Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Dear Anna: a Response to that Daily Mail 'Article'

Dear Anna May Mangan,

I would usually start a letter with some textbook niceties, perhaps 'I hope this finds you well' or something about the weather, but I am just about to stick some fish fingers in the oven and crack open another bottle of Sauv Blanc, so I'll cut to the chase. 

When I woke up this morning I discovered I had an unusually high number of social media notifications alongside several 'Have you seen the Mail Online, yet?' messages. A couple of years ago, this early morning flurry of online activity would almost certainly have thrown me into a sicky panic but this morning there was no such fear as I clicked through to your article. I already knew what it would say. 

In fact, if I had put money on it, I would have been on the lookout for a five-point attack:

Something about being slummy. Check. 
Something about swearing. Check.
Something about alcohol. Check.
Something about fish fingers. Check.
An overarching message about how mums should cherish every single moment. Check. 

I do think it's a bit of a shame that you felt the need to attack a group of mum bloggers and authors but I completely understand why you did. We are terrible parents, or at the very least we are all masquerading as terrible parents simply for likes and shares. That's not how us mums should behave, I can see that now. It would be so much healthier for the maternal nation if we all swept our bad days under the carpet and captioned every photo with #blessed. I promise I will try harder.

The thing is, if you had actually taken the time to properly read any of my stuff you would have come across the many heartfelt chapters I've dedicated to my boys, and indeed my own mother, who died of cancer when I was young. You would have known that I regularly beat myself up for not cherishing every sodding second but that on balance, I have decided that sharing the good, the bad and the ugly is more important. Potty training is ugly. Fact. 

You say that you, 'appreciate how this 'honesty' could make new mums feel less isolated and more reassured' but I couldn't help but mutter 'bullshit' when I read that token paragraph, particularly noting that you also say, 'these arrogant women shouldn't forget that, as well as being hard, a new baby is a gift.' 

That was the point at which I knew I had to say something. For all the mums out there who, like me (and Katie, Clemmie, Steph, Helen and Ellie - all good pals of mine, actually, we like to have Slummy Mummy Squad meetings), might read your bile and feel bad for having the odd moan. 

These were for me. The kids have theirs raw.
Admitting to serving up beige frozen goods ('freezer tapas' we like to call it, we're very middle class), confessing to the odd hangover and occasionally ranting about the inability to go to the toilet without a small person trying to unwrap our sanitary items is not boasting, Anna. It's just real life. Whether or not you choose to believe that what we are documenting is in fact our real lives is not really any concern of mine. I shan't lose any sleep over a lack of endorsement from the Mail. The point of this post is simply to say shame on you for failing to recognise the wider importance of this so called 'slummy mummy movement.' 

If taking snaps of fish fingers, cursing the bastard stray Lego impaling my feet in the middle of the night and offering a virtual hug to mums who are having a shitty day is wrong then shoot me down, because I don't want to be right.

I would like to conclude by saying a massive thank you for sending an extra thousand or so followers my way just this morning, and pushing both my books back up the chart (I'm guessing that probably wasn't your intention but I am ever so grateful, thank you). I couldn't help but think your mention of our bestselling books smacked of jealousy, which I can't for the life of me understand because your own parenting manual, The Pushy Mother's Guide, sounds like an absolute classic. 

Have a lovely day, I know I will.

Yours sincerely,

Sarah Turner
A boastful slummy mummy from Devon. 

Monday, 23 January 2017

Chaos Theory

This morning, when I got back from doing the school run, I unlocked the door, awkwardly shimmied past Jude’s pram and Henry’s scooter - both of which appear to be permanently wedged in our hallway (a standoff over who should clean the mud-encrusted wheels) – and then, in a slapstick Tom & Jerry style move, I trod on PC Selby’s police car (one of several Postman Pat toys young Jude received in his stocking from the big FC) and I went flying, travelling at least a metre towards the stairs with my arms flailing. Had it not been for the pram, which I grabbed hold of on my way to the floor, I think I might have broken something. Or died. Imagine that! Death by treading on PC Arthur Selby’s police car would be such a tragic tale, would it not? Anyway, the pram came to the rescue so I felt bad for having cursed the 'twatting obstacle course' on my way out.

