Archive for the 'Facts of Motherhood' Category

The Impostor.

My son’s creativity has started to really blossom lately. He keeps on inventing elaborate and often bizarre stories about a variety of real and imaginary characters. I had been finding this hilarious, but I think now he is experiencing some kind of end-of-Summer school holiday fatigue. Maybe he’s getting bored of my face, because the little rascal’s only gone and made up an imaginary mother.

Her name is Steak.

She has red hair and blue eyes.

She can drive and has a red car.

She lives just down the road and has two other kids (Stetch and Daniel, apparently) who he can play with everyday.

She has a dog called Tommy.

She ‘does working’ and goes to a different gym to me.

And yesterday, just to add insult to injury, he said ‘she has more moneys than you’.

Part of me thinks this is really funny, and part of me worries he’s making up for my shortcomings as a mother (and even as a human being).

The blasted woman’s got it good! She didn’t give birth to him for 18 hours, she doesn’t clothe him, feed him, nurse him when he’s sick, pick up his toys, put up with his tantrums, scold him when he’s naughty, endure him when he’s whining. She doesn’t wipe his bottom. I bet she hasn’t even got stretchmarks, THE BITCH!!!!!!

I’ve got one thing on her though. HER NAME IS BLOODY RUBBISH.

Mother’s Milk

I’m sure many of you have read about the furore involving Gisele Bundchen’s interview to Harper’s Bazaar where she is quoted as saying ‘I think there should be a worldwide law, in my opinion, that mothers should breastfeed their babies for six months’. The model has since apologised on her blog, saying that the comment was borne out of her ‘passion for children’ rather than a desire to marginalise mothers. Technically speaking, her advice could save thousands of children’s lives worldwide, but it’s been interpreted as an affront to us, less perfect mere mortals. Whatever.

The thing is, breastfeeding is AWESOME!!!!!! Sometimes I think there are not enough people bringing this point home. I have friends who really struggled with it and had to give it up, and I couldn’t help feeling like they were missing out. The first two weeks, where one is still trying to get to grips with the milky boob mechanics, were really painful for me- bleeding, swollen, sore nipples; rock hard tits the size of a cartoonish Pamela Anderson’s; inadequate milk flow – But once I got over that obstacle I never looked back.

I’ve often struggled with competitive motherhood and it’s been the subject of many posts in this blog. So this is my disclaimer. No criticism is intended here.

But breastfeeding is AWESOME! The health and post-partum slimming benefits are well documented, but for me it was a pretty magical experience.  I didn’t have to carry all sorts of fiddly and expensive feeding and sterilisation paraphernalia everywhere; my milk dispensers were easily portable, healthy and always the right temperature. Maintaining something that resembles normal life after you have a baby is pretty challenging and breastfeeding helps a lot. And also, just relax! If occasionally your baby needs to have a bottle for any given reason, why the hell not? It’s only the one. Don’t lose sleep over it. Your milk supply should be just fine.

Did I mention… BREASTFEEDING IS AWESOME!!!

The absolutely most incredible thing about breastfeeding is how it made me feel. It is a continuation of a physical bond between mother and baby that starts at the moment of conception. It’s a very feral, instinctive thing; a constant reminder of the human being as animal. In a way, it’s a continuation of a sexual bond. Breastfeeding your baby is a unique and intimate ritual in a similar way to sex. I’m going to sound like a right hippie here, but both work on a physical and an emotional level: In sex, the physical objective is procreation. In breastfeeding, once procreation has already happened, the physical objective is nutrition. But in both, the ultimate emotional objective is LOVE!!!

See, I told you I was going to sound like a hippie. But those hippies were onto something. They were usually also on something, but that’s beside the point.

Breastfeeding feels like falling in love.

And that’s fucking AWESOME.

But then, many of you might feel a bit grossed out by my explanation. We don’t like to think of sex and babies as somehow linked… But they are. You’re not the Virgin Mary, love.  And a lot of people can feel a bit shy about breastfeeding because of this too. However I was really surprised to hear that Denise Van Outen, no stranger to posing for lads mags, gave up breastfeeding at 3 weeks because she feared being photographed while doing it. Eh? Where’s the logic in that? I’d hate to be followed by photographers everywhere, but still. Furthermore, if you don’t want everyone to see your boobs while you’re trying to feed your baby, just use some kind of shawl or something. The end.

Don’t Pill the Rappers

Yesterday morning I walked into my kitchen to be greeted with a harrowing sight.

I saw the buoyant carcass of my son’s black goldfish, Sharky, being mercilessly devoured by his tankmate, the ever-so-dull Nemo. Sharky had been showing signs of ill health for a while. His erratic and distressed swimming had me tearing out my hair with concern. Once Google explained that this was most likely due to fish constipation I decided the fatty should go on a strict diet; he improved but he wasn’t quite the same vivacious, charismatic goldfish he once was. And now this.

