Archive for the tag 'parenting'

She gets it, even when we don’t

NS January 9th, 2011

Yesterday afternoon, after a spot of shopping, we took the kids to Pizza Hut. Though there were moments where we had to corral them back to the table, for the most part they behaved in the socially prescribed way by sitting in their chairs, eating their food and not making too much noise. It was a nice outing.

As NH and I were paying and getting coats on, our server, a young woman who looked to be in her early 20s, smiled as she watched our children tickle each other and laugh. After she handed over the receipt and my debit card, she said to them, “You two make me so happy. Watching you play together has made my day.”

She then turned to me and said, “This must be the best part of being a parent, huh? Watching them smile and laugh. I bet it makes up for all the times you’re fed up with them.”

Caught off guard by her lovely and insightful comment, I just smiled and nodded. As I watched the two blonde heads of my progeny skip out the door holding hands, the poignancy of her comment caused my eyes to briefly fill with tears.

Yes, I am lucky and yes, they are a joy to behold.

Thank you, Pizza Hut girl, for reminding me of that.

Baby, you don’t know what it’s like

NS May 8th, 2010

I know I’ll probably be struck down by the yellow ribbon brigade for daring to speak even remotely ill of the military, but this article in a California newspaper, about a Marine base holding a day where military wives could spend a day in their husbands’ shoes — wearing camouflage and heavy equipment, performing drills, shooting guns and so on – annoyed the hell out of me. It irked me not because I don’t think it could conceivably be useful for the Marines’ spouses to get an idea of what they do at work and while they’re away at war, but because the Marines stressed it as a way for the women to be ‘more understanding’ and ‘sympathetic’ to what he’d been through when he comes home at the end of the day or after a tour of duty.

That’s all well and good, I’m all for a person having greater understanding of their spouse’s responsibilities and daily life when they’re apart, but there was absolutely no mention of what difficulties the women face in running the household and looking after any children they may have, perhaps in addition to working at a 9-5 job themselves, while their husbands are gone. The message seemed to be, ‘Ladies, when the men get home, give them a break. Don’t ask them to contribute to the household or do any ‘babysitting’ if they don’t feel like it. That’s your job and they’ve had it tough.’

While I don’t doubt that being in the military and serving in a war is indeed difficult, gruelling, emotionally and physically taxing work, the implication is that their wives, in comparison, have been on a bon bon-eating, all expenses paid spa break. This is just another way in which men’s work (especially anything requiring physical strength or manual labour) is framed as more honourable, more worthy or respect and more legitimate than the work women do.

Oh, but a housewife’s life isn’t in danger while she’s cleaning the house, raising the kids, doing all the shopping, home repairs, financial management and so on, right? Therefore, she should be grateful and ‘more understanding’ when hubby just wants to put his feet up and drink a cold beer at the end of the day. She just doesn’t know what it’s like!

I think this ‘Jane Wayne Day’ (as they call it) is a good idea but instead of inviting a Marine to come smugly watch his wife crawl through the mud and shoot guns, maybe he should spend that time doing everything his wife does when he’s away, including working her job, taking care of absolutely everything in the household and being a sole parent. I’m pretty sure that if Noble Husband ever had to spend a week or two alone with the children, without anyone else around to help or keep him company and with all of the usual weekday commitments and requirements instead of the unstructured freedom of weekends and holidays, he’d have a MUCH better understanding of why I sometimes thrust the children into his arms the minute he walks in the door and then shut myself in a dark room with a large glass of wine. I’d be more than happy to go spend a day in his shoes, dealing with office politics, lazy colleagues, looming deadlines, belligerent bosses and pack ‘em in like sardines commuting, to remind myself that working a paid job isn’t exactly a cakewalk either. Sometimes I do forget.

I think we all need reminding now and again at just how hard our partners work, but it has to be mutual. Empathy should be a shared quality between us, not a one-way street or who-has-it-harder competition. I’m grateful that NH, while not having first-hand experience in my role, knows that I work just as hard as he does. As he always says when he’s working long hours and I’m weary of doing everything on my own, “When I work overtime, you work overtime.”

I’m not sure if I even mentioned it here, but NH has been away on a two week business trip and only returned a few hours ago, which is why this article probably caught my interest. Because he travelled overnight on a red-eye flight, he’s upstairs sleeping and I’m keeping the children at bay. But he knows as well as I do that he’s not the only one who deserves a rest and a break. Tomorrow will be my turn to sleep in, have a break and put my feet up a bit.

