Thursday, 28 July 2016

the political language of having a baby

I don't know why this all annoys me so much, really I don't.

But it seems like every choice we make with Rose is a political one. 

Or at least, the language used to describe it has become political.

We carry her to nursery in a sling. I was carried in a sling. Babies have been carried in slings since, without exaggeration, the dawn of time. 

She likes it, we like it and unlike the pram, when she's in a sling, we can fit out the front gate.

Except now it's 'babywearing'. I am theoretically part of a movement. Hey - Rose has a pram too. We just do whatever is easier at the time. 

There are groups - genuinely, groups on Facebook, that send out notes on who they have spotted that day wearing a baby in a sling. "Mama at the shopping centre, baba in a woven wrap - was it you?!" Mentally high fiving each other about being so awesome. On the grounds that it's so good for the baby that you must be a good person for doing it, I guess?

It goes with all the other shit that was once just a thing you did with a baby, but is now a campaigning movement. 

'Co-sleeping'. She isn't in our bed, thank goodness, but she was in one of those cribs that attached to our bed for a while - which I refuse to call a co-sleeper. We did it because it was nice, and because it was easy. She never slept in our bed because I prefer to sleep without being kicked in the throat and she's always been wriggly. And when she was little, the idea of sleeping in the same bed freaked me out, she was so tiny.

Baby led weaning. Could not be arsed with this. But then Rose stopped letting us feed her with a spoon, and she couldn't do it herself. So she had finger food for a while. Now she lets us give her a spoon again and sometimes does it herself. 

But baby-led weaning? I mean, Rose let us know what she wanted to do? Rose-led weaning? We just went with it. But honestly - it is finger food. It's always been part of what kids ate - some kids preferred to eat that way, some are fine to be fed with a spoon. 

Cry it out? I felt terrible at leaving Rose to cry the other night after all else failed. It wasn't for long, and she went to sleep easily - and with next to no crying the next time we tried it, and none at all on attempt three. Still, I felt like a scumbag. 

I mentioned it to my mum. 

"Oh yeah, we had to do that with you two (me and my brother) a couple of times. It wasn't the nicest but sometimes you just have to." And then we talked about something else. Apparently as a kid I loved going to bed so much I tell my mum I was tired and take myself up of an evening.

Natural childbirth? Nice if you can. I mean, sounds lovely. But maybe 95+ per cent of the time this isn't actually a choice you get to make? If you have a baby that needs to come out pronto, surely 'healthy child and everyone alive' is the thing you want to be aiming for. 

VBAC. As above.

Cloth nappies. It does sound appealingly cheap. But... the poo...

Breastfeeding. Lovely if you can and want to. The government needs to support people more if it is going to insist that they do this, and they need to sort their shit out with diagnosing tongue tie. But if you don't do it? Well, most people aren't breastfed and it's clearly fine.

Water birth. 
Elimination communication (urgh, look it up)
Organic food

And on
And on
And on

Have we lost the markers in our life outside of parenting for what it means to be a good person? Do we think people will think better of us for breastfeeding, using a sling, serving our child organic food?

These things are personal choice, reframed as radical political acts, or as challenging new thinking. And sometimes, the people that do these things become confused about doing a good thing and being a good person, or better than other people.

Humanity is right now, not in a good place. Is it because we were fed puree? Weren't breastfed? I don't think so.

What does giving too much of a shit about all this mean? We have bigger issues; work, equal pay; inherent sexism - and outside of gender politics, there is serious news going on. 

Is it escapism? Is it easier to freak out about formula than engage in actual politics? 

It's a genuine question.  I don't know the answer. 

Monday, 4 July 2016

"how to have a baby when you're self employed"

This was the exact phrase I googled, repeatedly and desperately in the months before I got pregnant.

We wanted to start a family. I was self employed. I wanted to take some time off. How on earth was it possible to do both?

