To be a Mum or not to be- that’s the question…

“Flowers may bloom again but children never have the chance to be young again”. Bluey, Cbeebies.

I have read and reread parts of Sheila Heitis Motherhood. Heitis memoir details the journey of her process of deciding whether or not to become a mother. It charts her yearnings and her misgivings and leads towards the ultimate conclusion that she will not have children. I pre-conceived i would find the book tricky to navigate so was surprised when I didnt find it an uncomfortable read. Perhaps that was because i have already found my place, made my decision. I have children, three of them and i have lived both sides of the motherhood divide ; the childhood line with all its glory and despair, all the way through to the borderland where they become adults, despite always being in your minds eye your child. Reading it therefore was not a search to somehow provide myself with support for a difficult personal decision rather just curiosity about how other women perceive Mumhood.
What emerges from Heitis text is the consideration she submerges herself in. A complete commitment to making the right decision for her and her potential child. The argument grows against the background of her own self reflection rather than suggesting that the pitfalls or the difficulties she is having are solely due to how society has made her feel about being a mother. She recognises that her battles are from within- should she be free to do what she wishes or should she bequeath this to allow her child to be happy. I feel that she recognises that there is no case for working and mothering being equal, as the mother role will always out do so the work role in importance and so she bases her decision on this realisation and decides this is not a battle she wishes to have. She manages to separate herself from societal expectation.

I wondered about my own decision making process in this respect and found it to be quite weak in comparison. As a Mum , I have stayed at home to raise the children and I have worked; I have had more than ample income and more recently have raised them on the meagre offerings of unversal credit.It was never a question that i should do one or the other. With the elder two I did one and with smallest I did the other but not until the pandemic struck was it a conscous choice, grounded by personal experience, to consider if the two merge. A year after making the decision that they do not (see New Beginnings post) I have been reading articles about Women’s battles for equality in the working Mum world. What I have read has fed an internal discussion about the divide between parenting and sustaining a career. I have wondered about how current opinion manifests itself due the chosen relative needs and wants in society, as opposed to what is a consequence of absolute need.

Recent commentary has unearthed again the bitter subject of society’s appraisal of motherhood and the problems this creates for the woman. It settles in part on the impact of choosing to have a child on finances and careers. What is drawn out is the poor state of equality in this respect , exposed by Mother friendly organisations such as Pregnnat then Screwed and written about by many authors, Eva Wiseman and Eliane Glaser of The Observer and The Guardian, standing out in particular.
The explicit content of the discussion centres on the issue of womens equality and as a women, I am all for that of course. The trickiness comes from what we are being encouraged to be equal about. Having a career and a raising a young child, in particular the notion that we should have equal access at all times even when our children are still very young. Activists have termed this a woman centred approach to child rearing , putting the needs of the woman above the child; arguing that if the women is happy i.e able to work and earn with the ease of a single person or the father, then the child will be happy. This is a risky supposition, one that cant easily be measured and which has such great consequences. Does the Mum going out to work make the child happy? What if, what makes the child happy is the Mother being at home? Is having a career perceived as more of an achievement than raising a child well?

The opposite approach, natural motherhood was discussed by Eliane Glaser in The Guardian (18th May 2021) .Eliane argues against natural motherhood stating that this is not compatible with 21st century life. It is no longer possible for us to be present all the time or to provide the kind of care that is deemed as essential for the childs healthy development cited by professionals. It is certainly true that things can be very tricky, though whether it is possible to argue against natural motherhood completely ,without sounding blindsided is doubtful. The main difficulty with the argument is if we opt out of natural motherhood in favour of the women centred approach case then our children, small creatures with developing brains, are going to somehow have to sidestep their biological mechansims and fit in wit whatever it is that 21st century can give to them. Perhaps the answer lies somewhere in the middle at a point where it feels comfortable for both the child and mother.

It is very difficult to argue against biology, to see motherhood as a contemporary issue that can be aapted for life in the fast lane.

The dual thinking around natural vs women centred parenting was a topic I discussed with a friend years ago after a Saturday morning gymnsastics class for my daughter. That morning I sat next to a woman who had her four month baby sitting in a car seat in front of her. The Mum chatted to me and it turmed out that she worked full time while her child was in nursery. At the time I was still at home with smallest and spoke about my plans to go back to work which i was concerned about. “Oh”, she said,”I know – the expense of childcare……..I literally work to pay for it”. “Its not the cost I worry”, about i replied, “I am just worried that leaving him is the wrong thing for him”. She then sighed and laughed, “oh well i know would NOT wnt to be at home looking after a baby all day. They are easier when they are older”. The conversation ended but fired up a chat I had with a friend later. He smarted, “well obviously a lot of women just work because its a means to an end. They want to work and have a kid- have their cake and eat it”. Although I had been shocked by how she had removed herself from the role of being a Mum, my reaction to this was defensive, I tried to shield her status. At the time i was juggling three jobs and raising the elder two alone; I felt guilty at the time I spent away from them – so i argued for her, that often people work to maintain a career and to balance the finaceces. The contradiction in my felt response and verbal defense of this women though sat with me and I have often wondered why despite my natural inclination towards wanting to be wih the children, why did i always do the very thing which caused me and them the most discomfort? And the response I had learned to say , “Well its because you need to dont you….”.

The issue of the cost and provision of childcare has been raised again and again inthe pandemic. Eva Wiseman (The Observer 16th May 2021), comments on how undervalued and underinvested in our childcare system is in comparison to other Europen countries. She reflects there is a need to value the system more as we as women are raising the next geenration of this country and this should not be overlooked. And how right she is although for me there is a fundamental issue with this. The stand of her and many others is based on the facilities being there for our children to be looked after by someone else. Its based upon the notion of woman centred child rearing. Perhaps what is needed is a system for allowing Mums to fulfill this role of raising the next generation in these early years. Providing us with the chance to take secure career breaks for longer periods, so we have jobs to go back to. A system anyway that would to allow us to be with our children without worrying about work all the time or being so exhausted from our dual lives that when we are with our children we see all their behaviours as emotional and inconvenient. Or perhaps what could change is how we are educating young women about Motherhood, so that they don’t grow with the expectation that a women needs to do both at the same time. There is an option to do things seprately.

Wiseman recounts a moment with her childminder where the childminder candidly tells her that the reason her child is crying so much is because she knows that her Mum is going off to work is becase she wants to and not becuase she needs to. This moment has stuck vehemently with Eva who recalls it years later; enough to include it in her column. One wonders about the audacity of the comment and I murmered my support intially, until I considered need and want and i must admit, my allegiances fell to the child. For in this situation, where we take our child and place them in the care of another, particularly when the child is under three ,I feel it is our want that is being satisfied and their need denied. Years later when I made the decision to resign , leading the way was the justification – you can make money again but builing a childs resilience and well being is a lot harder when they are older.

