School Days, Thinking Out Loud

Babies Starting School

My social media is abuzz with school admissions posts and wails about “my baby” going to school. Excuse me while my lack of sympathy and I snicker darkly yet sagely into our milky tea.

I hear you, I do, but I also raise you this: MY BABY IS GOING TO HIGH SCHOOL. They will eat him alive. He is tiny and geeky and high school is not the nurturing, learn-through-play haven of Reception. He will be spat out at the other end as a legal adult.

Ok, he’s not a baby. He’s 10. Double figures and all that. And yes, I may well be projecting my own fears about moving from Primary to Comp. I blame Grange Hill. My comprehensive school looked like the fictional hell hole, it was populated with the same permed, mean eyed, all-knowing teenagers. I was definitely going to get my head flushed down the toilet or be tricked into taking an acid tab. One of the boys in my year 6 class who had an older sister there assured us that it was a rite of passage. The toilet thing, not the drugs.

I’m still yet to ever have my head flushed down the loo or trip on acid (in the words of Zammo “just say no”) and if I’m honest, I’m sure my son will be fine. He’s friendly, he’s sensible, he’s a good guy and he’s feeling cautiously confident after plenty of visits to the school and transition days.

I’ve written about it before, this ever marching time of childhood, not standing in the way of them moving on and developing, of celebrating change and not infantilising them when they’re not babies anymore.

Don’t let your 4 year old see you cry when you drop them off that first week. Please. It’s not about you. Letting them see you panicked, upset or overwhelmed is unhelpful. The same goes for all those future residential school trips. Imagine starting a new job with your partner, parent or friend crying at the entrance. I’ll be doing just that very soon (the job not the weeping) and I’d prefer a thumbs up and a snazzy new lunch box.

My step daughter’s been in high school for two years now and is having a grand old time of it. We see her so much less than we used to but that’s a whole other blog post. I’m sure my son with throw himself into a new school, make new friends, have great experiences but it’s still the great unknown. Think of all those positive things if your child’s starting primary school too.

Of course, I’m writing all of this before his Hogwarts letter arrives this summer and there’ll be a whole other level of worry going on.

Two children's books on batman bedding. The larger book on the left is 100 Things to Know About Space and the other book is Grandpa Was an Astronaut by Jonathan Meres.
School Days, Thinking Out Loud

World Book Day

Before I launch into a rant of sorts, please know that this isn’t anti World Book Day. What they stand for and what they aim to do is brilliant. World Book Day is the world’s biggest campaign to provide every child and young person in the country with a book of their own. Their twitter biography sums it up:

The biggest annual celebration of books and reading in the UK & Ireland. Share a Story with us on 7 March 2019. A charity, sponsored by National Book Tokens. @WorldBookDayUK

Our school isn’t dressing up for World Book Day this year and I’m cool with that. Instead, the children have been asked to take their favourite book into school. It’s perfectly in keeping with the whole ethos of sharing a story, building a love of reading, getting kids excited about books and seeing what a huge range of stories and factual books there are.

Yet some parents still moan. If they’d had to dress up there’d be other parents moaning. I think it comes from the everyone-else-is-dressing-up-why-can’t-we zone while completely missing the point that every child in the school will still have a free book token and a chance to share their favourite book with their class.

World Book Day’s current campaign is #ShareAStory. It’s not #SendYourKidToSchoolInARandomCostumeThatsNotNecessarilyInABook or #BuyABookCharacterCostumeFromTheSupermarketEvenThoughYourChildsNeverReadThatBook or #WearYourFavouriteFancyDressOutfitRegardlessOfWhetherOrNotItsInABook

It isn’t about dressing up. That’s just one of many ways in which schools can mark and celebrate the day. Write a story, find a fact in a book, design a book mark. My kids have dressed up some years but other years they’ve had a pyjama day at school for a day of bedtime stories. The years we’ve dressed up, we’ve talked about their favourite books and did what we could with clothes and props we already had. Think Iggy Peck the Architect (patterned knitted jumper, skinny trousers, daps and a pencil behind the ear) or Jesse Aarons from Bridge to Terabithia (jeans, raglan top and a crown made out of twigs).

I know that my children and I are coming at this from a place of literary privilege. I grew up in a home of books, we had regular tips to the library, I saw my parents read for pleasure, my best friends enjoyed the same boks as me, I had books as gifts, we had day trips to Hay on Wye, I ended up studying books at university (English Lit) and there are books in every room of our home. I read to my children and they read because they want to. When the new Health Visitor first visited after my youngest was born she glanced around the living room and said “you’ll be fine, you’ve got books”, to which I said “none of them are about parenting”. “It doesn’t matter,” she replied “it makes a difference.” The sad thing was, most of the houses she visited didn’t have books.

