Cybermummy11 putting parent blogging on the map

At the weekend I went to Cybermummy 11, a conference for parent bloggers.  It helped me to see the fabric of parent blogging.  To see what is happening and what is possible.  To put names to faces and to see why others blog.  To hear that the reasons are complex, creative, sometimes contradictory.  To see the 2D landscape that has been my twitter feed, my google reader, my blog roll suddenly become 3D.


It may also have brought out the closet sociologist in me. But I think that is a very good thing.  Dropping A level German for Sociology changed my life.  I think an academic perspective on parent blogging could help to validate our energies even further. Yes I am going to get high brow here.


I didn’t go expecting specific guidance on how to blog, although it was there too. I was looking for a bigger picture, because nine months in and I am still pondering why I blog.  So when I popped up on giant screen, alongside my fellow Britmums vloggers, explaining my reasons in a highlight reel entitled Why do I blog , my reasons for attending were crystallised.  I sounded incredibly serious, claiming I blog because blogging  ‘raises the status of parents and validates the experience of parenting’, but after Cybermummy11, I believe that more than ever.



So what inspiration did I gain?  I think before Cybermummy there has been a sense of unrest among parent bloggers.  The landscape is changing, the ranks of parent bloggers are growing rapidly, conventional advertising is changing and brands and PR companies are keen to work with what from Sarah Fortuna of HP described as ‘the influencers’.  As a teacher/student of media culture, this shift in culture fascinates me.


There’s a flipside, I was interested to hear Ellie Lee of the Centre for Parent and Culture Studies debate whether bloggers are completing ‘piece work’ for brands.  My sponsor Netmums champion fair recompense for blogger’s work for brands, but this is not always the case. PRs and bloggers are still working out how to work in a way that is mutually beneficial.


Ellie also questioned whether we are part of a cultural shift that makes the private sphere of the family unit public.  Ellie suggested when it comes to parenting debates, parent bloggers may provide an interface between the academic and wider worlds.  (She also mentioned she would like to work with bloggers; Kirsty from Imperfect Pages and I would love to).  Broadsheet reporting of the event seemed to reflect this shift, the Independent quoted Susanna Scott: “The difference is between being part of the chatter and leading the chatter – and I think mummy bloggers are leading the chatter.”
(The Independent 26/6/11)


Sarah Brown also highlighted how moving into social networking can facilitate a power shift. As a blog grows, it moves from voicing individual concerns to opening conversation and debate, from having a voice, to having power.  As the day unfolded many bloggers documented how they had used that power, to save children in developing countries, to unite communities, share issues and inspiration, to raise concerns and to tell the story of parenting in the 21st century.


On a personal note, meeting Jen from Mum in the Madhouse and Henrietta from Marketing to Milk and toasting our mums, who we each lost in the last year, was a really humbling moment.  We have supported each other on the rollercoaster of bereavement, each riding a month or two behind the other and ‘waving’ to each other, over twitter and our blogs.  There has been every combination of ups and downs between us.  But having someone who has been there, always at hand helps.


Such a very inspiring day.  Overwhelming yes, but I left feeling empowered and glad that I had been able experience blogging in 3D.  Thanks to the organisers for putting parent blogging on the map, the broadsheet coverage was impressive.


Thanks to my unsung heros, Helloit’sgemma, This Mid 30s Life and Kate Takes 5 for being my anchors in a sea of familiar and unfamilar faces I had nowhere near enough time to greet.  My own fault too in part, for being such an information junkie and attending four out of four sessions.  Huge thanks to Netmums for sponsoring Kate and me, and for the Netmums Bellini reception.  It was wonderful to meet so many fab bloggers in less frantic surroundings.

The Gallery My Weekend


That cow rug is famous. It was once on the set of CITV, but that’s not the point of this hazy, non-technically brilliant photo (the like of which Tara celebrated in her speech at Cybermummy 11). That’s my brother’s knee, his girlfriend’s elbow and the beautifully hazy afternoon we spent on their famous rug, devouring a BBQ, on London Fields, this Sunday.  For me it was a weekend about reflection.

