The Thief of Joy

Comparison is the thief of joy. A friend of mine used that quote (from Theodore Roosevelt) as part of her response when I asked for her views on ‘Sharenting’ for the article I re-posted last month. I think about that quote a lot. About how so many of the things that filter through into the little reflective moments when you try to work out what’s bothering you, what’s brought this little cloud of darkness to the corner of your brain, what’s made you snappy, shouty, sad… so much of it can be traced back to comparison. The Someone Else who is doing the Something You Care About so much better than you.

My friend’s example was about social media. And that does play a huge part in the mental-fuckery, particularly for a new author. It’s hard not to feel a bit battered by this joy-thief when your profession relies on using these busy, self-congratulatory platforms to market your work because, of course, they are the very same platforms that everyone else is using to make ALL THE NOISE about how much better they are at writing books, selling books, marketing books, harnessing the very beast of social media itself… It’s hard not to feel a little defeated when confronted with a 17-year-old BookTok pro who churns out bestsellers for a hobby, has lovely skin and, you know, might not even end up DOING this for an actual career because perhaps they’ll go to medical school or become a marine biologist… they are but a child after all. Meanwhile here I am deleting yet another draft video post whilst muttering darkly about the point of having a bloody broadcasting degree but being unable to fathom how to use two audio tracks, stitch drafts together and why, why must all the edits get deleted when I go back to the recording page?! I swear, grappling with TikTok makes turning my kid’s eyes digitally green for my book trailer video a damn doddle.

Here I am, looking suitably unhinged (and oddly angry, which I really wasn’t) in the name of BookTok. This particular video about different reader impressions features me quite obviously not knowing how to cut the beginning and end where I press record/stop. I do rather like the automatic airbrushing though.

Comparison can do strange things to you and it can be a sneaky, insidious foe. Coming via a screen is bad enough, but at least it’s obvious – you can click onto social media knowing you’re fairly likely to come across something that’ll make you pang. Photos of someone’s glorious holiday on Instagram, someone else’s adorable baby/puppy spamming up Facebook, notification of a job promotion on LinkedIn, a smug tweet about a brand new dream car, etc… The noise of it all is deafening but you can at least SEE why you’re jealous. But then there are the other times. Times where you’re not guarded or expecting it… and the comparison, that slippery little joy-thief, will shiver under your skin and encroach into the very core of all your deepest-most insecurities. The things you care the most about. For me, I sometimes find myself thinking that other people are automatically better parents than I am because they planned their kids and we (mostly) didn’t. It’s an utterly ridiculous – not to mention illogical – line of thinking because of course ticking certain boxes (married, thirties, own house, stable career) does not make anyone better-qualified at knowing what the fuck what to do with a baby. I know this because I ticked those boxes myself with my second-born and the only thing that made me better at parenting was the fact that I’d done it before.

Unfortunately comparison does not account for irony or, you know, actually making any damn sense because as much as I know all of the above, I will still rock up at school stressed, disheveled and on the brink (and often past it) of being late, and I see so-and-so’s mum on her way out looking so nice and put-together and in it creeps, that strange, irrational insistence that because she did things the right way however many years ago, that’s why she’s got her shit together in the morning. Comparison isn’t just the thief of joy, it’s an illogical cow and really, it’s got absolutely nothing to do with so-and-so’s mum or some adolescent prettily flogging their books on TikTok. So what can you do about it? Whatever you bloody can. I set my alarm 15 minutes earlier and get the kids dressed before breakfast instead of after (we are still late but not quite so regularly). I try not to listen to the noise of social media and view it more as a business tool. I take the deepest, darkest feelings of parental insecurity and I write fiction about a mother who secretly believes she should never have become a parent in the first place.

And I try to remember that there will always be someone else out there doing The Thing I Really Care About better than I am. But that there is still enough joy for us both.


To Share or Not to Share

*As recently featured by marie claire*

Do our kids deserve anonymity online until they’re old enough to decide for themselves?

Being a parent has always involved a minefield of choices, and the digital age has only raised the stakes. We are faced with decisions our own parents wouldn’t even have fathomed back in the days of screechy dial-up modems and not-so-Instant Messenger. From the moment you find out you’re expecting a child, the pressure is on to decide what kind of parent you’re going to be. There are the questions which divided our NCT group back in the summer of 2013: will you breastfeed or use formula? Will you use a dummy? And there are the questions which divide the expectant masses of today: have you announced your pregnancy on Instagram? How much of an online presence will your child have? Will you sharent?

When I wrote my novel The Girl with the Green Eyes three years ago, I found the inclusion of social media a useful plot device leading to the main character Bella and her daughter Ariana going on the run. It was only too easy to imagine how difficult monitoring a curious preteen and keeping her off the social media running rampant through the demographic back in 2018 might be. And now… with the rise of TikTok and the increase of family-centric content on YouTube complete with snappy, click-bait titles and cutesy thumbnails… now it would be even harder. There’s a huge, ongoing debate rumbling through the internet: how much privacy should our children be entitled to? Should they be banned from appearing on social media completely until a certain age? For Bella, it’s not so much about protecting her daughter’s privacy as it is concealing her entire identity. For others, of course, things are far less clear-cut, though palpable from all those I spoke to who do sharent was a sense of guilt. And if we’re feeling guilty about it, can it be entirely right?

I have been a parent – and, to an extent, a sharent – for eight years now. I never set out to be a mum blogger and still consider it a hobby more than anything. I was fairly young when I had my eldest and what started out as a dazed, what-the-hell-am-I-doing-now flurry of posts has, I hope, evolved into a parenting journey containing nuggets of experience-based advice which may be helpful to others. That is why, when I had a big wobble over whether I was over-sharing and almost deleted the whole thing a few years ago, I decided to keep it going, albeit with identifying details abridged. And I believe that this kind of sharenting can help others, particularly when you chronicle things in an honest way.

‘When I had twins I started a blog on Facebook,’ explains mum-of-three Natalie. ‘I used it as a coping mechanism as it was a very hard time. I felt socially isolated on maternity leave and having an outlet helped me. I also hate the “perfect mums” on social media as there is so much pressure on parents anyway, when we see those posts it can affect us really negatively. When I shared, I’d try to really show the reality of life with twins and this seemed to go down well, with a lot of people thanking me.’

