(Can’t quite manage a) Silent Sunday

There are times in your life when the universe strips it all back to basics. You are compelled, by forces outside yourself, to have a serious reassess of how you are spending your time on the planet. An unwelcome phone call crashed into my life on Friday afternoon, and has left me confused, undermined, overwhelmed.

Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

That smart chap Shakespeare wrote this. It is easy to let life be filled up with sound and fury. It is hard to make sure that every day doesn’t end up signifying nothing. And lets not forget that there are millions of people around the world who would much prefer the problems of my existence, to the ones they wake up to every day. But, I have taken a bit of hit. I will, in time, blog more fully about the events of that day, and I’m not trying to be melodramatic and mysterious. For now, though, I just wanted to focus on what matters to me.

This afternoon, the sun shone, and the kids and I joined some families from the school my daughter will be attending from September, on a welly walk and Easter Egg hunt. Down by the estuary, after 48 hours of figurative black clouds, life felt warmed-up again.

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I’m a very lucky woman. Let’s just leave it at that.

 

 

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A million women, many mothers and one shoddy dad

Three dates, in close succession; three emotional responses. Let me explain…

Sunday 10th March; Mother’s Day (here in the UK at least).

I am always wary about elevating the status of motherhood too much. Yes, it is a complex, challenging and important role. Yes, society is depending on us to do a good job. But, if we put mums on a pedestal, two things happen. One, the many women in our society who have chosen not to be mothers, or the many more who would have dearly liked to be, but can’t be, are left feeling seriously excluded. I know, I used to be one of them. And two, in a climate that is, frankly, tough enough to parent in, a day that further shines the spotlight on the role, serves only to impose impossible expectations on to each and every one of us.

Via the marvel that is my twitter feed I have today read some strikingly diverse responses to the dawning of Mothering Sunday. I sat in bed with my laptop awaiting my special-cup-of-tea-in-bed, and first read this piece by the marvellous glosswatch; in it, she laments the lack of radicalism attached to this annual ritual. Mother’s Day doesn’t bring about change or improvement in her view, and ultimately, it just lines the pockets of restaurant chains, florists and chocolate manufacturers.

I really liked her piece, and, as I do so often at the moment, I wondered at the level of my naivety that had led me to never really question the value of the occasion. I’m just so bloody grateful that I get to be a recipient of handmade cards and presents-that-daddy-helped-me-buy, that my thoughts don’t take on anything approaching a more sophisticated perspective. But that’s what I love about my exposure to the blogosphere; from now on, my view will be broader.

Friday 8th March; International Women’s Day

Shining the best light we can on the UK, I’d say that we are now, and always have been, pioneers, founders, radicals, activists and trailblazers, in so many ways. At times this has got us into humanitarian hot water. Colonialism and the excesses of the slave trade weren’t highlights, let’s face it. But, I do feel the British have inspired moments of facilitating fundamental changes in the way that the world does what it does. Case in point? Emeline Pankhurst. By any telling of her story, including Disney’s sugary Mary Poppins re-telling, the suffragette movement had a profound impact on the view women have held of themselves ever since. Danny Boyle was right to make a place for her descendants in the opening ceremony, especially as last summer’s games were the first time women have represented every single national team attending. On our tiny island, feminism has been allowed to flourish via a democratic sensibility that, though imperfect, has moved over and made room for us.

So, what is it with International Women’s Day? Why is it such a non-event here? It seemed such a journalistic afterthought. Given the support for the Million Women Rise march in London on Saturday, or the mooted changes to the way sexual offences are investigated and managed by the judicial process, or even this report today that revisits Annie Oakley’s 1970s explorations of women’s lot at home and at work, all is not completely resolved economically, sexually, domestically or socially between women and men, clearly. And yet here is a global movement, a national public holiday in many countries, that drifts past with very little mention here in good old, supposedly feminist, blighty. Hmmm. I can at least report that the 65 or so women, myself included, who spent the day at Tots100’s Blog Summit had a collective sense of doing something appropriate to mark the occasion.

All this polemic and call to action is in sharp contrast to the feelings raised by another significant date in my own personal timeline this week….

Wednesday 6th March; my father’s birthday

I haven’t spoken to my father in over ten years. He is aware of the bare bones of my current life. He knows that I am a married mum with two children. He knows I live in Devon, just 90 minutes drive from him. But that is about it. He has no knowledge of the journey I have made from our last encounter, via divorce, career change, marriage, infertility, childlessness and surprise motherhood, to now. Last time we were in the same room, I was buying a flat for myself, having separated from my then husband, and dealing with redundancy. He came to help me do some carpentry in my new place, but found it difficult to concentrate for more than half an hour at a time without stopping for a spliff and some self-indulgent, woe-is-me, navel gazing. I asked if we could crack on for a bit longer. He chose to walk out.

