Archive | May, 2012

Long may it last

31 May

Yesterday when I announced my plan to sweep up under the dining table: “Please can I help you mummy, pleeeeease?”

“Please can I clean my chair?”

Then afterwards: “Please can we do some more cleaning mummy?”

When I relented and got out the vacuum cleaner: “Yaaaaaaaaay!”

What does it say about the state of my house if my 3-year-old responds like this to cleaning it?!

PS: Nursery’s ‘please & thank you’ training has obviously paid off. I was planning to go the unconditional parenting/lead by example route, but they got there before me and now I have the most polite and lovely child EVER.

Feel the Fear and do it anyway

22 May

“Should have had allergy test appointment by now”
The hospital letter said there might be a 13-week wait for my daughter’s allergy test, and I knew I’d lose track… Luckily it only took about 2 weeks.

Sometimes it is useful to be a feminist because it means that while sometimes we might not be able to change our situation, we at least have a chance to keep our own thoughts and disagree with the status quo.

Something weird happened today. A brief explanation: I am going to go to London to present a paper at a conference next week. It’s a weekday, and I’ll be gone all day, so my daughter’s dad is taking the day off and looking after her. That’s great and stuff, he is usually ok about taking time off work when I have a uni-related event.

The weird part starts here, and I really found it quite a shock.

Our local gym has recently started offering preschool gymnastics sessions, and as my daughter loves moving and running and jumping and, as of two weeks ago (it’s still so exciting when she learns something new), skipping, I thought I’d take her there one of these weeks. I haven’t got round to it yet, and while we were reading a story about dancing I suddenly thought, that’s it, let’s do it next week. But that is the day of the conference.

So I thought, brilliant, her dad can take her, she’ll love it, and it’ll give them something to do. Of course he can decide how to fill the day himself, but he’s never looked after her for a whole entire day before, and I know on days like that you can get a bit sleepy and/or crazy from the lack of adult contact. Plus he has a car, so it’ll be a doddle to get there and back.

So I told him my idea, and… ‘no, it would be too stressful’. Too stressful?!! After I have found out about the sessions, and (theoretically) booked a place a week in advance?! When I take my daughter we’ll have to take the bus there and back, which obviously takes longer so necessitates snack planning, plus possibly planning an extra-easy lunch as she might be tired and thus probably want constant cuddles.

That will be the 8th new group we will have tried out together, whereas all her dad does is take her to the library (which is great, I was pleased when he suggested it last autumn!) at carefully scheduled times to avoid the weekly dads’ session. Some mums have probably been to many more groups, but to be fair, we have stuck with our music group for two-and-a-half years so far, plus most of these groups were explored before I seriously went back to uni. Plus there’s also the small, totally un-stressful matter of taking an 8 to 36 month-old to uni seminars with food, toys, being on time despite buses, worrying about nap scheduling and toddler disruptiveness! And potential judging of parenting skills at the GP/dentist/baby clinic/nursery. All pressure which is solely reserved for my parenting experience!

So don’t ‘stressful’ me! With a car and absolutely no time pressure all day this would be a piece of cake.

But this way I get to enjoy another first, and the potential satisfaction of investigating and planning a new activity appropriate for my daughter’s current interests and skills, and hopefully her enjoyment and excited chatter as the result of it all. In short, parenting brownie points – they’ll be mine, all mine.

I like going to groups and activities because usually my daughter enjoys it and, while I’m confident and comfortable in my parenting approach, I find it useful to see how other parents interact with their children. In my experience, isolated parenting breeds abuse. I don’t mean that everyone should go to three groups every day and adopt another family including the parents, all I’m trying to say is re-evaluating our parenting practices every so often is a good thing. Plus staying in all day is dull.

I have been loosely following the Elisabeth Badinter responses, and while I think she raises some points worth thinking about (if only to re-evaluate our feminist position), I really don’t understand her notion of the über-mother who takes on everything and doesn’t allow the dad a look-in.

Unlike Blue Milk’s experience when she left the birthday party planning to her husband, my daughter’s dad would simply not do it. He is very generous with money, and time when possible, our parenting relationship could be much worse than it is at the moment. He would totally plan a birthday party if I told him the place, time, invited guests early enough, etc. But all initiative has to come from me. Sometimes I feel like a bit of a single-mum fraud because he gives me lifts, gets bits and bobs at the shop for me, and usually is available at the drop of a hat if I/we need him. All of this is very appreciated, and I know that many single mums just don’t have this. But when it comes to moving along with my daughter’s development (things like finding new activities, games, what parts of daily life/the world she might find interesting now, needing new clothes, responding to her questions about complicated things in an appropriate way), the responsibility rests squarely on my shoulders.

It would be great to have someone who understands that school applications have to be done in September, so open days have to be investigated, Ofsted reports have to be consulted, and short lists have to be compiled, and it’s all so hugely important and bloody scary that doing it all on my own seems sleep-robbingly overwhelming. Of course he’ll probably insist on coming to open days, but I’ll get to choose which ones, and what if it later turns out I wasn’t aware of some crucial information or missed a deadline or something. He wouldn’t be aware of them.

