On Your Bikes Ladies!

Why don’t more women cycle? Why is cycling still so male dominated? What can we do to get more women on bikes?

These are questions that many people ask. They are questions I have asked myself on a number of levels.

When I used to race time trials, I never failed to be in the top ten women. This is not testament to how good I was, it is testament to how few women were time trialling. I was always in the top ten women because there were rarely ten women in the race.

My main focus at the moment is the other end of the scale. Why are so many women reluctant to get on a bike at all?

As a stay at home mum, my main focus is on other mums, whether working or at home. To me, there are two reasons why mums should consider cycling:

  1. Cycling is a fantastic way to get around.

As parents, we often make multiple short journeys. The school run, nip to the shops, to the library, to a coffee shop. These are perfect journeys to do on a bike.

Often these journeys are quicker on a bike than they are in a car. They are also predictable – my journey to school on the cargo bike takes 15 minutes. It always takes 15 minutes. On the rare occasions I take the car, I allow at least half an hour. In the car I don’t know what the traffic will be like, I don’t know what the parking will be like. I don’t know how long it might take and I really don’t like to be late.

2. Cycling for transport is a brilliant way to exercise.

There are simply not enough hours in the day when you have children. Finding the time to go to get some exercise is a challenge. If your family is anything like mine, finding the time to go to the toilet unaccompanied is enough of a challenge. If your childrens’ bedtime is anything like mine, you never know whether your child-free evening is going to start at 6:30pm or 9:30pm.

The beauty of using a bike for transport is that you really do not need to find time to exercise. I use the cargo bike to get most places with my children. On an average week that amounts to around of 70 miles cycling (what can I say, I’m a numbers addict, I use a Garmin all the time!).

On a school day when we have no extra clubs, classes or errands to run, I ride to the school to drop off eldest child and ride home. Then I take youngest child to nursery and ride home again. Then I ride back to the school to pick both up and take them both home again. Each home to school ride is only 15 minutes. Not long enough (or fast enough) to get sweaty or to need special clothing. But that adds up to an hour and a half on the bike. Five days a week. I would be surprised to hear of many mums (working or otherwise) who manage to find an hour and a half a day to spend at the gym.

This leaves me free to spent my evenings relaxing (or repeatedly putting a three year old back to bed and assuring a five year old that he has not yet had enough sleep since he has not yet been to sleep).


So why are the streets and cycle paths not teeming with women on bikes? According to Cycling UK in March 2017, in Scotland more than three times as many men as women cycle to work. There are a number of reasons why I think this is. This is based on my own experiences, from chatting to others and from a bit of reading. It is not an evidence based study. Bear in mind that I am talking about novice women getting on to a bike in the first place. There is also plenty to discuss about getting more women to race, but that it a discussion for another post.

  • Intimidation and fear 

Cycling is perceived as dangerous. Peter Walker’s Bike Nation does a fantastic job of presenting the actual evidence on this. I would challenge anyone to read it and not be convinced that the risks from inactivity far outweigh the risks from cycling.

However, this is not what you think of when yet another audi (what is it with audi drivers?) is squeezing past you at speed whilst sharing their opinion of your chosen mode of transport with a variety hand signals and colourful language. One of my personal favourites was the driver who leaned out of his window and yelled “STUPID!” at me. He was going the opposite way and I was in no way impeding or even affecting his journey.

Regardless of the reality of whether or not cycling is dangerous, riding on the roads is intimidating for newcomers and for those lacking in confidence.

I recently trained as a British Cycling Breeze Champion and started leading free Breeze rides for women. These are going really well. I advertised through my childrens’ school and the women who come along are very keen and also just a little bit terrified. I am trying to establish the principle of cycling assertively, especially ‘taking the lane’ when it is too narrow for cars to pass safely. However, the instant reaction of these riders is to get off the road the minute a car beeps at them. I am sad to say that we have been beeped at every time we have been out despite never breaking any rules of the road. We ride on cycle paths as much as possible to avoid this, but we have to get to the paths in the first place.

There is also a degree of fear of the bike. What if I get a puncture or the chain comes off? If you are an experienced cyclist, these things are an inconvenience. If you are new to cycling, they are a disaster.

  • Practicality

There is often a belief that to ride a bike, you have to be ‘a cyclist’. You have to wear lycra and know how bikes work and be able to ‘talk bike’. Personally, I own a lot of lycra (I’ve been cycling for many years!), I know a bit about how bikes work and I can talk bikes. But when I am riding a bike for transport I wear jeans. I have been known to ride in a dress, but I’m not really a dress sort of person to be honest.

I also have a system. I have a cargo bike for transport involving children or shopping and a bike known as ‘donkey bike’ for transport without children. Both bikes have panniers. Both bikes have a bike lock and basic repair kit. I have a set of waterproofs which I switch between the bikes. Because I know that I will have everything I need and the ability to carry my handbag or a bottle of milk, it is as convenient for me to cycle as it is for me to drive when I need to get somewhere.

