Mirrors of my Madness

When I look in the mirror I am always, oh so slightly, disappointed.  Darling, don’t misunderstand… I am most certainly not a woman obsessed with looks and have become generally ok with the fact that I am a slightly grubbier version of my pre-child self.  No.  Instead, the issue lies with my dreams of being high maintenance.PicMonkey Collage

You see, dear reader, I have aspirations of regular leg, bikini and crack waxing.  Dreams of shiny, smooth, but beautifully bouncy (aka Cheryl Versini-what’s-her-face? Cole) hair.  Hope of no ladders in my tights, no toothpaste stain on my black top, no VPL during my latest squeeze into a bodycon dress.  However, the reality of each visit to the mirror presents a cold slap in the face.  Hair is fluffier than expected.  T-zone greasier.  Lines deeper.  Clothes grayer.  My day-to-day solution?  I simply stopped looking in the mirror.

I find that this avoidance tactic allows me to strut around with a deluded self-confidence and has worked well for the past six years. Inside my head I’m a Hollywood starlet yet in reality I’m an Eastenders extra.  And darling… I’m almost there accepting the fact.  However, I now have a new problem. A different reflection to contend with. One I can’t escape or avoid. A mirror that delves deeper than my running mascara. A reflection of my deepest soul, of my innermost flaws and imperfections… It’s my bloody kids.

It starts when they’re first born…  “Who does he look like?”  “Who does he resemble?”  His nose, his eyes, his hair colour.  And, that’s fine.  It’s a kind of cute discussion at this point and it’s clearly a happy distraction from how little sleep you’re getting and how sore your breastfeeding boobs are.

Then… as they get a little older, their facial expressions and body movements, quite naturally, take on a freaky similarity to those people they share genes with… “He just smiled like Granny” (when breaking wind).  “He runs like his uncle” (while naked?!)  These observations are also fine.  OK, it’s kind of freaky to watch and certainly makes you realise you were wrong about the whole nurture rather than nature belief you held for the last 20 years or so.  But… it’s ok.  You can handle it.  And… OK, it’s weird that they dance / frown / wee in the same way as those family folk.  But… it’s natural right?  I mean after all, they do share the same DNA.  So, no.  No problem with that.  Absolutely no problem until… they start to form a… wait for it… PERSONALITY!!!  Yep, it’s when their little characters emerge that there’s a different type of reflection for parents to deal with.

You see, it’s while parenting through my child’s most difficult moments, I start to realise that it’s the mirror to my own personality that can sting the most.  Forget the greasy t-zone or deepening crows feet, when you have the flaws of your character highlighted through another person’s example, it’s a chilling experience.  And… once you start to notice the similarities, it’s bloody difficult to stop.

His temper is explosive and hard to predict (no, not me…) and his flip to normality can be just as rapid (surely, not me…).  He can slice your heart with the cruellest of words before realising their impact (mmm, well sometimes…) then self-loathe with regret for weeks, long after you’ve forgiven (oh, ok…).  He’s fickle with folk (yeah probably…) but when he loves you, he loves you almost to the brink of embarrassment or obsession (OK, I admit it…).

After years of deluding myself by refusing to spend more than 10 seconds looking in the mirror, I gave birth to two little reflections who now follow me around, sleeping next to me, eating with me, sitting on the toilet when I’m in the bloody bath.  There was, there is, no escape.  Just a confrontation of “am I really like that?” and yes.  Yes that’s me.

I’m fickle.  I lose my rag easily.  I can say things I don’t really mean.  I can be embarrassment personified.  I know that and I’m not proud.  There have even been moments when I have hated myself for all those aspects of my personality.  Yet… when I became a mother and I saw the same characteristics in my children, it didn’t make me hate them.  Of course not.  My kids are bloody great.  Which, got me thinking… if I can forgive and love those aspects of my kids’ personalities… can I forgive (and love?) them in myself too?

