I have just spent a pleasant hour reading the Kate Greenaway medal shortlisted titles for this year. It made me sad and nostalgic that I won't get to share them with the kids at school. We have always enjoyed reading them, voting for our favourite title and discussing the issues they explored. The kids made connections, sometimes even to the previous year's titles and remembered the stories way after I'd forgetten them. Sometimes we added to this a little research activity, author study quiz, or creative writing and drawing extension activity, though for me, it was always sharing the story that was fun. I'm not a big believer in forcing written responses to reading (it kind of kills the magic). Anyway, I didn't always realise it, but those were fun days.
There are, however, certain advantages to reading the books alone, by myself, from the comfort of a sofa, not least being able to enjoy a cup of tea and a hob-nob as I read. Despite being a little regretful to not be having the follow on discussion and excitement that sharing books with little people brings, I still enjoyed them and as stories are 'want to do' they got me thinking. It sort of felt like a ton of rusty doors in my old grey matter had been opened, with each room having a different set of thoughts and issues to ponder on. Consequently I've now got absolutely no idea what to blog about. There are just so many options! Will it be one of these things?:
As I say, I'm not always a fan of using reading to do follow up written work, so perhaps today I'll take it easy and just enjoy having read the Kate Greenaway stories for no reason other than the enjoyment of reading them. I'll keep the personal, social and political follow-on reflections in my head. That is, until tomorrow at least!
I read Ian McEwan's Children Act back in 2014 and wasn't disappointed. At the time I posted a review on goodreads.com, as I am want do. If you are not a member of goodreads I can't recommend it enough for keeping up with what's current, getting book reading suggestions and for using as easy way to keep check of your own reading (required if, like me, you forget everything!)
The central question in The Children Act is whether a 17 year old boy should be forced to have a blood transfusion, which is likely to save his life, but goes against his Jehova's Witnesses' parents' (how do you correctly punctuate that?) beliefs. I revisited the story and the question a couple of weeks ago when I watched the movie (on a flight back to Bangkok). Fiona, the powerful judge in the story, was played brilliantly by Emma Thompson alongside a fantastic cast. The topic is weighty - it doesn't get much bigger than choosing life or death and had me asking all sorts of questions to which I don't have any answers!
It got me thinking about whether we actually 'own' our children. If the answer is yes then do we stop owning them when they turn 18? Or does it end when we stop subsidising our kids financially? Perhaps it never ends and ultimately the tables just turn and we own our parents - there's a thought to make the oldies break out in a cold sweat. No wonder there are often fireworks in families
My first response to the question is that of course we don't own our children, but when you think about it, so much of parenting does suggest a level of belonging (positive) and being controlled (negative). Perhaps we can view ourselves as benevolent dictators! Right now, for example, Betsy is sitting with her Maths tutor, the marvellous John of www.transum.org. She didn't choose to spend her Sunday mornings doing Maths, but is a willing participant in this transaction. Does this make her my 'owned product' being forced to achieve my aim of attaining a certain level of Maths competence, or is she an independent being making free choices about preparing for her future? (IB Maths exam tomorrow - yikes!) My other daughter, Annie, will hopefully be in the Science Library soon, at UCL revising for her Ecology exam. She did choose to study Ecology as part of her degree, and she did choose her University, but she was directed, encouraged and equipped to get there, so how much of that is actually free choice and how much is our 'owning' her life direction and choices? How much of parenting is a transaction and negotiation, and how much is non-negotiatable and led? Have our girls complied to our overview of where they are heading or have they chosen it, trusing our guidance and leadership? You can take it further; have we, as parents, complied passively or unthinkingly to social expectations or have we actively chosen them?
I guess you could say in my own life it doesn't actually matter, as the kids seem to be heading in a positive direction. To go really 'meta' for minute though, what if we were discussing the acceptance of an indefensible social or political system, that we believed in and were directing our children towards - then what? It makes you think how strong you have to be to really make independent choice and reject the factors influencing who we are.
