25 April 2016

You do know how that happens don't you?



I recently announced my pregnancy. Normally this is an exciting, precious time spent shrieking and talking about names and online browsing for baby clothes, and to some extent it is. But this baby, this 1/2 a banana with fingernails and eyebrows* is a little different.

This baby is my THIRD baby. (*I just had to google how big my baby was, I could have told you in a heartbeat what sized fruit the first two were without googling!)

Yes, I've crossed a line, from normal human with 2 kids, a socially accepted norm, to CRAZY lady who must have taken a leave from her senses or forgotten to take her pill.
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6 January 2016

Starting Preschool: Take Two

This week saw the start of a new era in our lives. My giant baby, the second born, my humungous bundle of joy started preschool.

He will be going for 2 whole mornings a week. A grand total of 6 hours a week at the same preschool as his brother, in the care of a wonderful team of women who I know love him already. 

As he toddled in, aged 2 years and 3 weeks, (and 3 months younger than his big brother when he started) I noticed so many differences to my first experience of a child's first day.

My first baby on his first day.

My overriding feeling of taking the eldest to preschool all those months ago was worry. The sort of panicky, tight-chested, neurotic worries that only a first time mum can know. They followed me around all day like wasps around an ice cream. Bzzz What if he's sad/cold/tired/hungry/needs a cuddle? Bzzz Am I breaking his trust in me sending him to a bunch of strangers? Bzz Will they tell him that boys don't cry? Will another kid push him? If they did would he tell a grown up? BZZZ Will they open his yoghurt for him? Would he ask them to if they forgot? BZZ BZZ BZZ WHAT IF HE GETS SAND IN HIS SHOES?!!?!

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2 January 2016

Agency Nurse Pay Cuts



My name is Amy and I'm an 'agency nurse'.

Even in my own mind that phrase has negative connotations. Of laziness. Of greed. Of low quality nursing care. 

These connotations, which even I struggle to get past, go through the minds of every nurse I work with.

But I'm a good nurse. I work hard. I have years of experience across a range of specialities. I truly care about my patients. I am keen to learn. I stay late whenever necessary to make sure my documentation is of the highest standards. I gladly give up my tea break to chat to mums who need a friendly ear. 

I didn't train to be a nurse to work for an agency. I'm not doing my masters in nursing to work as a temp. I trained and I continue to train to be part of the best health service in the world.
I'm not "an agency nurse" at heart. I'm an NHS nurse.

I left the NHS when my husband started working 9-5. He could no longer fit his work schedule around my ever changing unpredictable shift pattern

Agency nursing offered me what the NHS couldn't wouldn't: the ability to work one shift on the same day every week, a day when my husband is at home to take care of our 2 preschool aged children. Part time work while my children are very little. On a day that I can arrange childcare. Doesn't seem too much to ask of a 24/7 service does it? But the NHS (on the grounds of 'fairness') now require every shift worker to work a combination of days, nights, weekends and weekdays.

Childcare settings on the other hand are only available on the same days each week. A friend of mine has been on a waiting list for a "Friday" session for months at her child's nursery. There's little hope of finding one which will have the boys for a different day each week with often only a few weeks notice of the dates.

Without a local set of healthy, willing and available grandparents to call on, it's a tall order to source childcare for 12 hour shifts that change every week. I'm sure some people have found a way, but I couldn't.

So I left the NHS.

When I left I gave up my pension, the security of guaranteed work (and therefore income), chances of career progression, development opportunities and, crucially, my place in a team. Love or hate your colleagues at work, you should cherish them. I truly miss being part of a team, even just knowing who to steer clear of and who to ask a favour of when you're in a bind. It's exhausting trying to get to know brand new team every few shifts as well as learning where they keep the sats probes, how you get to theatres and how their paperwork works.

As well as missing knowing my way around, I miss the stability and security of a 'real' job. Just last week my shift was cancelled. It was a shift I booked in as extra to pay for Christmas presents. A few weeks earlier I was sick, I couldn't work and lost a quarter of my monthly income. We coped with that because the pay from agency work is was enough to make up for that instability. Was. 

This year a huge change is taking place for agency nurses like me. The increased wages which used to make up for the loss of guaranteed income, loss of sick pay, loss of pension, loss of training and development opportunities are being reduced.

Soon my wages will be the same as an NHS nurse. The same pay per hour but with none of the perks of being employed, like sick pay, or a contract.

We'll struggle to pay the bills. Something will have to give. Our quality of life will decrease. 

