Yip. 18 months on, I can officially no longer claim I’m retaining ‘baby weight’. ;(
Yip. 18 months on, I can officially no longer claim I’m retaining ‘baby weight’. ;(
This week, in case you missed it, is/was apparently World Breastfeeding Week. (Go Le Boobs!)
I personally met this news with relatively mixed emotions, as I am reaching the end of my own breastfeeding journey.
Yes, as the Small Small Person wobbles into toddlerhood, her interest in the boobies is waning day-by-day, and things are definitely getting generally emptier and dryer. (Apart from my throat and eyes, which need no encouragement in getting fuller and wetter).
I’m going to miss it. A lot.
So I thought this was as good a time as any to share with you 9 things I have learnt about breastfeeding.
I had one baby that I was determined to breastfeed. It tried to starve itself, got hospitalised, and I ended up bottle feeding it. I then had one baby that I swore to bottle feed from the word GO. I mix-fed for a bit, and then ended up exclusively breastfeeding it.
Meh. I know this: Breast is not best. Fed is best. Whatever is getting you all through the day is best.
And aren’t we bloody lucky that some genius out there invented formula so if and when things go tits up, so to speak, your baby can eat, and grow and thrive?
Nope, harder than that. And IN SO MANY DIFFERENT WAYS.
When I first thought about breastfeeding in an NCT class more than four years ago, I thought I knew it would be painful etc, but that I was strong and tough enough to power on through it.
Ha ha ha ha ha! I was so cute. Stupid, but cute.
The bleeding nipples. The thrush. The mastitis. The hot and cold chills, the hallucinations, the sweats. The bullshit cabbage thing. All of that. But then also the fact it’s a knack – a physical trick of coordination – that for someone who can’t throw, catch or even hold a pen properly – was never going to come particularly easily or naturally.
Instinct? PAH! I have no instincts. If I’d have been born in a time where people needed basic instincts I’d have been strangled at birth, or I’d have eaten the wrong berry, cuddled the wrong sabre tooth or fallen off the wrong cliff. And the baby IS RELATED TO ME. By, like, birth.
Basically, neither me nor the Small People had a Scoobie Dooby Do what we were doing. I expected the babies not to sleep. I expected them not to want to be put down. I had no expectation at all that they would not eat.
Which brings us to 3.
Nobody else will tell you this. When things got hard, you see, I sort of expected there to be actual answers, and for people in the medical profession to give them to me. You know, in order to do the best for me and my baby and stuff.
In fact I received so much conflicting advice from the endless rounds of midwives, health visitors, healthcare workers, Doctors and breastfeeding support workers, based on so many different organisational, social and personal agendas, I – a relatively intelligent and heavily educated woman of some maturity and experience – couldn’t make head nor tail of it.
Here, you try.
– No, love, use the cradle hold.
– Don’t put your hand there.
– Support the head.
– Make sure she can move her head.
– Don’t put your fingers there!
– Use the C shape.
– Support her back!
– Try the rugby hold.
– Try it lying down.
– Don’t lie down! You’ll suffocate her!
– Make sure she’s got breathing room – press down just by the nipple to create a space.
– What are you doing? Get your hand out of the way!
– She’ll eat when she’s hungry, let her sleep.
– What? Why haven’t you fed her? Wake her up every two hours to feed her!
– Every three hours.
– Every four hours.
– Three hours from the last feed.
– Three hours from the end of the last feed.
– Three hours from the start of the last feed.
– Four hours from the division of the last hour of sleep you got, plus the number you first thought of.
– Feed her on demand.
– Babies don’t starve themselves you know!
– What do you mean she won’t drink anything?
– Your latch looks good to me.
– She’s not latching properly!
– Wake her up by tickling her feet.
– Wake her up with a cold cloth.
– Try an ice cube.
– What are you doing with that ice cube??? They don’t do that in Guantanamo Bay!
– Pump after every feed.
– Pump before every feed.
– What are you doing pumping before a feed? She won’t get the foremilk!
– Pump until you get to the hindmilk.
– Foremilk and hindmilk isn’t really a thing anymore, love.
– Why are you still pumping? It’s time to feed again!
– Keep it in the fridge for six days.
