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Pause for Thought

Blogging Pause for Thought

Feel the fear and do it anyway – but how?

19/04/2017

Space for the Butterflies

In the last week both the Blogtacular Twitter chat and the Act on this Periscope asked “what is fear holding you back from doing?”.  It hit a mark with me both times, and no doubt I could come up with some answers without too much effort, but it also got me thinking.  From “what is fear stopping you doing?” the logical question is “why am I so afraid in the first place, and how do I stop?”

I’ve been blogging for 11 years now, and yet the silliest things still worry me, even when I know the fear is utterly irrational and ill founded.  Last week I wrote about my favourite podcasts and when I tweeted out a link to the post I mentioned all of the wonderful and talented people who create them.  It sounds obvious and simple and yet I had to force myself to do it, to make actual twitter mentions and not just use the names of the podcasts and hope to slip my little post in under the radar.

But why? Why didn’t I want them to know that I liked their podcasts? If someone likes my posts here or my pictures on Instagram and lets me know I’m absolutely thrilled.  A comment that shows that something I have written has resonated with a reader absolutely makes my day, and I treasure each and every one. It’s a lack of confidence in myself that is at best, daft.

What exactly did I think would happen? Well fire and brimstone naturally, accompanied by a flurry of tweets all telling me that I’m never to listen to their podcasts again.  In the event I got a couple of lovely messages saying they were glad I enjoyed it and that was that.  So why did that take courage? And how do I fight a fear that has gone off on a frolic of its own?

The truth is that sending one tweet is not, from an objective point of view, the scariest thing I did last week.  Looking from the outside in, the ‘scariest’ thing I did was negotiate the settlement of a claim at work.  If I’d got it wrong then my client would have been unhappy, and that has an obvious impact on not only that relationship but my career as a whole.  But I’ve been in practice coming on 13 years and while there are still things that fill me with nervous excitement, there’s little occasion for true fear to come into the equation (though for the record, as an NQ, much of what I do now on a daily basis was the scariest part of my day).

So what’s the difference? Why is social media, and to an even larger degree, trying to actually get somewhere as a writer, riddled with a contagious imposter syndrome, when my day job provokes it so much less?

Rather flippantly, my first reaction was “well I have a certificate to say I’m a lawyer!”.  It’s true.  In fact, I get a new certificate every year, even if the glory days of elaborate crests and gothic fonts when they were issued by the Law Society are long gone in favour of something from the SRA that either certifies me as a solicitor or says I’ve got food hygiene to work in my local chippy; the design of the two are near identical.

I’m not suggesting that external validation is the key to all our dreams.  If anything I think that’s a scarier prospect than being a little over controlled by your fear and imposter syndrome.  If your entire self worth and belief in what you do depends on how many likes your last Instagram picture got (100= best photographer in the world, 50= why are you even bothering to hold a camera you unworthy fool) then life would be a horrible lurching rollercoaster of self doubt and despair.  Don’t do it.

We have to believe in ourselves, and the core motivation to follow our dreams has to be intrinsic for anything we produce to have integrity.  It’s that soul in a photo or a piece of writing, or even a teeny tiny knitted baby cardigan that people respond to.

But I think there’s a trick we can borrow from my chippy food hygiene certificate. It’s been 15 years since I last sat an exam, and almost 13 years since the last time that someone submitted a formal report of my capabilities to the Law Society, and yet every year they keep issuing me a certificate assuming that my skills have only improved year on year.

Clearly to be a blogger or a writer or a whatever your dream might be you don’t need a degree, blog school, a training contract, and annual certificates, but I think that we could borrow the cumulative aspect of it.  If we don’t allow our work to compete against itself by getting mired down in comparing why one post did so much better than another, but add them together as an ever increasing record, couldn’t that be that ‘certificate of competence’ to hold onto with white knuckles as you do whatever it is that scares you?

When I submitted a story to a writing competition a few weeks ago, the ‘certificate’ was every comment ever posted here; when I put something on Twitter it’s every time someone has liked or retweeted me.  It’s never going to stop the silly worries or the butterflies in my tummy, but it doesn’t need to; it only needs to be just enough to take that step off the cliff edge.

