Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Identity Crisis

A got sent to her room recently.  She was testing boundaries with great dedication and persistence.   After a while B went upstars to talk to her.

What's bothering you? he said.
Mummy got me wrong.

I don't think I did, although I do occasionally, grasping desperately for a name in a crisis.  In many ways, she's lucky I didn't call her M.  Is being thought a boy worse than being thought your twin?

Yesterday S came into the kitchen in tears.  Her birthday cards (now over six weeks out of date) were in the craft box and she didn't want them to be cut up.   Especially this one. It's from Annabelle.  Annabelle's her best friend.  She wants to go to Annabelle's party next year (Annabelle's party was last week, so we have some time to wait).  The tears flow faster.

But Annabelle won't know who I am then.

I can't empathise.  I'm me.  I've always been me, and aside from the occasional "which one are you?" frustration of every mother as she searches for the right name, I've never been anyone else.

But A and S aren't.  They are different, so different, but they're also the same.  Did you know that the type of identical twin depends on how soon after conception the fertilised egg splits?  If it's within four days you get totally separate twins with two placentas.  If it's more than 12 days after you get conjoined twins:  two people joined in one body. 

My girls must have split between days four and eight.  It's odd knowing that.  Odd too that no-one knows why or how they split; why or how they became two people when I am one, when most of the people they meet are one.

And they are beginning to understand this, to understand that people don't always know who they are, and it is beginning to distress and fascinate in equal parts.  It's partly my fault, of course.  L asked how twins happened, and I gave her the potted version: sometimes two babies grow inside the Mummy's tummy, and sometimes, for reasons no-one knows, one baby starts to grow, but it breaks (and I regretted that word as soon as it came out of my mouth) into two babies and so you get two babies who look the same but are actually two separate people.

Have I made them think they are broken?

I don't think so. I think, I hope, that this is a stage.  They are just four and these early years are (aren't they?) all about identity: discovering who you are.  How much harder must that be when you have a mirror image (complete with matching scar on her forehead) who is both you and not you. 

I can't explain this very well, because I don't understand it.  I don't have a twin.  I don't even have any close friends who are twins, although my father has a non-identical brother.  I don't know how to help them become themselves, separate but still linked. To grow into individuals with their own lives, while retaining the amazing bond that unites them.

Because although they were both so distressed at being confused, they adore each other.  They are separated at school, in different classes, and seem happy to be so, but there are hugs and squeals of delight when they are reunited at lunchtime.  They make a beeline for each other at gym and music, I am told.   They share a room and enjoy closing the door, shutting the world out and just being themselves.    We have our share of bickering - we have two four year olds, a five year old and a toddler in the house, bickering is our standard operating procedure - but more often than not, if it is just A and S, they get on, playing together, chatting together, just being.

Individuality's a process, I suppose, and the fear of losing their separate identities they are beginning to display is just the flip side of the fact that they still haven't, where each other is concerned, got the idea of personal space at all.   Fingers go in noses, tongues in ears: Look at this Mummy!

In a way I am the same: I want them to be separate - my nightmare for them is that they are still living together, dressing the same, probably with cats, at the age of forty - but I also love the special link they share.  I want to encourage their individuality, but I shy away from the idea of separate bedrooms.  Not yet, not now.   Plenty of time for that.

The study of twins is called gemellology; much cleverer people than I spend their lives thinking about twins and the relationships between them.  How best to nurture the individual while protecting the bond.  That's all I want too: I'm just rather less scientifically hoping that we'll get there in the end.

And hoping too that this time next year Annabelle will still know who S is.


In one of those brilliant coincidences, the subject for the Gallery this week is Bond.  As per usual I've been more wordy than I've been pictorial, but there are pictures, so I hope the Gallery's great and good will forgive me.  Click through to see other Bonds (although sadly not of the Daniel Craig variety).

Thursday, 17 January 2013

Saying the wrong thing to my children (No 2,016)

There are times when I realise that I and my children exist on totally different planes.

Take this, for example.

Last Summer.  The day we got back from France.  The week before my period.  I hadn't slept for two days because I'd been sharing a bed (for which read bunk on a boat, the second night) with M.  He's adorable, but he's not the best of bedfellows.  B had had the other room in the hotel and cabin on the boat because he was doing all the driving, and because he had to work as soon as we got back.

So, anyway, we docked at 9 am. We got back here at 10.30ish.  By 11.15 B was back at his desk, leaving me with four (tired) children, and two weeks worth of unpacking, washing, post, shopping, phone messages, and everything that goes with them.  Oh, and did I mention the PMT?

All this is by way of justification for the fact that when, a few short minutes and about six loads of laundry later, I discovered that the the girls had destroyed their bedrooms as only a force ten gale or three small children can, I was perhaps not my entirely calm and rational self.

About a minute and a half of shouting later, I sank to the floor, head in hands, two parts ashamed, to three exhausted, to probably, if the truth be told, one still spitting bricks.

And L came up to me.  I don't know what she said, if anything.  I can't remember.  I just know I said, in tones of world weary, resigned exhaustion:

I can't do it any more.  Make a mess.   I don't care.

And she got up and skipped away, huge grin on her face, shouting with delight:

Mummy says we can make a mess!

