Chapter 3: My Teenage son

I finally gave up on the self sufficiency bit and got a child minder.  Probably a wise decision.
I thought we could manage, I'm at home quite a bit, and Artyom (19) isn't doing anything, so I thought between us and her friends we could manage to look after Natasha during the holidays. However I reckoned without the sheer laziness of teenagers. 
Oh, now THERE you made a mistake.  Never underestimate a teenager's ability to be horizontal for more than forty hours a day.
Now if i could find where they find the time to do that, there could be a profit in it!
I should explain he was at University last year, except he wasn't, he was doing a 'foundation year' which is like a catch-up year for students who's high-school grades weren't good enough.  So really it's retaking the last year of high school, but paying for it and living away from home on a student loan.  Well he failed that too,
Was that a language thing?  Or his mom's death?
No and no.  He was 11 when he came here and by the end of the first year he was 6th in his class in English.  He has no more problem with language than the best of his peers.  And this problem started well before his mum died.  In fact I believe it probably has more to do with his relationship with her when she was alive.
Ah, then he's a lost kid.  I know the type.
and as well as failing the exams, he also failed to pay his fees, having spent all of his loan, and all of the overdraft the bank gave him, on himself.
I did that.  My dad gave me a checking account my first year of college.  I had a scholarship that paid for my books and tuition, but I had to work to raise my own money for incidentals.  I papered the town with checks, and bounced a lot of them.  There was a Scene.  It was unpleasant.
I'll bet.  At least you didn't have major bills to pay yourself out of money received.  He couldn't handle that, 1000 of his loan was supposed to pay his tuition fees, by the time he told me he couldn't pay, he'd run up another 200 in late payment penalties.
Yeah.  However, I was supposed to use my checking account to buy a meal plan monthly at the dormitory cafeteria.  I ended up buying (fun) books, clothes and makeup with it instead.  Food?  Who needs food?  Remember, this was at the beginning of the '80s.  I *had* to buy a new kind of lip gloss every other day.
(I worked in a very nice bar and lived on olives and almonds for the first year I was in college.  My skin and hair never looked better.)
I offered to let him work for me for a month, to pay off the fees I had to pay for him.  I didn't really have that much unskilled work to offer, but if he did what I had and looked after Natasha, then the extra work I could do would cover the costs, even if I was effectively paying him about 40% more than he could get anywhere else.  He started ok for a few days, and was quite enthusiastic, but quickly lost interest and decided to stay in bed instead.  We had a 'discussion' and the next week he was up bright and early on Monday morning, but by Wednesday he was rising at 3pm again.  So by the end of the month he had managed to be available for work for a total of 64 hours.  Ye gods, I do more than that in a week.
Sounds pretty typical.  My father used to rant and rave at us because we "wanted to turn night into day..." stay out until 3:00 in the morning and then sleep 'til 1:00 or 2:00 p.m. the next day.  A few years ago I saw an article in the paper that talked about changes in circadian rhythms in teenagers, and it said that they *naturally* were programmed to stay up and sleep in late.  I cut it out and sent it to Dad.  He was gracious.  (And I'm also thinking perhaps there is some depression going on there?)
I don't mind him doing that on holidays or weekends, but it is kind of difficult to get my customers to understand that I can only work between 3pm (when he gets up) and 5pm (when he goes out).  I'd like to stay up till the milkman comes and sleep till I'm not tired, but life isn't like that.  The customers are still on the phone by 8:30 whatever time I went to bed.  And Natasha is bouncing around shouting "Get up Daddy!" before that.
I just wasn't managing, some days I could send Natasha to a friends and go out to work, but then there had to be the days when the friends came here, and then friends went away on holiday.  She went to my parents for a week, but that meant losing a day transporting her.  Work was still piling up, I couldn't keep appointments because I couldn't leave Natasha alone.  I wasn't making much money, and I could see it was unsustainable. 
And it becomes a quality-of-life issue.  No matter how much you love your daughter, I can see that it might make one kind of resent the little potato.  Why not get a child minder so that you can really enjoy the time you have together?  Let someone else be the boring, day-in and day-out bad guy and you be the fun guy.
I could be quite happy in the role of housewife and child minder, no problem except it doesn't pay the bills.  What I resent is having to pay someone to do unskilled work when I am already supporting an idle and able body.  He even had the cheek to ask if he could get her to make coffee for him!
Okay.  That's beyond the pale. He just lost my sympathy.
