Through 2 year old eyes

A long time ago I wrote a post about seeing the world through my friend’s 4 year old daughter’s eyes. We had a magical evening with her and I had a real sense of seeing things differently as a result of her excitement and enthusiasm.

Now we have our own (equally) delightful 2 year old and I get to see that magic every day. It’s an honour and a privilege to be with her as she learns things, and understands things and figures things out and I am constantly amazed by the speed her little mind works as she puts things together and works out life and the world.

She has recently become very interested in the sky and loves to see all the different colours in the sunrises and in both the sunny and the grey, cloudy days. We told her that one day she would be able to see the black sky at night time and if there weren’t any clouds she might even see some stars. For days she would periodically jump up on the sofa and look to see if the sky was dark, saying hopefully, ‘see black sky, see stars, no clouds’ before shaking her head and getting down again.

On a recent journey home in the evening, the sun set as we were on our way back and so we were able to point out the black sky to her from the car window. I wish I could do justice to the open expression of wonder and amazement that took over her little face as she stared transfixed out of the window. Occasionally saying ‘black sky, Esther see black sky!’

She saw some lights in the sky from the car and said ‘lots and lots of airplanes’. I was delighted to be able to tell her that they weren’t airplanes, but they were the stars we were telling her she could see at night. And her face lit up with joy. She stared and stared and was completely taken over with wonder.

She still talks about seeing the black sky and the stars and I feel a mixture of a deep joy at seeing how special things are to her for the first time, as well as a slight sadness that I no longer squeal and kick my feet with excitement because of the stars.

The world can be a magical place through a 2 year old’s eyes.

Where are all the Disney mums?

It is well-known that I am a huge fan of Disney films. It’s the music, and the beauty and the fairytale happy endings. I’m afraid that it’s a shameless escapism for me.

I started thinking recently about the role of motherhood in Disney. And I realised pretty quickly that it’s not a great picture. Let’s have a look at the following princesses and their mother figures: (and pre-warning there are spoilers from ‘Brave’)

Snow White- no biological mother and a stepmother who hates her and tries to have her killed
Cinderella- no biological mother and a stepmother who hates her and forces her to be a servant
Sleeping Beauty- loving parents who are forced to send her away to be brought up by fairies (what could possibly go wrong?)
Jasmin- mother not around (as in it’s never explained but the assumption is that she’s passed away)
Ariel- mother not around
Belle- mother not around
Pocahontas- mother not around
Rapunzel- brought up by an insane old (old, old, old) woman who pretends to be her mother and then systematically demeans and demoralises Rapunzel in the name of friendly teasing. Yeah, fantastic motherhood example.
Mulan- ah ha! Finally, a mother. But one who pushes her daughter to be someone that she isn’t and is very much in the background of the story. Hhmm, not a great example either.
Merida- ok this one’s interesting… the film opens with a loving and playful scene with Merida and her mother Elinor- off to a great start. Though if you look closely there is a foreshadow of conflict to come over Elinor’s disapproval of Merida (the princess) having a bow and arrow. ‘Princesses do not use weapons.’

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But then almost immediately the film jumps to Merida’s enforced ‘princess training’ and the discord that has arisen between mother and daughter. Elinor repeats over and over again ‘a princess must be…’, ‘a princess does not…’, ‘a princess should always…’.

Elinor feels bound by historical customs to bring up her daughter to be a good princess and therefore marry a good suitor bringing security to their land. While Merida feels trapped and ignored as she is carried along on other people’s wishes and desires feeling as though there is no regard at all for her own.

My favourite scene in the film is at the archery competition when a hooded competitor pulls back the cloak, revealing Merida’s enviably vivid and free flowing hair as she states that she will be shooting for her own hand. There is a lovely thread running through the story of young people wanting to be free to make their own choices away from their parents’ decisions for them.

But the main story running throughout this film is the mending of the relationship between Merida and her mother. “Mend the bond torn by pride” recites the crazy old witch. Perhaps this isn’t such a bad example of some aspects of motherhood after all as both sides learn to see things from each other’s point of view.

