Please don’t squeeze a balloon into our five-year-old’s mouth…

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This is my life. Amidst the wealth of bird song, hill views and blossom-lined playgrounds, I have the frequent reminder that I chose an absolute plank to father my child. I try hard, really hard, to see the good, to wish him well, to be empathetic to his ignorance and his ego-driven behaviour, but sometimes there’s no denying that the guy has the common sense of a mop.

This week saw me reach for the Gin on the back of two parenting choices that were as unsavoury as seeing Boris Johnson in a rubber thong. The first one is a coat-related incident; this feels a little risky, attempting to appeal to a varied mass market with an array of subject matters, but then writing two consecutive posts on children’s coats. But there is an autobiographical element to my blogs, and a therapeutic itch to be scratched through writing, that leads me to rant about a coat-related issue – so that I can refrain from being anything other than polite to the father of my child. I’m angry and I just want to find a funny side and attempt to clutch at some empathy by getting it down on paper.

Our child likes: old fashioned and multi-coloured knitted cardigans and Andy-Pandy-style hats.

Our child comes back from his dad’s: dressed like a sixty-year-old millionaire, fresh from his yacht.

Conclusion: they have been to the Trampoline Instructor’s parents, who must be made to believe my ex is far removed from the man who had a car with ‘I DON’T DO SPEED BUMPS!’ and ‘PIMP MY RIDE’ stickers on it, at the age of 32.

Whilst my ex may chose to portray himself deceptively, by sporting a royal blue velour jacket, and come over all Shaun-Ryder-meets-Willy-Wonka, I don’t sit comfortably with our son being dragged along in this image obsession, and used as an accessory.

I’m shocking at hiding how I feel and on this occasion, as my five year old walked in, in Chinos and a cream blazer, I blurted out: “What are you wearing? You look like you’re in fancy dress!” I explained afterwards that he is just as special in his Hungry Caterpillar jumper and Bermuda shorts, and should be welcome in ‘posh restaurants’ (where they had been), and by all people, in any of his clothes.

Then comes the inevitable… the text message! This is restraint its best, as I refrain from replying to the attack on my parenting skills for apparently upsetting our child – which did not happen. It is rich coming from a man who had a social care investigation less than a year ago, but the irony hits record levels after the subsequent conversation with my son, about his time with his dad:

Child: “Mummy, you know those balloons that float up to the sky? Well at Daddy’s he squeezed one into my mouth and it made my voice go really funny.”

There are no words.

Do I:

  1. Send this: ‘Hiya, please can you not squeeze balloons into our son’s mouth? Sorry to be a pain it’s just that I’m not sure he’s quite ready for his first Pneumothorax. Does it sound reasonable to wait until he’s six?’
  2. Ring him and ask what the absolute fuck he was thinking.
  3. Make no contact with him and plan a ‘how to handle Daddy’ guide for our son.

The truth is that, as very tempting as the first two options are, I will get nowhere. I always try and think ‘what am I trying to achieve? What is the outcome I want?’ And making him angry is not what I want. I want my son to be safe – mentally and physically. Attempting to reason with a Sociopath (I say this objectively, not as an insult), is like investing my time in trying to drive a slipper. It’s pointless.

We go for option 3. I explain to my son the dangers and my views that I am sure that Daddy was just trying to have fun and to make them both laugh. We agree the plan that my little boy will ask himself ‘would my teacher do this?’ and if the answer is ‘no’, then he is going to politely say no to his Dad.

As it happens, I’m writing an autobiographical book about how to survive being left for another woman, and the current chapter that I’m on is called ‘Putting down the blow torch: How to act with dignity from day one’.  This week’s drama fits in perfectly, because it’s been one of the hardest times to bite my tongue. Praise the good, ignore the bad, attempt to write something that makes people laugh on the back of it – I refuse to fight, or try waste my time criticising things I can’t change. He doesn’t mean to put our child at risk, he’s just so lost in his ego that he doesn’t think about any consequences – he just wants to be liked. And having written this, I feel less angry and just sad that he is the way he is.

