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.

 

Over-caring is wearing: the day I told #selfcare to do one

Thirty-five of the things I’ve cared about in the last 48 hours:

  1. Trump
  2. Russia
  3. Syria
  4. The refugee crisis
  5. Brexit
  6. General Election 2017
  7. Cuts to education and the NHS
  8. Benefit cuts which have hit women hardest, and which have been blamed for a 60% increase in prostitution in Doncaster since 2015 as vulnerable women struggle to support their families
  9. Tory fuckers
  10. Ethical fashion
  11. The fur trade
  12. Recycling
  13. Palm oil
  14. Mental health
  15. Maternal mental health
  16. Destigmatising mental illness
  17. Wasting food
  18. Eating non-organic food
  19. Feeding my children non-organic food
  20. Not cooking food from scratch
  21. Giving into requests for “just one more tiny one” when attempting to not feed my children food that is barely food
  22. (Not) exercising
  23. (Not) living in the moment
  24. (Not) knowing what to wear
  25. (Not) wearing make-up
  26. Rampant facial and body hair
  27. Farmer’s hands
  28. Flaky winter feet
  29. What example am I setting my daughter by being a stay-at-home-mum?
  30. Should I focus only on raising my children well and care less about the world?
  31. Why aren’t I doing more to help the world?
  32. Why aren’t I doing more to stimulate and support my children?
  33. Do we need to take vitamin supplements?
  34. Am I drinking too much tea?
  35. Do my teeth look yellow in pictures?

Obviously some things stand at the “oh chuff off” end of the spectrum (looking at you online article on How to be bikini ready this summer), while others exist in an “out of my control” realm that apparently means we shouldn’t worry about them.

But worry we do in a mindless Why did we bring these perfect little beings into such a funked up world type way. Although we necessarily move on there is a little weight added, a slight staining of the day.

The other day though, when my heartfelt response to the meme

You cant pour
#selfcare

was FFS something else to think/care about/ do, it was clear there was a problem.

The self-care message is one I find annoying mainly because I know it’s right and yet find myself unable (unwilling?) to find the room to do it. Whenever I get a few hours away from the demands of the house/ work I rush away desperate to start working on a new piece of writing. I tell myself that I love writing so it is practising self-care to just crack on with it.

But actually, much of the time writing is torture. Sometimes I wonder if I’m purely addicted to the endorphine rush I get when I find the right words, the right sentence construction to make sense of the tangled mess of thoughts in my head. The rest of the time I feel pretty shit about it – I don’t actually love writing it seems, I love having written (thanks Dorothy Parker for the inspo).

Dorothy Parker

But I digress. Because really my point is how did I get to the point where a message about taking on less, made me feel more pressured to do more, to care more, even if only about myself?

Compassion fatigue is something I’m vaguely familiar with. In a previous life my colleagues and I once completed a questionnaire to see how empathetic we were. Turns out we were all raging psychopaths incapable of even looking at someone else’s shoes, nevermind walking in them.

Even for teachers this seemed a little harsh, especially as we worked in an inner-London comprehensive school and felt assured of our moral superiority. After laughing for longer than was appropriate, we assured ourselves that we were “merely” suffering compassion fatigue, so used we were to dealing with good people existing in shitty situations.

But this felt different.

This was not about feeling resistant to helping people who were suffering (including myself in some small way), this was about not wanting to know in the first place.

I was all cared out.

These days we are constantly bombarded with messages telling us the gumpf they contain is THE MOST IMPORTANT INFORMATION IN THE WORLD and YOU MUST ACT NOW!

Many of us use social media to keep track of the main news stories of the day, and the work of charitable organisations, but alongside that undeniably important “stuff” are the brand and lifestyle messages, many from Real People. Traditional advertising is predictable and easy to avoid but the scroll becomes a heady concoction of people and subjects the user genuinely is interested in, alongside things we feel we should care about – other people care, it must be important, what am I missing?

