Sunday 28 September 2014

Week 157- broken waters, mum guilts and brilliant women...

Three Generations of Women started off as a chat in the pub. 

A friend and I were talking about how difficult it is to juggle so many different roles in your life. Whether it be as an employee, a friend, a girlfriend, a mother; you never feel like you can devote enough attention to any of the roles you play to truly say you’ve nailed them.

And then there’s the total kick in the tits.


A bloody big helping of guilt to underpin the fact that you try to cram so much into your life that you don’t feel like anything you do meets the unrealistic expectations you set for yourself. That it’s just finishing one thing and tearing blindly into the next.

Women are the masters of guilt. My personal favourite is the ‘mum guilts’. That niggling feeling that I’m not spending enough time enjoying my children, and then when I am playing with them, that I should also be doing a million other things that have dropped down the list.

My friend and I wondered if life was easier for our mums and grandmas. Whether it was more straightforward, less guilt-ridden, or whether they faced the same challenges, just packaged in a different way?

And so came Three Generations of Women- in the first instance, a website where women could submit stories and experiences, responding to a variety of prompts ranging from the best piece of advice your mother ever gave you, to the family secret that’s never been revealed.

The response was overwhelming.

Within a month we had over 1000 stories submitted. Stories of bravery, loss, love and courage. Women who had had to hide pregnancies, who fought for their families against oppression, grandmothers who went into higher education well into their 70s, daughters who gave up everything to devote their lives to caring for their parents.

We visited women in Brighton, London and Leeds to speak to them about what was important to them as women, and how they thought their experiences of growing up as a woman in Britain compared to that of their mothers and grandmothers.

And then we wrote a play about it.

For me the project has been punctuated with guilt. Guilt that I won’t do justice to the amazing stories women have shared with us. Guilt that I’m not spending enough time writing, and then guilt that I’m spending too much time writing instead of getting to know my new baby son.

He was born early on in the process. In fact I had a Skype meeting with my co-writer after my waters had broken. I’ve been lucky so far. He’s been the most forgiving baby, but I’m sure that will come and bite me on the ass when he’s older.

If this project has taught me anything, it’s that women are really hard on themselves. Women of all ages. We rarely recognise our successes, just focus on the things we’re not doing so well.  

But if we don’t say how bloody brilliant we are, then who will? And what are we teaching our daughters if our default setting is thinking we’re mediocre?

So let’s change that.
Let’s celebrate brilliant women.
And if you’re reading this, start with yourself.    

Sunday 21 September 2014

Week 156- fry-ups, gin and tonic and miming to Michael Jackson...

I used to socialise with my friends at the pub.

I now hang out with them at our children’s birthday parties.

We’ve swapped pints for cups of tea. Dry roasted peanuts for slices of number-shaped cake.

At my daughter’s recent birthday party, I attempted to bridge the two worlds by holding it in the back room of a pub. But it’s not really the same, having a beer when twenty little people are chasing each other around, screaming so loudly that you feel like your ears are going to bleed.

See, my birthday is three days after my daughter's.

I’ve always made a big fuss of birthdays. I like everyone to know that mine’s coming up weeks if not months in advance.

I obviously knew that, as time went on, my daughter’s birthday would hold more significance than mine. But, for the last two years we’ve organised something that could encompass both celebrations, and given that most of her mates are children of ours, that worked out pretty well.

But at three years old she is quite self-aware.

She knew the food she wanted to have (sausage rolls and cake), the games she wanted to play (What’s the time Mr Wolf? and pass the parcel) and who she wanted to come (everyone she’s ever met, including someone from a one-off gymnastics class we attended who I doubt we will ever see again).

So, when Ben suggested I stay on after the party and have a drink with friends as he would take the children home to bed, I didn’t ask twice.

I can now confirm, without a shadow of a doubt, that if you want to have a cracking night out, go with parents of young children. It’s probably because we don’t know when the next opportunity will arise, along with the fact that we virtually never get to spend time with just adults. 
The evening, which started as a pint and a bit of food, ended with us dancing on the tables and miming to Michael Jackson.

