There’s not a sniff of romance
It’s a good old fashioned adventure story, with a girl as the main protagonist – and without a love interest in sight.
It’s almost as if people can find meaning in life and relationships beyond romantic love! Imagine!
It’s a feminist utopia – in both the film and the village of Motunui
Not only is the main character female, but she never has to pretend not to be (or indeed pretend to be anything she’s not). Neither is she the ONLY female character of substance, which is surprisingly revolutionary.
Plus she’s going to be the next Chief of the village despite being female, and without the need to marry.
As she says to Maui – she ain’t no Princess.
She’s got thick ankles
Okay, so her eyes still take up 50% of her face, she’s got perfect tresses (although she does tie them back out of the way for sailing at one point), and she’s obviously as thin as a whip.
But she does have thick ankles, strong legs and arms, so I am going to count this as progress in the animated portrayal of realistic body types.
Her animal sidekick is a vacant, agoraphobic chicken
What is not to like here??? Comic genius. Whoever came up with this nugget (chicken, obvs) almost certainly did not get the recognition they deserve.
Her parents aren’t dead!
This never bothered me that much as a kid, but as a parent I find myself strongly resenting Disney’s ongoing penchant for patricide. Save the Parents!!!!!
The casting of Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson
I’ve never been a particular fan, but have nevertheless apparently been harbouring a benign tolerance for Dwayne, which has grown (as a direct result of his involvement in Moana) into full-blown affection.
If I hear any #metoo #timesup Hollywood crap about him I’m actually going to be mildly heartbroken. (A bit like I was over Rolf Harris).
If you find yourself with a spare 5 minutes, look up Dwayne actually singing ‘You’re Welcome’ in person. I promise you it is well worth your time.
The sound track is flat out awesome. In fact ‘We Know the Way’ is probably my new favourite song in the world ever.
Te Ka the big bad monster is not really a monster.
Too often plot twists are now shoehorned into narratives at the climax and make no sense to the story that’s actually been told – adding nothing but cheap shock value and leaving the audience (or at least me) with a vague sense of betrayal.
In contrast this twist is rather beautiful.
I think I *may* have taken the ending far too much to heart, but it resonates with me so much I literally tear-up every time I watch it. (Which is a lot, as I have equally Moana-obsessed Small People).
I’m not entirely sure what finding psychological comfort in Disney says about me, but hey, I’ll take it where I can get it. The lyrics:
‘I have crossed the horizon to find you
I know your name
They have stolen the heart from inside you
But this does not define you.
This is not who you are –
You know who you are’
I recognise myself in that burnt out husk of a woman that is Te Ka, lashing out, afraid, protecting what she has left of herself, clawing her way on hands and needs in roaring desperation towards Moana.
Towards youth, and truth, and clarity.
My heart was stolen from me – and like Te Fiti I didn’t even realise until it was gone and the rot had already spread through my life. Until it had turned what used to be good to ash, on the inside, where no one else could see it. Like the coconuts of Motunui.
But this is not who I am.
This is not what defines me.
I know who I was, and who I can be again.
I know who I am on the inside.
I am love.
I just needed my heart returned to me.
And it’s been a very long journey to find it.
And now I get to grow again.
So, you know, if you haven’t yet seen it – please do. It really is a great film – for girls and boys, mums and dads.
Every New Year, when I sing Auld Lang Syne (now at 9pm – AKA Kid Midnight), I wonder what the hell it means. And then I wonder if I’m wondering that because Billy Crystal wonders it at the end of ‘When Harry Met Sally’, one of my favourite films in the world ever. And then I wonder when I last watched it and if it’s on Netflix. And then I forget all about Auld Lang Syne altogether.
But this year, for the first year, I think I finally get it.
Because it’s a song about forgetting. About forgetting as a blessing. About forgetting as a kindness – a cup to drink from well and often.
Because it is.
Amnesia is basically central to the human condition – and I’ve come to believe it’s what makes us so successful as a species. We can feel and then forget, and then remember and reflect anew – in a way other animals simply can’t. We process our lives and our experiences differently.
For instance, if we didn’t forget, the vast majority of women would definitely only ever have one child. But the horror of ripping and stitches and blood and pain recedes surprisingly quickly – and many of us are ready to go through it all over again in just a few short months or years.
