Monthly Archives: November 2011

Are we having fun yet?

Why is it that the conversations you never want to forget always happen when you’re on the move, with no way to record them for posterity?

En route to gymnastics tonight my five year old son was asking probing questions about the planets. It’s not my specialist subject at the best of times, and when the rain’s lashing down and the temperature has plummeted to 2 degrees without warning I suspect I’m not as communicative as he would like me to be.

“I don’t really know, pumpkin, let’s ask your brother later. He knows all about this stuff,” I said, laughing inwardly at my need to defer to the superior wisdom of a six year old.

“Why don’t you know this stuff, Mum?” he said with more than a note of pity in his voice.

“Well I learned it all a long time ago and I suppose I’ve just forgotten. I don’t spend much time thinking about the planets so it’s not information I need to hold on to.”

“You mean when you’re a grown-up you’re so busy having so much fun that you just forget about if the earth moves around the sun?”

I hope he’ll always look at me and think the reason I don’t know stuff is because I’m busy having so much fun.


We need more midwives, not more c-sections

“I am not posh but I will not push.”

So says writer Bidisha online today at the Guardian, in response to new guidelines published by the Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence, which state that caesarean sections should be available to all pregnant women.

Until now, caesareans in the UK have mainly only been an option where a natural delivery would put the life or health of the mother or her baby at risk, but the review says women who have no medical or mental health grounds for opting for c-sections should be allowed them, including those who have suffered a previous traumatic birth.

Accordingly, Bidisha asserts that there’s no way she’s ‘squeezing a baby out of there’ and applauds the new guidelines, which will effectively allow ‘c-sections on demand’, as the Daily Mail puts it.

“The opening of my womb will be like the opening of Studio 54 during the heady days of disco,” writes Bidisha, prompting this particular mother – who has indeed pushed babies ‘out of there’ – to erupt into an involuntary bout of pelvic floor exercises.

Bidisha doesn’t explain why she would choose an elective caesarean but says she was appalled when she asked mothers about their experience of childbirth.

But, for balance, I wish she had asked any of the women I know whose experiences of natural childbirth are a world away from the horrifying ‘anecdotes of violation and objectification…’ that she recounts.

That Studio 54 reference is about the least apt description of a c-section that I can imagine. But that incongruity is nothing compared to the gulf that exists between Bidisha’s portrayal of what she calls the ‘myth’ of natural childbirth and my own experience of giving birth naturally to my two children, one weighing close to 10lbs, without so much as a sniff of paracetamol.

If I sound smug I can assure you that’s not the case. Before my children were born I witnessed a straightforward, beautifully-natural birth go horribly wrong at the very last minute.

Thankfully, that story ended happily but not before some dark days of uncertainty in the special care baby unit, so I am acutely aware that there are no guarantees of anything when it comes to giving birth.

Consequently, I have no dogmatic view about the ‘right’ way to give birth. Natural childbirth worked for me but I realise I was ‘lucky’ and that two happy-ever-after birth stories do not a one-size-fits-all approach to childbirth make.

Bidisha is right – there is no ‘should’ in childbirth and no mother is ever remiss for the choices made during the exquisite agony that is giving birth. I’m all in favour of women being able to opt for c-sections, particularly where trauma during a previous delivery has put them off the so-called natural route, but choosing ‘not to push’ should never be a decision taken lightly, and social convenience has no place in the delivery room.

Still, I am surprised by what appears to be no shortage of articles about natural birth of late, many written by women who haven’t experienced it yet are scathing or dismissive of it. It’s not ok for the ‘breastfeeding police’ to make anyone feel bad for feeding a baby formula milk these days, but sneering at ‘natural birth Nazis‘ seems positively de rigueur.

I used to dread people asking about my sons’ births. Admitting, among a group of new mums, that you had a positive, natural delivery can be akin to social suicide in some circles.

Interestingly, the consultant obstetrician and chair of the new guidelines said one of the key differences between countries with low and high caesarean rates was one-to-one support for women in labour from health professionals, and a supportive family.

We don’t need more c-sections. We need more midwives.

