Friday, 2 December 2016

The Unnecessary Pressure of Christmas

Last year I had a bit of a moan about how fancy Christmas is getting. I questioned the necessity of Christmas Eve boxes and slagged off Panettone because I was feeling nostalgic about Viennetta.

This year? Well, this year I’m feeling pretty much the same so it looks like an annual ‘What the fuck has happened to Christmas?’ blog might be on the cards.

This isn’t a Scroogey post, though – far from it, in fact, I’m a massive fan of Christmas – but earlier this week I found myself getting stressed over all the impressive things other people are doing/planning that I haven’t been doing/planning and I figured that if I’m stressing out, the chances are some of you are, too. So this is my attempt to reassure you that you are not failing at Christmassy parenting just because you haven’t hand-sewn an advent calendar out of sheep wool you’ve flown in from Nazareth.

I’m bewildered by some of the Christmas-themed conversations I've seen online lately and the final straw came when I stumbled across an entire thread dedicated to mums debating which Christmas theme to go for this year. What do you mean which theme? I read on and discovered that one mum is having a 'monochrome Christmas' because it looks classier. Another is accessorising in pastels this year because the bright colours clash with her sofa and the third isn’t sure yet what to go for but ‘crikey’ isn’t it hard work coming up with the decorative theme every year?!

I wanted to scream at my computer, “CHRISTMAS! THE FUCKING THEME IS CHRISTMAS!” but I didn’t because it was obvious I had stumbled into a zone that wasn’t safe for me, like the Helmand of mum chat, so I muttered, ‘monochrome my arse’ and shut down the browser. What the bloody hell is a monochrome Christmas? OK I know what monochrome is – everything is black, white and grey or varying tones of just one colour - but that’s not Christmas, is it? Is it? Christmas isn’t supposed to be classy, right? Christmas is bright and colourful and chaotic and brings together a hodgepodge of decorations bought from random places or handmade by kids over the years.

Christmas in the early 1990s. Great times with little fuss.
Granted, this was just one thread. But over the course of a few days I was drip fed-further images of impressive festive creations and elaborate Things To Do lists and I couldn’t help but feel a bit sad. So much seems to be expected of parents in the run up to Christmas nowadays.

Firstly, you have to trample over people in the supermarket on Black Friday as you panic-buy presents you don’t really need but feel you ought to buy because of the colossal savings off the list price they definitely didn’t hike up the week before. Then you have to think about December 1st. What are you doing for advent? Some people are doing book advents, some people are doing craft advents, some people are giving away a clue as to where the chocolate is hidden each day - because if life wasn’t already busy enough you can now get up ten minutes earlier to facilitate a daily fucking treasure hunt. Then you have to get the elf down for the shelf and make him do cheeky things every day.

We’ve got shop-bought advent calendars for the boys again and they’re chuffed. We do have an elf - because the good-behaviour bribery potential is strong - but he doesn’t write messages in Weetos or cosy up to Barbie because I haven’t got the time. He basically moves around the shelf and the kids think that’s amazing.

I suppose my point is that Christmas isn’t about the showy stuff. Unless, of course, you want it to be. If you want to pay for a personalised letter from Father Christmas and arrange a visit to a top notch grotto (with a Santa so true-to-life he must have been through Santa Factor boot camp and Judges’ Houses to secure the role) then do it. You need not defend these actions if they mean something to you.

But don’t do these things because you feel like you ought to, or worse because you’re worried your yuletide Instagram feed looks a bit shit. So what if Derek from the garden centre’s black moustache is visible over his Santa beard in the picture and the gift he’s given your son is a shit plastic toy for the bath when you don’t even have a bath (true story). Kids are brilliant. Kids think Santa knew you didn’t have a bath but bought the toy for their outside water tray.

Kids don’t get to Christmas Eve and think Christmas is ruined because there isn’t a personalised ceramic plate for the mince pie and carrot or because they haven’t got new pyjamas in their ‘Christmas Eve box’. They don’t wake up in a cold sweat because you forgot to buy them glittery reindeer food to sprinkle on the front door step.

For me, the build-up to Christmas will always be about leafing through the Argos catalogue, putting the tree up without any regard for monochrome classiness, eating tins of chocolates, drinking Buck’s Fizz, watching Home Alone and dancing around the living room to Shakin’ Stevens.
Tuesday is set to the greatest moment of the year so far when I get to watch my little Henry Bear be a shepherd in his first nativity ('Get that fire going!' - I've been saying his lines in my sleep).

That’s Christmas. I bloody love it.

This isn't my way of 'mum-shaming' anybody who is borderline professional at festive stuff. I just felt I needed a moment to re-focus on what’s important and what's important is different for all of us. It's whatever stuff we believe to be important.

Don’t get swept up in doing shit you don’t really want to do.
Don’t worry about keeping up with The Clauses on social media.
Don’t put Derek out of business.

Have a proper crimbo.

Sunday, 4 September 2016

Here We Are, Then (Henry Starts School)

I considered not writing this post at all, suspecting that whatever I typed would fast become a Starting School cliché (“Where has the time gone? I can’t bear it!” yadda yadda yadda). But I have been a walking mess of emotions for the past few weeks and shy of hiding in the fridge sobbing into Dairylea triangles (again) I didn’t really know where else to go with it. [Spoiler alert: this post is one hundred per cent a Starting School cliché, seasoned school parent pros need read no further].

The truth is, I have looked ahead to this moment many times over the last four years and I quite honestly never expected that I would be one of those mums. The criers. The ones who get struck down with My Baby is Starting School pangs in the middle of Tesco. The ones who make an excuse to escape to the kitchen with a lump in their throat when the uniform is tried on for the first time. The ones who scroll through toddler photos from two years ago on Timehop and say, “I just can’t believe it.”

