Because you’re worth it

I’m celebrating a very important milestone.

Uh, no not my 10th wedding anniversary. Although that is very important. Or my son’s fourth birthday. Or my upcoming birthday. No, I’m not talking about those.

I’m celebrating going a whole year without washing my hair.

I mean, a whole without washing it with shampoo I mean. I’m not that gross.

Or maybe I am that gross, as that is basically how I managed to start.

Look, when you have two kids, and one is a tiny screamy baby, and you are still very sick so you never go anywhere, and when the baby naps you just kind of fall into a catatonic state, it is hard to find the energy to actually wash your hair. And so I would leave it for days when my husband was home, which basically meant washing it once a week. I’d heard of people who gave up shampoo and I knew that there is a period like a ‘withdrawal’ where you try to cut down your shampoo, and your hair and scalp react to having less soap, less frequently, and I’m like ‘hey, that’s basically what I’m doing anyway’. So I decided to give not-shampooing a try.

Before I get to the methods and results (I’ll leave you hanging as to whether I look amazing, or whether I look like a freaky birds nest nightmare just a bit longer) I think it is worth going into the whys. I’ve been following Lucy at Lulastic and the Hippyshake for a while, and had read about her No-Poo (as some people delightfully call it) life for a while. There are lots of reasons that people have for going No-Poo, environmental factors like reducing waste being a major drawcard for me. I’m no chemo-phobe, ok? But it does seem to me we don’t need to be pouring all these industrially manufactured chemicals into our waterways all the time. Some of these are having really nasty effects, like microbeads. Also, everything I use comes in either cardboard or glass, unlike plastic shampoo bottles. Finally I really dislike the beauty industries marketing to women that we need to be more. We need to be shinier, thinner, whiter, smoother. And it is an industry based on lies. I can’t fight this huge industry, but I can choose not to buy into it.

But I didn’t want to be, you know, smellier.

This is where the aforementioned blog really came into use. Along with continuing my, ahem, minimalist regime I started to use a combination of baking soda and apple-cider vinegar on my hair when I did wash it. And you know what? It was good. Like, it looked clean. The basic principle is baking soda massaged into hair and scalp for a clean, and then the vinegar works as a conditioner. A note of caution, you do have to be careful not to do this too frequently. For every blog about giving up shampoo there is one about why baking soda is terrible for hair, and how over time it will damage your hair. And it is true. That is actually the beauty of this routine for me. I wash my hair much less often. I only use baking soda and vinegar on the weekend. And instead of being a not so hot mess by the time Friday rolls around, mostly I look just fine.

I’ve always had very very fine hair that is prone to looking limp. I’ve always needed to wash frequently. No matter what shampoo I used – if I used a really good one I could go two days looking ok; with a supermarket cheapie, I’m looking lank after one day. Not having to wash my hair when I shower has worked out really well for me.

These days tiny screamy baby is not so tiny. It might come as a shock to some people, but it is still tricky to find time for a decent shower. I do make time. I haven’t completely given up on personal hygiene. My basic weekday routine is to hop in our shower with the bathroom door open and I have as long as it takes her to find me to wash myself.

I’ve got some great ways to extend the washing time. Like place the most interesting, noisy button pushing toys strategically on the pathway from lounge to shower so she stops to play with them en-route. Like a mini obstacle course. Or to play peek-a-boo around the shower curtain. The days her brother is home, or sometimes when I need to even if he is not, the TV can distract her a bit. But ultimately a full hair wash is risky and prone to interruption.

Now I admit, if I was working I would have to make more time. But I’m not. If it looks a little limp I’m probably not seeing anyone important enough to worry. But what about those days when even I need a mid-week pick me up? I’ve already mentioned you shouldn’t over use baking soda and vinegar. Turns out they are only the start of your pantry solutions for hair care. Careful though, contrary to what my kids think you shouldn’t just pick up any old food and smear it on your hair. So to help you all out I thought I should taste-test test wash my hair using some of the online solutions.

Alternative No-Poo washes

Honey

alternative no-poo wash with honey

Sounds sticky right? But the trick is to mix the honey with hot water, allow to cool and then massage through hair and scalp. It feels (and smells) sugary, and a bit viscous, but not sticky. My hair feels soft afterwards, and looks clean. Over the last year this has become my favourite alternative wash. Honestly, it is the best thing I’ve done with honey since toast.

