The Kindness of Strangers

Mumsnet Logo

In the last month I have received via Mumsnet*: an offer of a free holiday home for a week, some dried lavender, Estée Lauder Night Repair serum (that was a MN giveaway). Some ebooks and resources to improve my writing, some yarn to make so more blanket squares, and volunteers to try out a pattern I designed. That is just in the last month. From complete strangers.

When the above Mumsnetter recently offered my family the chance to stay in her house abroad she said “Not sure what I will tell my husband, probably that you are from university” because who would believe that people who have never met in real life could feel the need to do such a thing? It is testament to the generosity of Mumsnetters over the years (and the things that I have done in return) that my own husband didn’t bat an eyelid when I told him that a person from Mumsnet who I knew only by user name had made such an offer.

But my love for Mumsnet is not just cupboard love. It’s about more than the material things I have received. It is about the advice and support I have received in spades.

When I have been up at 3 in the morning crying because breastfeeding was going so badly, Mumsnetters have been there. When I had a home birth, not only did Mumnetters give me loads of advice in making the decision in the lead up, they were there cheering me on and doing virtual knitting in support while I posted between contractions.

I’ve cyber stalked Mumnetters and found them at my workplace, at my knitting group, and conversely I have converted my friends to the Cult of Mumsnet. Some people are very coy about their affiliation with the site in real life, partly to preserve their anonymity, and possibly partly because of the bad press it often gets.

Some of the criticisms are deserved. Mumsnet has gone through periods of turmoil where certain groups of posters have ruled the virtual playground. But these criticisms are true for many online forums, and as with every forum it has evolved, and grown.

A lot of the bad press it gets stems from bitterness and jealously. Liz Jones takes a crack or two at it on occasion, but her dazzling wit and astute observations (sorry, it’s hard to convey sarcasm in the written word) continues to be outpaced by the shrewd and scintillating posters who chose to put their brains and words to good use on Mumsnet rather than waste it on the misogynistic heap of shite that is the Daily Mail.

During the last general election, the media hailed it as the Mumsnet election, and politicians and politicos flocked to the site to woo the votes of its posters. It was mostly media hype, but a nod to the rise to prominence of the female story in the slightly more egalitarian world of the Internet (unless you count the Guardian Forums). But in the same way that the media and government used Mumsnet as a symbol of all women, so too is Mumsnet used as a way to beat all women down. When journalists and comedians mock Mumsnet, what they are really mocking is women’s freedom of speech. Ho ho ho, let’s laugh at the women who think their lives are meaningful and who think they have something important to say. God forbid that mums engage in anything but tending to their children and husbands. It shows complete ignorance and, at the very least, lack of proper research. For you don’t have to look very far on Mumsnet to find women (some men, but it is mostly women) making a real difference in the world, whether it is advising another mum how she can continue to breastfeed her baby, making blankets for the recently bereaved, or taking part in numerous campaigns to bust rape myths, improve miscarriage care, and improve reproductive choices in third world countries.

On a personal note, I truly believe Mumsnet has made me a better parent, you know, apart from all the time I’ve spent neglecting them. If it wasn’t for Mumsnet I wouldn’t have stuck with breastfeeding, I wouldn’t have done Baby Led Weaning with my children, I wouldn’t have worn my second child in a sling for so many months. That’s not to say that those choices themselves make me a better parent, but knowing about these choices, finding that there is more out there than Gina Ford and naughty steps, has given me the confidence to make the right choices for me and my children. And that’s not to say that all Mumsnetters are the sling wearing, lentil-weaving type; far from it. There are many Mumsnetters who would rather poke themselves in the eye with a blunt pencil than wap their baps out to feed their children, or who would rather spend an evening at a Peter Andre autobiography book launch than even to discuss parenting online. There are even people on Mumsnet who don’t have children. And that’s the thing about Mumsnetters, they are so diverse that it is impossible to even try and levy any sort of criticism against them as a community.

Mumsnet Crochet Blanket

If this post sounds familiar, it’s because I have written a paean to Mumsnet before, when I started contributing to the Mumsnet Woolly Hugs Blankets (if you are bored by my writing yet another sycophantic blog post, then tough, it’s my blog!) Once again I find myself with another couple of balls of yarn, donated by yet another stranger, to make squares for a blanket of someone I don’t know. But I don’t need to know her. I just know she has lost a child and needs support. God forbid it should ever happen to me, but I know that Mumsnet would be the place I would turn to in my time of need.

