Five signs you’re well and truly in the ‘Mum Zone’

On a few occasions recently, I’ve I caught myself saying something that I know I absolutely would never have said in the time BC (before child). Beware, the ‘Mum Zone’!

The Mum Zone is hygge-friendly. Residents of the Mum Zone find themselves sharing empty motivational phrases on Facebook that their previous selves would have scoffed-at. The Mum Zone feels safe and wholesome, like listening to The Archers whilst enjoying a bowl of fresh soup.

It sneaks up on you so gradually that you don’t know you’re in it until it’s too late. And when you do finally realise, the scariest thing is that you don’t even mind that you’re there. Here are  five signs that you are well and truly in The Mum Zone.

  1. When you’re asked if you’d like to have a Sparks Card at the M&S tills, your answer has changed from ‘I don’t shop here enough to merit it really’ to ‘yours are the only bras that fit me now, plus I like the fact I still fit into a 14 here, so yes, I will take that card’.
  2. Before you realise how douchy what you’re about to say is, when you open the kitchen cupboard you immediately exclaim, ‘we are running perilously low of balsamic vinegar!’.
  3. The only thing that now fits you in Topshop are the earrings. And you just don’t ‘get’ the slogans on the t-shirts they sell there anymore.
  4. For the first time in your life, you find yourself worrying whether you’ve got the correct ‘weather to tog ratio’ duvet on the bed.
  5. The closest thing you get to having a ‘Brazilian’ is a strong cup of coffee each morning

An apologetic mum’s open letter to Ariana Grande

Dear Ariana,

A few months ago, I was speaking to a friend of mine who has a daughter a similar age to me. Your music video ‘Problem’ came on the TV and I turned to my friend and said, ‘God I hope Emily doesn’t like stuff like this when she’s older. This girl’s not exactly an empowering role model, is she?’.

You see, even before I was pregnant, I knew that if I ever had a daughter, I would raise her to be a kind, sincere and unapologetic feminist.

I wanted her to know that although she might face unfair disadvantages, and at times it might seem easier to shy away from her problems, she should always have an unfaltering belief in herself, and speak up for what is right.

I planned on giving her this encouragement by ensuring she knew how completely loved she was by her parents, and by her friends and her family. I wanted to reassure her that when something doesn’t go to plan, it’s OK; it can make her stronger and more determined. I wanted to surround her with positive, empowering role-models; our wonderful family, our fantastic friends, and the many powerful and determined women in our world today, and the ones that came before them.

But I did not want her to idolise you. I took one look at you, I judged you, and I dismissed you. I will try to explain now why I’m truly, utterly and completely sorry for doing this.

The events that took place after your concert in Manchester have changed many people’s lives. I know it has changed yours and it has changed mine too.

It has made me fearful for the future of our global society that is becoming increasingly fragmented. At a time when we should be showing unconditional love and understanding to all, there are those that still want to drive deeper divides and spread hatred and mistrust.

But in the aftermath of the attacks, there is also hope – and I want you to know that you are largely responsible for this national, even global optimism.

The manner in which you have conducted yourself in the days and weeks since that awful night have been nothing short of inspirational to me.

You have shown such unswerving devotion to your fans. You have shown strength, humility and courage well beyond your years. You could have walked away. You could have stayed away forever. But you didn’t.

Instead, you have worked tirelessly to create an event that has spread more joy, optimism and compassion than I could have ever imagined. I’m sure it wasn’t easy for you to do this – to come out on stage and put yourself back in a position where you fear for your safety. But then over the past few weeks, I have come to learn that you don’t take the easy way out.

Fundamentally, I want to say that I am so sorry that I did not bother to learn more about you; who you are, where you’ve come from, what you’ve achieved, before I deemed you an ‘unfit role model’.

I am also sorry that it has taken something like an attack and the taking of innocent lives to make me have this realisation.

But if it’s any small consolation (I hope that it is but I’m sure it’s still not enough) I will tell Emily about your bravery as she grows up, I will tell her how you dealt with a situation so unimaginable with the utmost grace and compassion. But most of all, I will stop being quick to judge other people, and I will realise that inspiration can come in the most unlikely of places, and sometimes it can be right in front of you the whole time.

