They used to just drive me to distraction

Perfection Pending

 This post is part of a parenting Blog Hop hosted by Perfection Pending.

Over the years my kids have fallen out of swings, trees, down steep slopes, over fences, off their bikes and from horses. They have banged their heads, suffered greenstick fractures and sported the cuts and bruises inevitable when allowed to run and climb and play in the parks, fields and woodland around our home.

Of course I worried about them, schooled them on avoiding risk, taking care, on not playing alone, not straying too far from home. I recognised that they needed to learn for themselves but tried to ensure that they did so in as safe an environment as was practical whilst granting them the freedom to explore, stretch themselves and grow. Looking back on their childhood experiences, that they survived is as much down to luck as judgement. The potential for accidents is everywhere, including in the home.

To all you young moms out there, frantically trying to stop your kids eating dirt, banging their heads when they fall, running in front of traffic, falling in a river or pond; I have been there and I empathise. The world can seem so full of danger when you are responsible for a little person intent on learning for themselves, who seems to consider mom to be nothing more than a spoilsport when she says no.

Do you look at me with my teenage kids and dream about how much easier it must get when a full nights sleep is to be expected and those little people can go to and from school on their own? It does get easier, but the potential dangers just seem to get worse. Oh my.

My children have always wanted to drive. Be it push alongs, pedal cars or go-karts, if it had wheels they wanted to ride. Add a motor and they were in heaven.

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Yesterday my daughter had her first driving lesson in a much bigger car. A ton of metal that she claims to have driven at up to 50mph. Apparently her driving instructor only had to use the dual controls twice. No casualties were reported.

I knew that this day was approaching, and that this would be the start of a process that I will have to cope with for some years to come. Elder son, happily driving with his sister in the picture above, turns seventeen next year; younger son just a couple of years later. In a few weeks time, when she has learned the basics, I am going to have to let my daughter drive my car, with me in the passenger seat, in order to allow her to practice her newly learned skills. This must be the ultimate teenagers revenge; I will not have the benefit of an instructor’s dual controls.

I guess that, as with any other milestone, I will simply get used to it. The first time my daughter used a local bus by herself, the first time she took a train to the city, the first time she made a complicated journey that required multiple changes, I was worrying every step of the way, whereas now I barely give it a thought. I know that she will benefit from learning to drive a car, but oh my is it a challenge to let her loose on those dangerous roads.

I wouldn’t want to go back to the sleepless nights, the constant vigilance and the inexplicable tantrums of their early childhood, but it can be a challenge to let go of those little hands that I held tight and safe for so long. In the end it is a matter of trust, of hoping that my children have absorbed enough of the lessons taught to act carefully and sensibly whatever temptations are put in their way.

It seems that we never stop parenting our children, we must just learn to do so in a more quiet and unobtrusive way. If teenagers suspect what we are up to, that there is a risk that we might interfere in their chaotic lives? Believe me, those tantrums can return…

 

Sisters

This week’s Remember the Time Blog Hop has the theme: Sibling Rivalry

You can steal me and use me as your own

We were ‘the girls’. Adults would muse over what the girls would like to do, or if the girls could be taken along. We shared a bedroom at home, sometimes a bed when on holiday. Whatever clothes my sister was given, I would be wearing a couple of years later. In the eyes of the world we were a unit, yet in so many ways we were poles apart.

Growing up my sister was the one I looked up to, literally. She was tall and slim whereas I was short and dumpy. She had this wonderful, long, blond hair that I loved to brush and plait when we were little. I kept my hair short for much of my childhood as I ran around trying to be a boy. At school I could go and sit with my sister and her friends when I felt lonely, or spend time with them in the playground. If I wanted to go some place then my mother would allow it so long as my sister went along to look out for me. She was the sensible, reliable one. She was my friend.

I believe I irritated her a great deal. When she was given a particular type of doll, I would want one too. If she called her doll Susie then I would call mine Susan; if she named her doll Katherine then I would name mine Kathy. When our grandmother knitted a set of baby soft clothes for my sister’s brand new, baby doll I was so cross and jealous that our mother had to ask for a set to be made for my baby doll too. My sister told me that my doll had an ugly face compared to her’s. She was right.

My sister guarded her close friends. When I dared to play with one, and wrote about her as my friend in a diary, my sister was incensed. C was her friend not mine, and I was so stupid that I couldn’t even spell Diary (I had written Dairy on the notebook cover). I was teased about this for a long time. I didn’t dare to seek out C as a playmate again, and I stopped keeping a diary.

