Embracing snowday chaos

20180301_090333

There’s something about snowdays – they’re a bit like a zombie apocalypse but marginally easier to survive.

The roads in my village were deserted this morning after another heavy dusting overnight and (shock horror) the village first school was shut.

Here in Northumberland the attitude generally is that there’s no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothing… until today! Our hard-as-nails headmistress reluctantly conceded defeat for what is probably the first time in a decade.

So there was no mad panic to get ready – no last minute rush for World Book Day props (silent prayer of thanks) – no way I was going to hit any of my deadlines.

Instead it was a slummy mummy morning. The girls watched TV, I drank tea and made peace with the fact that I was going to get very little done other than mop up puddles of melted snow, dry successive rounds of soggy splash pants and woollens while constantly dishing out snacks and hot drinks.

It’s not always easy working from home when childcare duties are suddenly thrust upon you from left field (well okay – we did know the Beast from the East was coming). But it still requires lots of juggling, a helpful ex spouse, forgiving clients and a child’s ability to watch endless episodes of Peppa Pig.

It also requires an ability to let go. The deadlines for the most part can wait – the memories will not.

The deadlines for the most part can wait – the memories will not

My New Year’s resolution for 2018 was to do less, prioritise more and stop all the crazy multitasking. Little things, like eating a meal without looking at my phone.

I’ll admit there’s still a long way to go, but I’m determined because I’m convinced it will make me a happier, calmer person and a better mum.

The world we live in is so full of distraction and so very very busy. We’re all guilty, to a greater or lesser extent of spending too much time on social media, trying to do too much all at once and wasting time on things that aren’t important.

It’s about doing one thing at a time and giving that task all my focus. There’s a Japanese word for this: “ichigyo-zammai”, which means giving your full concentration to a single act.

We’re all guilty of spending too much time on social media and wasting time on things that aren’t important

I read an article a few years ago now – which I now can’t find – on this practice and its relevance in a hyperconnected, modern world. The author was visiting Japan and had noticed that even at supermarket checkouts there was a certain ceremony, both hands were used to exchange credit cards with little bows of respect.

Japanese shoppers are not yelling into their phones while dragging small children off each other, chucking items into bulging carrier bags and flinging plastic across the checkout. Well some of them probably are. But certainly I know which image I find more calming.

In his book the Beginner’s Mind, Sunryu Suzuki describes the practice as being fully in the moment.

“We just concentrate on the activity which we do in each moment,” he wrote. “When you bow, you should just bow; when you sit, you should just sit; when you eat, you should just eat.”

So what does this have to do with a snowday I hear you ask? I guess it’s the ability to be adaptable when there is a sudden change of plans that throws off work and home schedules, but also that (still for me) elusive ability to drop everything else for a little while.

It’s not often children are able to play in the snow in this country, coming home to hot chocolate with happy flushed cheeks, fighting over who gets the best sledge, arranging to meet their friends on the slopes the next day, sleeping deeply after a day of fresh air and excitement.

So today I fought with myself, as I’m sure many working mothers do in these circumstances. What could wait? What could I wing so I could enjoy this unique day of fun and enjoyment?

I’ve ignored plenty of jobs, and it has been worth it. School is closed tomorrow and I am planning more of the same, with a brief respite when my ex arrives to take the girls out sledging.

Next week I will knuckle down, get the jobs done, hit those deadlines and maintain my gainful employment.

Until then it’s all about collecting icicles for the freezer (does anyone else’s children do this?), making snowmen, drinking our bodyweight in hot chocolate and sticking a pizza in the oven for tea.

Our weekend has started early and (while I’m aware of the wider travel chaos this cold snap as wrought across the country) I do find myself hoping the snow stays for a bit longer. Well until Sunday evening perhaps. God, please let school be open on Monday!

_______________________________________________________________________

For a blogging newbie I’m feeling extremely flattered and excited at my nomination for the Sunshine Blogger Award. A massive thank you to blog Cooking With Kids (move over Annabel Karmel!) for the recognition! I will thank you properly in my next post, answer your 11 questions and nominate my 11 favourite bloggers. Watch this space!

