Other than the occasional run-in over a dismembered Barbie doll, my sister and I used to mainly squabble about food. I say squabble, it was more a bone fide wrestling match – complete with malicious pea flicking – with mum and dad desperately reffing on the sidelines until defeatedly hollering, “just eat your food. Please, PLEASE [on the brink of a moistened eye] just eat your food.”
We’d tussle about how many crisps we both had; who had the most chips; who had the largest slab of lasagna and it was essential to all familial harmony that we both had the same ratio of fizzy cola bottles to jelly babies in our pic ‘n’ mix.
But while they were dark sibling times. (Even darker parental times looking back – especially the moment in a Menorcan restaurant where dad decided to actually count the French fries on my sister’s plate to ensure there was equal distribution because he’d Lost The Will To Live.) But those wonderfully unhinged family dinners were also the happiest of times. It was where Dad might burp and then blame it on the dog; it was a place where we found out my Mum had organized a joint birthday for us at Activity World – soft play hell for parents, playing mecca for kids. It was a place of messy, occasionally stressy happiness.
But while we were in many ways the average family with 2.4 kids, there was nothing average about us. Especially my mum’s insistence that she was ‘up shit creek without a ladder’. Why a ladder mum? Why not a paddle? Why?
But according to new research by potato brand McCain, the UK hasn’t really moved on from that perfect family mirage. What family actually sits down to dinner without some form of gentle quip like ‘ANNA, COME DOWN NOW AND EAT YOUR FOOD NOW. I’M COUNTING TO THREE AND THEN I’M GOING TO COME UP THERE. DO NOT MAKE ME COME UP THERE’ easing into proceedings? What is average? What is normal?
It seems advertising, TV and films haven’t quite cottoned on to the fact we’re not all simply sitting quietly opposite each other patiently waiting for our turn to speak and enquire about each other’s day. A whopping 84% of Brits can’t recall seeing anything in today’s popular culture that featured a family like their own in the last six months.
The reality is anything and everything – because every family is different and every family has its own version of pea flicking to contend with.
So we’re all over the new ‘We are family’ campaign’ to help open up the kitchen door to real, raw, good, bad and ugly family life. The reality of easing food into a tantrumming toddler; the passive aggressive quips of ‘darling, did you buy the mince?’ [the key ingredient to a spag bol]. It’s about the peaks – seeing your daughter make a smiley face out of ketchup – through to the troughs – seeing your son swiping his entire meal onto the floor without remorse. (And he’s 17.)
It’s time to get real, really. Because while I am mortaged up to the eyeballs with 2.4 kids and low-level anxiety about the lawnmower, my sister is living with her girlfriend on a houseboat and her springer spaniel called Dolly who has a penchant for chewing and regurgitating old socks. Out of that line-up, Dolly is probably the most ‘normal’.
This blog post was written in association with McCain #WeAreFamily @McCainUK
My parental agenda is painfully simple: Let her choose. For all the dinosaurs, princesses, blue and pink divides of the 80s, just let the little nipper pick her lane or colour. Then give her the space to change her mind every day, every minute or every second if she fancies.
Because as women, we’re not always a pretty shade of pink and as men we’re not always into the blue; sometimes we like a diplodocus and other days it’s a swarovski-encrusted pastel-hued crown. We’re beyond all that archaic pigeonholing.
That’s why I am all over the Fruit Shoot It’s My Thing campaign like an e-colour-fuelled toddler. It’s simple: let them try new things, do new things and find their THING. How immense is that? It makes me wonder where my love of snails as a youth would have taken me. This is a campaign that raises them up and celebrates their creativity and self-expression. More than anything it’s about helping us let them simply go for it… to pursue those mollusk dreams.
The thing is, I already feel the pressure of what Mae should be doing at this stage. Is she winding the bobbin up correctly? What even is a bobbin? Should we care? Is she reading enough? Should we let her scribble freely on an old birthday card with a Biro or should she have a dedicated ‘creative corner’ – complete with working felt tips and mindfulness colouring-in books.
Then there’s the schooling juggernaut. I’ve heard mentions of ‘tutoring’ in parental circles to get toddlers in the education zone. It all seems too much considering Dutch kids don’t even start school until they hit five.
And it seems I’m not alone. Research commissioned by Fruit Shoot revealed that 80% of UK parents think that children are under too much pressure today, with 80% also agreeing that this pressure is limiting their creative flow.
If I’m Googling local maths tutors for a three-year-old, I’d say they’ve got it bang on.
So having actually missed the school admissions deadline like absolute plonkers. Yep, we are those parents who are never on top of all the forms, we’ve had to accept a year of Mae doing her thing while we wait to reapply next year.
So far we’ve covered ‘sandwich maker’ where I’ve been offered up a plasticine sausage and mash sandwich – a culinary triumph. I’ve also uncovered a manky Tupperware box under Mae’s bed with all of her favourite stones – “the grey spiky one is the best; he is called Frank the rock”. Perhaps my favourite moment was when Mae asked to take a photo of Matt and I. Since she’s asked for her own camera and instead of buying her cBeebies Magazine every week, we’ve invested in a Polaroid camera for her to merrily snap away on wherever, whenever.
We’re collecting the photos – all brilliantly angular and off-the-wall; much like Annie Leibowitz in many ways – and are planning on framing them once our house has been renovated. We’re going to ask Mae to edit those snaps down to her favourite 12 and she’s going to come with me to pick the frame. It’s essentially the first time we’ve let her lead the creative way and in return, we’ve stopped worrying about what she should be doing and focused on what she is doing – right here, right now.
While I didn’t imagine a year of stone-collecting, sandwich making and photo-taking ahead of us, seeing her confidence grow as she navigates the incredible corners of her mind has made me glad that we’re the rubbish parents that missed the school admissions deadline.
Living the dream
Fruit Shoot want to make a long-term commitment to helping kids find their thing. The Fruit Shoot Facebook page will be a hub and forum for parents to share content and opinion on the campaign themes. There will be a social competition to ‘Win that thing’ on Facebook where children can win prizes related to their thing. The campaign will also have presence in the major supermarkets and leisure destinations.
Celebrate your kids ‘things’on the FruitShootGB Facebook page and by using #itsmything and #FruitShoot.
Our book, Parenting the Shit out of Life, is available for pre-order now. It covers the last five years of our lives and even includes some vaguely useful information. We’ve written half of it each, and it’s led to some tears and sniggers along the way, but we can’t wait to hold it in our hands. And if you fancy, you can pre-order it right here, right now.
I’m blind as a bat – even more so since being pregnant. Who knew having kids would affect your eyesight too? Motherhood really is the gift that keeps on giving.
But the one thing I have learned to do through having two kids is to multitask. I can put mascara on while making fish fingers, chips and peas without batting an eyelid. I can breastfeed one kid while doing a bespoke finger puppet show for the other without breaking into a sweat. And I can wade through work emails at a rate of knots while singing the wheels on the bus go round and round. They really do go round and round and round.
But I do seek out hardworking products that help me ease through the parental day – from waterproof mascara to save the dreaded panda eye at 3pm to ‘active’ wear (the irony is not lost) that makes me feel like I might go to the gym when, in fact, I tend to be lurking in the Sainsbury’s snack aisle.
Then there’s my glasses teamed with Transitions – the ultimate vision multitasker; Visionary in many ways. It’s simple – when inside they’re your glasses that simply help you see better. Job done. Outside the lenses magically transform into sunglasses so you can see AND beat the glare. Even more they offer 100% UV protection at all times, in addition to blue light, leaving your knackered peepers in a happy place.
Choosing the glasses was simple; I went for the Sapphire lenses because I wear a lot of denim and prefer a blue hue next to my often over-fake-tanned skin. I also went with this colour because my frames are pretty heavy – think media person-meets-Velma-from-Scooby-Doo – and needed a lens that didn’t contrast too much with them.
The reality is, I don’t have time to eat a piece of toast most the mornings most days, let alone rummage around in my bag every time I edge inside or outside, so my glasses need to be multitasking in their approach. With four Style Colours, including Sapphire – amethyst emerald and amber are the other options – these natty lenses are designed to make your peepers look good and your life a little bit easier.
Whether you’re wading through the inbox of doom or sunning yourself in a kiddie sandpit, seeing truly is believing.
This post was written in association with Transitions. AD
Those words tend to come from Mae as I’m frazzled and trying to rush out the door like a flapping Big Bird. It’s that moment when you realize you should have left the house 13 minutes earlier to make the train and know you’ll have to get a jog on – leading to a beaded brow and frizzy tresses – as soon as you gallop out of the house.
Then your kid wants to put his/her own shoes on. In principle this is a great thing – independence is to be encouraged and that’s one less parental thing on the never-ending to do list. But not when you are running 13 minutes late for the train and it takes approximately 17 minutes for your little love nugget to get those shoes on.
So often shoes that are good for your kid’s feet and ease the growing process don’t look all that. I’m always looking for ones that support Mae’s little trotters from Weetabix-smattered breakfast tantrums right the way through to drizzly playground playdates.
There was one particularly sodden day with her mate Betsey – they are friends until the cutlery they are eating with is a different colour – where I hadn’t even noticed that Mae was wearing one shoe that fitted and another from when she was 18-months. She limped around for a bit near the swings until I realized the basic parental error. The shoe was most certainly on the wrong foot and I was absolutely to blame – it wasn’t even an easy mistake to make; one was yellow, the other white.
Mae’s current shoes du jour are a pair of blush Bobux trainers with a zebra emblazoned down one side (so when the Zebra’s are together you know they’re on the right feet!). If that’s not a shoe triumph, we don’t know what is. Stripey is Mae’s number one toy at the moment (it’s an ever-transient list that can be brutal at times – I haven’t questioned where Tilly the dinosaur is at the moment for fear she’s under the paving slabs in the garden) so to find a shoe that not only fits but links to that much-cuddled zebra is, indeed, a relief.
There were no laces to contend with, just Velcro or slip-ons and they’re breathable so they won’t honk after a few laps of the park. They’re also cool enough for the kids to want and supportive enough for the parents to have peace of mind. More than anything children’s feet develop in stages not ages, so it’s not a case of just going up a size as they get older – these are shoes that truly do fit.
While I’m no parental oracle if I can impart one piece of time-saving (or mind-saving) advice, it’s to invest in a solid easy-to-get-on pair of shoes. This is not being said simply because we are working with Bobux, it’s genuinely because they’re a kid and parent-friendly life changer. (And have cut that 17 minutes of ‘putting shoes on’ down to a nifty 3 minutes – huge life goals right there).
This post was written in association with Bobux Shoes. AD
‘Pregnancy’. When did it become such a dirty word? “I’m pregnant”. It sure isn’t in social realms – just one look at the pink and blue-hued Clintons card range and you’ll get the thumbs up. It’s not on a wider scale – the world needs people. But in UK office environs it seems to be the equivalent of announcing you’ve contracted raging genital warts.
Having a baby is the bizarre white elephant lurking in a conference room full of strip lighting and rickety office chairs.
The dictionary definition of ‘pregnant’ is this: “Having a child” or “Full of meaning or significance”. Sure the last one isn’t related to being knocked up, but being pregnant is, indeed, significant.
How many times have you heard a friend say “I haven’t told work yet” or “I’m worried about what work will say.” How many times has your pre-pregnant mind meandered towards that moment one rogue sperm hits home base? Will it mean career suicide? Should we wait? Should we bump uglies with wild abandon? Are you in a career that will boot you out at the first sight of a Clear Blue test in the sanitary disposal unit?
How many times have you listened to a job interviewer tell you about the 15% Fitness First discount the company offers without uttering so much as a word about maternity/paternity packages?
