It should be the most marvellous time of the year with the long summer stretching promisingly ahead. Dreams of poolside reading and swing seats in the sunshine and dappled bbq evenings. And yet.
As a teacher and a mother of a school child, school administration seems to ratchet up: reports, letters, reply slips, trips, reminders, data collection, spreadsheets. Feel like there should’ve been a loophole in the new GDPR where I could just sign on one dotted line to give the nod for all permissions ever.
Sports day. PE kits. Lost trainers. Plimsolls that are too small. Egg and spoon anxiety.
School discos and outfit panics for the sub-10s. Work nights out and babysitting/taxi/finance panics for the plus 30s. And why do they all have to be on the same night?
Six weeks. Yeesh. That’s a lot, right? Six weeks? With both kids? At home? On my own? I wonder what the grandparents are up to…?
Six weeks? To bask in long nights? To just get in the car and go somewhere for a few days? To spend all morning in our pyjamas and watch Paddington even though it’s sunny out? Six weeks to just sniff their hair and work on their sock tan lines? Six weeks. See you on the other side.
I am pretty sure I don’t say it enough, but I love my kids. Like, really really love them.
Sometimes I can feel them pulling away from me. William no longer thinks my kisses cure his hurts. Alex sighs like a teenager: ‘ooooh kaaaay mummy’. The only time they hold my hand is when we cross a road. And I keep holding them. Until they realise and slip from my grasp and run ahead.
And now I’m reduced to sneaking in to their rooms at night and watching their sweaty faces. And sniffing their sour scent and kissing their damp summer faces.
I really, really love my children: their sock marks, their grazed knees, their unreasonable bedtime requests, their secrets, their private jokes, their suncream sticky limbs.
And they say they love me too. And I know they do. But they won’t know how much I love them until they have children themselves. And then they’ll know. They’ll know how terrifyingly and fiercely they were loved by me.
You’ve reached your limit. You’re done. No more co-sleeping/hushing/feeding to sleep. You’ve had enough of the endless stories, lullabies, back rubbing and then the ballerina gymnastics needed to extricate without waking. You are a grown up. They are a child. You need a plan and a united front.
No Cry Sleep Solution. Super-Nanny. Sleep trainers. The NCT What’s App group chat is alive with suggestions. You’ve done the jasmine and lavender bath salts. The calming bedtime. You’ve feng shui’d the crap out of the bedroom. You are ready.
Whatever route you take, you’re gonna count. Minutes. Returns to bed. Phases of the moon. Whichever. You’ll be counting.
Considering they tick a lot of the psychopath boxes (self-absorbed, risk takers, ruthless, lack of empathy), kids are master manipulators. Mine have demonstrated the full range of tactics to get me to buckle at bedtime: disbelief, humour, heartstrings, outrage, hurt. Each turn is always a sucker punch to the guilt gut and each blow is artfully crafted for maximum effect- ie, let them downstairs for ‘just one more PJ Masks’
You will suffer lower back pain from hoiking 20 kilos of child back in to bed 87 times. You will suffer stress headaches. You may stub your foot as you hover by the door. The stakes are high.
There will be a moment in sleep training where you nearly nearly break. A poorly-times Amazon delivery. A screeching neighbourhood cat. A motorbike. A jaunty ice cream van. Any of these may send you spiralling back to square one.
You will nearly break-you may well indeed submit, fair play to you- but you may also summon up deep reserves of determination and press on. It’s like labour- at its peak worst just before it delivers.
You’ve won! You know you shouldn’t think of it as winning! But you won! The bugger’s asleep! You did it!
You have to do it again tomorrow. But it’ll probably be better tomorrow night. Right?
A few weeks ago I was in an important meeting at work. It had lasted longer than I thought so I had to excuse myself. I gave my apologies and left. This week I turned down extra hours- citing that it wouldn’t be financially worth it for me. Next week I have been asked to work at a time I wouldn’t normally be in. I have agreed to it but I have asked to be paid to be there.
