Saturday, 29 November 2014

Hints and Tips for The Reluctant Housewife

If you're anything like me then housework doesn't come easily. Ok, let me rephrase that: if you're anything like me then you're a complete and utter slob. Don't deny it; the first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem. When you only have yourself to worry about, being a slob is fine, if a little unhygienic, but I would assume that you are reading my blog because you are a parent in which case something will eventually give.

Having a baby does not turn you into a domestic goddess. What it does do is highlight how far removed from a domestic goddess you are. There are, of course, people who are natural born housekeepers and, for them, parenthood simply sharpens that set of already well defined skills. However, for us slobs, there is no automatic urge to pick up a steam mop the second that we push out our offspring. It's something that we have to work at.

I spent an awful lot of time making excuses for having a messy house. It wasn't just messy either; the bedding was musty, the shower drain was clogged and a thick layer of dust covered the shelves and windowsills. Don't even get me started on my kitchen. I kept telling myself - and anyone else who would listen - that I was sorry for the mess but that it wasn't my fault. I honestly believed that it was nigh on impossible to maintain a household as well as looking after a baby. The problem only got worse when I went back to work because it gave me yet another excuse to not clean up after myself; I was a working mother gosh darn it. I deserved to put my feet up at the end of the day. Unfortunately, my feet may have been up but my conscience was as clean as my kitchen work top; I ended every day feeling guilty, stressed and overwhelmed.

It's only now that I've realised that I can have a clean home and put my feet at up the end of the day; it's just about having a system and breaking life long terrible habits. I'm still finding my own routine and I don't want anyone to think that I'm preaching - I'm not - I just want to share some of the ways that I've sabotaged my own internal tramp. If I can help out just one fellow stressed out slob then it's been worth it.

1. Laundry

Do at least one load of washing any day that you're in the house. Personally, I hate sorting through laundry; it's not the washing and drying that bothers me, it's the putting away. I despise it. It takes so long and I can think of a thousand things I'd rather be doing. However, rifling through baskets of clothing looking for a clean sleepsuit gets really old, really fast. It was when I found myself doing this at every bed time that I eventually cracked. 

By seeing one load of washing through to completion each day, I can completely avoid the overwhelming sensation of 'Shit, I've run out of everything', and the sight of three separate airers groaning under the weight of all of the clothes.

2. Routine, Routine, Routine

Babies love routine, so it stands to reason that a few weeks in you will find that you've adopted one without realising it. The trick is in shoe-horning a little bit of daily domestic into what is already a well established itinerary. 

For me, this means getting up and, before I so much as make a cup of tea, I tidy away any post dinner carnage in the kitchen and put the hoover round downstairs. It's not much, but it makes me feel like I have my shit together. It then means that the little things are more or less taken care of, so I can often tackle another room at my leisure during the baby's nap times.

3. The OCD Friend Technique

As you are cleaning up, keep telling yourself that the most judgemental clean freak you know is on their way round to examine the fruit of your labour. 

I use my little sister; the girl is a complete bleach fanatic. In order to keep myself on the straight and narrow, I firmly convince myself that her arrival is imminent and that, if I don't finish, she will go away with a diminished opinion of me. If I'm having a really lazy day - more often than not - I will tell myself that she's bringing my mother with her.

4. Get a Dishwasher

Ok, so this is technically just a way of cutting a corner, but hey, we've admitted we don't like chores so let's not put on any airs and graces. The more that you allow dirty dishes to clutter up your work surfaces, the less inclined you will feel to tackle them. 

Babies mean bottles, sippy cups, dummies, weaning spoons, teethers... any number of plastic objects that need constant cleaning and sterilising. Take it from one who found out the hard way that it's far more difficult to stay on top of your baby's bottle output if your worktop is covered in crusty saucepans. By putting as much as you can into the dishwasher, the space around your sink is freed up for washing teats and other non-dishwasher safe bits and pieces. Again, it's about protecting yourself from feeling overwhelmed - the enemy of organisation - but it's important to remember to work unloading the dishwasher into your routine. Out of sight shouldn't mean out of mind.

5. Establish a Holding Zone

I actually read this tip in Psychologies magazine. The idea is that if you're inclined to dump stuff on a chair/table/desk then that inclination should be embraced rather than fought. Nominate a 'Holding Zone' - mine is my kitchen table - and plonk anything that needs to be dealt with, but that you haven't got time for right now, here. Here's the important part: You must have regular sort through of your Holding Zone. If you don't clear it on at least a weekly basis then you'll be right back where you started.