If we didn’t forget, no one would ever survive a loss. But even though we don’t want it to – even though we feel guilty when we notice – normality creeps insidiously back in. We learn, in time, to breathe in and out again without having to think about it. We hear the birds again. We smile at jokes. We come out of the other side, eventually, perhaps just a little bit different.
We are also able to forget not just experiences and feelings, but even the bits of ourselves we like the least. We are all able to conveniently edit our narratives so we remain the hero of our own stories. So we can carry on.
We forget, in time, our greatest joys, our deepest griefs, and our most shameful moments. Because no one can hold onto that intensity of emotion for too long – it’s just not how people work. You literally can’t live there. You will be gripped by fear or sorrow or anger or desire or mortification or sheer despair so fiercely it bulges your eyeballs – and just a few minutes later it will recede back to manageable levels – at least for a while.
It’s how we’re built.
It’s how we survive.
And it’s a very strong instinct.
When we are teaching our Small People to recognise, name and pass through their very big feelings, we are really teaching them to forget. We are teaching them that those intense moments will pass. We are teaching them how to survive their own internal storms – even if we still battle our own.
The other day, for instance, I wrote a poem about missing my kids when they’re at their Dad’s house. And someone told me I was acting like they’d died, and that basically I needed to get a grip.
They were kind of right.
I was. And I should.
I deleted the post. But it was a description of a moment – a painful spike – that then dropped back down to normal – my new normal at any rate. And it was a pain not just about the now, but about missing them in the future too – all the holidays, and days out, and family times we won’t have, and all the conversations, cute moments and milestones I won’t be there for.
It was all of those things at once, in one moment…
… and then the moment passed. I could breathe again.
And it passed partly because I grabbed hold of it, dug my claws in, thrashed it around, pulled it apart and thoroughly dissected and understood it. I felt it to the nth degree. I then posted the resulting poem because I thought it was a moment that other people going through the same thing might identify with. And afterwards I had a good cry, re-read an old and soothing Georgette Heyer book –
Writing is basically my way of forgetting. Because if I really wallow, style and lose myself in one of those moments, I purge it. And once it’s out, it’s almost always easier to deal with. Sometimes it comes back, but certainly it is better. And I can re-read it and remember that moment – but it won’t own me anymore. I own it.
(Occasionally this may make my writing a bit repetitive – for which I apologise – but I quite literally cannot always remember what I’ve written).
But here’s the thing: If your natural human capacity for amnesia is missing, or broken, or itself forgotten – YOU ARE IN SOME VERY SERIOUS TROUBLE.
Because if you can’t forget something – at least temporarily – you will almost certainly go mad with it.
Whenever I have struggled most with my mental health, I think it is my ability to forget that’s really what has gone haywire. It is when the balance has tipped – and I either remember too much in too much horrific detail, or forget too much, and am unable to hold onto a single thought or truth.
In fact, the inability to forget in the right, healthy ratios is probably part and parcel of pretty much every experience of mental illness. It is the core of bitterness, of depression, of obsession, addiction, anxiety, grief, PTSD, insomnia – and so much more.
Right now, alongside that sadness in my poem, I’m battling to forget my anger. The sheer rage I feel at my lost family, my betrayed love, my absent kids. When I am blinded by it, the only thing I can really do is to remember that it will pass. And hold onto that until it finally does. And then I breathe. And then I write it out.
And then I anaesthetise what’s left it with 18th Century romances, Meg Ryan classics, or a bath.
And then when it creeps back in I do it all over again.
Forgetting doesn’t just make the world go round; it isn’t just a skill to be learned; it’s a GIFT. And we should be grateful for it.
But it is not without pain.
Sometimes forgetting hurts.
It hurts to look at pictures of our babies as babies, but not to be able to remember them being that small. It was so all consuming and all encompassing – but gone with the wind.
It hurts to realise that even though you have pictures of a loved one who died, one day you can’t quite remember their face in your own head – you’re remembering the picture. And that memory slipped away without you even noticing.
In those moments of sadness, it is worth thinking about the true opposite of forgetting. Not just forgetting interrupted; but forgetting reversed.
A very long time ago I worked in the kitchens of an old people’s home as a holiday job. I was basically responsible for mushing up the food and taking it upstairs to what was then called an EMI unit (people with dementia). And the woman in charge of the kitchen once said to me that the real tragedy wasn’t in what people forgot, BUT IN WHAT THEY REMEMBERED.