– No! Are you mad? Freeze it for six days, and keep it in the fridge for 24 hours once it’s been opened.
– 12 hours if it’s steralised.
– Take away another three hours.
– She’ll take as much as she wants.
– You’re not feeding her enough!
– Try a pipette.
– Don’t use a pipette! Try a feeding cup.
– Don’t tip it up so much – she’ll choke.
– She’s not getting any like that is she? You need to tip it further.
– Don’t obsess over the millilitres.
– What do you mean you’re not counting how much she’s had?
– She needs at least eight feeds a day.
– She’ll let you know when she’s hungry!
– If you use a bottle now you might as well give up – it’s a slippery slope.
– Why aren’t you topping up with formula after the breastfeed?
– Before the breastfeed.
– Halfway through.
– Just mix pumped breastmilk and formula in the same bottle.
– Don’t mix milks! Are you mad??
– Have you tried a Nuk/Nimby/Dr Browns/other expensive brand?
– You need a latex nipple.
– Boil the water first and refrigerate.
– No – the formula powder has to be made with boiling water to get rid of the bacteria!
– Let it cool on the side.
– Don’t leave milk on the side! Put it in the fridge!
– You’ll have to throw it out now.
– Let’s look at this latch again.
– Try flipping your nipple in.
– Not like that.
– No, wait for her to open her mouth!
– Open her mouth for her.
– Always bring the baby to the breast.
– Always bring the breast to the baby.
– Support the breast with your hand.
– Don’t lift the breast!
– Try and catch her bottom lip.
– She might have a tongue tie.
– There’s no evidence of a tongue tie.
– Try nipple shields.
– Nipple shields are the work of the devil! You’ll just end up on bottles!
– It’s not thrush.
– It’s definitely thrush.
– Go and see your GP about the thrush.
– Ask your midwife about the thrush.
Etc. Repeat to infinity.
Confused yet??? Well I was. Until I figured out that despite all the research and the science and the medical professionals etc, you basically just have to apply common sense and do what feels right for you and your baby.
Which sucks, as nothing feels right because you’ve just had a baby and three nights/weeks/months/years of ZERO sleep.
If you made it through the above, this might seem nonsensical to you. But once you’ve cracked it, there’s no denying that breastfeeding really is very convenient.
The first time around, I spent a lot of time trying to figure out what was wrong with my formula fed baby to stop her crying. Or desperately trying to make, warm or cool bottles in time to stop the crying.
Second time, I just gave my breastfed baby a breast. Sad? Boobie. Wet? Boobie (and then change). Overtired? Boobie. Wind? Boobie. It solved all problems, always. And life was much calmer and quieter as a result.
I’ll give you that it’s a bit of a tie. I’ve done all the night feeds, and all the early mornings. I’ve missed weekends away with friends and any opportunity for a real lie-in. But the fact remains, overall, it IS easier.
You’re programmed to have a sleep cycle that matches your infant (ACTUAL science, people), and for me that meant that getting up and getting out of bed didn’t feel as deathly as it did with baby number one and the bottles.
Literally, with the first baby, I was homicidal for the first five minutes of being awake, then suicidal for the following five minutes. And then just depressed forever.
Forget all the shit about having the baby weight sucked right out of you etc etc – the big sell pro-lactivists ought to be pedalling to women is this – you’ll find it slightly easier to get up and go back to sleep in the middle of the night.
And sleep – after your baby – will soon become THE most precious thing in your life. (For approximately the next 5-10 years).
Having dragged my double Gs around for a good two decades (there isn’t enough alphabet left to explain to you what happened to them when filled with milk), and having spent years spending upwards of £30 on each ugly bra with two inch shoulder straps, I naively thought they would finally come into their own when it came to the real life work of boobs.
Nope. Turns out that that all the extra fatty tissue gives you no lactating advantage whatsoever, and can in fact get in the way.
The logistics themselves are challenging. The sheer ratio of boob to newborn head (approx beachball:apple) is a physical nightmare. The nipple angles and positioning of baby involves both contortion and a lot of propage.
Plus, it is completely impossible to breastfeed discreetly. You are not flashing a sliver of mammary here, you have to drag an entire boob clear of your clothing in order to get your nipple pointing in a direction that’s vaguely latchable.
There’s a word for this process.
