Nobody’s perfect all of the time

I am a Virgo. It’s important to me that you know that. Virgos, as a rule, take their star sign very seriously – probably more seriously than is acceptable in modern day society – and expect you to take it seriously as well. That they are a Virgo. They couldn’t really give a hoot what you are. Unless you are a Virgo too.


How Virgoans see the world  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m pretty certain Virgos come across as some of the most irritating people on the planet. We are the picture-straighteners of the world, the perfectionists, the hyper-critical, overly-logical, self-analyzing, right-angled, alphabetising, colour co-ordinating junkies of the human race. Black is black and white is white and there is officially no such thing as grey. ‘Change’ is a dirty word unless it has been planned that way. Achieving perfection is not the stuff of dreams, it is a way of life. ‘Trial’ is fine; ‘Error’ – not so much. And if all that wasn’t enough pressure, of all the Virgoans I have met and befriended over the years, many, if not all, have been actors, photographers, designers, and writers – i.e. creative. Creatively challenged, actually – because all that super-organised, self-critical think-in-straight-lines stuff gets hugely in the way of the fuzzy-wuzzy-dolphin-music-hippy-dippy-shit we like to immerse ourselves in. But somehow, magically, it works, and when a Virgoan manages to finally tap into their unconsciousness to get the creative stuff out before the conscious brain sets to work on recalibrating it to make sense, they tend to produce great (if not completely perfect) results.

So when a Virgoan screws up, particularly one who is of a slightly more creative nature (one might suggest the term ‘drama queen’ as appropriate to insert here) it is nigh on impossible for them to adopt an ‘oh well, never mind’ approach. It is, in fact, the end of the world. Which is about where I have been most of this week.

If you read last week’s post you will recall that I started off my dalliance with imperfection whilst cooking for a dinner party. Never before have I cocked up so much food in such a short, important space of time. That was last Friday. It should have been an indication of the greater incompetence that lay ahead.

Last week, shortly after posting my blog, I waited for a delivery to show up. A new, longed-for mattress with an all singing all dancing memory foam topper that would hopefully put an end to broken sleep and bad backs. When it arrived, it took them half an hour to get it upstairs due to a rather tight spot between the ceiling and the stairwell. Not wanting to think the worst, I ignored the fact that I didn’t remember this being so much of an issue with our old bed when we moved in, and instead blamed it on the general incompetence of the delivery team.

Not so. In fact it was MY general incompetence that was at fault, as became blindingly obvious when the mattress arrived in our room and was -oh – a good ten inches bigger than our bed. I had forgotten to measure and had guessed when we ordered. And I had guessed wrong. Oh the shame. So much so I blamed my husband in the ensuing phone call to the mattress company and with lots of eye rolling and pretend-crossness at his incompetence (sorry babe) I convinced them to exchange it for the correct size.

But what was it I was ashamed of? Not getting it wrong, per se, but that I had guessed. GUESSED. No Virgo GUESSES anything. It is simply not in our vocabulary. Something was going very, very wrong.

This morning we were due to be on a plane to Sri Lanka. I know that because my travel spreadsheet (oh yes) says so. But instead I am typing this in my study and we are clearly not on a plane anywhere. In a conversation with our housemaid, who hails from Colombo, I discovered that not only was the country still at the tail end of the monsoon (a fact I had known about but chosen to ignore up until now) but that there were ‘bad mosquitos’ in the capital city. Upon further inquiry it transpired these ‘bad mosquitos’ were called ‘Dengu’. Hmm. That sounds alot like ‘Dengue’ to me. So I did a bit of Googling and what do you know, there is a pandemic on. Who knew? Not wanting to be put off entirely (although by this point I must admit I was going a little cold on the idea) it got me thinking about all the other diseases we might pick up. We knew malaria didn’t affect the thin sliver of coastline we were visiting, but in full confidence that was all I needed to worry about, I managed to entirely forget to check our vaccination records until a week before we were due to travel. It turns out my son hasn’t had a typhoid jab and although the nurse was vaguely confident it would be ok for him to travel five days after the vaccination, she did mention that ‘before four weeks is best, ma’am’. Given typhoid is spread through water and the monsoon is still finishing up, it would only take one dodgy washed vegetable and that would be that.

