Never mind shadow bans – a self-imposed Insta-ban can be good for the soul

It’s important to say from the start that I know this is not a real problem.

But.

It’s a week since I threw my toys out of my pram, had a tantrum and realised I needed to prioritise a few things above Instagram.

I know.

I wish I could say it came from a wholistic desire to improve my life with less screen time and more outdoor yogic breathing and green juice. Or something. But the main drivers were actually a need to concentrate on my relationships; work that paid cash money; and a gasping need for some headspace.

First though, came fear. Contrary to the FOMO comparison culture that we’re warned about when on social media, rather selfishly I was not nervous about missing out on what other people were up to, and I wasn’t bothered about being involved (ok, maybe a bit). More alarmingly, I was fearful of giving up my daily dose of validation.

Pre-procreation me got her double-taps from work. It felt important, and I felt good that I was good at it. A new career has meant starting all over again and confidence is at times in short supply. I’m a dictionary definition for Imposter Syndrome: certainty that I know what I’m doing is fleeting, and it doesn’t take much to knock my confidence.

Motherhood meanwhile offers little opportunity for congratulations on a job well done. Parents hope that at some point in the future someone will stand up at a wedding and say, “Thank you for raising such an awesome human”, but 30 years or so is let’s say, a long-term goal.

For the rest of the time the bulk of the work is unseen and unappreciated accompanied by an additional kick in the teeth that if you’re doing your job well, and raising a child who feels confident and loved, the likelihood is that they will at times make their security clear by being an arsehole.

And contrary to the sacrificial mother-figure we’re expected to be, I have realised that I need validation. I crave feedback; I want to feel like my opinions matter; and I want to feel like I am something other than “just” someone’s mum.

You can call it selfish if you want to, I’m sure there are elements of that in there, but I’m also pretty sure I’m not alone.

The social media explosion of insta-mums, mum bloggers, vloggers and floggers can surely be attributed in part to the current climate of talented women being pushed out of the workforce once project procreation kicks off.

We’ve been sold a dud one – we can’t have it all afterall, and as we wrestle with the knock that delivers to our sense of identity and self-esteem, strangers on the internet become a source of the approval that we don’t get anywhere else.

But that first evening, as the time crept towards my “Optimum Posting Time”, I reminded myself that tonight was not the night and I felt… relieved.

Mining my own life for coherent thoughts and feelings that I deemed thoughtful enough, funny enough, informed enough, good enough, for the internet had become a burden.

And that first evening’s relief was not the only moment. So often I thought, “oh I need to write that down… where is my phone… oh no I’m going to forget… that would make a good picture…that would make a good Story… WHERE IS MY PHONE?” and I found freedom in the realisation that there was no need .

I had been existing in a constant low level of anxiety, always on alert in case one of my mind’s mental tabs closed down. My brain constantly scanned and flickered over thoughts, checking they were still there and not lost in the same vortex of knowledge as The Krebs Cycle (A level biology, 1998), and the Corn Law Reform Act (GCSE History, 1996).

This bonkers pressure – which most insanely of all was completely self-imposed – had to be released. And the manic cheerleader in my mind, who for months had been waving her pompoms of gratitude so that my internal tickertape didn’t turn to the darker side of comparison, needed a rest too.

As a result I was smiling more, and thinking less, taking notice of the kids eating their breakfast, and not plotting my next trip to tidy the toys which would invariably lead to me standing still amongst the debris staring down at my device.

In general though, the house has got messier as my mind has got tidier – it seems lower levels of anxiety equal a lesser desire to control my environment.  And my desire to create is back. To write properly, not for social media, but because I like words.

But that’s not to say I’m giving it up. No, because like all the best addicts I’m good at justifying my habit: it’s my job; I learn from it; I get to “meet” people I would otherwise not meet’; and it is a source of inspiration and ideas. But with time to reflect on the damage social media demons are inflicting on my mind, I do have to get control.

So my new rules are that I’m not posting every day, and I’m not posting because I feel I should. You won’t find those two statements anywhere in social media best practice, but maybe applying what works to make an online living, might not be the best approach to actual life.

I’m going to post because I want to. Whenever I wonder whether or not to share pieces like this self-indulgent twaffle, I’m also going to remind myself that this is what is happening in my life, so it might be what is happening in yours.