I’m sat slumped here in a bed of Hob Nob crumbs at 38 weeks pregnant. My mind is consumed by primary schools for my daughter Mae. But how can I support her venture into ABCs and encourage her to cash-in her working dreams of being a ‘sandwich maker’ only to know the reality is a cheese and pickle-slathered brick wall?
That the reality is someone else who is less burdened with family might fill her position when she’s on maternity leave. That the reality is being edged out of the building when she’s at her most knackered and vulnerable for a multitude of murky reasons that won’t ever get to tribunal because it’s a fight her employer has already won.
(Employers only have to prove ‘they followed correct procedure’ not ‘is the business case watertight’. Oh and you need a handy £1,300 to pay legal costs. Lose-lose. No, at that point even the strongest contenders bow out of employment Gladiators.)
And it’s not just a light smattering of us. Pregnancy discrimination, which is highly illegal has risen significantly since 2005 with ¾ of women questioned in a recent Equalities and Human Rights Commision survey being patronised out of the building.
“If you come back after maternity leave…”
“Let’s see what happens if you return”
“Things will change!”
Those results equate to 390,000 women across the UK. That’s the population equivalent of the entire city of Liverpool.
“Part of the gender pay gap is driven by how women are supported in the workplace around before and after pregnancy so the government should consider extending pay gap reporting to include return rates after maternity leave,” said Jo Swinson who commissioned the research.
“Now that we know the shocking scale of the problem, the government needs to take swift action to better protect women in the workplace.”
Swift action is, indeed, needed. But also immediate action from each and every one of us. While pregnancy is not an affliction, it comes with its physical blocades. Hyperemesis Gravidarum (HGV) can render you a chunder bus that requires a vomit receptacle Sellotaped to your chin. (Check out Susie J Verrill‘s raw and honest account of rivalling HRH Duchess of Cambridge in the vom stakes). Bleeding in those early days can lead to miscarriage. Miscarriage, if swept under the carpet for fear of admitting you are ‘trying’ to your employer can lead to infection and irreparable mental scars. Exhaustion abounds and yes, your hormonal make-up is imbalanced. This is not emotional, it’s biological. It’s simple medical fact – like a leg hurts when you break it, pregnancy realigns your internal organs.
It is significant. It takes its toll and we are not weaker for admitting that. We are weaker for pushing on regardless and not addressing the bigger issue – why employers seem determined to think we are lesser employees as a result of having a child. As a result for asking for a hint of flexibility so we can work more, not less for the bigger business picture. To cut back the daily commute in favour of clearing emails and tackling administrative issues ahead of powering on.
That somehow we have a talent lobotomy among the lactation biscuits and Sophie La Girafe chew toys.
How, after years of GCSE-swatting, work experience-gaining, low-paid training, unfettered drive and determination, we suddenly transform from worker bee to Little Miss Muppet in an employer’s eyes the minute the pee hits that stick.
How after keeping a small human alive using a mammary or a bottle and sheer grit and determination during relentless sleepless nights, you are considered less capable.
390,000 pregnant women in the UK have sat opposite their boss and been tossed aside for simply procreating. It’s ironic that you look at the person saying “we have an exciting new role for you”[read: you have been demoted because you popped a sprog] or “I’m afraid we’ve had to make some redundancies” [read: you’re a ‘mummy’ so won’t mind] only to think, ‘you came from somewhere; you came from someone.’
And that someone is significant.
Pregnant then screwed
A few words from founder of Pregnant then screwed, Joelie Brearley:
“Mother Pukka and Pregnant Then Screwed have been in touch since October 2015 when Anna wrote a post about the work we had been doing to support women who encounter pregnancy and maternity discrimination. As parents who both want to see an end to pregnancy and maternity discrimination we are united in our fight. We are stronger together and Pregnant Then Screwed is proud to support Flex Appeal as well as all the other work Mother Pukka is doing to promote the rights of working parents whilst making them laugh along the way. Keep your eyes peeled for some exciting stuff coming up in the future including: a public demonstration, a Facebook Live and lots of supporting activities that will help working parents challenge discriminatory behaviour, while ensuring both the Government and businesses are forced to take notice of our needs.”
More about Pregnant Then Screwed:
Initially, Pregnant Then Screwed was a safe space for women to tell their stories anonymously, so we could shine a light on this issue. The response from mothers all over the world was incredible, the stories poured in alongside offers from people to help manage and promote the project. A fantastic employment lawyer offered her assistance so we set up a free legal advice line for women encountering discrimination. When the Equality and Human Rights Commission released statistics which showed that less than 1% of women who encounter discrimination raise a tribunal claim, we decided we needed to do more to help women access justice so we launched a peer to peer support programme. This pairs up women who have been through an employment tribunal with a woman who has started legal proceedings to act as a friend and comrade, to help her survive the difficult journey ahead. More recently we launched ‘Flexi-line’ a free advice line for parents who want to make a flexible working request. Alongside this we have been doing some campaigning which has gone down a treat – our #Givemesix campaign which asks that the government extend the time limit to raise a tribunal claim from 3 months to 6 months for pregnant and postpartum women has over 54,000 signatures, has been signed by 71 MPs as part of Early Day Motion 1084 and has recently been included in the Labour Party Manifesto.
We want to continue to protect, support and promote the rights of parents who suffer the effects of workplace discrimination and over the coming months we plan do more intense campaigning on legislative changes we think would decrease the numbers of women who encounter pregnancy and maternity discrimination:
1) Subsidised childcare for children from 6 months old
2) Paternity leave to be increased to 3 months, paid at 90% of salary
3) Abolish tribunal fees
4) Protect pregnant women on zero hours contracts and other types of precarious work from discrimination
5) Ensure mothers on zero hours contracts and other types of precarious work can legally take maternity leave
6) Make companies report on retention rates of pregnant women
7) Make all companies state flexible working options on job adverts. Instead of opting in to flexible working, companies have to opt out and they can only do this if they have a valid business reason for doing so
I don’t think you are ever ready for your card to be declined as you try to buy a cheese and pickle sarnie in Tesco Metro for your hungry toddler. That’s also not to mention the swathes of quietly judging people behind you as that sandwich gets popped back on the chilled shelf of financial dreams. (“How is she in charge of a human?”)
But aged 35 I’m still a shambles with money. My wallet resembles a bulging rubbish bin after a West Ham football match. There’s receipts in abundance and out of the 25 cards (including one from Claire’s Accessories with a 2014 expiration date) in there, only one that isn’t dog-eared and scratched to within an inch of it’s usable life.
But wallet admin aside, that shame-drenched sandwich-yearning moment made it abundantly clear that it’s not just about me anymore. I can’t be left high and dry with my hungry toddler thankful that I’d randomly stuffed a warm Babybel in my back pocket. Alone, yes, it would have been an amusing pub story, chez squawking life burden (“Mama why can’t I eat the sandwich?”), less so.
So I told you all about it; I penned a blog post about being 35 and not being on top of my dosh. I said that while the Instagram pixels can seem all tap dancing and jazz hands at times, we’re all just Sellotaping over the cracks – financial and emotional. And the response I got was overwhelming; from those of us rifling through the bargain bin for a 34p loaf to others celebrating a Pizza Express two-for-one deal and delighting in the power of eBay for second hand goods.
Two people got in touch, who made me take it from words to actions: my Dad, who is a self-made man with a truly razor-sharp approach to money (he owned his own house called ironically ‘The Shambles’ at 24) and someone from Capital One – a company that aims to dispel the myths and clear up the jargon around credit – who read it and got in touch to say that I’m not as alone in navigating this financial jungle as I initially thought.
At school I learned about algebraic equations but never about APR (Annual Percentage Rates), for example. I understood how to dismantle a Bunsen burner but couldn’t tell you about how mortgages work. I even got an A at A-level in Economics for my intricate knowledge of macroeconomic policy. And, yet, while launching a business, buying a house and keeping a small human alive, I’ve dropped the money ball.
So instead of the whole ‘New Year, New You’ guff at the beginning of this year, I decided to focus on the bedrock of making it through the day: dollar. I don’t want to close my eyes at the cash point and hope anymore, I don’t want to furrow my brow at complex credit terms such as credit scores and eligibility checkers, I don’t want to have a head-in-the-sand approach to credit cards. I truly want to know my APR from my CPR.
It’s time to clear out those receipts, edit down my Claire’s Accessories discount cards and sort the confused wood from the potentially fruitful trees.
To get us started, check out these basic tips below to help you take control of your financial health;
Know your credit score – if you know where you stand, you’ll know whether you need to make changes to improve your score or not, you can find your score at the three main credit reference agencies Experian, Equifax or Call Credit.
Check your eligibility before you apply for a credit card, Capital One’s QuickCheck tool will tell you with 100% certainty whether you’ll be accepted before you apply, without affecting your credit score.
Know the APR (Annual Percentage Rate) you’re applying for and whether this could change after you’ve applied. Check the terms and conditions, all available product details and the summary box. With Capital One the APR you see when you apply is the APR you’ll get. The Capital One Classic credit card features a 34.9% APR representative variable rate.
Try and pay more than the minimum, if you already have a credit card paying more than the minimum amount each month will save you time and money.
This post was created in partnership with Capital One who I will be working with to help cut through the confusing world of credit over the next few weeks. Check out their blog here.
I’m someone who handles tangible things really well. So if faced with my Mum’s cottage pie, I’m aware of the homely joy and happiness that sits before me. I understand ketchup and brown sauce and if faced with a sale rack in Topshop, I’m all over it like a frenzied mosquito. Credit, however, gives me the fear. (To be honest anything that might at some stage involve a formal-looking envelope increases the furrowed brow).
My approach on these seemingly intangible (almost invisible) things is a resolute head-in-the-sand approach. If in doubt, channel an ostrich.
But this head in the sand approach isn’t going to see you through the long game. I think my biggest underlying fear, though, has been in getting red marks. Whether it’s an overdrawn account or being rejected for a credit card, that stuff starts to take its toll, especially if you decide to have a family. “Sorry darling, mummy can’t buy a house because she splurged all her 20-something cash on Topshop frocks willy nilly and lenders think she’s a ‘big risk.’”
Cue Capital One – a company that I have teamed up with to help dispel the myths and clear up the jargon around credit. They have an arsenal of tips and tools that helps you navigate this financial jungle without ending up with red marks all over your finance homework.
Perhaps the tool that grabbed my attention first was the QuickCheck eligibility checker that can do a pre-check to see if you’ll be accepted for a Capital One credit card without affecting your credit score. This is your chance – without a trace of red mark being left behind – to know where you stand before you decide whether or not to apply. Consider this a starter it’s a litmus test of whether you can afford the main course. No-one wants to ask for the bill at the end and not be able to pay; the restaurant shame is the equivalent of a red mark against your financial name.
And this isn’t a 99% guarantee that you will or won’t be accepted for a credit card. Capital One provides 100% certainty on whether you’ll be accepted or not so you’ll know exactly where you stand.
But why should you even care about the red marks on your credit file? Why not channel the ostrich; that magnificent bird?
Well, there are a few reasons why you should care about your credit score and keeping it healthy. Phone providers, for example, will usually do a credit check before handing you a new shiny phone. If your credit score isn’t up to scratch, they could turn you down – leaving you with Pay-As-You-Go as your only option, and a mark on your credit report.
It’s also not uncommon for landlords and estate agents to do credit checks. A healthy credit score could save you from having to pay an additional deposit up front, or from having to ask a family member to sign as a guarantor on your behalf. Let’s be honest, no-one wants to ask mummy and daddy for help with adulting aged 30.
Then there’s the bricks and mortar. Recently lenders have become much stricter with their mortgage lending criteria, and your credit score plays a very big role in your chances of being accepted. We’re talking actual roof over your (and your kid’s) head here – perhaps that is something a little more tangible to get my head out of the sand for?
