Not by the hair on my piggy pig pig

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Do you remember an Enid Blyton book about a farm family? A set of happy, hardy children had their spoiled rich cousins come and live with them after something unspeakably awkward, like a divorce. One of the coiffed kids was called Melisande, and she had manicured fingernails and perfect hair and whined like a baby when she had to pitch in. Then, Enid noted approvingly, she had a moment of enlightenment where she realised that having cold baths and dirty hands was a sign of being a Jolly Good Sort. And everyone had hope for Melisande’s soul, or at least her willingness to be a Jolly Good Sort, until her parents bought a brand new farm with running hot water (cowards!), and that was the end of her transformation.

Looking back at this, I think the kids sound like judgemental prigs, and maybe it was ok for poor Melisande to want a hot bath every now and again. Probably she had it right about the 5am starts and the smell in the pig pen, too. But there’s a little seven-year-old inside me that still kind of wants to live on a farm (see also: desire to run away to a circus and to own my own island).

Today we visited one (a farm, not an island for sale, alas). It’s lambing season, and we watched the ewes waddle around uncomfortably, shooting daggers at all the hopeful people staring at their backsides. I thought that poor Duchess Kate might be able to sympathise. At least the sheep wouldn’t have to stuff their bruised selves into a Jenny Packham dress and have their hair curled before they could go home for some pizza.

There was a giant hay bale city, a ride-on train, a petting zoo, a strange moment where two old men made four ferrets have a race, and more fudge and homemade grandmother tat than you could shake a stick at.

It was marvellous. We had such terrible wind-hair. Enid would’ve been all over it.

*dies*

*dies*


yes, this is really how babies are born

yes, sorry, this is really how babies are born


What a mistake. Now they want a puppy.

What a mistake. Now they want a puppy.


all pile on

what, this is normal


he's my wheel man

he’s my wheel man


a train, a traaaaain!

a train, a traaaaain!


there is a man holding a lamb here, and I think my attractiveness meter just exploded

attention, there is a man holding a lamb here, and I think my attractiveness meter just exploded


engine driver

engine driver

Good luck, new sheep mothers. Good luck, Duchess Kate. Now go off home and put on some fleecy pyjamas (sheep, you already have this covered).

On ovary-wrestling

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I’ve been struggling a bit with hormone rampages in the last few weeks. It’s been hard not to tip myself into sadness or self-flagellation every time my tether’s been shorter than I wanted, or I’ve forgotten to reply to an important message, or walked straight past the reusable shopping bags on my way out to Tesco (every. time.).

Riding the ole oestrogen wave colours all of my comings and goings with extra melodrama, like looking through a stained-glass window where every piece is the shape of a furrowed eyebrow. You may not know this (OF COURSE YOU KNOW THIS), but drama is sort of my life language already. One of these days I’ll hire myself a backing orchestra and be done with it.

Until then I’ve got on with important things like staring dolefully at the soap dish in the shower, obsessively reliving every human interaction to see if people really like me, and noticing the return of the freckle on my nose that looks like a chocolate smear, and having to go for a bit of a lie down. The ordinary incidents of our day – things I would normally laugh about, blog about, or send comical all-caps text messages about – have left me exhausted.

Do you think that when it’s the small stuff that knocks you down, only small stuff will pick you up? I’ve been sat in gloom so often this month and then been pulled back to myself, inch by inch, by a tiny, joyous thing. Some little sign from the universe that everything is working according to plan. Like:

sitting on the needled floor of the forest, listening with half an ear to boys arguing over Thundercats, and noticing an inch-long, bright green fern pushing out of the brown leaf mould next to my foot. A perfect curl at the top of it, defiantly taking its share of sun. Then looking more closely, and realising I’m surrounded by them, and just hadn’t seen.

***

laboriously shampooing dried honey out of my fringe after too little sleep, then opening my eyes to see that my water splashes have made a little column of hearts on the shower screen.

