Tuesday, 29 November 2011

I hate coming home

I like going to work. I don't mean the actual working, though actually I enjoy that too, but the actual going, the journey. At the moment one day a week I drop my daughter off at her childcare and drive about an hour to work. Sometimes I just enjoy the silence for a bit. Then I listen to the Today Programme. I hate the Today Programme with its in-jokes and smarter-than-you quips and up-its-own-arseness but oh the joy in listening to it uninterrupted.

I get to work in time to have a hot drink. Yes, a HOT hot drink, and a think and a read of the papers and time to plan my day and then I spend the day, you know, working, being intellectually challenged and busy and full of thought. It's all great.

But I hate coming home.

On the way to work I have a purpose - to get to work, and the luxury of time to myself. At work I am working, including through my lunch break to ensure I can leave immediately my teaching finishes so I can pick up my daughter. On the way home though the only purpose is to get home. Having not thought about anything but work all day, on the drive home I can only think about seeing my baby. It's a panicky feeling that every car I let go ahead of me and every mile under the speed limit and every red light makes worse.

It's glorious seeing my daughter at the end of the day, but truly, coming home, the journey, is awful.

Some blogs and articles I like (an occasional series)

I love this hilarious blog - Parenting. Illustrated with crappy pictures. Illustrated here with my own crappy picture.

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Ways to improve postnatal care #6: Be consistent

When we were in hospital in those very early days, and feeding wasn't working out as planned, I had a flurry of people come to my bedside and try to help me. There were midwives and nursery nurses and breastfeeding counsellors and peer supporters, and they all had different advice. From changing breast to trying a different hold to setting a time limit to letting the baby go for as long as she wished, from squeezing the nipple first to massaging the breast to hand expressing to machine expressing to topping up with formula to not topping up with formula, everyone had a different view. And then the shift would change and I'd see a new lot of midwives and nursery nurses and breastfeeding counsellors and peer supporters all of whom had different views again.

I suspect any single one of them would have worked had their advice been consistent, or had I been able to choose one and have the confidence to follow their advice even when their colleagues were telling me something expressly contradictory. Would it really be so difficult to be consistent, or at least have a plan to enable women to try one thing properly before moving on to the next?

Related posts:
Ways to improve postnatal care #1: Don't call me mum
Ways to improve postnatal care #2: Change the sheets
Ways to improve postnatal care #3: Help us buy the basics
Ways to improve postnatal care #4: Allow partners 24 hour access
Ways to improve postnatal care #5: A debrief for all new mums
Why I love the NHS

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

"I am very cross" - the language of parenting

My first lesson in swearing came when I started secondary school and a kindhearted classmate took me aside for a chat about swearing. "We don't say bloody hell here" she said, "we say fucking hell." Fucking hell and variants thereof served me pretty well for several years after that.

My second lesson in swearing came a few years ago when a friend far cooler than I will ever be remarked that she found "get fucked" to be a far more effective phrase than "fuck off". I tried it many times and she is absolutely right on this one.

And now I am a parent I have found something else out about swearing. It's not the fucking hells or the fuck offs or the get fuckeds that make the biggest impact, it's the language of parenting. "I am," I told the doctor who messed something up, "very cross." He visibly shrivelled. "I'm disappointed" I told the hotel manager when someone barged into our room at 3am and he immediately refunded our whole stay. I am looking forward to telling the next person I have to tell off that "it is more in sorrow than in anger." After that I intend to call someone a wally and someone a clot. Watch them quake.

It's my blog so I'll self-promote if I want to

These two books would make great Christmas presents.

For people who want to change the world but don't quite know how to go about it, for those with time on their hands to write a letter, sign a petition, join a committee or go on a protest, for young people and older people and everyone in between, for friends and siblings and colleagues and anyone you need to buy a secret santa gift for...