So when a friend said he knew a woman who could probably use that sort of work, I decided to give it a try.  She is disabled with a degenerative spinal condition, and on permanent sick leave from her previous employment at ICL, but she can get about the house Ok, and can drive a few miles without trouble.  She can't do too much about the house but she can entertain Natasha. 
Does she need to pick her up?  I mean, physically?
No, they manage to work around things like that ok.  She is very intelligent and resourceful. Well, they both are.
She has been here all week, took Natasha swimming one day, does all the little organisational details like taking her to friends' houses and ballet class, buying a present for a friend's birthday party etc.  Natasha is thrilled with having a dedicated playmate.
And you are thrilled at having a real helper!
Ever so, with a twinge of guilt.  I am so used to being the one that the buck stops with, I feel that not being able to do everything is a sort of failure.  I just wonder if I can afford the cash flow though.  OK I earn more, but it takes about 3 months for that to work through, and I have to pay her at the end of each week.
Maybe I should send you some American women's magazines.  All of the major-market ones deal with that.  Trust me, you're not a failure.  No one can do it all.  I see no shame in paying someone to do something you can't (or don't want to) do yourself.  You are helping someone else live, and you are saving your time for what you really want or need to do.  What do you make per hour?  $70 or $80?  (Read "pounds" for the dollar sign... my computer can't do the pound sign)  And what do you pay your babysitter?  $10 or $20?  It doesn't make sense to have a $70 an hour person doing $20 a hour work.
I am a cheerful plutocrat.  I hate cleaning house.  I have no trouble paying someone to come in weekly and clean.  It means I have more time for the things I want to do or don't mind doing, like cooking and ironing.
(pounds is alt-156 on a US keyboard)
(not when I'm on a laptop with no 10-key keyboard)
Ah. Then it gets messy. What I do is use the 'character map' accessory to create a little file with useful words and symbols in it and paste them in.
I've been trying to figure out how to do that with Yahoo.
Oh well it probably isn't worth the hassle.  I've never used Yahoo except for the search engine.  Doesn't it support cut & paste?  You can usually paste into a text input field in a web page.  Leave character map open on your desktop, double-click the character & 'copy', then select your browser, click the insertion point and press ctl-v.  Doesn't that work?  Or you could shunt the characters out of my quoted reply?

In the eighties I crashed a terminal cluster controller like that.  We had this new fangled mini-computer front-end on trial, basically a stat-mux routing four terminals into one port on the mainframe.  Our department had the job of trialing such new equipment.  It was quickly reported that the terminals lacked a '[' key, and the manufacturers noted the lack and agreed the keyboard would be changed on future deliveries.  So not many programmers wanted to use these trial terminals because much of their work needed this key.  I of course saw that as an opportunity for queue jumping, got on a regular terminal and created the file, then went and used the trial terminal, when I came to a '[' I called up my file and edited in the character by block-moves.  No problem, except that as soon as I displayed it on the screen, the mini crashed.  Half an hour later, after someone had rebooted the mini, and I had got my job restarted I did the same thing again, just to check.  So I fault reported it, and got laughed at.  I eventually managed to persuade my supervisor to stand over me while I crashed his pet machine yet again.  He stopped laughing and called the supplier.
 
Your figures are a bit optimistic on both counts but the scale is right.  I make about 40-50 and she gets about 5.  Wages are somewhat lower here than in US.  I'd like to give her more but I'd run out of cash before the increased income worked through.  It's the going rate for child-minding anyway, and she has some other income from casual work doing website design, and from her disability pension stuff.
Its only a *twinge* or guilt.  I know this logically, I don't feel a failure in most respects. But every so often I see "Oh she's done that job I was meaning to get around to for so long." as a finger pointing saying "You haven't done ... yet."  Part of it is also because I know she is worth a lot more than I can pay her, although again I know that I'm not hiring her skills, and it is a market deal - if she thought she was wasting her time she wouldn't be here.
When I used to employ people, I found that there were a number of jobs that the staff considered "beneath them", so I had to make the coffee, clean the toilets etc.  I talked to other small employers and found this was a common situation.  I said my job title was Managing Director and Toilet Cleaner.
It is utterly wonderful to have someone around who actually helps rather than making demands on my time, who turns up when she says she is going to, who is happy to stay until whenever I finish work and who sorts out problems for herself.  And I am paying her less than I was paying Artyom!
Dissolved in the solvent? - it certainly beats supporting the insolvent. :-}
Back to Artyom, he thinks he is going back to University again this year, to do the foundation year again. 