***

squatting on hands and knees by the high chair, picking up dropped noodles and peas one by one (because you can’t hoover them till they’re dry and I don’t have time to wait) and finding a mosaic of refracted rainbows on the porridge-stained carpet.

***

pausing in the middle of an oration on The Importance of Eating All One’s Lunch because the sunlight has reached over my shoulder to Henry, opposite, and lit up every blue-green-yellow-brown-turquoise hiding in his eyes, and it’s taken my breath a little bit.

***

I don’t know if you’re staring at a soap dish somewhere too.

Since it often takes someone else to remind you of what’s true when your stained glass tells you something different, let me tell you (and you can tell me, and we can tell each other): the sun will come up tomorrow too, like it always does.

There are tiny rainbows on your dirtiest carpet.

And there’s a forest floor somewhere near me, where new green ferns are growing, against all the odds, into light.

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Do you have a spare thirty seconds and a fondness for this blog? Then it would be super fabulous if you’d vote for me in the BiB awards writer category! Click this link and choose Make a Long Story Short! 

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Parenting Positions Which I Will Defend Until My Death Bed

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It is perfectly OK and not hypocritical for me to give you grapes for dessert, while shoving chocolate brownie into my mouth behind the fridge door. And then to lie when you ask me what I’m eating.

 

One banana a day is good for you. Two, and I’m pretty sure you could die of potassium poisoning.

 

Things that are exciting and not uncool at all: correct punctuation; long words; paintings that make you cry; jumpers; poems; conducting Elgar’s Nimrod with your eyes closed.

 

I know it looks bad when I sit on you in order to forcibly brush your teeth, but you and your enamel will thank me later.

 

Bedtime is bedtime is bedtime. No exceptions. But you can read in your room and I will pretend not to know. Reading secretly under the covers is a noble tradition that will sharpen your mind and ruin your eyes.

 

I can’t even think of a convincing excuse why you can’t watch those Land Before Time sequels. You just can’t. You’ll learn the meaning of ‘abomination’ in a few years.

 

At first I was exaggerating when I said it might fall off if you keep fiddling with it (or using it as a bridge for your cars, or wrapping it around your cutlery, or attempting to swordfight with it). But now I think it’s an actual possibility.

 

‘Santa’ will continue to take any toys that are driving me insane and distribute them to ‘poorly boys’. He’s a philanthropist.

 

When I encourage you to find your own way down from climbing frames and explore by yourself at the park, it’s definitely because I want to nurture your budding independence in a safe setting. And not because playgrounds bore me so much I want to roll myself in urine-soaked wood chippings and go to sleep.

 

Yeah, we totally go to McDonald’s for you.

Rehearsal

April 15

I’m sat with my feet in a patch of sun, watching our Easter holidays burn themselves out. The house is messy and I haven’t started dinner, but I’m sat stubbornly in my chair. I don’t want our normal routine back just yet.

In a lot of ways, these two weeks have reminded me of last summer: clear skies, welcome sunshine, two boys at home to entertain all day as I like. In fact, with no time pressures and my car ready on the driveway, I’ve woken up with the old sense of thrilling possibility I had, in those last weeks before nursery swallowed Henry in the mornings. Day trips. Slightly crappy home-made picnics. I can drive and these boys will think anywhere is cool and we can go wherever we like.

So we have. Playdates and woody walks, bike rides, parks, zoos and National Trust properties. We’ve come home in the late afternoon tired and scorched, piled ice cream into cones and got even messier while we ate them. And throwing all of it into sharp relief has been last Thursday, when Henry got his primary school place.

We are really, really thrilled about the school he’s going to. It’s small, with lots of thoughtful features that seem designed for a four-year-old with wobbly confidence. I feel like he will fit there and thrive there, and that’s all I’ve ever wanted for him at school. Well, that and to fall violently in love with punctuation.

But when I sit down and seriously think about what September means – that school will have the best of him from now on, and we’ll have the weekends and grumpy evenings that are left over – I want to put my head in a cushion and cry. I feel stupid writing this down, because it’s overly dramatic as usual and I think I’ll read it later and laugh, but there it is.

