Stubbornness isn’t strength.

As I’ve said previously I’m great at martyrdom. Even when my arms are burning from carrying heavy shopping I won’ t hand the bags over, I’ll grit my teeth and say “no, no, I’m fine.”

Stubbornness is my MO, it always has been, it’s in my birth sign (Taurean), my DNA (my mother can make my stubborn streak look more like a stubborn speck) and its in my nationality (the great British stiff upper lip). Therefore it should be no surprise that my stubbornness spills into my reaction to ill health.

I’m the annoying colleague who spreads my germs around the workplace rather than stay home with a Lemsip. I’m the person who will furrow my brow or rub my temples but decline your offer of a headache pill. I allow chest infections to become pneumonias before visiting my GP and once even had my manager put me to bed at work (I was a nurse) and busy himself with emptying my vomit bowls. I’m sure you get the picture by now, I struggle through.

Don’t get me wrong I love a good moan, I’m just not big on actually doing anything to change the situation. This is quite common in chronic illness, especially chronic pain, we normalise the symptoms. We don’t like them but we don’t do anything about the necessarily.

The first change I had to concede to came on my wedding day. I had bought the most beautiful shoes. Bought them well before we set a date. They were very sparkly, they were tattoo themed (very important given how much of my skin is adorned), they have been imported from America at ridiculous cost and they were high, very high.  Initially I thought I’d get round the height of the heels by only wearing them for the photographs or perhaps for the ceremony, but not the party afterwards. A week from the wedding I realised that my foot wouldn’t even bend in to a position to put the shoes on without being in extraordinary amounts of pain.  I had to relent. I had no choice. I spoke to my friend and I managed to borrow a gorgeous pair of silver and white Dr Marten boots. I made them my ‘something borrowed’.

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Another friend managed to lend me a cane so I could be a social butterfly at my after wedding drinks.  We had a perfect day as every bride should. I manage to stay free from pain until after the vows had been said. I pushed through the pain later in the afternoon with help of opiates and champagne. I was floating on air.

The next morning was a very different story; I was in agony, I could hardly move, barely walk. I couldn’t hide the fact that I was in a lot of pain no matter how hard I tried to blush my way through it. That was the first time I used the disabled toilet; asking the staff for the key as I simply couldn’t face the stairs down to the regular able-bodied toilets. I hadn’t quite planned on actioning the in sickness and in health part of our vows this early on in our marriage. I was basically bedbound for three days. Quite the honeymoon.

My husband and I shuffled things as much as we could. We asked for favours, switched round shifts I did everything we could to minimise my activity. It was all very makeshift, very ‘keep calm and carry on’ we just had to get things done until my pain and immobility passed.  Except it didn’t. If anything I was getting worse, not better and it all came to a head just before half term.

My son had a birthday party at friend’s house on the other side of town. It wasn’t much further than the usual school run but was still quite a long way. My husband dropped him off before having to go to work,  I was sure I’d be able to collect him. I hadn’t even gone a quarter of a mile before I realised that the pain in my legs wasn’t going to relent. But I’m stubborn, I thought I was strong and I could keep going. About halfway there and I started crying. The pain was too much. I couldn’t keep going. But I had to.  I felt so embarrassed, how could my legs be just not working? I’m 35 years old and used to walking around 6 miles a day, this was ridiculous. What if someone saw me? I needed to man up, I needed to collect my son. I wiped my tears just before I got to the house, I’d made it. As the birthday girl’s mum answered the door she could clearly see I was in pain. She looked at my stick and said “You didn’t walk here did you? You should’ve said, I’d have dropped him off. Do you need a lift home?” I burst into tears again. I did need a lift, I accepted graciously and something inside my head clicked into place; I wasn’t getting better and I couldn’t walk without significant pain and difficulty, and without then being housebound for at least a couple of days.

I knew then that I had thinking to do and decisions to make.

Out of the mouth of babes

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I’ve had two encounters over the last week which made me wonder about how we are raising our children and whether we will ever achieve equality when children get indoctrinated with gender normative messages. 

Now I should insert a disclaimer: I’m not a great feminist, I’m more a feminish. I find a lot of the doctrine a bit tiresome, militant people in general scare me and I am comfortable in very traditionally ‘female’ roles: nurse, mother, cook. Before you shout at me I don’t believe that women should be anything other than what they choose, I don’t believe anyone should be anything other than what they choose to be. I believe in humans being human in whichever way they see fit. Ok. We got that? Right, I’ll continue.

So on the way back from Beaver Scouts the other day my six year old son is explaining to me how he likes rugby but not football. He then says ‘Do you know how you should throw a rugby ball to a girl? Like this…’ and mimes throwing a ball very softly, says he was told by someone at a bbq. Cue mummy outrage. I explained how girls can be as strong as men. How some are stronger. I explain that you should assess based on size/ability/preference but definitely not gender. He then turns to me and says ‘Some girls are strong, some aren’t, some just don’t want to be and the same for boys, it’s all alright.’ And I then breathe a sigh of relief that my influence on my son has been stronger than society’s.

A few days later my son and nephew are acting all disgusted at ‘girl stuff’. This is a battle I often lose and am torn on, I believe if my son wants to turn his nose up at pink things he can, but I do try and tell him that it’s (once again) nothing to do with gender. This time however it goes a bit further. My nephew comments on how I have ‘boy tattoos’, I am more heavily tattooed then any man he knows and yet he sees them as inherently male. I tried challenging him, I tried asking why he felt like that and he wasn’t sure but he was entirely unchangeable, my tattoos are like a boy, my short hair is like a boy; society has told him that and I cannot sway him.

Why do children have such gender norms? Do they serve a purpose around finding their identity? Or are we just feeding into inequality? I don’t have the answers, I’d like to just let kids be kids. 

