Thursday, 21 January 2010

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Thursday, 14 January 2010

Snow and the Interfering State

School was open today and weather forecasters are predicting a big thaw over the weekend. Now I’m starting to panic how I will cope next week without my “snow day”. Despite my objections to the principles, I’ve got used to our days off. It's become a treat to be protected by the muffler of snow from the normal requirements to chase and chivvy and frantically dash to school. The twilight, ethereal, glowing world of snow has become a sanctuary where we can enjoy being at home and catch up with ourselves.

Joking apart, my whole point in these last few postings has been to highlight the bigger issues behind the decision to close schools. With this in mind I thought this article in The Sunday Times was interesting. Jenni Russell discusses how the state has interfered in our lives to such an extent because Labour don’t trust us to make our own decisions. This goes to the core of my problem with schools closing – we can’t be trusted to decide whether it's safe for us to get to school and there are endless petty health and safety rules strangling every practical decision. “By putting the state in the middle of everything, we’re destroying society” says a mother whose 15 year old son was forbidden to do work experience with a stockbroker in London because the council’s health and safety officer had to check all premises beforehand and he was not allowed to travel that far.

I appreciate that all these rules are supposed to be for our benefit, but they are actually counter-productive because, rather than protecting people in a practical and pragmatic way, they simply annoy and frustrate, turning people away from what would be sensible behaviour. I’m not launching into politics on this blog but I would love to see a government who can allow society to be responsible and stop marring our lives with petty and nonsensical regulations.

Sunday, 10 January 2010

Living with Snow

Okay, so it's quite hard work getting children in and out of coats, hats, gloves and boots, but I'm quite enjoying living with snow. It's beautiful; cold and crisp, huge crystals glittering in the sunshine. We are finally experiencing the stereotypical images of winter that are usually only seen in Christmas cards and history books.

Maybe it's because I got used to this way of life when we lived in Kyrgyzstan where there can be snow for months. Schools stay open (unless it gets to minus 20) and roads are certainly never gritted, so everyone just gets on with it. Dilapidated Ladas, held together mostly by string, keep on sliding over ever thickening ice. Kyrgyz girls refuse to give up their fashion - stilettos. Watching them it occurred to me that this is actually quite sensible footwear for these conditions because the heels act like crampons in the snow and ice.

This morning our brilliant Sunday School was open - on the school site. Lots of people turned up, keen to keep life as normal as possible. We discussed schools closing - there's already talk of school closing tomorrow, even though the snow hasn't yet fallen. Twenty-four hour media, we decided, is part of the problem. They keep a story live, updating every hour, squeezing every detail from it - if I see one more report from a gritting depot I will scream! This means we are always on alert about something that we might just calmly get on with if not constantly bombarded by media hype.

It's also occurred to me that one of the saddest things about this whole schools closing issue is the reflection of our society. Schools close because there is a presumption that if someone falls over and hurts themselves in the playground, they will sue. That says more about the attitude of society as a whole, the blame culture we have created, than the actual decision to close schools.

Thursday, 7 January 2010

School is Opening!

Tonight I have been to book club - what joy it was to get out of the house and talk to adults! Inevitably, we discussed school closures. Someone made a point I wanted to share - that the fact schools close so easily is actually a sad indictment of society. It's because we've all become too litigious, too quick to cast blame and sue for any upset, that schools have become so anxious to limit risk.

On a positive note, T's school is open tomorrow! Starting later and requesting children take packed lunches. As my husband said, do they read this blog...?

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Snow: Do we give up too easily?

During the snow in February 2009 I had a rant about how easily schools closed and how this sets a bad example to our children. “...What it says to them is that when things get tough we just give up...” I fear I must vent again!

This morning my 6 year old was crying because, at 7am, there had not been an announcement that his school was closed. There was snow so he assumed that school would close. This is the example he has been set so this is now what he expects. By 7.30 the inevitable announcement had been made.

I’ve just read on the website that the school will be closed again tomorrow and I am disappointed. This snow is not a surprise. We have had plenty of warning. Other people are managing to get around, with care. Why can’t teachers get to work? Why can’t a skeleton staff open up for those pupils who can get in? I know some will say there’s a health and safety risk, someone might fall in the playground etc – but these days there’s always a health and safety excuse if you want one.

Why did the school not spend today preparing, such as gritting the playground and surrounding pavements? Why can’t they show some initiative and be adaptable. For example, why not start later, to give people more time to get in? Why not ask pupils to bring packed lunch? To give up and close with so little effort sets a poor example of perseverance, something I discussed in more detail in my February 2009 post.

The media don’t help. The morning news was full of melodrama and drastic advice – “don’t take your journey unless it’s absolutely necessary...” Do they consider the responsibility of going to work absolutely necessary? With this being said on the news, it becomes too easy for everyone to absolve themselves from even trying.

