Barefoot And Pregnant?

barefoot-and-pregantI recently built a play kitchen for my daughter’s second birthday.

I fell in love with a picture on Pinterest and decided that no other kitchen would do, despite the fact that for the same amount of money (and less time), I could have ordered one off Amazon. I’m kinda stubborn that way.

 

The kitchen I picked was classed as an ‘IKEA hack’ – which basically means using parts and components from the blue and yellow flatpack giant for something other than their intended purpose (such as the base of this kitchen being a simple pine bedside table).

 

As I excitedly shared the progress of my building project, I encountered a fair share of gendered remarks about my daughter getting a kitchen, as though exposure to a simple toy was going to teach her to expect, and accept, a life of domestic servitude.

Don’t get me wrong, I genuinely appreciate these types of comments (well, maybe not initially) because they prompt me to think and explore how I feel about something.

 

So my first question is:

What makes a kitchen so gendered anyway?

 

I mean, there are plenty of male celebrity chefs and cooking show hosts – they must have gotten started somewhere! Many of my mummy friends have husbands who cook (I should be so lucky!).      In a lot of households, the kitchen is where families spend a considerable amount of time. It certainly seems to be the most popular room for representatives of both genders to hang out at parties.

Equally, my mummy tribe confirmed that play kitchens are the most popular toy at playdates for kids of any gender. Part of the reason I became interested in a kitchen for Lilly was observing her playing with the one belonging to one of her playmates. HE, in fact, has two kitchens, and I don’t think anyone is making an issue out of that.

motley collection of IKEA parts
Motley collection of IKEA parts

I will also point out that Lilly had great fun helping me hammer and screw her kitchen together. I know it was meant to be a birthday surprise but hey, it’s kinda hard to hide DIY projects in a small apartment. I am sure at some point (space permitting), she will also be in possession of a workbench, although I might defer to the shop-bought version on that one. Equally, she quite happily plays with Duplo blocks – in gender-neutral colours – and anything and everything that has wheels.

Overall, I tend to be on the ‘both/and’ vs. the ‘either/or’ side of the argument.

Besides, I don’t need to ‘teach’ Lilly anything. She doesn’t even know these dreadful gender stereotypes exist yet… and long may that last!

All I need to do is provide her with an environment where she can play and explore and decide what she likes best for herself in that moment. Ok, and shield her from really OTT gendered toys like Barbies, pink Lego and macho action figures for as long as possible.

 

work in progress
Work in progress

As for me, I don’t think I ever had a play kitchen when I was little, and I still learned to love to cook and have a life. Mind you, from a scarily young age, basically tall enough to reach the cooker on a stool, I was allowed to do real things on a real stove. Simple things, like scrambled and fried eggs, under strict supervision, of course. Guess that was a different era!

 

Anyway, kitchen or not, I actually want my daughter to honour her girlyness, in whatever shape it comes. After all, she isn’t a boy, and trying to make her one by exposing her to certain toys while denying others would only serve to reinforce the notion that she isn’t already enough exactly as she is.

For a long time, I actually completely disowned the sensitive, playful, feminine part of me in order to be successful in a  ‘man’s’ (corporate) world, and in hindsight, the act of pretending was a lot more work that the jobs ever were. But that’s a different story.

The finished product!
The finished product!

Personally, I feel that every time we continue to make an issue out of this gender stuff, we simply reinforce it. We neither live in a Victorian age nor in the 60s, so let’s drop it.

 

On that note, I’d better be taking  my own advice.

Swiftly signing off…

Images: shutterdaddy.com, author's own

Banana Who? Banana Spew!

imageI often wondered about parents in airport loos.

You know, those frantically rubbing small people clothes under hand dryers whilst panicking about loosing their wandering brood and missing their boarding call.

You see, Lilly never throws up. Ever.

 

Day of departure. Mummy’s idea of breakfast: 1 banana, with back up porridge after check in.

Lilly’s idea of breakfast: 2 bananas. After all, no banana in eyesight must remain uneaten, or ‘saved’ for later. What a silly idea.

‘She’s got a funny cough’, I remarked to Rob halfway to the airport, before casually turning to the back seat. Just in time to see Lilly throw up. Twice. Once for each banana.

Needless to say, I found myself stripping my child in the departures hall and joining the queue to wash and dry a vest and a pair of dungarees.

