Tag Archives: So Is This Feminism Or What

Speak up for your bad days: they’re important too

I had every intention of sitting down tonight and writing about T’s birthday. We had a grand day. I’ve got lots of very pretty-looking pictures. But whenever I write something especially appreciative about my children on this blog, the universe intervenes to make sure they’re little horrors the day after. And so they have been.

We are tired after yesterday, and too hot. Early this morning they were both crying over UNMENTIONABLE TRAINS before I’d even made breakfast. Tim leapt around the house looking for work stuff because he was running late for a meeting. I tried to put T down so that I could pick H up, and he cried harder and wrapped his legs around my torso.

That was all it took, just that. I looked at our house strewn with birthday debris; my two hysterical sons I had to somehow soothe, feed, clean and dress in the next hour; my husband who was about to sprint for his train and deal with rational adults all day, like a proper grown-up. A great surge of frustration became fury by the time it reached my throat and I yelled at no one in particular: ‘THIS. IS. MY. JOBBBB.’ Like an actual, pyjama-clad lunatic.

For one minute, you see, I wished so very much that it wasn’t. I used to joke that working with academics made me an ideal candidate for raising toddlers, but no academic I ever dealt with wanted me to carry them on my hip while I made them breakfast and found the one bleeping train that won’t be found.

And I wasn’t going to write about it, because moaning is boring – or worse, entitled and infuriating. There’s always someone who wishes desperately they were in your shoes, even while you’re wishing yourself out of them.  I have two healthy children. I am incredibly lucky to be able to stay home with them full-time while working a little on the side. And Tim would tell you if you asked him (I remember myself) that working full-time has its fair share of stresses and negatives too. I know all this.

So I was going to swallow it down. Pretend it didn’t happen, and post some pretty pictures instead. Smooth down my rough edges for a reading audience. It’s all so much more comfortable that way.

I think women do this a lot. We think negative emotions make us unattractive. We think expressing them makes us nags, or cynics, or bores. As mothers especially, we apologise for them, or we ring-fence them with comedy. We sand down our rough edges to take up less space, to be less objectionable to whomever might be watching.

Today I have decided: stuff that. You can take that idea, and stuff it right into some place you’ll never see again.

You don’t owe anyone a good day. You owe yourself care, and you owe other people empathy and consideration, but you don’t owe them quietness.

I don’t mean that it’s a good idea to ferret out the downsides in whatever situation you’re in, because doing that makes me miserable. Looking on the bright side is good. But I assert my right to take up authentic, emotional space using a full range of feelings, not just the ones that make me seem nicer. I want the ones that make me real. That’s what I’m trying to show and tell my boys, after all: all of your emotions are ok. You need to express them in a way that doesn’t involve disrespect or fists, but it’s alright to feel whatever you feel.

All of my experiences will make me who I am in five years, ten years, twenty. All of them, the guts and grit and glory. Not only the ones that came with a DSLR and coordinating outfits.

Guys, today was pretty hard. Today H ran into the sprinkler and soaked his school uniform just as T slipped down five stairs and banged his elbow, and we were already five minutes late. Today I looked into days and years and YEARS of cajoling lasagne into the mouths of kids who don’t want to eat it, and it felt a little like despair to me.

It was a hard day, and it made me feel bad, and I’m owning it. Tomorrow will probably be better.

Photo 01-07-2015 03 16 52 pm

Ironically, since my phone is broken, I only have DSLR photos. So some days are like this. Some days are…not.

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Speak up for your bad days

A manifesto for being an all-round good egg at thirty

You do not know how hard I had to work to post a photo of me from the side with all my wrinkles intact. It's for a good cause. *sob*

You do not know how hard I had to work to post a photo of me from the side with all my wrinkles intact. It’s for a good, being-more-self-accepting cause. *sob*

I’ve been thirty for a week and I’m not dead yet.

I jest. I’ve been gently bemoaning my age as this birthday has approached, but my heart hasn’t really been in it. The one small moment of panic I had in January, where I sobbed ‘I’M GOING TO BE THIRTY AND I DON’T KNOW IF I’M DOING ANYTHING WORTHWHILE’, felt like it came from the usual insecurities of having small children and no performance reviews, and from the idea that I was supposed to be having a breakdown and had a spare ten minutes to get it done. (Do you ever feel something because you think you ought to? I think I do.)

So far – and it’s early days – I feel like thirty has given me permission to be unapologetic about myself. I spent most of my teens and twenties trying to fit myself in boxes that weren’t for me, like almost every other person in their teens and twenties who aren’t Luna Lovegood. Wishing my body looked different, trying not to resent the pounds I put on in pregnancy, the bagginess, flatness, fullness that came afterwards. Or adapting myself to the company I was in: trying to seem less clever or more clever, less religious, more conservative, less bothered about things that bothered me a lot (and vice versa). Trying to adopt the right parenting philosophies so the mother tribes would let me in. Worrying that being shy made me boring.

