Why I’m Terrified of my Daughter’s Adolescence

You might think that worrying about my seven year old’s future teenage years might be a bit premature but when it seems like only yesterday that she was just starting nursery, it seems only logical that it’ll only feel like another week until she’s starting secondary school and let’s face it, adolescence pretty much starts there. In fact, if she follows in my footsteps, puberty is due to hit in about three years.

Already, she’s dealing with loads of drama at school. She complains every day that many of the girls at school lie, make up stories about each other and gossip constantly. In a sense, I’m glad she’s complaining because hopefully that means she’s not taking part.

So far, being a strong willed, confident girl means she wears what she likes (I only intervene if she, for example, tries to wear a summer dress outside in winter), she plays the games she likes and she picks the TV and music she likes (again, minor and occasional intervention from parents). However, I think even the most confident girls are affected to some extent by the peer pressure and self esteem issues of the teenage years. As a side note, I’m pretty sure boys suffer with this stuff too – it’s just that they’re expected to be strong and unemotional so the suffering is done in silence.

My own adolescence ended almost a decade ago but I remember it pretty clearly. I remember being mocked for being a virgin at 15 and then mocked even more when I pointed out that sex wouldn’t even be legal at that age. I remember being complimented on my jacket by one of the popular girls, who told me that if I bought the right trousers and shoes too, I’d be allowed to hang around with them. Seriously. The film Mean Girls is truer to life than you might think.

I remember someone shoving a cigarette in my mouth when I refused to take one myself. I remember a boy threatening to sexually assault me in my sleep if I didn’t have sex with him. I remember my first boyfriend thinking it was actually acceptable to cheat on me because we’d been dating for a month and I hadn’t slept with him yet.

How on earth am I meant to help my daughter navigate this kind of stuff when she reaches this stage?

I could tell my daughter my own experiences I suppose. I could try to tell her that I went through it too and you’ve just got to stick to your own principles and not allow yourself to be pressured into anything. But the truth is, I didn’t always make the best decisions. Ok, I said no to drugs, I said no to sex until I felt happy with it. But I did sneak into a park after closing to drink vodka with a bunch of people I didn’t really know that well. And it’s only in the last year or so that I’ve started to wonder if I was more affected by peer pressure than I thought at the time.

During parties, it was seen as quite normal by the group I was in to kiss people of the same sex. There was a strong message from everyone involved that it meant nothing, it was all good fun and it meant nothing about your sexuality. We might have been the ‘alternative’ crowd but being gay was still a big deal. Not a bad thing but not something you’d want because your friends might be ok with it but pretty much nobody else would. I had gay friends who’d come out to their parents and it had been a nightmare for them. One even got kicked out of their house. I once asked my Mum how she’d feel if I were a lesbian. She said she’d absolutely fine with it, of course, but followed this by very firmly stating that I was 100% straight, no doubt about it. So when I was kissing girls at parties, it never quite occurred to me that I might be bisexual. I definitely wasn’t gay and I didn’t really know about a third option. I’d heard the term bisexual but it was so synonymous with promiscuity (still an issue today) that I didn’t identify with at all. So it turns out that I was so affected by what everyone around me was saying that I couldn’t even work out who I was!

I suppose the scary thing about all of this is that, for the first time, her safety will be her responsibility. As parents, we can talk to her about the tricky issues, we can make sure she’s educated on sex and drugs and we can set boundaries and rules. But in the end, it’ll be her choice. All I can do at that point is hope she makes the right one.

Pop Pilates: My exercise of choice

A few years ago, I was once again in a state of temporary desperation to be fitter and healthier. I’d read or heard that pilates was supposed to be a great way to tone up so I thought it would be something to do alongside the jogging I’d started doing. I went on YouTube and searched for ‘Beginners Pilates’. What I found was this video.

For a couple of weeks, I followed this workout every other day, jogging in my local park on the other days. I started feeling stronger and healthier.

I can’t remember what derailed that particular attempt at shedding some of my excess pounds and becoming a healthier person. Maybe it was school holidays or Easter or Christmas or something. To be honest, it could have been a big takeaway curry. My willpower is my greatest enemy.

Anyway, last summer, I found myself eager to try exercise and healthy eating again. Without much consideration, I turned straight back to that video. It was, for exercise, reasonably enjoyable and it was only 30 minutes long so I could fit it into small spaces of spare time. But this time, I actually looked into the person who made and stars in the video: Cassey Ho. She’s a super perky exercise instructor, plus she’s that little bit more realistic than some instructors I’ve used the videos of. It turns out, Pop Pilates is her own form of pilates, designed to be more fun and energetic than the traditional classes. I went on the Blogilates website and found the Beginner’s Workout Calendar. I followed it diligently for four weeks and then continued for a couple of months after that, using the videos I really enjoyed (yes, actually enjoyed) and I found were working best for me.

I lost 1.5 stone in those few months. I felt so much more energetic, healthy and strong. I know I probably sound like a cheesy advert right now but it’s true!

Now three months of regular exercise and healthy eating is pretty amazing for me. But inevitably, it all ended when we went on holiday at the end of summer. I told myself I’ll forget the exercise for a few days and try to be careful with eating. Well, a few days spent at Husband’s grandmother’s house and a day trip to a theme park (ice cream and burgers galore!) and I had gone totally off plan. Then it was back to work and school routine and I completely lost my motivation. I’ve now gained back half a stone.

Now January has rolled around and, despite a slight lack of real motivation (if you read my last post, you’ll know what I mean), I know I need to give a healthy lifestyle another try. The way I see it, if I can lose a stone each year overall, I’ll be my ideal weight by the time I’m 30!

I’ll be going back to the Blogilates Beginners Calendar again. It worked before and I’m hoping it’ll work again. I genuinely recommend this exercise programme to anyone who’s been interested in trying pilates but is a little reluctant or unsure of where to begin.

Good luck to anyone else embarking on a January diet!

Thanks for reading.

(P.S I wasn’t asked to write this review of Blogilates. It’s entirely my own opinion)

Another Day, Another Year

So another year has begun. Goodbye 2016, hello 2017.

Don’t panic, this isn’t yet another internet rant about how terrible 2016 was and how, somehow, 2017 will be so much better.

Actually 2016 wasn’t bad for me personally. Yes, terrible things happened globally and I did feel sad about them but some pretty great stuff happened to me. I graduated from university. I got some ongoing paid writing work. I stopped taking anti-depressant medication. My workplace allowed me to dye my hair pink (and indeed a whole range of other colours that I’ve got my eye on).

In fact, I feel a little unsure about 2017. I’m heading into a year where I don’t have any guaranteed opportunities for achievement. There’s nothing big on the horizon. That’s a little daunting, especially when everyone else is so determined that their 2017 is going to be so bloody brilliant. I feel like I too should be super positive and excited at the new opportunities apparently afforded by a new year beginning.

Instead, if I’m honest, I’m feeling a bit down today. Christmas is over. The tree is coming down tomorrow. We’ll all be back in our usual work and school routine on Tuesday. My daughter is pretty excited about that. She’ll get to see her friends and tell them all about her new bike and all the other cool stuff she got. Meanwhile I’m trying to summon up the motivation to fit some exercise and writing into the cold, empty months that the start of any year inevitably bring.

So yeah. Perhaps not quite the upbeat, fresh start post of New Year optimism people will expect or even want. But there it is.

I genuinely do hope you all have a good 2017 though. Cheers for reading my bleak thoughts. I promise to make the next post a little perkier.

 

Tis the Season!

Christmas has officially arrived in our house. The tree is up, the presents are wrapped up underneath. We’re quite a bit more than halfway through our various advent calendars.

It’s the last day of school term today and, while I am working a few days between now and Christmas, I feel like Christmas really begins when Pip starts school holidays. I’ve had Christmas tunes on all day. I should probably apologise to my neighbours for attempting to sing along!

The tree has one new ornament this year, just as it does every year. We chose this one together – we’re all big Marvel fans and I really like the detailing on it.

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The first ornament we bought, just after Husband and I visited Paris in 2008

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Celebrating Pip’s first Christmas

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For our first Christmas in Wales, after moving to Cardiff in 2011

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For Doctor Who’s 50th Anniversary in 2013

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Seemed very fitting for a family of Starbucks fans

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This year’s ornament, celebrating our surpreme geekiness

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My best wishes to you all for a happy & fun Christmas and New Year!

Five years in Cardiff

Five years ago, we moved from London to Cardiff. It’s probably been the best five years of my entire life.

Back in 2011, we lived in an area not far from where the riots had recently happened. It’s not easy being out in a place and constantly wondering if the person you’ve just passed in the street was looting a few nights before. We’d been talking about moving away for a long while but it had always felt like fantasy, like when you plan which mansion you’ll buy when you win the lottery rollover (Everyone does that, right?). But with London (or at least the bit of London we lived in) feeling more and more like somewhere we didn’t really want to raise our child, we started looking elsewhere.

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View across Cardiff Bay, 2011

Cardiff was a pretty obvious choice. We’d been there on a day trip a year earlier and instantly loved it. It’s a capital city – a good place to find jobs with plenty of cultural stuff to enjoy – but at the same time it’s a quieter, more laid back and friendly place than where we were. Plus it’s where Doctor Who is filmed and for a family of geeks, that’s a massive tick in the pros column.

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At the Doctor Who Experience in Cardiff Bay, 2012

Husband went on a little reconnaissance mission. The poor guy spent two days looking at what were mostly pretty grim flats, attending job interviews and spending the night in hotel room with a broom closet sized bathroom and a TV smaller than his iPad. He had the pressure of actually picking where we lived without me ever laying eyes on it. When we actually moved, I arrived a few hours ahead of him (he finished packing up at the old flat, while me and Pip went ahead) and he texted me, all anxious about what I thought, given that this was the first time I’d set foot in the place. I think my reply was ‘I f*cking love you’. He’d chosen brilliantly.

I loved that flat. It was the first place that really felt like our home, rather than somewhere we’d had to settle for out of necessity. It was just near Cardiff Bay, still one of my favourite places to visit, plus near plenty of shops including a huge 24 hour supermarket. The best thing about it was it’s second bedroom. Pip finally had a room of her own, which we were all extremely happy about.

We stayed there for a year, then our landlord quite suddenly decided that they were going to sell the flat and gave us just over a month to move out. This time I chose the flat and Husband was the one that didn’t get to see it until after we moved in. I won’t go into much detail about that place but suffice to say, we’ve since made an agreement that he gets to choose all subsequent places we live in. It was bloody awful.

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Victoria Park, 2013

Since 2014, we’ve been living in my favourite place that I’ve ever lived in. Plenty of space, brilliant location and a lovely landlady. I don’t see us leaving here for quite some time yet, which is quite something for a family that’s moved five times in eight years.

I love Cardiff. I love the Bay, a beautiful place to have a walk, take some pictures and perhaps have an ice cream. I love the city centre, full of shops, two museums and a castle, plus a massive library and loads of lovely places to eat.  I love that if you say Good Morning to someone in the street, most of the time they’ll say it back rather than look at you like you’ve just casually uttered a racial slur (seriously, I wouldn’t even make eye contact with strangers in London). I love how comfortable I feel here.

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Castell Coch, 2016

Starting fresh in Cardiff has made me a such a different person. I might still be shy but I’m way more confident than I used to be. I’ve faced up to the fact that I have PTSD and depression and had treatment and now I feel so much better. I’m not cured but it’s incurable so being able to deal with it is the best I can do and I think I’m doing it (most of the time).

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Me, 2011

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Me, 2016

So thanks Cardiff. I can’t wait to see what the next five years have in store!

 

Chrome for Kids

These days, learning to use a computer is as essential as learning to read.

I know, many will consider a controversial thing to say but I really believe it. Students (of all ages) need to use computers in almost any subject and most future careers require at least some computer use.

With our daughter turning seven this year, we decided to buy her a laptop. She’s had use of a second hand iPad for a long while but we wanted her to get used to a keyboard, which she mostly avoids on the iPad. We also wanted her to to have experience of different operating systems, since at home we only use Mac.

We decided on getting a chromebook for the following reasons:

  • She’s quite familiar with the operating system since she uses it at school already.
  • They come pre-loaded with anti-virus software so you don’t need to worry about it yourself.
  • You can set up parental controls – very important if she’s going online.
  • Lightweight. We wanted something she could easily carry around for herself and could be taken out of the house.

There are loads of options available. We picked the Lenovo N22-20 Chromebook. It’s very lightweight and even has a handle – very convenient for a seven year old to carry it around with limited risk of it being dropped. It’s got a decent battery life – up to 14 hours according to the Lenovo website and I will say that we’ve found it doesn’t need to be charged very often, though I haven’t actually timed it. It’s also has a rotating camera on it, which is a nice feature and great fun for kids.

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Sadly, I do have a rather large complaint to make of the Chrome OS. The parental controls are rubbish. I know that sounds blunt and harsh and usually I’m the kind of blogger to try and play up the positives of products but seriously, it’s rubbish.

In order to set up parental controls, you need to set up an account as the parent and then a ‘Supervised Account’ for the child. This is already a bit annoying. But nothing compared to the fact that you can’t access apps from the supervised account. Seriously. My daughter can’t access applications from her own user account on her own laptop.

Also, the internet parental controls are seriously lacking. I’ve gone through the tutorials, I’ve checked advice from Google and various people on online forums but essentially what I’ve got is a situation where she can look at whatever the hell she wants and all I can do is check up on it later. What on earth is the point of that?! Please Google, sort this out. ASAP.

However, she does love it. Luckily there are plenty of websites with great content and stuff for her, like the CBBC and CBeebies websites. Plus, she can access Google Docs, since that’s website based, so she can practice her typing. This week, during half term, we’re going to look at Scratch, the website based application for teaching children to code.

So my overall impression is that Chromebooks are useful, lightweight and simple machines for people who just want to use the internet, email and the odd application. As something for a child as their own computer, it’s a bit disappointing but, might still be the best reasonably priced option available.

Catch up: An Ending and a Beginning

So it’s been a pretty busy time around here.

Pip turned seven a few weeks ago. We had a family event for the actual day; just a little tea party with some visiting relatives. Then the following weekend, she had a few friends over for another tea party. This was an opportunity (excuse might be a more accurate term) for me to design personalised placemats and invitations and little thank you notes to go into the party bags. I hadn’t quite anticipated just how much noise a few six & seven year old girls could make but still, a good time was had by all.

Then last weekend, I attended my graduation ceremony at the Millennium Centre in Cardiff Bay. It was brilliant. I will admit to being slightly nervous that I might trip and fall straight into the orchestra pit in front of the stage but I actually managed to avoid this, which really felt like as much of an achievement as attaining a degree. The robes were a little awkward but overall, made me feel a bit like a student at Hogwarts rather than the Open University. Anyone who knows me will know how happy that made me. Husband was graduating at the same time and looked extremely dignified in his robes, which didn’t keep slipping off like mine did. I’m not the kind of person to feel very proud of myself about anything but I genuinely felt rather smug for nearly a whole day. After six years of hard work, I think I was entitled to that.

Just before my graduation, I got a tweet, totally out of the blue, about a rather exciting opportunity. Long story short, I’m now the local editor for the Bubele newsletter for Cardiff. It’s fortnightly and I promise it’ll be packed with fun stuff for families in the Cardiff area. My first newsletter will be emailed out on 2nd November so do sign up! Bubele is also an app with lots of listings for family fun throughout the UK – I recommend downloading it and signing up for whichever newsletter covers your area. I certainly like having activities lined up, equally for the school holidays and for those long weeks of monotonous routine in between so I really feel like this is a useful tool for any parent.

I’m feeling uncharacteristically positive about all of the above. My little girl is getting ever bigger and brighter and more brilliantly unique. I’ve achieved something I never thought I’d be able to. I’ve got a new opportunity for writing more. Everything’s just bloody marvellous!