I love working (I need to work). I love parenting (I need to parent). The two HAVE to work together. If studies f – 54,000 mothers feel pushed to leave employment every year – from pregnantthenscrewed.com are to be believed and the swathes of women (who happen to be mothers) being forced out of jobs are not to be ignored, we’ve hit breaking point. It’s packaged differently, sure, but in terms of women shattering that glass ceiling, we’re not as far away from Emmeline Pankhurst’s bra-burning days as she would no doubt have hoped.
But Karen Mattison and Emma Stewart MBE, founders of Timewise – a business focused on unlocking the jobs market for the millions of people seeking flexible work – are grabbing the workplace by the balls. Here we speak to Karen about businesses making it work.
You are GREAT. What you are doing is GREAT. Fill everyone in on how you are pioneering a new way of working…
I’m the joint CEO of Timewise, a business completely focused on unlocking the jobs market for the millions of people in the UK who want and need to work flexibly or part time. At the moment, although half of us work flexibly, we can get trapped in these jobs because when we look for a new one, only 1 in 10 quality vacancies are advertised in this way.
We have a job site www.timewisejobs.co.uk, which only promotes vacancies that are part time or flexible, and we support women who need extra help getting into work through our social business Women Like Us.
Emma – my co-founder – and I launched our businesses after coming up the against the same brick wall ourselves as candidates. The only jobs we could find that were openly advertised as part time, were low skilled, low paid and few and far between. We are working hard on building a better marketplace for the brilliant people out there who need such jobs. We now have an incredible 80,000 people on our books looking for part time work. Many, though by no means all are women looking for good quality jobs – and careers no less – to fit with family.
We are also campaigning to change the market and this week we have launched our most ambitious campaign to date: Hire Me My Way (www.hirememyway.org.uk).
Hire Me My Way calls for the opening of 1 million good quality part time and flexible jobs to part time and flexible working options – by 2020. To give you an idea of the scale of our ambition, this involves trebling the current ratio of such jobs in the market.
It’s all about trying to create a fairer, more transparent and more up-to-date jobs market for everyone. And we need all the help we can get… so if you like what we are trying to do then please help us by signing up and backing the campaign. If you are looking for a job right now you can also get some really good practical help on how to get a part time job in this difficult market. Because we know that you can’t just wait for things to get better!
What’s your work schedule like?
I work 4 days a week, and have always worked flexibly since having the first of my three sons 18 years ago. I have done every type of flexible working – school hours, 3 days, some from home etc. Now I have settled on a routine that feels like it works for me and for the business. I usually I typically work from home on a Wednesday, and take Fridays off. Emma, my co-CEO works a similar pattern. We have around 30 employees and many of them work part time and flexibly too, for a whole variety of reasons.
Do you have this elusive balance?
I think the concept of Work Life Balance is a bit of a funny thing… sometimes you think you have it, then it slips between your fingers. Sometimes the business needs more, sometimes the kids do… but I try and see it across the year or the month or the week rather than judge it too much day by day. I hope that when it really matters I can prioritise the right things.
So when my first son did his GCSE’s I wanted to take him to his exams so I planned ahead and organised my schedule around it. This week when we are launching this big campaign the kids know why and they know why I’m out more. But I promised to get home and watch Britain’s Got Talent every night this week with my 9 year old, which is important to him! I have found the whole thing easier as the kids have got older as I can talk to them about the week, about what’s going on for them and what’s going on for me.
Tell us one of your darkest moments balancing work and parenting…
More than 10 years ago before I set up Timewise I was doing some consultancy for another business and working from home. I was much less confident then than I am now about being boundaried and clear about what I can do and when. I was working for a client and they called me on my ‘non-working day’. Instead of just asking (as I would now) if what they needed could wait until the morning, I locked the study door with my young son on the other side. He didn’t understand what was going on and was banging on the door. I was too embarrassed to say what was happening. I thought there must be a better way and a way for us to be open about the tightrope we all walk… and I found it when I launched Timewise to have a more honest and open conversation about flexible work.
What’s your opinion on current flexible working in the UK?
At the moment I think there is a big block is on the career progression of flexible workers in the UK. So you are more likely to find flexibility you need in an existing role and the legislation supports. The problem comes when you want to move jobs…
Yet for many of us, the flexibility we have (working from home or working part time) is as important as our salary in making life work. BUT it is hard to know how to talk about this with a new manager or employer. That is what people get trapped in low paid part time and flexible work. In some research Timewise did a couple of years ago 77% of people who worked flexibly said they felt trapped. They wanted to progress – whether in the same company or a new job – but were hitting a wall. THAT’s why I’m completely focused now on opening up the flexible jobs market through the Hire Me My Way campaign – and that’s why I need your support. Join the campaign here: www.HireMeMyWay.org.uk.
What’s your biggest tip/s for other mothers trying to make it work?
When I had my kids there was no right to return to work flexibly so that has changed and that’s great. But far too many people are finding they return to ‘part time’ jobs that actually still have full time requirements – because the role hasn’t been redesigned and the goalposts have stayed the same. IF you are returning to a job you did before and you want to go back for less days, I recommend you are proactive and begin an honest and open conversation with yourself and your manager about how this is going to work. Too many people accept the part time role without discussing how the role needs to be redesigned. And that’s setting everyone up to fail. IF it was a busy full job in 5 days, then you won’t be able to do it all in 3 days so take the time to redesign it with the business… don’t just cross your fingers and hope for the best
And the other tip is not to try and be a superhero. You can’t do it all and there are some things that your kids really want you to do for them and others that it doesn’t matter if others do or if they slip a bit. Work out what is important and just do your best. One friend once said to me that it is enough to progress stuff on the personal to do list…. you don’t need to finish it! I used to worry that my kids didn’t seem to be doing all these activities and classes every after school – they just played football. Then I relaxed a bit and remembered that after school when I was young I just ate crisps and watched tv – and things worked out OK in the end.
Dear Matt, father of my kid, life lobster, epic tea maker and sock bundler…
It started with the sock balls I’d find in the wash; we’re talking initial frustration, which soon melted into endearment. If you want to bundle your socks up and have them emerge from the washing machine sodden and knotted, that’s OK.
It’s OK because the love bank is pretty full. There have been times when we’ve been in the red, but then a couple of text messages come through, making me feel like a bit of alright at a time when I was doubting a lot of things: body, mind, wardrobe, need for Krispy Kreme.
I think it was probably those moments of “Darling, can you just get my… [insert iPhone/ chocolate digestive/drink]” when swamped by the breastfeeding cushion and kid when I realised you were solid gold. Despite my consistent inability to get my act together, you never once made me feel like I was being unreasonable in using you as a personal maternity butler.
Sure, you steadily slept through the newborn mewling and haven’t totally perfected the art of washing plates, but you’ve managed to somehow oversee all my blather to offer up a cheeky bum squeeze in the tinned goods aisle of Tesco.
We’ve navigated 10 years together so far: 10 years that have taken us to Dubai, a Muslim state through to Amsterdam’s Red Light District, to East London where we are proud owners of one of the last homes to boast an outside loo. It’s not been a perfect ride by any means, but it’s been ours and one that’s been punctuated with the mad toddler requests from our daughter, Mae, and, of course, sock balls.
Love Anna, your wife and unbundler of the socks
Published in the latest issue of Smallish Magazine
“So what do you do?”. A question I could once answer with the gusto of a West End-bound RADA student. “I’m a journalist!”. Now after quitting my copywriting job at L’Oreal, I’m trying to Sellotape together a career from scraps of vlogging work and occasional ‘things with words’.
“I’m a vlogger,” I mutter, explaining to people my company is ‘Mother Pukka’, which my grandfather – somewhat aghast – responded with, ‘you realize that’s a French expletive?”
I am happy, I work my derriere off, but it’s certainly not the career I grafted for; the path I pondered, furrow-browed over my GCSE choices for, thinking they’d make or break my big job in the big smoke with my own telephone and computer. (The career that would make my grandfather proud.)
It’s not the career I’d have chosen; ‘choice’ being high on the chalk board here.
So there’s 18 years before Mae, my three-year-old daughter potentially dips a toe into employment waters. If she chooses to have a kid, then by my appalling maths (I’m words, not numbers), we’ve got around 30 years for the UK workplace to give itself a proper flexible working MOT.
That’s three decades to stop the flood of women being elbowed out of jobs – for an abundance of reasons, each inextricably linked to hoofing a kid out; to working on life.
Sure the troupe of mamas launching businesses in the wake of this stark inflexibility is nothing short of brilliant. Whether a mum boss or mum-don’t-give-a-toss, there’s a ton of folk rolling up their sleeves and making work actually work for them.
From Fiona Burrage at Nor-Folk to Joanne at Retro Kids, it’s honest to god clapping emojis all round.
But it’s the big boys, the suits, the archaic companies and the media hubs – with hordes of less yoghurt-stained twenty somethings vying for your position – that are akin to the hulking great Titanic to manouevre; they’re the ones I’m after. Where it was once talk of pay rises and benefits, it’s now words like ‘retention’, ‘flexibility’ and ‘support’ that get me fired up.
“I had one senior sales director refer to me only as ‘mummy’ when I returned from maternity leave,” one anonymous follower (from a leading law firm) messaged me after my last Instagram post. Another said her boss mentioned only her ‘leaving’, never going on ‘maternity leave’.
There’s no response to this, other than: businesses, don’t be dicks; Human Resources managers, grow some. If you don’t believe me and my Mother Pukka/Fucker ways, then Carla Moquin, founder of Parenting in the Workplace Institute, has slightly more authoritative chat.
“There is a big gap between what people expect is going to happen and what actually happens,” she says, speaking of the moment most mothers return to the office after maternity leave. “So our biggest hurdle is education – giving these companies the information and ideally convincing them that it [flexible working] works for enough different job types and organisations, and has enough benefits for both the employee and employer, that it is worth it for them to just try.”
To quote Lloyd [Jim Carey’s character] from Dumb and Dumber, “Just when I thought you couldn’t be any dumber, you go and do something like this…” That something? It’s the £30,000 (Carla’s estimate) on trying to recruit another person to do your job once you’ve handed in that faded security pass.
This isn’t some knackered mama slobbering on about flexible working because she likes emailing in her pyjamas and watching Homes Under The Hammer before a conference call.
This is a cost to business; the companies refusing to find solutions to accommodate basic human nature. A primal need to feed/ bathe/ care for a child that can’t manage those things him or her self. This is about supporting your employees to build your business, while enabling them to build lives.
If you had to stand back from it all – and envision the dulcet tones of David Attenborough trickling through – life is surely of the essence here, not an Excel spreadsheet. “And here we have the Excel spreadsheet, that wily little bugger” (David never swears; if he did I feel ‘bugger’ would be his word).
But that’s not to say we’re work shy. God no. As parents we can accomplish an entire house clean (often with a solitary wet wipe), while Skyping Aunty Janet for her birthday, doing an Ocado order with one hand and changing a nappy with the other. We come back from maternity leave stronger and infinitely more capable of handling shit that hits the fan.
There’s less emotional space for office politics, more for getting shit done. Give an inch of flexibility, we’ll return a mile. If we don’t? In the words of that irksome Frozen earworm, ‘Let it go” – let us go. But give us a chance first.
And it’s not fair to point the finger solely at the top dogs here. It’s a combined effort. It’s as much to do with the raised eyebrows from colleagues as you exit the building at 5pm – looks that assume you’re off to plunge head first into a Weatherspoons happy hour. It’s about education within businesses and a shift in attitude from the top – from the nucleus; from the board.