Our shared bedroom was an issue when we fell out. We would draw a line down the middle that the other may not cross. This meant that I could not get to the toybox and she could not get to the door. When our much older brother went away to university my sister moved into his room during term time. She adored our brother and relished sleeping amongst his things. It was the first time either of us experienced privacy.

Looking back at how we grew up in our parent’s home, there was so much that we didn’t notice about each other’s lives. So self absorbed were we, so possessive of our right to secrecy in certain matters, that we shared the same space yet did not notice the major issues that the other was facing. So many important things were never discussed.

When my sister reached her teens she became interested in fashion and looking good whereas I was generally happy to continue to dress in her hand me downs. The only items that I did not enjoy wearing were the shoes she grew out of. One memorable year I was teased at school and given the nickname Swanky Shoes because of a pair of shiny, black heels that she had passed on. I hated those shoes but had no others to wear.

We had very different personalities and aspirations. My sister was careful and private, especially with her relationships. I appeared more lively and open, resulting in many clashes with my mother. In my eyes my sister and mother were close whereas I was at odds with the person my mother wanted me to be.

When my parents started to go on holiday without us, my sister would take charge of the house. On one such night I was out with a group of friends. With no parental curfew in place we returned home late and my friends asked if they could crash on the floor downstairs until morning. This was the first time that I remember my sister ever bringing a boyfriend back to the house. The unexpected bodies on the lounge floor put paid to any plans she may have had; I think that night she could happily have throttled me.

These irritations and clashes though were moments in a relationship that provided me with a rock that I knew I could rely on. My sister never condemned my behaviour or appeared disappointed in me as my mother was wont to do. She comforted and encouraged me, flattered and praised me when I needed to know that I was okay.

I guess our sibling rivalry was low key. There were plenty of petty jealousies but we were too different to aspire to be the other. I would love to know what she would write about me.

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Whereas my elegant sister could pose attractively on a rock, I had to jump up beside a statue and display my inner dork when a camera was produced.

To read the other great posts in this Blog Hop, click on the link below

Santa Claus

Spoiler Alert! If you are expecting your Christmas presents to be delivered down your chimney on Christmas Eve by a big, bearded, soot sprinkled, magical elf dressed in red with white fur trim then please do not read this post.

I hope that was warning enough. I do not wish to spoil anyone’s Christmas.

That was my problem when I first had kids. It was very important to me that my children should trust me; I did not wish to lie to them about anything.

Sometimes this aspiration got me into trouble, such as when I gave birth to my third child at home and my eldest burst into the room before we were ready. I explained to her carefully, in what I thought was age appropriate language, how her little brother had emerged from mummy’s tummy. She then wanted to know how he had got in, which I also tried to explain as honestly as I could. The next week she was passing on this important information at playgroup. At no point were any birds, bees or storks involved; just a mummy, a daddy and a special hug; followed nine months later by something like a big poo.

So, what to do about the existence of Santa Claus in the Christmas story? At first I simply ignored him. I explained to my children that Christmas was a birthday celebration for Jesus. When a child has a birthday, family and friends give the child gifts and a party is held. Because Jesus is so very special we all get given gifts on his birthday and everybody celebrates with a party. I reckoned that I could cover other religions when my children got a bit older.

Except me not mentioning Santa Claus didn’t stop every other adult that my children came into contact with just expecting them to be in on this tale. Without a word from me they came to believe in the flying reindeer, presents coming down a chimney and a funny little old man all dressed in red who granted every material wish.

At no point did I ever say that this was how it was. I didn’t have to. However, whilst I may not have lied explicitly, I did implicitly as I went along with the established orthodoxies. The night before Christmas, when my kids asked to put out cookies and milk for Santa along with a carrot for the reindeer, I obliged. I ensured that they were tucked up in their beds before sneaking the presents down the stairs on Christmas Eve. When they were old enough to write a letter requesting particular gifts, I helped address the envelope to the North Pole and walked them to the village postbox to send the carefully crafted missives on their way. I made no mention of the wonderful service that the Post Office provides when, a few weeks later, each child received a reply from the man himself.

What else could I do? Had I told them the truth then that important information would have been shared at playgroup or school too. I was not willing to take responsibility for removing the magic from all those children’s lives. Perhaps more to the point, I was not willing to face the potential wrath of their parents.

When my elder son eventually asked outright if Santa existed I told him the truth and, as I had feared, he rightly accused me of lying to him. I felt dreadful. It is not the only time that I have fallen short of his good opinion, but I do not recall any other deliberate untruth that I have perpetuated.