6. Tackle Other Areas of Disorganisation 

For me, this meant emptying my email inbox of 2,456,354 unread emails and replying to a bunch of (quite important) correspondence that I'd been hiding from. By starting to claw back some control in other areas of my life, I felt able to start tackling the superficial issues inside my house. It's amazing how quickly things can begin to feel like a huge weight on your shoulders if you try and push them to the back of your mind. Eventually you just find yourself unable to deal with any of it, and that definitely includes doing the dusting.

7. Enlist Help

If you're lucky enough to have a partner or family/friends that are willing to pop round and lend you a hand then, by all bloody means, make use of them! By halving the time you spend cleaning, you are doubling the amount of time you get to spend playing with your baby.

8. Have a Day Off!

In other words, go easy on yourself. Even with all the best intentions, it's very difficult to maintain domestic harmony if it isn't something that comes particularly naturally.

I always find the end of the week is a bit of a problem, because I have to go to work. Usually, by Sunday, things have begun to get a bit scruffy again. My heart tells me to just close the door on it and go out for the day, but I know that doing that just means more work for me the following week. So I do try to get on top of it before it gets on top of me.

All of this is just fine, but it's important to remember that the idea is to minimise the time you have to spend cleaning. The single most important thing to spend your time on is your baby, so don't get too obsessed. There is more to life than bleaching and tidying; it's just about striking a balance that makes your life easier. So, if you want a day off, have a day off. Don't torture yourself, but also don't think that one 'off day' is an excuse to throw in the towel. Housework has to be treated like the Boo ghosts in the Super Mario games: if you turn your back on it for too long, you're going to end up in all sorts of trouble.


And now your bathroom needs cleaning again


Saturday, 22 November 2014

A Decade Later (or A Tale of Two Dins)

A little shy of ten years ago, I was a twenty year old loose cannon with fire engine red hair, hell-bent on binge drinking and promiscuity. I had no one to worry about but myself and nothing to spend my money on except hair dye and vodka. I worked full time as a way of fuelling my hedonistic lifestyle, but had absolutely zero sense of responsibility. I had more male attention than was probably healthy, but not a single one of them was interested in sticking around once the weekend over. I was a bloody mess actually, but my word I was having fun.


Look at this kid.

Four years later, it suddenly occurred to me that I was jealous of the amount of time that my friend was spending with another girl, so I decided to talk to him about it. The rest, as they say is history. After that, I stopped being a hot mess and became someone with focus, a sense of purpose and, for the first time in my life, a true sense of intimacy and happiness. Naturally, first comes love, then comes marriage and then comes baby in the baby carriage, and almost a decade after that picture was taken, I am an altogether different person. I am a wife, a mother, a reasonably responsible member of the community. 

Everybody say 'FULFILMENT!'


Of course, the changes have happened relatively gradually and, with that in mind, I thought it might be fun to look at the stark differences between the Dins at either end of the decade. So I decided to conduct a fantasy interview with the 'Then' and the 'Now'...

What is your typical daily grooming routine?

Then: 'Well, I start with a shower in which I use a colour refresher on my hair, emollient on my skin and a razor on all of my unmentionable bits (well, you never know, do you?). After showering I cover myself in all sorts of scented lotions and perfumes before spending a good hour on my make up and a further thirty minutes styling my hair. I can change my outfit up to three times on an average day for absolutely no reason at all, which has no impact on me because the laundry fairies take care of all the discarded clothes I leave strewn about my bedroom floor.'

Now: 'I try and shower everyday. Sometimes it's a bit of a rush job while Something Special is on. Hang on a minute, I think I just heard the baby fall over... No, it's ok. He's fine. More often than not, my hair gets scraped back into a pile on top of my head while it's still wet and I've got my make up routine down to three minutes. Sometimes it even looks like an adult applied it. Outfit is usually made up of whatever's clean and if the shoulder of my top is still free of dried snot when we leave the house then I know it's going to be a good day.'

How do you stay in shape?

Then: 'What do you mean?'

Now: 'I go jive dancing once a week if the baby isn't having too clingy an evening. I then spend the rest of the week mentally berating myself for not managing to fit in any other cardio sessions because I ate one bag of Wotsits. Did he just put something in his mouth?'

Would you ever consider cosmetic surgery?

Then: 'No way!'

Now: 'Yes. Would you like me to write a list?'

How would you describe your drinking habits?

Then: 'Moderate. I only go out drinking on Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays and usually only drink at home on Tuesdays. I wouldn't say that I have a binge drinking problem because I nearly always remember everything that happens (up until midnight).'

