Working mum of three

Figuring it out as we go along. Blogging is cheaper than therapy.

Make love, not football

I’m not a big football fan. I’m not ok with immoral amounts of money for kicking a ball around and the way that it dominates people’s lives. Rich sometimes checks his phone and reacts in such a way that I think something dreadful has happened; “it has” he says, “West Ham are a goal down”. 

But with three boys already being indoctrinated, I’m prepared to get involved on high days and holidays. Especially when Wales have qualified. And a collection of people unifying behind a common goal (pun intended) is one of my weaknesses. I don’t know where it comes from, but just like Payet who came off in tears after scoring the winning goal for France in the opening game on his home turf; the emotion of the collective is overwhelming. 

We’ve loved the build up to the tournament, it’s been a family affair; the boys have been earning and trading stickers for their panini album, we’ve got two wall charts, immediately filled in after each result and matches have been full of audience participation. They’ve driven us mad with songs from the stands. They know loads of the players. They argue over who is going to be Bale, Payet and Sigurðsson. We had so much fun watching the Wales v Slovakia game, randomly bursting into song, dancing and jumping. Wales’ stunning win was topped only by 5yo bursting back in the room at full time, completely naked, shouting: “Winners! Winners!”

Earlier in the evening we were talking about how fantastic it would be to take the kids to an event like that. I used to go to football as a kid with my dad to watch Swansea, bribed with a Curly Wurly, and turns with my sister on his shoulders. That was in the days of crowds in stands and we were taught to raise our arms in front of our chests to protect our lungs as the fans piled out of the Vetch. I still do it in crowds but I haven’t often felt in real danger. 

I’ve imagined the fear of this dad stuck in the stadium. From the excitement of the spectacle turning to cold fear as the scene unfolded. It kept me awake for hours last night, trawling twitter for updates, going over how frightening those circumstances must be. Bar brawls are one thing, but watching a scene erupt into violence, while clinging onto your kids, with no way out, is the stuff my nightmares are made of. 

I was quite taken this week by the idea that we could be an elaborate virtual reality game. Perhaps it would explain the inexplicable violence. That perhaps our species will naturally self destruct, no matter how many opportunities we are given. That we never learn. 

When the second of our three boys was born, and by chance, most of our friends had also had boys, someone said to me: “all these boys being born; it’s going to be a big war”. That has burrowed into my mind for years as I wonder whether she meant that lots of boys will automatically create war, or that war is inevitable and the boys will pay the price. Violence is so accepted in our world that it is expected, even when looking into the face of a new born baby. ​

We shall overcome

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Period drama

  I’m on the blob. Surfing the crimson tide. Painters and decorators are in. I’m on. Mother nature’s delivered her monthly gift. Period. Or as I like to call it: slightly less able to tolerate crap than usual. 
Far from the discrete blue liquid that advertisers use to demonstrate the range of sanitary products at my disposal, my periods are red, bloody and messy.

Usually I don’t feel like horse riding or windsurfing, but I generally just get on with my life. A sign of fertility, I have wished for my period to arrive and I have wished for it not to. Currently, I can’t wait for menopause, three babies later, my cycle is heavy, emotional and sore. Despite being viewed by the government as a luxury, periods are a total pain in the uterus. 

The news of the first British company to introduce ‘period’ leave is intriguing. Women suffer and they generally just get on with it so why not recognise the monthly visit, have a day or two off, and make life a bit easier. We do need to address biological truths (periods, childbearing, breastfeeding) while supporting women to play their role in society. But in practice my reaction would be the same as the majority of Japanese women, who are entitled to ‘period leave’ by law but don’t take it. It feels like taking crimson leave reveals a weakness, an admission that women are somehow less capable and need to be given special privileges. It justifies men saying ‘on your period love? Why don’t you head home?’ When in reality women are handling a lot more than meets the eye. So how about just recognising that everyone probably has stuff going on that you don’t know about, and being a little gentler with each other.

Girls learn to deal with periods straight away. My first period came on holiday, I woke up covered in blood, my mum scrubbed the sheets in the bath while my dad was dispatched for sanitary towels (while I sat on a towel waiting I rolled up one of those round brushes in my hair resulting in my first fringe which made the whole thing much more traumatic). Soon after, I stood up at the end of a geography class to discover blood literally pouring down my leg. Kindly Mrs Howells found a scrunched up tissue to help me clean myself up before I dashed to the toilet avoiding anyone I knew. I had to take off my blood spattered white socks before skulking in late to French. 

