2/5 This much I know.

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So, parenting.

I don’t know, I’m sure some people manage it, but in my experience it is impossible to have a baby, and then not let said baby take well and truly over your life. Pregnancy, birth, feeding and raising tiny humans has utterly dominated my every waking moment for the past 4 years and has made up the fabric of my day, every day. Which has been both wonderful and totally bonkers, inspiring and, well, intense.

Right now though, I feel like some of the fog is lifting. I can sustain my attention for more than 60 seconds on topics other than cloth nappies and the best strategy for getting your toddler into their car seat without giving yourself an aneurysm. I am beginning to prioritise myself more, and my need to get fit and use my brain in different ways, rather than always feeling at the bottom of the pecking order. There is, oh my God imagine, space in my life for more than just babies. A dog! Why will no one let me get a dog?

Part of the reason for saying farewell to this blog is that the impetus to write incessantly about parenting has waned. But while I am still here, not quite clear of those all encompassing toddler years, I thought I would write down the most important stuff that I have learned. The pearls that I want to pass on, to other people still very much beneath the mist, trying to figure it out, with only 4 hours sleep and a strong coffee to their name.

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The very most important thing I know: We all fuck up. Like, you can read all of the Janet Lansbury you like, rehearse all the right things to say in the midst of an epic toddler tantrum, be the most zen and empathetic earth mother to your three year old who has very specific cup preferences, but at some point, you will lose your shit. Not in a ‘I’m strategically raising my voice to get you to listen’ way, but in a ‘Dude, I am exhausted, my patience is in the gutter, you are pushing me to my goddamn limits and I am just yelling because I am full blown ANGRY with this TOTAL LACK OF COOPERATION YOU ARE TAKING THE PISS MY GOD!’. This is not a thing that any parent is planning on, and shit, when it happens on the way into Sainsburys with a thousand judgey old people staring at you, know that it will be one of the low moments of your life. But guys, we are human, and while I LOVE positive parenting sites like Janet’s, I think we need to be honest that sometimes a situation will just push a button and we will yell and it will be ugly. It’s okay, our children will not be emotionally broken as a result of this, and it absolutely does not undo all the other good stuff that we do. On behalf of mothers everywhere, I am officially cutting us some slack.

Parenting though, it’s a judgey game. Actually I think it begins way before we are even parents and we are in a restaurant and there is a family on the table next to us. Ipads are on, pasta is being thrown and the parents are just benignly drinking wine and pretending not to notice the breadsticks that are being crushed and then liberally sprinkled about the floor. And we sit there and we think, ‘That will never be me, I will never be that parent, I will do so much better than that’. It carries on when we have had our baby, and you see an eighteen month old in the pushchair chowing down on a packet of Quavers and you act all aghast, because suspiciously cheese flavoured reconstituted corn shall NEVER pass the lips of YOUR preshus angel. And then again when you’ve got a toddler and you see those big kids dominating the bouncy castle, bumping yours right out of the way and onto their faces, while their parents drink beer and literally could not give less of a shit, and you vow to never let your children be such obnoxious little brats that leap all over babies without a care in the world. We all judge, of course we do. Judgement is useful! When you are thrust into the oblivion, I think it is good to look around at what others are doing and syphon off the things that you like, and want to emulate, and the paths that you swear you’ll never go down. This is all a healthy way to work out the parent we want to be. But also, shit happens. The afore mentioned shit in the last paragraph for example. And it helps precisely no one if you are there, looking on, at parents having a hard time or wilfully ignoring their children, because they’ve had ENOUGH that day, and passing judgey judgement. I am trying my best to remember that, and to not be a dick.

So if we have ascertained that we are all going to have bad times, and that we will refrain from being too harsh on others who are having bad times, what about the rest? Repeat after me: there is no right way. I know amazing parents who put a ton of effort into their interactions with their children, set up wonderful Montessori style activities, and are mindful of everything they do. I also know amazing parents who work full time and drop their kids of at child care every day and let them watch a ton of TV in the evenings because they are all freaking tired. I have written a lot about the guilt that suddenly descends when you have kids and makes you feel like whatever you’re doing? Not good enough. NOT. GOOD. ENOUGH. But the conclusion that I have drawn is that if it is working out for you and you’re family? Probably good enough. I am definitely the geekiest parent on the block and if there is stuff in our family that is bothering me (my kid has started waking up in the night again, my kid hasn’t eaten any vegetables in a month, my kid has an all consuming obsession with sharks at the expense of any human interaction, let’s say, just as an example), then you can bet I will be up all night scouring the internet for ways to improve the situation. But I do try and separate out the stuff that bothers me, because it bothers me, and the stuff that is driven by what I think I should be doing, because a Mormon lady in New York is doing it.

A word on parenting blogs: There are some amazing women out there who write inspirationally and honestly about their time with children (shout outs to Renegade Mothering, Parenting Illustrated with Crappy Pictures and Recipe Rifle for keeping it so real). For the most part though, once a blog has paid sponsorship, they have to maintain their brand, and their brand is usually them, being a completely perfect parent. Of course they are dealing with the same crap as the rest of us, OF COURSE THEY ARE, but they are photographing and writing about fun trips to the pumpkin patch, or how they just weaved their own yurt out of felt. Which is cool, I love those blogs! I love felt yurts! But the phrase ‘Comparison is the thief of joy’, has never been so apt.

