Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Lunch and Labels

Earlier this afternoon, my youngest son and I made lunch together.  We have a few precious hours alone each day after nursery and before school pick up, and I love seeing how much he enjoys helping me to cook.  Today's lunch was poached eggs on toast.  To my shame, I've never made poached eggs without assorted gadgets, but we got out the 'Basic Cooking for Total Dummies: Seriously, what sort of Moron are you?' book and poached two eggs gadget-free and rather beautifully if I may say so.  My little sous chef buttered some toast (I'm learning to make my peace with the havoc he wreaks upon the butter in doing so) and we sat side by side at the table, enjoying our efforts.  The sun streamed in through the window.  He broke the yolk with a thick toast finger, and as it oozed deliciously around the plate, I looked at his happy face and thought to myself:

You are an idiot.  You think of this boy as difficult to cook for.  Fussy about food.  Fine, you try not to say it in front of him, and you do as many of the repeatedly-offering-it-in-different-formats things you can bear, but still.  You have labelled him as fussy.  Sure, he doesn't like 'traditional' vegetables, apart from sweetcorn if it's in a tuna mayo sandwich.  But he does like lentils, chick peas, kidney beans etc.  He doesn't like eating pieces of fruit apart from bananas.  But he does like smoothies and dried fruit.  With food, with friends, with things to do, the boy has preferences.  Likes and dislikes.  And yes, part of your job is to keep introducing new experiences and encouraging him to try them, but you are not both failing if he doesn't want to try every time and if he doesn't love them all.

So from today I'm going to try and take off that label.  I think at first it's bound to be a little like when you peel the price tag off something and part of the sticker backing stays put.  Side note: does that make anyone else feel slightly uncomfortable?  Especially if giving the item to someone else - I feel like the sticker suggests it's been bought from a bargain bin.  As though other people have never seen price stickers and won't be familiar with the sticker remnant issue.  Anyway, where was I?

Ah yes, removing his label.  I'm all over that.  I have to be.  It's too heavy and restrictive a label for him to carry around his neck his whole life.

This got me thinking about the (good and bad) labels I apply to others, and those that may be applied to me.  And in fact whether labels can be any use at all.  Can there be such a thing as a good label?  Or are they all intrinsically limiting and therefore bad?  There are certainly some which I'd be happy to receive, and some which I'd hate. Can I accept the good ones whilst rejecting the bad?  It feels like that should be my prerogative.  Surely I should get to choose what baggage I carry?  But maybe that's a cop out.  Maybe you either refuse to get involved with labels at all, or accept what you get if you engage with them.

In my school days, 'clever' and 'funny' were labels which I was glad to carry.  The 'clever' one could have been difficult, but fortunately I was at a school where it was okay to be clever, and aside from a few instances where I perhaps dumbed down to impress or fit in (usually when it came to unsuitable boys, sigh) it was a label I was happy enough to carry.  It got buried a bit while I adjusted to motherhood.  I think it was always there but became twisted round to face the wrong way, while I took a few knocks from those who were baffled that I could park a prestigious degree and career in order to be 'just a housewife'.  Plus, it doesn't help the old grey cells when you're too tired to read much beyond the Daily Mail sidebar of shame.  As for the 'funny' label, phew, that's a keeper.  Motherhood, housewifehood, indeed probably all the hoods, are surely too hard to navigate without a sense of humour.  Without the ability to see the funny side of things, I'd have been weeping into rock hard bowls of Weetabix long ago (seriously, how is it possible for a cereal to solidify so quickly and so terrifyingly stubbornly?)

During my school days, I gave myself a 'fat' label, which is unfortunate because looking back at photos I see that I really wasn't fat at that stage.  The fatness came later, by which point I really couldn't see it because I already saw myself that way, if that makes sense. Although I slimmed down and reached my target weight last year, remnants of the fat sticker still remain.  Hopefully this will be the year that I really scratch the last bits off and see myself as I am.

