A woman’s right to choose.

It has come to my attention, in readiness for International Women’s Day, that amongst all the gender equality speeches of late and women championing women in work; we are failing in one VERY IMPORTANT area – championing women’s parental choices.  I am very pro choice – by that I mean I respect a woman’s decision to return to work after having children and I respect mothers who stay at home to look after children.  So when reading a national newspaper the other evening I was appalled to read an article written by a WOMAN actively trying to destroy a woman’s choice to go back to work after her maternity leave!!  

Let me put this into context, the woman in the article was Labour Shadow Cabinet minister Rachel Reeves who is due to have a baby in June – weeks after the General Election which could see her become the Minister for Work and Pensions should Labour win.  Rachel has decided that she will come back to work in September, so effectively she will be cutting her maternity leave short, but this could be dependent on the election outcome.  So far this is nothing out of the ordinary, except this situation has prompted some concern and a question has been raised by both male and females…how can a woman with two children run a powerful job full time?  EXCUSE ME??  Did I just wake up in an alternate universe where women with children are back in the kitchen whilst the men and the childless are keeping the economy afloat?  

The female writer in question even took it one step further and said that she wouldn’t trust Rachel Reeves to make a decision if she has been up all night with a crying infant.  By this point in the article the air was slightly colourful in my house because this woman has completely missed the point…and she dared call herself a feminist.  She believed that Rachel Reeves was giving the wrong impression to women (apart from us ordinary folk who had to go back to work for financial reasons), and that as an elite woman whose husband earned a lot of money that she should set an example amongst the elite and take a career break.  

So in reality, this writer is basically saying that there should now be a divide and if you have worked hard to get yourself into a senior position (therefore making you elite) you should be setting an example to the world and allow your career to come to a grinding halt whilst you stay at home bringing up your children whilst your husband has full control of the finances and gives you pin money to buy yourself a nice frock!!!  Us mere mortals who are stuck in limbo because we are on middle ground climbing the ladder and raising families are exempt from this rule because, in her eyes, who cares?  The non-elite working mums need to keep on facing pressures from all angles because our pay packet does not allow us to have the luxury of choice.   

What made this argument even more interesting is that no one has bothered to ask if her husband will be forfeiting his career for a few years whilst his wife tries to make a difference to our country.  After all, shared parental leave becomes law in April and this is meant to allow women the right to share the responsibility and retain her equal status in the household.  I think rather than constantly pointing the finger at women’s choices we should be rephrasing our thoughts to make the right impact.

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The under 5s will be the reason the world will end!!

It has been five long days of lurgy suffering and I still can’t see a light at the end of the tunnel! After spending best part of this year with a cold that I felt had set up home in my chest I was grateful when it decided to vacate 3 weeks ago…little did I know that it was going on a holiday and was going to surprise me with its return.

At the start of the week Evie was not feeling herself and her temperature was on par with that of Mount Vesuvius. Calpol was her best friend and her appetite was nonexistent. There was a massive part of me that was hoping that I would not catch any of her germs this time around but as a realistic parent I knew that I would catch at least a sore throat or a mild cough. What I was not expecting was something that made the elusive man flu seem like a runny nose. In the space of a week I went from a blocked nose and a bit of a temperature, to deafness, bloodshot zombie eyes and an inability to actually do anything except feel sorry for myself. Evie, however, was a bright as a button within 3 days and has taken it upon herself to become my doctor. I love her thoughtfulness but there is only so many times she can check my eyes which are burning and constantly watering.

What is it with toddler germs that make nuclear warfare seem soft and gentle. These germs are twice as powerful as normal germs, cannot be killed off with even the strongest mixture of remedies and mutate faster than Ebola. As I write this I am overcome with a cough that makes me want to rip my throat out, 75% hearing and a raging thirst.

I do believe that if the world was to face an apocalypse, only the under 5s would survive and that is because it would be their germs that would wipe us all out! Some people reading this may think I am over-exaggerating, but many parents will be agreeing with me whilst clutching their man-size pack of balsam tissues under a mountain of duvets!

On a plus point though, I have found an antidote to the miserable world of adult-toddler flu, and that antidote is cake! Not just any cake but a joyful selection of mouth-wateringly moist cakes in a range of delectable flavours…all of which are served with your choice of beverage in a warm and cosy little coffee-come-trinket shop nestled away in Ynystawe (next door to Ynystawe Primary School). I stumbled across No6hundred after a friend had found this gem on her way home from work one evening. I took it upon myself to investigate when I had an afternoon off with Evie and suffice to say, I have found my new workplace (when I can find a spare few hours to hide away with my laptop and continue writing my novel). Somewhere that welcomes children and caters for them, invites you with open arms and doesn’t wander around you impatiently wanting you to free up the table for customers who have yet to walk through the door. If you are ever travelling through Ynystawe, I strongly recommend you pop into the coffee shop and say hello to the ever-welcoming owner Donna who is always happy to show you around.

