How can I make a difference? - The Moderate Mum with One Refugee Child (COMPETITION UK & IRELAND ONLY)

A confession - I don't really recycle. I have all the paraphernalia, of course I do - you have to if you want to be considered an upstanding member of society. How would it look if my friends came round and there was no sign of the compost heap, the plastic tub of empty wine bottles and the recycled paper toilet roll? I know I should recycle. I know why it's a positive thing but when I'm stressed or tired or rushed (and I am frequently all of these things) everything gets chucked in the bin. 

My issue with recycling is that it makes me feel so sad. As I crush another milk bottle, I'm just reminded of the futility of it all. How can my small pile of empty cereal boxes be enough to rail against the 37 million flights every year and the mammoth conglomerates spewing greed and pain into our air and seas? 

I broached the topic with a colleague recently. As soon as I met Tony I recognised him as someone who would be a teacher to me - he is so present and lives so consciously, he and his family even spent some time living in an eco community. I instantly knew that he could help me address my poor recycling habits. I told him how pessimistic I felt about the topic and he stroked his chin like a six foot something, Glaswegian Yoda and said, 'You're thinking too big, you need to think about one thing.' I gave him my 'whatchu talkin' bout?' face. He continued, 'You need to think about one good impact your recycling might have, one less fish killed or one less tree being needlessly chopped down. It can be too painful to think bigger than that but to stay present, think about just one good thing.' He's a very clever bloke. 

I say all this because I think the way I feel about recycling may be the way others feel about supporting refugees - how can I begin to make an impact on so much suffering and so much injustice and shouldn't someone more powerful than me be owning this? That's why I want to introduce you (if you haven't formally met) to One Refugee Child. One Refugee Child aims to improve the lives of refugee children. The model is simple, they identify the most pressing, practical needs and fund raise specifically for those outcomes. 

I was so moved by the One Stroller Project. Anca Ponea lived just 30km from where refugees were landing in Greece, packed into small, inflatable vessels. She thought about the scared, tired families struggling to keep going forward and wanted to give them one thing - a pushchair. Any parent knows how vital a pushchair is with a young family, I use mine daily. Now imagine if your child has a broken bone or hasn't slept in days or if you are physically and spiritually at your limit, how valuable would it be then? When Marie Beechy and Lanseye Hook, both living in the United States reached out to Ponea to help, one pushchair became many and many became One Refugee Child. 

So I'm writing to urge you to think of one good thing, one person you can help, one gift of change that you could help create and if you really can't think of what you could do, One Refugee Child will do it for you. 

Read more about One Refugee Child and donate HERE

And now I'd like to do one good thing. I'm giving away an Over The Moon selection box containing a Mandarin and patchouli bath foam, body wash and body cream to one lucky reader willing to help spread the word about One Refugee Child.

photo credit: Refugee crisis in Europe via photopin (license)

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The Pramshed

Mission Acceptance - Accept Criticism

So what had happened was I received some criticism at work. A colleague in a joking but not really joking, you know I love you but maybe I don't love you and I'm just passive aggressive way, called me lazy. And they remained loyal to the judgement even when I graciously refuted the accusation and gave them an opportunity to recant it. I carried the criticism around all day and tried repeatedly to find subtle and not so subtle ways for others to invalidate the claim. I went to bed furious. Not so much with the colleague but with my reaction to him. I thought I was totally 'got my big girl pants on' cool with criticism but it seems only with criticism I am expecting or have acknowledged. There was a whole underworld of other criticisms I had no idea about! So my mission this week was to unearth them. Welcome to my week of judgement.

MY FRIEND The first person I ask is my dear friend Adele. Being Italian I think she might be more outspoken than my British pals. I mean the girl sends food back in restaurants! As we stroll along the seafront on a not quite summer's evening, I hijack her. 

ME: I need you to tell me how I can be better
ADELE: What?!
ME: I need you to tell me what I could do better. For my blog.
ADELE: You want me to tell you how to make your blog better? 
ME: No. I'm writing about criticism. I want you to offer me constructive criticism. Actually it doesn't have to be constructive. 
ADELE: Why would I want to do that you're one of my favourite people? 
ME: So you don't want to tell me anything? You have a free pass. 
ADELE: No. Why? I don't understand.
Me: *sigh*

LESSON: People really don't like criticising others. Especially if they know you're gonna write about it on the Internet. 