Because while we all accept that the truth often isn’t pretty, the temptation is to make sure it is always emotive and altruistic. In reality, as embarrassing as it might be to admit, the reality is that honesty is sometimes just horribly self-absorbed.

 

The Good, The B#ad and The Money

Ten months, 725 posts, £1537.56 raised for PANDAS, giveaways, charity campaigns, immeasurable hours spent “connecting” with new friends while admiring others from afar, and somehow gaining nearly 5000 lovely followers, it’s fair to say that Instagram has solidly featured in 2016 (if by “solidly featured” you mean caused arguments with the Mr and taken up more time than a newborn).

It all started as a soapbox on which to stand shouting, I have thoughts. And I wrote them down. Please read, about the blog I had started pretty much on a whim.

An act of narcissism, a desire to reach out and connect, a need to have something that was mine, that could not be undone with a sweep of a charmingly pudgy limb, or a mixture of all four, the blog was my new baby and oh how it reveled in that role.

Before I knew it, between the gridded streets of Instagram and my amateur-hour WordPress site, my time was no longer my own. Minutes spent away were minutes spent thinking about what I’d do when we were reunited and it was/ is all relentlessly done for nothing but the love.

Much like parenthood, the world of web-logging offers few pats on the back and certainly no pennies paid. At first it’s only your mum and her mate reading the words you wrote, revised, deleted and despaired over late into the night when you really should have been sleeping, so it’s often difficult to justify quite why it feels so important.

But don’t for one second imagine the playing of even the world’s tiniest violin. The beauty of spending time doing something that pays nothing is that were it to be “turned off”, the app dispensed with, and hours each week reclaimed, no one would suffer, no one would starve, no one would be shivering in the cold.

But when all is tapped and posted, I’m attempting the long game.

The over-head-scissor-kick-let’s-make-this-a-hat-trick-goal I really want to score is writing, but while Instagram has leapt out of the gates like an over-enthusiastic hare, the blog and other writing opportunities are ambling along at the pace of a tired tortoise.

We all know how that story ends though…

In the meantime I’m grappling with The Gram as a creature I never expected it to become. It started as a bit of fun like that pint-sized puppy I excitedly borrowed from a mate for a morning before I realised that pushchairs and small confused animals on leads don’t mix.

After a few hours spent tripping each other up and repeatedly cooing, “Come on” in a voice saccharine enough to rot teeth, in that case I was happy to hand her back. But when it comes to Instagram, that most seductive of mistresses – opportunity – had slipped her hot hand in mine and was leading somewhere I’d never even considered.

I’ll happily/ slightly cringingly admit that I started to think about what life could be like if I persevered, because I realised that this funny little hobby that I’m slightly embarrassed about, which most of my almost-millienial mates don’t really understand, could actually help me achieve my aims.

But with that realisation came another, because when it comes to the rules of how to play this gridded game of The Gram, I’m groping blindly in the dark.

What happens, for example, when a person you are following because you enjoy their honesty (as honest as any moment frozen in time can ever be – it’s really the difference between an image captioned “Beyonce throws shade at love-rival Rhianna”, when the video reveals she was actually about to sneeze) takes cold hard cash-money from a brand?

They attach #paid to a post and the questions inevitably surface. Are they selling out? Is this honest? Where is the integrity? Does this mark a change of direction, a departure? Is it only about the money? How much loyalty do people have? Will they be mean? Will they (the horror) unfollow?

And does any of that matter anyway?

Is it good, is it bad, afterall it’s just a little #ad (does throwing some rhyme into the mix lighten the mood?), and surely we all need The Money?

And, with these agonising over-thoughts, questions and the clear paralysis of a mind too eager for approval, have I yet made it clear that I’m talking about myself?

What’s going to happen when you lovely lot realise that over the next three weeks the much-maligned #ad will be making its inaugural appearance across my feed?

Only four times it’s only four posts four posts out of many I’ll make sure the others are good really good so people don’t hate me they won’t hate me they’ll understand it’s an experiment an experience I don’t ever have to do it again don’t worry I’ll keep my “voice” I’ve wankily insisted on that and if they make me change my voice they can do one and on and on and on… the goofy-eyed, desperate hamster running on the wheel in my mind has been squeaking this way for weeks.

