Tag Archives: parenting

The middle-aged parent’s guide to getting a tattoo

7 Dec

 

tattoo-2020311_1920

This isn’t me. I rarely wear a flat cap.

In September I got my first tattoo. A small and simple one. “They’re addictive!” I was warned. I doubted it.

But then this week I got my second tattoo. A bigger and more detailed one. I warn you, they’re addictive.

What do you need to know to make the transition from the school run to the tattoo parlour pain-free (relatively)? Is it okay to wear a top from M&S? Do you need to pretend you’ve heard of Stormsky and Jason Dorito? ARE YOU JUST TOO SQUARE?

Start small

If you’re not sure if you can handle the pain, then start small. There are different entry level points and you don’t need to go the full shebang with a complete tattoo bodysuit. This is a luxury that you don’t have with childbirth, where there is only one entry point and two exit points. If you have squeezed out a baby then in all likelihood you’ll be able to manage the discomfort of a tattoo with ease. (If you’re a man who’s had kidney stones and a doctor has told you some b*llocks about that being more painful than childbirth, then there’s your benchmark. Cling to it.)

You don’t need to get a portrait of your children

Let’s rephrase that: Don’t get a portrait of your children. Or indeed their birthdates, initials or any recreation of a stick man drawing they’ve produced. If you’ve got to middle-age and have decided to get a tattoo, then it should only be for you. Get something you like (that may even rule out your kids), something that reminds you that you are more than simply a bum wiper and a nose blower.

Not everyone will like it – get used to it

Rolling up your sleeve and seeing the look on the face of someone who hates tattoos takes some getting used to. People tend not to hide their dislike. (Remember to return the favour next time they show you a photo of their children.) Yes, you will feel judged, but as Ms Swift once wisely said: the haters gonna hate hate hate hate hate. Remember why you got a tattoo – I’m 99.9% sure it wasn’t for other people. My first one was upside down as it was only important for me to see it the right way up. And, hell, you’ve made it this far – it’s time to stop worrying about what other people think.

Show how sensible you are

Waiting until your 40s to get a tattoo is an excellent way to teach your children not to rush into things they might regret. My two now understand that even though Mummy has always wanted a tattoo, she thought for an awfully long time about it. Decades. It’s only now that Mummy is really sure about what she wants, so, no, we won’t be letting you get a tattoo when you’re 18.

Telling your mother

If you anticipate any issues with introducing your mother to your tattoo, don’t tell your child about it and suffix the conversation with “but don’t tell Nanna”. In fact, the sure-fire way to let the whole world know about your inky addition is to tell your children. If you’ve had your tattoo somewhere intimate, be prepared to reassure strangers that, contrary to what your child has said, you’re not going to get it out to show them

Yes, it is a mid-life crisis …

… and, no, don’t be ashamed. It’s not like you’ve bought a sports car and dumped your family. There are far worse things you can do. There are some things you’ll regret because you know you’re too old to achieve them now – winning an Olympic medal – or that responsibilities and mortgages are stopping you from doing, so make the most of the things you can do. Visit places you’ve always wanted to visit, go and see Jedward live if you so wish, get a tattoo (even if it’s just one little one to say “I did it!” and tick off the bucket list).

Tattoos don’t automatically make you cool

If you’re a square (like me), you will still be square – just a square with a tattoo. The tattoo might be a really cool one but, just remember, a Robin Reliant with a spoiler doesn’t suddenly become a Porsche. Donald Trump with an awesome tattoo would still be Donald Trump. Fact.

Don’t expect miracles, but do enjoy the guilty joy of rebellion as you settle down with a sherry to watch Pointless and sew on Brownie badges. You and your tattoo kick ass.