Shame I couldn’t drag my car seat in for the same treatment under the super duper turbo charged hand dryer. Instead, it remains safely guarded in valet parking, left to slowly smoulder.

I wonder just how scary banana spew will look (not to mention smell) when we touch back down in 9 days’ time?

 

Knock knock. Guess the joke’s on me.

Smugness never pays.  Ever.

Image: design-milk.com

All Of Lilly

childrenI went to Ikea with a friend and her toddler last week.

To be honest, I’ve never been a devout fan of worshiping at the mother church of cheap Scandinavian design. Yes, it’s handy to find just about anything you might need under one roof, especially when you’re either short of time or money, or both.

But the experience of going to Ikea is normally not my idea of fun. Therefore even the mere thought of doing it with two toddlers in tow should have been pretty much my idea of hell. To my surprise, it was actually the most fun I’ve ever had walking through the mighty doors of the blue and yellow emporium.

 

As we were cuddled up in bed later that evening, Rob asked me how Lilly was that day. I thought about it for a while before replying:

Well, she was Lilly, in all of her many facets.

 

I had a broken picture frame to return, so our first port of call was taking a ticket at the downstairs customer service area. In my limited experience, all Ikeas pretty much have the same layout. This means that once liberated from her buggy, little miss had free range to roam, and a fervent desire to exercise that option. Exiting back out into the parking lot as well as venturing past the tills and straight into the store were her first ports of call. Basically anywhere the opposite direction of where I might have wanted her to be held a magnetic pull of attraction.

Cue mean mommy standing in her way, or worse, interfering with the stunt of throwing herself down the escalator, and her displeasure was quickly voiced with a series of all-out-flailing-on-the-floor tantrums. Lilly does not enjoy having her free will curbed in any way.

Matters vastly improved with the goodwill gesture of food, alleviating the unmistakable first signs of a pre-lunch serotonin crash (basically, to quote the link, ‘when serotonin levels are low, we’re more depressed, and when they’re high, we’re happier’).  An empty stomach does not a happy toddler make. Thus fortified, we proceeded in peace, albeit at a snail’s pace, through the various display areas in search of the children’s section.

Our progress was undeniably similar to how people often describe success:

success

There was lots of toing-and-froing, exploring, admiring one’s small self in mirrors, dashing into crevices and charming other shoppers with a hugely excited ‘I am ever so pleased with myself’ grin. Her ultimate triumph was to hide between two closets, proudly shouting ‘Boo!’ (or ‘Baa!’ in Lilly’s world) when discovered.

Once we made it into the mecca of Children’s Ikea, there was more exploring (duh!), kitchen playing, rocking horse, or, to be accurate, rocking moose riding, running around, pushing chairs and dancing on tables (a move that significantly diminished in cuteness when replicated at home).

If you can brave it, the children’s section of Ikea is actually a great place to spend a few hours with your kids, although you’d better keep an eye on your wallet with the same resolve as you do on your offspring, or its contents are likely to disappear faster than a toddler in the toy section. I mean, really, Lilly can’t possibly survive another day without a workbench to play with, right?

                                                  children in ikea          more children in ikea

I experienced all of Lilly that day, as I do most other days. I had curious, inquisitive, strong-willed, free-spirited, funny, playful, outraged, loving, compassionate, adventurous, I-can’t-stand-for-the-utter-injustice-of-being-put-back-into-my-buggy. I had sleepy cuddles, and mischievous chasing-Jack-with-anything-that-has-wheels. I had utter delight and bottomless despair (well, for a few minutes, anyway).

And I love Lilly for all of who she is. She amazes and exhausts me in equal measures. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

 

Images: ivychild.org
        outlawnorth.com
        ecouterre.com 
        images.ikea.com

5 Top Tips For Expecting Parents

expecting-parentsI ran into one of Rob’s friends the other day.

He and his wife are expecting their first baby, so inevitably the infamous ‘So, what is it like?’ crept into conversation.

I find that one tricky.

On one hand, I want to convey the joy and fun of spending time with your child, of watching them grow and discover new things, interacting with their environment and developing their own personality.

On the other, I think it’s grossly unfair to gloss over the tiredness, frustration and mind-numbing routine that is an inevitable part of parenting.