Because the hard, unvarnished truth is that it IS (in part) about money. You come here for honesty? Well, that is mine.

So when someone came knocking and offered to pay me to do something I would do anyway, then the slightly stroppy side of my brain stamped her foot and said well why shouldn’t I?

But call it fate, serendipity, bad or good luck, the same week I was approached, the boss of one of Instagram’s favourite families, @mother_of_daughters, was unceremoniously splattered head-to-toe in mud slung by some members of her it-turns-out-not-so-faithful following.

The awareness that around her neck hangs a World Cup winner’s medal while I reside at the foot of the GM Vauxhall Conference, didn’t make the shit in my knickers feel any less lumpy, or smell any better. That tap-fight felt nasty, personal, and ultimately hurtful for someone just trying to make a dime, and I realised there was a lot more to this than I’d thought.

The case of what’s the difference between real people endorsing products and celebrities doing it; the argument of would you really turn down the opportunity to get paid for something you do for free; the question of why should people turn down payment if they provide entertainment and support at a cost to them of time and effort; and the accusations of jealousy and #hatersgonnahate, have already been made by countless followers alongside the inimitable force that is @mother_pukka.

It’s a strong argument it’s true, but lingering in my background is an awareness that the very people (you) who have facilitated this opportunity, are the exact same ones I stand to lose by taking it.

So here is my disclaimer, a contract you can throw in my face should I fail to adhere.

I respect your opinion if you find it distasteful and I’m not going to try to convince you otherwise, I’m just hoping you won’t jump ship just yet.

The vast vastness of vast-city majority of my posts are still going to be written by me with no purpose except to offer a laugh, a thought, or a moment of compadre-ly companionship in those “It can’t just be me” moments.

This (imagine me gesturing wildly, phone in hand, towards my computer screen) is one big experiment, I’m clueless about its direction or destination, but I don’t want to let fear of what people might think stop me trying.

And, not least, if I can earn for four posts on Instagram, what I’d be paid for TWO AND A HALF DAYS as a supply teacher, it seems clear to me that 1. the world is insane, but also 2. ‘gramming, and social-media-managing offer levels of flex previously seen only on the sprung floors of the Olympics, and I think I’d be daft not to make that leap.

In the words of my esteemed leaders, Digital Mums, this really is #workthatworks (#notanAD ;-).

So imagine me now rushing to finish this blog post sat in a branch of Costa (their tea is shite but it’s cheap). Time is doubling-down on me with the imminent death of my battery – I’m many metres and several strangers away from the nearest plug socket – and the clock ticks ever closer to the time the Grandparents down tools and depart.

But having got to the end of this rather long post (soz), I want to leave you with this thought – I’m willing to admit that maybe this #paid tag isn’t all good, but perhaps it isn’t all bad either.

And truth be told, I’m hoping, really, really hoping, you can feel a tiny spark of joy for the oddest of opportunities in this world as I head off into the night to achieve the impossible – getting paid to do bath time.

Instagram. A bit like children

My name is Nicola and I am an addict. There you go my dear “husband”, I’ve admitted it. I know that since I joined IG, you feel you’ve been cuckolded by a voiceless group of women who I know sometimes by face, occasionally by name, but mostly through the snippets of their real life that they post on line. Like an episode of Eastenders gone badly wrong I know that you feel abandoned before we even got close to the alter, but the thing is, I really like it. On the days that I no longer escape to work (and as hard as I know work is, it does at least offer a break from the mind-numbing monotony of being at home with the small people seven days a week), Instagram offers a rabbit-hole into a world where I can participate in pictures and snappy sentiments in a coherent and occasionally witty way – essentially a perfect world for the sleep-deprived, time-poor parent for whom coherence and wit belong in a bygone era.

My relationship with IG has developed over the last 74 days to the point where I know I’m spending too much time cradling my phone, but like any addict worth their fix I’m struggling to give it up. A bit like our children. I mean, they take up a lot of time, they have pushed you down the pecking order, and they are the subject that dominates most of the time we set aside for conversation but I don’t see you suggesting that I abandon them, so how could I possibly give up Instagram? Oh. Hang on a minute… Ok, so maybe you have a point about that, but there are other ways in which children and Instagram are actually remarkably similar.

