Boys Keep Swinging

My Twitter profile defines me as a feminist, social media expert, new mother and food blogger/lavender jam peddler.

Before going on "baby holiday", my salaried day job was in marketing communications; I was responsible for email marketing and social media, the voice of the company if you will.
Truthfully, it took me 4 years, yes that's 4 years, to get my company to even warm up to social media, much less accept and embrace it as part of the sales and customer service process and now that I'm on maternity leave it's certainly no longer being championed. And why indeed should it be given the current climate?

I support 19 other businesses with their social media strategy. In some cases with set up, training and consultancy, in other cases getting my hands dirty and actually managing pages or working on campaigns. In every case, where they followed my advice they have seen great returns. In those who did it to "tick a box" stopped truly engaging and even cross-platforming (using Facebook to update Twitter and vice versa *massive facepalm*) out of laziness I'm sure it comes as no surprise that they were less successful.  I have been part of some amazing campaigns, some charitable, all fun and it's a method of communication that I was very very passionate about.

Twitter for example represented the great equaliser. A place where absolutely anyone with an internet connection has a voice. For free. A place where celebrities and scientists can correct the heinous lies and mistakes of the media and engage directly with their fans. A place where nerds can connect with other nerds sharing a completely obscure passion. A place where people can unite and fight for a cause or promote a product. A place where brands can take the temperature of the success of their campaigns and products.

The early days of Twitter, the rise of this bold new frontier was glorious. Fabulous. Incredible. I was early enough in the game for Stephen Fry - patron saint of Twitter - to follow me. I was there before hashtags began appearing on television shows. I was there when it was wonderful.

These days, as I inferred earlier, not so much.

These days I find myself cursing Facebook for selling out to The Man and using EdgeRank to exclude small business owners from reaching the audience that has chosen to follow them. For treating pictures of women breastfeeding as pornography yet turning a blind eye to pictures representing violence against women. I find myself cursing Twitter for being completely swamped by superfans like Beliebers whose sheer strength in numbers do not use their power for good but merely to get "Justin Forever" or some other such meaningless rubbish trending. Trends used to represent genuine news, causes and controversy. Now it represents a generation of teenagers worshipping the follicles of their idol.

Another reason I am rapidly falling out of love with Twitter is the trolling. The media and the bloggisphere have recently been churning out post after post about rape culture and sexism and the terrifying vitriol that is aimed at men and women alike (though admittedly more often women) for expressing an opinion, for having a voice. Free speech gives us the absolute right to air criticism, but when people cross the line from criticism to crime... why isn't anyone doing anything about it?

Politicians such as David Cameron get responses to every tweet - no matter what the subject - with cries of "cunt" and ever more elaborate death threats. I can't claim to like the man, or his colleagues but he's a person like any other and should not have a buggery wished upon him in the name of "humour".

Yes, with wanky marks and everything. Because rape jokes are not funny.

Speaking of, Caroline Criado-Perez has been hitting the headlines recently after speaking out about the rape-threats she received merely for campaigning for an equal representation of women and men on our banknotes. When MP Stella Creasy supported her publicly, she became just as much of a focus.

I have seen countless examples of abuse against women on Twitter and it leaves my heart heavy in my chest. The fantastic work of #EverydaySexism is a drop in the ocean compared to the dedication demonstrated by some of the mysogynists out there. These are people who, when blocked, doggedly set up account after account and continue to relentlessly pursue their target whilst onlookers sympathetically suggest that the victim should just "take a break" from twitter or block them. Is it any wonder that so many instances of rape, stalking and harassment are unreported if this is the kind of response that we offer? It is NOT the victim's responsibility to brazen it out or hide away from it, it's society's responsibility to empower her to report it and to report it to someone who will give the complaint the respect it deserves and act upon it.

Whilst a "report abuse" button is a welcome step, I want more. I want to go to the perpetrators and simply ask "why?"  Why do you feel it necessary to object to women for expressing their opinion? Why do you feel it acceptable to wish rape and death upon them? What could have possibly led to your attitude, much less your actions?

I have written many times about the way women are portrayed by the media as nothing more than body parts and rape culture on Twitter is fostered as a result of this.

Twitter is now facing requests to police its platform. Plans for a Twitter Strike were floated by Caitlin Moran. People are deleting their accounts in droves.

The solution is not to drive these people from Twitter with a pitchfork, the solution is surely to confront them about and change their behaviour because otherwise only the platform will change.

Earlier in the year I applauded the suggestion that rather than women be told to change their clothes, behaviour and habits in order to be safe from rape that men be told to simply stop raping them.

If only it was that simple - but it should be.

Ziggy played guitarrrrrraaaaarrrrraaaarrrrrr.
Title: Boys Keep Swinging by David Bowie

Eyes completely open but nervous all the same

As you may have noticed, the title of every post on this blog references lyrics from a David Bowie song. Sometimes, when I listen to his music something pops out and inspires me and a blog is born. Sometimes, I write a blog and the title is something I rack my brains to fit with the space. But there is always a lyric. There is always a song. His entire body of work is better than any religious text in my humble superfan opinion.

