Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Let the truth be told....and the healing begin

Today, I want to talk about the Gospel of John 8:32.

I am not religious, that is to say I do not follow organised religion. But, I do admire and revere Jesus Christ, as many other figures in the great history of our world, who had a mission to make the world a better place for others. Today it is his words that ring in my head, after reading this post from DragonflyMama

Jesus said "You shall know the truth, and the truth will set you free".

I've always admired Dragonflymama's tenacity in the face of complete and utter hostility and contempt from her stepdaughter's mom. She has resolutely tried to do the right thing, to shield the child from any hurt or conflict, and to love Buttercup despite the obstacles in the way. It is how so many of us try to be as stepmothers, because we DO want the best for those kids. Especially if we have grown up in the blender ourselves and experienced family conflict as children. We continually put our own feelings aside, time and time again, and put ourselves in the firing line, sacrifice ourselves rather than let the children suffer. We smooth things over when there is conflict. We back down rather than make a scene. We let the mothers walk over us and our families time and time again, and still we try to put on a brave face, treat them as we wish they'd treat us. And to love the kids, even when, in Dragonfly's words "she feels saddened by her love for me".

My SD does not get much joy from her relationship with me, because she is not free in it. The loyalty bind her mother has put her in leaves her wary to discuss things we have done together, admit that things she has gone home with have been bought by me, and means that as soon as she leaves our house, she is self editing constantly lest something slip out that BM may fly into a rage over. She does love me, I think, but I don't think loving me makes her very happy, because she has been told that to love me is to love her mother less.

I was very moved by both of Dragonfly's recent posts, because I have got to the same point myself with the step game. The point where I am no longer willing to pussyfoot around BM or appease her in the hope that one day she might see that DF and I are not bad people, that we don't want to "steal" SD from her, that all we want is peaceful co-existence and for SD to be able to enjoy and love both families equally. I have never had a lot of communication with BM, so I wouldn't write to her telling the truth about what I think of her and what I think of what she's doing to her daughter, but I can see how cathartic this experience must have been, and how much stronger you sometimes feel for just admitting the truth instead of trying to play the game by the unspoken rules that we feel we "should" play it by. Why on earth should we put up and shut up and keep going back for more? If you put your hand in a fire, it burns your skin and it hurts, doesn't it? Would any sane person, once they had realised what fire does to the skin, go back and do it again?

I too am done respecting BM and her precious role as mother, because she does not respect DF as SD's father and she does not respect me either. She does not respect our home, our rules, or the fact that we care for and love her child. To her, SD is a possession and weapon, wielded as leverage and power over her ex husband. She thinks she is fighting some kind of war - well, BM, you can only fight a battle if you have an opponent who is willing to engage you, and if you don't, you'll be standing on the battlefield alone looking pretty damn silly with all your armour on while your hated enemies are off enjoying themselves and getting on with their lives.

Like my fellow steppie warrior Dragonfly, I am done shielding my SD from her mother's actions. I am done trying to fight for extra time with SD, to take her on holidays, to do the things that kids should be able to do with their families. From now on, we are simply going to say "sorry, we can't take you on holiday, your mum won't let us have you" and she can take it up with her mother why she's missing out. I am done bending over backwards to provide the kind of life for SD that I think she SHOULD have and her mother isn't providing, and trying to cram all that into 7 days a month. I actually have my own life to get on with. There, I said it. I'm done fighting.

Sometimes you have to do this in order to let the battle wounds heal. When you no longer know WHY you are fighting this war, what the outcome of it is meant to be, and whether it is even a just war any more, you have to put down the weapons and actually figure out if the reasons you are still there are the same as when you entered it. None of this means that I will stop loving or caring for my SD of course, but it does mean that I'm going to do the one thing you're not supposed to in Steppiesville and put myself first. Because if I don't, I've realised that nobody else in this game will if they're too busy on the battlefield to see that there's life beyond hiding in the woods in your camo gear waiting for the next attack.

The uncomfortable truth for so many steppies is that we have little control over how the step-life pans out for us. We can be Mother Theresa-like beings who never say a cross word to the kids, but that won't help if the kids are in a loyalty conflict, in fact as Wednesday Martin has pointed out on numerous occasions, it may actually make it worse. We can set the best example to the kids, but that won't help much if the kids are spoiled and indulged by guilty post-divorce parents. We can insist on respect from the kids, but if kids are being told by their other parent that they don't have to respect you and the parent you live with isn't challenging it, you're the lone voice.

So here's the better truth, and this is, in those immortal words, the truth that will set you free. We still have control over OUR lives, and there's no rule book that says you have to keep putting your hand in that fire. Sometimes, we need to be reminded of that truth when we're deep in our steppie trenches, that actually, we do have the choice to let it set us free.

Monday, 21 December 2009

The Presence of Presents

I had hesitated about posting this, but I have noticed that a few of my fellow stepmum bloggers have posted about how difficult they find the materialism of Christmas, so I thought I'd add my own "Bah Humbug" to the chorus.

I've said before that it worries me how materialistic SD is becoming. Despite the fact that the BM is always pleading poverty, she seems to have no trouble buying SD the latest laptops, gadgets and toys, which often make our offerings seem like not much. In the past, DF has vastly overcompensated by buying a ton of stuff that she neither wants nor needs, and has often remained unused. We had a blazing row last year about the amount of money he spent, and this year, to avoid a repetition he agreed to me setting the budget and buying the gifts for her. I have stuck largely to things I know she needs and will use. A new fleece blanket for her bed in the cold weather with her current favourite Hello Kitty on it. Some nice new clothes, some funky socks and underwear, the fluffy slipper socks she likes, and a book on recycled crafts seeing as she loves to make things.

We had also talked about buying SD a bike. She has a bike, but it's not a very good one, the brakes aren't brilliant, she finds the twist-and-click gears hard to use, and of course as she's shooting up at a rate of knots it will soon be a bit small. We'd said we'd get her one if we could afford it.

At the moment, we can't afford it. I have been doing some selling on Ebay to try and get some cash coming in, because neither of us have had pay rises this year due to the recession. I'd originally planned to save some of that money from selling to get her a new bike. However, a few things have changed. Firstly, I got into my university course so all being well, I'll be starting it in September next year. Which means our income is going to drop considerably, and we really could do with throwing extra cash at our debts in order to try and get outgoings as low as possible for next year. And secondly, given our financial situation, I don't think we should be spending £200+ on a new bike for a child who spends 7 days a month at our house. We can't let her take it back and forth to BM's, as we can't trust that it will not get damaged or "lost" aka sold, at BM's. So what it will largely do at ours is sit in the shed, certainly during the winter months. I'll admit I am also a little influenced by the fact that SD has chosen not to see us on Christmas Day, but has nevertheless expressed a keen expectation of presents when she does choose to come, which has more than a little ring of spoiled child to it. It transpires she wants to stay with her Mum's family on Christmas Day because they are having a party, it's more fun, and there will be of course lots of presents from all the relatives.

I have tried over the last year or so to instil in SD a realisation that she (and other children like her) are actually lucky to have what they have and get what they get at Christmas and birthdays etc. I sponsored a child with SOS Children's Villages, a child the same age as her, who is orphaned and growing up in a foster family in Tanzania, in the hope that this might help, but she has expressed no interest in the sponsored child or writing to her or anything like that. To be fair, DF predicted she wouldn't be interested, he says kids these days just aren't interested in "that sort of thing" and he was right, she is far more interested in cute baby animals and sponsoring a dog through Dogs Trust than she is in the human cause. OK, so maybe it's an age thing, but surely parents have a responsibility to teach their children about the less fortunate and about doing things for others? I can forgive SD for being 11 years old and not interested in kids less fortunate than herself, but I can't forgive DF for thinking it's perfectly OK to allow his child to grow up materialistic and self-centred and not challenge it.

On one of my stepmum boards recently I came across another steppie whose teenage SD has a boyfriend whose family are not at all well off, and he goes without a lot of things. Said lovely steppie and her partner had bought the BF a winter coat and some decent warm stuff for the cold weather, which I thought was just lovely. She said how appreciative the BF was of anything that was done or bought for him, in comparison to most kids who think it's their right to get what they want. She also commented on how seeing her boyfriend's underprivileged upbringing had also started to make the SD a little more grateful for what she had. So maybe it just needs to be a little closer to home than Tanzania to make an impression?

I don't really know what the outcome of the bike dilemma will be. No doubt DF will want to buy her one regardless of whether the money could be better used elsewhere, but I wonder if we might be able to reach some kind of compromise on it, such as waiting until the better weather when she will actually be able to make use of it, or even finding a decent second hand one. I'm a mountain bike nut, so I know plenty of good sources, and people who will check a bike over for me for safety and durability. When I was a student, I bought a secondhand mountain bike for £50 and it lasted 3 years of cycling round Edinburgh nearly every day, so surely it would be acceptable for an 11 year old to use a few days a month? One thing I do know from bitter experience is that buying things you can't really afford is a recipe for misery, and from a selfish perspective, my eye is more on how we are going to manage in a few months time when I'm a fulltime student and only earning a fraction of what I do now. I just don't think DF will see it that way, and will think I am the epitome of steppie Scroogedom!

Sunday, 20 December 2009

Christmas sucks in blended families

I know DF and I won't be the only ones in this situation this Christmas. Because, as the title suggests, Christmas in stepfamilies just aint fun. Especially when you have a BM in the mix hell bent on making sure that her child doesn't see her father at Christmas.

There is supposed to be, by court order, an arrangement that Christmas Day is split. Last year we had SD from Christmas Eve into Christmas Day and took her back on Christmas Day. We had pantomime tickets booked for Christmas Eve so SD wanted to come, and BM agreed to having her back by 4pm. So this year, DF suggested he collected her at 4pm on Christmas Day.

