Infantalism and the modern man

This is my declaration against memes calling men our children

What I wasn’t told when I had a child, was that I was joining a club who were all supposed to make the same jokes about motherhood. There are an awful lot about drinking wine (or gin) to cope with the trials, many dedicated to not enough coffee but the one I get sick of the most is the one that infantalises my husband as my child.

There are times I have found myself getting resentful of my partner as a parent. Those early days when I had to wake up (and the now days when I also have to wake up) are the worst. The tiredness associated with parenting had already taken me to new heights (lows) before I developed a fatigue condition. And if I wanted to, I could make a joke about not enough coffee in the world, but I won’t. I will just say that in this one area there is an imbalance between the one who always wakes for their child (me) and the one who gets kicked in the back to wake up (him.) That means the other times of day have to be more balanced out. When weekends come around, or holidays, I start to insist on him doing specific jobs to balance out the fact I have dealt with wake ups in the night.

But it has been even more crucial to make these stipulations, though I acknowledge he is working during the week, because the fatigue I am experiencing can be so much worse if I push myself too hard. This has been hard to have to list and explain what exactly needs to be done if I need him to do it. Whilst also hard to communicate it all in a fair way (given tiredness can also make you snappish). I learnt a few years back that this is called “the motherload” and the idea has really stuck with me. The emotional labour of listing and knowing what needs doing, when it has to be done and how you do it a certain way is a mental burden that we often discount. Writing recently about my brain fog at Christmas, I talked about passing on some jobs completely so I don’t have to think about them. This is because my executive function, which includes planning out, is reduced with the fog. So I have had to develop systems where certain jobs happen on certain days to combat the chaos of my brain.

Sorry, I don’t have time or energy to supervise another adult

In addition to the motherload, you can also become your child’s “default parent” This does include school always calling you but also that my son only currently wants to play with me. That means me, sat on the floor or doing a puzzle, most likely being instructed what to do and trying to give as much attention as I can. And it is tiring, though we have fun. But when I leave my son to my partner, they will sit happily ignoring each other on screens and when he is ready to play again, my son will seek me out.

The problem with both the motherload and being the default parent is that it does make your husband another child. The relationship is unbalanced by the power dynamics where you are the person who has the answers. The peacemaker. The arbiter. And it is not conducive with the adult company that we both deserve in each other. Worse still, I worry it is teaching my son to perpetuate the myth that mother is the one who holds onto the competence.

It has really made me think about the future, that we have to find ways in our relationship to have a good balance. But also that we have to challenge the sexist ideas that kick around about men’s incompetence. A cynical viewpoint would be that not knowing how to run the hoover and asking what to pack in the day sack are a “learned incompetence” that keeps me doing all the workload in the domestic sphere. But I choose to believe it is not on purpose, just something that has become a pattern of life. It means some things have to be explained to our perfectly capable modern men and little men of the future too.

Taking on the task of raising a little one is no joke, and though I enjoy lots of funny sites that I have listed below, I think it’s time to retire the commentary that men can’t do it all. They are afterall, just as capable of battling through parenting life as us.

My favourite funny mummies online are here:

Scummy Mummies

Hurrah for Gin

Brummy Mummy of 2

Sketchy Muma

Christmas in the (Brain) Fog

I am looking forward to the Christmas holidays and working out how to see through the fog

I can feel the pressure of making Christmas magic rising as I write. As a parent, I have a strong desire to make the young ones’ Christmas a special, sparkly time but what do you do when your brain is not at it’s shiniest best. Last year we couldn’t even see our families, so now we hopefully can socialise there is an expectation that this will be the best year. But amongst all that pressure I am trying to manage the planning and preparation with brain fog and fatigue. Here is what I have worked out may work for us this year.

A foggy winter ahead, photo in the public domain

Reduce your workload: We have planned to go to my mother-in-law so I do know already that I don’t need to cook, a lot of labour is saved and I think that having the main work on the big day taken from me will be a massive help, as well as being extra delicious that we can actually be together this year. In addition the familiar surroundings help me and my son and for that part of Christmas we will stay at home though go over on several days. This is really helpful to keep parts of the routine which keeps my soon’s energy a bit more regulated which helps us all feel a bit calmer.

Pace yourself: I know now that I need to pace myself, leaving a few days between each social gathering and taking it much more slowly on those days. I am so thankful to be back together with people this year but that doesn’t mean I can throw my pacing plans out of the window. January is depressing enough without having a massive crash. When I do socialise, I know already I might need to leave earlier than I might like to or take a little break part way through so that I can join in. It’s tradition to fall asleep after the turkey anyway, so won’t be too much of a surprise if I insist on a rest this year. I may also have some tougher days afterwards but I know if I do things that lift me, like being around people that I love, this will be worth it for me if I don’t go too far.

