Crisis? What crisis?

Today your friendly EBL will explore her reaction to crisis. It’s edge-of-the-seat, hold-onto-the-safety-rails, keep-all-extremities-inside-the-blog kind of stuff. Woo!

According to my mother’s newspaper everything is a crisis. The weather, the latest health scare, immigration, scroungers. Sometimes she gets scared by it. I feel pretty cross about the newspapers for doing this. Sometimes I feel like telling her the paper has gone bust and buying her Woman’s Weekly instead.

Sigoth and I have an understanding. In a joint crisis, and I’m not talking about rheumatic arthritis here, one of us deals and the other falls apart. We don’t discuss it, it just happens. These kinds of crisis mostly have receded to the past and tend to involve Offspringses puking or otherwise extruding from orifices like the gushing waters of the Congo as seen on David Attenborough’s Africa this week. I will not digress on the natural wonders of bioluminescent fungi, mother snakes or David Attenborough himself. Or the ninja wildlife cameramen of the BBC.

So back to vomiting Offspring…either I would clear them up while Sigoth retched in the bathroom, or he would deal with the “other end” while I retched in the bathroom.

These are not major crises, but the everyday code reds of parenting, all part of the fun. What does not kill you makes you stronger, in this case at least.

I’m good with deaths. I know that makes me sound a bit creepy, but I can cover them quite well. All the paperwork, all the routines. I’m a fixer. I can put the grief on hold and sort things out. There’s the initial shock of course, when everything goes buzzy and distant, and I feel cold and shivery. Voices come from a long way away. Then things come back into focus and I get on with it.

I’m good with serious illness. When my mother was mistakenly sent home from hospital I dealt with it, sat in the A&E all night until they found her a bed, then went straight back into work to sort out the computer upgrade. I didn’t even have a cup of tea, but I did have several mugs of espresso. The guy working with me also kept me company espresso-wise and ended up hospitalised for dehydration. I have a serious caffeine addiction.

I’m good with potential emergencies, like fire alarms and so on. I am the one organising people to get up and leave, find the way out, counting the heads of the group I was with, reporting to the fire warden.

I’m not good with my own emergencies. I can’t be ill or weak. It’s against the rules. A couple of years ago a fell down on rocks and smashed open my head. Much blood – scalps are a bit prone to gushing like the good old Congo. It was incredibly frustrating not to be able to organise everything. I became agitated and irritable, because no one did what I said. Admittedly it may not have been coherent, and may have suggested I was capable of walking several miles back home to get a nice cup of tea and would everyone stop fussing. As it was I needed help getting up and into the ambulance.

The only time I actually panic is when there is no crisis. I panic when I’m depressed or on anti-depressants which trigger panic attacks. When I’m depressed I imagine a crisis, such as Sigoth and the Offspringses all being dead or dying, and then I panic. Sigoth has to calm me down and explain that it is not real. I don’t always believe him, at least not straight away.

What I can’t do is the easier stuff. I can’t decide whether I want a thing green or blue. I can’t choose which flavour of ice cream. I can decide how to sort out a project or computer installation that is going wrong.

EBL may be your blogger of choice in a crisis, but don’t stress her out over the small stuff.


You are what you read

Regulars to this quiet corner of t’Interweb will be aware that I have rather strong views on taking responsibility so I have been interested to find a number of articles recently on this theme. The excellent PortlyDyke has expressed the difference between responsibility and blame far better than I ever could.

Since her post, the media storm surrounding Baby P and Haringey Social Services has erupted, and now we have that bastion of public decency, The Sun, claiming to have a mandate for the sacking of the Director of Children and Young People’s Services. The same paper is also enjoying a frisson from the fact that at least one of the social workers involved is being driven out of her mind by the event and its coverage.

I don’t know the details about the Baby P case. I don’t know if Sharon Shoesmith, the Director concerned, is being blamed or held responsible (although it would appear that at least some of her colleagues are prepared to offer her support). But I do know that we are facing trial by emotion, by uninformed reaction, by hysteria. The people responsible for that child’s suffering and death are the ones who actually caused it, not the professionals who were asked to protect him. The latter failed to do so, and this may or may not have been due to incompetence, inexperience or lack of commitment. It is widely acknowledged that abusers are devious, manipulative, tricksy people who can confuse and misdirect even the most seasoned professional. The social workers, health staff and police involved may have tried everything possible but been held back by lack of resources, misguided belief in maternal devotion, or red tape (at which point engaging in the criminal act of kidnapping would have been their only other option).