Is it always helpful, though? I spoke to another mum, Emily, who came off all social media before having her first child. ‘I just don’t see it as positive for anyone,’ she says, ‘let alone those already facing challenges in life. Roosevelt said, “comparison is the thief of joy”, and I believe that really applies here… My daughter is not a pet or a new pair of shoes. She’s a human being. I respect her and wouldn’t feel comfortable using her to impress distant acquaintances or strangers. Either through a straight up “nice show-off photo” or through an ironic or self-deprecatingly comic one. She’s not old enough to agree to be used in this way. And as a shy child who dislikes being the centre of attention, I can guarantee if she was old enough she’d be against the idea.’

Dad-of-two Mark also has concerns over the issue of consent when it comes to sharenting, and says he has become a lot stricter with the amount he shares of his children since his second was born. ‘Once things are online, it’s very difficult to fully remove them. How might [my son] feel when he’s older and wants to present himself in a certain way, but he’s partially defined by loads of pictures of videos of him as a five-year-old? It doesn’t seem fair. That said, I do understand the compulsion to share pictures of your children online. You love your kids and want to share that with the world. [My son] sometimes says or does things that I’d love to share, but I always stop and think about how he might feel about it in future before I do.’

For some, the choice to sharent is tied to obligation. ‘A lot of [what I share] is so my in-laws can see what [their granddaughter] is up to as they don’t use messaging like WhatsApp, etc, and we haven’t seen them since August 2020,’ says mum-of-one Hayley. ‘During the various lockdowns I definitely started to share more. I sometimes feel a bit guilty about sharing because I don’t want to be seen as one of “those” mums who shares too much and feel like I have to qualify it by saying, “it’s so my in-laws can see!”’

That sense of guilt, of needing to justify our sharenting, is not a novel one. Mum-of-two Georgina, who frequently shares on Facebook and Instagram, admits, ‘I do worry sometimes about what I share, whether it’s too much. But I don’t have a huge number of followers/friends on social media and those I do have are all people I know or have met. My accounts are private for a reason.’

But what of those whose accounts are anything but private? What of the countless family-centric accounts depicting seemingly-ordinary families doing seemingly-ordinary things, just broadcast to thousands, sometimes millions. There are toddlers out there with followings I, as a fledgling author, can only dream about. One clear benefit is that they’re already set up with the foundations of a following, should they decide on a public-facing career in future. On the other hand, of course, they may find the whole thing mortifying in a year or ten and, consideringly nothing on the internet can be permanently deleted, who are they going to blame for putting them in such a position? I suppose it comes back to the question: are your sharenting choices setting your kids up for the future, whether that’s as simple as a relationship with family who wouldn’t see so much of them otherwise, or as complicated as a career which includes a ready-made audience, or are you just setting them up? I suppose the best we can hope for is that our kids see it as the former.

The Girl with the Green Eyes, part one of Take Her Back trilogy, is available now in all good bookshops or on Amazon: http://getbook.at/GirlWithTheGreenEyes.

Want to hear more? Follow me on Twitter @jm_briscoe or like my Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/JMBriscoeWriter


Today I am an Author

I wrote a book. Actually, over the last few years I’ve written five, but one of them was a poor relation of the one in question and we don’t talk about The Thing About Amelia*. But yes, I’ve written a book and today is the day I can officially say that I am a published author. No longer ‘aspiring’, no longer ‘wannabe’ or ‘hopeful’… Published. That is all I’ve wanted to call myself for so long… ever since I first sent out a manuscript (the one we don’t talk about, in fact) and received just enough of an enthusiastic response from professionals to allow me to believe that actually this might be a possibility worth dreaming about.

I began writing The Girl with the Green Eyes so long ago that I can no longer remember what its original name was or where the idea came from. The earliest form was the final piece of coursework for my Creative Writing BA at Royal Holloway – the opening 10,000 words of what I’d thought was a children’s fantasy novel. I drafted it out a few years later into the aforementioned poor relation which I titled The Experimental Children… I knew there was something that wasn’t quite right about it but couldn’t put my finger on what. I loved the concept (children who had supernatural abilities engendered by immersion in a physics-defying belief system) and I loved the setting – the wild, tumultuous majesty of the Lake District contrasting with the slick, black tower of laboratories. Most of all I loved the characters: bumbling-but-brilliant Dr Blake with his sticky-uppy hair; awkward, flappy-handed Dominic; sardonic, punky Felix who barbed her tongue so no one would see the softness of her heart; and, of course, beautiful Bella whose charm belied the cold ruthlessness placing her as the clear villain of the piece. But, as much as the characters nagged and niggled at me, the story just didn’t work. So I shelved it and went about my everyday life: journalism, babies, moving house, planning a wedding, more babies. Occasionally I’d remember the sting of ambition, the so-very-close I had come with Amelia to agents being so-very-almost interested in signing me… Every so often I’d re-write Amelia, send it out again, get a few more full manuscript requests and at one point even a competition long-listing, only for it all to dwindle to nothing. And meanwhile, the characters of Experimental continued to whisper and beckon from the dark.

It was September 2018, when B1 started Reception and B2, aged one, had become a reliable napper, when I finally found myself with the time to write and to decide: try again with Amelia, which, after all, had seen more success than anything else I’d written, or give renewed voice to the insistent characters who had been haunting my subconscious for so long. I shelved Amelia. I took one look at the first chapter of The Experimental Children and I realised, straight away, that this was not a children’s fantasy at all. That there were themes and questions being asked – what it means to be human, to be vulnerable – that were far better suited to an adult readership. That the speculative slant I had taken for fantasy could be anchored into a more realistic (and therefore far more disturbing) setting with the introduction of a more science-based approach. Not to mention the fact that the best character was so not the 11-year-old flying protagonist but her glamorous, villainous femme-fatale mother, Bella. I took Blake and made him a pioneering scientist with questionable ethics; I split the child character into two – Ariana and Nova; Felix was given mad tech skills and a huge chip on her shoulder; and Bella gained a conscious and a past which haunted her every decision, allowing her to take centre-stage where, she would be the first to argue, she should have been all along.

