Growing up, I was always vaguely aware that my sister and I were not alone. I remember one bedtime after mum had finished reading my favourite story, The Curly Cobbler, she explained to a seven-year-old me that if everything had worked out, they’d never have had me or my sister. So I don’t remember her story being a sad or traumatic one. Though of course it was.
Today, aged 65, my mother Lucia – or ‘Mutti’ as we call her because it seemed to fit her chirpy disposition – is a powerhouse of relentless positivity. It is entwined in everything she does; from warming our towels on the radiator when we’ve just showered to her catchphrase when we say we can’t do something: “just snap the ‘t’ off and you can”.
‘You happened when I had almost given up,’ she told me hopefully on one of the darker days following my fifth miscarriage.
While comments from friends, saying ‘at least you can get pregnant’ felt isolating and often (and never intentionally) insensitive, my mum’s positive outlook offered genuine solace. Perhaps it was because I knew she was bearing the scars of loss beneath that positive veneer – the same armour that would get me through the painful emptiness of losing a child.
I can’t truly remember if her sunshine-drenched outlook was always present – though sometimes I suspect not when I leave sodden towels on the bathroom floor. But the mum I know now is encouraging to the point of cheerleading in everything my sister and I do. My lunchboxes always had a little extra surprise from her – a little poem here or a good luck note ahead of a netball game there. Looking back after my own experience of miscarriage I think she perhaps held us tighter because she knew what it was to lose.
It was on holiday in Menorca in 2016 as I was eating a fairly limp salad when I felt the familiar blood between my thighs. I was seven weeks pregnant and having been through miscarriage four times previously, I knew the warm, dark, wet sensation of loss. I knew despite wild denial that it was happening again – I was losing a child.
Mutti was with me, along with my Dad, husband and three-year-old daughter. While we’d had a relatively close relationship throughout my life, I’d lived abroad for ten years in Dubai and Amsterdam so geographically we’d been separated. The first four miscarriages I went through, I only had her on speed dial and those aches for a bosomy maternal hug were never sated because of a continent or the English Channel between us. On that overcast Menorcan day, pierced with occasional squeals from giddy children in a nearby swimming pool, I calmly uttered the words to my mother that every pregnant woman fears articulating: ‘I’m bleeding’.
I think it was in that moment of silence that I realized for the first time I wasn’t alone in navigating this well-worn path of emotionally ricocheting violently between faux positivity – Googling all possible positive outcomes when bleeding – and crippling fear.
The truth is that however supportive my husband, friends and sister were, you don’t understand the searing pain of losing a child unless you’ve been there.
A name has been imagined, that foetus is a person, a member of the family – “the newest recruit” as my husband would say.
When someone loses a limb, you don’t say ‘at least it was a clean cut’ and so those seemingly supportive comments of ‘at least you can get pregnant’ or ‘at least you have a child’ felt empty and ultimately painful.
If you know what it is to love someone, you know what it is to lose someone.
My coping mechanism has always been curling up in a ball for a week and then writing about my experience. I posted a blog post entitled ‘miscarriage of (in)justice’ detailing the raw, physicality of losing a baby. The 1,345 comments was overwhelming; the connection to other mothers deeply cathartic.
There in my mother’s eyes was the exact same fear that was coursing through my own – only hers was masked by a protective maternal calmness. “We will take every day as it comes,” she responded in a voice I hadn’t heard since I was a child. It was a delicate mixture of fierce protection and innate calm. I felt that wing swoop over me and I instantly reverted to a childlike demeanour; foetal position helped both cramps and emotions.
Few words were spoken during the days that followed but our communication would manifest itself more physically – a gentle arm squeeze here, a furtive, protective glance when I’d returned from the toilet there. My mum knew from her own experience of loss that no words can placate the ebb and flow of the numbing fear and potential lost dreams. There was no pacifier or bedtime story that could take away the emptiness that was about to descend as the final thread of hope was flushed down the toilet.
My mum knew to sit in the dark hole with me.
On our return from that holiday she decided to stay one more night at our London home. I think she knew from her own experience that I hadn’t hit rock bottom – that I was still in no man’s land unable to accept reality. She was right. In an attempt to push my feelings away, I irrationally decided to retile the kitchen floor at 4pm. My husband protested and that’s when my Mum intervened: “we’ll do it together; it will be OK” before she set off to B&Q with the frenzied determination of a starved mosquito.
We sweated away until the early hours, mildly sunburnt from holiday and both determined to finish the somewhat daunting DIY task in front of us. Somewhere between unearthing a damp, mouldy 1976 Waltham Forest Echo that had been used as insulation on the floor and asking Mutti to pass me a chisel, I broke down. It was a deep-seated grief for all the four children I had lost without her soft lily of the valley scent and warmth to shield me from the devastation. She held me in a vice-like grip until I couldn’t cry anymore and I knew something had shifted. I was no longer alone in the maternal emptiness as we mourned both our losses as mother and daughter; one woman holding another.
The haunting sense of those children lost will never disperse because they are a part of me – they are part of our family. All I know going forward is that, whatever happens, I’ll look to my mum and know that I can snap the ‘t’ off and then, together, we can.
An edited version of this extract was published in Marie Claire Magazine.
I read something the other day that said the way parents are forced to work – whether that’s on a pitch or penning a shopping list – is using ‘splinters of time’. Those fragments inbetween naps, polite requests for “CHIPS NOW”, nappy changes, face/bum wiping and play date madness.
In those fragments, everything can be achieved – even if the eye twitch is pneumatic and the adrenalin coursing through your being. But while I’ve been working from home with the girls in tow, it’s been necessary to try and extend those fragments so I can make some headway with the inbox of doom and – if the gods are with me – sip a cup of tea that isn’t lukewarm. Here’s a few ways we’ve made those fragments into, well, shards, of time to celebrate Frankie & Benny’s Parenting Awards:
Despite a truckload of primary-hued toys being scattered about the house, my youngest refuses to engage with toys. I have about one minute at the most with Sophie La Giraf before she’s tossed aside and the meltdown ensues. For reasons I can’t fully explain, she’s been enamoured with non-toy toys. That includes keys, old trainers, dirty washing, discarded toilet rolls, plastic Tupperware lids and books – specifically those not meant for children, including ‘Parenting The Shit Out of Life’.
Skip the golden arches and any of the other fast-food spots and whip out the picnic basket instead. Load it up with a few sandwiches, drinks, and healthy snacks and spread out in your lounge. You’ll have a meal and play area in one, and combing the two makes for a double win.
Paint the town
Well, maybe not the town but the house. And before you get The Fear, no paint is involved. Just arm them with a bucket of water and a paint brush and get them ‘painting’ the outside of your humble abode with water. As one patch dries, it opens up another area that they’ve ‘missed’. I’ve managed to secure a solid 27 minutes straight out of this activity. I can’t take credit, though, it was my mum’s idea – I have fond memories of ‘painting’ for days in the summer of 1986 and I turned out OK.
At the point where everyone is going off the walls and you are about to enlist the services of the digital nanny (iPad), give it one last throw of the dice with a dance off. We tend to go with Taylor Swift’s Shake it Off because it somehow crosses all generations with its natty beat. The ‘winner’ gets a plate of food at the end. This is exercise and entertainment uniting in one song – forget Zumba, it’s all about Mum-ba.
Frankie & Benny’s is celebrating parents and their ability to keep the brood shtum while you manage a cuppa. If you fancy winning a trip to Disney World, enter the Parent Win Awards competition on Twitter, Instagram or on the F&B Facebook page by April 20. Enter using #Fbparentswin
Very excited to announce the launch of our first FREE non-panel, non-networking event. This event is not about mingling, hob nobbing, working the room or sealing the deal. It’s about talking and building on that conversation. Being held on 20 April from 9-12pm at soft play centre @kb02venue in North London, this is the first in our ‘Soft Play, Hard Talk’ series that centres on two things: 1) providing a space to let the kids run free (= no childcare needed) 2) providing a space where you can talk to professionals about everything from flexible working requests to the realities of setting up a new business. There will be @seedlipdrinks cocktails, @angesdesucre cupcakes, @parentapparel goodie bags and myself, @timewise_uk @steph_dontbuyherflowers and the Equality and Human Rights Commission on-hand to chat informally to anyone who has specific career questions. The aim of this event (which will hopefully be rolled out across the U.K. if successful/ if we find ambassadors willing to help) is to get offline and start finding a way through the quagmire of inflexibility; to help empower the 54,000 women every year who are made redundant on maternity leave or are denied any flexibility. It’s equally to empower the men seeking flexible working only to be told it’s something ‘mothers get’. We fully believe flexible working should be available for everyone but there is no denying that the door is firmly being shut in female faces the minute the swimmers run free. To bag one of 50 adult spaces (no restriction on children) at this launch event please comment on Instagram with why you would like to attend; what questions you would like answered or any frustrations in the workplace you have faced or are facing. Individuals will be selected at random this Friday at 12pm. (You can tag a friend, too if you don’t fancy coming alone). The event will also be available on Instagram Live where you will be able to ask your questions as we go #flexappeal #flexibleworking #maternitydiscrimination #softplayhardtalk #motherpukka
The one question that keeps coming up here is, ‘what’s Matt [my husband] doing?’ From my social media pages it seems like – despite my bid to push for flexible working in the workforce for one and all – I’m still shouldering the burden of childcare as he heads out into the 9-5 (or 8-6, more realistically). And to a certain extent that’s right – my current job/career/Sellotaping words together means I’m entirely flexible so I’ve ended up in a world of galloping to school with Bat Girl (World Book Day?) in tow and scrabbling around trying to work with a baby on boob and Incy Wincy Spider on Spotify.
But that’s about to change. Matt works at a content agency and is taking up Shared Parental Leave so I can scramble back onto the editorial horse/donkey. While I understand our current positions are not reflective of everyone out there, Shared Parental Leave is an option for around 285,000 eligible couples every year.
These couples – possibly you? – can share up to 50 weeks of leave and 37 weeks of pay after having a baby. In it’s simplest form, this means you can take time off separately or be at home together for up to 6 months. While I live for snuffles on Eve’s teeny tiny little head, I am definitely ready to edge away from trying to write to the beat of The Wheels On The Bus. Equally, Matt is keen to tackle those code red nappy situations in the cheese aisle of Tesco with full jazz hands.
But our set-up is currently fairly rare. As it stands, the take up of Shared Parental Leave is as low as 2% and around half of the general public haven’t the foggiest that it even exists for parents.
But why does it exist? (I mean, other than to edge away from that frustrating phrase ‘Daddy Daycare’ – he’s parenting folks and it’s an ongoing task that he actually – truly – enjoys at times. Who’d have thought?)