Right. Empathy found, humour questionable, I’m off to set fire to a blazer…

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Shoehorning a Child into a Coat

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This week I have taken the innocent item that is the everyday coat, as my talking point. At least I thought coats were innocent.

It appears that coats are viewed by the majority of those born after 2010 as the enemy. This is not a prejudice viewpoint; there is an equal degree of anger triggered by denim, down, fleece, cotton and waterproof fabric. I’ve yet to try and squeeze my five year old into a PVC or fur coat but I think he’d object just as much to these fabrics too. And weather does not come into the equation either – a combination of sleet, snow and a wind speed that can flip a petrol tanker, will still be deemed as a reasonable environment for stepping out in a school T-shirt, and neglecting all forms of jacket.

For those who have yet to endure the scale of a coat meltdown, the degree of devastation cannot be underestimated: this is trauma at its most severe.

Here’s a common example:

Adult: please will you put your coat on?

PAUSE. REPEAT TIMES SIX.

CHILD COLLAPSES ONTO FLOOR AND CRIES SO HARD THEY CAN’T BREATHE IN (FOR LONG ENOUGH TO GO BLUE), THEN SCREAMS AT THE SAME MAGNITUDE THEY WOULD IF THEY WERE BEING EATEN BY A BEAR.

I have accumulated sufficient answers to be able to fill a book called ‘Reasons I hate my coat’ – my favourite to date being “because it’s warm”.

I look around and I am not alone. A sea of small people removing coats as if in a coat-removing-competition – within seconds of going through the school gates.

I live in awe of the parents of the kids who at least start with a coat in-situ. I’ve picked their brains:

“How do you get her coat on?”

“Shoehorn. And bribery.”

On the way out of the school gates one snowy morning (which weirdly was only three weeks ago), I passed a mum running in late, with a duffle coat under her arm. She looked like she’s just done a shift in A & E.

“Coat gate?” I ask.

“Yes – for the last 45 minutes.” She replies.

I feel her pain.

I refuse to buy requested toys and it’s accepted. I say no to another ice cream and it’s fine. I ask my son to put a jacket on when it’s cold outside and I am viewed as Satan. To kids, parents who insist on coats are the equivalent of what Jeremy Hunt is to NHS workers: we ruin their lives.

I ask the question (pointlessly):

“Do you think I’m asking you to wear a coat because I want to cause you pain and distress, or because I’m trying to look after you?”

An incoherent answer is accompanied by a snot and tear shower.

Most people love summer because of the sunshine, heat, beer gardens, ice cream vans, BBQs,  sprinklers and playing out. I love summer because I don’t have to force feed two arms and a torso into a coat every morning, whilst trying to dodge uppercuts and verbal abuse.

Hurrah for pending June and its natural heat.

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Guest Blogging on Mental Health Awareness

This week I took the risk to come out from behind the cloak of attempted humour and write something serious about mental health. So here we go… with thanks to the lovely people at the Gingerbread charity for sharing my words about my journey to a much happier place 🙂 The link to my guest blog is here. (and to spare my technophobia…. here it is in full in case it doesn’t work: – http://www.gingerbread.org.uk/content/2287/Mental-health-awareness-week)

Thank you for reading x

IQ of 70 or less? Come and work for HMRC!

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Having thought it was safe to celebrate my victory over HMRC and my appeal against the nonsense that is the incompetence of the tax credits system, it appears I have been premature in cracking open the champagne.

It seemed a safe conclusion, given that I had received a call from the courts to confirm resolution, I had also been written to with confirmation that the outcome of the appeal was now correctly in my favour, and I was sent a letter from HMRC with all the correct figures. Surely nothing could go wrong now…?!

Then comes the statement. In fact, five more statements in so many days, which contain completely different figures – which are out by the value of the cost of the average family car. Stop the world I want to get off.

So I can either get angry, or I can write another piece of satire, slamming the embarrassment that is HMRC. I choose to see the positive – hopefully an opportunity for humour at the expense of this shambles.