Cocoa Powder

This was a recent trial, after seeing the suggestion on Lucy’s latest haircare blog. Obviously I’m not making a nourishing chocolate drink for my hair. The idea is to use this as a dry shampoo, kinda like how the professional kitchens I’ve worked in throw salt on the floor to soak up grease. Why cocoa? Well I have dark hair. If you are blonde use something that matches eg cornflour, or a redhead could try cinnamon.

So that’s her theory, how did it go? I probably used a bit too much powder, you really only need a teaspoon or so. And brushing it out, which I did bent over my sink left it quite messy. But, it wasn’t so messy I couldn’t do it with a toddler hanging out at my knees, and when she wandered off I could go after her and come back to the sink after a couple of minutes without leaving a dust trail behind me. My hair did look less greasy afterwards, and it was quick. On the whole I’d do it again, it looked fine. Well, fine enough that I took my new passport photo that afternoon. However, there was a slight chocolaty aroma when I showered the following day. So perhaps not a great one pre job interview on a rainy day. Although there are worse things to smell of, right?

Egg

Speaking of smelling, that was probably the number one thing that put me off trying this. Even though I remember reading about egg-masks for hair way, way back in high school. Well, the smell and the mess. But again thanks to Lucy’s suggestion to whip the egg white I was able to get over my fear of the last one at least. I’m not going to lie, this is my least favourite of the washes I’ve tried so far. I’m not sure if it was just because I felt a bit too much like a walking pavlova – actually I’m pretty sure that is part of it – but it is also the most expensive alternative, and the most time consuming which negates my whole reasoning for getting into this situation in the first place.

On the other hand, nobody has said since ‘what happened to your hair?!’ In fact nobody has said anything like that to me all year while I’ve been secretly not washing. I don’t go to fancy hair salons, so it is pretty normal for me to get a haircut without a wash, but none of the hairdressers have batted an eyelid over the cleanliness of my hair. Even when I’d most recently washed with honey. My husband claims to not have noticed the cocoa or egg or honey until I confessed just the other day. And maybe he is unobservant. Or maybe it is because my hair looks great.

Or maybe that is wisdom learnt from ten years of marriage.

A Room of One’s Own

When I was pregnant people always told me I would have no time for reading once my child was born.

‘Haha!’ They would gloat ‘You’ll be too exhausted. You’ll be too busy. You’ll be too emotional. You’ll be too engrossed watching them sleep. You’ll start watching Grey’s Anatomy so you can obsess over romantic crises and medical mishaps because your poor widdle Mummy brain won’t be able to do anything else.’

I hated it. And in my expectant new parent state I didn’t know what to expect so I kind of believed it.

One of my earliest memories is my mother reading James and The Giant Peach to my older sister and me. I remember the day my sister stormed into my bedroom at bedtime demanding I learn to read in my head; a revolutionary idea that changed my life. I remember the library visits multiple times a week. I remember the librarians, and I remember that they got to know us. I remember how they helped us to choose new books as we grew into the older reading sections of the library. I remember getting to go to a bookstore and choosing a book for myself, My Friend Flicka, to take on holiday. I remember reading crappy books like the Babysitter’s Club, and great books like Charlotte’s Web and A Wizard of Earthsea. I remember my mother handing me Pride and Prejudice from her bookshelf, telling me how wonderfully Jane Austen crafted sentences. I remember the hours I have spent in second hand bookstores building a collection that has travelled around the world with me.

So when people told me I wouldn’t have time to read, I wonder if they realise they were telling me I would lose something so important to me, something that is part of my sense of self.

It was bullshit.

My family knew me well, and for my birthday, just two weeks after my son was born I was given a kindle. I could hold it and feed at the same time! And say what you like about Amazon being an evil monopoly that treat authors badly (I’m sorry Margaret Atwood!), and a massive money pit (pro tip # read free classics. Luckily I like a good Victorian novel) to me, at that point in my life it was a sanity saver.

I know a lot of people don’t read a lot when they have small children. That’s fine. I’d never judge that. I understand being tired and exhausted and the words swimming on the page in front of you. Sometimes I am too tired to read for long. I find however, ten minutes reading in bed, maybe with a piece of chocolate (ok, pieces) ends the day on a good note. It gives my brain a chance to relax. To step back from all the cares and worries of the day. I find a place that is bigger than the world of a story, space that is bigger than the gaps between the text. It is somewhere that belongs to just me.

