The Book Monster

About 12 yeBook Monsterars ago I was lucky enough to be running a semi-professional website all about children’s books called The Book Monster. I wrote, edited, reviewed, interviewed and organised competitions and had the pleasure to talk to some great authors including Melvin Burgess (he of controversial Junk fame – this website very much incorporated teenage and young adult fiction), Nina Bawden (who wrote Carrie’s War) and that twisted mastermind Lemony Snicket.

 I met JK Rowling amongst others at the Smarties Book Prize awards (circa Chamber of Secrets) as well as attending several rather fabulous book launches (Louise Rennison – author of the Angus, Thongs series was a bit of a luvvie and her first two books were launched at the Groucho Club in Soho and The Ivy respectively!).

I also worked alongside Jason Wallace, a friend and colleague who specialised at the time in Sci Fi fiction and wrote and edited a website on the subject called The Fifth Dimension. He has consequently gone on to write an amazing piece of young adult fiction himself, Out of Shadows which won the Costa Book Awards Children’s Prize in 2010.

Unfortunately the company I worked for at the time cut their budgets and, as the websites were a sideline to the core business, they were closed down. I enjoyed that part of my working life probably more than any other as it gave me the chance to be a bit creative, and an excuse to revel in bookwormery!

The thing about working with books in that way, was that I was surrounded by the most brilliant artefacts as well as having a first peek at glorious artwork – I’m a massive fan of children’s book illustrations by the likes of Chris Riddell, Jonny Duddle and Ian Falconer. I also love young adult fiction (The Fault in our Stars is next on my list and I’ve been meaning to read Meg Rosen’s How we Live Now for years). Maybe one day I will try my hand at writing my own story for this market…

Linking up to Mum Turned Mom for this week’s Prompt, Books.

 

 

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Are women better parents than men?…

…is the topic of Sara’s Prompt this week over at Mum turned Mom. The answer is no, of course we’re not. But what I would say is that, as women, we are hard-wired to fulfill a certain role for our children. Gender roles exist, largely springing from what are still marked biological differences despite the leaps forward in evolution since the era of the caveman. If they didn’t, then there would be no difference in the way we parented but as it is, women will always have the first physical bond with a child (through pregnancy) and they are very much the primary care-givers for a newborn in the majority of cases. I think women can be a lot more in tune emotionally and childhood can be a pretty emotional time.

male vs. female

Because of the way society tends to run, women are gifted with maternity leave whilst men are expected to return to full time jobs, and again, spending that amount of dedicated time in the company of your rapidly growing and developing child leads to a knock on effect of imprinted need and reliance on the mother by the child which, in turn, leads to a mother who has that much touted ‘instinct’ and an ability to pick her own child’s cry out of a room of crying toddlers, or understand half-grunted, half-signed language which might baffle another person.

Although it may be entirely unfair to men who would like to devote more of their time to their children and do a wonderful, nurturing job in the evenings and on weekends, any true comparison is never going to be forthcoming unless every single one of us does exactly the same share of the money-making and the child-rearing. For every example of a friend of a friend who reversed roles with her husband and found that she was returning from work to discover piles of laundry and washing crusting from breakfast in the sink (or worse, not in the sink), there will be someone who can produce the perfect SAHD – but any perfect SAHD must surely rely heavily on the feminine side of his make-up, if you will; the side that knows the difference between Sudocrem and Metanium, the difference a well-timed nap can make, and the part which is happy to succumb to domesticity and routine. It isn’t easy for dads to fulfill that role simply because they are in the minority and it takes a brave man to face down the all-female Toddler Group Clique who may eye him suspiciously across the squash and biccies.

And what of the judgement from male friends, or that sneaking feeling that the role itself is somehow shamefully emasculating? Maybe I’m not giving enough men credit for being enlightened souls who don’t actually give a toss about what their peer group might have to say.

When it comes right down to it what exactly is the ‘best’ parent anyway? The one who the child turns to first when they fall and hurt themselves, or the one who works long hours to pay for the roof over all their heads? Making it into a competition is not helpful – I say as long as both parents are pulling together in their different ways to ensure the health, happiness and security of their children, mentally, emotionally, financially, then everyone is a winner.

