Adulting

I’m writing this at midnight because I can’t sleep, its beginning to hit me, now, nearly 4 years into this parenting lark, just how difficult it is having a child and trying to function as an adult, earning money while working around nursery/school hours. It’s not only that, it’s finding a job that allows you to work in a manner which enables you to balance things at least 3 weeks in advance to give everyone involved the proper notice to ensure that the child is not left stranded at one location while you are obliged to stay in another.

How do people do it?

Help?!

So, I guess the good news is… I got a job! I’m not sure if I should disclose the specifics, but I have a job in a well-known shoe store, located within half an hour’s walking distance of my house, the position is part time. So I, being the naive graduate I am thought this meant I would tell them my availability, for example, I am able to work 16-20 hours between the 8.30-5.30pm Mon, Wed, Thurs, Fri and the occasional weekend shift if they were really stuck, and to be given notice of these shifts at least 2 weeks in advance so I could arrange with nursery/friends/family the childcare arrangements. However, this does not appear to be the way the Adult world works, I am told what shifts I am working and when, I do as many hours as I am told to do with very little flexibility unless I specifically book a day off, and given about a weeks notice. I only found this out today which is why I am panicking and doubting my ability to be as flexible as they require me to be, and also the potential for me to be working nearly full time hours, with little notice, the last summer I have before my baby goes to school.

I am utterly grateful to have found a job, but as with most things I have perhaps jumped the gun a little bit, I knew that I needed a job for September, so started applying for a few, not expecting to actually get any, but in the hope that I might gain interview experience and feedback on my CV so that at the end of August when the heat was really on, I should be able to find one rather easily. I am very grateful to be employed right now, It was hugely unexpected and I am looking forward to working, I guess I just thought it would be easier, that I’d be able to decide which days I’d be working and how many hours, but that would be to easy right?!

I have the feeling though, that all this panic and anxiety is completely unfounded and that it’ll all just fall into place, and I’ll manage to work a bit and then the extra income will allow me/us to take Arlo on really cool/exciting day trips on the days I am not working… I’m just really worried that I’ll be expected to work almost a full-time job and miss out on this precious last month or so of his pre-schooler hood, but on the other hand, this is the norm for many many parents, and perhaps I expect too much! To be able to worm just enough to make it financially viable and then spend 3/4 days a week just with Arlo is significantly more than others get to do.

This real world Adult stuff is super hard, there is a temptation to just pack a suitcase pool savings and buy a one way ticket (with Arlo of course) and live a very minimalist lifestyle country hopping, home educating or I believe they call it “world schooling” running some dodgy online business or winning the lottery to make ends meet, but that’s a pipe dream, and right now I have to then figure out how I’m going to factor in school hours and a part time masters degree into this part time job and parenting  business!!!!

What’s Next?

So, this a little piece called “Whats Next”. You see, the thing is, I’d never really planned for after University, through all of high school whenever anyone asked me what I wanted to do or be I just said I wanted to go to University and stay there and then hopefully at some point, write a book! And that was it, a vague dream but equally a strong desire, built upon 10 years of planning for my future. It was for this reason, that Arlo’s arrival was a bit of a shock, and at the time, it threatened the only thing I’d ever wanted to do, I didn’t believe I’d be able to go to University as a young single mother, and for the first time on this blog I can say, well I did!

It’s done!

I have successfully completed my degree

I wrote a first class dissertation

I don’t know my overall classification yet but in due time I will and I think I will get the 2:1 I’ve been dreaming of, perhaps more, who knows! But here’s the thing, never in any of my plans, long term or short term, has there been an idea of what to do after I finished University, which is where I find myself now. As far as I can see I have two options and one short but frustrating story to tell. My options are either a) find a graduate job or b) find a part time job and study a part time masters degree. I have no great inclination either way, I am equally fearful but excited by the prospect of doing both.

So first, the elusive ideal graduate job, and the story of what happened to me today. A graduate job as far as I know would solve one big problem, money, they tend to pay very well, way more than minimum wage, and they offer a potential “career” with the prospect of upwards mobility and pay rises, money would be something as a family we’ve not really had in abundance, and the idea is very appealing, but… Here comes the big BUT…. It’s more than likely going to be a 9-5, geographically unstable contract kinda deal, which is not hugely compatible with a child of school age, which brings me on to the story component.

