Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Seven reasons I love the Tour de France

I am not much of a sports fan, but I have watched the Tour de France pretty much every year since I was old enough to know what a bicycle was. As soon as I hear the little accordion ditty at the start of ITV4's coverage (their highlights show is mostly all I have time for), I'm filled with nostalgia for lazy summer days spent watching the Tour with my Dad, windows and doors all flung open and a banana milkshake in my hand. Except I think it was on Channel 4 back then, and it started with a spiced up version of Frère Jacques (I miss that).
Beyond the nostalgia however, the TdF's appeal has always been a bit of a mystery as I'm not that into cycling myself. The sport is dominated by sinewy, affluent white blokes; it persists in a ridiculously sexist tradition of flanking the winner of the stage with shapely young "podium babes" (kudos to the organisers for putting all this year's models in a little black dress so weirdly unflattering it made every one of them look 5 months pregnant); and it has a terrible reputation for rampant drug-taking, so you can never be entirely sure whether you're witnessing the peak of human endurance, or a load of blokes doped up to their eyeballs. And yet... I love it. While watching this year, through my new analytical blogger's eyes, I began to understand why:
  1. Every single person riding that race is utterly, utterly nuts. I mean nuts within the context of still being officially sane, but still nuttier than the contents of a squirrel's undercrackers.  Two weeks of cardiovascular overload, burning muscles, saddle sores, cuts and bruises, broken bones, heatstroke, sunburn... I find that level of masochism for such a small chance of any glory weirdly compelling. Faintly exasperating, but still compelling.
  2. Most of the supporters are also utterly nuts. Particularly the ones that like to run alongside the riders in their underpants as they head up 15% climbs, or 'help' their chosen cyclist along by waving flags in frighteningly close proximity to their wheel spokes.
  3. La Belle France - I studied French in the heady days of my youth, and have travelled all over the country. I always get a bit of a kick when I understand the technical language (Tete de la Course! I know what that means!) or recognise a place name. Sad, I know.
  4. ITV4's coverage is actually rather intelligent. Let's not get carried away - we're not talking Newsnight Review here. But for coverage of a sporting event, it's refreshingly highbrow. And also funny. Every highlights show is bookended by an insightful, urbane little monologue from Gary Imlach, who always manages to succinctly and sardonically sum up the race in a fresh way; "At the end of the day, he's just had a blinder" is definitely not his style. The channel's reporters also interview the competitors and team bosses in their native tongue. Yes, we're talking English people being able to speak multiple foreign languages here. Staggering. Ned Boulting in particular is impressively upfront in his interviewing style, and his little vignettes with Chris Boardman are both informative and highly entertaining, particularly when they struggle to get their middle-age spread (sorry guys) up mountains in an effort to illustrate the terrain for that day's racing. As for Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen's rambling test-match style commentary - it's frankly legendary (and improved further still by having the Excitable Terminator tones of Jens Voight joining them from time to time this year).
  5. The crazy tongue-twister names of some of the cyclists. When I was younger, the nom du jour would be repeated over and over while dancing about the living room (all together now, "Djamolidine Abdoujaparov! Djamolidine Abdoujaparov!"). Even now, I find myself repeating my favourites, like some kind of odd appeal to the cycling gods as I go about the washing up and nappy changes. This year's hits: Vincenzo Nibali (because Phil pronounces it 'Nibbly'), Tejay Van Garderen and Daniel Teklehaimanot (go Eritrea!).
  6. As a woman, I'm not supposed to like sport; particularly not something technical like cycling (dressage, or netball maybe...). I like liking things I'm not supposed to. I went to a hilariously middle-class kiddies' tea party at the weekend, and found myself caught between two blokes discussing the impending TdF finale in Paris. They wittered on for five mins or so before I asked a question about Alberto Contador and stopped the conversation dead as they processed the fact that I liked cycling, and furthermore, possibly knew more than they were pretending they did. Most satisfying.
  7. I quite fancy Chris Froome. I always have been a bit of a sucker for the tall and gangly lads.
Anyway, enough of that. Now the Tour is sadly all over, normal service (blogging about Duckling) will be resumed soon I promise.  On yer bike and all that. The DD x

Saturday, 25 July 2015

Respecting your child's rights

I have read a few articles and posts recently about the importance of treating babies as people in their own rights, rather than helpless 'blobs' or extensions of ourselves to be moulded and shaped as we see fit. "Respectful" parenting advocates that children have rights too, and be treated with the same courtesy we would extend to other adults. It is most commonly associated with the ideas of Emmi Pikler and her protégée Magda Gerber, though elements of their philosophies have been integrated into many other practitioners' theories too.  I am a firm believer of living life by a code of "do unto others" (the bible does have some snappy one liners, I'll give it that), with children no exception. However, Geber and Pikler's ideas do have some areas of divergence from other scientifically-based concepts such as attachment theory, which make me a little uncomfortable (e.g. leaving children to cry or spend large amounts of time on the floor on their own).

