madreleche

Mother of 2, married to a Sales Manager. Breastfeeding peer supporter, interested in environmental issues. Breastfeeding, cloth nappying, occasional baby wearing mama who believes in benign neglect but doesn't believe in cry-it-out. I spent 10 years working in waste management, specifically with hazardous chemical waste. Fan of science fiction, Star Trek, Battlestar Galatica, anything by Joss Whedon. Very odd. Has written poetry but not attempted to publish. Will not admit to writing fan fiction. Oh no, that wasn't me.
madreleche has written 5 posts for

Holidays or Truancy?

A leak from Department for Education has suggested that Michael Gove, Education Secretary, will ban the discretionary up to 2 weeks leave of absence that Head Teachers are permitted to grant during term time, according to the Telegraph. Apparently, this will help cut down on truancy.Rows of empty desks in a classroom.  Photo: evemaiden

Ostensibly this leave of absence is supposed to be for cases of illness, bereavement and bad weather, but is regularly used by parents to take holidays during term time, when it is cheaper. According to a survey by the Travelsupermarket.com website,

Prices increase by up to 42 per cent for a family of four taking a two-week trip to the Algarve during the school holidays.’ 

The justification in this draconian measure is that it will stop parents putting pressure on Head Teachers to authorised holiday absences. As a parent myself, with a child about to start School in September, this is something of great interest to me.

So what are the arguments for and against this move?

Arguments for :

There are holiday periods built in to the school calendar so you should take your holidays then.

If you can’t afford a holiday abroad during the holidays you should set your sights lower and go camping in the lakes instead.

Nobody NEEDS a holiday. It is not a human right to have one.

It disrupts the education process.

Arguments against:

It will have no affect on persistent truants. They are the ones who bump up the figures, whose parents never even ask permission anyway.

The biggest cause absence was due to illness, not holidays! Perhaps we should be banning sick days instead as that will have a bigger effect on attendance?

Again it is an attack on impoverished families. I think it sends a very clear message that poor people shouldn’t have holidays. I would argue they need it more, just a week where a family who is struggling day to day can have some quality time together just having fun.

It will affect people who have family abroad. Families generally don’t schedule weddings, birthdays, bereavements and other family events around the school holidays. It may be only time parents can afford to take their children to see overseas families is during term time. Certainly, this is something that I have experience of, seeing that I am half Spanish and my Dad lives in Spain.

Some parents may struggle to get time off work during the holidays, especially if others in their workplace are all wanting time off then – this is something my husband struggles with.

The holiday companies share some of the blame with the ridiculous hikes they put on holidays during the school holidays. Even campsites charge premium rates for pitches during the holidays. The argument is that they are there to make money and it is all about supply and demand. Surely though, if they offered cheaper holidays then more people would go?

To illustrate a typical price rise, I picked a popular UK holiday company, it has caravan parks all over the county. I priced up a 4 night stay for 2 adults and 2 children, in a one up from basic caravan, in a park on the Yorkshire coast.

For week commencing Monday 27th August, the cost was £325.50. Go the following week, and it would cost you £197.50 – a saving of £128! For a family only able to save a couple of quid a week for the family holiday, this is a big difference.

There are times when parents are taking the piss and absolutely this should be clamped down on. No-one needs to take their child on an uber expensive holiday to Disney Land, and Disney is horribly overpriced anyway. I would argue that some holidays can have value to a child’s education, teaching them about geography, allowing them to experience new people and places.

Perhaps an overhaul of terms and holidays is needed, to spread them out, with different schools having their holidays at different times?

All I know is this; once again the government are attacking families. Nice one Tories!

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Breastfeeding in Public – people, get over it!

There has been a few stories in the press recently about negative reactions towards mothers breastfeeding in public. Kasey Kahne, a US NASCAR driver tweeted his disgust at seeing a mum feeding her baby in public, mums formed a flash mob in Brighton in response to an incident where a mother feeding her baby was berated by other diners  and Jeremy Clarkson stuck his oar in with some unsavoury comments about breastfeeding in public.

