Magical Supermarket

If you had asked me some years ago how I spent my ‘down time’ and what floated my boat for relaxing on my own, I probably would have told you how I loved to read, write, watch films, go in the bath, and breath Yorkshire air.    These are still true, but I’m slowly realising that I’ve added a new one to this list – visiting the supermarket.

As a child, I did not enjoy going to the supermarket.  Probably because it was a family outing with my two siblings and our poor mum who was probably cursing under her breath as we fought with each other around each aisle and then nipped each other’s legs in the car on the way home.  At university, I didn’t mind it but didn’t love it.  It was a gimmick to go with my friends at the beginning and buy noodles and cheap rum, but the novelty soon wore off.  And when I moved in with my husband, it was just something we did to get it out of the way, to get the weekly ‘big shop’ in. 

Fast-forward to now, I have two children and most weekly shopping trips involve me and my son on a Monday morning, stocking up for the week, and, without exception, there is some bribery involved – either a magazine or a chocolate egg, to encourage my son not to have a wobbly moment before we finish.  Admittedly, this gets easier as he is getting older.  He no longer thinks it is a thrill to run towards the automatic doors or pick up everything he can see.  And when we shop on a weekend and my daughter joins us, thankfully they no longer argue over who sits in the trolley.  But along the way there have been some horrible supermarket moments, such as the time we went on a family visit to a local store and my daughter threw up from her trolley seat straight onto the floor.  Nice.  I felt genuine respect for the store assistant who cleaned it up that day.  Or the time my son embarked on a ‘lying on the floor and screaming’ tantrum at the checkout next to me.  This feels like a rite of passage for small kids, they all have to do it.  And whichever grown-up is with them has to do the following – feel mortified, sweat a lot, avoid eye contact with other grown-ups for fear of a sympathetic or judging stare, and get out of there quickly.

So, given all of this reader, you might be forgiven for wondering what planet I am on that visiting a supermarket has made it into my list of top things to do to relax by myself.  I’m with you.  But there is a time when the children are in school and nursery, and I have a window of opportunity to get to a shop by myself.  A small window, but a window nonetheless.  I might make a list of basic things to buy – milk, bread, eggs and such – but once I’m in there, the possibilities are endless.  All I can see are endless, empty aisles for me to glide down.  Produce on either side.  Weird stuff that I don’t need is dotted around.  Gardening gloves? Why not.  (I’m not a gardener).  Makeup brush with an extra-long handle?  Yesss.  Small, foldaway stool?  I’ll take three.  

I glide around a bit like Nicole Kidman in Stepford Wives (ignoring the fact I look nothing like her).  I see other people and wonder if they are experiencing supermarket euphoria too.  They look anxious.  Perhaps not.   I drift about with time on my side and feel strangely calm and relaxed.  No stress over a trolley, no stress at the checkout, nobody lying on the floor next to me.  Awesome.

A new one for my list.  Albeit not at the top, but in there anyway.   Reading, writing, watching films, going in the bath, breathing Yorkshire air, and going to the supermarket.  Magic.     

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Bucking the Trend.

This week I’m thinking a lot about bodies.  Positive ones to be precise.  Not least because of the fabulous feature section on Selfish Mother but also because of an amazing role model I’ve discovered online called Allison Kimmey. I read a post somewhere on something, I forget where now, about how she responded in such an amazing way when her daughter called her ‘fat’.  Rather than admonishing her, she explained that people cannot ‘be’ fat, and that fat is something on every person everywhere, but people have different amounts.  For those of you who have not heard of Allison, she is a Body Positive author, speaker and general all-round role model for not being ashamed of our bodies.  She posts photos every day of herself, which could sound vain if you didn’t know much about her but actually she promotes to women that she is somebody who accepts her body, accepts herself, and encourages others to do the same. And the other bit – she’s not a size-nothing supermodel, she’s a beautiful woman with curves and wobbly bits, and she is not afraid to show them.

Generally, I’m halfway between being a cynic and a believer in life; I’m not usually drawn towards self-help books, but I love the idea of them.  And I seldom follow ‘inspirational’ people who I don’t know, just because somebody, somewhere says that I should.  But in this case I make an exception.   I was really encouraged to read about Allison and I realised that it is the second time in only a few days that I’ve read about a fabulous woman (Jess Helicopter) being positive about her body and bucking the trend against stale media imagery and fashion trends that gently nudge people towards believing that thin is the only acceptable body type.  It has been the core message for so long that I can’t remember a time in my life time when it wasn’t there, whispering in our ears that we weren’t enough if we weren’t thinner.