So we cancelled. And being a Virgo, I take it as a personal failing that 1. I didn’t research the weather patterns and disease issues properly in the first place, 2. I didn’t organise our vaccinations in time and 3. I didn’t worry enough.

I didn’t worry enough. How does that even make sense? That’s how perfect I want to be, that I am worried about not being worried. It is extremely stressful being this self-critical. It takes up huge swathes of time and energy, being cross with oneself for not being ten out of ten ALL THE TIME. (A score of ‘ten’ being most sane people’s ‘eleven’, of course.)

So this week, in summary, the thoughts running round my little twisted mind (at 90 degrees, obviously), go something like this: 1. I can’t cook, 2. I guessed something and that is a BAD THING and 3. I didn’t worry enough. As I result, we ate ice cream, haven’t slept well and aren’t going on holiday. I’ll leave it to you to work out the order of disaster rating.

Things have taken a turn for the better since I realised I had dropped the astrological ball and gave myself a stern talking to. It’s Thanksgiving next week, and in an effort to pull my Virgoan socks right back up I am currently surrounded by shopping lists and schedules for preparation and cooking. I have already been out and purchased a soup tureen, turkey grippers and extra pie dishes in anticipation of producing a meal for ten nothing short of utopian. I have bought a new tablecloth (I measured the table first), done an inventory of glassware, plates, napkins and suchlike to ensure we can cater for a crowd, and assessed the state of the decorations hidden in the under stairs cupboard for the past twelve months. I have candles, name place cards and have already printed menus for the buffet table. The turkey is ordered and my housemaid is on standby to help with peeling vegetables and washing up. I am determined this meal will look perfect, taste perfect, and run like a well oiled machine, so that I can kick back and have a glass of wine by the time the pies (plural – apple, pecan and pumpkin) are served. In fact, I am so demanding of my own organisational excellence that I am considering booking a manicure for the day before, so that I can look immaculate too and really test out just how perfect I can be. I need to get my Zodiac groove back and there is only one way – to get back out there and give it all I’ve got at being great.I am in competition with myself. Tragic, but true.

If it goes wrong, fellow Virgos, I promise I will change my birthday.

I can’t get no sleep

My son slept until 6.20am today. I could count the number of times this has happened in the last 31 months on two hands and it would have been perfect…except for the 5am shout out to the masses about some grievance or another that needless to say woke me up with with a start and left me unable to go back to the land of nod. Sod’s law and all that, you might say, but it’s a classic example of the general sleep deprivation that rules our house on a near-daily basis.

There is no doubt that my son is a historically terrible sleeper. When he was a newborn, I used to think I must be doing something wrong that all the other babies around me would sleep, well – like babies. Mine would be staring at the ceiling (or more accurately at a particular spot on the top of the door frame) for hours on end whilst I frantically tried to rock him into the land of nod so I could have five minutes of down time. Once he was asleep, staying asleep was the next challenge. While my friends were busy enjoying a coffee and a chat as their cherubs snored blissfully in buggies, mine would be thrashing about within fifteen minutes flat, demanding attention or food, or both. The other day I watched with horror when a woman wheeled her three month old into the nail spa. Irritation that I would have to now sit and listen to someone else’s small child during the precious few hours I didn’t have to listen to mine was quickly replaced by envy as the baby gently closed his eyes, and as if on cue, fell asleep and stayed asleep while his mother had a full manicure. The stuff of dreams. Only not mine, because I’m never asleep long enough to dream.

Go the Fuck to Sleep

One of my favourite books read beautifully by Samuel L Jackson (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As my son grew older he adapted to a routine of about four naps a day. Which was great in theory, if only they didn’t last 20 minutes each, approximately the length of time it takes to go to the bathroom, boil the kettle, make a cup of tea you will never get round to drinking and – oh no, that’s it, he’s awake. Night times he learned to sleep with only a few wake ups…until 4.30am. Yes, for an entire summer we were woken before dawn, trying every trick in the book to make him go back to sleep and all in vain. Finally as he turned a year old, he figured out sleeping solidly at night. For six months we rested and enjoyed comparative lie ins until 5.30am. Then at about 15 months his night times got increasingly eventful until finally he decided to stop sleeping altogether. Every hour he would wake up, screaming and crying, and I would have to stay by his bed to get him to sleep again. I implemented the ‘gradual withdrawal’ method to extricate myself from the room, moving a few inches back from the bed every night for over a month until finally he learnt to go to sleep by himself again.

