Friday, 27 March 2009

Children are the great levellers

The other day Rosemary and I went to a drop-in we used to go to a lot. We haven’t been for a couple of months for various reasons, so most of the people we were used to seeing weren’t there, though there were some familiar faces.

I noticed a mum with a newish baby sat on the sofa and thought she looked familiar, but couldn’t quite place her. A little while later I realised she was someone from my class at school, about twenty years ago. And without a second thought I went up to her and said hello and asked about her baby. She also has a little girl about Rosemary’s age and two other older children. We chatted a bit about other people from our class and who we’re in touch with (or on Facebook with, as the way these days), but mostly we talked about children and babies.

The thing is that this was a girl I was pretty much scared of at school. She certainly wasn’t someone I hung out with. We might have bonded a couple of times when I caved to peer pressure and teased one of the weaker teachers. But for the most part I avoided her and she avoided me. She was one of the ‘hard’ girls and I was snooty swot. Without children in the picture I don’t imagine there is any way I would have gone up to her in the street and said ‘Hey! Do you remember me?’.

But when you have children (particularly young ones, I think, though not exclusively), you become part of this new club. A club that encompasses pretty much all mums and most dads. A club that spans all classes, all ethnicities, all education levels and all ages. It doesn’t matter whether you live in a council flat or a mansion, whether you stay at home or work, whether your children go to the closest state school, the fancy grammar, the £2000 a term public school or you home educate, you will always have something to say to another person in this club.

And that’s one of the reasons why parent blogging is so fantastic – and becoming ever more popular (are you a member of British Mummy Bloggers, yet?). We come from a wide spectrum of backgrounds and have differing opinions on many things, but it’s pretty much guaranteed that there will be something to touch each one of us in some way in most every parenting post we read.

Sunday, 22 March 2009

Happy Mother’s Day Mrs, Ms, Miss, Dr, Professor Mummy

Apparently, the European Parliament has produced some guidelines about how its staff should be gender neutral, included in which is the advice to steer clear of Mrs and Miss (and corresponding titles in other languages, such as Señora and Señorita and Madame and Mademoiselle).

There has been some fuss in some of the press about this, of course – it’s the European Parliament, after all, we can’t let them get away dictating anything to us (not that they are in this case, but details, schmetails). The BBC, the Telegraph and (what a surprise) the Daily Mail, have all pitched in, with the BBC being the only one to offer up an opinion from someone who actually uses the title ‘Ms’.

I am Ms Tasha Goddard. I was born Tasha Goddard (well, technically Natasha, but we’ll forget about that) and I will always be Ms Tasha Goddard. I have used Ms since I was a teenager, though you wouldn’t know it from some of the titles I have been assigned by various companies and authorities (M-S, Mrs, Miss, M, Mr and only the occasional Ms). I did not take Chris’ name when I got married and did not really consider it (not that you would know this from the letters and cards I get from relatives, both mine and Chris’). I am Tasha Goddard, I have always been Tasha Goddard and I will always be Tasha Goddard.

I honestly do not see why a woman should take her husband’s name when she gets married. I really do not understand it. I also do not understand why women’s titles define their marital status, while men’s do not. Because of my determination to stick to these principles, Chris often gets called ‘Mr Goddard’, though why this should be any more annoying than my getting called ‘Mrs Clark’, I don’t know.

Of course, these principles hit a stumbling block when it comes to deciding what surname your children will have. We did consider changing both our surnames completely by deed poll, so that it would be fair, but as I said above, I am Tasha Goddard, I will always… We settled on giving her the surname Clark and the second middle name Goddard. So she is Rosemary Alice Goddard Clark. Poor thing! We both dislike double-barrelling, though in hindsight perhaps we should have gone with it.

So far, no-one has yet questioned my status as Rosemary’s mother, despite having a different name. Hopefully it is the day and age where people realise that not everyone has the same surname as their children, for various reasons. But I have given up explaining when someone phones and says ‘Is that Mrs Clark?’. I just say ‘Yes’, now and grit my teeth. Perhaps Baby No. 2 can be Clark Goddard and Chris can have another turn at being Mr Goddard, while Rosemary and Baby No. 2 can have the fun of people assuming that they’re half siblings instead of full ones, or something like that.

