Thursday, September 27, 2012

Cars and Ducks

Wouldn't it be awful if, three miles into a 200+ mile journey, one of the toddlers was copiously sick all over himself and his car seat?

I daresay this is something that more experienced parents expect and have come to be prepared for, but not so this parent.  No.  We were reduced to screeching off the urban clearway onto some side street and trying to sort out the mess with Pampers wipes.  And then, of course, we had the unadulterated pleasure of driving the rest of the way in a car that stank of vomit.  Nice.

Mind you, I can't complain.  We had driven down to London the day before, and the boys had obediently had a good long sleep on the way, waking up just in time to stop for tea at a service station on the M40.  Then they had done a pretty good job of sharing a strange room and sleeping in strange cots, before spending a fair amount of time in their pram while I faffed about at the Romanian Consulate trying to apply for a certificate of good conduct.  Yes, really.

Of course, they were loving it all because my Mum had come with us for the trip and was totally spoiling them, playing with them, singing to them and feeding them a regular supply of the compressed fruit things she eats which the boys think are "teeties"!

Of course, they had no idea we were in London, so there was little point taking them to see anything.  Instead of sightseeing, we went for a nice long walk in Hyde Park along the banks of the Serpentine.  Having some bread left over from lunch, we thought it would be a nice idea to feed the ducks, and it was then that the boys realised abruptly that they weren't in Kansas anymore!

You see, up here where we live, you can feed the ducks without fear.  They are polite, northern ducks who wait patiently for the bread to be thrown before pecking it up and tilting their bills in thanks.  Not so in the big city.  No, big city ducks are pushy, impatient creatures.  As if it wasn't bad enough that there was a swan as big as a horse (I kid you not!), the ducks were like a horrifying swarm of zombie ducks, crowding out of the lake with their snapping zombie beaks, slapping their webbed feet on the ground as they moved relentlessly towards the tiny chunk of bread that OB was inexplicably holding in his tiny fist instead of throwing.

And then one of them bit him!  Several times!

Now, you might say it was only trying to get at the bread that was in his hand, but I maintain that this huge child-eating duck made a beeline for the little lad's fingers with a beady glint in its ducky eye and its mind on a meatier meal than the crusts on offer.

I only hope he's not scarred for life - I might well be!

Saturday, September 15, 2012

On being 'maternal'

Recently, and not for the first time, somebody I hadn't seen for a while asked me how I was managing with the boys because, "Ya know, you weren't . . . well, what I would call 'maternal' when you were younger, were you?  I mean you didn't come across as someone who liked kids."

This is a sentiment that I have heard surprisingly often since I started fostering - this idea that people are surprised at how well I seem to be getting on with the boys because they never thought of me as maternal - and it's left me wondering what it was about my former life that was so UN-maternal!

I would have thought that somebody who spent 12 years teaching, 15 years involved in voluntary work with children of all ages and years volunteering with orphanage kids in Romania, culminating in a two-year stint living there to work with those very same kids would have managed to establish pretty good credentials when it came to proving their aptitude for and like of being with children.

Admittedly, I have my favourite ages - under 5 and over 12 - but still, I'd have thought I'd done enough!

Perhaps it's to do with the way I related to those children.  Of course I was always the teacher or the youth worker and never the parent.  I usually related to them in larger groups and was probably more often concerned with managing those large numbers as I was with forming intimate, nurturing relationships with individuals.  But at the same time, I spent time with the children of friends, babysat and played with them.

I think the problem boils down to one of opportunity.  I wasn't a mother, so I didn't have much opportunity to be maternal.  In all my dealings with children I was aware that my role was very different from that of a parent and that to lead children to view me in a parental light would be wrong and even damaging.  In short, it's hard to show your maternal side when you aren't a mother!

Perhaps what people mean is that they didn't see me go all soft-hearted or gooey-featured around little kids.  They didn't hear me talk about how much I wanted children of my own or how I longed to cradle a baby in my arms.  Of course not!  For sure those feelings were in me, but what's the point of going on about it when it isn't happening and might never happen?

