How long after the 1st of January do you keep saying ‘happy new year’?

I always thought you said it to anyone whom you were meeting for the first time since the bells. That was fine when I was younger and more sociable but let’s face it- these days, between working full time and having an increasingly mobile toddler means I’m more or less a social hermit. There are people, despite my best intentions, that I probably won’t see until the first tulips make their tentative appearance.

So, if I do somehow wish you a happy new year in March, it’s because I don’t really do very much.

When I do it usually involves damage control. He’s at THAT age.

Whether your plans involved being asleep before midnight or you saw twelve noon the following day, I hope it was what you wanted to get out of it. The year started off on a sour note for me as, two days beforehand, I found out I was due back at work a week earlier than I thought. My initial annual leave of three weeks got extended until new year and I could’ve sworn I applied for the first week off.

Nope. On the 2nd of January I was right back in the habit. The only upside was that despite a 9am start, I took my car to no interruption. The trains didn’t start early enough, I couldn’t fathom the bus timetable but the normally nose to tail roads were empty. Thanks, everyone, for staying at home with your families, friends and loved ones, and keeping the first commute of the year relatively stress free.

So, not quite the ownership I’d hoped to grab in 2018. I knew that after six weeks off it was going to be hard. I almost found it harder than returning after maternity leave. During my annual leave my son turned one and suddenly started to come on in leaps and bounds. It was a lot more work than the first time off with him, but I felt like we both got so much more out of it.

In the space of three weeks, we had four Christmas parties. We visited museums and soft plays and libraries, sat in cafes and parks, saw lights being switched on, went for long walks with no other aim than being outside. We wandered until we got lost and had to find our way back.

The Hidden Lane, Finnieston.

We celebrated my first birthday as a mum, Lucas’s first birthday earthside, the first Christmas where he was really aware of what was happening. He had his first Christmas dinner and met Santa for the first time. It felt like every day he was learning or doing something new.

I felt like I knew more this time, and was able to plan our time better. Sure, it was tough. He’s not so keen on getting changed or taking medicine or being stopped from jamming his chubby little fingers under the door. There were days where it rained so hard we didn’t leave the house, and the two of us grew bored and cranky. At first it seemed like a vast expanse of days stretching endlessly before us.

Then Christmas came, and it felt like I was being hurtled back to the real world.

The return to work loomed over the last of my leave, casting a cloud through which it was impossible to see there and then. I felt so anxious the night before, and the whole drive in. It was busy, it was stressful and… then it was done.

Ashton Lane Christmas switch-on

The next week came and went similarly. I got into a rhythm again. It wasn’t ideal, but it wasn’t the end of the world. It still felt like I was wishing my days away. Somewhere along the way, though, I just… forgot to be so bothered by it.

I guess I was just ready to face the new year head on for a change. When I think back to a ‘successful’ year, it’s easy to focus on what happened, instead of how. We look back on good times, yearn for them and gloss over the stress and work and deadlines and dead space that surrounded them. Sometimes luck and opportunity can land at our feet but it’s rare. Not only that but it’s rarely a sweeter success than that which we’ve earned. Or so I’ve found, anyway.

On that note, I started making some changes. I put the work woe aside and celebrated the bells with my family. I started getting my head down and on with things at work. I signed up for an evening course in web design and web authoring. I’ve put away £3 for every coffee I haven’t bought and read double my book readin’ target for the month. I signed up to Veganuary and I’ve been cooking more, eating more and eating better.

Obviously this was before jumping on the vegan wagon.

I’ve written a list of goals (not resolutions) for the year to finally vent my creative frustration. I have a beautiful new diary and Ally bought me a calendar- an actual, honest to god one which goes on the wall. Usually I’d fill them with the plans I wanted to make, but I’m prioritising the ones I need to make by writing them nicely.

I’m not saying that Doing Things and Making Changes are a one stop solution for all of our woes. I’m not exactly grabbing life by the balls, currently sitting alone under a blanket on a Friday night, blogging and catching up on Mad Men (I’m on the second episode).

That’s cool, though. It’s not about razing your life to the ground and building a flat pack new build from its ashes (do that if you want, but it’s not my point). Do what you have to in order to forge your own path.

Stirling Arcade before the Christmas lights switch on.