*Warning: do not confuse Mumsnet with Netmums. It’s like confusing Father Jack from “Father Ted” with the Pope. You know, if the Pope said “hun” a lot and used smileys.

A finished Mumsnet blanket

Regular readers might remember that I have contributed squares to a couple of blankets which are made as a group project by a bunch of women who for the most part have never met, for people they have never met. The people who these blankets are destined for have been bereaved in some way, and the blankets are a way of sending a little bit of comfort.

 

While often derided as just ‘words on a screen’ Mumsnet, and other forums, are places where relationships are formed. I’ve never met most of these women, yet many of them have been there for me in my darkest hours. But my darkest hours have been nowhere near as dark as those who have lost husbands or children.

 

These blankets are usually hand delivered to these families, bristling with energy; a collective unconscious. I’m sorry to say I didn’t contribute to the blanket pictured above. But there have been others that I have contributed to, and there will be more. I just wanted to post the picture of this piece of work. It’s amazing that scores of disparate people can make so many different squares that come together to look so beautiful. And some of the people who have made these squares are complete novices, trying out a new skill to lend support to a stranger. And let’s not forget the donors provide money or yarn to the cause. You can read more about this blanket here. In the meantime I’m just going to marvel at the blanket, I just need to get this thing out of my eye…

Another Mumsnet Blanket

You may remember I few months back I made some flowers to contribute towards a project for a bereaved family, one of whom was part of the mumsnet community? Well fate has reared it’s ugly head again. A mumsnetter has passed away, her death sadly announced by her husband. And in the intervening time another mumsnetter lost her 4 year old daughter in a tragic accident. I learnt this from the mother of this daughter on Twitter. Strange, you might think, that such information is shared in this way. I don’t think so. It’s no different to texting friends, emailing them, writing them letters. These people are part of a community. We are part of each other’s daily lives. And once again Mumsnetters are trying to do their bit to support these families. A blanket may seem trite, but what wouldn’t be trite? There is nothing that can be done to bring back lost loved ones. So you just do your little bit and hope that it can bring even just a tiny bit comfort.

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There is no denying it. Life is just really shit for some people. Little children shouldn’t lose their mums. Parents shouldn’t lose their four year old daughter. There is none of this that doesn’t suck.

So this is my tiny contribution. A square for a blanket. The yarn was kindly donated to me by another mumsnetter, so all I contributed was my time. The pattern for the square is here. While the finished product is quite nice, the pattern is hard to follow, though an experienced crocheter should be able to plough through it. Thanks to all the Mumsnet crafters who helped me with the pattern.

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Give your loved ones a squeeze tonight. Anyone who knows me will know that I am not a religious person, but there is no better way to say “there but for the grace of God go I.”

Help make a blanket for Refuge

Example squares from http://sibol-thearchive.blogspot.com/2010/07/my-squares_27.html

Knitting magazines Simply Knitting and The Knitting are supporting Refuge as their charity of choice this year. Refuge provide invaluable, sometimes even life saving, support to woman and children suffering from domestic violence.

 

More details can be found here. From that page: Sandra Horley, CBE and CEO of Refuge, says: “Domestic violence is the biggest issue impacting on women and children in this country. The statistics are shocking – two women are killed each week by a current or former partner in England and Wales and hundreds more women suffer in silence. Raising awareness of domestic violence is a crucial part of Refuge’s work which is why we’re delighted to be supported by Simply Knitting and The Knitter. The blankets will mean a great deal to the women and children who receive them, many of whom leave home with little more than the clothes they are wearing.”

 

If you want to contribute you can send blankets directly to Refuge, or you can contribute knitted or crochet 6 inch squares to the Simply Knitting Offices, Simply Knitting, Units 1 & 2 Cotterell Court, Monmouth Place, Bath BA1 2NP, where they will kindly stitch together individual squares. Deadline is Christmas. More information can be found on my regular haunt Mumsnet.

 

The book 200 crochet blocks by Jan Eaton is a great resource for a variety of squares if you want some inspiration. I hope you can contribute to this worthy cause.