In these uncertain times, we need more women like you, Ariana. Thank you for teaching me this.

Love,

Charlotte & Emily (your two newest fans)

A parental wasteland but a toddler Graceland – our trip to CBeebies Land

Call it brave or just plain foolhardy, but this weekend we decided to take our 20 month-old to CBeebies Land. Emily loves CBeebies, and in all honesty, the presenters Andy and Kat have been like surrogate parents to her when I’ve needed a few minutes to finish work or sort the house.

When your addiction to Tesco’s donuts is so great that you’ve saved up enough ClubPoints for a free day out to Alton Towers (and a free meal in Pizza Express to-boot), you might as well make the most of it, am I right?

So we cashed in our points and headed to where all great weekends start – Stoke on Trent.

As soon as we got through the gates at Alton Towers, Emily spotted a tiny picture of Bing Bunny on a poster and she completely lost her mind. She ran over to it pointing and screaming ‘Bing!’. We probably could have turned around and put her back in the car then – that would have been enough excitement for her for one day.

I love how easily pleased toddlers are. It’s one of my favourite things about them and it’s only a short-lived phase before they shrug and can’t hide their disappointment at anything that doesn’t match their expectations.

She was about to have her mind-blown in a big way. We reached the main entrance to CBeebies land (shortly after a mini meltdown because I wouldn’t let her climb into the pond to pet the plastic frogs that gob water on each other) and as soon as she saw the little yellow CBeebies ‘blobs’, she broke into a sprint and hugged each one as we walked in.

Experiencing this place for the first time with a toddler was a total baptism of fire. As you can probably imagine, it was teeming with under fives jacked-up on candyfloss, proudly wielding oversize novelty stuffed animals won for them by their grown-ups. At any given moment, you can be pounced upon by the Alton Towers paparazzi, who snap away indiscriminately as you devour a bag of donuts before trying to sell you the treasured memory as a photo for a mere £10.

There were a fair few rides that were too big for our 20 month old, but between the more gentle rides, like the Postman Pat van and the themed play-rooms, like Nina’s Science Lab and the Charlie & Lola House, there was more than enough to keep even the younger visitors entertained. Emily honestly didn’t stand still once the whole morning, she was too busy darting from attraction to attraction.

There were definitely a few low points in our day. Spending over 30 minutes in a cramped queue for the In the Night Garden boat ride with an irate toddler was about as pleasurable as childbirth. But being on the boat and seeing Emily’s face when the Tombliboos peaked out of their bush was incredible – her eyes widened and her mouth dropped. She couldn’t believe she was seeing them in ‘real life’. What was essentially an old river ride with a few animatronic figures was genuinely magical to a young girl who loves to watch that show before she falls asleep each night.

There are free live shows throughout the day, a good mix of indoor and outdoor activities and soft play rooms so even on a Saturday, it didn’t feel too overrun with crazy little people.

Expect to pay through the nose for any souvenir toys and prepare to leave the park feeling utterly exhausted. But the chances are, it’ll be the best day out ever experienced by your toddler…until the next time they happen to see a picture of Bing Bunny in a shop window and that beats any other experience for them.

Would I do it again? Yes, maybe in a year or so when Emily will be able to enjoy it even more. Or when I’ve eaten enough Tesco donuts to earn the ClubCards points for the tickets.

The ‘Grape Alarm’

Emily’s speech has come on leaps and bounds in the last few weeks. She’s repeating everything she hears and trying out little sentences like ‘hear you go’, ‘drink all gone’ and ‘I love you’. It’s so adorable to hear her try out new words and even her mispronounciations are unbelievably cute. Most of the time. Other times…not so much.

The other day we we’re in a cafe for lunch and as I was rummaging in Emily’s snack-bag she started screaming ‘RAPE! RAPE! RAAAAAAAAAPE!’ at the top of her voice.

