It’s been six months since I last posted anything on here. Half a year. I wouldn’t have believed it myself, had I not realised the date.

That’s not to say that it’s been lying dormant. I’ve written three-ish posts in that time. I just haven’t actually posted any of them. Last time I blogged, I wrote about how I’d been feeling uninspired and needed to give myself a creative shake. In that time I’ve done precisely nothing to improve on that and I don’t even know why.

The bones of this post have been around for a while. It started off as a mid-year review, to see how far I’d come since the new calendar. Around that time I was preparing for my mid-year review in work. I thought it’d be fun to do the same IRL.

Turns out it wasn’t as fun as I hoped. I compiled a list of promises and goals I’d made at new year, and how I’d either achieved them or not. It worked, in a sense that I got a full post out of it. It just felt… bleh. Like eating Weetabix with the dregs of a carton of milk. Not enough to scrap it completely but not enough for it to be truly great. So I clicked ‘save draft’ and that was that.

The longer this went on, the more I felt embarrassed about not posting anything. I still used blogger hashtags on Instagram, sure. But it felt hollow. I couldn’t talk about blogging stuff because I wasn’t blogging. The more I left it, the harder it got to sit and write. Repeat ad nauseam.

I was mostly embarrassed because my last post had ended on such a determined note. I wanted to steal my time back from self-doubt, to stop comparing myself to others and look for my own positives. Honestly, I had great intentions, I really did.

Great intentions can’t quite prepare you for curveballs though.

This year, this last six months especially, has thrown them in abundance.

I don’t know that I’m ready for discussing the throes of my personal life on the internet (I know that’s basically the purpose of a blog, but I don’t know that I’ve dealt with it all myself, so ssshh). It’s been a difficult few months and at this point in time, there’s not a great deal of change of the horizon. So I put things off and blamed them on other circumstances.

It was this post from the amazing Sian that got me thinking. It’s a lot more succinct and beautifully put than I could hope, so you should probably read that if you’re still combing for the point in this post. I guess I was overthinking a lack of direction on my blog to distract me from a lack of direction elsewhere.

Maybe I was blogging or applying for jobs or planning new hobbies with the wrong intentions, regardless of whether they were good.

Maybe I was holding myself back because I didn’t want to admit that I’m no further forward than I was last time you heard from me.

Maybe I didn’t need to have all the answers or know where things where going.

Maybe all I needed was to deflect the curveballs and toss one of my own.

To get started, I just had to write something down.

So here it is.

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.

 

 

Let me clear up one thing, before I go on with the rest of this: I’d never normally re-post or even comment on anything from the D*ily M*il. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that if you genuinely read it, if it’s your main source of news, I don’t think I want to be friends with you.

However- and it’s a big however- there are some instances in which it’s necessary to draw attention to it. They say the best way to deal with a troll is to ignore it, that they’re looking for attention. I say why should they get all the fun? Sometimes it’s necessary to trump them at their own game. Recently, parent bloggers were in an uproar as ‘journalist’ Anna May Mangan threw up her her hands about the rise of the ‘slummy mummy’.

You probably know the type: ones like The Unmumsy Mum (who was namechecked at length), who proclaim their children to be mini-antichrists, who send said children out as dishevelled riots and rely on chain-smoking, gin and profanities to drag them from sunrise ’til sunset. A parent blogger’s merit, she says, is judged on who can be the ‘most slapdash’. If you dare to say you enjoy motherhood, you’re bottom of the pile. Something is rotten in the state of motherhood, and these scummy, gin-riddled, neglectful wretches are to blame.

I didn’t spend our first child-free date night drinking orange juice

Mangan decries these women, stating that their vulgar lifestyles and constant moaning are an insult to feminism, organised mums and women who can’t have children. There’s nothing funny about being ‘too busy checking Facebook’ to make your children have a proper breakfast. Mangan also throws her hands up at the thought of mothers throwing together frozen meals as a quick fix (sometimes not even defrosted). The worst thing about them, though? They’re not slummy at all. No, in a daring feat of investigative do, she hazards a guess that these women are actually well-educated and middle-class, with well-fed, ruddy cheeked cherubs for offspring.

