shot from above, a child's hand hols a colouring pen above a sheet that spells out STAY SAFE. Other colouring pens are scattered across the table and in the top left of the image, the corner of a picture book pokes into shot.
School Days, Thinking Out Loud

Home Learning: the reboot

My social media is full of references to being “back in lockdown”. The only difference this week to the last few weeks is that now we’re back to home learning. We’ve been at Alert Level Four (yes, in Wales we are not in tiers but alert levels, which is disappointing for a pun lover like me “we’re all in tears/tiers”) since before Christmas so I’ve only been to the supermarket, daily dog walks around the same local park and to drop things to family and friends. We haven’t been on walks with other people because we’re not allowed.

I’m not shocked at being trapped at home again because it doesn’t feel like anything has wildly changed for us.

Home learning is a kicker, but I think we’ve got it nailed this time (she says with a warily smug tone). It’s early days but on our fourth day in I feel a lot calmer and more in control than last March. My kids are used to the platforms and the tech they need to get their tasks done and to communicate with their teachers. There’s a vague routine rather than any timetable or sticker charts. It’s a bit like in Lord of the Flies when they start using the conch shell, a little bit of order in the pandemonium. (Here’s hoping things don’t spiral in the same way). We’re breaking for lunch together and they can finish at 3pm to watch telly or play.

In the first few hours I’d sat in my home office flanked by a primary and secondary aged child being bombarded with a constant stream of seemingly random questions:

How do you spell apocalypse? What’s a parody? How do I work out 1 5/13 + 2 5/13? How many rebellions did Henry VIII have? Which animals could eat me?

I’m trying to have a tad more structure this time around so things can feel a bit more normal and less chaotic. The younger one finished all his teacher assigned activities by lunch time, so I sent him off to read his book in bed. After that he did some Zombie proofing (DIY to you and me) with his Dad who works shifts so happened to be home. The older one is sullenly spiralling (both literally on his office chair and mentally) as the perfectionist in him stresses out over an unsatisfactory (to him) attempt at his art lesson. At least I know what he’s winding himself up (and down) about this time.

We are the lucky ones. We have enough devices for them to use a laptop each (thank you Grandpa for donating your old one), we have WiFi (which as anyone who’s had dodgy Zooms or Teams with me knows isn’t great but it’ll do) and I’m fairly confident with helping them when they get stuck. I’ve only had to brush up on a few maths bits I had wiped from memory.

For all the middle-class mum memes of pouring Baileys onto Bran Flakes, we know there are plenty of families really struggling.

It’s all pants compared to what we were able to do this time last year but 2020 has ground down my expectations. Last January I saw in NYE at a bar in Bristol, went ice skating, to the museum, the beach, Wagamamas, saw Six at Wales Millennium Centre, had a rooftop brunch in London and a work trip to see some awesome work like Death of England at the National Theatre. Maybe January 2020 over achieved but it blows my tiny little frazzled mind to compare that month to this month. We’re only just a week in but there’s no way I’ll be getting my kicks anywhere other than treating myself in Morrisons. By “treat” I’m thinking posh yoghurt instead of an own brand version. Oh the thrills with no frills.

Whether you’re balls deep in lockdown after a bit of festive freedom or, like us, there’s not been a huge change in your day to day liberties, be kind to yourself and to others. Remember school staff are human too and they could’ve done without panicking parents poking them with questions on their weekend when they had no idea what decisions would be made either. It’s hard to be a school leader when everyone finds out the same information at the same time and wrong dates get shared through WhatsApp groups and mis-spelt Facebook posts (ginpig I’m looking at you). If you’re struggling, tell the school, tell your employer, ask for help. And for the love of cheese, wash your hands, stay at home and wear a mask when and where you can.

Thinking Out Loud

Working from Home

With Coronavirus forcing lots of us into a self-isolation, social distancing hibernation, many of us will be working from home for the first time. Not me. I’ve worked from home for the last five years.

Instagram would have you think I sit on my bed in tasteful loungewear with a slim expensive laptop, photogenic dog and a classy mug of posh coffee. Not so. That, my friend, will give you backache. And hairy, stained sheets plus fancy strong coffees give me tummy cramps and aggravate my piles.

I get dressed every day. I walk my youngest to school, get home and open up the big laptop at the dining room table because I’m so messy I’ve filled up my lovely bureau. Then I work. With my two scruffy dogs snoozing at my feet but barking when the post comes. I put on the kettle at 10:25 so I can drink my tea while listening to Pop Master and cursing any fool who dares to phone at half past ten. Who does that?!

Then I do some more work, eat my lunch at my desk (because it’s the dining table) and then get back to work. Sometimes I go out for meetings, take the dogs around the block but you get the picture. I drink too much tea and there’s a fair bit of daydreaming but I don’t switch the telly on, I don’t go on long lunches and I always wear proper clothes.

How I’m going to carry on as usual with the kids home next week is another thing. I’ve been seeing loads of home schooling resources and top tips, both primary and high school have given links and all that for home learning in the coming weeks. Which all sounds very jolly but not so fun while I’m trying to work.

So, my top tips for working from home:

  • Get dressed, be comfortable but get out of your damn pyjamas and have a shower
  • Pace the tea drinking
  • Pause for Pop Master
  • Skype or phone your colleagues instead of an email once in a while
  • Get a bit of fresh air for a break, walk, take your lunch into the garden, do some parkour (not really, just checking you were paying attention)
  • Don’t have your kids home with you.

Ok, we have to suck it up on the last one. I understand why we’ve come to this. It’s surreal, it’s scary and being stuck in the house getting cabin fever is something we can take on the chin if it helps stop vulnerable people getting ill.

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.

 

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.

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