Morning! I say cheerily to daughter 2. Why are you all annoying me so much, this morning? Is the reply. Ah ok, it’s a morning when the floor is strewn with egg shells.
In the kitchen I am making their lunches. Daughter 2 is stomping around and declaring, loudly, everything that is currently disgusting her: there is dog hair everywhere, I hate beetroot in my salad, there is nothing I like for breakfast, why is there never anything I like…We’re all zoning out, including the dogs, who are flat out on the floor, ignoring the hormonal fuss. She trips over dog 1. It sets her off again: why is he there, why isn’t our kitchen bigger, why are you all ganging up on me…
I contemplate voicing my irritation at her early morning ranting, but there just isn’t room for two of us going on, so I resort to the breathing techniques I learnt in my NCT classes 16 years ago, when one of the drama queens was but a cute little package, surrounded by calming amniotic fluid.
She’s flounced off upstairs, where her grievances are continuing to be aired to her sisters: why do you have to use my hairbrush, why don’t you get your own moisturiser, why are you wearing my tights…
She’s back downstairs. I brace myself. Muuum. I know that voice. That voice can only ever mean one thing. Can I have a friend over for a sleepover on Friday night? I look into her pleading eyes. Well, the thing is, I reply, I wouldn’t want you to be embarrassed bringing your friend to such an awful place, filled with such irritating people…and before she has a chance to respond, I gently ease her out the door to school.
We have given up teaching regular classes on a Sunday. Not for religious reasons, but for our sanity.
Partner has been excited all week at the thought of having the time to try out his new pressure washer. He set it all up this morning and started on the patio. By the time he had finished, our patio was no longer green, but also a proportion of it was no longer there. It’s ever so powerful, he said, as I looked at where bits of our patio used to be and saw them strewn across the garden.
I thought perhaps I should try to get him away from causing any more damage to our property, as he was muttering something about the conservatory windows needing a clean. I suggested a shopping trip.
I had a voucher to spend in M&S, and ended up in their changing rooms trying on a pair of jeans, not dissimilar to the ones mum bought a few weeks ago, which slightly unnerved me. She’s a glam gran, but I’m not sure I’m quite ready to field that look yet. Within minutes of entering the changing room, my nerves were shattered and my feeling of well being dismembered, by the presence of a three-way mirror. Now, I can see the point of these, but if there is one thing that is going to get you back on that January diet that has lapsed because it’s February, it’s a three-way mirror. When you are half an hour in a changing room, trying on one item of clothing and partner says when you come out, looking dejected and depressed, what’s taken you so long? You just reply: it’s because of the three-way mirror.
I had actually forgotten how they worked, until I was half undressed and happened to glance to my left, where I was confronted with my buttocks from an angle that I never usually have to endure. Oh my god! I thought to myself. People saw that view in Spain last year! I quickly put on the jeans. I turned to the front full length view. The lighting showed up every crease from face to waist. I saw that my hair needs cutting, my eyebrows need plucking and carrying on down is still work in progress. Why don’t shops install mirrors that slim you down and lights that are kind, not harsh and real. I got dressed with my eyes shut and left.
Let’s go and have a coffee and cake, partner said, cheerily, sensing that my mood might need lightening. Do I look as if I need cake, I snapped at him. Why not? He continued, chirpily, we’ve got a day off! Why not? I snarled at him, feeling that he just isn’t grasping the severity of the situation. Partner looked confused – I had entered that changing room full of positivity and happiness and he sensed that the mood had decidedly swung the opposite way. Because of the three-way mirror, that’s why not, I retorted, whilst zipping my coat up, as far as it could go.
The mirrors in Top Shop saved the day off. If you are having a ‘fat day’ – shop in Top Shop and not in M&S.
I have identified a problem with being the mother of teenage girls – I am a control freak and teenagers don’t like being controlled. Sometimes they will humour me and then, free from my clutches, carry on their way regardless. Other times they will dig their unhealthily high heels in and refuse to budge.
I am a professional snooper. So far my snooping has averted a large gathering taking place in our house whilst we were away, an inappropriate one night stand, use of a hip flask and late night doughnut eating. And that is just one – I have four more to go.
