Don’t Fence Me In

“Everytime I see that daughter of yours, I’m reminded of the amazing playpen I used for my three kids.” 

My son has always had a really long concentration span. He started moving at about 14 months, and by that time he could sit and listen to a whole pile of books, or enjoy a shape sorter or a push button toy for 15 minutes at a time. He didn’t get easily distracted, and if you put him somewhere, he generally stayed there.

My daughter is now nearly 2, and if I tell you that a tornado would be a more friendly house guest, you might get some idea of the havoc she can cause. Shelves are for climbing, toys are for throwing, electronics are for biting. She can also sense a cupboard being opened from the other side of the house with the help of her spidey senses.

I’m not here to debate the merits of playpens. For some, they might be lifesavers. If you have more than one small child at home at a time. If you have work you need to be able to focus on at a moments notice. If your home is a rental and you’re unable to babyproof the really dangerous parts like stairs or wires. If you’re that selfish kind of parent who likes to pee alone. (How very dare you.)

Some people will say they teach firm boundaries. Other people find that their kids are even wilder once they are on the other side of them. All I know is, I don’t have one. And personally, I don’t want one. They seem a little too cage like for me, and it’s never been something I needed. While I know our parents generation will often sing their praises from the rooftops, I think I’m a little too ‘generation babywearing’ to see the benefits.

Anyway, my work is flexible and I only have M at home most days.  (Plus, she keeps finding things that I’ve lost, which would never happen if she were restricted to just one area.)

But seriously though, your comment bugged me.

My daughter has an unquenchable curiosity for absolutely everything. Whatever it is, she wants to touch it, hold it, yank it into pieces, devour it whole. While you used to call R a ‘good boy’ for ‘sitting so nicely’, M’s personality somehow means she needs walls, boundaries, reins. It’s as if her insatiable appetite for learning about the world needs to be tempered and calmed.

There’s safety, of course there is, but then there’s also just diminishing her personality.

I want to give her as much freedom as I possibly can. I want to be able to say ‘Yes’ as often as possible. What parent doesn’t? When we’re out the house, in the land of roads and cars and other people’s best china, I sometimes feel like the only word I say is no. I spend what feels like every minute lifting her onto my hip and away from cigarette butts or the long distance calls she seems desperate to make from other humans landlines.

When we walk back into our home, I breathe a sigh of relief that I can say yes, or turn a blind eye. That she can be free to explore and play without those words ringing in her ears. Stop. No. Wait.

So there are eggshells and sometimes lego men in my meatballs because she ‘helped’ me make them. The DVDs are never on the DVD rack anymore, let alone in their original alphabetized categories.. There are tiny bite marks in most of the candles in the one non-babyproofed bathroom cupboard. I regularly find jewellery in the toilet. And I’m pretty sure I’ve lost about 4 sets of keys and a whole lot of perfectly fresh fruit to the kitchen bin.

And you’re right, none of this would have happened if I had your “amazing playpen”.

But honestly? That makes me want it even less.

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5 Ingredients to Tempt the Pickiest Toddlers

Somewhere between the ages of 1 and 2, you may begin to notice a startling and unexpected developmental stage appearing in your baby. An opinion. While they used to allow you to shovel in any old food all whizzed up in a blender or mashed up with a fork, suddenly they are pressing their lips tightly shut, shaking their heads firmly and throwing entire bowls of spag bol face down on your beige carpet faster than you can say ‘Here comes the aeroplane!”
Never fear, after extensive research into babies entering toddlerdom everywhere, here is the definitive list of the 5 ingredients a toddler will never turn his nose up at.