 

A newbie’s guide to being owned by a cat

8 Jun

black and white cat

After finally relenting to the kids’ pleas, our cat arrived 6 weeks ago (2 weeks before the kids lost interest in it). I’m not a cat or dog person or indeed an any kind of animal person (with the exception of sloths perhaps, I like them) so it has been quite a learning curve. As I blow yet another cat hair off my keyboard – it might have been the one that was stuck between my front teeth earlier but it’s definitely the one I’ll find in my lunch later – here’s what the past 6 weeks have taught me …

Mad cat lady = inevitable

You may snigger at ‘cat people’, those singletons who share their lives and beds with their feline fur babies. You may yawn and wonder how many variations of a cat looking cute whilst licking its genitals someone could possibly post on social media without finding their friend list empty. Believe me, I was the same. Then you get a cat and suddenly you find some stranger has been posting photos of your pet on your Instagram and Facebook accounts and that stranger is YOU.

Really, it happens that quickly. One day you’re a normal person, the next day you’re a cat person (or, as a proper aficionado would say, a cat’s person). You know that such activity will pigeonhole you as someone to avoid, but you just can’t help yourself. You can barely remember how much you used to hate next door’s cat for sh*tting in your garden, the darling little ball of fuzz. Stroking your pussy becomes something you talk about shamelessly, suffixing the conversation with “Gosh, I’ve turned into a mad cat lady already” just in case it stops the other person from backing away from you slowly.

With cats, the parallels with parenting a human being are endless (and not just their fascination with watching you on the toilet) …

Poo

Cat poo in the garden used to make me want to gag. But your own cat’s poo? Smells like roses. Remember how wiping your own children’s bums is completely acceptable but you’d still never touch the faeces of a stranger?

If you get a moggy, I thoroughly recommend clumping litter. For those not in the know, the fine gravel basically sticks to poo and wee enabling you to conveniently lift it out with a scoop in neat little chunks. At its most satisfying it equates to panning for gold. Dig your scoop in, pull it out and give it a little shake to get rid of the loose litter and then see if you’ve got treasure!

By mistakenly feeding our cat squirty cream, I’ve discovered clumping litter works a treat on cat diarrhoea too. When my 6-year-old ‘mistakenly’ fed our cat squirty cream for a second chuffing time, I also discovered that Vanish stain remover can remove a one-and-a-half-foot long cat skid mark from a white duvet cover. And from beige carpet. Fortunately, a white leather Eames lounger is wipe clean.

Cats’ a*ses in places and faces

Cats are supposedly regal, dignified animals, yet they parade their behinds as proudly as a Bulbous Big Butted Baboon. Our feline friends do not deign to use their tail to preserve their modesty. (It doesn’t even help that my cat’s butt looks like a little sleeping baby owl.) Get used to butts waved in your face, butts on your head while you’re sleeping, butts on the worktop, butts on your Lucienne Day cushions. “Remember meeee?” whines the pack of Dettol wipes, just when you thought you’d passed through that stage of parenting.

Mind you, if our cat hadn’t presented his a*se to me I wouldn’t have noticed his issue with follow-through during the most recent squirty cream-gate. I wouldn’t have been able to chase him with a tissue and – casting aside any dignity I had left – wipe his bottom before he found some pale-coloured home furnishings to s(h)it on.

Should you get a cat?

If the quantity of social media likes and shares you get are no longer sufficient to boost your self-esteem, then a cat can fix that. There’s nothing quite like the ongoing battle to win the love of a cat and all hopes being dashed when it farts in your face as it jumps off your lap.

Confessions of a spanking good half term

27 Feb

Chips photo

As I get more and more school holidays under my belt, I feel less of a need to justify why we didn’t conquer Mount Everest or deliver newborn lambs in half term week. Bloggers write an awful lot about their guilt in order to seek reassurance from their peers and be a Better Parent. Mostly it’s self-flagellation. It’s not about the well-being of the kids: it’s about measuring yourself on the yardstick of perfection that is waved in our faces by the internet and social media. It’s time to grab that yardstick and snap it in half.

