Miss Havisham Mondays

*extreme Long Lost Enemy Returns In Dickens Novel voice*

well well well, if it ain’t our old Monday, come back to ‘aunt us!

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This was taken yesterday, on a Sunday that included a three-hour nap, haircuts, Aladdin (ALADDIN!), and fat, new-bread sandwiches with hot chocolate. If Sunday were a character in a Dickens novel, it would be the delicately beautiful heiress who marries the hero but dies before she can get out a full sentence.

Today, well. Shopping. Cleaning. Gardening centre. Fish-pie-which-we-call-seaside-pie-because-it-sounds-less-gag-reflexy. I bought a climbing rose! I’m very excited! This is adulthood, right?

And this. I would like to tell you that this is not why I had children. It’s totally not why I had children.

Live a little. Like your body.

Text and image via Caroline Caldwell.

Text and image via Caroline Caldwell.

On Sunday morning I got up, showered, and put on tights, pencil skirt, short-sleeved blouse. We were travelling to a family baptism, and while Tim’s family are, without qualification, the nicest people I have ever come across, I get a bit quivery about these things beforehand. My Stress Items that morning included the 100% likelihood that T would dirty his pants at some point during the day, and the Introvert’s Dilemma, i.e., the real possibility that I would forget how to talk and smile like a human when faced with large crowds of people. The clothes were on the stress list too. What did my arms look like, exposed like this? Would my skirt ride up when I bent over small children? Did I look fat? I went out to the car, on edge. I applied lipstick outside the lines as we drove down country lanes.

Anyway, all Stress Items were relatively unnecessary, as always, and we had a lovely time. On Monday morning I got up, showered, and put on a printed blouse, a bright jumper, a pair of skinny jeans, Hogwarts socks and leather trainers. I looked at myself in the mirror and felt overpowering, heady relief. I wear a version of this outfit almost every day. It gives me permission not to worry about belly overhang or wobbly thighs. I can leap to grab a wipe in an emergency and rough-handle a pushchair over tree-roots and mud. I can do anything, and it feels most like being myself. Oh, the buzz of returning confidence nearly knocked me over. I went out cheerfully. I smashed my to-do list.

Accepting how you look and wearing things you love seem to me to be two sides of the same coin. They say: I inhabit this body with appreciation and without shame. I deserve to take up space. I deserve to be happy, regardless of what shape I might see in the mirror. It’s not a message women get from many places. The more I think about feminism, the more I realise that when you don’t find what you need around you, then you have to get on and carve it out yourself.

Accepting how you look and wearing things you love seem to me to be two sides of the same coin. They say: I inhabit this body with appreciation, and without shame.

I would have saved myself decades of Stress Items if I’d concentrated on loving what I saw in the mirror, rather than wishing I saw something else. I felt out of place as a teenager with a slight, flat-chested frame, at a time when my peers were filling bras and having their straps twanged in class (sometimes I think that if teenage boys weren’t necessary for the propagation of the species, they would be caged and quietly sedated). Pregnant-me couldn’t control how much she weighed or how big she got at all, and to my shame – there’s that word again – it was one of the hardest things about it. I don’t want to repeat that mistake if I head towards pregnancy again (a possibility we still haven’t ruled out).

As Caroline Caldwell says, ‘In a society that profits from your self-doubt, liking yourself is a rebellious act’.

I am ready to be rebellious.

So, instead of Stress Items, I have set out four Items of Body Appreciation for myself.

one, Eat More of the Good Stuff (Along With the Less Good Stuff; I’m Not a Sadist)

Hi, here comes a person who could live entirely on beige foods – bread, cheese, potatoes, custard – and call it good. While I will defend the noble carb to my dying breath, I do feel and look worse (I’m talking flaky nails and spotty skin here, not fat) when I’m not eating a properly balanced diet. I will not hear of cutting out food groups, ESPECIALLY the nice ones, COME ON, but I have been making huge efforts to buy in nuts, fruit, unusual vegetables, fish and spinach, and eat more of the good stuff. The best thing about it is that I feel like I’m taking care of myself. No, the best thing about it is that I’m still eating chocolate. But the first one is the other best thing.

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two, Walk Fast Every Day

I’m not in a running phase right now – the pure hatred has temporarily overcome the benefits – but I love walking and, with the school run, usually get through about five miles a day. The effect it has on me is miraculous: the air, the birdsong, the woods, the feeling of boots in mud, the muscle strain of lugging the pushchair over bumpy ground… I am more relaxed, more expansive, and feel better about everything. When it pours and we can’t get out, I feel basically the opposite of all that.