 

Family Pause for Thought

Welcome to 2017: in which there are no New Year’s Resolutions

01/01/2017

It’s  2017, a brand new year and a brand new day.  And albeit maybe it’s a little forced to make one day the point that we stop and take stock when in all reality today will be fairly indistinguishable from yesterday, but it prompted me to look back over last year’s resolutions (made in February naturally!).

In 2016 I was going to have found the perfect work life balance that kept me from falling into a pattern of compulsive overworking, I was going to push myself to the limits both in my real life job and here on the blog, and I was going to feel like I’d reached the end of the year having made progress, in whatever form that looked like.

Oh the innocence of my optimisim.

Space for the Butterflies - half term lunch treat

Well, let’s see. We did declutter the house, including taking two days off work over the October half term so that John and I could do some intensive KonMarie-ing.  We filled an 8 foot skip including a whole heap of garden rubbish, took 10 bags to the charity shop and wow did it make a difference.  It’s still far from perfect and I’m sure that as we build up to the big move (whenever that may be) there’ll be more sorting out to do but I think we have broken the back of it.  I did get better at taking my lunch to work, and discovered the £1 lunches on a Monday with O2 Priority (a small perk for the existence of my work mobile!).

The work-life balance of course remains elusive and the overworking hit a new level of crazy, from necessity rather than compulsion.  It’s recognised though, or at least I’ll jolly well make sure it is, which counts as success of a sort, though I haven’t done a lot of things that I intended to.  Life in the real world is due to calm down a bit in March at which point I can have a rethink on my plan to take over the world, but for now I’m just letting it go.  But even with the crazy we still had time for an amazing trip around Europe, and enough time for a Christmas holiday that has lulled me into a happy state of calendar amnesia.

Space for the Butterflies - Walchensee, Germany

As for this blog of mine, well I was chatting on Facebook about our blogging successes for the year and the first thing that came to mind was “well I didn’t quit”.  It’s been too easy to let the second half of the year cloud the first; in the last few months when posts were few and far between I really missed not just the time to write posts myself, but to be a part of the community.  I have had so much fun blogging this year, and I was blown away to be a MADs finalist for the second year running (and just in case I didn’t say thank you enough in the summer – THANK YOU, it was amazing).

Space for the Butterflies - the MAD Blog Awards 2016

I want to do so much this year to keep writing and taking better photos and making more videos and all the rest and yet I’m trying to keep some sense of realism in the whole picture.

The problem with resolutions is that they hold you to a standard that isn’t always achievable no matter how much you strive for it. And becuase I am human, and a tad on the perfectionist over-achiever end of the scale, not reaching the moon is all to often equated to failing to leave the ground, not realising that I’m sitting among the stars (if ever there was proof in the pudding it’s that I had to sit on my fingers not to say probably).

Space for the Butterflies - Pip Squeak is Two Space for the Butterflies - the 52 Project

The self-critical part of my brain looks at the last year and sees only what I planned to do but didn’t achieve, and that’s not OK with the rest of me.  Whatever I achieve or don’t it will be because I’m trying my hardest and pushing myself as far as possible

So for this year I’m not making any resolutions, or intentions or ambitions for this year.  I have things that I want to do this year certainly; finally make the pair to a sock I made before Kitty was born, finish the Sugar Block Club quiltalong, move house, have another go at winning the MADs, but I’m not making them a resolution.  I want to make time to think, to do more creative writing as well as continue to record our family adventures, but I won’t beat myself up if I don’t make it perfect.

I found this on Facebook earlier in the week:

Space for the Butterflies - Happy New Year

and while I’m not sure I’ve ever been that fabulous, the sentiment is spot on.  I’m a wife, a mother of three, I work full-time, I love to make things, to write, and to take photographs and I want to do it all, and do it well, and get better at it.  That’s my modus operandi, so adding a resolution on top of it is surely only going to add pressure when accepting that there aren’t enough hours in the day to do everything and be everything is my biggest challenge.