Horrified, I diverted my son’s attention and scooped out the mortal remains, diligently disposing of them in the bin. I made the decision to deceive him in a fraction of an instant. Act now, I thought, and work out some explanation for Sharky’s sudden disappearance later.

I referred to our wet pet’s sad passing and my subsequent pondering on Facebook. One friend encouraged me to tell the truth, retrieve Sharky’s half-eaten rotting cadaver from the bin, and give him a proper burial befitting of how much joy he single-finnedly brought into our lives. I could see her point, but couldn’t bring myself to do it. I rather preferred another friend’s suggestion to say that Sharky went on holiday and then replace him with an identical fish later, but the former friend pointed out that I might have to prepare for questions such as ‘How did he carry his luggage? Has he got a passport? Will he need suncream?’. I confess I began to concoct fairly plausible responses in my head.

I have written here before about the lies we inevitably tell children as they grow up.  While I know I can’t avoid the death chat indefinitely, I didn’t feel quite ready to do it just yet, particularly because I am very much grieving at the moment. I can’t make sense of death myself, let alone explain it to a three-year-old. So it’s not just sparing the poor child from a trauma, it’s sparing myself from confronting some difficult facts. I think I’m going to invest in an impostor, buy myself some time and address the matter in a more appropriate way once Sharky the Second kicks his bucket too.

The fact is that this is not actually my son’s first encounter with death. The other day he came back from a weekend in the countryside relating that him and his Daddya had gone to ‘Pill some rappers‘.

What? Pill some what? Pill some rappers? Wtf? Imagine my confusion.

Me and Daddya went to Granny and Papa’s stables. And Daddya had Papa’s gun, and I had my bubble gun, and we pilled some rappers.’


EXCUSE ME?!!

I turned to the ex, or shall we refer to him as the Exterminator, and demanded an  explanation.

As it happens, his parents’ stables are currently infested with rats, and they’d asked him to shoot some to cut down numbers. Now, I am no vegetarian, nor am I averse to culling, but I was pretty darn cheesed off with the idea of him taking our 3-year-old son shooting with him.

Relax! I think it was a nice thing to do, go out shooting with his dad. It will teach him about life and death, and to have respect for guns’


‘But he’s THREE! He doesn’t understand! We live in London, we’re going to struggle to keep him innocent as it is, without you taking him bloody shooting! As far as I’m concerned he doesn’t have to have any contact with guns at all.’


This all eventually descended into an argument, of course. One which we haven’t quite settled yet.

My point is that this exercise hasn’t really taught the kid anything about life and death. He doesn’t understand that once the rats stop moving, they don’t ever start again. He doesn’t have any emotional bond with the rats to be made to rationalise it, or make a connection with his own life. He’s just lost a grandfather and doesn’t really grasp the concept. The cancer was like the bullet; he stopped moving and never will again, just like the rats. The mechanics may be similar but the emotional significance is radically, overwhelmingly, different. The grief is the very reason why I can’t face a death chat at this moment in time.

But I can’t suppress my smile when I think he might go to school and tell his poor teacher that he and his daddy got some guns and went out ‘shooting rappers‘…

The horror, indeed.

Twinkle Twinkle Little Steiner (continued)

MAN! I feel like I’ve landed on a polemical goldmine!

It was no mistake I ended my last post where I did. I simply had no time or energy to continue on what is a difficult subject, especially one so close to my heart. I fear I might have presented myself as entirely won over by Steiner schooling.

Still, the replies have kept flooding in and everyone has a story to tell. To those of you who feel you have been unhelpful: please don’t. I am grateful for the opportunity to see this whole schooling fiasco in a multi-dimensional way. The premise is that we felt completely out of the loop with regard to how to secure a decent State funded education for our son. I guess it’s a side effect of coming into parenthood when we had not prepared for it.

A CUT ABOVE THE REST?

We both had misgivings about the possibility of introducing our kiddie to an ‘alternative’ method of teaching  right from the moment we stumbled upon Steiner.

The first that springs to mind is that ‘safe’ and ‘protected’ are both synonymous with ‘sheltered’.

Ok.

Yet this is a stereotype which is commonly applied to all private school education in the UK. It is so easy to paint everyone with the same brush.

Both me and my ex (I’m tired of referring to him like that – From now on, he is  ‘Daddya’ – see my post ‘Swings and Roundabouts‘) have been educated privately and in UK State schools at different points in our lives. Since I moved here many years ago I’ve seen how bitterly resented this division in British society is – and now, having no real resources to fund a creme-de-la-creme education for my child, I can see why, even though neither is a guarantee of future success.

