Dress like a mum? Wear leggings.

I bent over in the park the other day while wearing dungarees. The straps had been sliding off my shoulders so I had shortened them earlier in the day. I imagine the experience when I bent to rescue Blaze is akin to how cheddar feels when faced with the cheese wire…

The truth is, I like fashion. But in my life fashion and offspring go together like pineapple on pizza – I don’t think it works, but I know others disagree.

I like wearing nice clothes, feeling good and not looking like a woman who showered in super-glue then tripped over in a charity shop. But aside from the issues with finding time to shop,  I also find it difficult to find anything that survives the rigours that parenthood present me with better than <drum roll please> leggings…

I know, I know, they are a sartorial co-conspiritor with Crocs in their screams of “I have given up, dress me in Cath Kidston and consign me to the crochet corner” (put down the needles people, it’s just not my bag) but other forms of outfit offer up too-too many challenges.

First up, crack. Don’t like it. Whitney did and look what happened to her. OK, the kind of crack I’m talking about is unlikely to end your life, but just like the kind of crack that can, no one wants it shoved in their face at baby sign.

Unfortunately however, sitting on the floor singing nursery rhymes, or crawling up the slide at soft-play because the small person has been losing her shit for the last fifteen minutes about the “wind” (air conditioning), mean that the opportunities to share some crack would have Whitney and Bobbie beating down my door. For this reason, most pairs of jeans are simply not duty-appropriate.

And that includes Mum jeans.

I mean, they look friendly enough, they’re even named for us. Surely they are designed to withstand the demands of modern motherhood and are totally down with smears of bodily fluids and food.

But Mums beware. These jeans are not your friend.

Never, in fact, has an item of clothing been so misleadingingly named. I sometimes imagine that the childfree 20somethings who decided these things should be the epitome of cool are sitting somewhere in Shoreditch drinking a chai latte, and having a secret snigger at all the mums who have fallen for the hype. They smirk as we wincingly lunge to perform the kneeling-nappy-change while our jeans act as a sadistic yardstick of where our bodies used to be.

The harsh truth is that we need to be down with our own kids so if Mum jeans are cutting nothing except our poor beleaguered lady bits, then that’s no fun for anyone.

Worried about the cheese-wire-mum-tum-flat-bum effect of the Mum jeans therefore, you may reach for the other middle-class mum sartorial stalwart, dungarees. I am in fact a fan of their multi-pocketed, waistband-less offer, and they are very kind to those of us still breastfeeding, but even though their boob access is great there is another kind of access on which they’re not so slick – the toilet.

There is nothing more annoying than needing to remove layers of clothing before you can wee. It’s just about manageable if you’re accompanied only by your phone, or if you’re nicely ensconced at home, but add to the game two children battling to see who can escape from the public cubicle first, a non-existent weakened pelvic floor, followed by the soggy realisation that at some point during the strip and struggle your strap has fallen down the loo, and it becomes clear that dungarees are not our answer.

And so we seek. We cast our gaze wide (or at least as far as filling up the shopping bag at ASOS, but never pulling the trigger) for an item of clothing that will salvage a smidgeon of cool while avoiding crack, cheese-wire and wringing out the bog-water. And we land on the tube skirt.

We’ve done it, we declare! We’ve found the perfectly-practical-parenting-clothing-conundrum solution! Sod Gok, we mamas have got this.

Forgiving waistband? Check. Crack coverage? Check. Can be worn a multitude of ways… Can be thrown in the washing machine…Doesn’t need ironing? Check, check, CHECK!

I paired it with some opaques and Stan Smiths and that day I stepped out proud that this mum ain’t gonna be consigned to the sartorial scrapheap after all. I wandered down the road all blissful in that bubble until the small-small sniffed out my happiness and legged it for the South Circular. That’ll learn ‘er.

All my instincts screamed RUUUUNN before he reached the snarling, yarling traffic but all my legs could do is match his stumpy-legged-little-stride-length perfectly, as the tube skirt took on unwelcome multi-tasking properties as a resistance band around my knees. The only thing for it was to hitch that bad boy up and lunge to grab his hood, getting a grip of it just in time while losing my grasp on anything resembling my dignity.

So the tube skirt is done, and the search continues.

Or does it? Because lurking there in your wardrobe from a time when exercise was a thing you dreaded rather than dreamed about, are leggings. Can I, you wonder, just wear them?

Well, let’s look at the evidence…

Sleep-deprivation has been proven to greatly diminish one’s ability to make decisions and choosing an outfit means time spent in front of the wardrobe/ mirror deliberating, which is time that could have been spent sleeping. So, throw on some leggings with a tee and sweatshirt and you’ve achieved an act of self-care and charity for the average parent’s addled mind.

This outfit also comes with a get-out-of-fashion-free-card as even if you look like a sack of shizz, people will assume that either (a) you are on you way to do some exercise, therefore you deserve props for being “on it” OR (2) you have just finished exercising, therefore you deserve props for being “on it”. Win win.

No one looks at a lady in leggings and thinks she’s simply fed up of being diced up by her denim.