MY BROTHER My younger brother is pretty outspoken. I mean he doesn't volunteer a great many opinions (unless regarding Arsenal or obscure hip hop) but he will give a straight answer to a direct question. I think it's because he's a scientist. Science, from the little I've experienced of it, doesn't leave a lot of room for faffery or squiding of the truth. I ask him by text as I think that this may make it less confrontational. I message him 'Please offer me criticism'. After an anxiety inducing amount of time he messages me back 'dunno ur fine'. After a bit more time he offers me the following: 

You don't have a TV, that's pretty sh*t
You like Subway
You don't love South London enough
You don't watch Empire

A solid list but not one consisting of anything that has given me cause for concern recently. 

LESSON: Remember that people will criticise you based on their own values

MY MOTHER I call my mother and ask her how I could be a better daughter. I figure if I make my question more specific it seems a bit less creepy. My mum tells me I'm a 'wonderful daughter' and don't have to change anything. This is getting ridiculous, I mean criticising me is one of my mother's favourite pastimes. I tell her it's really important that she thinks of something. She says, 'You need to tell me what's on your mind more. You hold too much back. I think you're worried about upsetting me or getting into an argument but maybe we should have a barney from time to time.' Well smack me round the face with a plastic chicken! I legit thought she was going to bring up the fact that I NEVER dust my skirting. 

LESSON: Criticism can be surprisingly uplifting. 

MY SON I felt a little sad that the person whose opinion I wanted the most didn't have the words to offer me any criticism. Then when we were supposed to be taking a stroll to the local pet shop to visit the rabbits, Roscoe throws himself on the pavement and resists all attempts to move him away from the house. He can offer me his opinion! And his opinion is he doesn't want to see the pesky rabbits. So we don't. He also doesn't want to eat his pasta or wear socks or brush his teeth. Actually there is quite a lot he has to criticise...

LESSON: If you are open to criticism, you will find it. 

MY WORK: I'm a support worker and currently I work with teenagers living in residential care. I ask one of them how I can be a better mentor to her. Her eyes widen with delight and she chews the inside of her cheek as she assesses me, 'You don't buy me cigarettes,' she says.

LESSON: You do not have to accept other people's criticism.

MY GRANDMOTHER I go to visit my grandmother who has recently turned 90. I don't know if it is an age thing or a thing specific to her but she seems so content in her sunny London flat, with her crosswords and her horse racing. When I ask her for criticism I'm sure she'll laugh or tell me that life is too short to worry about such things but she says, 'Everyone else remembered I was 90, even Martha.'* I remind her that I did remember but I was working on her birthday, 'That's no excuse,' she says. 

LESSON: If you want honest criticism ask a 90 year old. 

So my week was no way near as scary as I had anticipated. I think my biggest takeaway was that people are far too busy worrying about themselves to spend much time assessing your faults. People generally regard themselves as the bride of the metaphorical wedding of their life and you are just a guest, often a last minute, second rate guest at that. As long as you don't get too drunk or snog anyone inappropriate, you can pretty much coast. This doesn't mean that you shouldn't bother being kind or generous or supportive, it just means when you forget or don't have the energy, accept it and don't criticise yourself. No one else will. 

*Martha is my cousin. She doesn't have a reputation for being forgetful, actually she's pretty reliable, so I'm not sure why she was singled out. My grandma has twenty odd grandchildren and I suspect she just picked a name at random. 
My Kid Doesn't Poop Rainbows
My Petit Canard

Did you have a teacher that inspired you? - Becky from Educating Roversi

In answer to your question I would like to tell you about three of my favourite teachers. Ms Theaker was my teacher in Year 8. She was mean. There is no other way to describe it. She stomped her heavy boots over every primary school teacher stereotype - she was grumpy, she was firm, sometimes she even shouted but the key thing was that when she shouted, she shouted at everyone. Ms Theaker was a amazing gift under the Christmas Tree of education - she was fair. We all recognised it and we all loved her for it, even if she didn't really seem to like us. 