The issue of need and want is raised again by Eliane Glaser. Initially we are presented with a waft of statistics mainly pointing towards the pitfalls of motherhood which again frame the incompatibility of being a mother and working. The statistics I would say are unsurprising, we all know the downfalls.
The article though traverses to framing motherhood in terms of the wants of the mother and appears loosly to suggest that shifting devlopmental theory somehow legitimises the morality of rebranding the role of mother into something a bt more compatible with the 21st century woman. Donald Winnicotts theory appears to be utilised to justify a level of care given, good enough translated as a minimum requirement for the role. Winncotts ideal of the good enough Mother though is as important as his other observations. The me and not me distinction is integral to the Winnicotian tradition, detailing the importance of child learning to be on their own through learning to be with one other namely Mum/Guardian; achieved through a slow introduction to their environment at a pace that they can manage. I think this is key. Winnicott was a innovative thinker and his theories reflected his views that the mother and baby cannot be seen as separate at first, we have very primitive nature, primary maternal preoccupation being his equal to a instinctive state where the baby is the mothers absolute concern and everything should be done to ensure that that her focus is not impeded upon. Work as an intrusion is disruptive to this state.

Eliane ends her piece describing how natural motherhood is pushed upon us my midwives, health visiors or professionals where we , “are guilt tripped into parenting that is not compatible with work outside the home.” She contrasts this with woman centred motherhood which is described as and sold to us on the basis that it is in both the child and the others intersts that they ar both happy. But does this equate to an all out rejection of natural motherhood, does it mean reducing the experince to gymnsatics lady? If the central isue is about equality, then have we gained eqality for ourselves at the expense of equality for the child- through a complete rejection of the very basic emotional needs of the childs developing brain.

Regardless tied in to what can be quite a circular argument are the wants and the needs of the child itself and no mother woud argue that the child yearning for its parent is a need rather than a want. All children learn to be without their parents but how they do it is important. I remember seprating from the eldest two – it was easy because they were ready- what I experienced with smallest was not easy because he was not ready. Which is why Ie made the decision to go back. Did I feel guilt? Absolutely. Maybe but this came from knowing I had not ultimatley given him the time to become ready. I was aware of the difficulties this would cause him problems later on down the line.

Much content appears to suggest that society creates problems, not enough childcare, telling us we should do this do that and the other, but maybe just maybe the problem comes from arguing against something which is innate. Perhaps we are making our own experinces of Motherhood bad not because of what society says or doesnt say or does or doesnt provide but because of how we receive the experience. I did it for years, argued that i should be out at work, worked all hours never saw my children who were always with someone else. The only time we ever felt better was when i stopped, held my hands up and said , i am going to stay at home because he needs me and my older children told me that was all they ever wanted. For me to be at home with them.

I had to make that choice at the expense of my children- expense in terms of childcare and more imprtantly their well being which I find out ten years on was at risk- they hated it but could not put into words what they were feeling at the time as they did not have the anguage for it. They were tired, dealing with all sorts from the day in an environment they were not overly keen on despite the outstanding status. Worse still by the time i picked them up i was too tired to be genuine and so i packed them off to bed with their worries which would have to wait until the weekend.

As a women, or as a supporteer of woman as a male friend once said, yoou nod along and shake your head appropiely to much of this information however there is something else that you are left with. Women succomb to it all because that is what is done. Its like a collective unconscious and then we spend time venting the difficulties and sourcing the root of the problem externally our view of our role as a mother bruised by a collision with our occupational role.A residue of something that emerges, not from the central argument of writing but from the something which leaks into the sentences. This something can be descibed as a shameful unintended conseuence of our response to the probems of working mothers. Its the lack of value which some women place on our primary role.

When I read motherhood by Heiti , in the first few pages i wondered how she was oing to fill a whole book with her comtemplations. By the end it is clear that this is probably exactly what we should all do; be able to consider our role and what it means for the unborn child on this level. Heitis of course looked at the ultimate question if she ever wanted children, i am of course wondering about contemplation for those of us who are making the decision when to have children. It is clear that Heitis conclusion was right for her however anyone who can give that amount of consideration and care over such an important question would undoubetdly make a very caring parent.

The suggestion that we hould rebrand motherhood- so that it can catch up with the 21st century womenn, as if biology is mallaeable, appears odd- almost mechanical. The biological element of mothering doesnt stop the moment the baby is born, neither does it disappaear at 9 months, 18 months or three years. Its kind of there always. Yes there are lots of other people who could and do make good contributons but essentially as the Mum you are the centre of everything for the child. And that is pretty special.

Conceiveably, now could be a time when we start to consider a reorgansation of our perception of the mother role. We have battled long and hard for a change to the system but little has shifted and maybe that is telling us something.If the first 1000 days are so important,then lets help our Mums be part of it physically and to embrace it mentally. Sell Motherhood; its not a glitch or a blip or a gap, its for life and it is the soil of someone elses life.Ultimately, children do not grow in a vacuum , they grow with a primary significant other. Perhaps if we are not willing or able to give the child a few years of our life then maybe we should be questioning if this is the point in our life where we raise one.

We have the potential to generate a more favourable view of being a Mum to highlight just what an importnat job this is rather than societal expectation cultivating an attitude towards Motherhood that appears to have a ” blithe disregard for the indispensible role of mothers in securing any future whatsoever.” (Jacquline Rose, Mothers: An Essay on Love and Cruelty).

Sure Start: His generation

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 My son will be twenty-one this year. I’m compiling an album for him. Photo’s, snippets of stories and little quotes from his life so far. It is difficult to extract all those first moments (it’s hard enough to remember yesterday sometimes). Of course  I have written things down, sometimes specific moments but mostly I recall fragments of his life. I have found that snatches of memory fire at me; moments with middlest or smallest trigger recollections of his early years. But the traces are  dim and often memories are blurred. 

As I try to  remember it occurs to me how different my experience of being becoming a mother at 21 and 37 has been. Almost as if each time a child was born , a different mother emerged. Accounting for this are the obvious maturational differences that accompany being 21 and 37 respectively , alongside personal circumstance. Additionally, it occurs to me there was a stark variation  in the services I received post partum; as I reflect on these the memories that make me smile emerge , and I say out loud ,”Sure start”.

Back in 2000 I lived in Wales, two years after the then chancellor Gordon Brown announced the curation of Sure Start, an early intervention programme for under 5s and their families. This was an initiative driven by the aim , “to give every child the best possible star in life”, through improving the “educational and life chances of socially and economically disadvantaged children”. This eye brow raising yet heroic strategic aim was to be achieved through a programme service the  Sure Start Learning Programme (SSLP), targeting the most disadvantaged families in the most deprived areas. Essentially this took the form of targeted provision in areas home to families of acute need. Over five years it evolved into a ten year year strategy, at its core, a universal programme for all, the aim to provide a service and build a Sure Start Childrens Centre in every community.

When eldest was born we lived in Wrecsam.  I dont remember there being a Sure Start  in the area of Hightown. We were certainly never signposted to groups or a centre. Perhaps there was a sign on the community centre but I don’t  remember there being anything behind it.  Local services , such as a nursery, health visiting clinic and housing were very far apart and living on an estate border was a hindrance with some professionals arguing that we should attend another clinic for baby weighing. Regardless the result was that we tended to get missed out of invites to facilities and had to do our own legwork to find them. Often we relied on the Health Visitors. Not that Health Visitor calls were particularly frequent- initially every week  but these soon peetered down to every 6 weeks and by the end of the first year had ceased completely with me having to chase up the first year check . For any new Mums or Dads reading ,  this would not be a shock but back then it was unusual made more so as we were definitely one of those families which would have benefited from the service. We struggled and there was violence.

