Creative Mothers Project

In January 2016 I launched the Creative Mothers series on occupation: (m)other. It was a platform for people to share their thoughts about the impact of motherhood on personal creativity. I loved receiving the responses, so varied and thoughtful in their reflections.

I knew when I started the collection that I wanted to do more with the idea, take it somewhere…that vague and comfortable potential empty space of ‘somewhere’. However I paused the online series while I was pregnant with my second child; the pause growing into a two-year absence as the demands of young children took over everything else. But I didn’t let go of the core ideas of the series. Instead they swirled and developed, straining to grow faster than my time or energy could accommodate.

Over the past few months it has become clear to me that the time to define the somewhere of this is nearing and a project needs building. Continue reading

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Pirates and Princesses

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My niece and nephew last week participated in their nursery’s Pirates and Princesses day. Cue extremely cute picture of both of them together in their costumes. Ahhhhh! And can you guess who was the pirate and who was the princess? Of course you can…boy pirate and girl princess.

I’m not having a go at my sister for her choice of outfits, I imagine most of us would do the same, conforming wins! And I would not want to be the mother that forces her little boy (yearning to be the BEST pirate ever) into a princess dress to make a point. I have a little boy who LOVES cars, diggers and bulldozers, and probably, although I haven’t yet tested the theory, pirates! Continue reading

She’s so lovely…

A couple of weeks ago we sorted out some boxes to go in the loft and in a dusty corner of said loft I spotted my old CD collection. Well that had to get dragged down the ladder and then Little J got educated in some of my glorious (and not so glorious) musical history. It was fun, LJ got dizzy from dancing and it made me really nostalgic. Anything that thumps the senses really can transport you…a smell, a taste, a sound. It’s silly, only a few years ago I could be found at a lot of gigs, and festivals. A few years ago I used to listen to radio stations other than Radio 4.

I had some bits and bobs of driving to do today without LJ so I ditched his nursery rhymes, rejected Women’s Hour and stuck Scouting for Girls first album in the CD player.

Lalala…’she’s flirty, turned thirty…ain’t that the age a girl gets really dirty…’ . Um? It’s woman actually. And yes, if by dirty you mean porridge in my hair and playdoh on my jeans.

Oh. I felt old. And not in a good, wise, calm way. Instead in a sort of ‘I think I’ve let myself go and I don’t know where I’ve gone or where I’m going’ way.

It’s a feeling that has been steadily growing in recent months as I’ve been more and more becoming just (although I’m loathe to use that word) a mother. Despite tussling with and challenging stereotypes with my thoughts, my outward place in society tells a different story to most people.

Technically I’m only as much of a mother today as I was on day one of LJ’s life and just as much a mother as my working friends BUT I’ve chosen to go all in; I’ve gone way past the standard maternity leave period….my stall is very much set out as ‘mother’ at the moment. I wonder what LJ will think about me. Will he be proud of my past (and hopefully future) career outside the home? Will he be proud that I may not be as successful in that career as I may otherwise have been because I made a choice? Will he see the feminist in me or will he see a conforming to type?

The feeling also extends to the superficial stuff that goes with the stereotype of a full time mother. I do not have the time or inclination (with a toddler) to go shopping so I’m living in old clothes (actually still some maternity ones, oops!). I don’t spend much time in the morning on my hair, except to do the requisite check for greys. And I’ve realised I either don’t bother with any makeup of a day or I’m wearing more and more than I used to. ie. I wake up each morning looking like I need to wear more and more!

I think I’ve passed into the phase of not ‘getting’ youth stuff as well. That hairstyle, those jeans, slang and social media. I don’t think it helps that Andrew’s job creates an artificial sense of being older than you are. He has enjoyed a long career as a player and is a senior member of the team. He is likely to be looking towards retirement in the next few years. He is THIRTY TWO. By association I am now viewed by the majority of his colleagues as old enough to be their mum. Not helped by Andrew passing on some of my bafflement at their antics. ‘But they’ll think I’m an old fuddy-duddy’ I wail. ‘Oh don’t worry about that, you probably are’ is Andrew’s response. Humph, thanks! Easy for him to say too…he’s not (yet) soul searching his identity.

It could all be worse though… I’m ambitious, hopeful, and excited for the future. I assume I’ll go back to my career and be super successful, I’m just not sure when. I also assume I’ll wear something other than old jeans and trainers at some point which I assume will happen when I care enough to go shopping at some point. As for what LJ will think of me when he’s older, I honestly don’t know. I suppose as long as he sees a happy, loving and confident me that’s enough, isn’t it?

So it’s a work in progress but I’ve concluded from my musical nostalgia trip that:
a) I really really like Radio 4
b) I might need to spend a little bit more time remembering who I am and remembering that being a mother doesn’t change that. While I’m at it maybe I should take LJ to a festival this summer!

 

One in Ten

There’s been a lot in the papers this week about stay at home mothers and their decline in numbers since the eighties with only 10% of (all) women staying out of the workforce by choice (not necessarily to raise children). With these headlines has come some stereotypical and outdated representations of what staying at home to raise children looks like and some fairly offensive terms to describe us.

