To do or not to do?

So yesterday I was talking about the importance to me of having a decent split of housework duties for many families in keeping your relationship alive. But I’m also interested to know how other people manage this, practically, especially if they have very different routines to us. So I gave fellow blogger Dadblog a lot of attention when he posted up a list the other week. A list of his 21 things to do on a Sunday to ensure the family are ready to go for the week. It turns out he does most of these things EVERY DAY. You can read the list here.

I don’t know about you, but I have a vague sense of disquiet at reading this. (I should add a disclaimer, Dadblogger is a stay at home dad. I am not a stay at home mum and S is not a stay at home dad. We both have paid work so therefore we both share the housework. He also has double the number of children I have and one of his is at school so their requirements are different. But still.) I say disquiet, it’s more of a “Do I do this? Should I do this? Dear god, this is far more than I will ever manage, now I feel hopelessly inadequate” kind of feeling.

I decided to do a list of my own. What is it that I do each night to prepare? How do I stay on top of things? Can I make 21 separate points?

Sunday night:

  • Washing – Clothes will have been done over the weekend. Beds may or may not have been changed, towels will probably have been changed. These bigger things have probably not been washed yet unless it’s summer and I can get them dry on the line outside.
  • Ironing – for me and E. I don’t iron for S and never have. Plus he doesn’t have a job that requires pressed clothes.
  • Lunch – I will make a pot of something for the week and put it in the fridge for us both to take to work and have reheated as a main meal at work. We have snacks in the evening which we prepare separately.
  • Check nursery bag for spare clothes.

Daily (work days):

  • Breakfast pot – I will put my breakfast for the next work day together in the little two-tiered pot I have (muesli, grapes and yoghurt)
  • Work bag – I add an apple, my reusable coffee cup, cutlery for lunch and any notebooks and books I want to take to the office into my work bag. I also check to make sure my tram pass and work pass are in my handbag.
  • I charge my phone


  • Supermarket online order placed to be delivered on Thursday.

At some point in the week I may also do another load of washing too. If E comes home in her change of clothes then I will put some new clothes in her bag but otherwise I don’t bother to check it every day. If my shoes are obviously dirty they get cleaned if I remember, otherwise I stare at them askance in the morning and maybe give them a quick going over with a wet wipe.

S usually hoovers the house at the weekend, and every day makes sure the washing up is done in the evening. He gets his stuff ready for work each morning when he gets up. Between us at some point we will put the clean kitchen stuff away in cupboards.

Eight distinct points. And few more ‘possibly’ points. Eight. There was me thinking I was sooooooo organised. I have a lot to learn.

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The sage speaks: sort your housework & have sex

I was out with a friend last week, who is getting married later this year, and she started to ask me about the key to a strong marriage and what tips I could pass on. I started to think “why on earth is she asking me?” when I realised that as someone who’s been married for 10 1/2 years and with S for 12 years, I guess I might not be so surprising as a source of advice on this.

I think I have two main rules. First up, sort your housework out. Share it from the beginning, talk about it, work out what you like, what don’t, what you’re good at, what you’d like to try and how it should be split. Make it clear that neither of you “help” with the housework – you both live there so it’s both your responsibility. Try a trial period till you work it out if you like but make sure you talk about it and you don’t take each other for granted. And, related to this, do not EVER buy domestic chore-related gifts for Christmas or birthdays. No-one finds novelty rubber gloves hilarious. Or an iron.

Second, have sex! In lots of different locations.

That was it. The sum total of my wisdom and experience. I didn’t think it was much until I read a piece in the paper about a recent study conducted for Mumsnet. It found that many mums feel that they are seen as the housekeeper, the rule maker and the boring parent when what they would like instead is to be the ‘rule-breaker’ or the fun parent. 74% say they want to spend more time doing fun things. 58% say they are too busy doing all the other stuff.

Now, I think my ranting on here probably tells you where my feminist sympathies lie, but honestly there are times when I really do despair. 74%? 74???

