How having a live-in nanny helps you have it all.

“How the hell did you do it [with 2 young children]?”

“Because I could afford to have childcare at home.”

When I heard the above exchange on an old episode of  Desert Island Discs, I thought five things in quick succession.

  1. How refreshing. Finally a high profile and accomplished woman who doesn’t pretend that they are all hands on with every aspect of childcare. Professor Lisa Jardin acknowledged in a very frank and matter of fact way that her career would not have been possible without live-in childcare. She categorically couldn’t have made it work if she’d had to take her children to childminders or day care as many working parents have to.
  2. A successful man with children wouldn’t have been asked this. I think Kirsty Young is a fantastic interviewer who gets amazing stories and reflections out of her interviewees, but I’ve listened to Desert Island Discs for a long time and I can’t remember many of the numerous successful male interviewees who happen to be fathers being asked ‘How have you juggled being a father with your illustrious career?’
  3. A successful man, if honest, and asked directly, would have answered the same thing. However, the live-in childcare usually takes the form of his wife (or equivalent), and society doesn’t see this as a reason for soul searching.
  4. A surprising number of successful women have a partner who earns significantly less than them and effectively fulfils the traditional ‘wife’ role when it comes to childcare. This has been my anecdotal experience is talking to many women in senior positions in education who don’t have a live-in nanny.
  5. I think I used to be/still kind of am one of the women mentioned in point 4 above, and I’m very aware of the support of my partner, which has enabled me to accept senior positions when we had children who were under one.

So it looks like to have children and be successful (by very particular measures), a live-in nanny helps. Sometimes that nanny is officially recognised and paid as such, sometimes it’s your spouse.  Either way, they should be acknowledged and respected.

Exploring self loathing in hip hop via Notorious B.I.G’s ‘Ready to Die’ Album

Due to the subject matter there are quotes containing swearing and sexually explicit language in the following post. Please don’t read if you are easily offended.

This post came about after reading an excellent blog post by Unseen Flirt dissecting Notorious B.I.G’s ‘One More Chance/ Stay With Me Remix ,one of the most popular songs by one of rap’s most popular artists and considering whether it revealed him to be a ‘misogynist or insecure. Before I continue, I need  state that I am not any type of expert, I’m just a fan of music and child of the 80s who came of age in the 90s loving, listening to and dancing to hip hop before it reached the colossal mainstream and commercial status that it has now.  My musical tastes have widened since then but I think that lovers of music always have a soft spot for the music of their teens.

“The black Frank White
is here to excite and
throw dick to dykes
Bitches I like em brainless

Guns I like em stainless steel…” – The What, Notorious B.I.G

Misogyny in rap is a much discussed topic and it would be easy to write a whole essay on it but I won’t because I don’t think it’s that clear-cut, despite lyrics like those proceeding.  In its original form, rap was the language of the poor and dispossessed,  living in maligned, forgotten, often violent neighbourhoods.

Housing projects in Brooklyn, New York City

Housing projects in Brooklyn, New York City

In such neigbourhoods the world over,  be they the barrios of Rio, the slums of Delhi, the shanty towns of Kingston, or the projects of Brooklyn, outlooks can be bleak, violence can be rife and life can be cheap. All life, male and female, young and old.  It’s easy to pick out lyrics from a politically correct, often white, often comfortably well off, sensibility and say that lyrics by rappers like Biggie hate, degrade and denigrate women – some  – but they speak to a wider more paranoid experience where nobody can be trusted. Not your girlfriend, not your old school friend, not your neighbour. Nobody.  My response to unseen flirt, was that although misogyny was undoubtedly there , it didn’t tell the whole story as he had to consider the song in its wider context, that of the Ready To Die album (yes, I know that the version quoted by Unseen Flirt was a remix). I then began to think about the album from the self-hatred and insecurity angle which is one I’d not given much though to before.

Ready to Die- original album cover

Ready to Die – original album cover

Ready to Die is a landmark album. It was the debut of undoubtedly one of the greatest lyricists in rap history and as with many debut rap albums it has a strongly autobiographical feel. In fact it starts with a fictionalised audio montage depicting B.I.G’s moment of birth to the album’s present day (1994) inventively done to a backdrop of popular black music at each time phase.  However, to explore the theme of self loathing I want to skip to the final track (on the original album release, not the 2004 digital remaster).

