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An unsure start

11 Feb

locked-doorEarlier this week I read George Monbiot’s encouraging piece about rebuilding society from the ground upwards. Crammed with examples of positive initiatives that local communities had devised and implemented themselves, the piece provided a glimmer of hope showing normal people taking control and making a difference, slowly healing fractured communities and as a result building tolerance, inclusivity and empathy in their local area. A powerful legacy: what that comes down to is making the everyday world a more palatable place. And doing this breeds enthusiasm to do it more. As Monbiot puts it, “a dense, participatory culture that becomes attractive and relevant to everyone rather than mostly to socially active people with time on their hands”.

And then, then, only hours later, it’s back to the usual frustration as I read a piece about the accelerating pace of Sure Start Centre closures. Now, these are not community initiatives, but they are initiatives designed to help the community, so their closure runs in direct contradiction to the hope-filled narrative that supporting people at grassroots level will generate greater returns and build a community that people living there can be proud of.

It’s not a direct correlation, Monbiot’s concept of rebuilding society and Sure Start, but it’s close enough to be a tangible example of the consistent lack of focus from the current government on supporting people to make change within the minutiae of their lives which will be magnified to much greater change as time passes. When I lived in Walthamstow through the dizzying disorientation of a first baby, social activities organised by Sure Start provided an excuse to leave the house that I didn’t have to find the wherewithal to arrange myself; and I know that for many the organisation performed way more crucial roles than that. For people who don’t have family support in the vinicity, or an urban family to fulfil the same safety network role; for people who are struggling with trying to do the right thing in any aspect of childrearing; for those whose questions need personal not generic answers; or even for those who need to sit and nurse somewhere accepting that isn’t their own home, Sure Start was invaluable.

And now, with 350 centres closed since 2010 and a mere eight new ones opening; well, it’s clear that the support for so many adults at the start of a brand new lifestage, and children at the start of a brand new life, simply is no longer there.

This again symbolises the lack of attention to the vulnerable which is becoming the hallmark, probably the most lasting legacy, of our current government. The DfE says they are ‘committed to giving children a good start’, and claim that they are ‘investing a record £6bn in childcare per year by 2020 [which] includes extra support for disadvantaged families’, but if Sure Start is scaled back, and there is no sign of anything specific being implemented to take its place, what does this look like? The evidence – or lack of any – points to yet more empty words, and another void in communities at crucial lifestages.

 

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The one about trying to explain inevitability

11 Jun

For me, my return to full-time in-office work is a true watershed moment (even though the slidey wet weather gives me more than a few quite literally watery moments).  It means I am on the road from recovery to normality, and so for me is to be cheered.

Emotions are very different for my little L1, however, so as is always the case in these circumstances I am truly sad as she is sad.  In the back of my mind had been the thought that me not in a great way but at home might be preferable, for her, than me in a great way but not at home, but I hadn’t fully computed how hard it would hit her.

While I have been back working full time since mid-May, part of my days have been at home, which means pre 9am and post 5.30, there I have been.  I have loved that side of convalescence (as they say, every cloud), but like Mat Leave and holidays, all circumstantial temporary changes must come to an end, and I always saw it as such.  For L1, however, there is no understanding why it can’t be like this for good.  ‘Going back to work’ has meant not much really.  After all, I have been in one state or another of ‘off-ness’ for half a term – a lifetime in her little world.  She allowed herself to hope, and today that hope was dashed.

The only plan I have is simple.  Lots of hugs and attention, and home time as soon as I can every day.  The pattern of our usual life will soon re-establish itself, but for now we’ll be spending more time than usual snuggled down just being together, and we will all try not to be too sad.

The one about unhelpful behaviour

31 May

I’m finishing my three-week ‘easing back gently’ routine and returning to work ‘properly’ from next week.  Not that next week, in all its brevity, can be referred to as a ‘proper’ working pattern, but you get my drift.  I have been doing some days in the office and some working from home, climaxing in yesterday’s first full day – hardcore, tiring, but another milestone reached so reached with a smile.

The Ls have enjoyed having me at home since I ceased wafting round the house announcing ‘I just need a little lie-down’ at regular intervals.  Before that they thought they’d swapped the semi-functional parent of five years standing for an almost entirely unfunctional one, and it is very difficult to explain, particularly to a four year old, why it’s worth hanging in there – even for the six months it’ll be till things truly stabilise.  They don’t really get the concept of ‘speculate to accumulate’, which is how I have chosen to view this period of life, although L1 is a fan of my exciting spinal scar.

Now I’m going back, L2 in particular is finding ways to express his dissatisfaction with the return to the usual.  I shan’t say the norm, as such a concept is alien in our household, but we have a standard operating system, of course.

He knows I can’t use any kind of leverage to shift him around and about; I certainly can’t tuck him under my arm to take him from desired ‘A’ to undesired ‘B’.  So his latest method of protest against an unwanted outcome is to lie straight as a die in the centre of our kingsize bed, where I simply can’t access him, and refuse.  There’s nothing I can do, and he knows it.  Managing recalcitrant determined and immobile children is one of the counter-indications of my op not walked through in the otherwise very thorough lumbar spinal surgery booklet.  On my next visit, I think I’ll suggest its inclusion, but for now, it’s a recourse to bribery.

The one about heading back

17 May

I’m sorry, my beloved blog, you have been neglected.  I hold my hands up to that, but I do claim extenuating circumstances.  Slowly but surely, I’m easing myself back into being LandLsworkingmum from LandLspostsurgerymum.

