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Tiny Tyger, Baby Bear and Me: July 2015

Saturday 25 July 2015

Yes, I'm Still a Feminist!

People are complex.  At least we all like to think we are, anyway.  I suspect most people have seemingly contradictory elements in their personalities and lives to a greater or lesser extent.  Not many people actually fall into a stereotype completely, as much as we like to try and hammer them into those cliched shapes.

I am a vegetarian all for recycling and foreign aid...who is also completely for vaccines and GM crops.

I am a pro-breastfeeding, 'baby wearing', previously co-sleeping mummy.  In many ways I fit the 'attachment parenting' mold...but I use disposable nappies and - shock, horror - did controlled crying with both cubs.

I have been an atheist since I was abut eight, I love Richard Dawkins and still get upset thinking about the death of Christopher Hitchens...and I'm pretty close to my fundamentalist Christian aunt (hi! - she kindly reads my blog, too).

I have a degree in English Literature, love Shakespeare and Blake and Charlotte Bronte and T.S. Eliot...but I can't stand Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights.

I drink five or six cups of tea a day...but enjoy the odd cup of cof-  Ha!  I couldn't finish that.  Of course I don't drink coffee - it's disgusting.

And then there's the fact I'm a feminist...who is a stay at home mum and who took her husband's name once married.

There are many stereotypes when it comes to feminism.  According to the less intelligent members of various comment sections on the internet a feminist is an ugly, probably 'butch', man-hating bitch.  I'm not going to insult your intelligence by explaining why that's a moronic assumption.  I refuse to believe any of the clearly superior beings who read my blog would hold such a cliched and idiotic view.  Whilst we're on the subject, is the whole bra burning thing still a feminist cliche?  Or is it a bit outdated now?  Because after having two kids and stopping breastfeeding I'm struggling to find any bras that fit me and between backs riding up on some bras, my nipples trying to peek over the tops of others and the rest crushing the life out of me, I'm about ready to burn the whole damn lot of them!!

Anyway, as insidious as the ugly man-hater stereotype is, it is less hurtful than the view often put forth by some feminists that if you choose to stay home with your children instead of work you are somehow letting down the cause or cannot be considered a feminist.  I will try to tread carefully because I am not looking for a SAHM vs working mum argument.

When we talked about having children, the Wolf and I discussed our expectations and priorities.  We both preferred the idea of having one of us stay at home with the children rather than work, at least whilst they were young.  It was important to both of us.  The Wolf offered to be the one to stay at home (incidentally, he also offered to take my surname when we married but after conducting a highly specialised survey of my Facebook friends to find out which name sounded better for a writer, I decided to take his name) but it wasn't very practical.  We wanted the cubs to be breastfed for a year or so and his career had a higher earning potential (I'll come back to that).  Plus, I wanted to stay at home with the kids.

I don't think I should feel ashamed to admit that but part of me does.  I have read enough times that I am failing as a woman and a feminist if I don't have a job because my kids will grow up thinking a woman's place is in the home, because I shouldn't rely on a man to support me, because after the cubs are grown up and have left home (assuming they can but that's a whole other blog post) I will be left without a career or anything of my own, because I'm perpetuating the misogynistic cycle by being an ineffective little housewife instead of a productive member of society.

Well, bollocks to that.

Feminism is about equality.  You know the best way to ensure equality?  Choice.  Give people choice.  How is pressuring women into work any better than pressuring them to stay at home??  And, yes, I know women who do go back to work also have certain judgements and assumptions levelled at them (and according to all research done recently are also still expected to do the majority of housework and organising childcare even when working the same hours as their partner).  I'm not saying they have it 'easier'; in fact, it's all part of the same problem (as is the taboo surrounding stay at home dads and I won't even start with the problems single parents face because that could spiral into paragraphs and I should really think about wrapping this post up soon).  I am also aware that the pay inequality in this country - and most  other countries - means even when there is the illusion of 'choice', a couple is basically forced into choosing for the woman staying at home because of a low salary.  As I said earlier, the Wolf's earning potential was higher than mine.  He works in a fairly typically male-dominated line of work, which pays better than the sort of work I was likely to get.