Not happening, apparently. SD has allegedly made the decision herself (but did not want to tell DF this herself so BM's hag of a mother did it, and took great pleasure in doing so) that she does not want to see us on Christmas Day and doesn't want to come until Boxing Day. We know full well that if SD had the choice, she'd see both parents, so this is undoubtedly the result of pressure, manipulation and guilt trips on the poor child. We can't get her until 10am on Boxing Day.

I don't get how this woman can stoop so low as to keep her child from seeing her father on Christmas Day. I KNEW they had been working on her for weeks - I could see it in her eyes, and when I said to her last weekend when she went home "See you at Christmas" she looked away. I knew then we would not be seeing her, but I hoped against hope I was wrong, for DF's sake. But BM's family make a big deal of having a huge family party at Christmas and I knew there was no way they'd agree to her leaving half way through the day. Their view is that their family is SD's main family, therefore they are the most important - as far as they are concerned, DF can go hang, he's nobody.

It's hard not to get frustrated on his behalf - and I get upset that SD can treat her dad with such disregard as well, even though logically, I know she is just a child, and faced with the kind of pressure BM and her family are probably putting on her, most children older and more mature than SD would cave. SD knows that though DF will be disappointed, he won't unleash the kind of hell that BM would if she stood her ground and said no, I want to see my Dad on Christmas Day. She knows DF will never withdraw love from her. But it's hard to see that the unshakeable confidence she has in DF never turning his back on her results in her treating him badly - because she isn't afraid of losing his love. It's hard for me to see it because I was once in the exact same position - I know how it is being between a rock and a hard place, you always end up hurting someone, because you cannot make any choices without disappointing one of the people you love. And it is one of the things that SD will have to live with as she grows up and becomes more aware of the impact her choices have. Sadly, this is the lot of children growing up in split families, I know this all too well.

There is no solution to it either, but next year I am seriously tempted just to book tickets for DF and I to the Caribbean, let BM and her cohort have their family Christmas that's so important to them they are happy to ruin ours, and we won't even show up for the battle, which would spare SD from being piggy in the middle. Of course, if we did that, they'd say we don't care about her and don't want to see her, so we can't win....but at least WE would have a peaceful Christmas knowing we won't get a phone call a few days before saying SD doesn't want to come, and having to rearrange all our plans around when BM and GrannyHag will release her to come and see her own father. Yes, the Caribbean sounds tempting. Travel brochures for 2010 anyone?

Sunday, 13 December 2009

Things I wish I'd known

Inspired by Stepmum of the Year and Nine Kinds of Crazy, I decided to put together my own "If Only I'd Known" list.

This is probably going to be particularly apt, since it was revealed last night that a friend of mine has just started dating a 38 year old divorced man with a 5 year old daughter. I remember having a somewhat inebriated conversation with this same friend at a party a few months back, just about the general hazards of dating warfare, and the subject of men with kids came up. During this time, things were rather difficult, it was when BM was kicking off to the max over the summer, and I counseled her to run as fast as she could if approached by a man with kids. As mentioned, the conversation was slightly inebriated so I don't remember the finer details, but I definitely gave her no illusions about the possibility of happy endings when taking on a man with kids - they are few and far between.

Obviously the advice didn't rub off, because I saw her last night and she told me about her new flame. I guess I didn't really take my own advice either, because I showed up a few months later with a ring, and on my way to "official" stepparent-dom, rather than doing what I advised her at the time and getting the hell out. To be honest, had it been a man less special than DF, there is no way I'd still be here now. One thing you've got to be sure of if you're going to put yourself through the steppie mill is that the guy (and the rewards) are going to be worth it.

So, for my friend, and all the other newbie and potential Wicked Steppies out there, here's the list of Things I Wish I'd Known When I Started. And I hope this advice helps a little more than "run as fast as you can in the opposite direction".

Remember your own life.
This may seem like a no brainer, but when you're in the first flush of love, on the honeymoon period where you want to be with your new love ALL THE TIME, not to mention keen to get to know the kids and be accepted into the unit, don't let your identity get swallowed up by it. Retaining your own life, interests, hobbies and most importantly friends will help you to stay sane through rockier waters. Stepmum of the Year wrote in her list "your non-step friends will struggle to understand why you seem so obsessed". When things get overwhelming, it can become quite all consuming, and it's easy to get a little one-track minded when wading through miles of step-shit, but sometimes, what you need is not to talk step. Much the same as if work is bothering you, distraction is a better tactic than talking shop outside work and keeping your focus on the things that are pissing you off!

It's OK NOT to join in with every single kid-activity. Even if the kids seem keen to have you around, they still need time with their Dad and to know their Dad still values their company and there are special things that they do together. By the same token, as your relationship progresses, I can honestly say that my SD and I have benefited from having some time alone together as well.

Discuss how things are going to work BEFORE you think about moving in.
Especially if you're not buying/renting a new place together and you're going to be moving in with him. The child will see the house as theirs and Dad's, and the dynamics will change for everyone when you live together. Do the kids come in the bedroom at night? Do they knock? One of the things I have seen many steppies struggle with is the lack of privacy in their own homes, but by the same token I'm sure a lot of stepkids feel resentful when suddenly they can't go in Dad's room any more without permission. Open dialogue prior to combining lives is extremely important to help avoid these situations.

Take a genuine interest in the kids and try to see them as individuals.
I guess this comes as much from my experience as a stepchild as it does from being a step-parent, because it was something I felt my stepmum did extremely well. She was interested in me, what I thought, what I did, who my friends were and who I was as a person. Especially if there is a high conflict situation, it's an easy trap to fall into to align the kids with the other parent, particularly if that's where they spend the most time, and even more so if there is alienation going on, and just see them as components of the former life with the pain in the ass ex. But they are individuals, people in their own right. Think about yourself in relation to your parents. How like them are you? Do people in your life and family treat you exactly the same as they treat your parents, or do they treat you like you? I have traits of both my parents, I'm sure, but there are a lot of things about me that are very different and not like either of them. It will mean a lot to your stepkids, not to mention helping your relationship with them, if you're prepared to see them as John and Lucy (or whatever their names are), not "My partner's kids from his previous marriage".

Kid Free Time is important!

I apologise to both aforementioned stepmum bloggers for stealing this one a little....but, it's a point so important it merits repetition, so I hope they won't mind.
Keep in mind that your partner is likely to be at his happiest when he has all his favourite people around him - ie, his partner and his kids. For you, you're likely to be happiest when it's just the two of you together. Don't feel guilty about that - you're in the relationship with and for him, not the kids. Let's not forget that even in first families, parents need time out. And we're not talking about collapsing in front of the telly after a full day at work and getting the kids to bed, we're talking about planned activities, dates, time to talk non-shop and non-step. And make that time where you don't discuss the kids, the ex-wife, the holiday contact arrangements, the state the kids' bedrooms were left in on their last visit. This is time for you as a couple, to reconnect, and I couldn't have put it better than Nine Kinds of Crazy did in her list "You need to remember why you did this in the first place".

Which brings me back to one of my first points - the guy HAS to be worth it!

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Has it really been that long?

My God, it has! I can't believe I haven't been here since October 27th! Bad Blogger!

In my defence, I had to rebuild my laptop, because it was running so dog slow that I couldn't do anything on it, and kept losing all my work when it crashed. But, since I do IT all day, I did the ultimate procrastination on it and kept putting it off, because the absolute LAST thing I feel like doing when I get home is fixing a computer! Some days I even feel like banning them from the house!

Well, all is relatively well in Steppiesville. I am trying to ignore the fact that we are in the run up to Christmas, which is often a stressful time in the steposphere. Peace reigns in our household right now, so I'm enjoying that and trying not to think about what potential havoc Ye Psychotic One may have planned for us for the festive season! I find it best not to dwell on such things, as it is a waste of valuable thoughts. She will do what she will do, whether I think about it or not....

And I guess I just have more in my life to think about these days. I applied for my university course in Youth and Community Development Studies, and have an interview on the 17th December. I've applied to join a community volunteer programme, and am just waiting for my criminal records check to come through before I can start working with them. I'll be helping to run a young people's peer development programme, which aims to give young people a voice in the local community and the services that are provided for them.

AND......DP and I got engaged!

So DP is now DF....and I am now wearing a lovely titanium ring in a modern design which I love. The proposal, it must be said, was not exactly romantic, Yorkshiremen are not known for their romance skills, but they sure do know how to fix brakes on a car and fix radiators and boilers and those kinda things, and I know that doing those things is my OH's way of showing his love, as opposed to poems and roses. The only time a guy wrote me a poem I laughed. Maybe I'm not a poems and roses girl....or maybe that was just because the poem was crap.

To mark our engagement and part early Christmas present, DF also agreed to redecorate our bedroom. The leap for joy I did nearly put a hole in the roof, do you have ANY idea, seriously how long I have wanted to strip that room down? Men, unless of the homosexual variety, should NEVER be let loose on interior design, and Yorkshiremen should DEFINITELY stick to cars and boilers. Yellow and green in a bedroom? Bogies and vomit anyone? And I'll say NOTHING about the horrendous curtains. If in doubt, paint it magnolia, for the love of God! But now the room is purple, and very gorgeous, and we've finally got a fabulous orthopaedic mattress with memory foam. I felt like the bloody Princess and the Pea, DF was so attached to that damn mattress, he thought it was the comfiest thing in the world, but for me it was awful! It was pretty much moulded to DF's shape, so much so there was a concave part where he lay on it, and he's nearly twice the weight of me, so when he lay on it it would sink down in that part, and all the springs would be taut against the top, meaning they stuck in places you just don't want springs to be. He overlaid it with a duvet in an attempt to make it softer, but it just didn't cut it.

