Friday, 27 May 2016

From three to four

I vividly remember our 12 week scan with Jellybean.

I remember sitting in the waiting room, desperate for a wee (a combination of nerves and the excessive amount of water you have to drink before an ultrasound). I remember the clock ticking in the waiting room, the distant sound of a telephone ringing. I remember my heart racing. I remember the quiet shuffling of the other couples, also waiting. The quiet. The anticipation.

I remember waddling (really desperate for a wee at this stage) after the midwife, lying down on the bed, having the cold gel stuff smeared onto my belly.

And then I waited.

Pregnancy - and giving birth - are full of high-tension 'waiting' moments that are both exciting and torturous. I now fully understand the phrase 'pregnant pause'. From the moment where you wee on a stick and wait to see a scarlet line, right to the moment between your baby coming out and hearing them cry, having a baby is full of those pregnant pauses. And somewhere in the middle, the moment where the sonographer assesses what they are seeing before telling you. All of them are 'hold your breath' moments. In those heart-racing moments, your life feels like a coin being flipped. Your fate is soaring through the air, and you don't know which way it will land.

All of this in a split second, obviously, and then the sonographer swung the screen around and there was Jellybean, tiny and perfect, all tiny little limbs, little fingers and toes. And her heart pulsing in her chest. She was still, for a while, while we took her in, while they took her measurements. Then, as the sonographer pressed particularly hard, she shuddered and turned her back on us. Stop poking me. Let me sleep.

That was it really. Life forever changed.

***


This week, I found myself in that nervous, quiet waiting room again. The TV was on this time. A couple walked in, looking happy, clutching a handful of scan photographs. The woman went to the toilet and I crossed my legs and felt a bit jealous of her.

Luckily for us it was a quiet day for the sonographer. She called me in straight away. She had a really lovely, reassuring way about her that made me feel a bit more relaxed. And she let me see the screen straight away this time, so the only wait was while she tried to find it.

(You would think as a Christian I would have had a good prayer sorted out for this moment. I didn't. I just said 'please please please please'.)

I saw it flash up on the screen. I looked straight away for the heart beat. I saw it fluttering like a bird.

I felt three months' worth of tension seep out of me all at once.

We've kept this one a bit more quiet this time round, because I have been unbelievably anxious about it. Even through the sickness (lots of it) and my stomach growing as it should (maybe a bit quicker than it should, actually), I've felt so nervous. Gripped in fear every day. Unable to look forward to it, to anticipate the future. Just pushing through the exhaustion and nausea each day and thinking one day closer to finding out what's going on. 

I'm aware that this all makes me sound really spoilt and selfish - not being happy, I mean. I don't know why I felt that way this time. Maybe because I wasn't sure that we would be able to have another one? I felt much more acutely aware of the risks this time round. I've been perpetually on alert for any signs of something going wrong.

***

When you are pregnant with a much-wanted baby it is a strange thing. So much is unknown. Especially in the early days, it's difficult to know whether to allow yourself to bond with your future child or not. I have obviously taken this to an extreme this time, on super-high-self-protection mode. Plus for a little while you can't feel anything going on, except for feeling a bit rubbish for a while.

The truth is I am still nervous about this baby, even though (and I know people will tell me off for even contemplating this to be true, but hey, you don't have to believe me) I can start to feel it moving around now, very very tiny tickly movements like a feather every now and then. When we announced it, it was with a tinge of fear. Because what if something goes wrong?

But I am a bit fed up of living like that. I mean you could drive yourself mad with fear, right? I have to try and trust that things are okay. Otherwise you'd never let yourself love anyone. Just in case.

This little baby was way more wriggly than Jellybean was. It was moving the whole time. Waving its arms and legs, hiccuping, rolling around. Seeing it was again totally amazing and surreal. We got to be that couple arriving back in the waiting room with some pictures and a smile. We got to pick up our daughter from my parents house and take her out for noodles and tell her that she's going to be a big sister. We got to tell everyone else about it too, after weeks of wearing baggy clothes and trying not to start gagging in public.

I am immensely, immensely grateful. Right now I can't fathom having two little people to look after. But we've got until December to get our heads around that ...

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Friday, 20 May 2016

Faith and Feminism Part Four - Everything in the world is pink


I have a confession to make: my daughter has a little box of Megablox, all different colours, and my favourite ones are the pink sparkly ones.

