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...



Sunday, 12 April 2015

Lies and truths you tell your children

My boys are 12 and 14. I lie to them on a daily basis. It is the only way I can navigate safely through the day without us all stoving each other to death.

Here are my top five lies (cue Top of the Pops music):

1. I love you both equally

I do love you both. But the truth is, I love you in quite different ways. I can't compare the love I have for you both; it's like comparing apples with pears. And just when I think I have a handle on the love that I feel for you, something happens, and it changes, or flexes.

At the risk of inducing vomit, imagine I've got four buckets, two for each son. One bucket each is full of a mother's love. That mother's love fills each bucket, right to the top. It's always there, right to the brim. Never moves.

But as well as a mother's love, there's a bucket for day-to-day love. Whilst a mother's love stays constant, day-to-day love fluctuates. One day, Teen might do something thoughtful, just little, but thoughtful, and my heart will sort of bloom. The bucket will fill up. Then again, Tween might see that I'm upset, and put his hand on my shoulder and look at me, and I'll weep with love - into his bucket, natch.

Or another day, I'll watch them both fighting, and lying, and those huge buckets of love will suddenly be filled with effing pinholes and that sodding love will make an irritating wet patch on the floor.

I do love you both. But your buckets go up and down.

2. I haven't put green things in your dinner

I have, actually. Orange things too. I've just chopped them up really small and smothered them in tomato sauce and cheese. Occasionally, to make sure they disappear altogether, I put them in the blender.

And when you eat them, unknowingly, I do a tiny fist pump under the table.*

*true

3. The internet shuts down after 10pm

There's absolutely no point in taking your phones to be bed with you because, in this street, they shut the internet off at 10pm. FACT.

Oh, and by the way, when I said I cared that you were upset that Tween had spent 5 minutes longer on the xbox than you, I lied.

In fact, in all matters internet-related, I'm lying to you. I don't trust you with it and I'll do my damnedest to stop you accessing it without me looking over your shoulder.

(I know, I'm being ridiculous.)

4. The 'c' word is 'crap'

It's not. I know you know what it is. But let's just all pretend that mummy's little lie is true for now, please.

5. I HATE cooking for you

When I've had a bad day, I will moan about making your tea for you. But the truth is, I love creating something for you to eat; it's a sort of fundamental mum thing, I think. A need to feed you properly to help you grow. I know that what I put in your mouths has a direct effect on how you behave and develop. I love mealtimes, whether we're sitting at the table or watching the telly together, tea on laps. I love talking to you when we're eating. I know it annoys you, but I love to hear about your day.

You are are part of me. And always will be.

_______________

Of course, it's not all lies. I mix the truth in there occasionally to confuse them. Keep them on their toes. Here are my top five family truths:

1. I don't care how you do in your test - just do your best

Honestly. I don't care if you come top or bottom. I just want you to work hard, do your best - that will be plenty good enough. Everyone has talents in some areas, and are shit in others. I bet Einstein wasn't that hot at rugby. Or Picasso at Biology. Or Brunel at forward rolls.

Tell me your test results. I will hug you.*

*Unless you haven't revised. Then I'll give you a kick up the arse.

2. I want you to be happy

I try so hard to make you both happy. You don't see it. Or maybe you see it, but you don't think about it. This house I bought - I bought it for you. It's near the school, you have a bedroom each, the front room is yours. The park is close by for you. I take you to places to widen your view on the world. I want you to come away from your computers and experience music, and the theatre - things that have given me so much happiness in the past. I want to give you what you want but equally I want you to learn the importance of earning your keep.

I want you to learn that love and laughter trump money, every time.

3. I love you both, and am soooo proud of you

When I say 'I love you', I mean it. I know I say it every day, and you probably don't even hear it any more, but when those words leave my mouth, I'm feeling it. That mother's love bucket is always full. And whenever you do something amazing, be it a tiny gesture of generosity, or a fantastic achievement at school, my heart bursts. I want to tell everyone how special you are. (I won't, because then no one will like me - including you.)

4. No girlfriend (or boyfriend) will be good enough for you

This is just a warning shot to your prospective partners. I am going to give them a really hard time. I will ask for CVs, references, some sort of dowry. There will be much questioning (interrogation). And only if they get 80% in the IQ test will they be allowed through to the next stage (bridge building with straws).

Oh, and if you are gay, please know this. I will be delighted. Please don't be afraid to tell me. I will support you however I can.

5. When you lie, and fight, and cheat, it disappoints me - but I will always (see 3.)

Those arguments that you have. When you scream 'NOT FAIR!', when you swear at each other, and come to blows. I hate them. They make me very sad indeed. I never know exactly who started it, but I assume that you both played a part. I know that you both lie to me when you say what the other has done. You are both shit liars (thank God) and I still recognise that uncomfortable stance, or that itchy nose, or that looking away.

Please don't lie in life. I mean, with things that matter. If you cock up, admit it, and do your best to fix it. Everyone makes mistakes. Even Olie Murs. Even The Queen. Even me. It took me a long time to learn that being truthful about it earns you much more respect than trying to cover your tracks.

But for now, when I see your lying, cheating faces, know this: my bucket's still full.

I love you.


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