Being engaged has actually helped things. And I'm kinda ashamed to admit it, being a modern gal and all....I was brought up to think of marriage as an outdated and silly concept, that rarely works for anyone (yes, my parents did get divorced, and yes, it was messy). So...it's not really the done thing among some members of my family to get married. DF has of course gone through quite possibly one of the worst marriage FAILs ever, so he wasn't actually that keen to go there again, until recently that is. But psychologically....it HAS made a difference. I'm no longer just girlfriend - I'm future wife, and I think that's made a difference to how DF considers me within our family unit. I definitely feel I have equal status to kiddo now, whereas before he would tell me til he was blue in the face that we were equal, but at times behave very much the opposite. Kiddo was fine with it, well I've been around a fair while now, so I guess she knew I wasn't going anywhere anyway, but I'd say "Can I be bridesmaid" is a good reaction from a potential stepkid, as opposed to some of the horror stories I've heard about kids bursting into floods of tears, locking themselves in bedrooms etc. I guess I'm not too much of a wicked witch after all!

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Another year, another landmark

My SD turned 11 last week. She's turning into a little lady before our very eyes!

And I'm happy to say that things there are on the up. It seems that SD is getting a little fed up of the BM's anti-Dad and Wicked Steppie campaign - it's getting a bit old now, she's kept it up for 2 months. So I can start to see my relationship with SD improving, little by little. She asked me if I'd take her to the hairdresser to have her hair done nice at some point. This was after I'd come back from the new salon I've tried after mine closed down, with THE most fab haircut ever - genius extremely camp hair-man managed to tame my thick mad hair into a funky edgy bob. BM cuts SD's hair, and more often than not, doesn't do it very evenly, so she's asked if I'll take her to have hers cut properly.

Now this is a difficult one. SD is growing up fast, and rapidly becoming interested in beauty related stuff - she's got more Impulse sprays than there are days of the week, she's always wanting me to paint her nails, and asking me for advice on what outfits she's wearing. BM isn't really into this sort of stuff, she's gay - not that being gay precludes an interest in nail polish, but BM's just not into girly grooming. I wouldn't have said I'm especially girly or high maintenance but I do like to look well turned out. However, I'm a little bothered that taking SD to the hairdresser might provoke World War Three.

DP is fine with it. He thinks it is another life skill SD will need to learn eventually so she might as well start getting experience now of going to the hairdresser, telling them what she wants, having her hair washed and dried all nice will be a nice experience for her. She only wants a trim, she is very proud of her long blonde hair so we wouldn't be doing anything drastic, no funky edgy bobs or coloured hair dye, just getting it even, getting rid of the split ends and she can have it styled nicely. But, I'm still worried BM is going to go mental and that I'll be guilty of serious overstepping of her motherly boundaries. I do try and respect that while I'm fond of SD and want the best for her, I am not her parent, and don't try and do "parental" things like parents evenings or medical appointments. But hairdressing is less clear, especially as now SD is suddenly turning pre-teen with a vengeance, she needs a female role model to teach her about that stuff, and BM doesn't seem to be doing it - as DP said, I'm filling the gap in the market right now! But - does that mean we should let her go have her hair done even when BM has said no and prefers to do it herself (no doubt a cost saving exercise, child's haircut or a pack of fags and a six pack of Stella, hmmm tough choice). We had a big hoo-haa last year about SD's Christmas play at school, BM wanted SD back on Sunday night so she could do her hair for the play, as she thought it was unacceptable that I performed that task. Like many other things in split families, even something as innocuous as a hairdo can easily become a stepfamily West Bank.

Well, I've done the Steppie's Cop-Out and left it in DP's hands. As far as I'm concerned, he's the parent, he makes the decision and he takes any flak for the decision he makes. I'm happy that SD has come to me and wants to do this, but DP has got to decide whether getting rid of a few split ends are worth the potential row.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Groundhog Day

So it's been a stink day at work.

Manager stomping round huffy, complaining that I didn't put enough information on a purchase order, annoyed with me over having 2 physio appointments next week and the sarcy raised eyebrow because one of them happens to be on Friday afternoon. Well actually, I made it that way because DP's physio appointment with the same guy is at 4pm, and I know if my appointment is right before his, he can come get me on his way back from picking SD up from school, and then give me a lift home after, because I can't drive myself and I can't walk, you jerk-off. I also don't have unlimited money for taxi fares, because you lot pay me such a bloody pittance. But never mind, I'll just wave a magic wand and make my knee better shall I, because clearly my torn ligament is inconveniencing the company too much. And while it may seem to you that most employees would craftily make their medical appointments for a Friday afternoon so they can get home early and crack open the bottle of red, what you don't realise is that most employees are not stepmothers, and you have no idea what the Friday evening adjustment period is like in the house of a weekend father. Put it this way - it's not something you hurry home to, let alone finish early for extra exposure.

I sometimes feel that I am reliving the same day over and over at work. The same finger pointing snippy crap. The same nitpicking over stupid things while ignoring the really big things that we have to get sorted. Staring at the same screen, and repeating the same stuff over and over.

I decided while I was away in China that I really wasn't cut out for the corporate office environment, and that I am going to change careers. Gulp. A very scary thing, especially when re-training involves an unpaid year of study. When I thought back to all the things I'd enjoyed doing in the past, all of those things were when I was working with young people. I used to work in a wacky arts centre, doing an after school club for local teenagers with behavioural difficulties, and I have honestly never enjoyed a job so much in my life. I did it part time, as a student, and I wanted to go into some kind of youth work or work with special needs after uni, but went down the safe career path I did because it paid better and offered the steady and reliable career trajectory, instead of an uncertain life working in the nonprofit and badly funded public sectors. I thought I'd made the right choice for a while - good income, paid off my debts - but now I find myself in this eternal Groundhog Day scenario, and feeling like the place I spend most of my time in not only has no meaning and benefit to humankind, but is completely sucking my soul dry.

Now I work with a few people who LOVE IT. They like nothing better than to go downstairs to the canteen in their lunch hours, and discuss the finer points of TCP/IP networking, Linux versus Windows, and how many cores their processors have. I hobbled downstairs for my lunch today and overheard such a conversation, and it really made me smile. Why? No, not because I love all that stuff and am vastly interested in it. Precisely the opposite. Which is great - because it affirmed to me that I am not where I am supposed to be. I love seeing and hearing people be passionate about their work, and I wish that I could be one of them. But IT is not what I am passionate about. I've made the right decision to make this change to my life. Thanks, ubergeeks.

So, having made this decision, the scary part is setting about the How. I have started to do my application for the MA course that I am interested in, which is Youth and Community Development, which also carries the Professional Youth Worker accreditation for youth work in the UK. Assuming they even like my application (although the cynical part of me says that these days so long as you're willing to pay full fees they'll have you) I will have an interview to get through, in which I will no doubt have to explain why I am doing this since I haven't really done any work with young people for the past 2 years. Yes, I got swallowed up by the corporate machine and became more interested in spending my salary than the greater good of humanity for a while there, okaaaay? But I'm ready to give a shit again!

The other and infinitely more scary thing is how I am going to fund this. We're not exactly rolling in money - and although DP is firmly behind me and wants more than anything to see me happy, it is a slight worry. It kinda hinges on our mortgage going on to a variable rate next year and being able to take advantage of the very low interest rates, which will free up some funds in our kitty. The other thing it will hinge on is getting a Career Development loan, to fund day to day living costs while studying.

Now while I am excited about this potential new direction I'm going to take, anyone reading this who is a stepmum will probably also relate to the sense of guilt we often feel when we do something that is solely for us, especially when that may have repercussions for the rest of the family. I know that SD won't come to any harm if money is tight for a year - her needs will always be met, we will both make sure of that, but we won't be able to indulge nearly as many of her wants. And I've expressed concern on here before that my SD is, like many others of her generation, quite a materialistic child, and she's heading towards teenagerdom, when they are no longer so amused by simple free pleasures such as kicking through the autumn leaves in wellies, bike riding or playing board games. I worry that she'll blame me for a drop in our living standards, and resent it. While DP has quite rightly pointed out that I would be setting her a very good example by sacrificing some material pleasures for a while in order to study for my MA, which will provide me with the means to hopefully earn a better salary in future, doing something I enjoy, I doubt she will see that when she isn't able to buy the new Miley Cyrus album.

But none of this means I can't do it. Nowhere in the Manual of Stepmotherhood does it say "thou shalt sacrifice all thine ambitions at the altar of his children". It would be a sure-fire recipe for resentment if I was to carry on trying to plod on at this job for the sake of SD being able to buy a few more DS games. And at the back of my mind, there is also the situation of us having our own family gnawing away at me - I might never have children, that is something I may have to ultimately accept, but could I live with that AND knowing that I'd never fulfilled my career ambitions and found something that I loved to do with purpose and happiness? As stepmothers, we already sacrifice quite a lot in our lives. Our weekends. A carefree courtship with our loved ones. Money. Holidays. Being the first wife, having a first child with our partners, in some cases having children at all. And in some cases, our sanity! Bearing all this in mind, why is it we have such an issue when we need to ask for something for us?

But - something that actually has a massive bearing on how happy we are as stepmothers is how happy we are with ourselves. My other "Eureka" moment in China came when I realised that I'd actually be a better stepmother, role model, support, to SD if I was happier with myself, and followed the path I was meant to, rather than the path I thought others wanted me to follow. By plumping for the safe career with the reliable salary and job opportunities, I thought I'd be happy, but all I have is more stuff - and still no money at the end of the month. More than anything, I want to be able to teach my SD to listen to her heart, and I can't teach her that if I don't live that example myself.

