Thursday, 30 May 2013

Home remedies

I'm crying about almond oil.

Specifically, the memories evoked by popping a few gently warmed drops of it into my eldest's poorly ear.  It was one of my Grandma's trusty remedies for ear-ache.  I can't tell you the number of times I would go to her as a child, crying about an ear ache or sore throat or any of the usual childhood illnesses, and she would soothe it with a homespun remedy.  Almond oil for ears, cloves for throats, ginger ale for feeling sick. The latter never failed to make me throw up (I guess her intention was just to speed up the process and end that awful period when you know you're going to be sick?!) and I still feel a bit queasy now when I smell or taste it.  Of course, I had no idea while I was growing up that these remedies weren't the norm.  They weren't entirely wacky, and my folks were by no means against going to the doctor or using conventional medicine in addition, but for the everyday niggles that cause me to reach for Calpol, my Gran had other answers.

My sister and I had the privilege of growing up with a live-in Grandma.  When my parents needed her help with childcare so that my Mum could return to work, my Gran sold her house in Karachi and moved to the UK to live with us.  I wish I could remember the Karachi house.  I've been told so many great stories about it.  My favourite is that of my Gran potty training me, both of us sat underneath her mango tree.  Me on the potty, her on a little wooden stool, which I've now inherited.  I had sweet notions of sitting on the stool while I potty trained my own children, but the dear British weather and my lack of gardening skills could never quite recreate such grand settings (the above pic is A mango tree, not THE mango tree, sadly).  I can't tell you too much about Gran because I wouldn't know where to start, but she was wonderful.

We lost Grandma unexpectedly to a stroke, the week before my eldest was due.  She passed away a week later, my Mum calling to tell my husband just as he was calling to tell her that I was experiencing the very first twinges of labour.  You might call it beautiful.  Generally, I do.  But sometimes, I'm still caught by the rawness of that grief, the sense of being cheated out of an amazing source of wisdom and comfort just as I needed it most.  You never know how long you'll have someone for, and you never think to ask them for all their advice, remedies and wisdom upfront - how could you?  I remember asking my Gran for one of her recipes, and she duly described it all to me, right down to 'use this much chilli powder', indicating with her thumb against the tip of her forefinger.  I wish I'd at least taken a ruler out and measured how much forefinger!  I suppose that's the thing.  These days we have so much information at our fingertips, science has provided so many answers, overturned so many rules that our parents lived by.  She would find it hysterical that I want to know how many millimetres of chilli powder to use, or what temperature exactly I was supposed to warm the almond oil to.  Like the whole 'check the baby's bath water with your elbow' rule that has supposedly been 'bettered' by the invention of baby bath thermometers etc, it's all got a bit complicated, hasn't it?

Maybe that's why I struggled so much to feel what I thought was maternal instinct coming through at first.  I knew I had heaps of love, I just didn't know exactly how warm to make the milk.  I think I thought the latter was about instinct.  It's only now, with the benefit of dear old hindsight and his wonderful friend sleep, that I can see it didn't really matter, so long as no-one was getting scalded.  Our babies were loved and loved and loved - that was the instinct part.  At times they were wept over, puzzled over, and studied with a sweet bewilderment - we took it all very seriously.  But while we were taking it seriously, reading the books, swotting up on the milestones, our boys merrily did their own thing.  Ate, pooped, grew, became little people.  And it all became a little easier.  A little less dramatic.  I still have plenty of moments of wondering what on earth a grown up would do in a given situation, but I'm learning that on the whole, my instincts aren't steering our little team too far wrong.  So the almond oil is joining the Calpol in the medicine cabinet.  An addition which makes me feel oddly proud.  If my eldest's ears drop off overnight, I'll let you know.

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Anger Management

Last week, I got angry.  I knew it was coming.  After a week or so's worth of emails, texts and phone calls about a children's birthday party, of all things, I sensed the limits of my patience were in sight.  Dark clouds gathered.  I knew I was about to declare myself really rather cross.  And then Mr W called, with news of yet more changes to said birthday party plan.  The anger arrived, a big storm of indignation, a whirl of rage, where I physically shook like rattling windows in a hurricane, followed by raining tears...and then...a sense of we always say after a good summer thunderstorm "Ooof, we needed that".

I don't get angry often, but when I do it tends to arrive with fairly startling force.  I remember my Grandma as being the same.  She seemed to have vast reserves of patience and love, and then suddenly - too late - we'd realise we'd tapdanced on her very last nerve, and the storm was upon us.  Whenever I get angry with the children, and am inevitably reflecting on it later, racked with guilt, I take great comfort from the knowledge that I loved and admired my Gran hugely, even if she did occasionally unleash a little fury in our presence.

When I say I don't get angry often, I'm talking about moments of real rage, not the minor annoyances or irritations that can happen every day.  Pffft, there are plenty of those.  One of the worst offenders is the Facebook status updates of women (and I'm afraid it is usually women) essentially posting their to-do lists and telling us all how many loads of washing they've already cracked through that morning.  Believe me, I know there are times when you really would like a trophy for cleaning the shower, but it's just a thing that's got to be done, no?  Then there's the people who mistake being at home for being an airhead, and assume that because you've chosen to be home with your children, it must be because you couldn't cut it academically, or in your career.  Not so, mon frère, some of us just choose to put our energy into running around the common chasing small people in superhero suits, rather than climbing the career ladder.

See, even reading the above paragraph makes me feel a little disgruntled.  It's not so much a case of Hulk-style "You won't like me when I'm angry", it's more that I don't like me when I'm angry.  Angry me is negative, draining, faintly out of control.  I'm all for a little healthy repression.  At work I used to be encouraged to get angry.  It was good to have a little tension in the creative process, I was told, and it kinda made sense. It wasn't a strength of mine, but I can see why having someone constantly seeking to keep the peace wasn't always the best way to arrive at great creative work.

In motherhood, however, being angry seems to be a pretty definite no-no.  I remember thinking that potty training was like some form of unique torture.  Someone who you know is perfectly able to understand you, is going to wee and poo in their pants, on the stairs, at the dinner table, wherever they so please, and you must use your kind voice, wash said pants, disinfect said stairs, all whilst being encouraging and positive.  I think I lasted about a week with both boys before Mummy Got Tough.  And funnily enough, that seemed to work wonders for their understanding.

I think a distinction must be drawn between getting angry and completely losing one's temper.  Even at my most cross with the children, I have been keenly aware of my language and the commitment Mr W and I made to never smacking in temper.  I've been the angry Mum in Sainsbury's, and have felt the weighty stare of judgement upon me.  But as long as I am in control of that crossness, I can deal with it, and see it as part of bringing the boys up with discipline.

I have only had true red mist rage once.  It was at my first ad agency, shortly before I resigned (fortunately).  I worked for two fairly ridiculous bosses at the time.  One Friday afternoon, as I worked hard to finish a presentation that had to be sent out, and after much less-than-sober provocation from both of them, I felt a rushing sound in my ears, literally saw red mistiness in front of my eyes and heard myself screaming "I'LL F*CKING HAVE YOU!"  How mortifying to know that when really pushed, I'm more Peggy Mitchell than Bree Van de Kamp.