What does he want to study?  Maybe University is not really the answer for him.
He is supposed to be studying Software Engineering.  I think he lacks the self-discipline for university study, and that a year or two in industry would be much more educational.  I'm sure he will do a degree eventually, but I don't think now is the time.  I have told him this.  He says "yes ok" and goes off and does the opposite.
I think he is crazy.  I daresay the University will be happy to take his money from him, but I think it is stupid to run up bigger and bigger debts trying for the fourth time to achieve the grades to enter a degree course.  (He re-took and re-failed the exams a month after the end of term).  He says he will work harder.  I am quite sure he can easily make the grade if he works, but I doubt his sincerity, he always makes these promises but has never delivered.

I don't know how he will manage for money.  He spent nearly twice his official loan allowance last year.  He doesn't have another bank overdraft to spend this time, and hopefully he won't spend his tuition fees again.  I told him I wasn't paying towards this prank (I pay an assessed 'parental contribution' towards his costs), but that didn't phase him, he just said that if a parent wouldn't pay then his loan allowance would be higher.  He is going to get a shock when he realises that I will pay, but I will deduct his debt from the payments before he gets them, which only leaves about 30%.

I know this sort of confrontation isn't healthy, but I've tried being reasonable and it didn't work.  I've got to think of another approach.
What's unhealthy about it?  Sometimes these things must be discussed, no matter how unpleasant it is.  I am interested in your relationship with Artyom.  Does he want to go  back to Russia, now that his mom has died?
Does he hate you/resent you?  I'm really curious. 
If he went back to Russia they would put him in the army.  No he is totally British, Russia is long behind him, he wants to be here, but among students, not in this industrial/agricultural town.  Discussion I would welcome, but he won't discuss anything.  If he hates or resents me he doesn't show it, he just wants to do his own thing, ie sleeping, going out or playing computer games.
The confrontation is unhealthy because we have reached a stalemate.  The sanctions in place are not having any effect.  A month ago I told him I would not cook his tea until he wrote down for me his opinions on how we should live together.  I haven't cooked for him since.  He has cleaned out all the reserves of convenience foods that I kept for emergencies, and I won't buy any more.  We don't talk any more because I've given up trying wake him up or to get him to work, and he is mostly either asleep or out when I am here and awake, and if he is awake he stays in his room.
How does he finance his going out?  Are you giving him *any* money now?
He has odds and ends.  I was paying him 120/month 'pocket money', and while he won't get any more, the last one hasn't run out yet (in theory anyway).  He got his breakage deposit back from his university accomodation.  He has even worked a couple of casual shifts shifting newspapers at the press.  That pays him about 2/3 of what I was paying him, but he doesn't have to repay debts out of it, so he sees that as preferable.  And then he borrows from his mates.  Or he just goes to his mates' houses and listens to CDs or watches videos
Oh, well.  Too bad he has friends.  :)
Yes, it means he then comes to me "Can I have 50 to pay back Paul".  "No, you have to tell me what you are spending it on, not who advanced the money."  "Oh, this & that, you know."  "That's not good enough!".
I don't envy you your relationship with Artyom.  What a royal pain in the pratt.  I so remember being so feckless and pathetic.  Sadly, though I remember it, I don't know what to do for it.  When I was working with homeless street kids in Honolulu, I was able to manipulate them into doing things like going back to school with shameless appeals to their pride and emotions, but I don't know if it would work for Artyom.  Somehow, "Eh, brah, you gotta show all da haole dat da HA-waiian people cannot be kept down" is not going to work for him.  Does he feel oppressed, she asked hopefully?
I don't think so, except as regards the difficulty of getting a well paid job without first getting any qualifications or doing anything to compete for it.
Oh, well, I have that problem.  I've been trying to get hired as a hospital administrator for years but insist on not getting an MBA.
Its not all hopeless.  He does try from time to time, but he loses interest much too easily.  I'm sure he'll do something eventually.
As soon as his first friend graduates from college, walks into a well-paying job, and wants nothing more to do with him, he'll snap out of it.
Unfortunately most of his friends are worse, and couldn't walk into a brick wall placed in front of them, but yes I do look forward to that.
I was pretty aimless in college, which is why my undergraduate degree is in history.  Even then, a peek at my transcript reveals a seriously confused young woman.  Fortunately, I had seven years of marriage to a much older man to make me grow up.  I suppose this is not an option for Artyom?
