Being mixed race in the middle of a race debate

In 2020 the Black Lives Matter went viral. It’s always been present but this year, amplified by the lockdown and sociopolitical goings on racism was at the forefront of social media feeds and hashtags were trending. Now we see the royal family latest scandal centres around issues of racism too.

Today however I saw one comment on Twitter which stopped me in my tracks and I needed to pause to reflect.

Now this is just one of many comments I’ve seen over the last year which offend me personally. I find it divisive because I’m “mixed race” – or whatever the politically correct term for having two parents with different ethnic origins these days is. I’m also “white presenting” – which means that I don’t look black. I’m sick of having to define my percentage of blackness to people as if this is a factor in how entitled I am to have an opinion on any racism related conversation topics.

I am not trying to take away from the struggles that any person of colour, and more specifically black people may endure, but I don’t think it’s fair for anyone to say someone isn’t black enough to have experienced racism – there’s no requirement for anyone to prove their heritage via ancestry DNA testing to express they are hurt.

In fact, I think people who are mixed race have a unique set of life experiences which means they are more likely to encounter problematic conversations, as is Meghan and Harry’s experience with the revelation in the Oprah interview that a family member asked how dark their sons skin might be.

Mixed race people have two parents – now this could be any two races but for arguments sake we will put things in black and white. My parents dated in the eighties. My paternal grandparents were a black and white couple in Britain in the fifties. Their experiences of racism are passed down through the family anecdotally.

I’ve grown up in a different world. Racism undeniably still exists in this new century but it’s not as apparent as segregating people or physical violence. Micro-aggressions are a “thing” these days.

Like Meghan I am 25% black – when I was younger, people used to say “quarter caste” and that made it clear to anyone asking that one of my grandparents was “fully black” – and people did ask.

Often.

Where do you come from?

That’s one of the things mixed race people constantly have to encounter which is different. It’s not just “where do you come from?” but a full disclosure of your family tree. When the real answer all along is that you’re from Birmingham (in my case) and you’re British – that should be enough.

In mixed race families everyone is a different colour.

Is she your full sister?

Siblings can and do look different. My sister is a lot darker skinned than me. We’re close in age and so when we were younger other kids used to ask us if we had the same mum and dad. Then they would compare our different facial features and skin tones to our parents. Of course siblings are often compared if one has different eye colour but when one sibling has a different skin tone it makes a world of difference.

My sister had racist comments directed at her and I as the “white presenting” one didn’t experience the same things. Even when we were older and in the queue for a nightclub I waltzed in with no trouble whilst my sister was stopped for her ID and then directed to be patted down by security.

Racial Profiling

She experienced racial profiling and I didn’t. I was the one who made a big fuss about it whilst my sister told me to shut up and just get on with it otherwise we would end up being kicked out of the club. I was angry on her behalf, she was just used to it. We were siblings but didn’t share the same life experiences.

Interracial relationships

I’m single now but I’ve had boyfriends from different walks of life and experienced differences with the (what could have been) in-laws in the past. When two families are unified through one couple there’s always some differences and challenges – otherwise there wouldn’t be so many mother in law jokes in existence. You learn through being in a relationship and integrating in to someone else’s family that everyone has different traditions and values…. what time you open the presents on Christmas Day. How you celebrate birthdays. Who sits in which chair in the lounge etc.

Mixed race children have to encounter racism from conception.

When you bring in two different skin colours then more often than not you’re having to merge two different cultures and sometimes religions too. This brings its own unique set of challenges and compromises, which are made tougher if you have family members who aren’t willing to integrate and adapt so readily.

Your family is supposed to be your support network, the people you turn to when you need help. Mixed race people have a unique experience in that they will have two sets of grandparents and aunts and cousins extended family members who many not be as supportive of their parents interracial relationship. Family members who may perpetuate casual racism.

Admittedly not every family has the queen of England as their matriarch and has to worry about wether their child gets a royal title and security like their cousins but for mixed race children who don’t see anyone who represents them on either side of the family there’s a missing sense of identity. Representation is so important. We have had this conversation so many times this year because of the BLM movement but mixed race people often grow up as the first one of their kind.

I believe Meghan and Harry when they said that family members asked about how dark the skin tone of their child would be. I can imagine the conversation and it’s NOT the same as saying “I wonder what colour eyes they will have” – Not when it matters what skin colour the baby will be, and there’s any suggestion that a lighter skin tone would be preferred.

Charlene White made sure to point out on Loose Women that there is also an issue with the kind of rhetoric which excuses old people from making casually racist comments because “they don’t mean it” which was a point raised by Jane Moore to excuse or explain the rationale behind the question and defend it.

The point is Harry was upset by the question posed by members of his own family and wondered about the implications this has for his unborn son. He relayed this information to Meghan who was also upset. Therefore it’s not okay. Is she only supposed to experience 25% of the hurt from this?

“Mixed race people are the fastest growing ethnic group in the UK and numbered 1.25 million in the 2011 census

Please don’t exclude mixed race people from the conversation.

The books I used to read as a child and why they are problematic.

I am a self confessed book worm.

I always have been and always will be. Now that I am a parent there is nothing more delightful than sharing some of my most favourite stories with Arlo. For me it’s a nostalgic trip down memory lane, and for Arlo he’s discovering new worlds for the very first time. Tomorrow is World book day, it’s not just a chance for parents to play top trumps with costumes, but an opportunity to invoke a love of literature in our children.

When our favourite stories create problems

This year there’s some discussion around problematic language and representation in books by Dr Seuss on social media. This has led to some stories now being removed from sale. I think it’s very important to make sure that we strive for equality and not hold on to stories based on a nostalgic view of things we remember from childhood. Last year I wrote about some of our favourite children’s books for an online publication and whilst I was researching I discovered that some of my favourite stories had also been edited and/or withdrawn from circulation. This was a learning curve for me, the action that publishers have been taking in some instances is somewhat refreshing and reassuring.

