Category Archives: Womanhood

2017 feels like the year for a different kind of resolution

Do you get the feeling that resolutions aren’t quite in vogue at the minute? I’ve seen a lot this week about chucking out the diet plans and exercise regimes in favour of cozying up on the sofa, without trying to hang your sense of well-being on a set of tick boxes or numbers on a scale.

With all this I heartily, heartily agree. I am always anti-diet: why anyone would add voluntary self-deprivation to a month that is already going to be cold, dark, wet and hard work without any of your input, I have no idea; also I am especially anti-diet now I am shaped like a cheeseburger and basically fuelled by them too, but let’s say that’s my issue rather than yours.

And I know what the tyranny of the tick-box is like. As though powering through an arbitrary list of tasks/getting a certain number of likes/seeing the number I want on a weighing scale somehow gives me permission to be happy. It’s seductive (because it pretends to be controllable), and it’s also bull. I am more complex than any sum of my parts, worth more than a list of conditions anyone has set, even when I’ve set them – and so are you.

Still, despite all that: I believe in the power of writing things down.

It’s because some things are true but easy to forget. It’s because writing things down makes them audible, ordered, and always within reach. I was reading the other day about the earliest example of the written word – it’s a 5000-year-old clay tablet from Mesopotamia about beer rations, which only shows that human beings have been interested in the same things since always. (The tablet is the size of a computer mouse, and the British Museum has loads but has to keep baking them in a SPECIAL ANCIENT TABLET KILN to preserve them properly; I mean, the whole piece was wonderful.) Anyway, a professor of philosophy talks about how writing not only enables complex thought but calls things into being that didn’t exist before. Writing things down made it possible for us to create, and more, more vitally and wonderfully: to hold onto our creations when human chaos barges in to foul things up. As it tends to.

So I spent last night’s episode of Silent Witness (SILENT WITNESS IS BACK, YOU GUYS) carefully putting my intentions this year into writing. Nothing too prescriptive or number-driven. Pinned between ink and paper, my resolution to be kind to myself, and my husband, and my multiplying children.

Take your small kindnesses. Carve them deep into clay. Bake them hard and fast.

Until you can see them. Until they’re something real.

Real girls fly helicopters: why gender really matters on children’s TV

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Kids have horrific taste in TV, but you don’t hold it against them. Back in the tender early days of their development, when they watched three carefully vetted programmes occasionally and on rotation, I thought this TV thing would be a doddle. Har. They just didn’t have trashy opinions yet, and trashy opinions always come. Twenty years ago we spent many hours watching Power Rangers and the Chuckle Brothers, so I try to remember that things made for five-year-olds are not necessarily made for me.

But there’s one thing I can’t get over. It’s in more of their programmes than I expected, and it’s like noticing the disturbingly cavorting fruit on Maoam wrappers: once you’ve seen it, you can’t unsee. Let me take you through a brief summary.

Paw Patrol – a pre-teen boy miraculously owns six dogs that can use human language, operate machinery and have mastered individual trades. Rather than hot-dialling The Sun to make his fortune, he runs a rescue service, mostly saving cats and chickens from their own stupidity. Five of the six dogs are boys. One is a girl. She wears pink. She flies the helicopter. Her name is Skye.

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Dinotrux – in a strange, post-apocalyptic world, a race of dinosaur-machines have arisen: large, aggressive Dinotrux, and tiny, timid Reptools. It has occurred to no one that the Reptools might usefully run their economy by fixing the Dinotrux, until a group of Dinotrux and Reptools agree to live in bro-harmony in a clubcave. Four of the Dinotrux are male. One is female. She’s a long-necked dinosaur, and does the intricate high-up jobs. Her name is Skya.

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Transformers Rescue Bots – Four Transformers are sent to earth with a mission: impersonate rescue vehicles and integrate themselves with a police chief and his rescue-service family. I don’t know why. Reasons. All four of the Transformers are male. Of the five humans, four are male. One is female.  She flies the helicopter. She wears a skin-tight jumpsuit, and her head is bigger than her waist. Her name is Dani.

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Good luck if you can find her.

I know, I know it would be easy to say ‘so what?’. It’s a children’s programme. It doesn’t matter. Killjoy feminists, reading too much into everything. I would probably have said the same a few years ago.

Before I had sons. Before it was my job to raise them into men who truly respect women as their equals, and expect them to be so. The stories we hear turn into our expectations. They show us what looks normal, how things should be. Last time I checked, the male population didn’t outnumber the female by at least four to one, and we’re allowed to wear whatever colour we like (though you’d never know it, in your average children’s clothing aisle).