And for women, and men, who say 'I'm not a feminist but...' and then go on to say things such as 'but I believe in equality' or 'women should have careers too' or 'of course I think we should share the housework', and for people who don't say that kind of thing but need re-educating. For your friend, your girlfriend, your sister, your mum, your aunty, your colleague, your nan. And for your brother, your boyfriend, your dad, your uncle, your grandad. Or for yourself of course - you deserve a gift too.

Monday, 21 November 2011

Five little words

There's a lovely baby book by the wonderful illustrator Emily Gravett, Orange Pear Apple Bear, that just uses five words and some beautiful witty pictures. I couldn't resist buying it when I was pregnant and it has really started to come into its own as my daughter reaches a year old. What's more, it just uses five words. What are they? Orange, pear, apple and bear of course. As for the fifth - I won't ruin the surprise, you'll have to read it yourself.

Related posts:
From dogs to cats

Dog, doggy or puppy and the link with puddles

Man's work
She's perfect, we kept her

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Things that make me feel like a mum #1: Having a present cupboard 

It's not literally a cupboard, but only because our house is small and there's not a lot of storage space, but I do have a shelf of presents appropriate for different ages all ready for a forgotten birthday, an unexpected Christmas gift needing reciprocity or a last minute invite. I also have sellotape, wrapping paper and various gift bags and a stash of all purpose cards. Get me - I'm totally grown up!

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Ways to improve postnatal care #5: A debrief for all new mums

What would really have helped me in the days post birth would have been a medical professional come and talk me through what happened. I could have asked why labour went the way it did, what the implications of the medical procedures I had were and got an explanation of the medicines me and my baby were being given.

Instead I got information piecemeal - some when I was out of it on drugs, some when I was out of it on elation and some when I was out of it on tiredness. All of which means I was still piecing together what happened months later.

You might ask does it matter given both me and the baby are okay. But it matters to me. And it matters to many women.

At the moment you can request an appointment with a midwife post birth to go through your notes, providing they haven't lost them of course. But this needs you to know you can do this and to be proactive.

Instead it should be offered to all women the day after birth, or before leaving hospital, so any gaps can be filled and any questions answered. That way we'd begin our parenting experience feeling empowered by information, rather than vulnerable through a lack of knowledge.

Related posts:
Ways to improve postnatal care #1: Don't call me mum
Ways to improve postnatal care #2: Change the sheets
Ways to improve postnatal care #3: Help us buy the basics
Ways to improve postnatal care #4: Allow partners 24 hour access
Why I love the NHS

Monday, 14 November 2011

Sharing too much

Writing, be it a blog, journalism or books, inevitably draws on your own life and experiences. For this blog in particular, without the constraints of editors, I write about what I am interested in and this is sparked by what is happening in my own life. Which means I have an ongoing dilemma about what to share. This is not because I mind sharing personal things - anything that appears on here or published by me elsewhere I have thought through and decided I am fine for readers to know - but because many things that happen to me are not just mine to share.

Stories about my family life aren't just about me. They are about my husband, my daughter, my parents, my friends, my colleagues and others. So every time I write a post I have to ask myself the question 'is this mine to share?' Sometimes I probably get this wrong. But I am trying hard to ensure that while this blog is about me, and about parenting, and about my thoughts on parenting (with some books and products thrown in), it is not about my child in particular.

This means I have to censor some posts before I write them. Because it is not for strangers to know personal details about my daughter, be it her health, her name or what she had for breakfast. Occasionally I persuade myself that she won't mind, but then I delete the post before it is published. And whenever I almost slip up, I remind myself of the journalist who many years ago wrote an article in a national paper about a rare health problem his children have. Some years later I saw this journalist and his children out and about, and found myself scrutinising them for any signs of this health problem, which was of course absolutely none of my business.

Where do you draw the line though? If you write about problems bonding, or depression, or breastfeeding issues, might your child one day read your back catalogue of work (yeah right, as if they will take an interest in what you do!) and feel it reflects on their ability as a lovable child, as a source of happiness, as a competent feeder?