For every one that is getting it right, there are 7,689 that fear change; that can’t trust those they bizarrely trust every day to hold their baby; their business. But what if they relinquish that strict 9-6pm policy? What if people – not just parents – ebbed and flowed into the building, ensuring i’s were dotted and t’s were crossed? Is a world where bums-on-seats doesn’t equal a pay rise but results and output does so far off?
I don’t believe allowing people to work solely from home is the answer – there’s a camaraderie in an office and I do love a communal packet of hob nobs for sorting the givers from the takers. But there has to be a mid-way ground. There has to be a way to enable those who want to work for you to continue doing so. Like with the best relationships, it’s two-way traffic. If you offer a horse a carrot, that equine is more likely to give that race a good go. If in doubt channel Black Beauty and Squire Gordon.
A case in point? Investment banking firm Goldman Sachs opened the City of London’s first (and as yet only) on-site crèche in 2003.
We’re talking free use of the nursery for four weeks to support transition back to work from parental leave and then full-time paid childcare available for those who say alternative arrangements are challenging.
It’s not all about flexible working – it’s about an openness to solutions, in whatever form – to an issue that is culling top female talent. Why are there still so few women on boards every media rag hollers? It’s because women – who happen to be mothers – are forced to choose between a life of galloping to daycare like a frenzied mosquito to pick-up a watery-eyed kid or to graft on steely-faced and throw money at the situation with grim defeat.
“There is nothing more stressful than worrying about childcare,” says Marnie Cheshire, a former Goldman Sachs employee, whose son used the facility from six months to three years old. “It was incredible to be able to have him there. I knew that he was happy – I could go down any time.”
This is one company. What about the slew of others? Those who can’t afford to transform their cavernous basement into a veritable enfant palais?
When I posted that I’d quit my job a few months ago, I had no idea how many others felt the same. Since then I’ve had leads; I’ve had friends of friends, followers and past colleagues reach far and wide for our Flex Appeal cause. But I don’t want this to be a witch hunt or a moaning space (my motto has always been ‘wine over whine’); I also don’t want to wade through marketing guff from companies that pretend everything is OK if written down with a nice photo.
Together with my husband @papa_pukka, we’re working on an overview of companies that are getting it right in an attempt to bring others into the nook; to make flexibility seem less foreign and more attainable. To gradually (well, within 30 years when I’ll be blathering on as Grandmother Pukka) change perception.
For now, if there are any HR managers, folk from big companies reading this, take a look at the Parenting in the Workplace Institute guidelines for ideas on how other companies are making flexible working work. Have a think. Because, really, this isn’t all about us, it’s more about you – what we can do for you.
But who am I to talk? A vlogger? A flogger? Failed career detritus? One thing’s for sure, I ain’t no journalist.
So I’m a creature of habit. Those habits range from eating a slice of Lederhammer (50% less fat, mind) cheese before bed, knowing it will induce psychedelic nightmares to waking up in the night and automatically checking my phone for any ‘gram’ activity. (Is there something more depressing than the glow of an iPhone 6 at 3.12am?)
More than anything these habits seem to be leaving me knackered, stressed and less focused on the important stuff like the massive Bambi-esque eyes of my daughter wondering why I’m not partaking in her dinosaur-themed obstacle course.
So when the awesome kikki K – an A-grade stationery brand with a store in Covent Garden – got in touch to help me break some pesky habits, it was a no brainer. They asked me to get stuck into their 66 days #HabitsChallenge.
Why 66 days? That’s the time it takes to form a new habit apparently, which explains why I’ve been head-in-the-fridge and stuck-to-my-phone despite desperate attempts to be a better person.
I’m not one of those people who can go cold turkey. If I set a rule, I’m gagging to immediately break it. So this is going to be a more softly-softly approach; I shall outwit myself.
The reason I like a midnight snack? It’s a thumbs up for me at the end of the day; it’s, perhaps, a dairy-fuelled finger flip to a world of kale. (A world I aspire to be a part of but end up with fried kale crisps thinking that’s the same.)
But the minute I start looking after myself better, I stop wanting to eat all the bad stuff. That’s why I’m determined to get 20 minutes of exercise in when I get back from my freelance gigs at 6pm. I’ll whack my Tracey Anderson fitness workout on and just do what I can with a toddler in tow. Heck, I might even get her to be my 5 kilo weight. However successful this attempt is, it’ll be dedicated time to doing something fun and fitness-fuelled while my cacophonous toddler no doubt watches on in wide-eyed amusement.
This post was in collaboration with kikki K; follow my journey on Instagram and here
When I was a young ‘un, I’d chuck money at the situation willy nilly. The less I had, the more I’d spend in some warped carefree financial realm. But now, I’m all over that bargain bin in Tesco like a tramp on hot chips and I guard those purse strings like a rabid terrier. The reason? I care about my kid having a roof and stuff… Oh parenthood there you are making us all better people once more.
So hurrah for GoSend. Prior to this natty little website, anything I was buying in the US was, like, loads more money that it should have been. They not only change prices on us, but also cut down their product catalogues significantly to shoppers outside the US. Plus, they don’t share with us the huge sales and deals going on at their stores that US shoppers have access to all the time. No frickin’ way… who are these people, you ask?
So I gave GoSend.com a go, ordered some ace Kate Spade plates (so grown-up) from Macy’s and saved a bit of cash on the way.
Here’s some deets on my GoSend experience:
– So rather handily they offer two membership services: a free version and a £6 per month version which is SO worth it because of the big discounts. Like, properly worthwhile cash saving here.
– When you go to checkout, they give you a US address. In short this means you don’t get charged all that nasty tax. Win-win.
– I was also all over GoSend’s ShopAssist service like a nappy rash. Consider this your own personal concierge shopper who goes out and buys anything you fancy. Yes, really. This is all kinds of great for retailers that don’t accept foreign credit cards or let UKshoppers like us even buy from them. Where there’s a will there’s a way.
– Oh and they have a staff whose sole job is to find all the best deals that week at places like MAC, ULTA, ColourPop, Victoria’s Secret, Macy’s, and Bath and Body Works. What I didn’t realize is that most good deals stay within the US… so this bypasses that.
Once my plates arrived at my GoSend Locker address, I got an email from them with photos of every product I bought so I could make sure everything was OK – what a nice lil’ touch. All plates were present and correct!
Total amount saved? £37. Yep, that’s maybe not a roof, but it’s a tile and every one of those puppies counts.
If you use the coupon code MOTHERPUKKA, you will get 3 months of free VIP membership. Sign up here and enter the code to cash-in some amazing bargains.
Haters gonna hate – Sure they are but let’s call a spade a spade, hate is a strong word. And I’m not sure how much longer I can clap eyes on that meme with the cat struttin’ across the floor looking a bit bolshy.
It just feels like there’s still an abundance of room for opinion, which needs to be separated from the heathen digital word ‘hate’. There’s something wholly untrustworthy about all-out gushing – something a little Sally from Home & Away sinister. Sure, seas of weeping emoticons peppered with hearts and kisses is by far the preferred conversational route – it’s positively life affirming on a bad day (‘that lady in Tescos thinks I’m a dick, ah but these guys…’)
But like with real life, a bit of honesty goes a long way. One of my best mates will look me in the eye, arm-squeeze and all, telling me how proud she is, while informing me there’s a bogie in my nasal passage; a veritable bat in the friendship cave. Life can be a stream of loving, applauding, can can-dancing brilliance, but much like a holiday without the previous slog, it needs to be tempered by occasional reality.
Fearne Cotton whacked a photo up on Instagram of a rather sorry-looking pot of stew. In so many ways it was endearing, but there was the inevitable ‘it looks like a crock of shit’ line from @amazou1988, which then turned into an all-out bean stew war, with her followers defending this lacklustre culinary show-and-tell and the ‘haters hatin’’ all over that heartwarming sludge.
Fearne deleted it. I thought that was a shame. The reason being it wasn’t pure hating; the stew was no Deliciously Ella triumph, but ultimately Fearne’s culinary honour was defended by her swathes of fans who love the fact she slaps the good, bad and ugly on Instagram. She was always going to come out of crock-gate the winner because ultimately love triumphs. But it was, perhaps, useful for her to consider if a bit of chopped parsley next time might liven up that steaming, beige mass.
“I never worry about my clients because the followers sort it out,” says Dom Smales, head of Gleam Futures, the biggest social media management agency, who counts the likes of Zoella, Pixiewoo and as his main talent. “The debate runs for a bit and then is generally shut down by the majority – which for Zoella is roughly 7 million people.” He doesn’t refer to ‘trolling’ just debate.
My main experience has been with our ‘parenting the shit out of life’ jumpers with Parent Apparel. For every ‘this is brilliant, need one NOW’, there’s been an equal number of ‘are you serious? My kid can read – I’d feel really uncomfortable wearing that jumper in the playground.’
At first there was worry – ah, have we done a bad parental thing. Should we sit on the merchandising naughty step? But it became one big natter session – nothing nasty, just a debate – and there was no one was struttin’ about hatin’ like that irksome feline.
Ultimately it’s about opinion; it’s each to their own – as many people who were worried about Botox on @mothersmeetings recent feed with Dr Mayoni, there was a stack of people who wanted to bathe in that stuff until they resembled their pre-project procreation dewy selves. And that’s ultimately life – it’s a tale of two halves; it’s a stack of very different people working stuff out together and it’s not fair to expect that to come with gurning emojis 24-7.
As long as it’s not ‘you are a massive bell-end and I hope you never find your unicorn’ (that’s hate right there), the opinion stuff is infinitely useful Intel. Once your followers have scrapped it out a bit, there’s room for you to consider what they’re actually saying. Should we, perhaps, go for ‘parenting the s***’? Nah, that would feel like eating vegetarian bacon. Ultimately it’s better for you but doesn’t taste as good.
Having been vaguely parenting for two years now, I’ve noticed a few trends pop up in playgrounds and soft play receptacles. From the trusty Breton stripe to a slick of red lipstick, here’s motherhood style decoded for new app Mush
The Breton top
She’s safe, she’s versatile and she says might-be-a-bit-posh-or-am-I-hipster? Equally available in TK Maxx and Stella McCartney, she’s not threatening and a nautical safe house for attracting all kinds of Mum mates. The joy of the Breton top is she is elusive in her approach and doesn’t isolate any group, so if in doubt get yer Breton out.
Mac’s Lady Danger lipstick
If you’re slathering on this pillar box-red lippy for the playground, you’re not looking to welcome everyone into the nook. A slick of red lipstick pre-12pm is the equivalent of cracking open the frizzante after brekkie on holiday. Essentially, it’s a great idea but not everyone will approve.
The Alexa Chung trench
This is a tricky one. It says M&S middle class stalwart, but also throws Primrose Hill fashion spawn Chung into the mix. It’s a tale of two halves and one that will most likely divide your potential mama troupe: the ones who missed the Chung boat and are quietly seething beneath their Boden equivalent or those who don’t understand why you keep mentioning The Chung. What is this Chung?
While they might isolate close family members (“darling, why are you dressed as a Minion?”), the dunagree is fast becoming the style common denominator across motherhood. Perfect for wapping a bap out to breastfeed, the dungaree says you’re breezy, playful and probably a really good person. If the dungaree was an actual person it would be Holly Willoughby. Or, on a darker day when embellished with Petit Filous, it might be Jason Donovan circa 1993 when his boy-next-door image started to edge into boozy territory.
