Motherhood, Work/Life Balance, and David Beckham’s Pants

First published in The Portsmouth News, 29/04/14

 

Last week, Victoria Beckham turned 40. The media got in on the celebratory mood and printed photos galore of how she has changed over the years; and change she has.

From normal Spice Girl (an oxymoron) to fashion designer, VB has morphed into a memory of her former self. And I am intrigued to note that she also seems, in recent photographs, to be attempting something that facially resembles a smile.

At the end of her fashion shows, VB creeps out from behind an edamame bean, looking not unlike Morticia Addams, the corner of her mouth twitching at an opposing angle to that of her jutting hipbone. The overall effect is still one of a small mammal trying hard to expel wind, but brownie points to her for trying.

In the years since we have known Posh, she has sported myriad horrendous hairstyles (I feel a kinship with her), and she has shaped her life around trying to juggle work with children. Again, I feel a kinship. (Although, I admit, not on the scale of an international popstar turned seamstress.)

Once upon a time, before my ovaries began pulsating circa 2005, I had a career. I worked full-time after I had India, and by 2008 I was a Head of Department. I was driving 40 miles a day to and from work, writing my second book for a well-known publisher, and pregnant with my second child. Then I gave birth.

“I can always stay home and look after the girls,” my husband lied, smoothly, as I penned my resignation. Subsequently his career, due to having been bestowed with a pair of testicles whilst in the womb, has soared. Mine on the other hand, stalled.

Fortunately I was able to tutor part-time and I wouldn’t change my years at home with my girls for anything. However, it’s hard work being the person who gives up independent sentience, thriving off the buzz of work, in order to wipe bums and clean pants.

Interestingly now that I am back at work, I am still Chief Wiper of Bottomsville, and High Governess of Pant Cleaning. Funny that. Obviously I have sprouted an extra hand from my posterior in order to help me juggle my career, home and life.

Something tells me that VB sees very little dirty washing, but then again, if it were David Beckham’s pants I was faced with, I probably wouldn’t be complaining.

 

 

 

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After-school clubs that measure the waists of 6 year olds…

First published in The Portsmouth News, 22/04/14

A year ago a letter came home from my daughter’s school, detailing a new after-school club that was going to be run by an external agency. At first glance this club looked great: healthy physical games, healthy cookery, and free. I suspect that the latter may have swayed it for some parents because after-school clubs rarely come cheap.

This all sounded great to me, until I continued reading. I read about how my six year old would have her waist measurement taken at the start of the club, and about how she would then have it taken again at the end of it, twelve weeks later.

According to the letter, this measurement would be repeated to ‘ensure that the club benefitted the children’, which translates as ‘the children lose inches or at least gain none.’ Cue much maternal fury and a hasty email to the school raising my concerns.

To be making such young children aware of waist measurements, body image and size, and comparing it to their friends’, infuriates me. It’s nothing short of a recipe for a future eating disorder. It bothers me enough when people instil a concept of ‘good’ or ‘bad’ food in their children, banging on in the language of the diet industry, as opposed to speaking in terms of balance, health and strength.

I suspect that the majority of women reading this think about their size on a near daily basis. Who on earth wants to open their kids up to that before it’s inevitable? What about just eating intuitively, when you’re hungry, and stopping when you’re full? How about just going out at the weekend to ride a bike, play, or walk the dog?

When the letter came home I spoke to an ex-student of mine who is a recovering anorexic and she was horrified. I also emailed the lady behind the scheme in Portsmouth and she vehemently defended her ideas. In her mind, there were no grey areas: the best approach to obesity is to measure infants’ waists. With no research into the long-term pros and cons for the children involved in this, and their eventual relationships with food and body image, I find it frightening.

The woman in question also said that she measured her young daughters’ waists to such an extent that they ‘ask to be measured now’; more fool her. I also notice that the school have not employed the club this year: kudos to them.

 

 

 

 

Children say the most delightful things…

First published 15/04/14 in The Portsmouth News –

 

Children, as I have learnt since having two of my own, say the most beautiful things. Often, during my most fraught moments, and just as I am about to check them for any protuberances resembling horns, or cloven hooves, they pipe up with the sweetest comments.

Recently, India had a nasty cough, and after I had popped her to the walk-in centre to check that antibiotics were not needed, she told me that ‘she loved me more than she could even manage to say.’ Things like this make me want to snuggle them up and keep them small forever.

However, before getting too carried away with visions of childhood joy and lashings of ginger beer, I must point out that they also say some of the most humiliating things.

India has made it a personal mission to embarrass me since first she learnt to speak. On many occasions I would hold her in my arms whilst paying for items, and she would peer closely at the shop assistants. Her little lips would purse, head cocked to one side, and she would kindly enquire as to whether or not they were ‘man,’ (bad enough, and tricky to weasel out of), ‘or lady?’ (No recovery from that one).

