Blog

Carved Halloween Pumpkin
Thinking Out Loud

March of the Mummies

Today, at noon on Halloween in six cities around the UK the March of the Mummies made a stand against pregnancy and maternity discrimination. If you follow Pregnant Then Screwed you’ll know all about it. If you don’t, go find @PregnantScrewed on twitter. Sadly, I couldn’t make it in person because of work but it got me thinking of my own experiences.

I’m not preggers or on mat leave nor do I intend to be so ever again but I do remember the stress and frustration first time around when I met with inflexibility to my requests for reduced hours. I broke through the barrier eventually with a presentation (the idiot’s guide to job sharing) and some much appreciated support from my maternity cover (who is still doing ace things for women in the workplace).

Second time around I got wound up enough to write a blog post so in the spirit of raising mummies from the dead, I’ve resurrected a couple of blog posts from my first foray into the blogosphere as Moody Mum in 2013:

Trapped Part Time Workers

Nine Months In (my womb) Nine Months Out (to work) – in which I bemoan returning to work before my youngest turns one

If you want more information on what the March of the Mummies was for and why it’s important, head over to marchofthemummies.com.

theatre, Things To Do

Sci-Fi Treasure Hunting in Blackwood – Project: Oggbots

Today, I went hunting for a professor and a crazy artist while dodging shady agents on the streets of Blackwood on a mission to save some aliens.

True story. I took my nine and five year olds to help with the mission. They flipping loved it. They’ve seen more theatre than most kids could shake a stick at but this interactive intergalactic family adventure made a huge impression on them.

We started in the library, getting the back story and some essential training in observation and evasion tactics. Over an hour later we were working on circuit boards in a secret location. The boys were thrilled with the extra-terrestrials and electronics..

“I hope we get to go to another one like that soon!” – the nine year old said at bedtime.

Project: Oggbots is a show for 7-11 year olds by Root Experience. It’s only on for one more day but with plenty of times to choose from. Book your tickets with Blackwood Miners’ Institute:  Blackwood Miners’ Institute website or go old school and phone the box office 01495 227 206.

pregnant woman
Thinking Out Loud

Nine Months In (my womb) Nine Months Out (to work)

Another vintage blog post, this one from March 2013, in which I bemoan returning to work before my youngest turns one.

Having never been one for the ‘live to work not work to live’ mantra it will come as no surprise to learn that I was hardly cockahoop about returning to work following maternity leave.

While I’m sure some women delight in the chance to spend ten hours of their day commuting and in paid employ with no chance of being asked to wipe any bottoms (let’s assume I’m talking about office work before I hear the cries of “well, I’ll have you know that I wipe bottoms for a living and I’m BLOODY GOOD AT IT”) there are also some women who balk at the suggestion that they should have to work at all. “But who will bring up my children?”

Don’t get me wrong, I am not sitting on the proverbial fence here. I would far rather be caring for my children. Physically, emotionally and practically AT THIS STAGE in their lives it would be the most sensible situation. My youngest is 10 months old. I have been and still am breastfeeding him. On the plus side, when I am not in his company, my breasts magically grow to impressive proportions. On the down side this means that I must pump my milk out in a random tiny room. I am not and never have been a militant member of the breastapo. It’s free. I’m not one for making bottle feeders feel rubbish or defensive about themselves. Let’s not dwell.

So, physically my breasts are still in the ‘we are the mammaries of a mammal with an infant so we will produce milk’ zone and when I am with my amazing baby I am in the ‘I want to feed my baby for free’ zone. But the world of work says “you have done your time woman, put down the baby and get back to your desk.”

On the emotional side of things I don’t think I sound like a crazy banshee saying “I love my children”. I carried both of them inside me. INSIDE MY BODY. (It is still weird. You were once INSIDE someone. Not a random person, granted. But I digress.) We created these little people to be involved in their ever changing lives, and when they’re less than a year old they change more quickly than they ever will again. I don’t want to miss that. Maybe I can miss a bit if it makes me feel sane and worthwhile but sometimes work makes me feel a bit bonkers and pointless.

I work in an industry where I enable other people to LIVE THEIR DREAM. I never said “when I grow up I want to be a Participation Officer”. I didn’t know what one of those was. Most people still don’t. Which is embarrassing, deflating and devaluing. Wait. I must shake the You Should Have Done Teaching imp from my shoulder. “You would’ve been on thirty grand a year by now, imagine that, it’s the same as you earn as a couple now”. Shut up and bugger off Teaching Imp.