In my house full of boys, I see it as a responsibility to teach them that periods are a part of life, if they want to have meaningful relationships with women (including their mum). They ask questions about the blood, which is a gory and unusual sight, and I answer them. ‘Does it hurt?’ they ask. ‘Not like a cut’ I say. They’re glad boys don’t get periods, and like anything else they are quickly distracted. It’s not a big deal, just something that happens. 

I spent years arguing that periods make no difference whatsoever. We are equals, I can handle my physicality. Those few brave partners who have wondered aloud if I’m on my period were shot down. Sexist fucks. I’ve never had period comments at work. I’ve never given my periods any credit for being able to impact my life. Until recently. Turns out, Rich has been thinking for some time that my flow has an impact on my mood and has been ever so gently broaching it when the sanitary ritual commences in our bathroom. And after releasing seven storms of wrath in his direction, I’ve realised, he might have a point. 

I’ve started checking my calendar to figure out if there is a reason why that work issue just made me burst into tears or why the kids seem particularly annoying this weekend. And amazingly, there does seem to be a connection. I am much less able to put up with other people’s shit than usual when I’m on or approaching the blob. So instead of getting into: ‘why is everyone so fucking annoying today’, I can have a cup of tea and a large piece of chocolate and take it easy on myself.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t subscribe to the notion that women are irrational or highly strung around their period, we’ve been dealing with it for years. I think we are just slightly less tolerant. And yes, this might seem out of character because we are usually so brilliant at managing everything and putting up with a whole lot of nonsense. But if you are caught being a dick on those days, expect to be called out on it (even if I ignored it last week), because I’m going against the flow. 

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What do you do when you see your weaknesses in your kid?

  
One of my first jobs was as a cleaner in a cafe, followed by a promotion to sandwich preparer. I carefully arranged salad in bread for others more qualified to stuff with proper filling. Eventually I was deemed competent enough to become a ‘La Baguette du Jour girl’. Imagine my horror when someone returned to complain that there wasn’t enough tomato in their Mediterranean Medley. I cried so much, that I had to work in the back kitchen for the rest of the day because my boss was worried that customers would think she was beating the staff. 

In Australia, on my year out, I wasn’t cut out for veg picking for very long (something I have reflected upon for years). Having finally made it into the factory, to sort red peppers by quality into boxes, I was gutted to have my number called and have to do the walk of shame to the boss who pulled grade C peppers out of my grade A box. How could I have got it so wrong?

I once had to brief the Big Boss in New York. It was pretty rare that I had to go to his office to talk about my issue, which was very much further down his agenda than mine. I was flustered, I wanted the him to know that I was working hard, doing everything I could, busily. My kindly colleague even offered to print my papers while I took a moment to freshen up. I didn’t take the hint. Instead I arrived at his office, harassed, frazzled, puffing. I’m not sure at which point I realised that my performance might not have given the best impression, but it was long after. So focused was I on letting him know that I was working hard, I overlooked letting him know I had it under control. 

I could go on and on with stories about a true fear of making mistakes in public and what other people think. 

So imagine the stomach churning fear when my 7yo blurted out between sobs recently: ‘[my friend] says I’m rubbish at stuff’. Hold the fucking phone: firstly, proof, if it were needed, that gender has nothing to do with overly emotional and destructive internal monologues. Secondly, how can it be possible that my perfect boy doesn’t think he’s good enough? And thirdly, who is this child and where does he live?

He’s always been a sensitive soul; I see the fear rise in him when someone asks him a question or if he thinks he’s been caught out. That first less than glowing school report that had him sobbing his heart out all the way home. The blind frustration and rage that bubbles out after a brotherly injustice. ‘I don’t want to say it’ he mumbles ‘they might laugh at me’. So familiar and so cringe, I know exactly how he feels; fearing questions, dreading getting it wrong, feeling not quite good enough. It’s easier not to put you hand up than to not get picked. He gets away with it, at least in part, because there is often a low expectation: ‘that’s boys for you’ they say. Worse than that, he’s beginning to use it as an excuse, he doesn’t expect to be good at stuff any more, and that’s where we’re letting him down. 