On Day 4 of my countdown to Christmas then, I am feeling glad that I can now celebrate Christmas with my family without a pretence that I never felt comfortable with. I may be the only one in my family who still looks on this event as a birthday party for the son of God, but we exchange presents with each other out of love, not because a mythical stranger invades our home in the dead of night.

My daughter still remembers her little brother’s birth, probably her first real memory. I do wonder if witnessing the aftermath of that momentous but very real event has scarred her for life.

1914 Santa Claus in japan

Words

I am thinking about words. Not the fifty thousand or so satisfying words that I poured into my NaNoWriMo file, now floating in the Google cloud awaiting rewrite. Not the thousand or so words that I fill each post on this blog with. I am thinking about the words we speak and, more significantly, the words we cannot speak because they are so hard to find.

On a typical day I do not say very much. Many of the words that I speak could be pre-recorded and played on remote. ‘You need to get yourself ready’; ‘Have you packed your lunch?’; ‘What time will you be home?’; ‘Have a good day’; ‘How was your day?’.

I suspect that the daily repetition is irritating to those around me. The alternative is to say nothing, to stay out of the way, which I sometimes choose to do.

Over dinner in the evening I find that my children now drive the conversation around the table with their happy chat about friends and teachers, television shows and funny happenings. When I try to join in with an anecdote of my own it often falls flat. It is best if I remain largely silent.

My husband rarely makes conversation. We pass each other essential information or significant news. Sometimes we find a topic of mutual interest, an update from someone we have met, a topic from current affairs, but this is a rare treat.

Perhaps this is why I have found my writing to be so therapeutic. All of those words in my head that want to come out, all of those thoughts and events that I want to share but have nobody wishing to listen. I throw them out into the ether and feel pathetically grateful when someone, anyone, responds. It feels like interaction, sometimes even understanding.

Television shows depict friendships where people can share anything and everything with their close friends. In order to draw the viewer in to the plot there is necessary dialogue. Do friendships like this exist in real life? Do people ever share the plot lines of their lives so openly?

I was brought up to adhere to a strict set of rules. There were some things that we should not do, but if we did then it should never be mentioned. There were some things that we should never discuss. If nobody talked of the shameful thing then we could all pretend that it hadn’t happened. It would remain hidden, secret, unspoken, unacknowledged. Eventually it would go away.

Words spoken do not go away. A careless, cruel or unkind word will bury itself deep in the hearer’s psyche where it will fester and grow in proportion, beyond anything intended. It will shape perception of the speaker, creating waves that spread out as a pebble dropped in a pool of still water. Little wonder that many words are better left unsaid.

What to do then with the emotions that are so hard to express but which affect not just the bearer but those around because they cannot be fully contained, they affect the way we live and act? I have tried to explain so much to my nearest and dearest, yet have been unable to find the right words. I encounter blankness, irritation, misunderstanding. Do I keep those words inside and cope as best I can? Do I try to share in the hope that some sense can be made of the way my life is being blighted by these feelings of despair?

Words are powerful and dangerous. A lack of words can be equally hard to bear.

Am I looking for understanding only so that things may go my way? If I cannot make myself understood, the repercussions may cause a reaction that is worse than holding it all inside. How do I find a language deep enough to express such intense emotion in the short time that I can hold a listener’s attention?

My silence is painful but words, once shared, cannot be contained or controlled.

I cannot explain, even to myself, why these emotions exist and affect me so negatively. How am I to find the language that will allow someone else to understand? If I bottle it all up inside, will it explode and cause more damage because the cause was never adequately communicated?

_Emotions 10

When boys were dangerous

This weeks Blog Hop theme: Remember the time you broke a rule

RTT new

I have been ruminating on this week’s theme for a couple of days now. I thought about recounting the time that I was caught by a traffic policeman driving at 80mph in a 40mph limit (and talked my way out of a ticket!) but I have already mentioned that, albeit briefly, in a previous post (The Hot Rod). I thought about the term in my penultimate year of school when I would leave early on a Friday afternoon to go play squash with a friend. I had no classes but should have been studying. Leaving the school grounds was certainly against the rules and I was in big trouble when I was eventually caught (darn those fire alarm roll calls). The little tale I have opted for though sticks in my memory as a time when I got into trouble (again) for doing something that I did not even know was against the rules. Looking back, I suspect it was considered so awful by my accuser that I should have just known not to do it. I mean to say, it involved a boy.