After two decades of trying to persuade him of the value of being present in my life (we haven’t lived together since I was 18 months old), I reached this key moment, in my 31st year, and thought, ‘Bugger it, that is enough’. I can’t say that I miss him – how do I really know what there is of him to miss? – but his 65th birthday this week, just like those that have come before, undermines my equilibrium for a few days. Here am I, trying to teach my kids the value of family, of persistence, of tolerance, of forgiveness, and yet I choose not to bother with one of my parents. I’m uneasy about the message this will send to our kids, once they are old enough to grasp it. Am I contradicting my own otherwise carefully thought through parenting principles?

I never find an answer this question. I can still feel very angry with him, and yet most of the time he just really isn’t on my radar. In practice, if I need fatherly support or advice, I go to my father-in-law. But my dad’s birthday always has me wrestling internally… and probably always will.

Penguins can crawl. Who knew?

For the last ten years, every time I travelled to Bristol, it has been for training or a conference for that ‘other’ job I did. They were always dull, negatively focused and uninspiring affairs. I could be forgiven for forever associating the city with this time in my life.

But after today, I’ve changed my mind. I went to Tots100’s Blog Summit, my first ever bloggers meet up. In short? Crackin’ stuff.

Here’s what I have learnt;

  • that Sally is a very funny. I’m not blowing smoke up her proverbial, she just is. It was satisfying to sit in a room looking at a presentation slides and be inclined towards laughter and not sleep.
  • that the social good bloggers can do extends far beyond my limited understanding, and that my generous-spirited blogging peers are doing great, great stuff, day in, day out. Check out, for example, Annie and Chris to find out more.
  • that Cathy at nurturestore knows a heck of a lot about using facebook and pinterest for engaging your readership; I’ve got a lot of work to do, and I’m grateful to her for showing me the way.
  • and that penguins really can crawl. Those that are raised by Google, that is. Check me out, trying to be amusingly cryptic,by talking about the search engine’s algorithm that finds links on websites and blogs that have commercial kickbacks and therefore break their rules. The algorithm is named ‘penguin’ and it crawls through the web hunting out these types of links. I didn’t know this this morning, and as I move forward with my blog, this bit of techno-speak has implications for how I use my blog to progress my career. Thanks to @TomJamesBrennan for his insight and presentation skill; I am essentially a web-numpty but he had me understanding stuff I knew nothing about at the beginning of the day.

Spending International Women’s Day in a room full of women who achieve meaningful self-expression, combined with charitable work that makes a difference; who understand the cutting edge world they function in; and recognise the legitimate power they have to influence others, is a truly empowering way to spend the day.

Archie-dog, as we called him

Hey, it’s been a while.

We’ve been a bit snowed under our end. Packing boxes and then moving them a couple of miles and then unpacking them takes an unfathomably long time to do. Trying to keep all the normal things we do ticking along at the same time is draining. Dealing with some silly, time-consuming nonsense from my main employer is even more dreary, but had to be done; they pay the bills, so a three-line whip applies.

Unusually for me, therefore, I have had little energy for this place, for twitter, and for blog-reading. (I did write a witty – and vitriolic – post earlier in the week about said employer but still lack the necessary nerve to publish it, hence my extended silence). My lack of blogging mojo has bugged me tremendously, made me worry even that I have run out of things to say (this does not happen to me in real life…). I have hung on to words from more experienced bloggers that tell me to write what I want to write, when I want to write it, and not to feel driven by some sense of need on the part of readers to keep the production line switched on at all times. So we have ridden the wave of hectic-ness, and are now just coming out the other side, but…

In the middle of it all, our beloved dog was put to sleep.

Archie has been with us for a decade, pretty much the whole of mine and my hubby’s relationship bar a few weeks. And – while everyone says this about their pet – he was a remarkable dog. Gentle, loving, quirky, tolerant of the kids. We have trampled our coastal paths and the highs of Dartmoor with him, winter in, summer out. And we never could get him to swim, only wade (I think swimming was absent from his Northern European snow-romping genes). He has climbed on our laps in the evening – all 35 kilos of him – and has barked at the postman every single day.

As the law of sod goes tonight I cannot find my favourite picture of him to upload; hard drive with stored photographs located, but not its corresponding USB wire. Pretty normal when you’ve been in your new house for less than a week, but irritating when I want to show the world the best of him. So, we’ll have to make do with a picture from a year or so ago.

Archie, we loved you. Our little girl is trying to make sense of how they are going to fit you in a little jar; but thank you for teaching her how marvellous it is to love an animal and be loved right back. Sleep tight.

