Monday, 25 May 2015

My Dad's new girlfriend

My Dad's long term partner, Ann, very sadly died from Motor Neurone Disease in August last year.

The months leading up to her death were stressful for my Dad, and he was heartbroken when she died. Watching a parent go through loss like that, whilst dealing with your own grief, is harrowing. So when a new lady friend came along, I was very glad to see him smile again.

Except that this lady friend - Lizzie - wasn't new. My Dad knew her from the 1960s, when she and her husband lived in the same cud-de-sac as my Mum and Dad. It was a time of dinner parties and Lambrusco and gin bottles hidden in the prams (apparently). God knows what else they got up. Think Abigail's Party and you won't go far wrong.

Weirdly, Lizzie is still one of my Mum's best friends; and yet having separated back in the mid 80s, my Mum and Dad don't talk to each other now.

Lizzie's husband died ten years ago and, about six years ago, Dad had a fling with her, announcing that he was moving in and leaving Ann high and dry. Within about 3 months, Dad came back to Ann with his tail between his legs, and Lizzie limped off, licking her wounds.

So there is a potted history. It was surprising to see Lizzie back on the scene so soon, just two months after Ann had died, but I was thankful for it. She put Dad back on his feet and I felt like I could cut back on the daily phone calls, and fortnightly 200 mile round trip visits.

After a month or so, I noticed that I was leaving phone messages for my Dad, but he wasn't returning them. The news from my Mum (who was getting regular updates from Lizzie) was that my Dad was out and about, wining and dining his new girlfriend and showing her off to all his friends.

Great, I thought. It's brilliant that he's happy again.

At least, I mostly thought that. I partially thought something else. And before I explain, let me say that I'm ashamed for letting this partial thought crowbar itself into my head. It is this:

Lizzie is a gold digger.

Lizzie has no money. She is supported by her son, who is fairly wealthy, but has his own family to look after. She is no Germaine Greer; every time we meet, she asks me about my love life, pointedly saying that it's important to find someone who will look after me at my age. My Dad, not wealthy by any means, but with a good pension, now travels everywhere first class and immediately orders a bottle of fizz whenever he arrives anywhere.

This from a Yorkshireman, for Christ's sakes. (And I say that with love in my heart for all things Yorkshire, believe me.)

He is, as my Granny would have said, spending money like watter.

There are two things going on here, up here, in my head. The first is, that I'm jealous. I'm jealous that my Dad used to lean on me, used to phone me, used to confide in me. I am 44, but I was still his little girl. We would share jokes and he would proudly boast to anyone about my achievements at school and be hideously embarrassing - but I loved it.

Now, someone else has filled my shoes and I don't like it. I beat myself up for my stupid jealousy because I know that, certainly at the moment, she is making him happy. And that is brilliant.

But I feel like I've lost him.

The second thing, of course, is that age old cause of dispute: money. Don't get me wrong. I have not had a bean from my Dad since he lent me the money for my first car, a Nissan Micra, in 1993. But he has always offered. He has always been my safety net. Every few weeks would come the old, "Now listen - how are you for money?" But recently, that reassurance has disappeared as Dad has someone else on his mind.

So yes, I have slid down the pit of envy. Suddenly I am 14 years old again, and I've got the same feelings as I had when I saw my Dad's new girlfriend put her feet up on our coffee table - something I was never allowed to do. I felt like kicking them off and screaming at the woman.

But now I'm 30 years older, supposedly wiser. My Dad is 72 and old enough to live his own life. And actually, he deserves to have a bloody good time. Which is why Lizzie deserves smiles and friendship from me. I really need to get a grip on my twatty teenage emotions.

And just keep leaving messages on my Dad's answerphone.

Modern Dad Pages
And then the fun began...

Sunday, 24 May 2015

Sidmouth

This blog is about writing - except it isn't today, because I've got some photos to show you from Sidmouth. My holiday slides. (Don't all rush off.)

I've been properly learning about photography for about three years, and I'm still not very good. But what I like about it is trying to see the bits that you might otherwise miss. The moments, the light, the ...oh, I'm talking bollocks, of course.

Anyway, here are my photos from yesterday. I'd love to know what you think.

Lottie xx

I like what the boy on the left is doing here, and the swimmer, mid picture on the right, is mid-stroke.