And that word is Flollop.
No one want to have to Flollop out a boob in front of their father-in-law. It’s undignified, to say the least.
That of course meant a lot of time sneaking off to the car/bedroom/back room, or planning my day around places with enough cushions, camouflage or other breastfeeding women to feel vaguely comfortable.
Of course it was really terrible for a extro-introvert like me to have to go off on my own all the time for baby cuddles, Facebook time and naps. Awful. Terrible. I don’t know how I got through it, really.
One of the things that ended my breastfeeding journey with the Big Small Person was how utterly gross I found the process of pumping. Seeing my nipple pulled into an inch diameter and rhythmically sucked two inches down a tube, was not how I thought of my breasts or wanted to see them.
It was ugly, and it was graphically reminiscent of a school trip to a Dairy when I was about 7, which I also found pretty disgusting. (In fact to this day I can’t drink milk and think about udders at the same time. I bet you can’t either. Try it and see).
I also went with a cheap handheld version which only did one boob at a time, which cost 40 minutes I didn’t have in between the two hourly feedings, and which had to be spent with my baby cuddling someone that wasn’t me.
Second time around I hired a hospital-grade pump which did both boobs at once in under ten minutes, I got over my udder phobia, set my alarm for two nighttime pumps on top of nighttime feeds, and I built up my milk supply until demand and supply finally evened out.
Pump up the jam, baby. Or milk. Whatever.
Breastfeeding provokes strong, strong opinions. People will share these with you, whether you wish to hear them or not. Some will be pro. Some will be anti. All will be influenced by their own personal choices and experiences. (They often will wish to tell you about these, too).
I am opining about breastfeeding in this bloody article.
My very best advice to you is to stop listening – hell stop reading – and do what you want, where you want, how you want.
This is harder than it looks (are you still reading???) because you’re tired and weak and want definitive answers that don’t exist, and the people telling you stuff are often medical professionals and friends or family that you respect and want the best for you.
I’m yet, for instance, to have a conversation with my (lovely and supportive) Dad that doesn’t include the phrases ‘You’re not still breastfeeding that baby are you?’ and ‘It’s time to knock it on the head, love’.
I’ve found it incredibly hard to articulate to even my husband – even to me – why winning at breastfeeding the second time around was so very important to me. And how much it’s meant to me all these months on to be able to do that for my baby.
Yup, I’m going here, despite no 7 on this list. Sorry, not sorry.
I have loved, loved, loved being able to breastfeed my second daughter.
The fact is that breastfeeding is an incredibly easy way to bond with a baby – the skin-to-skin contact, the pleasure/pain of the love that you can literally feel ‘let down’ and swell your breast with milk, the instinctive need your baby has for you, just you, and the succour and comfort only you can provide.
It is not by any means the only way to bond with a baby, but it’s instant and it’s easy and it’s amazing.
You can definitely also bond with a baby over bottle feeding. You get the same eye contact, the same closeness, the same reward for satisfying a need, and the same milk-drunk, floaty-eyed bliss and gratitude.
If I have one regret about breastfeeding it’s that Dadonthenetheredge didn’t get to spend as much time with this baby, in the long, dark, terrible/wonderful hours of the night, the hours your souls touch each other.
Just you, your baby…
…and your smartphone.
What THE FUCK did breastfeeding mothers do at 3am in the pitch black with a baby stuck to their boobs, chronic sleep deprivation, and burning isolation, self-doubt and hormones?
These must have been dark, dark times indeed.
Now we can all Google ‘green poo’, laugh at the passive-aggressive dickheads on Mumsnet, cry at the news, read trashy books, and Facebook our friends.
Happy World Smartphone Week, everyone!
It was the early 2000s, and her name was Sue. (It wasn’t).
She was somewhere in her mid-thirties, with young to middling offspring she would gush over at any given opportunity. She was always hovering somewhere between dishevelled and mutton-dressed-as-lamb, and alternated between brash and beleaguered. She laughed too much, contributed too little, and spent a lot of time talking about her age and her weight. (And other variously inappropriate personal – and occasionally gynaecological – details).
She liked to hark back to past projects and achievements, and seemed resistant to change – surprised by it, even. She may once have been good at her job, but the office largely humoured her and stuck her where she could do least damage. Like a mostly harmless but undeniably grating mascot.