Yet here we are. Timehop presents me with a photo of my about-to-start-school child from when he was a toddler, waddling around not quite able to master walking in his wellies, and all at once I’m floored by a hurty heart.
Just like that my Henry Bear, my biggest boy, is going to school. Joining the hordes of reception-starters, he’ll be making his way through the school gates in the oversized uniform I’ve dutifully labelled with name tags, carrying a book bag that will come home bursting with reminders about things we have to do to help him succeed at numeracy/phonics/life.

Parents of children already at school tell me this overwhelming emotion will soon become a distant memory and I have no doubt that when term begins next year I too will be skipping up the road and updating Facebook with, ‘Lovely summer and everything but thank fuck for that!’

I will know the drill by then. I’ll be used to having a school-aged child and I’ll have realised that the school day is actually quite short (and that it’s never very long before the next holiday which presents me with all manner of childcare issues). With a level-head on I already know all of these things but level-headedness rarely makes a guest appearance in Parentland, does it? In fact, Parentland has proved the biggest mind-fuck of a destination I’ve ever been to and that’s without the use of any narcotics. Parentland is maddening and hilarious and weird and makes me cry all the bloody time.

It’s not that I don’t want Henry to go to school. I do. He is more than ready to go and I’m excited for him. It’s just that seeing him trying on his uniform this evening, singing along to his favourite song (Coldplay’s Yellow, genuinely he demands it on repeat), I can’t hide from the fact that he is growing up. In any normal week one day rolls into the next and it’s easy not to see it. Sure he grows out of his clothes and shows an interest in new TV programmes and games so I know he is growing up. But I don’t stop and take stock of that. Life’s too busy.
School very obviously marks  the start of a brand new chapter, which is no bad thing it just means I have to accept that a line is being drawn under the old chapter - the one where he was baby who was sick all the time who then became a toddler who called all animals, “Cat!” and later a pre-schooler who made me howl with laughter at his naked living-room dancing.

I have moaned about him a lot over the last four years (because he’s annoying – really, he is) but this last year has seen a change in our relationship. He makes me laugh. He’s bloody good company.

I will miss him.

There have been times when I have muttered, "Roll on school!" and I could give you some bullcrap about how I didn't really mean it but in all honesty at the time I definitely meant it.

I think maybe that is why I am so sad.

Because I never enjoyed the earliest days as much as I should have. I tried but it turns out the whole baby thing just isn’t my bag (though my ovaries are positively exploding at the prospect of being one child down during school hours so I think Mr Unmumsy will be wearing three pairs of boxers to bed for the next week. “Just one more?” “NO”).

On top of the fact that I am distraught at him going to school (not an exaggeration) I am also worried about how I will fare as a School Mum. I’ve bumbled through the last four years of motherhood on a wing and a prayer and I’m fairly sure my maternal incompetence will be outed sometime in the first term.
The other mums might have read my book. What if they stand in the corner of the playground whispering, “There’s that mum who called her baby a dick. Look how creased his trousers are - I did read she doesn’t iron anything. Oh and there’s her husband. Do you know he once had to milk her?”
I hadn’t thought this through.
But it’s not about me. And my main worry is not how bad I’ll look when I put Henry in his skeleton pyjamas for World Book Day (Funnybones, yes he has worn them for the last two Halloweens), my main worry is how he will get on. Will he enjoy it? Will he make friends? Will he manage to remember that not everybody wants to abide by his rules when playing  Star Wars? Will he fit in?
He’s too young for me to give him the school advice I want to give him. I want so badly to tell him the things I learned from school. That it’s better to be nice than it is to be popular. That if you are nice you will be popular for the right reasons, because people like you. That if you strive only to be popular you will be popular because people think they have to like you, because you're popular (and that is not the same thing).
I want to tell him to work hard, to play harder and to always be kind.
I want to tell him that I am so very proud of him. So proud it makes me look around and shout, “That’s my son!”
I want to thank him for giving me something so wonderful that I will miss it. For allowing me to make a million and one parenting mistakes in the first four years of his life which will no doubt benefit his little brother (trial and error, it’s the only thing I know).
But I won’t tell him any of these things. He’s a sensitive creature and it would be selfish of me to burden him with the extra worry of his mother having the emotional restraint of Gwynnie at the Oscars. So I will bite my tongue and in my best cheery mum voice I will say, “School tomorrow then buddy! How fab, you’ll love it.” I will keep things upbeat. I won’t make it too big a deal. I will do all the stuff I hope will make school easier for him and none of the stuff that will make school easier for me.
I know it is probable that at some stage he will cling to me and tell me that he doesn’t want me to leave (we had four months of that at preschool, it broke my soul). Every ounce of my being will want to stay there in the middle of reception class holding onto him, but it would start to look a bit weird. So I will be firm, because that’s what parents do. And he will be fine.
I will not be fine. I will come home and cry and eat Dairylea triangles and say, “Where did the time go?”
That’s Parentland. The best place on earth. The worst place on earth.
I bloody love you Henry Bear. Go get ‘em.
The Unmumsy Mum

Friday, 8 July 2016

Why Parenthood Is Nothing Like I Imagined

Not so long ago somebody asked me whether life as a parent was ‘everything I imagined it would be’ and I laughed so hard that food came out of my nose.

‘Oh yes,’ I replied, after realising that this was, in fact, a genuine question. ‘It’s everything I imagined it would be and more,’ adding a slight grimace which I hoped delivered the honest subtext of ‘Absofuckinglutely not.’