As a mum who breastfeeds, this serves as another reminder why breastfeeding rates are low in this country. Whilst searching for the above news articles I came across some comments where mums openly said that fear of these negative reactions not only prevent them from breastfeeding in public but also prevent them from breastfeeding at all. Breastfeeding welcome icon

I have to say that I have never encountered any negative reactions when I have breastfed my children, and I have fed them everywhere – cafes, churches, restaurants, zoos, theme parks, the beach. You name it, I’ve fed there. I honestly believe that these negative encounters are very few in number.

But who wants to hear a news story about a little old lady approaching a woman feeding a baby in Asda, patting her on a shoulder and pressing a pound into her hand “for the bairn”? No, the public would much rather hear about the breastfeeding mother who was accosted in a cafe by 5 people, 4 women and one man, who told her that watching her feed was “unpleasant” and she should cover up. Far more salacious.

Unfortunately, it is these negative stories that will stick in people’s minds, which is why, even though they may be few in number they need to be nipped firmly in the bud.

Baby having some milkUnder the Equality act of 2010, it is unlawful to discriminate against a mother because she is breastfeeding. This means it is unlawful to harrass, discriminate or victimise a mother who is breastfeeding, and any establishment who provides a service to the public have a duty to uphold this.

The fact this law even exists is, in itself, a sad state of affairs – a woman’s right to feed her baby in the most natural way, designed by evolution itself, should be a given. However, we have to accept that due to the most successful marketing campaign ever by formula manufacturers, we do live in a bottle feeding culture.

This is not something I am going to discuss here, it has been discussed by far more knowledgeable heads than mine, such as Gabrielle Palmer in her eye-opening book “The Politics of Breastfeeding: How Breasts are Bad for Business”.

Although breastfeeding rates are rising, the majority of children aged 6 weeks and over are given infant formula, according to the Infant Health Survey of Infant Feeding 2005 (only the early results are available for 2010) 52% of 6 week old infants and 75% of 6 month olds were not breastfed.

One of the things that inevitably comes up in discussions around breastfeeding in public is the rather disgusting comparison to such delightful activities as defecating in public. I don’t even want to discuss how incredibly wrong this is for fear my brain will implode.

Click for photo creditInstead I have been wracking my brain for another analogy and I found one.  Locusts. There are several countries (Uganda, Swaziland, Cambodia to name a few) where locusts are eaten. Personally, the thought of eating locusts makes me want to vomit. I have to fast forward the dining scene in “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” because I can’t bear watching the diners eat beetles and monkey brains.

So imagine I am in a eating establishment in Cambodia (or other country where Locusts are eaten). There is a local on the next table who orders locusts and happily starts chomping away. My reaction would be to look away and concentrate on my own food. I certainly wouldn’t go up to him and say “please stop that, I find it disgusting” or “please can you sit somewhere else where I can’t see you” or just sit glaring at him to make him feel uncomfortable.

Why wouldn’t I? Because it would be incredibly rude – the disgust I feel is MY problem, to him it is a perfectly normal thing to eat. He would be confused and probably rather angry had I acted on my feelings and confronted him.

Yet, here in the UK, some people would not hesitate to do this to a mother breastfeeding a child!

And let us just remind ourselves of the difference between locusts and breastmilk straight from the breast.

Locusts – tasty snack (for those into that sort of thing). Not really necessary for human health, and being eaten by an adult perfectly capable of making the decision for himself that it is acceptable to eat his snack where he is sitting.

Breastmilk, on the other hand, is a life sustaining fluid that provides nourishment and more to a baby who is unable to speak up for himself, provided by his probably sleep deprived, hormonally imbalanced mother.

