Charlotte's Web

Blogging my world since 2006


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It’s Staycation Time!

My family are right on-trend with our plan to stay home for the summer holidays. As we drove back from France yesterday – which is not as glamorous as it sounds since it’s less than a two-hour drive and the campsite was one kilometre over the border – German radio was full of top tips on how to enjoy holidays at home. Callers mooted things like having breakfast in your pyjamas, having coffee in bed and not worrying about hotel hygiene as reasons why they enjoy staying at home. Having never given hotel hygiene a moment’s thought, I loved the last one. It’s so German.

After two nights’ camping, I can report that I like staying at home because when you turn a tap, water comes out of it. I also like not having to walk through a damp forest to go to the loo in the middle of the night. And I like not meeting strange men coming out of the co-ed ablutions and wondering if I am going to get the toilet they just used. The campsite was budget-friendly though (€20 a night for a caravan that sleeps four, kitchen equipment, linen for one double bed, a barbeque, gas and a tent pitch) and pretty, and at some point in the holidays, when I get over the water/loo thing, we’ll go back.

The two main reasons mooted for people to holiday at home, or in Germany rather than in another country, are finances and the threat of swine flu. However, Thomas Cook’s new offer for Germans to reserve loungers in advance might be enough to get the population onto budget flights to Turkey. According to yesterday’s Independent, for the first time in a generation more Britons are holidaying in the UK this year than abroad (probably to avoid the Germans and their deckchairs). Marketers have leapt onto the Holiday At Home concept, and sales of picnic accessories and barbeques are soaring.

With my kids on holiday from Thursday this week until mid-September, I’m compiling a list of cool things to do at home. Here it is so far:

* Ride bikes

* Learn to cook something new

* Eat lunch at the river

* Eat lunch in the garden

* Keep diaries

* Go to the library

* Go to the pool

* Hire DVDs from the library or borrow from friends and have movie nights

* Cut up old magazines and make a collage

* Have friends for a sleep-over

* Go for a walk in the forest

* Read in the hammock

* Learn to ride the unicycle

* Bake cakes and invite friends round for a tea-party

* Collect and press leaves

* Go roller-blading

* Camping in the garden

* Pour Mummy a stiff gin and tonic and take it to her in the hammock

Any ideas warmly welcomed.


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Asking for Help

I grew up with the twisted notion that being a grown-up meant not asking for help. To me, being an adult signalled independence and the ability to cope with whatever life threw at you. I don’t know where this came from, because my mother always seemed to have loads of friends who fluttered around her helpfully when crises arose, and nobody ever said me, “You’re going to have to go it alone”. But somehow I acquired the idea that you’re on your own and that’s the way it is.

After my recent dose of the blues, a few people said a few things to me that made me think. One friend said, “When you get depressed, you disappear into your house and you don’t tell anyone. We think you don’t want to see us.” Another friend said, “It makes people feel loved when you ask them for help.” My husband said, “How can I tell you’re feeling depressed if you don’t tell me?”

I’m starting to realise that asking for help is part of being a grown-up. Admitting that things are hideous and you feel terrible and you want some comfort is actually quite a mature thing to do. On that note, dear bloggers, here is me asking for help. The problem is: housework. I don’t want you to come round and do my housework for me, but I need some advice.

Apparently, French women enjoy doing housework. Are they mad? I am crap at housework, and have mixed feelings about that. Why I am not a deliciously bustling French woman, keeping my home spotless and my man firmly under control? Part of me takes a stupid pride in the fact that I don’t have the housework gene and thus far have not tried to acquire it, while part of me is faintly ashamed that we don’t have a perfect home. My lovely husband appears to suffer from none of these kinds of self-doubt, so maybe I should take a leaf from his book.

When we made the decision years ago that I would stay home and look after our kids when they were little, I had no idea how many hours of housework that would entail. I’ve always had a cleaner once a week, so am lucky that I don’t have to do the really hideous tasks, but three children do make a lot of cooking/laundry/dish-washing/planning/preparation/tidying. My motto has always been “people before objects” and that is the haphazard way my kids are being brought up. I’d rather spend time with them than polish the silver, or organise the toys into logical groups, or swab the floor (it was done two days ago – that’s enough, surely?). But I do try to aim for order of a sort.

In South Africa, having a housekeeper who turns up for work on a daily basis, or even lives in, is the norm. This means that the horrible tasks are delegated to someone else, which is fine in terms of job creation in a land with 40% unemployment, but has meant three things for me:

1) I have no idea how to do housework well. Anything I have learnt I have done so by trial and error. I am unlike the French women in that I have no idea what is the “right way”, if such a thing exists. And the same goes for my husband.

2) I don’t know how to teach my children to participate in housework, because no-one ever taught me. And unless I go back to South Africa, or somewhere else where low-paid houseworkers/nannies relieve parents of their duties, I am going to have to teach them how to help. I don’t want to turn them into little household slaves but I also don’t want them to become brats, so I need them to learn some skills in order to become useful adults one day. I would also like my son to grow up as housework-savvy as his sisters so that he can be a good partner in the future, and not a man-child in his home. (See Rachel Johnson’s article on the very same topic.)

3) I am used to a clean house, that is kept so by someone else, so my standards and my ability don’t match. That gap is the place where I beat myself up, usually in my mother-in-law’s voice or in that of one of my exceedingly clean neighbours. An hour or so of that kind of internal criticism is enough to bring on a bout of depression.

So for those of you who grew up in countries where people looked after their own homes, and where children were expected to help, here are my questions:

1) At what age were you expected to start doing household chores? What were considered age-appropriate chores?

2) Were you ever paid for doing chores? Did you receive rewards in any way, or was it expected?

3) How did your parents regulate your chores? For example, if you didn’t do them, was your pocket-money docked?

4) Were the chores in your home sexist? Or did boys and girls do the same work?

Any ideas or comments are welome.

(Feeling very grown-up now. May have to go and put on some lipstick.)


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The Stay-At-Home Feminist

(With thanks to Lia of the Yum Yum Cafe and the Red Tent blog, where this is cross-posted.)

I am a feminist because without feminism women would not have the choices they have today. I am a feminist because I feel patriarchy, and its nasty little brother sexism, as dark and heavy weights that need to be lifted from the planet. I am a feminist because I care about fairness and equality and opportunity for all. And I’ll be a feminist until women and children are no longer abused and raped. Until a certain kind of man stops acting out his fear of women as violence. Until a certain kind of man can recognise all women as his equal, and not use a holy book, or a stick, or his body to beat them down.

I recognise my feminism as a process. I’ve come a long way, from competing with men, from trying to play as hard as them, from using them, from being virulently angry with them. I clearly remember the point when I let go my anger and decided not to bother with men until the right one came along. Falling in love with him softened me. It opened my eyes to the fact that there are good and kind men in the world, who also want fairness, non-violence and equal opportunities, and who not only pay lip service to those words but actually act on them. Having been around so-called “progressive” men who were just as sexist and idiotic as the next unreconstructed dude, it was completely refreshing to love a man who didn’t mess about with principles, but who was – and still is – kind.

So having found my love, it was an easy decision for me to choose to stay at home with our children. Much of it was circumstantial – had I been still in South Africa, where we would have been locked into a mega-mortgage that needed two salaries to service it, where home help is affordable, where grannies live, I think I would have stayed in the workplace. When we left, I was about to enjoy a promotion to editor of the inhouse magazine I worked on, and I imagine, had I stayed at that company, I would have make steady progress upwards.

Instead to my shock, I find myself a stay-at-home mother in Germany of all places. Instead of setting goals and dealing with politics and motivating employees, I’m raising three children, cooking nourishing meals, keeping things tidy without being obsessed, making sure people have clean clothes to wear and shopping for food. I am doing the jobs I once ridiculed and which I once saw as degrading drudgery. Yet I’m happy and I’m still a feminist.

How do I manage to reconcile all this? It helps to have a partner who does his bit domestically. Sometimes he has to be asked, but he never says no. It helps to have an astonishing cleaning lady who comes once a week and makes things sparkle. It helps to have part-time work that earns some money and gives me something else to think about during my day. It helps to have wonderful, inspiring, interesting friends who are doing fascinating things with their lives, who are trying to be positive and creative parents, with whom I can talk books, movies, life, men and the best cheesecake recipe. It helps to blog and have made fascinating and varied blog friends whose ideas inspire me daily.

It also helps to have a role model in my mother-in-law who went back to work in her late forties, started her own business in her fifties and now, twenty years later, still puts on her spiffy business clothes and goes to the office. Her success inspires me. We seem to think it’s imperative to build a career in our thirties. Not so! I’m delaying that gratification until my forties. I know without doubt that it will happen.

I think it’s possible to have it all. It’s just not possible to have it all all at the same time. That road leads to madness, or extreme dissatisfaction. With that knowledge, I am happy doing the jobs I do now, knowing that in ten years time the jobs I do will have shifted. I had my me-time in my twenties, and believe me, I’m going to have it again. Until then, I remain the stay-at-home feminist. And a happy one, at that.