Enjoy the ride, man

There a few things for which I stop and congratulate myself; to be honest it is not, on reflection, because I do little to be proud of , because I am more often involved in pulling baby porridge from my hair (am I alone in enjoying the sensation?)  But here is one thing; since my son started crawling and rolling or both at once – crolling? I have raised nappy changing to performance art.  I would happily charge someone to come in and watch me change a nappy – stick some ‘Tubular Bells’ behind it and I could sell it to Cirque du Soleil.  After extensive reviews and rehearsal,and an out of town run, my son and I have decided that nappy changing should be a) done in total silence (effort grunts are acceptable) b) he should be allowed to coat his own hand in sudocrem and c) at least one limb should moving contrary to the rest of the limbs at all times (my own or his).

 

I am also proud of my ability to use my son as an excuse for all manner of slovenly behaviour.  Grocery delivery man arrives and STILL in pyjamas? I have a 6 month old baby, so …… you know (raise eyebrows and nod to self as if this is more than sufficient justification).  Floor of kitchen resembles that of a lowdown tapas bar on the outskirts of Malaga?  Well, you know, with a 6 month old baby, it is just so hard to keep it clean and etc etc.  My son is now 8 month olds – I am not neglectful , this just demonstrates for how long I have used these particular line of thought.  Again – practice has raised it to an art form!

 

But I have been thinking about the end of Maternity Leave and the big return to work.  All around me I am seeing mothers lose their shit at the thought of going back, mothers for whom Maternity Leave and childcare has been not so much a roller coast ride as a log flume.  There’s been lots of water and the trajectory has been pretty much downwards for the duration.  I am sure there are private moments of intense joy and calm – I know there are!  But the public aspect of early motherhood is characterised by fraught interactions and the idea that martyrdom is good.  This seems pretty universal across the forums of motherhood – from the coffee morning meet up, to the WhatsApp group, to the mothership (no pun in- well maybe pun intended) – the online discussion.  Intra-mum exchanges, in my experience are 75% of the time on the subject of their child’s health and development and usually conclude with a plea for reassurance or consolation.  I know that from time immemorial, mothers have come together to discuss their children and find solace in the tough times, but add to this the layer of singular angst surrounding return to work and the tension reaches panic room level.

I am on a life raft – a unique life raft which offers baby yoga and sensory sessions, but a life raft nonetheless, floating along, evaluating my own and my son’s life  and finding them pretty pleasing thank you very much.  Gradually I notice women disappearing – I don’t see them do it at first – suddenly they’re not there anymore.  And I notice women around me noticing this – and I start to hear a low pitch whining noise, and then I realise it is coming from the woman next to me.  And then I see her do it – she leans back and throws herself over and I never see her again.  And the mood on the boat, which had been so pleasant up to now, starts to change – it gets rockier, the women start to cry and the waves get rougher, because we’re lighter in number and I have to prepare myself for leaping over the side.  I want to spend as much time as possible just staring at my baby because I WON’T EVER SEE HIM AGAIN but I also want to enjoy my last moments of freedom as a person who has hobbies and a social life, so I divide my time between speed-reading books described as ‘life-changing’ on the sleeve and cuddling my baby – and feeling guilty about not doing the other all the time.

 

And then, I hope, I’ll get pulled over the side.  And it, like most things, will probably be fine.  Okay, I may not always have porridge in my hair to look forward to.  But I will probably even enjoy being a worker and contributing to society, not just feathering my own nest. I may even enjoy wearing clothes again.  Who knows?  All I can do at the moment is try to reason with myself and my frankly hysterical response to returning to work.  Did I mention that I have two months left before i go back?  Yep.  Ages.  But it is the Crucible effect, infectious.  Once one person starts frothing at the mouth about visiting nurseries and arranging pick up times, we all do it.  But I am determined to enjoy the ride for a s long as possible, dammit – a concerted fightback, if you will.  Here are a few things that I will try out to keep myself in check:

 

Make a list of things that are good about work.

But some new clothes for work

Give the hysteria I feel about end of Mat Leave a name and face, a character.  Mine has cats, flyaway hair and writes afternoon dramas starring Jason Priestley for Channel 5 (none of which are green-lit)

Sit still for a bit every day and be calm.

Plan in a few trips.

Wear pyjamas and don’t stress about the food on your floor.  Or your face.  Or in your hair.