Desperate to save him from it, we’ve gone all out on homework and learning, and it’s paying off, he enjoys the feeling of impressing people. I’ve started telling him stories about when I’ve felt silly or made a mistake, and how I’ve dealt with it. He laughs at me and asks for more, hopefully taking comfort and maybe learning some self preservation skills. We shared a chuckle the other day when he asked me ‘what animal do you know the most about?’ ‘I know a little bit about lots of animals, what would you like to know?’ I replied, not wanting to be caught out. Later, he asked the same question of Rich who replied ‘I know loads about loads of animals, what would you like to know?’. Rich has a confidence and doesn’t fear mistakes in a way that I will always be envious of and wish for the boys to inherit. 

Meanwhile, 5yo has suddenly has embraced school, he’s completely figured out that the more the teachers think you are good (and cute), the more mischief you can get away with. It’s been a major transformation as he proudly repeats his day of learning then asks if he can practice his big brother’s reading book. He’s impressive and admirable. And a massive wind up merchant. 

It’s tough for us as parents to get used to these role reversals; 7yo who was always the quiet, considerate, smart one was suddenly struggling to keep up. While 5yo was the wacky, mischievous, funny one has been rocking it. (2yo, is a moany, sleepless, pain in the neck right now so let’s hope that role-reverses soon!). So just when you think you’ve got their number, they go and amaze you. Everyday these charming, sensitive boys are out there figuring it out by themselves, finding their own place, and believing they are worthy is part of it. That’s what we’re hoping to teach them, more than their times tables or word building, to have confidence in who they are. And everyday, that’s what they’re teaching me too.

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‘The snip’ and other Father’s Day tales. 

 

 “Why do people say “grow some balls”? Balls are weak and sensitive. If you wanna be tough, grow a vagina. Those things can take a pounding.” Sheng Wang, (not Betty White).

We’ve spent a lot of time laughing about the size of Rich’s vas recently. That’s vas as in vasectomy; the (very) wee pipes that get snipped. Apparently his are so small that the doctor couldn’t find them while rummaging around in his ball sack.

The whole thing has been a bit of a laugh, starting with Rich booking his appointment on his birthday (‘what would you like for your birthday darling?’ ‘No more children thanks’).  We do have a problem with contraception, in that, we are crap at it. And no amount of small children running head first into his crotch has had any impact on his fertility. Soon we started to hear the scary snip stories; years of pain in the balls, uncomfortable orgasms, eye watering complications. It’s enough to make anyone cross their legs and clench their buttocks. You know, just like those gruesome labour stories that strangers insist on telling you when you’re heavily pregnant. How we laughed about those, not so funny anymore, huh Richie? When he cancelled his first op, because it ‘didn’t fit in with work’, it seemed to be part of the ruse.

I’ve long ribbed Rich for his scrotum sensitivity, which, of course, I would ‘never understand’. The briefest of knocks to his low hanging fruit provokes an outraged squeal, a hunched over grimace and a how-could-you glare. These Crown Jewels need protection don’t you know. So I’m fairly astounded that he’s prepared to go under the knife. He REALLY doesn’t want any more kiddos.

Amidst the frivolity and dick jokes, the letter offering his rescheduled op was a bit of a kick in the balls. The punchline has taken a turn for the serious.

Now, we’ve got three beautiful boys, and just last night we lay in bed marveling at their unique and wonderful personalities. As the youngest approaches his second birthday, now is surely the time, if ever, to go for a fourth. A fourth? Now that is a joke. Of sane mind, I am certain that my brood is now complete, that three children and two full time jobs are perfectly satisfying. That I will never want for another child.

‘But what about a girl?’ they say, ‘and what about a football team?’ because once you’ve had three, everyone knows that you’re already outnumbered, so you’ve nothing to lose. Families are happier with four, you’ve read. ‘Aren’t you worried about the middle child?’. It’s true, we don’t want to cock up their lives, so maybe we should have a proper think about the salami slicing. It’s a big deal; forever, kaput, final, never again. It’s the sever of the surgeons scalpel. That’s what scares me most, no, not the cutting (that’s not my problem), but the ‘what if I change my mind?’. This is new levels of indecision (in-dick-cision).