The lyrics that this post belongs to, Absolute Beginners, is a song that I sing to Starchild a lot along with Kooks and The Prettiest Star. Oh and Dance Magic, and... yes yes we could be here all night, I know. But it strikes a chord with me. The lyrics are perfect for my vision of parenthood.


... As long as we're together
The rest can go to hell
I absolutely love you
But we're absolute beginners
With eyes completely open
But nervous all the same...


I believe that every parent should find their own style, that there are different methods because there are different people and different situations and more importantly different babies. After all, the method you choose might not be something your baby responds to. Aside from the CTFD method of parenting, my approach was to first research the holy fuck out of everything.
And I mean everything - even methods that I was certain I had already dismissed. I asked people to share their opinions and experiences and then firmly closed myself off from influence and judgement.
After all, what suits me and my lifestyle is hardly likely to be a decision that someone else can make for me.

I trust my instincts more than the experience of others. Even if I get it wrong, some mistakes you have to make for yourself to have a basis for measuring what does work. And thus, CTFD is the perfect response.

... As long as you're still smiling 

There's nothing more I need 
I absolutely love you 
But we're absolute beginners 
But if my love is your love 
We're certain to succeed...

I have been using the singular "me" here, but of course all decisions have been made equally by my beautiful husband and I. I did the research, we discussed it and made some decisions. He is a very hands on dad (even though he works away a lot admittedly, he is by no means not present even when he is not present) and the most important thing in our opinion is that throughout our parenting journey (god that sounds wanky doesn't it?), we present a united front. There will be no playing us off against each other and no conflicting responses to each situation we encounter. We are very much a we and I hope always will be.


By far the most useful book that I have read about parenting has been the WonderWeeks book.
No matter what methods you choose, you can't argue with science and babies developmental leaps consistently come with a degree of regression before they progress to putting their new abilities into practise which can throw out everything you have got used to - feeding, playing, having the time to wash up without them screaming from the other room because they lost sight of you for a second... 


Even though I had read the book before I even got pregnant and am well aware of when each leap will roughly take place, I am often caught by surprise by the sudden shift from Starchild enjoying his independent play one day and needing constant contact the next. Everything that I do is baby-led so I adapt our play according to his skills and interests and I structure our day around his moods. He has a set bedtime each night but other than that I don't believe in routine napping or feeding because one day he will be more physical than the next, it may be hotter or colder from one day to the next and therefore his feeding and napping will adjust accordingly. He knows how he feels and what he wants and I am merely there to facilitate what he needs. Even so, no matter how laid back I am, it can be very disconcerting that in the early months he would have a day where he just wanted to sleep or just wanted to feed and you do wonder - are they ill?


We chose two lifestyle approaches that I would like to explain in more detail here in order to refer the people in my life that ask about them. I am by no means saying that our choices are the best choices for everyone, they are merely the best choices for us.


Babywearing


Babywearing is, as the name suggests, transporting your baby in a sling or carrier instead of a pram.

There's this WONDERFUL scene in Away We Go where Maggie Gyllenhaal is militantly against using a pram. As she puts it "I LOVE my babies, why would I want to push them away from me!?"

Now that's not me. I carry Starchild because aside from the benefits for him which I'll go into below, there are also benefits for me. Leeds is not very pram friendly, I don't drive and I am all about minimalism. I like a small bag of essentials (I breastfeed so I don't need to take much with me anyway) that allow me the freedom to go wherever I want to with him - whether that's out for a walk, on a bus or to a narrow shop or restaurant that's up or down stairs. It's easy, it's fun and it's lovely and it works for us. The sling takes all the weight so it's very comfortable, he absolutely loves it and there are SO many styles and types to choose from.


With regards to the benefits of babywearing to him... (I'm using the male preposition purely because Starchild is a boy by the way) It's good for his:

1) physical development - a newborn leaves your body and the familiar sounds of your breathing, bowels, heartbeat, voice and the warmth of your body and is thrust into an enormous and confusing world. By babywearing, they adapt and adjust much more quickly, cry much less (Roughly 45% less in general but roughly 55% less at night which I'm sure you will agree is reason enough - as soon as he gained weight and got healthy after the initial ehhhrmaggerrrd premature scary stage he went to bed awake, settled himself and slept beautifully) and if they are having a clingy day, you have more freedom to get out and about with your hands free.

2) mental development - a baby, when carried is quiet, calm and much more alert which is the ideal state for him to learn. His senses are continually stimulated, he is at a level which allows him to see the world from a perspective that he will not whilst he is on his back or at knee-level in a pram.

3) emotional development - when carried, babies trust and are secure. Research shows that far from being co-dependent by being in close proximity to their mothers, they actually learn independence far quicker.
When he's older and bigger, I will no doubt use a pram, though as soon as he's at that age he will be old enough to go on my bike so I suspect I will still babywear or allow him to walk for the most part.


Baby-led Weaning


Starchild is now 4 months old. Between 6 and 9 months (he was premature though of course so that means his developmental stages are recalculated to a degree) his body will be able to digest and absorb nutrients from the food that he eats, and breastmilk (and the iron stores from the placenta) will no longer represent everything he needs.

