Democrazy

How did you vote anyway? asked a casual acquaintance in small talk at school pick up recently. Whether it’s Brexit or the General election, whether you’re commenting on the ongoing Presidential race, or who’s going to draw the (increasingly) short straw of running this country come Autumn, there’s a lot of reading to do if you want to keep up with the volatile political discussion at the water cooler nowadays.

Google published information last week that showed a lot of voters in the EU referendum actually didn’t know what they were voting for when they ticked their little box of choice. While this information was taken to mean that people voted Leave while uninformed about the facts, I suppose it’s just as likely that people voted Remain with as much ignorance. But what’s new? People make ill thought out decisions and vote selfishly all the time. People are erratic and thoughtless and don’t have all the facts when they exercise their right to vote. That was true at the beginning of the 17th century when government elections as we know them first began, and it hasn’t changed. Some people vote because that’s how their parents have always voted, others may skim a biased article on the way home from work one day, and some people read up everything there is to know about the subject and make their own entirely subjective choice anyway. Hey, that’s democracy.

It’s been a political few weeks, and there’s a lot to talk about. But as far as I’m aware, no one has taken away our right to a secret ballot. So what’s new, in answer to my own question?  I think a large part of it is social media. Unlike our parents in the last referendum on the topic, I could tell you how the majority of my friends voted on Brexit, and which party they align themselves with politically in the UK, because most of them shout really loudly about it. They produce long statuses and blog entries entreating everyone to understand their reasons for voting, and then often get pretty angry if the results don’t go their way. I’ve seen a lot of abuse towards ‘Brexiters’ this month, and it’s made me a little bit ashamed of the way our generation discusses politics. I’m pretty sure asking who you voted for used to be kind of on par with asking which sexual position was your favourite, but the stigma is well and truly gone. If I don’t want to answer, I’m giving a de facto answer by omission, and must be a ‘raving Tory’ or a ‘Left wing nutcase’ depending on the matter at hand and what the loudest opinion of the time is.

And I’m torn about it. On the one hand, I’m probably far more knowledgeable than I would be otherwise. On the scale of informed voters, I’d put myself somewhere in the middle. I read what people share, I look for unbiased advice (if there is any such thing) but I do sometimes find myself apologising in the middle of political debate that I don’t know the exact facts or I don’t have a specific example to give. If I didn’t know that I was going to have to defend myself at every turn, if our vote was as anonymous as it was a generation or two ago, I probably wouldn’t think so hard about my reasons for my political allegiances and choices. So that’s good right? More informed equals a fairer society, better decision making, more accountability for the powers that be. In theory anyway.

But even setting aside the fact that in this recent referendum we don’t seem to have managed any of the above, isn’t a person entitled to their ignorant vote? As it stands, we aren’t being forced to pass a mini political quiz before we are allowed into the voting booth. Even the earliest democratic elections in Greece had nothing to do with how much you knew about the topic, and were based on who your parents were and if you had a penis. If I decide that I don’t want to research anything, I want to copy a friend, ask my grandparents, flip a coin… that’s my democratic right. Don’t get me wrong, it can certainly be frustrating to watch, especially in a time where so much information is at our fingertips if we want to be educated. But isn’t it what countless minorities fought for? The ability to vote without having to justify yourself, without fear of judgement, and without having to fit into a specific box of gender, race, or level of education.

Especially in a public vote where we aren’t given the opportunity to abstain, and no one really knows the consequence of either decision, aren’t we all just choosing one set of problems over another? I’m not sure why anyone should have to justify how he or she makes that judgement call. And they certainly shouldn’t be nervous of abuse ‘from the losing team’ if they come out on top.

If you have a problem with those who were found googling the EU after the vote itself was dead and buried, if you take issue with people voting selfishly, ignorantly, or for mundane reasons, and if you’re one of the people who is debating the results to death with every person who differs in opinion to you, you don’t have a problem with the referendum results; you have a problem with democracy itself.

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The Last Time

There’s a lot of emotional stuff going around the internet about how you never know [insert event here] is going to be the last time until it’s the last time. You never know it’s going to be your last kiss with someone, or the last time your baby falls asleep on you, or the last time you tell someone you love them, until you realise you can’t do it anymore.

