Archive for the 'Family' Category

She gets it, even when we don’t

NS January 9th, 2011

Yesterday afternoon, after a spot of shopping, we took the kids to Pizza Hut. Though there were moments where we had to corral them back to the table, for the most part they behaved in the socially prescribed way by sitting in their chairs, eating their food and not making too much noise. It was a nice outing.

As NH and I were paying and getting coats on, our server, a young woman who looked to be in her early 20s, smiled as she watched our children tickle each other and laugh. After she handed over the receipt and my debit card, she said to them, “You two make me so happy. Watching you play together has made my day.”

She then turned to me and said, “This must be the best part of being a parent, huh? Watching them smile and laugh. I bet it makes up for all the times you’re fed up with them.”

Caught off guard by her lovely and insightful comment, I just smiled and nodded. As I watched the two blonde heads of my progeny skip out the door holding hands, the poignancy of her comment caused my eyes to briefly fill with tears.

Yes, I am lucky and yes, they are a joy to behold.

Thank you, Pizza Hut girl, for reminding me of that.

Noble Husband on fatherhood and work

NS November 5th, 2010

I read this article in the Guardian today about how fathers are supposedly happier if a) they have two children, b) their partners work and c) they share the household chores.

More cynical women than me might think it a load of hogwash, but, personally, I found it heartening and heartfelt. If 82 percent of working fathers would like to spend more time with their families, as this survey found, then that is a fantastic thing.

But.

How much of this professed desire to be more domestically involved is all talk and how willing are men to put some action into making it happen? I really want to know!

So, under strict instructions not to be afraid that I would use his answers against him in a personal capacity, I asked the Noble Husband what his thoughts are on this subject. Here’s the result of our ‘interview’, which took place over email and IM. Note: I tried not to refer to myself in the first person because I wanted him to think objectively, though I slipped up a couple times in the IM conversations.

1) Do you believe that childcare is primarily a mother’s responsibility or are both parents equally responsible?

It isn’t necessarily any one parent’s responsibility, but in a relationship where one partner earns the bulk of the family’s income it is likely that the other partner will predominantly take on this role, certainly during the weekdays. At the weekend, it should be much more of even split, perhaps even swinging more to the breadwinner.

2) If you believe that it is both parents’ responsibility, how is the childcare divided between you and your partner? Are you happy with the current arrangement?

I try to spend time with the children when I get home from work, even if it is just half an hour. They like to play before bed, cook, watch a bit of a movie or read stories with me. At the weekend I try to take the kids out of the house, usually on my own, to give my wife a little time to herself or with friends. Alternatively she may carry out a few tasks that are hard to do when looking after the children during the week.

I wouldn’t say I’m entirely happy with it as I tend to only spend a couple of hours with the children during the week but this is unavoidable when commuting to a job in London. At least I catch up with the kids at the weekend.

3) Current research suggests that men with two children whose partners works full-time and childcare is shared are happiest and least stressed. Why do you think this might be? Are you happier when your partner works?

Spending time with my children is a great way of winding down from a stressful day or week at work. When I’m with them, any thoughts about work instantly evaporate. Thats not to say the thoughts don’t return after they have gone to bed, but children put me in a better mood the moment I walk through door.

[After submitting this answer via email, I asked NH on IM if he could talk about how he feels about my work, which is part-time and done from home]

I’m happy that you make a contribution to the household income and that you’re “using your mind” a little too. I remember how just dealing with kids day in day out almost drove you mad.

Me: So you think I’m happier for working [at a paid job] a bit?

No doubt

4) In an ideal world, and if work/financial constraints were not an issue, how would you balance your professional, personal and family commitments? Would you like to spend more or less time at work and with family?

Ideally, I would work at home 2/3 days a week and be more active in taking/collecting them from school and spending more time with them afterwards e.g. playtime and homework. However, I would still feel part of “the team” at work though, by being there on other days.

5) We all know that women have had (and still have) numerous struggles within the workplace and balancing their careers with their families. Do you see men having the same struggles within the home, trying to spend time with their children and be accepted as adequate parents?

If I did work at home, I too would worry that colleagues without children would be favoured for career opportunities.

6) In your view, are fathers genuinely interested in having greater flexibility between work and home?