We still have a very patriarchal system set up, which both steers girls and boys towards certain careers and then rewards the ones for boys more highly.  This, in turn, gives everyone less choice and I would love to see that change.  I already wrote about some of my thoughts on gender stereotyping in my post Yes, I bought My Son a Dress.  However, when people - like me - are lucky enough to have a choice I don't think it's helpful or very helpful to the cause of feminism to try to limit that.  The way to equality is to strive towards everyone having opportunities.

The way I have chosen to use my intelligence and education  is by spending most of my time with the cubs and teaching and nurturing them.  You know what, not just my intelligence and education but also my compassion, humour, dedication and all manner of other characteristics because actually intelligence and qualifications in Maths and English aren't the only attributes worth having regardless of what our current government (who very much encourage the notion that making money is the only worthwhile expenditure of time) might think.  One of the most important things I'll be teaching the cubs is that men and women are equal and both are deserving of respect and kindness.  And I won't stop there because when you believe in equality and choice and opportunity for everyone, this is the case regardless of other arbitrary qualities like race or sexual orientation or - importantly for the cubs - regardless of whether someone has a disorder like ASD.  I think the best thing for both me and my cubs is for me to stay at home with them.  That is my choice based on my situation and values and children and experience.  As a feminist, I would love to live in a world where every parent has the equal opportunity to make those sorts of choices.

Except for the coffee drinking Wuthering Heights fans.  Frack those guys.

My Random Musings

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Sunday 12 July 2015

Poo You!! (Are ASD Parents Too Sensitive?)

Tyger has been lining things up a lot recently.  It's an ASD thing and something he's always done but he's doing it far more right now, especially with his cars.  Perhaps it's a coping mechanism because he knows there's change coming (he will go to preschool after the summer) or maybe I'm just noticing it more at the moment or it might be he's already forging a future career as a...parking attendant or something.  I don't know.

Yes, that's a door in the background and no, we were not allowed to move the 'traffic' away from the door...

This week, at a toddler group, Tyger diligently lined up all the ride-on cars and the toy buggies along the edge of the room.  It was pretty conspicuous so I briefly explained to a couple of the other mums about Tyger's compulsion to line things up.  They know he's being assessed for ASD.  One of the mums just smiled and mentioned her own son's phase of lining things up.

I immediately felt defensive.  Defensive and a little...belittled?  I thought about Tyger's concentration as he lined up perhaps 20 or so cars at home and then his distress if anyone tried to move them.  I thought about all the different things he lines up (cars obviously, blocks, CDs, toy animals, his Henry Hoover collection, buckets, trains...) and how long he's been doing it (probably about a year now).  I know a lot of toddlers go through a phase of lining up when they're learning to categorise the world around them but it's not really on the same level.  This is probably where a lot of people would use a sports metaphor and talk about...leagues?  But I don't do sport.  I guess it probably felt like someone who's been out on a pedalo a few time comparing himself to the captain of a ship.  Except that makes it sound like I think this little boy was an amateur liner-upper whilst Tyger is an expert and that's not what I mean.

Anyway, the previous week something similar had happened.  After watching another boy who was playing with a doll in a buggy, Tyger found another doll and another buggy and wheeled them over to the other boy so they stood next to each other.  I mentioned the fact Tyger often very closely imitates other people to the boy's mum and she said she thought all kids do that.  I know all children copy to some extent.  I know if one child decides to play with the train track you're far more likely to get others suddenly showing an interest in the train track.  And children love cleaning 'just like Mummy and Daddy' (haha! I avoided the trap of just putting 'Mummy' - how many feminism points do I get?); unfortunately, they don't do it well enough to take over all cleaning duties (I know - I've tried).  I know kids often pick up phrases they've heard from adults (normally either ones that sound massively cute coming from a child or - more likely - hugely inappropriate phrases that you just said that one time and why did they have to pick up on that specific phrase out of all the things you say!).