In fact the only significant downside to succumbing to the dulcet tones of lycra whispering on lycra, and a waistband that no amount of cake can defeat, is the fact that there are no pockets and this can be problematic.

So my final piece of advice should you choose the stretch rather than slice, elastic rather than crack-fantastic option, is to make sure you have pockets elsewhere. Otherwise you *might* find yourself rummaging around in your pants in the playground because that *might* be where you have stashed your phone.

Just saying.



The Brilliance of Trump

I cried when I listened to Michelle Obama speak last week, and I know I wasn’t alone.

With her careful thought, her clear intelligence, her black-ness and her female-ness, this ordinary, extra-ordinary woman appeared in binary opposition to the man she so resolutely refused to name.

And what a name to be refused.

It is easy to imagine the flushed pride with which this name would be bestowed upon a woman, along with the considerable expectation that she be grateful and appreciative of her good fortune.

It is now even easier to imagine how this name carries such influence and power that women let you “do anything” to them.

And it is easy to imagine how, starved of this name and its associated wealth and status, such a man would be reduced to empty bombast and a desperate grasping claim to something that never should be his.

So Obama did not name him.

Until that moment, the tangle of disgust, anger, frustration at the apologists, and confusion about what exactly was so offensive had resisted my best efforts to unravel it.

The voice that told me this was politics on another continent and asked why should I feel so charged, competed with the one that shouted, This is so much more than that, and I struggled to find my true voice amongst all the noise.

But, as the minutes past rapt in the peaks, troughs, the ebb and flow of her masterful oratory, Obama spoke to me.

She told me that the disgust, the anger, the pointless shouting at the TV and the feelings of personal violation which had shocked me with their strength, came from a place where this man’s name is inconsequential.

With her words it finally felt like we were being given permission to be outraged because we all know this man. We’ve all met him.

I now understand that I feel outraged because I remember my sixteen-year-old self on a bus. The man who sat next to me leaned on me throughout the journey. Every time I edged away, he moved along too, forcing me to squeeze myself closer and closer to the window into a non-existent space where I could hide from his domineering presence. And when we reached my stop he stood up, but not aside, forcing me to squeeze past him. And his genitals. And he smirked.

I feel hurt because I remember the time I was out running and refused to respond to someone heckling me from his van window, so he threw a milkshake at me. It missed, but he threw it.

I feel violated because I remember the countless times on dancefloors that someone has made a fleeting grab for me as I’ve walked past them. Faceless hands on my bum, up my skirt, around my waist, on my hips – my presence enough it seems to convince them that they had that right.

These are all events that at some point I have told someone about only once I was able to achieve the dismissive, lowered tone of someone who isn’t bothered. Because that is the message we are given: it’s no big deal, take it as a compliment, don’t be so dramatic, it happens all the time.

And as I tell my stories to join with the chorus of voices saying this is not ok, it does not have to, should not, be this way, I am sad.

I am sad because why should we have to tell so many stories to prove this injustice true, as though we have to work our hardest to convince people that it really is bad, it really is important?

I am sad because I know it could have been so much worse and indeed is for too many women and girls.

And I am sad because when I first read the words I had written I had to edit them to replace “they” with “he”, as though the habit of somehow holding myself responsible is so ingrained that it makes me afraid to acknowledge the obvious. On each of these occasions of course it was a man – why am I so reluctant to point that out?

For the most part these kinds of stories are now in the past for me. I have developed a prickly “Don’t Fuck With Me” face that I can slap on at a second’s notice, and more often than not my presence on a dancefloor is accompanied by a man – sorry boys, I have been claimed – hands off…

Despite this though, their legacy remains. When it’s dark and I walk down a street I am ever vigilant, and I think about what I need to do so that should something happen, it would not be my fault.

When I pass a group of men, young, middle-aged, old, black, white, English-speakers or not, I tense. I mentally prepare myself to look the other way in case an unwanted comment finds its way to my ears. I prepare myself to pretend I have not heard.

Sometimes I use my children as a shield. I engage enthusiastically and loudly in conversation with them. Bloody hell, I even sing and always plaster on a smile like the world can just bounce off my bubble of happiness, so don’t even try to break through this with your cheap words.

But I don’t want to do these things because I am a woman, they are men, and that’s the way it has always been.

Instead, whenever I encounter this attitude, this strange and desperate maintenance of the status quo, it piques the special sweary place in my head that I reserve for such nonsense. And then I return to the safety and reassurance that if this were true then my mixed-race children, rather than being bringers of pride, would be a source of shame and perhaps would not exist at all.

I remind myself that pointing out injustice, loudly saying, “No. This is wrong. Here are the reasons why,” which is sometimes all we can do, is not pointless nor hopeless. It is where it begins.

So, there is hope.

Over a week on, since the damning video recordings were released, the tide has been seeming to turn. As this man embarrasses not only his political party, but other men, even those who we would really much rather not be “on our side” are running for the hills from the tsunami he is leaving in his wake.

We can not ignore that some of the men (finally) condemning this man for claiming proprietary rights over a woman’s body for the purpose of sexual gratification, still seek to legislate our bodies on the matter of reproduction, while others refuse to legislate on issues such as equal pay.

