BIG IN UTERO NEWS!

My posting has been a bit hit and miss of late, but I like to think I’ve got the best excuse – I found out that I’m having a baby.

It’s been a surreal first few months to be honest. I’ve been lucky that the morning sickness never progressed from a constant queasy feeling, but my migraines and the extreme fatigue has been brutal, especially with a toddler in tow.

This has left very little time for anything else, but it’s been comforting to have a quiet few months where my focus has been my little, growing family.

I hope you’ll bear with me whilst I find my groove with this pregnancy. I’m currently 14 weeks so there are numerous posts in the pipeline – I can’t wait to tell you about my balanced pregnancy diet of Doritos combined with yet more Doritos and I’m sure you’re all dying to hear the tale of my ever-expanding areolas… all this to come on the blog!

An Open Letter to John Lewis…And Those Threatening to Boycott

Just over a week ago, John Lewis announced it was introducing gender neutral labels on children’s clothing. The move was met with a mixed response. Many people praised John Lewis for a trail-blazing, progressive step forward, but a significant amount of people have rallied against John Lewis for choosing to do this.

Some of those people have accused John Lewis of ‘bowing to the PC brigade’, others have professed they fear this will cause young children to become unnecessarily confused about their gender, and over 20,000 people have retweeted whatever garbage Piers Morgan had to say on the matter.

Most hysterically, the Telegraph said: “Not since Marks and Spencer decided to stock the burkini have I felt more disillusioned by a retailer”

To those people, I say this. You’re right to think that John Lewis removing an emphasis on gender is a big deal. It’s huge. A small gesture like this can help to trigger a fundamental change in mind-set for an entire generation. If other retailers follow suit, shopping habits will begin to change and viewpoints about what it means to be a boy or a girl will begin to alter – and that can only be a universally good thing.

Before you wield your pitchfork and burn effigies of ‘The Man on the Moon’ outside your local John Lewis store, let me make one thing clear. This isn’t about taking away or infringing on anyone’s rights. It’s not even about removing gender – it’s simply removing an EMPHASIS on gender.

With more and more fashion and toy retailers moving away from hyper-gendered marketing, eventually a little boy whose favourite colour is pink will laugh at someone who suggests it is wrong for him to like a ‘girl’ colour. More little girls might confidently announce they are going to be an astronaut or mathematician without even a shred of self-doubt or hesitation.

By offering them variety and choice, children will have the opportunity to express themselves in a way that feels normal to them. Children aren’t born with these ideas about gender, so why do we force this on them from the moment they are born? Is it merely to keep them in their place? To ensure that they don’t grow up ‘a bit different’?

By removing a gender emphasis, we are allowing children to be who they are and we are telling them that the world is their oyster – they can be anyone and do anything. If people can find fault in that, they can find fault in literally anything.

So finally, to John Lewis, I say this: As a mother to a young girl who is beginning to find her place in the world, I’d like to say thank you. Your decision will make it easier for her and for millions of children throughout the UK just to be themselves. It sounds very minor, but I can assure you, in a world that bombards you with slogans like, ‘boys will be boys’, and ‘Daddy’s little princess’ your decision could be life-changing.

You have risked a backlash by making this decision, but I urge you to stand strong. Any retailer that makes strides towards progressive change will inevitably experience some backlash from those who feel threatened by a challenge to the status quo. And in all honesty, you won’t lose your Daily Telegraph customer-base. As evidenced above, they won’t shop at Marks and Spencer for fear of coming within 50 yards of a burkini.

Your bold move has finally triggered a nationwide discussion about gender influence and society as a whole is beginning to wake up to the idea that gender conditioning has a huge impact on our children as they grow up. ‘Never knowingly Undersold’ has now taken on a whole new meaning to me.

Things I have lost (and found) in my bra

Having big boobs can sometimes be a blessing and a curse. Take for example the fact that you can store things in your bra; handy when it allows you to venture out without a purse, tricky when your bra is so cavernous that it can potentially home the Holy Grail Knight from Indiana Jones for thousands of years without you ever finding out.