  1. Dirt.
    We’ve all been there. You’ve lovingly prepared a plate of chicken and rice but your baby won’t even take the first bite. Don’t take it personally. They probably don’t realise you spent 2 hours roasting vegetables to make your own stock for this recipe which you found by googling ‘simple baby food recipes’. We have the answer. Have you considered dropping it on the floor? No, not there by the high chair where you just vaccumed. Try on the pavement outside your house where that dog from next door usually does his business. If that doesn’t work, wedge it down the side of the car seat and give it a couple of weeks, there’s nothing babies like more than the taste of slow aged fowl.
  2. Danger.
    Babies don’t like boring food. You know the rules, you musn’t season with salt, but apart from that feel free to go wild. If tumeric, paprika and cumin don’t work, have you considered letting your baby choose their own ‘toppings’ from the bathroom cabinet? Drain cleaner, Cillit Bang, washing powder, these are just a few of my own kids favourites. If yours prefers a slightly different texture, try wrapping the food in live wires, or poking it into a plug socket as finger food. Be creative! We’ve had some great success placing meals onto turned on hair straighteners- BBQ style, as well as mixing in those tiny pieces of lego all babies love for some extra crunch. Nom nom nom.
  3. Competition.
    Y’know what tastes awful? Scrambled eggs. Y’know what tastes delicious? A sibling’s scrambled eggs. Bonus here is that the older the sibling is the more bribeable they will be, and the better their acting skills can be honed too. Get them on board with the plan by offering a small bribe like an episode of Peppa Pig or yknow, a five pound note, if they can ‘unwillingly share’ the meal they also wouldn’t usually touch with a barge pole with said younger sibling.
  4. Timing.
    This one works just as well for older kids, and it relies on a simple rule. What tastes like arsenic during the day time, is progressively more delicious the further past seven the hands of the clock go. While the cheese sandwich you offered at 4.30pm was the most offensive thing you could ever dare to do as a parent, the 9.45pm meal of quinoa salad and stuffed aubergine with lentils may as well be a bag of chocolate buttons in its inevitable appeal. In short, when your little darlings are shouting “I’m huuuuungry” mournfully from their beds like they’re prisoners of war, this is the ideal time to offer broccoli.
  5. Privacy.
    If all else fails, wait until they are distracted by something else, such as wiping snot on your freshly folded washing or climbing a bookshelf, and quietly prepare the food out of their line of sight. Tiptoe to your own bedroom and hide in a corner with the bowl hidden completely from view. If you’re not sure what I mean, imagine it’s the last chocolate digestive biscuit and nap time is too far away to fairly expect you to wait for. Toddlers find that kind of silent behaviour just as suspicious as we do in return. They’ll show up, indignant and open mouthed in no time. Finish off the theatre with a stern “No, this is Mummy’s food” before giving in. Fair Warning: This will probably only fool them for one bite, so make it a big one.  

There you have it. No more excuses for kids who won’t eat their veggies. Just make sure the meal is a week old and sprinkled with shards of glass, in a secret location where their sibling is chowing down after 10pm. Simples.

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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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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?'

Is it any of your Business, if it’s Working for me?

I turned on my computer this morning to find links to four separate articles about working versus non working mums on my Facebook newsfeed.

I have no issue with people discussing the topic, after all, it’s a difficult and often heart-wrenching choice for anyone to make, and deserves discussion. This is especially true today, where the costs of childcare often make the financial side of having a career almost irrelevant, and yet the costs of living are so high that every penny counts. This dynamic forces women back into the workforce where they might otherwise choose to stay home, all for the couple of hundred pounds difference between the salary they receive from their employer, and the cheque they hand over to their childcare provider each month.
We also live in a time where taking five or ten years ‘out’ to have kids, often results in the way back ‘in’ being an impossibility. All very well while the kids are at home, but most of us are hoping for another thirty or forty years of more than waiting by the school gates once they’re out of nappies. Feminism is in the spotlight more than ever, and the debate is still raging whether your parenting choices reflect your opinions on equality of the sexes.

Yes, there’s a lot to say on the topic. If you fancy, we can go out for coffee and I can tell you my own story of how I came to work part time. The bits I like, the bits I don’t like so much. The guilt I feel when I ignore my 9 week old for an urgent deadline, the happiness I share with my 4 year old who I am lucky enough to pick up from school every day.

Oh no, sorry. I wasn’t talking to you. I was talking to the organisations and media outlets who want to get up close and personal with me. Who know what’s best for me, my husband, and our children more than I do. The newspapers who have clearly had a quick look at our yearly income and budget and know how much we need to get by. The university lecturers who eavesdrop on me and the hubby in bed at night when we discuss our work/life balance. The research bodies who know how good I am at my job, and how much my kids like or dislike their childminder, who understand without even asking what my plans for the rest of my life are, the personalities of my children, the aspirations of my other half. I am just so glad that they feel like they know me well enough to give me their opinions as scientific fact as to how I live my life.

I’m talking to Harvard University, who for some reason are putting manpower and funding into research that tells us that “the daughters of working mothers enjoy better careers, higher pay and more equal relationships than those raised by stay-at-home mothers.” Well, I’m somewhere in between on the working scale, so my daughter isn’t completely screwed up then, but I’ll be sure to tell all the strong, unselfish women I know who have made the hard choice to stay at home with their kids that their offspring will be minimum wage women in abusive relationships. Cheers Harvard.