Let me tell you this: what you’re about to read wasn’t written to make myself feel better. It was written to make you feel better – to let you know that it’s okay. Really, it’s alright if you didn’t take a photo of your kids frolicking in snowdrops and apply Instagram’s Vintage filter with a smidgeon of a vignette. (Vintage because that makes life look retro and kids were so much happier in the olden days when they could race across open fields and only return home for tea, etc, etc, blah blah blah.)

It’s time to stop using other people’s Facebook timelines as a must-do-or-I’ve-failed guide to activities to cram into the school holidays. Your children will not be disadvantaged in their future life if you choose iPad time over roller skating the Inca Trail. Another episode of Paw Patrol will not cast them onto the educational scrapheap. (Many apps are highly educational and played alongside Candy Crush and Panda Pop will balance your child out as comfortably mediocre.)

Here’s a fancy infographic for you. It’s the first time I’ve done one and I can reassure you that no children were harmed in the time it took me to do it. They were not knocking over pans of boiling water or sticking their fingers in plug sockets as they revelled unsupervised.

half-term-infographic-copy

There you have it. I’ve done my little bit to make parents feel moderately better. (And that’s only half term – just think of what you won’t achieve in the summer holidays!) If I were to now fall off the sofa and die, the old Cheerio in the rug that I inhale with my last breath would be utterly worth it.

Help – my child wants a hamster!

2 Feb

Pet hamsters for children

Egads! My 7-year-old wants a proper pet. Not a kitten or a puppy – we’ve come out the other side of her dog phase with thankfully nothing but the ability to spell Chihuahua. She wants a pet hamster. We’re not completely new to pets having had goldfish for a while. We’ve done the fish naming, the renaming, the wearing off of the novelty, the renaming (again), the dying, the crying and the burying in the back garden. But a hamster? That’s a proper bona fide pet with personality.

No disrespect to the fish. They need more care than I ever imagined or indeed signed up to. Long gone are the days you could win a goldfish at the fair and simply pop it in a bowl of tap water with a bit of gravel. In favour of fish, their tank has a filter to keep it clean between my irregular interventions with a siphon and we enjoy a pretty hands-off relationship. Hamsters, on the other hand, require handling. They wee in jars and trample it through the cage on their knobbly paws, finger painting with their own urine. They poo tiny pellets that are – to us short-sighted folk – undistinguishable from sock fluff until you give them a little squeeze or sniff. Hamsters bite, escape, demand a never-ending supply of sunflowers seed and toilet rolls and get wet tail.

Despite all this, we’ve not said ‘no’ to welcoming a furry friend into our home. We were already resigned to the fact it was going to happen before my daughter found this ‘helpful’ video on YouTube:


 

The advice in the video explains some unusual behaviour we’ve seen over the last couple of weeks, namely my daughter’s sudden interest in being helpful. Our first thought was that pocket money was the motivating force, but we were one step behind: responsible behaviour + chores = pocket money = BUY OWN HAMSTER, SO THERE. There had been warning signs. The jar next to her bed labelled ‘money for hamster’ is perhaps something we should have taken more seriously.

Thanks to the internet she’s done her research. (And all without inadvertently stumbling upon anything relating to Richard Gere.) In fact, she’s become a veritable hamster guru. Her friend took me aside before a recent playdate and asked not to be made to watch hamster videos – it’s a fine line between guru and bore. Did you know that mesh wheels are bad for hamsters’ feet? No, nor did I. Did you know that it’s good to feed a hamster cucumber on a car journey to keep it hydrated? No, nor did I. Neither did I envisage that we’d be taking our hamster in a car with enough regularity or for such a distance that we’d need to worry about Hammy shrivelling up.

There, it has a name. Hammy. It’s practically boxed up and on its way out of the pet shop now. But we wouldn’t call it something as unoriginal as Hammy. My daughter had something in mind a bit more Kardashian, a bit more Hollywood: Sadness. (She has also earmarked the names Misery and Silence for her children. And I was surprised when she asked for a wall in her bedroom to be painted black?) Fortunately, Auntie Jackie, the other all-knowing hamster guru in our family, successfully vetoed Sadness and so Precious is now top of the list. Clearly, a good old-fashioned human name isn’t what the modern hamster aspires to. What psychological damage did I do to Oscar, Amy and Henrietta, the hamsters of my own childhood?

