New Year: New Starts or Same Old?

New Year’s resolutions seem to be getting a bit of a bashing on my social media this year! I have no interest in obsessing about my weight or adopting a crazy diet or giving up booze or any such nonsense, but personally I really enjoy the ‘new term’ feeling of January and the opportunity to reflect and plan for positive change. I might not keep up everything over the whole year, but some things usually stick and I feel better for them.

This year I really want to focus on my own well-being, physical and mental. The adage “you can’t pour from an empty cup” resounds. I have spent much of 2017 tired, in pain and feeling anxious and I feel as though I’ve reached my limit of what I can give to others (my family and the community) in this current state. So I’m desperate to get back to good health. For me, this means a renewed focus on exercise – I’m going to commit to one hour of PT and one run a week, in addition to my current Pilates session – and also an attempt to eat better. I’m not about to give up sugar or caffeine but the two comprise around 60% of my current diet and I feel totally shit for it. And I think in December my Deliveroo count was at around… *whispers*… five a week. So, more home-cooking and fewer sugary snacks. Takeaway is going to be limited to Friday night only and I’m going to try to cut down to one ‘treat’ a day (I know this is still loads but I can’t even admit what I’m reducing from!!). Hopefully more sensible, balanced eating will develop over the year. And I’m sure that if I can feel less crap physically, I will feel better mentally too.

Another thing that I know will help my mental health is to cut down on my spending, which frankly had gone NUTS by the time Christmas arrived. I have a few exceptions already agreed with myself (ear piercing, teeth whitening and a Keep Cup and reusable water bottle!) but otherwise I’m going to cap all non-essential spending until the end of March. If I want to buy anything new, I need to sell something to raise the funds. I’ve done this before and it was hard but satisfying. I have already started to unsubscribe from the many, many emails I receive from my favourite online shops, which feels worryingly like a bereavement. The next step, that I am dreading also, is to unfollow the online retailers who tempt me daily on Instagram. It feels sad, because I love to be inspired, but actually it is too hard to resist the lure of beautiful things, multiple times a day. I’m less sure about Instagram influencers – should I unfollow them too, even if I find them funny and/or interesting? It’s hard, when the lines have become so blurred between marketing and entertainment. What do you think?

Another aspect of life that has been getting me down is the state of our house. It is cluttered and, frankly, a mess. I am going to write a list of things we need to do and focus on getting at least one job done each week. First up – BE GONE, CHRISTMAS! I’m so sick of our droopy tree!

So far, so selfish! Looking outward, I want to get back to volunteering and I’m going to take January to explore some options, with the goal of starting something new in February. I previously helped as a legal volunteer at the Prisoners’ Advice Service and Liberty and I’m hoping to gain some further experience in the social welfare/human rights areas. If anyone has any suggestions/opportunities, let me know! I’m also going to continue my work as a trustee of A Mile in Her Shoes – we have lots to do in the year ahead, including from a legal perspective, so I’m excited about that.

I also want to do MUCH more to improve my waste from an environmental perspective. I absolutely loved the idea of @arthur_eats on Instagram to change one small thing each month and I’m determined to get on with it instead of merely admiring from afar! First up, I am going to stop bulk-buying 500ml bottles of sparkling water (and drinking about five a day). It is so terribly wasteful and simply not justifiable. I am completely addicted though, so I am going to be kind to myself and buy some large 2 litre bottles to make the weaning process a little more gentle. So, a reusable water bottle is one of my ‘permitted’ purchases! Any recommendations? I need something that can go in the dishwasher or I’ll never use it! Next to go will be my preposterous disposable coffee cup use (hence the Keep Cup on my ‘allowed to buy’ list).

Next up, I am going to borrow a resolution from last year, that I stuck with for a few months, which was to read more. I adore reading but often find myself in an unsatisfying cycle of Instagram/Facebook scrolling and online shopping instead. Hopefully the spending ban will help with this one! Any must-reads for the new year? Nothing too taxing to begin with please!

Finally, I want to see much more of my loved ones. 2017 has been a completely brutal year in terms of health for my family. Unfathomable in many ways, to be honest. But what has been made clear is that taking people for granted is for fools. You have to invest your love, and time, to make the best memories. The moments I’ve had watching my children bond with their grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins and close friends have been, without doubt, the best moments of the year. So I need to do better. Invite people, travel more, be less absorbed by my little life and more committed to my wider family. I can’t fix anything, or anyone, but at least I can be there.

And that is a LOT to be getting on with. I am excited to begin: I love fresh starts!