Mrs Roberts was my biology teacher in high school and she was the first teacher I had that I felt genuinely loved her subject. She was fascinated by science and not ashamed to show it. You'd have to be dead inside for her enthusiasm not to rub off on you. Everyone loved lessons with Mrs Roberts and as a result everyone loved biology. She was authentic to the core; she shared stories about herself to help us understand topics and she apologised when our homework came back with tea stains. She was game for a laugh not because she wanted to be loved but because she loved laughing

Madame Portwine was tiny, stern and impossibly French. Madame Portwine taught me the language of love for five years, during which time I only things I learned were to ask directions to the station and to say that I'm an only child (which I am not but it stopped further questioning). Madame Portwine was always there, always dressed immaculately, always with her face on and in a cloud of something heady and I imagine expensive. As fancy as she looked her teaching was no frills. She doled out French in its truest form and you either absorbed it or you did not. She didn't dress up the fact that I was rubbish at the language, she didn't come down on me nor did she sugar coat that fact that I sounded more del boy than Dieppe; she just persistently and consistently gave me the opportunity to distinguish my tu from my vouz for half a decade. There was something impenetrable about Madame Portwine and even in that regard she never let me down.

So yes I did. I had many. Even the unmotivated, unwashed and slightly sexually inappropriate (I wish I was lying) taught me something about who I wanted to become. Teaching is less and less about understanding semi colons or river formation because anyone with a reading age of eleven and a couple of hours on Google can work that stuff out. As a teacher today I think it's important to think beyond the facts and consider what else you might be bringing to the table. What's special about you that might help a child understand what's special about them? Maybe it's your creativity or love of life or sense of calm. Whatever it is make it true to you and, like me, the lesson may remain with them for years to come. The teachers that inspired me most where the ones that realised as an educator it's important to show, not tell.

Becky is a drama teacher and blogs about home improvements, teaching and the wonderful world of motherhood over on her blog  Educating Roversi.


Mission Acceptance - Accept an old dog can learn new tricks

I had a strange experience recently.  I was listening to a radio show. I can't remember which one but it was the standard 'zany, overbearing, male presenter with woman present only to reinforce his greatness' situation and they were singing the lyrics, 'Hey how you doin? Sorry you couldn't get through.' I didn't hear the set up to the joke but the jaunty pop sound lifted my spirits. The presenter said, 'Nothing like a bit of Little Mix in the morning.' And my whole body was enveloped in a fog of pure rage. That was not Little Mix! That could never be Little Mix. That was and always would be Curiousity Killed the Cat (ask your mum). I was startled with how violent I felt about it, I mean it was a mildly catchy song not one of the great wonders of the world, so what if it had been wrongly attributed? To anyone else listening is had and always would be a Little Mix song. The reason I was so moved by this DJs (in my eyes) indisretion is because for the first time in my life I feel old. 

I've never had a real problem with aging. Before I had my son I cetainly kept an eye on my furiously ticking biological clock and I sometimes bristled with envy if I read about some 20 year old making a million from having the nation watch them vomit in their shoes or whatever but I didn't feel any huge amount of angst about aging. If anything as I got older my body and mind where starting to feel like a pair of leather boots that I had finally broken in. So I really have no clue as to why the approach of my 35th birthday started to make me feel so uncomfortable. More than uncomfortable - a little bit sick. Once my niece Chishona came to visit me and we went down to the pier and bought a ticket for the Waltzers. We were the only ones on the ride so the man decided to give us some extra spins on the house. After about a minute started to feel violently sick. I kept trying to signal to the man to stop but he interpreted my actions as encouragement and no matter how hard I tried the world would not stop spinning. I feel just like I did that day. 

Given my new found anti aging stance I decided to do a mission this week that will help to halt (or at least slow down) the process. One of the wonderful things about being a kid is that you never stop learning and so every day is always an adventure. My mission this week was to try and learn something new each day and so, in my heart at least, stay young. Here's what I learned:

INSTAGRAM On the first day there was Instagram. It's a part of social media I love but I've not got my head round completely. I ended up feasting on information about apps and filters and stayed up until 1AM to watch a webcast from Instagram queen Hilary Rushford. I learned that it's a great idea to give dedicated time to one subject (just set a time limit).

CRYSTALS I think crystals are pretty but I've never learned about them because I'm quite cynical about the properties people assign to them. I really loved learning about how they are thought to help your health and life and ended up buying three new aura bejazzling rocks. I still don't think there's anything in it* but I learned that learning isn't always being about being right or wrong and the new additions to my home make me smile.