I was contacted by a corporate company who had seen my CV online and wanted to talk to me about their graduate recruitment programs, I was so excited, that a company had approached me! Rather than me having to fill in countless programs and online tests. The man was keen to talk to my on the phone and when he called me this afternoon was very keen to talk to me about a software testing role, based both on my degree and my A levels in Maths and Physics due to the analytical skills required, it was going really well, he wanted to arrange a meeting. At the end of the phone call he asked if I had any questions and I asked about the (unpaid) training they offered and how the 2 year placement course worked, if they were to be in Leeds or further afield, he explained that they had a variety of people in various locations that the placements would be at, and at the point I said that that could possibly be a problem, that I would be happy to relocate but would need it to be for the full 2 year period, something that he said was not unusual a thing to happen. It was at this point I mentioned that this was due to my caring responsibilities as a parent. At this point, he mentioned that he too had a 3.5-year-old and a 6-month-old, but unfortunately the role was not suitable for a parent, I then said that within the parameters he had explained, with enough notice, I didn’t think it would be a problem.

At this point, he said, that he didn’t think I would be suitable or able to commit in the manner they required, and hung up.

I am aware that it’s not very often that such an opportunity presents itself to graduates, pretty much a job offer, comprehensive job opportunity, qualifications etc, all was fine until he knew I was a mother, which leaves me to question: Why is being a mother such a stumbling block, surely that is for me to decide, not him? This worries me, that perhaps the biggest challenge I face as the Universitymum is not getting the degree itself, but convincing others that having a child is not a disadvantage, and surely at this point, it should not reflect negatively upon my perceived ability or competency. It’s so frustrating, I’ve never had someone reject me in such a way the moment they found out I was a parent, and make such an assumption about my suitability and ability to a job. I also wonder, that if I was a male, would they have made such presumptions? or would they have presumed that someone else was the primary caregiver and that it would have no effect upon their ability to be a “software developer”, ugh, anyway, that is only one rejection, potentially of many to come, I will be careful next time, to ensure that I do not let them know that I am a mother, lest it influence their perception on me, and only once I have the job make a professional disclosure.

Story over, my second option, part-time job, part time masters seems a little easier to swallow, more flexible, less pressure doing something I actually want to do… But it does mean 2 more years of uncertainty, of probably minimum wage and many hours spent in library’s, of limbo and a tiny second bedroom and low credit score…

Ahh the future! So close yet so far, I do have the luxury of having until September being Arlo’s primary care, a SAHM with 15 hours childcare, before I have to have a concrete plan in place. Such is the mystery of life! The unknown and the millions of possibilities and opportunities coming this way for my little family, who knows? My Dad thinks I can write a book, so lets see how that goes!

Modern Eugenics and the Child Tax Credit Benefits Cap

I handed my dissertation in a few days ago, a liberating moment for any final year student! I was happy in the knowledge that my dissertation was focused upon the past, I am a history student after all! It was a dissertation that looked primarily at the Eugenics Society, analysing its political leaning surrounding some matters of Editorial Controversy. The man I focused upon was called Ernest MacBride a Right Wing Neo-Lamarckist whose policies, even within the context of 1930’s Britain, were controversial. He resigned from the Eugenics Society for many reasons, extremist politics, Nazi sympathies, and ultimately just being an incredibly difficult man who could not accept that his Lamarckian science was becoming redundant in the face of growing evidence to support Natural Selection, Evolution and Darwinism

He believed that the poorer members of society should be discouraged from reproducing because they presented an economic burden to society, not only that but the poorer people were in essence a lesser form of human being, unworthy of reproducing. MacBrides also placed the wealthy, white, educated male at the top of his hierarchy, he viewed these as the epitome of Lamarckian Evolution. For Macbride, the rapid reproduction of the lower classes was increasing the amount of people who were now being classed as Mentally Deficient.

