Festival Mum

Parent Dilemma. You want to go to a music festival. Should you take your small offspring? Is it still a proper festival experience if you might not see all the bands you want to and you don’t get slowly shit-faced?

This has been a tough one since I became a mum. It sounds amazing to integrate something you love from pre-parent days into family life. But is that realistic for us?

I have heard of many parents who throw a tent and wellies in the back of the car and head off for a mud and music filled adventure. I’m guessing that they are the types of families who love camping trips anyway. We are not. Or more specifically, I am not.

Since going camping with the Guides aged 12 I learned that it only takes two days for my curly hair to turn into a Medusa-like state without the aid of a power shower. I also like my own toilet.

So for the past few years I’ve just not bothered, instead choosing to watch ‘Live music’ on the TV red button, with a brew and my slippers on.

But now my Unbalanced Man plays guitar in a band that are getting invited to play at these festivals. So I want to go even more. Would 6 year old Joe enjoy watching Daddy play? Probably, for about 20 minutes from past experience. But, if you give him a choice between time at Granny’s where he can have bacon butties and ice-cream on tap, or being taken from tent to tent watching all the weird and wonderful artists perform songs that are NOT recognisable tunes from Disney and Pixar films, there’s no contest.

So that’s the answer then. Weekend at Granny’s, and off we go.

But uh-oh, here comes Mum Guilt. I absolutely hate sodding Mum Guilt.

“Going off having fun on your own are you?
Drinking are you?
Don’t think I’ve forgotten that you were away without him last weekend,
AND working away the week before that.
Look at THOSE parents who’ve brought their children.
Look how much fun the kids are having.
Joe would LOVE jumping on hay bails with them.
They are GOOD parents who REALLY love their kids.”

I tell you what Mum Guilt, you can absolutely fuck right off. Yes, perhaps Joe would have enjoyed BITS of the weekend, but probably not the whole of it. Instead, we’ve had an amazing weekend as a couple. Joe is back, more than happy and of course, full of ice cream. Next week Ste has another gig but I’m not going, and the week after we’re setting off on a family holiday. So everyone is happy. You might even say it’s all balanced as it should be.

I’ll admit that festival-ing as a mum wasn’t the same as pre-parent days. This time around we managed to stay up till the early hours on the first night, but didn’t get anywhere near shit faced, and on the second night we came home early and were in bed way before midnight.

So I’ll accept that I’m not a full-on Rock and Roll Mum, but I had a wonderful time. And, I’ll tell you a secret… I slept with* that guitar player!!

*Literally. We were knackered. 

Unbalanced Equality

This weekend Tim Lovejoy was interviewing Kelis on Sunday Brunch and said,

“I’m a dad. I look after my kids 50% of the time but no-one ever asks me, ‘How do you juggle career and children?’. But… How do you juggle career and children!!”

Yes Tim! Spot on.

Why do interviewers (or the people who write the questions for them) think that when interviewing a woman who has a job and small children, then this is an essential question? And yet when interviewing a man in the same situation, they don’t.

This is a question that I’ve pondered for a while, and I have become quite frustrated that it appears to still be considered a ‘Women’s issue’. It really pisses me off.

But I also want to add another point …. It’s not just parents, and it’s not just workers that need to juggle or balance their lives.

There seems to be a magic equation of :

Woman + Kids + Job = “How do you find a balance?”

I started my Unbalanced Woman blog a while back because I was having to make some changes to get my balance right. And it struck me that all types of people feel they are trying to juggle or balance lots of different things in their lives. Not just when they have kids. People feel ‘Unbalanced’ for many different reasons. In my blog I consciously talk about some elements of being a mum, some of having a job, and some about totally different things. That’s MY life equation and my (happily) busy and Unbalanced life.

I know plenty of people with different life equations who are equally busy and therefore may sometimes feel ‘Unbalanced’:

  • Man + Job + Parents needing care = Juggler
  • Woman + Kid + Another Kid = Juggler
  • Woman + Illness + Part-Time Job = Juggler
  • Woman + Retired + Grandparent child care + Social commitments = Juggler

Many of these things are wonderful aspects of our lives, but they still need juggling. And when we can’t find a balance we ask for help, or we strap on our boots and crack on as best we can, accepting that sometimes we drop a ball or occasionally we totally fuck everything up.

So I’m with Tim – if we think it’s important to ask working mums how they balance their lives, let’s give equal interest to working dads, non working parents and non-parenting adults.

Or just join me in accepting that ‘Unbalanced’ is a way of life, for all types of people, and it’s to be celebrated.

