Archive of ‘Parenting’ category

The simplest third birthday gift

I asked Jasmin a few days before her third birthday what she would like for it. “Don’t go to work mummy. Stay home with me.”

Simple.

I’d already booked the day off, but I couldn’t stop thinking about what she’d said. She’d made her statement without hesitation and with such certainty. She’d already thought about this.

I went to the toyshop a day later and picked up some silly little trinkets. She loved them when she opened them (nail stickers, colouring pens, Elsa slippers…) but they really weren’t up there with the best things about the day of her birthday. What mattered was that we were all at home together, just hanging out.

Tony and I had thought about a day trip to the beach – but in the end, we decided we were tired and the kids were tired. We kind of all just needed a day together. And so it’s been lovely and simple. A slow morning, presents, and then a picnic in the park, just us four. We spent the afternoon pottering in the garden, watching tv, playing toys – and really just not doing very much. Milin and Jasmin have been happy – and, it didn’t feel like a birthday at all. (We’d had a few friends round and sang happy birthday the day before.) And so, on the day Jasmin turned three, the children unceremoniously ate leftover cake on the garden steps, Tony put up some shelves in their room he’s been meaning to do for ages, I washed the floors….

I take it for granted that the children are happy without things on their mind – but maybe I need to remember how young they really are and how much things do get to them, even if they don’t always say so. I know they’re happy while I’m at work, I know that I work for good reason (as well as necessity), but still, I’d give anything for more time with Milin and Jasmin.

I can’t always make that happen, but today – on Jasmin’s third birthday – I did. We didn’t rush anything, we didn’t do anything because we felt we should, we didn’t do anything apart from the stuff we felt like. And that felt right.

(Yes I was emotional and got all soppy reminiscing about the day she was born and how loud her cries were… and then I saw how bloody lovely she is now, at three, and I got even more teary about the present than the past.)

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What can I tell them?

Roses

In these days of hate, it’s hard to find any ways to describe our responses to terror attacks. Each awful time that the news channels show us an unfolding tragedy, we move through grief, anxiety, fear and confusion. I think a lot of us feel a little numb and unable to really think about or process these events when they hit. We are tired and scared. We are sad. But how do we talk to our children about terrorism?

I’ve been thinking about this so much recently. It’s been impossible not to – because as much as I wish this wasn’t a subject I will have to talk about with my children, that just wont be the case.

I think that as adults we look for answers. We try to apply logic and rational thinking to order the chaos. I know that I keep asking why. There are no neat or satisfying responses though. No tidy explanations. Instead, the world around us today is messy and ugly and very far removed from anywhere that provides something close to a fix.

Children, though, still look to us for answers. We usually have them, or we at least like to pretend we do. As parents, we normally have a ready stream of set responses for questions, we iron out problems with them, we serve up solutions which are simple and non-negotiable. But this isn’t the case when it comes to some of the horror unravelling around us. There aren’t any answers. It doesn’t matter that our children come to us for straightforward replies to their questions. It doesn’t matter that usually those replies offer certainty and grounding and a sense of security. It doesn’t matter that this is what our children need. Because right now – the world has run out of answers.

My children are young. And while I whole-heartedly agree with the practice of avoiding having frightening conversations around them – I also don’t believe this is fully possible. We often have new radio on in the background to life at home, in the car. There are newspapers lying around, the tv news channels are our default ‘sit-down-for-a-moment’ entertainment. I’m a hack by trade, a news journalist who spent years on a national daily – I’ll never stop being an avid consumer of news.

So while I won’t push it under the nose of my children – they will see this, they will hear this, they will know it. And they will have questions.

I guess what I’m grappling with is knowing how to make my responses age-appropriate and comforting. I haven’t faced questions yet – but I know they will come. Sadly, awfully, unbearably: they will come.

And I’m angry – because really there is no appropriate way to talk to a four-year-old and a three-year-old about hate, about prejudice, and about terror. These are not concepts they should have to know or see. These horrors of our days are not ones they should have to witness.

I hope, when the questions come, I can show them images of tributes which bridge difference, pictures of people from every corner of life holding each other, and photographs of communities coming together across barriers which shoudn’t have ever existed. I hope I can explain to my children not only that there is hatred in our world – but more than anything there is love and acceptance. I hope that I can say with enough belief that they don’t doubt it – that more than anything, this world is good.

