Tuesday, 11 June 2013

There's always something ...

Life is too short to grate my own cheese. In addition, I have found that I possess neither the time nor the inclination to make my own pastry, bake my own muesli bars or separate my own lettuce leaves from the stalk.

I just can't seem to embrace the role of Catering Manager in our household. It just isn't for me. Shame, really. So, instead of gleaning joy from browsing a myriad of ingredients with which to lovingly create three course meals for my family, I get a kick out of ordering the items in my trolley just so. I pretend that there's a spot prize for the best organisation of trolley contents, which I would totally win by the way. I imagine that other shoppers are secretly jealous of my obviously neat and ordered life, rather than secretly judging me for obviously intending to purchase processed children's snacks.

Parenting guilt. There's always something. I feel guilty for not dehydrating my own fruit so M has something homemade to snack on. I feel guilty for not relishing the opportunity to cook for my loved ones and therefore show my love in a practical way. I feel guilty for not taking my toddler grocery shopping with me when other parents have to take theirs. I feel guilty for feeling guilty all the time instead of enjoying every moment, as if that is something that is even possible.

The thing is, I'm not really cut out for any of this. Thankfully, M hasn't seemed to notice. Yet.

photo credit: · sk├źne · via photopin cc

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Guest post

I have written a guest post for the blog of markusj75.

You can read it here.

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

The pursuit of happiness

As I sat in the front row of a jazz club the other night, within spitting distance of the brass section (their saliva, not mine, being the main concern), second glass of wine in hand, the thought struck me: this is what other people do. People who are not me. Other people know what they enjoy and go about doing it as often as possible.

I have been challenged to come up with a list of enjoyable activities, not just to refer to wistfully, but to implement regularly. I didn't realise it would be so hard. Having started by including such items as 'manicure' and 'facial', as I have heard these are the sorts of things women do to relax, I soon abandoned them in favour of things I actually like the sound of. For example, playing with my Hello Kitty sticker book. (Yes, I am 6). Or, having a cup of tea on my own. Or, practising my eyeliner skills, which, if I can help it, nobody will ever see.

All this enforced thinking about What I Like has reminded me that once upon a time, I had a casual, everyday sense of fun. I may not have been exactly carefree but I wore a frivolous, multi coloured striped top with a large bow on it from Miss Selfridge. I dyed my hair bright red for ages. Now my clothes are functional and the hair dye I have just purchased is as close to my natural colour (minus the greys) as I could find. Invisible colour, you might say. Invisible, sensible, don't-look-at-me colour. If I catch anyone looking at me at the supermarket I hope to God I've managed to fully dress myself in the mayhem that is life with a toddler. If not, well, it's too late, isn't it. 

I have already been working on retrieving my mojo, as inspired by Ministry of Mum and The Secret Life of Kate, but my efforts have been largely concentrated on weight loss and a pathetic attempt at fitness. It didn't occur to me that doing what I enjoy could be an important part of the bigger picture, and help me feel like 'me' again.

So, raise your glasses! Here's to more music, Merlot and the long-delayed acquisition of my mojo.

photo credit: ♥ KawaiiCloud ♥ via photopin cc

Sunday, 17 February 2013

All play and no fun

So, playgroup. A minefield of potential hazards, parenting philosophies and social awkwardness. I go because it's good for M. I guess. Social interaction with other kids and all that. It's also good for me. I guess. Making friends and all that lark. It's just that I find it excruciating. 

The first week we attended M somehow managed to fall off a chair and hit his head, twice: once on the corner of the table, then again on the way down as his forehead made contact with the concrete. Welcome to us! We need first aid! What a sparkling first impression we made.

If I'm not trying to protect him from further head injuries, I'm trying to keep him from being mown down by older children zooming around on wheels. Some kids will stop and offer an impatient "Beep beep!" before going on their merry way. Others won't. Little fingers get slammed in play kitchen cupboard doors and drawers. Little feet still getting used to shoes trip over plastic dinosaurs. It feels as though there are a million dangers lurking around every corner and in every toy box. 

I know what you're going to say: it's important for him to be able to explore his world. I can't protect him from everything and I shouldn't try. Well, get lost. I hate that he could get hurt at any moment by any one of a myriad of hazards, including other children. I can't stand it. 

Then there are the other parents. Everyone has a different approach to raising their children. If my child and someone else's clash over Thomas, what is the etiquette? My instinct is to model 'good sharing' regardless of who had it first, which means the other child gets the toy whilst M shakes with frustration. Is that really 'good sharing', or am I simply projecting my need to cause as little inconvenience to others as possible on to my son? If another child (known to be rough) hits mine but the parent doesn't notice and it probably didn't hurt, what is the etiquette? Remove my crying boy and pretend it didn't happen, distracting him with a plastic dinosaur? 

There are no guidelines. I have to make it up as I go along. Just because I'm a grownup doesn't mean I understand any of these social dynamics. I find myself making dozens of decisions a day without having the experience or knowledge to back them up. I can see myself responding to M's "But why?" in years to come with a predictable "Because I said so", which of course really means, "I have no idea why, but you put me on the spot and now I have to stick with my original decision lest you think me inconsistent, which I suspect would be a far greater crime. You'll thank me when you're older".