A mother who, especially if she is a first timer, may still be healing from the birth, unsure of herself and her parenting choices, and tired from the 24 hour demands of looking after this tiny helpless baby.  Someone who may well be quite vulnerable.

Even the most together mother, who may be on her second, third or fourth baby and who is confident in her choices could be undone by someone making her feel that this simple act of feeding her hungry baby is something that should be confined to the home.

So what exactly is the problem with seeing a baby being breastfed? Photo credit: Spaceman (click for link)

It comes down to how breasts are portrayed in the media. I find it strange that no-one bats an eyelid at seeing a busty pair of breasts in a national newspaper, but the small amount of breast that might be seen when a mother is latching on her child is considered shocking.

Believe me the vast majority of mothers are like me and do try to keep under wraps because we don’t want to show our breasts to everyone. I do tend to roll my eyes at people who accuse mothers of ‘letting it all hang out’, because the only time I have ever seen that is in a group where everyone is a breastfeeding mother.

Even then women tend to use such groups as a practicing ground for breastfeeding in public without flashing everyone.  You could argue that, using my analogy, the locust eating is culturally acceptable in Cambodia and breastfeeding in public in the UK isn’t because we have a bottle feeding culture.

Well firstly I don’t believe that bottle and breastfeeding cultures are mutually exclusive. There is room in this country for both, especially as we have clean facilities to make up formula safely which developing countries may not have. Also, for centuries breastfeeding in public has been acceptable, it is only in the last 100 years, due to the mass introduction of formula, that suddenly it has become so taboo.

Except it is not that taboo – although most babies still do not receive breastmilk beyond 6 weeks, the majority of the public are not offended, and perhaps more accurately, do not even notice a mum breastfeeding in public. It is just that the minority who do object are loud and get the media attention.

Don’t even get me started on people like Jeremy Clarkson who say “just give the child a bottle”. No. Never. I will NOT ‘give my child a bottle’ just to satisfy some prude. I will not  try and find a time to pump a few precious ounces of my breastmilk, to then have to transport it safely, to then have to try and persuade my child to take it after finding some means to warm it up, or faff around making up formula just to avoid offending sensibilities.

Why should I when I have the perfect transport and delivery system that is instantly available, which means I can feed her as soon as she starts making hungry signs at me? Don’t get me wrong, I am not anti bottle feeding or anti formula, both have their place. However it should be for the mother’s convenience if she chooses to bottle feed, and no-one else’s.

She should bottle feed if it convenient for her to do so, not because someone else is scared they might accidently see some breast or – gasps – a momentary glance of a nipple.  After all it is the mother (and hopefully Dad too) who has the hard work of making up those bottles and formula and pumping milk (not Dad in this case!).

I Googled Locust eating. I am never doing that again.

Disney Princesses – Not All Bad…

Confession: sometimes I quite like Disney.

I am totally on board with the “Pink Stinks” campaign. As the mother of a son and a daughter I have tried to select toys that are gender neutral. It hasn’t stopped my son from being car/train/plane mad and hating pink and dolls. However he loves baking and cleaning so I think I am doing a pretty good job. Besides, my nieces were all car/train/plane mad when they were my son’s age! I have been known to dress my son in pink (until he decided pink was for girls – I blame his nursery friends!) and rarely buy clothes in that colour for my daughter.

Belle from Beauty and the Beast with a bookBut I must confess I rather like Disney. Not all Disney. I hate the Princessy stuff that implies you have to be beautiful and get a man to be happy – yes Snow White, Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty, I am talking about you! However I am not ready to dismiss them all. I love Belle(Beauty and the Beast), her love of books and her ability to look beyond the surface to see a man she could connect to on both an intellectual and emotional level.  I am also a big fan of kick-ass Princess Fiona from the Shrek movies and that she chose to remain fat and ugly because to her beauty did not equate to happiness.