Dear JK Rowling…

Oh JK Rowling how did you keep going? I was thinking about this earlier as I printed out my freshly edited manuscript to feel the judgement of my red pen one more time. I thought about the cost of the ink and the paper and wondered what it is that makes me trust that I’m not wasting my time (or the paper or the ink).

I’m a single mother, just as you were. And, just as you were, I am bloody skint. I like writing. I’ve been told I’m quite good at it but I also have my little stack of rejection slips that whisper in my ear that I might not be.

I try to channel Sylvia Plath, use the whole ‘I love my rejection slips, they tell me that I try’ thing as my mantra but then I stop and think that ultimately Sylvia may not be a great role model.

So I look to you Joanne, how did you keep going? How did you have faith that all of the hours of writing and editing would be worth it or did you just have faith in Harry? As I read my manuscript with pen in hand one more time I try to have faith in Grimalkin Grumblepuss, *I* like her. *I* want to go on her adventures. I just need to believe that anyone else will want to.

So Ms Rowling if you have any tips to help me keep the faith please do send them my way. Please help me keep my faith that my effort is not merely a waste of paper and ink. I’d be eternally grateful.

My Son, The Agent…

After spending the afternoon editing my children’s book (Grimalkin Grumblepuss and The Case Of The Vampire Dentures-the blockbuster read for 2015!) my six year old son asked me to read some to him. I read him the first chapter and he listened, rapt. As I finished he was quiet for a few minutes before having a eureka moment: 

I know how you can make it better…

put a front cover, and a back cover on and then fix all of the pages together.

Kids can then read it themselves. They’ll love that.

Who needs a literary agent, eh?!

Kiran’s World of Pooverts

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Ok so I’ve kind of nicked the title from Charlie Brooker’s Weekly Wipe but with good reason, you see I seem to have spawned a child with the same sharp cynicism of Charlie, someone on whom advertising doesn’t work, someone who sees adverts for the big smelly pile of poo they really are; that someone is my son, Kiran and he is just six years old.

When Kiran’s television watching habits changed from the delightfully advert free Cbeebies to commercialtastic Cartoon Network I must say I was worried. I thought we would be entering the world of ‘I want that’ and ‘you should buy this’ but I was pleasantly surprised. Watching Kiran watch adverts is pretty special, he’s like a mixture of angry old man and Abraham Lincoln. He can only speak the truth and he will expose adverts for their lies and he does it beautifully.

Here are my three favourites:

Cillit Bang: The oh so familiar, yet equally obscure, LEGO haired grinning adbot takes to the screen clutching his purple bottle and exclaims: “I’m Barry Scott…” as he does so Kiran’s face contorts with injustice and he shouts at the telly… “NO YOU’RE NOT!” I don’t know how he knows this, maybe he can just spot a liar with the accuracy of a Jeremy Kyle lie detector but ‘Mr Scott’ watch out, Kiran has your number.

Vanish Gold: You wouldn’t think that children would have much interest in stain removal, they seem to be the ones making the mess, not cleaning it. And perhaps if they were to have any reaction you’d think it might be closer to thinking they witnessed sorcery. The advert in question shows Vanish Gold being applied to a host of stains and then put in water as a big gold clock counts down to the thirty seconds in which the advertiser claims they will have gone. And they probably have, I’m not going to dispute it’s efficacy but, er, Kiran does. See, when the clock hits thirty seconds the bits of cloth are still in the water and as it takes some time to take them out of the water Kiran cries fraud. “It’s longer than 30 seconds!” “They haven’t even gone!” “They said it takes 30 seconds but it’s longer and so I don’t even think it works, do you mummy?”. I couldn’t possibly comment.

Some irritating PPI ad: This is the simplest but possibly the best. You know how there is a glut of these generic adverts with generic men telling you the same thing about insurance that you probably didn’t buy. They’re annoying right? Kiran thinks so too. So a man comes onto the screen and announces  “Don’t you know you might be entitled to PPI compensation? Not interested?” and Kiran shouts  “No! I’m a kid!” He doesn’t understand why mummy starts giggling…

It’s not all angry cynicism though, there is the occasional advert that pierces even the most sceptical heart. We were out one day and Kiran starts to sing  “Rice rice baby…Mmmm tasty!” he sings it repeatedly, I ask him to stop. “Why?” he asks  “Because it’s annoying” I reply. “Nope. It’s funny.” Kiran states this like it’s absolute fact, “Dude, it’s a bear singing. What’s not funny about a bear singing?” I have no response, he’s stumped me and Muller Rice you should be proud, you got through to the harshest of critics…

Nicola Sheehan is author of Tiger Tiger

“I love my rejection slips. They show me I try.”

Sylvia Plath is somewhat of a heroine of mine. I have an excerpt from ‘Mad Girls’ Love Song’ tattooed on my forearm. I like to lose myself in her words. I also like to look to her for inspirational quotes.

“I love my rejection slips. They show me I try.”

Is one of my favourites, and one that is uppermost in my mind today.

As well as Tiger Tiger I have another completed book, a children’s book titled ‘Grimalkin Grumblepuss and the Case of the Vampire Dentures.’ I recently submitted it to an agent who I felt was looking for books very similar to Grimalkin. I had high hopes. Yesterday I received the rejection:

“Thank you for giving me a shot with this. It has some lovely points, but when I take a new writer on I have to feel sure I can sell their book well, and I’m afraid I’m not quite there with this.

Of course it’s a subjective business, and another agent may well love.

Best of luck with it.”

It’s one of the nicest rejections I’ve received (trust me on this) and I’m trying to just cling to the positives in it. Though if nothing else it shows me I try.

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Tiger Tiger is available from the Kindle Store at a promotional price of £1.99 http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B00D5EYHAM/ref=cm_cr_mts_prod_img