Thursday, October 31, 2013

October 31st

The other day I heard Graham Norton express shock and amazement that the young singing girl he was interviewing on his show had never done trick or treating! Really! How shocking! James Corden  then chimed in with his story about how his 'very religious' parents wouldn't let him do Halloween. Apparently they sat in the dark in a back room when trick or treaters came round.

James Corden is only 5 years younger than me. Graham Norton is in his 50s. Where were these people living that trick or treating was the norm when they were kids? Because where I was living nobody (and I mean absolutely nobody) went trick or treating. I never did it, or even dressed up or paid any sort of lip service to Halloween, and neither did any of my friends. We had heard of Halloween of course, but it was just a blip on the way to the much more exciting Bonfire Night.

Halloween just wasn't a 'thing' when we were kids. It seems to have come from nowhere in the last few years, and spending figures bear that out - a decade ago we spent £12 million on Halloween. This year, spending is predicted to top £300 million.

Personally, I can't stand any of it. For a start, it sits uncomfortably with my religious beliefs and while people will cite a variety of different accounts of the 'tradition' or 'origins' of Halloween in order to support/disagree with my reservations on religious grounds, I'm not moved by any of them. Rather like the modern celebrations of Easter and Christmas, the current incarnation of Halloween is so unbelievably far removed from any mists of time origins as to make those origins pretty irrelevant. I heartily doubt that any of the kids knocking on my door tonight will have the faintest interest in All Hallows Eve or Samhain.


Secondly, unlike Christmas, Easter or even Valentines which, while also being horribly commercialised, at least purport to celebrate something worthwhile, I struggle to find any redeeming feature of Halloween. I just don't get where the 'fun' is in any of it. Call me an old killjoy, but I really don't like the unpleasant, gory costumes. Most people wouldn't let their kids watch horror movies or films with excessive violence in them, but suddenly at Halloween it does kids no harm to walk around made up as though an axe has been put through their head. Our local garden centre put up a Halloween display in September, right by the entrance, replacing the cute models of animals with a smoke-filled graveyard scene complete with ghoulish corpse reaching out of the grave. OB was mortified.

Neither am I keen on kids extorting sweets out of strangers. The whole purpose of Halloween seems to be to gather and eat as many sweets as possible until our teeth actually fall out of our heads. On special days and celebrations like birthdays, I let OB go a bit overboard on the sweets and treats, of course I do. But those are days with a specific reason to celebrate and special food is often a part of that celebration.  What's the reason for Halloween?  Why do special rules apply on that day? I'm often told that Halloween is not a celebration of evil, so what is it a celebration of?  And if it isn't a celebration of anything, then it's just an excuse to eat massive piles of sweets for no real reason.  Don't get me wrong, I'm as partial as the next person to a massive pile of sweets, but we can probably drop all the paraphernalia that goes with it then!

So, yes, there's all that. But actually the main reason I avoid it is because so many people work so hard to make it impossible to avoid. I'm not 'against' Halloween, but I don't like it and I don't want to do it. Perhaps it's a rebellious streak in me that doesn't like being told what to do. Graham Norton's shock that there might exist a person that has never done trick or treating embodies it all for me. Somewhere, someone, or a group of people, have decided that this is what we all do at this time of year, and if you don't do it then it's a shocking thing. You are denying your children an essential part of their childhood. You are spoiling their fun. You are raising them as freaks. Sometime in the future, when they are famous comedians, they will gently mock you on national TV.


A friend of mine was once harangued at the school gates because her son had told another child that there was no such thing as the tooth fairy. "It's your children I feel sorry for," said the other mother. "You're taking all the joy out of their childhood." Yeah, forget the nature walks, the family holidays, the birthdays and other celebrations, the games and cuddles and bike rides and film nights - if you don't also have the tooth fairy, it's all for nothing.

Well, I'm going to get this out there:  I have never done trick or treating and I feel fine about it.  I hope my son will never do it either. We won't be doing Halloween at our house and neither will we be having the tooth fairy. I doubt we'll be paying much attention to Santa either - if I'm spending hundreds of pounds on Christmas presents then I'm not giving the credit to a fictional beardie! I hope my son will have fun, excitement, mystery and joy in his childhood. I hope I can still provide this without the addition of plastic pumpkins and zombie costumes.

If you're doing Halloween tonight, I really do hope that you have a great time together as a family. Times are hard and it's nice to have an excuse to go a bit wild and forget reality for a while - I do get that. So, I hope you all stay safe, and have fun and don't get sick from eating too many sweets.

