Category Archives: Womanhood

The Penguins Say

that August is a month worth camping in.

Yesterday I came back from girls’ camp. Forty-eight teenage girls, thirty-ish adults, twenty-seven million clumps of knee-high, prickly grass. It’s been a long, hard, exhilarating week we’ve been planning obsessively all year. I’ve sat in a smelly marquee eating dinner from a tin plate, sung ridiculous songs in the heat of a campfire, listened and talked and run around like a lunatic, and all of it surrounded by talking, shrieking, singing, laughing girls.

I think there must be nothing on earth like this. I watched them arrive on Monday morning and wanted to reach out for them because I remembered being in their place – impatient, self-conscious, unsure of myself, my place in life, my body. Making decisions that would affect the rest of my life and frightened to death of doing it wrong. I wanted so much and didn’t know how to get it. What do they hear from the adult world we inhabit, these girls? You must be beautiful. You must be popular. Don’t be stupid and don’t be clever. Be funny. Be flirty. Wear this. Take this off for the camera. There, now you’re something. They see a hard, bright world of boxes we created for them to fit in, and they’re lost in it. How could we do it to them? How could we?

We spent last week making spaces to tell them something different. You are something, and somebody, and valued on your own terms. You have potential. You can make decisions that bring you self-respect. You are a daughter of God, and there is so much happiness ahead of you. Not one of you, not ever, needs to be lost.

As I sat with these girls, I knew I’d be entrusting my children to them in fifteen years or so. I want my boy, my girls and boys to come, my girls yet unthought-of, to know the truth: that they are worth more than their skin, that their destiny is their own, that they are loved more than they can comprehend. I do not want them lost. So I’ll be sending them to camp.

For more penguin posts, see here

On building a body

Here is the most profound thing I ever read on a blog:

Your body houses a spirit. The spirit changes constantly with intelligence and progression. Your body will change with your spirit, constantly. … You might feel a need to restore your body to a certain age where you think your body belongs–even though you would never will your spirit backwards to that same place.

(Read the whole thing, here. I think you’ll like it.)

I’ve been thinking about that a lot, recently, because of my high-waisted skirt.

Oh, it’s a beautiful skirt. It was the outfit I wore to our wedding dinner, once all the white satin got too heavy to swish around in. I was dazed with exhaustion and tingly with happiness and keyed up with anticipation (ahem), but I really loved that skirt.

I wore it a lot once we were married, and carried on wearing it until breathing in it became a problem. Now it doesn’t fit. When I cleared out my wardrobe of too-small clothes, I kept it. It represents my old body to me – when it had settled into adulthood, when I’d come to terms with how it looked and started to embrace it, when I didn’t understand, yet, how much it could still change itself and me.

Once I get back into that skirt, I keep thinking, I’ll be back to how I was.

Here’s the thing, though: my ribs are wider. They stretched out when I grew a baby, obligingly, and haven’t gone back. So I don’t think I’ll ever zip that skirt up to the top again. Body and spirit, I am not who I was back then. Carrying and birthing and feeding this boy has marked me to the bones, that’s the truth of it, and it feels like a truth I should welcome. Our bodies have carried us through momentous things, whatever those things have been. Of course I am different. Everything is different. It should be.

I don’t want to go back. So I need a new skirt.


From the vice-president of the Peter Andre club, with love

Hey, you.

Want to be friends?

This is a silly thing to say. But it is an eternal mystery to me how grown-up women go about making friends. It’s not as easy as it was when I was ten. I can’t just start a Peter Andre club and ask you to join. I have a lot of people that I like, a lot, and speak to when I see them. But how do you leap from that to sharing your deepest secrets over cheese toasties? I don’t know. I still don’t. I am shy and pretend not to be, which doesn’t help. When I meet someone I like, I want to go up to them and say I JUST LOVE EVERYTHING ABOUT YOU. LET’S BE FRIENDS. PS I LIKE YOUR JEANS.

