Tag Archives: family

Surviving a festival with a toddler and a baby bump

“You’re going to a festival? With a three year old? While 7 and a half months pregnant? Are you mad?!!”

Erm, yes, looking back I probably was. We knew it would be tricky, but had been whining for some time about missing live music since the onset of parenthood, so when a friend suggested we all go together we threw caution to the wind and booked our tickets to Latitude.

Lattude tickets (2)

As the months progressed and my bump grew bigger, tiny doubts grew in my mind. My first pregnancy had been a walk in the park compared to the aches, pains and exhaustion of this one. However, the internet reassured me festivals were full of pregnant women: one source told me Glastonbury even has an on-site midwife just in case anyone goes into labour! How had I never spotted all these pregnant women before? Looking back, I guess they didn’t feature in my early festivalling years of bouncing around to Rage Against the Machine at Leeds.

Despite having done my research, practically I was no better prepared than before, but I felt optimistic. If they could do it, so could I! My only concession was to buy a set of camping chairs – we didn’t Latitude 2have a tent, or anywhere for the toddler to rest during the day, but hey, we could sit down if we wanted. Let’s go!

I won’t say it was all plain sailing. For a start, we forgot our son’s bed, meaning the three of us and my by now ginormous bump had to squeeze up on a smaller than double blow up bed. The up side was it kept us warm as temperatures plummeted in the night, a possibility we hadn’t considered when we decided to forego sleeping bags in favour of a couple of cheap blankets. Our blind faith in the English summer and the warmth of canvas proved to be as idiotic as you would expect. Turns out our optimism was more to blame for insomnia than my pregnancy, but I guess we’d better get used to sleepless nights!

Lattude 3

The low point came on Saturday afternoon. After having failed miserably to get my son to nap, we began the trudge from the tent to meet my husband and I attempted to ‘nip to the loo’. I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to fit in a festival toilet cubicle with a three year old, a backpack, two camping chairs and a baby bump, but it’s not easy. Then, with truly hideous timing, my freakishly laid back son finally discovered his ability to throw a tantrum. Thank god we hadn’t yet left the family camp site. I’m not sure my crouching, head in hands, so close to the urinals would have been so sympathetically received elsewhere.

Still, despite our odd moments, we found our family festival mojo and I can only describe the weekend as bloody brilliant!

Watching my little boy air drum to The Vaccines ‘20/20’ on his Dad’s shoulders was a true polaroid moment; listening to Naomi Shelton in the glorious sunshine while 3 toddlers attempted to throw popcorn in my mouth was one of my most fun festival moments ever; and, while it may not have been my finest moment of parenting – letting the boy fall asleep at 10.30pm in the middle of a field with a sugary lollipop in his mouth – I have rarely been happier than reliving my teenage years and shouting along to ‘Don’t Look Back in Anger’, my little man and other half by my side. Plus, maybe listening to Noel Gallagher in that field as he drifted off to sleep will endow him with a little more cool than I ever had as a kid.

Latitude 1Going to a festival as a family was awesome. I cannot recommend it enough. And if you’re still not sure, you have to admit it beats yet another afternoon of Peppa Pig and soft play!

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The Joys of staycationing (or how I fell in love with Cornwall)

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This is not normally the type of blog I would write. If you’re looking for some political ranting or scathing comments about children’s clothes, better look in the archives or check back next week.

I know there are many blogs which exist which take sponsorship or freebies from companies in order to promote them. Just to make it clear, this is not that either.

This is me, genuinely and honestly, raving about a truly brilliant family experience. No hidden agendas. No advertising. Just a few ideas and suggestions for any families who might be thinking of going away.

Pre-parenthood, my husband and I were like most people: we weren’t exactly what you’d call seasoned travellers, but we liked a holiday and we liked to explore. We were never fans of the package holiday or lazing around on a beach all day – you can’t enjoy that if, like me, you’ve got itchy feet and the attention span of a gnat. Plus, after an ill-judged last minute holiday in Majorca at the end of the season, where the highlight was being presented with a carrier bag full of Bacardi Breezers because we were the only customers and the bartender was clearing out, while spending one memorable evening looking after the poor child of a couple so drunk they could barely pronounce their own names, we realised resort holidays were definitely not for us!

So we’d save up for our big adventures, like visiting temples and scuba diving in Thailand, or exploring hidden ruins around Mexico City. In between, we learned the values of mini-breaks near home. We spent an amazing week discovering the beauty of Northern Ireland and a slightly less beautiful week in rainy Devon, where the highlights were a trip to a rather muddy Maize Maze (so much that the woman at the gate genuinely tried to turn us away and avoid our disappointment rather than take our money) and a day out at the House of Marbles (yes, it really is a house full of marbles).

We had a great time – you always do when you’re away with someone you love – but I had very much come to see UK holidays as a second best; something to be accepted before you could afford to fly somewhere more exotic again.

Last year we ventured abroad again and I was certain we had found our family holidaying mojo. A week in Barcelona was the perfect antidote to the stresses and strains of modern life. Culture for us, a beach and aquarium for the little one and a city apartment with a balcony on which to enjoy wines and nibbles after toddler bedtime. It was amazing. I can thoroughly recommend Barcelona, and was looking forward to repeating a similar experience this year.

So, we started to look for the next alternative, but it was not as easy as we thought. The fact that the boy is now over 2 and we have to pay for his flights suddenly made a huge difference to what we could actually afford. Plus, the absence of a buggy and any guaranteed nap time meant that dreams of exploring old towns and cultural highlights were unlikely to been born out.

Reluctantly and, to be honest rather petulantly, I came to accept that a week on the continent was looking unlikely, and suggested a ‘staycation’.

We agreed, and I acted excited, but inside I was gutted. While single and childless friends posted stunning pictures of their smug faces against the backdrop of shimmering beaches and glasses of Prosecco, I was going to be attending village fetes and huddling under anoraks in the English countryside.Carbis Bay

But then I discovered something unexpected…the UK is awesome! Or, more specifically, Cornwall is awesome!