I gave an apologetic look to the worried old couple next to me as I sheepishly retrieved the ‘grapes’ from the lunchbox. No matter how many times I corrected Emily by saying ‘ggggrape, gggrape’, she just shouted ‘rape’ back at me, louder and louder each time.

Not the sort of thing  you want hear being yelled whilst you’re trying to enjoy a latte and a slice of sponge. At least when she calls the ‘vacuum’ the ‘fuck-youm’, she’s doing it in the privacy of our house.

The ‘Bunny’ Lesson

Emily has recently inherited a stuffed toy from her auntie. As my sister now lives in Australia, on her last visit she cleared out her old room at our parent’s house and gave bags and bags of stuff to charity. One particular item that our mum noticed poking out of the bag was this:

I’m not really sure what it is. It’s a sort of monster-zombie thing. It’s been sat under the bed for years and was destined for life on a charity shop shelf. My mum felt sorry for it; ‘no one will buy that poor ugly thing’, she said. So she rescued it from the bin liner of charity bric-a-brac, and gave it to Emily.

When it was handed to her, Emily took one look at it and exclaimed, ‘bunny!’, giving it a huge hug and tucking it under her arm to take it home.

Her reaction got me thinking. This toy is ugly, it’s unpleasant to look at and it’s a bit freaky. It’s doesn’t look like any of there other toys. But Emily didn’t see any of the ugliness, or any of the imperfections. She surmised it looked most like a bunny because of its ears, and she immediately adopted it into her growing family of stuffed toys.

It’s not that children don’t care about appearances or cosmetic differences, it’s that they genuinely don’t see them. The fact this ‘bunny’ is green, has one eye and a hanging-out tongue made no difference to her. She loves him just as much as the others.

It made me realise how much emphasis I put on aesthetics and appearance. Why do I do it? What purpose does it serve? My house could be ‘hygge-d’ to the max and beautifully designed, my hair could be perfectly coiffed and my skin immaculately spray-tanned, but none of this will ever matter to my daughter, because she knows that what is important is her ‘mum’, not what packaging her mum comes wrapped up in.

And so ‘Bunny’ will stay with us at our house, and I’ll always be quietly appreciative of the lesson that I learned from Emily adopting that little green monster-zombie. Now that’s a sentence I never thought I’d write!

Taking a Toddler to Center Parcs

We have just got back from our first Center Parcs break with the toddler. It’s the first time we’ve taken her away since our summer holiday in Italy. For me, the weeks after we returned home from that particular ‘holiday’ necessitated several stints in a darkened room with a cold Finding Dory flannel on my forehead.

So it was with a sense of trepidation that we packed literally our entire house into the car and made the four-hour journey up to Sherwood Forest.

We went to Center Parcs every year when I was growing up, but this was my first time experiencing it as a parent. What I noticed first and foremost is that the chalet accommodation is totally designed for the comfort, safety and enjoyment of young families. Every chalet has a cot and a high chair, there’s no pointy or sticky-out sharp edges on any of the furniture, and there’s enough kids’ channels on the TV to keep even the pickiest of toddlers entertained on a rainy morning.

The bedroom doors are also sturdy and kept out the living room noise so we could enjoy a catch up with the rest of the family whilst the toddler was in bed. I also realised for the first time that the large cupboard by the front door wasn’t only useful for storing crates and crates of booze. It was actually large enough to store pushchairs, trikes, baby carriers, boxes of nappies and all our suitcases combined.

We hired a bike and trailer and it was a God-send all weekend. The toddler would happily go in it if we plied her with snacks as we belted her up, and I was pleasantly surprised with how light-weight it was to peddle around. I thought I’d feel like a rickshaw driver lugging around overweight tourists in Bangkok, but even with a base fitness level of -5, I managed to get all around the park without even breaking a sweat. Plus I only had one near-collision and I still maintain that the squirrel was entirely at-fault there.

Swimming is about the only ‘free’ thing you can do with the kids. This means braving the chlorine-y chaos that is the ‘swimming dome’.

If Spielberg is interested in re-making the Normandy beach landing scene in Saving Private Ryan, I’m sure he could hire the Center Parcs swimming dome on a Saturday afternoon when the wave machine’s on, with much the same effect.