Remarking on all the failed expectations of parenthood is actually one of my favourite pastimes. Not in a ‘Wow, look at all the things I hoped I would do/say/be as a parent, I’m none of them hahaha!’ way but just a chuckle over all the shit I thought I would do.

Except that’s not strictly true.

Clear as a toddler's backwashed sippy cup?

Allow me to explain.

I’m not saying I have lied about imagining a whole host of shit I’ve subsequently never come close to doing, I'm saying that imagining doing these things is not the same as genuinely believing that I would do them.

Is anybody still with me? (This feels like the bit in Titanic when Rose is calling the rescue boats back and begging Jack to stay with her but it’s too late because his bollocks have frozen after she hogged the floating door big enough for two). Stay with me Jack, I’m getting to the point.

Not quite what I imagined
My point is that deep down I knew my vision of parenthood was unrealistic even before I threw a baby into the mix. And that’s actually got nothing to do with parenthood itself, not really, because I’ve been setting myself up to fail with unrealistic imaginings all my life.

Before I started secondary school, I imagined that I would be instantly accepted by the cool kids and that I'd successfully attract a boyfriend to hold hands with between lessons. Only it turns out that when you have Deirdre Barlow glasses engulfing two-thirds of your face and you team ankle-basher trousers with ‘square’ shoes from Clarks (because your mum wouldn’t let you go to Shoezone and get the platform ones) you never do slot straight into the cool crowd. In fact, you later find yourself in Year 11 with nothing to show by way of romance except a drunken snog in the Football Club car park with a boy you suspect was sick before he kissed you.

When I started working in finance, fresh-faced from University and keen as mustard, I imagined that I would swish around in pencil skirts and deliver dynamic presentations so impressive they would leave senior management bamboozled. Credit where credit’s due I had a pretty good bash at swishing around in pencil skirts and delivering presentations but I also had spells of mediocrity. I got things wrong, I didn't always make a dynamic impression and I once managed to get myself locked in the staff toilet where I had to be rescued by a commercial banking manager who climbed over the top of my cubicle and gave me a leg up (upon re-entering the office from the toilet I discovered word of the escape had spread and I was greeted with a round of applause). Work life wasn’t always very swish, in the end, but it did provide years of laughter.

Parenthood has taken these unrealistic imaginings to a whole new level because every stage of the parenting game brings a new anticipation. When I first imagined myself having children I visualised a mum who would rustle up fresh pesto with a pestle and mortar, while listening to Jazz. Who would glide around looking positively glowy with her baby in a sling and her toddler sat nicely doing crafts (she would exude maternal confidence and have all sorts of educational crafty ideas because that’s what imaginary glowy pesto-pulsing mums do).

Only I’ve never been a glider, not ever, and there’s nothing about passing a small human out of your fandango that automatically makes you more glidey, is there? The reality is that I’m clumsy, I walk into things, I always seem to manage to get the belt loop from my dressing-gown caught on the door handle so it pulls me backwards with great force. I’m crap at cooking, I hate crafts.

It’s never been the boys’ fault that I haven’t blossomed into the beacon of delicious yummy mumminess I imagined. That was never my calling. My calling has always been slightly crummier. I just imagined a sleeker version because that’s what imagination does. It creates expectation.

So you see, it’s not exclusively parenthood that has failed to become 'everything I imagined it would be'. It’s just that by their very nature our imaginings are a bit fucking daft.

They are also inevitable. Which is why I can’t help but imagine myself absolutely bossing the role of School Mum when Henry heads into the classroom for the first time this September. I’m imagining that I will be on top of costume-making and cake-baking and the trillion emails I’m told I can expect every day. I’ll have a magnetic family organiser and I’ll have my shit together at all times.
I imagine.

Tuesday, 31 May 2016

One for the Bloggers! Get Your (Blog) Name Out There

Are you a parent blogger with something to say?
Are you longing to shout your musings about weaning/episiotomies/playground politics/any-other-topic from the rooftops of the interweb?
Maybe you have just started toying with the idea of starting a blog and need a gentle nudge to take the plunge?
If you are nodding along to any of these things then listen up and listen good.
This is your nudge.