Both my children and Instagram make me laugh. My children when they do things like roll themselves up in the bathmat and say “I’m a sausage roll, eat me”, and Instagram when I read posts about Beagle-rimming, what happens when you mistake a daffodil bulb for a spring onion (thanks @Mother_Pukka), or the arguments that arise when a small person insists that he is the person best qualified to wipe Mummy’s bum(@peckham_mamma). Then there is the most brilliant comment I ever received on a post of mine from mega-sweetheart @babeinthehood who told me that when she was a child, her favourite toy was a cat called Pussy, and she called her bedroom “Pussy Kingdom”. The noise I made when I read this in the middle of a local cafe was so alarming that the people sat two tables away turned in shock and perhaps expected a live pig to emerge out of the kitchen. God, I love Instagram.

Both my children and Instagram keep me coming back for more. Even when my children have tag-teamed all night and yet have woken up full of energy and eager for an outing, I don’t wish them gone, for more than a minute, anyway. My love for them knows no bounds and when they are finally asleep simultaneously I can look at their peaceful faces and feel positively gooey about the fact that they are 50% me, and 50% the other adult who I used to love most in the world. Until he was replaced by Instagram, allegedly. They keep me coming back for more – more kisses, more hugs, more funny mispronunciations, more poo under the fingernails. Meanwhile, Instagram keeps me coming back for more too. Maybe too much more? Am I the only one who finishes brushing their teeth and thinks “Oooh, I wonder what someone I don’t know has posted in the last two minutes and 27 seconds?”. Maybe the “husband” has a point.

Both my children and Instagram are rife with the possibilities for misunderstandings. That post about my daughter asking for brown balls in the shop? It was supposed to be funny. But thanks for the parenting advice, anyway. And what’s with all the #acronyms? #ootd? #tbt? #wtfdtm? Ok, I made that last one up (#whatthefudgedotheymean) but when I get tagged in something and don’t respond, I’m not ignoring you I promise, it’s just that I have no idea what is going on.

Parenting is even more susceptible to mishap by misunderstanding. The other day my daughter kept asking me for her wings. “Your pink wings?” I enquired.

“No, my blue wing,” she said.

“Oh. But you don’t have any blue wings, sweetie. Do you mean the greeny-blue ones?” They’re green – I was reaching.

“Noooo! I want my wing. My blue wing.”

“I’m sorry, sweetheart, I’m not sure what you mean.” By now I was sweating. “No, mummy, my wing. My wing I put on my finger!”

“Ahhhh. Your RING.” Crisis narrowly averted.

And then there is my all-time favourite mispronunciation from this year’s Good Friday when a friend’s little boy was skipping around a pub garden shouting, “Let’s go to the n****r shop!” Rather taken-aback, I asked him to repeat what he had said,

“Where do you want to go, A?”

“To the n****r shop!” he shouted as he made a run across the grass for the flower beds.

Now, as a parent of mixed-race children, and as a (just about) functioning human being, I found the three-year-old’s desire to go and purchase a slave a little concerning.  I wracked my brains as to what he could mean and came up with this little gem, “Do you mean you want to go to the Lego shop?”

“Yes!” he shouted, clearly exasperated by my stupid questioning, “Let’s go to the n****r shop!”

I changed the subject.

Both my children and Instagram are masters at making me feel inadequate. It’s a well-known phenomenon that lurking round other people’s IG feeds can make you feel a bit crappy – even the flat lays of what people plan to wear that day can make me feel a bit pants, as the only thing lying flat in my house is my hair – my clothes certainly do not. Lurking around your own children can also cause concerning feelings of crappiness as they demonstrate the dedication of a religious fundamentalist to their cause of proving you to be a less-than-shit-hot-parent. My attempts at teaching sharing, manners, volume-control and risk awareness are undermined hourly as The Eldest shouts at me to get her water, which is on the table 3mm out of her reach, while the BSCB climbs into the dishwasher to lick the knives.