But let’s be real; we struggle for money, for sleep, for quality time with our kids. We torture ourselves with guilt already. We are only just emerging from the weeds, and we are still exhausted. Not to mention that the world is overpopulated, economically unstable, conflict ridden. It’s frightening to think about what our kids will have to deal with in their lifetimes. So bollocks to it, I’ll drive him to the hospital myself.

Happy Father’s Day love. You’re welcome.

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More fun than a stag weekend in Magaluf…

  I had the kids all by myself last weekend. Three kids. All by myself. I know, I know, I am a hero. 

I’ll be honest, I was dreading it, not because of the kids, but me. Lately I’ve been aware of myself; shouting, outraged, overwhelmed, grumpy. But something happened this weekend, it just fell into place. 
Baby was unwell on Friday, our first night sans Richie. The boys had been swimming. It was the end of a busy week. I stood, wrestling the shit-smeared baby, shouting at 4 and 6yo who were somewhere between hyper and exhaustion. ‘Get your pyjamas on, I’ve asked you five times’ I screamed. It was as if this kids realised before me that this weekend could go one of two ways: a screaming, exhausted battle or a fun, cheeky, treat filled adventure. 6yo and 4yo shot off, conspiring to stay one step ahead of me, ‘ask us what job we should be doing next, because we’ve already done it’ they beamed. 
The night before, I had burst into their room and torn a strip off 6yo for not being in his bed straight. Yes, as in straight. I shouted at him for being diagonal. In his bed, with his pyjamas on and his teeth brushed. This is how well he has learned to handle me already, cool as a cucumber: ‘why are you talking to me like that?’. And there was me, floored and apologising to a kid and his calm headed rational thought.  
It was a brilliant weekend, the weather was friendly, we bumped into friends wherever we went (kids playing and me milking Rich’s absence), we looked after each other. The older boys stepped up and the baby grew up. We’re a little team now. We laughed more than I have in ages. They earned their treats. We put baby to bed and stayed up late to watched Ninja Warrior UK (#guiltypleasure). We had ice cream and leftover Easter egg. We read extra stories at bedtime. We tickle-cuddled until they begged for mercy. 
Yes ok, so our lovely friends ended up looking after the older boys while I rocked the baby to sleep at a neighbours’ wake in the court yard (thanks Jen, Gair and Sarah). Yeah, so my dad came for a bike ride and dutifully minded all three in the playground while I ordered lunch and luxuriated with my latte. And yeah, that was all part of it being so nice. 


Then this weekend, we were treated to a full 26 hours off duty, thanks to Rich’s folks who managed the kids while we galavanted off to a wedding (thanks June and Alan). A whole day (and night) of adult conversation, wine and freedom. We stayed in a dated caravan, while the wind and rain pelted down, and we couldn’t have been happier. It feels like we’ve had a week off. 


So here it is, that lull, that dangerous feeling of ‘it’s not that bad’ and ‘maybe we could manage another’. Luckily for Rich, this time my body is not flooding itself with hormones, my uterus isn’t skipping a beat. My brain is fully engaged. I’m content with our little team. I must be getting old. Or wise. Whatever it is, it’s lovely. 
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Room for improvement

2015/03/img_2328.jpgI’ve had a little bloggers block lately. I usually find it a relief to tap out my thoughts and put them into order. But it’s all been too much of a muddle recently to even do that. Big worries. Little worries. Medium size worries. I’ve started doing work in my sleep, literally dreaming out answers to emails, planning out meetings, it’s weird. The weeds we are in have been thick and wild. The plates we’ve been spinning are highly stacked.

We’ve both headed into 2015 with new jobs. For me, it’s exciting and vindicating, but you can imagine the anxiety. More pressure, more trips away, more guilt. I’ve blubbed the first leg of each train journey away from my family. Three hours to wallow in it all, drowning in worry and guilt, trying to muster up some professionalism.

It’s a new team for me and a whole new area of work. I’ve been wracked with self doubt and nervousness. I’ve gone from being the ‘go-to’ person to the ‘knows nothing’ person. We do a lot of self reflection at work; training on self awareness, assertiveness, management techniques, personal impact. We do team building to find out our Myers Briggs and we are learn to be leaders and not managers. Yup, I buy into all this. I try to think about it both professionally and personally. There’s a lot of good stuff, but it plays to those who think they aren’t quite good enough. I’ve spent a while in my organisation worrying that I’m not smart/worldly/posh enough. Turns out, there’s a name for it; imposter syndrome. And stuff you can do about it.

