Tuesday, 27 June 2017

To A Friend, Who Unwittingly Helped Me To Breastfeed

This week is National Breastfeeding Celebration Week in England, this year the week has the theme of breastfeeding support. Unicef are encouraging mothers to share stories of our breastfeeding friends, the people who supported us with our breastfeeding journey.

It's got me thinking about the people who supported me when I first started breastfeeding five and a half years ago. My husband, my mum, midwives, health visitors, strangers on online advice forums all played their part. But there was someone else, someone who may not have directly helped me, but whose example gave me the determination to keep going. This post is to her.

We were in each others' day to day lives for just a few months. We worked together, but by the time I started working with you, you might already have been pregnant with your second child. I was childless but hopeful for the future. You talked to me about motherhood, my first real 'mum friend'. You shared your pregnancy woes with me, but talked about the joys of being a mum too.

You talked about breastfeeding. You didn't preach about it, just casually dropped it into our conversations. It was something normal, run-of-the-mill, alongside talk of nappies and toddler tantrums. No big deal.

You went on maternity leave and we stayed in touch via Facebook. And that's how I heard about what happened after your beautiful baby was born. You were ill. Very ill. Scary, hospitalised kind of ill. Then you posted thanking your friends for helping you to continue breastfeeding your child. A few months later you called into work and talked about how you'd had to argue with medics to be able to keep breastfeeding. It stuck with me.

Fast forward two and a half years and I had a newborn baby of my own. I'd always assumed I'd breastfeed, but then I'd always assumed it was easy. How wrong I was. Eleanor had a habit of flat refusing to latch on, and would go from asleep to screaming with what we thought was hunger (actually it was reflux) in seconds. I didn't know how I could keep feeding her, it felt impossible.

But I remembered you. And how you'd continued to breastfeed despite being so very ill. And I kept telling myself, "If she could do it, so can I." You were my proof that it could be done, no matter what the circumstances. And that thought kept me going and helped me to fight for support until, at eight weeks, it finally started to get easier.

You did actually visit me in those early weeks but I didn't talk much about how I was struggling with breastfeeding at the time. You told me your two had both had reflux and we exchanged a couple of texts about it after Eleanor had been diagnosed, but other than that you weren't really directly involved in my breastfeeding journey. And yet you were crucial to it. You were my model of a normal, regular, breastfeeding mum, carrying on despite adversity. Simply by doing what you felt was right by your children, you inspired me to keep doing what I felt was right for my child.

Now Eleanor is five and a half it seems bizarre to me to think how close I came to giving up. Breastfeeding is just part of family life now. It's normal, run-of-the-mill, just like nappies and toddler tantrums. And I have you to thank for that.

Thank you, my unknowing breastfeeding friend.

Friday, 23 June 2017

Review: 'Daisy And The Trouble With Chocolate' by Kes Gray

I haven't written about what Eleanor's reading in a while. This is mostly because, actually, I don't get to read with her very much any more. She's been able to read pretty much fluently for two years now but her growing attention span means she can happily sit with a chapter book and read to herself, rather than wanting to be read to. I still get to read bedtime stories every other day (husband and I alternate) but those are short stories from a Disney book and, to be frank, there isn't much to write about.

So with her reading independently most of the time, I don't often know what she's reading. I don't have time to sit and read a chapter book like I did with picture books. But last week I found a book in the library I thought she might enjoy, and it made her laugh so hard I had to read it myself!

Eleanor loved the Daisy picture books when she was younger. Daisy is a really fun character - witty, a bit rebellious, smart and curious. She doesn't scream 'girlie' at you either, which is refreshing. I thought the chapter books might be a bit too much for Eleanor at first - she tends to read shorter ones still - but she sat and read the whole thing cover to cover in about an hour! I'm not sure she took everything in the first time, but she's since reread it about five times so must have covered the whole story by now!

So what do I think to the book? It's good fun and I can see how it would appeal to kids. It combines two storylines - Daisy looking after the pet hamsters over the Easter holiday, and going to Chocolate Land, a chocolate theme park. The part that had Eleanor properly belly laughing was the hamster storyline and I could see why, there is lots of talk about hamster poo which is of course hilarious to a 5 year old! The Chocolate Land part is more far-fetched, but would be really exciting to a child: chocolate face painting, a rock band with chocolate guitars, chocolate magic shows etc. The whole thing made me feel a bit queasy but to a child it sounds like heaven! It's a very easy read - the text is broken up with lots of fun illustrations, and the repetition of 'the trouble with' throughout the story will help to keep children engaged.

