Category Archives: thoughts

This Is Where We Are: A letter to my children on Mother’s Day (3)

Dear Future Versions of Henry and Edward,

Today is my third Mothering Sunday, and you are two-and-a-half and nine months old, respectively. We are tucked up in bed again, this time because you have hand, foot and mouth virus. Before I had children I thought HFM, if I thought about it at all, was a disease for cows. Motherhood is not so much a learning curve as a learning ski jump, with no skis attached.

You first, Teds? You don’t often get to go first.

Henry and I call you ‘bear’ at home, and it suits you. You are a golden-haired, roly-poly, beaming little thing, and you remind me more of a bear cub than a baby. Your eyes are an untroubled, unclouded blue. Honestly, Teddy, I could go a hundred miles and not find another person as sweetly lovely as you. You are the sort of boy who sits in a two-inch bath clenching his fists and squealing, because nothing has ever been as good as this bath, ever. I can put you on the bed with a piece of paper, and twenty minutes later you’ll get a bit bored so I’ll need to mix it up a bit and show you an interestingly coloured sock. You’re that kind of lovely. You’re the sort of lovely that smiles so wide there’s not room on your face for the whole of it, because that’s the kind of smile you think everyone deserves.

You love cherry tomatoes (what?!), apple puree, your purple spider, bouncing on your chubby feet, being in water, anyone who will look at you twice, and your brother, who is the brightest thing in any room you’re in. You hate…well, actually, I can’t think of anything. Except maybe being ignored for too long, at which point you bellow so loudly the glass shatters in the photo frames. You eat well; you sleep well; you throw up like it’s an Olympic sport. When I pick you up and you huff contentedly into my hair, I squash my face against yours and look sideways. All I can see is cheeks.

Two babies has been an adjustment I can only think of in natural disaster metaphors: a tsunami, a tidal wave, an earthquake. But it hasn’t been a disaster at all, and that’s because of you. Do you know how rare it is to find someone who evokes in you utter, uncomplicated joy? That’s you, my darling. So bright I can’t look at you straight. You have the sort of light that people are drawn to, and I’m only grateful it landed on me first.

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Henry, you quicksilver boy: you are skinny, sandy-haired and full of burning energy. Your eyes are blue with the most extraordinary rings of greeny-yellow: they remind me of those fire-veined pebbles you find on beaches, still wet from the sea. If I told you this you would fix me with that look you get, eyebrows raised, mouth quirked up on one side: that, good madam, is ridiculous. You love a good joke, and I’m often your best one.

You love books, sausage pie, the twenty-seven ‘waysing cars’ you have stashed everywhere, Finding Nemo, sprinting, sitting in patches of sunshine in your bath towel, and Daddy. You hate salad, being made to take off your towel and get dressed, sitting in the Tesco trolley, and being reminded that I am in charge. You are rapid-fire chatter, ingenuity, single-mindedness, throat-gurgling laughs. When I push you high on the swings, you close your eyes and tip your head back to the open skies. You invite me to dance during the closing credits of any film we watch, and I would never dream of turning you down. You are clever as heck. Let’s say that now while you’re too young to get it. Oh gosh, you really are.

We have a more complicated bond these days: you want things and push back when you can’t have them; I lose my temper over your stubbornness more often than I should. We are parenting now in earnest, and often I feel a terrible tearing mix of frustration and fear and pride and love. I suppose that’s how you become less of me and more of you, and there’s something wonderful in that. I love you fiercely for your wholeness and integrity. Regardless of who’s watching, you are always most perfectly yourself. I have this sense of you as a poised arrow: fearless, determined, ready on the string. I can’t fathom where that headlong rush forward will take you, but I can guess. So high, my love, so high I can only watch you: so blazingly, beautifully high.

With love and some hair-pulling (on all sides),

Your mother.

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Now it’s your turn! Want to write your own This Is Where We Are? Click below and add the URL for your post and see the others. The linky will be open for a week. I would love to read it!

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If you have a child and a blog, I have just the project for you

The other day, I wondered casually why there are no photos of me and both boys together.

This is why.

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(The hair-blinding. The escaping trousers. The determined ninja foot. Let’s get this cracker on the wall, sharpish.)

I’m going to need a better effort for our Mother’s Day photo this year, so watch this space. Ug.

In other news: if you’ve been hanging out here for a while, you may have noticed one of my dearest Mother’s Day traditions is writing a letter to my children about how it feels to be their mother. I hope they’ll want to read these in years to come – but they also mean a lot to me, as a record of where they are, where I am, where we are together.

