Emily’s first Record Store Day

Emily got to partake in her very first Record Store Day today. I’m immensely proud of the great British tradition of independent records stores. Where I grew up in Yorkshire, the coolest place to buy your music was Jumbo Records in Leeds. Then, when I was in Wales during the school holidays, I’d ask my grandparents to take me to Spillers Records in Cardiff. My grandad was a huge musical influence on me. There wasn’t a thing he didn’t know about big band orchestras and swing musicians. Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Matt Monroe we’re played constantly. Whenever I hear a band standard, I’m immediately transported back to my childhood.

Because there was always a musical backdrop to my upbringing, I’m keen for Emily to have the same. When I was pregnant – and my hormones were raging – I’d spend hours playing music to the ‘bump’. I became obsessed with the idea that after she was born, she would instantly recognise the soothing sounds of Kat Power, or the Eagles, and be overcome by a wave of serenity. Needless to say, after she born, I was so completely overwhelmed, stressed and way too busy to remember to play her anything most of the time, and when I did try it, it seemed to have little effect!

Now she’s a little older though, she really reacts to music. One of my favourite things to do with her is to jump around the kitchen dancing. She’s obsessed with singing ‘Love is an Open Door’ from Frozen, the struts her stuff to Beyonce and she head-bangs to Courtney Love!

With her newly-acquired interest in music, we headed to Spillers Records today to soak up some of the atmosphere and browse the rows of vinyls. She was so well-behaved! Wide-eyed and taking it all in, she even had a bit of a boogie to the DJ playing on the first floor.

When we got home, we danced again, this time to my new copy of Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Born to Run’, bought on her first Record Store Day visit. It might not have been a song I played to her when she was in the womb, but we’ll certainly dance to this one over and over for a long time to come.

Dude, where’s my drive?

It’s been a strange few days. I’ve lost motivation with my writing and a few blog opportunities that would have been huge for me, have fallen flat. It’s left me feeling really de-motivated. Blogging and writing as your primary occupation can be tough. There’s often little to no pay, you rely solely on your drive and your ability to be self-starting, and on top of that I have a house and a demented toddler to take care of.

I sat in front of my laptop last week and cried. I have always loved writing and for the first time I couldn’t bring myself to touch the keyboard. I just didn’t want to stare at the screen for another second.

The problem with being in a funk when you’re writing is that the more you stress about it, the more of an issue it becomes. I started questioning everything. Why am I doing this? Why the hell did I give up my 9-5? I’m plugging away at this for nothing etc. etc.

The best remedy? I shut the laptop lid and walked away. As hard as it was initially, I tried not to give it a second thought. I started a new TV show (Big Little Lies is, BTW, insanely awesome), and I read. A lot. I hung out with my family and friends and I recharged by brain-batteries, or rather, let them soak in gin to revive them.

Eventually, new ideas and new creative avenues began to open up in my mind, and I began to miss tap-tapping away on my laptop. This morning, after the Easter holiday and a real break from anything work or blog-related, I came back to my desk (in a local café. Their coffee is WAY better than the shite at mine), and felt refreshed and ready to slay some copy and boss some words.

Time away is like a big, sugary spoon of work-funk medicine. Yes, some of my issues are unresolved, but I now feel like I have the brain-power and the determination to face them head-on.

The flat-white has started to kick in. So bring it, I’m ready.

Baby / Blogger Insomnia – A New Online Epidemic For The Digital Age?

Our household is in a bit of a sleep-funk. Emily was always a fantastic sleeper as a baby, she’d generally sleep 12 hours a night all the way until she was nearly 12 months old. Since then, the last six months have been hit and miss. Copious winter viruses and the adjustment to part-time nursery seem to have scared away the Sandman and have punctured our full night’s sleep with endless pacing up and down on the landing corridor.

The last couple of weeks though, have seen us enter a whole new level of insomnia. She hasn’t slept through the night once. Aside from a bit of a runny nose, she’s not sick, she’s happy through the day and she’s eating well. But every night without fail, for almost three weeks now, she’s standing in her cot crying at least once in the middle of the night, and needs to be soothed back to sleep.