The Girl with the Green Eyes is not a straight-up sci-fi and it’s not a thriller. It is, to quote a recent advance-copy reader, a ‘sci-fi that doesn’t feel like sci-fi’, fast-paced but also contemplative piece of fiction with a hefty skew into family (particularly mother-daughter) relationships and genetic engineering. First time authors are supposed to stick to the rules. They’re supposed to pick a clear, defined genre, research its tropes and guidelines and follow them. I didn’t do that. I just wrote the story I wanted to read. Literary agents were, on the whole, complimentary but reluctant to commit. I almost gave up all over again. Then in the summer of 2020 I got an email in my junk folder from The Bridport Prize, which I had entered before the slew of agent rejections convinced me I might as well have saved my entry fee. ‘You’re on the list’ was the email subject, with the sender simply ‘Kate’. Naturally I assumed I had signed up to some subscription for colourful kids’ dungarees or some such and clicked on the email ready to scroll down for the ‘unsubscribe’ button… To my utter shock, I saw the name of my novel staring back at me – I was on the long-list, one of just 20 selected to go through to the next round of the competition.

That changed everything. It didn’t matter that I went no further in the competition; I had an extract published in the prize anthology and I began to believe that there was something there. A story worth pursuing, even if it meant going down the self-publishing route. I looked into ways to market myself, launched a Facebook business page and an author website, began to pay more attention to Twitter. And I looked at the rather short list of publishers who accept unsolicited manuscript submissions in the sci-fi genre… I knew it was a long shot. That my trope-avoiding, odd little hybrid of sci-fi and thriller needed a publisher who didn’t mind taking a chance on something a little out-of-the-ordinary from an unknown mum-blogger. That’s when I stumbled across BAD PRESS iNK, a self-professed ‘different’ publisher specialising in high-quality but similarly ‘different’ books. Alt-books, as they put it. They had a submission process unlike any other I’d ever come across but, once I made it through and sent them my manuscript, they responded with a request to take things further before they’d even finished the first read-through. And finally, this possibility of a dream became a publishing contract.

I know it’s not plain-sailing from here. I will have to work every day (and I am) at making my book and its sequels successful. I can’t just sit back and let the royalties flow in (if I did that, there would be no royalties!) The last few weeks have been full of promotional work: video making, feature-writing, Q&A answering, organising my book launch, interacting with advance-copy readers. Once the initial boost dies down, the real work begins. But I’m not working for a salary. I mean, yes, Stephen King defines being an author as being able to pay a bill with money earned from selling a book (to paraphrase), so in those terms I am working towards earning something. But really, no unknown author gets into the business to make money and if they are then they’re either incredibly naive or just stupid. I am writing the books I want to read. I am writing because I love it. I am writing because I believe it is what I am supposed to do. I am writing because all I’ve wanted for so long is to be able to answer, when people ask what I do, ‘I am an author.’



The Girl with the Green Eyes: if genetic engineering, mother-daughter angst, a tempestuously strong female lead, a bit of romance, a thriller and speculative boundary pushing – all or any of the above – sound like your cup of tea, order here or ask in your local bookshop. If it doesn’t, try the free sample on Kindle and see if you can be persuaded. Several of my earliest reviewers have said that they would never have gone for something like this but have loved it all the same.

*I realise that for a book I’ve said we don’t speak about that I have spoken rather a bit about it. And it’s not that I’m embarrassed by The Thing About Amelia, it got long-listed for a competition and received six separate literary agent requests for the full manuscript, so there must have been some merit there, at some point. Perhaps one day I will go back to it and the Young Adult genre as a whole, but for now I’ve found my home.


Why we will not, in fact, be ‘compromising on four.’

I’m currently in the middle of drafting a revisit of a Q&A post I made seven years ago and one of the questions has warranted, I think, a bit more exploration. Namely the one that I get asked fairly often by anyone who has known me a certain length of time. Didn’t you say you were going to have four? I wanted four. When B1 was born, I still wanted four (eventually). When B2 came along I still maybe wanted four but fully recognised that, as she got to the sleeping-through-the-night-reliably stage, things were good as they were. B3 was a surprise and that pregnancy was the toughest because I was older and had a one and five-year-old to chase about. Gone were the days of lounging around watching daytime TV as I waited to go into labour… The hours before B3’s birth were taken up with the school run, Tumble Tots, having to go and have my heart monitored at the surgery because I kept getting palpitations, feeling a lot better and deciding to take eldest to her acro dance class and then, eventually, once I had the time, labour.

Mention a fourth to my husband and he has no trouble at all remembering these moments:

Unfortunately, and somewhat unfairly I think, the memory of the mother can be a fey and fickle thing in comparison to the father, thanks to those pesky reproduction hormones/memory scramblers. I can KNOW that pregnancy is usually quite shit, there are no guarantees of a healthy baby at the end of it and that early parenthood is really really hard, and yet my ovaries are all:

Luckily, by the time I was pregnant for the third time, I had an inkling of memory-lapses to come. That’s why there exists a word document on my computer with the label ‘read this if you ever feel tempted to have a fourth child.’ I wrote it when I was approximately 8 months pregnant with B3 and it contains such delightful reminders as:

  • Shooting pains across stomach when I walk, enough to make me stop in my tracks.
  • Aching hips when I lie on one side in bed.
  • Sometimes actually too heavy to heave over onto other side.
  • Can’t sleep, need toilet, just been to toilet, now awake, shooting pain, fear of labour, need toilet again.
  • Thighs enormous. Legs enormous. Arms podgy. Everything fat. Not cute. Cumbersome and heavy. Every pregnancy worse, imagine size of thighs by a fourth. Might never see toes again.
  • So unfit, so self-conscious, want to hide.
  • Can’t lift B2 easily, can’t hold her on my lap, feel like we’re both missing out on her babyhood.
  • Only coat which fits now is awful, tent-like shroud of unattractive frumpiness.
  • Need to pee every 10 minutes. No exaggeration. Worse as day goes on. Hurts to get up and hobble to toilet. By time I hobble back, need to pee again.
  • Bloody hell but I could murder a glass of wine.
  • Physically hurts when baby moves. It doesn’t feel normal, it feels like something is beating me from the inside. What is it doing? Aches and pressure, doesn’t feel right or normal, not sustainable.
  • Newborns are cute but they’re no fun. They keep you up all night, savage your nipples, shit incessantly, they don’t smile.
  • Nourish and love your body back to itself. Don’t do this to it again. It has done its part.
  • Time to be a mum now, not a baby vessel. Value yourself more than that; value your children more than that.