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three, No Weigh-Ins Unless I Have Excellent and Pressing Reason

I wrote about this here, and I’m sticking to it. If I’m prioritising points one and two, there is no reason on earth that I need to know what numbers are on the scale. How could you – you, with all your history and your loves and struggles and hormone waves and mysterious depths – know anything about yourself from a number? It. Is. Irrelevant. After a lifetime of anxiously totting up each pound, I’m trying so hard to let it go. Like Elsa, but about love handles.

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four, Never Ever Ever Trash Talk My Body In Front of My Kids

H wore just a t-shirt to school the other day, for the first time, but demurred about showing his arms. ‘What on earth’s the matter?’ I asked him.

‘I don’t want people to see these’, he said. Pointing to two minuscule freckles on one skinny forearm. It was the first time I’d ever heard him criticise his body, which in his four-and-a-half years has only ever been something that could run, jump, climb, laugh. For a moment I felt like I couldn’t breathe.

I have never trash-talked freckles in front of him – I have approximately seventeen thousand; what would be the point – so it’s possible that he’s got that from someone else. But he has certainly seen me stepping on the scales, and pulling handfuls of chub away from my hips, though I try not to say anything negative out loud. How dare I? How dare I teach him about body anxiety – huffing my discontent about the belly that grew him – before he’s even learned to read?

In a world in which they will learn which parts of them are acceptable and which are not, and very quickly, the only thing I can do is surround them with countermessages of acceptance and love, as strongly as I can. They deserve to love themselves. They can only do that if we show them how it’s done.

I’m going to practise how it’s done.

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I can’t write anything about potty-training you haven’t heard before

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I mean, let’s be real. I am teaching a small human to direct his waste into a pot instead of in his own clothing. Isn’t it weird that this is a skill everyone you know had to learn? And somehow we need to pass it on to our children even though by now we’ve totally internalised it and don’t actually know how we do it? Unfortunately it isn’t the stuff of transcendent storytelling.

Here’s a poem I wrote about it instead.

 

The Pants Are Full And They Need To Come Off

 

It’s like defusing a crap-bomb

with held breath and shaky hands.

It’s like a magic trick

where you whip the tablecloth away

and leave the glasses standing.

Except there’s poo under your fingernails

and no one applauds.

 

(If tips about potty-training are what you’re after, I have only four to offer:

  1. I can’t speak for your situation, etc etc, but basically everyone I know potty-trained their first-born early and hated it, then potty-trained their second-born much later and cried with relief about how much easier it was. So it has been here. I know nappies get tiresome and gross as Two wears on, but the only relevant question is: would you rather clear up faeces from a nappy or from your carpet? If you wait, they’ll get it quicker.
  2. Portable potties with throw-away bags. It fits in your car boot, your supermarket trolley, your pushchair, your nappy bag. You no longer have the fear of public urination with nowhere to run. LIFE CHANGER (I got mine here).
  3. From a friend (advice received gratefully after I wrote the poem above): give yourself a gift, and buy many pairs of cheap, unlovely pants and keep nail scissors in your handbag. So when they poop their pants (in my limited experience, number twos take much longer to get the hang of), you can just cut the pants off them and throw the whole thing away. In a grand act of self-care, I decided that I am not washing faeces out of pants on a regular basis ever again, until I’m eighty or so and they’re my pants.
  4. From me: pull-ups and even pants make my kids feel like they’ve got a nappy on. Naked is the way to go, for a good three days. Put towels on everything you care about, whack up the heating, give them lots of drinks, and alternate between books and CBeebies while they practice.

Good luck, Human Waste Warriors. You got this.)

Towel; nakedness, CBeebies. Present and correct.

Towel; nakedness, CBeebies. Present and correct.

The week in stuff

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I have rice pudding. There is a boy asleep in the room next door (wearing pull-ups, so come what farting may, literally). The time is ripe for a Week in Stuff, my friends.

One day I’ll publish H’s best auditions for King of the Melodramas. This, yesterday:

me: Hen, can you get your socks on, please.

H: I can’t, because COMPLETELY I AM NOT LOVED.

me: …

me: get your socks on.

I never worry about getting enough exercise, because I get so much practise eye-rolling with H it’ll take me all the way to the world championships one day.

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This very week we’re in the middle of is potty-training week, which means we’ve done precisely nothing. More about that later, when I can tell how well it’s gone. Last week, though: the weather was astonishingly good, and T and I spent our mornings rambling around outside and our afternoons walking through woods for the school run. The Roman town at Silchester is just round the corner from us, and it’s a gorgeous circular walk on top of the old walls, with a convenient church bench in the middle for a refreshing biscuit. Or seven.

