Monday, 26 September 2011

Take the money and run?

Life has a strange sense of irony. There I was, toing and froing during my maternity leave about what the perfect work/life balance was, if downshifting and spending more time at home was the right road for me or whether I should make use of the skills and knowledge I have and be a working mum.

Just as I'd made my decision to remain in work but maybe try and see if I could reduce my hours at some point in the nearish future; just when I'd returned to work and realised how fab it was to be able to focus your attention on a task at hand instead of the constant multitasking and attending to needy preschoolers (as much as I may enjoy it), when I'd just made my mind up that a 3 day working week was the perfect work/life balance for me at this point in life, I'm told that by the end of the year I'd be out of a job.

To which my reaction as something along the lines of not being sure whether to laugh or to cry. I wasn't devastated when I heard the news, having thought the thought I was prepared. There are rather a few ideas, sparks of opportunity, flying around in my head. None of that compares to the rather snug situation of being in employed work, but you know, I find it easy to fill my days and there were even some exciting plans of what I could do instead of employed work for the sake of trying things out.

Just that the bottom line is that I didn't choose redundancy. It still is imposed and for that, unwelcome. Particularly so in a time of general recession, knowing that if I take a career break now, I'll most likely have missed the career train for good.

There are bitter thoughts too, about the fact that in the middle of my life, with lots of skills and experience behind me, there is no job security, that like many others in a similar situation, I'm so easily dispensable. Bitter thoughts too about the glass ceiling and the way that having put my career on hold due to juggling work and family life, it seems the only route is down when I know that if I set my mind to it and didn't have a family, the route could be up.

Then there is the look into the future: Any employed work in my field is offered on a non job share, full time basis. Effectively, through redundancy I am made to choose between career or my family. I do not wish to work full time at this point in life, but I also do not wish to be a stay at home mum. However, there is no in between. While there is a choice, the choice is not at all satisfactory or even acceptable to me. Flexible working hours are for the most part, at least in my field of work, a luxury for those within paid employment. If you have to change jobs, even within the same organisation, they disappear into thin air.

So what will my plan of action be? Will I consider full time employment opportunities? Will I take the money and run, set up as a bilingual/trilingual childminder with lots of outdoor play time for the kids? Will I return to teaching and depend on sessional work and face the childcare nightmare that entails? Will I become, against all expectations that I ever held in my life, a stay at home mum?

Decision making has never been my strength. I've been through the arguments. The issue is the lack of a solution that actually works for me. That 3 day a week job, that unfortunately doesn't actually exist.

Saturday, 24 September 2011

What to do with all that baby gear

It never ceases to amaze me how much stuff makes our way into the house just because we have kids. The other day we watched the video of Cubling's first birthday, 3 1/2 years ago, just after moving into our family home. I hardly recognised the place. What was then empty, spacious and admittedly a tad bare, is now filled with toys, baby gear and clothes hidden in every conceivable crevice.

And boy am I trying to get rid of stuff. There are items that I think have a value which I've been trying to sell through Netmums and Gumtree. No luck. I've given bags of clothes to friends and to charity shops and still there is more. So when the Baby Booty Sale came along, I quite fancied to get rid of absolutely everything in one go, while also selling a few Barefoot Books.

So when at 1pm today, we packed the unsold stuff into the car, it became all too clear that I had not succeeded in the big declutter. In spite of nominal prices on items (I wasn't there to make money, just to make sure the stuff is getting used again), people didn't buy. Baby clothes and baby toys are quite clearly items that lose their value as soon as they leave the shop, a bit like books. It's beyond me how some items didn't sell at all, when I see them as highly desired, valuable and great bargains.

And as to my wonderful Barefoot Books - I didn't sell even one. Ok, I get that this was a second hand sale and the books were new and they aren't your average cheap Amazon deal. Still, some of them are cheap and I didn't even sell them. Looks like being a bookseller won't quite work as a plan B once I'm no longer part of the wage slavery movement.

