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A couple of things have recently made me question: when will my girls ever feel liberated? You know that wonderful feeling when you feel free from constraint and free from serious worry. I think that I was probably first aware of this feeling of liberation when I went travelling for 6 months before university. Away from parents and everything else that was known, I felt liberated by the lure of the unknown and by the fact that I didn’t have to be anywhere at any particular time. Reading the Times today, Emma Duncan points out how different backpacking is these days. It’s more a case of, not if you will bump into someone you know in Laos or Vietnam, but who and when? Hostels can be pre-booked by smart phones and debit cards work in most places. I guess that google maps may ensure that you never get lost. None of this sounds very liberating to me. I would send a postcard home when I felt like it and could never afford to ring, so never did and because no-one expected me to, no-one worried. Now, even if your child is in deepest Borneo, you at least expect a Facebook update and quite often a photo on Instagram of them in a Starbucks at some iconic site.
I was chatting to partner about this liberation malarkey and asking what he thought. When they get their first flat! he said triumphantly, that’s when I felt truly liberated. But they won’t be able to afford to leave home, I said pessimistically/realistically.
Watching the girls on their phones, I feel even less convinced that they will ever discover the true meaning of liberation, at least in the way that I understand the meaning of the word. Their obsession with keeping a snapchat streak going, leaves me with little hope. Duke of Edinburgh weekends really get in the way of the streaks. (Please don’t ask me to define a streak – I was told once, but am still not sure. I am fairly certain that no-one takes their clothes off). Oh, the stress of how this streak issue would be overcome, completely overrode the need to check that the tent was complete (it wasn’t…)
I have recently made a huge effort to get to grips with Twitter. By ‘huge effort’ I mean that I have stared at it with fear and trepidation and no understanding whatsoever of the symbols and even less understanding of the etiquette that is evidently involved. I know I sound old, but I can tell you that it doesn’t leave me feeling liberated. Twitter makes me feel beholden and stressed and even when I am more accomplished at it and I can remove the stress, I think that I will still feel beholden to it. So I’m guessing that this is how my girls feel to what lies within their phones. Rather than these amazing pieces of technology liberating them, they are being tied down by them and frequently tied up in knots by them. Online bullying, for example, is so much easier than punching someone in the face; silent and invisible to others. The online bully is in your bedroom day and night: they go to sleep by your side and wake you up in the morning.
Then there’s sex and according to Peggy Orenstein in her new book: Girls and Sex: Navigating the Complicated New Landscape, ‘girls feel entitled to engage in sexual behaviour, but they don’t feel entitled to enjoy it’. In her research, she interviewed 70 girls and young women aged from 15 to 20 and found that, ‘half the girls had experienced something along the spectrum of coercion to rape’. One 17 year old girl said: “I’m proud of my body and I never feel more liberated than when I wear skimpy clothes.” In the next breath, however, she said that when she put on weight she didn’t wear suggestive clothes because she was worried that boys would call her, ‘the fat girl’.
Add to this the rising pension age and by the time my girls are 60, they could well have another 15 years to work their socks off.
So I asked my girls: when do you feel liberated?
What does that mean? they replied.
You know, I said, that feeling of freedom that makes you feel so good. After exams, when I will be able to drive, when I’m 18, came the replies, oh and when I have my phone, daughter 1 said definitively, because without that, I feel trapped.
What do I know about this generation…? I am still learning. Understanding Twitter and understanding my girls and their experiences, are both still very much work in progress.
So apparently, eating fat can make you slim…bloody marvelous. Fish and chips, bacon butties and pizza…what, pardon? Sorry…what did you say?? Oh, I getcha, healthy fats. This is celebrity trainer, James Duigan’s idea of what we should all be following:
Monday: ‘Put wilted spinach in a ramekin’, Tuesday: On Monday night…bla, bla, bla (it lost me after telling me to basically ‘be prepared’ 12 hours in advance…I mean, ya whaaat?!