Appearance is also a big issue for many women. They don’t want to arrive everywhere is sweaty mess with hair awry and Alice Cooper style makeup. Workplaces do not always have showers. Personally, this doesn’t worry me all that much – I don’t go fast enough or far enough to get sweaty, and to be honest, I’m a bit of a scruff anyway.

Carrying children is another difficult issue for many women. If you are not a confident cyclist yourself, you are unlikely to feel confident putting your children on a bike with you. If you are scared of the traffic you are not likely to allow your children to cycle independently in the roads (especially at school run time). If you do not know much about bikes you are unlikely to have heard of cargo bikes, tandems and tagalongs. There are a huge number of options for carrying children by bike, but they are all really aimed at parents who are already confident cyclists.

  • It just hasn’t occurred to many people

To me, this is the biggest issue of all. If you are not already a cyclist, why would it cross your mind to travel by bike?

There is a huge amount of writing out there about why cycling is good for people, good for societies and good for the environment. Bike Nation and Bikenomics  are great examples. I am by no means the only blogger enthusing about the joys of cycling.

But here’s the thing….we are all preaching to the converted.

I am willing to bet that everyone who reads my blog is already a cyclist.

Let’s try it:

Do you consider yourself a cyclist?

How can those of us that love cycling encourage more women to give it a go?

These discussions tend to focus on improving infrastructure. We need more traffic free, protected cycle paths. Not just a white line painted on the road – this protects nobody. The kind of paths anyone would be happy to allow their children to ride on independently.

We absolutely do need better infrastructure. Urgently. I believe that this will happen and I believe that this will be largely down to some extremely dedicated cycle campaigners. These people tirelessly promote consideration of all road users. Local to me, Hank Chief and Harts Cyclery do an amazing job.

But infrastructure like that seen in Holland is still years off . We all want to see more people riding bikes right now.

So what can we do right now.

Breeze is a great initiative. I would encourage any women who are confident cyclists and who can spare a bit of time to train as Breeze Champions and run a few rides. Belles On Bikes is another fantastic Scottish initiative getting more women on bikes.

I think we need to find ways to transfer to adults the joy and exhilaration which children experience on bikes. To children, bikes are freedom. They can travel at speed under their own power. They can control the bike and make it do what they want. They can race their pals. To me, as an established cyclist, the bike represents the same thing.

Children can discover new places with their parents…if their parents will cycle too.

This is why I am working with my childrens’ primary school to try and reach other mums. I want to encourage more children to cycle too, but I think that will happen best when parents also cycle.

A couple of the mums who come to my Breeze rides have children in P6. This is their reason for coming along. Their children are going to be doing bikeability this year and the mums are terrified that their children will then want to cycle on the roads. They are terrified of their children cycling on the roads because they themselves are terrified of cycling on the roads.

I think this is a real opportunity. A reason why more women might get on their bikes so they can support their children.

So my plan is to keep running the Breeze rides. Keep working with the school to promote cycling to parents as well as children. Keep promoting it to the P6 parents. I am planning coaching sessions for women too. Nothing technical, just practising gear changes and signalling somewhere with no cars. I would like to run parent and child sessions too – bring your parent along and ride together.

Beyond this, I think that those of us who cycle need to set an example. We need to show others that ‘normal’ people ride bikes. We ride in jeans. we ride in skirts. We ride with our children. We ride in the sunshine. We ride in the rain. And ‘we’ are good people. We do not go through red lights. We say thanks when others make way for us. We share the paths and the roads. And the hardest one of all to me – we do not react aggressively to those who act aggressively to us.

This has been all focused on getting more mums riding. Don’t get me wrong, I would like to see more dads cycling too. I would like to see everyone cycling. But encouraging women is a greater interest of mine so it is what I am putting my effort into for now.


Safe as Houses?

Somebody tried to break into my garage a couple of weeks ago.

It didn’t really seem that big a deal at the time. We were watching tv and thinking about going to bed when there was an almighty bang on the garage door. We looked out to see three folk at our garage door. By the time we ran out, they had run off.

They didn’t get in. and they didn’t get anything. They just damaged the door a little and squashed a couple of my plants.

Not really that big a deal.

Or so I thought at the time.

Then a couple of things happened.

First our neighbour came over. He has cctv which happens to look in the direction of our garage. It was strange and a bit unnerving watching these people try to get into my home. But what really stayed with me was just how long they tried for. At the time we had thought it was just a bang and them running off. But it wasn’t that fast. They were there for over ten minutes. Just the other side of the wall I was sitting behind. And they knew that we were in the house.

Second, they tried to break into a neighbour’s garage a couple of weeks later. After our experience, we are a little over sensitive about noises outside, and have taken to curtain twitching in response to bangs. So when we heard a bang and saw a group out in the street, I went out to see what was happening. What was happening was a group of five trying their best to get into the neighbours home.

I would like to say that they ran off when they saw me. In fact, they carried on trying to get in for a while and then ambled away when they heard me asking for the police on the phone.

Apparently it is bikes that they are after.