I recently had a last fight with a friend. I didn’t know it was the last fight. I didn’t even know it was a fight at all until we were right in the middle of it. I hadn’t planned it, and I’m not sure they had either. It wasn’t one of those fights where it brews for ages and then finally someone has to say something and it’s taken badly and it escalates. No no. It was more like, here we are having a conversation via WhatsApp, and oh you seem to be getting upset and I’m not sure why, and now suddenly you’re telling me you’re in floods of tears and oh okay,  now I haven’t heard from you in 3 months and we aren’t friends anymore. Haven’t we all had those? No? Not normal? Oh.

Regardless of whether you’re worth working it out for or if the death knell is ringing on your relationship, isn’t there a kind of friend etiquette that means you have to have a post-fight conversation?
I understand the Fadeaway. I’ve watched Garfunkel and Oates. I’m not talking about that. We’re not having a discussion about a brief friendship or a new relationship where it’s kind of awkward to say it out loud but they’re just not that into you. We’re talking about the better part of a decade here. Plenty of meals at each others homes. Cuddling each others kids. Long breaks and then picking up where we left off. Y’know. Friendship. And now… nothing. No final message which says why they want to take some space. No euphemistic let down about why their life is so crazy right now and how it’s not me, it’s them. Not even an angry outburst that I deserve to lose their friendship due to all my terrible character flaws. I can’t get in touch when I hear good news, I can’t thank them for all the times they’ve been a most excellent friend and neighbour, and I can’t turn to them if either of us are in need.

It’s kind of… insufficient.

I know what you’re thinking. Maybe I should make the first move! They’re probably embarassed. It’s been a while now, no contact, they aren’t sure what to do. Let me stop you right there. The first move has been made. I’ve sent multiple messages, via WhatsApp, Facebook, even tried calling on that old fashioned medium called the telephone. Christ I even got in touch with their spouse in the hopes that they just hasn’t checked their own phone in a few days or perhaps seven weeks. Short of turn up unwanted on the doorstep, I’m not sure what else I can do.

The one or two people (everyone who will listen) I’ve casually (obsessively) mentioned it to all say the same thing. Not worth it. Get over it. Move on, they obviously aren’t going to get in touch. And they’re right. I’m clearly not going to get any understanding of why this seemingly quite trivial argument signalled the end of our relationship. And I can’t work out whether expecting some kind of closure is my admittedly often sky-high expectations, or completely understandable. I don’t want to fight, I just don’t want to pretend we’ve never heard each other’s names, or that 8 years of friendship can dissipate without gratitude or feelings on the matter.

Maybe it’s a symptom of this over-sharing thing I’ve got going on, but I would say there’s enough ‘last times’ we aren’t going to get to enjoy as it is. If you know the door is closing on our relationship, give me a quick wave through the window as you disappear and give me a chance to say goodbye, and thank you, too.

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Letting It In, and Shutting It Out

I’m a natural talker. An open book you might say. As I recently read (and stole) from Lena Dunham “I have a tendency to overshare”. Sit down with me for five or ten minutes and you’ll probably know my kids names, my labour stories, my gynaecological issues and the latest argument I’ve had with my mother. Ply me with coffee and cake and I’ll probably give you my internet banking details and let you know where we hide the family diamonds too.

I love to talk. And in sheer yin yang synchronicity, I hate keeping stuff in. Feelings are made to be felt, or we would call them ignorings. (Sorry, I won’t do that again.) I don’t try to push them down, I never apologize for crying, (except at the dentist) and I do my best to never let a problem go unspoken about for too long.

Most of the time, this works out pretty well for me. I surround myself with people who love to talk as much as I do, and who love the amazing moment in a confrontation where you see where the other person is coming from, where you understand something you didnt realise before, and where you get a little closer to one another as a result of the conversation. Most of the time I find a little more of myself along the way too.

But some situations can’t be talked to the other side of.

About three years ago, I had an extremely hard summer. My late father would have turned 70 that June, and the roundness of the number among other things made me feel drowned in grief. Not drowning, not fighting for air, not using my last vestiges of energy to wave and shout and grab attention from someone who could save me, but drowned. Lost already, floating face down and unable to even want help let alone ask for it. I walked around on autopilot, struggling to breathe through the feelings which rose like ice cold water in my lungs and throat.

Eventually, after about 3 months, realising I was being neither wife, nor mother nor friend, nor myself, I called Someone. I am blessed to have 2 or 3 Someones, grown ups who I would still be a lost 15 year old without. But this particular Someone has dealt with their own share of tremendous grief from a young age, and built for themselves a life to be envious of despite it. This Someone is a talker too. An expert in communication, quite literally. They lecture about it, counsel others in how to manage it more effectively, champion talking as the vital ingredient to both a happy marriage and good relationships. I was sure they could help, and they did.