We read together every evening before bed, and the stories we reach for most often are those which I still treasure from my childhood. I have so many books with little inscriptions from my mother written in the top corner of the covers – “happy 3rd Birthday Lavania – July 1990” – I can delve in to a world created by Shirley Hughes, which are full of relatable stories and poems. “Things I like” is probably the one I would recommend to anyone as an introduction, as it’s a collection full of things which a toddler will experience. Not all books from our childhood have been “cancelled” – if you still have old copies, and you can check the date of printing in most books, you can then compare newer versions and see if you can spot any changes.

At the end of a day

We can sit together and read a poem about splashing in puddles or about leaves on trees which then helps us discuss things we have experienced ourselves that day. It reinforces learning experiences and we sit and pore over the pages together looking at all the little details. I read the words and Arlo explores the pictures. We point out things from the illustrations and we discuss them – from the colour of wellies matching our real life boots, to spotting little birds and insects dotted around the pages. We can count flowers and work on colour recognition and have an immersive and interactive story time. There’s not a single detail which goes unnoticed by my three year old.

This is why it’s so important that the illustrations are representative.

Continuing down the nostalgic childhood path, I must mention Janet and Allan Ahlberg. There are so many books of theirs which I could mention, Peepo, Each Peach Pear Plum and Funnybones – but the most popular on our shelf has to be “the Jolly Christmas Postman” This is probably one of the most innovative children’s books of all time and the work gone in to designing this is incredible.

In a world before iPads were invented this book captured my imagination and kept me busy for hours – a simple story following a postman’s journey delivering letters, with every other page featuring a real envelope containing surprise gifts for the reader to open and explore. The attention to detail is second to none and even now as an adult reading this book with Arlo I find things which I’ve never noticed before. It’s truly magical and one to put in the Christmas Eve box to treasure forever.

Books aid discussions

Another of my favourite books is by Nick Butterworth, and for a similar reason. His Percy the Park Keeper book has beautiful illustrations of animals and a series of fold out pages which open to reveal important story elements. This book is a firm favourite of Arlo’s right now because we spend so much time in parks and it’s so familiar to him. This book is a good one to aid discussions about changing of seasons and weather, not to mention all of the different woodland creatures.

We love books which have rhythm and rhyme, you’re probably all familiar with Michael Rosen and “We’re going on a bear Hunt” this is like a rite of passage for all children and it’s super easy to get kids motivated on the last stretch of an outdoor walk when their little legs are tired by chanting the rhyme – a great first introduction to this wonderfully eccentric poet is “freckly feet and itchy knees” – it’s a lovely little book and another one to help inspire interaction between parents and babies. I pulled this one out of the shelf recently and noticed that different skin colours were represented. The only problem with this book is it might be a bit too energetic before bedtime, at least it is when we read it out loud together and act it all out – It’s interesting that as I was researching for this blog I found a tweet by Michael Rosen:

The Anti-Semitic Works of Dickens and Shakespeare

A very interesting point for discussion, Charles Dickens is celebrated as an author, and a genius – but it is well documented that he expressed attitudes which were problematic – anti Semitic and racist – the most obvious example to reference is his portrayal of Fagin in Oliver Twist. “The novel refers to Fagin 257 times in the first 38 chapters as “the Jew”, while the ethnicity or religion of the other characters is rarely mentioned.” In revised editions Charles Dickens toned down his portrayal but the debate rages on long after his death as the character has often been been portrayed as a caricature / stereotype in film. Just like the character Shylock created by Shakespeare in the Merchant of Venice.

We can’t possibly “cancel” Dickens and Shakespeare (although some publishers have removed this play from anthologies for younger children). These books and stories exist as a social commentary of the time in which they were written. These writers are considered to be literary geniuses. To pretend they never existed in an attempt to erase the past rather than confront the reality, however uncomfortable that may be would be ridding us all of the opportunity to grow and learn through discussion. We don’t know much about Shakespeare and his mysterious life but we do know that Dickens was strongly opposed to slavery but does this absolve his problematic works? We need to talk about this.

This isn’t just about words – illustrations alongside text in children’s books are designed to help encourage independent reading. It takes a special skill to create a book for children, who without knowing it can sit and listen to a story being read out loud by their parents and follow the story by pouring over the pictures and when they get a little older, by following text with their fingers. Good children’s books for toddlers have simple sentences and repetitive sounds, as a grown up now I have a repertoire of voices and sounds which I didn’t know I was capable of creating – it’s so much fun for Arlo he doesn’t even realise he’s learning. This is why it’s so important for the books we read to be representative. Children absorb so much, so it’s important that we analyse the images and content of stories to see if there’s anything problematic. This isn’t about cancel culture or jumping on a social media bandwagon, but about discussion.

A picture speaks a thousand words

I must mention Rupert Bear, which was originally a comic strip – my mum had the annuals every year as a Christmas gift when she was a child and we have kept up the tradition here. I’ve noticed with these books how they offer something to children of different ages. Each comic strip is accompanied by a rhyming couplet which perfectly represents the story, and so I can read these with Arlo and flick through the pictures to tell the story, but on the same page there’s also a full descriptive paragraph for each scene – these books provide different experiences to readers of different ages. A great example of how to engage children and teach them to love stories. However there are problems.

Rupert however was originally a brown bear. Created by Mary Tourtel in 1920 to be published in the Daily Express. It was however apparently cheaper to print a white bear, so this much loved character has also been a victim of whitewashing. There have been two Rupert Annuals from 1946/47 which are considered too racially insensitive to be republished. The language in several stories has since been edited – for example words like “coon” have had to be removed. The portrayal of the character Koko in the above example is just not acceptable.

