Monday, 23 September 2013

The 2013 MAD Blog Awards – my top 5 highlights

Now it could be said that bloggers don’t get out much – and that’s why you’ll find them tippy tapping on their keyboards late into the night. Well, let me tell you that is a misconception. MAD (Mummy and Daddy) bloggers can party – I know, because I’ve seen faces being licked and ladies with red petticoats ‘surfboarding’ well past Cinderella’s bedtime. Yes, I was lucky enough to be at the 2013 MAD Blog Awards ceremony. It was quite some night – and here’s why:


I got to meet a CBeebies celeb

When I prized open my mascara-caked eyes on Saturday morning, I had the ultimate trophy for my kids; a picture of me and Dr Ranj from Get Well Soon.  Dr Singh is actually a real-life paediatrician, and a bloody good live presenter too – he wasn’t flummoxed by the autocue when it went too fast (or stopped completely), missing presenters or even when he said ‘breast’ instead of ‘best in a room that was 95% female. Oh how we laughed. He even let me take a selfie with him. And when I showed my disbelieving youngest the snap she said ‘He has the same smile as on TV, and now I’m smiling too’. Awwwwww.

The doctor will see you now...
There were some shit hot bloggers there
I enjoy writing my blog, and some kind people have told me they enjoy reading it. The finalists (and the winners natch) in the MAD Blog Awards however, take it up to a level I can barely dream of. They run web sites that inspire, educate, entertain, help and support other parents. I was lucky enough to meet the lovely Hannah Smith from Mama Bear With Me in the lift. She was a finalist in the Most Entertaining Blog category and writes about her life with her two small boys. Like me she has a poor sense of direction (instead of going to the basement we ended up on the 9thfloor) – I can only hope she got home okay! Then there was the rather stunning Louise Turner from All The Camping Gear, who was up for the Best Family Travel Blog, and the powerhouse that is Fi Star-Stone of Childcare is Fun, who picked up an Award for Outstanding Contribution.  And finally I had a brief, but entertaining, exchange with Annie from Mammasaurus, who won the Most Innovative Blog Award. Thank you for taking the time to speak to me ladies.
Where the best of the bloggers come to meet

There was an awesome goody bag!
The event had some serious sponsorship – companies like JohnLewis, Mothercare, Puffin Books, TK Maxx and HomeAway sponsored individual awards, while some of the lovely frocks bloggers were rocking were supplied by WishWantWear. And then there was Mr Mozzarella – from Just Eat. A little bit strange, but hey, everyone loves a takeaway! But when all’s said and done, nothing, but nothing, replaces the thrill of a goody bag – and what a goody bag it was – full of lovely treats to dish out to my long-suffering hubby and neglected kiddos. A Horrid Henry book, sparkly Kids Stuff bubble bath, Brabantia stickers, badges, magnets and mirrors from Camaloon, chocolate From Seagate UK, Start-rite vouchers and Oriflame lippy – all presented in a lovely Parentdish (the headline sponsors) tote. Riffling through it gave me something to do on the train home too!

I met the Tots100 Team
I got to help out at the MADs courtesy of Tots100, the UK’s network for Mum and Dad bloggers, which has more than 5,000 members. It produces a directory of parent blogs, and analyses and ranks all of the blogs in its community, measuring popularity, engagement and influence. And boy, do the people from the Tots team work hard at the MADs! Scurrying around, setting things up, taking things down, ushering peeps to make up, running a live blog to cover the event, taking photos, operating a surf simulator, making sure the presenters, finalists and winners are all where they should be and generally putting everyone at ease. Imagine life without the MADs. Hats off to them (and particularly Sally Whittle, the founder of the MAD Blog Awards and Tots100, who I hope is under a large gin somewhere)!

