Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Reading too much into things...

Have you read Not A Box? I became briefly evangelical about this book after Spider-boy was born. It became my present of choice for new babies that I know I will love and their parents. The cover is so stylish it feels branded by Muji, and the illustrations are a design-chic delight.

Like many of the very best picture books, it has a brilliant subtext in which the adult reader is relegated to role of (hilariously) poor observer, and the child being read to is forced to speak out and explain what is really going on. Unbound by the written word, they are free to notice and respond (with laughter or derision) and 'correct' the silly grown up who has completely missed the point.

In Not A Box a thoughtful and ingenious toddler rabbit is nagged by an unimaginative grown up to stop playing with a box. The rabbit is tied in knots by his lack of language, he can't explain quite what he's doing when berated for messing around in the box; but we onlookers can see he's flourishing. He travels the universe, skips around in time, conquers, climbs, invents, drives and soars alone with his box. He can't say what the box is because it is everything and nothing; all the magnificent possibility of his little world is found in folded cardboard.

Rosie's Walk is like that, silly old Mum never able to grasp what is really happening as the fox fails to catch the hen. The Man On The Moon, is positively polluted with misplaced confidence on the part of adorable and know-it-all Bob and your daft folks reading it as they miss all the aliens and their scampy littering ways. And Shark In The Park, too, where the adult reader, and Timothy's Dad, and even Timothy, have so much confidence in their frankly absurd assertion that they can safely say 'there are NO sharks in the park today'.

I love them more than flagrant Mummy propaganda of sweeter tales like Guess How Much I Love You? Though that story of a nutbrown hare and his benevolently competitive guardian who loves him to the moon (and back again), is both lovely and loving it isn't quite my cup of coffee. I don't know exactly why the glorious pictures and a snuggling down at the end of the day message aren't enough, but I think for me it is something to do with what emotions books allow us to try out.

As new parents books allow us to try out personalities on our kids. A friend of mine has a baby book which boasts, in a sticker on the front, a surprise mirror ending. She jokes her daughter, aged 3 months, will now KNOW the ending. I loved it when Spider-Boy could be propped up with his toys mimicking our motor skills and looking like he was reading to his animals. And I enjoy the joke for grown ups at the heart of the That's Not My... books - after all, of course, that isn't your puppy. It is a POODLE and yours is a spaniel, however woolly her tail.

But the best books I know allow the kids to flex their independence before curling back up under the duvet in that glorious regression of sleep. I am entranced at how easily almost every kid I've ever read to takes to the monumental tantrum allegory of Where The Wild Things Are. How reassured they seem that Max is enveloped by the real world kindness of people who 'love him best of all', and they are there, waiting, right at the very end, even though he had threatened to eat them up. Spider-boy pretends to be impervious to Sendak's final reassurance, but would rail and rebel if I forgot to mention Max's supper was still hot.

I loved these books, and love the delight and screaming and hilarity they provoke in my son and his friends. I like the way they force me to play the fool, and the flash of subversion in Spider-boy's lump-of-coal bedtime eyes. It could merely be he thinks I am an idiot; I've prepared him for this by asking him the same questions again and again (I've had many a withered look from him at 18 months which said: 'I told you cows say moo yesterday'). But I think he's momentarily flirting with time, trying out a future where he's the person in the room who knows the most about himself.

This is a good thing as we are approaching the cataclysm of Spider-boy starting school. For all the posturing and lying and competition and craziness that surrounds school choices and selections in North London's chattering class corners it worries me most as it proves a time will come when whether I have all the answers or not is no longer the issue or the game. The time is coming (shudder), when Spider-boy will just be more interested in asking someone else. Tempted as I am to tame him with my magic trick of looking into his eyes and not blinking once, I think it might be more exciting to watch him fly.

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Small comforts

I'm not surprised Churchill referred to his depression as his 'black dog', because in my experience depression is the worst kind of bitch. Even when you are classed as 'over it', you can hear and smell it somewhere nearby, panting in the shadows, snuffling around and threatening to shit in your path.