The Mother Tee
Whether you’re a eco warrior, yoga bunny, gin mummy, mum boss or mum-don’t-give-a-toss, the Selfish Mother Tee is the fashwan Sellotape holding us all together. It is motherhood style mecca; an item that not only does good (profits go to Women for women) but cuts through all the ‘tribal/ squad’ stuff that’s farted out every day. The Mother Tee is everything we are; hardworking, goes-with-anything and will take you seamlessly from day to night. (But not in a nightclub way; more a make-the-sleep-sheep-stop way).
I’m not really a dreamer; You won’t catch me whimsically conjuring up a world of peonies and unicorns in my head on the Tube commute. I wish I could be a little dreamier, but I’m more a dot ‘i’s and cross ‘t’s’ kinda gal and anyone who tries to go outside the lines needs to veer that felt tip back to safety.
But I do imagine. I have an imagination and while I can’t cross that line, I can think outside the box (or circle; it feels more of a circle). Where dreaming seems a little less tangible, imagination feels like it might end up somewhere real – somewhere with, perhaps, a horse that looks like a unicorn and some crackin’ snacks (think Wotsits, Skips or anything E-colour addled with a maize-like consistency). It’s this imagination that I’m seeing develop every day in my daughter, Mae.
From imaginary tea parties with lions and tigers and bears to believing she is, in fact, Spiderman, I’m delighting in her imaginary realm the moment she sets down her backpack after a day in the ‘office’ (her term for daycare).
Perhaps it’s our far-out thoughts that drew us to Adobe Asset Labs Experiment #1 – a frickin’ ace tutorial that allows you to create bespoke prints from ideas you can only imagine. Fear not, you don’t need Tracey Emin-esque artistic skills; this is one of those tools that makes you look better than you really are.
I started by downloading a Creative Cloud trial and the Adobe Capture CC app – consider this your adult version of a stack of felt tip pens and paper. With these two in place, the world is your creative oyster. Now, for someone who is tech-shy, everything was made super easy with this tutorial from Petra Gardefjord.
Then it was a case of working on a design together – she may be two but Mae has strong artistic/life opinions. I scrolled through some photos before she stopped me at a leopard print image I had on my phone. ‘Mama tiger’ she said. I can only assume this is because I wear little other than leopard print (which garners the occasional ‘Marleeeeene’ from my husband), so am, perhaps, tiger-like (better than elephant, perhaps?) in my aesthetic. Either way, we went with it.
Once this was uploaded, the Adobe Capture app loosens up all the lines, making it look like you might have just sketched it. A few buttons pressed later and I’d given Mae’s suitably jazzy design a fuchsia pink hue (I left the backdrop white because one doesn’t want to over-gild the lily).
And there she was, our very own bespoke leopard print design – the perfect wallpaper for my iPhone lock screen. While I’m no daydream believer, it’s good once in a while to let your imagination run wild.
Adobe Asset Labs Experiment #1 can be followed here and you can easily download your free trial of Creative Cloud here #MakeIt
**This post was written in partnership with Adobe**
Bedtime tonight ran thus: refusal to go in the house (“I want to go on red bike”), refusal to eat broccoli – even though broccoli has been her legume of choice for the past two years – and an insistence on wearing ‘Olaf’ pyjamas that have been festering at the bottom of the laundry basket. Despite arch negotiations and gargantuan tantrums along the way, I ended the night tucking her up in bed, whispering ‘you are brilliant, I love you and you can do anything you put your mind to’.
I’ve uttered these words for as long as I can remember having a kid (it’s all a bit hazy, but let’s say two years). I couldn’t say where it came from but I believe it’s partly from my own Mum – a woman who never had brakes on her bike and who encouraged me to fly before I could even walk.
It was 1989 and I was signed up to the skipping race at Leighton Buzzard’s Linslade Lower School. It was one of those summers that seems to only happen when you were eight – parched grass, cobalt skies and a relentless flow of Mr Whippy. I was nervous, I didn’t think I had it in me to beat Gillian Cartwheel (her actual name). My Mum packed me an extra special sandwich, cut into the shape of a Care Bear and packed me off to Sports Day with the words, ‘focus on the finish line and forget the competition’.
I lost. I flopped over after about 5 seconds, landing in a dusty heap on the floor as Gillian skipped to glory. I might not have won – in fact, if we call a spade a spade, I wasn’t even within a whisper of that coveted rosette – but I believed I could win. My mum had instilled in me from an early age that it’s not what everyone else is doing that matters but how you get there that counts. In 1990 I cleaned up – winner of skipping, second in the sack race and the beanbag and coit race was a no brainer.
Without The Year Of Shame (Gillian didn’t let me forget it until she wanted an invite to my Alton Towers-all-expenses-paid birthday party), I might not have had my early 90s comeback. Much like All Saint’s recent return to cargo-panted glory.
So I think the big thing I’m whispering to Mae after a long day is not about glory, it’s about strength. Having the strength to carry on regardless; regardless of what others think and regardless of how much shame/ pain/ frustration was involved in falling down along the way. I think that’s why P&G’s recent “Thank You Mum” campaign truly resonated with me.
Fronted by gold medal winning heptathlete Jessica Ennis-Hill and her own mother, Alison Powell, this is a campaign about maternal strength – it’s about a mother helping her daughter achieve those dreams. Whether you’re looking to hit the Olympics with gusto or simply win at Monopoly, this is about celebrating that resourceful, resilient maternal power that allows our kids to achieve everything they want to in life. Even if that is just wearing Olaf pyjamas from the bottom of the laundry basket.
Check out the Strong video here
About the ‘Strong’ video
“Strong” explores the simple human truth that the daily courage mums show echoes at critical times throughout their children’s lives. The video follows the Olympic Games journeys of four mums and their children, showing the moments, both large and small, when a mother’s strength makes all the difference, and building to the moment each child summons their own courage on the world’s biggest stage – the Olympic Games.
She’s a mother, a Diet Coke lover, a TV presenter and the kind of woman whose endearingly grotty sense of humour and coat hanger smile can turn a room of strangers into a fan girl orgy. Cherry Healey, whose book Letters to my Fanny ditches the Disney princess blather in favour of a more honest approach to being, well, a woman is definitely no pussy
Why did you decide to write ‘Letters to my Fanny’? I wanted to write about being a woman – a real woman – not like the ones in the Disney films or magazines, but one that eats and jumps and isn’t graceful and likes nachos and sex.
Why fanny, not vagina?
Writing the book has made me think about what we call our ‘downstairs area’. I struggle with what to call it – vagina sounds like a std, fanny sounds too cute, cunt is too violent and pussy is for sex. I would never say ‘I’m off to get my pussy checked at the doctor’! I started to ask the question of why we don’t have a collectively comfortable word for such an important area. Boys have the word ‘dick’ which kind of covers all bases. I think we tend to avoid talking about ‘that area’ all together. I think my favourite is Love Tunnel.
Can you describe the moment you started writing the book
I wrote the first chapter sitting at the bar of a trendy establishment in Shoreditch. It just poured out of me. I thought ‘this is going to be easy’. And then it went downhill after that. My work started to get really busy and I had another child and some personal stuff happened and finding time, and mental space, to write was a real struggle. When I did find a quiet moment, I had to really fight not to distract myself with logistics or emailing. Oh, and Amazon. I had no idea how much discipline it takes. My publisher is extremely patient.
Fanny sits nicely between vagina and cunt – do you use the other two ever? If not why? If yes, in what circumstances?
I never use cunt because it’s so violent – I think it’s probably the strongest swear word we have – and vagina is just too sterile and sounds like an STD, pussy is definitely for sex. I tend to go for the jokey option as it breaks the ice. But why should I feel the need to break ice? Why is there ice?!?! I think it’s partly because boys grow up laughing and joking and sharing stories of their sexual function and experience whereas girls are more cautious to go into detail. We’ll talk about who we fancy but we’d never say ‘oh yeah they got me all wet’ (that was quite hard to write!) whereas I’ve heard guys laugh with each other that a girl has given them a semi – it’s fun, lighthearted, open. I wish girls could do that. We have so many bits to us – so many ways to enjoy sex – but most girls wouldn’t dream of going into a sex shop alone! I remember the first time I did it – I MADE myself do it – some people like base jumping, some like fast cars, I like to go into uncomfortable places! I really didn’t want people to see me go in – but what was I afraid of? That they would think I liked sex? That they would think I was… what? For such a sexually-focused society, women still aren’t sexually as liberated as we could be. We’re meant to be sexy and look good but we’re not really allowed to like sex.
If there was one sentence you could pull out, what would it be?
All hail the mighty period.
Was your mum OK with the title of the book? Did you worry about anyone’s reaction to the name?
My mum is so incredibly supportive – she’s quite traditional and definitely not someone to say or do anything too taboo but somehow she doesn’t bat an eyelid at my shenanigans – her attitude and unconditional love gives me the freedom to be completely honest. I hope my kids feels that.
What do you wish you could have told your 18-year-old fanny?
You are wonderful, look after yourself, respect yourself, appreciate the miracle that you are. Oh and sorry for cutting you with scissors when I was trimming you whilst also texting.
Are there more letters to come?
It’ll be interesting to see how the book does – there will be more writing, that’s for sure, but whether it will be published or not is a different story!
Diet coke or full fat?
Diet coke. Old habits.
Deliciously Ella or Deliciously Stella?
Both – I’m a green-juice and yoga girl in the week (although I’m writing this on a Wednesday afternoon with a huge glass of prosecco) and then a cheesy nacho and vodka girl at the weekends.
Describe the book in 3 words.
To buy Letters to my Fanny click here.
I’d love to have glided off into the sunset after quitting my fulltime role at L’Oreal Group as senior copywriter, uttering ‘you’re not worth it’, perhaps wearing a faux leopard fur coat.
But the role was great, as were the people and so that plan was scuppered. Instead, I edged out of the building against a backdrop of lukewarm fizz, amorous hugs and yoghurt-flecked Topshop dungarees (that I believe every second mama is wearing) to go-it-alone.
When I say alone, my boss transformed into a 2ft dictator with a penchant for bleating ‘ccino’ in Costa and throwing her toys (and often one shoe; just the one) out of the pram.
But I can’t say it’s been ochre sunsets and quality mama-daughter times a go-go. That would be the equivalent of saying Instagram delivers excerpts of what it’s like to go to the toilet. Like any parental decision, it was one loaded with eye twitching worry – the largest concern being hard, cold cash. Mainly how to get it without a multi-billion pound beauty empire behind me and how to keep it coming in steadily enough to replace the dissolving Topshop dungarees/ stay housed.
Perhaps the toughest working-with-my-kid moment so far was last week. Mae and I were filming the latest in a vlogging series for the Bugaboo Diesel Bee 3. On paper, I thought, this is great; happy days, perhaps we’ve located this rarer-than-Zayn-Malik-smiling balance.
The fact is, for us to secure work, Mae needs to be on camera – she’s effectively part of the familial package; part of ‘the deal’ – and like with any toddler, it’s a constant game of behaviour roulette. The wrong Ella’s Kitchen pouch (“I wanted YELLOW”) equals code red the-world-as-we-know-it-no-longer-exists meltdowns, while a high vis-clad cyclist with a curmudgeonly brow can irrationally raise a coat hanger smile.
While I can just inhale a coffee/ over-the-counter narcotics to get me through an inner tantrum, Mae’s plays out for all and sundry – if on a shoot, that includes marketing managers, camera guys, interns, gaffers – to clap eyes on; almost certainly to judge. There’s no negotiation and no right of reply, it is what it is.
But those moments have me questioning what I’m doing. What parent hauls their kid into Hackney’s graffiti district to flog a buggy? My parents, Mae’s grandparents have kept shtum on the matter, but I know their concerns for their only granddaughter bubble beneath the ‘we’re proud of you’ veneer.
