It’s Saturday. Single Mom Saturday to be exact. Every Saturday is Single Mom Saturday. My husband works six days a week. It’s more than mildly annoying. We have four jobs between us, which is ridiculous, but apparently we made some equally ridiculous life choices and underestimated the true cost of childcare so we are just trying to wade our way through until both boys are in school (THE ACTUAL DREAM)
I’m sat in my car outside my house like a weirdo. It’s pissing down. I am certain my curtain twitching neighbours suspect I am drug dealing or having an affair or have an undesirable interest due to my bizarre behaviour. Am I surreptitiously making hot, breathy phone calls or obscene texts to my horny Italian lover (no idea why he would be Italian) or perhaps setting up deals with my supplier? Maybe I am downloading weird lizard porn (is that a thing?)?
No. I’m sat outside my house because the kids have fallen asleep in the car and I daren’t wake them up for fear of epic tantrums. Since we moved in February 2016, I have been half expecting my neighbours to call social services as my eldest’s monstrous meltdowns have escalated from the Terrible Twos to the Threenagers. We have escaped thus far but still, damage limitation and all that. So I sit here for an hour or more, listening to my local middle of the road radio station, aimed at those of us who feel like 1999 was about 3 weeks ago, dicking about on my phone, waiting for them to gently wake up in a vaguely pleasant mood. To quote Robin Williams in Mrs Doubtfire, or probably misquote, “Do you ever want to freeze frame a moment in your day and say ‘this is not my life’?”
When I envisaged family life, I saw the four of us taking strolls along the beach, playing football in the park, gleefully washing the car together. I did not imagine a relationship with my husband that revolves solely around parenting transactions and what we are having for tea tonight. I did not expect it to be financially challenging. I did not think that I would get so sick of the sound of my own voice yelling “Stop that!”, “ Get OFF your brother!” “Do not flick his willy!” “LISTENING EARS!” I did not realise that quite so many bath times would involve the lightning reflexes of a ninja, as we try to scoop shit and two children out of the bath simultaneously, without them making physical contact. I did not imagine parenting would be so punishing. I wasn’t going to be THAT nagging fishwife. I wasn’t going to be that mother who lost her shit and hid in the kitchen, shovelling a Kitkat down her throat in 30 seconds flat, just so she would have a brief moment of her’s and her’s alone. My kids were not going to be those little bastards that have meltdowns in supermarkets because their harassed mother said no to the obscenely priced magazine with free tat and a pack of caffeine enriched, sugar soaked gelatine that would surely send them bat shit crazy before bedtime. This was not how it was supposed to be.
However, just because things aren’t how they are meant to be, doesn’t mean it is all bad.
When I wrote my breastfeeding blog last week (read it here), I did something I vowed I would never do; I tagged the celebrity who inspired it on Twitter. All my dignity sold for a cheap tweet. Fame whore at 10 o’clock! For some bizarre, unknown reason, the wonderful Dr Chris Van Tulleken actually read it and even commented on it. WHAT THE ACTUAL MOTHER FUCK! WAAAAHHHH! Super fan moment! I was star struck to say the least (and also a little embarrassed at how bad my writing is and how much I swear) He’s fucking amazing and super clever and he read my self-indulgent tripe. Pinnacle of life moment. Dr Chris was sympathetic to my plight (see his response here) He and his wife had difficulties with breastfeeding but he also suggested that I rewrite the last paragraph to discuss what I had gained in attempting to breastfeed both of my boys.
My knee jerk response was simple; low self-esteem. That was all I gained. I really struggled to find the positive. I reread my piece and thought about it long and hard. It was a bleak story. Although, I try to break up some of the melancholy moments of motherhood with sarcasm and a touch of humour, (well, I think I’m hilarious. Someone has to) what was underlying was ultimately a great deal of sadness. Since then I have been reflecting and decided that I need to pull my miserable head out of my fat ass and reassess how things are. So here are my positives from all my negativity.