“This government is determined to tackle and ultimately close the gender pay gap. To do this, we need to support women to fulfil their potential in the workplace – and giving women the choice to share childcare with their partners is crucial to that effort,” said minister for women, Victoria Atkins.
Sure, it won’t be for everyone and sure, some mammaries won’t allow separation earlier than 12 months. There are many reasons why it wouldn’t be taken up – but choice is essential here. To give a woman the choice of going back to work earlier, knowing her partner can officially swoop in with that equally expansive paternal wing.
And there it is. The Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy’s campaign ‘Share the joy’ is simply about that – choice and sharing, well, the joy. Business Minister Andrew Griffiths says: Shared Parental Leave gives choice to families. Dads and partners don’t have to miss out on their baby’s first step, word or giggle.
But this isn’t solely about offering up the parental unit an equal division of snuffles. Employers can cash-in the benefits, too. If I know anything, it’s that flexibility in work equals happier, more loyal and more productive employees. (From my experience flexibility makes people work harder and stopping employees from working – encouraging them to switch off – is the bigger issue).
That said, I’ve not yet ventured into sharing the burden of childcare; sharing those precious moments when I ask my eldest daughter, “how was your day?” to get a mumble of “I don’t remember, Can I have some Wotsits?” (I’m exaggerating; of course, because the gushing night-before-Christmas excitement I get at school pick-up is less easy to palate on page.)
But time will tell if it’s for us. One thing’s for sure, it’s a choice. One we made together. Matt reckons, “it’s fairly simple, really. I’m one half of the procreation equation so I should be able to enjoy (or endure occasionally) those first few months. I’m looking forward to some QT with both girls.”
I can’t wait to see Matt’s glazed eyes at 6.30pm every night as the Paw Patrol theme tune drills into his soul as he project manages demands for “the green spoon”, while Eve uses his index finger as a chew toy.
Let us know what you think. Are you sharing leave? Have you considered it but ducked out at the last? Let us know your thoughts.
Share the joy
Shared Parental Leave was introduced in 2015 to offer choice to eligible parents when it comes to childcare, and allow mothers to return to work sooner if they wish to. The policy benefits employers who can retain talent in their workforce and can contribute to closing their gender pay gap. Employment rights have been placed firmly at the centre of government policy, with Greg Clark, Business Secretary, taking responsibility for promoting the delivery of better quality jobs as part of a drive to boost productivity in the modern Industrial Strategy. As part of the campaign, parents who have taken Shared Parental Leave have shared their experience of how the policy has benefitted their families.
Yesterday my eldest daughter said, “Why did you walk past that man asking for money?” I literally stopped in my tracks because I hadn’t seen anyone and I was amazed that a 4-year-old had the emotional intelligence to question me on it. I didn’t have an answer other than “answering emails on my phone”, which made me feel relatively rubbish on both a parental and humanitarian level.
Whatever your beliefs are about giving money to buskers, there is no denying, the act of giving is, well, a good – nay essential – element of living. Whether that’s giving your seat to an elderly lady, giving your time to someone lost without Google maps or giving money to a charity that lights up your mind/knackered eyes.
But since having two kids, I barely get beyond the brashly-decorated Star Chart on our fridge when it comes to ‘doing good’. Doing good as a knackered mum is mainly focused on what my kids have done that’s ‘good’. A ‘please’ here, a ‘thank you’ there and a clean plate with only a solitary pea remaining.
And so any chance to do good, while doing everything else gets a huge jazz hands emoji from my side.
One of the reasons we switched to TPO (The People’s Operator) Mobile was, to be frank, because we are working with them on a paid basis. But the reason we entered into this partnership wasn’t simply ‘take the job, pay the bills’; this company gives back 10% of your monthly bill to your chosen charity.
So every time I speak to my mum about her pesky bunion, money is going towards Gingerbread – a charity that supports single parents. I can do good without even thinking, which is a magical thing, indeed.
This is not a sim
TPO is super flexible and is priced the same as any other network provider. Ultimately it’s a brand with a purpose – giving people a new, easy way to help fund the causes they care about. This is thoughtless thoughtfulness at its best. Just pick up the phone and fix big issues while fixing small issues: win-win. To check out the largest sim deals, go here. All Mother Pukka followers will get a £5 one-off charity payment to cause chosen by customer if they sign up using this link.
There are a few questions we regularly get asked about #flexappeal, so Papa Pukka sat down to be interviewed by his sceptical alter ego.
SAE: What the chuff is a Flex Appeal then?
PP: Flex Appeal is us parping on about flexible working, and why it’s a good thing: for businesses and for anyone who works or is looking for work. While it becomes a crunch issue when you become a parent – and disproportionately affects mothers – it’s just as valuable to anyone from first jobbers to CEOs.
Sounds like a load of InstaSPAM to me.
There’s no need to be like that. Our goal is simple and twofold:
ONE: Convince businesses to trial flexible working (properly) and be more open to requests.
TWO: Make people aware of their rights and encourage them to make the case for flexible working.
How’s twatting about in a leotard going to help?
We do #flexappeal flash mobs to raise awareness about flexible working and hopefully encourage people to ask what it is and why it matters. These involve us pitching up in town centres, dressed in brightly coloured athleisure, singing a song called ‘Let’s Talk About Flex’, to the tune of Salt n Peppa’s ‘Let’s Talk About Sex’. Everyone is welcome to join, and if the numbers are high enough (we usually get a few hundred) that gets attention from local press and even occasionally TV. We’ve been to Trafalgar Square in London, to Manchester, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Bristol and want to do more, including Parliament Square. In a very juvenile way, the fact that ‘flex’ rhymes with ‘sex’ helps to get people’s attention.
How much are they paying you?
There is no mysterious ‘they’, beyond conspiracy theory websites. Most of what we do for flexappeal is done for nowt (other than the belief that it’s one practical way that life in the UK can be improved and the hope that working practices might be better by the time our nippers start work). In 2017 we had a three-month sponsorship deal with Regus, which seemed a good fit as they offer flexible working spaces and – from what we could tell when speaking to their staff – are very open to flexible working themselves. The money helped to cover things like travel, overnight stays, permits, insurance, hiring a cameraman, and a few hundred T-shirts for flash-mobbers. In return, they got to put their logo on some T-Shirts and at the end of any videos we made. The contract stipulates that we can’t talk numbers but, while we won’t be retiring off the back of it, it covered our flexappeal costs for that period. Generally, doing it costs us money.
Sounds a bit worthy. Why the chuff are you bothering?
Thanks, we think it is worthwhile. The Equality and Human Rights Commission estimates that 54,000 new mothers lose their jobs across Britain every year – almost twice the number identified in 2005. That removes skills from the economy and taxes from the exchequer. Lack of flexibility – and the idea that mums are a hassle to employ – is the main problem. Motherhood is a significant driver of the gender pay gap, as women tend to have babies in their late 20s and early 30s, just as they’re approaching their career peak, and find that employer inflexibility limits their options. We have some of the lowest rates of productivity in the developed world, and flexible working is a proven catalyst for higher productivity. Also: we like working that way.
Meh. Nothing’s going to change though, is it?
Any big shift in public opinion tends to go through a period of outright resistance, followed by scepticism, followed by consideration, acceptance and then advocacy. People resisted the idea of weekends, paid holiday and votes for women. Trying to deny them now seems pretty barbaric.
Consider gay marriage. As a kid in the late 80s I probably thought the idea was a bit weird, largely influenced by the grown-ups around me. As a teen in the late 90s I was pretty ambivalent. By the early 00s I got to, ’well, there’s no reason why not’, before settling on, ‘seems pretty daft that’s not allowed, why’s it taking so long?’ That probably matches broader UK public opinion.
There’s a quote we tend to overuse by the writer Douglas Coupland: “The nine to five is barbaric. I think one day we will look back at nine-to-five employment in a similar way to how we see child labour in the 19th century.” As more people get to the advocacy stage, they can nudge more out of the resistance stage.
Ooh, look at you, giving it all the virtue signalling and the writer-quoting. You’re just doing this to get followers you shallow-faced ball-bags.
Oh dear, things are descending. We’re mostly doing it because we’re a bit stubborn. With childcare costs and commuting times, we found it impossible to both be in full time work. But we both needed to be in full time work to do mundane things like feed our children and pay the mortgage, so both went freelance and started Mother Pukka on the side. It got us fired up, and Anna in particular. If people follow us to hear more about it, all the better. The more people that are involved in the conversation, the more people are likely to push for flexible working. And, schmaltzy as this may sound, we don’t want our daughters to have to decide between earning money and raising kids.
Oh, think of the children! I bet you’re one of those types with three kinds of decanted olive oil, aren’t you?
I’ve got some Bertoli from the corner shop.
More on flexappeal
We’ve created a Facebook group for people to share stories of Flexible Working (good and bad). It’s a closed group that you can join here.
Advice for staff on their rights and making the case:
Advice for employers on how flex can help productivity and profits:
When did I quit my career? I think it was possibly sooner than I imagined; it was at the point where I thought, “I won’t continue with my law degree because I want to become a mother at some point. Instead I’ll turn to journalism because, well, you can at least freelance.” My career choice – while it has served me well and I wouldn’t change anything – was founded on looming inequality in the workforce. As a 22-year-old woman (with a mild hangover, a Greggs sausage roll in-hand and little ability to see beyond the weekend), I could see becoming a mother and continuing as a barrister would not go hand-in-hand. So I became a journalist, then a mother and here I am Sellotaping words together between boob feeds and hollers for “the red spoon, NOT the blue spoon”.
But brightly-hued cutlery and weaning concerns aside, why am I uniting with the Chartered Management Institute (CMI) for their Broken Windows Campaign? (A campaign to tackle the smaller, discriminatory and often unintentional behaviours that contribute to gender inequality in the workforce) Is this not another bandwagon to jump on for International Women’s Day? Is this not just another company wheeling me out in the hope that they’ll look more gender-focused in their agenda? For one day?
I thought it might be. My cynical side had a – fairly unkempt – eyebrow raised. But what this organisation is trying to do is at the heart of what I’m trying to change with our Flex Appeal campaign – a campaign to push for flexible working for one and all in a bid to tackle the gender pay gap. The missing pieces of my jigsaw lie with them. I have the glaring lack of equality in front of me – from every message I receive of another pregnant mother made redundant on maternity leave to headlines shouting “why are there so few women at the top?” but they have the mechanic to pool that frustration and transform it into change.
Here’s a little intro from their side on what they are trying to do:
In the wake of 2017’s #MeToo movement and the introduction of compulsory gender pay gap reporting in the UK – professional women have never been more aware, or more engaged, in gender inequality than right now.