The imposter‘ applies in any industry I expect: that constant internal narrative that you aren’t meant to be there, not good enough. In a meeting, I angst over whether to ask a question, rolling the formulation around in my head, trying to judge the right moment, worrying that it will make me sound stupid, often deciding not to ask it. So I’ve been doing a bit of research into all this, and learned some psudo-psychologies (links to TED talks below…).

I’ve realised I’ve got this other person in my life. She’s pretty ruthless. You probably know her. She’s the saboteur. I used to think she was my best friend. We went everywhere together. We’ve had a good relationship and I always thought of her as a realist. She told me not to bother applying for that job; or go for promotion. She laughed at my kids’ wonky birthday cakes and tutted when I forgot their superhero costumes. I took her seriously, she knew me well, she was usually right. I can’t remember when she came into my life but it’s time she fucked off.

I’ve made a new friend, ‘the observer’. She’s a realist, and keeps the saboteur in check. She’s an internal narrative that helps me get on with it by reminding me that it’s all in my head. We are still getting to know each other (sometimes she doesn’t turn up when I need her most).

I’d like to be able to switch off all those voices and be in the game. Be present and mindful without the niggles. There’s one piece of advice that’s really changed my days: fake it until you become it. Isn’t that what everyone is doing? How you become confident? So I’ve been practicing. Faking confidence. Faking the calm to ask a question or engage in the debate. Faking the whole performance until one day you ask a question in a meeting without thinking about it. And then you realise that you’ve become it. In that moment.

Going into a new job is a good time to test it all out. Yup, sometimes I’m faking it, but sometimes I’m damn well doing it. I recently corrected a point made in a meeting, I was more than sure I was right, and I was. Then, almost immediately, I failed to say anything when someone mispronounced my name. I’ve rolled those two situations over in my head for days, my saboteur niggling away. So I’ll always be me I think, I’ll carry the self doubt, the anxiety, the introversion, the niggles, But I’ll also just get on with it.

Over all these busy months, I’ve unfinished several new blogs (all added to the guilt list). I’ve kept coming back to this point about individualism. I can ‘self-improve’ but I still want to be me. Kids, colleagues, families, they are always going to do their own thing. They’ve got their own motivations. And their own demons. Can you ever really understand someone else’s perspective, however much you try?

I’ve been thinking about the other individuals in my life. It’s been a bumpy road for Rich managing the home front while I’m away, new job and all. He doesn’t handle it all in the way that I would, he chooses some chores over others, he organises differently. Of course he does, he’s an ENTP and I’m an ISFJ – what? Haven’t you Myers Briggs-ed your relationship?

And as for the three other individuals, still developing their personality types. Ask an adult to do something and you accept they they will do it in their own way. Ask a child and expect them to do it your way. So I’m trying to think that I live with people (not kids). As I mull over my anxieties about what will become of my three boys, I’ve found some peace in the idea that by respecting their individuality now, they will know that they each bring value in their own way. If we can think about them as people, and embrace their personality types, then by the time they are teenagers then adults we’ll all be in a more balanced place. So when they are faced with whatever trials and tribulations, they’ll each be confident in their own individual way of handling it. And so will I.

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Don’t sweat the small stuff

Crisis. A time of intense difficulty or danger.

In work, we have something called ‘crisis mode’. So when stuff is kicking off, extra staff are pulled in to work on particular issues. Normal procedures don’t apply, people rush around being busy and important. Everyone does their best even if the information is not complete and the solution isn’t obvious. Occasionally things slip through the gaps, and sometimes mistakes are made. But it’s ok, because we are in crisis mode.

Without wishing to belittle the global challenges we are faced with today, I’m going to compare them to parenting. Because we’ve been in and out of crisis mode at home for six years. Our own little domestic ecosystem holds many of the same challenges as those you find in a conflict zone: opposing factions, messy violent battles, houses turned inside out, third party interference, intense negotiation, sanctions, and sometimes a ceasefire (until the next time). These crisis points have tended to erupt around the births, lasting for months, calming, then exploding again with little warning. In line with the dictionary definition, our crises have certainly been periods of intense difficulty or pressure and while the ‘danger’ is usually resolved with a 20 minute power nap, you can’t underestimate it.