There childhood is, in fact: one blimming hello and goodbye after another. You bash your head against the wall in the middle of every phase and cry for it when you realise it’s gone. He will love school – there is so, so much to come – and I’m excited for him, but there’s always a little twinge of grief for what we’re going to lose. September will open up a few more possibilities for me, too; what I do with them, whether I’m brave enough to seek them and grab on…well, that’s another something to think about.

You will find me here again in late August, as I clear away shrivelled birthday balloons, put new school jumpers on hangers and trap him in as many bear hugs as he’ll allow. At the end of that summer holiday, the end of his toddlerhood, I’ll let him go for real.

Tonight, I rehearse. I’ll crank our evening into motion in a minute: dinner, pyjamas, releasing the too-small jumpers from their hangers for one more term. After I sit here in the last of our Easter, and watch the sun go down.

This one’s for the shy boys

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Little boy, you broke my heart today.

We were at your very first classmate birthday party: a bouncy castle in the corner, cake and balloon plates ready on a table, preschooler shrieks echoing batlike against the walls. You’d been talking about it for weeks. You fidgeted as we put on a shirt and jumper, and zipped ahead of me on your scooter as we walked down to the hall in the sunshine.

You hung onto my hand until two of your friends arrived. They ran off to play without a backward glance at you. You went after them when I prodded you, and came back a minute later, drooping.

‘They don’t want to play with me’, you whispered in my ear. ‘I don’t think they like me’.

Honestly, it cost as much for me to hear it as it did for you to say it.

And listen, I know you’re three, and three-year-old shyness often doesn’t last, and three-year-old squabbles definitely don’t. By the end of the party you were fine. You won’t remember this, though I will. But let me tell you some things, the things I wanted to whisper back and couldn’t. Just listen.

You are fantastic. And though you’re fantastic, maybe because you’re fantastic, you might just spend the next fifteen years feeling too small for your own skin.

Today isn’t the last time you’ll worry that someone doesn’t like you. My love, there are hundreds of halls like this. They will be spaces filled with your peers, and you will walk in and your blood will tingle hot with agony, and your smile will edge towards a manic grimace in your effort to seem normal, likeable, friendly. You might find someone you can sit with. You might not, and crawling into a molehill will seem like the only sensible alternative.

Don’t. Resist the molehill. Resist the idea that your worth is measured by your distance from the cool table, or how many people want to play with you on the bouncy castle.

If you end up exaggerating or inventing new characteristics to fit in better, don’t beat yourself up for it. We’ve all done it, because attracting people feels good, and loneliness is so very, very hard. Eventually you’ll gently shed the parts that feel less like yourself.

But don’t be unkind in your rush to be funny.

Don’t exclude because you know how bad exclusion feels, and you’d rather them than you.

Don’t compromise anything you believe in because you’re afraid of being laughed at.

Perhaps there will be halls that will feel very lonely indeed. If you can, when these come, stand up straight. You are good, and warm, and witty, and any one of those kids would be lucky to know you. You are fantastic. You will find friends that understand you and love you for who you are. I don’t mean to minimise the hurt of these moments, because they do hurt. But they don’t last. And the self you’re building – quiet and kind and flipping glorious – will be yours for a long, long time.

I think there’s a power in being the one standing at the edge of the hall. You never really forget what it’s like to be ignored, even after you’ve found your people. One of my biggest, best hopes for you is that you keep looking for those on the peripheries, and draw them in. You’ll change everything for them, when you do.

I watched you dancing today during the party games – forgetting your self-consciousness for once, for once, and pumping your little fists in the air – and thought my heart would explode for love of you. My opinion will count for much less than your friends’, by the time you read this, but if it helps at all, I will tell you this:

I think you are fantastic. And I’ve known you the longest, so I should know.

I see you, shy boy. I can’t go in front of you and fight your battles, but actually, you know, you don’t need me to. May your halls to come be damned.