I must have looked all kinds of ridiculous taking flight with one foot on a toy vehicle and both arms windmilling, and, after an initial chuckle to myself, I had to have a little sit down on the sofa to recompose myself, a bit like old people do when they've ‘had a fall.’ As I assessed the state of the living-room - which looks a lot like we’ve been burgled with all the contents of the drawers and cupboards spilling out onto the floor - I realised that the toy explosion in front of me was evidence of the morning we’d had before the school run. 

It told a story, and as I sat for a moment I allowed my mind to piece it all back together: ‘Baby Richard’ the dolly, discarded to one side because Jude had got bored ‘feeding’ him so had plonked him down and moved on to take a call from Miss Rabbit on his phone. The plastic toy tub, upturned, because Henry had been wearing it on his head, shouting, ‘I am a Dalek!’ The stacking cubes arranged in an unconventional top-heavy tower alongside a pole which started its life as a mast for a toy ship before the ship fell foul of rough play and ended up in the ‘Bye-bye box’ in the loft (absolutely not at the dump if Henry asks because we are not allowed to take broken things to the dump or put them in the bin, not even broken pen lids). 

To the side of the boxes lay a collection of Nerf bullets which, I realised, had been forming the basis of a ‘trap’ – Henry is very much into making traps these days and although none of them actually work we must pretend they do, which is all well and good until you’re trying to cook dinner and get called away from the hob to theatrically act out being caught in his non-existent deadly webs. PC Selby’s police car was positioned as a death-trap in the hallway because prior to us all having trudged out into the cold it had been PC Selby’s mission to save a Sylvanian rabbit from ‘the witch’ who appears to be everywhere both inside and outside of our house at the moment, despite being invisible. 

I have lost count of the number of times since becoming a parent that I have cursed the state of the house, muttering under my breath about the ‘piles of plastic crap’ and sighing at having to contort myself into a size zero to get past that pram which has left the already-narrow hallway so snug I pretty much had intercourse with the electrician as I showed him out the other day. But this morning, as I sat in a quiet house, staring at the usual trail of destruction, I saw things differently. 

I reviewed the evidence. 

And for once, I wasn’t looking at it like it was the evidence from a crime scene, nor was I rushing to stuff all the toys back into their boxes while wondering aloud why I bloody bother tidying up in the first place. Because, I realised, the chaos is what makes our house a home.

The toothbrush on the side reminds me of the daily battle to get my two-year-old to let me brush his teeth, which usually results in him trying to bite me and somebody crying. 

The mud-encrusted pram reminds me of the walk we went on where we argued about the suitability of the terrain for a pram (I feel I have made my point). 

The washing draped over radiators and chairs reminds me that I haven’t been on top of the washing situation for the last four years because life is busy and kids are messy.

The dishes on the table remind me that there were two boys sloppily shovelling Weetos into their mouths while singing ‘Jingle Bells, Batman smells, Robin laid an egg’ and laughing so hard that milk came out of their noses.

All of it, the total pandemonium, is what reminds me that there are children living here. It’s not a showhome, it’s a family home - it's messy and lived-in and loved. 

Yes, I will continue to curse the pram as I bash into it with my hip and I will continue to nag my children to put a few things away so it looks slightly less like a tornado has hit. But just for a moment this morning I imagined photoshopping all the chaos out of the picture and I didn't much like it. 

One day, the time will come when the dining table is clear, the cupboards are tidy and all the washing is up to date. Perhaps it will be when my children have grown up and moved out, when I have started grilling them about their relationship statuses to assess my chances of becoming a grandmother. 

