Friday, 4 August 2017

Play Room Dreams

Before moving house, my partner and I would dream about one day owning a home that had enough space for a whole room of toys and nothing else, where you could shut the door on the mess and never look back, cosying up on the sofa in the minimalist adult room with a glass of wine; no mess; no brightly coloured bits of crap everywhere. The Play Room Dream.

When we bought the home we are in now, we believed our Play Room Dream had become a reality; a conservatory with enough space to call a "Play Room." In the beginning, we threw in an Ikea storage unit, rammed with toys and imprisoned our daughter in there by way of a baby gate and naively assumed that she would just love being in there with her toys, giving us the freedom to cook and clean on occasions and to drink a hot drink in peace.

As if.

Firstly, no kid wants to be in prison. Not even with a stash of brightly coloured crap to keep them occupied; they don't want toys, they want us, every hour of every minute of every day. What actually happened was that our daughter would sit at the gate whilst we were making a hot drink or cooking a meal, throwing toys over it and through the gaps whilst screaming hysterically, even though we were only inches away from her. Eventually, getting her to go in there became a battle, so we removed the baby gate, thinking that she may actually want to go in there to play if it felt less like prison.

As if.

Children have an inbuilt sensor whereby they can hack into your true desires and intentions the moment you think them; she knew we wanted her to play with her toys in the Play Room, a room we created all for her with brightly coloured storage boxes and characters adorning the walls.
And because of this, she didn't want to go in there. Ever.
So naturally, what actually happened was that the toys got packed away in the Play Room (by us) every evening, whilst for the rest of the day, she would take her toys into the tiny downstairs loo, into the lounge, up the stairs, into the hallway, on the landing, in our bedroom.

Toys everywhere but the sodding Play Room.

We have since given up on our Play Room dream and have morphed the conservatory into rooms which replicate the rest of the house, a bit of furniture with a pile of toys chucked in for good measure. Sometimes, friends come by and say things like,
"I so wish we had space for a Play Room," and they tell me about beautiful ideas they've swooned over on Pinterest and how they dream of a No Toys Room. I remember my own dreamy Pinterest "Play Room Ideas" board, full of amazing storage hacks, indoor slides, murals for the walls and blackboard chalked zones. It was all but a dream.

I've since come to terms with having our Play Room dreams dashed and accepted our house as one big Fun House, full of toys piled in every corner, trip hazards in every room and brightly coloured crap everywhere. Perhaps I'll begin a new Pinterest board on ways to incorporate brightly coloured plastics into every room, who knows, maybe it will be the new minimalist.
Minimal is over-rated anyway.

Friday, 7 July 2017

Isn't Your Woman Amazing?

Remember the good old days?

The days you could lie-in together until the afternoon, talking idly about what to eat for lunch? Eat out? Cook together? Order in? She used to giggle a lot; seemed less pressed for time, relaxed; at ease with whatever the day may bring; happy locked in your arms.

Things are different now.

Maybe she’s predictable?

Perhaps she’s lost her sparkle?

She knows she’s lost a few things too, but like you, she’s thankful for what she’s gained.

There are no prizes or promotions for Motherhood; no pay rises; not even any pay; no holidays and no pats on the back, but she remembers the days when there were. When she could apply for a promotion, have a pay rise, feel valued and skilled at work; when she had colleagues to talk to; when she could feel as though she was mapping out a career for herself. Independence.

 But, Motherhood is a sacrifice of all of this.

It’s often a sacrifice of freedom, of a decent pension, of a career, of her time, of her hobbies, her friendships, her body and more. She pays the sacrifice because she wants to, because she wants to give the future her children.

Your children.

A continuation of your love together and your genes combined to send forth children of the future. Mini-yous and Mini-hers to make a difference.

With this, she places her trust in you.

You are the chosen one: to love, to provide, to make up for her financial losses which she has returned for life and natures fruitful but penniless gains.

What a huge amount of trust she has in you.

Isn’t Your Woman amazing?

Maybe she splits herself in 2 as she continues in the working world, whilst meeting the needs of your children every spare minute that she has. Or perhaps, she leaves her education, leaving even a degree behind as she elopes on a path of domestic drudgery and nappy changing and rocking to sleep and feeding. She’s not qualified for this; there is no training but she embraces it anyway. The mental challenges are enormous and yet, any mental stimulation for her is minimal. Perhaps she does both and feels she’s never doing a good job either in the working world or of mothering; working “part-time” in return for a full-time role of 2 important jobs divided. Wanting to guide your children through life as much as possible, whilst still providing for the family.