This lack of service though was not apparent until I moved to Greenstead in Colchester, when eldest was 3 and I was pregnant with middlest. In terms of social and economic depriavtion Wrecsam and Greenstead did not stand far apart from another , however from the census of 2001 Greenstead scored 19/20 with 20 equating the highest and worst end of a scale measuring socio economic deprivation. In an attempt to acknowledge this and to address it, Greenstead two years prior had recieved £750,000, “to develop services for Mums and Dads”,  and it was reflected in the provision across Greensteads locality in the St. Annes Ward. The childrens centre was situated above the Greenstead Community Centre, with a purpose built pre-school setting and additional stay and play serices held at two further locations on the estate. The main building was used for one to one sessions, training for parents, play groups, new baby groups and a dads group. The SS Team also hosted trips for families on low income and intermittent groups on healthy eating, reading, communication and keeping your children safe and well.

I recall being given the Sure Start timetable when I  arrived on on the estate and despite my anxiety about being in a new area,   I started to attend. The benefts were tangible; they provided structure, helped us to forge relationships and educated me in areas of parenting that  I had not thought about. The staff were engaging and the outreach service did exactly what it said it would do- it reached out. So if, as a single parent of two who was in the midst of a domestic violence  investigation you did not attend a group, they would come to you. Check in with you. They could support you to take steps that were important for you and your family.  Another key service was the provision of regular, local health visitor clinics which gave a critical point of contact for me and hundreds of other single mums on the estate, at the most isolating part of parenthood.

Beyond the baby years the provision of childcare, a small provision which split its availability into morning and afternoon sessions, allowed me a precious couple of hours down time, which given the absence of family support, was invaluable. It undoubtedly balanced my mental health and when I found work as a voluntary project worker with Home Start, it allowed me to undertake this. 

It is improtant to note that Sure Start provisions could be quite different from one another; service mangers at the time stated informally that there was no specific form or template from which provisions were developed and this was substantiated by visiting other provisions or just knowing people who used SSC in other areas. We definitely had access to an exemplary setting. Such variations in delivery offered a stark reminder of the state of balance between the nations that despite the united status, across a comparatively small divide there was such a difference in service.  Irrespective of the difference the initiative grew and by the later noughties there were 3,500 childrens centres  and the provision of the service accounted for £1.8 bllion (2018-19) of our national annual spending.

Despite its popularity and relative success the absolute success of Sure start  was seen to be minimal. This was based on an evaluation strategy that was on going and in 2010 cuts were made to Sure Start Funding as part of the austerity measures implemented by the Conservative-Liberal coalition. This appeared at odds with another development in politics , the 2010 Child Poverty Act which  aimed to end all children living in poverty by 2020. At the time much evidence pointed to a reduction in service with the focus on its economic contributions however others including Tracey Bain, then the Early Years Minister,  supported continued funding stating that Sure Start played a critical role in children’s health, as well as their development (The Guardian June 2019). Further support pointed to the fall in the number of cases attending hospital due to accidents or illness as evidence of the importance of early years support provided by Sure Start staff. Critics though were quick to admonish the work, pointing out that causal relationships were little or insignificant. Cuts followed and centres reduced scope of service. 

There followed counter arguments  which directed attention to the problems  inherent in longitudinal surveys such as thise utilised in evaluating SSCC.  These highlighted problems of confounding variables in establishing causal inference. They also argued that validity is further pushed into the realms of speculation when you consider that what was measured was derived from the original programme aims ie child development. This was despite there being a shift in the the focus of the work implemented in the centres. This latter point was raised by Norman Glass, who criticised the evaluation on the grounds that the move towards the focus from child development to supporting Mothers’ back into employment was not accompanied with a change in targets, which were the focus of the evaluation strategy. Essentially you can’t say a has no impact on b if a does not exist in the first place. The shift to local authority control rather than being run by boards including parents would also have had a huge impact upon programmes.

also remember the scrabbling around for numbers to validate the centres wider relevance and the impact of this.  Pre- 2005 work focused upon families with under 5s in specific areas; centres linked to immediate population.. In 2005, the change to the centre programme was accompanied by need to fill seats and so doors opened to individuals out of catchment. I remember this being a  bone of contention amongst the groups of the centre.Admittedly,  I myself experienced a twinge of annoyance that all of a sudden there was an influx of people from estates adjacent to ours. People with choice who  had exercised their freedom to choose and had chose to attend ‘our’ centre.  Flattering some might suppose but it also meant that there were some families in the locality who were unable to attend as they had taken their place. For us it was not tit for tat it was a case of protecting our own resources and also our sense of esteem which was very easily tarnished. It was as if we were not enough and for some this resulted in a rejection of the service.  Widening participation also created  methodological problems in evaluation at it detracted or confounded  from original modelling on impact on deprived families. 

Regardless, provisions stabilised and then declined. We still attended everyday taking our place one group or another as  evidenced in pictures, I find in my search for memories for eldests book. However the introduction of austerity measures which  influenced target setting and provision was felt .The number of children in poverty has since risen by 600,000 since 2010. 4.2 million youngsters in the UK – or 30 per cent – are existing below the poverty line (that’s nine children in a class of 30) and the Government’s own Social Mobility Commission is now forecasting a further huge rise to 5.2 million children in poverty by 2022. No doubt many will point to the pandemic for its contribution towards these numbers but there is no avoiding the fact that these numbers existed before the pandemic and will exist long after the effects of Cornavirus fade in other areas. Sure Start may not eliminate such poverty but it supported those living within the confines of a restricted life and reducing its capacity will have come as a double blow to those children in need.

I searched for comparative data, a control group from which to measure outcomes against or perhaps some information on the families that had used the sure start services.

My search revealed none instead I found a wealth of articles, some lamenting the lack of services for father’s (not in Greenstead) others which argued that it did fiscal harm, stealing the money from our budget

Such criticisms have been suggested as weak, even selfish. I would concur; if you consider that the economics of the programme outweigh the importance of what it did on a moral level. Because what these studies don’t capture is that Sure Star made people feel important. At the heart of these services was time. Many of these service users are and were intergenerational benefit survivors, 3rd perhaps even 4th generation benefit families who have nothing but what they know, like the rest of us, to pass onto their children. Except that their knowledge was and is  watered down by deprivation. Sure Start offered substance.

To break this cycle takes time, it takes generations for behaviours to change. At least one for people to even a knowledge that the change is positive and something they could achieve. For a few years though there was a hope that came from people, the staff in particular who made us feel, well human.  For some, like myself the hope was transformative.