Well, how else do you do it? Should I carry a note saying ‘Will you be my friend tick y/n’?

I was at an evening of workshops for women last night. I needed it: the communion of discussion, the solidarity of sitting with good women, the exercise of learning, the stillness of thought. I drank it up like it was the super deluxe Coca-Cola of my dreams, if you want to get metaphorical about it. I was filled with elevated ideas. I left feeling like there were so many interesting, funny, kind people I wanted to know better.

And so to you, you marvellous people who come to this blog. I have been feeling very grateful for you, lately. I love getting notifications when you comment. I love writing it, and I love that you read it. Thank you – it means so much to me that you’re here.

What do you think about cheese toasties? Want to be friends?

A call to arms for blog-browsers

I was browsing Instagram the other day (not an unusual occurrence). And there, posted underneath a blogger’s photograph of her baby was THE comment. The one that makes me grit my teeth every time I see it. The one that goes ‘I think you have a perfect life’.

Because this blogger seems to be a lovely, sweet-natured person, she immediately replied ‘Thank you – but I really don’t’. And thank goodness for that, because if she hadn’t, I might have done (which would’ve been weird and possibly creepy, let’s face it). I’ve had to take people off my Instagram feed before – not because of anything they’ve done, but because of the people – sometimes, honestly, hundreds of people – saying things like ‘I would kill for those overalls’ and ‘you have the most incredible teeth’ and ‘omg, what a perfect bowl of cereal’.

Did you know that this is an actual thing, women (and it is mostly women) feeling inadequate because their lives don’t measure up to what they see on people’s blogs? How ridiculous, when life can be hard enough. When the vast network of like-minded people on the internet can be such a source of inspiration and reassurance, but so often is exactly the opposite.

Here is what I want to commit to. You might want to, as well.

1. If a blog inspires you to make serious, positive changes within yourself, run with it. 

Like, for example, ‘I want to love my husband like that’ or ‘I could pursue this dream I have’ or ‘I will try harder to find joy in the little things’ (all things I’ve thought myself).

2. If a blog inspires you to make small, cosmetic changes that bring you happiness and variety, go for it.

Like ‘my kitchen would look great in that colour’ or ‘perhaps I should try wearing stripes’ or ‘what a great idea for an afternoon activity for kids’.

3. If a blog makes you look at your own life or your own self and love it less, stop it. Stop it now. 

If you think ‘I wish we could eat out all the time’ or ‘I should be able to afford all those new clothes’ or ‘I’m an idiot because I can’t sew/cook/take photographs/write’ or even ‘damn, I’m ugly and fat and boring’, cut it off before it starts. I have thought those things too. It’s nonsense.

Do you hear me? It’s nonsense. You are a good person. You are doing just fine. And if everyone who likes you turned up at your house all at once, you’d be hard pressed to fit them all in.

Also, shut up, Pinterest.

Sometimes life really does look like this.

Making the leap

When Henry sees the top of a staircase, he accelerates over the edge like he enjoys that sudden-drop whoosh in his stomach. I’ve given myself more than one carpet burn leaping to grab his ankle as he disappears. We’re fitting stairgates tonight, and my grazed knees are grateful, but part of me likes to watch him do it. No fear. No testing the water. Just delight in his own movement: a giddy, headlong rush into somewhere he hasn’t yet been.

It’s the same with everything he does. He climbs high because he doesn’t understand falling. There’s grace in every crouch and reach. When he finds something new he can stand on, he cackles.

And me, with my backache and body image, my duck feet and flat chest and spare tire, I have years of weighing scales and mirrors behind me. Years of I’m-not-good-at-sport and don’t-photograph-me-from-the-side and four-pounds-too-heavy. Too frightened of the ungainly bump to earth to climb anything new. I am encramped with bodily limitations I’ve heard and made my own. I have an ear infection on the way and I’m filled with holy terror imagining my 5k run on Saturday. This is what being an adult means, but I do not want it for him.