What about you? Are you a Mrs a Ms, or something else? Did you/will you take your husband’s name? Do you get as hot under the collar about it as i do, or does it not bother you?

Friday, 20 March 2009

Review: Instructions not included, by Charlotte Moerman

The cover of this book made me want to read it. It reminded me of the cover of Petite Anglaise which, like Instructions not included, is a book by a blogger. The fact that it was a book by a fellow parent blogger also made me want to read it. So I was going into it with a positive bias (unlike reading Myleene Klass’ My Bump and Me, which I was expecting to dislike). Which makes it all the more disappointing that I didn’t like it very much.

The problem, I realise, is that I would have enjoyed the book had I read it in blog form, but it did not really work as a coherent narrative. There were lots of jumps in time (which, of course, work from blog post to blog post) between her first pregnancy, current day and various points in between, which almost always jarred. There were also a lot of little sections of humour or parody or metaphor, each of which I would probably have lapped up as an individual blog post but which, by the end of the book I was skimming over completely.

One example is ‘New Mums Meeting New Mums – Advice & Tips Centre’, about a fifth of the way into the book, which has some useful tips and some humour that will hit home with most mums. In fact, I wrote a blog post myself about the horrors of meeting new mum friends and this reminded me of it and added to my growing feeling that the book felt too much like a blog.

My only other experience of a blogger’s book is the afore-mentioned Petite Anglaise, written by La Petite Anglaise, which I loved. I think the main difference is that that book came across as a book in itself; while based on reality, it read more like a fast-paced chick-lit novel than a memoir (perhaps because of the location and the nature of some of the events). Instructions not included, on the other hand read like it had been packaged from a collection of blog posts (not having been a follower of her blog, I don’t know if that is actually the case), which is one of the dangers of blog to book deals, I think.

There are some fantastic writers in the blogosphere who should be writing books, especially the parenting blogosphere, but you can read them in blog form already. Any book deal really needs to ensure that the book will be new material. What you’re getting from a blogger is a guarantee that they can write, but not necessarily that they can write book-length prose.

So, while I won’t be recommending the book itself, I will be following Charlotte Moerman’s blog, because she has some very amusing insights into being a mother in this day and age, which I think I will enjoy on the more sporadic basis of reading them in blog form.

Mother at large and Pewari have also reviewed this book, with somewhat more positive responses, so make sure read their reviews as well. I am only one person!

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

The reading house

Reading is incredibly important in our house, to all of us (well, maybe not the dog, though he did like eating books when he was puppy). We estimate (it would take a bit too long to count, though I may do it one day) that we have about 2000 books. Rosemary has over 100 just herself, and more if you count all those teeny little board books that are in a box in the basement, waiting to released when her baby brother or sister arrives. We have read to her since she was born and she has (almost – there was a period of a few months where she only let her Granny read to her, not us, which was a bit sad) always loved reading.

A lot of our books are waiting for proper homes at the moment, as they were lined up under our bed (all the way round, so we could see them), but then the bed broke and we are back to sleeping on a mattress on the floor, with a few hundred books piled up on the edges of the room instead. There are also a couple of boxes of books in the basement that we should really take to a charity shop. But we find giving books away, or selling them, really very difficult.

We have been planning a set of shelves in the other alcove in the living room (the one to the right of the fireplace has a set already). But we have come to realise that we need more, so there are going to be three or four shelves going the full width of one of the walls, as well. There are many people who would balk at such an invasion of books into a living space. People who would think it looked cluttered (Chris’ parents, for example, find it difficult to understand our need to have so many books) and would worry about the dust. We, on the other hand, cannot wait and will find our living room even more of a comforting space where we want to sit, when it has more books decorating it.