Ultimately stepping off the 9-5 precipice is not a seamless manoeuvre – every parental story varies, every childcare scenario is different, but for me, asking a toddler to perform-to-camera has hints of the 3pm show at Monkey World to it; perhaps a whisper of The Jackson Five in my darker hours. A tad extreme, but when your child is wide-eyed, tired and in need of Bing and dum dum, over Camille Walala’s latest spectacle, it hits you like a sticklebrick in the chops.
Over on the money side, it’s been a case of Sellotaping stuff together – luckily Mumsnet and Stylist Magazine (never leave a job on a bad note; you never know when you’ll come schlepping back) took me into their nook for bits here and there after I left mascara realms. The remainder of the week is anything we can Hoover up from Instagram.
While I don’t want to dampen spirits (mainly my own), it’s simply a realisation that no choice is perfect – as parents worry is embedded in our DNA. My worries are, perhaps, larger now than when I was galloping to daycare with a bead on from L’Oreal HQ. What happens if her friends see the videos of Mae sitting next to her mother dressed as a moose for Moose Women? How long can I truss her up in a dinosaur outfit to flog the latest Citroen family wagon? Or, like everything related to the little person whose eskimo kisses and sleepy hand squeezes light up your frickin’ soul, am I, or do we, overthink it all? Are we just doing our best with the cards we’ve been dealt?
The one thing I do know is that there is, like all the big stuff in life – house, marriage, family and friendships – no perfect reality; no maternal Mecca. Running your own business means you’re working harder than you worked in the shackles of the 9-5 – dinner time becomes punctuated with ‘urgent emails’ and working from the playground can lead to grazed knees and swings-in-faces.
The silver lining is control. Control at being able to say to clients when and where I work. I met Annie Mounsey from @annielovesblusher recently (she quit her job at Ernst & Young around the same time I ditched the office realms) and she compounded this with: ‘a lot of my friends left their jobs and went back to the same company to freelance; on their terms.’
Control at being able to drop everything if Mae has come a cropper on her new scooter; an assurance that I will never land at daycare in a mangled maternal heap at 6.04 pm again.
Sure, I wish I could paint a more Von Trapp picture of us frolicking in flexible working paradise with money fluttering from the trees. But the hills aren’t particularly alive and if you get to enjoy the occasional sunset – even if it is graffittied onto a wall – then, perhaps that’s actually enough. Perhaps that’s my perfect something in a world that’s telling me to have it all.
My wedding frock? It was from an aesthetically challenged shop in Haarlem, The Netherlands. It was hidden among a rainbow spectrum of sequin-embellished numbers and cost 700 Euros. I just knew she was a keeper because there was none of that ‘boning’. I was also with my best mate, who was trying on some of the more extravagantly-coloured frocks – we had some laughs; that dress made memories before the big day.
But as fun as that sesh was, I had mid-level palpitations nearer the time that I’d made a grave mistake. Compared to the swathes of gowns in Wedding Magazine, my frock was looking suitably Tesco Value – first world problems, yes, but those glossy rags mess with your head (a Swarovski-encrusted vodka luge; why don’t we have a Swarovski-encrusted vodka luge – who are we?). What was a ‘well-funny’ fizz-induced purchase might actually be a big regret… I was wrong. Two minutes into wed-gate, I had forgotten who I was even marrying let alone the threads keeping me sheathed. It was probably then that I also realised that being on a pedestal and throwing ridiculous money at a shindig was not my bag – I was a much better guest than main attraction (surprising for me, too).
Much like motherhood, I’ve enjoyed the bits that come after all the baby shower/ birth carnage where all eyes (well, four or so people who vaguely care) are ON you. I know they’re special times; I’ve read about it in books and stuff, but it’s the seemingly boring moments of eating toast in bed with the clan that make me thank my lucky – and slighty rusty – stars.
Even better is when you get invited to a wedding as a plus 1 where you know neither bride or groom and end up getting proper mash-up and being ‘that person’. It’s the maternal equivalent of dumping the brood in a posh gaf or restaurant and offering up an entire box of felt tips for them ‘to be creative’ – no paper present. You can be THAT person when no one knows you and it’s such a relief in a world that wafts Instagram polish at every turn.
Then there’s the wedding line where the whole wedding fam line-up to thank you for coming. As a rogue plus one, you’re asked ‘ah so how do you know Lucinda and James’? ‘I don’t, I’m a freeloader who will eat ALL the cake and have already requested Mmm Bop by failed teen 90s stars Hanson I am THAT person.’
How my wedding experience and motherhood unite, I don’t really know. All I know is that in both situations it’s the stuff that the world doesn’t force us to celebrate that make me snort-tea-through-nose laughing. It’s the crumbs in bed after a lazy morning eye-twitching away to Cbeebies, backing your best mate onto a loo in her wedding dress and getting mash-up in a Lebanese dress shop that could ignite at any moment.
This post was written in partnership with fashion website Lyst
I almost flipped out in the supermarket today. I almost had a total sleep deprived, mad as a box of frogs, crazy-haired, mum-coated, drizzle soaked, school-run-stressed, apoplectic roar of a tantrum at a total stranger. And that’s putting it mildly.
Here’s why. My youngest was wailing. He’s teething and under the weather. It was loud. I get that. He’d been complaining solidly since we arrived. I’d tried the usual tactics. In case you’re wondering, my top three are:
–Distraction: “Oh look, bananas. Shall we get some?” “Can you see the biscuits?” “Oh look, that little boy has Thomas the Tank too!” All said in the deranged, over the top manner of a cbeebies presenter on crack and accompanied by theatrical pointing, oohing and aahing. My kid is 15 months; he has no idea what I am really on about but he loves a banana and a biscuit and if I am manic enough my idiocy alone can pull him out of stropdom. Not so today. So I move on…
–Self Humiliation: My boy loves songs. I have a voice that can only be described using the words of the wonderful Billy Connolly (not that we’re mates, he wasn’t talking about me) as “like a goose farting in the fog”. But that is mildly preferable to the hysterical screaming, so I think, who cares? And I wind that bobbin up. The wheels on my bus go round and round. And for good measure, my esteemed friend the Grand Old Duke of York does what he does best. And for a while, I am winning. He points. He smiles, he joins in a bit. And then, he asks for ‘OOOPa’. And I do not know what that is. So we’re back to being totally buggered. But undeterred I power through (this is not my first time and my bag of tricks is still full….)
-Offers of bribery: this one has levels.
1.Here’s your dummy.
2. Here’s your teddy.
3. Here’s your healthy snack.
4. Oh f*ck it , here’s a biscuit.
5. For goodness’ sakes, nothing works with you people. Oh good, the wine aisle…
Now, let me make this clear: most people you encounter when you have a crying child, in the middle of the day, in a supermarket, are blinking lovely. Many are parents too, so they shrug, conspiratorially eyeroll, and push that buggy/trolley onwards, inwardly high fiving themselves that it was not their kids turn to be a ratbag today.
Many others are grandparents who smile indulgently, play peekaboo, say hello, or in the case of one beautiful lady one time when my daughter was little, get a clean handkerchief out of their handbag, elastic band a head and paint a smile with a lipstick, before enacting a mini puppet show which had my girl enthralled at a bus stop. I love that lady still, four years later. She was magic.
My point is, most people are nice. Most people in that environment, at that time of the day, get it. Not so this person I am about to introduce. But I digress. You last saw me in the wine aisle…
So, I am musing over the Merlot, pondering the Prosecco, and basically wishing I was anywhere where I could drink either in peace, and this woman looks at me and tuts. She actually tuts. And then she says “Are you just going to let him cry all round? I’ve had to listen to that my whole shop.”
I have been awake five times in the night and up since 6.17am. It rained on the school run. I told my eldest off a lot for not being quick enough. I feel bad; she’s only four. I’m tired, I’m rained on, I’ve tried my bloody best. If, as she says, she has been following me, she should have seen that I was trying. Red mist is descending now. I can feel my neck flushing.
She may have kids herself, she may not. If she does, then she should know. If she doesn’t then surely she is familiar with the concept. Either way, what right does she have to make my already obviously difficult day even worse just because she felt like being a bellend? We weren’t at the opera. We were in Sainsbury’s. I might have half understood if it was effing Waitrose.
I was on the brink of murder with a Merlot bottle for a split second. I seriously could have beaten her with a bottle and spilled Sauv Blanc on her felled body.
But that would be a waste of wine. And I hate that.
Follow Michelle on Instagram @brilliantly_ordinary and here for the blog.
In the end, something had to give. Limited scope for flexible working at her dayjob meant Mother Pukka was spending a few minutes with the urchin each day. Their time was limited to a few rushed minutes in the morning and toothbrushing battles in the evening. Increasingly, even that proved impossible, and she would only see our daughter asleep. Every inconvenience brought by transport delays or a colleague’s blundering was a fresh fork in the parenting heart. And so it came down to this: she could accept a weekends-only relationship with our toddler, like a divorcee after a particularly unpleasant separation; or she could quit. Fortunately, she went for the latter.
On a purely selfish level, I am delighted. I was doing most of the fetching and depositing, handling the dinner negotiations and logistical drudgery of day-to-day parenting. My deadlines suffered and my resentment grew.
But there’s a broader benefit that’s harder to pinpoint. After nearly a decade with someone, you get to know their quirks and moods. You know when they’re down. The minor muddles of daily life – food spilt, appointments missed, money poorly spent – go from being sources of funny tales to something heavier: an extra weight of parental guilt and the feeling that nothing is being done as well as it might be.
And now, two days into operation self-employment, something has lifted. Those minor muddles are met with giggling instead of despair. The family eats toast together in bed most mornings, at a time when the urchin’s hair is most adorably tangled and her eyes widest about the possibilities of the day. Work still gets done – perhaps even more than before – but at hours that work around bedtime stories and singing in the kitchen. Long may it continue.
The last 18 months have run thus: moved from Amsterdam to London, started new job, quit new job after a year to start other new job with more money. Quit other new job to look after a kid and make cash flogging family on the Internet. Lost a bit of hair. Bought a house and currently live in a bit of a stabby part of East London with an outside toilet (there is one inside, too, but you get the retro picture).
But that’s just the self-absorbed adult bit. The urchin has been carted from pillar-to-post, uprooted from Amsterdam – the land of stroopwaffels and currently the 7th happiest place in the world to live – to London (so far from the list you wonder if the list was compiled by a disgruntled list compiler living in a Cockfosters 10-bed house share having watched all of House of Cards in one sitting).
London is great but she’s a cruel mistress – snuffle someone’s armpit for 10 minutes on the Tube and peek at house prices and you’re genuinely considering scarpering to Bognor Regis or somewhere else you can quietly drink milky tea on the coast in a shellsuit.
But the West London daycare we stumbled across was great; it was where Mae learned to share (while holding very tightly to shared object, whispering menacingly ‘shaaaaare’) and started speaking – mainly telling me I had a big bottom and a spiky hoo ha. Happy times.
It was around this time, though, that she started calling for my Mum (‘Oma’ in Dutch) in the middle of the night instead of me, her mama. She was unsettled, she was unwell 95% of the time with some lurgy of doom or another and she was with my parents two days and nights of the week – it was, all in all, a heartbreaking time for all of us.
She was then hauled out East, away from the one friend, Maya, who had anchored her; away from ‘the house with the green door’ she thought was home and into a fixer-upper in Leyton with an outside bog and a relentless buzzing noise no one could locate.
As parents we fiercely want what’s best for our kids(s). When we can’t deliver that for reasons outside of our control, guilt drills into your every quiet moment. These seeming failures range from a day with your kid strapped to the iPad because you have to work through to uprooting the little one more times than she’s worked out how to count to.