Earlier this week I felt a little overwhelmed by what I think (and hope) are the stuff of normal, common all gardening parental anxiety. They spiralled and wormed their way into my mind like the worst kind of dizzy headache. Where will Spider-boy go to school? Will we ever have any money? Have I destroyed my career by having kids? Have I destroyed my children by working? Am I any good at parenting? Are my relaxed days good for everyone or evidence that deep down I'm still feckless and lazy? Do I have expectations that are too high or not high enough? What happens if I never sleep again? Can you get so tired you forget what love is? And on, and on, and on.

With my first child, these were the symptoms of a disease. I spiralled and stumbled and became undone each thought cascading into another until I lost myself and was happy to drown. At the moment, I suspect I'm just wallowing in these waters (albeit with the trepidation of someone who's already been out of their depth). As I said, depression is a bitch, and I suspect I'll always be able to hear her if I listen carefully, roaming somewhere near my house, howling in the dark.

But this is a post about love and comfort. Slightly shaken I took two mornings *off* this week wondering if I was stricken or just, you know, tired and a bit emotional (and frankly, not drunk enough). I went back to bed 'til midday, just newborn and I, and we snuggled and cuddled, he in his nappy and nothing else.

One of the days he was snuffly and cross and not in good sorts himself. Still beautiful you understand, proud ballooning belly, wide wide smile, the only crooked thing on his gloriously symmetrical face, but also grizzling and crying and fussing while he fed. I tried all my tricks, placating and soothing, rocking and rubbing, playing, shhhing, kissing and almost gave up. I lay down next to him with a sigh and he looked over and grabbed at my face, pulling it towards him with his tiny insistent arms. His hands on my cheeks and hair, his too sharp nails digging in. I went with the move and he pulled me close, like a clumsy lover, my face into his, until his lips rested on mine. He gazed up at my eyes and breathing back at me fell asleep. He wanted our breath close and hot, needed it to feel safe. As he started to snore it dawned on me, the light of the sunny day we had been missing streaming from the edge of the blinds, that perhaps he was holding me because he wanted me to feel safer too.

It may be wishful thinking; children have every right to be selfish (parenthood has confirmed to me the absolute truth of that teenage cliche I didn't ask to be born, because however annoying that may be in 11 years time, it is a true accusation and one I don't have an answer for). But it whizzed me back to 2007 so fast my stomach lurched. I remembered another bright day, light hitting my face from the crackleglaze of the institutionalised windows in a horrible, dirty side room where Spider-boy and I had been placed. He was 15 days or so old, and we'd been readmitted in a bloodsoaked frenzy to the sticky, hot postnatal ward which smelled of rust and powdered tea and fear and bliss all churned together.

There he was, as too fat for his goldfish bowl crib as I was too small for the pregno shaped nightie. His presence was partly pragmatic, because I was breastfeeding him, but also a legal requirement. As he hadn't been registered we were told he didn't exist as a separate entity from me. He was still 'Baby thatwoman', nothing without me and our matching tags. It was between visiting hours, scary and the height of Summer. There were things I wanted to do but I was pinned to the bed by some nasty needles in my hand. Mr Thatwoman was firefighting his new job and sorting the house hoping we'd be back soon. I started crying, and a little hand reached up to touch my chest. It rested there as Spider-boy snuggled in, and I felt better.

A fundamental truth of parenting knocked my imagined future apart. I realised that he could comfort me even at this very young age; the relationship was two-way and being offered. It had never occurred to me that right from the start this was possible, yet here I was, something tiny and fragile and legally non-existent holding me and caring for me when I felt broken.

I know that it is no certainty and no right of mine to expect it, but even knowing that my boys have held me and cuddled me back, whether on purpose or as an accident of motor skills, makes me feel better and more optimistic. Seriously, how fucking lucky am I? To have had a two-way love from the start? To have had been able to grasp and find love even in moments of potential blankness? It certainly gives me hope, even if it was depression was barking at the supermoon...

Guest blogging and pissing around...

When Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins (then married) made a political speech at the Oscars they were accused by senior flanks of Hollywood royalty of behaving like guests who repaid their host's hospitality by pissing on the living room rug. I have just done something similar.