In 2009 just before middlest started school the area hosted two centres, the Greenstead centre and The Oak Tree service, a purpose built building, beautiful in its aesthetic, serving the St. Annes or White City area in Colchester. They both still exist; both areas still sit in the margins of poverty however the picture nationwide suggests that 1 in 3 centres has closed and spending has been now reduced to a third of the original budget. A more recent evaluation suggests that against the original figures, the NHS has made of saving of 6% due to the influence of Sure Start with reductions in infection rates in under 5s and reductions in hospital admissions for children under the age of 11, the most cited outcomes. Whether they are the most significant is still not known;  there is still an absence of a study that documents the signficance of the  factors  by the original intervention. NESS research has been conducted but by its own accounts is not robust. It seems absurd to infer that Sure Start has had little or no impact.

I wonder what happened to all of the Sure Start Generation children? There is a suggestion that there is on going evaluation. Perhaps this might include those that it actually reached. We are one such family and I am secure in my position in support of the continuation of such provision certain that without its part in our lives at a very critical point we would have struggled immensley and my children woud not have achieved what they have today.

Neither would I have gone back.

When I had smallest the change in service provision was stark. The health visitor service had been reduced to once a week for four weeks, extended to two weeks due to post partum anxiety. After that the responsibility for contacting them laid with you. An ex collegaue who struggled with post natal depression  contacted her health visitor and 4 months later after a teary phone call to the clinic she was responded to. I sought solace in my past experiences and after a very difficult birth i took refuge at the old centre and was cheered to find two of the old staff still present. They were however the only remaining features of the old Sure Start, a skeleton service remained holding what was now a very thin skin; the creche had disappeared as had 75% of the groups. The looming takeover from yet another provider  had distracted those remaining and the fact that I thought I was still welcome pointed to the wider area which was now catered for in what had once been a locals only service (I live 3 miles away from the centre). I attended two groups after which there was no progression or suggestions of feeder groups. I remembered then the Sure Start ethos of continuity in face of adversity. As I left the centre after the last session I learned that the core group had started an informal group of their own. Those of us who came from the wider area had not been invited.  I felt offended but then I realised what I had done  – I had stolen the place of a Mum from the area just like those Mums from from the next estate had done, all those years ago. I was mortified at my lack of awareness but at the same time interested that I did not even for a moment contemplate this. I went into  the group in my mind as an insider but was received as an outsider. I still felt at home there.I took my rejection as it was.intended to be received,thanks but no thanks but thought about it.  This provision is as important to those people today as it was to us all those years ago. I had come into and enjoyed the nostalgic undertones but i had failed to see the significance of my presence just as the government fails to see how the presence of the Sure Start Learning Programmes featured so positively in many people’s lives. Looking and planning with eyes shut tightly.

Last week nearly four years after my last session ,I  searched for the contact details for the sure start centre which became central to my life all those years ago. I searched under Sure Start and Greenstead Colchester and the listing gave me a telephone number and a registered address. The lady who picked up the phone referred to the service as the Essex child and family well being service. Continue reading “Sure Start: His generation”

New beginnings

“They sacrificed instinct to phoney ambition” Kate Tempest , Holy Elixir.

Our lives have become steadily intertwined so that even now, I await his determined footsteps thudding down the staircase at 6.00am. I have even moved the kettle to my bedroom to limit the sounds which might be attractive to a three year old at this time. As I write this, his feet circumnavigate mine and he mumbles, peeks and sighs at my pen to stop dancing; as if wishing to resume the dance of reciprocity we left off from last night. Instead , he stops and tells me, “I know you cannot play but can you get my ‘brooming’ car from the table. Of course I can.

Later, on a walk to the car from our home, I join his narration of our surroundings; the smelly lavender house, the house with the lady who takes photographs for important newspapers, the alternative family house, the house with the rainbows, the other house with the rainbows, the house with the lady I met at baby massage, the seashell house and the house with the fellow, ‘red arrow lookout’ man. This guy we met early in lockdown, when looking (funnily enough,) for the red arrows. I , on this occasion (as if there were many) saw them , he it transpired did not. Finally there is the house with, well another rainbow.

On this particular morning we languished along the uneven pavment lining the increasingly busy road which slopes down towards town. My little fella held my hand and in the other directed his bin lorry; across mountains and through ravines, over volcanoes and past monsters, with the ease of a three year old mind. He stopped as we near the corner of the road to which we are heading and looks down. Stooping to get a closer look at the pavement, in his default mode he shouts , “Ohhhhh look Mummy ooooo Snails”.

“Oh yes”, I marvelled and met his amazement, as indeed there were two snails which appear to be moving very slowly toward the very busy downward slope.

“Where are they going?”, he asks passing me his bin lorry. Grasping his hands together he crouches and says, “oh are they a Mummy and a baby snail?”

I squint and it appears indeed that this pair of travellers to the untrained snail eye, are an adult and a child so, “yes” I confirm, this is a Mum snail and her child.

They slide in linear formation , rather concerningly towards the very busy downward slope. True lemming style I silently muse. “Gosh”, I said, “they are going that way.”I point to the road. Picking up my concern – and the snails, he proceeds to place them on the wall of the man who didn’t see the red arrows, garden.

As if considering how they might feel about such upheaval, he places them together and says, “there- now you are next to each other. They will be safe now Mummy.” He promptly takes my free hand and we smile at each other. “Good job chap”, I say and we continue tot he car.

I am pleasantly glowing at the sense of empathy he is demonstrating through this one small act and it occurs to me that this is something which I have been exposed to increasingly throughout the pandemic, alongside the growing realisation within of certain moralistic values unrealised prior to lockdown. There appears to be a growing sense within people, of the importance of being with and helping others. On our street there has been a definite increase in sociability but more than this there is a jarring sense of empathy within me of not just wanting to help others, but needing to. A need which I am more and more certain particularly thoughout these weeks and months, has driven certain episodes throughout my life, although up until now I have directed it away from home. Now though and on this day in particular, there is a sense that this drive if you like, has been speaking to me for some years and has been in the ascendant since my youngest child’s birth, fighting for survival alongside its phoney enemy: the career.

Later, standing alongside the little chap in a field of wheat ( after many months of walking in said fields), I examine, with my new expertise, the grasses to determine which they are. “I think”, I say with some confidence to the little chap, “we have rye grass and sedge”. Yes Sedge Mummy. We smile at each other. He promptly shouts “chase me” and I do so tiredly but knowing its OK because lifes urgency is not really there right now.

Running after him, I become aware that my feelings of late are leading somewhere and whatever the enemy presents in servitude , the instinctual side of life is winning over, subtley but with a reverence only biology can muster.

The evening swings round and I listen back to a speech by Rabbi Sachs on Radio 4s Today programme. He conveys the need to be with someone and to live with others and draw upon them for support, beliefs which are blended with my own earlier realisations. I think starkly about how often we forgo our children as humans, our own children to achieve stability in our finances and careers for a future that is so far off and indeed, might not be. It reminds me of the words of my new Bumble friend (lockdown discovery) who says – “its never worth it.” Teaching our little ones that people are the most important thing, starts by letting them know that they are the most important thing so they can feel first hand the impact that this has on others. Teaching them that they are important- but as long as we can have a career and things as well is the current status quo and no doubt for many it is just about surviving. I get that. I too am David Cameron’s definition of a JAM citizen. But, for both parents to be absent for long periods is becoming more and more difficult to justify for me, particularly when I have spent the last three years exploring the importance of synchrony and regulation of our emotional state with primary relationships. I have struggled to let go – I cannot forgive myself or forget the pain of separation from him. The biological propensity to be with him is far stronger than my desire to be a successful member of SLT in a school.It has been made even stronger through this lockdown , which has demonstrated how very little we need on a daily basis to actually survive and to be content.