“When I die, fuck it I wanna go to hell
Cause I’m a piece of shit, it ain’t hard to fuckin’ tell”- Suicidal thoughts

So opens the first line from B.I.G from his first verse on the final song of the album.  In our iTunes, MP3, single download, iPod shuffle age its easy to forget the power of the album and the importance of the sequencing of songs. Any body over 30 who ever made their own mix tape (or CD) for somebody that they cared about or wanted to impress will tell you how long in takes to get the order of songs just right. For  any album, especially a debut it could be argued that the two most important songs are the first and last tracks.  In the egocentric world of hip hop these are the ones that allow the artist to set out who they are, how they want their audience to consider them, the prism through which they must listen to the album (for the first track)  as well as the sense of themselves that they want their current and hopefully future audience to be left with after the music has stopped playing ( for the final track).  B.I.G could have ended with a more traditional ‘look at my prowess’ track such as Unbelievable but instead he ends with an aural suicide note in which he details his, self percieved, many failings and exposes the emptiness and frailty hidden beneath his hoes, guns and money posturing. This is in my view, a powerful statement.  Self loathing seeps out of every pore of every line of  Suicidal Thoughts and it is especially powerful to consider it against the proceeding songs where similar themes are touched upon but often fleetingly or  from a different point of view.

“All my life I been considered as the worst”- Suicidal thoughts

Low expectations since birth and childhood run as a theme throughout Ready to Die. In a verbal introduction to the song Juicy (one of his biggest hits ) he  dedicates it  to  “all the teachers that told me I’d never amount to nothin’…” and as a throwaway line in Respect  the doctor delivering him takes one look at our infant protagonist before predicting “He’s gonna be a bad boy”.  In many of the more testosterone fueled tracks on the album we see B.I.G reveling in this image and playing up to it, almost in a self-fulling prophecy (playfully echoed, outlined and mirrored later by Eminem  in Role model and more angrily to some extent in The way I am ). Indeed, a song like Gimme the Loot, with its lyrical content and background refrain of ‘I’m a bad boy’ could be seen to glorify such a perception and taken in isolation would be a song that would justify cries from rap’s detractors of glorifying crime and violence with B.I.G gleefully and (in my mind) mischievously  declaring  “I been robbing motherfuckas since the slave ships” However, it is not for nothing that Christopher Wallace, the Notorious B.I.G is consistently in the top 10 of many lists of greatest rappers of all time.  His music is more nuanced than a cursory listen may allude to and his lyrics can be reflective, commenting on wider society as well as other’s perception of himself.

“Considered a fool

Cos I dropped out of high school…

Stereo types of a Black Male misunderstood

But it’s still all good” – Juicy.

Like all of us, B.I.G is a mass of contradictions  he raps about how his street contemporaries fear him and how he actively chose crime and drugs as a way to riches as a youth but on Suicidal Thoughts we see him lamenting the path that he chose prior to rap.

“Crime after crime, from drugs to extortion
I know my mother wished she got a fuckin’ abortion…

…I wonder if I died, would tears come to her eyes?
Forgive me for my disrespect, forgive me for my lies”- Suicidal thoughts

The above hints at a deep and ongoing insecurity that is alluded to throughout the album, B.I.G’s fear that his mother doesn’t love him.  This often unspoken fear is the root of many insecurities for many people.  It can drive us to destructive behaviors throughout our lives if our parents don’t care for us, who else will? Why should we care for ourselves? Surely we are worthless? Conversely for some it can cause us to seek to become overachievers to prove that we are worthy of love and that we are worth the attention.  Look, see what I did?  I’m good enough. I got a promotion. I’m a multi millionaire. Others think I’m worthy of respect, so should you.