Buy online: When it comes to planning presents, I am doing tiny chunks and using a lot of lists on my phone so hopefully I don’t forget things. I have to say that I have seen statistics like 42% of people will buy their presents off Amazon this year and though I don’t like it, that will most likely be me. I know already that going to shops involves so many elements that are tiring, this time I need those items to come on delivery. I have been also trying to support a few friends with their Etsy crafts that I love but when it come to the plastic tat my son demands, it’s back to the five minutes ordering on my phone and along comes my friendly delivery lady the next day (who I am quite chummy with now.) Let’s hope that by next Christmas, I can be well enough to face the shops (and they are still there) but for now I have to be realistic about what I can do for us all.

Photo by Marta Dzedyshko on Pexels.com – probably less baking this year

Ask for help: Learning to ask for help has been a massive learning curve with managing fatigue. I have worked out what is more tiring now by listening to my body carefully and I have tried to ask for help in these areas. A friend came over this week to get the decorations out of our loft for us, she was lovely about it and though it seems a bit silly with my breathing issues and fatigue it is a massive load off me and I will be very slowly starting to decorate. In addition to asking for physical help, I have set my Mum the mission to find the impossible toy that my son has asked for. I was going round in circles online to try and find this “must have” and in the end I realised the brain strain is too much.

Keep it simple: The final thing is to avoid too much online content that drives me to want to make the magic so much. It is possible that I did “do a Pinterest” in previous year and make cards, bake mince pines with my son and make a Nutella Christmas tree for breakfast on Christmas morning. But it might be that this year is not that year. The Christmas tree may end up less trimmed – though it is one of my favourite things so I may choose to spend my energy on it – But really, what my fatigue is telling me right now, is that these things that seem so important are an image we get sold about what a perfect life can look like.

But if a chronic condition can teach us anything, there is no need for perfect, in fact pushing yourself is the worst thing you could do. After the year we have had personally and the pandemic era we have all gone through, I can only say that what is most important is to savour the time to rest and have fun together.  

Do you have time to read?

A frequent preoccupation, I think about how my Summer of reading might pan out

I have mulled over how Mum’s get time to read before because it is a constant battle. Ultimately, though I love to write and journal, my deepest, longest love has been reading. Often it is escapism. I have been having a real Edwardian fad recently, listening to The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton and The Little Ottley’s books by Ada Levenson on Librivox. Along with my current vogue for the PG Wodehouse collections Stephen Fry is narrating on Audible, I have been experiencing a world of manners and often comic sensibilities. Even with House of Mirth which is frankly tragic, I have found a soothing place to escape to. Though these books are not unproblematic, depicting views reflective of their time that are uncomfortable, most of the times we can be swept away by this historic and yet somehow modern era of feisty women, feckless men and ridiculous social mores that people break with mostly little consequence.

This has been a new part of my resolve to read more. To acknowledge that audiobooks count as reading. How strange that I have held myself to such a strict standard for so long. But then if you had told me at University when I stacked my beloved library desk with piles of books and photocopied chunks of essays, that I would have an electronic reader now, I would have been shocked and saddened. Declaring then that there was nothing like “real” books. I still find grand libraries heavenly, particularly where the stacks are filled with beautifully bound books, and you can browse for hours. It will never stop my heart from soaring, but this is not my everyday life. I graduated fifteen years ago and though I love a research trip, they are not often.

An ereader has been essential to reading more. I can flick between the Kindle app on my phone and my device. I always have a book with me and can pick up whenever I do get a chance. Generally this does involve my son playing on the iPad and I suppose I may never win the war of screen time if I am always on my phone – reading or not. In addition to having access to all my library, I can chop and change as I like. I have always been someone to read different books at one time. Now I acknowledge this about myself without guilt. It’s often about mood. Just as I have been seeking something soothing in recent tired times, there has been other times where I have wanted something deeper or heavier to read (looking at you Hilary Mantel). Switching is so easy now I carry my library around, I wish I hadn’t taken so long to read this way.

And speaking of switching between books, the biggest freedom I given myself over the last few years is simple: I don’t always finish books. As a practice, it feels like giving up or failing. But what precious time I have I need to give to what grabs me. As I wrote in my post about books I didn’t finish, it is frequently about timing. Wintery books are for Winter, some time you’re too bone-tired to concentrate, other times you getting obsessed with a certain era. By not forcing myself to read something that hasn’t wrested my attention away from the world, I do read more. Maybe not of whole books but of a greater breadth, exploring more and letting my whims take me.

I still think that having a goal helps, as I reflected before, the Goodreads reward system helps keep me motivated. Odd to think I need to be motivated to do something I enjoy the most but such is my fickle, distractable brain. By thinking ahead to Summer reading and tracking my progress, I am giving myself the chance of prioritising some energy for escaping into a good book this Summer. Shortly, I will be picking my son up from school as the term ends so here are my Summer picks I aim to make time for this year.

How do you make time to read what you want?

There is good

At the end of every episode of the podcast deep dive into the Good Place, Marc Evan Jackson says “Go do something good.” The melliferous tones are a joy to listen to and somehow this phrase has been an ear worm for me in the last few weeks.

