8 things I’ve learned about my son starting Prep

So we’re a few weeks in to our first term of Prep now, and it honestly feels like a new reality is dawning for our family, or, more explicitly, for me. Naively I thought life would get simpler with my oldest child in school! Yeah, right. Here’s what I’ve learned so far:

1. Schools communicate with parents A LOT. When I was at school, the only communication that happened between my teachers and my parents was the annual parents evening. Other than that, we went to school, came home, and repeated this for a year with my parents showing limited interested in what we actually did all day. Within the first month of Prep, I’ve received a weekly school newsletter; a weekly Prep newsletter; login details for the Prep Weebly site; downloaded a School app with regular school alerts; attended a Prep information evening and received a letter from the P&F committee asking me to sign up for at least one activity of the seemingly 100s of activities parents are expected to help out with. I’ve also been asked to make playdough, attended a ‘Welcome to School BBQ’ and am being badgered by our ‘Parent Rep’ to go out for a ‘Prep parent dinner’ this Friday. Seriously? I have 12 more years of this ahead of me?

2. School requires a whole new level of organisation. There I was thinking I was doing well to manage a part time job plus two under 5s and run a household. Hell no. Now I have to remember library day every Friday; tuckshop on Wednesday which, inexplicably, needs to be ordered online by 8am Tuesday; letters that need to be signed and returned within 24 hours; uniforms that need to be washed and ironed in the evening (who remembers to put on a load of washing when they get home from work?!) This is only the start of our school journey, and my brain already feels like it’s about to explode.

3. You have to be on time. No more lazy day care drop offs and pickups where ten minutes either way won’t make a difference. Last week was my first experience of being stuck at work trying to meet a deadline and having to bolt from the office to make school pick up on time. It was waaay more stressful than I anticipated!

4. No more pyjama mornings on days off during the week either. Now we all have to be dressed and out the door, even the toddler, who usually does a poo just as we’re setting off for good measure. I’m definitely the unpredictable mum at drop off – on working days I look polished an professional, and on my two days off I look like I’ve been dragged through a hedge backwards, make up free, unwashed hair and creased clothes I’ve thrown on at the last minute.

5. The pressure of school lunch boxes. I mentioned this to my mum, and she actually groaned in agony recollecting her 15 years of making packed lunches for us. I am starting to understand that pain. I’m already running out of ideas. I baked for the first week – ridiculous, seeing as I hate baking – so now it’s vegemite all the way. And, of course I don’t put treats in. Don’t want to be that mum – I let my son have treats when he gets home instead…

6. You’re caught between two worlds. If you have more than one child, when your first starts Prep, it feels like you’re going a bit backwards at home with the younger children. Up until school started, my older boy dictated what we did every day; where we went; what we watched on TV; the topic of conversation. Now I’m back to Peppa Pig, playgroups, pram walks and attempted toilet training with a very wilful two year old. Haven’t I done all this before? It feels like 2012 all over again…

7. I see the school mums more than I see my husband. Thankfully they all seem very nice, but I can see why lifelong friendships start at the school gates.

8. The activities start. Am I signing my son up for after school soccer? Swimming squad? Cross country training? No! He’s FIVE. He can do all that crap when he’s older. Life for now is school, Lego, playing in the backyard and watching cartoons on the tv. I will avoid being a taxi service for as long as possible, because I know that once it starts it will never, ever stop.

Of course, any parent with school-aged children will already know all of this, but please spare a thought for us school newbies. It’s a daunting 12 years ahead, especially when experienced mums just nod their heads in resignation when I express surprise at all of this madness. Just be gentle with us, we’ll all get there in the end, but in the meantime, mums of older school children – I salute you!

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When size shouldn’t matter

I heard something really sad today. A friend of mine told me that her 12 year old daughter wants some ‘tummy control’ pants, because she thinks she has a fat stomach.  This 12 year old girl is quite beautiful – in recent months, she’s really started to blossom from the puppy fat stage into a striking – and slim – young woman. And yet, at just 12 years of age, she’s feeling pressured enough about her body shape to put in a request for underwear that I only started wearing after my second baby was born 18 months ago.

Seriously, how did we get to a stage where this is even a thing? That a young girl, who isn’t yet a teenager, is worried about this kind of stuff?