Anyway enough meandering thoughts on a Sunday morning. The Children Act is a fab book. An aside, it is also a marvellous exploration of the deteroration of a long-standing middle class marriage, arguably due to wifely neglect (rolled-eyes, as of course the wife gets the blame!) If you haven't read it, definitely do. It's a short read but a powerful one. Then afterwards why not treat yourself to the film - always worth seeing Emma Thompson in action! (Hope she didn't have to make too many carbon-rich flights of course - tongue firmyl in cheek here!)
Holidays for carers? 5 star resorts? Expenses paid? Whatever next? I can feel eyes rolling. Surely not. I’ve never heard of anything so ridiculous! I’ve heard it all now. But pause for thought. Could it be a viable solution to the billions of pounds currently being spent on residential health care that is neither desired nor wanted by patient and family alike?
The ideal situation, for families and the state too, is for elderly or ill people to be cared for within the familiarity of their home environment. I don’t think though that the emotional toll this has on a ‘carer’ has even begun to be addressed. Our Western society framework means that the care often comes down to one main person – quite probably a spouse, with others only opting in and out. The strain of this is why so often people end up in residential care, when it is the least desired option for all concerned, at huge emotional and often financial cost to the family, and definitely huge financial cost to the state.
Being a full time carer is tough going. It is not good enough for health professionals or government leaflets to constantly say ‘look after the carer’ too. They need to enable this care.
Let’s face it, none of us show our spouse our best sides. It’s hard enough caring for a partner with the flu, or a broken leg for a couple of weeks, so imagine yourselves in the shoes of someone (often elderly themselves) trying to look after their spouse 24-7 with no reprieve in sight. They may well be attending to specific physical issues affecting their loved one’s mobility, whilst also quite frequently addressing quite severe mental health concerns or behavioural changes. On top of all that and both debilitating and frustrating, is the impact of worsening sight and hearing.
Have you noticed the first question health care professionals ask is ‘are you their carer?' It’s not are you their wife/husband? It’s almost as if, the past years of marriage and being a spouse with all that entails is stripped away as a new role is adopted. The carer (previously known as spouse) is left to grieve for the person they once were, and come to terms largely alone with their changed circumstances.
The carer, a.k.a. spouse, may have family support (with all the complexities of sibling and children dynamics that brings) and theoretically there is usually local help available. Accessing it, however, may require the patience of a saint, the intellect of a PHD and pay packet of a banker! Definitely some friends may rally round, and these are worth their weight in gold, but the carers still take the bulk of the strain. Hardest, and the cruellest cut of all, is that the spouse the 'carer' has leaned on for the last thirty, forty, fifty years, can no longer provide the reciprocal support that s/he needs too. The emotional weight of all this is huge.
Despite this, home care is usually what both husband and wife will fight tooth and nail to uphold. It is only when some kind of crisis point is reached that caring from home is deemed unmanageable and the move to a care home is made.
This ‘tipping point’is completely unsatisfactory and inappropriate as a reason to make that move to a care home. Everyone is exhausted; the primary carer is left bereft feeling that they’ve failed, when the reality is that nothing is further from the truth. What about the ‘caree’ (is that even a word?). Significantly the person being cared for really doesn’t want to go or ‘be put’ into a care home’. They may feel abandoned, unloved, or if of a more understanding disposition, an emotional or financial drain on resources and ‘nothing but a bloody nuisance’. The move for them is unsettling and disorientating. Leaving the home environment is what everyone has been trying to avoid and yet it occurs at the worst moments. For everyone else this sometimes unsaid, but very large elephant in the room, adds still further to the emotional strain on the carer and other family members.
So we need a new approach. Mr Hammond and other government ministers, what about this for an out of the box solution? We continue with our 'at home' care, and carers continue to be given an attendance allowance. In addition though, respite care is provided for the carer two or three times a year in the form of a proper holiday. During that time, a health care professional stays in the family home (at far less cost than full time residential care) and the ‘carer’ is given a proper holiday, at minimal cost (or ideally free). The cost still is far less than full time state residential care for the personal being cared for. A reprieve is properly given, the person being cared for gets to stay in their home and costs are lower than other alternatives.
