Friday, 12 September 2014

Milestones



One of the best things about writing this blog is that when embarrassing things happen (and they do, with alarming regularity), I can think to myself "This will be BRILLIANT to write about."

I've been thinking that a lot this week.  I have reached the milestone I thought would never come: both of my children are now at school.  I was going to tell you about the bittersweetness of seeing how grown up they look in their uniforms.  I thought I might ponder the strange obligation I feel to account for every moment of my day, just so that no-one can suggest I'm wasting it - at one point, I'd got to 11.50am on my blow by blow account of Thursday, and had just finished regaling Mr W with tales of how there was absolutely NO rhubarb in Sainsbury's, when he gently enquired whether this was going to be a thing that we did now.  Because he'd rather, y'know, not.

But then this morning happened, and it became immediately apparent to me that THIS was the real story.

This week, my big news is that I've joined a gym.  To be clear, I'm actually taking it very seriously and am really excited about the possibility that I might be muffin top free by Christmas.  However, it has yielded many giggles along the way.  Here are some lessons I've learned:

1) When a Gym Person asks when you last worked out, do not reply in a jaunty fashion "Oh, 7 years and 2 children ago".  It appears to alarm them.

2) When a Gym Person asks you to sit on the leg weights machine and open your legs as far apart as you possibly can, Just. Be. Cool.  Do not attempt to make a joke.  Do not quietly smirk to yourself.  It appears to alarm them.

And most importantly:

3)  In the gym, as with most things in life, a big smile and air of confidence will carry you a long way.

This morning, as I attempted my first full workout programme, a very sweet (and frighteningly fit) young lady was in charge of teaching me various floor exercises.  One of them involved lying backwards on a Swiss ball, and struggling to sit up.  Despite feeling like a tortoise on its back, I pushed on and was making some progress when unfortunately the Swiss ball did it's ball-like thing and rolled one way.  I, of course, rolled the other.  I jumped up, smiled, and pressed on with the torture.  Marvellous, I thought, at least it's plain sailing from here.

We moved on to the next exercise, which involved lying on the floor, raising both legs, and then gently lowering and holding them.  The lovely young lady sat down beside me, to offer some much needed words of encouragement.

And that, dear reader, was when I parped.  Farted.  Cut the cheese.  Sounded the ol' buttock bassoon.

To her immense credit, Gym Lady did not bat an eyelid.  Given the sizeable nature of the utterance, I felt it couldn't be ignored, so offered up a big smile and slightly giggly apology.  We exchanged a look which (hopefully) suggested we'll never speak of it again.  She seemed understandably reluctant to encourage me to finish the set, so I cheerily picked up my worksheet and moved along to the next piece of equipment.  There, I tried desperately to compose myself - and was doing a pretty good job - until I realised I was in fact on the wrong piece of equipment.  The giggles returned and I had to hide behind the water cooler* until I was ready to resume.

But resume I did.  And that, my friends, is an even more important milestone for me.


*Note to self: The water cooler at the gym is a TERRIBLE place to hide.  Everyone seems to go there.  Weird.




Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Run, baby, run!


The wall behind our upstairs toilet is surprisingly special.  It is the place the boys choose to display any stickers they've accumulated during the course of the day, in order to show Daddy in the morning.  I tend to remove them every few days, but if I'm honest, they don't trouble me as much as they probably should, aesthetically speaking.  I like that the boys are proud of their various wins (be they from teachers, dinner ladies, dentists or shoe shop assistants) and that they want to share their delight with Mr W.

Yesterday was Sports Day, so the space above the cistern was cleared and ready for a new assortment of stickers.  Everyone who participates gets one, you see.  Not just the podium finishes.  That said, there are different stickers for 1st-3rd place, followed by a general "Well done" for everyone else.  I like that.  It seems quite old fashioned these days to want to win.  But that can't be right.  Wanting to win is surely as old as the hills.  Surely no-one pops out of the womb thinking "Nah, don't worry about me, I'm just here to participate, dude" ?  I suspect that our attitude towards winning is shaped by our experiences - how we are treated when we go after attention, toys, food etc most likely affects how much we relish competition in later years.  But ultimately, I think we must all have an innate desire to do well, to thrive, to shine.

Anyway, last night FIVE stickers adorned the cistern wall.  Two per boy and a very special extra one...  

Yesterday afternoon, as melted ice lolly dripped down his chin in a sticky scarlet trail, my youngest son turned to me and asked: "Are you going to run in the Mummy race?"  I smiled.  My Mum, who'd come along in the hope of seeing someone ANYONE in the family finally follow in her footsteps and be a Sports Day winner, gave an indelicate snort.

"We'll see, munchkin"  I told him gently.

I was never much at all on the sports field.  I enjoyed netball, rounders and basketball, and occasionally made the B team, but it was very much Not My Thing.  If you wanted quick quips or soulful agonising over unsuitable boys, I was your girl.  If you wanted someone who could haul ass over a hockey pitch quickly...um...no.