I was recently invited, very kindly, by TherubbishPregno, to guest blog about incontinence on her site CrapAtPregnancy (tagline: it's had to bloom with your head down the toilet). I see her site as the online equivalent of the moment when anyone who has found pregnancy tough meets another woman who says aloud that she hated being up the stick. Genie let loose, the former can finally relax knowing she isn't crazy, or ungrateful, or, crucially, alone. I wish her every bit of luck in this pregnancy, and commend her site for anyone who worries they aren't as good as they should be at blooming.

This is the post wot I wrote. It is my muddled way of explaining what happened to me and my hope that women who have developed incontinence post birth should get help. It encompasses some of the themes of posts I've written here, notably the trouble with conditions that carry with them stigma on account of the embarrassment, humiliation, and taboo which surrounds them.

I fear it is a bit of a cop out though, as it is downbeat and demonstrates that I am pretty useless and coy myself for all my bravado - after all I can rant and joke and make bold remarks, stark descriptions even of both depression and incontinence. But do I have the mettle to really stick my neck out or am I pissing around avoiding the issue because I'm as guilty as anyone of finding it all a bit shameful? The answer is pissing around, of course, because I've posted somewhere else.

I've said before that one of the problems with incontinence, as TheRubbishPregno discusses in her far too kind introduction to my missive, is no-one talks about it so it becomes shameful and hidden and people don't get help. And that despite it being so common no-one wants to be the poster girl for it, somehow, like its more serious older siblings the cancers of the embarrassing bits (penis, colon, bowel) it has missed out on all the super celebs prepared to be associated with it. No Top Shop tie-ins or ribbons for this family of nether region distress. Ulrika Jonsson did try once, and got some coverage but also some unsisterly nastiness (I saw her in a national newspaper's what's not hot section for talking about it - shameful).
So I link to my guest blog with slightly pink cheeks and the promise there could be more piss talk here soon.

Sunday, 20 March 2011

The sounds of Sundays (hear here)

Many blogs I follow take a day out a week for a 'silent' post, where the author puts a picture either taken that day or from their gallery to reflect their mood. Today, I'll ask you to shhh, but must apologise for my inability to offer you a brilliant picture for your silence.

Newborn is making up for the fortnight of puke, with a few days of frantic sucking. Last night a generous estimate would be three hours sleep. Today he's settled briefly but mostly wanted to be feeding or sleeping. Or, as he is doing right now, breastfeeding whilst sleeping making a sort of suckle snore sound. The sound and fevered snortling motion prevents me from napping whilst he's at it. As the song goes, 'everyone's a winner, baby'.

Lack of sleep moaning is boring though, and I note it only to remind myself in future weeks if he goes at it again like this that it is possible to survive growth spurts. What interests me is the sounds though, conjuring so much.

Today sounded of Sunday and Spring. If I try to unlayer the day, and think about it like a radioplay so many elements make it feel like London, end of winter, definitely not a school day. I feel transported somehow into another time, like falling through space. I can hear a radio, in another room in the house next door, a car starting up, washing up, gas hissing under a hob of batch cooking, someone mending a motorbike, the hum of the fridge. I realise it is the brilliant sound of pottering layered with distant traffic - as evocative of the city outside working hours as the clonk of cork on willow, thudding teenage feet against a bus shelter (as they fidget and handstand), thunderbug buzzing and lawnmowers is of sleepy village life.

Before parenthood I was worried about two sounds, mooing in labour and screaming children. The grave fear of both was misguided - I didn't care AT ALL about doing the former, and could never have anticipated the stress of the second whenever it occurs.

I've noted Newborn's loud, proud truffle hunter snuffles and snores before, and his gorgeous giggles. He's added this week a clear, moany, differently pitched, chattering. He engages with monologues, often as he stares at that back-to-front baby and Ma (who're following us around and copying our wardrobe), but, if I'm especially lucky, with me. It is like a conversation with its peaks and troughs, its pauses and rhythms, quite whiny and sometimes mistaken for a cry; his singsong ranty sound is not unlike me going off on one about some perceived injustice.