Where would the money come from? Where would your clients go? I know some people would just carry on working (and of course in America, just a few weeks off is standard, if you're lucky), but I didn't want that. I did want at some time off, more than a couple of weeks.

At the time, my husband was also on insecure rolling contracts (though he now has a staff job) so we always needed a certain financial buffer, just in case.

My clients couldn't just be left hanging for months (I have retained clients rather than project work, mostly).

All of this may look very different if you had family on hand willing to help - there might be no need to stop work altogether. We don't, however.

But, you might know that we now have a baby.

I did it - she's almost ten months, I'm back at work.

So the question is how?

Taken while writing this post

This is not a comprehensive answer by any means - these things might not be feasible for you. But in case anyone is desperately seeking an answer to the same question, maybe some of these will help.

1. Know how much money you have - and how much you need to live on. AKA, have a very good budget.

Sounds simple, right? You earn £x amount every month, so this is how much you have. And you get a bank statement, so you know how much goes out. 

For us this simply wasn't enough. We saved like crazy but kept needing to raid the savings for things like car repairs, household things. And all holidays came out of this same single savings pot. We earned plenty but kept going overdrawn. We never seemed to be prepared for things or to make as much progress on saving as we wanted to. 

The answer for us was YNAB - You Need a Budget. Discovered via discussion in the comments in a post in A Practical Wedding. Tried it and realised instantly that budgeting didn't need to be hard. It was easy and fitted in with our life. It meant we were prepared for all eventualities.

We never went overdrawn again, stopped raiding savings and realised what the big drains on our finances really were. We also realised how much we needed to live on every month, and could then project how it might work if I was bringing in less money. 

Planning a month of realistic outgoings on maternity pay was an eye-opening moment - we could do this. 

2. Money in the bank

Let's be clear - I did not do this on Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) alone. I paid myself additionally from the buffer in my company during the time I took off. Much, much less than I was on before, and most of what I took was SMP. 

But thanks to the budget, I knew exactly this minimum amount I would need to pay myself per month, and stuck to that.

This meant that in the year or two before pregnancy, I worked a lot. I earned a lot more than I needed to and kept my wages relatively modest, keeping money in the business as insurance against the future. 

As a result, when I went on mat leave, I had earned more than enough to cover this - and to return to work with a buffer remaining so I could rebuild my client base. 

3. Be clear on your real business expenses

I don't use YNAB for my business account - but 'embrace your true expenses' is one of their rules - and it holds absolutely true for business as well as personal finance. Know how much money your business needs to operate while you are not earning. 

My company still had expenses - a pension, phone bill, standing order to accountant etc - and these continued while I was off. I made sure to factor these in to the amount of money that would be required every month, including my wage.

4. Structure your business to accommodate

I lost a major client just before getting pregnant. Rather than look to replace them, I took on more project work which was much more flexible when I needed to stop.
5. Find good people to help you

By the time mat leave began, around eight months pregnant, I had reduced my business to one major client, which I handed over for care-taking to another firm. There were challenges - their rate was much more than mine, but we agreed on a way of covering of the basics for the client while i was away, with any thing additional to be discussed as needed.

The timing also worked out well - having a baby in September meant the quiet Christmas period came right in the middle of my mat leave, and made it easier than expected.

However, the main reason this worked was that I had - have - a lovely, lovely client who wanted to support me and continue working with me in the long-term. To come back with them already in place was amazing. I am very lucky to work with them. Obviously this is definitely a result of luck rather than planning.

6. Just do it, sort of

Obviously, not everyone will conceive easily. I thought I would have more time to figure this out. But three weeks after deciding to 'try', there was the little blue line. This mostly got worked out because we had no choice. 

If you have a rough idea of how things might work, a budget, and you're not close to the financial edge, then you will be alright; you will work it out.

7. Don't expect to go back to earning big money

I am still paying myself the amount I received while on maternity pay. My company is still building back up, and the priority for a long time will be to make sure there is enough money coming in - and then it will be to rebuild a decent amount of cash into the business. 