What was the secret I was looking for? How could I deal with the feelings of loss and anger and resentment and just sheer missing? How could I get out of bed every day with the weight of loneliness pressing down on my heart?

Don’t let yourself feel it

I think it was the only advice that could work for me at that point. When you feel it coming in, that great wave of sadness and feeling, just say… No thank you, and push it away.  Maybe it appears at first to you like the terrible advice given to everyone’s favourite Ice Queen. It certainly did to me. I felt like a failiure, like a fraud. What? Just ignore the problem completely? Push down the feelings? That’s just not me. But as time passed, I began to wonder.

Grief comes in some great costumes. Some of them are safe, and others are not. Grief can be nostalgic or funny, or it can appear as a memory you didn’t know you had which makes you smile. Often it’s tears and hugs with loved ones you still have on Earth. Once in a while it’s seeing a lost parents exact expression appear on your own child’s cheeky face. It can even be early nights and the promise of a better day tomorrow. And sometimes…sometimes it’s so overwhelmingly sad that you want to give everything else up just to not feel it any more.

Grief isn’t like other feelings. It changes. And when it’s bad and angry and violent, it can’t be talked through. No one can explain it to you. And there isn’t anyone to confront who can give you any reasons or explanations. There’s no one to feel closer to once you’ve got all your anger out, because there isn’t anyone to respond, and even if there was, there aren’t any answers to give. There’s so little to actually know, that you can’t help but feel further and further away the more you explore it. So opening yourself up to that feeling by swimming further out into those deep waters, is often a surefire way to lose yourself entirely.

This weekend my father would have turned 73, and this summer marks another round number, the 10 year anniversary of his death. This is not a time of nostalgic tears or sad smiles. These are not the calm water of memories which I’m dipping my toes into.  I can feel the violent waves swirling around my ankles, threatening my balance, sharp stings of ice cold salt spraying me from time to time, grapsing for my attention, a very real danger refusing to be ignored.

But this time I’m shouting. I’m waving and thrashing and using the little energy I can find to focus on being wife and mother and friend and myself. I’m fighting every instinct I have to talk and wallow myself deeper into the foam. I’m turning my back on my grief for now, pushing it away while it’s too dangerous to submit to. I’m walking back, towards the shore.

A Grumble on Gratitude

I was at dinner recently when the topic of holding grudges came up. The conversation turned to that certain type of person, be it your great aunt Edna or your Dad’s friend Jim, who pretty much as soon as they’ve mailed the cheque or handed over the gift are tapping their foot impatiently for a grateful call of acknowledgement or a card displaying your thanks.

“Oh don’t get me started!” exclaimed the woman opposite me, sitting next to her husband and nudging him in shared understanding. “My mother is still upset with us for not sending out any thank-you cards after our wedding!”

I opened my mouth. Then I shut it again. I didn’t know this couple. This was the first (and likely last) time I have ever met them. This was completely, and totally, NOT my business.

I opened it again.

“Sorry. You didn’t send out ANY thank-you cards for gifts you recieved for your wedding?”

She looked at me, probably puzzled as to why it was any of my business (it wasn’t) and launched into explaination. We got married really quickly, we were moving abroad the week after the wedding, we were so incredibly busy, we didn’t have a list of who had sent what, people don’t care about thank you cards… 

I asked her if they had registered at a store, and she said yes. I commented mildly that there was probably an online list of the people who had sent gifts and what they had sent, so she could start from there.Worst came to worst they could use their invite list and send out a mass email with an apology and a heartfelt thank you for attendance and gifts recieved. I was then really really going to move on to another topic at that point, I promise. I really was. But then she answered with this.

Ok, well most of the stuff is in my moms house in America so I don’t even use it, and it’s not like I can send an email out now three years later. 

This time I didn’t have time to think. “Three years?! It’s been three years since your wedding and you havent said thank you to anyone?”

“I told you, we didn’t have a list. What were we supposed to do, write a list and then add to it every person who gave us a cheque on the day and spend that last week before we moved abroad scribbling thank yous? We didnt have time for that.”

I couldn’t help myself. “Did you manage to find time to bank the cheques?”

