The ‘how post is post’ question.

I’ve always wanted to write about a sort of post-natal depression that seems to catch me sometimes, quite unaware, like wincing in pain years after an injury has healed. Firstly, I’m not sure it even qualifies as being post-natal, and indeed it is the label that I think is the problem sometimes. I had a nagging suspicion when my youngest was about two, that I had a kind of post-natal depression, but as I remarked to someone in a similar boat, ‘how post is still post-natal? When do you drop the natal? And does that mean that just having kids is making me depressed?’

My reluctance to write about it is semantic, really, I don’t think it matters. Depression is depression – but the issue of post-natal depression has been highlighted brilliantly in recent years, and there has been so much written about it that is far more useful and more eloquent than anything I can say, but then to not write about it comes from the same fear that drives all of the need to talk about the issue: the fear that talking about it somehow makes you a bad parent.

To be clear – I never had the kind of severe, clinical post-natal depression that is so devastating. Nor did I have the grinding, day-to-day bleakness of ‘proper’ PND. There was never a definite moment of blackness. It’s more a lingering cycle of occasional anxiety and then melancholy that are at odds with my otherwise more laid-back and contented personality. Any decisive action hurts. Any effort to clear the fog is like that dream where you can’t quite run fast enough to catch whatever it is that you are chasing. And then I’m tired and I’m sinking and I can’t stop.

The only reason that I would add the post-natal tag is that it has been since I have had children that it has thickened, and sometimes when I am unnecessarily anxious I stop to think about why, and it’s because there seems to be no end of things to worry about – so many things are out of my control, and the odds are so high. After a few weeks of intensive boring fretting over health issues, potential environmental disasters of the future, educational pitfalls, accidental emotional trauma that will scar their adulthood, I conclude that there is so much scope for concern that I am exhausted, and instead I can’t think clearly about anything.

It doesn’t happen often – life is busy, and I am usually too caught up in the excitement of things to be dragged under, but there are times where it taps me on the shoulder, the edges of things darken a little and I feel it sidling in.

There is little time for introspection in busy family life, and sometimes I think that’s a blessing. At the same time, the lack of time to breathe makes everything feel more intense. It’s perfectly possible to hardly stop and think during those first crazy (and joyful) years of sleep deprivation, teething, endless snotty colds, smiles and first words; and then to suddenly realise a few years later that your life has irrevocably changed, and your sense of self has shifted. Shell-shocked at this new reality, it’s hard, I think, not to wobble at this (often very post-natal) point. As you re-assemble the parts of your old identity that no longer quite fit, maybe it’s pertinent to pause and think. I think I panicked because I’ve always thought of myself as relatively happy and enthusiastic, that was how I defined myself, so this feeling of something other than that undermined my sense of who I am. What, I thought, is the point of me if I am not happy?

I wish, in a way, that we were more flexible with our definition of post-natal depression. I’m so pleased that it’s an easier issue to talk about – and in fact I had very good experiences with health visitors where you were positively encouraged to talk about it – but that was all very early on, and I was fine, and then perhaps less so, but unable to articulate quite what I was feeling. Whatever I was feeling did not fit the criteria on the questionnaire I filled in, six weeks or so after the birth of each of my children. Years later, it seems somewhat irrelevant to mention it, but no less important.

I wanted to write about it because it is hard, despite everything, to talk about depression in any form, and in many ways I think there is a responsibility to be as honest about it as you can, especially when a bit of distance and perspective have made it easier to articulate. It’s easy to see it as a very black and white issue – to see happy parents and unhappy parents, people with PND, people without PND. The reality, of course, is far more subtle.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The hygge project

Hygge is a (fairly unpronounceable) Danish concept which means a kind of cosiness and companionship – time spent relaxing and enjoying the company of friends and family. It’s a concept that’s important to Danish culture – presumably they have less of an issue pronouncing it – but in English we don’t have a word for it.