My wage is more than adequate for our lives. Self-employment is a tool that allows me a lot of flexibility, and I am very lucky to have it, but it requires careful management. 

8. Client expectation management

Plan, plan, plan and leave as little as you can to chance for while you are away. If people know what to expect they will likely be better prepared for your absence.  

9. Shared parental leave, if you can

J was able to take a month off on SPL as I returned to work. Yes, barely paid - statutory only. But we saved in anticipation of this. This month was fantastic. He was able to get to know the baby better and I could focus, five days a week for five weeks on extra projects and getting things built back up before I went back for three days each week.

What do I wish I had done differently?

I wish I had kept closer to my client while I was away - a few things slipped which I would have liked to have kept an eye on. It's no one's fault - just a new person on the account with me disappearing will do that. 

I always intended to be on a call once a month, but the first couple of months were kind of crazy (emergency c-section, shingles (me, not the baby), back in hospital with baby losing too much weight in week one, endless issue with breastfeeding, seeing a hospital psychologist due to the 'traumatic birth' and a scar that took three months to heal) meant I was rather distracted.

So that's it, I think. 

My big question now is how we ever might do this again. One day, we would like to have another baby. But we can't manage on one income. And I like working; like having a business as well as a family.

It will be hard for me to work in the way that I did before - a lot of late nights and frankly taking way too much on. My husband hasn't had a raise in many years, so we hope that might happen before baby number two. The other option is to grow my business to a size that it could manage without me for a few months. But the chances of doing that in the next couple of years are low. I'm already pretty sure this is something to focus on once we're done having babies.

I felt rather bemused reading a post the other day about people returning to work already pregnant again. And then often not returning again after that. Of course, it's your right to do so. But This is out of the question for us, of course. I would have no business at all. 

Maternity rights and decent pay are vitally important for society. But the government needs to do more because the burden on small/micro businesses is very high right now.

While self-employment is fantastic for working around a family, it can be very hard during the actual 'having' of the baby, particularly if you don't have family around and genuinely rely on having the two incomes (rather than it being a hobby business).

But, in short, I am back, the business is growing again and so is our gorgeous baby girl. I am very lucky to have had the opportunity to make this work.

Monday, 19 January 2015

Your third son

Your third son

His coming home reminds me how
I watched you come home
baby doll in arms, mimicking my mother.

You have a brother.

Your sons stroke his face, not understanding yet
who he is. They practice his name.
Place football stickers in his grasping hands
“This one is for my brother.”

They know nothing of him
but the state they learned with each other.

Now, they cry when they leave the house, and him,
this snug, soft unit of shouts and whispers.
Their end of the bargain begins
with sweets, and mud, and conspiracies.

He is as much theirs as yours now.
Your hair. The eyes of his mother.
But no longer in your hands
He is always their brother.

(Please don't nick this, I wrote it myself. You can use it it you want though, but don't misattribute.)

Thursday, 30 October 2014

How to blog a recipe

Step 1. Pick a really easy recipe. Something you really don't technically really need a recipe for. Like vegetable soup or tuna pasta bake. Call it 'the best xxx you'll ever make' or 'a cosy winter favourite'. You're not a very good cook but you've got a great DRSL, a white table and a driftwood chopping board, so, whatever.

Step 2. Arrange your ingredients on the wooden board. Preferably line them up in a pleasing fashion. This will take a long time but you'll get a lot of pins for your geometric arrangements of carrot and celery. Carry the board over to the window and take a light-flooded photo.

Step 3. Chop the items. Place them all into individual bowls. Carry to the window and make sure you've got your 50ml lens on. Maybe even take some macro photos. Mmm. Carrot chunks.

Step 4. Put things in a pot, add stuff, cook. It's fucking basic, so who cares.

Step 5. Paint your nails. This part is IMPORTANT. Ensure you're wearing a perfect chunky knit jumper, and your manicure is immaculate.

