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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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

Spanish Castle Magic

I’m puzzled by the parts of my childhood home that I can remember in detail; I would have no idea on what colour the walls were, or the bathroom even (though it was probably avocado, let’s face it), but I remember certain parts very very clearly.  Our house was a converted telephone exchange, but few of the original features remained.  Thank God for the ambition of the architect though; where many may have seen a functional bungalow type thing, she saw …. a Spanish villa.  So the walls were white, the patio was red tiled, and running across the facade were a series of arches which continued over the driveway.  I loved how it looked.

The stairs were awesome.  They were big wooden slabs driven horizontally into the wall with a balustrade of wrought iron.  What magic could I create here? Would I scale the underneath of each step? Would i wriggle straight through between the slats and enter a world of intrigue and mystery? No: I would spend most of my time wedged between two slats, my legs dangling freely and preted to be in an office. At a desk.  You see, I also had a little typewriter in a briefcase, which featured a series of images guiding me through what people did in an office and at what time.  At 9.30, according to the pictures I would arrive at work.  11 meant time for a black coffee, 1 oçlock was a ham sandwich.  I was supposed to down tools at 5 pm, but hey, sometimes I finished a little earlier to beat the rush home.

 

What I did during these hours is anyone’s guess. This was pre-internet, so I couldn’t even access real online information through my office space.  I wasn’t building an app empire, and there was no-one to email.  So I think I spent most of the time … pretending.  Pretending to do things that I associated with offices; like typing letters, making up imaginary data, sighing and musing on lunch.  Turns out I was scarily accurate on what office life was like!

 

Granted, there was probably a hella lot more engaging things that I could have been doing, like building dens, bike-riding, dancing in my pants, but hey, it’s not what i was pretending, it was how I was pretending.  I could pretend, quite happily, to be in an office for entire days, so much so that my mum and dad became adept at walking right over my little head if they needed to go upstairs.  I was part of the furniture (buh-bum-cha).  

 

It turns out that my husband was similarly fascinated by the stairs in his house, but his big challenge was seeing from how high he could jump down and not slam into the wall at the bottom.  He’s a bit like that.

 

My niece and nephew live there now (with my sister and brother-in-law, thankfully) and the house has adapted into a new home.  Fashions change: the arches are still there, but the inside is much sleeker and spacier.  Regardless, they’ve found their own pretend adventures.  In spite of their myriad toys, one of their favourite games involves sliding off the back of the sofa, pretending to be innocent fairies in the thrall of the wicked witch, my mother.  They can play this game for hours, something which takes a year of the wicked witch’s life each time they do.  The stairs have gone, but the sofa remains.  Space is adaptable, as are we, but what is re-assuring is that we still have the guaranteed imagination to find joy in pretending. 

 

 

The shellsuit in my head

When I leave in the morning, it is generallly darker than when I return in the evening.  Some people I know would find this incredibly depressing and the effects of Seasonal Affective Disorder are well-documented.  I know, because I convinced myself that I had this once and even bought a lamp to help me, but I don’t really. Have SAD, I mean; it turned that I was always grumpy and tired and that actually, I had anti-SAD.  I’m at my best in the morning and I genuinely (sort of) enjoy being an early riser

 

Larks and owls and what kind of person are you and all that stuff aside, I derive pleasure from getting up early, because when I was young, getting up early was associated with a big adventure or treat; like the pre-dawn shufflings of Christmas day or the strategic planning of a trip to the airport before going on holiday.  My dad took this part of the trip very seriously.  The car journey to the airport would normally take about 3 hours and if it was an early flight, parental discussion for weeks beforehand would revolve around such crucial topics as optimum positioning of luggage in boot and the necessity of a centralised bumbag holder for the placement of passports and tickets. The night before we set off, my sister and I would be charged with making the back seat of the car as comfortable as possible.  This was the most exciting thing ever for me.  As a 7 year old, the backseat of a car is huge and ripe with possiblities (particularly in the pre-seatbelt era), so I would spend hours deliberating on where to put my pillow and blanket for the journey.  The car was my house – thrills!  