When I was 12 years old, I didn’t really have a concept of ‘fat’. If I remember correctly, at 12 years of age I was excited to wear my mum’s clothes on special occasions and my spare time was spent listening to the Top 40 and obsessing over Take That. I started to care about my appearance when I was 16 or so – but even then, as an indie kid, I dressed down, with short hair and zero make-up. In contrast, my best friend at that age was a goth, with heavy black eyeliner, fake fur jackets and enormous black boots. We thought we looked pretty goddamn cool. Whether we did or not isn’t the point – the point is that, yes, we cared about how we looked, but the aim was to look different. We didn’t want to look like everybody else. Teenage years were for forging our own identity, wearing outfits that made our parents look puzzled or aghast. And – and this is the big difference – it was never about changing our body shape. We were happy as we were.

When I think back now, I was a size 10 – 12, and was probably the thinnest girl in my social circle. Teenage girls were normal sizes – 10, 12, 14, 16 – and nobody thought anything of it. We certainly didn’t diet. Most of us put weight on during our university years (bad food and drinking), but other than that we remained pretty much consistent. The thing is, I honestly do not think any of us could have been a size 6 or 8, even if we’d starved ourselves. Our bodies were just too big. Our hips were just too wide, our thighs just, well, there. Because we were young women, no longer pre-pubescent girls. And, importantly, this was the norm. I remember shopping in TopShop as a teenager and having to rummage to the back of the rack to find the one size 10, because size 10s were unusual. There wasn’t a size 6 or a size 8 in sight.

I’ve often thought that a big part of the problem with body-consciousness these days is that girls now shop in women’s fashion stores. It’s not unusual for tiny girls of 11 or 12 to be wearing high street fashion, which means that these stores have tiny sizes available. Even I wonder if I’m ‘supposed’ to be fitting in to a size 8 these days, so I can’t imagine how it would feel to be a teenage girl whose body frame is never going to allow it.

Somewhere along the line, we’ve let our girls down. We’ve created a society with conflicted messages, where women’s body shapes (and pubic hair) are expected to stay girl-like, and yet other so-called aspects of ‘femininity’ are so over exaggerated they’re often faked. Hair extensions? Check. Boob job? Check. False nails? Check. It’s now a perfectly normal thing for young girls to be getting eye brow waxes and fake tans. And this depresses the hell out of me.

We were the generation that grew up wanting to be smart and independent, yet we’ve created a world where self-narcissism dictates everything. Kim Kardashian, for example, is my age, and she is fawned over for having a massive butt and taking selfies. Inexplicably, this woman is an idol to teenage girls all over the world. How the hell did we allow this to happen?

To any young woman out there who is feeling insecure about the way they look, on behalf of my generation, I’m sorry. You have no idea how beautiful you are – just as you are – and I’m sorry that we don’t say this loudly enough so that you can hear us.

And to women of my generation, we need to be saying this more loudly. This message isn’t getting through, and we owe it to all those girls who are scrutinising and criticising what they see in the mirror when the rest of us can only see their beauty.

 

It’s not a mental institution. It’s a hospital.

I recently spent four weeks in hospital. Obviously, I wasn’t well. Four weeks is a long time to be in hospital. But I’m pleased to say that my stint there really helped me to recuperate, and I felt a lot better by the time I was discharged.

Which is all perfectly normal, really, isn’t it? Person gets ill, person goes to hospital, person gets treated, and person leaves hospital. And while the person is in hospital? Lots of visits from family and friends. Get well cards. Grapes. Flowers. And when the person gets home? Probably more cards. More flowers. Constant phone calls, texts and visitors to check on how your recovery is going.

All perfectly normal, yes.

And yet.

None of this happens if the hospital you’re in happens to be a psychiatric hospital.

Because here’s what happens when you get admitted to a psychiatric hospital. You get ill, you go to hospital, no-one really visits, no-one really calls, no-one sends flowers, or a card. Once you’re discharged and go home, people avoid mentioning ‘it’. People don’t ask how you are. People look uncomfortable if you talk about ‘it’. People assume that, because you’re ‘out’, and they can’t see anything physically wrong with you, you’re completely better, and ‘it’ is never mentioned again.