Fortunately, permission to return has nicely coincided with the urge to do so.  I have some tried and tested signs that indicate clearly when I’m done with getting better on its own, and would like to run getting better alongside getting back to the office.

Reasons I know it’s time to go back to work:

1) I get really excited about the Ls’ homework content, and am disappointed if it isn’t homework night, as it’s something a bit challenging (for me) to do

2) I start investigating the images on Tesco.com to see if there are any discrepancies between the product description and the product labelling (see their ‘everyday value refuse sacks’ for one I uncovered – just call me Sherlock.  And on that subject…)

3) I have read 36% of the Complete Sherlock Holmes on the Kindle, and am treating myself to a round of remedial Pilates every time he says ‘elementary’

4) I wonder whether it’s the first or the second afternoon Jeremy Kyle that is a repeat of the morning’s, as it is around the timing of these that I must shape my day

5) The specialist says it’s fine for me to do it, slowly

Normal service will, I sincerely hope, resume in a week or so.  It better had: for now I can blame any slips and slides on the anaesthetic, but this excuse probably has a limited shelf-life.

And on the subject of shelf-life, what troubling discrepancies will I find on tesco.com tonight?  Watch this space…

The one about playdates

2 May

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On Saturday, in my incapacitation and with the weather resembling day 20 of the forty days and forty nights of precipitation endured by Noah prior to launching the Ark, it seemed like the best idea to invite a mate for each of the Ls round to keep everyone amused.

I love having the kids’ mates round to play and if I didn’t work full time we would do it a whole lot more.  It gives me unrivalled insight into how things are when they’re not with me, when they’re at school, at the childminder’s, at other friends’, when they’re living their lives out of our realm of control and observance.

I love picking up snippets of the conversations they have; seeing the way they interact together when adults aren’t directly around; and sitting with them at mealtimes just having a chat when they’re all together, telling you stuff – a fantastic way to pick up some of the flavour of their lives and the relationships they build and nurture when you’re not around, and play is undirected.  It also helps, I suppose, that the Ls’ friends are to a person fantastic – lovely little kids with lots to say.

It’s also genuinely fascinating to see how activities have changed as they’ve grown.  L1 and friends use the same base materials – the dolls’ house, the Barbies (some remainders from my own childhood, how the Barbie shape and accoutrements have changed in – give or take – thirty years!), the baby dolls – but the games are ever more sophisticated and the worlds they inhabit increasingly many-faceted.  The imaginary landscape in which these fundamental figures exist has changed, developed, grown and widened.  They’re only in the play-houses as a temporary thing now: they’re out and about, at work, at the cinema, visiting friends – a play world that is an ever-closer mimic of the world they observe and in which they are more and more active participants.  Imaginary independence is coming to the fore.  ‘Teenage’ Barbies are off to the shop, buying chewing gum (gasp!), and diet Coke (double gasp – not decaffeinated, either!).  My girl and her friends are playacting their next stages, making it familiar in their minds before it could ever become familiar in their realities.

On the other hand, the worlds created by L2 and friends, year R, don’t need any finesse.  On Saturday, wonderful to watch, it was two Transformers and the boys’ ability to run that was all they needed.  The boys themselves didn’t exist as little boys any more: everything was directed into these two teeny action figures as they flew, dive-bombed, ‘transformed’ and drove from A to B, apparently the same game for us unenlightened observers but, for the boys, different every time and endlessly occupying.  My experience is that with children of that age if the imaginations gel, play will last as long as is possible.

Three hours passed in a flash.  Yes yes yes, I did have a little nap, circumstances etc, leaving M to police events, but frankly no policing was needed – as he said to me just before tea time “I am, basically, redundant here” – which, I would argue, is the sign of the most perfect playdate.

The one about the cat, the Jack Russell, and bedtime wrestling

27 Apr

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My two most constant convalescent companions are the ginger and white cat and the ginger and white Jack Russell.  Despite the difference in species they have reached an entente cordiale around their mutual colour schemes and appear to like each other a reasonable amount.

In reality I suspect the dog likes the cat and the cat tolerates the dog – he’s given her the odd swipe on the nose, just to prove who’s in charge you understand, when she thinks I, the person really in charge, naturally – is not looking, but regardless they live together in what I would imagine is the closest to inter-species harmony that can exist (unless you count M and I cohabiting with the Ls, which often feels like the same thing).

I’m way better equipped at the moment to manage the demands of the animal members of our household than the small human.  Yesterday – somewhat ambitiously, I admit, a mere week after surgery – M went out to work leaving me to do bedtime.  Fortunately L1 is a model of good sense, when required, as the second time I got down on my knees (not to beg, contrary to what could seem desirable at a point when I need them to behave themselves, but to put something else away) I got stuck down there.  Seeking a leverage point was pretty tricky, and L1 came to the rescue, helping me to haul myself up to standing in a way that kept both our dignities intact.

More was to come, though.  L2, like a predator sensing weakness in prey so diving straight for the jugular and not letting go until the victim is too weakened to resist, decided he wanted to stay and sleep in our bed following our time cuddled up together in there reading stories, knowing full well that I would be unable to drag him bodily into his own in my current condition.  I rapidly ran through the parenting persuasion gamut: cajoling, threatening 1 (me) and threatening 2 (M’s return), cajoling again, and finally begging; while L2 ran through the range of options that would persuade him to head own bed-wards (a toffee; a new game for his DS etc).  Fortunately he conceded the parenting point and headed, reluctantly, under his own steam for the reward of being termed ‘a kind little boy’, but it was a close call.

M will not be heading out for the night for another week or so.  And that, I tell you, is a fact.