Thursday, 26 September 2013

Strategic Neglect

Before we had kids, I remember buying a book called 'The Idle Parent' because it tied in so well with what I wanted my parenting to be like. I want my kids to be kids, with all the skinned knees and boredom that entails. I didn't want to helicopter them - I wanted them to learn that boredom is a part of life, and that if you push through it hard enough there's usually something fun on the other side. I had - and have - no problems with not being a cruise-director parent. I used to openly mock cruise-director parents.


When my kids are bored, they don't role-play or imagine or read books or even beg for TV. When my kids are bored, they fight.  One child needles, the other child squeals, then the first yells and the second bites. It's like the totally predictable steps in a dance that I've seen too many times before. I'm not talking about ordinary fighting, by the way. People who see this are all oh wow, your kids are awful fighters and I'm all I know and then we both run and prise them apart before anybody ends up in hospital, or jail.

A post-fighting time-out. In a department store. Because they had just pulled over a mannequin. I am not making this up. 

I can't stand it. I can't stand the fighting, obviously, and I can't stand the way it means that they never ever push through to independent, sustained play. It's kind of pathological and I feel sick just writing about it.

It can't go on. They are getting big - they are four, for pity's sake - and lots of kids their age are in school. We decided we wanted to have them home with us until they were five, for attachment-y reasons, and I'm glad that we did that. I'm aware that if we'd done something different, I'd probably be glad that we had done that, too; I know our brains are predisposed to think that we've made good choices, so my lack of regret means nothing, really. I have some Big Thoughts about school readiness, and how attachment stuff ties into that, but I don't know how to write about it without sounding like I'm being judgy. And believe me, I am in no position to be judgy. I met the lovely Dr Spouse recently, and during the two-or-so hours we were together, my children whined constantly, had tantrums, did constant baby talk, tried to drink HER coffee (after I'd already let them drink MY coffee) and then one of them ran out onto the middle of the road. She will back me up that I am not in a position to make statements about how anybody else does parenting. And did they hit me, K? Yeah, I'm pretty sure at least one of them hit me.

But anyway, yes, I'm glad that they've been home with us. Attachment-wise, I do feel like they have needed it. But if I'm brutally honest, sometimes I fear that I mistake ordinary clinginess for attachment stuff, or that I've enabled what I should have been helping them to overcome. It's all very chicken-and-egg:  what came first, the parent who stayed home and did attachment parenting or the child who sobbed with fear when he had to spend ten minutes being looked after by someone he didn't know? 

Yeah, I don't know either.


I think that they are well and truly old enough - and mentally and physically developed enough - to be playing on their own, but the problem is that they don't know how to do it. Most kids learn from when they are tiny, but not my two. Because boredom has always turned into fighting, then into intervention from me, they do not know how to push through that boredom barrier. They have no idea what might wait on the other side. They are too old for this. They need to learn.

So: my kids need to learn to do some basic independent play, but it seems that they can't do it at home. I can't just neglect them and leave them to get on with it, because of the violence.  The only way they can seem to play for any sustained period is if they are at a park or one of those horrible indoor play centres. For this reason, I have determined to start neglecting my kids in public places. The way it works is that I sit on a bench or a chair, within their line of sight, but I refuse to get up and play with them. I'm explicit with them about what is happening - I am staying here because you need to learn to play without any grownups - and then I shoo them away.

The advantage of all this is that I'm there - no need for anxiety - but I'm not cruise directing. Occasionally, I give them tips: for goodness sake, you have a twin. Go on the see saw, obviously, but I refuse to leave my chair.

Two minutes later: Mummy-mummy-mummy! I am on the slide! and then I say Yuh-huh, that's great, now keep playing. And if they say Come and watch me on the slide! I say no, I am staying here because you need to learn to play without any grownups. 

Because really - really- they do need to learn to play without any grownups. When I write it there, it sounds kind of harsh. Either harsh, or utterly ridiculous, that I'm so panicked about doing the wrong thing by my kids that I'm even subjecting them to strategic neglect.

I won't lie, though, it's also kind of awesome. Goodbye, boiling park-rage that I usually succumb to. Hello, twenty minutes to actually read a book (with one eye, at least). Hello, time spent just staring into space and calling it parenting.

Strategic neglect. It's all I can come up with. And it's working okay - they can manage playing together outside for much longer than they used to - but it doesn't seem to be spilling over into how they deal with each other or themselves when they are trapped inside our small house.

And winter is coming.

I'm afraid.

Tuesday, 17 September 2013


So let me tell you why you cannot just turn a blog into a book.

