Thursday, July 09, 2015

One for the CV?

I've always wanted to be truthful and authentic: I've always learned how by accident rather than design. I suspect that, for most people, it takes a kind of (longed-for) epiphany to get beneath each layer of falsity.

Being a mum at home has been a very significant chapter on my journey. In this role, I am forced to observe myself #nofilter way more than is comfortable.

It's inadequate to say every day brings a new challenge. Every day brings a new revelation of who I am; how far that is from who I thought I was; what I can cope with; how I react when I'm not coping. This hasn't happened to me in other relationships or roles, even marriage.

I get too frustrated. I am insufficiently gentle. I am concerned about my arbitrary plans rather than their human development. I relish the power I hold over them in ways that border on the despotic. And ... I am boundlessly creative and adaptable. I am capable of paying great attention and lavishing great care in ways I never thought possible.

What's so enlightening about this job, then? I can't step away and hide behind cliches, learned behaviours, electronic communication, jargon, status or my perceived competence. I can't pretend in all those comfortable ways adults spend a lifetime learning to pretend (and accepting pretence from others). The absolute authenticity, self-absorption and innocence of my children shines a searchlight EVERYWHERE.

I realise how much of my 'working' life was about status and ego-bolstering. I don't think there's anything wrong with that per se but I'm happy to see it for what it was. I see how often I conflate getting my own way with life being fair. I see how often I look for someone else to blame when things don't go well.

This all sounds rather negative. Actually, it's great. Because, falteringly, I think I am learning that whether lots of people admire or listen to me doesn't need to affect my sense of self-worth - because it doesn't affect who I am. That all those things I fixate on making 'just-so' can go to hell in a handcart and the results are often rather enjoyable as long as I take a chill-pill.That blaming people for hard stuff is useless - and usually I have the resources to deal with it, anyway.

It has been a wrench, in some ways, to 'just' hang out with Rowan and Willow for more than two years. It's not the path I expected to take. But, quite honestly, it's been the perfect gift for the person I am.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Labouring the (lack of) point

A few particles of dust have settled and I've recovered some equilibirum since the GE2015 result. Possibly enough to reflect with a little objectivity. Possibly not ....

In the months and years leading up to the election, the poor communications effort by Labour bothered me very much. I hoped that my irritation would prove unfounded and that Miliband's belief a party can win enough votes by getting out on the street and the online equivalent - social media - would be enough to swing it: I would like to live in that world. But I don't and it wasn't.

Given the Tories well-orchestrated campaign, it all felt very shoddy. For every 'long-term economic plan' we had obscure, complex, verbose or silly responses that captured nobody's attention. There was no message for the masses unless they wanted to scoff at Labour - nobody will ever forget the 'Ed stone.

The right-wing press went for Miliband in a big way. He challenged them and refused to capitulate - and I admired him for that. The personal attacks were pathetic, scaremongering and wrong. It is regrettable that we care more about a Prime Minister's facial features than his or her ideas. But Miliband was so disinterested, at times almost seeming to despise the media, that it's hardly surprising he didn't come across well.

It all reminded me of encounters as a local reporter. When I started as district editor for the Kenilworth Weekly News in 2002, Andy King was MP. I liked him. He seemed decent, hardworking and unostentatious. Then Jeremy Wright showed up as the Conservative contender in the race to 2005. I could hardly get him out of the office: slick, confident and proactive. For every press release or visit from Jeremy, I contacted Andy for a response. But he didn't want to know. Again and again, Wright got coverage and King got none.

Why the lack of engagement? Did Andy King think the local press didn't matter? Was he sick of the job anyway? Did he believe I was pro-Tory because I had spoken to Wright? Who knows. It was very frustrating. And, while I hate to say it, I believe it all meant he was the wrong man for the job.

(Incidentally, it drove me similarly nuts when I tried to write features on local churches. I wanted to let readers know about all the good stuff they were doing. But, in the main, clergymen and women treated me as an unwelcome intruder.)

I am sure we should all be taking a stand against the stuff that's wrong with our society and sometimes that means opting out of the things most people do.