At times,  in our early parenting days, I wasn’t sure if we’d ever get to this point. We’ve had a lot of misunderstandings, arguments and resentments along the way. But I’m happy with where we are now. I know he values what I do and I him. Our marriage isn’t 50/50 and it isn’t always equal, but we’re constantly trying to compromise, empathise and evolve to better understand each other and help ease some of the stress we each experience in performing our roles. It’s not perfect but it’s progress. And a willingness to make that  progress, slowly but surely, is good enough for me.

Welcome home, my lovely husband. We’ve missed you.

What’s missing in the ‘mummy wars’

NS March 29th, 2010

This article appeared in yesterday’s Observer magazine, about the so-called ‘mummy wars’ and why women are so critical of each others’ parenting choices. The journalist, Lucy Cavendish, makes the majority of us out to be guilt-ridden, shame-inducing, competitive bitches who stab each other in the back at any given opportunity in attempts at gross one-upmanship.

Mothers are each other’s nemeses, bickering among ourselves about our own particular style. Parenthood has become a fractured and fractious scene. Working mothers can’t stand stay-at-home mothers; older ones think their younger versions are too overindulgent. Those who choose not to have children are militant about those who end up having four or more. Hothousing mothers with their endless Kumon maths classes look down on the more laid-back ones who think children should do what they want, when they want.

Really? I can honestly say I’ve not seen this exhibited on a large scale. Sure, you get the odd control freak who has her kids enrolled in every class and activity under the sun and who loves to boast about their accomplishments, but I (and most of the other parents I know) just shrug it off as that mother’s particular brand of neurosis; after all, we all have one. Unless one’s self-confidence is so wrecked as to require the constant approval of every parent one comes into contact with, most mums just do the best we can and try to keep our noses out of other people’s business. Yes, there’s the odd twinge that says ‘Gee, am I doing it right?’ but that’s pressure we put on ourselves, not something that other mums made us feel. Can there really be that many women who feel like this?

Consequently, there’s a war out there. You may not see it, it may not kill you, but if you are a woman with children, you’ve had shots fired across your bows. I bet, like me, you’ve been questioned, taken apart, broken down, demoralised and criticised until you feel like crying.

If any ‘shots’ have been fired I either caught them and threw them right back at the offending person  so quickly that the dagger never pierced my armour of indifference or I’ve missed out on this ‘battlefield’ I’m meant to be dodging every day. I hate to break it to you Lucy, but using hunting references and telling us we’ve all been these predators’ prey won’t make it any more true for me. And the war clichés? Yawn. If I see one more bottle being wielded like a weapon by a woman wearing army fatigues, I may be induced to bash the unimaginative and collectively absurd media over the head with a weapon of my own choosing, though I suspect it will hurt a lot more than a rubber nipple would, and leave a much redder mark.

Justine Roberts, co-founder of Mumsnet (always held up as some magical portal into the ‘real world’ of parenting) is quoted extensively throughout the article and at one point she says:

“We are all trying to be ‘good mothers’ but sometimes we don’t feel we are doing very well at it. There is not a working mother alive who doesn’t feel pangs of guilt about leaving her children. There are probably very few stay-at-home mothers who don’t feel frustrated sometimes that they are not fulfilling themselves. It’s a culture of ‘having it all’ and yet very few of us can do this, which is why we get defensive about how we are seen as mothers.”

And then later, Lucy writes:

Every time I talk to another mother, they seem to be doing a better job of parenting. Their children play more sports than mine, they are academically more competent, they read books all the time, they are constantly on playdates, they are popular, witty, funny. Their mothers cook food from scratch, have coffee mornings with other mothers, help read in school, enrol them for extra tuition. I do none of this and it makes me feel useless.

At this point I would just like to say: Grow a pair! Stop feeling judged and just live your lives! It’s not that difficult to find judgment in every thing you do if you’re looking for it. Being hypersensitive to these slights and using them to ‘prove’ just how horrid and exclusive the other mummies are while you — dear, poor you! —  innocently attempt to peacefully co-exist with these pieces of work reeks a little of attention-seeking manipulation. Perhaps a big, fancy war in which two types of soldier (those on a mission to seek and destroy, and those there as peacekeepers) battle it out for the top accolade of Perfect Mum is a great way to keep one feeling important, hmm? Perhaps? Have a drink and think about it.