GUIDED MEDITATION You can't learn about crystals without touching on meditation. It made me think about my recent failed attempt to meditate and I wondered if having someone to lead me through it might help. As I studied I became more and more convinced that if I found the perfect guided meditation, the secret would be unlocked. I ended up googling late into the night and fell asleep feeling frustrated and totally not zen. In the morning I just picked a meditation at random and did it and it was alright. I learned that learning isn't about perfectionism, it's about experiencing and you can still learn from something that's not quite right.

VAMPIRES I watched a cheesy film about vampires. It was definitely a how can I recover those minutes of my life moment. After the film I decided to learn about the history of vampires and it was pretty fascinating - the whole True Blood fever was starting to make sense. I even appreciated the film more. I learned that learning can make a bad thing good. 

MARKETING My mentor recommended a podcast to me. I was a little hesitant. I think that I viewed the concept of marketing overwhelming. Of course that made this the perfect time to go for it. The podcast was so enlightening that it completely opened up how I feel about my blog and career and future.

RAP SONG I was going to learn the lyrics to 'Jump Around'. It's my son's favourite song and at parties I always bust out the first line and then mumble into my beer for the rest but I was so taken by the lessons from the day before I decided to continue with blog planning. And that's the thing about learning, when you stumble on something that lights you up you never want to stop and if you never stop learning, it keeps you feeling young. 

*crystals if you are listening, I totally believe in you.

My Kid Doesn't Poop Rainbows

Sticky Mud and Belly Laughs

Mission Acceptance - Accept your default

Photo by @odaddybee

I've been feeling a bit lost recently and my friend Adele did what any good friend would do in this situation and took me for a well mixed cocktail at the very delightful The Plotting Palour. They add things like herbs and edible flowers to the booze, so you can feel sophisticated as you get drunk. It took only one round to have me sorted - still lost but not caring as much. 

I walked home via The Cooperative, suddenly had a hankering for some Roast Beef Monster Munch. As I paid for my almost midnight snack a very inebriated, very impassioned man approached me and shouted, 'Prince is dead.' I was dumbstruck, should I know Prince? Was Prince his dog? Did he mean to say the prince? In which case, which one because some would be more shocking than others. The man didn't explain, he just kept wailing, 'Prince is dead!' Shock and torment contorting his face with each syllable. 

After a couple of rounds, it clicked, 

'Oh you mean Prince, Prince?' I said 'Purple Rain Prince? How sad. How old was he? I take it you were a fan.' The man answered all my enquiries with another chorus of 'Prince is dead!' Now I like a boogie to 'Kiss' as much as the next girl but this man's pain was more visible than common decency should allow in my opinion, so I turned back to complete my purchase. As I did so the man asked for a bottle of vodka, I turned to him with what I imagine was a smirk on my face and said, 'Mourning Prince then?' The man stopped. He stepped back as if he has been smacked. He pointed a finger at me and screamed, 'F**k you little girl! f**k you. Prince is dead. This is a moment.' I made embarrassed eye contact with the startled teenager on the till, grabbed my munch and hot footed it out the door. 

It was in this moment that I realised I had a default. As that man spewed his grief all over the shop, I felt embarrassment and then intimidation and then anger but I chose to express none of those. I chose to go with humour, ridiculously bad humour at that. I was too lazy or shy to honour my own feelings so I had made the choice to dismiss and denigrate those of another. Who knew why this man felt so moved by the event - perhaps it reminded him of someone close, or himself in better days; perhaps his carefully cared for alcoholism was a mechanism to hold back the pain that the death of Prince had allowed to escape. 

I do that all the time, I mask my hurt with a gaff or hide my shame with jolly self deprecation and so for the week my mission became to stop. And I did. Part of the reason I have indulged in such a big intro this week is because this was the easiest mission so far. I just stopped, I didn't even have to try. I had thought my friends would call me out for being needy or boring but they didn't, when I expressed sadness or tiredness or self doubt, they came back to me with words of wisdom and even more wonderfully came back again, days later - do you need me? I'm still here. I understood that I had convinced myself my humour was a way to give others a break, when in fact it was a tool to keep them at arms length. 

At the end of the week I spoke to my brother, he was waiting on some important news and rather than tell me he was nervous or hopeful, he made a joke about how the news might be delivered. It was funny (he is the funniest and the prettiest and the cleverest but he gets really dry hands) but it was a mask and I saw in that moment that these traits are inter generational and that if I wanted to avoid passing on this default to my son I would need to end the cycle now. 

