The worst superhero

You know a phrase I hate?

Supermum.

Eurgh.

Admittedly, there are a few superpowers you gain when you are a parent. Things like the ability to change a nappy on a moving baby in under 20 seconds, the skills required to simultaneously lift a hefty four year old in one hand, a giant bag of groceries in the other, and fold a buggy with your foot.

The ability to carry out a reasonably grown up phonecall whilst also breaking up a fight, with one child clinging on to your back, avoiding the Lego being thrown by another child in an aggressive fashion at your head.

The self-restraint necessary not to strangle your offspring when they wake you at 5.45am demanding Cartoon Network, which you banned a few years ago in a fit of self righteousness about TV ideals, only to have to repeal the ban when you realise that without Cartoon Network, no dinners would ever be cooked.

I can pair 29 socks in LITERAL seconds. The odd ones are shoved together like awkward teens at the end of a night at a seedy disco. The leftover one always gets tucked into Will’s drawer for the joyous day when all socks are reunited. 

 Some superpowers, I think I probably should have acquired by now, but I appear to have missed. Like the ability to get three kids to school before the morning bell goes. Although I have perfected the art of shoving them through the classroom doors in the seconds before their teachers get to the ‘S’ section in the register (the joys of a later-alphabet surname! Who knew?!)

I’ve also never managed to:

Return the library books without incurring a fine. “Did you know you can renew them online?” they always say, brightly. “REALLY?” I say, my eyes glazed over with the despair of paying 50p fines on Beast Quest books for the last year, because I can never find the PIN code I need to renew them online.

Leave the house with all three kids, but without returning 47 times to pick up: keys/wallet/phone/lunchboxes/shoes(!)/wipes/enough snacks for three months/bike helmets.

Finding the time to apply eyeliner in the morning without looking like a recently bereaved goth.

Being able to find the right batteries/charger at the right time. Sensing my horror when faced with a drawer full of assorted very similar but crucially different chargers, Will has taken this job on as his responsibility. Thank f*ck. 

 Wearing a wrap dress but not looking six months pregnant. “Ooooh, a FOURTH?” No. Just a decent-sized breakfast, actually. Thanks. 

 Having exactly the right mix (I’m pretty sure there is a formula somewhere for this) of contents in your handbag. They include: precisely the correct Lego mini figure, pens of EXACTLY the right shade/thickness, wipes x 2 million, tissues, lip balm, calpol (somehow) gloves, spare knickers/t-shirt/wardrobe, a YoYo Bear with a card they’ve not seen before, enough raisins to crush into the largest carpet, a drink that doesn’t create a small lake in aforementioned bag.

Seriously, anyone who can do that last one must be a mathematical/mothering genius and I salute you, lady.

Women sometimes use the phrase ‘Supermum’ in a sort of sneery way, at women who appear calm and together. There’s nothing more annoying than a public tantrum by your half-naked devil child than the tantrum being witnessed by a load of Boden-tastic mums who CLEARLY have their shit together. Bloody Supermums, you might mutter under your breath, in between hissing hollow threats at your bundle of angry joy and sobbing profusely.

Some men use the phrase in a jaw-droppingly patronising way to describe the wonderful job their wives do whilst they are out at work, doing Important Stuff.

I wouldn’t have truly believed this until I heard it at the park the other day. “I don’t know how Emily does it, with the two of them at home all day. She must be Supermum, or something!” Ha! I bet Emily occasionally ditches her lycra and halo and drinks G&Ts at 5pm, or puts Cartoon Network on while she hides in the kitchen to read her Twitter feed, a frozen pizza burning quietly in the Aga. Maybe not, maybe that’s just me. (But we don’t have an Aga, so it can’t be!)

The point is: no one is really a Supermum. Superheros, are, after all, fictional. Mums are not. Mums are real. Wonderfully, messily real.  

And every time we use that phrase; wistfully or bitterly, we say either ‘I can never really be your friend becasue you are TOO GOOD’ or ‘I hold you in such high esteem you CANNOT FAIL.’ And the pressure builds on poor Supermum.

Unable to fail, she continues to Instagram her homemade chicken nuggets, but fails to mention that no one liked them so they all had beans on toast and a choc-ice. You see only the organic chicken nugget shot and cry a little, weeping that you are not a supermum too. You resent her more.

Mums are real people. They were real people before they were mums, and – newsflash – no super-powers are actually bestowed at the point of delivery. (If there were, my first superpower of choice would definitely be the ability to sit down comfortably.)

We do everyone a disservice when we say Supermum. It dehumanizes the most human job of all: raising children.

Of course everyone screws up sometimes, it’s just that some people are more upfront about it than others. And maybe, just maybe, one of the reasons that some people are less upfront about their reality is that they don’t want to let all the people who have called them Supermum down.

No one is perfect. Some people are genuinely brilliant parents, 99.9% of the time, and they find the whole thing very natural. Many of us are not those people. We need to be less resentful, and more happy for them. Many of us chalk a day up as a success if no one has died and everyone has eaten a meal that wasn’t entirely from the freezer.

We’re all human, very few grown-ups wear lycra and a cape all day. And we need to remember that.

Valentine’s Day

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Valentine’s Day is an easy day to resent. Unless you actively seek out overly commercialised, forced displays of affection. Or you really REALLY like red and pink hearts. Or you are in a new relationship with someone who is incredibly keen to demonstrate just how much they like you, and – crucially – has exceptional taste.

I was an awkward, geeky, weird-looking teenager. So Valentine’s Day wasn’t exactly top of my list of favourite days. My (prettier, less geeky) sister always got the actual Valentine’s cards, whereas I was still getting a ‘from ?’ card from my grandparents (God love them!) at 13.

I’ve had some truly terrible Valentine’s days. So I thought that sharing them here might count as a kind of group therapy, and also reassure anyone that might also be a little downhearted at the thought of the national day of love. If you want to skip my therapy, there are some handy links at the bottom to nicer-than-you’ll-find-in-Tescos-at-9pm-on-Feb-13th gift ideas.

After 14 years of waiting for a Valentine’s card, I finally got one that wasn’t from a relative. The sender dashed his chances though; firstly by calling me ‘babe’ but not being Jason Orange, and then by misusing quotation marks and signing it ‘luv’. Farewell, sweetheart!

I once spent the evening of the 14th February at a restaurant, eating off the Valentine’s menu with a friend who had recently been dumped, mid-gig, by his beautiful but somewhat erratic girlfriend. It was supposed to be a ‘oh well, fuck it all, we’re both single and WHO CARES ANYWAY’ celebration, but instead he drank too much wine, cried through his (horrid) pudding, and we spent the next four hours over-analysing Radiohead lyrics and drinking vodka purchased from Lidl in his sitting room where there was ‘evidence of mice.’ (His words, at about 2am. Mouse shuffling, nibbled food, possible droppings.)

The Valentine’s day my housemate’s boyfriend drove the 3 hour journey to see her, only to break up with her unceremoniously and embark on a screaming row in our hallway, for about 3 hours. At some point, one of them broke the best two wine glasses in the house. We had to drink wine out of mugs for ages after that.

Possibly the worst was an ill-advised ‘traffic light’ party I went to at university. Wear red if you’re in a relationship, amber if WELL, WHO KNOWS? and green if…if what? You’re really easy? Urgh. What a revolting concept.

Not revolting enough to stop a group of us going along, all in yellow, obviously, because WELL, WHO KNOWS? Apart from the fact that hardly anyone looks any good in yellow, and I actually look dead, it was like a literal cattle market. Lines of yellow boys along one wall, giggling masses of girls in yellow, and a few in red (although what is the point of that? Why would you go to such an event just to say ‘I’m in a relationship, thanks, I don’t need your shitty traffic light themed disco’ – unless, of course, you are the charming kind of person who is actually looking for a green kind of person, just for the evening.)

It was dire. We left after about ten minutes, after my friend was sleazed on by a shifty-looking chap in a home-dyed yellow t-shirt. (So desperate to prove that WELL WHO KNOWS?? that he had spent the day dying a t-shirt the right colour. Classy.)

Luckily, my traffic light disco nights are over now. Phew. Rich is not very fond of (hates) the whole idea of a commercially driven Valentine’s day, but is wily enough to know that even though I also ‘hate’ it, I’d be most peeved not to at least get a card. A nice card, mind you, not some tat rubbishy one. (Trying to be ironic with your purchases on Valentine’s day is a high-stakes game. You might think that really naff card/huge cuddly monkey holding a heart is VERY FUNNY in the shop, but once it’s sitting on your mantlepiece it’s kind of hard to see the irony behind the giant pink heart. Proceed with caution, and only if you definitely share a sense of irony, I think.)

And hey – despite all my objections to celebrating Valentine’s Day, life is very full and busy, and putting aside some time and effort to make people you love feel special, if only for one day a year, is a nice thing to do.

So if you also wrestle with hating the National Day of Love and Naff Card Purchases on the one hand, but on the other hand would ACTUALLY REALLY LIKE A CARD/GIFT/STEAK DINNER, then you can copy & paste this to email:

Dear boyfriend, husband, lover (delete as appropriate)

I am an intelligent, enlightened woman, not an idiot directed by heady commercial whims; and so I sort of hate Valentine’s day on principle. But CRUCIALLY, this doesn’t mean that I might not appreciate a card. Or even a nice gift. Because there are 365 days in a year, and so celebrating our love/lust/mutual indifference on one of these days is OK really, I guess.

I mean, it would be nice if it was celebrated on a spontaneous day of your choosing, but let us be realistic. Please click on the following links to see some nice ideas to ‘surprise’ me with. Deviate at your own risk.

Yours’ sincerely,

The Love of Your Life.

Some coolio* Valentine’s day ideas and handy links:

The date night package from the awesome don’tbuyherflowers.com -if you’ve not seen this website yet WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?

The best gifts for new mums – gorgeous packages of useful but wonderful things. But also a great place to order Valentine’s Day to arrive in one simple package. Champagne, chocolates, massage oil, tealights. You can even add Cook vouchers to any package – for homemade meals to bung in the freezer ensuring a night off cooking. A night off tea-time duty? Is there a finer gift? I think not.

http://www.dontbuyherflowers.com/product/valentines-date-night-in/

Some beautiful, ethically produced underwear from whomadeyourpants.co.uk

The pants are beautiful, comfortable and made by women who have had a rough time, who wanted to gain new skills to earn a living and support their families. They all come with a label telling you exactly who did make your pants. Properly beautiful lingerie.

Excellent cards, mainly with a gin/rabbit theme by GinBunny prints, created by the totally brilliant Katie at Hurrah for Gin.

Amazing jewllery. Handmade by Hannah. Splendidly packaged. epanoui jewellery

And if in doubt? Buy socks.

(*yes, I am using that as an actual word now. What of it??)

Three years of blogging

I got a notification today to tell me that today is my three year blog-iversary.

(Pretty sure they didn’t phrase it like that.)

There’s a lovely story in that, about how blogging has changed my life – which it has – but that’s not a very interesting story for anyone other than me, really, or at least it’s not yet.

But I wanted to mark the occasion by writing something less introspective about writing.

Writing is interesting now in a way that it wasn’t, twenty years ago. Writing is more democratic, more mainstream, more accessible. Twenty years ago, no one was tweeting, no one was blogging, no one was setting up Tumblrs to showcase weird punctuation mistakes on food packets. People were writing, but unless you were a writer, or a journalist, it was very hard to get your writing read. An audience is not a necessity – which is dead lucky for me, with my teeny-weeny blog audience, but writing for any audience is a powerful thing. And since the internet happened (again, that’s technical phrasing) it’s a powerful thing that’s been possible for many, many more people. Normal, non-journalist, non-famous, non-literary-giant, ordinary people.

And it’s no surprise that this kind of accessibility has encouraged a kind of writing that focuses on the ordinary, the everyday things. It’s easy to mock people who -ahem- instagram their cats/children/snacks all the bloody time, but the flipside of all of this ordinary writing and recording is that it gives ordinary life, and ordinary people a platform .

Not many of us lead extraordinary lives, or have important things to say all the time. The people who do, they still have a platform, and a voice. We’re still listening. That’s why I read books and newspapers and always, always the shiny bits of the Sunday papers, still.

But now, the vast majority of people also have a platform. Maybe it’s much smaller and you can’t see many people from it, but the opportunity is there in a way it didn’t used to be. The people who want to talk about that funny time when the toddler took all her clothes off in M&S, or the appalling pasta bake they made for tea. Or rant about the small, medium and large unfairnesses in the way of things. The people who want to tell you, or not you, but somebody, that they have ideas, and thoughts and opinions and reflections; that they’ve found meaning in their experience, or something that’s happened to them.

You can listen, or not, read it, or not. But they’re saying it. They have a voice.

And I think that is just brilliant.

For a long time I’ve been slightly obsessed with an essay by Raymond Williams called ‘Culture is Ordinary.’ (1958)

In it, he says (alongside lots of other brilliant things)

“Culture is meaning generated by ordinary men and women.”
I feel like that is what is happening more and more now – more opportunities for ordinary people to speak out, to make our feelings known, to have a voice. That’s arguably not always a good thing, but in many, many cases it is.
I’d love to write a book one day. Maybe I will, maybe I won’t. If I do, it might well be awful. But if I do, it won’t be because I’m the next Virginia Wolf or anything, it’ll be because one day, three years ago, I thought hey! Maybe I have something to say. And I wrote it down.

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Blurred lines.

No one knows her name.

She’s had to change it at least five times, and each time, someone’s found out and she has to run again.

But we all know his; it’s in every newspaper, on the radio at breakfast time, all over Twitter. And not in a good way, but still.

He’s calling it.

He came, he conquered, she vanished.

If the awful, bleak, mutually assured destruction – she briefly destroys his career, he destroys her indefinitely – of the Ched Evans case has taught us anything, it’s that we don’t only talk about rape with shame, but we also talk about women and sex with shame.

Rape is not always rape in the clear-cut way we need it to be. It’s not always a forceful, violent attack, with a psycho villain in a hood with a knife, sometimes it’s a lot of alcohol, a series of bad half-decisions and someone who takes advantage and then runs off down the fire escape of a hotel.

But hey – you don’t choose your rapist.

Sometimes it’s a complicated maze of conscouisness and consent. Sometimes, it’s just a matter of a few blurred lines.

Oh wait. Wasn’t that a song, last year? A couple of young men, high on their own hotness, and a parade of endless naked women?

“You know you want it. Good girl.”

The blurred lines between very drunk and too drunk to remember, the blurred lines between conscious and semi-conscious, between a yes and a not saying no.

Whatever happened that night, she was very drunk. His mate got chatting to her and text him on the way back to the hotel to tell him, “I’ve got a bird.” Like she was something he’s got at a takeaway, except that she is, becuase she fell and he was there to pick her up.

Whatever happened, his friend took her, unsteady on her feet and ‘clearly intoxicated’ to a hotel room.

Whatever happened later, Ched Evans lied to the hotel staff to get into that same room.

Whatever happened, he left her, alone and presumably unaware, in a hotel room in a name that wasn’t hers’, and escaped down the fire exit because he didn’t want to face the shame of leaving through the front door.

Her shame and her distress is irrelevent. Not his problem. And then later, his problem, but not his fault.

Whatever he did or didn’t do to her, he treated her like she was a piece of meat, a nameless conquest who was unlikely to object.

He won’t say sorry. Only to his girlfriend, for cheating on her.

(“Yeah, I had a bitch, but she ain’t bad as you.”)

And for now, he can’t play Premiership Football, and she can’t have a name. He’s lost money and time, she hasn’t seen her family in a year. He might get a reaction from the fans, she spends Christmas alone.

(“No more pretending
Hey, hey, hey
Cause now you winning.”)

No means no, but sometimes other things need to mean no, too.

Sex is not a right, ever, even if you are arrogant enought to think it should be.

(“Not many women can refuse this pimpin”)

We need to stop talking about Ched Evans and singing to Robin Thicke, and start talking about all those tiny, infinate blurry lines;  about consent, and respect, and sex without shame. We need to talk about those nameless girls, those women silenced by shame and a society that thinks you know you want it. Good girl.

The Calpol Christmas

Here’s our Christmas in numbers:

Number of bottles of Neurofen for Kids the children went through: 2.5

Times I watched the Miranda Christmas Day special: 3

Number of times I had to rifle through the recycling bin searching for presents I thought

I had accidentally recycled: 4

Hours spent searching for the correct kind of Calpol in various supermarkets on Christmas Eve: 1.5

Presents unwrapped and re-wrapped because I had totally forgotten who they were for the second I’d wrapped them: 5

Number of new socks I received, despite heavy hinting: 0

I usually get into a bit of a pre-Christmas panic in my determination to make everything as perfect as possible for the kiddos and end up with some sort of seasonal anxiety crisis. I know, really, that the perfect Christmas is as mythical as a unicorn – all that counts, really, is that everyone is happy and healthy. The kids don’t care two hoots about whether you went on a raid in poundland or ordered exquisite handmade gifts from Hamley’s – they mostly just like the unwrapping. It’s just me that minds the plastic tat.

But this year, I really did think I’d got it sorted. They’d dutifully written letters to Father Christmas, and I’d picked the least irritating and most realistic things from each list and purchased them, along with some really cool bits from lovely independent shops and some ace books, and by the 22nd, all but the biggest of Polly’s were neatly wrapped. That was when things started to go less well.

Actually quite badly.

Just as I lifted the animatronic dinosaur she’d asked FC for and had been talking about for weeks from its box to wrap, Polly came crashing through the living room door, coughing and complaining that she couldn’t sleep. There went the element of surprise, as well as the carefully-told story about Father Christmas bringing it.

Which meant that I had two days to get a replacement gift from Father Christmas, with about  minus £20 of the Christmas budget left.

Having avoided the evil Amazon for most of the year, I then had to sign up to their Prime delivery service and order one of the things she’d mentioned in the letter, which I managed to find on Amazon half the price anyone else was selling it for. Bastards.

I got so excited by the power of next-day delivery that I ordered a few more things on there too. Dammit.

But by Christmas eve, I really thought we were sorted. After a lovely day with family and friends, and a weird ceremonial throwing of porridge oats out on the front lawn ‘for the reindeer’, I settled down with a sherry. The replacement gift carefully wrapped in the right paper (i.e not the same as the stuff the kids had witnessed me purchase in Wilkos) and safely hidden, mince pie, carrot and sherry left out for Father Christmas.

The first child arrived downstairs about 9.30pm, complaining of a sore throat. The next appeared about 10. At 11pm, when I had drunk the sherry we’d left out, Polly came down again, wailing about her throat and the fact that someone had moved Father Christmas’ sherry.

At midnight, we crept upstairs, presents ready to deliver. Polly was awake.

At 1am, Rich went upstairs and snuck the stockings downstairs. As he went back up, he heard Polly, in a very clear voice “Daddy! The stockings are missing. Mine AND Tilly’s!”

How, asked Rich, have we raised the kind of daughter who launches a full scale investigation into missing stockings at ungodly hours of the night? It’s all very well and good to nurture curiosity in your children, but this is absolutely the kind of thing that makes you regret such efforts.

Tilly was wide awake too.

Rich reassured them that the stockings were there,really, they were just ‘hidden under some things.’ He returned downstairs. Finally, about 1.30 am, the stockings were delivered and we managed to go to bed.

At 2am, Polly came in crying with a high temperature.

At 3.30am, Tilly appeared in our room, wide awake and already unwrapping. We told her she had to wait.

At 3.45am, Tilly re-appeared, brandishing the plate we’d left out for Father Christmas. “He’s left the mince pie!”

At 6.30am, both girls were ready to unwrap, even though Polly was clearly quite poorly. Tilly went to wake Will, who shouted “I just wanted a LIE IN.”

Tilly reminded him it was Christmas, and that he had a stocking full of presents. He shot out of bed. Stockings were unwrapped. The best thing was the talking moshi monster Father Christmas had delivered via an excellent Bargain Tat website, for £4.99! It talked high pitch nonsense a LOT.

Polly had fallen asleep, still feverish. We delayed the main present unwrapping until she was awake. The other two watched Cartoon Network whilst I made a large coffee. This, and the fact that the car developed a new random battery / electric fault and refused to start, kind of sums up our Christmas. The kids tag-teamed some kind of viral infection, we dispensed so much Neurofen that it got to the point where we were dosing up Will in the interval of the (excellent) pantomime that we went to from the lid of the bottle, as I had forgotten the syringe. “That’s about 5ml, right?”

But despite all of this, and the outrageous fact that I did not get any new socks – I refuse to let that one lie – we had a pretty lovely Christmas. I gave up trying to make everything special, and instead we just chilled out and watched films, read books and hung out with family. We went for the shortest boxing day walk ever, and had naps.

I hope I remember this next year, when I start hyperventilating because I can’t make very nice mince pies, and the presents don’t look Pinterest perfect. No one minds. Christmas is not about any of that, and we know it.

May all of our Christmases by slightly and delightfully imperfect.

Challenge what the future holds…

Dreamer.

A great word, although not always meant as a compliment. Sometimes people use it to mean vague and irrational.

Quite a lot of people I follow on Twitter describe themselves as dreamers, in a creative way. Which is lovely.

I love dreamers. I love people who are not so deeply rooted in reality that they have the freedom to imagine how things could be different. Better.

For others, for themselves, for everyone. The ability to imagine a better world is a powerful thing. But it’s even more powerful if you do something about it. People who not only can imagine how things could be different, but also make it their work to help make that change happen, those are the people with super powers.

I used to think that you automatically got more cycnical as you got older. Wiser, therefore less hopeful. Youthful optimism is, afterall, youthful.

But what if you don’t grow out of your dreams, but grow into them? I think that, if anything, growing older and wiser means holding on to your dreams, not letting them go, but with a more urgent need to see them fulfilled. Or even just to see yourself start work on them.

I don’t think I have ever quoted Des’Ree before (she of the excellent most/toast rhyming couplet) – but I’ve had the lyrics to ‘You Gotta Be’ stuck in my head today, and they are not wrong.

Listen as your day unfolds, challenge what the future holds
Try and keep your head up to the sky…

I can’t stand looking at the word ‘gotta’, frankly, but she does have a point.

Challenge what the future holds. You have got to be bad,(ish) bold, and wiser.

We tell children to dream big, all the time. We tell them to strive for what they want, to believe they can do anything they set their minds to; we tell them the sky is the limit (well, only if you speak in management cliches to your kids, which would be weird.) But we do encourage them to think big, dream big, aim high.

What about grown ups? Maybe we should all wear our dreams on our sleeves a bit more. The things we dream of, they get more realistic anyway. Life, and experience will colour them in a little, and shape them differently, That’s not wrong, it’s good. Dreams can grow and change too. Maybe we should stop describing ourselves as dreamers and talk about what our dreams really are, and how we are going to make them happen.

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Chasing paragraphs

Should I write a blog? What do you think?

It’s a question people often ask. Not necessarily to me. (I am no blog-oracle.) I asked it once, twice, probably more times than I remember.  And I like to think that there is always a reason to write. You don’t have to publish it.

But always write.

Write because you’re passionate.

Write because you’re angry.

Write because you’re scared.

Write because you’re lonely, write because you’re curious and you want to see what might happen.

Write because otherwise you might not remember. Write because it makes things clearer, less real or more real.

Write because it’s powerful.

In the last three years, I have written hundreds of blog posts. Some better than others. Many dull and far too long. But out of all those words, good things have come. And tonight I sat and I tried to write something about why I blog, and where it has led me, and why I fell in love with writing all over again, and I couldn’t do it. There were too many things competing for space in my sentences, too many clauses.

So instead I wrote the list above. When you try to explain why you love something, it’s hard. It feels like it shouldn’t be, but it is. And no, I didn’t miss the irony in the fact that I couldn’t write about writing.

Writing online is a powerful thing. It’s dangerous, sometimes.

But I would never trade those boring posts and torturous paragraphs for not doing it.

On Friday, someone took the time to tell me how much something I had written meant to him. ‘It mattered, and you wrote about it,’ he said. And that’s it, that’s the point. Write about things that matter to you. And sometimes, just sometimes, they will matter to someone else too.