What amazes me is the way the sounds of my boys has become part of my world and the fabric of my memory. They change and fade or shift like an age-old quilt but smell to my ears of home - Spider-boy's baby burbling is now speech with added accents, idiosyncratic catchphrases, jokes. The clicks of his toy buses' doors, the sound of wheels on wooden floors, the satisfying husssh of duplo bricks preceding their clatter to the floor. I am so uncreative and lacking in musical talent but these domestic symphonies are forever the era of us and our lads.

Perhaps my favourite is the sound of heavy breathing from a little body. Concentration so acute and unashamed. Sometimes the bassline beat to the wrinkling and tinkling of the baby gym and grunts as Newborn attempts, again, to roll over, or accompanying the clonks of animals loaded in and out of Spider-boy's double decker as a complex circus zoo traffic jam is built. It seems to represent their uncompromising, unembarrassed dedication to themselves and the tasks of their little world. Hear here!

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Either that tea towel goes or I do...

When Spider-boy was little he didn't smile a lot. I used to think, in the dead of night, it was my fault for not smiling enough when he was tiny, a dread fear that I'd broken him by crying too much on my maternity leave. I've been persuaded he just had a bit of 'tude, and liked people to work for his affection.

Now he's a clown. The last great toddler comedian. My better half has taught him the s-word. 'Mummy' he said the other week. 'Let's play slapstick' and with that threw himself to the kitchen floor. This weekend he and his Father spent hours coming up with his first good joke. 'Mummy' they ask, all shared scampiness, 'Why is Spider-boy's bottom SO naughty?' 'I don't know...' I say, knowing I've been set up. 'Because it is SO cheeky' they scream and fall about on the sofa.

Last night my husband and I lay in bed, the newborn snoring softly in between us, and laughed at an old joke. It started as a joint smirking at a stupid internet thing but it grew into glorious, ridiculous, unaccountable hysteria.

Grown ups giggling in the dark. Whisked back to the mattress we sometimes slept on in our first (shared) house. So unbridled were we last night we were briefly uncaring about waking the for once sleeping baby.

What was it over...? I'm not exactly sure. To explain the joke I'd have to understand it better myself although it felt one part being tickled by a ludicrous tie in toy for Titanic, and thirty parts making up for a couple of years where laughing has mostly followed tears, forming the shrug off, getting us out of the dark. There has been lots of fun in daylight hours, Spider-boy has seen to that as he's found his voice, but in our midnight peals there was an echo of a more carefree, joyful existence which made me feel sad on waking and remembering. It made me scared, just for a second, that I am too broken to pass on any proper joie de vivre to my boys.

But even I couldn't be sad for that long as laughing is a good feeling. Loud, unbridled, snorting, embarrassing laughter, shaking us into squeaking tears.

Later this afternoon, in the kitchen, I was playing with the littlest. He's four months old and has started to engage with everything. Inanimate objects, voices he recognises, people, songs. He lectures his reflection, follows his brother's every move, bats away toys again and again. And as he does all this I watch, praying both my lads develop a capacity for larks, and joy, and happiness and singing hearts.

I kneel down at his level, smile and bob my head. His makes a yak yak sound. A primal giggle fizzing through a huge, sticky, toothless grin. I smile again and make an encouraging noise. The laughter bubbles, the volume grows. A pattern of nodding and smiling and looking into each others' eyes begins, and I felt like repeating it forever. We last over 20 minutes, he and I. One laugh tumbling into another, the brief anticipation almost as funny as the joke. Bantering. Riffing. Playing.

The phone rings and I kiss his forehead. For a moment as I skip to pick it up I think I can congratulate myself. I am funny Mummy, I can create this atmosphere, this lightness, this fun. As I lift the handset I hear another laugh. The boy has seen a static tea towel hanging over a chair. It moves almost imperceptibly in the draft. He cracks and spurts with laughter.

A tea towel? A tea towel! I am put in my place. But fleeting indignation is nothing on the real moral here. I don't have to search out his smile. Firstly, he's a second child, he rewards any attention he gets. And second? This is good, as who knows if he will be a happy soul for all time, but for now I can rejoice that he's showing willing.

