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Blame Game or Poor Parenting?

I recently caught a three-minute slot on ITV’s Good Morning Britain with Jess Warner, the blogger behind Only Girl in the House. I sat up and paid attention because I’m a fan of Jess’ blog and the subject she was talking about really interests me. So, what was it all about? Children and online gaming. It’s a hot topic right now because of a game called Fortnite.

If you’ve not heard of it, it’s another online multiplayer game that seems to have caught the imagination of kids. But to be honest, it’ll be replaced by another game soon enough and the same debate will be argued ‘The impact of online gaming and children’s development’. So, hearing Jess that morning argue that it’s not the game but how we deal with it as parents was music to my ears!

I’m not a gamer. I married one, he bloody loves his computer games. Indeed, my darling husband played more with Lara Croft than he did with me for a while. But there’s no substitute for the real thing right! Lara’s 2D body couldn’t compete with the physical form – and I knew that – because I’m a grown up and as such possess the skillset and intelligence to understand the dynamics at play. And that’s my point – having the skillset to understand is vital and now, as a parent it’s my responsibility to pass this lesson on to my children so they can embrace the big wide online world with confidence.

Furthermore, they feel they can talk to mum and dad about their experiences openly without the risk of being judged. Our children are growing up in a connected world. A world far removed from the one we grew up in. And yes, I’m conscious I sound like a fossil saying this but in the past twenty years I’ve gone from owning our first mobile phone, digital camera, camcorder and sat nav, to having all these capabilities, and more, in one tiny smart phone device! I mean, the lightening-speed in which technology is advancing is exhausting! But while I’m amazed by ‘tomorrow’s world’, my children are taking it all in their stride – it’s normal to them. Of course, it is, and that’s as it should be.

Indeed, earlier this year, the Children’s Commissioner for England, Anne Longfield, launched a report in which she expressed concern that parents and schools are not preparing children to handle the highs and lows of online life. Longfield said; “I am worried that many children are starting secondary school ill-equipped to cope with the sudden demands of social media as their world expands” and that; “just because a child has learnt safety messages at primary school does not mean they are prepared for all the challenges that social media will present.” Crucially, she adds that to achieve this, parents must engage more with what their children are doing online.

This is exactly the responsible attitude echoed by Jess Warner that day. She knew all about Fortnite, as an adult she knew its pitfalls and advantages the game offers. She has a healthy, open, attitude to her children’s online media consumption, is aware of her sons’ digital life, oh and she also makes sure they go outside and get a good-old dose of outdoor fun. Isn’t that parenting at its best - moderation, awareness and balance? I argue that us parents should do more to educate ourselves and to understand the world our children are growing up in. Only then can we help to prepare our children for a life online. Introducing them slowly and gently when they are young has to be better than delaying the inevitable. Poor parenting is letting them stumble clumsily through it with no ‘real-life toolkit’ in their armoury. I liken it to passing my driving test and learning to drive all over again in the real-world. I coped because I had solid foundations from the lessons I took. Isn’t that what the Children’s Commissioner is referring to? Isn’t she urging parents to help tackle the demands that the younger generation will face online.

Dodging digital life isn’t the answer. Give kids the skillset to handle the pressure. I feel we are pioneering parents, raising children in a digital age. Yes, it’s daunting, yes most of the time I have no idea what I’m doing but I’m open to learning. Indeed, me and my husband have shared some hilarious moments along the path of enlightenment and but without doubt the best introduction to a child’s eye view of social media came about when our children asked us how to use Snapchat. Neither me or my husband had ever used the app before (probably an age thing) so we downloaded it and got learning.

One afternoon, I let my son Snapchat a message to his Dad (having given him a quick ‘how-to’ lesson – a concept that took me 60 years to grasp but he only 6 seconds, ouch). When my husband arrived home from work that day he asked if I’d just sent him a Snapchat message “no but…” [our son is now giggling with glee on the lounge floor] my husband continued, rather dryly; “oh that’s reassuring, for I did wonder why you sent me a picture of your poo down the loo?”….

It just goes to show, kids will be kids, their use of social media needs to be monitored and observed (clearly in my son’s case) but if digital life is approached together as a family then we can support each other. That morning, listening to Jess Warner made me thankful that other parents have the same realistic attitude. We’re raising tomorrow’s adults, let us give them the skills they need to navigate life in the big wide world both online and off.

George, mum to Max (9) and Pippa (8)

Kathrine Switzer. The first woman to officially compete in a marathon in 1967. Four miles into the race, an official, Jock Semple, attempted to grab Switzer, yelling, “get the hell out of my race and give me those numbers" After she'd finished the race, she was disqualified and expelled from the athletics federation because she had run with men..

Billy's Wish to Walk

“Everyone else at school can walk daddy, why can’t I?” A pain sears through my heart on over-hearing my intelligent, funny and usually-so-upbeat little boy say those words as my husband tucks him into bed tonight.

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“It’s my dream to walk one day” Billy, our son who turns five next month, tells us regularly. My husband Pete and I are determined to do all we can to make Billy’s dream come true.

Pete and I married in 2009. We were keen to start a family and our son Billy was born in 2013. Like most parents, we thought Billy was just perfect and our world felt complete.

When Billy was 3 months old a friend of ours remarked that Billy’s head seemed to tilt to one side and that his feet were very stiff. Being besotted new parents we hadn’t noticed these things. We took Billy to a GP who referred him for a course of physiotherapy to help straighten his neck, seeming less concerned about his legs at that stage.

As time progressed, we noticed Billy was not hitting the physical milestones of sitting up, crawling, or walking, as children of the same age were. Billy had his first MRI scan at 15 months of age and we were ecstatic when it came back all clear. When Billy started commando crawling at 16 months and crawling on his knees at 19 months, we remained hopeful that he was simply progressing at his own pace.

At age 2 however, when Billy’s second MRI scan came back clear, it was difficult to rejoice. We were starting to discover just how hard it can be to get the right help and support without a clear diagnosis.

The NHS has supported us as much as they feel able to: Billy has been prescribed a number of different drugs, had botox in his legs twice and twice-weekly physiotherapy for his legs since he was 15 months old. Billy’s nursery, and now his school, have also been an incredible support in accommodating Billy’s additional needs and working with us to help with his daily physio exercises.

Pete and I have tried additional complementary treatments as well, taking Billy to a chiropractor, an osteopath and cognitive therapist. Billy has made huge progress in being able to walk for short distances with the aid of sticks. However this is a massive struggle for him requiring a lot of energy, and with no diagnosis it is unclear whether he will be able to progress from here without further intervention.

There is an operation Billy can undergo which will reduce the spasticity in his legs. The operation is a gruelling 5-6 hours and we need to build Billy’s strength both physically and mentally to prepare him for this procedure. Following the operation, Billy will require 3-4 sessions of physiotherapy and intensive fitness sessions per week for up to 3 years.

Unfortunately none of this is available on the NHS. We have an amazing support network of family and friends who are coming together to put on fundraising events and activities to support Billy’s Wish to Walk. Our aim is to raise the money needed for Billy to have the operation and ongoing healthcare support he needs to give him the best chance of being able to run, jump and ride a bike – just like his friends.

Our Pamper and Prosecco Evening in November was a great success, raising over £4,000. We are currently selling tickets for an Afternoon Tea in May, and a Family Fun Day is planned for the Summer. My brother and his wife are having a sponsored hair cut – donating their locks to make wigs for cancer sufferers at the same time, and my husband Pete is planning a sponsored bike ride.

As stressful as having to fight for the support Billy deserves can be, and as upsetting as it is hearing him ask why he can’t walk, Billy makes us laugh every day. He brightens up the room with his cheeky smile and is thriving at school where he has made some fantastic friends.

My son’s determination is my inspiration to continue fighting for Billy’s Wish to Walk. Find Billy’s Wish to Walk on JustGiving or keep an eye out for our forthcoming events on Facebook.

Karen, mum to Billy, 5
Vista Loves...

Ourselves basically. January was a BIG month in this agency. And we nailed it.

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Why dads aren’t taking up shared parental leave (but why we all should)

One of my greatest regrets since becoming a father was not taking shared parental leave when I had the chance. Like many new dads before me, not fully aware of what I was legally entitled to and worried about how a long stint off work might be perceived by my boss, I lumped for the standard two weeks paternity leave.

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The brilliant Giles Alexander who blogs at www.youthedaddy.co.uk is a vocal advocate for paid parental leave for fathers. And so are we. As the parliamentary women and equalities committee publishes a report highlighting the difficulties that fathers have in balancing their careers with childcare duties, we felt it was only right to share Giles' perspective on it all. Please read below and follow his brilliant blog. 

One of my greatest regrets since becoming a father was not taking shared parental leave when I had the chance. Like many new dads before me, not fully aware of what I was legally entitled to and worried about how a long stint off work might be perceived by my boss, I lumped for the standard two weeks paternity leave. Two weeks to bond with our new baby and figure out what kind of dad I wanted to be (before returning to work and having to resort to phone calls, photos and FaceTime to keep abreast of my son’s first smile, first steps and all the other key milestones I was missing while stuck in the office).

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No nuts please!

It’s a strange thing, an allergic reaction. Especially when it happens to your child, in front of your eyes. It comes out of the blue. One minute everything is normal (well as normal as family life with two young children can be).

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It’s a strange thing, an allergic reaction. Especially when it happens to your child, in front of your eyes. It comes out of the blue. One minute everything is normal (well as normal as family life with two young children can be). The next, all hell breaks loose. Literally.

Nancy was two when she had her first anaphylactic reaction. It was to a cashew that she had picked up from the floor of our rented farmhouse in rural Provence. Idyllic the website said - it certainly didn’t feel like it once the reaction took hold. We had no idea the nut was there or that she had eaten it. The first we knew of a problem was when Nancy pointed to her mouth and said “stinging”. In a heartbeat she was having trouble breathing, vomited, turned floppy and collapsed. Mother’s instinct kicked in and recognising it as an allergic reaction, grabbed for the antihistamine. We were lucky, it was enough to bring the reaction to an end.

That though, was just the start of it. Once home, there was a visit to the GP to discuss the incident, a referral to the paediatric allergy specialist; swiftly followed by a battery of tests, resulting in a diagnosis of a severe nut allergy and a prescription for an epipen.

From that moment, your child has a label. Nancy – severe nut allergy. Over the years I’ve realised, it’s not the label that matters, it’s how you deal with it. Sure, it’s a scary prospect – knowing that by just eating nuts your child could be seriously poorly, potentially with fatal consequences. But I made a choice – not to dwell or to become neurotic about it. It’s the hand she’s been dealt and together we must play it.

And play it we do. At home, we calmly educate Nancy about her allergy and teach her how best to handle situations. She, not us, needs to be aware of the consequences of eating nuts but to measured and balanced in her response to this. Rather than daunt her with the dangers, we have empowered her to manage them. Now she’s old enough, for example, she reads menus and looks at the symbols, she asks waiters about ingredients, informs the staff at airport check in and lets party hosts know that she carries an epipen. At her most recent allergy clinic Nancy was also taught how to administer the adrenaline that could save her life. Of course, we have also encouraged her not to take risks; to refuse sweets and biscuits from friends when she hasn’t seen the ingredients, to say no if she’s not sure about the origin of food. It’s not always easy but we’re proud of the way she deals with it.

If I stopped and thought about the severity of Nancy’s allergy, I might be persuaded to change where we go, how we travel, what we do, what she does away from the family but that would be a life half lived and that’s not what we want for Nancy.

Lucy, mum to Mae (9) and Nancy (8)

Christmas is coming....

And it’s calmer already. Black Friday and Cyber Monday are finally over. Accomplished shopper as I am, what is it about the cyber panic that literally freezes my ability to shop?

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With everyone shouting ‘20% off!’, 30% off!’ ‘Just 12 hours left!’, I’m totally overwhelmed and buy nothing. I patiently wait it out and then start Christmas shopping at my leisure, paying full whack for the privilege.

So Christmas is coming.  The countdown started just before Halloween when the children came home for half term with nativity lines heavy in their bags. No way were they going to learn and remember all that!  But somehow they have and I’m feeling quietly hopeful that my daughter won’t take a loo break right in the middle of the performance this year. The lines are etched in her memory already and she can’t wait to say them. Nana and Dad-Dad, your 2 hour journey won’t be wasted this year, I promise.

The children’s letters have all been written. Number one’s asked for a Porsche car (helpfully adding in brackets ‘not a real one!’). Number 2 has asked for a Hatchimal (what’s a Hatchimal and how can it possibly cost £89?). And number 3, a toy car. 'No problem! What sort of car?’  ‘One that I can open the door and get into.’ Oh dear.  

I make the foolish mistake of not removing the lists at first draft, so they linger around, growing daily.  Each advert on television, every conversation at school, bearing its influence until, in a sudden panic, I announce that all lists must be sent off at once or we’ll miss the deadline.  And I whisk them away for dispatch - not to the cold depths of the North Pole but to the sunnier climes of the Amazon, where Father Christmas really takes his residence. 

Meanwhile, this year’s advent calendars have all been carefully chosen. Always a very important decision for my three. The pictures may all be very tempting, but what matters most of all is what’s inside. Brand loyalty wins for Cadbury’s and Nestle once again and I put the calendars safely away on a high shelf in the larder.  I’ve  already lost track of the number of times I’ve been asked to get them down again, just so they can have ‘another little look’ and I know that when the first of December comes, they’re each going to know exactly where door number one is.

Now before the big guy makes his appearance in our house, the children eagerly await the little guy.  The Elf on the Shelf. He seemed such a charming idea when our eldest was just 3 (when all we had to worry about was one child and the luxury of moving a little red elf about).  But now, five years on, two more children later, I’ve rather come to dread his arrival. It’s like having another small person to take care of, during the busiest month of the year.  Because, we always forget to move him!   ‘Have you moved the elf?’ my husband will ask when we’re in bed. ‘Oh no!’ and then off one of us will go back downstairs (unset/reset burglar alarm) to re-position him. Better still, when we forget until morning, then it’s a race to get down before the children and hope he won’t topple over from the excitement of it all, just as the children walk in.  Like we need this.   