So what else? I like rules of three (hey, if it's good enough for Cicero...) so I've tried to find myself a 3rd positive label.  I think it's going to be 'Sensitive'.  Admittedly, this is a double edged sword.  I like being sensitive to the feelings of others, reading a situation, considering how people may be feeling and gauging my approach accordingly.  I want to encourage that sensitivity in the boys, to teach them that it's a useful - not solely feminine - skill to be in tune with how others feel, not just for friendships but in business too.  Of course, the flipside is that it's very easy to get disappointed, rained upon, crushed. But I'll take that.  For me, the good outweighs the bad, so I'll choose to carry it.  Because I think in the end I do accept that labels are hung upon us (by ourselves, by our loved ones, by 'society') but we can choose what we keep and what we dump.

That's me, then.  Labels facing outwards in a nice neat row.  Clever, funny, sensitive.  I'm happy enough with those. How about you?  What labels do you carry?  And which label(s) are you dumping this year?

Friday, 22 November 2013

Mothers on the Dancefloor

Man, I love November.  The beautiful light in the mornings as bright sunshine cuts through crisp frosty air; fireworks bursting into a night sky; the switching-on of pretty Christmas lights, and general permission to start eating gorgeous festive food.  But much more than that, for me, it's Birthday Month.

I am one of those people who is mad about birthdays.  All birthdays are good with me, but most especially (of course) my own.  I wonder whether I'll hit an age where it's less exciting, but so far so good.  My excitement starts on November 1st, and continues for a good few weeks, until I eventually pop out of the birthday bubble somewhere around now, a little like wobbling off a rollercoaster and thinking "Wahoo!  I can't wait to do that again!  But first...a cup of tea and a sit down..."

This year, I was determined to see in my birthday whilst dancing the night away.  Much to my delight, my Mummy friends (wo)manfully agreed to accompany me to a suitably cheesy establishment. Babysitters were booked, arrangements were made.  That was when we hit our first low.  Having booked a booth online (yes, I booked a booth, we are too old for that standing around with all our stuff crap now), I then got a telephone call during the kids' bath time.  "Hi, this is Vicky from Chicago's...erm... you've booked a booth for 8.30pm but we don't actually open that early, so...if you'd like I can ask my Manager to open early for you?  Let me know."

Mortifying.  Still, I rallied, threw down Larry the Lobster, and called her back, explaining that we'd be more than happy to just come when the bar actually opened.

On the night itself, the kids were fed, bathed and popped into bed in record time, and beautifications took place with great excitement.  One of the Mummies is still breastfeeding her newborn, so kindly volunteered to drive everyone there.  Upon arrival, we realised we were still early, so in order to save ourselves the shame of queuing too keenly, we waited in the car.  5 glammed-up (but playing it cool) mummies packed into a Peugeot on a retail park in Stevenage, windows gradually steaming up as we all got the giggles, was funny enough, but at the appointed hour, when we decided to (still coolly) unfurl from the car, we discovered that of course the backdoors were childlocked.  Further faintly hysterical giggling ensued.

We strutted over to the bar, still playing it cool, and were met by the Manager, a very sweet girl who gave us a broad smile and said "Hi ladies, come this way, I've chosen you a table near the dancefloor and away from the doors so it's a bit warmer".

Of all the lows, this may have been the worst.

We soon recovered our spirits, sampling the bar's complimentary 'bubbles', mysterious bright green shots and assorted pitchers, and by midnight, as the music took off (by which I mean, turned into mainly songs I'd heard of), I was bursting with birthday spirit.  Smoke machine: Check.  Strobe lights: Check.  Birthday shout-out from the DJ: Checkity Check.  That's the thing about me, I'm pretty easily pleased.  I love feeling my heart soar as a familiar beat kicks in, everyone's arms go in the air, and it feels for that moment as though the whole place is completely alive.  Hey, I love my role as a mother and wife, but I also love the way music can completely strip everything away and I'm back to just being me.  Me at my very core.  Me at my cheesy-music-loving best.  It's actually better than dancing as a teenager or 20-something, because in those years there was so much self-consciousness, so much pre-occupation with looking good.  Now, it's just about me, having a ball.  Peering through the smoke at my Mummy friends, I sensed it was the same for them.  And I loved them all the more for it.  Happy November, ladies.  We're still cool!