However, I take the view that despite some formidable schooling being offered on the State, you get what you pay for. It’s just the way it is. For example, I buy Sainsbury’s ‘Basics’ smoked salmon; it tastes fine but comes in smaller pieces, almost like salmon mince. It does the job pretty well on my toasted bagel but it’s not quite up to the standard of the Wild Alaskan ‘Taste the Difference‘ range. OBVIOUSLY. We can grumble about the difference in the quality of public and State school education until we’re blue in the face but it doesn’t change the fact you are likely to get more if you are prepared to part with the cash. Sucks to be skint like me, but that’s life.

I think this bitterness underlies a lot of the prejudice against Public school educated children in this country. Are plenty of them sheltered? Of course. Are many of them snobs? Naturally. But that will never be the whole picture. It’s as ridiculous as saying every State educated child is down-to-Earth, unprejudiced and well-integrated. NONSENSE.

But then, there’s sheltered and there’s completely, harmfully alienated… Continue reading ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Steiner (continued)’

Twinkle Twinkle Little Steiner

After our applications for a State school place were declined a few weeks ago, me and my ex found ourselves confronted with the disheartening prospect of our son falling behind on his education. We decided to reapply to the remaining schools in our borough – the only ones that weren’t ridiculously oversubscribed, for all that may imply. Desperate times, desperate measures.

It was upon visiting one of these schools that our hearts really sank. It just seemed wrong. As lovely as the two kids who showed us around were, the fact that this was an oversized inner city dump where there were no longer any toilet seats just could not be disguised. ‘Perhaps‘, we thought, ‘we’re being a little pompous and unrealistic‘. The truth is that children all over the country attend schools such as this and worse and hopefully turn out fine. The Ofsted report gave it a grade 3. Furthermore, parental involvement is integral to any child’s overall education and we both care too much to let him miss out.

But to send our baby to that place felt like sending a  little lamb to slaughter.

(I sound like a mum!)

So we decided it was time to change our tactics and start researching our local private schools with the hope that we might be able to send him somewhere, somehow, someday. They all seemed like shining beacons after what we had seen, and they were all hideously above our budget. And that’s when we stumbled upon Waldorf Steiner.

At £4.055 per annum for their kindergarten (ages 4-7), it was a lot cheaper than any of the other prep schools we had looked at. Still a stretch, but one that we could just about cope with.  The memories of the inner city dump made the local Steiner school’s website  seem a wholesome and rustic idyll. But upon closer inspection we began to realise that this was not your average school, nor your average educational ethos. Something about it reminded me of what I’ve heard so far about the Montessori method, but Steiner seems to go beyond that. Thus began our investigation.

The Waldorf Steiner method of education was formulated by Rudolf Steiner, according to his personal philosophy of Anthroposophy.  It began when a friend of Steiner’s asked him to open a visionary school for the children of the workers at the Waldorf cigarette factory in 1919. You can find more about Steiner’s life and beliefs here, as I cannot pretend to have any expertise on the matter.

ANTHROPOSOPHY AT FIRST SIGHT:

Anthroposophy was not a completely alien concept to me as my best friend in Brazil and her husband have been very keen to bring up their 5 year old daughter according to some of its teachings. Anthroposophy means, literally,  ‘wisdom of the human being’.

Well, I’m sure I can’t claim to be that wise because I found it all a bit radical and puzzling. Their daughter was not allowed any plastic or electronic toys; television and computers were forbidden; even recorded music was a no-no. When I landed in Rio with a 9 month old baby I felt slightly intimidated by this determination to occlude modern living. My son loved toys with flashing lights and music and I really couldn’t see how they could be so sure it was harmful. He was one of the happiest, most settled babies I have ever known —and I am not saying that just because I am his mum.

On my last visit to Brazil it was clear that they had had to relax their grip; financial and social constraints meant that raising their kid in an exclusively anthroposophical way became a bit of a nightmare — I think it also partly contributed to their break up last year. Clearly all this gave me a negative bias toward this philosophy, but I would be lying if I said I knew enough about it to refute it. All I am saying is that it probably didn’t come to me in the best light.

A HOLISTIC EDUCATION:

Nevertheless I can still see why an anthroposophical approach to education is appealing, particularly in the early years, which is the category my son falls into. It is certainly more caring and constructive than I imagine the nightmare State school could be. At best, it could help my child come on leaps and bounds in his personal development, for all that might represent. At worst, at this age, it wouldn’t harm him. I like the idea of play-based early learning; and I understand this is much of what he’d be doing at a State nursery at reception class – if he ever got into a decent one. My biggest concern over our lack of State school offers is that he would miss out on social interaction and structured activity if he was forced to spend the next year alone, particularly with mother dearest over here. Part of education is learning to be a social and moral being too and I like the Steiner focus on this aspect.