There were a lot of subjects that I did not enjoy studying at school. I have never had a good memory so struggled with recalling the detailed facts that were needed for the essay style answers that most papers demanded back in the day. I also struggled with science, except for maths. I just didn’t get a lot of the concepts that I needed to understand in order to progress. Thus, when it came to choosing my A level subjects at sixteen, there was little that I wished to continue with.

As luck would have it, that year my school introduced a brand new A level subject: Computer Science. I cannot really remember why I chose it alongside Maths and Further Maths. Perhaps I thought it sounded cool, perhaps the unknown just seemed a better option than the subjects I knew I did not wish to pursue further. Whatever the reason, I and half a dozen or so other girls signed up.

These were the days of the Sinclair ZX81ZX Spectrum and, for those willing to spend more, the BBC Micro. Companies used mainframes (IBM was probably the front runner) but schools had yet to invest in any sort of technology beyond the typewriter. In order to offer this subject, my school bought one machine with software that supported the BASIC programming language. Each pupil was required to take turns to complete their practical work in school during study periods or in their own time.

I grew to love this field of study. The logic and practicality appealed to me, as did the messing around on a machine. As with most schools, space was at a premium. The new Computer Science ‘lab’ was created out of what had been a store room for sports equipment. It had no windows and a heavy, sliding door. There were a few chairs stacked up inside and the computer was placed on a high bench. The easiest way to work on it was perched on a tall stool or standing up.

In my final year at school and with my coursework deadline approaching, I arranged to visit the lab during a half term break. I had been in town with my boyfriend that morning and had an evening out planned. He offered to drop me off at school and, when we arrived, asked if he could come in to see the computer (still something of a novelty). I saw no problem with this. We entered via the main door of the school where I acknowledged the school secretary sitting at her desk, and my boyfriend and I walked down to the lab. From habit, I slid the door shut; perhaps this was my mistake.

My boyfriend was intrigued by the machine. I fired it up, loaded my software, and showed him how it all worked. I then got on with the changes I needed to make, tested that all was well, took care to switch everything off and we left the lab and the school. I had not expected my boyfriend to hang around but he seemed genuinely interested. Naturally, I did not object to his company.

I thought no more of this. The holiday progressed, I made several more visits to the lab and returned to classes on the following Monday pleased with the progress I had made.

When I was summoned to the school office I had no idea that I was in serious trouble. The secretary seemed beside herself with rage. She told me that I had abused the trust that the school had placed in me, letting myself and my teacher down. I should be ashamed and was ordered to apologise to my teacher who would be left to decide the details of my punishment. My crime? I had brought a boy onto school premises and shut myself in a room, alone with him. God knows what she thought we got up to in there; I suspect she had a rather more salacious imagination than I possessed in those days. Why she did not just walk in to check on us if she was concerned I do not know.

I left my severe dressing down feeling shaken and genuinely concerned that I was going to be thrown out of class just a few months before my final exams. I was aware of the advice given to girls if in a boys company (always carry a large book and an apple; if he makes you sit on his knee, place the book between you; if he tries to kiss you, bite on the apple) but had still not foreseen that openly entering the premises with such a being would cause such consternation.

When I managed to track down my computer science teacher I really didn’t know what to say to her. I stumbled through an apology, which she listened to looking as embarrassed as I felt. She then told me gently not to repeat the misdemeanour and walked on. The subject was never mentioned again.

Looking back I am unsure if anyone other than the school secretary felt concerned at my behaviour. She made it sound as if I had committed high treason and I could not defend myself. Telling her that a stuffy lab on school premises was probably the last place on earth where I would wish to make out with my boyfriend would probably have got me into even more trouble. Does it show a lack of imagination that I hadn’t even considered it an option?

I came top of my class in computer science and my picture appeared in our local paper when my coursework was used by a sports tournament to create the round robin fixtures list required for that year’s competition. I went on to study the subject at university and worked in the industry for ten years before I had my first child. I have still to make out with anyone in a computer lab.

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Old school badge: star, loom, ship; aim high, work hard, go far.

Read the other posts in this blog hop by clicking on the link below.

Pressure to parent to a standard

New parents are inundated with criticism thinly veiled as advice. The excitement and anticipation of a first pregnancy can all too quickly descend into panic when that amazing little bundle of humanity is placed in the parent’s arms and they are expected to know what to do and to cope. Little wonder that, whilst trying to recovery physically and mentally from the effects of the birth, the sleep deprived mother can feel overwhelmed amidst the attention and concern of well meaning friends, relations and the so called experts.