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I taught a workshop on Shakespeare – my beautiful bearded genius – at a convention at the weekend. They were a jolly bunch, and submitted to acting out the St Crispin’s Day speech and drawing on Shakespeare beards in good humour. Especially appropriate, then, to come home and watch the new cycle of The Hollow Crown, which is the BBC’s adaptation of Shakespeare’s history plays. The old series covered Richard II through to Henry V – perhaps it will be enough for me to tell you that Tom Hiddleston plays Henry V, but if not, Ben Whishaw is the most exquisite Richard II, and Sir Pat Stew knocks John of Gaunt’s speeches out. of. the. park, as is his wont. This new series covers Henry VI and Richard III, and the mighty Cumberbatch plays Richard III. Even if Shakespeare’s not your thing, this adaptation is accessible and savage, and Cheekbones Cumberbatch is a Machiavellian nephew-murdering charismatic sociopath, so, you know, get on down (the first episode of the new series is on iPlayer, here; Benedict isn’t in it till this week).

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On the recommendation of a friend, I read Paul Kalanithi’s When Breath Becomes Air this week, written by a gifted neurosurgeon who is diagnosed with cancer. It’s a philosophical, lyrically written book, very powerful. If you’ve only got one cancer memoir in you (and I wouldn’t blame you if you did) I think Kate Gross’ Late Fragments just has the edge over this one for beauty and honesty, but Kalanithi was a fascinating, complex man and his written ending comes like a gut punch.

I am also – with somewhat less gravity – now horribly addicted to Ann Cleeves’ Shetland books, which were made into a BBC series over the last couple of years. You may have seen it: Douglas Henshall prowling around solving Shetland Island murders, in his grandad’s coat. I want him to come and solve my murders. It’s cool, I can arrange for some. Anyway, the earliest books are a bit clunky (‘Perez was very sensitive. He said something sensitively, because he was very sensitive’ YES OK WE GET IT) but get better as they go, and from the first are atmospheric and totally brilliant. My only issue is that the TV version changed a lot of the details, so when a character died from a stabbing yesterday, when I was expecting her to die of a brain tumour some years hence, I was FURIOUS AND SADDENED BEYOND REASON.

Ooh, look at him. Solving murders. On a headland. In plaid.

Ooh, look at him. Solving murders. On a headland. In plaid.

Ben Folds in the car this week. I came to this important realisation about The Luckiest (almost wrote The Lickiest then, which would’ve been a very different kind of song) on about day three:

Book club yesterday. So I made The Cake. You know how Sherlock Holmes calls Irene Adler The Woman? This is The Cake, and is living proof that you can throw absolutely anything into a bundt tin – indeed, you are almost obliged to throw in the easiest cake mix you can find – and it’ll look ornamental and impressive anyway. I use Betty Crocker’s Devil Food mix for this one, flick melted Nutella all over it when it’s out, and add chopped nuts or strawberries afterwards if I’m feeling terribly fancy. It takes almost no time and zero skill. Truly, The Cake, you are a cake for all of us.

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Last thing. Superheros minus their CGI do really fantastic jumps.

View post on imgur.com

 

Leap, tiny Thor! You’re welcome.

It’s alright, don’t worry: I’m just going through a phase

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I’m here!

(This is me breaking the log-jam that is two weeks without writing a word, by writing anything. Here’s the anything.)

Everyone tells you that children go through phases, and from my vast sample size of two, I can tell you that it’s true. I mean, I don’t know how useful it is to know that. Sometimes repeating ‘it’s a phase’ on loop to myself (refereeing toy squabble no. 374, maintaining death grip on Dairy Milk) has been immensely comforting. Other times I want to say ‘yes, it’s probably a phase, but that has no bearing on the intense crapness of this phase, since we’re living our lives in the middle of it’. You know the phases I mean.

Funny how we never think of the delightful parts – so many, so many – as ‘just a phase’, though they’re as brief as the negative parts in the long run. T is fast approaching three, and the thought that he will not be mispronouncing ‘grumpy pants’ as ‘scrumpy pants’ for very much longer is something I am dealing with…not so well.

I have also found that motherhood goes through phases too. That time when you have a newborn, every sense blunted by lack of sleep and every feeling heightened by hormones and love, as sharp and vivid as bright colour on canvas.

The phase where your first child finds out they can want things. Oh, man. And you eagerly open up your metaphorical book of parenting strategies, and they screw up the book, and you don’t realise that they are still too young to keep a thought in their heads for seven consecutive seconds, so OF COURSE STRATEGY IS BEYOND THEM, JUST DISTRACT THEM UNTIL YOU LOSE YOUR VOICE.

