Conversations with Little Miss No. 4

Last night, I was sat in the tipi, having a lovely moment with Little Miss, reading her a bedtime story about a teddy bear after not having seen her for two evenings on the trot. She was being a delight (for a change). 

And part way through the story she stops sucking on her bottle, looks up at me sweetly and says, “Mummy lazy.”

Just like that. 

Me: pardon? 

LM: Mummy lazy. 

Me: Mama’s not lazy! 

Little Miss thinks about this and smiles. 

LM: Mummy crazy! 

Me: who taught you to say that?! 

LM: Mummy crazy! 

Unfortunately, I didn’t feel it was fair to argue. Because to be honest, most people might describe me as at least a little bit crazy… 

The question is, who informed Little Miss…

My money is on the OH. But being as yesterday was a Wednesday, and she spends Wednesday’s with Nina, there’s a good chance my mum is to blame. Which if that’s the case, she has no leg to stand on!

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The F word

There’s a blog post sitting in my drafts titled, I wish my Mama hadn’t raised me as a feminist.

It’s about how my Mama taught me I was equal to men, to believe in myself and my dreams and that anything was possible. She taught me I didn’t need a man to be happy or successful in this life, that I was independent and self-sufficient. She installed in me strong morals of right and wrong and fairness. She raised me as a feminist. Not the stereotypical bra-burning-man-hating kind. Just the bog-standard-all-people-are-equal kind.

rosie the riveterAs a teenager, I started to question whether what she described was possible. Could I could have it all? Did I want it all? And what did that even mean? The post asks would I be happier now with lower expectations of the world, of myself and of my life as a mum?

I recall a conversation with the OH at age 19, before we were even dating, about how I had no intention of getting married and wouldn’t really mind if I didn’t have kids – “What will be will be” I mused. (What will be will be indeed!)

But I don’t think I’ll be posting it any time soon. Instead, I’m posting this…

No reason to be a feminist 

In my teenage years, I described myself as a feminist. But then I went travelling and off to Uni and to be honest, the fire in me calmed. In hindsight, it’s not surprising. I had no reason to be a feminist. I had never nor knew anyone who had experienced discrimination for being female (or so I thought).

If my male friends, made a slightly derogatory joke, my female friends and I gave as good as we got and put them in their place. But to be honest, that’s just it – it was a joke. No one I knew genuinely thought women were inferior.

As far as I was concerned, I lived in an enlightened society. There was no need for feminism. It was the older generations who had issues, and they didn’t effect me.

The quiet rumblings of unrest…

When I entered the workforce at 22, I had my first experience of problems for being female. I won’t go into detail but let’s just say it was an uncomfortable situation.

At 23, I had a female line manager who was all about women’s equality and empowerment. She read Lean In, was supportive of my career and spoke regularly of injustice in the workplace against women. I’m ashamed to say I remember thinking she just had a chip on her shoulder; she claimed she wasn’t paid equally to her male counterparts. I was convinced it was all in her head. Our Chief of Marketing, our Brand Director and the head of our team were all female. I just didn’t believe that in 2012 such inequality still existed.

When I discovered I was paid 3k per year less than a fellow male Grad in my team, I shrugged; “I was obviously a bit naive when I was negotiating.” It was he who said, “There’s no reason for you to be paid less than me. We’re the same experience level, in the same team, just with different responsibilities.” When my contract came up for renewal, my request for a pay rise was denied.

At 25, even when they made me redundant the week I went on Maternity Leave, I gave them the benefit of the doubt. Sure, it was a shitty thing to do, but I told myself they weren’t terminating my contract because I was pregnant... right?

Rediscovering the F word

Over the past six months or so, it seems the planets have aligned and I have found myself facing my once feminist self head on.

It all began when I wrote the post The Unemployed MumI was outraged by how many women got in touch with similar stories, actually shocked at how common this issue was. Until I wrote that post, a part of me kept thinking, ‘It’s just me.’

It was clear I couldn’t stick my head in the sand any longer. I knew straight away I wanted to run a blog series featuring these women, sharing their stories, hi-lighting the issues and raising awareness. But I was acutely aware that positioning myself as an activist for women’s and parents’ rights in the workplace may hinder my chances of employment even further (somewhat ironic…) and I had a family to help support and bills to pay.

So I waited. And when I got my job in January, I launched the #ParentsAtWork series shortly after.

Around the same time, the OH recommended an episode of Women’s Hour about pregnancy discrimination. I’ve listened almost daily ever since, soaking up thoughts, opinions, arguments and issues related to women’s lives from insomnia to the EU Referendum.