Back then, in my early 20s, she didn’t impact on me very much. I may have felt fleetingly sorry for her, before dismissing her as irrelevant to my hard-working, hard-drinking, rather hard-nosed existence. She was alien. Other. Older.
She struck me, with some degree of hindsight, as a woman on the cusp. There was an unattractive air of desperation and disconnection – a whiff of lost, or loss, or something. There was something brittle about her, confused. Barely contained emotion framed by heavy-handed, clumping mascara.
And because it was clear to me she was in imminent danger of teetering over some invisible edge sooner or later, I steered well clear of the fallout.
I didn’t even recall Sue, if I’m honest, until today. Because I saw her for the first time in nigh on 14 years.
In the mirror.
Because, I realise –
I am Sue.
It happened this morning. I was trying desperately to find clothes suitable for a hot day in the office, and eventually squeezed into a circa 2010 New Look skirt slightly too small for my postpartum body (although my leftover ‘baby weight’ in now more accurately ‘toddler weight’) and teamed it with a ubiquitous black top. On which the toddler promptly, and inevitably, deposited toothpaste which wouldn’t scrub off with a bastarding baby wipe.
To make myself feel better about this I threw on a jazzy scarf and some ancient lipstick. As I did so I planned how I was going to regale my colleagues with amusing weekend tales of small people shenanigans (for the adult interaction, cheap laughs, and momentary validation). And I got a good look at myself in the mirror.
And there she was.
I am Sue.
The resemblance was uncanny – and unquestionable.
I am the slightly inane, slightly insane, slightly manic, slightly depressive, slightly irreverent, slightly irrelevant, under-achieving, over-sharing, out of phase and out of practice, middle aged, middle-of-the-road woman I pitied in passing when I first started my ‘career’.
Middle is in fact a very appropriate word. Because that’s what I spotted in Sue and recoiled from – that cusp, that in between – that displacement. Being neither one thing or another, and not enough of either.
Stuck in the middle with Sue.
Because now I too find myself somewhere in the middle, in between competent and incompetent, functional and dysfunctional, too much and too little, comic genius and crazed bag-lady, 1950s housewife and Melanie Griffith’s Working Girl, creative and random, young and old, thin and fat, mother and worker, professional and personal, good parent and bad parent, asleep and awake, me and – someone I don’t recognise.
Now I’m the one that’s interjecting too loudly, crying too quickly, misjudging social/professional cues, getting sidelined, humoured, possibly even pitied. Definitely avoided. I’m the one with waning skills, conflicting priorities, impaired logic, bursts of absurdity. I’m the one slightly flailing, frequently self-deprecating, often bumbling, out of date, and out of sync.
At some point I stopped being one of the young office crowd, a whipper-snapper with oodles of potential – and I became a part time and part mum-zombie, mid-level manager going nowhere fast, juggling children and work with a spectacular lack of multi-tasking skill, being fast outstripped by the younger, hungrier and better.
I am Sue.
And I’m as surprised about it as she was.
I’m not a exactly sure when Sue arrived, but I very much suspect motherhood was the catalyst. Little shits.
During this special time, some people find themselves – come into their own. Others find Sue.
If I could go back now, I’d be a lot kinder to Sue, because I’ve since walked a mile in her kitten heels, dragging whining children and double my original arse behind me. And I’d give my smug, superior, emotionally detached, well-rested, unburdened and unlined face a well deserved slap.
Now, I think Sue and I would be friends.
We’d probably go to the pub (after bedtime, obvs), giddily excited to put on our glad rags, get pissed on half a bottle of Chardonnay, guffaw in ever-increasing decibels, end up crying about the Disney alligator baby, dance on a few tables because life is too short, declare each other our best friend, and be home to snore at our exasperated spouses by 11.30.
(I personally would of course follow this up with days of social anxiety and personal shame, dissecting every word and move as I gradually and painfully recall them, ‘cos that’s how I roll. Sue probably does too).
I don’t know what actually happened to real Sue, who I think eventually got muscled out of the office, but I like to think that she went on to something better. That she found her feet again, her place outside the limbo of ‘in between’. That she got some proper rest and proper perspective. That she bought some new make-up. That she found appreciation for her humour, her experience, her post-traumatic share-response and her unique sense of fashion. That she shed the extra stone she always complained about. And that her kids grew up knowing how fiercely and stupidly she loved them.