I am nudging because for some time now I have been spectacularly failing at replying to all the emails and messages I receive from parents who are asking for my advice about starting a blog, or asking if I could have a quick read of a post they have written. I always promise myself that at the very least I will reply with some words of encouragement because I know first-hand that sharing your parenting thoughts online for all to see/share/judge is actually quite a big deal (and also, if I’m honest, because I strongly suspect that jotting down my own thoughts on this here blog has saved me from myself a little bit). I’m not about to start droning on again about how blogging has changed my life yadda yadda yadda because I have told you all that before. (It totally has though, just FYI).
(And it's super glamorous, as you can see)
Instead, I have decided to get involved with something that will help dazzling blog posts get the attention they deserve while at the same time mitigating the risk of me having another meltdown about all the inbox messages I can’t respond to (in my meltdown defence, I was knackered after leaving the boys’ shoes at my Dad’s and consequently having to sprint to buy them an emergency pair – I arrived one minute before the shop closed and panic-bought the first ones I found in their sizes, total nightmare).
I’ll get on to this blogging opportunity in just a moment (I’m wondering if ‘opportunity’ makes it sound like I'm pushing some kind of dodgy bloggy pyramid scheme? I promise that’s not what’s going on here) but before explaining what the hell I’m banging on about I thought I’d make a note of the one genuine titbit of blogging advice I have sent back to parents (well, all those I managed to reply to before shoegate hit the fan). It’s the advice I would prioritise over everything else:
Be yourself.
Yes I know it’s a cliché and might make me sound a bit wanky but it’s quite possibly the most important direction I can offer. There is absolutely no point trying to write in the style of somebody else, even if that’s a proven 'successful' style because if it’s not really you it simply won’t sound right (it also won’t flow, just like my Year 10 English essay). Equally, don’t be too scared to write a post that’s similar in style or content to another you’ve read - the crucial thing is that it doesn’t feel forced. Obviously it would be immensely shady if you were to plagiarise another’s post and steal all their pictures but if you fret about covering the same ground as another blogger whenever you write then you’d never write anything! No two posts are exactly the same, anyway. The most important thing is that you are writing something you feel inspired to write.
And if you are feeling inspired to write then look no further…
Share your blog with GoodtoKnow
Starting on June 1st (and on the 1st of every month thereafter) a brand new blogging platform: Because I Said So (BISS)’ is being launched over on the GoodtoKnow website. Bloggers will be able to submit a favourite recent post to be considered by a panel of judges (me included, hello!) and between us we’ll choose five bloggers who will each get a paid guest blog spot on the website. Better still, the blogger whose guest post attracts the greatest page traffic over the course of a week will automatically land themselves a page in a future issue of Essentials magazine.
Whether you are a brand new blogger, a vintage blogging pro, a lapsed-but-returning blogger or somebody simply toying with the idea of giving the whole blogging malarkey a go then this is an amazing chance to get your writing shared online and possibly in print. (It’s also a great chance for me to be nosey and read some blogs).
Further info and details about how to link up your blog post to the GoodtoKnow website can be found here.
Go forth and blog! Good luck xx

Sunday, 15 May 2016

The Extraordinary Ordinary (Life Is Not a Movie)

This evening I went out for a jog. When I say ‘out for a jog’ I mean I walked around the park at the end of my road at a pace slightly faster than my usual stride, which is hardly a challenge given that my usual stride is one step forwards and five steps into somebody else’s garden chasing a feral toddler.

How fast I was bumbling around the park tonight is kind of irrelevant to this post, I’m just setting the scene, as it was during this uninterrupted walking time that I started thinking about life. Life in general. Everyday life. And how all too often there is build up and expectation attached to daily events, moments and milestones which can leave us feeling under pressure to feel a certain way. Feelings are not like that. By their very nature you can’t create feelings or build up to ‘a moment’. Something either gets you in the feels or it doesn’t.

I need to rewind to this morning for this to make any sense. First though, I need to tell you how years of watching sentimental films and TV dramas has set me up to fail on the feelings front. Real-life is nothing like film-life. Of course we all know that movies are not real life but once you’ve internalised a whole catalogue of film ‘moments’ it’s hardly surprising if you start to expect life to play out like a script every now and again. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not as if I sit at home every night hoping the knock on the door is Andrew Lincoln instructing me to pretend it’s carol singers and declaring his undying love for me on handwritten cue cards. James has never once dressed up as a fighter pilot and serenaded me with You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling but I fell for him nonetheless.

Films have simply left me expecting emotional moments that just haven’t happened. Parenthood has brought about the absolute worst of this disappointment because parenting moments are so well-documented on the big screen. Moments like childbirth, where the parents always share a cuddle and a cry when the baby is born. My boys were delightful and I was over the moon to hold them against me but I didn’t cry. I can remember thinking, ‘Should I be crying now?’ No tears came.
More generally, there are all those scenes in films where motherhood looks amazing. Even when it’s portrayed as chaotic it looks like fun chaos – cereal spillages on floors, lots of noise and laughter, the odd slamming of a door that is later resolved by an emotional chat over fresh coffee and lots of meaningful eye contact. The chaos in my life can be fun too but milk on the floor generally results in a head injury and we tend to save all meaningful eye contact for our smartphones.

This morning, however, something special happened. A special feeling.

I had taken Henry to his first ever gymnastics class and after waiting awkwardly outside, not really knowing what was expected of me in this environment, it was time for him to go in. I have taken him to other classes before – music, drama etc. but these have always been things I have joined in with (to be honest, by the time we stopped the music classes I had found myself running around in a circle doing the animal actions while he tried to climb the chair stacks and steal other people’s shoes). This morning was different, though, because he is four and has joined a group where you just leave them to it. No big deal.

Only it became a big deal for me as I stood there and watched him through the glass. Watched him trot in with zero fear, confidently taking a seat on the mat amongst the other boys and girls and proceeding to follow them around in a gym circuit, stretching his arms out as he balanced on the beam and joining in with floor exercises (where he was understandably two steps behind everybody else but persevered with such a happy face). He was in his element, and when I saw his eyes searching for me I jumped and waved and mouthed, ‘Well done!’ with a huge thumbs up from the other side of the door. He returned my thumbs up with a long-distance fist pump and then, just as quickly as he had looked for me, he looked away and slotted straight back into the class.

It was nothing like anything you would see in a film. There was no moving soundtrack, no pep talk from me telling him I knew he could do it, no slow-motion shot of him leaping off a balance beam and landing gracefully on the mat to rapturous applause from the rest of the gymnasium. Nobody else noticed anything remarkable.

But I did.

To me, it was extraordinary. My boy was extraordinary. I fought back a lump in my throat as I stood there in a sweaty-smelling gym corridor and realised, with mild amusement, that it was the most proud I have ever felt about anything.

So this evening, as I found myself out walking and contemplating life-in-general, I realised that I have been looking for the wrong moments. Or at the very least looking in the wrong places. Perhaps I shouldn’t have been looking at all.

Feelings aren’t like that. Feeling just are.
Like pride just was for me, today.