Initially, I couldn’t think of one good thing that came from trying to breastfeed. Failed. Failed. Failed. Cry. Cry. Cry. Useless mum. Shit tits. Shrivelled Jemma. On reflection, the end result is not what matters. It’s that old adage, the one my pe teacher told fat 13-year-old me. It’s the taking part that counts. I did try. I felt that breastfeeding was best for my babies and I gave it my best shot. I had my challenges and I did all I felt I could but ultimately, it compromised my mental health. I can’t be wholly present for my boys if I am hysterical (I’m clearly demented at the best of times but this was something else). You can’t pour from an empty cup and the old cliche is true: happy mum, happy baby. What my boys did receive was colostrum. The gold top. The creme de la creme. I gave them that. They had that start. I did gain that bonding experience. Those fleeting moments when it worked were bliss. I tried. You only fail if you don’t try. I can’t bear all that cheesy motivational babble but there is a grain of truth there. I really tried. I actually even did it for a bit. I gain that satisfaction. I also gained a deeply unattractive set of boobs that require more support wiring than the National Grid. But let’s face it, I’m almost 35. My page 3 days are long gone. (Just kidding. I have a shoot next week… ) In all seriousness, if baby number three were ever to come along, (I can hear my husband start to pack his bags at the very suggestion) I would try and breastfeed again. I would hope for third time lucky. If that’s how I feel about it, if it is that important to me, somewhere amongst all that pain, it was worth it.
2 I Work. Lots.
When I was 17, I fell in love with a boy called Jim. Jim Morrison, I shit you not. Not THE Jim Morrison obviously. It was an all-consuming first love and I thought we would be together Forever™ (if forever was until half way through semester one of my first year at uni, then yes, I was right). I wanted to go to university but I wanted to be near him so I switched my plans of running far, far away from Liverpool and never coming back and ended up at UCLAN in Preston studying journalism. And that is where my first ropey life choice began. Now just to be clear, I am not blaming Jim. He was and still is a lovely man. The only one of my exes that I have a cordial relationship with. In fact, the man I married is probably more like Jim than any other person I dated in the 10 years in between. The choice was all mine. But from then on I made life choices with my heart, often based on who I was dating, which took me all round England, and then finally back to Liverpool, via Tenerife. All the disappointment. All of it everywhere. I never used my degree. Mainly, because I was rubbish at journalism and disliked it intensely. When I think about it, I should have done an English BA, a masters in something similar and stayed on at uni for as long as possible, subsequently travelling the world. Never mind, hey? Rightly or wrongly, I always prioritised my personal life over my career. Hence, I am here, working as a quality assessor for a bank, in my comfort zone. My job is at best ok. It’s fine. I don’t hate it but it does not set my world on fire.
This is not a criticism of anyone in my position either. It’s just not where my 17-year-old self saw my 35-year-old self and it’s probably not where I want to be from any kind of career/intellectual view-point. Shoulda. Woulda. Coulda. Consequently, my middle of the road job has meant that I have taken a pub job to help cover the cost of childcare. It’s tough, exhausting. Some weeks, I feel like my life is all work and no pleasure and I like to lick my wounds because huge portions of my week aren’t enjoyable. But it affords us a bit of breathing space. A house in a nicer area. A few family days out. Rugbytots classes for my eldest. Nevertheless, I do feel enormous guilt for working 45 – 50 hour weeks on a regular basis, time away from my boys. Someone (err, that would be Dr Chris Van Tulleken. I’m such a knob.) told me that regret is a wasted emotion. It is.
Yes. I could have made life choices that would have made me exponentially richer financially, more intellectually satisfied (ooh I sound a bit of a knob here don’t I?) But ultimately those other choices would never have led to my children. I have had five major relationships. With the exception of Jim, I have met each one through work. Each daft personal and professional decision in my 20s has culminated in me meeting Rob, marrying him and having two children who I LOVE to moan about but bring me more joy than I could ever imagine anything else would.