I’d like to tell her I’m sorry for judging her. I’d like to tell her that I get it now. I’d like to tell her that I am Sue, too.
I would like to think that probably, at some point, every one of us has looked in the mirror and seen Sue – and marvelled at how she got there.
If you’ve ever had a Sue, or a Sue moment, if you’ve ever lost yourself in between – in the middle of life, priorities, pressures, if you’ve ever struggled with your role, your identity, your purpose, if you’ve ever looked up and suddenly realised you’re someone or somewhere you never thought you’d be – let me know.
Maybe it was motherhood that sent you to the edge, stuck in the middle, arrested your development. Maybe it was something different but equally wonderful/traumatic. Oh, maybe you’re not carrying the extra pounds, and maybe you’re still mostly competent at your job. Maybe you’re better dressed.
But if you’ve ever caught a glimpse of her, walking past a shop window, please channel your inner Tony Curtis and comment ‘I am Sue’ here or on Facebook.
I don’t need details if you don’t care to share them. But this week I do sort of need to know it’s not just me.
Four and a half years ago the most wonderful, frustrating, amazing and perplexing person I know came screaming into the world.
She’s still screaming now. She is alternately giddy with joy, then mired in anguish – all within seconds. She feels each emotion at a hundred and ten miles an hour. Navigating the highs and lows of her day routinely leaves me reeling, baffled and exhausted.
So basically that means she’s your average four year old.
And that, I have realised, also means I’ve had her for more than a quarter of the time that she’ll actually be mine.
Now the screaming is no longer an external noise pollution. It’s in my own head, and my own voice. It reverberates around my skull, from temple to temple, and the roar of it buzzes loudly in my ears.
Yes, in just a few short weeks, my baby goes to school. And that four years has gone by in the blink of an eye.
Obviously, I have known this was coming. But it has arrived rather faster than I thought it would – and like so many parenting milestones it’s hit me a great deal harder.
Already I can see this complex little person is less and less mine everyday. And that hurts. She is more and more hers, more the product of her friends, her nursery teachers, her favourite book and tv characters. She is being shaped by all sorts of people in all sorts of ways – and my influence is well and truly on the wane.
Like most four year olds, she mostly knows best. She would prefer to experiment rather than take my word for something (often ending in the aforementioned screaming). Pretty much any authority is automatically ranked higher than Mummy. She doesn’t listen. And I am afraid, I am so afraid, that she is hurtling down the path to not hearing me at all. School will only speed that process up ten fold.
But school or no, the fact is I am no longer the centre of her universe, solver of all problems, comforter of all woes. (I’m more the spoiler of fun and dictator of broccoli). And that’s only going to get worse as her confidence and independence grow.
That is, of course, the natural order of things, and of course it makes me as proud as punch to see her flourish and find her feet. It is also a very real tragedy. It’s a tragedy I’m sure other parents of 2011/2012 babies are facing too.
I for one am not ready.
It’s not actually the baby I’m pining for. I don’t really want to turn the clock back. I love watching her develop and learn. Every stage of her life has been my favourite – the one right in front of me. (Apart from the screaming). No, the only thing that’s not grown into its potential is ME.
My real sticking point is the thought of the mother I thought I’d be and never was.
Suddenly, I’ve been swamped with all the things I haven’t done and said I would, and all the things I said I wouldn’t do but have done anyway. I’ve been busy. Stressed. Preoccupied. Frantic. Frazzled. Impatient. Imperfect. I’ve shouted. I’ve diverted. I’ve minimised. I’ve rushed. I’ve broken promises. I’ve broken down. I have not done enough, given enough, been enough. I’ve failed – often.
And all at once, it feels like it’s too late. I’ve squandered those precious years we had together, and the treadmill of real life has caught us up.
Because school is the beginning of a whole new chapter for her, a trajectory that will take her through education and into the world, away from me. So however much the logical part of my brain tells me she’s still mine evenings, weekends and holidays, that she is still going to need me for many years to come, the rest of me is gut-deep, goddam sure this is an ending.