What MacBride posited as the answer to the over-reproduction of the lower classes was Forced Sterilisation, an idea that we now look at with horror, Forced Sterilisation? It not only violates a woman’s human rights, but it also places women as the gender to blame for excessive reproduction. Such attitudes are surely a thing of the past, yet what the new Child Tax Credit represents is a salute to our British Eugenic past. When Theresa May introduced the policy she aligned himself with the Eugenic values of our British past, she, in not so many words, has attempted a forced sterilisation of the impoverished, and in doing so she is discouraging poorer families from reproducing.

So the benefit cap in detail:  From 6 April 2017 support provided through Child Tax Credit will be limited for some new births – if you already have 2 or more children any subsequent children born on or after 6 April 2017 will not be eligible for further support. You can still receive a child element for more than 2 children if the children were born before 6 April 2017. In addition to the 2 child limit, the ‘family element’ of £545 per year will be abolished. In effect, this will mean that families with at least one child born before 6 April 2017 will continue to get the family element but claims where the eldest child is born on or after 6 April will not receive the family element.

This Benefit Cap that award Tax Credits to just the first 2 children creates a society in which a families validity is measured primarily through its monetary worth. It says that we no longer support poorer families having more than 2 children, essentially a forced sterilisation of the financial kind. I know that there are many reading this who may believe that families should not have children they can not afford, but I argue that this is not for Theresa May to decide, her power should not extend to deciding how many children she will support the most vulnerable families having. So, for the theoretical third child what does this mean, it shows that for the government at least the Conservative Party truly do not support the reality of social mobility, an utter lack of faith in this third child that they don’t want to support the family in having them.

Isn’t he good…

Since my son was born people have remarked on how “good” he is, and I even find myself doing the same, he was a regular sleeper, cheerful, sociable, happy to be passed from person to person, would sleep on anyone, anywhere and was happy to be put down in his own space to sleep from a young age, as he’s got older he’s quite a calm and quiet child, would much rather sit and read a book than run and scream, and he’ll happily sit at table in a cafe with a colouring book. His behaviour and personality is everything that people believe to be “good”, an echo of this victorian seen and not heard ideal for compliant, quiet, and malleable children that will fit into our societies closed spectrum of “acceptable” behaviour. Children are not born to be naturally manipulative

The truth is that the vast majority of children are not like that, and so what? Why does my son get to have the “good label” and others are “naughty” or “bad”? This leaves very little room for the natural spectrum of normal childhood behaviours. Its about time we reassessed what we label as good and bad behaviour, by placing these narrow boundaries upon what our children should or shouldn’t do, we simply create more space for children to be labelled as deviant.

Children have the right to express themselves, and before they are adults this may be in any way they see fit. We constantly told that we have to deal with your child’s behaviour, that it’s a problem, it is not a problem it is an expression of how they are feeling and that needs to be thoroughly acknowledged. Children are often less able to communicate there feelings, just Imagine having great difficulty being heard, and instead of someone listening they place you on a “naughty” step, or deprive you of your favourite toy, this is not an effective way to tackle a child’s behaviour, the most helpful and productive thing for others, parents to do is to listen, listen wholeheartedly and understand that what may appear trivial to our adult minds, to a child, it’s their whole world, growing learning and adapting to this world is tough, many adults fail miserably yet we expect the youngest members of our society to just do it, no questions asked.

“Good” behaviour should not be rewarded directly and “Bad” behaviour should not be punished. Instead, lets listen to what they are saying, and if they are unable to communicate why they are feeling the way they are then they are certainly too young to be held accountable for their actions. Placing a toddler on a naughty step before they are truly able to understand what they have done wrong. We should try and understand why they are behaving the way they are, without judgement, without labelling the behaviour, and without jumping to conclusions.

My child isn’t good, he isn’t bad, his behaviour is exactly that of an individual, he is 3, he will feel big things, get upset about situations outside of his control, needs holding to sleep, and sometimes he will not be able to cope with very ordinary situations, this is very normal, and totally okay.

