Archive for January, 2015

Mothers: Making the Right Choice. Or Advice for Alice.

January 16, 2015

I’m going to pose a dilemma.

It’s one that might present in clearly defined black and white – as it has in my experience and in my protagonist’s, let’s call her Alice – or it might have emerged in blurredlines and shades of grey.

But it’s one that is faced, to some degree, at some point, in some shape, by almost all the women I know. Our flaky job descriptions mean there are always hard choices to make.

Here goes.

Alice is married with young children; she is a Good Mother, that much is evident in the way she stoops to speak to her small son, answers her daughters’ interminable answers. Alice gave up a career in London, ‘I was good at it’, she says, a little forlornly, so that I am in no doubt that she misses the camaraderie, dressing up for the office, the daily need for mascara, a slick of lippe, the clearly defined parameters of her ninetofive day.

But Alice’s husband has a bigimportant job that has taken them to a remote corner of the world. His Career takes precedence over hers, because he gets paid more, because the children are little, because it’s just the way it has to be.

Alice, though, questions the fait accompli that has been thrust before her. She isn’t sure what to do; isn’t sure of the Right Thing To Do. In the briefest passage of time she has gone from single career girl to wifeandmother. Her role has been picked up and shaken so vigorously she feels disorientated: which way is up, which way is down.

She asks my advice.

What ought I tell her?

Put the Kids’ needs first: that’s the right thing to do

kids first 3

Listen Alice, honey, you’re a mother right? Your first responsibility must be to the kids. They’re small and defenseless and can’t effect change themselves; they can’t make the choice you know they’d make if they had the voice, the muscle, to do so: you’ve got to make the right choice for them.

And they can’t be expected to live in the sticks, with no exposure to other little people; they need the opportunity to develop social skills or god knows what they’ll be like when they get back to the real world! They’ll be awkward and withdrawn and you’ll be left picking up the pieces and end up in some shrink’s office as you weep about being a bad mother.

Your husband’s job is to support his family financially, yours is to support your children emotionally. And anyway, what on earth are you going to do about school stuck out there! No, they need to go mainstream school so you need to make a plan. And don’t’ even think about home school – they’ll drive you mad when they won’t sit still or refuse to do set tasks. You’ll just end up fighting with them and upsetting yourself. And anyway people who home school always end up wearing really bad shoes and ghastly elasticated waist bands in their skirts. Homeschooled means Homemade. Hobbled together.  You won’t be able to lay on Competitive Sport – who is your son going to play cricket with? Your daughters won’t be able to have ballet classes. Besides, homeschooled kids are just plain weird.

What your children need is a well rounded and recognizable education that sustains them throughout their lives; they need the very best start.

Your job is to make sure they get it.

kids first

Put your Husband first; that’s definitely the way to go

marriage first

Listen Alice, honey, you were a wife before you were a mother, right? He came along first and the kids second. He’s going to be around long after they vanish to boarding school or university. Long after they’ve grown up and flown the nest.

If you make a child centric choice now you’re in serious danger of finding yourself unable to give them space later, you’ll be forever striving for attachment to the kids, your apron strings at risk of strangling the life out of them. And you’ll look needy. God. Don’t look needy.

And imagine if whilst you’re living away so the children can go to school he takes up with some other woman. Have you considered that? Absence may well make the heart grow fonder, in the short term, but ultimately, inevitably, it will make the attentions wander. Men are just like that. You’ll grow apart and he’ll always remember that he played second fiddle; he’ll never get over that – men have chinafragile egos. You’ll never be able to make up for what you took from him – from your partnership – when you made the decision to put the kids first. You need to stay connected and you won’t if you move to the other end of the country/world just to make sure your kids get the accepted prescribed education.

If you gouge a gap in your relationship now, for the children’s sake, you’ll never be able to plug it; there will forever be a hole, a space, when you ought to have been together, raising the kids as a team, a proper family. Imagine all the important lost moments, the conversations you could have, should have, had but never did because your separate lives meant what you had to say to each other began to lose context.

And kids learn anywhere. Home school them!  Don’t be bullied into believing there’s only one way to skin a cat. Think outside the box. Imagine the adventure! Your husband will be so proud of you; demonstrating you can be wife, mother and teacher! You’ll lend your kids CVs such an unusual slant; give them the edge at their Oxbridge interviews.

