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The Book is Real

You can now buy my book – My Shitty Twenties: A Memoir from your local bookshop or your favourite online retailer. The Book Depository offer free international shipping. The book will also be available on Kindle from Saturday 22nd July.

My book launch was a lot of fun and you can read about it here. I will be reading at more events this summer and beyond and will keep my events page updated.

Now that I have (finally) finished the book, I am working on two new projects: one is a sitcom drama about single motherhood. Thanks to the Significant Ink programme run by New Writing North, I have written a pilot episode. I’m also writing a YA novel and am off on an Arvon course to develop that later this year.

If you want to keep up with my writing stuff, head over to my new blog. If you’re one of the wonderful people who read my blog all those years ago and encouraged me to keep writing, thank you very much.

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BOOK LAUNCH

I’m made up to be launching my book at Waterstones Deansgate on 12th July. On possibly exactly the same date 12 years ago (it was either the 11th or the 12th), I found myself in that very shop, sneaking a reluctant but ghoulishly-fascinated look at the foetuses in the pregnancy books. I’d just found out I was pregnant and it was the end of the world.

I would love it if people who have read my blog over the years could make it. It’s 3 quid a ticket and you get a drink, which makes it sort of free. I’ll be reading from the book and answering questions and that.

Book your ticket here.

I hope to see you there.

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On Not Breastfeeding

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Sunday was Mothers’ Day. Historically, Mum has taken care of my presents and cards from Tom. The first time she did this was when he was just a few days old. I was sitting in her living room, trying to breastfeed, and she handed me a card that said “To Mummy from Your Little Boy” and I didn’t really feel worthy of it, because if I couldn’t feed my baby the natural way how the hell was I going to be able to do everything else?

I had no idea about babies. Not the foggiest. I had never changed a nappy or attempted to bath a slippery, screaming thing whilst being terrified of drowning it and feeling like my insides were about to fall out through the deep slit that had recently been cut across my abdomen. One thing was for sure though: I would be able to feed my baby, because that’s nature. I would put the baby in front of my breast and it would know how to suckle and I would be giving it all the nutrition it needed. Everything else could be learnt, but at least I would be able to give my baby The Best Start in Life.

But I couldn’t.

The first time I tried to feed Tom, he just ignored me. Later that night, the ward staff told me I should probably give him a bottle, just so we all knew he had eaten. I was knackered, clueless, in shock, off my face. I said yes.

After that, Tom wasn’t interested in breastfeeding. Bottles were easier and once he’d tried one he didn’t want anything else.

I had to breastfeed though, I had to. As a young, single mother, I was statistically unlikely to do it, but I really, really wanted to. Midwives handed me leaflets explaining the benefits of breastfeeding, but I already knew. It was free and supposedly easy and, most importantly of all, best for my baby.

I tried everything: pumping, syringes, teaspoons, contorting into various agonising positions. He’d do it for a bit, then get frustrated if there was a break in supply and stop, screaming. There were all-nighters, lots of crying, lashings of guilt, a psychiatric assessment and an exhaustion diagnosis.

It wouldn’t work.

That first Mothers’ Day, I felt like I had failed. Everyone knows breastfeeding is best. Eventually, I succumbed, feeding Tom partly with formula, partly with my own milk, until he was four months old. At mother and baby groups, I could feel the glare and judgement from those who were breastfeeding when I gingerly took a bottle out. I was a statistic, a stereotype, and I couldn’t even manage the most basic elements of motherhood. I couldn’t give my baby The Best Start in Life.

Mum carried on buying the Mothers’ Day presents over the years. I got ‘Best Mum’ mugs, pens, teddy bears, even a pair of frilly rubber gloves, all of them emblazoned with that phrase. It was sweet but I wasn’t sure about that title; at every stage, I was just making it up as I went along.

Guilt is a big part of motherhood. It arrives with your baby and stays forever. Last week, I went to Tom’s new high school to order his uniform and PE kit and my card got declined when I tried to pay. There it was again, the guilt. And afterwards, when I thought about my panicked reaction to the episode, more guilt for ruining what should have been a momentous trip.

On Sunday, I was upstairs, spring-cleaning my bedroom. As far as I knew, Tom was downstairs, either on his trampoline or binge-watching Fresh Prince. Suddenly, he walked into my room and said, “Happy Mothers’ Day, Mum.” I looked up from the impossible knot of tights I was trying to untangle and there he was, holding two primrose plants, one in each hand, grinning.

