Starting school: time-keeping, playground politics and the PTA

It’s coming up to that time of year. When social media is flooded with pictures of the first day of school and the words “How is this possible?” are worn thin in disbelief at the inevitable passing of time.

And that is said completely without judgement. Photo reels will be scrolled, “Look how tiny she was” will be exclaimed and tears will definitely be shed. Since having children I’ve become a gifted crier and its my default reaction whenever I’m happy, sad, angry, disappointed, worried, frustrated, or just feel like everyone needs to be a bit nicer to each other because THE WORLD IS GOING TO SHIT… So I am definitely going to cry on Monday 4th September when my girl, my baby, my magic, my star, starts to spend most of her time away from me.

I can’t quite get my head around the fact that she is going to spend five days a week, for most weeks of the year, for the next thirteen years, in a room, with people I don’t know, but she soon will.

I’m struggling with the knowledge that when she walks into that classroom she’s also walking slowly away from needing me quite so much. I’m yearned for that, been desperate for it, and now the time has come I can only think what a dick I’ve been.

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It’s a unicorn horn, alright…

But putting all the slushy crap to one side, I have some other more practical/ petty concerns that are taking up way too much space in my head:

  1. School gate politics. Working mums being frowned upon (yes, really), impenetrable cliques, or the mum who once told a friend of mine not to wear her new trainers on Tuesdays and Thursdays because she had the same pair and that was when she was planning on wearing hers #truestory – the tales I have heard and read about the perils of the playground politics concern me. I know I’ll do what I always do, and hover on the periphery until I’ve sussed the terrain, and I’m sure there will be nice mums too, but I’m not relishing the prospect of dealing with people whose emotional maturity seems to have stalled age six (looking at you mum who ostracised another friend of mine because her child got a small piece of cake in a party bag…)
  2. Arriving on time. Like, how? Two children, fed, dressed, and walked up a hill before 9am? What witchcraft do you use? I used to get the girl to nursery for 8am when I was working in a non-flexi job, but then she would eat breakfast there. It’s breakfast that is the problem for us. I can wriggle sleepy children into clothes before they leave their bedroom, but considering both my kids can down a tube of Smarties like a yard of ale at Freshers Week (just open your throat, OPEN YOUR THROAT… ah shit…!), it never ceases to amaze me how precise their chewing becomes whenever we need to leave the house in a hurry. They watch each other chew.real.ly.slow.ly. and are steely in their determination to break me. There will be shouting.
  3. Bullying. Of me (see point 1)… just kidding (sort of). I’m actually worried about the first time the girl comes home to tell me someone has been mean to her. And I don’t mean the “she took my toy” kind of way that it has been up until now – I’m talking about the malicious meanness that kids everywhere are capable of. I already know that looking into her hurt, confused eyes will crush my insides and make me wonder how appropriate it would be to counsel revenge. That saying about parenthood is like wearing your heart outside your body? This is why it’s a cliche.
  4. The PTA. Being blunt, how do I avoid getting sucked in? I want to be involved, I’ll attend events and bake (buy) some cakes, but I’m really not cut out for being reliable. I can barely manage my life, work, keep small people alive and reply to text messages, nevermind organise socials for mums who will tell me when I’m allowed to wear my trainers and how much cake their kid would like to eat. But I also feel bad when the same people get dumped on over and over again. I need to learn how to be more mean. Maybe those cliques have a point…
  5. Over-expectations of what I can achieve. For the first time ever I will have both of my children in formal childcare/ education for three whole days a week. I am planning to expand my business, write lots more blogs, project manage a (currently fictional) house renovation and move, hoover behind the settee, clean the oven, wash the wheelie bins, have perfectly manicured nails, wear actual make-up, brush my hair and put together outfits in a way I’ve not yet managed in 36 years. I think I’m going to be disappointed.

Other than that though, I’m really looking forwards to her starting school…

Are you a veteran school-gate mum? Please share reassuring tales of cups of tea, gentle conversation, and people whose politics don’t make you want to stab yourself in the eye with a spoon. Or perhaps you’re a newbie too – what are your dreams and fears?

When white women have brown babies: (un)learning and what can I teach them?

Becoming a mother unleashes an uncertainty onslaught unmatched by any other stage of life. Under such attack the most useful thing anyone can ever say to a new mother is, “You are the mother your children need. You are enough”.

But what if this isn’t always true?

What if the space of unknowing is so great that it creates a vacuum into which your child can be sucked, chewed up and spat out unrecognisable to herself and those around her?

Because white mothers of brown babies don’t know. We haven’t been there. And as we grapple with the certainty of knowing we should lead by example, we are also struck with the certainty that in some ways we are clueless. We realise we are not enough.

I am a white middle-class(ish) woman. Coming to terms with the privilege that affords me has been a sudden awakening in the last few months and for that I am sorry. I’ve expressed this regret to people who reassure me that I have not done anything “wrong” – people can only operate from their place of awareness – but still I would quite like to sit with that discomfort, own it, and notice how my “instincts” have been muddied with the realisation that they too have been the unsuspecting victims of unconcious bias.

White people in Britain are taught to ignore race – we feel uncomfortable talking about it; even typing the words “white”, “black”, and “people of colour” makes me wince. But of course, we have that privilege – we have the option to ignore race, to pretend it doesn’t make a difference, but when a white woman has brown babies she has to finally sit up and take notice.

So I am reading as much as I can; talking and listening to people who know. I know I have 36 years of unlearning to do and so far I’m somewhere around the third sentence.

I’m not expecting, nor do I want, congratulations for this. I just want to talk about how and what I am learning because in a deepening of the wound of the uncertainty-onslaught motherhood inflicts on us all, I have realised that I’m not qualified to guide my children through the challenges they will face, and it’s sometimes a lonely place.

I’m working through those thoughts by writing because this is what I do. I strive to make sense of my thinking by tip-tapping it out and posting it out there for anyone to see. I invite agreement, challenge, even derision, because it helps to clarify my thinking.

So this is where I begin.

I’ve already got it wrong.

Drowning in Disney images of pale-skinned Princesses, many with blonde hair and blue eyes, I worried in her third year when my daughter repeatedly asked when she would grow “lellow hair”. But I downplayed it.