#UnbalancedSolidarity

I’m a hypocrite

I came across a school paper this week that set out a series of rules that should be completed each day ‘before you turn on the screen’. It included:

  • made your bed
  • had breakfast
  • dressed, brushed your hair and brushed your teeth
  • completed 20 minutes of reading AND 20 minutes of writing or colouring AND played outside for 30 minutes AND made or built something creative
  • cleaned a room 
  • helped someone in your family in another way

My first thought was, “Jesus Christ!”, and my second was to quickly check if these rules are intended for the adults or just the kids. I would physically harm anyone who tried to make me follow these rules. Not really, but I would call them some rather disgusting names. In my head. I’m a coward really.

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But it made me think… do I set rules for my kids that I don’t follow myself?

First of all, let’s tackle the screen time one. I spend the majority of my day looking at a screen, for work, for communication and for entertainment. I think there are few people left who don’t multi-screen – watching TV while intermittently checking messages and social media on our phones.

It’s rare that I won’t have looked at a screen before completing any of the first three things on the list. Often I look at my phone before I’ve even got out of bed!

We live in the digital age and, here’s the point, so do our children.  Reading a story or watching a story – who gets to say which is better? I love books, theatre, film and TV, and blogs, let’s not forget blogs. They are all just telling stories. We recognise Shakespeare as the ultimate writer, but let’s remember that the majority of his celebrated work was written as plays – for people to WATCH. Could TV and film and even You-Tube arguably be considered as just ‘modern theatre’.

My boy has just shown me a Spiderman world he’s created in MineCraft, with pants-wetting excitement and pride because he’s worked out how to build something he’s not done before.

  • Is he being creative? – tick
  • Using logic, intellect and tenacity? – tick
  • Writing and colouring? – (in computer code) tick
  • Social skills – tick. He has friends who share his passionate hobby and they discuss ideas and teach each other new skills. 

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So why do screens get such a bad rep? “Because of risks to eyesight, posture, lack of exercise” my argumentative brain cries. OK, all fair points. We have to watch those, for kids AND adults in the digital age. But my brain’s back with a counter-argument: is that different to when we had to learn from all the back and lung problems people had in the industrial age when manual labour, like working in a mill or a mine, was the norm?

So I do watch what my boy does, and try to make sure there’s a balance of activities and responsibilities. The same as I try to make sure he gets enough exercise, sleep and healthy food. I admit I’m absolutely guilty of being more bothered about those rules for him than I ever apply to myself, which makes me a total hypocrite. He eats better, sleeps longer and gets more exercise than I ever do. 

I think I might just cut him some slack on the screen time.

Will I turn into my mother?

They say it’s inevitable that a girl will turn into her mother. Good God that’s scary.

If it’s true then I’d better get my finger out, because I’ve got work to do.

If it’s true, then I’ll become the most loving, thoughtful and generous woman I know.

  • I’ll be able to mend clothes, bake great cakes and get any stain out of anything.
    (Seriously, she can do that!)
  • I’ll know the best treatment for every childhood illness.
  • I’ll be a wise but humble woman and a fiercely loyal friend.
  • I’ll remember birthdays, anniversaries and all those little things that are important to others.
  • I’ll be fun to be with but also happy to be on my own, in my garden, with a book.
  • Oh and I’ll be an amazing gardener who knows the names of plants and trees and birds (the proper names, not just ‘that one with the red leaves’)
  • I’ll be polite enough to meet the queen, but those close to me will hear me prove I know all the rude words too.
  • I’ll be a spelling and punctuation nazi, and even pull a pen out of my bag to correct graffiti on a public toilet door.
  • I’ll be an amazing grandma, and my grandchildren will look forward to seeing me, especially as I’ll always have a freezer full of the best ice-cream known to man.
  • And I’ll always, ALWAYS, drop everything the second my (grown up) baby needs me.

Fuck, that’s a lot to live up to! If I ever manage to get close to being as wonderful as my mum, my son should feel very lucky indeed.

#UnbalancedRoleModel

Slow down?

There’s a song and video doing the rounds called ‘Slow Down’. Everyone gushing how they sobbed when they watched. But I didn’t. I’m clearly a cold-hearted freak. Am I missing an essential mothering gene? 

Apparently Mothers around the world are hailing it the best song ever made. Accompanied by a compilation of videos of children playing, smiling with their parents and siblings and showing beautiful memories of everything in a perfect childhood.

The message is clear, “time with your children moves so fast”. 

I get the message – there are plenty of ‘blink and you miss it’ phases of raising a child. I’m just not feeling the sentiment with quite the same emotion, for two reasons:

 The stages the singer wants to Slow Down weren’t that fucking picture-perfect in reality

My experience so far tells me that actually it just gets better. So bring on the future! 

I can honestly say that every age my Ginger Boy has been so far, has been my favourite. When he was a new born baby, I remember people saying that babies are boring until they start to talk and show some personality. I was absolutely outraged! Had they not met MY baby? My completely gorgeous, expressive baby whose gurning face made me laugh every single day? 