But while the papers and social media are full of examples of large-scale behaviours that contribute to gender inequality, women at work still need help challenging everyday discrimination that contributes to gender inequality. These small yet very common behaviours are otherwise known as ‘Broken Windows’. These behaviours can include women being talked over in meetings, comments about flexible working, or being described as pushy or shrill when they are being decisive or firm.
Ahead of International Women’s Day, the CMI has released a satirical ‘Inequality: a how-to guide’ video as part of its Broken Windows campaign, which aims to tackle smaller, discriminatory and often unintentional behaviours that contribute to gender inequality in the workplace.
If you don’t see how the above works, take a look at this video of comedienne Stevie Martin and actor Thom Tuck showing what it’s all about. Also for anyone looking for positive ways to navigate the broken windows in front of them, check out the new CMI Women Facebook Group, a new online community launched to give professional women and men a platform to rapidly crowdsource solutions to address the smaller behaviours which contribute to the wider gender issues at work.
If you want to hear more from me on this matter or have your voice heard, join me at 8pm on International Women’s Day (8th March) for a Facebook Live that will be broadcast on the CMI Facebook page. I will be joining Stevie Martin along with Randall Peterson, Professor of Organisational Behaviour at London Business School, Haleema Baker-Mir and Reetu Kansal, both members of the CMI Women Committee and a representative from the Government Equalities Office to discuss issues of gender inequality in the workplace and how to tackle it!
This isn’t about making ‘sexism sexy’, it’s not about leaving men out in the cold and while this is happening around International Women’s Day, it’s not about one day. It’s about giving myself, at 22, the tools to follow my chosen career without the fear of a huge oaken door being slammed in my face the minute the swimmers run free. A career that could have led to me fighting in court for those who have, perhaps, faced discrimination instead of writing about it.
To find out more information, join the CMI Women Facebook Live broadcast on 8th March 2018 at 8pm or join the new CMI Women Facebook Group, a new online community launched to give professional women and men a platform to rapidly crowdsource solutions to address the smaller behaviours which contribute to wider gender issues at work.
This blog post was written in association with CMI.
I can’t remember what a holiday was like without kids. I have a vague sense of luxuriating by a swimming pool reading more than one page at a time without cries of “Mama, I need the toilet, NOW”. I vaguely remember waking up to the sound of lapping waves and not the sound of “Mama, I need milk, NOW”. I have a vague sense of needing to only think of myself and not the 1,458 things other people in my 100m radius need.
But I wouldn’t change it for the world. I would, however, change how we get some R&R. Infinity pools, glass coffee tables and silent spas are not where it is at for a family of four – including one pre-schooler who happens to holler things like, “Mama why does that man look like Shrek?”
So, for our first holiday in nearly two years, we’re climbing aboard the new Royal Caribbean ship, Symphony of the Seas in April and gliding out into the Mediterranean Sea. While this is a paid collaboration, there is nothing that brings more happiness to my/ a parent’s lugholes than these words: “There’s a huge slide in the swimming pool and a cocktail bar inside.” Job done.
(Plus, the concept of ‘containing’ the brood without fear they’ll end up on a pedalo heading towards the UK is a thing of relief. Containment with the right entertainment is a very merry match for a parental soul.)
Along with plush 5-star accommodation that borders the line between posh and playful, I can’t wait for Mae to clap eyes on the great open seas before hitting the sack. The incredible ship has a glow-in the-dark laser tag arena and Puzzle Break where teams race against the clock to escape the submarine-themed room.
With private balconies, this also means that when the kids are conked out, Matt and I can start repairing our relationship while lapping up the sound of waves against the deck below. Oh, and they do a knockout fish taco in El Loco Fresh.
Symphony of the Seas, indeed.
On 1 February I’ll be scooting along to an exclusive, on-land previewof Symphony of the Seas in London, called Symphony of the Senses. While advance tickets sold out in record time, FREE walk-in spaces are available on Saturday 3 February if you fancy a sneak peak. More info here: https://www.royalcaribbean.co.uk/symphony-of-the-senses/
And, if you’re keen to try out a holiday with Royal Caribbean, there are some great deals on! Until 5 March guests can snap up a buy one get one free offer with a further 25% off for the third and fourth guest for 6 nights or more departing between 1 April and 31 December 2018. These fares will include the All Inclusive Deluxe Beverage package for first and second guests on selected sailings to Europe, the Caribbean and on sailings from Southampton. A free of charge Refreshment Beverage Package will also be available for third and fourth passengers on selected Caribbean holidays.* The offer even applies to sailings on board the Symphony of the Seas, which is set to offer the most family-friendly and relaxing holiday experience a knackered parental unit could ask for.*Visit www.royalcaribbean.co.uk/terms-and-conditions/ for full terms and conditions
This blog post was written in partnership with Royal Caribbean
My folks brought me up to ‘go for it’. Whether it was an intense netball game, a job interview or a game of competitive Christmas Monopoly, I was raised to make the best of the cards in front of me.
Well, that worked out well for me until I had kids. I felt pretty successful as an editor on a magazine; I had a ‘nice chap’ as a boyfriend and despite some relentless hangovers, I felt like I’d ‘gone for it’ and maybe had it.
Cue Mae, my first daughter, who turned my life upside down in the best possible way. It was at that point that I realised the working world was not set up for mothers. I’d call it ‘running the gauntlet’ as I galloped home across London at 5pm to pick her up from nursery.
Things started slipping: mind, health, sock drawer (it was a catastrophe; although I’m yet to meet someone who has that nailed) and eating habits. My mum used to cook us a homemade dinner every night. We had meat one night, fish a couple of nights and then veggie the rest. I didn’t realise the extraordinary effort she went to over my eating life (that equates to roughly 26,567 dinners cooked) but she knew to ‘go for it’ there needed to be food in the tank.
By contrast, as both working parents, my husband and I were barely getting through the day – we were lucky if it wasn’t a cheese and pickle sandwich on repeat.
I think it was mainly down to time – how to get food in us all, bathtime done, work emails picked up and some semblance of happiness among it all.
So when Fish is the Dish* approached us with their Fish 2 a week health campaign – which encourages the UK to add seafood to their menu twice a week as part of a healthy, balanced diet that can prevent health problems such as Alzheimer’s and coronary heart disease – I was IN.
While I was focused on just getting food in us, I’d overlooked the simple things that were staring us in the face – quite literally once when getting the eye from a halibut in the seafood section of Tesco.
Apparently I’m not alone, though. A YouGov survey conducted by Fish is the Dish has revealed that two thirds (66%) of adults in the UK aren’t eating enough fish, missing targets set to help protect our heart health, and 82% of females aged 35-44 are not aware of the recommended consumptions levels.
It’s a useful med for both treatment and prevention of herpes. I tried to use other cheaper drugs rather than Valtrex (Valacyclovir), but they did not work out. By the way, if there is a constant problem of acne, then taking Valtrex at https://valtvalacyc.com can help with this problem.
So where did we begin? With the simple stuff. Mae loves a fish finger. I love a fish finger. Matt loves a fish finger. So we decided to create our own fish fingers on a Sunday with breadcrumbs and freeze them for those nights when we couldn’t see through the eye twitch. It was simple and Mae loved making fish fingers – she was less enthralled by my attempt at homemade Ketchup. We made a point of including fish twice a week for a whole 28 days and with the help of easy, tasty recipes from Masterchef winner, Jane Devonshire, it was easy as her incredible, creamy mash-embellished fish pie.
The stress of being a parent won’t really ease but if we are telling them to ‘go for it’, the least we can do – following my mum’s impeccable nutritional example – is to make sure there’s enough brain food in the tank to get them there. Wherever ‘there’ is.
#my2aWeek #AD #FishistheDish
*part of Seafish, the governing body that takes care of the UK fishing industry and those who work in it, and those who eats its fish too.
This is an extract from the Sunday Times Bestselling book Parenting the shit out of Life for Smallish Magazine where author, Anna Whitehouse details her preconceptions about having kids, and her experience of miscarriage.
Parenting, eh. It’s a word that deeply concerned me until I was about 28. It was associated with grim, bulging nappies in public toilets and Mars-bar-smattered kids flicking bogeys at your hungover head. It didn’t look like a happy place. Those parents didn’t look like happy people – not like the faux ones in John Lewis picture frames.
I took my contraceptive pill with military scheduling.
I aspired to have perfectly manicured nails at every waking moment, but was often looking down at Biro-stained stubs. I would never have my Oyster card ready at the tube barrier, to the overwhelming irk of The People of London, and was quietly delighted by terrible advertising puns like ‘gimme, gimme, gimme a naan after midnight’. I was someone who cultivated a world of sodden receipts at the bottom of my bag – from bars, restaurants and all manner of confectionery extravagances – but would never delve too deep for fear of what lies beneath.
The first time we got pregnant wasn’t a life choice I’d made; it happened. As an excitable youth living a carefree life of abandon in London, I’d accidentally got pregnant at 24 in the ‘honeymoon period’ of mine and Matt’s relationship – oxytocin, you intoxicating mistress. Having spent the majority of my life successfully not getting up the duff, this was a traumatic turn of events. We were both reporters on ‘esteemed’ B2B publications (him, Human Resources; me, Horticulture Week) at the time and felt this was a massive roadblock on our respective journalistic career paths.
I think that was the point I knew we were in this for the long-haul. After 49 days. For all the frippery of our wedding day five years later, this was the point that our lives locked together without even a whisper of “I do” or a hint of crisp white linen. This was the messy, raw point of no return, and through a deeply traumatic, sickening sequence of events, we realised we never wanted to lose a little part of us again. We knew we wanted to grow up and grow old together.
We were going to need all the strength we could muster. This would be the first of five miscarriages we would navigate in our relationship. The first of five little lives we would grieve. The physicality of passing that lifeless embryo sac is something that will remain with me throughout my life. As will the realisation that Mother Nature is the one who calls the shots and that it’s not anyone’s fault.
Having mourned three miscarriages before we had our daughter Mae, and another two before our daughter Eve, I know what it is to feel like a pariah in the maternal world. A nappy ad on the tube once left me sobbing uncontrollably, while friendships with mothers became punctuated with irrational jealousy from my side and an inability to know what to say from theirs. A weekly email from babycentre.com showing the size of my now inviable foetus would leave me numb. It was, undoubtedly, the loneliest period of my life.
And, yet, somehow along the way we would surface with two little girls – Mae and Eve. Two sisters who will hopefully have each other to hold onto in those moments when life doesn’t go to plan.
5 Things to Say
‘I know how much you wanted that baby.’ Acknowledge that something huge has been lost, and open a door to talk more.
‘I’m so sorry about your miscarriage.’ These simple words mean a lot, especially if you allow your mate to talk further, or even not to talk, as they wish.
‘Can I call you back next week to see how you are doing?’ Often people are sympathetic at the time, then never mention miscarriage again. It is reassuring to show your support is ongoing.