It helps of course that the BBC seemed to lose its knack of weather prediction for the week, and what we expected to be a week of cloud and rain turned into such unexpected glorious sunshine that we ended our holiday rather pinker than intended. Low expectations definitely have their advantages.

Still, Cornwall truly has merits which I cannot put down solely to the weather.

The beaches are among the cleanest and most beautiful I have ever seen: peaceful enough to take a bracing walk on a chilly drizzly morning, and perfect for a family day out in the sun. No giant commercialised Coca-Cola awnings trying to brainwash you into wasting all your money, no one harassing you and trying to sell you stuff while you relax and no one blaring our hideous music or trying to organise a mass game of volleyball among people who just want to be left alone to sunbathe. Carbis Bay is quiet and beautiful, St Ives is cute and quirky, while Fistral Beach in Newquay is fun and, ultimately, too cool for the likes of me (though loomed over by the hotel where they filmed The Witches, so I kept my eyes peeled for purple eyed old women coming too close to my son!).

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Then there are the attractions. Truth be told, my husband and I had started to drift into the odd reminiscence/moan about all the holiday things we’d miss out on having a child: no late nights out, no long lie ins, and, as I’m pregnant and he had to drive everywhere, there was no sipping wine while watching the sunset.

The slides at Paradise Park

The slides at Paradise Park

Yet, without a child we would never have been up early enough to enjoy a lazy breakfast in the garden and then have a full day out. We wouldn’t have got the steam train, played crazy golf, had a picnic and gone canoeing all in one afternoon. We wouldn’t have visited the seal sanctuary and discovered that we were more interested in them than our son was. If we hadn’t been so determined to get an overexcited boy to nap, we wouldn’t have driven around aimlessly and accidentally ended up in Lizard, the most southerly point in England, enjoying cream tea in the most precariously located coastal café with the some of the most stunning views I have ever seen. Perhaps best of all, if I hadn’t been holidaying with my family, I would never have enjoyed the hilarity of watching my husband struggle to free himself from the clutches of the sand, having persuaded our son it would be fun to bury him, then realise he couldn’t get out: trapped by a two year old!

I love being a mum – I really, really do. Yet I find myself all too often reminiscing about things which were better or easier before I had to factor in a child. Thankfully, I’ve been shown that missing out on exotic holidays doesn’t matter. It’s as easy to have an amazing time an hour away from where you live as it is to have a crap time in a place you spend hundreds of pounds to get to. It’s all about the company and the attitude. Plus, it helps if you go somewhere as a wonderful as Cornwall!20150527_141623

As I said earlier, there is no promotion or sponsorship involved in this blog. Just because we had such a fab time, I have listed below all the places we used, where we stayed and how we travelled, just in case someone is lazy and wants to copy our holiday ideas. I cannot recommend Cornwall enough. It was beautiful, fun and ridiculously friends: I have never had such good service anywhere in my life.

  • Travel: We flew from London City Airport to Exeter with Flybe. Sounds extravagant but it was a similar price to the trains and so much quicker and easier. Important when you have small children to entertain! You can easily hire a car from the airport which makes life a lot easier for getting around.
  • Accommodation: We booked through Cornish Cottage Holidays and stayed in a lovely little village called Lelant. The house was lovely, , walking distance to the nearest beach and easy driving distance to everywhere we wanted to go and right next to a pub
  • Paradise Park: A wide selection of tropical birds, an indoor play area with the most fun slides I’ve seen (ahem, and been on – though they’re not really designed for pregnant women!) and, most importantly for us, a completely incongruous but very popular dinosaur trail!
  • Lappa Valley Steam Railway: Possibly the best family day out we have ever found. nestled amidst beautiful lush green surroundings is a paradise of family activities including crazy golf, a boating lake, one of the best parks I’ve visited and s lovely steam train ride to get you there and back. An absolute must visit!

Don’t discriminate against working mums

Today the Guardian reported on a survey conducted by law firm Slater and Gordon which indicated that 40% of employers were wary of employing women of childbearing age, hiring mothers or putting someone they knew was already a mother in a senior role.

No big surprises there for any woman who has ever worked.

The idea that we live in an era of equality when it comes to the workplace is a complete fallacy. Sex discrimination is alive and well, taking many different forms, but one of the most obvious and pervasive of these is almost certainly related to a woman’s decision to have children.

I use the word ‘decision’ deliberately as there are many who argue that women have no right to complain as it is their decision to have children and they should accept the consequences and not expect their employer to ‘foot the bill’ while they laze around on maternity enjoying the fruits of that decision.

To deride the natural impulse to procreate as a ‘decision’ in a manner which implies it is as frivolous and as selfish as bunking off work to go to Glastonbury (which I have known almost as many people to do with none of the derision from co-workers) is overly simplistic, unhelpful and quite frankly stupid.

Firstly, it is not just women involved in the decision to have children – anyone over the age of about 12 knows that. Clearly in a natural birth (i.e. Not adoption or surrogacy) it’s the woman who carries, gives birth to and often feeds the baby so of course she is going to need at least some time to stay home and will often choose to stay at home longer to bond with the baby. But she didn’t start that process on her own and shouldn’t be in some way blamed as if she has ‘decided’ to go through 9 months of pregnancy, hours of excruciating labour and months of sleepless nights purely to have a bit of a break from work and wilfully piss off her employer.

Secondly, if the only way it is acceptable for women to be employed by businesses concerned with the impact of maternity leave and parenthood is to refuse to have children altogether, who do these businesses think they are going to employ in twenty or thirty years time when their current workforce have retired leaving behind no offspring to take over? That people in our communities have children is not selfish. It is not just a nice thing to do. It is not even simply important. It is vital, and we all have a stake in those children being raised well, whether we choose to have them ourselves or not.

As well as the issues faced by employers, the comments on the article are littered with damning anecdotal evidence from other employees, all along the lines of ‘I work with a woman who has kids/went on maternity leave and I ended up having to do all her work, the selfish lazy cow’ or words to that effect.