Top tips from Capital One for taking control of your credit score:
Know what your credit score is – if you know where you stand, you’ll know whether you need to make changes to improve your score or not, you can find your score at the three main credit reference agencies Experian, Equifax or Call Credit.
Check your eligibility before you apply for a credit card, Capital One’s QuickCheck tool will tell you with 100% certainty whether you’ll be accepted before you apply, without affecting your credit score.
Make sure you’re on the electoral roll. Lenders use the electoral roll to confirm your identity. If you’re not on it, it’s harder for them to do so. Registering is free and takes less than 5 minutes. Search ‘register to vote’.
Pay your bills on time by Direct Debit. Missing a payment can affect your credit score for up to 6 years. Setting up a Direct Debit is a simple way to make sure you pay on time, every time
Don’t go over your limit. If you have a credit card, always try to stay within your credit limit. Lenders typically see this as a sign that you are able to manage your finances responsibly. You’ll also avoid any extra fees.
Capital One’s eligibility checker QuickCheck lets you know where you stand before you decide whether or not to apply for a Capital One credit card and won’t affect your credit score. If you do decide to apply, the Capital One Classic credit card features a 34.9%APR representative variable rate.
This post was created in partnership with Capital One who I will be working with to help cut through the confusing world of credit. Check out their blog here.
The morning call of a howler monkey operates at a similar pitch to that of a toddler in need of breakfast. Howlers have more volume and it takes more than Cheerios to placate them, but they at least are unlikely to be sleeping in the next room to you. Although at Port Lympne Reserve, 600 acres of wildlife park in rural Kent, it might sometimes feel like they are.
We woke up in our treehouse just after 7am, and I made breakfast on the terrace for me and Mae. As howler monkeys howled a few hundred meters away, and rhinos grunted on the Kentish savannah, I felt like a well-catered-for explorer, albeit one that hasn’t needed any jabs or been concerned about attacks by local tribes. Between the sounds of Africa, sparrows tweeted as if to remind us we were just an hour from home.
I tried to befriend this giraffe, but he had some extreme views
Our treehouse came with its own golf cart and so with the park to ourselves, and Anna (really very pregnant) left to sleep, Mae and I went to explore. As number two looms, I’ve been thinking more about number one, and the dull ache she causes somewhere in the left side of my ribcage. She’s approaching four and in the last year, as she’s developed into an actual person with a character and temperament and opinions of her own, I think we’ve grown closer. The first year of parenting, I think, is mostly duty and dumb hormonal affection. The next two years were a bit more fun, but definitely with an awareness that I was the second-favourite parent, as she instinctively reached for her mother in times of strife. (And when I say strife, I mean being denied an extra episode of Peppa, or having to wait a little bit for a go on the swings).
But in the last six or 12 months, as she’s learned to tell jokes (exclusively about turds, but jokes none the less), learned to openly mock me and rough-and-tumble about the place, I think a stronger bond has developed. It’s probably made me realise, for the first time, that there will come a day when she moves out or gets married or generally doesn’t need (or want) to be with us anymore. And while that brings a strange mix of sadness and relief, curiosity and concern, it does also focus my mind on the now.
So we whizzed around the park on our little cart, her, slightly nervously by my side (I’m not the finest driver, even with a top speed of 5mph). Our first stop was the howlers, the source of all that noise, to ask what all the fuss was about, then some baboons, to laugh at their bulbous red arses, then deer and dinosaurs. The last of those were fake, of course, but there’s a jungle trail full of them, built to scale for curious kids to clamber on and gaze at, leading to conversations along the lines of, ‘Mae, who do you think would win in a fight between a giraffe and a diplodocus?’ Or, ‘how many monkeys would be needed to take down a T-rex?’ Then we fetched Anna, to feed leafy branches to a greedy giraffe called Gary.
It’s good to meet new people (and be reminded why you like the ones you see all the time).
The Apatosaurus: surprisingly camp
What is it? Port Lympne Reserve is a 600 acres wildlife park with 88 species including wolves, bears, giraffe, monkeys, zebra, tigers and rhino. The beasts roam about as freely as I’ve ever seen beyond a series of Planet Earth and there is now a dinosaur trail with life-sized models and augmented realty dinosaurs.
Staying at Lympne Overnight stays start from £99 per night, with digs ranging from cosy glamping huts and safari-style tents, to private treehouses that are more like Manhattan apartments. Most accommodation has cooking facilities or you can order safari hampers to be delivered. Tiger Lodge, overlooking the tiger enclosure (!) is due to open soon.
Getting there Port Lympne Reserve is five minutes off the M20 between junctions 10 and 11, or a 15 minute cab ride from Ashford station. Day tickets start at £22.50 per adult.
I’m not sure why I had such a warped view of motherhood. I assumed it was quite an ethereal experience all in all – gurning babies that smelled of talcum powder and a sense of general completion. There was, perhaps, a white kaftan in my wardrobe for calming measure.
The reality is most days I resemble a mosquito that’s hit a hot light bulb one too many times. Frazzled is the word, not ethereal. I also tend to be embellished by rogue Cheerios, not swathed in white Egyptian cotton. White? What was I thinking?
That’s not to say I’m incomplete or unhappy, it’s more that I need things in my life to help with the lack of control over The Stuff. I need help with my life admin because on most days I find adulting hard. Like, GCSE Russian hard.
Cue Powershop UK, the energy company that gets that things need to be easy for knackered, eye-twitching folk like me. The app is basically there to make buying electricity easy wherever you are – soft play hell or 9-5 commute. How it works? Customers buy electricity in an online shop or mobile app, shopping for discounted specials in bundles (called Powerpacks – feels very Paw Patrol). So you essentially could save dosh by buying your electricity this way.
You can buy as much as you need based on how much you consume. It’s as simple as pressing a button and topping up your electricity to save getting those scary bills at the end of the month that can furrow even the calmest of brows.
In a nutshell, this is the simplest way I’ve found to stay on top of one of life’s basics – energy. For me, it’s one less thing to worry my tiny little frazzled mind with. Power to the mama, indeed.
Each Powerpack comes with information about how long it is expected to last. There are three types of Powerpacks in the shop:
Top-up packs – a standard pack that’s always in the shop for everyday savings
Future Packs – the option to buy electricity to use later in the year in order to save money during more energy consuming – and money sapping – times
Special packs – these are random discounted energy packs designed to encourage customers to keep getting a better deal. Named after special occasions, news events or humorous moments these pop up as alerts from the Powershop UK app.
Within the desktop shop, customers can also pay for energy when it suits them and change their billing date. While many customers regularly log in to the shop and buy Powerpacks, others prefer not to. Those customers who don’t log in as much, or perhaps forget to log in will automatically have their energy topped up at the end of each month, ensuring they remain powered up.
This blog post was written in association with Powershop UK
There was a time when a weekend away with mates would mean the booze to food ratio was heavily weighted towards the former. Those weekends in your early 20s aren’t the most relaxing of times and you generally return to work looking pale-faced and wan in need of a week off in The Bahamas to recover.
As I edge into my late thirties, the mini break has pulled a full 180. It’s become a glorious time of relaxation, solid chats, good wine (well, the stuff that isn’t paint stripper) and rest – there is no shame in saying “I’m heading to bed” around 10pm in your favourite Primark unicorn pyjamas.
Cue the ultimate sanctuary for this relatively sluggish activity to take place: Boheme Stawley through Unique Home Stays.
This gargantuan rustic barn sleeps 20 people in total, has a 15m indoor swimming pool and it’s own rowing boat and lake – think Pride & Prejudice meets Fortnum & Mason; if they did homes. It’s all crisp white Egyptian cotton sheets, projector screen cinema-style TV viewing and acres of grounds to go for a ‘quick turn’ if you’ve hit the rioja a little hard the night before.
Bonus ball: the rooms are all pretty much identical so there’s no scrapping over the master suite or any latecomers having to shoe-horn themselves into a veritable broom cupboard. Oh and you can pick fresh berries from the nearby hedges for a heart crumble as more than 27 species of bird flit about. Happy, happy wholesome times.
There were ten of us in total who had seen each other sporadically over the last year but craved a full-on catch up overlooking the Somerset countryside. And that is what we got – the full girlie catch-up with rolling British countryside to boot.
From early morning yoga sessions in the courtyard to home-cooked Indian food from our mate Hersha (@cookwithalittleindian) it was the perfect mid-week escape to unwind, relax and actually finding out where all of our heads were at instead of the quick ‘you ok?’ over a manic coffee as you wipe drool from your baby’s mouth.
Even if you want to bring the kids with you, it’s the perfect spot with stairgates in position and a dedicated ‘fairy walk’ for them to go on around the grounds.
As I hit 8 months pregnant, it was also a brilliant chance to take a moment to enjoy having my coffee hot, talking without a knackered eye-twitch and sleep – somewhat ironically – like a baby.
Book Boheme Stawley through Unique Home Stays here. Mid-week escapes are perfect for girlie catch ups, baby showers or simply getting away with mates when everyone else is stuck in the office.
There was one night when I woke up on the beach outside my hut in Koh Pah-Ngan dribbling in the sand next to my best mate. We both resembled Ribena berries on one side of our faces and a rogue flea bitten dog had started licking my big toe. Good times.
Sleep was for the weak back then and I could never envisage a moment in my future when I’d holler at my husband, ‘I just want a good mattress, that’s all I want’ before crumpling into a hormonal heap. But there I was on that drizzly Monday evening, seven months knocked up and edging into ‘nesting’ territory. I think as a mother you end up pretty much living in your bed in those first few months. (I ended up sleeping with a packet of raisins under my pillow for a week without realising last month – the bed becomes part sleep vessel, part storage cupboard).
I remember when Mae was born, we popped her in the baby carrier at the end of the bed and had a sushi picnic before watching Game of Thrones – or as much as we could before the mewling began. The bed was literally the mothership.
Then we moved back to London from Amsterdam and panic-bought a dodgy mattress from a shop that has since mysteriously disappeared and months of bad sleep on that shoddy sponge-like fire hazard culminated in me slobbering on Matt’s shoulder. Middle class problems, indeed.
So Matt went out to feather the nest as best he could. In essence he Googled ‘best mattress’ and ‘best bed’ and came up with the Tinder match of sleeping dreams. A Casper mattress and a Made.com bed. The whole caboodle came to just over £1,200 that we didn’t have but in those crazed nesting moments who needs a weekly shop when you can sleep soundly at night.
I cried once more when it all arrived and then, luckily for Matt, the tears eased up as the sleep increased. I had forgotten what a good night’s sleep felt like – something I shall cherish as we edge into newborn territory.
But as our house currently undergoes intense renovations – we currently have three walls and are lacking a kitchen roof – the one thing I know before this baby comes is that there’s a safe nook upstairs. A sleep-inducing nest where we can hole up for those first few weeks of this little nipper’s life and pretend the drilling noise downstairs is the gentle lapping of water on a Thai beach.
Nothing saves money like staying in bed.
Going out to breakfast can be as cheap as a £4.50 for bacon and egg sandwich or £3 for a pastry and a coffee. Going out to dinner can be as expensive as a £15 for some pasta or up to £20 for a steak. It makes way more sense to stay in, get dinner delivery, or whip up a quick bowl of pasta.
There’s no dress code.
Going to a fancy dinner requires you to put product in your hair and iron a shirt. Dinner in bed requires nothing more than sweatpants.
You’ll have more time to catch up on your favourite show.
Seriously, who has time to go out to dinner and stay up to date with Game of Thrones. Dinner in bed can kill two birds with one stone, and keep your friends from spoiling all the drama.
You’ll get Instagram fame.