‘I was wondering how you are feeling about your miscarriage now?’ It’s nice for them to have the chance to talk about their miscarriage, even if it is a long time later and after a successful pregnancy. Parents do not forget a miscarriage.
‘I don’t really know what to say.’ The good thing about this is that it is honest. The fact that you are available to listen is what’s really important. If in doubt, say something – anything – and be prepared to listen. Possibly the hardest thing is when people say nothing at all.
ONE IN SIX
One in six known pregnancies ends in miscarriage, with about 75 per cent of those coming in the first trimester.
According to pregnancy research organisation Tommy’s, one in five UK women who miscarry have anxiety levels similar to people using psychiatric outpatient services. A third of women in the UK who receive specialist miscarriage aftercare are clinically depressed.
Recent research by Imperial College London suggests that four in 10 women who miscarry suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder as a result.
Extracted from Parenting the Sh*t Out Of Life by Anna Whitehouse and Matt Farquharson (£16.99, Hodder & Stoughton)
I saw a reflection of myself last week in the window of Eve’s nursery. I was hovering over her, changing her nappy, gurning like a spangled party-goer with my mouth wide open. She was just casually doing her thing of grabbing her toes and gurgling to my sheer delight. I looked happy but unhinged.
But here I am with my second – most likely last – baby and I’m staring at her like an excitable Golden Retriever would the treat jar. In many ways it’s down to the fact we had such a tough time having Evie. After five miscarriages, I think you just go to a place of exultation once they are born – regardless of what they do. She covered me in baby porridge before a big interview last week and, while my former self might have gone to a bad place, I found myself saying, “what a poppet, you naughty little poppet, you little poppet. Who’s a poppet? Evie is a poppet.” Times have, indeed, changed.
Even my mum has noticed how I’m lapping up this precious time with her. With Mae, who was my first, I spent much of those first few months simply existing and keeping her alive. I once found myself looking in the mirror to see if anyone had noticed my raging eye twitch. Another time I found myself just standing in Tesco holding a pineapple unsure how to proceed.
But this time round, it’s been full-on touch, play, eye contact, snuggles and snuffles. And changing her nappy is a great time to cash that mama-baby time in. It’s one-on-one and despite the nappy contents, I love that we have our own language around this time. (Well, I say ‘our’; again it’s mainly me gurning and singing like an idiot). It’s a chance to clean her up with gentle Huggies Pure Wipes (they are made from 99% water and natural absorbent fibres* and leave her peaches soft and smooth) and look her in the eye and say, ‘wind the bobbin UP’.
My mum used to sing Dutch songs to me when I was little and having my nappy changed and I’ve picked up where she left off. I don’t remember much about being a child but I remember her touch; I remember her presence and I remember feeling very loved. It might not be quantifiable but I’m fairly sure it left me feeling confident to take on the world as best I could.
Even if she was left resembling an overenthusiastic meerkat.
Unlike some wipes, Huggies Pure Wipes are made with natural* (absorbent) fibres and 99% pure water. They are pure and gentle for sensitive skin, while gently cleaning and protecting for naturally healthy skin. They are also safe from day one and don’t contain any phenoxyethanol, parabens and perfume for gentle, natural care.
It’s only since having my own kids that I’ve truly realised what my sister and I put my mum through. From relentless squabbles over My Little Pony and tantrums that resembled toy Armageddon to the darkness of the teen years where my parents ended up hanging outside a dodgy club called Ritzy making sure I got home safely. Needless to say the minute Mae was born I said a long overdue sorry. “Mum I am SO sorry for The Stuff. Please tell me it gets easier?” [tumbleweed]
But my overriding feelings of growing up were akin to walking around with an invisible flumpy duvet wrapped around my shoulders. My mum’s Bambi-esque caring eyes were always there, ensuring I was OK. More than OK actually; reassured at every wobbly step and scooped up when the chips were down.
So since Sorry Gate, we’ve been chatting more about how she raised us and what she went through in the early years – ‘the newborn trenches’ as we now refer to them. Back in the 80s my mum used cotton wool and boiled water to wipe my bottom – not particularly handy when dealing with a code red nappy situation in the tinned goods aisle of your local supermarket.
Fast-forward a few years and the next best thing for us is from Huggies. Unlike many wipes, these ones are made with natural fibres* that are soft and gentle on Evie’s soft and peachy derriere. These wipes gently clean and protect for healthy, happy skin.
The key for me is choosing something natural. Unlike some wipes, Huggies Pure Wipes are made with natural* (absorbent) fibres and 99% pure water. It’s as close as you can get to my mum’s cotton wool balls and boiled water. I did a simple test when deciding on what to use on Evie – The Mascara Test. It’s not science based in any way and you should not try this at home but, you’d be surprised how many baby wipes out there sting your own face when removing something simple like mascara. Huggies Pure Wipes were the only ones not to leave me mildly wincing – and that’s because they don’t contain phenoxyethanol, parabens and perfume. In my mind if it stings my leathery chops that have seen me through a few seasons in Ibiza, then it’s going to have some impact on Eve’s tush.
And I can report on one particularly explosive nappy situation, these gentle, caring wipes not only cleaned up but left her cheeks as soft as the day she was born.
My face, however, has aged by about 20 years since the day she was born. But perhaps, one day, she’ll be saying sorry at some point too. Not before I’ve hung outside some dodgy gaffe called Ritzy at 2am, of course.
‘Tis the season to be jolly. Or simply very stressed about everything there is to do and everyone there is to feed. And everyone there is to fill with joy and jolliness with the right present.
We’ve had a long-standing love affair with Amazon. Not only do they stock our book Parenting the Shit out of Life (thanks for all the reviews while I’m here), they also help you fix the ‘joy’ bit in the click of a button. But there are some people in every family that have EVERYTHING or you know will deliver the standard ‘it’s lovely’, while inwardly wincing and wondering how little you know them.
(A particular low was an electric pair of scissors I bought my Uncle Les a few years back. Electric scissors are just a bad idea altogether.)
But that’s where Amazon Shop the Future ramps things up a notch. This is your one-stop-shop for all your innovative tech needs; we’re not talking about things Uncle Les might want now but things he might want in the future. Here expect all the good technologically amazing stuff but with a quirky twist. So I picked up a levitating plant post from Sweden for my sister who is hugely into design and, quite frankly, I couldn’t imagine anyone in their right mind being disappointed with floating foliage.
Instead of the usual primary-coloured tat, we went for a building game for Mae that is set to test mind, little hands and possibly her patience. Either way it’s a winner.
Then it’s me. I tend to buy my own presents. There’s no need for a violin, I’m just less interested in returning things in the greyness of the January sales. This time round I went function over jazzy excitement and got a never-ending phone battery to calm my furrowed brow and stop me swearing in public every time my phone dies.
And there we are. No longer present tense. You are welcome.
My Dad rather brilliantly proclaimed last weekend: “I feel a lot of issues these days could be fixed if we all still sat down for a Sunday roast with the whole family and looked each other in the eye with the smell of gravy in the air.” We’re not just talking immediate family; the whole lot even the Aunty who will say “you look well” [subtext: you’ve put on weight].
Even in my darkest weeks my mum’s Sunday roast would fix everything from bad breakups and job losses to winter blues and quietly worrying if I’d ever be adult enough for a mortgage/tax return/offshore banking/ [insert other thing adults do that I didn’t really understand in its entirety].
But a roast is for Sunday right? It’s a meal that’s lovingly prepared over a period of about four hours with the sound of Desert Island Discs in the background or – if the TV is your realm – Planet Earth with David Attenborough’s dulcet tones trickling into the soporific surrounds. It’s a time for putting your thickest, bobbliest socks on (possibly the reason behind one of your previous boyfriend breakups) and nicking the occasional crunchy-on-the-outside, yet fluffy-as-a-cloud-on-the-inside McCain Roast spud – an absolute ESSENTIAL to any Sunday platter – from the dish before serving and having a quiet moment to yourself before Monday starts to start looming.
Well, a ker-azy one sixth believe a roast isn’t just for a Sunday, with a roast-toting 8 per cent enjoying more than two per week according to new research from McCain who polled 2,000 about their roast dinner habits.
I don’t even know where to begin. The process. The process is half of the roast. It’s not a quick and dirty meal after a long day in the office. That’s, perhaps, a moment for a jacket spud and a bit of tuna mayo or if you are a bit of a culinary savage, ‘fridge tapas’ – anything you can eat directly from the fridge. A roast is too extravagant for an average rainy Tuesday – it deserves a proper audience; a proper plate; the right ambience and possibly your Sunday best napkins. (Ours are still paper but the good ones have wide-eyed and slightly creepy-looking penguins emblazoned across them).
Also, the key to scoffing a roast is in the slow and steady approach. On an average weekday night you have about two hours max for scoffing. This is not enough time to inhale the harmony of smells wafting from the kitchen; the start gently salivating as the gravy gets going and then to ease into your favourite seat that’s moulded to your derriere over the years and not leave until you’ve eaten the equivalent of four meals in one sitting. But those meals are spread over four hours so that’s OK. That ratio is OK and how it should be.
So to the 8 per cent who are messing with the system, I ask you why? Simply why? A roast is for Sunday, not just any day.
The Great British Roast Off
McCain’s Roasts are made with 100% British potatoes that are peeled, cut into generous chunks, par-boiled and then basted in beef dripping – all consumers have to do is put them on a baking tray and cook them for 40 minutes. The result is a perfectly crispy, golden on the outside and white and fluffy on the inside roast potato, replicating the homemade taste that families have been enjoying for generations. To celebrate the roast potato, McCain is launching a ‘Rostaurant’ from 8-10 December where there will be 102,000 roast combinations available.
Sign up to the event here.
This blog post was written in association with McCain #greatroastdebate
“Do you have any questions?” I remember being asked, aged 24, during an interview for a position on a male-dominated business-to-business magazine. And sitting in that testosterone-fuelled, strip-lit office I had many questions, with a pressing one being, what would happen if I had a baby?
I wasn’t even going out with anyone and certainly wasn’t thinking of getting knocked-up anytime soon. But knowing what the future might hold if I decided to follow Mother Nature’s well-trodden path was still up there with holiday,
And that’s surely not a strange request? Yet in all 13 interviews I’ve tackled in my life, I’ve never been bold enough to ask, “what’s your maternity package like?”
I’ve also never been offered the information, despite the streams of other bonus balls that are dangled to tempt talent.
Not only have I not asked the question, I’ve made a conscious effort to not be held back by my marital status – in the same way male candidates aren’t. I’ve removed my engagement ring (men don’t wear them) and used my maiden name in a CV.
I’ve also been tight-lipped about boyfriends and ensured that I give off the air of a dedicated, career-focused businesswoman whose ovaries are more resistant to Pampers ads than the candidate before. A candidate who more closely resembles a man.