She settles to bed without any problems; I put her in her cot as usual around 7pm and she gets herself to sleep without so much as a whine or a whimper. I’ve read about the elusive ‘18 month sleep regression’, but I’ve always just felt that labelling any sleep issues as a ‘sleep regression’ is sometimes a way to help parents justify why their baby inexplicably won’t sleep. And I totally get why, when you’re so tired that you find yourself hunched on the sofa dribbling down your own cleavage at 2pm, you’d want to search for any reason as to why your baby won’t just go the fuck to sleep. I’m almost getting there myself. But I just think some kids are good sleepers, some aren’t, and most go through little phases or experience sleep ‘speed-bumps’ as they grow up. It’s just finally getting to me that these ‘speed bumps’ are turning into nightly catastrophic debris blockades on the road to sleep.

My husband seems to be able to settle her quickly, but whenever I try to do it, she never wants me to put her down. We can be up for hours until she finally settles. This has given me a nifty get out of sleepless jail free-card for the past few weeks, as Daddy seems to do the trick and we can all quickly get back to sleep.

All of my chickens have come home to roost in a major way this week though, as Super-Sleep-Dad is away all week with work. And last night was brutal. I think I managed five hours’ broken sleep after what felt like decades sat in the rocking chair trying to settle a sleep-phobic toddler. What seems to make matters so much worse is that even when I do finally settle her back down, I’m so wired and awake, that it takes me around another hour to finally get back to sleep. When your wake-up time with a toddler is inevitably before 7am, that leaves very little time for restorative sleep. In fact, that’s barely time for a disco-nap or even 40 winks.

I have laid in bed for hours before giving in to temptation and checking my phone out of sheer boredom. When your active mind won’t shut down you can’t help but be curious about the strangest things that pop into your head. My most recent 3am Google searches have included:

  • How can I make my eyelashes grow faster?
  • Why is my dishwasher making so much noise?
  • How to fold a fitted bedsheet
  • Bloom married?
  • What is a baby cheetah called?
  • Alexander Skarsgard shirtless pics

And when you’re a blogger who has a major narcissistic social media obsession, the temptation to while away hours on your phone, or even the iPad or laptop, is often just too great. Sometimes I find myself thinking, ‘I wonder if anyone has unfollowed me on Instagram since I went to bed? I’ll just quickly check the app’, or ‘I wonder if I could just quickly photoshop my crows-feet out of that picture of me I want to post tomorrow…’. Before I know it, I have spent 45 minutes writing a post on the notes app on my phone, about something that could only be written by a victim of sleep torture, like ‘why my baby reminds me of Baby Sinclair from the 90s Show ‘Dinosaurs’’. Needless to say, none of these posts have been remotely coherent in the cold light of day, and have only cut-short my valuable sleep time.

Given how many parent bloggers there are out there, surely this inability to literally ‘switch-off’ after settling the baby must be a common phenomenon? I can’t be the only person that insta-stalks a mum-crush at 2.30am whilst simultaneously co-ordinating a blog site re-design when I should be trying to get back to sleep? Does anyone else experience this?

I’m trying to make a promise to myself that after settling the baby tonight if / when she wakes, I’ll leave my phone in the hallway so that I don’t feel the temptation to scroll through social media when I can’t get back to sleep. Given how shockingly tired I am today, I’m going to have to try to stick to this promise so that I don’t look like an extra in The Walking Dead tomorrow. I’m literally amazed that I got through this post without falling aslee…………….

My Daily Dose of Reality Courtesy of My Toddler

You can always rely on your toddler to keep it real and tell you exactly how it is. Recently, Emily has been fascinated by watching me put on make-up. This is a fascination that hasn’t in the least been dampened by the fact she once bit off a chunk of lipstick and spat it out with a grimace.

The other day, I finished up with the final touches of mascara, turned to her and said, ‘what do you think?’. Emily, in all her 17 month-old glory and with a limited vocabulary of just a few words, glanced at me for a few seconds before saying, ‘more’.

Looks like the under-eye bags and crows-feet have not escaped her notice. Tough love, kid. Tough love.

#DressDownFriday Competition with The Green Flamingo, Co.!

The #DressDownFriday campaign has been running for 10 weeks now, and I’m so thrilled that it’s struck a chord with so many parents, all around the world.