This applied to stay at home mums as well as working mums. If you still don’t have time to have fun with your children each day then you may as well be at work.

Are people so incapable of having a rational conversation about how their lives are worked out that all they can do is bitch to Mumsnet? Is it so hard to say to the person you have chosen to marry and have children with, “Can you do this?”

Alternatively they could just ditch some of the housework. No one ever sat on their deathbed and thought “Oh I’m glad I always dusted the doortops.”

An idle speculation on my part here but is this MASSIVE proportion of women the same women who smugly tell me they don’t call themselves feminists? That they don’t see where it’s relevant? These women who appear to be stuck in gender roles and can’t do anything about it but complain? They’re clearly unhappy at the situation.

Now I know it’s hard fighting the patriarchy and all, but you’ve got to at least try and start in the areas you can influence. I know no men of a younger generation who aren’t willing to do something at home, and who, if explained to them, probably would be fine about this. If you keep doing their ironing for them, they’re not going to stop you. (I know I’d like someone else to do mine.) Of course it’s not that simple for everyone but how many of these women even tried to have a conversation about this?

Having said that, listening to a couple of mother’s groups recently I have realised there’s nothing some women seem to like more than just moan about how useless their other halves are. Perhaps this is the same people who spoke to Mumsnet but I find that bloody depressing to listen to. And 74%? Again, I’m just amazed.

Sitting there in your immaculate fun-free house won’t help, solutions don’t just happen, you have to do something about them. So do that. (And don’t forget the sex.)

Tomorrow I will be blogging about fellow blogger @Dadbloguk and his solution to tackling domestic stuff. In the meantime please do let me know how you work this out in your house!

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Top trumps

One of the most common ideas about bringing up a girl as opposed to a boy is that boys are supposed to be the ones who find talking about bodily functions really funny. Everyone knows boys find scatological jokes funny, they glory in smells, right? Being the mother of a girl, I’m supposed to be spared much of that.

Think again.

If you point something out to E or show her a picture at the moment, you can pretty much guarantee that her response will be to express interest and then to ask, “Can you hear it trumping?” If you say no, then she follows this up with the question, “Do they trump?” This can apply equally to sunflowers, pictures of turtles, fish, tractors, dinosaurs or sea anemones.

As amusing as she finds this, it’s nothing compared to how hilarious I find it. Which probably isn’t helping. But should I find myself downcast, a quick recap of her asking, “Can you hear them trumping?” is guaranteed to make me giggle.

Of course, there is a downside to this. She has no worries about then talking to everyone about bottom burps and asking if they’ve done them or by relating fictional farts to all and sundry. The other morning at the dining table she announced, “Mummy did a massive trump yesterday.” Like the old school rule, ‘those who smelt it dealt it’, there is no way of dealing with this adequately. If you strenuously deny it, everyone just smiles and thinks “yeah, whatever,” knowing perfectly well that E often accompanies me to the toilet and it could feasibly have occurred. Which leaves you with the option of admitting it – which I didn’t want to do as in this case it was a fictional fart.

I imagine there are probably guidelines somewhere about how to talk to children about these matters but I can’t be bothered to find them. Any tips welcome but for now, I shall just find this yet another thing she does that make me laugh.

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A short ranty breastfeeding post

You may have seen the publicity surrounding the latest breastfeeding report in the media today. The study, in Brazil, looked at the effects of breastfeeding on babies over a long term period – 30 years – and concluded that breastfeeding is better for them in the long run, especially when it come to matters of intelligence.

I’m never quite sure what these studies are supposed to achieve. Even if you accept the basic premise and don’t have issues with the research itself (there are apparently some problems around the use of IQ to measure intelligence, how well they factored in class and income and so on) there’s no real sense that the researchers themselves now know what to do with their result.