However, she hasn’t saved these little gems for strangers alone, but has also included me in her direct line of fire. I remember being sat in the silence of a doctors’ waiting room, when she burst into spontaneous song, complete with mad jazz hands. Were it tuneful, or poignantly worded, I may have experienced some mummy-pride at such musical prowess at a young age.

Alas, it was a loud and tuneless ditty, entitled ‘Mummy Does Poos’. Brilliant. Best of all, every person in the waiting room pretended not to hear. “Just wait til she asks you if you’re ‘man or lady’,” thought I.

Amelie tends to be quieter and allows her actions to speak for themselves in terms of maternal-shaming. Recently when she was lying on me, fast asleep, in a silent theatre, the little poppet lost complete control of her flatulence. Which, judging by the audibility and ferocity of her offering, had been stored up for some time.

She’ll thank me for writing about that when she’s older. Around the same time that she’s begging me to stop dancing at weddings, stop purposefully calling her current partner by the last one’s name, and blocking me from her Facebook account.

 

 

 

 

One for the Gwynnie Bashers…

First published in The Portsmouth News, 08/04/2014

 

Gwynnie and Chris. Another Hollywood marriage bites the dust.

‘Was it the curly kale?’ I hear you ask, ‘Did she have an organic sprig stuck permanently between her gnashers?’ Gwyneth, with her weekly treat of one cigarette, and Chris, with his rebellious pierced ear, couldn’t make a marriage work.

Once we get over the oxymoron of a cigarette being a treat (an error of judgment made by a woman who is usually so health conscious she named her child after a piece of fruit), the tale of Chris and Gwyn boils down to a rather more simple equation: marriage can be hard work.

It also says something else about life: women can be downright mean. Some cruel things have been written in the wake of this marriage split, but not by men.

So what if Gwyn calls a divorce a ‘conscious uncoupling’? It might seem daft but it sounds a whole lot nicer for her children to read once they’re older. So what if she and Chris are currently holidaying together? Again, it seems a whole lot gentler for their children than if they spent this time battering each other about the bonce with broccoli florets. (And safer for one’s sexual health than the unconscious coupling that takes place under South Parade Pier of a drunken Friday evening.)

Everything from Gwynnie’s diet to her body has been slammed in the press. Women say she’s too skinny. What is ‘too skinny’? Who decides? Women say she eats too healthily. What is ‘too healthily’? Should Gwyneth instead be stuffing her face with lard straight from the pack? I like a bit of kale myself: should I be ashamed to admit it in case someone thinks I’m getting a bit ahead of myself?

Ironically, Ms Paltrow has never described her life as perfect: it was the people observing it who named it so, thereby indicating that she actually was perfection to them. Women all over the globe waved their jealous pitchforks in her direction, and now that her marriage is broken, those same women are gleeful that she was proven to be human and fallible after all.

Which leads me to question what do we mean by ‘perfect’? If a marriage is making everyone in it miserable, then surely the perfect version is the one where all parties separate to lead happier lives?

Behind closed doors we all live a chaotic, personal, meaningful life: perhaps this is perfect. Perhaps just ‘being’, warts and all, is perfection. And perhaps, we all need to stop judging. Live and let live.

Family, Illness & the Support of Friends…

First published in the Portsmouth News, Tuesday 1st April 2014.

 

Every so often, life throws us a curve ball. This might be something wonderful, like a lottery win, or it might be something terrible, like kidney failure.

In my case, the lottery win was only £10, but the kidney failure, which belonged solely to my husband, was 98%.

One day he was pottering along as normal, and the next he was admitted to QA. The doctors never discovered why his kidneys failed following his first minor operation, but fail they did: catastrophically. The night that he was assessed for intensive care is etched in memory for me. He lay, barely conscious, telling me that he would die that night, and asking me to look after our little girls once he was gone.

Throughout all of this, our friends and family pulled us through. We rolled with the punches that life was throwing, and our nearest and dearest cushioned the blows. My husband recovered fully, though the emotional trauma of that time took its toll on all of us. In the long-term we dodged this particular bullet, but there will always be others.

A friend of mine, Karen, has recently been dealt the curve ball that is known as ME, an illness that the public are often derisive of because they cannot ‘see’ it. Karen is a workaholic and this particular ball has hit her hard. She has been writing a blog about her experiences (www.whatwillhappentome.wordpress.com) and she describes how her illness is affecting not just her, but her family. Illness is far-reaching; we stand like tiny skittles in the cosmos, and when one of us receives a direct strike, the ripples are felt by us all.

However, in amongst all of this, we manage to carry on, and we manage still to appreciate the little things. Today, Karen posted a beautiful picture on Facebook of some flowers that her husband had given her: they were stunning. When my husband was in hospital my friends, Alison and Jodi, drove through the night just so I could wipe my nose on their shoulders; nothing extravagant, but gestures that mean the world.

With this in mind I am joining the #100happydays Challenge: each day, post a status on Facebook or Twitter about something that has made you happy; a walk with the dog, a good book, a glimpse of sunshine. Follow mine on Twitter (@lushnessblog) or, better yet, join in. It’s all about the little things; let’s celebrate them more.