Although the main pool was a bit too frantic for Emily, she loved the toddler splash-pools. These are essentially large communal toddler pottys filled with a few inches of diluted urine and equipped with novelty plastic slides. But my OCD aside, they kept the toddler entertained for way longer than any of our other swimming sessions to-date.

It’s incredibly warm in the dome, so even very little babies don’t get too cold. The changing rooms are a bit fraught, but there are tons of family changing cubicles with decent enough baby-changing facilities.

Other than swimming, there are a number of play parks dotted around the site, but they were a little too ‘old’ for our toddler who had to be repeatedly rescued from half way up a climbing net, or at the top of a large slide. We did find a few OK soft play areas in the restaurants and these we useful to entertain the toddler before the food arrived and when crayons and paper just weren’t cutting it.

Most other activities are paid for, and by-God do you have to pay some serious cash for them. They’re also geared more towards slightly older children. Even the crèche is aimed at children two to three years-plus, so your options with a toddler are somewhat limited if the weather is shockingly bad or you don’t like swimming.

The bit that Emily enjoyed most of all was the wildlife cabaret show that she could watch from the windows and the patio doors of our chalet. She went crazy when they’d tap on the glass looking for some food.

On our first morning there, I stood on the patio with Emily and we fed the various animals that turned up for breakfast. At one point, I had a circle of obedient animals around me that included rabbits, ducks, geese, squirrels and pigeons. It was magical. I felt like fucking Cinderella! A few more rounds of 50/50 bread and those critters might have whipped me up a princess ball-gown.

My personal highlight of the trip however, was a morning at the Aqua Sana spa. I nearly had to sell my wedding ring to afford it, but it’s honestly one of the best spas I’ve ever been to. It’s huge, with lots of different saunas, steam rooms, relaxation rooms, hot tubs, foot spas and a large heated outdoor pool. They also restrict numbers so it never feels too overcrowded with hen-dos or loved-up couples. I don’t think I saw one novelty penis headband or ‘L plate’ the whole time we were there. A few hours of relaxation was the perfect way to recoup and round-off the trip.

In a year or two, I think Emily will enjoy the Center Parcs experience even more. But for now, it was a perfectly enjoyable break, and I didn’t even need to fling the Finding Dory flannel over my eyes when we got home.

Oh, and if you’re wondering why this article isn’t accompanied by an ‘insta-friendly’ family picture in the forest, that’s because the toddler refused to stand still for even a second for the whole weekend. Instead, here’s one of her tethered down in the bike trailer, unable to move.

Monday 22nd May 2017

Writing anything in the aftermath of a terrorist attack feels somewhat meaningless and inconsequential in the grand scheme of things. But when you write exclusively about being a parent, the fact the attack mercilessly targeted children and young people makes me feel compelled, like many others, to speak out with a message of love and support.

This was an attack directed at our young people. Our children. And it could easily have been any of our own kids that were senselessly taken. This has shaken me to the core, and I can’t even comprehend the all-encompassing grief that now engulfs the parents, families and friends of those impacted.

I am shocked. I am sickened. I am aching inside. But I will not hate. And I will not be afraid. I will hug my daughter tight and I will make sure she knows that love is a far stronger emotion than hate. Love will always prevail, and even in dark moments like this, we can find strength in our love for each other.

GUEST BLOG: ‘How cleaning with kids can be educational AND helpful’, by Joanna Wilkins

The cleaning chores at home seem to be endless and overwhelming. But it can be way easier, if all the members of the household participate in the cleaning chores.

Even the kids can be of great help and this will create useful habits for their future. Don’t hesitate to include them – they need to learn these lessons and they’re often not taught this in school.

It is normal that your kid might not be eager to get involved in the cleaning, but you need to find a way to make it engaging. Start from the idea of play. Then consider how to make the cleaning chores fun and interesting.

In the beginning, don’t assume that your kid will do the cleaning and that it will be perfect. Be prepared that after their attempt, you will need to re-do the chore again. But never let them see you doing this, because he/ she will be disappointed and will lose enthusiasm.