At the same time, don’t forget touchstones or little things that make you happy. I’m a big fan of the idea of change but sometimes the execution can get swamped by self doubt, second guessing and just plain daily life. Plans and goals are exciting, but sometimes being blown off course is where the real experiences are. Fill your reserves to dip back into when external pressures become overwhelming. Things can wait.

That was quite the ramble, wasn’t it? I’m not even sure what direction that was trying to take but here we are. We’re almost a month down in this brave new world of 2018. It’s a curious mix of excitement for the year ahead and enjoyment of the space we’re inhabiting right now.

Do what you will with it, as I will, do what you love and don’t be a dick.

Happy new year.

It seems strange, writing a letter to a baby. Especially a very little one, who has only a rudimentary understanding of technology, or even words. He knows identifiers like “mama” and “dada”. He’s just about realised that when you press a switch, the big light goes on and off. That’s about it.

I never understood people who wish their children a happy birthday on social media. However any other way- writing about him- would’ve felt weirdly impersonal. I’m not a spectator on our lives so I can’t write that way.

Who knows. Maybe he can read it when he’s older. Maybe this medium will no longer exist. Maybe I’ll print it out and save a copy for birthdays to come. In any case, baby’s first birthday is a milestone like no other and it felt like a good time to lay down some thoughts on our twelve months together.

It’s a bit of a brain dump. Writing down my thoughts always has been, I’m not the best at articulating them. It’s better that he finds this out sooner, then, eh?

My baby boy,

You met me at a very strange time in my life.

Six months out of uni, while working in a bar to get by, I found out about you. The news was not completely unexpected- I’d had my suspicions for a while- but seeing it on a little plastic stick rocked us to our core.

I guess you could call it a quarter life crisis. That seems so far away for you. The pieces of our puzzle hadn’t yet clicked into place and your impending existence was very scary indeed. How could we be parents when we hadn’t yet explored life as the two of us? How could we be responsible for bringing another person into this world? It seemed deeply selfish.

Over the coming weeks we told no one about you, keeping a huge secret within our little unit. We knew that whatever happened, whenever the news got out, our lives would forever change. There would be no going back. Slowly but surely we told our family, friends, colleagues and neighbours. With baited breath we announced the news on social media (as was the tradition). I wrote about my feelings, unsure whether my anxieties about motherhood meant that I was ready for you. All the while you grew and grew and we prepared ourselves to meet you.

As with everything else, even your birth was a surprise. I was supposed to be finishing up work to go on maternity leave. I thought I had ten days before your scheduled arrival. But, like your mother, you don’t work to a schedule. After taking myself to bed on my penultimate day of work, I woke up a few hours later knowing that you were on your way.

We did everything by the book, phoning the hospital, triple checking our bags, pouring a hot bath and waiting. Even then, it didn’t seem real. The car ride, the hospital, the labour room where you came into the world. It was all a blur until one giant push brought you tumbling into our lives. And boy, did you turn them upside down.

Our first year together has been a learning curve for us all. We had a difficult first few weeks. It often felt like we were falling behind before we’d even started. Every time I feel like we’ve got a handle on parenting, another new milestone comes along and again, we’re playing catch up. But then, isn’t that what parenting is? Does anyone really have a handle on it?

I don’t know why I’m asking you. All you know so far is what we’ve tried to create for you. There are times when we don’t understand each other, you and I. But we try. We’re all learning. We’re learning how to create a world for you, how to make this world a better place for you. You’re learning everything and it’s us who have to teach you. We’ve made our mistakes. We’ll probably make more. I hope you’ll forgive us for them. We’re just doing what we think is best. It might not always be right, but we’re trying. You seem happy enough anyway.

Looking at you now, it’s hard to believe you were ever an unknown. From the unruly tufts of blonde curls to the curve of your nose and little dimples of your fingers, to your happy chuckle and inquisitive little voice, everything about you is very real. It didn’t sink in ’til a few days after you were born, mind you. The first time you cried and I wasn’t there (I’d gone for a shower after sitting in my jammies ’til dinner time), that’s when it hit me. Of all the babies on the ward, I knew that was your cry and that you needed me.

You’ll need me less and less as time goes on. You already do so much for yourself. You’re already so independent and strong willed. That’s not something I’ll ever criticise- you get it from me, after all. It does get bloody frustrating though.