But above all we need less condemnation and better quality of care for all women in childbirth, however they go about it.

Nutella cake: it’s medicinal

So much to say, so little time for blogging of late but in lieu of a proper post here are a few highlights from the week thus far…

Nutella cake – I have yet to encounter a trial that cannot, at least in some way, be eased by a slice of this cake. Preferably hot from the oven. Leave out the cinnamon and nuts. Once cooled slather it with nutella. (Best cake frosting in the world, ever.)

After writing about ‘mental health days for kids’ (aka letting your kids skive off when they can’t face the classroom) for Ready for Ten I decided to break with convention and allow my five-year-old a ‘duvet day’ at home this week. Technically he was under the weather so it probably doesn’t really count but I can report that it was a roaring success. He’s prone to begging to stay home from school on a regular basis so I was concerned this might set an unhelpful precedent – but this evening he announced that he never wants to miss another day of school. Why? Because he loves homework so much and feels short-changed at having missed a night’s worth of delicious homework this week. I just know that, one day in the not-too-distant future, I’ll be recounting this to a recalcitrant teenager…

And finally, it has become evident that I should go on luxurious press trips much more often. After two night’s away on last week’s exploration of Belfast I was afraid I might come home to unwashed kids who hadn’t eaten anything of any nutritional value, and who had been allowed (nay, actively encouraged) by their father to play Star Wars Lego on the Wii until their eyes bled. How wrong I was. Today after school my kids rushed straight towards the TV… to watch another episode of the BBC’s Planet Earth. Their Daddy introduced them to it while I was away, and they literally can’t get enough of that series, which beats virtually beating up Lego versions of themselves any day. Their half-baked re-telling of some of the amazing facts they pick up is seriously comical.

I wonder how long before I can justifiably squeeze in another press trip…

Do kids need duvet days?

I wrote a piece for Ready for Ten this week about whether kids need duvet days, inspired by something writer Liz Dawes mentioned  recently on Twitter about how having a ‘mental health day’ off school had done wonders for her daughter’s wellbeing.

As I’ve said in the post, duvet days aren’t an option in our house but Liz’s sensitivity towards her daughter’s mental health got me thinking. I’d love to hear from other mums on the subject – is a day off school for a child who isn’t ill ever justified? Do you think it’s a responsible way to safeguard a child’s wellbeing or is it just being a pushover?

Motherhood? Where’s my martini?

Apologies for the lack of regular posts just at the very moment that lots of you have started reading, but I do have a great excuse. I’ve been playing tourist on a press trip in Belfast – more details to follow once I’ve unpacked and recovered from the bumpy landing back to planet earth – but for now let me tell you that the creme brulee at the Malmaison hotel is out of this world, and the ‘cakery‘ stall at St George’s Market is literally mouth-watering.

Now, someone fix me an espresso martini, it’s that time of the day.

Isn’t it ironic, don’t you think?

Flickr: jumer

Incase you’ve ever wondered about the definition of irony, let me suggest it’s this:

Having the illustrious Mumsnet – Mumsnet, oh my! – name you as their blogger of the week, describing you thusly:

“From telecommuting to mummyblogging, this working mum’s clued up about today’s parenting debates. Meet a blogger who’s sassy, stressed – but still smiling.”

… Then utterly losing your marbles at bath-time and banishing both kids to bed without stories.

I didn’t even brush their teeth.

It was that bad.

Sassy and smiling?

So ironic it hurts.


A hoover: a gift-wrapped insult?

Flickr: MildlyDiverting

I’m blogging at In The Powder Room today… and confessing to wanting a new hoover for Christmas.

Apparently that’s a divisive and controversial issue among women. Some say a kitchen appliance or a household item doesn’t ‘count’ as a present, and that any man who popped an iron under the tree could reasonably expect it to be his very last Christmas on earth.

I say nonsense. Giving me a hoover for Christmas is not a cold, covert way of implying that my rightful place is barefoot in the kitchen, chained to the sink.

I don’t need gift-wrapped useless bling to prove that I am loved. But my floors need a bloody good clean.