I owned several hamsters. They live such a short time, it’s amazing how many you can cram in if you don’t mourn too long. They were all loved and well looked after but strangely they still haunt me. When stressed, most people dream about being chased or sitting in an exam they’ve not revised for. I dream about having forgotten to clean out the hamster. A mere whiff of worry and hello hamster anxiety dream. That’s deep psychological damage I’m about to unearth.

Here’s hoping hamster ownership doesn’t prove to be a nightmare.

 

 

 

Stretching the maternal elastic

23 Oct

Child standing on beach

“When your youngest starts school you’ll get really broody.” That’s what people told me and I expected them to be right. Just when you think you’ve passed on your last babygro, there comes a niggle inside that makes you want to snatch it back. As the weeks ticked down to my son starting school, I was anticipating a hollowness that I’d need to fill. It turns out that the reality was quite different. I wasn’t losing my baby boy after all – I was learning to share him.

My eldest started school shortly before her 5th birthday – the oldest in her academic year and, without doubt, ready to be there. Her brother, however, seemed far from prepared to start his journey. Still chubby-cheeked and throwing monumental tantrums, he was my baby and doomed (sorry, son) to be preserved as such. It wasn’t about their difference in age though. Let’s be honest, it was all about my apron strings and how ready I was to cut my son loose (or at least to accept he would only be hanging on with one hand whilst the other hand busied itself with growing up).

I’ve mummied and (s)mothered him. I’m not ashamed to admit that. He’s an unabashed mummy’s boy (although show me a boy who isn’t) and could never, ever cope in the big, wide world without his mamma at his side. Or so I told myself.

Then came his first day at school. I didn’t need to be dragged from the classroom door. I wasn’t beating my chest or producing reams of tissues from my pockets. The world didn’t end. When my son stepped through the classroom door, he clutched his bag and his water bottle like a little man, not a baby. It was then I knew that letting him go was for his own good. For four years I had kept him to myself, not wanting to believe he could function without me. It’s hard to accept that you need to share those you love to help them grow, even if that might mean them growing away from you.

We’ve reached the end of the first half term and my son is well on his way. We’ve each had tears. For me, it was when I dressed him in his uniform for the first time. For him, it was the day when his new best friend didn’t arrive at school. Seeing your child locked into the education system is daunting when they are only 4 years old, can barely get themselves out of a jumper and are borderline self-sufficient bottom-wipers.

Have his new adventures stopped him being a mummy’s boy? Of course not. I’ll be defending my right to keep the maternal elastic taut for many years to come. (One day I’ll have to share him with his future partner – a thought that already makes me bristle.) He still comes into our bed every night. I’m still his first port of call for cuddles, back rubs and – more frequently than I’d like – bottom-wiping.

Sharing him with the world has made it even more precious when he comes back to me. He exists and thrives without me. However hard it is to see him do that with the help of others and without me, he is learning to be his own man.

Book review and giveaway: My Stinky New School

2 Aug

starting school

It’s that time of year again. The time when, amidst overturned boxes of toys and washed out camping holidays, parents’ thoughts start turning to September. If you’re a parent who is getting ready to send a little darling to school for the first time then you are probably oscillating between dread and joy. Perhaps you’ve passed through denial and are looking for ways to ease the transition. For me, as with solving so many things in life, that means turning to books.

We’ve read about Topsy and Tim’s and Maisie’s first days at school countless times now, so it was a delight to be asked to review something new. My Stinky New School by Rebecca Elliott introduces your child to the prospect of something potentially scary with humour and beautiful illustrations.