All suggestions gratefully received!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Smothering Smunday

So this is my first Mother’s Day as a mother and my first wish (which was granted) was for my husband to take my son downstairs and let me lay in bed, like Barbara Cartland, and listen to The Archers, toute seule.  This flags up a few issues; firstly, on writing this last sentence I realise how, like any true addiction, my need for the Archers has crept up on me unawares, until now.  It is a true habit, part of Sunday morning, rather than a luxurious novelty.  Secondly I am surprised by the ability of a show, set in rural Aga-shire to have settled in my consciousness and, dare I say it, my heart.  I have moved beyond gentle amusement at the Producer’s economy with storylines (the saga around the dairy’s steam clean was meted out over a series of weeks), the token efforts of the Agricultural Editor, who gets star billing at the end of each episode for advising on the smallest of farm issues (when do ferrets get their claws clipped?  How would David Archer pronounce fettle?).  Now I shout at Rob and cringe at Lillian and fret and vex about Helen as much as any retiree.  Which brings me to a third point, one which I am less willing to dwell on – when did I get so old?

 

So, moving back into safer territory (unlike the Archers, which has covered/is covering gay marriage, domestic abuse and adultery), here I am lying in bed, getting my fix, eating breakfast and drinking tea.  How long before self-recrimination sets in?  The current average is 24 minutes, but this morning, I have made it all the way to 57 minutes.  I reflect on my one true wish on my first Mothering Sunday as a mother, a day of appreciation for the maternal experience and the special bond between Mother and Child.  My one true wish on this day of all days was that my son could be safely in another room , away from me, for a little bit.

Notice how I qualify even this statement? ‘Safely’? ‘Little bit’?  Like I have to justify this decision even on a blog page, which if I am lucky, will be read by ooh, let’s say, over ten people?  But the portion of guilt which is handed out free to every mother as they leave the maternity bay has remarkable staying power.  And this is why, on this Mothering Sunday , my intention is to get rid of this guilt (much as we wish Helen would get rid of Rob Titchener)  .  I interact with a lot of different mums and dads over the course of a week as I work my way through my son’s social calendar; from anti-vaccine, to anti-formula, to pro breast (there is a difference between the last two categories), to attachment, to working, to sleep deprived, to competitive, to Mumsnet, to no-screen time, to insecure, to Facebook obsessed, to pro baby led, to no-cry, to cry it out, to routine, to let it all happen as it will (aka chaotic aka me) parents.  What we all have in common is that we belong to more than one group at once, or a variety of groups in short succession as we try out different parenting route maps in search of the one that most resembles the parents in the advert.  This may mean that we contradict ourselves or that we don’t know what we are doing.  We don’t.  That’s okay.  And that’s the second thing that we have in common and the hardest part of being a parent; not feeling guilty about not doing it right.  Not feeling guilty about changing our minds.  And not feeling guilty about lying in bed listening to Eddie Grundy on this day of all days.  Happy Mothers Day!

 

 

Alright

I never do anything fully, so I never do anything at all.  This phrase popped up in my journal this morning.  It’s a restless day, a day for the stay at home mums (as if any mum is genuinely a ‘stay at home’ mum now – we’re all too busy attending sensory/swimming/playdates).  But it is stay at home today, because of an unexpected and very beautiful snow fall which is now into its fourth hour.  Plus my son (I have a son now, eight months) is asleep in his chair and the house is more or less tidy and yes I’ve changed the TV License so well done me.

 

Stay at home – what sort of image do these phrases conjure up?  Home …comfort, home …safe, home ….sweet home.  Stay ….put, stay …still, stay ….calm.  All lovely and soothing if taken in isolation but far from accurate depictions of my experience.  When I genuinely am a stay at home mum (i.e today), these connotations are kind of soporific; I totally understand how people become sofa-locked when they are ‘stay at home’.. We become children – we work on a task and reward basis and if I ‘stay at home’ too long, the task reward ratio becomes ever slighter.  Day 1: I tidy out the drawers, freeze several meals and sort out life insurance, therefore, I shall meditate for half an hour and make a pot of tea.  Day five: I haven’t watched television for an hour, therefore I shall watch television for an hour.  You see? Who is the bigger baby here? When my son is awake, he is active, engrossed.  Sometimes I lose half a day being ‘stay at home’, dreaming of the things I’ll do when I’m not stay at home in the same way that, out and about, I dream of the things I’ll do when I’m ‘stay at home’ again.  Plus ca change.

This is not self-criticism, but written more in the spirit of acceptance.  The day is busy, but busy in a way that I never thought I would find busy – with dishes and nappies and stacking cups.  Being temporarily sofa-locked, I am going to wildly paraphrase here, but I’m thinking of the section in The Golden notebook when Doris Lessing writes about a change in her heroine’s character, when she moved from appreciating a certain hour as when day turns into night to seeing it as the ‘time to put the vegetables on’.  The day can be meted out thus; but it is no bad thing, it is how things are, for now. Continue reading

This blog is Vienna

This morning, as I was sponging an unidentifiable stain off a bouncer chair with one hand, while simultaneously trying to remove mascara barnacles from my lower lashes with a nappy wipe with the other hand, I thought to myself: why not start up my blog again? WHY NOT WRITE A BLOG?

