Self-confidence, I always thought, is one of the gifts of middle age. Through my timid teens and twenties I looked forward to the day when I could stride forth in my polyknits, oblivious to public opinion. And that day almost dawned. No longer do I delay pressing the button on pelican crossings in case drivers are inconvenienced by stopping for me. I am equal to ordering dinner guests to leave by 10.30pm so I can get to bed on time and am comfortable bearing a bumper pack of loo roll up the street from the Co-op.
There was a fatal flaw in my theory, however. With middle age come children and there is nothing like an adolescent daughter to make you see yourself in your true colours. 'Have you thought that it could be YOUR fault?' cries the 11-year-old when I ask her to stop shouting. I pause to reflect and I realise that, yes, I am sadly culpable as a mother.
It is my fault that my scarf doesn't match my red beret, thus inflicting needless humiliation on the walk to school. It is my fault that I delay the arrival home by 'sliming slowly along like a slug' because I have burdened myself with all the school bags. It is my fault that pocket money is withheld for an unkempt room because 'you can't expect me to do chores when I'm resting' and it is undeniably my 'horrible mean selfishness' that enforces swimming lessons, punctual bedtimes and green vegetables.
Occasionally I study my reflection in the Vicar's shaving mirror. I try to recognise, under the layers of hemp cream that shore up my complexion, the woman who embarked on motherhood with such good intentions. Instead I see myself through my daughter's eyes, an ungroomed matron shrilling reminders and recriminations.
I decide to help restore harmony by reforming myself. I shall coordinate my winter wear whenever haste and temperature allow; I shall leave the kids to carry their own burdens and stride home with Olympian grace and I shall stop nagging over childish deficiencies and find ways to make domestic duties and vegetables a happy bonding experience. Heck, I might even brush my hair before morning drop-off.
But no sooner have I resolved this than I realise my imperfections are too deeply embedded and that no amount of good intentions can redeem me. Because...'I wish that I was mixed race,' laments my daughter, braiding her wet hair for the Afro look. 'Why couldn't you have been born black?'
Do children boost your confidence?