I think we should.

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The word ‘Hygge’ didn’t originate in the Danish language. It comes from a Norwegian word which meant something like “well-being” and it first appeared in Danish writing around the end of the 18th Century. It doesn’t mean just cosiness, it is board games on a wet Sunday night in front of the fire, it’s long walks in wintery woods with your family (once your children have passed the age where they will moan about just going for a walk. When is that? 18?! ) It’s long Sunday lunches with friends, it’s lazy evenings in pub gardens with a cold drink.

It’s watching a film together, it’s hanging out with friends and having a towering hot chocolate in a cosy coffee shops while the rain lashes the pavement outside. For my 8 year old, it’s putting on her bunny-onesie (bunsie, obvs,)  when she gets in from school and curling up with a book. It’s walking on the beach in the winter, in 90 million layers, and having fish and chips. It most certainly includes roast dinners, drinks in pubs, slippers and friends who make you laugh til you snort. It’s stuff that’s good for the soul.

It’s lots of the things that I love doing, essentially. And therefore, I’d like it to have a word.

And this time of year; the arse-end of January, when it’s cold and bleak and there’s not much light, is a great time to embrace the concept.

Instead of being miserable this Winter (I do definitely get the post-Christmas/January blues) I am going to concentrate on upping my hygge levels, via the medium of friends, family, hot chocolate and board games. Have good hygge, people!

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Candlelight. Very hygge. Available here

The Lord, and the ladies who shouted.

There are some times in life when you just have to shout about the injustice of something. This is one of those times.

I am a Liberal Democrat at heart. Despite the socks and sandals jibes. I’m pro Europe, anti nuclear weapons, pro radical environmental policy. Which is why I feel enormously let down by the decision today to effectively bypass the Lord Rennard issue. To brush it under the ageing political carpet. From the party leadership, there’s an acceptance that his behaviour was wrong, that the women who came forward to accuse him of harassment had a credible case. There’s an admission that he caused them great distress.

But still, there is no decisive action.

Instead, the Lib Dems stand to lose some of their greatest advocates: the progressive, passionate and intelligent women who spoke out against Lord Rennard. Because they do not want to be part of a party that listens to women complaining of inappropriate behaviour but chooses to ignore them. A party who would rather lose their engagement than stand up to the sort of peers who continue to perpetuate this ‘outdated culture’.

It’s not outdated. It’s wrong.

Politics desperately needs women. Women are adversely affected by poverty and unemployment, and if you want to properly address those issues, there need to be women in parliament, making political decisions on behalf of other women. And this is no way to encourage women to enter politics.

What sort of message does this decision – or lack of it- send out to young people? That sexist behaviour is ok if you’re over 50 – get over yourselves girls! That the political establishment might talk about being progressive and fair, but refuses to exclude men who abuse their power in this way. That women just have to accept this behaviour or get out? MPs and peers have been prosecuted for abusing their expenses, but not for causing distress to female colleagues.

It’s 2014. I like to think that if either of my daughters wanted to pursue a career in politics, they could do so free from the threat of harassment. That it would be a safe and welcoming environment for them. That they would not need to fight for the right to a non-threatening workplace.

It’s pretty terrifying that the credible testimony of a group of highly respected women is still not enough to make the leadership of the party see that Lord Rennard has to go.

Come on, Liberal Democrat leadership. Think of those 8 year old girls, the girls who are being raised to believe they can be anything they want to be. Think of those young women who see politics as an opportunity for bringing about progressive change. Do you want them to see your party as one that stands by as an older man ’causes distress’ to some of the few women who succeed in politics, despite all the obstacles stacked against them?

To all the women who refused to just add their whisper to the general murmur of dissatisfaction, to the women who shouted; you are courageous and bold. And you are an inspiration.

2014: Having less; doing more.

