Thursday, 28 March 2013

In Search of Self

'You know I have an attitude problem,' says the 10-year-old. There's a hint of pride in her voice.
'Yes,' I reply warily.
'Well everyone in Year 5 and 6 has one too. It's something you get when you're ten.'

Impertinence, I realise, is the latest playground must-have, along with a Juicy Couture school bag, Ralph Lauren underpants and an iPod Touch. Anyone with dreams of status has rehearsed the curled lip and the cocked hip with which to repulse all adult utterances. They've mugged up on fashionable conversation openers: 'You're dead, Mum!'/ 'You just don't geddit!'/'You wanna ruin my life!'. They've jettisoned puerile pleasures: bedtime stories/family time and devoted themselves to the things that really matter: self-adhesive nail extensions, New Look fashions, Jesse J and Instagram.

The shadowed eyes, for which I've blamed hormones, are down to the strain of this transition. I've been distracted by my own frustrations as I watch my little girl changing. Now it dawns on me that she is equally unnerved. Peer pressure is precipitating her into a new world before biology has quite caught up.

At night, freed from other ten-year-olds' eyes, she clutches her toy elephant and asks for a Mr Man story. 'At secondary school I suppose I'll have to invent a new me again,' she says. 'And the trouble is I'm worried I won't know who 'me' is any more.'

Middle-age, I realise, is a blessing.

Thursday, 21 March 2013


There's an emotion that assails you when your child draws its first breath and that emotion remains steadfast for as long as you draw your own. The feeling powers you through those hectic months of bonding, through the first wrench of schooldays and through the turmoil of teens. It requires of you sacrifices that your childless self would have quailed at and conjures spectres that appal you in the night hours. This feeling is inevitable, indestructible and all-consuming. It's called guilt.

There is no remedy, although you'll convince yourself that every other parent has found one. When you feed your kids sausages, you know that every other mother is serving organic ragout. When you terrorise them for tardiness on school days, you know that every other mother is cheerfully diffusing tension with a sing-along.

Other mothers never shout at their children, never feed them cheese strings, never leave their bed sheets on for five weeks and never harry them from the house so they can read Twitter or send them to school with a temperature so they can catch up on the garden. Other mothers listen raptly to their rambling tales from the school playground and never ever find their children boring.

Guilt at the hours your brood spend on their iPods prompts you to enrol them in drama and t'ai chi. Then, guiltily, you fear you're controlling. If they spurn their spinach and litter their rooms you feel guilt that you've spoiled them. When you demand instant digestion and a spring-clean you feel guilt that you're a nag. Should a teacher declare them talented, you beat yourself up for not having harried them through Homer. If the report shows room for improvement you blame yourself for those years of Enid Blyton.

At night when, well-fed, well-soaped and well read-to, they sleep on their soft-plumped pillows, their follies fade from memory and you recall only your own voice hectoring. And when, infrequently, they tell you you're the best mum in the world, the guilt is worst of all. Because you know that, however hard you strive, you'll never feel you deserve them.

What makes you feel guilty?

Nominations are now open for the Brilliance in Blogging Awards 2013. If you relish the thrill of voting, but are stumped for enough candidates, feel free to use my URL in one of the categories! Should I be shortlisted my 10-year-old will give anyone who voted for me a makeover.

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Wild Living

The prompt for this week's 100-Word Challenge at Julia's Place is The unseasonal weather meant. Dunno what made her think of that one...

The unseasonal weather meant we had to rely on our inner resources last weekend. My eight-year-old possesses enough of these for all of us. He sold paperclip bangles which hooked me inextricably to a stranger during the morning crush on the Tube. He taught me to recite rhymes to cheer a potted palm and he invented the killer game 'Suspense': together we gazed at his digital clock and watched for the minute to change. 

Relentless winter intensifies family time and that's a privilege. My son has many more distractions up his sleeve. So why, ungratefully, do I now find myself longing for the liberation of sunshine? 

