Monthly Archives: March 2011

Decisions, Decisions

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the new Government’s plans to charge people who cannot come to their own child maintenance arrangements to use the CSA. This morning, Maria Miller, the Work and Pensions Minister gave a live webchat on NetMums. I was working, so I couldn’t get involved, but I went back later to see how it had gone. During the chat, Miller said this:

“Let’s be clear, we are bringing together two very different systems so every parent will have to make a decision as to whether they want to make their own maintenance arrangements or use the new statutory system. If parents decide to continue to use the new statutory system, because they want the extra enforcement powers that that gives them, then charges will apply.”

Miller and her Tory colleagues are still missing the point. You can’t make a decision to make your own maintenance arrangements when your child’s non resident parent has vanished. People who use the statutory system don’t choose to use it, they have to. This isn’t about families with loving parents who still want to provide for their children even though they are no longer in love with the parent with care. This is about dealing with people who wash their hands of the responsibility of parenthood and disappear. For children who desperately need the maintenance they’re entitled to, using the ‘extra enforcement powers’ of the CSA isn’t something their parents want to do, but something they must. They must not be charged for this service and the money they receive for their children must not be discounted.

Politics are a matter of opinion, but there really is no factual logic in this. I’m assured by the consultation team that all feedback is being listened to and considered, so please, if you think this is wrong, drop a quick note to: before the 7th April deadline.

If you’re a single parent who needs the CSA, please let the Tories know your story, because right now they seem to think all one parent families are the result of an amicable split, where coming to an agreement about maintenance is an option. Don’t take this lying down, let them know that single parents are intelligent, articulate and passionate. Your children shouldn’t be punished because you don’t fit a myth, or fulfill a flimsy ideal.


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From Day One

I wrote this a few nights ago, after Tom’s actual fifth birthday…

Five years ago tonight, I lay numbed in hospital, listening to the couple in the opposite bed whispering and snogging. They pressed the buzzer and a nurse came running. The father asked if the mother was allowed some more gas and air, to help her relax (even though her baby must have been born hours earlier.) The nurse explained that gas and air is only allowed during labour, before reminding the father that he would have to leave soon.

I think I was jealous of that couple and their bizarre, ill-fated plans for a bedside laughing gas party. I didn’t know what to think, stuck behind the jazzy aztec curtain, Tom asleep next to me in his plastic cot. Twenty five hours of chaos and company, which had been preceded by eight months of fear, but an awful lot going on. Something big had just happened, something amazing. Luckily I was too drugged to take it all in, but I was vaguely aware that just like the rest of it, the magical aftermath is meant for sharing.

It comes back on the same evening each year, after everyone has gone and all the fuss is over and Tom is in bed and I am sitting here on my own. I want to be able to curl up on the sofa and talk about how fast it’s gone with someone who’s been around since day one.

Tonight, my friend Anna called and asked what I was up to.

“Feeling weird,” I said, looking around at the Dalek and the footy kit, the wrapping paper and other birthday debris.

This morning, she drove to the supermarket and came back in less than ten minutes with a badge and a rosette for Tom, after we realised that he didn’t have a birthday badge.

“Auntie Anna is a superhero,” Tom said.

And she came round again tonight, even though she was on her way home when she rang me “for a quick chat.” We cracked open the wine.

“Remember that first night out after he was born?” Anna said.

I do. Dancing to The Strokes in an empty club on a Thursday night, having to sit down every ten minutes because my too-small jeans were digging into my Caesarean scar. It was a shit night by usual standards but was monumental to me.

I remember it all. I also remember her saying “Fucking hell! Are you having a baby or a hippo?” when I was pretty far gone.

Most clearly of all, I remember Anna walking on to the ward the Saturday after Tom was born and maintaining eye contact and a straight face while a midwife literally milked me. She gave me a bag full of presents, it was like Christmas morning (apart from the stranger holding a spoon under my nipple and squeezing.)  There was loads in there (the bag, not my breast – that was the problem): Stretch mark cream (which never did work,)  a peace lily (which only died last year) and the Arctic Monkeys album. I used to sing Mardy Bum to Tom when he cried.

Now he’s all grown up and it did go fast, just like everyone said it would.

And I remember Anna saying “It’s not the end of the world you know,” when I cried in corner of a pub at the start of all this.

And she was right.


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International Women’s Day

I was going to write a blog post about International Women’s Day. I’ve been half-planning it while standing in the shower, when I’ve been lying awake at night and in the ten minutes between dropping Tom off at school and sitting down at my desk to work. I wanted to mention the proposed charges for the CSA, because although it isn’t always the father who’s absent in a one parent family, in 97% of cases it is. Family and friends keep asking me why I’m putting so much energy into my protest against that when it isn’t relevant to us any more, but it’s because it’s not just about me and Tom.

I was going to write a post about International Women’s Day, but I am knackered. Life’s pretty exhausting at the moment, but I know it isn’t anywhere near as difficult for me as it is for others. So, instead of reading any more shattered drivel from me, please take two minutes to watch this breathtaking video from


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Ship Shape


“I told you I had to dress up as a pirate today Mum,” said Tom.

We were running across the playground towards his classroom door, where there was a flurry of black and red and a glint of gold. Closer inspection revealed lots of skulls and crossbones, bandanas and parrots on shoulders. Shit.

He did tell me, the night before. I rifled through the dinner money slips and drawings in his book bag and couldn’t find a letter, so decided he must have been getting mixed up with Comic Relief.

I impressed myself with my ability to assemble a pirate costume in less than ten minutes. The house is a tip, but somehow I remembered the eye patch in the cutlery drawer, the cutlass in the toybox and the bandana in his bedroom. There were raggedy-bottomed trousers from his dead pirate getup at Halloween, but the only stripy top I could dig out had a yellow submarine on it. Modern pirates ambush submarines though, don’t they? I grabbed my best eyeliner and darted back to school, planning to scribble on a good beard. As it happens, no parents are allowed in the school whatsoever, at any time, not even to dress their odd-one-out child as a pirate.  I had to forget the beard, hand over the getup (minus the plastic cutlass, which I should have known was banned) and leg it back to my desk, hoping I’d be forgiven.

I think I was forgiven, as he didn’t say much about it when he got home. And if I hadn’t been forgiven then, I certainly have been now…

We’ve been living in this house for three years and it’s starting to look tired. I keep talking about moving to a bigger place, or to the Posh End of Town, but for now, we can’t afford it. I am crap at anything that involves drills and stepladders (actually, I own neither of those things) but I know that if we’re going to stay, we need to do things up. I began clearing out Tom’s room a couple of weeks ago, swapping his cot bed for a high-up captain one and chucking out the crumpled tubes of nappy rash cream and odd (clean) nappies that were lurking behind the bookcase. Then my neighbour, who is an interior designer (and an angel – another reason not to move out of this house) decided on a very special gift for Tom’s forthcoming fifth birthday. She offered to do up his room. I helped her a little, but the colour scheme and all the common-sense stuff like screws and raul plugs and paint were down to her.

Tom arrived home from his Nan’s tonight, groggy and confused.

“Come and see the surprise,” I said, as he threw himself on to the sofa and wailed.

“No! I just want to go to bed!”


Upstairs, he blinked and looked around at the new bookcase, the bright walls, the den benetah his bed and the camouflage hammock full of his best soft toys. We waited for a reaction. Now I know how Claire Sweeney feels.

“It’s amazing,” he croaked, hugging us both.

I can’t wait to hear him wake in the morning.  I keep creeping in there and gawping at it myself. It’s good to have friends who are talented at the things you’re crap at. All I need now is a PA to remind me when it’s pirate day.


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