GUEST POST: One For You And One For You… eh? Me!

one for me and one for you

When I entered into motherhood nearly eleven years ago I never expected to be so guilt ridden most of the time. I think it is fair to say that women in general carry a heavier load when it comes to feeling guilty about all sorts of things but becoming a mother has definitely turned the volume up.

 

Things that I feel guilty about now, but never did before I had children:

  • Eating the last bit of …. anything
  • Going out in the evening and missing part of the children’s night time routine
  • Spending any time away from the children pursuing my own interests
  • Going food shopping with the children, and going food shopping without the children
  • Cooking a meal that I like and the children don’t
  • Having a lie-in
  • Spending money on myself
  • Allowing the children sweets, crisps and fishfingers
  • Knitting or crocheting in the evening instead of folding washing
  • Leaving the housework and spending time with the children or leaving the children to themselves and doing the housework

 

It is difficult to call the changes in my life ‘sacrifices’ when most of the time my choices were made out of love and an innate instinct of being a mother. I do know, however, that it has been much easier for me to let go of something for myself than consciously claim something at the apparent cost of my family.

My life after children has changed so much that for years I did not remember or know who I was beyond being a mother. The routine that was established in our house – which by the way has been life and sanity saving whilst trying to physically cope with four young children – goes mostly against my natural preferences.

Just to mention a few examples:

  • I like to take the day as it comes … try it with children and disaster is guaranteed
  • If I have a ‘low’ day I would take things easy, read, sleep and just have a little time to reflect and re-generate from within … try this with children and your home is turned upside down.
  • I like holidays where solitude is imperative: reading, exercise, nice meals out, sunshine, peace and quiet … try this with young children and you find out what it means to have an anti-holiday-hell!
  • I like peace and quiet but in trying to get it, I shout at the children!

 

So 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.

And yes, I too tried to get back into my old job when my first two children were of toddler age and we had the ‘live-in-nanny’ look after them. Unfortunately I could never quite rid myself of the guilt then either: at work I felt guilty because I felt I needed to be at home, and at home I felt guilty because I felt I needed to be at work. Peer pressure from any camp (those who advocate for mums to be at home versus those who advocate for mums to return back to work) was utterly unhelpful and confused me more and more in knowing what I need to/have to/should do to serve my family… and, ah yes – here it comes – to serve MYSELF well.

 

I don’t have the magic answer but I have found a way to address every situation where I feel torn in a calm and considered way. I simply ask and check with myself:

‘Whose needs are greater?’

And yes, of course I am biased, as I am the judge of it, but I also trust that I know my children and myself.

It also helps to be conscious that there might be a conflict of interest, which in itself can help to move things on. I don’t feel I am the slave of my guilt when I take a moment to check internally that what I am/we are about to do is serving the need of those whose need is greater in that particular context. I can make a conscious decision, and work with the possible consequences.

 

I don’t think I will ever be guilt free (show me any woman who is!) and I don’t claim that I always get it right (come on, we need to keep our psychotherapists in work). I know when I have gone wrong ‘things just don’t feel right’ despite what the rest of the world might think. I believe that every situation warrants individuality and every family makes their own choices. However I hope that they can make them by trusting their instincts and intuition rather than following peer pressure, a sense of guilt or what other people might think of them.

I am sharing this in the hope that those who suffer like me from guilt may find a way to make choices that leave you feeling good.

Just remember we are all trying our best and maybe I am not the perfect mother but maybe trying to be a ‘good mother’ is enough?!

 

Steffi Stern lives with five chickens, four children, three dogs, two cats, one husband, and still finds time to run the Mother Goose shop in Nailsworth, Gloucestershire. She can be contacted at steffi@mothergooseonline.co.uk.

This article was originally published in the May/Jun 2012 edition of Goose Life.

 

Image: flickr.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

Busting My Clutter

ClutterI am on a decluttering mission. Again.