So over the Easter weekend, we decided to allay 18 months of parental guilt by redecorating Mae’s room; nay, not redecorating, transforming it into a veritable palais.
But it was Mae’s palais. It wasn’t about us; it wasn’t about some dove grey paint job that I was yearning for embellished with achingly cool monochrome accessories – this was about her imagination running wild. According to research by the ace folk at Dulux it’s about confidence; kid’s get a kick out of being ‘art director’ of their own room.
“Children typically create little things, but the bedroom is the first real, permanent thing that they can influence,” says expert Developmental Psychologist, Dr. Sam Wass. “Involving a child helps them to establish their own inner space and the image that they want to project to others.”
What did she want? Clouds, blue sky and a small Tilly the dinosaur by the plug socket (so he could stay warm). So that’s what she got. We whacked on some 90s tunes, slipped into some jogging bottoms from 1996 (who are these people that look sexy wafting about in nothing but an oversized shirt, thong and paint brush?) and started slapping that paint on the walls with the (much-needed) help of this very handy YouTube Dulux video.
While Mae was involved in the creative brainstorming process (as is her want with most things; sandwiches through to spoon choices), we left her with Oma so we could finish the job without relentless questioning ‘why is Papa angry? What’s wrong with Mama’s hair?’
The result? Exultation, gurning smiles, excitedly pointing at ‘clouds’ and saving the biggest squeal for Tilly the dinosaur by the plug socket – which took all of 3 minutes to do, compared the day’s work on the rest. But hey, that’s the toddler’s way. While we still have an outside bog and the rogue buzzing persists, this Easter is possibly the first time we all felt at home. Perhaps the first time in 18 months that Mae realised we’re here to stay – the first time the clouds cleared, allowing for a little more blue sky.
The paint we used was from the Dulux Endurance+ range, which has been specially designed for kid’s bedrooms because it’s 20 times tougher than usual paints – think ketchup resistence/ coloured pencil-proof. We followed this YouTube video to get Mae’s dreamy finish but freestyled when it came to Tilly the dinosaur. (Prey to God your kid doesn’t like something complex like Octonauts – wouldn’t know where to begin there.) If you’re looking to do something cool with your kid’s room, Dulux has a great batch of videos showing how to recreate loads of different looks from a starry sky for budding astronauts to a tropical jungle-scape for explorers @DuluxUK #kidsbedrooms
The minute you embark on project procreation, your style doesn’t suddenly dissolve. Well, it does a bit – I wore some jogging bottoms from 1996 for the best part of six months and found myself standing alone in Tesco clutching a pineapple in a leopard onesie two weeks in. But when you start to come through the maternal fug (let’s call a spade a spade: it’s always gonna be a little fuggy), there’s a whole new world of STUFF. Stuff for mamas, stuff for kids, stuff for your home and stuff to Sellotape your face back together. The good stuff.
This week, we’re loving Tuta Kids and this floral-tastic top (it comes with matching jogging bottoms – power to the flower). And, because it’s nearly Friday, Mae loves a bit of timely branding with this FRIYAY T-shirt from Lennie & Co. The lolly in her mouth is a Swizzle Drumstick. A necessary embellishment.
On my side, I picked up this Folk top in the sale for the mad geometric pattern alone. It goes perfectly with this stonewashed denim River Island skirt, shoes and a couple of Minty Wendy teething bangles (yes, really). This is a bangle that can be drooled over and chewed by your spawn, allowing you the time to hold a conversation together. This is what I mean about a whole new level of STUFF. Oh and this Radley London rucsac is a winner for all the rubbish (moist Haribo sweets, receipts, Sudocrem, mangled nappy and 27 hairbands) I cart about.
In my hand is a Kikki.k notebook. I don’t casually just hang on street corners clutching a notepad, but on this occasion I thought it’s so pretty it deserves a bit of wall-time. I love that it has ‘365’ etched in gold on the front so I’m more aware of time slipping through my limp, exhausted fingers. It’s the notepad equivalent of a caffeine fix – it helps you get shit done.
The stack of rings on my fingers are Accessorise for £12 – I bought three packs because I’m a spiller, a breaker and ultimately a loser – always good to have back-up. Other than that it’s just the urchin and I hangin’ on East London street corners once more. Nothing to see here.
Founder of Mother Pukka, Anna Whitehouse talks about miscarriage in Stylist Magazine and why it shouldn’t be the great unsaid
It’s the elephant in the room: miscarriage. Pick up a dictionary and it means two things: “a condition in which a pregnancy ends too early and does not result in the birth of a live baby” or “an unjust legal decision”. The latter is arguably easier to palate.
Social media is packed with photos of cupcake-rammed baby showers, impeccably-filtered post-birth pics and triumphant videos of toddlers staggering across the room to be rewarded with a babyccino. Ask every one of the parents behind the lens if they had a miscarriage, knew of someone who had, or feared it might happen to them and the resounding answer would be “yes”.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against cupcakes, filters or babycinnos (I’m leading the charge on Instagram) but this polish doesn’t always reflect what’s gone before.
It’s about sisterhood – or parenthood, to be specific.
Having mourned three miscarriages myself before we had our daughter Mae, I know what it is to feel like a pariah in the maternal world.
A Pampers ad on the Tube once left me sobbing uncontrollably, while friendships with mothers became punctuated with irrational jealousy from my side and an inability to know what to say from theirs. A weekly email from babycentre.com showing the size of my now inviable fetus would leave me numb. It was, undoubtedly the loneliest period of my life.
So it was truly refreshing that Facebook oracle Mark Zuckerberg finally pierced this eerie silence with his recent post that has since gathered more than 1.6m likes, 108k comments and 48k shares.
“We want to share one experience to start,” he said in his post last Friday. “We’ve been trying to have a child for a couple of years and have had three miscarriages along the way. You feel so hopeful when you learn you’re going to have a child. You start imagining who they’ll become and dreaming of hopes for their future. You start making plans, and then they’re gone. It’s a lonely experience.”
The truth is miscarriage is part of life; it’s part of the terrifying, yet brilliant, road to procreation. Katie Price is one of the few celebrities to speak up on the issue after suffering 10-week miscarriage in 2009.
“It was on the screen and he simply said, ‘No it’s, it’s died, it’s gone,’” she said. “I was confused… I said to him, ‘But the HGC levels have gone up, so surely that means there is a pregnancy?’ And inside I’m thinking, ‘If I wait will it form, will a heartbeat come?’ All this insanity goes through your head. And obviously it didn’t. But I had to accept, it’s part of life. It’s a part of creating life.”
She admitted something hordes of parents haven’t: miscarriage is a part of pregnancy. It happens, it’s awful; the rubbishness of a uterus not working is unquestionable. But it’s common, and perhaps even more Googled than the Zuckerberg name itself.
The slew of mothers I know with their Bugaboos and burgeoning clans may not have had miscarriages, but they have known fear. The fear of losing a part of them. The fear that suddenly the ‘peanut’ or ‘bean’ they’ve grown to love and nurture with a holistic cocktail of chia seeds, babycentre.com and iron tablets might not materialise.
The fear of decorating a nursery too soon. The fear that every scan will reveal a quiet emptiness – a silence that pierces even the hardiest souls.
It’s certainly not about a fear of over-sharing. The women I know are good at writing, talking, crying and expressing their fears (and when that fails, tidying sock drawers with the kind of frenzied dedication of a famished mosquito) to combat life’s injustices. It’s more about the difference between empathy and sympathy when speaking to someone who has just gone through the pain of a miscarriage.
Having cried, raked through emotional Mumsnet forums and truly mourned three children before having our daughter, all I know is, sympathy starts with “at least you can get pregnant”, whereas empathy puts the kettle on, stacks up the Jaffa cakes and says, “it’s shit, I’m here.”
If you know what it is to love someone, you know what it is to lose someone. That elephant shouldn’t still be lurking.
This is Mae and Derek from next door, who popped in for lunch yesterday. He is 87-years-old and has a teddy called Terry who Mae plays with. Together they have more wisdom than I could hope to muster. Together they make each other a bit happier – Mae’s confidence has come on in leaps and bounds, while Derek has been forced to imbibe tea out of a shocking pink tea cup. It was a timely lunch, though – news of a unique programme in West Seattle, bringing together nursery kids with older folk from a care home just hit the Internet.
The 400 people who live at Providence Mount St. Vincent interact with the kids from the Intergenerational Learning Center through music, dancing, art, storytelling, lunch, and even just a quick natter. “I was so drawn to it because it was so simple,” filmmaker Evan Briggs told HuffPost Live. Briggs filmed at the centre three days a week over the course of the 2012-13 school year and earlier this month, she released a trailer for “Present Perfect” (watch here). It looks at the kids’ interactions with the elderly, how those relationships lift the isolation that often permeates care homes, and challenges viewers to look at how they think about older folk.
Sweet moments are caught between the very young and very old, including a very patient boy repeatedly telling his name to a senior who is hard of hearing. But there are other “poignant and heartbreakingly real” interactions too, wrote Briggs on her website.
Along with the trailer was a Kickstarter campaign to raise $50,000 to cover a rough edit of the film. It surpassed the goal within two weeks, and Briggs is now aiming for $100,000 to complete the production. Even before the film is finished, Briggs and the centre have been receiving countless queries from around the globe, looking to implement similar programs.
“It’s nice when you present an issue to also present a possible solution and I think this is one of many solutions that we can offer to close that circle of life loop a little better than we’ve been doing,” said Briggs.
While we’re not looking to bathe in any Age Concern accolades here, it’s only a lunch invite; a box of flapjacks or just a quick ‘awight’. A fleeting moment that might lead to a friendship that sees age as no barrier.
Additional reporting: Huffington Post
It started as a flicker and then went into a pneumatic throb. The eye twitch is the parental badge of honour – it says ‘you did it, you are awake and vaguely doing human things on 32 minutes of sleep [insert infinite clapping hand emoticons].’
But you are not OK. You need someone to take the urchin off your hands for just 29 minutes so you can wet wipe yourself down and join the dots on your face with foundation/ masking tape. That brief glimmer of time is as important as genning-up on weaning foods, working out how your nipple (or nipple teat) actually works and pondering if the word mammary/ udder could, in fact, be re-brainstormed.
Cue MILK beauty – a mobile beauty service for time-poor, knackered parents in need of massive hug/ massage/ pedicure/ fanny wax in the comfort of their homes. The tag line is ‘beauty that delivers’; sold. If you’re literally falling apart at the seams (the seams were abandoned entirely three weeks into project procreation), or just fancy a bit of TLC in your own abode without having to remove those ragged jogging bottoms from 1996, this is the number to call. Literally, I’ll give you the number now, so you can engrave it on your phone: 020 8525 8991.
Don’t waste any more time on my blatherings, get on the blower and give yourself some welcome respite from the parental storm. Got a newborn? Boob/bottle feed him or her into a milky slumber and face plant the massage table for 30 minutes or so. Struggle with overflowing Fem-Bot boobs, go for a neck massage, so you can sit up and keep those puppies out in the open. Toddler having a post Easter Egg sugar meltdown? Opt for a pedicure and get him or her to offer up the same service on Mike from Monster’s Inc. (or whatever else is your kid’s toy lifeline). Remember: kids are adults trapped in small bodies and sometimes to presence of a stranger asking them to do something has more impact than when you set up a glitter-embellished craft table for them to tantrum in the face of.
But that’s also the good thing about MILK – the amazingly friendly therapists don’t feel like strangers. It’s like having a mate round for a cuppa if you ignore the stripping down to your knickers and slobbering into the sofa with wild blissful abandon.
