Monthly Archives: May 2013

Rise of ‘sharenting’

Raging Bull

She knows nothing about Winnie-the-Pooh but she can tell you all about Netflix.

There’s a name for people like me, apparently. I am a ‘sharent’, a mom who blogs. I don’t know how many people would go around bragging that they’re sharents. I certainly wouldn’t go around telling my other mommy friends in the park that I have a new occupation called ‘sharenting’. It sounds suspiciously like something you should be ashamed of.

But the media/journalists love to put thing into neat little categories, so I have found myself suddenly acquiring this new identity. Mostly parents in their thirties and forties, sharents like to share random thoughts with strangers, often involving their unsuspecting children.

I suppose this is partly true of me. But I hope I don’t bore people with every single detail of my children’s life. Did I tell you about the time the Raging Bull finally put together a 45-piece Charlie and Lola puzzle almost by herself without throwing a tantrum? Or the time she made up an imaginary friend and ruthlessly killed ‘Sophie’ off the next day with a ballet slipper? No? Well, good. I don’t expect people to read about every single mommy milestone.

There has to be a limit to what people are willing to share. Should we be interested in what a baby had for breakfast, even if the subject is handled by the wittiest of writers? I definitely believe there should be a limit to what people post on Facebook, but common sense doesn’t seem compatible with social media. Or maybe a lot of people just start posting stuff when they’re drunk.

Well, in the interest of sharenting, and because I haven’t posted anything for a week, here’s the latest episode in my thrilling mommy life. Call it ‘Trials by Television’. In the last week we have lost the children’s best friend, the television.

The reason for the television’s absence in our life (it just refuses to work) is explained by some scaffolding that appeared overnight all over the house that we rent. No one warned us of this; why would they? So I discover, to my great alarm and increasing panic, that the television has no satellite signal because the dish is being blocked by a bunch of metal poles.

Let me just backtrack a little and tell you how the television has fitted into my life. Let’s see, it makes my weekend mornings infinitely more bearable because it can keep the kids entertained for up to two hours. It’s the ultimate pacifier, I’ve come to learn. If nothing else works and the kids are on the verge of scratching their eyes out or each other’s, turn the TV on and it’s like they’ve undergone hypnosis. No amount of cutting, cardboard or even scissors will have the same effect for as long.

I could pretend otherwise, but the TV has saved my sanity and probably kept me from going to a therapist. I know I have come to rely on it slightly too much, but when you get home from work and you stare into the black pit that is the refrigerator, the television will keep the kids mercifully tranquilized until you can figure out what to put on the table.

So imagine my shock when I discover that the cartoons will not be working for an indefinite period of time. Luckily, we have not lost broadband or the DVD player, which is now about 10 years old but still works.

I break the news about the television to the children on the bus on the way back from school. They take a bit of time to process the information and deal with it remarkably well.

The Raging Bull, in fact, shows signs of advanced reasoning when she says very calmly: ‘That’s okay, Mommy, because we can just watch Netflix on the computer.’

Out of the mouth of babes.

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American invasion of London

J Crew whale sweater

J. Crew whale sweater from its latest collection. Price: £77

If you know me at all (and many of you don’t) you will also know that I do very few things with great enthusiasm. Shopping – for clothes, not food – is the exception.

The British husband can vouch for how shopping has been a source of fierce lively debate in our marriage. I have contemplated throwing purchases into our garden, to avoid going into the house bearing incriminating bags. That’s how bad it has got.

The art of shopping is a rather shallow and vain pursuit, so I avoid blogging about it much. But word reaches me – through a rather shallow ‘lifestyle’ magazine – that J. Crew will shortly open its first store in London in the autumn.

If you can’t wait for its arrival in the capital later this year, a pop-up store (blink and it’s gone) will be opening in King’s Cross.

(For my American readers, King’s Cross is a central London location once much favoured by junkies and prostitutes but now ridiculously expensive. It’s called ‘gentrification’, so you know, and evidence of the area’s revival is proven by the presence of a big-hitting American chain.)

The American invasion of London started around the time I washed up on these shores, when the trendiest thing I owned was a second-hand sheepskin coat I nicknamed ‘stinky’. No need to guess why.

Today – about 17 years later – you can’t move more than a few short blocks in central London without bumping into an outpost of Starbucks, Gap, Urban Outfitters, Whole Foods, Banana Republic and American Apparel. The list goes on…

They’ve all set up shop here, if you pardon the pun. This is both good and bad. I love it because American stores tend to have ‘real sales’. A British sale is considered discounting something 20% off. Most Americans would laugh at this.

Gap, for instance, is perpetually in some sort of sale cycle. I don’t know how good this is for its image, but it’s good for my wallet. I won’t buy anything from Gap unless it’s 30% off or more.