Sunday, 17 March 2013


My children want to make biscuits. 'To be a cook you must have the look!' says the ten-year-old. She has been holding clandestine talks with my mother about my need for cosmetic enhancements and, while I'm looking out my apron, she produces a bucket full of lurid substances which I never knew she owned.

She applies to cosmetics the same technique that she uses for her splatter paintings. Now and then she swabs the splashback off with a tissue soaked with spittle.

My looks may be improved by the ordeal but my confidence is not. 'I can't get the lip gloss on straight,' she says, making random sweeps with a tube of pink gel, 'because you've got all these little red lines going off your mouth.' When I am suitably glistening she tells me to keep my mouth shut at all times to hide my yellow teeth. Then she ponders a cunning hairstyle that will hide my moles.

Eventually I am ready to survey my new reflection. 'You look years younger!' she tells me. I look, in fact, like Colonel Gaddafi with conjunctivitis. She modifies my bright pink eyelids with bright blue and rubs a layer of the black mascara from my beetling brows with spit. The green face glitter she admits is a mistake and it's scrubbed off with loo roll. Then she leads me to the Vicar's study, certain that he'll rejoice anew in his life's companion. The Vicar looks up from his sermon. 'You look like a trollop!' he says. The ten-year-old sags. 'A very nice trollop,' he adds kindly.

I tell my my daughter that she has done a fine job. I don't tell her that I shall scrape every last bit of it off my face before taking my Mothers' Union vows in front of a congregation of 80. Then it hits me...

... I don't possess any make-up remover!

Nominations are now open for the Brilliance in Blogging Awards 2013. If you relish the thrill of voting, but are stumped for a candidate, feel free to use my URL in any of the categories! Should I be shortlisted my 10yo will give anyone who voted for me a makeover.

Thursday, 14 March 2013

A Nation of Undesirables

I've just completed the trawl though atlases, timetables, savings accounts and passport renewal forms in order to book our summer holiday. And, having settled on a beguiling gîte in Brittany I was about to become excited when I realised who would be coming with me.

Believe me, you wouldn't want to holiday with this woman. I suspect she's on day release from a female offenders' institution. She definitely looks as though she'd been doing hard drugs. Or maybe I'm misjudging her and her grim-faced pallor is a symptom of galloping tuberculosis.

The Vicar, too, paled when he saw the company he would be keeping. He's been lurking in his study ever since laying eyes on her, bracing himself for August. So you see, the Home Office has a lot to answer for. I suspect its requirements for passport photos are part of a strategy to reduce the numbers entering this country, for most immigration officials would baulk at admitting the personages pictured in the average British passport. Those photo booths with mortuary lighting which make a toddler look like a cholera victim, the ban on smiles that gives us all the air of axe murderers, the print colours that simultaneously bleach our complexions and darken our eye bags transform us from adornments to society to apparent fugitives from justice.

A nation that was at ease with itself would insist on photo booths with mood lighting, the odd Grecian column as a backdrop, perhaps a discreet nozzle to administer an emergency spray tan. Radiant smiles would be obligatory to reflect the national pride. But presumably, officials are so accustomed to sullen expressions in the log-jams at Passport Control, that a beaming portrait would render us all unrecognisable.

And it's those border controllers that worry me. What kind of impression must they form of human nature when their social interaction consists of gazing at mugshots like mine? How much pleasanter their job would be they could browse snaps of us poised on a surf board or laughing into a cocktail umbrella.

I cling to one sole comfort. I've aged ten years since my last passport pic. The difference was paining me. But simultaneously I had to renew my ten-year-old's ID. And I can confirm that in merely five years since her last photo shoot, she's aged far more dramatically than me!

How about you? Are you happy to be seen on holiday with yourself?

Sunday, 10 March 2013

Mothering Sunday

'What,' the Vicar asked the assembled children at the Mothering Sunday service, 'does your mother do for you?'
'She cooks us nice meals,' answered one.
'She gives us love,' lisped another.
'She tells us off!' mumbled my son.