Step 6. Set up your tripod. Set the timer. Pour whatever slop you've made into a bowl and wrap your hands around its life giving warmth - look how wholesome you are! This is where that manicure is all important! Maybe wear some fingerless mittens, just to emphasise how wonderfully cosy it all is. Take a picture. Ahh, the red nail polish works so well against the soup and the bowl. Who cares what it tastes like!

Let me just say, I love recipe blogs. I love finding recipes that are really exciting, look utterly delicious.

Pictures are important when they illustrate some crucial point - and yes, sometimes because they look good - you eat with your eyes first, right? But seriously, the FOOD has to be the thing that looks good.

I have just read one too many of the above - crappy food where the blog isn't about the food at all.  Something just snapped. I realise basic recipes have their place too, for the novice cooks, but really, what the hell. If you can't cook, you don't need geometrically arranged celery and wistful macro shots of cubed veg to help you learn.

Monday, 27 October 2014

do we stay or do we go

J's godfather has a saying, which J's family are fond of repeating. It goes something like: "When you get to making decisions at a certain age, you always only ever have two choices and they're both wrong."

The phrase has been getting a lot of airing for us lately.

From my last post, you'll know that we were thinking of moving to Bristol. At the time, that seemed like an easy, painless solution to all our problems - the referendum, work, our families being so far away. 

We went down a few times. We met some people. It was all very positive. But then we knew we weren't ready yet - we were just trying to understand what was right for us, and when it would be possible. Maybe spring, summer next year. We don't have the money now. A job was offered and then seemed to disappear. Good, let's just settle in here and enjoy our lovely house, enjoy living where we do and let things unfold. See how things progress, and save money.

And then today, J was offered this job - 12 months contract, he must be there 5 days a week. And everything went up in the air again.

Could we do it? Well, technically. Anything is possible. Flying down Sunday/Monday, back Friday. For a year. But what would the toll be on our relationship, health, finances? We were planning on starting a family in the next few months. That would be a big spanner in the works.

It's almost too long a contract - there's no doing this short term and opting out, returning to Glasgow if it didn't work. But at the same time, it's a chance to move fast.

The past few weeks, while we've been mulling this over, have been important. We've been both trying to anticipate what we would gain, and working out what we might lose. We still aren't there, aren't certain. We are trying to guess how we'll feel when the parameters are all different. It's an almost impossible task.

What we might lose

Our house. Our lovely, cosy, strange little house, which we both unashamedly absolutely love. Is it a house forever? No, probably not. But it could be a house for a few years. This house made living in Glasgow, far from family and friends, so much more bearable, by being close to friends up here, close to J's work, by having an office to let me start a business. It's been a house that has facilitated a lot of happiness, companionable calm and space to think and be comfortable. We haven't had to break our backs with DIY, have been able to put up visitors and J has had a loft. We have had far too many impromptu cocktails out with a 100 yard stagger home. It is a wonderful place to live that felt like our house from the second I found it on Rightmove.

And yet this summer, I also felt trapped here. The neighbours on one side were veering pretty far into the antisocial territory. It suddenly seemed like a terrible place to have a family. But we're back to where we were. We love it and the stability it brings.

Jon's job up here is stable. It's progressing slowly though. Over the summer, it seemed to have stalled entirely. But there are now specks of light on the horizon (aka January) when progress might be made.

What we might gain

Jon would gain a huge promotion. And I would also potentially get more work, more opportunities. I don't want to regret my career. But this comes just at the time that we are thinking of having a family.

I may feel less cut off, both professionally and personally, though these feelings have been waning a little this past month. Perhaps it's with Christmas on the horizon, and lots of family time currently planned in (Christmas shopping with my mum, parents and brother and sister in law visiting as well as Christmas itself). I wonder if I will feel the same come January?

We would be closer to both of our families. I see my parents with my brother's children and I see a relationship that would be impossible if we stayed where we are. J's parents are much more peripatetic - they may come and rent a place up here for some months, if we did have a family. It is, perversely, easier to get to see them where they live than for us to get to my parents, though closer as the crow flies.  And as our parents age, this may be more important.