Here are my top four things I have lost – and eventually found – in my bra:

  1. My door key

As a teenager, I thought it was sacrilege to go on a night out with a coat and a bag…or much in the way of a skirt. On the few occasions when I went back to my parents’ house instead of crashing at a mates’ after a night out, I would keep a door key in my bra for safe keeping. One night when I rocked up to my front door after many (whispers embarrassingly) ‘snakebite and blacks’, I tried in vain for literally an hour to find the key in my bra, to no avail. I assumed it must have flung out during some vigorous dancing to Blu Cantrell. I slumped on the doorstep, preferring to sleep there for the night than wake my parents and endure a lecture. Luckily, my mum came downstairs and opened the door for me. It turns out that my attempts not to wake my parents were futile. I was wailing, ‘Where’s my fucking keeeeey? This bra is buuuuullshiiiiit!’ for a straight hour whilst I fumbled in my bra. Finally, upon reaching my bedroom, I flung all my clothes on the floor and something sharp hit my foot. It was the bloody key. With a bra the size of a circus tent, there was just no finding that baby.

  1. Tube ticket

On another night out in London, I decided to keep my tube ticket in my bra so that in my drunken state I wouldn’t forget what I’d done with it. Once I reached the barriers at the tube station, I reached into my bra to retrieve the ticket. What came out was a soggy, limp piece of paper that had absorbed an inordinate amount of boob-sweat from the club. It wouldn’t scan. I had to find a guard and ask him to let me through. When he took my ticket to check it, he said ‘did you drop this in a puddle or something?’. I was too mortified to tell him his hand was wet with my tit-perspiration.

  1. Thankfully, not a dodgy mole

One evening when I was getting undressed to get in the shower, I caught a glimpse of a strange mole on the side of my boob. My heart was thudding in my chest as I slowly raised my hand to the mole to inspect it. The worry was thankfully short-lived – it was the remnant of a Rice Krispy bun I had consumed roughly five hours earlier and it had been warming in my bra all afternoon. And yes, I know what you’re wondering. I did eat it. I’m gross and greedy.

  1. Roughly £7.40 in loose change

I once thought it would be sexy and or cool to keep a crisp £10 note in my bra to pay for a drink at a bar. I assumed after pulling this little stunt, it would be the last drink I bought myself that night. I was right. But what I hadn’t considered is where I would keep the remaining change. I spent the rest of the night dancing and jangling like a piggy money box. And when I finally got home and collapsed in bed, I had tiny imprints of the Queen’s face all over my tits. Monarch-y mammaries are not a good look. Thank God I was alone.

#DressDownFriday is six months old!!!

I can hardly believe it as the months have just flown past, but my little ‘bug-bear’ of a campaign is now officially six months old!

I didn’t really have any specific goals or a grandiose mission when I set it up; I simply wanted to vent my frustration at lingering and pointless stereotypes that I was encountering daily when it came to the clothes my daughter was wearing.

I aired my frustrations via the blog and decided I would embark on a one-woman mission to kick-back at gender stereotypes.

It turns out that many parents harboured the same frustrations at supermarkets and shops that seem to lazily perpetuate the same tired gender-genres through kids’ clothes.

Before long, we became a global unit of hundreds of parents who post their #DressDownFriday pictures of their kids sporting clothes that challenge gender stereotypes every week. Our mission is a simple one – we want to normalise the idea that a girl can be more than ‘pretty’ and a boy can be more than ‘tough’.

In the last few months, #DressDownFriday has been supported by some wonderful kids’ clothing companies including Zac & Bella and The Green Flamingo Co, and I was chuffed to bits when fashion-icon Gok Wan got in touch and gave his own personal backing to the campaign.

Since I first scratched the surface of this issue six months ago, I can’t help but see these inequalities and outdated gender-norms every day; in shops and high streets and supermarkets, online and out and about. I guess having an opinion on this sort of stuff makes you more heightened to it, but it’s undeniable that our society still has some serious issues with how we guide our girls in one direction in life, and our boys in another.

In the last six months, our collective of awesome parents have done incredible work in spreading awareness and helping parents to consider the potential impact of the clothes they dress their children in. But in my opinion, one ‘pretty like Mummy’ / ‘tough like Daddy’ shirt on sale is still one too many!

