Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Fragility

I am driving my 10 year-old to her weekly gymnastics class. We are not in harmony. She is berating me for refusing to allow her an iPhone. I am berating her for spurning the supper I'd painstakingly incinerated for her. As we draw up at the leisure centre I have decided, not for the first time, that I am not cut out for motherhood.

She stumps off to the gymnastics hall; I join a slumped row of mothers on the floor of the viewing gallery. I am nursing wounded feelings and read a novel instead of watching my firstborn with the raptness she expects of me. Later I look up. She and her class partner are performing backwards rolls. Her partner rotates clumsily and doesn't get up again. Teachers bend over her, cajoling her to stand, but she lies there, head bent to the floor, legs twisted under her, and she doesn't respond. I think she's malingering and watch with amused exasperation as she ignores all overtures. A group of lifeguards are summoned from the pool. They too try to coax her into movement and it occurs to me that noone could sustain that position without crippling cramp. I start to study the scene more anxiously as people mill with clipboards and a blanket is fetched.

The paramedics are arriving as we leave. The crumpled figure on the floor hasn't stirred. Her mother kneels beside her, stricken. The lifeguards are in a solemn huddle talking of neck injury.

My 10-year-old is incredulous. 'She is so lively,' she says. 'She was only joking with me just before she screamed.' I too am trying to understand the swift swipes of Fate. It could have been my daughter lying there unconscious and me weeping terrified at her side. It could have been our familiar weekly ritual ending with a siren's wail.

I tuck my daughter up with more than usual gentleness this evening. I don't mention the foul chaos that is her bedroom. I ignore the nail varnish stains on the bath tub and smile through a final sally about iPhones. I am not as skilled a mother as I'd meant to be and my daughter isn't the smock-clad paragon I'd planned, but I must remember not to waste time on regrets. Blessings can be ripped away in a second before we have even realised that we possess them and, for all her impertinence, I'm going to be grateful for my little girl. But no way is she having an iPhone!





Monday, 24 June 2013

Virago

I do most of my mothering on a wing and a prayer. Only come evening do I forage the fridge in hopes of stray proteins for supper. Homework is a high-speed frenzy over breakfast bowls and my tartan sofa rug has had to stand in for most fancy-dress costumes required by school.

I have, however, always been braced for puberty. Patience and humour were to be my guides. I would extract the Usborne book with the frightening diagrams that I'd hidden behind my archive of Gardener's World and talk my daughter through feminine biology. I would shop companionably with her for her first bra and I would defuse adolescent tantrums with a kiss.

Now, though, our once quiet vicarage is bedevilled by puberty and I have lost control. The Vicar watches papal masses at top volume on Youtube to drown out the shouting beyond his study door. Fights are needlessly picked, recriminations slung up and down the stairs and the sulks can cloud an entire afternoon. Yes, my behaviour has deteriorated dismayingly since my ten-year-old entered adolescence!

I can turn a single insubordination into a bloodbath and brood mutinously over a pubescent slight. I expel my daughter ruthlessly from my room when she grates on me and emit dark threats when she won't bend to my will.

'I think Mum's tired!' whisper the children, scurrying to safety as I shriek at their disordered bedrooms. My daughter looks at me pityingly. 'We need to be patient,' she tells her brother. 'This happens to mums when they get old.'


Sunday, 16 June 2013

Father's Day

It is the family service. For once the eight-year-old goes unprotestingly to Sunday School so I can sit in my pew with dignity unimpeded by a small boy building himself a bust out of rolled-up service sheets or rehearsing Gangnam-style manoeuvres in the nave.

The Vicar, majestic in vestments, preaches of love, faith and hopefulness and I watch the faces of the faithful raptly absorbing his wisdom. I wonder, not for the first time, how it must feel to be a revered father-figure to such a throng and, furtively, I suppress a length of loo roll trailing from my sleeve so as to look worthy of him.

The Sunday School troops back into church. The children are clutching glittered cards for Father's Day. The Vicar, all dignified benevolence, invites them to read out their tributes and, to my surprise, the eight-year-old, ordinarily silenced by an audience, is first up to the microphone. I beam proudly as he regards his daddy and musters his courage. 'My Dad,' he begins, 'is very lazy and greedy. He has about five naps a day and he snores like a lion's roar. He is scared of his own sneezes which are like a hurricane and when you tickle him he screams like a monster.'