The undeniable benefit of moving at regular intervals is that you have a built-in excuse to assess your belongings. Quite uncharacteristically, I have now been in the same place for six years. Over time, stuff inevitably builds up.

It seems that in the last 18 months, however, I am permanently shifting, rearranging and disposing of things.

Like most expectant moms, I went through a late-pregnancy nesting phase. My house had never been so clean.

In the absence of a nursery, this was accompanied by the prerequisite furniture shuffle to accommodate Lilly’s gear. It never ceases to amaze me just how much more will fit into our one bedroom flat. Maybe if I keep adding stuff, it will just continue to magically expand – like in a fairy tale or something?

But I seriously thought this whole ‘nesting’ thing was meant to be over and done with once your child is born. Yet I am forever reconfiguring and getting rid of bits ever since Lilly came along. That’s not a bad thing.

The problem with decluttering is of course that it doesn’t last. Much like cleaning or doing laundry, it’s not a permanent achievement. And if you leave it long enough, like I do, then the process actually is a whole load of work. But I still haven’t figured out how to do it ‘regularly’.

Because let’s face it, I actually don’t feel the need to declutter until things get pretty out of control. I am reasonably comfortable with a certain amount of disorder. Basically anything that involves detail and repetitiveness isn’t my thing. I suck at admin. Until two days ago, I hadn’t done any filing in three years. You think I am kidding but rest assured, I am not.

For better or worse, however, the point of no return comes around more frequently these days, mainly due to Lilly’s ever-changing needs.

The move from co-sleeper to cot for example meant that half our bedroom needed to be rearranged. Up until now, her growing toy collection slotted reasonably well under my desk – until Santa brought a table and chairs, that is.

toy clutter

So my latest domestic re-org was prompted by the growing threat of said toy collection. That combined with the fact that I could no longer see my desk for all the paper piles. Too much clutter and I feel like I can’t think, much less work and be productive.

Besides, it’s the start of a new year, which seems as good a time as any to ‘start’ over.

Sadly, as confirmed by Jill Pollack, ‘there is no such thing as a declutter fairy, who works while you sleep’. So one (painful!) trip to Ikea later, I now have toys stored in boxes, a clean desk, and paperwork in folders. I’m a long way off from ever living in a pristine place like this…

imageseurope.com      declutter

…but at least I feel like I am breathe and think again.

There’s a lot more to be done, but I feel I am off to a good start.

 

I’d love to think I can keep it up… but just in case, I’d better get a date into my 2016 diary for my next filing session.

 

Images: savvybrown.com, bodyenlightenment.me
        straighten-up-now.com, jillpollack.wordpress.com

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

12 Picture Books For The 12 Days Of Christmas

It’s no secret that the only reason I take Lilly to the library is to have an excuse to riffle through the picture book section – AGAIN!

I can’t seem to leave the bloody place without checking out at least a dozen new books.

I just love them and it never ceases to amaze me how much you can say when the right words are skillfully matched with the right illustrations.

My list of favourites contains anthropomorphic books for two reasons:

a) Despite the opposition to these types of books from certain educational philosophies (i.e. Steiner/Waldorf), I find them very cute and enjoyable.

b) They make up a large proportion of what is published. Embodying animals with human characteristics and emotions minimizes racial and gender stereotyping, and thus (at least in theory) gives these books a broader appeal. But mostly, I just find them cute and enjoyable.

So after nearly a year of ‘research’, here are my Top 12 for 2012 – just in time for the holidays if you are still stuck for gift ideas, or just plain last minute, like me. (These are my favourites from the vast selection of books I encountered this year rather than books that were new on the market in 2012)

 

Louisa Yates, Red Fox Publishing

I recently came across this budding series and I am in luuurrrvvv with Dog!!!

These beautiful books have absolutely charming illustrations, and the little white dog is quite possibly the most adorable thing ever. He might (!) even top Jack on the cuteness scale…

Dog Loves Books is about Dog opening a bookshop and getting lost in the magic of stories.