Her body alone is capable of keeping that little human being you made together alive, even after birth.

Isn't she amazing?

Perhaps her torso is now covered in map-like lines which mark the 9 months she carried your human being inside her, a keepsake of your child’s growth; a miracle which only bodies like hers can ever achieve. Her skin is looser than it used to be, her breasts hang lower; do you see the strain growing your children has on her? And yet, she carries on, regardless, making more of your children, because she chose to make them with you.

Isn’t she just amazing?

She nurtures future generations of You with love and nourishment, her instincts drive her to know when there is something wrong, even when the facts prove otherwise. She is an alarm, a siren becoming alert at exactly the right time for no other reason than her feelings. An energy beyond science.

She provides practically and meets the needs of the whole family; knowing when to replace shoes, instigating routines, the keeper of the calendar and lists of endless other tasks which she takes on when she becomes a Mother and Homemaker.
She is The Mind of the home.

Then there are needs which lie way beyond the practicalities of life, which Your Woman provides for tirelessly with love and affection. The role of just being in the right place at the right time with open arms, love and support; just being there. Giving stability and security, a constant reassurance and presence, allowing your children to grow with good self-esteem and confidence. A rock.

She sacrifices her time, her money, career, emotions, her social life and primarily herself for future generations of you and of her all rolled into one.
She is viewed differently by society, demoted to Mother.
Her hair is a mess, her nails no longer painted, she’s irritable, more serious, she giggles less, but she chose to do this with you, in spite of losing elements of herself in the process.

Her role is thankless, expected even.

And, with you, she chooses to do it and then maybe she does it again and even again.


Because, Your Woman is amazing.

Monday, 26 June 2017

Spa day? I just want to sit in my pants and watch Homes Under the Hammer

From personal experience, men seem to get a lot more free time.

  Now I know that this "free time" is available to me should I wish to take it, but the top and bottom line is that as soon as my Daughter has whiff of a temperature... I know something is coming. And is my "away day" really going to bloom into  free-spirited "free time" if I'm picking up my phone every hour, endeavouring to explain where the thermometer is, whilst juggling a cream cake and prosecco single-handedly and worrying about whether she's drinking enough, eating enough, taking her medicine and not on the verge of being admitted to hospital in a sicky, temperature ridden, red-faced, sweaty state? (As she has been repeatedly when that sky-scraping temperature won't budge and her face is covered in scary, non-blemishing suspicious spots from puking up.)

  Is our time out as mothers ever really free? How many of us can control worrying? How many of us know where specific, important things are kept to the detriment of our other halves who don't? My little one's immune system has really been put to the test and she's caught more than her fair share of strange illnesses and worrying bugs so far and with it has come this deep-seated anxiety for me, where I just can't seem to break away, mentally.

I know how quickly she deteriorates and I know what to do when she does.

My partner kindly and happily tries to persuade me to take as many days off as he does, he tells me to go to the spa over night (which I have done), to ask my girlfriends to join me on a weekend in a foreign country, go on holiday for a week, even.
He would genuinely be quite happy for me to go.
But I can't.
Because I worry too much. A physical holiday would never be a holiday from my mind and the constant worry of leaving my child for long periods of time. Don't get me wrong, I've done my fair share of nights away, but any longer, just seems to send me into a frenzy of worry.

Thing is though, I still want... NEED time off.
Oh I need it, I crave it, give me all the time off.

 But when I have time off, I'm not thinking of the same kind of time off that he's thinking of: I want to stay at home and enjoy being at home at my own pace; I want to be able to watch Homes Under the Hammer in my pants without a toddler asking me why my pants are so big 47 times, alternated with demands for me to crawl under the sofa and retrieve a 2cm Suzy Sheep. And I actually want to see what that crumbling, derelict house looks like post-makeover by the end of the programme, really badly. 
I want to lie on my sofa and count the hideous swirls of aertex, because I've nothing better to do with my time, I want to walk to the local shop and buy my favourite magazine, stroll home at a leisurely pace and read it from cover to cover, which usually takes at least a week (on a good week!), I want to stand in my garden and look at my plants for an hour or two, without interruption, admiring the colours and shapes, even the dead ones.