But communications is about relating. Behind every tabloid is a bunch of people who are, on some level, trying to talk to their subjects. Labour needs to be positive about them, relate, argue and be clever and wily in making use of them.

Here's hoping for an excellent party leader and that s/he will appoint and listen to an excellent communications team.

Sunday, March 08, 2015

Twin Peaks (and troughs).

I've read lots of articles about being a mum of twins and, in the main, they are tosh. I can see that it's easy to feel superior when you have more than one at a time but, really, why are we so insistent on competing? Is having twins or multiples harder? According to whose definition of hard? And why does it matter?

No parent is going to give birth to either of my children as a singleton. It is pointless to speculate about halving the workload associated with Rowan and Willow. I AM NOT A NUMBER, and all that jazz.

Comparisons are inevitable, of course. And to some extent, they do help us navigate the world. So I'll capitulate and share some of the things I think are different about having twins.Not better, worse, easier or harder - just different.

1. The shock factor is more intense. You can prepare for their arrival but you can't feel sleep deprivation before it hits you or adapt to labour and breastfeeding before you must. Twins tag-team or double-team you in those early weeks and months. Parents of multiples need support and are more likely to suffer from PND , marital problems and other stress-related issues.

2. However close in age any two siblings may be, parenting them is different from parenting twins. People tell me they had two children very close together and it was just like having twins: I suspect they've embraced the competitive dialogue.

In fact, it is not the same. Breastfeeding two at once is different from breastfeeding one while persuading another to eat cereal. Carrying two who can't support their heads is different from strapping on a gurgler and pushing around a chatterer in a buggy. Not harder. But definitely different.

3. Establishing sleep routines is more important. There is a lot of talk about child- or baby-led routines these days. Many parents prefer to breastfeed or cuddle their children to sleep.

With more than one baby, letting them nap when they like means sentencing yourself to no peace and no outings. And it's physically impossible to rock or breastfeed two to sleep, as I discovered when mine were around 3 months old.

Climbing that hurdle of cluelessness about how to establish routine was a nightmare. But once I'd learned a few tricks, it was wonderful.

4. Making the finances work is a challenge.

Research by TAMBA chimes with my experience.

It's a little galling that with a multiple birth, you get one set of leave and parental benefits for more than one child. Returning to work as a mother of multiples is very difficult, assuming you don't have family to do childcare and want your work to bring in money. Putting two infants in nursery in the UK is very expensive. My pre-parenthood salary was less than 30,000: I wouldn't have brought home anything at all, had I gone back to work after a year.

I imagine putting two at once through driving lessons, university, etc will be tough, too.

5. But ... BOGOF!!!

One gestation period, two babies. One labour, two babies. Asked to choose between the physical challenge of carrying two and carrying one then another, I'd opt for the former every time!

6. You can entertain them with the same stuff. One trip to soft play, two toddlers perfectly happy.
No worrying about how the baby will cope or whether the older child will be bored. They can do more or less everything together and, once they get some independence, they have a ready-made friend to hang out with.

I don't think this means twins become easy once they're 5, as I often hear. Again, I believe this is the competition speaking. Have you watched two five-year-olds at play?! It's exhausting!

7. You get kudos.

I know some parents of multiples hate all the comments. And yes, there are days when you have half-an-hour to hit Tesco and want to swallow alive the shopper whose sister had twins twenty years ago. But, in general, I am told that my work is tough more often than my peers with one child or more than one of different ages. This is a boon. In the main, the people stopping to chat aren't being negative, they're just expressing admiration.

8. Watching them develop is fascinating. You can see two different people grow up together, so you have a very good sense of what is unique about each. And you get to watch them learn to relate to a peer, at the same time as watching them become an individual.

9. There are some great perks about having twins, such as the way it dilutes parental angst. For example, I can eat lunch with Rowan and Willow and it feels neither mundane nor like a face off.

I'll stop there. Being a parent is hard work and it's wonderful. You can't superimpose one family experience onto another. It's fascinating to chat to people about the challenges and joys of their particular situation.

So let's cut each other a bit of slack, hey? Next twin mum who scoffs about the 'Are they identical?' question, I might just rant at you. You want people to understand life with twins better? You have to talk to them about it, not despise them for their ignorance.