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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Dunker? Dunkee?

It’s Halloween…. And have I got a spooky tale for you, you allotment of pretty pumpkins. You coven of hot hags. It’s a tale of witches. An angry mob. Premonitions. Drownings. Are you sitting comfortably? Doors and windows locked?  If so, let us begin….

A few years ago, I was sat in a nurse training course (Yep, I used to be a nurse.  Sorry, did I not tell you that?  A nurse.  Yep, they let me train and work as a nurse for ten long years.  And yes, I left by my own free will.  Nope, I was not kicked out.  Yep, they actually let people like me look after people like you.  No Halloween trick. Scary eh?).  It was the kind of training that nurses have to do regularly to show that their brains haven’t rotten away like an over ripe banana being devoured by hybrid maggot-flies.  It wasn’t that interesting.

It was, however, also unfortunate that the course be made even more tedious by a twat of a tutor who was seemingly so insecure that she had to question and humiliate every sensible answer given by her brightest students.  She was possibly the only university lecturer that I ever met who seemed irritated by the intelligence of others.  She was a twat.  No doubt about it people.  A twat.  However, it was during this lecture, when I had my first vision.

“Errrr… What now?” I hear you, my wondrous werewolves say.  Sounds crazy I know but I swear it was a vision.  You see, just as the lecturer responded to her latest bright-spark of a student (a wonderfully wise midwife) I seemed to doze off slightly and a historical scene, clear as day, popped into my head.  I witnessed this lecturer, this female misogynist, leading a large angry mob and dunking this fabulously bright young woman into a lake… Accused of being a witch.

Ducking stoolApart from being thankful for the distraction, I didn’t think much of the flash of a vision until, on the last day of the course and in an impulsive fit of hysterics, I told the midwife.  Instead of the expected giggle, she responded by being pale as garden-centre-Christmas-display snow and telling me that she believed she was in fact drowned in a previous life.  How she believes in pagan teachings.  How she would consider herself a white witch of Mother Earth. Well fuck me – that shut me up.  Completely silent I was – for at least 60 seconds.

That little incident happened over six years ago and yet it remains in my head, the memory settled in my brain and sat like a squatter, refusing to be replaced with other things I should remember like my best mate’s birthday or my child’s non-school uniform day.  In fact, it wasn’t until recently that I understood why this vision had stayed with me.  I had a revelation.  You see, here was a vision of a group of brutal folk.  Of the extinguishing of this liberal, kind, wise woman.  Events that were clearly traumatic.  However this was coupled with an aspect of uncertainty.  I was nowhere to be seen.  And that got me questioning myself… If I wasn’t there.  How do I know?  I mean, what would I be?  Would I be the dunker?  Or the dunkee?

Would I be the dunker?  The kind of woman who says things like “You see… other women just feel threatened by me” to your bare, thirty-something, fine-lined face and seeping mascara eyes (the tube said it was f@cking waterproof).  The kind of woman who spends days preparing a dinner party, insisting it ‘was nothing’ as she is presented with your newest failure of a raspberry pavlova.  The kind of woman who says “Motherhood just never phased me, I just managed to get on with it” as you tell her you’ve been prescribed your second course of antidepressants for postnatal depression.  Am I this kind of woman?  The kind of woman that can only be elevated by another woman’s dunking?????  That doesn’t sound quite right…

Would I be part of the crowd?  Would I follow like a sheep, not wanting to cause a stir or stick up for others?  The kind of woman who believes the victim ‘deserved it’ because of her short skirt.  The kind of woman who, despite intelligence, insists before her argument in a debate that she’s “not a feminist” (WTF?  Not a feminist?  How can you not be a feminist?) in some attempt to obtain kudos and respect.  The kind of woman that turns up the sound of her TV as she hears her female neighbour’s argument turn sour.  Am I this kind of woman?  The kind of woman that doesn’t concern herself with the rights of others?????  That doesn’t sound quite right either…

But, yet the real scary thing this Halloween is… I recognise that I do actually have this potential.  I think we all do.  Yep, sometimes we get insecure and say hurtful things.  Or perhaps, in our darkest moments, we may feel slightly relieved that our pal didn’t get the job of her dreams.  I mean, how would that make us feel?

Or, maybe sometimes life is just too bloody hectic and we feel so frazzled we avoid the troubled friend we spied in the supermarket.  Or perhaps we keep our head down as our colleagues bitch about the weirdo at work who we secretly like despite everyone else having an irrational fear / hatred of them.

I know I do have this potential.  The potential to be the dunker.  To be part of the angry mob.  We all have this potential.  How bloody depressing.