Viva the Mumsnet revolution

mn-logo-square

My friend Hannah has decided to become an internet troll. What she means is that she’s going to wield her wit and fearsome way with words to hold politicians to task on everything from education and gender equality to energy saving and reducing sugar in our diets (she’s a dentist, so this last one’s a biggie).

And I pity anyone who gets in her way.

This is a woman who – while on holiday in Norwich – stood outside the city council building angrily snapping photos on her phone (her husband and children looking on), demanding to know why it was “lit up like a Christmas tree” at stupid o’clock at night.

Returning home she stumbled over a Tory leaflet that revealed it was pushing ahead with its plans to scrap the three-tier education system in Northumberland, even though the consultation on school reform has only just begun.

Cue the next round of angry emails. “Hell hath no fury like a middle-aged woman after a six-hour drive and no caffeine,” warns Hannah.

You’ve gotta love an activist mum. Say what you like about the Mumsnet brigade… these women get shit done.

Say what you like about the Mumsnet brigade… these women get shit done

What happens when you throw a group of highly-educated, under-utilised and fiercely-protective mothers together? You create everyday activists.

My faith in humanity was restored a little bit after I work up this morning to see that – thanks to the indignant mummies (and daddies) across Tynedale – a petition saying “no” to scrapping the three-tier school system in Northumberland has gained over 1,000 signatures.

This was mums doing what they do best in a crisis – sharing the fuck out of petitions in angry posts on Facebook and participating in rants on Whatsapp (most of us are a bit scared of Twitter).

Politicians, corporates and policymakers have come to know, respect and fear the power of Mumsnet, Netmums and other mummy warrior networking sites.

Politicians, corporates and policymakers have come to know, respect and fear the power of the cybermummies

Take Maclaren. It was condemned by Netmums, back in 2009, for recalling one million “hazardous” pushchairs in the US but leaving them on the market in the UK.

The suggestion that a buggy that was deemed unsafe for US tots was considered fine for UK toddlers had mums everywhere up in arms.

The founder of the Netmums website, Siobhan Freegard, said: “Mums are saying that the company is doing more for those in America because they are more likely to be sued over there.” Maclaren’s shareprice, brand and reputation all took a hit.

David Cameron, by contrast, had full respect for the power of cybermummies, signing up for a number of live webchats on Mumsnet.

In these forums he was asked about everything from his favourite biscuit and Cbeebies show to banking regulation and inheritance tax.

No-one does polite fury better than a middle-aged mummy. Actually scrap ‘polite’. We are women who shake our kids’ scooters at passing cars yelling at them to “slow the fuck down”.

We are women who shake our kids’ scooters at passing cars yelling at them to “slow the fuck down”

So the next time you see a gaggle of mums gossiping outside the school gates after drop-off, don’t assume they are talking about nice fluffy things like coffee mornings, baby weaning, tupperware or chick flicks.

In the immortal words of Dewey Finn (Jack Black’s character) from School of Rock, these women are too busy “sticking it to the man”.

_______________________________________

Thanks for reading! I’d love to hear your stories about mummy activists

Nobody fancies a feminist

suffragette3use

In her speech today marking 100 years since (some) women gained the right to vote, Prime Minister Teresa May spoke of her concern that public debate was “coarsening”.

“It is online where some of the most troubling behaviour now occurs… As well as being places for empowering self-expression, online platforms can become places of intimidation and abuse,” she said, speaking in Manchester, the birthplace and home of famed suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst.

100 years ago, much of the anti-suffragette propaganda focused on depicting suffragettes as embittered spinsters.

In an effort to offset these attacks on their personal appearance (that sought to undermine their message) Suffragettes deliberately dressed femininely – in billowing skirts, large hats and striking jewellery. To remind everyone that they were still women, mothers, wives…

The #MeToo backlash begins

Trying to wind me up the other day, my boyfriend reminded me that “nobody fancies a feminist”. I had been ranting (I sometimes rant) about the awful behaviour at the Presidents Club annual fundraiser, revealed that day by the Financial Times.

At times I have wondered whether to tone down my twitter activity, particularly on my work account, for fear of coming across as a “feminazi”. But then I remember I’m self employed and think, fuck it.