Some hopes for Friday

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Beloved violas that always, always make up one of my good things. If you are not singing the song from Alice in Wonderland now, I don’t know you.

 

I have just given myself fifteen minutes to write something, while I’m in that part of the day before bed when I decide whether Wednesday was a good one or not. Fifteen minutes ain’t long, so let’s not expect a masterpiece. And yes, I am planning on being in bed by 9.30pm, but you should know that I have been bra-less and wearing a homemade Deathly Hallows t-shirt since 7.23pm, and I am not sorry either.

It can go either way, this good day/bad day thing. At home with toddlers I find that good moment follows bad moment follows baby squeeze follows poosplosion: continuously, breathlessly, so that by the evening you decide what kind of day you had by which moments you scrape together in your hands.

For today? Tim is gone till tomorrow, and I have been fighting off the kind of stomach cramps that aren’t serious enough to banish a person to bed (like that would ever happen with small children high on Easter chocolate anyway), but definitely are serious enough to make you not want to sit still or eat anything, ever.

This is very serious indeed, in my book. I bought a curry for the express purpose of cheering ourselves up in Daddy’s absence, and none of us can look at it without going green. DELICIOUS CURRY. HOW CAN. PLEASE STOP THIS.

On the other hand: the weather has been glorious; the boys are still convalescing from whacking vom-colds of their own, so asked to go for a simultaneous nap at 11am (*jaw drops forever*); I hauled our abject selves into the library to pay a hefty fine and they waived it; my apple cake came off splendidly and made our whole house smell like contentment; no appetite for anyone means no cooking meals, which was unexpectedly liberating; Granny, Mimi and Granny’s dog came for afternoon tea; and I will carry forever the image of E. Bear sitting on the kitchen floor next to Binky, holding up raisins from his pot and laughing madly when Binky licked them out of his fingers.

I spent a nanosecond wistfully imagining all the mad laughter that would occur if we had a dog in our house all the time, before I remembered that I am extremely dog-averse. So I wistfully imagined all the bacteria that were thronging on his baby fingers instead. And then I washed his hands.

On the whole, I think, a good day. I will consign the many times I had to explain that yes, I was going to the loo again and could we please not shout about it to the neighbours, because it’s dinnertime and me weeping into toilet paper is not the mental image they’re after, to the dustbin. Like Morgan Freeman at the end of The Shawshank Redemption – ARE YOU CRYING YET – I hope that tomorrow will be even better.

I hope I can eat the curry and the rest of the apple cake stashed in my cake tin, though not together.

I hope we can be outside long enough to get freckly.

I hope we don’t run out of loo roll.

I hope. *music swells emotionally*

Boyhood, free-range

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Happy almost-Easter!

We’ll be decamping to parents later on today for Easter weekend. Right now, some family time: we keep forgetting to schedule Tim’s work holidays with Henry’s school holidays (because, apparently, with a school-age kid you have to do this?) so this long weekend is the only time we’ll have with him.

Tim and Henry are watching something about dinosaurs downstairs. Teddy has squirrelled himself next to me with some Sarah & Duck, chubby forearms resting on mine. I am laughing at videos from my brothers, who are rewriting songs with rude lyrics and recording themselves singing them. This is the purpose of brothers, even at a distance of several thousand miles.

Later, we’ll get out.

The best thing about living here is how much time we spend outdoors. Living next to a busy street had its advantages – Henry’s ninja road safety skills, for one, since the alternative was getting flattened by a bin lorry – but living next to green things has made me happy. If I’d have known that before, we would have made more effort to go places. I don’t think it matters at all where you live or where you take them, as long as it’s green and outside.

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I’ve been surprised by what being out in the woods does for me. The sun falls through the trees in slanted columns. My wellies squelch in mud. I stop worrying about keeping the boys tidy and safely within grabbing distance. I feel like I can breathe easier. Is this a horrible cliche? Do I need to start hugging trees?