Wednesday: ‘Fry onion in coconut oil, add spinach and wilt’
Ok, ok yeah: ‘and wilt’, because by Wednesday morning on this bloody diet, I would be wilting. Not through protein loading or overuse of the current foodie lovey that is: coconut oil, but wilting because I hardly have time in the mornings to pee. I don’t have time in the mornings to look in the mirror first thing and spot that I look like shit (luckily), I certainly don’t have time to be pleasant. I already have my mornings mapped out and trust me baby, there is no room for ramekins in there. There just isn’t the space to fry f-all and I’m telling you right now, honey, if you think I can deal with garlic…yes, you heard me right, garlic (see Thursday), at 7am, then you really don’t know me! I AM LUCKY TO MAKE IT TO THURSDAY!!! By Thursday morning I am whooping and hollering that tomorrow is Friday and I can crack open wine with impunity. I am NOT in the crushing garlic zone! ‘Fill with smashed avocado’…seriously, is this for real? By Thursday there are several things, such as teenagers’ heads, that need smashing together, but smashing an avocado?? Really?
Friday: more wilting spinach – I can relate to that – yes, we’re wilting it right up here – and, ‘scramble’…or more like: SCRAMBLE!!! (Said in a delirious Saturday night tv presenter’s over-enthusiastic voice, with the emphasis on the final syllables).
And SCRAMBLE I shall – away from celebrity trainer: James Duigan and his diet. It may well be Lara Stone’s food of choice, perhaps it gets David Gandy fired up in the mornings, but for me, I’ll stick to my well-oiled routine: alarm, groan, shower, still groaning but a little less so, background noise of kids killing each other over tights, downstairs, listen to kids constantly bickering over naff all that is important, sign a planner – either for four weeks in advance or for four weeks that I haven’t signed it, trip over the dogs, trip over the kids, hear that their train has been cancelled, groan, make packed lunches if I forgot to the night before and boot four kids out the door…and BREATHE…is there room in my life for wilting bloody spinach or sprinkling ANYTHING, let alone garlic (see Day 6) …the answer is no.
Does anyone have time for this? Really…anyone? (Actually, if you really do, then please don’t make me feel any more crap by telling me).
Btw…I haven’t even started on his lunch menu, but safe to say, if you don’t like fish then you’re scuppered and if anyone knows how to stuff a trout (no rude jokes please guys) or to make, ‘courgette ribbons’, then please e mail me. Actually, don’t bloody bother, because I will be too busy having a life.
Brexit sounds like a new breakfast bar and, ‘remain’ just sounds too simple…maybe this will help: (or not at all)
You put your Cameron in
Your Boris out
In, out, in, out,
You shake it all about.
You do the Hokey Votey and you turn around
What the hell is it all about?
Woah, the Hokey Votey,
Woah, the Hokey Votey,
Woah, the Hokey Votey,
Ref-er-en-dum, blah, blah, blah!
You put your Obama in
Your UKIP out
In, out, in, out,
With who will you hang out?
You read the papers, watch the TV
And it makes you want to shout
Tell me, what is it all about?
Your put your markets in
Your immigrants out
In, out, in, out,
Which one has more clout?
You’re relying on Joe Public and your average lager lout
To decide what it’s all about…
Easy travel in
In, out, in, out,
Our future’s sure in doubt.
You see, you watch, you listen
To the politicians spout
But which one is gonna stand out?
All together now
You put your country in
You put your country out
You’ve got a big decision
Now who’s got the loudest shout?
You do the Hokey Votey and you turn around
That’s what it’s all about!
My youngest daughter is 12 years old. She’s talented and wonderful and lovely in many ways, and right now she is often angry. I talk to other parents about their pre-teens and they often comment that they feel the tweenie stage starts at 8 or so years old. She’s the youngest of 5 girls, whose changes I have observed…I know what’s coming and so this was our conversation:
Why does everyone keep telling me I’m so angry all the time? I’M NOT ANGRY!!! (said as a yell)
I sit down on her bed, wrap my arms around her and pull her close to me. Her head rests on my lap.
