Saturday, 19 September 2009

Anonymous Blogging - is it right for you?

Sometimes you only notice how much things change if you have a break from them. When I first started blogging, when I first started to write Too Young for a Midlife, Too Old for a Tantrum, it seemed that all the immediate people I read, and who read me, did so anonymously. In some cases I knew who they were anyway, and they knew me, in other cases I still don't know. Now I've returned to blogging, and become involved in Mummy Blogging in particular, the change I notice most is how many mums put their names to their blog and are no longer shrouded in anonymity.

Blogging for me always used to be like writing an online diary. I'd write about private subjects in a public forum, and the frustrated writer in me was always thrilled with comments, even the negative ones, because it meant that someone was reading what I said, and becoming engaged enough to let me know what they thought. However, when I confided to a couple of friends that I wrote a blog and they started to read it, it changed the way I wrote, and more importantly altered the content. When you're new to blogging, and it's all still bright and shiny, you tend to read lots of blogs, and become immersed in the world of online writing, a little glimpse into other people's lives; nosy neighbour syndrome for the modern age. Such it was that I learned what an industry blogging had become, how seriously it was taken by some, and the interest it held for the media.

I realised that blogging had given many things to people, a sense of community, belonging and friendship, but it had also taken away many things. Which early bloggers were shocked by the tale of Heather Armstrong, the woman who was sacked for writing a blog talking about her workplace, earning her place in internet history not just for her writing, but for giving us a new word - dooce? This word has become synonymous with being outed from the comfort of anonymity, sacked from your job and thrust into the public spotlight, but is this a risk that all anonymous bloggers take? Belle de Jour, one of the most high profile anonymous bloggers who has probably more reason than most to maintain her privacy, has so far managed to keep her identity secret, and maybe the time for people wanting to find out has passed. However, she continues to write her blog, albeit infrequently, has moved on with her life, and now is more likely to be found with a piece in the papers which might once have paid good money to someone who'd reveal her identity.

Fast forward to today, and the phenomenon of Mummy Blogging. Many of us are proud to put our names to our blogs, many of us choose to assume another name. My stance on this is that if someone wants to find out your identity badly enough, it will be a relatively simple task, but is it right this should be the case? How many of us like to keep our personal lives personal, and have something to lose should our real names appear in the public domain? How many of us blog for the simple pleasure of writing, and how many of us to promote our work, our careers, our lives?

I don't have all the answers, in fact I'm not sure I have any of them. I choose to stay what I would term "quasi-anonymous" - sure, my name isn't on my blog, but my photo's on Twitter, and I'm more than happy to meet up with other bloggers should an opportunity arise. I don't have a wardrobe full of skeletons and I don't have the sort of life which would interest the media. But anonymous blogging allows me to comment on my job, my friends and enemies, and my life, and not fear a family argument, a row with the boss, or worse, with the other half. I'm sure I won't stay anonymous for long but will putting my name to my blog change the way I write?

So I'm throwing this open to the internet - what are your thoughts on staying secret or going public?

I'd love to hear from you.

Saturday, 12 September 2009

The Sick Day

When I first started seeing S there were lots of things to think about. It was a big change, I'd been single for a long time, and we used to be really good friends. There seemed to be so much at stake, so much to lose if it all went wrong. One of my biggest concerns at the time was that I already had a child. Don't get me wrong, it wasn't as if he was a secret, but when was the right time for the two halves of my life to meet? I've always been quite good at compartmentalising my life - work me, mum me, woman me and me me. If you're anything like me, you have a plan on how things will work out (and we all know how those go!). I'd always planned that D would meet any potential boyfriends early on, then if he didn't get on with them, that would be it, game over, no matter what I thought of them. Then I spoke to a friend, and she got me to look at it in a different way - did I really want my child to get to know a succession of men, only never to see them again? (There's an important note to make here - there's never been a succession of men, not even a small patrol. When I say single a long time, I mean it!). S was of much the same opinion - he didn't want to get to know D, only to then be a man that he never saw any more. Didn't want to get to know him until we were all sure that it was going to work out.

Gradually though, S and D have got to know each other. Evenings, afternoons, meals out, even the momentous occasion when S first stayed here while D was here. You never really get to know someone though, till you're with them 24/7. The first time for that sort of occasion would be our holiday together, and I've already blogged about how nervous I was about how it would work out.

I really hadn't allowed for food poisoning though. In Cornwall. I'm not exactly well travelled, but I've been abroad on the usual package holidays, and the only time I've been ill was in Turkey. I've got a fairly iron constitution, and I imagine that I'm immune to most things. Fish and chips were my downfall. I know! Could it be more ridiculous? I spent virtually the whole night in the bathroom, throwing up for all I was worth, but every time I stumbled back to bed, I kept thinking that in the morning I'd be fine.

I really wasn't.

There was no way I could get out of bed that morning. D peeked in on me when S told him I'd been ill, all concerned for his mum. S peeked in at varying times, to make sure that I hadn't choked on my own vomit. I tried to keep involved, but it's difficult when all you can do is shout instructions through to another room. S made D some breakfast, then I could hear them playing cards and watching the TV.

I shouted through useful things about getting dressed and cleaning teeth. (Both of them).

I heard them playing board games, laughing, joking, making lunch together.

I shouted through instructions about having fruit, tried to get up and failed miserably.