Having been pulled in a million different directions over the last few weeks, I’m now renewing my impetus to eradicate gender stereotypes! And I’d love your help! Here’s what you can do:

  1. Post your #DressDownFriday pictures on social media each week to spread the word!
  2. The next time you go shopping for your children, whether it’s at Liberty of London or Lidl of Leeds, try and choose one outfit that doesn’t conform to ‘pink or blue’ or that goes against traditional gender norms.
  3. If someone passes comment on what your child is wearing, especially if they’re questioning your decision to give the traditional boy/girl clothes a miss, respectfully put them in their place! This sounds far-fetched, but I’ve had swathes of parents share their anecdotes of family members –and even strangers – commenting that they’ve dressed their daughter ‘in a boy’s coat’ or that letting a boy wear Peppa Pig wellies will ‘turn him gay’. The only way to quash these outdated points of view is to politely, but firmly, challenge them.

And that’s it! The more people that take up the challenge, the more of an impact we will make together!

I’d like to say a bloody great big ‘thank you’ to each and every person who has posted their own #DressDownFriday picture over the last six months. We’re slowly but surely chipping away at outdated gender ideals and making the world a more kick-ass place for our kids. Here’s to many more Friday gender-slays!

What if we’re not The Gilomre Girls?

Working in the coffee shop near mine, I’ve just seen a mum bring over two cupcakes to the table her young teenage daughter was sat at. Looking eagerly for her approval, the mum said ‘these really are ‘instagram-worthy’ cupcakes aren’t they?’, to which her daughter rolled her eyes and looked back down at her phone.

Aside from being a real ‘of its time’ comment, it got me thinking that in 10 years or so, I too will likely come up with cringe-worthy statements to try to endear myself to my teenage daughter.

I find this scenario of struggling to build connections with Emily a completely alien concept. Ever since she was born, I have been her number-one favourite person in the whole wide world. I’m the first person she comes to when she’s pleased with herself for completing a new task for the first time, and I’m the person she runs to when she’s upset and in need of comfort. Presently, at this point, I can do no wrong.

As this is all I’ve ever known, I’ve never considered the fact that in a few short years, I’ll probably be secretly reading the messages on her tablet to just get a glimpse into a life that she tries to keep hidden from me. I shudder at the thought of me accidentally catching a few minutes of Radio 1 during school drop-off time and saying ‘I really love this track! Who is it again? Justin Bieber?’, to which I’m told to shut up and stop being so embarrassing.

I’ve always thought I’d be the ‘cool mum’, the Lorelai Gilmore to Emily’s Rory. But what if it doesn’t pan out that way? What if she’d rather die than talk to me about a boy she likes in her class?  I don’t think I could deal with that.

I guess that decision isn’t up to me though. I can do my best to maintain openness and honesty with Emily by respecting her, listening to her and leading by example. But if Emily doesn’t want to let me in, there’s not much I can do about that. It’s a natural and normal part of the growing-up process. But that doesn’t make it any easier to bear.

Until that time comes, I’m going to savour being her ‘number 1’ for as long as it lasts. And when she does cut me out of her life, I’ll console myself by eating a ton of ‘instagram friendly’ cupcakes.

UK supermarkets – this is an appeal TO YOU!!!!

As it’s #dressdownfriday, I thought I’d share my thoughts on the picture that’s doing the rounds on social media of the kids clothes on sale at Morrisons.


Like most other mums, I can’t afford to buy all my kids clothes at trendy fashion boutiques – I rely heavily on stuffing a few multipacks and a couple of hangers of clothes into my shopping trolley when I’m hurrying around the supermarket.

Supermarket fashion outlets clothe most of the children in this country, and when they perpetuate tired and outdated stereotypes like this, they are actively helping to limit aspiration and individuality in our kids.

Yes, parents have the final say as to what clothes they buy their kids. But whether they like it or not, major supermarket chains have a responsibility to consider their influence and the impact they have on a generation of young children who are forming their ideas about gender and their place in the world.

So this is a plea to all the major supermarkets – from one mother who is sick to the back teeth of boys being told to ‘be tough’ and girls being told to ‘be pretty’ – please, PLEASE put an end to the hyper-gendering of kids clothes.