In her defence she looked sheepish. There was a lot more I could have said, but there wasn’t that much point. Her basic argument was that people understand that we’re all busy and that thank you cards are archaic and no one cares about getting them. I didn’t need to have an argument with her on those lines because I agree entirely.

Wait, what?

You heard me. I agree. I would happily never recieve another thank you card again. If anything, I feel bad throwing away photos of you and your new hubby, or those adorable ones of your kids where you pretend they can write their own note to say cheers for the onesie. They are archaic, and we are all far too busy to write them.

But someone, somewhere, went out of their way for you. They went out (or ordered online) chose (or asked their wife to choose) wrapped (or put in a bag) a gift which you either directly asked for on a registry, or they thought you would like. Let’s stick to weddings here for simplicity’s sake. This person shared in your happiness, and wanted to help you start your life together. How can you be so incredibly spoiled and selfish that you don’t want to stop and say a quick thanks. How many gifts can you possibly be recieving that you can’t drop people a quick note and say that you appreciate it? And why ask for gifts at all if you don’t need them and they’re all sitting in your moms attic?

I say that thank you cards are archaic, and I stand by that. I believe that an email, phone call or even text can do the job just as well in 2016. But listening to this couple, it felt to me that they had labelled the act of gratitude as outdated and unnecessary, rather than simply the medium of pen and paper. It seemed like they had been so inundated by generosity that they couldn’t recognise it any more let alone appreciate it.

Here’s the personal bit. When we got married, almost 8 years ago, we didn’t invite a lot of people. It was a struggle to find 100 representatives from our famillies and friends. We were early to get married which limited the plus ones, and the three parents we had between us are hardly what you would call socialites. We made a modest registry, and it didn’t get cleared. But  I remember so palpably the feeling of wonder every time I logged on and saw that someone had spent their hard-earned money to give us something to start our lives together. And I would say that after the best part of a decade I could probably tell you well over 50% of who bought us what. I think about you, when I use our iron or our fancy towels. When we take out the cheese toastie maker or when we play monopoly or rummikub. When I look at those ridiculously heavy le creuset casserole dishes that I really might use one day. You helped us build our life together, before we had the tools to do it ourselves. I said it eight years ago, and I’ll say it again now whether you’re reading or not. Thank you.

Listening to this couple who I will likely never see again, I felt like a different species altogether. Yes, I think both Great-Aunt Edna and Jim are awful. Let’s feel sorry for them, they probably don’t have a great deal else in their lives aside from keeping tabs on the gifts which have left their possession. But as well as awful, they are besides the point. To me at least, thank you cards have almost nothing to do with the person they are addressed to, and far more about the writer who sends them. I couldn’t care less if I never recieve another thank you card as long as I live. But I’m damn well going to teach my kids to keep on sending them.

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Why Don’t You Tell Me How You Really Feel About it?

In the age of crowdsourcing, political retweeting and public lobbying for change, it’s only a matter of time before the important issues reach the right ears. Mr Zuckerberg heard us ask for a ‘dislike’ button as the only possible solution to the very real difficulties we all face daily as users of Facebook… knowing exactly how to respond to a casual acquaintance who is vocally suffering from a mild illness.
Oooh I can’t possibly click ‘like’ or he may think I like the fact that he isn’t well. But it would be rude to just scroll on by without making some kind of acknowledgement, and yet we aren’t really friendly enough for me to actually write a heartfelt response, plus 17 other people have already written “wish you better xxx” underneath and I wouldn’t want to lack originality… oh what is the correct etiquette here….

In response to the most first world problem imaginable, our dear old friend Mark has provided a solution which is kind of like that aunt you have who offers 17 types of herbal tea when what you really fancy is a black coffee. Sure it’s hot and wet, but it’s overkill, it’s stressful, and it really wasn’t what you wanted in the first place.

Let’s deal with the up sides first. We don’t have to read the most overused comments known to social media anymore, which include “Can I love this?” and a like followed by, “Well, not really ‘like’ but you know! LOL” (We get it, you’re not really happy that Jason’s dog died, your status as a normal empathetic human who doesn’t hate animals is intact.)
Unfortunately we are still left to deal with “Can I like this twice?” and “MASSIVE like!” Maybe in the next update eh? *fingers crossed*

It’s the emotions which the new er… emotions bring up which have got me in a bit of a tizzy. Firstly, there’s the sheer excitement of the new language. Joseph has REACTED to your post. I mean that is not a notification anyone is going to ignore easily. I caused a REACTION with my recipe for Spanish omelette on the Quick and Easy Weeknight Suppers group, oh my goodness what do you think it might have been? Does Joseph Love it? Is he Angry because actually it isn’t that Quick and Easy? Is he Crying from chopping all those onions I tweaked the recipe to include? Is he Shocked that it’s Paleo?* I don’t know, but I can’t WAIT to find out.