Maybe I should just stay home. I'm sure my little boy will be capable of inventing as many imaginary friends as necessary to make up for it.

photo credit: clogsilk via photopin cc

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Perfect parenting

We all know that perfection is unattainable. Right? Then why are so many of us perfectionists? 

Perfectionism crops up in various areas of my life. For a long time I let it stop me from doing what I desperately wanted to do, until I made a conscious effort to do it anyway. It was scary, because I really didn't want it to be crap. I'm still not convinced it wasn't. That's not the point. I had to reject a long-held belief that unless I could do something perfectly, it wasn't worth doing.

Before M was born, I had a special daydream. I was holding my smiling, beatific baby, and we were dancing together in his/her nursery as the sunlight streamed through the window. The song playing was something by Ronan Keating. I can't remember which one. Something about rollercoasters. This was my picture of impending motherhood. It was going to be magnificent and full of cuddles and the joy of togetherness.

If you're a reader of my blog, you may know that the reality was somewhat different. It still is somewhat different. There is laughter but there is also a fair bit of crying. I get cross a lot. Mainly, I suppose, because I want my toddler to behave like a grown up. I want him to appreciate everything I work so hard to do for him. Things I try to do perfectly. When he makes a mess, my first thought is, "I've just washed / tidied / arranged that nicely". When he gets frustrated that I'm giving something or someone else my attention, I think, "Can I not just do This One Thing without you getting uppity? It's not all about you, kiddo!" 

My son isn't conforming to the original image I had of him. Neither am I conforming to the image of a serene, well-adjusted me. We're just muddling through. Which is why I get irate (my favourite activity, it seems) when I see this sort of headline on a parenting magazine: "Perfect Play Dates - less fights, more fun". Our children's play dates are meant to be perfect now?! Here follows my letter of protest.

"Dear Coles Baby & Toddler Magazine

"I'm writing with regard to a headline on the cover of your Spring 2012 edition. 'Perfect Play Dates' is an irresponsible title for the article.

"Parents, especially first-timers, are under an enormous amount of pressure to live up to an ideal largely perpetuated by the media.

"If you were genuinely interested in offering advice and support to parents alongside self-promotion, perhaps you could consider your use of alliteration in future. Stop pressuring parents to strive for perfection. It doesn't exist."

May I encourage you also to fight against the tyranny of perfection. You will need to start by forcibly restraining me from arranging things nicely.

The politics of pink

My son is regularly mistaken for a girl. This doesn't bother me. He's only 14 months old, after all. He has lovely golden curls which I never want to cut off. (I'm going to though, alright? Eventually).

It seems to really bother those who do the mistaking, as it were. They become very apologetic and assume they have committed some terrible faux pas. I don't think they believe me when I say I don't mind. Sometimes I sense their indignation at the way my child is presented, as if he should be offering more concrete clues as to his gender: 1) he has curls, 2) he is wearing a pink shirt, 3) it is 'teamed' with blue shorts. This confuses people. 

My boy is still so young yet already there is societal pressure on him to conform. Fashion is just one area of many. Variety in boys' clothing is generally non-existent; the uniform of T-shirt and shorts is presented in a palette of navy, khaki and brown. Red for Christmas, maybe. My son has personality and flair. Khaki just doesn't suit his nature nor his skin tone. Pink is a much more suitable match. So sue me.

I don't wish I had a girl. I'm not trying subconsciously to turn my toddler into one. I just want him to be who is. 

Saturday, 4 August 2012

On becoming a feminist

Am I contributing to the rule of the patriarchy by choosing to be a stay at home mother? Can I call myself a feminist even though I am dependent on a man economically? 

Perhaps, and yes, I think so. Confusing, isn't it.

I was on a journey towards feminism for a long time. I was expecting a moment of clarity, when all of a sudden I would just know, or for someone to say, 'Hey you! Yes, you. I give you permission to be a feminist.' No prizes for spotting the flaws there.

In the end I just decided that I identified with feminism, that equality was important to me, and that was that. There was no fanfare as such (but I have ordered a badge from the very lovely and inspirational Ruth). I was prepared to increase my reading on the subject, and have started with gusto; but before I have had a chance to get comfortable, it seems I may not be one at all.

Can there be more than one definition of feminism? I suppose that's what it boils down to for me. If there is disagreement on what it constitutes, who gets the final say? 

I am aware that the feminism I identify with is very much a Western, privileged brand, chiefly concerned with egalitarian relationships (my marriage, my family) and equal opportunities (my career, challenging gender stereotypes). I have little concept of the experiences of millions of women around the world who do not have my quality of life. That in itself must mean that my interpretation of feminism is different to theirs.

All I can reasonably do, I think, is apply my ideals to my personal situation (thereby making it practical rather than theoretical) whilst seeking to improve my knowledge and awareness of the bigger picture. At present, that means choosing to care for my son, until such time as it makes sense to integrate other activities, paid employment included.

I managed to become a feminist without gaining anyone else's permission. I think it's logical to assume it's up to me whether I remain one or not.