Before I commence this, I would just like to fairly state that my local MP is on it, and being very helpful. However the system as a whole still deserves a bloody good slagging off.

So here we have my coping mechanism for the ongoing stress of this situation: my conclusion of the top 10 criteria for getting a job at HMRC…

  1. You must have the empathy levels of Jeremy Hunt. If a customer cries on the phone, we would expect you to do something like play on your phone – perhaps browsing an internet site for instant sex in your area, or playing Lego Star Wars – that sort of ignorance would be ideal. We don’t tolerate staff members who listen or sympathise.
  1. You must think that £96 x 52 is £412 – anything over this figure is deemed as bringing HMRC into disrepute. These are childcare calculations – we do not condone the use of correct figures.
  1. You must be totally void of the sense to escalate an issue when it reaches the point that there is hard evidence against HMRC, and a parallel mention of a customer going to the Daily Mail. Continue to not listen, screw letters up and throw them at your voodoo poster of the Dalai Lama and let the situation unnecessarily spiral until it reaches the hands of the courts.
  1. You must believe that all single parents have had to have paternity tests to confirm which kids are from which dads – following accidental pregnancies, resulting from Cash ‘n’ Carry car park sex. These single parents are not good folk and we need to be confident you don’t slip into thinking they are real people.
  1. You must be comfortable with the phrase “it’s not as if they’re going to understand the figures anyway, especially if you send them six different multiple-page statements in four days” – we would expect this kind of chat amongst your colleagues, and during your appraisals with your supervisors.
  1. You must NOT give a shit about your job, the system or anyone on the other side of the phone.
  1. You must not use your real name when you answer the phone. If you accidentally change your name halfway through conversations with customers, then this is exactly the level of stupidity we are looking for.
  1. You must have the ability to say one thing on the phone and then write down another in the customer’s notes.  For example, if the customer states they are single with two children, tell them they will get £150 a week but then put them down on the system as in a relationship with just the one child – and allocate them £4 a week.
  1. You must be unable to copy a simple figure from one page to another without making errors in at least two of the digits. This is especially important when you are copying guidance notes from successful court appeals. The report gives a four figure total? Make it three figures. And swap the 9 for a 3.
  1. If you are intelligent enough to realise that the system is utter nonsense and doesn’t make sense, you must show no common sense to try and change the system or to leave your job. You must stay there regardless.

Bonus point: having a crush on Jeremy Hunt. We would love Jeremy Hunt to come and run the Tax Credits system: he is exactly the calibre of human being we are looking for.

I am sure that, amongst those with the mathematical capabilities of a toothbrush, there are some very nice people who work at HMRC, and some who are good at their job. If one of them is reading this then I pray that my case notes land on their desk and that they have the heart and common sense to correct the one single error that is causing months of time and money to change.

For anyone else on the receiving end of this living sitcom, CHECK CHECK CHECK your statements. You may as well be trusting one of those special emails that say ‘Congratulations! You’ve been selected to send £30,000 to an overseas bank account, and we will give you back £1m!’

I don’t trust that this will be my last post on the joys of dealing with the Tax Credits system… we await the next incomprehensible human error…

I’m Sorry I Showed You My Muffin

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Lost in a fantasy world of being published by the broadsheets, I entered the unisex cubicle at the gym in a state of daze – resulting in my forgetting to lock the door. I was only aware of my error when I bent over, naked, to check my phone (to see if this week’s targeted paper had replied to my pitch for a bespoke article), and the door opened and jarred me hard in the arse cheek. Being cracked on the sitting bone with the sharp edge of a door is a real eye-watering experience – but I was more hurt by the embarrassment that someone had just had a close-up of my fannula. This is far from cool.

I apologise, and there’s laughter from the woman who can ever undo what she’s just seen. Then silence. A very awkward silence.

More silence.

I break the ice: “I’m now too embarrassed to leave my cubicle” I shout. Nothing.

Oh this is very awkward indeed.

I can’t leave it like this – what if she posts the situation on the community Facebook page? I need to befriend this lady to stop her talking publicly about my undercarriage.

