Location: Essex, UK – Life In My Shoes with Nina Tame, discussing collecting kitsch, tattoos, disability and motherhood in the UK.
Interview by Nicole Lutze
Shoutout: We’re proudly partnering with Birkenstock to bring you Life In My Shoes: A series of interviews with parents from all around the world.
About me. I was born disabled but didn’t lose my mobility until about three years ago; I’m now a wheelchair user. I have four children: Charlie (16), Casper (13), Clarke (7) and Cary (3). I live with my partner, Jase, in a little house in Essex, which is about an hour south-east from London.
Love. I’d been a single mum for about a year when I started talking to Jase on Twitter. He was this nerdy geek who lived in London, and one day, I was taking Charlie to London to see the original Ghostbusters movie, and Jase invited himself along. He was so sweet to Charlie, and I thought: hmmm, I quite like him! We bumbled about not saying we liked one another for a couple of months, then finally admitted it and had our first date. We’ve been together ten years now and have had two kids.
Home. Our house was originally a little bungalow, but the previous owners extended it and added an upstairs. The older boys live upstairs, and Jase and I live downstairs with the younger kids. I collect 1980s toys and anything kitsch or retro. Despite having lots of boys living here, I’ve managed to paint many rooms pink, and the whole house is very girly and cute.
Tattoos. I have 14 tattoos; the majority were done by Keely Glitters, who is a well-respected artist. Her style is really bright and cute, so it’s right up my street.
My first was a letter C when my eldest was born. I’ve got a sonic screwdriver because we’re all big Dr Who fans, a few cats, a kewpie doll, and a fortune teller (which was a post-divorce present to myself). I still love all my tattoos, but I wouldn’t necessarily pick them now. They’re like little time stamps that take me back to lovely moments.
Jase had been adamant about never wanting a tattoo, so when he got a letter N tattooed for my birthday a few years ago, it was a really sweet surprise.
Pregnancy. I was 25 when I was pregnant with Charlie, which at the time I felt so old, but I now look back and think: I was a child.
A fair amount of well-intended worries surrounded my pregnancies, and I think that’s true for many disabled people who want to have children. Because my disability affects my spine and nerves, people worried about how it would affect me or whether it would hurt my back. But I was very headstrong and determined it would all be fine. And it was. A few years later, I had Casper.
Parenting. I was a lot stricter with my eldest child because I was less relaxed and in a very different relationship to the one I now have with Jase. My eldest, Charlie only ate homemade organic food, whereas I think my youngest child literally had pizza as one of his first foods.
Charlie went into his own room really young, which was next door to ours, but he was in there so soon and was bottle-fed. Same with Casper, though I did breastfeed him but not for as long as I wanted; I didn’t feel supported by my partner to continue any longer. Whereas with the younger two, we co-slept with them for the first two years and I breastfed them for a couple of years. Jase is so supportive and has championed me to do what I wanted.
I think parenting is a very individual thing in Britain, and there are many different styles; plus, this is a very multicultural country. Amongst my group of friends, there are many differences in parenting styles: I have friends who are stricter in some ways but more laid back in others.
Parenting a disabled child. Growing up, I never identified with being disabled and thought it was an icky word. I used to call myself differently-abled, which makes me want to vomit now. Then, Clarke, my third son, was born with Spina Bifida like me. That changed everything. Suddenly, what I had disliked about myself, I adored in him, which really changed the way I thought about myself.
Previously I just accepted people would ask me a lot of intrusive questions all the time, like, “What happened to you?” And I would answer them because I thought I had to. But when Clarke started getting asked the same questions, I was like, hang on; he doesn’t have to answer those. We told him: “You do not have to answer these questions; you can literally tell them to bugger off because they’re being super nosy.” Empowering him set me on a path of wanting better for disabled people, so he doesn’t have to go through the things I went through. He is my driving force.
Ableism and parenting. Because I could still walk and was fully mobile when I had Charlie and Casper, I experienced parenting while appearing non-disabled. By the time I had my third son, I had started using a walking stick; and then when I was pregnant the last time, I lost my full mobility and began using a wheelchair.
Because you rarely see a disabled person in the media who is a mum, and because there is a presumption that disabled people need more care than others, people assume I cannot give care. They think I can’t possibly be a parent because my legs don’t work, so none of me must work.
When parenting Cary, I realised there are no adaptive products for disabled parents, so you have to find your own way to do things. The disabled community is amazing and give recommendations, but you can feel like you’re completely on your own.
I want people to know that disabled parents exist, and they bring so much to parenting. My kids have such a strong understanding of difference and discrimination and already know what ableism is. I think everyone looks at disability and thinks: that’s a shame; that’s a negative. Nobody can ever imagine that your disability can bring something positive to a situation. I think we are underestimated all the time.
Accessibility in the UK. Accessibility is terrible. Big venues like shopping centres are great, but we live in a little town. The pavements are awful for getting around, and most shops have a step up, so I can’t go into them.
None of the very central tube stations in London’s centre are accessible for disabled people, and the excuse is that they’re old stations.
Schooling. Over the last year, we have done lots of homeschooling. I always thought I wanted to homeschool, and then I actually had a chance to do it and went: this is awful! It wasn’t entirely awful, we had some really lovely moments, but it made me realise I can’t work and provide an education at the same time.
I don’t think there has been much support for parenting, especially mums, during the pandemic. There’s almost been an expectation that mums will do everything; mums will step back and put their work to one side. I think it’s bought out quite a lot of sexism.
Community. When I was growing up, life was very community-based. I played in the street with friends, and everyone went to the local shops to buy things. Now we have big supermarkets and shopping centres, and the community I had growing up doesn’t seem to be there as much. People don’t talk to their neighbours as much, and it’s not the same sense of community. Well, I can’t talk for the whole of Britain, but it feels that way where we are.
Music. Our family are big music lovers. Spotify is normally blaring from several rooms at a time, and we love a kitchen disco. The little ones love all my old cheesy music – Mr Blue Sky is a big hit at the moment. One of my sons plays guitar and keyboard, and another is really into music production.
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