Maybe if I LOVED my job I’d feel differently but, quite frankly, I don’t. It’s a means to an end and the end is money. And I don’t earn much. Let’s just say I’m not paying back my student loan yet. I would like to love my job. I need to win some bread, sing for my supper and provide a positive, productive role model for my children. Just not yet. At ten months old neither son asked why mummy was a lazy Jezza Vile watching housewife while daddy worked his arse of at the docks. I can readjust that patriarchal rubbish when they’re both in school.

On a practical level, working is a logistical nightmare/challenge. My four year old and 10 monther have different schedules and needs. Granted, they’re not very complex at the moment and I’m lucky to have grandparent help for two days, more than that and I feel that I’m taking the mickey. They’ve done their time.

The current government has paid lip service to the notion that women are entitled to a year off from work after giving birth. Well I’ve got news for you Dave, those last three months of unpaid maternity leave do not and cannot work for most families’ finances in the current economic mess. Better maternity packages come higher up the ladder and in better paid industries, widening the gap between the women at the top and those struggling at the bottom. Statutory Maternity Pay, while utterly amazing compared to the seventies and America, is, to be blunt, rubbish. Forward thinking companies and those who give a monkeys arse about retaining staff have varying maternity policies better than SMP. Not where I work.

Babies aren’t expensive. Your income dropping from £355 per week to more like £117 (rough figures for my salary in 2008 when I had my first son) is what hits you hard. The Camerons’ annual income is approximately one thousand times more than that of my household. ONE THOUSAND! Out of touch with the needs of most families with young children? Probably.

 

Thinking Out Loud

Trapped Part Time Workers

(This blog post was originally written in July 2013. Thankfully I’m now in a much better place with my career but I’ll save that for another time.)

Today the Guardian published an article entitled “Part-time workers ‘trapped’ in jobs with no chance of promotion”. The article focuses on professionals and despite it seemingly assuming that all part time workers are office based it did speak to the frustrated part-time worker in me.

I work in the arts as an officer in a participation/education/creative learning/whatever-the-deuce-we’re-calling-it-this-week department. A potted history: I returned to work three days a week after my first maternity leave as part of a job share. Eventually I stopped job sharing and instead had a full time assistant. I returned after my second maternity leave to a situation where I have no job share and no assistant but am still working a three day week. Have I received a pay rise to acknowledge the fact that I’m delivering a full time position on part time hours? Hahaha! This is the arts darling, we do it for love.

I have tried finding other work. The part time opportunities that get advertised on the Arts Council Wales jobs list are short term, not well paid (which is saying something coming from me) or not in my area of expertise. I don’t want to jump from this particular frying pan into a fire that could only last 9 months and leave me in a worse situation than my current poorly paid stagnant career. This is what makes me feel trapped. There is nowhere to move in the organisation and no way to move out of it.

I know of at least three skilled and experienced female arts professionals who worked for well known arts organisations who were forced into leaving their roles through the utter inflexibility of their employers. I know another who was made redundant and is now struggling to find part time, relevant work. It’s such a waste of talent. Three of them are unemployed and the other is working in another sector. All have children under the age of 5. They are incredibly jaded, having been spat out and spat on by a sector that too many people see as people friendly and passionate.

In the final throws of my degree, with the big wide world looming, I did consider (and was approached with a recommendation that I pursue) training to be an actor. But then I thought about what was important in my life and my dream of a house, partner, children, dog and car was incongruous with the nomadic, penniless actor I could see myself becoming. So I went for a ‘proper job’ (full time, permanent) but in the arts. Now, at thirty years old I am content that I have achieved my big life goals but my career and pitiful income is a niggling little pain in my derrière. Maybe I should have followed my heart rather than my head back in 2004.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/money/2013/jul/08/part-time-workers-trapped-jobs?INTCMP=SRCH

School Days, Thinking Out Loud

To my children on the first day of school

Enjoy! I won’t cry, you won’t cry. That’s not our thing. No severe case of stiff upper lip, just a case of being a totally normal thing to happen at the start of September. I love that you love school, that you’re bright and a good friend.

You’ll get up to all sorts of exciting things this year. All of you. Trips and projects, odd crazes and funny stories. You’ll pick up fodder for anecdotes in your adult years. You’ll learn and you’ll grow.

I’m getting soppy. I should probably have started the school year as I mean to go on by laying out your uniforms and preparing your packed lunches but we’ll muddle through somehow.

And a special extra note for my step daughter: I hope you have a better first day than your dad did.

School Days, Thinking Out Loud

The Climb. Are they growing too fast?