Not everyone lives a life immersed in books. I know mothers who taught themselves to read as adults. At Christmas in a toy shop I was browsing the children’s books when I overheard a woman say to her friend “no, she wouldn’t want a book as a present, that’s boring” and my heart broke a little. 4 in 10 boys and 3 in 10 girls aged 11-13 who took part in a 2010 National Literary Trust survey did not own any books.

Spending just 10 minutes a day reading with children of all ages can make a crucial difference to their future. Literacy matters. The National Literacy Trust research showed that children who don’t own books were two and a half times more likely to read below their expected level than children who have their own books* (19% compared to 7.6%). It helps to put important campaigns like World Book Day into perspective.

Schools have enough to deal with and your misplaced outrage about fancy dress or late notice about taking in a book isn’t going to be their top priority. Remember it’s also the season for belated St David’s Day Eisteddfodau, British Science Week and bloody Red Nose Day.

Of course, all the Matildas and Boys in a Dress, the Tigers Who Came to Tea and the Highway Rats are delightful. A gaggle of primary aged children in fancy dress is a wonderful thing. There’s joy and creativity in making outfits. But if your school isn’t dressing up for World Book Day, don’t be a dick about it. Dress them up on the weekend or this evening if you’re really gagging to take that photo for Instagram. Even better, just read a book with them, find out what their favourite book is and why.

My boys both chose books that are space themed, which isn’t surprising as they both want to be astronauts (the youngest wants to be the first ventriloquist in space, please tell me no one’s beat him to it). Both books are signed by the authors because they’re both from different literary festivals. They’re not the books they’re in the middle of reading but they’re important to them. One’s a book of facts and the other’s a story.

This quote hit the nail on the head more succinctly than my waffling diatribe:

If your child’s World Book Day costume costs more than a book, STOP RIGHT THERE! Make something from a cereal box, and BUY A BOOK instead.**

If you found yourself cursing World Book Day as you stressed over a costume last night, take a moment to be grateful that your child has access to books. If you fumed about your school not letting you show off via your offspring’s costume today, take a moment to be grateful you had one less thing to stress about and that your child has access to books. And if you don’t give a shit about books or which children have access to them, I’ll take a moment to be grateful for World Book Day doing what they do.

*National Literacy Trust online survey, took pace in November and December 2010

**from an instagram post by @brightbuttonschildminding spotted on @childcare_adventures

Thinking Out Loud

Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week #RealMotherhood

It’s Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week. This year’s theme is #RealMotherhood #NoShame and a reminder that getting real about motherhood is healthy for everyone.

I was first pregnant a decade ago and my youngest is 6 so maybe I’m too far removed from my own experience to be sharing it here but we all have a part to play. Supporting our friends, neighbours, colleagues and families is so important. It’s OK to not be OK.

I went to a friend’s wedding when my first baby was 2 weeks old and at the do I just remember feeling, how to describe it? Out of it? Woozy? Years later I tried explaining that I felt isolated, excluded, that everyone else was having a whale of a time and I was… I was content but not me. I was sober for a start! It was a scorching July day and I needed to breastfeed my shrimp of a child in the shade (because he might spontaneously combust in the sun, right?) so I ended up sat on my own in the shade of a marquee while everyone else basked in the sun. Jealously glancing over at friends drinking and laughing and looking fabulous, not the state I felt in flip flops because proper shoes didn’t fit my trotters and leggings under my dress because it wasn’t as boob accessible as I’d naively assumed when buying it. A mum of a friend came over and talked with me. She’s not someone I knew well but I was so thankful. She talked to me about my job, dance, all sorts. It felt like the first time someone saw through the fog and not some mother and baby package.  It wasn’t out of pity, it wasn’t patronising, she chatted away and listened, it was as simple as that.

Of course I loved my babies and of course they do take over but remember a mum of a newborn is more than a milk machine. She might be like a swan, looking serene and graceful on the surface but underneath she’s paddling away trying to stay afloat. She might be physically battered but she’s possibly mentally battered too.