I don't think he's into older men.  Or older women.  Or even 3-dimensional women.  His exploits in that area seem to be restricted to magazines.  He dreams of Ferraris and women, but can't even pass his driving test...  I guess I was pretty much like that, although I did have the odd girlfriend by that age, I was still a virgin till I was 25.  !!! I am *such* a slut. And I did pass my driving test in 6 months.
Wow!  I thought all teenage boys could drive.  What's the deal there?
Well we paid for lessons for him twice a week for most of a year after he reached the legal minimum age of 17, but he still failed his test twice, and then we had other expenses to worry about (like an 18th birthday party) and had to stop it.  Unlike in my day, it is not so easy for a learner driver to get practice, especially because I drive a big van which would be quite unsuitable for learning even if I could insure it for him.
Huh.  I was in Texas my first two years of high school, and in Texas kids can drive without licenses on private property.  There are no restrictions on driving on private property here but not many people have a big enough or flat enough piece of private property to be worth driving on. Several of my friends lived on farms, and so I learned to drive across country, in rattletrap old pickup trucks.  We took driver's education my second year in high school, which was held in a hilarous car simulator that smelled of ancient body odor.  We could get learner's permits to drive on roads at 15 and six months, and I did, and then we could try for our licenses at 16.  Which I did.  My father bought a horrible used baby-blue Oldmobile Royale with baby blue crushed velvet seats for my brother and I to share.  It was approximately the size of the Queen Mary.  It was impossible to parallel park... I don't know how I managed to pass my drivers' license test.  But I did.
My dad also made us learn things, like how to check the oil, how to change the oil, how to refill all that needs refilling, how to change tires, and my least favorite, what to do when the car loses all power.  I resented this for years.  He had me drive down Central Expressway at 80 miles an hour and then yanked the key out of the ignition.  Surprise!  in a car with power everything, that causes bad things to happen.  He didn't tell me that he was going to do that.  Me yipping and him bellowing instructions... it was most unpleasant.
They used to reckon you needed a lesson for every year of your age.  Its more than that now, but he went well beyond that and still couldn't do it.
We weren't in a position to buy him a car, Lyudmila always had plans for any money I earned and I wouldn't anyway.  I didn't fancy doing the driving instructor bit anyway.  I've tried teaching friends before and it plays havoc with your relationship.
As a student a car is something of an embarrasment anyway because parking is expensive and hard to get around the universities.  If I didn't use my van for work, I wouldn't really need a car for myself, most things are in easy walking distance, and public transport is not that bad. 
Oh, yeah.  I loved that about England.  It was really good in Honolulu, too, but it isn't here, now that I'm in Seattle.  The only hassle would be fetching stuff from the supermarket, it gets heavy on a bus.  We did it for three months after the van was stolen, until the insurance finally coughed up. 
When I spent lots of time in Essex and Leeds, we went to the store every day, as the refrigerator was tiny.  Do people have big, American-sized refrigerators now? Perhaps bigger than they were, but they still go shopping more often. They seem to like it!
I look forward to when supermarkets start doing deliveries in my area.  There are two that do it here.  It is wonderful, especially as I keep getting laid up with various gimpiness. It seems weird, when I was a kid my mum used to write out a list for the grocers on a Tuesday and he came around in his van on Thursday and delivered the stuff in a cardboard carton.
We only got milk and dairy foods delivered.  Oh, and "rich" people got these potato chips delivered monthly.  Charles Chips...  yum.   Greengroceries, bread and sometimes meat were delivered too.  For the last 30 years I could never understand why supermarkets never picked up on this idea, I would have thought quite a lot of people would pay a bit more to have their routine items picked and delivered for them. 
Absolutely.  HomeGrocer.com is $9.95 for delivery and for huge orders it is entirely worth it to me.  Especially in the next couple of weeks, when we finally move into the house David's buying... it's a townhouse, three stories, with the entrance on the second floor.  I don't car efor the idea of making several trips up and down the stairs for a week's worth of groceries.  I asked David if he thought we could install a dumbwaiter and he said no. 
Industry would never settle for an exclusively cash-and-carry approach - when I want parts I pick up the phone, send a fax or email, and a truck arrives at the door the next morning.  Stationery is even delivered the same afternoon.
At last most of the major chains have started doing internet ordering, but sadly the chain which owns the two nearest shops (ASDA, now part of Walmart)
God, Wal-Mart is overseas?  Heavens, Sam Walton is taking over the world from beyond the grave.
does not, and the ones that do say I am outside their area.