Body Positivity, A Difficult One To Stomach

Its taken me about 4 years to come to terms with my changed body. 4 long years, from the moment the stretch marks began appearing on my expanding belly I no longer looked in the mirror and saw the body of a 17-year-old, the body I saw was alien to me. It looked not like the body of the people I spent time with, my friends and fellow students, their bodies did not swell and grow angry purple lines across the stomach, thighs, breasts, back and arms, their bodies did not betray the rules of youthful elasticity and their bodies certainly didn’t have questionable pelvic floors that woke them three times a night. I held myself and my body to the ultimate definition and ideal of “normal”, a “normal” based on my peers and the similarly aged women I saw on TV or in magazines. I wanted to be given the opportunity to behave, look and feel like all other people my age and when I looked at my body it defied this ideal. While the people around me drank and partied, the only thing I could do was eat, and perhaps this too contributed to my expanding stomach.

So, for 4 long years these feelings of self-loathing have invaded my identity, as a young adult and a mother, it is difficult, problematic, upsetting, it pervades your sense of being and creates an image of low self-worth, that even my status as a mother with a dependent can’t undo. This low self-worth and distortion of the normal postpartum body is not helped by the images in the media. I gave birth on the same day as the Duchess of Cambridge, imagine that, bump buddy with royalty! The day after she gave birth she as simultaneously praised and questioned for wearing a slim fitting dress that showed her soft postpartum belly. The newspapers devoted how long it would take for her to get her slim figure back, what she would wear, and what was appropriate. I read these things and had no choice really but to compare myself to her, and that was hard. Even family and friends remarked how it would take me a little bit of time to “get back to normal”. It’s odd, I’ve always managed to live within a paradox, whereby I can look at images of other women, women who deviate from the norm far more than even I do, I look at them and I see beauty, true beauty, but when I look at myself I don’t? Why? I’m not even sure myself!

For such a long time I saw my body as a prison, and the stretch marks looked like the visible bars on my jail, I was unable to see past them and I was also not willing to leave their confines. Over the years I have had so many people telling me how to feel about my body. The phrases they used to counter my feelings of self-loathing tended to be focused around the idea that I should have to be okay with my changed body because I had a wonderful child because of it, for me, this never provided much if any comfort, I didn’t understand why I should have to trade my body for my child, the two were never entirely mutually inclusive. In many ways, I am still the very same turbulent teenager, unable to accept the authority of others trying to tell me how to feel about my body because It simply doesn’t work that way.

Alas, all I have written this far has been rather sad and a little depressing, but thats the reality of the battles that many women faced with a body that does not look or feel like how they believe it should. But here comes the positive part! The Body Positive part… It takes time, maturity and distance to realise, here comes the big revelation, that the reality of postpartum bodies is that there is no normal! Some women will and do bounce back, some by there bodies own natural graces and others with activity, strength and determination. Other women may take longer, or (shock horror) may never have a body that looks like it did before they fell pregnant, and the most important part is that THIS IS OKAY! A body is a body, a vessel of you, and it does not reflect your competency as a mother or your validity as a member of society! The flat stomachs we see on screen are as okay as the stomach you see on yourself, we as a system simply haven’t got round to celebrating them yet. There are many projects that do. The “shape of a mother” series of photos celebrates all women and their pregnant/post-pregnancy bodies, celebrating their strength diversity, and their perceived flaws.There is no quick fix for body positivity, we are still bombarded with people telling us how to feel and what to wear and much of the popular body positivity space is fundamentally flawed, dominated by pictures of curvaceous white women which is why I don’t want to take up extra space in the body positivity arena when there are many who look like me. Body positivity needs to up its game to be way more inclusive of POC women, those with disabilities, those of all walks of life and cultures.

Yet, body positivity has brought so much to me, for the first time I have learnt to unlearn what I believe to be the ideal body. I have learnt to trace my fingers over the valleys and ridges of my stomach, to revel in the textures of untouched and stretched skin, to marvel in their unique size depth and shape. They look like silver flames dancing across my flesh, or layers of silver birch trees on the edge of a forest, they stretch from above my belly button to below my pubis and further down my thighs. They shimmer and catch the light as I move, the wrinkles of stretched skin that inflate and deflate as my stomach shrinks and grows. They have become poetry and art, and I a living 3D sculpture, a canvas upon which the gods decided to paint. Like all art, my body is open to interpretation, and each person is entitled to their perception; for some it is evidence that I carried a child, for many that in itself is enviable, to others it shows laziness, shame, it is something to be feared, as it shows the ugly unspoken undocumented effects of pregnancy. But the reality is, that I am my own harshest critic, and that no one has spent as much time trying to find the flaws in something that is neither pretty nor ugly, it just is, has been and will be, and most importantly it is mine, to do with as I choose and it is up to me to decide whether I view it as a masterpiece or not.

