Monday, 28 February 2011

Tea Tree vs The Black Mould: Who Will Win?

Not the nicest of jobs today on board. A very far cry from the "good life" that many would think of when they learn you live on a boat which you are building yourself. The bald and distasteful truth is, I have spent the last 3 hours scrubbing black and blooming mould off the wooden lining panels in our bow, which were only installed a few months ago.

The area has been curtained off from our living space as we hadn't finished it, and we were storing (amongst other things) our remaining lining boards. Now all of those, too, are covered in a significant amount of mould and I'm worried that the spores are here to stay.

The problem has been that our only heat source as yet is our woodburner which is situated at the stern - so the bow gets little to no heat but lots of condensation. It's a real quandary. If we put in a gas heater it produces more condensation; we haven't got the electricity required to run a dehumidifier, and to put in another woodburning stove in the bow (though a nice idea as this will be our bedroom eventually) is well outwith our budget at the moment.

For now I've doused it all in tea tree oil and we'll have to keep an eye on it until the warmer weather ensues!

Friday, 25 February 2011

Balancing Act

I am struggling with balance very much this month. No, the boat isn't listing (any more than usual) and I've not been having toddling problems (except when particularly tired!); but I have been finding it difficult to focus on exactly what seems the right choice. Just one example is our financial dependence. To work or not to work? Having been on maternity leave since September, I feel less and less inclined to go back to work full time as it would mean neither Matt nor I would see much of our young kids - so what then is the point in having them? As it is, Matt is out of the house about 13 hours a day (though he is currently on a 4 day week), and Harris travels with him to the childminder and Granny's. It's crazy! But we couldn't live without the money, not for the moment - we still both have debts to pay off for one thing. Some days I wonder (especially when I feel like a rubbish mum anyway) whether I should find employment while Matt stays at home. But then I know I'd hate that too. 

On my dreamy days I think, well what do we need money for? Let's both give up work and just do something really positive, and step as lightly as we can upon this earth. But those pesky debts get in the way. I really admire those people who have learnt to live as self-sufficiently as possible, and while I dream of it, I often wonder whether I could truly live that way. As it is I feel as if I'm always fighting against the need for bought-in goods, and I say that after a year without making many purchases at all (other than our boat!).

I'd love to hear from anyone who has truly found their balance - and what you do on those days when you find yourself a bit off-kilter.

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Attachment and the High Need Child

Though we long suspected it, we only really learnt that our first (Harris above, doesn't he look like an angel?!) was extremely high-need once we'd had our second child, and she reacted completely differently to the same treatment. Realising this in retrospect has been incredibly cathartic. But at the time, and as much as we adore him, it was absolute hell. 

Of course we made it more difficult on ourselves by living in a camper at the time, so all those helpful suggestions - like putting them down in their cot and going and sitting in another room, or taking a bath to try and take some time out so you don't lose your rag - really weren't much help! We always say that Harris cried for most of his first year and that's not far from the truth. When he was a baby, people said he must have colic and that it would wear off after 3 months. Well those first 3 months absolutely c-r-a-w-l-e-d by, particularly after Matt went back to work and I was left confined to a camper van with a constantly screaming baby! When he didn't stop at the 3 month mark, and started to drool we surmised he was now teething. 

And after that it is all a blur. We just coped, because you have to, and because, despite everything, you love them and you want to do your very best for them. It's just you're going crazy in the process! People (strangers and friends alike) would helpfully ask "What's wrong with him, have you taken him to the doctor?" And as a first-time mum, I would doubt myself and occasionally wonder if something was horribly wrong with him. But he grew and thrived and started on solids fine and started to interact with other children, and learned to play and all without any sign of illness of any sort. 

18 months on, I have since met many other mums who have experienced something similar and I find great relief in sharing horror stories and finally coming to terms with the kind of child Harris is. Because, as much as well-meaning peeps will have you believe you can impose your own strictures on your child, they fail to remember that we are all born with a personality ready-made. And it just so happens that some come out grumpier than others! A friend recently lent me Secrets Of The Baby Whisperer For Toddlers which notes 5 different types of child temperament: Angel, Textbook, Touchy, Spirited, and Grumpy. The key is to recognise which type your child is, broadly, and tailor your parenting style accordingly. This is important, not just to preserve your sanity, but above all to ensure your child is able to thrive and connect with you and the world at large in the best possible way for her: 

