Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Having a SAHM wobble

Stay-at-home mums: Powered by tea
This weekend we were driving through the city centre and went past the building I used to work in. It suddenly occurred to me that it was five years almost to the day since I walked out of that building, not knowing at the time that I wouldn't ever go back to that job.

Five years. Half a decade of not being an employee.

I've written before about how I feel awkward about being a stay at home mum and, nearly three years on from that post, it's even worse. I suppose because I've had another baby people are now assuming I'm on maternity leave. So I'm having to explain all over again that, no, I'm 'just a mum'.

I've tried working from home, first selling children's books and then, when that scheme closed its UK operations, I turned to freelance writing. Which went well, it turns out I have a natural flair for writing and I got a fair bit of work, but once Ezra was born I just didn't have the time or energy for it and so had to put it on hold.

When people ask what I do I don't know what to say. Do I say I'm a writer, even though at the moment my paid writing work is on hold indefinitely? Do I say I'm a stay at home mum, with all the negative connotations that may hold in people's minds? I'm not immune to the widespread talk about 'hard-working families' and the implication that carries that I'm, essentially, a layabout. Even though if I were looking after someone else's baby and school age child then I'd be a childminder and therefore hard-working again. Sigh.

And more than my worry about what to say to people and what they think of me, I am concerned about what will happen when I am ready to re-enter the world of employment. I want to give Ezra the same early childhood Eleanor had, which means staying at home with him until he goes to school. That's four years off. By then I'll have a nine year chasm in my CV, filled only by the occasional stint of self-employment. Nine years is longer than I worked before having kids.

I don't know what the answer is. I don't even know what I want to do when I go back to employment. I love to write, but I also feel passionate about supporting families and young children and so would quite like to do something related to that too. But what?

Then, if I'm honest, there's my avaricious side that just wants nice things. A bigger house, holidays abroad, clothes that aren't dangerously close to being classed as 'vintage' (and not in a good way). We have enough money to muddle along, but I know if I worked we'd have more little luxuries. But equally, there will always be big houses to buy and planes to hop on. My baby won't be a baby much longer, soon he'll be a toddler then he'll be a preschooler and then, in the blink of an eye, he'll be the one walking into class without a backwards glance. So perhaps the finer things in life can wait till then?

Do any other SAHMs feel like this? Has anyone been through this stage and still managed to have a decent career afterwards? I'd love to hear some words of reassurance, or simply solidarity!

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Christmas Gift Ideas for Babies

Wilfred was bemused by his latest hat but excited about chewing the pom-pom off later
DISCLAIMER: There are probably numerous blog posts out there with normal, sensible suggestions of actual baby gifts. This isn't one of them. Or maybe it is, I don't know. Just don't expect a serious product guide, OK? Oh and always supervise your baby, but you know that, right?

It's getting to that time of year when people start to ask what they can get Ezra for Christmas. I struggle to find an answer because (a) he's a baby so won't have a clue what's going on anyway, and (b) we still have all of Eleanor's old toys so he doesn't really need any more.

So while I've been racking my brains for suggestions, I started to think about what Ezra would really like for Christmas. Here are a few ideas which I'm sure many babies would also appreciate:

1. Shoes

No, not for wearing. Don't be ridiculous. For playing with and licking, of course. Bonus points for fun dangly laces or lovely noisy velcro. Mud and general street dirt optional but, let's face it, that'll make them far more appealing, right?

2. A hairbrush

Again, not for it's actual purpose. As Ezra's hair is roughly a centimetre long, that seems excessive. But bristles are apparently very satisfying to run over the tongue, and the handles double up as teethers. Brushes are apparently best enjoyed with a generous amount of hair already entangled in the bristles. Yuck.

3. A box of tissues

Now this is a less universal one, I concede. Some babies would prefer a packet of wipes. It's all down to personal preference. My boy, though, loves a box of tissues. So satisfying to pull them all out! So tasty to chew! So funny when Mummy accidentally steps on the soggy lump he spits out! What's not to love?

4. Stuff on shelves

Again, this is one where you have to take into account personal preference. Eleanor, for instance, loved books on shelves, whereas Ezra has a clear preference for cloth nappies and all their accessories. Both are excellent options for pulling down and creating a huge mess, but the nappies have the advantage of creating a soft bed to cushion their fall when they lose hold of the shelf.

