To parenting blog or not to parenting blog

To parenting blog or not to parenting blog, that is the question that’s plagued me since I started these ramblings back in 2012. Have amusing stories about parenting been done to death? Clever ideas like Hurrah For Gin, Peter and Jane, The UnMumsyMum and The Scummy Mummies, they all seem to give it a new twist.

But do we get it now? We’re all either smug Mums or filthy Mums and some of us are drinking Mums and loads are nervous Mums. Anyone sick of Mums? How about a new twist? Maybe something along the lines of “We’re not crap and useless at this and we don’t need to drink a bottle of wine a day just to cope.” If I have to read another “Open letter to myself pre-kids” or “Open letter to the Mum with the shit up her arm in Tesco” or “10 things I want my daughter to know for sure” which are invariably packed full of every stereotype about motherhood and girls, I might scream. Or the worst one, the most overused: “What they never tell you before you have a baby.” Now is it me, but has that one been done so often now that there can’t be a woman in the world who doesn’t know exactly what happens when you have a baby?

And do we really live in an age where we’re supposed to know everything before it happens? Surely the surprise of having a catheter after a C- section or fishing poo (not the baby’s) out of a water birth is horrifying enough without worrying for months before that it might happen? I’ve read all sort of blogs. Blogs that have made me cry, blogs that have made me wince with their tedium. Blogs can be useful in helping parents feel less alone or just sharing experiences and getting nice comments. But is it where I want to be? Do I want to be a blogger who reviews scooters? Make a living by taking money from brands for exposure? Nope. Do I enjoy writing anecdotes and observations that might touch a chord? I do indeed. Is that what a blog is for? I have no idea. Like parenting, I’m just along for the shits and giggles.

 

Advertisements

Time for something new?

I’m at a crossroads. I was wondering after a few years of sporadic musings on having babies and family life and a few friendly followers (and a few more on Twitter) should I be trying to make money from this blogging? Should I be trying to get sponsorship, advertising, paid for posts? I’m a journalist so for me writing has always been a living. In order to try and grow my reach, I spent two weeks joining “linkies”, where you read a few blogs, like a few and they do the same to yours. All with hashtags. Lots of back scratching. It made me itchy. In fact, it turned into an exercise that left me morally defunct and ethically spent. I had to read a whole blog post about another woman’s child’s bowel movements in order to abide by the “rules.” I was grinding my teeth in my sleep.

Then I saw it. The Instagram post from a blogger who had snapped her kids and their Dad at bedtime story, trialing a new kind of drinking cup. And there it was. From feeding your babies milk from your aching bosom to making them an advert. To turning the most private family moments into a commercial venture. This might all be done in the name of making a living as a parent, but what do we lose in the process? And what do we teach our children?

I’ve grappled with making my children’s lives public. My Facebook page is locked down and private, and if my friends (and they are all people who I have met and care about) don’t want to see my children then they can hide me politely. They might want to hear about how my children have been delightful little prats but they might not. For safety, on my blog and Instagram, I try to keep images of my children as limited as possible.

But I need to write stuff down. You go the gym, I write. You do yoga, I write. It’s what keeps me sane, like those things keep you sane. Time is limited. I am already spread thin between three small children. I ricochet between schools, between clubs, between meals, between shops, between versions of me, to keep these children where they need to be. I want to spend more time with them. I want to spend more time with me. With their father. I see them, no longer small pudgy toddlers but long, smiling, gangly kids with attitudes as sharp as knives. Their childhood is playing out in front of me. I don’t want to be instagraming 40 times a day or hitting up brands for sponsoring opportunities. I want to hear my children. But if my heart sings, even if it’s out of tune, I will write it down because it’s what I have to do. And one thing I have learnt along this parenting journey is you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do.

But for me, parenting no longer feels like a separate part of my life, a new role or something to grapple with. It’s just me now. In September they will all be at school. Plus, I’ve never just written about the bubs in DiscomBUBulated.. Oh no. I’ve written about lots of different stuff —writing, relationships, health, travel, Australia, diet and education. Oh and Mr Hankey, the Christmas Poo. It might just be time to start something new.

A Room of One’s Own

“What’s this? A shrine to 44 years ago?” BUB.1 was watching me sort through boxes of old school work, vinyl albums, Smash Hits yearbooks and photos that had finally, at the age of 44, made it out of my parents’ loft and into mine. But not before I had relived the memories and kept a few in sight.