The book tells the story of Toby as he starts school and tackles worries about making new friends. According to Toby, his new school “stinks of pigeon poop, ogre armpits, and sadness”, yet he makes it through his first day thanks to a string of characters: spacemen, aliens, pirates, mermaids and dinosaurs. Throw in “astro poop” and bad smells and you have everything a 4-year-old loves.

At the end of the day, Toby claims not to have made any friends. Really? When my kids have done any activities without me, I ask “And did you talk to anyone?” and the answer is always “No”. Yet without fail, it eventually emerges that they did indeed make friends without realising. The same is true for Toby who, through sharing his wild imagination with other children, leaves on his first day with a wave to his troop of new pals. This bit does need some explaining to 4-year-olds (who tend to take things literally) but with a couple of reads they soon grasp the idea.

My Stinky New School is a lovely book to add to your arsenal of preparing-for-school-tools. Just make sure your child isn’t expecting there to be any real pirates at school. They’ll either be racing into their uniform several weeks too early or refusing to go without a cutlass.

My Stinky New School by Rebecca Elliott, Lion Children’s Books, hardback, £9.99. For more information visit the publisher’s website.

WIN!

I’m giving away a copy of My Stinky New School. To enter please scroll down and leave a comment telling me who you’d most like to meet – dead or alive, famous or infamous – who would it be?

The closing date for entries is noon on August 18th, 2015. Entries from the UK only. Only one entry per person. The winner will be chosen completely at random.

Disclosure: A big thanks to the publishers for giving me the opportunity to review the book and give away a copy.

Holiday kids’ clubs: 10 things a novice parent should know

30 Apr

Belek sea

When on holiday, the first rule of kids’ club is: you must feel guilty while your children are there. The second rule of kids’ club is: YOU MUST feel guilty while your children are there! It is a complex position for a parent to be in. On one hand you are desperate for some adult time and on the other you’re conscious that you’re on holiday to spend time with your family. If you’re a relative newcomer to the ‘Putting the Kids in Kids’ Club Club’ then what should you be aware of? Can it be a pain and guilt-free experience?

1. Location

You have the whole resort to explore. You can walk at a grown-up pace and not have to stop a dozen times to remove stones from sandals. You can even hold hands with your partner without them asking you to do ‘One, Two, Three … Swing!’. Your horizons have expanded. However, you will carefully measure out on a map what is a 5-minute walk from the kids’ club and draw a circle with a compass. That is the area you will stick to. Just in case.

2. Go incognito

You have found the perfect spot to relax for a couple of hours. Beware – do not let your guard down. Often kids’ clubs will leave their premises and head out into the resort for activities. You must take care – particularly if you have clingy offspring – not to be spotted by your child. This is particularly annoying if the group leader takes them to the beach bar for a drink (soft) and that bar turns out to be the one closest to your location. No matter how parched you are, resist the urge to approach the bar. Whatever you do, don’t wave at your child or acknowledge them in any way. Stay out of sight. They have temporarily forgotten you – this should not be messed with if you wish to remain child-free.

3. Making the most of ‘adult time’

This does not mean a trip back to your hotel room. Your nether regions may say ‘yes’ but the only urge your brain has is to try to do everything at the resort that you cannot do with kids. These are activities based outside of the bedroom and generally involve making the most of the sunshine and fresh air with your disappointed partner in tow. However …

4. … whilst you want to do everything child-free under the sun, you will just end up on a sun bed reading a book. Of course, you will be relaxing fully clothed just in case you are called for an emergency.

5. Communications

Put your mobile phone on the loudest ring volume possible. And the most powerful vibrate. And sellotape it to the side of your head. Do not attempt entering the pool as water damage to your phone will sever any link you have to your children.

6. Trust that your children will ask to go to the toilet if they need to

No matter how much you believe it and evidence at home suggests so, they don’t actually need you to remind them to pee or require you to wipe their bum.

