Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Jane's Fruit Cake

It's been a while since I baked anything. What can I say? I'll blame it on the new baby because it's most certainly not that I'm getting bored with massive, expensive fruit cakes! Oh no, no, no, not at all!

This week, the interestingly-named Jane's Fruit Cake. I don't know why it's called that as Mary Berry doesn't furnish us with the information, but whether Jane was the creator of the cake, or had it named in her honour, she should feel pretty pleased as it's a good cake.

All these fruit cakes seem to be basically variations on a theme with one or two mystery ingredients thrown in. I am becoming used to wandering hopelessly around Tesco looking for some ingredient I've never bought (or sometimes even heard of!) before. This time it was buttermilk ... oh, and wholemeal self-raising flour - not so unusual perhaps, but not something I've ever needed before. I now have half a carton of buttermilk going off in my fridge. I definitely should have thought of something else to make that would have used it up, but it's not been that sort of a week!

I am delighted to say that this fruit cake looked almost the same as the original in the book, although not as artfully photographed of course. And it tasted good too. I tried it on my church group guinea pigs and more than half of it was gone in one evening. The rest didn't last long either.

Despite that, once it was gone, I took a look at the next few recipes in the book and my resolve wavered. I know I said I'd go through the book recipe by recipe in order, but I really am not sure that I can face the Boozy Fruit Cake that comes next, or the Pound Cake that comes after. I feel like I'm making one Christmas cake after another and I'm getting very keen to move on to something a little different.

Today though, after a decent pause, I'm looking at the book again that thinking the Pound Cake doesn't look so bad, and the Boozy Fruit Cake doesn't look as much like a Christmas cake as I thought.

So next time it might be more fruit, or it might be the Frosted Walnut Layer Cake that comes after, who knows?!

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Roots and Shoots

Right now, OB is in the playroom by himself, playing. And I am in the adjoining room, typing this. Not so momentous you might think, but when I think back to the months and months after NB left when OB could not bear to play alone for even five minutes, I can hardly believe it. Then, every moment of every day, OB needed my constant presence right by his side. Now, nearly eight months on, here I am getting my jobs done while OB just checks in every ten minutes or so.

So often, when we're in the midst of something, it's impossible to imagine that anything would ever be any different. And then, when it seems to just sort itself out, we wonder why we were so worked up about it!

Looking back over the past year or so, I remember that OB was so determined to run away at any opportunity that I lived in terror that he would end up under the wheels of some car in front of my eyes. Now, he walks, skips and runs more or less by my side, and even holds out his hand without being asked when it's time to cross the road. It's been a long time since I endured the humiliation of a stranger bringing him back to me, tutting and with no attempt to conceal the disapproval on their face.

Toilet training was another thing I couldn't see the other side of. And yet now here we are, dry day after dry day.

And what about the long, sleepless nights? The night terrors? Refusal to stay in the big boy bed? All seem to have faded away.

Was it something I did? I don't know. For many of these things I had plans and strategies to achieve improvements but I honestly don't know whether they worked, or whether OB just moved on, grew out of it.

This 'not knowing' is tricky. Because even though many of the things that drove me crazy six months ago have faded into memories now, some haven't, and there are new things. Swimming lessons continue to be problematic, as does bathtime. The regular hairdresser visit has suddenly gone from problem-free to a meltdown zone at the introduction of clippers. Dogs still cause terror. Five trips to the dentist, and OB has never so much as opened his mouth. Every day begins with an insistent need to know the whole programme for the day - woe betide Mummy if she hasn't got every moment planned out! Afternoon naps are still followed by a massive unexplained meltdown more often than not. And of course there's the issue with loud and sudden noises that has been there since the beginning.

Will these things just pass away too? Just normal rites of passage for the growing toddler? Or is it something else, something deeper? Some issue that I need to come up with a strategy for?

The more I think about it, the more I am convinced that some of these different issues are just shoots from a root, and unless we can find a way to deal with the root, the shoots will keep coming, different but essentially the same. I think I am going to arm myself with a spade rather than pruning shears. We need new roots.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

B is for . . . Bury!

So, our A-Z tour of Britain is going well. This is our third 'B'! I do have a plan in mind for 'C' but it'll take a bit of organising, so in the meantime, desperate for a day out that wouldn't be ruined by the weather, we decided to take a little jaunt out on the East Lancs Railway, and visit the Bury Transport Museum.

I had intended for us to travel over to one end of the line at Rawtenstall and then travel to Bury by steam train but of course, we set off horrendously late, so instead we had a change of route and picked up the train further down the line at the interestingly-named town of Ramsbottom.