I’m talking to the National Childrens Bureau, who have asked “whether ‘outsourcing’ motherhood is the best way to create a healthy society”. Give me a minute while I call all the fantastic women I am proud to know who work both in and out the home, whether it’s to make ends meet, or to be excellent role models for their kids, or simply because they are bloody great at their jobs, and let them know they are contributing to the loss of functional society as we know it.

I was referring to the EU council, who have thrown their two cents in, calling the “number of mothers working part time… a social challenge.” May I just take this moment to apologise to the whole of Europe, for the gall I’ve had to dare to find some work/life balance in our household. I can’t believe I ever thought I had the right to do a job I enjoy, at the same time as attempting being a hands-on parent.

That’s just three examples, all from the month of June, outlawing working mums, stay at home mums, and part time working mums. In one calendar month. Can you just stop to think for one second what an article that suggested that men were “outsourcing fatherhood” would be like? What the reception would be to the suggestion that the sons of stay at home dads are going to be incapable of forming well adjusted relationships or holding down jobs?

I have hardly met a mum in my life who doesn’t carry around some level of guilt for the choices she makes in terms of her career and kids. The ridiculous thing is, it’s clearly a completely personal decision, based on your finances, your family planning, your own goals, or simply how much you enjoy both your job and being with your kids all day!  And yet so many incredible women carry regret or uncertainty, fuelled by the ridiculous media attention and the questions they force on us collectively every time we switch on the computer or open a paper. “Should you wait to have kids? Do you work too much? Is there ever a right time to go back to work? Should you give in to social pressure to find a job?” The list goes on, when the only question any woman needs to ask herself is, “Is this the right choice for my family?”

We’re there already media, we’re judging ourselves right left and centre. We really don’t need your help.

Wobbly Wednesday (or ‘What I Saw Wednesday’)

By far the most common question I get asked when I mention that my son R has a visual impairment, is “How much can he see?” Although it’s an innocent question which seems simple enough, there is no clear answer for a child (or an adult for that matter) with Nystagmus, the condition my son and I were both born with, which causes an involuntary eye movement. While sight will vary from person to person, the far more interesting fact about Nystagmus is that it also varies depending on situation, stress levels, schema and mood. As part of Wobbly Wednesday, I thought I’d write a little about our own ‘out of the box’ visual experiences with R, many of which were just as much a surprise to us at the time, even with my own experience with Nystagmus, and bringing up a VI child.

So here we go.

Five times my son could see less than expected. (Yes, even with his glasses on!)

1. As a baby, it was nearly impossible to tell whether R could see in any given situation, but once in a while it was extremely evident what he couldnt see. One day at a lunch with friends, one of the guests was speaking, and I noticed R crawling towards the radiator, which I knew was on, and hot. Not wanting to be rude and leave the table, I uncovered an extremely sparkly charm bracelet I was wearing, and dangled my hand down by my chair legs, at his eye level, moving my wrist so that the sunlight and faux gems could attract his attention and move him away from the heater. I was less than a metre away from him.
R, around 14 months old was sitting up, facing in my direction, but however fiercely I moved my arm, he had absolutely no idea anything was happening. Not knowing I was wearing a bracelet, or that I wanted his attention, with no auditory cues, I may as well have been doing nothing at all. I realised how important my verbal cues had been to him up until that point.

2. I am told all the time what a surprise it is to find out that my son has a VI. He runs, jumps and plays like any other 4 year old boy. Thankfully, he has no fear. But once in a while, this can backfire. On holiday last year, he was almost 3, and we were visiting Hershey’s Chocolate Factory in Philadelphia. The room was large, and it sloped downwards on a walkway and then turned to the right. I told R he could run ahead, and warned him that the floor wasn’t flat, an issue of depth perception that we take for granted, but a person with Nystagmus would find it hard to notice. He took a couple of cautious steps, got a feel for the gradient, and ran down the slope to the end. Before we knew it, he was lying flat on the floor, after running into the metal handrail at the end of the room. it being parallel with the wall, he had not noticed that it wasn’t flush with the wall, another issue of depth perception, and had underestimated how much space he had to go before he needed to turn right. This kind of situation, where he feels like his eyes misled him, can be extremely distressing for a child with Nystagmus, and can cause temporary fear. Completely of his own accord, for the rest of the day in this unfamiliar place, he walked alongside us and did not run ahead.