Here are some other things I know:

Never tell the mother of a new born to ‘sleep when the baby sleeps’, ‘savour every moment’ or that is all ‘goes so fast’. It does go so fast but a day when you’re up at 5am and your partner is away and it’s raining and the internet has broken also lasts a thousand years, so that kind of makes up for it.

Instead, take the mother of a newborn food: cake, coffee and meals she can reheat. Literally the only gifts worth giving.

This too shall pass, this too shall pass, this too shall pass. They will stop doing that annoying thing that they do eventually. Sure, they’ll start doing some other annoying thing instead, but a change is as good as a rest right?

And seriously, if I was to pass on one piece of actual advice to the parent of small children it would be this: Ignore them sometimes. I am cultivating a style of parenting I like to call ‘conscious neglect’ (admittedly i might need to work on my branding), because honestly, it’s okay for kids to fend for themselves for a good chunk of the day. I think a lot about my Grandma, who raised three children in the North of England during the 1950s. She had a job and did all of the domestic chores without even a goddamn vacuum cleaner or washing machine, while her husband worked away a lot. Seriously, how was this even possible? Well she sure as shit wasn’t putting together colour match wheels and busy bags and making toast that looked like a little bear (although that bear toast? OMG). And yet she was still an amazing mother. So I think about her when I tell my kids that they have to entertain themselves for a while so I can cook, or get dinner ready or mess around on my iphone and feel thankful that I don’t have a mangle and that it’s no longer an expectation that I scrub my front steps every day. They’ll be okay on their own for a while, and it makes me appreciate the times when I sit down to do something nice with them all the more.

I’m sure I’m forgetting things. How to do a one handed nappy change on the parcel shelf of your car for a start, but that’s okay, you’ll figure it out. I need to go and do some other stuff: Plant some cabbages, swoon over yellow kitchen tiles, read a BOOK, Snap Chat a friend, secretly buy a dog. Stuff that still exists, waiting for you, when you emerge from the fog.

1/5 It’s always better on holiday.

What is it about the way in which our capacity for guilt increases exponentially the minute we set eyes on our first child?

It strikes me that this is not something that women in the past (and when I say past I’m obviously referring to some vague, romanticised bygone era, as opposed to a concrete period of time), would have felt as acutely. Back then, before women’s liberation is I suppose what I’m talking about, being a mother and a home maker was a given for the half of the population with the ability to give birth. The division of labour was simple: Men go out and make the money, women stay home and deal with the domestics. I’m not naive enough to think that these were equally valued roles, because read any advertising copy from pre1960s and it is immediately obvious that they weren’t (‘The Kenwood Chef does everything apart from cook – that’s what wives are for!), BUT, there was no stigma attached to staying at home. There was no judgement from other women, because communities were full of them, in the home, in and out of each other’s kitchens, providing support and gossip and cups of tea.

Now, post liberation, we have choices. There are still enormous issues around managing a career and a family (maternity leave, the cost of childcare and the attitudes of some employers towards women of child bearing age to name a few), but there is no longer a culture of women being resigned to life as a housewife. And thank God right? But what about those of us to choose to stay at home? How do we manage the dual expectations of being career woman on the one hand, and domestic goddess on the other? What if we choose to opt out of one of them?

My eldest child is three and a half and it is only recently that I am becoming comfortable with my choice to be a stay at home parent. I no longer feel compelled to follow up a question about what I do now, with a statement about what I plan to do in the future. I no longer feel that I have to remind others (and myself), that I did have a career and that I am an educated young woman, who just happens not to work. I no longer feel obligated to validate my existence to strangers at parties. Mainly because I don’t go to any parties.

Enough is enough! I am at home, because I choose to be! My husband values my contribution to our family as highly as he does his own. We both work, but only one of us gets paid.

There are days, Lord knows, when it feels like bedtime will never come. As soon as one stops whinging the other starts crying, I gave someone water in the wrong cup, they both need to play with the exact same dinosaur toy NOW, the baby’s nappy explodes and blah, blah, blah, I can bore myself with the minutiae of my day, let alone anyone else. Mostly though? I have a pretty nice life. We wake up and often have nowhere in particular to get to, so we stay in our pyjamas until we have reason not to. The boys are increasingly self sufficient and play together happily, while I potter about (who am I kidding, dash about frantically), doing the things I need to do, before getting roped into some game or another. If the weather is nice we get to go to all the good places when everyone else is at work or school and I catch myself, on a Wednesday afternoon, throwing pebbles into the sea, and I cannot believe that this is my life. That things can be this good.

But then the guilt.

Where did this puritanical idea that we are supposed to grind ourselves to the bone come from? That it is normal to be constantly tired and stressed and over worked? Maybe it’s because I was, all of those things, for as a long as I was a teacher, that I found it so hard to get used to being free of all of that. And felt so guilty for not being on my knees at the end of every day. Surely I was doing something wrong, I should work harder! Life should be harder!