Monday, 14 March 2011

Babies are sick, man

A few posts ago I talked of counting out the newborn days in the cast-off crescent moons of his perfect fingernails. While I am still a sucker for the beauty of small babies and their magnificently tiny thumbs (how can something so small demonstrate such destiny and difference from our brother apes?) I realise such wistful thinking is always a challenge to the Gods.

The new one is sick again. Yes, AGAIN, which gives me pause to marvel at another physical attribute. I mean seriously, little britches, how far can you puke? I realise rather than getting all TS Eliot I should actually be counting out my days in liqui-tabs which, for the record, we have used nine of since Saturday.

We're talking full on Roman showers in thathousehold, from hair through top, bra and pants, on jeans, in socks, down my back, on tena ladies (that is not what they are for, my son). On Friday he sneezed sick into my mouth. Nothing says true love more than not dropping your child after such an act of involuntary indecency, or proves beyond doubt that babies really do have absolutely appalling manners.

Everything even vaguely porous that we own now has that seemingly transient, some times stronger than others, faint but also identifiable, whiff of milky puke on it. Worse, I seem to have developed a habit which is one part acrobatic superMum and the other total fracking loser. When he smiles his widest most loving smile and I realise a cascade is imminent instinct kicks in and I find myself contorting to catch the flow in my hand. What a party trick! That is, until I realise I am marooned stroking a screaming baby with one hand, a precarious puddle of puke in the other.

I'm told in Germany there is a saying along the lines of never buy a cat born at Christmas, the vet's bills will bankrupt you. While I would never return newborn, there is something about wintery babes which makes me tempted to wrap mine in goosefat and keep him swaddled for a couple of years. That, or have more kids - my mother wisely counsels that a brood of four or more is preferable as one of them is always well.

Friday, 11 March 2011

Playing Mum

Some days I just can't shake the feeling that I am somehow playing at being Mum. Playing at being an adult even.

It isn't just the constant improvisation and guesswork intricately knotted into the very fabric of parenting. The negotiations and promises, rewards and gestures, attempts at teaching lessons, endless reassurance and praise, the need to provide answers. So far this week I've been asked 'Why do people get hurt?' 'How did newborn get into your tummy? Did you eat him?' 'When will I be a grown up?' 'What is 4 and 9?' by Spider-boy, the latter resulting in a stand-off over whether the answer is 13 (mine) or 49 (his).

There's something else, which goes further than my secret sensation that one day I'll be found out for being a massive bullshitter. Something about parenting itself - from choosing outfits to making supper, picking what to do each day, what to wear, whether to go to the doctors or trust my instincts, whether to have sweets or plums or carrots - that feels a bit like one long role play. When, I wonder, will the adults come along and tell me what the right answer was, assess my performance and grade my parenthood. I don't think it is exclusive to motherhood, a friend of mine says she keeps wondering when the grown ups will come and fix her bathroom, but in parenting terms I often feel I will be found out for the charlatan I am.

I mean take creative games. I never know how to be the wolf or the pig. I forget my lines and don't always pick up on the subtle changes in tone of the game - some days Spider-boy's wicked wolf relishes being boiled in a pot, others he wants to snuggle back into bed with Goldilocks (yes, we mix and match our Grimm's tales here). And I can never remember what happens to the final goat as he trip traps past the troll. And I'm struck that in the midst of the jungle or river or midnight zone or straw house or traffic jam we've created with the sofa cushions Spider-boy is far more in control of himself and clear about what he wants than I am when required to think on my feet.

It started on that first night out of hospital, shocked, in awe, exhausted, shiny eyed we sat on the sofa as our last homecoming visitors shut the door behind them. I was sore and tired and already suspecting my scrawny new bird had more nous than either of us. We thought 'SHIT... this is it... we're on our own'. Neither of us could believe after all the monitoring during pregnancy and the poking and prodding of hospital we were just allowed to walk out of the postnatal ward without signing anything or passing an exam. The most important job in the world and you don't even need to get a second interview.