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The paragraph from the book that I didn’t get to write

‘Underneath the desire to be a mum, for all of us, is an even deeper desire to simply be content, whatever the components of that contentment might be. I’m so tired of not being content. To carry on chasing this rainbow against increasingly difficult odds only delays my chances of finding that contentment. I’m sick of keeping this particular ball in the air. I’m sick of everything I do, every plan I make, every decision, being viewed through the lens of ‘whether or not we have kids’. I want to get on with my life; it has the potential to be such a good one, I’m no longer prepared to put it on hold. It is dangerous to believe there is only one route to happiness, and the bravest and most liberating thing any of us can do, in the face of such crushing disappointment, is to imagine a different future.’

I wrote these words in, I think, 2007. I tapped them out and printed them, and stuck them on my office wall. On the 3rd January in that year I had lost a second baby to miscarriage. We’d grimaced our way through three rounds of IUI with only one miscarriage to show for all the agony and effort, then caught pregnant naturally – how, we do not know (well we do know how, but you know what I mean). Christmas was spent enjoying the feeling of breathing out, and then the scan date turned up and blew that particularly happy party right out of the water. I specialise in what the medics term ‘missed miscarriages’, the ones you only know about when someone in a bland room, in a large building, tells you they can’t find a heartbeat.

I thought, at the time, that this paragraph might make it into a book I planned to write about infertility. I spent 2007 doing as I had outlined, trying to start a business and imagine a different future. I’d been on weekend courses – and even run one myself – to come to terms with my involuntary childlessness. I had read everything there was about childlessness, (Sweet Grapes is a crackin’ read if that’s where you’re at) and about being childfree. I had sucked the marrow out of the experience, learnt what I could, and was ready to just get on.

If you are a regular reader you’ll know that these experiences remain close to the surface for me, that I am always paying my respects to the women I know, and those I don’t, who live with the hideousness of involuntary childlessness, day in, day out. It is never far away, and I still feel attuned, poised if you like, to defend women feeling this particular brand of despair. I feel a bit of a charlatan, now that I have two kids, but still, my mental thermostat is still set to ‘sensitive’ when comments aimed at childless couples and childless women hove into view.

Yesterday evening,while on twitter (when am I not on twitter?) a comment popped up from someone we’ll call Freezer. Now I don’t ‘know’ Freezer. I started following her because she was retweeted by someone I do know, and I found her amusing, so clicked the follow button. She wrote, ‘I don’t understand why, with a population of 7bn, and half of them starving, and all of them screwing up the planet, we doing IVF for anyone at all’. I’m pretty live and let live, but, as I say, with my thermostat set to notice such things, I responded; ‘If you haven’t felt the chill of being unable to conceive when you are driven to do so, it may be hard for you to comment.’ A little more, let’s say,  responding, took place, and I was moved to click the ‘unfollow’ button. Not quite on a par with Dominic Cummings, but I didn’t come out of it with any sense of having been engaged in a debate with a person who grasped the point I was trying to make. Later on, Mariella Frostrup used twitter to highlight her impending presence on Newsnight to discuss IVF and women over 40. I didn’t watch it – I will on the iplayer – but she’s usually a very reasoned woman, so I’m guessing she would have done a good job. And thankfully Gaby Hinsliff has put all the right arguments in all the right places for us in The Times today. Her piece lays to rest, hopefully for good, the notion that infertility is a ‘lifestyle problem’ endured only by a ‘woman selfishly sacrificing her fertility for a place on the board’. She presents many clear reasons as to why the postcode lottery that determines women’s access to fertility treatment must be brought to account.

Thus yesterday was one of those days that used to make me rant, cringe, and stay indoors. In as much as whenever the media is discussing ‘women’ but referring to ‘you’, it stings. I’ve blogged before about how, when you are childless, the media can trash your day in two minutes flat.  And like, I say, I don’t really have any right to get angry anymore, seeing as how I got lucky enough to cross over – but somehow I still do. There is a feature peculiar to infertility that has most ‘endurers’ stuck in an eternal, internal argument. You know that having a child is not a ‘right’, or something that one cannot ‘expect’ simply because you’re here. But the random-ness that leads some folk to get one, three, five or more chances to cuddle a newborn, but leaves others destined to never experience that exquisite moment, is spectacularly cruel. And, when it is happening to you, you can’t run from the cruelty because the media waves it under your nose. Every. Single. Day.

You’d be right to think that I could go on and on about this for a good while longer. But I think I’ll try to finish on a brighter note. The workshop I attended in January 2007, seeking a route, a path through the pain, did me so much good. The marvellous Meredith who ran it, along with her colleagues, is still offering workshops a couple of times a year. You can find out more here. I also found a tonne of support via Fertility Friends, using message boards that were, some days, the only ‘places’ where I could speak. And, for those who have suffered the loss of a pregnancy, there is a relatively new charity, Saying Goodbye, who are gaining momentum as they run memorial services across the country.