Throughout Ready to Die both impulses appear to be at  work alongside an ambivalent attitude towards his mother.  The introduction to the album has  B.I.G outlining the trajectory of his life from birth, through to his delinquent adolescence and subsequent incarceration. An exchange with his criminal accomplice has implied parental neglect  as a justification for the robbery depicted

“Just listen man, your mother givin’ you money  nigga?
My moms don’t give me shit” – Introduction

This idea is continued on the eponymous track, Ready to Die, “My mother didn’t give me what I want, what the fuck?” However, the use of the word ‘want’ does not point to neglect here, instead making the listener wonder if B.I.G has unrealistic (given his current position) material desires.  He now seems to be railing against his mother for her inability to provide for his luxurious wants “Rolexes to the Lexus, gettin paid, is all I expected.”  Despite referring on several tracks to the struggle that his mother, as a single parent with “no spouse in the house”  had finding money to raise him and remembering that he often had cheap but nourishing “sardines for dinner”  in their “one room shack” B.I.G still explodes with anger when thinking of his lot in life and the comfortable lifestyle that has been denied him

“Fuck the world, fuck my moms and my girl

my life is played out like a jheri curl” – Ready to die

In more reflective mood B.I.G acknowledges that his behaviour may be unreasonable and that having a criminal son was difficult and a burden

“That’s why my mom hates me
She was forced to kick me out, no doubt” – Every day struggle

He even reflects that, as children, he and his friends used to be cared for by their parents but their repeatedly and increasingly violent and criminal behaviour has made them monstrous figures “Look at them now, they even fucking scared of us.” Ultimately, like most of us, B.I.G wants to be a source of pride to his mother, on Respect he notes how she implores him to choose a new path and start respecting himself before it’s too late.  Fast forwarding to his successful rap career and the wealth and fame that it has bought he is now adjusting to a new more positive relationship with his mother  “Mama smile when she see me, that’s surprisin’…”  As B.I.G celebrates his ascent up the socio- economic ladder on Juicy, he also delights in sharing the trappings of his wealth with his mother and her obvious pride in him when she sees his face in national music magazines.

“Thinkin’ back on my one-room shack
Now my mom pimps an  Ac’ with minks on her back
And she loves to show me off, of course
Smiles every time my face is up in The Source” – Juicy

The final aspect of self loathing that I’d like to consider having looked at other’s low expectations and parental relationships is B.I.Gs wider relationship with women and perceptions of his sexual and physical attractiveness.

This is interesting given how I was prompted to write the post based on a different article considering his misogyny. In keeping with most rappers, a large proportion of references to women on the album relate to sexual encounters with them or other as ways to display B.I.G’s sexual prowess. Indeed the original, extremely sexually explicit, version of One More Chance amounts to little more than B.I.G proclaiming the variety of women he has satisfied and the precise ways in which he has done so.  Women and his, self-proclaimed, sexual competence  can be seen, in B.I.Gs eyes as another thing to brag about, just like his cars and his guns and his money.  In one song he crows about cheating on one of his girlfriend’s with her more attractive sexually adventurous sister and he recommends that his male  listeners do the same

“She’s sayin’ I dissed her ’cause I’m fuckin’ her sister
A message to the fellas, that really gets’em pissed, uh”-Friend of mine

So far, so predictable but on Suicidal Thoughts we have reference to a similar (possibly the same) situation which this time has stirred feelings of self-disgust and regret in B.I.G

“My babies’ mothers 8 months, her little sister’s 2
Who’s to blame for both of them (naw nigga, not you)
I swear to God I just want to slit my wrists and end this bullshit.”

Later in the song he raps that as a result of his very public cheating he wouldn’t blame his girlfriend for hating him and being glad that he is dead after his panned suicide.  The self hatred related to women runs deeper than this though.  Notorious B.I.G was a clever and intelligent rapper but he was not traditionally attractive, indeed his chosen rap name and his many aliases, Biggie Small’s, Biggie and Big Poppa allude to the fact that he was physically obese.

The Notorious B.I.G
The Notorious B.I.G

On Juicy, he reminisces about how he didn’t always used to attract the type and volume of women that he does now in fact “Girls used to diss me” presumably because in his mind he was unattractive to them.