At the time it made even less sense to me than Auld Lang Syne, because I was young and pretty stupid. But now I get that too.
It is unbelievably painful to see someone you love forget so much – sometimes forget you. But it must also be so very, very painful to relive old memories and old feelings – to be back in those moments of rapture or rage or despair, to feel all of those things brightly and profoundly like they’re happening right now – and then find yourself suddenly, disorientingly plunged back into a time, place and a body that make absolutely no sense to you.
It is a cruelty that is almost too awful to think about.
And it makes me glad and grateful for forgetting. And it makes me determined to forget a little more. To practice it – and to keep teaching it to my children.
So this new year, I wish amnesia for you. Just the right amount – just enough to get you through.
I hope you find your own way to forget, what and when you need to.
I hope that you forget old acquaintances, old mistakes, and old hurts.
I hope you forget for old times sake, for your own sake, and for your own sanity.
I hope you drink from that cup of kindness that is the power and beauty of forgetting.
Because the more you forget, the more space you will have in your heart for forgiveness, and in your brain for new and wonderful memories.
Happy New Year.
It’s the most wonderful time, of the year.
Only sometimes, it’s not.
Christmas isn’t always Merry for everyone. And sometimes you can’t always tell.
Sometimes it looks like wrapped presents, a reindeer jumper, and a smile. But underneath it is barely contained panic, the weight of expectation, a bra that hasn’t been washed in 8 months, and a broken heart.
Sometimes things aren’t what they seem.
Sometimes people with depression don’t look like people with depression.
Sometimes they make jokes.
Sometimes they dress up.
Sometimes they join in.
Sometimes they look like they’re having a good time.
But it might have cost them dearly to force themselves out of the house. They might be looking at the world through a veil of gray. They might not actually feel like part of their surroundings. They might be waiting, watching for judgement, for your condemnation, for their own mistakes – for signs they are really there at all. They might go home and fall apart. They might even be falling apart in front of you, within the walls of their head.
Sometimes grief doesn’t look like grief.
Sometimes it looks like normality.
Sometimes it looks like coping.
Sometimes it looks like moving on, appropriately, as people expect.
But underneath it might be rage, and despair, and snot and spit. It might be a loneliness so deep and sharp it would cut you if looked at it too closely. They might be resenting your happiness, and berating themselves for their selfishness. They might be wandering through Christmas like it’s a bad dream, without feeling it, and feeling it too much, all at once. They might go home and fall apart, wishing they could forget, praying they won’t, within the walls of their head.
Sometimes victims don’t look like victims.
Sometimes it’s not sticks and stones, it’s not clear cut, and it’s never, ever as simple as just walking away.
Sometimes they don’t even realise it’s happening to them.
Sometimes they take the piss – out of that person, or themselves. They make it a joke. They even make it public.
Sometimes they roll their eyes and appear to let it roll off them.
Sometimes they make excuses.
Sometimes they just don’t talk about it, even to themselves. They have bright eyes, a bright voice, and stick to safe subjects.
Sometimes, they even find the energy to fight back.
But it might be that in private it is worse than you can know. It might be that each attack, each criticism, each disappointment, each unattainable goal, each impossible, invisible test set and then failed, each attempt belittled and berated, each feeling invalidated – each of those has left a mark. And it might be that Christmas is where it all comes to a head, where it all becomes just too much. They might go home and fall apart in the tiny space left to them where they are allowed to do so – within the walls of their head.
Christmas is hard time of year for a lot of people in a lot of different ways. It is also all about appearances – and appearances can be deceptive.
So be kind to yourself this Christmas. Be kind to others. And have the happiest holiday you can – inside and outside your own walls. Perhaps you are lucky and that is the same space. And if it isn’t, perhaps one day soon it will be.
Getting out of the house with small children is notoriously hard. It’s even harder in the cold when they have to be bundled into a million layers (but not in the car seat, because safety) and are allergic to both gloves and simultaneously/frustratingly to even very mildly chilly fingers.
It’s harder still when you are bone-deep tired.
That’s pretty much a feature of winter for lots of people – whether it’s Seasonal Affective Disorder, party season, or just a loooooong half term.