I marshalled a beatific smile and attempted to resemble the tirelessly loving, deliciously competent cooks in the pews all around me. I tied a tablecloth round a small boy who was portraying the disciple John during the sermon, I draped a blue handkerchief over the head of a small girl who was being Mary and I hoped that in the eyes of all but my offspring I embodied an icon of motherhood.

Then the children gave out daffodils to their mothers. 'I told 'em I had two lesbian mothers so I could get you two bunches,' said my daughter loudly. This time my beatific smile was ineffective. The elderly worshipper next to me shifted sharply along the pew.

When the service ended the octogenarian lay reader limped up on her frame. I feared she took a dim view of sapphic parenting and was wary as she thrust an envelope at me. Inside was a newspaper cutting of Myleene Klass dressed in skin-tight black leather. I was non-plussed.

'Is this a hint?' I asked, wondering how a leather catsuit would go with my new Mothers Union membership badge.
The lay reader contemplated my bobble-knit legs and unironed corduroy.
'You'd best stay as you are,' she concluded. 'You look like a mummy.'

Do you live up to others' ideals of motherhood?

Monday, 4 March 2013


My ten-year-old can fluently recite lines from a sex chatline. 'Yes, I'm wearing my school uniform, silly!' she simpers, 'And I've finished my oral, although I did find it a bit of a mouthful at first.'

The unwitting culprit is my father who thought that St Trinians was all cardigan-clad mischief-making under the wholesome eye of Joyce Grenfell and who therefore bought a DVD of the 21st-century remake from Age UK. When I arrive, my daughter is raptly viewing schoolgirls in black-frilled scanties running a telephonic sideline from their dormitory.

I waver. My daughter thinks she is watching a clutch of teens having a makeover and my dismay baffles her. If I grabbed the remote and trashed the disc I'd have to explain the offence and rouse even greater zeal. If I let her continue she would revolutionise her classmate's games in the school playground. 'Mum, I'm ten!' she protests as I mutter my misgivings. So, troubled, I let her continue and  the schoolgirls turn their attention to illicit vodka distilling.

Childcare manuals guide parents painstakingly through weaning, through toddler tantrums and through the first shock of school. They are silent, though, on the dilemmas that confront mothers of pubescent girls. My daughter wants to spend her pocket money on stick-on finger nails and eye shadow. I disapprove. But, now she's ten, should I let her? How often should I make allowances for hormones when she answers me back? At what point do childish food fads become legitimate independent preferences? At what age should I respect her wish to wear micro shorts of ripped denim? When does pocket money become an allowance?

The onset of adolescence has crept up on me unawares. My firstborn has outstripped me. Through habit I have run her bath, washed her dishes, cleaned her room. I knew that I had to instruct her on female biology, but only belatedly has it occurred to me to show her which Hoover nozzles to insert when and how to fry chicken.

There are boundaries I still refuse to cross: high heels, 9pm bedtimes, a mobile phone. But in another year even these will become blurred and I shall watch baffled as my little girl sashays into a world my adolescent self never yearned for.

For now, though, she is enough of a child to want to play badminton over the clothes line. She turns off the television and unpeels her plastic nails. Relieved, I don my badminton wellies and seize a racquet. 'What's your sports star name going to be?' she asks. 'Mum the Magnificent, ' I reply. 'What's yours?' Angel Eyes was her last one. But that was before St Trinians. She reflects for a moment then hitches her skinny jeans. 'From now on,' she announces, 'I'm going to be Posh Totty!'

Have you steered a daughter through puberty? How did you cope? And if you haven't yet, are you ready?

Saturday, 2 March 2013

Saturday is Caption Day

over at Rocknrollmum. In case any of you were thinking that vicar's wives are purely ornamental I want it known that tremendous skills are demanded of us. Baking, for instance. My oven fancies are the ballast of church fetes and socials. Here, for instance, is the birthday cake I baked this week:

Any appreciative caption suggestions would be welcome!