I reflected on Cybermummy 11,  which I attended on Saturday thanks to Netmums.  I had a fabulous time meeting so many wonderful people. I loved the idea that 2D online friendships became 3D. The conference gave me a bigger picture of blogging (a proper Cybermummy 11 post is coming shortly). 

But it was so huge, so jam packed with people and information. I woke up in the Hoxton hotel with an urge to be back in my offline life, just so I could process things. Fortunately my brother and his girlfriend live round the corner.  All I could manage on Sunday was to lie on this rug in London Fields, and be grateful I had one more day to just lounge.  The sun was shining, and in this oasis in the city, only the birds were tweeting.

We reflected on London, the city I left when I was 7 months pregnant, after living there for five years. It is full of the ghosts of my child free days, and somehow whenever I return, they always haunt me. 

A friend of my brother’s joined us, he told me that a million people come and go from London each year. I was one of them. Those comings and goings that keep London alive but also make it so transient and fragmented.

We reflected on loss. My brother’s girlfriend’s mum was with us, and had lost her partner recently.  My brother and I lost our mum in January.  Everyone on that rug had recent bereavement in common. 

We reflected on getting older, I told my younger brother the Hoxton bar crowd were trendy. 



‘Did it make you feel old?’ he asked.


 ‘A little,’ I said, ‘like someone’s mum’. 


‘They make me feel old sometimes too,’ he laughed, trying to make me feel better.

So all in all, it may take me a few days to acclimatise from this weekend.

Tara may kill me for this, but here is video footage of what Tara was up to 
in the Blogger to Blogger inspiration session. It was really lovely to hear her speak about the ‘virtual’ gallery she so tirelessly curates.  Click on the lenscup to visit.

Blogger to Blogger inspiration Video highlights

This footage highlights the four bloggers in the Blogger to Blogger inspiration session.  Tara Cain (on The Gallery), Maggie Woodley (running a speciality blog), Rachael Lucas (promoting your writing by blog) and Claire and Lucy McDonald (carving out your niche).  Tara was using helloitsgemma‘s blog as an example.  I hope they don’t mind me sharing this, as they were all such great speakers, and apart from being naturally inspiring, they shared some great tips.
  


Kate from Witwitwoo did the live blog of this session.  She can clearly touch type as she has captured it all brilliantly.  Put this and that together, you could almost have been there.

Live blogging the CyberMummy 2011 Crowdsourced Keynote

Tissues at the ready, here I am live blogging the Crowdsourced Keynote at Cybermummy11, the UK’s premier parent blogging conference.  It’s been a long and wonderful day, so much information, and now I feel as if I am creeping to the top of an emotional rollercoaster.  Yes it’s the moment where we hear from the bloggers.  Real blog posts are about to be shared on stage.  We’re tired, we’re emotional.  But I really feel for the bloggers on stage, who have been anticipating this big soul bearing moment all day.  


Live blogging this felt like a huge responsibility, so many fragile and emotional moments, so many life defining events.  If I have misinterpreted anything please email or DM me (@Aresidence), it was a challenge to do this justice as a live blog.


Jen is just introducing, and explaining last year had everyone in tears.  Gulp.  I will try not to cry onto the keyboard…

  • First to take to the stage is Kate, of Kate Takes 5 with a Beginners Guide to Blogging.  Say goodbye to your partner and family and stockpile baked beans.  Huge laughter as lots of bloggers relate to the bit about being tempted to take photos when your child injures themself, rather than going to their aid.  Last point in the guide, get ready to make lots of friends, we love that bit too Kate, and it’s especially poignant today. 

