Vicky Haynes and Lottie Storey are both freelancers and mothers of children with diagnoses of autism. Both are so brave in today's podcast interview that I've let it run a little long because I felt it deserved the time.Read More
Today, it happened. Today was the day I stopped feeling nothing but fear for my daughter and I felt a surge of hope. It was proper fire-in-the-belly-she-is-gonna-be-just-fine hope. Five years of gritting my teeth, hoping against hope I was saying enough, trying hard not to breed fear, I saw my daughter's strength and her eyes wide open to the world.Read More
What will your five minutes be that save your sanity? What is it that will make you click back into the place you need when life has left you feeling a little lost? Sometimes that one picture might just be the click you need to make yourself hold on and do it all again.Read More
I've just dropped the Playful Little One to the other parent. I've got an hour before my train and I dislike the empty feeling in my hand where hers used to hold mine. I'm listless and Sunday feels a long way. I head to the bookstore in the hopes of distraction.
I breeze straight past the fiction section. Where once I devoured fiction I've now ground to a standstill thanks to poor concentration skills and short term memory issues. Any plot with more than 3 characters and 2 locations loses me after just 20 pages. I'm sad for it but I've found a new fix and I know just where I'll find it.
The Self Help section is almost always in an obscure corner of any bookshop. I haven't quite fathomed the rule that causes this to happen but there's something to be said for standing awkwardly, trying to look like you have your s**t together in front of books titled "The Power of Now" or, "Solve your Anxiety- For Good!".
On this particular Friday night I'm struck by how crowded this usually quiet section is. Sure people come along, but usually they're furtive and quick to dismiss all titles and move off as if they surely didn't need help in the first place. I'm fairly sure most return within minutes of my departure, checking to see what carrion I've left behind. Tonight though, tonight I have 3 fellow readers for company.
Now there's a lot that could be drawn from this simple observation. It's a Friday night, it's 7pm and there's 4 women stood in the Self Help section. I'll let you draw whatever conclusion you wish from that but the thing that struck me the most is that no one is furtive tonight. We are all adopting that contemplative stance of a book shelf browser: head titled to one side, slight frown, scanning the shelves. We are at ease, no one is denying they meant to be in this particular section tonight.
A husband arrives and starts to prattle on about dinner. All 4 of us swivel our eyes to him, heads still at an angle and his sentence trails off into the ether as he feels the looks. His wife all but throws keys in his directions and he scuttles away. Silence resumes. Someone plucks a book of the shelf, ponders the blurb, changes their mind and returns it to the same spot.
I learnt some time ago to ignore most Self Help titles that start with 'The'. They're almost certainly proclaiming The Solution to my problem. The thing is, I'm not entirely sure what my particular problem might be. I just know I need help in the form of someone else's words tonight. So I browse, head titled and wait for a title to leap out at me and say, 'Kate, I have words to lose yourself in this miserable Friday night!'
In the past 6 months, I've picked up quite the self help habit. I know I'm not alone in it either judging by my comrades in the store. I have always been a little sniffy about this side of the publishing industry, using words like "preying on insecurities" and "flawed heroes". However, I've recently discovered the thrill of a woman's voice written with power and ease. I've found comfort in another articulating their face down in the dirt moment. I've particularly enjoyed making fellow commuters blush when they saw I was reading a book about finding yourself through your sexuality. I might get that particular title out again next time I'm bored on the 7.55.
The thing is, the Self Help section is where you find the most questions and the least answers in my experience and that, is proving very potent indeed.
If you're looking for words that might suit a Friday train journey, I can thoroughly recommend:
- Becoming- Laura Jane Williams
- We Should All Be Feminists- Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
- Rising Strong- Brene Brown
- Yes Please- Amy Poehler (Not technically a self help book but a bunch of YES moments nonethless)
- Reasons to Stay Alive- Matt Haig
Do you know where you were on 21.1.2017?
Let me tell you, little one. You were visible. You were a bright voice and an ally. You stood in a huge crowd in London, this tiny figure of great stature and you witnessed history being made with the calm reflection I've come to know marks your curiosity. Your wide eyes took in the placards and helicopters that whirred overhead as they captured the moment on film. Your little hand reached up to mine and you smiled. You, sweetheart, were a history maker.
The day before the march, we practiced our facepaints and talked about how busy it would be so you would know what to expect. When I started to paint the Pride flag on our cheeks though, you insisted the colours needed to be in a different order. I explained about the need to have a symbol and how for some of us, it had come to mean safety. We talked about the fact that it was your body though and your choice about what happened to it. We talked about love and working together and how perhaps, this was the best thing we could do. It felt like you understood why I was packing a bag and booking us tickets into London. We painted the rainbow just the way you wished it.