But paying us less will save the NHS millions. And that's wonderful.

I care about the NHS and want to save the NHS as much as anyone.
The problem is that cutting my wages isn't really solving the problem that the NHS don't have enough nurses. Reducing my pay isn't making it any easier for me to come back. Paying me less won't drive me back into the open arms of the NHS because the reasons I had to leave still stand. 

I'd love to come back, all I ask is that I can work around my family.

Simple, obvious, family friendly working conditions would bring me back.

Letting me work weekends while my kids are little so my husband can look after them. Or allowing me the same shifts each week so I can put them in a nursery or get a child minder. A nights only contract when they go to school so I can do the school runs and sleep while they're at school. Easy solutions for childcare issues, solutions that used to be commonplace when I was training to be a nurse.

So, bizarrely, although I'll be 30% worse off this year, I welcome the reduction in my pay... Or at least I will, as long as the NHS uses this opportunity to bring back real family friendly contracts for nurses. Like 'the good old days''.

I can only hope that the pay cuts will bring real, positive change to the NHS. That I'll find a job that allows me to work part-time while my boys are so little, but with all the many wonderful benefits of being back in the bosom of the NHS.

My concern is that, if the NHS doesn't take the next step and make these simple changes, then dedicated, highly trained agency nurses like me will be driven out of the profession altogether.


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5 December 2015

Gender Neutral Gift Guide for Toddlers

This time last year I posted a post called "Why is gender-neutral parenting so hard?" and 'came out' to the world as one of those crazies who wants her boys to play with dolls and not guns.

I don't believe that it's cool for boys to be encouraged to be tough and rough and strong and girls to be soft and caring and pretty. I'm all over the Let Toys Be Toys campaign and was thrilled to see that Toys R Us have recently taken down their BOYS TOYS and GIRLS TOYS signs in their shops and on their website. It seems like they were living in the stone age with all that gender segregation!

So with this in mind, I've written a little guide of gifts for toddlers that match my 'gender neutral' criteria:

1. Not ENTIRELY pink or blue.
2. Not sold in a shop or website that divides toys by gender.
3. Super fun.


This is a selection of the gender neutral toys my kids will be getting this Christmas (don't tell them!)...

Shine a Light books (and a torch)



These books, from Ivy Press, are amazing. They're full of hidden secrets about things. I've got my two On the Plane and On the Space Station but there a loads of other titles (just search shine a light books on amazon!). The magic comes when you combine these books with a torch. First up: torches are hands down the best thing I have given my kids all year. They LOVE them. More importantly, they need their torches to shine through the pages to find the hidden secrets. It's like the joy of a lift-the-flap surprise but with added 'tech' and is such a brilliant novelty factor. (In a good way, we've had Secrets of Winter for weeks and the novelty still hasn't worn off. I can't wait to give them the new ones).
The books are available online and in major retailers for between £8 and £12 each. I got my 'gender neutral' torches from the supermarket, where there were pink or blue ones, or these cute lightbulb shaped ones, which fit nicely in their chubby little hands.

Seedling Nature Bingo

from Wild and Wonderful



Wild and Wonderful is one of those online shops where, if money were no option, you could just buy EVERYTHING. All their toys and games are outdoorsy, look beautiful and encourage kids to get outside and be kids (with absolutely no gender stereotypes of division of stock by gender). They sell a gorgeous selection of unusual toys and games, which inspire little ones to enjoy wild play.

This nature bingo set is wonderful. The concept is obvious from the name, there are bingo boards with pictures of things to find when you're out in nature (leaf, twig, feather, spiderweb, snail etc) and bits of chalk for crossing off your finds. Simple enough for a toddler and parent to use on their own, or challenging enough for a group of 3-4 year olds to try to "win" at going for a walk! (What is with 3 year olds and winning?! They're obsessed!)

Lia and Luca Dress-up Mice

from Whirligig Toys 


















When these little mice arrived, I could barely resist the temptation to play with them myself for hours on end. Lia and Luca are adorable little mice with a huge array of  great quality tiny clothes to wear and a beautiful wooden box to 'sleep' in and store all their outfits (and their hats. Oh the hats!). I think they will be the stars of Christmas morning (I mean, if the kids don't like them, I'll be playing with them!!)