Right now I am enough. And so are you.  With our without resolutions.

So hurray for 2017, a new clean year to greet with ambition, drive, and, as always, hope.

Happy New Year!

 

Motherhood Pause for Thought Siblings

Aleppo, and the story of an extra Christmas present

15/12/2016

I came here this evening with every intention of just writing a happy chatty sort of Siblings post, full of our stories from the last month, but I find I can’t.

I looked at my pictures of my gorgeous, happy, safe, thriving children, who are all tucked up snug in their own beds in their own homes, and the contrast between them and the stories of the horrific scenes unfolding in Aleppo broke my heart.

Innocent civilians, and far too many of them children, caught up in a war they didn’t want, in a home neighbourhood which they can’t get out of when evacuation attempts keep being blocked by one militia or the other, fearing for their safety at the hands of both sides and no-one in the rest of the world seeming to care enough to do anything about it.

It makes me so frustrated to see actions being described as “probably genocide” but no government doing anything to actually stop it while it’s happening.  It’s no good sending in drones and spy planes to record evidence of war crimes and telling them all off in the future, it’s as much use to the people on the ground as someone videoing a burglary but not actually telling the police that it’s happening until afterwards.

It’s made writing about the little moments of daily life as a family of five seem rather trivial.  I know that they’re not; not really.  When Val McDermid spoke at Blogfest last year she said that the arts is a peaceful way in which we fight back against those who would have our lives ruled by fear, and she’s absolutely right; creativity allows a freedom that cannot comfortably coexist with terror and it has been a weapon against oppression since time immemorial.  Recognising that gives us the freedom to keep on blogging about parenting and knitting, and to do the parenting and knitting itself without being overwhelmed by some of the truly horrible things going on in the world today.

And yet what I’d really like to do right now is get leaders from both sides in a room and shout “have you lost your mind?!”.  Or, even better I’d send Samantha Power whose eloquent speech to the United Nations brought tears to my eyes.

My experience with tantruming toddlers suggests it probably wouldn’t make much difference anyway.  So we’ve done the only practical thing we can do; support the people who are trying to help.  For us it’s in the form of donations to the British Red Cross and Medicin Sans Frontieres, and fervent prayer that the latest attempts at an evacuation succeed.  The donations are roughly what we would spend on a Christmas present if we suddenly acquired an extra family member, and if I’m going to have a Christmas wish this year, wouldn’t it be wonderful if so many people gave an extra present’s worth of donation that the charities trying to pick up the pieces of countries torn apart by greed, jealousy and intolerance, had enough funding do give physical practical help where we can’t.

And I’m sorry if this post feels gloomy when December should be pictures of the children in Christmas jumpers and stories of their nativity plays and all the rest.  That will come (my Christmas holidays start next Wednesday and I can’t wait to be at home with the family) we’re all happy and healthy and starting to get into the flurry of Christmas preparations but to write that post without also writing this felt too much as if it was pasting a glossy front over how I truly feel at the moment: thankful that I can keep my little trio safe, incredibly grateful for what we have, and frustrated to the point of angry that I cannot say the same for the families in Aleppo.

Space for the Butterflies; Siblings 2016 December

Blogging Pause for Thought

On blogging: the possibilities are endless

01/06/2016

Space for the Butterflies - on the mummy blogging preconception

I have to whisper because I think I’m about to commit blogger blasphemy, but here’s the secret: I don’t want to become a pro blogger.

I spent three years at university, one year at law school and then another two doing my training contract before I qualified into my day job, and in the nearly 12 years I’ve worked in the profession since I think I’ve achieved a reasonable measure of success. It goes against everything English and everything female to admit it, but I’m good at my job, and I enjoy it.

I’ve also very much enjoyed making a little money through my blog, because it’s always nice to have a self funding hobby, but right now I have no intention of making it my full time career.

But it means that whenever I’ve gone to something like BritMums or BlogCamp there’s always been a moment during the day, no matter how much I’ve really really enjoyed the rest of it, when I feel I’m on the outside looking in.  There seems to be an assumption that we all dream of giving up the day job to work from home writing advertorial for brands and squeezing in a bit of affiliate marketing, and I know I don’t fit that mold.