Friday, 18 October 2013

Defying Gravity

Well, here we are again, dear friends.  It's been a while, but this time I've got a pretty good reason.  I hit a rich vein on the writing front and managed to properly put fingers to keyboard and get my TV script written.  Sure, it's still got a long way to go, but it exists.  It is a thing.  A thing that popped into my head around 2 years ago, and now exists on paper and on screen.  Well, on my laptop screen.  As for the TV screen, let's see.

I'll be honest with you, I was starting to worry that I'd never get anything written.  People would ask what I was doing while the kids were at nursery (because obviously keeping a house and 4 people clean, fed and supported is not enough) and I'd say "Actually, I'm trying to write something". And they'd nod and say something like "Wow, good for you..." and back slowly away from the crazy lady.  I get that.  It's a bit of a bold statement, I guess, to say, "I have an idea that I think is good enough to get made and be watched by lots of people".  But here's the thing: I really do think that.  And I really am going to try and make that happen.

Over the last few weeks I've worked through a range of emotions.  I was elated with the achievement of having a script that makes me laugh, frustrated at how long and cluttered the road ahead seems to be, uplifted by the positive feedback I've had from the 2 people I've shown it to (okay, fine, one of them was Mr W, but trust me, he's no pushover), and am now nervously excited as I await feedback from the next 2 people, one who actually knows how to screenwrite, and another who is an actress.  I'm expending nervous energy like a big ball of...nervous energy gas? I don't know, that one got away from me there.

I'm not really afraid of much in life (apart from sharks, but honestly, that's just common sense) but I must admit, I'm afraid of a few things on the writing front.  I'm afraid I'll turn out to not be very funny, which after 33 years of being 'the funny one', could be something of a blow.  I'm afraid that impatience will cause me to hit Send before it's completely brilliant, and blow my chances of getting it made.  I'm afraid that I'm just as much of a cliché as every other writer out there, convinced that they have the Best Idea Ever.

Thankfully, this is where being a peppy optimist really comes into its own, as I'm spending probably an equal amount of time wondering which designer's frock I'd most like to wear to the BAFTAs.  Seriously.  I googled Monique Lhuillier at one point.  A little part of me is flying, just from the thrill of actually trying.

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Stay Sticky

Last night, just before I dropped off to sleep, the strangest object came to mind.  It was a pot of glue.  Well, not quite a pot.  A small plastic bottle with a brown slightly oval top, containing a slit through which glue would ooze out when the bottle was squeezed.  It was the glue we used at home when I was growing up.  Goodness knows how long that glue bottle lasted, but it's the one that I associate most strongly with projects at home.  Glue - stretchy sticky binding gloop - has been on my mind since I watched my sister getting married a few weeks ago.

When I was about to get married, my Gran told me that the most important part of being a wife was to be the glue that holds family life together.  Not just husband and wife, but inlaws, siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins, third cousins twice removed. Even family-friends-who-aren't-really-aunties-but-we-call-them-that-anyway.  It was advice that really (ahem,my apologies in advance) stuck with me.

It came to take on even more significance once we had children.  Not only did I desperately want my children to experience being part of a big noisy family (my sister and I don't have any cousins so we had to content ourselves with being a small noisy family), but also, I came to realise that my newly inherited inlaws, aunts and cousins were a truly precious additional source of support in the early baby months and beyond.  When we moved out of London and had our second son, the women of our new-found Church family appeared and helped to carry us through the newborn months.  They were incredible.  We'd attended this particular church twice before the baby arrived, and once Mr W's two week paternity leave ended, a rota appeared.  For two weeks, different women from the church would appear at 5.30pm to deliver dinner for us all.  It's a rota I've had the privilege of helping on for new mums since then, and I think it's one of the nicest things about being part of our church family.

