Scooter troubles

It’s the first week of the holidays and mostly it is just lovely. The calm mornings, no homework, no school lunches to make, late evenings in the garden running under the sprinklers and eating toast and jam last thing before bed. My parents are here staying a street away in a five bedroom vicarage, so they can pop in and out and get over their jet lag and take a rest from the noise whenever they need to. The kids think they are just marvellous and fun, especially the way both of them can take their teeth out. That’s like the most magical gift of all.

But it can’t all be good, right? So yesterday we had two incidences of Terrible Stress, and I was broken by the evening. The morning was all about the yearly trip to the dentist, and our dentist is a tiny, strange set of rooms about a newsagents, with the last few vestiges of the main dentists’ former Christian vampiric ways  evidenced by the angel art on the walls, although no Christian booklets were strewn around this time. It seems Harpers and the Times has replaced the religious tracts for light, waiting room reading. Anyway, we got there early, after I dropped off the baby (gratuitous baby shot of him in a lovely raincoat)

 

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with the kind flexi-toothed grandparents and sat in the tiny, warm, rickety-chaired waiting room for an hour, alas. There was a water machine with about 14 plastic cups and a kind, selectively deaf receptionist. I sat them on chairs, grabbed a Harpers and hissed at them to sit on different chairs, touch no one else, not to move, talk quietly, and NOT TO TOUCH THE WATER MACHINE BECAUSE NONE OF YOU ARE THIRSTY!

Immediately, the Mysterious Switch of Stupid turned on, and the room descended into a writhing mass of wrestling, kicking, screeching, hitting, crying small-boy-chaos. They went through all 14 plastic cups, spilt some, crushed some, dropped some in the bin, retrieved some out of the bin, drank, found a wooden whistle, whistled a lot, hid behind the chaise longue and fiddled with wires, rocked on the old rickety chairs and made loud, worrying noises, fought over which kid sat next to which kid and over their knees touching and ended up lying on the floor in a mass heap, watching themselves in the inappropriate mirrored ceilings. I was so mad, but powerless, which of course they knew, and so all I could do was squeeze upper arms and hiss and threaten to video them and put it on youtube. They kept saying they were bored, and I explained (while gripping their arms in my special vice way) that bored is just something that you have to deal with, sometimes. It’s not interesting or special to find out you are bored, it’s just a thing that everyone feels. It doesn’t mean you are entitled to hang out of the first storey window screeching or ripping newspapers apart.

They were fine when they got to see the dentist because they were a bit scared. Two need to see the orthodontist because their big teeth are growing at alarming angles, and they all need a masterclass in proper brushing. The dentist thought they were cute.

HA! They really aren’t, I told him. We left after some profuse apologies to the receptionist and other alarmed waiting room clients, all no doubt dying of thirst but unable to drink because of the conspicuous lack of plastic cups and overflowing bin. The boys barely made it home with their bulging bladders.

So that was the morning.

Then the afternoon was all fine, although there comes a point when most of them are happy and reading or playing quietly and they swear they don’t want to go out, but you just know that if you buy into the false calm, that it will bite you in the arse later. You know it, but you don’t ever learn. So there I was making Ottolenghi’s beef and lamb meatballs with broad beans, and I’m shelling the beans and it is taking ages but I have to finish, and the two bigger boys are reading and the other two decide to take their scooters around the block for a spin.

Ridiculously, alarmingly, sadly, this bit might require some explanation. But first, read  this.

Clearly, we live in a cultural climate which is overly protective towards children. The status quo is that we watch children at all times, and much of that makes good sense, especially considering the number one danger where I live, which is traffic. Beyond traffic, though, there really isn’t much to be fearful of. We know that abuse of children is nearly always perpetrated by someone known to the kid – the uncle, the family friend. It’s really not the stranger.