Pink Rethink

I don’t like the colour pink, its never been my colour, as a child it never really suited me, always looked kinda alien on my body, I always felt more comfortable in jeans and a plain top, dresses I liked because I liked how tights made it easy to run and play, comfort was and still is my number one priority when it comes to clothing. As a grown, I feel very much the same, pink just doesn’t suit me, but the more I think about it I realise that my dislike of the colour pink runs slightly deeper than that. As a child the things I was supposed to like, the things the “cool” girls liked were pink, and the things that I liked weren’t, I liked books, science, history magazines, skateboarding and none of those were pink so I began to dislike the colour because the pink things never really matched the things that I liked, and I was lucky enough to be brought in a way that this mattered very little.

My sister, on the other hand, is about a pink a person as one can be, her bedroom was pink, she enjoyed pink things and other pink like-minded girls, and you know what, that is and was totally fine. We were always opposite ends of the spectrum, one that was always synonymous with pink and not pink. I did, of course, have clothes that had bits of pink on, it is kind of an inevitability as a young girl, the colour is just on everything, it’s in the everyday things like 5 packs of socks and knickers from supermarkets, it was guaranteed that at least one of those would be pink, stationary, gifts from others, prizes in lucky dips, etc this colour always seems to be the one that defined being a girl because it was just everywhere.

The problem with Pink is not the colour itself, it is the narrow focus of what you as a young girl are told you can or cant like, what you should like because it has this one colour painted all over it, Pink was never on the Harry Potter lego I loved. There is so much to a girl and to being girly than this one colour appears to say. Yes, it is just a colour, and yes it is absolutely fine but it needn’t be the only colour that represents all that is involved in being a young girl. I always found it kind of annoying, that as someone who really wasn’t too fond of the colour I couldn’t really escape it, and I still feel the same way, but, the joys of being grown up, its almost as if the older you get retailers begin to realise that for women there can be more than just one dominant wardrobe and I can choose to simply not have that colour. (I am way more of a dark green, purple and black kinda gal)

So, why Rethink Pink, well because my wonderful child has all of a sudden begun to adore this colour, for the past 2 weeks he has wanted to wear at least one item of the brightest pinkest pink available in shops, the frilly, glittery, love hearts, sparkles, princesses, sequinned fabric that I have fought a quiet internal battle against because I believed it was selling a false and damaging femininity to a young audience and enforcing rigid patriarchal gender norms, something I do still believe to a certain extent but to Arlo… he just likes pink, he just likes the sequins and the sparkles and who am I to tell him what he should or shouldn’t wear to dress your child exclusively in Little Bird, Frugi and WAHM outfits instead of having to rely upon the regular Sainsbury’s 25% sale section

I just want to make it clear here, the issue is not his gender, not in the slightest (as such a thing is tenuous and tangible at such a young age, before he can fully self-identify with a gender) and in a weird way I am quite proud that he seems as yet unaffected by the whole pink for girls and blue for boys thing. I have just never been comfortable with frills and sequins and had vowed to myself that my child would be dressed as “gender neutral” as possible practicality and comfort in clothes always taking priority, this is, of course, one of those ideals you hold when you have hypothetical children and hypothetical money that grants such freedom.

The fact of the matter is that Pink is my issue, not his, and I don’t get to dictate what he feels comfortable in, even if it is not something I would ever feel comfortable wearing myself, parenting brings around many weird challenges, issues you never really realised you had and for me Pink is one of those, but I will aim to acknowledge this, and simply do an internal eye roll while purchasing the pink sparkly light up wellies because I know that’s what Arlo really wants, (Even though the Dinosaur ones are significantly cooler 😉 )

Self Care and Reflection

I’ve been very quiet recently, for good reason too, the pressure of the impending essays and simply the thought of the amount of work I have to do has at times felt very overwhelming. I hadn’t realised the pressure I’d put myself under, to maintain a high level of work and balance mum time to such an extent that I had quite forgotten about me as a person and an individual that needs care too. So this is what this blog post is about, recognising the importance of self-care as something that I need to do, that we all should indulge in from time to time. Christmas is also a strange time for self-care and reflection, you should be feeling selfless and give but it is important to take tooI think parents and (perhaps my own bias) mums particularly, we take on roles of shopping, cleaning, childcare, present shopping, more food shopping, tactical family negotiations, trying to maintain the balance of festive extra special family time and balance the tighter than usual finances, a true Christmas miracle really.