7. Collection time

You have some time to yourself. Remember though that it isn’t really ‘some’ time – it is 2 hours to be precise. In the first hour you enjoy a couple of cocktails, read a couple of chapters, start the countdown … Only one hour until you have to pick the kids up. Only half an hour. Only 15 minutes. Oh sod it, go now. It doesn’t matter if you’re a bit early; after all you’re desperate to see them.

8. They will have more fun at kids’ club than they do with you

When asked to choose between a stranger who will help them with a craft activity without shouting or simultaneously checking Facebook and, well, YOU, they will choose the former every time. Your kids don’t need you as much as you think.

9. You will secretly enjoy it and pray they ask to go back

Whilst the sun beats down on your guilt-wracked body, you will admit to yourself – gradually at first – that you are actually having fun. An hour ago your biggest worry was whether your children will ever forgive you for abandoning them, now it’s that they won’t want to go back to kids’ club tomorrow.

And the final rule of kids’ club …

10. Your future holidays

You can’t understand why parents take their children on holiday then choose not to spend time with them. Kids’ club, scmids’ club – who cares, you’re there to spend some quality time with your family. But now you’ve actually experienced it, that’s the old you. The new you will quickly emerge when booking your next holiday as you check the box that filters your search for ‘hotels with a kids’ club’. Anything else is completely unacceptable.

 

Book review and giveaway: Kids Don’t Come With A Manual

17 Mar

Parenting books

After the baby years, there was I thinking I wouldn’t bother with any more parenting books. Despite my best intentions, I never got to the end of them and what I did read was 20% useful and 80% forgettable when faced with a bawling child. When I was asked to review Kids Don’t Come With A Manual: The Essential Guide To A Happy Family Life by Carole & Nadim Saad I expected it to join my other good intentions on the dusty pile under my bed. But I was surprised. It’s the first book focusing on children (rather than babies) that I’ve managed to read from cover to cover. More importantly, it’s one that I’ve been able to apply to my own daily battles with a 6-year-old and a 3-year-old, with – dare I say it and tempt fate? – a degree of success.

As the book proclaims: ‘Parenting is a Balancing Act!”. The book was driven by the authors trying to reconcile their opposing parenting styles. Throughout the book, both give their perspective on how taking a new approach has forced them to adjust their behaviour, reassuring you that no parent is perfect. But the book isn’t about how to fix your parenting differences with your partner. Its real focus is on providing balanced, practical tools to help you deal with the everyday challenges your children present you with, helping your children become happy and self-reliant adults and maintaining a good connection with them throughout their lives.

The authors’ objective was to “find practical, tried and tested evidence” for a balanced (and effective) style of parenting. That they have formulated their own approach by bringing together existing research and parenting books makes me less inclined to feel lectured at and more inclined to take on board their advice. Parents are sensitive types when our methods of parenting are called into question! The commonsense approach may on occasion make you feel you’re being told what you already know, but this is in fact reassuring – it confirms that good parenting isn’t rocket science. What I like about this book is that it’s very easy to remember the practical advice and then apply it in those moments of need when anything more than simple coping strategies would fly from your mind.

The initial chapters on ‘preventative tools’ are fascinating. They look at how to parent ‘pre-emptively’ rather than ‘reactively’. This lies in recognising that children’s behaviour demonstrates their desire to gain control over their lives and achieve a sense of belonging. Understanding why children act as they do and how important our reactions are can help nip difficult behaviour in the bud before it flares up, as well as build a more positive, nurturing environment. The ‘What a child may be thinking’ sections in the book force you to step into their shoes and shine a torch on your own behaviour – not always a comfortable experience but nonetheless an invaluable, mind-changing insight. “It can be difficult to accept and admit”, write the authors, “that despite all the love we have for our children, we may be exacerbating their ‘mis’behaviour through our own reactions.”