Both my children and Instagram make me frown. Children = frown lines . Intently staring at my phone screen while scrolling through Instagram for half an hour a few seconds at a time several once or twice a day  = frown lines. Children + Instagram = frown lines so deep I look like I’ve fallen asleep, face down, on a tiny train track.

Having said all of this, however, it’s important that we acknowledge there are ways in which IG and children are NOT alike. IG is nicer.

Instagram doesn’t wake me in the night. Despite the burgeoning weight of my addiction, even I draw the line at waking in the night to check and see if anyone has liked, commented, or posted anything new. The children, however, well, they are allowed to wake me up to check on them, no matter how much I wished this wasn’t true.

Instagram gives me positive affirmations and motivational life goals on a daily basis which (mostly) lift my mood. Woken up feeling a bit low, and wondering how you can make it through the day? Don’t feel alone and unworthy, there is a whole community out there to echo your sentiments that “I’m so tired the bags under my eyes are bigger then my boobs” and make you feel all of the better with the brilliant #igrewapersoniamfuckingrad (thanks for both to @fourthtrimag). No matter how cliched some of them are, the power of the meme is legendary in my eyes as, in precisely the number of words my terminally-tired-toddler-tracking eyes can comprehend in one go, they often comfort me that I’m not the only one. The importance of this reminder cannot be over-estimated and as being a mum doesn’t come with much opportunity to be patted on the back, it can sometimes be nice to hear that “As long as you are yourself, you can’t fuck it up” (thanks @mothersmeeting).

On the other hand, it is safe to say my children are not big believers in the mood-enhancing power of the word. The BSCB can’t say much other than “sshhzzz” (shoes) which pre-daily-wearing-of-the-Nikes-because-I-can-push-the-buggy-in-them, might have set my pulse aracing but now merely means I have to somehow explain to a non-verbal 15 month old that we can’t go to the park because it is pissing it down. Meanwhile The Eldest mostly uses her words to insist I take part in games like the one where she is the mummy, and I am the baby. Oh, how I wish that were true.

Having said all of this though, despite my love affair with Instagram being strong, and despite my “husband’s” concerns about the extent of my infidelity, there are countless things that I’ll never lose sight of that Instagram can’t give me. The kisses, the cuddles, and middle-of-the-night snuggles, which (almost) make me forgive them for summoning me to their bedside again in the sleeping hours, make my presence on this planet of ours more meaningful than anything I ever did before. The “husband’s” patience, strength and limitless motivation to make the lives of our children safe and good make my heart grow every day.

And, when all is said and done, Instagram doesn’t need me.

This internet thing is definitely weird, but is it good?

This week, the “husband” sent me a picture of myself on Google Maps.

Google Maps Pic

Weird.

He saw it because he likes to look at how our road has changed in the time we have lived here (also weird) and it seems that anyone who is looking at our road now sees me. I am pushing the children in the minibus (the Phil and Teds – we also have a Mercedes (a Bugaboo) and a nippy little sports car (a Microlite) Why so many buggies? I have no idea.) accompanied by my mother. There is also a man in the shot. I don’t know him but perhaps he is equally freaked out by seeing himself on t’internet for the whole world to see. But why do I find it so freaky?

I’m here every day hawking the offspring all over Instagram trying to get a few likes and maybe the odd comment about whatever fundamentally mundane moment has just occurred. It seems a bit pathetic when I read it in Verdana Regular 12 but I can’t help but see it as harmless fun.  The “husband”, however, is definitely less of a fan and the question is, am I less suspicious, or just more naive?

Since becoming a parent I have found myself lurking, and now becoming increasingly active, around the pages, accounts, and blogs of the “sisterhood” and in particular other mums. Despite having plenty of friends I have found the whole motherhood shizz rather isolating at times. Online I don’t really “do” celebs, or lifestyle stuff, or even music these days, but I do find comfort in visiting the pages of people who I feel are a bit like me. Who are more likely to have their f**ks, and not so much their ducks, in a row. They say that it takes a village to raise a child and while I have no idea who “they” are, they sure are talking a whole lot of sense. But increasingly few of us stay in the village that would have helped us raise our children, so to whom do we turn?