I hate to say it. It’s Me-time.

Parents (let’s be honest here – mothers) are constantly told the importance of me-time. The world veers between telling us we should be completely fulfilled with the joys of raising children. Oh, how I love endless piles of washing! Oh how I enjoy picking duplo off the floor! Oh the cooking as I balance a toddler on my hip! Or telling us we need to squeeze in some time for ourselves. And that last bit – it’s actually true.

As much as the phrase ‘me-time’ makes me cringe it is important to not get completely subsumed by family life. Whether it is going to the gym or running, a sewing project, a *cough* blog, or a monthly night out, whatever, it is important. It’s unfair to go around expecting people to give every moment of their life to their families. It is unfair to new mothers to joke about how their life is over, they can never have anything for themselves ever again. No seriously. It is really unkind. It is also healthy for our children to learn that we have interests of our own.

The metaphorical Room of my Own might feel quite far away, spending all day with a 13month old in 74m² apartment. My night time reading is somewhat liable to be interrupted by crying or a pre-schooler who wants the potty and is not able to wait while I just finish my paragraph. But, sometimes when my son is at daycare, and my daughter has a nap, I ignore the washing, the dishes, the duplo, and I sit and write or read. For a long time people told me I should try and sleep, but I would just lie in bed awake, thinking about how sleep deprived I was. But, a book, words on a page. They too refresh me, nourish me. I can lose myself and find my thoughts.

Bliss.

Stop. In the name of love.

I told myself not to write this yesterday.

I knew anything I wrote would be too angry.

I think we can agree that the death of an endangered animal in a zoo was a tragedy.

What I don’t understand, what makes me angry, is how the mother of a four year old boy is now public enemy number one.

I don’t want to argue specifics. Other people have done that. There are plenty of places and articles dissecting the events at Cincinnati Zoo. Some are even managing to do so without hysteria.

And maybe this mother is a shit mum. Maybe she is completely selfish, thinking the world revolves around her and her children. Maybe she is lazy. Maybe she is incompetent. Maybe. But I don’t think we can know this from one moment of inattention. Maybe she is guilty of nothing more than assuming there was no way her child would be able to climb into a gorilla enclosure at a large, well-known zoo.

Since when did one mistake make you criminally negligent?

The fact that seems to have been forgotten is that parents are not in control of their children 100% of the time. Fact. We can’t be. We won’t be. Parents never have been. It’s just that ten, twenty years ago, nobody had camera phones to capture the moment. Children are autonomous beings, with their own desires and impulses, with an ability to move independently.

Yes, it is a parent’s job to teach their children to control some of their impulses, to guide them to act in a way harmonious with their society. But this takes, years. More than four.

When our children are little the potential for disaster is always only a moment away. Just last weekend my son scooted ahead on a crossing, towards the oncoming cars, one of which hadn’t yet stopped. Just last week my daughter shoved a perfectly round stone in her mouth. Just a month ago my daughter crawled off to join her brother in the bedroom while I cooked, I could hear them laughing and thought they were fine, until I looked only a minute, maybe two, to find my son had tied a collar round her neck. One like a choke collar. He was pretending she was his dog.

A few months ago we visited Copenhagen. Standing at a tram station, trying to calculate our ticket purchase, we suddenly looked down to see our son wasn’t there. Just as a tram pulled out of the station. There was a moment of sheer panic, imagining him alone on a tram, watching it drive away from us while we yelled his name, only for him to poke his head perplexedly around a barrier. I hope that all the people saying she should having been holding on, he should have been on a leash, never learn what it feels like to look for your child and not see them. I hope that when they do, it all ends as uneventfully as it did for us.

If things hadn’t ended well, would it make me a bad parent? One awful moment. One catastrophe. A never ending stream of newspaper headlines announcing my failure to the world.

This sort of judgement doesn’t just effect people when something goes badly wrong. It is an extension of the same attitude that judges parents every time their child misbehaves in public. This idea that we should always be in control, able to stop a tantrum with what, firmness? By which people mean, our children should be so frightened of us that they stop a normal expression of frustration and anger with just a look, or a word.