And so I resign. I resign so for the next year so I can be with him, I can nurture him watch him grow and ensure he is ready for school. I am a single parent to three children. I have very little income and I do not have any assets. I have built up a career and some might say that I should pursue this, that this decision is irresponsible but knowing what I know now and thinking about the future, my childrens future, I think to myself is it such a great sacrifice to live in relative poverty financially for a year in order to give emotional security for a life time to children? I think the answer is unequivocally no.

I feel to do otherwise is essentially being somewhat like the mother snail we witnessed this morning. Leading your child with the absolute best of intention into the business of the world with the goal that you should both get to the other side in one piece. Perhaps with a bit of space to think things through, that journey can be made with a little less risk to well being; by having a bit more time together and waiting for the choice to be taken away from me rather than making a choice which I will never be at one with.

So like those snails my boy and I sit on a wall and observe. As life begins to pick up after lockdown we, are staying at the same pace. We look forward, with the knowledge that we have what we need within us to make it through this year and after that he will have the resilience to cope with what ever he finds on the other side of that busy road.

Eins

When the past is still present, then the present passes us by.

If I could have felt my pregnancy how I feel it now. It was as if my mind could not meet with my body. The pregnancy accelerated as I struggled to be part of it. The eyes did not focus and what I saw was milky white as if I was frozen inside; my mind paralysed to the reality of my situation. I felt it odd , considering it was my third pregnancy, but it may as well have been my first. I treated it as if it were a given; I think I was treated as if my experience would be easy. I wasn’t just a Mum but a Mum of two older children and so I had accumulated experience mapping half my life time.Then came labour.

The tightening of the insides and the analgesia of the pause made the pregnancy hang on. Teetering on the precipice, as precious life made renewed efforts to grasp his mother.

The false self lost its hold and I cried; I mourned our failed relationship, howled at the rejection and humiliation experienced and was still receiving in the midst of the chaos.

So now single working and struggling with life I find comfort in hope and realise that it has been hope that has been the real sustenance of my life.

Only now can i relax and really think about what I am. I am a Mum I am a Mother.  


.

Sarah Harding

“Here I am, a walking primrose.…” Sarah Harding in Girls Aloud’ , The Promise.

Yesterday Sarah Harding, who I will always remember as the core member of Girls Aloud, died at the age of 39 of advanced stage breast cancer.

I spent my evening trawling the internet news, watching micro-videos of her life as a celebrity and listening to Girls Aloud on Spotify. It is very sad to hear she lost her battle.

Sarah did not have children and I am not going to claim to be a huge follower of GA but I bought Greatest Hits on CD and I still rate Biology as one of the greatest pop tunes ever. However, they were one of a few bands in the noughties which formed the backdrop to middlest and eldests early years. When I hear Love Machine or No Good Advice, it reminds me of crazy dancing in the living room with the kids. Biology, of tea in the morning after drop off and Stand By Me triggers a memory of the community in which we lived.

The music just made it past the point where I would associate it with the chaos and aftermath of their father and had become established enough to avoid being linked with losing my sister.They held their own, never attaching to bad thought or feeling so I can listen to them freely though of course now, listening will be bittersweet.

I am sad. Her death is another reminder that death comes to us all it’s not selective or considerate- it just is.

May your soul rest in peace, Sarah.

Harry and Meg Part 2

The other day I bumped into an old work collegaue at the beach. We chatted, our conversation turned to work and they were surprised when I said I had taken the year off.  Intially, I explained my decision as it was – based on my desire to be with my children. Following the silence I began to pad out the reason making which fed my decision; filling in what I thought were gaps, with justifications based on the pandemic, my dissatisfaction with the education system and a need to reestablish my place within it.
This seemed to generate more response and so eased what I thought was tension but I came away annoyed with myself. Why did I do that? Was it not enough just to say it as it was – I want to be with my children.
Why did I feel the need to provide an explanation?

I considered this in light of a previous article, Motherhood and Society, discussing the importance we attach in our culture to being stay at home Mum’s. My thoughts then wandered to Meghan and Harry and the initial decision that they made to step back from Royal Life. I remember when they made the announcement and I had nodded to myself. A strong woman empowered, willing and wanting to raise her child herself, away from wider world’s expectations. A woman who is prepared to stand up for her child and how she perceived Motherhood. Admiring her choice I wrote about it and then of course I made my own choices regarding what I felt appropriate for my family’s life. I half kept an eye out for how they were getting on, interested in how it might pan out for them. 

Then came the aftermath of their decision in all it’s manifestations, the press articles, the  interview with Oprah, the book, potential show, podcast and I felt cross, as apart from anything else, in doing all of this, they  seemed to have removed themselves from their original intention.

It’s difficult to avoid emotion laid commentary on this. Social media is spilling with often vile opinion. The couple in return have offered more fuel. Reading through some of it, I do not think it is for us to discuss whether or not Meghan had a miscarriage and certainly not to  question how she grieves. Neither is it possible to know , through endless Twitter threads who is arguing with who and for what reason. The conversation, in so far as you can call it that is a collection of venemous statements regarding aspects of their life. The only hard facts seem to be are that they gave up their role, moved to the US, did an interview, released a book, are about to release another book and have discussed a tv deal. Everything else is speculative.

What stands out though is the lack of reference to the loss of the original intention. Which is a shame because,  the intention was admirable. To raise their child how they wished, away from the public eye and by themselves rather than as is traditional in the royal family, in a shared way and very much in the public domain.   It must have been tricky, especially for Harry. Harry is the person whose life has unequivocally been turned upside down.

Unfortunately, though they have not achieved   a life outside the public domain as they suggested. Instead, they have very much placed themselves in the media spotlight seeking, it seems to follow it where ever they can , no channel left untouched. What is more unfortunate,  rather than celebrating their lives with their young family they appear to want to share personal information about their past which can only be interpreted as an attack.  It could and has also been interpreted as the real reason for their decision, rather than as they suggested, to raise their children in the way that they wished to. Which is perhaps what people have reacted to, the realisation that they have been deceived.

Or have they?

Reflecting on my sudden anxiety at the beach – that I was not understood, that I was being flimsy and perhaps had gone slightly mad at giving up what was actually shaping up to be a promising career-  perhaps Meghan and Harry  reacted in the same way. They paniced at silence and then the rush of opinion and rather than sit with their decision, they padded it out.