One day, I reckon I will have the sanctuary of calm I so desperately longed for only it won't feel much like a sanctuary at all. 

I will miss the chaos.

So thank you, PC Arthur Selby in your tiny police car, for being kind enough to trip me up and remind me of that. 

I would like to apologise to anybody who has clicked on this blog post hoping for something mathematical about deterministic dynamics or some clever commentary about the 'butterfly effect'. I'm afraid this post doesn't really explore Chaos Theory at all. 

Friday, 2 December 2016

The Unnecessary Pressure of Christmas

Last year I had a bit of a moan about how fancy Christmas is getting. I questioned the necessity of Christmas Eve boxes and slagged off Panettone because I was feeling nostalgic about Viennetta.

This year? Well, this year I’m feeling pretty much the same so it looks like an annual ‘What the fuck has happened to Christmas?’ blog might be on the cards.

This isn’t a Scroogey post, though – far from it, in fact, I’m a massive fan of Christmas – but earlier this week I found myself getting stressed over all the impressive things other people are doing/planning that I haven’t been doing/planning and I figured that if I’m stressing out, the chances are some of you are, too. So this is my attempt to reassure you that you are not failing at Christmassy parenting just because you haven’t hand-sewn an advent calendar out of sheep wool you’ve flown in from Nazareth.

I’m bewildered by some of the Christmas-themed conversations I've seen online lately and the final straw came when I stumbled across an entire thread dedicated to mums debating which Christmas theme to go for this year. What do you mean which theme? I read on and discovered that one mum is having a 'monochrome Christmas' because it looks classier. Another is accessorising in pastels this year because the bright colours clash with her sofa and the third isn’t sure yet what to go for but ‘crikey’ isn’t it hard work coming up with the decorative theme every year?!

I wanted to scream at my computer, “CHRISTMAS! THE FUCKING THEME IS CHRISTMAS!” but I didn’t because it was obvious I had stumbled into a zone that wasn’t safe for me, like the Helmand of mum chat, so I muttered, ‘monochrome my arse’ and shut down the browser. What the bloody hell is a monochrome Christmas? OK I know what monochrome is – everything is black, white and grey or varying tones of just one colour - but that’s not Christmas, is it? Is it? Christmas isn’t supposed to be classy, right? Christmas is bright and colourful and chaotic and brings together a hodgepodge of decorations bought from random places or handmade by kids over the years.

Christmas in the early 1990s. Great times with little fuss.
Granted, this was just one thread. But over the course of a few days I was drip fed-further images of impressive festive creations and elaborate Things To Do lists and I couldn’t help but feel a bit sad. So much seems to be expected of parents in the run up to Christmas nowadays.

Firstly, you have to trample over people in the supermarket on Black Friday as you panic-buy presents you don’t really need but feel you ought to buy because of the colossal savings off the list price they definitely didn’t hike up the week before. Then you have to think about December 1st. What are you doing for advent? Some people are doing book advents, some people are doing craft advents, some people are giving away a clue as to where the chocolate is hidden each day - because if life wasn’t already busy enough you can now get up ten minutes earlier to facilitate a daily fucking treasure hunt. Then you have to get the elf down for the shelf and make him do cheeky things every day.

We’ve got shop-bought advent calendars for the boys again and they’re chuffed. We do have an elf - because the good-behaviour bribery potential is strong - but he doesn’t write messages in Weetos or cosy up to Barbie because I haven’t got the time. He basically moves around the shelf and the kids think that’s amazing.

I suppose my point is that Christmas isn’t about the showy stuff. Unless, of course, you want it to be. If you want to pay for a personalised letter from Father Christmas and arrange a visit to a top notch grotto (with a Santa so true-to-life he must have been through Santa Factor boot camp and Judges’ Houses to secure the role) then do it. You need not defend these actions if they mean something to you.