After a successful first competition with Zac & Bella, I’m really excited that The Green Flamingo, Co. will be offering a prize for another lucky ‘Friday Fashionista’.

The Green Flamingo, Co. specialise in cool, gender-neutral designs and colours for their t-shirts and onesies. Over the next month, anyone who posts a picture in support of #DressDownFriday will be entered into the draw (just make sure you like both of our pages on either Facebook or Instagram).

The winner will get their choice of size and colour of this super-fun shirt, below. Not a bad deal for simply helping to tackle gender stereotypes, eh!?!

The Green Flamingo, Co. was set up by Jenilee & Jessica, two enterprising mamas, originally from Massachusetts. I’m always keen to support and champion innovative and impressive mothers, so I asked co-owner Jessica a few questions about how they went from friends to parents to business-owners.

Where did you two meet?

Jennilee and I have been best friends for over 20 years. We grew up in the same town in Massachusetts.  In addition to our friendship, we also were cheerleaders together through middle school, high school, and some of college. We have been friends through all of life’s ups and downs, marriage, children, moves, joy and sorrow.  We feel very lucky to know we have each other’s backs, always.

Tell us about your families…

Jennilee and her husband have two boys, Lyndon is almost six years old and Sawyer is almost four. My husband and I have four kiddos, Alexis is fourteen, Ally is twelve, Jax is four, and Makena is two. We currently live in Austin, Texas.

What made you two want to set up a kids’ clothing brand with an emphasis on gender-neutrality?

While on our yearly weekend getaway to Martha’s Vineyard (off the coast of Cape Cod) last year, Jennilee and I went searching for a flamingo t-shirt for her son Lyndon’s birthday gift.  Flamingos were and still are Lyndon’s favourite animal.  We could not find a single one made for a boy.  And although Jennilee has no issue with putting her son in pink, the shirts were specifically geared towards girls, with ruffles and glitter.

We decided right then that we should make one for him!  We thought it was so unfair that this little guy couldn’t wear his favourite animal simply because mainstream clothing companies thought that it was “girly”.

From here, The Green Flamingo, Co. was born!  Providing children and adults with designs that either gender can wear proudly and without judgment has become our mission.

What is your design process?

We both hand draw our designs and then digitize the images. They are then printed just for the customer who ordered it.  We offer many sizes and a rainbow of colours so that ANY child and/or adult can find exactly what they like.  There is no pink just for girls or blue just for boys at The Green Flamingo, Co.  We create designs that encourage each and every person to express themselves exactly as they see fit.

Why have you chosen to support the #DressDownFriday campaign?

When we came across the #DressDownFriday campaign we were thrilled! Not only because this is exactly what our company is about but also because it is taking a step forward to get the word out about how limiting and ridged, gender stereotypes can be.  Bringing attention to the fact that children should be children, not just boys, and girls, is vitally important to them growing up with respect and non-judgment for one another. Differences between the genders starts young and in our opinion, starts with their clothes. We are overjoyed to be a part of a mission to tackle this!

In Defence of the Mamas Enjoying a Bit of Tom Hardy

Recently, there has been a lot of discussion about Cbeebies’ Bedtime Story reader and all-round bad-boy-beefcake, Tom Hardy.

HOLLYWOOD – OCTOBER 30: Actor Tom Hardy attends “Variety’s 10 Actors To Watch” event at The Roosevelt Hotel on October 30, 2009 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by David Livingston/WireImage)

Loads of parents are thrilled at what they perceive to be an inspired choice by the BBC for Tom to lend his dulcet tones to a children’s classic. Others have criticised the ovary-exploding mass-hysteria, saying it represents a double standard in society where it’s socially acceptable for women to gawp at men, but it’s frowned upon when it’s the other way around.

People with this latter point of view, in my opinion, are kind of missing the point.

The CBeebies producers didn’t ask Tom to dress provocatively, or lounge on a bed, or nonchalantly step out of a shower soaking wet. They have asked an A-list Hollywood actor with mass-appeal to sit on a chair and read a bedtime story.

