My Everyday Sexism

nina

It was October.  We were pushing Tiddler through Hillsborough Park.  Progress was slow: Toddler was dawdling to one side of the path, delightedly kicking through piles of leaves.

There were some ‘big boys’ dribbling footballs up and down a cordoned-off rectangle of field.  A bloke with a whistle shouted encouragement from the side-lines.  As did one of the parents, somewhat too enthusiastically given that this was just the warm-up.  The other parents looked bored rigid.

‘I hope Tiddler doesn’t get into football and need me to stand on the touchline every bloody Saturday morning,’ I said.  ‘But if he did, I’d try to look a little bit happy to be there.’

While we were contemplating this, I glanced over to check Toddler.  She, too, had clocked the football training.  She had abandoned the leaves that had been so fascinating moments before and was legging it towards the ‘pitch’.

‘Or Toddler,’ I added hastily, hurrying after her.   ‘She might get into football, too…..’

*

A friend was at our house.  It was CBeebies O’ clock.  The programme was Nina and the Neurons.

For those who haven’t lived, Nina is a blonde, slim pig-tailed woman with pink lipstick and a Scottish accent.  She does scientific experiments in her TV studio.  She takes kids on field-trips to see how dumper-trucks work, how bridges are built or why tongues are wet.  She also sings a cool song, the main refrain being the words ‘Go Engineering!’

My friend says, ‘I’m sorry, but there is no way she knows anything about science and engineering.’

I don’t contradict.

Later that evening, I start to beat myself up for not contradicting.

So Nina’s pretty and can sing.  But why the hell does that exclude her from being a scientist?  In fact, I feel so strongly that I am going to look up Nina’s credentials and e-mail them over, so that my friend can see them for herself.

But it turns out that Nina is, indeed, NOT a scientist.  Her name isn’t even Nina.  She is Katrina Bryan and although she does have a degree it is not Bsc but BA. She is described as an actress (shouldn’t that be Actor?) known better for her role in Taggart.

I have to admit that my disgust with the BBC for faking (why were neither of the two female engineers I know, both of them excellent with kids, offered the presenter’s job?  They are also blonde with pigtails, if it helps) and pleasure that at least they chose a woman.  I shrug and move on to other things.

*

Last time I was at the opticians, I’d barely been in the waiting room ten minutes before a technician called me through to have my retinas photographed.  He pressed a button and the image appeared on a screen.  Being diabetic, I squinted at my own retinal vessels with interest.  They looked OK to me.  Unless that was a – but then the screen blanked out again and I was asked to sit back down in the waiting room.

‘The optician will show me those pictures, won’t he, when it’s my turn….?’

The tecnician nodded, impatiently.  Of course.

And actually, my optician was a man, but I noticed that none of the other opticians consulting that day were male.  Why had I automatically assumed the male pronoun?

And it’s not just opticians.  ‘A man’s coming to look at out boiler today,’ I heard myself tell Toddler in preparation.

And a few weeks ago, I arrived at a veterinary surgery and my first job was to discharge an in-patient.  I said I’d heard that the girls had enjoyed giving Rover lots of fuss while he’d been in hospital over the weekend.  This was mostly true – except that the name of the nurse who had been predominantly looking after that patient, turned out to be ‘Johnny.’

*

The Tour De France made a fantastic weekend for Sheffield.  The City was buzzing; the centre was full of art, street food and morris men (morris women, too).  Excitement rippled;  suddenly, you had something in common with everyone else in the bus queue, whether you knew them or not:   ‘Where did you watch it from, then….?’

But there was another of those things that I didn’t talk (or even think) about until Becky pointed it out.  She was pictured on Facebook, by the roadside, placard in hand: ‘Let Women Compete Next Time.’

How come I had never even wondered about the absence of women in the Tour?  Obviously I wouldn’t even have followed the men’s event had it not randomly gone through my home city.  Had a women’s race been advertised, had Team Sky Women’s stories been in our press, Toddler and Hubby and I would have been keen to watch female cyclists too. Surely it would make sense to make full use of the inconveniently closed roads?

But if you owned a TV channel, why would you want to show women’s road-cycling, if nobody wrote in demanding it?  And it we didn’t grow up watching women’s cycling, why would we think to ask?  And with no-one showing an interest in women cyclists, why would girls aspire to be one…..?

Viscious circle.

*

A man’s t-shirt read:  You can only Date my Daughter if……  and the bullet points that followed included: ‘you hold doors open for her.  You tell her that she is beautiful……’  and so on.

The man had two children with him:  the other was a boy.  Did the boy, I wondered, deserve respect and admiration from his partner, too?  And would the man assume to police his son’s dating in the same way, as though he ‘owned’ him?  Excactly whose permission does someone need in order to date a person, female or male…..?

The guy obviously clocked me staring at his chest because he caught my eye.  ‘Nice t-shirt,’ I said, automatically.