It was absolutely freezing waiting on the platform, but OB was suitably excited to see the steam train appear and quite enjoyed the bustle of activity involved in actually getting on the train and finding a seat. From Ramsbottom, the journey to Bury was actually a bit too short, barely giving OB time to make a proper dent in his picnic, but I preferred to leave him wanting more rather than having it drag out so it was all good.

As we waited to set off, I asked OB what he thought he'd see out of the train window as we went along.

"Teddy bears!" was his immediate and confident reply.

Well, OB is only three, so he does occasionally come out with some odd things, but this one was even further out in left field than usual. I replied brightly and encouragingly, but indicating that I thought teddy bears weren't destined to be one of the attractions of the journey.

"Yes Mummy. Teddy bears over there. Look!"

And lo and behold, there were three giant stuffed teddy bears sitting on the station platform amid some old-fashioned luggage. Another reminder not to under-estimate my son!

Arriving in Bury, I checked the timetable for the return journey and then we hopped across the road to the rather cute little Bury Transport Museum. It wasn't exactly the British Museum, but there was a goodly number of beautiful old buses, trams, fire engines and the like to wander around, as well as several interactive transport-themed activities that OB would probably enjoy more if he was older. The star attraction for him was a front end of a bus that he could sit in and pretend to drive. We spent around an hour in the museum and at least 20 minutes of that was taken up by OB playing bus driver, making me open the doors repeatedly to get on and off, issuing fake tickets, and play driving the bus to all sorts of exciting destinations including his friends' house and the moon!

I had intended to get back to the station in time for the 13.20pm return train so that we could finish our picnic on the way back, but in the event, having exhausted the museum, we were back early. I thought we could get a coffee and biscuit at the station cafe and perhaps look in the little shop to pass the time. So imagine my surprise when, while browsing the souvenirs, I heard the 'peep peep' of the steam train's whistle, and the unmistakeable sound of the very train we wanted to catch leaving the station below us 40 minutes before I thought it was due.

Yes, inexplicably, Mummy had catastrophically misread the timetable! And the next train would be due at 14.25.


It's not that Bury isn't an exciting place to be on a Wednesday afternoon - I'm sure it's delightful - but by this time it was blowing a gale, freezing cold and raining steadily. I wondered how to fill the time until the next train.

Thankfully, on the way to the Transport Museum, I had spotted a brown sign pointing to another museum close by. I thought we'd have nothing to lose, so we set off and ended up at a little museum and art gallery which was free to get in (important point!). Sadly, the main gallery was closed as they were changing the display, but I did actually manage to get OB interested in a few of the paintings in the side gallery for a couple of nanoseconds, and, more importantly, there was a cafe!

OB blurs his way past some art at usual breakneck speed!

With surprising foresight, I had purchased a rather lovely tractor for £3 at the train station, so OB and I spent a happy half hour in the cafe - me mainlining hot coffee while feeding Baby Girl, and him playing out all sorts of farm-related scenarios with his lovely new tractor.

On our second attempt, we managed to catch the return train (which, as OB pointed out to me, was a diesel!) without a hitch. The journey back was considerably enlivened by OB's anticipation of revisiting the tunnel we had been through on the way out.

And on the way home in the car, he fell into a beautifully deep sleep so I could listen to Radio 4 for the whole journey home instead of his ear-curling kids CD. Perfect!

Friday, February 7, 2014

Sticking With You

When I tell people I don't really know that I'm a foster carer, I often get to hear about their aunt/cousin/friend or whoever who is also a foster carer. This is not a complaint. I'm pretty rubbish at small talk generally so I'm happy to find some connection we can turn into chit chat.

People's description of their relative or friend that fosters usually boils down to two factors: length of time in the job and number of children fostered. Like this: "Oh, my aunty and uncle were foster carers. Yeah, they did it for 20 years and had over 150 different children." I don't know how accurate these figures always are, but the message is clear - it's all about quantity.

I occasionally measure my progress against these anecdotal fostering heroes. I've been fostering for nearly three years (pathetic!) and had a total of four children. At this rate I'm really going to have to ramp up my turnover rate if I'm to catch up with some of these others! Or maybe start taking children in groups?

I don't mean to be facetious, and I'm not criticising. Short term foster carers, of which I am one, do a necessary and worthwhile job. The shortest placement I had was two weeks, and the longest was 18 months. Different children . . . different circumstances.  But it saddens me that so often it is quantity that is noted and celebrated, when in reality all that huge numbers of children passing through your house means is huge numbers of children living through a period of instability.

Another family I know who started fostering at about the same time as me have had only one placement. This little girl came to them in need of somewhere stable to call home for a while, and as time has gone on, it has become clear that neither of the traditional options of rehabilitation or adoption are quite right for her. So my friends have decided to make a long-term commitment to her. I wonder whether acquaintances of theirs will boast about their career in fostering at the hairdresser or the supermarket?  "Oh yeah, my friends foster. They've fostered one child." Doesn't have quite the same ring.