Children will ask about guns – we will show them flowers. Children will ask about prejudice – we will show them inclusion. Children will ask about hate – we will show them love. How will I talk to my children about terrorism? I don’t know. But I will want to address their fears by comforting them with hope.

What I want my daughter to know about beauty

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She watches me every morning, transfixed. Her eyes follow the strokes of my hand as I layer on mascara. She peers in closer as I run a pencil along the lower outline of my eye. When I’m done, she pulls her very own lip balm out of her jewellery box. It is a prized possession. She watches herself in the mirror – and then she smacks her lips together. A kiss. “Mummy, one day can I have make-up?”

Next week, she will be three.

She asks, sometimes, why I wear it. But I don’t have an answer that I want to give her. I don’t want her to know that this is my war paint, this is my armour, this is my wall – this is my mask. I don’t want her to know why I need this injection of self belief in a few bottles and pencils that fit into my hand. I don’t want her to see that this is a front, painted on with a few strokes of magic which I need to confront most days.

She is too young to know about the years and years that have preceded these mascara strokes, these eyeliner flicks and these layers of foundation. She is two for one more week. She is too young to know that for years and years there is a gradual crumbling of self belief, a gradual wearing down, a gradual fraying at the edges. The concealer helps to make things look like they are being held together.

It hasn’t started for her yet – the slow process that changes you into a woman who can’t always face the world as herself. More than anything for her – I want her to be stronger against it than I was. I want her to know that it’s coming, that it might try and break her, and that she is better than it. But not yet. She is two.

For now, this is what I will one day tell her: she is stronger and better and wiser than me. She doesn’t need a mask or a wall or a front. She is beautiful – and that has nothing to do with anything she will one day buy to paint on her skin. For this, this is what I want her to know about beauty:

Beauty has nothing to do with what anyone else tells her. Every person who tells her she is beautiful will have their own reasons for their words. She should know them before really listening.

Beauty has nothing to do with the make-up she will wear or the reasons why she wears it. Beauty has nothing to do with the way she looks or wants to look, or the way anyone else wants her to look.

When I watch her turn three next week, I will watch my brave, stubborn, spirited, fun-loving daughter being herself. I will see a little girl who is kind and compassionate, a little girl desperate to learn and grow, a little girl soaking up the world and everything that is new. A little girl who is nothing but good. One day, I want her to know that this is beauty. She already has it, and it doesn’t matter what the world does or tells her. This is what I want her to see, to understand, and to believe.

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EU Referendum: now it is done, we are bereft

The votes have been counted, the decision made, the argument done. And now, after the weeks and months that have brought us here, there is disbelief, terror, and hurt.

While the politicians made their speeches, while they made their claims and accusations and promises and predictions, while families exchanged cross words, friends fell out and acquaintances were strengthened or nipped in the bud – while all of this, something shifted.

It was a crumbling at first, of usually solid exteriors, and a quiver in the foundations. But it didn’t stop. The cracks grew. And as we got closer to the point, of the votes being counted and the decision made, the fractures zigzagged their way across the country – into offices, social gatherings and our homes. The glue that bound us was forcibly pulled away, leaving a gash we can’t fix.

And this is why I’m hurting. We should never have been asked to choose – because in choosing, we have exposed the worst of ourselves and each other. It was a job too big for us. How could we know the facts, the answers, the future? How could we protect each other from the fear? We couldn’t. And what has been left behind, now that the votes are counted, is a country divided and reeling from being torn apart. We are bereft.

It has become the thing, to shout and fight and accuse. It has become the thing to voice prejudice and act on hatred. In this land where I was born, I see battle lines and divisions where they’d not been before. Had they been hidden from view, or have they grown from this sorry mess that has left us bereft? For now here we are, in a Britain that has woken up after harsh words uttered in haste, in the heat of the moment. Like a nightmare that comes back to you through the day, the hangover of how we acted, what we did and said, isn’t going away.