I let him take a false compliment.

*

I always used the phrase ‘like a girl’ frequently, mindlessly, and admit that the recent Always campaign (http://www.always.com/en-us/likeagirl.asp) made me think.  Another phrase I use is ‘man up,’ whether I am speaking to a woman or man.  You don’t Always think about it, do you…..?

*

Two days after the PM reshuffled his cabinet to include some women (there is an election coming up, after all), the Daily Mail ran an article about it.  Normally an article about the incomers would focus on their history, their policies, their ideas.  But the Daily Mail chose to discuss their relative fashion senses, the clothing that they wore to parliament and the sizes of their handbags.

Worse, I clicked on this article.  The Daily Mail think I actually wanted to read it.  I didn’t even write in to complain about the spread.  On one hand I am angry with myself.  On the other hand, why bother…..?

*

Which brings me to the problem.  The problem is:  people like me.  Sexism is commonplace, I engage in it and do not challenge it as much as I ought to from others.

I am disappointed in myself.  I call myself a feminist, but women’s equality is an ideal I beleive in rather than something I expect to encounter:  I perpetuated stereotypes and let inequality go uncommented on.

For all the good that it will do, I am commenting now.  Be alert; keep your minds open.  It doesn’t seem like much, not compared with some of our battles in the past, but it’s something that definitely shouldn’t exist.

 

 

Birthday on a Campsite

I am slowly moving up the pecking order of campsite stereotypes.

I have been the child galloping innocently over the grass.  I have been one of the teenages huddled in the toilets to chat where they won’t disturb people (these days, they can plug their electronic devices into the hairdryer sockets, too). I have been a student on a long walk with a backpack and one of a romantic duo watching the sunset.  I have been one of a rowdy group of climbers, walkers, drinkers.

But now I am a mother: it is my turn to entertain the teenagers lurking in the toilet block with the conversations that come out of our cubicle:

‘What are you doing, Mummy?  Is it a poo or a wee?’

‘What was that lady doing in front of the mirror?’

and

‘Mummy, Can I wipe your bottom for you?’

looroll

Away from the toilets, I can often be seen breaking into a run,

‘Don’t prod / eat / play with that, Tiddler’  or

‘I hope you two are asleep in there!’  or

‘Leave Mummy’s beer alone, please!’

I remember being the child that Toddler (3) is now, sitting on my red potty outside, unselfconsciously watching the world go by.  I’d ponder questions that are now obvious to me:  why do children have to go to bed so early?  What’s with all the fuss about suncream?  And hats?  And why do people insist that you need cutlery for jelly?

It was about that time that I first remember seeing pictures of ‘Mummie and Daddy getting Married.’  Those pictures wouldn’t have been ten years old, but Mummie looked like a whole different person:  beautiful, fresh and young.  As for the stranger next to her with a seventies moustache, he couldn’t have been my Daddy because Daddy had a beard.

I experimentally showed our wedding photo to Toddler and her response was the same, beard and all. Never have I been more aware of my place on life’s conveyor belt. I have changed from being my mother’s daughter, friend and sharpest critic, to standing in her shoes.

For example, my definition of a successful day’s camping has shifted: it is when the kids have had a great time and are in bed, leaving time for hubby and I to say ‘isn’t this nice?’ and maybe pour some alcoholic beverage before the sun goes down.

The admiring glances I used to give myself in the mirror have been replaced with friendly, tolerant ones.  I am becoming used to that ‘flabby muscle’ which so shocked me a year ago.

And it isn’t just my opinion of myself that has changed. My friend Becky and I found ourselves discussing the ‘Everyday Sexism’ website, in particular the bits about facing sexual suggestions from strangers.

‘Am I minger?’

‘Well if you’re a minger, so and I.’

While I agree that women shouldn’t get harrassed in the street, take it from us that not being wolf-whistled every time one walks past building sites can be a bit uncomfortable too.

When I saw an old friend who had been reading my blog, she was clearly disappointed:

‘You don’t look fitter or anything.’

The friend didn’t surprise me:  she has always been shockingly honest.  What surprised me was that I wasn’t offended.  Perhaps it’s about feeling better in your body, not looking better. I might be blogging like crazy about self-improvement, but the biggest improvement is my accepting my skin.

Aging has other signs, too.  Surely postmen will never look young but my Diabetic Consultant doesn’t look ten years older than me. I have always been tempted to ask shop assistants why they are not at school, but when I look closely now at these kids, they often display a badge marked ‘Manager.’

At the other end of the spectrum, I don’t find it hard to believe that the old men I meet in pubs were once teenagers.  In the latest cycle of World War One reporting, I felt something I have never felt before:  the scale and the loss of young lives actually meant something to me.  These were not musty photographs of people who lived so long ago that I can’t remember: they were people younger, much younger than me with their lives ahead of them.  People who, in another life, might have been my children.