So there we were, at home, in charge and with no fracking idea of what to do. I can still smell the slight hysteria of that July evening, us in our pjs with a babe at our feet who seemed to have a far clearer idea of what he wanted and needed than us, though we were the thirtysomethings surrounded by NCT leaflets and babies for beginners books, and he was so small his life could still be measured in hours.

I used to admire other adults who seem to do things with a straight forward confidence, and didn't seem just one step away from a fit of the giggles when they have to answer official questions. I thought I was the only grown up living in a constant state of waiting to be found out by the life police and told they've had their fun and must return to GO without collecting any money on the way.

But age is making me think I'm not alone, and a good proportion of 'everyone else' is making it up as they go along too. This is a comfort, but also a terrifying thought. At least I have Spider-boy and newborn, who have no truck with my insecurities and dithering.

No innuendo or indecision for them. They cry when they are upset, shout when they are cross, stuff their faces till food dribbles back out when they are hungry, hit me when they are frustrated, shit where they eat, puke when they're nauseous, laugh when something's funny, are incredulous not mindful of social norms which require a constant vigilance over what we say or do or admit to thinking. And secretly I admire this lack of face, and feel pangs of sadness when Spider-boy says something he should rather than something he means, because with that heightened awareness of how he should behave he is losing the art of directness and certainty which I would like as a parent.

Monday, 7 March 2011


International Women's Day (tomorrow), as a cause is now 100 years old and still painfully relevant. IWD was started to campaign mostly for equal pay.

According to figures from UN Women (the UN organization dedicated to gender equality and the empowerment of women), and Annie Lennox if you follow her on Twitter, women perform 66 percent of the world’s work, produce 50 percent of the food, but earn 10 percent of the income and own 1 percent of the property.

UN Women are a global champion for women and girls, established to accelerate progress on meeting their needs worldwide. So they should probably know their stuff.

I feel FTB some days with thoughts and rants on feminism and womanhood, and motherhood's place (part fetishised, part derided and devalued within it). But today I'm struck by both the starkness of the above numbers, and my own insular view.

Though there is still plenty of work in this area for us in the Western world with all our commensurate advantages, I wonder if I should step away from my anger about the pressure to conform to some crazy ideal of Nigellaness, and think about the reality in which women my age in say, Africa, are calculated to be walking en mass the equivalent of 16 trips to the moon and back each day just to collect water. That is, one presumes, if they are still alive and haven't died of totally preventable childbirth and pregnancy complications or HIV and related conditions.

If the position of motherhood within the workplace and society is so complex and some would argue compromised here, at least it is one with some of a voice because most of us mothers are actually alive. I do think as women, if we are to stick together, we should acknowledge and find ways of working towards equality across the globe though. A tough task, especially as in basic terms we in the UK have many in our number who could be seen as 'I'm all right Jills'.

The challenge internationally encompasses all the biggies - healthcare, contraception, childbirth, education, politics, religion, economic opportunity and expectation - alongside some fundamentals (such as personal safety, autonomy over one's own body ie. not being used as the recipient of rape as a weapon of war, life expectancy, rights to vote and participate in politics). These are areas I don't (shamefully) know enough about to blog on with any more than the hope that even bearing them in mind is a start.

Sunday, 6 March 2011

Ticks and Crosses

What I love most about motherhood is thinking back to me pre-mum days and remembering the things I said I would never do. I like pausing, just for a moment, to revel in what a bloody good mother I was before I had kids, sighing at my maternal genius and then thumping back to reality, where the Lola list of ' things I will never not never NOT EVER DO' looks thus:
Sniffing a be-nappied bum in public.
Going out with a baby without doing teeth/hair/changing out of sick covered clothes (mine).
Going out with a baby without doing teeth/hair/changing out of sick covered clothes (his).
Bribing with chocolate.
Not immediately wiping a snotty nose or dribbly chin.
Buying traditionally 'gender' toys.
Take the last one. Damn we've wasted a lot of money on gender neutral wooden toys. Spider-boy loves his kitchen and buggy and menagerie of stuffed animals, but boy does he usually prefer cars.