Whether you’re crying into your sodden breast pads, simply need a pep-up/ bush coiff while your kid naps or looking to ease off that pesky eye twitch, it’s time to properly milk it.
If you can’t even put one foot in front of the other, let alone dial a number, just sign up for the monthly MILK beauty subscription and let the happy eye-twitch-free times roll. That’s two 30-minute treatments delivered to your door once a month for £65. Happy, happy days.
They say ‘it’s like dinnertime at the zoo’ for good reason. I imagine there are few of us who aren’t grappling with requests for ‘the green spoon… no, NOT that green spoon’ around 6.12pm and generally fielding food in the manner of teetering hat stand.
That bit I don’t mind – that’s the fun bit, that’s the zoo. The bit I can’t manage with any degree of joy is the preparation of the nosebag. (Often to a tantrumming, mewling deadline.) The peeling, boiling and mashing – all entwined with a fear of ‘will they eat it; do they care if I get this little nobbly bit off the potato?’ Then you realise it’s too quiet – you gallop into the urchin’s realm only to realise she’s licking the iPad and the cat’s tail is sheathed in a sock.
I love to cook but I hate cooking to a kid deadline. Cue one of the best parental ideas I’ve come across to date – Piccolo Plates. Run by Els and Bels, two of the loveliest girls you’d hope to meet, this is the ultimate kiddie meals on wheels. This is your chance to walk in the door, whack a home-prepared, guaranteed-to-eat-it meal in the oven while you have time for cuddles/ iPad-licking prevention/ cat protection.
We’re talking fish pie, 7 veggie pasta bake, cod and salmon goujons, chicken and pesto nuggets to name a few – all prepared sans bad stuff and packed with more veg than you could swing a prize marrow at. They’re sneaky – the sauces are mainly pureed vegetables, while their aesthetic (the goujons went down a treat) is naughty enough to pull the wool over the urchin’s eyes.
I need that level of craftiness as I find myself hollering, ‘darling, I’ll only give you Ketchup if you eat ALL those chips’. Sure, there’s always room for a McCain’s mini pizza (winces, but accepts defeat once more) but the guilt allayed by ordering from these guys twice a week was worth every penny. For £5 a dish (one serves two kids; or one kid for two nights, with FREE delivery across London), my fears of Mae turning into an alphabet-shaped oven chip have been allayed.
But, more importantly I had more time to immerse myself in the zoo instead of wondering how to feed it for two nights of the week. And, of course, my hands (and mind) were freed up to ensure the correct green spoon was in place. A parental win all around.
Go to piccoloplates.com to place your order and to find out more.
Photo credit: Miles Aldridge
She’s a writer, a runner, a gin drinker, a brand consultant, a mother and totally addicted to the ‘homes abroad’ section on Rightmove.co.uk. In other words Aimee Horton, who has penned The Survival Series of books is what this generation calls a ‘slashy’ – someone with maximum talent channeled into many avenues. (Not least keeping her small humans alive). Here we talk to her in our new ‘making it work’ series about how she joins the above dots
How do you make it work?
Right now it’s a little bit hectic. I am trying to finish my third novel by the end of April, but as I’m also doing contracting I’m in the office 3 days a week. This means that every morning I try and wake up about 5.30/6am and fit between half an hour to an hour’s worth of writing in, before doing the mad morning rush for the school run. On Monday and Friday I come back and spend the day writing and finding different ways to market my current books.
On Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday I’m in the office, so as soon as the boys are in bed I sit down and write for an hour with a gin while dinner is cooking. I sometimes try and take my laptop to the office so that in my lunch hour I can sit in Waitrose café banging out a few words.
I say this is the schedule. Sometimes I just really can’t be arsed, and just collapse on the sofa listening to an audiobook pretending it’s research.
How many hours of the working week (not weekends) are you with your kid(s)?
I pick them up at 3.30pm every Monday, Wednesday and Friday and try and spend as much time with them as possible. Sometimes that often consists of me ironing in the corner while they’re watching a film.
Do you have this elusive balance? If not, why? if yes, how?
When you look at it on the outside, it looks like I do, but actually right now, no I don’t. I don’t think, when you write a book you ever have the balance because it’s so consuming. I also think, no mother can totally achieve the balance, because it’s so unpredictable.
What do you want from being a working mother?
I’m naturally competitive (with myself, I couldn’t give a toss about competing with others) and so I work for a sense of achievement. I love nothing more than a long day of hitting word count, or upping the engagement for a client on a marketing channel.
Tell us one of your darkest moments balancing work/ parenting (one specific moment would be good – i.e. dropping phone on baby while emailing etc.)
Forgetting the school run, and picking them up late in my slippers. Now I have an alarm on my phone… *hangs head in shame*
Do you miss your previous work? Tell us what you did and why you decided to leave?
God no. Not at all. I used to work in digital marketing, and after having my kids it just wasn’t for me. I think perhaps I’m not such a bitch these days. I’m too tired. I left because I hated it, and I felt like I was wasting what little time I had with my children while they were small.
The only thing I miss is the fact people understood “going to work” they still don’t understand “staying at home and working.”
What’s your biggest tip(s) for other mothers trying to make it work for themselves; mothers looking to go it alone?
Be kind to yourself. It can be REALLY REALLY hard, and REALLY REALLY exhausting, oh and demoralizing. But don’t beat yourself up about it. Also, find yourself some friends who are in a similar boat. I have two or three very very special people, who I’ve only met in real life a handful of times, but if I didn’t speak to them every day I’d break. Even if I just send them something and say “is this totally wank?” they get it.
Does 9-5 office work actually work? What’s your opinion on current flexible working in the UK?
I think it’s shit. I don’t know anybody who works part time who actually does those hours. The words “it’s only a quick question”… It’s never just one quick question, soon you’re quickly absorbed and pulled into working on your phone, ignoring your kids, and not getting paid for it.
What tools are essential for you to make it work? (i.e. Instagram/ gin etc.)
Scrivener, music, gin and running. Scrivener is practical – I need something to write into and I like the fact I can play around and re-order my different scenes and incidents without having to copy and paste. Music is so I don’t get sucked into a Netflix-a-thon. It’s very easy when you’re not feeling the love for writing to think “I’ll just watch one Pretty Little Liars” and before you know it your alarm clock is signaling the school run and you’ve achieved nothing except breaking to prepare a plate of smiley faces and dippy sauce for yourself. Gin – IT’S A CREATIVE TOOL OK. And Running, running clears my head, boosts my mood, and generally is one of the few things that keeps me level.
How much does daycare cost you? Or do you have family support?
They’re at school every day, and on Tuesdays they go to their grandparents, and then after school club costs about £8 per child on a Thursday.
What would your ideal working/ parenting situation be?
I was going to say I didn’t think there was one. But actually, I think my ideal would be the ability to switch off. That’s never going to happen. I often wonder if I gave up writing books and just worked at contracting whether it would make my life easier (I actually think it would) but the thought of never writing again fills me with horror. It’s just who I am.
Work or play?
ARGH. I’d like 50/50 please. I love writing, but I also love enjoying just being the four of us. Nothing makes me happier than a big fat family meal, followed by curling up on the sofa with a movie.
What’s the big plan? Or is it every day as it comes?
Mmm, the plan… So my book would be made into a Sitcom (ideal world scenario). Then the book I’m writing after the one I’m writing now, is going to be a movie. Then I’m going to move abroad (probably the canaries I have a real soft spot for the canary islands) and write there and run on the beach. Oh, and I suppose the kids can come too.
Follow @AimeeHorton for more great words and stuff.
There we were last Sunday eating our avocado toast (on artisan bread) and snuffling through the Sunday papers like every failed East London hipster (shitster) does, and suddenly there was a buzzing noise from the urchin’s quarters.
There she was, coding. Coding. At 34, I don’t even know what ‘coding’ means and yet there she was aged two, successfully plugging bits into Cubetto – a wooden robot that helps kids learn to code with colourful plastic chips – and sitting back proud as punch, gurning merrily at her work.
I am yet to unsheath a toy that keeps her as entertained as the iPad, or the ‘digital nanny’ as we affectionately refer to it. And yet here it is. This no-screen, hands-on, learning tool for kids is nothing short of genius – and that comes from a mother who has a small mountain of ‘learning’ toys banished to the heaving toy box graveyard.
The aim is to programme the wooden control block so that the little robot ‘Primo’ finds his way home on the board. It sounds simple – the best ideas truly are – but that’s its point of difference. There’s no lengthy, dispiriting instructions for you to half-heartedly peruse (and no battery needed; high-fives all round), it’s just a case of popping your kid on the floor and showing them how putting the yellow, green, red and blue pegs in a line, means Cubetto goes backwards.
From here it’s a game of trial and error on their part that invariably ends in squeaks of delight when this little cube of entertainment does something new. (His 360-degree disco-style-swivel-move was a firm favourite.)
While it’s for three years and up, Mae is two and it kept her shtum for 37 minutes – a non-iPad record.
From a parental perspective, this is solely about allaying screen-time guilt, while feeling like education is lingering in your household.
You know those moments when you have just one last bog to clean (if you have a cleaner, let’s say a knicker-drawer-tidy) and need four minutes to polish that porcelain chalice? While that usually ends up in Cbeebies iPlayer territory, that’s where Cubetto comes in.
Even better, its entirely gender-neutral (the founders thought a ‘cube’ and a ‘smile’ were good universal symbols – frickin’ love that) and its now doing the rounds at most Montessori schools (he fits with all their principles) and has been unleashed on the people who need him most – us, the knackered parental contingent who need all the non-iPad help we can get.
Cubetto is a beautifully designed wooden robot that teaches children ages 3 and up the basics of programming. It doesn’t use a screen, it’s Montessori-approved and it’s just launched on Kickstarter where the team at @PrimoToys raised $100k in just one day! Order yours on Kickstarter here. #CubettoKS
“When in doubt, check ’em out – GO COMPARE” – if anyone hasn’t heard or seen insurance company GoCompare.com’s advert, you are, indeed, very lucky. For the rest of us this pesky earworm – nay, relentless slug – lingers like Walker’s cheese and onion crisps.
But there’s one word in there that’s gone a little further into my grey matter – ‘compare’. For all its frothy coffees and perky peonies, the Internet, specifically Instagram, is unashamedly a place of comparison.
Seven years ago @papa_pukka and I had approximately 19 nice people in our lives (now it’s more 9; we had to cull 10 due to sheer exhaustion and lack of chat) to compare ourselves against – a troupe of like-minded folk who might have a Topshop cardie you fancy, but it’s more a fleeting ‘nice, might buy that but probably won’t, let’s get pissed’.
Now we’re in a world where there are bucket loads (specifically 456 million active users on Instagram) of people out there with much better stuff/ friends/ babies/ food/ Scandi chic delicately-ringed fingers/ lives than you. You are living in a comparative drug den, feeding your child Dr Pepper from a shoe with only the faint buzz of the rapidly-declining-in-popularity QVC channel in the background. Or so it seems.
The reality is you’ve just spotted a pair of rogue undies fermenting under your bed or unearthed a sodden, fully-sheathed cucumber from the fridge. Nothing dramatic, but with someone’s powder pink SMEG fridge beaming out across your feed, you can’t help but wonder if they, too have soggy cucumber disintegrating beneath the rucola. You invariably come to the conclusion that they don’t and that makes you sad as you dispose of the limp, stinking vine vegetable in your shitty, squeaky bin.
It’s natural. Other than a few really good people like that guy on the news who saved a penguin, we’re not by nature programmed to support people all the time.