The Unmumsy Mum

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Cherish Every Moment? No. My Advice For Brand New Parents

I was asked last week what advice, if any, I would give to brand new parents. I couldn’t help but think back to myself as a new mum. It made me feel a bit sad.

The New Mum Me was a bundle of self-doubt.
She wasn’t doing anything right. She wasn’t cut out for it. Her baby deserved better. She was failing. The New Mum Me once stood in the shower with her fingers in her ears, crying, trying to drown out the sound of the nursery rhyme CD which in turn was drowning out the sound of the screaming baby she could not settle. When her husband returned home she could only recall the 5 minute neglectful shower (she was sure this had emotionally scarred their baby for life) and not the 9.5 other hours she had attentively fed him ‘on demand,’ cuddled him and whispered to him that he was the most perfect thing she had ever seen. 
Very first pic as a mum. Terrible quality I'm afraid, I wasn't blogging then ;-)
So, with the magical wisdom of hindsight now bestowed upon me, I think I would tell brand new parents the following:

You are not obligated to cherish every moment.
It’s true that you will ‘never get this time again.’ It’s true that it will all ‘be over in a flash.’ It’s true that one day you will wake up and wonder where the time has gone, why you wished the days away, how it is possible that your baby will soon be heading out into the Big Wide World (reception). At 2am, however, when you’re not sure if the wet patch in the bed is leaked breast milk or leaked baby excrement, it is also true that you will quite justifiably wonder what the actual fuck has happened to your life.

Nobody cherishes every moment. Some moments are magic. Others are shit. On a sleep-deprived/‘cluster feeding’/nothing-stops-the-crying type day it is quite possible that the moment ratio will end up at 80:20 in favour of shit. Social media will never reflect this shitstorm because social media is not real life.

There is no shame in asking for help.
Asking for help is not a sign of weakness. Quite the contrary, it is a sign of strength. To be struggling and to admit that you are struggling demonstrates a kick-ass determination and fierceness in your ability to look after your baby. 

There is also no shame in putting your own needs above the needs of domestic chores. Of course we all know that the liberally-offered ‘sleep when the baby sleeps’ nugget of wisdom is a bit of a joke (are you going to hoover when the baby hoovers, too?) but sometimes sleep is the most productive thing you can do with thirty minutes. Do not feel guilty about sleeping. If and when you have subsequent children you will kick yourself for not maximising naptimes the first time around (as you find yourself at the beck and call of a toddler who wants you to watch his Ninja Turtle kick for the gazillionth time).

Have faith when people tell you that one day it will all be worth it.
You might want to smack them in the face. But they are right. The New Mum Me who broke down in the shower couldn't see it. She was yet to feel her heart jump at the sound of her baby's giggle. She was yet to feel the overwhelming pride of watching him have a go at writing his name before looking up at her as if to say, 'I did it, Mummy!' 

If you're reading this as a brand new parent, I want you to know that there are magical moments to come. And some shit ones, too, which you are absolutely not required to cherish.

That's what I wish I had known.

The Unmumsy Mum

Monday, 11 April 2016

An Alternative Fireman Sam Script

[Dilys Price is chatting to Trevor Evans inside her shop]

Dilys: Oh Trevor, I’ve been having dreams about you and what we could get up to on your bus.

[Trevor, clearly uncomfortable about her sexual advances, is saved by the shop door flying open. Fireman Sam enters dragging Norman Price in by his ear]

Fireman Sam: I’m afraid Norman has been up to no good again, Dilys. I found him skateboarding between cars down at the harbour, he almost caused a pile-up.

Dilys: Norman Price! What have I told you about skateboarding between cars? You silly boy.

Norman: Sorry mam.

Fireman Sam: Sorry isn’t good enough this time, Norman. I’m afraid I’m going to have to have a word with your mum in private. Go to your room.

Norman price: You can’t tell me what to do, you’re not my father!

[A knowing look is exchanged between Fireman Sam and Dilys. Norman’s face turns even paler than normal as he clocks Sam’s hair colour and starts reflecting on all the historic unwarranted patience Sam has displayed whenever he has been a total bellend]

Norman: Mam? Say something!

Dilys: It was one night, Norman. Strip poker got out of hand at the Floods’ house and Sam and I… well, Sam and I made you.

[Fireman Sam winces at the memory, it is plain to see he had his beer goggles on that night but doesn’t want to upset Dilys by labelling it a mistake]

Fireman Sam: We thought it best not to tell you, Norman. It has been tricky keeping it a secret. Both Station Officer Steel and Penny have voiced their suspicions, mostly because you have set fire to yourself and the rest of PontyPandy a gazillion times and yet still I have refrained from joining in with the others when they call you a dickhead.

Trevor: [coughs loudly] I think I should get going...

Dilys: Oh Trevor, please don’t be jealous of the night of naked passion Sam and I had on board Jupiter. It’s you I love.

[Trevor exits, leaving Dilys with her head in her hands]

Norman: I can’t believe I didn’t know that the bravest firefighter in PontyPandy is MY DAD. Are you going to pick me up and take me out in your fire engine every other weekend?

[Fireman Sam’s phone rings]

Fireman Sam: Hello? Penny, what’s happened? [cartoon squeaky phone voice from the other end] I'll be right there... I’ve got to go, Dilys - Mike Flood is stuck on a roof again and Elvis has made the situation worse. I honestly don’t know why anybody finds the ineptitude of a brainless firefighter so endearing - Elvis is a bloody liability. Let’s pick up this conversation again later, Norman.

Norman: Okay dad.

[Fireman Sam leaves the shop, vowing to never have drunk sex with a randy shopkeeper again].

The End.