 

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How to shine

Choose to shine

Over at Mum turned Mom HQ this week, Sara has gone for a word as this week’s Prompt: Shine. I didn’t immediately know what to say about this and wasn’t going to enter the link up this week, but I find myself with a little time on my hands and started contemplating what ‘shine’ means to me.

The dictionary tells me that to shine is to emit light, to glint or glisten, to excel or to be immediately apparent. When I think about what it takes to shine, as a person, it takes confidence, it takes a happy, outgoing spirit who is not afraid to put his or herself on the line, and, to be more philosophical, it takes a person who can accept that they have a light inside them which can be directed out into the world, to counteract the darkness.

It’s not easy to shine or to feel like you are capable of it. It takes a lot of encouragement and championing but maybe some people are just born to project themselves and their light into the world from an early age (natural born confidence?).

It might be easy to shine if you are born with an innate talent, an innate beauty – but for the rest of us plebs here on Earth it takes a bit of practice. As a mother, how do you shine when every day seems to be about cooking and laundry and school runs and work? You challenge yourself, you shine through your actions, you attempt to bring a little light, however small, into the lives of others.

At the beginning of the year I spent a lot of time thinking about ‘random acts of kindness’. I even contemplated starting up a linky all about encouraging others to both do and share their own RAOK. I read The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin and was very taken by the notion of happiness coming through giving of yourself, and now I’m reading a book she recommends A Landing on the Sun by Michael Frayn and the concept of ‘happiness’ is once again in the forefront of my mind (and I’m not missing the parallel here of the Sun – a metaphor for happiness, and the one word which we most associate with the descriptive ‘shine’).

So go forth and emit your light, people! I know you can do it.

 

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It’s a man’s world…

a woman's place

I know I’ve been absent from The Prompt for a few weeks. Somehow inspiration has failed me. But I saw this week’s prompt – the saying above – and I wanted to think about it because I think it is an interesting and controversial one.

Before I had children I didn’t think too much about this. The hubster and I both had full time jobs. I never really pursued my ambitions to be a writer but I know I could have done and stood on an equal footing with a man in that profession. I knew that some professions were very male-dominated and that women found it hard to be taken seriously in certain roles. In some cases I think it is true that there is a glass ceiling for women, but at the same time, the large and well known organisation I work for now is currently headed by a woman and also has a professional association dedicated to women (which doesn’t stop male colleagues joking about the unfairness of this kind of ‘positive discrimination’ or ‘affirmative action’).

The thing about having children is that it gives you a whole new perspective on where you stand in the pecking order. As women, we are automatically granted up to a year’s maternity leave (in the UK – not all of it paid), and then we are given the opportunity to work flexibly in order to accommodate childcare needs (although having said that, the legislation in the UK has just recently changed to allow everyone and anyone the right to request flexible working). I think the mind-set is that women fulfil the ‘caring’ role and so therefore it is almost the unspoken norm for the woman to either give up work completely or work part-time.

I’m not going to go into the ins and outs of what it’s like to look after little children day in day out – sometimes it can be a thankless task – but it can also be seen as a ‘privilege’. If a man doesn’t like his job he can see that as a reason to feel some envy for this flexibility women seem to be granted almost automatically, but if he loves his job then he’s laughing.

But it’s not the workplace where the idea of a ‘man’s world’ really resonates for me. It’s the home. Whilst I appreciate that I could be making a sweeping generalisation here, I hear from female friends and colleagues (all mothers) time and time again that essentially, there is no real ‘equality’ in their relationship when it comes to organising and running the home, ensuring childcare needs are met and everyone is fed and watered and happy. And we’re talking about all different working arrangements – be it stay at home mums, full-timers, part time workers or situations where men have some time alone with the children each week whilst the mother works. It is nearly always the mother who is ‘on call’ 24-7.

In this respect, nothing seems to change from one generation to the next. It is easy for ‘equality’ to be a political issue in the workplace, not so much in the home. A mere suggestion of this kind of thinking is enough for some men to shout ‘feminist’ as if it is some kind of filthy dirty word which leaves a bad taste in their mouths.

