From three to four

Friday, 27 May 2016

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

Friday, 20 May 2016


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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Halfway through the early years

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

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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'You're doing parenting wrong!'

Saturday, 14 May 2016

I get annoyed with the media for encouraging 'Mummy wars'.


Oh shut up, Time Magazine.

First of all: it's a bit sexist. Why are women encouraged to attack other women all the time? Why are mothers blamed for every parenting decision but not fathers? Last time I heard this was 2016 and a lot of fathers quite like to be involved in how their children are raised. It's not like we've warped back to the dark ages where all husbands have to do is, well, you know, and then pace around in a hospital nine months later whilst smoking a cigar, before proceeding to have nothing to do with childrearing.

Anyway.

I just hate unnecessary judgement about other people's parenting choices. I understand disagreeing, or being concerned in extreme cases - but mostly, I think we waste way too much time and energy to critiquing other parents.

What do we get out of judging each others choices? Satisfaction? Confirmation that we are making the right choices? Maybe. But if that's all we're getting our parenting confidence from, then something is seriously wrong there.

Take buggies. I've overheard a conversation before about extended buggy use. (Frowned upon. Very). The consensus seemed to be that, past the age of two and a half or so, buggy use is unnecessary and possibly damaging to children.

First of all: if you object to buggy use for older children, then you object to children being driven around in cars. I have to walk thirty five minutes to get to my GP surgery - there's no way I'm making my toddler walk the entire way there and back on her little legs. Most people would just drive there, but I can't. But have you seen cars? They are like giant mechanical buggies. At least with buggies you have the option of turfing them out to walk around for a bit along the way. The last time I heard it wasn't considered safe to do the same thing whilst driving along in a car.

But I don't judge people for using cars. I would if I could. I'd drive everywhere, probably. But I can't. Yet.

Self-righteous anger aside, this kind of thing really sucks for parents that have children with not-instantly-obvious disabilities. Parents need (expensive) bigger buggies for much older children that may not necessarily look disabled from the outside, and this kind of mindless judgement just adds an extra layer of pressure and stress for people.

Listen, I was a great parent before I was one. I knew I how I was going to do it. Now? Sometimes I let her watch too much Paw Patrol because I take an age to wake up in the mornings, and one of her favourite types of food are 'chicken noogats' from McDonalds.


And yet ... in a massive stroke of hypocrisy, I find myself doing the same thing to other people sometimes. I might see, I don't know, a child running around with no coat on in the winter and think (before I can stop myself) 'tsk!'. Then I remember the time that Jellybean was really poorly and we had to take her outside three times a day in the cold, in just her t-shirt and leggings, to try and get her stubbornly un-shifting temperature down. (Doctors orders). Then I remember that sometimes actually letting them get cold is the only way the message 'but you'll be too cold!' will get through.

I really dislike myself when I judge other parents. But I still do it sometimes.

I'm really trying not to, though. I like to see the best in people. So what if someone pierces their baby's ears/lets them eat a giant slab of cake sometimes/still gives their closer-to-three-than-two year old a bottle of milk every night? (I hold my hand up to the last one). Unless you a) think you can make a real positive difference to that child by intervening directly or b) think they are actually in danger because of their parents' choices, there is literally NO point in bitching about it. You won't gain anything from it and the parent in question definitely won't, either. In fact, what we moan about probably says more about us than the other parent anyway.

And yet we do it anyway. Human nature! It sucks.

Self-control is the key, isn't it? To life in general. If we could all be a bit more sympathetic, there'd be a lot less pointless drama going on in the world - and maybe we'd be less distracted from serious issues that children are facing every day.


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Book Review - So You've Been Publicly Shamed, Jon Ronson

Tuesday, 10 May 2016


I don't think this was the point of the book, but So You've Been Publicly Shamed should be required reading for anyone with a social media account. Either to prevent you from saying something so drastically stupid that it could ruin your life, or to make you think twice about jumping on the bandwagon and kicking someone while they're down.