You are your own little person, with your own quirks and traits. You’ll grow up to like your own things (as much as we’ll try and guide you with films and music). I won’t tell you what to believe. I will try and teach you the importance of believing in something, in anything that stirs your imagination. Anything that makes the world a better place for you and those around you. Anything that puts some kindness back into the world.

I can’t promise you that everything will be always be smooth sailing. I can’t promise that we won’t have our bad days, or that life will always be kind. What I can promise is that you will want for nothing- certainly not emotionally. You will always have a family, you will always have a home, you will always have a sanctuary. Wherever you go, however far away you are from us, I will always be right behind you. However or whoever you grow up to be, I will always be proud of you. As I was when you were born, rolled over for the first time, said your first word, clapped your hands. As I will be when you take your first steps and forge your own path.

You have the whole world in front of you, my son, and all of it is yours. Everything is ahead of you. There’s no telling what the future holds for our little family, but it’s a much brighter one with you in it. I am so excited for what you have to see.

Happy birthday, son. All my love forever,

Mummy x

Shuffling towards the edge of the platform, artificially awake thanks to trite alarms and instant coffee, I estimated that I had roughly ten hours before I’d be getting off at the other side. Until then I’d paid £7 for the privilege of being squashed into standing in an aisle, far closer to any stranger as I like to get. I rooted in my bag to make sure I had my awful, unflattering ID pass and readied myself for the day ahead.

Yup, as of September our little bubble of maternity leave burst and I had to go back to work. In our flat I could walk into town and back, avoiding the cattle trains and turnstiles. Towards the end of my pregnancy I took the train and hated it. I travelled six minutes into town and back, for two weeks, and that was enough for me. Now I’m a fully fledged commuter… and it sucks. No one looks especially happy to be there. People shove and huff and we all get off at the other end, trudging towards our daily destiny.

There’s no sugar coating it. Going back to work after maternity leave is hard. You spend your first few weeks of parenthood in a daze, forge a new normal for yourselves around every new milestone and wrap your days around making a world for a whole new person. Just when you think you’re getting the hang of the parenting thing, the real world comes calling. Before you know it you’re duty bound by alarms, bills and childcare- if you’re fortunate enough to have it.

I don’t doubt it’d be hard even if I loved my job. Of course it is- and I certainly don’t. Before I finished work I always had the finishing line in sight, I had something to look forward to even on the hardest days. Now it’s like… this is it. There’s no end goal. It’s just day in, day out. For me, though, it’s got to be done. My job search has stalled as I get used to the new daily routine. I spend all day at work, commute home, spend some time with my son and maybe have time for dinner. Even blogging has fallen by the wayside. Going back part time isn’t an option that I can afford. It wasn’t what I wanted, but I’ve ended up going back full time. So what does that make me as a mum?

It’s hard when you’re reluctant about going back. What makes it worse are the sly comments about how you can’t really have it all, the exhalation of SAHM’hood as being a woman’s highest calling, the swathes of Facebook friends with ‘full time mum’ as their occupation. I’m not saying that being a stay at home mum is easy, or even always a choice. Childcare costs can often mean that it’s simply not financially viable to work. When your life revolves around rearing a family it’s hard to ever be yourself. Even in my nine months of it, it was bloody difficult, often stressful and sometimes completely overwhelming. Still, though. The particular choice of ‘title’ can hurt. What, then, does that make me? If I work full time, and say at home mums are ‘full time mums’… am I, then, a part time mum?

The guilt is real when I think about how much I’m missing. The things I didn’t do on maternity leave. The WhatsApp group of mum friends that I don’t have. My son is ten months old, hurtling towards a year, getting more vocal and mobile every day. I know there will be milestones that I’ll miss, and it kills me. But it’s what I have to do for now.

It doesn’t make it any easier when my social media feeds are clogged up with colourful, playful, seemingly non-threatening infographics. You know the type. The ones that play on your guilt, that you could be doing more for your family selling shit from home.

Looking for people to join me on my journey!!!”

Are you a working mum wanting more time at home???!!”