Everyone knows that a brightly coloured cup of orange juice and a heaping pile of pancakes are aesthetically pleasing when placed a-top clean white linens. Been there, ate that. Swap those pancakes out for a big, juicy burger and your dinner in bed will be so novel, it’ll rack up more Likes than your friend’s brunch.
Wine in bed makes way more sense than coffee.
As long as it’s white! While coffee in bed is a go-to, it can actually be counter-productive. Studies show that a glass or two of red wine is good for you, so you’ll be treating yourself in more ways than one. When you feel the warm, fuzzy feeling set in — you’ll be exactly where you belong.
It’s a word used for weddings, engagements, exams results, new homes and births. For me, it’s not a word that sits well with pregnancy. When you tell someone you are pregnant, it’s an obvious exclamation – it is, of course, a nice thing to say.
But what is doesn’t account for is the deep-rooted anxiety that you’re not even out of the starting blocks; that your uterus has every chance of being the one to fail at carrying that life. How can you congratulate a 1500m runner at the 200m mark? Perhaps ‘keep going’ or ‘c’mon girl’ fits the bill but for me it isn’t (I’m 8 months pregnant) or wasn’t (I have a three-year-old) a celebratory time.
For every moment I allowed myself to ponder that flicker of life inside, I would be jolted out of those musings by a sickening fear that this one wouldn’t make it to the finishing line. There was the fear of decorating the nursery too soon; the fear of choosing a name too early; the heart stopping moments of waiting three seconds too long for a heartbeat at a routine scan.
While I have miscarried along the way to procreation, I don’t think that fear is shackled only to those who have suffered loss. Everyone questions the viability of their uterus at some point; Anyone who knows what it is to love someone knows what it is to lose someone.
In this pregnancy, I was in hospital at 4 months with dehydration because of hyperemesis gravidarum (HG). I’d heard all about the ‘glow’ you get through pregnancy, I knew about the cracking boobs that came with the maternal package – I was even genned up on the best post-partum sanitary pads to invest in.
But what I hadn’t been aware of was that HG dehydration could cause a foetal heart to stop.
I didn’t realise that bleeding throughout pregnancy was fairly normal for some women and a sign of an ‘inviable foetus’ for others. It was a game of biological snakes and ladders where the Internet could offer up two extreme answers for every one scenario. My Google results ran the full gamut of ‘this is normal, all will be well’ to ‘this is a sign of miscarriage, seek medical help immediately’ from one simple search word.
Despite never being a worrier previously, here I found myself in no (wo)man’s land; It was (and still is) a confused arena of fear and excitement – the former often overpowering the latter.
All I do know is that the Internet does not have all the answers; the Internet cannot listen to your body or look you in the eyes and see that primitive maternal fear. It cannot listen, only broadcast. When the Internet was telling me that mild Braxton hicks contractions were normal at 28 weeks with my daughter Mae, I questioned the pixels with a visit to an actual human – my midwife who confirmed I’d gone into labour.
Without listening to instincts, I wouldn’t have been administered steroids to halt the contractions and my daughter would have come prematurely at 28 weeks.
When Mae was born ten weeks later, I lapped up all the ‘congratulations’ people could muster. For then, after what had been a journey of significant peaks and troughs, I could truly sit back and feel like I’d actually won at pregnancy.
Tommy’s, with King’s College London and Babycentre.com, has launched a safer pregnancy campaign to empower pregnant women to overcome fears about speaking to professionals about health concerns. The aim of the Always Ask campaign is to reduce the number of women who end up with serious pregnancy complications or loss. Research from King’s College London has shown that women’s knowledge about their own changing body is invaluable in contributing to safer pregnancies but that they often struggle to voice their instincts and concerns.
I am Lucia, Anna’s from Mother Pukka’s mother and I am writing this with a cupof tea and a jammy dodger biscuit as we wait for news of the hopeful arrival of our grandchild. I am her maternity cover for now and I am learning about the ways of the internet.
I am also Dutch and 65. That makes me old and blunt and at this moment I am angry.
I want to write something in response to an article I read today that was highlighted to me by Lucy from an Instagram portal called ‘Mummingthis’. The article was in a silly rag I won’t mention for fear of making it more viral or having a virus. Whatever the science is behind success on the internet.
The headline is: ‘Feeding their toddlers frozen fingers, swigginggin from baby cups and potty mouthed ranting about their kids online: why are so many women boasting they’re slummy mummies?
This article mentioned a number of lovely women who have supported me when I took over my daughter’s social media pages last week as she was in hospital having contractions. Who am I to think I can learn how to ‘Instagram’? Who is this lady with a pensioner’s bus pass? Who do I think I am?
I was unsure what I was doing and having been a mother for 35 years, putting food on the table for my girls and husband, I was not confident I had it in me to be social in this media.
But women can do pretty much anything I believe if they don’t get distracted by the dreaded doubt, nasty thoughts and silly jealousy. And a woman with the support of other women can take on the world. Or at the very least a packed supermarket on a weekend.
And my confidence last week grew. That was down to the women being pulled down in this non-article. They are: Clemmie Telford, Stephanie Douglas, Sarah Turner, Katie Kirby and the very funny Scrummy Mummies.
This non-article simply regurgitated what I’ve seen happen to mothers since I became one in 1981. Back then it was a case of getting on with it and ignoring signs of depression and postnatal sadness behind doilies, rice crispy cake sessions with the kids and chit chat in Sainsburys.
I was one of the lucky ones but I know a lot who were alone in this time. It was not the ‘done thing’ to go to work and anyone that did was chastised because the media had said our place was at home. There was no-one opening up about the difficulty side of bringing up a child and there was no-one to make us laugh. The bad media says anything it wants for a reaction. Look at it like an attention-seeking child.
The problem is now that the power of the media is going down the toilet pan. I have seen this with the rise of my daughter’s blog and all the other bloggers who are writing about real experience over headline-grabbing chit chat.
I think the fact that Stephanie, Clemmie, Sarah, Katie and the comedy girls have a total of 520,000 Instagram followers over the writer of this article’s 10, feels a bit like panic writing to me. It feels sadly like jealousy.
I always said to my girls when they were growing up, when someone is nasty, just do more of what you love. Prove them wrong through doing. The game is up for cheap media because no one is listening to the attention-seeking child any more. They are reading, but not listening. They are listening to the mother of that child who has an honest answer for making those tantrums easier to handle.
Who gives a stuff if that is fish fingers served in a gin-filled beaker?
I won’t forget the women who made an old lady feel like she could learn something new at 65. That’s the power of what is happening now. The good is simply winning over the bad and the media can’t keep us down any more because we have more people listening to you lovely lot over them. They are panicking!
I would say, if ever in doubt, retaliate with the offer of a jammy dodger. Or if things get really bad, a chocolate digestive biscuit and a cup of tea. It tends to cheer most people up.
I will be taking over Anna’s account with the help of her managers Gleam Talent for a couple of weeks. Anna will be back when the baby is here and not being too tricky.
There’s a floodlit football pitch next to Mae’s nursery. It’s opposite the Leyton Orient stadium and it’s usually rammed with sweaty, slightly sweary youths tackling, dribbling and defending their way into the next big game. We walk past it hand-in-hand twice a day and while I’ve always hoped Mae will ask what they are doing and if she can play, I haven’t wanted to seed that point. If she wants to make delicate fondant roses in her recreational time that’s all good; if she wants to hit the Olympics in 2038 on the women’s footie team, then so be it.
“Mama, why is that ball black and white?”
The conversation began two weeks ago with questions firing from all directions – it was like an old game keeper suddenly being reacquainted with his rusty rifle. (“What are the spiky things on their feet? Why is that man just standing in the fishing net? Why is that man wearing silly shorts?”)
Then came the question: “why are there just boys”?
There were girls, they just didn’t train on this ground so once I’d had the affirmative that she wasn’t going down the fondant patisserie route, I called up Kiddikicks and booked three-year-old Mae in for her first football session to show her girls are definitely part of the game and she can definitely be one of the players.
It makes me happy – to the point of gurning like an excitable meerkat – that she’s naturally edged towards something that helped me navigate a multitude of teenage trouble and strife.
On the day that someone at school told me to “get a life” (I responded quickly with “get a haircut”; it was factual, her barnet needed a coif), I went to play hockey in the evening and came home with limited recollection of the mean exchange.
I found being good on the pitch – proving through doing – was the kudos, and inadvertently the popularity I sought.
That’s why I’m so behind companies like SSE getting behind women’s football. With an apt tagline ‘the energy behind women’s football’ and being the official sponsors of the WFA Cup, this is a company that understands girls will be girls and that doesn’t have to mean they play differently to boys.
While I loved a terrifyingly short Topshop frock like the rest of my peer group and certainly wasn’t an angel growing up in a world that had Hooch alcopops on a 2-for-1 in every Weatherspoons, it was what I did on the pitch that truly counted. That’s where friendships were truly won and whatever the game – hockey, football or tiddlywinks – that’s all I want for Mae. For her to find her place on the pitch (or in fondant rose-making realms) and realize it’s not about jealously thinking ‘what’s she doing’ but more about ‘what can we do together?”
Back of the net
SSE believes that everyone deserves the same opportunities, regardless of gender. They believe in the opportunity to discover new skills and confidence, the opportunity to make friends, the opportunity to be inspired and the opportunity to walk out in front of a hollering crowd at Wembley Stadium and play your socks off. So far, they have helped more than 1,000 girls to kick a ball and enjoy the game for the first time. At the SSE Women’s FA Cup Final, their ‘kids go free’ ticket offer has made the pinnacle of the game even more accessible to all. Let’s hear it for the boys and girls.
The recent launch of SSE Wildcats Girls’ Football Clubs will provide girls aged 5-11 with regular opportunities to play football and take part in organised sessions in a fun and engaging environment created exclusively for girls. SSE continue to show their commitment to increasing participation in the women’s game through this new initiative. The clubs will run from spring through summer on a weekly basis and aim to provide a fun and safe space for girls to learn the game and make friends.
This blog post was written in association with SSE
I’m seven months knocked up and while the idea of giving life is great and all, there’s The Fear of the newborn phase lurking beneath the surface. Those moments of being dazed, glazed and confused at 3am with a mewling infant attached to a mammary or bottle are less than ideal. Usually it’s a time when you can hear the hordes of youths coming home from a mammoth bender as your pneumatic eye twitch starts to kick in.
When Mae, my toddler was born I looked like I’d been on a three-month session to Ibiza’s Pacha – but without the fun times. I had blood shot eyes, the sort of dark circles associated with students in their first term of University and a pasty pallor that had aunties (and strangers on the 55 bus to Leyton) querying, “are you OK?”. There was little that could Sellotape over the maternal cracks other than coffee and hugs.
My mum (@grandmother_pukka) by contrast seemed to breeze through motherhood in the 80s looking fresh as a daisy with the dewy skin of someone who hadn’t touched a drop of caffeine or booze in her life. I looked back at photos of her and wondered how she managed to look effortlessly fresh, while I was all rough around the edges.
There are four things my mum had down:
A good eyebrow shape. She is a whizz with a pair of tweezers.
Rose water to keep that dewy complexion and deliver a calming scent every morning.
Oil of Ulay (now Olay) to keep her skin moisturised and soft as a baby’s derriere
Oh and she said “talk with your eyes. Whatever is going on around them will light up if you stay sparky in the peepers.”
So when I hinted at my fears for the new arrival, she got the tweezers out and plucked those little bushes into submission. She bought a vat of rose water to keep me going and ordered the new Olay Eyes Collection to help banish the purply bluish darkness, ease away the fine lines of weariness and bid adieu to any puffiness.