I am finding myself in a really interesting position at the moment as I am encountering all those times where I just know that some things must be so because they are best for my little girl. Even if she hates it. Nappy changes for example are becoming more and more of a struggle. Likewise with wearing clothes appropriate for the weather- while she is a big, big fan of her grandma’s knitted woolly hats, there is absolutely nothing I can do to keep a sun hat on her head!

I am also looking back through my own story where I can see time and time again that my mum (and my dad- it’s just that the focus of this writing is mums) didn’t try to force me to do what she thought was best for me. I have been given the freedom to learn to make my own way and my own decisions both good and bad. And my mum has always been there for me to celebrate or commiserate without ever a hint of ‘I told you so’.

It takes being changed into an actual bear for Elinor to realise how important it is to let her daughter be who she is and not a mini-Elinor. And it is also clear that Merida comes to see how selfish she has been in ignoring her mother’s knowledge, wisdom and priorities.

Merida and Elinor

So after all these long and rambly thoughts I have come to the conclusion that Disney has had a really poor show of mums. But that maybe Brave is quite redemptive in this aspect because it shows (perhaps unusually for Disney) something of real life mum and daughter struggles and loves. I highly recommend the film, it hits my top 3 all time favourite Disneys.

 

 

*The Pixar Times published this article in 2012 on much the same subject as this.

Oh it’s because he’s a boy

I seem to have come across The Gender Issue a few times recently. Whether in conversation, or material I’ve read, or comments I’ve overheard.

It seems especially significant for me at the moment as I am looking at my little girl and the world around us and wondering what her future will be. What kind of girl will she be, what kind of woman?

The other day, as I was leaving the doctors surgery, there was a mum with her little boy- I would guess he was around 2 and a half. And he had the cheekiest little face and was running around from side to side of the waiting room. His mother held him firm as I walked past with Little One and said to him ‘look how good the little girl is, not running around.’ I smiled at her.

As I walked out, however, I heard her say to someone else ‘why can’t he be good like that?’ And the answer she got was… wait for it… ‘oh, it’s because he’s a boy.’

I wanted to march straight back in there and challenge her. Did she realise what she was saying??? I was offended on behalf of my daughter that it be assumed the only reason she was quiet and good was because she was a girl. And I was offended on behalf of my friends with sons, the implication being that boys are naughty and wild.

I was asked recently if I thought that males and females are essentially the same? And I answered that no, I don’t think they are. I think that men and women are completely equal, not not necessarily the same. I’ve been mulling over this a lot in the weeks since then and maybe I want to change my answer. Maybe it’s not that males and females are intrinsically different but society conditions them to be so. Or maybe that conditioning has arisen because there are some generalised differences between the sexes. I’m not sure.

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It’s the old ‘nature or nurture’ debate, but essentially I think that regardless of which it is, there are serious problems that occur when boys and girls, and men and women are treated differently.

I heard a brilliant talk by Reshma Saujani this week (here) entitled Teach Girls Bravery, Not Perfection. She talks about how little boys are taught to run, jump off things, climb high. Little girls are taught to sit, smile pretty, colour, make things. And in that one simple difference, boys learn to take risks, and girls play it safe. Girls don’t do anything unless they know they’ll be good at it because girls are expected, by themselves and society’s conditioning, to be perfect and not to fail.

I know this is true because it is me. I am not brave. I struggle constantly with perfection because I can’t stand to fail. I can’t stand for people to see that I can’t do it, and I can’t bare to admit to myself that I’m not good enough.

I think about all of this, and I talk about all of this, because I want to teach my little girl to be brave. I want her to climb high, and try things just to see what it’s like- whether she succeeds at them or not. I want her to know, deep down inside, that she has nothing to prove. It’s a tricky one, because I was encouraged to run and jump and reach as high as I wanted. I was told that I could do anything, and yet still I have this struggle and this need to be perfect.

I read a great statement this week from the singer and entrepreneur Clare Bowditch (and I’ll omit the profanities!)