That last might still be true. But in the past months I’ve been feeling more and more comfortable in my own skin. I’m a champion worrier so it’s a bit odd: will it last? Is it a temporary madness? I’d like it to stick around. So, it’s election season here in the UK, and I thought I’d get on the bandwagon. Here’s a manifesto of sorts: things I would like to aspire to, most especially when I’m frantic and insecure, now that I’ve hit my one-score-and-ten.

This party would like to remember that its body has had a crazy five years. Sometimes I watch the boys running around and want to yell ‘hey, look at them! This body made them! This one here!’ First there came the growing-and-birthing part, which I need to tell you was not an inconsiderable commitment. Now I spend all my time jogging next to balance bikes, lifting into car seats, avoiding kicking tantrum legs, gathering little bodies onto my lap and rubbing backs while they cry snot into my hair. It’s hard and joyous graft. I’ve come a long way in the last decade, and so has the body I’m in. I want to give it the credit it’s due, treat it well and then embrace it as it is.

This party would like to write, and not be embarrassed about writing. And actually get paid for writing more often, because then I would be living my BEST LIFE.

This party will own what it believes in. I am a Mormon, and a liberal, and a feminist. It can be tricky to be all three. But I love my faith with a passion and I believe in liberal ideologies with a passion and I get very exercised about women’s rights. And, you know, I just don’t feel like playing any of them down anymore. There’s a Mantel quote that I love, and I think I’m going to stick it up somewhere:

‘I cannot unbelieve what I believe. I cannot unlive my life’.

Hear flipping hear.

This party will remember that being sane is important, and hobbies help it to remain so. I have interests both high and low, and it feels like I’m always mentally apologising for one of them. Sometimes I want something that makes me think, and sometimes I want to sit still while my brain dribbles gently out of my ears. I want to exist, unabashed, in the intellectual space I have room for at the time, whether that’s reading a Booker prize winner or an Agatha Christie, listening to symphonies or Heart Radio, watching art documentaries or House.

This party would like to organise its life in such a way that it never needs to take toddlers into a supermarket again. Seriously, it’s a killer. I would like to strike Putting Off Doing The Online Shop Until There Is Literally No Food To Feed The Clamouring Children off my list of special talents, where it reigns supreme.

This party intends to honour its need for space and quiet, but not make this an excuse. I am an introvert, but I never want to use it as an excuse for being rude. The older I get, the more I think that there’s not much more important than fulfilling your obligations and being kind. Or rather, so many things get easier when you’re pulling your weight and being kind first. I want to be someone people talk to because they know I’ll listen. I want to look after the friendships that mean the most to me. I want to be gracious (isn’t that a lovely word? I feel like hugging it to my chest).

This party declares its interest in wearing more shirts and eating more doughnuts. I’m wearing a shirt today with dragonflies on it, and honestly, just looking at my cuffs is filling me with glee. You can’t buy that happiness (actually you can, in TK Maxx. It was a steal).

I love the chap I married, and I love the boys we made, and I love the house we live in. And I know a lot of quite amazing people I can glom onto and learn from. That seems like a pretty solid base to start your next decade. So, um, vote for being thirty? I have doughnuts.

You can also vote for your favourite ever age, in the comments below. Thus far, honestly? My vote would be this one.

Oh, were you wanting a photo that totally encapsulates my life at the moment? Here you go!

Perhaps you were wanting a photo that totally encapsulates my life at the moment. Et voilà, it appears.

Why I’ll be sending my kids to camp

I’ve just got back from girls’ camp – well, not just: I’ve been back long enough to sleep for a couple of hours, to unpack all my moss-covered, grease-covered things, and to realise I’ll be doing a full-body cringe for the rest of this week while my fiery sunburn dies down. I’ve only been involved in a few camp activities this year, but the feeling is always the same, and it made me think of this post I wrote the last time I was there.

Here’s to helping our girls feel their bright, brilliant, ferocious worth, right to the ends of their muddy fingers. 

the penguins say –

that August is a month worth camping in.

SAM_5405

Yesterday I came back from girls’ camp. Forty-eight teenage girls, thirty-ish adults, twenty-seven million clumps of knee-high, prickly grass. It’s been a long, hard, exhilarating week we’ve been planning obsessively all year. I’ve sat in a smelly marquee eating dinner from a tin plate, sung ridiculous songs in the heat of a campfire, listened and talked and run around like a lunatic, and all of it surrounded by talking, shrieking, singing, laughing girls.

I think there must be nothing on earth like this. I watched them arrive on Monday morning and wanted to reach out for them because I remembered being in their place – impatient, self-conscious, unsure of myself, my place in life, my body. Making decisions that would affect the rest of my life and frightened to death of doing it wrong. I wanted so much and didn’t know how to get it. What do they hear from the adult world we inhabit, these girls? You must be beautiful. You must be popular. Don’t be stupid and don’t be clever. Be funny. Be skinny. Wear this. Take this off for the camera. There, now you’re something. They see a hard, bright world of boxes we created for them to fit in, and they’re lost in it. How could we do it to them? How could we?