This is an opportunity to extend yourself. And anyway, the kids would much prefer to have mum and dad together in one home than go to conventional school.

Break the mould; what better lesson could you give your kids?

putting marriage first

Put yourself first. Numero Uno.  It’s a No Brainer

happy mama

Listen Alice, honey, you were YOU first, long before you were wife and mother, right?

Don’t let either role define you entirely or you’ll find yourself swallowed whole, your identity compromised and – over time – and trust me on this – your sense of direction and selfworth eroded. Hang onto a bit of yourself. Hang on hard.

And whilst you’re at it, practice saying No. Out loud. In front of the mirror. Articulate the word clearly. As if you mean it. No I can’t play Lego with you now I am going to have a nice hot bath. No I cannot help you with that report now, I am catching up on the news. No you cannot watch the cricket, I’m watching this.

Sure the kids need you when they’re small, but they need a mother who’s going to stand well as a self-contained role model in the long term, not one that’s going to cling because she hasn’t got a clue what else to do with herself because this, this business of mothering, is all she remembers how to do.  You want your kids to know as the cool person you were.  You want them to proud of you, your achievements, you don’t want them ushering you off the phone when they’re 22 because you have nothing interesting to relate?

And your husband? Hang onto his every word, be at his perpetual beck and call and I promise you there’ll come a time when the kids have grown up and flown off and you’ll find you don’t have a fulfilling role at home anymore and nor do you have the attention of the man you married.

And you are too old/out of touch/riddled with self doubt to find engagement in the workplace.

You’ll have lost your looks (Alice is young and beautiful, the question mark that creases her brow as a frown as she ponders her dilemma hasn’t get ironed itself firmly to her complexion, there is no grey at her temples, the backs of her hands are smooth) and your figure (Alice is thin. Bitch) and all of that will conspire to further pick at your confidence.

Your husband will have grown accustomed to Taking You For Granted (if you made it that easy), he’ll have stopped hearing what you say (mostly because you don’t have anything new to tell). He’ll thumb texts whilst you respond to the question he has asked. The obligatory How Was Your Day. Why does he ask, you think to yourself sadly? He’s not listening. Tell him you seduced the milkman/postman/gardener and he won’t register. He’ll mumble, ‘hmmm … hmmm … hmmm?’ and then he’ll get up and say, ‘Sorry Darling I must just make this call’. And you hadn’t even got to the climax.

So consider the Big Picture and do what works for you in the long run; nurture your own sense of self and you will forever remain interesting and enigmatic, self assured and self contained. You’ll be glad you did. And so, I imagine, will your husband and kids.

soul food

PS This is my 500th post. For so many reasons, on so many levels, and in the context of this blog and who I am, this is exactly the right post for that milestone.



January 11, 2015

My eldest daughter has a difficult conundrum at work. A conundrum that would not have presented in my world at her age. I’m not even sure the right language was there then. She is too young for this dilemma and I too old to know exactly what to say: how can I relate when I know nothing of this particular quandary. It would be patronizing to even try.

This is the first time that this has happened to me. In every other respect I have been able to empathize with my children’s experiences: I failed exams as they sometimes have; I had my heart broken as a girl, several times, so I recognize what the splintering fall out feels like when they tearfully articulate it through sobs and snot and hiccups; I say, ‘I know, darling, I know’ and I mean it. I understand about bad friendships and good ones. I get being broke; I’ve been there too.  And when my daughters fret that they don’t look as beautiful as they’d like to, I feel the sting again when I felt the dumpiest, dreariest at a party. My mother must have told me I looked lovely as I do them; must have meant it as I do now.

So, until my daughter called me last night and said, ‘Mum, there’s this thing … I don’t know if I’m going mad … what do you think’, I always knew what to say.

But her New World presents with experiences my old one never delivered, not in any shape – her dilemma was as far away from my 21 year old world as the internet and smart phones – so for the first time I don’t know what to say.  And that is a difficult thing as a mother; we ought to have the answers. We always used to.

I ponder all night and find myself in hack-mode. If in doubt Google it. So I do the research and plough through opinion pieces and Facebook pages and readers’ comments and small answers are revealed as tiny gems through the soupiness of the ether. If I sieve them out, will that help I wonder?