We used to trot out the old ‘he wants two, she wants four, we’ll compromise on four’ line as a joke. And if I’m completely honest, I probably would still have a fourth (now the dust has settled and B3 is more self-sufficient by the day) IF my husband wanted one. But he doesn’t. Which means that having that fourth wouldn’t so much BE a compromise as it would compromise… and when you look at what it would compromise, then the choice becomes an awful lot easier.

Besides, you know, my thighs have only just got back to normal. Not to mention that if we did end up having another one, this blog-post would make me look a right tit.


Have I mentioned that I’ve written a book? More details can be found here. Be sure to subscribe for more information, check out my author page on Facebook or follow me on Twitter.


Vaulting a guide rope in my harems

These harems weren’t meant for vaulting, but that’s just what they did…

Sunday, August 1st 2021, approx. 1am: I am lying half off a semi-inflated camping mat next to my sleeping two-year-old son, our bodies gently vibrating with the beat coming from the neighbouring field, contemplating my past experiences with music festivals. The highs. The lows. The bands. The toilets. So far this weekend we’ve been dealt an interesting mixture: broken tent poles followed by tent-battering storms, a sleepless night, one of our party’s tent collapsing on him and his two-year-old in the middle of the night, hat competition success, kids rocking their little socks off to live music for the first time (that they can remember), a tummy bug making its sinister circulation through our group, a *really nice* falafel wrap, excellent company, great atmosphere, decent music… All things considered, if you write off the first night it’s all been quite succe-

The high-pitched wail comes with an insistent thread of panic from the tent’s other compartment. I scramble to my feet, untangling and fumbling through sleeping bags, zips, a crowded middle compartment and into the small enclosure shared by my daughters just in time to see a plume of vomit splatter all over my four-year-old’s sleeping bag. Ah, I think to myself. Yes. That seems about right.

Farm Fest 2021: all that went on in the showground was bloody marvellous. Everything else shall never be spoken of again (it shall).

I think it’s safe to say that, like so many things, my festival experiences have been most memorable for the things that went not-so-well. And the things that went not-so-well tend to refer to weather, toilets, Drunk Twats, camping, weather, inappropriate footwear, weather and, more often than one would hope, vomit. On the other hand, it’s thanks to festivals that I can say I’ve seen live performances by the likes of Oasis, The Killers, Ed Sheeran, The Prodigy, Tim Minchin, Tom Jones, David Guetta, Maroon 5, Tinie Tempah, Labrinth to name but a few. I can’t actually remember seeing half of them, but what I do recall is brilliant, if a little fleeting… Far stronger memories include the surprisingly heavy addition the dozen or so bottles of WKD rolled into my tent and sleeping bag made to my camping rucksack as we traipsed across a really long field from the car-park to the campsite of NASS in 2004. My friend and I at V-Festival 2005 getting completely freaked out while camping alone in a field of Drunk Twats and calling her boyfriend and his mates who drove for five hours to stage a heroic gate-crash rescue for the remainder of the weekend. Rocking up to V-Festival 2012 in my newly-purchased boho maxi dress and feeling the hideous realisation that I’d completely missed the dress-code of arse-grazing denim hotpants and wellies (the latter despite it remaining a stubborn 30 degrees all weekend without a scrap of mud in sight). Hard to say whether the lowest point of that particular weekend was the affect of the heat on the already-rancid festival toilets, the subsequent discovery on one such visit that I had started my period or the unfortunate vomiting-in-shared-tent incident. To top it all off, I had to work on the Monday afternoon (probably a press week) and my flat was having plumbing work so I couldn’t even nip home for a shower first. Still, The Killers were good. I think?

Why a bikini, you may ask. Why indeed.

In any case here I was, nine years later and at an entirely different kettle of festival. Farm Fest, a light-hearted, family-friendly affair in the rolling hills of Somerset; small, unpretentious and perfect for one’s re-introduction to the festival scene after an absence of almost a decade and the addition of several extra people. And, actually, I couldn’t fault the festival itself. The atmosphere was wonderful, we never felt threatened or unsafe, the music was good, the staff were plentiful and seemed on top of things. Even the toilets were nowhere near the level of gross that I’d come to expect thanks to the sawdust-scoop-when-you-poop thing they had going on (though I did get to the point where I brought a sanitiser spray every time I went and stopped letting the kids use them at all in favour of the travel potty midway through day two).

Camping, on the other hand… We haven’t been camping since 2018. We knew the tent had a couple of glitches. We ended up wrapping two of the poles in electrical tape after they shattered during assembly, tying guide lines back on, sewing up holes… Still, it went up and up it stayed. We went to bed on the first night tipsy and optimistic, all three kids asleep in varying degrees of tangled sleeping bags and limbs in the tent’s second compartment. Then the wind started, and I don’t just mean Hub’s ale farts. I mean a >50mph battering courtesy of Storm Evert which had crept onto the weather radar just that morning, promising high winds mostly around Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly. Miles away from Somerset, we chuckled. No one was bloody chuckling by midnight. By midnight I had an utterly freaked out B3 clinging to my neck in our compartment as we tried to comfort him (while entirely unsure if our buckling tent was about to collapse on us at any minute). Next pitch over, our friend’s air tent did collapse on him and his two-year-old daughter, who woke up in a puddle… After rescuing her and battening the tent as best he could, he then promptly came down with a tummy bug. Our other friends took me and B3 into their van for the rest of the night after his screaming showed no signs of abating… Suffice to say, none of us got a lot of sleep but there was certainly a spirit of Dunkirk type thing going on.

The next morning brought no respite from the winds as well as the unwelcome news that the festival itself was postponed due to health and safety concerns brought on by the weather, which meant no breakfast other than dry Weetabix, bananas, cucumber and crisps (kids loving life at this point). At this point, sitting in the car as it was the only non-windy place, we wondered whether we should just give up and go home. We decided to stick it out (mostly because I’d spent most of the week before going a bit extra on my hat competition entry) and Hub came up with the idea of unloading the entire back of the car into the tent, folding the seats down and turning it into a play area. We got out the colouring books, restaurant-toy-bags, charged one of the tablets and well, actually, they bloody loved it and spent most of the rest of the weekend asking if they could go back to the ‘fun-zone.’ Ten points to the Citroen MPV.