Of course, the producers rightly knew Tom Hardy would likely strike a chord with mum viewers, but the reaction mums have had to the choice of reader has been entirely their own decision. In a way isn’t that the definition of female empowerment? Surely denying mums their reaction to seeing Tom Hardy on TV after they’ve spent all day scraping Weetabix off the radiators whilst trying to placate a perennially screaming infant, is being a little bit harsh?

At the end of the day, (well, at 6.50pm to be precise), it’s a bit of fun, it’s tongue in cheek, and it’s harmless. As far as I’m aware, Tom Hardy didn’t run from the studio crying that he’d been degraded and abused.

To react negatively to all the ‘Hardy furore’ suggests these people are taking the humorous responses from mums literally. Are they genuinely concerned that mums are ‘putting their kids to bed early to watch Bedtime Story alone’? Does this mean they are suggesting that CBeebies is turning the Bedtime Hour into Channel 5 soft porn??? In my opinion, this is just another one of those societal double-standards where it’s OK for guys to joke about ‘the spank bank’, but it’s met with disgust when women joke about the same thing.

And let’s face it, how many times every day are women the victims in the ever-present, daily bombardment of female scrutiny? Can’t we let the mums have Tom Hardy? After a day of running around after a crazy toddler with no adult interaction to keep you sane, is that too much to ask? I think not.

Pre-baby / Post-Baby – A Poem of Comparison for Mother’s Day

Gin & Tonic / Nightly colic

Designer bags / under-eye bags

Drink nothing under 40 proof / Every room is Baby-proof

Travel the world / Join Slimming World

Stay up late / Stay up ‘til 8

Lazing in the sun / Frantic school-run

All night rave / No time to shave

Socialising / Sterilising

Foreplay / Soft play

Moisturise / Poked in the eyes

Express manicure / Express breastmilk

Spontaneity / Upsy Daisy

Beauty regimen / Baby Calprofen

Festivals in the rain / Staying home to potty train

Working on my core / Working on my pelvic floor

Boyfriend troubles / Mummy cuddles

Housemates from Hell / That new baby smell

Miniskirts and frocks / Tiny baby socks

Having a flatter tummy / Biggest smiles for Mummy

The daily commuter shove / Unconditional love

‘Mum’s Night Out’ with Unmumsy Mum & Giovanna Fletcher

Like a true fan-girl, when Unmumsy Mum & Giovanna Fletcher announced a joint book event, I snapped up my ticket like a 13-year old One Directioner.

I hadn’t bothered to ask any of my mates if they fancied going, which in retrospect was probably a bad idea. When I arrived at the Barbican, it was wall-to-wall with young mum friends, drinking prosecco and enjoying their well-earned night away from the kids.

I was genuinely the only person I could see who had decided to ‘go stag’ to this event. It reminded me of those early days of being a new mum, when you’d walk into a baby class or breastfeeding support group for the first time, and you felt like the loneliest person in the room.

Having made some failed attempts to sidle up to a few confused-looking groups, (and who could blame them – who wants to babysit a lost mum when you’re trying to catch up with your mates!) I took my seat in the auditorium and did what any self-respecting loner would do – I played Candy Crush on my phone.

All of this was quickly forgotten though, when Giovanna, Unmumsy Mum aka Sarah Turner, and host Bryony Gordon took to the stage.

Bryony was an inspired choice for host. Her fun, relaxed and easy stage demeanour meant that the conversation flowed naturally and never felt stilted. She had everyone laughing from the outset by making the sign-language interpreter sign ‘vagina’ and ‘sex’ over and over again.

The conversation began with a discussion about parental judgement. Sarah said she dislikes the idea that the media want her to be the poster woman for the ‘bad momma’, when she’s she’s a good, ‘real’ straight-talking mum.

They discussed the pressure to ‘get your old body back’ after pregnancy and how this is an absurd notion – you don’t ‘lose’ your body when you’re pregnant – it’s still very much ever-present!

There were lots of chuckles around how to spice things up in the bedroom after having a baby. Gi stayed very tight-lipped but Sarah said she considers removing her pyjama top as ‘spicing it up’ nowadays.