Asda, Morrisons, Tesco, Sainsbury’s – You have the scale and therefore the power to inspire, empower and encourage a generation of children though the clothes that you sell. Please use this power to make a positive, lasting difference!

Let me know what you think – do you think supermarkets could do more to challenge gender stereotypes, or do you think the buck falls squarely with the parents? Let me know!

Four ways to be a 21st Century Elizabeth Bennet

I have always loved reaching for my copy of Pride & Prejudice for a few minutes – or hours – of total escapism. The character of Elizabeth Bennet captivates me and over the years she has proved to be an invaluable source of advice, reassurance and guidance.

I remember being immediately drawn to Elizabeth’s fiery self-assurance and sharp-wit; her passion and her desire for more than her lot in life.

I first watched the Pride and Prejudice BBC drama as a child on a Sunday evening with my mum. From that point on, my love for Regency-era drama became so intense that I would often wander around the house in one of my grandma’s old-fashioned floor-length floral nightgowns, announcing to my parents that I was to attend a small gathering at the Assembly Rooms and they were to summon the chaise and four to escort me there.

Now, as a (semi-functioning) adult in the 21st Century, I still look to Austen, and more specifically to the words she created for Elizabeth Bennet, for comfort and solace. And you know what? That girl has still got it. Under her guidance, you can master quick-fire put-downs, witty retorts, feats of unwavering loyalty and courage, and potentially, how to win the heart of a man worth £10,000 a year (though I would recommend going with current inflation on that last one).

This week marks the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s death. What better way to honour her genius than by following these four rules to help you live your life as a 21st century kick-ass Lizzy Bennet:

  1. Witty is the new pretty

Elizabeth is the epitome of ‘witty over pretty’. She is described as having ‘fine eyes’, but is generally considered plain in comparison to the beauty of her sister, Jane.

And yet she captivates and enthrals people. She wins them over, she makes them notice and she makes them listen. And that is because she knows and speaks her mind, and won’t let even the likes of Lady Catherine DeBourgh belittle or devalue her.

Elizabeth remarked to Darcy when they finally confessed their feelings for each other; ‘you were disgusted with the women who were always speaking and looking and thinking for your approbation alone. I roused, and interested you, because I was so unlike them.’

Lizzy shows us that you don’t need to pretend to be something you’re not to fit in all of the time. Sometimes, not fitting in is the best way to stand out and make a lasting impression. Just remember the state of Miss Bennet’s petticoat – six inches deep in mud – major scandal!

  1. Be the queen of the clap-back

Elizabeth Bennet was masterful when it came to the clap-back. Think on your feet, and don’t feel like you can’t respond quickly and powerfully to any criticism you feel is unwarranted.

Elizabeth put Darcy well and truly in his place when he ‘condescended’ to ask for her hand in marriage. Lizzy was also quick to stand up for herself in almost every interaction with Lady Catherine and Miss Bingley.

My personal favourite ‘Lizzy-zinger’ came after Lydia announced she would find husbands for all her sisters, to which Lizzy responded, ‘“I thank you for my share of the favour, but I do not particularly like your way of getting husbands.” Sick burn, bitch!

  1. Bonnets before Britches

This is the 17th Century equivalent of ‘chicks before dicks’. Throughout the novel, Miss Bennet demonstrates a steadfast commitment to her sisters and her friends.

Darcy’s move to conceal Jane’s visit from Bingley intensifies her hatred of him. And even though her friend Charlotte Lucas married ‘one of the stupidest men in England’, Lizzie gives them her blessing when she realises that it is what her friend wants and she remains friends with Charlotte thereafter.

Such ‘independent thought’ would have been seen as hugely controversial back in the day, but, much like Jane herself, Elizabeth challenged conventions she perceived as unjust.

Remember, when a fuckboy like Wickham tries to come between you and your sisters – two words: ‘boy, bye’.

  1. Admit when you are wrong

Ok, so it took Elizabeth like 30 chapters to realise her faults when she finally admitted, ‘Until this moment I never knew myself’, but fairness to her, she gets there in the end.

Elizabeth isn’t perfect; she’s quick to judge and she’s incredibly stubborn. But it’s these flaws that make Elizabeth Bennett one of the most powerfully-resonating characters in literary history.