And immediately the ‘whataboutery’ started. Now, I’m not going to sit here and tell you these things don’t matter. I know there are women who find it medically or physically difficult/ impossible to breastfeed. I also know that women from lower incomes breastfeed less and a lot of that is down to not being able to take the time needed to stay off work due to money worries or inflexible employers. I know that a lot of those women were also not breastfed themselves and that there’s a cultural issue to deal with. Neither of those things will be solved quickly (or at all).

My problem isn’t with either of those things. My problem is with the rest. When I was in the labour ward with E, one of the main reasons (apart from being naturally anti-social) I didn’t mix with the other mums is because I kept overhearing their conversations about breastfeeding.It was something unnatural. Something they would do while they were in hospital that would keep the midwives off their backs. Like any midwife would have the power to change a woman’s actions in her own home. Every time there’s a debate in the media about breastfeeding this lot start carping on.  I call it the ‘ick factor.’

There is a lot we as a society can do to help support new mums with feeding. We can work better with corporate formula makers to ensure safe practices, the latest research and responsible marketing are all taking place – to give mums who don’t breastfeed the assurance they need. We can stop guilt tripping people, whatever their choices. We can definitely give more resources, time and money to overworked midwives who can’t offer as much support as they might like. But I really think the biggest thing we can start to do is to remember to trust our own bodies.

I fed E exclusively for 8 weeks, and apart from some night feeds she was mostly breastfed until she was 6 months old. I didn’t stop breastfeeding in the evenings until she bit me (inadvertently) when she was nearly one. By then our bond over feeding had faded anyway. I am really proud that I did that. I didn’t find it easy – at times it was painful, boring or uncomfortable – and I hated it for much of the early period.  I did it anyway because I believe it was best for her and that it was the most basic thing I could naturally do for her.

I’m not going to turn all breastfeeding nazi on you – there are huge issues with how we talk to women about this that don’t take into account circumstances, culture or physical ability. We shouldn’t shame women who can’t breastfeed for whatever reason. But we should start to reclaim what we can from the corporations, from the pursed lip brigade, from the “more than a handful’s a waste” page 3 fans and from the Farages of this world. Let’s just start simple yeah?

I fed her. I did it. I didn’t need to rely on some company to provide powder, I didn’t have to faff around getting bottles ready, I didn’t have to rush back to work. I was lucky. I know that. But for those women who are lucky like me, we really should have something that shows them how brilliant it is that your body can help you out as much as possible.

And for a first time mum, I think there is something to be said for the confidence it gives you, being able to provide, to do a basic nurturing job. I know it helped me.


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A variety pack

One of the things I’m pretty certain I have in common with other parents is my inability to judge E’s eating habits right. At nursery she seems to eat everything with no trouble or fuss, including things she won’t consider at home such as raw carrot or pepper sticks. At home she could happily eat beans at every meal.

On Sundays we often go out as a family, usually to a local attraction – a National Trust place or something along those lines. I like to stop and have something to eat for lunch there and the range can be limited. But E usually eats something, usually of my food. We order two adult meals and she and I share.

Of course last Sunday was different. We went to Thoresby Hall, a hotel in a grand grand house with surrounding parkland. There are often events in the courtyard and they have art and craft shops, as well as a military museum. I wanted a lunch style snack but they didn’t have anything nor did they have a children’s menu so E and I shared a spinach and ricotta canneloni. Or rather, E absolutely troughed it down and could probably have polished off the bits I ate had I not got in there first. Had we ordered three meals, of course, she would have picked and fussed.

This week I made us a dish with some of the frozen leftovers from the Christmas turkey (I know, I know). In the mornings I put these in a lunchbox to take to work but E was interested and insisted on having some “pie” (it was actually lasagna of sorts.) She ate it cold, with a spoon at the dining room table and we still got to nursery on time. I guarantee that if I had to give her breakfast it would take ages and she’d be less obliging.

I guess this kind of attitude makes you look at how we consume food and what we consider to be sensible for breakfast isn’t sensible at all to another. I speak as someone who has eaten trifle, cold pizza, or leftover fish and chips for breakfast on more than one occasion.