I’m sure from a man’s perspective there are many negatives to the shared juggle of family life too. They have the burden (in many cases) of being the breadwinner. Up to now they have not been granted the courtesy of asking for flexible working. Often they earn the highest salary and so therefore they are automatically expected to be the breadwinner.

I know from personal experience with my husband and his ex, that men are given very short shrift by the courts when it comes to father’s rights. But equally, without a sense of moral responsibility and a good work ethic, a man is capable of walking away and abandoning a woman and child far more easily than a mother could ever do the reverse (or would want to).

Men seem to somehow maintain a good proportion of their freedom when they start a family. They are still able to pursue both their careers and their out of work pursuits whilst women are left at home, literally “‘er indoors”. OK, sometimes we are granted time off for good behaviour, but it’s the exception, not the rule.

So yes, in my mind it is still very much ‘a man’s world’ and I can’t see that changing any time soon…

 

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Are rules meant to be broken?

Breaking rules

Last week I wrote a post called ‘True Adventures’ in which I came to the realisation that I am risk averse. This week I saw Sara’s prompt “Rules are meant to be broken” and my immediate thought was to nod in agreement – after all no one can disagree that rule breakers are rebels – embodying all that is cool and sexy. So how does that fit with being risk averse? Oh, it doesn’t.

I am suddenly reminded of the time in my teens when I decided I wanted to become a goth. Unfortunately black lipstick, raven tresses and head to foot black clothing looked a bit out of place on someone listening to Phil Collins…:-/ (for shame!)

But then I thought about rules, and it dawned on me that rules are generally made for a good reason – the rules of the road for example. And if you trample all over a beautiful lawn which is signposted ‘keep off the grass’ does that make you a sexy rebel who marches to the beat of their own drum? No, it makes you a bit of an a**ehole really – ruining someone else’s hard work.

What would life as a parent be like if we encouraged our children not to follow rules? I think letting them run around at Softplay liberally sprinkling their drinks all over the ball pit would be the least of our problems.

Then there are rules which limit free thought on the growth and expansion of language – like the rules of grammar. I have to admit I have been known to be a bit of a ‘Grammar Nazi’ at times – I hate to see  a misplaced apostrophe or a ‘their’ where there should have been a ‘there’. But English is a living language and maybe demanding the rules always be followed would discourage the evolution of free thought and communications.

I guess when it comes to rules we have to be specific: Who’s rules?; What for?; And why?

All competitive games have rules and if you break them – well then, it’s not a fair game is it? Two men in front of the goalie – breaking the Offside Rule (little nod and a wink to the World Cup 😉 ) – not a fair match! You might as well just have ten men bundle the goalie to the ground and give him a dead leg and wedgie whilst No.11 bashes the ball into the goal ten times – where would be the point?

But what about company policies? Sometimes company rules feel like they have been made up by a committee who have nothing better to do than make up new rules just to justify an hour in a room with a plate of biscuits. When all there is to show for an organisation’s progress is a few Hobnob crumbs and a room full of employees all with their third finger nail painted green, you have to wonder whether we are all being held to ransom and the answer is, yes! It’s all financial at the end of the day.

Maybe it is some of the unwritten, societal rules that are really there to be broken and this famous poem by Jenny Joseph really resonates because sometimes youth and with it, the need for money and respect and standing stop us from throwing caution to the wind and rebelling against all those silly little things…

Warning

When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
With a red hat which doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me.
And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves
And satin sandals, and say we’ve no money for butter.
I shall sit down on the pavement when I’m tired
And gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells
And run my stick along the public railings
And make up for the sobriety of my youth.
I shall go out in my slippers in the rain
And pick flowers in other people’s gardens
And learn to spit.

You can wear terrible shirts and grow more fat
And eat three pounds of sausages at a go
Or only bread and pickle for a week
And hoard pens and pencils and beermats and things in boxes.

But now we must have clothes that keep us dry
And pay our rent and not swear in the street
And set a good example for the children.
We must have friends to dinner and read the papers.

But maybe I ought to practice a little now?
So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised
When suddenly I am old, and start to wear purple.