Then there’s the insecurity. The photo of my daughter I put up last week before the new reactions arrived got 22 likes and I never stopped to question to what extent those people liked her. This weeks has 23 likes and 3 loves. And suddenly… Oh.
Don’t the other 23 of you Love her? Don’t you Love how I specially found a flower which matches the dress so perfectly? Do you only Like the adorable curls she has inherited from me (every day without her fathers’ hair is a victory in my book) and that tiny little toothy smile she uses to make hearts melt? What’s wrong with all of you anyway?
I see you reacted with Shock to the photo of me baking biscuits with the kids last week. What’s that about? What exactly are you Shocked about, that I do entertaining and resourceful activities with my children, do I not seem like the type? Or was it because you can see the bag of white sugar on the countertop and you are aghast I didn’t run out to grab some silan.**

Stop me if I’m reading too much into this, (#toolate) but has anyone noticed a sense of rivalry on their statuses since it all began, too? I can’t be the only one who has family and friends vying for the right reactions to any given announcement.
Oh really, you Like that our sister has started her new job? Look who’s about to win brother of the year… Love.
Poor old Dad, you’re Shocked that the landlord won’t replace the boiler at Auntie Sara’s? Not me, I spoke to her last night, and can just be knowingly Angry on her behalf.
I see that a bunch of people have written ‘lol’, but nothing says I think you’re hilarious like Crying with laughter. Winner.

All in all, Facebook has become an emotional rollercoaster of similar proportions to a phone call with my mother. Dangerous and only to be attempted when I’m in a good mood, outside of overly hormonal times of month and when I’m sure I can handle a few bumps to my self-esteem.
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*Disclaimer: I don’t know what Paleo actually means (or how to pronounce it) so I have no idea whatsoever if a Spanish omelette can aspire to be such a thing or not in Real Life.
** Ditto.

The Usual Suspects of the Buy/Sell Groups

Social media has opened up all kinds of new ways to communicate with absolute strangers, and there are some real characters out there. While I’ve written before about the mums forums, I’ve recently become active on the selling groups, and the personalities I’ve found… they’re certainly worth a post all to themselves.

1. Embarassing Haggler

As buyers, we all love a bargain. And as sellers, we’re all just hoping to get rid of some clutter quickly and easily, and preferably without needing to get out of pyjamas. No one minds if you ask for a bit of a discount, but come on folks, try not to take the mick.

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2. Cant Take a Hint Seller 

Boy Facebook is in for a treat today. This guy has something they’ve found in a cupboard unused, and is willing to sell it on at an amazingly reasonable price! Some lucky individual is going to be benefitting from what is now completely useless to them.

But wait, what’s this? It’s been up on the group for 45 minutes already and no one has commented. Just bump it, I’m sure you just chose an awkward time for people. Hmm… Ok, try reducing the price. Maybe people want pics? This is strange. It’s SUCH a bargain! Oh wait, that’s it- people probably think it’s gone already. Three letters, S…F…S. That’s bound to do the trick.

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3. Time Waster

Have you ever actually bought or sold anything Time Waster? Or are you just here for the show, and to ask annoying questions? Do you enjoy being on the cusp of a purchase so much that you do this in bricks and mortar stores too, stand in line at checkout and then have a sudden change of heart while you’re reaching for your wallet?

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4. The Difficult Customer

Some people seem to think that the buy and sell group is the equivalent to Argos online, appearing on the group with what may as well be a product number to search for. Filled with details about what they’re looking for, they’re rarely pleased and could benefit from a a point in the direction of Amazon.

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5.  Junk Seller

Not every item needs to be brand new with tags, and we all know the expression “one mans trash is another mans treasure”. However sometimes, if it looks like rubbish it’s probably exactly that. The chances of someone else wanting your daughters’ used trainers? Pretty slim. The likelihood of a rush of volunteers to come and pick up your almost finished Berry Cherry lipgloss? Nil.

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Any firm favourites I’ve missed? Let me know in the comments! 