The end of another school year is fast approaching. We’ve had the school reports and now come the moving on assemblies, leavers concerts and end of term summer productions* with photo montages and song choices selected with the sole aim of squeezing out parental tears of joy and pride.

The Climb** (by Miley Cyrus in the Hannah Montana era) gets me every year. The lyrics push me over the edge. I admit to crying every time they sing it. Turns out I’m a softy and a sucker for country pop. I’m also a sucker for a montage. It’s the best bit of any televised sports match and I love that we have the technology to do the same with our everyday non-sportsing lives.

Montage + uplifting song about overcoming obstacles + primary school children = weeping mess

That said, I’ve never been one for spouting “they’re growing too fast”, “I wish he was still a baby” and all that guff. They’re growing at the rate they’re supposed to. Thankfully. I love that they’re getting more independent because I’m lazy and they can do more for themselves. When they’re old enough and sensible enough to make you a cup of tea there’s a definite winning-at-life feel to the milestone. It’s a privilege to see them grow and develop. That’s what’s supposed to happen. Of course they were adorable when they were younger (even if in hindsight they were funny looking babies) but I don’t want to miss this stage in their lives or wish it away through some rose tinted nostalgia for the days when they were more dependent on me.

One of my favourite English teachers shared a poem with us in 6th form that stuck with me. Not so much that I actually remember the title or the poet but the archery analogy rings true. To make those we love fly as high and far as they can we have to use strength to pull them in close and steady but then we have to let them go, trust them to soar. Our kids have all had some sort of metaphorical mountain to climb this year so let’s celebrate those journeys and not fantasise about them morphing into their younger selves like Benjamin Button.

 

*A few weeks ago I asked my step daughter if she had a leavers concert. “No”, she told me and glared at me as though I’d suggested something utterly ludicrous. My husband later told me that we had tickets to go and watch her in a school show. I mentioned to her that I’d thought she wasn’t doing one. Following an audible sigh and a roll of the eyes she explained “it’s not a leavers concert it’s Summer Production” (yes, the capitals were also audible). It was brilliant whatever it was called.

**https://youtu.be/jpTYG_Sqqdg

Thinking Out Loud

In Praise of Noah’s Ark Children’s Hospital

We’ve been lucky enough to have very healthy children so up until fairly recently my only experience with my offspring at the Heath (or UHW as it’s apparently called (it will always be the Heath to me, much in the way that I insist on calling those gross fruity sweets Opal Fruits not Starburst)) has been getting a bump on the head checked out at A&E. Unlike a lot of their peers, neither son was even born there.

Oh how I wish it had stayed that way. One son has had a couple of outpatient visits there over the past few months getting something sorted for him. He’s been happy with the whole thing, it’s solved a problem for him and each appointment has been calm and expected. He was amazed at the scale of the hospital and delighted by the fish tank, the concept of wards and floors being named after creatures and space and the luxury hot chocolate I treated him to for being such a cool dude about it all.

The youngest gave us a fright this weekend by ending up needing emergency surgery. He’s on the mend now and it all went well, thanks in advance for your concern. I’m not going into any medical detail about either boy’s situation because it’s private and doesn’t bear any relevance to what I want to say about the wonderful place.

Noah’s Ark Children’s Hospital is an excellent facility. It’s beautifully designed, well thought out, the tellies are tuned to cbeebies or citv or cbbc (a detail the 8 year old appreciated) and the staff in every department, in every situation have been warm, helpful and made both boys feel safe and cared for. I know there are lots of families who spend a heck of a lot more time there and some who’ll never have to enter those doors and pass fish. The well-stocked play rooms and the stunning children’s outdoor play area all help to make the experience less scary and more child focused.

Sadly, Alex Karev wasn’t around but that’s probably because he’s not real and we were in Cardiff not Seattle. However, on the Grey’s Anatomy side of things, there was a definite Arizona Robbins approach to looking out for the “makers of the tiny humans” with all of the staff being friendly, polite and making sure I knew what was going on at every stage.

Hip hip hooray for our NHS! From NHS Direct to our local GP surgery, from the out of hours service at Barry Hospital to all of the tests, checks, procedures and the operation at Noah’s Ark Children’s Hospital, it was all free at the point of need. No worrying about how much different options would cost or whether health insurance would cover any aspect. My children had top quality treatment on the NHS. Let’s look after it.

I’ve written this blog to sing their praises and thank the Noah’s Ark Children’s Hospital Charity for all the hard work and fundraising that has gone into bringing it to life. It hasn’t always been a thing and we really can’t take it for granted. If you’d like to donate or take part in a fundraising event there are plenty of ideas and event details on their website: Noah’s Ark Charity