Start with the simplest tasks which are most important to the child themselves. All children love their toys. Use this to teach them to take care of their toys and put them in a particular place. In this way, your child will start to value and take pride in the safety of their own belongings. This will also help with problem-solving… Moreover, it will save the screams that will come from your child when you accidentally step on their favourite toy and it cracks beneath your feet!

Then you can try making the bed. It is easy, but kids just don’t like to do it. Their main point is  usually, “Why should I make the bed, since I’ll use it again later?”. Show them the easiest way to do it and don’t forget the “stick and carrot” method. For each accomplished task, give them a small prize or treat.

You can also try tidying the wardrobe. With this chore, try to be patient, since it is not the easiest thing to do. Firstly, divide the wardrobe into sections, so that they won’t be confused as to where to put different items. Everything should have its own place. Show them an easy way to fold the clothes and how to use the hangers.

After all this, your child may be ready to start with the washing of the dishes. It is an easy chore, but don’t expect them to wash the dishes for the whole family. Teach them to wash their own plate and utensils after having food. This chore will save you the full sink of dishes and reduce the chance of them developing a habit of leaving their mess for someone else to clean.

Washing the floor is one of the favourite chores kids like to do. Kings Cross Domestic Clean explains that the reason for this is all the kids’ movies where they’re having fun with the broom, using it as a guitar etc. Start with showing them simple sweeping strokes. With the mopping, you need to be more careful, since the floor will get slippery. Leave the vacuum cleaning for the last, since it is electrical and it may take more time to master.

Give them enough time to get used to these chores and to perfect their skills. Don’t rush or push them, and always strive to reward their efforts. To involve them in household duties is a very important lesson in life. Keep in mind that your child will become a grown person, who will have responsibilities. This is the first step to teach him/ her to be disciplined and to prepare them for the future. 

Joanna is a writer and the owner of a cleaning business, based in London. She has two children, aged three and seven years old.

Girls Run the World

Raising a daughter and helping her fine-tune her emotional and social intelligence is a complex business. And for me, a huge part of helping my daughter learn about herself and the world around her will be framed within the context of feminism and equality.

There’s no right or wrong way to do this, and you may disagree with my approach, but this is how I see it…

My daughter will receive every support and encouragement in achieving everything and anything she wants to in life. I will bring her up to know that with hard-work and self belief, she can do anything.

However, I won’t sugarcoat anything. I won’t pretend that getting what you want is easy. I won’t shy away from telling her about the disadvantages that face many, many women. She needs to have an awareness and an appreciation of the hardship and struggle that the ‘fairer sex’ has endured for a over a millennia, and how this impacts her as a woman today.

She will know though, that this isn’t an excuse to hide behind, nor is it an opportunity to admit defeat. In fact, I will encourage her to use this as ammunition to work harder to achieve what she believes in. It won’t be easy, but she will know she has all the love and respect in the world from me.

Maybe a ‘girls run the world’ t-shirt is just a bit of fun. Maybe it’s a manifesto for tomorrow.

Breastfeeding Tips for the Big-Titted Mama!

Breastfeeding is hard. For the ‘most natural thing in the world’, it’s trickier to get right than the FT cryptic crossword with a hangover and a broken pencil. What seemed to make it even harder for me was the fact that I have tits. Contradiction in terms, right? Alas, no.

It seems that the more you’ve got going on in the chest region, the trickier it is to master proper positioning. Also, the bigger the norks, the harder it is for you to not accidentally smother your newborn in all your extra flesh and skin when they’re feeding.

What used to be a tremendous boon in my hay-day for guaranteeing a drink offer at a bar, was suddenly a pain-in-the-arse complication in an already very confusing and painful new endeavour for me.

