Finding my groove

Becoming a mum of two, being on maternity leave, and moving house has meant that my old routines and familiar life has undergone a complete transformation in the last few months and, to be honest, I have struggled at times. There’s been a lot of choosing convenience over ethics around here just lately, a lot of shouting, and a lot of days when I have questioned whether I would ever be able to do more than just survive to bedtime.

But Piper is now five months and, the last few weeks, I’ve noticed that things are feeling much easier. I’m getting back to myself as a person – reading more (and not only about parenting), engaging with new ideas, wanting to socialise, eating more healthily, choosing to walk rather than take public transport, buying second hand or not at all rather than going straight onto Amazon. I’m also getting back to myself as a parent – shouting less, being more patient, coming back to the compassionate, respectful, connected way of communicating that used to be how I predominately interacted with Tom.

Part of it is simply that Piper sleeps better and plays more, so I’m less tired and feeling less intensely needed by her – giving me more time, energy and physical presence to share with Tom, John and myself. But it has also been meeting mums locally and settling into the area, seeing friends and family, and feeling more settled into the new flat.

I’ll be back to work in January and things will change again, but for the moment I am enjoying having so much time to spend with the children and getting to know our new home.

10 things I loved last week

I’ve noticed lately that my thoughts are tending towards focusing on the negative – definitely glass half empty type stuff. I’d prefer to be concentrating on the positives, because I really am so blessed and it is worth taking the time to notice that. So each week I’ll try to keep a list of things I have loved about that week – this one covers the week commencing 9 October.

I loved that we have the internet again! We’ve been without it since we moved a month ago and I only have a very small amount of mobile data, which quickly got used up. But we finally got it installed on Friday so I’ve been able to list some items on ebay, update our budgets, and get started on some Christmas shopping. Plus, of course, get caught up with writing the kids’ updates and with reading blogs I love.

I loved eating loads of spicy Thai pickled cabbage. It’s salty and zingy and spicy and makes all the pleasure centres in my brain go off. I’ve been eating it at practically every mealtime.

I loved making overnight oats for breakfast. Filling and delicious and so, so easy to make.

I loved how randomly warm the weather was, so that Tom and I could get out to the park every day that he wasn’t at nursery.

I loved how much Tom enjoyed playing with the fort I made him out of some waste cardboard.

I loved that Piper has gotten over her cold and is her usual happy laughing self again.

I loved joining a network of local mums on Whatsapp. Looking forward to meeting some of them in real life before too long.

I loved reading Quiet by Susan Cain. I’m an introvert and it is pretty apparent that Tom is too. This is a brilliant book for highlighting some of the strengths of this type of temperament and also explores the underlying differences in brain morphology and genetics between introverts and extroverts which I found very illuminating.

I loved that John cooked dinner twice this week without me asking him to.

I loved walking to and from nursery instead of getting the bus. It’s about half an hour each way and I always feel much happier and more awake for getting that exercise first thing.


The challenging toddler years…

Is Tom actually a toddler anymore? Or does three count as a preschooler or something instead? Either way, he’s a far cry from the adorable 13 month old he was when I first started this blog and an even further cry from the tiny newborn in the picture on our desk.

To say that I have found the toddler years challenging would be a major understatement. Tonight, to take a fairly average example, I have told Tom off for hitting his (3 month old) sister, endured a whining marathon because I turned off the TV, and had a relatively lengthy argument about whether or not he had kissed his sister good night (He had. He just wanted to put off bedtime as long as possible so was insisting he hadn’t made the kissing noise, so it didn’t count). All this between 6.30 and 7.00 pm.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the bones of this boy. He’s bright and articulate and funny. He does crazy dances and tells me long stories and makes his dinosaurs pretend to take naps. Life wouldn’t be worth living without him. But he is also argumentative, willful and infuriatingly cheeky. No one can press my buttons the way he can.

Deep down though, I know the problem isn’t him. He’s a very normal toddler. If anything, he is actually more on the well behaved side, at least according to everyone else who knows him. The problem is me. Lack of sleep and the constant work of parenting a young baby are making me impatient, snappy, and sometimes scary-shouty. Instead of remaining calm and establishing firm limits, I’m losing my temper, shouting, and acting like a child myself. None of which helps Tom to behave well.

Something needs to change. And since Piper doesn’t look set to start sleeping better anytime soon, it isn’t going to be getting more rest…

Parity, Penises and Parenting: A Post for International Women’s Day

I spent most of my late teens and early twenties insisting I wasn’t a feminist. I didn’t see the need. From my safe, privileged bubble it looked as though that war was over. And I’d bought into the myth that feminists are man-haters who think women are better than men, rather than just equal to. Essentially, past-me was an idiot.

As I got older, entered the workplace and learnt a bit more about the world, I realised that the fight for equality between the genders was very much not over. Even in the UK, where we have made huge strides, women take home less money than men and make up a greater percentage of those earning only the national minimum wage. Almost 80% of senior management posts worldwide are held by men. Meanwhile, 1 in 4 women are subjected to domestic violence in their lifetime (source for all of these stats). Clearly, there is still a huge problem. And that’s even before we look at areas of the world where ‘women’s rights’ is a phrase that simply does not apply.

One of the simultaneously most empowering and most scary parts of being a parent is when you realise how much power you have to shape the views and opinions of another human being. And if we all raise our kids to know in their bones that men and women are equal, that skin colour has nothing to do with a person’s worth, and that who you choose to take to bed is only the business of you and that person (assuming everyone is legal and consenting of course)…we won’t have to have these conversations anymore. Equality will be a given.