Nevertheless, I think the overarching theme of respect remains valid, and after reading a particularly thought provoking article by Lulastic last night entitled "10 habits that infringe the rights of your child...", I thought it might be interesting to spend 24 hours being more mindful of how I interact with Duckling and explore the 'bad habits' she mentions*. Here follows a summary of how I got on (not in quite the same order):

1) Taking things off children. I always try to ask Duckling for whatever forbidden item he has in his hand before I remove it from him, as it seems a) like a common courtesy to do so and b) he will sometimes relinquish things without a fuss if I ask, but will almost always kick off if I don't. Plus I want him to learn not to snatch off others. However, sometimes, in the name of safety especially (or because I'm in a hurry or plain forget), I am guilty of taking and not asking. When Duckling decided to pop a bottle top in his mouth this afternoon, I didn't immediately fish it out therefore, but politely asked for it back. "No," was the response (or rather, due to a full mouth, "Nog" followed by a shake of the head). "Please Duckling, I don't want you to swallow it." "Nog. Nog" He then ran off to hide under a garden chair. After a few more attempts, I gave up and dislodged it myself.  I knew he probably would have spat it out himself eventually, but I decided, on the off chance that he didn't, removal without consent was probably better than having to perform the Heimlich manoeuvre or explain to A&E staff that he swallowed a bottle top because I was trying not to infringe his rights.

2) Talking about children in front of them. Avoiding discussions about children in the third person when they're present seems fair enough when you think about it - I would hate for anyone to discuss my toilet habits, flyaway hair and general grumpiness as though I wasn't in the room. Today was the ultimate test - I popped round for a chat with my neighbour, who has a little girl, Bella, who's a few months younger than Duckling. Here follows a transcript of our conversation (more or less):

Initial pleasantries are exchanged, drinks are organised and seats are taken.
Me: How long have you been walking now Bella?
Bella smiles shyly at me, and promptly falls on her bum.
Neighbour: Oooh, about two weeks now, haven't you Bella? She's really getting steady now. It's amazing how quick they learn.
Me: Yes, I remember Duckling had a few wobbly weeks before he really found his feet. Didn't you Duckling? (Duckling looks up briefly from investigating my handbag, then returns to the job in hand.) It's both wonderful and hard work once they're up and away! Errm, isn't it Duckling?
Duckling ignores me. Neighbour gives me a slightly odd look.
Neighbour: Oh, I bet - I'm exhausted now - goodness knows what it'll be like when she can run off in a supermarket!
Me: I'm sure you'd never do that, would you Bella? (Bella gives me a blank stare and pulls off her sock. Neighbour smiles politely. I sip my squash and soldier on.) Hey Duckling, we had fun at the farm yesterday, didn't we? Do you want to tell Bella what we saw?
Duckling produces a fluff covered raisin from my bag.
Duckling: More!
Me: We saw sheep, and pigs, and cows, and horses - you had a great time, didn't you, though I think some of them scared you a bit.
Duckling shakes his head.
Duckling: No. Mummy. Moooore!
Duckling holds raisin aloft, points at bag, points at mouth. 
Me: I don't think I have any more raisins darling, but you can have a bit of banana bar if you want some? (Duckling nods head vigorously. Banana bar is doled out to both Duckling and Bella.) You and Gosling had lots of fun on the swings, didn't you?"
Banana bar is being voraciously consumed, ergo no reaction.
Me: "Duckling?"
Neighbour is now doubting she is actually included in this conversation, and is trying to put Bella's sock back on. I give up, and revert to talking more naturally, leaving Duckling to play with Bella without any further insistence that he participate in our conversation. 