Earlier, he’d asked my boyfriend if he thought it would be OK to venture out to the local florist on his own to buy me something. He used his own money (after his recent birthday, he literally has more than me) and chose the plants himself. I had been planning to buy some just like it to put in the front yard when I got paid.

The pressure to breastfeed when I was a new mum was heavy. Now, it is even more so, with most hospitals not providing formula anymore. Maybe I would have been able to breastfeed if Tom hadn’t had that bottle in the hospital, maybe I wouldn’t. We’ll never know. As it happens, bottle feeding gave me and Tom both much-needed independence from each other, such was the potential for interdependence, with it being just the two of us. Mum could help me, I could go out, Tom settled happily and slept whether I was there or not. Of course I knew that breast was best, but it didn’t work out for us, and maybe that wasn’t such a bad thing.

As well as pressure from the NHS, there are also a growing number of women who call themselves ‘lactivists’, believing that it is their job to tell other women how to feed their babies, wearing t-shirts that say things like “I make milk, what’s your superpower?”

I get the importance of removing any stigma from breastfeeding, especially in public, but sometimes people just can’t do it. And when they can’t, the last thing they need is a guilt trip from sanctimonious, patronising slogans. When I was in a postnatal bubble, my failure at breastfeeding felt like a crime. Eleven years later, I wish I had gone easier on myself.

I thanked Tom for the plants and the card with the silly thing written in it (see below). He was really pleased with himself, for going to the florist on his own and for getting it so right. And I was pleased with myself too, also for getting it right. I mean, I might have been crap at breastfeeding, but I reckon I did alright at the other stuff.

If you’re reading this and you’re trying to breastfeed and struggling, don’t beat yourself up and just do your best, everything will be OK.

Love,

The Mother of an 11-year-old Who Was Mostly Bottle Fed and Turned Out Just Fine x

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Absent Fathers and Single Mothers and International Women’s Day.

Hello. This blog is dormant, but today I am resurrecting it because it is International Women’s Day and I tried to tweet about what I want to say but 140 characters just wasn’t enough.

We still have a problem with the phrases “single mum” and “single mothers” because they still come loaded with negative connotations.

When was the last time you saw a crime headline telling you what an absent father had done wrong? You know, Absent Dad Commits Benefit Fraud or Absent Dad Assaulted Someone, that sort of thing.

Hang on, is ‘absent dad’ even a phrase that’s in our vocabulary? I mean, are there websites telling us that horny absent dads are desperate for no-strings sex? Because there are ones that say that about single mums.

I’m not talking about the dads who desperately want to see and love their children (and this is the bit I couldn’t fit on Twitter), because I know there are many like that. I’m talking about the ones who act irresponsibly and then act even more irresponsibly and are total cowards and just do a runner. Because there are also lots like that.

What those absent dads leave behind is a single mum and all she can do is her very best. In most cases, she goes out to work, juggling shifts with parenting and having to miss stuff like school plays and sports day. She teaches her child(ren) about the world, the bad stuff as well as the good stuff, and helps them navigate it. She cleans up sick, removes nits, scrubs dog shit from between the ridges of tiny shoes. She hosts birthday parties with scores of screaming, sugar-high, snotty kids. She finds herself surrounded by married, wealthy women who say things like, “my hubby’s away until Monday – I’m a single parent all weekend!” She buys birthday presents, she often gets very little sleep, she helps with bloody difficult homework. She sticks surreal paintings and achievement certificates and reminders about milk money to the fridge door. And at the end of every tiring day, there is no one to talk to about how hard / magnificent / both it was.

Of course, there are single dads, but the nature of the beast means they’re rarer, and society (and the right-wing press) has them down as heroes. I mean, they are, obviously, but no more so than the women. Oh but hang on –  a woman’s job is to change nappies and clean up bodily fluids, so hurray for the blokes who’ve got a strong enough stomach to do that!

Single mums are still vilified, objectified and worse. This government charges them to try to get the maintenance they need to feed their family and then takes a cut, when in many cases, the mums would much rather they could have an amicable arrangement with the father and that he’d actually want to meet his child. Single mums are often single mums because someone legged it, but if the father in the scenario chooses to be absent, he’s invisible, which is very convenient.