This year I thought it might be nice to read other people’s, so I’m going to turn it into a linky. Which is, if you don’t know (I didn’t for ages) – a blog post with a form at the bottom for you to enter a post of your own. It appears as a little thumbnail at the bottom of my post, so anyone can find your blog from mine.

It can be funny, heartfelt, sad, exasperated – anything, as long as it’s true. I value women’s raw experience, here in this community. I don’t take it lightly, and I’d love to gather some together here. Perhaps we can make a day that can be upsetting or guilt-making for some more uplifting. The linky form will be open for a week, starting on UK Mother’s Day (30th March), so don’t worry if you don’t have time on the day itself. But I’d love you to join in! (I’m also frightened that it will sit alone and unbothered for the whole seven days, so if you’re undecided, well – here’s my best pretty-please face.)

It’s called This Is Where We Are: A Letter to my Children on Mother’s Day. My previous letters (here and here) are now called this too, because you can do this on the internet, and that is why blogs are better than journals for indecisive people.

I do love you, dear readers! I mean, I don’t want to get all weird or anything. It’s just, I suppose, that I’m very glad you’re here.

Fist-bumps from the woman with three kinds of snot in my hair today.

Rachel.

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My children are more than a high school movie

Buffy, season 1. Where miniskirts ruled the world.

Buffy, season 1. Where miniskirts ruled the world, and the vice-presidents were sass and eye shadow.

I thought the other day that Henry and Teds had the potential to be superstars in the high school movie genre. If there’s a higher pinnacle of ambition for your children, I’d like to hear about it. And why? They’d be dead easy to cast.

Henry, loveable nerd.

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Long, stringy frame in a button-down shirt and jersey. Slightly highly-strung, with a headful of obscure details gleaned from the books he reads obsessively. He likes to perch. He prefers to explain things in twenty words when two-and-a-half would do.

Teddy, easy-going slacker.

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Blonde-haired, blue eyed, wrestler’s physique. When he blows, he really blows – but most of the time you’ll find him eating large meals, laughing at someone else’s jokes, accidentally standing on people, keeping his heart of gold resolutely on display.

I’ve spent a lot of time, since the boys were born, making note of their characters. I love their differences: Henry has always been fierce and funny, Teddy sweet and observant. It’s amazing how much personality babies cram into their tiny bodies, isn’t it? They come out bellowing with it.

And it’s fine to notice, because I believe we don’t make or mould our babies, but discover them, and help them to discover themselves: gently amplifying their strengths, taking compassionate stock of their weaknesses. Who knows them better than me, after all? I’ve hovered over their cribs, supervised their mealtimes, gathered them up into my lap after a fall. We go way back to the clammy-soft skin and desperate heaving of tiny ribs as they were passed to me for the first time: bawling, enraged, blazing with life. Everything I know about them is logged away, and I am desperately organising it into some magnificent mental database that will tell me exactly what to do at all times.

The problem is that no sooner do I triumphantly find and label a characteristic, they change it. It gets me into trouble. ‘Oh, Henry is great with people’, I say. ‘He’s not shy’. Except sometimes he is. He’ll stick his head under the sofa rather than look directly at someone new – if he hasn’t seen them before, or for a while, or if he feels like it. So basically, he’s shy except when he’s not, and he’s brave except when he’s not, and Teddy is quiet except when he’s shouting his head off, which is, hello, a lot of the time.

My instinct is to pin them down, and theirs is to reinvent. They are shy and loud and headstrong and watchful and fearless and terrified and thoughtfully kind and thoughtlessly mean. What do I know about them? Only what’s true in this minute.

One more thing. I come from a family where we knew, and often talked about, what our defining quality was. Four siblings, respectively The Brains, The Sporting Genius, The Funny One and The Looker. We mostly decided this for ourselves, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with pinpointing what you’re good at. But over time it became set in stone. The fear of being Not Clever Enough is still the ugly root of a lot of my anxieties.

I don’t want that for them. There’s a lot of good to be done in this world, and I’d like them to get on with it without worrying about whether they’re allowed. I am breathless with possibility for them. Their horizon is just about anything they can imagine for themselves, and I am ready – and hoping – to be surprised.

In short, dear boys: sometimes you’re the nerd, and sometimes you’re the vampire slayer. But most of the time – brilliantly, heartbreakingly, and all at once – you’re every marvellous thing in between.