More importantly,Eleanor thinks it's hilarious and says it's her favourite book ever! This week anyway ...
c Linking up with #ReadWithMe hosted by Mama Mummy Mum and Kids Like to Read #KLTR hosted by Laura's Lovely Blog and The Inspiration Edit.

Read With Me

Laura's Lovely Blog

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Things a Teetotal Mum Will Recognise

Just lemonade for me, ta
For all my talk about being this hippyish alternative mum, I generally blend in fairly easily with other mums. After all, we're all in the same boat and need to help each other out. But there is one area where I still feel like the odd one out. Drinking.

I don't drink.

To me it's not a big deal. I've never been massively into alcohol. I experimented with it a bit in uni but never got properly drunk. And as I got older I just, well, grew out of it. I was mostly teetotal when trying for my first baby then stopped altogether for pregnancy and ... never really started again. I think I could count the drinks I've had in the last six years on one hand.

People have always been a bit surprised and baffled by my lack of interest in alcohol, but I'm more aware of it now I'm a mum. It's hard to pinpoint why, but there are a few things I've noticed - things that I'm sure other teetotal/occasional drinking mums will relate to!

The Questions

So, I go on a night out (pahaha, yeah, when my kids will let me which is once a year at best) and I'll get a lemonade or something. And there'll often be a conversation like this.

"Oh, not drinking tonight?"
"No, I don't drink."
"Oh! Why's that?"

I'm still slightly flummoxed by this question. I mean, if we were out for a meal and everyone else was eating steak but I ordered the vegetarian, it's unlikely I'd be asked why I don't eat meat. People just seem to accept that I don't, and carry on as normal. But not drinking will often raise a question.

It's not that I mind the question, I just don't know how to answer it. There's no one reason why I don't drink. There are lots of little reasons, the main one being that I just don't like it. But if I answer with that, people are really confused. So I often say something vaguely related to health issues, because I've learnt that's more acceptable than just thinking alcohol tastes nasty!

Gin O'Clock

Social media is great, isn't it? When I've had a rough day with the kids, or when bedtime has been going on for three hours and I'm about to scream, I will often take to Twitter for a moan, where I am met with solidarity and gifs. And occasionally the suggestion of gin.

It seems that after 6pm, the answer to a mum's problems is in the bottom of a glass. I'm sure it's in jest - at least I hope so, you don't really all drink that much, do you??! But I never know how to respond. Do I pretend to agree? Do I say I don't drink and risk The Questions (see above)? Do I just click 'like' and hope that's a friendly enough way of dodging the conversation?

The Alternative Vice

Of course, I'm no angel. When situations like the one above arise, I don't get through them by deep breathing and mindful housework, or whatever a clean-living alpha mum would do. So how do I cope when the kids are driving me up the wall and I don't want to hit the bottle?

Chocolate. That's how. Lots and lots of chocolate. In various forms - bars, biscuits, cakes. I live on the stuff. And the advantage is you can eat it All Day Long. And, believe me, I do. If it weren't for breastfeeding and babywearing I'd be the size of a house by now. In fact I don't quite know how I'll cope when I'm no longer able to consume my own body weight in chocolate on a daily basis. But that's a problem for another day!

The Second Guessing

I think more difficult to deal with than people's reactions is wondering what the reaction will be. Or what people will think of me. Will they be shocked? Aghast? Suspicious? Will they think I'm judging them? Will they worry that I'm going to remember the daft things they do or say under the influence and hold it over them? Will they think I'm odd, boring, sanctimonious?

The truth is, I'm not judging. Some people drink, some don't. It doesn't bother me. I'm not teetotal through some high-minded moral choice. I'm not making a point. I just don't like the stuff. I can still go out and have a laugh with other mums, kids and energy permitting. And as for what happens on the night out, that stays on the night out. I've got enough to try and remember in my sleep-deprived state without filing away your tipsy antics to tease you with another day.

If you're a fellow non-drinking mum, can you relate to these? And if you're not, go on - what do you really think of the mum in the corner nursing an orange juice?!