After hours of sorting, packing, setting up, selling and vice versa, which amounts to about 7 hours of hard work (I'm shattered writing this) I made £5.75. I'm ignoring that I bought a clothes rail for £8.99 which means I actually made a loss. Nevermind, it was fun and an experience and I'm happy to know that at least some items made it to people who wanted/needed them.

So here I am, sat on a mountain of clothes and baby gear wondering how to reuse it because, at the end of the day, it's still good stuff with plenty of life in it. The reality is that we buy so much more than we need that on the whole, we are inundated with baby clothes that aren't needed, therefore making their reuse value nil.

In the 4 1/2 years of parenting, I have so far bought very little children's clothes. I've managed on the whole to get by with what we were given as presents, with hand me downs plus the occasional purchase of underwear (and freebies through this blog). I can count on one hand the clothes purchases I've made. Yet I understand the constant temptation to buy this cute outfit here, and that beautiful dress over there. It's hard not to grab that sales bargain that isn't really needed. But if I look at the masses of baby clothes that didn't get sold today, I'm rather determined to continue my quest to stick to second hand, and to make sure that the clothes no longer needed go to people who have a use for them.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Waving faintly

It's not that there's nothing to blog about. It's just one of those things, you know, baby teething, no sleep for mummy, tiredness of the kind that cannot be put into words, a to do list that is doing my head in, juggling work and kids, and of course there is a lot of worry and work going into planning my future in the workplace. I've reached the point where energy levels are running out and I can't formulate any consistent thoughts for this little blog of mine. There are giveaways in the queue, and a lot of half written posts. Countless photos that need editing and are waiting to be shared/made into photobooks. Never mind the knitting on my needles, not even sure how many projects I've got on the go at the moment.

Basically, I'm not gone, just dropping the balls in this juggling act.

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Things I forgot in the past 12 months

After four weeks back at work, there's a few things I realised I'd entirely forgotten:

- It's amazingly cool to sit down at my desk and be able to concentrate on a job that needs done without any interruption other than being asked if I want a cuppa.

- Tea tastes better hot.

- Adult conversations that last longer than 10 seconds are pretty fun, even though I'm a bit rusty.

- I feel totally and utterly good about myself because I'm doing work that goes from A to D via B and C and is not eternally interrupted by whining, bum wiping, food providing and baby holding. Yay, I feel like I'm being productive.

- That mummy guilt disappears once baby smiles when dropped off AND picked up .

- That it feels horrible when baby cries when dropped off AND picked up.

- That baby will start enjoying nursery.

- That I have some really amazingly lovely colleagues.

- And that having a 3 day working week (though temporary until my accrued annual leave is used up) is in fact the perfect work / life balance for me.

Shame it looks like I'll be made redundant at the end of the year. Which once again proves that just when you thought you had your life all sussed out, someone in the background was just having a bad joke with you.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Roman Blinds Direct

Disclaimer: This is a sponsored post, however, all views expressed are entirely mine.

When I was approached to review the website of Roman Blinds Direct, I was initially a bit reluctant to review it, because, you know, I don't think I've ever even as much as thought about blinds. When I explored the site and had a good browse around, I have to admit, my imagination was fuelled and I was picturing how lovely our rather bare windows would look with some of the designs. Because really, the designs are rather lovely.

Ok, maybe the modern look wouldn't go quite so well with our Victorian style windows, but you know, in another life with a slightly different home, I can picture myself getting rather excited about these blinds. There's really something for every room of the house, but I was particularly taken by the children's roman blinds because they are bound to make every kid's room look rather special. There are plenty of designs to choose from, and what I like most about it is that for once, there's also plenty of choice for those of us who after having had two girls are rather sick of pink. I mean, you can get pink blinds, but there are plenty of designs which are a bit more neutral.