The beauty about crisis mode at work, is that people make allowances for it. So everything still needs to get done, but if you say ‘I’ve been working on the crisis’ then you’re afforded a bit more leeway. It’s empowering and important. You’re in a special club.

So I’m trying to work ‘crisis mode’ into my personal life, in fact I have a whole raft of crisis indicators: boys with the wrong coloured school trousers, filthy car interior, sick stained tshirts. I once tried to get colleagues to identify our give-away codes that meant we weren’t coping so well with the week. For one it was swimming, if she hadn’t been in the morning before work, then it was a sign things were getting on top of her. For me it was more basic: drying my hair. You know it’s not going well if it’s slicked back into a bun. Day after day. These days, I don’t even know where my hair dryer is.

So we have our indicators, of which there are many, now we need the empowerment. I want to own these challenges. I’d like to stand on the bench in the school yard and scream: my kid might have grey trousers instead of black, but I am in crisis mode, so lets focus on the things I have achieved, like the fact that he is dressed. And clean. And fed. And alive. Now, obviously I would never do that because i) I don’t like to make a scene ii) I am actually mortified that they have the wrong trousers. And that’s why we need the crisis club. Because we need to be empowered. Call it self help, call it hippy crap, call it busy parents giving each other a hand (or a smile).

Why stop there at parenting? I met up last week with some pals from uni. Bright, brilliant friends, out there doing it, fighting their own fights. They make me feel excited about the good in the world. That so many of us spend so much of our time trying to make life better for someone else. The stories are moving and the challenges can feel overwhelming. That’s why everyone is welcome to join the crisis club. A little signal with your pals, a discrete sign that you’re in need of an extra bit of handholding, then hold their hand right back. Let them into the club and own those challenges together. It’s way easier when you’re allowed to drop the ball a few time.

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I heart services for people

I’ve been a civil servant for ten years this summer. Ten years. How did that happen?!

When I joined, all those summers ago, it was a panic move. I had finished uni, realised that I wasn’t cut out for the world of drama and theatre studies, and that my degree hadn’t prepared me for it anyway. I knew I wanted to travel and I knew I wanted a steady income. So it was between British Airways and the civil service. Aren’t I glad they didn’t think I would make a good flight attendant (though I was gutted at the time).

I used to strut down Whitehall in my crisp suits. I was preppy, brighteyed, enthusiastic. I had a brilliant first job sorting out conferences for the powerful. I got winked at by George Bush you know. I was dating an awful man twice my age who almost broke me that summer. I had to crash into my sisters’ spare room and into her life, a bundle of tears and uncertainly and relief.

I felt so grown up, rushing around those corridors of power. Figuring out my place. Getting stuff done. But I was a baby. Innocent, thin skinned, fragile. Wrapped up in the excitement of it all. Just like our wee one year old is now: finding his feet, wobbling on shaky legs. Blinking back tears as I got told ‘that’s not how we do it here’ more times than I can remember. And for a while I believed it. Wrinkle free, kid free, responsibility free. I met a new man, an arrogant, posh man who wore suits everyday and took himself seriously. Thankfully, he wasn’t interested in me having just come out of a long relationship. I had new friends, we drank cocktails like water, we hung out on the Southbank, we saw so much theatre that summer. Life was ace.

If then I was a baby taking my first tentative steps onto the career ladder, then I must be coming of age now. Things are about to get stroppy. It’ll be a relief when that teenage ‘I know everything’ attitude kicks in because that’ll take an awful lot of worry out of my decision making. But I guess my career is also about to get spots, mood swings and get a bit experimental.

Standard practice in my department is that jobs change every few years; so that we become jacks of all trades. It’s not good for someone like me who likes a bit more certainty. That time is coming up for me. Similarly, we are talking to the boys about their next school year, new teachers, new classrooms, new expectations. They are much cooler about it than I am. I need to apply that same level of inevitability to my work. A new boss is just like getting a new teacher. A new job is like a new class. And in this new teenage career phase, I’ve got choice, responsibility, my own front door key. But there are still plenty of adults around to make sure I don’t do anything too dangerous.