But still we can’t help but keep the magic alive.  Last year, our get-out opportunity came…  ‘Mummy, the Elf’s a toy!’  ‘What?’ ‘No! No, he’s not!’ ‘Then, why’s he got a label on his bottom?’  ‘Oh darling, that’s not a label!  That’s a special tag which he scans each night when he goes back to report to Father Christmas'.  ‘Oh (almost disappointed), ok Mummy.’  And the Elf’s back in business for another year. Seriously though, I can’t wait to welcome him out of his box on Thursday night and to see three happy, glistening little faces set sight on him again this Friday morning and to know that Christmas really is coming. 

Sam, mum to Alfie, Kitty and Lucas

10 Things you should Never Say to a Diabetic if you Value Your Life

Helen Wills is an inspiring mum and award winning blogger. She writes about her experience as a mum whose daughter has Type 1 diabetes.

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We love Helen's honesty. On World Diabetes Day 2017, we're thrilled to share one of her blogs.

______________________________

In our three years living with Type 1 diabetes I’ve learned a fair bit about myself. Not just my capacity for complicated maths in the middle of the night after a bottle of Prosecco; nor my propensity for hurling my diabetic child into every potentially dangerous adventure, just to prove a point. No, my biggest lesson has been patience. My previously unsuspected ability to smile and nod in the face of extreme provocation. And before we go any further, let me say that I have made at least three of these mistakes myself, in a previous life. So this is not judgement. This is merely a checklist of things to avoid blurting out, in your hunt for something appropriate to say to a diabetic.

10 things not to say to a diabetic..

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Helen Wills award winning blog is www.actuallymummy.co.uk 

Dealing with the stress of infertility, naturally

I tend to meet couples who have been trying for a baby for longer than 6 months, but some have been trying for as long as 15 years. I have treated couples attempting IVF /ICSI for the eleventh time.

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Whatever the situation, stress and anxiety are common symptoms of a delayed conception and the side effects can make it very hard for someone to manage.

Humans have evolved with the ‘fight or flight mechanism’ to deal with stressful situations. A natural state where the brain pumps adrenalin, the heart beats faster and because it is working harder, it needs more fuel, so we breathe more heavily then sweat and flush in order to cool down.

As a survival technique this is a very useful reaction, but someone under a great deal of emotional stress can trigger a ‘fight or flight’ response to an everyday situation and this can be very tough to handle.

Manifestations of a reaction tend to fall into three categories. Physical such as irregular breathing, heart racing, shaking, ‘butterflies’ or feeling sick; behavioural such as avoiding situations, having a sudden urge to leave somewhere; or psychological which includes blurred thinking, low self-opinion, negative thoughts about a situation we fear and vulnerability.

Anxiety eats away at our confidence and makes things that were once easy for us to do, really difficult. Thoughts of "I'm not good enough, smart enough, thin enough” are manifestations of stress and anxiety that many of us can associate with.

One of the tools that I find most useful to deal with stress and anxiety is Mindfulness.

Mindfulness helps us to understand what the triggers of stress might be so that we can create coping mechanisms and stop a reaction manifesting. It involves noticing your feelings without trying to control them, giving you the chance to step back and calmly evaluate any unpleasant thoughts.

A technique in Mindfulness is breathing consciously, drawing your attention to every breath in order to slow down and calm yourself. Thinking about what you are doing as you are doing it: ‘living in the here and now’.

Harvard University¹ has found that 47% of the time we are worrying about the past or the future. They surmise that we spend half our time not thinking about, or enjoying the present moment.

We can practice Mindfulness at any moment and those who do, say they see things from a different perspective, become less overwhelmed by negative thoughts and less judgmental of themselves and others. It can also help curb panic attacks, enable people petrified by public speaking and help manage other complex conditions like depression, addiction and OCD.

But, most importantly perhaps we can be more present for ourselves and the people around us. In my professional life, it is one of the best gifts I can give my patients: ‘I understand, I am here for you now.’

For the couples I meet who are under significant emotional pressure, Mindfulness gives them the opportunity to step back from their overwhelming thoughts and get a different perspective. By noticing how their thoughts impact on their behavior, they can become ‘self as observer’.  It allows them to act more within their value system and to be kinder to themselves.

By approaching life in a more mindful way, looking at things more closely and taking time to see moments and understand feelings from a different perspective, we can all lead a more positive path of self-acceptance. These small changes can have tremendous effect.

 Jacqueline Hurst

www.fertility-support.co.uk

References:
1. Harvard psychologists Matthew A. Killingsworth and Daniel T. Gilbert  2010. http://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2010/11/wandering-mind-not-a-happy-mind/

Wear the rainbow.

I have three children. I didn’t find out their sex before they were born. One reason was privacy. I didn’t feel it was right to explore their genitals while they lay in the safety of my womb.

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For everyone in the room to take a butchers at an area I will then spend a lifetime helping them to protect, felt hypocritical.

But also, I have a strong aversion for stereotyping gender. Exerting control over another human being. Identifying my baby’s sex before it was born so that I could ‘get ready’, ‘decorate the nursery’ or ‘buy a suitably coloured pram’ is a concept that is alien to me.

During the summer months, Clarks weathered a storm of criticism for their Dolly Babe shoe with mothers sharing wildly over social channels and national news outlets piling into the debate, hungry for a sensational headline. Enough is enough was the outcry, let our children be children, stop limiting their choices and directing them into gender stereotypes. The main point these parents were making was that the shoes were flimsy. Not fit for purpose for active young girls. But, of course Clarks makes shoes like this. It’s a business with people to pay, shareholders to please. To meet demand. Parents buy the shoes, children choose them and money makes the world go round.  

John Lewis suffered precisely the same abuse for doing the opposite; when they gender neutralised their marketing in store. Rather than labelling clothes for Boys or Girls, they simply snipped out the labels and took down the signage. And all hell broke loose. Twitter went off. One particularly confused parent stated, ‘This John Lewis thing is pure shite, my child is a boy and will be dressed as a boy… rugby tops, polo shirts, jeans, trainers etc.’ Another whose handle does include the word ‘nutter’ offered this sage response, ‘Like John Lewis….gender neutral kids clothings!!! WTF?...Boycotted.’ To be fair, JL are probably relieved for that.

These responses are ludicrous and demonstrate how blinkered we have become. Gender neutrality does not mean dressing boys in dresses. It means taking away labels and confining colours to sexes. It's a step toward liberating our opinion of what people can be. My ten year old asks me if she’s weird liking the colour blue and wanting to wear trousers. No my love. Everyone else is weird for thinking you should wear pink. Wear the rainbow. Colours don’t define you.

But there is, of course a lasting, sinister effect in all of this. Last month Girlguiding UK released research that showed girls as young as seven already feel pressured to conform to the gender stereotypes that bombard them every day via social channels, TV and other forms of media.

And, according to ad agency, Engine’s, 21st Century Woman report, 76% of women think brands do not represent the modern women, and 86% believe brands present a very stereotypical view of life.

And that’s precisely it. The pursuit of profit has created this crazy market. Human beings feel comfortable given a direction, a set of codes to follow that fit them safely into the crowd. John Lewis should be celebrated for placing a lens on this disaster and saying, this is nonsense.

Ultimately it falls to parents to break this mould. Fist bumps to the mum who picked the fight with Clarks. Change can only start at home. Yes create a ruck around blatant stereotyping, but also, just take your money elsewhere. Break through these marketing-led codes. Gender anarchy. This won’t cause chaos in your private life. Childhood mental health issues will not rocket. It’ll only cause a headache in the boardroom.

Jane, mum to Bella (10), Jolie (8) and Connie (4)

Vista Loves... George

Vista Loves...our new recruit Georgina Morgan, Media Hub Manager. Getting stuck in. Day 1.

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Mum guilt. Is it worse during the holidays?

“Mummy, you’re better at tidying the house, but Daddy is better at looking after us, because you try and work all the time”.

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No sooner had the words left my five year old’s mouth a strange feeling started building in the pit of my stomach. A quick self-diagnosis on Google and I had identified the issue: mum guilt.

The next day, while chasing my one year old around the local adventure playground and trying to make sure the eldest didn’t tread in the dog poo some kind owner had left festering right in the middle of the play area, I spoke to my best mates. Through snatched conversations I realised I wasn’t the only mum with this condition. Apparently mum guilt comes in many forms: feeling guilty about letting your kids watch too much TV, or cooking them a frozen pizza instead of a wholesome meal using “just five ingredients” from Jamie Oliver’s new cookbook. For me the guilt came from trying to balance my workload with school holidays. 

I tried explaining to my daughter that the reason Daddy can spend all day playing with her on the weekend is because he works all week, when I am at home looking after her and her sister. It didn’t wash. I put my phone down and resolved to do my work that evening when Daddy got home and we could switch roles.

I am lucky that I can do that. Working for Vista I have the flexibility to work from home and apart from Mondays when I pop into the office to catch up with the team, I’m pretty much able to fit my hours in around family life. But that doesn’t mean I don’t want to be able to check in every now and again and make sure I’m not missing anything important. To a five year old who’s in constant need of my attention though, these quick check-ins seem like an eternity.

It got me thinking about how other working mums survive the holidays. Those mums who have an office to go to every day, with set hours, deadlines and meetings. How do they juggle work life and family life? Because, more often than not, it does seem to fall to the mum to manage childcare over the school holidays. However, you’ve done it, give yourself a pat on the back (or a bloody big glass of gin), because it’s not easy. Especially with mum guilt rearing its ugly head.

Now the kids are back at school, I’m reflecting on the last six weeks and all that we’ve done. Along the way we’ve taken day trips to the beach, been on holiday in Italy, gorged on chocolate and popcorn during movie nights, joined friends for playdates and undertaken countless crafting activities. Something I was dreading has actually been, for the most part, good fun. The distinct lack of routine has been nice. No alarm clocks or school runs in the rain. No having to wake the youngest up from her nap in order to collect her big sister from school. But, I am looking forward to getting back to ‘normality’. For me this means knowing when I can get my work done without worrying I should be doing something else, like making fairy cakes, playing tag or making up dance routines to the latest chart music. OK, that last one’s not strictly true, I make up dance routines whether my daughters are around or not ;-)

Katy, mum to Belle (5) and Wren (16m)

Silver Star Society, John Radcliffe Hospital, Oxford

''This is your baby's heart, there is no heartbeat' - nearly six years on I can still remember that moment like it was yesterday.

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In September 2011, at 34 weeks pregnant, I was admitted to my local hospital where I was diagnosed with pre-eclampsia. As a first time mummy-to-be I had no idea of the seriousness of the condition, and just believed all would be ok. But sadly it wouldn't. Four days after being admitted I had a placenta abruption which caused my unborn child to pass away and my condition to drastically deteriorate.  I was immediately transferred to the Silver Star unit for high risk pregnancies at the John Radcliffe hospital in Oxford, where I was given the specialist care I needed to save my life and deliver William, our stillborn son.

Going through a stillbirth is a devastating experience. I felt so guilty (and still do) that my body let my son down, so sad that very few people got to see William, and even that I will never know the colour of his eyes. After five days in hospital I was desperate to leave, but I will never forget that moment in the car when I realised I was going home without my baby.

Throughout this horrible ordeal, the care and support I received from the Silver Start unit was second to none. One of the really important things for me was that my partner was able to stay with me the entire time, which was a huge comfort and something we both needed. 

The work of the Silver Star Society

In early 2012 my brother in law, Simon, contacted me to say he would like to complete a charity cycle ride from John O Groats to Land’s End in memory of William, and asked me to select a cause to fundraise for. After some research I came across the Silver Star Society (also based at the John Radcliffe hospital) and their campaign to help fund Professor Redman's research into decoding pre-eclampsia.

The society's work really struck a chord with me and my partner. There is still so little known about this condition, and I felt we owed it to William to share his story and do what we could to prevent other parents going through what we had. The kindness of those who work for the Silver Star helped us during our darkest days, and we wanted to give something back.

In addition to helping fund important research projects, the Silver Star Society works hard to 'make things better for Silver Star mothers and their families'. They do this in a number of ways:  by appealing for 'tiny' knitwear so that mothers of premature babies have something to dress their newborn in, and by furnishing special 'suite rooms', where mothers can stay with their partner during difficult times. Having stayed in one of these rooms myself after William’s death, I know how important they are. The society also helps to provide the unit with specialist medical equipment to care for expectant mothers going through all types of high risk pregnancies – not just those with pre-eclampsia.

Fundraising for the Silver Star Society

Since Simon’s charity cycle ride, we have made fundraising for the society an annual priority. We’ve had AMAZING support and together with family and friends have organised or taken part in a 24 mile swim, 10K urban assault course, an abseil off the top of the John Radcliffe hospital, a quiz night, William’s summer fete, a pirates and princess children's party and a prosecco & pamper evening. To date, we have raised around £30,000 for the Silver Star Society, and fully intend to keep going.

This year, Simon has volunteered to take part in a super-marathon called the Wall. He has 12 hours to run 69 miles – no small feat!

Life after William

Following William, I have gone on to have two more beautiful children -  Toby who is four, and Neve who is two. Throughout both pregnancies I was cared for by the Silver Star unit.

The joy of pregnancy was lost to me and I found carrying for the second and third time very stressful, however the specialist care and attention I received helped immensely. Most importantly, I’m eternally grateful to the Silver Star for helping my partner and I go on to have two healthy children.

If you’re interested in finding out more about Emma and her fundraising journey, take a look at her Facebook page:   

Is it possible to have children and a rewarding career?

From that first, overwhelming morning at preschool when you cling onto your parent’s leg for dear life, to the end of your GCSE’s, you’re taught, mentored gently coaxed, perhaps sometimes even pushed to focus on your education.

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You get the grades you need to study for ‘A’ Levels and before you know it you’re standing in the doorway of your university halls of residence, waving goodbye to your tearful mum as you contemplate the next three years of your life.

By this point you’ve started to make conscious decisions about your career. You finish university with a decent enough degree and head out into the big wide world with the enthusiasm of a springer pup. You’re ready to start carving a career in a field you’ve aspired to work in since your parents told you becoming a pirate wasn’t a viable option.

The next few years you work hard, gain experience, are given promotions…and then you have a baby.

What happens to the career you’ve worked so hard for? Do you have to swap client meetings and excel spreadsheets for Sign and Sign groups and Teletubbies?