The phase where you’re wedded to routine, because it anchors you both in a sea of hours from sunrise to sunset. The phase where you prefer to take things as they come. The phase where you’re killing it with the housework and the extra-curricular activities and the washed and ready school uniform. The phase where you’re barely holding your crap together, your former competence so much sand trickling through fingers.

That one where you realise your second child is different to your first, so you’re going to have to use a different book, or write your own.

The phase where you are able to say ‘it’s alright. This is only a phase. He’s not finished. He’s not broken. He has further to go than this’. And mean it.

Mother phases are different to child phases though, because unlike them I seem to revisit mine over and over. One minute T is at a stage I remember from his brother, so I’m able to ease our way through it without worrying. The next minute they’re doing something new, and I feel like I don’t know anything. This is to say, if you’re feeling out of your depth, don’t worry – there are better days ahead. And if you think you’ve got everything sorted forever and ever, well, LOL, this is a grace period, and grace only lasts precisely as long as you absolutely need it.

H has really struggled in school lately, and I have fretted myself silly at home after dropping him off. I couldn’t say ‘this is only a phase’ and mean it – not here, not about this beloved vulnerable boy. I have worried and worried for weeks, and it colours everything else I do.

Now he’s doing better, and I’ve got past some big deadlines, so I’m feeling quite zen about everything. Like I can work hard and without guilt, and even, like, look with benevolence on that awful Transformers cartoon they’re obsessed with, even though my eyeballs melt in protest every time I watch it. I can see the boys and appreciate them for what they are right now, not just what they will be. I can feel lucky. I do feel lucky.

This is my favourite phase. But I wouldn’t get rid of the worry phases either. They feel like the hard, hands-dirty, bloody-minded work that motherhood is made of.

Anyway, I blame this onrush of good feeling for me rashly deciding to potty-train T this week. I was going to wait till after his birthday, but saw a packet of REALLY snazzy Thomas pants in Tesco yesterday morning and just was overcome with optimism. Am I zen enough to avoid eating all of his bribery sweets when he’s not looking? Jury’s out.

Photos from Grey’s Court this weekend, which felt like just the right spot for some appreciation. 

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Marriage and the Magic Question: Who’s Doing the Work?

 

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I sent the text at 6.30, when (according to his schedule) he should’ve been an hour into his ninety-minute journey home.

‘Hey, where are you?’

I hate sending that text – the studied casualness of it, the fact that I’m too tired even to put a smiley face on the end. Wherever he is, he is not here, and we both know that unless the answer comes back as ‘Five minutes away, and bearing a giant pizza with your face on it’, it will not be good news.

When I’m really cheesed off, I miss out the ‘Hey’. It sounds worse, somehow. AND I MEAN IT TO.

After sending the text it occurs to me to check Find My Friends, so I do. He’s still in London. I sigh out a sigh that empties my entire body of breath, and head upstairs to find pyjamas for the boys. Between tubes, trains and taxis, he won’t be home till almost 9pm. I will make a huge effort to remember that he’s had a hard day too. Some days (the 9pm days, when he walks in looking like stepped-on toast) I succeed. Some days (the 7pm-and-I-missed-bedtime-by-five-minutes days) I don’t.

Looking over the landscape of an eight-year marriage – the lumps and bumps and glorious vistas – nothing has stoked our mutual resentment more often than this, this question that only became important once we had children: who’s doing the work? Secretly, I suspect, we both think we’re doing the heavy lifting. Tim earns practically all our money, so is pretty much responsible for keeping four humans fed, housed and comfortable. It’s a high-pressured job that involves early starts, late returns and travelling away for days at a time. He has targets to meet, people to impress, an inbox full of emails to respond to. He can never quite keep up, however long he works. How exhausting.

Then me. While he earns the raw materials, I’m project-managing our whole lives into something happy and functioning. I manage the meals, the schedules, the homework, the outings, the finding of exactly the right pair of dinosaur pyjamas when literally none of the other five pairs of available pyjamas will do. I am always on call. When I want so much as a haircut I have to scrabble around for cover. My coworkers are irrational, demanding and sometimes downright abusive. I do not get paid one whit for any of it. How exhausting.

I’d rather our roles weren’t so thoroughly marked out, and so would he, but they are. Busy office jobs mean long hours out of the house; I’ve neglected my freelancing career enough lately (mostly through necessity, though this is something that hurts all on its own) that I struggle to justify the time it takes away from the boys. So there we are, despite our efforts decidedly not breaking down any stereotypes: the man works, the woman tends the children. We spend weekends recovering from breathless week-days, and at church.

