Material Girl

I realised recently that I had slipped into a bit of a rut, in terms of my appearance, and that perhaps it was reflective of a sense of exhaustion and maybe even futility about life currently. Not in a dramatic way; just in a kids-tag-teaming-through-the-night-and-I’m-completely-knackered sort of way. And I realised that my lack of effort in terms of my appearance was not only reflecting my ennui but also feeding it. So this week I have been taking a bit more care: drying my hair rather than scraping it into a ponytail, wearing shoes other than my trusty Nikes, putting on some lipstick… and it feels good. I’ve felt more confident, eager to face the world, and that makes me happier. 

I don’t want to overthink it, as I am clearly prone to do. I’ve been mulling over a post  on self-esteem, body image, and being a good role model for my children (my daughter in particular), but the soul-searching is proving a bit… bleak. So, I’m actually going to let myself enjoy the process of making an effort for a while, instead of lamenting my inability to separate my appearance and my sense of self-worth! And instead of fighting our image-obsessed, patriarchal society (I’ll do that soon though, I promise), I thought I’d share some of the things that have been improving my mood this week:

  • glittery brogues from Taschka (I don’t think I need to explain why these are life-enhancing!)

  • this dress from Hush (look, it can be styled in lots of different ways, thereby enabling an extremely low cost-per-wear assessment! #abbottonomics)

  • Living Proof No Frizz shampoo and conditioner: compensating for an increasing number of greys by making the gingers shiny! (currently on sale at Blow via the link)

  • Aftershokz Treks Air bone-conducting headphones (I have hardly been able to run in the last four years and I am seriously excited to get going again. And with these awesome headphones, I can run! I can hear my music! I can hear the traffic/ general harassment from unpleasant men! It’s (mostly) good to be back!) 

None of these things will change your life in a big way, but one of them might cheer you up a little bit. And sometimes it’s the little things that keep you going when the big things are too tedious or immovable or difficult to do anything about.

Be happy, lovely readers!

Advertisements

Village People

It’s become something of a cliché to talk about a parent’s need for a village to raise their children but, as I lie in my bed failing to sleep off a debilitating bout of infective mastitis and I hear my wonderful nanny taking care of the children downstairs, it feels like an omission not to talk about it.

I live far from my parents in Scotland, and quite far from my husband’s parents in the south of England. I didn’t go to school or university in London. Many of my friends from law school or work have since moved to the sticks to raise their kids: escaping terrifying stabbings on the doorstep, choking pollution and exorbitant house prices in search of charming village greens, enormous back gardens and (it would seem) a fucking hideous commute.

My sister moved to south London a couple of years ago; though it’s not really *that* far, it involves a day trip, organised in advance, rather than popping in to see each other. (My other sister moved to Mexico, so it’s a good job she’s so lovely or I’m not sure we’d be on speaking terms.)

So to where/whom do I turn, when my left boob turns a blazing red, I have a dizzying temperature and I feel like I’ve been hit by a truck?

My husband, luckily. He is supportive and amazing and I’m very very glad he’s mine. But he works tremendously hard (largely so that I can focus on looking after the kids) and I can’t call upon him every time that I wish I could: he has meetings, deadlines, responsibilities that can be passed on only in fairly dire circumstances.

My best friend, thank god. I’m not sure exactly how we managed it, but 17 years after meeting at university, we live literally around the corner from each other. She also has two kids, one of whom is just a few weeks younger than my son. There have been times when our circumstances haven’t allowed for anything more than toiling through life’s mundanities with our heads down (and will she ever forgive the betrayal of me moving to New York shortly after our sons were born instead of staying here to enjoy our maternity leave together?!) but more recently we have increasingly found ways to help each other: sometimes we take care of the other’s kids so we can get some work done or go to an unavoidable appointment; some blissful days we hang out all together and we drink tea and (increasingly often) take it in turns to offer mediation services for toddler squabbles; sometimes we all have supper together (although always at her house – did you see my previous post?!). I am so grateful that my best girl is so close.

Finally, I have the world’s most incredible nanny. She started working for us when I started working part-time when my son was around 16 months and she continues to improve my life in every possible way (not just when I’m too sick to get out of bed).

This triumvirate of THANK GOD are my saviours.

But three makes a pretty small village! And sometimes my husband is stuck at work and my best friend is doing the school run and my nanny is looking after her other charges or (god forbid) on holiday and I find myself thinking that I need more support!