In a perfect example of Are you sure it was meant like that mentality I told myself that the omnipresence of a Eurocentric standard of beauty didn’t matter that much. When I later watched my daughter swell in prideful recognition that she could be Moana (making allowances for a four years old’s awareness of the different origins of brown people), I jolted awake.

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Moana

My skin crawled in appalled recognition when I was taught that allowing strangers to touch my daughter’s hair out of curiosity was as inappropriate as allowing them to stroke her skin. I had failed to protect and promote the sanctity of my daughter’s body and have had to ask myself some uncomfortable questions about why.

The creeping truth is I have allowed strangers to pet my child like an exotic animal because I didn’t want to embarrass them by saying no. Crucially, I placed their potential embarrassment above my child’s agency over her own body because I didn’t understand the significance of what was being asked.

The assurances of friends who tell me the whiteout of their commuter-town communities would not pose a problem, were we to take the plunge and move out of London, have been met with the same silence. Why? Because I don’t want to make them feel uncomfortable either.

The pretence sees me asserting that my only concerns are that I don’t want my children to stand out by default – if they want to claim their individuality they can dye their hair pink or wear outrageous clothes, I say.

I occasionally go further to explain how I don’t want to live somewhere they are so different that the colour of their skin can be used as their identifiying feature – you know A, the mixed race one. I imagine the words “mixed race” being said in a nasal half-whisper that suggests some sort of discomfort with the words, and I assume we live somewhere everyone understands the term “half-caste” is not ok (but then, we all know what assume did…).

But I usually avoid venturing into the territory of explaining how the colour of my childrens’ skin impacts the way the rest of the world sees them. I rarely explain the ways teachers, peers, other parents, the Police, future employers and employees will treat them differently – unconciously perhaps, but still differently (and I’m including in this the creepy fetishising of mixed race children that happens throughout our society). I avoid talking about it because many white people get defensive, challenge it, and I feel uncomfortable insisting.

Finally, I avoid the white-supremicist-elephant in the room that, in a world where images of Saffiyah Khan, Ieshia Evans and Tess Asplund necessarily go viral; in a society where Katy Hopkins’ vile brand of attention-seeking “straight-talking” has an audience, my children will be safer growing up in London. At least here there will be other people who look like them, with whom they can share their experiences.

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Saffiyah Khan

It’s telling that the friends who tell me my fears are unfounded are unfailingly white. My mostly left-leaning friends nod to the existence of racism – you can’t be a good lefty if you’re in denial of bigotry – but some also perpetuate a myth that it doesn’t happen where they live. And it’s telling that I don’t set them straight.

I fail to challenge their blindness to the institutional, structural and societal racism that surrounds them, and I fail to point out that the reason they don’t see it is because where they live there are no people of colour to fall victim to it, or they don’t see it because they’re not its target.

Like most white people living in majority white spaces I’ve excused people expressing views that too kindly get called “borderline”. It has been safer and more comfortable for me to pretend they “didn’t mean it like that” but I’ve realised that I have to take responsibility.

I have to risk alienating and offending people. I have to risk being told I’m being over-sensitive. And when my gut tells me what we’re all too afraid to say I have to say it anyway.

I have to do what people of colour have been doing all along while I made excuses.

I’m going to be afraid and uncertain. I’m bound to get it wrong at times (I’m aware even this very blog post might be getting it wrong) but I can’t do nothing. I can’t pretend that there are no difficulties in preparing my children to navigate a relationship with the world that will be completely different to the one I understand. There are going to be times in the future when the teenage refrain, “You don’t understand” is going to carry extra weight and I have to accept that.

So this is my way of starting that journey – openly, honestly, imperfectly.

Because my mixed-race children aged just two and four have already taught me that my dearly held life-long left-wing views are worthless when not deepened by action. It’s uncomfortable to admit that only being genetically invested in their future has prompted this reflection, but I have finally learned it’s not enough to just say “I’m not racist”.

 

How Fathers Day is key in the battle for gender equality (yes, really)

We can stop pretending now, right?

It’s been a month so, confession time… who handed over a present for their dad/ father of their children a few weeks ago, that was a bit crap? Who, at the last minute, cajoled the kids into sitting down to scrawl daddy a card? Or perhaps you didn’t bother at all?

Trust me when I say that those scenarios are suggested without judgement as I too have spent the last four years cultivating a tendancy to casually chuck Father’s Day in the bargain bin, alongside the cut price roses and past their best pumpkins left over from those other fictional celebrations, Valentines Day and Halloween.

In the meantime I annually revel in the outpouring of adoration that accompanies Mother’s Day. I point to the fact that Mother’s Day is in the Bible as evidence of its superiority in a world where card and gift manufacturers compete to invent reasons to get us consuming (Black Friday, anyone??!)

But what if Dads, as parents, deserve to be celebrated too? And what if our reluctance to do a proper job of celebrating Father’s Day is a symptom of our failure to take dads seriously on every other day of the year?

It was after reading a piece by Steph Douglas about Father’s Day gifts that I started to question my own habit of thinking dads should be happy with whatever they get. She ventures to suggest that perhaps what dads want is actually pretty similar to what mums want – something to read, something to drink, something to eat, some alone time to do all three, and some socks to keep our feet warm while we do it.

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Steph Douglas – she talks sense does that one…

So what’s with the resistance; the resentment of them spending a few hours uninterrupted; what’s with the voice in our heads that says fathers don’t deserve this?

Could it be possible that, against our better intentions, against the feeling behind frustrated outbursts that They are HIS children! He is not BABY-SITTING!, and against our wishes for greater equality in the home as well as in the workplace, we are actually complicit in the continuation of the gendered norms we claim to want to dismiss?

Every time a BBC reporter asks a female tennis player how she juggles a tournament such as Wimbledon with motherhood, as happened to Victoria Azarenka, the assumption seems to be that her husband/ partner, the child’s father, must have something more important to do than look after his own child. The attitude is there is no way that he might be there in a supporting role – that her career might have taken priority – and oh how we bristle.

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Oh yes BBC, I see what you mean. The father of Victoria Azarenka’s child look completely inept. I mean look how he’s cuddling that baby and smiling

The spikiness is indicative of a wave of newly impassioned feminism that is sweeping popular thinking. We wonder incessantly why it seems such a stretch for a 36 year old woman to have what a 36 year old man doesn’t think twice about – a house, kids, and a kick-ass career – but maybe we are forgetting something.