The recovery period isn’t as gentle as it used to be, mind.
Gone are the days of a fry-up and the Hollyoaks omnibus. The first morning of my 36th year was spent expressing milk like a human cow for fear of breastfeeding my son neat gin and tonic.

So maybe it’s not the end of the world that my social life mainly takes place in community centres dominated by three year olds.

It turns out I don’t have the stamina to go out more than once a year.  

Sunday 14 September 2014

Week 155- sweating, musical statues and cake for tea...

My daughter turned three this week. 

We hosted a children's party for squillions of little people in a windowless back room of a pub on one of the hottest days this year.

I'd totally underestimated;
a) the number of children who were coming 
b) the amount of games you need to do to fill up 2 hours
And c) the heat that can be generated by 20 up to three year olds running aimlessly around a room.

It was only half way into the do, as every parent, bar none, was dripping with sweat, that I realised the unplugged dehumidifier in the corner of the room was actually an air-con unit. 

We'd exhausted all our party games half an hour into the event. Who knew musical statues only takes 5 minutes? I'd planned it as the 'main event.' Now, I'm no mathematician but that doesn't make that much of a dent into a two-hour party. 

My memories of childhood parties are one of calm and organisation. 

I don't remember my mum panicking her face off, manically scrunching crap plastic prizes into used bits of wrapping paper to give to the kid who missed out on opening a layer of pass the parcel because mum had been up until 1am the previous night wrapping the parcel up and, delirious with tiredness, had totally forgotten how many layers she'd done.

But my daughter had a blinder.

I mean, who wouldn't, given the opportunity to run around a boiling hall in a non-breathable fabric princess outfit and have cake for lunch and tea?

And I now have an opinionated, excitable, loving, inquisitive three year old. Bloody hell. 

Sunday 7 September 2014

Week 154- Angry Anderson, wee stops and pickled onion Monster Munch...

I’m sitting in the back seat of our car wedged so tightly between two car seats that I don’t think I’m ever going to get out.

To my left is a three-year-old who claims she desperately needs a wee. I know she doesn’t because we’ve only just pulled up on the hard shoulder where she virtually filled a whole potty. That was the third wee stop in an hour.

I know long car journeys are up there with hearing someone tell you about their dreams on the boring scale, but still. We’re not going to get to our destination any faster if we have to stop every 10 miles for a phantom wee.

But on the other hand, she could be genuine.

And if that’s the case and we don’t pull over again, doesn’t that make us the worst parents ever?

So there’s that.

Then, on my right, I have a four-month-old baby who is screaming himself purple because he’s hungry. I’ve left his bottle of milk on the worktop at home. I can picture it, it was right next to a packet of salt and vinegar crisps.

Which I have remembered to pick up, so that doesn’t bode well on the good parenting front.

Hence I’m sitting in the back of the car, having squashed myself into a space so titchy that I’d give a professional contortionist a run for their money.

And now, I’m trying to do the impossible.

I’m attempting to breast feed my baby without;

a) removing my seatbelt
b) moving him at all in his baby seat
or c) showing my tits to the men in the white van next to us.

Because, we are, of course stuck in standstill traffic and have been since rejoining the motorway after wee three, so I have a captive audience.

It is also knocking on 25 degrees so I’m sweating my face off.

I remember how I used to enjoy long car journeys. How I’d stock up on Diet Coke and pickled onion Monster Munch and spend the entirety of the drive listening to air-punchingly good songs.

But Angry Anderson’s ‘Suddenly’ feels like a distant memory. It’s ‘Wind the Bobbin  Up’ a capella all the way these days.

Just as I think I’m going to crack a rib, the crying stops. He shuts his eyes in protest, sucks his fingers, and falls instantly to sleep.

I look to my left and my daughter is rubbing her eyes, and moments later, she too is asleep.

We turn off ‘The Wheels on the Bus’ in favour of a Gardener’s Question Time, I open the packet of salt and vinegar, and momentarily experience something like peace.

Until I realise I am squashed into a space the size of an old 50p, parked on the M1 with my breast out.

I guess you can’t have it all.