 “Heartthrob never, black and ugly as ever” – One more chance (Remix)

B.I.G  doesn’t deny or try to sugar coat his physical appearance, indeed on what is possibly his most romantic and female-friendly song, deliberately sampling The Isley Brother’s romantic soul classic Between the sheets, he actually revels in having his desired conquests call him Big Poppa

“(I love it when you call me Big Pop-pa)
To the honies gettin money playin niggaz like dummies”- Big Poppa

Many people who are insecure about an aspect of themselves instead make it into a strength or mock themselves before others can in a self preservation strategy.  This could possibly be the strategy behind the Fuck Me interlude where in a fictionalised sexual encounter between B.I.G a woman, we hear his partner in the throes of ecstasy calling B.I.G various names related to his blackness and – via the medium of food and number of references- his weight.

“Black mothafucka…black Kentucky Fried Chicken eatin’
…black mafia ass … Oreo cookie eatin’, pickle juice drinkin’
Chicken gristle eatin’, biscuit suckin’, MUTHAfucka
V8 juice drinkin’, slim fast, black greasy muthafucka
OOOHHHHH “

In the above monologue B.I.G adresses what detractors or enemies might say about him in a humorous way which also puts a massive middle finger up to them as it’s uttered by a woman in a moment of uncontrollable pleasure caused by his skills.

So returning to the original title of this post, exploring self loathing in hip hop via the ready to die album… yes the album contains the usual posturing, sex and bragging about material goods that has come to be associated with the rap/jip-hop genre but there are several more reflective moments than might initially be expected and clear undertones throughout of self doubt, insecurity and at time outright self loathing from Notorious B.I.G, who outside of his rap persona is just Christopher Wallace who on quiter moments away from his entourage believes that he was

” Born sinner, the opposite of a winner”

All that Twitters is not gold…

Aside

I’m going to say some things and many people reading aren’t going to like it.

But you know what? It’s fine. I can handle with dissent  and am happy to debate.  This blog is for me to consider my thoughts about issues largely related to my practice and evolve.  These issues have been floating around in my head for a while so here goes.

Twitter can be a bit of a mirror. Ppl look at it and see themselves. Many of us follow people that we like and agree with and forget that there is a wider world where ppl may not think these things.  So now I’m going to be a slightly heretical.

Most talk about Twitter from an educators point  of view focus on the positives ( of which admittedly there are many). If there are negatives mentioned its more to do with issues related to courtesy and rudeness of Tweeters rather than anything else.

I’d like to suggest that perhaps many of the things that we speak about as positives could at times be negatives.

Like minded professionals –By its very nature Twitter is self selecting, people are likely to be similar in some respects. It takes a certain type of person to comment about work issues in their personal time ( as many teachers on Twitter do). Dissent is surprisingly rare ( unless it’s against the Government) and when it comes sometimes people can be unfairly jumped upon or maybe just ignored just for expressing a  view slightly different.  Teachers on Twitter can forget that not everybody in schools are like us but hey that’s ok too.

CPD whenever you want it –I have been wondering whether Twitter encourages workaholism and further skews that work life balance that many educators say we want but then seek to actively destroy and ignore at seemingly  every opportunity. I  had an interesting discussion with somebody at work a few month ago a statement that they said  has stayed with me ” Every single day get into work at half past 7 and often stay until gone 6, on top of that I still have other things to do and there is always more. I know that you get a lot out of Twitter but the last thing I want to do is go home and talk about work and education in my personal time.”   The person I was talking to works hard and is a good teacher and do you know what, maybe she had a point.

Latest educational trends-In the educational world as with other areas of life these days, it seems that many things occur first on Twitter and the wider blogosphere. It’s immediacy  is part of the pull but it can also create a group speak, cultish effect at times. When I first became aware of Twitter many hashtags were about #SOLO now it seems to have moved on to #marginalgains ( of which more in a later post) there are great things about both of these but equally there may well be things that some educators feel don’t add any value.

In closing Twitter can be an excellent tool but let’s be balanced about things and realise that every ying has its yang- we need to be critical in our appraisal of things just as we ought to be encouraging those that we educate on a daily basis to be.

In the spirit of this I’m going to mention some Twitter contrarians who can always be relied on to disagree with something but who still want the best for students- @ethinking, @TheBullacademy. I’d give you more but maybe you should find your own or else we’ll all be having the same contrary voices which is against the whole spirit of this post.