What we just don't know

How to prioritise and which risks to take. Closer to our families, but harder for us to build our own? Hours of commuting each week? Living a long way out of a town we don't yet know? And will halving the distance to our families have any measurable impact on our lives?

Wednesday, 30 July 2014


Right now, I have a number of posts, all unpublished, where I try to make sense of things. Because lately, quite a few things haven't been making sense.

There's a post where I try to make sense of Glasgow. A post where I try to make sense of the choices we've made (of which Glasgow is one). None published, for fear of how I might sound, or whether i was saying the right thing.

That too is a symptom of a greater malaise that's going on. Or several greater malaises that I've not been able to put my finger on. And the thought of voicing any of these things at all has made me feel unbelievably ungrateful.

But I've realised I feel better when I write things down. No one reads this anyway I'm sure.

Let's start by saying we are damned lucky. We have a house, a great house, in an amazing area, in the most buzzing part of a ridiculously wonderful city.  I work for myself, J works an easy 15 minute walk away. We both do jobs that others envy. I can pop out across the road for a cup of organic coffee, a dozen oysters, a handmade artwork, yoga, an artisan cocktail or any number of hipster bingo numbers. Our families are healthy and we never stop being thankful for this, or surprised and grateful for the house and the area we live in. I can make it all look great on Instagram.

By those measures, the measures that generate envy, we have an enviable life.

But recently, I had a meeting with a business mentor, who asked me a personal question that made me realise: Damnit. I'm really lonely.

I have a few friends - some close, some pub friends, all lovely. But I work alone all day, looking out over a car park in an empty house. Friends have jobs - I am eternally grateful for those that meet me for coffee and lunches in the week. I probably talk their ears off because for the last three days, I've only spoken to J and said a polite hello to the neighbours and the postman.

I don't think I'm built to be on my own like this. Loneliness does funny things to you. It makes you fearful and wrecks your concentration. For a long time, I thought it was a failing in me - but speaking to others helps me realise that there's a reason solitary confinement is generally regarded as punishment.

I've looked into shared workspaces - Glasgow has one option. It's in the middle of nowhere and currently has 8 residents on a busy day. That's no help. You're not going to pop to the local pub if you work there.

I never wanted to work for myself. I just did it because there were no jobs. And I do OK at it. More than that, I guess, I do pretty well. But I never wanted this. And now I'm in a real career cul de sac.

There's pain and conflict in this too. J is happy here. His job is great. He works with fun and intelligent people on interesting, challenging projects and there's plenty of work. It pains him to come home to me feeling sad so many days, and I hate passing this sadness on.

There's uncertainty for us too. The independence vote would mean no work for J. The economic uncertainty in the short term may well leave us unable to move/sell the house, but with no choice but to do it.

The run up to the vote has coloured my impressions of this country, which now feels like a beautiful country full of amazing people, but nastily divided. No one is being nice about this. Whatever the result, it's going to be ugly in the run up and probably even uglier, whichever way it goes. As an English/British person, it's hard to constantly hear how problematic 'you' are from approaching 50% of the population and media.

I love Glasgow - the crazy, divided city that we live in. I love that I find artists and musicians everywhere. I hate that it is half beautiful, half decaying, struggling to prop up the massive space that it once occupied. I want it to be better, but people keep fucking fly tipping and letting their dogs shit on the pavement. And there are so many people let down by it. You see them, sitting by Central Station and think, come on city, fucking sort it out. Don't just leave them there.

But when you're sitting in the middle of Kelvingrove Park on a sunny day, kids playing, bagpipes humming, ice cream in hand, skaters, tightrope walkers and the musuem and university reminding you to be better, it's the best place. The city has a lot of places like this. But between them, these cracks.