Maybe I was doing it wrong, but it felt bizarre to try to include a child with only ten real words in an adult conversation, let alone a one year old with zero vocabulary. Yes, he understands a lot, but only up to a point. Plus I felt that by asking him questions he couldn't answer, I was ultimately putting words in his mouth by having to reply for him. The alternative - not talking about him at all - is also, realistically, not an option when you're with a friend who has a child of a similar age, as we all know that we have nothing to discuss beyond our kids (ahem). All in all, a tricky habit to escape.

3) Picking babies up without asking. I have to be honest, I don't always ask Duckling if he wants to be picked up, but each time that I did today, he reacted with great enthusiasm. This tells me a lot about why I often don't ask - Duckling loves cuddles and to be held up high so he can see the world; he has from the word go. It also poses an interesting question about parental intuition, particularly in pre-verbal children: if a parent silently picks up a child because they know their child usually likes it (e.g. it stops them crying, or makes them smile), does this count as an unwarranted invasion of that child's space, or are they simply responding appropriately to their child's apparent preferences? Drake never asks before hugging me (or, on the odd occasion when he's had his Weetabix / too much beer, picking me up) and it doesn't worry me a bit - it would be very weird and formal if he did ask. So is it really that bad to pick my son up for a hug without seeking his assent? Not sure I have the answer on this one, but I am fairly sure that nine times out of ten, Duckling is very happy to be scooped up when I do so (with the one in ten being those "I'm off for a stroll in the road Mummy!" occasions).

4) Wiping children's noses. No cold today, so no opportunity to try out a respectful nose wiping approach (i.e. ask, or let them do it themselves), but I have done in the past, and know that Duckling is actually surprisingly good at wiping his own nose. What he's less good at is avoiding spreading the snot all over his teddy as he wipes teddy's nose with the same tissue. Both sweet and disgusting all at the same time.

5) Deciding things without their input. This rule applies to pretty much everything. Time to change their nappy? Ask them if that's OK. Post-run knee ache so want to share their bath? Seek approval. Think it's time to go home? Give them some warning. I asked about all of these things today, and received a definitive "No" and a shake of the head each time (although the bath thing was subsequently approved of once I explained there would be free access to the beloved boobies). This presented me with a dilemma - is it worse to ask, receive a rebuttal and then totally ignore your child's wishes and do said thing anyway, or to just plough on in there and do what you have to do without asking? I concluded that neither is really fair, and that it's far better to pre-warn Duckling about what I'm doing when there's no choice (as in "Righty, we're going to change your nappy now as you've done a poo."), and only offer a choice when there's a genuine alternative. To my surprise, this actually worked quite well at the end of the day when I went to put on his sleepsuit ("Sleepsuit time Duckling! Would you like to lie down, or shall we put it on you standing?") I actually got him to lie quietly for a minute while I did the poppers up. I shall be exploring this one further tomorrow. Which brings me to:

6) Telling them what to wear. Not really age appropriate this one, as Duckling is only sixteen months, but I thought I'd give 'pick your own outfit' a bash anyway. He ended up choosing dungarees, a footed sleepsuit, woolly hat and a pair of swimming trunks. Enough said. Which also neatly brings me to:

7) Laughing at children. This one is very hard as Duckling is regularly inadvertently hilarious. However, I actually managed it - even when pointed to a spider and declared it to be a doggy. I did giggle when he started doing impressions of an (apparently) farty aeroplane - though he was laughing too, so I think that counts as laughing with rather than at. I saved up all my 'at' laughter for a conversation with Drake in the evening once Duckling was in bed, which was actually rather nice.

8) Telling them to stop crying. I would never bluntly say "stop crying" to Duckling, as I know there's always a reason for his tears, and that reason, for him, is valid and very real. I am guilty of occasionally saying "It's OK, you don't need to cry" though because I can't help myself - I'm his Mum and I'm biologically programmed not to want him to cry. Plus I always have the nagging knowledge that leaving a baby to cry really whacks up their stress levels (and doesn't do the parent's nerves much good either) so I want him to stop asap. Duckling didn't cry much today thankfully, but on the couple of occasions he did, I tried hard to offer empathy and validation instead of trying to shut him up. He seemed to appreciate this, but to be honest, when I said "it really hurt when that stone scratched you, didn't it?" he just nodded pitifully and cried harder. I am sold on the idea of empathy and understanding therefore, but maybe need to work on the delivery so I don't, in my attempt to make things better, draw further attention to the terrible injury that has just befallen him.