Could it work as a viable option that people can opt into? I think it’s worth investigating. What do you think?
I was having coffee with a friend yesterday who asked me what I typically do at the beach. I ‘laughed out loud’ and asked if she imagined that I have long soulful walks, perhaps holding hands with my husband, as we plotted our perfect retirement together, as the waves gently lapped round our ankles. Meantime my daughter would be reclining at the poolside reading self-improving literature guaranteed to help her obtain optimum exam grades. She responded with a raised eye-brow.
It got me thinking though, as it is this picture postcard perfect existence that most of my friends and I portray on social media. Take today for example: my family did travel to the beach, so a typical facebook post might say, ‘yummy dinner at a our favourite Italian, after a fab day surfing the waves.’ I’d perhaps follow this with a beaming photo of us all holding raised glasses and a jaunty close up of our pizza and tirimasu making my facebook friends salivate with envy! And it would be … well one version of the truth.
A different version might be less palatable.
I most categorically would not post anywhere that I had woken up several times during the night with a glass half full of half-term angst, and even a shot or two of half-term anger. Details not necessary! Internal dialogue during this morning’s preparations would be kept strictly off -line. (Why did questioning the size of the suitcase I’d opted for evoke such a response?) Equally, I wouldn’t tell anyone that the dog had been sick on the floor, in the same way that I wouldn’t remind everyone that many years ago both our children had vomited on the toes of a customer at the very restaurant we were going to that evening. Weirdly, it’s the main reason we go back, but sharing that would be paramount to ‘too much information’.
I wouldn’t share my distress (only visible in more internal dialogue) at our eleventh hour plan to have breakfast on the journey, because it would be fun. Neither would I mention my self-congratulatory magnanimity for not kicking off when we were stuck in Bangkok traffic for an extra two hours, due to our late departure from the city, due to the aforementioned breakfast. Also, I doubted that I’d bother to snap the avocado, tomato and scrambled eggs served, slowly, with the avocado and tomato missing, for my pinterest ‘delicious meals’ folder.
What I might do is try to paint a slightly better version of myself with a little exaggeration or inclusion of half-truths ...
For example, at some point during our journey, I might make a quick comment on twitter about listening to #ReasonsToBeCheerful podcast. The irony of listening to a podcast about well intentioned lefties feeling guilty about sending their kids to private schools would be appreciated by my teacher chums … ( I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, our own school is non-profit-making!) I might try and make myself look smart by posting a further comment about having moved on to listening to #InOurTime podcast. In it Melvyn Bragg and a very posh lady discussed Klimt’s Judith. At length, I might add. I probably wouldn’t include that this podcast sent me straight to sleep, though I might say that coincidentally we had a print of the copy of Judith hanging in our UK cottage, but would omit that it had gone mouldy because the house is damp.
And on it goes …I’d definitely mention that I had listened to #Fortunately podcast, because that is funny and I do so want to be mates with Jane and Fi. I wouldn’t though, say that I put on my headphones for that bit, as what would that reveal about the ‘sisterhood’.
And on it goes and on it goes … with my picking and choosing the ‘best bites’ of my days, weeks, months and years, to inauthentically appear authentic.
I am, then, an outed fifty something facebook fibber and sharer of fake news. Do I need treatment for this illness? Should I be banned from ever darkening the doors of social media ever again? Should I make a stand and share a more palatable reality? Does anyone really want to air their actual dirty washing in public? Well certainly not me, and if that is what is required to be an authentic user of social media please don’t expect many facebook posts from me in the future!
And here's why ...
Did I celebrate Valentine's day? No.
Am I being dramatic because my only Valentine's gift was a very woebegone rose, bought for me, at break, by my daughter at school. Maybe, though it was sweet of her (see, there I go buying in to the day).
Will I reconsider the above if I suddenly am swamped with beautiful red roses? Definitely.
But for now I'll go curl up with Pride and Prejudice and fantasise about the lovely Mr Darcy. I bet he'd hate Valentine's day too.
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