I love the fact that they will encourage little ones' dexterity and fine motor skills and inspire their imaginations as a story-telling tool. I think my 2 will love them and I'm so pleased that although these mice could easily be pitched to girls they are totally pink free in terms of packaging and the outfits themselves. My older boy is hyper vigilant for things that are "for girls" at the moment, but this will sail right past his gender radar undetected. Also there are two mice! Praise be for toys that there are two of (when you have twins or small age gap kids).

Whirligig Toys say they're always on the look out for gender neutral toys, and they were the first retailers to win the Let Toys Be Toys Toy Standard award. There are branches in Brighton, Chichester and Tunbridge Wells but they sell everything online if you're not nearby. I already have my eye on another toy from them, in the shape of some old school looking shadow puppets!

Castle Building Blocks

from Lou Lou and Jim Jams Toys



I've been looking for classic wooden building blocks for a while, as my littler son loves making towers, but these Lanka Kade bricks are killing two birds with one stone for me as the older one loves knights and castles. They'll be able to do basic stacking and tower building or create castles for their little people to live in as the mood takes them. I love the fact they are red and orange coloured rather than blue and grey, like most 'knight castles'. I don't have a girl, but I would imagine their "things for boys" radar might be swayed by the gender neutral colouring of these bricks. In my dreams there would be a male and a female 'knight' but seeing as Toys R Us have only just stopped calling dolls "girls toys" I think I've got a long wait for that kind of thing!

Lou Lou and Jim Jams sell a large range of predominantly wooden toys, as well as some gorgeous rag-dolls (of both genders!) online and in their store in Snowdonia.

Sylvanian Families Cosy Cottage

available from Toys R Us



I used to love Sylvanian Families and vividly remember my mum bribing me with a new family when I had grommits put in! This year, for the 2 year old's birthday (it's 2 days before Christmas) I'm getting him this little house. He will simply go nuts for it. I'm so happy to find a 'dolls house' that is the colour of a house instead of pink! (When did you ever see a pink house? Why are houses PINK? Ergh) He adores playing with little people or animals and will be thrilled to have his own little house to put whatever character he's playing with to bed and in and out of the door.

I'm yet to go into a Toys R Us in real life since they succumbed to pressure to remove Girl/Boy signage. I've heard it's all still very pink and blue, but it's a great step in the right direction (in my opinion) and it's nice to see their toys in genderless catergories on the website.

Hope this has given you some inspiration for the little people in your life and encouraged one or two people to shop outside the girl/boy box this year! 

Merry Christmas! xxx


Disclaimer: I was sent all of these items (except the sylvanian families house) for the purposes of this review, all words and opinions are my own.
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4 December 2015

Dear Ovaries, love Brain

Ovaries. Hi, Brain here, just a quick one,

We can all hear you and Womb screaming at us for another baby but I gotta tell you: We've had a meeting and no one else is up for it. Least of all me. So shut up.

I mean sure, we all love the vague IDEA of another baby. But please, just give us all a rest. I caught you the other day, making me have a weirdly realistic dream about feeling a baby kicking while I was in the supermarket. Stop that. It's creepy.

Yes, babies are cute and the last one can do jigsaw puzzles now so we definitely can't count him as a baby anymore... but can't we just wait, you know, maybe a decade or so?

Skin sent a memo last week saying it's been over 5 years since she had a tan. Come on, lets at least have the chance to be sun-kissed once or twice again before we give up the opportunity of foreign travel FOREVER. Ain't nobody got time for taking 3 kids on a plane. It's just not happening.

Hips are anti-baby too. Remember last time? They nearly COLLAPSED under the weight of that bump, I don't think they'd make it.

Also Belly. I know, I know, it would look better all stretched out over a baby... but that's only temporary and god only knows the state she'd be in after a third. She's also, justifiably, scared of being sliced open if you and Womb make another gigantic baby and poor broken Hips can't get it out. I mean, we were all lucky to get out alive considering the size of him. Any bigger and Baby number 3 could end up the size of a baby elephant.

Boobs, now they're on your side, but that's because they're dead inside. All they care about is the chance to look good again for a few precious months before they hide away forever like the lifeless carcasses they are. Also they live in hope that it'd be 3rd time lucky on the old making-enough-milk-to-feed-a-human thing. Poor deluded souls.

Feet say no, they didn't like the swelling.
Eyes also a no, they got dry and tired.
Oesophagus doesn't want the acid reflux.
Pelvic floor is definitely going to take some convincing.
Hair: no.
Gums: no.
Knees aren't sure they could take another 6 months of that stupid bouncy walk action.
Vocal chords feel like they're on the brink of being able to stop singing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star every day, so it's a no from them too.
Biceps still recall the pain of one handed sandwich making.
Hands just have no idea how having three children would even work when there's only two of them.