So therefore ladies, my group of gorgeous ghouls, I have a challenge for you this Halloween.  After trick or treating, after hanging up your pointed hats and parking your brooms, make yourself a promise.  Turn your cloaked back on your dunker potential.  Refuse to be part of the angry mob.  This Halloween, be the dunkee.  Give a bit back to Mother Earth.  Be liberal.  Be wise.  Don’t waste your time making judgements.  Celebrate in someone else’s achievements.  Don’t be a bitch.  It’s better to be a witch 😉

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Burlesque me away…

Put down that Agatha Christie… There is real life scandal afoot.  Hertford, my sleepy little market town, has been brought into disrepute.  The townsfolk are in uproar.  Local churches are fearing the beginnings of Armageddon.  Council officials are reinstating the ducking stool.  We need to protect the vulnerable women within this, our precious community – BURLESQUE HAS COME TO TOWN!!

As a family, we migrated to Hertford three years ago.  We yearned for the quiet life – the kind of place that only concerned itself with first-world problems.  Our journey followed the northbound A10 and allowed us to find that place in Hertford.

Hertford.  A pretty town where split ends are not tolerated thanks to the vast amount of hair salons.  A serene town that only comes to life when the local celebrity swan gives birth to some, quite frankly, ugly cygnets.  A town where middle-class mothers crumble at the prospect of their child going to a (wait for it…) “good” school with “outstanding” features rather than an “outstanding” school with “good”.  Hertford is an island.  Separated from the real world.  It’s our Hertford bubble.  But, God damn it, this fragile bubble was about to be popped by some corseted she-devil in fishnets.

I first felt this evil presence when I stepped inside the local theatre.  Hertford Theatre, our precious, community hub, torn apart by An Evening of Burlesque.  Some West End floozies set to dirty the usually pristine stage with this “exotic” cabaret.  Pure.  Fucking.  Filth.

Then… the bloody Burlesque Jems caused havoc offering lessons, a FREE taster session no less.  Tempting (how dare they?) regular-sized (scandalous) women to shimmy their breasts and butts at no financial cost.  Local churches were in uproar because they (the poor things) had mistakenly hired rooms out to these saucy little minxes.  It was bedlam.  Sweet Hertford life was over as we knew it.  Pure pandemonium…  There was pillaging.  Looting.  A swarm of mutant locusts destroyed our monthly farmers market.  A zombie, flesh-eating duck replaced our celebrity swan.  Survivors barricaded themselves within the castle walls for protection.  Complete and utter chaos… Hertford was about to be outrun by harlets… and I, dear reader, was definitely NOT going to miss out on all the fun…

Burlesque me away

My husband nearly choked on his spag bol when I told him I would be attending the Burlesque Jems lessons.  He didn’t say anything.  Instead he simply gave me that look.  You know the one.  That look that personifies the complete shock of another.  The truth be told, I didn’t need a glance to reign me in.  I was already full of doubt.  Why the hell was I putting myself through this?  However, good old pride took its place over the mozzarella so I, no matter how scared, embarrassed or anxious, was clearly going to go for it…

When entering the first lesson, my brave friend and I were welcomed by the deliciously busty Kimmy Von Shimmy.  Our anxiety was quickly replaced by hilarity as we started our pelvic thrust warm-ups.  Then, a few hip rolls, butt and breast wiggles later, we were ploughing through our first exotic routine.  The learning of steps was interspersed by the gorgeous, red-lipped Kimmy shouting “Look at my Hertford Harlets moooooove…”  I cannot remember the last time I had spent a good thirty minutes laughing – laughing deep from my belly.  So deep, my uterus and bloody fallopian tubes were in hysterics.  The hilarity then gave way to me concentrating on the dance steps meaning the constant chatter of my usually fucked-up brain was switched off for a blessing of a moment.  I was confident.  I was beautiful.  I was sensual.  I was…. uncoordinated.  But, who cares… It was fabulous darling.

But why Burlesque??  I hear you, my lovely reader, ask.  Why have I made you sit through my Rambling Red rants about feminism and the sisterhood just to shake my hypercritical ass at some class for strippers?  Why not figure skating?  Pottery?  Karate?  I clearly had other options…

You want the truth?  The honest truth??

My dear friend, I could describe how my body has become purely functionary.  How it has given birth, breastfed, wiped arses, comforted newborn babies for hours, carried lazy toddlers, pushed buggies and stomped its way through numerous school runs.  How Burlesque helped me to get back in touch with the elegance of my feminine form.  But, this isn’t really true.

My lovely pal, I could confess how I grew ashamed of my figure.  How the constant changes of pregnancy, birth, motherhood and the simple act of ageing has affected my confidence in my body.  How I panic as younger women begin to flourish against my fading youth.  How Burlesque empowered me and helped me to accept myself, just as I am.  However, this just ain’t true either.