Tuesday, 5 April 2016

Paid Posts, Free Stuff and Gut Feelings

This isn't my usual type of post, which is ironic considering it has its roots in my reluctance to stray from my usual type of post. Clear as mud? Allow me to explain. 

I have always known that people blog for a wide variety of reasons. Because they have something to say, because they have something to sell, because they love writing, because it helps to pay the bills, because there is every chance they might get a whole heap of free shit.

It's the latter two motives, the bill-paying and the free shit, that I have been thinking about for the last couple of months. Mostly (and in the spirit of this blog’s honesty) I have found myself wondering if I am missing out by refusing to entertain the idea of sponsored posts and brand collaborations. In fact, I have been told several times that I am indeed missing out. That I could earn a substantial amount of money from ‘paid posts’ (we’re not talking a few squid to spend on the annual messy-night-out dirty burger here we’re talking whole extra income territory).

But (and it’s not an insignificant but) it feels a bit like I’ve been offered a job I don’t want. Quite simply, it’s just not my cup of tea. And after much to-ing and fro-ing with a number of different people via email, I reached a pretty major conclusion at around midnight last night. I couldn’t get to sleep and I realised it was because I felt uncomfortable. Not physically uncomfortable, like when your knickers are a bit small and you can’t adjust them without looking like you’re touching yourself, but uneasy uncomfortable. And just like that, a decision was made (I am really very sorry to all the brands/companies who received an email from me at midnight last night with a polite but firm Thank You But No Thank You).

I woke up this morning feeling like a weight had been lifted and I wanted to share this with you because I think it’s important that you know exactly what you are seeing on my blog and social media pages. (I appreciate this is by no means the most interesting thing you’ll read on the internet today and if you’re already bored allow me to suggest BuzzFeed’s ‘Can You Guess Who These Powerpuffed British Politicians Are?’).

So, here’s some upfront honesty from me about paid posts and free shit.

Paid Posts
I have never been paid money to promote a product on my blog or social media pages. I have obviously been paid to write articles/features for others (writing is my job these days!) but I’m talking about being paid by brands i.e. ‘we’ll give a few smackeroonies to post a link/blog about our exciting new highchair.’ (Not quoting an actual email there, obviously, though it’s not far off). After last night’s moment of clarity I’ve realised that despite tempting offers my stance on this hasn’t changed, however I should add in the disclaimer that if somebody offers me a million pounds I will pose naked on their highchair with nothing but the brand’s logo covering my modesty.

Free shit
I have been given free stuff, which is in itself a kind of payment for the potential future sales generated by me having the free stuff and my followers seeing it.
My rules are as follows:
  • If it’s something I would have bought or used anyway, or something I genuinely fancy getting my mits on after admiring it from afar, then it’s all good (i.e. if I needed a highchair - which I don’t by the way I’m just sticking with the highchair example - I might accept a free highchair in return for telling people where I got the highchair when they inevitably message me to ask me where I got the highchair). I may post a pic of the highchair. I am unlikely to ever post ‘WOW look at my amazing highchair it has CHANGED MY LIFE’ on Instagram (but you never know). There will also be no ‘Reasons I Love This Highchair’ or ‘The Unmumsy Clan Test the Highchair 3000’ blogs because I don’t do reviews on this blog. That doesn't mean I won't do reviews for 'work' just not here.
  • I will never agree to casually dropping a key branded message into my post. In other words, I will not be told what to say (i.e. ‘Having such a great day because the easy-wipe highchair tray is designed around the modern messy family’ – you get the picture).
  • More often than not I will tell you where we've stayed on holiday (if I don’t I’m only met with ‘where did you stay?’ comments). Sometimes we will have been invited to stay in return for a mention and sometimes we won’t. If I love it, I’ll probably tell you I love it because you might love it too. I will never accept money to tell you that I loved it.
In a nutshell, you quite rightly trust that what I post and share is ‘real’ and my gut feeling tells me that  this is how it should stay.

The Unmumsy Mum
PS This honestly wasn't an arse-about-face way of bagging myself a new highchair, we've got one.
PPS This is not a dig at other bloggers who are paid to promote stuff on their pages. This is just what works for me.
PPPS I wouldn't pose naked for a million pounds. I look better with clothes on.

Monday, 14 March 2016

The Secret Diary of an Eighteen Month Old

Started shouting at full volume to make sure everybody woke up startled. Dozed for a bit. Resumed shouting. Can't make out the exact conversation from Mummy and Daddy's room but it seems to be a disagreement over who should get up. Why wouldn't you want to get up? Who wants to lie in bed when you're awake?! Adults are weird.

Got carried downstairs. Mummy always smiles at me, kisses me then tells me I stink. Every day. Yes I do have a 'stinky bum bum.' It's hardly a surprise, is it?! She then changed my nappy before I was allowed my breakfast which made me cross because I spied my big brother tucking into his cereal. I kicked Mummy when I had poo on my foot and it left a stain on her trousers. Surprisingly, she said that this was 'just great.' Phew.

Daddy left wearing his smart trousers and shirt. Where does he go every day? 

Tipped the toy basket over. Didn't fancy anything in there. Mummy tried to simulate car racing on the floor with tiny cars but she does it all wrong. Got cross at Mummy's toy car ineptitude.

Felt a bit bored, so I messed with the telly again by pressing all the buttons on the remote (major LOLs watching Mum trying to sort it out as she mutters that rhyme about the duck's cake).