I am sure that I was not alone in being profoundly shocked at how much my life changed following the birth of my first child. I had fondly imagined that I would continue much as before, simply bringing baby along. Instead I became isolated and exhausted; I felt obliged to pretend that all was just great when anyone sought me out, but tried to avoid contact with those who would try to mould my behaviour to that which they believed was best for baby. Their pearls of wisdom made me feel such a failure; in my sleep deprived mind, if I should be doing things differently then I was being perceived to be doing things wrong. At the time I was all too ready to believe that this could be true.

Sixteen years and two more children later I have a different mindset but I am still learning. Sure I would now feel confident caring for a baby, a toddler and a young child; I have been there and done that with results that I find pretty gratifying. What I haven’t yet sussed out though is the best way to raise teenagers. As our children grow and change into the individuals that they will become, we as parents need to learn as we go along how to deal with each new phase of their lives. After all the unasked for advice that I have been given over the years, some of which I have tried but that was so wrong for my particular children, I am wary of listening to anyone other than myself. My instincts have been far more helpful than any book, newspaper article or voice of experience from someone who doesn’t live my life with my kids.

There have been times though when I have given in to the peer pressure because I didn’t want my child to feel that they were missing out or because someone managed to convince me that I really ought to act in a certain way. Looking back, these were the times when I did get it wrong for my children.

Take sleepovers. Books aimed at young girls often tell stories of happy friendships cemented at fun filled overnight events. When my daughter asked to have a few friends round to stay for her seventh birthday I agreed, albeit with some trepidation. It turned out that sleepovers were not so common at such a young age; she may well have been the first in her class to host such an gathering. I learnt from the lack of sleep not to allow a repeat performance until she was several years older, and then only if the girls did not disturb the adults. I threatened no more sleepovers ever if this rule was broken and my daughter understood and agreed. She has enjoyed having many friends round to stay since without issue.

My younger son had a single friend to stay quite a number of times before he asked to host a larger gathering when he was ten. I set the same rules but they were broken big time. Four boys continually doing roly polys around the mattress strewn room at 2am, and the noisy hilarity that ensued when asked to stop, was unacceptable in a home where others wished to sleep undisturbed. Sleepovers for him were summarily banned; if friends cannot be trusted to behave as asked then they are not welcome.

My elder son lost his right to birthday parties involving groups of friends when he was nine. Without asking my permission, he invited a boy from his class who was known to be particularly lively. This boy ended up dancing on the table during the birthday tea which subsequently descended into a near riot. Since then I have limited my son’s friend invites to one person at a time and only for short visits. As he has grown older I have got to meet few of his new school friends. He has generally preferred to keep much of his social life away from home and private.

I was therefore somewhat surprised when he asked if he could have a few friends round to stay this weekend to celebrate the end of term. It seemed only fair that he be allowed the same opportunity as his siblings to prove that he can host such an event sensibly. As long time Scouts and regular campers I am quite used to my children sleeping out in mixed groups. The fact that he wished to have both boys and girls round seemed healthy to me; it should be possible to be friends with both sexes, without prejudice or preconceived notions of expected, unacceptable behaviour. I have always tried to take the view that I will start out by trusting my children. It is only if they abuse this trust and act foolishly that I will impose restrictions on what they may or may not do.

Once again though, it seems that I am breaking new ground. I was required to talk to a number of the parents of the young people involved in tonight’s proposed gathering to reassure them about nocturnal arrangements (separate rooms for boys and girls) and the proximity of adults (my husband and I will be present in the house at all times). As these people do not know anything about me or my family I can understand and appreciate that they require a little reassurance. However, a seed of doubt has now been sown; is my instinct to trust these young people, most of whom I have never met, naive?

My personal view remains that, if a parent thinks that their child may act foolishly, then they should not grant permission for the child to take part in that activity. I am not going to spoil the evening for my son by sitting in with this group of fifteen year olds (how embarrassing would that be for everyone!); he will be responsible for ensuring that rules are followed and must bear the consequences if things do not go according to plan. I can keep an eye and an ear on what is going on but cannot offer guarantees about how other people’s children will behave.

My instinct tells me that it is a good thing that my son is comfortable about bringing his friends home; that a friendship group containing both boys and girls offers balance; that he can be trusted to understand the rules and ensure that they are followed. The questioning and unspoken criticism of a minority of other parents has, however, tarnished my confidence. I have allowed myself to care about what other people think of me; I wish I could be stronger than that.

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So many feels

I had a wobbly couple of hours this morning. My sons cycle into school when the weather is good, but this morning was dull and wet so they were required to catch the bus. My eldest son had an important 9am exam so it mattered that he wasn’t late. He is always late; it drives me mad. I strive so hard to be on time for everything, even if it means a lot of hanging around. Like my husband, my son believes that his time is valuable and not to be wasted. The risks he takes with time baffle me.