I was a thin child, a thin teenager, and thin going into my twenties.  My body started to change as I got fully engrossed in my twenties and I went from taking it for granted that I could eat anything without consequence, to putting on weight with ease and not being able to shift it.  I can’t even blame having the children for this, the weight creep began well before that, and I actually lost three stone before having my daughter because I was officially too big to qualify for IVF treatment.  Since having my son, I’ve invited all of the weight back into my life and a bit more too.   So now, I’m that person who, when they go to the doctors for anything at all, is asked about her weight.  Always, even for a poorly finger/eye infection/dry skin.  Always my weight.

I think in society in general we have a massive (excuse the pun) problem with weight.  We are taught by the mainstream influencers that increased weight is to be judged harshly.  We are taught that there is a body type and size that is the best and if we don’t fit it, we are found wanting.  Over the years since I first cottoned on to the fact that I was quite a bit over my ideal weight area, I’ve danced with a few diet partners.  Apart from one at the start, most failed.  I don’t take well to having to count out my food rations for the day, having to weigh my meals, and feeling like I’ve failed if I eat something considered sinful.  I’ve also dabbled in several exercisey things to help to lose the weight – running, aerobics, swimming.  I even sometimes do (with the curtains drawn and everybody out of the house) a salsa keep fit dvd.

Ultimately though, it isn’t about a quick fix or even a fix.  I’m not broken or damaged.  And people with larger bodies shouldn’t be viewed as if they are.   The whole dialogue in our society about weight, size and appearance is flawed.  It focuses on how we appear physically to other people, how other people view us, and how attractive we are or are not based on our physical appearance.  And the bit about health?  That’s so far down the list when it should be at the top. And self-acceptance?  I can’t even see it on the list.   Why can’t we focus on those?  And not size.  People come in all different body shapes and sizes; our societal views should reflect this.  And we should be teaching our children about body acceptance from an early age, not body judgement.   We should teach them that bodies change as they grow into them, and in fact, they change again as they grow older in them.  My body now is not the body I had when I was a svelte 21-year-old, nor should it be.  We should teach them that people change and change is no bad thing; that, as grown-ups grow up, they will start to look different, sometimes very different, and we should not be thinking that people should focus on winding back the clock.  The messages we give them whilst they are young will be part of their roadmap for life and we should help to make sure these messages are positive ones.   So, I’m going to keep following the Body Positive authors, keep reading the positive blog posts from women who accept the way they look, and keep encouraging my children to accept people and to accept difference.

Painting With Kids & Time For Space

It is decorating season in our house.  Historically we have not been that great at decorating.  We moved here in 2007.   Two years passed before the Great Paint of 2009.  Eight more years have passed and now we have begun the Great Paint of 2017.  It was not our original plan to embark on it this year, but our eldest child, who had been happily sharing a room with her brother, started to become self-aware and question why she did not have a space of her own.   We live in a three-bedded house – one for us, one for the kids, and one enormous cupboard which doubled as a spare bedroom.  The cupboard bedroom was great for filing, dumping, making piles, hoarding things I could not bear to part with, stashing Christmas and birthday presents, and being the receiver of any clutter we needed to hide whenever we had visitors and wanted to give the impression we were minimalist, tidy people.    We were fortunate to have ten years of this but we knew eventually we would turn the room into a bedroom for one of the children and after a few gentle discussions with the two of them, it was agreed that we would set about making them both their own space now.

If you are like me, you will become a bit like a ball of cheese tumbling down a hill when it comes to decorating.  Once I begin, I start to see more and more things I want to paint.  Everything else starts to look a bit tired and one room becomes two, two become four, and pretty quickly I’m that cheese that cannot stop.   So the plan to decorate just the two bedrooms has turned into a master plan for the house. 

That aside, it has been lovely to see how excited the kids have been about making their own rooms and having a space that is just for them.  Admittedly, there have been a few arguments along the lines of ‘keep out of my room’, which I should have expected.  I remember some territory wars with my siblings when I was young.  But I also remember the lovely side to having separate bedrooms, such as sending messages from room to room, and being really excited at the treasures in my older, and much cooler, sister’s room.  