As we have grown, the world has shrunk around us thanks to the marvels that are the internet, super-fast broadband, Facetime, and all other forms of technology that I know mostly nothing about (it is worth saying that my technological ineptitude has reached the point of paralysis. I can’t get my head around the fact that grooves in vinyl make music therefore my mind freezes completely when I think too hard about the fact that information travels through thin air). As a result I sometimes wonder if this has contributed to the flux and flow of people in and out of population centres like London where I have lived for the last 12 years. Very rarely do I meet someone who is living in London, who is actually from London. Where have all the Londoners gone? It is as though the ease of communication has salved the worries of leaving your family behind. These days, with a sideways swipe and the touch of a screen, you can hear their voices and see their faces. So, many miles away from home, our homesickness soothed by the light in the centre of the living room ceiling (or is it just my parents who always seem to point the iPad camera up there?), this internet thing becomes “the village”. Becomes the community to whom you turn your hopeful gaze when you need some uplifting words, some timely advice, or just to be told that you aren’t such a bad mum afterall.

Of course it has its drawbacks – trolling, the receipt of unwelcome (and boring) parenting advice as a result of an IG post (mine, and cheers for that), and the insidious presence of bullies who hide behind their computer screen and find a relatively risk free forum to hate on other people – afterall t’internet really would be weird if someone could reach through their computer screen and land one on your chin – are just a few of the risks that adults run on t’internet. And then there is the very real chance that my offspring are going to hate me in ten years time when the photos that would traditionally only be trotted out on 18th birthdays to offer up a reasonable amount of embarrassment, are instead OUT THERE. But more worrying is the effect it is having on our young people.

I won’t be the first, nor the last, person to point out that these days, even when a child runs crying up to his bedroom and hides under her duvet there is no escape from the bus-stop bullies. The next beep or buzz from his phone could be a picture of her face super-imposed on a porn star’s body. In days gone by the paper version of this slur would be torn up and cried over but only a handful of people would have seen it. These days, between Facebook, Instagram, SnapChat and Twitter, these things can go viral and achieve an audience of hundreds, if not thousands.

Then there is the damage that the internet is doing to the cultural capital of young people. A friend explained to me recently that the sixth form students to whom she teaches Film Studies have rarely seen a film made outside their lifetime. In fact, it is often the case that they have not seen a film that has been made outside of their teenage years. I asked her whether she thought this was any different to when we were teenagers – did we really take that much interest in the classics or were we more likely to watch Teen Wolf on repeat (children of the 80s that we are, the fact that Michael J Fox was a thirty year old borderline dwarf did not matter one jot. When I was 8, he was my god)? We were absolutely different, she insisted. Having just four channels to choose from means that most, if not all, children of the 80s (and probably 90s) have seen ET at least 15 times – one for every Christmas they can remember between the ages of 3 and 18 when they could escape to the pub at the first sight of his scaly fingers. We’ve all seen Zulu, although perhaps not in one sitting, as I certainly can’t promise that the Sylvanian Family wouldn’t have made an appearence hiking across the leatherette settee at some point during it, as that film is ep.ic. But the point is that even though these films, amongst others, were made a long time before we were teenagers, we were aware of their existence.

In contrast, young people nowadays reside in an increasingly crowded bubble of people just like them. Their access to information is unparalled in history but they (being young) are content to populate their online experiences with one another. Just more of one another. Their worlds are completely saturated with versions of themselves and their choice is never going to be between another game of Trivial Pursuits (to which they know NONE of the answers), a cold park bench, or watching The Goonies for the 75th time. And as a result they are growing poorer. Bloody t’internet.

Despite all of these drawbacks, however, for those of us who remember the tense, wasted minutes of dial-up internet, and the nervy, sweaty wait next to the phone box, never sure if your friend was running late or had stood you up, all this technology malarkey is rather fine. It is pleasing to be able to find out exactly what time that bus will be arriving before you’ve even left your house, and while I gently mock the “husband” I have to admit a modest level of curiosity about how the street we live on has changed since Google maps started whizzing its eerie little cars all over the joint. Of course people survived perfectly well before t’internet took over therefore perhaps this renders its benefits merely superficial. But tell this to the many business men and women (although I have to admit it is the women I am particularly interested in) who are harnessing the power of the internet, and in particular social media, to create brands, sell products and basically bring the game to the doorsteps of established retail big guns.