This week, however, my snooping has simply led to frustration and worry, as I overheard a snippet of conversation that has left me desperate to know more, but unable to find out. God knows I’ve tried. First, I started subtly: are you ok? Yes mum. Later that hour: everything ok? Yup. Later that evening: school ok? Yes. The next morning I’m haranguing other daughters to find out what’s going on. They don’t seem a bit worried – this worries me even more. Perhaps they are all in this together…paranoia sets in. By the evening I can’t stand it any longer and I am going for the direct approach: is it a boy? Are you gay? Are you wondering whether you might be gay? No, I’m not gay. Has someone touched you inappropriately? I don’t know what that means, so I presume not mum. Are you pregnant? No! I decide that this is an exclamation of true incredulity. I’m momentarily relieved. I go to start again. I’m gently pushed out of the room and the door is shut on me. I’m left standing outside the frontier, debating the rights of teenage privacy over a parent’s need-to-know and still I am none the wiser.
Can you just give me a clue, I ask through a crack in the door. Only if you promise you’ll stop going on, comes the reply. This seems like a fair starting point, so I agree. It’s not about me, she says. And that’s it – I’m off again: is it about your sisters? Is it about your friend, is it about your friend’s friend? Is it…MUM!! I’m being screamed at now and even I know that it is time to let it go.
I cannot believe that you buy mashed potato, my mum is shaking her head. But Waitrose Economy is a pound a packet and I make it go three ways, I protest, trying desperately to defend my actions. She’s having none of it and continues: it’s not the same as making it yourself, those poor daughters of yours. Images of starving, deprived refugees immediately come to my mind and I am failing to grasp her point: the occasional chicken nugget and shop-bought trifle, but I would hardly say, ‘poor‘. By the time I have bought a packet of potatoes and accounted for my time, I’m sure that it is cheaper to buy the ready made, I keep going – I’m not giving in on this one. Rubbish, mum counters. Touché.
I have a degree, have represented my country on many occasions, used to speak pretty good French and gave birth to four children, but still I disappoint my mother.
I do fear, however, that I have inherited mum’s high expectations for my daughters. In a past life, whilst on a trip around the world with four children under 8, I dipped my toes into home schooling. When we returned, daughter 4 was plonked in a reception class. I was rather nervous when I attended her first parents’ consultation, as husband and I had been the only teachers she had ever had. The report was good. But don’t you find her concentration is very poor, I enquired at the end. We found that after a couple of hours she just gave up and rested her head on the table. The severe looking teacher looked me square in the eye: Mrs Longhurst, she said. The guidelines stipulate one minutes’ teaching for each year of the child’s life and then a break. Your daughter is 5 and I can assure you that there is nothing wrong with her concentration. Touché.
The floor is not a shelf, I tell daughter 4, looking at her pile of school uniform, strewn across the bedroom. I enter daughter 2’s room, the floor is not a shelf, I’m now raising my voice, as a wet towel is staring at me from below. I go into daughter 3’s room, I am now screaming the mantra that my Nanna used to say in her lilting, Scottish accent, THE FLOOR IS NOT A SHELF! I’m sick of sniffing knickers, like a dog on heat. If they are dirty, put them in the dirty laundry bag, I drone on, you can’t miss it – it says: ‘dirty laundry’ on the front. Leave your rooms tidy, I yell in a now slightly demonic and threatening tone, that I feel sure will have some impact.
They leave for school like a storm cloud, moving out of the door and down the road, creating thunderous noise and sparks of lightening, as they move on mass, leaving peace and tranquility behind.
I go and check their rooms. There are lumps under daughter 1’s duvet. I presume it’s fat cat, scaredy cat and possibly partner, hiding from the storm. I go into daughter 2’s room and see similar lumps. I’m now suspicious and pull back the duvet to reveal a wet towel. I march back into daughter 1’s room, whip back the duvet to reveal half her wardrobe plus a collection of biscuit wrappers. I peel underwear off the floor, as well as single, lonely, dirty socks. At Christmas I adorned a Christmas tree with all the odd socks I had collected since September. I always believe in carrying a threat through.
Partner hands me a cup of tea, with the same look on his face as the morning before and the morning before that. What did you threaten them with this morning? he asks wearily. Airing their dirty linen in public I reply – job done.
Walking past an off licence today, I saw a sign in the window: did you know that 2 to 3 glasses of wine per day can reduce your risk of giving a s**t. I like this sentiment, as it is the slightly rebellious antidote to the chief medical officer’s statement today, that every time we lift a glass of wine to our lips, we must think about how that glass is taking us a step closer to cancer. Cancer is horrible and scary, but the thought of being held to ransom through fear on a Friday night, glass in hand, is even more scary.