Thursday, 8 June 2017

Musings on Gender Stereotypes and Children

We're at a playgroup. Eleanor is 3. She is wearing a typically colourful outfit - blues, greens, reds. I look around and become aware that every other girl in the room is wearing pink. I wonder how long it'll be before Eleanor starts to notice these things too.

While being supremely confident in some ways, I've noticed that Eleanor is becoming more and more concerned about 'fitting in'. She's still a bit quirky, but while before she didn't notice her quirkiness, now she seems to be more conscious of it, and is trying to assimilate with her peers. Particularly her female peers.

I'm tucking Eleanor into bed. She's 4. She starts to talk about something that happened at nursery. There were bunny masks to wear. She wanted a blue one - her favourite colour. She says she was told she couldn't have one. Because, "blue is for boys and pink is for girls."

I tried to avoid gender stereotypes with her. And for three years, maybe longer, I succeeded. Then over time she started to notice. To hear things. To absorb things. And I wonder whether I took entirely the wrong approach. Because now I have a girl who knows deeply what she likes - the colour blue, football, fairies, dinosaurs, dressing up and space. But she's now learning that not all of those things are generally considered 'girls' things. And in her black-and-white view of the world, she doesn't quite know where she fits.

Eleanor is playing with baby Ezra. She is 4. She puts a hairclip on his head. "Ezra, this is what you would look like as a girl." She removes the hairclip. "Ezra, this is what you look like as a boy." The hairclip is replaced - "girl" - and removed - "boy."

I try to point towards examples of women who share her not-typically-feminine interests. "My favourite colour is blue too," I say. "Rachel Yankey is a footballer. Look, Maddie's wearing a dinosaur top! There's an astronaut on the International Space Station who's a lady." But she's unimpressed. They're not little girls like her. She doesn't need common ground with them, she needs common ground with the other little girls she sees.

Eleanor's scooter breaks. She is 5. It was second hand and free. It also happened to be blue. When we're looking for a replacement Eleanor says, "I want to get a pink scooter." I'm surprised - blue is still her favourite colour, and she generally ranks pink as her "20th favourite". (Goodness knows what the 18 colours in between are.) "If I get a blue scooter, people will say it's a boy's scooter." I ask her if that matters. "Yes." I ask why. "Because I'm a girl." We get her a pink scooter. She points out the little bit of blue on it, as if to reassure herself.

Often conversations around gender stereotyping in children's toys and clothes elicit the argument, "well just buy what you want. Does it matter if it says it's for girls or boys?" And to me it doesn't. If I see a top or toy I think one of my kids would like I get it, regardless of which section it's in. But while it doesn't matter to me, an adult with a clear understanding of stereotypes, it does matter to my 5 year old daughter. She's not old enough to understand that gender is a nuanced thing, that women (and men) can have widely different tastes and interests. She just wants to be like the other girls around her. And when we go shopping and she sees girls' clothes in one area, boys' in another, princesses, fairies and Lego Friends down one aisle and dinosaurs, superheroes and regular Lego down another, what's she supposed to think?

Eleanor decides to stop going to her football class. There are various sensible reasons for this - she's one of the youngest and the smallest so it's hard for her to keep up, plus the class is on Thursday when she's already pretty tired from four days at school. But if you ask her why she doesn't want to go any more, her response is that she's the only girl. We talk about how she could join again when she's older. "Yes," she says, "because then I'll be as big as the others. And some more girls might have joined too."

I realise that this is a battle I can't fight alone. No parent can. We might be able to for a while but once childcare and school kicks in, once our kids are old enough to spot the norms, we're on the losing side. And of course, we want our kids to be happy, to not feel like the odd one out, so we go with the flow and hope that when they're older they'll have the resilience to do what they like and be who they want to be. Yet we know that by going with the flow we're reinforcing the norms. Making it harder for the next round of quirky kids. But what can we do?

We can keep buying things we know our kids will like regardless of where in the shop they came from. We can keep talking about the stereotypes and why they don't make sense. We can slowly start to talk to our kids about the roots of those stereotypes. We can hold retailers to account for perpetuating the Great Pink/Blue Divide. (Let Toys Be Toys and Let Clothes Be Clothes are doing a great job there.) And we can wait for the years to pass and for our kids to get a broader perspective, hoping that those years won't ingrain the norms too much.