I want sons who enter a scientific field and aren’t surprised to find girls there too. I want sons who participate in group discussions and don’t feel, subconsciously, that their opinion counts for more because they can shout louder. I want sons who expect and encourage their partners to take whatever career path excites them. I want sons who can have a female superior at work and never resort to calling her ‘mouthy’ or ’emotional’ or ‘bitchy’. I want sons who know a woman’s body (and the way she dresses it) has absolutely nothing to do with her capabilities or her culpability.

I want all of this to feel like it’s not too much to ask.

How can they make space for the women around them, if their stories don’t? It’s not like it will get better by itself as they get older. Boys who don’t think women have a place in their stories become the men raising hell about a female remake of a janky eighties film. Or the men making Star Wars merchandise and excluding the main character because she’s a girl. Or the powers-that-be behind comedy panel shows, who exert themselves to book one female comic per six shouty males. Or the men covering the Olympics and writing headlines like this.

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We have conversations about Paw Patrol or Dinotrux at least once a day. They like to choose favourites, discuss their favourites, ask what mine are. They always assume my favourite will be the girl, and of course I only ever have one to choose from. Tough luck if I don’t like helicopters. Tough luck if she doesn’t appeal to me. There’s only one of her, and that’s an awful lot of representation to carry. I tend to choose another character and give different reasons, but there’s only one of me, too, and a lot of this.

It matters. It really matters. I can handle the terrible jokes and background music (it even becomes endearing after a while, in a sort of Stockholm Syndrome way). But oh, please, please: do this mother of sons a favour, and give me some real girls.

It isn’t much, but it’s all we’ve got

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I am running again. Three times a week I squeeze into Lycra, make sure I have music and a podcast on my phone, and set off. It’s been a long time since I’ve been out, and at first it hurt abominably. My body has got into some poor habits. I barely managed to keep running for the one-minute-long intervals.

Three weeks later, I’m running for three-minute intervals and my times are improving. It doesn’t feel easier – the one time I wore Tim’s heart rate monitor, I spent the entire duration in the Whoa, Death Approaches zone. But, is it possible? For me, of all people. Slowly and steadily, I think I am getting better.

***

Henry is learning to read. He has high-frequency words up all over the house, knows quite a few on sight and can spell out the rest. It’s still laborious work. He gets impatient with things he can’t master immediately (um, I wonder where he gets that from?). This morning we sat in the car before school, and his blue-green eyes roamed over the pictures for clues before settling to decipher the incomprehensible words. I watched him and tried to think back to a time when reading wasn’t as subconscious and effortless as breathing.

He got ‘they’. He got ‘said’. He got ‘Kipper’ and ‘glasses’. Despite progressing in what feels like terribly slow increments, I am amazed at how far he’s come. It’s a tiny miracle, learning to read. He’s working hard, and he’s getting better.

***
The world this morning felt very bleak. In my lifetime I have never known this country in the grip of such a vicious, cruel, divisive strain of politics. We have taken our cues from the party leaders, and become increasingly cutthroat in the way we talk to each other over Brexit. I make instant, unflattering judgements about the people voting on the opposite side to me. The discourse is angry and intolerant both on and offline. What has it done to us, this referendum we never really needed or asked for? Yesterday, a dedicated and compassionate politician, a mother of two young children, was stabbed and shot in the street. Here. Here.

There is one tiny spark of hope I can see in all this, one speck of potential in the wave of revulsion and horror that has followed Jo Cox’s murder. The prevailing mood seems to be that this is unimaginably wrong; this isn’t how we should be. We have gone too far. No one (that I have read) is saying with a sorrowful shake of the head that these things happen, that they can’t be prevented. They can be and they should be. We are more than this. We can do better.

If that’s the only place I can rest my hope for now, then here I stand. The general, optimistic truth that with persistence, people get better. If just one person at a time is willing to put in the work to be kind, to embrace diversity and civility and compassion, to call out intolerance where they see it, then we all get better by degrees.

I will put in the work. I will teach my children to put in the work. We are human, and humans can be better.

It is such a very small hope. It feels so inadequate for the tragedy of yesterday. But it’s all I have for the moment.

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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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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.

Since we’re talking and all – #Timetotalk

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I am having a jolly kind of morning, all things considered. True, I am very bored of this perma-sore throat that has been pinging between us since January. But I had good news from my dentist today, we are squirrelled underneath a duvet watching Cars and eating hot cinnamon roll cake, and we’re going on an exciting holiday quite soon. It’s rather lovely.