This couple were all tangled up with each other. I was jealous.

He wasn't dead - I checked

Really lovely plant close to the sea - no idea what it is

Sodding evil seagulls every bleedin where!

Two islands

Leaping girl. Those red markers (rock warnings, presumably) are a bit of a thing at Sidmouth.

I would like to look like this lady when I'm a bit older. She's got a brilliant face.

I witnessed a hefty rockfall here a couple of summers ago. It's forbidden to go on this section of beach but people just seem to ignore the signs. #morefoolthem

Reminded me of my first time on rollerskates. Nice to see they're making a comeback!

I liked the lines in the sea and the blank, flat sky. Only four things to look at; two boats, the marker and a small gull.

Couldn't quite grasp this one but loved the reds and the greens.
Bird's eye view. You can just see a pair of legs sticking out at the bottom.

To finish - the two sides of Sidmouth. It's known as a seaside resort for the oldies, but it's also great for watersports. I've called this photo 'Worlds apart'


Wednesday, 20 May 2015

The accident

Playground


"Hello, it's Lorraine from school. I'm phoning because T has had an accident..."

It's The Call. We all get it at some point; some more than others. I wearily tuned out. What's he done this time? Stuck a pencil up his nose? Tripped over his shoelaces? Dropped his dinner tray on his foot?

"...and because it's a head injury, we've called the paramedics."

I snapped back into consciousness. A head injury? Paramedics?

"Sor...sorry.... what happened?" I could feel my heart simultaneously in my mouth and on the floor. He'd jumped down some concrete steps, but in doing so, had hit his head on an iron door frame. He had fallen backwards and cracked his head on the steps.

I put the phone down, picked up my keys, mumbled something to Teen, who was already home - and left in a fug.

The Deputy Head showed me down to the playground and there he was, Tween, stretched out on the playground floor, surrounded by three paramedics. Another teacher was saying something to me - I could see his lips moving - but I couldn't really make any sense out of it. My world was suddenly full of my baby boy, being shuffled onto a stretcher, half conscious. There was a tube coming out of his hand.

He was talking but in pain. He said he felt sick. And complained that he couldn't hear properly. He kept doing odd things with his jaw. I could see a huge white egg on his forehead, but he said all the pain was coming from the back of his head. I daren't look there.

I phoned his Dad. Matter of fact. Tween's had an accident. We're going to hospital. Meet us there.

The paramedics were calming. "Just a precaution." "Back playing tennis in no time!" "Not serious enough to put the lights on..." I sat in the jump seat in the ambulance. Tween's trolley was facing away from me, so all I could see was his head. I longed to run my fingers through his hair, but my seatbelt held me like a vice.

A&E. A CAT scan.The news that it was more serious than first thought. "He's fractured his skull in two places, and he's got a small brain bleed. We're going to transfer him to Bristol Children's Hospital". I looked at my ex and made a small involuntary noise. We held one of T's hands each. T looked scared.

We waited for the ambulance on the children's ward. T was given morphine, and went to sleep. My ex and I sat next to each other, and spoke quietly and decently - something that we haven't done for ten years. We talked about our parents. He told me about his girlfriend, who is much younger, and I could see that he loves her. I told him a little bit about my sad love life. He seemed genuinely sympathetic. We talked about mutual friends, and even had the odd gentle joke.

But then the ambulance came at 3am, and we were transferred to Bristol. T started being sick, and didn't stop. And the anxiety came back full force.

At Bristol, a quick stop in A&E and then a trolley ride (more vomit) to a large, windowless room with umpteen machines. An eery light. A large central bed, and a tiny put-me-up in the corner, hidden behind a column of pumps and dials and sockets. It reminds me of a film set. Something from Alien, maybe.

HDU

My ex left to get some sleep, promising to take over the next day. The nurses were kind, and quiet, and efficient. They showed me where the toilets where. On the way, I looked at a sign. "What does HDU mean?" I asked. "High Dependency Unit," she answered, and held my eyes. It took me a few seconds to understand that that was where we were. The High Dependency Unit.

I dropped my eyes and felt them sting.


Tween and I spent 12 hours in that room, but it felt like a week. With no windows, we couldn't tell whether it was day or night, and time was marked only by hourly observations on T. Blood pressure, lights in the eyes, what's your name, squeeze my hands, move your feet.

Are. You. Still. Alive.

At one point, with a flurry of drama, a group of doctors appeared. They pealed through the door in order, it seemed: most junior first attached to clipboards, then more and more senior, culminating in the man himself. He was stern and perfunctory, and I vaguely remember getting close to him and telling him to sound less cross as Tween was only 12.  He reeled backwards and looked at me as if I was insane - to be honest, I probably did look the part, with witchy hair and pin-hole red eyes, but he did soften slightly.

The nurses were angels. I always remember the midwives at the birth of my children, and I will always remember the nurses who cared for T this weekend. They were reassuring, helpful, kind. When a nurse saw me crying silently on my little bed behind the machines on T, she brought me a cup of tea and rubbed my shoulder.
Tween asleep

My ex arrived at what I assumed was evening.  A chance for escape. I taxi'd home to my older son, who moaned when I didn't cook the tea he wanted. It was all I could do to stop myself from screaming at him; instead, I cooked him his bleedin' chicken nuggets and went straight to bed.

Next day, early doors, a lovely friend came to pick me up and take me to the hospital. En route, we talked about T, and about her daughter, who had been through a horrifying experience some years ago involving an exploding cyst. We talked about how it feels, as a parent, to watch your child in excruciating pain and be helpless. Your role as a parent has always been to make things better, and now you can't. You want to cling to your child in the hope that you can mop up their pain and fright, absorb it into you, somehow. But it's impossible. And it's awful.

Ward

When I arrived, T was on a ward, asleep. Children's wards are incredible places. This was a neuro ward, of mixed ages; opposite was a baby who kept fitting, and was in for tests; next to us was a teenager with multiple issues - such a brave boy but in an awful lot of pain; and diagonally was a teenage girl who was constantly texting. She seemed to be waiting for something.

And the angel nurses came from one to another with infinite patience. Sickness and toilet accidents were swept up with 'not to worry!' and 'better out than in!' There were kind smiles and sympathetic smiles and good morning smiles. There were older ladies with tea trollies and menu plans. There was a play specialist who got on T's nerves. There were teachers. Slightly scary consultants. Psychiatrists. A never ending trickle of mostly underpaid NHS specialists, all coming together to heal my little boy.

I sat in the chair by his bed for three days. A short time, actually, looking back, but again, time was stretched into an interminable mess. Drugs were given for the pain. Trips to the shower and toilet were accomplished - this time without any sickness. T's pain score went from an '8' to a '4'. He was getting better.
The view from Tween's bed. It's a Banksy.

The nights were noisy. A pull down bed meant that I could sleep next to Tween, which was brilliant. But some parents insisted on watching telly until late, only getting told off at around 11.30 (way past my bedtime). And the babies crying kept everyone awake, of course. But much worse was the poor boy next door, who had just had surgery, and was screaming in agony.

In that one children's ward there were so many stories of pain and hardship and love and endurance and heartbreak. Some will end happily. Others won't.

Fast forward to yesterday morning. T was much brighter and had done well on his memory testing. They were talking about discharging him. His smile was huge, and his joy at the prospect of going home eclipsed the pain in his head. The nurse came back. "Actually," she said, "Can you go now, because we need the bed."

So that was it. Ingloriously kicked out, we shuffled off the ward, past the nurses station. There was no one there, so we couldn't even say thank you, or goodbye.

It will be a long road for T now. The thought of three months with no sport is killing him (not literally, thank goodness). But when in hospital, we were reminded several times of how lucky he was to still be here.

We're just taking one day at a time. And are trying our best to avoid iron bars in future.

Brilliant blog posts on HonestMum.com
Modern Dad Pages

Thursday, 14 May 2015

My ex husband, our son, and their shared genetic code

The Ex


When we split up, my ex and I, I wanted to draw a line under all the shit that we had done to each other, and call a truce. Be friends, even. I imagined halcyon days when we would live down the road from each other, babysit for each other - even have Christmases with each other. I thought it would be great for the children. And crucially, I thought he might agree to it, as he still loved me.

That was three years ago, and the process of separation and divorce destroyed any form of goodwill he had towards me. From then to now, he can't bare to talk to me, preferring to communicate by email. He will not be flexible on looking after the children. I have offered him more time in school holidays with the kids but he hasn't taken it, thinking that it will benefit me. 'Giving' me free time is unthinkable to him.

In fact, he has lied to his friends, telling them that I've stopped him from seeing his children at Christmas (whereas I actually encouraged it). And he has told me that, when Christmas falls on a day that he has the kids, he will prevent me from seeing them.

And although he only 'accepts' communication through email, often he doesn't answer or acknowledge my emails to him.

Last week he threw away both copies of our eldest son's school report, without me seeing it.

I was very angry at him then. I remember thinking - when will it stop? When will he come to terms with what has happened, and treat me like a human being again? He has a long-term girlfriend 20 years his junior, and I'm sure she makes him very happy; so why does he hold on to such hate for me?

My ex husband is not a bad man. He doesn't have a criminal record; has a good job; some strong friendships. But he is a highly traditional male - unusual for 2015 - and believes that a wife should stay at home or, if she works, it should just be for pin money. When we separated, he made it very clear that my career was worth very little compared to his. He believes that women should do the household chores, and refused to help me do them, even when I was working close to full time.

He refused to come to counselling with me, believing instead that 'we could work it out'. (We couldn't.)

Teen


I don't like writing backward looking posts like this anymore, but I am working my way round circuitously to a point; I didn't (and don't) understand my ex, but I am learning to cope with his behaviour through parenting my eldest son.

This makes absolutely bugger all sense, until I tell you that Teen is made up of 99.99% of my ex's genes, with 0.01% (eye colour) of mine. Teen IS a freaky younger, slightly smaller (though not for long) version. And it's through living with him, watching how he works and gets through life, that I've been learning about how my ex ticks.

Teen shows some characteristics of being on the autistic spectrum. He has very little empathy - never asks how I am, even when I'm very ill. Never offers to help. But he has an extreme sense of justice and is in no doubt, ever, that he is always right. When he is proved wrong, he immediately forgets what was said, doesn't apologise, and moves on to the next complaint.  You can't bargain with him; I drew up a list of chores, and offered payment. Tween was jumping-up-and-down keen - Teen said he didn't need money, so he wasn't going to help. End of.

You might say that he is a cocky little shit, but I couldn't possibly comment.

You might also say that he sounds like a typical teenager - and I would sort of agree, except that a) he has been like this for his entire life, and b) Tween is completely, utterly different - much more like me, and therefore wonderfully charming. Of course.



The genes


My point is (at last, we've reached it), I'm learning through Teen that my ex is not necessarily being hateful towards me. He has not taken a positive decision to be spiteful to me. In fact, he treats me this way because it is all he can do; it's in his make-up, somehow. Perhaps, in the future, scientists will identify a 'narcissist' gene which manifests itself by giving people a bewildering sense of entitlement. (I bet the whole of the Conservative cabinet have it, by the way.)  Learning to cope with the way my son throws challenges at me, has forced me to look at the actions of my ex. I feel differently about my ex's bizarre behaviour - less angry, more - well, more forgiving, I suppose.

I won't give up on Teen, by the way. There's no way I'm letting him grow up into a misogynistic, egotistical young man with beliefs firmly steeped in the 1920s. I'm not sure how I'm going to do it, but I suspect that any negotiation will involve the threat of taking away his beloved iPad.

There will be much shouting.

Wish me luck.


Brilliant blog posts on HonestMum.com

Saturday, 2 May 2015

Closing the door on childhood

The Pinch Point has passed (hooray!). Thanks so much for all your lovely messages. The headache has gone. Work seems to be improving. The man is still not my man - but I hope we will be friends.

Life is back on a straight, manageable, line again.

But something happened this week that, because of the fug, almost slipped by unnoticed. And it was this:

Tween started to shut his bedroom door at night time.

This may seem like the tiniest of actions, a nothing. And it is unremarkable, on its own. But add in to the mix that, since birth, he has been afraid of the dark and has always had some light in his room at night. The landing light has always been left on, the bedroom door slightly ajar.

His older brother, Teen, started to close his door a year or so ago. I remember the first time I saw it, firmly closed, when I came up the stairs one night. It seems ridiculous, but I was shocked and unnerved by it. Suddenly, he had literally closed the door on his childhood; gone were the late night checks and light kisses on the cheek. Just a white, slightly grubby door, metaphorically saying "FUCK OFF".

