Tag Archives: Women

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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Speak up for your bad days

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 H, 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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The women who made me

Nana

 

If I am a good mother, it’s because of my Nanna.

It’s because I learned from her that little things mean a lot to little people.

It’s because I know it’s possible to bear physical limitations and pain with unbelievable grace.

It’s because I believe most problems can be solved with a weekly helping of stew and dumplings.

It’s because I’ve seen the power of small acts of love, repeated over and over, for years.

 

Grandma (2)

 

If I am a good mother, it’s because of my Grandma.

It’s because I’ve seen how a mother can love better and stronger the bigger a family gets.

It’s because I have hope that I can come out of insane parenting chaos with my sanity and self intact.

It’s because I know I only need a loaf of bread to feed a crowd.

It’s because I learned the power of an unbreakable partnership with the one you love.

 

Grandmothers-in-law

 

If I am a good mother, it’s because of my grandmothers-in-law.

It’s because I know what it means to be a safe, kind place for someone new and insecure.

It’s because I learned that life is long, and full of adventures.

It’s because I feel the bonds that are made with thoughtful cards on the doormat.

It’s because I have hope that it will all be alright in the end, no matter what happens on the way.

 

mother-in-law

 

If I am a good mother, it’s because of my mother-in-law.

It’s because I believe that fresh air will solve most toddler problems.

It’s because I want everyone to be welcome at our dinner table, too.

It’s because I’ve learned about unflagging, tireless, practical kindness.

It’s because I’ve seen how to be illuminated by fierce spirituality.

 

Mama

 

If I am a good mother, it’s because of my mother.

It’s because I want to be the mother beloved of my children’s friends.

It’s because I appreciate a good kitchen dance party.

It’s because I’ve watched what it does when you build people up, instead of tearing them down.

It’s because I know that quiet, steady belief in my children will keep them going when nothing else does.

It’s because I want to be the gentle voice in the middle of the night, saying that everything will be ok.

 

If I am a good mother, it’s because I have been beautifully mothered. I am not just made of myself. I’m held up by women I have loved and who love me. And I have much further to go before I’ve learned all the lessons they’ve taught me.

But still, they’re there.

Happy Mother’s Day.

The glory of womanhood; or, eighteen things men can’t understand even when they try

Very rigid gender stereotypes are not my thing. Men can paint their nails; they can have a deep and spiritual relationship with chocolate; they can cry over The Notebook. (Likewise, plenty of women don’t do any of those.) I think ‘men are from Mars’ articles are generally lazy and annoying, and we should all just knock it off.

But the other day I was talking to Timothy and realised there was no possible way he could understand what I was talking about. It got me thinking about the necessary gaps between us. Then I was overtaken by the Great Spirit of Buzzfeed, and compiled a list.*

the glory of womanhood; or, eighteen things men can’t understand even when they try

SAM_3847

 

1. the hideous moment when you pull off your hair towel and your wet, prickly, unpleasantly warm hair hits your naked back

2. the five attempts it will take to manually unlock your pee muscles so you can pee standing up

3. the embarrassment of thirteen-year-old you finding that you have grown little Toblerone boobs, then compounding this indignity by having a middle-aged woman with cold fingers measure them so you know how small they are (men have uncomfortable puberty changes too, of course, but none of them are quantified)

4. the second you stand up after giving birth, and all of your internal organs tumble back down through your empty torso to where they should be

5. being hyper-aware of the hairiness of your legs during the months after everyone else starts shaving and your mum still says you can’t

photo via goodhousekeeping.com

FORBIDDEN FRUIT

6. the sweet, sweet release of taking your bra off before bed

7. the tickly weirdness of having a small hand grab your hip bone from the inside

8. knowing what a speculum is for, and wishing you didn’t

9. the leaping-into-a-lion’s-den anxiety of trying a new hairdresser for the first time

10. the exquisite lightness of being, the day after that monthly unpleasantness is over

LEAP.

free at last

11. wanting to sob, shout and stab something all at once during the first week of breastfeeding, when latching is still an issue

12. the relief of having a deep, soulful, bare-everything conversation with a friend of the same gender

13. also, giggling

14. leggings

15. jabbing yourself in the eye with a mascara wand

photo via Estee Lauder

she’s just asking for bother

16. the comforting rightness of sitting with your legs crossed, no matter how many times you’ve been told you shouldn’t

17. the intermingled fear and hope of going shopping for new jeans

18. the fierce euphoric connection to the babies you made, carried and gave birth to, springing itself upon you at the most unexpected moments (3am, the grocery line at Tesco, forcibly brushing their teeth, watching them demolish a pork pie).

So don’t even try it, Mr Jeffcoat. Some things are mine alone.

*this is not a serious exploration of gender issues. Please don’t send me emails. Also I think I might get Timothy to do a Glory of Manhood list to balance things out. 

UPDATED TO ADD: golly, Glory of Manhood sounds wrong. Sorry. 

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.

 

All you need is a good umbrella

Rain, and rain, and rain.

Good effort, summer. I can see you’ve really stretched yourself.

When it’s grey and fuzzy like this, I just want to curl up under the billowy duvet and sleep. Not so for Timothy, who doesn’t believe in daytime naps and has instead gone to climb Snowdon for the weekend. It’s important to let men be men, and sometimes men want to hike up a mountain, eat chilli peanuts and fist bump. Even in the rain.

I hope it won’t compromise his masculinity, sleeping in what I’ve just noticed is called a ‘two season mummy bag’. Um, what? A two season mummy bag sounds horrifically like what I’ve been toting around on my chest since Henry and milk had the big falling out.

While the men do the peanut-mountain-fistbump thing, the women’s weekend will involve popcorn, movies, blankets, a generous amount of apple cider and, coincidentally, a rather larger number of two season mummy bags.

[end of boob jokes. You can come out now.]

Happy happy weekend, you marvellous people! Have a good one. Get out your umbrella.

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?

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