You see, darling, it’s because you are angry. Every time you answer a question, you sound angry. Whenever I ask you to do something, you look angry. Your hormones are raging around your body. You are at a difficult and at times horrible, angry age. You may not realise how very angry you sound, because those nasty hormones make you think that it is everyone else who is having a go and getting at you, but we’re not. We are just being us and you are just being you and in a few months time that ‘you’ will be a slightly calmer person. You will be a teenager. You will still be horrible and angry, but slightly less so. You will still think that everyone else is unfairly having a go, but you will gradually begin to see it from our point of view too. Then, not too long after this you will occasionally be pleasant. Just often enough that I see glimpses of how things might be one day, when we might go for a coffee and chat.
Until this time sweetheart, we will take deep breaths and we will tolerate your anger. We will sometimes shout back at you, but this will not make us feel too good. We will love you with every bone in our bodies and we know that this time will, as it has done before, pass.
I don’t like to leave the house looking like a bag of shite, though that’s certainly not to say this doesn’t happen. I recall a conversation with a friend some years ago, (when I was younger and less understanding), in which I commented on the fact that as celebrities know that they are going to get photographed when they leave their front door, why don’t they at least make an effort to look half decent. I went on to say that I never leave the house thinking that I look like shit. My friend was appalled. She couldn’t believe that I was judging the celebs so harshly and added that she often leaves the house without having made any effort whatsoever. We were good friends and I still to this day remember being surprised at our difference of opinion – it’s one of those conversations that stays with you.
A selection of celebs who are looking a bit shit (or, as I would say now that I am older and more sympathetic to the above weary and stressed out appearances, the camera just caught them at an unfortunate angle)
Appearances are an interesting thing. We all know the old adage that appearances can be deceiving and of course this is true. However, quite often they are the real deal: the parent with baby sick on their shoulder tells a story of a family with a newborn child. The teenager with her tits hanging out tells us of her need for attention, me covered in dog hair shows that I own dogs and so on. It did amuse me when I heard about my little sister’s recent job interview for a job as a Hostage Negotiator. She told me that while she was waiting to be seen by the panel, she realised that her skirt was tucked into her knickers. Phew, she chuckled to the receptionist, can you imagine if I hadn’t noticed! That’s the least of your worries, ma’am, the receptionist replied, your knickers are on inside out!
Sometimes we get away with an appearance issue, like the time partner inadvertently wore his slippers to Co-op, and sometimes we don’t, such as the time he took my Taekwon-do trousers squad training instead of his own. When he got back and told me he had worn them I was mortified with embarrassment for him. He, on the other hand just shrugged his shoulders and said, “it was fine, no-one even noticed.” The following week I entered the changing rooms to hoots of laughter from the female squad, who were beside themselves laughing at the fact he had trained in my trousers. Sometimes, ignorance of others’ thoughts is bliss. (Partner did rightly point out, that had he not trained in my trousers, he would have been training in his pants…I shudder to think…)
So what are your thoughts on this quote:
“In your 20’s and 30’s, you worry about what other people think. In your 40’s and 50’s you stop worrying about what other people think. Finally in your 60’s and 70’s, you realize they were never thinking about you in the first place!”
At the end of the day, if someone’s appearance doesn’t have a direct impact on us, then do we really care? And most interestingly – SHOULD we?
As I was lovingly (painstakingly) creating a Shepherd’s Pie this morning and was smugly spreading the ESSENTIAL Waitrose mash over the top (the clue is in the name), I remembered that number 1 friend had confessed to me recently, that not only does she too buy packet mash, but also frozen chopped onions and garlic. I don’t think this is a secret. I have loyally kept a number of secrets over our 30 year friendship, so I’d feel bad if I fucked up now. Anyway, what a great idea, I thought. After chopping garlic I find that my fingers can smell for days – I don’t consider it a personal hygiene issue, I consider it a hazard of the job. So why wouldn’t you buy frozen? Just the wrath of your mother to deal with…well, more that, ‘I’m disappointed in you’ look, but I dealt with that over bought mash, so I feel empowered to fessing up to any short cuts now.