Nickie, from I Am Typecast, announces she will not be rebranding herself as Granny at 36.  Private Cybermummy 11 jokes aside, Nickie’s post There Are Only So Many Perfect Heads in the World is very serious.  Nickie is bravely blogging a diary account of her daughter being diagnosed with cancer.  Baby Rachel was 14 months old, Nickie was 20.   I look round the room at 400 plus silent parent bloggers, so many hands to face, barely daring to breathe, as Nickie documents the events as they unfolded.  Such vivid descriptions of all the new words, situations and environments as they hit Nickie’s 20 year old self.  Operation, biopsy, saline, growth, cancer. The agony of seeing your child in pain, the priceless gift of being told of Rachel’s remission.  Nickie makes it to the end, and only then does the emotion catch up with her.  Well done Nickie for delivering such an emotional post.
  • The Coffee Lady has such a beautiful lilting voice, she is such a natural storyteller.   Her post, A Call to Bad Behaviour expresses her desire for her daughter, who is disabled, to have the independence to be able to misbehave just as the Coffee Lady and her husband Mr Coffee did as children. I have had to come back later to do this post justice, on second reading I realise how many issues it raises about disability for society.
  • Next is Emily from Babyrambles sharing Sometimes I don’t want to be a parent.  A beautifully written, and read, wish list for all mothers.  Impractical shoes, uninterrupted conversations, to read an entire book, not having to care.  So many unfulfilled wishes which all the parents is the room can relate to.  We are all nodding along wistfully Emily.
  • Fi Star Stone from Childcare is Fun! is reading her blog Telling the Real Story of My Twitter Birth, a response to newspaper coverage of Fi tweeting her son’s birth.  Fi’s followers were positive about her tweeting details of her homebirth, but when the wider media picked up on the story many sources made false assumptions about Fi, and her reasons for tweeting.   Great to hear Fi answering back, putting the record straight, and correcting a huge catalogue of misreporting.  I can’t believe this was written just a week after giving birth.  Such a coherent, witty blog post.  
Jane,  Northern Mum is taking to the stage with On the Brink of Sanity.  Jane’s unique voice is full of imagery and metaphor, she fearlessly documents living with children.  This tale includes ninjas, unfinished manicures, bowling balls and blackberries on toast.  Jane, you are definitely not alone, we are all nodding along with you.
Emily from More Than Just A Mother is now debating How on Earth Does One Dispose of a Vibrator?  I am not going to spoil it by revealing Emily’s suggestions here.  I will just tell you Emily has a fabulous imagination, there are lots of sniggers, check this post out. 
Pippa from A Mother’s Ramblings shares A Blog Post Without a Point.  Pippa takes us on a moving journey, starting with her blog, what she wants for her children, what she remembers of her childhood.  Swings in the park, Christmas, theme parks.  All the things that families do.  Quality time.  Then following a random meeting on a train, Pippa is reminded of the importance of holding your family close.  Lovely reminder that posts can be journeys too.  This one very much makes a point Pippa!
Hannah from Muddling Along Mummy is sharing Can the Pregnancy Police Please Piss Off.  A beautifully crafted piece of rhetoric about the way society increasingly polices the pregnant woman. Hannah is delivering it with the gusto a post like this needs.  If you are pregnant, or have ever been, or are thinking about it, this is an essential read.
Catherine from Baby Genie is reading I was Saved by a Raisin, a tender and humorous post documenting those shakey, emotional, uncertain days of early motherhood.  Those subtle changes in behaviour, those little obsessions that set in.  Like finding the bits of broken toys or earring backs and frantic cleaning.  Catherine’s journey into the realms of motherhood induced OCD rounds off with sound advice on where our priorities should be as parents, this is a story about learning to let go, learning how to be the mother you want to be and living in the moment.
Finally, Jacqui from Mummy’s Little Monkey is sharing Oh S**t, on the perils of what happens when children investigate their poo-ey nappies.  This is a horror poo story, every parent has one.  But no-one tells it quite as well as Jacqui.  Laughs all round, a brilliant finish to the Keynote.

    That’s it from them, and that’s it from me.  Didn’t they do well?  Happy Reading.  What struck a chord with you?  