In my life pre-parenthood I was an incredibly diligent worker and prided myself in never taking time off work. Often this pride was misguided as it probably meant I dragged my germs in and affected other people, or stumbled about my workplace inefficiently for two weeks rather than spending one day in bed and coming back on top form. Regardless, I never missed a day, worked bloody hard and was naively proud of it. At times I would notice that other colleagues seemed to take a fair few days off work and feel aggrieved. When they were off for the third or fourth time with their child, rather than thinking ‘poor kid, that must be a nightmare’ I’d begin to assume they weren’t that unwell and silently tell the mum/dad to toughen up and just send her kid in to school or nursery. Little did I realise then that little kids get sick a lot, and when kids are sick, they are really sick – snot everywhere, projectile vomit down the walls, pus filled pox bursting every time they move. Even if you could bring yourself to abandon the snivelling wretches for the day, there’s no way in the world any childcare or school would take them – they’re trying to protect other children, and therefore other parents and workplaces, from the same fate.

Now I’m a mum I dread illness and the inevitable ‘Whose day at work is more important? How long will it last? Is there anyone else we could call if it lasts? If we wrap him up will the childminder even notice?’ conversations which take place the moment the illness is discovered. Whining colleagues who think parents are skiving off work don’t see the agonising faces pulled while trying to negotiate interim childcare. They don’t see parents running between bottles of Calpol and laptops as we try desperately to keep on top of things while we’re at home. They don’t feel the hideous guilt that comes when you realise that, because of these perceptions of mums not being as good workers, you’re more worried about what you’re missing at work than you are about your own ill child. Perverse but sadly true.

But we have to worry, because there will always be someone you work with who has an ‘I worked with a mum who wasn’t very good at her job therefore I don’t like working with mums’ attitude, which is not only discriminatory and offensive, it is also downright moronic! I have worked with countless men, both fathers and childless, who have been lazy, arrogant, work shy, all-talk-no-action-because-I’m-too-busy-climbing-the-career-ladder, or just no bloody good at their job, but that doesn’t mean I tar all my male colleagues with the same brush. Some people work hard at their job, others take the piss – it doesn’t automatically correlate with gender or whether or not you’ve had children. If you assume it does that’s discrimination, pure and simple.

According to these managers’ perceptions, I’ll be worse at my job now than I was before maternity leave. Ignore the fact that I’m older and wiser. Ignore the fact that trying to get all your housework done in the space of a one hour nap time teaches you how to be a million times more efficient than a day’s time management CPD could ever do. Ignore the fact that I returned to work desperate to throw myself back into it after a year of mental stagnation singing 5 little ducks ten times a day. Ignore the fact that I work bloody harder than most of my childless colleagues because I know that I have to prove myself more than they ever do. Oh, and the fact that they stay until 7pm while I leave at 5 does not mean they work harder or better than me, it means they work longer. It’s not the same thing.

I’m not oblivious to the problems employers and colleagues of working parents face and clearly my viewpoint is extremely biased. I can see that maternity leave is a major financial and logistical challenge for employers and there is always that worry that the mother may not come back at the end of it (though literally everyone I know did go back). I understand it must be frustrating for women who have chosen to focus solely on their career and not have children to know that they are being judged by a set of criteria which doesn’t even apply to them. These are all problems relating to the employment of working mums, and in many ways working dads. But they are not problems caused by working mums and dads.

We all have a right to work. We all have a right to have children. We have a duty to do both of these things to the best of our ability. If you don’t think these things are currently working well together, change the system, lobby the government, do something about it. Don’t just blame, deride and discriminate against women and working mums; nothing good will ever come of that.

Watching the World Cup game alone…

He rushes into the classroom, eager for the day to start. This boy, who has barely spoken to me in the 3 years he has been in my form group is suddenly the first one through the door. He no longer even needs to speak, he just smiles and holds out his hand for a pen to complete the job we all now know is his. Calmly but enthusiastically, he approaches the board at the front of the room and adds in the latest scores.

‘Do you want me to check them online?’ I ask, hoping to be helpful.

‘No’ is his swift reply. Of course, there is no need.

There are a number like him in every one of my classes: children so consumed by their evening activities that they seem to have developed, overnight, advanced memory and organisational skills that have not been apparent in years of schooling.

I am of course talking about the impact of the World Cup. As I look at each of these students in my class I imagine that’s exactly what my husband must have been like at school: excited, obsessive and unable to think about anything else.

I’m not sure why I say ‘must have been’ – he still is!

The World Cup is now well into full swing and, with his sticker book complete, my other half is now free to focus on his one true love : football. Any team, any standard, any match. It’s indiscriminate. Most people would keep an eye on the big games, but may happily forgo Iran vs Nigeria in favour of a decent night’s sleep, but not my husband.

I have officially been a ‘World Cup widow’ for a week now. I used to hate phrases like that, wondering why these women didn’t either get into the football or get off their backsides, go out and find something else to do? Why mope around at home while your other half indulges in a pastime that doesn’t interest you when you could just indulge in one of your own?

I am very much a fair weather football fan.

In my teen years I became quite accustomed to watching England games when a friend and I discovered a pub with themed offers which changed throughout the game. Red card = buy one get on half price on cocktails! England goal = free shots all round! I even have very happy memories of being thoroughly soaked in stale beer while crammed in a crowded boozer to watch England in the last World Cup.

In our early dating days I would make a vain effort and attend one football match a season just to show an interest. I’ve never been one for watching it on the TV, but can definitely see the lure of sitting in the stands with hoards of other people al cheering for the same things. Unfortunately, my enthusiasm began to wane after a particularly uninspiring Colchester vs. QPR game on New Year’s Day, where the performances on both sides were so poor I felt sure they must have been suffering from hangovers almost as bad as my own!

As time went on, and I just couldn’t manage to muster the energy to match my husband’s enthusiasm for Colchester’s latest signing or the never ending stream of facts about players from other countries of whom I’d never heard, I pulled back. I would never try to prise my husband away for his beloved football – quite frankly, if I did I’d fail – so I just accepted that Saturdays were my single days and removed myself from the issue, relenting only for international tournaments where I could get in the mood with the aid of fancy dress, copious amounts of alcohol and pubs full of raucous fans and infectious enthusiasm.