Apparently my mum is an enigma in her fresh-faced aesthetic – according to Olay research 80% of women report having worries about their eye area with 32% saying dark circles are their biggest issue. Armed with a perfectly arched brow, an abundance of rose water and the Olay Eyes Collection (Ultimate Eye Cream, Firming Eye Serum and Illuminating Eye Cream), all that’s left to do is get that sparkle back in my eye.
Might start that bit after the sleepless nights have subsided. Wish me luck.
Eyes on the prize
NEW Olay Ultimate Eye Cream is a three in one, multi-action eye cream that de-circles, de-wrinkles and de-puffs for instantly younger looking eyes. Keep your eyes on the prize team. Or simply try and stay awake.
This blog post was written in partnership with Olay.
How do you feel about sharing photos of your kid/s on the internet?
It’s a question I get asked at every turn – from glossy magazine journalists seeking a ‘I’m riddled with guilt’ response to kindly paisley print-swathed aunties in rural Bucks whose subtext is ‘bit concerned’.
Despite being asked the question possibly 27 times in the last year, it still throws me as I’m nibbling on a vol-aux-vent at Uncle Les’ golden wedding anniversary or doing a Marie Claire interview on the 55 bus to Leyton with toddler squawks of ‘I want a geeen one [Ella’s Kitchen pouch]’ peppering our dialogue.
It’s nothing to do with the legitimacy of the question, it’s absolutely relevant and in a digital world that’s snap chatting (or nap chatting) away, certainly food for knackered thought. After a light dig in the pixelated sand, there’s all sorts of reasons why it beggars a guilt-laden response: The Office of The Children’s eSafety Commissioner has a solid 1,456 words on its dedicated website highlighting the risks. (Dodgy folk can repurpose the image to distressing effect, while those with an eye for an iMac know when you’ve exited the building – ‘just off to the park with this imp!’ [cue ransacked abode]).
The French are batons-at-the-ready: parents can face fines of up to £30,000 if convicted of publicising intimate details of their kids without consent. Define ‘intimate’? Of the 200 photos we share of our kids every year (a 2016 study by Nominet), perhaps there’s one or two of the nipper in a paddling pool starkers or scrabbling about in a foam-laden bath. Who knows what sets the bad folk off into a sickening tailspin.
Then there’s the simple dictionary definition of ‘consent’: ‘To give permission for something to happen.” Pretty tricky for a verbally-challenged 6-month-old to give the thumbs up to a photo of them face-planting spag bol.
So why do I feel like a rabbit in the headlights when probed? Perhaps because I have a lurking sense that I should be guilt-riddled and unable to sleep at night; That I should be sitting in the French camp armed with a Brie-slathered baguette instead of an Instagram photo ready to upload. Perhaps I should be considering online safety over Valencia filters.
Perhaps it’s because when faced with a genuine query about the hospital we will deliver our next baby in, I found myself in the underbelly of the internet, reading swathes of distressing stories of women who’d suffered still births there. (“This hospital will kill your baby.”) From these excerpts, I’d found myself on a non-authoritative website declaring the hospital unfit and on some kind of ‘amber alert’. Perhaps I wasn’t aware that the hospital had a specialist neonatal unit that attracted the trickier cases among this quagmire of distress.
Perhaps I knew too much, perhaps I knew too little.
The questioning is legitimate, the sleeplessness and mild hormonal hysteria based on the ‘perhaps’ was less than ideal at 32 weeks pregnant.
All I have in my arsenal is the 37 mothers I know personally who want the best for their kids. There’s not one who would decant a can of Dr Pepper into an Avent baby bottle and consider immunisations against Polio a ‘nice to have’.
There’s not one who doesn’t try and make the right decision at every turn. There’s not one who doesn’t – in a sleep-deprived maternal panic – question a heat rash as the start of meningitis. Or fear their newborn is underfed, overfed, crying too much or crying to little at some point in the eye-twitching parental fug.
With breastfeeding, we know the nutritional accolades but alas sometimes those mammaries just don’t cough up the goods. Sometimes you’ve just got to hit the bottle. In terms of the archaic ‘stay at home’ versus ‘work away’ chat – in many ways the brand pillars of Australian sitcom Home or Away – sometimes both parents have to schelp through the 9-5 together to keep the bricks and mortar sturdy. Sometimes there’s no choice.
However you parent – from baby wearer through to Monster Munch mainliner – we need those fish fingers (or organic cod goujons), chips (or baked sweet potato wedges) and peas (that legume stalwart) on the table and Paw Patrol on the tele. We need to keep the kids alive. Unless you are a mate of Dicky Branson or have loose Russian billionaire oligarch links, it’s often a case of papering over the cracks – and sometimes overlooking the dark consequences that could, perhaps, lurk beneath.
There has to be a trust that while risks hover at every parental corner – in 2013, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists was advising women not to sit on new furniture or eat from a new frying pan – each is doing the best with the cards we’ve been dealt. There is no parental mecca. There is no grass is greener scenario, there isn’t anyone who breezes through parenthood thinking, ‘yep, got this one nailed – this kid is a boob-fed, corn-fed, organically-charged, academically-stimulated, well-rounded procreation machine. Well done us.’
Perhaps noone has everything down.
Because even though I used the Dr Pepper example above (something I did see last month outside Leyton Sainsburys), who am I to judge? Do I know what that mother is going through? Do I know what she’s battling? Do I know anything other than fizzy drinks are bad? Perhaps she’s a terrible mother who doesn’t care about her kid. Perhaps she’s a postnatally-depressed woman feeling alone and in need of a nook, not judgement.
Perhaps those that ‘over-share’ photos of their kids are narcissistic anti-carers with a consideration for likes over risks. Perhaps they’re lonely. Perhaps they simply want a record of their kids and through those months of mangled undercarriages and leaky boobs haven’t had time for a shower, let alone an analysis of their Instagram feed. Perhaps it’s how they make money to keep the slobbering wolf from the door.
Perhaps they will be faced with their kid saying, ‘oi mum, no’ at some point.
Because for every decision we make as parental folk, there will always be a perhaps.
Perhaps that’s why, for now, I will continue to upload instead of download.
One of the sole reasons I set Mother Pukka up (and started selling my family on the Internet) was to carve out more time with them. Even if that means having to wrangle a planking toddler into a buggy as a sea of blue-rinsed ladies judge on from the nearest bus stop. (#blessed). But it was also to fight for Mae’s right to work (if she chooses) after pregnancy without being discriminated against in a working world that currently does so. Even though this slightly mad journey has meant I’ve dropped a few balls along the way (school admissions form was in late and we don’t have a school place yet. Kudos to us), I have a long-term goal of making flexible working a reality for all our kids. If you believe in this, too, please get your company to sign up to the Working Forward pledge to stop the 54,000 women who are made redundant (or forced out of their jobs) for simply getting pregnant each year. Let’s do more than talk about flex, baby.
How do you get through the day? I’m not sure who’s asking but I’m telling: my life is an absolute shambles, peppered with varying levels of caffeine (depending on shut-eye) and a lot of beauty products to paper over the maternal cracks. I’ve tried things like iCalendar (sorry Grandma for putting in the wrong birthday date), I’ve gone old school with a Rolodex (the divine purple leopard print exterior was distracting), but now I’ve gone even further back into the Dark Ages with a simple pen and paper. I write stuff down and tick it off and then start again the next day.
Yes, I am, in many ways, going backwards in my multitasking, organizational approach.
I’m the one who prefers a Nokia brick over the latest smart phone. I have stacks of records over loads of downloads and I am willing the portable CD player to make a dramatic comeback. (Along with H from Steps). Sometimes the simple things work and included in that is downtime; something that’s easy to say but harder to do.
My husband calls it ‘special time’, which makes it sound dodgier than it is. I’m basically – at 8 months pregnant – stewing in the bath like a knocked-up whale listening to Desert Island Discs with some sort of facial condiment slathered across my chops. It confuses Matt, so he just leaves me to it with an occasional: “you OK in there?”. But without that half hour to gently unravel my caffeinated thoughts I’d be on par with a frazzled vole at this point.
Multi-masking is, indeed, the new multi-tasking. You can’t just expect mind, body and soul to keep chuntering on without a bit of respite from the daily life storm. Stewing in a hot bath resembling a terrifying character from Monsters Inc. is, indeed, my only way to keep the thoughts clear and the ‘to do’ list in check.
My glow-to (yep, actually did that) is GLAMGLOW. While I love a nice relaxing face mask, I’m all about stuff that actually works. (And no, this isn’t a forced ‘#ad’; I got sent the product when I worked at Grazia and have been a firm advocate ever since). Y’see, there’s no point just lathering up your face with product if you look just as knackered post-soak. There’s six masks to choose from that do more than just paper over the cracks; they fix the cracks and leave you looking, perhaps, not 10 years younger but definitely 10 weeks younger.
Whether you are a gym or gin bunny, cupcake maker or cocktail shaker, working from home or working away, boob feeding, bottle feeding, Instagram feeding, we all need to sometimes take a break before we actually break.
If in doubt, glow with the flow.
[BOX] It’s all about you
Fancy joining me to hear more about multi-tasking and multi-masking? Come along to the GLAMGLOW London pop-up store on the evening of 10 May from 6-8 pm and help me celebrate my birthday while getting lots of cool freebies, including three samples of the various muds, 20 percent off of the products on the night, a bounceback card giving 20 percent off online following the event, skincare consultation on the evening, canapes and Prosecco. The pop-up is there for three weeks (there’s a dedicated ‘Mud Bar’) so if you can’t make the 10th, head on down anytime. Glow on.
The event is free but only available to the first 40 (maximum 2 tickets per person) of you who click this link here.
This blog post was written in partnership with GLAMGLOW
I remember flying to Amsterdam on my own last year. I was without Mae and without The Stuff. (We’re talking iPad, 29 felt tips, Peppa Pig magazine she won’t read, Tupperware-of-carrot-sticks-she-won’t-eat, gargantuan stuffed dinosaur – that gets abandoned 14 minutes into journey – and 11 changes of clothes in case of every emergency.)
That one toddler-free 45-minute flight felt like a veritable mini break – nay, a two-week all-inclusive deal to The Bahamas. I even had a cheeky G&T and a packet of dry roasted, which is the parental Dream. But while airports give me low level palpitations with the offspring in tow – “Are we nearly there yet?”; “I need a wee. NOW”; “I don’t like holidays” – it can be a seamless experience if you know the right nooks and crannies.
Over at Heathrow, they have a full stable of kid-friendly, well actually more parent-friendly activities that can keep your eye twitch at a manageable level and the kids shtum. Here sits a line-up that will keep your parental sanity in check and those toddler meltdowns banished. (Until, of course, you get on the flight and all hell breaks loose – then you’re on your own team. Strength.)
Off the rails
If your brood hits a brick wall before you’ve left the house and you just need to get to Heathrow asap, slip everyone onto the Heathrow Express at Paddington and get there in 15 minutes – with wifi and phone chargers in position to sort all your digital needs. Kids travel for free so it’s just the old folk who need to grab a ticket.
Like to move it, move it
Never underestimate the power of the travelator to get the team from A to B at speed. Heathrow has them in abundance and if you enter with the kid sitting on a Trunki you can overtake The General Public. We covered the length of the airport in approximately 9 minutes 34 seconds flat. Mo Farrah, move along.
Get into character
Who doesn’t love Mr Men? Well, Heathrow has their own dedicated Mr Adventure who can be found ambling around the airport ready to offer up a bosomy hug and raise a smile. We came across this sunshine-fuelled figure as Mae was on the brink of a meltdown. Nothing like it for popping a coat hanger smile on the toddler’s chops.