And already I’ve lied to you – I actually had this thought about a week ago, but if you have recently given birth and are looking after said offspring, you will know that there is no space for spontaneity anymore.  Unless it is a shit sodden nappy or barf ridden body suit – these things trigger an emergency response – they are dealt with.  Writing a blog? Not so much.  Blogging falls somewhere below ‘wash hair’ and ‘eat sandwich’ on the priority list.

But here I am, writing on my blog after an absence of a year.  I’ve brushed my eyes noncomitally over some previous entries – but I’m almost scared (ashamed?) to really look them in the eye.  I’m still afraid of witnessing the change in me.

But before my writing starts to too closely resemble discarded lyrics from Fame – the Musical, let me reassure you and me.  Yes, I’ve had a baby and he is wonderful, but I do not intend to write about being a mum, good or bad.  I will not share with you receipes for organic teething gel, nor will I use this space to confess all my sins and work through any new mum angst.  This blog will be … Vienna for me; somewhere that I’ve never been, where I know no one and where I imagine I can relax and temporarily not be a mum but instead become a turn of the 20th Century lady spy played by Ingrid Bergman (subject to change).  Vienna also appeals to my unbelievably snobby self.  I will come to Vienna to think about books, not Iggle Piggle (the fact that it is also Freud’s hangout rings some alarm bells which I will consciously overlook for now).  I don’t yet know how often I will visit or what I will talk about – but I shall return Vienna! I shall return!

Embrace your Random Thought Soup

I think therefore I am.

 

Hmmm

But does that mean WHAT I think is WHO I am?  Surely it;s not as cut and dried as that?

 

I’ve recently started Transcendental Meditation after reading one of my heroes, David Lynch’s endorsement of it as a creative tool in Catching the Big Fish: Meditation, Consciousness and Creativity.  I’d also noticed how I was letting work stress seep in everywhere else, manifesting its presence in the 3.30 am wake up.  Admittedly, my workplace is a Total Wipeout obstacle course of pressure borne from incompetence, but I guess everyone feels like that, anyway.Still, I needed to do something about it.

 

I have tried meditation before; I spent most of my early twenties staring earnestly at a candle in 5 minute increments to no avail.  Because I’m a stubborn mule, means of de-stressing do not come easy to me.  If a room, person or technique is inviting me to relax through their decor, manner or method, my inner voice, the dickhead, will scream back NEVER!  And resist, filling my mind with snatches of irritating songs or dramatisations of work related anecdotes.

 

I don;t know why it won’t let me relax.  My inner voice is a dickhead, after all.

 

So I’ve been meditating for over a month now and I like it.  It’s no pressure.  Ifv your inner voice decides to list all the times you have been snubbed by a shop assistant, you just let it.  Its this aspect of no resistance that I found most appealing – mind control is impossible, we are going to have thoughts, so just bloody have them instead of engaging with them and trying to wrestle them to the metaphorical ground.  And what happens next is great: once I let them run off, I gradually stop listening.

I will make a terrible parent.  

 

This is when I’m happiest with how my sessions go – when I genuinely lift away from my thoughts and achieve a bit of bliss.  These sessions generally pass very quickly and I can’t remember what I’ve been thinking about that whole time.  That’s the gold standard, right there.

 

Most of my sessions are still a bit of a battleground, involving me unwittingly chasing dickhead’s thoughts around and then feeling guilty about doing so.  I often feel like this is my failure to bear, but TM does not differentiate between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ meditation.  Nascent meditators may have grand notions about reaching some subconscious nirvana on their first attempt, but that speaks of our socially conditioned desire to succeed, to be the best, the first, the most.  I don’t think that TM urges you to strive for this.  By striving for it, you’re bound to fail.  Such a joyful ethic!

 

In stead, the TM approach is this:

Did you close your eyes?

Did you keep your mantra in mind and if you forgot it, did you come back to it?

Did you stretch and come round slowly afterwards?

If yes to these, then you meditated my friend.  The quality of the meditation, how surface you stay or deep you go is secondary.  In that 20 minutes, you did whatever your brain needed to do: if it was shallow processing, so be it.  The trick is not to worry too much about it.

 

And here I am, sounding like Maharishi when I spend most of my sessions arguing with my own head.  I know the menu – I just need to swallow a bit more random thought soup first.