I could learn from him, I think. Stretch and crouch. My body can do anything. Mattresses are for jumping on. Oh look, a drop into nowhere. Let’s see what’s over the edge.

For a gorgeous, gorgeous poem on babies and body image, see here

It’s not called ‘jobless’, it’s called ‘differently employed’

I gave up my job this week.

I have been saying it to myself like that, possessively, all week and all of the time I’ve been tossing it back and forth in my head. My job. But not mine, anymore, because I decided not to go back to the office.

I want to do something else.

And I always knew that I wouldn’t go back, really. But now that it comes to it, I’m gathering up my nerves and skirts like I’m about to leap off a cliff. I didn’t realise it was so much a part of what I thought about myself, this working, and I keep worrying about silly things like what if people think less of me and can I be a proper adult without a full-time job and how will I contribute now, like society was chugging towards a glorious future only because I kept all the apostrophes in the right place. The Queen never wrote to thank me, but then she is getting on a bit and perhaps she’s not all that bothered about apostrophes anyway (I jest. She takes apostrophes VERY SERIOUSLY).

Mostly, though, I see possibility. I’ll need to do something to earn (and soon), but perhaps, this time, I could write. And then there’s this. Whenever I ask the questions ‘who will I be now? What will my work be now?’, the answer comes over and over again, unshakeably: this.

He is just the most delicious thing at the moment. Racing across the floor to investigate things and cackling when he pulls himself to his feet. This evening I looked up from the sofa to find him standing up by the bookcase, ringing that little Alpine cowbell so hard he was leaving dents in the shelf and laughing like it was the best day of his life. Then he ate all of my quiche (?! he hates food, but he makes an exception for quiche?) and thought that was hilarious too – though I did not, because it meant I only had peas for dinner, and as any botanist will tell you, they are not large. Once he’d fallen asleep in a tangle I went in to unwind him like always, and as I unbent his arms and legs I thought, again, this is the work.

Well, how insanely lucky is that? I will give it my best.

For starters, I hope I have racked up the brownie points for handing over all my quiche.

Some kinds of encouragement

I spend too much time wishing I were like other people. I read a lot of blogs, do Instagram, Facebook and now, fates preserve us, Twitter as well, and all for the purpose of being inspired by other people. It works a lot of the time. But sometimes all it accomplishes is making me realise how stylish, crafty and exciting I am not, and how half the time this blog ends up being shallower and sillier than I want it to be. I am having a flat day like that today. The whole house smells like sausages because I had to use them up for lunch – this is a smell from the outer armpit of Beelzebub if you’re not hungry – and Henry is tired and crotchety. I don’t have twenty outfits, I have one, just one that is clean, and it was drenched in apple vomit about an hour after I put it on this morning. Do you think I can get away with leopard print or neon skinnies?! I cannot. This is not a good day to think you’re a blogger. Especially when, really, you’re not.

When I fall into days like this, it’s a relief to wallow in it. Throw up your hands, draw up your legs, put your glasses on and wriggle around in your displeasure. Melancholy can be satisfying – just ask Keats, the mopey devil: he loved it. But feeling bad about yourself is a taste that turns sour on you after a little while and trust me, it is equally a relief to get rid of it. The point at which you decide that that’s quite enough of that, thank you, feels fresh and lovely in its newness. Don’t ask Keats about this one: the consumption got him before he could try it.

So on days when I am in mourning over sausage smell and apple vomit and blogging, here are my quick fixes. I find Timothy, go and curl up with my face in his shoulder and have him tell me nice things. I go downstairs to find that fussing baby and watch his whole body tense with excitement when I open the door. Babies always wake up feeling like they’ve missed you for a thousand years, and you’re the best thing they’ve ever seen when you reappear. Or I go sit in the car and listen to music turned up so loud there isn’t room in my head for anything else. Or I read this. Or this. Or this.  Or I might go in search of my spammers. These robot computer people, they’re so complimentary.