So from this mission forward, as much as possible, I will be honouring my emotions and telling people what's really going on with me. Not quite as freely as the man I met in the supermarket but pretty darn close. 

Run Jump Scrap!
The Secret Diary of Agent Spitback

Cuddle Fairy

Should I cut my four year old's hair?

Should I have cut my nearly 4 year old hair?? Some people think I'm odd for never taking her to the hairdressers (Including her dad!) - Kate 

The cliché of motherhood that I have found to be the truest is that it all goes so incredibly fast and the pace is made even more disorientating by the fact that there is so much to take in. You're changing daily, the kid is changing nightly; it became so intense at one point, I thought I was going to wake up to be greeted by Tom Hanks in a babygro. 

The worst thing about this is that we encourage it. Societal pressure and the inbuilt desire to see out children succeed sees us pushing the tot towards the next milestone with dogged determination - no sooner have they rolled we want them to crawl, they crawl we need them to walk and when it happens we sigh with relief, instead of bidding a fond farewell to the immobile days. 

What does this have to do with hair? Everything. Don't feel weird, hair is an amusingly common source of angst for mothers. I've known friends to cry hot, angry tears over some unwitting relative doing them a 'favour' by giving their cherub a trim, even when the tot was literally blinded by their overgrown fringe. For many of us, never is too soon for the first hair cut. 

My personal belief is because this is the only thing that we can leave unchanged without feeling like we're holding our child back. Those long locks are the very last piece of evidence that your baby is still your baby, in fact the hair on the end of those tresses is the very same hair that you stroked as you fed and comforted your newborn. 

Sometimes I think the early days is a bit scary for the parent that isn't the primary caregiver, particularly when a mother is breastfeeding. It's such an intense relationship, I imagine it can feel a bit isolating for the old man to be reduced to an in house jester/pizza delivery service. As your daughter has become older his role has been able to grow and solidify and become something just as special and unique as the one you have with her. I might be going a bit Freud here but it would make sense to me that he is eager to get rid of the last vestige of those baby days. 

So are you odd - no. Should you cut it. In my opinion yes. Partly because, who has time to braid three feet of hair every morning? And also because it's important for you to know that however high she grows and however far she roams, she will always be your baby. 

Kate makes the most darling handcrafted creatures over at her shop Grace and the Monkey


photo credit: ~ spa day ~ via photopin (license)

Mission Acceptance - Accept another way

Last Sunday I asked my friend Adele to make me my favourite dessert - a beautifully light tiramisu made with lots of love and lashings of booze. She instantly agreed and added that she was pleased that I as finally asking for help. I was confused. Do I not reach out to others? If anything I thought I asked too much. I'm the non driver always bagging a lift; the the technophobe getting some poor soul to talk me through yet another iphone update but I'm open to suggestions and if I needed to try asking for a helping hand or two I was going to accept that. The mission was to ask someone for help everyday. It felt like quite an easy one, I pictured a week of lovely smiling minions carrying my bag. 

I went through day one feeling great but I try as I might I couldn't find a single person willing to give me a hand. It's not like I was crying in a ditch or anything but no one was rushing to my aid at any point. The second day continued in much the same vein, I'd all but abandoned the mission when a man stopped me as I was bouncing Roscoe's buggy up some inconveniently located steps, 'Can I help you?' he asked. I was just about to wave him away when I stopped myself and gratefully allowed him to grab hold of the bottom of the buggy. To be honest it was pretty awkward and I spent the whole time anxious that the dude was gonna do his back in. This help malarkly wasn't all it was cut out to be. 

The next day I decided to be creative and asked a friend to help me organise a night out. He did great, picking a fab venue and starting to spread the word but instead of feeling grateful I felt a bit antsy; I didn't just want to sit by a helpless bystander. I wanted to be in on the action. Despite asking for help I muscled in and started contacting people myself. I was the worst helpee in the world. 

I was getting frustrated with myself. I couldn't ask for help if my life depended on it and then I thought maybe that's what I have to accept. It was quite wonderful really, I've always thought of myself as a little bit hapless and really quite needy, it was quite a revelation to know that maybe I had some stuff together, it takes strength to ask for help but it also takes strength to get up, get out and get it done all by yourself. 

If you want to join Mission Acceptance you can sign up here.

My Petit Canard
My Kid Doesn't Poop Rainbows