While I believe that Harry has struggled with his family and there are some unhealthy relations and perhaps some difficult situations emerged for Harry and Meghan I just wonder about the origins of their tell all resolve. Perhaps they felt the need like I did at the beach to justify themselves and  their decision to the listening world. Perhaps they felt their original reason for giving it all up,   wasn’t enough. Perhaps we felt it wasn’t enough and in probing we prompted further defense. So they expanded their reasoning.
They didn’t need to. Their original explaination was sufficient.

Or perhaps they don’t care. Perhaps it does make them feel better. I don’t know and neither do you. The only thing I do know is that I did admire their decision but I am not so keen on the follow ups.

Smallest starts school in two days and I have waited for the follow up feeling to my decision to hit me; for the what did you do, what were you thinking voice to emerge regarding my own decision.  However I remain still and feel quietly confident that my decision was exactly what we needed as a family. Perhaps it’s time for a bit of verbal stillness and reflection for the Sussexes.

Of course I can say that now with hindsight – hindsight is a wonderful thing. Particularly when it allows you to say that you were able to judge the needs of your children correctly. It is tricky though to always think carefully  about the impact of decisions on children. In Meg and Harry’s case  theirs will live in the shadow of their attempts at self branding and the reputation that they muster. 

I do genuinely hope that when hindsight  catches up with Meghan and Harry , separately or together, that their hindsight it isn’t too hard for them to face.

Everybody hates a tourist



On this beach of sand packed
tight, smooth as marble floor,
a spa touched now by masses of
uncertain feet carrying
bags, windbreaks, trolleys, mats, inflatables.
We stare at their arrival with a title
Dressed as an edgy absolution
for what will do for now, they say.

Here they still are- closer now
running in circles on the sand of
our forever green light;
our only first choice,
looking for our space taken by
the occupants of a staycation
as weeks,leak into months
where they make the best of it.

While with a stiff upper lip
we sit back and scowl.

Soap opera

“Learning how to live takes a while life.” Seneca.

Sometimes it takes every fibre within me to get it right and then i am not so sure that I have managed it. They are so different, so many ages, so many needs under one roof.

Everyone wanting, no needing something different . A different tone of voice, a different glance a different level of enthusiasm. It’s the little things which make a difference; the nuances in behaviour which will have the biggest impact on them. The things which when they are on their own are easy. When you have to swap between them though, sometimes with only seconds in between; as you pass from one conversation to another, giving attention, affection, direction , whatever they require in that moment- these little things are exhausting.

After a day of worrying about eldest, taking middlest camping (and driving back to the campsite in the later afternoon with all the items she had forgotten) , and keeping smallest on a level, I reach for a book and manage a paragraph. EastEnders seemed the best way to zip the day up.

As I made my way to serenity the phone rang. “You will never guess what Splods!”

“What’s that Dad?”, I say , pumping the last of my enthusiasm into my response.

“You know those bloody bars of soap I ordered from Amazon?”. He is tripping over his words now.

“Yup”, I reply.

“They have arrived- six weeks late! The bloke down the road had them.”

His excitement is palpable as he then tells me how, with the replacement order , he now has or will have 32 bars of soap.

“Enough to last me till the end of July 2023!”, he states triumphantly.

I laugh out loud. Both at the fact that he has calculated this and at our enthusiasm for soap, of different varieties. The laughter seals what was, quite honestly a day where I know I existed for everyone else but I’m not quite sure where I was in it all.

New Beginnings: The Other Side

Back in July 2020 I resigned from my welfare role at a secondary school to focus on my own children. My decision was documented in my blog post New Beginnings. It initiated a lot of positive conversations, some with people I knew and some with people who I got to know. Over the year we have found ourselves in a space which was alien to us all however we have nurtured it. We have all learned new things, smallest has learned to ride his bike, has decided he no longer needs songs and nappies at night and can now write his name independently. Middlest has started college and Eldest has a new job. We have all learned to relate to each other differently so we can live together easily.

A year on we have reached the other side and smallest still keeps an eye out for the snails. He has progressed though to picking up one of the many snails that gather daily on the white painted brick steps wich lead up to our door. Rather than placing them together, he places them on the side of the house or on the tips of the ferns that shelter, an otherwise visible basement bedroom window. “They are on an adventure”, he says.

I remember working with a child once whom I would often observe in the playground at break. Just before they were due to make an important transition to a different school, I watched them make a series of journeys using play equipment to get from one side of the playground to the other. Each day I watched as they did this until finally they got across. I marvelled at the the power of the unconscious and how it allows us to work things out; in this case for the child to make sense of a time of upheaval. I also felt privileged to be observing what was happening for them. Seeing this happen with your own child is even better. Smallests snails no longer have to be together, they can go off to different places on their own. When we look for them later though, they have gone.

” I wonder where they could have gone on their adventure” I say.

”America” he says triumphantly,” they are having a fantastic time”.

My blog has been absent of posts relating to smallest recently because well, to write something new when nothing new is happening. It’s like Scrabbling around at the back of a cupboard for the scraps of what you didn’t want to write about before. Or stuff you couldn’t give a shape to.

Thinking about this post though I realize stuff has been happening, from the structure we have created this year and from this weird mix of ingredients we have been given, we have created something. And now we reach the final stretch before school. Smallest sits with Lego. He bashes down the building which has stood on the mat for a while. “I am knocking down nursery mummy and there is anew buildings over here” . “What is in that?” I say.

“Oh I don’t know yet mummy”. He stops and leans over to put a block down.

Smallest is showing me what is happening for him right now – he is preparing himself. And he’s done that through having the right space and the right person next to him, to allow him to do so.

So what did I learn this year? That I can make choices that are right for me and my family without even the slightest compromise to the well being of any of us. That I feel that what I set out to do, prepare him emotionally is a job well done. That I am glad – glad I took the time off to look after my own children. That that, is probably the understatement if the century.

To be a Mum or not to be- that’s the question…

“Flowers may bloom again but children never have the chance to be young again”. Bluey, Cbeebies.

I have read and reread parts of Sheila Heitis Motherhood. Heitis memoir details the journey of her process of deciding whether or not to become a mother. It charts her yearnings and her misgivings and leads towards the ultimate conclusion that she will not have children. I pre-conceived i would find the book tricky to navigate so was suprised when I didnt find it an uncomfortable read. Perhaps that was because i have alreay found my place, made my decision. I have children, three of them and i have lived both sides of the motherhood divide ; the childhood line with all its glory and despair, all the way through to the borderland where they become adults, despite always being in your minds eye your child. Reading it therefore was not a search to somehow provide myself with support for a diffciult personal decision rather just curiosity about how other women perceive Mumhood.
What emerges from Heitis text is the consideration she submerges hersef in. A complete committment to making the right decision for her and her potential child. The argument grows against the background of her own self refelction rather than suggesting that the pitfalls or the difficulties she is having are solely due to how society has made her feel about being a mother. She recognises that her battles are from within- should she be free to do what she wishes or should she bequeath this to allow her child to be happy. I feel that she recognises that there is no case for working and mothering being equal, as the mother role will always out do so the work role in importance and so she bases her decision on this realsiation and decides this is not a battle she wishes to have. She manages to separate herself from societal expectation.