Sometimes only your children can make you smile...

Monday, 14 January 2013

What the Dickens have I been reading for the last six months?

To which the answer is:

This lot.

Which contains some Dickens, but not as much as I promised myself when I set myself the task of reading everything he wrote, back in July.

But that, with one honourable exception, (the photo on the right, thanks Amazon), that I've passed on to a neighbour,  is everything I've read since then.

It's a rather shamefully small list, which I blame almost entirely on Dombey and Son which I started reading in September, and only finished last week.  I'm not sure why, after all, what's not to love about a book which has on its first page, the following sentence:

...and Son lay tucked up warm in a little basket...immediately in front of the fire and close to it, as if his consitution were analogous to that of a muffin, and it was essential to toast him brown while he was very new.

I suspect other people may have noticed that Dickens had a way with words, but if I hadn't been aware of it before, he had me at that point.

Hard Times, although I read it quicker, didn't grab me in the same way.  It's difficult, perhaps, to read these books as Dickens might have intended the reader to; we live, after all, in a somewhat different world.  But even though all the same social issues he raises still exist, and are maybe often worse, I just felt too distanced from his world really to be drawn into it.

The others were a bit of light relief really.  Georgette Heyer is my 10-tog-duvet, big mug of hot chocolate, author of comfort and love.  I turn to her whenever I don't know what else to read, or just when I want something to entertain, amuse and remind me that all is, at base, right with the world.  I didn't know either of these two of hers before and I thoroughly enjoyed them both, even if I can't really remember what either of them was about now.  High Society followed on from the two Georgettes (we're on first name terms) and fleshed out the world she wrote about for me, even if that wasn't really necessary because there are so  many historical snippets and period details in her books that there were times that this really just felt like a non-fiction version.

I wanted to enjoy the Jeffrey Eugenides, having loved Middlesex and the Virgin Suicides, but I just didn't.  I felt as though he was trying to say something terribly significant and failing.  But maybe the failure was mine.

I felt let down by The Night Circus too.  It was recommended by a friend, and it's the sort of thing I normally love, but in the end it felt like all style and no substance.  In the bonus extra author interview the publishers stuck in at the end Erin Morgenstern is asked whether she is a fan of Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell.  She is, apparently.  The problem is her book just isn't as good.

You can't be let down by Margaret Attwood though (although to be honest, I struggled and failed with Alias Grace) and The Robber Bride was creepy and compelling and mysterious and racy all in one.  I realise I'm pretty late in coming to it, but I'm glad I did.

Next, something completely different.  I read a lot of those "Best books of 2012 " things last month and the one book that kept coming up was The Old Ways, by Robert Macfarlane.  It's a very not me sort of a book, but I asked Santa for it anyway and I started it this morning.

I'll let you know how I get on.

Addendum (18th February) - for completeness' sake, I also read The Pickwick Papers.   I realised when I found it under the bed about fifteen minutes ago.  I told you there was more Dickens.  I'm rather ashamed of having forgotten it though. Doesn't say good things about me, really, does it? I'm not sure we can blame one of Charles' finest, after all.  Jolly funny it was too.

Friday, 11 January 2013

When friends grow old.

Barely days ago, in Summer 2010, I posted this picture of A's best friend:


In the intervening two and a half years, Bunny has been much loved, much played with. Much cuddled and nurtured.

So much so, that this is Bunny now, scrubbed up and looking at his best for the photo:

Bunny is still loved.  Still taken to bed every night. Still clutched through bumps and bruises, fears and frolics, dreams and nightmares.  Still sucked and nuzzled into a disgusting, soggy, stinky rag that requires a weekly 90 degree wash.

But we have to accept that the end cannot be far off.  And I don't know how I am going to cope, much less A.

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

As the actress said to the bishop. Or not.

I did something increasingly unusual last year.

On the census form, on the religion bit, I put: C of E.

I don't go regularly any more (distinct lack of child friendly churches round here), and you'd probably never know that I ever went at all if I didn't tell you.  But despite that my membership of the Church of England, is, and always has been, a part of who I am.   Three of my four children were baptised into the church and the fourth has his official dunking booked for later this year.

But following the news about gay bishops, I'm thinking of cancelling the Christening; and if the census were tomorrow, I'm not sure what I'd put.

It's not that I care who my bishop sleeps with.  (To be fair,it's not that I know who my bishop is, living in Scotland as I do.)  Nor is it that the whole thing is a nonsense - it's apparently ok to be gay, and do gay stuff like fall in love, move in together and  have a civil partnership, as long as you don't do other gay stuff; like, for example, sleep with other men.  (Really?  Is there really anyone who thinks that makes sense?)  Nor is it that it almost explicitly invites senior clergy into each other's bedrooms. (Will they also be asking the straight ones if they prefer it missionary or doggy style?).  

It's not actually about the gay men at all, whether bishops or otherwise.  

What's bothering me is the thought of what this says about the whole institution's unspoken attitude towards women in general, and women bishops in particular.

Because underneath it all, doesn't that attitiude boil down to this: 

Being gay is wrong.  Being a gay bishop is ok.  
Being a woman bishop is not ok. 

Or, in other words: while it's sometimes ok to be gay, it's never ok to be a woman.