Actually, the bark is so wonderfully crusty and light-patterned that sometimes, I’m tempted.

Forest spam - Copy

Children seem ten times more themselves in the forest. (I first wrote that sentence as ‘boys are more boyish’, but any girl of mine will be tramping through leaves and getting filthy too, thankyouverymuch.) It speaks to something instinctive and joyous in them, something that screens can’t touch. They don’t have to be quiet and they don’t have to stay clean. They’ve cautiously poked frog spawn, ridden bikes over dirt mounds, fallen into swampy mud piles and been pulled out, laughing and shivering. They are physically incapable of holding a stick without poking something or seeing a puddle without going in.

And why shouldn’t they? Learning how to get muddy – and that mud washes off – seems to be something worth knowing.

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Henry daren’t speak above a whisper in a room full of people, but we found a fat log balanced over a deep trench and he scrambled over it in a minute. Uncharacteristically fearless. The other Sunday we found piles of cut-down trees and made them into an Eeyore house. I kept wanting to freeze the afternoon  – golden evening light, boys in Sunday jumpers with arms full of sticks – so I could stay there even when the clouds came back.

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And that sort of wish never works, of course. But we can go back and do it again. I wish it hadn’t taken our house move to show me how much we need the mud and sun and air.

Here’s to free-range childhood.

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Angry mummy

It was 5pm. Of course it was.

5pm is when their tiny resources are shot to pieces, when I’m desperately trying to tidy up and get dinner ready, because half of their bad temper is down to the fact that it’s been a long time since lunch. I am busy because they need me to do things, but they also need me to be not busy. In an ideal world I would sit cross-legged on the floor and read to them like they want me to, while Mary Poppins cleaned and cooked. As it is, at 5pm I switch on the TV.

This 5pm I walked back and forth across the kitchen, taking things out of cupboards, picking up crayons, scrubbing the porridge-gritted table so we could eat. Teddy maintained a tight grip on my kneecap and a droning wail, so my walking was more like hobbling and my teeth were already on edge. I could have picked him up, but he was wailing because he was hungry, and I can’t cook with him gaily splashing his hands in hot pans. Dinner, then. Just be quick. Keep hobbling.

Then Henry had a hand on my jumper too. He was asking me something about Captain America (‘Captain OF Amewica, Mummy’) over and over, something I hadn’t quite caught over Teddy’s angry bee hum. He got impatient in the end, and pulled my jumper so hard I almost fell onto Teddy. ‘MUMMY. MUMMY. I NEED YOU’.

I got impatienter. And I meant to say ‘Just a minute, Hen’, or ‘Let me just -‘ or even ‘Scuse me please, darling’. But what actually came out was ‘HEN. GET OUT OF THE WAY.’

My name is Rachel, and I am an angry mummy.

Impatience has always been my particular failing. When I was younger I was never very good at stopping myself broadcasting it over my face, even if I managed to keep my mouth shut. I’ve learned to keep it under wraps more often, but groundswells of irritation still rise up and catch me off-guard.

Here’s a shocker: when you give birth, your vices don’t just slip right on out of your birth canal along with the baby. You’re the same person you were, only running on much less sleep, and torn in half by love so consuming it stings as well as soothes. I was impatient before and I am impatient now. The small, irrational co-workers I have these days bring two significant differences: they provoke loss of temper more often than the adults used to, and they deserve it far, far less.

I read an utterly wonderful article about the ‘difficult empathy‘ of parenthood last yearthat said:

‘Having a child is a series of tiny successes and failures, all microscopic to the onlooker, all specific to our households alone in ways that cannot quite be explained…Failures are the hardest to explain, and yet those are the very instances when we are most desperate for a little understanding, a little empathy.’