But, at least people are talking.

And this is The (amusingly unintentional) Brilliance of Trump.

What this man has achieved, that no amount of story telling could ever have matched, is to bring into the stark, full-beam glare of the media spotlight, just what women are dealing with.

Of course it is tempting to find frustration that it has taken one man’s miserable misogyny to attract the attention this issue deserves on its own merits, but let’s not drown in that bitter sea. Instead, let us ride this wave and make sure it washes up on hitherto unreachable shores.

Let’s harness this man’s words and the global horror they have evoked, in every classroom so that our boys know what high standards we will hold them to, and our girls know what low standards they should never accept.

Let’s keep the conversation going, and see just who we can get to join in.

Don’t tell me there is a long way to go, as though this should serve to quieten my storm and quench my fire. The length and difficulty of the journey we have to undertake makes the conversation more important, not less.

So let’s exploit this man’s repulsive words and actions to shamelessly and unapologetically raise the agenda that does not ask for more, but asks for the same.

This is how we will be heard.

Stay at home… feminist?

I’m having to come to terms with being “kept” like a pet cat. I’m painfully aware that the money I’m spending is not “mine” in the way I always planned. And if one more person calls me a yummy-mummy, I think I might eat myself.

Some SAHMs would have it no other way – a choice that has to be respected and valued – but for me it’s just not working. To read more of my thoughts on being a feminist who doesn’t do what she thought a feminist would do, head over to Cheltenham Maman who carried the guest post in September…

Peppa Pig saved my life

“My offspring will not even know who Peppa Pig is,” I loftily proclaimed pre-children, as I sneered in superiority at the parents who bought the DVDs, t-shirt, stickers, cup, bowl, bag, lunchbox, pencil case and pyjamas.

“What is this two-dimensional animated swine?” I imagined my offspring saying in bemusement as she sat in her gender-neutral clothes at a rustic wooden table artfully constructed from upcycled pallets and scaffolding rescued from next door’s skip (it just needed some love).

She would be shelling her afternoon snack of sugarsnap peas, and playing with wooden toys made from ethically sourced wood blessed with caresses from the funking fairies and would wonder, “Is there something wrong with her snout? It’s always pointing sideways. Perhaps that is why she is always whinging?”

Knob (me, not the child. Even for a fictional one, that would be harsh).

In reality we have a glass kitchen table (wipe clean), life is significantly more plastic and primary-hued than I had planned, and in my parenting “philosophy” Peppa is a key player.

Admittedly, I’ve had moments when I would happily have roasted the little porker – she taught my daughter to say “No” in a particularly fucking rude dismissive manner, and I’m not proud that the theme tune was the first ditty that the BSCB danced too.

There have indeed been times that I have wanted to take a shotgun and shoot the shine off the little squealer but unfortunately this precocious porcine preschooler, who hams everything up, speaks with her mouth full, and finds it impossible to admit when she is wrong, has proven too useful to be served up for Sunday dinner.

Peppa of course offers an easy source of entertainment in potentially combustable situations on airplanes, buses, and basically anywhere we’re in prolonged contact with the same seats and members of the public. But I feel this little piggy offers even more to the average parent navigating life with a ticking time-bomb of a toddler.

Essentially, trotting out the line “You know, like Peppa does,” has prevented many a day from being consumed in a mushroom cloud of toddler and preschooler pandemonium.

Visits to the dentist and doctor, sharing a room with her brother, the necessity of wearing boots to jump in muddy puddles, tidying up toys, the importance of not dropping keys down a drain, and navigating arguments with friends, are all situations in our house in which Peppa has been referenced.

And if that isn’t convincing you, then consider how “big” issues such as environmentalism and feminism are somehow woven into this oddly 2-dimensional candy-coloured cartoon.

This may well be because the makers of the programme appreciate listening to “Dum dum dum dum dum, dum-dum-dum-dum-dum-dum” on repeat for several years of one’s life might convince one that taking a knitting needle to the inside of one’s ear is an entirely reasonable act. So, rather than bear that burden, they throw us beleaguered parentals a bone of a slight side-smile at the antics of Mummy Pig at the fair, and have you seen how hopeless Daddy Pig is at hanging a picture? Haha.

Not only do the creators of the show so convincingly have our back in this way however, many episodes are veritable self-help volumes with tips on how to approach, well, life.

Do you recall the day the world ended? Back in June when we woke up to find that 52% of the country thought being in the EU was a bad idea because of fish, or something…? I was convinced we were headed at warp speed down a black hole from which there would be no return, but G-Rabbit’s baritone blues broke through the despair:

“I woke up this morning. The sea was still there. The sea the sky the sea the sky the sea the skyyyy.”

And all was well once more.

Sort of.

There are of course always going to be occasions on which once the wheels of whinge are set in motion not even the big guns (a KitKat) can restore order.

In general however, I believe the Power of Peppa has been vastly underestimated.

Yes, it is annoying that episodes last just 5 minutes and thus only buy enough time in the shower to wash one side of your body, but before you toss her in the trash with the rest of the leftovers, just think of me.

Because, I can hand on heart say that there is many a time when Peppa Pig has saved my bacon.