And the reason each time? Childcare. That’s the reason I can’t stay at meetings, work longer hours, afford to pick up more work or just ‘pop in’ for an hour or two. Because every time I’m away from my children, it costs me money. That’s the bones of it.
So when Kelly Brook said that working mums are less professional it stung because I live in endless fear that she’s right.
Am I ‘using my kids as an excuse not to do my job properly’ as KB suggests women do? (She described ‘women’ doing this by the way, not parents).
I am not someone who likes bringing kids in to the work place. It doesn’t sit right with me because I compartmentalise. I also don’t really like talking about my children at work. Mostly because I am aware that hearing about other people’s kids is like hearing about other people’s dreams- at best, dull, at worst deeply revealing about a person’s psyche.
Whenever I have to say ‘I can’t because of the children’ a little bit of me cringes. So I try and say ‘I can’t’ instead. And I’ll be that’s what Brook’s co-workers who ‘have kids and you never hear about the kids’ are doing too. We leave it unsaid. We know that our male partners aren’t saying ‘ohbutIneedtogetbacktothekidsbecauseitsswimminglessonstonightsorrysorrysorry’ and ducking out of meetings in a fluster. And it’s no one’s fault. Other than a society that makes women feel like they need to apologise and excuse and validate decisions.
I don’t think ‘sorry’ should be another thing that women are told ‘not to do’. I don’t think citing childcare as a reason they can’t do something should be another thing ‘not to do’ but I would say, just saying ‘no’ is really empowering. Just saying ‘I have to be somewhere else’ is fine. And, if someone’s invited you to join an intellectual book club or a PTA meeting or a fancy dress night then sometimes it is marvellously handy to be able to say ‘Ooh I’d love to but I’m delousing the kids’. #sorrynotsorry, Kelly.
Oddly, our kid-free trip to the Bravarian city of Munich started with us hitchhiking and wheeling in circles around the good-hearted village of Birchanger- possibly the most patient and friendly village in Essex. This article is dedicated to you, Birchanger, without your kindness we never would’ve made our flight.
After that dramatic start, we managed to get to our hotel just in time to meet our friends and celebrate the last hour of their birthday with the (first of many) beers of the holiday. Out for a kebab. Back for bed.
Up and out! We always like to start with a bike tour because it gives us the lay of the land and cycling around a European city is one of life’s joys. We went with Mike’s Bikes who meet by Juliet statue in the main square.
We mooched along in our group admiring cathedrals, statues and acres and acres of beautiful parkland. The definite peak being stopping for lunch at the centre of the park where they serve litre glasses of beer and piles and piles of pork (knuckle, sausage, schnitzel).
The city is so geared up for beer and bikes they even have a drink called a ‘raddler’ which is basically a shandy -the idea being it’s less potent so you can wibble home on your bike more easily. Our group then went back through the park via the river. It’s so powerful no one swims in it- but they do surf it. The water gushes through at such a pace that it creates waves that can be surfed on. Which I obviously did.
Our bike tour ended after five fab hours. Where next? A museum? An art gallery? Or perhaps nip to central market which has a…guess?…beer market in the centre! Man, I love this city!
Many litres of beer later we go back to our hotel for a freshen up and a posh frock because we are off to a rooftop bar in a snazzpants hotel. And YIKES was it snazzy. Marble everything. Gold everything else. Munich is a rich city (I’ve never seen so Maseratis) but I think we found its epicentre. Cocktails were €10 a pop but the view was fabulous.
As were the bogs.
We were meant to be going to a restaurant someone had recommended- we’d booked a taxi and everything but thought we’d ‘just check’ the prices. A main course was €40. Nope. We went for a whopping pizza round the corner. The whole bill was €40 and we were stuffed. And sloshed.