I sobbed into my hands when I read it. I can’t even read it now without tearing up. Not only because it talks – with gorgeous gentleness – about our tendency to show our worst selves to our children, but because it made me realise that my own not-so-microscopic failures can be eased by successes. I decided that my efforts could be two-pronged: bite back the impatience, of course; but also shower them in tiny evidences of love. I can show them – long before they’re able to consciously understand – that while I might lose my rag and raise my voice, it only diminishes myself when I do. Never, ever them.

That 5pm, when I yelled ‘HEN, GET OUT OF THE WAY’ in the direction of my unresisting three-year-old, he crumpled immediately. ‘It’s not kind to say ‘get out of the way”, he whimpered, on the verge of tears. I felt my whole self sag with horror. I got down on the floor beside him, held his hands and looked him full in the face (our family language for ‘I really mean this’).

‘No’, I said. ‘No, it’s not. I’m sorry. I was trying to do something, and I got cross, and I shouldn’t have shouted. It wasn’t kind. Will you forgive me?’

This is one of the things I’ve been trying to embed this year: accept his apologies with instant forgiveness, and apologise readily myself. Also, sitting with him quietly during his time-outs instead of pushing him into isolation, letting him dictate the length of them by how long it takes until he’s ready to talk, naming the emotion he’s feeling and asking whether he needs a hug, and honouring any requests for ‘alone time’ (he does ask. He’s my boy, after all).

Then, prong two: we started doing ‘happy fingers’, where I sit him on my lap facing me, and count out things I love about him on his fingers. Usually we get to five and, beaming all over his face, he requests the other hand. And in our general day-to-day I do try to say ‘yes’ when it’s not important that I say ‘no’. I don’t want to over-praise and I am a huge believer in healthy boundaries, but I think it can be pretty hard to be a three-year-old. Having your mother tell you that you’re valued might make all the difference.

Last week – was it after the Captain of Amewica thing, or before? – we had a little ruckus over biscuits. I ate one he’d made for me at nursery without realising he’d wanted to try it too, and he was so disappointed he cried.  And I thought: I can’t take back the times I’ve hollered up the stairs this week, and becoming a calmer parent will take time. I will keep at it, because this boy deserves my best self, not my worst. But it’s not an easy fix. Biscuits, though? And love, and a morning of one-on-one attention? I can do that. I can love him so warmly that it chips away at my microscopic failures. I can love, and be more than angry mummy.

So we strapped on our aprons. I told him he looked super-snazzy. And we baked.

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You must read this article. It was probably the best thing I read on parenting last year; maybe even the best thing I’ve read on parenting, EVER. Go and read it. No really, GO.

A manifesto for being an all-round good egg at thirty

You do not know how hard I had to work to post a photo of me from the side with all my wrinkles intact. It's for a good cause. *sob*

You do not know how hard I had to work to post a photo of me from the side with all my wrinkles intact. It’s for a good, being-more-self-accepting cause. *sob*

I’ve been thirty for a week and I’m not dead yet.

I jest. I’ve been gently bemoaning my age as this birthday has approached, but my heart hasn’t really been in it. The one small moment of panic I had in January, where I sobbed ‘I’M GOING TO BE THIRTY AND I DON’T KNOW IF I’M DOING ANYTHING WORTHWHILE’, felt like it came from the usual insecurities of having small children and no performance reviews, and from the idea that I was supposed to be having a breakdown and had a spare ten minutes to get it done. (Do you ever feel something because you think you ought to? I think I do.)

So far – and it’s early days – I feel like thirty has given me permission to be unapologetic about myself. I spent most of my teens and twenties trying to fit myself in boxes that weren’t for me, like almost every other person in their teens and twenties who aren’t Luna Lovegood. Wishing my body looked different, trying not to resent the pounds I put on in pregnancy, the bagginess, flatness, fullness that came afterwards. Or adapting myself to the company I was in: trying to seem less clever or more clever, less religious, more conservative, less bothered about things that bothered me a lot (and vice versa). Trying to adopt the right parenting philosophies so the mother tribes would let me in. Worrying that being shy made me boring.