This is Arlo’s 4th Christmas, 4th! He is getting so big, and in that time our family dynamic has changed significantly, Arlo and I have moved out, my sister too has moved out of the family home, there are now our partners to consider, extended family increases as we grow and we’ve lost that annual contact with the far-reaching extended family and the focus shifts onto the newer generations. It is also a point for acknowledging the older members of the family. I love that my family has 3 strong sisters as the head, my grandma being the middle sister. 4 years ago the annual family Christmas Brunch was held at the youngest sisters house, but in the following 4 years she has succumbed to Dementia, our family have witnessed the all too quick spiral of Alzheimer’s and her absence is felt, particularly at Christmas.

Ahh but Christmas as a student, it is very difficult to maintain a festive outlook when you have approximately 10000 words to write and complete by the end of January, all to be of the highest possible standard because its final year and it actually counts! It’s difficult because, I find mostly it taints the build up to Christmas Day with a sense of impending difficulty, you are always supposed to be doing something else and staying in the present is often quite difficult.

I think because of this I think my mental health has taken a wee bit of a knock, particularly my self-confidence and body image, it’s ridiculous I know, but self-reflection and literally my reflection are often my worst enemy, as I agonise over essays and well, not spending the “time off” I have with my toddler my body confidence just drops to zero and my anxiety rises significantly. To combat this I decided to do what might appear counter-productive, to acknowledge that I have reached my limit and to take a break, a real break, not feel guilty about not doing work, not feel guilty about not spending time with the toddler, to instead focus on something entirely different, which just so happens to have been a huge declutter of the house which local charities have greatly benefitted from. I honestly had no idea how much excess stuff I had until it was all bagged up in my living room, it was if the declutter of the house and the re-organisation of whatever was left was mirrored with the organisation and decluttering of my thoughts and mind, which means I’ve managed to channel my time and focus on the tasks in hand, I’ve just about finished the 4000 word essay, I have all the sources I need for my dissertation which is just waiting to be written and a cohesive plan for my 3000 word, and I have somehow also managed to spend some real quality time with Arlo, days out, walks and his favourite thing, just staying at home and playing with all of his toys.

So, looking onwards and upwards, I hope this was not too depressing but rather it reflects the realities of the tough business being a mum with university deadlines! In the midst of this, all I have found some great new focuses which I am going to translate into New Years Resolutions of sorts

  • Focus on learning to love my body, all of its bumps, lumps, stretch marks, scars, and wiggles, I have made a lot of changes in my body out of hate for its appearance, I lost a significant amount of weight in March/April but it was not a positive experience because I never addressed the core problem, that is that my bodies is not good enough. But I came across a thought “Would you ever wish to see your daughter look at her body and think it was inadequate, that it wasn’t beautiful?” and of course, no I would not, I would consider it a huge shame if she thought that about the way she looked… So why don’t I apply the same logic to myself?
  • My second resolution is as a result of the huge decluttering, that is I will no longer have an “excess” of things, only what I actually need, I will only buy things of quality, that I actually need, as oppose to want for the sake of it, I’ve found that having a much smaller amount of clothing is honestly very liberating! I no longer agonise over what to wear because, well I only have 3/4 options!
  • And the last resolution is to stop feeling guilty, it consumes far too much of my time, and that is a luxury I can’t afford, I refuse to spend ages feeling anything negative, time spent feeling guilty could be spent being productive or, maybe not doing anything at all which in a weird way, I have found that it actually increases your productivity!

Oh, and a last word on 2016, many celebrities lost, many many more “ordinary” folks, mothers fathers, sisters, brothers, sons, daughters, also lost, the fragility of humanity may have been exposed in the “celebrity icon” world but it is all too familiar in our homes and communities. Here’s to a fantastic 2016 and a new fresh 2017!