Do you like food? Do you like free food? This has to be a double yes, otherwise I am concerned. Well, for every adult that eats at The Perfectionist Café – and many of the other restaurants at Heathrow – the kids eat for free. Yep, that’s a whole lot of saving right there and usually a steaming plate of spag bol can quash the toddler hanger (hunger/anger) from rearing it’s inconsolable head. To check out which restaurants offer free kids food, and when go here
Play it cool
There is a dedicated soft play area in all Heathrow terminals. I repeat: a safe, supervised area where the kids can gallop about a bit while you catch up on Instagram. This was an absolute godsend when we travelled to Portugal a few weeks ago. The only issue is getting them out of there. “Noooo Mama, I don’t want to go on holiday.”
As I’m getting ready to have baby number 2 (“splash down” as Matt affectionately refers to it), I’m all eyes on the breastmilk prize. Apparently new regulations say that when travelling with a sprog, you’re allowed to take enough baby food, milk and sterilised water for the journey – and in some cases this will be over 100ml. Boob milk – unfrozen – can be carried in hand luggage even if you’re not travelling with the kid but baby bottles must no go over the 2,000ml mark and it will need proper screening by the airport folk. Essentially your kid can have a snack and the airport won’t make you feel like a maternal pariah. Try not to slip a Baileys through this way: even if you are on a long haul flight with three hyperactive kids.
This content was created in association with Heathrow Airport.
Despite a lovely (and possibly well-meaning) old lady on the bus yesterday saying, ‘you are definitely carrying a girl – they tend to make you expand more’, I’m feeling good about being knocked up. I’m at 6 months now after a pretty tricky route to get here – I even challenged Kate Middleton’s morning sickness during those first few weeks – and I’m looking forward to being able to holler from the rooftops that I’m ‘ready to pop’. (No doubt you’ll see me coming like a little slow-moving armoured vehicle if my bus comrade has anything to say.)
But the one treat-like morsel that has been by my side these last few months – in sickness and in health – is Little Dish’s savoury toddler snacks, Pop Pops. Sure, they are for kids, but these chickpea-based snacks are like a healthy crisp infused with all the good flavours like cheese and sweet pepper. In short they are crisps with healthy benefits. Win-win right there.
Mae immediately saw me chowing down like a trooper and said ‘mama can I have some crispies [crisps]?” Usually when that request lands, it’s a no because of the low-level guilt that I haven’t allowed fruit, vegetable or pulse to head towards her bouche in a 24-hour period. But on this occasion the parental relief was palpable: ‘yes, Squidge, go for yer life. Have two packs if you want. Bathe in the lil’ guys.”
I immediately looked like a maternal queen. Mae’s eyes were Bambi-like and loving – as they can only be when you’ve offered up sweets, crisps or a noisy toy that’s going to slowly drive you round the bend.
“You are welcome poppet… you’ve deserved them.”
I think with another bun in the maternal oven I was wondering how I’d be able to successfully chop the carrot sticks and take to other such snacking tasks to keep Mae fed and watered alongside a mewling newborn. I’m not a great multi-tasker and often end up confusedly wearing two pairs of knickers that makes me seem worryingly unhinged compared to The Normal People. So to have a go-to snack that I know she’s going to scoff like a little Hoover (“want some crispies poppet chops?”) and fills her up with the good stuff is a spot on parental solution right there.
I will, of course, always ensure that’s an extra pack or two for mama. If my bus-going mate has anything further to say, I’m sure it would be, “are you sure you aren’t nine months? You really do look ready to pop.”
**No lovely lady, 6 months, definitely 6**
This post was written in partnership with Little Dish.
We didn’t do the maths, really. A two-bedroom house for four people (one due to arrive on the scene on 22 June) is getting a tad cosy. I say we didn’t do our maths right, we probably just didn’t work hard enough in our GCSEs.
But that room to human ratio means we’re having to be nifty with our space. The outside toilet (yes, really; it’s a feature) has become a plastic toy graveyard, while our kitchen has had to become mine and Matt’s escape from the abundance of Lego and other foot-crippling carnage in the living room.
Instead of a kitchen-diner, we’ve gone the kitchen-spa route. It’s unique, sure but really why wouldn’t a cauldron of beef bourguignon match perfectly with a jasmine-infused candle and some tittering panpipes? Cooking pilates has to become a thing at some point. (Apparently goat yoga is sweeping the states at the moment – anything is possible).
With space of the essence and fuelled by this immense stat – the average UK household now contains 34 unused kitchen gadgets, worth £267 per home going to waste, according to research from Deliveroo – we rolled up our sleeves and had an epic clear out.
I have a herb blender that has never met a herb in it’s life; there’s the gargantuan cake tin that’s housing a few solitary almonds with a Best Before Date of 2 January 2015 and our wedding topper embellished with mouldy icing. There’s the weird pan my mum ‘handed down’ (read: deposited at ours) that has something distressing burnt to it’s botty – something even a chef’s knife can’t dislodge. There’s also the portable coffee frother that barely conjures up a millimeter of foam – seven bubbles max. That’s not forgetting the five cheese graters dotted about the place in case of an emergency cheese grating situation. (One wouldn’t want to be in the middle of nuclear war without a stable of those cheese-savaging guys). It must be noted, we have an army of graters and, yet, still no garlic crusher; adulting is really confusing at times.
Oh and while maths isn’t my thing, take a moment to consider there’s 26.7m households in the UK. That’s a whole lotta redundant kitchen stuff – we’re talking 907,800,000 kitchen items – or over £7 billion worth of equipment – taking up space in bulging cupboards across the UK.
So team, whatcha gonna do? Ditch the old wedding present relics, edit down your spatula collection, pop the ice cream maker on the market – because, really, we must support our local ice cream van man. But more than anything, ease this stuff out of your place in true Spring clean style so your kitchen can double up as a Zen-like arena of tranquility and Deliveroo takeaway prawn vindaloo curry. They say home is where the heart is – all we want is a bit of head space and to be able to cheese grate in peace, really.
On yer bike
To encourage a kitchen spring clean Deliveroo has introduced a novel way to give these unloved gadgets and gizmos a new and environmentally-friendly function. Working with Design Works engineer, Sean Miles, they have designed and built a fully-functional bicycle, constructed entirely from the least-used kitchen items in the UK – including biscuit-cutters, whisks and blenders.The Deliveroo up-cycle, now joins the fleet of 12,000 riders that deliver food to across the UK every day.
This blog post was written in partnership with Deliveroo.
I remember my husband Matt venturing into Chanel the day before my birthday. (It was noted it was the day before; limited planning). He returned aghast. “£3,000 for a frock? Who are these people?” He went in and simply picked up a little black dress in that revered Parisiene emporium and plonked it on the counter. I truly wish I’d been there to see the heavily-bearded one be informed of the price tag. I ended up with a keyring.
But come to think of it, I don’t think I’ve ever bought anything designer at full price. I love a knock-out piece but get greater joy when it’s a little knock-down Saint Laurent number. It’s mainly my bank balance that encourages this approach – despite preying for a Lottery win, I am unlikely to ever be in £3,000 frock realms.
I will never forget a pair of Marni block heels that rang in at £39.99 in an outlet store. That’s a price hard to beat on the well-worn High Street. I can barely walk in them, of course but they look divine in my wardrobe and when I do whip them out, they tend to draw all eyes to the prize. “Oh my gosh, are those Marni?” Yes, yes they are – but at a Topshop price. You bag the kudos for the brand and the amazement at your razor sharp financial savviness – win-win.
For truly palpitation-inducing discounts (think up to 90% off Alexander McQueen et al.), you’d be good to check out BrandAlley. From sky scraper heels and on-trend faux fur muffs from all your designer favourites, this is your one-stop-shop for the best deals on the fashion block. While you have to wait a couple of weeks for your item (time apart makes the heart grow fonder, no?), you’ll be able to swoop in on all those sales and know it’s in the bag. And, relax.
If waiting isn’t your game, then fear not, BrandAlley will be right up your, well, street. The permanent outlet is brimming with designer must-haves that can be in your sweaty palms within 2-4 working days. Think that coveted pair of Jimmy Choos landing on your doorstep at the click of a button. Dreaming is believing.
More than anything, my Ma always told me to invest in ‘good quality basics’ and fuelled by that maternal advice and a need for The Stuff, I’d say it’s in the bag. The Gucci bag, of course.
To win this exclusive Alexander Wang bag (the one I’m sporting), click here to enter. If you use the code PUKKA10, you’ll get £10 off when you spend £50. This offer lasts until 26 March. Y’are welcome.
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Register with BrandAlley for a chance to win.
Prize Alexander Wang Black Leather Small Diego Bucket Bag.
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This blog post was created in partnership with BrandAlley.
If you haven’t threatened to call Father Christmas/ The Easter Bunny/ The Tooth Fairy at least 3,456 times to inform them of ‘bad behaviour’, then are you even a parent?
Sure, we all tell our children that lying is bad, but sometimes we need to tell little white lies every now and then and that’s ok. In many ways, it’s just survival. For example, on the dreaded ‘silent’ train carriage, I have impressed on Mae there’s a word count of 5o for the journey. She can’t really count so we start about 48, which gives her two words to play with. She takes to this game like a dog to a bone – that’s a parental win, no? True lies, perhaps.
So to celebrate chucking a few porkies out there and ahead of the new show Big Little Lies launching to NOW TV on Monday 13th March, I’ve teamed up with NOW TV and starred in a hilarious video alongside Claudia Winkleman and the Scummy Mummies to confess our most favoured little white lies.
Just love these chicks for their all-out honesty and for offering up some humorous light in what we all know is a parental storm. To check out my favoured lie/parent win, check out the video below. Away with the guilt team, and here’s to survival of the fittest (or, perhaps, shittest?)
Watch the premiere of Big Little Lies on Monday 13 March at 9pm with a NOW TV Entertainment Pass for just £6.99 per month. Watch the exclusive drama unfold on Sky Atlantic, new episodes Mondays.
The ‘mum guilt’ is a wily mistress; she creeps up on you when you least expect it. You think you’ve got over the fact you’ve moved from boob to bottle (feeding, I must add) and then the furrowed brow emerges once again. From not pureeing enough carrots to sticking your kid in front of Paw Patrol when an urgent work email lands, it’s a slippery, never-ending slope of maternal concern and wanting to bag the prize for excellence, not just effort.
While I’ve ditched all the vegetable-related concern, perhaps the worst guilty displeasure I’ve encountered since growing a human is feeling like I’ve let my troop of mates down. Pre-splashdown I was ricocheting from Nandos dinner date to post-breakup hugs with the dedicated enthusiasm of an E-colour-fuelled toddler. I rarely let anyone down; I was a friend with vodka benefits. I prided myself on creating bespoke photo albums for my clan and being the last one to leave a mate’s birthday to ensure she hooked up with the right squeeze.
At the moment one thing has been on my to-do-list for too long is, ‘buy Melissa present’. Melissa is one of my closest friends; we met in Amsterdam five years ago and I have heady memories of us cycling hand-in-hand (it took some balance and a lot of hash cake) through those cobbled streets. She was there for me when I miscarried, she was there for me (fizzy sweets in hand) when I had a horrific day at work that left me snot bubbling into her cashmere jumper. She was (and is) a top notch mate.
Melissa had her baby in December last year. I still haven’t managed to meet that little extension of this wonderful woman. For numerous reasons we’ve both been unable to make timings it work. The last time I was struck with cystitis and literally had to choose the toilet over my mate – dark friendship times.
I think it was at that point that I just went ‘feck it’. I might not be there in person but that doesn’t mean I can’t offer up the same heartfelt love on par with those fizzy cola bottles she proffered up in Amsterdam. As a former Horticulture Week reporter (it followed on from a successful stint on Practical Caravan), I do love a bloom. Even if the rest of my life or house is a shambles, a knock-out perennial can lift a mood/room in a flash.