By this point I was actually turning into a zombie. I love my little boy but I love my sleep too. Other mothers would bemoan how they had been woken up at 6am whilst I sat wishing my child would ever sleep until that time. He dropped his naps quickly too, down to a single nap of an hour or so by the time he was 18 months old, and getting rid of that just before he turned two. I actually wept the day he didn’t sleep at lunchtime. I wasn’t ready for the relentlessness of the day without a break, and thought I’d easily have another half year or so before I had to worry about it. Wrong.

Fortunately the big boy bed arrived without too much of a hitch and he now settles quickly at night so we don’t have endless wars at bedtime like some. I must have done something right for this to happen and I am now officially the world expert on sleeping and sleep methods, so many did I try to crack the code. But we still get regularly woken between 5 and 6am, and most nights he throws in a couple of screeches or wails for good measure, that leave our hearts pounding and break up our much-needed sleep. I think now, that his sleeping isn’t so terrible, but that the residual effect of over two years of sleep deprivation means that anything less than an uninterrupted seven hours leaves me exhausted.

Parents of children who sleep do not understand what it is like, to have one that doesn’t. They suggest all kinds of things – over the past couple of years I have been given so much advice my head could burst. “When he starts solids, he’ll sleep through because he won’t be hungry.” (No, he won’t.) “When he starts school he’ll sleep no problem.” (No, he won’t. He’ll be tired but that’s not the same as sleeping.) “Have you tried black out blinds?” (OF COURSE I’VE TRIED BLACKOUT BLINDS!) “Sometimes children sleep better if they have a nap.” (And sometimes they don’t, they just won’t go to bed on time either because they’ve had too much sleep.) “Maybe you should try putting him to bed later.” (No, thanks, I quite like the two hours I have to myself at night before I collapse in a heap.) The problem with all these suggestions – apart from the obvious fact that they don’t work for me – is that they worked for the child of the person concerned. Hence their child sleeps. So back to my original statement, that parents of children who sleep do not understand what it is like, to have one that doesn’t. They only understand what it is like to have one that didn’t used to, but does now. And that is a different thing altogether.

This post wouldn’t be complete of course, without mention of the Sunclock. The magical piece of gadgetry that parents of toddlers and pre-schoolers swear by. So many people recommended this to me and assured me it was the answer to my prayers, that despite my reservations it would ever work I decided to give it a try last month. I was encouraged by my son’s quick grasping of the concept (stars out = go to sleep, sun = wake up) and was even vaguely hopeful that one day I could enjoy a 7am lie-in on the weekend. Although to be honest I would settle for a regular 6am. But folks, here’s the catch: the Sunclock only works on children that were predisposed to sleep in the first place. Children who rise early to count the stars left on the LED display do not qualify. Children that couldn’t care less if the clock has stars on it or a sun and continue to sing at the top of their voices anyway from the second they wake up, do not qualify. Children who you can hear muttering “It says “five, four, seven ‘A’ ‘M’!” do not qualify. I have been experimenting with said clock for three weeks now, just to give it a chance, and have to tell you for anyone with a child who simply doesn’t want or need to sleep any later in the mornings, it’s a heap of crap.

I live in hope that one day my son will sleep until 7am and beyond. I know that it is only another 10 years or so until this is guaranteed to happen. And from today I will never mention again how sleep deprived we are, to avoid any more well meant but unfortunately useless advice coming my way. My child doesn’t need sleep to sleep past dawn. I do. These are the facts and there is nothing anyone can do to change it. So if you see me with bags under my eyes, instead of trying to solve the impossible problem, do me a favour and recommend a decent concealer.