I’m writing this in the evening. The last of the sun is shining through the trees and into my bedroom. The kids have had a good day, mostly free of cup related drama, and are now sleeping, more than likely until a (reasonably) civilised hour tomorrow morning. It is easy to think about life in soft focus, maybe with a nice vintage Instagram filter over the top of it, and to gloss over how incredibly difficult I found the first year after my second baby was born. About the feeling of utter exhaustion when attempting the heady combo of parenting a nearly two year old while heavily pregnant. The dark, dark days of waking six times in the night and then getting up and attempting to get a tiny baby and toddler out of the house, so that I didn’t go completely insane. I have done my fair share of hard work these past years and I do the work of being a parent relentlessly, day in and day out, and damn it, I put a lot of effort in. I have been a shark with a bad New York accent for the past WEEK to get my child to get dressed y’all. And yet, there is still a voice in my head that says I don’t do enough, because I don’t go out to work. Even though I don’t want to go to work! What special brand of crazy is this that we mothers inflict upon ourselves? IT MAKES NO SENSE!

So I have stopped. I have always loved the line from Jacqueline by Franz Ferdinand that goes, “It’s always better on holiday, so much better on holiday, that’s why we only work when we need the money”. I listened to it a lot after I finished my degree and was dossing around New Zealand for a year, but I am beginning to apply it to this phase of my life too. Being a stay at home parent is not what I would call a holiday (hahahaNO), but I love it. I choose it. I am in a position of immense privilege to be able to choose it, and I refuse to waste a second more of it by feeling guilty for doing so.

These photos were taken on an actual holiday. Where we swam every day, and walked in the countryside and let the kids watch too much TV and drank more beer than I have in the last year. It was brilliant and at the end of it I just felt so incredibly thankful not to be going back to work, and that my days at home, don’t look that dissimilar to my days on holiday.

This post was not actually supposed to be some braggy brag fest about how wonderful my life is, so sorry about that tangent, I will now return the original subject of my inner turmoil about letting down my feminist foresisters. Because I do feel like I’m maybe letting down my feminist foresisters, with the not working and the distinct lack of smashing through glass ceilings. But guys, it’s okay, I’m not here, repressed in my home, crying over the mangle and mourning my inability to vote. I’m HERE, liberated, making choices and raising my family and contributing to society and all that good stuff. I just don’t have a job, but it’s cool.

Bottom line: I know that in ten, twenty years, when retirement still seems a million years away and I am back at the daily grind, that I will look back at this time as so golden. I will have forgotten how many times a day I had to say, ‘please use your normal voice’, about the times I lost my patience and had to shut myself in the bathroom, and how I once sobbed at a toddler group with a baby crying in my arms and a toddler crying on the floor because ohmygod this shit is real and hard and exhausting, (no wait, I will NEVER forget that one). But I will forget the relentlessness of it, and the guilt and the worrying, and I will remember the cuddles, the stories, the trips out in the afternoon, the buzz of my children’s first words, first steps, first I love yous. It will be so, so golden. And I will not waste it feeling guilty.

Don’t waste it feeling guilty.

Aquarium.

This morning my husband had to drive his Mum back to London and offered to take #2 with him so that I could hang out with the Mancub for the day. It’s always a treat to have a bit of one on one time with my biggest, and I had it in my head that we would do whatever he wanted with the day, while free from the schedules of preschool and his little brother. It would be nice to follow his lead and see what came of the time.

As soon as I asked him what he fancied, he instantly replied, ‘The Aquarium!’. Not what I expected, but I happened to have a 50% off voucher, plus it was a rainy Saturday, so feeling awfully spontaneous, we headed straight off on the bus.

So often we are out with others, be it the rest of our family or friends and, quite rightly, we have to find compromise and go at the pace of the group. It is nice, on occasion, to not have to nudge the Mancub along, or have him keep up a pace that is either too fast or too slow for his liking. Today the day was entirely his. We rushed through the initial tanks of tropical fish and straight to the rock pool area, where he happily stayed for half an hour, talking to the expert, leaning in and touching the starfish and shore crabs and operating the mini camera. I instinctively went to move him along several times, but he was clearly completely engrossed, so I bit my tongue and let him stay. We whizzed through several other sections too, pausing briefly to take in octopus and jelly fish, before getting to a digital exhibition on prehistoric marine reptiles. ‘Prehistoric is my favourite word!’, he declared, and that’s where we spent the remainder of our outing. It was an absolute pleasure throughout.

As we were in town we popped to the library and took out some books on sharks and fish, then headed home via a pizza restaurant, where he proved that he is still my favourite lunch date, because no one else I know scoops up and eats garlic butter using cucumber as a makeshift spoon, but really more people should.

Back home he spend the rest of the day playing PREHISTORIC MARINE REPTILES! using some of his dinosaur toys and told me that mudskippers are really his favourite fish.

I can’t remember a day where parenting felt so carefree and relaxing. A nice reminder that slowing down and letting them take the lead, avoiding that instinct to always hurry on, often pays off in the end.