We think our house was targeted because we have a bike rack on the car. The neighbour had the garage door open the evening before the attempted break in and some folk were seen having a good look in. The local gym has put out a message to all its members saying that bikes are being stolen from their car park. According to the local press there is a bike theft ‘crime wave’.

I didn’t lose anything. I wasn’t directly threatened. The whole thing was a bit of an inconvenience.

Except that it was more than that.

It was only this morning that I realised how much more.

This morning I went to get the cargo bike out of the garage for the school run and the alarm went off for no reason. My heart leapt into my throat and I burst into tears. In fact it was a fault with the alarm, now fixed, but my immediate thought was “there’s someone in here”. Not a nice feeling on your own in the dark.

Later I was chatting to a friend about the various attempted break ins. I also mentioned that I was really tired. And she said something like “is it the worry about the break ins which is stopping you sleeping?”.

At that moment I felt a rush of “at last somebody understands”. Because, until that moment, I don’t think even I had really understood.

I am not an anxious person. I don’t really worry about things. I see a problem and I storm in with action. This is often ill-thought through and overly enthusiastic action, but still, action rather than anxiety.

But for the past couple of weeks I have felt anxious. It is not even anxiety about any particular thing. I’m not worrying about break ins. It’s more of a constant, nagging, fretful, restless feeling.

I haven’t slept a full night since the night of our attempted break in. Usually my sleepless nights are caused by one or both of my children but not this time. It takes me an age to fall asleep and I frequently wake up throughout the night. I often wake up dreaming about break ins or thinking I have heard something untoward.

Anxiety and sleeplessness have been the biggest things, but that hasn’t been all. I have been irritable and depressed. I have been impatient with the children. On top of all this I have been laden with guilt because I am being irritable and impatient.

It has really not been a good couple of weeks.

At least I now feel I understand why I have felt so low. I think this is the first step to dealing with it.

I also understand why I have so desperately wanted time on my own for the past couple of weeks. As any stay-at-home parent will know, time alone is not easy to come by. It’s not that I wanted to do anything. I didn’t even want to go out and ride my bike. I just wanted to be alone, somewhere quiet. I think this was all part of trying to come to terms with the contents of my head.

Having understood it I know that it will pass.

But I wish that I could communicate to the people who looked at my home and saw it as a target, just what an impact they have had. Not just an impact on me but on my whole family.

They took nothing materially from me, but for now they have taken my feelings of safety, security and well being.

My husband is unlikely to get an evening out any time soon because I don’t want to be left in on my own. I am unlikely to get an evening out any time soon because I don’t want to walk home on my own. I am unlikely to get back to my winter turbo sessions any time soon because I don’t want to be out in the garage on my own when it’s dark outside.

They have also upset my vision of the world I want to live in. I don’t want to live in a world where everyone has security lights and cctv. Yet we now have security lights and cctv. Installing these has gone some way to restoring my sense of security. Most of the neighbours are also installing security lights and cctv.

I can kind of see a positive from all this negative. We are setting up an estate WhatsApp group. That way, if anyone is at home on their own and something happens to make them feel unsafe, they can call for help from their neighbours. Maybe this is neighbourhood community in the digital age. My vision of the world I want to live in does include neighbours who know each other and regularly chat and who can ask for and offer help.

If I could speak to the people who tried to break in to my home, I would simply like them to understand that taking other peoples property is upsetting, but taking their sense of safety is devastating.

But I do pay car tax

I man drove his car at us when we were on the cargo bike this morning.

By us, I mean myself, my 5 year old and my 3 year old. He drove his car straight at us.

He wasn’t driving particularly fast, to be fair. But still, he saw us. He pulled out to pass parked cars on his side of the road. This meant he crossed the middle line  and was on our side of the road.

Now, to me, in that situation, I had right of way.

I strongly believe in riding assertively, especially with a bike as big and slow as a cargo bike. So I stood my ground and forced him to stop.

So, we had a chat.

I pointed out to him that I had right of way as he was pulling out to my side of the road to pass an obstruction.

He pointed out that I have no right of way because I am on a bike.

According to him, I do not pay road tax for my bike, therefore I have no rights whatsoever on the road.

I did point out to him that nobody pays road tax and that I do indeed pay car tax…for my car.

He countered that this payment only entitled me to use the roads in my car, not on a bike. Apparently, if I had any intelligence whatsoever, I would know that.

What do you say to this?

My car tax only costs £20 per year. I pay it because that is one of the costs of driving a private car. I do not believe that £20 entitles me to drive at those I do not agree with. To risk killing or injuring or terrifying them.

Personally, I have never understood why any pedestrian would cross a busy road without using a crossing when there is one right by them. But I would never feel justified to drive at them for their choice.

I like to think that I would never deliberately drive my car at anyone.

I would love to believe that this man’s attitude was a one-off. Sadly, I don’t believe it was. I believe that there are quite a few drivers out there who would agree with him. I believe this because of the sheer number of times drivers look me in the eye and aim their cars at me and my children.

This is why I am so loath to let my 5 year old ride his bike on the road.