Also pictured: ominous clouds of doom and what my weather app described as a “brisk breeze”

Eventually, of course, the storm abated, the festival opened, we donned our tie-dye and had a pretty good first day. The second night brought tranquil weather, we all slept well (we put B3 in with me and Hub turned the ‘fun-zone’ into a single bed) and the next day (Saturday) was great. Our friends got over the tummy bug and won best group in the hat competition, the kids enjoyed a mini rave in the kids’ tent, we donned glitter, temporary tattoos, hair chalk and face paint and joined others dressed in a multitude of festival gear from patchwork to tie-dye, butterfly wings and even a tribe of bees… With nary a hotpant in sight, I did not feel even the slightest bit self-conscious in my wellies, harem pants and ancient crochet top with a rainbow painted on my face. We managed to pull all three kids along in the festival trolley. B3 got in a decent nap in the tent. We even got a “parenting goals” compliment from a bright-eyed young couple who clearly had no idea what they were looking at.

It wasn’t all sunshine and flowery headbands, though. Gone are the days of casual day-drinking in a sunny field whilst lazily watching parents running after their grubby-faced urchins and thinking, mistily, maybe I’ll do that one day. There are still nappies to change and snacks to fetch. It’s not so easy to vault a guide rope to prevent a small boy mounting a display tractor whilst wearing harem pants and wellies. We lost shoes, we lost mood rings, we dropped a £3 artisanal ice cream on the grass 30 seconds after it was handed over, we found shoes, we took t h r e e  h u n d r e d  y e a r s to choose a (already forgotten about) selection of cheap souvenirs from the gift stalls. We kept losing the rest of our party as we all tried to keep up with whatever time schedule whichever kid was dictating at any given time… But, overall, we had a good time. I mean, we could have done without the storms and the vomit but… well, how would I ever remember it all?

Bloody nice to be home though.

Like what you read? Follow me on Twitter, like and follow my Facebook page or subscribe to my author website here.


Why can you peel a banana but not an elephant?

This is the question my almost-4-year-old posed to me, extremely seriously, on Saturday afternoon. And for the life of me, I just don’t know. Furthermore, when I laughed and asked her to tell me the answer, expecting some witty punchline, she informed me that I “was the silly one now,” whatever that meant.

And that just about sums up the conversations I’ve had with my kids over the last week.

Sunday:

B1 wanders into my office with her Eye Witness book about wildlife.

B1:         Mummy, can I read you an interesting fact?

Me:        Yes, but quickly please, I’m in the middle of something. [something being proof-reading my novel, absolutely not twatting about on Reddit or Twitter… ahem]

B1:         *spouts something about tigers or giraffes being able to do something impressively disgusting with their tongues*

Me:       Wow, that’s… er… cool [or something equally vague yet encouraging with the hopeful air of dismissal about it] *looks back at manuscript, mutters to self* Hmm… does [character name 1] actually kill [character name 2] or did I just vaguely imply that without going into any explanation whatsoever?

B1:         Who gets killed?

Me:        Oh, no one. It’s just in Mummy’s book.

B1:         Someone kills someone else in your book?

Me:        Um…

B1:          …

Me:        …

B1:         I don’t think you should have anyone kill anyone, Mummy. Is that really the sort of story you want to be writing?

Me:        …

B1:         *stern look*

Me:      OK. Fine. No one kills anyone. No one dies ever, is that better? 

B1:      Yes.

Me:      OK. But, you know, sometimes bad things have to happen to your characters in order to make a story more interesting…

B1:      But you don’t have to make them die though, do you? You could just make something else happen.

Me:     Like… a giant, green alien pops up out of the ground and hands everyone a bunch of flowers?

B1:      …

Me:     …

B1:      Maybe I should help you write your stories, Mum.

Me:      *clicks sulkily onto Reddit*


 

Monday:

B3 enters office bearing a bowl from the kitchen which he proudly holds aloft.

B3:         Nack! Nack!

Me:        Snack? You want a snack?

B3:          Yes! Come’un Mumma. ‘At way!

*I go and get him a snack and he disappears contentedly into the living room*

-TWO MINUTES LATER-

B3:          Nack! Nack!

Me:        No, that’s enough snacks for now.

B3:          Joo! Joo!

Me:        You already have juice. Why don’t you go and draw me a picture? Here’s some paper and a crayon. I’ll come and see what you’ve drawn in a bit.

-FIVE MINUTES LATER-

Me:        *enters living room to find blank piece of paper on the floor, B3 staring at the TV, crayon nowhere to be found* Where’s your lovely picture you were going to do?

B3:          …

Me:        Why are there lines all over the wall, B3?

B3:          …

Me:        Did you draw on the wall?

B3:          *proudly* Yes!

Me:         *mutters under breath while fetching damp cloth*

B3:         *has meltdown as artwork is destroyed and crayon placed on high shelf*

Me:        *wonders if it’s too early for a G&T. Upon discovery that it is only 11am, decides to get B3 another snack. Gets one for self too. Wonders why jeans feel snug.*


 

Wednesday:

Me:     B2, what was the thing you were trying to ask me about elephants and bananas again?

B2:      It was. Um. You shouldn’t peel an elephant.

Me:     But why would you want to peel an elephant?

B2:      *thinks very hard* Because… Maybe he wasn’t being very sensible.

Me:      *confused* Who, the elephant or the person peeling it?

B2:      *with the air of talking to someone incredibly stupid* No, the banana of course.

Me: …

B1:      Mummy, you know she’s trying to tell the one from my elephant joke book, what’s the difference between an elephant and a banana – you can peel a banana but you can’t-

Me:      …peel an elephant! *laughs slightly maniacally*

B1:      *looks at me with an expression of mild concern* It’s not that funny.

B2:      But why can you peel a banana but not an elephant?

FML. 