On a Mission.

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This weekend the Mancub and I went to visit my friend in Nottingham. Thanks to the ever infuriating M25 it took us a solid five and a half hours to get there on Friday, but luckily that boy can stare out of a window for longer than most.

On Saturday we went to The National Space Centre, which is cool but if you’re American, please don’t EVER go there because, embarrassing. It’s on an industrial estate on the outskirts of Leicester and is essentially there to show case the fact that our contribution to space exploration amounts to basically zero. Nevertheless! They have some cool exhibits for littles, including a launch simulator and different shows on through the day. It was a great way to spend a morning, the highlight being the glass elevator ride up the side of a space shuttle.

It was also a big treat to have a weekend away with my biggest boy. We shared a bed, which we’ve never done before, and he LOVED it, snuggling up all night and waking me with the question, ‘Why is some snot wet and some snot dry?’. Okay kid, let me have a coffee at least before we get into today’s big philosophical questions.

Back home #2 got some quality time with his Dad, and on Sunday night we both reflected on how damn nice it is to have just one kid to think about sometimes.

Learning at home: Reading.

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This week, at just shy of three and a half, the Mancub learned to jump with two feet, and read. One of those things was just on the cusp of worryingly late, the other? Well allow me at least a second to Mom brag: the boy can read. Words. Short words admittedly (cat, dog, pot, win), but he sees them, sounds them out, and then tells me what they say. To say that he is excited by this development is something of an understatement. He laughed hysterically for a minute after he read his first word before shouting, ‘Write another!’. And another. And another.

At this point I believe I’m supposed to insert some sort of platitude along the lines of, ‘It’s incredible! Unbelievable! I don’t know where it came from!’, which would be something of a misnomer. I do know where it came from, because I taught him to read. So obviously I knew it was coming and it doesn’t really surprise me, but nevertheless, I’m pretty blown away by it. I’m only human, just like he is only three.

Anyway, I thought it might be nice to share a few of the strategies I have used here, because they are things you can do with a child of any age, providing they find them fun and engaging and providing they are ready. Feel free to take a few of them away, or just ignore them and write me off as a terrible show off. If you’re new to this blog or don’t come here often I should also probably point out that I am a primary school teacher by trade, hence my ability to ramble on about this topic for far too many words.

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I don’t think there are many things that we are obligated to do as parents. Feeding and clothing our children is a good start. A few toys are essential I suppose. Love, warmth, affection, but certainly nothing as complicated as the thousands of parenting books on the market would suggest.

Reading for me, like clothes and food, is a non negotiable. Stories, comics and magazines. Poetry, nursery rhymes and information books. All children love being read to, and if they are read to frequently, all children will, eventually, want to learn to read for themselves. It might be when they are two, it might be when they are seven, but I fundamentally believe that children have an innate desire to learn that needs little encouragement.

What we, as parents, carers and teachers have the power to do, is to put out that flame of desire in an instant if we push them too soon, or make reading a chore. Learning anything, whether it’s riding a bike or reading a book should always come from a child’s willingness and ability to do so. I’m absolutely not advocating here that we sit down all kids at age 3 and teach them phonics (that that is happening in nurseries across the country makes my heart sink), just that we to read to them, as early and as often as possible, then the rest will naturally follow.

But, my kid showed an interest. He had that desire, and he has a good grasp of words and letters, so I did some things with him that moved his reading forward to the point he is at now, where he can decode short words himself and make a good guess at many others based on their context and initial letter. Here are a few of the things we’ve been doing over the past year.

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Strategies for Reading With Children.

As I have said, for me the single most important thing a parent can do with regards to their child’s education is to read to them. I had a bedtime story every night until I was around ten years old, and I still remember the feeling of sadness when I realised I was too old to have one any more. No child would ever want to read unless they have an incentive to do so. Reading them stories that they love provides that incentive, as well as about a million other benefits.

Alongside this you can begin to introduce your child to the phonetic alphabet. There is no harm in teaching letter names (A, B, C etc), but it is more beneficial in terms of learning to read to teach the phonetic sounds (A is a hard a, like at the start of Apple, B is buh, C is cuh, E is eh like at the start of Elephant etc). I bought a few simple alphabet books and used these as a starting point, (I would trace the letter with his finger and sing ‘Buh is for ball, Buh-Buh-Ball or whatever was on that page). We also played with magnetic letters (Can you find me puh for parrot?), letter jigsaws and stampers. We wrote letters on pebbles and we traced them in the sand. (Side note: our ridiculously complex language means that all letters can represent many different sounds, so it’s best to go with the most common. However the Mancub’s name ends in a y, which in his name makes an ‘ee’ sound like at the end of monkey, so I taught him right away that Y makes a ‘yuh’ sound at the start of words, but an ‘ee’ sound at the end. He doesn’t seem to find this too confusing, but usually refers to Y as ‘ee’. You might want to do this if your child also has a phonetically complex name such as Phillip or Cedric).