(This year I’m extra tired because it turns out emotional turmoil and break-ups are pretty exhausting, and also seem to be playing havoc with my already dicky thyroid).
The only thing harder than going out when you’re running on zero – in terms of both energy and degrees centigrade – is STAYING IN.
Especially staying in with over-excited, over-tired, chocolate-maddened, Santa-feverish children.
In case this rings a bell (jingle, of course), I have put together a list of my top 10 low-effort things to do indoors with children in December!
So you’ve exhausted all colouring based activities. Don’t reach for the glitter! (Things are not yet that bad – and they probably never will be, I promise).
Instead, change the canvas! Get out the felt tips, roll up your leggings and let the kids play tattoo parlours! You get to lie down on the carpet and rest your eyes while the kids go to work.
- Don’t actually go to sleep, or the children will soon tire of your legs and start on each other’s faces/the cat. School and nursery will not be impressed. Neither will the cat.
- Also, don’t do this if you want to wear any hosiery below 100 denier any time in the next 2 weeks.
- Finally, please don’t judge my weird alien toes and saggy old lady knees in this picture. Cheers.
Every kid loves a bit of pouring! Invest in some cheap paper party cups for novelty pouring value, and some food colouring. Lay out a big beach towel, and let them pour to their little hearts’ content.
Your role here is to sit in the sofa and accept cups of tea – which will get increasingly browner and more tea-like as the activity goes on.
- Add in a till and other stuffed toy customers to create a cafe.
- The trick here is to limit the volumes of water. You don’t need loads, because pretty colours, kids!
- Also, just forget about your carpet. You’ve got small children – write it off. You can have nice things in another 5 years or so. Maybe. Though by that time the cat will be so traumatised and elderly it will start pissing on everything … Okay, look, you’ll wait until they’ve all left home (one way or another).
Like the above really, but with bubbles. Let them wash all hard toys, and provide old toothbrushes and cloths to help.
Wash tangled Barbie hair with cheap conditioner and encourage them to open a hairdressing salon afterwards. (Brushing takes hours).
- Turn up the heating and dress them in swimming costumes.
- There will be wet patches. Roll with it. (Kitchen roll).
Let them raid your make-up
Look, your make-up is shite. You’ve had it for years, some of it is almost certainly out of date, and it ain’t hiding the wrinkles anyway.
Take out the few bits you use everyday and abandon them to the rest. It’s nothing a bath can’t fix – and will keep them happy for hours. Plus you get to ask relatives for new stuff for Christmas! Think Elizabeth Earle rather than No 17! Life goals!
- To be administered on a plastic tablecloth! (Although this still won’t save your doomed carpet. Sorry).
- If you are feeling very brave (or very tired) let them do your make-up too (lying down). Then take funny selfies so you feel like a good parent. Then put them on Facebook so you feel like a really REALLY good parent.
Stay indoors, but at someone else’s house!
They have different toys, and hopefully tea and biscuits. And they have children your children can play with without involving you!!!! (Either that or the combination of children will prove so awful and feral that you will constantly be breaking up fights and be forced to leave early. Still, it’s a day out).
- Invite yourself round on the pretext of just ‘dropping off some Christmas presents’. If you all then stand at the door looking hopeful and in need of tea, very few British people will turn you away. Exploit this weakness!
- They may return the visit!!!!
Doctors and nurses
When you’re next in Tesco, pop by the medicine aisle for some new plasters and bandages. I reckon if you do some sort of comedy fall and lie moaning on the sofa you can get a good 25 minutes of horizontal time while you are poked and prodded and bandaged.
- You may have to fall out if bed once or twice to extend your hospital stay – this is a small price to pay.
Get in some Christmas practice by playing Santa! Bring duvets and pillows downstairs to make beds, and take it in turns to be Father Christmas delivering presents. Assemble odds and ends and small toys which can be deposited in stockings (or – lazy option – the socks you’re wearing) and opened with delight and wonder over and over and over again. And again.
- Try and be the person asleep in bed as much as possible as it involves lying down, obvs.
- Try not to poke your own eyes out at the sheer monotony of imaginative play.
- Add in the afternoon snack (wrapped in cling film) when it’s your go as Santa.
Christmas pass the parcel
This is a sitter, not a lie-er. Wrap random small stuff in layers of muslins and assemble favourite stuffed toys in a circle. Go.
