Mothering -a work in progress

I am the first one up in my house. This makes receiving breakfast in bed torturous.  I knew from over-hearing snatched conversations, and from previous years, that this would be my fate yesterday morning. I wait in bed until my tray arrives. That came (finally) at 8.30. Scrambled eggs and chocolate.  They know me well.  When my son and daughter’s cards chimed with the ‘best mother ever’ message I challenged them on what they meant by that.  Amber told me I was different to other mums because I was quirky and I help her with retorts when classmates are mean.  Like?  “Well, when Carrie asked me (repeatedly) what was that on my nose, you told me to tell her it was a unicorn”.  Yes, I did.  I also gave her a mean option- “it’s a pimple, just like the one you had on your chin last week” but my kind girl disregarded that approach.  My 6 year old felt I had earned the best mum merit because I no longer pull his hair.  I did tug on his hair one day when he’d pulled his sister’s – a taste of his own medicine he has not let me forget.

I don’t feel like the best mum ever. I even feel a little sad when I think my kids might accept that what I provide is the best mothering. Though I am their mother  and I am the best they will get. I hope I’ll get better at it, the longer I am in the role. I worry that all the work I have been doing on myself is taking me away from the daily job at hand – of being their mother. And though I hope there will be dividends for my family (DH as well) I’m probably taking a gamble. Then I think of the safety demonstrations they deliver on aircrafts. Secure your oxygen mask before  attending to your children’s. That’s what I am doing.


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A pleasant Saturday

On Saturday the London chapter of my therapeutic writing body met at the Poetry Cafe in Covent Garden. One of our number delivered a workshop with colour prompts. We were read a line from a letter Vincent Van Gogh penned to a friend – “This garden set me so to dreaming”.

I reflected on my uneasy relationship with gardens. My preference for meadows over lawns. My unease with taming and conformity. In another exercise I chose maroon as a colour from my childhood and I remembered the wine and cream velvet swirly wallpaper from Keaney’s B&B. Myself and my sister house-sat for a week to receive passing traffic while the family holidayed abroad. We were teenagers at the time, aged 13 and 16 respectively. This was a step towards independence.

We were paired for our last exercise and tasked with writing a poem. So myself and my partner pondered on Red before writing our verse. It was a fun way to close a fun morning.

I had an interesting conversation with an experienced workshop facilitator. We spoke about the challenges of chairing and facilitating. I know I need to step up and as a facilitator be prepared to reign others in. This goes against type (being more meadow than lawn) but she said to remember that by and large people want to be told what to do. I know she’s right.

I ‘d been looking forward to Saturday for weeks. Because of my morning at the Poetry Cafe and also because of my afternoon plans. I’d arranged to meet with two lovely women from the Artist’s Way weekend. I was disappointed when both cancelled  only hours before. It doesn’t bode well for the purpose of our gathering. A regular ‘checking in’ to account and encourage on Artist Way learnings and actions.

Anxious to maximise my time in town, I headed to The National Portrait Gallery to experience “The Great War in portraits”. Harrowing and raw. Fear and destiny etched on faces.

General Sir Herbert C.O Plummer By William Orpen, 1918
General Sir Herbert C.O Plummer By William Orpen, 1918

As I walked to Waterloo for my train home I spotted a blue plaque I must have passed often before but never noted. Rudyard Kipling lived on Villiers street many years before the war and before he wrote “My boy Jack” about his son Jack,who he lost – never to recover – in 1915 .

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My boy Jack

“Have you news of my boy Jack?”
Not this tide.
“When d’you think that he’ll come back?”
Not with this wind blowing, and this tide.

“Has any one else had word of him?”
Not this tide.
For what is sunk will hardly swim,
Not with this wind blowing, and this tide.

“Oh, dear, what comfort can I find?”
None this tide,
Nor any tide,
Except he did not shame his kind —
Not even with that wind blowing, and that tide.

Then hold your head up all the more,
This tide,
And every tide;
Because he was the son you bore,
And gave to that wind blowing and that tide!










I’ve had “the chat”

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Maybe I’ve been prompted by the flowering of the blossom trees though its been on my mind for some time. Probably since her observations on the survival of the species last year. With my son safely ensconced at his Judo class I seized the opportunity – 45 minutes to have “the chat” with my ten year old daughter. I’d heard from another mum at the class coffee am that Year 5 have SE (Sex education) on Fridays. She attends a Catholic school so I’m guessing terms are cloaked and fluffy. Her teacher that day is a year shy of retirement, a rather austere woman. Old school. They started learning about birds and will move on to some other species next term. Humans would wait until Year 6. I feel I have a small window to get my speak in. Leave it another few months and she won’t want to have this chat. I think it’s important that she knows I am not awkward about speaking to her about sex or listening to what she has to say. Her father asked me to at least let her have Christmas without “knowing”. Like I am somehow going to annihilate her childhood in 45 minutes.