However: ample-mammary-mums-to-be, fear not! It is still possible to successfully breastfeed! After 18 months of feeding my daughter with my ma-hoosive melons, I’ve worked out a few ‘pointers’ to ensure lactation jubilation! Here are my top tips:

  1. Positioning. Most experts will advise mums-to-be to start feeding with the cross-cradle position. It’s supposedly the easiest. But for new mums with giant breasts, this one is not all that easy to master. I also just couldn’t get the ‘lying down’ method to work, my boobs would just flop over and I couldn’t establish a good latch lying down. After trying (and failing) with dozens of methods, the best one to accommodate my chesticles was the underarm, or football / rugby hold. It squished my breasts less, which enabled a ‘free-flow’ and reduced the risk of pressure across my chest that could result in blocked ducts or sore spots. I was also able to better control and adjust the positioning of my daughter’s head to ensure her nose and air-ways weren’t restricted. All in all, it was the most comfortable position for me until feeding was properly established. Plus it’s also great for twins!

  1. Wait til that mouth is nice and wide. Then shove them on. The bigger the boob, chances are, the bigger the nipple. It’s important that as much of the areola is in the baby’s mouth when feeding, so it’s really important to wait for them to open their mouths as wide as they can. If it’s not quite right, detach and try again until as much of it is in their mouths as possible. A bad latch hurts more than someone taking a lighter to your nasal hair. When in doubt, take them off and try again until you get it right.
  2. Nursing bras make all the difference. If you’ve got huge boobs, it’s trickier to find a suitable nursing bra that fits properly. If it’s slightly too small, or fits before your milk is established, you could end up with a bra that squishes your assets, and this can lead to complications like mastitis. I always found Bravissimo the best for a really well-made, supportive bra in ample sizes. M&S have an OK collection too – just ask for a fitting to ensure it is suitable. They’re expensive I know, and not particularly attractive – you might look like Les Dawson in drag when you’re wearing it – but I would happily re-mortgage my house if it meant I could afford a comfortable, supportive bra.
  3. A little lift. If the process of gaining / losing weight has resulted in your nips gradually facing in the direction of the carpet, it makes it even harder to be able to see what you’re doing to make sure you’ve got a good latch. I spent weeks holding up my breast to the baby, rather than finding a natural position that worked for the both of us. This meant that I was squishing my boob with the hand I was holding it up with, and also meant I didn’t have a free hand to browse on my phone with. Anyone who has latched on a newborn and then subsequently realised they haven’t got their phone on them will tell you that it can be the longest 40 minutes of your life. A spare hand with which to peruse facebook whilst feeding is almost essential for your sanity. After deciding I couldn’t carry on ‘lifting’ my breast myself, I discovered an amazing product that does the job for you – the Booby Booster. It attaches to your bra and basically acts as a sling lift which raises your breast slightly, making positioning easier (and freeing up a hand to read / eat / text). A DIY version can be created by using a large piece of muslin that ties around your neck and lifts your breast. Alternatively, a natural sponge that you can cut to fit under your breast will also give it a bit of a lift.

  1. Pump it up. You can now get different size breast-pump funnels, and this can make a huge difference to the success of your pumping, if you have large breasts. I never managed to find a pumping bra that was designed for the large-chested mother, so I made my own by cutting holes in an old nursing bra! Nothing beats a bit of hands-free pumping.
  2. Feeding outside the house. I was always self-conscious of feeding the baby in public, because there’s nothing discreet about whipping out a 3lb lump of fatty tissue in the middle of a coffee shop. If you don’t give a shit about doing this, then that’s fantastic! If you do, however, don’t let it put you-off feeding out and about, and absolutely don’t let feeding make you feel like you’re a prisoner in your own home! Discreet feeding is achievable for the busty mamas! I would wear a nursing bra, a strap top, and then an over-sized top over this. It enabled me to ‘drape’ the extra fabric over the exposed boob skin when I lifted my top up to feed the baby, without covering-up the baby’s head. You can also use a light scarf, or invest in a nursing apron. Those sometimes these can look more eye-catching than sitting there with your tit out. There’s no right or wrong way to do it. So long as you’re happy and comfortable.

Hopefully, these tips will come in handy for the ample-chested mum-to-be. It is possible to control those beasts and make breastfeeding work. If you have any other tips like this, do comment below. Likewise, if you’ve tried any of these tips, give me a shout and let me know how you found them. Happy feeding, busty-mamas!