"One child may be "born shy," because she inherits a gene that gives her a low threshold for the unfamiliar, but her parents can help her feel safe and teach her strategies for overcoming her shyness."
Attachment vs Detachment
For me there is simply no alternative to attachment parenting. Like many new parents I had long resolved not to be like my own folks. Not that I had an awful childhood in any way, but nevertheless my parents' resolve to bring us up to be "independent" (as was much the fashion in the 70s and 80s) has left me with lifelong self-confidence issues. Not least because I still don't have a great relationship with them (glossy, surface interaction is fine, but I've learnt not to try and dig deeper). That lack of attachment has carried through into my adult personal life and I still have real problems forming and maintaining relationships. I am incredibly lucky that my husband is similar enough that we can usually (after many years' experience!) work out what to do when we're at cross-purposes with each other.

Detachment, for me, is all wrong. You cannot expect a solitary flower to flourish, all on its own and without help. If through some miracle it survives it is not without scars. Attachment is not about spoiling, but nurturing. Teach your children by example how to love and look after one another, and that will give them the best possible foundation for a happy life.

Olympic Standards and Keeping up with the Jones'

One of the reasons I hate mother-baby groups with a passion is that they are a breeding ground for competition, insensitivity and that most detestable fashion, stiff-upper-lipness. I used to go to a baby music group with Harris when he was a few months old, which he loved, though he often felt a little overwhelmed. But he wasn't the reason I had to stop going and get his granny to take him instead. I just got sick of other mums' false sympathies when they learnt he was not letting me sleep at night, followed by declarations that their little angel had slept through from a few hours/days/weeks old, and had I tried this/that and the other? Now I know that a fraction of new parents are lucky enough to have a "sleeper" from the start (and by god, weren't we thankful to get one in Molly!) but I cannot believe that those are in fact the only parents to go to such groups! It wasn't until I started to go to some slightly more alternative parenting groups that I found other mums willing to "fess up". In fact they, like me, found relief and joy in the process. Rather than covering up what they could otherwise have thought was a result of poor parenting, and giving false claims that they and their babs were doing stupendously, they would happily moan about sleepless nights, difficulty feeding, their guilt over losing their rag and abandoning principles etc etc etc. How much easier! How much more relaxing! And what a weight off to be able to offload in such empathetic company!

The Superiority Complex
Another reason I have tried to avoid such groups, and mums in general, is that I have always felt inferior. Or rather, I have always been made to feel as if I am inferior in some way. Much like the fact we drive an old, dirty and forever-untidy banger rather than the latest model, recently washed and polished, I constantly feel judged for having our little ones either in a sling, a cheap and basic buggy, or worse, loose about our persons! We have always believed in travelling light, and that became even more important when we had kids (though obviously harder!). So we were not about to go out and purchase the shiny, springy and super-spacious 4x4 version of a buggy or pram that would never fit in our car and make life on public transport  or even walking around the shops hideously hard work. Yet this appears to be the norm. I am constantly amazed and bamboozled by the sheer quantity of stuff many parents drag around with them all day. What's it all for? The most we ever took out with Harris, on occasion, was a change of clothes and a couple of nappies. More often than not we didn't bother with either as we'd change him before we went anywhere, and then change him again when we got back. We only ever had an accident once I think, where we had to remove trousers and he had nothing to put back on him. But again, unless it's the middle of winter, that's not the end of the world is it? We just snuggled him up close and put a blanket over him once he was back in his car seat. On another occasion I was berated by a woman in the library for having him loose on my lap whilst I did some work. Put him in a carrier, she said. Quite besides the fact that I wanted him close to me instead of sitting apart on the floor, what she didn't realise (or rather, failed to think about) was that if I strapped him into a carrier he would bellow the whole library down. And why should I anyway? He was quite comfortable with me, and isn't that what matters most? A few weeks back I witnessed something which highlighted just how nonsensical we have become in our desperate need to keep up appearances. At a supermarket, a woman pulled up into a parent-and-child bay (in her shiny, spotless, saloon car), got out, opened the boot, and spent the next  10-15 minutes extracting and putting together her designer buggy. She then proceeded to zip her child into a huge sleeping-bag type affair and, finally ready, locked the car and headed into the supermarket - which was all of 2 seconds walk given her parking proximity. I couldn't help but wonder, why didn't she just plonk her child in a trolley? And how was she going to manage a separate basket/trolley anyway? Clearly her desire to look the part of a caring, indulgent parent precluded any form of common sense when it came to getting her shopping done in a light and easy manner.