Recently the programme featured Anne-Marie Slaughter. During Obama’s first term, she worked on International Foreign Policy, her absolute dream job. Two years in, she gave it all up because her teenage son needed her at home. As she puts it, ‘the pull of motherhood was too great’. Shortly after, Slaughter wrote an article for The Atlantic titled, ‘Why Women Still Can’t Have It All‘ and after four years, much research, feedback and countless public speaking events, she’s written Unfinished Business, in which she revamps that statement to ‘parents can’t have it all’.

anne marie slaughter unfinished businessThe thoughts and opinions Anne-Marie conveyed in the interview so struck a chord with me I opened Amazon and pre-ordered the book on the spot. As I write this blog post, I’m about half way through it, but so far, I’d say Slaughter has pretty much nailed it.

The final piece to the puzzle came at WorkFest16 last weekend. Mumsnet asked me to write a guest post on my unemployed mum experience back in February to help launch the event and as a result I was invited to attend the conference.

It was a truly inspiring day celebrating women in work. Mumsnet had considered almost everything: free coaching sessions, freelancing and LinkedIn masterclasses; ‘how to start your own business,’ ‘how to write a business plan’ and self esteem workshops; panel discussions on balancing work and home life and flexible working.

This week, as I digested everything from the past few months, I realised – the spark is back.

I am a feminist.

Many people today say your twenties are for growing up and discovering who you are.

I used to think my twenties were disrupted by having a baby unexpectedly. But at 27, as I realise the bulk of my twenties are behind me and that I’m edging ever closer to 30, I know that having my daughter didn’t ‘throw me off course’. It simply set me on a different path.

We are but a product of our experiences. Perhaps I would have opened my eyes to today’s reality without having my daughter. Maybe I would have grown up and matured and realised that just because my male friends weren’t bigoted idiots, we don’t live in some post-feminism utopia of equality.

But having her and the experiences that ensued, re-lit the spark of feminism within me.

And so I come to the crux of this post. I am a feminist.

Or am I?

Are you a feminist?

There are layers to feminism. There’s one layer regarding male sexual dominance – however that may present itself in various situations. Another regarding issues around self-worth, body image and such like. Another regarding employment, equal pay and basic rights in the workforce to name but a few.

When I started writing this post, I wrote that many of my twenty-something friends had thankfully not experienced discrimination or harassment just because they were born with a certain configuration of chromosomes.

Then I did a quick poll on Whatsapp and found I was in fact very wrong.

Almost all of them had stories of cat-calling from white van men while walking home from school in their uniform back in the day; stories of men making aggressive sexual comments – one friend’s colleague asked ‘can I use your tits as a stress ball.’ Another, when bending down, had a customer say, ‘while you’re down there, love…’. And numerous stories of workplace harassment and discrimination: one recalled her line manager saying, “hasn’t this feminism business gone too far now?”, another, her boss pushed her to stay in a production roll (she works in TV) as “it’s better for women who want babies”. She was 21 at the time.

Those who have experienced harassment or discrimination in some way all identified themselves feminists. They have the fire.

The curse of motherhood

But something seems to happen to women, both in their perception of themselves and as others perceive them, when they become mothers. Suddenly, they are different – particularly when it comes to work.

They are on one hand viewed as absolute pillars of strength, stability and support and on the other viewed as gentle, soft and weak, to be handled with care. They are all too often no longer judged by their output, by their ability or their experience. They’re judged by how often they mention their children in conversation, how often they have to take a call from the nursery, how often they are twenty minutes late for work because traffic was bad after the nursery run.

‘Us and them’

But when all is said and done, I don’t know if I will raise my daughter as a feminist.

Will being a feminist won’t fix these issues? I increasingly don’t think so.

As I interview the men and women for #ParentsAtWork, as I speak to my friends about their experiences, I’m increasingly coming to the conclusion that feminism in its essence, to me, is divisive.

What we really need to do is move beyond a dialogue of ‘women’s rights’ to a discussion of ‘human rights’.

Until we stop thinking of everything as ‘women’s issues’ – flexible working, the clash between home life and work life, the many issues around caring for and raising children (or even elderly parents) – and start expecting the same from men and women in all things, I don’t believe anything will truly change.

That means treating the Stay At Home Dad as you would a Stay At Home Mum, not commending him for being the one to ‘take the foot off the gas’ in his career while his partner takes the lead. It means not heroing the dad who does the nursery run or doesn’t miss the school play. (Unless you would hero a mum for these same behaviours… Most wouldn’t, FYI.)

At the same time, if a mum wants to stay home, she shouldn’t be perceived as ‘letting the side down’ or ‘giving up.’ In the same vein, if a man chooses to adopt flexible working policies or even become the lead parent, he shouldn’t be considered any less of a man for it. We need to level the playing field so there is space for choice for both men and women how they want to balance their work and home lives.