How did we get to this point? A point where motorists’ sense of entitlement leads them to believe that they have more rights than anyone else? A point where drivers will risk injury or death to children because they pay a nominal fee each year. Because to give way would be to add 10 seconds to their journey. 10 seconds. It took him longer to tell me how lacking in basic intelligence I was.

More importantly, how do we turn this around?

I do not expect priority on the roads when I cycle. I expect to give way when it is not my right of way. I expect others to give way when it is not their right of way. I expect to follow the rules of the road. I expect to wait at red lights. I expect to share the roads.

As a stay at home mum to two small children, I deal with issues around sharing very very regularly. Annoyingly regularly. Tediously regularly.

But I do not know how to persuade some drivers that they really do need to share the roads.

Car tax entitles you to drive your car. Nothing entitles you to use your car as a weapon.

My Child My Self

Babies don’t see any separation between themselves and their primary caregiver. They view mummy (or whoever their primary caregiver is) as a part of themselves. Research suggests that this phase ends at around seven months. More details here.

Sometimes I wonder how this separation and independence works from a mother’s point of view.

I think I sometimes find it hard to accept that my children are people in their own right. That they are not a part of me. That I do not have a right to their innermost thoughts and feelings unless they choose to share.

Don’t get me wrong. I want my children to be independent. I want them to be themselves. I don’t want them to depend on me for their happiness.

But I want to know what is going on in their heads.

Right now my son is worried about starting school in August. He is not great with change and this is a huge change for him.

Right now I am worried about my son being worried.

I want him to talk to me about how he is feeling so I can understand him better. So I can help him better.

But he doesn’t really want to talk about it.

Not to me or to anyone else.

And that is his right.

He is his own person.

So how do I help him?

I have come to the conclusion that all I can offer him is my love and my acceptance. And all I can do is wait. If he knows that I am here for him and that I want to help then he will ask for my help if he wants it.

It sounds so simple but it is so hard.

Waiting means watching him worry. Waiting means seeing him unhappy. And no parent wants to see their child unhappy.

It would be so much easier if my son really was a part of me. If we weren’t separate. Because then I could handle it all for him and he wouldn’t have to feel unhappy.

But if our parents protected us from every negative emotion in life, would we really be full ourselves?


Strengths and Weaknesses

I have always been a ‘strong person’.

I have always seen this as a positive quality.

Recently I find myself questioning what this actually means. Am I really that strong? Is it really such a positive trait?

Physically, I am definitely strong. I ride a cargo bike, often loaded with two not-so-small children and all the stuff which seems to be required when leaving the house with two children. Not to mention that the three year old is currently refusing to go anywhere on the bike unless she is carrying several stones from the driveway.

But physical strength is not really what I mean by a strong person.

I have a strong character. I have a good idea of what I am and what I am not. On the whole, I am happy with who I am. The things I do, I do for myself and my family. I don’t do things ‘for show’. My husband has a similar outlook which made for a wonderful wedding day. We kept all the bits of a wedding which we liked and skipped all the bits that we didn’t. It was very much ‘our day’ and we both loved it.

But strength of character isn’t entirely it either.

I am a strong person because I am balanced and stable and not easily overwhelmed by emotions and that means I can be emotionally strong for others.

I think that is a big part of what people mean when they describe me as ‘strong’.

But it’s not true.

But it’s not real.

But I am not even sure it is possible.

The same as everyone, I am balanced and stable sometimes and unbalanced and chaotic others. I do get overwhelmed by emotions. I get overwhelmed by my emotions. I get overwhelmed by the emotions of others that I love, especially my children.

But I don’t often show it.

I have mentioned my parents’ divorce before.  It was a time of huge emotions. Huge emotions for me. Huge emotions for the people I loved the most. The kind of huge emotions which can leave you struggling to see anything positive in life.

It was the time when I learned to be emotionally strong for others.

It was the time when I learnt to detach myself from my own emotions in order to deal with other peoples’.

More than twenty years later, I am realising that this is not a positive quality.

More than twenty years later, I am realising that I still have not re-connected with my own emotions.

I realise that I have not just detached myself from the emotions I felt more than twenty years ago. I have perfected the art of squashing any emotions which threaten to overwhelm me.

I think about this now because I think about my children.

I think about their emotional life.

Young childrens’ emotions are so out in the open. They haven’t yet learnt to worry about how their displays of emotion impact on others. They feel extremes of emotions over the most seemingly trivial issues. They display every emotion they have.

As a stay at home mum I deal with my childrens’ emotions all the time. As frustrating as that can be, I love that they wear their hearts on their sleeves. It means that I can know every part of them. It means that I can really connect with them.

But can they really connect with me?

Should I show my emotions to them like they show their emotions to me?

My immediate answer is no. I know how it feels to see your mum crying and trust me, it feels horrible.

But does that mean I should never cry in front of my children? If so then I have failed.

Like any mother, I do not want to see my children in distress. But we cannot protect our children from everything and they will inevitably feel distress in their lives. So I want them to learn how to cope through distress.