9) Photographing (and sharing) them without permission. Duckling's a bit too young to understand sharing, but he does just about get the photograph thing. He was largely indifferent when asked if he minded me taking one today though, so I took it anyway. I only ever share with Drake, and with close friends and family on Facebook anyway (no Instagram account, me. Weird, I know), and never on my blog as it's strictly anonymous.

10) Putting children in time out. I can't comment on this one as I've never done it with Duckling - he's much too little. I will reread when he reaches an age where I might be tempted though!

All in all, the past 24 hours have been interesting. Addressing some bad habits was easy, but avoiding others felt a bit forced and awkward. This may be because Duckling is still too young for some of the 'respectful' approaches to be appropriate - at sixteen months, his understanding of the world and its dangers is still limited, as is his vocabulary. So while I know that it is very important for him to see us being respectful, I feel I need to teach him that he has a responsibility to reciprocate and respect others' rights too. I'm not 100% convinced that this can be done by mirroring positive behaviour alone - sensible, clear boundaries probably do need to be set and adhered to. Furthermore, I found myself feeling acutely guilty at several points today when I failed to avoid a 'bad habit', even when I was acting in Duckling's best interests, which, OK, may make me do it better in future, but also adds to my existing "things to beat myself up about" collection. Unavoidable perhaps given my penchant for guilt, but still wearisome as I know nobody can get it right all the time (and I've had sixteen months to get a grip on things - trying all this when he was newborn might have pushed me over the edge).

All this said, respecting your child is a no-brainer, and I do think this list is a very useful launch point for trying to be a more respectful parent - it has definitely made me more aware of what I say and do with Duckling, and the messages that I'm subconsciously transmitting. It just needs to be moulded and shaped to individual parenting styles, and to the age and personality of the child in question. But then, doesn't everything?

* worth mentioning here that I work in international development, so Lulastic's use of The UN's Convention on the Rights of the Child to frame her argument really piqued my interest - a very interesting extrapolation I thought.

Monday, 20 July 2015

For my friend on her lost baby's birthday

Today is the birthday of one of my best friend's baby girl, who was stillborn just a few days before her due date last year. To say that my friend and her husband were devastated would be an understatement. Nothing can possibly prepare you for that degree of shock and pain, for the life plans derailed, the crib unslept in, the tiny vests and socks unworn.

It is difficult to write about your feelings in relation to other people's pain without sounding like you're making the situation all about you. The emotions I had that day cannot even come close to what my friend was feeling, and I wouldn't want to pretend they did. I don't think anyone can claim to know what the experience of stillbirth, or any late loss of a baby is like unless they've been there themselves. Even then, every situation is different and people experience grief in different ways. Yet though I couldn't possibly know the depth of her pain, I would be lying if I said I couldn't imagine it.   

I, thankfully, have never been through a late pregnancy loss, but I did have two miscarriages before Duckling: one managed by ERPC (a term that's meant to have been phased out but was still used by my hospital) after the baby was found to have no heartbeat at my 12 week scan; the other a spontaneous loss at 7 weeks. Both were incredibly sad, distressing and frankly surreal, but as I had half expected to have a miscarriage (my mother had one before she had me) and nobody except close family knew I was pregnant, I coped and was able to return to something approaching normality comparatively quickly - albeit a different, sadder and less complacent type of normal. I still think about my lost little beans a lot, but as I had never felt or saw them moving, it is difficult to picture them as babies. To be honest, I try not to, as I think it would just make things more painful.

My friend had had the misfortune (some might say privilege) of having seen her baby alive on screen, of having heard her heartbeat and felt her kicks. She had, as I had with Duckling just a few months previously, experienced the amazing process of growing a baby from something smaller than a grain of sand to a fully formed person, all ready and waiting to make her way into the world. Except, for some reason that will forever remain unknown, her baby never quite made it. On the day my friend went in to be induced, she discovered her little girl, while still physically present in her womb, was no longer alive.

When I got my friend's text, I was sitting holding a sleeping five-month-old Duckling, laughing at his little mouth sleep sucking away at a long since reholstered nipple. For a second, I couldn't believe what I was reading. It seemed impossible that something so terrible could have happened to someone I cared about so deeply. I thought maybe the doctors had it wrong, that their scanner had been faulty, that when she delivered, they'd find the baby was alive after all. When the reality hit me, all I could do was cry. I looked at Duckling, and remembered how I'd imagined something similar happening to us every day of my pregnancy (past losses make you incredibly paranoid). I remembered the moment I sat in the rocking chair in his room in the early stages of labour thinking "what if I've been through all this and never get to sit here with my baby in my arms?" and welling up because I knew that the answer was too terrible to contemplate. Then I felt guilty because I did now have that baby in my arms when she didn't; that I was a smug Mum now and she wasn't; that I had put my pain behind me (mostly) while she was only just starting an incredibly tortuous and far worse process of grief and recovery; that I'd been moaning just that morning to another mate about my sleepless night when she would never be woken by her baby. Most of all, I just felt terribly, terribly sad that my lovely friend was having to go through something so awful.