What about me eh? I've barely recovered the ability to form coherent sentences. I was absent without leave for at least solid years back there. I'm not ready to be turned into mush by all your crazy pregnancy hormones and don't even get me STARTED on what lack of sleep does to me. I just couldn't safely keep three children alive on the amount of sleep a newborn baby allows me.

Sure, sure, we could do cry it out next time, and bottle feed so Daddy could do the nights, I hear ya. I'm totally with you on those ideas... but you know Heart couldn't cope and she'd totally overrule me. Speaking of which, Heart is weak and easily led by you so stop pulling on her strings about the current baby's 2nd birthday ok? It's manipulative.

Some external correspondence from Bank Balance also suggests in no uncertain terms that your requests are DENIED. There's no cash for a 3 car seat car, let alone the money to pay bills on maternity pay, again.

Sorry ovaries, I'm going to have to use my veto here.

No baby. No baby. No.

So shut up with your wailing every time Nose smells a newborn, or Eyes see a tiny, weeny baby hat, or a 3rd cousin twice removed puts a scan picture on Facebook.

We're just not interested ok?

No means no.

Yes, baby shoes ARE adorable... but still no!



Kind regards,

Brain

PS Don't even think about using the "wouldn't it be nice to have no periods" trick!

PPS NO

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2 December 2015

How to have a baby and not lose your shit: review





When I was breastfeeding my second baby in the middle of the night, all night for several years (ok months) I used to read blogs to keep me from crying.

One of my favourite blogs was EehBahMum. I followed her on twitter (I was brand new to Twitter and I can actually remember her following me back- I told my husband!) and used to read her blog avidly. Anyway, as that newborn approaches his 2nd birthday, I don't have to read her blog so much anymore because I don't breastfeed all night and because I'm very pleased to say that Kirsty is now my actual friend. Like in real life. She bought me macaroons once because I was sad. 

She's like one of those friends who you love and admire but totally hate because she's successful and thin and can pull off leopard skin prints without looking mental. Most of all because she's just had an ACTUAL BOOK published. 

*all the sighs of jealousy*

Annoyingly it's a lovely, funny, refreshing book. I absolutely promise you I'm not just saying this: It's hands down the most supportive and reassuring baby book I've ever read. 
[cut the quote there Kirsty, before I reveal that it's the only baby book I've ever read]

In the intro, Kirsty tells us that the book is not here to tell us what to do, but that she's here "to hold your hand and tell you it's all going to be ok". In reality, when faced with a new mum, Kirsty Smith would probably hold your hand, buy you a bit of cake and make a joke about your hair looking shit. In a reassuring way.

In life, and in this book, Kirsty has the perfect balance of being supportive and taking the piss out of you (and herself). Let's face it, you'd rather go down the pub (or to play group) with someone irreverent and funny than someone who knows it all and proffers their advice from on high. I'd rather read this book than ANY book by someone who is so smug they think they can "help" you. 

I particularly enjoyed the motivational gems such as:

"One day you will be able to push a pram laden down with bottles of wine with one hand whilst carrying a hot coffee in the other and not even swearing"
(It's true! I can now push a DOUBLE buggy  across a cafe balancing a tray of coffee, juices and biscuits AND carrying a squirming two year old*)

* I can't. But I can strap the two year old into the buggy using reasonable force and my knee.

As well as the snorting tea out of your nose funny bits (I just coughed up a lung after reading about her doing a crab impression all the way round the supermarket) Kirsty handles some actually quite tricky subjects like miscarriage and loneliness with a gentle humour and sensitivity.

Also it's quite a nice small book. You could totally read it while breastfeeding. Here, I'll demonstrate...



Basically I cried when I read this book because it's lovely. Like getting a big hug off a great friend who is saying "don't worry mate, shall we eat pizza and watch Mean Girls?" (Replace with your own favourite film/ takeaway food as necessary).

I read "How to have a baby and not lose your shit" because Kirsty has been banging on about it for so long and she asked me to, but it's so much better than I expected. I actually think that every new mum should get a copy.  

I urge you to buy this for your friends who are having babies. It will keep them sane and spread the bizarrely unspoken truth that having babies is mental and hard and hilarious in equal measure. 

Buy it on Amazon. Buy ten copies and hand them out to mums in the park who look like they need a hug. 

[Note that she's not paying me for this review (wish she would)]

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