It’s not that I welcome the outlet to moan about how bad it all is. It’s just that if you only focus on the fun, and ditch all the drudgery, I feel you are setting new parents up to fail. And there are already enough parents feeling like they are ‘not enough’ because they can’t live up to their desired parenting ideals 100% of the time.

On top of these considerations, there’s the danger of imparting too much information to someone who quite frankly has no frame of reference for being a full-time parent, the ever-present conundrum being that you don’t get a trial run in having kids.

A few months ago, I wrote about my experience of giving too much unsolicited parenting advice. A friend suggested afterwards that maybe the best advice I could have given instead is for expecting parents is to just enjoy themselves.

 

So here are my ‘5 Top Tips For Expecting Parents’:

 

1.  Enjoy yourself!

Just enjoy your pregnancy, and cherish your time as an individual as well as a couple.

Even though a certain amount of ‘nesting’ is part of the deal, there’s no need to spend the majority of your maternity leave cleaning every crevice, or batch cooking until your freezer is bursting.

Sleep late, go for walks, people watch in your favourite coffee shop, visit a museum. Do whatever makes your heart sing. Go out for dinners and do things as a couple. See your friends.

Becoming a parent of course does not permanently prevent you from doing any of this, but it will require more organization, and often more cost. The last time Rob and I had a dinner & movie date, we spent £120. Half of that was for the babysitter, and the emergency taxi home.

 

2.  Listen to parenting advice with one ear only

When you’re pushing a bump around (or a pram in due time!), everybody will be keen on giving you advice, including non-parents.

Listen politely, but be selective on retention. Take any advice with a grain of salt, especially when coming from people who do not even have children.

Noone can give you an accurate point of reference for understanding an experience you have not yet had, so inevitably you will listen and think

‘Yeah… but that won’t be me!’

That’s cool.

Enjoy it.

 

3.  Trust yourself

This is your experience. You’re a novice, but you can trust your intuition.

Parenting is confusing, but it’s also instinctual, even though we live in a world where trusting your instincts isn’t widely encouraged.

For everything you do, there’ll be someone, or some book or some website, telling you to do it differently. Do what feels right.

When you don’t know what to do, be ok with that, too.

Breathe.

 

4.  Accept help

It has taken my fierce ‘ I can cope’ mentality a while to come around to this one.

As a matter of fact, my mantra for 2013 is

‘Every time help is offered, I am saying yes’

You might not feel like you really need the help that is being offered right in this moment. You may worry about being a burden by accepting the help, or you may think you should be able to manage on your own.

Doesn’t matter. Take it anyway.

Give yourself a break, and let someone support you. Accepting help does not mean you have failed.

There’s no prize for doing it all alone. Parenting is not a job you do in isolation. Above all, you need to take care of yourself – for your benefit, and that of your family.

So let yourself be supported.

 

5. Ask for help

If no help seems immediately available or forthcoming, ask for it.

Again, asking for help is not a sign of weakness. It takes courage and self-awareness to know when you need support outside of yourself.

Do it.

If you have to pay for it, do that too. It’s worth it.

Something else I’m working on…

 

But above all, refer back to tip #2 and don’t listen to me!

And please, do enjoy yourself, now and as a new parent!

Bon courage!

 

Image: www.forbes.com

Top Of The Pops

top_of_the_popsI recently went to Copenhagen – on my own.

As previously mentioned, I was due to have a weekend away in November. When that failed to materialize, I hesitantly concluded that something better must be on the horizon.

Turns out something far better was!

Not only did I get double the time off, I got to go on a chilled girly trip with one of my best friends. In a foreign country. Can’t beat travel, you know.

I had already planned a long weekend in Copenhagen to meet Lilly’s godmother en route from South America to Australia via a wedding in Sweden (don’t you just love the sound of that!).

Copenhagen seemed the ideal location for the Fairy Goddaughter (FGD) to connect with the Fairy Godmother (FGM). Significantly closer than ‘down under’, although a trip to Oz will undeniable be in the cards at some point.

Anyway, when I went into a general funk at the end of last year, Rob casually floated the idea of me going on my own. Yes, it defeated the objective of the planned FGM/FGD reunion, but the prospect of a much-needed parenting break was just too good to refuse. I have a reasonably strong belief in putting my own needs first, so that decision was relatively easily made. (sorry Rachael!)

 

Next came the greater dilemma:

Was I gonna be able to actually see it through, and trust that Rob and Lilly would be ok?