Yes: I am becoming the sort of person who cries over war documentaries.  Just like my Dad.

Which brings me to this:

older

It was my birthday while we were away.  Thirty-two is inconceivable to my daughter, who can’t count that high yet.  But she sang to me quite spontaneously and got so excited about the cake that I found myself enjoying it.  Why the hell not? – it’s not something I can change.  And in all honesty, when I look back, I might want the body from my twenty-fourth year but I wouldn’t want the arrogant, ignorant mind or the weak backbone I had just then.  I might envy myself the freedom, but I wouldn’t want either of the two boyfriends and I wouldn’t be without my kids.

It would have been my mother’s birthday two days before mine.  In a parallel universe where she did not get cancer, I’m sure she would have been celebrating on the campsite too.  Making friends with people from all the stereotype groups whether they welcomed it or not, because she’d have strongly identified with most of them, ‘I used to do that’.

She and I would have been doing the same things: playing football with her grandchildren; putting candles in empty wine bottles outside the tent; eating birthday cake with gusto.  She would occasionally have got a bit fed up because her joints creaked or her back was sore, or because she was not so slim or good-looking as when she was my age.

But it wouldn’t have got my mother down.

 

Diabetes: Calling a Myth a Myth

perfume The frustrating ‘diabetes’ fairy-stories would fill volumes.

Diabetics shouldn’t eat sugar – else they will turn into a pumpkin at midnight.

Diabetics brought it all on themselves – and the magic mirror always tells the truth.

Diabetics always have big, unhealthy babies – and the goose laid another golden goody….

goose

But today’s myth is more belivable, even to the educated, than one about a frog turning into a prince.  This makes it dangerous.  It’s comparable to the princess and the prince living happily ever after:  unlikely when you think it through, yet real people still expect their relationships to work out that way.

Here it is:

Being Diabetic should Never, Ever stop you from doing Anything.

Yes. Myth.  There will be readers whose wrath is already melting their screen as they read: plenty of diabetics evangelise about it being true. If you read my previous posts carefully, you’ll find me evangelising, too.  Walking alone, bivvying at night, for hundreds of miles; trekking in the Himalayas; working long hours; supporting my family; night shifts.  Driving; climbing; running.  Having perfectly healthy babies. Bah! to the golden goose. I can do anything ‘normal’ people can do!  Yada, yada, yada.

And yet, just last Saturday, diabetes stopped me from:

1) Getting Pizza

I can eat pizza, but it’s a pain. The high fat levels make it hard to predict.  So I avoid it.

pizza

2) Playing Hide and Seek outside the museum with my children.

I’d hypod and had some sweets but I needed more.  So instead of following the kids outside, I took them to the museum cafe and treated them to cake.

3) Driving home straight away afterwards

I wasn’t hypo now, but my levels were under five.  I had to wait half an hour to be legal on the road.  It was frustrating because the kids were ratty.

car

4) Going for a run

A rare opportunity, kids in bed, potential babysitter….. and my levels were still swinging around like a pendalum and it would have been stupid.

run

I know what you are thinking.  I have control of my diabetes.  If I had done the maths for the pizza; carried enough hypo sweets or even not had a hypo in the first place; taken more care before I wanted to drive or run, then I could have done all those things. Remember the wording of the myth in the first place:

Being Diabetic should Never, Ever stop you from doing Anything.

perfume

Let me quote author William Horwood, complementing a character who wore her parents’ wealth ‘like a very good perfume: it was there, but subtle and inconspicuous.

A ‘Good Diabetic’ would wear her diabetes like that.

Having the right kit close at hand, not scrabbling for it or loosing bits.

Testing the recommended amount without interrupting anything.

Calculating the carbs being served at dinner without so much as breaking off the conversation.

Administering insulin at the right time, without grossing fellow diners out.

Anticipating the next few hours’ activity without starting an inquest.

Calculating a successful insulin dose; avoiding highs or lows.

Living a normal life, but with a glucometer and an insulin pen in her pocket.

 

I’d like to say I did that, but my life is every bit as complicated, distracting and hectic as everybody else’s.  I have other things to thing about at meal-times.   Like: trying to feed Toddler, stop Tiddler escaping his high chair, getting food on the table.  Dare I admit that my insulin doses are sometimes a guess?

A friend’s sister will always refer to me as ‘the stupid diabetic one’. Came to visit, had to inconvenience the local doctors’ because I’d left my insulin at home, then hypod out walking the following day. Makes me sound horrific, but I was second-trimester pregnant at the time. After fourteen straight, succesful days locumming (ten hour shifts with on-call), I’d diven my friend to see this sister in the lakes. I walked double figures of miles both of those days.  You could have viewed this as an achievement, yet in her eyes and mine I had exposed myself as a ‘bad diabetic’.