Some days I watch him sail out of the door, on his way to deal with proper adults and get properly remunerated, and it feels like he’s escaping something, and I boil with the injustice of it. Some days I dance around a sunlit forest with a two-year-old hunting for Gruffalos, or watch H’s face light up when he sees me waiting after school, or put T down for a nap and settle to some writing under a duvet, and I know I’ll never be as lucky as this again in my life.

It depends on the day. I expect it depends on the day for Tim, too, whether his work feels like inescapable pressure or blissful, uninterrupted quiet.

Neither of us has really experienced the other’s life (my years of full-time work preceded our very-full-time children so I’ve never done both; the one time I’ve been away without them for a week, he had to work and the boys stayed with various relatives). Maybe one day it would be good for us to try. For now I think we’re where we’re supposed to be, as long as we keep reaching outside of our spheres to help and relieve each other.

We just have to remember (consciously, out loud, and over and over again) that work is work is work. Work, no matter what we’re wearing or which part of the brain we use. Work that keeps our lives, our family and ourselves intact. It’s all work, and it all matters, and we’re doing it all together.

Except for the boys, who are basically freeloading at this point. The rotters.

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The week in stuff

 

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I don’t know if I’ll do these regularly or even if I’ll keep the name: I’m just reading/watching/listening to quite a bit at the minute and like talking about it. And I LOVE other people’s weekly round-ups, so here’s mine. 

Nearly the end of April. Yikes. I spent the past week solo parenting while Tim was in Houston getting flooded and eating steak (and oh, alright, doing work as well). The way I work when Tim is away goes a bit like this:

days 1-4 – I am a BOSS PARENT I am the most EFFICIENT ON EARTH this human society cannot HOLD ME AND MY CLEAN KITCHEN SURFACES

day 5 – we all hate each other; I lock myself in the bathroom in order to have forty seconds where no one is asking me to do something

days 6-7 – he’s coming back soon darlings, I’ve got my second wind; do you want ice cream?

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I have a couple of lighted-up memories from solo week: coming back from a meeting with the boys, past their bedtime, and coming across a sunset over a field of rapeseed;

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spending a morning with T hunting for bluebells in Sulham woods, finding them, then worrying about the legal ramifications of having a two-year-old accidentally sit on a protected flower;

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running off for an end-of-week sleepover at Tim’s parents’, and dallying round antique shops, cafes and canals on Saturday morning. I wish you all a mother-in-law trained in full-body massage and generous with her Friday evenings. It’s magic.

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The good thing about having evenings entirely by yourself is that you get to set bedtime at 7pm   p r e c i s e l y and then spend three hours watching back-to-back Alias episodes. Have you ever watched Alias? Early JJ Abrams effort, where a lot of the flaws and strengths of Lost and his film work are already apparent. Jennifer Garner is this beautiful, wig-wearing, muscle-bearing spy, and Victor Garber is her Spy Daddy and also the best character ever. It’s bonkers, and I loved it passionately as a teenager, and I’ve been so enjoying revisiting all the outfits and techno beats. I also recorded a video of myself lip-synching to the intro with chocolate ice cream on my jumper, so there’s that.

SO BEAUTIFUL SO 2000s

SO BEAUTIFUL SO 2000s

One afternoon in our local library – which is tiny and quite limited but still a library (PLEASE DON’T SHUT IT DOWN, COUNCIL) – I was chasing a boy past the non-fiction, and found a miraculous hoard of new books. So I have read Caitlin Moran’s Moranifesto (wonderful, hilarious, inspiring) and Lena Dunham’s Not That Kind of Girl (I think Dunham has done a mighty and important thing with her career, but I didn’t enjoy this much).

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I also found Poems That Make Grown Women Cry, which (disregarding the slightly off-putting title) is a compendium of famous women’s favourite sad poems. It’s as much an insight into the woman as the poem, so I’ve loved it. And I don’t know if you can read this, but please look it up if you can’t: it’s Jackie Kay’s choice, and I had to put the book down to sob harder. ‘I am a shore rocking you off’. Oh, my goodness.

I was so sad to hear about Victoria Wood passing away suddenly this week. She was a huge part of my childhood and I adored her. I remember my parents’ ancient VHS of An Audience With Victoria Wood, and getting into trouble for singing bits of Let’s Do It out loud. I’ve read a couple of lovely tributes: this one from Lucy Mangan, and this one from Sali Hughes were my favourites. And we watched a retrospective of her career – made when she was still alive, so she’s in it, wonderfully – which is on BBC iPlayer here (you’ll need a British IP address for that one).

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‘SMEAR AN AVOCADO ON ME LOWER PORTIONS!’