My husband did the core of the decorating and he involved the kids as much as he could with the painting.   It was our first experience of painting with kids.  Painting with kids involves a lot of patience.  Patience, deep breaths, and a beer in the fridge waiting for after bedtime.   Our daughter was keen to learn how to paint, she was quite methodical and she listened to instructions about how to do it.  Our son was less so.  He pretty much just grabbed a brush, dipped it in paint, and threw it at the wall.  Luckily, for the wall, he got bored after ten minutes and returned to his dinosaurs.

All in all, it took two weekends to finish, including a ‘sleepover’ in my son’s room, plenty of bickering about which toys would go into which room, and many, many lemons on window sills.  But now they are in and it’s just lovely.  I almost feel a little envious, harking back to my childhood when I had my first childhood bedroom decorated from floor to ceiling with flowery wallpaper (I make no apologies for my lack of taste).  

My son is a little sad that he won’t be sharing with his sister anymore, so we have promised a lot more of the sleepovers but I suppose it is symbolic of the next stage in their lives as they grow into proper children and start to carve out their identities, personalities, and their own spaces. 

Writing. Blogging. Learning.

I was well and truly in Spring cleaning mode the other day when I happened across some old newspaper articles I wrote for my former local rag, The Huddersfield Examiner.  I wrote a column for them when I was in my early twenties and, although I wasn’t quite fresh out of university, my days there were not too distant a memory, so the articles I wrote were for a regular slot called Uni Life.  I wrote about all manner of intelligent and profound subjects such as the key ingredients needed for an awesome student party, how to survive lectures when you are hungover, how to handle disagreements over dirty kitchens, and what my memories were of Fresher’s Week debauchery.   I found the articles all folded up in a brown envelope and I made myself read them, even though I knew the contents would probably make me cringe.  Cringe, I did, but I found myself recognising how useful they had been in helping me to find some early confidence in writing articles for others to read.  That is the key bit for me.  Until that point, I had written privately but had never let anybody read my words.  Probably because I felt embarrassed.   When you write articles or blog posts that reflect only your own opinion, it is pretty daunting allowing others to read them because you are in effect asking for people to judge what you have written.  If you think about yourselves as readers, it is hard to read anything without forming an opinion or judgment, good or bad.  Indeed, the mark of good writing is when it truly engages its reader.

So, the first time I let anybody read my writing was when I asked my friend, David, to read a piece I’d written about returning home from living in London.  The piece was about my experience of moving to London immediately after graduating from university, and subsequently feeling so homesick and unsettled that I returned to Yorkshire six months later.  Writing about it was cathartic and David convinced me to join him in writing the Uni Life column for the paper.  The London piece became my first article.

When I came to the end of Uni Life and I’d exhausted all of my memories, normal life took over and the writing stopped, at least publicly.  I continued to write little blog posts at home and I have been trying to write a novel for years that started as a dream, turned into a few chapters but will go no further.  And then I discovered Selfish Mother.   It was 2014.  I had two young children and I was looking for a magazine online that was not like the big players of the time that everybody else was reading.  I wanted to read something different.  Selfish Mother was that different.  I loved it.  The articles were honest but not offensive.  They were written from the heart of every writer and the writers were a mix of professional writers, journalists, and then at the other end, just normal people.  When the editor, Molly Gunn, put out an ad to invite others to join her team of authors, I jumped at the chance to write for them.

Molly and the other writers helped me a lot in the early days by editing my first few articles on Selfish Mother.  They offered really good advice and insights into how to present my posts to appeal to readers and not just to be about self-reflection.  And I remember the first time I saw my first post in real life on the screen, I felt a bit scared but, over time and with positive reassurance from my family and friends, I overcame that and have come to really enjoy blogging.    In the three years since then, I’ve created my own blog, which I think of as less a lifestyle blog and more a space online to store the things I’ve written so that my children can see them one day.  I’ve blogged for other sites, including a little parenting site in the north west, a series of guest posts for the website of the hospital where my husband and I had IVF treatment, and a little bit for The Huffington Post.