As for us, well, I was thinking about taking OB to an alternative Light Night party, but social services have suddenly come up with a load of last minute appointments meaning that we will be doing something LB-related at that time instead. So I expect we'll just spend our evening in a back room with the light off. If it was good enough for James Corden . . .


Saturday, October 26, 2013

Respite

So, we have a new little one in the house - we're calling him Little Boy (LB) - and he's very little, only three months old.  Officially he's here on a week's respite, but actually things are a bit more complicated than that, and it's not entirely certain whether that week will stretch to two or three, and where he might end up after he leaves here.

As usual, everything was a bit last minute and rushed.  I received a phone call at around 11.30am as I was hanging a blind (I always seem to be doing DIY when I get these calls!), and by 4pm he was here.  This is quick, but actually it's more notice than I've had before.  So, it was a day of frantic phone calls, social workers populating the house drinking brews and wafting paperwork around, and determined unearthing of all the small baby equipment which, since I moved house, has been stashed away in some very random corners.

Amazing how the arrival of such a tiny person can
make your house seem half the size!

And in the middle of all of this I had to pick OB up from Playgroup and gently explain to him that not only would Mamy and Papy be arriving later that day, but also a tiny little baby would be coming to visit.  OB was intrigued.

"Do baby play with toys, Mummy?  Do baby like ice cream?"

I'm proud to say that OB has been a little superstar.  Apart from one wobble today when he didn't want me to put the baby in his old pram, he's been lovely with the baby.  We've been talking about a new baby coming for a while now, ever since he saw me moving NB's old cot into the new nursery, so it wasn't a complete shock to him.  Unlike me, OB could actually remember where the baby toys were stored - cue much grunting and shouts of, "Mummy! Elp!" as he dragged the box out from under my bed and tried to get it downstairs to share the contents with LB.

And LB is fascinated with OB's antics.  His eyes follow around the room as OB jumps, runs, plays, sings and generally puts on quite the performance. He's a contented baby, sleeping through already (amazing!) and mostly quite happy to sit around staring at everything.  In fact, I'd forgotten how much easier a tiny baby is than a lively, demanding toddler!

Even better is that, with wonderful timing, my parents will be staying here all week, so I have two very capable sets of helping hands around the place, I won't have to worry about cooking meals, and, best of all, OB will not lack fuss and attention while I'm having to deal with the baby.

As for LB, well, this is just one of what will probably be several major upheavals before his future is settled. Whenever I think about how children are moved around in foster care, I can't help comparing the suddenness of it all with the carefully-managed intros of adoption.  Little LB has come, without warning, to a strange house, with strange people and strange smells, and a carer who doesn't really know his routines and doesn't yet know him well enough to read all his signals yet, leading to a lot of experimenting for me, and uncertainty for him.

By the time he's been here for a week, we'll probably have got the hang of each other, and then it'll be time to move on again.  Every move is a disrupting experience for these little ones, shaking already fragile bonds of attachment.  But as I keep saying, these are 'on balance' decisions.  The moves are disruptive, yes, but probably better than the alternatives.

Meanwhile, we will get on with enjoying the new dynamic that LB is bringing into our lives.  Right now, LB is bouncing on my Mum's knee, slightly bobbly-headed, and OB is leaning over him surprisingly tenderly, explaining that his milk isn't ready yet and showing him the rocket cup we bought today.  Gorgeous!

Thursday, October 24, 2013

A is for Accrington

Watching my very pregnant friend at her baby shower last weekend got me to thinking how much things have changed in our lives over the past few years. It doesn't seem long since we were both footloose single women, and now, here she is, married and about to have her first, and here I am, settled in a grown-up person's house with my very own OB.

One thought led to another and then, as brains do, mine suddenly reminded me of what I thought was a very romantic project that said friend did with her then fiance while they were engaged. They set themselves a task of organising a series of days out to places beginning with each letter of the alphabet, in alphabetical order. Every so often, a series of snaps would appear on Facebook - my friends looking happy in Haworth, looking carefree in Keswick, looking windswept pretty much everywhere.

What a great idea, I thought. So now I'm pinching it!

For a long time now, I've been marvelling at the number of Facebook pictures I see of friends out and about with their families practically every weekend, at museums, nature parks, theme parks - pretty much everywhere really. Our lives seem mundane and sedentary in comparison.  I've made a bit of an effort recently to get out more but, without incentive, good intentions often peter out.  So, I've created myself an incentive - an A-Z Tour of OB-friendly locations.  We're on it!

Right now, I expect you're thinking, "Sounds great, but  . . . Accrington?  Really?!"