I guess that's what I planned to do, at the beginning of this process. I knew it wouldn't be easy to turn a blog into a book - after all, I post without any proper editing; sometimes I write in present tense and sometimes in past tense; sometimes I just post photos. I knew that in order to get that stuff into book format, I'd be doing a lot of rearranging and fixing.

But then I downloaded all my text into a word document, and I found out that the real issue is not typos or editing or tense or any of that other kind of stuff. The real issue is pace. 

Do you know what I mean by pace? Pace is, basically, how quickly the interesting things happen in a story. A good book has a reasonably constant sense of narrative tension running through it - this narrative tension acts like a tug on a string that is tied to the reader, pulling you forward into the next chapter and the next and the next. Some books pull you gently and others yank you in and give you whiplash, but an interesting story will always leave you wanting to turn the next page.  To make this happen, authors need to make time behave in strange ways. Look at nearly any book, and you'll notice that three weeks happens in half a page, then two chapters are devoted to a one-hour party*. This is usually because no interesting things happened during that three-week stretch, and then lots of interesting things happened at the party.

This is basically the opposite of how blogging works. A blog is a chronicle of life as it's being lived. I post about once a week, so that means that I had about a hundred blog posts on waiting for a match (when nothing interesting happened) and ooh, about one on being in Ethiopia (when lots of interesting things happened). Yeah, that's not going to make for a very interesting book.

In the end - because of this stuff about pace - I basically ditched everything I had blogged and started writing again from scratch; I knew that was the only way to start winding a thread that might draw a reader in. And it made me think a lot about the difference between how we remember things, how we tell things, and how they really are.

Why don't we tell stories as they really were? Why don't we take the same amount of time to tell something as it really took to happen? I think the answer is - the hard bits, the waiting, the not-knowing, the uncertainty, the suffering - all those bits of our stories? Boring! So boring. This is why Hollywood gave us the magical thing known as: the montage. You know what I mean - a song is playing, the hero/ine is working** for something they believe in, and  we see everything happen, but quickly, with music and drama. It's very clever, because in  in two and a half minutes all the effort and waiting is over. We feel like we've been there, without any of the pesky, you know, actually being there. Here's the most famous example:

But what does this scene from Rocky have in common with your life? Oh yeah, that's right: nothing. Real life does not have montages. In real life, the  the hard bits, the waiting, the not-knowing, the uncertainty, the suffering - those bits don't have any drama, and they don't have any music either. They're just hard and horrible and make you crazy.  And by you I mean me.

The strange thing is, when we remember things, we don't really remember them they way they were - we tend to remember them the montage-way, remember them more like stories. We put put the stages we went through into neat little boxes - or I do, anyway. When I'm thinking about what we went through when we adopted, all the bits fit into one of these little boxes:  The Fertility Horror Show, The Deciding, The Waiting, The Meeting, The Transition, And Then The Final Bits. So, even though the Waiting took approximately a hundred times longer than The Meeting, they kind of occupy the same space in my head. They are the same amount of story, even though they took vastly different amounts of time. It was a shock to me to go back to old bits of my blog and see just how long it all took.

I know that it was years between me getting an unwelcome, fertility-affecting genetic diagnosis and me becoming a mother. I know that I waited years - and I'm still kind of mad about it, sometimes -  but that's not really what the memory feels like. Now that I'm out of it, the Waiting doesn't occupy a hundred times more space in my memory than the other bits, even though it took a hundred times as long.

Sometimes, if I'm honest, this probably makes me unsympathetic to people who are still in the middle of those things, whether adoption things or other kinds of hard-ness-es. I get bored when people continue to suffer and it's outside my limits of patience.

I need to remember to be kinder to people I know who are still living in the middle of a montage, who are in the thick of things. And today, I just wanted to say, if that's you, I hope you're doing okay. I'm sorry if the world's impatience with your suffering is making you sad.

Because I can remember that I've suffered, I think that I know what it's like, but I'm not really sure that I do. As someone who is out the other side, the memory of Waiting is just a tiny piece of my brain -whereas when I was a person who was Waiting, I'm pretty sure it took up all of my brain, entirely.

Once it was my whole life, now it's just a remembered montage. Now it's just a few pages in a book.

I'm trying to remember that this isn't what it felt like at the time.

*Unless you're reading something like 1984, by George Orwell. There are very few parties in Orwell.
**Or, in the case of Pretty Woman, shopping. Worst movie EVER. (And that's from someone who loves shopping).