That's the thing about family - and women, in particular, I think.  We stretch.  We think we're already at full capacity but then someone nearby stumbles and we shift our load to the other hip and help them up.  We patch up holes.  We see the disagreements within families or social circles, and set about filling in the gaps.  Armed usually with tea and hobnobs, we try a little emotional darning.  And frequently, we bend.  There have been many times when I've had to bite my tongue as someone says something patronising or dismissive that suggests they see me as 'just' a Mum, 'just' a housewife, 'just' Mrs W.  My ego is desperate to whip out my academic record, my career highlights, my grade 5 flute certificate, but instead I root around for a little grace.  I remind myself that I love what I'm doing, my kids are cool, and this life suits us all very well.  But acknowledging all that - without resorting to brandishing woodwind certification - requires bending, nonetheless. 

So as a fully paid up stretchy, patchy, bendy woman, I thought I'd take a moment to salute my fellow...erm...Gluers.  To my dear friends out there, probably not reading this, far too busy being glue yourselves, you are gorgeous, sparkly, shiny people and the world is a better place for having you in it.  Mwah.  Stay sticky.

Thursday, 25 July 2013

Hula Hooping to Glory

                                              Me and my friends.  No, really...

I am now one week away from my bridesmaid dress fitting.  3 weeks away from my sister's wedding.  And starting to feel the burn on the body front.  Since reaching my original target weight, things have reached a plateau, which is perfectly fine and at least better than piling it on, but as the wedding date looms, I do feel as though I want to be at my best.  Of course, this renewed vigour has coincided with the start of the school holidays, thus rendering the Wii-Fit the only realistic option in terms of daily exercise.  Fitting meaningful exercise around children during the holidays is surely impossible.  A dear friend with a toddler and 3 month old told me yesterday that her doctor had suggested spending some time each morning "before everyone wakes up" to do her stomach exercises.  I think we can all agree that in a household with small children, there is no such time.  How we giggled at the doctor's advice.  As my friend put it, "It'll be hilarious until my stomach drops out of my a*se in a few years".  A sobering thought indeed, and I'm sure we'd have stopped giggling right there, had it not been for the fact that she had said it loudly in M&S and was now being stared at by startled bystanders.

Another friend happened across a quick half hour aerobics class in her local newspaper, and - buoyed by its brevity and accompanying lower price - immediately set off to make it her regular fix.  Except it transpired that it was only half an hour because it was high intensity.  7 minutes in, she was fairly sure she was going to be sick, and that was the point at which she was asked to get into a crab position, scuttle to one side of the church hall, drop a dozen press ups, and then scuttle back.  She made like a crustacean until she reached the door, and promptly escaped.

And so it is that each morning, my children have the dubious pleasure of watching their mother huff and puff as she Hula Hoops and Virtual-Step Classes her way to glory.  <Pauses to giggle at the notion of this waistline being anything like glorious>.  As I puffed on this morning (curtains firmly closed as I was still in pyjamas to add to the indignity), I thought about how delighted everyone was that La-Middleton didn't try to hide her baby bump, 24 hours after giving birth, and the outrage stirred up by a magazine publishing "insights" into her post-baby weightloss plans.  I was reminded of something I read that described post-baby stretch marks as hard earned tiger stripes. I quite like that as an image.  Now I just need to craft something similarly poetic about bingo wings...

Friday, 19 July 2013

Good Luck Team Wales!

This week I've been thinking more than usual about the Duchess of Cambridge.  She's generally there as a sort of low level background presence in my musings, you know, in a "Sheesh, I wish I had a stylist like Kate's to help me tackle this heat frizz..." sort of way.  But this week, as the world awaits news of the royal baby, I feel for her in a way that's probably faintly ridiculous considering we've never met.

It just brings back so many memories of being pregnant, and then the Herculean effort that is labour.  To have to do it with such intense media scrutiny must be incredibly difficult.  I say that, of course the media only really gets to see the public moments - I suspect it's unlikely Team Wales will pop up on "One Born Every Minute" - but still, it must be daunting.