Last year I gave birth to my second daughter, Wren, and a few months into maternity leave my mind inevitably turned to work. With my eldest, Annabelle, starting school, returning to work full time wasn’t an option. I’d seen how quickly things have changed with Belle in the early years and didn’t want to miss Wren hitting those milestones. They are only young once, as my mum always reminds me.

That’s when I realised attitude to flexible working is changing. Driving this change are women who have found themselves in a similar position in the past and are working hard towards a solution. It’s being spearheaded by the likes of Digital Mums, an organisation that trains mums to become freelance social media managers in order to achieve the perfect work-life balance.

There are also many businesses, like Vista, whose flexible approach to work allows parents to enjoy the best of both worlds. I was introduced to the company by a mutual friend and have recently joined the team as a social media specialist. At Vista we are all parents with the freedom to work around family life. It’s an approach that’s mutually beneficial and one that results in real job satisfaction as well as a high levels of engagement.

So if you ever find yourself in a similar position to me and are unsure whether you can have a career without having to sacrifice family life, the simple answer is yes. There are plenty of companies willing to embrace flexible working in order to retain valued employees. Just don’t be afraid to ask the question.

 

The Worst Kind of Phone Call

Your stomach lurches. Your heart beats faster. Your mind races. You breathe harder. Your blood drops to your feet. When you get that phone call.

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The worst kind of phone call.  The school receptionist ringing to tell you that your daughter’s on her way to hospital in an ambulance after a fall at school.

Suddenly your world turns upside down. Nothing matters.  Things that bothered you five minutes ago pale swiftly into insignificance.  Your sole thought is getting to her.  She shouldn’t be alone.  Shouldn’t be without you, Mummy, in her time of need.

On the short journey to hospital, you phone Granny because the need to share your worry and to find some support is irrepressible.  Practicalities set in.  You cancel the babysitter booked for tonight, ring a friend and ask them to be on standby for your other daughter, still at school.

And then your thoughts turn to your little one, still at school.  Who will tell her what has happened? Who will help her in this time of need?  Help her find her a way through the confusion about what has happened to her sister?  Children talk, rumours spread, drama builds.  You remind yourself she’s in good hands at school.

You see the sign - A&E.  As you utter your daughter’s name to the lady on the front desk, it’s like a dream, a nightmare.  You see her then.  Pale, weak, in pain – but she’s okay, that’s obvious.  She smiles, weakly and whispers “Mummy”.  You can breathe again.  You know though, that others get the worst kind of phone call and are not as lucky as you. Others have fates far worse than this.  Unimaginable. For a moment you dwell on how it’s strange that you feel lucky.

Doctors, nurses, x-rays, scans, anaesthetic.  The NHS at its absolute best.  Things happen quickly and decisions need to be made and you realise now that your little girl is making them.  She chooses an injection over a mask, refuses morphine, asks to have her clothes cut off to ease the pain.  And suddenly you’re in awe.  This little person, is struggling so much, yet is so capable, so in control.  And you couldn’t possibly be more proud.

An operation, a short stay in hospital and then home.  To family and friends.  Amazing family and friends.  They send kind messages, write nice words, bring you dinner, buy funny little gifts that make you smile, laugh.

And you realise that these tough times are there to make you appreciate everything you have.  Your children so vulnerable and yet so strong.  Your extended family, home.  Safe and secure.  And your friends.  Bless them all.  You hope that in their time of need you will be by their side.

Lucy, mum to Mae (8) and Nancy (7)

An ode to the PTA

I don’t want to be bah-Humbug but…The build up to Christmas is a busy time of year. For all of us.

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There’s been nativity costumes to think about.  Christmas jumpers for the office party to sort.  Christmas trees to decorate.  And don’t get me started on the writing of cards, wrapping of presents or the ordering of food. 

Life is one big rush.  Schools, teachers, parents and children, we’re the generation that never stop.  We’re all soooo busy.  

And then for some of us, those who think they have more time than they actually have - there’s the school PTA.  Often, I hear myself bleating “Why did I sign up to this?” and sometimes I rant “This is the last time I get involved”.  Many times expletives are involved.  And the school PTA doesn’t stop for Christmas!  There’s meetings to attend, a Christmas Fayre to organise, the disco to supervise and already we’re looking at the first event of 2017 – the quiz.

Many people would admit they don’t see the time it takes to stage these events.  They’re not on the endless Whatsapp messages about whether a trip to CostCo is needed for more juice and whether the caretaker know how to lay the tables out.  They’re not there when halls are being decorated late at night or coffee being laid out first thing in the morning.  It really can be a thankless task.

Until I look around, when events we’ve organised are in full swing, normally from behind a tombola or raffle stall, and feel a warm rush of satisfaction.  My hands are deep in sticky money from the kids, I’m in full on crowd control mode and desperately trying to spot my own children who are being left to make their own entertainment at a school event (again) and I’m so glad that I’m a part of this.  That this event, and others, have happened because of the time and energy we have given (well what little we have left).

The PTA – we’re an invisible force that makes school life tick.  The glue that sticks the school and its families together.  Seeing the kids’ faces light up when they’re making reindeer food at the Fayre or throwing the latest dance moves at the disco makes me realise, it’s actually a privilege to be a part of our school life.  To be at the heart of it.

Emily, mum to Kate (9) and Lucy (7)

The Survey Results Are In

A few weeks ago we ran a survey with our parent network to get an intimate view on their relationship with social media, to understand the impact of this new world of hyper-connectivity on families and gauge their general mood at the close of 2016.

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The marketing industry is terribly keen to prove the value and influence of social media in driving consumers toward a purchase. We do it ourselves. We use a nifty Social Metrics Map, devised by an industry leader, which walks you through which social media strategy can effectively deliver business impact through the buyers journey and how to measure and prove success. It talks the talk and makes perfect sense. But, while everyone is busy beavering away at charts to demonstrate worth, are enough of us asking the right questions to the people who matter?

The people who matter to Vista are the nation’s parents. The beating heart of this country. The ones who have a vested interest in the successful advancement of the next generation. This is our gang. So, we opened up a survey which was completely anonymous and required each of our respondents to confront some of the more thorny issues of social media and its impact on popular culture. Do you actually choose to interact with brands on social? Do you feel anxious about receiving likes? Do you even have time for Snapchat? Would you really buy that pram if you saw a ‘celebrity’ using it?

Within 24 hours we’d had over 70 responses and a few days later we reached our 100 target. We should note for news purposes that this is not deemed a representative sample of ‘all parents in the UK’ because we didn’t have a 50:50 split of mums and dads (80% of our respondents were mums). But, our responses came from parents with vastly different backgrounds, in different pockets around the country, so we’re confident it provides an irresistible flavour.

Ok. So, in general, our network is feeling happy…but tired. That’s to be expected. Tiredness is a prerequisite for parenthood and never is that more true than in this festive period. However a third (32%) of our network do feel under some pressure to be a ‘perfect parent’ and nearly 1 in 4 feels like something has to give. Slightly more (26%) feel positive about the year ahead, than anxious about it (21%). But the majority (41%) would just love to spend more quality time with their children.

Regarding social media, Facebook is the site of choice for parents with 99% of our respondents having a Facebook profile, while Instagram (52%) and Twitter (51%) fall some way behind. Pinterest is still fighting its corner with 41% and Snapchat is emerging, with 21% of our parent responders having a profile. Perky kitten ears to that.

But how do our social media profiles make us feel? 92% use them to keep connected with friends, and 10% admitted that social media can be a lifeline for them. Very few are bothered by post likes, with only 6% being negatively distracted by this element. However 42% think they spend too much time on social media, over a quarter (27%) are sometimes scared to voice their real opinion and more than 1 in 10 (11%) said it can make them feel lonely. 8% admitted their friends’ posts can make them feel a bit rubbish about their own life.

So, amid this yuletide shopping feast, what is influencing our purchases? Good news for the high street. 40% of the most recent impulse purchases were made while browsing in a shop, followed by 19% who spotted a deal. Interestingly, advertising online (9%) and in a social newsfeed (8%) were deemed more influential than TV with only 2% of people spontaneously acting on a TV ad.

Previous customer reviews are the most influential factor in making a decision to buy something with 82% of the vote, while special offers and price (57%) and friends’ opinions (40%) count for the next two most persuasive elements. Over a third (34%) are influenced by impartial reviews in the media.

And what are UK parents doing for inspiration and entertainment? Watching the news (61%), getting lost in a good book (43%) and reading printed magazines (29%). So, while the world around us modifies into code and the traditional structures of communication crumble, you’ll find this power consumer and power influencer curled up with some form of printed communication. Brilliant.

Of those who prefer to dwell online, a quarter (25%) turn to parenting bloggers for inspiration, information and fun, 19% visit parenting forums like Mumsnet and 13% follow ‘cool’ parents (who they don’t know) on their social media feeds.

And as for our ‘celebrity culture’, over a fifth (21%) check out celebrity news, but no-one admitted to being influenced by a celebrity endorsement and a whopping 79% claimed celebrity use is the least influential factor when looking to buy something. Take that Kardashian.

When we asked about premium brands – the ones that are often copied and sold at a cheaper price – we asked why parents still choose to buy premium. Trust is a significant factor, with 73% trusting the premium brand to deliver a good product, 70% trusting the premium brand to provide better value for money and 18% choose premium when the brand is associated with a higher purpose, such as a charitable cause, community initiative, is fair trade or better for the environment. Only 5% claimed to never choose premium.

Sticking with brands and interacting, 16% follow brands on their social media page for inspiration and entertainment and 13% enjoy interacting with well-known brands on social media. In terms of a brand influencing a purchase decision, 24% of parents are influenced by the look and feel of its website and 6% find social media pages and how brands interact with customers online, most influential.

Thank you to everyone who took part. You are truly generous individuals who gave us your time and consideration for nothing in return. We are incredibly grateful. Over the coming holiday period, may you curl up with a good book, keep connecting with your friends on social, make some crazy spur of the moment purchases in physical bricks and mortar shops and spend lots and lots of warm, cuddly, quality time with your little ones.

Happy Christmas from TeamVista x

NB.

The Survey Monkey was live for 10 days between 24.11.16 - 03.12.16.

We received 100 responses. 81 were mums and 19 were dads.

14% had a child aged 0-2

21% had a child aged 3-4

78% had a child aged 5-11 

34% had a child aged 11+

The needle is not the worst thing.

I am always baffled that people think injections are the worst thing about being diabetic. Surely the long term side effects of uncontrolled blood sugar, leading to damaging the tiny blood vessels in your kidneys, heart, eyes and feet is significantly worse than popping a little needle into your body a few times a day?

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Managing the psychological effects of needle phobia is far less an impact than managing heart disease, stroke or kidney disease. Yet, every single time someone finds out that I am diabetic, their first question is always, ‘Do you have to inject?’. Every, single, time.    

So, yes before 7.30am this morning I had put three needles into my body. One to inject long acting insulin when I wake up, one to check my blood sugar levels and one to inject short acting insulin before I ate my breakfast. I will stick another 3 insulin needles into my body before bedtime and if I am being super conscientious, a couple more blood test prickers.  

Big bloody deal. The more immediate effect of a low blood sugar, (where the amount of insulin in my system has exceeded the amount required to break down the carboyhdrate so pushed my blood glucose levels below normal) is far more intimidating than a little needle and it's a situation that all people who work or live with someone with diabetes should know how to respond to. A low blood sugar sets your world spinning. Your brain struggles to make sense, your hands shake, your legs turn to jelly and you crave food. 'Hangry' doesn't even touch it. Imagine being hangry, then dial it up 100. Then imagine trying to wake yourself up in the middle of the night in that state. 

The immediate effect of a high blood sugar is tiresome. It clouds your thinking, gives you an insatiable thirst, vaporises your energy. Longer term, it eats away at your nerve endings. Believe me, the first time I injected insulin into my body I felt liberated. 

I have been diabetic for 28 years. Two thirds of my life. I inherited the disease from my mum, who inherited it from hers. Our family gene has been found on chromosome 12. Those with diabetes in our family have a change in the gene HNF1A which means our type of diabetes is called MODY3. Because the medical and insurance professions like to put you in a category, I have had many conversations with trained practitioners who refuse to concede that I am not Type 1. ‘You are Type 1’. ‘No, I’m not, I’m Type 2 MODY’. No you’re not you’re insulin dependent, so you’re Type 1’. And so it goes on. I recently sat in First Aid training where the module on diabetes was so confusing and misinterpreted that I couldn’t even answer the questions being posed.

My mum is a retired dietician. A bizarre consequence of this is my fondness for the smell of insulin, the aroma of my mum returning home from the diabetic clinic. She fed us a low GI diet, so this is the only way I know how to eat.  And occasionally she would ask us to help inject her, so that we would develop an indifference to needles. She checked our sugar levels frequently throughout our childhood. So frequently in fact that, at the age of 13, I tested myself one night. Not because I felt ill, but because I fancied it. A urine test first, and when that showed a high level of sugar, I did a blood test. Back in the day when testing your blood meant rubbing a razor blade against your finger, leaving your blood on a stick to develop like a polaroid and then checking the colour against the side of the pack. (It’s all digital now). My mum was out, so I asked my dad to check the colour. He didn’t know what he was looking at, so calmly confirmed my fears. I waited quietly for my mum to come home.

And for my three girls? What should I do for them? Should we get their DNA checked? As far as we know, I am the only one of the six people in my generation who inherited the gene. This is very good news. So, no, we will not get our children checked. It is not something the superb team who monitor my condition at OCDEM advise. I don’t want to know and I certainly don’t want my children to ever feel restricted in their choices. The best I can do for them is teach them a healthy lifestyle, feed them a suitable diet so that it becomes second nature to them too and keep them fit and active every day of their lives. Basically, what every other mother is doing to give her child the very best start in life. The only exception being that my children are also being taught a very healthy indifference to needles.

November is Diabetes Awareness Month and 14th November is World Diabetes Day. Read about it at Diabetes UK. If anyone would like to chat about their experience with Diabetes, I'm always here with a cuppa. 