I would like to thank you for the efforts you have put in writing this blog, friend. I`m hoping the same high-grade site post from you in the future also. Actually your creative writing abilities has encouraged me to get my own web site going now. Really blogging is spreading its wings and growing fast. Your write up is a great example.

My dear Mr Cash Bullets, you shouldn’t have. How poetic, that bit about wing-spreading. I had no idea you felt so strongly about nappy changes.

Now may I ask you about leopard print?

(Henry approves of leopard print, by the by: it is almost exactly the right colour for concealing sweet potato vomit. He has a thing about smiling with his mouth shut, at the minute, which is another cheer-up method that gets me every time.)

A note from a resolutions enthusiast

I can never resist a blank slate.

All that lovely time and space to make things better in. I always get carried away and make far too many new year’s resolutions to ever keep up with.

This year, I decided to simplify. My new year’s resolution for 2012 can be summed up in the following thought I had while restless and frustrated one colicky morning:

live less on the surface of things.

It took me a little while to work out what I meant, but I’ve got it now. I want to spend more of my time doing things that matter. Life with a baby means pockets of time, not the acres of unbroken hours I envisioned. Thus far, I’ve been pretty awful at using my hour or two for something of significance. I fritter it. I fiddle, and ramble around on the internet doing pointless things. And before I know it, it’s time to feed again and I’m sat down for another hour. I’ve spent entire days, weeks even, doing nothing that means anything. Skimming on the surface. It’s not fulfilling. (I do, of course, know that baby feeding is something of significance – I can just do better with what surrounds it.)

‘Things that matter’ range from reading to Henry, to improving my writing, to visiting those I’m assigned and those I’m not, to getting back on the piano, to learning how to use my slow cooker, to putting away everything to talk to Timothy when he gets home, to doing some proper exercise, with baby in tow or not, and making my excitable way through these:

I just want to make more of my hours count for something. Because we’re all the sum of our parts, and I’d like to be made of a bit less Facebook. Doing things of significance makes you a person of significance, and that’s the end of it.

Go on. Ring out the old. Ring in the new. (Do you love that new year hymn? I do. I love it even more now I know it was written by Tennyson.) Take your blank slate and scribble all over it. January’s a good time for that sort of thing.

On the Ladder

Well, lookee what today brought:

TWO gainfully employed Jeffcoats in the same house! I know: how can so much professionalism be contained in this tiny space? Other pertinent questions include ‘how come his office gets a canteen and mine doesn’t?’ and ‘is it really beyond the capabilities of high-end businesses to take a decent badge photo?’

This beautiful synergy of paid usefulness will be in existence for exactly 62 days, after which I will hang up my red pen and bow out of the breadwinning arena, as gracefully as someone shaped like a giant hamburger can bow anywhere. In the meantime, we’ve decided that it’s silly to think we’re really on two wages – that only encourages some people to buy more nice food for when some people are bored of eating raisins – so instead, one of us is earning the bringing-home-the-bacon money and the other is working for TJ. Personally, I’m quite happy to hand the bacon-bringing over to Timothy. Granted, working for a hiccupy foetus is a bit of a change from working for an academic publisher. But trading hours in the office for shiny baby furniture is much more satisfying than when I’m doing it for diesel and council tax.

I will miss my efficiently lovely house husband, I admit. You’ve never seen anyone delimescale a kettle like him. But by jingo, I love this chap in a suit and tie.

Lucky for me, he’ll be wearing one six days out of seven for the next forty years. I reckon we can squeeze at least another decade out of that shirt.

In the Pink

After twenty-three minutes of hell (not including the disturbing wrongness of the male cheerleaders from Nivea), it was over.


That’s my relieved face, believe it or not. There’s a bit of asphyxiation mixed in there as well, which is why the relief is hard to make out.

Lots of people have lost friends and family to cancer, it turns out. Including us, of course:

To Nanna, with love. Looking forward to your stew and dumplings in heaven (because, thirteen years on, I’ve never had better than yours).

%d bloggers like this: