Wednesday, 1 July 2015

The power of HR

I never, ever, EVER thought I would write a blog post about Human Resources. I worked in HR for 10 years and we were thought of as the fag end of the business; generally, a waste of space and an unnecessary pull on already tight finances. I didn't find working in HR much fun, either. It was great when people behaved, but when there were fallings out (grievances) or redundancies, or something else that was bleak - it was bloody horrible.

Someone once said to me that to work in HR, you really need to dislike people. (That's not true, by the way.)

But today I find myself on the other side of the HR fence. Now, I work in publishing. Our small company has been swallowed up by a much larger one, with a proper HR department (this is important to the story, as you'll see, later on).

You know the background to The Accident. And you know that I've been struggling to cope with Tween's recovery, alongside work, and Teen, and all that. So after a few weeks of trying my best, I approached my boss to ask for a chunk of time off in the summer. I already had two weeks booked, and wanted another two weeks. I was about to pop, I said, and I needed some time to look after my boy.

Yes, she said, but four weeks is a long time. Can you do some Keeping in Touch days? Work from home a couple of afternoons a week? And also, I'll need a full handover plan in place before you go. I found myself saying 'maybe' - but inside I was thinking, 'Why aren't you listening to me? I haven't got the mental space to do this.'

I remember flexing my fingers a lot. Tense.

On Monday, after a weekend of no sleep with Tween, I rolled into work red eyed and harridan-looking. I was tearful and stressed. My boss barked at me for something. I cried in the toilets.

A friend took me to one side. 'Just walk out', she said. 'Other things are more important'. I couldn't do that, but I asked to see my boss. Again, I tried to explain that I was failing, and I needed to go home. 'Yes', she said, 'but we need you to ....'

I was overcome with a powerful urge to do something ridiculous. Why was she unable to understand? Why could she not look at my situation and say JUST GO HOME?

That was when I asked her to phone HR. Please, I said, ask their advice. They will know what to do.

A couple of hours later and my boss, sour faced, tapped me on the shoulder. In a meeting room, she told me that I had been granted a week's compassionate leave, and two weeks' off on full sick pay. From there, I could take a block of annual leave. And from then, if needed, I could reduce my contracted hours temporarily, until Tween gets back on his feet.

I don't like crying at work, but the relief was so huge that I burst into tears. My boss gave me a stiff hug. I could tell she was thinking, 'how the fuck am I going to manage this?' What she didn't realise, I think, was quite how close to a breakdown I was. She didn't have the skills to recognise it, or even if she had, she had no clue how to resolve it for me.

So thank you, HR. You get a lot of flack in life. But yesterday you saved me.


Saturday, 27 June 2015

Single parenting when things go wrong

I don't like to admit it, but life is hard at the moment.

In general, you know that I'm an advocate of single parenting. I don't mean just for the sake of it - I'm definitely not saying "HEY! LEAVE YOUR PARTNERS! IT'S ACE OVER HERE IN THE SINGLEPARENTDOM DEEP END!"  Just that, it's possible to be happy, and a good parent, and bring your children up well, if you're on your own.

But. When things go awry - when something unexpected happens - then life suddenly goes tits up and can become extremely stressful.

You may remember that Tween had his accident six weeks ago.  My ex and I thought that, as the docs had said he could return to school after two weeks, then that would be that. All better. Job done.

In fact, we have learnt that you can't predict how head injuries will heal. Unfortunately, as we were crowbarred out of hospital with such speed, we didn't get any follow-up information on what to expect. Actually, that's a lie - I was handed a faded, photocopied leaflet advising me to go to hospital in my child's head exploded (or something), but it was about as useful as a holey bucket.

So when, a couple of weeks later, I couldn't wake Tween up for school, I was worried. It happened again two days later. And then the following week, he woke up not being able to feel his arms.

I phoned the Ward number I had been given, but it was constantly engaged. So I made an emergency appointment with the GP, who then referred us back to hospital. Multiple hours and tests later, we were released, none the wiser.

Well, actually, a bit 'the wiser', because now I know that there are no answers, and that I need to give Tween time to sleep. To recover at his own pace. Something that I had not been allowing him - not due to the pressure of school, who have been wonderful - but because I have to work.

The pressure of having to work is all-consuming. Initially, they were great, giving me a week's compassionate leave and telling me that 'family comes first'. But as the weeks have unravelled, and I have been forced to change my days at short notice due to Tween's erratic sleeping, their patience is thinning. And my stress level is mounting.

Last week I had an epiphany. The summer holidays are coming, and there is no way that I will be able to (and should) send Tween to his usual holiday club while I'm at work. So I decided to ask for four weeks off.

No, was the answer. It's too long. We want you to come in for 'Keeping In Touch' days, to work from home. You'll need to do at least two days' work each week. And you'll have to plan for the time off you have, in detail. 'But how?' I asked, 'I'm already pushed to bursting.' 'Make time,' was the response.

Listen, I don't like to moan. But employers need to realise something. In situations like these - personal emergencies - if you don't support your employees, then they are going to pop. I can see myself being signed off from work by the docs through stress. They have said that I can apply for unpaid time off, which is my best option it seems, but I am still being put under pressure to work extra time to plan for the leave, which will involve additional time away from my children and more stress (and no extra money, of course).

I would love my employer to take a more holistic, long term approach. I want them to say, "Take as long as you need. We'll shuffle some of next year's holiday over for you. We'll organise extra resource for you to take the pressure off. We'll tell some people what you're going through. We'll help you get through this."

But they aren't saying that. And as a single parent, I don't have the support of another adult who can share my load. My ex has provided some help, but asking him feels like I am asking for a favour, and it should never be like that. Ever.

And so, I battle on with my employer and, in the process, try not to go stark raving bonkers.


Friday, 12 June 2015

My vagina is noisy - the underground world of fanny farts (or queefs)

Since having children, I've noticed that my vagina has taken on a duel persona. Persona #1: a normal vagina. Persona #2: a flaccid balloon.

Let me explain. Making love with an attractive man is generally a pleasant experience, is it not, ladies (or gents)? Most of the time, the only noises emanating from the whole experience are the 'oos' and 'aahs' from the mouth hole, and some general slurping from the lady bottom area. The vagina is behaving as a vagina should, and all is marvellous.

Until of course your gentleman friend approaches from behind. And then vagina #2 takes over. As well as this, the man's gentleman stick takes on its own persona #2a - that of a balloon pump - and the inflating begins.

At first it's hardly noticeable. But soon, the uncomfortable bloating sensation starts and you know that the #2 flaccid balloon is being slowly inflated. At this point, you are hoping for a quick finish, because if it continues, the balloon soon gets to fully-stretched, and a rather unnerving 'I'm about to explode' feeling comes over you (no pun intended).
The bleedin' balloon pump now feels like a screwdriver (no pun intended) and there's no choice but to tell the balloon pump operative to evacuate swiftly.

Which he does. Because you're screaming at him to GET THE F*CK OFF.

Now here, you have two post coital choices. 1: to tighten everything up in your nether regions and never relax, ever again. Even talking is out. And possibly breathing. Or 2: Let riiiiiiiiiiip with the initial queef*. And the minute it surfaces, you will laugh. And when you laugh, you've opened the flood gates. You've let the inflated balloon off, and it's metaphorically flying round the room with a very noisy PPPPRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRTTTTTTTTTTT. The fanny farts are loud, they're strong, and they seem never ending. You can kiss your love-making goodbye, because by this stage, the balloon pump will have shriveled to a piece of blu tac.

If there are funnier things in this world than a vaginal fart, I have yet to find them. It's something to do with their context, I think; love making is generally a serious exercise, particularly from behind. There's focused work to be done and you're both in the sexy zone. So when a massive, uncontrollable trump punctuates the Marvin Gayeness of it all, laughter (at yourself) is the only choice open to you. Which is a shame, because laughter promotes further, uncontrollable queefing (see above). Meaning more laughter, more farting...and so on.

The good news about fanny farts is that, although loud, they don't smell. The ejected air has only been in there for a few seconds, probably, and unlike your botty trumps, hasn't travelled through your colon, picking up poo smells en route. Presumably then, unlike proper farts, you can't set light to them either. So don't try that at home.

Whilst 'researching' this post I came across two amazing things. One is this article from the Telegraph published this January, in response to a poor woman whose noisy vagina was troubling her.

I started reading it 4 hours ago and have only just stopped laughing. (Not very grown up.)

But the best the -THE BEST THING - is this video. Put down your tea. Turn off the telly. Stop having family time.

Because, as a fitting end to this post, I give you three golden minutes of: The World Queefing Championships.

Altogether now: "Don't shit yourself, Debbie!"

Until the next time, then.



*Queef - a vaginal fart

And then the fun began...


Wednesday, 3 June 2015

My Favourite Place

Bath, from Prior Park

Having lived in Birmingham, Brighton, and London, I find myself bringing up my children in Bath. When I moved here 12 years ago, I felt it was like a working museum; the buildings are so homogenous, they almost feel unreal. (Even now, planning is so strict in the city that all construction has to be in (or at least 'faced' with) Bath stone.) There is a Georgian festival every year where people parade through the city, dressed as Mrs Bennett or Mr Darcy. There are the Roman Baths, of course, attracting hundreds of thousands of tourists every year. The Arts flourish here; there's a literature and a music festival, a fringe, and three wonderful theatres. There are supposedly more choirs here per capita than anywhere else.

To temper the toffee-nosed middle-class-ness of it all, there are two universities and, in the summer, numerous language schools which flood the city with Italian and French students.

But the best thing about Bath - the BEST thing - is the fact that it's surrounded by hills. And so, if you climb to the top of pretty much anywhere, you get an amazing view of the city.

I took this photo in the winter from Prior Park, a landscape garden in the safe hands of the National Trust. It's 18th century (of course it is!) and is an absolute gem. The wonderful Palladian bridge - at the bottom of the photo - has 18th century graffiti scratched into its fabric. The sweeping valley has cows grazing on it from time to time, and the lake at the bottom is filled with fish. Oh, and there's a tea hut. With lit braziers (not brassieres, mind) to keep you warm in winter.

And five minutes' walk from Prior Park is the Bath Skyline, a six mile circular route around Bath with unbelievable views. It's apparently the most downloaded walk from the NT's website. More info here: http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/bath-skyline/

If you visit Bath and come to Prior Park, don't bring the car. There's no parking available (which makes it relatively quiet); best to catch the red sightseeing bus or the No.1 - or get your walking shoes on and hoof it up the hill.

Sticky Fingers Photo Gallery

Sunday, 31 May 2015

Teen and Tween Special: Leaving your children home alone

My boys are 12 and 14. I am a single parent. There are times, unfortunately, when I have to leave them on their own.

Even though my 14 year old is more mature than his own grandpa (oh - is it 6pm, mum? Time for PJs and cocoa!), I worry about doing this. The law is woolly, with the guidelines being

- children under 12 are rarely mature enough to be left alone for a long period of time
- children under 16 shouldn't be left alone overnight
- babies, toddlers and young children should never be left alone.

We all know that the law is there to remind us of what should be common sense; of course babies should never be left alone. Of course you'd never leave your children overnight.

But can I leave my boys together for an afternoon in the school holidays, while I work? Sometimes I have to. And particularly now, as Tween's accident means he can't play sports for three months, which means his holiday club is out.

I feel very uncomfortable about it.

This, quite frankly, spells a pile of old bollocks for the summer holidays. It means that either a) I lean very heavily on the goodwill of other parents, unable to pay them back, because I'm always at work, b) leave the boys at home whilst I work, and risk them tearing each other to pieces over time allocation on the Xbox, or c) take unpaid leave. Which I can't afford. And honestly - work frowns on anyway (because we don't live in Sweden).

My ex husband might agree to do the odd day but not without some excruciating exchange about what I will give him in return. Extra days' childcare, a lifetime supply of Snickers bars and... oh yes, my soul.

My boys beg me to leave them on their own. "You don't trust us," they wail. "Not like Freddie's mum - she leaves Freddie outside for DAYS." (He is left to his own devices A LOT.)  And I try to explain to them that it's not that I don't trust them (although obviously it is) - it's just that, I don't trust ANYONE ELSE IN THIS GOD FORSAKEN WORLD. Without me there, they could step out into the road (dead), fall down a cliff (dead), put their heads in the oven (extremely uncomfortably hot). They could get picked up by a stranger (dead), fall into a man trap (dead), or drown in the bath. Dead.

And that, I try to explain to them, is why they need me. Because I am their life-support machine. I keep them alive.

Obviously I'm joking. A bit. I never say these things out loud. But I do say them in my head. And I know that they're not 4 and 2 anymore and I know that, if this were the 1970s, they'd both be out on their bikes everyday, climbing trees, playing chicken - and I would only see them at teatime. And they'd very probably be very much ok.

Where are the Yoof Clubs of old? The places where our teenagers could go, shoot some pool, put some tunes on the jukebox and rot their teeth by drinking too much pop? If your child is sporty, all well and good - there are clubs galore - but if they're on the nerdy side, the pull of the online monster is too much, and they're all tempted to spend the whole day with the curtains shut playing Shoot My Fucking Head Off. To death. And what's worse is - they think it's OK. (It isn't.)
Teenagers. Not dead, but doing a YOOF drama project

We don't have a Yoof Club round here. I'm not sure if they even exist anymore. Sodding arsing Government cuts.

So this summer will be spent stressing that I'm not being a good mum (as usual). Leaving my children at home to play with knives or browse GodKnowsWhat on the internet, whilst I chew my nails at work and try to stop myself from phoning them every quarter of an hour.

Parents of Teens and Tweens - how do you cope with the holidays? I would really appreciate your advice.

_______________
@secretdivorcee

Ref: Gov website advice on leaving your child at home: https://www.gov.uk/law-on-leaving-your-child-home-alone

And then the fun began...

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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.

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