I won’t be writing that book now, as I have no insight into what it is like to be a permanently childless woman. I’ve stepped through those particular sliding doors. But as Meredith taught me, Motherhood is (just) one way of using our creativity, and there are a lot of other ways to use your time here on planet earth. If you’re right in the middle of this horror story at the moment, then this will offer you no consolation. If it seems to you that you will forever thus feel inclined to have your head under the covers, I can’t say that it won’t. I accept that I am no longer in a position to offer you any comfort. But I truly hope that something does.

Hell hath no fury

Not my usual kind of post this, But it needs writing.

I bought a new car in September. I have never done this before, having always wondered what the point of ‘new’ car is. But for various economic reasons, it made sense. I was tired of driving cars that unpredictably threw enormous garage bills in my face with a loud ‘pah – that’s for never putting me through the car wash’. I do a lot of miles for my work,what I drive needs to be reliable.

The new car was an instant hit with my little girl, and was quickly bestowed with a name – Nellie. All was well until a month or so ago when a strange noise began rattling away whenever she was being driven. Initially assessed as a faulty part in the air conditioning system, she was booked in to the garage she came from for a proper assessment. This took place last week, and she came back 24 hours later, with the necessary part on order. No hint of her being unsafe to drive was offered, and a date set a little way off for her return for the new part to be fitted.

On Sunday afternoon I drove home from the supermarket with my 15-month old son in the back, and, a few minutes into the journey, found myself wondering why the car behind me was flashing his lights at me. I could see a little smoke, and pulled over. Noxious thick white smoke was pouring from my engine. I got the baby out, full of panic, and the kind driver who had alerted me stopped too, and lifted my bonnet (I later learned that he shouldn’t have done this, should you find yourself in a similar situation). No flames but a lot of smoke.

In tears of anger and fear I rang my husband and then the rescue service number. They said I was a priority as a woman alone with a baby. They turned up over an hour and a half later, by which time my hubby and I had swapped over so that I could get the kids back for tea and out of the cold wind. The engineer indicated that the broken part in the air conditioning had not been disconnected and had effectively burnt out.

There are a lot more details to this story but the pertinent stuff, for the purposes of my blog are as follows;

  • The fear I felt that the engine might have caught fire was very real, and the panic I felt for me and my little boy still had me feeling physically shaky and lacking appetite 24 hours later. I have replayed how much worse it could have been over and over – which is a pretty standard traumatic stress response.
  • The anger I have felt at the incompetency of the garage, the indignation that they would put our lives at risk, has been equally consuming. I have shouted, hounded, tweeted and facebooked on the company’s sites – raging, raging, raging.
  • I have been reminded, have re-learnt about myself, how much more assertive and eloquent I am when acting in defence of the kids than I am when merely doing so on my own behalf. The service manager got an absolute earbashing and a demand for far more than I would usually push for when complaining about poor service. I have felt this way before, when I discovered that a childminder I was employing to care for my daughter was treating her differently to other children (probably because of my job), or when a health visitor criticised me over my choice of goat milk formula in front of a room full of mums. If you do something to our kids, directly or indirectly, I am a Mama Grizzly (though I am unlike Sarah Palin in every single other way going).

Like I say, hell hath no fury.

This is not a sponsored post. The morally-lacking car company that I bought Nellie from did not ask me to tell the world via my blog how pants I think their service was. For legal reasons I can’t tell you who they are, but the engineers who built her probably sing the Marseillaise when they watch sport on television, and the marketing company who devised their adverts obviously had a penchant for transformers when they were kids.

Grrrrrr.

Dear Jenni Murray, how come my mum wasn’t on your list?

As my status as a ‘sometimes working outside the home, sometimes flat-out inside it’ mum-of-two dictates, I don’t always get to listen to Woman’s Hour. Thus I have spent the last couple of days getting myself up to speed with the content of this week’s much-discussed Power List. The media response to the exercise I have read comes to two broad conclusions; 1) it was great that the programme decided to put the List together in the first place, and 2) there were rather a lot of glaring omissions, and it’s all a bit depressingly white, wealth-inherited and middle-class for most people’s tastes. Suzanne Moore (not exactly known for her avoidance of controversy) had a right old go at it. Other’s weren’t so tough, but still, the overall feeling I got was, not that plussed or fussed. The Guardian’s list for International Womens Day last March seems to have been much better received.