I think Hamish McColl’s Paddington is probably the more popular bear about town these days, (perhaps because he’s been bought to life by Hollywood?) Rupert Bear stories have that “quintessentially British” feel about them and are just as delightful to read. There’s something wonderful about following a protagonist which is an animal, and children often find comfort in having soft toys which they recognise from their most loved books but have you ever paused to consider that Paddington is an illegal immigrant? Arriving from “darkest Peru” without an identity or a recognisable past. Michael Bond’s books (written in the fifties at a time when Britain was beginning to become more diverse) teach us to “please look after this bear” – it’s interesting to think about what things were like back when these stories were originally published in the fifties and what the subliminal messaging behind the apparently simple story is when we put this in to context.

It’s not just about racism

I have to pause here and give mention to Richard Scarry here, “Mr Frumble’s worst day ever” was given to me when my little sister was born so that I didn’t feel left out and the story follows Mr Frumble (another anthropomorphic animal – this time a pig) and a day of misfortunate escapades. It’s a really funny book and again there is a lot going on in all of the illustrations to create talking points for discussion. I have older editions of these books, which aren’t quite so politically correct these days but it’s reassuring to know that many of these books have been edited to reflect social changes so that the stories and illustrations are still relevant for children today. Alan Taylor put together this image which shows some progressive changes which have been made so that outdated gender stereotypes are not perpetuated through the books we use to educate our children. Women don’t exist just to cook breakfast and push babies in prams.”

Let’s talk about Enid

As I got older I delved in to the world of Enid Blyton and began reading independently, the Famous Five and Mallory Towers captured my imagination, in fact I was determined to follow in the steps of Darrell Rivers – I always wanted to go to an all girls school and be a prefect. My favourite was always “the Magic Far Away Tree” – a group of children discover an array of different worlds which appear as they climb a tall tree. It’s actually quite odd trying to explain it in words, the land of Topsy Turvy is a place the children discover where everyone walks on their hands, and then there’s the land of “do as you please” – each story has some sort of moral lesson, the children get in to trouble and have to help each other to make everything right.

The problem is that in some stories the “baddies” perpetuate racial stereotypes, Noddy being the most prolific example and for all of the female empowerment in the Mallory Towers series, there’s a constant gender issues when it comes to the Famous Five series where our favourite tomboy character George is often “mansplained” by her male cousins and Anne is constantly being treated as a doormat by them too. When I read these books I thought George was an inspiration. Girls can do anything and be just as good as boys.

Many of Blyton’s book’s were written over eighty years ago and have attracted critical backlash for various reasons over the years. As an adult I can read back some of these books and see why, but as a child I was blissfully unaware of the controversy, and I think I took more positives than negatives away from the stories – thankfully there have been many updates to Enid Blytons work to make the stories more appropriate for a modern audience. I feel really strongly about utilising books as resources to introduce discussions about racism, classism and gender stereotypes.

I grew up

As I grew older and went to secondary school I actually volunteered to help in the library and used to take home new books every evening. I used to have a torch to continue reading after lights were turned off to get to the end of a story, I slept with so many books under my pillow I had a crick in my neck. I would take the books from the reading list and read them over and over again.

My thirst for new texts meant that my teachers would recommend their own childhood favourites to me, Mr Jones lent me his copy of Cider with Rosie by Laurie Lee and Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery which were challenging for me at the time, but are two books I always remember being fascinated by, and then along came Lord of the Flies by William Golding. I would have so many questions and found it fascinating that people could have different interpretations to the same story.

Our English teachers (by the time we got to our GCSE’s) would help explain the context stories were written in, both historically and politically and suddenly things would have eye opening different meanings when you’re learning to navigate the world as a teenager. We spent a term pouring over To kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee and I think this is one of the most important books for anyone to read, and more relevant than ever even now.

Books are important.

Whenever I read a new book I write my name in the cover and then when I’m finished I leave them for someone new to find. Arlo and I have also done the same and have hidden his books in the park and participated in book exchanges to share our love of literature.

I could talk about the time I went to a book store at midnight when I was a student to buy the last ever Harry Potter book as soon as it was released, and how disappointed I was to see JK Rowling apparently support a transphobic tweet, but that would require another thousand words, and I haven’t got time for that because I do still need to make a costume for tomorrow.

I’ll finish with a quote from one favourite book of mine which I think explains exactly how I feel about reading – there’s nothing more important than inspiring a love of book’s with your children. Being able to read means that children can then open their minds, enhance language skills and express thoughts and ideas better. I’m pleased to see Dr. Seuss are committed to action when it comes to representation. None of us ever stop learning and growing.

“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more you learn, the more places you’ll go.”— Dr. Seuss, “I Can Read With My Eyes Shut!”

Our road map out of lockdown

This is a sponsored blog post

Boris has announced that there’s finally light at the end of the tunnel and a new roadmap to get us out of lockdown and hopefully by June it means that “staying home” will be no longer be a requirement . I’m pretty sure that everyone right now is planning to make this summer incredible to make up for lost time and getting super excited……. “Oh the places we’ll go!”

I do like to be beside the seaside

It’s been such a long time since we have seen the seaside so as soon as we’re allowed it’s going to be time for a road trip. We are hoping to head down to Padstow in Cornwall where we can charter a boat to zip along the coast line with the wind in our hair and head out to see if we can spot any puffins and seals. We’re going to embrace “staycations” and explore some of the best places in the U.K. and support small businesses on our travels too.

They think it’s all over

I can’t believe it’s been a year since Arlo has attended his football and swimming clubs. Looking forward to taking him to these activities and getting to meet up with old friends and make new ones is going to be so much fun. Getting back in to these is going to do wonders for tiring him out and having a decent bedtime routine. Over lockdown he’s become very interested in ninjas so I’ll be looking for a little martial arts club for him to try out too.