Don’t let other people raise your children for you!!!!111!!111″

Of course when you’re hustling for a place on a crowded platform, anything else seems like a better option. When you have to drop a poorly baby off so you can go to work, the gnawing self-reproach at having to do so can swallow your focus. Going back to work is hard enough. Plying working mums with images of the life they’re not leading- while playing on feelings of maternal inadequacy- isn’t fair.

The truth is, no one has it really sussed. Not that I can see anyway. There are pros and cons of being a working mum and stay at home mum. I long for the endless stretch of days just me and my son, finding fun new things for us to do or having lazy days when it was raining. But I missed adult conversation, having some sort of purpose outside the home and having my own money.

Practically, it’d be selfish of me to stay off work. Ally earns decent money but it’s not enough to support three people. It’s not fair- for us- to let all the finances fall on one person. On a selfish level, I like being able to pick up stuff without worrying too much. I’ve always had my own money. I’d like to keep it that way. Lucas is growing at such a rate of noughts that he needs new clothes all the time. And I can get ’em. Cool.

Some parents are limited in their working choices because they also have to fit in studying around a family.

Some parents just can’t wait to go back to work.

Does that mean they love their children any less? Does it hell.

Just because your child spends more time with someone else doesn’t make you less of a mum. If I leave my son with his grandparents for nine hours a day I’m still his mummy. I’m the one who gets him up in the morning, puts him to bed, takes him to all his appointments. It’s me who takes the hit of his teething grumbles, or drives him to the hospital when he’s got a virus. It’s me that he shouts on and flashes a huge, toothy grin at when I eventually trudge home.

There’s no perfect way of parenting. We’re all just doing the best that we can, with the knowledge and resources that we have. Just like everything fuckin’ else in life, whatever path you’re forging is yours, your family’s, whatever. It doesn’t have to work for other people, if it works for you.

 

The online world often feels fractious. Of course it is: it’s a platform for anyone to air whatever they choose, and not everyone is going to agree. In the UK, the seemingly endless surge of elections saw clear divides in political affiliation. Now, it feels like there’s a different kind of division and it’s along class lines.

Stories of the little guy standing up to corporations have been all over my timeline this week. Service staff, tired of shitty conditions, are finally making their voices heard and- it has to be said- I’m lovin’ it.

In three English franchises, McDonald’s workers made history earlier in the week, as the first of its staff to go on strike. The move was in response to cuts in hours, meaning its staff are scraping a living on basic wage. Staff also had larger demands, such as a £10 per hour minimum wage, an end to zero hour contracts (which I’ve discussed on this very blog) and the right to unionise to discuss terms of employment.

In Glasgow, on the 30th of August, ten members of bar staff in Ashton Lane’s The Grosvenor found themselves unceremoniously booted out of a job. Their crime? “Over-using” their staff discount on colleagues’ food orders. The discount amounts ranged from £1.89 to £30. The bar’s parent group raked in £66.6 million in revenue last year. It shouldn’t be a surprise that The Grosvenor is owned by The G1 Group, whose name is impossible to say without sounding like you’re choking down a dry, fart flavoured biscuit.

Over the years the G1 Group have come under fire for numerous heinous acts: famously their Shimmy Club venue installed a two way mirror in the women’s toilets, wherein men could pay to watch from a room on the other side. Yeaaahh. They also relaunched a bar in their flagship Corinthian venue as The Cotton Club: a tasteful homage to the famous whites-only club in Prohibition-era Harlem which had a code of conduct for black performers and openly promoted segregation.

The case of the Grosvenor 10 brought the group’s mistreatment of staff back into the mainstream. Only two years ago they were under fire from the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills for paying below the minimum wage. You’d think they would’ve learned a lesson. Last week’s actions were a handy reminder that they haven’t learned shit. The case was picked up by campaigners Better Than Zero, who aim to end pay poverty and exploitative zero hour contracts. The group’s online petition is hurtling towards its goal of 3,000 signatures (you can add yours here). Zero hour contracts are a topic of great personal interest to me, and I for one am backing Better Than Zero all the way.

So far, so good, yes? I mean, who could possibly refuse basic rights to service industry staff, pretty much the backbone of our leisure time?

As it turns out… quite a lot of people. A quick scroll through #McStrike on Twitter is pretty revealing. A choice cut of opinions includes “they shouldn’t be allowed to strike”, “I don’t get £10, why should they?” and the ubiquitous “why don’t they get a real job?”. I’ve had this one lauded at me before and, to date, I’m still unsure what a ‘real job’ is. An office job? A teaching or nursing job? Something in the creative industries?