To make sure that the chosen design looks as good as it does on the website, you can even get a free sample before you buy, which strikes me as a great service as I'd probably be reluctant to order from an image that I saw online (I'm someone who needs to see fabric or anything for the home in reality and I'm probably not the only one). The blinds are made to measure and there's a choice of lining, allowing for blackout blinds and others. So if you're looking for blinds, make sure you have a peek at Roman Blinds.

Monday, 12 September 2011

Birthday girl

There is sunshine in our house. Every day, as soon as a pair of eyes open and a smile rushes over her face, making the start of the day, even after a long sleepless night, so much easier to bear. Nothing beats those baby hugs, mostly accompanied by a pat on my shoulders which tells me that I must be patting her when I give her a hug, something I never realised myself. There are noses to poke, pigs to be found (oh how she loves pigs!) and everything her big sister does rocks. Which sometimes, just sometimes, may upset said sister because she really wants to play with her cardboard dolls house or her magnetic fairy dress up kit which don't really mix with baby hands, as dexterous at they may be.

There's lots of head shaking, often with a cheeky grin, as she once again refuses to let a spoon come anywhere near her face or denies any offer of food. And then takes it after all because, you know, babies are allowed to change their mind or say "no" when they actually mean "yes". She now knows pretty much where to find mummy if she's left the room and will make her way across the house, determined to get a cuddle or be picked up. Which can be ever so slightly difficult if it's dinner making time... She's a big girl now, too big for her sling - well, not too big, but she's not too keen to be confined to it because there's so much to explore. There are balloons, balls, all the things in the house, everything is deposited on the ground. There are plant pots full of yummy soil which strangely is so much more attractive for putting into your mouth than breakfast cereal. Oh and the stones in the garden, what could be better than those stones! Every one is different even though they may look the same to the untrained eye. Each one has to be picked up, touched, chewed on and the shape determined before it is put back.

There are things that totally annoy her, like all those silly nappy changes, that stuff that comes out of you so much more often when you eat food. She so wants to be part of everything that's going on and doesn't understand why mummy doesn't let her stir the pot of food that's cooking or let her open the oven when it's hot. Oh and that wretched buggy that she gets put in, the most boring thing in the world. Not that she is constantly on the move but at least she wants to be sure of being able to move should she decide to do so. Oh and spoons, and most foods in general, c'mon mummy, aren't they just daft? Let there be cake because really, this girl does not care much for food unless it's round and can be picked up.

A year. Has it been a year really? We spent the eve of her birthday watching her big sister's first birthday videos. And there the big sister saw herself as the little sister, confusing herself with her sister, and truth be told, I don't blame her. Yes, big sis was chubbier (she loved her food, no question) and faster on all fours or cruising, but then again, she's always been very active. Little sister enjoys exploring just sitting on the ground much more, and is thus not quite so agile. yet. And also, as we remembered correctly, big sis was already a loudmouth at her first birthday, not to be mistaken for rather calm and quiet little sis. The ying and yang, two sisters who love one another to bits and yet are so different in personality. I can't wait to see them, their friendship and their sisterhood grow but at the same time, it's all happening so very fast. Where is my baby gone, this last babyhood for us to admire, adore, dote upon and experience. If only I could stop time for a little while and stare in those beautiful four eyes a little bit longer.

In the morning, I know that big sister will be the proudest girl in Scotland, when she will enter the nursery and announce that her little sister is one. And I'm so happy for her to be able to wear this pride so openly, as only children can. Because really, aren't we just as proud?

Friday, 9 September 2011

An FO at last - Finished object Friday

There has been a lot of knitting going on. Which is partly the reason I've been blogging less. Not that I've got much to show for it because it's not just hats you know. Nonono, I've been brave. Big time. There are two really rather huge pieces on my needles, in fact, I think I was still at school when I last ventured into knitting big things, like cardigans or jumpers for fully grown people. That's like over 20 years ago...

But finally, with a few birthdays of very special girls coming up, and rather a lot of babes in utero being due at around about the same two week span, it's been a race against time (often lost).
And yes, one finished object to show for all the knitting. Pathetic, I know. However I do like this little knit, so much so that a second one is as good as done.