Went to the park. I'm confused about what I am supposed to do here, because Mummy always tells us that it 'will be nice to run around!' but then seems agitated when we run around. She is particularly agitated when I run to the edge of the climbing frame where they have the pole from Fireman Sam, and keeps trying to move me back to the bit where there are railings on all sides. How boring is that? Eventually, after lots of sighing I'm removed from the climbing frame altogether and as she attempts to wrestle me into the pram I assume the stiff-as-a-floorboard position to illustrate my unhappiness with the situation. Sitting imprisoned in the pram isn't 'running around' is it? The protest did at least secure me some yoghurt raisins.

Ate my lunch really nicely. This lulled Mummy into a false sense of security about my independent feeding capabilities (groundwork for teatime, see 17:00)

Mummy picked me up and cuddled me on the sofa with my brother to read a story. They said I could 'join in' but then the pair of them got cross with me when I wanted to hold it and turn all the pages myself. Once again, I have no idea where I stand. Nobody understands me. I just want to turn all of the pages.

Started feeling a bit tired so cracked out the 'I'm tired' signals (pulled my ears, rubbed my eyes, did the glazed-over stare and the sucky-mouth thing like when I'm chewing Mummy Pig's foot). Became un-tired when Mummy put me in the cot. Did the sad moany noises so she felt guilty while she sorted out the washing. Turned up the volume to shouting after I heard her tell my brother that I would 'settle down in a minute.' We all went back downstairs again. Mummy doesn't know why she bloody bothers.

Went over to see what Mummy was doing on her computer. Pressed some buttons. This was not well received. She turned it off.

Stuck a whole hand in my spaghetti hoops. Lobbed the spoon. Cried because the spoon was on the floor and my hand was covered in hoops. When Daddy got home, Mummy was scrubbing spaghetti hoops off the skirting board. She told Daddy I had 'been like this all day.' Erm, that's not fair. She forgot to tell him about all the fun we'd had on the climbing frame and reading a book, for a start.

Received my daily telephathic notification from the Toddlers' Union that the Witching Hour had started. Treated everyone to a constant snotty whingey tone until Daddy said he 'couldn't bear it' and put me in my PJs.

Made sure I fell asleep in my best angelic pose - one hand up by my cheek and a slight smile seems to be a winner. Pretty sure I heard them both whisper, 'Love you sweet pea' so it definitely did the trick. Will commence the shit storm at dawn.

Saturday, 5 March 2016

Mother's Day Without Mum

'Are you doing anything with your mum for Mother’s Day?’ Oh god.

This question, when asked in general office conversation, used to bring on a kind of anxiety sweat and leave me wishing I could morph into Flat Stanley and escape under the door. Usually, a simple, ‘Nah, not much!’ would cover it and I’d swiftly make an ‘urgent’ phone call, praying the discussion would shift to last night’s Coronation Street by the time I had finished. The problem was, any level of truthful natter would have opened an uncomfortable can of worms. It turns out ‘My mum’s dead, actually,’ is not a workplace crowd-pleaser.

It’s not that I mind talking about it – I was fifteen when she died (the big C) and after you’ve said ‘she died’ enough times it becomes quite matter-of-fact. It just doesn’t feel that matter-of-fact for other people, who invariably feel the need to say that they’re sorry/they didn’t know/it must be so hard, to which it is customary to respond that it’s fine/it was a long time ago/you’re not upset. And by this point the YouTube clip of the Ninja Cats which has been providing belly laughs all morning has been turned off as a mark of respect, as tumbleweed crawls towards the photocopier.
One time, the casual question thrown my way was, ‘Help settle the debate Sarah – do you bother with Mother’s Day flowers for your mum or do you agree they’re a rip off?’ Oh dear. Think think think.

‘Erm…well, supermarket flowers aren’t always as pricey, and you have to expect some mark-up on these commercial days.’ Phew, awkwardness averted. (Much less awkward than the factual, ‘I don’t buy her flowers every year, just the years I’m taking a bunch to the spot we scattered her ashes.’)

The late '80s, with my mum and sister
To be honest, when February rolls around and all the ‘show her she’s really special’ Mother’s Day advertisements start popping up I have always had a bit of an internal groan. I stopped groaning in 2012 when I became a mother and, for the first time in a decade, Mother’s Day shifted from being a day I yearned to hide under my bed to a day I finally had a part in. Yet while Mother’s Day is easier for me since I have had the kids, the day-to-day feelings of loss and sadness at not having Mum here have greatly intensified.

Being a mum without mum here is hard. Four years into the parenthood adventure and practically-speaking I’m doing all right. I get through most weeks just fine - though it has to be said I’ve significantly lowered the bar on what ‘just fine’ means (sometimes the bar is on the floor). I have a great network of family and friends to help with the day-to-day logistical challenges, and not having Mum here to do the preschool run and take the kids to the seaside isn’t problematic.
It’s just sad. 

Last year we took Henry (three at the time) to London as a treat. We live in Devon, so the chaos and buzz of the capital blew his tiny mind in all the best ways and made for a pretty special trip. I was probably extra keen to take him to London because I have been holding such fond memories of the time my mum took me to London in the summer holidays (my sister had gone camping, my Dad had gone fishing, and London was a trip for just the two of us). The frustratingly sad thing about the exclusivity of our trip is that I no longer share the memories with anyone. My awe at seeing the Cirque du Soleil, the entire day we spent simply hopping on and off double decker buses… I have racked my brain trying to remember where we stayed, where we ate dinner, whether we went to the Natural History Museum or not. I will never know these things. 

Of course the biggest tragedy is that Mum never knew she was a grandmother. She never saw her daughters become mothers and she never got to stand in a draughty church hall proudly cutting the world-famous chocolate-button birthday cake she would lovingly have made for her grandchildren. They are missing out, too. Sometimes, when we’re heading off on a day trip and I get that familiar ‘Oh god, we’ve forgotten to pack something important’ feeling, it dawns on me that I have lived with a similar feeling for thirteen years. 