In Dog Loves Drawing, Dog receives a blank sketchbook that he escapes into with an adventurous posse of friends that he draws along the way.

TOP DOG – love them both!

 

Where The Wild Things Are, Maurice Sendak, The Bodley Head Children’s Books (Random House)

This 1963 book is a children’s classic with amazingly detailed illustrations. Max causes mayhem in his wolf costume and is sent to his room without supper. From there, he escapes to an imaginary place where he becomes king of all wild things. Brilliant use of very few words to say a lot! This story also has a lovely ending with Max deciding to come home to find his supper waiting in his room… still hot.

 

The Three Billy Goats Fluff, Rachael Mortimer, Hodder Children’s Books

This is a brilliant take on the fairy tale The Three Billy Goats Gruff. In this version, Mother Goat knits booties for her billy goats so they don’t make any noise trip-trapping over the bridge and waking the grumpy troll living underneath. The story is written in prose with the troll speaking in verse as he threatens to make meals out of the goats if they continue to wake him… that is, until he is presented with handknitted earmuffs, of course.

 

The Very Small, Joyce Dunbar, Random House Children’s Books

This is a seriously cute story about a Marsipulami-like creature lost in the woods, and found by Giant Baby Bear. The Very Small wants his own mummy, daddy and home, and baby bear shares everything with him… until they fall asleep and The Very Small is catapulted back into the woods by baby bear’s sleepy sneeze. The illustrations, as with any good picture book, are just darling, and I got so drawn into the story that I did feel rather sorry for baby bear eventually having to wake up to find his new-found friend missing (the book mercifully skips this part, and ends with The Very Small being reunited with his own parents).

 

Love Is A Handful of Honey, Giles Andreae, Orchard Books

This is a heart-warming take on everything that defines ‘love’ in the day of a little bear spent with his friends and family.

It’s an early Giles Andreae publication, and in my mind far tops his more famous books like Rumble in the Jungle and Giraffes Can’t Dance.

 

 

I Love You, Blue Kangaroo, Emma Chichester Clark, HarperCollins Children’s Books


A touching story about a little girl’s favourite stuffed animal. Lily loves blue kangaroo, but he soon has to share her affection with all the other toys gifted to her. Feeling lonely and rejected, blue kangaroo snuggles up to Lily’s baby brother instead… but once she notices him missing, she quickly bequeaths her whole menagerie to her little brother in order to get blue kangaroo back.

There are eight further titles in this series to date.

 

My Big Brother, Boris, Liz Pichon, Scholastic Children’s Books

This book has more text and is aimed at a slightly older age group. It deals with the struggles of daily family life, and the conflict between different aged siblings, the oldest one being a grumpy teenager in this case.

A further title in this series is My Little Sister, Doris (which I have yet to read).

 

 

The Heart and the Bottle, Oliver Jeffers, HarperCollins Children’s Books

This is a very touching book about a girl who looses her father, and decides to protect herself from hurt and sadness by cutting off her emotions. I love the simple yet effective language, although I am not sure how a young child would react to this story? I guess mostly it would be a story, rather than the deeply meaningful metaphor I read as an adult.

 

 

Giddy Goat, Jamie Rix, Orchard Books

Absolutely LOVE this one!

It is a great story about overcoming your fears and finding friendship, told through the eyes of a mountain goat that inconveniently is afraid of heights.

The sequel is Giddy the Great.

 

My Many Coloured Days, Dr Seuss, Red Fox Publishing

Possibly the least well-known of the Dr Seuss oeuvre, this book was written in 1973, and posthumously illustrated and published.

Different feelings are described as related to colours, thereby playfully introducing a variety of emotions.

‘Maybe on some days you feel sort of brown, like a bear; you feel slow and low, low down. But then comes a yellow day and wheeeeeeeee! you feel like a busy, buzzy bee.

What I love most about this book is the way it highlights the changing nature of everyday feelings, and most importantly, that your feelings are not who you are.