Now: 'I buy a bottle of wine when I can afford it, which is about once a month. The bottle takes me a week to finish because I can only have one glass an evening, after which I still feel like shit the next day. When I do go out to attempt a big session, I have to stick to clear spirits and follow them with a water chaser; babies and hangovers are grim.'

What is your attitude towards sex?

Then: 'Incredibly positive. I'm all for it. Even if I do wake up full of self loathing on a Monday morning...'

Me: 'Sex is something wonderful that happens by accident between my husband and I in the middle of the night if we accidentally roll together. Was that a fart or a poop? Can you sniff his bum for me?'

How do you feel about your job?

Then: 'Meh. I work in a carpet shop so that I have money to spend on my hair and nights out.'

Me: 'I love my job. I work in a carpet shop a few days a week so that I can have adult conversation about something other than weaning and sleep patterns.'

Do you see (more) children in your future?

Then: 'Ew.'

Now: 'Yes. As soon as possible. Although if Blake doesn't take my mobile phone out of his mouth right now, I might have to reconsider that question.'

Where do you see yourself in ten years?

Then: 'I'd love to be living in London in a flat share with a few artistic, alternative types. I'll have money by then because I'll have a career as a... something, I dunno. We'll work in the city during the week and spend our weekends having drinks and bohemian dinners somewhere in Brick Lane or Covent Garden, catching night buses home just before dawn. I can't see myself ever settling down and getting married, so I'll stick to having flings; men or women, I'm not bothered. I fall in love with people, not genders dude.'

Now: 'I hope I'll be making a bit of money writing, but I also hope I'll still be surrounded by my family in our little town; my husband and my babies. Blake, put Mummy's laptop down please. Don't make me middle name you, young man. No; don't pull my hair. Stop screaming. Sorry, can we pick this up another time? He just puked in my mouth...'




Saturday, 15 November 2014

Babies, Bad News and Emotional Meltdowns

I have spoken about how emotional motherhood has made me before; briefly alluding to the fact that I am unable to cope with sad news stories about children without dissolving into tears since having a child of my own. It was just a small paragraph that made up part of a longer blog post, but it's such a huge influencing factor in my life nowadays that I think it's time to further examine it.

My decision to look at this issue today is brought on largely by the fact that I have just been crying at work. I was having my morning coffee break and flicking through the Saturday paper, when I saw a story about the sentencing of a woman who had ended the lives of her three disabled infants (you can find details of the case here). I would normally give such an article a very wide berth after seeing the headline, but I have been trying to re-harden myself against all of the atrocious shit that happens out there in the big wide world in the hope that I will one day be able to consider myself a fully functional adult again. Not only that, but I wish to be a writer, and shielding myself from the sad and the awful is not the way to absorb source material. So I chose to read this story; a baptism of fire, if you will. I got almost all the way to the end and the details of how the children were found tucked up in their beds, surrounded by toys, when I fell apart. My face crumpled in devastation and I began to cry in wretched, muffled sobs that would have made any passer-by think I was reading about the deaths of my own children. And that's the thing - I might as well have been. 

When you're a parent, any story about any child immediately becomes about your own. Not literally, of course, but there is something in your head that instinctively puts yourself and your child in the shoes of those on whom the tragedy has actually befallen. For example, any time someone on my Facebook friends list 'likes' a page that has been set up in memory of a victim of SIDS, I have to hide the story from my newsfeed. It's the same with stories about babies who have been stillborn; the very word makes me feel sick with terror because I can't help but maudlinly imagine that happening to me and my family. Last year, shortly before Blake was born, my own cousin gave birth to a baby boy at twenty four weeks gestation. He's a healthy and happy little boy now but I have to admit, whilst he was fighting the battle for his life in hospital, I had to skim over some of my cousin's updates; Blake was brand new and I found them too difficult to read.

It's not only the compulsion to put myself into the shoes of others that has caused this shift in emotional strength, however. After looking in more depth at the particular stories that affect me the most, I have come to realise that the real reason that I find these stories so hard to handle is that now I simply just know babies. Before I had Blake, I had a vague idea about the true innocence of infancy, but it's only now that I spend all my time with a baby that I really understand what it means. Babies have no knowledge of the absolute horrors that occur in the world around them; they happily go through their days in a blur of giggles and nappy changes, literally protected from harm by those that love them. It's when that system of protection and love fails that my heart breaks, because a baby has no capacity to understand what is happening to them or why. They know only one response: fear. It's the thought of these pure little souls being frightened and confused that makes me fall apart, and only knowing a baby as intimately as I know my own could have had this effect.