- Place any naughty toys who aren’t taking turns sharing on the naughty step. Hours of disciplining fun for their Small Person owners!
- Extend the party to include musical statues and knackered-parenting classic SLEEPING LIONS.
You cannot get through Christmas without crap craft. Sorry. But if you make cards (still no glitter!) the crap craft has to leave your house and go and live elsewhere! Result!
- Take it with you when you execute no 5. Then they’ll defo be obliged to put the kettle on.
Hide and seek
Kids are rubbish at both hiding and seeking (at least mine are), so you have the natural advantage of the field.
- Lie down flat in any bed at any given opportunity and get in a few minutes duvet time.
- Sit on the sofa for a bit describing your detailed seeking activity, without actually doing it. (Let’s face it, you already know where they are and can probably see them). Every rest-second counts.
If all else fails you’re just going to have to watch a Ceebeebies panto. Again.
Good luck in there parents!
Remember, very soon every day will be getting a little bit lighter. (But not warmer. Bummer).
As the great and wise philosopher Natalie Imbruglia once said:
Nothing’s fine, I’m torn
I’m all out of faith
This is how I feel, I’m cold and I am shamed
Lying naked on the floor.
Illusion never changed
Into something real
Wide awake and I can see the perfect sky is torn.
If that isn’t an accurate description of motherhood, I don’t know what is!
OK, I’m rarely naked on the floor, because this is, after all, Sheffield, and it’s a bit nippy – but I’ve been down there sobbing in my dressing gown for sure.
I’ve lost faith – in myself, in my ability to cope, in the system, in the Sleep Gods.
I’ve had my pre-kid illusions shattered a billion times.
I’ve been so tired I can’t tell what’s real anymore.
And I’ve been wide awake at dawn helplessly watching the day inevitably rip through the night.
Frankly, if you don’t recognise any of this in your own experience of parenting I think you might have been doing it wrong.
The thing that resonates most for me in this 90s classic, though, (and yes, I do know it’s not a Natalie Imbruglia original – I also don’t care) is that feeling of being torn.
Torn is pretty much the average state of your average parent. And I’m not just talking about work-life balance and spreading yourself thin by being a slightly failing mother/employee/spouse/friend/person. (Also note, the other side of slightly failing is MOSTLY ROCKING).
I’m talking about the kind of torn that’s soul deep – I’m talking about the Parent Paradox.
The Parent Paradox is the phenomenon where (through the medium of children) you suddenly feel so many conflicting and contrasting things all at once. And you can’t tell or trust which one is true because they all are, and they all aren’t.
Where you are so very happy and so very in love with your baby, but so deep-down tired and miserable and lost and afraid at the same time.
Where you are surrounded by people big and small, but still feel lonely and isolated.
Where you crave time alone but ache for your children when you’re apart.
Where you’re desperate to have your pre-kid life back, but wouldn’t change a thing.
Where you want them to stay in the right now and not grow up too fast, but love it when they hit each new developmental milestone.
Where you long to squeeze them but don’t want anyone to touch you back. (Possibly ever again).
Where you love them so much is stops your heart, but they make you SO UNBELIEVABLY ANGRY it kind of scares you, too. (Just put the fricking shoes on!!!!!)
Where you can be so busy all day, and yet have achieved nothing by the end of it.
Where you love to spend time with them, but are also are bored to tears by the hell that is imaginative play within 10 long, long minutes.
Where your heart is full but you’re running on empty.
Where the hours until bedtime tick by so slowly, but they grow up way too fast.
Where the poo is disgusting, but the nappy bums are so damn cute.
See what I mean?
You are living in the a state of constant duality and it is incredibly, astoundingly disorientating.
I have often seen the Parent Paradox as something which must be endured, until your vision, decision-making capacity, emotions and hormones return to some sort of rational, predictable normality.
But in retrospect, maybe it’s not a curse that’s rocked you off your axis, but a gift.
A gift that comes free with your first baby and lets you see the world in a whole new light – split into hundreds of twisting kaleidoscope parts.
By being in two (or more) minds, by not being certain, or sedate, or grounded; you get to see every side of your own story and your own heart in glorious technicolour.
It’s like going from two-dimensional black and white to suddenly being able to see the Magic Eye pictures hiding in your life – a new multi-dimensional, multi-faceted perspective.
