Plant-Powered Parents

It was a trip to a farm that made us turn to veganism.

It’s a nice enough place, where the animals look happy and there’s lots for young kids to do. My two enjoyed exploring the play areas and eating chocolate in the café afterwards, and we even saw newborn piglets pressed against their mother in a warm, pink bundle. It was a perfect day out, or at least it should have been. I wanted it to be. It was Mother’s Day, after all.

But just before we left I came face to face with the absurdity of it all.

There I was in the farm shop of this lovely local attraction, having just cooed over tiny piglets and frolicking lambs. The farm shop, with its artisan breads and craft ales, handpainted teapots and homemade fudge. Chutneys and jams. Bird tables, windmills, cherry bakewells, toy animals, chocolate eggs, pork chops, smoked bacon, ribs, chicken breast, steaks, ox tongue, liver, sausages, cheeks, tails, necks – the purple flesh of the animals I’d just spent the last few hours showing to my sons.

It didn’t repulse me and I didn’t rush home to cleanse myself of the blood of the innocent. I just felt sort of… uncomfortable. The whole thing seemed off.

On the journey home we talked about the weird feeling we had. We’d had plenty of conversations about giving up meat before and how it was something we knew we should embrace, but our resolve had always guiltily fizzled out, and truthfully I thought it would then too. Except something pushed me further that day. For the first time ever I didn’t fight the tide and instead allowed it all in. I watched documentaries, I read article after article and let the guilt swamp me. It was all part of the process of opening myself up and witnessing the hypocrisy, deception and cruelty inherent in the nameless system I’d grown up accepting as normal.

And so it grew. We started off committing to giving up meat, but within two days of vegetarianism we realised we couldn’t justify the consumption of eggs or dairy either. And since then we haven’t eaten a single animal-derived ingredient.

I could go into details about the treatment of farmed animals and the brutality of the dairy industry, but this isn’t a post intended to convert anyone to veganism. It’s not about what happened or how we came to change how we eat or live; it’s about the change that followed, the one that came from within us and spilled out into our everyday lives.

Because it turns out eschewing all animal products and living as gently as we can in a modern world designed to commodify everything in it can bring contentment, joy and happiness in a way I didn’t expect. I thought I was signing up to a life of sacrifice and compromise, but I ended up gaining an inner tranquility I didn’t know I was lacking.

It’s not some transcendental BS. I don’t start my mornings singing to the wildlife with a perfect plump bluebird on my shoulder like a Disney princess, but it’s unfair to the change I’ve made to deny that I am happier and more fulfilled for making compassion part of the food I eat, the clothes I wear and the cosmetics I use. My heart is lighter and I’m more freely able to enjoy the natural world and the animals with whom we share the planet. I’ve rediscovered my passion for cooking and creating, which has helped my fragile-at-best self-esteem. I’m healthier! And most unexpectedly, I feel closer to my husband than ever before; we’ve held each other up when it’s felt easier to throw in the towel, reminded each other why we’re doing this, shared passion, pain and anger at what we see as the injustice around us, and we understand the other’s guilt at having been a part of it for so long.

I’m not vegan for my health. I care about animals and the environment, but that’s not my true motivator either. I’m vegan because I want to teach my children that compassion doesn’t end where convenience begins. I want to show them a world where fairness is extended to all living beings. I want them to understand that all life matters and that kindness feeds the soul more than any meal in our privileged bubble ever could. I want to teach them humility and the preciousness of our time on this earth. I want them to learn that the smallest changes can make the greatest difference, to their lives and their fellow earthlings’.

And I want them to know – in the future, when plant-based lifestyles are necessary for the survival of the planet – that their parents were on the right side of history. Their side. Because it’s their world that we’re trying to save.

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From The Heart, For The Planet

Today people across the UK are voting in the General Election. It’s shaping up to be the closest contest in decades with Labour and the Conservatives neck and neck in the polls.

I voted Liberal Democrat in the last election. I made my mark with passion and conviction. Nick Clegg himself would be my MP and it was easy to feel motivated when the very man I’d be voting for was on television and in the papers making noble promises, promises that seemed incredibly feasible and hopeful. I wasn’t even disappointed when the coalition agreement was made because the man I’d put my faith in would be, in some small way, running the country.

I’m not in the anti-Nick Clegg camp. He isn’t my MP anymore as I’ve since moved, but it isn’t just my address that’s changed since 2010.

I’m now a parent.

My son is the most important thing in my world. He owns my heart completely and I spend my life striving to give him everything he needs to thrive. I feed him, I change him, I comfort him, I bathe him. I help him achieve in all the ways I can. I protect him from the dangers outside and I try to do it without holding him back. I encourage him to grow up to be accepting, tolerant and kind.

But I can’t protect him from the world itself.

Climate change is the single most important issue we face today. All the talk of debt and benefits and immigration and even equal pay and the NHS, things I care passionately about, is irrelevant in the face of a crisis that as it stands will certainly destroy civilisation as we know it. And if we don’t do something now, if we don’t send the right people to Paris in December, all will be lost. It will be our children, my child, and his children, who will pay the price.