WOMADic adventures

How organised are you? I like to think that my chaos makes perfect sense to me and when it fails and I lose something, I’ve developed a technique called ‘blame the object’, in which whatever is lost is personified and subjected to the most tremendous hate known to womankind.

It’s not my fault. It’s not my fault. It’s not my fault.

The bills, deadlines and decisions which any adult normally has to deal with are to mike like fantastical figures looming up at me in an enchanted wood which I have to battle with increasing urgency (take that, British Gas!). They are talking trees with ensnaring branches, bright eyed creature- lings, deceptively trusty elves. They encircle and come at me from nowhere, causing my heart to thump and adrenaline levels flicker as they approach with stealth and dedication.

this is no way for a thirty six year old woman to live, but it sure as hell makes keeping on top of things more interesting than usual.

Which is why I was so surprised that our trip to Womad festival ran so smoothly, a conflation of luck (mine) and planning (theirs). I’ve not been to many festivals but those that I have have had the opposite to the desired effect; I feel tense, like I need to survive something. The campsites resemble thunderdrome by the end of the weekend: an architect’s impression of dystopia; carriers blowing free like plastic drones; scorched or sodden earth; dazed looking toddlers in T-shirts gnawing on their entry bracelets for succour and rogue loose teens without centre, winding down and then alarmingly up as they stagger towards the exit in their vomit breastshields.

Don’t get me wrong; to paraphrase Russ Abbott, I love a festival with a happy atmosphere and once I’m in the main bit, I relax. But the other bit, the camping, leaves me feeling tense (tents, ha!)

EXCEPT FOR THIS TIME. THIS TIME MAKES ALL THE OTHERS NULL AND VOID. We were parked and camped up in 20 minutes, in the glorious Cotswolds countryside and heading off to hear sublime music within an hour. I showered and ebluted in the Womad spa (additianal fee for the VIPS) which even housed a sauna and hot tubs. My husband, the rough-houser slummed it in the normal showers and toilets and came back every time looking refreshed and surprised. Security were visible and thorough but cheerful and charming and there was always someone touring the site, checking that everything was as it should be. Shout out to the festival going teachers who formed an efficient second wave of unofficial, plain clothed enforcers, bollocking privileged teenagers (in Crips and Bloods bandanas, WTF?) who dared step out of line. It must be in the muscle memory.

Now I know some of you may be nostalgic for the festivals of old, where you had to hitchhike all the way there, share a sleeping bag and forage for scraps of bean burger before offering up your body as host nation for the universe’s bacterium by visiting a fetid toilet. That ain’t me – I love new style ‘everyone be happy and organic and Cath Kidston’ and Womad delivered. Bravo.

I also know what you’re thinking, middle-management style, I’ve just spent an age describing the route and not the destination, man. I am a product of the health and safety generation. I’m also quite possibly, very boring. But, in truth, the music at Womad was so exceptional that I’m nervous about unpicking it.

We saw Amjid Ali Khan and his sons Ayaan and Amaan one Saturday and the father put it best when he said; ‘nothign we perform is planned, it is all created in the moment, for you.’ That was WOMAD encapsulated; a group of select musicians from around the world, who were so skilled that they could forget their many hours of rehearsal and put themselves at our disposal, absorbing the relentless sun, atmosphere and joy of the crowd to tailor their sound and nourish our burgeoning happiness. The Khans play the sarod and I quickly gave up trying to impose what I know about rhythm and song structure. Eyes closed, I relaxed and let my eyes go through a frantic journey into my own headspace, like Luke Skywalker in a TIE fighter.

The Khans were probably my highlight, but it’s difficult to say. However incredible they may be, when you are listening to musicians who you are unfamiliar with, their sound starts to blend together, like different pieces of plasticine, into one exquisite harmonious experiential lumpt (an analogy that I feel Sledgehammer era Peter Gabriel would approve of).

Take it as given that every artist we heard was incredible and it becomes a matter of taste and experience. The only way to listen to Goran Bregovis and his Wedding and Funeral Orchestra is by going crazy and preferably wiping one’s bum on a goose, if you’ve seen Black Cat White Cat. Trombone Shorty were slick and multi-layered and along with Snarky Puppy delivered a big funk. Though not my thing, Stylo G and Afrikaan Boy provided high intensity sustenance for the Crips branch of Eton. Ukrainian band Dakha Brakha seemed surprised by how how popular they were and gave up an fast paced auditory mindbath akin to The Khans.

We rounded out our listening with Oliver Mutukundzi and the Black Spirits. Oliver wins my prize for most unforced impressive swagger of the entire festival. Your award is in the post, sir.