The reason it hurt is that I used to be like her -  before I started holding proceedings up myself, I was the sort who got mildly irritated by people like me….  I walk mostly on my own now, so I can work it around my sugars (and I can outpace most people).

But I digress: back to last weekend. It made my kids museum trip less fun and made me feel inadequate, because of course it’s my fault:

Being Diabetic should Never, Ever stop you from doing Anything.

And that’s where proportion comes in.

When we get our diabetes wrong, it will inconvenience us – and others around us.  Real damage can occur, which is why we have a responsiblity to make sure that our sugars are above 5mmol/l at work and when driving a car.  Also to remain capable of childcare.

Outside of that, if all I wanted to do was poddle to the shops and read a book, diabetes would not stop me from doing it.  But I want to do lots of things:  eat an exciting diet, take the kids to exciting places, exercise, be spontaneous……

If you can take your normal life, add insulin and not need to take it easier sometimes, then maybe your life wasn’t exciting enough to start with.

Being Diabetic doesn’t stop you from doing Anything but it sometimes stops you from doing everything at once.  And that’s OK….

Isn’t it?

 

The Next Genderation

Gender stereotypes:  widely held beliefs about the characteristics and behaviour of women and men.

Or maybe – girls and boys.

Toddler is a girl and Tiddler is a boy.  They have been subject to gender stereotyping since they were first slotted into a babysling.  Strangers would peer in and comment on a pretty baby or a strong one; not because they looked pretty or strong (at two days old, Toddler definitely looked the strongest) but based on their sex.

Our babies were sometimes colour-coded, having mainly worn hand-me-downs and some awesome gifts.  But we tried not to routinely make their flavour obvious.  When in doubt, my advice to the discerning baby coo-er would be to look at the shoes.  Boys: dull colour and sturdy.  Girls: pink or purple, adorned with butterflies or flowers. After all, boys and girls have different feet.  Boys feet need extra protection and girls feet need to attract insects and butterfly-eating birds.  You don’t get neutral feet.  Isn’t that right, Clarks?

shoes

Then come the toys.  There are STILL pink and blue aisles in many leading toy-shops.  Knowing a child’s sex is fundamental when buying them a present.  Now don’t get me wrong: people have bought my children gender targetted toys that the kids – and I – absolutely love.  I am just pleased that in our house, Tiddler gets to play with a ballet-dancer music box and Toddler gets to play with dinosaurs, as well as the other way around.  As for the toy-colour issue, this recent exchange made me smile:

- Playgroup leader:  Do you want to play with the pink car, Toddler?

- Toddler (pushing an identical blue one into the garage):  No.

But we do still treat our children differently.  Their haircuts, for instance.  We have always explained away Toddler’s head of blonde ringlets by pleading laziness.  We didn’t want the drama of regular haircuts, so we let her hair grow long.  But will we get Tiddler’s hair cut more frequently?  It seems likely.  Will we encourage Uncle A to buy Tiddler a fairy-dress like the one we suggested he bought for Toddler?  Possibly less likely.

‘My hubby doesn’t like it when I paint my son’s nails pink,’ my friend wailed.  ‘He thinks I’m going to make him gay.’

Friend’s Hubby might lack some understanding of what makes a person gay and I might ask what detriment he perceives a gay son to be anyway.

But for different reasons, I don’t envisage myself actively encouraging Tiddler into Toddler’s fairy outfit either.  Not in the enthusiastic manner in which I encouraged Toddler into a pirate costume, before she had expressed an interest.  Women have spent years fighting for the opportunities to ‘wear the trousers’ and actively encouraging our daughters to follow suit.

I am such a woman.  To the bloke who criticised me over my daughter’s purple dress on her first birthday: you got it wrong.  It’s fine for girls and women to look pretty sometimes.  The one area where women actually get a better deal than men, is in the range of socially accepted clothes that we get to wear.  I am not about to limit my daughter’s wardrobe range because boys don’t share that priviledge yet. I think baby boys should get to wear purple dresses too.

Sadly, if I took my little boy to playgroup in a dress, people would, at best, think I was very radical (it would be ace though because I could recycle more of Toddler’s outfits).  Our society hasn’t reached a point where I would feel comfortable doing this unless Tiddler showed a strong and clear preference for purple dresses. But give it time.

It shouldn’t take long: it wasn’t that long ago that boys in dresses were normal anyway (this portrait dates back to the eighteenth century) and I’m sure we will go there again.