That last might still be true. But in the past months I’ve been feeling more and more comfortable in my own skin. I’m a champion worrier so it’s a bit odd: will it last? Is it a temporary madness? I’d like it to stick around. So, it’s election season here in the UK, and I thought I’d get on the bandwagon. Here’s a manifesto of sorts: things I would like to aspire to, most especially when I’m frantic and insecure, now that I’ve hit my one-score-and-ten.

This party would like to remember that its body has had a crazy five years. Sometimes I watch the boys running around and want to yell ‘hey, look at them! This body made them! This one here!’ First there came the growing-and-birthing part, which I need to tell you was not an inconsiderable commitment. Now I spend all my time jogging next to balance bikes, lifting into car seats, avoiding kicking tantrum legs, gathering little bodies onto my lap and rubbing backs while they cry snot into my hair. It’s hard and joyous graft. I’ve come a long way in the last decade, and so has the body I’m in. I want to give it the credit it’s due, treat it well and then embrace it as it is.

This party would like to write, and not be embarrassed about writing. And actually get paid for writing more often, because then I would be living my BEST LIFE.

This party will own what it believes in. I am a Mormon, and a liberal, and a feminist. It can be tricky to be all three. But I love my faith with a passion and I believe in liberal ideologies with a passion and I get very exercised about women’s rights. And, you know, I just don’t feel like playing any of them down anymore. There’s a Mantel quote that I love, and I think I’m going to stick it up somewhere:

‘I cannot unbelieve what I believe. I cannot unlive my life’.

Hear flipping hear.

This party will remember that being sane is important, and hobbies help it to remain so. I have interests both high and low, and it feels like I’m always mentally apologising for one of them. Sometimes I want something that makes me think, and sometimes I want to sit still while my brain dribbles gently out of my ears. I want to exist, unabashed, in the intellectual space I have room for at the time, whether that’s reading a Booker prize winner or an Agatha Christie, listening to symphonies or Heart Radio, watching art documentaries or House.

This party would like to organise its life in such a way that it never needs to take toddlers into a supermarket again. Seriously, it’s a killer. I would like to strike Putting Off Doing The Online Shop Until There Is Literally No Food To Feed The Clamouring Children off my list of special talents, where it reigns supreme.

This party intends to honour its need for space and quiet, but not make this an excuse. I am an introvert, but I never want to use it as an excuse for being rude. The older I get, the more I think that there’s not much more important than fulfilling your obligations and being kind. Or rather, so many things get easier when you’re pulling your weight and being kind first. I want to be someone people talk to because they know I’ll listen. I want to look after the friendships that mean the most to me. I want to be gracious (isn’t that a lovely word? I feel like hugging it to my chest).

This party declares its interest in wearing more shirts and eating more doughnuts. I’m wearing a shirt today with dragonflies on it, and honestly, just looking at my cuffs is filling me with glee. You can’t buy that happiness (actually you can, in TK Maxx. It was a steal).

I love the chap I married, and I love the boys we made, and I love the house we live in. And I know a lot of quite amazing people I can glom onto and learn from. That seems like a pretty solid base to start your next decade. So, um, vote for being thirty? I have doughnuts.

You can also vote for your favourite ever age, in the comments below. Thus far, honestly? My vote would be this one.

Oh, were you wanting a photo that totally encapsulates my life at the moment? Here you go!

Perhaps you were wanting a photo that totally encapsulates my life at the moment. Et voilà, it appears.

Fiction crushes I have had, in order of appropriateness

Mildly odd: Adam Dalgliesh

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(via BBC)

I LIKE A MAN WHO KNOWS HIS WAY AROUND A MURDER SCENE. Dalgliesh doesn’t have my heart like Hercule Poirot does, but he cuts a much more dashing figure in forensic overalls. He’s tall. He’s private. He writes tortured poetry. He drives a Jag. He is so clever it hurts and he lives in a fancy flat above the Thames where he never invites anyone except for me.

Pros: We would solve murders together in between tours of rural England, looking at medieval churches (this is his hobby but I want it to be mine too).

