Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Pulling Teeth

I just need to get this off my chest.

I needed to change the bank account that my foster carer payments and expenses are paid into, so early last week I phoned the number on my remittance slip that promises help with questions and problems.

Shock!  The person on the other end couldn't answer my question or deal with my problem.  So I was passed through no less than four other departments before finally arriving at a place where, yes, the woman who does that job does work there and could help me, but not for a week as she was on leave.

Yet again, that thing where when one person goes on leave and whole areas of fundamental importance are just left gathering dust.

So, I took the name and number of the lady I needed and, loins sufficiently girded, I phoned back this Monday when I was told she would be there.

The person who answered the phone told me that she had never heard of the person I was asking for and was sure that nobody of that name worked in their department.

Now, I'm not one for conspiracy theories but you have to wonder what's happened to that woman!

Yet again I was put on hold while they figured out who I should be speaking to, and was passed around a few more departments before landing with somebody who said that if I emailed the new bank details, she'd get it sorted out.

I emailed.

The next day I got a reply from somebody entirely different explaining that they can't accept this information in the body of an email for security reasons, but that if I wrote and signed and scanned a letter to that effect and sent it by email, they might be able to sort it out.

And in the meantime she would PUT A HOLD ON ALL PAYMENTS!

Does that seem sensible?!

She was also at great pains to point out that this really wasn't her job.  Scanning down the email, I saw that it had been to two other people before it had landed on her desk (with my original email suitably redacted, thankfully).

I'm not normally one for being super-quick at admin, but you can be sure I wrote, signed, scanned and sent that letter in double-quick time!  It's not like I can stand to have what is effectively my salary payment put on hold indefinitely.

Looking forward to an email tomorrow explaining why what I've done still isn't right and as a result they've decided to send me to jail, do not pass go, do not collect two hundred pounds.

There.  I feel much better for that.

Little Lives. Big Issues.

Recently, NB experienced a depressing milestone in his little life - final contact with his birth mother.

I think it went ok, although I'm not privy to what goes on during that surreal hour in a small playroom somewhere in the bowels of a Sure Start Centre.  When I picked him up, NB commented that his mummy was crying but then settled down and carried on his day as normal.

Not so the next few days.  We had a lot of wetting accidents, tetchiness and tantrums as bad as I've ever seen them.  Food was refused, toys were thrown and everyone's patience was stretched to the limit.

Twice, during the depths of a major tantrum, NB cried out desperately for 'Mummy' and made the makaton sign repeatedly, something he has never ever done in over a year.

Who knows what kids know and understand?  NB doesn't have the language or proficiency of speech to communicate what's going on in his head, but there is certainly plenty happening in there. 

"Always remember that Mummy loves you," she said as she handed him over to me at the car, tears running down her face.  He probably won't consciously remember his birth family at all, but some part of his brain will surely carry the consequences of the trauma that he has experienced into his adulthood.

He seems to have settled down again now, and, with half term over, life is slowly getting back to normal for us, as far as you can describe any of this as 'normal'!

Monday, February 25, 2013

Dubious Expertise

Today, a very exciting thing happened: somebody phoned me up to ask my advice about a parenting issue!

Yes! Really!

I won't pretend I wasn't gratified to join the ranks of the 'experienced' parent, but it did prompt me to get on and write this blog post that's been going around in my head for quite a while now.

When you become a parent, a whole new world opens up to you: the world of Internet Parenting.  There are countless blogs, discussion groups, websites and forum spaces, where it seems as though an endless stream of advice, comment and instruction is poured out daily. Whatever you are going through with your child, you can be sure that somebody, somewhere will have already told the whole internet the perfect way to handle it.

Actually, hundreds of people will have done so.  And each one has their own 'perfect' answer.

Internet Parenting World is full of new and exciting ways to raise your child.  A large area is devoted to all things Montessori-related.  I would imagine that many readers don't really know much about Montessori (myself included) but it certainly seems to be a buzz-word for trendy parenting. 