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I’m a better parent when I…

OK… Don’t judge me.  Please don’t judge me.  You see, I’m going to admit something which may force you to mount your high horse.  I don’t blame you.  In fact, you may not be able to help it.  Those little legs of yours may just clamber up on to your saddle of self righteousness.  Before you know it, you’ll be galloping off into the distance, to a bright, beautiful, virtuous sunset, while turning your back on me.  Me.  Your embarrassment.  Your oh so slightly dingy, redheaded, blogging friend.  Me, who along with your other embarrassments in life, you would rather forget – those long, hazy university nights; the man in your past that you should NEVER have spent the night with; the purchase of 50 Shades of Grey.  You will try your very best to forget me too…

And of course, is it fair for me to ask that you don’t judge?  Is it fair for me to censor your judgement?  For me to ask that you control your thoughts before knowing the reason why??  Before I smack you square in the face with the punchline?  How can you (you poor reader) guarantee no judgement before hearing my confession?  It’s completely unfair.  But… I guess the truth is… I feel vulnerable.  I feel unsafe and I need to feel that safety, that emotional safety, before I admit something… You see… It’s a terrible truth… It’s a “see you in hell” kind of truth… I hate to admit it but… I’m a better parent when I – wait for it – d r i n k.

PicMonkey CollageYou have probably guessed that I don’t mean “drink” in the mainstream sense of the word.  It’s not in a tan-tights-coloured cup of Yorkshire tea kind of a way.  I, of course, mean the hard stuff.  The stuff that changes your otherwise flawless perception and steadfast emotions – even during a non PMT week.  While I’m not suggesting that I’m able to parent while wasted, I am completely convinced that a few drops of alcohol make me a better mother.

Now, just imagine… I’ve finished my day of work, it’s 4pm and I have just returned home after collecting my two boys from school.  It’s a happy reunion for the three of us.  Cuddles and kisses are shared.  Stories about the day are told.  I happily locate my house key and open the front door.  This door swings open.  The boys charge inside.  I follow, excited and relieved to return to my warm, welcoming home.  However, my smile slowly fades as I am gradually confronted with the devastation that has been left to smolder over the last 8 hours of work and school…

Is it possible that in the haze of a panicked morning routine, I lit a cereal bonfire, leaving the embers of milk and cheerios to burn and embed on our kids plastic table?  While in my zombie state of not asleep, not awake, did I allow the county council to relocate the local recycling centre to our lounge?  What kind of a charity shop is forming in our spare bedroom with clothes – indistinguishably dirty or clean – wrinkled and scattered everywhere.  My heart sinks as I survey the chaos.  My blood boils as the requests from my children begin to pour in: “Mum?  Can I have a drink?”  “Mum?  Am I allowed a lolly?” With every second that delays my response, their voices get louder, higher, increasingly whiny “Mum?  He’s got my game.”  “Mum?  He’s blocking the TV.”  School reading books need to be read.  Bills need to be paid.  Dinners need to be prepared.  A headache begins to form at the base of my head – the pain conscientiously radiates round to my temples.  Pressure forming, pounding within my skull.  Why God why don’t they offer trephination on the NHS???

And…. pop!  The bottle has been uncorked.

And… glug, glug, glug.  The prosecco has been poured.

I swig back a mouthful of cold bubbly stuff and feel the transformation.  Shoulders start to relax.  The headache fades.  I lie on our hard laminate floor, finishing a digger jigsaw with my boys with no cares about the wet laundry festering in the washing machine or the important phone calls I needed to make.  I am happy.  Relaxed.  The boys are happy and relaxed.  Their high maintenance mummy has been replaced with a woman who is able give them time without being swayed by other demands.  I just don’t understand it.  Why do I need wine o’clock to help me chill out?

Initially, I berate myself for needing this hidden pleasure.  I despise my weakness.  But then I get thinking…. it’s the numbing sensation I enjoy.  The ability to slice away the extra, unwanted layers in life – the things that aren’t that important.  The ability to enjoy that moment rather than worry about the past or future.  True, it would of course be more healthy to practice meditative yoga.  However, the reality is that a Downward Dog ain’t that effective when your kids use the asana as a bridge for their diesel trains.  I’m not using a little sip of wine to escape from my family life, I’m using that tiny tincture to escape the other shit.  So quite frankly my dear reader, you can judge all you want.  Go enjoy your numerous, pointless demands.  I’m off to watch Topsy and Tim snuggled up on the sofa with my two boys and a dash of the hard stuff.