Were going to the zoo

Arlo absolutely adores animals and we can’t wait to greet our old friends. We’ll be heading out to the West Midlands Safari Park for an action packed day trip and then some we’ll also be back exploring Umberslade and Attwell farms on family days out in the Midlands. I can’t wait to pack up a lunch and surprise him with an outing – I wonder if he’ll remember the route and guess when we’re on our way.

We like to party

One thing we have both really missed is dancing bare foot in muddy festival fields. There’s nothing quite like listening to live music and abandoning all cares to have a little boogie. Arlo’s been a festival baby since well…. birth – I took him with me to see a Queen tribute when he was only a week old. I doubt he remembers any of the things we did as far back as 2019 but it’s going to be so much fun creating new memories together.

Food glorious food

I don’t know about anyone else but one thing I am really looking forward to is enjoying the food someone else has prepared. Whatever we end up doing, there’s something so fabulous about spotting a pub or restaurant in a totally new place and popping in for a cosy family meal. There’s some great inspiration for private dining rooms here so wherever you end up you can find the perfect bite to eat in the best surroundings.

Family celebrations

One things for sure, we have a whole year of birthdays and celebrations to make up for so there’s going to be so many days we spend with family and friends making memories together and just enjoying life post lockdown. After a year of being at home I’m exhausted just thinking about it – but I can’t wait to share our adventures with you. What’s the first thing to do on your list?

Lockdown through the eyes of a toddler

In retrospect

The last twelve months have been traumatic for everyone. As adults we are able to explain feelings of loneliness and isolation, and pick up the phone to communicate with other people who understand. I’m pausing now to reflect on how it’s been with a toddler. The terrible two’s are a real thing, and during this time they learn new things at an exponential rate. The impact that twelve months of limited interaction will have on young children I fear is something which remains to be seen. Although I find it remarkable how resilient Arlo has been throughout at adapting to change. It’s been exhausting trying to keep up with him.

Arlo was two when lockdown first began, and we celebrated his third birthday when the first lockdown drew to a close in June. I’ve been reading about other people’s perspectives from way back then, here’s an insightful post from mum on a budget. During the second lockdown I had to complete Arlo’s primary school application without visiting any of the local schools and I can’t help but pause to reflect on the last twelve months. As an adult it feels like the last twelve months has dragged but for Arlo it’s been a quarter of his life. He probably won’t remember much from before 2020 and so this pandemic has formed the beginning of his living memory.

As soon as the clock struck midnight and I found myself sitting in 2021 a sudden panic set in. This is the year that Arlo starts school and I don’t know how ready we are. This time around, in third lockdown we have been fortunate enough to still be able to send Arlo to pre-school and it’s now after a couple of months of being settled in to a regular routine that I’ve realised just how important that social interaction is for him, and how lockdown and the pandemic had an impact on his behaviour.

Life before lockdown

Arlo has always been a very energetic child. As a full time working parent he was well settled in to nursery during the week and I used to pack a bag and head out every weekend on adventures because his energy levels know no bounds. He’s a bright and inquisitive child but his attention span is about 15 minutes so as soon as you have set up a train track he is asking “what’s next” and pulling out the Lego from the toy cupboard. We used to visit children’s farms, and kids theatre productions. We would go to theme parks and for swimming lessons, and everything in between. The transition to working from home with nursery closures was not easy – in fact it was nigh on impossible. You can’t attend a zoom call with a toddler singing baby shark at the top of his voice. We also didn’t have any trips to look forward to at the weekend. Even our holiday was cancelled.

Between his father and myself we managed to strike up a new routine last year to cope. Most days Arlo would head out for his daily exercise with his dad so that I could get my work done. I would pack some tasks and set them challenges to keep him occupied and stimulated. Fresh air and the great outdoors was invaluable. Nature gave us so many opportunities and themes to explore and so we worked with this.

I found myself networking with other like minded mums and sharing successful ideas. The internet became my most valuable resource and I contributed as much as I could back to the play communities. Everyone’s aware of the toilet roll and pasta shortages but parents will also be able to tell you that paint and PVA glue also became impossible to get hold of as parents up and down the country ordered in bulk to keep the little ones busy. Creative ideas for play based activities started to appear everywhere I looked, with lockdown Facebook groups and Instagram pages firing up.

We coped here by trying to pick a lose theme or topic and focus all of our activities on this until it was exhausted. During our “birds” theme for example we made cookies in bird shapes, painted a bird house, made bird feeders for the garden and then also went bird watching with binoculars and a guide book – not all in one day I might add. I incorporated screen time in to our routine despite being one of those parents who had previously been adamant that an iPad wasn’t going to be an option. David Attenborough documentaries along with some educational apps really worked wonders. Arlo can tell you confidently the differences between a Macaw and a puffin, a magpie and a Robin etc.

We found a Swans nest on one walk and went back every week to finally find that the eggs had hatched and there were cygnets to count, and at home one evening we settled down to watch swan lake together. As theatres remained closed I found that many performing arts shows were available online and this gave us access to new worlds. Just like many others I planned ahead to Christmas and booked tickets for pantomimes and performances, music concerts and discos, never mind all the little clubs and groups we attend. Everything was cancelled. All the things designed accessible to toddlers and designed to give them a broader sense of cultural enrichment. I think I do an alright job of being a mum, but they say it takes a community and this is so true.

We did really struggle with the lack of human interaction – Arlo has always been very sociable, every walk we went on he would pause to greet passers by, in fact we couldn’t walk past a dog, duck or ant without a five minute pause – so he couldn’t understand why people would stand to the side of a grass verge and not pause to say hello, some people wouldn’t even raise their heads to make eye contact. The masks also frightened him at first too. I can totally understand that people are concerned about social distancing and don’t want to be near others, never mind a grubby a three year old with muddy knees, but how do your explain that to a child when all they know is that they’re supposed to say hello and please and thank you because you’ve been trying to teach them good manners?