My whopping new 182cm x 182cm Ikea Kallax (the furniture WW resists but cannot deny saves my sanity) was up in my office, with 25 boxes to be filled. I felt like a kid at Christmas. A few hours to wallow in two of my favourite things, nostalgia and organising. So in between the new filing drawers (‘School’ ‘Important things’ ‘To do’ etc.) and a box for chargers, a box for stationery and other important things that we lose daily, I fitted in my Smash Hits yearbooks, my photos, all the books that make me inspired or happy. My diaries, my old work clippings, and still lots of boxes to fill.

BUB.1 was right in a way. Standing there, laughing at all my old stuff. My peanuts book, my Muppet Fun Book, my Just Seventeens and my Wham! Make it Big album. My Creative Writing folder from when I was not much older than he is, my project on volcanoes, a topic his class is studying now.

I keep seeing man sheds springing up, but maybe women need women caves too. It doesn’t have to be an entire room. It could be a little pop up desk with a couple of shelves in the bedroom. While men sit playing video games or using their tools, forgetting the grown up world back in the house, women can read, write, create, build or just listen to George Michael (or whoever tickles their fancy) and wallow in a time before they had the responsibilities of a family. They can just be themselves. People go on about having children changing you completely. It widens your perspective and it alters your daily tasks but I don’t think it changes the core you. I’ve said it before, there is nothing quite as therapeutic as remembering what it was like when there was just you.

The beauty of both women and men having their own caves is that no one is interrupted by the dishwasher bleeping to be emptied. Everyone is off duty. Everyone escapes.

I see you. Your children see you. Can you see you?

The thing with Instagram mums is you can’t see them. If Sarah down the road has her shoes on the wrong feet (hers, not her child’s, it can happen) you can see it. You can see her unwashed hair, her red-rimmed eyes, the numerous fish finger boxes in her recycling. You can see her ill fitting jeans.

Women have never been perfect mothers. They just never got so incessantly pulled up by the media and they never had to compare themselves to filtered Instagram addicts. Looking back over time, billions of women have looked out for each other, helped each other, listened, noticed, shared and laughed with each other. That circle of support still exists today, down the street and online. My preferred channel of support is the bloggers and the writers who call themselves things like Unmumsy Mum and Scummy Mummies and Hurrah For Gin. They don’t fit the image of ‘mother’ that has been written not just by mothers, but by men, by media, by doctors and experts. They’re written by women who have kids. Mothers.

Modern day internet heroes are those women who make us laugh, who show us their red-rimmed eyes, their fat arses, their boredom, their bottle of gin, their tearful commute to work, their daily guilt, their imperfections, their love for their children. The Sarah Turners, the Helen Thorns, the Ellis Gibsons and the Katie Kirbys.  When was it decided that there was a bar to reach? And who decided it? It definitely wasn’t the woman sitting on the bench in the park with food-stained jeans on, hiccuping back tears and wishing she could just lie down for a minute. She has always been there. She has always sat on that bench. She just never had a world of comparisons and expectations on her shoulders. Her kids are alive and they’re in the park. You did it lady, these bloggers say, every day. You did everything you needed to and sometimes you need to hear that every day.

Kids don’t see Instagram filters or symmetrical cup cakes or fashion-forward scarves when they look at you or your home. They see lines and imperfections and sometimes they see tears; they see you. Not your 3495 followers. Not your dirty kitchen cupboards. Not your Valencia-filtered home-made egg muffins. They see you. If you transcribed the average mother’s day it would probably be a mixture of “God, can you just leave me alone for two minutes” and “I love you so much I can barely breathe” but there is no such thing as the average mother. To your child, the only person in the world who makes you a mother, there is only you.

And if anyone judges you for looking at your text messages from friends that make you laugh out loud and stealing a few minutes of feeling like you while your children play, or for feeding your kids the quickest thing you can find, then you probably want to scream at them that you weren’t always a mother and being a mother isn’t all that you are and, ultimately, you are just you looking after your child as best you can.

The fortunate mothers in this world aren’t hiding in broom cupboards scared of falling short or drinking in secret or pretending this is all they ever wanted or needed. They are doing it all in the open. They’re getting on trains across cities to work. They’re flying to meetings. They’re working night shifts. They’re drowning in laundry. They are fighting every day to balance everything their child needs with what they need. And they’re writing it all down, speaking it out loud and with it, millions of shoulders feel a little less heavy. Their words, their version of motherhood, their stories. Hallelujah to that. And to any mother who receives criticism for how she has done something from someone who has no business to say so, just remember to look down the street, or online, and there will be other mothers, scummy mummies and unmumsy mums and gin-loving mums,  leaving the house with a bat cape on, with cheerios in their hair, chairing meetings, attending school plays, writing presentations, saving lives, teaching other children, taking a bottle of wine out to the recycling and resisting a very slight urge to be sick. They’re doing all of these things.