It isn’t always plain sailing.  With every positive and reassuring comment, every ‘you could have written this for me’ comment, there is the potential for people to tell you that you are wrong, that they disagree, or, worse, to troll you.  I think with any writing you  put out, you should be able to accept disagreement.  It is healthy and its important not to forget that not everybody shares your view, but even disagreement should be conveyed in a respectful way.  I recently read the piece in The Daily Mail which was a stinging attack on ‘mum bloggers’.   It wasn’t the most comfortable read and, had I been one of the bloggers that the article singled out for ridicule, I think I would have sunk down into a pit of sadness that my blogging had been so publicly shamed.  Those who were singled out have responded in the best ways.   Unsurprisingly, they have used their blogs to respond with clever and witty articles that, rather than being bitter and unhappy, are sharply written and highlight the big failing of the original article – that the writer had never properly read their blogs.   Also nice to see was a well-known fish finger maker using their advertising to sneer at the article, as the article had made fun of a blogger who gave her child a frozen fish finger.  Cynics might say this was a great PR attempt from the but still, it gives wider support to bloggers and that can only be a good thing.

Writing is an art form that changes all the time.  We are no longer in the realms of writers being only those who have traditional publishing deals and who write printed stories.  Writers come in all shapes and sizes, including bloggers, and that is to be embraced, not mocked.

My children sometimes ask what I’m doing when I’m writing on my computer. I tell them I’m writing and sometimes I say stories if it is the story I’m working on, but when they are older I will explain to them about my blogging.  I’m not a professional blogger or even one who wishes to make money from it.  I’m a hobby blogger because I write to fulfil my own personal love of writing.  And if, along the way, I write something that really resonates with people, then all the better.

The Harsh Reality of Body Shaming

I was body shamed today.  Or perhaps fat shamed.  Or both.  I wanted to write about it because it shocked me, stunned me, upset me, and because the way I make sense of things I don’t understand is often to write about them.

I’ve read a lot about body shaming of women. I know it happens.  I know it shouldn’t but I know we are heading away from progress in that area.  Just this morning I read a feature about the top 14 photoshop fails where magazines or advertisers had attempted (and failed) to make women look different, usually by making them thinner and/or younger looking.  So, I know it happens.  And as far as my own body-esteem goes, I’m no supermodel.  My body is average and it looks like the body of a 36-year-old woman who likes to eat chocolate and has an allergy to exercise.  I don’t kid myself that it is any different.  But the shaming experience this morning really hit home.  And I felt frustrated with myself for allowing it to.    How does that happen?  How is it that something horrible happens to us and then we still somehow manage to find a way to be pissed off at ourselves?

I won’t go into the minutiae of the event but, in a nutshell, a man I didn’t know shouted at me from a car I’d never seen before, whilst I was walking along the road to a volunteer placement at a local nursery.  The words he shouted were “Fat Arse”.

It seemed to happen pretty quickly.  Quick enough for the word Arse to fade into the distance as the car sped away.  For a moment, I wondered if it had been about me.  It’s easy to feel paranoia when you hear shouting from a car whilst your walking and I imagine we’ve all been the people waving back at people who aren’t waving at us.  So, I almost thought that perhaps it wasn’t at me.  And then I realised it was.  There was nobody else around.  The shouting came right at me as the car passed me.  And I kind of froze in a way.  Although I carried on walking, it stunned me.  A moment earlier I had been feeling pretty good.  It was a gorgeous sunny morning.  I was looking forward to seeing the children. It was a nice end to a tiring week and I felt good.  And then Mother Universe dropped by to remind me that things are not always that simple.

I put the incident out of my mind for the rest of the day, telling myself that he was just a t.w.a.t. who had nothing more interesting to do with his morning than shout obscenities at women he didn’t know.  I didn’t even know what he looked like or whether he was alone.  I didn’t look into his car.  The rational and reasonable part of me understood this was a silly incident by an unpleasant man.  But slowly my mind started to digest what had happened and all of the doubts and low self-esteem started to creep up and by the end of the day I had decided I was going on a diet, starting now.

There are moments in life where it would be handy to step outside of yourself and give your other self a good shake.  This was one of those.  I needed the shake.  From the other me.

But deeper than this is a real issue with the way women are viewed, for it to be considered okay by some people, even if it is a minority of people, to openly pass a judgement about a woman’s body.  It’s the old cliché that some women and girls have been cat-called in the street and now apparently it is considered fine to actually shout out of a car at a woman based on her size.  And I know this isn’t even about my weight.  My weight, my body, they’re my business.  If there is a diet to be started, it is because I want to do it for me, not because some low-life in a car felt nothing more in him this morning than an ugly thought.