Sunday, 11 October 2009

From Wall Walking to Walking Wounded

Boy, oh boy do I feel silly.

Here I am going on about how I walked 65 miles of Great Wall, up and down massive steps, near vertical descents and tough inclines....I came back from holiday and played my first game of football last Sunday. Had a bit of a collision with another player. Nothing malicious, just both trying (and failing) to get the same ball, as one does in footy. I went over. Nothing too bad, I thought, and got up and carried on. As the game went on, I noticed my left knee getting sore, and progressively weaker. We had no subs, so coming off the field wasn't really an option, so I struggled through the rest of the second half, not really being any use to anybody but hey, I was on the field at least. Post-game, things really started to seize up, and by the evening it was difficult to put much weight on the knee without, well, agony. I rested it, did the old ice pack bit and a hot bath, hoping things would feel better the next day. Suffice to say, they didn't, and my knee gave out at work, prompting my boss to have to drive me to A&E. Rather embarrassing, having to lean on my boss's shoulder just to walk a few feet from the car to the check-in.

A week later and it's still not exactly clear what I've done to it. Two doctors, two different opinions - one said I'd torn "something" but didn't really have the inclination to find out what and sent me away with painkillers and told me to see my GP. Which I did, the next day, though he was not my normal GP, and after I came in to his surgery on crutches and unable to put any weight on the knee whatsoever, he did a bit of poking and prodding before deciding nothing was wrong except bruising! OK, so a bit of bruising usually renders you unable to walk 48 hours later does it? Hmmmm. He then advised me to take some anti inflammatories which I later found out were incompatible with some medication I already take - as he hadn't bothered to look what I was on. Yes, I'd like some life-threatening haemorrhage along with my busted knee please.

Now I'm all for the NHS. Yes, it's a good thing, universal free health care. A very good thing, and having lived in countries where they don't have it, I think it is better to have it than not to. I don't want to have to worry whether I'm skint or not before seeking medical attention, so I appreciate the fact that it doesn't cost me to see the doctor. However, on this occasion I have had to pay to see a physiotherapist to get any idea of what's wrong with my knee. I might add that I had to pay a physiotherapist to inflict a LOT OF PAIN on me to get any idea of what's wrong with my knee, and said physio is having to write a letter to the GP's surgery saying, actually, yes this person has more than just a bit of bruising and needs to be referred. Well, I knew that, and I could have told Dr Oxford-Medical-Degree-on-the-surgery-wall that there was more than just bruising there for God's sake, I'm no hypochondriac and I am certainly not a frequent botherer of the already overstretched doctors down there, but it's MY KNEE, dammit, and I know when my own knee is a bit more than just bruised. 5 years of football and martial arts tells me I know the difference between just bruising and something not being right.

So the long and short of it is, that after all my Great Wall walking, I am now not walking anywhere. Crutches are my new best friend, as is ibuprofen gel and Sex and the City re-runs. Bless my darling DP, even with all the commuting he is doing, he is emailing me every day from work asking what I want for tea, going and getting the things I like and cooking them for me, doing such a good job of it in fact I might just hand the cooking over to him full stop, his spag bol was that good I could eat it every night - never thought of putting bacon in the sauce, but it really worked, and he remembered the splash of red wine, and the bottle to go with it of course!

All this sitting around has also made me get a slight obsession with this year's X Factor. I'm not one for reality TV normally, and I know, I know everyone says that to justify their guilty pleasures, but my previous reality-show-watching efforts have often ended in objects being hurled across the living room. Seriously, for me it is a dangerous activity. I did start to watch X Factor a bit last year, I told myself mainly for the car-crash auditions, some of which were absolutely hilarious, despite the residual sense of guilt I felt for having a laugh at the expense of the hapless sods providing the entertainment. At least they got their 2 minutes of fame, albeit cut short by the shrilling of Simon Cowell's buzzer and being remembered more for their train wreck than their first steps on to the gravy train. They're braver than me anyway, it takes me several tequila shots to even pick a song in a karaoke bar, let alone get up and sing one, and I'd be more likely to throw a shoe at Simon Cowell than sing to him. In fact, maybe there's an act for Britain's Got Talent in the making....stiletto throwing. The only problem is that there are so many drunk girls in Leeds on a Friday night who can do it that much better than me, they might be loaded on cheap wine and sambuca shots but trust me, they can still hit a cheating boyfriend at fifty paces with a pair of Nine West's finest six-inch kitten heels. In fact, one of my football team-mates had an altercation with a stiletto-wielder recently while on a night out, having been accused of flirting with the girl's boyfriend. She had quite a shiner, I must say. "The cheap ones hurt more" she asserted, adding that these were definitely not Manolos, because some of the cheap paint on the shoes came off on her forehead. Being stilettoed on a night out is definitely the new throwing up, and the plus side is at least if your shoes are embedded in someone else's head, you can't be sick on them.

Thursday, 8 October 2009

China Part 3

On our third day of trekking, we got up to a beautiful sunny morning. Sadly breakfast was more concrete toast and floppy fried eggs, with some kind of spam-like substance, so I made a note to pack an extra Mule Bar for the day. As usual, The Terminator was ready with the warm-ups and stretches, cue much groaning.

Today we would get to meet the local "Wall Catchers". These are locals who live in the villages near the Wall, usually from farming families, who supplement their income by helping tourists and trekkers on the Wall, to carry their bags. A couple of our number decided to take advantage and let one of the wall catchers take their pack for the day, leaving them free to enjoy the scenery and take pictures. They were quite amazing, like mountain goats they scrambled up the steep paths where some of us stumbled and slipped. The joys of knowing the terrain like the back of your hand. They were very sweet, but a little irritating after a while having a shadow constantly grabbing at your backpack and saying "me carry, me carry". But 100 yuan for a day's bag carrying to them was a lot of money. Farmers in China earn very little, and as a result many of the younger generation have deserted the countryside for the cities, overpopulating the main cities and leaving a shortage of people to farm the land and provide the nation's food. The Chinese government has attempted to combat this trend by allowing farming families to have two children instead of the regulation one, and also making farmers largely tax-exempt. This has also gone some way towards combatting the awful trend in some more traditional rural communities of abandoning baby girls, because they want sons, but of course with the One Child Policy they only get one shot. When James the Chinese trek leader was explaining all this to us, he chose the unfortunate phrase "The Chinese, they love their little boys" prompting sniggers from the more sewer-minded in the group!

The Wall Catchers, once those not saddled with a backpack had realised they weren't needed for the day, eventually melted away, and we were left walking the Wild Wall, which is mostly ruins. In some places, the path was only a metre wide, with no sides to the wall this time, which again caused some problems for the vertigo afflicted. The grit and determination of some of those people to overcome their fears and get through that trek was truly awe-inspiring, and it was a privilege to be trekking with them and offering them support or a friendly hand or word when needed, or even at times a verbal kick up the backside!

The scenery began to be stunning, we had perfect clear weather and we were getting a sense of the sheer scale of the Great Wall, the way it snaked across the mountain tops, what a sheer feat of construction it was, and just how many lives paid for its construction.

The Wall Catchers returned at the end of the trek, with bags full of souvenirs. It was bargaining time, as we haggled for postcards and mementoes of our day. We bought a book on the history of the wall, feeling that we should at least buy something seeing as they had walked all that way with their bags of wares. However, once we had done our buying, we got a little fed up with being followed, and to try and get rid of one of the hawkers, DP said to him that we didn't want any postcards but if he could find us some beer, we'd pay him 20 yuan a pop! He sprinted off like a cheetah and in no time at all, he was back with an armful of beer cans. We gave him our 20 yuan notes gladly for the cold beer after a hard day's trekking, happily glugging it down as we walked the final half mile to the hotel in the village of Jinshanling. DP said "Now we'll call you Beer Man!" to the hawker who'd got us the beer, and he grinned with a wide smile, pointed to himself and said "Me, Beer Man!" and skipped off to tell all his friends his new nickname, all the way down pointing to us, chattering in Chinese punctuated by shouts of "Beer Man!"

That night we were all in an upbeat happy mood. So many fears had been quashed, such achievements had been made walking that wall, so we gathered in the hotel courtyards for TsingTao and chat. We had a demonstration of the local traditional paper cutting, which is just incredible, and the shop opened late for us. I bought a traditional Year of the Tiger cutting for SD, as it's her 11th birthday in a couple of weeks, and her Chinese astrological sign is the Tiger. I also found a beautiful little cutting for my Nana, who is in her late 70s, with the Chinese character for longevity in the middle. My eye was drawn to it before the owner told me what it meant, and he smiled and told me it was perfect for a grandparent, because the elderly are revered in traditional Chinese culture, longevity is prized.

Now this was also the night of the Termination of the Terminator.

DP and some of the other lads had decided to get together and buy the Terminator's drinks for the night, and at some point while merry after a few beers, Terminator decided to challenge DP to out-drink him. Needless to say, he wasn't successful - the fitter they are, the harder they fall, and while DP's physique is much more suited to beer drinking than the gym, the Terminator is the opposite. DP earned himself the nickname "John Connor" that night, for being the only man able to defeat the Terminator. Needless to say, he wasn't up to leading any energetic warm-ups the next morning!