    Cybermummy Meet and Greet (but no drinks please I’m on antibiotics from hell)

    With only 4 sleeps to go, it’s time to join Mummy’s Shoes’ Meet and Greet for CyberMummy 11.  I am glad it’s still 4 days away as I have been battling with evil toothache all weekend after a routine scale and polish gave me a gum infection.

    After a visit to the emergency dentist, I feel better than I did.  My husband said my puffy face actually scared him at the weekend, and that he came to check I was still alive after I went to bed on Sunday. Now he has tells me I look pretty normal.  Huge relief.

    Kate Takes5 and I have been busy arranging a gathering on behalf of our fab sponsor Netmums after Cybermummy 11.  (Do ask us on the day for details). One of our most pressing concerns, besides finding the venue and choosing cocktails, has been asking Kate’s sister in law, who happens to be a dentist, if my dentist really meant it when he said I absolutely really must not under any circumstances drink on these antibiotics he has prescribed me for the next 10 days.  Kate’s research reveals they are the ones doctors often prescribe to alcoholics to stop them drinking, so its seems I definitely won’t be drinking.  Bugger.  At least someone will be able to order cabs.

    I am very much looking forward to meeting new people.  I am a friendly creature who likes to put people at ease. If however, I  am frozen like a rabbit in the headlights or looking aloof, don’t be put off, it is probably just the last remnants of toothache, just say hello anyway and give me a few secs to engage my aching jaw.

    Name: Penny Alexander
    Blog: Alexander Residence
    Twitter ID: @AResidence
    Height: 5ft 4
    Hair: Long Brown and straight.
    Eyes: Blue
    Likes: Tea, gin, good company, camping, writing, making theatre and film, nattering, jeans, converse, a good book, blogging, the colour red.
    Dislikes: toothache (it’s all that’s on my mind this week)

    You can meet me and my mantelpiece, not a euphemism, here in a a vlog.  Or this is what I look like when I don’t have a packet of peas stuck to my face.   Fans of the fabulous board game Guess Who may guess I am dressed as Maria of the green beret. Not my real eyebrows, but painted on Maria quizzical ones.  Although a presentation expert once told me I should make more of them, not sure this is what she had in mind though:

    Me as me/Maria
    Me as mum
    Me as bride/wife

    In doing this I found there are very few pictures of me. I will go and make my husband take more photos before I am erased from family history.

    Really looking forward to the big day!

    The Gallery – Dads

    The theme at The Gallery this week is Dads. It’s Dads plural, so I take it as read we can honour more than one Dad.  These two Dads have kept me from falling apart this year.

    My Dad.  Still remember walking down the road holding your hand as a little girl,  looking up at a bearded giant in a smart brown jacket and feeling so proud.  I remember being terrified the police would take you to prison.  No good reason for this, you are a law abiding citizen,  but my five year old self just thought the police could take any Dad, randomly and for no reason.  I was worried you wouldn’t have sandwiches to take with you.

    There’s been a whole host of other worries over the last few years since mum’s illness, and heartache in the five months since her death.  It hasn’t gone unnoticed, the way you try to listen and support me as Mum did, as well as being a Dad.

    This picture represents not being ‘given away’, but the lifetime of support you have given me and still do.  Thank you.

    Credit Martin O Neill
    Miss L and Mr G’s Dad.  Here you are at Download Festival last weekend, because you rock.  If only parenthood was as easy going as this picture.  But even when times are tough, the ground is unsteady, I can’t see the light, I’m lost in the woods, you rock. The midwife said she didn’t see men like you very often.  My Dad thinks you really rock this Dad stuff too, which in my opinion, is high praise.  Go Team Alexander. Wherever it takes us.  Thank you.
    Dad’s Rock. Download Festival. Credit A Gibson
    Click on the lens cup to wander round the rest of The Gallery.

    Summer loving, happened so fast, slow, fast, slow.