Like any good woman, I hashed this out with two of my good friends:

Friend #1 mainly shared my concern about Rob being able to cope with four days of full-on parenting.

Friend #2 threw me a curve ball, asking how Lilly would cope. ‘She’ll be fine’, was my instinctive response. ‘Yes, she’ll be physically fine’, friend #2 concurred. ‘But have you considered any potential long-term psychological damage if she really misses you, and Rob cannot handle it?’

Well, no – I hadn’t. Instant mummy guilt on steroids!

 

I guess balancing your needs with those of your child(ren) is an ongoing mothering dilemma. My take is that it’s absolutely critical for me not to get lost in the process – for MY sake even more than for Lilly’s.

What I mean is that I need time for me for me, and not simply because recharging will make me a better, more refreshed parent. An incidental fringe benefit, no doubt; but never my main motivator.

 

A friend of mine wrote an excellent article (that I will feature as a guest post later this week). She says

… having changed my/our lives completely round to make sure that our children have a loving home, routine, rhythm and a feeling of security I have to admit (with a huge amount of guilt) that I feel utterly trapped at times.

I can relate. Undoubtedly, life with kids is different, and providing for their needs is just part of being a parent. But you need to ensure the scales don’t tip in their favour altogether. I was so much running on empty at the end of 2012 that I was basically a walking volcano ready to erupt about every 30 seconds.

 

Maybe it had to get that bad for me to have an entirely guilt-free trip, and to create better balance in 2013! I don’t mind admitting that I thoroughly enjoyed not being a mother for a few days. I don’t mind admitting that I didn’t miss Lilly, although knowing Daddy and her were having a grand time surely made that easier.

Don’t get me wrong, I was looking forward to coming home. But beyond the first twenty minutes at the airport, when it mostly felt strange not be navigating a buggy, I was loving not having to consider anyone else’s requirements for food, sleep or entertainment.

 

P1040847     P1040810     IMG_3612

 

So I guess balance is the name of the game.

I know that it’s no longer possible to put myself first ALL the time, or even most of the time. Yes, it is about finding joy in the time you spend with your little one. But it’s also about never losing sight of your own needs, dreams and desires, and making sure they are prioritized and nurtured.

It’s about being top of your own pop chart, your own biggest fan.

 

I can do that. For me, and for the rest of my family, too.

 

Images: neoncircus.com, 
        Copenhagen images author's own

Transporting Toddlers – The Danish Way

I recently spent four fabulous days in Copenhagen – sans enfant. Needless to say, it was BLISS!           (but more on that in another post)

Despite having a much-needed break from the whole mummy thing, I couldn’t help but make several kid-related observations. Four days in the nation’s capital clearly don’t make me an expert in all things Danish, but here’s what stood out to me in the (mostly) ingenious way Copenhageners transport their offspring:

 

Rear-facing Car Seats

I already knew about these contraptions because I spent a lot of time and money tracking one down for Lilly. There is a lot of research to suggest that it is up to 5 times safer for children to be in rear-facing car seats until they are 4-5 years old. The fact that rear-facing seats are safer is still relatively little-known in the UK, whereas in Scandinavia most children continue traveling ‘backwards’ once they’ve outgrown their infant carriers.

One of the supposed reasons for the lack of popularity of these seats here is that they take up more space in your car than the forward facing alternative. I witnessed this first-hand when I was told that my chosen seat would not fit into my reasonable-sized car (it did when properly installed!), however, to my amazement Danes seemed to squeeze two or more of these seats into the back of compact cars without effort.

rear-facing car seats     rearfacingtoddlers

 

Bikes

Not unlike Amsterdam, bikes in Copenhagen are EVERYWHERE! Unlike Amsterdam, where I went mostly on business trips and was therefore taking my life into my own hands, my trusted friend Rachael spent the first 24 hours or so pulling me out of the way of unsuspecting two-wheelers. After that, the fact that when you step off the pavement, you are likely to step onto a bicycle lane slowly began to sink in.

I have a keen interest in transporting Lilly on a bicycle. I am, however, not in the least keen on having her on my bike in a proper kiddie seat. Too much pressure to keep my balance while keeping up with London traffic. Earlier this year, I went to great length to plot taking my friend’s tried and trusted bicycle trailer back home on a plane from Frankfurt. After carefully calculating dimensions, packaging and getting it back on Lilly’s luggage allowance, however, I had to admit defeat in the face of its undeniable bulk. I have been planning a replacement ever since, only temporarily delayed by Rob’s insistence that we wait until spring before adding a new acquisition to our already space-challenged flat.