I'll admit that this first venture was rather hastily organised, and then re-organised at the last minute. Honestly, with so many great places beginning with 'A' available (Ambleside? Arundel Castle? Ascot?!), I wouldn't say that Accrington (of Accrington Stanley fame) would have been my first choice, and, if I'm honest, it's a bit of a cheat anyway as we didn't quite go to Accrington itself, but the wonderfully-named village of Oswaldtwistle close by.

The reason for the haste is that my parents are staying with us next week, and we are due to go to Blackpool again to take in the illuminations (or 'special lights' as OB calls them).  Blackpool is such an obvious choice for 'B' that I was desperate to get an 'A' in before then.  If not, I would either have to think of another 'B' or go to Blackpool yet again, and twice in one year is enough even for me.

I made a plan for a quite different 'A' location, but it entirely depended on the weather being reasonable as it was all outdoors.  When today dawned damp, cold and foggy I knew we weren't onto a winner.  So, the revised plan was to head on over to Oswaldtwistle Mills for a spot of light, early Christmas shopping, a run around in the play centre there, and whatever else we could find.

It was a modest ambition, but actually we had a very pleasant time. I have been once before, years ago, so I chose the 'set off in the general direction and look out for the brown signs' method of finding the place which only resulted in one detour, but involved plenty of enjoyable driving across moor-top roads. Of course, once we set off, the fog lifted, the clouds parted and the sun made a rare autumn appearance which caused me a moment's regret that I changed plans, but it soon faded.

OB really enjoyed himself in the play centre (£2.95 for unlimited time) and would happily have stayed longer if I hadn't dragged him away to the shopping zone.  I managed to purchase a couple of Christmas stocking fillers and have a rather pleasant coffee, and we enjoyed ourselves on the outdoor play area.
OB apologises to the ducks for the lack of bread!

There are clearly a lot of other attractions that I presume were closed because it's off-season / not the weekend.  There are duckponds where feeding is encouraged, but the kiosk that sells the duck food was closed and I hadn't brought bread (makes a mental note to always bring bread). There is also an aviary and place where they let you hold birds and touch them, but there were no birds there today. OB had a great time running all over the (closed) crazy golf course, and kicking around in the outdoor sand pit (makes a mental note to plan ahead for unexpected sand play opportunities). And, best of all, nobody wet their pants.

So, that's 'A' done, and 'B' is already sorted, but if anyone has any suggestions for 'C' I'll be happy to hear them!

Old-Fashioned Seed Cake

Most people would feel a bit nervous attempting a new recipe when the first sentence says, "You either love seed cake or loathe it."  Gulp - really?! Considering I had no idea what seed cake was, and had never seen one, much less eaten one, and was baking this recipe to serve to friends, it wasn't an auspicious beginning.

To be honest, if I'd been forced to describe seed cake before I looked at this recipe I would have probably thought it was something a bit like fruit cake but with seeds instead of fruit. I would have been very, very wrong. In actual fact, it's basically a sponge cake with caraway seeds and a bit of candied peel in it.

There was no picture with the recipe so nothing to prepare me for the fact that when I pulled the cake out of the oven, the caraway seeds sprinkled on top would look very much as though a tiny army of insects had perished on its surface. Thankfully, as I often do with untried recipes, I had kept back a dessert-spoonful of the mix and cooked it separately as a little tester bun, so I was able to try it before I inflicted it on my guests. It was quite an odd eating experience - sort of like mouthfuls of normal cake interspersed with mouthfuls of random garden flora!

My seed cake has fleas!

The recipe didn't call for icing or any topping at all, but I decided to add some because the tester bun was a bit dry and I thought it needed something. I let OB do the actual icing decoration - not a bad job, all things considered!

Drowning the fleas with icing


I was right, it was a teeny bit dry - perhaps overbaked? The recipe suggested "about an hour" for cooking time (how I wish they'd narrow it down to the minute!) but perhaps I should have adjusted down for my rather fierce fan oven.

Having said that, it was a very light-textured, fluffy sponge as you can see in the slice below.

Hmmmm - fleas all through. Maybe a bit of Frontline is needed!

Verdict? Well, my guests ate it, pronounced it nice and several had extra helpings. It was all eaten on the night so you can't ask much more than that. Contrary to the recipe's declaration, I neither loved it nor loathed it. It was ok, but I probably won't bake it again (despite the amount of caraway seeds and candied peel I have left over in the cupboard!) as there are other cakes that are so, so, so much better (i.e. with a lot more chocolate in them!).


Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Boys' Toys

OB's birthday is at the end of next month, and less than a month after, it's Christmas. Now, I know his birthday isn't all that close to Christmas in the grand scheme of things (I have friends with a little one's birthday on Dec 23rd, my Grandma's birthday was Boxing Day, and another friend shares her Christmas Day birthday with her Dad!) but it's close enough to have caught me out somewhat last year.