I have tried to express some of this to her since, but since it's not about me, mostly I've just tried to listen, I would hope empathetically. I don't think she knows I write this blog, so will likely never read this, but if she ever did I would want her to know that I think about her often - far more often than I am able to communicate - and that while I cannot know (and being honest, hope never to know) the spectrum of heartache that losing a baby so late might bring, I can imagine it and completely understand the long-lasting impact and repercussions it continues to have in her life. I have never for a second been 'glad' it was her and not me, as one person suggested I should be, though I would understand if she hated me sometimes because it was. Above all though, I'd want her to know that she remains my friend, the same friend I ran around the playground with at five, yawned through Science class with at fourteen, ate a mountain of figs with in Barcelona at twenty-one and attended the wedding of at thirty. However much grief may have affected her, and everyone else around her, I hope that never changes. 
Please visit Sands' website to learn more about stillbirth or to make a donation:

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Stick to the routine

I made the fundamental parenting error yesterday of trying to change a daily routine that wasn't really broken. I have done this a few times with Duckling, and every time I have ended up regretting it. Yesterday was no exception.

I usually work up in London Tuesday to Thursday, with Friday to Monday being my 'Duckling' days (which frankly, I consider as much work as the office job, even if I do get to share a bit with Drake on the weekend). We have a nice little routine* going on our days at home together: we get up around 7am, have breakfast, have a bit of a play and I do some housework, then we both go back to bed for a co-sleep nap around 9am for an hour or two (trust me, when you've been up four times or more in the night, a nap is necessary), before having some lunch, popping out for an outing, then slotting in another 45 min - 1 hour kip around 3pm (I usually do e-mails / blog while Duckling sleeps next to me). It works well, and provided I don't try to leave the bed, he naps pretty soundly.

On his days at the childminder, Duckling only has one nap, usually after lunch. He's often tired in the evening, but otherwise doesn't seem too bothered by the different nap routine. As he's not at the childminder this week (she's on holiday, so I've taken leave too), I thought it might be an idea to get Duckling to learn to nap in his cot, which he will do for her, but refuses point blank to do for me. As much as I love our snuggly little morning snoozes and respect Duckling's natural sleep preferences, it would be much more convenient if he would fall and stay asleep on his own like he does at night. I can, alas, count on one hand the number of times I've been able to leave him to nap while I get on with things around the house, and sixteen months in, the 'new baby' excuse just doesn't wash anymore.  Literally.

The problem is that Duckling has an astonishing ability to resist sleep. It took me forever to sleep train him at night, in part because he is able to stay awake crying / pulling stuff off his windowsill / rearranging his toys / eating his blankets for ninety minutes or more before sleep overtakes him. In the day, if he doesn't have the precise set up he wants, he just won't go to sleep at all. This is exactly what happened today. I decided to just go with one nap to ensure Duckling was really tired (even though I desperately wanted to go back to bed too), and we pushed on through until just after lunch. It seemed to work - a brief breastfeed was all that was necessary to lull him into the sleep zone, and, to my amazement, I managed to get him into his cot no problem. I had just sneaked away when a delivery man decided to ring the doorbell. Then knock very vigorously. Then ring the doorbell again. As I rushed down the stairs to shut him up, I heard the wailing begin, but REALLY wanted the radiator towel hooks that the idiot delivery man was bringing, so answered the door anyway. After signing for the package and answering his weird, "Can you hear a whistling noise?" query with a terse, "Yes, that's my son crying. You woke him up", I ran back up to Duckling and tried to get him to go back to sleep. Usually, in our normal naptime set up, this'd be easy, but five hours later, he was still awake, no doubt concerned, in his wired state, that I'd sneak him into his cot again if he dropped off (even though he loves his cot at night). I tried every sleep trick in the book bar actually hitting him over the head with the book, but to no avail. By dinner time, Duckling was staggering around like a miniature drunk, destroying everything in his path by either tripping over it, sitting on it, lying down on it or trying to eat it (a tired toddler is apparently a hungry toddler), and I was at my wits' end, having essentially wasted my entire first day of holiday lying on our bed loudly humming lullabies while my son threw bits of jigsaw puzzle behind the headboard and demanded I retrieve them now, this very instant "MUMMY MUMMY MUMMY!"