This is more embarrassing than copping off with the spinning instructor after too many Taboo and lemonades (I still struggle with that nearly 20 years on…).

There’s only one thing for it – I get ready quickly and then camp outside her cubicle – for ages. I keep myself busy applying my make-up. I look at like Jackie Stallone by the time the lady emerges. I don’t beat around the bush (pun intended) and go straight in:

Me: “I’m sorry if I just ruined your life by what you’ve just seen.”

She looks blank.

Me: “I’ve just accidentally flashed my… (think about saying ‘minnie’ know I can’t say ‘vag’)…bits at you.”

Lady: “Oh did you? I didn’t see.”

Me: “Really? Are you sure?!”

Lady: “I definitely didn’t see your bare bottom, Love, I was looking over there and just barged in – I only realised when I knocked into something.”

That something was beginning to sting – and if it had been two inches to the right it would have been the closest thing I’d had to sex in the last 3 years. And would potentially require more stitches than child birth.

I’m late for work. I think about how to explain “sorry I’m late, I had to wait outside a lady’s changing cubicle after I thought I’d shown her my vagina by accident.” This would not bode well for the security of my employment.

After the horror of the parenting forum trolls last week, my shame button has been pressed again. I make notes to myself: lock door. Remember the changing room is unisex. Get head out clouds.

Things could always have been worse – I’m hanging onto gratitude that it wasn’t someone with a video camera running, with a live connection to Sky News, and the time to then put the footage on the parenting forum I fell fowl of – next to a picture of me and the top abusive quotes from the pack of hormonal wolves that I managed to upset last week.

Live it, learn it. I hope….

Facilitating the Dream Wee

Dream wee

I am stubbornly, and often stupidly, independent – due to an automatic sense of failure and guilt triggered by asking for help. At worst, this has seen me break my nose and eye socket with the claw of hammer, whilst trying to remove an equally stubborn nail from a floorboard. And even then, I didn’t go to A & E for 24 hours – foolishly trying to brave it out without help.

There is an exception. One situation that I would readily accept help with, is in facilitating the nightly ‘dream wee’. This is the act of transporting a sleeping child from bed-to-toilet, to prevent him from wetting the bed in his sleep. The current routine goes like so:

Go to retrieve child from bed – he is not there. Find child in the middle of my bed (which is a mattress on the floor). Attempt not to rupture hernia repair whilst trying to lift dead-weight child from floor height – child often carrying an extra 2 stone from a full pair of the world’s most absorbent night-time pants. (Worth noting, the large size is great if you ever want to get to the front of a gig at a festival, without having to avoid fluids for 12 hours beforehand… ). I can only imagine my neighbours assume I have a sideline in prostitution, given the late night grunts from my bedroom, as I try to scoop the bed-squatter up.

Carry drooling child to bathroom, trying to avoid stepping wheeled toys, especially when passing the top of the stairs.

Now for the tricky bit: grit teeth and hold child with one arm, whilst trying to pull down an already soggy pair of night-time pants and simultaneously aiding the correct direction of flow, to avoid any quick-fire wee from going into eyes (live it, learn it). Place child on toilet seat, mindful of the direction of aim throughout this process. Advice to new starters: wear goggles. And a shower cap.

Notes to self: don’t bang child’s head on wall.  Don’t bang child’s head on sink. Keep hold of child at all times… If child does a pooh, which can take a while, don’t fall asleep in the cuddle embrace whilst child is still on toilet. Also, in the situation of a pooh arising, try not to let sleeping child fall into toilet bowl whilst you simultaneously suspend them on the toilet seat and wipe their bottom.

If stamina allows, hover child over sink to wash hands. If flagging, forgive self for using a baby wipe. Then transfer child back to bed – if this is the mattress on the floor, just letting go and dropping child onto the mattress is easier on the back. (Joke).