1414

And here’s an article you can read later, explaining that before the first world war, most babies used to wear white.  And that in the twenties, there was still a bit of confusion as to whether pink was the appropraite colour for girls or for boys.

bootees

http://www.livescience.com/22037-pink-girls-blue-boys.html

In fact – shock, horror – it is quite possible that many gender stereotypes are to do with cultural fashion and bear no relation to the actual, innate characteristics of boys and girls.https://lizziebulleyment.wordpress.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=1804&action=edit&message=1

Polly Curtis has researched the scientific articles about this.  Apparently, women are very slightly more likely to show a preference reddish hues (for example, pink) than men are.  Boy monkies have a slightly stronger preference for push-along toys than girl monkeys.  Perhaps a convincing paper is just in the pipeline about whether girl monkeys prefer elaborate but impractical dresses and boys practical but boring trousers. Curtis, it would seem, finds it unlikely.

(Her article is here if you’d like to read it. And yes, the whole report about children and gender stereotypes has been filed in the part of the Guardian website entitled: ‘Women.’  See what we’re up against? http://www.theguardian.com/politics/reality-check-with-polly-curtis/2011/dec/13/women-children ).

But what is really going to shape my children’s lives?  Their innate beliefs and capabilities, or the lens through which society views them?

Furthermore, who really cares?  Because we can’t do anything about the innate skills and preferences our children are born with.  However, we can try to make sure that we treat our children in such a way that their unique set of skills and preferences is nurtured (once they are old enough to express them) and not redirected or suppressed.

This post explains what I am talking about:

pink

I know it sounds crazy but we should be heading for a society where people can dress in the clothes that they want to; grow their hair as long as they want to; play with the toys that they want to.  Where people can aspire to a career or life goal that suits them. Wear the shoes that they want.  Listen to the music they enjoy. Have crushes on the people they fancy. Marry whichever adult makes them happy.

The next generation ought to be closer than we were to that.

scientistlego

 

 

Above image:  https://sosc111.wordpress.com/2013/11/18/gender-specific-marketing-the-segregation-of-children-toys/comment-page-1/

 

 

 

Aside

Becky’s Question

I didn’t make it obvious what this article is about, in case you were too squeamish to click.

mouseq

But anyway, you’re here now.  If you are a mouse, it is ok to run away squeaking.  The rest of you, hold my hand: you are strong enough to stay with me all the way through.  Even if I do use words like ‘period.’

Here goes…..

My friend Becky appears on Facebook messenger.

- Prod. I have a question.

- Fire away.

- Menstrual cups.  Use one?  or totally freaked out?

- Hang on.

I minimise.  When I come back, she is saying:

- Ha!  You’re googling them!

Damn right I’m googling them. Apparently, menstrual cups are little silicone reservoirs that are inserted into the vagina.  They collect the ‘blood’, rather than absorbing it.  The user retreives the cup, empties it down the toilet and usually reuses it (disposable ones are available).

More information, including diagram:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Menstrual_cup

I say

-  Wow!  Interesting that they had them back in the thirties!

But that’s not true.  That’s not what’s really interesting.  I am a well-educated thrity-one-year-old woman with two kids and I hadn’t even heard of menstrual cups, let alone formed an opinion as to whether I was grossed out or not.  Now that’s what’s really interesting.

cups

*   *   *

Let’s go back to primary school and talk about periods.

I can actually remember the educational video; girl in swimming-pool looks very mature and puts her finger to her lips:  ‘Shhhhh!’

Commentary:  ‘It’ll be your secret.  You don’t have to tell anyone.’

Nobody told the boys, for instance.  The boys were led away at the start of the lesson, to learn about washing properly and deoderant. I can remember my friend asking me afterwards what the girls’ lesson was about. Of course I didn’t answer him; I already knew not to talk about it.

What were those teachers thinking? Exclude boys from being interested in women’s ‘private’ matters and the precident has been set.  Teach girls that it’s something to hide and they will feel shame and embarrassment for evermore.

Periods are normal, for heavens sake!  Fifty per cent of us have them!  And talking of normalising things, why didn’t someone normalise the fact that women sweat and need deodrant, too?  And perhaps we could normalise masturbation for both genders.  It’s -

Ok.  Enough ranting.  Periods. Here is Chella Quint talking about the tampon industry.  TEDxSheffield 2012 – Chella Quint – Adventures in Menstruating: Don’t Use Shame to Sell

Over the years, tampon packaging has changed to reflect changing attitudes to our cycles. And yet, the fundamental message that is marketed is: to hide them.  Cover them up. What other sort of company, Chella points out, encourages you to remove their brand name from the packaging, so no-one knows what it is?

I distinctly remember being handed my first free sanitary towels in year 5 (actually, we scuttled up and picked them up from a bench).  They were wrapped like sweets, in coloured, rustley paper.  I treated them like a small bomb. I took them home to ‘hide away in your pants drawer until you need them’ and I felt a little bit uncomfortable every time I opened that particular drawer for the next five years or so.