Which is pretty surreal. Because I was really unwell. I had severe post natal depression and anxiety, and I’d been struggling with it for a long time. I needed to be in hospital. So why isn’t my stay in hospital acknowledged, like any other stay in a hospital would be? Why was my stay so taboo that some people very dear to me didn’t even call me to see how I was getting on?

I genuinely don’t know. I’m completely open about my battle with mental illness, hence why I write these posts. To me, none of this is taboo, it’s just normal. I‘m normal. I’m just me, and I happened to get ill, just like we all do. For me, it is odd that people might be uncomfortable acknowledging my illness when I am very open about it.

(In fact, I’d genuinely appreciate if someone is uncomfortable discussing this could explain why they struggle to talk about it.)

It obviously doesn’t help that people know I’ve been in a ‘psychiatric hospital’. Because this makes people think ‘mental hospital’. Or, even worse, ‘mental institution’ (or, as a well-meaning relative said to me: ‘“When you were in the mental… you know, that place, whatever you call it…” “Hospital?” “Yes.”) The phrase ‘mental institution’ stirs up an image of crazy people locked away in strait jackets and padded cells. But this is so far from the actual reality of a psychiatric hospital, which is, you guessed it, just like a hospital, with beds, and patients, and TV rooms and dining rooms selling vending machine coffee.

It’s a real shame that we still deem it necessary to make a lexical distinction between ‘hospital’ and ‘psychiatric hospital’. Are they both hospitals? Check. Do you have to be ill to stay in them? Check. Do you get looked after by doctors and nurses? Check. Do they serve pretty ordinary food? Check. So what’s the difference? There isn’t one. But the word ‘psychiatric’ is so loaded with stigma and judgement that it turns a normal thing – going to hospital – in to something that that people feel uncomfortable talking about. Just by adding one simple word.

I believe that, if we could stop talking about ‘psychiatric hospitals’, and instead just called them ‘hospitals’, it would be one small step towards a wider acknowledgment that mental illness as just that – an illness, that makes you unwell, and that you can be treated for and recover from. That it is normal. Normal people get it. Because it’s an illness, and like most illnesses, it doesn’t discriminate. You either get it or you don’t.

So please, let’s stop the labelling. And if you have a friend or family member who is admitted to hospital, whichever hospital that may be, send them a card. Give them a call. Let them know you’re thinking of them and rooting for them to recover. Believe me, it’ll make all the difference in the world.

5 Things I’ve Learnt About Recovering From Post-Natal Depression

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I’m celebrating an anniversary of sorts this month. This time last year, I was discharged from the Mother and Baby Unit of the local psychiatric hospital after receiving treatment for severe post- natal depression and anxiety. So a year on, what have I learnt about recovery from this dreadful illness?

  1. Recovery is a rollercoaster. One of the most difficult parts to grasp when recovering from post-natal depression and anxiety (PND) is that you have good days and bad days. The good days feel so good – when you finally feel like you again, with the weight of fear and sadness momentarily lifted from your shoulders – that the bad days that inevitably follow can be crushing. I’ve had this illness twice, so I know this is how recovery works. The difficult thing is believing during the bad days that the good days will come again. Because they do come again. And eventually you get more good days than bad days, until you hardly have a bad day at all.
  2. To recover, you need to accept that you have an illness. I never really dealt with my first bout of PND – I just took medication until the symptoms went away (although they didn’t, I just managed to hide them for a long, long time). This time, I’ve been encouraged to accept that this is an illness, it’s not who I am, and I’m not to blame. I don’t like having negative thoughts, or feeling anxious, but once I accepted that these things is part of the illness, and not part of me, I stopped beating myself up for being a terrible mother. Instead, I was kind to myself. When I was having a bad day, I accepted it as part of the illness and took time out to care for myself. Freeing myself of guilt and blame that this was my fault and I somehow deserved it has probably been the most important part of my recovery.
  3. You will grieve for what you lost. As you start to recover from PND, there’s a huge sadness for what you lost and what you will never get back. I remember feeling overwhelmed with grief on my son’s first birthday, because it was a reminder of what had turned out to be the worst year of my life. I wanted to be celebrating my son and his first year, but for much of it I’d been trapped in a world of fear and despair with a baby I felt nothing towards. Thankfully, my bond with my son eventually grew, but even that was painful, because it made me realise what I’d been missing out on for so long. I don’t think I’ll ever not feel sadness for what I, and my son, missed out on during that first, precious year of his life.
  4. You forget how bad it was. The brain is fascinating – just as this illness lives within it, it also seems to have a protective mechanism, because you start to forget what living with PND felt like. Which is surreal, because it was part of you for so long. I can talk about the symptoms, I can remember that it was the worst thing that ever happened to me, and I can remember the worst moments, but I’m detached from them now. I can’t remember how it actually felt any more. It’s like my brain has purposely forgotten the pain in order for me to be able to move on from it.
  5. You’re a different person at the other end. I don’t think you can have this illness and it not leave a mark within you. When I was ill, I used to think that the saying ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’ was wrong. My confidence was shattered, my self-esteem was in tatters and I struggled to manage the most basic of tasks. I’m still living with anxiety now, so how could I be stronger from this wretched experience? And yet, now I’m recovered enough to be able to look back objectively at my experience, I can see that I’ve gained strength in other ways. I have more empathy towards others who are suffering. I now appreciate the simpler moments in life. I’ve learnt more about myself than I ever knew. And I’m also proud of myself, because I know that getting out of bed every day with this dreadful illness, and still managing to raise two small, happy children, takes more bravery than anything else I could imagine.