Jane, Mum to Bella (9), Jolie (7) and Connie (3)

 

Freaking out at 30

Sitting here reflecting on my life so far as a 30-year-old women. During the final years of my twenties, I felt dread and fear at the prospect of turning this mile stone age because I felt pressure from society that once that two becomes a three, you are expected to be fully ‘grown up’.

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To be completely sorted in a good job, a house, with kids, marriage, maybe throw in a pet hamster for good measure. Well, I had all of that, but I also put a lot of pressure on myself because I thought people expected me to have my shit together about it all! But what if I didn’t? What if I didn’t feel grown up at all? Did it mean that I was going to ‘fail’ in my 30’s?

So, I’m now 10 months into my first year of being a ‘grown up’ and oh boy it’s been one hell of a 10 months. I have felt fear, confusion, pride and a whole lot of mixed emotions I couldn’t possibly explain.  The 30-year mile stone was a catalyst. It made me open my eyes, made me scrutinise my life and most importantly realise what I really needed, wasn’t what I thought people expected of me. I made the biggest decision: to end my marriage of 7 years to a man I had known for 12. I realised we had out grown the relationship and each other. We cohabited, rather than sharing our lives.  Could I not have persevered? I was constantly asked, as if it was something I hadn’t considered. I thought about staying and plodding along. Hoping against hope it would one day work itself out. But I truly knew deep in my heart that it wasn’t what I wanted and turning 30 gave me the drive that I needed to make a clean break and fresh start. Not just for me but for my children too.

The feeling of fear and excitement hit me with full force once my marriage finally came to an end and my husband agreed to move out. Could I do this? Pay the bills? Be a one-man band parent? (Although their dad is still very much part of their lives.) Could I do all this on my own? Hell yes, why couldn’t I? I’m a 30-year-old-woman! Yes, it’s been tough and I’m tired a lot, but am I happier? YES. Because now I’m living for me and my children, doing what makes us happy as a family unit, living freely without the constant niggle ‘Am I truly happy?'

Then came along a man who changed everything. The “BF” and I had known each other for some time before we officially became a couple. Excitement spread through me as our relationship began. With my new outlook and a level head which I had developed over the time alone, I was able to approach the relationship differently. We connect in a completely new way for me. I felt something which I hadn’t felt in a very long time – butterflies! Was this teenage love at 30? Who knows, but one thing I do know is, it feels right for me, right now. We talk, have fun and work as a team. Merging two families isn’t simple, but I can’t wait to see what our future holds together. I know I am one very lucky girl.

If anyone reading this is feeling the utter dread of turning 30, I’d say don’t focus on the number! Ultimately, are you happy? Follow your heart and do what feels right, even if it can seem like the hardest road. Embrace every opportunity.  I now love being a fully-fledged 30 year old and as for becoming 31? Bring it on… 

Exploring The Future One Pebble At A Time.

Working from home has a range of gifts and not having the dreaded commute is one of the biggest gifts of all. Being able to start work a bit later than being forced to be at my desk at 9am means I do the school run's most mornings.

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It’s a simple thing, but something that before I quit my job six months ago just wouldn’t happen. On the main, I would be stuck in the traffic or being at my desk opening up a tonne of emails that had nothing to do with me.

Now it’s one of my favourite times of the day. I get to walk hand in hand, chase, run, scoot or ride my bike side by side with my son. We get to chat about the day, answer and ask questions about anything that has caught his attention.

We counted the number of sewers and drains in the pavement on our journey the other day. Well, I say counted, we got to 27 before Duke lost patience and decided that there were more than 37 million to come.  Did we need to know how many drains there are in a five-minute journey? No, but I love the way his mind works. I see this as an absolute privilege to have this time.

One of the other benefits is that I’ve started to make friends with some of the other mums and staff at the school.

They have welcomed me rather that looking at me like I’m a weirdo. Men at the school gate isn’t such a stand-out sight at is when I was a kid.

In the 70’s, dads in the playground were rarer than hens-teeth. The only other men we saw were the one’s in dirty rain mac’s that we were told to keep away from, and Charly says we shouldn’t speak to.

It was during one of these chat’s that I was handed a letter that said that parents were invited to help out on an upcoming school trip.

The trip location, the beach. So here’s the question, did I want to hang out with a load of 3 & 4 years old and have a rampage on the seaside? Well not rampage as such but help take the school to the beach. I was right, where do I sign?

Seeing how your kids interact with their classmates, it’s amazing. Just like when you go to work, you become a different person to the one you are when you at home. Would it be the same with your kids I wondered?

Inspired by the principles of the Forest School and the Kindergartens of Denmark/Norway. The team behind ‘Beach School’ have embarked on a project where the experiences are open-ended and allow the kids become more secure and confident.

According to the bumph – “Taking the kids out of the classroom and giving them the opportunity to revisit the same area of the beach over a four week period. This allows each child to develop their interests over several weeks.

We have observed over time that children seem to be more communicative and use more complex language when outdoors time. Parents are encouraged to accompany their children and to see how children benefit from experiential learning and how they play such a crucial role in supporting their child’s development”.  

So one morning last week off we set like a troop of small fireworks. Four ‘growed-ups’ and six of the nicest funniest little ‘Yet to growed -up’s’ all in matching waterproofs. The kids obviously, not the growed-up’s that would have been a bit weird. Although I was supplied a very fetching luminous jacket, that made me feel like someone with a great deal of responsibility. 

The next 2.5 hours were spent splashing, digging, giggling, paddling, exploring and dinosaur bone uncovering.

Pulling small welli-boots out of soggy sandpits, running, having fishing nets plonked on my head, jumping and having simply just a wonderful time.

Kids that age have an incredible imaginations, spirits and a sense of adventure that just spending time in their company makes the world a better place.

Dan, Dad to Duke (4)

www.dontbelievethehype.biz

#TotRockinBeats

Who is to blame for our children's lost waistlines?

I am angry about the Government Strategy for Childhood Obesity. Sure there are more tangible things for me to target my spite, but this just smacks of a government that is completely missing the point.

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In my opinion, our children are getting fatter because we have lost respect for food and mealtimes. The Government plan includes ‘challenging the food industry to cut 20% of sugar in children’s foods’ and a tax on soft drinks with added sugar to be introduced ‘by 2018’. A significant onus on already stretched primary schools offering some rudimentary Ofsted points and a couple of quid thrown at school breakfast clubs. That should do it.

What the Government has omitted from the strategy is any mandatory rules to force companies to hit lower sugar targets, banning junk food advertising before the watershed, banning the display of sweets at checkouts and limits on multi-buy deals of unhealthy foods. No hard line to big business. No long term vision that could enable a nation that is gorging on cheap, terrible food to change its path. Short termism, passing the buck to organisations unable to fight back. Cowardliness.

In my opinion, the issue lies very firmly with big business eroding our culture in the pursuit of greater profit. And we’re lapping it up.

They are feeding a culture of ‘why have less when I can have more?’ The brand leaders no longer need to innovate to keep ahead. They just need to squeeze their suppliers, give us bigger sizes, multi deals and BOGOFs and hey presto, they are increasing profit by taking more money from our pocket under the guise that we are getting a better deal. We are subject to fewer options on the shelves and cheap food subsidised with unnatural additives. Never mind what I am putting into my child’s body so long as I save £1.

Everything is supersizing. On a recent holiday to France I noticed how small the wine glasses and dinner plates were. After an initial panic - how I would consume my daily requirement? I actually enjoyed refilling. The food on my plate was more appetising in smaller quantities. It was all the more satisfying.

France has resolutely held onto its food culture. In the small mountainside village, Cabris we bought our bread at the bakery, meat at the butcher and I indulged in my favourite nail varnish at the independent pharmacy. In Paris there is a pharmacy on every corner, brimming with potions, lotions and gorgeousness. The nail varnish offered in a kaleidoscope of colours comes in a perfect compact size. It lasts forever and costs £5.

The French call us, ‘Le Rosbif' on account of our penchant for Roast Beef and Sunday lunch culture. On Sunday in Cabris, smartly dressed families filled the cafés and restaurants. We’d never seen the village so busy. Where are Le Rosbif on Sunday lunchtimes? According to my recent experience, queuing to enter our local retail park where Poundland, Home Bargains, Tesco Extra and Iceland Warehouse await to offer you supersize deals. How do I feel about this? Bloated.

This is my 10 point action plan for tackling childhood obesity and regaining some cultural pride. Some of it is in the Government’s power. A lot of it is in ours.

  1. Extend Sunday shop opening times around a compulsory closure between 12-2pm.
  2. Schools to provide a full 30 minutes at the lunch table. Please allow my children to savour their food and their friends. 
  3. A government funded communications campaign on portion sizes. It’s a fist size of each food group. How hard is that to communicate if we can all grasp ‘5-a-day’?
  4. Tax levies on ‘all you can eat’ outlets. For food hygiene purposes alone.
  5. Ban on cheap plastic gifts from fast food outlets, replaced with card games, conversation starters, fun facts, secrets. Stop churning people through in your pursuit of profit.
  6. Tax levies on all food manufacturers that encourage ‘eating on the go’. Breakfast bars are simply wrong.
  7. Compulsory use of the milkman. Let’s get back to our roots.
  8. Standardised and fair British milk and meat prices. Cheap milk and meat makes me angrier than the Childhood Obesity Strategy.
  9. Fines for anyone eating on public transport. I’ll leave this for another blog.  
  10. Tax relief for independent pharmacies and artisan food outlets opening on the high street. Mary Portas can’t actually do this on her own. 
School's out for summer

School’s out for Summer. This shouldn’t be a big surprise. It hasn’t crept up on us. The countdown to the Summer holidays began shortly after the May half term. For weeks now, my Mummy friends and I have been saying how we’re in “need of a break”.

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We’ve done the sports days (in the rain of course), the end of year awards afternoons and the school reports have been received. 

We’re ready for this, right?  Wrong.  The end of another school year still comes as somewhat of a shock.  For me and for the children.  The last day brings emotional goodbyes to teachers and friends at the school gate.  I could cry for my little girl, with tears brimming in her eyes as she hugs her teacher (who leaves the school this year) farewell.  I’m struck by what a profound impact teachers have on our children; nurturing them, inspiring them, helping them to be the best they can be.  That night, my daughter fell asleep with the picture of her class tucked beside her in bed.

I’m also struck by how another year could have passed so quickly.  The old adage is true, the years really do fly by and I’m reminded that each day must be treasured and enjoyed.  My eldest has now passed the half way point in her primary school years and it really seems only yesterday that she was starting reception.

And then the reality of the holidays hit.  The weeks stretch out ahead and I am filled with a sense of freedom coupled with a sense of fear.  No homework, no uniform and no alarm clock.  Phew.  There is fun to be had for sure.  There’s holidays, days out and activities planned - kayaking, horse riding and tennis to name but a few.  I’m sure holidays weren’t this much fun when we were young.

So why the sense of fear?  Where to start.  The house is already a mess and there’s more washing than ever before. The routine has gone and each day brings something different.  The constant juggle of work and children has picked up in intensity too. 

I remind myself though, that children can (and should) be bored.  They need days with nothing planned – it helps them to grow, develop, explore and open their imaginations. I know too, that come early September when we’re buying back to school uniforms and shoes and purchasing new pencil cases and pens, we’ll all be wondering where the holidays went.  So I’ve made a promise to myself to do something nice (but simple) with my girls each day I spend with them.  Yesterday, we learnt how to play draughts and today we’re going to have an ice cream in the park.  It’s the little things that count and help us to enjoy the long summer days (and holidays!). 

Lucy, Mum to Mae (8) and Nancy (6)

Vista Loves... Awards shortlists

Being shortlisted for the best Consumer Relations Campaign in the CIPR PRide Awards 2016. Bring on the awards dinner!

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Vista Loves...Wales National Football Team

Wales National Football Team for their belief and commitment. We all need a bit of this at the moment.

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A teenage 'social' life

Like all teenagers, I am surrounded daily by technology and I am an active user of social media accounts. To me, this is normal, but to my parents, the thought of sharing opinions, feelings and activities online with others scares them.

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It took a while for my parents to allow me to have social media accounts due to their fears, and when I was allowed accounts, they made sure to check the content I was posting, as well as my privacy settings. However, overtime their anxiety of social media has faded, and they understand that I know my boundaries on the internet and how to stay safe when on social media.  

 

I now have Snapchat, Instagram, Pinterest and Twitter accounts, however I have decided to avoid Facebook. Facebook has become part of a teenager’s social life, and I see my friends losing quality time with family and loved ones, due to their addiction to the site. Personally, I do not want to become so attached to a social media page. I would much rather live moments than see them through a screen, and I believe that Facebook can stop people from living life to the full.

 

My peers find it mind boggling to hear that I do not have Facebook. I am constantly questioned about it. It upsets me that a site has become essential to some of my friends’ daily routines and it hurts that sometimes I experience a communication barrier because of it. Although, some could argue that I am the one causing the barrier as Facebook is now the main source of communication for my generation. 

 

The definition of ‘friend’ is also a hot topic within our generation and our parents’. To me, a friend is someone you share qualities with and like. I believe that can be someone online or off. Even though I do not know a person face to face, I believe I can still admire their online selves and if they show positive qualities and we seem to share interests, I do not understand why we are not friends. I talk to people online daily. I learn about people from other cultures and their personal experiences and by doing this I build a relationship with them, making them my friend. To other generations, they cannot be my friend unless I have met them physically and that they are part of my life offline. But if someone is part of my life online, then gradually and safely overtime, they can become my friend offline too.  

 

Personally, I believe one of the biggest flaws of my generation is that we are willing to judge each other by the amount of likes we have on a photo or a tweet. This obsession has driven people to buy likes to appear more popular. This concerns me, as it shows that some feel so insecure that they have to lie to their own friends and followers on social media. Instagram fame is hugely popular and many feel they need it in their lives after seeing celebrities posting flawless selfies with over one million likes and thousands of lovely comments. This idea of perfection is growing all over the internet and it is harming those with no experience on social media, forming mental health issues and knocking people’s confidence. I believe that this is something social media sites need to address, helping to reduce the amount of photo shopped or edited images that go up on their sites. This can help the people of my generation and others realise that there is no perfect image to aspire to and that it is more important to be genuine and happy. These qualities will get you much further in life than fame and beauty.