Pink is in no way my favourite colour (it's green, on the off chance someone was curious). For a woman that, at nearly thirty, still cannot walk confidently in heels and cannot wear painted nails for five minutes without them chipping, I just really like glittery things.

Not to wear, necessarily. Or even to own myself. If my daughter has something sparkly I just like to look at it a bit. Like an easily mesmerized child.

I'm not sure what this says about me.

Anyway. So far, with my 2.7 year old, I've never had an issue with pink girly stuff. It just hasn't happened. Jellybean's favourite colour is red, apparently, but I strongly suspect that is because she is obsessed with Marshall from Paw Patrol. I've never really been bothered by the influx of pink products for girls, beyond them giving me a slight headache if I wander into the dolly aisle in Toys R Us.

So it was with a healthy dose of skepticism that I started looking into the branding of toys and products for children. If Jellybean suddenly falls in love with pink when she's older and insists that her bedroom looks like the inside of a giant marshmallow, fine. I can't see the harm.

I guess it annoys me a little bit that manufacturers and marketers insist that every product aimed at girls MUST be pink.

Did you know that pink used to be a boys colour? According to this article, pink was considered a better colour for boys as it was more of a strong colour, whereas blue was seen as more delicate.

Here is what happened when I typed 'toys for girls' into Google images:


My eyes! The goggles do nothing!

This is what you get for 'toys for boys':


Interestingly, it's not all blue: there's at least a tiny amount of colour variation.

For comparison, here is the result for just 'toys':


That's better.

So far all this shows me is a total lack of imagination on toy manufacturers' part. In her book Cinderella Ate My Daughter, Peggy Orenstein visits the annual Toy Fair in New York. Overwhelmed by the thousands and thousands of pink products, she asks someone about it:

'Is all this pink really necessary?' I asked a bored-looking sales rep hawking something called Cast and Paint Princess Party.

'Only if you want to make money,' he said, chuckling. Then he shrugged. 'I guess girls are born loving pink.'

Orenstein explores this idea further (by the way: girls are not born loving pink) and comes to the conclusion that it is all just ... marketing. But really, when you think about it, pink-obsession is kind of limiting, right? Why can't little girls (and boys for that matter) enjoy whatever flipping colour they want to? Having worked with kids, I have seen the impact first-hand that pink obsession has on the things they feel able to do. Many times I have overheard a conversation along the lines of 'why is that boy wearing a pink top? That's for girls.' or 'Why is your hat not pink? Is it not a girls hat?'

Which sounds small. But it adds to layer upon layer of cultural expectation: this is how girls should be. This is how boys should be.

I wonder what impact this has upon girls in the long run. Not just the colour pink, but the excessive gender-stereotyping we put upon children from the off: from the kind of toys they have access to, to the things we allow them to wear, to the language we use about them.

Honestly, the language thing worries me a bit more. I totally believe there are inbuilt differences between boys and girls - but I believe more that there are inbuilt differences between every person. And so when we use words like 'strong' and 'tough' and 'powerful' to describe boys and 'delicate' and 'princess' and 'sweet' to describe girls, does that start to shape who they think they should be over time?

Don't get me wrong: it's not a huge issue. But it's an issue just the same - this deep divide between genders seems to be happening right from the moment we are born. Leaving behind a lifetime's worth of conditioning that you cannot be gentle if you are a boy, and you cannot be powerful if you are a girl, is difficult to do. I mean, how much of the difference between boys and girls is inbuilt, and how much of it is to do with social conditioning?

I want my daughter to grow up thinking she can be anything she wants to if she has the talent and if she works hard for it. I don't want her for a moment to think 'Oh, I can't do that - that's more of a man's job.' or 'It isn't a woman's place to do that, so I won't even try it'. This is a huge reason why I've started thinking these things through properly. Even though I'm still not entirely sure what I feel about all of it. I suppose that is what this post is about, really. Processing it.

While I don't think we should abolish pink altogether (far from it), I do feel concerned about the premature sexualisation of girls, which happens right from the kind of toys they play with ...

But this post is long enough as it is. More of that next time?

Let me know what you think about pink - and about gender-seperation of toys in general. Does it drive you crazy or are you a bit 'meh' about it? Let me know!


