10 Signs You Love Parenting 

Disclaimer: please read 10 things you can’t stand about parenting’ if you’re not in a positive parenting place right now, like me most mornings. That fluffy focus-on-the-good parenting stuff needs balancing out a bit.

 

1. Spending ridiculous amounts of time just looking at your baby/child. You know their every detail to the extreme, and of course they are the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen. You often feel smug when you look at people who aren’t your child’s parent (so pretty much everyone else except your partner) and gloat inwardly that they don’t get to look at your child every day. You regularly feel the urge to ferociously approach strangers crying “look at her face, she is beautiful!” because, they didn’t seem to be paying much attention.

2. Feeling that aching proud feeling in your chest when they’re so scared to swim in the swimming gala but they do it eventually. Even though they came last, they did it. All the other kids were probably doping anyway.

3. Watching your kids hug each other. It’s quite a skill to have made a little pack of humans whom you hope will confide in each other when they’re bigger and always have a friend who knows them so well. This morning I overheard my two eldest discussing how they liked ‘their baby [brother]’.

4. Wanting to bottle the smell of your baby’s head. I know it’s a cliché but if one of my kids is sat on my lap it’s quite likely that I’ll have my nose in their head (that sounds normal), which is fine until they notice and tell you to stop sniffing them.

5. Loving the power that the iPad or sweet foods has over other humans. I am God. You can make them tidy anything with the promise of an ice lolly.

6. When their favourite song goes from ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’ to something over 20 seconds long and becomes ‘Paranoid Android’ by Radiohead, like my 6 year old daughter (which Daddy is very proud of).

7. Watching them learn to read, or write their own name. The months of choosing their name suddenly becomes a lot more serious. (May have set the bar quite high for our daughter Geneviève, poor kid.)

8. Sitting on the floor and having your baby crawl over to you and rest their head on your thigh. Loving that you’re what they want right now, not a brightly coloured, obnoxiously noisy toy in the corner.

9. Spending weekends watching them run around in the sun and play in trees, or even just giggle at cartoons. This is their childhood. Remembering what you remember from your childhood and realising that this is that, for them, right now. Wanting to make it brilliant.

10. Having made some freshly squeezed brand new people that are largely part of you, but are also separate beings and wanting them to be a bit like you, but also have a better life than you. You know they will probably make the world a tiny bit better.

 @shopgirlygm

10 Things You Can’t Stand About Parenting 

Disclaimer: read ’10 signs you love parenting’ for if you need to be reminded that you do love it really.
1. When someone misidentifies the gender of your baby. You may like to think you’re quite a liberal parent and want to buy your girl a red truck for her birthday, saying ‘fuck you’ to gender stereotypes, but it’s still a little infuriating when your dainty little girl dressed in a blue dress and flowery sunhat gets told she is a handsome young man.

2. Mornings when you feel your stomach acid start to bubble up due to the rage caused by the amount of times you have to tell your daughter to not just stand there in yesterday’s pants for a further 23 minutes, but actually make movements – any freaking movements at all – to get some additional kind of clothing on. And also, when you ask what on Earth they’ve been doing for the last half an hour they seem to have no recollection of their activities. Astonishing. Like it’s been erased from their memory. Which reminds me…

3. Sometimes, they remember everything. Apart from important stuff. But they do somehow remember that last week you promised them they could have packed lunch at the end of this week, and now it is Friday, 8:27am and you now have an obligation to rustle up a nutritious picnic for the clever little thing.

4. You want to be a fly-on-the-wall at school lunch time and have the power to poke other kids when they say something mean to yours. You hate the idea that your daughter is sad and you’re not there.

5. Dressing babies. Due to my disability I can’t do this myself but I’m usually the one trying to pin said baby down while others try to insert him into trousers. They should use this activity to torture prisoners – see how long they last with a baby (okay maybe just a doll) who, just when you’re getting leg #2 into place, they retract leg #1. Leg #2 then becomes leg #1 and the ordeal is repeated about ten times. It’s the same with sleeves and shoes. You all end up screaming and you put your son in a dress and be done with it.

6. They do not want you to sleep. Babies are arseholes during the night and that’s all I have to say on the situation.

7. When you’re supposed to cook something nutritious to fuel their growing bodies but you’ve just got home and it’s 6pm – fridge tapas will have to do. You boil up some pasta, add cheese and a bit of sandwich pickle, some sliced up cold sausage from the weekend BBQ, and throw in some frozen mixed veg to pretend it’s healthy. They don’t eat it, and instead have some questionable yoghurt from the back of the fridge for dinner. If they get the runs it’s their own fault.

8. Meltdowns which occur outside the home. Nothing screams “look how shit I am at parenting!” than when your child decides to lie down on the floor in the frozen section in Morrisons. You’re a mum in a wheelchair and the verbal attempts to get your child to stand up are not working. Then the Parent Samaritans rock up and offer help and you just want to scream “You can fuck off too. Leave me alone.” in their face. You’d quite like to just ignore your child and leave them to their tantrum as you might at home, but unfortunately it is frowned upon in the public arena.

9. Morning wake-up calls before 7am when you’re not getting up early to go on holiday. I love that my kids want to snuggle in bed next to me in the mornings but when they are 3 and 6 years old, it is 5.48am and within 3 minutes they are arguing about not having enough space or any covers, you regularly scream “it is MY bed, it’s not even 6 o’clock, bugger off”. You load YouTube on your phone and some sickly sweet video of some girls unwrapping Frozen-themed Kinder Eggs, and send them on their way. You’ll deal with the post-YouTube comedown later on.

10. After all the other trivial, albeit shitty stuff that happens day-to-day as a parent, you have the overwhelming sense of disappointment that you can’t give them everything you want to. You can’t promise the world will be nice to them always and you can’t promise nothing bad will happen, and that sucks.*

*Although you can help them to be strong, loving and open-minded people, and that might help with those things.

@shopgirlygm

Has anxiety become fashionable?

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I appreciate this might be a risky article to write. Many millions of people suffer with varying degrees of anxiety, either for a short specific episode or a prolonged ongoing time. These people cannot help feeling anxious about certain things, it gets into the very grain of their being, day-in, day-out, and often therapy or medication is needed to learn to cope and manage the feelings and symptoms they exprience.

But lately, I seem to be hearing more and more people saying that they suffer or have suffered with some form or anxiety, for at least one stage in their lives. Maybe it is that these days, it is easier to ‘come-out’ as having anxiety, where it wasn’t before. It is widely known that people suffer from anxiety, depression and other brain-health disorders in silence, perhaps not even telling a doctor or family member through fear of not being believed, or being told to just “pull yourself together”. I say ‘brain-health’ as I truely believe and want others to recognise that mental health diagnoses are as much of a health issue as asthma or coeliac disease for instance. It’s just that although you can’t necessarily ‘see’ the problem, it is physically just as present as many other diagnoses. The problem is that if someone hasn’t suffered themselves, or there isn’t a blood test to cofirm the issue, then people struggle to believe it is most definitely happening, without the choice of the person it is affecting.

I might be one of the many who chose not to let-on about the anxiety I was experiencing after having a baby. I have three children and each time, I have treated the anxiety in different ways. With baby #1, it came as quite a shock. It was, I guess, part of post-natal depression to have anxiety like this. After having my daughter I’d feel so incredibly tense and frustrated by my lack of physical ablities due to my CMT neuropathy, that even though I knew exactly what my hands/arms could and could not do, I became severely affected by the thoughts of other peoples’ perceptions of my parenting and also about having to ask other people to do so much for my own baby. After all, nobody would do things exactly like I would if I could. I focused and obsessed over tiny things that were ‘wrong’ and everything seemed to make me want to lock myself in the bathroom and not have to ‘parent’ in front of others, especially those who knew me. With baby #2, I suffered simillarly for a few months before finally going to the doctor 4 months postbirth. With baby #3 I had the foresight to think ‘well this is probably gong to happen again isn’t it’, and even though I was absolutely rubbish at just sayong “hey, this is how crap and anxious I’m feeling”, people were aware a lot earlier and I was slightly better at normalising it, for myself and for others.

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So has it become less taboo to talk of your own serious anxieties, and by that I don’t mean being afraid of cliff-edges or big spiders – I mean things that are completely irrational, unexpected perhaps, and most of all uncontrollable to an extent? Or has claiming to have a severe case of anxiety become a get-out clause, an excuse maybe, to get out of things you’d rather not have to do? After all, people aren’t supposed to deny your anxiety, are they?

Are some teenage girls who would rather not play netball in school and have an excusing note from their mum, undermining the true experiences of the 15 year-old with crippling body dysmorphia who would rather jump off a bridge than have to show their legs off to fellow students and teachers? Is she going to be told “sorry, everyone has to join in”? Shouldn’t we be more lenient about what they can wear, or is it one-rule-fits-all?

I have always hated having to speak in front of groups of people. I remember even as a 7-year-old in Brownies, the moment when you’ve not long joined the club and you have to say the ‘Brownie-Guide Law’, I stood there and started crying and my mum had to say the words for me. Suddenly the idea of all-eyes-on-me was horrific. Since then I’ve detested it, it makes me feel physicallt sick and I will go out of my way not to do it even if it means being the only one who doesn’t play a part in a presentation. I get red-faced, my eyes start watering and I lose the ability to make the right amount of eye contact. However I also know that other people have it way worse than me, and cannot even speak to a cashier in the supermarket for example. So should college lecturers and workplace managers stop asking people to speak up in a group, because many people might be ‘too shy’, when really it might be only one or two who are suffering some form of actual anxiety?

It is difficult really, because whilst more needs to be done to help support those of us who are genuinely anxious and distressed about things that we really would prefer to experience, should we really label more and more kids as having anxiety because they haven’t got many friends or don’t want to say lines in tbe school play, and should we make physical education less integral to the curriculum incase school-aged adolescents feel embarrassed wearing a sports’ kit?

There is certainly a fine line between knowing whether to help somebody through anxiety by allowing them not to do something which might mentally distress them, and just saying “you’ll be okay, come on, let’s do this”. I worry that it’s becoming ‘cool’ to say you have anxiety, similar to when people say “oh I’m so OCD”, when they admit to not wanting people to get crumbs on their sofa.

What do you think? Have you had true anxiety? How have you treated it, and who did you tell?

Yours anxiously,

@shopgirlygm

When the world seems awful

I woke up this Sunday morning distracted after having frantically called and messaged my Mum and stepdad last night to check they were safe after the BBC News app pinged up on my phone informing us of the London Bridge incident. They had been to see Depeche Mode at the Olympic Stadium that night, and seeing as I have little-to-no geographical awareness of where things are in London, I didn’t know if they were anywhere near there, or if anything else had happened near them.

It had become somewhat of a dark joke last year; everytime we heard the percussive ping of the breaking news headlines pop up on either of our phones, we dreaded hearing that another celebrity had been found dead in their homes, and secretly hoping David Attenborough was still alive and well. On Christmas Day at my brother’s house, we heard the noise-of-doom on my partner’s phone whilst we were sat round trying to answer the ridiculous questions of my brother’s Christmas Quiz, and I sarcastically piped up, “oh no, who’s died now?”, which in hindsight, isn’t the most appropriate thing to have said but unfortunately that is what I said. Tom took his phone out of the space between the sofa cushions, glanced at the lock-screen and replied, “oh no, I don’t think I want to say!”. It was of course, a notification to say that George Michael had been found dead, aged 53. We sat in shock for quite a while, discussing how bad 2016 had been for bad news, and for famous people passing-away and wondered how many more faces would be talked about in the past before the year was up.

But of course these are individual people and most of them died by either natural, drug-induced or suicide related reasons. It was achingly sad to hear about Bowie and Prince’s passings and even those who I did not personally know much about. Not many high-profile deaths come as good news. However when the news is of yet another terrorist attack on a city, or a nightclub, a famous building or even just a bus, the thing we want to hear next is that the police have caught and ended the lives of the perpetrators. The lemmings, blindly and irrationally following commands of their cowardly leaders who are intent on spreading hate, ruining the lives of people who have nothing to do with them. All in the name of an imaginary being.

It is scarring and scary, and we don’t seem to be able to do enough about it. I know that  sounds monumentally defeatest but there is internet, there is print, there is travel, there is free-speech and there is unstoppable influence and these things can be, and usually are fantastic tools for movement and for good causes. But people will continue to follow blindly and be brainwashed as they have done for thousands of years. Years decorated by the untimely and unwarrented events to blame for the sudden decline in a specific population going about their daily lives. These foolish few will continue to be able to buy household products and make bombs that could kill innocent people enjoying a pop concert. I hated having to write that last sentence, but can we actually say that anti-terror movements and procedures will mean that this NEVER happens again? No, we cannot. We can’t control people and monitor their every movement, and that is frustratingly fair and right.

However we can one-by-one teach our children that they have their own minds. They can question and they can have good powers, just as forceful as the preachers of evil ideology living out their anger-filled desires through impressionable young people. We can wrap our kids in bubble wrap and not go and visit the local music festival because we are scared it might be a target for attackers, or we can pop the bubbles in the plastic, rip it off, stamp on it or whatever floats your boat and allow them to see, to hear and to be brave. They will see or hear about more terror attacks, as will we, and I will still frantically try and contact my loved ones if the attacks happen in a place near to them, as my family did when I was due to travel on the Picadilly Line on the morning of the 7/7 bombings with my stepsister, but thanks to her friend being a little too hungover to get up as early as we had planned, we were still in bed when it happened.

I am scared. Scared that it will happen near us or our beautiful children and family members elsewhere. But I am also scared that the fear of it happening will stop us from living our lives. So I think we just have to let the fear subside just enough, and teach our kids that they are brilliant, and brave and powerful and they can do good, have good values and good morals just because they want to, as opposed to needing a god or other source of scaremongering hierarchy to ‘make them behave and be good people’.

 

@shopgirlygm

Being Mum: Rehearsal In Progress

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It’s Mother’s Day in the UK today, and there’s lots I could talk about when it comes to being a mother.

I have three kids, ranging in age from 6 years to 7 months, with  3-year-old in the middle. When I was first pregnant with child #1, it was exillerating, exciting, scary, and new. Nothing had been experienced before except through observing other pregnant people around me, but nothing was to prepare me for what was really to come. Six and a bit years on, I’m still pretty much winging it at times, with the occasional moment of knowing what I’m doing.

With my eldest when she was a baby, I worried about everything – whether she had fed enough, whether she was putting on weight quickly as she was a tiny baby, whether I was doing the right thing by feeding her and putting her down, and letting her cry – because she’d fed and her nappy was fine so what else could she need at 2am apart from sleep? She surely had to understand as early as possible that cuddles and attention in the dark hours was not going to happen. Some people I spoke to agreed, and had similar sleep routines, and some had different opinions on how much attention a baby needs after feeding and changing had been sorted. I was pretty sure we were doing it right, although it was nightmarish at times and we were both shattered. But when we considered the alternative – co-sleeping or something similar and in the attachment aisle of the parenting shop. We got though the baby stage and came out the other end with a baby who slept quite reasonably by the middle of her second year of life and we had our nights back.

Then we had the sensible idea to bring another screaming human science project into our house. ‘We know what we’re doing….maybe’, we both thought at times, and we often heard people say something like ‘oh you must know what you’re doing if this is your second baby!’ Nor necessarily true but I could kind of see where they were coming from. With the second baby some things are very familiar, and some things come back quite easily like breastfeeding, which my second daughter took to like a baby to a boob, with no issues whatsoever as opposed to the first time around where I stressed more than anyone needs to, over getting her to latch on properly, being scared by hospital staff that she’d need ‘topping-up’ with formula in ber first few hours of life as she had not had many long feeds from me. Nowadays I know that that particular bit of advice was unnecessary and I needen’t have worried about her not feeding enough right from the word ‘go’. Of course babies need to feed, and to increase their blood sugar, but considering that their stomach at birth is literally the size of a small marble, there really was no need for me to cry over the fact that she hadn’t guzzled all 2oz of formula after a 5 minute feed from me, only for her to throw it all up everyhwere after. I probably would have too if I’d been made to drink about 5 x the volume of my stomach in one sitting. So with daughter 2.0 this part of parenting was a lot less stressful. Don’t get me wrong, the times they throw up an entire boob of milk before bed when they’re bigger, is definitely a pain in the neck, and there were many rimes when I’d worry that she had not eaten enough, and slept too much, but for the most part, a lot more successful.

With daughter #2, I was also a bit more easy going when it came to sleep. I’d still want her back in her own bed after most feeds because it is my bed and I am selfish – but in the very early days and for the odd night thereafter if she spent most of the night in our bed, co-sleeping as they call it, then that was that. She’s 3 now and has been in her own bed sleeping perfectly normally for at least 2 years, only stopping our bedtime feed at 2.5. I knew we had approached sleep better this time around, but I do have a lingering guilt that in fact with our eldest daughter, she was not sleeping at all badly – she was a baby and babies wake and need a cuddle. The problem really was that we had been conditioned to believe that from a few weeks old babies should be able to sleep solidly. Complete rubbish.

Now I’m on child 3, this time of the male variety and pretty much every situation is sprinkled with a generous layer of salt, rathet than a pinch. He spends the first 2-3 hours in his cot and then camps next ro me with my boob in his face for the remaining 6-7 hours. We both sleep better than if he was going back into his cot after every feed, there is minimal night hour crying and despite my bedsheets smelling more sicky than I’d like, it works for now and I know that he will sleep just as well as his sisters in the next year or so. So whilst the reality at the moment is that I share my bed with a sweaty 20lb boy most of the night, with his Daddy the other side of me, I know that reality changes very often and soon it won’t be like that.

Six years on from my parenting birthday, I have come to realise that children are extremely cute as babies, even when they grin at you with your nipple clamped between their gums. They are cute at times over the next few years, interspersed with moments when they might behave like a complete A-hole, but also have the capability to make you feel more proud than you thought was biologically possible, like when you leave them at their school on the first day of term.

How on Earth did we make it this far? I cannot for the life of me keep a house-plant alive, and I even managed to mess up growing my daughter’s pumpkin seeds that she won in school – but somehow, between me and my partner, we have managed to grow three complete children. They’re exceptionally good looking, fantastically irritating at times, but they’re ours, and we grew them.

We are not by any stretch of the imagination experts in raising babies despite having three insisting that they live in our house. Each and every day I have moments where I shout at them to get their shoes on instead of routing through the bag of never-played-with tat destined for the charity shop and I think to myself ‘shit, that was harsh, I’m really crap at this today’, or times when all I want to do is watch a BBC drama containing strong language througout, and these two girls just sit there on the sofa looking at me like ‘wtf are we going to enjoy about this?’ and I have to consider what is more important – my anticipation of finding out who killed Kay in ‘The Replacement’ or my darling children’s quality time with Mummy? Of course, it was spending precious moments drawing stickmen with the girls and laughing at their farts – that is until I got bored and tasked them with sorting out the shoe box so I could finally watch the last 3 minutes of this crime-drama really quietly and sat ridiculously close to the TV so the children didn’t start repeating obsceneties.

I’m not sure if I’m done having babies, if we might like to add another in a few years. Either way, the baby stage take:3 is rapidly reaching the end of the first year and whilst a relief, it is also tragic and sad that there will be a time when he has his last feed from me, and one day he too will no longer need to ride on Mummy’s wheelchair because he’s tired of walking. I’m enjoying being a mum, even if I don’t always feel like a mum when I can’t do something for them, and even if I have a habit of spending the first few months after habing a baby being a miserable slug. I know now that that is ok, and every othe mum should know that too.

You are allowed to be a miserable slug, shout at your kids ‘KEEP YOUR TEETH TOGETHER FOR CRYING OUT LOUD’ when brushing their teeth, and feed them hot cross buns and popcorn and claim it as a reasonable dinner. You are shattered, look like crap and lose the will to live every hour pretty much. But you are their mum and they won’t remember all this rubbish stuff. They’ll remember you reading them ‘What The Ladybird Heard’ without even needing to see the book because you are a seasoned pro, and they’ll remember getting into bed with you in the morning because you are the perfect bookend to their wake and sleep routine.

They probably won’t remember the times you measured their height and weight, and wiped away their snot for a photo so they’d sell quicker on eBay.

HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY.

@shopgirlygm

facebook.com/haveyoutriedwalkinglately

Access to life

Yesterday I wrote an article about Accessibility for DisabledGo, you can read the article below or click here to view it on their website.

Access to life….

For as long as I can remember, the word ‘accessible’ has been such a frequent word in my vocabulary. It’s not the most exciting or tantalising word, but it is a word that I can imagine most people only associate with a primary-school spelling test; ‘is it one S or two?’ Or noticing a sign on a shop door allowing ‘guide dogs only’, regardless of the shop staff’s own awareness of impairments.

The definition of accessible is that something can be reached or attained. How accessible is our society for the majority of people? I’d say pretty accessible – I’m not for a moment suggesting life is easy, but you finish school and go to the same college as your friends, you skip lectures to go to Burger King for lunch instead, and then you catch a bus home and watch MTV all afternoon while your parents think you’re at lectures. Then if you’re lucky, you’ll get good enough grades to go to uni pretty much anywhere in the country, and that means you could pick any course that you qualify for, knowing that the only test of your limitations will be whether you’re too hungover to sit an exam on a Monday morning.
But for someone with a severe physical disability, this isn’t how the stereotype goes. If you’re able to study what you want to in school (see my post about how this might not happen) you might go to college and study what you’re interested in, albeit with tedious roadblocks along the way, like whether the carer that college has provided for you will let you use the iron in textiles class, even though you’re 17 and know that you’re quite capable of not scalding yourself whilst ironing a piece of material. The attitudes aren’t always accessible, and stereotypes mixed with ignorance compliment this. Whilst the other students in your English Language class sit in groups of quickly-made friends, you sit at the edge because it’s the most ‘accessible’ table, as far as positioning a wheelchair goes. As far as feeling equal to your peers and always having someone to chat to about the coursework, sitting nearest the door in every classroom was not the most accessible place. Kids like to huddle in the corner together and laugh about what they’ve drawn on their maths book, they don’t like to be in the place where everyone can see what you’re up to. Uni isn’t always accessible either. Before I started uni, we had to argue with several of the accommodation team that the room wasn’t big enough for me to move my wheelchair around in, and as they had extended a room for another student in a wheelchair, we argued that they could do the same for me. Then at the end of my first year of uni, the porters tried to fine all 6 of us in the apartment for damage to the kitchen involving the fire extinguisher being taken off the wall, and one of the flat-mates climbing in and out of the window for convenience. Didn’t he realise there was a handy door at the front of the building? I of course denied any wrong-doing as far as kitchen windows and extinguishers were concerned, but I secretly quite liked that the uni had the audacity to try and charge me for it. Ironically that was quite inclusive of them. Either that or they just didn’t think and automatically charged us all. I’d like to think it was the former.

Like all teenagers, when uni finishes you have to think about growing up, which involves finding a job. Finding an accessible job is almost impossible for someone like me however, and despite having A-Levels, a degree and a post-grad qualification meaning I can teach early-years, I will always need a lot of help in any job I do. This can include someone to help me go to the toilet – even a so-called accessible toilet isn’t accessible when you can’t do your own jeans button up, and I don’t want to live in tracksuit bottoms when I have no intention of running a half-marathon in the same day. I recognise that this is a specific need that can’t easily be met without someone helping me, but to be asked to schedule your own toilet-trips when the local care-trust are working out how much personal-care you need for *toileting* (one of the most impersonal and ugly words in the world – at what stage of adolescence and disability does going for a wee become ‘toileting’?) is particularly inhumane and soul-destroying. I can’t describe the feeling of being thirsty and wondering if you should have a glass of water or cup of tea or if it’ll make you need to go again too soon, before your PA is scheduled to come back to you again. This is not an accessible way to live.

Neither is wanting desperately to go somewhere with other people who are able-bodied, and knowing that you cannot because the physical structure of the location won’t allow for it. I’ve been to newly built places and wondered how on Earth their accessibility-surveyors signed-off their facilities as meeting criteria. For instance late last year I was shopping with my friend and my newborn baby, and we went to the baby change/feeding room to change his nappy. They had a lovely comfortable and quiet area for breastfeeding mums, and out of curiosity I wheeled myself towards the door to look inside, only to find I could not get into the room. The doorway was unnecessarily narrow and there was no way it was regulation for either the modern or old-school requirement of doorway width. I then got in contact with the store, which is an internationally known brand, and then later met with somebody who tries to ensure their stores are inclusive of people with disabilities – even he couldn’t understand why the doorway was so narrow. This just proved that although the intention might be there from some areas of our world, the promises of being accessible don’t always stretch to something as simple as a breastfeeding room or a changing table that you can reach from a wheelchair. I expect the numbers of breastfeeding mums who also happen to be essential wheelchair users and who shop in that store, are so low it didn’t even enter the consciousness of the people who built the facilities to make them accessible from a wheelchair. However, the store has excelled in their idea of accessibility in other areas. Their accessible toilets are not only more spacious than I’ve usually found, but where possible there’s a choice of two rooms – one with a toilet on the left and one with a toilet on the right. Because guess what, people’s physical capabilities and needs are never the same as the next person with a colostomy bag or a wheelchair. Even something as simple as offering two layouts of toilet facility can make access to normal life, so much more attainable.

I could go on for days and days about accessibility, because it is not just about ramps or extended tap handles or braille on café menus (imagine that) it goes so much deeper, it is so vast and it affects just about everything. I’m lucky that the man I choose to share my life with is pretty strong and when we are faced with somewhere than I can’t easily access in my wheelchair, he will lift me out of my chair and into the restaurant for example, or he’ll lift my chair up so a few steps won’t stop us enjoying being somewhere. But it can’t always work that way and of course he’s not there for everyone else needing his muscular help!

So in order to make our beautiful world open to everyone who needs and wants to experience it, we need to look at what ‘accessible’ really means and who it affects. And then start the small task of making it right.

@shopgirlygm

facebook.com/haveyoutriedwalkinglately

Pimp my ride (my shopping trolley).

Last week was one of the busiest I’ve had in a long while in terms of things regarding disability, and complaining which I enjoy doing.

On Tuesday I met with Marc Radforth from the German international trolley manufacturers Wanzl. He came down from the Midlands to meet with me in a local branch of British supermarket Sainsburys, who of course use their shopping trolleys. We talked about the current options when it comes to choosing and using a trolley to carry out your shopping fun, which is normally something one undertakes in a mindless fashion – person approaches trolley park, person selects trolley at the front of the queue of trolleys waiting in line hoping to be picked and taken for a spin, person turns trolley around and walks around supermarket putting items in said trolley. This is fascinating right? Please keep reading.

Sounds very simple and straightforward, and normally  the only problems arising from trolley selection and use, are things like getting a trolley with a wonky wheel, and trying to insert a 3 year old into a tiny folding flap of plastic seating when they insist on not walking, and you’re not allowed to leave them tied up outside anymore. Then they moan about the seat being cold or wet or too hard. You try saying to them “What do you want, a bloody goose-down recliner and a pina colada?” You tell them children in third-world countries don’t even have such luxuries, but even that doesn’t make them feel guilty enough to stop whining. The problems don’t stop there though. Well for most people they do, but I’m not most people. My difficulties and needs don’t follow any textbook guidelines, even ones about wonky people. Usually wonky people are taken to a supermarket, pushed around and helped in their shopping needs, but if they happen to be a parent (really!) and wish to be a parent whilst going shopping, their child would have to be transported in a trolley/pushchair pushed by someone else. There are no options for baby/child-friendly trolleys for parents who also cannot walk themselves. Currently, my option is this: put baby+carseat in the raised-up ‘BabySafe’ trolley (I mean, someone else will do this for me as I cannot reach) and then other person pushes trolley around with my baby in it whilst I travel behind/in front/next to the trolley rather than being in control of it myself. Onlookers don’t know I am this baby’s mum and inside I’m screaming,’I know he’s cute, I made him!’

Wanzl’s ‘BabySafe’ trolley with generic European baby.

Wanzl read my Tweet about the trolley issues I have and got in touch with me. They said it would be useful if someone could meet with me to discuss my needs and possible future options. The good thing about a company like Wanzl is that from the meeting I had with them, it was very clear that they will go above and beyond the effort made by most companies to try and provide for all needs. But they can’t provide for this without someone telling them exactly what is needed and what is currently not available. We talked about the new lower-level Babysafe trolley that I found at Asda  and Marc said that this style of trolley was re-designed with the help of people on Mumsnet where it was mentioned that the tray for the carseat was too high both to reach and plonk a heavy baby and carseat on, and also to see over. I have been witness to my PA who is 5’8″ crashing into a wet floor sign that she couldn’t see whilst pushing the trolley. Luckily it wasn’t a toddler. The base of the new trolley was also brought up so it isn’t so deep to reach into. These trolleys are currently in Asda stores, with Sainsburys and other stores to follow suit shortly.

The problem I’m having is that even with improvements to the existing carseat trolley, and also the provision of other trolleys for parents to slot children into (just any child wondering aimlessly will do but parents tend to provide their own) like these:

Trolley with Trend baby seat.

Or these with a typical toddler seat:

Shopping trolley with folding toddler seat.

…I still could not have my child in the trolley that I’m pushing and be able to fit shopping in too. I often use baby slings but they’re not always practical when shopping. I get very hot whilst babywearing indoors and if you need to bribe your child to stop crying by paying them in biscuit currency once they come of age at around 7 months, then they need a place to sit. You might be thinking ‘isn’t there a trolley that attaches to wheelchairs?’, and you’d be right as these do exist at most large stores, and Wanzl have also improved these recently by making the attachment arms easier to operate for people who have problems with dexterity, like I do. Here I am trying out how these work and how I can indeed put a baby carseat in one of these trolleys. But it is unsafe as there are no straps, and although I have since tried this and know that the possibility of my baby falling out of both his carseat and the trolley is very low, that’s not what the trolley was made for and if we have an Earthquake in the foreseeable and he falls out of it, I’d very much regret using an unsuitable trolley. There isn’t a folding toddler seat either. And also, with a carseat/child in the trolley, there’s no room for my coffee grinder, my sledgehammer and my horse-riding jodhpurs to go when I’m shopping at Aldi.

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Here I am having the common knee-to-trolley-handle measurement taken.

During our meeting, Marc from Wanzl told me about a young man in Northamptonshire whose disabilities and requirements were so specific to him that they designed and manufactured a trolley just for him to use at his local supermarket (not sure what happens when a different supermarket has an offer on beer or something but that’s besides the point). So some companies are willing to help even if it doesn’t bring them mass orders and profit in return.

We came up with quite a few notes on what I would need from a trolley. A good sense of humour, likes long walks on the beach, that sort of thing. But mainly just a trolley that I can affix to my wheelchair and have my child sat facing me. Wanzl use ‘eye-contact with parent’ as one of the advantages to their parent and child trolleys, so it’s appreciated that the child needs to be facing whoever is pushing them rather than being strapped to the front of the trolley facing forward, like an unwanted teddy bear on the front of a dustbin lorry.

After the meeting, I went over to the local Morrisons store (and survived) to look at their kids’ clothes, and on the way into the shop I came across these beauties monstrosities.  They looked like some kind of torture chamber from the days when disabled people were brought up in orphanages because they didn’t meet the perfect-baby expectations when they were born. I couldn’t see any Wanzl branding on them, so they’re off the hook for now:

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Really helpfully placed over the metal bumper rail too.

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‘Pick me, pick me!’ it screamed. ‘No, you’re hideously awful’, I replied.

I’m looking forward to hearing from Wanzl following our meeting, and seeing what ideas they come up with. It probably won’t be the easiest trolley to design, but in my head it looks something like a trolley+baby sidecar hybrid. I know they are willing to help though, and that is very encouraging. Hopefully it will be something that can be mass produced and used in supermarkets all over. There aren’t many wheelchair-using parents shopping at a supermarket at any one time (if we all go together people freak out a bit), so each supermarket might only need one or two of these trolleys available, which isn’t too much to ask of Tesco et al, is it?

Moving on from trolleys (I won’t be saying the word trolley too much more I promise), the day after meeting with Wanzl, I met with Andrew Sherwood from Marks and Spencer (M&S) after my ranting blog, this one, where I discovered that the breastfeeding room at the Torquay store where one can comfortably sit and feed their baby, was not accessible to me. Or anyone wider than this gap >______< it seems. So I whipped one out in the kids’ clothing aisle and fed Rafe there. When I met with Andrew, we went and looked at this room and even he couldn’t understand why it was so narrow, but he guessed it might be because the architects were trying to fit multiple facilities in this room for all sorts of parenting needs. Just no wheeled people. But I have since discovered, in Sainsburys near where I live, a similar ‘change and feed’ room with a breastfeeding area that again, I was too much of a wide load for:

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It wasn’t the most pleasant of nursing rooms anyway

So it’s not just an issue specific to M&S buildings. To the person who was holding the tape-measure on these ‘refurbishments’ – YOU HAD ONE JOB.

Some good news from Andrew Sherwood, whose role is Property Development and Facilities Management (improving access and facilities in M&S stores) he has said that they are always trying to improve things for disabled people whilst shopping. They have, where possible, tried to keep baby changing and accessible toilets separate, rather than people who need to use an accessible toilet having to endure the smell of 30 festering toddler poos, and numerous door-knockings when a parent desperately needs to change their kid’s nappy and you just want to have a wee in peace. They have also made it so that, if they have the space for it, they will have two separate accessible toilets with one being a left-hand transfer and one being a right-hand transfer. This may sound trivial to the average toilet-goer, but when most of your limbs don’t work properly, and you find transferring from chair to toilet on the right easier than on the left, it is such a luxury to be able to choose which toilet is easier, rather than struggling in the one toilet provided by  most places.

Andrew told me of the legislation and guidelines used when designing and providing facilities in buildings which should be adhered to by ALL architects so that people can expect the same level of ease wherever they go. As you can imagine, this is definitely not the case. I explained in our meeting that a common problem I have is that to be able to make use of grabrails and bars in accessible toilets, they need to be at a certain height for me to lift myself up on. And there are many places where I know I find it difficult to use the toilet either because the room is too small to turn my chair around in, especially if I’m with the kids, or the toilet is lower than it should be, or the grabrails are too high or they’re too far away. Just yesterday I was at a local hospital and went to use the toilet before my appointment and I couldn’t reach to lift myself up as the grabrail on the right of me was so far away:

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It might look like nothing, but this makes it really bloody difficult.

I fully understand that this issue probably wouldn’t be an issue for the majority of wheelchair users, as many people have normal use of their hands and upper body. But I don’t. If everywhere was the same so it was equally as easy or difficult wherever you go, there wouldn’t be that unknown when you go to open the toilet door and get that feeling of “oh great, I really need a wee but I’m not sure if I’ll be able to use this toilet, I might have to wait ’til I’m home”.

I think the problem is that most companies think that as long as they have a toilet with a bit of space around it, shove a changing table in there and twenty thousand nappy bins and a grabrail randomly attached somewhere on the wall, and an emergency alarm cord tied up so it can’t be pulled by an inquisitive child, but is actually out of reach to those who might need it and is now rendered useless, then they have done their job by catering for all needs and nobody should feel the need to complain.

Well it’s rubbish, facilities are mostly crap and badly maintained and hardly ever cleaned so you can see last month’s pee dried on the toilet seat because fuck it, it’s not used that often to worry about. At least there’s a toilet with a wheelchair symbol on the door eh?

Knowing you’ll be able to go to the toilet or choosing a trolley that you can fit your kid in and go about your shopping trip should be the least of my worries, I shouldn’t even need to think about it beforehand like most parents. But I do, and it means I often can’t relax or be fully comfortable in most places. Hopefully someday soon that’ll all change.

For now, Andrew Sherwood has asked for the doorway of the breastfeeding room in Torquay to be widened so that I can use it. He is going to make their architects aware of this flaw in their planning.

You didn’t expect someone to be able to write over 2000 words about trolleys and toilets now, did you? Next time I might provide a photograph of one of my favourite accessible toilets with no wee on the seat. Something to look forward to!

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Photos of trolleys are taken from Wanzl’s website. Other photos are all my own.