The truth is… I have no rational answer.  The only tale I can tell is that Burlesque makes me happy.  Ferociously happy.  I mean, when else is it deemed OK for me to pile on the eye liner and wear inappropriately slutty clothes?  When else in a group situation, can I hopelessly attempt to be provocative and not be judged?  When, since the girlie sleepovers of my teenage years, do I get chance to giggle hysterically with a group of women?  I definitely can’t remember the last time I asked a lady “Can I feel your knickers?” before asking her name.  I realise it probably all sounds bizarre in a ‘real world’ kind of context but the truth is… I love it.  I love Burlesque because it makes me happy.

But… how do I justify it with my feminist principles?  Is Burlesque good for feminism?

The answer: How should I know?  There’ll of course be numerous debates.  Undoubtedly, they will touch upon the objectification of the feminine form, the example Burlesque sets to young women, how we all have a responsibility over the example we set to others, blah, blah, blah.  Well, maybe I’m sick to death of responsibility.  The responsibility over my kids, my marriage, my house, my work…  Why the hell should I have responsibility over the 3 1/2 billion women across the world too?  For this protected hour each week, during my Burlesque class, the only thing I take responsibility for is my own happiness.

So, is Burlesque good for feminism?  Who bloody knows.  Is Burlesque good for me?  Hell YEAH! 

The Booby Trap – Quite Literally…

This morning, as we both stood in our pants getting dressed, my 5 year old grabbed my cerise pink brassiere (an original Sainsbury’s design) and using the elastic, pinged it at my head while earnestly saying “There’s your booby trap Mummy”.  Booby Trap.  Booby Trap?  After much laughter (him because of the excellent flickage.  Me because of the confusion of phrase) I was suddenly drawn to this ‘trap’ that encased my boobs.  This evil breast holder that locked away my beautiful bosom.  This evil device that restricted my tits’ freedom.  My poor darlings…  Held captive in a booby trap.  Be Free!  BE FREE!

Mmmmmm… actually… don’t.  Let’s face it girls, you two have seen better days and while I am very grateful for all that you have done, your days of being free (while saunaing, sunbathing, attracting swingers – which their offer, may I add, we NEVER accepted) are probably in the past.  I am still completely in love with you both though – in a companionship kind of a way.  I mean, we’ve just been through so much together…

Remember the summer of 1993 when you decided to make your delayed appearance?  Leaving school at the end of the year as a girl and returning in September as a ‘b’ cup WOMAN, I was just thrilled by the commentary from my male classmates “She’s wearing a bra”, “She’s almost as big as Mandy Cartman” (the second smallest boobs in the classroom) and the inevitable “Would you screw her now?”  Ah ha…  That period of my life wasn’t embarrassing at all.  I never once cringed while listening to these pimple-faced adolescents describe me as a quasi-desirable female.

BraOr how about the University years my boobies??  Remember how I popped ‘the pill’ for half a decade and you decided to grow into a magnificent pair of rounded melons?  Beautifully pert.  A terrific cleavage-making machine.  Fabulously perfect timing as I donned low cut tops and boob tubes.  Oh how I took for granted the appreciative stares and (sometimes quite inappropriate) comments.  Oh how I now yearn for the double hoot for my hooters from passing cars.  I took you both for granted only appreciating you after you had left (at some speed) when I decided to stop the tablets.

But then, my little puppies, all was forgiven and you returned!!!  I was 29 years old.  I was pregnant.  I swore I would appreciate you this time.  I didn’t.  My tummy grew fat so you were just relative to this growing swell.  All in proportion until… I popped out the sprog and four days later my milk came in!  Woo Hoo!!!  No need to steal that 5K for a boob job anymore…  Rock.  Solid.  Breasts.  Unbelievable cleavage.  Brassiere overspill.  I remember screaming “LOOK AT THESE!!” to both male and female friends alike!!!  I didn’t care about their discomfort or any psychological damage caused.  I had been reunited with the body I was always supposed to have.  I was desirable.  Until, of course, breast feeding…

My functional mammaries… you served our little family so well.  I remember the soft hum of the breast pump, lulling me to sleep after a night of no ZZZs.  I remember being compared to an old sow by my husband as I lay sideways on the floor (exhausted) allowing my little ‘piglet’ child to snuffle and suckle at my milk.  I remember the unintentional leakage… As my little one would cry out, you (my breasts) would respond with a comforting squirt of milk before my mind had even realised that the baby was upset.  I loved the nursing bras.  The visible veins on my skin.  The ridiculously bumpy nipples.  I loved being sternly told by others to “cover up” as I became so matter-of-fact about whipping you darlings out to feed.  They were just functional boobs after all?!?  What was everyone’s problem?