When I finally did start my periods, we were on guide camp.  I told Mum; she told an entire tent full of Guiders. I found this out when another guider’s daughter asked me if i was feeling OK about my period. Only, she didn’t want to use the word period:  we were a long way into a very halting conversation before I was realised with a jolt that my period was what she was talking about.  The conversation ended shortly afterwards.  There was a fuzzy feeling of the secret being shared, but I still laid into my mother for telling everybody. I never realised how lucky I was in my choice of Mum. Some Mums never discussed their daughters’ periods with anyone – and that included their daughters.

It’s hardly fair, the embarassment of it all.  For what generation of men was growing up – needing a razor, for instance – something they were ashamed of?  Did men ever have to make sure they bought a giant box of cornflakes at the same time, to put the shaving kit under on the supermarket conveyor belt?  When was ‘razors’ a word they were supposed to whisper?  O.K. so maybe shaving isn’t the best parallel.  Balls dropping, then.  When were men supposed to be modest about the fact that they have balls?

Anyway, for light relief Becky suggested that we google-imaged ‘knitted tampons’.  This sparked another big debate.  While I am happy to accept that it might be relatively safe to insert a smooth, easily washable surface into that area of a woman, knitted tampons scare me a bit. Some of them even have vampire teeth.

vampire

- Hubby’d laugh at this

- O God.  I can imagine it now: ‘Look what Becky showed me!…’

- I won’t tell him about your menstrual cups.  That’d be weird.

- It’s OK.  You can tell him about my menstrual cup.

Later, to hubby:

‘Guess what I learned from Becky this week?’

Hubby looks bored and knowing.  ‘What, about Menstrual Cups?’

Then he shows me Facebook; by now Becky has already shared the wonderfulness of menstrual cups with everybody. Becky is a PSE teacher.  Becky is liberated.

Two other things surprise me about the Facebook post, though.

One is: how many women do know about them. I’d always assumed that everyone, like me, used towels or tampons.  But no!  The message got lots of replies:

- I love my menstrual cup!

- I feel in control….

-  …..poor souls…. (the people who don’t know about them)

Perhaps it helps that Becky has a lot of ‘natural mother’ facebook friends.  Something she said backed my pigeonholing up:

‘I had you down as an old hippy who’d been wearing them for years’

But do only hippies know about them?  And how come I didn’t?  You’d have thought someone would have told the whole world, given that they’re apparently so comfortable and environementally friendly and inexpensive to boot……

…..Which brings us to the other suprise, and why Becky was asking people about menstrual cups in the first place: she is keen that their existence is taught in her school.  In fact, her year sevens know all about them.

The other teachers?  Not so keen.

OMG are we going to have to dance round naked waving mooncups in the air?

‘Because equipping kids to make an informed choice is really contraversial, right?’ says Becky.

The ladies who commented on the Facebook post were sometimes quite candied, but they ‘got’ the point immediately:

‘…..I’m not interested in ferreting about up my chuff when my periods on…. but all about what works for you though’

‘at least I know they are out there.’

You could argue the same about knitted tampons, home-made pads, different methods of treating period pain, charting cycles.  Knowing about our periods could help women to maximise our exercise performance; understand how it reflects (or even, how it doesn’t necessarily reflect) our general systemic health; debate and understand menstrual synchrony; counter its effects on our moods; prepare ourselves for the next step in our reproductive lives, whatever stage we are at.

Basically, it might benefit us all to talk and know more about our periods.

Full stop.

Period.

OK?

About our House

Image

“They’ve got a similar one in beech for just under five hundred in such-a-store.  It’s really frustrating because this one here -’

Jodie indicates a catalogue.  There is a table with £899 written in a big red star

 ‘ – is EXACTLY the wood that I’m after. It’s so much more modern-looking.  Tasha’s got wood just like it in her hallway.  It would work perfectly in here……’

We are at a small, unofficial reunion of old schoolfriends. The others are nodding empathetically. One of them has not only seen Tasha’s hallway but somehow manages to remember the colour of it.

‘It’s be better for your table than it looks in her hallway, actually.  It’s a bit OTT at Tasha’s isn’t it?  Too much of it?’

The others agree, even the ones who haven’t seen it.

I say nothing at all.

‘I’ve been round stores X, Y and Z,’ Jodie continues, ‘but theirs aren’t nearly as nice.  I mean, obviously there’s a gorgeous one in shop Q – I keep having little fantasies about that – but maybe in another life.  Honestly though, I’ve been going back to the shop for months now and they never put it in the sale. And I could do with it now. I want it for people coming round for Mum’s birthday.’

I still say nothing.

I don’t say, ‘But the two tables are near-identical except for a subtle difference in the shade of beige wood and a different beige will be in fashion next year anyway.’

I don’t say, ‘I’ve never considered spending £800 on a table.’

I don’t say, ‘Have you tried freecycle?’

Or even: ‘It’s just a table.’