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Six

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I remember that time you told me
you said
‘love is touching souls’.
surely you’ve touched mine
’cause
part of you pours out of me
in these lines
from time to time

Joni Mitchell

Looking at this blog, you’d think Timothy was a supporting player. I don’t talk about him directly, much. He wouldn’t like it. But today is our anniversary, and as I look around our brilliant, beautiful, messy life to find him at the immovable centre of it all, I wonder how on earth I was lucky enough to land just exactly where I should be. Love is touching souls, and surely, oh, surely he’s touched mine. It comes out in everything I do.

Happy anniversary, Mr Jeffcoat.

I told the story of how we ended up together last year, here. I am even more covered in banana now than I was when I wrote it.

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Seeker

The Quest

High, hollowed in green
above the rocks of reason
lies the crater lake
whose ice the dreamer breaks
to find a summer season.

‘He will plunge like a plummet down
far into hungry tides’
they cry, but as the sea
climbs to a lunar magnet
so the dreamer pursues
the lake where love resides.

Denise Levertov (b. 1923)

I read this poem and think about early love. Because once you’ve found the person to whom you say ‘yes, forever’, then the quest is over, isn’t it?

Today I thought, no, actually, it isn’t.

Every last thing about mundane life is designed to make you forget about early love. Council tax, the little balls of hair in the corners of the carpet, nappy bags, chilli and rice for dinner. Chilli and rice is a prosaic meal. It’s not a meal for lovers. (We eat it all the time.)

When one of you works too hard and the other is too prone to fits of cabin fever, and both of you, now you think about it, spend a lot of time getting poo under the fingernails, well – keeping that intake of breath and whirling in the stomach takes effort. It’s like trying to hold a butterfly in your hands. It needs seeking out, all the time. What a heroic and beautiful thing, to seek out first love and hold it tight, the delicate flutter on the palms of your hands.

Today is Valentine’s Day, and after a week like this one, our highest of high V-day dreams involved packing the boys off to bed early enough to eat something nice. Then Sarah called in howling rain to say she was nearby, and did we want her to pop in to watch the boys while we grabbed something quickly to eat. I took out a toy car from each pocket, put on my elephant-sized raincoat and off we popped. We had a Five Guys burger and talked about where we want to take ourselves this year. It was blissful. We weren’t dressed up to the nines and they’re not sweet nothings, not anymore. But why would you want to talk about nothing, anyway? These are our everythings.

Falling in love is the easy part. Working to stay there – that takes a quest.

We can keep seeking together. I can’t think of a better Valentine promise than that.

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I wanted cajun fries, he wanted regular. But we both wanted cherry vanilla Coke.  [this is love]

 

 

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On mothers, the Internet and the sea

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SERIOUS POST AHOY:

Something funny happened to me this week. I wrote an article for What to Expect and it mutated into a monster. I wrote about toddlers – in particular my lovely, hilarious, maddening boy. I wrote about his eyes and his chatter, and a bad day he had once that was set off by a series of poor choices I made. And I wrote about how hard it is to watch toddlers flail their way into independence, and how this messy, necessary process ends in days when we just don’t like each other very much.

So far, so normal, eh? Amateur toddler psychology is the bread-and-chocolate-spread of this girl’s days – just look around here. I didn’t think it was remarkable. But then it all exploded: there are now hundreds upon hundreds of people saying horrific things about the two of us. It’s kind of breathtakingly vicious and I don’t really want to quote it or for you to read it, so please don’t. So many of these people are women and fellow mothers, and somehow I feel grosser about that than anything.

I’m not writing this for reassurance, as you’ve been kind enough to send a lot my way already (and thank you so much). I know posting anything on the internet comes with a risk of negative attention. But I’m not sure people who write comments like this ever stop to think about how it makes someone feel, so here’s my best shot at it. I feel like I’ve been making friends with this friendly Internet dog for years, oh, pat pat pat, aren’t you wonderful company, and suddenly it has bitten my hand off. And now it has rabies, and now all my skin’s going to fall off before I die, hey, thanks, Internet Dog. I feel bruised, and sick, and so, so embarrassed. I’ve spent far too much of the past 48 hours plotting all of the things I would say if I weren’t now avoiding that comment thread for the rest of eternity, such as - there is so much I left out of those 800 words. And do they remember what it was actually like, parenting their first toddler and terrified of getting it wrong? And I want to tell them about my boy – how he tried to get out of eating his lunch today by quoting Green Eggs and Ham, how he says ‘please may I have’ and ‘thank you very much’ and ‘oh mummy, you so pretty’. How every negative minute with him is twelve-times overwhelmed by his brilliance, and how I will never, ever forgive myself for taking him into a public arena to be stripped down and howled at by five hundred anonymous faces. I just wanted to be honest, but it was naive.