5. Laundry baskets

These are great for babies who are starting to pull themselves up. I say great, they're highly unstable and probably dangerous but that doesn't stop my baby. Where's the fun in pulling yourself up on something that won't threaten to overturn? Plus if you get a curved one they're great to roll around. Of course, getting one full of neatly folded clothes and tipping it over is THE MOST fun!


Hmm, not sure I'll be suggesting these to the relatives! What weird and wonderful things would your baby want for Christmas?

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

Gentleness in a Harsh World

Ezra turned 8 months on Friday, and there have already been two occasions when I have looked at his sleeping face and whispered, "What kind of world have I brought you into?"

The first was the evening of the day Jo Cox was murdered. When the politics of hate which we had all seen simmering in the UK claimed the life of a politician who, had she lived, I strongly believe would have been an incredible force for good in our government.

The second time was this morning.

I have been mostly awake since before 2am but held off from looking at my phone until around 4.45am. Trump had just taken Florida, While nothing was confirmed, it was pretty obvious he'd won.

Now the politics of hate is moving into the White House.

Buzzing around my head is a quote which often gets shared around gentle parenting circles:

"It's not our job to toughen our children up to face a cruel and heartless world. It's our job to raise children who will make the world a little less cruel and heartless." - L.R. Knost

It's a great quote and, while in theory that's what I'm trying to do, in practice I wonder how much good it will do. In a world where good people who have dedicated their lives to charitable work and public service are shot in the street. In a world where arguably the most powerful country elects a racist, ableist misogynist with two court cases pending as President. 

What difference can my two children make? And how do I keep that spark of goodness and love alive in them as they are surrounded with hate? How can my efforts as a mother even begin to make a dent in the cruel and heartless world around me?

I know all I can do is continue to raise my children with all the love and gentleness I have. I only hope that when they're old enough to make a difference there will be enough people raised the same way to help them make this world a kinder place.

Thursday, 3 November 2016

Remembrance Day, Refugees and Other Awkward Subjects

Eleanor bought a poppy at school yesterday.

She'd been told on Monday that Year 6 children would be coming round that week selling poppies and was desperate to buy one, and crestfallen when her class missed out on Tuesday. So yesterday she was pleased as punch to be wearing one when I picked her up.

I don't really know how much she understands, or how much her desire for a poppy was driven by that understanding rather than just wanting to have a Thing. But it's a subject that has cropped up a lot recently.

Our route to school takes us past a big stone cross, which up until a couple of weeks ago still had poppy wreaths laid on it from the Somme centenary. So that introduced the subject of why we use poppies as a symbol of remembrance, and what it is we're remembering.

We also walk past the Anglican church, and sometimes cut through the churchyard to avoid the noise of the rush hour traffic. There is a stone porch at the entrance to the churchyard, with the names of local fallen soldiers engraved inside. As Eleanor is a compulsive reader she started reading the names and asked who they were. This was a bit harder than abstract talk about poppies in battlefields - now it wasn't just 'lots of people' who died, those people had names.

I cannot begin to fathom how to explain to my daughter why, for centuries, leaders have thought the best way to solve differences is with killing. How do you tell your 4 year old, who you tell again and again to be kind and gentle, who you tell that hurting others is bad even if it's an accident, that this is how the world works?

It was hard enough talking about wars that happened a long time ago, But she has long been aware of the refugee crisis. She's heard talk of it, and last weekend our church collected items to send to the local refugee centre. She knows that these are people who have had to leave their country because there is a war. I wonder whether she has joined the dots yet between the names of the dead engraved on a wall and the fact that war is still happening.

Because I so desperately want to tell her that this proliferation of poppies is not in vain. That we remember so we learn the lesson, that war is bad, that killing is not the best way to solve problems. But it hasn't worked. There are still wars happening. Not only that, but our country has just decided that cooperation with our neighbours is not what we want, and we are cutting ourselves adrift from a Union that has maintained peace for decades.

She's at school right now, her poppy on her tie, learning to get along with her classmates, to show kindness, to work together. And yet all around us is fighting and intolerance and hard-heartedness. What changes in us as we grow?

When I first told her about all the people without homes because they've had to run away from war, she said they could all come and live with us. When do we lose that sense of compassion and hospitality? Why are there still children (and yes, they are children, no matter how old they look) stuck in Calais with nowhere to go?

And if I don't understand the answers to all these questions, how on earth do I explain them to a 4 year old?