My 2012 (Nurture 1213)

There has been a hashtag going around among education professionals on Twitter called #nurture1213.

The idea is a reflection of 2012 via 12 positive points and plans for 2013 via 13 points that you wish to work on.

Like all fashionable people, I’m slightly late to the party but my reflections re 2012 are below.

1. Photography

I took up photography  as a way to unwind after a particularly difficult 2011.  What started as an excuse to relax and have something just for myself not allied to work, or my personal relationships, has grown into a serious hobby and passion. It has given me a new way to look at the world and enabled me to connect with people who I would not other wise have met.  It is not an exaggeration to say that photography has kept me sane.

2. Kindness of strangers ( social networking)

I was initially underwhelmed by Twitter after being introduced to it via my  real life friend @Dewbien. However, I now believe that, used effectively, it is an unrivalled resource for connecting with people who share similar interests. My account mostly links to educational professionals and photography enthusiasts.  I have been the recipient of the most generous hospitality from ppl all around the world some of whom I have been lucky enough to physically as well as virtually.

As a result of social networking sites (mainly Twitter but to a lesser extent Facebook and Instagram) I have been taken to lunch and invited into people’s homes. I have been offered advice and expertise personally and professionally.  I have been given free software and plugins to help me with my photography.  I have been given insider’s tours of New York, Hong Kong and Sydney – all out of people’s good will.

3. Travel
I have always been excited by travel and been lucky enough to go to some interesting places but 2012 has been a definite highlight for me.  Having never been especially bothered about visiting  Australia, I spent 2 weeks there ( one in Melbourne and the other in Sydney) staying with my best friend who had decided to live and work there for a year after being made redundant.  Since I was travelling alone and I didn’t know that  I’d be visiting that part of the world again I decided to do a stop off in Hong Kong for a few days where I was looked after by the wonderful Nevin @gxgarnerings.  Who I’d been virtually introduced to by  a fellow photography blogger that I knew from London. Nevin, prevented me from being ripped off, introduced me to the most amazing fishballs and let me play with his Leica! For no reason other than that he is a great guy.

Part way through the year. I changed a planned solo trip to Peru  ( which I decided I was doing for the wrong reasons) into a combined anniversary present and first ever  foreign family holiday to New York with M and our (then 1 year old) boy, Little  G. It was brilliant and the feeling that I got watching Little G count and point to every single yellow taxi going by our hotel window over looking Central Park is something that I can’t quite describe.

As if that wasn’t enough I also went to Bruges ( or Brugge)  for a few days during the summer. I’d try to outline the reasons why here but I don’t know. It really was done completely on a whim. Something to do with a Twitter #ff that I idly checked out where I came across @phototourbrugge read the website  decided to go after  I realised that Eurostar went there for not very much and the journey was pretty quick.  What can I say? I’m sometimes a bit impulsive but M is used to it and very understanding.

4. Trying new things. Not being held back by fear.
I’m usually open to new experiences but I’ve accelerated that a fair amount in 2012. I remember  having a conversation with M where I told her that I didn’t want to be held back from doing things because of fear.  You’ll notice from above that I did some of my travelling solo. That is a new thing for me. I’ve been abroad alone before but usually to stay with somebody I already know as I did in Australia. This year was the first time that I’ve gone abroad and stayed alone. It was scary but I’m glad I did it. I learnt that I could and had fun but I also learnt that I love my family and have a limit beyond which I start to miss them terribly – which has ramifications for other things that we have discussed for the future.

However I also eliminated fear in small things. I have good friends and family but I also have very eclectic taste in music and sometimes nobody else wants to come with me. In the past M usually joined me but changes in our personal circumstances mean we don’t go out as a couple as often as we used to. So I decided that rather than miss out, I’d still go if it was something I wanted to see enough. I’m glad that I did.