The only thing you can really do is to sit back and let the colours flow over you.
Maybe the perfect sky IS torn.
And maybe it’s not a tear, but an opening.
Maybe, just by having looked through that dazzling, confounding, refracting lense – you get to go into the rest of your life with new eyes and new empathy.
And maybe, just maybe, that’s actually making you a better parent.
(But not for convincing me I could pull off that elfin haircut from the video – I couldn’t).
Today is my very first night being a mother without my kids.
Okay, so it’s not my FIRST night. I go out. Sometimes. I’ve been away with work the odd night and with friends the odd weekend – the latter perhaps three times, and only once in the lifetime of the smallest small.
But now I will be away from them every other weekend and a night in the week, at least. And it is hurting, very, very badly.
I feel like someone has hollowed out my heart and womb with a melon scoop, and I can feel the scrape of every curl of flesh that’s been removed.
The void inside me is reflected in the empty beds upstairs.
And I cannot bear to look.
To catch you up, Dadonthenetheredge is now officially DadOFFthenetheredge.
As we all know, small children are pretty hard on relationships.
For my part, perhaps it would have been better if I HAD been away a bit more often. If I hadn’t fallen so hard and fast for them that they became my everything…
But I have found the process of parenting, particularly after pregnancy loss, all-consuming.
Trying to manage, trying to cope, trying to get through – has been all I’ve been able to do. All I’ve known how to do. And it has been up to me to manage. I have been the primary carer; him the primary bread winner – often working away. I have had to LEARN to cope – and to do it on my own.
Perhaps I have learned too well.
My life changed drastically with the onset of children. His didn’t. I threw myself into my new world and found meaning and validation there. He threw himself into his world and found the same.
Looking up, we have found we are actually in very different places.
And the place we occupy together is not a nice one.
It is a mess. Made up of his ambition; my anxiety.
His drive; my depression.
His lack of empathy; my lack of attention.
And of course the normal underappreciation on both sides, lack of communication, resentments building, misunderstandings simmering – and the endless tiredness competition in which most parents are engaged.
BOOM. There you have it.
The fact is that we are both better versions of ourselves when we are not together.
And when we are together, we are not showing our girls what a relationship ought to look like. We are showing them something ugly. And that can’t go on.
I am not worried about going it alone with the kids – practically and emotionally I’ve been doing that for some time.
But I’m afraid going it alone WITHOUT them feels very much like heart is being sucked out through my c-section scar, leaving a throbbing vacuum in my chest.
I don’t know how to fill it.
I don’t remember what was there before. I don’t even remember who I was before I had them. And I’m not sure I want to.
Oh, I am sure eventually having some space for self-care will be good for me.
I’m sure having my 8th lie in in 6 years will be good for me.
I’m sure building a life outside of them will be good for me – and ultimately for them.
But tonight, it doesn’t feel like it.
Tonight, I feel like I am breaking apart.
My hands are itching to touch them. My ears are roaring with their silence. I do not think I am capable of going upstairs and going through the motions of going to bed like it is a normal night. I don’t know if I will ever find a normal again.
Tonight, I am going to wallow.
I am going to let myself fill up with this heavy, jagged sadness – because it is better than nothing.
I am going to mourn the loss of my family – a vision which I’ve worked so very hard to achieve – but which never seemed to quite materialise with us as a foursome.
Tonight I’m going to miss my babies.
I’m going to contemplate the sheer insanity that is loving someone so much it feels like it is fighting to burst from your skin, and you have to grit your teeth, clench your fists and hold your breath against its force.
I’m going to wonder at the the utter madness that is loving someone so completely and so fiercely when they will inevitably, every day, grow further and further away from you.
When they will – by design – love you less and less. When they will be a little less yours with every passing moment – like mine are tonight. When they will eventually leave you forever.
I mean, who the FECK decided this would be a thing???
And why in God’s name did I sign up for it?
Tonight, I am going to cry big, face-contorting, grotesque tears.
I am going to howl at the Nether Edge moon about injustice, unfairness, and loneliness.
And then I’m going to plan how to show none of this to them when they come back to me.
I’m going to plan something wonderful for us to do together that will bind us with memories, and create us a family that just looks just a little bit different to the one I always dreamed of.