I remember the journalist Jon Ronson, whose funny column in The Guardian frequently featured his son, explained his decision to stop writing it as something he had always promised to do when his son asked him to stop, which he did. And Julie Myerson has made a career out of exploiting her children, which ended in tears when they found out they were the subject of her column and when she wrote a book about one son's drug addiction.

The publishing industry is to blame for some of this. My daughter sparks many ideas for articles I would like to write without giving her story, but parenting magazines do not want an article about an issue without a personal touch and preferably a picture of the two of us hugging. And journalists are to blame too of course - I don't want strangers to know about my child but it is my job to persuade other people to tall readers about their stories and the stories of their loved ones.

What it comes down to I suppose is that we all have our own line we will not cross. I do not think I will mind if one day my daughter says to me "I've read the cache of your blog mum and apparently parenthood is like, totally brilliant but totally terrible too." Perhaps it will spark a discussion about my love for her and how this trumps absolutely everything, even bitten nipples. But I don't want her to ever turn to me and say she saw a stranger looking at her oddly in the street, as if, you know, they were wondering about her health.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Some blogs and articles I like (an occasional series)

Tsk - I meant to post this last week but forgot. I was a guest editor on Tots100 which involved picking out my top ten blog posts of the week.

Here they are:

First, I love this post from Expat Mum on the trend for lunchbox notes in America – it’s enough to make you see your lunch for a second time. Bleurgh!

Much as I know it’s ridiculously overpriced I spend ages lusting over all the beautifully designed Scandinavian kids’ stuff, and Little Scandinavian highlights the best. Those hanging advent calendars? Want.

I am always inspired by Red Ted Art’s blog and the way it makes everything look doable. I’m looking forward to my daughter being old enough to join in. Until then it’s just me and my glitter glue.

I’m also inspired by the activities on Learning Parade especially this week’s story wheel. I wouldn’t want to be a tiger mother – but they look fun as well as educational.

This post from Happy Homemaker UK on trick or treating in England has to get a mention if only because I intend to use her line about British homes having spooky fog machines next time I meet a gullible American.

I’ve never met Victoria Wallop but I feel like I know her and her family through her brilliant blog It's a small world after all that I’ve been reading for about a year an a half – I can’t believe it’s a year since they set off on their trip.

This post at Sprinkles and Sprogs perfectly captures the joy of being a mum. So much so that I deliberately put a Happyland figure in my bag this week to ‘accidentally’ find at work when I missed my baby.

I know it’s a cliche that having a baby makes you appreciate your own parents more, but A Mother Knows says it beautifully in her post thanking her parents for all their help on her journey so far.

When you ARE that woman
has a nice post about her son’s haircut and all that it means to him, to her and to others.

A friend of a friend writes a blog about her son who has a rare chromosomal disorder. It’s always very moving and often funny and is brilliantly written. It’s not a British parenting blog but this post is about England and made me cry. Alexander Will Walk.

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Should you cry in front of your children?

After a difficult phonecall this week I was in left in tears and left with a quandary - should I let my daughter see I was crying. She's only a baby but she can definitely tell when I'm upset, getting upset herself at the sight of me crying. 

Parents are supposed to be strong and capable of anything. We are the sorter-outers not the quivering wrecks. And though I'm good in a crisis I'm a crier the rest of the time. 

The first time I cried in front of my daughter was during one of our nights in hospital when in the middle of the night, both of us beaten by attempts to get my breasts to work, I sat on the bed with her in my arms and we both bawled, possibly for hours. But that was us against the world together. This time it was her normally happy encouraging mummy having a moment. And while children need to learn that not everything goes well all the time, some problems in the adult world should be kept adult.

So all I could do was brush the tears away, force my voice to normal and get on with our day. And because nothing else actually matters to me as much as the wellbeing of my family, this made me feel better anyway. 

Wow - it's a powerful protection having a family. I felt it when I met my husband, and remember thinking that if things went badly at work or in friendships or anywhere else, it was okay now because someone loved me and I loved them and that's what mattered. And now the baby is here that feeling has multiplied. 