A man who – despite shared parental leave being available – won’t require a year off to raise a small human. A man who won’t then need to tend to that human when the Norovirus sweeps through daycare.
No, it’s much safer to have a head-in-the-sand approach and ignore the maternal elephant in the room.
As a close friend put it recently: “women must pretend they don’t have a job when at home and that they don’t have a family when at work.”
Now I’m sitting on the other side of the fence with a daughter to my name, I can see how destructive that approach is.
There’s still some form of misplaced shame associated with being a woman who wants a career and family.
“I worked in HR in a big banking firm in the city,” says Sophie Morley-Taylor, a former HR assistant. “I found a folder with a list of names of women who had recently got engaged or married across the company and queried what it was for, wondering innocently if they were getting some kind of small gesture from the powers that be.
“The reality was they weren’t up for promotion because of their chance of procreation. I was appalled and handed in my notice a week later without a job to go to – I wanted to work in HR to work with people, not to discriminate against them.”
I found a folder with a list of names of women who had recently got engaged or married across the company.
Despite all that Emmeline Pankhurst et al. have done, we remain in the 1950s in the majority of employers’ eyes.
A recent post on my Instagram (@mother_pukka) asked people to share their experience of the interview process. It unveiled many similar, equally galling stories.
“I had a male recruitment consultant refuse to ask about the maternity policy for a job I was going for because he thought it would send the wrong impression,” says Clare Austen.
“I got asked if I was a) pregnant or b) planning on getting pregnant because they couldn’t afford another maternity cover. It was for a maternity-cover teaching job,” adds Vicki Rendall.
Lucie Mayer continues: “I once got asked in an interview ‘do you have a boyfriend? Are you looking to have any children any time soon? When I answered ‘no’, he said, ‘wonderful!’”
Even female recruiters admit they’ve advised other women “never to ask about maternity packages for fear of losing the role to someone else.” One female interviewer went a step further: “I hate to admit it but I made a decision to employ someone because she was too old to have children, so I wouldn’t have to deal with maternity cover or leave.”
So of course, we’re all staying mum on the subject.
And it’s not just a smattering of women dodging the question. The Maternity Benefits Survey by Glassdoor spoke to 1,000 women and found that 78% do not ask about maternity packages at the interview stage of applying for a job.
The majority had fears that aligned with the above comments, while 15% felt it might prevent them from getting a fair salary. Even after a new job has been secured, just 32% said they were offered information about maternity in their induction pack, while 13% had to actively ask for it because it was not published anywhere in the business.
And it doesn’t end at ‘potential procreation’ – when you actually have a child, running the interview gauntlet becomes even more of a disguise act. Hiding intentions of procreation is breezy in comparison to hiding an actual human.
But still I managed it when interviewing for a job at one global company with my one-year-old stashed away in a nearby café with my mum. I didn’t dare mutter anything that hinted at my maternal status. I was being interviewed by a brilliant woman who had joked early on in the interview she never wanted children, so I matched my answers to her personal life goals.
At the end of the day, parenthood is not simply a vanity project. It’s about working on life, and to be chopped out of the job market for taking on Mother Nature’s biggest task takes us back to the Dark Ages. If we continue to flip between being family-focused or career-minded, we’re ultimately going to lose at both.
That change can be as simple as an employer mentioning maternity benefits in the same sentence as holiday. It can be as simple as not looking for engagement rings and subconsciously striking someone off the list for fear of procreation. It’s as simple as the word ‘paternity’ being used as much as ‘maternity’.
We should all feel able to talk as openly about paternity benefits as we do about other company perks.
And until that happens, the world of work will continue to represent a grossly unequal playing field.
First published in Stylist.co.uk
Evie is exactly 154 days old, which seems so fresh and new still. Matt said to me the other day “she’s done nothing wrong yet” (mainly because her main cognitive functions are still warming up). But I look at her peachy unsullied face/mind/bottom (the latter is unless it’s a code red nappy situation) and I just don’t want to world to tarnish her in any way.
I find myself staring at her in wild-eyed amazement that she’s actually here and seem somewhat blind/ deaf to her hollering and mewling because in my maternal mind – that went through the ringer to actually have her – I’ve cashed in the golden ticket. How Evie feels about me gurning away in her face is another matter. It’s possibly a bit creepy but hey, I’ll take the risk because her face is pretty much better than anything else I clap eyes on in a day. (Other than Mae’s of course – unless she’s hollering at me for the “blue spoon to go with the blue plate. NO not that blue spoon.”).
But while I used whatever came to hand in the supermarket with Mae. (I was so tired and mildly suffering from Postnatal Depression so her even having a nappy on seemed like a win.) This time round I’ve only used coconut oil on Evie’s skin because she was pretty sensitive to anything else out there
Cue Huggies Pure Wipes. Unlike some wipes, these baby bum saviours are made with natural absorbent fibres* and 99% pure water. Evie’s little peaches are sensitive and these wipes gently clean and offer up a topnotch wipe that won’t leave you raking through a packet in a flash.
Without , phenoxyethanol, parabens and perfume, these are the only wipes I’ve used on her little soggy bottom since day one. We’re now on Day 154. Oh how time flies when you are wiping the shit out of life.
To find out more visit huggieswipes.co.uk
This blog post was written in association with Huggies #HappySkinHappyBaby
This is an advertorial post
So we’ve all been there: your kid gets presented with a divine plate of food only for you to get a guttural grunt back of ‘nah, I don’t like it’. If you haven’t had that exchange with your child then I feel we need to get David Attenborough to come and film you for a week and explain (with his dulcet tones) what sort of miracle you are performing.
Breakfast, lunch and dinner used to be times of such joy as a non-parent but now scare me senseless as I nervously ponder if she’ll eat my spaghetti Bolognese with a blended carrot slipped into the mix; whether she’ll eat something green today or even try something new!
But now I’m on maternity leave (ish), I have dedicated some time to not being an angry parental warthog around these testing meal times. I have vowed to be a much better person and not lose my rag in the face of ‘I don’t LIKE it’ petulance.
First up is getting a snack in Mae that isn’t a crisp. I had stealthily chowed down on a pack of crisps in the cupboard of doom (to save her seeing my indulgent, yet shameful snacking habits) and so I headed back to the kitchen to open a pack of The Super Yummies Tomato & Herb Breadsticks for her.
Instead of offering them up like they were a packet of crisps, I went full walrus. I became the walrus. I am in so many ways, the walrus. Two breadsticks under my lip and she was laughing like a spangled Scot at Hogmanay. She, of course, wanted to be a walrus too, so she did the same. ‘Again again!’ This was being said as she was scoffing the breadsticks and dipping them into the hummus ‘so they stick properly in my mouth’. Diversion tactics at their best.
Then it was onto The Super Yummies Strawberry Dairy Pots. I made this into a ‘cake-making’ exercise where the Dairy Pots were the cake mix and the chopped apple, chopped grapes and cereal is there for embellishment. Once again, diversion tactics worked as she licked her spoon as she ‘created’ a Picasso-worthy image of my slightly mangled face.
For those code red meltdowns when the wheels haven’t just fallen off, they’ve been abandoned entirely, use The Face Canvas Method. Allow your face to be the canvas, the Dairy Pot and spoon to be the paint and brush and in the words of Elsa of Frozen acclaim, ‘let it go.’
The Super Yummies range is fun addition to snack time and the brand new The Super Yummies Dairy Pots are available to buy only at Morrisons.
Money and I have never been firm comrades.
It’s bizarre, really, because I was a dedicated, head-braced student (with awkward posture and a slight lisp) that bagged an A in my maths GCSEs. Pass me an algebraic equation and I’m on it faster than a rat out of an aqueduct. But when it comes to my own personal finances, I’m a shambles. (My Dad would qualify this too, after years of trying to get my head out of the financial sand with various threats – “I won’t drive you to Northampton’s Ritzy again this month if you keep going like this.”)
Looking back, I think the school curriculum should cover these basics: how to make a good spag bol, tax returns, learning to say ‘sorry’ (if you are, indeed, wrong) and understanding personal finance and credit.
The thing is, back then in my spotty youth days, I had no one depending on me and only my parents to raise their frustrated eyebrows. Now, however, I have to face my doe-eyed toddler on a daily basis and my actions have actual impact on tangible things like bricks and mortar. Oh, yes, mortgages – that’s another one I’d like to add to the school’s list of ‘life stuff we should know’.
But when it comes to understanding the ins and outs of credit and what you need in your arsenal, I felt quite alone in this financial abyss.
That’s why I’ve teamed up with Capital One, a company that aims to dispel the myths and clear up the jargon around credit. I’ve covered basic credit tips here and eligibility checkers here so it’s time to now take on the beast that is APR.
Like, what even is APR? (That’s Annual Percentage Rate for those who rely on Google – my fallback in most major life decisions). Credit providers advertise their products using their APR. The APR makes it easy to compare different credit products before deciding which one is best for you. For credit cards the APR is based on the purchase interest rate (this is the rate applied to all purchases you make on your card) and includes things like annual fees, although cash withdrawal charges and default fees are not included.
It won’t tell you exactly how much you’ll end up paying back but it will help you compare credit card deals to find out which one is best for you, and which ones you can afford.
When it comes to APR, the APR you see when you apply might not be the one you get, which even to a financial novice – is hard to wrap your head around. Credit lenders are required to give at least 51% of people the advertised APR which means the remaining 49% may be offered a different APR to the one they saw advertised. Getting a higher APR than you expected could result in you paying more money back if you don’t clear your balance every month. So basically it’s like signing up the the gym (a very loose comparison seeing as I haven’t broken into a sweat in a year) but if you fall into the 49%, you may be expected to pay more for your membership; you’d have to pay more than you thought to do those butt-firming squats, and no one wants that.
Come into the light, don’t lurk in the financial darkness like I have for years. Capital One encourages people to be mindful of what the advertised APR is, but also to look further into the terms and conditions (along with all product details available on the lender’s website). This is to check whether you could be offered a different APR to the one you think you might get so you can work out whether that’s the right thing for you. It’s basically about being fully informed and knowing exactly where you stand.
Let’s talk about APR
Lenders have to state the APR and make it really obvious so that you’re able to compare prices for credit. A higher APR means it will cost you more to borrow if you don’t clear your balance monthly.
Does it say you could be offered a different APR once you’ve applied? To find this out, you’ll need to read all the information provided, for example look at the summary box, the credit card agreement and the product information on the website.
Apply for a credit card through an eligibility checker to see if you’ll be accepted without affecting your credit rating. Our eligibility checker QuickCheck will also tell you the APR you’ll get once you’ve applied, no surprises, just 100% clarity.