And whether you are with or without your children tonight, I’m going to suggest you do the same.
I’m alongside two wonderful women and mothers I’ve met along the way – Hannah from Childcare Adventures and Kate from Little Sheffield.
Motherhood can be isolating in a lot of different ways. But what’s really clear from this article is that if you feel this way – YOU ARE NOT ALONE.
There were the older boys who took me and my friend Becky aside into the library at school, and talked to us about our body parts. They showed theirs. Age 9.
There was the neighbour we all instinctively knew not to go near at community barbeques. And we knew not to leave anyone behind. Age 11.
There were the guys in Spain on Spanish exchange who would drive past repeatedly and shout at me out the window about my chest and blonde hair. I was 14.
There was the bloke on the bus to that club, who squeezed us into a seat, refused to move at our stop, and helped himself to a handful of our vulvas as we climbed past. We were 16.
There was the driving instructor, who took me for walks, put his shoulder on my head to ‘see the speed dial’, and took me home to meet his guinea pigs. I thought I could handle him. I was 17.
There was the friend who comforted me when I was upset and made a grab for my tits when he got the chance. 18.
There was the scary Big Issue guy, who approached me alone, and then followed me yelling about my privilege, when I wouldn’t stop to talk in a dark corner. 21.
There was the friend’s boyfriend who got drunk and told me how much he liked me, and wanted to check if my breasts were real. I couldn’t prove it unless he felt. 22.
There was the bloke on the busy train who sat next to me, and kept ‘accidentally’ brushing my breast with his arm, and pressing his leg against mine. It wasn’t that busy. 24.
There was all the blokes at the parties and clubs who came up behind me to rub themselves against me, or cop a feel. Who worked in teams to separate the target girl for their mate. 15-25.
There was the guy at work who just got a bit too friendly at the Christmas do, with hands where they shouldn’t be. I laughed it off. 26.
There was the airport security guy in Egypt who pulled me out of line and complimented my partner on my boobs and hair. Holding an AK47. Fun times. 27.
There are all the builders who have ever told me to smile, and all the blokes in cars who have beeped when I’ve been jogging, alone, at twilight. Ongoing. And I still smile back, even though I still don’t want to.
The Harvey Weinstein scandal has inspired a #MeToo revolution.
I wasn’t going to write #MeToo, because I have never actually been assaulted. I am not a survivor. And I thought this was about them.
But then my nearly 6 year old came home from school to tell me this week that the Year 2 boys are trying to smack her bum. And I was taken straight back to the empty school library with my friend Becky.
Part of me wanted to dismiss it – to tell her they’re just playing. To ignore them.
But then like the rest of my generation and the generation before, I realised I have been taught to minimise the ongoing, everyday sexism and breaches of personal space and consent that just happen to you if you just so happen to be female.
I have been taught that you suck it up, get on with it, keep your head down, deflect, don’t cause trouble, do what you have to do to stay safe.
And that is not what I want my daughters to have to learn.
#MeToo isn’t just about assault. It’s about every woman’s everyday experience. And the really terrifying thing is that every woman I know has a list just like mine. Every. Single. One.
That’s not okay.
And we really need to start talking to our girls and our boys about it if we’re going to stop it in its tracks. We need to talk about consent, and respect, and bodies, and relationships, and feelings.
And as my own #MeToo list – and my own daughter – prove, we need to start talking a lot earlier than we think we do.
Harvey Weinstein might be a disgusting predator, but he’s also a great place for us to start.
There are too many victims lately. In the news. On television screens, flashing up on phones. And we are all deeply, deeply sorry for them – these people caught up in awful circumstances, to whom awful, awful things have happened.
Because we know that’s how to treat people who have been hurt.
Back in real life though, our day-to-day, we also meet, every now and again, Victims.
These are Victims with a capital letter – like it’s a job title.
We all know one.
They are dramatic.
They lurch from crisis to crisis.
They are over emotional in inappropriate places.
They over share.
They can talk about nothing but themselves, and what made them a victim.
They will also not do anything to help themselves escape the cycle. It becomes the sum and total of who they are – and when it comes down to it you suspect they’re enjoying the drama and attention just a LITTLE bit too much.
And it is annoying, exhausting and frustrating – especially when it impinges on you.
I have met several Victims in my time. People who thought their sh*t was always sh*ttier than everyone else’s. People always demanding sympathy and leeway. People dangerously crumbling – and liable to reach out and take you down with them if you let them latch on.
I have not had time for their shenanigans.
And I have not always been kind.
Then I became a ‘victim’.
I became a victim, I suppose, of motherhood. Because it started, really, when I first got pregnant. It was a complicated pregnancy for one reason and another, and I struggled with anxiety and dread. For perhaps the first time in my life things were happening to me that were out of my control, being done to me, my body letting me down and not doing what I wanted it to. And I didn’t know how to cope.
For the first time, I was passive, and helpless – a victim of circumstance – however much I’d wanted that circumstance in the first place.
It didn’t end.
I was a victim of a bad birth experience, again way out of my control and experience. And then the rest came. Postnatal depression, miscarriage, problems at work, relationship issues, infertility struggles, blah blah blah.
And gradually, without really noticing, I became a Victim.
Yes, my nice, ordered, controlled life had collapsed around my ears. But I think the thing that really changed – that took the v from lower to upper case – was the lack of emotional support I received.
When I really truly needed understanding, needed an outlet, I didn’t get it. And in that void I went into a tailspin. I started reaching for it in other places – sometimes the wrong ones. Seeking support. Looking for validation. Over sharing.
Essentially I started blogging as the one active thing I felt I could achieve against the barrage of stuff happening to me. I started blogging out of loneliness – the sort of solitude you can only experience inside your own head, when there is no one else to talk to about what goes on there. I started blogging because I needed to get my thoughts out, somewhere people could choose to actually listen and engage. I started blogging because I was desperate for someone to hear me, to find someone who could empathise. To find someone who could say, ‘me too’. To feel less alone.
I have been deeply touched by some of the support I have received from strangers, particularly from women and mothers who also love their children to distraction, but are lonely, and kind of traumatised by the sheer impact it has had on their bodies and minds and relationships and lives. Other victims of motherhood.
And gradually, I have become less of a victim.
It has taken me some time to look back and see how battered I have felt, how helpless. Because I have been doing the only thing I have known to do – gritted my teeth, battened down the hatches and got through each day as best I can.
But today I have decided I will no longer be trapped, ruled and assailed by external forces. I am no longer going to curl up in a corner of my life and take what’s dished out to me. I am no longer going to plead for help from passers by. I will no longer let things just happen to me or around me. I’m going to help myself. I’m going to stand up, and say ‘enough’. I am going to deal with the things I’ve been cowering from. I am going to heal.
And I am also sorrier than I can say for my past attitude to Victims.
Because having been there, I can see the other way of looking at a Victim, is to see someone who is struggling with their mental health.
Someone who has been hurt.
Someone who is adrift.
Someone struggling to cope.
Someone reaching out.
Someone who for whatever reason doesn’t doesn’t have anchor.
Someone who doesn’t have a safety net.
No – it doesn’t need to be your job to catch them as they fall.
You may not be close enough to do so, and you are certainly not obliged to sacrifice yourself by throwing yourself underneath every stranger, acquaintance or colleague. But neither do you have to help them on their way. Maybe you could just reach out and touch them, briefly, with kindness. And maybe, just maybe, that could slow their descent. Maybe – hopefully – that could mean they don’t shatter when they reach rock bottom.
Maybe, just maybe, you will save someone through a moment of fleeting kindness that will actually cost you very little.
So the next time you meet a Victim, a drama queen, someone who seems to think they’re special and that the world owes them something, look again.
Pain is not a competition.
There is no sliding scale of acceptable reactions to life events.
There is no statute of limitations on trauma, or on sympathy.
Emotion is not a failing.
Mental ill health is not a weakness, and it is most certainly not an attack on you.
And the smallest bit of empathy could go further than you would believe possible.
I am no longer going to be a victim. Of whatever case. Of whatever circumstance. Things are no longer going to just happen to me and knock me flat. In fact I am going to start happening to things.
And those things should watch out…
But not because I plan to come out fighting.
The opposite of passive is not aggressive – it’s active.
While I’m not going to let myself be bombarded and diminished by LIFE any more, neither am I going to cause any damage of my own. The things I’m going to happen to are going to be better for me happening to them.
I am going to be better.
And I want you to know that you can be better too.