We had a tough experience when we walked through our local park and approached the play area which was closed. Our local park is full of steep hills and to incentivise Arlo to walk there was always the promise of the swings and the slide, and we would quite often arrange to meet some of his friends – so when we arrived to see the forlorn looking park with tape, padlocks and signs there were tears and tantrums. I had to carry Arlo home like a surfboard (we’ve all done this at one stage) it was just impossible to explain that he couldn’t go in to the park, and from this point on I decided to try and avoid this area at all costs. I also tried to get online to order a slide for the back garden but they were sold out too.

My tactic from here on in was to avoid the more popular parks in our local area and head off the beaten track to places where we were less likely to encounter anyone. I found an old A-Z (the book equivalent to google maps for anyone young enough to not know) and marked out all the local bridle paths and public rights of way. I didn’t realise myself just how many hidden treasures are on our doorstep. This gave us some new places to explore and every walk became an adventure. One thing we had plenty of was time. We could pause to watch a trail of ants for half an hour and I began to take out tote bags so that we could collect all the interesting pebbles and leaves. With no one around and no cause for embarrassment we would sing out loud as we marched along muddy paths.

On our walks we alternated between taking the bike and the scooter, Arlo started with his balance bike during lockdown and managed to conquer some steep down hills with no fear. By the end of summer he was upgraded to a pedal bike. We also managed to turn a corner with potty training too. Having the constant interaction and support from us as parents helped him in these respects.

We found a pond with tadpoles five minutes walk from home and visited regularly over the course of a few weeks to monitor their growth and lifecycle. We would catch some gently in a net to inspect but release them back rather than bring them home (much to Arlo’s dismay) but we taught him valuable lessons in respecting animals and being kind and gentle towards them. Due to his interest in this I did manage to order some caterpillars online and we watched them grow for a few weeks at home. I managed to link quite a few arts and crafts projects to the “very hungry caterpillar” book which went down a treat. We eventually released these on the VE Day bank holiday in to a glorious blossom tree, Arlo handled them delicately and was delighted to see them fly but the goodbye was tinged with sadness as he had grown so fond of them.

I did really worry that Arlo was missing out on social interaction, especially with children his own age and so we tried our best to think of ways to remain connected. Video calls with his cousins were a highlight, and with every project we tried out at home I would encourage Arlo to make something for his friends. He can’t write a letter but he can draw pictures and send gifts so we would pop to the letter box on our walks and then wait patiently for the postman to bring our replies. Before lockdown I can’t remember receiving anything other than bills through the post, letter writing had been replaced by emails and tech but we bought it back.

We would also make batches of cookies and cakes for his cousins regularly. Arlo has become somewhat of a pro in the kitchen now. He likes to count and weigh ingredients and is very experimental when it comes to flavours and food colouring. Before lockdown we used to bake maybe once a week, but now Arlo gets involved at every meal. We had decided to focus on making the most of the time we had – not to worry too much about learning and education – sitting down and trying to get him to write his name for half an hour or recite the alphabet wasn’t worth the stress, but this kid knows how to crack an egg without dropping any shell in to the mix.

Arlo has always loved his food and this remained a great pleasure during lockdown. With not much else to do at home and and trying to keep him occupied we would eat alfresco as often as possible – quite literally we would take the entire dining table outside and he would help carry the, chairs, table cloth and cutlery out to the garden and lay the table. We sat together every evening talking, listening to music and enjoying our garden.

Right at the beginning of lockdown we started our garden project and the effort we put in to this really did pay off. Back in March we planted seeds for all sorts, sunflowers, runner beans, flowers, salad leaves and herbs. Twice a day it was Arlo’s job to head around the garden with his watering can, (helped by grandad) and this would take ages. Every day there was something new to find. From different coloured flowers to the scent of fresh mint. When it was time to harvest our runner beans Arlo spent a whole afternoon popping them from the shells.

We built a bug house outdoors and checked every day for spiders, and would also collect all of the snails around the garden too. Arlo has always had a real affinity for animals, and we missed our trips to the zoos and aquariums. One of my friends suggested “sea monkeys” after our caterpillar project and again we turned to online shopping to order a little kit, setting it up and watching them grow. Arlo would climb up to the tank and sit every day with a magnifying glass watching them flip and twirl. We head to the local pet shop weekly to pick up supplies for our cats, and this became the highlight of Arlo’s week as he could see the fish, and rodents on display. One of the only times he would get to go out of the house, and so he would talk about it constantly.

Eventually I ended up getting him a mouse. In the pet shop one afternoon in September I told him we could take one home. He inspected every single mouse in the building and an assistant kindly helped him decide – introducing him to every single creature. I think she knew just how much this meant to us. AHe chose a funny little black and white thing and at first he wanted to name it after a boy in his nursery class. I steered him away from this and he proclaimed loudly in the shop that the mouses name was Bingo before treating us to a very loud rendition of “bingo was his name O.”

Bingo quickly became part of our routine. Replacing his food and water daily and taking the time to handle him with care. Then cleaning him out weekly too. Arlo has learnt to take responsibility and in turn has been rewarded with a pet mouse who has become tame and responds to him. I proudly watched on the first time Arlo showed me a new trick – he places Bingo on one palm and then stretches out his arms so that the mouse runs up and across the back of his neck and down to the other palm where he holds a treat. He told me Bingo is his best friend.

I can look back at everything we’ve done with fondness but it wasn’t easy. As soon as the clock struck midnight and I found myself sitting in 2021 a sudden panic set in. This is the year that Arlo starts school and I don’t know how ready we are. This time around, in the third lockdown we have been fortunate enough to be able to send Arlo to pre-school and it’s now after a couple of months of being settled in to a regular routine that I’ve realised just how important that social interaction is for him, and how lockdown and the pandemic had an impact on his behaviour.