I wonder if we sometimes adhere to feminism when equality suits us – such as when it comes to equal pay or the freedom to have careers as well as kids – but happily ascribe to inequality at other times?

Are we fair-weather feminists if we give men power tools and shaving accessories as presents but find the idea of receiving household appliances as gifts offensive?

To my mind, being a feminist means that my femininity – indeed my identity – is secure enough to be able to handle a hoover for Christmas.

It’s not a step backwards or a sign that I’m unravelling everything Women’s Lib accomplished for me. It’s a practical present that means I’ll spend less of next year sweeping floors and more of it drinking gin and reading magazines.

It’s not a gift-wrapped insult  – it’s just a hoover.

Suck it up.

Beat the Monday blues…

“Live in the sunshine, swim the sea, drink the wild air.” 
– Ralph Waldo Emerson 

There. Doesn’t that feel better?

Stealing time… and chocolate muffins

South of the River Mum is running a Blog Hop – the theme is ‘Time4You’ and there’s a prize for the author of the best blog post. Click here to join in but please don’t write anything better than my entry as I am desperate to win. Here’s my contribution…

I feel self-conscious before I even set foot inside the hotel. Adjusting my hair as I walk through the car park I instantly regret shoving it up haphazardly with an over-stretched elastic hairband, and kick myself mentally for not sparing the time to wash it and wear it down. I do up my jacket, even though I’m about to take it off inside, suddenly mindful of the fact that first impressions count and I need all the tailoring I can get.

I push the door open ajar and am immediately struck by the unmistakable smell of the open coal fire. It’s an instant soother, transporting me back to childhood holidays in rural Ireland, and my shoulders relax, just a little.

I see him sitting in the foyer, his face illuminated by the glow of his phone, and for a second he doesn’t notice me. I pause in the doorway, letting the heat of the fire warm me up while I find my nerve, and then suddenly he looks up. We exchange smiles, the kind that are all in the eyes, and he gets up and moves towards me at the very same moment that the concierge asks how he can help me.

“Breakfast for two, please,” he answers, authoritatively, and I squirm almost imperceptibly.

The hotel staff are never anything less than warm and welcoming but I suspect they don’t officially ‘do’ breakfast for non-residents. It’s something we’ve invented, and they simply comply. But the routine is always the same. They try not to look flustered as they rush off to prepare an extra table with a flourish. Each time we go there are fewer and fewer residents in the dining room, so I ease my awkwardness by telling myself they can probably use the business.

It’s the most expensive breakfast imaginable but afterwards I can’t eat for 12 hours so I like to think I get my money’s worth. We start with coffee. He takes it black; I have a splash of milk and sometimes a cube of sugar just to be indulgent. That’s the point of this, after all.

Then we load up our plates. I choose local cheeses, smoked mackerel, ham, and thick slices of chorizo. I add a croissant and a handful of pecans, plus some sliced pineapple and melon. He chooses yoghurt and fruit compote. I smile, and surreptitiously take a gigantic chocolate muffin to take home as a treat for the boys – even when stealing away for this grown-up moment, my mind is still on them. Does that ever stop? I hope not.

We slide into our seats and as we tuck in I’m dizzy with anticipation. There’s so much to find out about each other, and the feast before us on the table adds to the voyage of discovery. I resist the urge to talk ten-to-the-dozen, rattling through whatever’s been on my mind, aware that he needs time to warm up to conversation. Often I talk in free-fall before suddenly pausing mid-sentence, guiltily aware that I’m charging through my mental list of Things To Talk About without giving space to him. I’m an extrovert to his introvert, but forcing myself to hold back is always so worthwhile. When he finally pipes up, the conversation’s all the sweeter for being initiated by him. Still waters do indeed run deep.

Soon the waiter comes to take our order, and I always laugh out loud at this point, conscious that I’ve already eaten more from the buffet than I’d normally eat in an entire day. I scan the menu, as if I’m ever going to break with convention and order anything but the full, extravagant Ulster Fry. He asks for his egg poached instead of fried, but in the spirit of indulgence I acquiesce to the unhealthier option.