I spent the evening at a plush London hotel
The awards took place in Kensington’s fabulous (and family-friendly) Royal Garden Hotel. The night kicked off with a drinks reception (I do like to be offered bubbly from a shiny tray) and was followed by a scrumptious three-course dinner (I sat next to the dewy-complexioned Yolanda Barker from Totz2teens). They even made a swan out of chocolate. I’m not sure how. And I got to do all this 5-star wining and dining without having to load the dishwasher afterwards. That, my dear friends, is a true treat. Thank you Tots100!
A chocolate swan - but how????
What's the most fabulous event you've been to? And did you get a snap with a celeb? Let me know in the comment box below!

Thursday, 19 September 2013

Go back to work they said, it’ll be fun they said

Last week I learnt a few lessons. And those lessons were about combining paid work with motherhood. I had the chance to earn some cold hard cash on a project that was facing tight deadlines. It would necessitate late nights and gritted teeth, but it would be a good ‘in’ with a new client and give me the chance to see if I’ve still got it.

True, I’ve done a bit of work here and there since having kids, but mostly I’ve been a stay-at-home mum. I was happy to take a career break while they were small, play tea parties on the floor, take them to toddler groups, sing Baa Baa Black Sheep in front of strangers, then get them to and from pre-school and infants as they got a bit bigger, attending all the assemblies and shows, and generally being hands-on and hassle-free. But now my days (well, 9am to 3pm!) are my own and the writer/editor/grammar Nazi inside of me is beginning to stir. And there was job on offer…
Barbie is up against the clock...literally.

But, the transition from SAHM to Working At Home Mum was not as easy as I thought. This was not an ideal job scenario granted – I needed to put in a full working day for a complete week – including some weekend work. My hours had to be split into working until the kids came home from school and then getting back into the office once they were in bed. Working until late, or indeed early the next day.

Get your game on

Suddenly I realised just how much I’d let my ‘home office’ slip. I used to run my own business, but somehow the office is also a junk room now, my printer needed replacing and I have enough glare on my screen to summon Batman. So before I could even earn some money I had to lay a whole load down on some new equipment and – horror – tidy up the place. I also had to quickly learn how to cheat my way around an outdated version of Word (I love you Internet forum nerds), hook up a second monitor and talk to strangers. I basically had to be (or at least appear to be) professional. That was a shock to the system I can tell you.

Ask for and accept help

My days were basically going like this: get up, get kids up, take kids to school, work, pick up kids, feed kids, put kids to bed, make packed lunches, tidy house to prevent flies from colonising kitchen, work. Occasionally I would treat myself to some toast – or a few hours of sleep – nothing crazy though – there were deadlines to meet. I did make the gym a couple of mornings too, which slotted into the client’s timeframe nicely – honest!!
Take it Mummy - 'cos Santa's sack ain't gonna fill itself...
Since my husband was away for the entire week and most of the weekend too, as well as playing crazed career mum I was also having a run as a single mum. I’m generally not very good at accepting help from friends or family, and did turn down a few offers. I suspect I felt like I should be able to cope. However, the weekend was tricky to manage, and would have been a bit unfair on the kids; there’s only so much ‘free-play’ or CBeebies you can expect two children to undertake together before it gets violent. Luckily my Mum was scheduled to babysit on Saturday night anyway, and she offered to come early and stay the next morning too. (Yes, not only did I have to stay sober at a friend’s party, I had to get up the next morning and work – the sacrifice!!!).

Don’t overdo it!

This is a lesson I learnt, but didn’t actually ‘pass’ the test on. Talking to other working mothers I have now discovered it is very hard to get working hours that suit your family life. There’s always a compromise it seems. While working like I did was pretty hard core for a first foray back into my career, it would hopefully be a one-off. I would aim to schedule future projects far better – and only put in a few hours a day – ideally when it was daylight. I’d be looking to increase that work, once the kids were older and more independent. Although saying ‘no’ can be hard in the freelance world, and it was a never in my nature before!
Oh Bed, when can we be together again?

Needless to say, by the end of the week I was exhausted, but glad I’d done it. I’ve realised a few things that should help me craft the ideal work/life balance that all working mums (and dads) are struggling to find. Maybe there’s a future for working me out there somewhere – as long as I’m not blinded by my screen before then…

Have you found the ideal job to combine with caring for your kids? Is it something you worry about? Perhaps you are wondering how you could go back to work and still run a home? Comments in the box below please.