When writing about my first forays into Instagram I mentioned a few of the new mum heroes I had “met”, and with each passing day my admiration for them only grows. When I step onto the square tiles of Instagram I often feel connected to the world and excited by its possibilities. I am at a cross-roads in my life as I am three working days away from leaving the profession I have been part of for twelve years. Seeing women who, faced with the choice between work and children, are taking a plunge into combining the two that makes the traditional workplace look about as flexible as an octogenarian at a yoga class, is enormously inspiring.

Having said that, this internet thing is definitely a bit weird. The dawning moment was literally my first Instagram post when I tagged @midwifeyhooper as one of my inspirations. She kindly replied (I imagine she was up on a nightfeed with nothing better to do) and said that her blog is neglected at the moment. I replied “Ha! I think your hands are more than full at the moment” followed by two baby emojis, two girl emojis, and four hand claps. Only a split second had passed before I thought “Is it weird that I know that?”. Six weeks in (jeez, is that all? I’m fairly sure even crack fiends don’t develop a habit this hard in six weeks. Gulp.) I’m still pretty certain it is weird. But I like it.

So not Insta-cool

Like a beloved Goldfish, my career has been swimming in circles for the last 3 years since I returned to work part-time following the arrival of The Eldest. The BSCB then sounded the death knell and it’s officially now floating belly up, ready to be wrapped in a tissue and unceremoniously dumped down the bog. So, like any other modern mum suffering an existential crisis of “Who am I? What am I going to do?” not to mention, “How am I going to pay for my tea and cake now that’s all I will be doing?” (right? Because that’s what stay-at-home mums do all day) I decided to start a blog and set up an Instagram account because clearly that would help.  They will both be one month old on Tuesday and just like the first month of parenting it has been a steep learning curve that I’ve crashed off the edge of once or twice.

The similarity to parenting is startling, actually. Just like in the first flush of rose-tinted love for a newborn, I felt excited to get to know, albeit through the lens of an iPhone, a new Girl Gang who make me feel proud to be a woman (to be fair this is a bit disingenuous as my experience of the early days of parenting was dominated less by a rosy glow and more by seven-shades-of-shit how do we do this and stay alive?) The wit, determination, business acumen, creativity and general ballsiness of these women has excited and inspired me.  But then the baby started to grow, and sucked me dry of time, and generally made me feel a bit crappy because everyone else seemed to be doing it better that I was.

Within days of setting up my account I found myself carrying my phone with a dedication that has hitherto alluded me. It has been an eternal source of frustration for the “husband” that I am often so far away from my phone that I might as well step back to the 80s. On one occasion, when I was heavily pregnant with the BSCB and he couldn’t get hold of me, he actually called our neighbour (who was also heavily pregnant) and got her to come and check I wasn’t in labour (one thing, dear “husband” – if I was in labour I’m pretty sure calling you would be fairly top of the agenda). Anyway, it transpired that small fingers had put my phone onto airplane mode which was why all calls were going straight to answer phone. There is no danger of that happening these days. In fact, over the weekend, I was asking my daughter some random questions, one of which was “What does mummy like to do?” Her answer? “Play with her phone.” I was mortified. Safe to say that the “husband” can now reach me whenever he likes but I’m not sure I like the trade-off.

Despite these early signs of addictive behaviour let’s not ignore the positives of joining the 21st Century and doing something internet-y. Thanks to IG I have developed some #mumcrushes on women like @dresslikeamum who walk the gridded streets of Instagram with style and accomplishment. This one-woman-band is determined to change the image of what it means to dress like a mum and not only does she have her very own wall, but she also manages to find the time to take a picture of herself standing in front of it wearing a different outfit every day. With a camera. And a tripod. Also with “a wall” is @mother_pukka who blogs and vlogs with considerable aplomb about #parentingtheshitoutoflife . My tiny mind boggles. How do these women manage to dress, apply makeup, care for small people, work, set up what can only be called equipment AND take photos/videos of themselves every day? The only thing I can commit to doing daily is going for a wee, and even then I’ve cut down on how much I drink in order to remove trips to the toilet out of the list of obstacles I have to face.