On International Women’s Day, remember that single mums aren’t criminals, benefits sponges or horny sex objects looking for no-strings fun. They’re cracking on with a difficult job and doing their very best. Single mums are selfless, loving and badass.

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The Book

It’s yonks since I’ve written here, and I don’t know if many people come here anymore, but I wanted to make an announcement… My Shitty Twenties the BOOK will be published next summer by the mighty and lovely Salt Publishing.

I know it’s been a long time coming, because panic and time have been against me, but I have defeated both now, and it is really on its way.

The old blog posts were about Tom as a toddler, mainly; the book is about Tom as a baby and a foetus before that, and how it felt to become a mother on my own. When I was pregnant, I wanted to read everything I could about people who had managed on their own. There was little to be found that wasn’t either a) fiction or b) real life but the father relented in the end and at least sent birthday cards or came to visit sometimes. I couldn’t find anything about someone doing it completely alone in real life, so I wrote that book. I still get emails from women all over the world who are on their own and pregnant and I hope my book will help them.

If you are reading this and you used to come here often, Tom is 10 and a half now and I am well into my thirties and my shitty / not-so-shitty-depending-on-the-day twenties are over. Tom makes me proud every day and we are both really happy. There is a man in our lives, too, which seemed impossible most of the time when I was still worrying about my stripy abdomen and other insignificant stuff, and we both love him very much.

My new writing blog is here, so do sign up. Also, if you’ve been trying to email me on my old myshittytwenties.co.uk email address, STOP – it doesn’t work and morriser@live.co.uk is the one.

Thanks if you are one of the people who read, commented on and encouraged me with my blog in the olden days – you gave me confidence in my writing and a wonderful sense of company when I was living alone and my two-year-old was tucked up in his cot bed.

More news on the book as it comes in. For now, here’s the cover:

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Let’s Just Do It

What’s that saying? It’s better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all.

I don’t think it counts in the case of a single parent. I always think it must be easier to be alone from day one than to know what it’s like to have someone else around and then for them to be gone.

It took a long time for me to notice the gap, because it had always been there and it’s all I’ve ever known. I just sort of floated through my early twenties thinking phrases off naff fridge magnets such as “everything will be OK in the end and if it’s not OK yet it’s not the end yet.”

And then you get a bit older and it feels like ‘the end’ or the ‘happy ever after’ or whatever it is should actually be happening by now and you start to think in a not-wanting-to-sound-like-Bridget-Jones-but-it’s-inevitable-sort-of-way: shit.

Sometimes, increasingly more frequently,the gap makes itself known: when every (evil, impossible, expensive, high-up, halogen) light bulb in the house has gone, when I have had a good weekend surrounded by friends and then I am here at my desk, just like always, craving company, when I pluck up the courage to open a bill and imagine it halved. And most of all, when I need to make big decisions.

That’s the toughest bit of all: the decision-making, especially those that pertain to a child’s future. What if you get it wrong and your child is sad and there’s no one to blame but yourself? Wouldn’t it be great to be able to talk to someone else about it and hold hands and leap together?

For a long time I’ve not been happy where we live. It’s OK. I mean, there’s frequently dog turd on the doorstep and the street stinks of skunk (“Mummy, what is that smell?”) but it could be a lot worse. I want to live somewhere where there’s a bit more going on though, where I know more people and there’s a community.

I worried about it for ages. I went on about it on Twitter for years. Then I started to talk to Tom about it.

“All the good schools are full, so you might have to go in one that’s nowhere near as lovely or nearby as the one you go to now.”

“It’s fine Mum, honestly.”

“But won’t you miss your friends?”

“No, I mean I do like them, but I’d actually like to meet some new ones.”

“What if you have to go on a waiting list for swimming lessons?”

“That’s fine. I love swimming, but it is a bit of a pain having to walk home from the pool in the winter.”

“What if, what if, what if?”

“It’s fine Mum, getting stressed is not the way to do stuff. Just relax and it’s all OK.”

Good mantra for a fridge magnet, maybe?

“Honestly Mum, let’s just do it.”

So, we got to the stage where we were viewing houses and visiting lovely families we know who live nearby. Tom was very impressed by all the cats.

“Let’s just move here, it’s like Cat Land,” he said.