The problem is, now we have a child.

As I write this, the vast majority of my friends will be cramming themselves into their local or gathering round at each other’s houses, angling for a good spot from which to watch the match. Beers will be opened, crisps shared around and the basis of every conversation which will happen tomorrow morning will be founded in the next two hours.

Meanwhile, I sit at home alone with a toddler while my husband watches in the pub*. I can’t complain – of the two of us I have definitely not shown enough devotion to earn this as my night out, but what do I do? Sit and watch it alone and hope I can grasp some enjoyment of it by myself? Watch the highlights later, make a mental note of some key events and pass them off as my own observations tomorrow morning? I could keep the toddler up late to watch it with me…he’d bloody love that, but I can’t imagine his comments will be any more insightful than mine and the morning tantrum would not be worth it!

I guess I’ll just have to go it alone, and look forward to future tournaments when the little man will be old enough to persuade his dad to stay at home and we can become one of those TV families who all sit down together to watch the match over crisps and Ribena…

On second thoughts, open the wine and pass me the remote.

*I should point out. He is actually in a different city for work so isn’t a complete git who has just abandoned me for football…though he probably would have anyway,

The joys of half term (or how on earth do you achieve a work life balance?)

Half term is over. A couple of days and I’ll be back at work: refreshed, rejuvenated and raring to go.

The last few days before the break I was struggling. I had zero tolerance for rude teenagers (why is it so difficult to say please and thank you?). Parents were driving me crazy (yes, your son is being challenged enough, or at least he would be if he bothered to bring in a pen and open his book without me nagging him twenty times!). I was losing enthusiasm for my subject (I’m running out of different ways I can host a discussion on whether we have any sympathy for Caliban).

I was struggling so much that when my husband asked me the question: how was your day? I responded immediately with ‘Rubbish!’ and entered into a tirade of reasons why I was exhausted, fed up and needed a holiday. So hell bent was I on explaining the negatives of my work day, I neglected to tell him I’d been given an outstanding in my most recent observation and that my year 9 class had made me a valentines card to apologise for their previous bad behaviour with the message ‘we really do appreciate all your hard work’ – an act so sweet and unexpected it nearly made me cry in front of them (it didn’t though, and I still made them write an essay!). I just couldn’t focus on the positives.

Ultimately, I was just knackered…and missing my boy.

One week later and I am almost unrecognisable. 6 blissful days of quality family time has made all the difference. We haven’t done anything massively exciting – visited my parents, been to soft play, watched the Gruffalo on DVD, a trip to the park (more specifically Alexandra Palace, where I sat in a pub next to Kenneth Branagh – that was pretty exciting!) – but it’s been lovely, and even though it was interrupted by the inevitable boring day of exam marking, it was everything I hoped for when we first decided to have a family. I feel rested and happy.

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The problem is, how do I now give that up for another 6 weeks?

In the last week I feel like I’ve truly witnessed my little man growing up. His speech has come on leaps and bounds and there must be some link with how much more time I have to talk to him. Yesterday, after much procrastination and some quite frankly wimpy behaviour, he faced his fears and pushed himself down the slide for the first time. Before you know it, he won’t need me at all.

I don’t want to be a stay at home mum – despite appearances at times I love my job and want my son to see me as a strong, independent woman with interests of my own. Though I know my husband would never leave me high and dry, I need my own financial security. I need to know it’s there and it’s mine.

But…

How do you leave work at work? How do I reach the stage where I can step through the door and focus 100% on my family? How can I make sure I never miss those tiny milestones? How can I switch off enough to make sure I notice that my son has started talking in his sleep, stifling a giggle as he rolls around at nap time muttering ‘Apple piiiiiiie’ with a look of pure satisfaction on his face.

As an English teacher, I use a lot of rhetorical questions, but this isn’t one of them.

How do you do it?

In defence of the working mum

I am tired. Worn out. Shattered. Eyes drooping, squinting at the TV as if I was drunk, fighting the urge to go to bed at 8.30pm, unable to conduct a sensible conversation exhausted.

Sadly, it’s not the result of a wild night out partying which ended in an ill-advised round of Jaegerbombs, nor is it the product of jet lag from an exciting long haul flight from an exotic holiday.

I’m propped up on the sofa, intermittently nodding off like Tory back-bencher during a debate on human rights because I’m back at work.

Towards the end of maternity leave I realised that I was one of very few women who made an active choice to go back to work full time. Some mothers arrange to return part time or on flexi-time arrangements, others don’t return at all. Then there are those who desperately try to figure out how to avoid it, but simply have to go back full time.

Not me, I chose to.

I’ve now officially been a full-time working mum for one week and two days, and so I feel this makes me an expert and officially able to comment on what it’s like.

It’s true that I am completely exhausted.

It’s also true that the house has fallen into complete disarray: as I type, I am wedged between a Bermuda triangle of half-dried clothes, a basket of clean but un-ironed clothes and an ironing board which is staring at me as if to say ‘stop putting me up in the living room and pretending that means you’ve done something when you haven’t actually ironed anything for over a week!’

Mornings are an emotional mousetrap. If I creep around slowly, I can get ready and out of the house without the boy seeing me, meaning I can leave on time, but with no morning cuddle and feeling like I’ve attached part of my heart to a bungee rope and had to stretch it the entire length of Hackney to reach work before it flings me back across East London at the end of a long, busy day. The alternative is to get the baby up, which is lovely! But I’m not sure how much my husband enjoys being woken up by me shoving an 11 month old child into his arms then running out of the door, hoping he doesn’t cry (the baby, I think my husband’s a little old for that).

Yet for all the downsides (and there are more than I mentioned) being back at work is wonderful.