I am writing to you now, the Monday after the weekend that begun a momentum that was much needed. This was the weekend when you joined with millions of us across the world as we marched to capitals and city centres to say we rejected a seeping hatred that had increasingly become the norm. This was not your first protest and I sigh as I know that it will not be your last. Your little shoulders are already so weighed down by a responsibility but at least this march showed us something- there are many who wish to help you shift that burden.
In the middle of that busy march, a little boy caught your eye. He was high on his father's shoulders and grumpy. He yelled "NO!" loudly and you felt sad for him. We asked what the matter was and his mother explained that he was hungry and they were out of snacks. We shared what we had brought and you whispered in my ear "It's better if everybody shares, isn't it mummy?" It was a perfect moment and sentiment but I have to tell you, not every potential conflict will be so easily resolved. Sometimes, you will have to wrestle with your discomfort about a topic like FGM or faith that is not your own and you will need to push through that because on the other side is understanding. You must resist the temptation to remain silent for fear of offending because when you do, your silence makes these issues invisible and you become complicit in the oppression. Be brave. The other side feels just as good as sharing those snacks, trust me.
It's important now that I tell you that my feminism isn't perfect. I'm sure yours won't be either but we can educate ourselves. We can read wider, outside of our own experience and seek out brilliant voices that tell us truths we have yet to hear in our own life experience. I promise you, I will do my best to constantly share my learning with you and hold my hand up as someone who is still learning. I've been enjoying working my way through some excellent books this past year and you will see them on our shelves; they're yours to learn from too. May I also recommend attending talks that regularly make you uncomfortable. Listen to your discomfort because it is often shame. Becoming acquainted with your own shame response will help you see oppression clearer and challenge it in a meaningful way.
This weekend, it was important that we acknowledged that no action or feminism is perfect that ignores the narrative of our friends. Yes, we both face prejudice as women and I can do my best to teach you strength but when we kick down that door we must make sure we are opening it wide enough for everyone to step into the room. If it isn't truly inclusive, it isn't feminism.
There have been rumblings about our protest being vulgar. There were those who objected to the language of “pussy” or the fucks we gave that day. The thing is dear one, these are words that will litter your future and your ownership over them is how you will overcome their potential violence against you. There is no correct way to be a woman and we reject the term ladylike. Yes, have dignity. Yes have grace under fire but my girl, when you wish to express yourself, do it any damn well way you want. You are not the sum of others opinions of your words. That is their insecure definition of femininity and it is not yours to own.
You see, your generation have been forged in the fire that was 2016 and I have a sneaking suspicion it will propel so many of you into jobs and careers that are political and vocal and active. There are many of your peers that are going to break barriers as a direct result of what they saw this weekend. My only regret when I write this is that my generation was not enough. While we sat at our desks at school learning that fascism was a word from history it crept into our news feeds and timelines and we didn’t call it out soon enough.
We are calling it out now. We are calling loud and so please know this: I have never been prouder to have you by my side. So my daughter, now that you have made history, what will you do next?
“Lots of the things we learned was about our own behaviours and the things that we do as parents”- Ros Ball, The Gender Diary
“Girls and boys are treated differently and when you write it down every day you really see it” - Ros Ball, The Gender Diary
Today’s interview comes at a particularly poignant time in our lives here in our home. My daughter is turning four very soon and we’ve been having a lot of discussion around princess parties and Cinderella dresses that she wants. As a trained play therapist, a mother, a woman and a feminist, it irks me greatly. I’ve had to really kerb my response and let my daughter explore this idea of girl’s being defined by their appearance.
It’s something I’ve openly admitted I struggle with a lot as a parent. On the day Bowie died, I watched a lot of old videos and was fascinated by my daughter’s reaction to this beautiful man in makeup and a costume. It led to one of my more popular blog posts that you can read here. In it, I admit I may have made pink a forbidden fruit in my determination not to present gendered toys to her. It’s an idea that’s constantly evolving for me so I invited James and Ros on from The Gender Diary to help me unpick that a little.
Today’s conversation is meant to be an open conversation that I hope you will find interesting and reflect on. Please do let us know your reaction as it’s a fascinating topic.
Useful links we chat about:
Resource list of films with more positive role models of gender
Resource list of books with more positive role models of gender
Marianne Grabucker's book that inspired The Gender Diary to record their experiences
The Gender Diary on Twitter
Music is Oh, Look What the Sun Did by Josh Rouse and the Long Vacations via Noisetrade.
Podcast creation support by my producer, Chris Muldoon.
There it is, our first Summer holiday, done. Little One is tucked up for the night claiming she will never enjoy preschool, has no friends whatsoever and wants to stay at home with me forever. By the end of the week, I know she'll run in without so much as a backwards glance for those slow mornings that have become a habit these past 6 weeks. Another year turns and she's getting bigger all the time. I'm learning to accept it but it's not easy that's for sure.