It happens, but, according to the Atlantic article, it would take 750,000 years, statistically speaking, for the Dangerous Sex Murderer Stranger to finally come and take your kid from a public park. So, then, what are we so scared of? I want to root it out, I want parents to ask themselves what the danger really is of letting your kids out, letting them have some independence, letting them do some normal kid stuff without our watchful eyes searing a hole in their backs and knee-capping them forever. How about this – I think there may be more damage done longterm to kids by treating them in this barely-concealed hysterical overprotective way that letting them out for a bit on their own, once the risk has been assessed by the parent who knows their kid and who knows the culture of a place. Imagine if we all did that, and kids could reclaim the outdoors again, do a bit of roaming with their neighbourhood friends, and grow up just a little, feeling like they could handle stuff on their own. Surely that’s an obligation on us as parents?

Getting back to the scooters, then. So I let Casper and Ned out, together, to ride their scooters around the block, which takes about a minute to make the circuit, and over which there are no roads to cross. It is a straight, round circuit, passing neighbours and friends’ flats, passing people we have passed for years.

So they did it, and kept coming back to the top of our stairs, then shooting off again, having races with each other, laughing, making a healthy racket, pleased with themselves, a bit sweaty, shirts off. And then.

A woman comes to the top of the stairs, following the kids on their last round. A very nice, older woman, who comes over to talk to us, the parents, because she is very concerned about the children, and wants to know who is looking after them, and why we aren’t with them. She tells us that we can’t let them scoot around the block because it isn’t safe. No doubt because a Murdering Sex Stranger might come and intercept them and take them both, screaming and hitting wildly with their heavy metal scooters, in about 750,000 years. Mark goes out to talk to her because I cannot handle it – the annoyance, the embarrassment of being called out to be not doing my job, the accusation that I am putting them at risk, the way that my parental choices are suddenly up for communal appraisal, the anger about how stupid it is that their lovely, lovely, innocent, healthy scootering has just been taken away from them. I’m just not strong enough constitution-wise to let them do it again. And so I seethe, and Mark comes in, and says maybe she is right.

I think we have it all really, really wrong.

MORE EVIDENCE OF MY LACKADAISICAL PARENTING/CHILDHOOD

Here is me, as a child, in the surf, and no one is holding my hand!

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Here are my kids, at the top of a statue, and I didn’t put a stretchy tarpaulin underneath them in case they fell!

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Here’s the baby with a bit of ice cream cone wafer. Notice I have not pre-masticated it, in case of choking!

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Here’s Barnaby with two bits of wood he nailed together by himself with a real hammer, and he stuck bits of wire to it! He didn’t even use gloves!

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Need a liedown.

 

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Morning face

[Disclaimer: Everyone is actually very nice, and I love them and it's ok, no one is actually in real danger and I think my husband is a good man and the children will turn out fine, most probably. It's just the heat and the painful limping towards the end of the school year. Really.]

My morning face is very often angry. And this is why.

This morning, there was no hot water, and so I had to boil jugs to have a bath to wash my bits although my hair was lanky and stinky like a teenage boy geek in an anorak with a thing for gaming. And when I had boiled up the jug and four pans, I discovered that Mark was in the bathroom reading the autobiography of Ritchie McGraw. And anyone who knows Mark knows that you aren’t allowed to tap on the bathroom door when he is in there because it makes him feel pressured and mad. But I was carrying lots of boiling pans and I was running out of time to perform my morning drill of military precision so I don’t have to sign the The Red Book Of Tardiness and so I had to knock softly to ask him to get out. He did a LOT of sighing, and I had to just wait. That was the first bit of annoyingness.

Then the children could not find their school trousers because they had all disappeared. An entire drawerful, maybe 15 pairs – vanished! Gone! Like Amelia Earhart and Lord Lucan! So we had to find dirty ones from the towering pile of pissy clothes, and there were some squeezing on of tight pants and quite a few tears. I said they needed to get a grip, and pull those buggers on and do them up and be grateful that they even had pants. Because some kids in the world probably don’t have grey polyester very short tight really old pants AT ALL, etc, etc to infinite rolling of eyes and still more amateur dramatics.

Then suspiciously absentee Mark swooshes in and mumbled something darkly about the homemade bread because it was cut wonky, and he shaved a tiny bit from the loaf in an effort to restore the straight lines, heaping shame upon my bread-cutting-rubbishness.