I wondered about my own decision making process in this respect and found it to be quite weak in comparison. As a Mum , I have stayed at home to raise the children and I have worked; I have had more than ample income and more recently have raised them on the meagre offerings of unversal credit.It was never a question that i should do one or the other. With the elder two I did one and with smallest I did the other but not until the pandemic struck was it a conscous choice, grounded by personal experience, to consider if the two merge. A year after making the decision that they do not (see New Beginnings post) I have been reading articles about Women’s battles for equality in the working Mum world. What I have read has fed an internal discussion about the divide between parenting and sustaining a career. I have wondered about how current opinion manifests itself due the chosen relative needs and wants in society, as opposed to what is a consequence of absolute need.

Recent commentary has unearthed again the bitter subject of society’s appraisal of motherhood and the problems this creates for the woman. It settles in part on the impact of choosing to have a child on finances and careers. What is drawn out is the poor state of equality in this respect , exposed by Mother friendly organisations such as Pregnnat then Screwed and written about by many authors, Eva Wiseman and Eliane Glaser of The Observer and The Guardian, standing out in particular.
The explicit content of the discussion centres on the issue of womens equality and as a women, I am all for that of course. The trickiness comes from what we are being encouraged to be equal about. Having a career and a raising a young child, in particular the notion that we should have equal access at all times even when our children are still very young. Activists have termed this a woman centred approach to child rearing , putting the needs of the woman above the child; arguing that if the women is happy i.e able to work and earn with the ease of a single person or the father, then the child will be happy. This is a risky supposition, one that cant easily be measured and which has such great consequences. Does the Mum going out to work make the child happy? What if, what makes the child happy is the Mother being at home? Is having a career perceived as more of an achievement than raising a child well?

The opposite approach, natural motherhood was discussed by Eliane Glaser in The Guardian (18th May 2021) .Eliane argues against natural motherhood stating that this is not compatible with 21st century life. It is no longer possible for us to be present all the time or to provide the kind of care that is deemed as essential for the childs healthy development cited by professionals. It is certainly true that things can be very tricky, though whether it is possible to argue against natural motherhood completely ,without sounding blindsided is doubtful. The main difficulty with the argument is if we opt out of natural motherhood in favour of the women centred approach case then our children, small creatures with developing brains, are going to somehow have to sidestep their biological mechansims and fit in wit whatever it is that 21st century can give to them. Perhaps the answer lies somewhere in the middle at a point where it feels comfortable for both the child and mother.

It is very difficult to argue against biology, to see motherhood as a contemporary issue that can be aapted for life in the fast lane.

The dual thinking around natural vs women centred parenting was a topic I discussed with a friend years ago after a Saturday morning gymnsastics class for my daughter. That morning I sat next to a woman who had her four month baby sitting in a car seat in front of her. The Mum chatted to me and it turmed out that she worked full time while her child was in nursery. At the time I was still at home with smallest and spoke about my plans to go back to work which i was concerned about. “Oh”, she said,”I know – the expense of childcare……..I literally work to pay for it”. “Its not the cost I worry”, about i replied, “I am just worried that leaving him is the wrong thing for him”. She then sighed and laughed, “oh well i know would NOT wnt to be at home looking after a baby all day. They are easier when they are older”. The conversation ended but fired up a chat I had with a friend later. He smarted, “well obviously a lot of women just work because its a means to an end. They want to work and have a kid- have their cake and eat it”. Although I had been shocked by how she had removed herself from the role of being a Mum, my reaction to this was defensive, I tried to shield her status. At the time i was juggling three jobs and raising the elder two alone; I felt guilty at the time I spent away from them – so i argued for her, that often people work to maintain a career and to balance the finaceces. The contradiction in my felt response and verbal defense of this women though sat with me and I have often wondered why despite my natural inclination towards wanting to be wih the children, why did i always do the very thing which caused me and them the most discomfort? And the response I had learned to say , “Well its because you need to dont you….”.

The issue of the cost and provision of childcare has been raised again and again inthe pandemic. Eva Wiseman (The Observer 16th May 2021), comments on how undervalued and underinvested in our childcare system is in comparison to other Europen countries. She reflects there is a need to value the system more as we as women are raising the next geenration of this country and this should not be overlooked. And how right she is although for me there is a fundamental issue with this. The stand of her and many others is based on the facilities being there for our children to be looked after by someone else. Its based upon the notion of woman centred child rearing. Perhaps what is needed is a system for allowing Mums to fulfill this role of raising the next generation in these early years. Providing us with the chance to take secure career breaks for longer periods, so we have jobs to go back to. A system anyway that would to allow us to be with our children without worrying about work all the time or being so exhausted from our dual lives that when we are with our children we see all their behaviours as emotional and inconvenient. Or perhaps what could change is how we are educating young women about Motherhood, so that they don’t grow with the expectation that a women needs to do both at the same time. There is an option to do things seprately.

Wiseman recounts a moment with her childminder where the childminder candidly tells her that the reason her child is crying so much is because she knows that her Mum is going off to work is becase she wants to and not becuase she needs to. This moment has stuck vehemently with Eva who recalls it years later; enough to include it in her column. One wonders about the audacity of the comment and I murmered my support intially, until I considered need and want and i must admit, my allegiances fell to the child. For in this situation, where we take our child and place them in the care of another, particularly when the child is under three ,I feel it is our want that is being satisfied and their need denied. Years later when I made the decision to resign , leading the way was the justification – you can make money again but builing a childs resilience and well being is a lot harder when they are older.

The issue of need and want is raised again by Eliane Glaser. Initially we are presented with a waft of statistics mainly pointing towards the pitfalls of motherhood which again frame the incompatibility of being a mother and working. The statistics I would say are unsurprising, we all know the downfalls.
The article though traverses to framing motherhood in terms of the wants of the mother and appears loosly to suggest that shifting devlopmental theory somehow legitimises the morality of rebranding the role of mother into something a bt more compatible with the 21st century woman. Donald Winnicotts theory appears to be utilised to justify a level of care given, good enough translated as a minimum requirement for the role. Winncotts ideal of the good enough Mother though is as important as his other observations. The me and not me distinction is integral to the Winnicotian tradition, detailing the importance of child learning to be on their own through learning to be with one other namely Mum/Guardian; achieved through a slow introduction to their environment at a pace that they can manage. I think this is key. Winnicott was a innovative thinker and his theories reflected his views that the mother and baby cannot be seen as separate at first, we have very primitive nature, primary maternal preoccupation being his equal to a instinctive state where the baby is the mothers absolute concern and everything should be done to ensure that that her focus is not impeded upon. Work as an intrusion is disruptive to this state.

Eliane ends her piece describing how natural motherhood is pushed upon us my midwives, health visiors or professionals where we , “are guilt tripped into parenting that is not compatible with work outside the home.” She contrasts this with woman centred motherhood which is described as and sold to us on the basis that it is in both the child and the others intersts that they ar both happy. But does this equate to an all out rejection of natural motherhood, does it mean reducing the experince to gymnsatics lady? If the central isue is about equality, then have we gained eqality for ourselves at the expense of equality for the child- through a complete rejection of the very basic emotional needs of the childs developing brain.