<Pauses to consider whether it's a hockey pitch or a hockey field.  You see what we're dealing with here.>

Anyway, as mused upon in my Jan post on Labels (which I would totally link to here if I knew how - grrr...) these things tend to stick, and so it was that I continued through life determined that I couldn't "do sport".  As the years and my weight progressed, "doing sport" became even less likely / desirable, until one day when I looked at my boys and realised that I was in danger of not only setting them a really crappy example, but also missing out on a lot of fun myself.  I wanted to be a Mum who could run alongside them as they learned to ride their bikes, who could take them swimming without feeling like Shamu, and who could line up on Sports Day for the Mums race without feeling like a laughing stock.  It was that revelation which inspired me to lose nearly three stone, and have the pleasure of fulfilling 2 out of 3 of those wishes.

Yesterday was my first shot at the Mums race.  But was I ready to take it?

When the headteacher came along the line, asking for parents to head to the starting line, I hesitated.  It's hard to put down baggage you've carried for so long.  Then I kicked off my havaianas, gave my little boy a kiss, and walked (tummy-fluttering) up to the starting line.  My Mum was visibly shocked.  My son was clearly delighted.  I joined the other nervous, giggling Mums and we all good naturedly teased each other as we got into position.  I quietly noted an alarming amount of lycra and trainers.  Then the headteacher shouted "Go!" and it was ON.

Dear friends, I ran.  Dignity, pride, self-consciousness left for dust.  Grass beneath my in-urgent-need-of-a-pedicure feet; wind streaming through my desperately-need-the-greys-colouring hair; maxi dress flowing unhelpfully round my still-too-wobbly-for-my-liking tummy.  I threw myself so far forward that I thought I might fall.  Apparently, some Mums did.  There was no sisterly looking back.  10 Mums, running for pride, fun and who knows what other personal reasons.

I had a little look round at one point, heart already sinking in anticipation of last place, but was overjoyed to see I was firmly in the middle.  As we crossed the line, I made sure I was back to being friendly, smiley Mrs W.  The self-deprecating one who giggles "ooh, that was fun!" and makes light of her efforts.  As we puffed slowly back to our families, the sisterhood reunited.  We chuckled about how next year we'd train / wear a sports bra / lay off the Pinot Grigio & peanuts in preparation.

I came 5th or 6th out of those 10 women.  Arguably I still don't "do sport" very well.  But you know what?  I bloody loved it.

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

I am a feminist

Lots of women standing on chairs.


Crap.  It's been six months since I last wrote.  Crappity crap.  Let's gloss over this failure on my part, and glide gracefully towards a far more important development.

Last night, I stood on a chair and shouted "I AM A FEMINIST!" at Caitlin Moran.  Not all by myself, because that would have been weird.

I was lucky enough to see La Moran at Battersea Arts Centre, as part of her "How to build a girl" tour.  I was prepared to be inspired, to laugh a lot, and to have to fight the urge to cover my younger sister's ears at some of the content (she's 28 and just got married, so really I need to let that go, but you know how it is...)

I was unprepared, however, to be asked to stand on my chair and holler the aforementioned feminist vow.  I felt more than a little uncomfortable, to be honest.  First, due to my ever-present fear of being huge and breaking things (for probable cause, see my Pampered Bliss post, Sep 2012), I was concerned for the chair.  Second, given that I really really needed a wee, I had a somewhat (hoho) pressing concern that after 2 children, my bladder appears to be fresh out of patience. But the main reason was this (I feel like we should whisper it.  Can we whisper please?):

I wasn't sure I could claim to be a feminist.

I think of myself as a strong woman.  I adore my female friends.  I was brought up believing that I could be absolutely anything I wanted - I don't think it ever crossed my mind that perhaps I couldn't do something because I was a girl.  I grew up thinking I'd probably get married and have children, but equally, if I didn't, I'd just crack on with being the CEO of something, wear some amazing suits and drive a porsche.  And that would be cool too.

The trouble is, since leaving work and becoming a stay at home Mum nearly six years ago, I've felt a little unsure about what that does to my feminist credentials.  Could I still claim to be one, when I'm at home all day, nurturing my small people and trying vaguely to get the house back to square one each night?  Would my working female friends scoff at any assertion that I was a feminist, when I earn nothing and contribute nothing financially to the household?  Not to mention that hideous box that I must now tick on surveys for profession: Housewife / Homemaker.  Ugh.  The word Housewife makes me grimace.  I didn't marry my house.  I married Mr W, poor chap.  Housewife makes me feel shackled and bound to the sink. It makes me feel like a frumpy frazzled woman with a housecoat and feather duster.  I loathe that word.  *Makes note to self: Must find new word for what I do all day that isn't a) freakin' horrible, and b) unnecessarily American.*

Anyhoo.  I am nothing if not a joiner-iner (totally a word) so I got on that chair and shouted those words with as much giddy abandon as my lady parts would permit.  And in the hours that followed, I nodded, cackled and belly laughed as Caitlin breathed new life into feminism for me.  The notion that someone can only be a feminist if they're a ball busting career gal?  Gone.  The concern that being a Mum and H-word rules you out of Team Feminism?  Wrong.  Instead of feeling apologetic for opting to stay home to raise my boys, I feel as though I can now look the world in the eye and say "Yup.  That's a thing I've chosen to do."  And actually, the more I relish that, the more I hope to set a shining example to the boys and bring them up with the understanding that women can do anything, be anything, achieve anything.  I'm helping to raise the next generation of male feminists.  Go me!

So thank you, Caitlin, for the wake up call.  For giving me a new perspective and a huge smile on my face.  Oh, and for reminding me to write or DIE (unpublished).  Wise words indeed.

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.