Positive

I’d known it was coming. The symptoms were all there, after all. I’d thought we’d been so careful, we always were… But clearly something had slipped through. Someone. I should have known it was too good to last. I should have known it would happen, sooner or later. Still, when the result flashed up in its little window, I was shocked. How were we going to cope? What were we going to do? I looked again. Yep, no denying it. Positive. I reached for my glass of wine, because I may have had fucking Covid but at least I wasn’t pregnant.

Fortunately, I’ve been one of the lucky ones. I’ve had symptoms for just over a week and the worst thing has been the loss of taste and smell, mostly because I’ve no idea how long it will last. The first few days, back when I thought I just had the kids’ cold – the viral wheeze aforementioned here – I mostly had a bit of a headache I ascribed to several evenings spent partaking end-of-December measures of gin and a slight cough that was so pathetically infrequent I didn’t give it a second thought. I didn’t feel great but I certainly didn’t feel pandemic-level poorly. Then, on New Year’s Eve, the oven wasn’t broken. I’d cooked a slow-roast pork shoulder and realised, around 4pm, that the oven must be broken because the house wasn’t suffused with the usual scents of slow-roasting crackling and succulent, fall-apart meat… But, of course, it was. I just couldn’t smell it. And suddenly this insidious virus which had ravaged across the entire planet had made its way to my home, my family, my lungs.

That was almost a week ago. I’m OK. Most of the time I feel perfectly normal. If this were any other year, I would count myself as fully recovered from a bit of a non-starter and no longer contagious, though I’d have thought the lack of smell and taste a bit odd. Still, if I were working in an office I’d have gone in every day, merrily passing round the germs.

I’m not trying to be blasé with this post. I’m aware that I am extremely lucky to be so relatively unaffected by this virus (touch wood). I know lots aren’t. There is a lot of fear out there. I don’t want to bluster out a trite, “Don’t be afraid!” because there’s plenty on the other side of the coin, and some of them are the 30-somethings on ventilators in ICU. My own kids, if they did indeed have Covid over Christmas (and at this point, it’s looking likely that they did) had it worst than most kids are ‘supposed’ to. There are no definites, it’s just a game of likelihoods. It’s only been around a year or so, after all. I was likely to be OK, and I am. My kids were likely to be less ill than me, and they weren’t. I can’t criticize the government for locking us all down again (the management and the timing of it, well, that’s another story) over something I wouldn’t even bother to use a sick day on, because my mild non-starter is another person’s death sentence. That’s why we’re all so scared, I guess. That’s why we’re all still so scared.

But I have Covid. And I am OK. I’m also a journalist, however lapsed, and I will say this: there is a far bigger market for stories of healthy people getting Covid and not being OK than there is for people getting it and mostly being absolutely fine except not being able to taste chocolate or smell nappy poonamis. Make of that what you will. And, in the meantime, I will continue to stockpile the Christmas treats for when my palate recovers and tackle the stinkiest of household jobs while I can’t smell them. Yesterday I cleared away the ill-fated sourdough starter I made last lockdown. Tomorrow I’ll give the kitchen bin a scrub. Home schooling has been re-established, the kids have been taking their exercise from the garden and Go Noodle (sorry Joe Wicks, we will never be PE people) and next week we will be allowed outside to walk among the fearful once again. In the meantime, we will stay home, recover and try to stay positive. In every other sense of the word, that is.


The NHS that saved Christmas

Not having lived under a rock for the past billion months, we always knew that Christmas 2020 would be departure from the norm (being the hosting, feeding and general merriment/mayhem of the masses over several days). We decided to embrace it for what it was: a chance to have a quieter Christmas, a break from the usual chaos, an opportunity to see how it compared. We delivered our various gifts at safe distances, saw most of the relatives if only briefly from doorsteps and, by the time our area had been headbutted into Tier 4, we had stocked up and settled in to have the ultimate Quiet One At Home. Never did it occur that any of us might not actually be home for it.

B2 started the week with the snots. NBD, we thought. She soon perked up after a day or two, just as the inevitable mucus began to sprout from the nostrils of Bs 1 and 3… No one had a persistent cough, no one had a temperature, and no one’s taste or smell had been affected as far as we could tell, so we mopped noses, Calpoled and Carried On. December 23rd found B1 rendered quite limp and lacklustre on the sofa, pale and bleating of a sore throat. B3, meanwhile, already the cuddliest of the three, became progressively cuddlier as the day went on, his breathing becoming if not laboured but a little huskier than usual as the torrents of snot continued to flow.

It was around 5am the next morning, Christmas Eve, when alarm bells started to stir, if not immediately clang to life. B1 was up, groaning and generally being rather over-dramatic about needing to pee whilst not feeling well and AAARGH there was a SPIDER less than TWO METRES away from her and it MOVED! Roused by these nonsensical, nocturnal caperings, B3 croaked his displeasure from his bedroom as I shepherded B1 back to bed with a dose of Calpol 6+ and firm instructions to go back to sleep as quietly as possible. I brought B3 into bed with me and H, at which point I noticed his breathing had become quite loud and panty, which I thought was down to the effort of bellowing whilst full of cold. A few hours later, once we were all up for the day, the panting had turned into strange grunting noises. Cue – via a bit of dithering, two ultimately redundant calls placed to 111 and the local surgery and, finally, some plainly-worded advice from my various medical relatives all over the space of about 20 minutes – a parenting first, the panic-wrought drive to A&E.

Despite my never having set foot in an A&E with my kids before (or ever, as far as I can recall) there have been some near misses along the way. When B3 was one day shy of four months old, he scared the bejesus out of us when he presented with a non-blanching rash all over his legs which looked horribly reminiscent of every picture of meningitis I’ve ever seen. But, although the timing then was pretty appalling – we had just climbed out of all mobile phone signal/WiFi/4G range down a cliff to a beach in the depths of Cornwall during a family holiday and he’d also done a massive, nappy-defying shit – I think the timing of this occasion ranked worse. A trip to hospital within a Tier 4 epicentre of a rampantly peaking global pandemic on Christmas Eve? Yes. Definitely worse.