I don’t know if I’ll ever fully recover from two bouts of PND. But, to use a cliché, I do feel like I have found the light at the end of a very dark tunnel. And for that I will always be very grateful.

10 Things I Want my Sons To Know

It was my 20 week scan which ended my thoughts of all things pink.

Despite the fact that pregnancy no. 2 had been completely different to my first (which had got me wondering, as you do), when the sonographer pressed the ultrasound in to my belly, there was no mistaking it – confirmation that I was having a baby boy.

Another baby boy.

So I was only going to have boys.

That afternoon, I walked wistfully down the Barbie aisle in the toy section at the local shop and said a silent goodbye to the daughter I’d never have. Dreams of hair plaiting and fairy wings replaced by a sudden realisation that it was going to be just me, and a house full of testosterone. This would be a whole new way of life that I needed to map out in front of me. I’m a girl. What the hell do I know about raising boys?

When I thought about it though, having had an older brother, I was actually more of a tomboy than I remembered. I hated pink (still do), didn’t play with dolls, and still can’t stand wearing any sort of heels. I know how to climb trees, and to kick a football. I played with cars, went to the football every week, wore my brother’s old clothes and I know the rules to every sport that my dad used to watch (pretty much all sports, then). And, once I re-embraced my tomboy side, I realised that life with boys was going to be great.

I do worry though.

Parents of girls tell me that boys are easier, because they’re not emotional like girls. But I don’t agree.

My brother, for a start, has a beautiful, sensitive soul, and my oldest boy seems to have a similar temperament.

It worries me that boys are told that showing emotion is a weakness. And don’t get me started on their notion of invincibility and willingness to jump off sheer cliff faces just for the hell of it.

So, with all of this in mind, I’ve done a lot of thinking about how I can raise my boys to be good men, and I have come up with ten nuggets of wisdom that I wish to impart on my boys as they grow up:

  1. Be yourself. Of course, you’ll find friends with shared interests, but don’t change to be something that you’re not. You’ll take a while to figure out who you are, but that’s okay.
  2. If you find a sport, or a hobby, that you really enjoy – stick at it. Your life will be more fulfilling if you do something you enjoy.
  3. Being academic isn’t everything – if you want to be a builder, go for it. I’d love to have somebody practical around who can fix up the house!
  4. Keep talking to us. Talking to your parents will become excruciating (and there will be plenty of things I don’t want to know about!). But, if something is worrying you, or getting you down, you need to tell us. Don’t be too proud to reach out and ask for help.
  5. Don’t be completely fearless. You’re not invincible, no matter how much you think you are. Please listen to that small voice in your head that stops you from going too far, or putting yourself in danger.  Boys will be boys, I know, but you can have fun without ending up in an A&E department, or worse still, not being here at all.
  6. Stand up tall and hold your head up high – you will ooze confidence. You should inherit your dad’s height, so use it to your advantage!
  7. Find a role model – it could be a sports coach perhaps, or a family friend. Listen to what he has to say. And learn from him.
  8. Travel. Learn from other cultures. Get to know your family. You have an entire family history on the other side of the world that I want you to know about.
  9. Talk about girls in a respectful manner. I get that guys talk about girls, and that the language they use can sometimes be pretty derogatory. Don’t be that guy who talks about girls like that. The nice guys ALWAYS get the girl in the end, believe me.
  10. Fall in love. I don’t care who you fall in love with, as long as that person treats you well and loves you back. You might have a broken heart along the way, but believe me, if you do all of the above, you’ll be a catch.