For one, I’ve remembered that I have a brain. After a year in which roughly 90% of my daytime conversations revolved around some form of feeding (breastfeeding vs. formula feeding, when to stop night feeds, when to introduce solids, purees vs. baby led weaning, is it ok to feed babies citrus fruits, 3 meals a day vs. little and often, what snacks does the baby eat, is it ok to eat chocolate in front of a baby or will they know and turn into some kind of massively obese social outcast just from having once seen a Cadbury’s crème egg, at what point do you just go ‘oh sod it!’ and take them out to McDonalds?!) I can spend my days discussing issues which have nothing to do with babies but everything to do with the things I loved for so many years before I became a mum.

It’s like switching on a light in the cupboard you’d forgotten was there. It might flicker and stutter a bit at first, but once it’s working you remember just how bright the bulb is and just how bloody, wonderfully useful that under stairs cupboard is and why the hell you ever stopped using it in the first place!

For nearly 30 years prior to becoming a mum I lived a happy and fulfilled life, yet for a year I turned my back on some of the things which had previously been my reason for getting up in a morning.

One of the wonderful things about being a parent is that it totally refocuses your priorities. For example, it no longer feels so important to colour-code the entire of my work diary that I need to stay in my classroom until 7 o’clock at night to do it. I’m also ever so slightly less OCD about ensuring every piece of paper is in exactly the right place on my desk before I leave at the end of the day – what does it matter when anything you take home will inevitably end up covered in Weetabix anyway?

Still, it’s nice to remember that there are other things in my life which are priorities. Like the joy of finishing a full day of work and feeling I’ve really achieved something. Like sitting down to dinner and saying “I had a really interesting conversation with so-and-so at work today” or “I’ve had this brilliant idea about how to teach creative writing by looking at online blogs” (wonder where that idea came from…) rather than “Well, I did two loads of washing today and we sang that song about the monkeys and the crocodile at playgroup”. It seems to me it’s much easier to keep a marriage on an equal footing when you both have something interesting to contribute, rather than one person sitting as the sounding board for their partner who’s been out in the ‘real world’ before getting a cursory pat on the head as congratulations for mopping the floor, like a dog desperately looking for praise after successfully fetching a stick while it’s owner spent the time it was gone looking for a cure for cancer.

And it’s not just our marriage which has benefited. It’s the whole of family life. Rather than spending breakfast time manically searching for playgroups to fill the day and thinking of ways to fill the two long hours between afternoon snack and Daddy coming home for tea-time, now I cherish every second at home. There is no brighter moment in my life than the twenty minutes between tea and bath-time when the three of us crawl under the duvet to read ‘That’s Not My Monkey’ or some other literary masterpiece.

I’m not saying being a working mum is for everyone. If you enjoy being at home all day and find it fulfilling then good for you. It’s just not for me.

Oh, and one final point. By some miracle of bodily timings, I haven’t had to change a poo-filled nappy all week. That’s right, not one in a whole week.

Working mum 1 – Stay at home mum 0

People I’ve learned to love…

As my last blog post was all about the things I hate, I thought I should redress the balance and show that I have discovered people I love since becoming a mum. (Sorry if that means it’s a bit soppy and boring. I’ll get back to being angry and cynical next time, I promise!)

1.       Our Cockney Neighbours

I love London: the lifestyle, the parks, the museums, the markets, the culture, the transport (yes, the transport – I can’t drive so a sprawling tube and bus network really appeals to me, no matter how hot and sweaty), but most of all the diversity. I love that despite being too lazy and disorganised to have actually gone travelling, I have still managed to meet and befriend people from all over the world.

Still, it was always a bit disappointing to move to the East End of London and never meet anyone remotely like the people in Eastenders. Why isn’t there a podgy ginger man selling fruit and veg at the end of my road? Where is the local pub run by Shane Richie and a busty woman in a too-small leopard print corset? And despite all the shouting outside my house throughout the day and night (seriously, shut up occasionally!), why have I never heard anyone scream ‘Rickaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay?!

It’s very disappointing.

Thankfully, our short-sightedness meant we decided that one week after having a baby would be a really good time to move to a new place. On the second floor. With no lift.

Continuing our laissez-faire attitude to organisation, it took us a further two months to discover we actually owned an out-house/shed in which we could leave the pram without having to bump it up the stairs everyday like a scene from the tenements in Call the Midwife.

Now my daily trip down to get the buggy also means a daily catch up with our downstairs neighbours who, you guessed it, are bona fide cockneys! They seem to spend their retirement standing in the garden smoking, waiting for me to come and collect the pram so they can shout “Oooh, ‘ello li-ool Jowjeeee. Ain’t you growwwn?! Jooowje! Joowjiiiie! Aaaaaaah”

They constantly tell me how cute he is, they always take the time to stop and chat, often emerging from their houses as soon as they hear the key in the shed lock far quicker than their walking sticks suggest they should be able to. They buy us chocolate and other completely impractical but lovely presents for a baby and, most importantly, while they don’t get through quite as many fags as Dot Cotton, they are at least real East-enders.

2.       The cast of ‘Cold Feet’

Every modern parent knows that a good box set is the key to sanity in the early days: regular Saturday nights down the pub are a thing of the past and prime time reality TV is well past its best.

When our son was born we invested in a huge number of box sets.

We quickly decided that, while brilliant, Breaking Bad is not good, relaxing viewing after a long hard day with a baby. So instead we moved to that 90s classic ‘Cold Feet’. I remembered really enjoying it the first time round: a group of fun, trendy, slightly sarcastic 20-30 somethings muddling through life. It was like a calmer, less canned-laughter based, British version of Friends, right?

Unfortunately, while it’s still great, on second watching you realise it’s actually quite depressing and now a little too close to home. Pete and Jenny going slightly mad from lack of sleep when they have a baby? Yep, that was us. Adam and Rachel arguing about the baby sleeping in their bed?  Been there, done that. When Karen moans about spending her afternoons with a bunch of Stepford Mums discussing boobs and breastpumps? I am with you Karen, all the way, I am with you.

Over the months I have come to love the cast of Cold Feet as if they were my own friends. We’ve been through the same dramas and felt the same pain. The only place we differ is on the infidelity front, thankfully.