Maybe I feel like this because I’ve lived in countries where people cope in snow much deeper than this for months at a time. Maybe I feel like this because my parents have always been self-employed so I’ve grown up with a strong work ethic and an understanding of what it means to be entirely responsible for your business, every day, whatever the circumstances. For us, today, work had to go on. We run day nurseries and all three were open – with full credit to our staff who made huge efforts to get in. We feel a duty to the parents to stay open so that they can go to work. Why can schools not show the same care? They close and this impacts on all the working parents.

I am very aware that many of these decisions are taken by the council rather that the schools. But it’s too easy for some distant civil servant to declare all schools closed without any thought about what this really means. I’m sure some of you will tell me that roads are treacherous and it’s irresponsible to be out. That may be so in some areas, but around here, things really aren’t that bad. Most of the pupils could walk to school - something that is endlessly discussed in assemblies when they are promoting the health and environmental benefits of walking to school!

I'm not entirely miserable, I can appreciate that it's wonderful to be able to spend the day pottering at home and playing in the snow, but I do believe there is a bigger issue and that the collective reaction to snow is unfortunate. Yes, there’s more effort involved when our world is covered in snow, but what is teaching all about? Why, as a society, do we not try and persevere through adversity any more?

Ps, in February 2009 I gave credit to our milkman, Dave, who didn’t miss a delivery. At 4am this morning, Dave was out in the snow leaving our milk by the gate. Well done Dave, and thank you!

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Pressure and Perspective at Christmas

This morning I heard a woman being interviewed on the radio, claiming that she was not sure how she’d cope if her delayed Ocado delivery did not arrive. Oh please, I thought, is this what we've come to. Could she not lift herself from her despair and go to a shop? And is it really THAT important, will it change her life? Have we gone mad as a society, have we completely lost perspective?

I felt saddened by this woman’s whining and it encouraged me to finally post something I’ve been thinking about for a while...

On Sunday I had a strop. I seemed to be in the kitchen clearing up all day and felt more like a skivvy than a mother. The next morning I chatted with a friend who said she’d had a similar day. With my hands in the sink I’d started to think about all the mums feeling the same. I don’t want to seem bitter, a martyr of my role “oh poor me with all the washing up to do”. I’m not getting into the male-female-shared housework debate here; my husband contributes (when he’s at home). I am very aware that men and women are different animals who see and do things differently and this creates pressures when living together. That’s not what I’m thinking about here. The point for this post is; what is it about Christmas that does this to us, why was I feeling stroppy and hard-done by at the supposedly happiest time of the year?

Is it just the sheer weight of celebrating – there are more meals, more parties, more people so more mess and clearing up? Is it because it’s the middle of winter when living is harder, it takes longer to do simple things in the cold and dark? Or is it because emotions are more intense – we so want everything to be perfect for our families on that one day that we put more pressure on ourselves?

I’m sure some would dismiss me as a miserable old bag but there are aspects of Christmas I find difficult. I like it to be a family time when we can enjoy being together without the pressure of deadlines. Last year M and I eventually stopped rushing around and got down on the floor and played their new board games with the children and it was great, for all of us. But this can be a difficult moment to get to.

I refuse to get stressed about Christmas – it is, after all, supposed to be simply about celebrating the birth of Jesus. One wise person told me to separate the two Christmases, to accept that there is one religious festival and one occasion of consumerism and feasting. That goes some way to helping justify the contradictions between the two. Although this week, with the Copenhagen summit in the news, I feel uncomfortable about the excesses of Christmas. As individuals I believe we all have to do our bit to help preserve the Earth’s limited resources. Obviously we do not have the power of world leaders, who have prevaricated then flown home in their private jets. But we all have to take responsibility, in whatever way we can. So much is wasted at Christmas, so much packaging sent to landfill. This is not a way of life I feel comfortable with.

“But it’s Christmas,” people say, “lighten up!” Okay, so if this is supposed to be the most joyous time of the year, why does it make so many people unhappy in different ways? I’ve seen mums distressed about Nativity plays – because they couldn’t get there or because their child didn’t perform as expected. Should we be creating this pressure on everyone? Children line up for school ghostly pale, exhausted by the hysteria – do they want to sing these songs and perform these plays for their expectant parents or would they be happier in the classroom? People ask “are you ready”, in expectant tones, creating the intensity of a crucial deadline. Is it really that important what we have for pudding on Christmas Day? And I’ve not touched on the major issues of people spending money they don’t have or domestic violence increasing. When did this become “celebrating”?