But don’t do these things because you feel like you ought to, or worse because you’re worried your yuletide Instagram feed looks a bit shit. So what if Derek from the garden centre’s black moustache is visible over his Santa beard in the picture and the gift he’s given your son is a shit plastic toy for the bath when you don’t even have a bath (true story). Kids are brilliant. Kids think Santa knew you didn’t have a bath but bought the toy for their outside water tray.

Kids don’t get to Christmas Eve and think Christmas is ruined because there isn’t a personalised ceramic plate for the mince pie and carrot or because they haven’t got new pyjamas in their ‘Christmas Eve box’. They don’t wake up in a cold sweat because you forgot to buy them glittery reindeer food to sprinkle on the front door step.

For me, the build-up to Christmas will always be about leafing through the Argos catalogue, putting the tree up without any regard for monochrome classiness, eating tins of chocolates, drinking Buck’s Fizz, watching Home Alone and dancing around the living room to Shakin’ Stevens.
Tuesday is set to the greatest moment of the year so far when I get to watch my little Henry Bear be a shepherd in his first nativity ('Get that fire going!' - I've been saying his lines in my sleep).

That’s Christmas. I bloody love it.

This isn't my way of 'mum-shaming' anybody who is borderline professional at festive stuff. I just felt I needed a moment to re-focus on what’s important and what's important is different for all of us. It's whatever stuff we believe to be important.

Don’t get swept up in doing shit you don’t really want to do.
Don’t worry about keeping up with The Clauses on social media.
Don’t put Derek out of business.

Have a proper crimbo.

Sunday, 4 September 2016

Here We Are, Then (Henry Starts School)

I considered not writing this post at all, suspecting that whatever I typed would fast become a Starting School cliché (“Where has the time gone? I can’t bear it!” yadda yadda yadda). But I have been a walking mess of emotions for the past few weeks and shy of hiding in the fridge sobbing into Dairylea triangles (again) I didn’t really know where else to go with it. [Spoiler alert: this post is one hundred per cent a Starting School cliché, seasoned school parent pros need read no further].

The truth is, I have looked ahead to this moment many times over the last four years and I quite honestly never expected that I would be one of those mums. The criers. The ones who get struck down with My Baby is Starting School pangs in the middle of Tesco. The ones who make an excuse to escape to the kitchen with a lump in their throat when the uniform is tried on for the first time. The ones who scroll through toddler photos from two years ago on Timehop and say, “I just can’t believe it.”

Yet here we are. Timehop presents me with a photo of my about-to-start-school child from when he was a toddler, waddling around not quite able to master walking in his wellies, and all at once I’m floored by a hurty heart.
Just like that my Henry Bear, my biggest boy, is going to school. Joining the hordes of reception-starters, he’ll be making his way through the school gates in the oversized uniform I’ve dutifully labelled with name tags, carrying a book bag that will come home bursting with reminders about things we have to do to help him succeed at numeracy/phonics/life.

Parents of children already at school tell me this overwhelming emotion will soon become a distant memory and I have no doubt that when term begins next year I too will be skipping up the road and updating Facebook with, ‘Lovely summer and everything but thank fuck for that!’

I will know the drill by then. I’ll be used to having a school-aged child and I’ll have realised that the school day is actually quite short (and that it’s never very long before the next holiday which presents me with all manner of childcare issues). With a level-head on I already know all of these things but level-headedness rarely makes a guest appearance in Parentland, does it? In fact, Parentland has proved the biggest mind-fuck of a destination I’ve ever been to and that’s without the use of any narcotics. Parentland is maddening and hilarious and weird and makes me cry all the bloody time.