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My favourite smell…

spa salon room

This is Sara’s prompt for the week and I’m having a really hard time narrowing it down to just one thing! I love the fact that the sense of smell is so closely entwined with our memory receptors. Of course there are plenty of smells that just bring instant delight for no good reason other than ‘that smells like it would taste delicious’ or ‘I love that perfume/cologne’, but then there are more meaningful examples. I’m sure every mum out there will agree that pressing your nose to your new born baby’s head brought more than just the thought that it was a pleasant smell – the warmth and the weight of the baby and the feeling of soft skin against you – everything right there was wrapped up in that unique scent.

This morning I was rifling through an old box of random goodies that I had forgotten about and I came across a tub of Body Shop Coconut Shimmer Body Butter I bought a couple of years ago. I have swathed myself in it and right now I am transported to beach holidays of the past – the feeling of the hot sun on your skin, the happiness that brought.

Funnily enough one of the loveliest smells, as I’m sure many people would agree, is the aroma of freshly baking bread. Weirdly that smell made me feel deeply sick when I was in my first trimester with JJ so I guess I’ll always have mixed feelings about that one!

The smell of a newly printed and purchased book – particularly one with glossy pages – is also fabulous for a bookworm like me; it can be powerfully evocative of that most delicious of pursuits – cosying up with a really gripping story or sitting down with a coffee to flick through the pages of a particularly gossipy magazine.

Back in my 20s when I was young, free, single and slightly affluent (with a job and no real outgoings!) I used to treat myself to the odd spa session – a facial or a neck and shoulder massage. There was a lovely little walk-in salon in Kingston upon Thames where you would be led through a corridor lit by tea lights whilst that kind of feel-good ‘relaxation’ music played gently in the background. But most evocative of all was that wonderful smell – spicy and yet fresh – perfumed and yet clean – a scent of all that is luxurious and wholesome, crisp, pure, cool, invigorating…

And then there are the smells of the seasons:

Winter:

The unmistakeable aroma of cinnamon and spice, pine needles and mulled spirits conjuring the magic and excitement of the Christmas holiday; Damp logs on a newly built fire as they catch and ignite…

Spring:

Less easily definable than the other seasons but I’m thinking of those first fresh earthy smells, the first summer fruits in your kitchen and the dewy scent of the grass in those early morning mists.

Summer:

Other than the coconut oils and the mown grass and the flaming barbeques, there are a host of smells I love about the summer – not least of which is the smell of the earth after a summer storm – I think that is possibly the most powerful of the lot – it conjures a feeling of being somewhere warm and lush – a tropical interlude if you will, the adventure of running for shelter in your shorts and sandals, laughing and happy for once to be caught out in a shower. And with that smell, the sense of the vegetation around you almost popping out and shooting upwards in a sea of colour before your very eyes…

Autumn:

That first bonfire, damp piles of kicking leaves and gunpowder as Guy Fawkes fireworks explode into a multi-coloured one-night festival of light.

But you really want to know what my favourite smell is? It is all of the above, and anything that makes me feel happy.

 

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Superstition aint the way…

Some days...

The Calvin and Hobbes quote from the cartoon above is this week’s Prompt from Sara over at Mum Turned Mom.

I don’t think of myself as a particularly superstitious person but sometimes find myself shying away from walking under a ladder, or refusing to cross paths with a black cat half way up a flight of stairs* (* that one doesn’t come up very often). I like to think this is just sensible behaviour though (a workman might drop a bucket of paint on your head for example) but I know some people are absolutely religious about their superstitious ways. The one thing that really stuck in my head when I was pregnant the first time was the old adage on magpie sightings “One is for sorrow, two is for joy, three for a girl and four for a boy”. I kept seeing one lone magpie everywhere I looked and it completely freaked me out! Nuts obvs.

I think there is an element of self-fulfilling prophesy with negative superstition – we can blame any number of mishaps on the fact that its Friday 13th or because an umbrella was opened indoors. But it’s the positive superstitions that get me. When your lucky rocket ship underpants don’t work any more, I’d say it’s time to grow up and move on. It’s often said that we make our own luck – you’re not going to win that windfall unless you enter the lottery after all. Maybe this is also true of bad days, negative slumps. Again I veer into territory which is not in any way meant to target those suffering from clinical depression, but for the rest of us, there are strategies to beating a bad day without resorting to the supposedly magical properties of your grundies.