In fact, I consider shortcuts, in all their various forms, an essential part of living. Shortcuts and delegating. Since my shoulder op I have had to do a little more delegating than my control freakish nature would normally allow. It’s actually quite liberating – that is until you ask a teenager to do something that is of little complexity, but somehow they go about it as if they are building a house out of matchsticks. Please can you dust? (A look). Where’s the duster? In the cupboard. Which cupboard? The one under the sink. Which sink? The kitchen sink. Which duster shall I use? Any. Where’s the polish? Oh for the love of Jesus, just go and hang the washing, please. Where do I hang it? FFS!!!
This is not to say, of course, that I must stop trying to delegate jobs to the kids. It’s good for them and one day – please God I hope – they will get better. Their cooking skills are pretty good, toilet cleaning less so.
Taking a break from both delegating and persevering today, I found myself dusting. What a bloody thankless task, I thought to myself. What a waste of time! No sooner is it done, than it’s not done. Literally, you turn your back, get to the door and BOOM – another layer of bloody dust has descended on your handy work. The worst bit of all: there’s no shortcut! Even if you pay for a cleaner, you will have hardly handed them a few crisp notes and BOOM, there it is again. This is no doubt why, when the raconteur Quentin Crisp was asked why he didn’t clean his New York apartment, he replied: “Because after three years, darling, the dust doesn’t get any worse.” I don’t think it takes that long.
Mind you – done and then not done – brings me back to my Shepherd’s Pie. All that work, even with shortcuts (I still have to open the packets and add pepper) and no sooner is it sat steaming on the table to cries of: oh Mum – that looks delicious! (Don’t kid yourself love, it’ll be the usual: are there mushrooms in that? Did you leave one bit without cheese on top, ‘cos I don’t like cheese remember? Oh, you didn’t put the peas IN IT, did you? We like them separate!) Then despite all the protestations, it will be gone and I will be delegating the washing up to bickering souls. Ah life…
Us ladies are a funny (fabulous, wonderful and charming) bunch of people. No sooner has a friend on Facebook given the slightest whiff of concern about saggy boobs and there are 25 women telling her (quite rightly) that she is beautiful inside – at the same time as being the voices of realism and telling her that they too have saggy tits since breastfeeding 1, 2, 5 kids and then throwing in something sex related along the lines of: bet hubby doesn’t care though 😉 to which the one with saggy tits replies: glad I’m not the only one! THAT’S why we are so amazing, because we empathise, but we are realists. We empathise because we’ve been through similar experiences, we’re realists because these experiences are often shit and sometimes demoralising and often painful, all in varying degrees and we know that you can’t always sugarcoat it.
So back to the, ‘but you are beautiful inside’, in all its various guises.
What I want to know is, us ladies are so bloody good at dishing all this out, why do we find it ABSOLUTELY IMPOSSIBLE to believe our own hype? Because let’s face it ladies, if we really did believe this, why the hell are we spending so much money on make-up? Why are we chucking bloody awful slimshakes down our necks and pretending we’re ok doing it (at the same time as retching into the sink)? Why the heck are we googling ‘tummy tuck’ and thinking which of the kids we would sell to pay for it? If we’re all so bloody gorgeous on the inside? LIKE THAT’S ALL THAT MATTERS! The point is, of course, that however lovely we are as people, most of us want to look good on the outside too, no matter how much we all, in each others’ lowest moments, are trying to convince ourselves otherwise.
So how about some alternative quotes to wheel out the next time a friend tells us that she hates her tits or her arse or her hair or her thighs. Perhaps these will encompass both empathy and realism in fairly equal measure, without us having to muster up a weak smile and nod when one of us tells you that you are inwardly beautiful, whilst you are thinking: but I wasn’t feeling that inner beauty today, as I told the husband he was a twat and shouted back louder at the kids than they shouted at me. These quotes are for us ladies:
The can is open and the worms are crawling everywhere, since a mumsnet user posted a question on the parenting forum:
“Would you leave a peacefully sleeping 10m old home alone for 7 minutes?” The user explained that their 10-month-old sleeps reliably and at the same time every day. They also said that their journey took 7 minutes and the destination was 50m away.