Wednesday, 31 May 2017

'Zoe and Beans: Look At Me!' by Chloe and Mick Inkpen

Last week when I took Ezra to the library he started happily pulling books out of the boxes, and one of the books was very familiar. I'd borrowed it when Eleanor was a toddler and really liked it, so I thought I'd introduce Ezra to it.

I've mentioned this book before in passing, both on this blog and in my guest post for Let Them Be Small, but I thought this would be a good opportunity to talk about why I love it so much.

Firstly, it features a boy-girl friendship. Admittedly this seems more common in picture books than in books aimed at older kids, but still it's refreshing to see a book which represents both genders and shows them engaged in the same activity. The story is all about Zoe and her friend Oscar dressing up as different things, and it's all fairly non-gendered. Zoe doesn't dress up as a princess or similar 'girly' character, and they both dress up as pirates and 'action'-style characters.

I also love the inventiveness of their dressing up. In fact, I used it as an example for Eleanor that she doesn't have to have an exact costume to dress up as something - a pan can be a helmet, a rubber duck can be a parrot. In this 'buy buy buy' culture where so many kids have an array of ready-made costumes, it's endearing to see a story about kids using their imagination and ingenuity.

I absolutely love the ending. Having exhausted their options, even using the dressing up box itself as a costume, they decide to dress as each other. This shouldn't be a bold move, but it is. There is still a stigma around boys dressing up as girls in particular, so seeing the kids happily playing as each other feels like a statement. And what an awesome statement to make - kids can dress how they want and be who they want!

And what does Ezra make of it? It's not quite as 'active' as some of the stories he's used to, but he still really enjoys looking at the pictures, and the onomatopoeic parts of the text really appeal to him. I might read it to him again when he's old enough to understand what's going on - but then he sees his sister dressing up loads so perhaps he understands more than I'm giving him credit for!

I really love the Zoe and Beans series, especially how the illustrations combine Mick Inkpen's familiar style with Chloe's quirkiness, and the playful nature of the stories. I'm looking forward to re-reading them as Ezra grows up.

I'm linking up with #ReadWithMe hosted by Mama Mummy Mum.

Read With Me

Friday, 26 May 2017

So You Want To Be A WAHM?

One of the biggest dilemmas for parents (especially, and probably disproportionately, for mums) is choosing whether to stay at home or return to work after maternity leave. It's a hugely personal decision and the right answer will be different for each family. Whatever the decision, we're all doing our best by our kids and ourselves (and we're all full-time parents).

I chose to stay at home, but a couple of years in I started to want a bit more. It wasn't just about money, although extra cash is always useful. I wanted to do something other than parenting, andto prove to myself I could still work! So I decided to try being a work-at-home mum - or WAHM for short.

The tricky bit is finding something that works for me. I tried direct sales but discovered that sales really isn't my thing. I switched to copywriting which I was better at, but once Ezra was born it was impossible to find regular time (and energy) for it. So for now I'm keeping in practise by blogging until I have more time and I'm getting more sleep.

So my experience as a WAHM has been mixed so far, but for many women it's a great opportunity to combine time with the kids with a career. Trouble is, how do you find the balance? I asked some local WAHMs about their top tips for anyone considering working from home, and this is what they had to say:

"A lot of my WAHM clients say having a life coach gives them focus, motivation and accountability. Being on your own with your vision can be really lonely but having a life coach who walks along side you and understand what you are wanting to achieve its paramount to success." - Nicola from Nicola Hughes Coaching and Counselling

"Stay on top of your paperwork, invoicing, book keeping etc. Its really easy to put it in a pile 'for later' and then not be able to remember important details when you eventually get round to it." - Jane from Norris Box

"It's a marathon and not a sprint. Especially fitting work around small ones, you've got to go with the flow and find when you can get work done. Set goals, work hard to achieve them, but be gentle with yourself as you're almost undoubtedly doing better than you think. Don't be afraid to take risks or change direction if you see an opportunity." - Rachel from Spider and Fly

"Try not to compare your business to others who are doing similar things! Make it work for you... and know you can't do everything straight away. Like Rachel rightly says it is a marathon, not a sprint.
Importantly don't underestimate your value. I see 
a lot of WAHMs undercharging for their goods or services so it is a good idea to cost up your business when thinking about pricing. Look at what you need to earn, how many hours you can reasonably work a week, what kind of resources you can put in (for example can you build a website or will you need to pay someone to do that), whether you need specialist training, insurance, registrations and then also factor in sick pay, holidays and childcare. You might not actually be able to charge the amount you need to, but this will give you an idea of what you are aiming for. Being a WAHM has to be about passion and drive because it is hard work, but the pros can outweigh the cons if you love what you do." - Lucy from Om Line Training