A planet in crisis doesn’t win votes. A problem so big it’s hard to look it in the eye doesn’t win votes. Scapegoating wins votes, creating the illusion that all the problems the country faces can be explained away with something small (and usually poor or foreign) wins votes. It’s easier to sleep at night when you ‘know’ there’s a monster under your bed that you can scare away or pay off or feed to Nigel Farage, but I promise it’s much harder to sleep at night when your whole bedroom is falling apart around you. Monsters aren’t so scary then.

Today I will be voting from my heart, and because my heart belongs to my son I have to vote for the world he’ll inherit. I will leave the polling station with my head held high, knowing that my voice will be heard. I am a number that will make a difference, if not now then in the future, because this crisis is already underway. I am a proud ‘X’ next to the only choice I have.

This election I will be voting Green.

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Ten Things I Learned in 2014

1. Having children changes your life.
No crap, Columbo! Unfortunately this is a realisation that new parents have to find out for themselves. It’s not like adults never experience change before having kids; we spend the first 18 or so years of our lives in a state of constant flux so it’s easy to believe another life change will be easy to digest. But the thing that makes having a baby different is just how drastic and horrendously sudden the change is. You’d think 9 months of preparation would be ample, but it’s not. Pregnancy is its own whirlwind of issues, fears and adjustment, and then POW, you’re a parent and nothing is ever the same again. EVER. There’s nothing else like that in life.

2. I’m actually kind of a tree-hugging hippy.
Cloth nappies, cloth sanitary towels, cloth kitchen roll, cloth baby wipes, cloth everything. I even make my own nappy cream (not to keep my baby away from ALL DA CHEMICALZ as you might imagine, but because I was tired of my hands being sticky with Bepanthen). I try my hardest to buy second hand clothes and we recycle religiously. I carry my son on my back like a baby chimpanzee and explore all kinds of outdoorsy places I never thought of as very ‘me’ and it turns out I quite like our planet – it’s pretty – and I’ve grown to be unattractively preachy about climate change and overconsumption of natural resources (sorrynotsorry). Big T and I have become passionate about eco issues since having Little T, so much so that it’s looking likely that our future plans will be led by our need to be more proactive in that area (cryptic or what?).

3. …You can be a tree-hugging hippy without abandoning science and logic.
I vaccinate my child because science. I know that his amber necklace doesn’t have magical healing properties, it just looks cute, and while I understand that breastmilk is awesome I’m fairly certain it can’t cure the common cold. And yes, coconut oil is a wonderful moisturiser and I use it on myself and my son but it isn’t magical juice squeezed from fresh unicorns and if you use it to treat serious conditions you’re a few clowns short of a circus.

4. It’s possible to get so used to handling human waste that it becomes second nature.
I honestly didn’t see that one coming. When Little T was tiny he’d regularly explode all over me, himself and any toys or valuables in the vicinity and I’d have to stop for a second with him on the changing mat just to work out the logistics of how in holy hell I was going to clean him up without marinating his bedroom in poo. The cut off for me would be if he managed to get it in his hair, then his clothes would go straight in the bin, he’d go in the bath, and wine/coffee would go in my face. These days I hardly remember when his last nappy change was, or how well contained it was, what colour, what size. It’s blissfully and seamlessly blended into the fabric of my day. Yay.

5. The time you try to wrap your baby in a busy place will be the time he decides to scream like a goat on fire.
It’s happened to my friends and it’s happened to me, and it’s a horrible feeling. All eyes are on you, particularly if you’re attempting a back carry, and you’re not sure whether the attention is positive or negative. Conversations get quieter while your child gets louder and then you’re certain that the muted hum in the room is laced with disapproval. You can’t give up though, not with a baby to get home and the reputation of babywearing on your shoulders, so you struggle through, all the while wishing the ground would swallow you whole, your shrieking gremlin too. You make it outside, red faced and sweaty, and of course as soon as you’re out of the public gaze your little one calms down, smiles sweetly and falls asleep.

6. It’s okay to ask for help.
Two days after we were discharged from hospital following Little T’s birth my mum came across to lend a hand, and I just could not deal. Not because she’s my mother and she drives me nuts (though that is true), but because I never, ever ask for help. It’s not a matter of principle, it’s a matter of survival – having gone through some difficult times in the past I’ve taken comfort in being self-reliant. It makes me feel safe knowing that I don’t need anyone but myself. I’ve needed to feel that way. But back in January my mum looked after us and we couldn’t have managed without her, literally. I’d just had a rough induction followed by a c-section, my recovery was slow, and my PND was looming. I cried non-stop for days. Big T was sleep deprived and shell shocked from the difficult birth, not to mention at sea with the sudden onset of my depression. Little T himself was struggling to feed properly and quickly losing weight. When my mum walked through the door we threw ourselves at her, a mess of tears and exhaustion, and I felt incredibly uncomfortable with it. It was a valuable lesson though, because now I don’t struggle if I don’t have to. I pick up the phone and I speak to someone who might be able to help and if they can, fabulous, and if not we find another way. Raising a baby while living so far away from family is hard enough without further isolating ourselves, needlessly at that.