Things got quite raw when Giovanna opened up about her fertility issues and miscarriage. It was refreshing to listen to someone who is always in the media spotlight, put themselves out there about such an emotive and private subject. She felt empowered to talk about it openly after seeing other mothers do this online, and I’m sure her voice on this subject will only give strength to others going through the heartbreak of losing a child.

Bryony skilfully and sensitively led the conversation on to boobs and breastfeeding. Giovanna said that she stopped breastfeeding Buddy this week, and that her boobs are like rocks. Sarah talked about how hard breastfeeding was in the early days, and how she’d regularly ask herself ‘what the fuck am I doing???’

On the topic of oversharing, Sarah also cringed through a story about the time she blogged about her ‘fit bathroom tiler’ and he then he started following her on twitter! I’ll have to give that a go myself!!!

At the end of the conversation, there was a Q&A section, and I was able to ask Giovanna and Sarah about how they juggled childcare and working from home, as this is something I still struggle to get right.

I told them about the time Emily was on my lap at my desk and she inadvertently sent a direct message on my laptop to a business contact that was just a series of dollar bill symbols. Luckily, both Gi and Sarah found this amusing and all-too relatable, and both agreed that similar things had happened to them when working from home.

Giovanna said, ‘I try not to work past 10 so that me and Tom can have a glass of wine and watch some Netflix together’, at which point Sarah asked if that meant ‘Netflix and Chill’, which was met by major blushes from Giovanna!

Sarah then added that at the time they were going through the potty-training process with her son, she was on an important conference call to discuss the first book. She had to drop the phone and the bemused publishers mid-call, as her boy had taken a shit in the DVD cupboard! She made her apologies so that she could clean the poo off the Despicable Me 2 DVD. She added, ‘I guess that gives you an indication of what he thought about the movie!’

It was so reassuring (and hilarious!) to hear that they both experience the same trials with their kids when they’re trying to work – and it kind of makes the fact that these two have written a handful of books between them whilst raising babies all the more impressive!

I’m so glad I made the decision to go last night. Despite being Billy No Mates for a big chunk of the night, it was so lovely to meet Giovanna and Sarah and talk to them briefly about working and mothering. The whole experience has helped me refocus and it’s given me a new enthusiasm for my own blog-writing.

So many parts of the conversation last night really struck a chord with me. Especially what Sarah’s son did to Despicable Me 2 – I think that movie is shit too.

Seven Things All Parents Know to be True About Reading to Their Toddler

Before you have a baby, the notion of reading them a bedtime story as they lay curled on your lap is one of the most appealing images of parenthood. I spent ages browsing bookshops when I was pregnant to find beautifully-illustrated baby books with inspirational and empowering sub-texts. Fast forward two years and guess what my daughter’s favourite book is? Well it’s a toss-up between a Peppa Pig story about a goldfish, or the Dominos Pizza menu. The closest thing you get to a sub-text in that is the calorie content of a Mighty Meaty.

Like it or not, your toddler will find their own way to enjoy books, and it’s likely to be nothing like how you imagined. Here are seven things all parents know to be true about reading with their toddlers:

  1. You rarely get past page three before another book is thrust under your nose. Just when your interest is piqued and you want to know who you’re about to spy next in Each Peach Pear Plum, you’re Peepo-ing your way through another book.
  2. If you do manage to get to the end of a book, the chances are you’ve had to read it with the speed of a terms and conditions segment in a car finance ad. Toddlers race through the pages like they’re dying to find out what happens at the end of a gripping whodunit.
  3. No matter what well-loved and critically-acclaimed books you try to read to them, your toddler will always prefer the cheap flashy-coloured Blaze & the Monster Machines book that you flung in the trolley for them at the supermarket to keep them quiet.
  4. Toddler books make you realise how effed-up nursery rhymes and fairy tales really are. Why do we think it’s OK to tell toddlers about a little girl that is nearly eaten by a wolf dressed as her grandmother? That’s some crazy Norman Bates shit right there! Night night, little one! Let me tell you about a boy and a girl who are forced into an oven by an old lady witch! Sweet dreams!
  5. Lift the flap books lose some of their mystique and ability to grab the reader, when every single flap has been ripped out of the book by an over-zealous toddler.
  6. And don’t even start with pop-up books. After a few rounds with an aggressive pre-schooler, each page quickly resembles a scene from apocalypse now; teddy bear limbs torn off and flailing about once they’ve been grabbed by a chubby little hand.
  7. There is no such thing as ‘one’ bedtime story, toddlers will drag out bedtime in any way possible. So when you’ve passed out on the nursery floor with Dear Zoo draped over your face at 7.30pm, you can assume your toddler will still be busily flinging books from the bookcase – and depending on how well you’ve hidden it – smearing all the children’s classics with a liberal splodge of Sudocrem.

