Tuesday, 28 April 2015


  • My dreams are getting so exciting, I nearly can't contain myself. The other day I dreamt that Babes had bought apples, even though we already had some! Then last night, I dreamt that I had a two euro voucher on tuna, and I was reading it to see how many tins I'd have to buy to get the discount.
  • Jack, my oldest baby, is sick at home today, and that makes me instinctively want to feed him 'good things'. My gut tells me anything meaty is good. Or it could be my culture that is telling me that. Whenever one of my children is sick, an extra pig has to die. It's a shame, but that's the way it is. He's getting soup with meat balls, and later on mashed potatoes with carrot and onion, and sausages on the side. Food my grannies would have made when their children were sick. Nothing else would feel right. Ratatouille or pesto or prawn curry or other foreign follies are fine most days, but as soon as one of my children is poorly, I feel a deep need to cook the food I grew up with and stuff them full of it.
  • My amazing sister An, may she be spared both verrucas and athlete's foot, made me cry in my kitchen earlier because she sent me the most compassionate, wise and kind letter ever. It was in response to that scrapheap post I wrote on Friday. She couldn't be a better sister. In fact, may she be spared all podiatric problems.

Sunday, 26 April 2015

Lemming logic

Ridiculousness: on Friday night, folly took hold of this town. Jack's preferred secondary school has never had trouble with enrolment, but the schools in the centre of Antwerp (our nearest city) are all full, and working with waiting lists. There is a nervousness in all the towns around Antwerp, because this problem will necessarily spread, as the Antwerp citizens venture out to find more places.

The school was having an open day / enrolment day on Saturday afternoon. Friday night, people started to 'happen to walk past the school', even though there is nothing around there, apart from an ice cream parlour. All of a sudden, there was a spike in the demand for sundaes.

The one that got the ball rolling was a surgeon: he wasn't going to miss out on a place for his child, and lacking only time, but not money or entrepreneurial spirit, he got in touch with a work placement office, hiring two young job seekers to sit outside the school and queue for him from eight o'clock Friday night, until one thirty on the Saturday. As soon as the first of them was spotted walking up to the school, with his folding chair and his blanket, ready for a long cold night, the rest of the town were in for it. By nine, twenty parents had joined him. By ten, thirty. By midnight, thirty-eight people were waiting outside the school and they weren't going to budge. (I heard there was a struggle of a rather 'meta' nature: some felt it wasn't right to pay a stranger to queue for you - only family members of the future student should be allowed. I'm happy I missed that scuffle.)

By this time, of course, the folly had taken hold of me as well. Frantically, the phone calls went around our little group of worried mothers. One was sitting outside the school already, the rest of us were waiting to see how things unfolded. I never slept a wink. By seven in the morning, I was there, queueing with the rest of them, pointlessly: I was number 56 on the list. There were 129 out of 175 places still to hand out. (The others had gone to siblings of current students already.) There was absolutely no need to stand around and be cold for that long.

As one o'clock approached, and we'd been allowed to thaw out inside the building for a few hours, the list was 'closed' at 120 places. A mother I know came in with her daughter just before that, with only half an hour to go to the opening day, and she got the 119th place. Only at the end of the afternoon, after Jack was happily registered, I heard that all vacancies had been filled, and twenty children were on the waiting list - they may well get a place as some were only registering in case they don't get into a different school with a later enrolment date.

As a mathematician, I'm ashamed that I was there so early, joining in with the other deluded lemmings. Logically, there was no reason to join the queue before even half the places had been filled. I had spies on the inside. I could have - should have - waited until they neared the 100 mark. As a mother, I could think of nothing but getting Jack into the school he wants. I wasn't going to relax being anywhere else. It's times like this that make me slightly less judgemental of stupid stuff other people get up to. Logic isn't all there is to life.