3. We all know the slightly unnerving feeling of coming across someone in a mask or full costume and not knowing who it is, relying on their voice to give them away. A visual impairment makes this so much more complicated. The Jewish holiday of Purim, (think Halloween for a good VI comparison) means that many familiar faces are suddenly covered. While this is obviously difficult, what you may not expect is how much as small a change as a funny hat or glasses, or a design drawn in face paint can confuse someone who is partially sighted. Last year, R joined in with his friends in dressing up, and was unable to recognise people he saw every day and knew well, because of such simple additions to their attire as a sparkly hat. Friends of mine who knew his condition cottoned on quickly, stooping down to his level and announcing their name when they said hello, (a sensible thing to do with R even in a usual situation) but many people rushed past waving at him, or just said hi breezily, forgetting what a struggle it was for him to recognise them now that they had pink hair, or a huge red nose. By the end of the day, he was more exhausted than I’ve ever seen him, and he slept for close to 15 hours that night.

4. It’s okay, he can sit right at the front.  Another reassurance I get a lot from friends and family. But sitting close up does not help in every situation. (Although it is obviously better than sitting far away!) One good example is the first time we took R to a child’s birthday party, once the kids started graduating from tea and cake and onto entertainers. I sat R directly under the nose of the entertainer, and sat next to him so I could point out anything he might miss. For an adult, the misdirection and horseplay is obvious and predictable, but we forget that our children are seeing all of this for the first time. When the entertainer held his wand behind his back while it flip flopped all over the place, complaining bitterly that he couldn’t find his wand ANYWHERE, looking out into the crowd of children laughing and pointing behind him, my R looked at me blankly. All he could do was follow the entertainers eyes and instructions, which were telling him nothing about what he should be focusing on. The children’s raucous laughter only made him feel left out, which to be honest-he was. Quick tricks with lightning fast fingers meant nothing to him, and fiddly characters looking out of windows and hiding back down again, met with cheers and whoops from happy kids, but confusion and stress from my own. After 5 minutes, he started misbehaving, and after 10, I took him out of the room. His speech delayed, I was moved to tears when he turned to me and said clearly, “I just couldn’t see that.” Nowadays, friends may be offended when I show up late to those kind of parties, bringing him for birthday cake and music rather than the sit down and watch portion of events. But it’s not something which can be solved by him sitting at the front, or another common answer, getting him stronger glasses.

5. Another common struggle is when something isn’t where it’s ‘meant’ to be. R, like I’m sure all VI kids, likes to make his visual field easier to navigate. That means that every single thing has a place. If it isn’t where he left it, even if it is 3 inches to the right, it may as well be in Siberia. As a toddler, he would wait for all the other kids to finish playing with a particular activity at nursery, so that he could put it all away and put it back in it’s right place, for fear of not finding it later. He will talk to me sitting on a particular chair, run off to play, and then run right back to the same chair to show me something else, stopping suddenly about half a metre away from it, because it takes him that long to realise I’m not there any more. If someone appears out of context, where he doesn’t expect them to be, he will not name them until they name themselves. If a person is where they ‘should be’ however, where he expects you to be, he might be able to wave at you from across the room, or maybe even respond if you motion him to come here without words. That doesn’t mean he’s being naughty the next time he ‘ignores’ you, it just means you caught him knowing what was expected of him or in a situation which he found visually easier. Maybe it was a familiar place, maybe he already walked past you and took note of where you are or what you were wearing, maybe he simply slept better the night before and it’s helping his sight today.

There is clearly no easy answer to “How much can he see?” but I don’t mind you asking. I know that it’s a complicated response, and I appreciate anyone who tries to understand it. The only comments I don’t know how to respond to are “Oh wow, he saw that Aeroplane!”  or “I’m sure he recognised me from across the playground!”  because yes, sometimes it may seem like I’m making a fuss about nothing, or that his vision is as good as any other kid in specs that you’ve met before. And some days it is. Which is why most of the time I love how no one has to treat him any differently from his peers. And I’m so proud to know that you can be happy for all that he can see and achieve. But if you happen to come across him on a day where he needs that bit of extra help, I’d really appreciate you knowing how to do that too.

Wobbly Wednesday is today! It is a day of fundraising for better understanding, support and research of Nystagmus and it’s sufferers.
To help, you can Text WWNN14 £ and the amount you want to donate to 70070 or visit https://www.justgiving.com/nystagmusnetwork/donate