Baby-led weaning is another favourite.  Then there are the countless 'guaranteed success' ways to toilet train your child.  Use only the potty, use only the toilet, daytime dryness only, or do it all at once, give them plenty to drink, give them fewer drinks and so on and so on.

What strikes me is that most of this advice and instruction is given out by people whose only qualification or relevant experience is that they, too, are parents.

Most people parent a child, say, two or three times in their life.  Honestly, I wouldn't trust my car to a mechanic who'd only fixed two or three cars before.  Parenting is a unique field of expertise.  Since most people don't do it that often, anyone who has done it two or three times is as near to an 'expert' as you're likely to get!

Added to that is the diffculty that the little people we are dealing with are far from homogenous.  "I've raised six kids and it's always worked for me," says one mother.  Great.  But who's to say that your six kids are representative of the population at large?  Why should I assume that my child will react to anything in the same way that your child did?

And here's a further complication - environmental factors.  Even if our children were basically similar, the environment in which they have been raised will hugely affect the way they react to and deal with different situations.

The more I think about it, the more I become convinced that there's very little chance of finding someone in Internet Parenting World who will be able to advise me at all!

Many people in Internet Parenting World seem to have decided to embrace a particular philosophy in raising their children.  I wonder what these decisions are based on.  Certainly not any kind of empirical evidence!  We see lovely-looking blogs of parents giving their children 'real-life objects' to play with (yes - real vacuum cleaners, food blenders and hammers!), and it all seems very appealing, but we have no way of knowing whether this is a good thing long-term - the blog will have petered out long before we can see whether that particular DS or DD has grown-up to be a well-adjusted member of society, or has lost 3 fingers in an unfortunate chainsaw incident.

My favourite of these types of blog is the one where the mother decided not to make her house safe for kids because the world isn't safe and it's best just to learn to assess risk and make good decisions from an early age.  So, no locking away chemicals, no plug socket covers, no stair gates.  I was staggered that this household had survived intact until I realised that this mother had one child only and didn't work.  Ok, so she had taken a decision to spend her entire life following her little one around the house, helping him/her to assess risk and not get injured or killed.  I am glad that her child has survived this - I would not recommend it though.  I know from experience that you only have to go into the kitchen for a minute, and a toddler can end up in hospital!  Of course children need to learn about risk, but there's nothing wrong with keeping them safe while they do so.

Parents have always had people around who are keen to give advice.  From health professionals to friends and even our own parents, there's no shortage of input!  But at least when we ask those we know personally for advice, then there's some accountability.  We can see how our friends' children are doing, and watch their philosophies play out in real time.  We experienced the effects of our parents' styles on our own lives so we can pick and choose what we emulate and what we discard.  Our health professionals will be in and out of our lives for a while so if their advice doesn't work for us, we can let them know!

Anyway, I'm pleased to report that I am now at least as experienced at parenting toddlers as nearly all of my friends, having done it twice!  But don't expect to find a perfect philosophy for raising kids here - I'm just feeling my way in the dark like everybody else!

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Knife Edge

Most of the time our life rumbles along quite uneventfully.  We have our routines, our places to be and our things we like to do.  We have our mealtimes and our naptimes, our playdates and our appointments.  We have our fine balance beautifully managed.

So it comes as a shock to occasionally be reminded just how fine this balance actually is.  It seems the slightest alteration or disruption can cause our measured poise to become dangerously wobbly!

This last week or two, I've been having some work done in the house.  It's nothing major - just some decorating and general fixing up - but after only a few days I began to feel a dangerous edge of hysteria creeping into my voice at the most unexpected times.

To tell the truth, the work hasn't caused all that much disruption.  Only one room is out of action, although there have been a few days when doors, stair spindles etc. were not to be touched!  My good friend who is doing the work could not be more considerate - he cleans up magnificently after each day's work, is very tolerant of the boys, and is careful to keep any tools, paint, etc. our of their way, so certainly nothing to complain about there.