But how do we do this?

We start by abolishing the ridiculous notion that being a carer is somehow a subordinate role within a family. And we also stop expecting less from men,  stop expecting women to be the default carers and start genuinely thinking of men and women as equal.

For as long as we talk about ourselves as ‘us and them’, that is exactly what we will be.

Conversations with Little Miss No. 3

[Sitting on the landing outside the bathroom.]

Mama: Shall we brush your teeth? 

LM: Yeh! 

Mama: [surprised] Oh! Good girl, let’s go then. 

LM: No. 

Mama: Oh. But you said you wanted to. 

LM: No.

Mama: You did. Why don’t you want to brush your teeth now?

LM: I need to go home.

Mama: …you are home…

LM: I need to go home. [runs and gets you suitcase]

Mama: Where do you think home is, Little Miss? 

LM: I need to go home.

Mama: But this is our home, Little Miss.

LM: I need to go home. I need to see Nina. 

Mama: Nina’s at her house, we’ll see her another day. 

LM: I see Nina. I need to see Nina. I need to go home. 

Mama: This is our home. Nina’s at her home… [starting to feel at a loss…]

It seems that Little Miss has become confused and ‘home’ means Nina house. Trying really hard not to be irrational and get upset by this… Trying really hard…

Rosie Revere Engineer {Little Bookworm 8}

Rosie Revere Engineer, by Andrea Beaty is now one of my all time favourite books.

SONY DSCA bold statement, given I am 27 and it’s written for age 3+… But it really is brilliant.

It’s imaginative, original, creative, draws on history, encourages little people to do great things and believe themselves; it’s just a really, really lovely story.

And I’m not the only person who thinks so; it’s apparently spent 66 weeks on the New York Times best seller list – 66 weeks! – and in December 2015 was included as part of the International Space Station’s official Story Time From Space scheme.

I first heard about Rosie on Instagram via @HappilyEverElephants – a fellow children’s book enthusiast. It was her brilliant review that pushed me to call our local book store and ask them to order it in specially as I couldn’t find a UK book seller (other than Amazon). So I thought I’d share it with you:

I love books that will spark discussions with my boys – especially in ways that are fun and through stories that are engaging and not didactic.

The lively illustrations include tons of tools and other gizmos… [and] if your kids are a little older, you can also use this book to teach a bit of history based on the Rosie the Riveter storyline.

…this story beautifully illustrates that sometimes we have to experience failure before the sweet taste of success- a lesson that all of our children need to be reminded. After all, as Rosie teaches us, you can only truly fail if you quit. Two thumbs up for Rosie Revere!

How could I not be drawn in by such a glowing review?

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It’s excellent, encouraging young children – girls in particular – to follow their dreams and shattering any illusions in childrens’ minds that maths, engineering, inventing and science are ‘just for boys’.

Perhaps most importantly, however, it teaches the all important lesson that it’s ok to get it wrong. What matters, is that you pick yourself up, dust yourself off and try again.

Lucky for me, Little Miss has also fallen in love with Rosie. We read it almost every night and she’s even got her own red head scarf now, “like Rosie”. She’s become a big fan of cheese and “elcoptas” [helicopters] as a result of “Rosie book,” but you’ll just have to go ahead and purchase it for yourself to find out why…

I would say Rosie Revere Engineer is aimed at slighter older children, possibly 3+, only because of the amount of writing on some of the pages. But, if like Little Miss you have a Little Bookworm on your hands, you’d definitely get away with it from age 2.

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Little Miss showing off her Rosie headband.

I honestly can’t recommend this book enough. I know I say that a lot. But this is definitely up there in the top 10 all time favourite children’s books. A modern classic in the making fo’ sho’.

Finally, the author, Andrea Beaty, has collected a whole bunch of extra Rosie Revere Engineer activities on her Pinterest and there’s also a selection of Reception and KS1 educational resources available.

Currently only available in hardback in the UK via Amazon, Waterstones or special order from your local bookstore.

Just your average Monday: a busted lip, A&E, Little Miss’ first baby sitter experience and Parents’ Evening {The Wonderful Ordinary 22}

Monday started out like any other…

We were late getting up – the OH didn’t even have any recollection of pressing snooze three times; I got in the shower while the OH was tried to persuade Little Miss that, as with every other day, PJs are not an option to wear to nursery…

It was meant to be a hot day. Well, 23 degrees… hot by British standards. Little Miss was dressed in new shorts and a pink top; we lathered sunscreen on her as nursery had asked and made our way downstairs. We left the house late, about 7:45, me dashing out the door to the train station hoping I could still make the 7:58 (the last train I can get and still be on time for work) as the OH made his way to the car with Little Miss for the nursery run.