I got very excited about OB's 2nd birthday, planning the Rock Star themed party well in advance, stocking up on present ideas and generally really putting my back into it. Consequence? Once the party things were cleared away I realised that I had got him absolutely everything I wanted to get him for his birthday and had absolutely no ideas for Christmas at all! Not only that but, with concentrating on the birthday, I had given no thought to Christmas presents for anyone else either, leading to a pretty frantic December.

So this year, I'm being more circumspect. I have a few ideas for presents and I'm determined to save some of them for Christmas (despite my excitement!). He'll have a bit of a split birthday anyway as my parents are over next week and they'll be bringing birthday presents for him - we'll definitely get into them while they're here as they'll be on holiday and possibly out of skype contact when it's his actual birthday.

Of course, OB will be three this time, which means he's getting a bit beyond the toddler and baby toys and is ready for some slightly older-aged playthings.

And herein lies my problem. I just don't understand boys' toys!

At baby and toddler level, I'm pretty familiar with the kinds of things on offer - nice wooden jigsaws, various noisy plastic things, wooden trains, duplo - stuff like that.  These things are pretty universal for girls and boys at that age.  But once they hit three years old, it seems we enter some kind of toy-related alternative universe.

The 'Girl-Toy Universe' - slightly nauseating!
For a start, everything, and I mean everything, seems to be themed or linked to some TV programme, and consequently way more expensive than I think it needs to be. OB isn't all that into Thomas or Fireman Sam or whatever. I'm really reluctant to pay a tenner for 3 plastic Thomas toys. It's not as though he wouldn't recognise Thomas (although not the other ones) but he'd be just as happy with any blue train - he'd probably still call it Thomas!

Secondly, a massive schism between what are obviously boys' toys and what are obviously girls' toys seems to have suddenly opened up. All the girls toys are violently pink, princessy, fairy-related or beauty-related or keeping-home-related.

All the boys toys are horrible.

And black.

And I have no idea what they are or how you play with them.

I don't really want to wade into the debate about how healthy it is for kids to have their toys segregated by gender in such a specific way (although I have issues with that) but really, I have a fear of a future looming in front of us where OB plays with fiddly, ugly, character figures that I don't know anything about, and is continually expecting me to join in with his, to me, quite incomprehensible play scenarios. I already struggle with the concept of moving toy cars around on the floor - what is he doing when he does that?!  So how am I going to cope when all his toys look like this?



I really struggle to buy for my nephews and have done ever since they finished the toddler age.  Thankfully the older one is way past toys now, but for the younger one . . . well, I shop around and do my best, but basically I have no idea whether the thing I'm buying is going to be the coolest toy ever, or will have to be resigned to the back of the wardrobe immediately due to its embarrassment factor. And kids' toys aren't particularly cheap, so if you inadvertently buy the latter, then it's a fair bit of money you're wasting.

It may be that this birthday and Christmas will be the last one when the kinds of toys I like will match up with the kinds of toys OB likes! So I'm making the most of it - lego, guitar, mini drum kit (thanks to my parents - but I did give permission!), arts and crafts, accessories for his brio-style train track . . . what I call 'nice' toys! Can't wait.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

The Terrible Threes

A good friend once told me that she found the threes a lot more stressful than the twos. Why? Because you can explain away a lot of undesirable traits and behaviours (both to yourself and others) by saying, "Oh, he/she is only two." This sentence does not work so well when 'three' replaces 'two'.

I think I'm going to agree with her. OB is three next month (party planning will commence shortly!) and already I'm compiling a growing list in my head of things that might seem a lot less acceptable when a three-year-old is doing them than when a two-year-old did them!

OB still does a few things that others might consider should have been consigned to history long ago. For instance, he still sleeps in a cot, he still has a bottle of milk at bedtime, he still has a comfort blanket in bed with him. Sometimes I can feel the sideways looks and raised eyebrows of people when they become aware of these things.



The cot thing is about circumstances really.  I had always intended to have him in a bed by now but at the beginning of this year when I realised we'd be moving house, I decided to put it off until after the move. Then when we finally moved, we went on a three-week holiday straight after. When we came back I had to decorate his new bedroom - this took weeks, squeezing it in at naptime and after he went to bed. Then I thought that moving bedrooms and going into a new bed in one go might be too much for him, so I put the cot in the new bedroom. Then my parents offered to buy the required bed on their next visit.  Consequently, my nearly three-year-old is still in a pretty small cot and won't be getting his new bed until at least next week! He can lie down in there ok, but still, he's pretty old to be in a cot!