This is the first Ronson book I have read. I read an extract of it when it was first published and knew I wanted to read it at some point. Then I heard him on Adam Buxton's podcast, and hearing him talk so honestly about his experiences since having the book published made me go to Waterstones and buy it. Since then, I've pinched my husband's Kindle to read Them: Adventures with Extremists (also brilliant).

So You've Been Publicly Shamed explores what happens when someone - like Lindsey Stone, for instance - makes a bad joke on social media, and then finds that their life is forever altered because of it.

Ronson follows the journey that people go through when they find themselves a victim of public shaming. Whether they've been called out for plagiarizing, or had their photograph plastered all over Twitter because they made a silly joke to a friend, their stories are fascinating and intense and horrifying all at once. The damage that can be done to peoples livelihoods and reputations is immense - and many of his interviewees are still very much haunted by the mistakes that they have made.

The book delves into the roots of public shaming - the public square, where people used to watch people being flogged, punished for their crimes - and ponders whether social-media shaming is the modern-day equivalent of this. His examination of the human capacity to revel in other people's punishment is squirm-inducing to say the least.

What I really like about Ronson is his ability to really capture a person (I found this to be the case with Them, too) - all of a person, all of their nuances, the good bits, the bad bits and the funny bits. Rarely is a person in his books portrayed flatly - you really get to know the people he is with, and it makes you sympathise with them even if they have said or done terrible things, which really is a remarkable gift as a writer.

He also injects a dose of himself into his books - with his sense of humour, his dry wit, and his ability to poke fun at himself for his actions in awkward situations. So You've Been Publicly Shamed starts with his own encounter with a Twitter bot (which I found baffling, unsettling, and a bit funny at the same time), and ends with his own experience of being publicly shamed when an early edition of the book is leaked. Ronson gets public shaming, because he's been there: and he still puts himself out there by sympathising with the people Twitter loves to hate.

This book provoked two reactions in me: one was, as I said at the beginning, to kind of never want to Tweet anything ever again. But the second feeling I had was an uncomfortable probing of my own fear of this kind of thing - the fear of other people's scorn, the fear of negative reaction, the fear of people misunderstanding me - and whether by playing along with it, I am actually accepting a weird form of social control, sticking within the boundaries, never saying or doing anything that might upset the status quo.

Fascinating, sad, kind of horrifying, and hilarious at times - this is one of my favourite books so far this year. And if any of my friends are reading this post, feel free to borrow it from me!

You can find more information about Jon Ronson and his books here, and follow him on Twitter here.

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Faith and Feminism Part Three - Forever young

Saturday, 7 May 2016

We now have a laptop :) regular posting can recommence! Yay!



You can probably guess from the title what this one will be about. I've written about this before, but I was surprised to find myself feeling the pressure to lose the baby weight after Jellybean was born. I didn't like my wobbly tummy, that's for sure.

Women's magazines and websites don't like women to look like they've had a baby. They like headlines and articles like these:


I like to imagine all these women have had extended out-of-body experiences and are so overjoyed to be back in their bodies again that they give interviews about it.

The thing is, for most women, this is unattainable. I don't know anyone that could afford a personal trainer. In fact, I don't know many people that even have the money for gym memberships. Never mind dieticians, and nannies to watch the children while you work out. Never mind super-expensive health food.

To be honest, I'm okay with that. And most mothers I know are, too: we have accepted that our bodies will never be the same again. I, for one, found that nearly my whole body changed shape after having Jellybean: I didn't just have a wobbly tummy to contend with, it was like having a new body. (Shopping for clothes after that was fun. Not.) People understand this, though, and don't expect mothers to drop all the weight immediately like celebrities do.

Well. Most people, anyway.

*Clears throat*

But it's more the underlying attitude that gets me - the idea that, in order to be 'ourselves' again, we have to erase the evidence of ever having carried a child, and carry on looking the way we did when we were in our early twenties. I don't get that. I don't like that there is another aspect of ourselves that we are supposed to hide or change to become palatable to people. I don't like that we aren't supposed to embrace who we are: not who we once were, but who we are now, with all of the physical changes that go along with that. It's like ageing: we're not really supposed to do that. But what is the point? What is the point of trying to look forever eighteen? I don't just think it's unrealistic: I think the pursuit of eternal youth is unhealthy. It is undermining the wisdom, experiences, and life that we have had after that point. And it continues to push the idea that attractive = young and the right shape. Which frankly, is a lot to do with a) what stage of life you happen to be at right now, and b) genetics.