You know. Dramatic stuff like that.

This morning I seriously wondered whether writing about realistic parenting is a good or helpful thing to do. I tread a fine line, here, talking about my children while respecting their future feelings and without soft-blurring the picture. Perhaps it would be better, after all, to only talk about the good days. But then I came over a bit Braveheart, and put on a bad Scottish accent and hunted around for some blue face paint.

Because, NO. Heck. No. Aren’t we all in this together? Isn’t it a wondrous and frustrating thing, parenting a child? There are moments that soar like stars and moments that seethe with insecurity, and pretending it’s just one or the other isn’t helpful to anyone. When I wrote this article I pictured a mother who, like me, worries that one tantrum will make her child a horrible person forever. And who, like me, falls so short of the Mary Poppins marker she sets herself that sometimes she thinks it might be better to pack it all in and go to sea. I wanted to tell that mother: you’re normal. You’re doing your best.  It’s ok to feel how you feel, whatever that feeling is. Look, here am I, shambling along beside you and feeling the same way. The sea hasn’t got anything on the vistas we survey here. I wanted her to feel less alone, so she could stand up, fix her make up and sally on out to try again.

I will be honest here, and I will be kind. And if you will too, we can tell each other funny, horrific stories with snot in our hair. Then stand up, with our best Braveheart faces, and go and get this crap done.

Normal service resumes tomorrow.

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Five ways to throw yourself a thank you party and mean it

Big news! Next year I am thirty, and I’m preparing for it with a grapefruit scented face wipe.

By rights the Big Three should set off all sorts of anxieties and crises. It might, yet. But I thought it might be nice to spend the year leading up it trying hard to take care of myself, and appreciating my body for everything it does. It’s a good egg, my body. The last few years have been pregnancy-birth-pause-pregnancy-birth, which is all miraculous and everything, but does take a lot of hard work on the part of my cells. Well, put your feet up, cells. This time’s for you. Here’s a grapefruit wipe to show my regard.

Here are the five ways I’ll be treating myself right this year, in small ways and large:

clean up better. 

These wrinkles, they’re not messing around. I’m sorry to admit in such a public forum that I’m the sort of skanky toad who leaves their make up on at night. It’s true, alas. But now I’m taking off my make up every night before bed (hence the wipes), and using face cream. Do you know, my face feels all soft in the mornings now. I just want to rub it against things.

bath better.

I don’t actually know whether baths are good for you. I tend to use water hot enough to scald, so perhaps not. But they make me feel better, which means less stress, which means less nail-biting, fast-breathing and anxiety-bowel-churning.

eat better.

We came home from the States feeling greasy and exhausted. Did you know that eating too many chips will turn you into one? We’re off fast food completely for January, just to recover (ohhh, those burgers. I REGRET NOTHING). Thereafter, while I’ll worship at the Altar of Doughnut as enthusiastically as ever, I want to stop eating when I’m full, and eat more of the vitamin-packed stuff that will make me feel good. I switched to whole-wheat spaghetti last week. That’s how much I mean it.

move better.

Blech, exercise. I am not the sort to feel fresh and buzzing with life after I’ve come in from a run. I feel like all of my internal organs are crying salty tears into open wounds. But thanks to my sister, I have a free gym membership, and I think my body would thank me if I used it. Yesterday I went in and ran and stretched and planked until I sweated. Normally I only sweat when sprinting to stop Henry using Teds as a bobsleigh, so it was a nice change of pace. My abdominal muscles appear to have left the building without telling me, and today I am a walking bruise. But I think I do feel better.

think better.

This is the big one. I was dressing for church while we were at my mum’s over Christmas, and looked critically at my outfit before we left. Hmm, I thought. A bit fat. Then, for the first time in, I don’t know, EVER, I thought you know what? I just had a baby. It’s really ok. So I turned firmly away from the mirror and didn’t think about it again. Every time I feel guilty this year about looking like I had a baby, I have resolved to give myself a mental slap. I did have a baby. It’s really ok. And my reflection doesn’t own me. It sits in two dimensions, and lucky, lucky me, with my arms and legs and eyebrows and small intestine, all of it fitting together like a dream: I get to run around in three.