When I arrived at hospital to have my first baby, it was a cold November Sunday, but I was toastie warm with the first flushes of pain, and remember waddling out of the taxi in flip flops, clutching my pillow and assorted "essentials" that all first timers probably take in with them.  I cheerily ambled up to the desk and announced "Hello, I'm here to have my baby!"  They took one look at me and popped me into a room that might as well have been marked "In nowhere near enough pain".  Some hours later, when I'd quit the cheery banter and was at full moo, we all knew baby was finally coming.  Mind you, the good cheer returned immediately after I'd met the little man, as to Mr W's amazement and probable shame, I treated everyone to a round of the national anthem, honked through the gas & air pipe.  Except I realised at the end that something was amiss, roundly apologised ("I'm SO sorry everyone, that was the American one, wasn't it?  Here we go...") and then proceeded to honk God Save the Queen.  It's probably just as well that I couldn't see the stitches that were being done at the time - I can't imagine the nurse's hand was awfully steady as she shook with laughter.

Given Baby Wales's family, the above musical interlude might be something Kate would like to think about -  #justsaying and all that.

Thursday, 11 July 2013

Feeling the Fear

At my friend's suggestion, I'm steering clear of singing Disney songs for a while - frankly it's getting ridiculous.

I've not had much luck with woodland folk of late.  Last week, a small bird plopped down our chimney (destroying our carpet with the accompanying soot and debris) and stared darkly at me for some considerable time before calmly flying out into the garden.  Then a few days ago, as I valiantly tackled some gardening while the children played, a frog (or was it a toad?) hopped on to my flip-flopped foot.  I screamed.  First because I thought it was a huge snail, and then again when it hopped off and I realised it had been something amphibious.  Eeeeuch.  I was on my own for the bird incident, but for Frog/Toadgate the boys were there to witness my reaction.  And what a reaction it was.  In that moment, I forgot I was a Mummy and reacted purely as me.  She who is afraid of spiders.  She who is a little afraid of the dark.  She who thinks frogs are slimey and yukky and...bleuurrrrrrggh.

The boys seemed quite bemused by it all.  My eldest stopped to enquire whether I was sure it was a frog (I had to admit I wasn't) and my youngest needed a wee, and wondered if he could possibly go al fresco.  It was a tiny reminder that actually us grown ups aren't always as interesting to our children as we might think.  Since becoming a Mummy, I have felt obliged to demonstrate fearlessness at all costs.  There's a huge spider in the bath?  Pah, not a problem!  In fact, isn't it a cute little thing? Look at all those hairy little legs.  Oooh, yes, he's a goodie, let's just pop a cup on him so that Daddy can see him when he gets home from work... (and yes, I do then watch the cup nervously out of the corner of my eye, to see if Spidey is moving it around with those aforementioned hairy little legs *shudder*)

I think it partly comes from a desire to avoid the trap of strong brave boys, and weedy Princessy girls.  I feel a sense of duty to raise young men who think women are awesome too.  Even if my youngest does add to my grey hairs regularly by delighting in telling me he only likes the naughty girls at nursery...

I think it's also partly because I feel the role demands it.  Being the only grown up on duty most days makes me feel as though I can't let the side down and rush around squealing - surely it's my job to make everyone feel safe?  Can I do that if they know I'm quaking in my Havaianas?

It was partly this thinking that led to the creation of Mummy's Adventure Board in the kitchen.  It features photos and souvenirs of me on assorted adventures.  My rule is that they have to be me in my own right, achieving some sort of goal or ambition.  As much as getting married and having these two gorgeous boys is a huge adventure, I want the board to depict other aspects of me, if that makes sense.  I'd say at this point it's about 50/50 between seeing the board as a way to inspire the boys and remind them that girls can do cool things too, and also as a reminder to myself that there is more to life than cooking a mean Bolognese.  I'm conscious that it's been a while since I've added to the board actually.  Time to think of some new adventures.  Mind you, if these woodland creatures keep turning up, I could be lassoing squirrels or riding muntjack before the week's out.