So what does this have to do with the mummy bloggers who are much maligned by some? What these amazing women are doing is they are saying: You can be both. Just be both. Enjoy your life. Enjoy you and be glad to be you because that’s all your children want or need you to be. Above all, forgive yourself for not being perfect, so that your kids can look up to the happy, confident, joyful, imperfect woman that you were meant to be. To them, you are perfect and when it comes to judging mothers, whose opinion really, really matters?

Solidaritea (and up yours Daily Mail)

Reading one of these women’s posts is the equivalent of panicking because everyone in your post-natal group is bringing out brightly coloured snack pots full of home made humous and pasta salad and you have forgotten a snack but then the woman opposite you brings out a tupperware from her bag from last week that she’s forgotten about and it’s got mould growing in it and everyone sees and you just want to hug her and say “Thank you.”

I started a draft of this post several days ago, before that odious Daily Mail article about Mummy bloggers was shat out into the internet, promoting the repulsed reaction of many alongside the hashtag solidaritea. I don’t have the time or inclination to finesse it so I’ll just churn out what I was trying to say, while the iron is hot (which is never in my house, because I’m ONE OF THOSE AWFUL MOTHERS).

There are several kinds of mummy bloggers. Hundreds of different kinds. Here are some of the more famous (and some of the ones mentioned in that ridiculous joke of a “story”)

  • The tell it like it is. She’s One of Us. (e.g. The Unmumsy Mum)
  • The hilarious, ranty, keeps her family quite private but CHRIST can we all relate to her (e.g. Peter and Jane)
  • The focus on the downright sluttishness, the things we dare not admit – until now (e.g. Scummy Mummies)
  • The straight to the heart, downright funny and visual (think lovely clever cartoons) (e.g.Hurrah for gin)
  • The ones who call each other queens and bitches and reveal painful truths, perfect for when we’re angry and we miss our old selves (e.g. LikeaQueen)

On the flip side, there are the super polished ones who became a brand by working with brands. They have pretty lives, which is admirable, in a way, but I don’t find it interesting. I have also read parenting blog posts that just detail a particular child’s bowel movements. Or their first steps. That is it. That is not a blog, it’s a journal. They’re not much fun to read.

I’ve been going through my old blog posts (dating back as far as 2012) and I like to think I’ve not embarrassed my children. Most of my posts are observations about the funny things kids say, or how a day has gone, or about relationships. General whimsical stuff, crazy pregnancy stuff, random musings.  I don’t complain about my children, I do that to their face. I laugh about them, usually at my expense, which is what most of us do to let off steam.

We’ve just come out of Mental Health Awareness week. We all know that things can topple onto you, make you feel claustrophobic, make you wonder how you’ll get through the day, make you yearn to be alone, make you yearn to be with anyone else but your children, make you yearn to only be with your children, make you so happy you can’t bear to think of all the things that could shatter that happiness if you walk out that door, make you want to stop time, make you scared of everything, make you glad to be alive, make you feel alive.

If you can make someone laugh out loud or let out a sigh of “Oh it’s not just me” you can make a world of difference.  All it can take is one thing to rescue you, make you feel you’re not alone. It’s not always easy to get that thing in the real world. Not on those days when you’re struggling with breastfeeding, liaising with a malevolent toddler, looking after a poorly child or trying to remember the last time you left the house.

Reading one of these amazing bloggers’ posts is the equivalent of panicking because everyone in your post-natal group is bringing out brightly-coloured snack pots full of home-made humous and pasta salad and you have forgotten a snack but then the woman opposite you brings out a tupperware from her bag from last week that she’s forgotten about and it’s got mould growing in it and everyone sees and you just want to hug her and say “Thank you.”

So thank you to all the Mummy bloggers who share their reality, their insanity and their joy at being a parent. And up yours Daily Mail (*swigs gin* AND *finishes the kids’ cold fishfingers dipped in lumpy ketchup*)

 

 

My candle burns at both ends

How do mothers of small children write bestselling novels and build empires? For me, working from home with a baby resulted in her spending a few hours ignoring her toys and rifling through the wastepaper bin while I retrieved passwords, paid bills, and glanced nervously at the clock.

How do mothers of small children write bestselling novels and build empires?

For me, working from home with a baby resulted in her spending a few hours ignoring her toys and rifling through the wastepaper bin while I retrieved passwords, paid bills and glanced nervously at the clock, seeing the three o’clock school run race ever nearer. I’d blow bubbles at her from my desk as I attempted to send one email in three hours. If she took a nap I’d find myself going into a The Baby Is Asleep And The House Is Silent spasm, where I couldn’t quite focus on one task, so just ate toast instead.