Sometimes I think that this must be more straightforward for parents of girls. Not easy. I see nothing easy about having to challenge the endemic and often unconscious sexism that women encounter all the time. But the need to challenge that view, to provide strong female role models, to do your best to bring up an empowered woman who knows her worth…that need must feel pretty urgent.

I don’t have a daughter though. I have a son. My boy is white, male and middle-class, growing up in a world where being white, male and middle-class makes you one of the privileged ones. This makes the need to provide examples of female empowerment feel a little less urgent. A little less relevant. Which is, of course, a dangerous attitude. Because equality between the genders (and I include every possible permutation in that, not just the classic male/female) will only come when everyone believes in it. It’s not a battle that can, or should, be won by women alone.

As always in parenting, this is a matter of balance. Tom was born with a penis. This is a biological fact. And, regardless of whether he grows up to be a straight man, or a gay man, or a trans woman or any other of the wonderful variety of things that humans can be, being born with a penis is going to form a big part of his identity. So the last thing I want to do is make him feel guilty about that. I’ve spent most of my life feeling obscurely guilty for the fact I was lucky enough to be born into a well-off family…as though it was something I chose. I don’t want that for him.

So how do we do this? How do we raise a son who knows that women and men are equal, without making him feel guilty for being born a member of the sex who has historically been dominant? (this is a genuine question by the way – we have some ideas but are not exactly experts…)

He’s only 18 months, so the more in depth conversations are going to have to wait until his vocabulary expands a bit (somehow I don’t think ‘car’ and ‘doggy’ are going to cut it). At the moment, our approach to this issue mainly revolves around not labeling behaviours as typically male or typically female (Tom loves cars for example. And also tea parties and dancing and housework. Sometimes all together).

We are providing him with toys from both the blue and pink sections of the toy aisle – and boy does that bit of marketing make me angry! We are on the look out for stories with strong female characters as well as strong male ones (any suggestions very welcome). And we are trying to model equality in our marriage. Both Mr Techno and I go out to work. Both of us have days where we are home alone with Tom. Both of us cook. Both of us do housework. Both of us do DIY. I’m more likely to do the clothes wash and he’s more likely to handle power tools…but we are getting there.

I guess we just keep talking to Tom. At an age appropriate level. Challenge sexism wherever we see it. Provide examples of both women and men who step outside of accepted gender roles. And make sure he continues to grow up around men who are comfortable in who they are without needing to put down women (or anyone else) in order to feel powerful.

So here is my #PledgeForParity for International Women’s Day: I will not only call myself a feminist, I will raise my son to call himself one too.

Suck on that, past-me.

PS. If you’d like to see some amazing women who are proving that the construction industry isn’t just for men…head over to the SPAB’s Vimeo Channel where my colleague Ali has been putting together videos showcasing women working in building conservation – from architects to building surveyors to stonemasons. And check out the SPAB’s careers advice page whilst you are at it to see how your daughters, or sons, could develop a career working with historic buildings (I wrote it, so you know it will be brilliant).

PPS. This post is linked up with Lulastic’s International Women’s Day link up. So head over there to read more:

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The Importance of Physical Play

It is no wonder toddlers need to nap. Tom is a constant ball of energy, every moment he is awake. He bounces and climbs and runs around. He dances, pounces on his blankie and, just when you think he’s going to stop for a moment, he’s off again, marching down the corridor whilst kicking a balloon and singing his own peculiar version of head, shoulders, knees and toes (he can’t do any of the words and only manages ‘knees and toes’ and ‘mouth of the movements). I love every moment of it.

I had a perplexing conversation with a mum I know a few months back. She was lamenting that her 18 month-old son didn’t yet have the attention span to sit through an entire tv show. I tried to be sympathetic (because I’m a pushover), but what I was really thinking was ‘why?’

Why would she want her kid to sit still? I couldn’t be prouder that mine is in perpetual motion. Granted, a bit of peace and quiet is nice sometimes and if Tom was a less good sleeper I might feel differently. He’s pretty good at independent play too (RIE completely to credit for that), so it’s not too overwhelming.

And anyway, physical play is pretty damn important. Despite the scary figures on childhood obesity, I hope that most of us don’t have to worry too much about our kids being fat at Tom’s young age (he’s currently 17 months old). But encouraging physical play, ideally outdoors, is a way of building good habits right from the start.

There are a bunch of other benefits too. Physical play helps kids to learn about their bodies – what they can do and what they can’t. They develop their muscles and gross motor control. They learn to judge risk. They develop better balance and coordination. And they gain important experiences that teach them about the world – because, despite all our intellect and our technology, humans are still physical beings in a physical world.*

Physical play with other people can also be really important. Tom loves to be chased, to be picked up and spun around, to use me or Mr Techno as a climbing frame. He loves when we pretend, very gently, to wrestle with him. He loves me nuzzling him with my head. He isn’t great at giving kisses still but will rest his head on mine and stare into my eyes in a physical motion that is just as loving.

There’s a great exploration of this in Larry Cohen’s book ‘The Playful Parent‘. I didn’t necessarily love the book – it mainly explores play as therapy and seemed to miss some of the joy of playing just because, not because it is a teaching moment or a way to work through big feelings. Though of course play can do both those things too. But I did like most of the book and it had some really thought-provoking things to say about the importance of ‘rough-housing’ – there’s a summary here.

So hurray for running, jumping, wrestling and dancing. And for what they teach our kids.

*Sources and further reading: (warning: opens a PDF) (Another PDF)


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