I made my train. The OH deposited Little Miss at nursery and headed to the office, knowing he’d hit traffic now in the 8am rush and most likely be late.

8:09am. My train was pulling into Watford Junction, the half way point of my journey.

“The nursery just called, Little Miss has had an accident and hurt her lip. They said I had to come back. So I’m turning round now and heading back.”

That was all we knew. ‘She’s hurt her lip.’

I stayed on my train and waited for news.

8:24am. The nursery called me.

“Hi Amie, the OH has just picked up Little Miss and asked me to call you to say to meet him at A&E.”

I must have looked worried as a fellow commuter asked me if everything was OK – and no one speaks on commuter trains. Ever.

I checked my train app to see when the next train back out of London was. Four minutes. The next one after that was twenty minutes away and a slow train.

We pulled into Euston two minutes later and I literally sprinted up the walkway from Platform 15 and through Euston station to Platform 10.

I was taking my backpack off (yes, I’m that cool) to get my ticket out for the barrier without slowing down with one minute left on the clock. The guard shouted, ‘Watford?’. I breathlessly said yes as I slowed at the gate and he buzzed me through saying, ‘run!’ without checking my ticket. I wouldn’t have made the train without him.

I actually made it to A&E before the OH. I was stood at the door waiting to receive them as they pulled up.

In all honesty, it didn’t look as bad to me all when she put her teeth through her lip back in October, but maybe that’s because I’m a veteran of toddler wounds now and they’d changed her top and cleaned her face up a bit at nursery. So she wasn’t quite the Zombie movie extra I was expecting.

A&E: quick and friendly but needs batteries

They were very quick at A&E, saw us almost straight away. All her observations were normal and she was as good as gold for the nurses (as ever), doing everything they asked without complaint.

We sat waiting to see the doctor and the toy box failed to distract Little Miss as all the toys were either missing parts or had run out of batteries (NHS cuts anyone?!). By this time it was around 9:30 – snack time. Little Miss kept saying she was hungry so in the end I went on a hunt for lactose-free-soft-won’t-hurt-a-busted-lip food. (Not easily come by in a hospital it turns out!)

The doctor discharged us really quickly. No stitches, no glue, nada. He said her teeth hadn’t actually gone through her lip, so it was simply a case of keeping her lip as clean as possible and giving it time to heal.

Her top front gums were a bluey-pink colour and this was (and still is) the main concern. We’re basically playing a waiting game to see how severe the gum bruising is and whether the impact has caused her teeth will cause them to fall out… Which is err, really not great.

I know it’s vain, I know it won’t make us love her any less, but I really don’t want her to loose her teeth. She loves apples! How will she eat apples without front teeth?! And perhaps most vain of all, she’s a flower girl in my Dad and H’s wedding in three weeks… She can’t be a toothless flower girl!

We decided to keep Little Miss of nursery the rest of the day, mainly for risk that she’d get knocked about at nursery and be at risk of tumbling in the playground before her lip had even sealed.

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Little Miss a few days after the event, starting to heal and still managing to raise a smile. 

The Baby Sitter Experience

That evening was Parents Evening at the nursery – our first. Usually, my mum would pop over and watch Little Miss for us while we popped up to the nursery. But unfortunately, she had plans that evening so we’d decided to be bold and opt for a baby sitter – a first for us and for Little Miss.

A friend of mine from school’s cousin lives about a ten minute drive away. She’s only 18 but my friend said she had baby sat all the little nieces and nephews since they were babies and she would trust her if she had children. (And give my friend is a Primary School Teaching Assistant, I trust her judgement.)

We had thought an hour during early evening, after dinner and before bedtime would be a good introduction for her to be left with a stranger. But after the day she’d had we were in two minds whether we should cancel and only one of us go to Parents’ Evening. In the end, we felt it was important for us both to go and in all honesty, Little Miss seemed fine.

So, The Baby Sitter arrived about 6pm to get acquainted with Little Miss and we headed out about 6:20pm. Little Miss warmed to her straight away and headed up stairs to show her her tipi when she clocked us putting on our shoes.

There was a moment of uncertainty until The Baby Sitter suggested they got her tunnel out. And then that was it. Little Miss basically fell in love, so much so, that when we returned about 7pm, she was upset when The Baby Sitter had to say good bye! She clearly made quite the impression. And we are thrilled. Hello social life!

“Quietly Confident”SONY DSC

Parents’ Evening went really well. They showed us her progress book, there’s absolutely no concerns with her development or how she’s settled in at the nursery. In fact, they were very impressed with how well she’s done slotted in.

They described her as “quietly confident”, which is pretty spot on.