Maybe the key to true gender equality lies in not only dismantling the entrenched gendered-norms that hold back women, but in challenging the toxic masculinity norms that suffocate men?

In some ways I understand our reluctance to give Father’s Day anything more than a sideways glance. In the jokes about dads being a bit crap, and our expressions of surprise or faux concern that the children are with dad while mum works, perhaps there is an element of us jealously guarding the only territory we have ever been bestowed.

While women occupy just 32% of the seats in Parliament; while it remains that female CEOs of FTSE 100 businesses are outnumbered by white men called John (not ignoring that the issue of gender diversity is even more problematic when taking race into account – 10000 words for another time…) perhaps the truth is that we don’t want to concede that men are just as good at being parents until we scrape together some ground that says we are just as good as them everywhere else.

The irony is that we are protecting society’s habit of elevating the mother to be the “better” parent when in fact this is exactly the “status” that holds us back. Because all gendered norms are toxic.

The damage done by the societal message given to boys – that to be a man you have to go out to work, provide for your family, never admit to vulnerability, and bury every emotion except anger – is as great as the harm done to women by the narrative around the sanctity of motherhood (amongst others).

And the only way we change this is if we all move towards the middle.

Even families where men and women want to fulfil traditional gendered norms. They are not precluded from this because it is in our minds that the greatest shift needs to happen. Mothers and fathers have to explain their choices with a simple This is what works for us, rather than buying into a narrative about what women, and men, mothers and fathers should do.

But of course this movement towards “someone has to look after the children” has to also happen in practical places – workplaces, businesses and homes.

So far in this country men have been reluctant to ask for flexible working while the newer Shared Parental Leave has also failed to gain much traction. Really this should not surprise us. Men have witnessed (and been complicit in) the treatment of the women who have paved that way before them. The eye-rolls, the questions about commitment, and the assumptions about productivity: men have seen this happen to their female contemporaries countless times, so why wouldn’t they be afraid?

And perhaps women also need to concede a little of their “territory” – the territory that almost automatically places them as primary care-givers when a family breaks down (I acknowledge this is an epic over-simplification – it’s just something we should consider if we’re serious about gender equality); the territory that assumes women will want twelve months maternity leave but does not ring-fence extended paternity leave for men (in Scandinavian countries with almost total uptake of extended paternity leave, this time is not transferable – if the father does not use it, the time is lost); the territory that finds many of my friends not wanting their menfolk to take on their share of the household duties because they don’t do it properly.

And while I don’t for a second imagine that thinking ahead to next year’s Father’s Day and planning a thoughtful gift is going to have much impact in the face of a ten thousand years of gender inequality, perhaps giving up that particular piece of turf would be a good place to start.

Dear Anna


Dear Anna,

How are you? I hope this finds you well and you’ve not been caught too unawares by the social media storm your article in today’s Daily Mail has caused. I somehow suspect you haven’t.

I took a moment to google you after reading your piece and spent some times reading some blog posts on your website, and skimming your Twitter feed. All in the name of research, you see (and for the avoidance of doubt that is spelled R E S E A R C H and is defined as the systematic investigation into a study of materials and sources in order to establish facts and reach new conclusions, NOT take a couple of sentences completely out of context and use them to support lies and misinformation to further your own agenda).

It appears you enjoy Strictly Come Dancing, dislike Katy Hopkins and think Jeremy Hunt is a bellend – so far so good. But then you had to go and spoil it all.

To be honest I’m struggling to decide what motivated you to write the article – I suppose only you will really ever know but these are my best guesses:

  1. You really believe what you say and want to extend a comforting arm of support to those who are miserable because they absolutely love motherhood. They can’t figure out how to press unfollow on the social media feeds and blogs of the women you feature so you’ve written your piece as an act of solidarity.
  2. You made different choices to the women you featured, and feel threatened that they are doing things differently.
  3. You are jealous because they are more successful writers than you.
  4. The Daily Mail contacted you and paid you an incomprehensible sum of money to write the article and compromise your own believes – SO much money that you’d have been a mug to turn it down.
  5. You really need the £50 – £150 The Daily Mail usually pay for articles like this one.
  6. This is a cynical publicity stunt to market your book – by throwing these women under the wheels of the bus (go round and round) you can (this little) piggy-back (goes to market) on the outrage of their combined hundreds of thousands of social media followers and perhaps pick up a few sales.

As I’ve already said, only you will ever know the truth about why, but one thing I can say for certain is YOU’RE WRONG.

You’re wrong to call them “bordering on neglectful” and accuse them of “dimwit narcissism” . You’re wrong to call them deceitful, arrogant, and suggest that none of them have ever experienced or expressed “a sense of wonder about their baby”. You’re wrong simply when you say their target audience is “mostly new mothers”.

Either you really haven’t done your research, or you don’t care that these accusations are untrue. Neither of these scenarios suggest to me you have the right to any moral high ground.

But beyond the startling hypocrisy of telling women to “pause in their feverish mockery of motherhood” while you single out some brilliant mothers for verbal abuse that borders on slander, there is a more insidious narrative behind your words.

The narrative you suggest where “having a new baby is a gift” that some women never get to have, that is “precious” and “should be cherished” isn’t untrue but to suggest it should be the only narrative is dangerous.

It is irresponsible to suggest that a woman, who is not enjoying the early days, is suffering the psychological and physical impact of a traumatic birth; perhaps her relationship is under strain and she lives many miles away from her family; or maybe her baby has reflux and rarely sleeps longer than an hour at a time and is always crying when he/ she is awake, should put up and shut up, and be grateful for what she has.

Just a few days ago the tiny corner of the world wide web that I inhabit was awash with messages of solidarity and support about Maternal Mental Health. As a woman who suffered enormously with post-natal anxiety, flashbacks, dark thoughts and a general desire to escape my life following the birth of my daughter, your venomous dismissal of women who have done so much to open the closed doors behind which many a mother has sat and cried, is offensive.

