Do they know it’s Christmas?

I’m not really writing a paen to the 1984 classic that – yes – raised funds for famine-stricken families in Ethiopia, despite its questionable lyrics.

Do they know it’s Christmas? Well, actually, yes, given Ethiopia is home to one of the oldest forms of Christianity, although technically, they celebrate Christmas in January, so maybe there is a point to that line, tenuous though it may be.

And there won’t be snow in Africa this Christmas. Ah, well, there you go generalising again, Band Aid. Actually, there is snow – try the Atlas Mountains, Mount Kilimanjaro or the tiny kingdom of Lesotho, but let’s not get carried away. Let’s not break the stereotype and ruin the rhyme.

Anyway, this post really isn’t about the song. It’s more of a question – to all those Christmas promoters out there. Because everywhere I look, Christmas (in the eyes of entertainment and the shops and, well, most people here in the UK) is about booze.

The special Christmas edition of Time Out devotes no less than half (in fact, more than half) of its first 15 feature pages to Christmas piss-ups and the morning after. “[D]rinking hang-over free tequila” murmurs one article, “How to… solve drink dilemmas”, offers another, which isn’t about getting over your addiction but about what to buy for tricky situations.

And once you’ve successfully downed your 24th Irish coffee (drink of choice for those wanting to “avoid your partner’s family realising how much you drink”), and you wake up with your tongue on the toilet seat, not to worry, just turn to p.16 of your handy Time Out guide and you’ll find “Hangover cures, tried and tested”.

It’s not just magazines, either. Walk in to any grocery shop, and you are surrounded by towers of wine, beer and spirits. They look almost beautiful, glinting under the strip-lighting. The overwhelming message is, eat, drink and be merry. Or,  if you’re on a budget, just go straight for the drink and let the merry times begin.

So ubiquitous is all this pseudo cheer, you could be forgiven for expecting the shepherds to turn up at the stable at your church’s crib service, peek into the manger, and find a small keg of Guiness warming gently in swaddling clothes.

No doubt, this is the hardest time of year for recovering alcoholics. Everywhere you look, there it is, your old nemesis, staring you in the face. And every message peddled out there is: go onit won’t feel like Christmas without it.

Ben is staying over for the next few days. We aren’t going anywhere. I’ve had invitations from relatives and friends, but I’ve turned them down. I don’t want to be anywhere where alcohol is being served. Not yet, anyway, and certainly not with Ben.

Tomorrow, we’ll be tucking into our roast duck, and raising a toast with a glass of Belvoir sparkling raspberry juice. There will be board games and walks (if it doesn’t rain), and, of course, gifts. It will be our first Christmas without alcohol.

Happy Christmas.


“A prinses livd in a casl”

a Prinses livd in a casl and she wus tow [two]

and she didnt wunt a bad mum

Rosie brought this “story” home one day. She had drawn a portrait of a girl under a bright yellow sun, and on its reverse were these words. At first, I was proud of her for working out the sentence phonetically – proud, that is, until I got to the end and read the bit about a ‘bad mum’.

Then I was sad, and a little worried. What if they use this as evidence against me? I asked myself, imagining a scene in which Social Services take Rosie away from me on the strength of this, her first attempt at English composition.

Well, we’ve all read the horror stories, haven’t we? The one about the family whose child was taken into care because the parents didn’t feed them junk food (ok, so I read that one in the Metro on the tube – hardly a reliable news source). Still, there are other disturbing stories. Either there is too much intervention or none at all. Social Services appear incapable of treading the middle way, meaning that most people would rather give them a wide berth than approach them for help.

Anyway, this post isn’t about Social Services, although I am meeting the community nurse this week to complete a common application form for Rosie, which will complete her referral to the children and young people’s mental health services.

Typically, this has come a bit late. I have found a number of methods to keep Rosie calm, and her behaviour has improved a bit. We have even had a few mornings where she has successfully managed to dress herself without going into paroxysms of rage and grief.

How did we do it? Through talking about it. We had quite a few abysmal mornings, in which Rosie wept and screamed on the street, in front of our neighbours and commuters. I can still see the tears rolling fatly down her cheeks, and me at the end of my rope, ready to walk away…. sometimes doing just that.

But the last few days, we have had a few quiet successes. You see, some time last week or the week before, I sat Rosie down and explained that her underpants were always going to be a bit uncomfortable. “It’s not going to change,” I said, “so we have to find a way to think about it differently.”

I suggested she distract herself by singing a song while dressing, or by looking at some illustrations in one of her books.

She does this now. She accepts that it isn’t going to change and that she just has to get on with it. “I can’t help it,” she says, but she tries nonetheless. Sometimes she succeeds. This makes her so happy, she skips up the pavement to the bus stop. It makes me happy, too.

We are also using the marble jars – we’ve filled two now, and she has won time with mummy baking gingerbread and time with daddy painting a rocketship. We’ve now moved on to a star chart. Lots of praise, lots of positive reinforcement. I’m trying to see whether helping her believe in herself will help her triumph over this mental block.

I don’t know how long any of this will last for. I am willing to take whatever comes my way, right now, and improvise something new, as and when necessary.