But when I go to visit family and I see my mum very manfully not crying when we get in the car to leave for another two months... telling me not to be daft when I try to give her another hug (because I saw her trying not to cry and she knows another hug will tip her over), I feel empty. When my little nephew hugs me and I tell him that if he does that again, I won't want to go home. And he says hopefully 'you're not going home?'

When my mum just keeps saying how lucky she is - lot of people's kids go to live in other countries for Pete's sake, and I know she's saying it for herself and not me.

When my mum tells me she's having a bad week and I work out if there's any way I can see her in the next few days, maybe a shopping trip... no. It's three hours for both of us on the train. She jokes about getting a season ticket for Flybe when we have a family, but honestly, we both know it's £250 each time in return flights. I fear being pregnant and alone when J works away, and alone with children after that.

When we go to England, and the smell after the rain makes me feel almost queasily homesick.

The options open to us now are that I either deal with this - and so, I'm seeing someone to see if I can. Maybe the problem is just me. Maybe it's just chronic homesickness.

Or: Bristol. Moving back to England. Family are closer. Old friends are closer. Will that solve anything? Who knows. We will have to sell our lovely house. J will lose his job certainty. Though if the Yes vote happens, this happens anyway. We have to leave.

The feeling of uncertainty morphs into a feeling of apathy. If all the choices are kind of wrong and you feel guilty about even asking these questions, it seems hard to motivate yourself.

And that's where I am now. There's not much of a conclusion here, except that.

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Joan as Policewoman at Oran Mor: Review

Joan as Policewoman
April 28th
Oran Mor, Glasgow

Oran Mor's basement gig venue is always full of them. Men of a certain age, tight-lipped, impassively raising a pint to their lips, their expression unchanging. It doesn't matter who or what's on stage. The pints raise and lower at the same rate. The gaze never wavers.

A few months ago they were there at a Pokey LaFarge gig. More up tempo jazz-blues-dance-ragtime you'd be hard pushed to find. It is impossible not to jig about, even a little. But the impassive men remained stony, aside from their right pint arm.

So it was at the start of tonight's Joan as Policeman gig. As Joan Wasser shuddered, eyes closed over an extended guitar solo in Good Together, the pints raised and lowered at the same speed, eyes fixed on the stage. Appreciative. Merely so.

The first four songs were from JaPW's new album The Classic - and latest single, the syncopatedly joyous Holy City received an unashamedly joyous reaction back from the crowd.

There's nothing self-conscious about Wasser on stage. Tonight in PVC trousers and t-shirt, black eyeliner, red lipstick she looks every part the coolest girl at school. It's no surprise she's so relaxed: a classically trained multi instrumentalist who has played with everyone who, if you like Joan as Policewoman, you'll admire intensely: Anthony and the Johnsons, Rufus Wainright, Dave Gahan, Lou Reed and many more. You're in good hands and she knows it.

And so I'm pretty sure she wouldn't give a shit that during the middle part of the gig, things sort of tailed off a bit. The pace slowed, or remained unchanged for a couple of songs. People went to get drinks. This was the older stuff, lyrically brilliant but familiar, noiser, and with everything going on at once. Wasser's voice was a little lost. The crowd was feeling it a little less.

But on stage, Joan cared as little as the impassive pint guys around me. She was into it, switching from keyboards to guitar to shimmering gold violin, eyes often shut.

Soon the tracks switched back to more soulful sounds - a track that was possibly from Wasser's days with Anthony and the Johnsons, and more tunes from the new album. The pace picked up again and the crowd started to holler. Reviews have suggested that this style doesn't suit Wasser, or somehow betrays her rockier routes. But the brighter, soulful, more vocally interesting sound was rousing, compelling.

When the encore came and the band lined up to sing 'The Classic' a cappella, followed by a solo 'Your Song', the roof almost came off.

When the lights came up, the impassive pint man to my left was very gently smiling, his empty pint glass hanging limply at his side. I looked to the right: impassive pint man no.2 looked misty-eyed at the stage, pint halfway to mouth, and mouthed to no-one in particular: "Gorgeous".