Speaking in public when you hate people looking at you.

In October I spoke in public, in front of audiences, with people and everything! Real people! It was the Southbank Centre’s very own Women of the World festival. I also met some fabulous people with whom I hope to remain friends and keep in contact.

Saturday’s talk was about Birth Stories. We only had an hour to discuss all sorts around the topic, talk about our experiences and answer questions from the audience, and we could’ve carried on much longer given the time but I think between the three of us we managed to get some interesting points out there. The three of us being myself, Marianne Stephen who is an Obstetrician currently working in Devon but who has delivered and saved many lives in some of the poorest, most politically unstable and volatile countries in the world, and finally Katie Villa, who is a mum of two, a theatre director at Quirk Theatre and performer, she chaired the panel.

Just before we were due to start the discussion though, Genevieve, our 4-year-old decided to fall and cut her head open on the edge of a windowsill about a foot off the floor. There was a fair amount of blood, it was all very dramatic looking but she was very brave. Daddy’s first aid skills came in handy as he was handed a first-aid kit by a slightly shocked-looking technician working at the festival. He stopped it bleeding and used his until-then-unpracticed bandaging skills to give her a suitable head wrapping. I was surprisingly calm about the whole thing with the child and the bleeding head and everything – I think the impending speaking-to-an-audience distracted me from thinking that this was the worst thing that could’ve just occurred. Kids have the best timing, don’t they?! Well, mine definitely seem to.

One day down, one to go.

After some lunch and a quick look round Primark (obviously) we went back to the theatre and watched Liz Carr in an interview with WOW Founder Jude Kelly – it was during this fascinating discussion in the auditorium with a much larger audience than when I had spoken the day before, that I realised this is where I’d be talking on the other panel the next day, with Liz Carr herself, talking about how the Women’s Rights movement often forgets about disabled women.

Fast forward to Sunday, Mum was also there to watch me this time, as well as Tom and the children, and I was a lot more nervous since I knew the potential audience size.

I went in by myself about 15 minutes early, and met my fellow panel members – Liz Carr, actor, comedian and disability rights activist, Clair Beckett, dancer and yoga teacher who has recently been diagnosed with Tourette’s Syndrome, and Michelle Daley, a founding member of Sisters of Frida who are a collective of disabled women creating a network of fellow women with disabilities in order to share experiences, provide support and try to take away the copious amounts of bureaucracy and discrimination we face on a daily basis. Michelle was chairing this panel.

The lights were really bright and in-your-face, though they were turned down; I actually found this quite helpful as I couldn’t see the audience staring at me and I could just pretend I was talking to a bright white light, as you do.

The discussion went really well, I think, although looking back at the footage of the talk that Tom filmed for me, there were moments where I completely lost my train of thought -Ironically whilst talking about this blog, at one point! I tend to ramble a bit when I don’t have a plan of exactly what I want to say but hopefully, no one noticed. In hindsight, I wish I had been a lot more prepared in what I would say, but in my defence, I didn’t get emailed some of the information that went into more detail about the questions the chair speaker would ask. And of course, you cannot predict what questions might come from the audience. Also, I do have a tendency to stumble over what I’m saying when lots of people are watching me talk, and I hate it, which is why I hardly ever do it!

It was, of course, brilliant to meet Liz Carr, (and also Clair Beckett and Michelle Daley) but meeting somebody that you’ve known of for years, and who you never expected to be able to work alongside in this capacity was really very exciting.

All in all, I think the weekend went very smoothly if you take out the crying toddler and the child who cut her head open. I can forgive them for that because of course, they are particularly beautiful and funny children if I do say so myself. If only they’d realise how tricky it was for me to mentally prepare to talk to an audience!

To see some of the footage from the weekend please watch the video on my YouTube channel. WOW Festival Vlog.

I’m hoping The Southbank Centre’s WOW Festival will have me back next year. The children will be bubble-wrapped and I might invest in a personal microphone.

Follow me on Twitter @shopgirlygm and Instagram @lizzybuntonvlogs

Advertisements

Being Mum: Rehearsal In Progress

img_3938-1.jpg

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

“Taking steps is easy, standing still is hard”

Or should that be “sitting still is hard”?

My youngest daughter Geneviève is now crawling and pulling herself up on anything and everything to be standing and moving, more mobile, more independent. I’ve been crawling for years, I don’t know why it’s taken her entire life so far to learn what she sees me do every day. Okay, she was only 9 and a half months old when she mastered it, I’ll let her off.

image

image

I always wondered what my children would think of their mum and how I do things differently to other people, other mums. As I’ve said before, I know that Amélie knows that I don’t walk, and that I use a chair. But does she know why? Does she query in her little head why I hold my fork with both hands, or a pen with both hands, why I crawl when I’m not in my chair. I wonder if she knows that I could walk, but can’t now. Would that scare her? (this is going to be full of rhetorical questions, apologies in advance).

And now my second baby has started her own little journey to becoming more able than I am. Not that I would wish for anything different, but it does sting a little to think they’ll never know me as ever having stood up. I have one short home-video clip of me, rather precariously, walking out of our house and down two steps aged about 11. I’d like to show that clip to my girls one day so they know that I have once and for the majority of my life (for now) been non-seated, and to enlighten them a little to the assortment of abilities they will observe in people as they grow up.

Every time I do something that one of my children needs me to, and I mean something mundane like opening a packet, or helping my three year old take off her clothes, I do wonder whether at some point Amélie (and Geneviève at a later stage) will start consciously comparing me to other parents, other people, and their lives with other children’s lives.

Amélie has, before now, gotten frustrated at my lack of ability in helping her do things, I am sure. It hurts, but slowly she has started accepting that I can be of use to her in some of the same physical ways that her daddy is. She has recently started offering me the sleeve of her top when she can’t pull her arm out, knowing that I will grab the edge of the fabric with my teeth and let her pull her own arm out. Like that’s totally normal. Oh crap, I’m an assistance dog, aren’t I?

It’s little things like this that make our family so vastly different from everyone else’s, despite our best efforts to remain blended in with the rest. It’s when we’re with others in the public domain, and when my girls are of the age where they know that people do unfortunately make assumptions and come to irrational conclusions about others, that I really fear for what they might go through. This is something that I’ve already been preparing them for, I hope, by just doing what I need to for them. Regardless of who’s watching.

Will they have to ‘defend’ my capabilities, my ability to talk and make decisions, to look after them, to be just as much a parent as daddy, when their new friends, or ferociously curious peers start interrogating them in school? There’s too much to think about and wonder. An endless black hole of questions with no answers until the time comes.

Until then, then.

Lentils and life-changing festivals

I am sitting in the car driving down to Cornwall with the sun beating down on us after a long week. I started back at work on Monday and we are now travelling South for a wedding and a reunion with another friend on Sunday and travelling back to Devon, our home nowadays, on Sunday.

This weekend is also one of my favourite weekends for other reasons. For about the last 16 years I have glued myself to the television to watch all that is humanly possible of Glastonbury Festival on BBC television. In 1998 my mum made the fateful decision to go to the festival at Worthy Farm in Somerrrset with friends which resulted in a long and tedious affair between myself and my stubborn desire to go to the music festival one year. It’s not often that I get selfishly and childishly stubborn about doing something in my life, but I did about going to Glastonbury. Growing up as a teenager, watching it year after year and knowing that due to physical impossibilities it probably wasn’t ever going to happen, hurt. Every year. I wrote on my pencil case in year 10 “I’m going to Glastonbury next year”.

It didn’t happen, I didn’t go next year. Disabled facilities aside, if it rained on Worthy Farm, it would be impossible and I could never be sure that it wouldn’t rain. Wheelchair + moist mud + idiots covered in said mud = not enjoyable weekend.

That is, until 2009 when Tom and I thought, well, we don’t know unless we try. I had a good feeling that if it decided to rain alot it might even swing in my favour and I could swim around the farm, getting cleansed by countryside sludge. Or ride a lilo.

We got tickets.
I started a Facebook page called ‘Lizzy needs a beach wheelchair’, in order to maybe, hopefully, possibly be put in touch with someone who could lend/sponsor me to use a beach wheelchair (with very wide inflatable tyres) to be able to much more easily travel around the acres and acres and acres, and so on, of hippy farmland. I got contacted by and interviewed on local radio about my ‘interesting story’, and I really thought that would be the answer to our problem. It was not. No one gave me a bloody beach wheelchair, rude!

We went to Glastonbury 2010 anyway, and it turns out we didn’t need to worry at all. About the weather. It was Glastonbury – The HOT Year, and my new concern was the tiny human foetus that I had recently discovered was inhabiting my belly. I was about seven weeks pregnant at Glastonbury, much too early to have told anyone and so we referred to our little species as codename ‘Lentil’. Lentil was about the size of a lentil according to Google, coincidences are just marvellous aren’t they.

image

image

image

image

Aside from the constant niggling worry that I might actually shake Lentil out of my own uterus with the interesting combination of electric wheelchair and unfavourably bumpy terrain, I think it may have been the best 5 days of my life. I was at Glastonbury. We were at Glastonbury! At the actual Festival of Performing Arts, not a petrol station up the road, as delightful and cultured as it may have been.

I still watch Glastonbury with pangs of ohhhwa-jealousy (technical term) in my stomach but it is different now that I’ve been. I can say we’ve been there, felt it, heard it, smelt the air, spent an alarming amount of money on alternative cuisine there, and most of all we were just THERE. I’m not sure my obsession with the festival growing up was completely normal, but on the decent down the little road before turning into our allocated car park, we were finally there, I couldn’t stop grinning and my feelings had been entirely justified.

image

image

image

One day, we will take Amélie and Geneviève. I don’t have a pencil case to write this on anymore though, the baby change bag will have to do.