One Day I Will…

We look to our mothers. As women, I mean. We look to our mothers to see what being a woman is all about, what’s going to happen when we grow up, what our place in the world might one day look like. Little girls with too big handbags on one shoulder, a playphone tucked under our ears as we stir fake soup on a tiny version of the kitchen we beg for treats in. We take everything in, and learn silently how to hold ourselves, how to talk and argue back and reason and pick our battles. How to care and nurture and go out to work and build a home.

But what happens if what we’re looking at is intrinsically flawed? If that formative relationship is poisonous instead of restorative? You want to find a life-long partnership and your mother insists on being hopelessly alone. You want to create a career which you love, but your mother never loved a thing in her life. You can’t imagine a future where your children don’t mean everything to you, but your mother doesn’t know the first thing about you or your siblings. Who should you look to then?

I don’t know about you, but I look to my daughter. This week is Mothers Day, and International Womens Day too. So many people seem to feel that they can’t be feminists, or worse still, that they are somehow ‘bad’ feminists because their main focus is on being a mother. Whether you choose to work at home or out, have kids or not, wear red lipstick and thigh high boots or dungarees and army boots, I wish more women understood that simply to support each others choices and freedoms is to be a feminist.

“My mother taught me…” “My mother showed me..” I won’t pretend I don’t envy the strong and smart women around me who have been given their confidence in feminism as an inheritance. Passed down, from one generation to the next. My feminism is uglier than that, more awkward, self-made. But there’s something pretty special about that too. I’m creating something brand new, something I never had. I was told quite plainly by the woman who should have made me feel invincible, that “It’s only natural to love your sons more than you love your daughters.” So how could I help but feel somehow inferior? Almost.. unwanted.

And yet, this year on Mothers Day, and this year on International Womens Day, for the first time I have a daughter of my own. A daughter I love so much I sometimes think I might squish her little face off. A daughter I want to inherit not just my feminism, but the whole wide world too. A daughter who I want to feel invincible.

So I look to her. I look to her despite my gaze being dragged towards the past more often than I’d like. I look back to her every time I forget that I’m not inferior. I look to her to decide what my place in the world should look like, what being a woman should be all about. I look to her so that ‘One Day I Will’ see her looking back at me.

 

 

 

Why I Didn’t Let My Son Wear an Elsa Dress to School

It’s hard to believe it, but my son is now 5 years old. He loves to play, and his favourite games are imaginative. “Let’s be Octonauts” he will declare on the way to school.  “I’ll be Captain Barnacles, you be a Lemon Shark.”  Bathtime consits of repeatedly drowning Sir Topham Hatt (AKA Fat Controller) with cups of water as he heads off to Tidmouth Sheds.  At any time of day, our playroom could be a shopfront, (“Hang on” my son scratches his chin “We may have some in the back. Do you have a clubcard?”) the set of Masterchef, (“I like all the colours you’ve put on the plate Daddy, but sorry-you’re going home.”) or a dentists office. (They’re all rotten, but never mind, I’ll just take them out. You probably wont be able to eat anymore.” ) 

As you can imagine, he loves dress up, and he has an inclination towards the sparkles. Unfortunately, our society doesn’t provide for boys who want a bit more flair than a Darth Vader costume can provide, so when we’re out and about at friend’s houses and he pulls out a Cinderella dress or a ladybird costume from the dressing up box, I’ve always been pretty chilled about letting him explore his theatrical side. Take a moment to look around the Disney store next time you’re in there. At last count, I could see 22 different types of princess dresses and not one prince outfit. My son could be Olaf, Luke Skywalker, or a Pirate. (White, brown or more brown.) I wouldn’t be too impressed with that selection either. So when R asked me for an Elsa dress of his own this year, we only had to pause for a moment before we added it to his make believe collection.

And then we got the following invitation from school.

“As a class treat, the Reception children have voted for a dressing up party on Friday.  Could you please send in a dressing up outfit for your child.”

And he cocked his head to one side and asked quietly, “I can’t take Elsa… can I?” 

Oh.

Anyone who knows me knows that I take real exception to gendered toys of any kind. Play is play. Make believe is make believe. And if a girl can be a fireman without a raised eyebrow in sight, my son can be the prettiest, sparkliest princess in the room. You better believe I have all the pithiest, wittiest, scathingest replies necessary if you dare to tell me that my son can’t skip around your garden in your daughters Sleeping Beauty outfit.