I want my children to know that it is ok to feel whatever they are feeling. I want them to know that they do not have to control their emotions, they just have to control how they act on those feelings. I want them to know that I will do what I can to help them when they do not like how they are feeling.

I tell them this now. Usually along the lines of “It is ok to feel angry, it is not ok to hit your sister/brother”. I show them by accepting their anger and giving them a cuddle (on the days when I get it right).

So maybe it is ok to cry in front of our children. To cry and to tell them “I feel sad”. To show them that the world doesn’t end when we feel sad. To show them what a difference they can make to somebody who feels sad with the healing power of a cuddle.

Do you want to build a snowman?

It was a standing joke in my family when I was younger. How my Dad sulked the year it snowed and none of us would come out and build a snowman with him. I can’t remember how old my siblings and I were but we considered ourselves too old for such pastimes. My Dad must have considered himself to old for such pastimes too – unless he had his children with him to give him the excuse.

Two events in my life have made me think about this recently.

Firstly, My son turned five. My daughter is about to turn three.

I am loving the age my children are at now. They are that bit more independent so I get at least one cup of coffee a day that I don’t have to reheat. They are not at school yet and as a stay at home mum I get plenty of time with them. The youngest is out of nappies. Most nights, when we go to bed, we sleep until at least 6am without interruption.

I loved my children as babies but I don’t miss the days of night-feeds and explosive nappies and tiny people who can’t tell you just what it is they want.

Still, sometimes I think I am still just coming to terms with being a parent while they are growing so fast. There are some things that are over and I will never have them again. No more cots, no more baby sensory, no more spoon feeding, no more jumperoo taking up half the living room.

There will come a point when there will be no more cargo bike. The children are getting so big and heavy and Danny can pedal his own bike now. The plan is to move on to a tandem type bike. I am really excited about a tandem, but I think I will cry the day we sell the cargo bike.

The second event that made me think, was a family week in the sunshine. A brilliant week and the kids had a ball. We spent the mornings at the beach and the afternoons at the pool.

This was the first holiday when hubby and I got a fair bit of time relaxing. At the pool, the kids played happily in the shallow pool with armbands on while we sat and watched them. We did play with them some of the time, but they didn’t always want us to. They were quite happy.

I’m not complaining about any of this. Like I said, I am loving the age my children are at now.

But it makes me think.

Did I make the most of it?

Will I one day look back with regret?

Sometimes I worry that I will look back and wonder if I spent my children’s early years trying to ‘get stuff done’. If I was impatient and grumpy. If I should have left the laundry in the basket and gone to blow bubbles in the garden. If I should have ignored the mess and gone to build lego. If I should have skipped the cycle ride and gone swimming as a family.

I don’t subscribe to the ‘cherish every moment’ approach to parenting. It would be hard for anyone to cherish the moment on our recent holiday when both children lay on the floor screaming blue murder because they both wanted to go out of the lift first.

But still. Did I make the most of it?

What will my children remember when they look back on their childhoods?

What will they think of me?

Sometimes motherhood feels like one guilt trip after another.

I really don’t think I will look back with regret.

I do blow bubbles in the garden. I love nothing better than watching them leap around trying to catch them all. Sometimes I think our house must be identifiable for miles around by the veritable cloud of bubbles drifting above it.

I do build lego. I had forgotten just how much fun lego can be. The three of us have collaborated on some amazing fantastical creations and I couldn’t say who had the most fun.

I do take them swimming sometimes. True, not very often and hubby takes them most weekends while I cycle. Hubby lets them splash him and pretend to dunk him under the water. Hubby does tricks and lets them ride on his back while he swims. Hubby is great fun to go swimming with. Hubby is brilliant with them and they love their time with him… without me there. And I am a better Mummy after my cycle.

I am sometimes impatient and grumpy. I do sometimes fob them off because I have jobs that need to be done. I am human and life is busy.

I do my best and that is the best I can do.

I wonder if my Dad thinks the same.

I wonder how he felt that day we all refused to build a snowman with him.


Where the grass is greenest after all

I was on a first aid course today. This meant hubby taking the day off to look after the children. It meant me being child free from 9am-5pm. Similar to what a lot of working parents do several days of the week. I was also lucky enough that the course was being run a 5 minute walk from my house, so no extra time away travelling.

I had been quite looking forward to doing something grown up for the day.

I did enjoy the day. I did get to be a grown up all day. I put my coffee down at the edge of the table. I ate my lunch without getting up once. I went to the toilet on my own without anyone insisting on opening the door at inopportune moments. I learnt some new things and got to practise old skills.

I realised how much I enjoy being at home with my children.

I remembered just how lucky I am to be able to stay off work for now.