I’m not sure. I think most men would like the idea of being more active at home during the week but may shy away from it a little if it actually became a reality. I can imagine how hard it would be to carry out some of my work from home with the distraction of children – its the old joke that men can’t multi-task. Also, detaching oneself from office interaction and culture would be quickly missed by most men as well.

[I asked NH to expound upon this by IM]

Me: Do you think women are less inclined to find working at home difficult and miss office life, or just that they’ve had to get used to it?

They are better at juggling work and kids. A stereotype perhaps..or maybe they do learn to deal with it.

Me: Yes, that’s what I was going to ask, if you think ‘juggling’ work and children is something women do naturally or only do because they have to? Of course, I think it’s the latter but am fine if you disagree. Be honest!

I don’t really know. I suppose it depends on the person rather than the gender but on the whole, I’d imagine that women would be better. I’m certain that you would be better than me. I know I get easily distracted and would really struggle to work on a complex report if I had the “Daddy, Daddy” treatment from the kids.

At this point he had to get back to work, as did I, so our conversation ended. I would have liked to explore a couple points more in-depth, particularly how he imagines I get my work done while looking after the children if he believes it would be a struggle for him. I guess he doesn’t realise a) how much I shout and b) how much the TV is on when I’m working. Hey ho, another day, another interview. Until then…

Your intrepid gender relations investigator,

NS (with special thanks and love to NH)

Socialism and social responsibility

NS October 5th, 2010

I am proud to live in a country where everyone (and I mean EVERYONE) has access to a free-at-point-of-use health care system.

I am proud to live in a country where socialism or socialist-leaning systems are not looked upon with fear, disgust and horror, like they are in my home country.

I am proud to live in a country where many women (though not all) have the opportunity to stay at home with their children for up to a year and not lose their jobs as a result.

That’s not to say that everyone who lives here likes these things or approves of how they are set up or run, but overall, the majority are happy to live in a state where (in theory, anyway) everyone is looked after. It’s never been nor will it ever be a perfect system — some people will always be looked over and given appalling care while others revel in and are rewarded for their riches and privileges, while yet others milk the system to their advantage — but at least that safety net is there, even if it’s got holes in it.

I’m bringing all of this up because the media and the parent blogs are alight this week with talk of the proposed axing of child benefit from homes where any person earning a salary of more than £44,000 per year resides. At first glance it seems fair. Earning more than £44k should not put a family in hardship, surely they don’t need the extra cash, right? After all, that’s double the average national wage!

Two things not take into consideration with this proposal (or, if they have been taken into account, discounted as not important) are cost of living in different areas of the country and single income families earning above the £44k cut-off. How exactly is it fair to say that a family living on £42,000 in the very expensive London or the South East should be on level pegging with a family in, say, Grimsby, where the cost of living is much lower?

The second and more infuriating problem with this proposal is the fact that it completely discounts single income families with children to support. And who makes up the vast proportion of single income families with children to support? Single mothers and at-home parents (usually mums) whose spouses or partners work full time.

Put more plainly, child benefit will remain for families where one or both parents work but each earn less than £44k. Dual income families who earn, say, £30k and £40k respectively (for a combined income of £70k), will keep their child benefit while the single parent earning £45k won’t.

Now, I realise that there aren’t perhaps all that many single mums and dads earning more than £44k a year, but it still doesn’t seem fair that those who earn a good but certainly not extravagant salary may not receive child benefit when a family earning nearly double that will. Because let’s not forget that a single working parent usually pays the largest proportion of their income to childcare than any other family since they have to pay for someone to look after their children not only during the work/school days but also at evenings and weekends if they need or want to go out without the children.

Also significantly affected will be families where one parent is staying at home to look after the children and their partner earns more than the proposed cut-off point of £44k. A family of four or five (or more) living on less than £50k in London is not all that much. It may sound like a lot but after you take out tax, travel, housing, living expenses, food, etc.. for all members of the family, it really doesn’t leave you with much. I know because we were that family until very recently,when my husband got a promotion and a pay rise and I began pulling in a bit more money with my self-employed endeavours. Until then, we lived paycheque to paycheque and were unable to save or invest a single penny. Even now there are months when an unexpected car repair or a growth spurt requiring new clothes and shoes for one of the children can put a real strain on our finances. Child benefit has saved the day more times than I can count and I have truly appreciated it over the years.

