Tuesday, 27 September 2016

What Is My Technolegacy To My Child?

Whenever my daughter gets a chance to rifle through my handbag she systematically pulls everything out until she finds my phone.

Although we do FaceTime family on the iPad, she has never even been shown pictures on a phone, so - at 11 months - she doesn't know what they do. The screen is blank, but she stares at it in fascination and jabs at it with her fingers.

These little black boxes are a mystery to her, but they are also her biggest contender for our attention.

I am consumed by guilt whenever I realise that she is whining because I have been distracted by my phone.

I thought I was being a good parent by not letting her have screentime. But digital devices have been omnipresent in her life since before she was born, and I sent pictures of my scans to my family.

So what effect is technology having on her?

I was 14 when the Internet arrived in my school.

Every lunchtime hoards of teenage girls queued up in the library for their turn on the computers, so they could use chatrooms to talk to strangers. The school cottoned on relatively quickly and blocked chatrooms, but we just found 'forums' instead.

For months my friend and I shared our romantic woes and aspirations and sought dating advice from a 'friend' we had made who told us his name was Jack, he was in his 30s and he lived in America.

We could have been talking to anyone. It could well have been a 14-year-old girl in another school we chatted to that whole time. But a more sinister thought is that it was a man in his 30s.

I am now a carer for a vulnerable young girl who will soon be using the Internet herself.

In those days it took hours to share a photo and video was not even a possibility.

Some people believe that every time their picture is taken they lose a piece of their soul. There may be some truth to that if every time I see me daughter learn to do something for the first time, I reach for the camera and watch it through a lens, rather than living that moment with her.

Today, each stage of my daughter's life has been documented in pictures and videos and stored in a cloud somewhere. When she is old enough to want to see them there could well be too many for to have time to look at.

But I do not share them on social media. I do not feel I have the right to give away any pieces of her soul so carelessly.

Social media came into my life just after I finished being a student. I had a MySpace page and shortly after that a Facebook account.

At first it seemed a great way to keep in touch and track down old friends.

But as a young woman in her twenties who still cared so much what other people thought, it felt hard comparing myself to peers who seemed more successful, more attractive, happier even, than me.

I eventually realised that I had more 'Friends' on Facebook than I had ever had real friends. And that scrolling through all those updates and photos usually left me feeling alone, not connected.

I can't help worrying what it will be like for my daughter growing up with social media right from the beginning of that time in life when you start to compare yourself to other people.

I want to do everything I can to protect her. But equally I don't want her to be left out or   left behind in this ever updating digital world.

Now a recent report on the increase of childhood cancer rates cites radiation from mobile phones as a possible cause, and I have a new concern to add to my list.

Technology is a fact of life now. I have to help my daughter use it in all the right ways that will make her life easier and better.

But I also want to teach her that there is a real world too. And sometimes the only way to be switched on to it, is to turn off technology.

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Pokepram Go

I was pushing my buggy across the road today behind a woman of pensionable age.

She spotted a friend on the other side and slowed down to say hello, so I started to turn down the street to avoid crashing into them.

But just as I turned, she stepped in the same direction and I clipped the very edge of the back of her enormous, padded orthopaedic trainers, ever so slightly.

As soon as it happened I stopped, gasped and began gushing my apologies.

I'd only got as far as, "I am SO sorry! I ...", when she flashed a look of daggers - all rage, no pain - that left me feeling far more maimed than she appeared, and snapped, "Yes, okay. It's just I've got a bad foot." And she turned and carried on chatting to her pal.

"Oh, forgive me! You see, I regularly go about trying to mow down old ladies with a pushchair. But if I'd known you had a bad foot I would have steered clear and chosen another victim."

So in honour of that very kind and empathetic old dear, I am launching a new app - Pokepram Go (Kickstarter campaign to follow shortly).

It is a virtual game played in the real world, whereby you score points for running into people with your pram or buggy.

Here are the top Pokepram Point Scorers:

::Little old ladies - 500 points

::Little old ladies with bad feet - 1000 points

::Business people who don't hold doors open or even bother to offer helping with steps because their job is clearly much more important than yours - 500 points

::People who walk really slowly because they are using their phones and keep slowing down, making it near impossible not to run into them - 100 points

::Parents who do not make space for a second buggy on buses (Come one, we know you can sometimes fit three at a push!) - 800 points

::Teenagers who crowd together on the pavement and pretend not to notice you trying to get by - 500 points

::People who block the whole aisle in supermarkets with their trolley - 800 points

::Shoppers who look irritated with you for even daring to try and push a buggy around a clothes shop - 1000 points

::Bus drivers who wait at stops and then drive off just as they see you running towards them, pushing your pram with one hand, while desperately trying to flag them down with the other - 1,000,000 points

Did I miss any?

