Wednesday 30 January 2013

Can't Hunt Foxes? Hunt Charities.

I had been at the pub, I can’t remember who with now. It was a few years ago. I’d definitely been at the pub though, because I was drunk when I heard the news. I was staying at my parents’ at the time. I’d arrived home from the pub in a good mood. Now I think about it, I’m pretty sure I had been at the pub with my friend Amanda. Not that it makes a difference now, the nice part of the evening has been wiped from my memory. All that remains, is what happened next.

Monday 28 January 2013

Mary Berry, Maternity Leave & My Big Decision

You know Mary Berry? The judge from The Great British Bake Off? No, that’s Paul Hollywood. The other one, yeah, her. She’s really good at baking. Well, I think she is. I’m guessing that’s how she came to be judge on a baking programme. And anyway, when her and Paul bake for each other, he always seems really impressed with whatever she’s made. She is a real life star baker. Baking, and all things baking related, are her area of expertise. You could ask her anything about baking, and she’d be able to answer from her wealth of knowledge and experience.

Or, she might start talking about how these pesky women are causing headaches for their employers because of this bloody nonsense maternity leave. Mary, you see, only took five weeks off when she had her babies, and then she was straight back to work. Five weeks!

Ebony at five weeks

I’m pretty sure when Ebony was five weeks, I was struggling to form sentences because I was so tired. Around that time, I cried because we had the wrong type of washing up sponge. There was no way I would have been able to function in a work environment. I would have been asleep at my desk, snapping at colleagues, crying into my tea and producing copy rife with spelling mistakes. I was a lactating, hormonal zombie mess.

In the Sunday Times article, Mary said about returning to work so soon; “I thought, well, if I leave my job I'll never get it back again.” It’s exactly this type of fear that maternity law aims to prevent. Mothers should feel able to stay home with their babies without having to worry about losing their job. Mary’s comments read like a hark back to the good old days.

Ah the good old days, when it was ok to make women redundant simply because they were pregnant. Or when you could legally discriminate against women simply for having the plumbing to one day produce offspring. Those days rocked.

Now, you can’t do that. And while it may seem, to people like Mary Berry, that it’s too cushy for parents these days. Britain is actually lagging behind on maternity law. I’m not saying we have it toughest, the US has pretty terrible maternity rights, actually. But, lots of countries are offering much better support to new families in the form of maternity pay, paternity leave and parental leave.

Mary Berry’s comments compare Britain now to Britain then, but what we should actually be doing is comparing Britain now to the rest of the world now. And most importantly, we should be looking at how we can improve our employment laws to offer new families much needed support.

There is a lot of guilt surrounding parenting, most likely because it is the important task we undertake in our life, and there is a lot at stake, so we fret that we are doing it wrong. Some women feel guilty, as Mary Berry says she did, for returning to work too soon, or at all. Others feel guilty for staying at home to raise a child.

My daughter turned one a couple of weeks ago. Before I went on maternity leave, I discussed with my employer that I would return to work in January. But, as my maternity leave progressed, I realised I wasn’t yet ready to leave my baby. I asked for some extra time off, unpaid, which was granted. I thought that if Ebony was a little older when I left, then I would feel more comfortable with it. As even more time passed though, it became glaringly obvious that I was still not ready to leave her.

I’m not making sweeping statements about other families, I’m just talking about mine, but I just felt that Ebony would benefit from me staying at home with her longer. I don’t want to go through the crying fits as I walk out of the door for work, I don’t want someone else to tell me what my child has been doing that day, and I don’t want to miss out on all of her firsts. I want her to know, without doubt, that I am always here if she needs me. I can’t do that if I’m sat at a desk an hour and a half away.

I will leave her, when she’s ready. When she’s at an age where I can explain to her that I’m going to work and will be back at the end of the day, and she will understand this, then I’ll start working again. For now, my work is here, at home, teaching Ebony about the world.

This has been a really difficult decision, and something I lost many hours sleep over. I didn’t just have a job, I had my dream job. And, because of what I do and where I live, resigning from this particular job was essentially closing the door on the job I’ve always wanted. I am worried that in the future, when I start looking for work again, and realise how rubbish all other jobs are, I will look back on this decision and feel sad. I hope that I don’t. I hope that instead, I look at Ebony, and realise how lucky I was to have the extra time with her. As my wise husband pointed out, you can’t predict the future, you have to make decisions based on what you know now. And what I know now is that Ebony will thrive best if we stay together a little longer.

Friday 25 January 2013

To The Woman With The Toilet Rolls

We’re all so busy now, aren’t we? Busy, busy, going about our lives. Too busy to really see what’s going on around us. Too busy, perhaps, to notice a stranger’s obvious plea for help. Well, today I encountered an individual who had time for her fellow citizens. She was busy, sure, she had loo roll to get home, but she still took the time to help out a stranger.