Well, mostly. You can kind of control your body shape naturally without surgical procedures. But it's not easy. Not a lot of women are naturally slim with curves in the right places - a lot of us have a family history of wobbly thighs or big upper arms. It takes a heck of a lot of dedication to fight against your DNA. I'm not saying we shouldn't ever feel self-concious about it. I had a little wobble recently when I noticed lines around my eyes for the first time. But we should be able to deal with those feelings on our own terms without being sold the idea that Young Is Beautiful all the time.

Making this point perfectly, Gillian Anderson recently tweeted this:


Do people actually get paid for writing headlines like this?

And then this:


I mean to be fair it's the Daily Mail. To expect more of them would be, you know, misguided at best. I love that she called them out for it, though. How does this stuff make up a whole PAGE of a newspaper? 'In a SHOCKING turn of events, woman looks older than she did twenty years ago. But maybe not old enough actually.'

Interestingly there was no mention of David Duchovny and how he has or hasn't aged since the X Files finished.

It's easy to laugh this kind of stuff off, but I really believe it has a trickle-down effect. Women are under more pressure than ever to look younger for longer. 

This obsession with erasing all evidence of our bodies actually going through life - and dealing with the trauma that sometimes comes and the sorrows and the joys and the laughter, all of it - and of hiding away the fact that we have, in fact, once carried life inside us, disturbs me.

Recently, I read an excellent blog post by Al from The Dad Network about bikini wearing in pregnancy. The blog was about the comments you can read under celebrity gossip articles (I've said this before - if you want to avoid rage, never read the comments on things like that!) about celebrity women in bikinis during pregnancy. This blogger couldn't understand the disgust that people expressed when seeing an exposed baby bump. He included a picture of his own wife with a beautiful bump. And then someone commented:

'Disgusting. I will never understand why you people insist we think and feel the way you do. Seeing a pregnant woman is instantaneously repulsive to me; more so when the shebeast is bikini clad.
I bet your own wife looks great pregnant with your child. The rest of us would just like some damned decorum and respect.'

I mean, as much as I hate drawing attention to trolls, it needs to be said: what?! I'll never understand why people are so disgusted by pregnancy and breastfeeding. 'Put your beautiful display of human biology away. IT'S GROSS. I mean, I like sex, but I'd rather not think about the natural consequences of it THANK YOU VERY MUCH.' I mean, I guess we're going to have to agree to disagree, Mr Troll: but it goes to show the weird attitudes we have to our own natural bodily processes.

It's like the whole breastfeeding debate: despite the fact that I hate the extreme, you-must-breastfeed-or-you-are-a-terrible-human-being argument that pops up every now and then, I celebrate when I see women breastfeeding. As in, using their breasts for their actual function. I think it's amazing. The people that moan about breastfeeding, I suspect, might not be the same people that were fighting against Page 3 a while back. I don't think its breasts in general that offend them: it's breasts that aren't purely for pleasure that freak them out.

I hate all this: this mangled, twisted way that women are supposed to feel about themselves and the way their bodies are. Somewhere along the line our purpose has changed from nourishing, life-growing people, to objects to be looked at and used for pleasure.

Thankfully I see people pushing back against this. The Belly Project is a blog collecting images of real women's stomachs - the person remains anonymous but they explain the age of the women, and how many children they have had, etc. It is beautiful to see actual, realistic looking bodies of all shapes and sizes. Along a similar theme, Look at Me! is a project that aims to challenge the current perceptions of older women in our society. I love that there are places to turn when you want to see realistic, untouched images of women - these beautiful projects send a loud message to a world that is obsessed with putting a glossy veneer on life itself.

***

Do you know of any more online movements or projects that celebrate women for more than how quickly they've slimmed down after birth? Had any real-life body shaming? Comment and let's talk about it :)


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