When the weekdays didn’t work out and I found myself hiding in the study office at weekends, it would only take the thrust of a fish finger sandwich through a gap in the door from a tiny hand for me to be overwhelmed with guilt. Nevermind, I still had Sunday morning when my brain would start to frantically finish off every thought it started during week, knowing it had run out of time and that Monday was nearly upon us.

But things are getting easier now that BUB.3 is three and at nursery and a childminder for some of the week. My 2017 New Year resolution list says everything about this fragmented new phase: ‘Write more. Read more. Sort out the sock drawer.’

I still struggle with wanting to do more. At 9pm my evening begins. Usually by 9.05pm I’m thinking about calling it a night. I do enjoy the occasional four-hour writing binge at my desk before I look up from my keyboard to see that it’s already tomorrow again. Other times I find myself perusing the Farrow & Ball paint chart, wondering which colour would help me write. If I get through that barrier, the world’s my oyster. When I’m up up late, I sometimes become momentarily over excited and think “Christ, I might as well stay up all night now.”

I know I’m not the only one. Late night text messages from friends who were bone-tired at the morning school run but who are still not giving up on the day just yet. It might be that they are trying to get ahead of tomorrow by packing school bags. They might be reading with a gin and tonic in bed. Or they might be trying to realise a dream that has been buried all day under a pile of dirty clothes, baked beans and tear-stained children.

Whenever I’m up late, maybe enjoying a glass or two of Prosecco and a sense of there being no school run tomorrow (the Prosecco having numbed the truth), the poem ‘First Fig’ by Edna St. Vincent Millay runs through my head. “My candle burns at both ends; It will not last the night; But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends— It gives a lovely light!”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Still on the seesaw

A midlife crisis these days doesn’t necessarily mean a sports car, affair or round-the-world trip, but is more often played out in the home and sometimes, in our generation, with small children around. Makes farting off to Vietnam a bit difficult.

I’m slowly making my way through the marvellous Scummy Mummies podcasts at the moment, recommending them to everyone I know for laugh out loud affirmations that you are not alone in not being the perfect mother. One of my favourites so far has been episode 76, an interview with journalist Miranda Sawyer, who talked about her book, “Out of Time.” Miranda observes that a midlife crisis these days doesn’t necessarily mean a sports car, affair or round-the-world trip, but is more often played out in the home and sometimes, in our generation, with small children around. Makes farting off to Vietnam a bit difficult.

We all know what Miranda means when she speaks about “Death maths”. I started doing the sums the moment I laid eyes on my first child and my overwhelming hope was I would die before him, but not for a very, very long time. As Miranda says, the seesaw has tipped. We all know this feeling: “It’s as though you went out one warm evening – an evening fizzing with delicious potential – you went out for just one drink… and woke up two days later in a skip. Except you’re not in a skip, you’re in an estate car, on the way to an out-of-town shopping mall to buy a balance bike, a roof rack and some stackable storage boxes.”

I’ve had many moments like this. I found myself at a festival at which Jeremy Vine was in attendance. I once described the arrival of my new Dustbuster as a “bit of good news.” I’m at an age where I’ve started making self-deprecating, Julie Walters-esque remarks to young male shop assistants. I spend most Saturday mornings listening to 1980s tunes before nipping to a kitchen tile shop or a swimming lesson. It’s like 13-year-old me versus 43-year-old me, on a daily basis. I am reaching for the stars but somehow I manage to find myself in Halfords car park again. Only recently, WW and I abandoned a planned trip to the travel agent to talk weddings to shoot off to the recycling centre then onto Carpet Right.

But middle age has such benefits. I feel such warmth and fuzziness watching the slightly crumpled Boris Becker and John McEnroe on TV at Wimbledon. I have a stack of memories that I didn’t have before. I don’t hold with the notion that we only have the present and the future and shouldn’t waste time looking back. The past is suddenly huge and as long as it’s not stopping you moving forward, then treasure it. I have friends who I no longer see but who I think about daily, about what they taught me and how much we laughed. I don’t have to do anything I don’t want to, because I have small children as an excuse. I can curl up in a ball night after night if I want. Or I can get a thrill from nights out that had started to wear off in my early 30s.

I don’t think it’s much different than being a teenager, full of trepidation about what the future holds, what being grown up means, what lies ahead and where you will end up. Every age is a beginning if you let it be.

I haven’t fallen backwards arse over tit yet.

I’m still on the seesaw.