It’s not that I don’t want Henry to go to school. I do. He is more than ready to go and I’m excited for him. It’s just that seeing him trying on his uniform this evening, singing along to his favourite song (Coldplay’s Yellow, genuinely he demands it on repeat), I can’t hide from the fact that he is growing up. In any normal week one day rolls into the next and it’s easy not to see it. Sure he grows out of his clothes and shows an interest in new TV programmes and games so I know he is growing up. But I don’t stop and take stock of that. Life’s too busy.
School very obviously marks  the start of a brand new chapter, which is no bad thing it just means I have to accept that a line is being drawn under the old chapter - the one where he was baby who was sick all the time who then became a toddler who called all animals, “Cat!” and later a pre-schooler who made me howl with laughter at his naked living-room dancing.

I have moaned about him a lot over the last four years (because he’s annoying – really, he is) but this last year has seen a change in our relationship. He makes me laugh. He’s bloody good company.

I will miss him.

There have been times when I have muttered, "Roll on school!" and I could give you some bullcrap about how I didn't really mean it but in all honesty at the time I definitely meant it.

I think maybe that is why I am so sad.

Because I never enjoyed the earliest days as much as I should have. I tried but it turns out the whole baby thing just isn’t my bag (though my ovaries are positively exploding at the prospect of being one child down during school hours so I think Mr Unmumsy will be wearing three pairs of boxers to bed for the next week. “Just one more?” “NO”).

On top of the fact that I am distraught at him going to school (not an exaggeration) I am also worried about how I will fare as a School Mum. I’ve bumbled through the last four years of motherhood on a wing and a prayer and I’m fairly sure my maternal incompetence will be outed sometime in the first term.
The other mums might have read my book. What if they stand in the corner of the playground whispering, “There’s that mum who called her baby a dick. Look how creased his trousers are - I did read she doesn’t iron anything. Oh and there’s her husband. Do you know he once had to milk her?”
I hadn’t thought this through.
But it’s not about me. And my main worry is not how bad I’ll look when I put Henry in his skeleton pyjamas for World Book Day (Funnybones, yes he has worn them for the last two Halloweens), my main worry is how he will get on. Will he enjoy it? Will he make friends? Will he manage to remember that not everybody wants to abide by his rules when playing  Star Wars? Will he fit in?
He’s too young for me to give him the school advice I want to give him. I want so badly to tell him the things I learned from school. That it’s better to be nice than it is to be popular. That if you are nice you will be popular for the right reasons, because people like you. That if you strive only to be popular you will be popular because people think they have to like you, because you're popular (and that is not the same thing).
I want to tell him to work hard, to play harder and to always be kind.
I want to tell him that I am so very proud of him. So proud it makes me look around and shout, “That’s my son!”
I want to thank him for giving me something so wonderful that I will miss it. For allowing me to make a million and one parenting mistakes in the first four years of his life which will no doubt benefit his little brother (trial and error, it’s the only thing I know).
But I won’t tell him any of these things. He’s a sensitive creature and it would be selfish of me to burden him with the extra worry of his mother having the emotional restraint of Gwynnie at the Oscars. So I will bite my tongue and in my best cheery mum voice I will say, “School tomorrow then buddy! How fab, you’ll love it.” I will keep things upbeat. I won’t make it too big a deal. I will do all the stuff I hope will make school easier for him and none of the stuff that will make school easier for me.
I know it is probable that at some stage he will cling to me and tell me that he doesn’t want me to leave (we had four months of that at preschool, it broke my soul). Every ounce of my being will want to stay there in the middle of reception class holding onto him, but it would start to look a bit weird. So I will be firm, because that’s what parents do. And he will be fine.
I will not be fine. I will come home and cry and eat Dairylea triangles and say, “Where did the time go?”
That’s Parentland. The best place on earth. The worst place on earth.
I bloody love you Henry Bear. Go get ‘em.
The Unmumsy Mum

Friday, 8 July 2016

Why Parenthood Is Nothing Like I Imagined

Not so long ago somebody asked me whether life as a parent was ‘everything I imagined it would be’ and I laughed so hard that food came out of my nose.