I'm just saying, Men: just because we might not get out and about as much as you do, or sometimes even want to spend a whole day at the spa (which in fact requires effort beforehand, because we have bikini lines to tend to, we can't just go all spiders legs in public, fine for you though, you're used to it by now), we still want and need that break. Also, prancing around in costumes sporting our stretch marks or post-baby bodies at the spa just fills some of us with a bit of dread, particularly when bumping into hot babes in swim gear, it makes us feel a bit... crap.

A couple of hours every week does us the world of good; we don't need miles in between us and our children to feel more rested, to feel like we've had a break and are better able to juggle everything. Sometimes we just need to switch off our minds, focus on something else and still be around, should we be needed... but in emergencies ONLY.

And just to finish off, if you want to sit in your pants and watch boxsets all day, I completely understand, you need your time to chill too.
But don't forget to trade in one of your away-days for it first! ;-)

Friday, 2 June 2017

On messing up my Daughter

I am probably messing up my little girl.

I think this probably several times a week, maybe more.
Particularly when I read about the emotional impact that enduring depression can have on your children, or when I read an article about the long-term consequences of not being able to fulfil a child's cries for attention each time we're needed, or when I open a book about healthy eating and it tells me that my bad habits have probably already rubbed off on my little one. No hope for her relationship with food then? No hope for her mental health? And no hope for her self-esteem?
I've pretty much screwed her up already.

And then I sit here thinking about real life.
A new sibling; moving house; a bereavement; a new job; redundancy; a disability; financial worries; a long term mental health issue; health worries; a job to go to; a friend to help; a phone call you need to make; a meal to cook; a marriage to save; morning sickness; a letter to write; a computer to mend; tiredness; fear; hair to dry; a dress to buy; a new hobby to try...
The list goes on...

My point is that, no matter how much we endeavour to meet all our children's needs, we are actually probably never going to, although we can perhaps exhaust ourselves trying. We can not shield our children from every negative emotion and at times, we ourselves are going to be the evil instigators of the negative emotions our children end up feeling.
I know that I can not shield my daughter from every mis-hap that life throws at us, or even at me; I am sure she has endured the consequences of my turbulent emotions over recent months and I've felt accountable for that. I know that she struggled with a recent bereavement, primarily because of the huge impact it had on me and I was probably verging on depression for a duration of that time; I could not have met her emotional needs when I was feeling so low in myself.
This makes me feel terrible. But, it's the truth.
And then reading articles telling me that my child has been yearning for my love and attention whilst I've been absorbed in my own selfish grief isn't going to change anything; it just induces self-loathing and I'm sure there are plenty of articles on the impact of that too!

I even feel terrible each morning I get myself ready for work and take myself into another room whilst she entertains herself, or that Daddy tends to get her dressed, because it takes me much longer to get ready than him. I question if I'm damaging her because I choose to spend time applying make-up for work, rather than spending an extra 10 minutes in her company each morning. And then, when I'm cooking dinner and she's begging me to play hide and seek, I remember the book I read which charted the consequences of ignoring a child's desire for play on long-term self esteem.

"Work can wait; children are the important work."

Words of this nature in bold on the page opposite, surrounded by colourful rainbows, flowers and flying pigs.

I am terrified of messing up. Terrified that she will one day (soon after turning 13) tell me that she has never forgotten my emotional volatility in her early years, or the time I told her I was too busy to help her with her homework when she was 7, resulting in a detention and a long term phobia of maths, or that I just didn't give her enough love and attention.

Or maybe worse, whatever worse may be.

I'm not condoning messing up my daughter in anyway, but I guess this is my confession, that I know it's inevitable that something I will do will not help her in the long-run. That one day, maybe stuffing my face with chocolate cake because I'm due on my period didn't seem like a lesson in gluttony to me, but to her, it was a free pass to bad eating habits and subsequent low self esteem.

If my lovely little girl ever does read this blog, I really hope she can tell me that regardless of how I've messed up, amongst the chaos of daily life, she knows she's always been loved, which  really is the very best I can offer.

Monday, 24 April 2017

My battle with the beige stuff...