The pangs I’m suffering are really pangs of withdrawal, because however selfishly, I loved being someone’s hero. Someone’s everything. Someone’s sun and moon. It’s addictive. And that time has passed. And I didn’t do it right. And I didn’t see the end coming.
But the truth is, she was never really mine was she? She was always hers. From the very beginning. I just got lucky enough to borrow her until she got bigger.
Letting go isn’t much of a choice. The separation has already started to happen without my say so. And now I’ve got to face a different stage of parenthood – one where I have gradually less influence and importance. It will still be my job to help her find her own way, and help her find the very best of herself. I can still be her hero, maybe, sometimes – but only when she needs me to be. Only from the sidelines. Only on her terms.
Now, parents of the class of 2016, we get to watch them as they grow. We get to watch them fly – even if it’s in the other direction. We get to catch them when they fall. We get to love them, even when they’re not in our arms anymore.
All we can hope, really, is that the connection we’ve built is strong enough to bring them back when they need us. An elastic band that can stretch to give them freedom, but snaps into place when they’re scared, sad, confused or conflicted.
All I can hope is that I haven’t fucked it up too much.
And in the meantime, I can frantically spend the summer paying into that pot of connection, and filling in some of the gaps that are haunting me. Doing some of the things I thought I’d do as a Mummy.
So this, friends, is my pre-school bucket list. Let’s see how far I get before September. Your ideas and tips appreciated.
There will be glitter. There will be the regrets, swearing, and daily hoovering associated with glitter. There will be glitter found in personal crevices, on work shirts, and in the litter tray for weeks to come. But by God, there will still be glitter.
Look out Pinterest, here I come.
I’m not one of life’s natural scientists. But there will be diet coke. There will be mentos mints. There will undoubtedly be a lot of cleaning up.
We do some water play, but not enough. This is probably because it takes a lot of setting up – finding the right attachment for the sprinkler, adding buckets of hot water to the paddling pool so it’s not too cold, assembling children in swimwear, applying suncream to exposed body parts, preparing towels, and digging out appropriate plastic pouring vessels.
This will be followed by approximately five minutes of play, and then demands to go inside and watch the telly. But I will do it. I might even invest in some water guns. And I will take smug pictures for Facebook of my children looking momentarily happy.
The biggest barrier to the great outdoors is Dadonthenetheredge, who prefers to receive his UV light in the form of iDevice glow. People’s legs will hurt. Their shoes will pinch. The sun will be too sunny. The rain will be too rainy.
But we live a stone’s throw away from some of the most beautiful countryside in the UK, and we will go out and bond in it whether anyone likes it or not. There will be stick sword fights. There will be picnics. There will be paddling. There may even be den building, but probably in the back garden.
I don’t spend enough time one-on-one with the Big Small Person, because the Small Small Person came along and rather got in the way. While their burgeoning relationship is lovely, the impact on my relationship with the BSP has been huge, and not 100% positive.
I miss our games (apart from bucket list no 7), our chats, and playing with things small enough to fit in an esophagus. I miss focussing on her. So I plan to pack the baby off somewhere and concentrate – without distractions or goals – on just my big girl and whatever she wants to do.
Too often when the Big Small Person hits silly, I know she’s moments away from hitting crazy freaking meltdown. And I try and end the silly to prevent it. No more. There will be tickles, there will be wrestling, and yes, there will probably be tears before bedtime. But before that there will be giggling.
My own personal hell, in which I’m not allowed any independent thought or action, and seemingly cannot EVER follow the instructions I’m given to the satisfaction of the three foot Director/Despot of the game. Also I am required to do the character voices (to the exact script and stage direction given) in public places. More on this another time. Just know that I shall grit my teeth and endure more of it instead of hiding in the kitchen pretending to make the tea.
I never baked anything other than potatoes before the small people came along, and since then have I’ve only begrudgingly extended my repertoire to include cupcakes. These sessions have been few and far between, though, as I cannot bear to witness either the mess or the incompetence. I will get over this.
I will let flour cover the kitchen, children, me and the cat. I will not intervene when most of the mixture is mixed straight out of the bowl. I will not show impatience when the mixing takes FOREVER. I will remain calm when people won’t take turns. And I will watch cheerfully as egg shell shards are dropped into the bowl and children cover themselves in slimy salmonella. I may even let them lick the spoon. (OK, that might be going a step too far).