Given that a recent tongue-in-cheek post about pubic hair styling in labour got interpreted very seriously by some, I pre-empt a similar scattering of serious comments (along with the token  “fuck you, you’re shit” thrown in for good measure). The obvious question I pre-empt is “why not just wake your son up?” Here’s how that conversation would go:

Me: “Hercules*, Darling, you need to wake up and come and have a wee.” (Repeat X 20)

Child (eventually): gets up and either walks straight into a wall, or is so awake that he skips to bathroom and then wants to play hide-and-seek.

There are times when sciatica kicks in and I think how this is one job that I would delegate to ‘daddy’, if there was one here. But I quickly snap out of it in the reality check of how empowering my world is as a single parent – especially the proud achievement of the dream wee mission.

As long as this stops by the age of 25.

Ahead of our forthcoming camping trip, I’m training for the blow-up-bed-to-potty transfer within a tent. Watch this space…

(*name changed for dramatic effect)

Mothers Who Cyberbully

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I am on the road to 40, and being trolled by teenagers. This is not cool. Even less cool is my reaction to this: hiding in a coat cupboard and shouting ‘Make it stop! Make it stop!’ – whilst trying not to have a panic attack, be sick or cry. I should be on the school run; my son is still in his pyjamas, has had a breakfast that would warrant a Social Care referral and is handling life a lot better than me, despite being only five.

I assume the trolls are teenagers; they have the angst and disregard for feelings that surely couldn’t come from a bunch of grown women, and there’s no tongue-in-cheek banter – they want my blood. Except for they may well not be teenagers – in view that the abuse is stemming from a parenting forum for women.

The cause of this? I had the audacity to post a few blogs on the site. Apparently this is in line with Fred West’s behaviour – the total irony being that these women are gouging the virtual eyes out of me, whilst themselves behaving in a manner that should sign them up for instant sterilisation.

The paranoia that I am some undercover Russian spy, as opposed to being so technically inept that I don’t know how to erect a profile photo that fits the size specs (and so stupid that I didn’t realise this site didn’t match my assumption that it was a supportive parenting website), results in my phone vibrating like an oral B – as the trolls investigate my online existence. I did indeed just want traffic to my blog – but a blog I write with the hope it makes someone laugh/think, gives hope that life as a single parent isn’t grey, and because I want a book deal so that I can reach out to help more people than I could within the restrictions of my NHS job. The blog doesn’t make money and the hunt for more online followers stems from this phone call:

Me: Hi there, I’m looking for a book deal for my blog.
Biggest lit agent in UK: how many online followers have you got?
Me: about 70.
Agent: 70,000?
Me: erm, nope, just 70.
**world’s most awkward silence. I do a variation on ‘oh look, a flying pig!’ And hang up.

Constructive criticism? Welcomed. A good hearty debate? I love them. A polite ‘you’ve got the etiquette all wrong on this site’? Taken on the chin. Abuse by a mass of women who want to feel better about themselves by bullying? Congratulations – you’ve given me a fear parallel with jumping out of a plane with a woollen parachute, and the shame and embarrassment of having to have sex with a golden retriever on live TV.

I stopped reading the thread after the 4th attack – but as the comments reached triple figures, I receive a message from a stranger directly to my blog site, publicly wishing me well and acknowledging the horror of the situation. I didn’t want to know what they were saying. I wish I was competent enough to reply to the lovely lady who took the time to message me but it appears to be through a link on the forum and I’m scared where my reply will land. In my head I think I that the consequence of pressing the wrong button is death.

I used to do stand-up comedy – my favourite gigs being the bear-pits where you get voted off, and an FHM competition that threw me to a collection of hen and stag parties in Leeds. I loved it. In a place where I managed to escape heckling from drunken crowds, I am puzzled by how the same source of humour can cause sober parents to will me under a bus. Undoubtedly it’s the security of the internet – teamed with the fact that some women are so totally ignorant to the fact that others can’t, or struggle to, conceive, and instead these mothers choose to be bitter and slag off the world, rather than be grateful that they are blessed with being a parent.

I arrive at work and cry into someone’s minestrone soup. I also cry at the school gates – I am trying to be brave but it’s like trying to hold diarrhoea in, after drinking 4 litres of prune juice.