So I pressed the button on Bloom & Wild’s flower delivery service and off they went. Straight to her door, through her letterbox (yep, they are flat-packed and land in top nick) and into her hands with the message ‘I love you. That is all.’ (Ironically I saw her the following day so could deliver a bosomy hug; the flowers were like a conciliatory amuse bouche in many ways.)
While it might not be a Nandos dinner date or a massive mash-up in town, it was me reaching out to her so that we were once again wobbling along on those old Dutch bikes totally out of our minds but undeniably happy.
It’s time to truly knock guilt on the head – power to the flower, indeed.
This blog post was written in partnership with Bloom & Wild.
This is no brown-nosing exercise, nor is it fan girling. At a push it’s fan nosing.
But I’ve watched the meteoric rise of Giovanna Fletcher through the pixels and rooted for her success like I would that of my own daughter in future egg and spoon races. It’s a primal maternal support she ignites that filters into everything she does; from brilliantly normal everyday Instagram posts about blustery walks with her two sons Buzz and Buddy to infectious hyperventilating laughter with her husband Tom (of McFly acclaim) in the back of a cab. (Like, you can’t stop smiling when they’re on camera together; it’s not sickly or saccaharine, it’s simply real and snort-tea-through-nose-funny).
But that’s really at the heart of where Giovanna’s (I’ll roll with the more familiar ‘Gi’ until the restraining order lands) coming from – she’s not just a poster girl for womanhood, motherhood or rainhoods (in times of moist weather). She’s a bringer-together-of-the-people – men and women. For every post about a small independent brand she’s supporting, there’s a raw, unfiltered photo of her up close and personal with the caption ‘this is who I am. It’s just who I am and that’s OK’. All of this is peppered with clear support and a genuine ‘I dig you regardless of your odd socks’ love for Tom.
It’s inclusive, endearing, supportive and ultimately honest – much like her new book Happy Mum, Happy Baby.
In this brilliantly (at times eye-moistening) account of motherhood, she charts her maternal journey from the beginning (trying to get knocked up through the shitness of PCOS) to the end (splash down) with good, bad and ugly weaved throughout.
Reading about her fears of conception and all the medical implications around that seemingly simple process helps you see a woman who is – despite the hollering McFly crowds – just like us. Reading about her experience of miscarriage hit a few personal notes and, yet, somehow she delivers the experience in an inclusive way. If anything it’s like receiving a bosomy maternal hug through the medium of prose.
And that’s what the whole book is to me. It’s a maternal hug for those dark mastitis-addled 3am feeds. It’s a smile at the end of one of those days where you’ve found a cheerio embedded in your hair and you cried for no reason at all at the merrcat in the Compare The Market.com ads. It’s a non-preachy tome to accompany a rare hot cup of tea (and requisite Jammy Dodger) and it’s a heartfelt account of one woman – a woman just like us – who has laughed as much as she’s cried on this mad, meandering road through parenthood.
One thing’s for sure, Giovanna is certainly not just with the band. (And I will continue to fan nose.)
Happy Mum, Happy Baby is available to buy now here. Giovanna’s husband Tom’s new digital book There’s a monster in your book is available here. Here the pair are supporting our #parentfail campaign for charity @righttoplayintl:
I was walking through the baby food aisle at Tesco when I felt the blood between my thighs. I was convinced it was happening – that I was miscarrying. We’d recently started trying for our second child, and somewhere between the gummy smiles of the babies on the Pampers packs and the Tommee Tippy sippy cups, I lost any sense of reality and left a laden shopping basket to run to the toilets. There was no blood – I wasn’t even pregnant – but I found myself uncontrollably sobbing.
One in four pregnancies is believed to end in a miscarriage – loss of a pregnancy during the first 23 weeks – yet so little is said about this lurking elephant in the room.
The very fact that it’s so common gives way to a sense that we should just soldier on into the reproductive unknown. “At least you can get pregnant,” is something that has been offered up to me by well-meaning friends and doctors alike, in the hope of offering solace, but it often has the opposite, almost isolating effect.
There is no silver lining, miscarriage is deeply traumatic. If you know what it is to love someone, you know what it is to lose someone.
Last week, doctors at Imperial College London reported that four in ten women who have a miscarriage go on to develop post traumatic stress disorder, characterised by flashbacks and nightmares. These may not start for months or even years after the event, the researchers said.
Those findings struck me deeply.
I had three miscarriages – at 7, 9 and 11 weeks – before having our daughter, Mae, now three. Each time, I went for the routine check-up afterwards to make sure all foetal matter had come away. It was clinical, it was purely biological and there was limited room for the emotional. Was it that stress-fuelled moment I ran to catch that Southwestern train? The glasses of wine I drank before realising I was pregnant? The post-miscarriage questioning is relentless, the guilt overwhelming. Yet I boxed this all up – other people seemed to navigate it without any public displays, I thought, and so should I.
My partner, Matt, was also faced with his own layers of grief and the broken fragments of a wife who was distant, irrational and ultimately distraught. Everyone in the family has at some point imagined that foetus as a sibling, nephew, niece, grandchild – a vision of the future that gives you all something huge to lose.
Having Mae seemed to fill the gaping hole of the three children I’d lost. I threw myself into motherhood with the gusto of an E colour-fuelled toddler, and any pain I’d felt before was lost in a world of Fisher Price and toothless grins – or so I assumed.
It was only when we began trying again for a sibling for her this year, that I realised I had merely Sellotaped over the cracks. The damage of those previous losses was simply lurking beneath the surface.
I began dreaming about leaving Mae behind in a car park, and frantically trying to find her to no avail. I’d dream of giving birth to nothing; it was all simply a figment of my imagination and the hospital were frustrated with me wasting their time, despite the fact I had a physical bump. I dreamt of giving birth to another child, and to wake up to that empty disappointment was galling.
The physicality of passing the embryo sack, housing that lifeless foetus, is something I had never dwelled upon in our first three miscarriages. Now that unmistakeable feeling came flooding back, vividly, at seemingly random moments, like that day in the supermarket. I couldn’t see that a visual trigger such as a pack of nappies had sparked an irrational, deeply traumatised response.
We’d been told that our risk of miscarriage remained high, and so I was fearing the loss at every corner.
And when we did miscarry again – for a fourth and fifth time – the original trauma was compounded.
“At least you already have a child,” said a particularly stoic auntie over Easter as we had to explain we’d lost another baby. But I couldn’t adopt that approach anymore.
Giving birth to our fifth ‘inviable form’ in the toilets of my daughter’s daycare was something that pushed me into PTSD terrain.
“Mama, why are you crying?” my three-year-old asked, as the cries of babies echoed around those primary-hued walls. I was crumpled on the toilet, weeping ‘black tears’ – as Mae calls mascara-laden sadness.
As we walked home, I explained to Mae that I’d lost a baby. She asked in a rather matter-of-fact manner, “Why did the baby fall out?”. It was perhaps one of the first questions that helped my route to some form of recovery or, at least, acceptance. Facing the trauma that you have gone through verbally – even if with a toddler – is the first step to understanding this is not simply ‘common’ and it is OK to grieve.
“Sometimes through no fault of your own, a baby doesn’t stay in,” I responded.
“Can the doctor put a new one in? Can the next one be black?” Mae earnestly queried. It was the first time I’d laughed in a week.
Some close friends and family were concerned we’d told Mae about our losses. But I realised this time that if I was going to accept what had happened, I needed to be honest with everyone – including the three-year-old who I spent most waking moments around.
I sought out private grief counselling soon after that. I knew if I didn’t take the steps to talk to someone outside of my family, I might start to drive us apart. My breezy approach to having a second child masked a deep pain beneath.
Last week’s findings reflect a need for better support for couples who experience a miscarriage.
“We have checks in place for postnatal depression, but we don’t have anything in place for the trauma and depression following pregnancy loss,” says Jessica Farren, lead author of the study. “Yet the symptoms that may be triggered can have a profound effect on a woman’s everyday life, from her work to her relationships with friends and family.”
Last weekend, I peed on the blue stick once more. The positive line was equally familiar, yet unfamiliar, filling me once more with that potent cocktail of dread and beaming happiness.
It’s early days and I don’t know if this one will stick around, but I’ve realized that it is OK to take a break before you actually break. That speaking to someone, anyone – even if it is your own three-year-old daughter – can help you navigate that heart-wrenching time ‘the baby fell out’.
I am disappointed to reveal that there hasn’t been much excitement for me in the toilet arena over the years. I never had a fumble in a pub bog and I never took a Dip Dab lolly from the skanky wicker basket in Northampton’s Ritzy. (Just couldn’t get my head around scoffing something after having a wazz; my loss, perhaps).
But today all my toilet dreams came true in Marks & Spencer, Stratford. No fumbles, no free Wham bars and no revolutionary advances to the humble crapper. Just a sign – a sign that had a man holding a baby. A sign that indicated that a man could wipe infant arse as well as a woman. Thank the shitting gods.
I risked seeing a few hairy pickles in the name of investigative journalism to ensure this man/dad-friendly effluence station delivered the goods. There it was – a baby changing table beaming down triumphantly next to the urinals. Two very simple additions: a sign (guestimate: £30) and a hunk of baby-facilitating plastic that retails at £69.99 on eBay. Not much to ask, really and yet, this was, indeed A Moment – even more exciting than if I’d taken Dean from Abbey National up on his fruity offer in the Red Lion.
I’ve lost count of the times Matt (@papa_pukka) has headed off stridently to a restaurant toilet with a soiled squawker only to return defeated (or, perhaps, relieved; we must not get above our station, wiping arse is shit). And we’re not talking small independent organic hipster gafs – the full gamut from monolithic supermarket chain to family-friendly restaurants, complete with colouring-in packs, has turned a blind eye to the wanger-bearing contingent.
It’s just a sign, it’s just a bit of light DIY to tack on the side of plans for the intricate, brand-addled serviette dispenser that shows your restaurant/ festival/ pub/ shopping centre/ surgery/ maternity ward understands that most Dads don’t just scarper post-spunk.
More than anything it’s a basic nod to a world that has moved on from women being left holding the baby. The minute I had Mae, I was so physically and mentally mangled, Matt had no choice but to cradle her in his hairy man pit. He changed her first mustard-hued nappy, he gave this 6lb mewling infant her first dunk. He had an eye-wateringly hilarious meltdown when her belly button scab fell off. (“What the fuck do I do with it? Do people keep it? God, who are those people?”)
He’s taken 2,457 photos of her surreptitiously (I only saw his Dropbox last year and it reduced me to a weeping mess) to my 1,456. He’s, furrow-browed, questioned her broccoli intake more than me and ordered her educational toy after educational toy in the vain hope that it will break through my natural penchant for a stuffed Disney stalwart.
He’s a primary, not secondary carer. Like a relentless basketball game, if he drops the ball, I pick it up and if he slam dunks, we high five. Like, we actually high fived when we seamlessly managed to clean up a basinet of chunder on an Emirates flight to our mate’s wedding in Dubai.
We’re ebbing and flowing – often huffily in the face of procreation-fuelled exhaustion – around this kid. And sure I think he could offer up more in the waking-up-when-she-cries-in-the-night department, while I’m sure he’s concerned by my baby gro draw admin. But we’re parenting. Not dadding or mumming. A parental unit. We’ve been fighting hard to get to a place where women are equal in the workplace, so why not offer up an even more common denominator on the side – make us equal in the humble crapper.
Marks & Sparks (not sure if anyone who isn’t a parent from the 80s still calls it that), thank god for thinking outside the cubicle. Bog standards, indeed.
While Ashton Kutcher got hacked off on behalf of US Dads (“I’ll give a shout out on all my channels to the first restaurant that installs baby changing facilities in the Dad’s restroom”), the UK has Al Ferguson, founder of The Dad Network here to flush this shit away. His #dadsforchange campaign names and shames the places that are letting the paternal side down.