Friday, 24 April 2015

Report from the scrapheap

My thyroid is fine. It's a happy, functional, active thyroid. I wondered about my doctor. She's lovely to visit, and always does what I ask, but shouldn't she be a little more proactive, take charge, manage my health? She has been my doctor for ten years now, and she has never once suggested a breast exam. No tetanus jab. Aren't there some body parts she should occasionally prod? Some tests she should run? Some questions she should ask? Maybe I'm being unfair. I'm an educated adult. I should probably take charge of my own health. What do you think? Does your doctor take the initiative sometimes or do you have to ask for everything you want done?

After I got the blood test results and had my little rant (inside my head) about how she's not taking care of me enough (maybe I want a mother and not a doctor), I read the end of My Year Off, by Robert McCrum - an account of his stroke and revalidation. I found it fascinating. In one of the last chapters, he describes the depressions he's been battling ever since. How he loved to sleep, at all hours of the day. How he got addicted to his TV. How he got scared of going out, worried about dealing with anything practical. At one point, he says 'After sleeping for hours at a stretch, I never knew, when I woke, how my mood might vary, or how much energy I might have. I seasawed between listlessness and little bursts of effort.' That sounds too close to home for comfort. I know this sounds awful, comparing myself to someone who went through such an awful thing as a debilitating stroke, but (since I'm being awful anyway) here's another: 'I can only add in hindsight that the worst of stroke is the aftermath, when you feel like you are on the scrapheap. For me, the lifeline in all this was the thought that I could one day write down my experience, as a reporter from that foreign country, the world of stroke.' Replace 'stroke' with 'motherhood' and that's how I'm feeling this week. I feel on the scrapheap, when it comes to the world outside, the world of work, the world of money, the world of recognition - and my wish is to fight my way out of it through writing, and reporting what it's like on this particular scrapheap.

After this flash of recognition, I wondered at my doctor again. I went to her to have my thyroid checked. I listed my symptoms, including tiredness, sluggishness, stomach pains. She never asked if I felt like I'm on the scrapheap. I don't think people want to know. It's why I'm still not sure if I will hit 'post' on this one. It's just not something you're meant to admit, is it? I should just pull myself together, not complain about my luxury problem of never having to go into the office, paint on my happy face. I feel bad, because I know a lot of readers (you, out there) are struggling with jobs that they'd be only too happy to leave if they could. Still, there it is. It's what I feel. Today. Tomorrow will hopefully be better. This, too, will pass.

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Obi Wan Kenobi

The photobooth at the town hall rejected my face five times today. Only when I held my head sideways did it finally accept that my eyes lined up in a way resembling a human face. There was quite a queue outside my curtained cubicle, and the machine doesn't just have a fail screen - that would not be humiliating enough: it loudly told me each time "Your photo has been rejected. Try again. Don't wear a hat and make your face look normal." I'm choosing to look at it as a bargain: six euros, and I'm richer another life experience and some self-knowledge. I never realised that my eyes were quite so wonky. The children looked worried when I finally came out, but they sided with the machine.

Ach, who cares? I had a good run this morning. 4.5k in the best temperature possible (about 9 degrees C). I saw a deer for the first time in months - I know deer don't hibernate (they don't, do they?), but I do wonder where they've been hiding all Winter. I went and had my blood drawn and it didn't hurt a bit. The Japanese cherry trees are in bloom. They are my absolutely favourite tree in the whole world, because they announce that Spring is here to stay, but even more because they are so unapologetically unironically in-your-face over-the-top ultra-fabulous in dazzling pink, darling.

Japanese cherry in school playground,
building site and ugly flats removed

On the topic of pink, here's Charlie's latest independent fashion choice:

It's the way Obi Wan Kenobi has his hair before he's really old or something. He says. I don't think I saw that one, but surely he didn't have a pink elastic in his hair? Sometimes it's tough sticking to my firm conviction that children are allowed to express their personalities in their hair and clothes however they see fit. I am proud of him for sticking to his guns, when the hair dresser asked him about twenty times if he was sure, and gave us all very funny looks. So far, no one has recognised the Star Wars reference. They just think I've inflicted an eighties abomination on my child. It be as it be.