Perhaps the most crucial time for parental shit lists is when you have your first tiny one. Despite the little sleep there is still time for reflection and planning. You can count out your days, TS Eliot-like, on coffee spoons (or in my case teeny tiny toenail moons, which fall like crescent miracles when I dare to tackle them). Time collapses in the face of both the drudgery of newborn days and their heart-melting delights. Not least as you have all the responsibility of parenthood, but only a few areas to judge yourself on. They are BIG ONES, yes, but few (feeding, holding, sleeping, safe keeping). And for some (I mean me here, many are wiser I'm sure) not the brain space or imagination to realise motherhood is a marathon long term endeavour, a lifelong test for which there are, actually, not many right answers. *Luckily* at that time we can take comfort in (and rage against) the tidal wave of advice, pick our parental choices (and anxieties) and hold tight to them through the storm of uncertainty.

And in the moments where we can reflect, we see our future in the form of model toddlers which rise above those marauding, chatting, cheek-giving, seemingly undisciplined, scruffy, furniture climbing, dirty shoed HUGE ones we see around. Beautiful sticky monsters with seemingly grotesque levels of energy and unmanageable alien attitudes will not be what our babes become.

I get a kick of nostalgia when my son is tearing round a museum or shouting in a supermarket and I get a look, not even of judgement, but of benign pity from a Mum with a pip of a lad in blue marino. I don't think 'you'll get yours', I think 'ah, enjoy it'. Because it is an amazing time, when they are teeny, and you still believe, are overawed even, by a feeling that you have a lot of control over how they will turn out.

What I think is most interesting though, isn't the contents of our lists or the detail of our expectations, but that nasty trick of the light which stops us seeing them clearly for what they are. It doesn't cast a pinprick of illumination on the successes, the positive ambitions or even the brilliant surprises that make up our mothering. It astonishes me the way the shadows of our *failings* obscure our sense of ourselves, and how reluctant so many of us are to give ourselves a break.

In my case, I found it very hard to see that any ideal mum, is no more than a simple ideal, infused with all the Nigellaness of all female expectations these days. Whichever one you picked, be she lip glossed and well turned out, confident, carefree, ordered, cheerfully chaotic, endlessly patient, spontaneous and kiddish, possessing of raucous social machines or dainty well behaved 50s kids, breastfeeding, bottle feeding, slinging, pushing a large pram, a maclaren or a bugaboo, smiling, baby chatting, singing rock or show tunes, attending coffee mornings or hosting dinner parties, it is hard but necessary to judge her with the clarity you'd judge any ideal anything you'd like to be. She's not so different.

If I compared the chasm between me and my ideal Mother, to say the chasm between me and the ideal adult I'd like to be (witty, bright, friendly, clever, tidy, with good taste, attractive, hilarious, beloved, successful career gal, great cook, top lover, creative genius etc) I'd at least see the error of my high expectations if not, on a good day, a couple of ticks in the ruthless world of crossings out.

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Forgiving Eve

Of course, however vexing the suicide of Spider-boy's 'ts', or mindboggling his intimate belief he engages in the world of work, that post, I realise, was my way of ignoring something else today.

Usually if I post I feel complete when it is written. The soothing power of words, occasionally neatly ordered, sometimes even making sense or eliciting responses. They are my socially acceptable recreational drug of choice (along with ice cold chablis and white chocolate buttons from the baking box). But today isn't one where any mere words, certainly not words what I've wrote, will do. And white wine won't cut it either.

Today is a day for a black dress and cowboy boots and an enormous glass of red wine (fuck the tooth stains) and messy hair and smoky eyeliner and glassy irises and a million cigarettes and a jukebox overflowin' with melancholy words and fighting anthems that someone else is singing. Preferably Springsteen or Eels in my case. A day for swaying in the company of strangers or screaming into the wind with friends. For crying and red lipstick and staring life right in its motherfucking eyes and kissing it with sick in my mouth.