The equal importance given to these messages, the amplification of doing yoga with perfect hair and immaculate makeup, while wearing only ethically-produced organic cotton and drinking something suspiciously green, means the boundary between perceived, and actual, importance is blurred. As demonstrated by my use of the word “important/ce” five times in two paragraphs, the overall effect is we become overwhelmed by ALL OF THE IMPORTANCE (six).

It’s not even as straightforward as being ruthless and unfollowing the things you are not interested in. For me that means coming to terms with the fact that I’m not that bothered about exercising or eating well. I mean, who wants to admit they essentially want to die young?

I know this is BAD, I really should care, and so I carry on following the feeds with an unrealistic idea that one day I will find the room in my life to do something about it.

And so we arrive back at the #selfcare induced rebellion.

I’d lost perspective, my filters had failed, and I’d jumbled together the important and the trivial until my synapses trembled with a dial-up warbling of no-connection. The only thing to do was to turn my back on it all and let my echo chamber ring silent.

I tuned out, ignored the news, retreated from Twitter and immersed myself fully in the latest domestic drama about a popped balloon or a doll’s missing shoe. I shoved my head into the bottom of the washing basket, and spent time digging out errant socks. I lifted up and replaced multiple items of handwash-only clothes that I bought in a previous life before procreation rendered my main function as a tissue. I decided that this was where I was supposed to be. This is where I was needed.

It was nice. For a while.

But being an opinionated person with no opinions is disorientating. It wasn’t long before my mind pushed at the self-imposed boundaries and I started to wonder what was happening in the real world.

So is this the conundrum – live a disconnected life, calm and unfettered by worries about the state of the world/ your wardrobe but be a bit bored, OR take it all on, be interested in everything, look at what other people care about and why and, when you can, use their experiences to improve yours? Taking a middle ground of caring but not too much just feels a little lame – I’m sure it works for some but I’m an all or nothing girl.

So, for now I’m back in the game. I’m drinking it all in and for now I feel confident about my priorities. I’m also pretty certain my filters will get blocked from all the sludge-slinging at some point in the future but this time I’m paying more attention to the off button. Every now and again I’m not going to be afraid to hit it because it will definitely all be there waiting when I return.

Even that fucking meme.

Should motherhood define us?

The scale of the adjustment from no children to one has never since been matched despite the best efforts of the arrival of a second child and the departure of my career. There’s no doubt that motherhood has changed me.

I’m confident I’m not alone in that assertion but does motherhood, should motherhood, define us?

Elements of the media clearly feel motherhood does define women who squeeze out a sprog or few. The obsession with labelling women as mumboss, mumpreneur, Instamum, the grandmother of them all yummy-mummy, or its backlash slummy-mummy, make it clear that whether a woman is groomed or not; running a household, a business or a team; or perhaps is vlogging and flogging herself to the highest bidder on the internet, the most significant thing to remember about her in every context is that she’s someone’s mum.

For most mothers at least trying to do a good job, the centre of every decision is occupied by their children. Where they live, the hours they (don’t?) work, whether they pursue career advancement, how often they wee – children are generally speaking the Most Valued Players in every game.

But what is insulting is the obsession with reducing the rest of a mother’s life, personality, interests, abilities, qualifications, passions and experiences to bit-parts in a mother’s world. We see them relegated to the subs bench, only allowed onto the pitch once the real work is done and the most important player, Mum, has received the right amount of attention.

Not everyone feels these terms are negative – some people insist they are a compliment, shorthand for, “Wow she’s a mum AND a boss/ entrepeneur/ looks good – she’s smashing it!” but isn’t this a bit patronising?

It suggests that managing to spin all the plates without them smashing all over the floor is surprising – you clever girl!  But this exclamation mark is one that never gets applied to dads – no one ever questions how a father can have children and be successful elsewhere – and so you start to apply a question mark instead.

If it takes two to tango, why, like DNA, is the raising of a new life not split 50-50? The possession of a vagina does not determine the superiority of one’s ability as a parent. Once birth and breastfeeding are out of the way, what exactly can women do that men can’t?