Again, one related to the Small Small Person. We’ve not done enough of this sort of thing because it’s not really baby-compatible. And to be fair, also because the Big Small Person has an exceedingly low threshold for ‘mild peril’. But there will be popcorn. There will be dark. There will be cinematic or theatrical magic. And there will probably be a lot of soothing and assurance that everything will work out alright in the end.
There will be a day. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow. But soon. Ish. Where –
Even if I’ve asked people to put their shoes on three billion times. Even if we’re late. Even if the small people are trying to exterminate each other. Even if I’ve asked someone not to do that less than two seconds ago. Even if the prospect of bedtime is still distant.
Wish me luck.
And let me know what’s on your bucket list, too.
There is a fly stuck in my window. It is buzzing and butting at the glass intermittently, alternating between hopeful zeal and impotent despair. A car goes past. There’s a lawn mower somewhere nearby. I can hear the neighbour’s insomniac kid screaming. Life is going on, and as I watch it, I feel strangely disoriented.
Because something is off. Something seismic has happened in our green and pleasant land, and the world ticking by, pretending to be the same, is in fact less certain, less safe and less united than it was mere hours ago. It just hasn’t realised it yet.
It’s the kind of tense, eerie normality that precedes the horror of pretty much any dystopian future movie ever made. And episodes of Casualty. I’m just sat here waiting for the accident to happen – or the aliens to land. (Maybe Will Smith will turn up, or some ex-Hollyoaks actor. Possibly even Peter Capaldi).
In fact, now I think about it, isn’t isolationist politics, right-wing absolutism, conservative fear-mongering and the wilful rejection of progression and liberalism, like, the beginning of The Handmaid’s Tale? Or 1984? Or The Walking Dead???
Because there is something end-of-the-world-ish here. Certainly the end of my comfortable, smug, middle-class mummy-world.
It might not be monsters or thought police (yet), but there’s a lot that’s very real to be afraid of. Things I assumed could never happen to me, in my town, in my country.
There’s the economics – the value of the pound, the value of my house, my savings. The danger of recession. The fear for my kids’ future. Of losing my job, my freedom of movement. Opportunities, education, social mobility. The wonderful third sector propping up the most vulnerable – itself propped up by EU funding. The doctors that treat my kids being sent back home. The loss of benefits and public services. The loss of Scotland. The renewal of the troubles in Northern Ireland. Terrorism. Division. A generation of dissatisfied youth. The breakup of the EU. The rise of the right. Trump.
I don’t mean to overdramatise, but THIS IS HOW IT STARTS, people. Sure it was a referendum yesterday, but tomorrow it’s a zombie apocalypse!
That’s how I feel today, anyway. I’m sure many of you – however you voted – feel the same way, too.
Christ, it even reads like fiction – two aristocratic schoolboy chums playing out their rivalry on a political chequers-board, carelessly using Joe and Joanne Public-England as disposable pawns with a sickening, glib, glee. I think I’ve actually read it – it’s by Jilly Cooper. It was **probably** called ‘Hoodwinked!’, and had a picture on the front cover of an arrogant bloke in pinstripes getting sucked off by Geri Halliwell in her Union Jack dress.
[Personally I think we should have just got them to measure their dicks with rulers at the back of the Commons and be done with it. (Mr Speaker! We’re going to need considerably smaller measuring devices!).]
Back in real life, I wonder if this banally-coated upheaval, this sense of unease and unreality, is the experience of our grandparents upon hearing of the German invasion of Poland. The calm before the shit-show. I wonder if it’s the experience of people elsewhere in the world right now, where there is civil unrest, political tumult, where that turned on a sixpence to oppression, violence, war.
It is in fact the very people many ‘leave’ voters wanted to keep out, that I feel closer to now than ever before. Because I have a new appreciation that this shit can obviously happen to anyone, anywhere.
As Jo Cox told us – we have far more in common than that which divides us. These are people who also feared for their jobs, saw their money worth less than the paper it was printed on, faced personal restrictions, worried for their children’s futures. People who lived somewhere, divided, hostile. Who watched sovereignty, religion or national identity turned into something increasingly poisonous. This, right now, is how it started for them, too. Just before their world descended into antiutopia.