 

Who Loves Baby?, Julia Hubery, Piccadilly Press Ltd

This is a new release, and one of my latest finds, addressing the feelings of a toddler in the presence of a ‘new’ baby.

A meerkat pup’s new sibling is swooned over by the ‘Gooey Gang’ – a group of females coming around to coo over baby. ‘Don’t they know Baby is icky and sicky and pongy and pooey?’ he wonders. In the end, his teddy helps him discover that maybe Baby does have its good sides after all.

I also love this book for the introduction of words that require referencing from the Urban Dictionary, like ‘pongy’ (smelly) and ‘whuffle’ (in this context a snuffling noise).

 


There are other books I liked, such as Simon Puttock’s Big Bad Wolf is Good, although on reflection I would not read it to Lilly as it introduces labels such as good and bad. And then of course there are books that bear no further introduction, such as The Gruffalo, Green Eggs and Ham, or anything by Quentin Blake.

 

Happy Christmas reading everyone, and I look forward to more quality library time with Lilly in 2013!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

GUEST POST: Geheime Farblust? 50 Shades Of… Orange?

It’s European Multilingual Blogging Day!!! Today is all about giving bloggers an excuse to write in a different language.

Now I could have slaved for weeks over a post in my mother tongue but why make life difficult for my anglicized brain when a perfectly qualified linguist is close at hand in my circle of talented friends?

So here you have it:

 

Geheime Farblust, or 50 Shades Of Orange

(do scroll down for English translation!)

 

Im öffentlichem Nahverkehr, in Cafés und Parks scheint es nur noch ein Thema zu geben: „50 Shades Of Grey“, zu Deutsch „Geheimes Verlangen“.

So trüb der Titel klingt, so banal scheint auch der Inhalt des Buches, wie mir Leserinnen versicherten: Eine Frau zieht es in den Bann eines Mannes, der ihr die Sorte Sexualität näher bringt, für die ein Schrank voll Requisiten und Terminologie aus dem Wien Sigmund Freuds unerlässlich sind. Drei ziegelsteindicke Bände von mittelprächtiger literarischer Qualität, in allen Variationen. Ein Massenphänomen, bis zur Erschöpfung kommentiert von Journalisten, Feministinnen und Facebook-Mitgliedern.

 

Ich halte jedoch schon beim Titel inne: GRAU? Und das in fünfzig Schattierungen?

Wie viele meiner Generation verbrachte ich meine Studien- und frühen Berufsjahre schwarzgewandet: Rebellisch, sexy,  figurfreundlich und passend für alle Gelegenheiten – so sahen wir diese Nicht-Farbe und verweigerten sowohl das brave Dunkelblau unserer Großmütter als auch die schludrige Buntheit unserer Hippie-Eltern. Wird schwarze Kleidung gewaschen, entstehen Grauschattierungen – eine trüber und jämmerlicher als die andere, und im Gegensatz zu unserem Irrglauben keineswegs zusammenpassend. Schwärme von Nebelkrähen bevölkern die Büros unserer Städte. Viele von ihnen tragen nun dieses Buch in ihrer Handtasche herum, um sich nach Feierabend  zu entspannen – mit schlecht geschriebener und altmodischer Pornografie, bei der ebenfalls schwarze Utensilien zum Einsatz kommen. Muss das sein?

Meine Befreiung vom schwarz-grauen Einerlei begann mit einer „Farbberatung“, die mir liebe Freunde schenkten, um mich nach einem Schicksalsschlag aufzumuntern. Bei einer Farbberatung wird festgestellt, welche Farben und Kombinationen am besten zu einer Persönlichkeit passen. Vorurteile und Stereotype werden in Frage gestellt, ein individueller Farbpass weist den Weg in eine neue, bunte Welt. Ich entdeckte eine neue Liebe: Orange! Hielt ich es bis dato als unmöglich für Blondinen, rückt es in Wahrheit nicht nur meine grünen Augen ins rechte Licht, sondern ist mit seiner fröhlichen Aufdringlichkeit auch ein Ausdruck dafür, dass die Jahre des Versteckens in der Masse vorbei sind. Nie wieder „dafür bist du zu dick“, nie wieder „auf dem Kongress tragen alle dunkle Anzüge“, nie wieder „du musst auf die Sonnenbank/du musst dir die Haare bleichen“!