And in response to your token defence of mothers who didn’t struggle like I did, the mothers you describe as feeling patronised by the alleged suggestion “that a home cooked meal, laundered baby clothes and clean nappies are beyond the wit of most mums”, consider this – they are not the ones trawling the internet at 3am desperately seeking reassurance that they are normal for wanting to scream FUUUUUCK OOOOOFF everytime their 2 week old baby’s gums clamp solidly round their bleeding, blistered, thrush-infected nipples.

They are happy with their lot. They have everything they “ever dreamed of”, as did you. So why the determination to pit those women against these?

Rule 1 of the sisterhood, Anna, is that you can’t defend one group of women by attacking another – it just doesn’t work like that.

So put your faux-concern aside, let’s lever those judgey pants right out of your crack and kick them off from around your ankles, I’m sure they must be keeping you up at night (and we all know how sleepless nights can make one a little nutty). Just give yourself and other women a break and even you Anna, are welcome to sit with us.

But should just one mother read your article and feel guilty and alone with any negative thoughts and feelings she is having then I sincerely hope your sleep is disrupted and your fanny feels on fire for eternity.

But that’s ok because you’re #grateful, right?

Yours faithfully flipping the middle fish finger,

Nicola Washington.

PS.

 

What kind of mum are you?

Why not take this overly-simplified, horribly stereotyped test to tell you what you already know?

I know, I’m selling it HARD.

When you open the curtains to find the weather is grey and drizzly with that fine rain that apparently gets you really wet, you know, wetter than other water falling from the sky, do you:

(a) Fist pump the air, skip into the kitchen and gleefully set up a craft activity? Wet weather is to be celebrated with paint, glitter and glue!

(b) Cry into your coffee, scan the weather forecast on your phone for any glimmer of hope, and then set up “camp” on the sofa with the kids duvets, some popcorn and stick on Frozen for the eleven-thousandth time?

2. When you arrange to hold playdate at a friend’s house do you:

(a) Worry because there might be access to toys/ food/ tv that you don’t approve of?

(b) Fist pump the air because 1. You don’t have to cook 2. You don’t have to tidy up 3. you don’t have to cook 4. You don’t have to tidy up?

3. When your kid begs to bake some cakes do you:

(a) Break out the food processor, pastel hued Joseph&Joseph mixing bowls – one per child – and matching silicone baking tins?

(b) Buy a Peppa Pig packet mix from the Co-op and precariously balance the paper cases in a roasting tin. Referee between children who ALL want to stir the cake mix AT THE SAME TIME IT’SMYTURNMUMMEEEEEMYTURNMINE!

4. On a trip to the playground, do you:

(a) Lead a game of hunt the Gruffalo/ bear/ witch in amongst the trees with your kids and any others who want to join in?

(b) Send them to hide, count loudly to ten, and then pretend to look for them while you sit on a bench and shout, “Are you behind the swings? Are you under this leaf? Nooooooo… I wonder where you could be…”?

5. When you’re at soft-play do you:

(a) Throw yourself with wild abandon up and around the curiously sticky plastic surfaces, without wondering why they are quite so tacky?

(b) Send them into the melee alone – they’ll be fine, the REALLY big kids are at school?

6. Do you cook up elaborate plans for day-trips because:

(a) It’s important to show them the world outside their little bubble?

(b) The more time spent out of the house, the less mess there is for you to tidy up?

7. Do you look at friends without children and:

(a) Pity them the fun and laughter they’re missing out on?

(b) Envy the lack of contact with bodily fluids that they make on a daily basis, and the adult conversations that they get to finish without requests to be accompanied to the toilet for a poo?

8. When negotiating with a two-year-old about whether its reasonable to use kitchen scissors do you:

(a) Get on their level, look them in the eye and explain calmly that scissors are dangerous, are not toys, and offer a hug in exchange?

(b) Swap them for a KitKat?

9. When you want to shower/ wash hair/ defuzz do you:

(a)bribe the kids with snacks and sit them on your bed with Paw Patrol?

(b) Get up early and do it before they wake up?

10. When off on a childfree overnight jaunt do you post on social media:

(a) How much you are going to miss the kids (

b) How much you are going to miss the kids but also now much you’re looking forward to guilt-free drinking/ bacon you don’t have to share/ reading newspapers/ maybe a bonk?

Now, in true 1990s Smash Hits fashion, count up the number of As and Bs that you chose:

If you answered mostly A: congratulations! You are a mum and you love your children unconditionally. You are doing your best to keep them alive and happy, while hoping they don’t turn out absolute arseholes, and that really is all that matters!

If you answered a mixture of As and Bs: congratulations! You are a mum and you love your children unconditionally. You are doing your best to keep them alive and happy, while hoping they don’t turn out absolute arseholes, and that really is all that matters!

If you answered mostly B: congratulations! You are a mum and you love your children unconditionally. You are doing your best to keep them alive and happy, while hoping they don’t turn out absolute arseholes, and that really is all that matters!

What would Flop do?

Every so often, parenting has been going a bit too smoothly so I suggest something I know I’ll regret as soon as it starts/ the words are out of my mouth: “Let’s do some baking!”

I don’t quite know why I do this – perhaps it is the glee and excitement on the girl’s face whenever the B-word is mentioned? Maybe it’s the guilt that I ship us off to the park at least once a day, partly (mostly?) so I don’t have any mess to tidy up at home? Or maybe it’s the last shredded remnant of The-Mum-I-Thought-I-Would-Be speaking – all exploration and experiments, you know, letting them be little – the reality being, fine, as long as it doesn’t involve glitter.

I’m a person who once used gravy powder to make chocolate muffins; the last time I made a cake I set the microwave on fire with my efforts to soften the foil-wrapped butter.

I’m not good in the kitchen.

It should come as no surprise then that the next discovery, after I’ve reminded myself that I hate baking but appear to love shooting myself in the foot, is that my cupboards do not contain the correct combination of staples.

Coats, shoes and pushchairs have to be wrestled with as we face the trip to the shop that I know is going to end with someone crying, and/ or a parental crumble (I find at least two parts topping to one part parent provides the best results) as I resentfully buy the latest edition of CRAP magazine.

Ingredients purchased, plastic tat broken, magazine discarded, its finally time to bake. But not before I’ve struggled with a conundrum – bake while the boy is asleep but sacrifice a cup of tea and a sit down, or wait until he wakes, aware that 90 minutes is not enough time to evolve the eyes in my arse I will require.