I am too busy totting up the number of Saturdays she appears to have spent in furniture shops; the numerous conversations she’d had with other people about tables; the number of other people’s tables she had been to visit (and she could reel off the cost and origins of several friends’ tables without blinking).

Well.  I know that not everybody’s interested in climbing or fell-running, but surely there are other ways to spend a Saturday afternoon in summer.

And she’s not the only one.

I’ve heard the conversation at babygroup: ‘Which pram could you affor- sorry, did you decide on?  Which cot?  I’m getting the spare room completely made over as a nursery.  I’ve found the cutest gender-neutral print…..

In fact it’s common, this active interest in buying things for the house.  My sniping aside, it is what normal people – nice people, with lovely, attractive houses – talk about.  I fear that the oddball, once again, might be me.

We didn’t have a house before we had kids.  It was never particularly our aim: we had mountain huts and vet surgeries to live in and shopping was our least favourite occupation.  Furniture as a status symbol?  I’d never even realised it happened. Until a PHD student walked into the digs above where I was working, looking around the flat and said, with genuine puzzlement,

‘I always thought vets were supposed to be well paid…?’

Anyway. No vet practice would house a locum-vet-on-maternity free of rent, so we signed contracts on a place the month Toddler was born.  Making it look nice has never seemed as vital as living in it.  Throwing food down our throats and going for a day out somewhere.  Or finding whatever it is that I happen to have lost (which always makes a mess), or keeping the kids safe (there have been two giant bags of sleeping bags hiding the edge of our granite hearth since Toddler learned to Toddle).

Who cares if the previous occupant painted the hall bright blue next to the red carpet?  We can live with it until some unspecified time in the future.

Who cares if the bath has a tidemark of funky floating alphabet letters?  That it’s still obvious where the plumber fell through the ceiling?  That the guys who rewired the place for us left holes in the walls?  After all, there’s Tiddling and Toddling to be done (and most of it on the lounge carpet).

Last weekend, some of the Walkers came to crash on our floor. Actually, they all used crash here.  But the walkers have got older and more fastidious; the available floor-space has decreased. I can’t offer any of them a bed; the chances of waking up to find a pile of baby-vomit next to their pillows have gone up.  The chances of an undisturbed night’s sleep have gone down.  And to cap it all, their last invasion coincided with the bathroom being plumbed in.  The workmen overran and ten adults ended up sharing a toilet with a flush-bucket.

This time round, two of the walkers crashed and a third put a tent up in the garden.  Someone else had a camper-van. Most booked the hotel down the road.

On the night of their arrival, as is usual, I got home from work and panicked. I’d been away for the week: hubby had been in charge.  Hubby is good at looking after kids and cooking but he doesn’t like housework either. The place was a tip. I suddenly had a minor panic as to how I could pretend that my kids’ excellent immune systems came about due to luck rather than necessity.  We immediately launched a cleaning party.  It must have worked to some extent because when the guests arrived, the only criticism we received related to how come we only have one comfortable chair.

I should put in a good word for our chair, actually.  We ordered it with some vouchers from the kind souls who came to our wedding (we had a sofa then too, but the sofa died soon afterwards).  We fight over it endlessly and this is how it was affectionately christened ‘the reading chair’:  the early rules were that whichever of us was reading a book to the ever-demanding Toddler was allowed the comfiest seat.  (The other day, when Toddler told me that a worm disappearing into the soil was ‘going home,’ I asked her what worms’ homes were like.

‘He’s got a reading chair in it,’ she said).

Anyway: it has occured to me that houses are like our bodies.  We can all pretend that we don’t care about them, but we do care.

We have to look after them to the minimum acceptable standards to avoid getting ill (in the case of housing, this possibly demands more than one toilet for ten people).

Emotionally, we react to our housing / bodies.  Practically, we have to function while spending time in them.

We also care because our society conditions us to care. i.e. When we think someone might be looking.

A little bit of pride is probably a good thing (‘You should always try to look your best,’ my Auntie says – and the same probably goes for houses).

On the other hand, it is possible to spend so much time, money and energy perfecting or worrying about the appearance of your body or house, that you forget how to enjoy it.

Not us, it has to be said:  we will probably have holes in our walls for a while yet (but at least I know that the electrics are safely wired).  We will continue to use the dining room table that we inherited from the family (it is solid and has sentimental value: one of them made it).  We will probably always battle with the endless pile of toys and washing up and laundry and Toddler-crumbs and spilled Tiddler-food and goodness-knows-what-else.  We will always love the reading chair, even when Tiddler has emptied his milk onto it another 20,000 times.

I think the walkers still enjoyed their visit.  At any rate, they’ll probably be back (as long as the new toilet continues to flush), even if they do seek out comfortable beds at bedtime.

I have promised that, by next time, we will have acquired another chair.

Choosing it, I hope, will be a simple process.

 

 

 

 

From Tiddlerhood to Toddlerhood

hands

Every parent of a Tiddler is growing a Toddler.