She’s not keen on crowds (at a birthday party on Sunday, we had to sit to the side for a while eating samosas while she watched and took it all in, sussing out the situation before she was ready to get involved); and can be quite shy with new people, particularly in unfamiliar surroundings.

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Since Little Miss started using a spoon, colour and ‘writing’ I’ve noticed numerous times she seems to have a preference for her left hand. Nursery has also clocked this. Kids usually start to show a dominant hand between the ages of two an three so I guess we’ll know soon enough…

But once she knows you, good luck shutting her up. She’s a bright cookie and has no issue putting forward her opinions (no idea where she gets that from…) or getting you to do what she wants.

They also said she enjoys imaginative play (particularly with Dolly) and messy play the most – not a surprise really. Though I was surprised not to hear mention of books or music as these are also some of her go to activities at home.

We laughed when we were invited to Parents’ Evening initially, saying how formal it sounded for nursery. But it was lovely to have more of an insight into what she gets up to day-to-day at nursery, especially for me who only gets to do the nursery run one day week.

I know I’m not supposed to writ these sorts of things, because they’re all mushy and cliched and sickening and no one really wants to hear about how amazing anyone else’s child is… But…

We were really proud of Little Miss. Between the glowing report from nursery and how brave she’d been all day, we felt like we had a very special little girl indeed.

But safe to say we flopped into bed about 9pm that night, utterly cream-crackered.

Life as a Working Mum: guilt, doubt, exhaustion and caffeine addiction

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Suffering from toddler-induced-caffeine-addiction. (The bags under my eyes are just peaking through the heavy concealer…)

It’s been two months since I finally returned to work after two years of unemployment and Stay At Home Mum (SAHM) life.

I was so excited to get back to work, not least because of the struggle to get there.

But in all honesty, the last two months have been really bloody hard.

If you follow me on any of the various social channels available, you may have seen my various tweets and Facebook statuses lamenting the fact we’ve been living in the plague house.

I mean, seriously, how many illnesses can one small family get in eight weeks!?

Little Miss got croup the week I started back at work (not the best start… Thankfully the OH took those two days off rather than me!), then flu, then chickenpox, then all three of us came down with a really nasty strain of flu one after the other (that was an especially fun three weeks), which only antibiotics could shake the fallout cough from. Then Little Miss had a cold and high fever – again – and now she has a nasty cough keeping her up at night – again.

The Agency have been exceptionally understanding given I haven’t actually done a full week of work in about seven weeks.

Some of the more seasoned parents I know smile knowingly when I’ve bemoaned our situation and all have similar stories to tell of the nursery calling the day they returned from Maternity Leave saying, ‘Wilhelmina has put her tooth through her lip and needs collecting’ or ‘little Bobby has a a hugely contagious virus you must collect him immediately before he causes the end of the world…’ just before your all important pitch to the Head of Department…

The irony… I wrote this blog post last week and was commuting into London this morning editing it ready to send live when, as if to prove my point, Nursery rang to say Little Miss fallen and put her teeth through her lip.

The OH  had obviously turned straight around when he got the call and was en route to A&E. I meanwhile had to wait for my train to reach Euston, run like the clappers to another platform and hurtle myself through the closing doors onto a train back out to Hertfordshire. And this is why no longer wear nice shoes and live in Nikes. Because parenthood is utterly unpredictable and heals do not lend themselves well to this lifestyle.  

(As a slight aside, thank you to the ticket man at the gate who saw me flying towards the gates and opened them for me without checking my ticket, I wouldn’t have made the train without you.) 

The Other Half works outside of London and drives to work while train it into The Big Smoke everyday. Because of where our nursery is situated, he bears the brunt of the nursery run each morning and evening.

I work from home on Thursdays so there’s at least one day the OH doesn’t have to worry about the run and also at least one day I get to be the one who hears about her day.

Occasionally we’ll have a conversation that goes something like this:

Me: I was chatting to Little Miss today and she kept saying she didn’t want to go to nursery, that she didn’t like nursery, etc etc.
The OH: Amie, trust me, she’s happy, I see her laughing and playing every day when I pick her up. She loves the girls, she tells me all about who she’s played with that day. If she wasn’t happy I’d know.

And it’s like a punch to the guy every time. I should knows these things, I’m her Mama.

There’s been numerous days the OH  hasn’t made it into work until well after 9am thanks to traffic and there’s been plenty of evenings we’ve had to rely on my mum being able to do pick up (thank you Mama!).

This was one of the big pulls for us moving out of London back in January. My mum is about a 15 or 20 minute drive from us now and she works about 30 minutes away as well, meaning there’s a third person ‘on call’ if needs be. She also looks after Little Miss every Wednesday, which gives us at least one day in the week when neither of us are worrying about us leaving on time, one to man bedtime while the other gets our dinner on, sometimes before we have to log back in to finish off our workload from the day.