Should parents brains always be on high alert for the potential to misbehave, or have accidents? Should we hover over our child, protecting them from the world, the world from them? Will you then judge us for being helicopter parents? This doesn’t sound healthy for anyone. Sometimes parenting involves giving your child space and hoping the mistakes they make don’t lead to catastrophe.

It isn’t enough to tell parents to avoid the internet, the source of all that is toxic. You should not make the mistake of thinking that this is confined to the internet. Avoiding it means not listening, not making eye contact. And I do not think that is any sort of solution.

The only solution is respect, support, kindness, compassion. No-one wants to live in isolated bubbles. So stop pretending you have the right to one where ever and when ever you choose. Stop pretending you are perfect and never make mistakes.

Stop judging, and grant children the same freedoms and guidance and love you were once granted.

Don’t read the comments…

Dear My Flatpack Life,

I’ve been reading your blog, and I do think you go on a bit. All these young women these days you do make such a fuss over nothing. My Great-Aunt Mabel raised 23 children in a hut, and she did it without complaining once. She just got on with it.

She didn’t have epidurals or a water birth. No, she knew it was her duty as the progeny of Eve to suffer. Obviously she didn’t suffer too much, I mean she didn’t experience pre-eclampsia or obstructed labour, or haemorrhaging, or infections despite the lack of sanitation. Otherwise she would have been too dead to complain. But still, you aren’t allowed to complain about surviving a terrible medical emergency. That’s what I tell people who’ve survived a cardiac arrest or are recovering from a stroke- ‘Well, you’re not dead, so just get on with it’. Only dead people are allowed to complain. Did I say 23 children? Well, they didn’t all survive childbirth, or even childhood, but Mabel never complained.

Her life is exactly comparable to yours in every way except all the ways your life is easier. She didn’t have a dishwasher, or electricity. Nope. Luckily, she did have daughters, not too many though, you wouldn’t want too many of those. Just enough to help out around the house and look after the younger children while the boys did their homework so they could learn to provide for their families in manly, important ways.

Despite all that housework Great Aunt Mabel used to watch her children every minute. Every minute. She never stopped watching them so they didn’t have any of those accidents that happen now-days because the parents should have been watching the kids. She never used a phone to check emails because she didn’t have a job outside the home, or electronic bills, or god-forbid, a social life. But she also knew the exact right moment to look away. Because she wasn’t one of these silly helicopter parents with their namby-pamby kids. You can’t watch them forever you know.

And if you didn’t want to become a taxi service you shouldn’t have let yourself become one. Great Aunt Mabel didn’t have to take the kids everywhere. She was too busy Not Complaining to do that. So they just walked everywhere because they had to. No car. No busy roads to Not Complain about. No social services checking in on parents who allow their children to walk anywhere unaccompanied. You shouldn’t do that, can’t be too careful these days.

Great Aunt Mabel never took the kids out to a café and let them misbehave. She never drank a latte in her life. You’re so spoiled. And your kids. They’re spoiled too. Why, the other day a mother was sitting a café with her children as though it was a public space and they had every right to be there. Totally ruined my cappuccino that did.

She didn’t need to have a job either. Nothing that would selfishly take her away from her children who needed their mother to look after them. It’s no wonder kids have so many problems these days with their mothers so distracted by working. It’s no wonder they are all fat without mothers cooking decent meals for them. It’s no wonder they are out roaming the street in those packs –packs I tell you- without mothers waiting to greet them after school. Great Aunt Mabel knew that was her job, and she dedicated herself to it.

Mind you, mothers these days seem to expect some sort of award for parenting. They seem to think the whole world revolves around it. They should definitely devote every single moment to their children but they shouldn’t think it’s important.

Oh No. We never asked Great Aunt Mabel how she felt. We didn’t discuss feelings. No, we never asked if she cried silently over the cooking. We never wondered about the dark circles under her eyes. We never listened on those occasions she chatted with other women. But they weren’t complaining. I’m sure they lived happy fulfilling lives in which they trampled every emotion that couldn’t be written down in a gratitude journal.

Actually, she didn’t write a journal. Great Aunt Mabel couldn’t read or write. So her voice and the voice of countless women have been lost to posterity. But still, no point complaining about that, eh?

Yours judgementally.