“You get more explicit and implicit cues of people being happy, rich, and successful from a photo than from a status update,” says Hanna Krasnova of Humboldt University Berlin, co-author of Envy on Facebook: A Hidden Threat To Users. “A photo on Instagram can very powerfully provoke immediate social comparison, and that can trigger feelings of inferiority.”
We are a social media world of comparers – an entire multi-billion pound fashion industry revolves on us following ‘influencers’ like lemmings and ensuring we’re rocking that neon pom pom chapeau with extendable ears – ensuring we’re ‘keeping up’ with the trends.
Who hasn’t seen a selfie on Instagram and scoured the background in the manner of Poirot for clues of lifestyle choice? A wanton, bobbly sock in the background offers up some relief, whereas a pristine, cream carpet embellished with an unopened Whistles bag can cause sub-conscious alerts of ‘need more stuff; distressed with current life choices’.
And this isn’t some massive two-faced bitch fest where we’re all liking, merrily commenting, while secretly spitting into our Tetleys. (Calling a spade a spade the latter does very occasionally happen, but it isn’t the overriding sentiment, so shall be glided over). It’s more nuanced than that – sure there’s moments of ‘for fecks sake, less of the pouting’ (edges away from the Camille Walala wall). But ultimately it’s about comparison – comparing followers, comparing photos, comparing success and ultimately comparing lives.
While there’s nothing terrible about comparison per se – good to know what’s out there; can be inspiring; healthy competition etc. – it’s not from my experience all sunshine and perfectly-positioned roses. It’s not going to help you on that 4.13am breastfeed when your mammaries are leaking into your IKEA Önskedrom cushion and your undercarriage resembles a pack of Sellotaped-together bacon lardons.
‘Appreciate’ is as close as I got to an alternative. When those photos from the US flow in at 5.12am as the fashion mavens are all wafting about New York papping their lattes and you’re slobbering into a bowl of Nescafe, it helped me to do one of two things – appreciate or unfollow.
Depending on my hormonal state of mind, those two words saved me from a world of comparison and, perhaps hints of depression.
Because in a world of powder pink SMEG fridges, it’s important to bear in mind that sometimes those actually living life have a limp cucumber fermenting in the underbelly of their vegetable drawer.
Go compare, indeed.
It was never the prize for excellence, always effort that I’d bag at school. I’m a grafter, a reviser, a Post-it note lover, a Sellotape-over-the-cracks kinda gal who has one USP (other than Grade 3 on the triangle): determination.
So quitting my job today as senior copywriter at The L’Oreal Group hurt. It was against everything I’ve grown to know about myself. As women, mothers, wives, partners and friends, we don’t quit y’see. We fail repeatedly at things, we mess up, we stress out but never seem to throw in the towel – however much Weetabix is being mashed into your face by an E-colour fuelled toddler.
The word itself turns me a bit cold. To quit: to stop, cease or discontinue. I’ve had to stop, cease and discontinue a career that stemmed from reading teen rag Bliss Magazine in 1991 and thinking, ‘I like words, I want to write some of those.’ This can be my thing!
It led to an internship at Heat Magazine where I met H from Steps (a career high); I then bagged a job as a reporter on Practical Caravan (is there ever an impractical caravan?) and ended up being their tow bar expert before slipping onto Horticulture Week and learning how to spell ‘fuchsia’.
It’s a career that led me to my husband @papa_pukka – a fellow reporter on the salubrious Human Resources magazine and took me to Dubai, a Swarovski-encrusted dictatorship where I wrote about shoes and handbags for Grazia; then onto Amsterdam where I was the Vice Editor at Time Out Amsterdam – I would pitch up to sex parties and write notes, before interviewing the founder on his favoured lube.
That’s just my (fairly low-brow) career path; every mother, every parent has a path.
We all make decisions along the way – from seemingly essential GCSE choices and summer pub jobs to Monster boards, degrees in surf studies (?) and ultimately deciding how to make everything you’ve worked for work with your family.
I’m friends with baristas, barristers, stay-at-office-mums, stay-at-home mums, Instamums, Instabums, bloggers, sloggers, mum bosses and mum-don’t-give-a-tosses, cupcake bakers, cake fakers and everything inbetween. But the one thing that unites us all as parents is the struggle to make work actually work. (And laughing/ crying together through the madness.)
I don’t think it works. I’ve given it a good innings but at 34 I’m hanging up my press pass and gracefully edging out of the office because I don’t want to be the one scrambling to daycare like a rasping labrador anymore.
I can’t be the one landing in a mangled maternal heap at 6.07pm, with Mae sat alone – mini backpack on, wide-eyed and wondering why everyone else has been picked up. I can’t turn my back on her anymore as she’s hollering ‘Mama’ and begging for me to stay in the morning – during the week, she’s with her carer 38 hours, awake with us 16 hours, that ratio cuts deep. I don’t want to have to shell out 1 quid for every minute I’m over 6pm at daycare.
And I can’t skulk out of the office at 5pm, feeling like a maternal pariah.
I can’t do it. And I know I’m not alone – 54,000 mothers feel pushed to leave employment every year, according to the brilliant website pregnantthenscrewed.com.
And this covers the full gamut – those who are forced out by bell-end bosses (one friend said her company only ever discussed her ‘leaving’, never going on ‘maternity leave’ when she announced her pregnancy) to those who trot out of the office merrily only to regret it six months later – it’s hard to go back, there’s always someone bouncier and less yoghurt-stained ready to slot into your position.
And what hurts more is The L’Oreal Group, a huge multi-billion pound company employing more than 78,600 people are great. They’re one of best companies I’ve worked for – the people are great, the work is great, the doubled-ended volume mascara is great. I wish I’d had a dramatic exit with requisite flouncing and an official escorting out of the building as I holler ‘you’re not worth it’.
They gave me as much flexibility as the role could muster, but they moved our creative studio a further half an hour away from us (I see Mae 10 minutes a day as it is) and that one change was the straw that broke this mama’s back. The role was flexible, but not Cirque de Soleil level – I needed a glitter-embellished contortionist as an employer to make this work.
But what gives me hope as I quit my honest-to-god-dream-job is a wave of parents rolling up their Sudocrem-smattered sleeves going ‘let’s do this’. A bunch of people who have realised big brands aren’t getting it and probably won’t in our lifetime. For every fresh company that offers flexible working for people – we’re not just talking parents, but everyone – there’s 7,690 that are set in their archaic ways.
What I’ve seen in this brave new digitally savvy parental world that’s leaving these gargantuan brands in its wake is that with some hard graft, an understanding of Instagram and enough people willing to lift up instead of tearing down, we can do this.
Forget ‘Instamums’, forget the ‘cool mum’ blather, we’re all laughing as much as we’re crying and wondering how long that Thomas the Tank Engine plaster has been stuck in our barnet. We’re in this together – be that Lennie & Co’s FRIYAY t-shirts or Don’t Buy Her Flowers’ packages for knackered new mums and every new parent-run business or blog inbetween.
We’re just a rabble of mothers who don’t want it all, but want something.
My something is to be with my daughter and pull in cold, hard cash whenever, wherever I can (without it being illegal) – be that in the playground or at my Ketchup-smattered kitchen table.
Career, you’ve been fruitful but it’s time to stumble (not jump – too knackered) off the precipice into something else; something that will involve fighting for flexible working in global brands; fighting for reducing extortionate daycare rates and trying to build a platform that champions parent-run businesses one Instagram post at a time.
It’s time to see what’s out there – even if it is just having Weetabix mashed into my face. Mother Pukka, indeed.
‘Your presence is present enough’ – I’ve seen that on a few invites to weddings, baby showers and the like and always admired those folks. I need the stuff y’see. Our wedding list was a Generation Game-worthy line-up of John Lewis paraphernalia (including 34 England rugby water bottles bestowed by a friend with quite the sense of humour) and my baby shower included a stripper called Dean and 45 ovary-themed cupcakes.
Now Mother’s Day, that’s quite the day, right? One 24-hour period to celebrate the 365 days that year you’ve kept a small human alive. Needless to say, it’s essential to jam pack it with everything you want/ need/ love/ aren’t sure about but will have anyway. Don’t leave a stone left unturned – channel Veronica Salt in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory if the gifting shows any signs of easing up.
To my mind, we should each be reclined on a velveteen chaise longue as our tribe feeds us peeled grapes and recites Keats (the last bit was thrown in for faux-intellect-effect, a copy of Heat would be fine). And that only goes a millimetre towards the real super-human effort it takes to grow a human. So, here’s my list of favourite bits for this mothering Sunday.
Leading the gifting charge for me is Nor-Folk’s ‘work hard’ mug. Whether running the stock exchange or commanding a troupe of urchins at home, we’re all getting a bead on in this parenting game. So recognising that with a strong brew every five minutes is essential.
Then there’s the ‘No Rest For The With Kid’ nappy clutch (above) from Alphabet Bags. I believe it speaks for itself, but other than the clear messaging, it’s far jazzier getting that out in the baby changing bogs at your local station than anything else I’ve come across.
Onto my nearest and dearest: the off-duty ‘This is my too tired to function’ sweatshirt from Nappy Head. Just wear your heart on your boobs and leave the Hoovering to another day/ week/ year.
For a bit of bling, I love a Carrie Elizabeth necklace with an initial engraved on it – sometimes remembering your name after two hours 34 minutes of sleep is tricky, this gives you a pretty cool nudge in the right direction. And then there’s the Attic star earrings because, quite frankly, every mother I know is a massive star. Well done us. Now give us the stuff.
Chuffed to pieces to be writing about my parenting trials and tribulations for Notonthehighstreet.com. Their Mother’s Day campaign is all about the ‘maverick mum’ – she who parents to the beat of her own drum. It’s not about comparisons, it’s just about doing it your way and realising that there’s always room for a bit of fun. Whether you’re a cupcake maker, Instagram stalker, leopard-print lover or just going off the walls, there’s room at the inn (and plenty of cool stuff to buy) for all. Share your own #MaverickMum stories on Instagram.
It was 3.46am, about four weeks after my daughter was born that it hit me: an overwhelming surge of ‘oh my God, what have I done?’ It wasn’t in relation to the huge life project that was snuffling at my boob, it was a sense that I’d been a goon towards my mother for more than 32 years.
Now that’s exaggerating slightly, because I’m sure I was nice, but my overriding feeling was “she’s done all this, kept me alive, nurtured me, guided me, loved me, wiped my bum, sourced black-out curtains where I failed and I’ve basically repaid her by stropping about as a teenager and flailing around as a twenty-something.”
I unburdened my heavy maternal heart on the phone the next day. There were tears. I was sorry, but she once again made everything OK by saying, “Your Dad and I wouldn’t have wanted one that did everything by the book – that would have worried us more.”
And there’s my Mum’s Dutch spirit in a nutshell. Born in Eindhoven in the Netherlands, she was one of seven brothers and sisters (Roman Catholics) and the only sibling to get a one-way ticket to England. At the time, it was the equivalent of relocating to the moon. She was the one that left the small village. She sketched with Andy Warhol in the 70s, she was a tiny dancer, a talker and cycled around on a bike with no brakes.
My Mum is the first to push the sentiment: ‘do it, go your own way; it’s not selfish, it’s honest’. And she’d always wrap my sandwiches up in a way that stood out (think a foil extravagance) from the packed-lunch crowd.
The day I said, “I’ve met a guy [my now husband] and I’m moving to Dubai [having known him for one month]”, she supported, hugged and never once brought my bubbling excitement down. As a mother myself, I now know she must have been breaking inside.