I tried hard not to be cross or to show how stressed I was feeling as he gathered his books and equipment together. I mean, it is not me who has to sit the exam. My suggestion that he pack his bag the night before had obviously been ignored. He saw no problem with stepping in the shower ten minutes before he needed to leave the house. I decided that the easiest way to deal with the situation was for me to drive the boys to school. By taking control I could cope.

When I returned home I started to go through the motions of my day but I was on edge. My mood was plummeting and all the old gripes and concerns were bubbling to the surface in my mind. In need of some activity to wind me down I decided to go to the gym as this gives me time to think things through as I cycle and climb and row my way to nowhere on the machines. Mindless activity such as this helps me to process my thoughts and calm my mind; this is as much a benefit to me of gym membership as any improvements in my health or fitness.

It seems to me that a lot of the issues I have with my emotions stem from the fact that I need to feel in control of whatever is important to me. I think I may be a bit anal about this. I have probably created a lot of the problems that I now have to deal with because I couldn’t relinquish the control that I needed to cope with the difficult periods in my life. I had to do things my way, myself, in order to be sure that they would be done the way I wanted.

My husband’s illness last week, from which he is still not fully recovered, showed how lacking in sympathy I can be. I love my husband very much and I would have been happy to have provided him with some relief had any been available. I do struggle though to mop a brow and make the required ‘there, there’ noises. If I can be of practical help then you can count on me to make the effort. The touchy, feely stuff eludes me.

I have a chunk of ice inside that formed when my children were young. I found their early years incredibly hard, but those who offered to help didn’t do things the way I needed them to be done, and I couldn’t relinquish control. Of course, I know that letting them watch TV, not making them eat their vegetables or feeding them sugary puddings wasn’t going to make them bad people, but it went against what I wanted. I struggled on alone, doing things my way, rather than allowing others to treat my kids as they thought was fine rather than as I would.

I really don’t know how I could have done things differently. I see other mums who allowed their kids to be taken care of by family members or friends regularly in order to have a break; a little me time. I just couldn’t do it. In choosing to create these amazing young people I had accepted responsibility for their well being. I couldn’t rely on others to treat them as I would and I couldn’t make myself hand them over. It is not that I ever thought that the children would come to harm, it was my ability to deal with the situation that was the issue.

Somehow this wasn’t such a problem with formal childcare. I could leave the children at nursery and playgroup; the other children somehow diffused the impact. The social benefits gave reason to abdicating my responsibility for them in a way that just handing them over to another adult for my benefit did not.

So now I live with this sort of mental exhaustion that has left me numb and unable to articulate my needs, to seek solace and understanding. When I try to talk about what I am feeling I detect exasperation; I know that I brought this on myself but it is still a problem. Does it being all my own fault preclude me from requesting support?

I know that I have friends who want to help me through this but I am not yet convinced that they can see the issues through my eyes. I need empathy not blame; I judge myself harshly enough. At the moment it feels very much like another problem that I am going to have to deal with on my own, myself.  I hope I can do so.

English: Representation of the Hitchhiker's Gu...

I love the following quote. There are some people who seem to think that all feelings of depression would be solved if the sufferer would just snap out of it, that their life looks fine and they should stop being so self centred. If only it were that straightforward. 
From Douglas Adam’s ‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’:
Trillian:’What are you supposed to do with a manically depressed robot?’
Marvin: ‘You think you’ve got problems. What are you supposed to do if you are a manically depressed robot? No, don’t even bother answering. I’m 50,000 times more intelligent than you and even I don’t know the answer.’

The mainstream media and blogs

Those of you who know me or who have followed me for a while may well be aware that I am a fierce critic of the mainstream media. I do not blame the professional journalists for this, but rather the way news reporting has moved so far from being thoroughly checked, investigative and ground breaking to page filling propaganda. When significant events occur, the race to be first to publish allows only cursory checks for truth or accuracy. Readers and listeners can no longer rely on what they are being told by the official sources.

It has always been true that each news outlet reports with a bias to please their perceived audience. The extremism of the British ‘Daily Mail’ is one of the more obvious examples of this, but the same is true of the supposedly quality broadsheets. The on line news sites require clicks to satisfy their advertisers, and the dead tree press is fighting desperately against it’s approaching demise in it’s current form. Even the statute demanding impartiality of the BBC is regularly flouted as their flagship news programmes display a blind or blinkered bias on certain pet subjects that is particularly depressing given that so many people still believe what they are being told by this source.