 

Although social media has some negative aspects, for me these are insignificant due to the amount of help it has brought the world. Social media has created jobs and united people. Without social media, I would have lost contact with my friends when moving schools, but I could still communicate with them through Snapchat and I could still see what they were up to from the photos on their Instagram. I also used social media accounts to find new friends who were going to be at my new school. This helped me as I could begin to make important friendships before school. This allowed me to become more confident on my first day, making me feel more at ease in my new environment. Without social media, I believe I would have found the transition to a new school much harder, due to loss of old friendships and lack of new ones. 

 

In summary, I think it is important for all of us to understand the positives and negatives of social media sites. If we understand their flaws, we can fix them. We also need to narrow the generation gap that has formed. If older generations become more educated about social media, this will help them to understand my generation’s new way of living through it. They will then be in a better position to help protect us when using it.

 

Social media is not scary. Social media was created to help us, not to harm us. It is part of modern day living. By fearing it, you cause more harm than good. By embracing it, you can become more able to communicate with my generation.

 

Sophie aged 14.

Who was listening?

In an unprecedented move the country's leading ad agencies shared the creative 'Remain' executions that didn't make the grade. But does this just act to reinforce how out of touch London is from the rest of the UK? These ideas are bold but in some respects, quite jarring.

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In an unprecedented move the country's leading ad agencies shared the creative 'Remain' executions that didn't make the grade. But does this just act to reinforce how out of touch London is from the rest of the UK? These ideas are bold but tend to leave me a little cold. Would they have elicited the desired response?  http://www.campaignlive.co.uk/article/remain-campaign-ads-away/1400625?bulletin=campaign_brands_bulletin&utm_medium=EMAIL&utm_campaign=eNews%20Bulletin&utm_source=20160702&utm_content=

Parents carry huge influence within their own networks and are likely to have tussled more than most with this epic decision. Who was listening to them? Who understood their concerns? Hindsight is an exact science, but if we had been tasked to engage families, we would have fought fear with vision, telling the story of globalisation and how the hard fought democratic union protects their children. 

The parents in our networks who voted Leave worked hard to come to that decision. They are not racists or xenophobic. Concerns that came up time and again were over 'sovereignty' and 'bureaucracy'. Not so much immigration, or the economy.  Conversations bloomed, engaged and influenced. On June 23d many were still undecided, asking their networks what to do. It was at that point we anticipated the outcome. The Out response was palpable.

Look, I’m no ad guy. But, I’d have run a campaign projecting a bright future within the Union speaking directly to the segment of our society which is profoundly vested in a propserous future. Focusing on peace, the benefits of a stable economy on savings, the influence of the EU on sustainability, the governance the UK maintained on defence and public services that directly impact family life. 

In the uncertain times ahead, our families need reassurance. It’s families that will keep purchasing, keep talking and keep searching for answers. Families who voted ‘Out’ believe that it creates a brighter future for their children. While the London based Ad and PR agencies continue to lick their wounds and naval gaze at what went ‘wrong’, I think it’s about time the rest of us started to listen a bit better and do what we do best – reach out to communities in the regions and influence the current climate of fear in the media into something positive that the whole nation can get behind and hold onto.

Jane. Vista MD and mum to Bella (8), Jolie (7) and Connie (2)

Vista Loves... Meghan Trainor

Meghan Trainor for taking down her latest video after she realised it had been photoshopped. "My waist is not that teeny, I had a bomb waist that night, I don't know why they didn't like my waist." And for her use of the term 'a bomb'.

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The politics of school uniform

I’ve come to the conclusion there’s something wrong with the world. The problem; the school uniform that girls are expected to wear.

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This might sound like a hard hitting statement to make, but having watched my eldest daughter at play, I think school uniform limits physical play and reinforces unhelpful gender stereotypes.

This is something that has been on my mind since I took part in a panel discussion at the Women of the World Festival in London earlier this year. One of the participants was a nursery school teacher from Iceland who had also worked in the UK.

This individual remarked that gender stereotyping in the UK was dreadful and she didn’t like the school uniform girls were expected to wear. She elaborated by saying dresses and skirts are impractical for young girls who want to climb trees and take part in other physical activities.

It was a throwaway remark. Even so, it stuck in my mind.

Summer has arrived and the kids are spending more time playing outside. I can’t help feeling there’s something in the comment made by my Icelandic friend.

I watch my own daughter, Helen, run across her school playground or play football in knee high socks. If she were to trip and fall, she’d lose the skin from her knees. In fact, she is forever coming home with bumps and scrapes on her legs.

Like many of her friends, she also enjoys gymnastics. She’ll spend ages practicing hand stands and cartwheels. Needless to say, when she’s wearing her school uniform, her dress falls down round her shoulders. This may not be a huge issue for a seven-year-old, but in a year or two she’ll be much more self-conscious and I predict the gymnastics practice will only happen behind closed doors. The days of practicing in the park or the school playing field with friends will be lost, thanks to the antiquated school uniform girls are expected to wear.

Boys, in their trousers and shorts, have an edge when it comes to physical play. They’re much less likely to hurt themselves or reveal their underwear to the world.

In my experience of having two daughters, young girls are quite capable of enjoying physical play. My children enjoy sports, they enjoy using all the play equipment in parks and more than once I’ve had to rescue Helen from a tree she’s climbed up (thankfully she’s never got much further than waist height, I simply think her enthusiasm and curiosity means she doesn’t give much thought to getting down!). The uniform she and primary-aged girls from across the UK are expected to wear hardly encourages such endeavours.

Something else has also influenced my thinking. It’s a fascinating and rather brilliant book called Man Up, written by former BBC producer Rebecca Asher. In the book, Asher explores how boys are conditioned into becoming macho men, afraid (or sometimes unable) to express their feelings and the huge price society pays for this.

Much of this starts in the very earliest years when parents frequently and unconsciously give boys unhealthy messages about masculinity. In subsequent years, this is reinforced by the school system.

Turning Asher’s theory on its head, I can’t help feeling school uniform sends girls unhelpful messages about femininity. Expecting young girls, who are naturally curious about the world, to wear uniform that is impractical for exploring it seems daft. It unwittingly suggests to girls that physical activity is not for them.

Yes, okay, as is the case at most schools, my daughter is free to wear trousers if she wishes. As so few girls do, she simply refuses to wear them. The last time I suggested this to her, she simply looked at me as if I were completely insane.

I am all for school uniform. I think it is a great leveler. It may be different at secondary school, but at primary school you can’t tell the difference between those kids from wealthier and less privileged backgrounds. For us parents, it also saves so much hassle as we know what clothes to have ready Monday through to Friday.

I want school uniform to stay. I also think there is a very simple solution; give girls the option of wearing leggings. This would be much more practical and less limiting. Either that, or temporarily make trousers compulsory in all schools, then relax the rules and see how many girls remain in them. At least this way girls would have a choice and it would be a way of making it acceptable.

What do you think about girls’ school uniform? Is it too limiting? Does it send the wrong messages to youngsters?

Thank you to John Adams at dadbloguk.com for allowing us to share his blog. Visit http://dadbloguk.com/politics-school-uniform/ to leave a message about this blog and read more from John.

Me, a sandwich?

I think I was twenty something when I first heard the phrase “sandwich generation”. Living in London, busy climbing the corporate career ladder, with no children and no mortgage, I never really paid it a second thought. In fact, I pretty much dismissed it. I didn’t see the relevance at all - until now.

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I think I was twenty something when I first heard the phrase “sandwich generation”.  Living in London, busy climbing the corporate career ladder, with no children and no mortgage, I never really paid it a second thought.  In fact, I pretty much dismissed it.  I didn’t see the relevance at all - until now. Fast forward nearly a decade, there’s been a move out of London, the birth of my two daughters and soon our first family dog.  (The career’s been “on hold”.)

Family life is full on, relentless – but lots of fun.  The girls, now eight and six, as you’d expect, are long out of nappies and sleepless nights are a thing of the past.   Those newborn nights, terrible twos and first days of primary school are a distant memory.  The steriliser is now in the loft, the wiping of mouths and cleaning up high chairs is confined to history. 

So life with two growing girls is easier, right?  Er no.  These amazing little people we’ve created need and deserve our guidance, support and help in so many ways.  Ways that never really occur to you or that you couldn’t possibly imagine when you’re busy nursing and nurturing your newborn.  The responsibility is enormous – empowering in many ways (we are, after all, helping our children to shape and create their own futures) but so daunting too.  I’m sure with unfailing love, an unrelenting focus on trying to do right by them and a measure of good luck, we’ll be alright.

Yet at the same time, the backdrop to life is changing.  (Here comes the sandwich part).  My parents, once the bedrock of our family life, the people I turned to whenever there was a worry, are now mostly something to protect and shield from the chaos of modern family life.  If I need them, they would be here like a shot but actually, I sort of feel like this is their time and I now need to stand on my own two feet.  They’ve been there, done that and they now deserve to enjoy the best bits of life.  My parents also though, now turn to me for support and guidance – how to work the digital camera, catch up on Sky or view the latest family photos on Facebook.  This is just the start.  With the passing of time, I know too, that they will need my help with the inevitable health issues that the advancing years will bring (and I’ll be there like a shot for them). 

And so begins the constant tug of war, between caring for our offspring and our parents.  I’m not moaning – I wouldn’t have it any other way.  Having children is a privilege and seeing my parents enjoying them, is very special, a gift.  But sometimes, just sometimes, in a rare selfish moment, I find myself saying “I’m here.  Me.  A person.”  So I grab that five minutes, take that long bath, drink that extra glass of white wine and force myself to go out when I feel too tired to move.  Or I know I’ll find myself so sandwiched between my nearest and dearest that I haven’t got room to be me.  

Lucy, Mum to Mae (8) and Nancy (6) 

Vista Loves... Curvy Barbie

Well done Mattel for finally creating a curvy, tall and petit Barbie with varied skin tones, to "offer girls choices that are more reflective of the world they see today". Just why did it take you so long?

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Secondary Infertility: The silent sadness.

Sitting across from Emma, her sense of loss fills the room. As a fertility expert this isn’t an uncommon experience, only Emma’s need isn’t for a much loved first baby. It’s for a third.

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Emma contacted me after trying for 18 months, having fallen pregnant easily with her first two children. Fast approaching 40 and her GP having told her there were no investigative options available to her, a friend suggested exploring alternative routes.

Secondary infertility accounts for 60 percent of infertility cases. During this National Fertility Week 2015, I want to raise awareness of this very real condition that is rarely discussed.

Feelings of frustration and anxiety are enhanced when you are not falling pregnant, and you know you are not infertile. Friends and family will glibly ask when the next one is coming along and first children will grow old enough to ask why they don’t have a sibling. Many parents in this situation will suffer in silence, focusing attention on their precious only child, while harboring grief at the loss of another, sometimes for the rest of their lives.

Secondary infertility is diagnosed when a couple has already had a baby without medical support, has been trying to conceive again for one year when the woman is under 35, or 6 months when the woman is over 35. Causes of secondary infertility vary, but there are a number of factors that may be at play. As a woman ages, her egg quantity and quality will decrease, which will also increase the chance of miscarriage. Endometriosis or prior abdominal surgery, such as a previous caesarean-section may cause pelvic adhesions which can may make it difficult for the egg to be picked up by the fallopian tube.

Weight can also have an impact on the ability to conceive.  Excessive weight gain can cause the ovaries to dysfunction and over-produce testosterone. In men, excessive weight gain can have the converse effect, by increasing estrogen levels which will negatively impact sperm production.

Age will also have an effect on a man’s sperm quality and quantity. A semen analysis is one of the initial procedures in any infertility evaluation.

Finally, smoking cigarettes can significantly impair the ability to conceive for both the man and the woman.

Couples, especially women will find many ways to blame themselves when things don’t go as planned. Whatever the underlying causes, talking with a specialist is the best way to untangle the web of information and emotion - including the helpful “advice” from friends and family.

Some might think that Emma was ‘greedy’ to want three children, but this precious third was the family she had always dreamed of. In Emma’s case, I suspected a cocktail of high stress, pelvic adhesions from two previous caesarean sections and anxiety was getting in the way of conception. For four months I carried out de-stressing acupuncture treatments and on the fifth month she fell pregnant.

The solution is not always this easy, but what this story does tell us, is how important it is to not suffer in silence and to seek help from a fertility professional as soon as you feel that you might be experiencing a problem. There are solutions and once you have connected, you can work together to evaluate any issues and be set on a path toward creating the family you have always dreamed of.  

Jacqueline Hurst, mum and acupuncturist, counsellor and psychotherapist specialising in fertility from www.fertility-support.co.uk

Team Wardrobe to help refugees

Back in September 2015, it was the body of a small boy, washed up on a Turkish beach, that made me really sit up and take notice of the refugee crisis. As a mother of 2 boys, who are now 17 and 12, I was cut to the heart when I saw the news reports. I felt compelled to do something about it, so I did.

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Back in September 2015, it was the body of a small boy, washed up on a Turkish beach, that made me really sit up and take notice of the refugee crisis. As a mother of 2 boys, who are now 17 and 12, I was cut to the heart when I saw the news reports. I felt compelled to do something about it, so I did. 

What started as a small collection of aid, snowballed into a lorry load being s

ent out to the refugees on the Greek Macedonia border in December 2015. Now a team is going out at the end of January to distribute the much needed clothes that were sent. This is the story of how it all happened. 

Having decided that I needed to take some action, I looked around to see if anyone was doing anything. Local resident Charlotte Pickwick had already made links with a group in West Haddon, called ‘Dare to Care’ (formerly Care without Borders). This small group is run by Gary and Carol Kennedy and they have been shipping out boxes of clothing/shoes and other supplies to the refugees since a trip to Calais in the summer.

Charlotte put a shout out to friends via Facebook Group BGG and donations came flooding in. Together with another number of volunteers, they delivered the aid to their ‘summer house’ and packed 42 boxes, which were shipped to Greece the next day.

After seeing how things were done at Dare to Care, I decided that this should be possible in Brackley and got some donations together. A team of people came to help and together we shipped 28 large boxes to the refugees in Macedonia from Brackley.

However, I felt it was all too small compared to the thousands that needed help. I was not satisfied with sending just a few boxes and started planning to send a lorry full of aid this time.