Cons: Like many literary detectives, he doesn’t age: between 1962 (Cover Her Face) and 2008 (The Private Patient, both amazing OH MY GOSH) he’s in permanent, unspecified early-forties. Immortal life partner relationships end in heartbreak or one-sided wrinkles, don’t they Buffy Summers?

 

Wouldn’t really work: Prince Caspian

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SWISH (via Buena Vista)

Stand back: this is where I confess to the INTERNET AT LARGE that I spent every night for about five or six years getting myself to sleep by making up new Voyage of the Dawn Treader stories. Prince Caspian! His ship and his armour and his bravery and his touching vulnerability! Tell me he’d still go after the star maiden if I was his adventuress-in-crime. TELL ME.

Pros: Sweet royal lifestyle in what is an essentially feudal society. Dresses, jewels, horses to ride and chat to, castle, surfeit of heroism.

Cons: Since I’d have lived through my teenage years twice (C.S. Lewis never goes into detail about how messed up the Pevensie children must have been, but he should have), we’d have to work through some issues. He’d be constantly trying to prove himself, I’d be dropping in pass-agg commentary about how I used to run Narnia in the golden age.

 

Destined for tragedy: Remus Lupin

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via Harry Potter wikia

I know, I know, he’s a werewolf. Also older, emotionally scarred, with a corrosive vein of self-loathing underneath the mild-mannered surface. And there’s also the thing where he marries Tonks, has a baby and then dies in the Battle of Hogwarts. So I think we’d probably just be long-standing friends that knew each other’s in-jokes, and I’d make his Wolfsbane potion without whinging every single month, and he’d drink it without gagging just to save my feelings.

Pros: Good Defence Against the Dark Arts skills. At weekends we’d go hunting Death Eaters and make our Patronuses run races against each other across fields of flowers.

Cons: Werewolf. Issues. Death. We covered this.

 

Historically implausible: Thomas Cromwell

via BBC

via BBC

Yes, I know he can be a cold-blooded power-player. He’s just so good at it. And funny, and sceptical, and he believes in teasing his wife and educating his daughters, and he plays Henry VIII like a fiddle for years, HENRY THE BLIMMING EIGHTH of all people, egotistical vibrant monster that he was, and Cromwell owns him and uses him to make England better. I am attracted to super-human competence (witness: my marriage) and Cromwell makes competence into a gorgeous symphony of getting crap done.

Pros: ability to take simmering revenge on anyone who had slighted me in the past. When Cromwell said, in the TV adaptation that I adored, ‘There’s no need to trouble God, George. I’ll take it in hand’. Did you get a feeling? I got a feeling.

Cons: I’m relying, of course, on Hilary Mantel’s version of Cromwell. In real life the sending-people-blithely-to-their-deaths thing might have got a bit much. Also, as much as I love history, the paucity of baths and abundance of plagues would have been a serious pain.

 

Special mention of awfulness: Will Parry

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via Knopf

I read The Subtle Knife when it was released, at twelve. Will Parry (the stoicism! The tender care for his mother! The oft-mentioned jutting chin!) was an obvious dreamboat. Of course, when you are twelve and Will Parry is twelve, it’s alright to have a crush on him. It becomes less alright when you are thirteen and he is twelve, and then you are fourteen and fifteen and he is – gag, horror – still twelve.

But why twelve, anyway? The entire readership only got through the love scene at the end by vigorously suppressing the fact that both protagonists were barely out of the H&M Kids section. I’m hoping the long-awaited Dark Materials sequel will have allowed him to get older, because LOVE SCENES BETWEEN TWELVE-YEAR-OLDS ARE WEIRD, PHILIP, NO MATTER WHAT HAPPENS TO THE DUST AFTERWARDS.

 

Alright, you guys, this is a safe space. Any embarrassing fiction crushes you’ve had over the years? Roll ’em on out. Any Snape lovers in the audience? You can tell me, I won’t judge.

 

BritMums
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