It sparked over 800 replies and naturally the Daily Mail got hold of it too…the debate rampages on. Since Madeleine McCann went missing in Portugal in 2007, we have become the judges and the jury. Before this, we all went with our gut. She was 3 years old when ‘it’, whatever ‘it’ is, happened and I had children not much older than her. Of course it hit home. You couldn’t help but become obsessed with the story. I can clearly remember watching a news report when Kate McCann, the mother, was first visiting the police station to be questioned. How can she look so calm? I thought (judging – thinking how I’d react). How dare I judge! I didn’t just have an opinion, I judged. Is there a difference between the two? The point is, pre Madeleine’s still unexplained disappearance, I left my babies alone and not just me, friends and family behaved in a similar way to me. Sounds shocking? You haven’t heard the details yet. The mumsnet lady hadn’t given details, so of course we all form an opinion on what we can see or hear. After a negative reaction to her post, with some positives for what she did too, she gave us avid readers more details: she lives in a flat and she was picking up boxes of clothes so that she could try them on in peace…hey lady, stop! You’re making it sound worse to the mumsnet gestapo, not better! She says that she did a risk assessment first, possibly similar to the one you might do before opening a second bottle of wine, she assessed the risk as, ‘oh fuck it, go on then!’. Yes, I’ve done that same risk assessment that she did, on my babies. What allows us as mums to love, cherish, live and die for our babies, but still happily leave them alone in certain situations? Buying petrol – you do a quick risk assessment: baby asleep in car seat, door locked, I’ll be literally minutes and can see the car from the window, tick. The positives hugely override the negatives of waking her up, especially when you’ve spent the past 30 minutes driving around getting her to sleep and that’s why you now need the bloody petrol. Then, while you are in the petrol station, a car that is parked on a hill opposite rolls down the hill, onto the garage forecourt and into the side of the car where your bundle is sleeping. Unlikely? It happened to me when I was a child. Is it ever worth the risk?
People replied to the lady on mumsnet saying: what if a fire ripped through her house while she was out. Others posted, ‘unlikely’. The point is that we never know what might happen and you can bet that all of us who may say fair play to her, would be the first to tut if there had been a fire. So, back to the days of the gut instinct? When my children were tiny, I lived in a village, which perhaps made me feel (stupidly) safe, or perhaps I was just bloody knackered and my brain was in that place they pack their bags and take themselves off to when baby one appears. I don’t know why I did it, but I parked my car, complete with 4 kids under 5 in it, outside our local village shop, left the engine running and ran in to buy something. My risk assessment was screwed. Maybe I thought no-one would want 4 kids under 5 and would leave them well alone. Another mum came into the shop and asked me whether I wanted someone to take them, as she handed me my car keys. I was incensed (embarrassed) – how dare she! Looking back on the incident, my reaction is: how could I have done that?! But I did.
Perhaps the answer to the worms is never to take a risk. Just simply imagine that the worst may very well happen, rather than very well won’t. Is this a healthy way to live, adding to the neurosis that comes with the title of ‘parent’?
One thing that is for certain: as a nation we have become extremely judgemental. I suspect it is the rise in social media that is to blame for this. We play out our lives on line and we are bate. One of my favourite quotes is:
Never criticise a man until you’ve walked a mile in his moccasins.
Temporary traffic lights 😡 My life seems to have become a series of traffic lights. So, when I’m sitting at a red light now, I think about projects I’m working on that aren’t moving forwards and try to work out solutions. When I’m at an amber light, I think about ideas that have just taken off and that I am excited about and when I reach a light that is green I give some thought to all the positives in my life; all the things that are going really well and bits of my life that I am exremely grateful for……nah, do I bollocks! When I see yet more f***ing temporary traffic lights I scream nooooooooooo more! I’M LATE ALREADY!!!