There is a short silence. The old ladies in the opposite pews are studying the Vicar with what I fear are new eyes. Briefly their vestmented Father is exposed as a mere daddy. Then he smiles beatifically and commences the blessing and I duck hastily into an attitude of extreme prayerfulness as our son slides onto the pew alongside me. 'You're always telling me to be speak up in church,' he whispers, 'so are you proud of me?'

Monday, 10 June 2013

To Catch a Thief

My name is Anna and I am a kleptomaniac.

'Where,' shouts the Vicar, 'have you put my swimming trunks?'
'Where,' shouts the 8yo, 'have you hidden my school tie?'
'You're dead meat, ' bawls my daughter, 'if you've lost that over-the-knee sock with the bow on.'

Guiltily I survey the empty banister where the clerical trunks usually hang and wonder if I have, through some unconscious compulsion, spirited them off to my potting shed. I survey the scrunched uniform shed by my son at last night's bath time and try to recall if I hijacked the tie. And I climb inside the family duvet covers in search of said sock because I remember putting it in the washing machine and I don't remember taking it out again.

Marriage and motherhood have exposed my criminal underside. And the volume of items that go  missing is shaming. Most of the Vicar's socks are without partners, the remote control for the DVD has not been seen since an evening of back episodes of Rev, my son's homework book vanished in transit from sofa to school bag and the children had to sprint the mile to school when the car key went missing.

'Go and look in your handbag,' says the Vicar when a new loss is discovered. My handbag is suspected to be the repository for most of the swag and admittedly it has yielded some surprising items. A jar of puttanesca sauce was lately discovered inside; the eight-year-old's only intact pair of school socks and a large, much mourned plastic spider.

In time, the swimming trunks are discovered in the Vicar's sports bag. The sock turns up in the garden pond and the school tie has evidently joined four other school ties in a parallel reality.

Briefly I am exonerated. 'I wasn't blaming you!' says the Vicar, unearthing the lost car key from his cassock pocket. I resume my search for the iron, previously used last summer. Strangely only I have noticed its disappearance. I run it to earth in the shoe polish crate just as a cry echoes downstairs:

'Mum, where have you hidden my hairbrush?'

What goes missing in your family and are you the one who is blamed?

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Scapegoat

Our family has gained a garrulous new member. She spends her days in my 10-year-old's room and is unprepossessing in looks and character. From the bed she holds forth on her world view which is as jaundiced as her complexion, for Tweety is a creature of vigorous and vociferous prejudices.



She deplores my M&S wardrobe (she demands Hollister) and shouts over Radio 4 (she wants Heart FM). Tweety is contemptuous of Sunday Mass (she desires shopping malls), appalled by green vegetables (her diet is restricted to pastrami sticks) and is militant about washing up and pocket money (she requires £20 a week with extra for the Superdrug make-up counter).

'It's not me, it's Tweety!' protests my 10-year-old when shrieks of derision greet the family Skoda.

Life has become clamourous since Tweety was won at an Easter tombola, and yet, united in disapproval, my daughter and I live in vastly improved harmony. And so I too have decided to acquire a friend who will fearlessly pronounce prejudices.



Grumpy is loud in his loathing of Claire's Accessories. He drowns out Jesse J with Tosca's dying screeches, derides the Juicy Couture tote bags that tempt the 10-year-old on eBay and mocks pubescent tantrums.

'It's not me, it's Grumpy!' I protest when snorts of contempt greet her sketchy attempts at homework.

My plan is to launch Grumpy into the wider world. He'll tackle the man who hangs knotted bags of dog doings off trees in the park. He'll scoff at the shrivelled growths that pass as mushrooms in Co-op and he'll harangue the Audi that filched my parking space.

And, come evening, Grumpy and Tweety can be shut into my daughter's bedroom and they can slug out their differences among her pink pillows, while she and I, deploring their intolerance, eat toast in peaceable companionship on the sofa.

To all of you who voted me into the finals of the Brilliance in Blogging Writer category, I'm truly grateful.