Moral of the story? Don't attempt a change unless a) it's 100% necessary because your old routine is no longer fit for purpose (a.k.a you're going to go batshit crazy unless you do something different) or b) your child demands it themselves. Routine changes have only ever stuck in our house where one of these two criteria have applied. Also, put a note on the door asking the delivery man to ring your phone if you're going to get radiator hooks delivered during nap time.

* this statement cracks me up, as I distinctly remember saying before having Duckling that I didn't want to be one of those boring parents who lived by their 'routine'. Admittedly my routine is fairly flexible in comparison to some parents', but it still makes me laugh how little I understood!

Friday, 10 July 2015

Poolside Revelations

Duckling and I had an ostensibly lovely day out at our local open air pool with some of my NCT friends and their toddlers today. The weather was genuinely perfect and Duckling had a ball splashing about and soaking everyone with his miniature watering can (not a euphemism - he actually did have a miniature watering can). The outing did reinforce a few post-baby realities though.

Firstly, meaningful conversation is virtually impossible with a toddler in tow, particularly one as curious as Duckling. I'm sure this is not a particularly great revelation to anyone else out there with kids, but it's something I never really considered much before Duckling arrived. I used to really love a good chinwag. No more. Most social interaction these days seems to be of the superficial exchange of pleasantries kind, simply because I no longer have the ability to give anyone my undivided attention. As a result, I'm often left unfulfilled at the lack of any meaningful connection with the people I care about, and with a fear that I've come across as terribly rude. My friend was halfway through explaining how her sister's father-in-law had unexpectedly died the previous day when Duckling decided to invade another group's picnic and steal their little boy's scooter (which was bigger than him, but he somehow managed to propel anyway). I had to leave her mid-sentence as I attempted to rectify the situation with profuse apologies and some cocktail sausage bribery to get the scooter out of Duckling's hands. Thankfully my friend and I had had the "toddlers turn you into rubbish conversationalists" discussion just ten minutes prior to this incident, so I don't think she was too offended. But I still felt bad, and never did get to find out what had happened to her sister's father-in-law.

Secondly, trips out never quite meet the rose-tinted frolicking you had in your mind. This isn't always the case - sometimes mundane events turn out to be actually quite pleasant. The really nice sounding ones often seem to fall a little short however. This isn't something that's unique to outings with kids. Even before I had Duckling, I was prone to setting my expectations too high and then being mildly disappointed by the outcome (particularly if it coincided with me being in a crappy mood or feeling unwell). The phenomenon is definitely made worse by having a child in tow however, in part because you're chronically knackered (and the effort of being somewhere unfamiliar just makes this worse), but also because you don't get any real chance to relax and be 'off duty''. Some enjoyment definitely comes from seeing your child's delight in the situation - and that is really lovely. If I'm being totally honest though, the last time I had a really good, properly fun time myself was when I went to a gig with Drake sans Duckling.

Thirdly, and this is more positive, I don't really care as much about how I look these days. This is kind of contrary to the usual "I hate my body now I've had a baby" narrative we're all supposed to follow, and admittedly, my self-image isn't quite up to a bikini (I alas have very extensive stretch marks all over my stomach), but donning my swimming costume today really didn't bother me. The fact I have a child with me tells everyone all they need to know about why I have a saggy belly and massive bum, and why I didn't shower and sort my hair out after getting out the pool. It's not that I worried much about my appearance before, but I did feel like I had to give some justification for my curvier bits or for any perceived lack of personal care. Today, the poolside was packed with similarly wobbly Mums and Grandmas - it was a great reminder of just how normal it is to look the way I do post-baby.