From Singleton to Parenthood in 10 steps

I was casually flicking through the news whilst stirring the tea and putting the dishes away and I stumbled across a survey that Asda complied that had the Top 50 things that give you away as a parent. I laughed at many of them (there is not a bodily fluid that you cannot handle) and rolled my eyes at others, but it got me thinking about the drastic way me and my friends have changed since becoming parents. So I decided to compile my own list – From Singleton to Parenthood in 10 easy steps.

1. 9pm bedtime

Once upon a time no night out started before 9pm (not including the pre-party warm up), but these days the only party a parent heads to is a slumber party by 9pm, because let’s face it, it is the only chance of getting a few hours sleep before you are woken up by being kicked off the bed or by having a small person open your eye and tell you that it is time to get up…at 1 in the morning.

2.Princess Ana

There are no two ways around this…you will never have the chance to be Elsa when you have a child in the car (unless you find yourself secretly singing along to Let it go when no one else is around).

3. The night out (part 1)

You have a babysitter, you’ve bought a new dress, you have the whole night to do as you please…so by 8pm you’ve ordered a takeaway and you’ve decided that an early night catching up on reading is much more appealing than a night out discussing the bills and your child.

4. The night out (part 2)

On the odd occasion you and you parent friends find a gap in your diary you find that one of two things happen – 1) you drink the first two drinks so fast that you are slurring through stories of the first few months of being a parent (even if your child is old enough to have left home) or 2) you sip your spritzer so that it lasts you all night whilst texting the babysitter (your mother) every ten minutes to see how your child is coping without you and constantly wishing you were at home (see point above). This is usually because once the excitement of going out has past you have the cold harsh realisation that a hangover and a child do not mix!

5. Work

This used to be the place to build a career, to prove that you could be important and make a difference. Now it is somewhere you go to have a few hours to yourself, eat a warm meal and pee in peace!

6. The art of singing

You used to be the Queen of one liners and put downs. You could adapt your tone to suit any audience. Now, everything is sung…like you are starring in your own 24 hour 7 day a week Disney film. “Do you want to have some to-ast…shall we put the butter onnnnn….you never answer any more, you slam the door…now tell me what is wrooonnngggg???”

7. The Look

We all have “the look”. When we were single it was a smouldering pouty number. Once we realised we were stuck with him it became more of a gritted teeth, permanent eye roll. Once the apples of your eye turned up it became a manic happy, smiley look tinged with a weary expression because you have to manage expectations every minute of the day whilst trying not to scream because the over-use of your name is driving you to a breakdown. The new look is always accompanied with a patronising voice…one you never seem to shake, even when talking to your boss.

8. The Handbag

Purse, lip gloss, phone…wet wipes, crayons, melted chocolate bar, leaky fruit shoot!!

9. Planning and Organising

Nothing screams ‘parent’ like a woman who can plan 18 months in advance, has every birthday card written and stored in a diary and a bag full of wrapped presents and has school places booked 18 months prior to the child attending school.

10. Girly talk

The culture of TMI (too much information) was created by women after the second bottle of wine. Boyfriends, bad dates, fashion downfalls have now been moved aside and after that second bottle (point 4 – point 1), we are as comfortable talking about breastfeeding, child birth and stitches in minute detail as we are about telling that story about being so drunk that we once danced like a tree in a storm to impress a man!

The art of sales pitching (to myself) whilst wrestling with the lurgy

I have been struck down with the lurgy and it has turned my upbeat ‘New Year, New Me’ attitude into ‘New Cold, Poor Me’ thunder cloud. As well as the persistent coughing, loss of voice (which is not a bad thing to those who live or work with me), it has resulted in me having plenty of time to mull things over when I have finished reading every celebrity article online at 3 in the morning. After days of wanting to rip my throat out or holding my breath in meetings so I wouldn’t cough over everyone I took a day off to relax, and look after Evie, and for once I understood the importance of putting work a few rungs down the priority list.

