What’s the story?

(A spoken word piece)

I have always been a stickler for a story.

In class at Primary, I would set my imagination to work, creating lengthy tales for my creative writing lessons.

Time spent picking at words, shifting them on the fine lines of the creative blue workbook;

That was the same as my best friend Paula’s, which was the same as Nathan’s, which was the same as Ben’s, which was the same as Kelly’s.

But inside it wasn’t the same- inside mine, the words wound their way round margins, beyond pages and into gaps until there was no option but to ‘give that girl a star’; A house point; A recommendation slip; A cup in assembly.

So perhaps it was inevitable,

That I would take the need to make a story that bit further

than the notebook and use the landscape of life as a pencil.

Now I am in that story that I created.

That I have waited for,  My reality is one that I have carefully crafted -this,

this life, an attempt to become some One

(With the emphasis on the one, because the other part

Of the story has not begun, the part where the stranger walks in and you realise that they arnt a stranger, they are the person that you have known, but just haven’t met them fully yet.)

And it is funny because in this story I have created on purpose,

The thoughts and the plans the characters and settings are now a reality. I am,

living it. Living the dream except you could take the ‘dre’ and perhaps place another three letters alongside them. Like ‘ad’ or ‘ary’. Because it is tiring and its convoluted and its lonely at times.

But at the end of the week there is the sense of having done something worthwhile

And I guess to me, that is important, to do something worthwhile

But when it takes the smile off your face, what does that say

When the end of yesterday

Is still chasing you, even after you have turned into the street of today

And the life you have made has taken a little too much energy

Replacing it with complacency

In how I present words, muddying the narrative of my role as a Mum.

And there was smallest insisting they bring the red ball and I said no and carefully explained why in my best, “I’m pretty tired, but here is my last bit of text book mumming for the day, way’.

” No, I am not listening to you”, arms folded, head turns.

And then I exploded and having run dry of real reason, I stuck with what I gave and got a blast of five year old obstinance which I deftly swallowed and internalized as my own. And there we sat head to head, horns locked, until I eventually decided that sitting in the car while I waited for the situation to deescalate was probably not the best use of our time and so I ordered us both out. Hand in hand we marched, hum shouting out his annoyance at me, me, who he wanted to run away from at the that moment, because I was not being fair, and I had made him angry.

Me asking him not to shout at me, otherwise mute , in the rain, crossing the road in the spotlight of the car head lamps illuminating his red face and my staunch frown

Until we got home and the temper rises and then falls, the words getting put on paper, (I cannot help at this moment being amazed at his ability to write a sentence. telling me what he would like to do, which is to give me a hug) ,and so we embrace and he goes upstairs to tell middlest about his love for his family, while they cruise round the kitchen preparing tea and singing.

His evening sets off again at a pace more suited to him.

I meanwhile, sit on the floor in the bathroom

And deplore, in that instant, myself, the feeling , sweeps over me and tucks itself in around my feet and mind, where it stays like a shroud, reminding me of what I should have been in that instant what I should have  done, how I should have felt and what I have done to his small mind, just by failing to be what he needed right then.

Then upstairs to help prepare tea

And clean the living room

And play Mandy and Norman with smallest

And finish the washing

And put smallest to bed

He tells me I am wonderful

And I feel the punch of mother guilt that I was not calm.

I was cross. How could I have been annoyed at that face?

And we read a book

And middlest serves tea and we listen to NKOTB on single which she brought me from the charity shop, and we chat about Spotify, and we listen to the Sweet Harmony by Liquid and then I drink a glass of wine.

And it should be fine because its Friday, it’s my free day

And it is my night

Where I write and listen to Tom Ravenscroft

With incense and chocolate

But not tonight. I escape to the bath and lay and then go back

And sit with dirty traces of cortisol that have left

Me sad and uninhabitable

And watch the EastEnders omnibus

(You are not being nice)

And stir hot milk in the pan

(No I will not)

Where I can see a line of burned milk forming

(You are so unfair)

And I drink the hot chocolate and read Ali Smith

(You have made me so cross)

And resist the urge to look at what Putin’s doing to the world

(I am so sad mummy)

And turn off the light

And ignore the urge to recall it again.