The bottle of milk is a different issue. It's a leftover from his baby days and I have absolutely no plan about what to do with it at all. I know from other people that most children seem to have ditched the bottle by now, but I've tried to come up with any negative effects of still having a bedtime bottle and I can't think of any.  So what does it matter if he keeps it for a bit longer? The appearance of the bottle is a signal to him that bedtime is coming. When he sees it he obediently comes over to get his pyjamas on, and then sits on my knee, or cuddles up to me to drink it. When it's finished, it's bedtime. No fuss. My son is a very lively boy and so rarely voluntarily sits still, or sits on my knee that I really treasure that 15 minutes at bedtime each day. I'd be reluctant to risk messing with it!

As for his blanket, well, I've no plans to do anything about that either. He's never had a dummy or a special teddy or any other comfort object. The blanket lives in his bed and he rubs it between his thumb and forefinger as he's going to sleep. We all need a bit of comfort now and again - last night I went for a large glass of red. At his age, I think the blanket is a better choice!

These things are about what goes on in our house, though. What becomes more of an issue the older the child gets is things that go on outside the house, in full view of other people. Some friends of mine have a child with Aspergers. At diagnosis, they were told that behaviours that seem quirky or cute now, in a relatively young child, will increasingly seem odd and a bit weird as the child gets older. In short, the older their child gets, the more they will stand out.

There are things about OB that I hope are just phases he is going through, or just to do with his young age. He is tall for his age and people often think he is around four years old. I dread to think what they are thinking about his behaviour if they imagine him to be four! He's not a badly-behaved two-year-old, but I wouldn't be anything like as tolerant if he was still behaving like this when he turned four!

So, yes, in my head, I'm compiling a list of things I'd like us to tackle together over the next few months. Not all in one go - I'm not a masochist! But things like remembering manners, basic politeness (like not ignoring people when they say hello!), going to the toilet without accompanying meltdown, taking an interest in dressing and undressing, not changing his mind 20 times over every issue, using cutlery, occasionally putting toys away, eating yoghurt without redecorating the house . . . .



Saturday, October 19, 2013

Lemon Yoghurt Cake

An extra opportunity to Bake with Mary this month as I organised and hosted a baby shower for my good friend today.  I was pretty glad to turn the page from last time's Battenberg and discover that the next recipe was nothing more complex than Lemon Yoghurt Cake with a fairly basic icing topping.  Phew!  It's been an incredibly busy week here, so I was certainly grateful for a more gentle recipe from Mary.

However, there's no accounting for the unexpected disasterettes that can befall an inexperienced baker even if they are following a reputable recipe book.  It's my experience that recipe books rarely take into account the lack of basic knowledge and skills that some bakers are bringing to the mix.

For instance, just with this one recipe:
  • I had quite a stress in Tesco standing in front of the yoghurt fridge as I suddenly realised I wasn't sure whether fat-free yoghurt would be ok.  I know you can't get away with using low-fat spread instead of proper butter (or similar) because the cake needs fat, which obviously isn't in the fat-free stuff.  But is it the same with yoghurt?  In the end I did go with the fat-free yoghurt and the cake seemed to turn out ok so I'm guessing it doesn't matter!
  • I was supposed to whisk the egg whites separately to form stiff peaks and then fold them into the batter. Well, try as I might, I couldn't get those egg whites to foam up at all, despite some lengthy and intense whisking from both me and OB - they just lay there, all liquidy and runny, mocking me. I have since been told that this is probably because I didn't make sure the beaters were completely clean before I attacked the egg whites with them (I'm a pretty lazy baker so I just gave them a vague wipe when I'd finished using them on the batter and plopped them straight into the egg white).  The completely liquid egg whites were actually pretty difficult to blend in with the rest of the batter.  This whole thing probably explains why the cake didn't rise so much and was quite dense.  I like a dense cake, personally, but . . . .
  • The cake was supposed to bake for 60 - 75 minutes, until it was 'golden brown' and 'springy'. A fifteen-minute margin of error is way too much for me.  I had a look before we went upstairs to do OB's bath and it was nowhere near done.  When I came back down, in the warm light of the oven, it definitely looked golden brown.  Once I had it on the counter, in the cold light of the kitchen, it definitely looked what I'd call 'a bit burnt'. And the top was more crusty than springy.

Ah well, in the final analysis it was a pretty decent cake.  It tasted lemony (not burnt, thankfully!) and was moist, as promised by the recipe.  As I said, it was a bit dense, but I tend to prefer a good heavy cake so I was happy with that.  There wasn't much left at the end anyway, so that'll do for me.  And if nothing else was good about it, at least my Grandma's beautiful plate looked gorgeous!