Oh, and I just remembered one more thing –

  1. Remember my birthday AND Mother’s Day. You can never spoil your mother enough!

Why knighting Prince Philip may encourage Australia to embrace Republicanism

As a Pom currently residing Down Under, I’ve been asked by a few Aussies what my thoughts are on the perplexing news that Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott yesterday chose to honour Prince Philip with a Knighthood.

Yes, the Queen’s loyal hubby can now add ‘Knight of the Order of Australia’ to his numerous titles, leaving ordinary Australians shaking their heads in disbelief at this grand gesture towards the old colonial master.

That Abbott chose to bestow this honour upon a foreign royal on Australia Day, the nation’s national day of celebration of all things Australian (except Aboriginal culture, but that’s a whole other blog), has not been lost on many Australians. Upon realising it isn’t a joke, the majority of Australians have reacted with outrage, disbelief and/or anger that no Australian was judged to be worthy of the esteemed title.

I, on the other hand, have watched with a detached bemusement as the increasingly unpopular Prime Minister of Australia seems to dig himself deeper in to a ‘won’t be re-elected’ shaped hole. For those who are unfamiliar with Australia’s current Prime Minister, think conservative and royalist. (He’s also increasingly gaffe-prone which may be why he feels such an affinity with Prince Philip. But I digress…)

Abbott’s popularity is sliding in the polls, and the media here are widely predicting that his Liberal National Party is on course to be a one-term parliament, due to their inability to connect with the ordinary Australian. So awarding a Knighthood, on Australia Day, to Prince Philip, is, at best, surprising; at worst, political suicide.

Today, Australia is, once again, a nation embarrassed by its Prime Minister.

The interesting part of this story, however, is that it reignites the monarchy vs republic debate. Being a Brit, most Aussies expect me to be wholly in support of keeping the monarchy in Australia. In fact, I think the opposite. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not anti-monarchy. I love the Queen, Kate and Wills, and spent a great deal of time last year cooing over photographs of Prince George. The monarchy defines what I love (and miss) about Britishness and I for one hope they stick around in Britain forever.

But Australia isn’t Britain. It is, in fact, a curious place, one which is still figuring out its identity. Britishness is a part of this, but I’d argue that its influence is waning. When I arrived on these sunny shores over a decade ago, I, in my ignorance, expected Australia to be Britain in the sunshine (an attitude many Brits still think to be the case). I was wrong. If you’re looking for comparisons, Australia is actually significantly more Americanised than it is British, with a heavy Asian influence. But more than that, Australia is Australian. It is unique. And, language similarities aside, it simply isn’t that British. So isn’t it time to lose the British monarchy?

And yet. The media reporting here on the Royal family is frenzied in comparison to the UK. Kate appears on every magazine; Harry’s antics are routinely scrutinised and every TV channel proudly crosses to their ‘Royal Correspondent in London’ at the merest whiff of a story. But I, as a Brit, one who loves everything British, often sit there and wonder, ‘why do Australians care about these people?’

The truth is, apart from sporting rivalries and Neighbours, the Brits don’t give two hoots about Australia. I’ve scoured the British press today and there’s scant mention of this story. In fact, again, apart from sport, Australia barely gets mentioned by Britain – ever. The relationship between the two countries is heavily skewed – Australia the minion looking up in awe at its nonchalant master. And as a Pom, married to an Aussie, and raising my children to be half British, half Australian, I have to say that Australia deserves better than to be seen as an insignificant cast off of the Old Country. Australia should be standing firm with its own identity and breaking these links with its colonial past. It certainly should not be rewarding a British royal (and a widely mocked one, at that) with a knighthood.