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This phrase, handily printed by someone else here, sums up pretty neatly what I want to achieve in 2014. We’ve been de-cluttering our house over the last week – during Christmas our already very small house started to feel even tinier as it filled up with wrapping paper, presents, tins of biscuits, cards, advent calendars, nativity sets…we’re currently squeezing around the table as I wedged the Christmas tree in the only gap in our sitting room, between the table and my desk. There’s nothing like a bit of claustrophobia to bring on a nice de-cluttering marathon. So we did the sensible thing and filled up the car boot and took the excess stuff to Emmaus Village Carlton, managing to pick up only minimal china in their shop for the return journey. (I cannot go there and not buy retro china. It’s a definite compulsion.)

And then we finally came out of our book-owning denial and admitted to ourselves that we do not own a Victorian mansion, nor are we running a library, and therefore cannot justify lining the walls of every room with books. So with heavy hearts, much sadness and quite a few ‘oh wait – not that one, I really might re-read that for the 25th time’-moments, we donated QUITE A LOT of books to the local Oxfam bookshop. We’ve even agreed to give away our biggest bookcase and downsize the book-storage in our sitting room so that we can get a bigger sofa and more than 5 people can sit down at once without having to sit on knees. (Makes for entertaining visiting, but is a bit over-friendly.) I find giving away books the hardest thing. I love having them around, even the ones I might have read once and don’t really intend to read again. Some of them have nice covers. (Shallow – but true! I’ve framed a few books because they double as art.) Some of them I was given, and have my name and date in the front cover, and some of them I read over and over, and sort of regard as old friends. A few I wanted to give away to friends rather than donate, because I airily assume that people will have the taste in books I imagine they will, and so I think they will love them.

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So that’s the Have Less bit sorted. Mostly. (There are more books to go. It’s a gradual process.) The Do More section is very exciting though. There are loads of things I want to do this year – too many to list without sounding ridiculously optimistic – but one of them is to go rollerskating more.

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I got these for my birthday, in May, and they are woefully underused so far. I’ve been out about 8 times on them, and at on at least two of these occasions I had had some wine, with obvious hilarious consequences. But I love them. I like rollerskating too, and it combines being outside with a better than you’d think workout.

Confusingly, another new years’ resolution is to buy a Bella Freud jumper. Which really, is having more, as well as doing something. I’ll just have to give away lots of jumpers whilst I am waiting to come into quite a lot of money to make that right.

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To other-mum friends. Cheers!

It’s the end of term. It’s Christmas! It’s time for work lunches and office parties, and family stuff. (And presents and turkey and crackers and baby Jesus.) But, you know, this year in particular, I am raising my sherry glass  - yes, really – to my wonderful, wonderful other-mum-friends. (Incidentally, I did think of the phrase ‘mum-chums’ but as it turns out I can’t bear to actually use it.)

To my lovely friends who are also mums and are always there to laugh when the trials of bringing up small kids veer into mild hysteria, who are always up for a coffee/cocktail and a chat, who reassure you that the really irritating and slightly worrying thing that your offspring has started doing really is just a phase, the friends who hand your child a tissue when they are snotting everywhere and you are not organised enough to carry tissues in your bag; the friends who make parenting possible.

In the early years, these friends become like family. You spend hours together building train tracks and finding lost doll nappies and handing out biscuits and grapes. They make the playgroup circuit fun, they make some of the lonely bits of child-wrangling bearable. They will always have a story of a worse behaved child than yours’, they don’t judge the way you handle tantrums and they remember which of your children hates tomatoes. They invite you over and don’t bat an eyelid when your children systematically destroy their house. You invite them over and they don’t bat an eyelid that there is a kitchen full of washing up to be done and an overflowing ironing pile. They remind you that it doesn’t matter if your four year old can’t read or write yet; there is still so much time. They get you. They understand.