Over the last few weeks, I've become increasingly interested in learning about nutrition.
For as long as I remember, Ive learned that fat is bad for you. Full stop. And the weight loss groups and fads I've followed over the years have caused me to develop habits that I'd never really questioned before, filling my plate with tons of "free" pasta and mountains of rice and potatoes, filling up to the brink of no return, but it's ok because it's low fat... Right?

Turns out, no. No it's probably not.

I've read a few books about nutrition, learnt a bit about eating for health rather than weight loss and discovered that my body has really missed fat. My spots are vanishing thanks to good old extra virgin olive oil which is well and truly back on the menu and I'm not craving salty carbs quite as much because I'm enjoying (God forbid) egg yolks and full fat butter on my wholemeal toast.

After not eating alpen in years (it's full of high fat nuts, don't you know?) Im eating it every morning for breakfast. It's as delicious as I remember. It good for me too according to the latest books I've read.

Who knows, maybe eventually someone will decide that good fats are bad fats all over again and maybe I'll be back to eating mountains of pasta, but for now, it's working because I feel better.

One thing I'm struggling with  is my little one... How do I get her to eat less of the beige stuff? How do I get her onboard with my latest colourful health kick-fad? Infact, how do I get anyone on board in my house for that matter?!

They love beige food in my house, good old plain, colourless, flavourless, stodgy beige food.
 So do I, I love it for convenience, but not so much for the flavour.

Then there's the grand-parents who supply endless snacks and meals of colourless, empty  beigeness with a side order of bread. Of course, they mean well, but how do I get anyone on board with my latest parenting fad without looking like some raging convenient-food-stealing-control-freak-witch? How do I make my toddler eat more healthily without helicoptering my way through her life snatching stodge from her hands, whilst other family members console her with ladels of ice cream and chips? How do I get her to like vegetables when I'm the only meanie giving her the chance to?

When she's older, I hope she'll appreciate my efforts; I hope she'll know that I cared for her inside and out, even if I did come across as a raging control freak. I hope I can be a good, healthy role model to her (even if I am a secret chocolate eater when she's sleeping, although apparently it's actually good for you! That's how I know this latest health fad is definitely for me!)
One day, I'll be able to explain to her that I just want her to live longer, that I want to keep her insides safe as well as her outsides, that I want her to love and like her body, that I want her to feel good and healthy. Perhaps it's only when you lose someone to ill health that you realise the true importance of health, after all, if you don't have a body to live in, where else will you live?
But for now, I know she'll see me as the good-stuff killing police.
Miserable Mummy.
The Chicken Dipper Thief.

Thursday, 2 March 2017

My beef with World Book Day

As usual, World Book day has filled my social media feed with images of familiar looking little people dressed in a range of elaborate, creative and even expensive fancy dress outfits. Some characters, I recognise from stories which coloured my childhood; others I recognise from book covers in the shops and some, I have gotten to know through the books I read to my own child. Others however, are not characters which have originated from a book.
I see them in the mornings on CBeebies.

You may think I'm being cranky, but this isn't my only beef with World Book Day: I see and hear of parents flocking to supermarkets days before in a panic to buy their child the best outfit, I see parents (ok, primarily mothers) trying to out-do their fellow parent peers by swatting up on how to create wondrous character-like sculptures on Pinterest weeks before, spending a fortune on crafting materials and a huge amount of precious time creating the "perfect" outfit for their little ones.
I am no doubt going to be quite guilty of this some day too.

What does any of this have to do with books? Actual books? Surely, a parent's time would be better spent sharing and reading books together, making books a part of everyday conversation at the dinner table, savouring magical places and words and imagination. I argue that most fancy dress outfits are more about "the outfit" than the actual character the children dress up as anyway.
That's not forgetting the extra pressure on parents to buy, create and master the perfect fancy dress outfit, therefore creating an epidemic of World Book Day competitiveness and perfectionism.

It's not what it's all about.

In my past life as a teacher within a Secondary school, I was regularly asked the same question by parents: "you say he needs to read more, how do I get him to read more?
I've bought him all the books."
In a diluted fashion I would try to relay the message that reading isn't just about reading the books, it's about making books a part of the everyday, a part of conversations, it's about asking questions about stories and characters, embracing the worlds that books have to offer. It's about conversations at the dinner table and taking an interest in what the world is showing to your child; more than books, it's about the possibilities they offer.