To be honest, baking with one child or two isn’t really the issue. I just hate even the threat of the mess. (Fortunately the boy performs a veritable cornucopia of household appliance roles – he hovers up the crumbs, deposits them in his internal dustbin (he once ate a stone with no noticeable side effects) and then celebrates the sugar high by doing a passable impression of the washing machine spin cycle.)

The fact that the girl who loves baking doesn’t really like cake is not entirely motivational either.

Despite not being The-Mum-I-Thought-I-Would-Be though, I do occasionally try. I live for the moments that I manage to make the small people happy, and to be honest I get bored doing the same-old all the time too.

Positive pants slapped back on I whip out the whisk, take a deep breath and preempt the imminent patience-drain by silently chanting my fallback mantra, “What would Flop do?”

That’s right.

Just as I credit Peppa with successfully preparing my daughter for the dentist, sharing her room with her brother, and teaching her to say “No” in an impressively dismissive manner, I also look to Bing’s tiny potato-shaped parent (weird how genetics work, huh?)for lessons on how not to eff up the small people.

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No, Flop, I don’t know what I’m doing either

Unorthodox it may be but anyone familiar with that moany Bing Bunny brat will already harbour healthy respect for Flop’s parenting. His ability to make Bing see sense where any other preschooler would see only rage and a reason to make their parent pay, is legendary, and from him we must learn.

Girlchild asked to ride her bike to the park, but doesn’t want to ride it back – what would Flop do?

Boychild insists on stuffing toy cars down his sleeping bag – can’t fall asleep without them, can’t stay asleep lying on them – what would Flop do?

Or, as in Easter Eggs, when one child drops her chocolate egg and it breaks all over the floor – what would Flop do?

Well, apparently he’d use some sort of witchcraft, Jedi mind trick or sleight of hand bribery, glossed over in the pages of the book, because Bing shares his egg.

I admit its unlikely, and absolutely makes me question my parenting ability, but if my kids can learn a bit of empathy while tormenting me at bedtime then I’m on board with that book.

But what about the baking?

With my mantra tucked in my parenting tool belt to stop me from cracking up, I break out the eggs and dust off the flour but if I’m honest there are also times when it’s less the cookie and more my sanity that is crumbling. Enter stage left, Bing Baking.

Nothing can quite replace the concentration-flour-clouds that accompany a baking four-year-old’s breath, or the surprising amount of strength required to cream sugar into butter, but when you just need to keep yourself afloat or the family alive it turns out there’s an app acceptable for that.

Bing Baking means your wee-one can practise the method with none of the madness – the rolling, the cutting, the baking and decorating, it’s all there with none of the mess and for what its worth, I reckon that if Flop really was a parent, that’s exactly what he would sometimes do too.

 

Written in collaboration with Bing Bunny,  Acamar Films (with thanks for the bundle of Bing fun) but rest assured that all comments, opinions and hatred of baking are wholeheartedly mine.

Next stop on Bing Bunny’s Easter blogger’s tour is @laurasidestreet www.sidestreetstyle.com

Easter Eggs Book

 

Easter Eggs – RRP £5.99 from Amazon Bing and Sula are hunting for Easter eggs in the playground, in this egg-shaped board book based on the hit CBeebies TV series.  But when Sula drops her chocolatey egg and it breaks, Bing decides to share his to cheer her up. Sharing an Easter egg… it’s a Bing thing! This Bing storybook is recommended reading for Bingsters aged 2+.  

Bing Baking – RRP £1.99 from the App store (Apple Devices) or Google Play (Android) For the first time, your child can be part of Bing’s colourful and playful world by joining him and Flop in their kitchen for a joyful, fun and messy baking experience. In this child-friendly, super-creative app, your Bingster will get the chance to make and decorate a new batch of biscuits each time they play. They can roll the dough or squidge it with their hands, using an array of cutters to make different shapes. Once their biscuits are decorated, they can be popped in the oven but you’ll need to keep an eye on Chicky Timer to make sure the biscuits don’t burn. If they do, it’s no big thing – you might not be able to eat them but you can still decorate them. Don’t forget to tap on the camera to take a snapshot of your yummy delicious treats before you and Bing sit down to eat them together. Yum, yum, yum!

Mobile Moan

Driving a car, operating heavy machinery or being wrist deep in a shitty nappy, are all things best done while not looking at your phone. Death, maiming, the upsetting realisation that your finger has pierced a wipe and the whiff of poo under your nail is going to inexplicably linger for hours, are all reasonable motivation for not titting around on Twitter, or fiddling with filters.

But at a playgroup?

A few weeks ago I was shamed and consigned to staring at my child while he stayed still and played with the same toy for 45 minutes. He did not want me to touch the cars – a firm out-stretched fore-finger and the words no, mummy made that clear – and naturally, as I could not exploit the time for my own purpose, he discovered hitherto unknown, and since unvisited, levels of concentration.

To begin with I was sat on a twelve-inch-high chair, two feet and a flicker of an eye-ball away from my son. My phone was in my lap and I was tweeting (for my course aka study aka my new future aka how I hope to pay bills and buy stuff) when there was a tap on my shoulder accompanied by a conscending smile and, “Sorry, can you put that away? We don’t allow phones inside.”

In a click I worked my traitorous-face away from my first thought of, WTF? Do you KNOW how much work I have to do?! through to the reasons why this was their rule. I figured they were concerned that parents might not interact with each other/ their children/ keep their children alive if they were distracted by screens, and I was on the verge of a self-congratulatory I’m-such-a-good-adult-it’s-not-the-end-of-the-world moment when…

“You can use it outside though…”

WTF? smeared itself back across my face as I struggled with the logic of this, but fortunately the member of staff had moved away to deal with a squabble over a half-functioning plastic vacuum cleaner.

I observed as one tiny hooligan’s owner extricated herself from conversation and did that large-stepping, half-stooping walk we do when we realise our children are being feral. Its as though we are trying to reasssure any onlooker that we’re moving quickly and are ready to get down on their level and make eye-contact because we’re such a good mum who was in no way, nope, nada, not at all, distracted.

I (ironically) waited for the, “Sorry can you look after your children? We don’t allow conversation inside,” judgement to descend but unsurprisingly there was none.