It’s an awful, snobbish, middle class term that no one seems to have an answer to- but still like to mock working class people anyway. Therein lies the other side of the aforementioned class divide.

Twitter went into meltdown (again) over a throwaway Instagram story from nobody artist Hetty Douglas. I’m not going to share the screengrab, but basically Douglas had taken a snap of men in workie gear, in a McDonald’s queue, with the caption “these guys look like they got 1 GCSE”. Social media users leapt upon it, branding her comments snobby and classist and tearing down her (admittedly terrible) artwork. Even by today’s standards it got out of hand fast. Douglas is not the cause of the problem, she’s just a product of it. We’ve seen them before: the middle class students at good universities, who very probably went to good schools. They dress like 90s TV presenters, grow out their roots and live in grotty flats, because it’s cool.

The working class aesthetic, the idea of poverty safari, is intrinsic with gentrification. People like these are symptomatic of something we don’t like to address. Class society is very real in Britain. It never really went away. People like the idea of being working class, of dressing a certain way and thinking it’s bants to hang out in a Wetherspoons or McDonald’s. When actual working class people want rights though? That’s when the real colours come out. Not to draw crude comparisons but it’d be remiss not to mention the Munroe Bergdorf story and its subsequent outcry. White people across the internet were aghast at being called ‘racist’, and lashed out in the face of uncomfortable home truths. The fact is, Bergdorf’s sacking on the tail of her comments only serve to prove her point. White people are only outraged at racism when it’s directed at them, and those who celebrated in her sacking did so because it meant a woman of colour was being put in her place.

We should be cheering on the staff striking for fair pay, or campaigning for job stability. After all, they do physically demanding work with little or no thanks. Who are you to call strikers ‘lazy’ because they want assurance that they’ll have money to keep a roof over their head? Why should service staff not receive fair pay for the job they do, just because it’s not what you’d deem a ‘real’ job? If they’re on a zero hour contract they don’t have fixed hours, or sick pay. Hell, the lamest excuse I got for losing my job was asking for Sundays off because I’d worked every one for nearly a year. We demand a lot from our service industry staff. We want fast, efficient, friendly and courteous service. Apparently, though, we don’t really care about the people behind it. It’s cool to dress in a certain aesthetic, but god forbid actual working class people should make themselves visible.

Whether you agree with Douglas or not, the responses to her stupid comment have been intense. Much like Ellie Harrison’s much-maligned Glasgow Effect, her work, lifestyle, demeanour and background have been torn apart. The truth is that we don’t need these people to remind us of our intrinsically classist society. We live it every time we pour scorn on minimum wage workers for daring to ask for the same stability and rights afforded to everyone else.

 

 

This time last year, I was slap bang in the middle of my second trimester. We’d settled into the idea of being parents and life revolved around scans, midwife appointments and shopping for prams. It doesn’t feel like a year, but here we are with an eight month old (I kind of dropped the ball on monthly updates on the blog, huh?). As much fun as it is, I do find myself looking back fondly on the experience of being first-time expectant parents.

Love- or at the very least, lust- is in the air around these parts. It feels like every week brings another pregnancy announcement (seriously people, how much are you having at it?). Every time I see one I get a wee buzz of excitement, even if I don’t know the person. First time parents have so much to look forward to, they don’t even know. Obviously having a baby isn’t the be all and end all. It’s not always immediate cause for celebration. It’s hard bloody work.

If you do choose to have a baby though, for all the hard parts, it’s pretty great. The worst part though? All of the unsolicited advice and intrusive questions. Shortly before my due date, I compiled a list of the most common things I’d been asked during pregnancy. In hindsight, with eight months’ parenting experience under my belt, I’ve put together  a compilation of advice: take it from someone who’s still muddling through, learning on the job. You’re going to be fine.