I taught a lesson at church yesterday on the refugee crisis and what we can do to help, and remembered the month when Humans of New York went to Greece to interview refugees. I used one of the stories in the lesson, and greatly appreciated revisiting the rest. They’re all here, and classic HONY: touching, vulnerable, very human, and such necessary reading still.

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Last of all. I don’t care what your political leanings are: if you look at these photos of President Obama meeting Prince George in his dressing gown and pyjamas and don’t melt into a puddle of joy and love, you might be dead inside.

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That dressing gown though.

Mo-Town, and other stories

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I have finally – with the help of back-to-back Alias episodes and a pretty indecent amount of Phish Food ice cream – finished sorting out photos from the last week of our trip. So here goes!

We drove from Ashland to Salt Lake over the course of a day. We figured it would be easier to handle a road trip than another flight with the boys – I mean, if you have any conception of how often H needs the loo, this is pretty obvious. But actually, this was one of my favourite days. We stopped at three-hourly intervals for petrol, snacks, ice cream and to stretch our legs, and in between listened to Roald Dahl and Harry Potter, sang very loudly, and saw some magnificent scenery. Somewhere in Nevada we spotted a sign for ‘Deeth Starr Valley’, and thought ‘hey, nice Star Wars tribute; shame they couldn’t spell it’. Turns out Deeth and Starr Valley are two separate places, but next to each other. If they don’t get together for a sci-fi film festival every year this life means NOTHING.

The last part of the journey, before it got dark, ran through the Utah Salt Flats. We hit them just at sunset. Excited to see family and entering the twelfth delicious hour of binging on M&Ms. I don’t think I’ll ever forget that feeling.

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Then Utah! Another place I’d never been but was excited to see. After so many distant horizons it felt very odd to sit in a valley entirely ringed by mountains. The sun rises in the morning behind them, so by the time it peeks over the top and into your living room it’s hot and full, all of a sudden. We were there for my brother’s wedding at the end of the week, so that was the most important thing, of course. But there was plenty to see, too, especially for a 30-something Mormon who’d never been before.

The first weekend was General Conference for our church. Which we normally watch under blankets in our living room, with plenty of M&M’s on hand. Since we were actually there this time, we went to the real thing. It was very surreal.

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Guys, you do not know how much I am praying that some of those mother genes have come this way.

Lots of other lovely buildings around Temple Square, including the eponymous temple.

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We were staying with my brother and sister-in-law – and their cat, Moses, much to the boys’ delight (Moses could not be reached for comment. I think Ted’s demented ‘Where is Moooooseeeey’ rallying cry is still ringing in his ears). We took up so much of their space and ate their food and terrorised poor Moses night and day, and they were the absolute BEST for putting up with us. I kind of want us all to move into a commune now; could this happen; let’s try.

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After the weekend we paid a visit to the Museum of Ancient Life, otherwise known as the BEST dinosaur museum you have been to in your liiiiiiiife. There are more assembled dino skeletons than I have ever seen, including the really cool ones like the supersaurus, taking up an entire hall by itself, and a triceratops, and that gnarly one with the bone crown on its head that it uses to fight with (you know the one). There were mammoth skeletons and sabre-tooth tiger skeletons, huge terrifying prehistoric fish skeletons in abundance, lots of interactive exhibits, and – best of all – a bit at the end where they could dig out a fossil for themselves in a big sand pit. I’ve gone on about it too much now, but we are pretty much breathing dinosaurs in our house at the minute, and the boys were beside themselves.

They both got a dinosaur toy from Grandma at the end. ‘I’m going to call mine Chomp!’ said H.

T wanted to copy (standard) but misheard (also standard).

‘Mummy, listen! Listen! Mine called Jump too’.

We had a free day mid-week, so took a road trip down to Moab and the red rocks. Oh my. We took our lunch down a kid-friendly trail, scrambling through a canyon and dislodging irritated lizards. It was the kind of day where you keep saying ‘look – will you LOOK at that?!’, even though you know it’s getting annoying. I couldn’t stop looking. We could’ve spent a week there. Maybe one day we will.

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On the way back we drove through a dust storm, in a valley like wide, flat bowl. There was a raised railway line just to our right, and all of a sudden a big flock of tumbleweeds came rolling over the top and down past the car. Some of them were as big as armchairs. I like to think those were the alpha mamas of the pack, and they were leading them all off to a better life. Before we went home we spent the evening with some lovely friends, who used to live in our town years ago, before they moved back to the States. They had not only a dog but ROOMS full of toys the boys hadn’t seen, and I feel like between us we nearly died with happiness.

The next day, in between various wedding errands, we hiked up to the big Y on Y Mountain, in Provo. (The story of why there’s a giant letter painted on this mountain is a weird, torrid saga involving forcible head-shavings and heat exhaustion.) We managed to get up there without anyone shaving their head, though we took the pushchair halfway up, and pushing it nearly gave Tim a heart-attack. Good views, though. Excellent views.