Take the photo above, for example. It was a reminder for myself that I put in the calendar to make sure that I couldn’t forget about my daughter’s allergy test. Did her dad set himself a reminder? I doubt it.

But the thing is, while trying to allow my daughter most possible chances and choices and securities in life is big and scary and most probably impossible, I don’t want to give away any of this responsibility. I want to be involved and plan things for her, because I don’t want to wake up one day and realise I haven’t been on the ball enough. And I enjoy doing all these things. It is daunting going to new groups, but it is also useful, not least for the local gossip like which schools have a good reputation but are actually not great in some respects.

Dads who don’t take part in the community aspect of child-raising exclude themselves from something which is a large part of an under-five’s life. Yes, it’s great that my daughter’s dad sees her as often as he does, he clearly wants to be involved in her life and thinks of nice things to do at the weekend, but if I didn’t tell him, he wouldn’t even know that she goes to a music group (nor have been aware of the chance for him to become a trustee, something which is marginally useful for his career), or her friends’ names, or the fact that nursery compile a folder of photos to document her development which allows us a brilliant window into what she gets up to without us.

I will of course continue to keep him in the loop because it’s good for my daughter. And of course many parents are prevented from much more than weekend activities anyway because of work, or they have a set-up which specifies that only one parents holds the responsibilities outlined above while the other one contributes something equally vital to family life.

I enjoy everything I do for my daughter, even when sometimes the responsibility feels too much without an equal partner by my side. And of course her dad is not a bad dad for not immediately agreeing when I suggest something to do in his time. It would just help on the difficult days if it was sometimes acknowledged that I do things that other people find too ‘stressful’ on an easy day. I guess that is the difficult thing about being a single mum with no family nearby: no one knows how much effort you put in to get through the day, and no one is grateful for that effort. But we have to keep going to meet our own expectations because no one will make you feel better when you think you’ve failed. There is no safety-net.

The ‘Motherhood Penalty’

13 May

I came across a fascinating and outrageous phenomenon via the excellent Sociological Images: the ‘motherhood penalty’.

According to a 2008 article, mothers are frequently penalised for being parents. Their perceived competence in the workplace decreases, whereas men’s increases, when they become parents. The authors quote the following statistics, among others:

  • Employed mothers in the US suffer a per-child wage penalty of on average 5%
  • The pay gap between mothers and non-mothers is larger than the pay gap between men and women
One possible reason for this, the article’s authors hypothesise, could be that “cultural understandings of the motherhood role exist in tension with the cultural understandings of the ‘ideal worker’ role”: ideal mothers are expected to spend all of their time doting on their children, whereas the ideal worker spends all of their time working or being at their job’s beck and call.
The article is quite long and complicated as it necessarily has to give details of the study design, but it’s worth reading all of it for the fascinating insights into people’s unconscious evaluations of women, men and Afro-Americans it provides.
You can see Shelley Correll, one of the study authors, speak about the subject here.

Addendum to previous post

12 May

Turns out I was right to see allusions to the virgin Mary when I wrote this post. I hadn’t seen this when I was writing it, but according to these two articles, the photographer explicitly used Madonna-and-child images as a reference for the photos he took for Time.   

That Time Cover: ‘Are you Mom Enough?’

12 May

When I came across this excellent analysis, I thought it might be interesting to analyse the composition of the controversial Time cover.

A particularly interesting point raised in this article is the fact that the cover photo is engineered to evoke sexual undertones. And once you start seeing the photo through this lens, it becomes clear just how carefully the portrayal of Jamie Lynne Grumet and her son has been engineered.

Clothes and Hairstyle

First, there’s her appearance: in some articles discussing the photo, Jamie Lynne is referred to as a ‘willowy bombshell‘: she’s skinny, she has flawless luminous skin, she’s blonde, she wears fashionable clothes. She might practise attachment parenting, but the mother on the Time cover (I feel it’s important to distinguish between the mother-representation on the cover and the actual person Jamie Lynne Grumet, as they are likely to be different people) is no earth mother who knits her own lentils. But neither is she too fashionable, hence the sensible flat ballerinas. See, she’s just right – not too crunchy, not too plastic – everyone can relate to her.

The way this mother is represented creates a tension: her hair is modestly pulled back, and the colour of her blue tank top and skinny jeans seems deliberately chosen to hint at common representations of the virgin Mary (albeit a bit more 21st century). But wait, her shoulders aren’t covered and she’s not wearing a bra, so is she a woman of virtue or of loose morals?

Body Language

Her  facial expression is both docile (closed mouth, neither smiling nor not-smiling) and defiant (head held high). The fragility of her thin frame is called into question by how strong and robust her posture makes her appear, while the allusion to the virgin Mary, who is usually portrayed in passive positions, contrasts with the active supermodel-hand-on-hip pose.

The mother’s posture is supermum through-and-through: her hip-jutting says she is ready for any criticism the viewer wants to throw at her, while her arm protectively cradles her son’s shoulders. She is both hard and soft, alluring and motherly.