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Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Halfway through the early years

A while back, my daughter turned 2.5. Two and a half years old. She is a little person now. She has a favourite colour (red), she enjoys being silly and giggly, and she spends a lot of her time living in a happy, imaginary daydream world of toys and fun.

Jellybean is (just about) an autumn baby. She will start school in 2018. A couple of years away.

Although she starts preschool in January, starting school is a much bigger step. From then on, the majority of her days will not be with me; they will be with other people.

That is scary. 

It's exciting, too. I'm excited about school days: nativity plays and bookbags and seeing her work for the first time. But I'm not in a massive hurry for them to arrive. I'm happy we've still got two years of (mostly) being able to decide what to do with our days.

So, here we are at the halfway point, really. Just over halfway through the before-school years.

I love who she is right now.

I mean don't get me wrong: it's exhausting. Exhausting in a different way than when she was a baby. Now we get sleep (well. Most nights) but she requires SO MUCH MORE input to keep her entertained. When she was a baby she would spend hours staring at a blank wall. Now? She spends her time trying to find out how to climb up stuff, or hide behind stuff, or crawl underneath stuff.

She is little and brave and funny and sweet.

And I want to do this bit right.





The thing is, kids are pretty sheltered when they're at home all the time. When they get to school age (especially nowadays) they get assessed and judged and measured. I believe that most teachers are good people, and passionate about their jobs, and will protect their kids against the churning out of perfect-academic-non-creative-non-questioning-quietly-compliant-Conservative-government-dream-children ahem ... I mean, excessive government interference.

Right now, she is a two year old: she believes she can do anything, literally anything, from strapping herself into the car seat to buying a dinosaur from the supermarket. Over time, she will start to realise the limitations of reality, and she will start to learn about herself. Her strengths. Her weaknesses. Her own personality. What drives and motivates her.

But as she gets older, she will start getting judged and measured by people whose job is not to judge and measure. Like her peers. Like wider society. Like advertisers and marketers. She will start to doubt her capability. At times, her dreams will be narrowed and her sense of purpose will be threatened.

I can't do much about that. That is life.

I can only hope to start her on the right foot.

Me being me, I try not to only ever tell Jellybean that she is beautiful. Don't get me wrong, I'm not against the B word. I think she is the most beautiful thing I've ever seen. But I try and keep it balanced. I tell her that she isn't just beautiful, but that she is clever and kind and funny. Because she is. I'm not about to allow her to feel that her only 'thing' in life that she is good at is being cute - or that being prettier than other people is something to strive for.

I don't believe you can underestimate the importance of encouragement for children. Not just in words, but in actions: giving them a chance to stretch themselves, to accomplish something on their own that they couldn't do before. Jellybean is almost aggressively independent now - to her, the thought of me helping her put her shoes on is almost ridiculous. I celebrate that independence (sometimes through gritted teeth) because the look of pure joy on her face when she manages to do something by herself is amazing. She tries, and fails, and tries again, and eventually she masters it and I get to feel very proud and have to sit on my hands to stop myself from bragging about it on social media.

My daughter won't be good at everything. I know her already - she is a sensitive, emotional soul. I can already anticipate the kind of situations that she might find difficult in the future. It's not my job to make her more aware of those. It's my job to hold her hand while she navigates them, until she's old enough to do it on her own.

We are encouragers as parents. Not without boundaries, obviously. Not without a little bit of realism. But I want her to know that we believe in her: that we feel she is capable of, if not succeeding at everything she puts her mind to, then capable of trying and working hard to get there.

I feel like that's the most important thing we can impart to her at this stage in terms of future confidence and success. Not necessarily how many after school clubs we can afford to put her in or engineering useful friendships for her. I know these things matter: there's an obvious gap between rich kids and poor kids in terms of future success prospects, and it would be delusional to think that privilege doesn't matter, or that more wealthy parents might be able to afford better opportunities for their kids. But that kind of thinking, long-term, drives you insane: the thought that the rich and powerful and influential are born rich and powerful and influential and that life is full of massive inequality is enough to make a woman kind of angry. Pointless anger that doesn't achieve actually achieve anything. We have to do what we can to set her up for a good future, wherever she ends up.

Besides, riches and power are futile things to chase after anyway, right?

She does have a really good childhood when I stop to think about it.


Which is really, right now, all that we want.

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And then the fun began...

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