What’s your NY resolution policy? Do you have any plans?

Just do it indeed. Less talk, more action, Gemma!

Advertisements

Gender Expectations: A Tale of the Unexpected

Clearly I’m biased, but I think my daughter is seriously cute. A little bundle of pale skin, gappy teeth and chubby thighs, with a smatter of ginger-ish hair on top. Recently she’s become a bit suspicious of anyone new, but if you can win her over, her smile will make you grin. She was strikingly similar to my son when first born; they have diverged a bit now – in particular my son has deep brown eyes that remind me of chocolate buttons (somewhat cruelly given that his allergies were responsible for my dairy-free diet for more than three years) and the colour of my daughter’s eyes is hard to pin down but seems to be settling into a steely sort of grey/blue – but they remain pretty similar. Which is perhaps one of the reasons that she is mistaken for a boy approximately 90% of the time. Although, come to think of it, that would make more sense were it not for the fact that my son is mistaken for a girl around 30-40% of the time.

And wow, people are EMBARRASSED if/when they realise they’ve made a mistake. Like, completely mortified. To the point that I try to ease their discomfort: most frequently, I hear myself saying, “it’s ok, she just looks like a baby! Babies don’t need to look like boys or girls, do they? They’re just… babies!” (you’d think that perhaps I would have honed this, given how many times I’ve said it, but nope – that’s pretty much verbatim). And if they still look desperately uncomfortable, I add that if I thought it were a problem, I would dress her in more “girly” clothes; man, if I really cared, I’d stick one of those (I’m sorry but) RIDICULOUS bows on her almost-bald head.

Because, as a second child, she wears her fair share of hand-me-downs from her big brother. And I have always thought that gender-neutral clothing makes sense for kids. I absolutely hate the idea boys should be interested only in cars and tractors and fire engines and have them emblazoned on their clothes at all times, or that girls should wear pretty shoes even if they are too slippy-soled to allow for climbing a slide or kicking a ball, or that certain colours should be reserved for a child according to their genitalia… This approach has allowed me to enjoy buying clothes for my son over the last few years, without the fetters of expectation. He really suits pink, he loves animal prints and sparkly things and pom poms and metallic shoes – AND WHY WOULD HE NOT? These things are all awesome! I wouldn’t feel comfortable using his wardrobe as some sort of political statement about the ludicrousness of gender-based stereotypes; I haven’t bought him dresses or skirts (although I am perfectly relaxed about the idea that he will want to dress up as Elsa from Frozen in the future, as is his Generation Alpha rite of passage). But I don’t feel limited to the “boys’ section” of the shop for sure and, in fact, I try to buy from independent brands that generally don’t seek to segregate their range into two distinct parts.

Because of this, I had assumed that his clothes would pass easily to his wee sister. She does wear some of them. And when she is wearing them, she often gets mistaken for a boy. People are obsessed with gender as a binary construct and with allocating one of those genders to babies, that is without doubt. And they are extremely likely to assume that your baby is a boy if they are wearing blue, green, brown, grey, red… anything but pink it would seem. It turns out gender-neutral might actually just mean clothes for boys that aren’t awful traditionally “boyish”.

And I would have thought a few months ago that this post would end here. She wears his clothes, she gets mistaken for a boy sometimes, I don’t care but wow other people seem to care a lot, isn’t that funny, the end.

Except that I seem to have developed a taste for dressing her in beautiful, traditionally “feminine” clothes. Dusty pink cashmere and Liberty prints and adorable little rompers… And she looks so bloody cute I can’t even handle it.

WHAT DOES THIS MEAN?

WHITHER MY PRINCIPLES?!

I honestly, HONESTLY don’t care when people think she’s a boy. I genuinely feel nonchalance when having the conversations described above, occasionally some mild bemusement depending upon how awkward the other person seems to be feeling. But now I’m second guessing myself. Maybe I do care? Maybe my subconscious is in charge of my online shopping? Maybe my subconscious is a big fucking hypocrite?!

As I think about it more, I wonder if I would feel more upset for my daughter if she were five and everyone thought she was a boy. I don’t *think* I would worry for her. But if she were ten? Fifteen? Twenty-five?

I am a woman who has never felt particularly feminine (indeed who feels totally ridiculous using the word “woman” to describe herself), who definitely wonders if some aspects of life might have felt a bit easier if she was pretty…

Am I trying to reclaim femininity for my daughter now, in case she needs or wants it later?