Another Instagram woman who I love to follow is @midwifeyhooper. Now, I’m pretty confident that she doesn’t know this but I actually know @midwifeyhooper, (from a distance anyway) as she was part of the team of midwives whose care I was under for the birth of the BSCB. While she didn’t actually deliver him, I feel the fact that there was a very real chance that she might have seen my foof means that we are connected, sort of. Currently on maternity leave with twin baby girls, as well as being mum to two older girls, @midwifeyhooper sports an immaculate bob on a par with Anna Wintour’s that leads me to believe only one of two things can be true – it’s a wig, or she’s a superhero.

The list of cool, intelligent, empathetic and most of all supportive, women goes on and on – @theyesmummum, @steph_don’tbuyherflowers, @survivingmotherhood_  @peckham_mamma – they are all redefining what it means to be a working mum, and some of them have actually completely redefined what they do since becoming a mum. I could write an entire post about just how cool they are (and that there seems to be a freakish concentration of them around South London – weird). But my point is actually about how cool I am not.

Like the new girl wearing the wrong clothes and listening to the wrong music, I’ve found myself trying way too hard, and spending too much time wondering how I can impress my new Sisterhood heroes. Wandering around in the belly of Instagram, I have been getting steadily grumpier because like a small child in ToysRUs I want it all and other people seem to have it, so why can’t I? Over the last few weeks there have been countless incidents of Instagram induced rage when I have wondered why my life doesn’t match up to the lives of others. Part of the problem was that I didn’t know the rules of the game and the early days of my feed has several Insta-ugly pics which I quickly was realising were not going to cut the mustard. I needed to step up, but how? This was just what my life looked like: a bit messy, a bit blurred and just not cool.

Then I had a revelation. One of my new mum heroes admitted that at times she moves the crap cluttering up her home out of shot when taking an Insta-pretty photo. It just hadn’t occurred to me that the stunning pictures that people post are staged, or at the very least tidied up. And filters! Those things are magic – go ahead, transform a distinctly average photograph into a diamond-sharp, rainbow-hued work of art! Alternatively, a judiciously applied filter will turn your feed into a gorgeous tonal revery by using the same one for every single picture. Aha! I thought, feeling better for a moment – I can do that!

So, the next time the occasion arose where the BSCB was doing something amusing that I wanted to capture, I readied the camera but then reached to move out of shot the towels and dirty washing that were in the background (we were in the bathroom btw – as messy as life admittedly gets I don’t just leave knickers sunnyside up scattered around the living room). The problem was that by the time I had set the scene to Insta-ready the BSCB and The Eldest had descended into full-scale barny about who got to stand inside the base to the potty. Yeah…This was not going to work for me.

Another barrier to my ever becoming Insta-cool is my uncanny knack of getting the tone ever so slightly wrong. I have entered the @notonthehighstreet #maverickmum competition (who couldn’t do with £500 worth of NOTHS vouchers, afterall?) but what I didn’t do (which admittedly would have been rather cynical) was check the tone of the competition. If I had have done I would have seen pretty pictures of paint smeared tables bearing captions such as “A messy home is a creative home.” which had received the NOTHS seal of approval of being requested for their online gallery. If I’d have checked I probably wouldn’t have posted this:

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This poo marked the start of a habit of alfresco pooing that lasted the whole of last summer. My daughter decided that she would not poo in a toilet, or in the potette when out and about. I resorted to letting her squat in the street and then I’d scoop it up afterwards with one of the baby’s nappies. Oh the shame. ‪#‎maverickmum‬ ‪#‎pooperscooper‬ ‪#‎disgustingbuttrue‬ I photographed many of them. I will wreak my revenge. ‪#‎18thbirthdayparty‬

I still think this is pretty maverick, but it is a fairly typical example of how I’ve lived my life quite often just ever so slightly misjudging the tone of an occasion.

So, all in all, I’ve decided that I’m probably just not Insta-cool. I will admit that this has played on my mind over the last few weeks but I’m now coming to terms with it. It doesn’t mean I can’t paddle on the edge of the cool gang’s puddle by liking their images and posting the odd comment, but it does mean that every now and again I have to have a strong word with myself about the fact that they are probably not that Insta-cool either – it’s just that they are better at moving shit out of shot 😉