But forget all that, because I have now discovered the true answer to transporting toddlers:

The Christiana Bike!

         christiania bike

Basically a cargo three-wheeler, with the kiddie-trailer not only built in, but in the front! Much more appealing not only for keeping an eye on your little one and being able to engage in conversation, but most importantly for adding a four-legged friend to the mix!

Of course this trike stands no chance of ever fitting into our tiny back yard, but that, to quote the aspiring little drummer boy from the movie Love Actually, is ‘a tiny, insignificant detail’.

 

Prams

Whilst rear-facing car seats and cargo bikes rank highly on my list of kid-friendly discoveries, I have to admit I did not at all get the Danish obsession with big prams.

And I mean BIG. Not a slim-line travel system in sight. Compared to what you see pushed around London, it was a case of David and Goliath, Mini vs. 4×4. We are talking big, bulky, and fitted with enormous wheels. We didn’t take any buses, but these Chelsea tractors apparently posed no problem on Metro or trains. I did notice that most stations seemed to have lifts from street level down to the platform. They better, ‘cause there’s NO chance of asking an unsuspecting stranger to help you down the stairs with one of these hulks!

Clearly Bugaboo and iCandy have no market share on Copenhagen’s streets.

And seemingly these plus-sized prams aren’t just for babes. No, even toddlers were happily pushed around, sitting up against a little backrest. No wonder they are so large then, considering the requirement for extra legroom. How they fit into the back of the average Copenhagen compact car though remains a mystery, especially with all that space already taken up by the car seats.

Copenhagen pram       Copenhagen prams

I definitely can’t see this trend catching on with the image-conscious London mummies.

 

Those bikes on the other hand – they have real potential!

 

A comment spotted about the Danish love affair with bicycles went as far as to suggest that there are

…girls who consciously match their outfit to the style and colour of their bike. When buying a pair of shoes they’ll briefly pop out of the store to check if they complement the look of the bike.

I can see that happening in Primrose Hill.

 

But never mind the shoes, I’m gonna check what it will take to enlarge the width of my back gate…

 

 


Images: www.carseat.se/swedish-car-seats, the-mom-blog.com
        danishlife.wordpress.com, realcycling.blogspot.com

Looking For A Tribe

I am not writing this sitting on my pity pot. I am actually writing this feeling quite good, if not a little brain-fogged.

Brain fog is pretty much where I’ve been lost for the last few weeks. As stated before, I was really really looking forward to a break, and when that didn’t materialize, things got a bit ugly. I was hanging in there knowing there would be light at the end of the tunnel, and promptly crashed when that light went out.

Now, the problem is, even I don’t quite get what is going on here. Why on Earth does my brain feel so full at the end of the day, even though the day quite possibly wasn’t particularly strenuous? Why is it that of late, I can’t I seem to be thinking coherent thoughts for longer than five minutes after 8pm?

I’ve been pondering this for a while, and I have been pondering it some more ever since my friend posed this question on my Facebook page:

So what to make of all those mothers who on top of this (childcare, housework, etc) have breadwinning jobs, taking them outside the home 30-50 hours a week? I never stop marvelling how few of them suffer from burnout.

 

Admittedly, my gut reaction was something cynical along the lines of

‘Yeah, that’s because they pay other people to do the job that’s so damn exhausting!’

 

But seriously, why burnout now rather than, say, at the height of my corporate career? Why indeed, when I seemingly cruised through working 14-hour days, weekends and traveling across Europe twice a week?

What exactly IS it that makes life with a small child so freakin’ exhausting?

I know for sure that it’s not capability, or stamina, that are at stake here. I know without a shadow of a doubt that I am capable. Heck, I’ve spent most of my life being capable and working hard. I have presented, strategized, budgeted, coached, hired, fired, innovated, business-planned. I am so used to being freakin’ capable that finding myself not-quite-so-capable is a fairly novel (and baffling) experience.