I’ve admitted before now how much I’d like to be on Woman’s Hour. I have had a fondness for it ever since I heard a piece on it in the late 90s that actually led to me getting my infertility getting diagnosed. I’ll grant you that reads a little odd, but for me, information is power, and I went to the clinic that was carrying out the ground-breaking inhibin B testing WH had discussed, and got some answers. Anyway, a little off topic, but you get my point. In the absence of all else its production values are high, and we’re lucky to have the BBC, even if we (the nation) like having a regular pop at it. But I can see how the Women’s Room came about last autumn, as a result of the whole ‘why are you talking about women’s issues without talking to women?’ debacle, (if you missed it, WH had a good old look at the hyperemesis thing with lots of male experts). To its credit, the BBC has now set up a course to train women of expertise in dealing with the media, (there’s a good discussion of it here on an interesting blog).

So, where were we? Oh yes, the Power List. I did some research prior to writing this blog post (for research, read I asked my mum who she thought should be on the list). My ‘participant’ listed these women; Margaret Thatcher, Helen Mirren, Duchess of Cambridge, Jessica Ennis, and the Queen. I pointed out that of these five undoubted women of influence, only one of them was on the List. Now we can accept that, by definition, only women who have somehow got themselves in the gazey-glare of the public/media were going to make the List. Even getting to a position of being influential or powerful will always be a conundrum for many of our sex. It goes something like this: “What did you say? You want me to save the world? Oh, Sorry, I didn’t hear you properly, I was too busy changing the baby’s nappy / trudging around the supermarket / rushing to get to the childminder’s on time….”  Even those women who have managed to solve this dichotomy sufficiently, in order to function in more than one realm, have not all made it on to the List. There are some surprising omissions, as the newspapers said.

I’ve just looked back at the full Power List now and while my ignorance means I don’t know a lot of the faces, what I note is the lack of women with disabilities or non-white skin colour. And I would question some of the inclusions versus the omissions. So the musician Adele is in there, but not Annie Lennox? She’s been at the top of one of the most competitive industries in the UK since the early 80s and has used her influence to the good by campaigning hard for HIV, poverty and women’s issues around the globe. There are a few senior female clergy from the Christian traditions, but not Baroness Julia Neuburger, a chief Rabbi and popular speaker. No sports women, not even the cover girl of last summer, Jessica Ennis. A smattering of judges, but no Helena Kennedy or Cherie Blair? (I’ve written on Cherie before; not my favourite person but she did some pretty good stuff, all the same.) The so-called ‘soft power’ of social media is acknowledged through the inclusion of the Mumsnet Founders Carrie Longton and Justine Roberts, and Martha Lane Fox of lastminute.com. But given how much the average modern British woman relies on the internet for everything from health information, education, entertainment, recipes, social networking, employment and doing business, one might have thought the women of the web would be better represented. There are women from the media included, but no Mariella Frostrup, Julie Burchill, Zoe Williams or Caitlin Moran? That’s odd, to me. JK Rowling is there, deservedly so, but Julia Donaldson, the woman who has really changed the face of young people’s enjoyment of stories over the last 20 years, is not. Even Delia and Davina McCall don’t get a look in, despite the size of the franchises. Nor Gina Ford, (love or loathe her philosophy, that’s not the point) even though she’s so well-known we barely bother using her surname. And my mum is right to be incredulous at the absence of Margaret Thatcher, whether or not she was your cup of political-tea.

I’ll concede that my life can be influenced by women whose names I don’t know, and even by people I’m not that keen on. But I am still left thinking, ‘that List doesn’t represent me’.

So here is the List that does.

My Mum We’re not much alike and don’t agree that often. We joke about that nowadays. But, she’s a grafter, my mum. She works very hard, she tries to do things properly, and she has been a fine example of self-sufficiency. For most of my childhood she was a single parent, and she made astonishing sacrifices to give me access to education and extra-curriculum activities she felt I deserved, and that she had never had. She is supportive of me in my parenting despite her own full-on full-time job. Her life has been subject to the horrible ebbs and flows of this country’s economic story, but she is still out there, getting on with it. Respect.

My MIL My Mother-In-Law fulfills no clichés. We rub along just fine, and she has my admiration. She has been one of millions of remarkable women who has been the power behind a man who has done Big things. She raised her boys, ran a home, worked for her husband and elsewhere, cared for her own mother, cares now for her grandkids. In the 70s she got three boys under five to bed on time and then hosted dinner parties for her husband’s fast growing architecture business. Hats off.