Sunday, 8 September 2013

Show me the carrot...!

On the whole my kids don’t need that much modification. In fact, their default settings are generally quite pleasing. A few tweaks here and there, and they’ll grow up to be shiny, happy people with lots to give back to their world. Well, that's what I tell myself anyway!

In the past, when I’ve wanted to them to stop doing something – or indeed – start doing another thing altogether (I’m so demanding!), I’ve resorted to high stakes bribery – usually a shiny new top perched on the top of the fridge until the desired outcome is reached. I’ve made makeshift charts that require a certain amount of ticks – and doled out sweeties as incentives. And this is how we’ve navigated such milestones as dumping dummies, accepting a new swimming teacher (‘but I love Angieeeeeeeeeeee’) and STOPPING SHOUTING ALL THE TIME (yeah, Mummy needs one of those charts, but the kids can’t afford the Marc by Marc Jacobs dress I’ve requested, so the shouting will continue until they get me that frock).

Shameless bribes for children
But, since part of the mummy job, is on-going support and encouragement (right?) there are always a few things we need to work on, a few behaviours I’d like to see more of. And as they’ve got older, there is less of getting rid of undesirable behaviour and more of reinforcing the positive. And this is where a decent reward chart comes in; specifically where a Radical Rewards chart comes in...

Radical Reward Charts are designed by artist Vita Bosque-Greene, and look more like posters than the type of incentive charts you might be used to seeing. Some of the designs will particularly appeal to boys and older children too. Themes include Creepy Crawlies and Gruesome Graveyard for example. This is not the place to come for Princessy pink or fussy fairies!
Chart their success!

 Experienced guide

The charts use a 20 step progress route that can be used again and again, and the child goes up the chart rather than receiving points or stickers in a straight line. At the top of the chart lies the reward of your choosing (in this house it was a toy £5 note, to be exchanged for a real one when the summit was reached). The company also sends out some simple guidelines to help you use the charts effectively and the founder, Amanda Noble-Simmons, a mother of four herself, offers online support to further guide you on your child’s behaviour and best use of the charts. The top tip I picked up was to have a half-way mark incentive, as to reach the top of the chart might take some time, and younger children can lose interest if the result seems unobtainable. 
Instead of pre-set behaviours, the chart is open-ended so that parents can tailor the process to reward any good deeds they wish to see more of. When you buy the charts you can also opt to have a photo of your child laminated by the company and sent to you along with your chart. My two loved the novelty of seeing the tiny mini-me versions of themselves climbing up the chart. Or if you prefer you can use a cheeky-looking carrot to climb up the chart on your behalf (he’s holding a stick – carrot and a stick – geddit?). There’s no need for the naughty step Amanda believes, when you concentrate on reinforcing the positive.
It's all about the veg - not the stick!

The verdict

I have to say my kids loved the charts. They took some time to choose a theme and would have liked some more girlie ones with pet animals on apparently but opted for the Wacky Wildlife style. We had sweets at the half way mark and a list of ways to climb the chart (including tidying their bedrooms, being ‘super’ kind or helpful and completing school-type work during the holidays in an attempt to bypass the summer brain-drain!) by the side. I also randomly moved them up for behaviours that weren’t listed (as suggested in the accompanying advice), for example when somebody at the swimming pool commented on how well they were behaving.

The girls really took to the novelty of having mini-versions of themselves ‘achieving’ and the eldest told me that the chart made her ‘determined to get to the top’! Once they had reached number 20 and got their hands on their money, they were keen to start the process all over again too!

From mummy’s point of view, the charts will last and can be modified to suit both my children and the different ages and stages they pass through. And it covers up a wall that needs painting with rather fetching art!

Do you use reward charts – and do they work for your offspring? Do you have another method of reinforcing positive behaviour you care to share? Comments in the box below please!

For the purpose of this review Radical Reward Charts gave me two Wacky Wildlife charts free of charge. Thank you!