    BritMums have challenged me to vlog about Summer Holidays.  Do I favour the bootcamp approach or am I more laid back?  Miss L starts school in Sept, so organising that long summer break is something we have yet to experience.  But when it comes to my husband and I organising summer holidays, let’s just say opposites attract…


    So are you a judging type, planned, researched and settled ahead?  Or are you a perceiving type, spontaneous, flexible and options open?

    Here’s a free mini version of the Myer’s Briggs test.  Although I did the full version with a psychologist, the on-line ones came out with the same results for me.

    I’m an ENTJ, with a tendency to be logical and analytical, to theorise, to be direct, energetic, articulate and stimulating.  Prone to emotional explosion, acting before reflecting and impatience with younger or less experienced people.  Hmmm, that makes me sound great doesn’t it?  I can’t recommend the test enough though, it helps you identify your natural preferences, so you can choose to go with or against them.  And as the vlog kind of demonstrates, it helps you understand what makes other people tick.

    Boy Power


    My boy eats on the go, he hits, he wrestles, he defends his territory like a warrior, he sits on my head and farts, he loves cars, he turns anything into a weapon, he tries to sneak Bombay bad boy, and he likes nothing better than patrolling the house in his pants.

    That’s my two year old, not my husband.  (Our son tried his Dad’s Bombay Badboy once, at his own request, and asked for more, please don’t think its something he eats regularly).  But this list makes we wonder about what we do encourage and discourage, because he is a boy.   I like to think I have discouraged gender stereotypes, no mean feat in these stinky pink and bold blue times.  Perhaps though, having a girl and a boy makes that job slightly easier.

    The world has finally accepted that nature and nurture are both at play.  In some ways however, this makes the job doubly challenging.  I know I want to discourage gender stereotypes, but how do I encourage and channel characteristics which seem so inherently male, that they seem alien to me.  Sometimes I just find him too boisterous, too demanding, yet my husband loves these traits.  Similarly my husband struggles to understand why my daughter gets so emotional.

    As me and my son were wandering round the toy shop together this week, without his big sister, I was suddenly stuck by the enormity of the job ahead.  Raising a boy.   As a woman, as a feminist.   As he picked up water pistols, trucks and diggers.  As he clambered to be on my knee in the cafe afterwards. Always so eager for affection and closeness, unlike his sister who has always been content to hug and run.  Suddenly the difference seems vast. And when his sister goes to school in September it will be just the two of us.

    Beneath his male bravado, which gets us in whole heap of trouble, is a boy who is easily knocked by the world around him. He is easily angered by other children and defends his toys like an Alpha male defending his territory.  He is the one who tries to creep into our bed at night. Something his sister never does.

    I am realising being a boy is a whole heap of stuff I need to get my head round. Like how do I nurture him so that he can be a successful man? How to balance that with my feminist agenda, how do I make sure he values and respects women?  What do I encourage?

    In a drunken conversation with my brother’s girlfriend recently I demanded to know that my brother was pulling his weight with housework. My mum would have been horrified if he hadn’t been. We were expected to do the same jobs around the house.  I’m not so sure that’s the same for all men. So that’s a big one on my parenting agenda.

    I think I can be a better role model.  It’s all very well preaching equality but if parents don’t also demonstrate it, I think the message gets lost.  So I need to stop deferring jobs that involve tools and technology to my husband. And he needs to take on more cooking and washing.

    This may sound like small fry, but I think the domestic labour debate is still one of the hugest stumbling blocks in the path of gender equality.

    I also think teaching children to name and express emotions is huge.  Emotionally intelligent children grow into adaptable and receptive individuals.

    I am looking forward to my journey with my boy.  Any tips or reflections on raising boys though, very gratefully received.