The sun came out after a cloudy morning and I tried to encourage them to go to the beach although there didn't seem to be much enthusiasm for the idea. I regretted the idea of having a traditional chip shop tea, and contemplated never eating again. I lay in bed with no energy at all, and drifted off to sleep, woken intermittently by the sounds of football in the cottage garden, voices raised in laughter and excitement. By teatime, I'd made it to the sofa, and managed to join in with a round of Monopoly. Even that wiped me out, and I drifted off to sleep again as S took D to the shop to get something in for tea. I woke up and they were back, D excitedly telling me about the massive ice creams they'd had while they were out. S made tea for them both (and dry toast for me), and they sat down to sausages, mash and beans, every child's favourite.

S was really pleased when D finished it all off, telling him that it was absolutely delicious. I love S to pieces, but he's no chef, and I think it made him feel really appreciated. By D's bedtime I was managing to sit up, and could take him to bed, where he pronounced that he'd had an absolutely great day, and he'd really enjoyed it. I thanked S for looking after him so well, told him that D had really enjoyed it. S said it was a real baptism of fire but he'd enjoyed it too.

And me? I'd always known that S was the man for me, my soulmate, and to see him getting on with D so well made me understand how much he was going to be part of our lives.

PS The next day S commented that he'd been really disappointed with his mashed potatoes - D agreed and said they weren't nearly as good as mine. At S's raised eyebrows, his response was "I didn't want to tell you yesterday, and hurt your feelings".

Such loyalty.

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

The Past (#1)

When I first got divorced, one of the most important things to me was to maintain an air of normality for D, my son. He was little, only 4, but he'd try really hard to understand what was going on, why his mum and dad lived in different houses and why toys were always at the wrong house. The first year I was on my own, I decided it was really important to take D on holiday, but that left me with a bit of a dilemma. I don't drive, I didn't have very much money, and I needed to find somewhere that would be able to keep a 4 year old child occupied. I'm sure there were lots of places to choose from, but my brain was a bit fuddled at best, and I decided to take him to London for five days.

We had the most fabulous time ever.

I chose London because there's a direct rail link to Euston from where I live, and then I chose the hotel based on which one could I safely haul a small child and a large suitcase. Oh, and which was in my price range,  had a roof, and I didn't need to share with three other families. I'd very rarely been to London before, and was petrified of getting lost, losing my son or being mugged/stabbed/sold into slavery so I decided that we'd eat in the hotel to reduce any or all of those opportunities.

Having survived the first night remarkably well (a family room is surprisingly spacious when there's only two of you, and most hotels seem a bit sniffy about offering single parents anything smaller), we decided to hit the tourist trail. And I have nothing but admiration for London after that. We got our little book of tube tickets (note to single mothers - if you try to get through the turnstile without buying a ticket for your child, pick them up and carry them. Don't squeeze them through first then try to get through yourself - your child will spend the remainder of the journey convulsed with laughter at mummy's bottom being jammed). We visited the Natural History Museum, the London Eye, we did a river boat cruise, we saw Buckingham Palace. We had a great time at London Zoo, went to see the Lion King, wandered round Covent Garden and St James Park. We packed so much into those five days that all my plans for catching up on my reading when D went to bed disappeared into the ether and I tumbled into bed about half an hour after he did every night.

Of course, it cost more money than I'd anticipated. Any mother knows that even when you take your child to a free attraction, the payoff arrives in the gift shop when your child has to have a pencil, a keyring, a postcard or a packet of sweets in the shape of the Tower of London. But the museums are free, the walks in the park cost nothing, and the sheer fun of spending time together is absolutely priceless.

Compare this if you will, to what I like to think of as my brand new family. Of course, D isn't brand new, but it's a new experience for all of us. This year we went in a car (!), stayed in a cottage and played on the beach. This year I went in different gift shops, attractions that charged an entrance fee, and didn't get my bottom jammed in anything.

It was very, very different, but this time I shared the holiday with the two people I love most, and watched them get to know each other. And it was even more priceless.

Friday, 4 September 2009

The Plate Spinning (#1)

The holiday in Cornwall was really my first experience at family plate spinning. I was really looking forward to the holiday, we'd rented a cottage, it was the school holidays in August, the weather was bound to be great... We all have high hopes about holidays, even in England, but we need to stop relying on the weather. We'd even chosen the specific destination because of the massive beach, thinking about the fun days we could have.

I thought it would be time to relax. Ha!

It started in the car journey, we live in the Midlands, so its a fair old investment in time to travel to Cornwall. I'd planned for all sorts of eventualities, packed games, books, pens, pencils, paper, everything bar a clown and a magician. Just a little further on than Exeter I found myself trying to create new games on the hoof, think of 20 questions relating to Primeval, and draw bingo cards. All jolly good fun.

The cottage itself was beautiful, the weather was mediocre on the whole but we still went out to see loads of sights, and spent time on the beach too. But the most difficult thing was trying to please everyone. I've been a single mother for a long time now, and D and I have been away a few times by ourselves. We've seen museums, parks, playgrounds, cities, swimming pools, dungeons and theatres, but we've only ever had to please ourselves. And mothers of children everywhere know that all children can drum up any amount of enthusiasm for visiting something if there's a gift shop at the end of it.

This time though, S was with us. He's got no children of his own, so they're a strange and occasionally wonderful breed as far as he's concerned. I seemed to spend the whole week asking what each of them wanted to do. Anything, they would say, we don't mind. Right, I would think, let's try the zoo, I think they might both like that. OK, I would ponder, let's try pitch and putt, that should be good for both of them. Some succeeded, some failed (in a spectacular fashion), and I got food poisoning.

Which left me out of action for a whole day.

Which left S, with no previous experience, to look after D for a whole day.

Which was interesting.
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