Routine went out of the window and so bedtimes were a battle, but just now he seems to be tired at a decent hour most weeknights and settling back down nicely. He comes out from nursery every afternoon talking about his friends and telling me about new things. He talks a lot more in fact, using phrases and words which I’ve never heard him mention. Singing new songs and then telling me all about his day because he has had new experiences. We get regular communication from the staff and they share pictures. At nursery Arlo sits down and concentrates on writing his own name, he will build cars with construction toys and will read stories to the other children. He also tells everyone about his pet mouse and wants to take him in to nursery to meet his other best friend.

I can’t help but sit back sometimes bewildered at just how quickly children grow and change. He’s taken this last year in his stride, it’s certainly had its ups and it’s downs but I know we will never get another chance to spend so much time together as a family again. We made the most of every chance we could to get out and about and all of the local businesses, such as children’s farms made a real effort when they were able to open their doors again. At one point last year I cried thinking that Arlo wouldn’t get to see Santa, the first year he understood the concept, but we managed to squeeze in a socially distanced visit. Arlo didn’t even notice, or rather he didn’t acknowledge his visor as now he is accustomed to this – the new normal. I’ve learnt to value the little things and see the world through the eyes of a toddler where new things are remarkable and every little thing matters.

What a year it’s been

Christmas Day has been and gone, I sat looking at the Christmas tree on the evening of 27th December feeling down that Christmas was over and that we have nothing to look forwards to. The news has rumours of another lockdown and tiers with more restrictions and there’s even talks about school closures. For a long time I’ve been waiting to see the back of 2020 but it seems as though the start of 2021 is going to be bleak.

I couldn’t quite motivate myself enough to take down the decorations, even though most of my tree was scattered on the floor, and some of the branches arched down to the floor. It served its purpose, and filled up a corner of our home with rainbow filled festive cheer. I’m glad we got the tree early because December has been a lovely month for us, creating welcome distraction at home with crafts and baking despite having our own personal curve balls thrown in to the mix.

It was wonderful to wake up on the 28th and see snow outside our windows. We abandoned our plans to stay indoors all day (again) and threw on layers of clothes to get out and have a stomp around the local park in some fresh air and boy did it feel good. Arlo hasn’t seen snow like this since he was a baby and so this is his first real experience and it was such a delight to see him so excited, and also see so many families throwing caution to the wind and getting out to do the same.

We threw snowballs, built a snowman and I’ve even ordered a sledge on Amazon prime in the hope that snow comes again and that we are allowed out of the house to enjoy it! I didn’t even mind it when Arlo decided to smash a snowball right in to my face – sometimes you need a day like this to abandon all worries and just enjoy the simple things in life. I’m thankful that I have the opportunity to spend so much time with my son, he’s becoming such a funny little personality and I hope that he remembers snippets of days like this forever.

I felt so refreshed that once we got home and warmed our toes I began the task of taking down the tree ornaments and carefully placing all the baubles away for next year. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves here… I didn’t manage to clear anything else around the house but it’s a start. I’m going to miss our tree, but now we have space in this room and if we’re going to be home all through January then it’s my plan to try and make this space more interesting for us all.

Now it’s time to prepare to welcome in the new year, and take a look back at some of the positives from 2020. I used a website called top nine to generate (you guessed it) – nine of my top pictures from Instagram and suddenly memories of our summer came flooding back.

I started to scroll through my pictures and realised that even though it felt like we didn’t achieve much or do anything of note this year, we have actually done more together than ever before, I will treasure my rainbow filled pictures of this year and I think it’s time now to get them printed off and create a scrap book to store our memories forever. What a year it’s been!

Single and ready to mingle – is online dating the future?

This is a sponsored blog post
Here I am in my early thirties and facing 2021 as a single mum… to be honest I did start 2020 in the same way too but this last year has been a bit of a write off for any social interaction….. let alone dating!

Happy being single (or am I?)

I’m perfectly happy being single most of the time but there’s some occasions where I think it might be nice to have a bit of companionship, someone to watch a movie with – because Arlo only ever wants to watch animated stuff like paw patrol and that gets a bit tedious for the best of us after a couple of episodes – never mind a whole year of lockdown.

What will dating look like in 2021?

I have various friends who love to play matchmaker and in the past have set me up on blind dates and have suggested speed dating. I could tell you some funny stories from my past but I’ll have to save those for another day.

Thinking about online dating

For the last few weeks I have been stuck at home and thinking about online dating….. I watched this documentary for research purposes as I haven’t done this since my early twenties and it’s changed quite a bit – my first worry is creating a profile picture – let’s face it, in today’s online dating world people swipe left… (or is it right?) based on a quick glance and so your first picture needs to be a good one, I found myself sitting at home and trying to find the best light to take a picture because let’s face it the way I look now doesn’t match my Facebook profile picture from 2015.

Dating as a single mum

Then there’s the dilemma of being a single mum…. does this put people off? How do I approach all the different tick boxes to set up my profile….. I’m always going to be 100% honest about myself, my appearance and my circumstances because that’s just me but then how do I decide what I’m looking for? How do I figure out who the catfish are?

Looking for the perfect man

Here I am thinking that the gingerbread man I just made is probably my ideal man….. he’s sweet and doesn’t answer back and you can’t bite their heads off if you get fed up of them – but honestly how do I know what kind of guy I want to date until I meet him? I’m a strong believer in human attraction being based on more than appearances… but at the same time if I reveal that I love watching crime thriller movies and have a penchant for playing poker I worry about the kind of person that will attract.

Asking friends for help

I’ve been sending my thoughts in to the girls group chat…. where all major life decisions are discussed as a collective and suddenly one of my friends revealed that their mum has been online dating with some great success…. so we had to schedule in a video call…. I mean who would have thought I’d be taking advice from a pensioner on how to find a date in 2021?!

Sharing experiences of online dating

Jean (not her real name) is a lively woman in her early sixties and her lovely daughter (one of my besties who will also remain anonymous) set up a profile for her at Lancashire Dating as she hadn’t been on a date in over a decade, and lockdown was getting tedious, repetitive and boring. Jean, her daughter and myself sat one evening at our laptops chatting to each other about the kinds of things gentlemen have sent to her in dm’s. I have to say it’s a long time since I ever laughed so much. In the end it was Jean who had to politely excuse herself from the conversation as she had scheduled in a call with a new friend.

Advice for online dating

Jean did have some fantastic advice. Oozing with a new found confidence after so many positive experiences with online dating she said the best thing you can possibly do is to be true to yourself, to also approach things with a sense of humour, not to take it all too seriously and interestingly to also not put all your eggs in to one basket…. she also said that if you like the look of someone’s profile then it’s okay to be the one to send the first message….. it’s the 21st century after all.

Single and ready to mingle

So here I am… Lavania, single mum, career woman and creative blogger from Birmingham ready for West Midlands dating. Let’s just hope that Boris opens the pubs by the time I have found someone I want to head out for a drink with! I’m going to get Christmas out of the way, and then toast in the new year by activating my online dating profile. If you have any tips, advice or stories please share in the comments.

Bring on 2021

Here we go again…

I can’t quite believe that we’re heading for another nationwide lockdown. It barely seems like five minutes since restrictions were lifted and we could head out to the zoo for Arlo’s birthday.

It’s safe to say that we have really made the most of the summer, following all of the rules with social distancing we have been to all of our favourite places including the safari park and Cadbury world to name but a few places.

We also managed to enjoy and celebrate almost all the family birthdays together which conveniently occur over the summer….. but the thought of Christmas without my niece, nephews and parents is just not something I want to dwell on. This time around I’m determined to stick to the lockdown again and hope that this virus disappears as quickly as it arrived in the first place.

For lockdown part one we had the good fortune of the sunshine to keep us happy. We were able to spend countless hours in the garden – I worked from home on the hottest days of the year with my feet in the paddling pool and my laptop perched on my knees. We dragged a table out to the garden and made alfresco dining an every day occurrence, and I didn’t long for the fun and frolics of a beer garden at all.

Now we’re facing thirty days indoors on the coldest and darkest days of the year. I would usually be planning Christmas activities and rushing between different indoor attractions at the weekend to spoil Arlo – I miss the theatre and the panto and even the dreaded soft play. The thought of not heading out to the Christmas markets or the light switch ons is horrible but I do not want to dwell on it.

Thirty days is a long time to make some changes. I’m sticking to my promise to myself which I made a couple of weeks ago and so before lockdown commences I’m heading to the hairdresser – I haven’t had my hair done this year and I deserve a treat! I’m also looking at thirty day fitness challenges. I’m going to try and do these every morning to pass the time and of course if I do then the results will be rewarding.

I’m also going to update my blog daily. It will be a mix of journaling (not that interesting if I don’t leave my house) and catching up with recording things we have done this year. I’m glad I haven’t gotten around to creating my lockdown 2020 memory box because I’m sure we can come up with a million more craft projects and activities too.

This time around I’m also going to try and avoid the news. Back in March I had the news channel on all day in the background watching the daily updates as the figures rose and new rules were invented on a daily basis. The stress this created was awful and all I used to do was chat to my friends about the latest figures and we would wind ourselves up with worry. My focus is on trying to remain positive.

What are your plans for lockdown part 2? If you want to join in or follow my thirty day challenges then follow us on Instagram and see how we get on!

30 Thirty Day Challenge Inspiration

I’ve already written a blog about my thoughts and feelings, and with two days to go until Lockdown part two I’m determined to make the most of it. Taking up new hobbies and trying countless craft projects really kept me going through the summer, but I think it’s going to be harder now the sunshine isn’t here. I have been browsing the internet for thirty day challenges and have collated some of my favourites …. thirty of them in fact! I’m not sure I’ll be able to stick to them all but on days when motivation is scarce hopefully these will give me some inspiration.

My top tip is to find a group of people – the girls WhatsApp chat, your Instagram mates, a Facebook group and take on one challenge and find the time to share your experiences and results with each other. You can get creative and share pics, or just talk about your experiences. Stay connected to other people and even though the days might merge together at least you will have something new to share.

First things first:

1. Mindfulness

I used to roll my eyes at this kind of thing but it really does help when you’re feeling stressed to just “pause”.

2. squats

this one sounds like it will be a killer but worth a go!

3. Abs

I quite like this one – looks like it would take half an hour so something I might squeeze in during my lunch break.

4. Photography

This photography challenge might help inspire some social media content.

5. Craft challenge

this one is great for all the creatives to get inspired – sometimes it’s hard to find your mojo but all it takes is a little prompt to get going in the morning.

6. Instagram stories

This one might help fellow bloggers with their story content, this is one way to really engage your audience and be different when every day seems like it’s on repeat.

7. Lego challenge

Love this – one to try with the kids maybe? Logan will love this and I think we will compete.

8. A blog writing challenge

For fellow bloggers looking for inspiration when stuck indoors. I love the idea of sorting a letter to my teenage self.

9. A drawing challenge

I love this idea – might have to get my sketch book out and have a go – trying out different media’s will make it even more fun.

10. A health challenge

This one seems like a simple one to try for overall health motivation…. it’s the little things which make a big difference.

11. A mental health challenge

This challenge has some great ideas, I find taking ten mins to set aside and focus on stuff like this outside of my usual routine really helps manage stress

12. A self care challenge

Let’s work on ourselves whilst we’re thinking about it too, we might have to be creative with some of the ideas but look after number one!

13. Play challenges

Play challenges are a personal favourite of mine. This one is a great one to follow on Instagram and can be started at any time, you don’t need to join in every day – follow the hashtag for inspiration.