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Then a wedding, a wedding. I love a good wedding, and this (we hope!) was our last one. The service was in the morning, at Provo City Center temple – a gorgeous brick structure with turrets and arched windows and stained glass in abundance.

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My brother, we all agree, got astonishingly lucky. We love this girl.

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We had a lunch not long after, including root beer floats for dessert and some speeches and games afterwards.

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Then we finished the day with an evening reception. Waffle bar, photo booth, first dance, tears. A dance party afterwards where we all jostled together and everything felt hilarious. We saw them off with confetti. We said goodbyes that were too brief and too sad. And we left. After all this time, it never doesn’t suck.

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So concluded the trip we christened #Whereismosey2016. We don’t usually take big travelling holidays, and the whole time we kept pinching ourselves that we were lucky enough to do this one. It was so good for the soul. Come back, come back! You were such a good one.

*rips open Phish Food*

Let’s kick our inner smug mums to the kerb this summer

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Some rambly first-draft thoughts I have been mulling over. Let me know what you think. 

Let’s talk about Utah. Let’s talk about Utah and mothers being real.

Not that the two are connected, particularly – or perhaps they are, but I’m not someone qualified to talk about it. I mean that, while we spent a week in Utah, I had a couple of moments where I met people who only really know me, and our kids, from this blog. I absolutely love it when that happens, seriously – I hug it to myself for weeks afterwards – but we were on holiday, we were so far from routine our routine was hitchhiking its way to another state, and the boys were not always on their best behaviour, nor was I always the best version of myself when being with them. I wondered then and I wonder generally: when people see me out and yelling, full-voiced, at my two-year-old to come back (he has a sacred personal rule that he does not come back), does it make the heartfelt and happy-go-lucky stuff I write here seem false?

I’m sure no one we met out there actually thought that. But it did make me think.

Sure, I talk a lot about mothers being real. It’s important that we be real, here on the internet, and that we talk about the bad days. ‘Me too’ is a gift, in this bewildering, relentless and often lonely journey into motherhood. I want to hear ‘me too’ myself, and I want to give the gift of ‘me too’ to others. The antithesis of ‘me too’ is any version of ‘I don’t have this problem because I do things SO RIGHT’, and you know how I feel about that.

But do I really give other mothers enough emotional space to be…less? When I see someone yelling at their child or pulling them away by the arm with a face like a gathering storm – do I honestly make room to remember that they adore that child, and that they’ve just this second been pushed beyond their limits? Do I remember that HELLO, THIS WILL BE ME IN FIVE MINUTES?

Do I allow them to simultaneously be a good mother and have a bad day?

I have this little idea that we can throw smug-mummery (smummery?) in the bin. Starting with the smug-mummery you get from other people, because that’s easier: let anyone who talks to you with a subtext of ‘do it more like me’ slide right off your back as you power on, loving your babies in exactly your own way. A random someone seeing your vulnerable moments will not be around long enough to see your strengths in abundance, so what do they know? Those children were made for you. You were made for them. You’re doing it right.

But also – oh, much harder – let’s kick out the smug mum in ourselves. You know, deep down I feel that my parenting philosophies are the best ones, objectively and forever (whether or not I succeed). Maybe we all do, underneath. But every minute of being a mother has only taught me that that’s not true. When H was a great sleeper and a terrible eater I thought I was excellent at bedtimes and awful at weaning. Then T came along, and I realised that it was only ever H that was good at bedtimes, not me. It wasn’t that I was right or wrong, it was that we found something that was good for them, with lots of trial and error. There’s something freeing in that, right? There’s a measure of grace in admitting to yourself that you’re just a parenting work-in-progress. I change strategies all the time; I fall short of them all the time. My only useful measure of success is whether those boys are happy, and well, and feel loved – though that’s not the only one I use.

But it should be. I want to do better at following my own parenting path without embarrassment, and letting other people mark out theirs. Just a little thing, but I want to be more ‘I get it’ and ‘it’ll pass’ and ‘me too’. Openly supportive and silently supportive. And if I do it and you do it and the person next to you does it too, we could start a little something that kicks all that smug-mummery to the kerb.

I present to you: DON'T PLAY WITH KNIVES two meltdowns a soup burn a refusal to sit on one's bottom a swiftly accelerated bedtime And sometimes dinner goes like that.

One of my philosophies: family dinnertime is important. And I present to you:
‘DON’T PLAY WITH KNIVES’
two meltdowns
a soup burn
a refusal to sit on one’s bottom
a swiftly accelerated bedtime
Because sometimes philosophies suck, and dinner goes like that.