I can only guess that she did zero research on her subjects if she finds this surprising. Had she ever thoroughly read the books and blogs she was berating, she’d realise that they reek of middle class. Mangan is clearly not someone with an awareness of poetic licence, or indeed exaggeration for comedic effect. I’m not all that enamoured with the phrase ‘slummy mummy’ for one thing. I’m sure it’s meant in jolly japes, but it feels oddly classist. I mean, if the D*ily M*il considered these women ‘slummy’, then what was I? Unmarried, working in customer service, living in a one bedroom rented flat in one of the most deprived areas of Glasgow, who took a pregnancy test after a bender in Berlin and- gasp- a bottle feeder? Unmumsy mummies wouldn’t even have looked in my direction to toast hurrah for gin.

Reading The Unmumsy Mum didn’t make me gape in horror. Rather, I felt the opposite. I knew she and I were on an uneven keel when I read that she planned her babies (I didn’t) and was in a good, well-paying, steady career (I wasn’t). No one really thinks of parents like these as ‘slummy’ because they swear and don’t abstain from a drink or three. In the face of most other baby books, though, it was almost a reassurance. It reminded me that it’s OK to be overwhelmed, and have a moan, and swear, and eye-bang a bottle of wine with the kind of lust that got you into this mess in the first place.

Sure, so-called slummy mummy bloggers might not be tanking Tanqueray as soon as they wrestle their little hellions into bed. I seriously doubt that they can’t stay sober long enough to feed and clothe their children. Mangan takes this to the n’th degree, stating that they’re making up the whole damn thing for likes and shares. Umm, hardly. A slight exaggeration for comedy value, perhaps, but wouldn’t it be dull if all they offered was the minutiae of their day? What they have done, though, is offer a different take from traditional parenting books. The kind that enforce routine, order and military precision (Gina Ford, I’m looking at you).

Motherhood has long been an exalted undertaking, a miraculous blessing that we should fall to our knees and be thankful for. God forbid we say anything about feeling scared or overwhelmed, or that the first few weeks with a newborn are anything less than hallowed. The fact that women are making public their fears, frustrations and pitfalls chips away at the veneer of perfect motherhood. It might not be their verbatim experience, but it’s a damn sight more relatable than perfect celebrity mums who snap back into their pre-baby clothes. No one tells the absolute truth of what motherhood is like, but they’re offering a version I can concur with.

I’ve written before about how my initial reaction to impending motherhood wasn’t sheer joy. That scared me more than anything else. The thought of pregnancy, labour and childbirth didn’t faze me. I was terrified of the fact that I wasn’t turning cartwheels at the sight of those two blue lines. What if this was how I’d always feel? What if I resented the baby for what it was? I was at an age where friends were settling down and trying for a family, and some weren’t having much success. I knew of people who’d been so desperate to fulfil their familial wish that they’d opted for IVF. I hadn’t planned any of this. When I thought about all of those people who’d struggled to conceive, I almost felt like I didn’t deserve to be pregnant.

Pregnancy brought with it a resurgence in blogging and I sought out other parenting books and blogs with aplomb. There, I found books like The Unmumsy Mum and How To Have A Baby And Not Lose Your Shit. Sure, there are plenty of mums who are always on the ball, planning meals and appointments and enjoy doing so. The point that Mangan missed was that being one type of mum isn’t a ‘fuck you’ to the other. I eventually want to go back to work, but I have the utmost respect for people who want to be stay at home mums. My house is clean(ish) but untidy, my sink is a permanent rotation of clean and dirty dishes and I sat down to write this after washing butternut squash puree out of my hair. I admire those people who can maintain a child and a home, because I can’t. Hats off to ya. Sure, I get frustrated when Lucas cries endlessly despite trying everything to settle him. I like the (very) rare occasion where we leave him with grandparents and I can get in about a large rosé. It doesn’t make me a bad mum. It makes me imperfect, but what doesn’t?

Bloggers like Sarah Turner help to remind us, in their own way, that motherhood can be hard. More importantly they tell us that it’s OK to admit that. However, for every dirty nappy anecdote there’s another heartfelt one about loving her children, or how hard it was growing up without a mother. Being an imperfect mum doesn’t mean I don’t love my son. He never has to go without. There’s always an abundance of food, nappies and clothes in our house. And at the end of the night, when one large rosé has turned into last orders, I’m the first to get my phone out and flip through the 1500 pictures of him (and counting). After all, children don’t care that your house is clean, whether you’re wearing make up or whether you’re nursing an ‘adult headache’ and bright lights and noise bring physical pain. They don’t care that you have your meals prepped for the week and they could eat them from your sparkling floor. All children care about is that you love them. If you can offer them that, you’re doing OK.