5. Parenthood

I have now been a parent for just over 2 years. I’m going to be honest here and say that I found it incredibly difficult for the first year and  although I have always loved Little G,  there are a variety of reasons that I initially  didn’t cope very well with the impact of become a parent on my/our life, especially compared to M or other people we know.  That all changed in 2012. I now love being a mum.   There are so many more positives than negatives and I am enjoying helping Little G grow up into a happy, caring and joyous young person (I could do without the tantrums of the terrible 2s though). I hope that by our actions as parents wegive him the gift of happiness and resilience in 2013 and beyond.

6. Work life balance

As mentioned in point 1, I had a pretty crappy 2011 and at the end of it I decided to make quite a few changes to my life and personal relationships. One change was securing  a new job which I started in Jan 2012. When I started that job I decided that nothing would come before my family and personal well being. I decided that I would restrict my working hours to particular times and not work in the weekends. I have broadly stuck to this to no detriment to my productivity at work. In some ways I am more effective than I have ever been.

7. Happy at work
I work at a place where I feel valued and respected, I have thrived and achieved great things individually and via my team because I am trusted and given the space to use my professional opinion to do a good job.  I can be myself but have also been challenged and supported to become a better leader too. I originally joined in a sideways move but promoted to  a year long secondment to SLT this September, in which I am learning a great deal.  I could easily write a nurture 1213 post solely concentrated on work but won’t due to point 6.

8. Life with M
M and I have been together for over a decade. We have had lots of fun together  and some more trying times too.  2012 was the year that we have started to honestly negotiate and conquer what it means to be a couple who also happen to be parents. Our number one duty is to be there for our boy but we have also ( after a few false starts) found a way to remember and nourish  each other too as well as  ourselves individually. There has been much laughter in our house this year and writing this post is making me reflect on just how much I have to be greatful for.

9. Strong friendships
I feel that the modern world places too much emphasis on romantic love and that we expect too much from our  spouses.  The weight of expectation is a massive strain to place on one person. I came to the realisation a while ago that I actually have 2 soul mates, one is M and the other is my best friend, G,  and they fulfil different but complementary functions.  When  G went on a working visa to Australia, I was happy for him and didn’t give it much thought as a year goes pretty quickly. I was unprepared for what came next. I felt as if my arm had been cut off. I was bereft . Here was a person that I communicated with on an almost daily basis for several years and he was now gone. To make matters worse he originally didn’t have a permanent address or mobile phone, this added to the time delay, meant communication during the early months was extremely sporadic.  We managed to make things work and as mentioned in point 3 I visited him during his stay. He is back now but has decided to return permanently as he loved he quality if life ( I can’t blame him). We still have an enduring love for each other but I don’t feel that gut-wrenching dread now because I know that we will be just fine.

10. Honesty
I’m a fairly straight forward person who tries to be honest with people and values those who are honest with me.  I some areas that is easy but it can be difficult to be honest with your self especially if it involves perceived vulnerability or weakness.  I’ve been better at that this in 2012, I have many strengths but acknowledging my limits and knowing when I need to access support or advice has been liberating and improved my relationships and general well being.

11. Live sport
I have a list of things that I haven’t done but would like to try before I die. Some are big but others are small. I’m indifferent towards football but decided that it was kind of sad to be English but never have been to see our national game.  Luckily I have a few football mad close friends so it was not hard to remedy the situation  ( M would rather pull her eyes out). My first ever football match was  England v  Holland. Little did I know that it would be the start of a year of live sport for me and that I would actually like it!

Highlights have been a rugby final, baseball game, world cycling championships, Aussie rules football game, and the Olympics and Paralympics which I  was lucky enough to attend courtesy of a sports- mad and extremely generous friend.

I’m still underwhelmed by almost everything other than athletics on TV but live sport is a completely different experience and I’m planning to see  more in 2013.

12. Puckishness
I can be extremely driven and focused, I turn this on and off and have found it useful in achieving and exceeding my  personal and professional goals. However, deep down inside I’m just a mischievous imp. My life so far and those around me has taught me that life is what you make it. It’s too short to waste being unhappy, regretful , guilty or making others miserable, it is  to be enjoyed – for me this involves regularly  unleashing my ( sometimes close to the knuckle) sense of humour.

2012 has had it’s tough times but overall it has  been successful in many ways as well as being a year of wit, sarcasm, innuendo, harmless flirting and lots of fun at home, work and in between.