Finally, this nugget of information is imparted to us:

Why do we do this? Why do we criticise each other all the time? As Kate Figes points out: “When it comes to work-life balance, little has changed in 10 years. While the fact that many mothers want and need to continue working may be more accepted and talked about, practical support is thin on the ground. Few families can manage now without both parents earning a living. But it is the mothers who bear the brunt of this stress. Most would not want to have it any other way. They love being mothers to their children. But their expectations are still shaped by stereotypical notions of how ‘good’ mothers ought to behave and they strive to be perfect in both roles (as worker and mother), which in turn takes its toll on their sense of self and well-being.”

What kind of crap reporting is THAT? No follow-up, no further probing, not even a cursory investigation into why it might be that women have all this stress to be so ‘perfect’ and to ‘have it all’; no mention of the children’s fathers, social expectations, traditional gender roles or the capitalistic system that requires two incomes but few accommodations for childrearing. Absolutely no anger that, 40 years after the previous generation fought to get us some basic rights, we are still stuck at an infuriatingly unfulfilling crossroads of Self and Mother, where the only choices go off on divergent paths at right angles to one another instead of following a curve that can change and stretch and grow alongside our lives.

It amazes me, it really does. This is why feminism is not dead and why it can’t be laid aside. Can so many women truly not see how we have been pitted against each other by a patriarchy-constructed and media-peddled diversion that keeps us from paying attention to all of the ways in which the system and society still fail us? Have we been distracted that easily, lured in by breast-or-bottle debates and plastic toys vs. wooden?

We’re at war all right, but not with each other. So take that grenade of criticism you thought you just saw lobbed at the school gate by the mum who parents differently to you and throw it back where it really came from.

The voices

NS March 19th, 2010

You may remember that, around a year ago, I told you about my robot persona and how this robot got Noble Girl to do pretty much anything. Of course, it caused some embarrassment in public, but well worth it in my opinion.

Since then, I’ve been voice to numerous objects and imaginary friends, with characters including: Washa Washa, the flannel that talks in a funny voice while it scrubs NG’s body at bathtime; Mrs. Mouse, the meek and mild rodent that implores noisy children to eat their dinner quietly and without too much mess; Crazy Dancer, the madwoman who starts falling down and dancing uncontrollably to make the children laugh when they’re being especially grumpy; Queen, the regal lady who graciously accepts bows and curtsies and speaks softly and kindly to her loyal subjects; Pirate, the gruff-and-tough sailor who talks to the kids when we’re stuck in traffic; and Tree, a high-pitched, cheerful lass who explains topics relating to animals or nature — all affable, harmless creatures of mine and NG’s imaginings.

Yesterday, however, a new personality came to life. One that was entirely my creation and invoked, spur of the moment, in a desperate attempt to drink a cup of tea before it went cold. “Behold!” I said in an enthusiastic voice (though Noble Girl and Noble Boy had no idea what that meant) “The Queen’s cousin, the Duchess, is here — look!” Then I did two spins in quick succession and suddenly, I was an uglier, meaner version of Mary Poppins, with a terrible British accent. The Duchess drew herself up to her full height and looked down what I imagined to be her wart-covered nose at the children. She sniffed and sighed.

“What is this?” she bellowed. “I didn’t ask to see these children, what are they doing here? How did you get into my house, young lady?”

NG, wide-eyed and with a smile on her lips, replied: “I live here! Who are you, please?”

“Who am I? Who am I?!! I am your majesty the Queen’s sister, the Duchess. But I’m not as nice as her and I don’t suffer fools gladly. Are you a fool, young lady?”

“No,  I’m a little girl.”

“Well I don’t like little girls either. OR little boys. Unless…”

“What, Duchess, what?” NG was practically wetting herself with glee at this new arrival.

“Well, I can tolerate children but only if they do as they are told and let the Duchess drink her cup of tea before it goes wretchedly cold. And no whining. The Duchess canNOT tolerate whining. Do you think you can do that?”

“Oh yes, Duchess, yes! We’ll be good while you drink your tea! Can we go sit in the living room with you?”

“Certainly. But we will march there. Royalty do not ‘walk’. We saunter and march or glide. Got it?”

“Yes! Oh, I love you Duchess,” she said as she threw her arms around my hips and hugged me tightly.