I picked up the pattern from the Tramway Cafe in Glasgow, where there was a pile of knitting patterns nobody wanted. I'm not sure why nobody wanted this - it's a lovely knit, a bolero jacket for newborn to 10 years. Reasonably easy (if you can read patterns, I usually can but I've been a bit sleep deprived and may have slipped here and there and recovered with a bit of cheating), and yet lovely. I like it anyway.
This version is knit with merino wool, super soft Debbie Bliss cashmerino DK. It's soft yet really warm for the winter.

Then I tried it in cotton, Rowan Milk Cotton DK. Much lighter, definitely more a spring time knit. Once again, my personal favourite isn't the cotton. Maybe I should just stop buying cotton yarn because I always end up preferring wool. It's not bad, you know, just not as soft and fluffy.

4 year old insisted on the sparkly pink fabric to be placed in the photo frame, because pink is good and it's her favourite toy. Who would argue with that.

Pattern is Sirdar Lacy Bolero.

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Gimme less rubbish!

It's Zero Waste Week everyone!
And I'm awfully late getting around to blogging something for it, forgive me, life seriously took over.

Some time ago I was flabbergasted by the story of the family behind My Zero Waste. They managed to get through a full year with just one tiny bag of rubbish. I was in awe. I mean really, how many bags of rubbish do you put out each week? Well, in my case it's definitely a bit more than one bag a year...

Anyway, I got pushed into thinking a bit about the waste we produce and how to reduce it. After all, each piece of packaging that goes into the bin doesn't just add to the mountains of landfill that will take years, many years to decompose, but it's also a waste. Not just of that wrapper but of resources to produce it. And once you get your head around just how much unneeded stuff is produced to wrap, package and display, and that the resources used that way are effectively taking away resources from our own children in the future, something has to happen. At least in my head.

With the help of the Rubbish Diet blog I looked at ways to reduce my rubbish. Don't get me wrong, I'm not in it for a competition and producing even less rubbish in a year. I know I'm not the My Zero Waste superwoman. But I know I can reduce my rubbish. Everyone can. And then I try to reduce some more. Bit by bit. Little by litte. One step at a time. Until the day comes when your neighbour's bin is overflowing (because we have changed to fortnightly "normal" rubbish collections) while ours, with a larger family, is still not even half full.

My top tips are:
1. buy in bulk.
With everything, consider the larger quantity. It's mostly cheaper, but it means less packaging. So we have 5 kg sacks of rice and pasta, the largest shower cream possible (though soap is even better on the packaging side of things) etc
2. buy loose veg and fruit. We get a net of fruit and veg from an organic box scheme which is recycled, any additional fruit and veg is bought loose if available, and I try to buy any other fruit and veg with packaging in mind (weighing it against food miles though).
3. Consider packaging with every item you buy. So for biscuits I will only buy those in just one item of packaging, rather than triplicate packaging of something like pralines.
4. Focus on one behaviour change at a time. So, one week/month, change over to only using reusable bags for your shopping until it's second nature. Only then do the next. I'm currently focusing on zero waste lunches for the kids and myself though I'm not quite there yet. When I worked with a primary school the other day, I saw 33 children take out a packet of crisps each at their morning break time. Imagine, one class, 33 foil wrappers, every single day. times every single class. Mind boggling. Surely this isn't necessary?

5. One biggie: cloth nappies or EC (elimination communication). I do use disposables occasionally and at night time and even with that occasional use, it makes for one shopping bag full of rubbish. So I tried going all cloth. It worked for a while, but since my return to work, well, something has to give. All I can say though is that a good cloth nappy leaks less than a disposable! EC is not for me I have to admit, as with everything, you have to weigh up if it's doable for you or not.

6. Look at what you can do outside the house. For instance, at work we recycle paper but we don't recycle milk bottles. So I'll be taking them home now for recycling in my recycling bin.