The Capital One Classic credit card features a 34.9% APR variable representative rate.
This post was created in partnership with Capital One who I am working with to help cut through the confusing world of credit.
Ever wondered how eye-twitching, exhausted parents get through the day? Here’s how I keep them alive
Let it go
In the eternal words of that Disney classic Frozen, you have to let it go. All of it. The house/mind/former love of casual cinema dates. Just don’t fight it and succumb. Sure, you’ll get back to a place of having your life together (when they leave home) but with young kids, just Sellotape over the cracks, enjoy the occasional smiles (and spontaneous shin cuddles) and try to laugh more than you cry. Especially when your toddler hollers “mama has a spiky hoo ha” in the tinned goods aisle of Tesco.
Don’t look left, don’t look right – unless crossing a road. Just look straight ahead at what you are doing and where you are going. There’s far too many ways to compare yourself to others out there but all that counts is the direction you are going in. Don’t get weighed down because you see a photo of someone spoonfeeding pureed kale into their kid as you are wrangling with a fish finger-obsessed toddler.
‘Me time’ makes me feel uncomfortable. It just seems a bit patronising and over-egged when all it means is ‘sit down for five minutes and don’t worry about that hair-covered raisin under the sofa.’ As my mum (@grandmother_pukka) says, do one thing you love each day. It doesn’t have to be ‘start novel’, it could simply be ‘drink tea that isn’t lukewarm with a biscuit that isn’t soggy.’
Help I need somebody
Let people in. If someone offers to help, let them. Don’t soldier on in silence, thinking it’s an empty offer. It might well be but they’ve said it so yep, they can hold the baby while you have a wee and wash your hair. With my first kid I was too polite, wondering why anyone would want to hold my Weetabix-smattered offspring. Now I’m handing her to kindly strangers on a flight (places where they can’t escape, of course) and having a blissful solo wee. It feels like a week in the Bahamas.
Boob feed, bottle feed, Instagram feed, bird feed… there’s so much out there on how to feed the little chicks, it’s overwhelming. Listen to yourself, listen to your medical advisors but don’t wade through the entire Internet looking for answers. However you are feeding them is yout choice and as long as you are all alive you are more than winning.
The stuff that comes with kids is intense. My husband’s dad slept in the draw of a chest of drawers for the first 6 months of his life, so really you don’t need all the stuff. Start with the basics – roof over head and food – and don’t invest in everything the world thinks you need. The perineal massage tool is a case in point. You can always add things as you go but generally newborns need very little and working it out as you go along can mean you end up with less stuff that works better for your life burden.
Get outta there
The only advice that ever helped was to simply get some fresh air on those days when you are struggling. It doesn’t have to be a Duke of Edinburgh expedition, it can simply be walking down the street and back but feeling imprisoned in your own home isn’t going to help anyone. I was often the slightly unhinged-looking woman in pyjamas wheeling a mewling newborn round the block. When I got stopped by the postman and he said “what a lovely nipper” I felt better about life. Sometimes you’ve just got to lower your expectations of what ‘going out’ means.
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It’s the slow, deliberate sweep of food off a plate or table and onto the floor that I can’t handle. Your gurning, slightly irksome kid has once again refused the painstakingly-prepared heart-shaped peanut butter sandwich you’ve prepared in favour of petulantly saying ‘no’ (in a high-pitched voice that drives into your soul) and asking for sweets instead.
Before I continue, it goes without saying, I adore my kids. We all do. I always stand on the car side of the pavement, ready to take the hit and they will always have the best slabs of lasagne as I chow down on the burnt bits. They are great.
But feeding them, jeez. It’s tough out there because a kid’s gotta eat but a mama’s gotta keep her mind!
The most pressurised time for us is in the morning when there’s a deadline to get out of the door and it seems everyone who can’t properly form sentences in our household is determined to make us miss that exit slot. The parental chips are stacked heavily against us. Mae’s request for the pink spoon when I’ve offered up the blue spoon only to exchange the latter for the former and to be informed ‘it doesn’t match the green plate’ is testing at the best of times.
But ultimately we want them to eat – from whatever receptacle or vessel they need – and we want them to eat a varied and balanced diet. My own mum (@grandmother_pukka) magically got my sister and me eating avocados like they were chocolate bars. (This was a time when the avocado was a rare exotic fruit from a far off land.) But she saw that creamy green fruit’s potential and mashed it up to make a special avocado mousse that my sister would mainline like it was pureed pick ‘n’ mix. I believe in many ways she was at the forefront of the modern day food movement but was lacking the social media platform to launch fully.
So while I’m on vague maternity leave with the newest Pukka recruit, it’s time to focus on actually getting some quality food in Mae. With the help of The Super Yummies I’m going to channel my mum’s #snackspiration and start finding new ways of getting food – think Tomato & Herb and Pumpkin & Rosemary breadsticks; Strawberry and Peach & Pear Dairy Pots – in her cakehole without me collapsing in a frustrated heap by the dishwasher. Eat, pray, love, indeed.
[BOX] Eat me
The Super Yummies range is fun addition to snack time and the brand new The Super Yummies Dairy Pots are available to buy only at Morrisons.
It was three years ago on an evening when I’d forgotten I’d invited two mates round for dinner. I was in the middle of a sleep deprived, toddler-wrangling fug and as the doorbell rang I got that sinking feeling of defeat. (Which was embellished, of course, with lots of intense swearing as I slung my Spongebob Square Pants slippers [a comedy Christmas gift from my sister] aside in embarrassed panic.)
After seeing me in my ‘inside’ jogging bottoms that dated back to 1996, our friends immediately realised the error of my ways and said they’d happily return another day when I was, perhaps, dressed and there was, perhaps, food on the table.
But it was in that moment that I realised dinner with friends was just that. It was food with people you care about. It didn’t matter if it wasn’t a handmade smorgasbord of Michelin-starred nibbles; it didn’t matter if I was dressed for a date with the sofa. They stayed. We ate fish fingers, chips and peas and I crumbled Digestive biscuit onto a shop-bought Gü cheesecake for a triumphant finish.
While I get genuine joy from making something from scratch (see below my mousse masterclass with Gü’s head chef Fred Ponnavoy), I’ve made peace with my love of embellishing something from the dessert aisle. And it’s not only for those increasingly rare soirees, it’s for the everyday moments when all you want is something – anything – that’s not meant for a child. Cue Gü Mousse Fusions – little multi-textured pots of pleasure.
We’re talking indulgence – think chocolate and toffee mouse atop silky chocolate crème; mango mousse with punchy mango and passionfruit coulis and strawberry bubble mousse topped with a strawberry and balsamic compote – but without the ‘special occasion’, often guilt-laden tag.
It’s that moment when you’d ditched the bra, slipped into the circa 1996 jogging bottoms and settled into the crevices of the sofa ready for a Netflix onslaught and Matt, my husband says “want anything for dessert?”. YES. Yes, I do. I want something that’s not going to leave me feeling like I’ve face-planted a dessert trolley but also something that reeks of naughtiness.
I want something I can whip out quickly and is the sweet equivalent of a high five after a long day peppered with arguments about broccoli consumption and demands for Peppa Pig.
Just desserts, indeed.
Whip ‘em out
To delve deep into the world of mousse (arguably the happiest of places), Gü’s head chef Fred Ponnavoy popped over last week to show me how to whip up a mousse frenzy. From his grandmother’s traditional chocolate mousse with crunchy, nutty topping to a creamier, thicker mousse that is perfect stuffed into an éclair, Fred is the man that understands a sweet tooth.
09.03 Fred arrived and had a cuddle of Evie – she is a big fan of his work – before getting his mixing bowl out and explaining that texture is EVERYTHING in the mousse world.
09.34 We got cracking. Literally. Egg whites and sugar was whipped up and the intensely dark cocoa mass carefully folded into the mix. It’s a mesmerising technique – you fold from 12 o’clock down to 6 o’clock position and keep repeating until you have a creamy, light mousse. I watched, salivated and had a dip/huge scoop of the mixture. It’s everything a knackered, arguably deserving (keeping two small humans alive) mother could ask for.
10.01 The finish is essential. Fred had created a worryingly addictive hazelnut crunch to sit atop this mousse. I ate handfuls of the stuff before allowing a few pieces to grace the final dessert. The contrast of textures was key; think crunchy nuttiness against a creamy, rich chocolate mousse.
10.13 We ate it. We ate it all. Because ultimately life is too short not to eat the chocolate mousse. (And then lick the bowl.)
Fred’s Grandma’s Chocolate Mousse
The recipe for this mousse was handed down to Head Chef Fred by his grandmother Julienne. The recipe here adds a crunchy topping of delicious chocolate crumble with a fresh fruity twist.
110 g dark chocolate, (minimum 70 % cocoa solids), broken into pieces
65 g dark chocolate, (around 50 % cocoa solids), broken into pieces
115 ml whipping cream
50 ml milk
4 medium egg whites
30 g caster sugar
- Bring the cream and milk to a boil in a small pan.
- Remove from heat and drop in the chocolate pieces and stir until melted and smooth.
- Whisk the egg whites in a large bowl with the sugar until it creates soft peaks.
- Stir roughly 1/3 of the beaten egg white into the chocolate mixture, (this loosens the mixture and makes it easier to mix in) then carefully fold in the rest until completely mixed in.
- Divide the mixture evenly between 6 pretty glasses or dishes, cover and refrigerate for 2-3 hours or until chilled and set.
60 g whole hazelnuts
50 g unsalted butter, softened
25 g demerara sugar
25 g light brown sugar
2 teaspoons cocoa powder
60 g plain flour
- Preheat oven 170oC/130oC fan/275oF/Gas Mark 1.
- Place the hazelnuts in a plastic bag and crush coarsely with a rolling pin.
- Place the remaining ingredients in a bowl and rub together well, until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs, then stir in the crushed hazelnuts.
- Spread out evenly on a baking tray and bake for 20-25 minutes.
- Leave to cool then crumble into small pieces. Keep in an airtight container.
Just before serving, sprinkle some of the chocolate crumble over the chocolate mousses. Serve with either fresh raspberries or a scoop of raspberry sorbet, or try adding some chopped fresh mint leaves
This blog post was written in association with Gü.
Christmas Eve last year was traumatic. My mum’s fondue set from 1964 blew up in spectacular style – luckily not harming anyone in the surrounding domain. It was traumatic on two levels: 1) We’ve bizarrely been troughing fondue every Christmas Eve since I can remember my first word and it meant we had to opt for something less exotic – but equally triumphant – like a cheese and pickle sandwich. 2) My mum’s nonchalance at the mild domestic explosion – “Oh I’ve been meaning to replace it”. You think?