If it is your dream, that’s wonderful – go for it. But when did it become the accepted collective dream? And a collective dream for a particular niche of bloggers too; there doesn’t seem to be the same ambition assumed about knitting bloggers, or any other craft for that matter.

The beauty of blogging is its versatility. Over the years I have got so much out of blogging, a little money yes, but also some very dear friends, some amazing experiences, a record of the beginning of our life as a family in a way that my memory will never be able to compete with long term, and the impetus and excuse to write.  It’s paid unexpected dividends too – the ability to write to a deadline and in a readable style has proved very useful in my day job, as has a working knowledge of social media. I wouldn’t swap it for the world.

But blogging can also be the mainstay of your income, give you the chance to be a stay at home mum to your small children and make that an affordable choice, or launch you in directions you might never have imagined.

You only have to look around to see where blogging can take you if you dream big enough – Alice’s Telegraph column is touching and funny and a brilliant read; Katie has just finished writing Hurrah for Gin the book which I cannot wait to read; and in a couple of weeks I’m going to have one of my favourite days out of the whole year thanks to Kat dreaming up Blogtacular and making it a reality. All amazing things achieved by wonderful women who had blogging as the first step on the way to making their dreams a reality.

What bothers me about the “sponsored posts and affiliate marketing” model is not that it doesn’t apply to me, or even that there are sessions at blogging conferences where I’m not the target market, because that would be spectacularly arrogant. It’s the idea that that’s the natural end point in blogging, the aim rather than simply an option.

As a collective group, and, as much as I hate to admit it, as women and as mothers, it’s all too easy for our hard work to be somehow diminished, in this as in so many other things; for those who work long and hard at pro-blogging to have it written off as a quaint little hobby, for those of us who write just because we love it to be told we’re only in it to review free lunch boxes.

If we present just one model as being the status quo then I think we run the risk of colluding in that perception, of keeping ourselves small by presenting a limited ambition.  And yet now is exactly the time we should be shouting from the rooftops that there is nothing that you can’t achieve.

I wish there was a magic wand I could wave and say, “and this is how we do just that! – onwards and upwards” but life is never that simple. We can’t individually turn a tide of public opinion, and inaccurate though it may be, as a label “mummy blogger” does come with a certain stereotype attached.  But perhaps the starting point is simply in acknowledging it ourselves, and by our words and actions making sure that that stereotype is exactly that – farcical and a million miles from the truth.

The truth is that blogging is the stepping stone and the rest is only limited by your imagination and the number of hours in the day, and that’s a message I think we can all get behind – even if all you want to do with your blog is practice your writing and have a little nudge to take nice photos of your children.

Family Kitty Motherhood Pause for Thought

Dear Nicky Morgan, Really?

03/05/2016
Space for the Butterflies - five little words

Kitty on her first day of school – September 2015

Today my eldest daughter will be going to school.  Were she two years older or six years older she would not. We, like so many other parents have watched SATS twist and change; have seen an education system materially altered from when we were small; a teaching staff that are busting a gut to deliver a well rounded creative education, despite a wholesale increase in bureaucracy and constraints; and children whose awareness of testing and the consequences of that testing is disproportionate to their very young age.  At a time when they should be exploring the world around them and letting their imaginations run riot, the existence of standardised testing means that they’re being taught to the test at the expense of education; it’s knowledge force fed by rote with ever increasing requirements.

Parents have raised petitions, parents have written to their MPs, parents have talked to schools, and nothing is getting through. There are no changes being made, but nor are we getting any answers.  And it’s off the back of that level of disenfranchisement that the Let Our Kids Be Kids campaign has flourished.

You may not agree. Actually, you don’t agree with the campaign, because you told the headteachers conference on Saturday that it would be damaging for children to take part in the boycott.  In fact, you said that:

“Keeping children home even for a day undermines their education,”

Really Nicky Morgan? Really?