I have always known I was maternal.  Before I started fostering I had no doubts about my ability to love and nurture little ones, and was far more concerned about other people's reactions and their uncertainties about whether I would 'manage'.  People worried about my busy lifestyle and all the things I was involved in and my commitment to work, and wondered how I would cope when I had to give up most of that.  What they didn't know what that I would have happily dumped all of that in a heartbeat if it meant that I could devote myself to the awesome and beautiful task of raising a child of my own!

I think people who are most comfortable with themselves have learned to live the life that's necessary for the season they are in.  When I was alone with only myself to worry about I focused on work, on my social life, on church meetings and activities.  Now I am in a different season, I live a different life and I allow other strengths and aptitudes to come to the surface.  Before, my job, my status and my education were very important to me.  Now, not so much!

Before, when other people talked endlessly about their children's doings I had absolutely nothing to contribute so I felt left out and a bit irritated.  I would offer stories about my friends' children just so I could join in a bit, but it wasn't the same.  I must have once commented to a friend that I "hated it" when people talked about their children all the time - a comment that this friend now regularly throws back at me when I mention things the boys have been up to! - but really what I hated was that I couldn't join in.  Now I can, and I don't care if it makes me boring!

Recently I read an article where a journalist decried the habit of using pictures of our children as Facebook profile pictures.  She was pretty strident in her opinion that doing so is the equivalent of a mother abandoning her identity and self - hiding behind her children so that she doesn't have to bother to dress nicely, put on make-up or have a life.  Her view was that this was bad for the mother and therefore bad for the children.

I couldn't agree less.  If I was an artist and sculptor and created something awesome, I would probably be proud and pleased enough to use it as my profile picture.  Children are our greatest work - it's not becoming a doormat or a shadow of a person to love them, prioritise them and celebrate them!

For me, being a parent is a far more important role and achievement than anything we could do at work or elsewhere.  When I didn't have the opportunity, I focused on other things and showed the aspects of my personality that suited those roles.  Now I have the boys, a different side of my character has come out.

Am I 'more maternal' now?  Or, as others have suggested 'softer'?  No.  I was always exactly this maternal and exactly this soft - I just didn't have the opportunity to show it!

Friday, September 14, 2012

Interesting article on socialisation

This blog post links to a rather interesting article on socialisation for the early years child and the role of early years education settings. Nice to see there's been some research that supports my own views!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Sharing the love makes it grow!

We're just back from a two-week holiday in France with my parents and it was absolutely lovely!  The sun shone, the pool was warm and inviting and the 'hotel' was 6 star quality!

The best part, though, was sharing the boys with someone else.  Far be it from me to ever imply that caring for the boys is anything but a pleasure and a joy, but sometimes, when I'm at home with them on my own, their foibles and tantrums become magnified to such a point that it often seems like days have gone by since anything fun happened.

Not so when doting 'grandparents' are around.  Watching my parents cooing over their cute antics, marvelling at NB's bravery in the pool and OB's daily word acquisitions, and looking out for ways to create fun times all conspired to remind me what utter treasures these little ones are.

And having someone else share the early mornings, mealtime woes and occasional tantrums didn't hurt either!

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Fun and Games at Manchester Airport

Travel to France by plane with two toddlers?  Am I crazy?  Maybe, but since we were going to France anyway, I figured that flying would be less hassle than, say, driving, or pushing the pram through the channel tunnel!

I knew something of what to expect.  Last year I travelled with OB and was pleasantly surprised by how easy they made everything for us at Manchester Airport.  It was a lot better there than at Basel on the supposedly 'child-friendly' continent where they stood impatiently by while I struggled to collapse the complex pram and hoist it up onto the conveyor belt while holding a grumpy OB who could not yet stand unaided.