It appears that doing a once or twice weekly supermarket run is an important part of the social calender for many people, and they actually enjoy it, or at least prefer to do it than have it done for them.  I think I live on a different planet.  I like to go shopping occasionally, but that has nothing to do with routine supplies of essential items.
I hate shopping, even for fun things like presents.  Living in Hawaii and then on Midway I got so used to shopping by mail that I still do it.  I've been here two months now and still haven't set foot in a shopping center.
We did get to talk about his 'career' today, and he did actually hang around long enough to listen to the rationale behind my statement that I thought he was a fool to follow the path he had in mind. 
Exactly what path does he have in mind?
Taking another year's student loan, trying to get a bigger overdraft and doing his foundation year again.  He says he intends to work this time, but it looks to me like an excuse to goof out for another year, and push the problems in front of him.  He doesn't appreciate what paying off a 10,000 debt will feel like, even if it is at a subsidised interest rate.  And the way he is going it will be nearer 15,000.  Fresh graduates don't earn all that much.
No, and what does he plan to be a fresh graduate in?
Software engineering, (I thought I'd said that somewhere). Oh, you did.  I forgot. He struggles with the maths, and has also thought about changing to a non-mathematical course.  Trouble is most of his choices (eg philosophy) are not much use for getting a job. 
I don't know.  Does he have any interest in social work?  Philosophy is a good basic degree for things like that, or law, and even medical schools here in the USA are looking for people with liberal arts backgrounds, thinking they have a better-rounded education.  And there's  always teaching.
He has 10 points at A level, entry requirements range from about 14 to 25 depending on the competition for the course and status of the university.  A decent level would be about 18.  He's interested in doing technical programming work, like writing computer games, and you really have to have some maths to do that.
Then heavens, why does he want to do it?
I suppose because its the next best thing to playing computer games.  He does have some aptitude for it, he just isn't prepared to fill out what he can do with working on things he can't to get a complete exam result.
One of his A-level subjects was media studies - I called it 'A-level video watching', although he was quite good at the 'running around with a camera' bit.  Media tends to be a 'soft' subject that a lot of people do because they see it as an 'easy' exam.  So there are a lot of people with the qualification going for a small number of jobs, and you have to have a lot more going for you if you are going to get anywhere.
He seems to think that if he can scrape through entry-level maths then its all done, he doesn't seem to be able to take on board the idea that that is only the start and there will be more maths content in the degree course.
Brr.  Wait until he has to take statistics.  That was nearly my Waterloo. I actually enjoyed symbolic logic, and a lot of other classes, but statistics nearly killed me.
Statistics is actually his strongest point in maths.  Its mechanics that brings him down.  I think anything that involves thinking around a problem rather than doing things by rote.  He was doing badly in statistics until I got hold of his text book and took a couple of days and precis'ed it for him, adding a couple of things that were missing, like an explanation of 'scientific method'.  For some reason the writer had felt that was too obvious to explain and just assumed it.
There's hope yet.
I feel we have a problem here that the system has acquired a self-interest which is not in the interest of students.  If the university can entice students to pay to sit in their lectures, then they have achieved their goal.  They get no benefit from actually educating the students, and suffer no significant penalty from a high drop-out rate.  All they have to do is demonstrate a suitable examination standard. 
I think this is true, and true of the U.S., too.  I was frustrated at both schools I attended because of the massive amounts of funding that go to remedial classes.  As far as I'm concerned, if you can't read by the time you get to university, you need to go to adult night school, which in the U.S. is held in high schools.  I resent the fact that the graduate health library at the University of Hawaii was only open from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., and yet there were remedial classes six days a week, in every class slot.  It boosts graduation rates, but I was upset that I, majoring in Plan II (liberal arts honors program)at UT Austin, had a University of Texas honors diploma that meant the same thing that an illiterate football player's diploma meant.
I think this business of offering 'foundation' courses to students who cannot achieve the entrance requirements is a scam aimed at ripping off kids who (or who's parents, mostly) have aims above their ability.  In the old days of student grants, a student would not have been given a grant to take up such a course, grants were only available for actual degree courses.  With the 'soft' student loans having recently replaced grants, these controls have been relaxed, placing the onus of deciding whether expenditure on a particular type of cours is justified much more on the student.
I think we need to realize that some people are not college material, and will never be happy in college.  There's no shame in that.  A plumber makes a hell of a lot more money than I do, with my fancy one-and-a-half graduate degrees.