But regardless of any melted cheese-related incidents, Christmas Eve is possibly my favourite time of the festive season. You are at the start of the scoffing race; there’s an onslaught of turkey and pigs in blankets awaiting your fork. But it’s the anticipation of what’s ahead that gets me. Especially now Mae is in the thick of the excitement around Father Christmas/the Easter bunny/ Tooth Fairy/ Gerald the cat. (I made the latter up as a celebratory day to look forward to when she started listening to me. We are still awaiting.)
More than anything it’s a time to down tools, to officially edge into the comfy M&S PJs for approximately four days without remorse, look people in the eye and know that you are going to fall out spectacularly with at least one member of your family over a frenzied game of Pictionary.
Last year I didn’t speak to my sister for five hours after she failed to perform the charade of ‘Sister Act’. I was right beside her. All the obvious prompts were there but she stalled and my folks went in for the win. Testing festive times.
Now Mae is hitting Peak Christmas Enjoyment, it’s really about recreating my favourite traditions. Although we put a potato out for Rudolf last year because she wasn’t sure he “liked carrot”. I didn’t have it in me to argue so that red-nosed reindeer had to accept an inferior legume.
Either way, ‘tis the season to be jolly and take cover if your tradition centres around fondue paraphernalia from 1964.
To see the full Christmas Eve pj shoot click here. This blog post was written in association with M&S #MyMarks
It was 1.46pm on an average Tuesday. I had ventured to London’s Tate Modern gallery with both kids. The aim was to immerse myself in art and educate Mae and Eve at the same time. In my head it was to be one of those experiences that is cemented in Mae’s mind, spurring her on in her artistic endeavours.
The reality was 3-month-old Eve delivered a code red nappy situation and I was left kneeling on the floor of this achingly artistic sphere, desperately trying to explain to the security guards “it’s too late to go to the nappy changing facility” as bespectacled folk looked on aghast.
It was at this moment that Mae hollered “Mama you didn’t pay for that Mars Bar” and I also realised I didn’t have a change of clothes for Eve. I further removed my shoes and socks, slipped my moist, glittery hosiery onto Eve’s bare legs, popped my shoes back on and triumphantly strode out in the direction of an ice cream van to put an end to the last 47 minutes of sheer awkwardness.
But I made it through and I’m not alone in attempting to laugh through the parental madness. According to a recent poll by Pukka Pies (I would love to call it The Pukka Pies Mother Pukka Poll for alliteration purposes alone) nine out of ten of us are able to laugh at the awkward moments that unfurl while on parental duty.
Apparently we field one awkward moment every three days. That’s 132 every year. From Mae saying “Mama has a spiky hoo ha” in the tinned goods aisle of Tesco through to the moment when she pointed to a woman at the Post Office and said “Shrek”, there’s a new challenge around every corner.
But one of the main reasons I set this blog up is to laugh more than I cry. The common denominator across parenthood is laughter – to see the light in those moments when all you want to do is hide under a rock after your toddler has pointed to a lady who “looks like Bog Bird”. To see the light and to sit down at the end of the day with your family and think, “yep, I was bare foot in the Tate Modern today, arm-deep in nappy.”
Pukka Pies is the ultimate heart-warming family meal, guaranteed to give you that good-mood feeling no matter what awkward moment you’ve endured the day. So, whether you’ve had to wipe your kid’s food off a stranger’s t-shirt, or pretend you’re foreign to avoid a post-tantrum awkward silence, with a pie on your plate, everything’s Pukka.If the new comforting Veggie Tikka Masala with Chickpeas and Spinach doesn’t do it for you, then try the Posher Pukka range. The new fancy flavours include Chicken, Leek and Pancetta or Steak and Porter Ale – available from supermarkets nationwide. For more information, visit www.pukkapies.co.uk.
This blog post was written in association with Pukka Pies.
Anyone who has seen my Instagram stories recently can attest to the incubus I’ve become. Snotty, raspy, puffy-faced and full of the latest winter lurgy – complete with crusty tissue stuffed up my sleeve. Seriously sexy times.
But while I can trudge on with the daily toil – it’s slowly dawning that as a parent we do not get sick days – little Evie, who is just four months old, has totally succumbed to this rancid virus. The poor little limpet looks like one big snot bubble and her pure little eyes/ soul are simply asking “what is this?” “How do I breathe?” “Who am I?”
It is at this juncture that I must introduce the bogey-sucker. It’s real medical name is Snufflebabe’s Nasal Aspirator but in short it’s a tube with a ‘sucky’ bulb at one end that you inhale through, with a little nozzle at the other that goes into her little bat cave. It sounds utterly repulsive but is strangely addictive and totally works. When you clear her nasal passages with one breath, you’ll understand what it is to live. (Or to simply be a parent).
While my sister used to collect Snufflebabe Vapour Rub pots for some unknown reason, I’ve been massaging it into Evie’s chest after a warm bath. I have baths with the little mite at the moment because she’s feeling so out of sorts she doesn’t like to be more than 1mm away from me. I reiterate: She’s the limpet. I’m the mossy, moist, snotty maternal rock. Oh Autumn, you cruel, virus-addled mistress.
Once she’s tucked up in her/my favourite robot pyjamas, I pop some of the Snufflebabe Vapour Oil on a wet flannel and drape it over the radiator to give a nasal-clearing scent of eucalyptus to the air. Close your eyes and it’s much like being in a sauna after a little apres-ski and a Gluhwine. (Apart from the fact you are sitting opposite Olaf the snowman and there’s an old nappy stuck to your left sock. And no Gluhwine).
To get Evie to sleep during these testing times, I’ve had to indulge her in what Mae calls ‘strokey time’ – gently stroking repeatedly from her forehead to the tip of her nose. Without this gentle maternal touch she mewls like a little angry vole when settling herself to sleep. More than anything I just love staring at her little face, willing it to get better and, at the same time, pining for a slug of gluhwine and faceplanting a cheese fondue.
This blog post was written in association with Snufflebabe.
The mum jean. That high-waisted, crotch-ruffling, saggy-bottomed trew. In my mind it’s something I could pull off. In reality I end up looking like I’ve borrowed my granddads painting/DIY jeans – complete with post-Sunday lunch paunch. While it looks stellar on the right person (mainly – and solely – Alexa Chung), it’s not a kindly silhouette, which makes me wonder why it’s been lumped with the ‘mum’ tag.
Probably because mums are daggy, saggy, naggy and sometimes a bit haggy. Well, that’s been how the media seems to have shoe-boxed us over the years. From gargantuan maternity tent dresses in the 60s to paisley unflattering frocks in the 80s, a mother’s style has not been pegged up there with Versace’s all-in-one gold jumpsuits.
No, to be a mum you have obviously had some form of style lobotomy. To counter this misconception and to push back against this routinely-Weetabix-smattered image of ‘us’, here’s my thoughts on styling it out like a mum for Boden:
I think this a question of confidence. Before, mums were branded as lacking in confidence – dressing a certain way, that mum uniform of baggy shirts and leggings – but it was the media branding us in that way. And shops thinking ǲoh we won’t bother with them. Now I think mums are confident – mums are starting to think this is what I look like. I’m doing it my way. That’s what mum needs to mean – confidence, doing it your way.
On styling it out like a mum
I’ve tried to keep my wardrobe the same in terms of colour, style. But obviously there’s been adjustments. I’ve got to be able to get my boob out. It’s a question of practicality + personality. You know, I can’t be in stilettoes in the playground – but I still own stilettos. Gosh that makes me sound ninety. I still have my heels for when I go out with my friends.
On getting ready
I don’t miss it, actually. It was such a waste of time. Now I use my downtime in the evenings to actually relax. That time I used to spend on make-up was wasted – you know my hair used to be poker straight. And styled within an inch of its life. Now it’s a massive eighties bouffant – and people keep on saying how much happier I look.
On being a supermum
Before I had kids, I had the fear that I would become a bit grey. Not necessarily in aesthetics, but in confidence. But since becoming a mum I’ve realised the reverse – I can pick pasta off a floor whilst following a podcast, whilst breastfeeding whilst shouting at my husband to take the bins out. If you can do more than an octopus can do, then you’re doing alright.
On being a new mum
I think for new mums reclaiming their confidence and identity, it starts with laughing. This is where it started with me – laughing at myself. Going into a changing room and laughing at my saggy bits. The minute you start laughing, your entire face lifts. That changed how I dressed and looked – it all started with laughter.
On feeling like a mum
Do I feel like a mum? I feel like a woman. A woman who happens to be a mum.
This post was written in association with Boden. AD
My Alexa Boots
My mum’s Richmond Trousers
My mum’s Esmerelda Trainers
My mum’s Classic Shirt
Mae’s Collared Jersey Dress
Eve’s sleep suit
People may have been having kids since before Jesus was born, but that doesn’t make tending to the barnacles any easier. Here are some things we’ve ‘learned’.
ANNA: The minute you get knocked-up, people look at you differently. Random grannies fondle your bump on the bus, looking you dead in the eye to say, ‘it’s a girl’. Mates worry if you’ll be able to cope without as much/any booze for nine months. Other mothers offer tips on perineal massage and sourcing the kind of sanitary pads that could plug an elephantine orifice, and older family members just awkwardly accept that you’ve had The Sex.
MATT: When you tell male friends, you tend to get one of two reactions. The dads manage to force some life back into their eyes to tell you how ‘amazing’ it is, with all the conviction of a man whose invested the mortgage money in a dodgy pyramid scheme and will only get it back if he convinces 72 others to do the same. The non-dads offer congratulations, but you can see the disappointment in their eyes. They know you’ll be out less, and that when you are, you’ll be looking all smug with yourself because you’ve managed to turn a sperm into a person, which, for the man, isn’t really any more impressive than handing a packet of tomato seeds to a really skilled gardener and popping back months later all cocky to show off your rosy-red fruits at the local food market.
And that self-satisfaction really kicks in when the baby arrives. When our first daughter was born, she looked like a bit of topside that had been left out in the sun: she was blue, furry and covered in gunk and it’s amazing that you can immediately love something that looks so odd. For about eight seconds I blubbed with joy, pride and fear for the future, before pulling myself together and trying to look composed in front of the medical staff. They weren’t buying it, but they did let me cut the cord, and I’m now convinced that I’m basically a surgeon.
Magical dairy pillows
ANNA: ‘Funbags’, ‘norks’, ‘titties’, ‘kajungas’, ‘jubblies’, ‘blubber bulbs’ – the list of words to describe those milk-laden hillocks is endless. But we must not forget that they’re primarily a food-source after a baby arrives, and that needs to be front of mind before you lay a frown upon a mother trying to keep the next generation topped up. Claridges, just because you are a posh gaff, doesn’t mean you are beyond the food chain.