Much of the news reported by the mainstream media is made up of barely modified, official press releases that provide free advertising or an outlet for interested parties propaganda. The hows and whys of our descent into this situation is better covered in Nick Davies book Flat Earth News. This should be required reading for anyone who still believes that the news they are being fed is in any way new or containing impartial truths.

Given that we are in a situation where we cannot rely on these sources, I am not surprised that many in the mainstream media regularly and fiercely criticise blogs. As these publications broaden and increase their following and readership, they provide serious and financially damaging competition. It is notable that the national papers response appears to be a move towards publishing more and more comment pieces themselves. Each of the major newspapers commission a number of words from their favoured writers each day on topical issues, as well as printing guest posts in the likes of the Guardian’s ‘Comment is Free’ or the Independent’s ‘Voices’ columns. These provide just the sort of writing that can easily be found on numerous, well written and thoroughly researched blogs that are now being followed by more and more people.

There is no doubt that topical blog posts are biased according to their authors views, but no more so than the equivalent pieces published and reported by the more established media sites. The challenge is to ensure that those of us who wish to look behind the propaganda at what is actually happening in the world can lift ourselves out of our personal comfort zones to read different sides of the argument, not just those that stroke our own, personal prejudices. A cogent and well argued rebuttal of a long held view can make uncomfortable reading, but is necessary if for no other reason than to force us to work through our own thinking in reply.

There are many, of course, who do not wish to consider political thinking too deeply. The number of words published on celebrity gossip, diet and beauty tips, parenting or relationships advice and sport suggests that there is more interest in these topics than in potentially world changing news. Basic economics demands that the paid for media will provide what it’s audience wants.

Governments have long realised that they can manipulate a population by influencing or controlling the information that is disseminated. Thus we have a situation where we cannot believe most of the health reports because they are written in support of government policy (e.g. smoking and alcohol guidelines) or are provided by an interested party looking at increasing it’s funding (e.g. medical research bodies). By constantly bombarding the public with propaganda and dodgy statistics dressed up as fact these powerful protagonists will attempt to steer a population’s thinking to demonise the behaviour or people they wish to quash. Look behind the headlines and you may wonder why you are supporting a point of view that has been so obviously perverted.

Blogs may not provide the impartial and honest reporting of facts that I would like to see, but they can help us to get behind the official, approved press releases. While the mainstream media persists in churnalism, party line promotion and the propagation of pet beliefs without recourse to facts or debate, there will be a place for those outside the payroll to question and publish an alternative point of view.

I see this as one of the strengths of the internet; that such activity remains accessible to all who wish to participate in the dissemination of news, even if only as an interested audience. When governments seek to control or close down and punish those who seek the truth, we will know that they are afraid and have been uncovered as the charlatans that they are.

Cover of "Flat Earth News: An Award-Winni...

Chickens, sheep and life

I had plans for today that haven’t happened. The jobs that needed doing didn’t call loudly enough; the cold house made curling up under my duvet too appealing; the news was too full of people behaving selfishly, thoughtlessly and stupidly. Instead of getting up and on and out I have drifted from bed to sofa, turning on machines that do some of my work for me but accomplishing little else.

I came across Goldberg’s depression test on line and was told that I had moderate to severe depression. I don’t think so. Sure I have been feeling down and jittery recently, but I know people who suffer from depression; my issues are not on a par with theirs. I will not be going to see my doctor as suggested.

I am fortunate in that I have had few health problems over the course of my life. I had reasonably straightforward pregnancies and births, receiving good care from the nurses and midwives who attended me. When I have felt the need to seek advise from a doctor I have been subjected to unpleasant and invasive tests. What was uncovered could be treated with procedures that sounded worse than the symptoms. In most situations I prefer to manage as I am.

I feel quite ambivalent about life. There is so much beauty and joy in the natural world; so much destruction and stupidity amongst man. I like to walk out into the countryside; away from the sound of traffic, the sight of buildings, the judgement of people. I want to breathe clean air and enjoy the sights and sounds of plants, insects and sunshine.

The soundtrack to my morning has been the constant mewling of one of the lambs in the field behind my home. The lambs are not so little now and my view of their field has been obstructed by the trees that have recently come into full leaf. I had to walk to the edge of my garden and peer through the canopy to see why the noise had not stopped. I was concerned that an animal was distressed and this is what I saw; one of the creatures had it’s head trapped in a gap in the fence. I suspect that it had spotted some tasty treat and become trapped trying to reach it. The lamb was pulling this way and that, calling to it’s mother but unable to free itself.