A family member was racially abused on the street this week. I have never before felt so detached from the country I have grown up in. This isn’t home. This place where the language tells stories of us and them, where the people are filled with resentment. Where dissatisfaction has bred fear and hate.

The voting is over and we can’t undo what’s been said, the words that have been shouted, the hurt that’s been felt, the seeds of hate that have been planted. I’m angry that we were made to vote. It was never going to be the answer. It has made our problems much, much worse. The vote became a vehicle for people’s anger and resentment and it ran away with it. It became a symbol of dissatisfaction over a changing world, it became an outlet for expressing disappointment, it became a beacon of possibility where people couldn’t understand how to change the lives they weren’t happy with.

I am distraught, but I am also terrified because none of us know what this will mean.

And now it is done, I look around this country, and I know I can’t forget. The scars of our referendum tell the story of a place divided, where there is bitterness instead of humanity, where prejudice is rife and where simple kindness is lacking while fear and mistrust have won. What this will do to us fills me with horror.

This morning, my children are waking up in a country which doesn’t feel like home. With my brown skin and Indian name, I’m not sure this land wants me anymore.

 

 

 

Work in progress

When do we reach a stage where we really know who we are? I used to think that by the time I was somewhere in my mid-30s I would know me and I would get me. More and more though, I’m realising I was wrong. Perhaps we’re always destined to be works in progress – shifting, changing, moving, going back and forth and around depending on that day, that year, that memory.

There’s something that happens as you get to that point where it looks like you might finally have your shit together. There’s the house, the job, the children, the husband, the realisation finally that hair oil tames the frizz and life’s too short for shoes that rub. Yes, there’s all that. There’s the seeming certainty over what you’re doing and where you’re going – at least on the surface of it all. But, the more of that settled-ness and decisiveness that there is – the more introspection there is too.

And this is when you realise, you’ll always be changing, becoming, falling apart, trying to be fixed, and adapting and learning all over again. As life happens around us, as we navigate it all and look back as well as forwards, we are of course going to change what we see, how it makes us feel, what it makes us do. How we might be or respond or hope or feel might be completely different from one week to the next.

Because, after all, we’re growing, learning, changing and still finding our way. I wouldn’t want it to be different really. There’s still so much to get my head round, there’s still so much to happen and make happen. I hope life as it goes does make me do things differently next time, see things differently, teach my children differently, be differently.

This process, at the moment, hurts a bit. But I’m taking comfort in knowing that there won’t be a goal or an end point or a resolution I either succeed at reaching or fail at attaining. There’s nowhere I need to get to. It’s not just me that’s the work in progress, it’s all that’s around me too. I’m going to take my time.

Excited for all that is ahead

Milin edit

When the letter landed on our doorstep, I knew it was something that mattered. The handwritten address had my married name on it, which I’ve only recently started using. It wasn’t junk mail or a circular. Someone had purposefully posted this.

It was a letter from Milin’s new school. The little primary up the road which had been our first choice and where he will start reception in September. Come for a meeting, the letter told us. Tuesday, 7pm.

And so we rushed home from work, got the kids bathed, scoffed a supermarket pizza, got Jasmin to sleep and Milin ready for books – and left them with my parents and made it up the hill and into the building with two minutes to spare.

I’d changed my trousers, touched up my make-up from the day’s smudges, and put on perfume. It felt like our first day. I wanted to look right, but I wasn’t sure what that was. I wanted people to like me, but I was too scared to talk to them.

We walked into the school hall and sat in the second row so I could see the overhead projector. I’d forgotten my glasses. I searched the faces of the parents while we sat in rows, waiting for the head teacher to begin her talk and hopefully reassure us: your children will be fine. Would these be the parents we made friends with over the years, who we helped out with drop-offs, who we organised summer fairs with, who we kept in contact with via text because we worked to different schedules and only did the school run on opposite days.

We were given an envelope each. It had details of our child’s class, the uniform, stay and play sessions, start times for breakfast clubs, information about school lunches. I wanted to cry.

I found out I was pregnant with Milin almost exactly five years ago. Tony and I had just got married and I was a successful and serious New Zealand newspaper journalist, life was fun – work hard, play hard, shop hard. Weekends were spent running in the bush, swimming in the sea and then drinking coffee while pouring over the papers and choosing what to cook or where to eat. I hadn’t thought I’d find myself sitting in a school hall in England so soon, raising my hand and asking how best to prepare my child for reception. But that’s where we are, because in that five years, we have been lucky enough to have Milin.