Delightful as Tiddlerdom may be, Toddlerdom is something that Tiddler parents look forward to, with thoughts that go a bit like this:

One day, you’ll be able to tell me what you want, instead of screaming maniacally while I try and figure it out.  There’ll be none of that indecision about whether to offer you boob or check your nappy or move you into different positions to get a burp out or change your clothes or rock you to sleep.

Yes!  One day they’ll tell you why they’re crying.  They will!  But what you don’t realise is, that ‘what they want’ won’t be something you can give them.

It will be to stay awake, when they’re so tired they can’t even talk without crying.

To ‘take shoes off’ and walk in the snow.

To ‘go that way!’ when the bus driver is following a route that goes the other.

It will be followed by a tantrum so violent and public that nostalgia will soon set in for a time when you could entertain a slither of hope that just jiggling them until they burped might actually solve something.

Image

One day, you’ll be able to walk for yourself.

Oh yes, they will.  But de-per-ate-ly slowly, unless it’s in the direction of something dangerous, when they go like greased lightening.

 

And you’ll learn to dress yourself, too!

Indeed, they’ll insist upon it.  Whenever you are in a hurry.  In whatever is the most inappropraite thing to wear.  Dear Lord, as the prayer goes, Give me Patience.  But PLEASE, give me bloody patience QUICKLY!

ImageThere is good news, however.  For anybody who gets embarrassed when the adults get in a circle to sing something about dingling dangling scarecrows at the end of babygroup:  this experience does improve.  One day, the babies start to pay attention; another day, they join in.  When they do, nobody is more pleased than those of us who can’t hold a tune.

But that very day, they start to tell you off for getting the words wrong and – worse – they develop a Favourite.  Which they like to sing a LOT.

Toddler’s new favourite is the alphabet.  When I smugly taught her A to Zee, it was probably only because I didn’t realise how annoying the alphabet, on loop, with the middle bit a little bit fudgey still, can be.

We have real arguments these days.

‘It’s Sleepytime, Toddler.’

‘No Mummy!  It’s WAKEY time!  Sun shining!’

Someone saying the exact opposite of your opinion sounds easy to cope with, but there are limits.  Let alone when that someone could poo at any time – a moving little feacal cluster bomb – but always denies needing to go when asked.

I was going to end this article by saying don’t worry: they grow up eventually.  In fact once they turn three, there are only fifteen years left to go before you get your brain-cell back.

But my friend read it and said I make it sound as though I don’t like my children.

So I best make sure that you know: – I have all the gooey feelings towards Tiddler and Toddler all the time; feelings that make you feel nicer than a person in a perfect warm bath.  I even tell them so.  If I don’t shout about such feelings very much to you, it’s because they are emcompassed by somewhat plastic words such as ‘love’ and, coming from my cynical, blogging gob at least, words like that sound like icing with too much sugar.

I just hope that the fact that I love my child is something that I can assume you’ll take for granted when I talk about the stress that can be induced by parenting.

Because I am a great believer that being stressed by one’s children is as normal as loving them; that the ‘perfect, selfless parent’ stereotype is a difficult one to live up to and that the more that people talk about the imperfect bits (hopefully without whining too much), then the less alienated other imperfect parents will feel.  So here it is: Toddlers are difficult, okay?

But there are good things about Todder parenthood, too. Toddlers are cute.  Excuse me for such willful use of the c- word, but there is no better word to describe watching a child Toddle for the first time.  And then…. they grow….

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If it wasn’t for Toddler, how else would I have noticed that the knot-holes on our table look like a set of eyes and a nose?  Spent an hour in the garden building sandcastles and another hour digging up worms?  Would my life really be complete had I not become proficient in the ‘Swashbuckle Cheer?’  (Arrrrrrr!)

There is inner peace to be found in finally accepting that you will never understand about the shifting size of the Ninky-Nonk on Night-Garden.  Something delightful about knowing whole books of Julia Donaldson’s off by heart.  A real satisfaction in teaching someone else to be an open, intelligent sort of person….

Toddler already shares my interest in gender roles, which is interesting.

‘Mummy!  Why Mummy wears pretty pants and Daddy wears plain pants?’

Mummy!  I saw a man in a dress!’

‘Don’t worry Tiddler.  You grow boobs when you bigger.’

And, on a rare occasion when I was about to leave the house with heels on:-

‘Mummy!  Look at your shoes.  I think maybe a Lady gave them to you.’

At times like these, I am thankful that I have another fifteen years before sending Toddler off into the world.

I’m almost certainly going to need them.

 

 

(other images www.guildfordbaptist.org (hands),  http://www.pinterest.com/ParentingSmarts/toddler-independence/ (toddler dressing), http://o5.com/what-to-do-when-your-toddler-screams/ (toddler screaming) )