“We can torture ourselves with, I’m not enough, I’m never enough. I don’t have this bit together, I don’t have that together. What if we’re already perfect? What if we’re completely, exactly where we’re meant to be and the only challenge is to have the inner courage to be ourselves, to be real?”

Brave_merida_card

It is complicated and very not simple to raise a boy or a girl without any of the stereotypical influence from our society and our history. But I think that if it all boils down to growing children who become adults who have courage to be themselves then that’s half the battle won.

Unresolved

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I hate January.

It’s always cold and rainy and dark. It’s such a disappointment after the lights and warmth and fun of the Christmas season.

I am also usually really against the idea of making New Year’s Resolutions because in my experience they rarely succeed in staying around and making any real difference which only leads to further disappointment and self-loathing on top of all the rain and fog.

But I have a child now and instead of passing through January in a mope and a moan I decided that I should start practicing positivity and optimism.

So I tried to think of some resolutions. Maybe there would actually be something beneficial in the New Year, New Me thinking. Perhaps I could use this deliberate positivism to dust out the cobwebs from my life corners. I might find myself more fulfilled, more successful, happier… Don’t get carried away Kat.

Anyway, to the resolutions…

I thought I could resolve to stop being grumpy with my daughter. To stop feeling frustrated with her, or annoyed with her.

But that would have failed by lunchtime on the 1st January.

I thought I could enter a new healthy regime and finally lose the rest of my ‘I’ve just had a baby (more than a year ago)’ weight with no chocolate, crisps, cake, biscuits…

That would have ended by 10.30am on the 1st January.

And then I was back to my dislike of resolutions. I learnt a long time ago that I have a tendency to set myself unrealistic goals knowing full well that I won’t be able to achieve and thus failing before I’ve even begun. It’s a self-fulling cycle that I know a lot of people struggle with in one way of another and it takes a great deal of courage to break free.

So I pondered the idea of a resolution trying to find something that I wouldn’t fail at before I’d even started, but that would be something I could genuinely work at. An appropriate and manageable task. (The teachers out there will be thinking of SMART targets…)

And somewhere around the 8th January (still counts as ‘new year’) I settled on ‘guilt’. I once read that there are two different types of guilt: rightful guilt and unwarranted guilt. Rightful guilt of course serves a very important purpose, but unwarranted guilt can warp thinking and wrongly change perceptions. Self-berating is something I’m very good at and, going back to the point about how my life is different now that the little one is around, it is something that I want to conquer.

So I have bared my soul before the whole wide Internet to say that I am really, really, really going to try hard and work at not being guilty where it isn’t deserved.

So I’m going to make a concerted effort not to feel guilty when I get frustrated with the small one- I’m not a super-mum and she can be annoying. I’m going to try not to feel guilty when I sit down and watch TV instead of doing something ‘useful’. And I’m going to work on not letting guilt creep in when I stick my hand in the secret chocolate store (everyone has one) because sometimes it’s the little things that keep me going.

It’s definitely not going to be easy and I’m going to need the help of people who love me, but I want my little girl to see her mum being confident and true to herself. Not wallowing in guilt and self pity.

So bring it on 2016!

Me, my baby and I

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I wouldn’t usually put photos of our baby on the internet. She’s going to grow up in a world so different from the one in which I did, and I don’t want her to get to 18 and feel like she’s had no say in how many people in the world have seen images of her. I want that to be her decision.

But, I hear you say, you’ve gone and said all that right beneath a photo of your baby.

I know that. I was just explaining why I wouldn’t usually put up photos. And you’ll notice that this picture doesn’t show her face. That’s deliberate.

But I really like this picture and I wanted to share a thought about it.

This baby has had a really difficult week. She’s right in the middle of a growing phase, she’s getting frustrated by all the things that she can’t do, she’s been teething badly this week and she’s got a bit of a virus that might just be making her feel a little more miserable about the world. So while this has all meant that I’ve felt very maternal and loving towards her, wanting to take away her discomfort, wanting to help her to learn and wanting to soothe her pain, I feel like I too have had a difficult week. Or at least my ear drums have, because they’ve suffered the seemingly non-stop screaming and whinging.