I’m also veering into ‘Happiness Project’ territory now, because I’d say there are a few very simple ways to inject a little light into a dark day:

  • Phone a friend (now you’re thinking that this is interchangeable with the lifelines on WWTBAM – it isn’t, the audience are rubbish at anything beyond the most basic knowledge of Coronation Street regulars.
  • Fresh air and exercise. Not always possible in winter/if you’re stuck at home alone with small children at night, but a good idea in theory.
  • Meditation. Go to your ‘happy place’ for a while (even if it is just the local chip shop)
  • Get a mantra. Weird as it may seem, just reminding yourself of the bigger picture sometimes takes the pain of the present moment away (“At least Postman Pat’s round is not in my post code”, etc.)
  • Laughter is the best medicine. Get someone to tickle you or, failing that, a quick perusal of any political party manifesto should bring tears to your eyes one way or the other.
  • Failing all of the above, a large G&T and a family sized packet of minstrels should do the trick.

Just for the fun of it here are some examples of real superstitions knocking about out there (look out for the one I made up – special re-tweets for anyone who gets it!):

  • It is bad luck to chase someone whilst holding a broom
  • An acorn at the window will keep lightning out
  • If a friend gives you a knife you should give him a coin or your friendship will soon be broken (sounds like a dodgy arms deal gone wrong to me but what do I know?!)
  • It is good luck to encounter a goat on the way to a meeting
  • Getting pooed on by a bird is good luck
  • Getting pooed on by an elephant is bad luck
  • Never wash your hair on a Tuesday

 

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Brilliant blog posts on HonestMum.com

Divorce number 3 for Katie Price: wasn’t it inevitable?

Price & hayler

Well, at the risk of sounding completely shallow, I think that maybe I should have confessed last week that one of my guilty pleasures is to follow the lurid life story of Katie Price with a certain amount of jaw-dropping and the occasional internal conflict! Conflict because sometimes she actually seems a little down to Earth (particularly when it comes to mothering a child with severe learning difficulties) but at the same time its like she has descended from a completely different planet – Planet Bonk.

Yes I admit I follow her on Twitter. I am morbidly fascinated by her rollercoaster love life. And now we learn that, having discovered unexpectedly (or so we are to believe) that she is six months pregnant (bearing in mind she has an 8 month old baby), today she announces her discovery of her 27 year old husband’s 7 month long affair with one of her best friends (a 49 year old woman). The mind boggles!

The woman appears to have no sense when it comes to men what.so.ever. And what about the children? That’s the heartbreaking part. I can’t help but feel that she has a certain amount of culpability, no matter how hard she plays the sympathy card – the cuckolded wife, blissfully unaware that she was living a lie. Wasn’t this just an inevitability?

I guess when you live this kind of crazy life in the public eye where everthing is hyper real (convicted in court for being out of control of her huge pink horsebox?!) there is never going to be any kind of stability or normality.

What must Peter Andre be thinking? (“It was inevitable”?)…

Just in case you hadn’t realised this week’s Prompt from Sara over at Mum Turned Mom was a scenario: “It was inevitable…”

 

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A healing holiday?

DSCF1410

This week’s Prompt from Sara over at Mum Turned Mom is this quote: In matters of healing the body or the mind, vacation is a true genius! Mehmet Murat ildan. Well, to be honest I’ve never taken a holiday to heal either my mind or body. I did go away on a family holiday with a five week old baby in 2012 though, and that was healing in many ways.

In those early days with my eldest I was pretty desperate and time with constant support from my family would have been amazing. Obviously that was never going to be the case as he came at the beginning of September. EJ on the other hand came at the end of July – the two of them bookmark the school summer holidays perfectly!

I was worried when my Mum first suggested a holiday at the end of August 2012 – the initial plan was to go to a fun holiday camp somewhere in Holland and it occurred to me that it must be pretty difficult to get a passport application (and photo) sorted for a couple of week old baby (although I’m sure people do it all the time!). Soon though the plan was changed to good old Devon – bit of a staycation instead.