As your child begins to learn some of their letters and sounds you can introduce games like I Spy. The Mancub always finds this easier if instead of spotting things around the room that we can actually see, we play on a theme, (I spy with my little eye, an animal that begins with duh… Duck / a dinosaur that begins with sss… Stegosaurus / someone who begins with mmm… Mama). Sometimes I would collect a bunch of objects on a tray and we would play I spy with them, and you could also use those ‘find it’ books. The point of all this I spying is to focus on the initial sounds of words, as a segue into being able to spell and read them. As a way of encouraging them to think about it from the opposite perspective you could ask your child, I’m writing a card to Grandma, what letter does Grandma begin with? If they’re old enough they could write or use a stamper to print the first letter for you. You could also do this when your writing shopping list (what letter do I need at the start of bananas?), or you could write a story together (they tell you a story, you write it down, but ask them for help with some words).

If your child is enjoying books, they know most of their letters and can pick out the initial sound of familiar words, you might like to start helping them to segment words (break words up into their individual sounds), and blend them (put them back together again). This sounds complicated, but is basically what we’re doing all the time when we read and spell unfamiliar words. We sound them out, we turn those sounds into a word. A nice way to do this is play a game based on your child’s interests. The Mancub loves Octonauts, so I ask him, ‘Which Octonaut am I? D-a-sh-ee’, and he is able to put those sounds together to say, ‘Dashi’. We have done lots of this sort of thing on different themes, and he likes having a go at sounding out words for me to guess too.

Finally, once you put those skills together, you have the building blocks of reading. In time your child will go from having the component parts, to being able to look at a word and sound it out ‘c-a-t’, and know that it makes the word cat. It’s magic really, and it does just seem to happen over night. Of course not all children take this route to learning to read, but it is the one most commonly taught in schools now.

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This is the beginning of a long journey. The Mancub doesn’t yet know that sometimes two letters go together to make a sound like sh or ch. He finds it hard to read words longer than three letters, because it’s still too challenging to hold onto all of those letters in his head and blend them. And then there’s words like ‘the’ and ‘was’ and ‘he’, that can’t be sounded out and just need to be learned by heart.

But he’s on the road and he’s so excited to get going that it’s infectious.

I hope you’ve found some of these little activities of interest or of use. Ultimately I think my only advice is to be led by your child, to use their interests and enjoyment as a starting point and to do little bits here as they want to, (we play these games for no more than a few minutes at a time, and by no means each day).

If you’re child is anything like mine, the laughter that follows the first time they read the word ‘bum’ out loud will be worth it.

The problem with Princesses.

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^^What the Disney Princesses would look like with realistic hair. Via Buzzfeed.

Oh those bloody Disney Princesses, I knew they’d catch up with me one day.

Before having children I viewed them as the axiom of everything that was wrong with childhood in a supposedly post feminist world. In the name of shifting films, books and an awful lot of merchandise, little girls are bombarded with images of these supposedly perfect examples of womanhood, with their nipped in waists and doe eyes, swirling dresses and no notable qualities other than the ability to sing, dance and make their man happy. I swore up and down that if I ever had a daughter, the Princesses, along with Barbie, would be categorically unwelcome in our house.

And then I found myself in a situation where today I sent my eldest son to preschool dressed as Cinderella, asking me, ‘Does my hair look pretty?’, not having read him a bedtime story other than a rotation of fairy tales for weeks.

My main problem with fairy tales, and in turn the highly branded line up of Disney Princesses that they have spawned, is that they tend to depict women as one of two tropes: the kind, sweet, animal loving protagonist, who enjoys singing with blue birds and baking pies, but who has no discernible problem solving skills nor desire for anything beyond being rescued by a handsome prince (see: Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Ariel, Jasmine etc etc); and the evil antagonist, who is driven mad by her jealousy of anyone younger and more beautiful than her, to the point where murder is inevitable (Malificent, Ursula et al). The message is clear: these are your choices girls, a simpering beauty or a total bitch. It is limiting to say the least.

In their defence Disney have made advances of late, most notably with Brave, which features Merida, a much more robust, independent, smart as a whip kind of a Princess, who provides an antidote to the irksome saps who rely on their Princes to get them out of trouble. Frozen also focuses on the love between two sisters, as opposed to winning the approval of a man, yet falls short for me, because it’s still inexplicably done whilst dancing around in sexy dresses, when clearly an anorak and boots would have been much more appropriate attire for a snow covered mountain.

However, the classic ‘Princess’ range remains predictably dull. I was convinced, in desperate times (ahead of a three hour flight and vaccinations), into buying two issues of the Dinsey Princess magazine (BEST SELLING MAGAZINE FOR GIRLS!). Honestly, this stuff is just mind numbing. In the latest issue readers are invited to play a game whereby the winner gets to be Princess Aurora’s bridesmaid (OMG! Squee!), while the stories focus on the characters’ ability to pick flowers, bake cupcakes and, I kid you not, prepare a romantic picnic for their prince. Is anyone else sensing a rather tiresome theme emerging here?