If that is what I am up to (and I genuinely can’t work it out), then it strikes me as a profoundly futile task. My daughter’s femininity is resolutely none of my business or doing. I will teach her, and my son, all I know about womanhood, and what (little) I know about femininity, if they are interested. But how she lives her life, how she presents herself to the world, how she feels about her self: those are matters for her.

So as long as her clothes remain practical – as long as they don’t fetter what she can do or what I will allow her to do – hopefully it doesn’t matter too much what colour they are or what preconceived notion of gender she meets when she wears them. And if she’s anything like her brother, she’ll be styling herself within the year anyway.

Number of times he was called a girl in this outfit? At least three in one afternoon. Leopard print is for girls apparently.

Number of times she was called a boy in this outfit? At least six. Lightening bolts are for boys apparently. I thought, as per the previous photo, that leopard print was for girls but not when teamed with lightening bolts it seems.

Blush pink cardigans and cashmere bonnets and hearts and sparkles on shoes. My guilty pleasures, it turns out. Cute, huh?

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!

Buy stuff; feel better

I saw a post on Instagram tonight relating to the closure of an online kids’ clothing shop that I have used a couple of times. The ensuing discussion was about the difficulties that small retailers are facing currently, in particular given the prevailing exchange rate. Although I hadn’t often used this particular shop, their closure made me feel surprisingly sad, and weirdly… guilty.

Since they ruined my figure and forced me to wear only clothes that allow the hasty removal of a boob at a moment’s notice, I have re-channelled my shopping compulsion in the direction of my children. I bloody love buying them clothes. In part because they look so cute in everything that it is extremely rewarding; also because they are so pleasingly quick to grow that I get to do it almost continually, which is extremely gratifying for an addict. I generally dress them in fairly gender-neutral clothes (I mean, I don’t care if my daughter wears dresses (as long as she isn’t physically inhibited by them) but I don’t want every t-shirt my son wears to have a fucking tractor on it and, if it does, then I’m happy for it to be handed down to my daughter). I try to dress them in well-made, ethically-sourced clothes. I want them to wear things that are fun to wear and fun to look at. And I don’t feel like it’s very easy to follow this approach using high street brands only.

So, tonight has provided a useful reminder that it is incumbent on me to continue to give my custom to the small shops that I follow on Instagram, who import the clothes I like and from whom I gain inspiration, because if I don’t, THEY WILL CLOSE.

Moreover, although I am a ridiculously avid online shopper, I also think there is a responsibility on me to frequent my local shops and… ACTUALLY BUY FROM THEM TOO … if I want them to stay around. I have an amazing local kids’ shop – Olive Loves Alfie – and they curate a beautiful collection of original and ethical kids’ brands. And yet I know I have been guilty of admiring something in the shop only to buy it at a later date online. (This isn’t because I am waiting for a better price, in my defence – it’s because I online shop in a daze of exhaustion and breastfeeding-induced oxytocin and so quite often justify purchases online that I have ruled out in the cold light of day!)

And, whilst I am confessing my sins, I am particularly bad at relying on Amazon Prime for books and art supplies, when I have a decent local bookshop and several local arts and crafts shops and most of my favourite online shops also stock these things. I do this despite knowing that Amazon have been accused of horrendous working conditions for staff and that the impatient, reckless consumerism that initiatives such as Amazon Prime have promoted props up the gig economy that has left so many people underpaid and burdened by the artifice of self-employment.

I. Must. Do. Better.

I know that I am writing from a place of privilege. I spend more on kids’ clothing than most people do: I appreciate that. And I am not proposing to stop buying things from the high street altogether (my children’s white vests will be M&S until I die, I’d imagine). But I really, really value my favourite online shops and local boutiques. And yet my valuing them is totally meaningless unless I actually give them my money.

I thought I’d share this in case it resonates with you too. And because, even if you don’t take it as a call to arms, at least you can use it as inspiration to buy something guilt-free in the name of supporting a small business?!

In case you are interested, my favourite brands are Mini Rodini, Kid+Kind, Tootsa Macginty, Indikidual, Bobo Choses, Beau Loves, Hugo Loves Tiki, Whistle and Flute and Molo – and The Bright Company and Sleepy Doe (for PJs). And my favourite online shops are Scout and Co, Bon Tot, Junior Edition, Desmond Elephant, Olive Loves Alfie, The Wee Department Store and Scandimini. For books, check out Smallprint Online for an absolutely beautiful collection. 

He often dresses himself and I don’t think it would be nearly so edifying if he didn’t have such excellent basics (including a wide range of animal prints) to choose from!