Regardless tied in to what can be quite a circular argument are the wants and the needs of the child itself and no mother woud argue that the child yearning for its parent is a need rather than a want. All children learn to be without their parents but how they do it is important. I remember seprating from the eldest two – it was easy because they were ready- what I experienced with smallest was not easy because he was not ready. Which is why Ie made the decision to go back. Did I feel guilt? Absolutely. Maybe but this came from knowing I had not ultimatley given him the time to become ready. I was aware of the difficulties this would cause him problems later on down the line.

Much content appears to suggest that society creates problems, not enough childcare, telling us we should do this do that and the other, but maybe just maybe the problem comes from arguing against something which is innate. Perhaps we are making our own experinces of Motherhood bad not because of what society says or doesnt say or does or doesnt provide but because of how we receive the experience. I did it for years, argued that i should be out at work, worked all hours never saw my children who were always with someone else. The only time we ever felt better was when i stopped, held my hands up and said , i am going to stay at home because he needs me and my older children told me that was all they ever wanted. For me to be at home with them.

I had to make that choice at the expense of my children- expense in terms of childcare and more imprtantly their well being which I find out ten years on was at risk- they hated it but could not put into words what they were feeling at the time as they did not have the anguage for it. They were tired, dealing with all sorts from the day in an environment they were not overly keen on despite the outstanding status. Worse still by the time i picked them up i was too tired to be genuine and so i packed them off to bed with their worries which would have to wait until the weekend.

As a women, or as a supporteer of woman as a male friend once said, yoou nod along and shake your head appropiely to much of this information however there is something else that you are left with. Women succomb to it all because that is what is done. Its like a collective unconscious and then we spend time venting the difficulties and sourcing the root of the problem externally our view of our role as a mother bruised by a collision with our occupational role.A residue of something that emerges, not from the central argument of writing but from the something which leaks into the sentences. This something can be descibed as a shameful unintended conseuence of our response to the probems of working mothers. Its the lack of value which some women place on our primary role.

When I read motherhood by Heiti , in the first few pages i wondered how she was oing to fill a whole book with her comtemplations. By the end it is clear that this is probably exactly what we should all do; be able to consider our role and what it means for the unborn child on this level. Heitis of course looked at the ultimate question if she ever wanted children, i am of course wondering about contemplation for those of us who are making the decision when to have children. It is clear that Heitis conclusion was right for her however anyone who can give that amount of consideration and care over such an important question would undoubetdly make a very caring parent.

The suggestion that we hould rebrand motherhood- so that it can catch up with the 21st century womenn, as if biology is mallaeable, appears odd- almost mechanical. The biological element of mothering doesnt stop the moment the baby is born, neither does it disappaear at 9 months, 18 months or three years. Its kind of there always. Yes there are lots of other people who could and do make good contributons but essentially as the Mum you are the centre of everything for the child. And that is pretty special.

Conceiveably, now could be a time when we start to consider a reorgansation of our perception of the mother role. We have battled long and hard for a change to the system but little has shifted and maybe that is telling us something.If the first 1000 days are so important,then lets help our Mums be part of it physically and to embrace it mentally. Sell Motherhood; its not a glitch or a blip or a gap, its for life and it is the soil of someone elses life.Ultimately, children do not grow in a vacuum , they grow with a primary significant other. Perhaps if we are not willing or able to give the child a few years of our life then maybe we should be questioning if this is the point in our life where we raise one.

We have the potential to generate a more favourable view of being a Mum to highlight just what an importnat job this is rather than societal expectation cultivating an attitude towards Motherhood that appears to have a ” blithe disregard for the indispensible role of mothers in securing any future whatsoever.” (Jacquline Rose, Mothers: An Essay on Love and Cruelty).

Wheat fields forever

Mud fun

I like December especially now that it means not going to work. I feel I can enjoy the end of this year; fading with the light as winter is let in by Autumn. Life sometimes feels a bit lack lustre at this time. Especially this year, when we all teeter on the precipice of another lockdown. We have reached the end of lockdown #2 and have been ushered into a new phase of our countries attempts to slow the spread of Covid.Here in Essex we are in Tier 2 . What this basically means is we can’t do anything more than what we were allowed to do before Lockdown- other than go shopping.All children’s activity centres are still closed as are many other potential sources of amusement for small people.The prospect of being in close proximity to many eager Christmas shoppers doesn’t grab me, so we head back.

This is disappointing for smallest as yesterday he told me he wants “to jump” , to run “ and in reference to the swimming pool “I just want to splash Mummy”. He was basically telling me that he had more energy than he knew he could use in the front room , hence today’s excursion to the Fields.

I have mentioned these fields before as they have been our place of choice throughout lockdown . First as a place to fill time but gradually as a place where time became represented differently. It opened up space where I have made decisions and new angles of life and relationships were uncovered. Without the chaos of the old , life took on took on a seasonal rhythm, emerging as I began to see what was around me.

Smallest seem beleaguered as we drove up to the site where we park. “We already go here Mummy. Loads of times”.

His mood expressed via the bottom lip was tempered though, when he looked out over the field. All he said was “oh” and I looked to take in what he saw. The change was stark .

The hedgerows have been taken back and the fields were already swaddled with the first signs of a new crop, green of course and so in contrast to our last visit, where it was heavy with yellow wheat. The oaks which line the paths had shed and stood in their majesty. He walked on clear paths and then ran and ran. He stopped only to examine the troughs created by farm machinery; staggering its way alongside fields it has serviced.

A nostalgic undertone emerged from beneath a cloud. I remembered the fields of April ,May and June and felt lifted by the simplicity of the memory. Created with no effort, no money; a complete absence of first world reality.

Meanwhile smallest scouted the puddles and dipped in his stick, then very carefully waded through. With each puddle confidence grew until at last turning toward the next path, he jumped and jumped and shouted “mummy I’m jumping” and “I’m splashing look at me”. The afternoon carried on in that vein and by the time we had circled our way back to the car he had a managed to tick all his required boxes for fun. He had run, jumped and splashed – the only thing missing, other children , which he pointed out, “well I can’t go near them anyway Mummy” and “you are the fastest runner”. It is true.

I wondered about the year. Sense by sense we are lulled into the last months. We have acclimatised and our senses have settled on our new surroundings . Birdsong which drowned evenings has dropped a notch and the sound of laughter from the scatted neighbourhood barbecues has disappeared. The fireworks which spattered the skies since November 5th are silent and the trees stand bare , resolute in their preparation for spring. And on a different scale we have accepted the new normal.

Thinking forward, one thing I most look forward to is doing this all over again (minus the pandemic) .These exact same walks which offer us completely different landscapes through the seasons. Walks where smallest gets what he needs and I the food to wonder.

So , as 21 tugs at the corner of 20 , I wonder whether what we need for humanity has been noticed. Just as I can look at the pictures and see the small differences which transformed mine and smallest perception of our field; can we as a collective see how little changes in each of our lives can transform this planet for all our futures? I am hopeful; but then my glass is always half full.

I wonder what you hope for in the year ahead?