7. Find out if you can get your milk delivered in reusable glass bottles. It will be more expensive but a) you get them conveniently to your door and b) no more bit ugly plastic bottles!

8. Use tap water rather than bottles. Whenever I can't stomach tap water (in some parts it has quite a chlorine taste) I use diluting juice just enough to cover that taste. That way the diluting juice lasts for months and yet I don't get quite such a sweet tooth for drinks.

9. Get a compost bin. Even if you live in flats, there may be a way that you could get together with neighbours and get one for the block of flats? Community composting is doable, there's lots of support out there for it so you don't need a garden to have a composting bin.

10. Grow your own - on windowsills, in community raised beds, in your own garden. Every pea you eat that you grew yourself has no packaging at all, tastes so much better, gives great satisfaction and makes for better health in so many ways. And it's fun too!

11. Opt out of junk mail. You will have to contact various organisations for that and you may still receive some junk, but less than before at least!

12. Reuse: Look at stuff and consider if you can reuse it. Maybe for a craft activity with the kids? Maybe as a plant pot? Maybe you can use that old garment for sewing something else? Kindle that creativity spark!

And last but not least: Embark on the Rubbish Diet Challenge.

That's the stuff I've managed to do. I still have half a bin of rubbish every fortnight, but that's only half of what we used to have. Which is more than a good start in my eyes. Now I only have to drop some hints to the neighbours how they can prevent their bin from overflowing ...

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

How much is childcare costing you?

Childcare, for any working parent, is a massive expense. I was gobsmacked when I first learned how much it would cost. Yes, of course, child care workers deserve a decent income and we want trained professionals - that's not the issue, it's about the fact that there is little support available and that the sheer upfront cost is a real barrier for many families.

Today, the Daycare Trust and Save the Children are launching their campaign on the cost of childcare. You can take part in it and please do, and please also share it amongst your families, friends, networks if you are behind it. Because, for many families, childcare costs are the single highest monthly expense - not even topped by mortgage payment. And what's worse, for many families work doesn't actually pay if you have children that need cared for.

Yesterday, as a member of the Daycare Trust parent panel, I was interviewed on this issue. Now, to be fair, we've managed ourselves a good deal what with council nursery for most days and both children (council nurseries are significantly cheaper than private ones). In fact, we probably pay half of what we would if the children went to a private nursery or a childminder which for most parents is the only available option. And still, even at paying half the current cost of having two children attending child care, our highest monthly expense is indeed childcare.

The journalist made me calculate how much we'd spend in total just on our eldest by the time she'd start school. The sum was £24,000 - and that was me forgetting to add the year still to come! So it's probably closer to £30,000 and that's not even for 5 days a week.

At the same time, it's been shown that investing in early years has the best outcome for societies as a whole, with the most equal and happy societies, with least crime and violence, least health inequalities, being the Scandinavian countries (where you get longer paid maternity leave and where pre-school care is heavily subsidised by the state).

It's not that the government doesn't support low income families in the UK. But the support doesn't go all the way and it's paid in retrospect through a system that is so complex that I don't know a single parent who doesn't struggle with it or is sure they're getting what they should be getting.

I did my own sums and found out that if I were to give up my job, I'd be just over a couple of hundred pounds worth off. So I'm working almost full time for £200. Ok, it's only until next August, when school starts and childcare costs will come down, but still. Are those £200 in my pocket worth the nightmare of nursery runs on top of work, the race to get dinner on the table and the kids to bed at a decent time? I've asked myself that question more than once in the past year.

For me, the answer was yes, because I love my work. But it the answer didn't come easy and it doesn't surprise me in the slightest that the research shows that many parents are giving up work because of the burden of childcare cost. 

Sunday, 4 September 2011

This ain't no competition: on Birthing

I seem to have a strange habit of looking back at the whole birthing thing around about a year after having kids. It might be a bit of a coincidence, or maybe not, but with quite a few of my friends coming close to their own due dates, I guess there is a bit of birthing chat going on these days.