7. The friends I have are for life.
I think a lot of new parents find out who their real friends are during their baby’s first year, especially if they’re the first to do the whole reproduction thing. Suddenly I wasn’t as present as I’d been before, I didn’t always reply to texts or remember important dates. And being me, when the PND struck and my mental health deteriorated I cut myself off so I could focus on my family, which was the right decision for me but made me a colossally shit friend. I haven’t been the easiest person to love and stick by, but a precious few have done just that. In some cases they’re the people I always knew would be there, but others have surprised me with their empathy and understanding. It’s a humbling thing to have people like that in my life, people who are for me and on my side. And Little T has the best honorary aunts and uncles in the universe. ❤

8. My parents are a bit awesome.
I’m a big believer in loving and appreciating the person rather than the familial job title so throughout my adult life I’ve tried to cultivate a healthy and close bond to both my parents as friends and people. In the main I think I’ve been successful. I can talk to them about everything from politics to celebrity gossip to sex to Chaucer. They’re good and kind. They’re also both a little bit nuts and regularly make me pull my hair out.
As parents though I never really gave them much credit. Not to say I dismissed them; I just didn’t think about it. Until I became a parent myself that is, and then came a startling revelation that they must’ve done all this too. They must’ve held and wiped and shushed and fed, and saw their old life spiralling away from them (although the special effects weren’t as good then). I see in Little T the security I once felt myself, the belief that everything will be fine because Mummy and Daddy will fix it, and it’s like I’ve only just realised that they must’ve been as terrified and clueless as we are now, and they got through it and raised me to be the woman I hope they’re proud of. They’ve been a huge support to us, and watching them with Little T is an unparalleled joy; it’s like looking into the past and catching a glimpse of the relationship I had with them but will never remember.

9. Wealth is relative.
We are less well off than we’ve ever been. We live month to month, limiting our petrol consumption, eating bizarre cheap concoctions just prior to pay day (I reckon I could be the next Jack Monroe), and mending things ourselves rather than paying anyone else, even if it’s frightening and involves electricity. The £6 a month we pay for a window cleaner is a luxury. I cut my own hair and my broken phone will stay broken for the unforeseeable. The amount of money in my account needs to be checked before we can even pay for a necessary medical prescription. It’s a constant juggling act and it’s hard.
Except that I’ve never felt so blessed, and I don’t just mean in a sentimental ‘I have all I’ll ever need as long as I have my familyyyyy’ kind of way; I actually feel content with our situation and proud of what we’re doing. Being a stay at home parent is hard work for me, and working full-time and bearing the weight of our family’s financial security is tough on Big T, but we do it because we believe in it. Money is part of that, and so how our money is spent represents the proud decisions that we’ve made together. If we buy a nice sling or lunch out it’s because we’ve worked hard to be able to afford it, and often done without in other areas. And that’s okay! I enjoy it, every second of it, because it’s ours and we’re in this together and it’s worth it completely. I feel wealthy because there’s nothing in the world I need that I don’t have, and that’s an amazing place to be.

10. It’s possible to love someone so much you think it might swallow you up.
Last night my son fell asleep in my arms, dried milk in his curls, snot blocking his nose, his dummy dangling from his mouth like a fat cigar, and I honestly couldn’t have thought he was more beautiful. He kissed me earlier, a big sloppy open-mouthed chomp that tasted like satsumas. He’s amazing, and it makes me ache how fiercely I love him, how I can’t squeeze him as hard as I want to, and that one day he won’t need me anymore. The love I feel for my little boy is explosive, frightening and it threatens to spill over at any time. It makes me scared and brave and proud and confident and elated and tired and peaceful and angry with the world, all at the same time.
Being a mother is the heaviest, most wonderful burden there is.
I treasure every precious second of it.

Happy new year, dear readers.
Thank you for your loyalty and support while I’ve got this blog off the ground. May 2015 be a spectacular one for all of you. ❤

One Thousand Nappies

Having a child has been a punch in the face for my conscience.

It’s not as though I didn’t care about eco issues before, they just weren’t in the foreground of my life. We always recycled, we nodded eagerly in agreement after watching ‘An Inconvenient Truth’, and most importantly we regularly felt bad about ourselves, which is all the eco movement really wants (right?).

Unfortunately for me I’m intelligent and self-aware enough to have felt like a colossal cockwomble when I justified my lifestyle by spouting such drool as, “I can’t make any difference on my own,” and, “a lot of eco solutions don’t end up being more environmentally friendly anyway,” sentiments that make up vast portions of the complacent liberal’s handbook (which I’m fairly sure I wrote). I could deal with feeling like an idiot though, just about, especially as Big T was in it with me; we seemed to have a silent agreement to boost each other’s egos without ever having to lift a finger to make things better. Awesome, aren’t we?

But then that pesky child of mine was born and thrust the world into a bright, blackhead-revealing fluorescent light. His shiny newborn eyes looked at me as if to say, “So what are you gonna do about this? How are you going to keep me safe?” PND answered for me at first with an “OMG I’m too inadequate to even look at this child never mind protect him!” but once that passed I started to take those questions seriously, and that brought to the surface the awkward knot of complacency that had been nestled in my gut.

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