Ned, dressed in his swimming shorts, a ribbon and a pyjama top, demanded a pink smoothie – made by mashing up the frozen rotten little bits of bananas that I find lurking under couches and between school bags and in the dog crate, adding bits of frozen strawberry and milk and some oats and whatever other half-eaten bits of fruit that I find behind the jars of very old National Trust chutney in the fridge.  So I made one, using all the milk because if I don’t make enough there is usually wailing and Mark has a crossface, not wanting to miss out. But then there was no milk for tea and so Mark was sighing again, sad and tea-less, and I said YOU CANT HAVE IT BOTH WAYS, DUDE. Just like my filing. I can’t be a good filer, who deals promptly and schematically with bank statements, AND be a good cook. You must choose.

Then Noah cried because someone ate his toast. Likely the dog, who vomited up an alarming assortment of things on the way to school. Chicken bones, a reddish sausage, stones, leaves and M&Ms.

Ned asked for the leftover croissants, I said there were two so we would have to cut them up and share, although they were almond and he mightn’t like them, and he said

I hate you because of the arms on the croissants.

Then one of them opened the giant jar of catering gherkins and they munched through about seven each, and Casper finished it off by flicking his vinegar fingers into Barnaby’s eye, which left him doubled over, screeching about how he was going blind. While I was putting on my makeup, far, far away down the hallway where the Barnaby’s wails were pleasingly faint, in an effort to distract the eye from the greasy hairline and back onto the face which was at least clean, they started going through the drawers and picking out the knives to chase each other around with.

I came back down the hall, calmly told them to put back the knives, and Mark looks up from Ritchie McGraw to ask me if I have changed the baby’s nappy, in that way which actually means

The baby needs a new nappy, but I’m not doing it.

Then I strap the dog to my torso, pull the buggy up the stairs, drag them all out of the flat, and march onwards to school with an immobile, cranky morning face, and it was still only 8:05am. Ned later lets on that actually he has all of the school pants in his bed. Like a hoarding hamster, sleeping in a grey sea of unbreathable boy shorts, because he is very excited about getting a school uniform in September, and he just couldn’t wait. I check, and there are socks, shirts, jumpers and PE gear all wrapped up and shoved down the side of his cot. Annoying.

But then, it is all ok because I went to Honey & Co for frittata and cake, and then, there is always this little fella:

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Last weeks’ new hair, straight and sleek and blow-dried. It lasted about four hours:

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Ned. He steals trousers:

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Casper pushing Otis on a swing for the first time ever:

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Meanwhile, Noah turned eight on Friday, and Mark iced him this cake of spewy volcanic proportions. We saw The Lego Movie and I guffawed like a man.

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So it was painful, this morning, loud and shouty and traumatic, but we’re ok.

It will all happen again tomorrow.

 

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Luminous

Last night, Mark and I were invited to a Fawlty Towers things at the Charing Cross Hotel by some lovely friends of ours who were having a birthday. Not my usual cup of tea but anyhoo, we arrived and had a drink and started talking that early evening smalltalk in the middle of summer with friendly strangers – the only uniting factor being the one person you have in common – and as we were walking through to the dining room, I turned to the lady we were with and I told her that she had the most luminous hair. And as soon as I said it, I just thought that was the most stupid thing to say to somebody ever. Because what does luminous hair mean? Like the moon? Like a blonde-hair-crafted-lighthouse in the middle of the ocean, able to save the ships from dashing onto the rocks simply through its gleam and bounce? I said that I had meant to say that it was glorious and lovely, but by then my strange compliment stained the air with its offness. She laughed and said she’d take ‘luminous’ anyway, and I was left to wonder why my brain was misfiring. There is no such thing as luminous hair – only perhaps if you were

a) some sort of bearded jellyfish, or

b) if you were reacting to some sort of chemical experiment in a Marvel comic.

And then I was sat at her table and I stole glances at her admittedly fabulous, enormous blonde wavy round bubbles of cascading waves – truly astonishing, but not in any way capable of emitting light. We didn’t really talk after that.