With at least 1 in 10 mums developing a mental illness during pregnancy, or in the year that follows, it is so important to raise awareness of maternal mental health: tommys.org/maternalMHmatt…#MaternalMHMatter @TommysMidwives

I was fine, I am fine. Not everyone is. I had a wobble, I didn’t have a diagnosed maternal mental health condition. For every joyful #blessed #mama out there, remember that it’s not the same for everyone. My second time around was so much easier for me. No cabin fever, I felt more in control, I didn’t have nightmares about my newborn fading away into nothing which I didn’t tell anyone about because I knew it sounded worrying.

7 in 10 women will hide or underplay the severity of their perinatal mental illness #everyonesbusines everyonesbusiness.org.uk @MMHAlliance

Sometimes the best support is not trying to get someone to talk about their feelings but just being there. If they’re not ready for visitors, just send a hello by text. In those earliest of days the best visit was my mum bringing a Sunday roast around for us, making no demands to coo over the baby or cwtch her grandchild but being a practical help. It’s the offering to take the dogs for a walk, doing the ironing, making cups of tea instead of expecting to be waited on hand and foot. (Note to self: remember all this for when the new niblings arrive in the next couple of months.)

I set up this blog partly in response to the gazillions about babies and toddlers. Mine are older and my parenting experience isn’t about nappies and baby vom anymore but the pregnancy and the mad year that follows is so important and you don’t forget it.

As for #RealMotherhood I suppose I’m part of the problem. I tend to share photos of the lovely things we do, the brilliant places we go and on my personal social media their smiling faces. Should I be more real and photograph the tears and tantrums? I really don’t think it would have helped my 9 year old this morning if I’d snapped him in a grump and I’d feel the same.

Just take my word for it that for every photo of a wholesome daytrip we also have a Saturday morning watching cartoons and eating cereal. For every matchy matchy special occasion outfit that my boys wear there’s a mismatched set of pyjamas or school joggers with a hole in the bum (the 6 year old has done this to three (yes THREE) pairs of joggers this year). I’ll try to post some Instagram shots of my week’s chaos to give you a flavour of my real life.

If the content of this post has made you think of anything that has happened to you or someone you know and you feel upset, worried or uncomfortable then please visit Maternal Mental Health Alliance for a list of support services. I am not an expert in anything.

If you want to join in with the #RealMotherhood 5-day Challenge then just share your piccies and posts about the barefaced reality of motherhood. Warts and all. Keep it light and silly or use it as a chance to be truthful about your own experience. Let’s not judge ourselves by unrealistic standards.

 

#RealMotherhood #NoShame @TheBlueDotProject @MMHAlliance #everyonesbusiness #MaternalMHmatters

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thinking Out Loud

International Women’s Day 2018

It’s International Women’s Day and trawling through Twitter I was reminded about why I took a Twitter break last year. The negativity. The arsewipes asking when International Men’s Day is because that’s real equality innit? Hmm.

I’m late in the day adding my voice to the melee because I’ve been busy doing what I do. Trying to adult. Juggling two jobs, life admin, school trip permission slips and all the rest. Not quite getting there but still trying. Thankfully my track record with children and dogs is better than houseplants. (My cheese plant is terminal I fear – any tips?!) The 3 human males in my house are fed, showered and sleeping. The 2 canine males are snoozing by my side.

I’ve been fortunate to work with strong women, I live close to my sister, mum and grandma, I’ve got awesome female friends who inspire me with their range of careers and achievements. I’ve somehow muddled my way through motherhood with a job (or two). I can see how the world has changed through the generations. That said, I still remember the struggle I had about a decade ago to get working hours that fitted my life.

2018’s IWD is riding in on a wave of high profile activism. Time’s Up. #MeToo got me thinking about moments in my life that were just out of f***ing order, in my teens alone there was the flasher at a gig, the gropers in an alley in the middle of the day, the sleazes in clubs.

Privileged, successful Hollywood superstars sticking to black for their expensive, sophisticated awards ceremony outfits feels so far removed from my life of leggings. I’ve not bought an item of clothing for myself since the end of November. But that doesn’t mean that things shouldn’t change. For all women.

We’ve now had a centenary of women’s suffrage in the UK and Ireland. Yes, we’ve got a female Prime Minister but a “record high” number of female MPs were elected in the 2017 General Election. That’s still only 32% of all MPs. In early February only a quarter of the Cabinet were female. How’s that right when we make up (just over) half of the population? As Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director of UN Women says “healthy societies have a mix of voices”. We need more varied voices in power. We need to raise our children to be ambitious, to never expect less of someone because of their gender and to not let the twitter arsewipes drag them down.

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.