Also, putting on a costume emulating a favourite TV character is not celebrating books.

Everyday, I know that an adult in my house is going to read to my child atleast once, I know that she's going to have a favourite story which will change as she matures: her current favourite being "We're Going on a Bear-hunt." Today, she did not dress up for World Book Day, besides I'm not too sure how I would concoct a suitable outfit for her favourite book!  But at the weekend, we might go on our own bear-hunt whilst walking the dog and we may even use her favourite quotes from the story as we're tidying up,
"We can't go under it, we can't go over it, we'll have to go through it!"

Or maybe we'll go on a chocolate cake hunt instead (our favourite type of hunt.) Either way, the story becomes a part of our everyday, as do the characters as she carries her dolly around on her shoulders whilst wading through fictitious mud as she makes her way to the bathroom.

 I know that for so many parents, books come to life as part of their everyday too and most parents I know read to their children regularly. Therefore, it's a shame that World Book Day can't be more of a celebration of bonding, of imagination, of quiet time and listening and less about the competitive epidemic of Perfect Parenting.

Friday, 27 January 2017

The Dehumanisation of Teachers

I am no longer a secondary school teacher and it feels SO good, despite the large slap in the face of our finances and ignoring the fact that we are overspending on nursery fees as a result. The feeling of freedom, liberation and flexibility is a solace for years of stress, undeniable anxiety and depression under the institutionalised profession of classroom teaching. People often say that you struggle to see a situation clearly until you're standing on the outside looking in and I feel that I've had enough time away to be able take a look inside.

Looking in as an outsider, there is mainly one concern that I have for those left in the teaching profession, and it's one that I never fully understood or appreciated until I was free.
I feel human again.
But, what does it mean to feel human? In simple terms, for me, it's being able to feel at all.

As teachers we are taught not to feel, not to encourage natural feelings of annoyance, frustration, despair, sadness, upset; we are performers. We spend most of our days putting on a show to engage and educate our students in the ways we have been told to; we are pushed and pushed over the brink of despair day in, day out and yet, we are not supposed to let our feelings show. We are supposed to be pillars of composure, of tolerance, strength and resilience; we are supposed to be robots, even when under the persistent fire of management, parents and children themselves. We are not to shout or scream, or walk away or ignore or protest or refuse, or cry, we are supposed to give up our much-needed breaks and mental recuperation time to give away yet more and more of ourselves and we drag our weary selves home at the end of each day knowing that tomorrow, we will have to do the same again.
How much more can we possibly give to this profession?

 As humans, we all have limits. But, what happens when those limits are tested and pushed every single day? What happens when we deny ourselves these intense, unruly, disobedient and very normal, natural feelings which we find ourselves frantically forcing down our throats like disgusting lumps of venomous poison?
We become numb; exhaustion happens, along with anxiety and depression and probably a range of other mental and physical illnesses. How is this healthy for a human being? Since when did the basic, human needs of our teachers become washed aside in some crooked old ship which we're steering to God only knows where?

We are persistently directed to differentiate our lessons, to know that Every Child Matters and to incorporate them in our Schemes of Work and Lesson Plans, but somebody forgot to point out that Every Teacher Matters too. They matter because at some point in their lives, there is a strong possibility that a teacher once experienced a yearning to educate, to help and develop people of the future. That they once had a passion and found an outlet for their passion in teaching, but our teachers are becoming institutionalised under a bureaucratic system, which is burning them out.
If Every Child Matters, your teachers need to matter too.

The amount of mental strain placed on the heads of teachers nowadays is unbearable; I do not understand how one person is supposed to retain the sheer degree of knowledge and to-do lists that a teacher is required to. In fact I am sure that equivalent physical labour would be illegal and these duties come aside from the mental drain of controlling a classroom full of children each and everyday.

I have seen many teachers give up hobbies and personal pursuits for the sake of teaching, because they just didn't have the headspace for anything else. It's an unhealthy profession which undoubtedly impacts on the health of our teachers in many ways both physically and mentally. After the birth of my child, I was treated for PND and several healthcare professionals informed me that they see more teachers at the hands of PND than any other profession; why is that?
I argue that it is the dehumanisation of teachers adding to such high levels of mental illness within the profession and that unless we begin to treat our teachers as human, then we can no longer serve as role models to your children.