Monday, 20 July 2015

A Review of "All I Know Now"

This is probably the last book review I’ll be allowed to write for a while.

Hachette were very kind to send me a copy of All I Know Now: Wonderings and Reflections on Growing Up Gracefully by Carrie Hope Fletcher and because my children are closer to being teenagers than I am, I thought it would be a valuable read. 

After all, being a teenager is a bit like giving birth in that the finer details vanish from your memory leaving you with a nostalgic haze that almost half convinces you that it “wasn't that bad” when in reality it was much, MUCH worse.

So anyway, I had high hopes. Carrie is in her twenties, a vibrant YouTube phenomenon who is appearing in Les Mis and is the sister of Tom Fletcher from McFly. You know how I know this? Carrie told me, many, MANY times in just the first few chapters.

Issue 1 with this book: If you are going to “relate” to the average teenager, probably best not to spend every other page lamenting being a theatre child and having a famous brother; I'm fairly sure most teenagers can’t relate.

Carrie is also well educated and eloquent. In fact, unlike most teenagers, she uses the word eloquent, casually interspersed with TXT SPK. Now I admit I have absolutely no knowledge of which end of the spectrum is more likely to appeal to teenagers but for the love of all that is holy, PICK ONE.

But my really big issue with this book, and the one that will consign this book to my next charity shop drop, is a section near the start of the book that deals with “firsts”; and in particular, first kisses. 
"If you treat your kisses like they're gold, as if you only have a limited supply of them, you'll only ever want to give them out to the people who you trust them with and who really deserve them ... Looking back I wish I had pushed them away and let them down kindly, rather than giving away a precious kiss that I could have used on someone who I really wanted to share it with."
Now I was surprised by this section, not least because in an effort to familiarise myself with Carrie, I had visited her YouTube channel and watched the video where she reveals her book cover.  I noticed, that sitting in the background like some benevolent feminist cheerleader is Caitlin Moran’s  most recent work.

It's fair to say my heart dropped when I read the same tired morality being trotted out for a new generation.

You don’t need to “save yourself”. You will not get worn out by allowing yourself to experience every kind of kiss and it drives me seven kinds of crazy when people pretend otherwise. Affection does not use you up, not every kiss has to make the angels weep.

If you want to support teenagers, you know what a better message would be? Do everything, try it all once, but do it on your terms. Find out what you like, find out what you don’t and do it safely. You will walk away from some people with a handshake and a “thanks for the memory” and you hold on to others like they are your oxygen. 

Both those things are OK. 

I'm sad to say the tone of the book stayed pretty much the same from there on in.

There is a slightly patronising section about being brave enough to ask a teacher to repeat a homework assignment and pondering "what on earth would we have done if no one had plucked up the courage to ask? ... Sometimes asking questions doesn't just help you out, but the people around you too".

And I think that is where I realised why this book is quite so jarring: Carrie is caught in the same trap as the rest of us in that she is too old to write about being a teenager without coming over as excruciatingly patronising.

You don't have to take my word for it; I did a little experiment and opened the book at random to be faced with this gem:
"If someone misunderstands the way you meant something, it's not their fault for being sensitive. You may not have meant it the way they've taken it, so you can't be blamed for purposely being hurtful, but it is your fault for not being clearer or not thinking it through before you said it."
I just can't even with this book. Just stop, STOP talking to your audience as if they just swallowed a kidney!

It has taken me a long time to publish this review because it feels horrible to take someone's work and throw it under the bus but I don't want any other parent to buy it hoping that might provide relevant and robust guidance to their young adult on how to grow up gracefully.

Also, please never ask your teenager to grow up gracefully.

I was sent a copy of this book free to review. The opinions expressed are my own, in all their glory. I shouldn't have to tell you that, clearly nobody would actually pay me to express views like this.

Thursday, 16 July 2015

We Accidentally Bought A House

We've been over here for a while now, and we have been pretty happy in our rented house: our landlord is lovely, the house is large, the rent is cheap, the view is lovely and the area is awesome. 

We were in no hurry to move.

I offer this by way of introduction because two weeks ago, while I was waiting for my Singapore Noodles at the local takeaway, I flicked through a free property magazine and found what, on closer inspection, turned out to be damn near our perfect house.

It met our simple, but niche, list:

- Does it have a double garage?
- Does it have a killer view of the sea?

No really, that's the list, everything else is optional, and as luck would have it we were planning on being free at just the time of the open home two days later.

We were the only people at the open home; and maybe it was the banter of having our friends along for comedy support, or perhaps the dedicated KY Jelly drawer, maybe it was the two fully made up beds locked away in cupboards in the attic, or even the glorious winter sunshine, but by the time we left, I was utterly hooked.

We put in a cheeky offer and lo, it was accepted.

And we were a little spooked by the fact that we were about to part with our entire savings, but this is Olive exploring in the "front garden"

And having something like this quite literally at the bottom of the garden path has an uncanny way of making you overlook small things like financial security.

Unfortunately what should have been the end of the story was only the start.

Act 2: The Moving Date
In about a month we will be back in the UK for a visit while a lovely couple house sit. My plan, before my eventful visit to the chippy was to pack in a leisurely and thorough way befitting my status as project manager and supremo parent.


We're moving on the 24th of July. That's next Friday and as I sit here not packing in a house full of unboxed crap, I am wondering whether we may finally have run out of talent in the plate spinning department. I'm pretty sure I'm going to forget something spectacularly important over the next month and I'm genuinely surprised by the fact that I'm totally fine with that. Maybe I'm finally becoming a proper kiwi, but suddenly my outlook on the whole thing can be summarised as "she'll be right".

There is one area about which I am less relaxed, and that is

Act 3: The Garden

But that is a story for another post when I know how the story ends. 

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

A Review of Nil Food Wraps

I cycle to work every day. 

So far, my sustainable commute has destroyed a high end smart phone, a pair of leather ankle boots (thank you torrential autumn downpour), I have been thrown into rocks by the wind (that one was maybe due to a cheeky Friday vino after work), I have been bawled out by runners unable to understand the concept of a "shared pathway", I have thrown myself into a hedge to avoid a commuter stepping off a bus without looking, and repeated "excuse me" about 5,000 times to people wearing headphones.

I do this along a route where a perfectly functional bus with heating and seats will take me door to door for the princely sum of $9 a day.

If you were to ask me if there was a good reason why I do this, I would tell you that there were four:

1. I have three young children who would kick my ass if I didn't maintain some level of fitness
2. I'm fast approaching middle age
3. I like to eat
4. I'm Mediterranean

Taken individually, these are all valid reasons to exercise, taken together and I'm all "Dude! Sign me the hell up!"

What does this have to do with Nil Food Wraps?

Just think of them as the bicycle.

I promise you this: You will never look out of my front door during a howling southerly and think that cycling to work is the easy option, and you will never look at a Nil Food Wrap and start itching to throw out your cling wrap.

But without wanting to venture too far down Preachy Street, there is something about having children that makes you wonder what sort of world you want to leave behind, and in my case, it is a world that isn't liberally scattered with plastic tumble-weed.

In my house, cling wrap was mostly used to cover leftovers before they go into the fridge which means that Nil Food Wraps have been an easy transition. They smell lush, they are locally made, organic, antibacterial and they have a lifespan of about four months.

If that doesn't convince you, just think how good it'll make your backside look ... no wait, that's the bicycle.

I was sent a Nil Food Wrap free to review. The opinions expressed are my own, in all their glory. I shouldn't have to tell you that, clearly nobody would actually pay me to express views like this.

Saturday, 27 June 2015

Attachment Parent in Training

Do you ever look at a part of your life and wonder whether you are dreaming? Like you know that this is your reality but you feel like at any moment, someone is going to come along and whip this part of your life away because you clearly don't deserve it?

I feel like that about writing for The Natural Parent Magazine

Every quarter I mail the Hannah with some wafty, ill conceived idea for an article and every quarter she replies with grace and enthusiasm and makes me feel like I have something really valuable to add to the attachment parenting conversation down here in the Southern Hemisphere.

And I'll be honest, I cringe every time I send her an article because I full expect her to reply with a mocking laugh and it is a genuine shock to me when she replies each time with enthusiasm. 

It's an even bigger shock when I open my mail to see my name ... MY NAME ... in print beside the words I sweated and stressed over for hour after long hour.

I wanted to share some of my latest article with you, and for those of you who live down under, you can see the rest at your local newsagent. Even if you don't want to know how this story ends, the other articles and delicious photos are well worth buying and leaving angled trendily on your coffee table. Anyone north of the equator can buy a digital subscription.

Just sayin.  

I identify as an attachment parent, but I’ll let you in on a little secret; every time I do, I feel like a fraud.
When I look over my social media feeds, I see message after message reminding me that attachment parents are gentle, they don’t shout, they are calm, they are composed.
I read them, and so many thoughts crowd into my head and tell me I'm not worthy to count myself as a part of the gang: My temper is too short, my voice is too loud, I get hung up on the judgement of other people ... I could go on, but to put it simply, I feel like the reality of my personality disqualifies me from being a successful Attachment Parent.
I see these failing as part tendency towards my Mediterranean heritage, and part natural consequence of learning a different way of parenting from the one I knew growing up. My parents, like many of their generation, were told that breast milk was inferior to formula, that the only way to get a child to sleep was to put them in a cot and walk away, and that a child would develop unruly behaviour leading to the complete breakdown of society if they weren't firmly disciplined.

Learning how to be an Attachment Parent is a radical departure from all of those things, and like any other skill, it does not come pre-packaged and perfected; it involves lots of small successes and lots of big failures.

Despite being embarrassed by them, I try to embrace my failings knowing that they don't make me a bad Attachment Parent; quite the opposite, because they inspire me to go in search of the answers I need to fill the gaps in my knowledge and compensate for my less gentle personality traits.
I'm not going to give away the rest, I'll just say it involves admitting a lot of failures and celebrating my way through them. And as crazy as it sounds, it looks like Hannah is going to be kind enough to publish another one of my articles in the next issue as well.

If this is a dream, please nobody wake me.
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