We spent last week making spaces to tell them something different. You are something, and somebody, and valued on your own terms. You have potential. You can make decisions that bring you self-respect. You are a daughter of God, and there is so much happiness ahead of you. Not one of you, not ever, needs to be lost.

As I sat with these girls, I knew I’d be entrusting my children to them in fifteen years or so. I want my boy, my girls and boys to come, my girls yet unthought-of, to know the truth: that they are worth more than their skin, that their destiny is their own, that they are loved more than they can comprehend. I do not want them lost. So I’ll be sending them to camp.

How I learned to stop worrying and love the f-word

Today is voting day for the European elections in the UK. We’ll be heading down to the polling station as soon as we find the cards they send through that we always manage to lose two days before the election. Politics is not perfect. It’s not even, often, very good. But thanks to the great-grandmothers that scrapped and screamed and threw themselves in harm’s way until the establishment listened to them, I have a stake in this democracy and I want to use it. Emmeline Pankhurst and her kind are why I call myself a feminist.

It took me a long time to strip away the negative associations I had with the f-word. Perhaps you still have them – I wouldn’t blame you. I am not a feminist because I hate men or bras or love being angry all the time. I’m not frothing about the fact that the female ‘lioness’ is only a suffix on the end of the male ‘lion’, signifying the insignificance of the female (as I read in a textbook at university and snorted over).

(Note: there’s a lot to be said about the way we use language and the effect it has on men and women. It’s just, I suppose, that there are more relevant things to the lives of most women than ‘lion’ and ‘lioness’. Unless you write blogs on The Lion King.)

Here is why I call myself a feminist.

I am a feminist because I wanted a university education, and got one without being sent to a special women’s college, being refused a degree or having eyebrows raised at my frivolity.

I am a feminist because I can vote without being arrested.

I am a feminist because no one forced me to hand over my assets to my husband on getting married (Greatest Hits of Elton John, YOU ARE MINE FOREVER).

I am a feminist because I could choose to keep working, stop working or fashion my own working life after I had children, and all of those choices are valid.

I am a feminist because I could buy a house if I wanted.

I am a feminist because the decision about how many children to have and when is one we make equally, together.

I am a feminist because my husband has no more legal right to beat me than I have to beat him.

I am a feminist because I believe that women can think, and learn, and influence, and achieve any damn thing they put their minds to.

I am a feminist because Tim and I work in partnership, our strengths boosting each other’s weaknesses, and both of us have valuable things to contribute in every sphere of our lives.

I am a feminist because I owe all of these rights to women who didn’t have them, and made noise until they got them.

I am a feminist because so many women still don’t have them, and there is so much to be done.

I am a feminist because my boys need to internalise these things until they are unremarkable, and they’ll only do that if I show them what it looks like.

I am a feminist because if I have girls too, I want to send them out into this world on fire with purpose and possibility.

I am a feminist because I cannot, in having respect for the life I lead, be anything else.

SAM_0515

The way we work

Digger is always crashing our photos, these days.

Henry is experiencing some serious mama-love this month. Phases like that come and go: his heart beats for Daddy, as a rule, but every now and again he just wants to sit by me.

I do love it, while it lasts. But it has made me think – more than I was already – about the spaces we fill in our family, Timothy and I. What does Henry see us doing? What do I want him to see?

I mean something like this.

We had a day, a few months ago, where Henry wouldn’t take his morning nap. I went down to get him, eventually, and said ‘No sleep for you today, hmm? Want to come upstairs and help me work?’

And Henry said, ‘Daddy!’, and ran off towards the gate to look at the front door. Because I said ‘work’, and that’s what Daddy does.

I also mean something like this.

Since mama is the flavour of March, at the moment he wants things done the way I do them. One morning he’ll only get dressed if I come and help him. One lunchtime he only wants soup if I feed it to him. It’s not normal for him, so I don’t expect it’ll last long. But what if it did? The more it happens, the more my way of doing things becomes the correct way. And Tim starts deferring to me about what Henry needs and when. He doesn’t need to. It does a boy good to be looked at from a different angle.

We both matter, and suddenly it’s important to me that our sons see us collaborating. In everything. Timothy will win most of the bread for some years to come. I want him to love his work and excel in it. But I want the same for my work – paid and unpaid – because work is mine as much as it is his. And I will spend more time than Timothy changing nappies, wiping noses and singing songs about rabbits for the next little while. I will love that too, and try hard. But these boys are a product of both of us, which means that his opinion is as valid, and parenting is as much his as it is mine. I’m lucky, very lucky indeed, that Timothy never even considered leaving the nappies and vacuuming to me. He sees something that needs doing, and does it. But I want to make that obvious to the babies who watch us.

I think I believe in personal strengths more than I believe in spheres. My boys will grow up to be men, and I want men who understand that marriage is a partnership, not a pigeonhole. My girls, if we have them, will grow up to be women, and I want women who understand that they can think, and excel, and achieve any damn thing they want.

Oh, it’s all kind of a work in progress. Perhaps it always will be. But we are better together, we are more together than the sum of our parts, and that’s how I want it to stay.

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