House rules.

We don’t have that many rules in our house. I don’t want the kids to grow up in some sort of military academy, and besides, I’m not sure I can be bothered to enforce that many rules. But the number of times that I have found myself shouting

‘we don’t have many rules in this house, but you do need to follow the few we have otherwise WE ARE ALL DOOMED!’,

lately is sort of undermining that whole policy. Why can’t kids just listen? And what are the chances of me shipping them out to boarding school/relatives (I’m looking at you there, Uncle Andy and Auntie Weezer*….)

*not her real name.

These are the basics.

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They mostly relate to eating vaguely nicely and not killing each other. Oh, and putting shoes away. Because, frankly, sometimes I feel like all I do is put shoes away.ALL DAY LONG.

They don’t even have that many shoes (except for Tilly. She inherits any too-small shoes, and she is like a mini Imelda Marcos,) but we’ll gloss over that fact, because, actually, she is not that bad at putting shoes away. But the other two, good bloody grief. They’re like shoe-shedding missiles on a mission to clutter up the living room/hall/playroom/stairs.

Tilly makes up for being quite good about shoes by generally ignoring anything I say, and shouting over other people when she feels the urge to give one of her long and extremely hard to follow state-of-the-nation-style address. She also gets changed approximately 14 times a day, (although she frequently eats meals naked) and doesn’t put any of her clothes away. No one remembers to put their dirty clothes in the washing basket (in fact, Will still says ‘but I don’t know where it is!’ even though it hasn’t moved in 4 years,) and if you ask them to set the table, they dump a load of cutlery in the middle and pour the cat a glass of water.

This is all despite the fact that we were reassured by all three of their teachers at parents’ evening last week that they were ‘beautifully behaved, very polite, and a pleasure to have in the classroom.’

The cat has taught Polly to hiss, which she now does whenever I ask her to do something. This is clearly charming, although not as charming as kicking her siblings when she thinks no one is watching, or Will belching the alphabet. When we are not listening closely enough to her long speeches, Tilly lets herself out and visits our elderly neighbour, who is too deaf to hear much of the monologue, but is too polite to interrupt. No one puts their bikes away. In short, my discipline policy has fallen apart entirely. If I were to be Ofsted-ed (terrifying thought) I would get totally failing, or whatever the rating is that makes parents flee from the catchment area as if they’ve been set on fire.

Today, on the way home from school, Polly said a swear word VERY loudly, as we were casually walking down a road full of retired people, with one of Will’s very polite friends.

When I stared at her in astonishment, she said  ‘WHAT? H(child shall remain nameless) said it in the playground! It’s not that bad!’

WTF?

I’m updating the bloody rules. No swearing.

Of course this blog is entirely undermined by the print that I chose for the living room. It says, in very bold type

DO NOT CONFORM.

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A good space…

map of Granary square

There’s this place, near King’s Cross station.

Right by the canal.

Granary square. There are no cars, instead there are fountains, cafes, lots of people on bikes, bookshops on boats, and an ice cream barge.

There’s a gallery of illustration, there is a nice restaurant. There are big steps leading down to the canal covered in pretend grass that you can sit on and watch the runners go along the canal path.

It’s pretty much my favourite place to go in London at the moment, and it’s just a five minute walk from St Pancras station.

For me, the reason it’s such a treat is the fact that you feel like you have all that space away from traffic; to eat, to drink, to cycle through the fountains, to just hang out – right in the middle of this frenetic bit of London. It’s a great mix of old and new landscaping: the buildings are Victorian, the canal is the Industrial Revolution’s finest; the cafes and galleries, the fountains and the steps to sit on, the vans and cargo bikes selling coffee are all brand-spanking new. The newness and the oldness sit together beautifully; the canal which was once a pre-car essential connection between London and the north is now a focal point for people to sit beside, run alongside and watch. In our super-connected modern world, it’s these kind of places that I think are integral to community cohesion, to provide a place for friends to meet and for people to be alongside, and connect with other people. It feels like a dreamily futuristic, post-car landscape. It’s so easy for cities to be full of noise and things and people on the move, but no space to just be.