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

China Part 2

Our second day of trekking took us to the beautiful Black Dragon Paw National Park in Beijing Province. The Terminator started the day with one of his usual "light" warm up sessions, leaving us breathless and wondering if trekking could, really, be any worse than our morning gym sessions! Eager to get trekking, we started out past a few smallholdings where local subsistence farmers peered around the corn at the strange group of foreigners stomping past with their big boots and poles. Used to walking the terrain every day, the local Chinese were sometimes seen ambling up the hills that we found so difficult just in flimsy canvas shoes.

The sun came out for us on Day 2, illuminating the surrounding mountains just before we disappeared into the undergrowth. Several cries of "ooh, I feel like Indiana Jones" were heard as we battled through the overgrown path. Some parts were very steep and slippy, nothing to grip to but loose earth, needing our hands as well to scramble up. DP and the other guys were chivalrous in helping the ladies down the steep descents, and we reached our first stop quicker than expected at the mouth of the gorge that we would be descending the side of next. At the bottom of the descent we found what seemed like a popular destination for local families. There was a pool at the mouth of the cave with old truck tyres that had been turned into boats floating there for kids, and an ice cream stand. Chinese characters had been carved into the rock all along the side of the stream.

Finally, we had some reasonably flat walking along the side of the stream to our lunch stop for the day. There was a hairy moment for some when we had to come down a long metal ladder into a cave, and there were a few who had to put many fears aside to do it with the help of their comrades. The lunch stop was welcome relief - a mobile noodle kitchen this time, noodles and veg with a Chinese version of KFC. I don't think I have ever eaten so quickly in my life, as soon as I saw that food I realised just how hungry I was.

The afternoon was the piece de resistance . We had to climb up to a watchtower that used to be part of the Wall. We had noticed it on the way in, but not thought for a minute that we'd actually have to climb it! It was steep, tough and slippy in places, and considerate DP stayed with the back of the group to help a few of the less sure-footed up the steep bits bless him. The view was worth it, we could see for miles across the Hidden Dragon Valley and Crouching Tiger mountains, OK, so a lot of the scenery was sweetcorn fields, but they were Chinese sweetcorn fields, OK?

Strangely enough, the toughest part of the day was walking back down the road. The hot tarmac was unyielding on our already well worn feet, and the hot sun was unrelenting as there was no shade, unlike when we had been scrambling through the shade of the undergrowth or had the cool of the water nearby. It was also a very bad time for Beijing Belly to strike, and there being a choice between some dubious toilets at the end of the trek and some bushes, I opted for the bush. Having snuck off quietly, I managed to escape the humiliation of one of my trek buddies who "mistook" the shed for the toilets, and earned herself the nickname "Shitty Shed" for the rest of the trip. Thankfully she's a good humoured Geordie lass so took it all in her stride - and she might have been pointed in the, ahem, wrong direction, by one of her so-called trek buddies!

That night, we spent at the Longevity Travelling Palace just over the border in Hubei Province, which used to be a place of rest for the emperor and his entourage once. It was traditional, with proper kang beds, which looked very lovely but were, being made of concrete, not that comfortable. They told us in the olden days they used to have a fire burning underneath the kang to keep the bed's inhabitants warm, but as far as I could tell the only benefit to that would have been that while your bum might have been numb, at least it was warm. And the shower in this place at least worked. There was a 60th birthday that night in our group, another tooth-rottingly sweet Chinese cake, and of course, plenty more of that fabulous local beer.

Wednesday, 30 September 2009

China Part 1

It's difficult to know where to start describing what this trip was like, so I guess there's nowhere to start but the beginning!

DP and I have been fundraising since the start of the year to do this trek on behalf of Scope, a leading UK charity who campaign for the rights of those with disabilities to lead a full and inclusive life in society, and help those with disabilities to do just that through schools, support for families and independent living support for adults. On the 17th September, we got up for an early start, after a few days of frantically running around for our last bits and pieces (lots and lots of handy packs of tissues and alcohol hand gel), and made our way to Leeds and Bradford Airport for our flight to Gatwick to meet our trek buddies.

As it happened, we met three trek buddies early - a girl with stunning red hair caught my eye, and I wondered aloud how on earth she managed to get her hair that colour. I also noticed that she was wearing hiking boots - as were her two companions. They turned out to be the first of many great people we were to meet on the trip, and we all headed towards the Emirates check in desk at Gatwick together, where we all met our rather subdued fellow trekkers - all of course on best behaviour, since we were all strangers and no beer was flowing!

A couple of hours killing time at Gatwick and we were ready for our flight to Dubai. The food on the plane was surprisingly not inedible, though there was the inevitable bread roll that you could bounce off the walls. We arrived in Dubai at silly o'clock, all with red eyes, but after a bit of idle duty free browsing some of us gathered at the coffee stand for a chinwag, so the ice was broken. I can't say the flight to Beijing was as pleasant - DP is 6'4", and while the London crew had given him a seat on the emergency exit, the Dubai crew could not, because the plane was full, so poor DP had to cram into the sardine seats with his knees pushed against the seat in front for 8 hours.

We arrived in Beijing mostly tired and red eyed, and fairly aghast at the sheer scale just of the airport - you have to get on a train to get from the terminal where you arrive to the baggage collection point! We were scrutinised by the impassive masked officials for signs of the dreaded swine flu, our passports peered and frowned at, before being impatiently waved through to start our incredible Chinese journey.

Meeting us at the airport was Fiona, our trek leader, and the Chinese crew - James/Yao Di, Grace, and Jenny, and not forgetting the bus driver Mr Han. James tried to cram some Beijing facts into our tired heads, but we were all too busy fighting sleep enough to take in some of the sights of the new city. Bikes everywhere, people pedalling rusty trailer bikes perilously balancing all sorts on the back, little kids sitting calmly on the handlebars of a parent's bike while the traffic whizzed past. The contrast of ancient Chinese pagoda-style buildings with utilitarian Communist austerity was everywhere, and the modern opulence of the Olympic village and surroundings seemed to spring from nowhere.

Our first hotel was located just near a large reservoir that seemed worryingly low. James told us that they used to have a problem with it bursting its banks, so they let some of the water out, but the water never came back to fill it, and so all the riverbanks are now being used by local farmers for growing corn, which seemed to be the favoured local crop. We headed in to check out our rooms, and get a much needed shower, ours was disappointingly just a dribble and impossible to get the temperature between freezing and scalding, which was not good as there is not much worse than long haul flying for making you feel completely, well, disgusting. But we managed to get clean, or, well, clean-er and made our way to the courtyard for the first of many local beers with our new "brothers and sisters" for the week. James called us all "brothers and sisters" as because of the Chinese one-child policy, he never had any siblings growing up. Bless!

The Tsing Tao local brew loosened tongues somewhat, and while DP headed to the table with the lads to do some boy-bonding, I went to a table with some of the girls where I quickly found several like minded lovers of innuendo and dirty jokes and soon we were competing with the locals for loud laughter. We had our trek briefing for the day ahead, and met our trek doctor Nina who extolled the many virtues of alcohol hand gel and blister plasters.

The night was tough - while we went to sleep straight away, the cicadas started up their chorus in the wee hours and I could not get back to sleep. I dreaded the first day's trekking on only a few hours on top of all the flying, but there were many of us in the same bleary-eyed boat, faces white against our red Scope T-shirts as we trudged through for breakfast. Breakfast was odd, to say the least - the Chinese seem to make their bread very sweet, which was a little strange with the fried eggs and sausage. Having travelled in Asia a fair bit before, it all had the familiar smell and taste of the Asian versions of Western food, which looks like Western food and yet has that distinctively Asian flavour. I made a mental note to seek out the Chinese breakfast when I could do. At least the fresh watermelon was lovely.

Our first day's trekking took us to Mutianyu, where James informed us that this was our "warm up day". One of our members, personal trainer Lloyd, took us through a warm up, of some stretches and general doing of silly bouncy things, much to the amusement of some locals. He earned himself the nickname "Terminator" for his so called "light warm ups" but more later about how he was eventually terminated....

"Warm up Day" once we got to the wall, consisted of steps, steps, and more steps. We climbed 16 watchtowers, and at the end tackled the "Oh My God" steps - 450 damn near vertical steps climbing up to the final tower, but it was so misty that day we couldn't see a thing! The vertigo sufferers had their first challenge of the day coming down those, and we were all glad to stop for lunch, though I have to say another thing that the Chinese cannot do is sandwiches. For the love of God, stick to the rice and noodles! We can deal with not eating bread for a week, I think they have this idea that it's all we eat here!

The descent from the wall on Day One was a luge, in other words a big metal slide running down the mountain, where you sat in little dodgem kart type things with a stick in between your legs (oo-er missus) that either made it go or stop. The boys were discouraged from playing bumper cars by Fiona, whose inner teacher came out complete with wagging finger, but of course, like boys, they didn't listen. The Chinese also don't really do health and safety, and I did have a "whaaaaaat" moment when I got on to this little plastic thing and held on to my stick and realised that there wasn't really much keeping me on this thing.....but hey, I'd paid my 40 yuan and didn't know the Chinese for refund, so off we go....a few "oh shits" later and I was thoroughly enjoying it, and would gladly have walked the wall again just for another luge ride!

Our first taste of haggling came at the market at the bottom, where DP secured himself a "I Climbed the Great Wall" T-shirt for 20 yuan for himself and one of the other guys, and was pretty chuffed with his bargaining skills until one of the others announced he got one for 10 yuan (about £1). It was here that we also got our first taste of Chinese public toilets, and the Art of Squatting and Aiming. A few of the girls had bought "she-wees" which are meant to allow women to pee standing up, but most chickened out of using them, and I don't blame them because one of the reasons I didn't get one was Overflow Fear - peeing into a plastic funnel just doesn't seem right, and what if you pee quicker than the thing can empty? Mess! I think we just need to accept that we are not men, and we don't have the appendages to pee standing up. End of.