There is always something not there that should be there. Mum will never not be missing. She will never not be missed. 

Conversations about Mother’s Day no longer make my cheeks flush red or leave me staring at the floor. Sometimes, I embrace the commercialism and buy an overpriced bunch of flowers to take to her beach, though I’m just as likely to do that on her birthday, or on Boxing Day, which is the day she died. Sometimes, I wish she could join us for our Mother’s Day carvery but I don’t spend the meal absorbed in those thoughts because I invariably spend it picking up the food Jude has lobbed from his highchair and encouraging Henry to sing the Farty Bum Song at a slightly reduced volume. It’s one Sunday in the year when I relish a bit of pampering as payback for the tiny humans I birthed.

It’s all the other days, the ordinary days, which remind me what has been lost. For me, for Mum, for the boys.

Doesn’t cancer have a lot to answer for?

Wednesday, 2 March 2016

Mother's Day: Posh Face Cream and PEAS

I’m never quite sure what to make of Mother’s Day. On the one hand, it always seems like a lot of fuss over what inevitably turns into a normal Sunday with the added bonus of a CD and/or a Toblerone ‘from the kids’ thrown in. On the other hand, there is something heart-warming and pretty smashing about a handmade card and the promise of a lie-in (even if the card is 99.9% the work of nursery and the lie-in is scuppered by the sound of an actual physical fight breaking out over the Power Rangers Dino Charge downstairs).

Regardless of whether you are a ‘WAHOO it’s Mother’s Day!’ family or not, there’s certainly no escaping the build up to the day as ‘Make your mum feel special!’ advertisements kick in. Mother’s Day is everywhere: on the telly box, online, in magazines and newspapers (and, apparently, when you’re shopping in ASDA and an advert for some book called The Unmumsy Mum comes on approx. once every 20 minutes, sorry about that…)

“What do you really want for Mother’s Day?” I was asked by somebody this week and I reeled off my textbook response: “Oh you know, a lie-in, time with the boys, possibly some posh face cream where you don’t get change from a fiver.”

And do you know what? I would be happy with all (or any) of that. If Henry draws me a mess of crayon squiggles I will display it proudly and explain to visitors that is obviously a picture of a Ninja Turtle battling a Lego Nexo Knight. If James produces the CD I’ve been hinting at (Justin Bieber – yes I’ve converted to Belieberism and I fancy The Biebs a little bit, I’m not hiding it any more) I’ll be genuinely quite chuffed.

Growing up, I always bought my mum a load of tat for Mother’s Day and she either quite liked it or pretended that she did. (After she died, I kept the ‘No.1 Mum!’ Mother’s Day bear I’d bought her years earlier from our local newsagents – she had displayed it proudly on her dressing table, even though as bears go he was a bit shit). 
The 'No. 1 Mum' badge has worn off, sad times.
Are you wondering when the peas are going to feature in this post? Well, right about now. I’m not talking mushy/garden/green peas, I’m talking about the charity PEAS (Promoting Equality in African Schools). Bit random? Hear me out…[As I typed charity I couldn’t help but wonder how many people would groan and/or press the back button on your browser as if the page was on fire, which I totally understand – you have probably seen a gazillion other charity posts already today].

So why am I banging on about PEAS? It probably won’t come as any great surprise that I am inundated with fundraising/petition sharing requests each and every day and I struggle to even read them all. I have always known that if I shared every charity/appeal request I receive that before long you would become pissed off with my gentle nudges to donate ‘just £1’ (All those ‘just £1s’ mount up, right? You cannot give £1 to everybody). On top of that, I always face the same dilemma: which one to share? How can you possibly choose one worthy cause over another? It is for that reason that I started the week with absolutely no plans to highlight the work of a charity for Mother’s Day…

…And then, as I started contemplating my posher-than-usual face cream and daydreaming about time alone in the car with The Biebs (not like that), I changed my mind. I changed my mind because something I had read about PEAS inspired me.

I am a lucky mum. Not just because I own two nutty and hyperactive bright and healthy boys but because before I became a mum I had the privilege of an education. Year upon year of primary, secondary and eventually University education. I took all of that for granted, not because I am knobheadishly spoilt but because an education is the norm here. You go to school because, well, because that is just what you do. And usually, by the time you have children, you have some kind of education under your belt.

In most schools across Uganda – where 1 in 10 adolescent girls (aged 15-19) are mothers - childbearing marks the end of education, full stop. This is a sad (and avoidable) state of affairs, not least because a girl who progresses beyond primary school and further into secondary school is three-times less likely to contract HIV in her lifetime; will earn
over 150% more income in her career, and; any child she has is three times more likely to survive beyond the age of five. Pretty staggering figures.

PEAS are on the case. They build and run secondary schools to ensure that girls (including those who are mums) see the benefit of continued education. They have also created ‘Girls Clubs’ at many of the schools which focus on providing menstrual hygiene kits and management advice, lessons on female empowerment and encouragement to believe in their potential to achieve. 

 I have a strong enough following to help raise awareness of the work PEAS does so I'm giving it a shot!

Are there other worthwhile charities you could donate to?
Absolutely there are. Loads of them. This is simply the charity (and the mums) I have decided to support this Mother’s Day.

Is this a direct plea asking you to donate
No, not really. You will donate only if you feel inspired to and I wouldn’t have it any other way. (I did check that you can donate 'just £1' though, you know, just in case).

Happy Mother's Day for Sunday. I will let you know if all comes good on the face cream and CD front.


You can donate to PEAS here.