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Play-date Hell

I know you, my delicious reader…  You read this blog title and thought “have to read that” because you’ve been there too.  Us mummies, we’ve all been there… the play-date from hell where Satan manifests in human, 5 year old form, wearing a Ben 10 t-shirt, cut-off jeans and faded red Crocs.  As soon as you welcome this Satan child over your home’s threshold you know, like a vampire, there’s no going back.  You’re in for a whole day of tears, tantrums and trouble.  You should have pushed this little devil away.  You should have sprinkled holy water over his TOWIE haircut and thrust a crucifix in his face.  Yet in true polite, mummy fashion, you open the door, you smile, you welcome, you settle yourself down for a bumpy ride knowing full well it’s all your own bloody fault for allowing this day to take place.

First let me state – I’m not entirely comfortable with the phrase “play-date”.  It sounds too contemporary, too fashionably weird for me to use, reminding me of some terrifying double date.  Although perhaps that’s quite apt.  Those double dates where the women are friends but their partners have less in common than an Xbox 360 and a 50p value sponge from Tesco.  Those double dates where the men are friends but their female partners use the three hours to weigh up how they compete on the scale of looks, success and glamour.  Those double dates where one couple is so obviously at war that the other has to just sit back and endure the show.  In fact it is a blessed rarity when the four attendees of a double date enjoy a harmonious evening.  Just like a play-date there are too many possible combinations of relationship dynamics.  Can it be possible that four people ALL happily get on??  Our most recent play-date tested this question.

playdate hellYesterday, the hottest day of the year, we were visited by an ex-colleague and her darling little boy.  By the time he had asserted that our lounge is indeed “VERY small” and pointed in the faces of my own children while shouting “Who are you?”, it was too late.  They had arrived and I was in for 8 hours of Hell.  The day progressed as follows:

Satan takes the first 30 minutes of his visit to dedicate himself to the devastation of my kids’ room.  Satan pours a full cup of apple juice over my 3 year old’s head (in our lounge).  Rambling Red mummy calmly requests that Satan does not repeat this action.  Satan asks for another drink.  Satan pours a second cup of apple juice over my 3 year old’s head.  Satan demands cheese sandwiches for lunch.  Satan announces his hatred for his lunch.  Satan’s mum screams at Satan to eat all his lunch.  Satan’s mum ignores Satan’s pinching of my 3 year old’s forearm.  Satan tells my 5 year old that his bike stabilisers are for babies.  Satan crashes the 2 day old said bike into a brick wall.  Satan shouts “Oi!  Did you hear me??” after me ignoring his rude request to “Go get (his) drink”.

Do you want me to continue?  I could.  But I think you get the idea…

In true Hollywood style The Omen was an exaggeration – Damien doesn’t just frequent the world of U.S. politics.  He’s all around us in normal peoples lives – in reception classes, in swimming lessons, playgrounds, soft play areas…  There’s no true escape.  The Devil is everywhere!!!  However, while this prospect scares me (and rightly so) what scares me most is the person I become while surrounded by these children.  You see what I find most difficult about these play-dates is that they truly test the qualities that I pride myself on most as a parent: my laid back approach, my gentle guidance, my patience, my use of humour to teach my kids right from wrong.  Instead these kids bring out the worst in me.  My own hidden Devil: moods, irritation, anger, impatience.  The parts of me that my 35 years has taught me to suppress.  But then it gets me thinking… I consider myself a relatively OK individual despite these, my own devilish qualities and surely that’s part of being human – the battle between doing what you feel to be acceptable and not so acceptable.  Of course we all have our conflicting aspects.  But then that means I also have to accept that these little Satan kids too have another aspect to their being.  A ray of light to oppose the hellish shadow they display.  If that’s the case, I guess it’s time for me to take a deep breath of tenacity and find their hidden angel.  It has to be there somewhere.  Doesn’t it?

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A Dedication to all Mummies

This morning my oldest boy donned an oversized blue sweater, grey teflon trousers and black leather dinosaur shoes (which he swears help him to run faster than any other 4 year old).  All in all the clothes looked baggy but of course I told him how handsome / gorgeous / smart he looked.  And he did look great – in a Michelin Man kind of way.  He looked so cute.  Just how I imagined my child to look on his first day at school.  We have prepared for this day in all the usual mummy ways: attending school introductory meetings, sowing nametags into clothes, playing imaginary ‘school’ with Avenger characters.  I thought I had prepared for all eventualities, both practical and emotional.  However the one thing I hadn’t prepared for was the emotional response this day would evoke inside of me.