Day One of trekking also happened to be DP's birthday. I had been organised and brought his card out with me, and in the evening, our Chinese crew had organised a birthday cake for him and got all the trekkers to sign a picture of where we had trekked as a birthday card. Of course, he was bought more than a few birthday beers, but what better way to spend your birthday than trekking one of the most amazing sights the world has to offer, among people who were rapidly becoming good friends.

That night, we slept peacefully, having been donated some earplugs by some of our charitable co-trekkers. Trekkers 1, Cicadas 0.

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Belated Bloggy Award Acceptance

It's official! My Blog is Swank!

Thank you to the amazing dragonflymama for bestowing this upon my humble blog! You're not so bad yourself, dontcha know! I do apologise for my lateness in accepting and passing on this award, you thought I'd forgotten now didn't you!

So....in time honoured blogging tradition, time for me to pass this award on to three other blogs that I think are particularly noteworthy, and of course, fabulously Swank!

First award goes to that very swanky feline.....The Smirking Cat!
I love her mix of heartfelt honesty and kitty anecdotes, and her sense of humour so sharp that she could be an honorary Brit!

Second award goes to the lovely and swanky Eyes Wide Open.
Apart from the fact that I love the art on this blog, I love how laid bare and honest she is, with of course more than a sprinkling of wry humour.

And last but not least, my third award goes to the uber-swanky Tool Box Girl
Peggy is an inspiration to me on my quest for stepmotherly wisdom, she has an unfailingly positive attitude and an arsenal of fabulous tools (hence her Tool Box moniker) to help us on the way. Reading her blog is like my daily dose of therapy!

There are countless blogs that I love, and I wish I could give an award to you all, but I'm on here in my lunch break so unfortunately I can't keep going, or my boss might start to get suspicious and ask me what exactly reading blogs have to do with IT Support...well, maintaining my sanity of course!

I have begun to piece together my musings from China and will be putting China Part 1 up very soon...

Love you all - Mwah!

Monday, 28 September 2009

Long Time, No Blog

Yes, fellow bloggers, I know it's been a while. I couldn't believe it myself when I saw my last post was on 31st August! Whaaat....

But shortly after that, things went spectacularly downhill. I was rejected for promotion at work, things with SD and the BM continued being difficult, and things at work got more manic, and seemingly nastier, although I'm sure that was partly my perception of it, because I was so devastated at the prospect of remaining in the job indefinitely with no prospect of any change. It became an odd but lethal cocktail of boredom mixed with intense pressure, and it eventually resulted in a massive 3am meltdown, DP pretty much marching me to the doctor and the doctor signing me off with stress until I was due to go on the China trip, from which I have now just returned.

The 8 days I was off work, plus the trip to China gave me a lot of chance for contemplation about where I am, what I'm doing and why. Suffice to say, I don't really know what I'm doing in that job, other than earning money and paying bills, going through the motions and taking shit from people who think their computer problems amount to the dawn of Armageddon. Surely, no job and no amount of money is worth crying for 3 hours in the middle of the night because you can't switch your head off enough to sleep for dreading the day ahead? I also read Oliver James's Affluenza, which was enough to remind me that no, it is not worth it, and that life is not meant to be like this. The more you earn, the more you want. The more you get trapped into thinking that if only you could afford this car or this TV, you'd be happy. But you get them, and a short time later there's a new model and yours is no longer the best....so you want the next one.

Don't be alarmed, fellow bloggers, I'm not about to pack it all up and go live in a caravan, turn Freegan and go dumpster diving. But it is time to make some changes in Wicked Steppie world, and I look forward to sharing those with you all over the next few days as I try and write about my incredible experience trekking the Great Wall of China with some of the most fantastic people I could ever wish to meet (including of course my own beautiful DP) and some of the things that I've learned about myself and about life over the past few weeks. I'm not sure I've processed it all quite enough to write about it just yet.

I have to warn you though, this is not going to contain any major revelations about how to deal with stepmotherhood. The Great Wall held no mystical secret answers on that front, and when we got back yesterday, and DP phoned SD, I still felt the familiar bubble of annoyance when the first thing she asked was "did you get me a present?" and "what are we doing at the weekend?" expressing disappointment when DP told her that we had only just got back and nothing was planned as yet. But, SD is a product of a typical Western upbringing where being materially spoilt is the norm, and I can't really blame her for that, though I do feel sad that sometimes, she looks at us with pound signs and not love in those wide blue eyes. Would she want to come to us if we couldn't afford the horse riding lessons, the new bike for Christmas, the trip to the cinema? I am not so sure that she would, and I don't think DP is either, which is why until now he has ensured that SD remains pretty indulged, and it's sad that the poor kid can't separate the spending of money and love. For her, the two are inextricably intertwined.

Monday, 31 August 2009

Dig Deep for Victory

DP and I have spent most of the bank holiday weekend trying to sort out this allotment plot that we took on. As I mentioned in another post, we took this plot on last year, but didn't quite know the amount of work that we were letting ourselves in for. The soil is stony, weeds flourish in no time, and I don't know what was there before but we are digging all sorts of stuff out of there including bits of an old toilet. Go figure.

We started off enthusiastic, as most do. But it tailed off, and as the weeds grew, our enthusiasm waned. We spent less time up there, and did less when we did go up. The whole task just started to seem too daunting. No matter what we did, the weeds came back in a matter of days. It's a wonder we got anything out of there really, but we did, when we pulled back the weeds, see that the onions and squash plants had actually done really well.

This weekend, we hired a mechanical digger to dig the plot over again, we've dug in some horse manure and the plan is to cover it over so that the weeds don't come through and we can, bit by bit, uncover and dig beds and paths and so on after the winter. We've strimmed back the overgrowing grass and weeds, DP and my
Dad have mainly done the digging, me, my Dad and SD have harvested the remaining potatoes and SD and I have picked stones out of the newly dug soil and raked the manure over it. Just a quick note on the manure - when we took SD for her horse riding lesson on Saturday, DP and I stood on a mighty mound of horseshit and shovelled no less than 20 bags of steaming poo. Yummy....

DP is now in the bath soaking his aches and pains after the weekend's work. SD has gone home to BM and the Hatchet Face, they insisted on having her home at 9am this morning, on a bank holiday no less. Not one extra minute is allowed any more. Oh, and by the way, we put the clothes BM wanted back in one of those Bags for Life, not a binbag! And I'm contemplating the allotment, and the fact that this year we are going to actually have to put more than a halfhearted effort in. We have been spinning too many plates this year to actually be able to concentrate on any one thing properly. I think it's time to get back to basics and figure out what it is that we want to focus on. DP and I both enjoy working outdoors, and we like the idea of growing our own, and being that little bit more self sufficient. But it takes work, and commitment, and it means that you have to be disciplined and devote time to it, or, like this year, it quickly gets overgrown and you can't see your veg for the weeds.

Things between DP and I are a little strained at the moment for various reasons and with all the dramas relating to SD/BM, I think the veg of our relationship might be buried under weeds at the moment. Pleasing each other and seeking out each other's company has certainly taken a back seat of late, that's for sure. And like visiting the allotment when you know it's going to be covered in nettles, reconnecting with one another when it's been tough isn't always the easiest thing to do, so sometimes it feels easier to stay away and stay busy doing other things. But that only makes the carpet of weeds grow thicker, and it's harder to see where the good stuff is, or was, or maybe you're even afraid to peel back the thicket of weeds in case the good stuff has all withered and died underneath. The bio-mama-drama certainly does choke the life out of everything around it sometimes, that's for sure.

I just hope that we can do a little work to find each other again, with our trip to China coming up soon, and that it won't take the same amount of effort to get back on track that it did to get that allotment back to a usable state. Like everything else, relationships need nurture, care, and effort, and it's not enough simply to abide in the same house side by side when both of you have your mind on other things. We've got to find a way back to each other somehow, and stop this ongoing crap with BM having the ability to drive us apart and make us forget why we are both here. An embargo on discussing her would be a start I think - she's had far more airtime over the last few weeks than either of us would like. Instead, I think we need to talk more about anything that ISN'T anything to do with her, actually. I have a feeling that our best inoculation against her is to concentrate on anything but - in other words, our future and the things that we want to achieve as a couple, as just us for once.

Friday, 28 August 2009

The Binbag Kid

SD turned up this weekend with 2 binbags full of clothes that have gone from ours to BM's over the last few months. BM's latest edict is that SD is to come back in exactly the clothes she came to us in from BM, and that none of her clothes are to stay at ours, and none of our clothes are to go to hers, apart from school uniform.

Well, I guess this means that less of SD's half decent stuff will get chewed up by BM's feral dogs, and we have an excuse to offload all the horrid chavvy "Golddigga" stuff back to BM.

I just felt so sorry for her when I saw her dragging the binbag of clothing in from the car. She looked so unhappy - all her stuff in there, basically any reminder that SD has a life with us has been ejected from BM's house, and the two lives forced to be completely separate. And of course, the whole life-in-a-binbag is a big sign from the BM that she thinks that her daughter's life here is trash that she wishes she could just throw away for good.

She mentions her mother cautiously now, looking for any sign from us that we are going to reciprocate the trench warfare that BM is now engaged in. But we will not. We sympathised when SD told us BM's beloved car had been stolen (although secretly thinking, boy, aint Karma a bitch) and that as a result, she hadn't been able to get to her allotment to care for her chickens and had had to give them away. We let her talk about what she's been doing all week. What kind of life would it be for her if she wasn't allowed to do this and she was constantly having to watch herself in case some reference to Mum slipped out? We could not do this to her. Much as I have a thorough distaste for the woman, BM is still SD's mother, and she won't get another one of those. I just hope that we will do enough to show her that just because one side decides to play dirty, doesn't mean that the other immediately has to follow suit.