I am a fool for my naivety, but shocked that these women have children – and the time and mindset to troll online. I have a writing window from 6.30-7am each morning, to fit around work and childcare – by 9.30am my post had been read by over 1200 mothers – a post that, to my knowledge, doesn’t not fall into anyone’s feed – you have to look for it.

How very sad.

I begged the company to take down everything I’d posted – they were amazingly understanding at my cowardly stance, and very apologetic.

Even more ironically, after 6 months of knocking on the door to blog for the company,  they contacted me that night to say they have accepted me. I think posting this article on their site would be the equivalent of escaping a bear, and then strapping a beaver carcass to my head and running back towards the bear. I have no interest.

My only temptation now is to set up a Just Giving page for the husbands and children of these women.

Bikini Line Etiquette for Women in Labour‏

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A request from an Obstetrician was made this week – to write something that she can share online and, for once, not have to read “in secret”.

‘This is going to be challenging’ I thought. I need to write something clean that she can proudly follow, without being struck off for bringing the NHS into disrepute – by being seen to support something that contains satire, filth or reference to mowing down the father of my child with a tank. Aside from that, it’s also important to me that I write on a theme that is relevant to an Obstetrician’s life, and that it’s something that meets my preference to go outside the box…

I conclude that the ‘outside of the box’ isn’t a bad idea if taken literally; I like to write about things that aren’t spoken about, and the outside of a woman’s box is very relevant when you think about this in the context of obstetrics. So my theme is decided: What is the etiquette for pubic hair styling when it comes to labour?

The Obstetrician confirmed that this is indeed a topic of useful discussion; with many women asking her advice on what they should do with their pubic hair prior to giving birth. And it just so happens that I have experience in this field and I’m in a very strong position to advise on what not to do when it comes to preparing your pubes for labour…

Having grown a chest that bulged out of a 40G bra and a waistline that landed me the nickname of ‘The Easter Egg’ during my pregnancy, I was not only unable to see my bikini line, I couldn’t even reach the thing. Aware I should do something pre-birth, in terms of hairdressing, I collared my then partner during his weekly shave and asked him if he would oblige a quick trim of my neither region, but to leave the ‘groin bits’ as I’d get them neatly waxed; mistake on two accounts.

Firstly, labour came sooner than expected and I didn’t get round to waxing the sides. Secondly he’d taken a grade one razor to the main section – rendering me the owner of a very uncool ‘reversed Mohican’ of my pubic hair. It looked like a Terry Nutkins tribute (for those born after 1980, please see picture above).

Not only did I not see the extent of the damage until after I’d given birth, but I had every complication under the sun during my labour, which meant that about 30 people had seen my artwork. I mentioned this to the Obstetrician, and she responds: “In my entire career, I’ve never seen anything that even remotely comes near to what you just described.”

I use the opportunity to move away from the shameful hair issue and relay my birthing complications – interested to know if in fact I did nearly die during labour. The conversation contains the following snippet:

Me: “…so they hit the emergency button, a team of people came running in. One doctor took one look at the blood-loss and had a sudden look of shock; I remember pleading with him to stop looking so panicked because I was scared I was going to die.

Obstetrician: “haemorrhaging it’s pretty horrific Hannah, but I can assure you that, even with several pints of blood-loss, the state of your pubic hair would have been the likely cause of his shocked face.”

If I can spare others the same pain of embarrassment, I may feel a little better. I move into journalist mode…

Me: “so what do you advise expectant mothers to do?

Obstetrician: “get rid of the lot – it makes it stitching people up easier.”

So on the good side, some light has been shed on the matter and I hope it helps others.

I shall resist the temptation to go off on a political tangent here and also interpret the title ‘bikini line etiquette for women in labour’ being the Labour Party; despite this being right up my street.

Instead, I shall leave it here, and try not to feel too much guilt over the likely number of Post Traumatic Stress cases I caused with my 2011 designer vagina.

Following = chance of book deal – please help! 🙂 I’m on Facebook here and Twitter here.