Wednesdays are also a relief for Little Miss; a more relaxed day that doesn’t start with a mad rush, a battle to get dressed, a battle to get her out the door, etc. (And she adores her Nina, which helps.)

But aside from the logistical nightmare that is working parent life and sheer lack of sleep due to illness (my god, we are more exhausted at the moment than the newborn days), it’s been hard for all of us adjusting to the new routine.

Having been used to pretty much all my time being with Little Miss for the past two years, I feel as though nursery now gets the best of her each day.

Due to our commutes, she has a long day being dropped between 7:30 and 8am and usually not picked up until between 5:30 and 6pm. She usually struggles to nap longer than an hour at nursery, meaning that by the time she gets home, she’s tired, pretty grumpy and not really the best version of herself. To be fair, neither am I or the OH after a long day at work. But it’s frustrating that the fleeting moments I have with her during the week, often only a half hour slot at each end of the day, are often full of tears (hers, not mine… most of the time).

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Oh look! Another Instagram update of me with a coffee…

I manage my work day as best I can to ensure I’m ‘present,’ getting the job done when I’m there and that I can leave at a reasonable time to get home and help the OH with bedtime and also to spend some time as a family. For example, my contracted hours are 9-6pm; I usually get into the office between 8:30 and 9am and almost always skip my lunch hour so I can leave between 5 and 5:30pm instead. I basically dash off as soon as is acceptable. I manage it probably three or four evenings in a week at the moment, which isn’t bad going.

But the real kick in the teeth that I can’t control is the trains. On Thursday last week the trains out of Euston were cancelled and delayed. Having left the office at 5:15 to catch the 5:40 train, getting me home for 6:25, I didn’t end up home until 8pm.

Little Miss was still singing to herself in the cot so I snuck in and gave her squidge and quietly asked her about her day. But that’s hardly quality time, not to mention, most nights she’d often already be dosing off if not asleep already.

Around 90% of our evenings at the moment are stressful for all involved. And I can feel the resentment creeping in.

I’m enjoying being back at work. I feel useful, I’m thriving on the challenge again, I’m contributing to household bills fully and feel like the OH’s equal once again. (NB: this isn’t a reflection on what I think of Stay At Home Parents in general, merely how I felt as a SAHM not by choice.)

But when the day starts with a time pressured battle to get dressed and ends with the kitchen covered in food because Little Miss is overtired and didn’t want veggie fried rice tonight, is too tired for a bath (again) and just cries until the sweet release of sleep arrives, I do feel the doubt creeping in.

Have I done the right thing?

I mean, financially, we didn’t have much choice and I wasn’t really cut out for SAHMness. I’m not a patient enough person!

But after two years of unemployment, I wasn’t being ‘picky’ about full or part time offers. I find myself wondering if I should have tried harder to go freelance. Maybe I should have tried harder to come up with a viable business idea I could run around her. Maybe, maybe, maybe…

really look forward to the weekends and I’ve had a tantrum or two on more than one occasion when the weekend doesn’t go to plan or I feel like I don’t get some quality family time just the three of us. We make pizzas from scratch every weekend and it’s probably my favourite time of the weekend. Just a really fun evening when we all chip in and have a giggle. And they taste awesome, which helps, obv.

There isn’t really a closing to this blog post. It’s kind of a work in progress. I have no answers, no pearls of wisdom for other parents in similar situations.

But if you have any, please do share. I’m all ears.

You can follow what my mum (Nina) and Little Miss get up to each Wednesday on Instagram by searching #NinaWednesdays.

Alternatively, just follow Finding Our Feet on Instagram or Facebook and I’ll keep you up to date as well. 

The day the Queen came to town

Today the Queen paid our little town a visit.

She’s linked with the really old school here, which is celebrating it’s 475th anniversary this year.So she came to wish them Happy Birthday. (Probably just pleased something’s been around longer than her! That’s right, I went there…)

imageIt’s been all over the local news for weeks – mass road closures, optional school day for kids, etc, etc. There have been a handful of grumps about the whole affair, but on the whole, people have been very excited about the royal visit.

Due to the road closures and the mania that was promised by the local press, I decided to work from home today. I’m not anti-royal but I wouldn’t consider myself pro-royals either. I’m sort of apathetic.

For the Queen’s Golden Jubilee back in 2002, I actually sang in the choir in the parade with my drama school – but that wasn’t for the love of the Queen. I just enjoyed singing! For the Royal Wedding back in 2011, my University housemates and I took a break from finals revision, made tea and scones and sat and watched it all in our living room, grateful of the extra bank holiday and an extra excuse for a party.