Friday, 6 September 2013

Book Launch Day: Fantasy vs Reality

Ever wondered what it's like to finally publish a book, after years of writing? Wonder no more! 

When I woke up on Tuesday, I knew immediately it was book launch day. Or, to give it its due worth: Book Launch Day. I had a plan:

Book Launch Day: Agenda

8:30 am: Lazy pancake breakfast with darling children. Wallow in happiness regarding a big goal finally achieved.
9:30 am: Post pre-drafted blog post announcing book release.
9:31 am: Play with toys with darling children.
(ongoing) Reflect on how lucky I am to have darling children.
10:30 am: Go to park with darling children
12:30 pm: Eat lunch with darling children
1:30 pm: Darling children nap due to park-induced exhaustion. Prepare for super-fun book launch party.
3:30 pm: Outdoor water play with darling children (possibly including enriching educational experiences, if I can think of any)
5:30 pm:  Dinner for darling children, handing over to sweet husband at 6pm for
6:00 pm Book Launch Party! Pour the champagne. Announce book giveaway #1. Say hello to lovely friends.
7:00 pm caramel popcorn smoothie. Give away book #1. Chatter. Maybe tweet a little.
8.00 pm Probably I'll need a coffee at this point. Give away book #2 Chatter some more. Continue tweeting.
9:00 pm Sprite zero! Give away book #3 Chatter yet more. Keep up the tweets.
10:00 pm Peach smoothie! Give away book #4. More chat, tweeting, etc.
11:00 pm Wind down with some tea. Give away book #5. Keep talking to lovely people. Continue to dazzle the twitterverse with razor-sharp wit.
12 midnight: Give away book #6, say goodnight, go to bed!

Yes, I really had my drinks planned, hour by hour. I was that excited. This day was going to be awesome. 

Book Launch Day: What Actually Happened

8:30 am: Children are screaming at each other as if they are being stabbed with knives. Quickly abandon pancake plan. Pour bran flakes for all. Screaming continues.
8:35 am Realise I have scheduled a play date for this morning. At our house.
8:40 am: Realise I forgot to draft a blog post with details about where people can actually buy the book
8:41 am: Bang head against table
8:42 am: Screaming continues
8:43 am: Rush around house tidying up for play date
9:30 am: Children have finished breakfast. Desperately sit them in front of Peppa Pig. Run upstairs to write blog post.
9:31 am: Realise I don't have any amazon 'buy' buttons. Suddenly, writing blog post without these seems impossible.
9:32 am: Find amazon buttons on google images.
9:33 am: Realise I don't know how to get images to link to an external website.
9:34 am: Decide that this would be an excellent time to learn a little HTML.
9:45 am: Bang head against table
9:57am: Publish blog post, including fraudulent photograph of champagne drinking that was actually taken the previous night
9:58 am: Screaming has started again downstairs.
9:59 am: Realise I haven't showered, and smell terrible. Am desperate for a shower.
10:00 am: Doorbell rings. Play date!

[The next section of the day is rated R for violence, including hitting, biting and punching. Not suitable for a family blog. Censored].

4:00 pm Still unshowered. Probably too late to bother now.
4:01 pm Something has really gotten into these children today. They don't want to play with their kitchen.
4:02 pm Or their octopod
4:03 pm Or their animals
4:03 pm Or read a book
4:04 pm It seems they just want to hit each other.
4:05 pm Cannot help thinking that Launch Day would be a lot more fun if I didn't have to do all this mothering stuff.
4:06 pm Consider topic of book and realise the irony
4:07 pm Bang head on the table
4:08 pm Honestly, does there have to be THIS much screaming? If I yell at them, that would probably help make the house a bit quieter.

[The next section of the day is rated R for yelling. Not suitable for a family blog. Censored].

5:59 pm Jay gets home. Frantically hand over children. I really want to be on time for
6:00 pm Facebook Book Launch Party time! Hooray! Pour champagne. Wallow in happiness for thirty seconds. Realise the champagne is full of drowned fruit flies.
6:01 pm Uh oh, I forgot I'm terrified of parties. 
6:02 pm Pull yourself together, Claudia! 
6:03 pm Pull myself together and start typing.
6:04 pm Realise that I can't see anybody and chatter to myself for a while.
6:05 pm Hooray, some people are here!
6:06 pm I think I might be using too many exclamation marks!!!!!
6:09 pm This champagne tastes sort of ... meaty. Is this how dead fruit flies taste?
6:10 pm Hang on, where have all the posts gone?
6:15 pm I get my first message telling me that nobody can see the posts.
6:16 pm I have no idea how to fix this. More messages.
6:17 pm Realise that I don't even know how to change my facebook profile picture, and there is no way I'm going to be able to sort this out.
6:18 pm Bang head against table.
6:19 pm Shout loudly at Mark Zuckerberg and all his evil minions, even though nobody can hear me.