I often find refuge online: I chat to fellow parents, some of whom kept me sane and made me laugh (usually to the point of waking a sleeping baby with a snort) during endless spells of cluster feeding, worries about allergies and reflux, problems with breastfeeding and weaning, and wondering if dungarees make me look like a children’s TV presenter and, indeed, if that is actually a problem… I’m not sure I can overstate how important some of these friends were to my confidence as a parent and to my mental health when I moved to New York and my village of three was a tiny village of one.

I have also noticed, since writing this blog in particular, that Facebook and Instagram hosts friends from school with whom I’ve not spoken in years and family friends and friends from my former work and friends of friends and some complete strangers, who are parents now or hope to be and who want to talk about parenting, who are going through many of the same things as me and who are helpful and kind. The best bit about posting a new blog article is, without doubt, the conversation that often ensues; it makes me feel a part of something, and maybe sometimes like I’m helping a bit too.

So I am growing an online village too, which makes me feel happy, mostly. But it also leaves me wanting more sometimes. In part because I think the internet can bring a sense of false intimacy, a feeling of closeness that might be a bit less profound than you realise. The second is that I can’t leave my kids with a virtual babysitter (obviously the TV has its place, but it isn’t very good at feeding them or changing nappies). So when the shit hits the fan and I am struggling to cope, my online village is generally too distant, literally and sometimes figuratively, to be able to help.

And I don’t just want a village for emergencies! When a long day looking after two kids stretches before me, with the only prospect of adult conversation the Amazon delivery driver or the woman who makes my takeaway coffee in our local cafe, it would help (definitely a little but sometimes a lot) to meet up with a friend in the playground or have them pop over for a cup of tea (or wine, depending on how long the day in question has been thus far).

But… (and I feel like a teenager writing her diary as I type) making new friends is so hard! I’ve often chatted to fellow mums in a cafe, at a baby music class or even in the GP’s waiting room, but I’ve never been brave enough to bridge the gulf of unfamiliarity and vulnerability to ask them for a coffee.

I’ve also seen lots of meet-ups for mums on Instagram but I’ve only been brave enough to go to one so far (an “OLA Mama mum meet” about photography, which was fantastic but I arrived late, perhaps missing the mingling, and I didn’t feel like I’d overcome my nerves by the time I left again!). Tomorrow afternoon, if I can shake this wretched mastitis, I’m going to Victoria Park in East London for a picnic/chinwag/couple-of-hours-of-preventing-my-son-climbing-into-the-lake-like-the-last-time-we-went-there organised by a lovely local mama with whom I share a love of leopard print and the Dalston Curve Garden, which I’m pretty sure means we are bound to be lifelong friends. Maybe one day I’ll FINALLY go along to Forest Kids Hackney, as inspired by that same local mama (though I will perhaps hold off until my son’s favourite thing to do in public isn’t to run away from me and hide), or try out one of the many new apps that launched in the last six months or so for making mama friends, like Peanut or Mush (I *think* they’re a bit like Tinder but with (I assume) much less shagging).

There are so many opportunities to meet people if you want to, but so often I find that I’m too anxious or too shy or too preoccupied with life (does anyone else spend most of their free time (“free” in the loosest sense of the term) doing laundry, ordering groceries and packing up clothes to return to online shops?!) to make the effort. I’m inherently lazy; I want the benefit of friends without having to put in the work! Clearly the answer to that is to sort out my priorities, but ugh: speaking to new people is so hard!

It’s time for another antibiotic and hopefully some sleep now, so I’m going to press post and check in the morning if writing with a fever is as productive qualitatively as well as quantitively. I suspect not, but hopefully in the meantime you can let me know if you have made new mum friends and, if so, how! (And can I come along next time?)

Where is everyone? 

No offence intended, but…

You may have noticed a bit of a gap since my last post. I started blogging full of enthusiasm and feeling as though I had something I really wanted to share. And I was surprised by the kind response and the extent of engagement, from friends, acquaintances and some complete strangers. But then, if I’m honest, I felt tired, and worried about writing anything more. I found myself stuck on the question of why it is so hard to address the different ways in which we reconcile motherhood and life beyond. In particular, I thought it would make sense for my next post to discuss why I am currently a stay at home parent, but I felt apprehensive about broaching the topic. And then, in fairly time-honoured tradition, I allowed my anxiety to spiral, wondering if I could continue to talk about any of my personal experiences of motherhood – breastfeeding my toddler, co-sleeping with my baby, possibly delaying the school start of my August-born son until he is five, etc – without inadvertently offending someone or instigating a stressful debate.