Essentially, this proposal penalises single mums (and dads) and families where only one parent works while the other stays at home with the children. But does that come as any real surprise to those who voted for a Tory government? I could’ve told you before this cut was announced that large swathes of the working class and the struggling middle class would be most affected, a disproportionate number of whom are women.

However, I can understand that cuts have to be made somewhere and that it is a bit ludicrous when extremely high earners are receiving a not-insignificant sum of money each month simply for having a child or children. I agree that those earning six figures (or quite near it) do not need child benefit, but £44k?  I don’t think that salary, particularly in the South East, is extravagant for people who have dependants.

The thing is, it’s impossible to put a number on need. You can’t possibly know each family’s circumstances and whether the loss of this benefit would actually hurt them or not affect them at all. That’s why I think it’s perhaps counter-productive to take away the right to this benefit (at least at the proposed level). I have a better idea.

Any psychologist or sociologist worth her salt will tell you that people respond better to rewards than they do to threats. Hell, any parent of a young child or pet owner can tell you that! So maybe instead of taking away a benefit from a group of people that may or may not desperately need it, we start with the ones who most definitely don’t.

Why don’t we stop child benefit for those earning high five or six figures or more and invest that money into a social program wherein those who fall in the ‘questionable’ range of £40-80k (this is a ballpark figure and would depend on location, family size and personal circumstances) are awarded child benefit but have the opportunity to voluntarily rescind the award in return for points in a ‘social responsibility bank account’ of sorts.

Each time a person or family does something socially responsible (such as install solar panels,  grow their own veg, care for children, volunteer at a non-profit or community organisation, quit smoking, reduce water consumption, provide a safe place for teens to gather and socialise, voluntarily give up a state benefit they no longer need, or any other activity that is deemed beneficial to the greater good), they would receive points in their account. After a certain number had been collected, these points could be redeemed for the purchase of items and services.  These items and services would be partially funded by the state (generated by the funds no longer outgoing in child benefit to top earners) and partially donated by private, ethical businesses  in return for free advertising, priceless PR and the feel-good factor of being involved in such a project.

I’m aware that this is a simplistic, idealistic plan and I’m sure someone will be along to tell me why it would never work ‘in the real world’, but it’s the kind of thing I wish the government was thinking up instead of the same ol’ tax and spend loop that we’ve been stuck in for decades, with everyone getting screwed somewhere along the way.

What do you think about the proposed cuts to child benefit? Do you have any ideas for how we can get this country out of its financial mess without shafting the hardest working and most disadvantaged?

Hair issues, I’ve got a few

NS August 16th, 2010

I’ve been meaning to do a review of The Idle Parent because I liked it so much.

Alas, as  I was ignoring the children this morning while attempting to finish something I was doing on the computer, Noble Boy scribbled all over its pages with a brown pencil.

If ever there was a good reason not to be able to review a book (at least if it requires re-quoting passages), that one should suffice for this book’s author.

Anyway, that’s not the reason I’m writing. In a subsequent not-really-ignoring-but-not-really-paying-that-much-attention-either episode later in the day, just after lunch, my strongly-held opposition to culturally-ingrained gender stereotypes was tested.

As I worked at the dining room table and the children played outside, drawing (on paper this time) and cutting out pictures from an old magazine, I became absorbed in my news-gathering (part and parcel of the ol’ editing job) and didn’t notice when Noble Girl disappeared from the table and strolled over to the shed, scissors clutched in her hand. It wasn’t until Noble Boy came to me crying, pulling at my hand to get up and see what had happened, that I realised with a growing sense of dread that something was very amiss.

My 4-year-old daughter — the one with long, beautiful, blond hair — stared at me with a mixture of confusion, fear and sadness in her eyes.  My jaw dropped when I saw the choppy mane hanging in ragged layers around her face and the piles of hair around her feet. I looked down at Noble Boy, who was still crying, and saw that she’d worked her scissor magic on his (already sparse) hair too. Where there had previously been fine wisps of white-blond hair, there were buzz-cut patches of intermittent baldness. I looked from daughter to son, son to daughter.

Readers, I am ashamed to say: my first reaction, in my head, was, “She looks like a boy! All that beautiful hair is gone! And my son, he looks like a regular thug. Whatever will we do?!”