What had dawned on me though was that this may not be about interaction or safety – this was (sort of) akin Chamillionaire’s tales of racial profiling and police brutality in his 2005 hit Ridin. I had been judged and juried for using my phone in the presence of Prince Procreated – they’d seen me scrollin’, and they were hatin’.

It appeared bizarre that we weren’t to use our phone inside while our child was playing quietly, but using it outside in an arena reminiscent of the Hunger Games was a-ok. The part of the film when all twenty-four tributes enter and make a dash for the most covertable weapons, picking off the weaker contestants along the way, while displaying vein-rupturing levels of aggression, can only have been imagined by someone familiar with the average preschooler tussle over the Little Tykes. But apparently parental distraction was to be welcomed here?

And what exactly is the difference between someone being engrossed in a Twitter thread about Piers Morgan being a penis, and being crotch deep in a face-to-face discussion of Brexit/ school catchment areas/ how your blood bubbles every time your husband fails to see “the stairs pile” (a common and bonding annoyance I have found)?

Who hasn’t, mid-conversation, vaguely heard a child yelling “mummmmmyyy, heeelllpppp” in the background but carried on chatting? Seconds later you’re yanked away by the flapping realisation that the yell is coming from YOUR child who has climbed into the toy washing machine. Thanks to genetically-acquired-and-one-day-to-be-grateful-for-freakishly-long-legs she is now jammed and can’t get out, and yet no one has ever told me not to chat.

The fact is that levels of attachment to a screen is definitely NOT an accurate prediction of a parent’s attention to the scream, so why the Rule, heavy as it is with all its implicit judgement that a parent on their phone is a neglectful one?

I am friends with enough working mums to know that receiving emails, messages and phonecalls during their “days off” is not unusual, and in many cases is expected. One friend told me how, when receiving calls from work, the person on the other end would hear the children and say, “Oh is there a better time?”. She would think, Yes, when I’m in the office. This is how I spend ALL my time when I’m not, you ignorant childfree chump – most people have nowhere to stash the small people whenever they become “inconvenient”, so what’s with the sniffy?

The world is also awash with parents (dare I say mums, because in the main it is?) who have been booted out of the traditional workplace so are setting up for themselves. As makers, cake-bakers, social media managers or clothing designers, they are in a classic chicken and egg situation – the money they need to pay for childcare comes from working more, but they can’t work more until they have the childcare.

So in steps the safe, friendly, entertaining stay-and-play where emails can be checked free of whines and requests for a few minutes, and you can be reasonably certain that no one is going to die.

And besides the working mums, what if, starved of empty minutes spent commuting, the stay-at-home-mum is using her phone to connect with family and friends? She’s had a pretty shit day, or week, or month, and that connection with other people gives her comfort and reassurance.

But oh no. Bad mum.

I once saw a woman stand up (with a microphone no less) and say, “Whenever I see a mum walking along or in the playground on her phone, I wanna trip her up and tell her to look at her kids.”

The jarring lack of thought and empathy could have sent me sliding down Guilt Gulley midway as I was through the training to be a social media manager that had me treating my phone like an extra limb. Instead, in a moment of rare confidence and certainty I decided to view her as a few bars short of Instagrammable wi-fi.

But this Rule at the playgroup has made me think again.

The implicit assumption seems to be that whenever you see a mum on her phone in the presence of her kids, 1. what she is doing is unimportant, and 2. that it is all she ever does.

I’m not suggesting that parents shouldn’t limit their screen time when around their kids. I’ve definitely been guilty of using my phone too much and have seen how my children turn from charmingly cheeky rascals into feral wildlings as a result.

I also don’t want them to ever think that I find my phone more interesting than they are so I do my best to limit it.

But the main thing is that, like everything in this parenting lark, judgment is cheap and easy when compassion and understanding would actually go much further.

So next time you see a fellow mum with her face in her phone, maybe challenge the first thought you have. Maybe speak up at work when a colleague says, “Let’s just give Nicola a quick call” with its unspoken suggestion that she’s only looking after her kids, or you could even join The Women’s Equality Party who have affordable childcare as a cornerstone of their manifesto.

At my local playgroup meanwhile, I might just (probably anonymously) suggest they display signs which say, “If you hear a scream, look up from your screen”, because next time they see me scrolling, I don’t want to feel them hating.

Is staying at home the same as having a J.O.B?

“Do you work?”

“Oh, yes. Yes, how about you?”

“Oh I’m a teacher… what do you do?”

“I’m a mum – I have two children.”

“Oh no, I mean what do you do for a JOB.”

“Yeh, exactly. I’m a mum.”

Contraversial I know, but this is exactly how the conversation I’ve never had (except in my head) goes about the disconnect that exists between being a stay-at-home-mum, and having a “proper job”.

There lies a question.

A matter for debate.

Or perhaps just another red herring designed to pit parents against one another: is staying at home with the children the same as having a job?

Well now you’ve asked (it’s ok, I know you haven’t…) there are many similarities:

  • from the minute you wake up, you’re on someone else’s clock
  • breaks where you get to sit and stare into space are few and far between
  • time to do the things you want to like read, write, yoga and re-watch all eight series of West Wing on a loop (for example) are limited to a couple of short hours each day
  • there are parts of the job that you enjoy, there are other parts that you HATE
  • there are parts of the day that leave you buzzing and mentally fist-bumping yourself
  • there are parts of the day when you feel like you’re not good enough and you’re sure you’re going to be found out
  • your boss(es) are demanding and at times unreasonable
  • there is never enough time
  • you never get to the end of your to-dos
  • you’re tired at the end of the day

But there are also a number of differences. Some, I’ll admit, are good ones:

  • the fear of sleep deprivation is no longer as strong. The stakes at work are much higher whereas no one gets sacked for putting the car-keys in the fridge
  • small children throwing tantrums are infinitely preferable to the teenagers who threw swear words and the occasional pencil/ ball of spittle-stuck-paper/ chair
  • boredom and frustration sometimes rear their heads but there isn’t the eye-popping, migraine-inducing level of S.T.R.E.S.S that being a teacher entailed

While others are B.A.D:

  • conversation consists of endlessly repeating what the two-year-old said so that he stops, interspersed with lectures on the skin colour of Polar Bears (black, fwiw) from the four-year-old, and asking her if she is hungry/ needs a wee
  • you get followed to the toilet
  • there is no tangible progression, no acknowledgment
  • there is no salary

The question it often feels like is really being asked is, is staying at home easier than going to work?