All too soon our furtive date comes to its conclusion. I have work to do, and he has meetings to attend. He pays the bill and we walk to our respective cars. I shuffle the stolen muffin as he reaches to hold my hand.

We kiss goodbye beside our cars, conscious that it might be a while before we can escape to meet like this again.

After thirteen years of marriage and with two young children and no family readily on-hand to babysit, we’ve taken to going out for (expensive) breakfast when life takes its toll and we need time for us. It works a treat. No babysitters needed thanks to the kids both being at school, plus we’re not too tired to make conversation and don’t have to jostle with other diners in an over-crowded restaurant full of frazzled parents.

Breakfast dates are our thing, our time for us. And even though the hotel itself doesn’t really do breakfasts for non-residents, it’s becoming quite the family tradition.

Real women work from home

Flickr: luclatulippe

There was a piece on The Guardian’s Comment is Free slot today,  hooked on a new study by Professor Timothy Golden, which drew the not-exactly ground-breaking conclusion that working at home isn’t easy.

Also mentioned is a report which stated that only 2.9% of the British working population works from home, and that increasing that figure could save the Treasury a whole stack of cash.

The writer states that this issue affects women disproportionately, given that we breed, and adds that as carer of a vulnerable adult she understands that it’s difficult to “fully concentrate on the needs of others while doing your paid work”.

But surely it’s a Quantum Leap (the likes of which Sam Beckett would be proud) to conclude that those who work from home and have dependents must be juggling the two commitments at any one time? As anyone who has tried to perform that amazing but futile feat of multi-tasking knows; that way madness lies.

Yet this piece would have you believe that working mums are feverishly sticking envelopes and ironing other people’s socks while our crazed dependents run amok.

“There is no question that men working from home are afforded more respect than their female counterparts,” it continues. Seriously? By whom, exactly? I beg to differ. The women I know who work from home are easily among the most talented and respected people I’ve encountered. They’re bright, ballsy and not to be messed with. And I like to count myself among them.

“Women working from home are often thought to be earning “pin money” or only in part-time employment.”

Now technically I’m in part-time employment by virtue of the fact that I have to collect my kids from school at 2pm, and I try not to work when they’re at home. Oh, but the pin money I make often matches my husband’s monthly salary. Which amounts to a fracking lot of pins.

Still, with children to distract us, surely we can’t possibly be getting very much work done? Actually the reverse is true – with the school pick-up (the most impenetrable deadline imaginable) always looming on the horizon and domestic divinity to be squeezed into our busy little lives, we’re pretty much superwomen.

‘Working from home’ used to be a euphemism for skiving off but times have changed – thank the heavens – and mums who work from home pull off slick balancing acts and are masters of time management. And sometimes we even look good, too.

Professor Golden interviewed 316 “tele-workers” for his study – but give me half a day on Twitter and I reckon I could find 317 home-workers who would paint a very different story. But of course, success stories of mums combining careers with child-rearing just aren’t sexy in certain quarters. Some would rather believe that we’re wearing pyjamas on the school run and watching Jeremy Kyle while we stuff envelopes. For pin money. Pfft.

Working at home is not for everyone but if you can’t take the heat then stay the hell away from the corner of the kitchen that this home-worker calls her office. When I had a glitzy PR job my brilliant boss would routinely order me to work at home, knowing that my best work could be relied upon to arrive when I was writing in my living room (yes, in my favourite pyjamas) with fresh air in abundance and music playing instead of phones ringing, free from the stuffiness and distractions of the office.

Above all, I’m frustrated that a non-parent who confesses to not being adept at working from home was selected to write a piece about mums who work from home. If I proposed to write a piece about what it’s like to be child-free I’d wager there’d be uproar.

So, naturally, I suggested that The Guardian should commission me forthwith to write a feisty riposte. I even promised I wouldn’t get distracted by my dependents whilst penning said retort. And of course the payment would come in handy. As pin money. 

Disappointingly, they did not respond to my email. But since they’re based in a proper office, where there are presumably no dependents running around to distract anyone from the business of doing real work, I wonder what excuse there can possibly be for not finding time to hit ‘reply’?