Since needing to become more frugal, we have been making more use of the library. We went with Rosemary at least once a week, usually twice, already, but didn’t always borrow books ourselves. Recently, though I’m reading about one book week, helped along by the library’s Fast Track system (new bestsellers that you can only have out for a week) and their Richard and Judy selection (which is also on a one-week loan). I’m quite a slow reader these days, compared to Chris (he can read often read one or two books a night and at least three or four a week). If I didn’t have anything else to do, I could get through a book a day. That would be a luxury indeed.

Here are some of the books I’ve been reading over the last few weeks:

Rosemary usually gets nine or ten books out a week, sometimes swapping a few of them in the middle of the week. These days, we go for bedtime reading books, usually a largish format and paperback, with big bright pictures and fun and interesting stories. Sometimes, she’ll also pick out a counting or alphabet book or a lift-the-flap book. She gets very excited when she has new library books to read at bedtime, though she’ll usually insist on reading two or three of her own books, as well. By the end of the week, we end up with a towering pile of books by the side of her bed and I have to tidy them back into their bookshelves. Her two favourite books at the moment (both from the library) are:

I can’t keep up with what Chris is reading, as he gets through so much, but I know he got this out of the library on Monday:

Is yours a reading house? What are you reading at the moment? Do your children have favourite books? Do you use your library or just buy books? Where do you buy books from? (I could talk for hours about reading and buying books, but I’d better go and do some work instead, as Rosemary has just gone off to my mum’s.)

[You may have noticed that I have given up on the whole initial thing. R = Rosemary; C = Chris; I’m Tasha, which you probably know already!]

Monday, 16 March 2009

Moving the goalposts

In my last post, Me time, I talked about how my definitions of Me Time have changed during my first few years of motherhood. I’ve been thinking about that and it struck me that I change other things in order to feel happy about them, or to make something work.

When I became a mum, I became much more efficient, work-wise. Before motherhood (BM), I would frequently work 15-hour days and much of the weekend. Somehow, I managed to keep earning roughly the same amount of money, but cut back to between 4 and 8 hours a day, with at least one non-work day a week, sometimes two. Some of this has been making a concerted effort to cultivate contacts who send better-paid work (generally design-oriented things pay better). But most of it has been changing my working practices, so that I don’t check an Internet forum (or blogroll) every 15 minutes. At first, when the vast majority of my work had to be done while R slept, this meant I limited myself to about half an hour internet a day. As I was able to find more time, I could allow myself a ten-minute browse at the end of a specific (big) chunk of work (e.g. a chapter edited, 100 images cropped, all links checked, etc.). And since getting my little netbook, I’ve been able to do most of my internetting, in five-minute breaks between housework and childcare.

Even without the internet rationing, I think I became more efficient in other ways. Switching Outlook off for two-hour chunks. Making efficient To-Do lists. Better estimating how long something would take. And, most importantly, being fresh for work most of the time, because I had had breaks to play, do housework, walk round town or the park, rather than just spending every second of my waking hours in front of the computer.

Since finding out I was pregnant, this time, I have had to start making changes again. Fortunately, in some ways, I had lapsed into some of my old habits, so will be able to gain some actual time and some invisible time by getting back to the good ways. My internetting has migrated to the office a bit again, especially since my delving into blogging. Outlook is on all day and emails are responded to immediately. So inefficient! And my organisation, scheduling and estimating skills have lapsed somewhat, as well, and could do with a good kick up the butt.

But I have also found myself changing the goalposts. In the same way that I redefined Me Time, I am redefining what I need to get out of a day, a week, a month… One thing I have changed is giving up ironing. Being pregnant has given me the excuse to occasionally sit on the sofa and watch TV without doing anything at the same time. I don’t need to iron. Never used to. If there’s a party or a business meeting to go to, I’ll iron for that. Otherwise, no.

We’re very busy at the moment so spare time is in short supply. But, in order to keep healthy and sane I will leave the living room in a mess and tidy it up in the morning, with R’s help. I’ll leave the dishes on the side and fill the dishwasher in the morning, so I can get into bed with a book and a cup of tea, instead of rushing around. In blatant defiance of my environmental principles I am putting small loads of washing on and setting the machine to dry them immediately afterwards, instead of hanging half the load around the house or outside.