‘Oh yes,’ I replied, after realising that this was, in fact, a genuine question. ‘It’s everything I imagined it would be and more,’ adding a slight grimace which I hoped delivered the honest subtext of ‘Absofuckinglutely not.’

Remarking on all the failed expectations of parenthood is actually one of my favourite pastimes. Not in a ‘Wow, look at all the things I hoped I would do/say/be as a parent, I’m none of them hahaha!’ way but just a chuckle over all the shit I thought I would do.

Except that’s not strictly true.

Clear as a toddler's backwashed sippy cup?

Allow me to explain.

I’m not saying I have lied about imagining a whole host of shit I’ve subsequently never come close to doing, I'm saying that imagining doing these things is not the same as genuinely believing that I would do them.

Is anybody still with me? (This feels like the bit in Titanic when Rose is calling the rescue boats back and begging Jack to stay with her but it’s too late because his bollocks have frozen after she hogged the floating door big enough for two). Stay with me Jack, I’m getting to the point.

Not quite what I imagined
My point is that deep down I knew my vision of parenthood was unrealistic even before I threw a baby into the mix. And that’s actually got nothing to do with parenthood itself, not really, because I’ve been setting myself up to fail with unrealistic imaginings all my life.

Before I started secondary school, I imagined that I would be instantly accepted by the cool kids and that I'd successfully attract a boyfriend to hold hands with between lessons. Only it turns out that when you have Deirdre Barlow glasses engulfing two-thirds of your face and you team ankle-basher trousers with ‘square’ shoes from Clarks (because your mum wouldn’t let you go to Shoezone and get the platform ones) you never do slot straight into the cool crowd. In fact, you later find yourself in Year 11 with nothing to show by way of romance except a drunken snog in the Football Club car park with a boy you suspect was sick before he kissed you.

When I started working in finance, fresh-faced from University and keen as mustard, I imagined that I would swish around in pencil skirts and deliver dynamic presentations so impressive they would leave senior management bamboozled. Credit where credit’s due I had a pretty good bash at swishing around in pencil skirts and delivering presentations but I also had spells of mediocrity. I got things wrong, I didn't always make a dynamic impression and I once managed to get myself locked in the staff toilet where I had to be rescued by a commercial banking manager who climbed over the top of my cubicle and gave me a leg up (upon re-entering the office from the toilet I discovered word of the escape had spread and I was greeted with a round of applause). Work life wasn’t always very swish, in the end, but it did provide years of laughter.

Parenthood has taken these unrealistic imaginings to a whole new level because every stage of the parenting game brings a new anticipation. When I first imagined myself having children I visualised a mum who would rustle up fresh pesto with a pestle and mortar, while listening to Jazz. Who would glide around looking positively glowy with her baby in a sling and her toddler sat nicely doing crafts (she would exude maternal confidence and have all sorts of educational crafty ideas because that’s what imaginary glowy pesto-pulsing mums do).

Only I’ve never been a glider, not ever, and there’s nothing about passing a small human out of your fandango that automatically makes you more glidey, is there? The reality is that I’m clumsy, I walk into things, I always seem to manage to get the belt loop from my dressing-gown caught on the door handle so it pulls me backwards with great force. I’m crap at cooking, I hate crafts.

It’s never been the boys’ fault that I haven’t blossomed into the beacon of delicious yummy mumminess I imagined. That was never my calling. My calling has always been slightly crummier. I just imagined a sleeker version because that’s what imagination does. It creates expectation.

So you see, it’s not exclusively parenthood that has failed to become 'everything I imagined it would be'. It’s just that by their very nature our imaginings are a bit fucking daft.

They are also inevitable. Which is why I can’t help but imagine myself absolutely bossing the role of School Mum when Henry heads into the classroom for the first time this September. I’m imagining that I will be on top of costume-making and cake-baking and the trillion emails I’m told I can expect every day. I’ll have a magnetic family organiser and I’ll have my shit together at all times.
I imagine.