Here’s Matt Farquharson’s (@papa_pukka) guide to swatting away resistance to flexible working
‘If we did it for you, we’d have to do it for everyone’.
‘How would I know you were doing any work?’
‘I need to know where you are’.
And on it goes.
Employers are legally required to consider one flexible working request a year from anyone who has worked for them for more than six months. But they’re not obliged to accept it. So I asked for the most common reasons why your requests for flexible working were turned down, then asked the experts how to handle those objections.
Here are some options, split into the quietly human (the As), the stat-tastic (Bs), and the outright bolshie (Cs). The Cs came from me.
If you’re at home, how will we know what you’re doing?
A: By seeing what I do. I can take the time to report in more, I can suggest measurable objectives. Whatever it takes to make this work.
B: Perhaps you don’t need to, and could focus on what I produce. One recent Stanford University study found that home-workers in China did 13.5% more work than those in the office – that’s almost a whole extra day’s work each week – and were happier in their jobs.
C: The same way you do when I’m shackled to my laminated-MDF-desk/factory-line/headset – but seeing how many spreadheets/widgets/sales I’ve produced, you binary-thinking progress-obstacle.
It’s too expensive
A: It shouldn’t mean more expense. I can suggest the hours in a way that works for both of us and it’ll mean I’m happier and more loyal as a result.
B: Actually, it can save money. It costs on average £5,000 to hire a new employee in the UK. When you add the time costs of getting the newbie up to speed it hits £30,000, according to Acas. But 76% of employers saw staff retention improve when they offered flexible working.
C: It’ll cost you more to replace me. Now shuffle your tuckus over here and sign it off.
If we did it for you, we’d have to do it for everyone
A: The business case is different each time and you’re under no obligation to give it to everyone. In my case, I want flexible working to succeed enough to make sure it does.
B: Great, you’ll become a much more attractive employer. Some 30% of the UK’s working population (8.7 million people) wants flexible working but doesn’t have it, yet only 6% of advertised jobs with a salary above £20,000 actually offer it.
C: Good. You’ll have a happier workforce and earn more money. Now fetch your diary.
It’s too difficult to manage
A: I believe in two-way flexibility, and will do all I can to manage this myself. So trust me and at least let’s have a go.
B: It can lead to management efficiencies, effectively keeping the business open for longer each day. There is lots of free advice and software online. And it’s a lot easier to manage a company with great staff retention. In the US, for example, 46% of companies that allow remote working say it has reduced attrition and 95% of employers say it has a high impact on employee retention.
C: Not for anyone who can be trusted to operate a stapler it isn’t. It isn’t hard, is what I’m saying.
We have a shift system
A: I’m asking to change my shift pattern, not end it. Why don’t we explore with the whole team what is possible? I’ve already spoken to some of them and think we can come up with a rota that works. Why don’t we have a trial period and review it.
B: Perhaps that is something that should be addressed. It is widely accepted that shift work reduces sleep quality, increases fatigue, anxiety, depression, neuroticism, adverse cardiovascular effects, gastrointestinal disorders and can be harmful t pregnant women.
C: Then shift it.
You’ll be less productive
A: I think the reverse is true. I want this to work, so will make sure that my productivity doesn’t suffer.
B: In a survey of 2,200 businesses in the UK, 81% of senior managers said flexible working improves productivity. A global survey of 20,000 business found that 72% of businesses reported increased productivity as a direct result of flexible working.
C: You know what makes me unproductive? Not seeing my kid. Why not see what I can do when my mind’s really on the job.
We have lots of impromptu meetings and need you here for those
A: We can agree core hours when I’d be here, like 10am to 4pm. I’m not going to just hole up at home, and perhaps we’d be more productive with more scheduled meetings, so everyone can manage their time.
B: Remote meetings are more productive, because everyone gets to the point. They are greener, as they involve less travel. Remote working is incredibly popular: a recent US survey found that 36% of staff would choose it over a pay rise. And if you roll this out across the firm, you can save on rent, too. Lambeth Council will save £4.5 million per year in property costs by having no more than 60% of its staff in at one time.
C: Can you spell ‘Skype’? Would you like me to explain what telephones are?
I had vague memories of sandy, baking hot campsites in the South of France growing up where you’d have nothing but a deflated football for entertainment. They were good days and while there wasn’t much in terms of polish (or even Coca Cola; disappointing to a five-year-old), it was somewhere to cut loose from all the pressures of learning the alphabet and wondering how Old McDonald kept on top of everything.
So when I heard of the family-friendly Sani Resort, an hour south of Thessaloniki in Greece, I was a little skeptical. Even though the recommendation came through my mate Jane in Amsterdam (70% of their bookings are repeat business), I wasn’t sure it would have the same Great Escape vibes as those shoddy campsites.
Sure, they’d have all the gear. And when I say gear, you guys know what I’m talking about – travel cots, high chairs, inflatables, plastic beakers, multi-hued straws that need to be presented for colour selection at every meal. (Lord forbid the resort runs out of the much-coveted green ones). Oh and staff that actually speak to the kids instead of dismissing them as toe rags. All this Sani has in abundance. But might a dedicated resort with it’s own marina have a little too much ‘don’t touch this kids’ to it?
After the seamless three-hour flight, we landed at what has been referred to as family mecca. My initial feeling was it’s more parent-friendly than anything – the kids are fully catered for but there’s a distinct Ibiza cool vibe to the whole place with the infinity pool overlooking Bousoulas Beach and the wicker chairs dotted about the place.
While I was doing a weekend recce alone and sans enfant (it felt like a blimmin’ sabbatical), I was scouting it out for a longer jaunt with the full fam – granny and granndad included for that handy extra pair of eyes/hands. But to be honest I barely got beyond the sun loungers. An often overlooked item at any hotel or resort, these aren’t your average limp sponge-swathed rickety structures that everyone’s elbowing for. We’re talking rows of flumpy cloud-like pillowy beds that’ll have you snoozing well into sunburn territory.
While the main pool is packed with offspring of the well-heeled parents dotted about the loungers, it’s not overwhelming or elitist. Noone is packed in like a frazzled sardine and even the piercing screams of a newborn get swallowed into the ripple of a nearby water feature.
So, yes, parent-friendly is where it’s at. That’s not to say the kids aren’t all right. With a dedicated on-site crèche rammed with the newest toys on the block, the staff greet us with genuine coat hanger smiles and the kids look like they’re having a ball. Its handily located next to the luxe spa, so mama and baby can have a little mini break. There was a sign on the nearby beach to the spa that read “Fancy a bit of sun and sex? We’ll look after the kids for 30 minutes.” I thought that was bold but brilliant facility until I was told the chalkboard said ‘sea not sex’. “Ah, fancy a bit of sun and sea?”
(They should probably consider the former as a legitimate part of the package, though.)
The marina is very much the heart of Sani life with a whopping 17 restaurants and bars that won’t leave you wishing you had a Swiss bank account or getting bored of the same fare. Traditional Greek restaurant Ergon serves up meze dishes such as Ntolmadakia vine leaves in herbs, fava beans purée with cured pork with caramelised onions and chicken souvlaki in yoghurt and cumin on Cretan wild rice. Despite my reservations about resort restaurants and Greek food itself, it was top notch fodder and I left fully sated, although resembling a jacket potato. Must learn my limits.
The aptly-named Macaroni Italian restaurant, and highly rated Tomata tends to be where families radiate but because of the vast space it doesn’t feel like you’re involved in every toddler tantrum – this is a resort that’s been constructed around parental calm. In short, they understand the stuff that drives families apart in a cramped Pizza gaf at an M25 service station.
Perhaps the best spot for a room with some phew is Porto Sani (known as the ‘well-being’ hotel due to its Zen-like Spa Suite). Rooms are in garden and junior suites that line the pools, all swathed in pink fuchsia bougainvillea and shaded by lush palms that make Greece seem more exotic than it perhaps is.
Some of the junior suites have enough room to accommodate two small children on sofa beds in the lounge, which makes a bit of a cash saving. There’s all the usual trimmings you’d expect from this sort of place – Nespresso machines, Bose iPod deck and Anne Semonin products in the bathroom.
But polish aside and regardless of how parent-friendly the whole resort is, it’s all about the kids. If the kids are happy, the parents can ease into those pillowy sun loungers with gusto and start ordering the crudites and negronis. With heated pools, a balmy 25 degrees and beaches galore for sand castle constructing, there was a sense of kids being able to fully run riot – regardless of the staff wafting about in immaculate white uniforms.
While it’s not a ramshackle, dusty campsite with a deflated neon football for entertainment, one kid galloping past me, knocking me sideways with his younger brother in tow hollered, ‘race you to the big blue yacht’. More polished, yes, but they also serve Coca Cola so perhaps I’ve grown up?
Seven nights half-board at Porto Sani from £1,057 from April 10, 2017, sani-resort.com. easyJet flies to Thessaloniki from London Gatwick five times a week, from £87 return. easyjet.com
About a year ago, the urchin joined a new daycare where they have a large box of dinosaurs, and a large box of dolls.
At home, the urchin has dinosaur toys, a dinosaur outfit, and does an impressive dinosaur roar, complete with clawing action.
On her first morning at this daycare, as she wailed and clung on, I tried to stop her tears by goofily waving about a stegosaurus. But her key worker, a quick-to-smile 20-something (who, disconcertingly, calls me ‘dad’), immediately resorted to the pink stuff. ‘Shall we change the dolly’s nappy?’, she asked. ‘Do you want to push the pram?’
And I wanted to say, ‘don’t do that’. But being English, I gave an awkward smile and left her to it. A Monday morning, with work waiting, didn’t seem the best time to launch into a half-considered speech on gender roles.
I’ve been quiet on this before. When relatives hand over ulcer-pink dolly sets or frilly princess outfits that would shame a young Barbara Cartland, I smile, say thanks, and quietly shunt them to the back of the cupboard.
It’s not an effort to deny her a girlhood, but more an attempt to offer her options. If she likes dolls, she can have dolls, but I’ll be offering her a toy truck as well. I want her to be as quick to pick up a ball as a Barbie, as confident at a lectern as in a kitchen. I want her to hit back if struck.
And it occurred to me that I might have accidentally become a feminist. So I looked the word up for the first time. I was half expecting to see a picture of a hairy-pitted harridan, or a definition that ran along the lines, ‘make-up-averse man-hater, wild-eyed castrator, gender bigot’.
Without thinking about it too much, I’d assumed the meaning that’s hinted at by most media portrayals: someone who believes in the primacy of women over men, a pro-female discriminator.
But it said, simply, ‘a person who supports women’s rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes’.
And so, I thought, I guess I’m one of those then. Should I tell my mates? What will people think? Do I need to ‘come out’ or should I just keep it to myself? It’s a socially awkward thing to say, and the ‘ist’ words are rarely positive: facist, racist, fantasist. Cist.
But then I thought, well, how could you not be? If feminists believe in gender equality, then not being one means you actively believe in inequality: that blue is better than pink, so let’s keep the boys in charge. And that’s thinking to be challenged, particularly now that one of those guys is the most powerful person on earth.
Because words make a difference, and it seems to me that in 2017, it’s up to reasonable folk to call out the unreasonable at every step. Because if left unchecked, unreasonableness becomes normal, and in playgrounds and offices and bars, ‘grab ’em by the pussy’ slowly becomes an acceptable way to think, then to talk and then to act. It becomes normal to dismiss a woman who disagrees with you at work as having, ‘blood coming out of her wherever’.
So on 21 January, I’m going to the Women’s March on London, to quietly say: let’s be reasonable.