A few days ago I decided that I couldn’t face going home where I knew everything I did would result in a little person throwing herself back angrily and shouting at me at the top of her lungs. So we went to some local gardens for a little walk. I bought a coffee and we sat in a quiet, secluded grassy area in the afternoon sun.

And as I sat among the peace of the trees, and smiled at the odd bumble bee bouncing between the clover, I looked at my baby girl and was hit again with the enormity of her existence. She tapped on the grass with Sophie (if you don’t know who Sophie is, ask someone with a small child) to see if it could be trusted and every now and then turned to me and grinned. I marvelled at everything she can do, at how much she has grown and changed in less than a year. I so often have to pinch myself to believe she is actually real because it all just seems too wonderful, too precious to be true.

It seems to me that it’s an important thing to do every now and then- to sit down together, away from everything and everyone else, and to be reminded of the joy and wonder that is my little girl.

Community. Really.

I’m not usually particularly vocal with my political views, but there’s something about having a baby that makes you that little bit more outspoken. Especially about things that affect her. So if you think that might be a problem, then I sincerely apologise, I simply want to share a few thoughts about something that’s been on my mind recently.

When my health visitor came to see us when baby was about 10 days old, she told me that there was a breastfeeding cafe that I might like to go to running at the local Sure Start Centre. I’d not really had anything to do with the Sure Start Centres before, but I was having a really rough time with breastfeeding so I decided to go, even though I was nervous.

From the first moment that I walked in and was greeted with smiles and asked how I was getting on, not just by the health visitors but the other mums there too, that group, and various others at the Sure Start Centre, have become the pivotal point around which my weeks revolve. I have met some wonderful people and we have shared many thousands of coffees and biscuits in cafes, each other’s homes and the Centre itself while we have discussed absolutely everything under the sun. From the colour of poo to nap times. From first weaning foods to ways of preventing dry skin. We have talked and talked about how each baby is learning, growing and developing and shared each other’s joys, pains and frustrations. This is community.

I have also become part of some ‘mum’ groups on Facebook, mostly for buying and selling baby things (which is a great money saver!). Although I don’t often ‘socialise’ through these, I see others doing so and receiving support and affirmation in their mumhood journeys. The other day a young mother had posted that she was heartbroken to be posting, but that she was selling a wrap sling because she desperately needed the money. Another mum suggested that rather than selling it, if 40 mums all gave her £1 then she could keep it and continue to have that important and lovely bond that is developed through baby wearing (that’s the fancy name for carrying your baby in a sling of some sort.). What followed was nothing short of a tirade of support and love for a mother that I imagine most people had never met. People giving all that they could even if it was a small amount and saying they knew how hard things can be. I think that this lovely bright purple wrap became a symbol for two things much bigger than it- the unconditional love a mother has for her children and the depth and value of being joined to one another in support and care. This is community.

We cannot live without each other. That I have always known to be true, and have found to be more true since having a baby. And here’s the political bit. The Sure Start Centres were set up as a way of bringing people together, sharing learning and helping parents come together to give their children the best start that they could. The region where I live really promoted these centres with 43 in total- that’s pretty much one in every locality. The ease of availability of the services provided- groups, courses and events, meant that no-one had to feel alone or without community. But now almost ¾ of the centres are being ‘redistributed’ (closed), including my nearest one. There is a real sense of community dissolving because even though the next one is only a 10 minute drive away, even this is a barrier to many.

People are meant to live in community. They are meant to share, learn and live alongside each other. I can’t help feeling that our current government, despite some of the things they say, actually don’t see the world this way because their actions speak about promoting the individual as a single unit rather than as part of a group. People are just individual items in their own house, their own car, sitting behind their own computer screen. And that’s not how the world should work. Community is beautiful and people thrive when they are together. When they can share what they have and receive from others. It is not a bad thing to rely on other people. This is how we are created. In fact there’s even a Bible verse that describes this very thing happening thousands of years ago. The people in the first churches shared everything they had and ensured that no-one was in need*. This is community.