Facing down a four year old’s determined resistance to dressing herself in the morning feels akin to watching the change in outdated gender norms. We all know it needs to happen, it’s for everyone’s benefit, but progress is painfully slow. Cheek-biting and concerns about the future are shared responses to both, but society’s obsession with defining women with children as mums first is a problem that is not going to be solved with stickers and a trip down the supermarket toy aisle.

Men have their status as entrepeneurs, bosses, or just plain old breadwinners taken for granted. They are committed to their graft, their attention is never divided so the words used to describe them have no need to be either.

In contrast, the mum-isms suggest a mother’s attention is always divided and whenever a woman grows a new one the assumption is triggered that to be a good mother she must always be available to her children.

Being called a mumboss or otherwise is only a compliment when we assume we are congratulating a women for managing to juggle it all. The absence of a fatherhood equivalent suggests dads are never even expected to do the juggle. Being a good father does not hinge on being available – being a mum comes first, we are told, but being a dad doesn’t.

This problem is huge, systemic, wrapped up in generations of gender norms and predetermination and simply changing the words we use is not even close to the whole answer.  But is a start.

And while we’re at it, perhaps we also need to reject the premise of the question that asks does motherhood define us – a question that pits women against one another and often tells us nothing other than what an individual believes “define” means.

Instead, until we adjust the compass to make it possible for fathers to be dadbosses, or mums just plain old bosses, the pointing, probing, relentless question we should all continue to demand the uncomfortable answers to is, should motherhood limit us?

Image credit: Lola Hoad Design

In her glory I find certainty that I might be a little more brave

I’ve been afraid recently. Afraid that I can’t keep my children safe. It’s something all parents know we have to deal with, but recently I’ve been feeling heavy with it.

The attacks on Westminster shoved my breath sideways a week or so later when I stood outside the exit to the tube. The tarmac seemed to have absorbed the shock, hurt and horror of that day. As I looked around at the streets, those buildings and the people, the thought, They never thought it would happen to them pulsated in my mind and I hurried away with heaving breaths.

With the help of friends I’ve reframed that fear since – stabbings happen and cars mount the pavement every day somewhere in this city, this country and the rest of the world. It does not diminish the tragedy of the lives lost or permanently affected by the events on that day, but it does diminish its power.

But even reframing it leaves a nag catching in the back of mind because regardless of the method, or whatever madness it’s attributed too, it’s the hate I can’t handle: the dismissal of another human being as being less than you.

Hatred breeds hatred, the worn words proclaim, and as the pixels and airwaves exploded following the attack on Westminster, their exhaustion was explained. The pace and vitriol of those looking for someone to blame, a reason that suited their rhetoric, spoke tellingly of people just waiting for an excuse.

But in this picture I find hope.

It’s a different place, a different issue but it’s a response to the same hate. Her insouciant smile in the face of his spitting aggression; her disdain and bemusement at his impotent, ignorant rage, so clear and cutting for everyone to see.

So, as she stares with no-nonsense contempt, I find my self challenging the despondancy I’ve been feeling – nothing is getting better, the world is full of nobheads and bigots and arseholes and Trump – I should just take shelter in a simple life well lived, raising my children, keeping my peace.

It’s a feeling borne of small things – a conversation, a comment by a stranger, a series of headlines that eat away at the validity of the burning feeling deep in my gut and the prickling behind my eyes. But this picture has solidified my resolve.

How can I feel beaten down by a mere conversation when, hands in pocket, she looks hate in the eye – and smiles?

It was a disorientating conversation to be fair – the woman was intelligent, articulate and passionate about what she was saying. She insisted that young women are being sent the wrong message about being able to “have it all” – that they need to be told the truth about how hard it is and adjust their expectations. I suggested perhaps we need to expect more from men, not less from women, to which she responded, “My husband can’t even put an empty packet in the bin. We are years away. Years.”