The minute I stepped on that plane to live in a Swarovski-encrusted dictatorship must have been a brutal blow; because the minute you decide to have a kid, you think of the baby stuff, you think of the toddling, but you only vaguely connect with a time beyond that. The teens, the twenties… Looking back, that’s when parenting truly kicks in.
All I know is that I’ve followed my mad, all-over-the-place heart to some really brilliant and equally bizarre places. Amsterdam followed Dubai, and now a far-flung corner of East London is home. It’s been a journey littered with catastrophe (driving into my parents house the day after passing my driving test was a particular low) and pure joy – seeing my mother holding my daughter will stay with me to the day I drop down.
But I know now that it was my Mum, a woman without brakes, who helped me do it my way. We joke that she’s the real ‘Mother Pukka’ – one thing’s for sure, I have huge Dutch clogs to fill.
Chuffed to pieces to be writing about my parenting trials and tribulations for Notonthehighstreet.com. Their Mother’s Day campaign is all about the ‘maverick mum’ – she who parents to the beat of her own drum. It’s not about comparisons, it’s just about doing it your way and realising that there’s always room for a bit of fun. Whether you’re a cupcake maker, Instagram stalker, leopard-print lover or just going off the walls, there’s room at the inn (and plenty of cool stuff to buy) for all. On that note, I am in love with this Exhausted tee (with twinning baby gro). Always wear your heart on your boobs. Share your own #MaverickMum stories on Instagram.
The gentle lapping of balmy waters, the chirp of an occasional tropical bird and the harmonious humming of exotic fauna… Then a burst of mewling from the urchin and Mama was back in the room.
Nope, I wasn’t in Thailand post-Full Moon party, but drifting off in a maternal fug to the ‘tropical’ setting on Mae’s sleep sheep. I was delirious, I was not OK and I was dreaming of another world/life didn’t include massive knickers and a droopy eyelid.
But it was that moment when I realised a little bit of papering over the cracks could go a long way. Sure I might not be able to jet off to Club Tropicana clutching a Mills & Boon novel, but the next day I booked in for a Vitamin C facial and handed Mae over to my husband for all of 64 minutes. I then went and bought myself a necklace with ‘Mama’ on it (because even though I wasn’t feeling like a very good one, branding is everything) and headed back to the ranch.
It was enough. Shallow? Indulgent? Who cares, I came back a much nicer person – which was as good for me as it was my poor family who had been subjected to me ricocheting from beaming to crying every 30 seconds.
It was then that I decided there was more fun to be had with parenthood. It didn’t need to be heavy forums filled with abbreviations like AIBU (Am I Being Unreasonable) or YANBU (You Are Not Being Unreasonable). I felt the one common denominator through parenting is laughter. Whether you’re boob or bottle, Ella’s Kitchen or Annabel Karmel, mumboss or mum-don’t-give-a-toss, it was my mama mates and their perilous tales of parenting that made everything OK. It was stories of ‘I found a packet of raisins in my kid’s baby gro’ or ‘does anyone else’s nipple look like a Jaffa cake’ that made me see the lighter side and start to realise I wasn’t the only one making it up as I go along.
When the going gets tough and it’s tears and tantrums a go-go, I whack some 90s hip hop on and dance with the clan in the kitchen. It doesn’t always work but hey sometimes it does, so we keep going.
My parental method isn’t textbook (if there even is one?), it’s more ‘have a go’. Like my style isn’t thought-out, it’s more ‘stuff that’s not in the wash’. But I realised that it’s not about what everyone else is doing, it’s about what we, as parents, can do together and for me that’s always been snort-tea-through-nose laughing through the madness. Oh, and fondly remembering our previous lives waking up hungover on a beach in Koh Pan Ngang – and realising that motherhood is, in fact, a much happier place.
Chuffed to pieces to be writing about my parenting trials and tribulations for Notonthehighstreet.com. Their Mother’s Day campaign is all about the ‘maverick mum’ – she who parents to the beat of her own drum. It’s not about comparisons, it’s just about doing it your way and realising that there’s always room for a bit of fun. Whether you’re a cupcake maker, Instagram stalker, leopard-print lover or just going off the walls, there’s room at the inn (and plenty of cool stuff to buy) for all. On that note, I am in love with this Exhausted tee (with twinning baby gro). Always wear your heart on your boobs. Share your own #MaverickMum stories on Instagram.
The urchin is in a new daycare, and she weeps as I leave her every morning. She walks tentatively into her room, then turns and cries and runs back, arms out, tears flowing. When Mother Pukka collects her in the evening, she weeps again. They tell us that she’s happy in between.
There can be few sensations more unnatural to a parent than handing your bawling child to a stranger while she stares you in the eye and pleads for you to stay. Whenever I turn to walk away, it leaves a gnawing in the pit of my belly for the rest of the day.
But we need to work, so we drop her off at the urchin farm every morning, along with dozens of other raggedly functioning parents. As at her last place, she’ll settle eventually, and soon be running in without a look back.
I know this, because she has been in daycare since she was four months old (she was born in The Netherlands, where maternity leave is shorter). At that age, she was too young to tell much difference between me and a hat-stand. She began at her last place aged around 18 months, a period when she was regularly slapping me in the face and telling me, ‘go way!’
At each of those, I could happily sling her in the door and run away to the relative calm of work. Much like a stray tabby, she was happy with anyone who would give her milk and snacks.
But now the wobbly baby is becoming an actual person. She has opinions and tastes, distinctive expressions and empathy for others. When her three-year-old cousin started blubbing over his Christmas dinner, the urchin hopped off her mother’s lap saying, ‘I better give him a cuddle’. And she said it with the quiet confidence of a master bridge-builder assessing a wonky table leg.
When she first arrived I was fond of her, of course. I gawped in awe like every other new dad, and became a soppy sentimentalist overnight, quietly welling up at the sad bits in films. But most of what I did for her was through a sense of duty, rather than choice. A case of, ‘we’ve had this thing, now we have to rear it’.
But now that thing is becoming a tiny person, she’s much easier to like. I feel like a particularly loyal collie that just wants to be by its master’s side. The master, in this case, being a 2-year-old and prone to outrageous tantrums. She makes commands and I scamper off, metophorical tail wagging, to fetch juice or trim the crusts of her toast. I make sure she asks properly, in sentences that end with ‘please’, but there’s no doubt about it: I am now her fetcher, gopher and subservient bum-wiper. And, much as I plan to be strict-but-fair, and to admonish spoiled behaviour, I suspect this might be the case for years to come.
At least, until I’m in a home and she’s changing my nappy.
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/ 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.
Then The Times published a piece yesterday describing me as a ‘princess’ in font size 18. A ‘perfect lifestyle princess’ to be specific. (They swiftly changed it to ‘queen’ online after a mild bit of backlash.)
The feature, written by the brilliant Richard Godwin was balanced and fair – there was nothing to fault. But the headline and captions (with my name spelled as ‘Whitehead’ not ‘Whitehouse’) had the stamp of a misogynistic lazy sub who simply saw three things: ‘blonde’, ‘girl’, ‘princess’… oh wait, she’s old and a mother, let’s make it ‘queen’ online).
A light Google would reveal my blatherings are more ‘imperfect parental wazzock’ and that I’ve never touted a perfect lifestyle. Even if you can’t be arsed to read the feature that’s clogging up your inbox or spell the name right, surely the name ‘Mother Pukka’ gives a hint of the goods.
Sure, I’m aware brands like sparkly photos (cue irksome posing) and that you can make a quick dime on instagram – a girl’s gotta eat – but the rest is really me being a massive goofball. My hashtag is ‘parentingtheshitoutoflife’ but more often than not it’s ‘notparentingtheshitoutoflife’, following a dose of kid-related catastrophe.
But what frustrates most is that The Times is where I set my journalistic sights aged 21 as I scrabbled around pretending to write. (I started out on Practical Caravan; so close).
It was, for me – until yesterday – one of the remaining publications that had a bit of class – kept its head held high as others were scooping stories on Katie Hopkins/ H from Step’s comeback and Myleene Klaas, whose insane musical talent has taken a backseat for photos of her looking ‘lush’. In my eyes it was intelligent journalism fighting through in a garden of Daily Mail weeds.
It was a place that vaguely got women, got mothers, got parents and graciously edged past all the ‘look 30 years younger in 30 minutes’ white noise that’s been tumbling out of every print media orifice since I picked up a copy of Bliss in 1995.
And then some idle goon went and ruined it for me. A blundering diplodocus who has made it clear to my daughter, Mae that her mother is nothing more than a princess.
(On a side note, I shared a page with Beyonce; silver linings.)
‘Naff’, ‘cringe’, ‘patronising’, ‘uniting’, ‘beautiful’, ‘positive’ – these are a few words pinging about The Internet about the ‘motherhood challenge’ – a Facebook push that asks mothers to share five photos that define motherhood to them and then ‘tag another 10 awesome mothers’ to do the same.
I’m talking about this solely because a guy from BBC Radio rang me up yesterday and asked if I’d debate this thing on air. Until this point – like many other things in the world/ supermarket/ Snap Chat (what even is that?) – it wasn’t really on my radar. There’s so much white noise out there I can rarely sort the buzz from the feed.
But regardless, it was a shameless opportunity to be on The Beeb so like a media hungry daschund, I dutifully slobbered on. My initial thoughts after a five minute stalk were thus:
- Kids? Good? Motherhood? Good? What’s the issue?
- A quick reference in a dictionary and I felt ‘challenge’ was the wrong word. Dealing with a reflux infant on two hours of sleep is a challenge. Posting some pics doesn’t fit. But that’s just a pedantic point, really and makes me look like a bit of a dick.
- Tagging 10 mates who are ‘awesome mothers’? Bit naff but so is most of the Internet, so nothing revolutionary.
- No charity angle? Could have been nice.
- Not sure anyone feels a deep sense of loss if they’re not tagged as an ‘awesome mother’. We’ve all hoofed-out urchins out – we can take it.
- Insensitive to people struggling to have kids? We’d be here all day if we tip-toed around the internet with that in mind. I’ve had three miscarriages and while it’s tough, I never got hacked off with my mates having succeeded where my ovaries seemed to have kicked back.
But what I said on air wasn’t the above. Along with many other ‘edgy’ ‘modern motherhood’ ‘cool mum’ ‘instamum’ words I simply said it was a ‘bit naff’. I got my dictionary knickers in a twist and blindly missed the overarching point – once again the world is set on dividing us.
On dividing the motherhood. The dude from the BBC just wanted a tale of two sides. He wanted breast pad flingin’, cupcake rammin’, with one side touting placards of ‘breast is best’; the other waving a White Company flag.
Once more, you’re a type of mother – you either wear Stan Smiths and boyfriend jeans and rock the world with your ‘I’ve not changed’ ways and Mac Lady Danger lipstick, throwing the ‘naff’ card at folks who, for whatever reason (post natal depression? A need to look at the positive bits because there are whopping great negatives) want to post five pics of their spawn.
Or you’re swathed in Cath Kidston and spouting terms like AIU (Am I Being Unreasonable or NYANBU (No You Are Not Being Unreasonable). The comments on my Instagram post this morning ranged from: ‘Vom inducing’ to ‘too many middle class judgy instamums thinking they are too cool for school.’
The Internet doesn’t want us all to unite and realise there’s room at the inn for mum bossing and mum gossing. Room for lipsticks and dipsticks; Room for faf, naf and everything inbetween.
All I know is that it’s the stuff that would have bra burning Emmeline Pankhurt develop a significant eye twitch.
Because dividing a bunch of women who are working on life is more than a bit naff.