Objectively, I know that my opinion on the best childcare option for my children has absolutely no bearing on the merits of someone else’s decision regarding the care of their own children, and vice versa. And this is also true for the multitude of other decisions I make about the raising of my children: some agonised over for weeks or months with my husband; some instinctive or obvious or not even needing discussion, but all specific to our personal circumstances and beliefs and therefore largely irrelevant to anyone else. But even knowing this, some recent discussions I have had, and my failure to articulate my view without upsetting some other parents, has been bothering me.

When does attempting to be objective turn into “no offence intended, but…”? Nobody wants to be the “no offence intended, but…” person (ranking second only to the “I’m not a racist, but…” person on the Katie Hopkins Scale of Odium). But (ha!), when it comes to our children, it seems very difficult to talk about our opinions, why we have made the decisions we’ve made, without that being heard as a judgment or a criticism by (and of) others. Why is it so hard to step back and consider things impartially? Why are so many of us on the defensive? Against whom, or what, are we defending ourselves?

And is it even worthwhile raising these questions, if what is at stake is either so personal so as to be inapplicable to anyone else or so difficult to discuss, or inflammatory, that people become upset or angered?

I don’t know the answers to these questions (although it feels like one of those situations where “The Patriarchy” and/or “The Daily Mail” would be a reasonable response to at least one of them). I don’t think that just because a topic is hard, or contentious, that it should be avoided, but, at the same time, I don’t currently feel sufficiently robust, or informed, or articulate, to take on all that divides us!

It might be a bit cowardly but, for now, contemplating my personal experience, asking some (probably rhetorical) questions and perhaps prompting a gentle discussion on Facebook or Instagram is all I can muster.*

Bear with me if you can.**

Processed with VSCO with a8 preset

You said WHAAAAT to a group of working mothers? Oh Christ. 


*I’m currently reading “The Life Changing Magic of Not Giving a Fuck” so perhaps will feel more comfortable courting controversy in due course 😂

 

** I just realised I’ve asked you to bear with me for two of my three posts so far. I am extremely demanding of your patience. Thanks if you’ve managed.

Balance

I hesitated for a considerable time before sharing my first post. I wondered if it made me seem miserable. I wasn’t sure if my honesty might be misinterpreted as unhappiness. I was also concerned that I might be crossing a line in terms of the sanctity of our family life. I share a lot on social media, Instagram in particular, but I have always been very mindful not to post anything that I think could upset or humiliate my children later. I asked myself: what would they think if they read this? 

Would they worry that they weren’t enough? 

As I said in my first post, these reflections on my life, and my confusion as to my identity presently, don’t stem from feelings of sadness or regret. So why the need to (over)share them now? 

I think my current wistfulness comes from a couple of places.  

The first is my belief that, as a society, we do not value the role of a stay at home parent (or, in fact, the act of caring for anyone, whether as part of a family relationship or professionally). Even the terminology* feels derisive: as though a person who chooses to be the primary caregiver for their child has failed to maintain a meaningful contribution to modern society. They have ‘stayed at home’; checked out. Few people seem to recognise any worth in what I am doing. And I’m not looking for a medal, incidentally, or my name in lights. Just an acknowledgement that caring for children all day, every day, is hard work, as well as a privilege. I haven’t become a “lady who lunches” (that particular gem was, quite genuinely, said to me by one of the male partners when I went into the office to resign in person at the end of my maternity leave). I do not believe that I am “Helping Kill Feminism and Mak[ing] the War on Women Possible” (thanks for the solidarity, Elizabeth Wurtzel**). I do not accept the suggestion that I have let myself, or anyone else, down by making this choice. I know I shouldn’t let these stereotypes bother me and, on a good day, they don’t. But I’m unfortunately not quite so robust so as to manage perpetual indifference as to what others think of me. I’m working on it.

The second is more significant and also much simpler: although I am confident in the decision to stay at home with my children for this stage of their lives, it has involved a sacrifice in terms of my identity and my career (perhaps in part because the former was so wrapped up in the latter). It would be too easy if I saw motherhood as my vocation; if there was nothing else I wanted. That isn’t realistic. I will not do myself or my family the disservice of pretending that I am one-dimensional. When my children grow up, I want to be able to show them how much I adore them but also how important it is to find a balance. 