Baby-led weaning is an approach which allows him to begin to explore solid food in his own time, at his own pace. As soon as he is able to grab food, bring it to his mouth, chew it and swallow it he is considered ready to do so. The only influence I will have is to ensure that what he eats is suitable and healthy, otherwise it's all on him.

From around 4 months of age, the natural tongue-thrust reflex (which causes babies to reject a spoonful of food that they are force-fed or anything else they put into their mouth by activating their gag-reflex) begins to fade so whatever feeding method you choose, this is the age that most people generally agree that you should start introducing food.


At this age, whatever they do eat will likely pass straight through them without anything being absorbed, because breastmilk (or formula) gives them everything they need. At this age it's more about exploring textures and colours and flavours rather than nourishment. And that's why baby-led weaning makes more sense to me:


Feeding them puree, and then later lumpy puree does nothing for their development whatsoever. They don't need to chew, they don't taste the food properly - it is sucked right to the back of their mouth rather than plays on the tongue and a puree of different flavours is confusing to the palate. Eating individual items of food will allow him to distinguish different flavours and textures and choose for himself what he likes and does not not like.


It will also allow him to share a mealtime with his family and friends, I don't know about you but I LOVE my food, as evidenced by my food blog Everything Goes With Toast. I aint sitting there spoon feeding Starchild mush in a restaurant whilst my food goes cold and I'm not having separate mealtimes in the day either - he'll eat with us and learn the rhythm of our life.


There are a myriad of other benefits related to his relationship with food in later life, but essentially, that's why I've chosen this method. It fits in with my style which is to react to him and allow him to develop naturally rather than restrict him. Whilst the modern world has many fabulous advantages, instinct tells me that since the dawn of time we have carried our children and allowed them to learn to hunt and gather their own food so why mess with a formula that nature approves of?


But that's just me - everyone is different as I have been so careful to point out!

If you're interested in Babywearing I recommend looking for your local sling library so that you can be guided by a professional and experiment before committing to buying or renting something.
If you are interested in Baby-led weaning, I recommend the official website which will also link you to the book.
If you are interested in Wonderweeks, I recommend the official website which will also link you to the book.

And finally, enjoy the song. It's lovely.



Ziggy played guitarrrrrraaaaarrrrraaaarrrrrr.

Title: Absolute Beginners by David Bowie

Organise the breeze

My best memories of being a child form an endless summer. Holidays in France, picnics, barbecues, drives out to beautiful places, stream scrambling, climbing trees, making daisy chains, playing in the garden, riding my bike.



I have always loved lazing in the sunshine, the sun kissing freckles onto my skin and white streaks in my hair. Reading a book, listening to music and sipping something cold is such paradise. The one thing I have always wanted is a hammock - slung between two trees and gazing up at the sky just sounds like my idea of heaven.

Now that I'm a mother, the intense heat that I am so comfortable in has turned me into a neurotic woman, desperate to protect her baby from overheating. We live in a terraced house next door to people who chain smoke in their garden and it drifts straight into the windows and door at the front of our house. Theirs is a back-to-back, ours is a through so we do have a back to escape to in the morning when it's shady, but the living room and bedroom (the two rooms I can breastfeed Mikey in comfortably, the spaces where we play and sleep) are now the hottest parts of the house - completely airless without being able to have the windows open. We bought an air-cooler that converts water into cool air but it only makes a one degree difference in temperature.
On Saturday night the bedroom got up to 29 degrees and this was 8pm at night, not the middle of the day when you expect the sun to really crank up the heat.

Suffice to say, I'll be happier when Mikey is older and the heat isn't quite so dangerous.



Today, as the sun crept higher in the endless blue sky, we packed a picnic and headed out to the nearest park. It was only a 10 minute walk with my Starchild in his sling, smothered in sun-cream and hiding under a hat and sunglasses whilst I lugged a parasol and a nappy bag crammed with fun.




A short whilst later, with our blanket spread out under the shade of some trees (albeit with Homer Simpson spray painted upon one of them...) and our parasol set up, we played and read and fed.



He napped soundly as the breeze rustled in the trees whilst I gazed out on the daisy-bedecked grass and ate a picnic of rose jam sandwiches on seeded bread, a coconut and chocolate chip biscuit, peanuts and raisins and a watermelon and feta salad.


I had brought bubbles with us, which we watched floating off across the park.


The one flaw in the plan was that my back couldn't take more than two breastfeeding sessions sitting upright on the grass and there was nowhere for me to have a wee (and if there was, lugging Mikey, a parasol, picnic basket and nappy bag would have been interesting!) so we headed home after a couple of hours. It would be perfect to sit under the trees in the hot midday sun so I think we'll attempt to head out there again tomorrow and I'll just have to dehydrate myself!

How I would dearly love to be able to just open the windows, or sit out in the garden surrounded by the beautiful, fragrant lavender plants that I now cannot hope to use for culinary purposes thanks to them smoking all over them. (My jam and other recipes are made from lavender dried and stored long before they moved in.)

Ziggy played guitarrrrrraaaaarrrrraaaarrrrrr.
Title: In The Heat Of The Morning by David Bowie