But at school? Without me there to give him a reassuring nod and smile when the classroom assistant automatically smiles in surprise on instinct as he walks in? What if he doesn’t remember to say “there’s no such thing as boys toys and girls toys” in response to one of his peers saying “that’s for girls”? What if a child in his class says “You’re not a princess” and he’s too embarassed to remember to say “I know- and you’re not Spiderman either”?
And worst of all, what if he doesn’t realise what he’s asking?
At home, or out with me or C, he feels completely safe to express himself in any way he chooses. If he was ten or eleven years old and he wanted to wear a dress to school in play (or even not in play) then it may take some getting used to, but I wouldn’t be worried about being supportive. If my teen goes to school in sparkles and high heels, he knows what he’s letting himself in for, and has all the information in his arsenal to make that choice for himself. But at five, does he really know what he’s asking? As an introduction to ‘kids can be mean’, letting him walk in front of the firing squad without a warning, and risking him feeling embarrassed and unprepared….

Dear reader, I agonised.

I asked my husband, I asked my best friends, I asked his teachers and then I asked my  best friends again. And while I got a wealth of opinions when I broached the question, nearly everyone pursed their lips and and looked just as agonised as I felt. How I wish someone had been confused and asked me what I was worried about. But that’s not the world we live in, not yet anyway.
As a proud feminist I wanted to be able to say “Of course you can be Elsa!” As a proud parent I wanted to be able to say “You wear whatever makes you happy”. The reasons why I ultimately steered him away from that choice, out of fear that well-intentioned people would be mean, or that he would lose some trust in me if he ended up in tears, don’t make me feel proud to be either.

I did realise one important thing though. R doesn’t care about the world we live in. He isn’t looking to make a stand for gender equality, he isn’t trying to push boundaries. The kid just wants to wear a sparkly dress. He doesn’t need to face even the risk of a ruined day because his parents believe in giving him the gift of being anything he wants. He has plenty of time to be anything he wants, and if we can give him another year or two before he learns that kids (and indeed grown ups) can be mean, well thats a special gift too.

My little Gingerbread Man came out of school that day full of stories and excitement, the grin on his face the only thing more edible than the candy buttons on his outfit. And while the little voice inside me wonders if I made the right choice, it’s overwhemingly silenced by the feeling that my Elsa wouldn’t have come out anywhere near as happy. Can you tell me that I’m wrong?

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Wobbly Wednesday 2015

My eyes never stop moving.

That’s not a clever way of saying I spot everything (quite the opposite actually) or that I’m constantly busy (ditto), it’s just a statement of fact. it sounds like a small thing, eyes which jerk or swing from side to side, the way mine and my R have done since we began to see, but as a member of the Nystagmus Network, named after the condition we both have, I see so many questions daily, so many confused parents and worried adults, people who have to work just as hard as their eyes do to get on with a normal day, that when Wobbly Wednesday (a day to spread awareness for Nystagmus) rolls around, I can’t help but jump on the bandwagon.

Spreading awareness is a funny thing. Especially in a blog form. While my closest friends probably know more about Nystagmus than the average person who has the condition themselves, I can ply them with lattes and croissants, and distract them with questions about themselves interjected into an otherwise self-centred conversation about my life and my child and my fears, y’know, to make them think the conversation is two sided.

I can’t do that anywhere near as effectively on a blog. I probably have only about 3 more minutes of your attention span before you realise the jokes are drying up and click through to something about Kanye West. So I’ll try for a top 3.

Top 3 things I wish you knew about Nystagmus

  1. My glasses don’t mean I can see as well as you, any more than a walking stick turns an arthritic into a cross country athlete. I wear glasses, and so does my son. They support us, help the development of the eyes, and in my case-improve my vision where short-sightedness is involved. But Nystagmus means our vision is poor, with or without our specs. In R’s case, it means he is registered partially sighted. No amount of “lens 1, or 2? better with? or without?” will make a difference to that.
  2. We’re so tired. The simplest way of explaining it is that our brains have to work a lot harder to produce a still image for us to understand what’s going on around us. It’s an extra step in processing information, in seeing what someone is showing us, in reading a book, in playing a game. New settings are particularly difficult. It can be frustrating (especially if you’re five), it’s always exhausting, and often when I’ve been to a new place for the day, my eyes physically hurt by about 4pm.
  3. I just can’t see that. Whatever it is that you’re pointing to on your computer screen, yes even if it’s font 18. The faces of the people on stage, yes even from the front row. That sign out of the car window, yes even if you slow down. The detail in that drawing, yes even if I hold it closer to my face. Your face in the sunlight, yes even when it isn’t hot ouside. Who you are when you drive past me in the street, yes even if you beep and wave.