Then we found the one, the house, but the back yard was tiny.

“There’s no garden, what will you do in the summer?”

“I’ll sit outside and read a book, maybe make a picnic for my toys. It’s fine.”

And he says it all in the most grown-up, laid-back voice.

So we’re off, we’re doing it. It’s all go, go, go. We’re moving into our new house early next year.

I just wish I’d remembered to check whether the light bulbs were evil, impossible expensive, high-up, halogen.

 

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Chill Factor. E.

It’s one of the biggest mysteries in Manchester: Just what is the little e on the end of  Chill Factore for?

Tom and I wonder this every time we go past the massive building next to the motorway. Are they trying to say “Chill Factory”? Is it some sort of a mathematical formula? Is it silent? So preoccupied was I with the errant vowel that I never really thought about what happened inside. As far as I was concerned, Chill Factore (e?) was a place for people who could ski and snowboard – and I was not one of those.

So, when I got an invitation from Chill Factore to visit during Half Term, I accepted. It turns out you don’t have to be able to ski or snowboard to go there, so it looked like it could be a fun day out for Tom (and a chance for me to get on the inside and find out about the e.)

We set off first thing on Monday morning. I had a cold – not what you really want when you’re going to a ski slope, but I was sure it wouldn’t be that chilly inside. When we arrived, Tom was wrapped up in winter gear and I asked exactly how cold it was going to be. Zero degrees, apparently. Although I’d read somewhere that the snow was real, that hadn’t quite registered with me and I imagined some sort of plastic slope. I decided not to bother with the special gear – after all, I’d just stand at the side, shivering and taking photographs.

As soon as we walked out on to the slope, I knew what they’d meant about the snow being real. The air was fresh and cool and the stuff underfoot was the real crunchy, powdery deal. Tom had the chance to try sledging,  The Luge and tubing.

I’ll explain: sledging is obvious – the thing you dream of doing every winter when you’re a child but only actually get a chance to do approximately twice in your life (unless you live in the mountains). The Luge is a fast, toboggan-style slide, (inspired by the Cresta Run at San Moritz, if you know what that is). Tubing is where you sit in a massive inflatable ring and get launched down a hill with a mini half-pipe at the bottom.

“Err… are the grown-ups allowed a go?” I asked, as I watched Tom carry his sledge back to the top of the slope with a massive grin on his face.

Next thing, we were racing each other. It was the most fun I have had in ages.

The Luge looked frankly terrifying and I said I’d stand back and watch. But again, when I saw Tom’s face as he tore out of the thing, I wanted a go.

“Just think of Cool Runnings,” said the staff member at the top of the slide.

“Tha – ” and I was off, really fast, sweeping up the sides and racing the 60 metres to the bottom. Then doing it all over again.

Last up was the tubing.

“Don’t spin me,” I said on the first go, then “Actually, can you spin me?” on the second.

Watching Tom career down the slope in his mini tube was scary, but he loved it and jumped straight on the travelator to the to top. The tubing was Tom’s favourite as well mine. When I asked him which of the activities he enjoyed best, he said “definitely the doughnuts.”

What had started out as a way to fill a Half Term morning turned out to be one of the best days out we’d had in a long time. Tom keeps talking about it and I think the next time we go past, the discussion will be less about the e and more about when we can go again.

Oh and about the e – apparently, it stands for ‘extreme, exciting or whatever you want it to mean.’ Excellent.

My verdict: Manchester’s great at precipitation but usually fails on the snow front. This is a great way to have some magical, wintry fun without waiting until you’re 100 for the next proper snow day. It comes with a choice of places to eat, a pub and a viewing gallery for those not joining in with the action. As with many attactions, I’d like to see some single parent family prices, rather than the outdated ‘Family of Four’ package – but this is a widespread issue. Overall, the prices seem quite high, but money can’t buy snow and this is a top notch indoor day out. Go to  Chill Factore in the run-up to Christmas and you could see Santa, Peppa Pig or characters from Ice Age, beating the standard shopping centre grotto by miles. There’s also lots of other fun stuff to do there, including being launched down the slope in a massive transparent ball, snow play for toddlers and extreme sledging. We give it an e for enjoyable.

Find out more about children’s parties and Christmas fun here and the activities Tom and I enjoyed here.

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