Oh, and I did a few cupcakes as well, for good measure!



Disclaimer: Looking for baking tips?  I'm afraid you won't find them here - my efforts are definitely for amusement value only and oughtn't to be seen as something to be emulated :-)

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Where OB draws things that look like things!

"Look Mummy!  A rocket!"



"That's a brilliant rocket.  What are you drawing now?"

"Wallace and Gromit in the rocket."


"They're going to the moon, Mummy."


"Mummy! Come here Mummy!  It's a dolphin!"


Well, maybe the last one is stretching it a bit, but I can see a dolphin (or maybe a whale) in there :)

Friday, October 11, 2013

All that is Loss and Gain

Today I'm writing for the Weekly Adoption Shout Out (#WASO) and the optional theme we've been given is 'loss'.  Where to start?

First, it's the understanding that while a thread of loss runs through all the stories that go together to make up the tapestry of each adoption, loss is not unique to our situation.  It offers little to no comfort when experiencing pain and heartache to hear that others might be suffering too, but it is nonetheless true and knowing it can help us gain perspective.

I have friends whose children have additional needs.  For one family it was the hammer blow of arriving for a routine pregnancy scan with no more important question in mind than discovering the sex of the baby, only to be told that their precious, longed-for, unborn child had a serious and potentially devastating brain abnormality.  Theirs is a story of miracles and wonder as their child continues to grow healthy and strong despite having a significant portion of his brain missing.  And yet, when the news comes, the sense of loss is overwhelming; grief at the loss of the child you had imagined; fear for the future of the child you actually have; the unknown stretching ahead interminably.

For others it is a gradual realisation that your child isn't developing normally, isn't achieving the milestones on the charts.  Again, once the diagnosis is made and accepted, there's that sense of loss and grief for the child they could have been but will never be.  It doesn't mean that parents don't love and cherish the child they have, but there must be a coming to terms with the new reality, and a laying down of expectations that had been so taken for granted.

There are no certainties whatsoever in becoming a parent.  At least as an adoptive parent, I got training, information and some understanding of what was likely to come before I took the plunge.  And I got a say about the child I would parent.

For myself, it is the loss associated with what I call 'invisible infertility' - the fertility worries of a single woman to whom most people (including health professionals!) seem to say, well, you're not in a position to have children so what does it matter if you can't?

Actually, long before I adopted, I had put to bed any idea of having children.  I sort of stumbled over adoption because of our circumstances and because OB had won my heart - it was never an intention of mine to adopt.  I had become used to seeing friend after friend get married, get pregnant, grow their families.  I had accepted that I would be alone, that there would be nobody there in my old age.

So to me, OB is a miracle.  He is not a cure for my loss, and nor should he be. I still feel a tiny bit jealous when each new person announces a joyous pregnancy, not because I don't feel like a real Mum, but because I think there will always be a part of me that will wonder what it would be like to carry my own child, to feel it kicking, to experience the emotion of holding my tiny newborn in my arms for the first time, to have the first few months, to look for my own features in my child's face, or to look for my own strengths and weaknesses in their gifts and personality.  Maybe all that stuff doesn't really matter or isn't as special as I imagine it would be, but it's not true that you don't miss what you never had.

But he is a miracle nonetheless.  Only yesterday as I spent the afternoon at a local country park with friends and their children I remarked on how I can hardly believe that this is what I do now - I go on playdates with my wonderful, precious son.  When I get him up in the morning, it feels like a miracle. When he says something funny (which is often!) or calls me Mummy (or 'darlin'!) or gives me a kiss - miracle.  Even when he's grumpy or shouting or crying or ignoring me - miracle all the way!

Yet I know that my gain means yet more loss.  I think of his birth mum who I got to know quite well. I struggle to imagine how she gets through her days knowing that the child she carried and gave birth to calls someone else 'Mummy'.  I think also of grandmas who must wait for a once-yearly letter to give them precious titbits of information about the grandson they cannot enjoy for themselves.

And I think of OB.  Although he has gained me, and all my family who couldn't love him any more, and a wide circle of my friends who go to extraordinary lengths to include us and love us, I am always aware that he has lost so much.  While some might say that he is 'better off' now, there is no getting away from the fact that, whatever his birth mum's failings, OB has been cut off from his birth family in a very abrupt way.  This is a loss and it needs to be acknowledged.  I foresee a lot of delicate handling of a tangled emotional web in our future.

Having said all of that though, I firmly believe that it is not up to our losses to define who we are.  We are not at the mercy of loss.  In his letter to the Philippians, Paul said that "For me, to live is Christ, to die is gain."  Basically, whether he lived or died, lost or gained, flourished or withered, Paul was secure because his life was defined by something more than that.  People say it when they get married - for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health - whatever comes, we will be steadfast, it will not change us or destroy us.

