Barbie, I Want Barbie!

My kids have discovered Barbie. She lives on Netflix, where they can access her any time I allow them to turn the TV on. ‘I want Barbie!’ shouts the 5yo. ‘Barbie, Barbie’ squeals the 2yo.

It is full of nothing but outfits and hair dos and shopping and parties, crap romance and being bitchy. It is very pink, contains a fair bit of slapstick humour, which they find hilarious, and is very obviously not real.

This week the conversation went like this:

5yo [sighing] “I LOVE Ken.”

me: “Why?”

5yo: “He’s SUCH a superhero. He has a special Barbie sense so he knows anytime Barbie needs ANYTHING.”

My friends think it is hilarious that my kids love Barbie. Some are just laughing at me, some ask if I mind, some ask me why I let them watch it.

Do I mind? Nah, not really. Sometimes we talk about it afterwards and challenge it a bit, sometimes I don’t bother and they just watch it for a while. I think I was coming up to double figures before I willingly wore trousers rather than a skirt, and before I thought that maybe ‘princess’ wasn’t a viable career option. I used to make cardboard crowns and my favourite colours were gold and silver and I wanted anything that sparkled. I probably would have happily broken several laws to get my hands on the princess outfits that hang in every supermarket these days. If it was pretty and sparkly, I wanted it.

Do I think it’s bad if my child wants to dress herself in head to toe pink? Nah, not really. On the next day she might want to dress as batman. Or maybe she’ll wish to combine paisley with tartan like I did at her age.

I like my daughters to be able to think for themselves, and that includes being allowed to like pink, princesses, shiny things and barbies. I remember being heartbroken when I played with my barbie as a kid and I accidentally melted her hair with the hairdryer. They don’t need to challenge the status quo every step of the way, they’re allowed to just like some stuff too.

My job is to make sure that they know all the doors are open to them, including science, maths, climbing trees, being sporty, being allowed to speak without being interrupted and liking any colour toy they fancy. If my 5yo swoons over Ken and his Barbie sense for a while, she won’t get any criticism from me.

One Year Later

This exact time last year, I was unconscious on the operating table.

This time last year I had spent the first month of my child’s school life trying not to cry on the walk to school or whilst sitting on the classroom floor during ‘reading mornings’.

This time last year I winced every time I picked up my toddler

This time last year I was hoping to wake up from surgery with the possibility of more and less: more mobility, more energy, less pain and less painful exhaustion, less grumpiness with my children, less fear at getting through each day.

This time last year I was nervous about the 8 – 10 weeks of not being allowed to sit, stand, lift, twist or bend.

Is it possible to be hopeful and unconscious at the same time?

This exact time last year, I was unconscious on the operating table.

Fast forward one year. It’s been quite a year. I can walk without wincing. I can play without crying. I can find reserves of energy I did not have. The pain is still there, a lot of the time, but it is less, and it doesn’t hinder me in the same way. My 5 year old does not remember me using crutches. My 2 year old does not remember my limitations. These things are magic to me.

The fact that I still need to take my medication for several years, and the fact that I need to do over an hour’s physio every night to keep mobile, the fact that there are activities I have wiped from my brain as possible things to do feel difficult, but not impossible. I do not feel limited in the same way as I did before the surgery and before the pain management programme.

The ups and downs have been physical and emotional. Here’s to the next year. This year I feel hopeful without needing to be unconscious first.

Are You There Child? It’s Me, Mummy

Does my 5 year old listen to me? Is she paying attention? Am I talking to myself? 

It gets very frustrating talking to her sometimes. She’s dancing around instead of listening. She starts talking to me about something completely different while I’m in the middle of saying something, to her. She walks away. She starts changing her clothes. She starts talking to someone else. She starts playing. She asks me a question while I am still answering her last question.  

Sometimes I am explaining something really, very, incredibly important and she just interrupts me.  Sometimes I roll my eyes. Sometimes I have to take a deep breath. Sometimes I tell her she’s being very rude. Sometimes I shout at her. Being ignored feels rubbish regardless of how old you are. 

And then a while later, sometimes weeks later, we’ll be talking and she refers to what I have said. Sometimes she raises an example I gave to help her understand what we’re saying. Sometimes she asks a question out of the blue almost quoting what I have said. 

How does she do that? When did she listen? When did she absorb and take it in? I didn’t notice. I shouted at her for not listening. 

It has made me think about learned behaviour. The signifiers we learn to give other people around us. The nodding, the acknowledgements, the questions. It is fascinating to me that a child doesn’t consider giving those signifiers, because to them it is obvious they are listening. And yet if I don’t give her those signifiers, she gets stressed with me. Does she learn to give those signifiers because I tell her to (she realises she gets shouted at less if she gives them), because she observes me giving them, or because she starts to notice her own feelings and responses and learns from them? 