And no doubt over the next few months I will move the goalposts again. And again. But if it keeps me happy and still able to bring in my half of the lentils, then that’s what I’ll keep doing. Hopefully the field will stay flexible enough to take the reorganisation.

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Me time

Mama Baby Bliss conducted a survey recently on how much time mums get for themselves. The elusive Me Time that is much discussed in ante- and post-natal classes, toddler mornings and round the school gate was found to be fairly rare with 93.6% of mums wishing they had more time to pamper themselves.

I remember when I was pregnant with R, reading books and magazines that all emphasised the need for Me Time. My attitude then was wonder at how any mum could be so selfish as to want time away from their children. I couldn’t understand at all how anyone would choose a long bath over a cuddle with their baby, or a massage over a game of hide-and-seek with their toddler. Of course, then I still had plenty of Me Time; more than I’d had before, because I was cutting back on my working hours and C was doing extra housework. I could lie in the bath reading my pregnancy magazines and have leisurely lunches with my sister.

Little did I know what was to come. I still recall my first bath after coming home from hospital, where I had been stuck for a week waiting for SCBU to release R. I lay there, soaking my stitches, reading a book and sipping the hot tea that C had brought me. I stayed there for a whole hour without any interruptions. C was sitting downstairs with R, who wasn’t crying or needing to be fed. What luxury. And it really, really was, because that was the last uninterrupted bath I had for a long, long time.

After that, they were always interrupted by a hungry baby, or a clingy baby, or a tired baby. A baby who would not settle without her mum. Sometimes she would be undressed and handed to me, so I could feed her in the bath (a rather weird experience, as I recall); sometimes I had to get out and feed her back to sleep, still dripping water, then jump back in to rinse the conditioner off my hair; sometimes I had to just get out and give up on the bath altogether.

Over the last nine months or so, I have been able to have more soaks in the bath, especially since R started going to bed at a reasonable time. And over the next seven months, I will make sure I have at least one a week, if not two. Because come October, they will again be a scarce commodity in this house.

As will Me Time of other sorts, I’m sure. But the trick, I have found, is to change your ideas of Me Time:

  • Work hours are Me Time now. I quite often manage to watch some DVDs or listen to music while I work, so that it can feel relaxing. And, for the most part, I enjoy my work and it allows me to be creative and have a few hours when I can be someone other than Mummy.
  • Ironing is Me Time now. I can watch TV and not feel guilty about it (seems to be a theme, here!).
  • When R was a baby, breast-feeding was Me Time. I read books or watched TV (again with the TV!).
  • Going round to a friend’s house for coffee is and was Me Time. I still have to supervise or had to breastfeed, bounce, tickle… but I get my gossip and chat in.
  • Pushing a buggy round the park or the shops was Me Time, especially if R was asleep. Lots of time to think and dream.
  • And… I’m just remembering why I didn’t get the broken dishwasher repaired or replaced for a whole year. Washing up was Me Time. I put a CD on loud and danced around the kitchen, losing myself in the music and my dreams and memories. (Though probably won't be breaking this one any time soon!)

But if someone wants to pay for me to go and get my hair done, or have a massage or a leg wax, I wouldn’t say no.

And for Mother’s Day? All I want is someone else to get R up and get her dressed and give her breakfast, while I lie in bed reading a book and drinking a cup of tea.

Monday, 9 March 2009

The bumpy road that is early pregnancy

I don’t do pregnancy very well (I’m not brilliant at getting pregnant or giving birth either, but that’s another story, or stories). I’ve had an ectopic pregnancy, a miscarriage, a termination (a story I may tell one day) and just one successful pregnancy, so far. With R, I had had three scans already before my 12-week scan: one to check for ectopic, which I have to have every time I am pregnant; two because of bleeding. I had a number of other bleeds during R’s pregnancy and other scans to check on placenta position, as well as one because of early (non-Braxton Hicks) contractions. I was on crutches for the last month I the pregnancy due pelvic pain. And R was born about 4 weeks early.