But now…. it’s the present day.  I am 35 years old and my breasts’ journey has come full circle.  I am now an established mother of two young boys and boys, it seems, have the natural inclination to find a woman’s chest (and indeed anything breast-related) a source of great amusement.  They take such pleasure in prodding my pair and shouting “Boobies!!!” in between bouts of hysterical giggles.  My ‘booby trap’ bra is a great way to transport Lego.  My nudity is apparently hilarious.  I am now once again the target of male commentary.  Not that I care anymore because I now know the breast kept secret.  I am now proud of my boobs – not because of their size or shape but because of their true function.  They helped my tiny babies to grow strong.  How can I not be proud?  A woman’s body is amazing and I am a woman.

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Stepping Out of the Box

A good friend (perhaps sensing my creative drought propelled by my latest attempt at caffeine withdrawal) sent me the following quote by text, challenging me to write about it:

“Never allow someone else to define you based on how they perceive you”.

I don’t know where the quote is from, who wrote it or who the intended audience was but it truly got me thinking.  We’ve surely all experienced being squashed into the character mould that other people have built to confine us.  Instead of seeing you as the multidimensional human being that you are, you can be viewed as the clumsy one, the pretty one, the shy one, the creative one, the sensible one.  You surely get the idea.  Whatever action you take that fits your allocated role, happily affirms the person’s view.  Yet if you perform out of your character’s remit, the event is at best ignored, at worst it is suggested that you were temporarily ‘just not yourself’.  A frustrating position.

Perhaps parents and siblings are the most guilty of creating and maintaining our defined categories.  Within the family you may be assigned differing talents, character traits, weaknesses.  You are not able to encroach on someone else’s territory.  Surely there can’t be two of you that are intelligent?  Not two of you who are athletic?  And if there is, then the competition begins!

It is quite scary (and sad) that the judgements people make when they first meet you can also last an eternity.  A colleague at work has recently assigned me the disorganised role.  Quite a surprise as I actually pride myself on my secretive organisational skill.  I am a covert anal retentive.  Everything has its household place, I have to-do lists galore, robust systems for completing each domestic task regularly and effectively.  OK, I slightly exaggerate but that’s how this unfair categorisation gets me.  It makes me rebel.  It makes me want to prove the opposite point.  It isn’t enough that I truly know that this person has assigned the role because of their own silliness, insecurity and inefficiency.  Instead I get angry.  I feel cheated.  I feel restricted.  I feel bound by their stupidity.  But most of all I feel scared.  What if they’re right?  What if someone has exposed the ugly truth?  My God, they’ve finally found me out.

The most infuriating box I have been hemmed into is the nice box.  It sends me into spirals of rebellious fury!  I imagine I am Marvel’s most plausible yet surprisingly uncreated superhero character – the Incredible Hulkess.  Yet because I am in my nice box I can’t even unleash the green, gamma-radiated, mad-woman from within.  All I want to do is scream in the person’s face; saliva dripping from my incisors; my dry, rancid breath permeating the pores of their skin; blood vessels bursting in the whites of my eyes.  Instead, assigned the nice role, I smile, I please, I compliment.  The thought of not performing correctly terrifies me.  Consequently, I am confined in this cage of expectation.  I blame the other person for throwing this role upon me.  Yet ultimately I understand that the real anger is with myself for living up to this ridiculous standard.

A very special woman with whom I had a short-lived but intense friendship once stood close and teased me, watching as the fury rose from the pit of my stomach to the surface.  I started to verbally retaliate until I quickly noticed the Mona Lisa, side-smile appear on her beautiful face.  We both laughed realising that we had been on the precipice of a monumental event in our friendship.  She had seen the fury of this Redhead and had survived.  Quickly I apologised feeling sheepish and ashamed.  But simply she stood tall, strong, yet with a warmness I could never emulate, replied with a smile “Baby, I don’t care.  I want to see you in every way, in every situation, in every mood.  I want to know you“.  You may translate this story with caution.  You may feel I had been manipulated or tested.  But let me promise you, no relationship game had been played.  Instead the overall feeling was one of complete acceptance.  This confident young woman was not scared of me stepping out of my usual role.  In fact she relished seeing the side of me that others may not be privy to.  She allowed me to be free.  I will never forget that moment.  So much freedom and absolutely no fear.

Perhaps those people who assign us our roles would also wish to see our true personas?  Perhaps we have assigned them the judging role unfairly when they, given the opportunity, might be grateful to see us laid out bare.  They may actually be strong enough to cope with our anger.  They may be understanding enough to respond to our insecurity.  They could be encouraging enough to celebrate in our talents.  Maybe they just need to be given the opportunity to step out of the roles that we have assigned to them?

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