    The very inspirational Melaina at Transatlantic Blonde started this train of thought, with her Feminist Friday linky.  Melaina and I have exchanged a few tweets about all things gender, clothing, toys etc.  I am glad she has started this linky, it’s great to inspire intellectual debate in the community.  This time the focus is on raising feminist children.  I love what Melaina says about not letting motherhood define you…

    Save the children pass it on

    I have just been at Thinly Spread reading about Christine’s experiences in Africa.  She followed a vaccine all the way there, to raise awareness of the funding shortfall for vaccinations in developing countries.  Her pictures are so inspiring. 


    Seeing Christine and Save the Children deliver a vaccine to a young girl, at a health centre under a tree and seeing babies being weighed, immediately resonated with me as a mother.  It swiftly silenced my internal witterings, my frustrations with our suburban existence. I am so lucky to have a health centre full of vaccines just a two minute walk from my house.


    My 4 yo drew this picture on the iPad.  It represents her excitement about going to school in September, about learning, and filling her head with thoughts for the future.  Its sad to think how many futures are wasted due to something as simple as a vaccination. 


    Please Sign this petition before June 13th, it takes a minute if that.  And if you are a blogger reading this, consider yourself tagged, see below.


    Here is some more explanation of the campaign by Josie from Sleep is for the Weak:

    Save the Children’s most ambitious campaign to date [is to] bring into focus the fact that 8 million children a year are still dying from preventable diseases such as pneumonia and diarrhoea.For the next few weeks the No Child Born to Die campaign  is shifting its focus on to vaccination programmes in developing countries and we need YOUR help to make some noise.
    In June, David Cameron is hosting a hugely significant conference in London attended by world leaders. This meeting marks the chance to ensure the funding shortfall for vaccinations (4.7 billion) is met by all the donor countries – it might sound a lot but this easily achievable, even in the current economic climate. It just takes commitment from those in power and holds the potential to save the lives of millions of children.
    I have been tagged by helloitsgemma and Kate Takes 5, I was ill and went on holiday so if you are reading this hurry up and sign the petition before June 13th.  I’m tagging 8 more bloggers to join in via Twitter. 

    1) Get your child to either draw or craft a self-portrait of themselves now or in the future, perhaps imagining what they will look like or what they might do
    2) Sign the Save the Children petition and share news of it with your friends.
    3) Come back and join the linky on Josie’s Sleep is for the Weak blog or over at Red Ted Art.
    4) Tag 8 bloggers to do the same.

    Keep on running

    My husband kicked me out the house today.  The black clouds had landed and I was being miserable, it’s not been an easy 2011 so far.  So he made me get my trainers and hit the ground running.  I wasn’t allowed back until I did 5k.

    I discovered running after my first child.  My brother made me do 5k with him, no warm up, no running and walking, just jogging 5k.  It wasn’t quite a year since I had given birth.  It nearly killed me.  But I was hooked.  I loved the fact I didn’t have to travel anywhere before I started, no need to hang out in a gym, no equipment.  Just me, out the front door, straight into the fresh air.
    And most importantly, by running I was saying a huge pah! to all those school PE lessons that completely removed any enjoyment of exercise for me.  I was one of those kids who whined all the way round the cross country course, or walked in protest.  It wasn’t that I hated exercise or was unfit, I just hated competing.
    I built up to running 10k after my second child.  I did a race, hated it, but felt proud of my achievement.  Now it’s enough to know I can ramp back up to running 10k on my own steam if I need a challenge.

    Race for Life last year
    Recently I have realised running keeps me sane. As has Mr A.  I would have been asleep on the sofa now,  but I have written this, and ordered some shopping amongst other things.  
    I read about juneathon on Twitter today, basically you run and blog about it every day in June.  I am a bit late and I am not going to blog about running every day. But I am up for a run nearly every day, and I can blog it each week:
    So….
    June 1st 5k
    June 2nd 6k run and 8k cycle
    June 3rd 5k
    June 4th 1 mile walk
    June 5th 5k run
    June 6th day off
    June 7th 5k run
    Is the weight falling off you ask.  No. Sickening eh?  But the fog is lifting.