Over 200 years after she was brought to life on-page, Elizabeth Bennet continues to be a relevant, funny, relatable and much-loved literary heroine. In honour of Jane Austen on this special anniversary, let’s all try to be a little more Lizzy and a little less Love Island-y.

Help! The ‘Terrible-Twos’ Have Started a Year Early!!!

I never thought I’d be in the position where I’d be pining for the ‘simplicity’ of those early new-born days. But as I watch Emily maintain perfect eye contact with me as she extends her arm to pour her drink all over the floor, I can’t help but scoff at how easy I had it then.

Now, at 21 months old, she swings rapidly from defiantly independent to overwhelmingly clingy within the space of a few minutes. I get dizzy just trying to stay up to speed with her, both physically and emotionally.

I know she is just getting a handle on her emotions that are bubbling to the surface without a moments warning. But with the prospect of the ‘Terrible-Twos’ and the ‘Three-nager’ phase after that, all I can see in the near future is years of me wearily battling a toddler who is more stubborn than a week-old Weetabix stain.

There are days when I feel like the ‘Matron Mama Morton’ of my own maximum security jail, and the only inmate is Emily. She darts off at the speed of a greyhound out of the traps, and we’ve had more than one terrifying ordeal where she’s almost run into the road. To remedy this, I have to keep a beady eye on her at every second, ready to sprint in her direction when she inevitably tries to ‘Shawshank’ out of her Mummy Prison.

Then there are days where she’ll barely leave my hip, refusing to do anything unless I’m holding her close so that she can bury her face in my boobs. Those days feel so claustrophobic and intense.

All of these mixed emotions vying for attention must be confusing for her, and I’m trying to be as patient as I can be. But there are only so many times you can say ‘don’t slap mummy / don’t suck the end of the iPhone charger / don’t lick the soles of your shoes’ – things she repeatedly does with a wry smile on her face, just to get a rise out of me.

I know she wants my attention, and as someone who works from home, she has a-LOT of it, all the time. But when I try to focus her on something productive, engaging and fun, she thinks, ‘nah, stuff this, I’m gonna try and stuff a breadstick in the plug socket instead’.

So the ‘Terrible-Twos’ are still months off, and we’ve already had months of what I’m calling the ‘Wilfully-Disobedient-Ones’. And I moaned that I was stuck on the sofa feeding a lot with a new-born. What a daft sod I was.

GUEST POST: ‘Throwing an Outdoor Summer Party for Toddlers’ by Judy Heminsley

As many of you will be in the process of planning and organising parties for your littlies at the moment, this post from Judy should prove helpful. Don’t forget to share any pics of your outdoor summer parties in the comments below, along with any additional tips you have for throwing the perfect garden party. 


Throwing an Outdoor Summer Party for Toddlers

Outdoor parties are great toddler and parent activities, and while your house may stay tidier, there’s still plenty to organise:

Planning and Booking Entertainment

Start planning early, especially during the summer months when kids’ entertainers get booked up quickly.

Having several types of entertainment is good for variety and preventing boredom or tantrums, especially as toddlers won’t stay still for anything for long. Consider sectioning off part of the party area into entertainment zones, and have different games and activities in each. Face painting, ride-on toys, bubble blowing, a pop up tent or even a nylon tunnel they can scramble through are some ideas.

Make sure there’s supervision, not just for safety but to mediate when everyone wants to ride on the same toy at the same time!

Setting the Party Stage

String some bunting between trees, along fencing, or even along the washing line if all else fails, and add some balloons for good measure. If you’re theming the party, stick to theme colours to help pull everything together. People may not notice specific colours, but they will notice how everything seems to just ‘fit’.

For seating and tables, you could either have one long table with a finger buffet laid out, or put outdoor tables and chairs in cosy groups with a separate food bar. It depends on the space available and how many guests. If the size of the party warrants it, consider getting professional help for seating.

Serve toddler-friendly finger food so you don’t have to provide full cutlery sets. Sandwiches cut into quarters are fun for kids and adults like them too, and make sure there’s plenty of cake, and jelly or ice cream. If you’re inviting parents to stay with their toddlers, it’s okay to provide separate ‘grown up’ food, but still keep it simple. They’ll probably be spending too much time chasing toddlers to enjoy a sit down meal.