He’s changed us beyond recognition. And while in my daydreams he is still a tiny newborn with goggly eyes who seems feather-light and barely makes a sound – when I look at him really I see my child is on the verge of becoming a school boy. He runs fast, he speaks with confidence, he makes his own decisions. He doesn’t need me for everything. He can go most of the day without me. He still asks for me when he falls or is tired or feeling sad for some reason. But, really, he is quite content playing Lego, building dens, chasing friends, and playing out action adventures involving superheroes.

Teach them to dress themselves, to recognise their own shoes, to help themselves to water when they need it – it is time for them to become independent. That’s what we were told in our meeting. I wanted to cry, selfishly, because I don’t want Milin to need me, or want me, any less.

But then we talked about how, in reception, the children grow. They get quicker at putting their socks on after PE. They write their names, they read. They choose what they want for lunch. They run around the playground, they meet their friends at the gate after having to wait all weekend to see them, they discover writing and stories and wrap their heads around totally new concepts. Slowly, my sadness and worry (how would he cope? would he be scared? would he be able to dress himself after PE?) – that sadness and worry turned to excitement.

I hope that school is full of laughter and fun as well as learning. I hope reception is pretty much all about fun in fact – he will have plenty of time to learn. And actually, now I see it. Reception is going to be amazing. There will be days when he is sad or frightened or worried or scared or out of his depth or lonely. But there will also be so much, much more than his days hold now. Lessons, games, adventures, friends. Life.

My little four-year-old is going to school. He’s starting something new and he’s about to have his mind opened to a big wide world that he currently has so little idea of. I’m excited for him.Milin Paddington edit

“So never stop fighting”

The pain and trauma in the 12-page victim impact statement written by Brock Turner’s victim is harrowing. I implore you: read it all. Then read every word again and share it.

I hope you are moved to tears too. Not because you are triggered – although more than one in ten of us will be. But because you are angry and sad. And then because you are hopeful.

It is brave, and strong, and – almost inconceivably – cause for belief that our culture could change. Because every time we read it and share it and talk about it and amplify this courageous woman’s voice – we become braver and stronger.

Read it and you will be repulsed not only by what happened on what should have been just another Saturday night, but also by what followed. If you ever want a demonstration of the old boys’ club looking after its own, this is it. It is a disgusting example of what happens when you’re a wealthy, white middle class male who did something horrific. This is rape culture.

In America and the UK, much has been made of the rape crisis on campus. But this is more than a crisis. When a young man is given a six-month sentence for rape because it might otherwise have ‘a severe impact’ on him, when that man cannot acknowledge that what he did was wrong; when he tries to blame a woman, when he sees his mistake as having drunk too much, when he cannot see that he was never given consent, when he can still be portrayed as a man who shouldn’t have his ‘promise’ impeded, when his actions are excused by his father – this is rape culture.

In news reports following the attack, his sporting achievements were listed. He continues to be talked about as a promising athlete. Our media perpetuates a notion of disbelief. The promising college student. The rapist. Actually, they are the same thing. And for as long as society continues to separate them when talking or thinking of the Brock Turners, there is an enormous problem. For as long as the myth stands, that boys will be boys, but nice boys don’t rape – the problem is compounded and the culture continues to breed.

While Brock Turner was written about as having promise, the woman he raped was referred to as an ‘unconscious intoxicated woman’. The court wanted to know all about her past. Not her promise. Which Brock Turner treated with complete disdain at a time when she could not say yes.

I am in complete awe of her bravery. To stand in court and read her 35-minute statement to the face of her attacker, to fight for a year, to do this not just for herself but for the girls everywhere that she says she now stands with: this is courage. And it is by us reading her statement, sharing it, pressing it into the hands of our girlfriends and reading it aloud to our sons – it is in this way that we will perhaps find an inkling of hope. Because by being with her as she is with us, it is in this way that we could see change. We could reach a place where our daughters are never blamed for not being able to say yes or no.

 

 

Nurturing self belief (in stroppy toddlers)

two year old nurturing self belief

My two-year-old is nearly three, and her birthday is approaching with a noisy stamping of feet and swishing of princess dresses. She knows it is her “three birthday in July”, and she seems convinced that this milestone will make her as grown up as her (four-year-old) brother. Suddenly her words are full of conviction, her opinions are uttered with unwavering strength. She knows exactly what she wants and she won’t settle for anything less than getting it. Now.

And I love this.

Because at some point between three and 30, my daughter will learn to say sorry. Too often. She will learn that her opinions aren’t always as important as someone else’s. She will learn that what she wants isn’t necessarily hers to get. She will learn to settle.

Somehow, in the next two and a half decades, my feisty, strong-willed daughter will lose her complete belief in herself, her conviction will falter and the doubt will set in. Her confident foot stamp will disappear, her statements will become questions and her certainty will slowly be eroded. Her determination, her straightforward understanding of achievement, and her simple acceptance of her own success, will diminish.

This won’t happen because she is just growing up. It will happen because she will become a woman.

two year old nurturing self belief

And so this is my job – for now at least, and as a start at least – to stop this journey into the womanhood I know. Instead, there has to a be a path where she retains the self esteem and belief she has now.

In the next 30 years, I want my daughter to continue to be self-righteous and determined. I want her to keep her unfaltering self belief. I want her to shout about her opinions and not give up until she gets her way. I don’t want her to give in, I don’t want her to apologise, and I don’t want her to think that someone else is more deserving of something which she should have equal access to. I want her chances to be fair, but above that, I want her to believe in herself and her rights.

Somewhere, somehow, after we are two or three or eight or twelve or seventeen or twenty two, we start to see our place differently in the world. Instead of the world revolving around us, we become a spectator with a restricted view. As women, we apologise for getting in the way of the main act, we tiptoe around the edges while doing what we can to support the performance. Our subconscious assigns us these spaces over the years, after years spent quietly absorbing the facts around where/how/what we should be.

So no more.

My two-year-old who is nearly three but thinks she is all grown up, carries inside her a beautiful, angry, insistence on her place as centre stage. And so it shall remain. Because I will spend the next 30 years telling her that she has nothing to be sorry for, and she has as much entitlement to that spot as anyone else. Her voice should be heard, her dressing-up dress should be seen as she swishes it in a strop, and her self belief and confidence should remain with her for always.

This is my job. I have no idea how to do it.

two year old nurturing self belief

Days off…

I work four days a week. It’s a sometimes hard, sometimes easy, sometimes I wish I had more hours at work to get everything done, sometimes I wish I had more hours at home with my children. Actually, I always wish that last thing. But, four days it is. Monday through Thursday, we leave the house at 7am, I kiss the children goodbye at 8am, I’m at my desk at 8.30am, there til 5pm, and kissing the children hello again at 5.30pm. It is our rat-race. But it could be so much worse. I’m grateful for my short commute. I’m grateful that my employer lets me pick up what I can’t do before the run home at night when the world sleeps. And I’m grateful for three glorious days off in a row with my babies.

And then there’s bank holidays. An extra Monday off is blissful. It means four days in a row with Milin and Jasmin. It made up for me not taking any time off this half term. (Couldn’t logistically be away from work, didn’t have much leave owing, wasn’t needed at home as Tony is around, etc, etc).

And in our four days off in a row the children made a point of telling me repeatedly how much they loved it when I was home. “Never go back to work Mummy”, Jasmin said. “I love it when you don’t go to work Mummy” Milin said. I felt guilty and lucky and happy and said in that way that I never knew before motherhood tore me in all directions at the same time.

What did we do that made them so joyful? Simple things. We saw a superb theatre production of Little Red Riding Hood at the Arts Depot in north London – a venue that never fails to amaze me with its pick of shows for children. This one didn’t disappoint and the children loved it. (I felt a little bad afterwards in the bar, two drinks in with a friend, when Jasmin screamed her head off because at 6pm she really was ready to go home, but, it was my Friday too, right?)

Arts Depot Arts Depot

And we went to ballet and soft play and Milin and I talked about Star Wars over a gingerbread biscuit. We went on the commuter boat along the Thames from Vauxhall to Bankside and waved at people on the river cruise – and clapped when they waved back. We had our first barbecue in this home, we wandered round the Tate Modern and sighed at all the stairs and crowds, we had pizzas and coffee dates, we hung out with grandparents, we hung out with friends and while the kids played on the bouncy castle in the garden the grown ups drank too much wine, again, …. so we basically just did stuff. But that one extra day off – it made me feel very grateful of time with my children.

Pizza Express South Bank babycinno London River cruise Thames commuter boat barbecue Jasmin

(And on the nights they’re only going to sleep at 9pm because there is no nursery tomorrow, I must remember these peaceful and good times.)

We deserve to be safe here

Working mum on laptop with child sleeping

Reclaim the internet…

There’s a slow and horrible realisation that creeps up on you when you’re trolled. First, it’s the sensation of feeling a little bit dirty – as if you’ve been tainted by someone else’s filthy words. When you can shake that off, there’s the anger that comes with knowing that someone has been so cowardly they’ve targeted you anonymously. There’s also sadness and frustration, because it does hurt, no matter how many times it happens. And even though the perpetrators are usually anonymous, it’s deeply personal, because it’s an intrusion into the space you had made your own. It makes you question yourself, even though you know it shouldn’t.

The first abuse I received for my writing wasn’t online. As a young, female news reporter with brown skin I was always easy to find in newsrooms. There was the skinhead who came to the office of the first daily paper I worked at. He came to find me after I’d reported on the racist murder his brother had just received a life sentence for. And it wasn’t always about the colour of my skin. It didn’t matter that I’d won a national press award and been named environment reporter of the year – climate science, or the impact of dairying on waterways were apparently too complex for my brain. The smears and personal attacks came in the form of letters addressed to the editor, to me personally on the newsdesk, and then, of course, in forums and comments online.

The worst of it came after I wrote about feminism. Among the trolls was one who told me that he’d like to tie my tubes with barbed wire. He isn’t worth me remembering him. But I do. Because neither he, nor anyone else, will make me change my mind about how important it continues to be that we call this behaviour out and refuse to let it silence us.

As women, we are subjected to an onslaught of abuse online. New research by Demos and cited by Reclaim the Internet showed that in a three week period last month, 6,500 users received 10,000 misogynistic and abusive tweets, just in the UK. That’s phenomenal, and disgusting, and horrific. We are targets for harassment, purely because we are women. This harassment we have always seen has moved over to the web, and on this infinite cyber playing field, we cannot afford to lose this fight.

Figures like these show that we are not safe. They dispel completely the myth that online abuse is rare or confined to specific sites or areas. Still, we cannot allow any level of this abuse to be considered in any way acceptable. At its very, very least, it denotes a complete lack of empathy, it legitimises the denigration of women, it extends our treatment as objects, it builds on a cycle that presents us as targets. At its worst, it can have horrendous consequences on its victims. It can perpetuate the abusive behaviour it seeks to normalise.

We all have an equal right to the internet. We have the right to a space where we can make our voices heard, free from fear, free from abuse. We haven’t had the freedom to make our voices heard for too long. We have to ensure that it is ours to keep now. We have been marginalised and quietened and pushed in some ways into these corners of the internet where we are talking. But we have to keep using our voices, here in these corners for a start – because if we don’t won’t be heard outside them. And if we’re not heard, we’re not equal.

So how do we do it? We keep on talking. We keep on telling our stories. We keep on sharing our stories. We keep on calling out abuse. We keep on.

My children don’t know what the internet is yet. They’re adept at swiping their fingers on the iPad to watch another YouTube rendition of Let It Go, but their understanding of the web doesn’t go much further than that. In the next few years though, they will discover an entire virtual world at their fingertips. My two-year-old and four-year-old will in a few years time, I have no doubt, be using apps and social media platforms that I have never heard of and am unlikely to ever get my head around. I want my son and my daughter to use them without fear. I want them to live online, not in the edges, in the quiet corners, but in the spaces they choose and in the ways they choose. I want them to talk loudly, to share their views, to find a platform that is theirs, and that is free from abuse.

I want them to be safe here.

 

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