Being a stay at home mum can be a frustrating experience. Here are some of my regular frustrations:

  • There are tears and arguments over the most seemingly ridiculous things. Did I mention the day I had to stop the cargo bike on the way to nursery because the children were getting hysterical over whose turn it was to throw the imaginary ball to the imaginary dog?
  • There is very little peace. Between bottom wiping, potty emptying, crumb sweeping, lego building, sticker sticking, story reading, milk pouring, snack providing, clothes changing, etc, etc – somebody always seems to want something from me.
  • The endless household chores. There seems to be far more laundry than could possibly be produced by just 4 people and far more meals to be made than we can possibly be eating.
  • I am never alone. Never.
  • I am never alone when I am on the toilet. Never. Somebody always wants something when I go to the toilet. Quite often, that is the very moment when one of them decides they want to bash their sibling with a toy doll.
  • The tedious arguments. Seriously, just put your shoes on. Please, just put your shoes on. Just once, put your shoes on the first time I ask and don’t make me ask a hundred times.

All these petty frustrations can add up and start to drag you down.

Today gave me some perspective about the positives of staying at home with the kids, as compared to going out to work:

  • I am the mistress of my own time. Ok, there are constraints – we have to get to nursery and playgroup on time and I have to collect them both on time. But my children are still young enough that the eldest is only away for three hours,and the youngest only for 2 hours a couple of days a week. The rest of the day is our own and we get to choose what to do with it. We can play in the garden, go for a walk, go swimming, build fantastic lego constructions, bake, go to the library, whatever we like. When you go to work, you have to be at work, until work finishes – even if you decide you’ve had enough of work now.
  • I get to do all the things that were great fun as a child. It turns out that lots of these things are still great fun as an adult, I just forgot. Building lego is fantastic once you throw away the instructions. I love the challenge of using every piece of train track in building a mega track. As for chasing bubbles in the garden – brilliant.
  • I get to move. Today, I mostly sat in a chair. By the end of the day I felt twitchy and irritable. When I’m at home with the kids, I often wish I could just sit down. Turns out that’s not what I want after all.
  • I don’t miss anything about my childrens’ lives – good or bad. I am a part of it all. Sometimes it seems endless, especially when I’m standing in a play park which I would really like to leave now. Today, I walked past an empty play park and I felt like crying. I felt like crying because it made me realise that there will come a day when my children don’t want to go to the play park. And on that day, I will really really miss standing in that play park trying not to feel bored.

I’m not saying that staying at home is the best way. I don’t believe that there is a one-size-fits-all best way. I don’t want to spark a working parent versus stay at home parent debate. I think that every family has to make a difficult choice about what is right for them, and then try and find a way to make it work for them.

All I am saying is that today I counted my blessings.

Today I truly appreciated that for me, at this moment, the grass is definitely greener at home, with my beautiful, hilarious, fascinating, frustrating children.

“That woman with the bike”

Pretty soon after I started using the cargo bike on a daily basis, I realised that I was no longer just ‘a cyclist’ to the people I came across. I became “that woman with the bike”.

I know this because I have a friend who is lovely and who looks the part of a playground mum. She is ‘in with the playground mum chat’. What I do not know is the tone that people use when they say “that woman on the bike”. I like to think that it’s not snarled through gritted teeth but sometimes I suspect otherwise.

I also find it incredible how many other cyclists tell me where else in the city they have seen me on my distinctive bike.

And I find it incredible how many people say “oh, you’re the woman with the bike” when I am off the bike but talk about it.

It is a strange feeling not being anonymous.

It makes me realise how often we are anonymous in daily life. We don’t really recognise people that we don’t know, even when we see them every day walking or driving or cycling around our streets.

Trust me, you do get recognised when you ride the only bakfiets in the village.

It also makes me realise that there is more than one way to ride a bike.

I consider myself a safe cyclist.

I consider myself an assertive cyclist.

Others perhaps consider me an aggressive cyclist.

Others definitely consider me an annoying cyclist.

Here’s the thing. I take the issue of safe passing distance very seriously.

There are plenty of articles available online detailing close pass statistics. A quick Google of ‘close pass cyclist’ will provide plenty of links. I’m not going to bother repeating them here.

I am going to speak from daily experience.

Close passes are scary.

Close passes can be terrifying.

Close passes are completely unnecessary.

In my more generous moments, I think people pass me so close I could reach out and touch their car / van / taxi / bus because they just do not realise how vulnerable cyclists are. They do not realise how close they are. They do not see the potholes that might mean I need to move further from the curb.

In my less generous moments, I think people people pass that close because they really do think that their journey is more important than my life and my childrens’ lives.

West Midlands Police recently ran a campaign to educate drivers about the dangers of close passes. Other police forces also showed interest in this and Cycling UK are running a kickstarter campaign to provide close pass cycle mats  to every police force in Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

I think this is a fantastic initiative.

I think it can make cycling safer.

Even more important, I think it can make cycling more attractive to people who currently don’t cycle.

I think it could encourage more families to take to their bikes.

I hope it could encourage more families to take to their bikes on the school run.

Back to why I know I am an annoying cyclist.

I do not cycle right next to the curb. I cycle around half a metre from the curb. Maybe more, maybe less, depending on the state of the road. I have always done this. Long before I realised that this is exactly what the police would advise. I have always seen this as providing me with somewhere to go if a driver does pass me too close for comfort.

Sometimes, this means that a vehicle cannot get past me as soon as they might like to.

But it does mean we are safe.