In the same week as we were faced with the difficult facts and feelings around Baby P we also had further news about the alleged child abuse at Haut de la Garenne in Jersey. A commentary in The Observer about the public reaction to the recent findings made further uncomfortable reading. Rather than celebrate the fact that it seems children were not murdered and tortured as had been feared, there has been an air of disappointment that we can not expect further salacious details about events at the Home.

As my favourite superhero says "With great power comes great responsibility", and as a society we have (I think quite rightly) put the power of the parent above the power of the state. Our child protection is effective most of the time; a story such as this is news because it is unusual. However, that does not allow us to ignore Baby P, but what to do is not clear-cut.

Inevitably there are calls for stronger intervention to remove a child from a damaging/damaged family. I find this a worry – who is to say that my family values and lifestyle are or are not acceptable? Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

Do we seriously think that we should remove more children from their families? Should we not be helping the families find a way to break their history of deprivation and abuse rather than punish damaged adults further for failing to cope? Because at the same time as our moral outrage calls for stronger powers and increasing intervention we find that budgets for Social Services are being cut. Yet even without tragedies of this magnitude, we are confronted with increasing need, albeit usually at the opposite end of the scale with an aging population requiring greater support and more services.

But we have also abdicated responsibility for understanding complex issues and handed it to a media which is more interested in increasing readership through quick-hit headlines than in taking time to research and report difficult issues clearly. The media behaves like this because we encourage it. The best we can do in the face of such appalling stories is to encourage each other to stand up to the dreadful situation facing numerous children and their families, resulting in people who were once just as innocent and beautiful as Baby P becoming so damaged that they find themselves outcast. We can try to understand how they ended up that way instead of consigning them to damnation. We can all play our part in preventing more people from being destroyed and becoming destroyers. If we look to see where the power lies, it is not with deprived and damaged families; nor is it with the children we need to protect; it is not even with the professionals we delegate to be protectors but do not support and resource to achieve their task. The power is with us, to use as we choose.

With great power comes great responsibility

Had an interesting conversation yesterday about accepting responsibility. It’s a long story and actually too private to share but the nub of the matter was that it was suggested the person in question had abdicated responsibility following the break-up of a relationship – and as a result was now in a vulnerable position through her own inaction.

Now, I am quite keen on people taking responsibility for their actions. I have personally found that at work, for example, when I stand up and say “Yes, that went wrong and it was down to me” generally everyone is so glad that someone has taken the problem on they don’t want to start any kind of witch-hunt. Actually, if they did take the witch hunt option I might have to turn into Granny Weatherwax and use my headology on them. But that, gentle reader, is another story. And, indeed, copyright.

Back to responsibility then.

Sometimes I can take responsibility, but sometimes I just can’t, or don’t. I suspect there are instances where we can mostly agree that it’s about time so-and-so stopped whining and did something about it. In my own case, I might stop worrying about the piles of books lying around, complaining about lack of shelf space, and get down to some serious sorting out for books to go to the charity shop.

But there’s always that tricky grey area. In the case we discussed yesterday, how can anyone say how difficult it was for the woman to deal with her situation – it was a really complicated situation and I can believe she was too scared or traumatised or intimidated or whatever to take control, which is what we meant in this case by “taking responsibility”. My perception is not the same as your perception, and the way I cope or manage may not work for you.

Stay with me! I’m not going to do philosophy ju-jitsu here. What I am suggesting is that we are frail and human and need a helping hand. So, I propose that if a friend seems to blame the world for her woes, don’t assume she is a feckless blob without taking your own responsibilities as a friend seriously first. And sometimes that might mean accepting her view of the world is valid instead of imposing your own. We really can’t change other people, only ourselves, and hope that through our own actions, others may find support and encouragement when they need it.

Mind you, if I could only follow my own advice I would be happy!