Connie Booth I mentioned yesterday my fondness for British comedy, but it is, I grant you, tough getting an ‘in’ if you’re a woman. The lack of ‘funny women’ has even been discussed on QI, from a psycho-sociological point of view. These days, there are sufficient members of the ranks to give cause for hope, and Sarah Millican did make it on to the actual List. But for me, Connie was there at the start of it all. She brought much-needed depth to the then very male world of Monty Python, and then, co-wrote Fawlty Towers. We mustn’t forget that. John Cleese didn’t write it on his own. Connie was right in there, carving out one of the most assertive, inspiring female comedy characters British TV has ever seen – Polly. I can quote her for hours. She shaped my formative years.  My husband vetoed me on giving our baby daughter her name, but otherwise….

Nigella Lawson Like Delia, an odd omission, given the influence she wields in kitchens across the country. But it isn’t just her cooking. She has shared her, albeit privileged, life with us, through the early death of her husband and mother, and done so eloquently. She is also, in body image terms, a better role model than most. I love her for those curves that have nothing to do with the pursuit of a size 8. And that she gets filmed in her jammys raiding the fridge.

Caitlin Moran Three months ago I would have said she made me laugh but would not have necessarily included her on my List. Then I read How To Be A Woman. Suzanne Moore was right to assess this as a book that has reinvigorated feminism, and I say that, again, whether or not you enjoyed it, or agree. It got women talking, and thinking, and that is what counts.

Julia Donaldson I am amazed at the body of work this woman has produced. I barely go to a single early years setting where I don’t hear one of her stories being told, read, enjoyed. Without a shadow of a doubt she is shaping the language skills and future reading careers of a generation, or two. (I’m hoping her influence is greater than Michael Gove’s, otherwise we are all screwed.)  And while I love a romp through a bit of Harry Potter, and have oodles of respect for what JK has achieved, Julia’s use of english knocks that other bestseller out of parks, fields, counties even.

Ellen MacArthur I was working in Cornwall the week Ellen got back to Falmouth having broken the round the world record. I finished the visit I was doing with 20 minutes to spare. I was 15 minutes away from Falmouth. Half an hour and one badly parked car later and I was on the quayside, with a thousand or more other people. And there she was. Modest of stature and enormous in all other respects. She has faced herself, and seemingly insurmountable physical challenges, with modesty and grace and tireless determination. And now she quietly beavers away at a tonne of charitable and young-person-motivational stuff. Awesome.

Oliver James These days, not only am I a feminist, (thanks Caitlin), I’m enough of a feminist to include a man in my List. I often rave about James’s work. I think Affluenza is possibly one of the best books I have ever read. But I include him here for his book How Not To F*ck Them Up. In it, he, with proper research based backbone (take note, Liz Truss) encourages women to be the kind of Mother they know themselves to be – but sometimes feel too guilty to admit. If you’re a Hugger, and you want to be at home all the time, do it. If you’re an Organiser, get back out there and do your thing, (just make sure you choose your child’s caregiver with care). And if you’re a Fleximum, then be there for the kids, and be there for yourself too, as you juggle, juggle, juggle. James gives you a secure licence to parent according to your instincts, reassuring you that your child’s needs will be met if just a few simple guidelines are followed. For that, he is more liberating for us women than pretty much any other writer on parenting.

Bloggy-Tweety-Local-Faraway-Mummies If I know you only from the interweb, or you see me every week, or just sometimes, You are all on my list. I’m not picking any of you out. I’ll be here all day (when I should be going to the supermarket) if I try to. You know who you are.

I hope that I manage to get on my daughter’s list one day. And that I manage to share with her what I have learnt from the women (and man) on my list, in the hope that they help her to be a thinking, confident and assertive woman in her own right. One who can choose her own list, perhaps.

Who’s on your List?

This is not a sponsored post, but I want to say Thanks to my web-chum Jax Blunt, who taught me how to make my weblinks look so much better. There you go, the soft-power of social influencing media at work. Cheers Hun. I feel empowered.

Loving my Leibster #2

About a month or so ago I got nominated for a Leibster ward by Sarah over at Pursuit of Plenty http://pursuitofplenty.wordpress.com/2013/01/13/its-a-new-day/. I was chuffed to bits, but short on time. Putting together a post accepting your award takes a little time, as does thinking through who to pass the baton to (it is the nature of the Leibster that a recipient must nominate further recipients). Thanks again to Sarah for the nomination, and I thought it fitting that, on the day Sally tells me I am nominated for a MAD in best writer category, I should get my Leibster sorted. Here goes…

 List 5 facts about yourself…

1. My love of The Smiths, belonging to a Brass Band, and my dislike of white stilettos meant I did not fit in at my school. Back then it hurt a bit, now I love my idiosyncrasies.

2. Every year I write another letter to my stepfather. They remain unsent. I wonder if too much water can pass under a given bridge.