Buggies at the ready parents. Got to catch 'em all!
The Secret Diary of Agent Spitback

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Strike A Pose

It's London Fashion Week again and I couldn't feel more on the wrong side of the velvet rope if I tried.

Last time Kimye, Anna Wintour et al rolled into town I was imprisoned in a uniform of striped nursing wear.

Now, seven months on, my solid-munching daughter has dropped her lunchtime feed, and yet I seem unable to break free.

I went to a friend's birthday party at the weekend. She had a seven-week-old baby but had refused to let it steal her style - choosing to wear a glamorous dress with a sweeping floral cape at the front.

When it was time to breastfeed her daughter she excused herself, confessing she was going to have to go and strip off in the other room in order to access her mammary glands.

I, on the other hand, was wearing a red t-shirt dress with flaps at the front, in order that my 11-month-old daughter could dive in and help herself whenever she fancied it. And she wouldn't even need feeding until bedtime.

Somewhere during pregnancy I lost my style. And I still haven't got it back.

I don't mean that I was ever a particularly stylish or fashionista type of dresser. But I had clothes I liked and I wore them because they made me feel confident and I felt they expressed a bit of my personality.

But as the bump grew larger I began wearing bigger and bigger shapeless tents, before eventually abandoning dresses altogether, in favour of smocks and maternity leggings.

And that was it. The leggings enveloped me and I have been trapped ever since.

Leggings and stripy t-shirts with flaps in, leggings and oversize shirts, leggings and smocks.

Summer has seen me dig out a few dresses, but only ones that have easy-to-tear-open buttons at the front and are light enough to wear a vest underneath.

And since they end up covered in food and snot and I-don't-even-want-to-think-about-what-else, it seemed a waste of time to wear anything I actually like.

But as I stood there at the party in my wrong-kind-of-flapper-girl dress, I thought to myself, "I don't have to conform to the mother uniform anymore!"

I'll admit, it's a hell of a lot easier to wake up and pull on leggings every day. And some mornings I just don't have time to think about what would look good.

But still, I take the time to make sure my daughter's outfits are reasonably coordinated and attractive. So why not me?

I'm not saying I'm going to be Frow-ready every day. If you see me at the checkout in Lidl and I'm still wearing leggings, don't judge me.

But perhaps I'll dig out a nice dress next time I have somewhere to go.

If I'm going to end up covered in food and snot, then I might as well do it in style.
This Mum's Life
The Secret Diary of Agent Spitback

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

7 Cult Films I Feel I Have Been Living In Since Becoming A Parent

::Freaky Friday
1976, starring Jodie Foster and Barbara Harris and remade in 2003 with Jamie Lee Curtis and Lindsay Lohan. Teenage daughter and mother wake up to find they have swapped bodies and after a day in each other's shoes learn to understand each other.

One night I went to bed a wreckless young person with no responsibilities and my whole life ahead of me.
Next thing I knew I woke up and I have a child to look after and a house to clean and the weight of the world on my shoulders.
I feel like I have been thrown in at the deep end with no proper training or preparation and I'm having to make it all up as I go along in a desperate bid for survival.
Except there is no youthful body for me to swap back into, even if I could work out what magic spell would get me there. And all I really want is my mummy.

::Three Men And A Baby
1987, starring Tom Selleck, Steve Guetenberg and Ted Danson. Three carefree, successful flatmates find a baby left on their doorstep. Hilarity and chaos ensues as they attempt to get to grips with caring for an infant but can't help growing to love her.

I don't share their hairy chests or incredible Manhattan real estate, but so many times in the last year I have felt just like Tom, Steve and Ted. Whether it's getting pee-ed on, watching helplessly as my home is invaded by baby equipment, reading gruesome news reports from the paper in a cooing voice in an attempt to sooth, nodding off as she feeds or just generally feeling like this is really hard work that I wasn't in the least bit prepared for.
If only they popped round every now and again to sing her to sleep, Barbershop style.

::Baby Boom
1987, starring Diane Keaton. High-powered New York business woman is left orphaned baby by distant relative. She is forced to move to the country to start a new life, launches her own baby food brand and realises she wants more from life than a corner office.

If you have seen this movie you may remember a scene where Diane Keaton just can't take life as a lonely, exhausted mother and homeowner in the sticks any more and loses it - shrieking, crying, tearing her hair out and passing out, flat on her back, cartoon style. This replays in my head on a daily basis.
I don't want a corner office, I don't want to be asked out by a handsome and charming vet, but I do want to find a successful business venture to channel my creativity into and give me a sense of purpose in life. And I would quite like to have a mini-breakdown, just once, and let it all out.