Whilst the authors recommend reading the chapters on ‘preventative’ tools first, this doesn’t stop it being a book you can dip into and still find useful. There are practical tools throughout for dealing with different challenges and, as the authors say, the “beauty of this is that even if you were to read and apply just one tool alone, in isolation, you would be very likely to experience a significant and positive difference”. The final part of the book deals with troubleshooting the ‘top 20 parenting challenges’ (eg, refusing to cooperate, whining, taking too long to do everything – sound familiar?) and is a quick reference to the best tools to use. I can see myself filling this section with post-its.

Truth is, we can read as much about parenting as we like but if we don’t find the advice easy to put into practice then we might as well never have picked up the book. Kids Don’t Come With A Manual has taught me new tricks for managing situations that would have previously resulted in me losing my cool and spiraling into the ugly vortex that is Parental Guilt. I knew that some of my ‘techniques’ were far from satisfactory but this book has given me a deeper understanding of why they were failing. This new insight has provided the kick up the backside that I needed. I can honestly say I feel a long way towards being a calmer parent. Of course, the tantrums haven’t disappeared completely nor has my children’s hearing improved significantly but I can deal with everything more effectively and with a renewed determination to remain calm. (And, yes, I’m feeling a little bit proud of myself!)

If kids did come with a manual then this book would probably be it.

Kids Don’t Come With A Manual: The Essential Guide To A Happy Family Life by Carole and Nadim Saad, Best of Parent Publishing, paperback, £12.99 (Kindle £6.99). For more information visit: www.bestofparenting.com/books.

WIN!

I’m giving away 3 copies of Kids Don’t Come With A Manual. For your chance to win one please enter below. Entries from the UK only. The closing date for entries is midnight on April 1st, 2015.

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Take Me Out: a feminist’s dream?

11 Feb

ITV dating show

Take Me Out. It riles me. It grates with all my principles. It makes me feel embarrassed. Most of all, it makes me fear for the giant steps that women are currently making through campaigns such as This Girl Can and No More Page 3 (if you ignore the childish and aggressive behaviour of The Sun with regard to the latter). If I have these concerns then why do I continue to let my 6-year-old daughter watch Take Me Out? It’s all about the lessons she can learn.

“There’s a boy and a girl and if they switch their light off they don’t like him and then there’s one person left and they go on holiday to Fernando’s.” That’s how a child sums up the premise of Take Me Out, ITV’s 21st century (apparently) dating show. Simple, innocent, unquestioning. Of course, it’s great Saturday night entertainment and along with many other forms of entertainment where women aren’t given credit for having anything other than breasts, make-up and a desperate desire to meet Mr Right, many would say that it should just be treated as a bit of light-hearted fun. (Which brings us back to Page 3.) But as with many media portrayals deemed harmless and fun – think back to the racism in British TV shows in the 1970s – the potential for lasting damage, particularly on impressionable minds, is serious.

Why do I let my daughter watch it? Because her cranky mother with her feminist leanings sits next to her and provides a social commentary. Hands up – I enjoy the show. I enjoy it not because it makes me feel good about being a woman in 2015 but because of the constant amused disbelief it generates. It pleasurably raises my hackles and gives me full licence to pontificate to my daughter about everything that is wrong with the programme.

You shouldn’t judge people on their looks alone

In the last episode we watched, the majority of the girls switched off their lights on first sight of the man. What a blast to his self-esteem. We all form an immediate opinion of people based on first impressions – that’s normal – but we have to learn to recognise that shortfalling and then think beyond it.

“Won’t those girls who switched off their lights be really sad when they find out what a nice, interesting man he is?” I venture. Her argument was that the rules say you’re allowed to switch your light off in the first round – “No likey, no lighty, Mummy”. A rule’s a rule and I should probably be proud that she respects that.

It takes some effort to explain to a 6-year-old why it isn’t acceptable to judge someone based on how they look; they are still taking the first steps in developing empathy and mostly they are the centre of their own universe. Yet it doesn’t hurt to prod them in the ribs with a not-so-gentle reminder of how cruel TV ‘entertainment’ can be.