The Baby Olympics
When I was pregnant with Harris we knew someone who had rather different views on parenting to us. One of her proclamations was that all children should be able to walk by the time they are one year old. Because hers did. And, she said importantly, she had had to take a friend's child and 'teach' them to walk because they hadn't started yet.

I have long since learned to hold my tongue and laugh inwardly at this particular form of parental competitiveness. It's clear that the kind of parents who worry unduly about whether their (or even other people's) children are "achieving" developmental milestones in a timely fashion are those that are harbouring - or hiding - their own insecurities. Of course it's normal to worry a little - it's the most essential part of being a parent after all - but to put strict and uniform time limits on childhood development can only ever be damaging to both parent and child. Would you be the type to force them to have piano lessons, or play rugby, simply because you want them to? They must learn to be their own person and that means allowing them to mature at their own rate, however frustrating that may seem to you.  As a mother of one 18-month old who is still not running around on his own two feet, I can fully appreciate the temptation to 'push' them on, but knowing my son only too well, I also recognise how pointless - and detrimental - this would prove.

And if you need more incentive to be patient, remember that every adult achieves in different ways. Some of us are a little bit good at everything, whilst some of us excel at one or two things in life. Who knows, your apparently lazy toddler could in fact be another Picasso, Einstein or Florence Nightingale!

Saturday, 12 February 2011

Taking Charge and Feeling Revived

For the last year or so and in particular the past 6 months I have been physically, mentally and emotionally knackered. Exhausted, fatigued, pooped. Many are the reasons, not least that we had one small child 18 months ago and have recently added another. But I've been seriously so knackered I've considered all sorts - drugs, therapies, counselling... you name it. My pride has prevented me from going down any of these routes and in the end it has been the resolve to lose my baby-weight that has done the trick. Within a couple of weeks of eating more raw foods, cutting out bread and most wheat products and drastically reducing dairy and limiting treats significantly as well as drinking copious quantities of green tea and water, I already feel hugely energised and more mentally alert, positive and confident. I wouldn't have believed it possible.

Increasingly over the last few years I have started to believe in taking charge of my own health rather than tripping off to the doctor every time something seems amiss. This has not always been an easy road - far from it - but it seems to work for me on the whole. My biggest hurdle has been depression, not least over the last year or so whilst coping with the many and varied new responsibilities and demands of motherhood, coupled with another pregnancy (nevermind the hardships of living on a half-built canal boat in Winter with a toddler!). Whilst pregnant I was offered referral to NHS help, should I want it. I didn't. I know that I am the only one who can successfully manage my depression - drugs only numb and confuse and therapies make me dwell on the problem(s). My way of dealing with it has to be just to take the good days and the bad together, and get on with things as much as I can.

I do feel that as a society we must take more responsibility for ourselves, particularly in terms of our health. Empowerment is the key. Talk to any woman who has had a beautiful, natural home-birth and she will mention the enormous feeling of achievement and empowerment. The same goes for our general health. If we continue to defer our healthcare to those who hold no personal knowledge of us and whose expertise is heavily sponsored by the most dominant drug companies, how can we have confidence that we are finding the best solutions for ourselves? As a result we end up feeling belittled, insignificant, lost, and our healthcare issues go largely unresolved. We all have choices when it comes to caring for our own health, and I implore you to use them. Nobody can know you and your own unique health issues better than yourself, much like you know what kind of foods you like best, or which types of exercise you're most suited to. So go on, take charge and find the healthiest you you can!

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Hello World (The Anti-Blogger Blogs)

I am the original anti-blogger. A bit of an anti-social luddite at heart I have never taken to blogging, either following or leading. So nobody could be more surprised than me to find myself, well, here.

2011 started for me with an unusual conviction to actually follow through some resolutions, the foremost being to be more positive, energetic, confident, sociable and industrious. As a result I suddenly find myself with one billion projects, ideas, thoughts and minutiae whirring round and round my head, and so what better way to focus my attentions than by recording it all here?

At school I loved to write and dreamed of making it my career, though never as a journalist - a profession which I held very low views of. Now we are all journalists and as I enter my 30s proper I suddenly find I have an awful lot to say about the world - and in fact that most of it is very different to much of what is already out there. This, with a growing self confidence and indignance which both come naturally with age, compels me to share my views for better or worst.

So hello world, I hope you're ready for me ;P
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