Because of this I can’t quite work out if we’re being fed a negative or positive spin on this story from the papers, who break the figures down (somewhat skewed perhaps) to state that only 1 in 10 children have a parent at home full time…how sad that a whole generation of children are being cared for outside the home? Or hurray, look at all the workplace opportunities for women and the childcare options available to parents?

It would seem that the Government are going for a positive take on the figures…extolling the virtues of having more ‘economically active’ women in society. This view is despite waffling rhetoric a few years ago from David Cameron about rebuilding family values to make society better…or perhaps it was bigger…

For what it’s worth my view is that Little J will really benefit from having me at home with him in these early years and also from having Andrew around a great deal of the time. We are fairly unique in that the pattern of our lives is such that it doesn’t conform to the standard working week. This would make childcare arrangements confusing and time when all three of us are together would be almost non-existent.

Also I like to put my all into whatever I’m doing and currently I am putting my all into raising a happy, confident member of society, so I really balk at the idea that I’m on the negative side of a working/not working discussion. I don’t actually think there should be a negative side, except to examine how happy people are with childcare arrangements and to explore why some people don’t feel they have, or actually don’t have, a choice in the matter of how they raise their children.

Because I think ultimately the point with us is that I don’t have to work. When we decided we would like to try to have children we had already made a choice about our working life. I’ve already said how fortunate that makes us…and, of course, a lot of parents on both sides of the statistics won’t be in a position to choose.

So dear government and dear society…

Please don’t declare me ‘economically inactive’ because I am not currently working and so not paying income tax. It is a derisory term that feeds negative opinions of stay at home mothers. I am not using the system for any benefits whatsoever (indeed if I found the smallest of part time jobs I would be eligible for all sorts of tax benefits and state support). I have worked and saved hard for twelve years in order to make this choice and I will ‘rejoin the workforce’ in the future.

Please also don’t assume that I conform to some sort of stereotypical and farcical image of a dozy housewife in a pinny. I have never felt so mentally and physically engaged. My skills base has grown more than it ever has done in an extremely short amount of time, with most of those skills transferable. My beliefs and opinions have become better defined and my passions greater.

Please look at the opportunities and support you offer older women in going back to work. They haven’t lost anything of who they were before children, instead they have gained immeasurable experience. It is short sighted at best, and prejudiced at worst, not to recognise this fact.

I am more than whatever work made me. I am also more than what being a mother makes me. I’m me, not ‘just me’…ME. Oh and I’m really happy and having loads of fun. Is there a statistic for that?

 

Hello, what do you do?

I’ve decided to start this blog with a very common question to help explain where I’m coming from. To be honest I didn’t expect my first post to be as serious or as rants as this, but stick with me and we’ll get to splashing in puddles soon I promise!

So how many times have you been asked this question? Or asked it yourself? I know I’ve lost count of both. Given the nature of my partner’s job as a professional sportsman I’m part of a world where what you do is often intrinsically linked with who you are. Of course this is common throughout society…what we choose to do does say something about who we are. But not all that we are, and not even who we think we are, but instead who the asker thinks we are.

The asker builds a quick and, let’s face it, sketchy picture of you based on one or two words used to describe your job. The asker decides if it’s your passion, your calling, a stop gap job, a mistake. They make assumptions about your intelligence, your commitment, your people skills, your lifestyle.

To give you an example…my partner, Andrew, is a professional sportsman as I’ve said. He loves the sport that he is lucky enough to get paid to play. But when his career finishes he has a fantasy of working in a supermarket part time and following our children around (!) the rest of the time. If he is able to carry out this ambition and in the future answers ‘what do you do?’ with ‘supermarket shelf stacker’, the asker will make completely different assumptions about who he is at that moment without Andrew having fundamentally changed as a person at all.

When I had a job I had problems with being asked this…I worked in the arts. I speak quietly, it sounded like ‘arse’. I always had to repeat my answer. I was usually met with blank looks and so launched into a description of the complicated multi-partner, multi-art form project I managed. More often that not (being mostly, which wasn’t much, asked it by men at Andrew’s work events) there just wasn’t enough of the familiar in my answer for the asker to grasp on to and the follow up question, asked with a patronising jokiness, was invariably ‘so do you like cricket?’. Sigh…

Now I’ve stopped working and spend my days playing with Little J, I fit in far more neatly to the social hierarchy. For me this makes ‘what do you do?’ so much harder to answer. Full time mother? Well, yes but I’m fairly sure my friends that work who also have children are full time mothers…you don’t stop being one just because you’re not physically next to your child. And does that make Andrew a part time father? Or when he’s at an away game, a zero hour contract father? And don’t even get me started on ‘housewife’. I’m fairly sure I married Andrew, not the house. I’m also fairly sure I’m still his wife even when I leave the house.

My tussle with expressing myself the way I want to, while resisting society’s pigeonholes has spurred me to to start this blog, along with a desire to create a record of my thoughts and experiences as a new parent. I’ve written more about what I do, who I am and the blog’s title on the about page. I hope this blog will express who I am and maybe if I’m asked again ‘what do you do?’ I’ll be able to answer in a way that doesn’t answer that at all, and instead tells them who I am.

Because ultimately it is a limiting question, a way for us to cling onto the security of stereotypes and therefore it is about as useful for really finding out about someone as sitting down to tea with their shadow.

 

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