Unfortunately, where Breaking Bad led to ridiculous, far-fetched dreams about running away from murderers and accidentally finding myself dealing drugs from my classroom, Cold Feet has led to more than one “you dream-cheated on me!” conversation over breakfast.

3.       Caitlin Moran

I love Caitlin Moran. Seriously, I love her.

‘How to be a Woman’ is one of the best books I have ever read and it 100% saved my sanity this year.

Have you read it? No? Then stop reading this now and go read that instead. Seriously, it’s much better.

4.       The NHS

It’s very fashionable to hate the NHS, and even more fashionable to say how much you love the NHS, and then list everything that is wrong with it.

I however love the NHS. No ifs, no buts. I think it’s brilliant.

When politicians come to power – once they’ve had long meetings with their PR advisors on how to hide their skeletons so far at the back of the closet they’re practically in Narnia – they start to think about how to make their mark. It’s always the same: education and health. These are the two things everyone has a stake in, so these are inevitably the two things they start meddling in.

The problem is, before you can start ‘fixing’ things, you have to figure out what’s broken, and point it out in great depth. So our politicians, supported by the media, have set about persuading us that the NHS is a great big mess!

Waiting times, unreasonable targets, missed targets, infections, infection control, staff shortages, rude and unhelpful staff, not to mention the  hundreds of pointless ‘back office’ staff who are clearly paid to do literally nothing but sit around moving sheets of paper back and forth across a desk.

I realise all these things are probably real issues (except the ‘back office’ thing – I have no problem with that, in fact I’d rather have some admin assistants than have someone who spent 10+ years training as a surgeon spending valuable time screaming at a laptop when he can’t quite sort out the mail merge to tell everyone the office address has changed!) but seriously, stop moaning! We have free health care! FREE!

As parents, we should be especially grateful: free scans during pregnancy (including a free photo with which you can annoy all your friends!), regular midwife checkups, free ante-natal classes so you know what to expect, a choice of where to give birth, a choice of how to give birth, a choice of pain relief. Sometimes the worst happens and all these choices are taken out of your hands – as they were for us, but from the moment it was clear things weren’t working out to the moment when my baby boy was placed safely in my arms was less than 30 minutes. 30 minutes when at least 9 different professionals (that’s what I counted in my drug induced haze) provided the best of modern medicine to get that baby out safe. And they did.

You can’t really say fairer than that.

5.       My son

‘Nuff said.

Post script

I’ve realised I’ve not included my husband in this and, as he generally proof reads my blogs, I should at least give him a mention! There’s a great episode in series 5 of ‘Cold Feet’ (yes, I really am a bit obsessed) where Adam starts to feel he’s been replaced by the baby: it gets all the attention, sleeps in their bed, is always the first one to get a kiss in the morning and gets praise simply for existing. I imagine all partners feel like this at times, and I’ve definitely been guilty of neglect. So just in case he does read this, I should make it clear that I haven’t included my husband because I haven’t learned to love him, I’ve always loved him, and now we’re parents it’s that little bit easier to remember why.

The Eternal Suffering of the Spotless House

If cleanliness really is next to Godliness, my family are stuck permanently in purgatory.

While we are a long way from the horrors of student days – when my husband tells me a girl was once sent screaming from his flat after noticing a distinct rustling in the pile of takeaway boxes which had become a permanent fixture next to their kitchen bin – I’m hardly a domestic goddess. If you were to turn up at my house uninvited, or even invited, you’re far more likely to be greeted by a mound of un-ironed shirts and half-read newspapers than a freshly brewed pot of tea and a slice of homemade cake.

I am not a domesticated person. I eat cake, I don’t bake it. I buy clothes, I don’t iron them. I can cope with cooking up and – more importantly – eating a family meal, but don’t expect me to wash up as well. That’s just ridiculous.

I hate housework; I hate it.

Housework is a necessary but mind-numbingly boring evil. A task approached with begrudging acceptance and minimal satisfaction on completion.

Sadly, housework when you have a baby moves from an occasional inconvenience to an eternal occupation: cleaning and sterilising bottles; washing dirty clothes; picking up half-eaten food from the floor; scrubbing baby sick off the sofa; picking up half-eaten food off the floor; washing more dirty clothes; drenching every surface with anti-bacterial spray when someone who visited turns out to have a stomach bug; picking more half-eaten food off the floor; putting away toys; hanging out washing; ironing; picking up yet more half-eaten food off the floor then sweeping and mopping it before collapsing, exhausted and miserable in front of ‘Obsessive Compulsive Cleaners, ‘The Great British Bake Off’, ‘Great British Sewing Bee’ or some other prime time reality show designed to highlight how crap you are as a homemaker compared to these inane, grinning buffoons, who periodically fawn over a particularly well-constructed cross-stitch or sobb over a rogue macaroon which isn’t quite the same shape and size as the rest. Oh for God’s sake, grow up and get a real life!

I hate housework and homemaking; I hate it!

King Sisyphus angered the gods through his trickery and deceit, and so was condemned to spend eternity pushing a boulder up a hill, only to see it fall straight back down and have to start again. In the first few years of our courtship, I lied continuously and pretended to be interested in my husband’s crappy football team. Perhaps that deceit is why I seem to have been sentenced to a lifetime of mopping the kitchen floor, only to slip on a sludgy piece of brown banana ten minutes after I finish and start all over again.

I really hate housework; I HATE IT!

Throughout my pregnancy, there was a constant stream of doomsayers, desperate to tell me how shit my life would be once I became a mum. Gems such as “Ooh, enjoy sleep while you can. You won’t get much once the baby arrives!” or young single people gloating “We won’t see you down the pub again soon” or women who already have a brood of children taking pleasure in telling me, in detail, all the ways in which my body would fall apart and begin to resemble that of an ogre after the ‘joys of childbirth’. But no one told me that I’d be perpetually chained to the kitchen sink and essentially have to superglue marigolds to my hands just to get through the day.

My biggest concern when going off on maternity leave was that I’d be bored away from work. “Oh you won’t have time to be bored” chimed the doomsayers. Well, they were half right. I don’t have time, but forgive me if I don’t find dusting that stimulating.

I hate housework; I REALLY HATE IT!

Like most people, as a child I went through numerous phases of wanting to be all sorts of things: a lawyer, an actress, an astronomer, a singer, a fashion journalist – once in middle school I even did an art project about wanting to be a dentist! I didn’t really know what I wanted to be, but I always wanted to work and, to quote the great feminist thinker Beyonce, I wanted to be an ‘independent woman’.

I have always worked, ever since I got a part time job at the age of 15. For most of the time my husband and I have been together, I have been the greater earner (not by much, but still!). The idea of being at home and being reliant on someone else, of having to go cap in hand to ask for cash to go shopping whilst on maternity leave was galling. It’s something I’ve never gotten used to. Many people would say I’m doing a valuable job by staying at home to raise our son, and I’m sure that’s true. But when raising him on some days consists of going to some cutesy named playgroup to sing nursery rhymes, then round to a friend’s for lunch and a coffee, I do feel a bit guilty.  So I feel it’s only fair that I take on the lion’s share of the housework. The problem being, just in case you’ve missed it, I HATE HOUSEWORK. I HATE IT!

So, in two weeks, I’m heading back to work. Full time. I thought this was the norm but chatting at the local children’s centre tells me this often isn’t so. Everyone else is sorting out flexible working arrangements, cutting down their hours or giving up altogether. It’ll definitely be hard to leave the little one, but, oh to engage my brain again! To talk about something other than nappies and weaning. But most of all, to escape the housework: the wiping, the mopping, the sweeping. What’s that you say? It’ll still be there to do when I get home? No it won’t. I’m getting a cleaner! Yes, sod the expense – I’ll dye my hair at home and we’ll eat more beans on toast. Sod the middle class guilt – I’ll get over it when I see how shiny the sink is. Sod what other people think – it’s money well spent if I can pick the baby up from the childminder and head down to the park rather than picking up the duster and heading to the living room furniture.

So take that Sisyphus. If only you’d thought to hire help and sneak off back to work, perhaps eternity wouldn’t have seemed so torturous.

Who’s in charge: the kids, the parents or the advertisers?

Sometimes, I’m a bad mum.

Sometimes, when I’m really tired and just can’t face singing any more songs about farmyard animals or cleaning the kitchen floor for the fifth time today, I sit my son in a washing basket with a few toys, make myself a coffee and watch TV. Aaah TV, the monster in our living rooms: ruining our children’s eyesight with increasingly large screens; destroying our collective imaginations with mind-numbingly stupid programmes; and turning the next generation into a mass of unthinking consumer robots. I love it!

In a letter to the Telegraph last week, the organisation ‘Leave Our Kids Alone’ pleaded with the government to introduce greater restrictions on advertising aimed at young aged children, warning that we are in danger of turning out “young consumers rather than young citizens”. They claim that advertisers target children specifically so that they use “pester power” to get their parents to buy them things.

Well, duh!

Of course advertisers target children. They are impressionable, they like what they’re told to like and they’re desperate to fit in. They haven’t yet got the strength to see the difference between what they want and what is good for them. Just like when they turn their noses up at a nutritious dinner of chicken and broccoli pasta and instead decide they want to eat nothing but custard creams. But you don’t smile and hold out the biscuit tin (and if you do, call Supernanny now!) because you know it’s not good for them.

Just as we, the parents, are in charge of making sure they don’t overdose on sugar before they reach their third birthday, it is our responsibility to stand up to the little brats and say no when they throw a tantrum and demand the latest little Bratz doll (a terrifying anti-feminist nightmare of a toy which I can only assume has been inspired by a toy-maker’s personal love of drag queens). Sure they might scream and cry and throw all their other toys out of the pram, but we’re strong enough to cope with that.

Oh wait, no, apparently we’re not. Because, wherever you go, you see screaming children getting exactly what they want, and then demanding more as a result. And it’s our fault. We’re the ones turning them into “little-consumers”, because from the moment they’re born we teach them that people show love by buying you things.

After reading the letter in the Telegraph, I got to thinking about the things children “pester” us to buy. I headed off to the toy store to do some research, intending to write about how ridiculous children’s toys are, how extortionate the price tags and how stupid parents are to give in.

As I wandered around, I marvelled at the idea that any parent would even consider spending £35 on this nightmare-inducing giant bee…

I winced at the thought of a well-meaning relative spending £33 on a ‘Sophie la Giraffe’ gift case, which essentially contained a blanket and a squeaky dog toy presented a fancy cardboard box (and yes, I am a hypocrite because we do have a ‘Sophie’ and it is well used, but I still maintain that it really belongs in a pet shop)…

And I recoiled when I noticed how much my son seemed to like these hideous, googly-eyed monsters, which I wouldn’t dare take home for fear of spilling water on them or accidentally leaving the biscuit packet out after midnight…

I walked around the store characteristically sceptical, sneering at the ridiculous way in which we desperately try to prove our love by turning the simplest of pleasures into a consumerist activity.

Instead of happily talking through the old family album with your kids, record a message on Tomy’s ‘Forget Me Not Photo Album’ and you’ll save yourself the trouble of ever having to talk to your children about their Nan again.

Rather than expend the hugely difficult effort of breathing on a small plastic stick costing 50p to create bubbles, you could invest in the “Bubbleator”, currently on sale at only £25 for 2!

Yes, I sneered at this nonsense, and then berated myself for falling for it all. For as I walked around the store, my son challenged my scepticism by loving all the things I hated. He actually cried when I took away the evil gremlin toy. Cried! But then he stopped crying ten seconds later when I waved something else in his face, then cried when I took that away. This pattern repeated itself as we mooched around the store for over an hour, clearly proving that he didn’t really love these toys, he just got excited by anything new.

Yet it took all my mental and emotional strength to walk out of that store without spending any money.

At the moment, my son loves nothing more than to hit a spoon on the tray of his highchair. Literally hours of entertainment. It’s prompted at least 3 people to say, “Ooh, shall I get him a drum kit for his birthday?” to which I respond, “Why?” He doesn’t need a drum kit. He’s made his own, which will never get boring like the toys in the shop did, because as soon as it does, I can just give him a different spoon or tray. The possibilities are endless! Why waste your money on buying him something which he can imagine and create himself?