Let’s have a look at this then shall we.  Well firstly, I don’t think you’re actually talking about the impact of children missing one day of school.  You are a working mother, and even if you’ve never had to do a conference call with a client while simultaneously chain feeding your baby carrot wotsits to stop them adding their tuppence to the conversation, I’m pretty sure you’ve grasped by now that kids get sick.  They get tummy bugs and earaches and horrid coughs and colds and chicken pox; and that can all be within the space of one winter if you’re really lucky.  Children miss school, and they make up for it as quickly as they chop and change their birthday party guest list. So your concern clearly isn’t that the children will miss a day of lessons (and for the record I suspect that any parent that feels strongly enough to protest is probably going to be planning something both educational and fun in its stead).

If it’s not the “missing school” part, but the “keeping home” part, what of that? The argument that I assume you are trying to put forward is that if we as parents take our children out of school for the day we are teaching them disrespect for their teachers and their school, and showing a lack of confidence in what they do.  We are saying to our children that they can be selfish, they can pick and choose what they like out of education and the rest doesn’t matter, and you would claim that in the long run our actions will cause our children to disconnect from their learning. It certainly hits the right notes for some tidy scaremongering (one day out and your children are doomed) and I’m sure it looked very pretty written down on paper.  But let me suggest to you an alternative lesson that the children being homeschooled today might be learning.

What if we as parents sit down with our children and give them credit for a little understanding.  What if we say to our children “we love your school, we think your teachers are awesome and work so hard, we think your headmaster is brilliant, and we’re so glad that you run in the door each day with a beaming smile.  But just as your teachers tell you what to do, there are people who tell your teachers what to do, and we think those people are getting it wrong. It’s not good for you, and it’s not good for your teachers either.”

We can teach them that when things are wrong, they do not have to sit and suffer in silence; that they can use methods of peaceful protest to give their voice a shout.  For the child stressed and made miserable by the tests it validates their feelings, and tells them that we are listening, and we have their backs.  It’s very easy for us to talk about “be the change you want to see in the world”; what if we actually showed them how lone voice by lone voice the mutterings of the playground, the disquiet within ourselves as a body of parents, has come together as one clear call which you have at last been unable to ignore? Wouldn’t that be a far more powerful lesson to instil in our future?

That you chose to comment in your address to a conference of headteachers on Saturday, with no actual school days between then and the day of the protest was an interesting tactic.  I’m sure many headteachers do have children of their own, although given that they can see the experience not just of their own children but of every child in their school, I suspect your remarks were unlikely to have swayed them personally, and as I said, there was no opportunity for them to pass your views back to their parents. So I can only assume that you were banking on your comments being picked up by the media and read by parents over the long weekend; asking them to second guess their decision away from the camaraderie of the school gate.  As I said, interesting, and just a little bit patronising.

So how about dropping the tactics, and the scheming.  We’ve got your attention and we’re here ready to listen.  As parents we have nothing but the very best intentions for our children.  We want to protect them and challenge them, and to light a fire for learning that will be with them for the rest of their lives. I want to hope and trust that you and the rest of the Department for Education want what is best for our children too.  On Saturday you rightly raised concerns that our proportion of functionally literate teenagers is lower than it should be and lower than many of our neighbours, and you’d be hard pushed to find a parent who doesn’t want to improve that.  But at the moment your solution, having acknowledged that something isn’t working, is that we should do even more of the same, just earlier and harder.  Sat on this side of the fence that’s illogical – if you repeat the same experiment you’ve got to be expecting the same results – and contrary to heavyweight academic research on the topic.

So talk to us. Talk to the parents, not to the headteachers. Write an open letter.  If you truly believe that increased testing at primary level is the right answer; that knowing about intransitive verbs really is essential knowledge for a ten year old, then tell us why. A proper why, backed up with evidence and fully reasoned out, not just “because I say so”. And if you can’t, then listen.

Because one of the biggest tragedies in all of this is that it’s got this far.

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I am absolutely thrilled to be a MADs Finalist for the Best Craft Blog category this year – if you haven’t voted yet, please do, all the details are here or click on the banner – thank you