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Editing my daughter’s life chances (er, or her Fairy Tales at least)

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I joked once about how we have changed the words to “This Little Piggy went to market” – creating a more liberal, less Capitalist version. We did that with vegetarian tongue firmly in hippy cheek but as Ramona grows older I find myself doing it with quite a few things and intentionally too. I’ll sometimes change the gender of the leading boy characters in books, and will improvise the fate of the girl in the fairy tale (“She went on to be the President of the Free World…”)

I am fairly committed to giving Ramona a sense that she can do or be anything, be it a poet, a plumber or a Prime Minister. I feel as if there could be a way of providing a foundation of opportunity for her, even though the stats are stacked against her.

Little minds start whirring young, eh? Interpreting the world, and people, and their roles.  The next door neighbour toddler lads throwing our ball back over in disgust because it dared to have poor pink Peppa Pig on it. The boys in the playground telling Ramona she can’t kick, as she is a girl.

As if those interactions aren’t shaping her enough, I then snuggle in bed and read her yet another book with some naff sacrificial role for the lady, while the men fight for justice, but because I am a bit sleepy I can’t be bothered to ad-lib it. Tonight it was a story about a daughter being sent to marry an evil giant and she didn’t want to go.  “No Go” Ramona kept repeating, jabbing her finger at the girl, as if she could see how unfair it was. Whoah. She is totally getting this storyline. “She went because she was brave!” I began adlibbing again.

And then when she drifted off I got the paper, pens and glue out and fixed the tale right up.

Some pages needed the odd word, and others whole paragraphs. The patriarchy won’t catch me snoozing again!

I know, I know. It’s only minor. But isn’t life mostly just a collection of small stuff, layered on top of each other, gently kneading who we are and what we think and what we do? Ramona’s not going to think women are just the weak bystanders, guileless love interests, not on my watch. Not on your nelly.

How do you make sure your kids grow up with a strong sense of gender equality and justice?

PS Some cool Tweet mates have created an awesome reading list- so if you are out to buy a feminist friendly story check here first!

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Routine Schmoutine – the tyranny of parenting Must-Dos

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You know when you read something that makes your heart leap? It was a sentence from a mother that I could have written myself, it just resonated that much. It was Adrienne Rich, a famous feminist mother who has since passed on, on what she experienced when she went on holiday and abandoned the usual routines.

“This is what living with children could be – without school hours, fixed routines, naps, the conflict of being both mother and wife with no room for being simply, myself.

“Driving home once, after midnight, from a late drive-in movie… with three sleeping children in the back of the car, I felt wide awake, elated; we had broken together all the rules of bedtime, the night rules, rules I myself thought I had to observe in the city or become a ‘bad mother’. We were conspirators, outlaws from the institution of motherhood; I felt enormously in charge of my life.”

I have been getting Baby Centre emails since I signed up excitedly when Ramona was but 4 weeks in my womb, every time they ping in to my inbox I open them to read about how absolutely, vitally, extraordinarily critical ROUTINES are. Even when she was 3 months old they were suggesting I schedule in naps and begin a pre-bedtime menu of bath, story, massage, songs.

I have dutifully read this and taken much of it on board. I don’t want to risk my daughter being sleep deprived or feral because of a routine failure! But more often than not, it just wasn’t the be all and end all for us.

I wore Ramona in a sling every moment of every day until she could crawl, this meant she just cat napped throughout the day. People would always ask about her sleep schedule. I was also obsessed, counting the minutes she slept to the SECOND. Paranoid that her catnapping wasn’t right – even though it felt perfect.

Then when she began sleeping less we went more or less down to 3-5 naps, depending on when she was tired. Despite reading of other babies on strict napping plans I felt like I should just let her do her thing. I want her to understand her own feelings- to know that when she is tired, that she should sleep. Not to just do something because it happens to be 12 o clock.

Most nights we do have a bit of bookreading and quiet time before she drifts off to sleep at my breast. But it could be anytime between 7:30 and 9. It just depends on how much she has napped, and what time she wakes up. If I try putting her to sleep 12 hours after she woke up in the morning, having had a 1.5 hour sleep, she will be like “Whhaaat? You kidding me?”