But of course, as he grew in size and expression, I have to admit, babies are pretty damn boring compared to what comes next. And while I cherish all those memories of me bursting with love as his tiny fingers wrapped around mine, they are also entwined with memories of a period of no sleep, a mini breakdown and phoning friends asking how long this period of crying through the night (him and me) would last. 

 I most certainly did not want that time to Slow Down!

Last week my friend made a sad face because her youngest is now potty trained. I was amazed that this was not a celebratory event. She explained that it signifies he’s growing up and he’s not a baby anymore. Apparently many people feel the same way when their kids hit a significant milestone. 

I get it (I think), but again I was left thinking that I must have a heart of stone. When we reached that stage there was absolutely no mourning period. All I felt was a joyous realisation in a garden centre that when Ginger Boy told me he needed a poo, I was no longer required to perform the obligatory shit-sniff before taking my toddler into a disabled toilet, lay him out on a plastic tray, stinky end nearest my face, and hold his windmill-propelled legs away from my head with one elbow, to stop me being hit in the face by a shoe, a wet wipe or, let’s get real… actual shit. It never EVER occurred to me that I might look back on that phase with anything more than a vague fondness for the comedy shit related memories. I certainly don’t ‘miss it’!

And that’s how I feel about life, not just motherhood. Life phases are amazing. I don’t mourn for any of them or want them to Slow Down because there’s always something else ahead to look forward to. 

 For example:

‘School days are the best of your life’. Yes they are but…. I couldn’t wait to grow up and be old enough to go to the pub

The butterflies in your tummy for a first kiss are fantastic. But… Look at what comes later (sex obvs!) – a long term intimacy that’s well worth moving on from those butterflies

My single, party days were amazing. But…. then I got to meet my husband. 

Does my practical attitude mean I’m cold? Maybe. Should I take the video’s advice and Slow Down? Perhaps. The good phases and the bad phases and everything in between, all move fast. Thankfully I have a good memory and about 1000 photos to help me remember the good bits (I never took any photos of the poo windmill in action, so maybe I’ll forget those bits. Maybe that’s not a bad thing). 

I guess in summary….  I’m thankful for where we’ve been so far, happy with where we are now, and excited about where we might go to tomorrow. I don’t want to slow down OR speed up. I’m just grateful to be on this roller coaster of a parenthood ride. 

Precious moments on a ticking clock

“Make time for fun and silliness”. I must have read that about 20 times. Apparently a necessity if you aspire to be a successful parent, partner, team leader and probably circus clown.

So today that cliché rang in my ears when faced with a particular unbalanced-life experience.

Our morning routine requires precision timing. No matter how organised I try to be there are just so many activities to cram into a short space of time. And our differing personality types add to the challenge: I take some time to warm up in the morning, like an old car in winter, you need to let me tick over for a while before I can even leave first gear. My little boy however wakes up ready to run down the nearest motorway. No car required. As soon as he opens his eyes his brain must say, no actually sing, “It’s morning… Woohoo!”

Fun and silliness are always on his agenda. Of course they are. But my morning routine is ruled by the large ticking clock on our kitchen wall. If we don’t get to school on time the car park will be full. And if the car park is full I will have to park round the corner. And if I have to park round the corner it takes longer to walk back to it (in heels) so I won’t catch my ‘only-make-it-if-I-leg-it-down-the-platform’ train to work.

He was in full-on Woohoo-mode when we went downstairs to make breakfast, yabbering on about something or other. I knew I should be listening, but I needed to make breakfast and…. Tick Tock Tick Tock.

To get his attention, I picked him up sat him on the kitchen worktop. “I have a question for you…” Now this works. He’s at eye level and he loves to be asked a question. And he half knows that the question will be, ‘what shall we have for breakfast?’. It’s a regular morning question because another aspirational quote locked somewhere in my memory, is to offer children choices so they learn independent thinking. Blah blah blah.

But instead, my inner silliness crept in. “Do you looove me?” I sang to him. I’ve recently watched Dirty Dancing and it popped into my head. Big grin from the boy and my silliness took over.

“I can mash potato…” I proved it.
“Do the twist….” Hell yeah.
“Tell me baby…” He loved it.

The clock was silenced. I was Supermum. We danced together. He looked me right in the eye and did that beautiful giggle that kids do when they are truly happy. I felt amazing and we had a precious moment – one of those that makes your heart burst, where you know there is true love in the room. The cliché was right, I SHOULD make time for silliness.

Time. Make time. Tick Tock….. “Oh my god, look at the time!” And there it was, ruined.

“Quickly… Just eat it… Are you finished?… Well where did you leave it?… Come on!… They are not MY shoes, they are your responsibility… For goodness sake, just get in the car… Now!”

Next time I decide to make time for fun and silliness I will schedule it with precision timing.