 

So after quite a bit of soul searching, I’ve narrowed the exhausting experience of life with a toddler down to three things:

 

Repetitiveness

Life with a small child is incredibly repetitive. It actually seems to have gotten more repetitive since we’ve crossed the threshold into toddlerhood. You pretty much take living in a time warp for granted with a newborn – endless feedings, sleepless nights, that sort of thing. You might find a ‘routine’ (whether that’s parent or child-led), but still, you can skip meals, and naps happen as and when tucked up in a buggy, which made our week-long NY holiday absolutely blissful.

Once you introduce regular meals, all that changes. Breakfast is no longer a matter of sleepily whipping out a boob. It is actually a matter of getting out of bed and producing a bowl of porridge. Naps no longer happen anytime, anywhere; at least not for more than twenty minutes. Therefore meeting friends is no longer as easy as plunking baby down into the pram and making a run for it. Things take a bit more planning, and many things – like meals, naps, going to the park, bedtime – are the same day after day.

I am the stellar opposite of a routine person. I love variety and spontaneity. So I guess it should come as no surprise that I feel like I am living Groundhog Day.  And I think even Bill Murray was pretty fed up at the end.

 

Presence

I know that from the outside looking in, it may not look like I’m ‘doing’ a whole heck of a lot on a daily basis. And I’d be lying if I didn’t have ‘spare’ time because, after all, Lilly does sleep, and sleeps rather well, so it’s not like I’m on duty 24/7.

But when Lilly is awake, then no matter what I’m doing, I always have her on my radar, aware of where she is and what she’s up to. Ok, I may miss a few tricks of what she’s up to, and catching her with her face covered in concealer, but at least I knew for sure that she was hanging out in the bathroom!

I went to a play café for two hours the other day, happily chatting to another mum. When I left, I was completely knackered, because in addition to (hopefully) making coherent conversation, I spent the entire time peering over my shoulder, checking on the girl and mitigating the occasional toy dispute. Even at home, my Lilly radar is always on. Doesn’t sound like much, I know… but sitting on the sofa having a cup of tea, ready to spring to action to divert, comfort or rescue isn’t the same as well, just sitting on the sofa having a cup of tea.

 

Time

When Lilly first arrived, I took it for granted that life as I’d known it would come to a halt for a while, so I was pretty chilled. Yes, there was frustration around being tired and the endless ‘who-does-what’ conversations, but really I don’t recall hitting rock bottom until about June or so.

But I bounced back with gusto, and things merrily went on. That’s what I do – I bounce back easily after a short recharge, like getting away to write for a few hours. What I have noticed though is that over time, every time I’m getting that recharge, I start from a lower base. Maybe the last recharge didn’t quite top me up enough, maybe my battery was actually a few bars lower than I realized or maybe the chance to have a break just doesn’t come around often enough.

What I am learning is this: Without adequate time to regularly recharge my own batteries, I find that I am running down quicker than a year ago when I was still ‘fresh out of the box’.

 

All that kinda seems to make sense to me. But even so, part of me thinks I should continue coping and functioning just fine. On some level, I buy into this idea so much that even when I talk to friends (most of them without kids), more often than not I feel like I am sitting next to myself – an out of body experience of sorts – listening to myself talk and noticing just how freakin’ insane I sound. I buy into the notion that looking after a toddler should be ‘easy’ just as much as the next person, despite the fact that I now have first hand experience of the opposite. Where does all that come from?

Lastly, this whole ‘being capable’ thing is a lovely double-edged sword. I have always been crap at asking for help, and because I always manage to sort things out, help is rarely offered. Capable people don’t need help. I have therefore found it really hard to communicate that I am wearing a little thin, and I have found it really hard to get heard. After all, how tired can you be exactly, when everything happily ticks over as before?

 

I recently read a short story written in 1926 about a mother who goes on a family holiday with her husband and three young children (Holiday Group by E M Delafield). It talks about how tired she is at the end of every day, and her husband’s disappointment at her not wanting to stay up all night to make stimulating conversation, or go for long evening walks. That was 1926, and that was with domestic help. So surely what I am experiencing is not so novel after all?

 

Anyway, I have decided that this whole parenting thing is not designed to be a one (or two) person job. You know, like that good old proverb that says you need a village to raise a child.

Well, I need that village.

I have a tribe but my beloved tribe is spread far and wide. I need a local tribe. So does Lilly.

So… elders, aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters – all welcome! We do come with a lovable, if slightly unsociable husband.