Working a lot is (hopefully) temporary and I do it to give my children a good life. It teaches them the value of hard work. I am lucky that my mundane job is flexible. I do full-time hours over four days. Every Wednesday I get a day with my boys, as well as weekends. I only work the pub when the kids are in bed. Single Mom Saturdays aren’t so bad either. My own mum makes for a great surrogate husband when the real one is at work. Also, the time we do have as a family is more special because it’s rare. Plus, work gives me adult contact and I get to be a human again. It gives me an identity. I am not ‘just a mum’ It’s hard being ‘just a mum’. No one deserves to be ‘just’ anything. Being a mum should be enough. (See my first ever blog ‘Losing My Mind on Maternity Leave’)
3. I am Not Mary Fucking Poppins
My best friend when I started secondary school was a girl called Natalie. She is gorgeous and intelligent and has a wonderful career and a beautiful life with her partner. They travel the world and her Instagram feed feels like a photo album of what my life should have been if I had followed The Plan™
Whilst Natalie is discovering mountain gorillas in the wilds of Uganda, I am sat covered in beans and half chewed raisins at soft play.
Fucking soft play. The feral, virtually rabid, off spring of other people running wild. Seven year olds over taking the baby areas. Fights breaking out and my three and a half year old, lacking in confidence, demanding that I go with him, right to the top of a multi-coloured climbing frame via spaces designed for people much smaller than me to squeeze through. At nine months pregnant with my youngest, I was a 14 stone whale but James insisted on me trying to get through a tube designed for a toddler and a slide narrower than my left thigh. It would have got £250 on You’ve Been Framed.
It’s not just soft play I despise. Oh no. There is crafting. I hate gluing and sticking or sewing or knitting. Mainly because most three year olds are better at it than me. I’m just no good and it bores me. I will draw and colour and put stickers in sticker books but I will not be making Tracy island any time soon.
When I built my fantasy family, I did not factor in mounds of dirty laundry and sleepless nights. I did not dream that I would be a short-tempered, baggy eyed purveyor of the CBA approach to parenting. Entertaining your kids is an intense job and I have no patience for certain aspects. Some bits, however, I absolutely adore.
My husband loves baking with the boys but I prefer running round the park or the beach. I’ll chase them for hours and hours as they pretend to be The Gingerbread Man. I’ll push them on the swings and slide. I will read to them and make up totally weird and lame stories. One of James’ favourites was about a squirrel stealing chips from the chippy. I’m wasted, honestly. I prefer cuddles and tickles and blowing raspberries on their bellies. I prefer being Owlette or Raphael or Robin. (PJ Masks, Ninja Turtles and Bat Man, respectively)
However, I just can’t play all the time. Sometimes it’s fine for the Cbeebies family to babysit the kids for an hour or so. Sometimes it’s fine to have a cup of tea and have a little drool over the presenters. (Oh, hi Andy! Yes, I will gladly accompany you on a Prehistoric Adventure.) Sometimes washing needs doing, the dinner needs cooking, the bathroom needs cleaning (not that I ever do any of those but the theory is there). Sometimes, you just can’t be a clown 24/7. Which is good because after seeing IT, I am absolutely petrified of them. (That includes you Mr Tumble)
When I became a mum, I did not turn into Mary Poppins. I did not have a personality transplant. Yes, I have changed in so many ways but I am still me and I just work that into being a mum. A mum who bounces round the living room with them singing “Oh My Gosh, Look At Her Butt!” (I blame the film ‘Sing’) I’m inappropriate and that’s ok. It’s probably why they love me. To some people that’s terrible but for me, and hopefully my kids, that is enough. It’s going to have to be. I’m sure when my glamorous friend Natalie is a mum, she won’t stop loving travel. She won’t stop enjoying coordinating her fabulously stylish outfits. I doubt she will be Mary Poppins. I have seen the way she enjoys a rum. (You have a talent, Nat!) She won’t be a mumsy mum but I am fairly sure that at some point she will lose her shit. There is more than one type of mum and wouldn’t it be boring if we were all the same.
So yes, my life is pretty mediocre but it’s not bad. I have tried and failed at all kinds of things. I have two beautiful children who I absolutely adore and that is the most positive thing. I am not an amazing mum but I am not a bad one (even though I feel like it a lot of the time) and the most important thing I have learnt this week is that other people’s successes are not my failures. I didn’t rewrite that last paragraph for Dr Chris but I wrote this instead and what this has given me, and hopefully some other people, is perspective. It’s not all that bad.