3. I get compliments for my knowledge retention and I have always traded on my brain, but really, is a talent that only gets you Trivial Pursuit victories really that fantastic?

4. I don’t think I could ever leave the UK. My fondness for British comedy is too great. It wouldn’t be the same, as funny, as sublime, if I wasn’t living here.

5. On a custom-topping pizza, it has to be anchovies, artichokes, olives and pineapple. Yeah, I know I’m weird.

 

Pursuit of Plenty’s 5 questions for me…

1. If you could pick a theme song for yourself, what would it be? Imagine the opening credits in the movie of YOU, or when you walk out into the ring for the biggest fight of your life… I’m no actress and easily become self-conscious when I dance or talk in public. But, if that self-imposed hindrance could be put to one side, then the answer to this question is easy. I’d re-make the opening to an Austin Powers movie. Soul Bossa Nova by Quincy Jones was the first dance at our wedding. It says everything about the joyous in life. As an extra, I could get my ukulele out.
2. What one quote/saying inspires you consistently? When you’re lying on your death bed, what will you wish you had done? I ask myself this question in relation to myriad issues on a daily basis. It does not mean that my actions always align with its philosophy, but it does focus my thoughts in a way that no other statement does.
3. You’ve been given $10,000 to donate to any one (non-profit) cause. Where do you invest? Simple. I’d find an involuntary childless couple and give them the cash for treatment. Enduring the infertility journey is appalling. I wish it on no-one else. $10,000 won’t end the epidemic, but it might save one couple from living with it forever.
4. If you could own one piece of art from any major museum what would it be? A big bold Henry Moore sculpture from the Yorkshire Sculpture Park. Something to place in the garden and survey from the house. Something to stroke and make up stories about with the kids.
5. What do you consider to be your most brilliant asset? The wisdom acquired from enduring life’s ups and downs, the sum total of which sustains my can-get-it-done, it-will-be-OK, attitude.

 

My questions for the bloggers I have nominated

1. You’re a blogger. That much is self-evident. But why do you blog? And, in the time you’ve been blogging, have your reasons for doing it changed?

2. What story does your family always tell about you?

3. Social media; ‘in’, or ‘out’, and why?

4. Which television or radio show would you like to go to the recording of, and why?

5. Leonardo da Vinci said, ‘Where there is shouting there is no true knowledge.’ What are you truly knowledgeable about, that, perhaps, you just don’t talk about that much?

 

My five nominated blogs are:

http://isabelthomas.wordpress.com/

http://theconfinementchronicles.blogspot.co.uk/

http://www.viewfromthetable.co.uk/

http://balanceandgrace.wordpress.com/

http://firsttimer.blog.co.uk/

Just a little word or two on my choices. I have thought long and hard about these. My main criteria was the quality of writing; no matter what the subject, it had to be writing that made me appreciate the author’s unique voice. Making me laugh, smile, or nod my head in agreement also helped. The only other criteria, which is universally applied to Leibsters as they make their way around the Blogosphere, is that the blogs should have email subscription followers numbering 200 or less. This is pretty hard to establish, so my apologies if any of my choices are over this amount. I, definitely, am not.

To my blog nominees, here’s what you do next;

  1. List five facts about yourself.
  2. Answer the questions I have set for you.
  3. Set five questions for your own nominees.
  4. Choose 5 worthy bloggers to nominate.
  5. Go to each bloggers page and let them know about the award.
  6. Thank the person who nominated you and link back to their blog.

And to my readers, do pop over to these five worthy blogs and have a read. They are more than worth the click through.

 

To play or not to play, that is the question

Every few days or so my chum Marilu at Olly Ocky (http://www.ockyolly.com/) posts, on her business facebook page, a picture, quote or article reference about the value of children’s play. She does good research, and they always make me think/smile. I also have a file on my shelf of pre-schooler activities that I’ve ripped out of magazines over the years. And since I’ve started tweeting and blogging, my exposure to the incredible wealth of play-promoting sites and writers has expanded further. To the point where it actually becomes unhelpful. I’m overwhelmed, and left full of a sense of my own shortcomings. There are so many good ideas out there, and I’m not really doing any of them. Are all these perfectly playing mummies out there marshalling their kids towards ever greater realms of personal enlightenment through meaningful experiences at every given moment of the day? I struggle to manage little more than a quick story read here, 10 minutes rough and tumble there, a game of snakes and ladders or dominoes once she’s in her pyjamas. While I may have perfected my ‘I’m interested’ voice, as my four-year-old says “Do you know Mummieeee, …..” for the 53rd time that day, my involvement in my children’s play is not as focused, as self-surrendering, as I might like.