BM and the Hatchet Face are now on permanent alert for any minor transgressions from us, and they are upping the ante with all these rules so much now that they are making it more and more likely that something will go wrong - will SD come home in a pair of socks that aren't from BM's? She won't have put the wrong pair of socks on by mistake of course, this will be us trying to get one over on them, us DELIBERATELY waging sock-war, we will of course have thrown her rightful pair of socks away, or something of the kind, and sent her back in these just to spite them. Sure, because we don't have full time jobs to worry about or anything, we just spend all our time thinking up elaborate plans to one-up the BM....

See this is the trouble. Because they care so much about this stuff, they automatically think that we do, and that we will be keen to engage in this charade of subterfuge and skirmish. They could not actually conceive that all we wish for is for SD to be able to move freely between the two homes, love both parents and both sets of step-parents, without remorse or guilt, and for everyone to, if not get on with one another, at least be able to show some degree of civility. If we ever express these sentiments, it is not seen as being genuine, but some kind of game-plan or strategy. But this is a CHILD'S LIFE that is being played with as though it is some kind of war-game! SD is not a pawn, she is not a trump card, she is not the spoils of battle - she is a human being. Why is it that the one person who professes to love her more, and better than everyone else in her life, is the one person who cannot see how much she is hurting, and thinks it's OK to stand her child on the street in the rain surrounded by binbags to wait for her father to pick her up.

Thursday, 27 August 2009

My Car Smells Like Feet (and other tales of procrastination)

It is undoubtedly true that I am a master of the art of procrastination when it comes to certain things of the life-administration variety.

Filing my paperwork is one of them. I hate doing it, and so it piles up and up on all available surfaces, and I kid myself that piling it up is a form of ordering it, so it kinda counts. I have a mammoth pile of it to do this weekend, and I really have to not put it off any longer.

DP and I also play the game of "Bathroom Cleaning Chicken". Anyone who has ever shared a house with a bloke knows that we never win. DP would say that I have the annoying bathroom habits, like leaving my make-up on the side of the sink in the morning, and forgetting, when I have used up the loo roll, to replace it. But we know that man-bathroom-habits top ours in the gross stakes. DP is nearly 34 years old, and he still can't aim that thing right. And don't get me started on the not cleaning the sink post-shaving.

Other favourite targets for procrastination in our house are, predictably, the ironing pile, descaling the kettle, and defrosting the fridge. It's meant to stay cold, isn't it? Surely turning it off is anathema to it's natural function?? And let's not mention the subject of the allotment plot we rented, started out enthusiastically earlier in the year, and then let it get overrun with weeds....it's amazing that we have had anything from it really, but at least we've managed to grow a few potatoes among the nettles.

This weekend is a bank holiday weekend and largely needs to be spent confronting our procrastinations head on, and actually doing some of these less palatable tasks that we have put off the last few weeks in favour of doing more fun stuff. The allotment needs digging over ready for the winter, we need to go up to the riding stables and bag up a load of horse manure ready for digging into the soil so we might have something plantable next year. Not sure I'll get round to descaling the kettle, but the game of Bathroom Chicken does need to be decided at some point this weekend too. Maybe we could do "Paper, Rock, Scissors".

By far the thing I am looking forward to the least, however, is addressing the state of my car. I realised today when I got in it at the end of the day that it does actually smell like stinky feet, which is distinctly unappealing. And then there's the collection of parking meter tickets fading and curling on the dashboard, the boot that's covered in streaks of mud and chain oil from when I've thrown my bike in there. My windscreen is covered in a layer of grease on the INSIDE, now that's disturbing! So this weekend, I need to wash and clean my car.

I don't know quite why I am so averse to doing it, or why the task of cleaning my car makes me cross. I guess I just see it as a chronic waste of time, and that I could be doing much better things - I've always figured, if my car works mechanically, then it doesn't matter if I haven't cleaned it for months, right? It still does what it says on the tin, and the birds have to have somewhere to shit. But, when even YOU don't like getting in your own car, it's time to bite the bullet and get out the Auto-Glym.

I think it's because the idea of actually planning to use my precious leisure time to clean my car, instead of going out until 3am and sleeping til 3pm and having a vodka for breakfast, makes me realise the uncomfortable fact that I am officially No Longer Young. All those people I used to laugh at as I staggered home from the pub at 8am on a Sunday morning as they carried buckets of soapy water out into their driveways - oh my God, I am now you. On Sunday morning, or whenever I get up and schlep out to do the deed, I will stand there with my buckets and probably watch some panda-eyed students wobble home while shaking my un-hungover head and tutting. I.Am.So.Freaking.Old.

Ah well...maybe SD will be up for making some pocket money on Sunday and I won't have to clean the car after all. Stepkids have to be useful for something, and she will probably be more preoccupied with the smell of money than the smell of feet.

Saturday, 22 August 2009

When you get it wrong

Firstly, I'm going to apologise for my posts having been on such a downer lately.

Unfortunately, it's not been happy times this week, either in the steposphere or otherwise. After some umming and ahhing, SD did come over this weekend and we got to find out some (I fear only a fraction) of what's been going on the past 2 weeks.

Turns out that Hatchet Face Granny's blowout was partly because the Social Services have been round to BM's. Apparently there have been no less than 12 complaints made about her. We, of course, have got the blame. OH HAS gone to them with concerns in the past, but not recently. Of course, the finger was easily pointed at us, because of what SD went back and said to Hatchet Face about us saying she isn't keeping clean at BM's. I suppose given that we have expressed those concerns about the, ahem, quality of BM's parenting, it might be a reasonable assumption that it was us, but it wasn't. No use telling them that though, would be an utter waste of time, they wouldn't believe us, and anyway, the fact is DP's quite pleased that the authorities are taking an interest, and he plans to ring them on Monday and get the details of what's going on. If it concerns his child, he's got a right to know. We know SD has been interviewed, but we did not wish to press her for any details, as it seems the last two weeks have been very distressing for her. BM has been on angry rants about us several times a day, putting a LOT of emotional pressure on the poor kid, and we are mud with Hatchet Face too. SD is banned from even mentioning our names with them. We told her that nothing's changed with us, that she can talk about BM or Granny if she wants to, that she can talk to us about anything she wants, we won't get angry with her or shout at her to shut up (OK, I really HATE hearing about BM this and BM that, but I am not going to tell a ten year old she cannot mention her own mother).

There's a bit though that I have to confess to here. I messed up with something, and that, while not the main cause of the troubles, has certainly added fuel to the fire and upset SD. It seems she overheard part of a conversation that I had with my friend one of the days she was with us, and I didn't know she had been there listening. DP and SD had just had an argument, in front of my friend, about her having a bath when she got home. SD was telling DP she didn't want or need a bath and why does she have to, Mum doesn't make her. My friend and I walked off to go to the loo, and my friend asked me what all that was about while we were in there. I gave her the Cliff Notes version - that BM thinks it's OK for her not to wash for days on end and that she'd started to suffer from BO as a result so we were really trying to get it into her head that she needs to keep herself clean as she's approaching puberty. And - I may have slipped in a comment about thinking that BM is a sub-standard parent as well. Unbeknownst to me, SD came in the bathroom while we were in there and heard it. She was upset, and she told Hatchet Face when she got dropped home that I was calling her smelly to my friends and slagging her mother off to everyone.

DP talked to her about this and poor SD said that she'd been upset, and embarrassed that other people outside the family had been told about her not washing at BM's and she KNEW full well that telling Granny Hatchet Face would get me in trouble - which was what she wanted at the time. However, SD did not know that the social services had been in touch, and that it would escalate in the way it has done.

I feel just awful that I let my anger towards BM get the better of me and SD heard me speak this way about her. I wanted to apologise to her, but DP said she didn't want me to be told that she'd done this as she was afraid I'd be mad at her. But - I'm the adult here, and I'm the one who should have been more discreet, or at least more careful there were no little ears around. I feel that I've let SD down and that she's seen a nasty side of me that I really would have preferred she didn't see. DP has done some damage limitation on my behalf, saying that I wouldn't have said anything to be nasty, but that I love her very much and I would have said it because I was concerned for her, that we both are concerned, we want her to be happy, safe and healthy and we worry sometimes that her mum doesn't always do the things that as a parent, she should. DP told me that SD said "I wish that Mum was more like you and Wicked Steppie". Bless. He's tried to discuss with her as well that if we do ever say anything that she doesn't like, or doesn't understand why we said it, then she should ask us - we won't be cross, we'll explain things, and that adults get it wrong sometimes too so if we say things that upset her, she needs to say so. Boy, did I get it wrong on this occasion. I have to say, DP is not my number one fan right now, and I'm not really surprised.

But one thing you have to do when you get it wrong in life is LEARN from it. I realise that I allowed the red mist to descend, and that I let being angry at the BM for being such a slack-arsed parent get in the way of doing and saying what was best for SD. In doing so, I feel that perhaps I was no better than BM herself, but the difference between her and me is that I will learn and do things differently in future. It's sad that BM's had no wake up call from the visit from the Social Services, and that all she's done is use it as a reason to be more angry with us instead of look at herself and focusing on being a better mum. I wish she would do that instead of blaming everyone else for her problems, because in the long run, it won't help her and it won't help the child who is getting more and more stressed out with all this conflict.