When my son was born, I was completely overwhelmed by the gravity of my love for him. It was all-consuming and disorienting. It left almost nothing in its wake. Combined with his fairly poor health and a temporary move when he was just eight weeks old, far from family and friends, I was submerged by motherhood, completely. It took quite a long time to recover and, by the time I was beginning to raise my head above the parapet once more, I was pregnant again! 

Although I currently find myself thoroughly engrossed by life with two children, the arrival of my daughter hasn’t subsumed me in the same way. I have felt much better equipped to cope. I think that’s why the time feels right to explore and enjoy something beyond motherhood. I know that it won’t be the same something as before. Life has changed, irrevocably, and I have changed with it. 

And so, the question of whether my children are or should be “enough” just isn’t the right one. They shouldn’t have to be “enough”. 

They are so much more than that! 

They are my everything. 

But at the same time, they can’t be my only.  

Trying to find a balance 


*I do use the term “stay at home mum/parent” for convenience but suggestions of any good alternatives would be welcomed! 

** I appreciate that I haven’t managed a very timely rejection of this piece but reject it I certainly do https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2012/06/1-wives-are-helping-kill-feminism-and-make-the-war-on-women-possible/258431/

Where to start

I feel like I want to start a blog, but I’m not sure exactly why. Perhaps I’d just like to start a conversation; have a chat. I know there are so many blogs out there. What would make mine different? Me, I suppose. There’s only one of me.

I recently read an article in the Guardian about mothers who regret becoming mothers: one of the final taboos.

The article quotes Sarah Fischer, who writes, “The reality of motherhood… is incontinence, boredom, weight gain, saggy breasts, depression, the end of romance, lack of sleep, dumbing down, career downturn, loss of sex drive, poverty, exhaustion and lack of fulfilment… [The father] fall[s] in love with an independent career woman who turns into a cook-clean-bake mummy; or suddenly only wants to talk about the children; or becomes depressive; or ignores you.” Whereas, she says, “when a mother is born, the person she used to be is left by the wayside”.

It hurt to read this. I adore being a mother and I absolutely do not regret it. But this does ring true. I was a successful lawyer in the City; now, my husband comes home from work and talks about his day and, when he finishes, I tell him about going to the playground or what my son said or when my daughter rolled over… One day I spoke to him for at least half an hour about an altercation I’d had with a woman who walked in front of me on the pavement and whom I accidentally clipped with my buggy. (I remain completely indignant. She shouted at me and, when I pointed out she had changed direction on the pavement and so walked into my path, she said “what do you think I should do, look behind me when I’m walking?” To which I said, “yes! If you’re changing paths!” Anyway. Let’s hope she doesn’t often drive on the motorway). I could hear how boring I was being. I couldn’t stop. I have nothing more to share. My days are sometimes tedious as I live them; they are almost always tedious in the retelling.

I don’t know how to explain how this isn’t a story of regret. I adore my children. I live for them. I take a hundred photos a day so I can look at them again when they’re sleeping. I share their photos on Instagram, mostly because my family are far away, but also because I want to shout their beauty and wonder to everyone. I am completely besotted.

But I am also pining for old me. I miss my independence. I don’t miss my job (and I especially don’t miss the politics), but I miss having something that was mine and that I was good at. I miss the prestige. I feel like a dick for admitting that but it’s true. Few people value the role of a stay at home mother. (I’m not sure *that* many value the role of a corporate tax lawyer either actually, but more do). People from what feels like a past life look at me oddly (or I think they do) because I’ve stopped working. I was once the woman described by Fischer – determined, independent, fierce and excellent at my job. What am I now? Why does “stay at home mum” not measure up? Is it because you can be a mother *and* those other things? I don’t know how to reclaim my value without sounding like I’m denigrating those who don’t stay at home. I don’t want to pit myself against anyone. But I want to be recognised. I want the world to see my worth.

Ooof. Maybe this was not where I planned to begin a blog. Perhaps this is a post for later on. I might start instead with my post-natal hair loss, my obsession with kids’ clothing (they are so much better dressed than me), the burgeoning of my new career (current status: stalled by new baby), my favourite things to do with my kiddies, my experience of home birthing or “extended” breastfeeding, my terrible attempts at cooking or how we manage with multiple food allergies, my current dilemma about my summer born boy and when he starts school, or my efforts to get fit again after two kids… I don’t know. Should I start a blog at all?

Looks like I have. Bear with me.