Now that my children are older; these friendships are different, but no less important. Maybe I see less of them these days, but my other-mum friends are still who I go to for advice, for reassurance and for essential school information I have managed to lose. They remind me about spelling tests and homework deadlines. They tell me where to go for good meals out with the kids, they tell me how to get rid of nits.They’re kind and generous and funny and wise.

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Happy Christmas other mum friends, you lovely lot. Put your feet up for thirty seconds and raise your sherry glass too! (Oh go on, you know you want to.) We all deserve a VERY MERRY CHRISTMAS.

Alice

xxx

The Science of Christmas

THIS is ace.

It was made by GoldieBlox – designers of a set of interactive books and games aiming to get girls involved in engineering. Their CEO, Debbie Sterling studied engineering at Stamford, and set up GoldieBlox to start to try and counter the culture that had led to the tiny percentage of female students on her course. (Just 11% of all engineers are women. Yikes.)

Having been alerted to this (and it is definitely the best advert I have seen in ages, possibly ever…) I felt the need to write my first Christmassy blog of the season.

If you don’t want your girls (or, indeed boys!) to end up with a load of pink tat this Christmas, here are a few ideas.

This is another cool Lottie doll. (I love Lottie. A lot. Probably a bit too much.) But this doll was inspired by female robotics experts Erin Kennedy and Kathy Ceceri. (And yes, I know it could be a bit disappointing that she has glasses, just so that you know she’s a scientist, but hey – loads of people wear glasses now, just to be cool. People even wear slightly baffling pretend glasses. So glasses are not the nerd-fest they once were. Or at least now everyone wants in on the nerd-fest!)

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You can learn more about Erin Kennedy and Kathy Ceceri on the information on the Lottie Girl packaging, and there is an accessory kit you can get with a Busy Lizzie robot to make! I should just add that Pirate Queen Lottie is another of my favourites:

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But back on the science theme, my good friend Rachael found this brilliant idea for a present: it’s a science kit you can make up yourself, with a handbook that you can print out yourself.

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Marvellous!

And finally, if like me, you grew up to the strains of pretend records on a plastic turntable, how about one of these:

Fisher Price

image from: handpickedselection.com

Fisher Price has re-issues their classic toy designs, and they are all great. Lo-fi, mechanical, and with a hint of nostalgia for the parents. You can buy this from this great website handpickedcollection.com, which is just jam-packed with loveliness.

The camera is amazing too:

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Girls deserve better than pink princess tat all the time (as my youngest daughter will tell me, there is a place for pink princessyness in her life) but there’s also a lot of room for science, inventiveness, engineering and thinking too.

Potter wisdom: on choice.

I am almost embarrassingly obsessed with Harry Potter. I’ve never been a proper geek like this about anything before. Star Wars kind of passed me by, I’m definitely not a Trekkie, I hate computer games far too much for all that world of warcraft stuff. but as soon as I stopped refusing to read Harry Potter on the basis that ‘I don’t really like fantasy novels’, I was totally hooked. I always think of HP as a perfect cross between Enid Blyton-style boarding school stories (I loved Mallory Towers and Saint Claires) and a classic mythology. Because the world of Potter is grounded in the real world, and exists in completely feasible parallel to it, I can enjoy it. But also: the quality of the writing is such that to be honest, I would read a shopping list written by JK Rowling, and probably think it was ace.

There are lines that could be Shakespeare: “Wit beyond measure is man’s greatest pleasure”, for example.  There are laugh-out-loud funny bits, there are really very touching bits, and the narrative all hangs on Rowling’s strong sense of social justice.

For me, this constitutes pretty much the perfect book. I’ve read the books over and over, and never got bored. I went to the Harry Potter experience and loved every minute of it. And now the kids are hooked: we have the audio books of the first 3 books on loop in the car, they’ve watched the first three films again and again, and Polly is itching to read the next book (the slightly more scary number 4.)

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This though, is one of my favourite quotes. It’s true.  Our choices, not our abilities define us.

Which is great news for those of us with less than tip-top-notch abilities, frankly.