Finally, and most profoundly, I realised I am really bad at picnics. My friends had brought seemingly endless Tupperware containers of neatly chopped fruit, crudités and dips (in a specially designed box no less!), BBQed meats (in a cool bag, with ice blocks), tiny toddler sandwiches and yoghurts. I arrived with a all-day-breakfast sandwich and a bag of crisps in an plastic bag emblazoned with the name of the petrol station I'd stopped at to buy them. I had at least been organised enough to put a frozen cheese muffin in the rucksack for Duckling, but unfortunately it was still rock solid on arrival, so he largely ate everyone else's food, including the filling from my friend's bagel (thankfully she didn't notice), seventeen breadsticks and a grape stolen from one of the other toddler's mouths. I'm kind of surprised I'm so rubbish, as I quite like cooking and baking and over-catering in general. I think I am scuppered by a total inability to engage my brain enough to plan ahead these days, so when I discovered this morning that all the bread was mouldy and we were out of butter, the Esso "deli" was the only way to go within the given timeframe. Yet more evidence that I am not a yummy mummy I think.

Sunday, 5 July 2015

That Yummy Mummy label...

As I state in my profile, I am not a big fan of people pigeon holing me. One of my least favourite of all the boxes I tend to get stuffed into is the one labelled 'Yummy Mummy' ('YM').

YM is a term that bugs me for a number of reasons. Firstly, it’s set up to sound complimentary, but is actually used primarily as a snide put down (particularly by other women – men seem to use it more at face value). Secondly, it judges women by their looks alone (Personality? Brains? Character? What are those?), and manages to be faintly patronising in doing so (you mean she’s yummy EVEN THOUGH she’s a Mummy? Blimey!). Thirdly, it creates an ‘ideal’ that more insecure women (and even those with a pretty robust self-image) spend unnecessary amounts of time worrying about – even if they don’t want to be a Yummy Mummy, they still want to be yummy. I know I do.  Fourthly, I really don’t identify with the type of woman it describes, which, a collation of Google results tells me, can be distilled to the following attributes:

Appearance: Slim with glossy hair, manicured nails and no under-eye bags in evidence (probably surgically removed)
Wears: Well-fitting designer wear and heels. Sunglasses, even in winter
Drives: Range Rover (or variations on the large, expensive 4x4 theme)
Pushchair: Bugaboo, or something similarly pricey
Drinks: Skinny soy latté (with hazelnut syrup, if feeling naughty)
Shops: Boutiques and Whole Foods or Waitrose and high-end high street if pushed
Children's names: Allegory, Flint, Campanula or other similarly outlandish concoctions
Childcare: Nanny and/or boarding school (though YM doesn't work herself)
Married to: Banker, or any other role that earns £££

I think in recent years, some people have expanded the definition to describe any middle-class mother who deigns to take an oversized buggy into a coffee shop at some point in her mothering career. This is the only reason I can think of that I might be included in the YM clique: I rarely leave the house with any make up on, I never dry my hair, and I don't think my nails have all been the same length since I was pregnant with Duckling. I don't actively go out of my way to look a frump (and I do make a bit of an effort for work), but my appearance is certainly no longer as high up my priority list as it once was, both because I lack the time to beautify (no nanny for me), but also because Duckling is my primary companion most of the time, and a) stopping him committing Hari Kari with a propelling pencil is more important than thinking about my lipstick and b) he wouldn't care if I were wearing a bin liner, as long as he could still get at the boobs. Also, it's worth noting, before you point out that my son has an outlandish name, that Duckling is a pseudonym (though I kind of wish it were real).

Beyond its aesthetic connotations though, the thing that really annoys me about being branded a YM, is just how meaningless is actually is. Yes, certainly, there are some mothers out there who tick every box on the attribute list above, simply because the world is a very big place and there’s always going to be someone who fits whatever crazy profile you invent (grumpy one-legged accountant named Jim? Yep, he lives in Kidderminster.). In fact, there are probably quite a lot of women who tick 75% or more, particularly in the celebrity / London and Home Counties set – stereotypes are after all based on some kind of general trend. Just because someone fits all the attributes however, doesn’t mean this defines their character: everybody adopts behaviours appropriate to the prevailing environment to some degree. The implication of YM is “beautiful but shallow and spoiled”. Sometimes this may be true, sometimes not. Maybe a ‘YM’ seems vacuous in one area, but shows tremendous depth in another, or seems snobby and entitled in comparison to one person, but not when put alongside another. We are complex beings, even the most apparently air-brained amongst us, and while stereotypes serve a purpose (humans need to categorise to make sense of the world), only the most dim-witted and prejudiced fail to see beyond them when faced with a real person.

So when I say “don’t call me a Yummy Mummy or I’ll hit you,” it’s in part because I don’t like the implication that I’m vain, but mostly because it tells me that you’ve not really bothered to get to know me at all.