This protection makes everything else less powerful and I think sometimes people sense that and can feel threatened by it. They can only hurt you a little bit, unless they hurt your family also. It's why films are right when good people will do bad things if the baddies have their child or their partner. I had always thought this was just a cheap plot device, but I see now that it is true. For you are there to protect your family, but they protect you too. Which means there should have been no need to question whether my daughter should see me cry, because there really was no need to cry in the first place.  

(Now I just have to put this into practise. I am a crier. From sad things on the telly to stubbing my toe to thinking about mortality to seeing a pretty picture to having a frustrating conversation with someone being stupid. I must learn to take my own advice.)

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Choosing life

The big thing when I was at sixth form was Irvine Welsh's Trainspotting. Like so many books, series and films which I go on to enjoy, my mum read it, liked it and told me I should read it, much to the shock of my friends who think a parent with the same cultural taste as them must be ultra cool. 

Perhaps the most famous part of Trainspotting was Renton's 'Choose Life' speech, which was reprinted on posters adorning many students' walls once I got to university. 

"Choose life. Choose a job. Choose a career. Choose a family. Choose a fucking big television, Choose washing machines, cars, compact disc players, and electrical tin can openers. Choose good health, low cholesterol and dental insurance. Choose fixed-interest mortgage repayments. Choose a starter home. Choose your friends. Choose leisure wear and matching luggage. Choose a three piece suite on hire purchase in a range of fucking fabrics. Choose DIY and wondering who the fuck you are on a Sunday morning. Choose sitting on that couch watching mind-numbing spirit-crushing game shows, stuffing fucking junk food into your mouth. Choose rotting away at the end of it all, pissing your last in a miserable home, nothing more than an embarrassment to the selfish, fucked-up brats you have spawned to replace yourself. Choose your future. Choose life."

I think we had it on our walls ironically then. The irony is of course that it's exactly what I've chosen. 

FML* as my students might say. Except I like it. 

(*Fuck my life)

Things to do on maternity leave when you're braindead

- I'm writing a novel
- Yes, me neither

I had thought that while I was on maternity leave I was going to write a novel.


Or in parent parlance, Ha ha bonk. (That, as Ahlberg fans will know, was the sound of me laughing so hard my head fell off.) Write a novel? I didn't even have time to read one. 

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

I did not steal my baby

I am what I think people call olive skinned. My hair is brown, my eyes a greeny hazely mish mash and my skin looks a bit tanned. If I go into a Turkish shop it is assumed I am Turkish  If I go into a Greek shop it is assumed I am Greek. Italians speak Italian to me. Spaniards speak Spanish to me. When I get in a taxi the driver nearly always ask me where I'm from and the answer London doesn't suffice. When I can't be bothered to play ball and they say "No, I mean where are your parents from" I say London again. If they go back another generation I say London a third time. Then they stop which is a shame because if they went back another generation they'd begin to get the answers they are looking for. 

My daughter on the other hand is currently blonde. I don't mean currently as in she has taken to dyeing it regularly - she is ten months old so hopefully that's several years and much teenage angst away - but it started dark, turned blonde and who knows what it'll be next. 

Regular readers will know I have a slight obsession with risk, abduction and the cases of Ben Needham and Madeleine McCann. And I have been thinking about the language used around these cases and in particular the idea that gypsies might have stolen a blonde child. And I wonder whether people look at me and my blonde baby when we are out and about and wonder if we are really mother and daughter especially when people comment on her colouring. "My husband is fair" I tell them, "and so were both my grandmothers" as if I must justify the genetic heritage of my baby. And whilst losing a child to abduction must really be the worst thing possible, I do feel terribly sorry for the gypsies and other dark skinned people who may also have blonde children and who face suspicion because of it. 

Related posts:
Choosing between risks
The risks you dare not take
Searching for lost children