I’m not sure why I decided to write this and I imagine I might read it again and feel shameful for experiencing this and shameful for admitting it.  It would have been very easy not to tell a soul and keep it hidden in the basement of my self-esteem.  But then that would be doing an injustice to women and girls who experience things like this every day.   There is no shame in bodies.  There is no shame in large or small.  And there is absolutely no shame in women and girls.   The only shame here was the sad man in the car.

Panto Season

It’s panto time this week. (Oh no, it isn’t).  Oh yes, it really is my friends.  Panto time again.  Since the kids have started to become a little older – full and proper members of the pre-school collective, they have started to love, nay, adore, pantomimes.    I say this as if it is something they have chosen to love, but it obviously could not have happened if I not taken them to see a panto in the first place.   So, it’s pretty much my fault.  I can’t even lay any blame at my husband’s door.  He’s brutally honest about his hatred of pantos.  So, unless the tickets are for a weekend show, I’m on my own.

I don’t remember loving pantomimes as a child.  I remember going to them.  I remember all the chanting and audience participation.  I remember the cast chucking sweets into the audience and me being secretly crushed every time because they never landed on me.  But I don’t remember loving them, the way my children do now.   Perhaps it really is personal preference rather than an in-built sense of panto-love purely because they are children.

I opened the doors to a future of pantomimes when my daughter was about 3.   During a nursery half term holiday, I took her to see a local showing of The Wizard of Oz.  We only lasted the first half.   The wicked witch person was too scary and we left at the interval.   Not a success.  Although, a very funny first half for the grown-ups, beginning with the scenery nearly falling over and then some horrendously bad warbling of Somewhere Over The Rainbow, followed by some inappropriate jokes.    Later that year, we went as a wider family to see Peter Pan.  This time we lasted the whole show and I think that was the moment my children decided that pantomimes were the future.   Since then, we’ve seen The Wizard of Oz again (this time with a funny and not scary bad witch played by Cheryl Ferguson aka Heather Trott) and I now feel like we are seasoned pros, ready for the next show.

To be fair, the theatre we visit is a lovely little local theatre and the actors who write and star in the shows are under-rated and under-noticed.  They don’t appear to be aiming for the big-time and they write funny little shows that entertain the kids and manage to keep the adults’ attention with a few blue jokes dotted around.   I suppose it would be an idea to see pantomimes at other theatres.  Mix it up a bit for the kids, but we are (I am) creatures of habit and we carry on doing what we’re comfortable with.

And I suppose, for all of my sneering at them, pantomimes are a lovely introduction to theatre for children.   And as somebody who used to work for a world-famous theatre group, I saw first-hand how wonderful it was to be able to bring theatre to so many people and especially to young people.  So perhaps I should look at this as the practice for later when I start taking them to theatre shows.

For now, I’m going to get my tickets out, get the Haribo and juice ready, and brace myself for the annual booing, hissing, and the secret hoping that the sweets will land on me.

The Mysterious World of Boy Hair

Do you remember the episode of Friends when Ross sent a Barbershop Quartet to Rachel’s work in an attempt to show her how great a boyfriend he was, when he was jealous of her colleague? I remember it well and if you’d said Barber’s to me until recently, I would have thought of that scene pretty quickly.   I would not have conjured up actual images of a Barber’s and until this week I had only ever been in one once.

That changed when I was tasked with taking my youngest to get his haircut.  Ordinarily, I leave this to my husband.  I take my daughter to my hairdressers with me.  Fine.  Familiar territory.  But I always leave my son’s hair to my husband.   Probably because going to the Barber’s is unknown territory for me.   But this week it was my turn to embark on the trip to get his locks cut.

Those who know me well know that I can turn into a bit of a worrier at times and I can turn the most basic of life tasks into a worry.   My worry plays out in chronological order and this trip to the Barber’s was no different.  I began by working out what I needed to do, starting with which Barber’s to go to.   This involved interrogating my husband at length about where he took him last time.  Now, if, like me, you’re a creature of habit who sees the same stylist at the same hairdresser every time, this question is not usually a difficult one.  But I’m quickly finding out that the world of boy hair can involve walking into any number of different Barber’s; the only criteria seems to be that they’re open and not too pricey.