August 2019 vs December 2020…

The experience itself, however, was infinitely better, which is weird because he was actually ill this time. I think probably because I knew within 5 minutes of arriving what was wrong and that he was more than likely going to be much better in a matter of hours… Last time it was all stomach-twisting worry about what the hell was causing the strange rash, despite all indicators being that he was absolutely fine (which he was, incidentally, the diagnosis concluding that the marks had been burst blood vessels caused by the carrier I’d used getting down to the beach). The route to that conclusion, though, was traumatic to say the least –desperate driving down country lanes, holding my poor, wriggly boy still so the doctor could try and puncture through his peak four-month-old chub for a vein, wretched attempts to get a urine sample manually (we were on the paeds ward for about 10 hours and he didn’t pee until the ninth) the hints of suspicion when the questions turned to what sort of ‘trauma’ may have caused the marks… All this over the backdrop of increasing hunger, the insistent wedging of a slightly-too-small one piece swimming costume under my very cheap shorts and t-shirt and said garments’ lack of breathability coupled with the warm day leading to a horrible awareness of one’s own increasing malodourous-ity.

This time, however, everything was far more straightforward. We queued for less than a minute and were admitted through to the paediatric A&E before I even had time to text Hub to let him know we’d arrived. The friendly and reassuring nurse took B3’s obs and gave an initial diagnosis of viral wheeze and treatment with a Salbutamol inhaler within a few minutes of us arriving. She also reassured me that I had done the right thing by bringing him in, which made me feel about a million times better because the last thing I wanted to do was burden the NHS unnecessarily during the Covid shitshow when all he needed was a cuddle and some Calpol.

Four hours later, with a far less wheezy B3 and a whole lot of medical gubbins stuffed into my nappy bag, we were heading home. There had been one hairy moment where all B’s symptoms improved except his breathing rate which had stayed high and there had been talk of sending us up to the paediatrics ward for further observation via a Covid swabbing because 2020… But in the end the paeds doctor came down to us and it was concluded that we could carry on his treatment – inhaler, antibiotics in case of pneumonia and a throat spray due to something about mucus indicators – at home. The most stressful part of the whole endeavour was when I realised I’d set off without my wallet and couldn’t make the bloody contactless Samsung Pay app work on the parking machine.

Meanwhile, at home, B1 had taken a turn for the worse. Not to be outdone by her baby brother, she, too, had developed a wheeze and laboured breathing. Worst of all – and always, since the age of 3, a sure sign of illness in B1 – she had taken a nap. Hub had called our GP, updated him on B3’s situation and procured a probable same diagnosis and a prescription for a reliever inhaler of the same ilk. By the time B3 and I got home, she was already receiving her first treatment.

There followed a long night of anxious breathing-monitoring and increasingly adept inhaler-administration and none of us got a terribly great amount of sleep, but Christmas morning dawned all the same and we awoke (B3 starfished in our bed having vocalised the Absolute Unacceptability of being Expected to Sleep in One’s Own Cot after being Rudely Awoken by the Evil Administrations of a Breathing Aid Smooshed over One’s Face) to the excited bellows of our seven-year-old telling the unconscious three-year-old that Santa Had Been. It was not, by a long stretch, the most ideal of Christmases, but it was certainly one we will all remember. The one when we all stayed home and were incredibly happy and grateful – particularly to the fabulous NHS staff of Frimley Park Paediatric A&E unit – to do so.


… a small sidebar…

……on why I haven’t blogged since September.

It’s not that I haven’t drafted any posts. I have. I think *should really blog something*, then an idea comes along and I start drafting it out. And then, usually mid-draft, I realise that it’s boring or irrelevant AF and it ends up languishing half-finished in my blog folder. A few months ago I wrote an epic four-pager about the peculiarities of trying to get a novel published via traditional literary agents/publishers. It was quite a cathartic exercise but the finished article never made it online because I suspect it would’ve been mind-thumpingly dull to anyone other than fellow aspiring authors. And it had bugger all to do with parenting.

A few weeks later another draft also wound up languishing on an open-ended sentence, but this one for reasons which ultimately completely changed my morning routine. It started off as a bit of a tirade about how I was spending most of my mornings in a beanbag on the living room floor due to B3’s clinginess. Halfway through the draft I realised the problem wasn’t him, it was me – I’d become stuck on ‘survival mode’ and was using it as an excuse to be a bit lazy and shit. Long story short, we now spend more of our mornings after the school-run either at the playground or on the hunt for Really Interesting Leaves That We Love and Must Not Ever Be Parted From or inside, doing something invariably messy. We are both happier and the clinginess tirade has become unnecessary*.

Kinetic sand: a cure for clinginess with the unexpected bonus of turning your tiled floor into a slip-n-slide for weeks afterwards!

Another reason why I haven’t blogged is because I’m trying to become a published novelist. That’s what I spend most of my child-free hours on. I’m not there yet, nor am I particularly close to being there yet, but I’ve had just enough professional encouragement to justify plugging away at it. Plus I can’t imagine ever wanting to do anything else quite so much.

*I suppose I could have turned it around into a thing about how doing more stuff with your kid is generally better than plonking them in front of Peppa Pig 24/7, but I’m pretty sure most parents know this and I’ve already had to edit the crap out of this paragraph in an attempt not to come across as a preachy try-harder. Which I am definitely not. I wouldn’t be able to recite pretty much the entirety of seasons 1 -3 if I was.


The day I tested my child for Covid-19

It was 6am and I had drunk too much wine the night before to enjoy any part of being awake this early. Unfortunately there was a sobbing child standing next to my bed with a croaky voice telling me she didn’t feel well. I stared at her for a few confused moments before her entire body shuddered with a hacking, throaty cough. My brain instantly zapped back to those panic-stricken, croupy nights of her babyhood and, just like that, all traces of wine-fug disappeared. We were five days into our family holiday in Norfolk, about to embark upon a busy weekend of carefully planned celebrations for my brother-in-law’s 30th. Britain’s South-East was buckling under a heatwave. We were five months into the Covid-19 pandemic.