 

Image: http://geeyourebrave.blogspot.co.uk

(Two Day) Ticket To Paradise

Ok, I’m gonna keep this short – in a girl sort of way.

The guy sort of way would look like this:

“I got a ticket. Wanna go?”

This girl’s version is more like this:

In October, I was buzzing with optimism and creative energy, and I excitedly booked myself in for the annual IGNITE! Conference, run by my gorgeous friend Lucie Bradbury. A weekend connecting with inspirational women seemed the perfect ‘first weekend away’ since Lilly’s arrival. Sure, Rob had to work one of the days but finding someone to look after the little munchkin was going to fall into place easily and effortlessly. Or so I thought.

By the end of October, I had arranged a ticket, a hotel and the train ride from London. Then funky November came along, and no babysitter of any kind seemed willing to materialize. Neither Lilly’s preferred (and only!) sitter, nor godparents or close friends were available, but I clung to my usual stubbornness of making things happen in spite of petty obstacles and spousal objections. Then Rob got another job offer that involved the second conference day, and things started looking pretty grim. Getting Lilly looked after for a day was one thing, but upping the game to two days plus an overnight stay wasn’t really going to be in the cards.

So I moped, and went into a general funk. Whenever there’s lots of silence on this blog (and it isn’t being revamped!), then I’m generally hanging out in low places. Funks are no good for your creativity, and in any case, who needs the whining? So I silently licked my wounds, and felt like a prize muppet for not having anyone to look after my 16 month old for one, let alone two days.

 

But hiding in funky silence isn’t helping anyone, so I decided me not being able to go must mean two things:

1.)         Something bigger and even more appropriate is coming my way. (It could, and most likely does, also mean I am crap at manifesting what I really want, but that’s hardly an empowering belief to hold on to – I’ve already tried. Holding on to disempowering beliefs inevitably leads to FUNK, as seen above)

2.)       Someone else needs to go more than me.

 

I figured if I can’t make it, the second best option would be to give my ticket away so I at least get to enjoy the conference vicariously.

SO… if  you, or someone you know, would like to enjoy a fabulous weekend with amazing speakers, lots of fun, networking, general good cheer and dreaming BIG, then get in touch! The dates are THIS weekend (Nov 24-25) in Birmingham.  Maybe you’re someone who wanted to go, and couldn’t afford to. Maybe you’ve never even heard of IGNITE!, but could really use some special time away, just for you.

I don’t really care why you want to go, as long as you can make the commitment to show up. And no, I’m not going to ask you to do anything in return, like ‘liking’ my page, or subscribing to my blog, or telling me your life story (although you can if you want to!). Just get in touch either in the comments section, or by emailing me NOW at nette@nettehargreaves.com. And if you go, please please please, just have a blast – I know I would have!

 

PS: Just in case you’re wondering, I did heavily consider taking the short one with me, but that would require tons of extra logistics (such as a hire car and an onsite sitter) and frankly, I was looking forward to enjoying some much needed ‘me’ time and connecting with people without a baby monitor strapped to my side – just this once.

PPS: If being in a funk leads to not feeling creative (as it inevitably does), then DON’T fill your time reading anything from your pile of parenting books, such as the utterly brilliant Robin Grille’s Parenting for a Peaceful World (book review to to follow). His very detailed assessment of critical childhood developmental stages will tell you exactly where your parents irreversibly f***ed you up, which takes you straight down to FUNK CENTRAL. Don’t do it – wait until you’re happy and cheerful again. I should have knitted instead.

 

Image: lenonhonor.com

Sibling Rivalry

I’ve been coming across a lot of articles lately talking about how writing is like raising children.

You know, you ‘birth’ your work, you shape and nurture it, you apply some heavy-handed discipline when the characters fall out of line. Sometimes you reign in your storyline, while at others you allow it to take on a life of its own.

 

All true. Yet somehow, this whole child metaphor doesn’t really stack up for me.

 

Least of all the notion that in writing, you have to murder your babies.

Makes me cringe, that one – for obvious reasons. Once you become a parent, anything even vaguely implying harm to your child will make your throat constrict and your stomach knot. Yes, I know there are times for ruthlessly culling your work. Times to let go of what no longer serves your story. But infanticide? A plausible metaphor, perhaps. A reality of population control in ancient Rome, yes. But don’t talk to me about smothering children when my own is sleeping peacefully in the next room.

