Friday, December 05, 2014

Kids, Christmas, Charity.

We have had enough Christmases as a family now that the girls know it's something to get excited about. They remember presents, a tree, lights, absurd quantities of food and being allowed to watch telly during the day, add the social acceptability of drinking alcohol with breakfast and you have all of the things that I love about Christmas too. And yet as they get older I feel more and more compelled to kill the glorious magic of it, just a little.

As a child I spent a not insignificant part of the festive season crying for those who were less fortunate than me. It started at six or seven with the starving children in Africa and as I grew older came to encompass the homeless, the lonely, the poor AND the starving children in Africa. The first Christmas that Nye and I spent together we were sitting on the sofa, watching telly by the light of the tree, and the Oxfam Christmas appeal came on just before the Vicar of Dibley. I sobbed. I sobbed huge, heaving tears, and Nye was (while sympathetic) a little taken aback, 'aren't you used to seeing images like that by now?' he asked. 'Yes, but it's JUST SO SAD.' I wailed. I was 19 and still crying for the starving children of Africa.

When I was in primary school I took part every year in the Shoebox Appeal. Remember those? Each child filled a shoebox for a specific age and gender with small toys, clothes and essential toiletries, wrapped the whole thing in Christmas paper and then they were collected and distributed them to children in need. I hadn't thought about the shoebox appeal for years until last Christmas when I began to feel like my kids really needed to start to understand how incredibly lucky they are and that there are many, many people who are less so. And not just to understand it but to do something, however small, about it. So I looked into the shoebox appeal again and found that a) I was about 6 weeks too late (apparently it takes some time to organise sending 8 million shoe boxes around the world) and b) unbeknown to me, the whole thing is organised by an evangelical Christian charity and the shoe boxes are sent 'in Jesus' name', alongside a pamphlet of evangelical literature. Which. . . I have problems with. So that year I just did what I always do, donated money to Shelter and Oxfam and cried quietly into my laptop as I typed in my debit card number. It felt . . . not enough. And did nothing to teach my children anything.

Yes, they were three years old.  Many people would argue that three is too young to start learning about the injustices of the world and of course I don't want to burden them too young with sadness and worry and guilt (it's too soon to tell just how sensitive to it they will be; normal-child-sensitive, or cry-yourself-to-sleep-sensitive), but I do want to start sowing the seed. I do want them to know that Christmas isn't just about getting new stuff and eating until you hurt. I do want them to understand that as someone lucky enough to be born into comfort and security it is your duty to help those who weren't. But, they're four. There's only so much I can do at this point and the struggle is to find a way that both helps and that they can engage with. It's so easy to donate money and it's very easy to buy a goat or a vaccination kit or a meal for a child on the other side of the world, those things help but they are too abstract for a small child to understand. The shoebox appeal appealed (ha!) to me because it was tangible, something that the girls could get involved with, and yes, that we could mostly do without leaving the house which is always a bonus as far as I'm concerned. There are also some pretty hardcore things we could do, many places we could volunteer as a family (hospices, hospitals, shelters etc) but I know my limits, as an extremely sensitive introvert I'm just not ready to take on the level of emotional and sensory input that volunteering with two four year olds would involve. One day, but not yet.

So that leaves me with my usual donating to charities and a bit of a blank when it comes to my children. My thoughts are that we will go shopping together for the local food bank and that we will go through their extensive bookshelves picking out the books that they no longer read and finding a way to distribute them elsewhere. But more importantly I will try to find a way to talk to them about injustice, about privilege and about the fact that our Christmas is not the Christmas that every family gets. I have no fucking idea how to even begin this conversation.

My questions for you are;

  1. Did/do you teach your children about charity? How? When? At what age?
  2. Do you know of any books aimed at pre-schoolers that explain charity? Or are we just not supposed to shatter their innocense until they start school?
  3. Do you take part in any charity at Christmas? Tangible or virtual?
  4. Did you take part in the Shoebox Appeal? Did you know that you were sending toothbrushes IN JESUS' NAME?
  5. What are you having for Christmas dinner?

Finally, this year I will be donating money to Shelter and Plan UK.

90,000 children will be homeless in Britain this Christmas and a further 1.5 million living in poverty. The government are doing all that they can to protect the rich from the brutality of paying taxes on their massive wealth while royally fucking the poor in a myriad of ways. I believe that 'Big Society' is a bullshit way for the government to sound like they give a damn about the poor while not-so-slowly stamping them into the ground, but in the face of an ever-diminishing welfare system it seems that it is in fact down to the members of our society with even the smallest social consionce to do what they can for those who are being screwed. Shelter is working really hard to offer advice, representation and support to those facing homelessness while campaigning for reforms in housing law to prevent homelessness ever occuring.

PlanUK is a global children's charity helping children in area's of natural disaster and promoting the rights of adolescent girls in areas where female genital mutilation and child marriage are rife. You can sponsor a child with PlanUK here or donate to the Girls Fund here.

* Blogger Fail. I reverse searched the image, I googled 'glitter hands', I seriously spent 20 minutes on it. I gave up. I don't care. Sorry. 

Monday, November 17, 2014

'Dear, you never have it'

Poem for a Daughter
by Anne Stevenson 

'I think I'm going to have it,'
I said, joking between pains.
The midwife rolled competent
sleeves over corpulent milky arms.
'Dear, you never have it,
we deliver it.'
A judgement the years proved true.
Certainly I've never had you
as you still have me, Caroline.
Why does a mother need a daughter?
Heart's needle, hostage to fortune,
freedom's end. Yet nothing's more perfect
than that bleating, razor-shaped cry
that delivers a mother to her baby.
The bloodcord snaps that held
their sphere together. The child,
tiny and alone, creates the mother.
A woman's life is her own
until it is taken away
by a first, particular cry.
Then she is not alone
but a part of the premises
of everything there is:
a time, a tribe, a war.
When we belong to the world
we become what we are.

Thursday, November 06, 2014

New York, Delusions.

This time last month I was in New York, all by myself. I didn't take Nye and the girls, which is what everyone asked me, both before I went and while I was there. I didn't take them because I was going to photograph a wedding and flying four people to New York for a week is inconceivably expensive and somewhat inconvenient when two of those people are three years old. Which is when people looked askance and said 'doesn't your husband mind babysitting the kids for a week?'

When I'm done rolling my eyes I explain that firstly, it's not babysitting if THEY'RE YOUR OWN FUCKING CHILDREN. Then I tell them that he went to the Alps for 12 days in the summer to ride his bike down a big hill over and over and over again, leaving all of us at home without him. At this point everyone breaths a sigh of relief, the world makes sense again. Because god forbid that the scales of Who Does What weren't balanced in a relationship. . . I sort of regret telling people about the Alps thing at all to be honest. The version of myself that exists only in my head just says neutrally 'no, he doesn't mind. Should he?' and watches as people's sweet little brains struggle with the idea of a man happily looking after his kids for a week while his wife goes gallivanting. But my actual self doesn't want people to think that I'm a bitch, that my husband is put upon or to make people uncomfortable. Sometimes I'm deeply irritated by my actual self. 

Anyway, New York. I went, by myself and it was both more than and less than and completely different to the trip I had played out in my head. I was there to photograph the wedding of a dear dear friend and that bit was exactly as wonderful as I imagined it would be; the wedding, the husband (whom I hadn't yet met) and their relationship which was a beauty to behold. But the rest of the trip - the me bit of the trip - that was not what I was expecting.

It was in large part because that imaginary version of myself is deeply, inescapably pervasive in my ideas of how things will be; how situations, conversations and interactions will go. Imaginary me is sharper than real me, less socially conscious, more gregarious, outgoing and funny. She cares less what other people think, both in good and not so good ways. I had pictured her sitting in bars, laughing with strangers, going to see some plays or music or literary stuff and meeting interesting people, staying out late and immersing herself in the culture and life of New York City. HA! I don't chat and I don't stay out late. I don't ever chat to people I don't know, interesting or otherwise and I don't know why exactly I thought I would do so just because I was away from home by myself. I didn't talk to a single person without prior arrangement or specific need ('can I have a white wine? How much is this yarn?' (in the same glorious store!)) the whole time that I was there, which was fine, I don't like chatting with strangers, it makes me anxious. Even when it goes swimmingly and people are interesting and funny and I come away thinking 'they were nice', even then I leave with my heart racing, my adrenaline flowing, my need to immediately find a dark and quiet place raging. I know it's not an ideal response and plenty of people have told me that I'm unfriendly/anti-social/weird, many times but I would much rather eat and drink with a book in absorbed silence and cut off any and all attempts by strangers to engage me with a polite reply, a close-lipped smile and a pointed glance and whatever it is I'm reading than start a conversation with someone I don't know. I went to therapy for a year but it took a week in New York for me to accept a) that I am not the version of myself that acts out the imaginary situations in my head and b) that THAT'S FINE. 

That I didn't want to talk to anyone but my family back home and the friends I was seeing while I was there unlikely surprised anyone but me. When people asked what it was that I was looking forward to about going away 'lots of food and lots of quiet' were always my answers; a break from the constant chatter and noise of two almost-four year olds (do you know how often almost-four year olds shut up? When they're asleep, that's it.) It's easy to forget when you are a part of a family of four people that spend most of their time together what it is like to be alone. It's blissful, but it is also lonely, in almost equal measures (let's call it 60/40).

Both the bliss and the loneliness were good for me. The silence gave me space to do nothing, to be nothing to anyone, to please only myself. To leave an hour in the morning between waking up and doing something about breakfast because absolutely no one but me was going to lose their shit if they went hungry for more than five minutes. To go out at 9am and stay out until whenever I wanted, because no one needed to come home for a nap (actually, I really needed to come home for a nap but after three days of waking up at 2.30am (7.30am GMT) ready to get up and make breakfast for everyone, staying asleep at night was more important than not sleep-walking through the days). To eat somewhere noisy and crowded because I only had to fit myself in and no one was going to get stressed about not being able to hear each other speak. Or to buy some tortilla chips, guacamole and prosciutto and eat the whole lot for dinner in bed, in my pyjamas, watching Friday Night Lights. These things were all blissful. And then there was turning the light off, switching my phone on and sobbing into my pillow while swiping through pictures of Nye and the girls. Or walking down the street behind families with small kids and realising that I had missed the way home as I had become so entranced that I was effectively stalking families with small kids wondering if I could just hang out with them for a few minutes. Because I missed my family like breathing. I missed them and I loved being by myself which is exactly how I would want time away from my family to be. Had I been unable to spend time alone any more or had I not wanted to go back to them I might have been a little worried, they might have been a little worried.

I was going to tell you what I did and where I went, but honestly I mostly just wandered around, slowly and hungrily. I took no photos with an actual camera and I only felt bad about it for 3.4 seconds. I drank a lot of coffee, mostly Australian it turned out. Why are Australians so good at coffee? (Genuine question). I looked in shops full of useless crap I didn't need and had no intention of buying and grocery stores full of things I quite fancied but couldn't afford. I bought the most expensive box of muesli of my life ($7 and no it wasn't from fucking Wholefoods, before you ask, just a regular bloody grocery store. My friends from Brooklyn are the only people in the world who have ever gone to Iceland on holiday and found it 'no more expensive than home.') I spent days walking slowly up one side of the street and then slowly back down the other, gazing wide eyed at truly terrible parenting (bookstores are NOT playgrounds), eating yellow popcorn in the cinema, drinking wine and spending my food budget on Japanese silk yarn. I ate food both amazing and bizarre (a 'steak and cheese sandwich' is made with neither steak nor cheese, fyi). I went to Williamsburg looking for the hipsters but they weren't there. I met up with friends I have made through blogging; some for the first time despite following each other's lives for the last five years, others for the second or third time over the years and yet others who despite the physical distance between us have become my dear friends, my people I talk to when I need opinions and advice or just to shoot the breeze. And it was the best. They are all the smartest, funniest, most interesting and thoughtful women, the kind of people you want to spend time with when you are missing your family and having a small existential crisis.  Not just because they're nice and funny and spending time with nice and funny people is distracting, but because they have smart, smart things to say, things to comfort and reassure and inspire. They are good people, and a timely reminder that the internet can bring magic and riches, not just stupidity and vileness.

I've been back for almost a month now and it sort of feels like it never happened, like it was all a dream. At the moment everything that happened more than 6 hours ago feels like a bit of a dream though, I'm living in a perpetual state of too much coffee, not enough sleep, no exercise and too little time by myself that isn't sitting in front of a computer screen. I still have scar tissue on my feet from that first day I went out without socks on, I'm pretty certain that my digestive system is still working on that 'steak and cheese' sandwich, and the ache of missing my friends is definitely real. Oh, and I can't stop thinking about doughnuts. So, probably not a dream then. 