I agree with that sentiment, 'we' had this great idea that *everyone* should be able to get the best and go to university.  It didn't seem to matter that university was just the most general, not the 'best', and that universities never taught anyone to do any job except teach: for a graduate to learn a job they become a 'graduate intake trainee' and did two years on crap pay learning a saleable skill.  So now we have few people with real down to earth skills, who can actually do things, and a flood of middle and lower managers who can't, or expect to be respected because of their liberal arts degree.
On the other hand Artyom is intellectually quite capable of benefiting from a university education, but he is not yet mature enough for the university style of study.
When I was at college I failed my first year too, and had to retake it, but that didn't involve sitting through all the lectures again, all I had to do was take the exams again the following year.  So that year I didn't have a grant, but I could work to make a living.  I washed cars for a hire company for a few months, after bumming around a hot-rod garage for a while and having fun.  I never went scrounging.  Unfortunately the modern methods of continuous assessment mean its not that simple any more.  I dare say  there is a way, he says there isn't but he probably hasn't asked.
I think he should get a crap job for a year and enroll to retake his A-levels (high school exams) to improve his results so that he qualifies for proper entry to a degree course, and gets back the same place next year, but without 000 of debts around his neck (or mine). He can do that by evening classes or part-time study with no problem, provided he starts right now.
Sounds good.  But how to convince him?
Rig things so he can't afford to do otherwise.  But the problem is to do that without antagonising him so much that I lose all influence. 
This is a bit like Britain's relationship to Europe.  If you don't agree do you stick to your principles and not participate, or do you go along with the majority so that you can at least exert some influence on the outcome? 
I always try to strike a happy medium between the two. Not that Britain has much in the way of principles.  Foreign policy is usually 'what makes the most profit for the City'.  So the big emotive issue of keeping the Pound and rejecting the Euro is really (I think) to keep the currency markets alive so that the speculators (pension funds) can go on ripping off the traders (business) on currency margins, and so put off the evil day whan they have to admit that the aging population can't actually afford to retire at 65 or earlier.  So no-one will discuss the real implications.  I believe that if there is an information gap, clouded by bullshit, then someone has a vested interest in hiding something.
Hey, I'm sorry this tale ended with a moan, I'd think of something bright to finish with but I'm falling asleep, its been a long day, hell its been a long week.  I'm going to bed.
Don't worry.  If you need to moan, you should moan.  I'm very excited because I learned to drive a forklift today!  Yay!
Wow, Sigourney Weaver in Aliens!
That will do instead of a motor bike for the Jennifer Patterson image.
I know a fat Ukrainian guy who drives a stacker.  We joke that they need another stacker driver to load him into his machine.  The Health & Safety guy says that technically he shouldn't be allowed to drive because he can't turn around to see behind him, his gut hits the steering wheel.

Good.  I can also run a pallet-lifter, which reminds me more of the Sigourney Weaver machinery.  I just love learning how to do new things.  That's why Midway was so much fun.  I am one of the few women in the civilian world who can marshal planes.  I can also drive (but not operate) a crane.  Sigh.  Surely, somewhere, there is a job for me that will actually utilize my strengths, but I haven't found it yet.

Um - how's the back?
Magically better.  I have been doing a lot of falling down/going boom lately.  I fell down in the grocery store today.  Covered with bruises, but I appear to have jostled my back in some way that it doesn't hurt!
Yay!
:
Poop.  My stupid shoulder/back pain has returned.  It comes and goes with no rhyme or reason.  I finally have an appointment with a doc.  I can't wait.  More pain medication, please...
Poop

How is Natasha?  Does she have a nickname, or is she always Natasha?
Well, in Russian, Natasha is a diminutive.  Her registered name is Natalia.  However I usually shorten it to 'Tasha.  She is fine and enjoying being child-minded.  Cindy (the child minder) is teaching her to swim.  (Swimming is good exercise for people with weak backs, and apparently she is used to do scuba diving before her incapacity.)

On another front, we just got the result of Mum's breast op.  She got no lymph node involvement :-) but she got 'dirty' margins :-( , so she has to go back for a full mastectomy in a few weeks time.  She is a  bit upset about it, but quite glad it came in stages, and she didn't have to have the shock of being told she was having a mastectomy straight away.
I'm sorry to hear that.  Please give her my best, and tell her it's lovely to have a removable chest.  Very convenient.