The bad news is that every single shopping street has a feeling of being cloned. Independent shops are dying out because they can’t compete with big money and lose out on the best locations.

The arrival of a J.Crew flagship store in London shouldn’t surprise me, really. It has a feeling of déjà vu about it. I remember the big hoopla when Banana Republic arrived a few years ago.

I am having a hard time getting excited about it, though. When I last seriously step foot in a J. Crew store – now much favored by Michelle Obama – it felt like it was flogging conservative clothes for East Coast wasps.

Perhaps this has changed. The pictures of its latest collection seem more geared to a trendy urbanite who likes acid brights than a preppy woman who wears cabled sweaters and takes style tips from Ralph Lauren.

The prices reflect its change of status too. The magazine trills: ‘With knits from £100, cocktail pants from £150 and statement skirts from £95, the label offers plenty of bang for your buck.’ Really?

American company, London prices. I hope they have a sale soon…

  • How is J. Crew viewed in the United States these days? Perhaps some of my American readers would like to comment.

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A blog about blogging

Heartburn dust jacket

This is not an endorsement of Heartburn, although I liked it

Nora Ephron’s mother (a writer) famously told her that ‘everything is copy’. It was her contention that nothing at all is sacred when it comes to putting words on the page.

Ephron, a once successful screenwriter whose credits include When Harry Met Sally and You’ve Got Mail, liked to repeat this quote.

In fact, she followed her mother’s advice when writing Heartburn, a semi-autobiographical novel about her adulterous ex-husband, Watergate journalist Carl Bernstein. In Heartburn, Ephron writes about the breakdown of her marriage while she’s heavily pregnant with her second child. She also somehow manages to make this tragic episode – which resulted in a divorce and premature delivery – hilariously funny.

Her ex-husband, of course, wasn’t very amused. Ephron died of acute myloid leukemia in June 2012.

The idea that everything is copy is nothing new. Journalists recycle bits about their life every day, some more than others. If you have a column, the more likely it is that you will plough the rich soil of your life for material. Sometimes you might experience drought.

I’ve been there. My blog is not so much something useful as something personal. I don’t blog about cutting-edge products or publish exciting recipes for fussy toddlers. I don’t have a small business to promote or a book about to published. I don’t test out beauty products or write about the latest fashion trends. If I’m occasionally fashionable it’s purely by accident.

Mostly, this blog is about me. So why share it with strangers? It does feel like I am opening up a diary for the amusement of others. Sometimes my readers might not even be amused.

Contrary to what the blog might you lead you to believe, I am a private person. I’ve never even had a Facebook account.

This has made me wonder about how blogging fits into my lifestyle. I sometimes feel like I am picking over the bones of my life looking for ‘copy’. It’s not unlike what carrion birds do to their prey. You could say I’m a bit of a cannibal, devouring episodes of my own life.

Sometimes this is vaguely uncomfortable – and I’m not always totally honest. Without a cloak of absolute anonymity, who would choose to be brutally honest? I hold things back on occasion. I fear the future. Will I look back on this and wince? Even worse, will my children?

Bloggers have been called many things by members of the mainstream press or even by other bloggers. We are self-interested and vain. We are self-publicists. We add nothing to debate and mostly write a lot of tripe. We just want validation and attention.

Some of this might be true some of the time. I don’t think it’s entirely true of me.

So why do I blog? I do it because I like to write. Occasionally, I think it might spark an idea for something. This is also a record. While it might not always accurately record my feelings, it’s as close as I’ve got to a scrapbook of my children’s early years.

On days when I delude myself, I think this blog might lead to discovery. Someone will find my blog one day and offer me money to write some opinionated nonsense. I don’t think this often. I’m hardly a real-life Carrie Bradshaw, agonizing over her columns while sitting in my trendy New York apartment.

I am also someone who spent a whole year unemployed recently, an experience that left me feeling fairly useless. I discovered that plenty of jobs in the media, where I have floundered for the last ten+ years, ask for a social media profile.

This means you tweet on a regular basis; you have followers (hopefully more than a handful) who hang on your every syllable; you know how to negotiate Facebook to find out personal details about someone; and, yes, you know how to blog. Blogging, as it turns out, can be quite useful if you are looking for a job where people might expect you to write.

So here I am, blogging about myself. Still looking for a job (disclosure: I have something that is temporary). Still feeling a bit like a social media outsider. Still wondering if this blog is practical more often than it is painful.

Everything is copy, Ephron said. She also happened to be a blogger. But she hid her illness – she was diagnosed in 2006 – from most people and chose not to write about it. And now I wonder why.

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