Having learnt a little about fundraising and international shipping, I set about organising the practicalities first. I researched how to pack and stack the goods and discovered that ‘Banana Boxes’ were in plentiful supply from the supermarkets and they were the perfect size to lift, as well as being free of charge. So we collected those boxes from Tesco and Waitrose every day for weeks on end - thank you Jo Joanne Brice and Julia Noble. Jane Kille and Maria Robbins also came on board to help me organise this massive endeavour. Local warehousing was kindly provided by Adam Neivens at Set Aside Storage Ltd - Thanks Adam!!

Once the warehouse was secured, we were ready to get some pallets, so I decided to ask around on the BGG Facebook group and was offered 52 pallets by DHL, who delivered them to the warehouse free of charge the next day. We also were donated all the bulk bags we needed by Bagforce.

The Source Church, of which I am part, were fantastic in supporting the project and agreed to handle all the monitary donation and contributions for the project. We tentatively put out a request for financial donations and raised over £2500 in one week!

Once everything was in place, we opened the doors to donations, which started with enough to pack about 80 boxes and bags.

Like a snowball, the support for the project continued to grow, as did the piles of donations. We had many groups deliver large amounts of collections to us, including a delivery from the staff at ITV Shiver in London and a group from Corby sent a horsebox filled with donations.

We were also very grateful that Magdalen College School came alongside us to support the collection. They kindly opened their doors to donations for nearly 3 weeks, allowing us to get urgently needed small and medium sized clothing.

I realised very quickly that we were collecting many shoes, but we really needed more socks, so I also organised an online fundraiser to get more socks. We raised enough money to buy 1752 pairs of socks.

By the last collection day, which took place at the end of November, the size of the donated goods had grown considerably; as you can see from the picture below!! Many local people came and helped me sort and pack it all. I am very grateful for all the help I received!! 

In the end, we sent 759 coats, 250 blankets and sleeping bags, over 1000 pairs of shoes and over 2000 pairs of socks – plus 238 boxes of clothes and many toiletries and nappies. All in all we sent 18 pallets filled with aid. 

Through a link with Councillor Luke Ross from Brackley, we managed to link with a fantastic haulier called New Eurolines from Daventry, who handled the transport to Thessaloniki for us.

The shipment went to ARSIS, which is a Greek NGO who work with asylum seekers and homeless young people in Greece. They work together with ‘Save the Children’ at Eidomine – which a transit camp on the border of Greece and Macedonia.

If this story has inspired you and you would like to donate then please head to http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/fundraiser-web/fundraiser/showFundraiserProfilePage.action?userUrl=wardrobe&isTeam=true

Vista Loves...ReThink

ReThink, the free app that filters the context of a message to detect when a user is about to post something offensive on social media. It then prompts them to reconsider. Apparently the willingness of an average adolescent to post an offensive message drops from 71% to 4% when they use ReThink.

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Hysterectomy: the end of new beginnings or life begins again?

Placing my head in the sand has always been somewhat of a coping mechanism for me. Knowing I needed a hysterectomy was just that.

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Placing my head in the sand has always been somewhat of a coping mechanism for me.  Knowing I needed a hysterectomy was just that.  Having had gynaecological problems since my mid-twenties, being told I’d struggle to have babies, then having three gorgeous and healthy children (albeit with awful pregnancies and risks) and along the way having numerous myomectomies and hysteroscopies, I knew it was inevitable. 

Eventually, aged 43, I went to see my specialist thinking I would have a least another 12 months to make THE decision, only to find out that I needed to be admitted on Monday, with my appointment on the Thursday.  In a slight state of shock, I began to organise childcare to help my husband whilst I was away in London for a few days.

The operation was successful and I recovered fairly sharpish, wanting to get back to my children and husband the main motivator to ‘get up and get on’. Hindsight tells me I probably should have taken it a little easier in those first few weeks, but anyone who knows me would understand sitting still is extremely hard for me!  That said I did have moments when I had to have a word with myself to rest and take it easy.  I have an extremely supportive (and patient!) husband, amazing friends and family who were fantastic during my recovery and beyond.

Looking back, the biggest regret I have is not explaining properly to my seven year old daughter what I had been through.  All she knew was that mummy had to go into hospital for an operation on her tummy and that she couldn’t do anything once home, not in the least pick up and cuddle her children.  Who knew my daughter would associate the operation with eating food and thus became scared and refuse to eat anything in case she “needed to have an operation like mummy”.   My poor, gorgeous little girl worrying herself sick in silence was heart-breaking and will make me consider how I communicate with my children in the future.

Now, I feel great and my quality of life has most definitely improved. Each month I still wait for the dreaded, painful, debilitating days of doom - but they never come.  Clearing out my cupboard of all my luxury ‘female’ goods was wonderfully cathartic and liberating. 

People have asked me if I feel ‘less of a woman’, absolutely not.  I am more of a woman and mummy now as I am 100 per cent able 100 per cent of the time.

Helen, Mum to Eve (7), George (4) and Liv (1)

Vista Loves... Benetton

For the work they are doing with the United Nations, pushing for equality by empowering women worldwide.The money from sales of this orange dress will be donated to UN Women, which is the United Nation’s agency promoting gender equality.

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RIP Mr Bunny.

I offended another mum the other day. It was unintentional. But, to be on the safe side, I think I should set the scene before I reveal the shocking statement. Err, no hang on. I’m just going to come out with it.

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I offended another mum the other day. It was unintentional. But, to be on the safe side, I think I should set the scene before I reveal the shocking statement. Err, no hang on. I’m just going to come out with it.

THE EASTER BUNNY DOES NOT EXIST PEOPLE. IT’S A RUSE TO GET US TO STUFF EVEN MORE CHOCOLATE INTO OUR CHILDREN’S FACES. AND LET ME BE TOTALLY FRANK ABOUT THIS. IT ISN’T CUTE. A LIFESIZE BUNNY LEAVING CHOCOLATE DROPPINGS AROUND MY GARDEN FOR MY CHILDREN TO HUNT OUT AND EAT IS A DISGUSTING PREMISE.

Actually, I didn‘t go quite that far. But, I think you get my gist? So, here’s the backdrop.

Our children were excitedly trick or treating around a chocolate-box Oxfordshire village. The willing residents had dutifully placed lit pumpkins outside their homes, thus welcoming sprawls of local children to fleece them of sweet treats. As we don’t live in this village, my own children had never met any of these people before. It didn’t stop them from enquiring at each house, ‘Two?’.

Towards the end of our walk, I waited till the children were out of ear shot and explained to the attending parents that when my oldest child (8) had asked if the Easter Bunny was real, I replied ‘No, it’s a character made-up by Americans’.

My 8 year old, who couldn’t care less if the Bunny is real or not, so long as the chocolate still arrives took this statement of fact right on the chin. The mum I said it to, didn’t. With a stern face of fierce defiance and with a warning shot and hushed tone she declared, ‘Well, in our house he does exist.’

Right. Don’t get me wrong. I love chocolate and fairy stories. I’m all over Father Christmas and the Tooth Fairy, batting those questions right out of the park.  But, in a world of increasing childhood obesity, cheap mass produced food and our taste buds craving more and more sugar, I don’t welcome a ‘cutesy’ character that has been created for no other reason than to pour mountains of cheap calories into our children’s bodies.

The reason I made the statement in the first place was my slight discomfort at the teeming buckets of treats that my children had hoodwinked from the kind villagers. The point I was planning to make was that my children are incredulous to two chocolate-based facts: 1. That we didn’t trick or treat when we were little and 2. That we only received ONE chocolate egg for Easter from our parents. ONE. And we made that last till Christmas.

After I made the offending Easter Bunny statement, my sister standing next to me quizzed, ‘So how do you explain Jack Frost?’. I just stared at her blankly. This conversation was not going my way. 

Jane, mum to Bella (8), Jolie, (6) and Connie (2)

Vista Loves... the doctors at GOSH

The doctors at Great Ormond Street who used gene-modifying therapy on little Layla Richards after she failed to respond to any other treatment for her acute lymphoblastic leukaemia. The ‘designer’ cells attacked the effected cells and Layla is now free of the disease and recovering at home. Sending all our love and best wishes to brave little Layla and her family.

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Can someone pass the mummy handbook?

There is only 4 years between my two children. Never has the difference been so acute as now, with a 12 year old girl at secondary school and an 8 year old boy in year 4.

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There is only 4 years between my two children. Never has the difference been so acute as now, with a 12 year old girl at secondary school and an 8 year old boy in year 4.

Nothing could have prepared me for the change in my little girl since she started secondary school – least of all the new languages I would have to grasp. Her vocabulary has diminished into abbreviations. IMO, OH and LOL, are now a big part of my every day. To spare her impressionable brother, we have developed a ‘girls things’ code when in the house.

Her first (and shortly afterwards) ex-boyfriend came for tea and, thanks to the mobile phone we ‘had to’ buy for her birthday, she experienced such a venomous text message break-up that we decided to involve her school teacher and his parents. Her first detention (again communicated by text) has sealed her passage into adolescence.

I became a mum at 17 and I struggled to deal with being ‘grown-up’ enough for the responsibility. Now I feel the same sensation at 29, bringing up a teenager. This feeling is magnified by the currently cavernous 4 year age gap. I seem to have developed a split personality, as I manage the very different needs of my children.

At 3pm, I’m tripping over Lego pieces, high fiving, munching biscuits, googling the Star Wars trailer and playing football outside with my little boy. An hour later I’m debating who’s hot, bra sizes, periods and spot creams with my not so little girl.

At 29, I’ve just started to feel old enough to be ‘a mummy’, but now I need to figure out how I can also be my little girl’s friend. However, this is where I reckon my age puts me at an advantage. I might actually manage to achieve it.

Kay, mum to Courteney (12) and Harvey (8)

I don't follow a diet

I don't follow a diet. I don't talk about weight and I don't really watch what I eat. I do, however, make a positive choice to eat "clean".

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The supermarkets are packed full of ready meals, microwave dinners and convenience foods.  I avoid them. I basically don't eat processed foods - by this I mean I don't buy food in packets or jars and I avoid refined sugar.  Instead I try to eat whole foods, foods that haven't been tampered with in manufacturing plants, such as fruit, vegetables, meat, fish and whole grains.

We have two young daughters. We like them to eat healthily too but more importantly we want them to grow up having a healthy relationship with food. So I don't obsess about my choice to eat this way, I don't force it on the rest of the family and I don't normally broadcast it.  Our girls are unaware of the choices I have made regarding food.

Our girls eat what they want, they enjoy what they eat - it just happens to be mostly "clean".  They have all the usual family favourites - hot dogs (we use "proper" sausages), spag bol (with a sauce made from scratch), burgers (made at home).  It takes a little more time but is surprisingly cost effective and very tasty!

Our girls eat sugar too - ice cream on a summer's day, chocolate as a treat, birthday cake, popcorn at the cinema, dessert after dinner.  The list goes on - and so it should! Children must be children and sweet treats (in moderation) are part of growing up.  I don’t have a problem with this. 

I do however, find it problematic when friends, who have very different viewpoints on food and especially sugar, make me feel guilty for the choices we make.  We have friends who continually tempt our girls with sugar fixes when we're in their company. On a recent play date and in the space of a few hours, one friend offered our girls juice, sweets, cakes, biscuits and pastries before lunch!  The girls have their fair share of these things - we work out together what's reasonable and then politely say "no thank you" to the rest.  It's done in a no-fuss way and the girls are always comfortable with this.  Interestingly, it's often other mums who aren't so comfortable and act as though I'm depriving my children in some way.  I don't judge other mums for the food choices they make with their children - I just wish they could do the same in return.

Lucy, mum to Nancy (7) and Mae (6)

Vista loves... Sandy

Sandy, the grandmother from Devon who runs the Izzy Dix anti-bullying online support group. Set up in memory of the 14-year-old who took her life in 2013. We salute you Sandy.

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There but for the grace of God

On this day, four years ago, my two-and-a-half year old daughter was in the High Dependency Unit at the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford.

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During the previous 48 hours she had become increasingly and very suddenly ill. Her temperature soared, her stomach was expanding and at the point they moved her to HDU she was semi-comatose on an intravenous drip of Clindamycin, usually reserved for MRSA patients. The doctor counselled us that they feared she had contracted necrotising fasciitis in her stomach lining, and advised us not to go home and Google it.

Doped on a mixture of 4 hours sleep in 48 hours, hospital coffee and panic, I cried. All the time. I cried at the kindness of the nurses, as the doctor approached her bed, and when my mum walked into the unit having flown home early from a holiday abroad. I stumbled over her date of birth four times before getting it right, as they wheeled her into theatre.

Then, the paediatric plastic surgeon arrived. The team had delayed surgery until he was available, due to the complexity of muscle which required his specific expertise. The room hushed and I felt a huge sense of relief as he approached her bed and listened intently to his team. He approached me, looked straight into my eyes and shook my hand. He didn’t blind me with science, Latin terms, relative success statistics or professional theories. He told me he was a father, that he would do his very best for my little girl and parted with the words, ‘There, but for the grace of God, go my children’*.

It was this encounter that enabled me to sign my name at the bottom of a contract permitting the surgeons to cut away and remove any part of her that had become infected. It was this encounter that enabled me to pass the next two hours without going out of my mind.

We were lucky. It was a straight forward streptococcus infection that had manifested in her stomach lining. Two weeks later she was home and today she has a small 4cm scar on her tummy. My husband jokes about how old she will be before she comes home with a tattoo around it.

But I was left with this enduring feeling about parenthood. Even though this man was a complete stranger, he connected to me over the complete devoted love we feel for our children. One week later I wrote the business plan for Vista. A communications company, helping businesses to communicate with parents in a compassionate, empathetic and authentic way. We run flexible working hours around our family’s needs and every member of the team has an extra day holiday each year, dedicated to doing something special with their family. For the parents in the team, if our children are ill, they come first. We all step in to support each other, knowing that every one of us is juggling and time challenged, but above all, highly driven to provide for these little people we have brought into the world.

Jane, mum to Bella 7, Jolie 6 and Connie, 1

* A proverb in recognition that others’ misfortune could be your own

Vista loves... Katie Cutler

Katie Cutler, the beautician who set up a fundraising page for Alan Barnes, aged 67. She has never met Alan. He was knocked over outside his home and has been left too frightened to return.