I don't need you any more.

But it was ok, because Tween's door was still open. I was still able to pop in on him, look at his sleeping face and the funny way his mouth makes an 'O'; put the duvet back on if he'd kicked it off; shush the cat out if she was dozing on his head.

And then, this week, it came. About a year earlier than Teen, perhaps encouraged by Teen's door-shutting firmness. The grubby barrier. The two fingers.
I saw it when I went to bed. On the one hand, a tiny thing, a closed door - just two inches of change.  On the other, something had shifted on a much grander scale. I raised my hand to knock, hesitated, lowered it again.

Before I got into bed, I gave myself a good talking to. They need their space. They're growing up. They are becoming adults. It's exactly what I did. Get over it.

But what the bloody hell are they doing in there? Wanking, probably. Browsing porn on their phones. Inappropriately texting. Watching violent films. Playing '18' rated video games. Oh God oh God oh God...

The truth is, they might be doing some of that. They probably are. But Christ - when I was 12, I was writing all sorts of crap in my diary about boys. And aged 14, I was snogging and fumbling with Paul thingy at the bottom of the garden. It was normal. I didn't have sex until I was 16 and by then I was fully aware of the risk of pregnancy. Although I was generally a twat as a teenager, I had a fairly sensible head on.

And I think my boys have sensible heads, too.

The door is shut.

I'll leave them to open it.





Thursday, 30 April 2015

Pinch Points

Even if we are lucky enough to be relatively mentally stable, there will always be pinch points in our lives when life is difficult. Tricky situations, which on their own would be relatively easy to deal with, seem to gang up and launch themselves on your all at once. Coping with them is exhausting, and can flatten you.

I am at a pinch point. Life is busy anyway, as a single parent. Add to that I have just split up with the man I love. And that my teenage son is being so rude and unhelpful that he is driving me to tears. And that a woman at work is gunning for me. And that this headache just won't...go... away.

Things are a bit shit. But the glory of getting old is experience; I know that this melancholy won't last forever. I've been here before, and the knots eventually untangle, revealing a simpler, happier time.  I'm lucky enough to recognise that, although the day-to-day me is on the floor at the moment, there are some good things going on too: my photography work is stepping up; tween is much more settled at school, and I have a wonderful circle of friends who are brilliant at getting in touch, even when I've gone AWOL.

I am lucky that I don't suffer from depression. My granny was on lithium for most of her life to treat her manic depression, and my cousin has been sectioned twice. I saw what they went through but felt helpless; if you don't suffer from depression, it is very difficult to put yourself in the shoes of someone who does. But I believe it must be like an extreme version of a pinch-point, without the benefit of perspective. It must be absolutely exhausting.

This is a short post. A half formed idea.

Apologies.

I must just shut my eyes for a bit.


Thursday, 23 April 2015

I'm a single parent. Who should I vote for?

Last week, those fabulous people at Gingerbread published an article saying that single parents could hold the key to the vast majority of marginal seats in the coming election.

Reading this article did two things; firstly, it made me feel powerful. Me, a single parent, usually placed at the bottom of the scum bucket - but now, potentially able to change the way we do things. And secondly, it piqued my interest in politics. I realised that historically I'd always voted for the 'nicest' candidate, or the leader I liked the best, whose policies perhaps I didn't wholeheartedly disagree with.

This time, I thought, if my vote is going to count, then I'm going to find out more.

So I sat down and I read the manifestos of the big three, plus UKIP and The Green Party. I read them specifically from the point of view of a single parent, and the policies that would affect me. Personally.

Here's what I thought.

1. You can hardly tell the difference


Honestly - you could cover up the names of the parties on each of the big three manifestos, and you almost wouldn't be able to tell which document belonged to which party. They're so similar.

For example, I took a look at what they're all planning to do for us parents in terms of childcare. The latest research from Gingerbread indicates that half of single parents have had to borrow to fund childcare costs - so it's a huge issue for us (and pretty much all parents, actually).

These are my 'highly intellectual'* findings.


*finger in the air

Conservative, Labour and the Lib Dems are all diddling about saying pretty much the same thing. UKIP are ignoring the issue. But The Greens! The Greens are suggesting something marvellously radical; don't start school formally until seven. And until then, if you want, you can send your children to 'early education and childcare', which will be free.