< I say this fully aware that my poetic firstborn is currently undergoing serious mutilation… purely on paper. >

 

Then there’s the philosophy that your ideas are your children.

I can buy that… to a point. After all, if you don’t care enough about your ideas to pour your heart and soul into them, they remain nothing more than a figment of your imagination, a mere twinkle in your eye. But unlike children, you can have as many ideas as you like, no contraception required.

 

I am guessing that all these child connections are made by well-meaning writers who currently don’t have small children in their lives.

But who is talking about what happens when your real-life, in-your-face-now child competes for attention with your authored offspring?

I can only speak for myself here but the real-life, in-your-face-now child wins just about every time.

 

I may wake up at 3am with a burning idea about a new piece, or a key turn of phrase that will make a current one stronger. I will do my very best to blaze that thought into my brain in the hope that its ashes still smoulder there come morning. But I tend to stay snuggled under the duvet. Sleeping with a husband and a toddler isn’t conducive to nocturnal writing spells. When the babe on the other hand rises in the small hours, there’s no hiding under the covers. She can be just as persistent as that red-hot thought, but with much greater volume.

Then there’s that sacred time dedicated to daily writing. It doesn’t always retain its consecrated status whereas daily childcare is a given. I can take a day off writing but honestly, I can’t yet recall 24 hours when I haven’t spent time with Lilly.

 

So when it comes to sibling rivalry, I can almost guarantee that the immediate needs of the real-life, in-your-face-now child are going to trump over those literary ones. After all, whoever shouts loudest usually gets the attention. Lilly’s got a pretty strong set of lungs.

 

But I believe my writing is finding its voice. And at least in writing, unlike parenting, you always have the option of starting over with a blank page…

…without resorting to overly dramatic gestures.

Image: parentdish.co.uk

Just Say ‘No’…?

I went to the park with the girl and the dog the other day. As we were doing our quotidian laps around the green (so the canine can run free), a little girl called Amy started chasing after Jack. She wasn’t really called Amy, but I’ll rename her just in case I ever run into her and her mother again.

 

From the moment we met Amy, her undoubtedly well-meaning mum showered her with a seemingly endless tirade of “no’s”:

‘No Amy, don’t touch the dog.’

‘Ok, but don’t touch his tail.’ (Generally solid advice, only Jack doesn’t have one)

‘Don’t sit on the picnic blanket!’

‘Don’t take the other girl’s stacky cups.’

‘Ok, take some but you must share.’

No no no, don’t do this, don’t do that.

This applied to everything related to the dog, us on our blanket and another mum and toddler they met after us. I started getting edgy and irritated just listening to this incessant naysaying so imagine how Amy must have felt.

I mean you can’t really feel good about yourself if you are constantly reminded that whatever you are doing is wrong? Doesn’t seem like a recipe for self-esteem to me.

Imagine how I would feel if my day with Rob went something like this:

‘No, don’t fold the laundry like that.’ (Haha, please demonstrate suitable alternatives!)

‘No, don’t do the dishes until you have cleaned the floor.’

‘No, don’t feed Lilly before you have fed Jack!’ (Or was that the other way ‘round?)

‘As a matter of fact, feed no one. Touch nothing. Leave everything in its place. Don’t talk to anyone. I said don’t touch that. And please, can you share?’

 

You get the picture. An unrealistic scenario, for sure. But what would it be like if other adults constantly spoke to us like we so often speak to our children?

I’ve been doing some reading and research. About children growing up to be rooted within themselves, self-reliant and able to know their own minds. For now suffice it to say that if you want that for your kids (as I’m sure most of us do), then you’re not gonna get there by doing the same old things all over again. A lot of what I am reading is challenging the way I think – massively. It certainly doesn’t seem the ‘easy route’ but OMG, I want all that for Lilly.

Now, as our little park scenario was unfolding, I’d of course be lying if Jack didn’t get told off a fair few times. Mainly for running out of sight. Most vehemently for jumping up on a girl’s bicycle parked in front of the playground and operating its squeaky horn by biting down on the soft balloon-y bit whilst going into absolute fits of terrier rapture. I’d love to have taken a picture prior to curtailing him on his lead but I thought it was bad form.

 

Guess I’ll have to trust that he won’t be suffering from subsequent low self-esteem.

Doggie therapy, anyone?

 

Images: www.bucksomeboomer.com
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