Friday, 30 November 2007

Bah Humbug!

Yesterday my friend Babs dropped by on a whim. I was right in the middle of a very taxing game of Spider Solitaire (when I should have been working) and the house was a tip, so I was a little off my guard.

As we sat at my grubby table, surrounded by my books, nursing hastily-prepared cups of coffee, Babs told me that her family had all suffered from a flu bug that apparently " makes you think everyone hates you" (that's a virus??). I've been really grumpy ( I mean really grumpy) lately, but I'm not sure I can put it down to a virus.

Last Friday, I came away from my second supervision session with the biggest dark cloud over my head. My supervisor had been quite enthusiastic. He could see how I could rework my thesis and had even written out the bones of a structure. On the face of it, that's exactly what I had hoped he would do and I should have been excited. The problem is, my brain is simply not agile enough to cope with new things - like people dropping by unexpectedly or different perspectives being thrown into the mix. I couldn't for the life of me see where he was coming from and it threw me into a panicky state of confusion.

Then, I made the mistake of looking at some of the comments he'd made on the prehistoric draft I'd given him. Simple comments like "what do you mean by this?" or "what is the process of adoption?" sent me into a negative whirl of self-chastisement (why on earth didn't I find that out?) and unnecessary catastrophising ('It's hopeless! The fieldwork is useless, it'll never be good enough').

I've calmed down a little and am coming round to his point of view, but I'm still very crotchety.

The other thing which might account for my churlish gloom is the time of year. I really dislike the run-up to Christmas. For some reason I have a pathological resentment of not only the excessive consumerism, materialism and plain greed that surrounds the 'festive season', but the fact that everyone starts talking about it really really early.

Three weeks ago the checkout girl in Tescos asked me if I'd done all my Christmas shopping. I almost bit her head-off: 'Don't!' I spat 'I refuse to start even thinking about it until at least December and preferably the second week'.

I have a problem with efficiency, booking things early, getting organised in good time and I don't know why. It's something about planning in advance (my mum would always plan far too far in advance and make me commit to things I really didn't want to do) but also something about my particular brain getting easily overloaded.

Despite being a reasonable multi-tasker, my poor noggin cannot take too many things on at once. I do actually physically find it hard to turn my mind to Christmas when it is so far ahead. I like to focus on one immediate and relevant thing at a time. I find the task of picking out good presents and taking the time to trawl the shops really really difficult, so I prefer to dedicate a certain time to do it. - and I'm nearing it now, with dread.

Last night I wrote a scrappy list of possible presents for the ever- burgeoning family of mine including two new nephews and neices and two more birthdays before Christmas. Instead of feeling mildly in control I just sagged in a depressive heap - too little money and too much organising to do. Bah HUMBUG!

Monday, 19 November 2007

Growing up

I watched my son walk up the road to his school this morning, his stride brisk and confident, red rucksack bobbing on his back. I kept watching until he blended in with the crowds around the gate, before I turned away, inwardly infused with motherly pride and - quite frankly - relief.

It's been a bit of a breakthrough. It's not his first day at school or even his first day walking to school, but it is the first Monday for ages that he has gone to school without a fuss: no tears, no tirades, no point-blank refusals to go.

He's ten years old and has always had a bit of an issue about school. Every first day of term or half term we've had a battle with him. But just recently it got to the stage that every Monday was a struggle, if not every day.

We've tried to understand, but it didn't make much sense: he's a good pupil, he does well with his work, has strong friendships, appears to enjoy school while he is there and swears blind that no-one is being nasty to him (pupil or teacher). He simply says that he hates it and that's all.

Wrestling over the problem one night, I began to develop the seeds of a theory. He's a sensitive soul and has always found separation - goodbyes - difficult. He was a very clingy baby, had difficulty going to playgroup when he was two, and often hated being left at a friend's house or a party (so I had to stay) . On the other hand, up until recently, he seemed to adjust to school life quite well - even when we went to Abu Dhabi.

Following this line of thought further, I realised that it might all centre around the separation routine. At Infant school I dropped him right at the door of the class so his teacher could take him off. That was easy, because he was distracted and didn't tend to look back. At Junior school, up until recently, we had adapted into a different routine. I would stand at the gate with him until the whistle blew for them all to file in. Usually, his best friend would arrive after us and would stand with him. My son liked - and needed - this routine. If anything was changed, he became agitated and upset.