MATT: A mate of mine is convinced that there’s a fortune to be made from used breast pads. His plan is to create a range of them filled with tea leaves, which the internet has told him can have soothing properties and ease the pain of cracked arioli. Then, after the pads have been leaked on, you can dunk them in hot water for a cup of tea with highly organic milk. He wanted to do a pop-up, maybe outside that cereal cafe in Shoreditch if it’s still there. But I think it all comes down to the fact he isn’t getting enough sleep.
Come whine with me
ANNA: Even if you own a kid, you’ll have had that sickening feeling of a cacophonous family – often referred to in childless circles as ‘breeders’ – being seated near you in a restaurant. Feelings of entrapment and a night ruined by airborne broccoli are normal. Again, though, the kids have to eat and it’s not fair to shackle parent-people to their homes until the kids are 18. Just speak louder and erect a napkin fortress.
MATT: I understand why people don’t like kids being in restaurants. I’m not sure the kids normally like it much either. But as the kid-wrangler it’s important to know that you will now be eating meals one-handed for most of the next decade, and that you must accept that.
The best bits
MATT: There are many secret benefits to parenting. Not least the fact that we always have fishfingers in the freezer now – I hadn’t realised how much I’d missed fishfingers. And, I think, I’ve also become a fraction less selfish. I’m willing to share my fishfingers now, which wasn’t always the case before, and that’s mostly down to a sharp case of Post-Partum Ensoppimment: the gormless, glazed-over grin that wells up when one of the girls sees something for the first time, or laughs, or quietly and happily plays. It’s like a tiny jab of morphine straight into your aorta. (I imagine – I’ve never actually done that.)
ANNA: It’s when you find yourself travelling solo on a packed commuter train with a Percy-Pig-pumped toddler and a colicky newborn that’s acting like an angry vole. You’re sat in the bit next to the rancid loos, the iPad battery is at 4%, your boobs resemble empty Capri Sun pouches and All The People On The Train hate you.
“I need a poo” is hollered in your face as your hair gets used as a bungee chord. You batten down the maternal hatches and prepare to dangle the toddler over an aluminium pan with one hand, while the flailing vole is clasped under your other armpit like a rugby ball. You can feel your postpartum stomach escaping from your jeggings like butter icing out of a baker’s piping bag. A bead of sweat trickles down your nose into the loo as “I don’t need the toilet now” is bellowed out, breaking a little bit of your soul. Returning to your rice-cake-smattered seat, you find an old Boots receipt for haemorrhoid cream in your pocket and a biro in your nappy bag, which offers up 4 minutes 46 seconds of silence from the Percy Pig-addled one as the angry vole suckles once more and you realise that you are, in fact, parenting the shit out of life.
First published in Metro. Parenting the sh*t out of life – a memoir and rogue parenting guide – is available on Amazon and in all good book shops, published by Hodder & Stoughton. Photo @emilygrayphoto.
[SUBHED] Drink before you think
ANNA: As Nike would say, ‘just do it’. I don’t know anyone (yet) who has funneled a vat of beer and run around, arms flailing in their greying undercrackers as part of a humiliating postpartum dare by their toddler. A light sozzled feeling with a kid safely strapped to the iPad is fine and dandy. (Unless you are my Aunty Julie who has her ‘concerns’).
They held her up like she was a prize in a pub meat raffle. Or maybe Simba in The Lion King. But she did look like a bit of topside that had been left in the sun: she was blue, furry and covered in gunk. It’s amazing that you can immediately love something that looks so odd. For about eight seconds I blubbed like a toddler thats left it’s toy bunny on a train, before pulling myself together and trying to look calm and composed in front of the medical staff. They weren’t buying it. But they did let me cut the cord, which basically means I’m a surgeon.
What are the toughtest parts of parenting?
MATT: Every tiny task is more of a faff. Making sure everyone is clean, fed and not crying for too long each day feels like an achievement to be celebrated with strong liquor. I’ve had friends go as far as taking up running just to carve out some time for themselves. That’s really too much.
Another mate is convinced that there’s a fortune to be made from used breast pads. His plan is to create a range of breast pads filled with tea leaves, which the internet has told him can have soothing properties and ease the pain of cracked arioli. Then, after the pads have been leaked on, you can have a cup of tea with highly organic milk. He wanted to do a pop-up, maybe outside that cereal cafe in Shoreditch if it’s still there. But I think it all comes down to the fact he isn’t getting enough sleep.
And the best bits?
MATT: We always have fishfingers in the freezer now, which is good. I hadn’t realised how much I’d missed fishfingers. And, I suppose, it’s made me a fraction less selfish. I’m willing to share my fishfingers now, which wasn’t always the case before, and that’s mostly down to a sharp case of Post-Partum Ensoppimment: the gormless, glazed-over grin that wells up when one of the girls sees something for the first time or laughs or quietly, happily plays. It’s – I imagine – like a tiny jab of morphine into your main artery.
And what’s the book about?
MATT: It’s mostly a parenting memoir – things that we experienced, both happy and sad, and meant to make people laught a bit more than they cry. There are even some very tiny bits of useful parenting information.
Was it hard writing a book together, as a couple?
Parenting the shit out of life is out now.
[BACKGROUND INFORMATION FOR THE INTRO]
ANNA: Mother Pukka is a place to help make you laugh more than you cry. As a childless 20-something I used to look at those bulging nappies on top of sanitary bins in public toilets and dry heave at the prospect of procreating. Mother Pukka is a place to make things feel less worrisome.
MATT: It’s a blog for people who happen to be parents. There is a tsunami of bumgravy parped in the general direction of parents: lots of contradictory advice, guilt inducing and judgement, so Mother Pukka has almost no useful information. It’s mostly there to try and be funny and honest. There are a lot of funny mum blogs, but there’s not much that gives both sides. But we also do some serious stuff, mostly around miscarriage and the flexappeal campaign to encourage more flexible working. Too many women (and men) get shafted at work once theylve had a nipper.
I was 28 weeks pregnant when I uttered the optimistic and utterly deranged words, ‘let’s renovate the kitchen’. There really is nothing like a deadline/dreadline to get the interiors motor rolling. Our kitchen ended up being finished exactly 3 hours 49 minutes before our daughter Eve was born and needless to say any ‘nesting’ instincts has been abandoned under a skanky dust sheet and a rusty old skip of stress.
But three months on from splash down and I’m finally starting to see beyond the fine layer of dust that has been etched into every nook and cranny of our abode. It’s time to breathe life into the place again but after investing pretty much all our mullah into these bricks and mortar, our budget isn’t quite as enthusiastic as my reignited nesting instincts.
Cue Homesense, TK Maxx’s brilliant sibling that offers luxe to accessible homewares with savings up to 60%. Think high-end kitchen accoutrements and posh velveteen chaise longues – perfect for being fed peeled grapes upon by some buff youth.
Anyone who has followed me for a while will know of my deep love of TK Maxx – I exited there last week laden with a tub of oversized marshmallows, high-waisted knickers, baby socks and a garden hose nozzle. So imagine my irrepressible excitement hearing there’s a dedicated homewares store? Somewhere to unite all interiors trinkets under one roof?
Armed with £100, I decided to focus my attention on small but perfectly-formed finds to dot about out house. Having nabbed a brilliant coffee table/ kiddie desk (think wrought iron heaviness with an immaculate modern finish) for Mae, I sought out a smaller bedside table that wreaks of achingly cool boutique hotel with a ‘oh this old thing’ casual vibe. We’re talking criss-crossed brass legs with a decadent slab of monochrome marble on top. This top notch piece was made for a paisley print-embellished bone china tea set and a massive packet of chocolate Hob Nobs to sit atop it on a relaxed Sunday.
The Hob Nobs are, as always, ready to go.
I went all in. With an RRP of £250, I got this little interiors nugget for £99.99. (That 1p makes all the difference in any retail decisions I find.) Its not something I’d pay full whack for because it’s not within my DNA to splash out any more than £100 on something that isn’t food.
Alongside this classy addition, I went for two true investment pieces – a posh spud peeler and some ‘investment’ oven gloves. A girl has to live and anyone who has peeled a lot of potatoes with a rubbish, wonky peeler will know what a big deal the former purchase was. My kitchen utensils draw has upped its game and something within me has eased knowing any spud that comes in my path will be tended to efficiently.
But that’s it really, it’s not about having the perfect home, it’s about making life a little bit better/easier/more comfortable. Because when it comes down to it, there really is nothing in life a top-of-the-range potato peeler can’t fix.
This blog post was written in association with Homesense.
I’ve never bagged the prize for excellence, only ever effort. I’d be the one lolloping about at the back (with an abundance of futile enthusiasm) of the egg-and-coit race on Sports Day; I’d be the one who managed to painstakingly type out an entire project on 15th century churches aged 9 – on a computer that resembled a gargantuan breeze block – only to be told ‘it lacked character’. And while effort is a wonderful thing, it always comes second to excellence and often means things fall through the cracks, regardless of how many Post-it notes I dot about the place.
Only recently I managed to completely forget that 3-month-old Eve required a passport to travel to Amsterdam for my best friend’s wedding. (She’s just so small; how can something that small require legal documentation?). A frenzied, sweaty gallop to Her Majesty’s Passport Office and a lot of tears/money later, we snuck it through in the nick of time. Life admin is not my friend and testament to that is the moment I forgot to apply for Mae’s school place.
I can’t even talk about that epic failure for fear of the black tears emerging. (Mascara is not a merry match for the administratively saddened.) But homeschooling it is and here I am trying to instil phonics, the alphabet and ‘The cat sat on a mat’ into Mae’s hungry little mind – alongside ‘cleaning’ (life skills right there) – and answering ALL the ‘why’s’
‘Why is that man fat?’
‘Why does that lady have a funny ear?’
‘Why do you wear such big pants?’
‘Why don’t I have an office?’
The latter ‘why’ I decided to tackle head-on with the help of Homesense, TK Maxx’s brilliant sibling that offers luxe to accessible homewares with savings up to 60%. It’s interior design mecca with quality brands selling for a lot less and this isn’t just no one-would-want-this-in-a-million-years stuff. The brilliant London cabbie who dropped us off summed it up perfectly: “It’s bloody great. I found a posh whisk in there last week for £3.99. Bargain. Didn’t even realise I needed a posh whisk.”
For Mae’s office, we went with a swish coffee table as her desk from (a whopping RRP of £150 reduced to £49.99). It worked as both a parent-friendly and kid-friendly piece – after she’s done with it, we’ll pop it in the lounge or use it to prop us up after years of knackering parenting.
While I’d love to say we went all out on embellishments, I had to leave the finishing touches to Mae seeing as it was ‘her office’. They included: 7 small racing cars, a large red remote control Ferrari, a Clangers sewing kit and a professional artist’s easel.
Too cool for school, indeed.
This blog post was written in association with Homesense