Basil was a little bit attractive, and Sybil looked like this:

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And rather humourlessly, I felt sorry for Manuel and wondered about the political correctness of making fun of an immigrant with English language difficulties. The food was unintentionally 70’s hotel-like, a lonely chicken breast swimming in an oxo cube gravy with a thin vegetable soup to start. But the wine was plentiful, and the hotel was gorgeous and old and someone told me I looked tiny, so it was win-win. We walked half of the way home in amongst the clammy, slow-walking, large groups of pavement-hogging tourists and Soho louche, and got lost in the labyrinthine Crossrail detours and pathways that lead to embarrassing pissy-smelling dead ends and once again, dear Reader, I swelled with pride at my lovely jumbled fancy city, which may well have taken on a wine-soaked luminous glow, if I remember correctly. I even held hands with Mark, even though I wasn’t actually speaking to him, owing to an awkward shouty fight to do with whose turn it was to chose the next Netflix TV show to watch. It was a Friday night awkward shouty fight which ended up with me storming out and pacing the mean streets of Queensway at 10pm, wondering where I could go. I didn’t want to have dessert anywhere by myself, because I had already eaten cake at Honey & Co, and I didn’t want coffee because it would keep me awake, and I thought it would be embarrassing and a bit late to knock at any of my neighbourhood friend’s flats, and the library was closed, and wandering the aisles of Boots looked a little bit boring, and so I slunk back home and locked myself in the bathroom and stripped off, ready for an angry bath with a face mask and a cranky leg shave and maybe some resentful exfoliating, but the boiler packed in and there was no hot water and so I had to come back out into the living room, looking all THWARTED. In any case, he didn’t look up from his Discovery Channel TV show where naked people get released into jungles with no supplies. It was very, very upsetting.

Here is a happier day, after strawberry picking – new Lee jeans, kind of stained, and lovely Otis who is very keen on summer fruits:

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Ned went strawberry picking on his own, and came back with mostly hard white strawberries. Nice shirt though:

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And here’s Ned again, not letting me into the flat unless I paid him to move out of the way. Handsome, but a little bit mean to his mother:

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So today we have been to Surrey to let Mark look at teepees, camping ovens and small remote controlled helicopters. It was extremely boring to have to go and view these things and I feel kind of weepy for my lost afternoon. When they say marriage will be hard at times, they may well be referring to enforced camping gear excursions and selfish TV-watching quarrels, right?

 

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Toothbrush of Shame (take 2)

Sometimes my parenting reaches new levels of aceness. See, for example, last week’s Tale of the Toothbrush of Shame – I wish I had been secretly filmed by a documentary crew with really good lighting technicians so I could play my mothering triumph over and over and over, and then the footage would go viral and then I would become a motivational speaker like the Clintons and then could afford holidays to Martha’s Vineyard and Cape Cod.

So, as everyone with children will know, mornings are always very shouty and unpleasant when you have somewhere to go to and a Red Book Of Tardiness to sign if you don’t make it on time. I have to set the alarm for 6:30am, I turn on the light in the kid’s room, they pretend to still be asleep. Mark takes the dog for a walk, I have a noisy shower in their room, bellowing at them to get up, they slowly crawl their way to the bathroom and wee all over the toilet seat, they start kicking each other, they lie back on their beds, I come in and say something menacing, they get up, lie back down, on and on to the most boring degree of ever. Twenty minutes before we have to go, I take their faces in my hands, get right up close to them and say

“FACETEETHSHOESFACETEETHSHOESFACETEETHSHOES”

and then I go and do something important like save the baby from eating batteries and then we are ready to go and out the door, once the shoes have been found, etc etc.

And we get about four minutes up the road and I turn to them and I say

Show me your teeth!

And they do, and invariably their teeth are speckled with tiny orange cornflake bits, or there is still a huge smear of jam on their cheeks and their breath smells like a throat infection. And so, last week, I got really really mad about it. I asked them why they didn’t do it and they all had some eloquent pre-thought-out excuse – they got distracted with the act of zipping up their bags, they remembered right up until it was time to go and then they just forgot, Barnaby wouldn’t let them or I hadn’t reminded them to quite their level of acceptable reminding. Which is all just naughty little kiddie lies, lies, lies. So I’m thundering up the road and the rage inside of me is threatening to take hold, and I am ranting at them about their breath smelling like a poo and that they will never get girlfriends if they don’t clean their teeth and even their friends won’t want to hang out with them if they can’t be bothered to clean themselves and WHY WON’T YOU DO IT, FOR THE LOVE OF BASIC HYGIENE?

And so, fuelled by the Fury of the Self-Righteous, and even though we were a tiny bit late, I got near the school, crossed over the Edgware Road, parked the buggy outside a newsagents, went in, bought a toothbrush and stomped them to school and when I got there, I ripped open the packet and I told them in a very loud voice that I would brush their teeth with this Toothbrush of Shame every time they left the house without doing it, starting with NOW. And I began with Noah, who had inconveniently run away, but I told him that if he didn’t come over and open his mouth that I would sit on his chest in the playground in front of everybody until he opened it, and so he slowly came over with big blue eyes brimming with moistness which I took to be shame (but could well have been hay fever) and I brushed his teeth vigorously in front of his curious classmates and teachers and I whispered to him like a pantomime villain:

That’s the last time you forget to clean your teeth, young man! 

And I went around to the Junior Entrance and did the same thing to Casper and I swear there was the roar of the crowd in my ears and maybe there was a theme song in my head called The Triumph of Good Hygiene Over Bad and I high-fived myself all the way home.

And now the Toothbrush of Shame lies in the bottom of the buggy, and the threat of another public toothbrushing by your mother in front of everyone at school has been a most charming catalyst for change.

Here is the baby at the Summer Fair, where I face-painted quite badly for four hours. He just sat in the shade and ate a few round pebbles and let the little girls stroke his fuzzy hair.

 

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And here he is today after scoffing some strawberries from the man at the Lebanese shop next to Waitrose, who is leaving because Queensway is about to undergo some dreadful £500 million sex-up, which can only mean bad things for the locals. Where will I buy my za’tar when he flees?

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And here are three of my kids participating enthusiastically and only a little clumsily in a sack race in the garden on the Open Garden weekend. How English does that look? There was some sort of mobile gin van set up, and all these Open Garden ticket holders who used our garden for an afternoon and I was reminded how lucky we are to have keys to it, just across the road.

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And to finish, a photograph of a most perfect Providores flat white. I know that makes me sound like a wanker, but it is true. It made me a tiny bit sweaty and a lot shaky – unlucky, as I had two just before I started the face painting. I’d like to think no one noticed.

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Dog goes swimming, Dog gets stuck

Magic has been at it again – embarrassing the family and turning our thoughts to the mythical farmer who could take him away and put him to genteel work on a farm where he could play games with other kind dogs and sweet horses and small, farm children who would love him and let him sleep on their beds. It would be really nice to have a little rest from the shameful deeds of Magic so we could go back to being embarrassed only by the children, and not the animals as well. (I say animals, but we don’t really have any more, except for the fish, who have been slowly dying off. I wish I felt bad about that, but I just don’t. You know how I feel about sea life, and brown little fish in a tank send me into an ennui coma.)

So on Saturday we all went to Hyde Park – me for a jog and the others for a walk. I finish, red-faced and a tiny bit wet-trousered, which I really hope looked like jogger’s sweat, although it was curiously missing from the armpits and the back, but anyway, I called the others up to see where they were and Mark answered, all a bit sweary, saying the was down by the Serpentine trying to get Magic out of the water. So I get there quick, feeling like it might be a heart-attack-from-the-stress kind of crisis, knowing that Mark doesn’t deal very well with the terrible humiliations you have to face when out with the kids and the dog. And we get to the bit opposite the bank with the Henry Moore sculpture, and my boys are just impotently staring out into the water, calling for the dog, and Mark is holding the buggy and there is a crowd and he is talking to a rambler-lady who is going off her nut and in the distance, I can hear Magic’s high-pitched excited bark echo across the water. The woman says:

“Is that your dog?” 