Das Erstaunlichste: Meine neuen Kleider in Orange (und anderen fröhlichen Farben aus meinem Farbpass) wirken sich nicht einmal nachteilig auf meine Karriere aus, im Gegenteil: Kollegen und Vorgesetzte freuen sich über frohe Farben mehr als über den verzweifelten Versuch anderer, ihre antrazithfarbene Misere durch Dekolletées, Stilettos und Peroxid aufzupeppen. Angela Merkels beeindruckende Sammlung bunter Blazer ist kein Zufall: Ob man ihre Politik mag oder nicht – sie geht in der dunklen Männerwelt nicht unter.

Inzwischen habe ich berufsbegleitend selbst eine Ausbildung zur Farbberaterin abgeschlossen und anderen zu einem neuen Blick auf sich selbst und die Welt verholfen. Wie das von mir „Graubuch“ genannte Werk arbeite auch ich dabei mit küchenpsychologischen Termini – doch nicht mit denjenigen der dunklen Seite unserer Seele, sondern mit allem, was Licht und Freude ins Leben bringt.

Sollte ich also jemals bei den falschen Leuten hohe Schulden machen und deshalb in Rekordzeit einen Softporno für Frauen schreiben müssen, so würde er heißen: „50 Shades Of Orange “.

 

In addition to colour-consulting, the colourwitch (colourwitch@skynet.be) works happily as a translator for an international organisation. She is connected to Nette not only through friendship, but through the love of wool and needles, which give her more opportunity to play with colours. Her other hobbies – or obsessions – don’t need props to be sourced in shady parts of town, but require only sheet music, other singers or Star Wars books. Well, grand opera houses and theatres are less modest places, but everybody needs a little glamour, don’t you think?

 

50 Shades Of Orange

 

These days there seems to be only one subject on the tube, in the office and in cafés: „50 Shades Of Grey“.

Well, the title sounds depressing and, as the people who read the book claim, so are the contents: A woman falls for a man who introduces her to the kind of sexuality that requires a closetful of sinister props and terminology from the era of Sigmund Freud’s Vienna. Enough to fill three bricks with mediocre writing and inspire countless journalists, feminists and Facebook-bloggers.

I for my part skip reading the doorstoppers and stay with the title: GREY? In 50 shades?

Like many of my generation I spent my university and early breadwinning years predominantly clothed in black: Black is rebellious, sexy, kind to the imperfections of the female body and appropriate for every occasion. So we thought, shunning the boring navy of our grandmothers and the motley of our hippie-mothers. Repeatedly washing black items nevertheless renders them grey, and combining different shades of black and grey does not – contrary to common belief – lead to a sophisticated outfit. Even today flocks of charcoal coloured crows populate the offices of European towns, as if emulating the mangy pigeons outside. Many of these ladies read the „Grey“-book on the bus back home – to relax with unnecessary detailed, old-fashioned pornography involving black utensils and a guy called… Grey? Really?

My own liberation from the black and grey drudgery begann with a „colour consultation“ lovely friends gave me to cheer me up after a hard time. Colour consulting analyses which colours and combinations best suit a given person. This process challenges prejucices and stereotypes, and the personal colour passport guides the way into a brighter world. I discovered a new favourite: Orange! I always thought it was a “no no” for blondes, but not only does the green of my eyes really sparkle when I wear orange, but the colour itself signalizes without a shadow (ha!) of doubt that there will be no more hiding myself in future. Never again „you are too short/chubby for that“, never again „everyone at the congress wears charcoal suits”, never again “you should get a fake tan/bleach your hair”!