While she’s probably right on the timeframe, I was wrong to turn inwards, mask the eye-roll and feel that her certainty qualified her to convince me I was wrong.

And what about the mother outside the hospital who yelled at her daughter for swinging on the bike racks? “You’ve got to be a girly-girl,” she shouted as we walked past. My heart plummeted and “What’s the point…?” were the next words out of my mouth.

The wave of hope The Women’s March awakened in us all has been drowned out by a never-ending stream of attacks on our conviction. The backlash against “Legsit” did nothing to quell an emboldened, “anti-political correctness” right who continue their onslaught to undermine every hard-won increment of what we’re allowed to say.

The Co-op advert, be it an unfortunate error or intentional publicity stunt, was thought up by someone, apparently questioned by no one with the power to change it, and is just a small part of a limiting picture being drawn by people determined to use only the blue and pink crayons.

On the other side of an ocean but magnified by status and disbelief, Trump continues on his quest to, this time metaphorically, make a grab for women’s bodies. Meanwhile, the rule changes on Child Benefit here are the latest peculiar and insulting discriminatory attack against vulnerable women least able to stare down their aggressors.

But Saffiyah Khan has reminded me that fighting bigotry, and its insidious bedfellow injustice, on all fronts is worth it. The fight for women’s rights does not have the visceral urgency of a Pakistani-Bosnian-brummy woman standing up for her city against a misguided mob of white-English-men but still I find strength in this picture and I can’t stop looking at it.

I gaze at her grace and her glory and find certainty that I too might be a little more brave.

Because when you’re right you have to stand up, in your own way and however you can, because there is always a point.

How I found myself unemployed and angry

“Perhaps you should hand your notice in. You don’t seem as robust as you once were.” With disbelieving ears I absorbed the words and, winded by the wound they had inflicted, struggled to defend myself.

The lump in my throat dissolved into the tears that are always much closer to the surface these days, and with utter humiliation I slid back to some time in 1993 and cried in the headteacher’s office.

It was November – four weeks before I was due to return to work from maternity leave. It had all been agreed – my three day contract, the days I’d be working – months beforehand, but once a colleague handed in his notice they needed me to pick up his timetable. I was informed that my days of work had to change.

Childcare everywhere is expensive but where we live it is also hard to come by – plenty of people arrange their childcare while they are pregnant – I repeat, WHILE THEY ARE PREGNANT. Finding childcare at the drop of this plate-smashing, ball-bouncing bollock I already knew, sobbing in the headteacher’s office, was going to be impossible.

I did a lot of crying that day. I felt hurt, confused, and betrayed. The other members of my faculty, including my line manager were as shocked as I was, but reassured me with their efforts to find a solution.

At that time, and many times since, I’ve tried to understand why my Headteacher behaved in the way she did.

With twelve years experience I know I was expensive for “just” a classroom teacher – they could (and just before I left, did) employ a full-time Newly Qualified Teacher for the same money they would be paying me for three days.

In the meeting the headteacher talked about the difficulties in accommodating part-time teachers into the timetable, even though my three day a week agreement had long since been approved.

Budget cuts were imminent, she had also thrown into the conversation, and somewhere quiet in the back of my mind a voice said, “You shouldn’t be saying that” but I was disappointingly powerless to speak through my shock.

And she brought the school manager into the meeting almost immediately to discuss just how much of my Maternity Pay I would have to repay. £7000 it transpired and I was silenced once more by the prickling behind my eyes.

Of course it’s tempting to consider the appropriateness (and legality?) of some of these comments but as my understanding of my professional reputation collapsed around my ringing ears, the most important thing was how railroaded and unwanted I felt.

I came out of that meeting feeling like my seven years service at the school counted for nothing. My branches of self-belief were shaken to the point they were laid bare and as all parents do in the bleak days of mid-winter I wondered if I had imagined the be-leaves were ever there at all. Maybe I’d been bare-boned, stark and skill-less all along. Maybe I was shit and they were just glad to see the back of me?