I am a firm believer that we can choose how we respond to our losses.  It's not that we can will our negative emotions away - I don't really believe in the power of positive thinking - it's more that we can choose to structure our lives in such a way that they aren't defined by the negatives. Eventually, after years of wishing for what I did not have, I sought out the sources of joy in my life as it really was and took advantage of my situation to do some wonderful things that might not have been possible if I had had a family, including living abroad, getting involved in lots of voluntary work and, later, fostering.  And then, when I least expected it, I got the very thing I had once longed for.

My desire as a parent is to enable OB to grasp hold of every part of his life with courage, including the awkward, difficult bits. I hope that he will always be able to choose what drives his life, and not be helplessly driven along by all the things that were chosen for him; that whatever is considered loss in his life would be turned to gain in surprising and fruitful ways.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Battenberg

Quite some time ago I asked for Mary Berry's Baking Bible for Christmas with the intention of improving (or indeed acquiring!) basic baking skills.  I can do a reasonable sponge cake and variations on that theme (quite an array of buns, cupcakes, etc. decorated in such a way as to hide the fact that basically they are all the same!), but to be honest, I'm never particularly impressed with the results of my baking efforts.

Now I am a stay-at-home parent, I imagine filling some of our time baking together at the kitchen counter. Whenever I hear people talk about how their Mum was always cooking delicious home-baked goodies I feel jealous on behalf of OB.  I don't want him to talk about how his Mum was always showing him the very latest Candy Crush level! At our new house I've had the kitchen and dining room ripped apart at great expense specifically to get a massive breakfast bar room divider so that I can stand at one side and OB at the other, 'helping' me without being in the kitchen danger zone.  So far so good.

Now to actually be able to cook and bake to make it all worthwhile!

One of the things that has always held me back from baking more in the past is my tendency to gleefully consume all that I have baked.  This is not good for my (rather generous) physique!  Now there are two of us to share the goodies but still, OB doesn't really eat all that much so the lion's share of the task is left to me.

Thankfully, these days, I usually host a meeting of church folks at my home every second week - a perfect group for being guinea pigs eating all the goodies so I don't have to!  So I've decided to work my way through Mary Berry's book, recipe by recipe, not missing out anything that looks tricky (although avoiding things I know I won't like - I'm not that disciplined!).

You join me, not at the beginning of my journey - several recipes including maple syrup cake and swiss roll are already behind me - but at a pivotal point: Battenberg week!  I've been putting off Battenberg week for months, blaming the house move and holidays while providing shop-bought treats for my friends, but the time for prevaricating is over.  Last night, undaunted by watching GBBO contestants' variable efforts at the same recipe in a previous series, I baked Mary Berry's Battenberg recipe.

I will say that it was in no way as difficult as it looks.  Folding the greaseproof paper to divide the square cake tin into fairly even halves was not not the origami I expected it to be.  I'm not a meticulous baker (I'm not a meticulous anything!) so I didn't measure the paper and I didn't weigh out the two halves of the mixture but just did it by eye.  The yellow half did turn out bigger, but that just means more offcuts :)

Oh, and I didn't have any red food colouring, so I used purple!  It looked quite pink though - if I'd really wanted purple I think I would have been disappointed.


So, it looked ok.  What was disappointing was the actual taste/texture of the cake.  The recipe called for 2oz of ground rice (which was quite a trial to find in the shop!), so I dutifully followed to the letter, but the resulting cake was grainy and gritty and not really pleasant to eat.  It tasted ok, but I found the texture so problematic that after the first small slice, I didn't want any more.  If you know my cake-eating habits you'll know how serious that is!

When I checked around on the internet for alternative recipes I found that the vast majority used ground almonds instead of the ground rice.  If I was to bake it again, I'd definitely try that instead as I really like ground almonds as an addition to almost any cake recipe and I've never had problems with texture using that.


I must admit, for the first time in my baking adventures, I worried that this wasn't a good enough cake to actually serve up to people, so ended up rush-baking a batch of biscuits as well (which involved an emergency trip to Tesco!).  In the end everybody did try it, but only once!  Except for one sweet friend who declared it 'better than shop-bought' and took the leftovers home wrapped in cling film. This has led me to question both the quality of his taste buds and the quality of the shops he goes to!

Verdict?  Well, I will probably bake this again as I absolutely love Battenberg - it's probably up there as one of my favourites.  But next time I'll ditch the ground rice (which will probably languish in my cupboard for years now) in favour of ground almonds.  Sorry Mary!