I phoned the estate office to report what I had seen and was assured that help would be sent. I will not be able to relax until I know that the poor creature has been freed. It’s cries are distressing, it’s suffering palpable. It needs help and I can do nothing but watch and wait for the grazier to arrive. It is frightened and does not understand what has happened.

Last night I put all my hens into the one coop for the first time. They have been running together in the garden for over a year now, but I did not want to crowd them over the winter when they spend longer in the shelter of their runs due to the weather. With longer days and better weather forecast I decided that the young and the not so young could be housed together. If all goes well then I will be able to use the second coop for some new additions to the flock. I have been watching and listening carefully to ensure that there is no bullying or undue stress from the change. Hens like routine and the familiar. With no cockerel in the flock I am their protector; I need to keep things calm and safe for them.

The morning sunshine has gone; it is raining now and the lamb is still mewling. I pace my house, distracted and concerned. I should go out, but what if my request has been forgotten and the lamb is left? I cannot assist and I cannot bring myself to leave. I feel helpless. I wait.

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Music and sunshine

The weather has changed for the better. After the long, cold and damp winter the return of the blossom on the trees and the warmth of the sun feels like a generous gift. I have been spending as much time as I can outside and can feel my body relax and unwind as it draws in the heat from the sun and the beauty of the plants awakening from their long sleep. I have missed this.

Having been looking forward to this long weekend it started out by disappointing me; too often this can be the case. When I expect little I can be pleasantly surprised; high expectations allow a fall. The romance of my midweek wedding anniversary, which had lingered agreeably, quickly dissipated when my husband announced that he had not saved the weekend for us as I had expected. Determined not to make a fuss, I opted to use the sunny evening for a long walk. It is one of the pleasures of a late sunset that evening activities such as this are possible. The day may be used to the full and I made the most of it.

The pulchritude of the countryside helps to put my muddled mind in order and the effort of a brisk walk took up the excess energy that is required to sustain a low mood. I returned home feeling ever so much better. My personal issues put in perspective, I was happy to find that one of my children had stayed home. A little company for my fish and chip supper was much appreciated and I determined to stay cheerful for the rest of our planned family time.

It is enjoyable to go out and about with those we love; meals out, trips away and other adventures provide moments to look back on. Often though, just spending time together can be as satisfying. A day of cooking and gardening followed by a meal and a DVD at home may not seem to offer as much enjoyment as an exciting night out, but can feel just as good. We benefit so much from time spent just being together.

I am always aware that family time is in constant flux. As the children grow older and develop their own interests they opt to spend less time with their parents. Even when we are together their preferences and conversation changes over time. They are becoming their own people, a process that I find fascinating as I get to know the grown ups they will become. What moulding can be achieved in childhood is more or less complete by the time they reach their teens. Support from parents is still so important, but they are no longer mine; they belong to themselves.

We did not plan to spend the whole weekend at home. My eldest son has a burgeoning interest in classical music so I had booked tickets for a Sunday afternoon concert in a nearby city. Growing up I tried to play several musical instruments with mixed success. My father is very musical and I suspect that my interest was as much an attempt to garner his favour as any real interest on my part. However, studying the form and content of classical music for school exams and learning to play those instruments gave me an appreciation of the genre and I am happy to encourage my son’s interest. There are some evenings when a piano sonata fits my mood so much better than my daughter’s heavy rock.

One of the few downsides of living in a rural location is the inaccessibility of the arts. There is also the issue of cost. A trip to the theatre is not an outing to be undertaken lightly; it is very much a special treat. We combined our concert trip with a visit to some specialist shops as sports gear was required that needed to be personally fitted. My son and I then spent a most enjoyable couple of hours listening to Chopin, Tchaikovsky and Borodin. I must ensure that he is allowed to experience live music with some frequency such was his appreciation of this event.

Today we have been blessed with another warm and sunny day. I am unaware of any plans that will take us from home unless we choose to go so I anticipate a relaxed and cheerful day. If the weather holds through to the evening we may even light our barbeque for the first time this year and eat alfresco.

There are times when I wonder if I rely too much on others to provide my happiness; I am well aware that it is not their responsibility but mine. How hard it is though, when we have invested so much of ourselves in those we love, to not feel some degree of expectation that willingness to share and give will be reciprocated. Perhaps this is why those moments, when time and self are offered without limit, feel so precious; their rarity adds to the value.

For now I must go forth and garner the enjoyment on offer. I will live for the moment which today, in this glorious spring sunshine, has the potential to be quietly fabulous.

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