I think I shall still continue to be amazed when she quotes me verbatim 2 months after she hasn’t listened to me. 

Not All Men.

Well it’s been quite the week for victim-blaming hasn’t it? Another week of people loudly proclaiming that sex offenders and abusers are not actually at fault for what they do, oh no. It’s the person who’s been attacked, abused or violated of course. 

Victim-blaming is a big thing when women are attacked. It always has been. Court cases (if it even gets that far) filled with questions about whether the victim was drinking, wearing make-up, wearing a short skirt, is a virgin etc. This isn’t news. The fact that women who are completely covered up, or that men get attacked too doesn’t seem to change this narrative. Logic doesn’t apply here, it’s all about ensuring women understand the do’s and don’t’s of “acceptable” behaviour. 

This week, the victim-blaming got louder for a moment, when half of twitter couldn’t stop screaming about Jennifer Lawrence. That she shouldn’t take photographs of herself that she isn’t prepared for the whole world to see. That it was a publicity stunt. That it would help her on the casting couch. That she is sexy, so she should ‘own it’. That it was worth it. Because apparently when you are famous, you are no longer allowed to have boundaries, be private or give consent. Because apparently when you are ‘hot’ then your distress is secondary to other people’s voyeurism. 

And then there were the responses to the people who wrote about this. When people pointed out this was abuse, or that you wouldn’t blame someone for online banking and yet we do for storing photos online, when people said ‘stop’, or painted the picture in the wider context of misogyny or the patriarchy and of men trying to silence women.

‘Not. All. Men’ came the immediate reply.

‘Not. All. Men’ yelped the men who considered themselves to be decent citizens.

‘Fuck you. Not all men’ shouted some adding extra abuse in a heartbeat. 


Not all men, we are repeatedly told, while being sold nail varnish that can stop us being raped. 

Not all men, we are told, while being sold hairy leggings to stop us being raped. 

Not all men, we are told while being given rape alarms for when we need to walk somewhere alone in the dark. 

Not all men, we are told, while being advised not to wear short skirts. Or get drunk. Or kiss anyone without wanting to sleep with them. 

Not all men, we are told, while being told that our mere presence in a bar, on the street, on a train, in a car park, could trigger any one of the bad men to lose control. And it will be our fault.

Not all men, we are told, while being told that the mere vision of us on our own private cameras could cause one of the bad men to go to extreme lengths to get those photos and can’t help but share them. And it will be our fault. 

And it may be a surprise to realise that in spite of this, we actually know that it’s not all men. We are aware that we can walk down the street without every male we walk past abusing us. That we can take a chance and try and meet a man on a date and see if we like each other. That we can go to work and have male colleagues with whom we might have a good conversation. but I don’t know a woman who hasn’t at some point been verbally or physically abused by a man. I don’t go out with my friends without us texting each other at the end of the night to let each other know we’re home safe. The majority of my friends will wince if told to ‘cheer up love’ by a random man in case he turns nasty. And here’s the thing – we don’t know if you are the nice guy, or the man who can’t control himself. We don’t know if you’re the guy to stay near in case something happens, or you’re the guy who will make something happen. 

So if your first reaction to learning how widespread verbal and physical abuse of women is, is ‘not all men!’, instead of ‘holy crap I had no idea!’ then you either need to challenge your response, or rethink your status as a nice guy, because screaming, or even calmly stating ‘not all men’ isn’t helping to change the reality that women get attacked, and then get blamed for it. 


The Unexpected Moments

The exercises that I’m doing since I’ve been on the pain management programme are working wonders. I am more flexible, more agile and stronger. I have tried hula hooping (that was hilarious, and very bad), I have competed in ‘standing on one leg’ competitions with 5 year olds, and I can even do the plank now for 25 seconds, which feels like a minor miracle. Slowly but surely I feel like I can do more, achieve more, and relax a bit. Mostly this feels wonderful. 

The trouble is, that sometimes it means the crappy moments take you by surprise. I was at a little music group with my 2yo on Friday, and we had to do a song that was all about doing actions with a partner. One part of the song required us to lift our children and swing them round by their hands. Every other mum, grandmum and child minder there did it effortlessly. I couldn’t do it. My 2yo watched all the other grown ups swing their kids and watched the kids squealing with glee. Obviously she demanded I do the same. 

When I couldn’t, she lay down on the floor and sobbed. 

I wanted to join her. 


A Depressing Premise

I have finished the pain management course. 8 days over 4 weeks of information, breaking patterns of behaviour, getting moving again, problem solving and personal goals. 