At the same time, her facial expression is quite blank, and so are her clothes – they are simple and a non-offensive colour. She is a blank canvas ready for any viewer’s feelings to be projected onto her: is she making breastfeeding fashionable? A ‘hippy’? Aggressive? Submissive? Outrageous? A pervert? A role model? Just an average mother?

Text and Image Interaction – Questioning Mothers’ Shagability?

Then there’s the big red question mark superimposed on her nether regions – surely an accident, one might think. But this is the cover of a major magazine, there are no accidents, and text and image are designed to interact for maximum effect in the reader’s mind. So perhaps the question mark is placed here deliberately to call into question the sexuality of mothers who breastfeed for an ‘extended’ period.

There are two questions an uninformed reader might ask themselves: first, does breastfeeding give rise to sexual feelings once the baby is one day older than an arbitrary number of weeks, and secondly, can a breastfeeding woman still be sexually attractive? Is motherhood incompatible with stereotypical conceptions of womanhood? Not just motherhood as it is commonly represented in the media, because that is often seen as the epitome of femininity, but motherhood when a woman shows such extraordinary dedication to her children? (NB I am well aware that the average world weaning age is around 2.5-7 years according to Dettwyler, but nevertheless, breastfeeding a child or several children for several years is a special commitment which can occasionally take a lot out of mothers.)

The Child

Grumet’s little boy is dressed in trainers and camouflage cargo pants – very ‘big boy’ clothes that seem to hint at a child who is happiest running around in the countryside or playing football.  They make him look more grown up than he actually is, so that he appears as a big, strong, stereotypically masculine figure next to his mother. While it is obvious that he is standing on a chair, this nevertheless serves to make him look taller, and thus older, than he really is, thereby increasing the outrage factor.


The composition of this image and its interaction with the chosen text serve to press different buttons in each reader’s mind, so that it’s simultaneously possible to be filled with admiration or disgust at the 26-year-old mother who feeds her three-year-old son and her five-year-old adopted son, and the fact that she has two children and manages to look so glamorous.

Personally, I think it’s great that there are mums who breastfeed for several years, including adopted children, and it’s useful that attachment parenting might gain more attention in the mainstream media as a counterweight to all those ‘Supernanny’ techniques. I don’t think the competition which the headline is trying to create is necessary or beneficial for anyone; surely it’s time to leave the mummy wars behind. In addition, I can’t help the impression that Grumet and her son have been exploited for the sake of magazine sales.

My Tooth Saga

5 May

Last Friday I started getting toothache in one of my upper molars which has been causing trouble on and off since I got a filling 6 years ago.

By Sunday the pain was big enough for me to be seen by the emergency dentist who diagnosed a dying nerve and offered to take it out, after which I’d need a root canal treatment from my usual dentist. As my daughter was invited to her friend’s birthday party just a few hours later, I declined so I wouldn’t have to be at the party with a numb face. I started regretting that decision ca. 10 minutes after leaving the dentist surgery!

On Monday I saw my normal dentist, expecting the treatment the emergency dentist had outlined, but he had other plans and diagnosed infected gums and only cleaned my teeth quickly. As he wasn’t swayed by my mentioning the infected pulp the emergency dentist had seen on the X-ray just the day before, I left feeling like a very grubby person with such bad dental hygiene it causes an infection and promptly spent a small country’s GNP on toothpaste, mouthwash and associated accessories.

On Wednesday the pain was still bad, so I went back to the dentist and was prescribed antibiotics, with a follow-up appointment for next week to check if the tooth was still vital.

After commencing the Amoxicillin on Wednesday evening, I woke up with an awfully itchy rash which covered everything but my face. After a quick google and a call to NHS Direct, I concluded it was all fine, if a bit uncomfortable.

While it was a bit annoying to spend my birthday feeling itchy, it was getting slightly better.

This morning I woke up with dry and swollen lips, which worried me enough to ring my local pharmacy to ask for advice. Turns out I’m allergic to Amoxicillin!

Birthday Traditions

5 May


It was my birthday yesterday, and a lovely day it was too. There was surprise yummy breakfast arranged by my daughter’s dad, thoughtful presents, posh chocolate , nice cake, I was taken out for afternoon pudding and coffee, and then we had pizza for dinner.

When I was growing up we had a couple of lovely season-specific traditions. My sister’s birthday is the day before mine, and our dad’s birthday is the day after mine, so we always had three great days. This is the time when pansies are blooming in northern Europe, and we always had many different colours in our garden. Every birthday morning before breakfast my mum would pick a few and laid them in a half circle above the birthday person’s plate at mealtimes. Between meals they were put in a vase.

Another tradition we had was that there would always be chocolate ladybirds and may bugs on the birthday table. Since I moved to the UK, my mum has been sending me ladybirds in my birthday parcel, and one year she even pressed some pansies in advance and sent them to me glued onto a card.

Another great tradition we had was the birthday ring , something I really want to continue with my daughter. I ordered one before her birthday this year, but unfortunately it was lost by Royal Mail, which was very sad.

I think birthday traditions are a great way of making children feel valued and tying the family together.