But those who make the long-term commitment should be celebrated. Whether it's by kinship care, long-term fostering, special guardianship, adoption or some other route, the willingness and ability to make a long-term commitment to an individual will be life-changing for that child.  All those who enter into such a relationship should be championed.

This week's #WASO theme is 'A Year On', in celebration of #WASO's first birthday. As I thought over the past year, I could think of lots of things that have changed in my life. But I was more interested in the thing that has remained the same: a year ago, OB was here with me. In a year's time, OB will still be here with me. And when the time comes when OB is not literally living here with me in my house any more, he will still be with me.

There's a Velvet Underground song, "I'm sticking with you." I don't know where I heard it - probably on an advert or something. The first part goes,

"I'm sticking with you, 'cos I'm made out of glue.
Anything that you might do, I'm gonna do too."

I often sing that bit to OB, and we pretend to be made out of glue, sticking together. It's one of our things.

This is my commitment to my boy. I'm sticking with you. Whatever you do. We'll still be here next year and for all the years after. I'm made out of glue.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Why I'm Not Outdoorsy

When we woke up this morning (for the second time - I had insisted on a return to bed at 5.45!) and I looked out of the window, I was amazed to see what looked like beautiful sunny skies. Something like this...

...although obviously without the attractive rural backdrop!

"Great!" I thought. "We're not at Playgroup today and there's nothing else in the diary. We'll go to the far away park with all the animals."

I don't know why I bother thinking these things sometimes.

Of course, our house being what it is, there was a full two and a half hour hiatus in getting the plan going while I fed them, dressed them, fed them, mopped up milk vomit, changed them, prepared packed lunch, changed nappy, changed clothes again (those last two are connected), prepared bottles, packed massive emergency supplies bag, searched all over the house for pram rain cover, waited for boy to put on coats/wellies, gave in and did the coats/wellies thing myself, and loaded the car. And all the while, the sky was ominously getting greyer and greyer.

By the time we were all safely strapped in, the first drops of rain were just beginning to sprinkle the windscreen.

"No matter," I thought optimistically. "We're not made of sugar. A little rain won't hurt us." I had a cunning plan to use the spare pram rain cover (I always bring both as I can never tell which is which until I'm actually trying to manhandle the thing onto the pram!) as a protection against wet swings.

Ten minutes into the journey, the rain was coming down pretty constantly. I broached the subject with OB.

"I think it might be too wet to go to the park. Shall we go to the soft play centre instead?"

This suggestion was not popular to say the least. No. I had promised the park and to the park we must go.

Ten minutes later, we were looking at something rather like this:

I made an executive decision, turned the car around and headed towards the soft play centre. By this point, the weather was so miserable that even OB didn't put up much of a fight.

In fact, within a few seconds, he was fast asleep.

At this point I gave up and just drove home through the sheets of rain. Parking on the drive, I struggled into the house with the baby before going back to get all the bags. It was when I went for the pram that OB woke up and cried because we were outside our house and not at the soft play centre.

Determined as I was to make something decent of the day I dutifully went back in the house, got the bags and the baby and headed off to soft play.

Of course, eating food you've brought yourself is not allowed in the soft play centre (for health and safety reasons apparently!!) so we ate our picnic parked up in the dreary industrial estate car park to a depressing soundtrack of rain beating against the car from all directions in a pretty fierce wind. Idyllic.

Having said all of that, OB had an excellent time at soft play - there's a really good slide there that I'm pretty partial to myself! Maybe next time we'll just head straight there, forget the picnic and banish the weather blues with a nice, greasy sausage butty!

Sunday, February 2, 2014

The Brush Off

I have read many adopter blogs detailing difficulties that adoptive parents have had in getting professionals to take their concerns about their children seriously. As a former teacher, I have often thought since becoming a parent about the difficult relationship between the professional, with all their training and experience of many children, and the parent, with their in-depth and intimate knowledge of their own child. It is all too easy for both sides to dismiss the knowledge and insights of the other, and for misunderstandings and conflicts to develop. When this happens, the outcome is rarely likely to be satisfactory for the child.

So far in my parenting and fostering, I've always felt that we've managed to negotiate the tricky waters between professional-land and parent-land quite well. I'm a pretty determined and strong advocate on behalf of the children I care for - it's part of my job - and sometimes this makes me push and even makes me a bit unpopular, but I hope that, in the end, my genuine love for the children and desire to see the very best outcomes for them can be seen, even when I am insisting and demanding and pushing and, yes, sometimes arguing.

Since getting Baby Girl though, I've found myself flummoxed by medical professionals on more than one occasion. On pretty much every occasion actually. It seems that, try as I might, I simply cannot get most of them to take me seriously about pretty much anything.  Is this common to all parents of newborns? If so, I'm sorry for you all!