14. A seasonal play challenge

This play challenge has lots of ideas to try out which fit November perfectly. With another hashtag to follow for some inspiration.

15. A make up challenge

Going to continue trying to make an effort with make up each morning (after my workouts of course) and see what I can come up with.

16. This is early bird workout seems like a good one for an all round session – if I can get it out of the way first thing my day will start as I mean to go on.

17. The gratitude challenge

Taking the time every day to think about things you’re grateful for seems like a good idea. This is one to dip in to when you feel “meh”

18. The taking the p**s challenge

This one also made me giggle – I think I can get the girls group chat to make this a topic for the day…. having a group of mates to vent to really helps so this is a reminder to stay connected and try to see the fun side of things.

19. A movie challenge

One for the movie fans to think about and share – I’m always asking for Netflix suggestions and these prompts might help find some old classics and fab new films to enjoy.

20 The Disney challenge

One here for the Disney fans – write about these, share pics or just watch the movies in the evening!

21. The music challenge

For the music fans this one for you – sing your heart out for five mins! Chat about your fave albums, watch live sets on YouTube and get those festival vibes flowing.

22. The crochet challenge

I did try my hand at crochet in summer so might challenge myself again now it’s cosy indoors….. it takes me a few days to get one thing made but I think I could manage a scarf.

23. Another fitness challenge

I’m back to the fitness ones now – this seems like a good back one to try out. I’m not really sure which areas I want to work on and it’s good to have a few options I suppose.

24. Arm challenge

This one for arms sounds like it would be tough but worth a shot – I think I can do this just before cooking dinner with tins of beans from the cupboards.

25. A spring clean challenge

This one is for the Hinch fans out there – worth doing before Christmas for sure – I don’t think I’ve ever washed my walls.

26. A baking challenge

For my fellow baking fans here’s a fab challenge to follow…. not every day if I’m trying the health stuff too but everyone deserves a treat now and again.

27. A de-clutter challenge

If you’re anything like me with stuff everywhere then this one might give a sense of achievement.

28. Personal growth challenge

I love this one – seems like one to create a positive outlook on life and help especially when working from home.

29. The positivity challenge

Be more positive – this might be the last thing I do every night just before falling asleep.

30. The nature challenge

I’ve been thinking about being stuck indoors but getting outside really is refreshing no matter the weather.

The pandemic stole my identity

Last Thursday evening I did the nursery pick up run, and I had a bit of a revelation. Like most people we have time slots for collection of our children and so I sat waiting in my car to avoid the rain and I picked up the phone and caught up on the group chat with some of my mum friends whilst waiting.

One of my friends had been on a day out with her newborn and toddler, and for the first time in ages had decided to put on some make up and had received some comments which weren’t “positive” for what of a better word. She looked fabulous by the way and felt fabulous too!

This got us all talking and I realised that I couldn’t remember the last time I actually wore make up and I looked at myself right then. I was wearing silver glitter pumps – they’re the easiest to slip on my feet and I’ve worn them pretty much every time I need to leave the house this year, Leopard print trousers which are super comfy but actually part of a pyjama set, a bright red vest, a purple scarf and a comfy oversized hoodie. My hair was in the easy peasy “mum bun.”

I looked in my rear view mirror and I could hardly recognise myself. Since when had I turned in to this?? I’m usually the over dressed glam mum and wouldn’t be seen dead without my red lipstick anywhere!!! Working from home for the best part of 2020 has been a total game changer. Life for us all has changed in so many ways and on paper it sounds lovely being able to stay at home all day, and not struggle with the daily commute and the rat race.

In reality it’s not quite as fantastic. I know that I’m fortunate to still have my job and that for many people there are far worse things happening but at the same time I wanted to acknowledge the impact the pandemic has had on my mental health. It’s a challenge to get motivated on some days and the work/life balance is up side down – I find myself looking at work emails at 10pm in the evening, and a quick task like emptying the washing machine on a sunny afternoon ends up distracting me for an hour during the working day.

On days where I have video calls I quickly scramble for a bit of make up when the fifteen minute alert pops up on my laptop screen to make an effort but that’s about it. I haven’t bought any new clothes this season and I certainly didn’t see the point in dressing up just to sit in my living room…. during lockdown part 1 there were some fun days to dress up and lots of video calls but the mood this time around just like the weather is all a bit dreary.

Last Thursday all of this changed for me and I made a pact with my mum friends to try and make more of an effort. I’m not exactly a make up expert or a fashionista but so far I am loving it – I bought myself an eye shadow palette at the beginning of summer in the sale (one of many random things the internet made me buy). I have been following youtube tutorials for autumnal coloured eye shadow looks. I washed and straightened my hair and I opened my wardrobe and sorted out all of my favourite dresses to prepare myself for this self inflicted challenge

It’s been five days so far and getting up every day has been fun. I have found myself again – I posted a picture on Instagram of my Saturday outfit – I took Arlo to a drive in cinema and met my mum who said it was lovely to see me in my dress for a change and she was honest enough to tell me that my old faithful jeans are less than flattering – so many people made kind comments about my “look” too. It made me realise that the most important person to make an effort for is me.

Getting up and dressed, putting make up on etc. It’s not for anyone else, it really is just for me. It’s a process which motivates me in the morning and gives me confidence. It’s part of a routine which had been lost for months and now it’s back I’m committed to sticking to it…. even if it’s only to sit in my living room. It’s very early days but I already feel more productive. With work, with my blog and with my DIY projects around the house. The familiarity of my make up bag and even the scent of my favourite perfume is comforting.

There’s a lot more to come now that I’ve found my mojo. I’m hoping to pick up my pandemic journal from where we left off and determined to not let the virus write off the rest of my year, not every day is wonderful but I found this quote and I love it

“Lipstick can’t solve all problems, but it’s a pretty great start. Give a woman the right lipstick and she can conquer the world. Just have fun. Smile.”