Anyone who has had any experience of the school run will know the kind of parking which goes on. This narrows some of the roads I have to use to one lane. If I squeeze into the kerb and drivers pass me as close as they can, then there is still room for them to pass me immediately.

But that means we are not safe.

So, I won’t allow it.

If a road is narrow and there is not room for a car to pass me with at least a metre to spare, I will cycle much more than 0.5m from the kerb, to make drivers wait until the road is wider before they pass me.

And that means that we are safe.

There are a couple of roads where I do this every day.

I can appreciate that this must be frustrating for some drivers.

I am not trying to make any kind of point. I am not trying to upset anyone. I am just keeping us safe.

The roads where I do this every day are not very long.

The delay to drivers cannot be more than two minutes.

The minority of drivers who react to this by shouting abuse are not going to make any difference to me.

I will still cycle.

I will still cycle defensively.

I will still wonder, does two minutes really make that much difference to a person’s day?

Winning the Weight Loss Challenge

I’ve posted a couple of times this year about weight loss and me. About losing weight after pregnancy and about the culinary challenges I now find myself facing.

Time for an update and the update is positive.

Since New Year, I have lost just over a stone. Even better, I find myself fitting into clothes a size smaller. This is the first time I have been a size 12 in many, many years.

Yay for me. I feel great and I feel positive about maintaining my new weight.

The remarkable thing is that I’ve not really found it that tough to lose the weight this time. I’ve not been hungry and I’ve not gone without my red wine and chocolate at the weekend.

So I thought I’d share what I’ve been doing.

I discovered the myfitnesspal app when I first started losing the ‘baby weight’. I think it’s a fantastic tool. But, like any tool, how well it works depends on how well you use it. I have used it well and I have used it badly. More about that in a future post.

Here is why I think I might just of got it right this time:

  • Accurately measuring calories out:

I got a new Garmin (I am a bit of a Garmin gadget addict). My lovely husband bought me a Garmin Vivoactive HR for my birthday. I have tried all sorts of heart rate monitors over the years. All of these used chest straps to measure heart rate. All of them have ended up flung across rooms in disgust. I came to the conclusion that I am simply not the right build for chest straps.

My new Garmin is a watch which measures heart rate at the wrist. I have found it to be reliable and accurate. It uses the heart rate measurements to calculate calories burned, so the calorie count is pretty accurate. The Garmin Connect app talks to the myfitnesspal app so the calories I burn are added onto my daily allowance. It also counts steps so I don’t have to tell myfitnesspal how active I am (since this varies every day anyway).

  • Thinking about the quality of everything I eat

I have had my daily calorie ‘allowance’ set at around 1500. This is fairly low, but because I am on the bike pretty much every day for transport or fun, I generally have another 500 calories added to this to make up for calories burned. I have found that this level is perfectly achievable without feeling hungry as long as I think about the quality of everything I eat. For me this has meant lots of fruit and veg, and lots of malt loaf. I look for what I can eat which will make me feel the most full, for the least calories.

Sadly, if I consume 685 calories with a slice of tiffin and a medium latte from Costa (I love tiffin and latte from Costa) that is a huge dent in my allowance and it doesn’t really keep hunger at bay for long. That said, a small skinny latte from Costa comes in at 70 calories and, because milk is largely protein, this is actually not a bad high quality, low calorie snack.

  • Eating enough and eating often

Eating enough and timing when I eat has been a tricky one for me. I now never go out without snacks (for me, as well as the children). I would no more leave the house without bananas and malt loaf bars, than I would leave without a packet of wipes (Once you have had children, it is almost impossible to contemplate not having wipes on hand at all times, even once the children are out of nappies). I have realised that, if I actually let myself feel more than slightly hungry, I overeat.

Mid-morning and evening are the important times for me. We have breakfast pretty early, then the nursery and playgroup run is on the cargo bike. By the time I have done that, I always eat something. I often don’t feel hungry, but if I don’t eat something around 100 calories, I will find myself eating closer to 500 calories later.

I now try to keep meals under 500 calories, but I kind of count snacks as a meal – especially evening snacks. I eat with my children at around 5pm and I go to bed around 10pm. That leaves a huge stretch of time without eating if I don’t have enough calories to eat in the evening. So, I make sure I have enough calories to eat something in the evening. This is usually the calories I have burned through cycling, especially if I have been on the bike in the evening.

Some days, I find it hard to get my head around eating enough in the evening. It is hard to see that you have 800 calories left because it has been an active day and not to think that that is an achievement, especially if I’m not actually feeling all that hungry. I have done this in the past and have found that the next day, or even the day after, I go on a bit of an eating rampage. Bring on the Costa tiffin and unlimited home baking! So now, if I have 800 calories left at the end of the day, I use those calories before I go to bed.

  • Minor changes in family meals

I recently watched the ‘Hairy Dieters’ programmes and thought they had lots of good ideas for cutting calories without sacrificing enjoyment. I bought the cook book too and have found it really helpful. It has some good, simple, tasty recipes which have been acceptable to everyone in my family (Husband: larger portions, 4 year old: happy to eat most things, 2 year old: put bread with it).