[The next section of the day is rated R for unkind thoughts about a certain billionaire. Not suitable for a family blog. Censored].

7: 30 pm How is it 7:30? I haven't given away any books!
7: 35 pm Give away some books.
7:36 pm Realise I can't tag people when posting as a page manager, so people may never know they won
7:37 pm Bang head against table
7:38 pm There are actually people here! If the posts didn't keep on disappearing, I might even work out how to say hello to them all.
7:39 pm Realise I'll never be able to tweet while trying to keep track of the Disappearing Party. Secretly pleased.
7:40 pm Wish I wasn't having chest pains
7:41 pm Realise it may be hunger. Holler downstairs at Jay to make me nachos.
8:30 pm Jay brings me nachos with barbeque sauce. Coffee Chipotle, if you're interested.
8:45 pm The book is at #13 in the adoption category at Amazon! Yikes! [The next day it got to #2 in adoption overall, and #1 in Kindle which made me squeak out loud. Not that I was checking Amazon while at work, OH NO].
9: 15 pm How is it 9:15? I need to give away some more books!
9:16 pm Change into PJs and make some tea.
10:00 pm I know I'm using way! too! many! exclamation marks, but I just! can't! stop!
10:01 pm I must be chanelling a 13 year old girl.
10:03 pm: Why is there barbeque sauce on my floor?
10:04 pm: Why is there barbeque sauce on my foot?
11:00 pm: How can it be 11pm? I have to give away some more books!
11:02 pm: Realise I'll never be able to give away my stash of books in this amount of time. Decide to leave the final giveaway open until tomorrow. Keep chatting.
11:59 Keep on chatting. Goodness me, but adoption people are so nice! I love having so many of them in the same space.
12 midnight I've finally hit my stride! So the posts are disappearing, so what! I'm drinking tea and having an imaginary party on the internet in my pyjamas! The book is finally out! Life is good!
12:01 am: Realise I have to go to work tomorrow.
12:02 am: Bang head against table.
12:45 am: Post photograph of myself in my pyjamas, pretending to sleep, still unshowered:

I appear to have a beetroot for a face in this photo. It's just the reflection from the pink velvet chair. I hope. 

12:46 am  Say goodnight and go to bed
12:47 am Realise that despite screams, yelling and Mr Zuckerberg's best efforts, this day WAS awesome. Right, what can I write a book about next??? 

This was nearly-the-last post of BOOK WEEK! Back to normal scheduling very soon, I promise. In the meantime, I have a spare book from the launch party giveaways - a copy of Parenting Your Internationally Adopted Child, which is a really fantastic resource for anybody parenting a child from a hard place, even if not through international adoption. One of the lucky winners already had a copy, so she kindly suggested I find it a new home. Any takers? Let me know if you're interested and I'll let the good people at decide. 

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

We Have Lift Off!

It's launch day! I'm thrilled to let you know that Hypothetical Future Baby is finally out! At the moment, it's available in paperback and on Kindle on and - it will be out on Nook and Kobo by the end of this week.

Here are the links:

Call me an amazon nerd, but when I typed 'Hypothetical' into the search box, and saw 'Hypothetical Future Baby' come up in the drop down menu, I nearly had kittens. THAT'S MY BOOK! said I. And I know it's only 10 in the morning (and yes, I am still in my dressing gown, and yes, I have to look after my kids today) but:

(Don't forget to join me this afternoon for the online launch party!)

Monday, 2 September 2013


One of the most popular posts on this blog is the one I wrote last year, after my children's third birthday, about Pinterest.  I absolutely love how many people find it by googling things like 'third birthday cake pinterest' at crazy times of the night. I have this mental picture of crazed, desperate women searching the internet in the final hours before their child's birthday, looking for the beautiful answer to all their cake dilemmas and instead finding.... well, not that.

I do love you though, Pinterestistas, and I hope this special post, just for you, means that I can be forgiven for dissing the big P last year.

I made these postcards for my book. I'm hoping that those of use who have been through the adoption process can relate. If, like me, you love to pin.... here's something for you.

(This is post number three of BOOK WEEK! The countdown is on.... Hypothetical Future Baby comes out TOMORROW!!! Don't forget the facebook launch party is on tomorrow evening, UK time - to work out when it's happening in your timezone, the simplest little online tool I've found is