Next week, my R is having an eye surgery to help with some of the symptoms of his Nystagmus, in particular his head tilt, (adorable though it may be.) We are nervous about the operation as any parents would be, but we are also indebted to the UK Nystagmus Network and the Barnet VI team for being not only a font of knowledge, but also a community of kind listeners and intelligent answers and support. There is no cure for Nystagmus, but people like the ones we’ve come across not only never stop tirelessly looking for answers, but also help us get on with our daily lives so effectively that we have to suffer through people insisting there’s nothing wrong with us in the first place. A great testament to their hard work.

Lastly, I don’t run marathons, I don’t do sponsored mountain climbs, but I do write things down.

If you enjoy my writing, if you’re one of the people who stops me in the street and says “Hey, you haven’t blogged in ages”, please consider texting WWNN15 followed by any amount at all to 70070 to donate to Nystagmus Network.

Wobbly Wednesday

The Formula for a Happy Baby

I took a bus ride today with my daughter. She is 11 weeks old. About five minutes into the bus journey a woman sat down adjacent to my seat, and smiled at my baby girl. “What a pretty baby” she commented. “She looks so happy and healthy.” I thanked her, and smiled in return, and then checked the time so that as all mothers of new babies do, I could begin the arithmetic we all spend the first few months working out. How many hours since the last feed, how long the most recent nap was, when you want the baby to settle later than night, and all the other futile calculations that our newborns ignore and do whatever they fancy regardless of.
I mentally calculated that it made sense to offer her some milk, and I put her back in the buggy and reached for my nappy bag. I took out a muslin and placed it over my shoulder. I unscrewed a bottle of sterile water, and reached for my nifty formula holder thingie which allows me to measure out an exact feed and take it with me for the day. I mixed the powder into the water, gave it a shake, and reached for my little girl.

“Oh,” the woman commented with a sad shake of her head. “What a shame to give something so processed and fake to her when she’s so tiny and innocent.”

Now don’t get me wrong here. I have a lot of opinions on breastfeeding, and nearly all of them are wholeheartedly pro. I believe Breast is Best. I believe that it’s a huge failure of the media and an important feminist issue that so many teenagers and even adults believe that breasts are solely for sex rather than feeding our children, I even agree with the ban on discounting formula and I have no bad feelings towards the many NHS hospitals who do not provide it on the post-labour wards.

I do not however, believe that it has magical properties which raise my children’s IQ, or stop them from becoming obese. I don’t think my breast milk will imbue them with a great work ethic or even protect them from allergies and intolerances. Most of all, while I believe that it is an amazing start for your baby if you can do it, I don’t believe it’s the right choice for everyone. And dear stranger, until my offspring is looking far less than ‘happy and healthy’ than you yourself just noted, I certainly don’t believe it is any of your damn business what choice I make and why.

I won’t bore you with my own journey, as we all have different reasons for how we choose to feed our children, and as I recently said about career choices, we only have our own families to answer to. I do however have something to say to the woman on the bus, and anyone else who thinks I or they should be ashamed of the processed nature of the food we give our ‘innocent’ children.

You aint’ seen nothing yet.

If you’re looking for something for me to be ashamed of, come round at 3am, when I tell my baby to shut the hell up when she’s been awake for 3 hours straight for no apparent reason, and then stay to hear my 4 year old repeat it to his Thomas the Tank Engine the following day. Pop by at 5am when I forcibly drag him back into his bedroom and threaten to take away everything he owns if he doesn’t leave me alone until 7. Watch me take lazy mornings off from being the mummy of a new baby to chat to old friends and continually replace the dummy in my daughters mouth rather than interact. Peek through my living room window on the days where I just simply cant be bothered to entertain my son and he has about 4 hours of unadulterated iPad time on the sofa, or when I look at my watch, notice that I’ve missed supper time, swear loudly and announce “Cereal for dinner!” to his great joy.

I could keep going, because like all parents, I have tons that I could label a ‘shame.’ Enough to keep me up at night if I suddenly decide I’m looking to self-flagellate. But reaching for the formula container by choice or by necessity, ensuring that my child is gaining weight, is well fed and happy, simply isn’t on the list.

'Does it come in soy lite?'