I have taken the hairy biker idea of little swaps and used that with other meals too. So, if I make pasta and pasta sauce, for me I swap the pasta for baked sweet potato (5 minutes in the microwave so not a separate meal to my mind) – just as filling, half the calories. My family loves chilli and quesadillas – I make the chilli with quorn mince, use the food processor to add in loads of peppers in disguise, and I have baked potato instead of quesadillas. Lunches have been the same minor changes – one slice of toast with extra baked beans or scrambled egg is more filling for less calories.

  • Chilling out about going over my daily ‘allowance’

I no longer panic when I go over my daily allowance. I regularly do go over it and I am still losing weight. My reasoning it that I have my allowance set fairly low and that leaves a nice ‘margin of error’. According to the NHS, a woman should consume around 2000 calories a day to maintain her weight. So, even if I go over by 500 calories every day for a week, it’s really no disaster. I probably won’t lose any weight that week, but I probably won’t gain any either, and that is fine.

I am not en elite athlete and I never will be. It is not vital that I keep my weight low, it never will be. I just want it a little bit lower. I always go over my allowance on Fridays and Saturdays. Wine and chocolate. It is worth appreciating just how easy it is to consume a couple of thousand calories through wine and chocolate. This allows me to be moderate in my indulgences and to be aware of them, without giving them up entirely. If I have kept more or less within the limits I have set throughout the week, although I go over at the weekends, my average daily calorie consumption for the week is still under 2000 calories so I should still lose weight.

So, these little revelations have meant that for now I have found a ‘diet’ that I can keep to and not feel deprived. I also feel that I am not demonstrating an obsession with dieting to my children. I am perhaps demonstrating an obsession with healthy eating and moderation to my children. To me that is ok. I want to bring my children up to be active and to eat healthily, not to diet. I find that if I stay active and eat healthily (not Costa tiffin, or at least not too often), then I don’t need to diet.


Good Enough?

This weekend has not been great. In fact it’s been awful. My 4 year old pushed me to breaking point and beyond.

I go through occasional phases of reading parenting books. I take them with a pinch of salt but there is usually something useful in them.

My reading this time took me into the realms of emotional intelligence. I totally agree with the principles. We should talk to our children about emotions. We should acknowledge their feelings and help them to accept them and to act appropriately on them.

So I bought some books to read with the children. ‘The Big Bag of Worries’ and ‘How are you Feeling Today’. Both great books.

The books arrived on Friday and we read them through the day and at bedtime. 4 year old and 2 year old both enjoyed them and kept asking for them.

Go me. Great parenting.

Then we reached bedtime.

4 year old announced that he was scared of his bedroom. He did not know what was scaring him and he did not know what we could do do help him with this. Over the next two hours, he whined, shouted, cried, clung and made no sense whatsoever. I really didn’t think he was scared. He didn’t look scared. He didn’t sound scared. But still he said he was scared.

At the same time, 2 year old sang at the top of her voice while running around her bedroom throwing toys and repeatedly taking her nappy off.

I wish I was a more patient person. I wish I could say that I hung in there and talked 4 year old through his feelings. I wish I could say that I calmly explained to 2 year old that it was bedtime and she must go back to bed until she accepted it.

I did not.

I hung in there and stayed calm for as long as I could. This was nowhere near long enough. It was not really very long at all.

I yelled, I swore. In the end I curled up in a ball on the landing and sobbed for an hour.

Not so great parenting.

It didn’t end there. 4 year old then repeated the “I’m scared” performance every 20 minutes from midnight to 4am. 2 year old got up at 6:30am as usual.

This was followed by a day full of the kind of behaviour you would expect from an exhausted 4 year old with two exhausted parents.

This was followed by the exact same bedtime performance.

Not a good weekend.

I wanted to be there for my children. I wanted to support them through their difficulties. I wanted to understand how they were feeling and how I could help them.

I really wanted to know if this was real or if he was just taking the mickey.

I really really wanted to just get on my bike and ride off into the sunset.

I didn’t achieve any of those things.

It was one of those weekends which reminded me just how hard it is to be a parent and to be human and to be yourself.

I think everyone wishes they were a better person to some degree. Is that insecurity or just being human?

I realise that I am able to accept my limits in most areas of my life.

When I am at work, I am a good teacher. I am not a great teacher because I am not that exceptional. But I will do the best I can for the children in my class because I care about them.

When I time trialled, I was a good time triallist. I won a few races. I was not a great time triallist – I could look at a start list and name the women who would definitely beat me. I will never ride at the olympics. But I enjoyed doing the best that I could; beating my times and occasionally getting placed.

Now I am a parent, I am a good parent. I do my best for my children. But I so often feel that my best isn’t good enough, that I am failing. I say the wrong things. I shout. I am impatient. I worry that I am scarring my children for life. It is just not good enough that I am not a great parent. It is not good enough to be good enough.

In all other aspects of my life, I can accept that I am not perfect but I am doing my very best and that is good enough.

Parenting is hard.