We had our first big camp kind of week: a full week of ballet culminating in a performance. As you can imagine I survived this well and did not blub the whole way through.
I'm lying, I cried like a child who had their lolly swiped by the mean kid in the playground.
We also attended a fair few village fetes. My favourite by far included a a little parade of trestle tables groaning under the weight of preserves, homemade cakes and a sort of 'pop up' greengrocers created by pulling together everyone's produce. Of course I refrained from exposing my newly transplanted status and didn't call it a pop up. Had I revealed that I was in fact a softy South Londoner infiltrating the rustic idyll, they'd never have told me where the good sloes are to be picked come Autumn. Instead, I did my part and exclaimed in delight at the scales and bunting. There is a code. We observe it and are rewarded in jam ingredients. I'm ok with this.
Also, when did we stop including good but simple competitive games at fun fairs? The coconut shy was possibly the best fun we'd had in ages and the 3 legged races only resulted in a few broken limbs. What's a broken limb between village rivals? I'm in favour of bringing back hand cranked carousels and tombolas where all you really want is the questionable bottle of wine.
Somewhere in between eating too much jam I did a lot of knitting. I even finished a hat AND scarf ready for the chillier morning dashes to preschool that I can see coming right round the corner. I had the pleasure of shooting for Purl Alpaca at a recent workshop they hosted and was kindly sent back to the coast with a kit to make the gorgeous set pictured below. Purl Alpaca is a pure field to fashion story: from the alpacas they breed to the designs they work in their exquisitely soft yarns. The fact they leave the wool undyed and let the natural beauty of the fibre do the talking is possibly my favourite thing but it might also be that I got to skritch an alpaca and thank it personally for the yarn. That's always going to be a winner, right?
Also can we talk about the fact that dress fit just before Summer??
So I return to work eager to create again after a break to recharge and reflect. It doesn't mean my heart doesn't pull at the thought of tomorrow morning at the door of the preschool as her little hand tightens around mine nervously. I'll be doing my best to shoo her in and then it all starts again, another year's cycle.
Are you ready? If you are, can you tell me your secret please?
I realised I had a Gilmore Girls problem when the 8th person at the school gates commented that I was perky the other morning. I'm never perky at the school gates. Ever. I smile. I hold doors open for others. If forced, I can cope with polite conversation. However, if it's 8.49 am you can usually count on my looking slightly fraught and muttering curses about lack of coffee as I run screaming with my child towards the gate. It's kind of my *thing*.
So the comments about being perky made me pull up short. I was snappy in conversations suddenly, rambly when given a free rein and the random cheering for nothing in particular was just distressing to all involved I suspect. I knew the root of the problem: Lorelai Gilmore.
A few weeks ago, Netflix announced that the comback season of Gilmore Girls was due for release and added the entire back catalogue. Overnight, my timelines transformed to rejoicing about buckets of ice cream (that don't exist in the UK), crushing on Luke and quoting those epic put downs. Except this time round, most of us are mothers, holding down jobs and running a household. Whereas last time I felt solidarity for Rory and her college angst, this time I looking at Lorelai like my last hope in single parentdom.
It got about 4 episodes in when I muttered to myself "See? Lorelai would *get* me" and really that's when I should have known it was going down a slippery slope. You see, I don't get to feel that cool as a Mum. Very few of us do really. It's a lot of bodily fluids (mostly theirs) and tears (let's not dwell on whose) and carrying of THINGS. In Gilmore Girls we jump right in at the less angsty teen part to a girl ready to be the change she wants to see in the world and her Mum with a pretty impressive wardrobe. They eat ice cream together and bond over the male species. They have a better friendship that I have with most of my girl chums quite frankly and they do it all as daughter and Mum. If I had to pick a future relationship with my daughter when I'm flying solo, I'd take that one because it feels like a team when you watch it. They are each others emotional reserve and when you're single parenting it's the thing that can often tire you out the most in my experience.
Now I'm not saying it's all believable. It's not. I've yet to see either perfectly formed Gilmore Girl take exercise and they've devoured more burgers, fries, ice creams and full fat coffees than I have in a life time and I'm still only on Season One. You know what though? If I'm finally going to sit down and rest after months of moving and stressing, I'd rather get entirely lost in fantasising about being a cool single mum. Why? Because right now there's some terrifying things happening in politics with women who seem to have birthed from Mordor itself. The media has lost its mind over women who do or do not have babies and paint in their eyebrows when the economy appears to be in free fall. I'm not ok with that.
So I'll take a Lorelai right now because I'm fairly sure she'd hand me a giant coffee at the school gates and tell me if there was toothpaste down my top.