So it’s probably a good time for me to post this. I have been sitting on it, not wanting to leave it here while I’ve had concrete things to stress about, because I’d be tempted to write it off as venting. And it isn’t venting: it’s more exposing than that. Imagining sending this out to the internet has literally made me full-body cringe since I wrote it.

Turns out I am happy to admit that motherhood is hard but maybe not the vulnerabilities I carry by myself. But why should we be ashamed of our vulnerabilities? They make us available to each other.

Over the last few months, this is what happens to me at night.

I worry that my children will be taken away from me in a horrific freak accident.

I worry that one of them will get a terminal disease and that I will have to let them go before me.

I worry that Tim will get cancer.

I worry that he will leave me one day.

I worry that I will get cancer, that I already have it, that some brushed-aside little anomaly is an unheeded sign of things to come.

I worry about the people I might have been a jerk to without realising it.

I worry about the times I have been a jerk deliberately.

I worry that I spend too much money and earn almost none of it.

I worry that my faith might crack open like a shell one day and I will roll out of it, alone and abandoned.

I worry about the most vulnerable in my society, and how much they are being damaged and made desperate by our current policies.

I worry about what it does to our children, growing up financially secure and insulated from these real situations. 

I worry that my lifetime might be the one where the NHS, staffed by passionate and devoted people and in my opinion our finest and most selfless institution, is dismantled entirely.

I worry that I have a serious character flaw that everyone knows about but me.

I worry that I will never write anything that is published, that is meaningful, that will mean I can call myself a writer without a half-shrug of embarrassment.

I worry that I am not raising my children right, that I am less than they deserve.

(I am worried that posting this is going to lose me half an audience.)

I don’t know what to tell you: most of the time I’m fine. I’m fine, I’m fulfilled and happy, everything is fine.

But I drive home from meetings late at night and I can’t stop worrying. I’ve never had something I couldn’t switch off, before. I worry about that too. I don’t know what to do about it, but if talking about it helps someone else feel less alone, then it’s worth saying.

I hope it’s been worth saying. Take good care, friends.

My Fringe Does Not Look Like Other People’s Fringes

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middle-right taken this morning, for context

Because I went for a half-fringe first and my hair got confused

Because I have naturally fluffy hair (I will not dignify it with the classification ‘wavy’ or ‘curly’, because it is neither) and cutting fluff into shorter fluff above one’s face is not, objectively, a good idea

Because I wrestle it into submission using scalding-hot air every morning and people/fringes just can’t be kept in chains

Because I forgot to offer the correct blood sacrifice that first time at the hairdressers

Because walking in a light breeze makes it rise up and then up again, parting down the middle and floating proudly down the sides of my head like the waves parting before a noble ship at sea. And I spend a lot of time in, at minimum, light breezes

Because my eyebrows are so luxuriantly untamed they keep giving the fringe static shocks, so now they just avoid each other out of awkwardness

Because I refused to hand over my first-born to the witch who asked, so she wouldn’t teach me about fringe-lore

Because I wake up every morning looking like my forehead vomited in the night

Because I went on holiday just after having it done for the first time and it was absolutely perfect every day, and after this I displeased the gods on Mount Olympus

Because aliens

Because I have a cow-lick. At the front. Did I mention that?

Ten years of Granny

We had a memorial service for Tim’s Granny yesterday. Granny Ann. She passed away a couple of weeks ago.

I haven’t written about it because in a way it feels like borrowed grief. She wasn’t my granny – I only knew her for ten years, not a whole lifetime. So it feels sort of presumptuous.

But I wanted to write down what I knew about Granny Ann.

I miss her. She always wore hiking boots, indoors and out. Boots and hardy tweed skirts, and when she sat on the sofa to do the crossword she would put a sheet of The Times on the cushion and put her muddy feet up.

I learned to love playing cards with Granny. Endless games of Oh Hell in a lamp-lit sitting room, with the darkness drawing in outside. She was a keen and exact card player, and woe betide you if you dealt in the wrong direction or got distracted during your turn.

At Christmas and Easter she brought bags and bags of chocolate. We split it between us and walked it off afterwards, Granny stumping on ahead with her stick and her cheerful hairy dog. Later on we walked ahead while she walked behind. Later still she stayed indoors while we walked, reading The Times with her feet up.

We took baby Henry to visit her just after he was born. She held him and we took photos, and then I asked her about her childhood and her youth and she talked for an hour, telling me stories about a house by the sea and driving a car in South Africa. I’ve forgotten the details, and I wish I hadn’t. I wish I’d written it down.