And then I consider another obstacle. My daughter is full of young-freshly ironed Save The World idealism. Mine is old and crumpled and faded with cynicism. Somehow we must build a bridge across the two to a Happy Medium and perhaps on that island we will find a treasure map that leads to a solution that satisfies us both: her youthful desire to fix all things and mine as a mother to just mend what worries her.

This, I think, this uncertainty, this loss of bearings, must be what defines a parent who is tentatively handing her baby across a generation to the big teethed world of Grown upness.

After the Storm

January 10, 2015


A morning walk.

I learned a long time ago that days in lonely places need to be kick-started aggressively. Get the endorphins pumping as your heart pounds then the long hours ahead seem less weighty; abbreviated.

The dogs follow me from the moment I wake up. I sternly say, ‘I’m going back to my bed with my tea you two; you’ll have to wait’. They gaze up at me solemnly, beseechingly from the floor.


They stand outside the bathroom door as I shower. They are trip hazards until I get my – at this time of year – wellies on and pick up the lead and then the wait erupts into a frenzy as they charge towards the gate and I am hauled along by six month old Jip who, despite her size, is as strong as an ox.


Why the lead Ant asks as we walk together on a Sunday and Jip pulls me down the hill so that my answer is snagged on the wind and he has to ask again, ‘what, why?’.  Because of the road, I wail as Jip charges forth. It’s hardly the M4 laughs Ant. Quite. But there are bicycles to be toppled if Jip appears like a bullet out of the tea and pluckers on their way into the fields to be terrorized when they mistake Jip’s enthusiastic hellos as imminent attacks.

Yesterday’s storm,  which took out the internet – as rain clouds obliterated the satellite – and the electricity because the lightening rods erected on my roof tripped the power, is long gone. Not a trace above me to suggest last night’s tempest.


The sky is rinsed Omo Blue and the tea and forest newly painted green; a Dulux colour chart: Enchanted Eden, Luscious Lime, Kiwi Crush.

after the storm

The earth beneath my booted feet is damp and gouged with the rivers that rushed; all that remains are scars and debris and the gossamer wings of flying ants which flew briefly and ecstatically. Siafu march determinedly onwards in their trenches; regimented lines. I am glad of my footwear. Occasionally the dogs tread carelessly and must pick a nipper from between their pads. I can hear frogs. Birds. The occasional Sykes money scold from damp tree tops.

And Jip continues to charge blindly onwards, ebulliently disobedient. I only know where she is by the shiver of tea bushes above her as she races between them, her tail an antenna. Occasionally, to get her bearings, she must stand on her hind legs and peer above the foliage, like a gerenuk.  Pili is altogether more decorous.

I harness Jip before we cross the road home and – despite heavy panting and a long pink tongue lolling – she has lost little of her exuberant speed and so she pulls me up the hill.

I didn’t tell Ant that bit; she helps me home.

little black jip


January 7, 2015


So there. It’s all over. The busy-ness.

The business of family and Christmas and kids.

I am always struck by the deafening roar of silence that follows the brouhaha of a full house.  I can hear myself think. And that’s not always a good thing.

Amelia left last week. My sister and her brood over the weekend.  Noise drained. Happily cluttered sofas cleared to leave cold spaces.

Yesterday I drove Ben and Hat to the airport, three hours away. We rose in the dark; dawn smudged with mist and rain and blackbellied cloud. The weather didn’t shift all morning. Their plane couldn’t land; rerouted to sit the weather out. We sat it out in a café and drank too much coffee and played cards.  And I thought, ‘this feels like a reprieve: stolen hours’.

But come lunchtime, the sun had burned a small hole in the gloom and the rain abated and the plane came in and I watched my children clamber aboard. And I stood on the runway in the drizzle and waved and blew kisses and I continued to do so as they taxied away and I watched the aircraft lift and I saw it swallowed by the sky. I took a deep breath, blinked back tears and got into the pickup to drive home.

I bounced on the rutted dirt roads to the farm, fighting with the steering wheel to stay steady as the unevenness of the surface threw me all over the place.

I don’t remember it being this bad on my way in, I puzzle.

And then I remember: my ballast has gone.