Despite replaying all of these scenarios every night, over and over again, it’s still got to be one of my favourite parts of the day. And not entirely because I know I won’t see the toddler again for 10 hours or so.

International Women’s Day – why the naysayers need to put up or shut up

Every year when this day rolls around, I do my best to spread the message and share my own stories of the women that inspire me. And also every year, I am confronted by a tirade of online keyboard-warriors who say that International Women’s Day is a complete waste of time, or that it does more harm than good.

This really gets on my much-maligned tits. Can’t we have one frickin’ day to celebrate females? Isn’t it enough that every other day in the year is unofficially International Men’s Day? Does it really threaten people that much to turn the focus of conversation on to women for five minutes???

I’m always quick to challenge these people on this point of view. I usually use the line that if there was true equality, the day would cease to exist. If they can’t stand the idea of IWD, they should focus their efforts on completely eliminating it by challenging gender inequality in every way possible.

Obviously, anyone that takes exception to this day isn’t gonna do squat to support equality. The carousel of fragile male ego and un-checked privilege continues to go around year after year, brought to a head every 8th March when someone dares to speak up and celebrate women.

People say ‘what difference is one day going to do?’ Seismic political and economical shifts towards equality may not be achieved in one day. But this opportunity to focus on the status of women around the world is a hugely important process to determine what needs to change. The opportunity to celebrate inspiring women on this day is also the best way to empower and embolden women to challenge the status-quo.

Some women say ‘I don’t need feminism or IWD because I’ve always managed to thrive in a male dominated world.’ Good for you. Really. But does that mean that every woman is able to thrive in this way, and that every woman has had the chances you have had? The answer is a resolute ‘of-course-bloody-not’. It’s therefore a totally insular and irrelevant argument.

Others say, ‘Nobody forced them to take time off from work to focus on a family. They made a choice to be behind professionally and yet they moan every IWD about inequality.’ But this is a ‘choice’ that men never have to face and therefore never feel the impact of it, and it’s a ‘choice’ many millions of women around the world, because of social and economical reasons, never even get the chance to make.

The fact is, we swallow these same arguments that are regurgitated like a misogynistic Groundhog Day, over and over again. Each year, there is about as much noise criticising IWD as there are people celebrating it. And 2017 is the year that this has to stop.

The future of women’s rights looks so incredibly bleak right now. And the proof of this is undeniable. Thanks to the current global political set-up, we’ve taken a huge leap backwards when it comes to the empowerment of women.

This International Women’s Day is therefore more crucial than ever. There’s just too much at stake for us not to challenge inequality wherever we see it.

The next time someone rolls their eyes when you want to make a point about equality, remember:

  • Women make up half the world’s population, and yet represent 70% of the world’s poor
  • Every day, 39,000 girls are forced into early marriage
  • Fewer women run top companies than men named John
  • 4% is the median full time pay gap between men and women in the UK. For every £1 earned by a man, a woman earns 81p
  • 1 in 10 women have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace
  • 72% of women feel conflicted in their ability to balance family with career

And yet…

  • Companies with strong female leadership perform better than those that do not
  • Unleashing the full potential of women in the workplace in the UK could be worth £23 billion to the Exchequer

Inequality and female discrimination is real and it happens every day, everywhere. To some women, it might just be a casually sexist remark as they walk down the street, to others it is life-threatening. Ignoring the need for a day for women is turning your back on half of the world’s population. It’s irresponsible and it’s dangerous. Because of this, I will stand up for International Women’s Day every time it is derided. I will celebrate inspiring women. And I will use this day to renew my focus in challenging inequality.

One day of the year might not change the world overnight, but it only takes one person emboldened, encouraged and inspired on this day, to change the world completely.