There is no doubt in my mind that the Steiner method is caring and that my son would have plenty of fun and human interaction — What else can I expect at the age of four? At a glance, kindergarten seeks to develop the senses through different kinds of play, giving the children a fair bit of autonomy with regards to their own development. Parents of young children see new milestones being reached on a daily basis and supporting these achievements makes a lot of sense. The focus on exciting children’s natural curiosity and satisfying their instinctive desire for learning is something you don’t hear often on the national curriculum. This was all interesting so I began to ask around.

FLOODED WITH FEEDBACK:

I must have been living in a hole all my life. As soon as I mentioned Steiner, people started coming out of the woodwork with their experiences and opinions. The overwhelming majority used adjectives such as ‘well-rounded’, ‘creative’, ‘free-thinking’, ‘academic’ and ‘social’ to describe Steiner kids. The educational methods were perceived as ‘effective’, ‘revolutionary’ and ‘caring’, if a bit ‘too idealistic’ and lacking in technology. At university level, a broad and unconventional approach would set Steiner children apart as scholars too. However, another friend related that some of her own Steiner friends suffered breakdowns in their late teens because they found it difficult to adapt when the ‘real world isn’t all nice and reassuring, and doesn’t value individuality or creativity’. This same friend mirrored my own concerns when she said ‘In theory, I am completely pro-Steiner philosophy, but it’s worth thinking that school needs to prepare kids for life in the real world’.

The huge response I had on the subject is one of the reasons I decided to write this all down in blog format. This has been very thought provoking on several levels, hence the length of this post and my decision to break it up into smaller segments. There is certainly a lot to be discussed and I can only hope to scratch the surface here. My realist and idealist sides have been struggling against one another. The next step in untangling what I’d heard through the grapevine was to visit the school itself…

To be continued…

Swings and Roundabouts

I am very aware that I am making no new claim when I say that motherhood is a condition filled with woe and wonder.

You draw amazing strength from your children, and in return, they leave you drained.

I thank my lucky stars every day for my beautiful, happy, healthy little boy but I still think how beautiful, healthy and happy I might look sprawled across a beach chair in Thailand with a giant bucket in front of me.

My dear son was the main reason I managed to get out of bed in the mornings after my father’s recent death, and all my friends know how grateful I am to him for that. What I failed to tell them is that I meant it literally:

‘Get up mummya! GEEEET UPPP!

‘Uhhn…? Whaaaaaa…?’

‘Get up mummy I want CERREEEAAAAAAAALLLLLLLL’

‘Just a minute darling, *yawn*  mummy is a little bit sleepy…’

‘I WANT CEREEEEAAAAALLLLL!!!! Nooooooooowwwwwwww!!!!!!!’

A quick glance at my phone would confirm that this was 5:50am. Cbeebies wasn’t even on yet. That’s how you know it’s too early for your child to be awake.

Nevertheless, the age of three is a pretty magnificent time, there’s so much going on:

The acquisition of speech is remarkable and often incredibly funny and cute, and there’s this persistent drive toward independence, this desire to be a ‘big’ boy or girl. Unfortunately you don’t often get to choose which task your offspring wants to perform on their own. Cue milk all over your carpets, broken plates, broken bones. While you appreciate their kind offer to help you with the housework, it’s always *a little bit unfortunate* when they clip an expensive picture frame with the end of the broomstick.

Yet one thing I can never understand is how my toddler son decides that he’s perfectly capable of diving headfirst into a swimming pool with no arm bands on, because he wants to swim ‘all by myself‘, but whenever he goes to the loo he shouts tyrannically at me from the end of the corridor:

‘WIIIIIPE MY BOTTOOOOOOOMMMM!!!!!!! MY BOTTOM IS GIRTY!!!!!’

And I wonder what his last slave died of.

This particular phase of (ahem) motor development is something I would, frankly, rather speed up. But then even that has elements of cuteness.

After a long bed wetting spree, I started doing the clever mum’s trick of picking up their child late at night in their sleep and taking them to the toilet.

As the sun rises I invariably hear the ‘MUUUUUMMMMMMMMMYYYYYYYYYYYAAAA‘ calls coming from his bedroom, but this time he is smiling proudly, absolutely beaming, and he announces,

Mummyaaa??‘ (that’s how he pronounces ‘mummy’)

Yes, dear‘,

‘I didn’t wet myself tonight!!!!’

I am tempted to let the incontinent little rascal into my secret, that this is actually all due to the astuteness of his very clever and talented mother,  but decide I’ll be gracious and let him bask in the glory of this achievement all by himself.

Especially as he flings his arms around my neck, kisses my cheek, and says

‘Mummya, I love you SOOOOO much…’

It’s Only When You Become a Mother…

… that you can fully appreciate what an incredible achievement it is that we grow up to think of our toilet habits as second nature.