How quickly we have forgotten the uncertainty and danger of the divided and unchecked Europe our Grannies and Granddads faced, and what they fought for. How easy it is to be detached, to fail to identify with the crying mother beating her chest on the 10 o’clock news, halfway round the world after another bomb. In a dusty city that looks nothing like your own, wearing different clothes, speaking a different language. How easy to turn over and watch Big Brother instead.
But she is us, fellow Mums and Dads, far more than Carmen with the double Ds, trout pout, and hunger for fame over on Channel 5. She’s just somewhere and somewhen else, slightly farther down the road to hell. That love she feels – that’s your love for your child. That fear of change, of political machinations she couldn’t control – that’s your fear right now. Just like it was your Gran’s fear, too. Theirs just came to pass. Yours hovers on a cusp.
We woke up to a very different world yesterday; now we have to wake up to how we got there. And we got there, I believe, by not looking, not listening, not feeling and not caring. Because it wasn’t happening to us.
If nothing else, this referendum has proved we don’t need history, geography or ideology to divide us – class will do just as well.
No one listened to the dad-of-five on the estate in an impoverished seaside ghost-town, who couldn’t get work that paid enough to make ends meet. No one listened to Maggie from an old, defunct industrial heartland who couldn’t ever get a Doctor’s appointment. The woman in a crippled rural village with zero amenities, who cares full time for her husband, but had her benefits cut anyway. No one listened, and no one represented them. They are us, too. Same feelings, same fears, same failings.
And when given the chance to finally have their say, to vote for actual change, they said leave. But what they meant was so much more than that – boiled down to a dangerous, unnecessary, underhanded binary. They meant, something’s got to give. They meant, we’re sick of rules imposed upon us from afar. They meant, this isn’t fair. They meant, it was better in the olden days. They meant, I’m struggling. And we should have heard them.
It’s only now we’ve realised that ‘It won’t happen to me’ and ‘It won’t happen here’ are just a pay cheque or two away, just a referendum vote away. Just half a world away. Just next door.
It’s hard to know how political to be on here. Half the time I don’t even know why I’m doing a blog in the first place. I suppose it’s part loneliness, validation, therapy, catharsis. Part vanity. I will go back, very shortly, to providing some comic relief from reality – the less apocalyptic but no less real struggles of parenthood.
But if I’m going to write about real life, in real time, it would be ridiculous to ignore the biggest event of recent British history, likely to ripple throughout the rest of the world for weeks, months and years to come. Something that will affect us as parents, and affect our children’s lives, forever more. As much as I’d like to pretend it’s not happening, it is. And while it might not end in zombies, the uncertainty of it has shaken me to my core.
Whether you voted in or out, whether you know all the arguments off by heart or went with your gut, we are where we are. It might feel like there is very little any of us can do, now the die has been cast. But I have to do SOMETHING. So I will start here. I will open the window, and rescue the fly that’s been stuck there as I type.
It is highly doubtful our politicians will ever be held accountable for their decisions in this matter, their failures or their lies. I can’t do much, but I can and will hold myself accountable for my own complacency. I can start to listen for pain, see distress, and I can start to try to effect change – however small – where I can. I can start to really model empathy for my children, and hope they grow to try and make this fucked-up country (and wider world) a slightly less crappy place.
And who knows? In times of apocalypse, the flies could be taking over the world very shortly, anyway. I might as well secure a merciful death/life of servitude to our Insect Masters while I still can.
I remember when the things I took home from a summer holiday included a tan, a few souvenirs, a taste for sangria, a satisfying stack of well-read novels, and a Europop earworm.
Those were the days, and boy are they loooooong gone. Post parenthood you get to bring home over-tired children and a shit load of holiday washing. In fact you’ll be tied (or sellotaped) to the bloody washing machine for perhaps the rest of your natural life.
So after the epic pack-a-thon, here’s the full list of our collective take-homes from a week in the sun.
Holidays are brilliant!!!!!
No. Produce Mummy now or suffer the consequences.
Meh. Not enough booze or sex.
Never again. Pass the wine.
I could go on, but I’ve got far too much washing to do – and then leave languishing in unsorted piles for the rest of eternity.