And most astonishing: Though I am neither working as a yoga teacher nor as a cheerleader for the Dutch football team, my new quirk did not ruin my career. On the contrary – colleagues and bosses love a little unusual colour around them, when otherwise the dresscode is respected. Dolling up drab garb with hooker-heels, plunging necklines or an overdose of peroxide might please some Mr. Grey but long working days are more pleasant in a group whose members feel good about themselves in their own, cheerful colours.

In the meantime I myself have qualified as a  „colour- and style-consultant” in order to spread the cheer. Just like in the „Greybook“ there is some psychology involved – but not from the dark side. My field is the light – the unlimited, joyful variety of colours and personalities.

So if ever bad luck strikes and I have to borrow money from „men in black“, acquire cash in record time and see myself forced to sell my soul writing pornography, the title of my book would be: “50 Shades Of Orange”.

Images: wired.com, styleathome.com

Some Like It Hot

I hate lukewarm coffee. If beverages are meant to be hot, I like them searing hot. I love that comforting first sip of a properly heated drink, one that I can put down and return to savour at still acceptable temperatures as I work.

Coffee shops are my satellite office, the places I turn to for productive daytime writing. Home can be too distracting, with undone chores accusingly staring me in the face. The library sounds ideal but the seating sucks, and the senior citizen computer classes aren’t exactly conducted with the hushed silence I expect of such a bookish place. So coffee shops it is. I’ve spent too many years in open plan offices to be bothered by the noise, it’s easily tuned out.

What is less easily forgiven is a shoddy atmosphere, and worse, aforementioned lukewarm drinks. I don’t even indulge in the dark stuff very often, but I adore the fresh strong smell of good coffee. And when I do succumb to the occasional caffeine treat, it has to be worth it.

So what makes a good coffee? I think my coffee-loving writer friend describes it best in her recollection of the delights of a Tuscan café:

‘It [the cappucchino] was perfection, one which is yet to be surpassed.  Hot but drinkable, two thirds milk to one third foam and a great taste, not too sweet and not too bitter’

 

And never mind the much-mourned demise of the local coffee shop, for which apparently even caffeine-craving yummy mummies with buggies the size of compact cars can now be blamed. Fuggedaboutit, even the chain stores are on their way down, although whether they ever were ‘up’ can surely be debated.

My much-loved local S, tried and tested with many a corporate memo, university essay or blog post, recently declined on two counts: the removal of most of the comfy seats, and the utter unreliability of internet access. So much for ‘home away from home’. I was forgiving of such shortcomings, until one day a gang of local teenagers swarmed the place and, consuming their takeaways, made it smell like the fried chicken shack next door. Now I may have been guilty of clandestinely eating the occasional panini from the Italian deli inside these sacred halls, so my inane sense of fairness kept me from complaining. Begrudgingly, I defected to the newly opened C, switching from Chai Tea Latte to Hot Chocolate, and trying to make friends with the surly Eastern European mafia staff. But hot drinks aren’t part of their corporate credo either, as evidenced by the lukewarm, insipidly sweet ‘extra hot’ hot chocolate I found myself gagging on recently.

 

So what would my ideal writer’s café look like?

Small and intimate. Not like an episode of Friends, but personable. Plush carpet and comfy armchairs, the kind that you can lose yourself in. Clever but unobtrusive spaces for that little bit of privacy. Soft soothing background music. A good choice of coffees, expertly made. A small selection of fresh organic cakes, cupcakes and sandwiches. A bit of eye-candy, such as a handsome waiter to take my order. Internet access and wall sockets. Best of all, NO SCHOOLKIDS and NO YUMMY MUMMIES. As luck would have it, there’s a vacant retail space on the High Street just waiting to be turned into my personal writer’s haven. Investors, anyone?

 

In the absence of all that, I think Virginia Woolf just about had it right about a room of one’s own. And a thousand a year, plus inflation of course.

 

Image: ifood.tv, virtualtourist.com