No one cares about your birth

I mean this in the nicest possible way. If you’ve attended antenatal classes, or discussed a birth plan, you’re probably aware of different birthing options. Whether it’s in a bath, drug-free, hypnobirth, epidural, via caesaerean or getting the ol’ plunger up in there, one thing is the same: whatever gets your baby out safely is what’s natural and normal for you. For me it just feels like another way of heaping pressure on expectant parents. People shoo away the notion of pain relief because they “want to experience as much as possible”. Personally, I opted for diamorphine and had a pretty thorough experience without feeling like I was being punched in the vagina from the inside. If you’re opting for pain relief it’s not wussing out. Giving birth without pain relief doesn’t make you a better parent (although hats off if you did). Giving birth via C-section is still giving birth. Your birth is personal to you, and if people want to judge by their own standards it doesn’t lessen your experience or make theirs any more valid. In the grand scheme of things, as long as parent(s) and baby are happy, no one cares.

Fed is best

Breastfeeding is hard. It takes practise. Considering the UK has the lowest breastfeeding rates in the world, there’s clearly not enough support out there. If you can make it work, and stick with it, that’s awesome. However if, like me, breastfeeding isn’t an option- or hey, if you just choose not to- that’s cool too. Championing one way of feeding at the derision of another isn’t cool. You don’t know someone’s story or circumstance. As long as your baby is happy, healthy and gaining weight, go with what works for you.

Just say no

This is the one piece of advice that I wish I’d take under advisement when Lucas was born. When we came home from hospital, all I wanted was a nice quiet day or so to adjust to our new life as three. This didn’t happen. For the next few weeks, into Christmas and new year, it felt like a constant procession. We never had time alone just to be ourselves. People mean well but, with the onset of baby blues, it can be a bit overwhelming. Don’t be afraid to say no if you’re not up to visits right away. Take your time, enjoy the first few days at home with your baby. Family and friends will still be there when you’re ready.

Take your time

One of the weirdest realisations about having a baby is that life goes on. I remember standing looking out of the window of the maternity ward, looking at the buses and cars going up and down the motorway, going to and from work as if nothing had changed. For us, our whole world had changed, but the world kept turnin’. Coming home felt like our little bubble had burst.

Since then we’ve bought a house, moved twice, I’m doing a phased return to work and looking at nurseries for the little man. I don’t know that the enormity of this year of change quite hit me until recently, until it hit me all at once. Change can be hard to process, and having a baby changes everything. Your lifestyle, relationship, body- everything. If you need some time to adjust, fine. You’re allowed to feel like change is hard to keep up with. Be kind to yourself- you’re doing the best you can.

Comparison is the thief of joy

Once your baby’s born you’re thrust into a myriad of milestones. First time smiling, laughing, rolling over, sleeping through the night, eating solids, cutting a tooth. Some babies roll over within a matter of months. Lucas was about six months before he nailed the ol’ back to front roll. Was I worried? No. It meant I could pop through to the next room without worrying. He still doesn’t have a tooth, but nothing I do is going to make that happen faster. Babies do everything in their own time. Looking at what other babies do- or don’t do- can send you spiralling into a tailspin of parental guilt (if you’re anything like me). Likewise, if another mum snapped back to pre-pregnancy weight, or if their baby latched on to the boob while you had to opt for the bottle. Ask yourself “does this in any way impact me or my child?”. If the answer is no, let it go. Parenting is a minefield of worry and the hardest thing to do is learn to pick your battles.

Enjoy the little things

It’s an old adage but it’s true. Babies are only babies for a short while. Before you know it, they’re actual real, independent, little people. I was guilty of getting caught up in thinking of the next Big Thing and trying to do as much as possible. As soon as I went back to work for a KIT day, it felt as though the last eight months hadn’t happened. Trying to overreach was just stressful. While I still like finding new things to do, it makes me appreciate chilled days more. I went along to a CBT course run by the NHS wellbeing services, which helped massively. If you don’t have the time or inclination to sign up, there are plenty of resources out there. Spending the afternoon in a library, getting some fresh air, not getting dressed til 11am, , writing down one thing I’m grateful for every day, even- gasp- putting my phone down helped massively. As did putting Lucas down for a nap, patching the cleaning and actually having a hot cup of coffee.

Take it in your stride

Like I said, people are only too happy to throw advice at you. Some of it’s helpful and well meaning, some of it isn’t. Most of it will be unsolicited. When it comes to parenting, everyone has an opinion, but only you know what’s best for you. Smile and nod. Very few of us know what we’re doing, but we crack on. You got this.