I pulled myself together, gave myself a few internal slaps and worked rapidly to calm and reassure both children. A few hours later a pixie haircut at the barber shop and a stop by the drugstore for hair wax to make it stand up a bit and instead of a Poor Little Girl Who Looks Like a Boy With a Bad Haircut, we had a Super-Cool Rock Chick! All is fine, she loves her new do (mostly) and the crisis has been solved. We have to decide whether to leave Noble Boy’s hair alone and hope it grows out somewhat evenly or just complete the buzz cut Noble Girl started.

I’m still struggling with my initial reaction though. Obviously I haven’t managed to completely escape the GIRL = LONG HAIR trope. Oy vey.

Mortality, music and chianti

NS July 17th, 2010

I thought I was watching my father die tonight.

It happened right before my eyes, live on webcam, but I was 4060 miles (6533 kilometres) away.

He was okay in the end, thank goodness. But as I sat, my children either side of me, eyes wide and mouths open, watching my mother spring from her seat and shake his lifeless form while shouting his name, that distance may as well have been from moon to sun to Earth and back again.

“What’s wrong with Boppy?” my daughter asked.

Keeping my voice calm and controlled, even though I wanted to scream ‘Daddy! Are you okay, Dad?’ was tricky.

“He’s just not feeling well, sweetheart. Nana will call back when everything is okay. Don’t worry.”

“Okay!” Off she skipped to watch fish swim in the sea. On TV, of course.

Even after that reassuring phone call — he’s okay, just passed out from this cough he can’t shake, we’ll go to the doctor on Monday — I felt odd; numbed.

I opened a bottle of chianti and poured a generous tipple, tapping my fingernails restlessly against the cheap glass. I called my sister, she’d know what to do (she always does). She promised to be the bull dog after my dad to go to the doctor. With his stubbornness, someone has to be. I realised as we talked that she always will be, by default. As the only child who lives in the same area, (let alone continent) as our parents, she will inevitably deal with more of these things than I do.

I feel crappy about that. Have I run away from reality over here? Some day it will come to bite me in the ass. Today, it nipped me.

My husband started talking to me. I argued with him, distracted from my thoughts and not caring much for what I perceived to be his shallow concerns. Who the fuck cares when we’re going to get the birthday card for our godson’s birthday party tomorrow?! For 20 seconds today I thought I was watching my father [What, die? No, that's not it. Well, a little bit. Something scary, at least]…I don’t want to talk about it.

I was not there because of you. I am here, 4060 miles away, because of you. My heart sings but it also aches because of you.

I love you always but I hate you a little sometimes. Not you but your birthright, your geography, your far-awayness. Your castles and your rain and your parents down the road and how well they know our children and how interwoven our lives are with theirs.

I am jealous. Jealous that your parents have us over for lunch without a second thought, drop by without a second thought. I am insanely jealous that you know that if your dad ever keels over in front of you that you can race straight over, be at the door and in his arms in 30 minutes flat.

Me; I stare at a screen with a silent scream in my throat, trying to figure out how to dial 911 from a country that dials 999.

Fuck. How can I be jealous of reality?

And then I had to go and drink most of the rest of that bottle of chianti and watch a really great, sad, lovely, uplifting film, the kind that makes me want to both stare at a wall doing nothing and fulfil my dreams. Then I listened to really great, sad, lovely, uplifting music, the kind that makes my fingers ache to strum a guitar, pound piano keys or fly over a flute, just to make something that is beautiful and makes me feel lighter than air for just a few moments.

So now here I sit, contemplating my father’s mortality with music pumping into my headphones and a tear steadily streaking down my cheek but I’m still smiling because I know that no matter how sad and horrible and lonely and heartbreaking this feels, others have it so much worse and don’t even have the family to fret about or call on the phone. I have live babies and an unbroken family still stitched together at the seams. I have a healthy body that can run for hours (or wants to) and a mind that is riddled with privilege.

I should be so happy and so thankful. I am.

But right now all I can think about is flying those 4060 miles to wrap my arms around my father. I’d not sleep the whole flight and would keep my eyelids open to every turbulent wind, every cloud cluster, every blazing sunrise and every achingly sad sunset that befell me, drinking in every detail of the freedom of flying.

Hang on, Dad. I’ll fly home some day.

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