This morning I had my second scan of this pregnancy so far. I’m only at 8 weeks. I’ve been feeling very sick since only a few days after peeing on the stick and very tired as well. Fairly standard early pregnancy symptoms, though ones which I’d mostly forgotten about. On Friday I didn’t feel sick at all, and had a fair bit of energy. Cue panic and manic trawling of baby sites to find out when ‘morning’ sickness is supposed to stop. Not yet. I talked myself out of worrying, though. Until the bleeding started on Saturday morning.

I called the maternity unit and a midwife called me back with an appointment for a scan this morning and instructions on what to do if the bleeding got worse (out-of-hours doctor or 999 if it’s life-threatening). Then I spent the weekend in bed, seemingly having been hit by some virus or another. Completely exhausted, weak, achey, shivery, though no temperature. Yet still no nausea. The bleeding continued, though didn’t get worse. When not asleep, I fluctuated between being convinced that I was miscarrying and reminding myself that I had bleeding in early pregnancy with R and she was fine (she had spent much of Saturday morning showing me just how fine by climbing all over me, pulling my hair and so on!).

On Sunday, after a lie-in, courtesy of C, the bleeding stopped and I started feeling sick again. I don’t think I have ever felt so relieved to feel sick. It’s a quite debilitating symptom of early pregnancy that no-one enjoys having, but I practically jumped for joy. I felt much better in myself and the nausea was kept at bay by intermittent glugs of fizzy water and handfuls of Kettle Chips (Sea Salt and Balsamic Vinegar are the only ones that do the trick). I allowed myself to hope and even voiced those hopes to C (usually I keep my fears bottled up and rarely share them with anyone else).

This morning, after R had given me my first full night’s sleep in I don’t remember how long, I trundled off to the train station with a skip in my step. The chill winds of early spring blew the cobwebs away and I thought that maybe, just maybe, all would be well.

It was. Baby still there. Heartbeat still there. Dating at least 8 weeks (12-week scan will be more definitive). The midwife booking-in appointment is fixed for this coming Sunday and it looks like we might make it. I should probably fill in my notes, now.

Thursday, 5 March 2009

Review: My Bump and Me by Myleene Klass

When I received this book to review, I had absolutely no idea who Myleene Klass was (singer, musician, radio and TV presenter, model; and now mum). I am not a celebrity follower (except a few best-selling authors) and my idea of hell would be being made to watch hour after of hour reality TV, with particular torture coming from those featuring celebrities. (Myleene Klass was on I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here). I was therefore not very hopeful of enjoying reading it.

However, I hadn’t realised that I would find out that I was also pregnant, shortly before starting to read it. And when I am pregnant or for about a year afterwards (my experience of having one child obviously making an expert) I cannot get enough stories about pregnancy and babies. So be warned, my opinions are based on my hormones as well as (maybe even instead of) my head.

I found the book a very easy read, though would by no means consider it well-written in linguistic and literary terms. Much of what Myleene was going through is familiar to anyone who is or has been pregnant. From hormonal mood-swings, to feeling part of a new club of mums, to feeling you have permission to eat as much as you want, to worrying about things that could go wrong, to having difficulty moving about towards the end, to being unsure what contractions feel like (all anyone ever told me about them was ‘You’ll know when you’re having them.’), she suffered many of the common pregnancy problems. And, just as reading blog posts about these things and thinking ‘Oh yes, I felt like that,’ the familiarity was comforting and pleasant.

On the other hand, a lot of what Myleene was going through was far removed from what most pregnant mums are going through. From flying all over the world doing photo shoots for Marks and Spencers, to being given freebies by company after company (how many buggies does any one baby need, really), to having total strangers talk about all the things she was doing wrong (and not just well-meaning friends and relatives), to being able to run off to a private doctor after one (really very) bad NHS GP experience, her pregnancy was being played out in the midst of a whirlwind of celebrity, following her time on that reality show.