The other thing that I have learned from this, is that the bonds between SD and I that have been built over the last couple of years, are actually stronger than I realised. I had a view of them as being tenuous, and easily broken by a few choice manipulative words from BM. I know she won't stop loving her Dad, but who is Wicked Steppie after all - just Dad's girlfriend, no relation, no long history with her - I figured I was easily dispensed with and no big loss to her. But this is the first time that we've actually hurt each other, and that those bonds have been under any kind of test, so to come out the other side and for her to sit happily with me this morning laughing and putting sparkly nail polish on, I've realised that the bonds are stronger than I ever knew, and that we've survived. She doesn't know that I know this, but DP told me that she'd said to him yesterday that she still loved me. Knowing that despite my faux pas, she was still able to say that meant the world. And I'm able to say that I still love her too, and that silently, we've forgiven one another.

I might have got it wrong this time, but it seems like I've got it right often enough for the scales to balance. Not such a wicked stepmother after all, perhaps....and I am still very useful for shopping!

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Meltdown in spectacular style

This morning, I woke up with a banging headache. When I stood up, I got a wave of nausea, nearly lost my balance, and then went off to the bathroom to talk to God down the big white phone. My old friend the migraine was back.

Pounding head, my eyes started to go funny....I had to text my boss and tell him I couldn't go to work. I have sumatriptan, from the doctor, but it takes a while to kick in and while it relieves the pain, it still leaves me tired, drained and sometimes dizzy.

It was then I just started to panic. My heart started to race and I felt my chest cavity closing in and the room starting to spin. It was as if everything just started to come crashing down. I am, at this moment in time, completely overwhelmed by everything that's going on. I feel like I have very little escape from sources of stress, and it all just piled on at the same time.

I was worried as well about work, because they aren't exactly sympathetic when you're ill or stressed or have difficulties in your life. They like to keep piling the work on, and just thinking that you will magic extra time in the day to get it all done. My manager is also fond of the really helpful phrase "Just get it sorted" when he comes to you at 15 mins before home time with an urgent job that you don't even know how to do. I don't feel that anyone really supports us, or cares that we are firefighting all the time. We are just expected to suck whatever it is up and get on with it. We've asked for an extra staff member, a junior or something to help field the calls, and take care of little things like when people forget their passwords to stuff, but this is apparently too much to ask, they are hiring right left and centre in other areas but we don't get any help. I've also got a, ahem, debate on my hands with the HR dept right now, which is always fun. I got called out on Sunday night just after I'd gone to sleep as well, and I slept like shit last week so I've been tired as hell.

If you mix a stressful and conflict-ridden job with a stressful step-situation at home, you kinda tend to feel like there's nowhere to run. The walls are, literally, closing in.

Ugh. I haven't got much positivity for the blogosphere today! But - when in the midst of another attack I decided to make bread, so that I'd at least have the kneading to do with my hands to calm me down. It did help, and I bet DP won't be unhappy to come home to a fresh loaf!

Monday, 17 August 2009

Why Dogs Are Great (and better than stepchildren)

So life is sucking right about now in Wicked Steppie Land. There's a million and one things I could go into, trust me - it all seems to have hit the fan at once.

But I don't really want to turn this blog into a whinging platform. I deal with enough whingers at work. IT Support is not a job you should ever do if, like me, you have a low tolerance for whingers. You'd think the sky had fallen in when they call up to tell you that something is not working. And by the way, what exactly does whining "It's not working" tell me about the exact problem in hand? "Not working" can mean anything from the computer won't switch on to a bunch of psychotic monkeys just raided the office and trashed all the PC's. You ask them to tell you some simple details - such as "is there an error message?" and they sigh, and huff and puff and say "Can't someone just come over?" Well, sure. I don't have anything else to do, it's not like I'm sitting here with a massive list of IT problems just like yours to fix or anything, so why don't I just pause my game of Solitaire and wander on over to your desk just because you can't be arsed to take a screen shot and email it? And the great irony is, by the time they have finished righteously complaining about why they are Far Too Busy to provide you with this simple piece of information, you could actually have had it fixed if they had Just Co-operated. And then, by the end of the call, it's YOU that gets labelled "unhelpful"! Oh, and never tell a middle manager that their request to have their screen saver changed might just not be as important as the server crash that's just brought down critical systems and you might need to ask them to wait a few minutes while you try and make sure the company doesn't lose a couple of million quid. Yes, I'll put your lovely picture of flying ducks on your screen while I call in the tribe of psycho monkeys to come fix the servers, numbnuts. I hope the flying ducks shat on your head as you took that picture.

Oooooops, I said I wasn't going to turn this into a whingefest. FAIL.

So anyway....as I was saying, one thing I didn't want to do was write on here every day about life in the suckosphere. I actually don't really enjoy that, and it makes me feel bad that anyone who has made the effort to click the link and read the blog has to read a big outpouring of negativity. So today, I wanted to write about the one thing in the day that actually made me smile. That was, coming home from a stinking day at work and being greeted by my two happy slobbery waggy-tailed mutts. Hey, it was the first time someone today has been happy to see me!

Dogs are great. Until I moved in with DP, I had never owned a dog, but I became "stepmum" to his cross collie Poppy when I moved into his place. 8 months later, we adopted our beloved cross Rottweiler Bertie (formerly known as Beethoven, but who wants to shout that across the park) as company for Poppy, as she was suffering separation anxiety. Well, she got company alright - an annoying little brother (though MUCH bigger in size)! Bertie is a real mummy's boy, he no longer realises that he is not a little pup any more and still fond of trying to bounce on to mummy's lap - ouch!

So here are my top reasons why doggies rock, and why I'm afraid I have to say that I like being doggie-mama far better than step-mama!

1. Dogs will always be pleased to see you
2. You can tell a dog off and they won't sulk for the rest of the week or go to their other owner and try and get a different response.
3. Dogs don't talk back. Nor can they understand other dogs, or humans, telling them not to like somebody or not to do what they say.
4. Dogs know their place. And are much easier to train than children.
5. Dogs will defend you when someone tries to hurt you, not join in.
6. Dogs are pretty easily pleased with a bone and a pat on the head. They don't have any awareness of trends or how much anything costs. Did a dog ever care if the collar was Gucci?
7. Dogs mean you HAVE to go out and exercise every day, no excuses.
8. Dogs are good judges of character. My dogs growl when they see BM. 'Nuff said.

There are a few drawbacks however. Here are some of those.

1. Having to pick up dog poo in a placky bag which always seems to happen just as that cute guy you keep seeing in the park walks past. Ah well, he's probably a flasher anyway.
2. Clothes and house permanently covered in hair
3. Bathing dogs gets you wetter than them.
4. Dogs pee when they're scared. Be afraid for your carpets in a thunderstorm.
5. Difficult to go away spontaneously, hard to find places that will take dogs. This also applies to renting property if you have dogs for many of the above reasons, landlords are not too keen.
6. Ticks. UGH.
7. Dog farts absolutely stink and are bound to happen when you have dinner guests.

If you're a dog lover, feel free to add your own!

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Suspending the self-obsession

Inspired by the lovely Georgina at Dad's Second Whatever I have decided to take a break from blogging about Moi today in favour of the greater good!

The daily grind does reduce your enthusiasm for championing social issues, I find. Because sometimes, life does feel like one giant social issue. But it's worth remembering, sometimes, how comparatively lucky we are. And the following three organisations are being put up on my blog as a reminder of that.

Scope is a UK charity working with children and adults suffering from cerebral palsy. They are passionate campaigners for disability equality, through the "Time to Get Equal" campaign and help as many people as they can with the disease to live a full life, achieve independence and focus on their abilities not their disabilities, and they also support the families and carers of sufferers. DP and I are off to China in September in fact, to walk the Great Wall in aid of this charity and so far we have raised over £3000 this year. DP's mum is a sufferer, so this cause is close to his heart. I visited Scope HQ in London back in May and was completely blown away by the energy and enthusiasm of the team there. There was real commitment, real passion, these were not just people doing an everyday job to pay the piper.

Seedlings for Christ is the charity run, among others, by the fabulous Jojo at
Tapa Lapa of Life Sponsoring children in Gambia, the organisation aims to give the next generation hope for the future in making sure they can go to school and get an education. Now, I'm not religious in the slightest, but I think where those who are use it to put their beliefs in action and create a better world, it rocks supremely. Just a little look at the community that the charity helps in Gambia reminded me that so many people in this world do not have the things that we take for granted - plentiful food, access to education - and that we really are privileged here. It's a shame that we are so greedy in the Western world, because if we shared just a little more of what we have, no child need die in poverty and misery again. Jojo - hats off to you and your church. We need more people like you in the world.

This one is also for my DP. Mankind is a UK charity who help men suffering from domestic abuse. When my DP was going through this, yes, at the hands of the BM, he had nowhere to turn because all the help was directed towards women. Mankind run a helpline and refuge for men, they fund research into domestic violence and aim to help end the stigma surrounding men who suffer from this either from their female or male partners. They also support the education of boys and young men so that they neither become abusers nor victims. I won't go into the horrific things that happened to DP, but he is not exceptional I'm afraid. The fact is that anyone of any gender can be abused, and anyone can be an abuser.

Sometimes it does us some good to remind us of the REALLY sucky stuff that's going on out there. I had felt that my week had sucked pretty royally so far, but I can't really compare a run in with some irate chav granny, being accused of telling my stepchild she has BO, not making the cut for a sports team and being a bit skint to having no money to send my children to school, living in fear of abuse or living every day with a disability that made everyday life 100 times harder.

So today, I am being grateful. Grateful for my liberty, that clean water comes out of my tap, and thankful for the life I have been given, for whatever reason, whether by accident or design. And perhaps a little bit more motivated to consider these things a little bit more often as a privilege and not an entitlement.