At the end of week 2, I felt the course was quietly brilliant, rather than mind-blowing. I was fascinated by how our physiology, thought, emotion and behaviour was connected. I was encouraged by a return to physical exercise that was more demanding of me than walking a long way. I felt like I was on a month-long journey of hope. 

Then it stumbled. It was too limited and didn’t push enough boundaries. Many of the problems being addressed were to do with poor communication with those people around you, which although interesting is not the issue I have. I felt disheartened. At the end of the course the psychologist asked me if I was OK. 

OK is definitely not the word this time. I felt hopeful and deflated, I felt tedium, I felt limited, I felt furious, frustrated and a bit lost. I thought I would blog the whole experience, but it turns out I didn’t want to. The premise of the whole course is a depressing one: There is nothing more, medically speaking, that we can do for you. This pain is here to stay. Let’s help you manage that. 

It is important not to leave people languishing when we are in pain and I have learned both useful and interesting thing on the course. Some of the things have already helped, but I don’t feel it gave me as many tools for coping as I had hoped. Now what? 

Information V Knowledge

I have thought for some time that information is overrated. You often hear that information has been passed on; ‘I told you about that’, ‘we posted leaflets about that’, ‘we gave you a flyer about it’ and so on. Yet information is irrelevant unless it comes with understanding. It is understanding that transforms information into knowledge. 

I’m on week 2 of the pain management course. I can’t say that I’m enjoying it, but I am finding it satisfying. It doesn’t feel like I am receiving a great deal of new information, but I am finding that I am filling gaps in my knowledge. Most importantly however, I feel the immersion in the information I am being given is ensuring that understanding follows, and that there is enough space in terms of time and emotion to use that knowledge to break patterns of behaviour. 

I recognise that I have been given some of this information before and found it interesting. i also recognise that beyond finding it interesting I haven’t done anything with it. The course is not about cramming us full of interesting facts. It’s about making sure that we use that to change how we react and how we prepare. It is in rewriting my habits that I feel the course will be most beneficial. The information handouts are just an added bonus. 

Back, back, forth and forth

I’m on the pain management programme this month. I am hoping this will give me tools and techniques to cope better with the pain that I still have. 

I had a flare up a few weeks ago, which ended with me sobbing in a Bed and Breakfast, because I couldn’t dance at a wedding I was at. Every time I have a flare up it feels so demoralising. When it ruins an event I have been planning and looking forward to it feels cruel.

I have completed 2 full days of the pain management course. We’ve talked about the difference between acute pain and chronic pain, why chronic pain occurs, the difference between hurt and harm, talked about the impact and psychology of pain, the pacing of life to cope better with good and bad days.

Objectively, a lot of the information is fascinating.

Subjectively, I’m hoping it’ll help me build my resilience to the pain; emotionally and physically.  

What Does Failure Look Like?

This morning I took my 2 year old for her 2 year check up with the health visitors. Another mum and I waited in a little playroom with our children for the appointments. One of the health visitors came through to call us up and she looked at our children and said cheerfully “Oh they both look lovely. I can’t imagine they’ll fail at anything today.”

I felt a bit startled.

Having filled in the questionnaire of what my child can do in terms of mobility, coordination, communication etc I knew what kinds of questions and activities would be asked and presented: Threading beads onto a shoelace, drawing a line on a piece of paper, stacking wooden blocks on top of each other, talking…

The idea that not being able to do these things, or getting round to things a little slower might be seen as a failure seems strange to me.

I believe we don’t allow our children enough space to experience or test out failure in their discoveries or development. Teachers being paid by results and schools measured on league tables, leave no room for exploration or even room for young people to develop their own sense of drive or ambition. But I don’t believe that children who develop slower, or children who don’t wish to perform in front of 2 strangers can be called failures.


The Confidence to Forget Myself

I have been thinking about my body for a while.

Physically, my body has made it pretty hard for me to forget it over the past few years. It’s that feeling when you have tonsillitis and you realise how often you swallow and you wish you could go back to not noticing.

I also saw quite a lovely photo blog recently from a mum who photographed herself with her slightly bulging tummy and stretch marks and said she refuses to feel negatively about them as all the while she was trying for a baby she would have given anything to have said indicators of motherhood.

A third point: I was with a friend recently and we were talking about how our bodies have changed and she said something along the lines of wishing she could tell her younger self to feel more confident in her appearance as she would now give much to look like that again.

And there’s the crux of it. It doesn’t really matter what you look like, the confidence to forget about yourself is a luxury. There’s a multi-million pound beauty industry that works daily to ensure we don’t forget ourselves. There’s make-up and diet fads to sell to us after all.

Pain does not allow me to forget my body. Even on a good day I don’t have the confidence to break into a run for the bus. To jump up and down in the playground with my children. Sometimes the fear of the pain is as inhibiting as the pain itself.