 

The possibility of sleep the night before an early start diminishes with age, but even at seven I remember being beside myself with aniticipation at going in the car to the airport in the middle of the night!  I don’t recall being enthusaistic about the holiday to follow and nor can I remember which country we ended up in afterwards.  But I do remember being lightly shaken awake, forced into my ‘travelling gear’ and carried to the car.  I normally slept throughout, which suggests that anticipation of travel is better than travel, which in turn is better than arriving.

 

A note on travel attire.  One winter, my father booked us a last minute jaunt to Spain.  The weather in England had been pretty terrible, which added spice to planning our voyage to the airport.  Assuring us that it would be ‘white hell’ on the motorways, dad fretted, cogitated and formulated on the additional time that we would need to catch our flight.  He decided, and we agreed, on leaving at 2 in the morning for a 10 o ‘ clock flight, giving us an extra five hours.  Travel kit became even more essential; it’s one thing to dress for comfort but what about durability?  What if we became stranded on the motorway in an avalanche or blizzard or something and have to rely on our wits and survival instincts to get by?  Once you consider these questions, there’s really only one answer for a family of four of varying ages, sizes and genders:  we’d all wear our matching shellsuits!  That way, the helicopters or SAS rescue soldiers would know that we were a team and we’d get airlifted out of the snowdrift together, of course.  At two in the morning, the atmosphere in the car was tense, but by the time that we arrived at the airport, a mere two hours later, two hours during which we hadn’t seen so much as a flake of snow, , we felt a bit like dicks. Prepare to fail?  You betcha!  The phrase ‘white hell’ is still used in my family to imply that someone is overplaying their part.  But that trip also had its uses.  Sometimes, when I’m dozily and reluctantly pulling myself together before the crack of dawn, I like to don the shellsuit in my head and relive that jolt of excitement that I felt as a kid.  The adventure begins ….  

 

 

Notes on a Parent’s evening

I’m a teacher.  You probably gathered that by now, if you read my blog; it crops up from time to time.  Despite this, I don’t wish to come over as didactic in this post.  The following is merely some general advice to you, parents, on why and how teachers handle the annual frazzle-fest which is parent’s evening.

Firstly, if we look like death, it may be because we’ve had the honour of spending an entire day with your child, plus some worse and some better, children.  Governed as we are by bells and break duty, it is unlikely that we have had time to check our faces, or even pee.  So if I greet you with mascara down my face, a bogey on my nose, or food on my cheek, there is a reason.  Accept this as a sign that I am dedicated to my job, and try not to look on me with horror.  Chances are that whatever alien body is clinging to me as been there the entire day and has already been remarked upon by numerous teenagers as a sign that ‘Miss is gross’.

Secondly, at Parent’s Evening, do not be offended if we fail to shake your hand.  This is the one day of the year that I consciously emulate Donald Trump and avoid the casserole of hand-germs that will befall the novice teacher.  Would you rather I immediately reached for the han-i-tizer as we sit and talk, or would you rather that we got on with the matter at hand?

 

Thirdly, don’t hover in the periphery of my vision as you wait for your appointment.  It tells me a great deal about your kid if you fail to respect the privacy of your fellow attendees and I WILL HOLD IT AGAINST YOUR CHILD FOREVER.  Not really, but it is hella annoying.

 

I hope that clears a few things up.  What to do during a parent’s evening appointment is a whole other post, however.  But most teachers  will thank you if you follow the guidelines set out above and it should get you off to a good start.

There – public service announcement over and out.

50 Shades of Grey

Picture courtesy of the Guardian

Practically new.

I can’t do the laundry.  It’s ingrained in my family legend, along with my father’s inability to make a cup of tea without the top being splattered with tannin scabs, my mother’s compulsion to apply blusher before even the simplest of tasks and my sister’s joy at her own farts, like an indulgent mentor.  What on earth would the modern reworking of our coat of arms look like?  We no longer have recourse to deer hunting, fishing and jousting; rather, our chivalric codes involve minor acts of failure or the need to keep up appearances (very English of us).

Our shield would bear a grey bra, a pot of cream Rimmel, a teabag with a sad face and a gust of yellow wind.  The background design would consist of a gigantic unisex ‘meh’ face.