But a lot of things aren't where they are supposed to be.  The contents of a bookcase are stacked up on the kitchen counter where I normally fold and arrange my laundry.  There are several boxes of items stored on my bedroom floor.  There has been a dismantled table strewn around the kitchen for over a week which has had to be moved from place to place every time I wanted to open a cupboard or get into the freezer - this has now gone to the tip, thankfully.  In addition, the central heating chose this exact week to go on the blink and only deliver the very coldest water.

I was fairly sure I was managing this quite well - after all, what's a few books piled up in the kitchen?  How serious an inconvenience can it be to have to boil a kettle when you want a wash?  It's not as though we're living in a caravan in the garden while our house undergoes major reconstruction (yes, I've seen Grand Designs!!).

But actually, it turned out that even this low-level infringement of our routine was enough to have me teetering on the very pointy edge of that knife.  Some time during last week I had to go shopping with a friend to look at a few new bits for the house - a sink, some taps, some cupboard doors, a couple of new internal doors and so on.

At every stage I was completely useless.  Did I want this sink or that one?  This door or that one?  Did I want co-ordinating worktop or contrasting?  To every one of these questions, my answer was "........" until, after about an hour of being completely incapable of telling one kitchen sink from another, I was in genuine danger of bursting into tears at B&Q! 

I'm so thankful for good friends who are happy just to look at the mess your brain is in, tell you what you need and offer to go back another day, buy it and transport it to your house.

Anyway, my boiler is fixed now, most of the painting is done, the out-of-action room looks like it might be back in action tomorrow (when I will be delighted to finally tackle the project of re-organising the furniture that I have been procrastinating about for months) and soon the focus of work will move to the kitchen, which is a room I make a lot less use of to be honest!

Balanced is almost restored.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Toilet Training Round 2

It was last October when I started toilet training NB, and to be honest, long slog though it has been, it's gone pretty well.  Now he can take himself to the potty, and manage his own pants down and then up.  We hardly ever have an accident and, apart from a few night-time shenanigans (he likes to take his pull-ups off and wee all over the bed!) the washing machine has returned to its previous level of usage.

So, now it's time to start with OB!  I intended to do this just after he turned two as he was showing signs of being ready, but things kept getting in the way - he had a stomach upset, then we went on holiday, then another stomach thing, and then I just couldn't seem to find a couple of days together where we weren't going to be busy and out and about.

Well, after a highly successful SOGS assessment last week I've decided to stop waiting for those elusive free days and just get on with it!  OB scores above his age for everything, and well above for most things, so toilet training should be well within our capabilities, right?

Today is officially The Day.  I got him up this morning and put him in his big boy pants that I've been tantalisingly showing to him for quite a while now.  We read our special book about using the potty and then I got the wipes, towels and cloths out.

Already I can see that it's going to be completely different with OB than it was with NB.  For a start, NB would sit on his potty for ages in a very compliant way, waiting for that wee wee to find its way out.  Not so much with OB.  He prefers to jump up every two seconds and see if it is there!

We have had a 0% success rate as far as the potty goes so far, and two changes of pants.  Encouragingly, the second time he wet himself, he did come running over pointing to his pants and shouting "Hot! Hot!"  Hmmmm . . . some work on appropriate language is obviously required!

At nap time, he managed to delay his sleep by at least ten minutes by insisting he needed a poo and then trying every potty in the house, as well as the toilet.  He didn't actually do a poo though.  He's a sharp little fella!  In the end I had to send him to bed, despite protestations of "Wee wee! Poo!" so here's hoping I'm not confronted by a full-scale cot mess when I go up later to get him!

My beautiful baby boy looks quite different with his little bottom in big-boy pants instead of a bulky nappy.  Growing  up - I never thought I'd see it, and now it feels like it's really gathering pace.