But on the whole, I’m still fairly happy with her eating. She still refuses to eat more than she needs, she’s not greedy and can be talked out of eating cake. I do try and trust her to tell me if she;s full or hungry and try to respect that rather than insisting she eats everything. It makes for a varied attitude towards food – sometimes eating loads, sometimes nothing at all.

E’s aunt in Australia has just sent her through some sweet training chopsticks. I think she’s pretty optimistic about Es’s abilities to use cutlery – her current habit is to trough half of her food down with her fingers, no matter the mess. Baby-led weaning has a lot to answer for…

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The unbearable melancholy of the Snowman

The snowmanE has started to love watching television. Or to be honest, she has started to love watching two short films on DVD. TV in general she’s still not bothered by. But she loves watching the film of her favourite book, Room on the Broom, and she loves watching The Snowman.

This pleases me. I love The Snowman. I was seven when it first came out (the film not the book) and I remember watching it with my family. My dad would point out the discrepancy at the end where the snowman melted yet the rest of the snow was still there. My grandpa loved the Snowman too. The simple charm of the story would appeal to him. And I imagine we all related to the nostalgia for a childhood filled with the almost mythical snow it depicts.

E finds it very funny. She likes the bit where he switches noses, and she’s started to count down to the part where they start running to take off and fly. “Are you ready?” she says. “Are you steady? Whee!”

She doesn’t find the ending upsetting. In her world snowmen melt and that’s fine. They melt in her books and so they also melt in this story. The boy sinks to his knees at the end and she just watches, impassive. Of course the snowman’s gone, I can almost hear her thinking. He was magic, he couldn’t last for more than a night.

I find the ending even worse now than I did when I was a child. But then I find the whole thing rather sad. The music is lovely but there is an unbearable melancholy to the main theme tune. I find it sets the tone for the whole piece. The boy seems lonely and isolated and for his only friend to melt after a night just seems cruel. And yet what other ending could there be?

It’s a masterpiece. And one that genuinely has appeal across the generations. So tomorrow I imagine I will happily put it on again to watch when I’m asked. And then try not to cry.

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Normal service resumed

So I thought since I’d been so down the last two blog posts, I’d do a quick snapshot of normal life in our house. I say this as I came in from work this evening to find E taking her medicine in a jolly mood.

“Mummy!” she greeted me. She had made biscuits at nursery and got half the mixture in her hair. She informed me that Daddy was a cheeky chops and that she was a crazy sausage.

“What am I?” I asked. There was a long pause.

“You’re Wonder Woman!” she said. That’s my girl.

She is currently snoring in bed. I have been for a run as I have decided my winter hiatus from fitness should probably end now. But boy was it cold out there tonight! I have made myself and S a evening treat of chocolate custard and pears. He is currently obsessed by chocolate custard – I have the sneaking suspicion that he opened a tin of pears for E to ignore just so we would be forced to eat them.

After I’ve finished this and prepared the bags for tomorrow, I have to decide whether to carry on with my novel writing (I really need a working title) or whether to draft a couple of stories I’m writing for my nephew and niece. I am making them both homemade dolls from a craft book my mum bought me for Christmas and I thought it would be nice to have an accompanying story. One is easy – Cinderella (though I am considering a feminist revisionist version) but the other will be original.

I also have to be aware of not doing too much prep work for my new job at home. I find easier to think about bigger picture things when I’m not in the office, which is fine because I can work from home or claim time back, but on top of 9 1/2 hours work today, I really should let go for the day. It’s a revelation, this new job, in that I have people to do things for me that are considered not worthwhile of my time – mainly lots of uploading things to different comms channels. I have an apprentice and someone on work experience from Karlsruhe around to help me and am very grateful for them. But it is a culture shock, especially as I’m also a control freak.

All in all, the short conversation with E was enough to restore my equilibrium. E points out that when I’m tired I say I’m an old lady. I have been a tired and fraught old lady but now I’m Wonder Woman again. God bless penicillin and a good night’s sleep.Wonder woman

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