Whether it’s the rainbows or how everyone is considerately moving about the streets around each other, I am seeing more good in the world than ever. We have banded together in a mutual aid group in our neighbourhood although so far this has just been donating a bit of food, I feel closer to the community than I ever have since moving here four years ago. We talk to our neighbours and my son, who is very social but struggles to engage well, is having nice chats with our neighbour most days while he fixes up his car.

And in amongst this joy, sadness too of course, and fear. The emotional rollercoaster seems to be the only thing we can certain of at the moment. Coronacoaster I believe you call it. But we are handling it.

Elizabeth Gilbert was also on the Ted Talks podcast which was a brilliant salve in testing times

I sent my friends this quote from Elizabeth Gilbert because I have so much admiration for everyone’s ride on their own coaster. I look at what they are going through and marvel at how they have “handled it”.

The friend whose going back to work as a teacher, scared because its simply impossible to space out 15 kids in a small classroom. And whose job has changed over and over in the last few weeks. She may have no choice but to send her child to nursery though he is too young to stay away from others. She is battling with fear but handling it. She’s doing something good.

The friend encouraging her young child to go back to school so she doesn’t miss those final few days with her friends before the transition to high school. Her daughter is scared that it will be different and she is holding her hand through this while also working her full time job. She’s doing something good.

The friend working very hard all day but getting deep joy from popping down for a cup of tea and seeing her children more than usual. Getting through her to-do-list now she hasn’t got a long commute. She’s handling it. She’s doing something good.

Another who has to work full time with her husband out at his essential role but is keeping her kids out of school for the moment. Unsure that things are safe at school, she works with her son at her feet. She’s doing something good too.

Through all the earlier mornings, the homework fights, the million snacks, the technology battles- we have mothered on. Through all the video chats with family, baking cakes, playing outside and extra cuddles, we have mothered on.

So, if you are mothering on (or maybe muddling on,) then well done! Because you’re doing something good too.

Writing With a Distracted Mind

If you are finding it hard to be productive, you’re not the only one…

You know how if you had all that time, you’d write your novel? How’s that working for you? Ha! If you’re like me then your distracted mind is struggling. I think it’s clear from my posts in the past that I don’t do great creative work when life is too much. And it’s all a bit too much for me at the moment

We are in the lucky position of still having work that we are trying hard to do at home with our son alongside. A privilege because even as a keyworker, I am not on the front line and a relief because we don’t have quite the worries that other people have around finances. So believe me, I am thinking about others in a lot worse positions than us when I write this. All this extra time at home and I am still too distracted to write.

Not me but…mood.

It’s frustrating. But this time in isolation is unique in its character. I am on an emotional rollercoaster. Right now, blogging on my phone while my son is on the laptop I am enjoying sitting about in comfy clothes. No school run stress. No demand to dry my hair then pick if I do makeup or eat breakfast today because I didn’t leave time for both. (That’s my usual week day) So I am even feeling good enough to write. But later I might try and read and manage two pages before I want to nap.

In this hour by hour existence, I have been thinking about my son’s mind. His neurodiversity means his attention can be very short if he isn’t motivated. And anything remotely schooly for him has to be of interest to engage him, particularly if he finds it hard to do something. The thing that his dyspraxia and attention make it hardest for him to do: writing. The physical act of writing is very complicated. He gets intense support for this at school. It takes time. And he’s got to be interested.

It is not without irony I realise that I am battling to help him do any writing while school is closed. And I think looking at his highly distracted mind can teach me something about how to approach any work I can do while this is our reality.

How to Help Your Distracted Mind Write (or A Seven-Year-Old Learn)

  1. Keep it short. Don’t expect to stay on topic a long time. I have been using a free Skillshare login to do some courses and quick writing exercises. This has led to a short story. Maybe this isn’t the time for long form! Don’t expect too much of yourself.
  2. Make it interesting: while I won’t pretend to be reading a lot, I have been indulging my obsessions in audiobooks and podcasts. Just as my son has been indulging his Minecraft interest, I have been enjoying tales of antiquity. Mythos by Stephen Fry and podcasts such as Myths and Legends. These stories are short and inspiring. And delving into something that really interests you may keep your mind engaged a little longer.
  3. Use time limits. Often it doesn’t feel like you have done much if you have only sat for 10 minutes. But you have to accept if you have done that, you have achieved something. A time limit is a great way to remind yourself to do nothing else in that time. And I have surprised myself with what we have achieved in a short time.
  4. Use a task list. My son gets stressed by timers as he has to watch it count down. We use a list of three tasks he has to achieve instead. This is also a good way to approach work, for me it’s about polishing some work with a few questions in mind: get information across, let the characters move forward, leave early enough. These are all things I learnt in writing classes that I can tick off when I revise work. And an achievable set of tasks to do with maybe a scene or a story.
  5. Reward any effort. You might be giving yourself more treats anyway but the thing that keeps me motivated might also be a little sit in the backyard. It doesn’t have to be much but if you did anything towards some writing you need to do, reward yourself!

So these are my distracted thoughts on getting work done...how have you been managing to write?