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Off the wagon: some thoughts for 2014

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I downloaded a new to-do list app. One of the great quests of my life is to find the perfect to-do list app, one with colours and sections and the perfect cathartic scribble. This new one isn’t my life partner, but I rather like it on my home screen, because it’s called ‘Do!’

It makes me feel all resolute, seeing it there. I have a lot of big things to get done, this January, and I’m frightened to death about at least half of them, but I flick open my phone and it shouts ‘Do!’ So I do. I bring up a mental image of Heath Ledger slamming down his helmet visor in A Knight’s Tale (this is an image you should always have on standby for emergencies), and I slam down my visor and flip my medieval hair out of my face, and flipping well DO.

The busyness and scariness are two reasons I haven’t done much in the way of resolutions this year. Usually I’m all over resolutions, because I love the sense of starting again, the grip on possibility that it gives me. This year, I have an idea that it would be better for me to concentrate on one task at a time. But there is one thing I want, very much, aside from Heath Ledger’s fabulous medieval hair.

I want to be kind.

Because it is so easy not to be. Because you can’t move on the internet without tripping over piles of sarcasm, boxes of angry reaction blogs, stacks of passive-aggressive Facebook comments. I’m not very good at being out-and-out mean – too much guilt, and I can never think of something snappy in time – but when it comes to crabby irritation and sarcastic asides, I’m a ninja.

Lately I have been feeling that it would be so much more restful to stop leaping on the judgement wagon every time someone opens their mouth. If this were better worded, I would make it my mantra for 2014:

people do things for their own good reasons.

They are sat in their own set of circumstances, working with what they’ve been given, and trying their best. I don’t have to agree, or even like it much. But I do, yes, I DO have to be kind.

That applies to my toddler, too, who is doing his best to help me remember what my angry voice sounds like.

And it applies to me most of all. Someone I love once said to me, ‘the only voice in your head you should listen to is the one that speaks with compassion’. I think about that all the time. We were made to be works-in-progress. We were made to create and soar and love, and also lose tempers and slam doors and forget to take the rubbish out. Sometimes I’m standing, arms wide, at the top of the Arc de Triomphe, and sometimes I’m picking a baby’s nose with sick in my hair. The whole of my experience has made me who I am. I want to embrace it for what it is, and forgive it for what it’s not.

I just want to back off, and let it go, and pause before I say something, especially if that something is to me, in my head. And, well, be kind.

I will really try. Maybe then the rest of my list will start taking care of itself.

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The year of the wave

Like United Airlines on days ending in ‘y’, I’m a little behind. It feels silly to be posting a year-in-review when we’ve clearly been in January for an age. January has a particular flavour to it, don’t you think? You can taste it in your mouth. It’s like December never happened.

Still. I like to look over these, afterwards. When the newness of January wears off and I’m just cold and cross, I like to remember that there is progression. This January is not the same as the last. We are not the same. And 2013 was a blinder.

Let’s go, then! In 2013, we:

woke up one day with an eighteen-month-old who could talk;

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hit our five-year anniversary with a million flashbacks;

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nearly peed in front of a Van Gogh in deliriously lovely Paris;

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posted our dummies off to the Dummy Fairy, and considered posting Henry off to an orphanage thereafter;

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got bigger,

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and bigger,

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and bigger;

fell indecently in love with the Hay Festival (again);

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got Henry a new roommate and a new favourite person;

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made Tim try on a giant fake pregnancy belly just to make ourselves laugh;

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met Edward in a hurry at 3am, and loved every last bit of him;

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spent Henry’s second birthday roaring on the Tube;

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saw some fancy houses and had some lovely days with my Mum and baby Teds;

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bumped over cobbles in drizzly Edinburgh;

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went on a date and invited Shakespeare;

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celebrated the heck out of autumn;

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had a cracking time selling poppies for Remembrance Day;

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and spent Christmas frying turkeys and jumping off sand dunes in Alabama.

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I tried hard to write honestly, this year, even if it was ugly. The intricacies of pregnancy, fiery toddlerhood, expanding motherhood, and all of the feelings that went along with it felt like earth shocks to me, a whole undiscovered country that at times I couldn’t fathom. It turned out that I wasn’t the only one. Thank goodness for blogging, and thank goodness for you.