“Hmm. Well, I love you too. Now come tidy up your toys and then read a book on the sofa with your brother, very nicely, while I have the royal tea. Okay?”

“Okay!”

I know it’s wrong, I know. It’s manipulative, lazy parenting. But damn if it isn’t also fun and efficient. The Duchess means business! She not only got NG to eat all her dinner, including all the spinach, but got her through the bath and to bed without so much as a wobble. As far as I’m concerned she can stay as long as she’s getting things done. Soon, not even the Duchess will be able to prevent a meltdown on the high street or a plate of food pushed away without being touched. And at that point she will likely have to fly away on her jewel-encrusted dragon. But for now, she’s gold dust. I’m keeping her.

Photo credit

All good things must end

NS February 11th, 2010

I knew it was coming. It wasn’t a surprise. So why did I still feel like I’d been knocked sideways by the news I received today? Maybe I had been in denial.

But I can’t deny it any longer; my childminder, J, the one who is so wonderful and affordable and resides so nearby, is moving. She’s moving back to the area she is originally from, which is hours away from here. And while I am happy for her and appreciative of all that she’s done for us, I can’t help but feel a twinge of ‘It’s not fair!’ about the whole thing. We only started with J at the very end of October, just over three months ago. It was only two weeks ago that my son stopped crying when I dropped him off every Thursday (he goes one day a week). I loved knowing that he got some playtime with two other children his age (J’s own little boy and another girl she cares for) and many trips to the playground just across the road. And TNC will be gutted, she really will. Her key worker and favourite teacher just left the pre-school she attends a couple weeks ago, and now this. The only two other women (aside from family) who I’ve ever trusted with my girl and have seen her bond with have gone or are going.

Obviously, this is just the way things are. This is life. It’s nothing to get worked up about. People change childminders and teachers all of the time. Children grow, circumstances change and other aspirations beckon. Sometimes it will be them leaving us; sometimes it will be us leaving them. But I will still find it difficult when I have to explain to TNC that J is leaving and why she won’t see her again. It will tear me up to have to go through the process all over again with my little boy — the crying, the clinging, the arms reaching out and the little voice calling “Mama! Mama!” as I shut the door to a stranger’s house and walk away, leaving him, and my heart, inside.

That is, if I do have to do it again. Now that this Good Thing is ending, I’m not sure I have the energy or inclination or even a reason to find a replacement. As it is, I’m only bringing in just enough income to cover the costs of the two-day-a-week childcare, at J’s lower-than-average fee for this area. I simply can’t afford to pay more than I am now and I need someone who also lives nearby, is willing to take each child for only one day per week, with a view to taking them on in a more full-time capacity if/when I start back to work this autumn. I was incredibly lucky when I began my search to find someone so quickly (indeed, the third person I contacted), who shared my views on childcare and who fit all of the above criteria as well. I can’t help but feel that I won’t be so lucky next time around.

The other thing this has made me confront is the fact that the freelance thing hasn’t exactly taken off. I got so busy with creating Fertile Feminism and making noises and notes about a corresponding book idea that I haven’t had much time for trying to establish some paid work. I’m no closer now to earning money from writing than I was before I began this childminding venture. Granted, I said I was going to give it six months and, if J doesn’t leave for another 8 weeks, it should give me just about that. I somehow doubt, however, that I’m going to get a successful freelance career up and running before then. And if I go back to no outside childcare (or just can’t find any that suits), I will have even less time to pursue it than before. Does that mean it’s hi-ho-hi-ho, back to work I go? The thought simultaneously excites me and fills me with dread.

There’s also the small matter of me losing my marbles if I have to give up my two days a week to myself: to write and think and run errands or drink a cup of tea without children demanding my attention and needing me with all their needlessly endless needs. Since I hired a cleaner and a childminder, I have been so much happier. I’ve been full of energy, getting more sleep, getting more done. My marriage has improved drastically. My self-confidence is (was?) at an all-time high and my tendency towards depressive episodes low. And now, I feel as if I’m watching it slip away like a kite string tugged from my fingers by a strong wind, until all I can do is shield my eyes from the bright, burning sun of reality and squint at the receding shape of The Way Things Were as it tumbles and twirls through the sky, flying further and further from my grasp. Can I get another kite up in the air, or will it land with a resounding thud on the ground of some barren, muddy field over yonder?

I have 6-8 weeks to find out.

Photo credit

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