Every birthday, every Christmas, every anniversary, for Tim and me and the boys when they came: a card on the mat. A beautiful card that she’d chosen to suit us. A cheque inside. Granny’s cheques got us through many skinny patches in our early married life, and then later on eased us through broken cars, sent us for much-needed dinner dates, bought the boys’ coats and shoes, allowed me in early motherhood to go for a haircut, when only a haircut stood between me and feeling like I’d never be a proper human being again.

She could be fierce. She often was. She was sharply intelligent, brisk and no-nonsense, but generous to a fault. Early on she discovered my favourite cheese, and from then on she would send Waitrose bags across with Tim’s mum every now and again. A fat squashy parcel of sausages from the butcher. Shiny oranges, a few pages from the Times supplement she thought I might enjoy, and my favourite cheese. Who was I, really? That’s what I think about, now. I was just the wife of one of her twelve grandchildren. How did she keep room in her head for my cheese preferences?

Earlier this year she came for afternoon tea, to see our new house. It was high summer. She ate my apple cake and brought juice and tiny mince pies. Both our patio doors were wide open and the sun streamed in to soften all our edges. Teddy sat on the floor and fed Binky his raisins. It was the only time she came here, in the end. I can’t remember whether we knew it at the time, but perhaps we did.

There was a moment, a few days after she died, when I realised that we’d never see a card in her handwriting on our doormat, ever again. The absence of her was new and awful. I cried.

She wasn’t my granny, but I loved her. Because of her I know about long lives, well-lived; about the power of detailed, consistent thoughtfulness, about good manners and getting on with things and keeping your end up. That’s quite a lot for ten years. And Granny Ann, I’m grateful.

Speak up for your bad days: they’re important too

I had every intention of sitting down tonight and writing about T’s birthday. We had a grand day. I’ve got lots of very pretty-looking pictures. But whenever I write something especially appreciative about my children on this blog, the universe intervenes to make sure they’re little horrors the day after. And so they have been.

We are tired after yesterday, and too hot. Early this morning they were both crying over UNMENTIONABLE TRAINS before I’d even made breakfast. Tim leapt around the house looking for work stuff because he was running late for a meeting. I tried to put T down so that I could pick H up, and he cried harder and wrapped his legs around my torso.

That was all it took, just that. I looked at our house strewn with birthday debris; my two hysterical sons I had to somehow soothe, feed, clean and dress in the next hour; my husband who was about to sprint for his train and deal with rational adults all day, like a proper grown-up. A great surge of frustration became fury by the time it reached my throat and I yelled at no one in particular: ‘THIS. IS. MY. JOBBBB.’ Like an actual, pyjama-clad lunatic.

For one minute, you see, I wished so very much that it wasn’t. I used to joke that working with academics made me an ideal candidate for raising toddlers, but no academic I ever dealt with wanted me to carry them on my hip while I made them breakfast and found the one bleeping train that won’t be found.

And I wasn’t going to write about it, because moaning is boring – or worse, entitled and infuriating. There’s always someone who wishes desperately they were in your shoes, even while you’re wishing yourself out of them.  I have two healthy children. I am incredibly lucky to be able to stay home with them full-time while working a little on the side. And Tim would tell you if you asked him (I remember myself) that working full-time has its fair share of stresses and negatives too. I know all this.

So I was going to swallow it down. Pretend it didn’t happen, and post some pretty pictures instead. Smooth down my rough edges for a reading audience. It’s all so much more comfortable that way.

I think women do this a lot. We think negative emotions make us unattractive. We think expressing them makes us nags, or cynics, or bores. As mothers especially, we apologise for them, or we ring-fence them with comedy. We sand down our rough edges to take up less space, to be less objectionable to whomever might be watching.

Today I have decided: stuff that. You can take that idea, and stuff it right into some place you’ll never see again.

You don’t owe anyone a good day. You owe yourself care, and you owe other people empathy and consideration, but you don’t owe them quietness.

I don’t mean that it’s a good idea to ferret out the downsides in whatever situation you’re in, because doing that makes me miserable. Looking on the bright side is good. But I assert my right to take up authentic, emotional space using a full range of feelings, not just the ones that make me seem nicer. I want the ones that make me real. That’s what I’m trying to show and tell my boys, after all: all of your emotions are ok. You need to express them in a way that doesn’t involve disrespect or fists, but it’s alright to feel whatever you feel.