Its a sticky, tricky one, full of potential flash points and petty resentment, something I’m aware of as I admit that despite all my hand-wringing I find staying at home with my children easier than what I did before.

But then I had a job that sometimes felt like war, 14 hour days and working weekends were not uncommon, and I have enough friends telling me going to work is a dollyhob compared to being at home to be confident this is not the case for everyone.

About as commital as a pre-Amal George Clooney I know, BUT one thing I will insist is that staying at home with the children IS like having a job.

The point is that there is a distinction to be made between keeping children alive, and parenting. Which, incidentally, is why Jeremy Kyle’s sofas are never going to be bereft of guests.

The day-to-day triumvirate of providing sustenance, hygiene and entertainment is not parenting. That is looking after children.

Parenting is about the example you set, the choices you make, the values you instill, the heartache that accompanies all of those, and the hope that the overall outcome of your literal blood, sweat and (lots of) tears will be a Good Human.

It is generally accepted that when mums and dads, through choice or necessity, entrust their children to someone else to look after, they are not abandoning their position as a parent.

And from the other side of the (invisible) coin, if someone else – whether it be a childminder, nursery, nanny or the next-door neighbour’s teenager – gets paid for doing what you do for free, then I don’t see why it can’t be classed as a job?

One that is really hard work.

Just like the job your other half does when he/she leaves the house.

It’s all hard work.

So instead of wasting time arguing over who has the biggest shit-show for a life, why don’t we all just agree that challenge and compromise exist whichever way we turn?

Rather than sticking up the vees behind one another’s back, lets heartily pat each other  instead, because the bottom line is that we’re all doing the best J.O.B that we can.

Why parents are the real losers on V-Day

I’m writing this imagining that we’ll be marking V-Day by sitting on the settee, not touching, while I dick around on my phone and he pretends he’s not asleep.

We might splash out on a takeaway, although if I get motivated the M&S Meal Deal seems the correct amount of lack-of-effort-but-let’s-pretend-we’ve-tried.

To be honest, we probably wouldn’t be celebrating “properly” even if we didn’t have two children running us ragged because (while I’m aware that this is a bit wanky) we don’t like being told what to do by card and flower companies trying to make a bit of extra cash in between the actual “things” of Christmas and Mother’s Day.

If you’re busy planning your celebrations however, and are now annoyed at me for belittling your heartfelt romantic gestures, please don’t be – it’s perfectly possible that I’m twisted because no one ever bought me chocolates, a card, breakfast in bed or flowers on the 14th Feb. (At this point the Mr is going to pipe up with “I have!” in an incredulous tone because last year he bought me some Maltesers).

Given my lack of experience in this field of roses, I’m also uncertain about the etiquette of Valentine’s – is the onus on the man treating the woman, or is the idea that the man and woman are nice to each other?

And if it’s a man and man, or woman and woman, who buys the present/flowers/ card then?

And what if you are (whisper it…) S.I.N.G.L.E on Valentine’s Day? Well, there I do have an answer because every year there seems to be a concerted effort by “the media” to make people who are single on Valentine’s Day “feel better” about it.

Last year a video called Why being single is the best gift you can give yourself did the rounds and, intrigued, I watched.

The assumption of the video, and the numerous articles I read while in freefall down this particular internet rabbit hole, seemed to be that being single is shit and anyone who is single on this particular day feels even more shit than usual, therefore they need advice to make them feel less shit.

Now, I appreciate that I’m not the target audience for these intensely patronising pieces so you’re welcome to shout “what do you know?” at your computer screen, but some of the “advice” was errrr, a bit shit?

One of the articles I read encouraged single people to go out and buy themselves a Valentine’s Day present. Call me a coupled-up clueless fool, but the last time I checked, going and spending your own money on something for yourself, was called “shopping”. No?

Anyway, that’s not really my point. What I’ve actually popped up all half-empty to say is that contrary to popular opinion, single people are not to be pitied on Valetine’s Day, parents of small children are the ones who suffer most.

And no one is making us feel better.

There is a chance that having met a person with whom we have procreated, the people who write these borderline-offensive How to cope on Valentine’s Day features think we have got it sorted. But it seems to me that all of the traditional methods of celebrating this occasion are no-go (or at least hard-to-go) areas for parents.

Romantic meals? Ha.

Special expensive chocolates? Will only be eaten standing up behind a cupboard door lest they be sniffed out, demanded, chewed up and spat out once reality dawns that Belgian Truffles don’t taste like chocolate buttons. You’ll probably be expected to willingly accept the slimy mess, complete with strings of attached saliva into your outstretched palm, and will then have to find somewhere to wipe it without smearing it over handles or drawers. Or you could just eat it.

Flowers are fine as long as you don’t have a small child who likes to eat them.

Candlelight? Four words – Disney Princess polyester dresses.

Basically, all the “romantic” stuff doesn’t just make the single people sad, it’s also a thorny rose in the heart of the average parent.

And all of this, of course, assumes that you’re still in a relationship with the person you had sex with and made another person. Eff me – imagine what V-Day is like for people who are single AND have small children?

Anyway, in a pleasurable backlash against the sappy soppy sloppy flowers and card brigade of which I am definitely not one although perhaps maybe possibly one day someone will buy me a card and some flowers and give me a kiss and some breakfast in bed and take the children away for a few weeks…sorry… there are people out there who take pleasure in marking Valentine’s day in rather less typical ways.

A trip to Ikea? A £5 Superdrug voucher? A cross stitch proclaiming “Come the fuck in, or fuck the fuck off”? Or perhaps some cookies with the words penis, cunt and cock emblazoned across them? No?

Well, perhaps you would like to celebrate by being sick on the kitchen floor at 3am after one too many on a girls’ night out, and gift your husband the pleasure of mopping it up?

Whatever way you look at it though, V-Day for parents is not even close to victorious. Especially when you realise that this year it lands on a Tuesday during HALF. TERM.

Roses are dead

Romance is too

When you have small children

Surviving is sometimes all you can do.