“Why is he in the water?”

“Why wasn’t he on the lead?”

“Are you Australian?”

“You have to do something!”

“Are you a New Zealander?”

“You’re all the same!”

“You should fuck off back to your country!”

To which Mark variously replies:

 “Yes.”

“He jumped in.”

“He ran all the way from Kensington Palace where he was off the lead which is ALLOWED.”

“No.”

“I am TRYING to.”

“Yes.”

“No we aren’t.”

“What are you talking about, you old bat?”

Then she took off, rattling the railings as she went, all angry and outraged and vicious, while the assembled crowd stole glances at each other and stood, silently watching us to see what we would do next.

So, Magic at this point was stuck – he had run off and jumped in, gone swimming loudly with much barking and splashing, swam down towards the Lido, gotten out, gotten stuck, went back into the water and just stood in the shallows barking and barking and barking and drawing people over to us from both sides of the Serpentine and from the bridge. Finally someone gave Mark a hand over the pointy railings and I thank the guy, who turned to me, all angry, saying that we have to DO SOMETHING! THE DOG IS DROWNING! And then Mark returns with the dripping dog, and reassures everyone that the water only went up to his dog-elbows and he wasn’t drowning, he was having loud fun.

And so we slunk off, after I mentally told everyone that THE SHOW IS OVER, FOLKS, and I maybe gave some mean looks, but probably not, because I was actually too embarrassed to look up. Besides, I still had damp jogging trousers so I was hardly going to draw more attention to myself. It was horrible.

Then things improved with frozen margaritas and lamb shanks. And Sunday we went to the Soho Food Feast, the school fundraiser for the Soho Parish School which is the very best thing ever.  Over the weekend they have nearly seventy of Soho’s most excellent restaurants selling little delicious things to eat and drink for about £2 each, and lovely cocktails and music and face painting and shade and vegetable sculpting, and Kiera Knightley and Jude Law were there, and so was the really big tall woman from Game of Thrones, and I was a tiny bit stalky. But when you hold a baby, I think your stalkiness goes largely unnoticed. I can report that Kiera had really good swedish plaits over her head and she smoked a lot.

Here we are in Soho, eating very well, all summery and happy and calm after the Dog Shame had subsided:

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I think they raised about a million more pounds than we are going to do at our Summer Fair. And we are just going to have halal beef burgers and squash. And I’m going to do the face painting again, and frankly, I haven’t improved since last year.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Sweet Camp Virginity

This morning, the dog ate a baby turd, and the children cried. It was just way too much for them to bear. And then Magic sauntered on over them, presumably for a loving lick, and they screamed and hid. I chuckled.

Here he is, the night before the poo-incident, looking reflective, and a tiny bit sad. I think he may have been wrestling with his dog-demons, and perhaps coming to terms with his inappropriate binge-eating and lack of self-control.

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So that’s where we are on Tuesday morning. Barnaby has gone away to his first school camp, and I am quite relieved. I have no anxiety about it – I couldn’t summon any up if I tried. All I know is that everyone seems a little quieter, and I don’t have to make three lots of packed lunches. We had a calm dinner last night and the children all said they preferred it when Barnaby was away, and Mark and I had to hastily turn the conversation to less karmically-damning utterances. It was all too similar to the first bit in The Labyrinth when Sarah gets sick of the baby and asks the goblins to take him away. Be careful what you wish for, small Brothers-Of-Barnaby – we may well have a giant-crotcheted mullet-haired sexy David Bowie-owl-goblin-king come through the window talking in erotic euphemisms to your mother, if you aren’t careful.