Is this really all little girls, and more pertinently the parents of little girls, want (I say girls because I assume that’s who Disney look to for feedback)? Or is this just what they are being spoon fed? Why couldn’t Disney take those original characters, and put them into new situations that highlight more aspirational qualities: Cinderella’s picnic gets hijacked by the Stepsisters, so she single handedly forages for a new one, before building an escape route for her and the Prince in the process, (as opposed to the actual solution which was… She got rescued by some swans. I mean, really?). It just feels like there is no appetite to update these characters into strong, smart women with attributes to aspire to. Disney, and I can only assume vast swathes of parents, are happy to stick with this bizarre 1950s idea of women as something to look good and be rescued. Nothing more. It’s depressing.

As the parent of a boy who is currently Princess mad, I obviously have a slightly different take on it. It is not so much what he aspires to be that I worry about (I can only assume that his desire to be a Princess will be relatively short lived), but with how he is seeing women being portrayed.

I remember hearing an interview with Caitlin Moran, talking about whether or not she lets her young daughters watch pop videos. Another woman on the show revealed that she doesn’t let her daughter watch Rhianna’s music videos, because she considers them too sexualised, while Caitlin countered that she lets her daughters watch them, but also has a frank conversation about their content: ‘Poor Rhianna, how do you think she feels dressed like that? What if she has a cold? Or is on her period? I bet she’d rather be wearing a nice cardie.’ Instead of censoring, she uses those portrayals of women as a means to discussing how they are problematic and offering up alternatives.

I’ve taken my lead from this I suppose. I haven’t banned fairytales (although the versions we read are the classic stories, rather than the Disney adaptations), and he has been allowed to watch some of the Disney Princess films and listen to the soundtracks. But we talk about the endings, at an age appropriate level, and within our play I try and subvert the roles, at least a little, to make sure he knows that Princesses can be strong, capable, brave and intelligent, as well as pretty and kind.

I also ensure that the Princesses aren’t by any means the only depiction of women and girls he is exposed to. Zog by Julia Donaldson and The Paper Bag Princesses by Robert Munsch both offer direct alternatives to the traditional fairy tale ending (one princess shuns royalty in order to be a Doctor, the other declines her Prince’s offer of marriage when he criticises her appearance), and there are plenty of examples of other strong, feisty girls on our bookshelves from Lola of Charlie and Lola to Pippi Longstocking and Matlida. Films, I admit, are harder to come by, and I would love recommendations of U rated films that feature a strong female lead that aren’t even necessarily subverting the traditional female stereotype but are just… girls, doing their thing (Despicable Me, Brave and Annie are my favourite examples, but it’s hard to find others).

Ultimately, I know that it is the women and girls around him, who serve as his most important role models. I am grateful that both of his Grandmothers are as happy digging for minibeasts in the garden as they are baking cakes in the kitchen, and that his best friend is a girl who can outrun him as much as he can outprincess her. He also has a whole range of other interests and I am currently indebted to the Octonauts who feature both a female engineer and pilot, for some much needed balance in our house.

The Disney Princesses might be getting the better of me at the moment (especially with renewed requests for a Cinderealla doll), but I’m in this for the long haul, and I know I’ll win out in the end.

Life Lately.

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^^Spring is just around the corner and we are out and about again. #2 being able to walk makes a whole lot of difference and it’s sweet to see the pair of them running around, or in this case waiting impatiently for me by the front door.

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^^A couple of weeks ago the Mancub and I went on our first Mama/son lunch date. We went for a walk around Brighton, popped in to The Dome for some of their International Women’s Day activities, and then to a super kid friendly Italian restaurant. He had a whole plate of white bait (frequently announcing, look I’ve pulled this one’s head off! And now I’m eating it! I just ate an eye!), and we ‘shared’ a fruit salad for dessert, (I was generously gifted two grapes and a strawberry, while he polished off the rest). He was so well behaved and it was lovely to give him my full, undivided attention for a change. As much as I love having his baby brother around, it’s nice to have some treats that are just for me and my biggest boy.

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^^There is nothing sweeter on Mother’s Day than the sound of stage whispers at the bottom of the stairs, followed by some very loud tiptoeing and finally the announcement of, ‘Mama wake up, we brought you some presents! They are flowers and chocolates!’ (He hasn’t quite grasped the concept of surprise yet). We went for our annual trek to The Long Man at Wilmington to take a family photo (our fourth time), then when the wind set in we retired for take away pizza with friends. Take out = zero washing up, so a pretty damn perfect Mother’s Day in my book.

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^^Now the Mancub is settled at preschool it’s such a luxury to have some guilt free one on one time with this little one. When the Mancub was small we did a lot more elaborate craft activities or baking, but that required a lot of preparation and a LOT of clean up afterwards. Time with this one is precious, so we do simple things. We read a lot of books, load his toy Octonauts into the fire engine a hundred or so times, cuddle, and occasionally get the paint brushes and water out on a sunny day. I found the baby stage hard work this time around, but this toddler, despite his increasing hot headedness and propensity to literally throw his toys out of the pram if he doesn’t get his own way, he’s my light.

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^^Nothing makes me happier than these two laughing like drains together.

Over thinking and Instagramming.