My point is, if Christmas is supposed to be a special family time, why have we created a plethora of fuss around it so that mums, with their hands in the sink, just feel stressed and unable to enjoy their families? I understand that celebrating Christmas is about traditions – everyone has their routines they like (or have) to go through, without which it doesn’t feel like “Christmas”. But surely there is a way of preserving these traditions without making it such a contradictory Event? Certainly, I often find my “Christmas moment” in the most unlikely of places. Maybe it’s since I had a baby at Christmas, but I can’t help feeling emotional about how it all began; Mary, raw in her motherhood, and her precious new baby, wondering how their life together was going to turn out.

If we could take a step back, reduce the obsessive consumerism, just give a few gifts and enjoy a few simple family meals together, would it not mean that everyone could properly enjoy the occasion rather than feeling harassed about the next job that has to be done in the seemingly endless quest to create the perfect, fabled, but elusive Christmas?

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

What is a Feminista?

I still puzzle over this blogging phenomenon; why we feel the need to publish our thoughts and share opinions with strangers. However, blogging has brought me some unique experiences, things I would have never tried if I wasn’t in the virtual world meeting new people.

For example, last week I reviewed a book on-line with someone I “met” through blogging. And it was great fun. My virtual book club was with Carolyn of Black and (A)broad. She had contacted me to suggest we read Feminista by Erica Kennedy. Carolyn had read my posts Happy Housewives and Slummy Mummy and the Feminists where I discuss modern feminism being about choice. She had read an interview with Erica Kennedy and been reminded of my comments, so thought we might like to review the book.

Erica Kennedy caused a furore of response on her blog when she defined Feminista using photos of celebrities to illustrate her points. In interviews she seemed eloquent “I never felt comfortable calling myself a feminist because that word has so many negative connotations. The stereotype of the hairy, man-hating woman...Feminista is...the modern woman who is making her own choices... Being a feminista is about tapping into our unique female attributes and living authentically instead of defining ourselves by male standards of success.”

With this as background, Carolyn and I were excited about reading the book, looking forward to a new perspective on feminism for the modern woman. Sadly we were disappointed. Feminista is more chick lit than thought provoking; too much name-dropping Fashionista and, despite what EK had said, too much anti-male aggression to appeal to me.

So what’s it about? Sydney Zamora, who writes for a celebrity magazine and is very dismissive of all her friends who have deserted her by getting married and becoming obsessed with their children, decides she needs to get married. The novel is her quest for a husband.

EK does raise a lot of issues of interest to women – salary inequality; the meaning of marriage - but sadly she deals with them through extended rants by Sydney, angry soliloquies which alienated me and thus lost any impact. I felt the author was pressing points that bug her in life, overtly using her heroine as a voice. That became distracting.

Sydney for us was too judgemental of everyone around her; too negative a character to be a positive role model for today’s women. She’s supposed to be “smart as hell” but spent too much time drifting through her life and moaning, not taking control. The Feminista image didn’t work for us; too abrasive - and too much high fashion. I cannot get excited about $795 “Lanvin flats” worn by Elle Macpherson like Sydney does. To me that is not empowering. But high fashion is not my thing and I’m sure there are many women who would relate to this definition.

We agreed that a new label is needed. Carolyn said “I think the time for "feminism" to be used to describe our situation has come to a close. We need to think of a new word or concept to talk about women like you and me, for example. For me it's about support. I may not agree with your CHOICE to give up your career to stay at home and care for your children but that doesn't matter. I'm not here to judge your choices. As a "feminist" I'm here to give you the support your need to help you execute your choice. I'm not into the judgement thing, and if there's one thing that turned me off of the main character, it's that she was so judgemental... Anger. That's what got the movements started so many decades ago. I'm not sure if anger is driving women today. Maybe it is. But my guess is that we're looking for support. Anger is an outdated notion, in my opinion.”

There were some things we liked; it’s an interesting insight into New York celebrity/society life. There’s a fun story in there which picks up pace – despite the twee ending. I liked the cover! Some readers do get the Feminista message. “Sydney is trying to work out her politics in a messy world which doesn't always cooperate with her...I think Kennedy does an excellent job of portraying Sydney's struggles to figure it all out.” (Amazon reviewer). Others don’t. A comment on EK’s blog was critical of the misconceived marketing pitch EK is using, which indeed drew us in with false expectations. “How you even attempt to link this book to a pseudo-intellectual debate on feminism is offensive. Honestly Sydney a new order feminist? What?!? She isn't even a good character in a bad chick lit novel. And this is a bad chick lit novel & nothing more.”

For Carolyn and I, Feminista is New York Fashionista chick lit. Read it if you enjoy hearing about clothes, shoes, bags, trendy restaurants and celebrity parties. But if you want a read to challenge your mind on what makes the modern, thinking woman, it’s not necessarily for you.

Click here to read Carolyn’s review