Christine, Wondering

Random Musings of a Human Becoming

Sunday, May 1, 2016

I'm Not His Mum.

I haven't posted on this blog for over a year and I don't think anyone actually reads it any more, so I guess this is a safe place to put this so that I can link to it when I need to.

Lately, a few friends have referred casually to my stepson's "two mums", or called me a "mum". I know this comes from the best of places - love for me, and genuine recognition of the effort I put in to my stepson's life. But it's really triggering, and also not true.

I can see why people might think it's all but true. I do just about everything that his mother does. I pay, I fetch and carry, I soothe, I feed, I discipline, I cook and prepare and wash and pack and find and entertain. I have been a full-time parent to him for four and a half years - well over half his lifetime and since before he can remember.

The reason why I'm not his mum is one that people don't like to talk about much these days. It's become very unfashionable to talk about a parent's rights over their child, and perhaps rightly so, as the focus has shifted towards the child's rights and the parent's responsibilities. But it remains true that the parents who are on the birth or adoption certificate have certain rights that non-parents don't have. Some of them are encoded in law, such as the right to make medical decisions, but most are simply by convention. The right to choose a child's school, the right to choose how a child is raised, the right to decide what behaviour or language will fly in our house and what won't, the right to decide a child's diet, and so on.

I am a lucky stepmum, in that my wife values my opinion in these things, but there is never any doubt that the decision is hers. Where our ideas and values clash, I have no choice but to give way, as I have no ground on which to negotiate.

I'm not his mum because I don't have the right to be.

If we were both his legal parent, we'd both be required to compromise over these things, but there's no requirement for compromise in this situation. She's his mother, I am not, and the decision is hers.

Thankfully, most of the things I would have vetoed or insisted upon are minor - changing into play clothes after school, or not saying 'bum' and 'telly', for example, Many of them are based in a class-culture clash that occasionally plays out between my wife's upbringing and mine. But they add up to a very glaring and obvious difference between 'mum' and 'not-mum'.

That's why, when people call me his mum, it hurts. Because I want to be someone's mum very badly, but I am not. Because I carry all of the responsibilities a mother has towards this child, but have none of the rights motherhood entails. Because he's not growing up with 'my child' stamped upon his being. He's my wife's son. I'm not his mum.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Songs of Longing

Just parking this here... may add to it. It's nearly the end of the school year, and I'm feeling tired and low. Feelings, I has them.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

A Filk for a Saturday Morning

Said the little boy to the busy mum,
"Do you see what I see?
Way up in the sky, busy mum,
Do you see what I see?
A plane, a plane, flying through the sky
Can you see it, way up high?
Can you see it, way up high?

Said the little boy to the busy mum,
"Do you hear what I hear?
Coming down the road, busy mum,
Do you hear what I hear?
A truck, a truck, carrying a load
Do you hear it, out on the road?
Do you hear it, out on the road?

Said the little boy to the busy mum,
"Do you know what I know?
In your peaceful bath, busy mum,
Do you know what I know?
A wee, a wee, coming really soon--
Let me in, I need the loo,
Let me in, I need the loo!"

Said the busy mum to the little boy,
"Listen to what I say!
I need five minutes’ peace, little boy,
Listen to what I say!
Go play, go play! Let me shut the door
Just give me a few minutes more…
Just give me a few minutes more!"

Sunday, January 26, 2014

101 Things To Do...

... that are better than dithering on the internet.

Evenings and weekends are hard. They're supposed to be - or rather, have to be - useful times. They're the times for getting things done around the house and in my life. Teaching is such a life-eating pursuit that these precious non-school times must be guarded carefully and used effectively.

The pressure to use them effectively is so great that I spend most of them dithering around on FB, GB and BtN, nattering to people and sharing interesting things.

Now, I'm not going to say that these are not valid ways to spend time, because I fundamentally believe that they have their place. Social interaction, when one's support network is spread far and wide, can only happen through such media, and it is as important a part of life as running into someone at the shops and having a quick catch-up. It's necessary and healthy.

However if I spend too long doing it, for all that I've enjoyed myself, I get a sense of life being eaten away. So I engaged in an act of meta-procrastination and made myself a list of things I could be doing instead. It's taken me hours, but I hope they're invested rather than frittered!

Some are useful, some are frivolous, some are impractical, but all are part of the useful, interesting life that's currently squeezed between school and "relaxing on the internet".