I have, as I am prone to, been over thinking things. I cannot, it seems, just be a normal person and embrace social media and the future, no. I need to constantly dissect what I am doing online and the purpose of it and the legacy of it, especially when it comes to my children.

A long time ago now I deleted My Facebook and Twitter accounts and decided to concentrate anything I wanted to write or share about life with my kids into this blog. It has worked well, and I am happy that any friends I have who are interested in that aspect of my life read along, and those that aren’t, don’t. I am grateful too to have made some wonderful friends online, who also share their parenting stories somewhere in the vast chasm of the Internet, and connect over oceans, through shared experience.

But then recently I got lured into Instagram, with its pretty filters and how easy it is to snap a picture in the park and have it uploaded in seconds.

Cue the overthinking.

On the one hand it has been cool to take a quick snap of the sky or some trees, tag it, and have a bunch of strangers like it. On the other, I began to find it a little uncomfortable if those strangers then scrolled through my feed and liked a photo of my kid on the beach. I like the community aspect of sharing photos on a particular theme, but I’m not sure that it marries up that well with also sharing personal photos in the same space.

I am well aware that this blog is extremely public and that I write very personally and share a lot here. But somehow to me this (perhaps naively, I don’t know), feels like a protected space. Readers only come here if they have a genuine interest in reading what I have to say. I say that mainly becaus it takes a lot of effort to wade through all of this content, as opposed to the ease of scrolling through someone’s Instagram feed, double tapping as you go. You are, if you have even made it to this point in the post (to which I say congratulations!), engagjng on a level that goes way beyond just hitting the like button because you think a random kid is cute.

So I decided to hold back. I will keep the photos and ramblings about my family here, on my blog. They might pop up occasionally on my Instagram, but I mainly want that to be a space where I just share some nice photos of where I live. It has been a great motivation to seek out beauty in my surroundings, which I am enjoying, but the rest stays here.

As such I’ve decided to start a semi regular (everything is semi regular at best with me, as you may have noticed), ‘Life Lately’ style post to share the moments that I capture with my family. I used to do a similar thing called ‘Five Photos’, but I want this to be a little looser, a bit of a dumping ground for photos and moments that I don’t want to get lost in the abys, but I don’t necessarily want on Instagram either.

Below are a few you might have already seen. The next one will be a bit less about my ability to drain the spontaneity and joy out of everything, and a little more about what we’ve been up to lately.

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^^A trip to the park, A few snaps from the beach in Portugal, a poorly Mancub when we returned and exploring the woods and cliffs where we live.

Kids on a plane.

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^^Photos from my husband’s Instagram.

Much like writing your birth story and (over)sharing in excruciating detail how you wash your nappies, a post about flying with your kids for the first time is a rite of passage for any bonafide parenting blogger. I think the apprehension beforehand is such that afterwards you feel the need to declare to the Internet, ‘I did it! I survived! I did not hurl them out of the aeroplane window!’

And we did! We survived! We flew to Portugal and back without major incident and luckily for us (although not so lucky for the rest of the passengers), a delightful stag do totally stole our thunder as the people you’d most like to stab in the neck with a cocktail stick, and drowned out the noise of a squirmy baby and then some with their gripping accounts of exactly how much alcohol they had consumed in the last three hours. Gotta love the Brits abroad #proud.

My main concern before we went was packing enough stuff to keep both boys mildly entertained for the duration of the flight. I shouldn’t have worried (about that at least). The perpetual bookworm that is the Mancub already spends hours sitting on the sofa looking at books and absorbing magazines, so why I thought that three hours confined to a chair would be an issue for him I don’t know. He read his copy of Disney Princess Magazine from cover to cover on both flights (what an absolute festival of sexism that is by the way, but that’s a whole other post), and barely even noticed the aeroplane taking off.

At the other end of the ‘keeping yourself entertained’ spectrum was fifteen month old #2. Fifteen months is surely the WORST age to take a baby on a plane and I swear you couldn’t pay me to take him on a long haul flight right now. He is that heady mix of wanting to be constantly on the move, but with no ability to stay focused on any one thing for more than 3 seconds, so he worked through our selection of toys, books and stickers before we were even on the runway. We also flew out at his bedtime, but getting him to sleep with the afore mentioned stag party so close by was impossible. In fact, the only thing that kept him remotely occupied was a steady stream of snacks, from biscuits to fruit leather to sandwiches, so by the end he was not only exhausted, but also entirely wired on sugar, an excellent combination to be sure. In short: if you’re flying with a toddler, fill all your available luggage space with food.

However, having focused on the potential for disaster in the air, I totally overlooked getting us through the airport, forgetting that we’d be there for nearly as long as our flight. Having arranged to borrow a pushchair at our destination, I naively thought that we would be okay with two kids and one sling between them. Hahaha!

#2 is content to be in the Ergo, as long as I am moving at a steady pace. If I stand still for more than 15 seconds (ie. to queue for security, queue to get into the gate, queue for an interminably long time to get onto the plane), he wriggles and squirms to get down before beginning a never ending campaign of whining until at last you relent and just let him run around desks and security checkpoints, pulling things off conveyor belts, because you’re embarrassment at being seemingly unable to control your toddler is preferable to the whiningOHMYGODSTOPWHINING!!!