But Tyger doesn't just do a little copying here and there.  He'll watch someone intently and imitate everything about them.  If they have a backpack on, he'll get his own (or - if they have a buggy!).  If they're sat with their hands in their lap, he'll sit with his hands in his lap.  If they walk away, he'll walk along right next to them (think shoulders touching).  When they speak, he repeats wheat they've said in the same tone of voice.  He does this a lot.  In fact, it's a huge problem with his interactions with Baby Bear.  Tyger often copies Bear (babbling, chewing on things, maybe crawling) and does it so close to Bear he's pretty much on top of the poor child.  As you can imagine, Bear is less than thrilled to have this limpet stuck to him at all times.

When someone says they think all children are like Tyger, it feels like Tyger's struggles are being downplayed.  I feel like shouting 'poo you!!' sometimes (which is something Tyger said to the Wolf the other day when the Wolf was teasing him and it tickled me).  But I know nobody's trying to make me feel bad.  I know the other mums almost certainly aren't trying to insinuate I'm exaggerating or even lying about Tyger's ASD.  I imagine they either don't even think about it at all or - if they do - are trying to be supportive by suggesting Tyger is still 'normal' despite his ASD.  I doubt there's any malice there.

Why do I feel so defensive?  Well, I think there are probably a few reasons.  For one thing, I always feel a little defensive when it comes to Tyger.  When your kid decides he absolutely needs to roll around on the floor when you're out, or when he has a meltdown and starts kicking as you pick him up and you can feel the eyes on you and hear the thoughts, it can make you defensive.  When the first few health care professionals you mentioned ASD to, were completely dismissive because your child 'makes eye contact' it can also make you defensive.

I don't tell anyone to go poo themselves (wow, maybe the 'poo you' insult doesn't work as well as I thought...or maybe it works a little too well and too...disgustingly) but I do feel like it.  I don't think it's at all unusual for an ASD parent.

I have also read a lot recently from parents of kids with ASD and adults with ASD who say they are offended by so many terms.  Some dislike the term 'on the spectrum' because there is confusion over whether 'the spectrum' refers to just the autistic spectrum or the whole lot ranging from completely neurotypical through to very autistic (it's the former - I checked!).  And then you get people saying 'everyone's on the spectrum', which (as I now know) is certainly not the case.  So, the whole concept of a spectrum can be problematic but that's not all.

Other members on these forums don't like 'autistic' as a term because autism is not something people are but something they have (if it seems like I refer to a disproportionate number of conversations that take place online rather than in real life that's because most of my conversations in real life are with people I'm related to - I suspect if I worked out which adults I spend the most time actually talking to the postman would easily feature in the top 10 (and that isn't hyperbole for comic purposes...just the truth for comic purposes)).  However, others actually prefer to be called/have their children called 'autistic' rather than using the phrase 'has autism/ASD' because it is a part of them and not something to be ashamed of.

That doesn't even touch on the controversy surrounding terms like 'high functioning', which some people find useful and others find pretty offensive because the opposite of 'low functioning' has such negative connotations.  Also, 'high functioning' suggests the child is not overly affected by ASD when actually a child who is very capable in terms of language, academic ability etc. can still be hugely negatively impacted by ASD and struggle daily.  'Asperger's' is no longer used as a diagnosis in the US and its use is inconsistent in the UK.

I have even recently learned some people resent the term 'ASD traits'.

Confused yet?  I am and I think I know more about the subject than your average person.  I'm afraid of offending when it comes to discussing ASD.  I'm afraid these blog posts often have scope to offend...which makes me think I should go easier on those who unwittingly offend me.  You know what, don't poo yourself!