My plan was for us to go and mooch in the boutiques and cool cafes of Schwabing, the university area. We could drink cocktails out of jamjars and act superior. Alas, no one warned us that Munich is a ghost town on Sundays. Nothing was open. Other than museums. So we had a beer for breakfast and dived in to Residenz Museum. Now, call me uncultured but once you’ve seen one velvet-walled, golden-furnished meeting chamber, you don’t need to see another 80. So we pounded through half a dozen and headed to a beer keller. We went to Hofbraeuhaus which is vast and just long tables of people drinking mammoth glasses of beer. Quite proud that this is the only pic I have of me- testament to my drinking dedication.
We then spent the next nine hours drinking beer and eating pork knuckle. We went to Haxenbauer and the knuckle and dumpling and sauerkraut was friggin delish.
Our flight wasn’t until the evening so we packed a picnic and headed to Englischer Garten. 900 acres of parkland with the river running through it. Our bike guide said the park is the city’s garden and everyone was out enjoying it. Including some nudists. We ate and cycled. We said goodbye to our friends who were on a lunchtime flight. We circled and cycled and explored the city. We ducked and dived through suburbs and centres. The more we cycled, the more I fell in love with this city. I love that they’ve made a beach by the river in the centre of town. I love that they have a glorified cuckoo clock in their city square. I love that you’re never more than a freewheel from a beer garden. I love that the city is dotted with parks. I love the statues and water fountains and the fact that you can buy excellent schnitzel whatever the time of day.
And now I’m home and all the beer and the pork are out of my system, I’m telling everyone I meet -including you- that they have to go to Munich. I’m telling you about it and yet you’re not packing your bag? Come on. Forget work tomorrow. Forget you’re a vegetarian. Book those flights and let Munich work its magic on you.
My experience of the sisterhood has been completely and utterly fabulous: I’ve never ever been let down by a woman. But. When I do venture outside my bubble, it’s women who are the most vicious and nasty.
And I despair.
I also see so so much evidence of women being pitted against women and then I think it’s no wonder women turn on each other.
I try- on blog, media and in school- to set the expectation that women and girls are loyal to each other. I try and assume and promote it so it becomes the norm. Only because on International Women’s Day, I talked about how men have become our allies since #metoo etc and I thanked them for all their support and now the culture seems to be (more-not entirely by any stretch) that feminism is for men and it’s ‘assumed’ we have their support. It seemed to get more on board.
That’s the same with the sisterhood: I want to assume inclusion and support in a way to counter every time the media pit us against each other.
Female journalists write about who ‘won’- Kate or Meghan?
Women on Mumsnet shame and humiliate well-meaning women
Mothers scowl and judge and belittle other mothers
Girls say cruel and unpleasant things to other girls
Some of the most vicious and hard-hitting and bone-scraping insults have been aimed at women by other women. It’s women who’ve made me feel the most alone and isolated and confused.
What motivates them?
I don’t get it. I get that women can be complex and shitty and rude and cruel. Fine. We aren’t duty-bound to be lovely and petal-covered. But why would a woman seek out ways to debilitate or over-power or shame another woman?
But actually. In truth. Women have always been the best bits of my life: they’ve mopped my tears, got me drunk, listened to me moan, made me laugh, shown me the world and enriched my life beyond all measurable realms.
And maybe that’s what motivates these rotters. Maybe they’ve never known friendship like that. My granny used to think that Hell was real but it was just not being in Heaven: that you knew about Heaven and you could see Heaven but you weren’t welcomed there. And maybe that’s how these women feel? Like they can see rich and diverse and complicated and beautiful female friendship but they don’t feel a part of it. We are always afraid of things we don’t understand and hateful towards things we feel excluded from.
Well. Tell you what? Women? Come on in. You’re all welcome here. I hear your hatred and vitriol and spite and I ask you to keep them in your pocket for a cause that needs them later (inequality, injustice, poverty, and any number of bits n bobs that need some good ole sorting out).