Before I cross a road, I don’t immediately think of death. I think about assessing the risk in order to prevent death. I suppose that this is essentially what the CMO is telling us to do, but it gets our middle class drinkers’ backs up. Remember your Green Cross Code, as Tufty Fluffytail can’t always be looking out for you, but the Nanny State can.
In today’s paper it also says that an extra hour spent sitting down over the course of each week is linked with a 22% increased risk of having type 2 diabetes. So I shall make sure that I drink at least 3 of my allowable 14 units this week, whilst standing. This, coupled with the fact that red wine is apparently good for you and an article last week stating that half a bottle of red wine a day keeps you trim, especially when washed down with a couple of cups of coffee, all makes me agree with Dad when he used to tell me: you can always find a newspaper article to back up your vices. I have to say though, I am struggling to find articles condoning chewing pen lids, picking the fruit bits out of the Fruit and Fibre packet late at night and using daughter 1’s Lady Million perfume without her knowledge, but I do know for sure, that in this house, people are watching me…
I have noticed that I am reducing the lives of the people around me, into a series of emoticons. As I summarise their life and emotions into this neat little package, I do wonder whether the receiver is irritated by it. Friend has flu, I have the answer: not sympathy and flowers, but an emoticon with a mask over its face, which is basically telling her: don’t come near me or my family at this time. Friends’ entire family is struck down by flu. Do I offer to cook them dinners for a week? No, I text 4 emoticons with masks over their faces.
Similarly love. Love has been reduced to easy sound bites through the emoticon. I can send partner nine different hearts in two seconds flat to illustrate my deep and sincere love…so much easier than organising a romantic meal out and we certainly don’t have time for dirty weekends, so the aubergine and cherry emoticons just have to do.
I find myself getting irritated when I can’t quite find the one to fit the sentiment. I scroll through, searching for that perfect emoji, that will save me the bother of a phone call.
Sometimes I receive a text with an emoji that I don’t know and I spend ages trying to work out what spin the sender is putting on their words. It’s easy to get paranoid with emojis: they have the ability to change meaning, to convey irony, sarcasm and wit in a way that leaves me wondering how the Brontë sisters managed without them. But now I have discovered that there is an emojipedia. Look out – coming to a library near you!
Emoticons roll with the times: one for a man and woman kissing, but also for two men and two women kissing. But where is the one that says: ‘just piss off and leave me alone’? We need one that sticks two fingers up. I was amused when I got my new phone and saw that I can now add skin tone to my hand signals. This would be useful if I want to give someone the ‘V’. I’d choose dark brown and say, ‘that wasn’t me!’
These days I think a great deal about dog poo. I’m pretty sure I spend more time considering dog poo, than I considered my own kids’ poo when I had three in nappies. (Although I do recall when daughter 4 pooed in the bath when all 4 girls were in it, because that was very funny).
Anyway, these days it’s all about the dogs and I was very amused to hear that the first London borough to introduce DNA testing to name and shame dog owners who don’t pick up after their dogs, is Barking!
Partner and I are very anal (sorry) about picking up after dog 1 and dog 2, even when they run straight past the poo bin to the opposite side of the rec, poo where there is no bin and say, ha! Be my poo slave, human.
This morning, dog 1 ran off and pooed. Partner and I dutifully went over to the poo site, only to find three perfect dollops of poo in front of us. Which is his? Partner asked, what I presumed was a rhetorical question. You’ll have to pick one and if it’s warm then it’s his, I said, helpfully. We both stood and studied the poos. It was like a Saturday night TV show. Now, we could have picked up all three, but I have to say that I have the same aversion to other dogs’ poos as I used to have changing other kids’ nappies. As if knowing what went into the making of that poo makes all the difference. Partner plumped for the middle one. I had already thought it would be the one on the right. It’s warm! He exclaimed. You’d have thought he had won the lottery. A fellow dog walker passed by. We tried to hide our excitement for partner’s win.
Our friends’ Great Dane eats items of clothing, which then get pooed out, washed and back in the airing cupboard on a 24 hour turnaround. I asked if anyone in the house ever objects to this, as I imagined what daughter 2 might say if her Jack Wills’ pants went through this cycle on a regular basis. What they don’t know, won’t hurt them, she said with a smile. Yes, I thought. That’s exactly what went through my mind when dog 1 swallowed daughter 1’s earring and threw it up an hour later. She’ll never know.