Thursday 24 January 2013

A Review of The Mulberry Bush Cafe, Wilmslow

Playing on one of the rockers
Today, I visited the recently opened The Mulberry Bush Cafe in Wilmslow, Cheshire. I was so impressed that I thought I’d share it with all of you.

The Mulberry Bush Cafe is a family-friendly cafe. Many cafes claim to be family-friendly, but I certainly haven’t been to one as accommodating as The Mulberry Bush Cafe before. The idea behind the cafe is that it’s a place that serves quality food and drink in an environment where children can be entertained.

Tuesday 22 January 2013

Rabbits As Childhood Pets

We had lots of pets when I was growing up. We had so many that my French teacher would audibly groan whenever she asked me “Avez-vous des animaux?”. We had guinea pigs, fish, cats and rabbits. Over the span of my childhood we had Cat, Waif, Oscar, Tiddles, Nancy, Bet, Dinky, Doodles, Charlie, Sylvester, Moby, Floppy, Chips, Thumper, Snowy, Speckles and, I must admit, I’ve totally forgotten the names of my other fish.

Monday 21 January 2013

Lessons Learnt During The First Year of Motherhood

Ebony turned one on the 9 January. The past year has flown by, and I can’t believe that my little baby is now a whole year old. I think back to myself a year ago, and I remember how terrified I was. I had never been in charge of anything as valuable, precious and fragile before and I was terrified I'd do something wrong. This post is ten things I've learnt over the past year.

1. 365 is a lot of sleepless nights. Alright, that’s not really wisdom. It’s more of a warning. It’s a lot of tiredness. A lot of forgetting things. And a lot of walking into door frames. My advice? Naps are not just for babies and Grandads.

2. Washable nappies will save you lots of money, and doing an extra wash every few days (or every other day with a newborn) is nothing compared to the expense of buying disposable nappies. And don’t stop there, washable wipes, grim as they may sound, are amazing too. They’re really soft on baby’s skin, there are no chemicals, and they’re environmentally friendly. And, because they’re thicker than normal wipes, you are much less likely to end up covered in crap. 

3. Charity shops are filled with good condition books, toys and clothes. I’ve pretty much spent my entire year trudging round the local charity shops and I’ve got some amazing treasures. Brand new Dr Seuss books for 25p, beautiful vintage dresses for 75p and a whole array of musical instruments for less than £1. It makes no difference to Ebony whether the toy is brand new and just cost me £15, or second hand and priced at only 30p, she gets the same enjoyment out of it. We didn’t buy her a single brand new present for Christmas or her birthday, we just got good condition items from charity shops. Maternity pay has taught me the importance of frugal living!

4. Breastfeeding will save you a lot of money, a lot of hassle and a lot of tears. Breastfeeding is the answer to any parenting problem. Teething pains, vomiting bug, want reassuring, need to get to sleep; breastfeeding is the cure you’ve been looking for. But, it's also hard work at the beginning. You're not a failure as a Mum just because you don't take straight to breastfeeding. Don't be embarrassed to ask for help.

5. You are the parent, follow your instincts and don’t let other people make you feel worried/self conscious/like a bad parent. Everyone parents differently. Do what works for you, and ignore unwanted advice. 
6. Keep reading. I have been reading parenting books all year, and I’m really glad. Once you have a baby, it’s more important than ever to challenge your parenting ideas. I’m currently reading Unconditional Parenting which is an amazing book and is really opening my eyes to the way that my actions and words may affect my daughter’s personality as she develops. Just because you’re a parent, doesn’t mean you know it all. Keep seeking out new information which could make you a better parent. 
7. Make sure you have carpet cleaner in the house. Poo and wee will get everywhere in that first year. And sick, actually. And snot. I recommend keeping a pet stain remover handy. 
8. Keep talking. When your baby is tiny, it’s hard to think of things to say all the time. But listening to you talk will help them develop their language skills, so it is important. As soon as the baby is old enough to start communicating back (even just with grunts and giggles), this gets a lot easier, but it’s still important in those first few months. My only worry now is that I have gotten so used to speaking aloud, I may never stop. I might actually become one of the street corner people you see telling themselves angry stories. 
9. It’s ok that you’ve been irrational this year. The hormones, the sleep deprivation, the reduced adult conversation, the vomit, the poo... it’s normal to be a little crabby. Your friends and family will understand, and if they don’t, they’re probably arseholes. 
10. Don’t wish your baby away. I have spent this year desperately wishing the next stage to arrive sooner. Please hold your head up, roll over, sit up, crawl crawl crawl, say Mama, come on just walk a few steps. I’ve longed for each new skill with a desperate intensity. And then, as soon as the new skill is mastered, I regret it. Apart from the head holding, that was most inconvenient when I had to do it for her. But everything else, I’ve regretted instantly. Trying to get a velcro nappy securely fastened around a rolling, crawling, climbing, pissing baby is beyond stressful, I rue the day I ever wished her to roll. Don’t worry about when your baby will do these things, just know that they will and you’ll wish they hadn’t. Enjoy the peace while it lasts.
What are your words of parenting wisdom?
The photo showcases Ebony's birthday cake which was lovingly made by my friend Beckys Cake Boutique.