Now why is that? You should know that this is a question that has preoccupied me greatly, especially since the birth of our second child. As an only child, I worried a lot before my son was born about how I would the accommodate the diverse developmental needs, with a 3 year gap, of our kids during the normal playing day. I dithered about how I would divide myself between them. When he was newborn, it wasn’t too difficult, but now he’s mobile, engaged and developing his own opinions, it can get very tricky. And I think this has actually, on occasion, left me stagnated, befuddled to the spot, unable to decide what to do for whom, and so not really involving myself in the play of either. I facilitate, I talk, I help, I read – but I don’t really play.

The pyschotherapist in me wants to understand this. I think back to my own childhood; do I remember playing? Well, yes, but only in a certain kind of way. I can see my 8-year-old self insisting on another game of Monopoly at the Christmas dining table. I can see my jotting pads, my colouring pens, my books. I can see me organising Tiny Tears’ clothes in the little wardrobe my step-grandfather made for me. But not too much else. Seeing the theme here? Yep, it’s all very controlled, calm, managed. This is who I remember myself being; the word ‘playing’ doesn’t really seem to come into it. I have always been goal-focused, introverted, cerebral when it comes to the activities I self-select. Throughout my life I have traded on my intellect, and I’ll quietly admit to having always felt uncertain about what my definition of ‘fun’ is. I think I’ve rarely pursued fun just for the sheer fun of it.

Does who I am in my own play mean that I am never going to get it right for the kids? This is my fear. I have been blessed with a daughter who jiggles, prances and gambols her way through life in constant pursuit of laughter and silliness with a zeal that a Cbeebies presenter would envy. The irony of this isn’t lost on me, and it is hard to shake the sense that I am letting her down. I struggle to ‘give in’ to every joke, bounce and tease; if you were with us, you’d be forgiven for saying “Lighten Up”. Someone wise said that we should love the kids we have, not the ones we thought we’d get. I honestly thought, when my little girl was born, that there was a high likelihood of her being a lot like me. But really, apart from her love of stories, she couldn’t be more different. And I do really want to get better at embracing that; I don’t want to slowly squeeze it out of her.

This stuff has been bubbling away for a while, as I said. So when my twitter-chum Pippa, of storyofmum, put out an invite to participate in an online course designed to encourage mums to play, in a guided way, for 10 minutes a day, it felt as if the universe was saying, ‘come on, look this one in the eye, why don’t you?’ (http://www.hopefulworld.org/landing/). But it hasn’t worked really. In as much as I have failed to carve out the time, as I slog away on extra paid work this month, deal with family illness, and plan our house move in two weeks time. Those aren’t excuses by the way. In my heart, I’ve watched myself avoid the play. And maybe that was I was supposed to learn from the whole exercise. Watching my avoidance has, at least, prompted the writing of this blog post; it’s got me addressing the play imbalance.

And there’s not much point in guilt. I’ve blogged about that before, (in my Modern Motherly Mayhem post https://notdifferentbutinteresting.wordpress.com/2013/01/11/modern-motherly-mayhem/‎ ). No, what I need to do is let go of my sense of inadequacy and get on with changing what I do. For them and for me. So, first things first, I’m going to start a new page on the blog where I record a piece of play with the kids; the goal is once a week, give or take. I’ll take the idea that I’ve seen on the digital waves that most appeals. And I’ll blog about it.

When I strip back my psychologising, my meandering, I am left with the question, ‘What do I want them (the kids) to remember?’ That I found a way to play, is my answer. And I am going to get round to doing my course; I am going to find the space for myself, too.

 

Blogging for the blogosphere

In the last eight days I have had three guest posts published, and my first paid-for blog has gone live too. Now I know I have a page about making it as a writer, but I felt an urge that I won’t examine too closely to put in an extra post about the links to all these. I mostly promote these guest posts on twitter and facebook, so if you don’t follow me that way, you may not be picking up on my branching out. It has been great having the opportunity to write for these other places, and my blog stats tell me that putting in in this way is paying out, as it were; readers are coming to me from new digital directions.

So here are the links;

  1. I wrote a piece for Mummy from the Heart’s New Blogger’s fortnight http://mdplife.blogspot.co.uk/2013/02/leoarna-reveals-secret-to-good-mental.html
  2. And here’s one for MamaBabyBliss http://www.mamababybliss.com/blog/juggle-with-a-capital-j-parenting-in-the-21st-century.php
  3. A third for Babyhuddle (my hubby’s favourite) http://blog.babyhuddle.com/2013/02/things-my-daughter-would-ask-me-if-she-could/
  4. And my first paid opinion piece, in the whole world, ever (are you getting the level of chuffedness, peeps?) http://www.babies.co.uk/blog/childcare-changes-concerns/

Enjoy…