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Totally thrashed

I went and got absolutely totally thrashed by my osteopath earlier. Utterly fundamentally. She's lovely, and very good at what she does, which is precisely why I regularly hurl abusive terms into her table. She has a way to poke a finger into my hip, and make pain shoot both ways, all the way to the end of my pinky toe and the top of my brain. She did that to just about every muscle between my neck and my feet. Ever since I came home, I've been randomly falling asleep everywhere.

She gave me two commands: to strengthen my core (minute long planking required!), and to go check out my thyroid function. According to her, dry skin plus falling out hair plus stress plus tiredness plus sore muscles plus weight that won't come off might mean lazy thyroid. The rest of me is lazy as fuck, so that sounds plausible. I'm planning to go have some blood tapped tomorrow.

I hope she's wrong, because I can handle my flaky skin and tiredness, but the idea of taking hormone pills scares the crap out of me. If she is right, on the bright side, I might get well skinny while having all the beer and cheese sandwiches.

Friday, 17 April 2015

When I am rich and famous, I want a Room of my Own

I'm reading Motherhood and Creativity, a book recommended to me by the utterly creative Tailorbird. She rightly thought I needed it. It's about successful artists who are also mothers, and how they find the space to make things, to be themselves, to think, after they had children. I need to put my creative desires first more often. For my sanity, for my general functioning, for my children even, because that way I won't end up resenting them. It's not about getting my book published, or being successful myself (although that would be kinda awesome) - it's about having a voice, and giving myself permission to use it.

Step one was to make a workspace for myself in the living room. I've had a small corner of the bedroom for a while, but if I wanted to work around the children, I had to wait until the table was cleared of their food and their art projects before I could start. I've been moaning about this for a while, but the book pushed me to stop waiting for a fairy army to come and sort out my life. I carried my table and chair downstairs from the bedroom - endangering my very own life in the process(!) (how do men make moving furniture look so easy(?) ) - and now I can leave my computer on, even if the children are at the table! What a breakthrough. And so elementary. I no longer have to shut down my laptop when I go to make food. I can just leave something half done, and come back to it later. I tell you: it's a miracle.

Step two is to get more honest. With myself, and with you. My last post pretended to show you the real mess that life can be at times, but I deleted the crucial parts. I don't care if my knickers are inside out, and I'm considering desandboxing the sand box, and fully pondifying it. Babes has been wanting a water feature, and our local park has a huge sandpit for the children to play in if they feel so inclined. The thing is seashellshape, so it all makes sense. (I just can't decide if I can cope with even more frogs in the garden. They have a tendency to hop out of the bushes at me when I'm weeding, and even though I've now learned to scream in a ladylike way - instead of my old "You motherfucking bastard!" (Babes is not a fan of teaching the children how to swear) - my uncontrollable wimpiness is not the best example to set the children.)

What I should have left in my previous post, was that I had to apologise to all three of my children that day for being a bitch to them (they forgave me), and that I can now see major issues with the opening chapters of my book, so I am mortified that I sent the bad version to four of my dream agents.

I'm such an old-fashioned Catholic at heart. Now that I have confessed, I can move on. I need to forget about being mortified, and making my book's opening better for its own sake, for my private joy. I think a simple pair of kitchen tongs will be sufficient to desandboxify the frog nursery. Then I just have to decide what to do with the plant that had to move for my writing corner, because "the middle of the living room" might not be the ideal place for it.

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

My glamorous life

  • Our former sandpit is now an overcrowded frog nursery.

  • Four balls of frog spawn

    Tadpoles on a bucket

  • I'm choosing to starve myself instead of going for a run today because I can't be arsed with the whole "movement" thing.
  • I just discovered I'm wearing my underpants inside out.
  • Again.