1.    Put a wash on
2.    Hang the washing up
3.    Fold washing and put it away
4.    Tidy a room
5.    Sweep the floor
6.    Scrub the toilet
7.    Do the dishes
8.    Deal with the rubbish/recycling
9.    Sort a drawer
10.    File papers
11.    Polish shoes
12.    Polish jewellery
13.    Clean the fridge/freezer
14.    Do a pantry audit
15.    Spot-treat the carpet/upholstery
16.    Straighten the books
17.    Clean the litter tray
18.    Write a kitchen/linen needs list
19.    Plan a meal
20.    Price a renovation/redecoration
21.    Choose clothes to donate/recycle
22.    Read the gas meter
23.    Take batteries down to be recycled

24.    Check bank balances
25.    Submit a useful form
26.    Register a warranty
27.    Send an email to someone
28.    Back up
29.    Clean up downloads/desktop/other files
30.    Tag old photographs
31.    Do a grocery order
32.    Make an album to have printed
33.    Defragment
34.    Remove useless software
35.    Book a holiday
36.    Phone a friend. Chat.
37.    Learn to use GIMP
38.    Pinterest useful parenting ideas
39.    Write & publish a blog post
40.    Read journal articles

41.    Write the book
42.    Plan another book
43.    Read a book/magazine about writing
44.    Write a short story/drabble
45.    Edit something
46.    Make a character profile
47.    Draw a map

48.    Sketch something
49.    Colour something
50.    Paint something
51.    Cross-stitch
52.    Mending
53.    Make a garb pattern/concept
54.    Embroider something
55.    Learn to cast on; practise
56.    Take photographs
57.    Teach myself knitting
58.    Make lacing cords
59.    Learn to weave

60.    Lift weights
61.    Go for a walk
62.    Go for a bike ride
63.    Do some yoga/pilates
64.    Stretch
65.    Meditate
66.    Dance around to music
67.    Plan a long walk
68.    Go geocaching

69.    Play with the cat
70.    Read a book/magazine
71.    Put photos in frames
72.    Scrapbook recipes
73.    Learn Italian/French/German/Spanish
74.    Journal/reflect

75.    Practise the flute
76.    Practise the violin
77.    Practise the recorder
78.    Compose something
79.    Arrange or transcribe something
80.    Research and save sheet music

81.    Weed the garden
82.    Mow the lawn
83.    Prune
84.    Sweep the back porch
85.    Clean the windows

86.    Transcribe names
87.    Write up name articles
88.    Write a persona piece

89.    Research a new family tree member
90.    Backtrack and add details
91.    Upload genealogy photos
92.    Catalogue family photos

93.    Have a bath/wash hair
94.    Plug in toothbrush
95.    Do facial masque
96.    Soak & scrub feet
97.    Manicure/pedicure
98.    Track food/exercise
99.    Track weight/body measurements
100.   Get/give massage
101.   Go to bed early

I'll keep you updated with my progress!

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

And What Have You Done?

I started out this year full of fire and fierce hopes, but like all years it's been a mixed bag.

Today, the novel stands at 51,867 words. That's not bad. It's more than double my previous total words written on a project. It's not finished, but it's more than half finished, so I think I'm content with my efforts given how difficult some parts of this year have been.

I've been on a mild SSRI anti-anxiety medication since shortly after my last post, and it has helped immensely with the panic and fight-or-flight responses I was having to my workload. I'm still not sure whether the not coping was due to a chemical imbalance, or whether the chemical imbalance was caused by the workload being absurd, but either way I'm coping a bit better.

The high points of this year included my brother-in-law's lovely wedding, seeing the house where my mother grew up in Nottingham, travelling around the UK a bit, celebrating our first wedding anniversary (I did a video but it's too long to post here, and I don't suppose you lot want to sit for 14 minutes looking at wedding and honeymoon pictures really!), Munchkin starting Year 1, finding the heritage-listed gravestones of my ancestors, spending an enchanted week with the SCA at Raglan Castle in Wales, and losing around a stone through Weight Watchers. 

Aha! Oho!
Australia Day is not quite the same in England.
Making friends at his uncle's wedding.
7 Magdala Road, Nottingham: my mother's childhood home.
Surprise awesome park stop in Yorkshire.
Robin Hood's Bay.