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Katie hoped to raise £500. The total has just passed £300,000. We love you Katie. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-tyne-31072658

Photo courtesy of bbc.co.uk

Loss, friendship, love

Becoming a single mum of three young children at the age of 42 wasn’t my idea of fun. It wasn’t my choice; I didn’t see it coming and since I have no family living within 250 miles….it was a culture shock to say the least.

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Debates aside about the relative merits and disadvantages of starting a family at 35 years of age (that’s a whole different blog), my last child wasn’t planned.

She’s an adorable bundle of mischief – funny, clever, cheeky and a typically independent, wilful third child. She arrived as if by magic shortly after my 41st birthday. My husband left us 11 months later. I’m now 15 months into single parenthood…and wow…what a difference a year makes.

This isn’t intended to be in any way an inspirational little story…but to coin a hackneyed phrase…’if I can do it, anyone can.’ Those first few months were horrific. I’d just helped nurse my father through terminal cancer; we’d moved house a month after the funeral and I was dealing with the demands of a young baby, a truculent toddler of three and a seven year-old who was devastated by the loss of a beloved grandfather and father in a matter of months. I didn’t sleep for weeks. I trembled with panic and anxiety about how I would cope alone. I lost a lot of weight in a very short space of time, (‘silver linings’ – although I wouldn’t advocate doing it with such speed or by such a method). In brief, I was a mess and the only thing that kept me functional was my children’s need for consistency, stability and love.

During these months (and subsequently), it was the conviction that above all else, these little people needed me to be strong, imperturbable and ‘rock-like’ that got me through this terrible time. However, it would still have been impossible to move forward without the unerring support, help, guidance and occasional shoulder to sob upon (and I mean sob….snot, tears and keening), of good friends and family. They made it possible for me to start to reconcile my feelings of loss, to find clarity of thought amidst the fog of emotion and start to focus on formulating ‘The Plan.’

I’ve also managed to regain my sense of humour to some degree. Don’t get me wrong, dinner-time in my house is still and unutterable trauma to be endured rather than enjoyed (some days it borders on tolerable); but I can now at least giggle when my youngest throws spaghetti at her brother with wilful glee and he returns the gift with greater accuracy and flourish using his home-made catapult. I can smile when Eliza asks for ‘pop-cock’ (popcorn) or the eldest does a perfect rendition of Verrucca Salt (c.f. Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory). If all else fails, she’ll keep me in the manner I’d like to become accustomed to by dint of her hugely successful reality TV career. Humour saves the day a lot in my house.

I’ve realised I have resources beyond those imagined too. Patience has never been my forte, but it can be learned. Wine helps occasionally with this. Organisation is a must and can be self-taught too. You can’t ever ‘pop to the shop’ again. If I need to pick up a pint of milk,it involves a twenty-minute pre-run of hats, gloves, coasts, shoes, car seatbelt tantrums, demands for ‘Bunny,’ ‘Blankie’ and a banana. So be prepared. Dib, dib, dib. I’m also now reasonably proficient at a fair few of the traditionally ‘male’ household jobs, although programming the TV will always and forever be anathema to me.

Above all else, I’m the lucky one and I know it. I see my children every day. I soothe away their tears, tend to their bloody knees and wipe their noses. I play hide and seek with them, spend hours making space-ships out of toilet rolls and revel in their cuddles and those three special words, ‘I love you.’ Whatever the trade-off was for my husband, he has lost something very precious. Poor guy. Separation and divorce is hard for everyone, but working together to ensure the children are as protected as possible is paramount.

Jeanette
Lilia (8), Tristan (4) and Eliza (2)

36 days as an inmate

I am typing this while holding my tiny baby. She’s five weeks old and still only 4lbs 8 oz. But this blog isn’t about her total amazingness, the reason for her size, the gory details of my delivery, or imparting wisdom on having a premature baby in special care.

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This blog is about my journey with the many amazing people at the John Radcliffe hospital who stepped in to ensure the safe delivery of my tiny baby when things got tough.

Racking up thousands of pounds worth of care, I received weekly scans and one-to-one appointments with spectacularly clever obstetricians, whose no nonsense expertise balanced with sensitivity. Once I was admitted, 10 days before delivery, the day-to-night monitoring was transferred to the midwifery team who accelerated the emotional support. Explaining every test result, answering my copious questions patiently, making midnight toast deliveries and turning a blind eye to an early Sunday break-out for a fry up with my partner-in-crime in bed 2. When the doctors told me the placenta might abrupt, it was the midwives who held my hand and told me they would save me and my baby should this happen, whatever time of day or night. ‘There is always a theatre and always an anaesthetist and you have no idea how fast we run if you hit the emergency bell’ were the words that comforted me that night.

I experienced many things that fuel our concerns about the NHS. A scan with a doctor who’d had only three hours sleep, avid cleaning and MRSA swabs, and truly bad food. But what I also witnessed were patients who spoke with contempt to the staff, bucked the rules of the ward and complained in private about the care. At no point did I witness a doctor or a midwife treat any of these patients with the same contempt. It must be accepted as part of the job. But it isn’t acceptable.

Once my baby was in HDU, the care accelerated once again to specialist paediatric teams who carried out hourly observations and treated her with a love and commitment usually reserved for parents. When transferred from high dependency to the SCBU unit at our local Horton Hospital in Banbury, I was welcome to stay 24 hours a day and encouraged to lead the care of my baby with total support and encouragement from the nursing staff. Now at home, I’m receiving weekly visits from the community nurses and daily calls from the breastfeeding support team.

We all know that the NHS is broke, but I won’t hear its endless bashing. It is an incredible institution which is free. Without these dedicated individuals, I certainly wouldn’t have had such a happy ending and for that I will be eternally grateful.

Jane
Bella (6), Jolie (4), and Connie (1 month)

The summer birthday debate

Our first child she was born on 24th July at 7.27 after a long early induction that ended in a caesarean for various reasons that no-one needs to read about here. She was tiny, weighing 5lb 14.5 oz (the 0.5 is very important!).

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She was induced early due to my medical complications and clearly was in no mood to be forced out. Her due date had been 6th August. 

She’s now nearly six, tall for her age and thriving. But, when she started school nearly two years ago, when she had just turned four, there was a palpable difference between her development and maturity and those of the other children in her class with Autumn and Winter birthdays. Socially she is fine and she works hard so is learning at the same rate as her peers but I welcome the report announced today, debating whether children with August birthdays should be given boosted exam marks.

I wouldn’t class myself as a pushy parent and admittedly both my husband and I put more emphasis on sports and extra-curricular activities than academic studies – certainly at this young age. I don’t think I’m looking for a quick cheat to boost her results, and obviously every child is different. Some will excel and others will struggle regardless of age or date of birth, but I do think it’s a lot to expect a child to develop their maturity at a faster rate, while keeping up academically and physically. By the time she sits her GCSEs she will have had 11 months less time than some of her peers, to prepare for the first significant academic challenge of her life. My cousin’s son who has a late July birthday, is just about to sit his GCSE’s and the family believe he is at a disadvantage due to his age.

My second daughter who has a December birthday will start school in September. She is already mentally prepared for school. She is one of the oldest in her playgroup, which you can see already gives her an advantage over the other younger children. She already feels, and acts like top dog.

My third child is due on 12th September and currently looking to be another small baby. At my 12 week dating scan there was some discussion over the validity of this due date but it was decided not to push it back. I have already had a frank discussion with the obstetrician, who expected to induce me again at the 38 week mark. This would put the birth date back to 29th August. Effectively bringing another small baby, into the world two weeks earlier than nature intends and potential even sooner, if the dating scan results had been recorded. The result of this action could have massive repercussions on this little person’s life and as its mother I am not prepared to let that happen. I’ve heard all the arguments about a baby being full term at 37 weeks (so why in France is it 42 weeks?), but with my personal experience of two early inductions when I felt that neither baby was ready to come, I am not prepared to do that to a third. Fortunately, in this day and age, an obstetrician will listen to the mother. As long as I am fit and healthy and the baby is in no danger, we have agreed that the induction can happen within the 38th week. This will push the birth date into early September. I believe that this will be best birthday gift I will ever give it.

Jane
Bella (5) and Jolie (4)

The weekly swimathon

Taking my kids to swimming lessons must be one of the most stress inducing activities I do with my kids. (now that they are too old for soft play…)

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Determined to sweat out this after-school endurance test, I recently signed up my youngest child to the optimistically named ‘Swim Academy’ with the mild hope that having all three boys in the pool at the same time would offer a precious 28 minutes of seated iPhone/daydreaming activity, before changing room hell. No chance…. Have you ever tried trying to get three kids at three different swimming abilities into the water at the same time? Then, 10 minutes in, one of them will almost certainly require a wet bottomed loo break, missing the vital few minutes where the teacher scans her checklist to assess which child that week is ready to move up to the next level. Then there’s Other People’s Children to contend with. Racing like rubber headed ducks around the viewing area, making sure you don’t for one minute forget that it is only a matter of minutes before your little charges will be back and requiring showers, changing, driving home, tea, homework, stories and bed, before finally it’s time to empty the swimming bag of sticky, chlorine infused swim hats and sodden towels.

At least it’s a good diet aid. I estimate I lose at least 2 pounds per session, and that’s just during the bit where you have to match shoe to owner in the crowded, narrow entrance way…buggies tripping over Start-rites, slipping over discarded verruca socks, while a long haired child in angry bird pyjamas increases the humidity levels one hundred fold by turning on the hair dryer.

It is the only time in my life where I feel a quick Prozac upon leaving the house would be beneficial.

Now don’t get me wrong, the value of learning to swim is obvious, but I do wonder, as I watch my 8 year old trying to master the Butterfly, whether or not, after the ‘won’t drown’ stage has been completed, it is time to hang up the hat and find a large green field and something round to kick instead.

Rachel

Jack (7), Finley (5) and Archie (4)

Choose life... and work... a dad's perspective

There is much talk and wringing of hands on the subject of ‘work life balance’ – the name itself reveals our true feeling on the subject. You are either at work or you have a life. The ideal ‘balance’ for most appears to be weighted heavily away from ‘work’.

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Add children into this metaphorical balancing act and the desire to focus on ‘life’ can be even stronger for many reasons. The old and the wise, the grandparents, will tell you that a simple way to reduce the need to work is to spend less: “you’re only chained to your desk because you need to pay for the second car, the third holiday and the fourth TV. In our day Dad went to work and Mum stayed at home.”

The stereotypical family dynamics of Dad at work and Mum running the house doesn’t appeal in our household, simply because Mum would like a life outside of the home thank you very much and Dad would like to see the children awake.

However, we’ve recently found ourselves both working part time, and almost by accident, it seems to have made the balance about right between ‘work’ and ‘life’, with both of us parents able to earn enough to pay the bills and have more time for family life. The conflict between who has it hardest – the worker or the stay-at-homer is also over as we both do both.

Perhaps this way of tackling the work life balance will grow in popularity – and could no doubt be helped on its way if the economy continues as it has done in recent years…

Stuart

Isobel (8) and Isaac (5)

Facebook - not for this mum!

Am I a social outcast because I am not on Facebook? Perhaps. Considering that social media has become a beacon of support for mums, and Facebook, as the pioneer for social is now a major marketing strategy for the world’s leading brands, I know I really should get in on the action.

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Or, am I one of an elite club who decided to leave the juvenile behaviour or ‘liking’ and ‘unliking’ people to their face, at the school gates? I had enough of friend dramas in my 16 years at an all-girls school to last me a lifetime.

Let’s not forget, Facebook was created by a teenage loner who wanted to be more popular with girls. It has morphed into an acceptable social norm, where at best grown adults share far too much (mostly inane) information and at worst, try to create a more popular, witty and busy image of themselves in order to re-write or ‘correct’ the shortfalls of their youth. Teenagers bully and try to out-do each other and prove their popularity with outrageous updates, creating a self-styled fictional image of themselves (we only had push-up bras and fake ID in my day). More sinister, it’s a place where lonely people are encouraged to feel even more lonely and we all become voyeuristic, silent commentators on other people’s lives. It inspires back stabbing in private. I listen to friends moaning about other friends who incessantly update Facebook with notes of what they had for breakfast, and ‘checking in’.

Do I want to know the daily whereabouts of someone I chose not to stay in touch with 20 years ago? But social etiquette requires that I don’t unfriend them (again) so as not to hurt their feelings. I hear about one mum at my child’s school who ‘friends’ and ‘unfriends’* as her mood changes. A public display of her own personal issues. Where she believes she is taking control, conversely, it demonstrates to everyone else that she is a little unhinged.

Why am I not on Facebook? I’m not clever enough to have figured out that it would magnify our deepest insecurities. I just measured up why I would use it and decided it wasn’t for me. I have an innate desire for privacy. I like to maintain my friendships without 150 people watching. I know people gossip, but I’d prefer not to publicly encourage it. I don’t want my life, or my children’s life to play out on a computer screen where I can’t control who is tracking our progress. I’m not lonely. I definitely don’t want to be friends again with people I knew, and happily left behind at school. I don’t want to be back in touch with ex-boyfriends, I have no desire for elicit flirtations, to see who they married, or watch them get old and fat.

I know I am in the minority and I know that many millions of people (and my wonderful friends!) think that Facebook is a source for good. But, to my mind, Facebook exposes the insecurities of human nature, our vulnerabilities and our visceral desire to be part of a pack. That’s why it is so successful and addictive. It petrifies me that in a few years-time my children will want to be part of it.

*Apologies for any misuse of Facebook terminology. Ironically, a public display of my personal ineptness about the platform.

VistaMum

Harriet (8) and Oscar (5)

Is this the future of schooling?

iPads are influencing the classroom… A sustainable solution and improved experience for teachers and pupils? Or are we missing out on physical records of our children’s development? It would make room in the attic!

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My way or the highway

A couple of years ago, a friend came to stay with her three children. Catering for three 18 month olds and two 3 year olds, I diversified from the usual spag bol / fish finger favourites and created a pretty disgusting looking tuna / mash potato / broccoli concoction.

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The eldest of the group refused to touch it, so her mum asked me if she could have something else. I declined.