There was a really interesting article about the aims of the development in the Observer last weekend (here) about the aims and achievements of the development. It had “to feel like a piece of London, be a public bit of London,  to have an influence beyond its boundaries and to achieve “a social mix”

Social mix is a hard thing to gauge when you only hang out there occasionally, certainly the parents I’ve met there whilst the kids have been racing up and down the steps, running in the fountains and generally lounging in the square have been posher-kinds of parents, but when your kids are in their underwear and soaking wet, it’s not like that matters everso much. The great and the good of north London didn’t bat an eyelid between them when Tilly slid down the stair rails in just a t shirt and knickers. It would be nice to think that it will attract anyone who fancies a bit of space to wander in a city full of people in a hurry, places to be and crowds of tourists – no matter what their social background. I certainly think it feels like a part of London, and it feels very much like a place that belongs to the public. Its influence has definitely stretched beyond its boundaries. Ever since I first visited, I’ve been trying to figure out how Bedford can get itself a place like this.

I can completely recommend it for hanging out with the kids, picnicking. and running in the fountains. Take a change of clothes for anyone who might be tempted to run through the fountains, visit the gallery, try drinking a cocktail in a can (just my classy suggestion there) on the steps by the canal if you’re there for a long summer/autumn evening. Take a book. Take a bike. Take the train to hang out in the city and sit outside.

tigs

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On the top floor of the Camden local authority building, there is a piece of art that says ‘not for one but for all.’

I think that if anything, that sums up what this place is all about. And it’s kind of magical.

 

The right to a voice

I’m writing this in response to something awful that happened to a writer who I’ve come to really enjoy reading, who has announced today that she’s saying goodbye to her blog. What happened was that she wrote a piece about how she intends to bring her son up as a feminist. Good for her. Good for him.

But some people really, really objected to this.
They called her terrible things.
They were rude and ignorant, and they were abusive.
They accused her of child abuse, which leads me to think they have never thought for a second what ‘abuse’ actually means.

I still don’t understand why people fear the word feminism. It’s not a cult, a fascist regime or a rabid desire to overthrow all men. It’s just the belief that women should be treated equally. And that means many things, including changing the way that gender role models are presented in the media. Which means that you make decisions about what you think is suitable for your children to watch, wear, and do. So that girls don’t grow up thinking they are supposed to turn into princesses with waist length hair and be rescued, and boys don’t think that girls need or want to be rescued all of the time. It means not letting boys grow up thinking they need huge muscles and a season ticket to Arsenal to be a boy. Feminism means many things that many people have written about eloquently and well (Hadley Freeman’s How to be Awesome should be required reading in schools, I think.)

It made me so sad, and so angry, that this has happened. For people who just like to shout down anything that isn’t exactly what they believe, for people who just shout without thinking, to silence a voice that is kind and funny, and endlessly reassuring. It’s sad, sure, but not unusual, I know. Trolling, anonymous or otherwise, is a huge issue at the moment.

My blog (which I’ve sadly neglected somewhat of late) very quickly became my voice. When you are a mum, at home with small children, which I was for a very long time, it’s easy to feel that no one is listening to you. Because usually, no one is. Small children are adept at selective deafness, and if you try to tell them that they need to do anything they might object to – washing their hands, putting the Lego away, getting dressed in something that is not a Buzz Lightyear costume – they tend to pretend they heard nothing. (Or throw themselves to the floor and scream. It depends on the child, very much.)
I still frequently shout, at home, ‘WHY DOES NO ONE EVER LISTEN TO ME?!’

No response, obviously.

But sometimes you will write something, and someone hears. And it means something, and that is very, very powerful. Mummy bloggers are often dismissed as being a bit silly. But these women, with their opinions, their writing and their thinking out loud are creating a community, and a place to be heard. A place for women who are spending years of their lives bringing up children, struggling with the monotony, the sleep deprivation, the boredom and the nagging feeling that you should always be doing something else, and the trying to do the right thing. It’s a role that has always been overlooked or diminished, and yet it is so important.

The blogging community has become a place for women who want to talk about their everyday lives with other people who listen, and who understand. Whether you work and have babies, or stay at home all day with them, the issues are often the same. It’s sad, it’s clever and it’s often laugh out loud funny. It’s supportive. Sometimes it’s airing a frustration about CBeebies, (Postman Pat, special delivery service. Sometimes you really have to ask other parents ‘am I seeing the same thing as you? Is he really that SHIT at his job?!’) Sometimes it’s about friendship, and strength.
Sometimes it’s writing about how you feel, post-birth, about your body. Sometimes it’s about the fact that you want to stop worrying about developmental milestones but you can’t. bloody. stop it. (My advice? Have a third child. Seriously. I’m not even sure I know where Matilda’s red book is any more.)

And sometimes, it is about raising your child in the way you believe is right.

If you want to read something wonderful about the community that social media and blogging creates, read this.

Good luck K. I know you haven’t stopped writing for ever, but I hope you’ll be blogging again soon.