That will corner me tomorrow,

In the story I write now.

School days part 1

For smallest, who has started school.

Ride the wave

Here we stand at the divide,
Lining up to receive
other influences.
Like swarms of insects
in the distance,
coming closer.

A black cloud of Mums
Wringing hands on the edge
Of a playground
Waves of memories
Flicked back through sands
Then pulled under.

Its at times like these
Our substance shows itself,
Troubles ripple against
The threat of a north east offshore,
Then caught in a riptide,
What I am is suddenly all there

My love for you laid bare,
And as the moon
Pulls against the water within,
I turn and letting go
I pray every aid I have given you
let’s you float.

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.

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 Heiti’s Motherhood. Heiti’s 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 didn’t 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. Reading it therefore was not to find support for a difficult personal decision rather just curiosity about how other women perceive Mumhood.
What emerges from Heiti’s 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 on this matter 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 Pregnant 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 discussion centers on the issue of women’s equality which is suggested is in the the interest of fairness; however it becomes more complex when you consider what we are being encouraged to be equal about. The right to having a career and a raising a young child, are presented as going and in hand 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 can’t 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. She argues it is no longer possible for us to be present all the time or to provide the kind of care that is deemed essential for the child’s 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 , I find uncomfortable reading. The main difficulty with the argument is, if we opt out of natural motherhood in favour of the women centred approach then our children, small creatures with developing brains, are going to somehow have to sidestep their biological mechanisms and fit in with whatever it is that 21st century woman can give to them.

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.

This kind of dual thinking concerning natural vs women centred parenting was a topic I discussed with a friend years ago after a Saturday morning gymnastics 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 turned 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 I would NOT want to be at home looking after a baby all day. They are easier when they are older”. My friend confessed how he thought a lot of women want to have their cake and eat it. Although I too had been shocked at the brazen claims of gym lady ,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 finances.

The physical contradiction between 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 with 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, don’t you….”, stating the financial consequences of not having an additional income.

The issue of the cost and provision of childcare has been raised again and again in the pandemic. Eva Wiseman (The Observer 16th May 2021), comments on how undervalued and underinvested in our childcare system is in comparison to other European countries. She reflects there is a need to value the system more as we as women are raising the next generation of this country. The focus of the this view is on the provision of facilities for our children to be looked after by someone else. Essentially it’s based upon the notion of woman centred child rearing.

Perhaps what is needed is a system for allowing Mums themselves 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 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.

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 because she wants to and not because she needs to. This moment has stuck vehemently with Eva who recalls it years later; the weight of its effect prompting her to include it in her column. One wonders about the audacity of the comment and I murmured my support initially, 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 building a child’s resilience and well being is a lot harder when they are older.

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. That there is an option to do things separately.

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 loosely to suggest that shifting developmental theory somehow legitimises the morality of rebranding the role of mother into something a bt more compatible with the 21st century woman. Donald Winnicott’s theory appears to be utilised to justify a level of care given, good enough translated as a minimum requirement for the role. Winncott’s 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 a 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 visitors 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 interests that they are both happy. But does this equate to an all out rejection of natural motherhood; does it mean reducing the experience to gymnastics lady? If the central issue is about equality, then have we gained equality for ourselves at the expense of equality for the child- through a complete rejection of the very basic emotional needs of the child’s 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 would 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 separating 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 i.e made the decision to go back. Did I feel guilt? Absolutely. Maybe this came from knowing I had not ultimately 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 importantly 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 language 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 supporter of woman as a male friend once said, you nod along and shake your head appropriately to much of this information however there is something else that you are left with. Women succumb 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 described as a shameful unintended consequence of our response to the problems 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. Heiti of course looked at the ultimate question- if she ever wanted children, i am of course wondering about the process of contemplating 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).