Today, my father emailed me a copy of an article in The Times, “MeToo feminism is victim culture, not courage”, in which the “most recommended” comments, mostly contributed by men, described the #metoo movement as:

  • “Fickle and dangerous”
  • “Culture of victimhood”
  • “Attention-seeking”
  • “Opportunistic self-advertising”

These were on the whole the polite, educated criticisms of Middle England’s broadsheet readers.

I’ve seen far worse online. The suffragettes came up against cruel cartoons, but these days women who shout too loud are trolled on social media.

When broadcast journalist Cathy Newman attempted (unsuccessfully) to “out” Canadian Professor Jordan Peterson as an anti-PC dinosaur on Channel 4 news she was relentlessly attacked on Twitter by his alt-right supporters.

The attacks were so abusive and worrying the television network was forced to call in security specialists, and Peterson himself intervened, pleading for it to end.

Shadow home secretary Diane Abbott received almost half the abusive tweets sent to female MPs in the run-up to last year’s bitterly-fought general election, according to Amnesty International. Among other things she was described as a “fat retarded black bitch”.

In her speech in Manchester today, Teresa May argued that online abuse is disproportionately targeted at female, minorities and LGBT people.

And writing in Huffington Post, Labour MP Harriet Harman observed that “misogynists now use the internet to threaten and abuse women under the cloak of digital anonymity”.

abusive-tweets

The f-word

“If you voice feminist beliefs, people are going to call you lonely and undesirable, and ugly,” wrote Jennifer Wright, in Harpers Bizarre last year, after she had been a victim of trolling.

“They are going to tell you—in so many words—that no one could ever love you.”

She urged women to disregard it. Not to be silenced, or to self-censor, for fear of ending up alone.

“It’s a crazy dumb trick designed to make you shut up about wanting the world to be better for women.”

I for one am incredibly grateful to the suffragettes, to these brave women who fought for the right to vote 100 years ago. They endured imprisonment, torture and ridicule in the process.

I remember and honour them in remembering to exercise my right to vote, as should every other woman who is able. But while much has changed in the space of a century, the fight is not yet won and feminism – sadly – is still a dirty word in too many circles.

So this is 41

comic-girl-sleeping-bed-pop-art-illustration-78832051Life as a working mother can be so glamorous! And today, my birthday, has so far been no exception. It began at 5.30am when my youngest daughter (who was, as usual, sleeping in my bed) urgently announced she needed a wee.

Go on then, I grunted. But she couldn’t get the door open, and then the cat started attacking her feet (does anyone else’s cats do this?) and by the time she got back to bed she was wide awake and plotting.

“Mummy, it’s your birthday! We’re going to make you breakfast in bed!”

I begged her not to. I pleaded. “Please just go back to sleep. That’s all I want. Mummy is very old now and needs her sleep.”

We cuddled and I dozed, and while I wasn’t paying attention she’d managed to go and wake her sister up.

The next thing I knew there was lots of banging and clattering coming from downstairs. All the lights were on – including the very bright one on the landing. Sleep was clearly not going to be an option.

Meanwhile, having left the puppy gate open downstairs, there was now an exuberant and hungry cockapoo bounding around the bedrooms. Turns out he also had a full bladder.

The next couple of hours were a blur of cleaning up puppy wee, eating soggy cereal in bed and drinking black tea (the rest of the milk having been sloshed around the kitchen). Exhausted from their early start and busy birthday endeavours, my children had resumed doing what they do best, fighting with one another.

Somehow we made it to school and I kissed them goodbye, responding to half a dozen work emails as I walked home with the dogs. I realised I hadn’t brushed my hair and that my socks were pulled over my trousers.

Walking through the back door I was faced with the catastrophe that was my kitchen.

I went to make a cuppa before heading to my desk. Remembered there was no milk and opened the packet of gin-infused sweets my big sister had sent me instead.

Would I change any of it? No, I wouldn’t change a thing!

41 may be a bit of a slog, but those sweet cuddles, the look of anticipation on my daughters’ faces as I opened their gift and as they presented me with my breakfast are too precious for words.