This time, however, Manchester Airport let me down badly! While the fast lane through security was awesome (especially since the queue for non pram-pushers was snaking its way out of the main terminal doors!), other things did not go so well.

Having been shepherded round a back route to the gate to avoid the two staircases (no lift apparently!) on the way to the gate, I was surprised when it came to boarding time that there was absolutely no pre-boarding at all.

No worries, I thought, I'll just push in!  Pushing in with two cute kids in a double buggy is surprisingly easy, and I was soon at the front of the queue to show our boarding passes and passports.  But, no! The lady on the desk wouldn't even look at our documents and instead insisted that the buggy be collapsed and the boys set free to cause havoc in the airport before we'd made it onto the gangway.

Of course, while I juggled OB's reins, NB's hand, the hand luggage and the buggy, the queue continued on past me, which meant I had to push in again!  Thankfully, the other passengers were sympathetic.  Then the lady wanted boarding passes and passports - again, not an easy task when your hands are full of children.  Why she couldn't have let me collapse the buggy on the far side of the desk after she'd seen our documents I can't imagine, especially as I know for sure that someone will have had to carry that collapsed pram down to the end of the gangway anyway.

By the time we managed all that, the plane was half full of people taking ages to put their huge suitcases in the overhead storage so it was all fun and games getting to our seats (on row 30!), and of course the poor soul with the aisle seat in our row was already seated, necessitating some awkward dancing in the aisle before I could get us all in place.

All airlines everywhere should realise that people with babies in prams need PRE-BOARDING!  If Easy Jet can manage it, why can't national carriers like Swiss?

As we descended into Manchester on our return flight, I was feeling pretty relaxed.  The boys had been pretty well-behaved and although one of them had filled their nappy in a timely (and very smelly) fashion just after the fasten seatbelts light had come on, I felt that things were going well.

Of course, sometime during our final descent they both, quite unexpectedly, fell asleep.  This meant that when it came to getting us all off the plane I had two tired, whiny, barely-functioning babies to handle.  We waited almost until everyone else had left before we stumbled down the aisle to the door, but I wasn't worried because I knew that the pram, complete with its 'delivery at aircraft' label would be waiting for us at the end of the gangway.

Except it wasn't.

"Where's my pram?" I asked the ground staff member at the door.  "I was expecting delivery at aircraft."

"We don't do that in Manchester," she replied.

I know this to be patently untrue, but I'll not go into details about the ensuing conversation, about how unhelpful and rude she was, about how I was refused any kind of assistance in getting to baggage reclaim, or about how I stormed off with the boys throwing words like 'disgrace' over my shoulder!

At the top of the gangway, I asked the same question of the two staff members there, who tapped on their computer keyboards in a concerned way and then said we'd have to wait for 'Lee'.

Lee turned out to be a burly guy in a hi-vis waistcoat who assured me that they don't do delivery at aircraft at Manchester.  When I pointed out that this seemed strange as last time I had travelled into Manchester the pram had been ready and waiting for me, he amended his comment to "Well, we don't do it at this gate."  Oh, right, thanks.

Once again, special assistance of any sort was refused to I had to carry/drag the two wailing, half-asleep boys the four hundred million miles through passport control (where of course she wanted to see my letters of permission to travel with the boys - if I was kidnapping them, why would I be bringing them INTO the country?!) and down to baggage reclaim, where we had another unsightly juggling experience as I tried to retrieve our baggage and pram without either of the boys getting swept away on the conveyor belt.

Not good, Manchester.  It's experiences like these that cause people to have the (mistaken, in my opinion) impression that they are so much more child-friendly on the continent.  While I've been abroad, I've had dreadful experiences in airports, trips to supermarkets where twin-trolleys simply don't exist, and kids' meals served on plates so super-heated that adults have been warned not to touch them.  It's not hard to make airports a little easier for people travelling with children, and even if we can't, a helpful attitude and smiling face goes much further than rudeness and lies!