What's bothering me, terrifying me actually, is an issue which I suspect may be as old as Eden. So obvious it is silly. For all its veneer of 20th century complacency (get us, with all our healthcare, and luxury) I suspect if Eve could stop munching her apple with all its additive crunch for one minute the first thing she'd spit at the serpent is that chunk of risible knowledge. The juicy mouthful that allows us to 'know' something AWFUL might happen. To our kids, our parents, our lovers, our friends, our pets, ourselves. I'm usually self-righteous about relativism but in this case, pick your poison.

This weekend the newborn was back in hospital. Just for one night. Just for observation. Mainly, as it turned out, just for a cold (which was presenting in a breath stressful way) and a rash that didn't disappear under glass (but didn't really materialise into anything unnameable either). He's fine. He's lovely and gorgeous and fine.

In fact he greeted March with the finest shit of his three month career and a sing song collection of babble chords. His eyes beautiful marbles gazing into mine. Then, exactly as I started my immediate two-parent panic (that Spider-boy had died in the night because I was too worried about his brother). I heard his stockinged feet clambering over his mound of toys and saw his sparky black eyes too, as he ambled across the landing, yawny and oblivious and alive and perfect.

I've heard a (poem?) quote which suggests having a child is like living the rest of your life with your heart outside your body. I don't think it is exclusive to having a child, just to being in love and to loving. I remember the night I fell in love with my husband, under a cheap duvet, lying watching him breath feeling I might scream at the knowledge he might, one day, die.

I spoke to a colleague once who said you just can't think about all the awful things that could happen to your kids (car crashes, drowning, leukaemia, fatal allergic reactions, cancer, SIDS, abduction, rape, murder and on and on and on). You have to turn it off. And not ever think about it. Ever. Or you'd go mad. And I think it is the answer, seeing as we're a little late to give Eve the Heimlich.

And I know this is the bit of the post where I should glance over my kitchen (I am) and out to the crocuses (they are there, purple and poking through where was recently frozen solid), where I should tell you Newborn is snoring on my lap (he is, and a glorious piglet rasp it is too), and I should smile ruefully that although I do actually have cowboy boots on I am happy to stay in tonight.

But actually I suspect I may have to drink red wine. And though I will stop, before things get messy, I would rather not. I would rather rail into the night forgiving Eve but calling life, with all its love, and fear, and brilliance, and futility, and tragedy, and joy, and possibility, and all that too-much-for-my-head-bloody-knowledge, a great big motherfucker to his face.

Spider-boy Doolittle Clears Things Up

Spider-boy went through a fabulous phase when he was a bit younger where he'd describe himself as a Lah-dan bouy. Brilliant. Our lad owning his 'hood, proud of his roots and (bus) routes. It went so beautifully with his love of our city, which I share as a Londoner myself who also had an early years London voice (albeit more Sarf as I hailed from Peckham, innit).

This week his hitherto mostly clipped impression of our voices (from which much geography has been lost between them through university and corrective parental measures) took a turn. Not for the better, or the worse, but a turn nonetheless. It was as if someone switched on his accent. Or more accurately switched off his 'ts'. He now drinks war-a, loves the four-eee one bus, does unmentionables in a po-eee. What's gained in glorious tribal birthplace associations, is lost in clarity. With his three-year-old lisp some sentences are now not clear.

This prompted much middle class mutterings. Do we allow him to relish in an exaggerated London drawl? Do we correct? Do we ignore? What is right? What is the answer? Is it a-okay for him to sound so different to us? Will he be judged (and which way? by whom?)? It feels almost like he took a conscious decision, and if that is the case is it our job to correct? manipulate? cajole? embrace? ignore?

As is often the case with the sort of ethical dilemmas parenting throws at us, we're not a hundred percent sure. But certainly wanted to suss out how organic the change had been. Our answer? Mr Thatwoman valiantly started the charge of just repeating back with a 't' in the hope he'll at least get a bit easier for everyone to understand.

As ever, a few hours in to this endeavour he got the look, from Spider-boy, who narrowed his eyes in suspicion. 'What has happened to your 'ts'?' asked my husband. 'I lost them under a tube train' he replied. 'On my way to work'.