So my incompetency with the laundry is part of what defines me.  I gave my mum the opportunity to list  all  my failings recently (spoiling for a fight, anyone?) and the first one, off the bat was ‘you’re crap at washing’.  If you’re interested, the rest of the list went:

You sniff too much.

You don’t wear enough make up (predictable).

Sometimes you’re very sharp with me.

I refute the last, especially as I had just given the chance of a lifetime, a free pop at all my insecurities:  surely every mother’s dream?  How is that the gesture of a sharp daughter?  I knew she was clutching at straws by then.  I digress;  the point is that laundry is the first thing that comes to mind.  Even my husband, in a bid to artificially bond himself further to my clan, knows to drop the L-bomb in the right circumstances, such as a party, an intervention, or a funeral, to lighten the atmosphere.  How they all laugh  (It’s true!  She can’t!).  My reaction over the years has ranged from the immature and defiant (“well, you’re shit at …being attractive!”) to a gentle and resigned nod of acceptance.  I have found my defining fault and can settle into it, like a retiree with a well-tended garden.  Enjoy the fruits of my hopelessness.

Naturally, there’s lots of way to be shit at ding the laundry; mine is greification.  This is a word I made up, but it sums up very well what I do.  I turn everything into a greyer version of itself.  You’ve got a nude T-shirt bra?  No problem, let me make that taupe-ish for you.  That red and white striped tunic would look better, IMHO, if the colours bled a little, till the over-all tone was elastoplast.  I’m also a wizard at transforming fluffy new towels into strips of cotton Ryvita and have recently discovered a new power for turning bra cups from convex to concave.

On business cards, I could introduce myself as ‘Laundry destroyer, specialism in underwear and towels”.

If you have failed to find your niche family identity and would like to give try laundry inadequacy a go, here’s how:

Separating colours, darks and whites is a waste of time, and politically incorrect.

Likewise, don’t segregate ‘delicates’ and the rest.  Those dainties need to toughen up a bit!

Leaving it in there overnight is fine.  If you can’t be bothered to take it out, that is.

Put EVERYTHING on at 40, regardless.  The dial is too confusing otherwise, like the device in Stargate.  Leave well alone.

Sometimes I like to spice it up a bit by not checking the pockets of trousers for coins or tissue residue.  Once the cycle is done, who knows?  You might be greeted by a White Christmas in that drum, where everything is dusted with a fine layer of soggy snot rags!

To be honest, I have always had guaranteed results with this system.  I hate the machine and the machine hates me, so it feels good when I make it suffer.

Until today that is, when the persecutor became the saviour (or something like that).  The machine has not been happy for some time.  It whines, it struggles, it fails to drain, like it has an excess of tears.  I tried everything you could think of, by which i mean I hit it quite hard and then walked into another room.  Despite my best efforts,  nothing eased its plight.

I knew what I had to do.  I had to open up the weird little socket-y thing at the bottom and purge its sodden soul.

You may have noticed that the Olympics is on at the moment, so you may have a similar condition to me.  All mundane task are accompanied by a commentator style voiceover generated by my brain and played into my ears by my head space.  So, as I laid down the first towel and loosened the valve, John Inverdale intoned: “This is a tricky one, as she can’t be sure what she’s up against”.  2 minutes later, shifting from knees to crosslegs, Sue Barker chipped in “Well that’s tactical, if ever I saw it”.  5 minutes later as I was running out of towel and had to make a mad dash for a (naturally) grey oven mitt to mop up the overspill,  Gabby Logan declared it “her first real error and one she may live to regret, if the competition keeps up this pace”.

And all the time, the water kept seeping out, darkening the various grey porous cloths that were drafted in to soak it up, like an endless cycle of that bit that they always used to put in sanitary pad commercials, where the blue water would disappear completely into the bulky white strip and be locked in for eternity.

I was beginning to think that my nemesis had the better of me, as I stretched in desperation for the semi absorbent sheath of a discarded sleeping bag when the rain stopped.
It was over.  I had won.  I rooted in and pulled out the cause of the obstruction: a pair of grey knickers and a 5 pence coin.

To the victor the spoils.