I am anxious about the next few years with a Conservative government because I feel like instead of being encouraged to grow together in community, people are supported to work for themselves and to get as much as they can for themselves. In my view this is a very narrow-minded and selfish way to view the world. I am sad for the closures of the Sure Start Centres because I feel like a valuable piece of the community jigsaw is being taken away. It is hard enough for people to leave their houses and become entwined with others. It feels like it is just going to get even harder.

*Acts 2:42-47

Why I (almost) feel sorry for Richard Dawkins

So, Richard Dawkins thinks that the moral thing to do for babies diagnosed with Down’s Syndrome in the womb is to abort them so that the parents can ‘try again’.

I’ve just read over that sentence 4 or 5 times because I can’t believe that I have actually put words together in such a way that they read that sentiment. I love words. I love writing, and I love language. It makes me feel sick, angry and incredibly sad that words have been used to convey such a despicable thing.

Before I start properly, I just want to say that I’m not trying to offer any sort of comment or opinion on abortion or right to life. The problems I have with what Dawkins said are his comments that it would be ‘immoral’ to allow a Down’s Syndrome baby to live. I offer no judgement on people’s decisions in their own lives, but I do have a problem with saying that it is immoral for Down’s Syndrome babies to be born.

Here are Professor Dawkins’ reasons for saying what he said.
1: A foetus has no human emotions therefore abortion is not wrong
2: Individuals with Down’s Syndrome have nothing to offer society and so it is better for everyone that they are not brought into the world at all.
(As a contradiction, by the way, he seems to think that those children and adults with Down’s are alright to remain alive. How magnanimous of him.)

Aside from the immense anger I feel at the injustice of his comments, I can’t help also feeling a small amount of pity towards Dawkins. He clearly places at once such little value and such an impossibly high value on human life.

I believe that every individual (from conception) has value, is valued and is important. Not because they might one day be scientists, or engineers, or diplomats, or shop keepers, or opticians, or farmers, or politicians, or computer programmers. And neither because they might be kind, or generous, or loving, or helpful, or funny, or empathetic. But simply because they have been created and are alive.

Human value cannot come from what we can do, what we are capable of or even how well we can interact with others. Because if it did how would we even begin to measure that? There would always be some people who didn’t make the cut and then we’d be living in some sort of ‘Brave New World’ or ‘The Hunger Games’. But maybe that’s actually how Dawkins views us all to begin with?

Bringing things closer to his specific comment, I have so many angry questions I want to ask him. Why Down’s Syndrome? Why stop at abortion? Why not euthanase all individuals with Down’s? Why stop at Down’s Syndrome? Why not get rid of anyone with cerebal palsy? Or Autism? (Yes I know he stated that Autism is different but I’m afraid that just doesn’t wash.) What about multiple sclerosis? In actual fact, if human value is based on productivity and contribution to society why not also throw in the deaf, the blind, people with no legs, people with heart defects, mental health problems, curvature of the spine…

You see it is not our job or our place to decide who is valuable. The word ‘value’ has so many layers and can be viewed from so many angles. There are so many beautiful faces to the human existence and anyone who has spent time with someone with Down’s Syndrome (or any other disability for that matter) will tell you how much light and joy they can bring to others as well as how much they can live a happy and fulfilled life. No, they might not become doctors or nurses or lawyers, but then neither will a whole chunk of the population for many other reasons.

As for his first point- that a foetus doesn’t have human emotions. I’m not even going to begin getting in on that debate, but all the points I’ve just made about human value still stand.

The more I think about it the more I think I actually feel sorry for Richard Dawkins. (As well as being furious and angry with him.) The beauty of humanity is its richness and its depth. It’s in something so simple as experiencing excitement, or knowing peace, or being so closely entwined with others and yet still being able to learn something new and delightful in each other.

Professor Dawkins is missing this and this is both a great travesty and a complete outrage.

 

Here is a great article in response to Dawkins written by a mother of a girl with Down’s Syndrome:

http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/hayley-goleniowska/richard-dawkins-down-syndrome_b_5697336.html?1408622091&ncid=tweetlnkushpmg00000067