I wish that I could save all of the babies in all of the world from ever having to feel scared, but I simply don't have the capacity to do so. All I can do is pour as much love and protection into the one that I am responsible for, and hope that he will be happy and healthy for as long as I am on the face of this planet. I wonder if, one day, I will once again be able to scroll through the news without fear of any tragic infant stories popping up, but I won't hold my breath. I have known true innocence now and there's no forgetting that.

Saturday, 8 November 2014

Cbeebies Shows Reinterpreted

I watch quite a lot of Cbeebies. I wish that I didn't. I wish I could be one of these parents that can righteously announce that my child is not allowed to watch television at all; that I instead engage them in active, learning play all day, every day. But the truth is that I have housework to do, and occasionally I just have a cup of tea to drink while it's hot, and Cbeebies acts as a handy temporary babysitter. Plus Blake truly loves staring at moving colours on a large screen; he is absolutely his father's son.

These shows have not only seeped into my subconscious as I dust the lounge, but I have also found myself occasionally watching them when Blake isn't even in the room. I have to admit that a great many of them are very educational and I am happy for my son to absorb them. For example, Alphablocks appeal to every fibre of my English nerd being, while Blake's favourite, Mr Tumble of Something Special, teaches acceptance, diversity and Makaton sign language.

However, there are other shows where the misguided attempt at education tends to come off as something altogether different. I have reinterpreted some below for your pleasure.

Balamory: All Adults are Idiots

Is your child going through the terrible twos? Threes? Fours? Are they suddenly resisting your every attempt at asserting authority? Do they watch Balamory? I have a theory that these things are not unrelated.




Balamory is about a village full of adults who are completely unable to navigate their way through daily life without having to call upon one another for help with otherwise simple tasks. Their constant questions take the young viewers on a meandering exploration of the confused adult psyche and it doesn't paint them a pretty picture. 

Seriously, how can a three year old be expected to trust authority when this man is being heralded as a master inventor:


Seriously

Bing: A Simple Man Mountain (who also happens to be a rabbit)

Bing is the slightly clumsy bunny rabbit who always learns a moral lesson by the end of his five minute episodes. 



It's all very cute, and the values that Bing picks up on his way through his young life are certainly ones that you would want instilled into your child. However, the writers and animators of this series have, for some reason, seen fit to make the apparently young characters enormous while the adults are little ragdoll type... things that the 'children' call by name. Bing's guardian (they don't appear to be parents) is called Flop, and serves to reinforce the moral core to each story.


Bing, left, and Flop, right

This almost certainly artistic decision gives the viewer a very definite feeling that Bing is just a very large man-child and Flop is his slightly exasperated, but very patient, carer.

And I will not - WILL NOT - rest until someone can offer some explanation for why the panda strips down to his underpants whenever he appears on screen.


Abadas: Confusing 'Words' With 'Objects'

Abadas wants to be a programme about language. It is centred around a young boy who has a pop-up book in which three animal characters come alive and play with him. In The Word Game, Ben gives the animals a word that they do not recognise and they have to 'guess what it looks like'. 


Which would be fine, except that the Abadas don't look for a word, they look for an object. For example, in one particular episode, the hippo (Harry) was searching for the word suncream. What he actually found - after telling the viewers that the sun can't get to you through water... - was a stick of suncream. 

Now, maybe it's the English nerd in me getting on its high horse again, but if you asked me what the word suncream looked like, I would have to say that it looked like this: SUNCREAM. 


Not this.

The above picture demonstrates what sun cream, the object, looks like beautifully but in no way does it look like the word.

Mr Bloom's Nursery: Reinforcing Regional Sterotypes

I was reluctant to put Mr Bloom on this list. You see, I have a bit of a crush on him. He's ever so warm and friendly, plus he sure knows how to handle those veggies. 

Cbeebies wanted to make it obvious that Mr Bloom was a gardener, so they made him look like this:


Hot.

Now, in my mind, that is quite obviously a man of the land. However, it was apparently felt that the wellies, hat and spade weren't quite enough and that Mr Bloom needed one more thing that really alerted viewers to the fact that this man toiled in the dirt. Only one thing would do: A Yorkshire accent!

Ben Faulks, who plays the eponymous hero, is from Cornwall.

Interestingly though, when Ben appears on Bedtime Stories as himself, without the accent and the wellington boots, he does nothing for me. I'm sure this speaks volumes about my mental state...



Cbeebies: a heroic babysitter, but with interesting subtexts if you dare to delve deep enough. And don't even get me started on the disproportionate number of characters who live next to the sea...