My mum found a fab holiday farm which would accomodate 9 of us. It included an indoor pool which was fab for the kids but not so much for me. Women are generally advised not to go swimming much before six weeks after giving birth. I really had fun watching my brother in law fling JJ across the pool though much to his delight and hilarity – I’d never seen him so chilled out in the water before.

My mum cooked a few big family meals for us all and I’ll never forget one evening sitting down to a big cheesy cottage pie and JJ piping up by saying “mm this is Berry nice Grandma” – He was just about to turn three and it was the cutest little compliment ever!

We went on steam trains and the Rare Breeds farm near Totnes, we visited Salcombe Bay and went for a walk through Dartmoor (where JJ whizzed along so fast and furiously on his balance bike and managed to fall off grazing up his face in the process!).

We took a long boat trip down the Dart river from Dartmouth to Totnes and spent our evenings chatting amiably and taking it in turns to rock and cuddle the baby.

I think that, as women, we naturally go through a healing process after birth, physically, but it can take a long time to adjust mentally – first time round especially, but second time round there is also the adjustment to being a mum of two – learning how to deal with a toddler and a baby at the same time. Having something to look forward to and then company, support and people there to share in the lovely bits, if only for a week, was perfectly timed to make the adjustment a little easier and I will always treasure the memories of JJ’s last real holiday as the centre of attention in everything he said and did.

 

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That was unexpected…

happyland girl in pushchair

Back in 2005 I was young (30-something!) free and single. I had previously been married (for 7 months!) and divorced but never had I felt any kind of biological ticking (fortunately!). I was on the lookout for my next victim love but, when you get to such a ripe old age you become quite picky. At the age of 22 you may have been quite happy to date a smoker/workaholic/football fanatic/[add personal bugbear here] but you learn from your mistakes and a subtle “vetting” process inserts itself into your dealings with the opposite sex (maybe I should have just gone all out and created a tickbox survey and spreadsheet…) So when I met the hubster I was resistant to his charms for some time.

To this day he will happily tell all and sundry that I refused to date him for months because, in my words, he was too short, too young (four years my junior) and had a daughter from a previous relationship. Let me explain my thought process – firstly Tom Cruise/Nicole Kidman/Katie Holmes Syndrome – I just didn’t want to end up standing in a hole next to a man in platforms on my wedding day, alright? Secondly, what could be worse than spending the rest of your life with someone who’s going to constantly remind you how old you are? Thirdly, a child from a previous relationship? In my mind this spoke of acrimonious and ongoing dealings with your partner’s ex and a never-ending competition of popularity for your partner’s focus and attention (which you can never really win) selfish as that may sound.

To cut a long story short I gave in to the pressure – he turned out to be someone I felt completely at ease with – we made each other laugh and, after some unpleasant dating experiences previously, I knew that I had found someone who was serious about liking me for me and who wanted to make a commitment for the future.

Then I met his daughter just as she was turning two. And I fell in love with this adorable little girl. And that was completely unexpected. I was there to witness her potty training, developing language and flourishing little personality. One time she actually turned to me (at the Tescos checkout as I recall) and told me that I was her best friend. I was there for bathtimes and pajamas, Christmas celebrations and birthdays.

And then I felt a strange sensation from deep within, tick tock, tick tock. It was more than just the biological clock though, it was all bound up with the frustrations of knowing that, despite our bond, at the end of the day I was no-one to this little girl who would fiercely defend her mother to the ends of the earth (and yes, the acrimonious relationship with the ex did hold full sway in our lives for many years and is only now subsiding as she has recently given birth to a second child with another partner ten years down the line). When my step-daughter turned 5 I gave birth to JJ (exactly two years after our first attempts to conceive), followed, two years and 10 months later by EJ.

Unfortunately our relationship with my step-daughter has fallen away quite considerably as she has got older and I’m sorry to say that I don’t feel that same bond that I once did. But I am so thankful that I was able to have children of my own – I always knew that I wanted to be a mother one day but it took an awful long time for that urge to kick in and it still surprises me how fierce it was and how unexpected a sensation.

This post was inspired by this week’s Prompt conceived by Sara over at Mum Turned Mom. I have also recently discovered another new linky called Share with Me over at Let’s Talk Mommy so I’m giving that a go too!

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