But the best nights, the times when I feel so easy and relaxed and liberated, when I feel we are just like an ancient wild Tribe of Camberwell, is when she just falls asleep on the way home after dinner out, or snuggles down on my lap while Tim and I chat in the lounge.The times when any bed time routine soars out the window.

The funny thing is, I still feel kind of guilty when this happens. As if I have let down the Motherhood. As if Ramona might grow up to be an ASBO’d up delinquent.

Because my mind is bursting with wisdom words about routine and rules and schedules, as if it is the ONLY way. Even mamma’s who I respect so much that I feel sorry for Ramona that she isn’t THEIR daughter, even they hold fast and tight to routine.

I understand that for lots of mummies it is their key to sanity, and that for lots of children it works really well.

But what if it isn’t for everyone?

What if some children were just born to be a bit untamed?

It feels to me to be a bit of a feminist issue. Because I am sure these great grand parenting must-dos are oppressive and patriarchal in nature. They chip away at a mother’s natural instinct, cause us to question what we feel to be right. They undermine our inate, empowered, motherhood.

I have wanted to get this off my chest for a while. In the hope that writing about it would help purge me of any guilt for not following the Must- Dos. I hope I haven’t offended anyone, PLEASE don’t see it as a critique of your own parenting- we are all just loving and bringing up our children in the way that is best for us. But there must be other mamma’s whose best ways aren’t the Must- Do ways? Do you rebel against any Must-Dos?

I would like to be liberated from this parenting tyranny, to embrace life with Ramona as unfettered, guilt-free.

Perhaps the first step is unsubscribing from those Baby Centre emails.

Vandalism for my daughter’s sake

I was sitting on the train today and scoped out the poster above my head for a leading political rag. The cartoon depicted a husband reading a business paper and the wife in the doorway heaving in a load of shopping. My blood boiled, I grabbed a pen and in full view of the packed carriage scrawled “for the everyday male chauvinist” under the title. A second later I wished I had written “The 1950’s called; they want their sexist sterotypes back” but I didn’t have any Tippex on me.

It has been a while since I have taken any direct action in the name of gender equality. The last time was at the Salvation Army Headquarters in New Zealand when I took down the framed photo of William Booth above the plaque “Founder of the Salvation Army” and replaced it with Catherine and William- for she is the oft overlooked brains behind the outfit. That was really quite tame and courteous and about 6 years ago.

But since becoming a mother I have seen the world with fresh eyes, and Ramona is growing up in place with more limitations and adverse expectations due to gender then I was, that is for sure.

It’s in the quite superficial things – when I was a kid, everyone wore brown and orange, nowadays you have to work really hard to find colours other than pink and blue and shapes other than butterflies and tractors (and flipping heck, Ramona would look brilliant in a little brown and orange number.)  But also in the wider story -when my mother was bringing me up she had a consciousness about gender inequality, it was a fight being fought. Now we say we are “post feminist” and to oppose porn or point out subtle sexist messaging is to be too prim or politically correct. And then there is the not so subtle messaging – one of the UK’s biggest menswear shops, Topman, bringing out some completely misogynous  tee shirts– and the chorus of “Why all the fuss? We are post-feminist!” greeting the initial furor (Even the comments on that incredible Guardian piece reveal this – mostly arguing about whether the slogans were funny or not. WHAT THE HELL?)

I don’t know if it was the Topman t-shirts story knocking around my head or the fact that I am reading Female Chauvinist Pigs that moved my anger at that poster into action but I know that I vandalised it for Ramona’s sake.  (Ramona made me do it!) I don’t want Ramona to grow up thinking that women shop and men read buisness newspapers; I want Ramona to have a host of female role models in politics or the engineering industry,  to be able to walk around without feeling that her body is a commodity, to get paid as much as her male counterparts. It is great that the Topman story went big but there are a million everyday things that don’t even get addressed at all that make all those things much less likely to become a reality in her lifetime.

So this is me now –  never without a big black marker pen (and a bottle of Tippex for those moments when the wit arrives too late) to start addressing those little things. Any other mothers out there want to unleash your inner vandal?