All of my experiences will make me who I am in five years, ten years, twenty. All of them, the guts and grit and glory. Not only the ones that came with a DSLR and coordinating outfits.

Guys, today was pretty hard. Today H ran into the sprinkler and soaked his school uniform just as T slipped down five stairs and banged his elbow, and we were already five minutes late. Today I looked into days and years and YEARS of cajoling lasagne into the mouths of kids who don’t want to eat it, and it felt a little like despair to me.

It was a hard day, and it made me feel bad, and I’m owning it. Tomorrow will probably be better.

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Ironically, since my phone is broken, I only have DSLR photos. So some days are like this. Some days are…not.

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Belong to where you are

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I have this Anthony Burrill print on the wall of my downstairs loo. Ideally I would sit and ponder on it while I use the facilities, though of course I never use the facilities without a curious onlooker keen to hand me loo roll and compare genitalia.

(‘I just love talking to you’, H said the other day, when I requested some privacy.

‘Could you love talking to me in the times I’m not trying to wee?’ I asked. No go.)

I think about it, though. Belong to where you are.

It’s what we all want, isn’t it? Belonging? We want to sit in a place that fits, and feel like people are glad we sit there. I think I associate a compulsive need to belong with my teenage years, but really it’s never stopped. Back then there was the queen bee corner where the attractive rich kids sat, and the counter-cool staircase where the kids who unironically listened to Linkin Park sat. My own little tribe, the one I found eventually, was intensely saturated in American TV, films, a few totemic fantasy books and some elaborate in-jokes we all obsessed over. I think for a good five years we mostly spoke in quotes.

Being a shy teenager has left me with some sticky leftovers: one, I will never, in my heart of hearts, think I’m cool enough to be interesting; and two, I harbour an embarrassing, subconscious fascination with the queen bee corner. I’m thirty, and somewhere deep down I still want a popular kid to pick me out of the crowd and talk to me because they think I’m special.

It’s only just recently occurred to me that I can be the one who starts the conversation.

I hope I’m not alone in this (please tell me I’m not) but I’m great at thinking of reasons why I can’t belong.

I can’t be a writer because I don’t have a book deal (or ideas to put in a book, to be honest, apart from a detailed examination of nappy rash).

I can’t be a runner because I’m so astoundingly bad at it (seriously. According to Tim’s heart rate monitor, when I run my heart beats right out of the Maximum Exercise Zone and into the You’re Going To Die, Fool, Stop It zone).

I can’t be an attachment parent because, while I agree with the basic philosophies, I don’t enjoy co-sleeping, at ALL, and also breastfeeding was a hellscape of underfed babies and self-loathing.

I can’t be an Instagram queen because I don’t have any white chipboard to arrange my lunch on. My table is made of TODDLER-SCRATCHED GLASS, hello, so the background turns into an interesting fusion of discarded toast crusts and my own knees.

I can’t be a proper blogger because I don’t have ten thousand followers (don’t think I mind this, little band of followers: I love you with all my heart).

I can’t be your friend at the school gates because I’m young and an idiot and this is my first child and I don’t know what I’m doing.

Blah, blah, blah. Scumbag brain. I’m sure you’ve got lots of your own.

But it’s all nonsense, isn’t it? Who says I can’t try hard at something, and belong there even when I fail? We get to create spaces for us to sit. We get to be the ones to pick someone out of a crowd and start a conversation. We don’t need to wait for an invitation. More and more I believe that you’ll never lose out, being a little kinder than people expect.

Yesterday I was walking to nursery, and a girl walked past in exercise gear. She wasn’t your typical exercise-nut shape, and her headphones were probably a bit too big for a jog, and she looked red-faced and out of breath. But you know what? She was killing it. There was triumph in every line of her, and I knew that whatever she was doing, it was a huge step and she was proud of it. I wanted to be her flipping cheerleader, and follow her around just doing the Rocky air punch. It was fantastic. I beamed all the way home.

So I have decided not to be intimidated by anyone at the school gates come September. Some of them will be older and most of them will be fancier (ulp), but there’s no reason why we can’t be friends.

And I’m going to submit some work to some different places, and see where it takes me.

And I saw headphones girl again this morning, as I staggered behind the pushchair in my lycra towards the end of my four miles. We were killing it, and we knew it. We gave each other a giant wave.

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Hey, you know what would be really fabulous? I’ve been shortlisted for a Brilliance in Blogging award in the writer category, and if you have thirty seconds to vote for me, I’d be made up. Voting closes tomorrow night!

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