Still, I know that on his next birthday we’ll be bombarded by drum kits, electronic gismos and all sorts of other lovely but inevitably short-lived presents. Because that’s what you do. Even when the children are too young to ‘pester’ us for what they want, the consumer culture is so ingrained in adults we can’t help but go out and buy loads of stuff for them anyway.

So maybe ‘Leave Our Kids Alone’ is right. Maybe we should be fighting harder against the insidious influence of the advertising industry. Maybe we should be exercising more control over what our kids are exposed to. And maybe, occasionally, we should just leave our kids alone – preferably with a wooden spoon, a biscuit tin lid and sitting in a washing basket…

Washing basket fun

Baby fashions: when childhood becomes more Kat Moon than Cat in the Hat.

Happiness

by A.A. Milne

John had
Great Big
Waterproof
Boots on;
John had a
Great Big
Waterproof
Hat;
John had a
Great Big
Waterproof
Mackintosh —
And that
(Said John)
Is
That.

Baby clothes, in my opinion, should conform to two key principles:

  1. Keep the baby warm and dry
  2. Be easy to get off and clean when they inevitably end up covered in a substance seemingly more adhesive than superglue and so foul-smelling David Bowie should confine it to the Bog of Eternal Stench (That’s a Labyrinth reference. If you didn’t get it, you clearly didn’t grow up in the 80s)

However we all know that children’s clothes, like adult clothes, can often be more to us than simply functional items. They are an outward message to the world: ‘This is who I am’. They can tell you more about a person than a thousand Facebook updates.

And while babies can’t access social media, their clothes too can be more than just a simple cover up. They can be fun; they give the people who choose them endless joy; and while babies can only show limited aspects of their personality, what they wear can tell us endless amounts about their parents.

So what on earth am I to conclude about parents who choose to dress their child in this monstrosity…

3. Leopard print dress

Where Facebook has failed, Mylene Klass and Mothercare have stepped in, at last allowing babies to truly express themselves by making a “fashion statement!”

On a run-of-the mill shopping trip in Mothercare this week I happened upon this dress, so brash I would only have expected it to appear on Bette Lynch in Coronation Street circa 1988; a full leopard print party dress with frills and a ‘heart cut out back’ available for girls as young as 6 months. Well, while the style may not exactly be practical for a baby learning to crawl, the garish pattern may well help to disguise the results of a leaking nappy!

If the dress alone is not enough for you, you can accessorise (yes, apparently babies should accessorise) with matching leopard print socks and headband! I immediately snapped a picture and sent it to a friend who was in hospital having just given birth to a baby girl.

“Do you want me to pick this up for the new arrival?” I offered.

“Only if it comes with matching stilettos” she swiftly responded.

Sadly, Baby K at Mothercare hasn’t quite reached that stage yet. No imagination that place. Though if they ever get sight of this post, I wouldn’t be surprised if I found them as a new addition on my next shopping trip. I’ll take a cut of the profits – but for god’s sake don’t put my name on it.

Why are people so desperate for their children to grow up? Why dress them like mini-adults rather than just accepting that babies are babies. Even if we are going to a party – which Mothercare assures us this dress is “perfect” for and “sure to turn heads” – does anyone there really expect the babies to abandon practicality the way we do in order to look stylish? And do we really expect toddlers to make a “fashion statement”?

Dressing babies like mini-adults is nonsensical for so many reasons.

Firstly, the cost.

Last year, Marks and Spencer released the results of a survey (albeit one designed to support and promote their ‘Shwopping’ scheme, but it’s in a good cause so we’ll let them off) which revealed that the average under one year old owned 56 different outfits, totalling an average of £327. Now, unless you are willing to spend your life chained to the washing machine, you do need a significant amount of clothes as by the end of the day at least one set will be ruined by dribble/milk/sick/food/urine/poo or a mixture of all these things. But, for these same reasons, only a moron would invest in loads of clothes, or expensive ones.

A quick internet search for ‘designer baby clothes’ (a ridiculous phrase in itself), reveals some outrageously unsuitable options:

– If you feel three matching leopard print items just isn’t enough, you could always invest in some matching Ugg Boots. That’s right, for the bargain price of £45 you could equip your not-yet-walking child with boots which restrict her ankles and render her unable to move, making it much easier for you to sit on the computer searching for yet more inappropriate baby clothes.

– You could invest in beautiful striped Tommy Hilfiger babygrow for roughly the same price. If your little one is going to ruin an outfit with explosions from his backside which could rival Vesuvius for their force, let them at least do it in style!

– Or if you’re looking to splash out that little bit more, how about £101 for a fruity themed dress. Let’s skip past the frankly ludicrous cost and worry instead about the idea of labelling your young child “fresh and juicy”

Which brings me to my other point: if we do insist on dressing up little girls (there are a few mini-adult boys outfits, but nowhere near as many), must we force them into stereotypical, almost sexualised outfits? Mention leopard print to most people today and the majority will think of Kat Moon, the busty bawdy barmaid from EastEnders – hardly the ideal role model for a child so young they wouldn’t even recognise Ian Beale if he delivered fish and chips to their house in person. I don’t particularly want a brassy, saucy toddler – and I certainly don’t want Shane Richie for a son-in-law.

I guess I can’t totally rail against the idea of dressing up babies like dolls. On the same shopping trip I discovered the animal print nightmare, I bought this…

3. Bumblebee

Ok, I’ll justify it. As is so beautifully illustrated by AA Milne’s ‘Happiness’, a child’s clothes should be first practical and second allow them to enjoy the fact that they are actually a child. The bumblebee outfit is very soft and comfortable and I challenge you to find me any child who isn’t unfeasibly amused by an adult blowing raspberries and whispering “BUZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ” into their ears.

And anyway, he’s my bloody son and I’ll dress him how I want. Who the hell do you think you are to tell me otherwise?