Oregon pie

I have spent much of today folding an Everest of clean clothes into drawers and playing Judge Judy – wisely, gracefully, then with increasingly snarkiness – in the boys’ endless toy arguments. After a mid-afternoon meal masquerading as lunch, I got a respite. T in bed for a nap, H and Tim watching that terrible Ice Age film with the dinosaurs for the millionth time. No need for me. I took the hint and scarpered upstairs with a book and a bar of chocolate. So now I have finished both (I get a terrible itch in the last quarter of a book, and can’t focus on anything till I’ve finished it), and am at peace with the world, and this is a good time to tell you about Oregon. Then I will make sausage pie, with fat sausages, apples, sage and crags of puff pastry. This has been a good Saturday after all.

The morning after the Chin Disaster, 2016, we packed up the hotel room, jammed all our stuff into a rental car, and set off through SF traffic. Tim driving, me shrieking gently whenever we seemed to be going too close to a traffic barrier. A pattern that would be repeated often over the next few days. The boys fell asleep just before we drove over the Golden Gate Bridge, so (thinking that H at least would be peeved to miss it) we woke them both up on the other side. Look how delighted they were.

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The drive to Oregon was astonishing. Our first introduction to the mind-boggling space in the States, something so utterly foreign to small-island people used to being boxed in by hedgerows. We would be driving on a road, and I would look left and right and see hills just visible on the horizon on either side, and nothing – nothing – but farmland and the odd rare building in between. Imagine living in a house like that, with miles of emptiness around you. It makes me shiver. Do you not come out of your front door in the wide afternoons and get flattened by the sky?

There are mountains in northern California. We didn’t know. Mountains, and forests of pine trees, and tiny hidden lakes with mist thick on the surface of the water. ‘Watch Out for the Stag’ signs every few miles (we never saw one on the roads). A white-topped dormant volcano named Mount Shasta. The roads swirl up and down and between the hills like trails of fudge on ice cream. It’s a weird, untracked world. Once, we stopped at a rickety old gas station so I could use the loo – and I use the word ‘rickety’ advisedly, as the wooden boards on the deck buckled under my feet on the way to the door. I went in to the little shop and cafe, and found a woman behind a counter, chatting to a big man at a table. I asked the way to the bathroom and she nodded towards a corner door. I went in, and found not only the blessed toilet, but a bath, in which lay a fully dressed mannequin with a brown bob and an insouciant expression. The head had been turned so she watched you while you peed. I hope I screamed quietly.

When I came out, having spent the entirety of my bladder-emptying in a nervous staring contest with Ms Bathtub, the chap at the table belly-laughed. ‘Good one, eh?’ he chuckled.

‘Yeah’, I smiled, trying to look appreciative and unmurderable. ‘Yeah, good one’. And then I ran-walked to the door, and the next mountain road. An hour later we were in Ashland.

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My friend – one of my favourite people in the whole world – works at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival based in Ashland, and lives there most of the year. Their house is halfway up a mountain, all windows and views and extremely beautiful.

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Since Ashland is a town whose economy is built almost entirely on the drama festival, it keeps an eye on the sort of people who’d come somewhere for a week in order to see two plays a day. Fancy restaurants, little cafes, quirky shops, gorgeously designed parks. A big university, and (of course) the big theatre. And lots of mountains. It was lovely.

We spent the first day wandering a trail near the house – ask the boys what we did in Oregon and they’ll reply immediately ‘WE SAW A SNAKE’ –

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– and meeting my friend after she finished work for a sneaky tour of the indoor and outdoor theatres, and the rehearsal rooms for the actors. On the outdoor stage, the boys ran immediately to the back row of seats and sat down. ‘Are you going to play something for us, then?’ H yelled. Like a true Elizabethan.

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A personal challenge.

On the second day, we spent some time meeting my friend’s marvellous parents, who let the boys charge around in a big red wagon and embodied every last one of my When I Am Old dreams, then went to find the playground at the big park. Then we found a cafe that did both lunch and ice cream, and where the waitress didn’t blink when we ordered ‘the PB and J – ooh, but actually he doesn’t really like peanut butter, so could we just have…a J?’ for Teddy. That night, we tucked the boys into their matching beds and ran off down to the theatre to see Twelfth Night. Which was wonderful. Charming, hilarious Viola; sympathetic and weirdly dignified Malvolio. It’s been so long since I went to the theatre I felt like an escapee from a previous carefree life.

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The next day we left on the Long Drive. More about that tomorrow. It was a very long drive, and I have sausage pie to make, and Oregon to miss.

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