Bridge Farm in Almeley, Herefordshire. My great-great-grandfather, Arthur William Dew, was living here in 1871 aged 2.
In the ongoing storage fight in Munchkin's tiny bedroom, I sewed a bookshelf.
Theme park day.
Raglan Castle, Wales
Caution: Archery
Sightseeing in Chichester.
Boarding the plane in Dubai en route to Perth.
A park in Glen Forrest, Perth. My father and I sat on the play equipment, drank coffee and talked.
The graves of my direct ancestors and their relatives, Ashurst, Kent.
6:15am, 25/12/2013
It's been mild so far, but the frost will come.

The low point of the year was, of course, losing my grandmother Jean. Here's some photos of her, just because.
Aged 4, growing up in Liverpool.
Aged 19.

With my grandfather Paul, and their children: (back) Mark, Penny, Nicola; (front) Jonquil, David, Erica, Leonora.
Mum, me, Jean, about 2001.
My first university graduation, 2003.
Family Gathering in 2009.

 It's been a year of big events, lots of weddings and lots of driving - from Newcastle-upon-Tyne in the north east to Southampton on the south coast, west to Shropshire and Herefordshire and out to Raglan, and down in the south east to Kent... I've covered a lot of ground this year, and enjoyed it. There's been new babies (though alas still not one of my own yet) and a few people have left us. Certainly a memorable year.

I haven't got a lot of big goals for 2014. Keep writing the book until it is done, then edit it and start on something new. Keep losing weight, until I hit my goal. Try to get a masters application accepted and funded to start next October, on a Heritage theme. Cope at school. Write another Christmas play. Take more photographs. Go for more walks. See more of this amazing country. Make more garb. Sleep properly. Wear interesting clothes. Have some fun. Blog regularly?

Happy new year, everyone!

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Rock and a Hard Place

As you're probably aware, teaching in the UK is getting worse and worse. Shifting goalposts, enormous workloads, constant negative feedback, absurd performance pay, and so on. I'm going crazy with stress and can't keep up with everything I'm supposed to be doing unless I have absolutely no life. I could work 12 hour days 7 days a week and still never get on top of it all.

I keep reaching breaking point, then finding I can go that little bit further, then reaching breaking point again. I almost resigned for Christmas, but I was too scared of the money issues. Now I'm invested in these kids and want to see out the year, but the fight-or-flight response is on constantly and I'm living through a rollercoaster of adrenaline. This has to be my last year of this. Come summer, I am done with classroom teaching.

I'm going to try to get a job back in the heritage sector, with supply teaching as my stopgap until something in that field comes through.

But this comes with a price. I was hoping to have a baby in the next year or so, but we can't really afford one if I'm not in a full-time, decently-paid job in which I am entitled to paid maternity leave. Statutory maternity pay isn't really enough for very long, and I'd be wary of not having a job to go back to anyway. So if I take the plunge, and get out of teaching and into something else, I have to put off having a baby until I'm in whatever that something else turns out to be. At nearly 33, that's not a decision to be taken lightly.

And yet, it's simply not safe, mental health wise, for me to suck it up long enough to have the baby.

I can't balance it, and I don't know what to do.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

In the Room Next Door

Wednesday 11th September started as a perfectly normal day. I went to work, I taught all morning, I grabbed my phone and went to have my lunch.

Sitting down to lunch, I took a look at my emails, and there was one from my Mum which just said "Phone me".

I knew her mother, Jean, was unwell, and my heart sank. I scuttled outside, juggling my credit card and my phone as I tried to charge up a calling card to phone halfway around the world. Before I managed it, my phone rang, Mum's number.

Her news was not good - she'd just had to be the witness at Jean's do-not-resuscitate conversation. Jean had been given two days to live.

I cried all over my colleagues, my head teacher drove me home, and after several phonecalls and wrestling with internet systems, a plane ticket was booked and ten hours later, 10:30pm that night, I was taxi-ing down the runway at Heathrow on my way to Perth.

I arrived at 1am on Friday the 13th (flying out on the 11th of September and flying in on Friday the 13th, it's amazing I got there in one piece). We decided not to go straight to the hospital, and I will forever wonder whether that was the right choice, as I learned later that at that time Jean was still able to talk to people.

We got there around 7am after a few hours' sleep, by which time Jean was, I guess, in a sleep of sorts. She didn't wake up, and died an hour and a half later. I had no last words from or to her, no chance to say any of the thoughts on my mind, but had I gone straight there, perhaps I wouldn't have been there to hold her hand at the very end. I'll never know whether it was the right choice. Perhaps there isn't one. Perhaps she knew I was there. Perhaps, as I was the last of the family who was on their way to get there, she was waiting for me. I'll never know.