Five things to do for a friend whose child is in hospital

The smallsmall was admitted to hospital this year on Christmas Day. Sound dramatic, right? Well, it was a bit – breathing is kind of important and he wasn’t being terribly good at it, so in we went and ended up staying for four days.

Shittest Christmas ever, you might be thinking. But actually it wasn’t so bad. The nurses and doctors were immense (and of course were WORKING on Christmas Day – where were you, Mr Cu- I mean, Hunt?…) and even when I fell asleep leaning on the side of the bed the boy was on, they just brought me chocolates and left me face down in a puddle of saliva as they went about their very important business.

Like most British people I moan about the weather and my inabiliity to get a GP appointment but on the whole we know that when the chips are down, the NHS always stumps up.

My mum’s cancer (x2), the instrumental birth of my first child, the midwifery care for my second, the weeks my preemie nephew recently spent in NICU, and now this little episode of festive drama – every time the NHS has proven themselves to be a little bit of ace in a world full of too much shit and Donald Trump.

Having said that, when your kid gets admitted to hospital, the resources are quite rightly pointed in their direction. There is little sleep and no food for the anxious parents (unless you count guiltily hoovering up the cold remains of your kid’s shepherd’s pie while hiding behind a blue curtain).

hospital-food
It would have been a waste, right..? The cake and custard was good too…

So, while I was sitting around in hospital I gave some thought to what would make the stay easier for me and anyone else who finds themselves in this position:

Food. Most children’s wards have kitchens which parents are able to use. One of the most helpful things friends/ family can do is bring/ send in food that can be easily warmed in a microwave.

Just a note of caution – I do mean actual food, not the snacky kind of junk food that we all imagine someone stuck in a hospital will be craving. The chances are that after the first 24 hours, the parent in question will have already consumed Christmas-like quantities of crisps and chocolate and will be feeling a little sick.

Proper food is the one here, folks. And if you have no time to cook (fair enough) then grab a decent ready meal, some soup perhaps, or a sandwich of superior quality to the average hospital canteen’s, and rest assured the gesture will be greatly appreciated.

Slippers, socks, (new) pyjamas. An unexpected hospital stay means no time to pack, no time to think what you need, and there is definitely no time to consider the fact that it might not feel ok to be forced out of your comfort-home while wearing your comfort clothes.

You can’t even fall back on being ill and therefore not caring, because you’re not.

I’m putting on my PJs at home generally means I’ll be donning the tshirts too tatty to wear in public, coupled with a pair of pants. If I’m feeling frisky (said with sarcasm and meaning exciting-but-not-really, not that kind of frisky) I might stretch to a pair of the Mr’s boxers.

Clearly this was not going to cut it on a hospital ward.

When it comes to socks, there was also something embarrassing about taking off my shoes to uncover an unwelcome toe or heel waggling at everyone. People generally were kind enough to pretend not to see it, but we all knew.

I’d change my clothes quicker than a self-conscious teenager in PE, in case the next footsteps swept the blue curtain aside. I worried that the sight to greet three doctors and two nurses “on their rounds” would be me, precariously balanced on one foot, arse in air, midway through changing my pants.

I’d guiltily wolfed down the small’s leftover banana behind a blue curtain as I waited for the Mr to appear with breakfast (see the first item in this list). It was 10am already, and I had considered eating my own arm.

And I’d been holding in my farts way longer than can possibly be healthy.

Having holes in my socks was just an indignity too far.

I really would have welcomed some new ones, a fancy pair of PJs so I could pretend I was in control (I’m totally taking this all in my stride – look my pyjama bottoms match my top) along with a pair of slippers because the Mr kept forgetting mine – no judgement, just a worried dad trying to hold together the other pieces of our life.

Take note.

An opportunity to nap. It’s likely that the parent has had little sleep. The combination of observations, medications, the noises of other children, and snoring of their parents, make sleep on a paediatric hospital ward impossible.

Ear plugs are frowned upon. Should your kid’s various machines starting bleeping and dinging in an alarming way (which apparently is different to the routine bleeps and dings that wake you up all night, or the ones that happen when your kid pulls off the oxometer. Again), I’m imagining the doctors and nurses rushing to your child’s aid would prefer not to have to rouse you from you slumber.

Should you be paying a parent a visit therefore, bring a cup of tea, then sit in a chair while they collapse face down on the bed and doze for an hour or two.

This will be the kind of sleep they will wake from not knowing their name or where they are, but the knowledge that their child is supervised and cannot launch him/herself from the bed will be enough to allow them to give in.

hospital-3
Don’t go to sleep, mummy! I don’t care if I only have half a functioning lung – I’ll land on my head if you go to sleep! I will, I will, I will!

Hand cream. Wash your hands on your way into the ward, on your way out, after nappy changes, after going to the loo, before eating, after eating, and after every time your kid spits their meds all over you (how they ever get better, I don’t know). The hand washing is BRUTAL.

Soon the skin on your hands starts to resemble the heels of your feet (which are hopefully now swathed in brand new socks).

Hand cream will be very welcome.

Bring your best chat. Once you’ve dispensed with the questions about how the small person is, ask how they are. They’ll no doubt tell you they are fine but let them know it’s ok not to be. Be ready in case they cry. And just let them for a few minutes.

Then pull out your phone and do some full-scale bashing of whatever you know floats your mate’s boat. Whether it be football results, the news, politics, celebrity gossip or you’ll never guess what so-and-so-in-the-village has done now, just bring it.

Your mate will relish the opportunity to think and talk about something other than medication, test results, or whether that bleeping is one of the important ones or not. They’ll feel rejuvenated by talking about something normal for once so research it beforehand if necessary, just do your best not to turn up with your head in shed – that’s going to help no-one.

There are about a hundred other ways that you can be useful to parents whose children are in hospital – this is just a start. If you’re really not sure, then why not ask?

And finally, to any parent reading this whose child is in hospital regularly, or who’s stay lasts longer than four days: you are a fecking hero.

 

NB. I’ve purposely said parents in this piece because most people care about their kids. But I also think most of these concerns might be peculiar to women (or maybe that’s my unconcious gender bias rearing its head – I just can’t imagine the Mr being quite so bothered about the sock thing. The food, yeah, but socks…?) What do you think?