The Mancub on the other hand was more than happy to walk through the airport. Totally happy to cruise along at a rate of approximately a mile a day, taking in every screen, every item for sale in every shop, every vehicle spotted out of a window. Our gate was a twenty minute walk away at a normal pace, so we were faced with the choice of either dragging him along the polished floors by his sleeve, carrying him the entire way, or nearly missing our flight because we indulged his desire to spend ten minutes carefully observing the patterns on a chair. Obviously we went with the latter, because we are ridiculous.

Unlike Gatwick, who don’t give you anything for free, Faro airport have banks of pushchairs available to borrow, which caused my husband to almost cry with joy coming home. #2 is always content to be wheeled around, and having him in a pushchair meant I could pop The Mancub in the Ergo if we needed to get anywhere quicker than at snail’s pace. Never again will I travel without that option.

Others things to note: Easyjet’s inflight baby changing facilities are appalling. Very glad that I took a fold up change pad. // €5 for a small tub of Pringles and a bottle of water. Gravely regretted packing a million snacks for the boys, but none for us. // Ears. #2 has been pretty miserable since his flying experiences due to a heavy cold plus cabin pressure, which apparently equals all sorts of pain. Our health visitor assured me this is normal, although unpleasant, but I certainly wished I had packed a sugar free lolly for him to suck and some Calpol for the following day.

In between times there was also the small matter of HOLIDAY! Three glorious days of sunshine sandwiched into this miserable British winter and thanks to my parents’ impeccable babysitting service, we managed to eat out, without the kids, for all three nights. This alone was worth the flights. The Mancub loved scurrying around on the beach collecting hermit crabs and sea anemones and hurling himself into every available body of water, usually fully clothed because HOLIDAY! SUNSHINE! FREEDOM!

I should probably have dedicated a thousand words to that instead, but there’s something about flying with kids that you need to get out of your system afterwards. So there it is.

Hair.

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I like long hair on men. Some of my favourite men (my husband included), wear their hair past their shoulders, so I was never going to be in a rush to cut my son’s hair into a classic ‘boy crop’. It has never struck me as particularly feminine either. I know in reality women are far more likely to have long hair, but I dunno, Axl Rose? That’s some serious testosterone going on there, no?

As a result, I just kind of let the Mancub’s hair do it’s own thing, growing frustratingly slowly for my liking actually, but finally making it past the nape of his neck in soft little baby wisps. I think it looks cute, and he loves it long (I have in fact asked him several times if he would like his hair cut shorter, always to be met with a very decisive ‘no’), and he even lets me drag a brush through it occasionally these days.

I have already written extensively about how I have no problem whatsoever with my boys choosing to do or wear things that are typically deemed ‘girly’. They can play with whatever toys they like and pick out their shoes from whichever side of the shop they are drawn to, wear that dress if they so choose. In other words, I am fully prepared to support them in their girliness. Which is why I guess this has caught me off guard a little, because I don’t really associate long hair with being girly (my husband is 6’6 and typically pairs his long hair with a beard and a biker jacket, so effeminate is not a word I would ever use to describe him), and so it honestly hadn’t occurred to me that long hair on a boy would cause such utter confusion.

To be clear, he is, since his hair grew past his neckline, mistaken for a girl almost 100% of the time by strangers. Admittedly it’s an easy mistake to make when he’s in his princess dress, or his pink leggings. But he can also be wearing his most boyish clothes (black trousers, oatmeal jumper, blue and silver jacket, carrying a toy dinosaur), and people will still tell me, ‘Oh, isn’t she cute!’.

I get it. I once, mortifyingly, mistook a boy for a girl when I was a supply teacher, and referred to him as such in front of the whole class (cue many giggles and very red cheeks on both of us). When meeting new children, especially those in school uniform, hair and names can be the quickest signifiers of gender, and when the child has a unisex name (as he did, as mine does), it can be easy to jump to the wrong conclusion. Most people are profusely embarrassed, and so I rarely correct them and instead leave them to work it out for themselves if they’re around long enough to do so.

I have discussed this with the Mancub. Occasionally I will say, ‘Oh, he thought you were a girl, that’s nice isn’t it?’, to which he always seems very blasé. When we have talked about hair cuts I have explained that sometimes people will think he’s a girl if he keeps his long hair (without attaching any negative connotations), and he’s still excited to grow it long like his (female) cousin. In short: it doesn’t bother him. Hurrah! I win feminism! My boy is happy to be mistaken for a girl!

But does it bother me?

Sometimes, yes. Dammit.

The frequency, the relentlessness of it bothers me a little. That people don’t take the time to check, or to ask his name before telling me something cute they overheard my ‘daughter’ saying. That he is dismissed so quickly as something he’s not, even if it’s not necessarily offensive, but because it’s incorrect.

But these are strangers, not people with a vested interested in my children. Just strangers making an off hand comment, and a fair assumption, based on appearance and their best guess at the time.

So I don’t let it bother me often, because life is too short. Unlike his hair.