So sat side by side on a bench I ask my daughter what she’s learning at SE. She tells me about the birds and how they make their eggs by “rubbing their bellies”. I probe further and she concedes that there is more to it than that. They rub their “openings”. I ask if she has any idea how it happens for people.  She tells me that when girls get their periods (we’d spoken briefly about that) they can have babies.  I ask what’s missing and she says ‘sperm”.  So I say we don’t rub our bellies together to get the sperm. Does she have any idea how that happens. She says No. But doesn’t sound remotely curious. I am guessing she’d happily stop our conversation now.

So I tell her it gets in via the penis.

UUGhh she says and without a pause  “Mum, what do you prefer decimals, fractions or percentages”

 I know she wants me to wrap this conversation up so I just end it by telling her that I am happy to talk about this again anytime she wants and if she hears something from pals that doesn’t make sense just to ask me about it. I tell her that not having a brother I had no idea what a penis looked like and that that caused me a lot of confusion and embarrassment later on.

Mindful that many of the parents won’t have had the chat with their children yet I tell Amber that some of her pals still think all babies come out of stomachs and not bottoms and it’s not our job to set them right so best not to share her new knowledge in the playground.

There was a little more speaking to do so later that night when the children were tucked up in their beds I broke it to DH that his daughter knows about his role in baby making.

 Job done.

Turning 10 in style

We might just have thrown the perfect birthday party for a ten-year old girl. It was in the planning for some time and executed on Sunday. A shopping and sipping party. I limited my daughter to 3 guests so she chose them from her classmates. We designed little handbag shaped invites giving the bare details. To begin at 1pm on Sunday 2 March with pizza and bag design. I’d ordered canvas bags and fabric markers from Amazon.

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The girls got stuck in to their designs straight away transforming plain canvas bags in to colourful fashion items. I handed out envelopes with their money allocation. Ten being the number of the celebration, the girls had £10 each to spend. My daughter had jazzed up the envelopes with funny shopping slogans and international currency symbols. So off we set. We didn’t have to wait too long for our ride to town. The girls scrambled to the front seats on the top deck.  I handed out a shopping extravaganza quiz (with the promise of prizes) to occupy them on the bus rides. Questions such as how many bus stops between our house and the town? See how many words you can make from extravaganza. etc.

I’d class myself as an astute shopper  – slow to get ripped off and I always know where to find the best prices. But I had to remember that for the afternoon I was merely their escort and where they went I followed. Sale signs mean nothing to them.  I  suppressed the urge to lead them to Zara where I knew with their end of season sale a tenner could secure them a fab outfit. They had their own ideas. One of the girls suggested they go to the new frozen yoghurt bar.  I think the name was almost as much of a draw as the topping. So they got their SNOGS at £4.45 a hit. We did go to Zara but only so they could try on dresses they had no intention of buying but they had a lot of fun parading around their dressing rooms in their identikit outfits looking like they  were part of a tweenie band.

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Claire’s provided them with a giggle too (wigs), Paperchase was a draw and they purchased rainbow pencils there. I’d wanted them to start with Tiger where I knew for sure that a tenner would go a long way. Actually even £3 (what most of them were rocking up with) goes far in this store. With only pennies left, we headed for home. Back on the bus the girls completed the quiz. Once indoors they surveyed their purchases while I set out the afternoon tea. They had a choice of cucumber, ham and tuna sandwiches (crusts off of course), meringues, butterfly buns, and mini victoria sponges. I’d baked shortbread biscuits using money cookie cutters so the girls munched on euros, yens, dollars and sterling.  The “cake” was the figure 10 in buns laid out on a tray strewn with chocolate coins and  edible wafer notes.

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I set out my fine bone china tea set. The girls played posh for the entirety of their sitting. Very funny to eavesdrop in my role as waitress. I was handsomely tipped (edible 100 euro notes) though they worked me hard. The tea drinkers took their tipple with plenty of milk and heaped spoonfuls of sugar.  They drank this mixture from the china cups throwing back the tea as though it was a shot.  “More tea, please”.  They talked of their mansions and staff, of their riches and their men.  Of their children and their horses.  They nibbled on their wafer money.  Overheard “Oh the big notes are especially delicious  – I’m soooo wealthy I eat money for breakfast, dinner and tea.”

With high tea over, they spent the next hour shooting a video to the backdrop of the Pharrell Williams hit single “Happy.”   I was coerced in to  a few seconds of a dance performance involving a cup and a saucer.  DH struck rock star poses with his parlour guitar. The screen stars were the four girls. Kisses to camera, walking in to shot, choreographed moves and costume changes. Finally I called time. They’d been with us for over 6 hours though the day flew. Instead of a ‘carriages at 8’ I’d added ‘I’ll drop when we’re done”.  So they piled in to the car squealing as they watched back the movie recording.  There was no need for party bags as they were already heading home laden with their purchases.

Amber loved her party as did her guests. I’ve long been a fan of small birthday parties – simple old-fashioned fun that needn’t cost a fortune. The fun starts at the planning stage so no sooner had we dropped the last child to her door than she and we started throwing ideas around for her eleventh.