“Look mummy, she’s got trousers on”

As we watched the parade of girls at the beginning of Saturday’s show, I started to tut (quite rightly) about how they’d forgotten to put some of their clothes on. My daughter countered that the studio was probably quite hot. Fair point, but I went on to say how much better they would look dressed a little more … elegantly. My daughter told me that I’m not as stylish as the girls on Take Me Out. And they’re at least 20 years younger than me, dear daughter, and, as they are single and in all likelihood childless, they have a disposable income to deploy on looking ‘stylish’.

All is not lost though. When my daughter pointed out that one of the girls was actually wearing trousers (skin tight but at least no flesh on display) I congratulated myself with unashamed smugness that some of what I’ve preached might just be sinking in.

Fortunately, my 3-year-old son has no interest in Take Me Out. If he did then, yes, I would let him watch it too. And, yes, I would be equally keen to point out its inadequacies to him – perhaps with more vehemence than with my daughter. Part of that is that, whilst inequality continues, women are in dire need of help from men. It’s not up to women to fight alone but it will take more than Ed Miliband and Benedict Cumberbatch wearing t-shirts with slogans to force change from the roots up. Perhaps Take Me Out is another small step to educating the men and women of the future, providing we’re savvy enough to use all that is bad about it to do good.

2015: the year of channeling Elsa

2 Jan

Frozen

I like to have a New Year’s theme rather than resolutions. 2015 will be no different. But where to find a theme? It’s not until you have small children and are denied exposure to deep philosophical musings that you are by necessity forced to find meaning in Disney. Only when you reach this state can you consider adopting a song from Frozen as a mantra. And so it is that 2015 is the year of letting it go.

Thankfully, my daughter didn’t succumb to the Frozen obsession so I don’t tear my hair when Elsa lets rip on the mountainside. In fact, it still brings a tear to my eye as a good power ballad should. If I’m going down the song route for a theme, I could have adopted Ms Swift’s decision to ‘Shake It Off’ but quite frankly that’s something you do with dandruff or a nasty cold.

When 2015 makes me feel a bit arsey, I’m going to make the conscious decision to ‘let it go’. Or – as Gwynnie and Chris might put it – I’m going to consciously uncouple with anything that makes my hackles rise. This isn’t just about other people (and I’m thinking specifically of you here Man in Seat 11B). It’s about letting go of the self-inflicted time-wasting, procrastination and naval gazing that often sees me reach the end of a day having achieved very little at all. That can be a kingdom of isolation and it looks like I’m the queen. (Ahem.)

What else will I be focusing on?

LET IT GO: Checking Rightmove. An affliction of St Albans residents who are prone to an eternal preoccupation with house prices (when not worrying about school catchment areas). Rightmove searches simply confirm that (a) you don’t get much for your money here, and (b) that the truly rich really do have very little taste.

LET IT GO: Parental guilt. The Big One, often felt to be insurmountable. Letting go of this should not be confused with a lack of interest in your children or with allowing them to eat cheese strings and wear pyjamas to school every day. Letting go of parental guilt means not turning in/on yourself when your child doesn’t have anything planned for after school on a Wednesday and you don’t use that time to stuff their reading diary with Dostoevsky.

LET IT GO: Online groups for mums. Obviously I’m not referring to my hometown for our group is an unparalleled example of harmony and commonsense. If I were witness to any ugly online behaviour (which again I must stress I am not) from women with too much time on their hands, I would certainly be trying to let go of the overwhelming urge to bang their heads together.

There are some things that I will not be letting go of in 2015. First, my pelvic floor muscles. I’m still working on those (thanks kids) but fortunately I’m not in Elsa’s position of not being able to hold it back anymore. Secondly, myself. This New Year theme shouldn’t be confused with actually letting myself go (which is something I’ve pretty much done already and is thus no challenge).

On that note – as, with a mouthful of chocolate orange, you pour the residual Christmas booze down the sink before heading off down the gym – I wish you all a very Happy New Year and a calmer, less buttock-clenching 2015.

 

 

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