Anyway, he will be back on Wednesday, and the pre-pubescent scowling and surreptitious bullying shall resume again, and all will be right again with the world. And, as I have been reliably told, he will come back a pseudo-man. Taller, tireder, with stories of abseiling and communal halls and bunk beds and probably some whinging about the food. But there will be a puff to his skinny chest and a manly glint in his eye, and it will all amount to another little shift away from being my baby and to becoming a bit more of whoever he is going to turn out to be. Which is all good, and right. Luckily I have four more boys to project my neediness onto. PHEW.

And look, you never know. There may well be more. Mark said that if I make £100k this year, I am welcome to have another baby. Which means I only have to make another £96,500. And, let’s not forget – there is always Kickstarter.

So, half-term. You know we went to Wales and stayed with some lovely friends and attended a christening for their baby daughter who may well marry Otis, if I can engineer it.  We went to St Fagans National History Museum, which is a peculiar, fantastic place filled with  re-erected historic Welsh buildings where you can wander into and around, with some fairground rides and an archery range and everywhere there were signs in Welsh – marvellous words which look made-up, consonant after consonant, ‘g’s and ‘w’s strewn hither and thither, like the aftermath of a drunken alphabet party with hardly any vowels invited.

Here is Noah posing outside a re-erected post, emblazoned with my mother’s maiden name:

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Then we went to the beach and threw stones and ate ice creams and fish and chips and there were hardly any dramatic, sweaty-moments – just a few children-going-crabbing-right-on-the-rocky-slippery-cliff-far-away kinds of things. We stayed in a hotel with huge beds and terrible, terrible bacon. The kind of bacon which isn’t really at all. It was pink protein. And the scrambled eggs! Oh, why are there powdered eggs in the world? Could we not join together and eradicate powdered eggs? Eggs aren’t hard to manage – they’re a meal in a shell, dammit. They’re already uncomplicated. And our children get the posh orange Clarence Court eggs, and so, when faced with pale yellow hard powdered eggs, with pink protein on the side, well, it all gets a little bit beneath them. Which could well be a parental failing, setting them up for breakfast disappointments to be had again and again, for as long as they live. I’ve done the same with bread. It’s all Poilane or Gail’s bread here. They’ve only ever known a firm crust and a long-proven dough.

I have ruined them. Anyway, here’s the baby looking winsome in the hotel bath:

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Then we came home. Here is Casper in Tom Ford’s Wild Ginger and some blusher:

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We were at Ham House building dens. Here is Casper in the den. You can barely see him without his face on:

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And all the children outside Ham House, where no other children were. That’s a funny little thing about London – there is so much stuff to do, and room for everyone. Ned is doing a Kardashian bum pose:

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Theres always got to be one, right?

 

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In Which I Declare My Self-Love

It is half-term, and we have been in Wales getting a sprinkling of half-arsed sunburn, in that northern-hemisphere kind of way. It was gorgeous and lovely, and we had excellent company. And I will get to that, but first. Here’s a funny little thing to post. You remember how I promised that it was very likely that I wouldn’t mention that Dove ad again? Well, it turns out I was LYING.

Because a thing happened about a week after it got aired. As I was googling the ad obsessively, with the kind of dogged dedication and sheer hard work that would have made me an honours student at Law School fo’ sho’, I came across an article in The New Statesman http://www.newstatesman.com/media/2014/05/dove-s-mother-s-body-ad-idealises-motherhood-exploit-women-s-bodies (still can’t hyperlink, obvs) which was all a bit ranting and so I drafted a response. And so, if you fancy a few pages on bodies and exploitation and hurt feelings and quite a lot of self-lovin’, then read on. It would be interesting to see if there is a debate to be had here. Do we all hate our bodies? Is this version of motherhood a dupe? Thoughts on an envelope, please.

 

A Mother’s Body – Mine

 

A few weeks weeks ago, I was shot for a new Dove ad with three of my small children as part of Dove’s wider ‘Real Beauty’ campaign. The ad, directed by Amanda Blue, was a kind of visual accompaniment to the words of UK poet and spoken-word artist Hollie McNish.  Her poem was about, and in tribute to, a real mother’s body – and its stresses, aches, tendernesses, exhaustions, and beauty. 