YES Greens! Having seen both my sons frustrated by not being able to hold a pen properly, aged 5, and not being able to sit still for more than five minutes, and not having the freedom to move around and play - like little boys should - I applaud you.

More info on starting school a bit later in life here: https://fullfact.org/factchecks/school_starting_age_letter_telegraph-29195

By the way, one thing missing from ALL the manifestos was any mention of help with childcare or flexible working practices in the school holidays. In other words, help for parents with older children. Which is a bit of a bummer, really.

2. Education

So my kids are 14 and 12. They go to a bog standard state comprehensive - an academy. I worry about the standard of teaching there. I worry that the teachers are consumed with stress. I worry that my children have too many tests. I also worry that my children won't be able to afford to go to university. Worry, worry worry...

The big parties say a lot about education, so I'll pare it down and give you the crux:

The Conservatives appear to be clawing back the damage (actual and perceived) that Michael Gove did to the education system. They pledge to reduce the time that teachers spend on paperwork, and they will reward 'good' teachers, and support them by setting up an Independent College of Teaching.

However, they will still allow non-qualified teachers to teach in our schools, and they still support tuition fees for higher education.

Labour says that all teachers will need to be qualified. They also talk about supporting an Independent College of Teaching, and they'll get rid of Free schools. It looks like they want to regain control. And - good news - they'll cut tuition fees by a third.

The Lib Dems will also insist that schools employ qualified teachers and will establish a 'Royal College of Teachers' to oversee their development - a great idea this, considering that 40% of teachers leave the profession after just one year. No mention of rescinding tuition fees, though.

The Greens want to get rid of grammar schools and return to the comprehensive system. Class sizes of 20. Huge funding increase.Support and value for teachers. More stuff outdoors. Abolition of SATs. Looking to absorb private schools into the state system.

YES, GREENS!

I'm afraid I fell asleep before reaching UKIP's policy.


3. Money

I haven't got much. And I don't really want the Government taking more. So what are they all saying in terms of taxes, benefits and bills?

Tax


Here's a summary:


Honestly, The Greens' suggestion needs to be read in full. Take a look at their manifesto, here. The more I read it, the more brilliant I think it is.

I couldn't find much mention of tax credits in the manifestos (apart from Labour, who promised not to cut them - bravo), but most of them talked about general reforms to the Welfare System. The Greens want to cut child tax credits completely (gulp) but are saying they'll raise Child Benefit to £40 per week, per child.

Other stuff


Some of the parties mentioned other money-saving policies: The Conservatives will promote competition amongst Gas/Electric companies to keep prices down. Labour go a step further and promise to freeze energy bills until 2017. Rail prices will also be frozen. And Labour also pledge to give a million interest free loans for energy home improvements. The Lib Dems will give young people (aged 16-21) a discount bus pass.

And UKIP will take the VAT off sanitary towels.


4. Women, Cycling and other stuff

A couple of the parties talked about women. The Conservatives stated that the gender pay gap is down to a record low (but still exists). But it's the Greens who come up trumps once again: they have a whole section on Women in their manifesto, and say, amongst other thing, that they will ensure equal pay, will tackle media sexism and will also make it illegal to stop someone from breastfeeding in public.

I was also interested in what the parties had to say about cycling, which I think we all should do more of. The Conservatives surprised me here, pledging £200m to make cycling safer. I couldn't find any funding commitment in Labour's manifesto, but the Lib Dems were vocal about it, saying they'll support the Get Britain Cycling report, investing in bike lanes and other road safety measures.

The Greens are pro cycling, as expected of course. And UKIP, the funny old grandad character of the manifestos who occasionally spouts nonsense from his armchair, mentions nothing about cycling and yet promises to care for 'classic cars'.

Which was when I stopped reading.

Things that I liked: The Conservatives are proposing a Blue Belt to protect our marine habitats. The Lib Dems are planting a tree for every child born. And the prize for best quote has to go to The Greens, who wrote, simply and elegantly,

"We should recognise that not everything that is valuable has a price attached to it."

Every party has something to say. But the devil is in the detail, and actually, it may be worth ignoring the spin and the make-up and the bedazzle - and read about how they are proposing to change your world.


And then the fun began...