The suited man turned out to be quite special. Another life decision that I would never have predicted. The years have flown by, as have the babies. Now I work from home in track suit bottoms. I make more important decisions and care less about my shoes. I worry about reports, progress, bullying when I should be writing reports, taking steps to progression and tackling bullying in the workplace.

I love being part of a machinery that I believe is trying to do good. I’ve had amazing experiences and fantastic opportunities. I believe I can make a difference. But it is faulted of course. It makes mistakes. It takes forever to make change. As with all the public services, in a time of austerity, it relies on people to ‘do more with less’. I work to the bone because of professional pride and accept a painful salary because I want to make life a bit better for someone else. I told my team this week that I am in a constant state of ‘not delivering’ because while I’m finishing one high profile piece of work, there are already 5 more major projects building up. We swing from one priority to the next. I’ve felt so much responsibility on my shoulders, which Rich says are as hard as stone. I passed the edge of my limits months ago.

This week, 2 million public workers went on strike. I was hugely relieved to have a day off. I went to rally with firefighters, teachers, social workers and loads more. The feeling of exhaustion was overwhelming: we are doing our best, but we are totally shattered. No one joins the public services to become rich, but we need a living wage. We need enough staff and enough resources to deliver our jobs properly. The people who stood with me make genuine life or death decisions. They are responsible for the care of our most vulnerable. Do we want them pushed to the limits of exhaustion? Overwhelmed? Worried about making their own ends meet?

As I stood with my 5yo on my shoulders, him clapping along with the crowd, me with tears in my eyes, the strength in solidarity washed over me again. The strength of standing together is beautiful. And all these people want to do stuff for others; collect their rubbish, alphabetise their library books, teach their kids, sort out their driving licences, save them from a burning building. The least we can do is give them a salary that rises with inflation. Its not much to ask for. It’s a no brainer.

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Breast at its best

Bottle or breast
We’re all doing our best
But here are some thoughts
To get off my chest (pun intended)

Oh breastfeeding, what a joy. What a personal, emotional, physical drain. I mean joy. You’ve made me feel special and given me closeness. You have made me cry. Tears of worry, pain, happiness. What a privilege it is to give your body for nine months. Then again for months more.

A funny kind of privilege, one that doesn’t let you out the door. Makes people feel awkward. And leaves your body sore. A privilege that teaches you about bra extenders, breast pads, nipple creams, front openers, flap fasteners. Torpedo nipples, leatherback breasts, heavy, full and leaky. Dried-on milk. Not sexy, but empowered. #NoMorePage3. Look what I can do: Panic stricken, ruddy faced baby, waling wildly. Silenced, soothed, satisfied. No packaging, no waste, no cost. Everything he needs. This is how powerful breasts can be.

I can do it in my sleep. His nose blocked and snotty. While breaking up a fight between older brothers. Debating global politics. Online shopping.

We’ve fed almost everywhere I can think of: Church during the nativity to keep baby quiet (I had to ask my mum if it were allowed). On a flight to stop ears from popping. Sainsbury’s car park, Nanny’s sofa, the park, the beach, the library, cafés, doctors, museums.

I’ve missed weddings, parties, nights out. I’ve forfeited conversations. I’ve made people leave rooms. I got high fived once: ‘You go girl’. And I realised it was special.

Now I’ve hung up my hooter hider. Folded up my muslin wrap. I struggled under that blanket, blindly fumbling, wrangling boob out of bra, stretching top under udder, helping baby find breast. In fact I hadn’t bothered much with that, not since practicality took the place of dignity somewhere between baby one and baby three.

Magnificently milking. Belly laughing. Milk-shaking.

Long nights, early morning, crazy days. Is there enough milk? Too much? Baby preferred the left, but I never figured out why.

Baby looks up at me, fingers in my nostrils, nipple in his mouth and drifts into milky sleep.

Oh baby, I gave my body to him on the inside and the outs. It’s an overwhelming closeness that only I will remember.

He rejected the bottle for weeks: fast flow, sippy cup, most like mum, closer to breast. Long days without milk. Swollen breasts, heavy tears, mummy guilt, baby indifference.