Eventually however, a solution was reached. It took a couple of weeks; contortionist levels of bending over backwards by the other members of my faculty; two further meetings in which the solutions they had created were rejected; and ended with success after a senior colleague advocated for my return.

Meanwhile I had written my letter of resignation. Like most people I didn’t and don’t have £7000 collecting dust (imagine!) so, with the help of the National Union of Teachers, I’d cobbled together a plan.

Essentially, every parent of under 18s is entitled to 18 weeks of unpaid Ordinary Parental Leave and it was this that I was going to exploit. It meant that officially I was returning to work thus would not have to pay anything back, but in reality I would never physically set foot in that school ever again.

I was desperately unhappy for many reasons – not least that my colleagues who had so determinedly had my back were going to be left with a knife in their’s, stressed and dealing with the fallout from being a member of staff short.

In the end though, I got what I wanted, right? I returned to work on the days that I had originally agreed.

I “won”.

So why am I sitting here, unemployed and (after several months of intense navel-gazing) mildly irritated?

Well, in short, because someone had to look after the children.

The reality of returning to my job as a teacher with two small children was that, compared to my pre-procreation working hours, I was in deficit of between four and five hours every day.

Morning routines, drop-offs, pick-ups, bath and bed time were my responsibility every morning and night because of the demands of the Mr’s job. He was typically out of the house before the children woke up and three times a week he arrived home for the last 10-20 minutes before they went to sleep. The other two nights a week they would already be in the land of nod when his key finally scraped in the lock.

A sales environment in the city, his was not a workplace where employees even requested flexible working. Unsurprisingly there are next to no women in senior positions and the culture is firmly one of face-time over Facetime, even though a considerable proportion of the job is possible with the wonders of modern technology.

If he had been able to contribute one morning, and one evening routine each week, who knows? Perhaps I would still be educating the future instead of bashing my keyboard in impotent dissatisfaction.

Instead, because of his employer, I had to turn my back on being an employee.

It has been a difficult learning curve and there have been times when I’ve sent myself into a spinning dive off the sides of the track, but at this point it would be disingenuous of me to say I’m still angry about what happened.

I’ve been granted a second chance, new horizons to explore and new opportunities to be excited about, but even with this positive spin on the matter, the question still begs to be asked – should this have happened?

Should my school have made it so difficult for me to return? Is it right that my job was so demanding that I required an extra 4-5 hours a day, after working 8.30-5.30pm without breaks, to make it happen? Is it fair that my partner-in-slime was unable to support me in my return to work because of the culture of his company?

I was a successful, respected, passionate, driven, committed, caring professional, but thanks to circumstance the skip-load of skills that I developed over twelve years have been wrapped up like a dead pet goldfish and flushed down that most deplorable of brain drains – maternal unemployment.

Surely this can’t be right?

Surely this is a bit bloody bonkers?

Surely, there is a better way?

For all of the above I am supporting Anna Whitehouse, aka Mother Pukka with her #flexappeal campaign. She’s got her tongue stuck firmly in her cheek as she prances around in lycra and grinds to a rewrite of 90s hit “Let’s talk about sex” but I’m going to be right there beside her on Friday March 31st when she brings it to Trafalgar Square for a second time. Check out her Instagram feed for more details but safe to say it will be flexing awesome.

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.

I’ve marched before but this time was different

This time it was personal.

It became even more personal when on my way to the march a man approached me as I was making my way through the Underground carrying my placard. Genial enough at first he asked me what protest I was making my way to. It became apparent that he already knew.

A few steps after I answered he launched into homophobic, misogynist rant that, while it did not quite intimidate me, left me wondering why he felt it was necessary.

Why did he approach me when he clearly already knew why I was there? And why me when there were plenty of other people walking through the underground carrying placards (although unlike me, they were in groups, not alone – explanation provided, perhaps)?