I’ve never really been to a street party, or made a trip out to see the Royals at an event of anything. Truth be told, half the time I actually feel sorry for them having to live a life they didn’t choose – apart from K Middy, obv. – in the public eye, under constant scrutiny, and facing incessant criticism. I wrote a post last year the day Kate went into labour about how everyone should leave them in peace, poor souls.

It didn’t occur to me to keep Little Miss off nursery this morning. Partly because it’s a work day and partly because she’s two and has no clue what’s going on or who the Queen is. But when I dropped Little Miss off at nursery, they asked if I could sign a permission slip to go on a field trip into town to see the Queen.

But by about 10:30am curiosity got the better of me. My colleagues tell me off daily for not taking a screen break most days, so today I did and I popped to the end of the road to see if I could see anything.

Not far down the high street and the road closures began. People were literally lining the streets, three or four people deep. There were children everywhere waiting patiently and eagerly for a glimpse of Her Majesty. People of all ages had flags, banners, daft Union Jack hats (and almost everyone was holding a mobile phone, poised and ready). The houses and shops were all decorated to the nines with Union Jacks, photos of the Queen through the ages, flags, bunting – the works.

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The estate agents had taken down the photos of the houses in their window and replaced it with an uber British Queenie montage. So patriotic.

Maybe it’s because my childhood years were spent in the States, so I didn’t grow up seeing Queen visits or hearing about the Royal Family much, but it all seems a bit bonkers to me. I couldn’t help but think, “All this for a little old lady!?”.

Standing at a dinky 5ft 3/4 of an inch, crowds aren’t really my thing. I don’t usually see much. So I got a coffee, found a somewhat precarious perch on a fence and soaked up the atmosphere.

And so we waited.

Rumours suggested she would be on the streets around 11am and low and behold, at 11:05, there she was.

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And you know what? Screw the grumps who complained about the road closures and the fuss. It was awesome.

There are few events in today’s world that bring this many people – let alone a whole town – together in a happy, positive and jolly way. People were chatting to strangers, bumping into friends and stopping for a chat. The bar near where I was stood sent it’s staff out onto the streets with trays of Pimms (though sadly not for free), the solicitor’s office whose fence I was hanging off had opened it’s doors to parents with children so they could use their loo and their waiting room had become a make shift baby feeding area. Even the police officers were all in high spirits in the sunshine, chatting away to the public and having a laugh (another lady and I did try to persuade one of them to give us a dance like that Kiwi officer last year, but he said he had two left feet unfortunately).
I still don’t 100% ‘get it’, I don’t think I’d ever be one of the cheering, flag waving types who gets up early to claim a good spot at the barriers and waits for hours for that 30 seconds view… But it was really lovely to see so many people out to celebrate something together. Gave you that warm fuzzy feeling.

The only thing I’d say is that I bet people at the start of Queenie’s reign got a bit more dressed up for the occasion than just silly hats. The toddlers looked the smartest of the lot of us in their summer dresses and tribly sun hats.

When I picked Little Miss up from nursery, she was playing with red, white and blue balloons and full of news about how she’d “met da Qween in helcop!” (For those of you not able to speak Toddler, that translates to “met the Queen in her helicopter” which actually means, they saw the Queen from a far as she landed in her helicopter in a field. No actual meeting occurred.)

Clearly, Queenie made quite the impression. It’s all Little Miss has talked about all evening.

We read one of the Alice Through the Looking Glass books this evening, in which the Red Queen was running with Alice to her pawn square.

“Qween! Qween! Red Qween…” was all Little Miss wanted to focus on in the book. Sod Alice or the giant game of chess (granted, that part of the story might be a bit beyond Little Miss just yet anyway) all that was of interest was “the Qween!”.

It seems I may have a little royalist on my hands…!

#ParentsAtWork: Sarah – dealing with PND and a hostile work environment, a career change was my only option

Name: Sarah*
Age: 31
Family life: Wife to Joe* and mother to two year old son, Louis*
Work life: Research Scientist turned Childminder and Stay at Home Mother

As the main breadwinner of her family, after just five months of Maternity Leave, Sarah returned to her job at a leading University as a Research Scientist. Her husband Joe became a Stay At Home Dad, looking after their son Louis full time while he finished his PhD. But within four months, Sarah was signed off work with severe Post Natal Depression (PND) after suffering harassment for being a mother.

Sarah’s boss, Matthew*, had always been a difficult character to manage. He worked obscure hours (often starting his day at 1pm and not finishing until 10 at night) and had a history of issues with women in the workplace.