As for being a “bad mum”, I asked Rosie whether she was thinking of me when she wrote her story. Of course she said she wasn’t. “Ok,” I said. “If you say so.”

“I do,” says Rosie. And for a moment, I almost believe her.

Losing our marbles

marble jar system

marble jar system

On Friday I re-introduced the marble jar. Rosie has been acting out, as some of you know, and I have been rather rubbish at finding a way to manage her anger. So, I weather the punches, slaps, bites and insults, until I blow my top and shout back, thus unleashing another cycle of rage and despair.

When I am in the worst stages of PMT (that’s PMS for my Canadian/US readers), it takes me less time to blow my top.

So, on Friday, I re-introduced a reward system. I used a few when Rosie was younger – star charts, a marble jar, that kind of thing. They worked, but eventually, they petered out. I got lazy, I guess. Her recent behaviour has been so poor, however, that I realise it’s high time I get back to them and make a big deal whenever Rosie does something kind or good.

Thus the marble jar. Rosie has constructed an elaborate (all her games are elaborate) system for the marbles which involves the empty shells of a coconut, one Bonne Maman jam jar and an empty Tiptree Preserves jar. The loose marbles are stored in the coconut shell, which sits over the mouth of the Bonne Maman jar. Next to it sits the collecting jar, aka. Tiptree Preserves. On Friday, I promised Rosie a gingerbread man if she managed to fill the whole jar by Sunday.

She did! It should have been called the great marble giveaway – I was so determined she should meet her target so we could make the gingerbread, that I gave her marbles for almost anything.

Brushed her teeth without being told to? That’s one – no two – marbles. Shared a piece of fruit with mummy? That’s one marble. Tidying things away? Another two. Read her book all by herself and wrote a few words phonetically? That has to be five – yes five – marbles.

The largest number of marbles are accrued when the child, in this case, Rosie, dresses herself up without incident and zips up her fleece and coat. This would earn her six marbles, but she didn’t want them. She says she can’t help finding the underpants uncomfortable. She says she can’t zip up her coat or wear her fleece because they bother her.

Today the underpants, although pouffie, are just not right. For several minutes she weeps and says she doesn’t want to go to school. Ben is over and trying to help, but she is distraught. For once, she goes to me. It seems even Daddy isn’t quite good enough. I suspect no one can be when she is this stressed.

She puts on one pair of underpants, a pair of tights, then removes everything and starts again, this time with another pair of underpants. She does this at least five times, but we have a bus to catch. Again, she wails that she can’t go to school. Finally, Ben decides it’s enough and that she is getting dressed. We both help her put on her clothes (she’s back to wearing the first pair of underpants she’d put on in the first place). She is deeply distressed, but we still manage to get her out the door and down to school before the bell goes.

‘Tomorrow, you can’t do this again, do you understand?’ I say, calmly, while we are on the bus. She nods. But come tomorrow, will she remember?


“Mummy doesn’t like me”



She didn’t say sorry. She never says sorry. She hurt my feelings. Mummy doesn’t like me. 

Poor Rosie. She is standing by the oil heater again, muttering a tearful monologue. I’m dead. I’m a spirit now. You don’t have a child any more… Are you sad? Are you sad that I’m dead?

When I say I am sad, she says: You’re not. You don’t want a child. You don’t like me. When I say I love her, she says I don’t. I’m dead, she repeats. When I protest that she isn’t really dead, because the dead don’t usually speak, she simply says: I’m dead.

The catalyst for this behaviour can be anything really. This morning, there are a series of meltdowns that begin with underpants – pouffy underpants, I should add –  in which she rages that the underpants are bothering her, followed by an extended   lament over her vest (You have to pull it down. You’re talking. SO YOU HAVE TO PULL IT DOWN AGAIN.) She wants me to tuck in her vest but she is sitting down. I mime to her  to stand up (since I’m not allowed to speak to her while she dresses), but she decides this is a game and wastes several minutes going limp as I try to hold her up in a standing position.

Eventually, we get her school uniform on, vest and all, but we don’t get out the door until I have pulled down her vest and shirt another six times to straighten it out under her pinafore. The blood is finally shooting up to my temples now and it is taking a lot of heavy breathing (I try not to breathe too loudly for fear that this, too, may constitute talking) to keep me from exploding.

But when we get out the door and she demands that I pull her shirt down again, I lose it and shout: You are going on the late register AGAIN!!!

Of course this unleashes a barrage of tears and some very public tantrumming on Rosie’s part. My neighbours are staring and I am mortified, but they have seen me in nuclear mode with Rosie, too, so I now figure they have me down as some social services nightmare. I am dismayed.

I spend the rest of the day asking myself why I always revert to type and shout, when I know this will do nothing to help Rosie. And when I get her back home, she starts again – shouting and screaming at me without warning, demanding that I help her remove her sweatshirt NOW. RIGHT NOW!

I don’t shout at her. I just tell her she is behaving badly, that I am trying to get her dinner ready and that I will be with her in a minute. When she throws herself on the kitchen floor, I ignore her. She calms down after a little while and by the time we finish dinner, we are back to being friends.

Until the morning comes and the lines are drawn again.