But a couple of months ago, his friend began to be dropped at school much earlier and was already running around with the others when we got there. This was when my son started to get upset. And I can understand it now: alone at the gate, with his mum, my son battled with the problem of keeping to a vital routine without the back-up of his friend. His need for me was now exposed and, in his own words he felt 'like a baby' .

We talked about it. I offered advice, techniques, alternate scenarios or possibilities - he didn't want to hear of any of them. But I had a plan. I thought it would help if I dropped him off and he went straight into school - just like he had done in Infants - rather than waiting, tremulously for the whistle to blow and building up to that moment he hated so much. In collusion with his teacher, we engineered it so he would have to go in early to help her set out the chairs.

The first day of chair monitoring was a disaster. He was more upset than ever and I had to walk him right into class with him in floods of tears.

That night, we had a rethink. He told me he hated the idea of seeing me walk away or even leaving me in the school grounds. And then I realised. He might find it easier to say goodbye, as long as the school was not in sight. So we agreed to try a new routine. I would walk him half way to school, over the busy roads and leave him by the corner. He could then walk up the road by himself. If he turned round he wouldn't be able to see me and he wouldn't be saying goodbye anywhere near the school.

The first day was a bit shaky and his bottom lip trembled, but he didn't cry and he didn't turn back. Today, a week or so into this new routine, I know we've cracked it. And even though it wouldn't be a big deal for some kids of his age, I'm so proud of my son.

Monday, 12 November 2007

Toooo busy

Stressy stressy stressy. If I had a swear box, it would be bulging with coins by now.

Nothing is going to plan and my brain has fragmented.

This morning there was 'signals failure' at some unspecified location and the trains were late. Delays on the Northern line meant taking the Bakerloo instead. A cancelled lecture due to staff illness meant an unexpected visit to the library. A broken rail in Wimbledon meant getting home late which meant a trip to the supermarket after school pick-up which meant no lunch until 4.40. A timely reminder from the only son that it's parents' evening tonight meant the rather rushed production of something resembling a children's supper.

Back home again, a quick look at the calendar revealed a forgotten and therefore shocking entry: ''alternative therapy workshop" for tomorrow, which means I'll have to cancel my pre-arranged Homestart volunteer visit at 10 and postpone a much-needed mega-shop at Tescos.... again. At which point, Chloe suddenly announces she has an Inset day on Friday when I have to go to London again to see my supervisor - which means I'll either have to rearrange that or find someone for her to perch with. Then, again prompted by my 'on top of it' son, I realise that the date on his 'movie night' ticket says 16th and not 26th as I had previously myopically surmised, which means that we will not be able to travel to the in-laws in Wiltshire as planned until the movie is over. This has been broken to the husband who is not best pleased.

I don't care what anyone says about middle-class drinking at home or about alcohol induced cancers - I'm going to pour myself a HUGE glass of wine.

Thursday, 1 November 2007

Rolling back the years: the punk era

When I was 17 I had black spiky hair - sometimes it was orange, blonde, with a blue streak - but mostly it was black. I used to wear a motley of clothes, mostly from charity shops. My favourite was a pair of skin-tight, drainpipe, turquoise, satiny trousers with a leopard-spot pattern which I had spray-painted on with car paint. Every time they ripped I put in a zip or a multicoloured patch. How I loved those trousers. One day though, I couldn't find them. Years later my mum told me she had thrown them away because she couldn't stand the sight of them.

I loved my life back then. Though I was at school still, most nights I went with a friend to go to one of the London clubs and watch a band - usually with free tickets. Being part of the punk scene was fun, it gave a feeling of belonging - of membership in an exclusive club, and despite the occasional violence, there was a good sense of cameraderie.

At one point I had a boyfriend called Rockabilly Steve. He was cool, and knew it. He kept a machete on top of a cupboard in his room and had a belt with a huge Triumph Motorcycles sign on it. He used to speak to me about ghosts and evil spirits. I was scared, but tried not to show it. Older than me, with great charisma, he'd wait for me outside my school gate and I was so proud.

His ex-girlfriend (whom, I later found was actually still going out with him) was a lardy but scary punkette called Dee. She was best mates with another very scary punk called Tampax, who used to wear a used tampon in her ear (nice!). They spotted me one night in a club in Soho. Tampax kept bitching at me and Dee threatened to beat me up. Sigh, those were the days.

For some reason, I just remembered all of that as I was walking home from taking my son to school and was struck by the contrast. How much has changed.