For the most part I found Myleene sympathetic and, from what I’ve seen in the book, I think she’s probably a pretty good mum (since this is the paperback, I imagine the baby must be approaching toddlerhood by now, though don’t know) struggling through all the things we do and having the same moments of utter love and pride for our children. But there were a few things that I wasn’t happy about.

One of these was the flying off to the private sector, rather than sticking with the NHS a bit longer. She did have a horrible experience (actually, more than one in the end), but most mums have at least one of these. I don’t think it’s just sour grapes that makes me feel this way, though there’s probably an element of it.

The other thing that I was concerned about was her advocating bottle-feeding. Or, more accurately telling readers not to be pressured into breast-feeding if they didn’t want to. Interestingly she did end up breast-feeding and took to it with sickening ease compared to the difficulties many of us have. Having a celebrity seem to endorse bottle-feeding is quite a dangerous thing, I feel, as there are many people out there who will be inclined to follow the lead of their favoured celebrities.

As yet, I’ve only mentioned Myleene’s story, but the book also contains titbits from her partner’s diaries, tips and ‘What’s happening to your body’ sidebars. The sidebars are just standard information about what’s happening to you and your baby, week by week. Her partner’s little diary excerpts were interesting, if only because it’s nice to have a male perspective. Her tips range from useful to a bit odd and the occasional one that was a bit worrying (breast-feeding vs. bottle-feeding again).

Would I recommend this book to a friend embarking on motherhood? Only if she was a bit of a celebrity follower I think and, even then, with a warning to make sure she reads around elsewhere for proper information. Possibly I might recommend it to someone who was having any of the same pregnancy problems as Myleene did, so that she could see that she was not alone and that even celebrities suffer from pregnancy brain. But for the most part, I would be more inclined to recommend picking up a proper pregnancy or parenting book. These are ones I got good use out of (and will probably be digging out again shortly, to check on what’s happening inside my body) last time:

But if you’re just after a quick, easy read about another mum going through her first pregnancy, with the added glamour of George Clooney and Brad Pitt bump-touching, then you might enjoy Myleene Klass’ book.

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Awards, Carnivals and Adventures

Goodness me. I have got my first award. I am lost for words. I’d better get on with the re-design, so there’s some space for it somewhere.

The wonderful Almost American has passed this award on to me:

proximity award

According to the authors of this award, this blog invests and believes in the PROXIMITY - nearness in space, time and relationships! These blogs are exceedingly charming. These kind bloggers aim to find and be friends. They are not interested in prizes or self-aggrandizement. Our hope is that when the ribbons of these prizes are cut, even more friendships are propagated. Please give more attention to these writers! Deliver this award to eight bloggers who must choose eight more and include this cleverly-written text into the body of their award.

Thank you, Almost American! And now I need to pass it on to eight other bloggers. Well, you’ve probably all got one already, but… I pass this on to: More than just a mother, Tara at Sticky Fingers, Home Office Mum (see below for more about her), New Mum Same Old Me, Mothership of Motherhood: The Final Frontier, Iota at Not wrong, just different, Susanna at A Modern Mother, and Surprised and Excited Mum.

And, if you’re looking for some good reading and more blogs to add to your reading list… It’s Carnival Time over at Thames Valley Mums.

And, in my final bit of linkage, if you don’t already know about Home Office Mum’s incredibly exciting adventure:


you need to go visit More to Life Than Laundry and do whatever you can to support her, whether it’s donating, supporting her sponsors, or just spreading the word as far as  you can.

And finally… while Home Office Mum embarks on her sea-faring adventure, we shall be embarking on an adventure of a rather different nature, that of becoming a family of four, rather than three. Yes, R is going to be a big sister some time in October and I would therefore like to apologise in advance for any boredom that may ensue from reading about morning sickness, scans, baby names, hospital plans and birth plans. I will try to keep a balance, but you all know what these hormones can do to a girl.