Now, my definition of relax doesn’t involve lying on the sofa watching my TV programmes and eating chocolate biscuits – I think that is reserved for people who don’t have children under the age of 5, my definition of relax is to choose between hovering or cleaning the kitchen (I picked both but only put 50% into hovering), I decided that arts and crafts and cooking would be soothing so we went out to spend money on things I really don’t need but he had a lovely picture created by Evie and I made a giant lasagne to stop me having to cook for two days and I did manage to finish off a book. By 4pm I felt like I had achieved more than I do on the weekend; we had a pub lunch that hadn’t produced a single tear (from either me or Evie), the cleaning was done, pictures painted and I was curled up on the chair watching something that wasn’t Disney whilst Evie took a nap.

So sitting in work the next day really hit home that after years of convincing myself that this is what I want to do, it really isn’t! In my fantasy life I would be writing for various publications and earning as much as I do working in my office. I would be baking up a storm in the kitchen, going for walks and being creative with Evie and waiting for that all important phone call from the Food Network demanding that I front my own cooking show (and a book deal thrown in for good measure).

I’m not completely deluded, there will be days that being in the house all day will drive me mental but that is what school and crèche and the gym were invented for. I could escape and sit in coffee shops with my laptop perusing shopping sites whilst looking like an important writer, and more importantly, getting paid to do that. I’d still have interaction with the human race (I’d keep my part time job as a back up plan) and as a best-selling writer/cook I would be having meetings with my publisher so I would still be in the loop.

This cough (and subsequent day off) has sent my mind whirling into endless streams of thought and all I need is the get up and go to just…get up and get on with what I really want to do.

So if anyone is looking for a cook/celeb know-it-all/writer I will be patiently waiting by my phone (holding my breath so I don’t cough at the all important moment that you hand my fantasy to me on a plate!!)

Good intentions (that will end in tears)

The decorations are down and packed away for another year, the house is bare (yet upstairs is still full of Christmas chocolates, toys and left over wrapping paper) and it amazes me how fast Christmas comes and goes. When we were younger and the concept of time was not as pronounced as it is when you become tied up with work, families and everything in between; Christmas seemed to go on forever. Those two weeks off school were full of excitement waiting for the day that Santa finally turned up with the toys and then a week of lazing around the house playing with the toys and watching the videos you had on repeat whilst trying to finish off the huge tin of Quality Street.

As it is now the New Year I am in full planning mode – the summer and winter holidays need to be booked, exercise plans are written and waiting to come into force (on the 5th because it is a Monday and all new ventures need to take place on a Monday…and that gives me 4 whole days to attempt to finish off the mince pies and Yule Log), personal resolutions have been noted and new diaries have been ripped open and filled in with important dates! I sometimes wonder if we are the reason that time goes so fast because we are constantly planning months in advance. I’m already buying birthday cards for the year and planning presents and venues for surprise birthdays taking place in the spring – I think I am my own worst nightmare.

This year I have vowed to step back slightly from the fast pace that I have adopted and have vowed to have a two week summer holiday, to work less (not as easy as it seems) and to actually enjoy each day rather than be busy mentally planning tomorrow before today has even begun. It all sounds quite easy but to me it is adventurous especially as I have 5 pages of to-do lists drawn up, dance classes to source and a garden to design. I have been having discussions with friends who are all grateful that Santa put a diary in their stocking because we all seem to get to the summer and find that rather than having all the information in one easy-to-find place we have reams of post it notes, scribbles in work books and mini breakdowns when we find that we have triple booked and it is the same day that the car is going into the garage for work to be done.

This time of year gives us that hope that we can be super organised so we can enjoy the little things (like a 5 minute lie in because the bags have been packed the night before) and I for one seem to start off with good intentions, however, once the holidays are booked I tend to take my foot off the pedal and relax only to be over taken with things that slipped my mind once I was basking in the glory of getting a good deal on our family break. This year I will not allow that to happen…well, at least not until I get this surprise birthday out of the way!!

Operation Christmas

With a week to go I was on full Christmas alert, Operation Wrap Wrap Wrap commenced the Thursday before Christmas and I had to plan my attack with military precision. As Evie could not see what Santa was bringing her, or know they were stored in the house, I gave her the task of wrapping presents for the Grandparents. I bought posh wrapping paper this year that had lines drawn on the inside so you could cut the paper in a straight line (I still ended up with wonky lines) and it was covered in little glitter reindeers. One word of advice: NEVER buy glitter wrapping paper!! The next morning I sparkled going into work after looking like a unicorn sneezed over me in my sleep. It was the one time in my life I could be described as ‘glowing’ (and I had a work’s lunch to attend).

My little helper was very excited over the thought of wrapping presents, so much so that she went through a roll of selotape – most of which was stuck to my clothes and her fingers, she had a small tantrum because I wouldn’t allow her to use scissors and I had presents that resembled something that had gone through a crusher. They were ‘wrapped with love’ though and that is the line I am sticking with when she hands them over because I had no time to re-wrap them.