* Disclaimer:  this (and any other post like it) is in no way intended to be an advice column or exemplar for excellent baking.  I am a horrible cook!

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

My Sort of Day

I like to think that one day I could become a 'Nature Walk Mum' - the sort of Mum who tramps through the countryside with her son on winter's days, pointing out interesting trees and flowers and coming home with collections of odd things in plastic buckets.  I've seen mums like this in the blogosphere on and Pinterest and it looks very attractive with just a whiff of good parenting about it.

Realistically I think I might end up being a 'Roller Coaster Mum'.  Yeah, we could go on nature walks and so on, or we could get in the car and drive to Blackpool on a whim to see the lights, eat unhealthy food, dig in the sand with sticks (we had to go to St Annes for that as the tide was in!) and marvel at the Big One which OB called "train in the sky!".  One day, as soon as his hair is brushing against the height line, I'll get OB on the Big One and we can scream together until we are breathless!



It was a mixed day, to be honest.  We arrived in Blackpool at around 2.30 and after one hour, we were back in the car on the way to St Annes.  The tide was well in on the Golden Mile so there was no chance of playing on the beach (an activity I had hoped would kill several hours!) and after a listless wander around the South Pier and one go on a totally empty kiddies ride, we had pretty much exhausted everything that the south end of town has to offer to toddlers on a windy October afternoon.

So, armed with hot doughnuts, we made our way back to the car and, with a detour around practically the whole of the Fylde coast looking for a petrol station, went on to St Annes where the beach is blessedly large and sandy.  We did have plenty of fun digging in the sand, finding random stuff and getting generally too cold and too wet.

This was curtailed by OB wetting himself.  Now, I'm trying to be patient with the potty training thing, but we had been to the toilet multiple times that day (I had even brought the potty with us and tried him in the car when we arrived) and he had steadfastly refused to go.  When he wet himself it was 4.30pm and this was the first wee he had done all day!  Not long later, he repeated the exercise and added a massive poo for good measure, although we had been to the Toby carvery for our tea and visited the toilet there no less than three times (at his request) to no avail.

Honestly, there's nothing I love better than to be dealing with poo-filled underpants on the pavement at the side of the car in a whipping wind and rapidly descending twilight.  He is completely unbothered by the whole thing and I find it hard to resist thinking up ways to make sure he's having as crappy a time as I am at that moment!

Never mind!  By the time we had got back to a Blackpool greatly enhanced by darkness and the Illuminations, I had battled down my frustration so that we could enjoy the lights together ("It's gonna be fun!" shouted OB!).  And he did love them.  As with all new things, he was initially unresponsive, just staring without comment, but as we drifted north and I put the heaters on and opened the windows wide so he could get a better view, he loosened up and started pointing and shouting at things in a most gratifying way.

When we reached the end, he begged to see them again, so I turned around and went straight back down, stopping on the way to buy him an over-priced but immensely fun light wand thingy.  In the end, it was definitely worth it.

I'm thinking of going again next week!



Friday, October 4, 2013

Letterbox

I've done it!  And only four days late!  Letterbox contact letter is winging its way digitally to the appropriate local government employee even as I write.

I blogged a while ago about the issues I have with maintaining birth family contact.  It's not that I am against contact per se, but I strongly believe that this contact shouldn't be initiated or carried on without the active consent of the adopted child.  It feels completely wrong to me that I am writing to OB's birth family about him while he is, as yet, too young to have any say in what is written, or even whether a letter is written at all.

Of course when he is older, he will be able to say whether he wants these letters to be written or not, and to have some input into what is written, but he won't be able to unsend or unsay what has already been done.  This is one of many areas where I feel that the birth family and not the child are given more consideration in decision-making.

I have close relatives that I no longer see and I would be very unhappy if I found that people I trusted had been writing to them regularly, updating them on details of my life.  My preference would be that contact is not initiated until the child is able to ask for it.  In our case, I would imagine that by the time next year's letterbox comes around, OB will be in more of a position to participate to some extent.  At the moment, as a 2-year-old who hasn't seen anyone from his birth family for well over a year, the whole thing completely passes him by and I feel like I'm talking about him behind his back.

But, I have signed a contract (there didn't seem to be any choice in that) so I've written the letter.  I've not been looking forward to it, and in fact I've put it off over and over again during the last month but actually, when I got down to it, it wasn't so bad.  I think I put my teacher's head on somewhat as it does read rather like a slightly chatty school report.

In some ways it's been rather nice to think back over the past year and remember all the things we've done together and all the progress that he's made.  A year is a long time in the life of a toddler, so there's been plenty to write about.

And now we wait to see if there's a response . . . .