There are other good female role models to be found if you squint. Mulan was pretty brave going off instead of her father into war. I have recently introduced my son to Sinbad as well, Eris maybe a bad guy but she is female, strong and articulate. She also knows when to make a tactical withdrawal without losing face. Marina isn’t even a princess – she is an ambassador, presumably on her own merits. She consistently demonstrates strength, ingenuity, compassion and wit, all admirable traits in any person. She follows her heart in the end, leaving her fiance the noble prince (who Princess Fiona from Shrektakes it in good stride) to go with Sinbad – but she does it on her own terms and her need to pursue a different path to what was laid out for her. The only time she needed rescuing was because she had been distracted by the need to rescue someone one else!

These are the sort of Disney Princesses I want to capture the imagination of  both my son and my daughter. I want them both to appreciate that although men and women are different, they are equal and have their own strengths and weaknesses

Recipe: Festive Flapjacks

I am not much of a baker. I was recently contacted by the MOD as my biscuits could serve as an eco-friendly alternative to anti-tank munitions.

However, I do have a very easy recipe for flapjacks, which I have modified for the Christmas season.

Festive easy flapjack recipe with oats, flour, dried fruit, spice, butterIngredients

6oz porridge oats
5oz self raising flour
4oz of mixed dried fruit – I use a mix of chopped apricots, chopped dates, cranberries and sultanas.
1/2tsp allspice
1/2tsp cinnamon
4oz unsalted butter
4oz soft brown sugar
2tbsp golden syrup
1tsp bicarb of soda

Method

  • Mix the oats, flour, dried fruit and spices in a bowl.
  • In a pan, add the butter, sugar and syrup. Melt it over a low heat, stirring  all the while.
  • Add the bicarb of soda – it might foam a little.
  • Add the melted butter mixture to the dry ingredients and mix thoroughly.
  • Pack the mixture into a square cake tin, patting down firmly and ensuring it is level.
  • Cook in an oven that has been preheated to 175 deg C for 12-15 minutes.
  • After taking it out of the oven, allow it to cool for 30 mins before taking it out of the tin and cutting it into squares.

Enjoy!

A Segue from Hair Products to Environmental Disaster

I had an epiphany the other day, and it was a pretty alarming one.

It started with something fairly innocuous; I had decided to try a different brand of shampoo, selecting one that I had used before my current brand. Looking at the displays of shampoo, I began considering the way that companies reinvented their products, and the implication of the fate of the stock of the old products. I would guess that much of the old stock gets sold at a reduced price, mainly through bargain outlets such as B&M and Poundland. Then, I got to contemplating about how full the shelves were. I had come in to buy one bottle of shampoo, one of perhaps 20 of the same on the shelf.

Rows of various shampoo bottles on a supermarket shelf

Shops like to keep their shelves full, so generally, they will always have more stock than will actually be purchased by end users such as me.

So, it occurred to me that manufacturers will always make more than is needed. This uses up resources and creates waste, the latter I have seen for myself – one of the companies I worked for took in drums filled with bottles of shampoo, body lotions, perfumes, shaving gels etc., for disposal, on a pretty regular basis.

In a world of ever depleting resources, this need to keep over producing will not sustain itself, yet it doesn’t seem to be that big an issue – it may worry a few environmental activists but I don’t think it really registers on the average person on the street. So, there is no real drive to reduce it. Even in food retailing, which sees a lot of wastage, you see the occasional story focusing on the food been thrown out. However, you very rarely see anyone stand up and say “hang on, why are you making so much in the first place?”.

To me this is actually a bigger issue than coal fired power stations, our obsession with fast motor cars and the usual environmental issue de jour. It is because it is the basis of our whole economic system, “pile ’em high, sell ’em low”, where we are actively encouraged to buy things we don’t need and are urged to by attractive displays of products of which we will only want a small quantity.
How we actually go about putting a stop to this I don’t know.
I just know one thing for sure – I don’t think I will ever look at a bottle of shampoo in the same light again.

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