My Random Musings

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Sunday 5 July 2015

I'm Not Fussy to Annoy You

I wrote about five paragraphs of this blog post yesterday...and then all but the first sentence disappeared.  Don't trust the internet, kids.  Not because it's full of porn or sexual predators or misinformation but because it'll swallow up your hard work (I have learned my lesson and am saving in Word from now on).  Okay, so a large portion of the post was about a spider above the window (which has worryingly disappeared today) but I still feel cheated (and a little worried the spider will appear again somewhere closer...).

So, I'll be writing this week's blog on a Sunday instead of a Saturday (yes, a week runs Monday-Sunday and I'm not having any of that Sunday-Saturday crap - Saturday and Sunday are called the weekend).  The topic this week is fussy eating.

I have read/heard the phrase 'I hate fussy eaters' or 'I can't stand adults who are picky eaters' or some other variation many, many times and it does feel like a personal attack.  I have mentioned my own fussiness in this blog where I looked at whether I was autistic.

I think the picky-eater-haters tend to fall into two camps.

The first camp don't think there's any excuse for being fussy with food full stop and if a child is picky then it must be because of indulgent and/or lazy parenting.  Again, this feels like an attack (wow, I'm obviously feeling very defensive today - I think it must be the assumption that spider could ambush me at any moment) because as well as being fussy myself, I have fussy children.  I hate being a fussy eater and have tried very hard to make sure Tyger and Baby Bear don't have that sort of relationship with food.  From first weaning them onto solids I gave them variety and healthy, balanced meals and even made sure I cooked them foods I don't like so as not to pass on my own distaste for certain foods.

Tyger was actually a relatively good eater as a baby.  I mean, it was quite hit or miss and even with the foods he liked, they tended to have to be prepared certain ways but he'd eat a good variety of fruit and veg. as well as a variety of carbs.  Gradually he got more restrictive but that's common with kids as they come up to the year mark so I carried on making those meals he'd gone off in the hope he'd come round again, though they tended to go uneaten and he'd have breadsticks/crackers and raisins instead.

Then we all caught a stomach bug.

That was the beginning of the end.  It started one evening when my stomach very suddenly swelled up (that does not sound right at all...swold, swolled, swalled...nope, none of those sound right, either) to about three times its usual size.  Luckily, I wasn't pregnant with a vampire baby (I wasn't sure whether to keep that reference because my knowledge of a certain set of popular vampire books isn't really something I'm proud of - I'll have to include either a good geeky reference or a highbrow literary reference later on in the post to try and reclaim some dignity); unluckily, I started violently throwing up and this continued through the night with the Wolf joining in (not at the same time - I'm all for doing things as a couple but that's just gross, not to mention impractical).  Tyger seemed blissfully unaffected and I thought maybe my superboobs had passed on immunity.  Unfortunately, that wasn't the case and partway through eating his dinner Tyger was afflicted with the dreaded bug.

I promise all this talk of throwing up is relevant...Well, the very last part is, at least; maybe the rest was just an overshare.  The following day Tyger seemed to be all better but come dinner time he gagged on his mouthful of food and brought it back up.  The next night he started gagging before the food even reached his mouth.  We had to abandon the use of the highchair for a while because he'd obviously made an association between it and being sick.  He also stopped eating most meals, including his favourites.

I'm not sure what the 'fussy children just have indulgent parents' brigade would have had me do.  Force feed him whilst he gagged and screamed?  Only serve him food I knew he wouldn't eat and let him go hungry?  Actually, I know lots of parents do this and almost always have a 'my parents did it to me and I lived' attitude (because...you can do anything to a child so long as it doesn't kill them??).  I mean, I often give Tyger a meal I know he does like/will eat and he refuses it so I tell him it's that or nothing.  I don't think there's anything wrong with that; I refuse to run back and forth to the kitchen half a dozen times trying to find him something he fancies (which would invariably be plain pasta, drained and then dried with kitchen roll at the moment).  But I don't make him something I know he doesn't like and then stand over him, telling him he must eat it whilst he cries.  Even if I didn't think that's pretty cruel, it simply doesn't work.  I know plenty of people who - as adults - shudder at the thought of certain food because they were forced to eat it by their parents or by some horrid dinner lady as a child.  So, what's the point in forcing them??

