Monday, 29 March 2010

On parental guilt and virtual strawberries

Right now I should be out fertilising. Or planting soy beans. Or harvesting strawberries. Nope, I haven’t gone all Felicity Kendall Good Lifeish, my son has hauled me onto Farmville.
There are times when I lack all parental willpower whatsoever and this was one of them. ‘Can I join Facebook, Mum?’ said James.
‘Certainly not,’ said I.
‘But Christian is on it.’
‘Well, whoopee for Christian.’

‘I’ve got 50 friends,’ added Christian with discernible pride.

‘Well, I sincerely hope you know all of them personally,’ said I, feeling very grown-up and responsible (quietly nudging aside the fact that I’ve clean forgotten where I picked up half my own friends on Facebook).

‘Well, I know some of them,’ he said.

Oh, for heaven’s sake. I spent the next hour unpeeling all manner of unsavoury looking types from his profile and giving stern warnings about Internet safety.

Once we’d done that, he showed James his farm. Let’s be quite clear here – it’s an online farm, where crops grow in a day and where the sheep line up neatly. I took a quick look and figured it might be educational – as in managing money, taking responsibility, learning cause and effect.

‘So, can I join? Just to play Farmville?’ said James. ‘It’s educational.’ He knows me too well.
I caved.

Of course the reality is that it isn’t remotely educational; it’s darned commercial.
‘What’s PayPal, Mum?’ asked James.
‘What? Why?’
Seems that, if you get impatient and can’t wait for weeks to earn your gold coins (to ‘buy’ your pigs and geese and crops and so on) you can pay REAL MONEY to bypass the boring bits. So I suppose there is an element of reality about it after all.

Of course it wasn’t enough for James to have a reasonable farm, he wanted a darn fine farm. Not content with soliciting my friends for manure and building materials, he sneaked onto my PC and joined me up.

I tell you, it’s stressful. ‘Oh dear, Mum. You didn’t harvest your crops, did you? They’re all dead.’

What? Will someone please tell me why I’m feeling guilty about virtual withered strawberries?

Probably because guilt is every working mother’s middle-name.

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Competitive? No way. I just like being first.

I am beginning to realise how horribly competitive I am. It’s not a nice trait and I wouldn’t even mind if I spent my time being competitive about sensible things. But it’s as though, if I see a list, I have to be at the top of it.

Take Authonomy for example. Put up my book, Walker. Got great feedback, more than enough to fix the book. Could I leave it there? Oh no. ‘I’ll just get into the top 100,’ I thought. Then, ‘Well, maybe the top fifty.’ And so it went until I ended up making my eyes bleed by reading enough books to haul mine into the top five. Was that enough? Nope, had to get the Number One spot. And what for? So an editor at HarperCollins could tell me what a bunch of fellow authors had already said time and time again.

So, when I got a third of the way through my new work in progress, what did I do? Yup, you got it. Bunged it up again. This time I am fighting myself, I really am – I am purposely not pushing it. But the feedback is great. Samael is aimed at the top end of the Young Adult readership. It’s what is now called ‘dark romance’ (you’d better believe it, Waterstones have a whole section devoted to it). In other words, it’s classic Twilight stuff – girl falls in love with boy (except he’s not exactly human). Fear not, there are no vampires and no fallen angels. It’s an interesting genre because basically it straddles both romance and horror (so right up my street).

If you fancy taking a read – you can check it out here.

Meanwhile, Mrs Competitive has discovered there are awards for writers who are also bloggers. Once again, my paw is up there, waving frantically, ‘Pick me! Pick me! Pick me!’ Sad, isn’t it?

Do you think I didn’t get enough recognition as a child? Was I an overlooked adolescent? What makes me want to win so desperately? Even more worryingly is the fact that often I won’t even enter the race because, conversely, I’m too scared of losing.

Ergo, no way would I go in for the mother’s race at school. I won’t enter the squash league and will only play small uncoordinated children (see, this is getting really shameful now, isn’t it?).  I'm still getting over my cupcakes not being picked in English Mum's competition! 

A few days ago, someone told me that Walker was mentioned on the website of a radio station in New Hampshire. I scurried over and found that, yes, there it was – at number two in the chart. And if it got to number one? I’d have the huge honour of having it recorded to be broadcast to the brave listeners. Only thing – I’d have to pay for the privilege. Was I horrified? Did I walk away in disgust? No way. I voted for myself.

Thing is, how far do you let your children know about such unsavoury traits? James goes to a school which believes in ‘healthy’ competition – in that they play competitive sport (though give everyone a bash) and have scores and awards and merits. But I bite my lip and try to be a good liberal parent, not to push, not to urge him to barge his way to the front of the queue. I think that’s right. I hope it’s okay. But then, I figure children make up their own minds. James picks his battles – is furiously competitive in sport but can’t be arsed with academic prowess.

Ah well. Confession is good for the soul and I feel somewhat purged for owning up to my sordid secret. By the way, if you get a chance – do cast a vote for me, won’t you? (you think I’m joking??)

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Coughing wars in the Bonkers House

The Bonkers House has been the House of Sick lately. James and I have been engaging in coughing wars – who can hack loudest, longest and make themselves most dizzy? Seriously, it’s been ghastly. Nobody has been able to hold a decent conversation – it’s always interrupted by a volley of coughing. I wouldn’t mind but we don’t even cough in rhythm.

Consequently we have spent inordinate amounts of time at the doctor’s. I really do lament the passing of our old doctor. He may have been a bit of a bad boy (his local nickname was ‘Dr Love’) and his timekeeping was so erratic that you’d go armed with several books, a thermos and a picnic, but he was seriously good. A qualified homeopath and acupuncturist as well as a GP, he would give whatever he thought necessary. As a mother it was hugely comforting – we avoided massive amounts of antibiotics when James was small because he’d prescribe homeopathic remedies (which worked a treat on ear infections). Yet, if he felt James needed antibiotics, he’d prescribe those. Best of both worlds, to my mind, and ‘integrated medicine’ at its best. Nowadays it seems fashionable to bash homeopathy and I suspect many doctors will cautiously steer clear.

Our new doctors are lovely but nobody offers to pop needles in our toes. My cough turned out to be pretty simple – a nasty chest infection that needed banging on the head with antibiotics. James’, however, is mysterious. The doc thinks it is probably asthma, but I don’t quite see that.

‘Could it be the house?’ I asked. Then had a sudden panic that she would think I was going to start talking about ghosts and feng shui. I quickly explained that we have pretty well knocked the whole thing down and rebuilt it. Was James merely suffering from a severe case of dust?

‘Well, you do Hoover, don’t you?’

Um, yes. Sort of. When the sun shines and it shows up.

‘Of course!’

‘Very unlikely then. Is it damp?’

Is the pope Catholic?

‘Only down in the Area of Doom and we don’t go there.’ Except in pairs to liberate alcohol from the Cellar of Despond.

‘Well, it could be mould.’

Could well be. I reckon we even have rare breeds of lichen lurking down there.

Anyhow, we came home with various potions and puffers and bits of equipment. James is to make a spreadsheet and chart his cough, his air flow, his feelings amid various combinations of drugs. He feels self-important (‘I’ve got TWO puffers – no-one else has got TWO); I feel despondent.

We barely have time to get ready in the morning as it is – add in scientific experimentation and graph-charting and we’ve had it.

I also worry about him having a solid diet of anti-histamines and steroids at age 11. Am I over-reacting? Probably.

But it does feel as though, since we’ve moved here, we have not been a happy healthy bunch. Maybe there really is something nasty in the cellar.