If I track my journey back, my reaction to this event began last night, manifesting in some weird physiological manner.  My heart beat quickening.  Sweating palms.  The irritability dial turned up high, swift to respond to any slight demand my family could make of me.  It was only after an hour or so, after the school bag was packed and all trouser hems sowed, that I realised what was going on.  I was nervous.  I was afraid.  I was saddened.  My heart was crumbling.  I was letting go of my baby boy, allowing him an inch more of independence.  I had prepared him soundly for this transition (his ease in entering the classroom a testament to my good mummy work) but I had forgotten to prepare myself.

The mummies I meet are very good at this… shelving their own feelings and needs to ensure the emotional protection of their children.  At 5.30am each day I can guarantee that around the UK there will be mummies in their millions, clambering out of their warm beds to make sure the house is tidy, dishwasher emptied, laundry ironed, school bags organised, allowing themselves maybe five minutes to grab a quick cuppa and slap on some gloopy, out-of-date mascara before waking their children for the day ahead.  During these early morning moments I often imagine other women going about their business, preparing for the day, so I don’t feel quite so alone or isolated.  It makes me feel part of a fabulously, wonderful, organisationally slick yet secret team.  I use the word ‘secret’ because it is only when you become a mummy yourself that you realise the dedication and the skill that it involves.  I am constantly amazed by these women.  These mummy women are understatedly inspirational.  They look for no financial gain and no thanks.  Let’s face it… if that’s what you’re after, you’re in the wrong blobbin’ job.

But the most hidden secret is that the link you have with your child (that link you thought was only temporarily there through pregnancy) stays.  This spiritual umbilical cord doesn’t leave you.  It is evidenced by the sickening sensation a mummy feels when her child takes a closer step to independence.  The child moves further from you, your heart breaking as the next phase in life becomes apparent: birth, nursery, school, university, leaving home, marriage.  Yet, us graceful, dignified, amazing women smile, giving our children confidence and strength.  We smile while our hearts ache, while tears form in our eyes.  We stop our lips trembling with fear and sadness while together with our child we look hopefully to their future.

Mummies of the world, you are amazing.  I’ll be thinking of you at 5.30am tomorrow, astounded by your resilient grace.

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My Awful Realisation

I have come to an awful realisation.  A gut-churning, guilt inducing revelation that can only be revealed to a person after 4 hours of insomnia.

So, I went to bed as usual and thought my good night’s sleep was in the bag.  It wasn’t.  I trailed through thought after thought, considering how I feel about my ever-increasing age, the dynamics between family and friends, the numerous demands of my job and how I find it oh so difficult to work three days a week then change to being mother earth for the remaining days.  I then started to consider my increasing irritation with my oldest child.  How I had reported to my husband just earlier that day that I found this almost 4 year old boy infuriating.  His constant cry for attention.  His heightened sensitivity.  I moaned about the competing demands of childcare and housework.  You see, I have become more and more houseproud.  Maybe because we have a newish house or maybe this is a phase that comes with my age.  I’m just not sure but one thing is for certain, every comment made that could be construed as negative about my lack of domesticity is a cut to my throat.  Every slight inference that my house is untidy / unclean is a blow to my womanhood.  Which got me thinking… What the fucking hell has happened to me?  I stated counting each pointless domestic task that took me away from giving my children attention and I actually wanted to cry.  My oldest son has renamed me ‘Wasp’ after his favourite red-headed, feisty Avenger superhero yet I apparently can’t play with him because I have to mop the kitchen floor.  The realisation that of course he feels sensitive because he and I have always been linked in some freakish spiritual way.  I sometimes don’t know where his feelings end and where mine begin and of course vice versa.  He must therefore feel my irritation and not understand what has changed.  My poor poor boy.  A sobering, heart wrenching revelation.  But… I am back baby.  I am back.  And I now understand what needs to change.  I am your mummy foremost.  Not your maid.  I am your mummy.  I suddenly feel my mind clearing.  Insomnia drifting away.  Sleep inviting me for the last few hours of  this night.  Sleep which will prepare me for a day of play and a filthy, unhoovered, untidy house.  Bliss.

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