When Sarah returned to work in September 2014, as far as Matthew was concerned, nothing had changed; she had had her time off to have her baby, now she was back.

But Sarah was very clear from the off; she was no longer prepared to work to his atypical hours and going forward would work a ‘normal’ working day like the rest of the team (8:30am – 4:30pm so she could have some time with Louis in the evenings). She also requested one day working from home.

To Matthew, this meant she was distracted and no longer committed to her work. He made it clear he resented Sarah for having a baby and it became an incredibly hostile work environment. Sarah was under constant scrutiny and Matthew became incredibly negative about her performance, passing comment on her social interactions with colleagues or editing emails. He would openly put her down, claiming things like, “you’ve forgotten how to write since having a baby”.

Despite returning to work, Sarah continued to breastfeed. It was her way of feeling connected to Louis, doing her bit to care for him when she couldn’t be the one to physically look after him each day.

It was hard. All my friends were at home with their babies and I was at work, expressing five times a day, wishing I was at home. I suffered badly from separation anxiety, but I just thought it was normal.

Louis wasn’t sleeping through the night and though Joe did most of the night-wakings, there aren’t many places to hide from a crying baby in the dead of night in a London apartment.

She was shattered. She had no energy and suffered from awful migraines on a regular basis. The stress and strain of dealing with her boss each day and his total lack of understanding started to take its toll.

I cried in my office almost every day but I just thought my hormones were all over the place because of breastfeeding. Even if that had been the case though, I didn’t want to stop – it was the only thing I could do for him. I felt like a shit mother.

One day, her boss walked into her office without knocking while she was pumping. He found it hilarious and continued to mock, her for ‘milking herself’ over the coming weeks, bursting into her office a few times in hope of catching her again. It was the final straw.

It was at this pont (January 2015) Sarah was also diagnosed with PND. Initially, she was signed off for two weeks.

She began speaking with the head of her department and HR. They referred her to the University’s Occupational Health department, but they seemed unaware how to deal with someone suffering from PND and offered little support.

I would panic whenever sick leave came to an end I had to return to work. It affected my relationship with Joe, I wanted to run away with Louis, I was a mess. My career and my confidence were ruined.

Joe and her doctor continued to be her sole support as she slipped slowly deeper into the grip of her depression. Over the next year, Sarah ended up with eight months sick leave and heavily medicated to steady her.

A PGCE student had also supported the team, but she quit shortly after Sarah’s return to work and was hospitalised for mental health issues and stress after working with Matthew. Another colleague anecdotally reported issues with him as well after she returned from Mat Leave a few years before and a Post-doc with two children had left the University previously for similar reasons. Yet no one seemed willing to go on record and the University didn’t seem to be listening.

The main issue, according to Sarah, is that “it’s an incredibly patriarchal and hierarchical institute. Nobody wants to deal with complaints or confrontation, especially about senior staff.”

HR facilitated a meeting between Matthew and Sarah, but he simply used it as a platform to belittle her and her achievements. The female HR manager asked to meet Sarah in private and urged her to make a formal complaint. But was told there was a lack of hard evidence to substantiate the claims.

That summer, Joe finished his PhD and entered full time employment. Sarah resigned with almost immediate effect.

Since leaving the Univeristy last summer, Sarah’s health has improved significantly. She’s barely suffered from migraines and is now even coming off her medication. She also completed her childminder training in December 2015 and now not only looks after Louis full time but another five children over the course of the week as well. She even has a client waiting list.

To some, this may feel like drastic career change but to Sarah it was entirely the right choice; “I have previous nanny experience from when I was a student, and this way I could stay home with Louis but still contribute to the household bills. Financially, we’re better off and I’m happy again, I’m having fun, I’m not stressed – I’m enjoying life.”

I asked Sarah what she thought needs to change to help prevent other parents from experiencing similar fates; “There needs to be better support for women when returning to work. There needs to be more monitoring, making sure you’re ok and coping with the changes. It’s a massive thing becoming a parent.”

And as more men take advantage of the Shared Parental Leave laws in the UK, perhaps this is something that needs to be made available for all returning parents, not just women.

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ANY NAME OR BUSINESS MARKED WITH A * HAS BEEN CHANGED FOR PRIVACY REASONS.
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ALL INTERVIEWS ARE ANONYMOUS FOR BOTH YOU AND EMPLOYERS OR COMPANIES MENTIONED DURING THE INTERVIEW (UNLESS YOU STATE OTHERWISE). THE AIM OF THE GAME IS NOT TO NAME AND SHAME BUT TO RAISE AWARENESS OF THE ISSUES AND TRY TO CHANGE PERCEPTION OF PARENTS AS SECOND-CLASS WORKING CITIZENS.