Jean wanted to die at home and in her sleep, without having lost any of her mental acuity. Given that they won't really let people die at home any more, this was close. She had five of her seven children and one of her sixteen grandchildren at her side as she slipped away after an astonishingly full life. If any death could be said to be a good one, this was one.

If flinging myself across the world at short notice to watch my grandmother die was not surreal enough, what followed transcended surreality. My cousin, who got married last weekend in Kent, was having a betrothal ceremony in Perth on the 14th. Jean had been adamant that it should go ahead - 'dance at the wedding' was one of her last wishes for us all - and so it did, with us all in this bizarre daze of unprocessed feelings. There were a few tears, but largely it was a masterpiece of kept-up appearances and non-dealing-with-reality.

I stayed in Perth until the following Friday. I managed to see a couple of friends, I sorted out the possessions of mine that remained in Mum's shed, I saw my paternal grandmother (who got taken to hospital with pneumonia as well that week, which was almost more than I could take) and helped in a peripheral way with organising the funeral. The day before the funeral it became apparent that I was the only adult grandchild who wanted to speak (all grandchildren had been asked) so along with my 15-year-old brother I became the voice of all of my cousins at only the second funeral I'd ever attended. I was still adjusting the eulogy a couple of hours before the funeral as family members asked for particular things to be included.

The funeral was Wednesday 18th. I had not been distressed by Jean's body when she died, but I wish I hadn't looked in the coffin as it was all wrong, Jean and not Jean all at once... too much. I drove two of my three siblings in the funeral cortege across Perth to the venue, teaching them as we went that all they had to remember to say was "as well as can be expected" and "thank you". I hugged people I hadn't seen for ages, or who remembered me only as a small child. I got up and spoke. I sat and cried. I drank juice and thanked people for coming and for saying nice things about my eulogy. It was a beautiful funeral and I wish I remembered it clearly instead of in bits and snatches, but I guess that's the way of things.

Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen, Jean’s beloved friends and family. When I was in high school, Jean attended a morning tea given by my home economics class. Overhearing me offer Jean coffee, my teacher jumped in with “Christine! How dare you call your grandmother by her first name?” Jean drew herself up, gave the teacher a scathing look, and responded with great dignity, “How dare you tell my granddaughter what she can and can’t call me?”

The teacher never forgave me, but the pride I felt about Jean standing up for me, and for our relationship, more than made up for it. It was only years later that I understood what it meant to Jean to be seen as an individual, not just someone’s granny but a vibrant,  complex person whose name deserved to be used.

As an adult, I often find myself echoing one of Jean’s favourite phrases: “That is an un-called-for provocative remark and as such is banned!”. As a result, a rising number of young English school children know the meanings of “un-called-for” and “provocative”, and may even try a little harder not to wind each other up. This might be the smallest part of Jean’s legacy, but nonetheless I think she would have been proud of it.

So who was Jean, to a grandchild?

Roast dinners, birthday cakes, warm hugs,
Banknotes slipped secretly into eager young hands;
Well-chosen books, comfy chairs, wise words,
A fierce defence of kith and kin;
A love of nature, an eye for beauty, a powerful history,
A lifetime of learning and love.

Thank you, Jean.

The wake was at my aunt's house, afterwards, just for family. Having catered for a 150-person wedding four days earlier, my aunt wasn't able to cater for the wake, so we ordered fish and chips. Jean loved fish and chips as one of the simple joys in life, reminiscent of holiday treats, and I think she would have found it funny and fitting that the family had such a meal in her honour.

Afterwards, my cousin got out his guitar and started strumming, and the family began to sing. Nothing particularly significant, just pop songs of various vintages. We wobbled our way through "When you say nothing at all" and nearly broke down over "Leaving on a jet plane", but there wasn't much reference to Jean at all... just the family, sitting around singing as we've done countless times before, as if Jean was not gone at all but just in another room, or had left for home early while her family carried on foolishly into the night.

I don't believe in any sort of an afterlife - haven't for years. That didn't change when Jean died. I believe she's completely gone. But perhaps as long as we remember people, love them and hold them in our hearts, in some way they're only just a thought away... like they're just in the room next door.

I miss her so much.

Five daughters, two sons, three daughters-in-law, four sons-in-law, ten granddaughters, six grandsons, three each of grandsons-in-law and granddaughters-in-law, three great-granddaughters, two great-grandsons, and one step-great-grandson. What an incredible legacy of love.