There were milestones for Henry and me together: finding the seeds of independence, accepting him as a firecracker, trying positive discipline, letting him know his place. I wrote about writing: discovering words in India, kindness on Earth Day, and the recipe for blogging the real you. I tried really, really hard not to hate pregnancy style, packing a hospital bag, or dealing with third-trimester panic. In the scary newborn stage I tried reformation, giving up control, and on/off days. I finally admitted how I really feel about breastfeeding, and working mothers. I came up – again, and more than once – against post-partum body image. I wanted to be a single-tasker. I owned up to some pretty bizarre feelings about having two children (my favourite post of the year, this, because of the overwhelming ‘me too’s that came in response). And then there was the day I pretended to be Katniss Everdeen, formulated the Love Actually Theory of World Peace and got very, very angry about the princess in the tower.   

2013, we salute you. You were a tsunami, but after the wave, there were flowers.

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To my sons: if I catch you treating a girl like a princess, I will break your kneecaps

My friend Megan Conley was in a library the other week, and overheard a horrific conversation between a couple on a first date. Well. We’ve all had our share of cringe-worthy first dates, of course (unless you’re me, in which case you’ve had your share of no dates at all). But this one, oh, this one got under my skin.

Meg wrote a beautiful response for the girl she wanted to take aside, which I hope you’ll read. But I am raising boys. With Meg’s kind permission, I’ve written this for them. 

My dear, lovely boys,

I don’t know when you’ll be reading this. Perhaps you already keep to your room most of the time and roll your eyes when you talk to me, because I’m the most uncool person you know. (Just as an aside, right now you think I’m the best thing since chips and ketchup, so there. (Extra aside: am I better at being an adult, now? I hope so.))

I’m willing to bet, though, that you’re already interested in girls. And that’s good. Because girls are what I want to talk to you about. You hear a lot about dating at the moment, I’m sure. A lot of it is good, sound advice. We’ll have talked about all this already, in person, so I don’t need to say anything here.

Here’s what I do want to say: if I catch you treating that girl like a princess, I will break your kneecaps.

I am so tired of all this girl-as-a-princess talk. Do you know what princesses do, in stories? They are kidnapped. They sit in towers guarded by fire-breathing dragons. They are the prizes in competitions of strength and manliness. They are the victims of spell-casters twirling their moustaches, and lie in enchanted sleep or as sad little swans on the river until they are rescued. And rescued they have to be, almost always, by the handsome prince on his white horse.

Oh, that prince. He is dashing. He is determined. He chops down the forest of thorns and defeats the evil witch even when all hope is lost. He works out the problem to be solved and doesn’t stop searching and trying and thinking until the princess has been found and there’s a happily ever after. Oh, I know there are princesses who think for themselves. There are exceptions to every rule. But for every Mulan there is an Aurora, and for every Belle with her library book there’s a Cinderella waiting for the ball, in fact twelve Cinderellas, a hundred Cinderellas – a princess at the top of every tower you can think of, and all of them waiting for you.

My dear boys, this is utter, utter pigswill. The girls you meet are not sitting in suspended animation, waiting for your manly shoulder to cry on, your voice to explain everything and make it alright. The girl you fall in love with has opinions, loves, passions, tragedies, strengths and weaknesses all of her own. She was born an endlessly complex, endlessly marvellous creature, and has spent her life thus far remembering and discovering who she is. She has spent her life in a world where too many stories told her that she had to stay put and look pretty, that all her value lay in what a man thought of her, wanted from her, was willing to do for her. I hope she is fighting against it. I hope she has come out spitting.

It’s not much fun for you either, this handsome prince lark. Of course it’s nice to be needed, but the pressure to always be the strong one, always chopping down that damned forest to get to her, can be suffocating. At best, you feel an added pressure to always be in control of yourself, to never show weakness or emotion, and to carry the weight of you both even when you’re sinking. At worst, you begin to assume that only you know the answers to the questions that bother you both. You make the decisions, you tell her what to think, you explain things, endlessly. It’s disrespectful to both of you, that sort of thing. It leads nowhere good.

This is what I want you to say, when you find a girl that makes you feel like the best version of yourself: to hell with the stories. Do you hear me? To hell with them. Neither of you have to be anything you’re not. Both of you are endlessly complex, endlessly marvellous creatures, and you’ll spend a lifetime learning each others’ strengths and bolstering your weaknesses. Sometimes you’ll be on the horse, and sometimes you’ll be in the tower. Sometimes you’ll be back-to-back, chopping down the thorns with a sword in each hand. Let her be, in all her wonderful imperfection. Let yourself be, too. It’s alright. Together you’ll leap every obstacle and storm every castle and make something so fine we’ll hardly be able to look at it straight.

Oh, I love you to your bones, my darling boys. So will she. Be worthy of it. Or I really will break your kneecaps.

Your mother.

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