I took B1’s temperature while Hub gave her water and settled her onto the sofa with her favourite teddy and a blanket. 37.5. A smidge high, but only a smidge. We gave her Calpol and cancelled our plans for the beach. A few hours later the patient was tucking into bacon and eggs happily, though the cough interrupted from time to time. She thought she might have a little nap – something for which, in her entire six years and 11 months on the planet, she has never once volunteered. She coughed a few times in her sleep and woke around 1pm, pale and with a temperature raging at 39.6.

poorly b1

Half an hour later, Calpoled up and cheerful once again, B1 sat in the back of the car, peppering me with questions as I nervously drove through unfamiliar streets to our nearest test centre on the outskirts of Norwich. Hub had made the appointment minutes after her latest temperature reading and we’d been given a slot between 2 and 2.30pm. We’d calmly tried to explain what was going to happen to B1, who, fortunately, has always been a pragmatic and sanguine sort not particularly prone to anxiety. Her only real moment of concern was when she misheard Hub explaining that she was going to have her nose swabbed and thought we were going to swap it. My phone, battling the 32C heat from its perch on the dashboard, periodically swerved between giving directions and informing me that it was too hot to function.

test centre

At the test centre, a re-purposed Park & Ride establishment, instructions were given to me via signs held by be-masked, apron-wearing individuals (who, incidentally, looked a bit like they shared my phone’s sentiment). I had to confirm my identity with my driving license and hold up a QR code for someone to scan through the window to check B1 in, then we were directed to another area. A sign was held up with a phone number for me to ring on my protesting mobile so I could speak to a person on-site, who told me what I needed to do for the test. I was then permitted to lower my window just enough to be handed a test pack before being directed to reverse park in a bay. So far, so efficient. Apart, of course, from my growing nervousness that I was to be the lucky, grossly-underqualified individual tasked with the mission of swabbing my daughter’s tonsils and nostrils for the deadly virus currently bringing the world to its knees. I was beginning to wonder at this point whether swapping them would be less trouble.

cv test

The test looked fairly straightforward. I read the instructions several times over, making sure I pretty much knew it by heart because I really didn’t want to be faced with the awkward situation of having to consult a pamphlet mid-swabbage. Besides, it was now 34C in the sun, my windows were closed and my engine (and, therefore, AC) were off. I could literally feel the sweat beading on my temples. Swab both tonsils for at least 10 seconds, make sure you don’t touch the cheeks or tongue, then insert it up the nose until it will insert no further and swirl it around there for another 10 seconds. Then what? Then put it in a little tube of red liquid and close the li… But where was my little tube of red liquid? We had no tube of red liquid. Christ, it was hot.

The CV-19 testing guidelines advise that for young children, a spare adult should come along where possible so that one of you doesn’t have to clamber into the back seat. It also advises that no unnecessary extra people/siblings travel in the car with the symptomatic individual. Figuring that the easiest solution all round was for just one of us to transport and test B1, I had at least had the foresight to remove one of the baby boosters from the back seat. Therefore, though I’d already clambered into the backseat and then back into the front to summon (via my hazard lights) a cheerful masked man for our elusive red liquid vessel before scrambling back henceforth, I was thankfully not faced with the reality of trying to wedge myself into the one-year-old’s car seat to actually administer the test.

“Try and make it a game,” advised the booklet. “Pretend you’re tickling their tonsils.”

I don’t know what kind of games the makers of these booklets like to play with their children, but needless to say we won’t be replacing Junior Monopoly anytime soon. B1 tried to keep her mouth open. She tried very hard not to gag or cry as I rubbed the cotton swab against one and then the other tonsil, telling her it would be over soon and hating the world and its virus with every word. To be honest, I don’t think we managed 10 seconds. We might have clocked six. In any case I did what I could before I judged the risk of her vomiting, clamping shut or wrenching her head away bigger than the prospect of retaining an intact sample. Next, I poked the same swab up her nose – which seemed relatively gentle in comparison, which probably means I did it wrong – and, finally, plunged the bugger into its tube of liquid. Both of us pouring with sweat, I climbed back into the front seat and switched on the hazards, the engine and the AC in one movement.

“I didn’t like that, Mummy,” remarked B1, unhappily, as we delivered the sealed sample into a bin of similar-looking specimens from the car window.

I didn’t like it either. In fact, as mum experiences go, it was right up there with jabs and holding a four-month-old B3 down whilst doctors tried to get a blood sample. But, like all of those things, it was necessary. And, all things considered, the test itself was quick and relatively painless. Then again, B1 is an easy-going, rational, neuro-typical almost-7-year-old. Heaven help us if we ever have to test our 3-year-old.

Retrospectively, the funny thing about the whole experience was that we didn’t get B1 tested for CV-19 because we seriously thought she had it. I mean, she might have, but the chances were pretty low. We tested her because she had two of the symptoms (though the cough was far less frequent and more wet and croupy than the one we’d been warned about) and we were going to be seeing loved ones, some of them fresh off the shielding list, over the next few days, as well as visiting several family-friendly attractions. We knew that a negative test result would mean a hell of a lot more than us saying, “It’s probably just a cold.” On the other hand, a positive result would have spelled disaster not only for our holiday but for that of the friends and family we had already seen at that point… We didn’t think it would be positive. But, as at least three of my past pregnancy tests will tell you, sometimes these things are, however unexpectedly. As it happened, this time we were right. B1 took it easy for a day or so and was back to her usual self within 48 hours, nary a hack in sight* and, that particular day aside, we went on to have a bloody great holiday.

back to normal

B1 a few hours post negative test result, back to normal and atop a large rock

So there it is. It’s wasn’t the great Antiguan Chicken Pox Debacle of 2018. It wasn’t even the Mercifully Short-lived Meningitis Scare of Cornwall 2019**. But I didn’t share this story for the dramz, I shared because this time next week my children will, like most of the nation’s, be going back to school/nursery. I’m sure I’m not the only one worried about the torrent of bugs which we’ve come to expect from the first few weeks of term, and what that will mean this particular September. What counts as a sniffle and what means we have to self-isolate and get tested? How much time off work will that mean? Is any cough the wrong kind of cough? Oh yeah, and what if it actually is Covid-19?! I don’t know any of this, but at least I can say what it’s like to take a child to get tested. If that helps anyone worry a little less… Well, then it’s worth sharing a relatively unexciting blog post with a relatively-unexciting-but-hopefully-clear, searchable title.

*We are, however, still dealing with the legacy of the Great Covid-19 Scare of August 2020 in the form of Torrential Snots still emanating from the nostrils of B2 and B3. Bloody wish we could swap those.

**I’m beginning to wonder if maybe we shouldn’t go on holiday anymore.


%d bloggers like this: