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

The new addition to Trolley-hood

From one tweet after this shopping trip:
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To this:
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The wheelchair-parenting trolley is now established at Sainsbury’s Paignton! Make sure you share and tag any parents in wheelchairs (temporary or permanent users) who might need to make use of this. Hopefully other supermarkets will follow suit and these will be avaiable nationwide, and not just when people ask for one to be made. Keep the progress going by spreading the word far and wide!
Thanks to Wanzl and Sainsbury’s (Yalberton Road, Paignton) for making this happen.
#disability #parenting #accessforall #facilitiesforall #inclusion #shopping #disabledmum
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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.

 

You can’t feed your baby here

I visited Marks and Spencers in Torquay recently with my young baby and my friend. We went into the baby changing/feeding room to change his nappy and I was surprised to see a place where mums can breastfeed in private, in a nice comfy chair, if they so desire. Even if you’re confident to feed wherever, it’s nice to have the choice to feed somewhere calm and comfortable. 

There was also a separate toilet cubicle for non-babies/adults/grown-ups to wee in private. However, neither of these rooms were accessible to me. By that I don’t just mean that there were no grab rails (there weren’t) but I literally couldn’t get through the ridiculously narrow doorways. My wheelchair is a pretty standard width and I can normally fit through ordinary doorways. But these were in no way ordinary. In fact I’m sure normal mums (I’m not quite normal) would struggle through them with a baby carseat or pushchair. I’m sure there is a perfectly understandable reason why M&S couldn’t spend out on wheelchair accessible change & feed rooms, it’s probably because they spent too much on vocal coaching for the tantalisingly sexy voice-over of their TV adverts. 

Aside from the toilet and the breastfeeding room not being available for me to use, the changing tables are also too high for me to reach. This is something that occurs in pretty much every baby changing cubicle however. They’re normally situated in disabled toilets which is just lovely. I get to smell my own kids’ poop on a daily basis, I don’t need to sample the aroma of 30 other babies’ sh*t when I go to the toilet but that’s a minor issue compared to how much room the changing tables and giant nappy bins take up when you’re trying to turn an electric wheelchair around in a tiny space. 

So I was left with a conundrum. I could wee in the separate disabled toilet across the corridor and just about fit the baby carseat in there too, but where could I breastfeed my baby? I didn’t like the idea of feeding him in the only toilet that I could fit my wheelchair into, and why should I have to? Would you eat in the toilets? Did it not occur to anyone that some mums might use a wheelchair? No, probably not. 

Instead, I whipped a boob out in the middle of the school uniform area and self-consciously fed my son. Hopefully I didn’t scare any young children, vulnerable pensioners or anyone in between.

To briefly conclude – These aren’t JUST breastfeeding rooms… These are 100% British M&S inaccessible breastfeeding rooms. 

The feeding room…


The parents’ toilet…


The hungry baby…


@shopgirlygm

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We went out the other day to Milton Keynes city centre, just me and Tom. Without children. Not even a nappy change bag. 

It was totally bizarre and quite a bit more uncomfortable than I expected. Probably not in the same way most parents feel when they are free and relaxed for the hours that somebody else is looking after the kids and they’re not at work. They get a few precious hours to themselves to go out shopping or for lunch with their partner and they relish in the parenting leash being cut temporarily. 

Don’t get me wrong, I had all those thoughts too. Being able to sip a drink without having to share it with a four year old, and not having to locate the next bribery snack to keep younger child in the pushchair without screaming too loudly. My problem is, you see, that my children are quite cute. They’re quite funny too. They help to deflect attention off me and onto them, so when they aren’t there with me, I feel a sudden increase in attention in the form of gawping and I don’t know what to do with that. My child-shaped shield was not there. 

The other issue was that I didn’t know what purpose I served in a shopping centre, childless. Was I supposed to look at grown up clothes and breakable objects in busy department stores? I kept expected to have to tell someone to come out from under the clothes rails and stand nicely. But Tom was just behaving nicely. He was as obedient as most 32 year old men and he didn’t need to go for a wee every 13 minutes. I had no one to monitor. I ended up dragging Tom into the children’s department to look at overpriced carseats where we quickly learnt what our budget for Amélie’s next carseat was not. We moved on to squishing the cross-sectioned cot mattresses on display (also overpriced incase you were wondering) because it looked like fun. We then left the children’s department incase people thought I had escaped from my group and that Tom had come to escort me back to safety. 