Anyway, after a bit of eye-rolling from the husband, he told me which he had used last time, so at least I had a blueprint.   Off we went and I was quite looking forward to seeing what life is like in the mysterious world of boy hair.   Alas, it was Monday.   A bit of inside knowledge, which I now possess, is that there are very few Barber’s open on a Monday in my village.   So there was a bit of dragging my son around, trying to find one.   He was grumpy – it was cold and I’d thought it was fine to let him swagger around without his coat. In my mind this was going to be a quick task.   After a bit more grumpiness, we eventually found a Barber that was open.   Bingo.

Now, there are many Firsts in life – first day of school, first day of a new job, first car.   And for a lot of these you can find an abundance of advice and handy tips on the internet, to help you through.   In my world, a First for me is the visit to the Barber’s and I think it is important to offer some words of wisdom for those of you about to embark on your own first visit there (I’m aiming this mainly at women obvs).  My huge disclaimer is that this is based on one visit to one Barber.

So, these are the things I’ve learnt from my one visit to the one Barber, which I will impart to you.

  • Barber shops are a bit like oversized bachelor pads. This one was very, very minimalist, with little in the way of furniture beyond what was absolutely necessary.  It had a sort of musty smell, not like the usual shampoo smells I associate with hair places.
  • Unlike safe and uncontroversial music playing in your traditional hair salon, music in the Barber shop is pretty cool. Think a mix of Grime, Hip Hop, some Indie old stuff thrown in for good measure.   The sort of music that makes you feel a little (or a lot in my case) out of touch with the youths, and painfully aware that you’re wearing sensible shoes and a cardigan that has emergency tissues in the pockets.
  • The waiting area is not all comfortable chairs and a coffee table. It’s a bit like a football changing room.  Big, oak benches that look trendy but are not in the least bit comfortable.
  • There are lots of males-of-the-species sitting around on the uncomfortable benches, not speaking. They obviously do not feel the need to make awkward small talk with their neighbours.  They are happy to sit in silence.
  • And when they are called to sit on the stylist’s chair, they appear to communicate what they need in as few words as possible. Sometimes, even no words.
  • And during the actual cut itself, even fewer words are spoken. No ‘Going on holiday this year?’, or ‘What you up to this weekend?’.
  • At the end of the silent cut, they rise, pay, and leave. No next appointment, no ‘Have a nice day’. It’s over, it’s done.

Obviously, these are only based on my experience in that one visit to that one Barber, but it made me ponder afterwards at how very different it was to my own hairdressing experience.   I think next time I might try a different one, or maybe take my son to my hairdresser, just so I can indulge in some conversation, easy listening music, and a cup of tea.

Coming Out of Hibernation

The sun came out today.  It came out to the point that I actually dared to hang out some washing on the line (it didn’t dry – it was too cold).  It came out to the point that I threw open the doors to the back garden with a plan to tidy it (I didn’t – the grass was too wet).  And it came out to the point where I started to get the feeling that the outdoor days are well and truly coming.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m all for outside-ness and spending time outdoors with the kids.  I just need time to come out of hibernation.  You see, I’m a winter creature.  I was born in a January when it used to snow every single year without fail.  After warm, sunny and light days,  I sort of dread the bad weather coming but also look forward to the cosiness of winter, when it’s okay to hide away indoors, do indoor things, and not even look at the garden until the winter is done.  And as an aside, winter also gives me a genuine reason to wear lots of layers of clothing, without worrying about displaying any wobbly bits to innocent passers-by.  

So, here we are in February, still officially winter, but there it was – the sun, and it gave me the first inkling that we’re coming into spring.  My weekly routine includes a couple of days spent at home with my youngest child, who is three.   Our days together are book-ended by the school run journeys for his sister.   The bit in between is ours, and over the winter we got into a comfortable routine when we returned from each morning journey, of him settling into playing with some toys in front of the telly, and me having a coffee whilst I pottered around doing housey bits and any other bits that needed doing.   If we needed an outing, we would venture out to a playcentre or see family.  Everything was cosy and warm and it was socially acceptable to watch family/Christmas movies on repeat.   But with the sun out today, though it was cold, it felt a good time to venture out and sniff the air. again   So, we hit the park.

I’d like to tell you it was the park visit to end all park visits.    That he had an awesome time.  That it was a white-knuckle ride of fun.  Truth be told, everything was a bit wet and damp and his reaction was a bit flat.   The park looked drab, all unloved and full of litter left by kids who hung out there the night before (untouched because I was the only person stupid enough to venture out so far today). Enthusiasm for the park was waning so we took a stroll around the estate instead, picking up sticks, nosying in people’s windows, and then, approximately 27 minutes after we left the house, we were home.  Outdoor bit done.  Tick.