This was awkward. I explained that my children, who were tucking in, didn’t get offered alternatives, so I didn’t want to set an example in front of them. Instead we agreed on an approach – the little one sat quietly for a few minutes and was then served a croissant (her choice), presented, in front of the other faces, as ‘pudding’.

These are very good friends, who understood my predicament and were happy to follow my rules. Nevertheless, I was, and still am quite embarrassed for being so inflexible with my guests because I was determined that my house rules should apply. The implicit comment to my friend was – you may offer alternative choices, but I don’t. She didn’t question this, accepting my choice. This was two years ago, but I was reminded of the scenario by a recent debate on Loose Women, where most of the panel staunchly supported the ‘house rules’ approach with visiting children. But would they be so bold in front of the parents?

The faceless anonymity of the internet and social networking sites enables people to share opinions on others choices, uninhibited. Ironically, the forum I am using to share this perspective but as yet, without the function for anyone to comment! Every day, I see wonderfully supportive parents offering advice to others in need, but equally I see comments intended to hurt, condescend and accuse. Another friend of mine recently read a forum for women trying to conceive. The supportive, positive encouragement and advice was broken by spiteful comments directed at one mother who posted because she was struggling to conceive her third child. The common sentiment being that this was not a forum for women who greedily already had two children. My friend who was struggling to conceive her first child did not feel resentful to this other mother, but she did feel upset by the aggressive comments directed at her. Had this been a face-to-face conversation, surely these other women would have offered sympathy and support?

My daughter is moving into year 1 in September. I read with interest a balanced article on the phonics reading check. What riled me were the parent comments under the piece. One stated that schools are only there to teach children teamwork, and that everyone knows, learning has to happen at home. The ‘holier than thou’ tone of the vitriolic comments were, what can only be described as social-bullying.

Web forums are a fantastic way for parents to engage, learn and share, but the computer screen also provides the opportunity for uninhibited honesty, and that can make for tough reading. Call me old fashioned but I love getting advice from experienced mums, face-to-face. I prefer conversation when there is opportunity for dialogue mixed with tacit understanding, empathy and social etiquette.

Jane

Bella (5) and Jolie (3)

What being a mum means to me

If asked what it means to me to be a mum, I would reply that it is a difficult question to really answer. If I were asked in passing by a stranger I would probably, skip the complexities and just say, “Amazing,” because the nitty gritty is just too…gritty.

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That’s not to say that being a mum is not “Amazing”.  Sometimes I look at my two young boys and almost bubble over with ebullience.  I could have tried in vain to get my toddler to go back to sleep between the hours of three and five in the morning, but upon hearing the gurgling and giggling of my five month old in his cot at six o’clock, my tiredness and grumpiness quite literally (well, metaphorically) melts.

In a nutshell, being a mum is hard work, but there’s always a pay-off.

Having children with the love of my life was a goal, no, an expectation when I married eight years ago, but when it proved hard to conceive, I felt my already imagined future slip away.  Month after month would pass and we did not see the faint pink line appear on a test.  More and more of my friends were announcing pregnancy with blushing cheeks and glowing happiness and it was hard not to feel the bitter disappointment of my own failure to bloom.

Like many before us, we went to the doctor to get advice and we began on the treadmill of fertility tests, culminating in my husband facing clinical, embarrassing assessments at the hospital one day while I was at work.  It was an experience he wasn’t so eager to share with me, but he went through with it because he, as I did, wanted to fix what was not right.

We eagerly, but with trepidation, awaited the results.   We waited.  Waited.  The waiting made me feel nauseous, made me feel sore, bloated… When we saw the Dr initially, she told us to go out and buy a Two-seater Sports car.  With a vehicle too tiny to take someone too tiny, surely fate would lend us a hand.  The fertility tests proved to be our Sports car.  We were pregnant and we were so excited, happy, scared, so grateful for the opportunity to start a family together.  I do not forget how it felt to imagine that I would not have a child of my own, the utter frustration of it, but juxtaposed in my memory, the delight was all-encompassing.

Despite twelve weeks of vomiting, I still faced the porcelain bowl with a sense of accomplishment.  If I felt so bad, surely this was good.  I really did blossom and by five months, I was proud of my round tummy and never tired of the kicks which grew in power and agility.  I remember the first time we saw him on a scan, when we first heard his heartbeat, when shamefully, after X-Factor in October 2009, my waters ruptured one week after my due date and we rushed into the hospital.  Rory was born the following morning, the birth being a blur in my memory because the “pay-off” was so profoundly life-changing.

Like so many new parents, we felt like such novices: conspicuous in our ineptitude.  We had to ask a nurse how to take his clothes off to change a nappy.  He just seemed so tiny, so terrifyingly dependent.  Six weeks of sleeplessness ensued, followed by the pay-off: he learned to smile.  He engaged with us, recognised us, began to play, to roll over, to eat solid food, to sit up, to stand, to walk, to talk, to literally monologue every thought and emotion from the moment he got up in the morning to the moment he went to sleep at night.

He learned to assert himself, to demand things his way, to scream in public, to show incredible affection, to surprise us every day with his growing vocabulary and ability to piece together jigsaws for five year olds.  (He’s only now two and a half) On the one hand, he is a handful, but on the other hand, he is “Amazing.”  He can say, “Please,” “Thank you” and “I love you so much, Mummy.”  The pay-off for the hard work.

How do I feel about being a mum?  Well, we were lucky enough to be blessed with another little boy just after Rory’s second birthday and we’re enjoying watching him go through the same incredibly fast journey through baby-hood.  Parenthood is hard, tiring, it takes every last scrap of your energy, but it’s also addictive.  Perhaps, in the not-too-distant-future, I’ll be writing about baby number three.

Lisa

Rory (2) and Gregor (4 months)

Do I work for free?

Me and the husband had a rare night out last weekend (well a take-away around a mate’s house) and one of the other husbands there asked me why I bothered to go to work when my salary barely covered the childcare costs of my three boys. Surely I wanted to stay at home instead?

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Even though I’d had a few beers, my answer was truthful whether sober or not; because I think it’s good for them and me.

Sure, on the three days a week I work, trying to get my five year old, three year old  and 20 month old woken up, dressed, fed, packed lunches made, teeth cleaned, running up and down the stairs dealing with whatever whim it is that morning (“I want to wear Superman pants and not Spiderman”), while trying to get myself looking half decent (didn’t manage this morning, found a crusty ‘gak’ type substance on my shoulder), then dropping them off at where they need to be on time, I do feel a little frazzled.

However, I get to my desk, I have a conversation about the twists and turns of the latest episode of Borgen, I have a hot coffee and turn my mind to something other than childcare.  Our boys have lovely days, they learn, they have undivided attention and play with their friends.    All good for a healthy family life.

So, that is the reason I work.  Even though it means I fundamentally have two jobs (mummy and PR consultant) which are unpaid!

But we’re a happy family, something money can’t buy.

Kayla

Zach 5, Sam 3 and Seth 1

After school clubs

With four children only three and half years from top to bottom I am trying to ensure that they all find their little thing they enjoy (other than chocolate biscuits and whacking each other around the head with a fork).

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As a result I have become a trial-class-tart and have, to the amusement of every mother at school pick up this term, spent the last fortnight traipsing my brood to every flaky painted village hall in the counties of Kent, Surrey and Sussex (we live on the border of all three, I am not totally insane).

These are the results:

Swimming, essential.  And after they are 3 you don’t have to get your hairy winter legs and crusty feet out as they go in a training pool with an instructor, hurrah! You can just watch proudly from the viewing room (or spend the half hour deleting contacts from your iphone that you worked with a decade ago, or browsing the new Versace effort at H&M).

Music,  a mixed bag.  My eldest son loves a tune, and sings in his sleep. Unfortunately the only music class on my one morning off with him alone, the Music Bus, is a good ten miles away but FREE trial, so we went (never mind the ten pounds in fuel and spontaneous £5 snack-stop in petrol station, the class was FREE, normal price £3.50, so that’s an £11.50 deficit before he even held a tambourine).  Anyway, this was brilliant and Max loved it. Mummy all to himself and they made a special effort (he got all the farmyard animals to hold and everything).  Noticed that a few old timers whose Mums knew all the words had children totally neglected (they were lucky to get a hobnob at interval).

But, my greatest find is Tae-kwon-do.  Its like handing over your children to supernanny for half an hour.  And they love it.  And the kit is heart melting.  They look when spoken to, sit crossed legged, say please and thank you, perform feats of co-ordination you didn’t even have at conception and perform martial arts routines without trying to injure all the other kids in the row.  Genius.  Shame whatever they dope them with as they arrive wears off before you even get to the car but it’s the most pleasing thirty minutes of the week.  Like 10 years younger but 10 years older for kids.  You’ve got to find your nearest class.

Lucy

Georgia 5, Max and Jack 3 and Felix 1

Return to work

Brush down my work clothes from vacu-sac they’ve been confined to for the past four years. Realise that fashions have changed since having children – and that’s not all, so have my waistline and the world of work.

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Ask myself, when did I get so out of touch? Technology’s moved on. Four years ago, when I last worked, Twitter was as embryonic as my then growing foetus and I’ve been more into blueberries than Blackberry in recent years.

Spend nap time on FT.com instead of mumsnet in desperate bid to get up to speed on business issues. Worry whether my brain will take the change of pace. Consumed by weaning, potty training, dealing with tantrums, it’s a little (OK, a lot) out of practice.

Feelings range from pangs of guilt at leaving the girls to sense of dread. Being “just a mum” suddenly seems so appealing. Ask myself, why am I doing this? Then I remember: it’s good for me (to have something other than packed lunches and play dates to think about); the girls (they need a role model) and of course, the bank balance.

2012 will see my return to work and my eldest daughter’s first day at school. Wonder who will fare the best?

Must remember to sync the family planner with Outlook to give this the best possible chance of working…

Lucy
Mae, 3 and Nancy, 2

Times of austerity

Christmas planning starts well this year but, like everything else, fails to continue smoothly. I write a list of everyone who we need to buy Christmas presents for. This is good. I then show my husband when he gets home from work. This is very bad.

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This not only starts the ‘times of austerity’ lecture but escalates to include all other financial issues that he is mentally keeping note of for our divorce, leaving lights on being the current favourite.

Avoid school Christmas fairs.  The latest independent school one I visited was selling personalised chopping boards for £230.  Oak, they insisted.  It’s a chopping board I insisted.  These ‘fashion shows’ are great if you are in the market for crabapple jelly with chilli, cashmere wrist warmers, a longshot raffle ticket for tea (one cup, any Tuesday in February, except the first four) at Glynebourne, a chalkboard shaped like a cockerel with not enough room to write ‘milk’ on and of course, a selection of oils – ones for sticking in a wok and ones for dipping in funny sticks and setting light to.  I fared much better on tch.net and notonthehighstreet.com (cross checking my prices with Amazon of course).  Also liking Paperchase for child friendly Christmas decorations and stocking fillers.  Planning on frontloading our four socks over the fireplace with satsumas and walnuts.  Times of austerity and all.

Lucy

Georgia 4, Max 2, Jack 2, Felix 1

Can I have it all?

Note to self. Don’t set up a company in the lead up to Christmas, the weekend before your daughter’s third birthday when she’s been banging on about her party since March, while working full time and renovating a building that will become the office.

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Having dodged the teenagers in the car park playing One D at full volume (is that cool?), I find myself pushing a trolley around Tesco at 11pm, packed with balloons, mini bags of Haribo and cheap wrapping paper.

Prior to setting out on this mission I had written a list of To Do’s. From today (Tuesday) till Saturday I identified 15 jobs. Petrified at the prospect, I decided 10.45pm, kitted out in ugg boots and trackie bottoms, was the moment to achieve 4, 7, 10 and 14. By 7.17am I’ll be back on the train to London in a suit and stilettos. But right now, I’m checking out the mini cheddars and loading the trolley with pink glitter and Hello Kitty, focusing on my two little girls tucked up at home. Am I crazy to want it all – a successful career, a happy, stable family life and a semblance of achieving a workable balance?  Of course not. Why shouldn’t I want it all? I’m an unashamed career mummy, squeezing ‘jobs’ into every waking moment and giving as many cuddles as humanly possible along the way. I’m a schizophrenic, professional multi-tasker and delegator, juggling my way through life. In my LK Bennet handbag I’m packing two Blackberries, a lipstick without a lid on it but with a little finger imprint in it, a bangle, a Disney hair bobble and a mouthorgan.  And I’m proud of it.

Jane

Bella 4 and Jolie 3

Big School

Motherhood and wifedom is a series of good days and bad ones it seems, not dissimilar to life in general. The autumn term had started well, Georgia has settled well at the friendly village school, she genuinely loves learning (and drawing on absolutely everything) and the playground mummies are lovely.

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We pass over the fact that after losing 5 sweatshirts in her first four weeks, she now wears very faded numbers with James and Dylan written very faintly in once permanent marker on the label.  But for 50p a throw from second hand sale I think they look fabulous – I just try to make a little more effort with her bunches.  We also try to overlook School Parkingate scandal which essentially has been my technique of grossly offending every local resident living adjacent to the school by parking my large 4×4, in fact, anywhere, even legally.

Big School is already providing fruitful in the tips department.  Make a note of diary dates wherever and however you hear of them.  This prevents turning up at school looking immaculate (as if for official school photo) only for every other child to be dressed as their favourite book character.  Great.  15 minute turnaround home to Rapunzel-up Georgia in the last remaining fancy dress at home, that still fits, is suitable for minus ten degree weather and without goo on, despite the fact she’s only ever seen the film, once.  I have incidentally, missed these ‘mufti’ days twice even though she’s only just turned 5.  Next, don’t leave younger sibling in car with lunchbox for nursery whilst taking older sibling into class.  Incredibly how two, two year olds can consume an entire packed lunch in approximately six minutes.  After explaining to nursery school, no not on a diet, no, not forgotten and excuse the sticky outfits, I was already 20 minutes late for dentist.  Oh well.  Lunchboxes can be pared down to one sandwich (jam), one yoghurt and one banana.  They really don’t care and it saves a fortune in time and money worrying about the Mediterranean spread they don’t need.

Lucy

Georgia 4, Max 2, Jack 2, Felix 1