I still give Tyger food he doesn't like because he's never going to like it if it's never even available for him to try.  But I just give him a small amount alongside things he does like and I certainly don't force him to eat it.  In fact, his beloved pasta was actually quite a recent conquest.  Going back a few months, he wouldn't touch it.

I also give Baby Bear food he doesn't like in the hope he'll at least try it now and then.  He has always been funny with certain food textures (as I wrote about in more detail here) and I don't hold out much hope he'll be any less fussy than Tyger but he does at least eat some vegetable at the moment, even if his fruit selection is more limited than his older brother's.

So, I do feel miffed when parents of fussy eaters are attacked.  I don't think I'm complacent when it comes to the diet and health of my cubs but they're still both picky little things.  That's just how they are.  Perhaps it's related to ASD, perhaps not.  Either way, I don't see it changing any time soon.

Then, there's the second camp of critics.  These people will accept or at least tolerate food pickiness in children but can't stand it in adults.  I guess it's something people should 'grow out of'.  I don't really know what to say to that.  I haven't grown out of it.  I'm not sure how to force myself into growing out of something.  There's this great myth that health visitors and proponents of the belief adults shouldn't be fussy will tell you: apparently, if you eat a food you dislike a certain number of times (say, 20 times) you'll train yourself to like it.  Bullshit.  I can tell you, categorically, that is not true.  I have eaten onions probably hundreds of times and I still detest them.  I want to like them.  Do you know how hard it is to find food you like when you're a vegetarian who doesn't like onions??  My life would be much easier if I liked onions, tomatoes and peppers (apparently the basis for any and every vegetarian meal in all restaurants ever) but I don't.

My mum also heard this myth and tried it with my youngest sister, who is also very fussy.  She gave my sister hated foods again and again - possibly in the hope she wouldn't have another fussy eater on her hands - and my sister still hates them.  Talking of siblings, I'm not sure how anyone who blames parents for food issues explain the fact me and my sisters are all pretty picky but my brother will eat anything and everything.  We all have the same parents!

I'm also not sure what the people who hate fussy adults want me to do.  They seem to think being fussy is in some way a deliberate act to inconvenience them.  Well, you know what?  It's far more inconvenient for me.  Yes, I feel hugely guilty when I go to someone's house for a meal and they have to cook me something specially but I'm really not doing it on purpose.  Insulting someone you like by telling them you just can't eat the food they've put time and effort into making is not fun.  In fact, generally, I don't say anything.  I will always mention beforehand that I'm fussy in the hope the host will take pity and ask me what I do like but if I am given a plate or bowl of food full of my most hated ingredients I don't tend to speak up unless an understanding family member has cooked.  I normally try to eat as much as I possibly manage to be polite.  I chew the absolute minimum and desperately try to hold in the gagging that involuntarily accompanies certain foods.  I wish I had some funny anecdote about surreptitiously feeding dogs under the table or stashing food in my bag to dispose of later but I wouldn't dare do anything like that for fear of being caught; you'll just have to imagine your own amusing scenario.

So, please go easy on us poor fussy eaters.  We really aren't doing it on purpose and I can guarantee you our fussiness is more difficult for us than it is for you!

I'll end with this quote from my favourite poem, The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock by T.S. Eliot:

          And I have known the eyes already, known them all-
          The eyes that fix you in a formulated phrase.

Not because it's particularly relevant, you understand, but because I still feel embarrassed by the Twilight reference earlier and hope this will redress the balance.

Also, there's still no sign of the spider.  If I never write another blog post, you'll know it pulled off the ambush and I'll never annoy anyone with my fussiness again.

My Random Musings

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