I seriously felt totally unemployed in a completely family-filled public arena. I wanted to go up to other mums with children and say enthusiastically, “I’ve got one of those too, you know”. 

Don’t worry, I didn’t. 

I’m not going to steal anything. Promise.

I used to love shopping. I could never get bored of it. My stepsister Charlotte and I had a commitment to shopping like no other. As young teenagers we would get on the bus in the morning from Helston to Truro (the metropolis that is the capital of Cornwall) and spend all day traipsing around the cobbled streets and routing through the sale-rails in all of our favourite high-street stores, not a care in the world. We’d stop for lunch in Burger King, and get the bus back home in the early hours of the evening, ready to showcase our shopping loot to our respective mums, who were by then best friends (weird, yes, but totally normal to us). That is, of course, providing the Truronian bus company had stuck to their published promise to provide an Easy-Access bus when we arrived at either stop. I think they were under the impression that disabled people in need of ramped buses were just asking for the jolly fun of it. In reality we can all get out of our chairs, fold them into a tiny pocket like you get on a cagoul (kagoul?) and saunter up the steps of the bus exclaiming ‘I was just feeling lazy, I don’t really need the wheelchair! One return ticket please’. Anyway, bus rants are meat for a whole other blog post, (I do indeed have some tantalising and gripping stories involving bus journeys. Contain yourself please).

Those were the good old days. I loved shopping.

These days, I’m close to divorcing myself permanently with the activity of going shopping. Our relationship has hit a rocky patch, we just don’t have the chemistry we used to have. It’s not shopping, it’s me.

When I’m shopping with someone else, I don’t feel quite so uneasy but when I’m alone I get this overwhelming sense that everyone is looking at me, wondering what I’m going to buy, wondering why I’m looking for fashionable clothes, wondering if I’m a fake and am going to steal something.

It is paranoia, I’m sure of it. I’m pretty sure people don’t think I’m about to steal something. But I carry my handbag on my lap with my hand on it so it doesn’t fall off, and because I have to look down at the floor to ensure I’m not going to flatten a small child, I can’t help but think I just have a suspicious look about me.

I am however, fairly convinced that people might be scrutinising my shopping in children’s clothing or toy departments. I know, I must be buying a present for my niece or nephew, or a friend’s child. Everyone buys nappies and toddler-sized knickers for their friends’ kids, right? Er, no, I’m pretty sure they don’t. Those duties are usually solely a parent’s role. Which makes for more wondering in the nosey minds of other shoppers and store staff. I couldn’t possibly have my own children. Surely! I probably don’t even have a uterus!

Ridiculous aren’t I. ‘Get a grip, Lizzy’ I hear you say in your head, or out loud, whatever. Yes I probably am coming across as a paranoid idiot right now, but what has changed as I’ve grown up that has selfishly caused me to loath my favourite pastime? I have just been into Mothercare on an unsuccessful hunt for nappy-liners, I couldn’t find them so I had to ask a lady-staff-person to see if they had been put somewhere else. I then went to look at kids shoes, all the while wondering to myself who and how many people are wondering why I’m in Mothercare at all, and if the shop assistant might be under the impression that the nappy liners might be for my personal use, seeing as I had no children accompanying me!

The other reason I am beginning to hate shopping is because of the other shoppers. People should know better than to choose to be out shopping at the same time as me. They get in my way and then realise they are in my way and leave me a three-inch gap to squeeze my wheelchair through. Or they are walking in front of me down the street and decide to just stop walking. What is the deal with that? You wouldn’t do that on a motorway and just not expect to get driven into. Or even worse, they are not at all in my way and start apologising profusely for being in the way and ruining my entire life, and ‘oh sorry sorry sorry, I’ll move out of your way dear’. Fine, move however you like. Do the Macarena. You weren’t anywhere near me.

This year, the majority of my Christmas shopping will take place in the bustling aisles of the Amazon warehouse. Carried out by someone else.

Regretfully, Bah-shopping-humbug.