::The Sound Of Music
1965 starring Julie Andrews. A young nun struggling to fit in at the convent is sent to try a new vocation as a nanny to seven children. She finds that pretty difficult too but attempts to make life fun with lots of games and singing. And then she ends up marrying their father and they all escape from the Nazis.

I like to sing and I seem to spend all day serenading my baby. But I'm certainly no Mary Poppins, as I am not Practically Perfect in any way and I don't have any magic tricks up my sleeve. So Dame Julie's other childcare film seems to resonate a lot more.
I do enjoy going swimming and to Messy Play with my daughter and generally joining in with her games. I'd love to be able to yodel and sew clothes out of curtains and dance around fountains.
And when I look into her big wide eyes and see that she loves me back, I do think, somewhere in her youth and childhood, I must be doing something good.

::Home Alone
1990, starring Macaulay Culkin. An eight-year-old boy is left behind when his family go on holiday for Christmas and at first he is delighted, but then he starts to miss his family. Meanwhile, two burglars are targeting the neighbourhood so he must defend his home.

At first it was great having the house to myself. I could stay in my pyjamas all day if I fancied, watch what I wanted on Netflix and eat junk food. That quickly got boring and I all I want is some company and a cuddle. 
But if Kevin McCallister taught me anything, it is to man-up, do the laundry, tidy the house and get a nutritious meal on the table.
And instead of a bad guy with missing teeth trying to invade my home, I have a bad baby with growing teeth trying to destroy it from the inside who I must fend off... without the bricks and kerosene.

1984, starring Zach Galligan and Phoebe Cates. A boy is given a cute little furry creature as a pet, but after not sticking to its strict care regime it turns into a terrifying, uncontrollable monster.

I signed up to take care of an adorable and helpless little creature with big, blinking eyes and a sweet little mewl, who was so cute and cuddly.
Now I have a torturous, screeching, fanged monster on my hands who I can't control.

::Dirty Dancing
1987, starring Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey. Coming of age romance with some smooth moves, a fantastic soundtrack and some unforgettable lines.

Because, "Nobody puts Baby in the corner." As if she'd ever let me forget it!
3 Little Buttons
The Secret Diary of Agent Spitback

Thursday, 1 September 2016

Don't Fence Me In

"NO!", I shout for what feels like the hundredth time in the last five minutes.

My daughter has veered away from the oven door, which she had been intent on trying to press her face up against as she admired her own reflection. But she is now charging straight towards the bin with the speed and look of lust of Usain Bolt heading towards a scantily-clad model.

She stops for a moment in surprise, she clearly thought she hadn't been rumbled, and then a cheeky grin creeps across her face as she begins waggling her finger at me and shaking her head.

Her, "No, no, no", gesture is just a meaningless taunt however, as she promptly continues towards the kitchen bin and attempts to dive into it.

Since she became mobile I am fighting a running battle to keep her out of harm's way. And I am losing.

I have not yet got round to properly 'Baby-Proofing' my home. But I am starting to wonder if there is any point. What does 'Baby-Proof' really mean?

I see danger everywhere. Obviously, I can cover the plug sockets to stop her electrocuting herself and fit a stair-gate to stop her plunging headfirst to the bottom.

But how do I stop her slipping and smashing her teeth on the stone floor of the kitchen, or climbing into the washing machine and setting it to spin?

And the trouble is she is able to find danger where I never even imagined it could be.

I thought I had come up with a solution - prison.

The Royale Converta 3-in-1 Play-Pen Gate is basically six stair-gates joined together, and can either form a cage or be attached to walls to trap your baby behind bars, whilst, hopefully, keeping danger out.

But she has realised the restriction of life on the inside and has started throwing horrendous tantrums whenever she is sent to jail, and her anything-but-silent protests are more than I can bear for more than a few minutes.

So I let her roam around behind me while I try to make her meals, turning my head as often as I can without slicing off my fingers or searing my palms, to check what home hazards she has identified next.

If I am lucky she will just have just found the bottle of hand sanitiser I had forgotten was even in my handbag, and hasn't worked out how to get the lid open.

She seems to have relented tugging on the tablecloth that I have pinned in place with bulldog clips, but I'm sure she won't have given up for good.

The radiators hold a particular allure for her, with knobs to twiddle, pipes to bash and casing to try and prise open. But while they are currently relatively harmless, they will soon be potential burn inflictors and so I have tried to convince her that they are out of bounds.

After I chased her away from the oven and the bin, she crawled up to the radiator, stopped and waggled her, "No, no, no", finger at it.

I may have won the battle, but I fear this war has only just begun.

The Secret Diary of Agent Spitback