"Do something your passionate about because working from home needs a lot of drive from you. Also do market research before setting your goals. I love blogging, Vlogging, making films, teaching bellydance and writing press releases - so I really enjoy the variety I get from working for myself from home and my love of my work (I hope) shines through in what I deliver. Beats an office job any day. Go for it!" - Sophie from Mama Mei and Evoke Media Group

"Make sure you take a break when needed and plan them into your calendar. We have found juggling the long summer holiday and children / partners work was just a means to disaster so we 'close our books' for August and spend the time with our families and catching up on admin type jobs without the pressure of liaising with customers and getting goods out. It has to be on the calendar though as otherwise we easily slipped up and would 'just do this one'." - Amanda from Just A Touch Of Magic

"Don't forget to look after you. If you are running your own business you are your great asset but that can be very easy to forget when you are juggling the demands of family life and work, all in the same space. Especially when you love what you do too and there are not enough hours in the day/week/month... Make sure you take some time out that is just for you, doing something that you love - it could be yoga, crafts, walking, running, swimming, going to the gym or meeting friends. Even better if it is something that enhances and improves your health and wellbeing so that you stay strong and healthy (which means less sick days and more energy for your business and your family!)." - Lucy from Lucyoga

"You can get maternity allowance if you have paid NI contributions (if I recall correctly 13 weeks out of 52, voluntary contributions included) and are entitled to income based ESA. Which is something invaluable." Sophie from Footprints on Forever

If you're interested in what being a WAHM entails, take a look at the above links to see what fab and varied work these ladies do!

Are you a WAHM? Do you have any tips you would add to this list?

Friday, 19 May 2017

Fighting the Clutter and Simplifying Play

I've never been the tidiest person, but recently the amount of mess in my house has been getting me down. I was getting dragged into a 'my house isn't big enough' mentality, feeling sorry for myself, when actually the real issue is that we have too much stuff.

The amount of toys our kids have has been an issue for a while - even when Eleanor was a toddler, we already felt like we were drowning in toys. So of course now we have two, it's almost impossible to keep up with the sheer amount of stuff they have.

The thing is, they hardly play with it. Especially Eleanor. Whenever she complains about being bored I'll reel off a list of all the things she could do, but of course she's not interested. And Ezra will happily drag all his toys out of his box then proceed to play with the nearest non-toy item (preferably a dangerous one). I honestly think that the more toys a child has, the more overwhelming they find the choice and the less likely they are to play.

Alas, I think it is too late to get Eleanor on board with the 'less is more' message. But Ezra, being unable to speak and having a shorter attention span, can be merrily forced to go along with this as long as he doesn't see me getting rid of his stuff.

So, one nap time, I emptied out all his toys on the floor.

Yeah. What a mess, eh? No wonder it took me so long to tidy every evening, and no wonder he didn't seem to play with anything - there's just too much going on. So I set to work sorting through the mess.

I piled up all the cuddly toys - he hardly plays with these at the moment so I selected just one for him to keep, a little jingly Peter Rabbit toy. I fished out anything that wasn't actually his, as Eleanor's stuff had snuck in a little. I chucked away one particularly battered toy that we'd had since Eleanor was toddler and was past it's best. I found all the teethers and put them to one side to wash. And I weeded out any toys that I thought he was a bit big for.

I ended up with this.

These are the toys that he will actually play with: a bead maze, his toy kitchen and play food, a shape-sorting bus, two push-along vehicles, a shaker, stacking blocks, soft blocks, a jingly ball and the aforementioned Peter Rabbit toy.

Most of the rest has been shoved in a bag for now and when we get chance we'll go through it and decide what to keep for when he's older and what can go to charity. The teethers are still awaiting cleaning, and will be kept somewhere safe so they can actually be used for their purpose rather than as toys.

I did this three days ago, and he doesn't seem to have noticed the sudden lack of stuff. But he does seem to be taking more interest in his remaining toys now he can find them more easily. And it's quicker to tidy everything away at the end of the day. Win win!

Have you found that less is more when it comes to toys? How many toys do you think your child 'needs'?