It goes like this:
Me: She gets a lot of wind. Should I try a different formula?
Health Professional: [Dismissive comment]

Me: She has been very sick. How much sick is normal? I'm worried that she might be lactose intolerant. Is there a way of finding out?
HP: [Dismissive comment]

Me: She sleeps a lot and when she's awake she seems rather jerky. Is that normal?
HP: [Dismissive comment]

Now, admittedly, Baby Girl, is feeding ok and gaining weight, so I'm taking care not to sound overly-dramatic or neurotic about everything, but still, I think I'd feel so much more in control of everything if the many health professionals I've been in contact with would take the time to explain exactly why my concerns are unfounded. Otherwise I tend to think that my concerns are real but nobody cares or believes me.

It came to a head early last week when Baby Girl had what was unmistakably a full-on seizure. I am very grateful that my friend who is a nurse was actually holding her when it started and confirmed what I thought I was seeing, or else, given the events that followed, I would almost certainly have begun to think that I'd imagined it.

I took Baby Girl immediately to our Urgent Care Centre (we don't have A&E in our town any more) where they confirmed that what I described sounded like a seizure and arranged for BG to be admitted to the children's ward of the nearest hospital.

This is where things started to go a bit strange. From the start, the Registrar at the hospital didn't seem keen on the seizure diagnosis. She suggested that it might be reflux. When I pointed out that it was ages since her feed and she hadn't been sick or having wind trouble that day, the Registrar said there was something called 'silent reflux'. I wouldn't even know she had it. It seemed as though every objection I threw up to this diagnosis was met with some medical reason that of course, as a mere layperson I wouldn't know about, why reflux was the right answer and seizure wasn't.

As we stood together, watching BG wriggle about on the bed, the Registrar said, "See, she's throwing her head back now. Babies do that."

Ah right! The penny drops! The doctor thinks I'm an idiot who would confuse wriggling and crying with a massive seizure!

Despite my protestations, the rest of the hospital stay was all about reflux. BG was prescribed Gaviscon in up to six feeds a day and, despite my bringing it up with every member of staff who came my way, nobody ever wanted to talk about the imaginary seizure again.

I understand that when you hear hoofbeats, you assume horse rather than zebra. Normally I'm fine with that. And of course, I would love for this to have been nothing more than reflux. But it wasn't. And, considering BG's medical history, which I can't go into here obviously, I don't think it would have been outrageously over-dramatic to at least investigate the possibility of zebras.

Things came to a head when she was about to be discharged. Revved up by the stress of the week, and having waited five hours to actually leave the hospital, despite being called in and told she was ready, I determined that we weren't leaving until I had managed to have a serious conversation about what was going on.

First I had a weird conversation with a nurse who said she'd been caring for BG. I'd never seen her before, but hey ho. Nurse made me repeat, for about the 10th time, what had happened, and punctuated her every sentence with "Mum" so often that I wanted to scream, "I'm not her Mum! Can't you read the notes?!" Nurse implied that I've not spent enough time at the hospital with Baby Girl. I got shirty - I admit it - nurse got shirty - we were asked to take the conversation into a side room. I waited there for 15 minutes.

Eventually nurse turned up with doctor. I was apologetic. I think I've been patronised and dismissed and insulted but it's no excuse for getting worked up in the corridor of the children's ward! Nurse doesn't follow suit, disappointingly.

Doctor asks me what happened. I explain for the 11th time, adding the postscript that I feel as though nobody at this hospital believes me. Doctor assures me that she does believe me but as BG hasn't done anything untoward whilst in hospital, and it's only one episode, they wouldn't normally investigate under those circumstances.

And do you know what? I'm actually fine with that. Yes, we believe what you're saying that this child had a seizure, but as it appears for now to be a one off, and none of the tests we've done show anything untoward, we're going to release her to your care. If it happens again, come back and we'll pursue it more aggressively.

It wouldn't have been so hard to say that on any of the many occasions before that day when I asked what was going on. So much better than banging on about reflux and waving sachets of Gaviscon around. The phrase, "I do believe you" meant so much that I almost burst into tears when I heard it after three days of getting the runaround.

Baby Girl seems fine now. She seemed fine an hour after it happened actually. I'm doing the Gaviscon because I'm obedient, but that means that now I can't get her wind up - her stomach seems too settled! - so we have squirmy windy evenings each night.  I'll take that up with the Health Visitor at our forthcoming appointment. This wonderful lady has been the HV for two of my previous children, and I know from experience that I won't get the brush off there.

But now, when I look at Baby Girl, I look with different eyes. I see a tiny baby that has had a seizure and could have another at any moment and we don't know why or what it means. I want answers for Baby Girl, but for now, being allowed to ask the questions will be enough.