There was so much more, snatches of sounds as we strolled from tent to tent, stopping and dancing wherever and whenever I pleased. In fact, I now have full on festival feet and will instinctively start getting down to any sound, including doorbells or Huw Edwards reading the news on the BBC.

The costumes, the people watching, the sounds. I spent a weekend in the Quality Street tin, 7 years old again, stuffing myself with every treat on offer, till I lay down giddy, sated and truly happy.

Well done, WOMAD and thank you.

Build your beet basket! Build it high!

I’m going through a bit of a change.

No, not hot flushes (I’m always sweaty and flushed, so it will be hard to tell when they begin), nor am I coming out. Things are changing. I am undergoing change. change is upon me, etc, etc.

Like one of my chillis, this has been a bit of a slow burner. In fact, any change that I make is the result of many arduous hours of half-assed research, handwringing and procrastination interspersed with what I like to call the ‘settling process’, which involves many hours of oblivious television watching. Seriously, rocks form faster.

The most important part of any change-making I undergo is listening and subjecting myself to the stereotypes and pronouncements offered up by family, friends and media.

For example, I wore black trousers and a black polo neck consistently throughout my year at drama school. Urged on by my mother (who had never been to drama school), I was pretty much convinced that this was the uniform of all serious students of theatrical arts. I then went on to wear a mood ring during a vaguely hippy phase which culminated in me visiting a a pagan store twice in one week, feeling the relationship was becoming too intense and guilt buying a bookmark before leaving, never to return.

The black theme resurfaced when I moved to London, teamed now with Buffalo trainers and a droll expression, as my friend, who already lived in London and was therefore already always in black with drollface, assured me that this was ‘what Londoners are like’.

Well done, you noticed: my stereotypes are very image led – shallow me! And I think lots of them were formulated during childhood. Most of the time, they’re not bad prejudgements on a group of people or type of living; they mostly aim at being humorous (my family deal almost exclusively in jokes and jokes alone). Some of them are quite strange, specific and could only be deciphered if you belonged to my family (hence the title of this post).

I also feel that my keenness to adopt stereotypes and images when I was younger was because of a desperate need to afiliate (thanks Maslow). I would happily have joined any group that would have had me and if all I had to do to identify was wear a ring, bandana or shell suit, so be it. I was part of the gang – or so I thought. Sometimes the desire to fit in is stronger than the desire to be yourself, after all.

But things have started to change recently. Really change. After years of diddling about, I finally learnt how to practise Transcendental Meditation. My battles with my negative talking mind have been well documented and while my audio fast gave me some respite (as does writing), mindful meditation hasn’t suited me. After reading ‘Catching the Big Fish’ by David Lynch, I was inspired to finally give it a go. I will write more about it at length elsewhere,but suffice to say that I am enjoying the process and wonder whether my shift in perspective has led to other changes.

After one lost Saturday too many, I finally gave up alcohol. This has been miraculous – who knew being clear-headed could be this much fun? Please bear in mind, that I used to get the most God-awful hangovers, like the inside of my head and stomach lining were being peeled back simultaneously. I looked like I had been poisoned. I had been poisoned! Dumb ass that I am, it has taken me this long to realise that maybe alcohol and I didn’t get on too well.

From this point on, the floodgates have opened. I’ve stopped eating all dairy except for goats cheese and most meat as well. Naturally the stereotype dial has just shot past ten and up to eleven, but please, give me a moment of your time. I’m no fan of animals; pigeons are satan’s minions and I’ve no desire to pet a monkey. But recently, when I’ve eaten steak, I’ve heard screams. Not because I’m eating in bad neighbourhoods. I mean mental screams. And I’ve clunked down on far too many of those chewy veins that you get in chicken, the bits that make you gag then spit hurriedly into the nearest receptacle, then spend the rest of the meal wondering what sort of monster is lurking in there. So my reasons are really those of a fourteen year old girl, except I am also aware of the benefits of a plant based diet. If it’s good enough for Prince, it’s good enough for me.

It’s this final change that has led to the most stereotypes. Stereotypes extempore, as I’m about to demonstrate. When I told my mother about my swtich in diet, she responded ‘oh go and build your beet basket, then’.

Beet basket?

I’m not entirely sure what a beet basket is and neither is she, but I love her crystallization of what being a vegetarian teetotaler was. God, it doesn’t sound like a lot of fun. But is eating dead flesh and poisoning oneself?

I can’t guarantee that all these changes will stay (vegan cheese ain’t fooling anyone and tempeh tastes like the devil’s drainscrapings), but they do at least feel like changes from within rather than without. They’re not a mood ring for the soul. And in the meantime I shall continue building my beet baskets with pride.