 

I was asked to be in the ad because I am a mother of five little boys, and my body bears the marks of pregnancies, births, breastfeeding, weight gain and loss. In short, they wanted authenticity, and my three kids and I could give them that. I felt really proud to be in the ad, and was made to feel beautiful, which is something that doesn’t happen all that often. My body became the focus. There were scenes where parts of my body show – a t-shirt riding up to expose my hips, my jeans tight on my stomach, still showing the signs of my last pregnancy in September, bare thighs and upper arms – bits that I sometimes feel like hiding. The camera just rolled.  

 

The result is a short film of a few minutes, beautifully shot, edited tightly, focusing on many different parts of my body from my feet, to my skinned knees, to the muscles in my shoulders, following me interacting with my kids on a typical day. My body appears imperfect, a little roughed up and worn, albeit with a kindly soft-focus. I was brave to show it. It was an empowering experience for me. 

 

Following the airing, an article appeared in The New Statesman written by Glosswitch, a writer with a “feminist take on parenting and politics”. In it, she said that the “sickly and patronising” ad idealises motherhood to exploit women’s bodies.

 

Her article begins by stating that women are taught to hate their bodies, a hatred that becomes embedded and trivialised, and that advertisers take advantage of this, packaging up creams to sell back to us. The Dove ad, she says “hones in on two key insecurities: the fear of women that they are unattractive and the fear of mothers that their work is of no value.”

 

She said she watched the ad as a mother herself, and she noticed, among other things, that I have a “slightly fat tummy”, and an “arse”, and that I was energetic with my kids, and those things and the questions they raised within herself made her feel bad. “I keep coming back to this: is Dove basically saying that it’s okay to be a tiny bit podgy if you’re an ace, devoted mummy?” Essentially, my body on screen first made her feel better about herself, then worse. It wasn’t quite real enough – she was being sold a con, and my body, (not quite thin enough, not quite fat enough) doing the things a mother tends to do, was part of that con. She goes on to say she feels the ad swaps the usual, unrealistic view of a mother to this new one – one that is sold as ‘real’, and ultimately limiting.

 

I read this, and was surprised and saddened that that is all Glosswitch takes from the film. And, for the first time in this whole experience, I began to feel bad about my body. While she certainly raises some important points, her words about me, the Mother, felt like judgement and objectification. 

 

The loathing that she says women feel for their bodies is simply not true for me – my body is what it is, it is healthy, it has housed and fed my babies, and it keeps trucking on. I long ago made peace with my stretchmarks and by extension, with myself, but when she looked at me in her terms, I suddenly felt exposed, and started to see my body in pieces, as a series of parts that were unacceptable. I had thought that those bits of my body were actually really wonderful to see and to show. The film works as a visceral portrait of a Mother, and when I became that Mother, I didn’t feel I had to make excuses or justifications for my shape and size. I thought I was being brave, and maybe helping other women to feel brave too.

 

Yes, it is an ad for a beauty company. Women have complicated relationships with their bodies, and the beauty industry benefits from this. But this ad isn’t really trying to fool anyone. It just might be attempting something new.  Caitlin Moran in her March column for The Times Magazine, writing about the ‘imperfect’ films 12 Years A Slave and Fifty Shades Of Grey, said that: 

 

“the thing is, when you are starting a revolution, by which I mean, altering a landscape, so that new voices become dominant – you have to take the longer view. Because the history of change is someone has to start the conversation. But if we attack those who start valuable new conversations for not delivering the perfect revolution, straight off the bat, we scare the next generation of writers, directors and actors. We end up having no new conversations at all.”

 

Amanda Blue, her team and I took a small risk in the ad. It showed a different version of motherhood, and it placed on screen something a little bit more honest than we usually get to see. It is still an ad. But it was a brave one, an empowering one. Let’s not let that get lost before the conversation begins.

 

As Glosswitch writes, “Above all, I want mother’s bodies to be seen as the bodies of human beings: not objects, not tools, but flesh, blood and endless possibility.” That is exactly the way I see mine. There was no con – that Mother’s body is mine, and it is unapologetically beautiful.

 

 

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