I had my Team Christmas Party on Black Friday and as parties go – this was the tamest of them all. Last year’s party ended when I took a small tumble down some stairs and took with me (in no particular order); my friend, the barrier, a Christmas tree and nearly took the till!! This year I was picked up by 5 so I could go home and carry on wrapping the millions of presents I had multiplying in my office. As Christmas Drunken Tales go, the most debauched part of the afternoon was having a G&T before 3. There was a reason as to why I was home so early…at 8am on Saturday morning I was dolled up to the nines with a huge smile plastered on my face to start my festive weekend…dressed as an Elf…whilst sitting on a checkout!

On top of my full time job and full time toddler I have a part time job. As you can probably guess it involves working in retail and Christmas is my busiest time of the year. In between taking Evie Santa spotting, hunting for reindeers; wrapping presents and constant cleaning, I get to spend many hours smiling at people who really do not want to be standing in a giant queue after fighting over the last Chocolate Orange with the customer that is shooting evils from the next checkout. Such is the joy that radiates from people basking in the glow of Christmas that I have to go into full ‘Festive Smiling Mode’ and make their shopping trip as pleasant as possible (it is like the best way to tone up the chin that develops after too many mince pies) whilst mentally planning what I need to do when I get home. Evie got quite confused when I went to work dressed as an Elf because as far as she is aware, elves work with Santa! In years to come I can see this being a very awkward conversation with friend’s parents that I have not intentionally filled my child’s head with over-the-top lies that resorts in me walking around in full costume from December 20th to Christmas Eve as Santa’s helper but I actually have to do this as part of my job.

Well I hope you all had a very enjoyable Christmas and I will be counting down to the 27th so I can finally get what I have wanted for weeks…a day off!!

Christmas, buggies and Bath.

With only 19 days to go until the big day I have put myself into overdrive. The majority of presents are bought and are sitting in giant bags in my office waiting for ‘Santa to pick them up’, my list of Christmas Activities has begun and the Christmas tree is going up with the help of my two little elves Evie and Ella.

Last weekend we took Evie to Bath Christmas Market so she could see Santa and I had idyllic notions of buying one-off trinkets in the pop up chalets. The reality of the day was this…we set off to Bath two hours later than what I wanted to but in a warped logic, us turning up later meant that there would be less people. How wrong was I? As we drove into Bath the travel news came on and the presenter said “if you are planning on going to Bath Market today we advise that you catch the train…” The train!! Now He was not in the best of moods and an hour of playing Find a Parking Space didn’t help the situation. All the car parks were full and Bath seems to have more resident’s only parking than London. In the end we managed to find somewhere to park that was thirty minutes out of the town centre on foot.

The small problem of having a toddler is that they want to walk everywhere but you still need to take the buggy because there will be a point when they want to sit down. As we came in at the bottom end of Bath town centre I could sense his tension at what can only be described as rush hour traffic on foot. There was no space…anywhere. There is no way that Evie can go in the buggy because let’s face it, would you want to be knee high to erratic shoppers brandishing heavy shopping bags during Black Friday frenzy weekend?? So the only option was to carry her whilst he swore loudly under his breath whilst navigating the buggy.

The day did get better – Evie met Santa ringing the bell outside the Cathedral and found out what his job was to which she said to me and him “but my presents are in your office?!” and I had to reassure her that Santa delivers them on Christmas Eve (the office is now locked). I also took her into Molten Brown where she dazzled the shop assistants with her Disney princess big eyes and tried all the hand creams and sprays like a pro but the best moment was yet to come.

As we walked outside there was a young man playing his guitar and plugging his self-made album to a reasonable sized crowd. As he was playing a song that is always on the radio, Evie and I danced our way over and when we got to the edge of the crowd Evie asked to go down. Knowing that I was holding on to her reigns she proceeded to walk into the middle of the empty space between the singer and the crowd and to everyone’s amazement and delight started to dance. Not a little jig but a full blown dance with hand movements and twirling. The singer smiled and Evie had her own fans that were clapping and cheering her on. When he finished she faced the crowd and gave a bow and then waved like a little superstar.

For all the crowds and the madness of that day, that moment made everything else seem irrelevant. So with that in mind I have embraced a positive attitude about putting the tree up with two toddlers who will insist on fighting over the baubles and would prefer to throw them across the conservatory rather than put them on the tree. So in order to remain in the Christmas spirit I have biscuits to distract them and a bottle of wine to distract me!!