Safety First

When you’re throwing an outdoor party for a group of toddlers, you’ve got to have safety top of mind all the time.

If you’re bringing in outside entertainment that needs amplification for sound, for instance, consider how you’ll make sure cables are safe. This applies whether you’re hiring professional entertainers and putting up a stage for them, or just running an extension cable outside at home.

It’s not just electrics and cables. Give some thought to safety if you’re having a bouncy castle, for instance. Ideally, have a couple of adults whose sole job is keeping an eye on them. The grownups could take turns so toddlers are never left to their own devices.

Other areas where curious toddlers can get into trouble are garden sheds and garages. Make sure these are locked up tight, and cover any ornamental pools.

Having organised games, food and decorations, all you can do is hope the weather stays fine. It might be a good idea to have indoor contingency plans – just in case.

 

Judy is a freelance writer who writes for Alistage, which provides all the equipment you need for a successful event.

 

How Soon Is Now?

Today Emily was watching TV when an ad break came on. She pointed at the TV, confused as to why her film had disappeared. She looked at me and said, ‘TV broken!’.

Imagine living in a world where all you know is entertainment on-tap with no interruptions. Whatever you want to watch right there and then at the touch of a button. Anything that isn’t immediate and completely gratifying is deemed as ‘broken’.

At the risk of this turning into a ‘in my day…’ rant, I just couldn’t believe how different her entertainment experience is to my own as a child. I remember how excited I would get when The Broom Cupboard came on the BBC for that brief period each afternoon.

The closest I got to constant media entertainment was when we got our first VCR player when I was about five. My mum took me to Woolworths to buy my first video. The sheer choice and variety was overwhelming, and I just couldn’t decide which one I wanted. Then my mum spotted a video and said, ‘oh Charlotte, let’s get this one. I watched it when I was your age and I loved it.’ Trusting her better judgement and her ability to actually make a decision, I (foolishly) went along with her choice.

When we got home I was so excited to watch it. We pressed the play button on the VCR and then…what the fuck is this? It was in black and white. There were puppets on strings with stupid hats dancing around a pathetic looking flower. It was ‘Watch With Mother’. The 50s version of CBBC. The insufferable puppets were Bill and Ben the Flowerpot Men. This actually passed for entertainment when she was young. Jesus. That was the first time I’d ever felt sorry for my mum. But because of a lack of other options, I watched and re-watched that one video until I was word-perfect. I even adopted a posh 50s BBC accent when I would mimic the presenter.

But now as I sit with Emily as she instantly switches between watching Minions, Zootropolis, Moana and Sing on her iPad that at 20 months she can already control, I can’t help but think about how Emily would react to what passed as ‘entertainment’ for me 30 years ago.

She would most likely stare blankly at Phillip Schofield talking to a rodent puppet in a studio the size of her wardrobe, and after 15 seconds she would expect to be able to turn on to another, more interesting and preferably CGI option.

Kids who grew up in the 80s didn’t have options, and they didn’t have immediacy. Instead, they had to wait agonisingly for the kids’ TV shows to start, then you just watched what was on, and that was your lot.

Even the very few kids’ TV shows that are still on air and have been running for decades have had to bastardize themselves out of all recognition to appeal to children today. Each new Postman Pat episode is like a cross between Emmerdale and Lethal Weapon. And seriously, a postman with a fucking jet plane? My postman doesn’t even have a van; he has to push a trolley of post around like a bloody homeless person.

Patience and the joy of experiencing something you’ve been waiting what feels like a lifetime for, is something that Emily may never experience. This worries me.

Aside from patience being an essential attribute to save her from growing up and turning into a total prick, there is something really exhilarating in the anticipation of having to wait for something you truly want.

Boundaries and time-limitations on how often she watches TV might help to some extent, but in a way, a narrower window of ‘online entertainment’ means that the need for immediacy in her eyes will be all the more acute.

If she begins to get insufferably impatient with things as she grows up, I may have to make her watch Bill & Ben in black and white as a punishment. Now that would really freak her out!