His rant was intense and bizarre in equal measure, starting with the assertion that we had to make a choice between “John Wayne type leaders…real men”, or having “some nancy-boy who’s probably going to bring AIDS into the house”.

As he followed me up through the tunnels and up the escalator he continued that male serial killers in America were murdering women because they had “bossy mothers” or were “sick of women nagging and telling them what to do”. Apparently mass murder is the fault of womankind too.

Just like watching Trump’s inauguration, it felt like a spoof of right-vs-left-wing politics, when the right-wing are stupid/ mad and bad, and yet somehow manage to outsmart the left-wing good-but-ineffectual guys.

I was shocked, tongue-tied, and frustratingly impotent in my efforts to force out a “fuck off” – for some reason I couldn’t bring myself to be rude to this walking, talking definition of bigot.

It felt tempting to dismiss him as “crazy” – he didn’t look mad, but then, what does mental illness look like? – but then I remembered that millions of people have just legitimised similar (perhaps marginally less extreme) views to these, by electing men equally bold about sharing them, to the most powerful seat in the entire world.

And it intensified my certainty that I was in exactly the right place.

I was marching for equal pay; because I feel insulted by the idea of a man who has bragged about sexual assault becoming the most powerful man in the world; because, like many women, I know what it feels like to be heckled, grabbed and groped, followed by aggression when the violation is not welcomed.

grab-this

I was marching because I feel frustrated and personally limited by the relative status and expectations afforded men and women in our society.

I was marching because I wanted to say enough – as much to myself, as to anyone else – to give myself permission to be pissed off.

And I was marching because as parents we are programmed to want better for our children. I’ll be damned if my daughter is going to live her life the same way I have, with insidious limitations papered over with a veneer of “Having it all”, only for them to leap up and takes chunks out of our certainty when we start to make demands.

But in answer to anyone thinking, but he’s not your President, not your country, isn’t this a little pointless, I also marched in solidarity.

Because I am unlikely to ever fail to access an abortion, or birth control, does this mean I should not care about the women who can’t?

Because I was born in a body that matches the gender I identify with, does this mean I should not care about the people for whom this is not reality?

Because I love a man, not a woman, does this mean I should ignore the struggles of those who love differently to me?

And because I have white skin,  does this mean I shouldn’t acknowledge the unearned privilege that this carries with it? Shouldn’t I recognise the even greater struggles that people, particularly women, of colour have to face? Battles that carry even greater resonance because they will be my son’s and my daughter’s.

I’ve marched before on behalf of a passionate, desolate profession, beaten down and desperate about their working conditions and the prospects for the children they taught. But I’ve never marched before from a place of such deep-seated fear for the futures of people I don’t know, don’t love, but who I care about, because they are people.

As the crowds swelled, so did the lump in my throat.

The coming together of people with a common cause has always had the power to move me, but the energy felt sharper, brighter, and more certain of its justness than I have ever felt before.

One hundred thousand men and women marched in London alone, and behind them lie many more wishing them well and that they could have joined. And we wake up this Sunday full of optimism and empowerment that joy, beauty and togetherness were found yesterday in a world that feels so full of hate and division.

That greatest of human comforters was out in full-force yesterday – we are not alone.

Even so, the truth is that we also wake up to the reality that the occasion is over and nothing has changed – nothing has really been achieved.

To see the long road ahead, the reams of progress that must be made, it is tempting to wonder if it is worth it? Is it really necessary? Can I really care so much, for so long? But whenever I feel like this, I look at my children.

My beautiful brown boy and girl exist because of the tireless actions of people that have come before us, and those who continue that fight right up to today.

Things change. When it is right, they have to.

And as if I needed that reminder yesterday, my favourite memory was the young girls and boys, some barely teenagers, waving their signs, chanting and singing.

Their presence provoked the loudest cheers and chanting I heard at any point in the march as their youth bouyed us up with their promise of a different future.

I’m only 36 but already I can see we are too late for now, for us.

But we keep on keeping on because they are the future and we must not let them down.