 The rest of the day passed much as the previous winter days had done.   After school, the kids watched some more telly and ate a snack.  I had a cup of tea and tried to ignore the sight of the guy across the road playing football with his toddler in the street, fighting the urge to open the window and shout ‘Don’t you know it’s still winter?’. 

I am excited that spring is on its way and that we’re in for some warmer times but for now, whilst I come out of hibernation slowly, I will keep my jumper on, stay warm, and slowly open my mole eyes as the warmer days come and I get ready to be Outdoor Mad again. 

My Son Has a Doll. The End.

When my children wrote their Christmas lists for Santa, the contents were not that surprising based on what their interests are.   My daughter wrote hers very studiously and in great detail.   I helped my son with his, given that he is only three.  His list was just the loveliest list.   It comprised two things: Loads of Ninjas, and Loads of Babies. Ninjas being the Lego craze he is obsessed with.    And Babies because of the love he has for doll babies at the moment.

Santa delivered the requested items and he brought a baby doll for each of them.  The children named the baby dolls Wendy and Michael, of Peter Pan fame, and they have quickly become part of the family.

So far, so uneventful.

The reaction to Michael, however, has been somewhat interesting, and a little surprising.   Not because he’s got a random name.  Not because he goes everywhere with us.  But because he is my son’s doll.   And for reasons not made clear to us, he inspires surprising reactions everywhere he goes.   From raised eyebrows, to ‘oh, ok’ comments when we introduce Michael as our son’s doll and not our daughter’s, as people initially assume.  We’ve even had people commending us for giving our son a doll.

How strange, eh.  Welcome to 2017 folks.  Gender stereotyping is alive and well.

I was a little bit used to this before Santa brought Michael, as my son liked to dress up in Princess dresses a lot.   This made some people deeply uncomfortable and had the added side effect of making my husband and I feel deeply amused by their reactions.   It feels much the same with the presence of Michael, but this time it makes me feel a little sad.   Sad that a little boy having a doll is such a surprise to people.  Sad because they feel the need to point it out or patronise us in a ‘good for you’ way.  Sad because in 2017 people still carry around some very defined expectations of gender that they assign to children.  My son is a boy with thoughts and feelings, with loves and likes, with things that piss him off and things that confuse him.   He loves many different toys and pastimes.  He loves cars, Ninja Lego people, toy kitchens, making pretend tea, wearing Princess dresses, building toy towers, destroying toy towers, singing to Frozen, and he absolutely loves Michael.

I have read a lot about the campaigns to change the way retailers sell children’s toys, such as Let Toys be Toys, and I think they are fabulous campaigns making a real difference.   But I can’t shake the feeling that, for all the change we might bring about in retailing, there is a huge change needed but not happening with the way we ourselves see children and gender.   How can real change happen if the adults around children continue to express surprise when children don’t conform to a stereotype?  I’ve seen this much more since having my son.   Little things such as the way some people react when he is upset by things.   Where they might physically comfort a little girl if she cries, by hugging her and providing the affection that children need, some adults find this difficult.    And I’ve heard differences in the way people have spoken to him – he is ‘kid’ or ‘mate’, whereas his sister is ‘sweetheart’ or ‘darling’.   Not from everybody, of course, and not all the time, but enough for me to notice.

And I see it a lot when I’m around and about, watching other grown-ups interact with children.  From the little boy in the playground who is distressed by something and being told to ‘man up’ by his mum, to the little boy engaged in full tantrum mode in a country park whilst his parent tells him to ‘stop crying, stop being a baby, and stop behaving like a little girl’.  Nice.   Progressive.

But how do you change decades of narrow-minded thinking?  How do you rise up and challenge the status quo?   Well, how about we take it back to basics and start at the beginning, by letting children be children.  Stop judging them when they buck the trend.  Stop imposing our own value judgements on them.  Stop plotting out their whole lives based on the actions they engage in as children.  Stop defining their futures by the toys they choose and the activities they enjoy.  Stop making them feel that showing emotions is a female trait and that they have to select activities and interests based on old-fashioned and dated thinking.     Let them know they are accepted and valued, whatever their interests, preferences and opinions.   Let them know the world is theirs for the taking.   Wouldn’t that be a great start to 2017.

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