And now, he happily flings mush all over the kitchen. Finger in my nostrils, draining bottle, eyes full of trust. Still perfect.

I already miss the breastfeed. As we wean to days now between. I miss those sweet orange sickly shitty nappies. That creamy milky sick in my hair. Wallowing together in our own goo. The dependence. The quiet. The power. The necessity. I savour our last feed (well, it could be the last), overwhelmed by the beauty of it, before reaching for my phone, and reading twitter again.

The final injustice; the return of period cramps. Bloated belly. Countdown to cycle, held off by milk production. A painful reminder of fertility again.

Well, it is such a privilege…

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Boys just wanna have fun

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I’ve always known how I would bring up my daughter. She would climb trees, she would fix things, she would be good at sports, she would have toys that did things. She would be physical, active, outdoorsy. She would also be gentle, caring, empathetic. Ambitious, capable, confident. We would battle, of course, especially through the teen years, but in the long run, we would be close and I would know she was grateful for her feminist roots.

So I wasn’t really planning on having three boys (parenting lesson #7: nothing goes to plan). I had never really thought about boys. It all just seemed a bit more straightforward for them; that male upbringing was simply a prolonged sequence of sport, fart jokes and sexual experimentation. I felt sorry for families that only had boys, how boring their lives must be.

Turns out that they are fragile little things, they worry and cry, they need comfort, security, routine. They dance and sing. They paint, draw, ‘scissor’ and glue. They skip along the road holding my hand. They are so untouched, unaffected by their gender. And it’s beautiful.

I won’t forget 5yo bursting into tears after school because they had watched a film where the kids got separated from their parents. He had held it together in the hall with his friends, and for the walk holding hands up the steps but as we waited for his brother he crumpled and told me the jumbled story with his arm like a vice around my neck. Oh these boring boys. At the weekend we played football and talked about school while 3yo arranged plant pots behind the goal. They argue over who makes their baby brother laugh the most. They beg us to do baking, water plants, read stories. They disappear to play complicated games together in their room. Sigh, so shallow these males. 5yo frequently mediates between parents and siblings displaying top notch emotional intelligence which rivals Catherine Ashton’s. Seeing him hold nervous 3yo’s hand and coach him through swimming lessons is priceless. Where is that tested in the school system?

Now I know that statically, these boys will be fine, by the virtue of being white, middle class and male. But I also know that they’ll have to navigate their softer sides against an expectation of aggression, competitiveness, even violence. I’m a believer in making change from within: they need to get into the boys culture in order to change it. They’ll need the skills to be able to banter in the changing room but have the self confidence to call out sexism, racism, homophobia and whatever else. It’s a lot of pressure to put on these boys. They already show a keen sense of justice (‘why is his half of the biscuit bigger?’) but can they hold their own in the big wide playground? 5yo complains of being exhausted after school because he has spent all day stopping the older boys from crushing the girls. He tells me that the girls keep kissing him and we talk about making sure they want to be kissed and his right to say no. He is confident in his values, and his sensitivity, but he is challenged relentlessly and all three will have to weather that throughout their lives.

The confidence question has been playing on my mind recently, probably as I battle my own demons on the return to work. I’m in observation overdrive, searching for the secrets of self confidence. I study people giving presentations, telling their children off, chatting over coffee. I’m fascinated by the noisy kids, leaders, game makers. This confidence comes from somewhere. I’ve thought about it in terms of the #banbossy campaign, which focuses on empowering girls. It’s a great initiative, but how about we celebrate the quiet kids, the ones getting on with it and not making a fuss. The low drama kids. The middle of the road. Hell, let’s just give our best to all kids. They key thing is that they are comfortable as themselves.

I’m glad that I had got this so wrong. Having focused so much of my life on feminism and women’s issues, it’s taken these boys to make me realise that everyone has a part to play in the solution. I was aware of it in theory, but now I get to see first hand how important it is to pass on those values to boys in practice. It’s not good enough to bring up balanced girls, we need to sort out the boys too.

Ok, so their room already stinks of boy, but their skin smells sweet and fresh. Kids are enchanting regardless of gender. And the real beauty is that they come with all of it unlocked. Although the doors will get closed as they get on with their lives, I want to make sure they always know where the keys are. And the fart jokes, they’ll need a good selection of those too.

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