As a bit of background: For all my life, I'd been absolutely scared of giving birth. So much so that for most of my life, I didn't want to have any kids. As soon as I got pregnant for the first time, I searched and searched how to deal with this fear. I went down the route of a HypnoBirthing course, totally tried to find out every information on birth, was addicted to reading birth stories, and I also took part in an NCT course.

Both the NCT and HypnoBirthing of course advocate a natural birth, if possible without any pain relief. I totally bought into it. Two long drawn out labours later, with one instrumental birth and one emergency c-section, (and trying out most available pain relief) I still long for that natural, serene, birth experience. You know, the one where you actually have a sense of birthing rather than having the baby taken out of you.

I felt totally disempowered first time around, and totally empowered the second time. The first birth, though more "natural" than the second, was a massive disappointment. With all my hope, preparation, longing to have a natural birth, it didn't happen. I kept going over it, analysing where it went wrong. In contrast with the second birth, an even longer back-to-back labour, hours of pushing without any movement, I was begging for a c-section. I was exhausted after labouring two nights in a row (and the day in between) and had had enough. Shame for that natural birth I never had but you know what? Having had a child before I knew there was much more to having babies than the birth and it didn't matter so much.

I'm not saying of course that birth doesn't matter. It does. What is important though is that with all the encouragement towards natural, drug free births, preferably at home, it doesn't become a pressure or competition to have such a birth, and above all, no woman should be made to feel a failure for not achieving this ideal. It may come as a surprise (hear the irony bell?), but different women labour differently, and it may well be that in times gone by with lesser health care, our outcome might have been a much worse one. It's only looking back after two births (and the parenting in between) that I realise it's not all about birth. Birth is important, every woman should be informed and be able to make choices about medical intervention and those choices should be respected. The thing is, it's also ok to choose pain relief, to choose a hospital birth or even an elective c-section. It's ok and doesn't make us a better or worse parent.

The choice though should be based on information, knowledge and weighing up of risk without scaremongering, and facilitated by non-judgemental staff. I had a great experience in that respect at the Southern General Hosptial. The surgeon visited me on the postnatal ward to discuss the c-section and answer any questions I may have. She also reassured me that none of the previous choices I had made would have made a difference on the outcome. In both labours, my birth plan was given due attention and followed to the word (so much so that I had to wait 2 hours for the decision to have an emergency c-section after I had given up all hope that this baby would come out on its own accord, the staff never failed to encourage me, had me upright and moving, and did everything to enable me to have that natural birth I was hoping for). However, I have heard of different experiences in other hospitals, where choices women make were questions, where birth plans were ridiculed.

It is one thing to encourage women to be better informed and make decisions on  that basis, another to recommend and push for a natural birth, which it appears the NCT at times seems to be guilty of from what I have heard (not in my personal experience I hasten to add). Because the damage of unmet expectations and hopes can be quite significant and contribute towards negative feelings after birth. In my own case, an empowered c-section might actually have been better than a non-surgical birth where expectations were not met. And as to bonding post c-section - it's all relative. Again, it's more about how one feels about the birth experience than what it was actually like. I felt a failure after the first birth and didn't think twice about the c-section after the second, and found bonding, breastfeeding and general adjustment much easier second time around, though admittedly I had a more serious case of the baby blues (which I attributed to my slight panic of having to look after two kids, which at the time seemed impossible - it wasn't of course!).

Of course, if I had a real choice I'd love to have given birth naturally, but, heyho, it's just a day in the life of a baby and a mother, and there are many more that count just as much. Too many important days to waste time on what ifs and if onlys. There are enough pressures on women and mothers, let's not add the one of having to birth naturally as a rite of passage to it. Becoming a mum is in itself a right of passage, and that's plenty to deal with on its own.

(and for anyone who has that failure blues: For 9 full months YOU grew a baby. How effing amazing is that? Give yourself a massive pat on the back!)



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