Britain is a proud part of Australia’s history, but it has little impact upon modern Australia. The backlash against Abbott’s actions yesterday suggests that Australians are starting to think that way too.

It seems that, by bestowing a Knighthood on Prince Philip, Abbott may have inadvertently steered Australia on to the course for Republicanism.

Let Ched Evans play… just not for my team.

I’ll start this article by acknowledging, upfront, that what I am about to say is completely hypocritical. I’m putting it out there now, because I’m sitting down to write this post and even I don’t know in which direction it is going to go.

The Ched Evans thing. It isn’t going to go away, is it?  We’ve had an Olympian in revolt, a dubious website protesting Evans’ innocence, an intervention from the Ministry of Justice, and most recently, Oldham Athletic being dragged over hot coals. Oh, and finally, as of late last week, a begrudging apology (or at least a carefully scripted acknowledgement) from Evans acknowledging that his actions have had a devastating impact upon his victim.

As we all know, public opinion about this entire sorry saga has fallen in to two camps – ban him from playing football again, or let him play because he’s paid his dues to society. But what if you kind of agree with both opinions?

When Evans was first released, I was flabbergasted that Sheffield United were considering taking him back. I was as vocal as the majority who pointed out that putting a convicted rapist in to a position where he would be a role model was absolutely unacceptable.  I’m a Sheffield Wednesday fan and United are our big city rivals, so I even threw in a dose of indignation towards our rival club for not being able to foresee the backlash that was coming their way. My club wouldn’t behave like that.

As we now know, Sheffield United’s decision to consider re-appointing Evans was a PR disaster, leading many to ask – What were they thinking?

But actually, what are any of the teams who have expressed an interest in Evans thinking?

It’s a simple answer.

They were thinking that they could get a £3m striker on the cheap.

And this is where it all gets a bit murky. Because football isn’t a moralistic sport operating on a level playing field. By its very nature, it is completely unfair.

You have your haves (Manchester United, Chelsea etc). And you have your have nots.  And there are a LOT of have not clubs out there fighting to survive, who may have looked at the books and thought that Evans was a gamble worth taking, offering a way back in to the black.

Are we really surprised that some clubs have seen this as an opportunity?

Football is a business. It’s about making money. Yes, we can be passionate about it, yes, it’s a way of life for some, but let’s be honest – the majority of fans can be bought if the price is right (the Etihad stadium, anybody?).

It’s unfortunate, but the truth is that, if a sportsperson is successful and if they play for our team, we are more we are willing to forgive and forget their indiscretions.

I heard many Sheffield United fans argue that Evans had served his time. Would they have been as forgiving if Evans had played for a rival team? Or not been particularly successful in his time at United?

It’s unlikely.

What about if Evans had played for my team, Sheffield Wednesday? Would more of our fans have argued for Evans’ forgiveness? I hate to say it, but we probably would. Because, when it comes to football, your team winning can matter more than anything else.

As repulsive and morally repugnant Evans is, the game can be equally so. So it seems contrite to expect football to be a moral guardian here. It’s up to society to demonstrate that we won’t tolerate rape.

Which is why part of me thinks that if this guy, a convicted rapist, wants to play in front of thousands of hostile fans week in, week out, then let him. Feed him to the lions.

Seeing Evans shamed by rival fans on the terraces could be a good way to demonstrate to young men that rape is a despicable, heinous crime. Because I don’t think Evans, even if successful, would be hero-worshipped like he was before. Yes, he might score goals again. His goals might even be cheered. But we all know what he did. And any father on those terraces would have considered: ‘But what if that were my daughter?’

Successful or not, Evans will never command a level of respect that he would have done prior to the rape. He will always be tainted by his actions. Fathers will not encourage their kids to look up to him – and who knows, it might even lead to an in depth conversation between a dad and his son about WHY Evans is not to be admired. That may be as good a reason as any to let Evans back in to the game.

There’s one caveat, though. Let Evans return to the game, as long as it isn’t at my club.

And that’s where my argument falters.

Like I said. I’m a hypocrite.