“Having a child has made me much more aware of my own privilege. I now understand the advantages I have had as a white, middle class, able-bodied woman. Having a child who is part of a marginalised group is incredibly eye-opening.” Penny Wincer on family life…
Penny Wincer lives in south east London with her two children: Arthur, eight, and Agnes, six.
Our mornings are … quite structured. Arthur is autistic and attends a special school and he’s collected by a bus at 7.40am. I need to keep things as calm as possible before the bus arrives because despite loving school, transitions can easily upset him. So if he isn’t awake by 6.15am (he usually is!), I wake him and we cuddle in his bed for a while before we go downstairs. He has a tent in the kitchen which he has turned into a little den and he always eats breakfast in there, while I sit just outside the tent and drink tea.
Agnes joins us whenever she wakes up and comes down for her breakfast. I then get myself dressed and ready and then get Arthur dressed just before the bus arrives. Getting dressed is his signal for leaving the house so I never do it too early or else he starts getting agitated waiting. After we have waved goodbye to Arthur, Agnes gets dressed and I’ll leave at that point to head off to a shoot or to my office (swapping with the nanny).
If it’s a day I’m doing the school run (I try and do Mondays and Fridays if possible), Agnes and I take the opportunity to hang out and play card games or checkers for half an hour (games that Arthur can’t play with us) and then we walk to school together before I head into my office. It’s a really nice bit of one-to-one time for the two of us and a lovely way to start the day. For Arthur, the early start means I can almost always put him on the school bus myself before I head to a shoot, which adds some consistency to my quite inconsistent freelance schedule!
I’d describe our house as … small but perfectly formed. It’s a 1930’s terrace and it’s only about 750 sq ft (69 sq metres) but it has a great layout, a light and airy kitchen diner at the back and a small separate living room at the front. We don’t have a downstairs loo, a laundry, or big bedrooms, but it suits our needs exactly. My bedroom is my favourite room, with putty coloured walls, a blue-tiled original fireplace and minimal furniture.
My kids mainly wear … secondhand finds and bits and pieces from small retailers. Arthur wears a uniform of corduroy trousers, long-sleeved jersey tops and wooly jumpers in the winter and chino shorts and cotton t-shirts in the summer, which I mostly get from Ebay. He’s not fussed about what things look like and he doesn’t like having to choose so that keeps it simple. I have to consider things like necklines carefully because he struggles getting dressed and he doesn’t own any button down shirts because he can’t do buttons at all. I recently discovered Plae shoes, which we love. They have very flexible soles, are lightweight and have velcro straps (many other brands stop by size 1-2) which is essential for Arthur with his movement issues.
Agnes cares more about what she wears and loves dresses and skirts with leggings underneath. I pick up vintage dresses for her (Monstrous Vintage Kids is fab) as well as pieces from independent shops and secondhand from Ebay. I buy the essentials (like pants and tights and odd bits and pieces) from the high street. I don’t ever take my kids shopping. I always keep in mind what they each like when I purchase things but I make the purchases and then they have complete say over what they wear day-to-day. Going to shops is too overwhelming for Arthur and I think it’s unnecessary even for typical kids. We all have relatively few clothes. I would rather each of our clothes get worn often, than wasting money on clothes we barely use. Plus it really helps avoid massive washing piles!
I cope with clutter by … living in a small house. It really does prevent you from owning too much. I love a good clearout too, so I regularly pass on old clothes and toys. It’s hard with Arthur not to get sucked into thinking that if I just get this toy, or that piece of equipment, then he’ll engage in play more. But I have learned over the years that there is no magic bullet and that having relatively few things is actually the best way to go. Agnes’s craft area is one place where I never seem to have control of the clutter.
Our favourite family meal is … pancakes. It’s not really a meal I know but Arthur eats only a few different foods so it’s one of the only things all three of us will eat together. We always sit together to eat (unless I’m working) but Agnes and I eat one thing and Arthur will have something else. One of the many things I have had to come to accept, parenting a child with significant differences.
I never leave the house without … my phone and headphones so that I can listen to an audiobook.
When no one’s looking I … sneak off to write.
Having a child has made me … much more aware of my own privilege. I think I have always been grateful for being healthy and feeling loved but now I understand on a much deeper level the advantages I have had as a white, middle class, able-bodied woman. Having a child who is part of a marginalised group is incredibly eye-opening.
I encourage creativity … by backing off. I try not to project my own interests onto Agnes too much or pass judgement on what she likes to create and do. Instead I try to ask a lot of questions about it. The only activity I really insist on is reading together. I think stories are vital to us as humans and creative beings. Arthur has never really wanted to read or look at books with me so I’m incredibly grateful that I get to do it with Agnes.
I’ll never be able to part with … a black and white photo of my mum, taken in front of my childhood home. She’s in her mid 30s, wearing just the kind of outfit I remember her wearing and it was a time when she was really happy.
Bedtime tends to be … long. We have a routine that stretches from about 7pm (the start of bath time) until Arthur falls asleep (with me lying next to him) at about 9pm. Doing bedtime on my own with two kids when one has much higher needs is tricky but we have a pretty good routine going. Arthur can’t and won’t sit through reading time with Agnes so we often sit in the bathroom to do this while he splashes about in the bath.
Because Arthur spends a lot of time during the day on high alert, he takes a long time to wind down to sleep. So we have a lot of structure and rules about the evenings to help it go as smoothly as possible. Agnes has had to learn that Arthur’s needs come first when it comes to falling asleep because he finds it so difficult. She has been really accepting of this and I make up for it at other times of the day when we do things just the two of us.
These days, Arthur likes to fall asleep all the way under the duvet so I lie with him and catch up on some podcasts using headphones. It’s actually a really nice calm way to end the day, especially if Arthur’s had a hard day. We always end with a cuddle no matter how tricky it’s been.
When all else fails … I book a babysitter. It sounds harsh but I have really discovered over the years that if I don’t get respite, I do a terrible job at parenting. If we are having a particularly tough trot (which often happens during school holidays or other times when routine is disrupted) then I book the babysitter and get out for a break.
Follow Penny Wincer on Instagram: @pennywincer