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Bluebird and the Bear does Christmas...

I know, I know, no one wants to think about Christmas yet, we haven't even done Halloween yet. It's October. And yet. . .

There are like sixty something shopping days until Christmas which means there are forty something photographing days until Christmas. 

A family photo session at this time of year not only gives you lovely photos of your kids but pretty much takes care of all of your family Christmas presents. As my friend Rachel sold it to her husband last year  'you get to spend a couple of hours with Cara, we get beautiful pictures of Pip and we don't have to do Christmas shopping because we can give everyone we know prints.' (anyone who wouldn't want a photo of your kids can get that bottle of bubble bath that you're going to get at the office/pre-school/book club secret santa.) 

Sessions can either focus entirely on your kids, on you and your kids or you can even invite the grandparents along for the ride. 

All sessions booked for before December 1st are guaranteed to be ready in time to have prints or cards made for Christmas and all of my sessions include high-res files so that if you want to you can take care of printing yourself. 

More information about how I work, what I charge etc can be found here

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Brooklyn, reccomendations

Brooklyn; give me your lunches, your breakfasts, your dinners and your cocktails. Give me your artisanal pickles and your small batch bourbons. Give me your pierogies and your tacos, your burgers and your tapas. Your cappuccinos and your espressos, your bagels and your doughnuts. Give me indigestion and trousers that won't close.

I have one week and I want to eat and drink the whole of Brooklyn and maybe a little of Manhattan too.

Please can you share your best of the above with me? I know Manhattan well enough but Brooklyn is a mystery to me. I'll be staying in Park Slope but I'll be willing to wander in the pursuit of gastronomic satisfaction.

That and yarn shops. Thanks.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Thoughts, doings.

Thank you for all of your comments on my (latest) post about the futility of blogging. I swear I don't just write them so I can hear you ask me not to quit. Well, not entirely.  I won't quit, I don't think I can. I've been writing here for almost seven years; longer than I've been married. I'm not saying that I'm more committed to my blog than my marriage, But . . .

(Aside; Ellipsis. Did you know that there is supposed to be a space between each dot? I did not until my mum told me recently. We can put that up there with the fact that fresh herbs can be frozen as the most ground shaking things I've learned from my mother.)

We are just back from seeing my in-laws in France. It was quiet and relaxing and the wine was SO CHEAP, which was exactly what we needed at the end of the summer. The girls spent the week butt naked and discussing boar hunting (“I would hit it with a big stick and see if that deaded it then I would wipe its bum and cut a bit off and EAT IT FOR MY DINNER.” Guess who.) and fighting with their Grandpa over the last peach. It was a real test of his love, fruit vs grandchild, happily for all concerned grandchild won.

Then we went to Glasgow for a wedding. Each time we've been there recently the sun has been shining, we've had dinner with friends and eaten brilliant food; this time at Stereo and last time at Hanoi Bike Shop, (which OMG, GET IN MY BELLY.) It wasn't like that when we lived there The city is buzzing with talk of the referendum and we were kicking ourselves for leaving before we could be a part of such an exciting time for Scotland and as everyoneelse is just starting to realise, the rest of the UK too. (I'm too tired for talking politics in any depth, but this just about sums it up. And this. Wait, and this too.)

Two weeks tomorrow I'm going to New York, all by myself. All. By. My. Self. For a whole week. A whole week all by myself. If I say it enough I might start to believe it. I've been planning it for months but it still doesn't seem real. I'm going to be guest/photographer hybrid at a friend's wedding (a photoguestrapher? A guestographer?) and I'm not sure quite how I'm going to take photographs when I'm crying all the tears. I'm staying in Brooklyn this time. I feel a post about Things to Do/Eat in Brooklyn coming on. I'll maybe limit it to one post this time, not 74 like last time we went. 

Then when I get back it will be one month until the girls turn four. Four is big. The girls are big, so I guess it kind of makes sense. I like them more now than I've ever done. I mean, I've loved them all along (obviously, but you know, the internet . . .) but they finally feel like a joy to be around. Now that they've stopped trying to kill each other (sometimes quite literally). And with that, it's time to get them out of bed. Cheerio. 

*image by Robin Edds/BuzzFeedGetty Images/Wavebreak Media Wavebreakmedia Ltd. The best Buzzfeed page that I've ever seen (Not a difficult category, if we're honest.)