Sunday 20 January 2013

Why I Chose Rear Facing

When we chose our first car seat, I just assumed they would all be pretty much the same. We didn’t really do much research into car seats, we focused instead on travel systems (what a waste of money) and just bought the accompanying car seat.

Saturday 19 January 2013

My Sponge Baby

My daughter is one, and she understands a lot of what is said to her. She may not be able to say much yet, but she can still understand what people are saying to her. I'm very conscious that she is sponge-like. She absorbs everything. Sights, sounds, behaviours, they all get absorbed and processed by her brain. She learns through observing and experiencing.

Tuesday 8 January 2013

Use Your Words

I was at a soft play centre yesterday. Sorry non-parents, that might sound like I’m bragging, but I’m not, I swear. I’m just casually name dropping the awesome things I do with my time. I don’t mean to make you jealous, I’m just a normal person, yeah? People who know me, always describe me as down to earth. It’s just that I’m privileged.

You see, while you might be drinking a glass of wine in a pub on a weekday evening, or drinking too many on a weekend, I’m at soft plays. For those who aren’t aware, the basic premise of a soft play is this: I cannot be bothered with my child/children anymore. I need to put them somewhere. But I don’t want them to get hurt.

So, many years ago, a wise parent invented the soft play. Wipe clean, safe to fall on, stick-as-many-children-in-as-you-want, good clean fun. Kids love it because they get to go absolutely mental and be loud and screechy and throw themselves around without a) dying and b) getting done. Ebony loves it because she can potter about on her tippy toes, she can build a stash of ball pool balls, and there are loads of amazing things (older children) to look at (stare at, like a weirdo, with her mouth open in amazement). 

Parents love it most though. If you don’t have kids, you’re probably thinking: “Ah yeah, it must be nice to see your kids having fun.” Well it is, but that’s not why the parents love it. Most of the parents love it because it means they’re off-duty. They don’t give a shit what their kids get up to in the soft play centre, as long as they get an hour to drink a hot drink, moan to their friends about how hard life is, and check Facebook on their phones, they’re happy. And during this hour off, they have no idea what their kids are doing.

It’s mayhem. No parental supervision, an abundance of fizzy drinks, and a huge brightly coloured padded room of fun, mean that all the kids morph into the Lost Boys from Hook. There are fights. Actual fights. Kids scream and cry. Some vomit from sheer excitement. 

Not all the schools were back yesterday, so the soft play was heaving with parents on the edge of a nervous breakdown. You could almost hear them all whispering “Just one more day and they’ll be back at school. Just get through today and it’s over.” 

One Mum, adorned in her best gym outfit (I assume), had pretty much handed her parenting duties down to her first born. The child in question looked about eight, and was in charge of looking after one toddler, one screechy four year old girl, and an over-enthusiastic six year old boy who (again, I assume) really loved karate. 

It started off well, but within about fifteen minutes all of the siblings had fallen out, karate kid was going insane doing spinning kicks, the toddler had hidden somewhere (and not been found) and the screechy girl had stopped screeching and started sobbing. 

The next time I saw them, the karate kid was having a major melt down next to, what he referred to as, the funfair ride (one of those 20p lame ride on things). I didn’t see the prelude, but what I did see was the eight year old girl being kicked, punched and screamed at by karate kid. Their Mum saw what was happening, rolled her eyes and, begrudgingly, paused her conversation to come and sort it out.

“Why is he kicking you?” she said, in a tired voice, to her upset daughter. “What have you done?”

I react to things in the moment, and don’t always say the right thing. But this struck me as a particularly unfortunate way to lead a conversation about uncommunicated emotions, about violence and about being a victim. Instead of asking karate kid why he had chosen to lash out, or addressing the emotions he was struggling to express, the Mum basically asked her daughter what she had done to deserve the violence. “What have you done?” implies that certain behaviours would deserve this kind of reaction. 

I often say things to Ebony and then regret it later. Sometimes if she pulls my hard, which she does with the strength of a thousand bodybuilders, I shout “No” and an explanation follows some minutes after when I have composed myself. I wish it didn’t. I wish I could always calmly explain that pulling my hair hair hurts me and makes me sad, but I don’t. Sometimes it fucking hurts. 

Children idolise their parents. We imprint on them in ways we cannot see. Everything we say to them is absorbed, understood and reacted to. We need to make sure we are aware of that in everything we say. Sure, we will all make mistakes, and mess up every now and again, but the important thing is to acknowledge that, to right our wrongs and to build the confidence of our children without, perhaps mistakenly, teaching them lessons that certain behaviours deserve a violent response.

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