like my mother.

As they say, the truth can hurt. I never thought my daughter would feel as embarrassed to be with me as I had been with my mum. I mean my mum really WAS embarrassing and she really DID have a vastly different taste in music/things than me. But taking myself back into my twelve-year-old skin, I began to realise that it's embarrassing to be with your mum at that age full stop - whatever she is like. OF COURSE my daughter feels mortified, she's TWELVE.

It's hard, it really is, but I have to face facts. I'm a mother of a soon-to-be-teenager. Though I truly thought it would be different for me, it won't be. Somehow, I'm going to have to get used to it or else I really will turn into my mum.

Thursday, 12 July 2007


All is quiet - so quiet it's disturbing. After the storm of my meltdown, the fire of my anger, the zest of my determination to reach my goals and the thrill of my successes, I find myself in a lull - a dip - a sleepy hollow.

I'm in-between stages, in middle-land. My volunteer training is over, Rock Choir has finished for the summer (except for our performance on Sunday) and I've more or less finished with writing; not deliberately - but promising leads are drying up, my pitches are half-hearted and no-one is getting back to me. So I sit here, metaphorically twiddling my thumbs, dying to get on with something, eager to get my teeth into some kind of work to regain a sense of purpose and usefulness, but with the schools breaking up next week and my plans to return to academia in September, there seems to be no point.

If I'm honest, there are things I could be doing. Things need to be done around the house, plans need to be made, contacts need to be chased-up, academic books sit on the table waiting to be read, articles (which exist in my head) wait to be pitched and written. Part of me would love to get all fired-up again, tackling each job with gusto and getting the satisfaction from getting something done. But I can't make myself do it; my motivation is about as droopy as an ancient balloon.

That's one of the problems working from home. There's no-one around who can encourage, direct, criticise, chivvy, or generally gee-up. Work colleagues are virtual, the readers of my prose are faceless - if they exist at all - and feedback is limited. It's easy to get dispirited, to sink into the comforting embrace of sloth and idleness and even easier to justify not doing anything.

So .....if there is anyone out there, reading this now, who feels like writing a little comment, I'll know I'm not alone in cyberspace and who knows, I might just be prodded into action.

Wednesday, 4 July 2007

A question of value

Lately I've become completely and inexplicably addicted to Spider Solitaire - the 4-suit difficult version of course. Every spare moment I have, I click onto it, trying to raise my win rate, challenging myself to get even the most impossible deals to work out. The sad thing is, as with all addictions, I'm never quite satisfied. Having completed one, I'm then back on it, trying to beat my previous score. Even as I type, I'm sorely tempted to collapse this window and sneak in a quick Spider fix.

Last night, it struck me that there is something deeply metaphorical going on here. This 'ordering' - shuffling the cards around so that they get in their proper place - clearly mirrors my desire to try to set my life in order; to get back to where and who I want to be. The only thing is, the card game is quicker and easier and I have much more control over it. In my real life, truth is, I'm only on the very first metaphorical 'deal' ; most of the cards are still unexposed, the suits are jumbled and I'm sort of stuck.

I've tried to 'big up' my mini-successes as I'm supposed to in self-coaching terms, but just lately as I look at where I am now and where I will be going, I realise just how mini these successes really are. Having felt so pleased with myself - almost nauseatingly so - I've now hit a reality check and I feel despondency lurking, beckoning me into it's embrace (how poetic!).

Yes, I've done lots of training; yes, I've tried things I've never done before; yes, I've lost a lot of weight; yes, I've had a few articles published - but the emphasis is on the 'few'. I've worked very hard, been very busy, but the long and the short of it is - I haven't actually earnt much money and if I pursue the PhD route later this year, I'm not likely to either. I've moved forward, I've set things in train, little openings and opportunities have popped up here and there, but nothing has really come of them. And I still cannot do one of the things I really want to do: make some contribution to the family income.

Money is somehow linked to my sense of worth. I know it shouldn't be, but it is. I can rationalise all I like (and I do), that what I do as a mother, a volunteer, a wife etc - all of the many unpaid roles I perform and the help I give others - is of great value to society, but I can't keep down the feeling that because I can't earn much money or get a 'proper' job, despite all of my training and skills, I am a failure. Rightly or wrongly, I realise that if I am ever going to recover my self-esteem, I will have to earn an income. And I'm not quite sure what that means for my current plans.

Well, back to the solitaire before I start to think too much.