Monday, 30 January 2012

Wanted: friends

I have been incredibly lucky in moving here.  I have, in the last nearly two years, met lots (and lots) of intelligent, friendly, warm-hearted, generous and, most importantly, welcoming women (and men).

I have made friends. Plenty of them.

Yet I found myself at a toddler group last Wednesday, drinking my cup of tea and ignoring the biscuits,  and thinking:

"I could ask any of these women for help in a crisis and they would all drop everything for me.  But somehow I'm not sure if any of them is a friend."

Because what I'm missing, I realise, is old friends.  Not people who are there in an emergency, because, actually, most people are human (not all, I accept, but most) and most, in a real moment of need, would help.  But people who you can be honest with. To whom you can say "I'm bored" or "I'm lonely" or "I'm fed up with my children", or, even more difficult with acquaintances, "My children are absolutely the best ones in the world and I'm so lucky".  The sort of people to whom you can confess that you sort of fancy Kevin McCloud, or who might once have seen you squeeze a spot.  And who have forgiven you (but not forgotten, so that they can repeat the story after a bottle glass of wine or two).

And by "old", I realise that I don't necessarily mean "old".  Because you can find and make that sort of friend in minutes.  But to maintain them, what you need is time.  Time to natter and gossip and share good and bad stories.

Any one of the women at that toddler group could be that person.  But none of us have time.  We are all too wrapped up in the minutiae of our lives with work and children and partners and parents and school and, and, and, to have time for the stuff that doesn't matter. Except that it does.

I did something controversial the next day.  I went out for a drink.  Three lovely ladies and me, for just an hour, blethering.  And I mentioned how I was feeling and what I had thought, and they all said "Oh! Oh!  Oh! Me too".

I'm not alone; but I was, and they were, lonely. 

Before children I used to schedule nights in with B, because if I didn't, I wouldn't see him.  I was out every night with one friend or another, catching up on nothing and everything.  But gradually, with children, and now distance, that has gone, and I realise how much I miss it.

I'm not lonely in a miserable sense. I'm not unhappy or disappointed with my life. I just need to get out there. To see adults that I am not married to on a regular basis.  To be challenged by opinions that are not my own. To groan and whisper and laugh.  

I read, every now and then, another opinion piece which tells me how important it is for me to have a life outside my family and my children. To do something that is just for me. To find a passion and live it.  And I have flirted with upholstery, and millinery. With going to the gym (that didn't last long). With choir and opera.  I have wondered about art courses and Italian courses and refreshing my Russian. I have blogged.  But now I realise that the reason none of those was right is because I was looking for the wrong thing. I don't need a thing to occupy me, I need a person. Or people.  I need friends.

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Shall I go to BritMums Live?

Sorry, any non-bloggers out there who might read this. This is one of those navel-gazing, cliquey, oh? you don't have a blog? Ri-ight type of posts.

Because I'm wondering about BritMums Live.  The event (I think) formerly known as CyberMummy.  (Is that right? Or is it something totally different and I've hugely insulted everyone involved, and probably got their brand manager sacked into the bargain? )

This could have been so easy.  I could have gone the first year, when I was new and so was it, but we had a wedding.  And then the next year (last year) we had a new baby. And if I'd been before, twice, then it would have been natural to go again.

But instead now it's this year, and it could be my first year, but it feels as though I've missed the boat. As though everyone else will know everyone else and I'll veer between standing in the corner trying to look approachable while at the same time hoping that the earth will swallow me up and affixing a rictus grin before bouncing into other people's conversations like Tigger on an uninhibited day and frightening everyone within a ten yard radius.

But if I don't book now, not only will I have to pay more, but I bet I'll also regret it nearer the time...

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Who wants an obedient child?



Last week a small miracle happened in my household.  It went like this:  I told the girls that they could watch telly before supper (the end of UP as it happened) and if it hadn't finished before supper they could watch the end of it afterwards.  But that if it had finished we'd go straight upstairs after supper.

It finished.  We had supper.  I said:  "Ok girls, time to go upstairs".

And they went.

No really, they went.  Just like that.

I told L today, and I was not exaggerating, that that was the proudest parenting moment I've had this year, if not ever.

Because if there's one thing that wears me down about being a (mostly) full-time mum (and to be honest, wore me down when I wasn't a full-time mum too), it's endlessly, endlessly, repeating myself:

PLEASE: brush your teeth, eat your supper, stop hitting your sister, get down from there, share it with her, hold my hand while we cross the road, stop shouting, don't talk with your mouth full, don't snatch, upstairs for bed, wash your hands, put that in the bin, say please, say thank you, just do what you're told!

Except apparently I'm wrong.  According to Annalisa Barbieri, in today's Guardian obedient children become doormats, compliant nobodies, victims of peer pressure.  What we want, of course we want, is sparky, intelligent children who question the status quo, and stand up to authority.  Starting with us.  Apparently.

And when she puts it like that, of course I agree with her.  But I'm still not sure I wouldn't take the risk.  Just for a few more moments like the one last week...

Monday, 16 January 2012

Ballet for the terminally ungraceful

I posted a while back about the ballet workshop that Scottish Ballet invited the girls to, and how they had also offered B and me tickets to their production of Sleeping Beauty.

Well, those tickets were for Saturday night, and we went with trepidation. I shouldn't be admitting this, having graciously accepted their kind offer, but neither of us is what you might call balletomanes (ooh! get me!).  My brother-in-law at lunch said "the thing about ballet is I always rather think you enjoy it more if you shut your eyes", and, although I was trying to be cultured and didn't admit it to him, I rather felt he might have a point.

We'd had a had a bad night the night before with the children, so there was a suspicion too, that a comfy seat in a darkened theatre might lead to a bit more of the Sleeping than the Beauty. 

How wrong could we be? We both, genuinely, loved every single minute of it.  The music was, obviously, fabulous, but opening our eyes was even better... The costumes (no men in tights, either, always a bonus) and sets were extraordinary; an amazing orangery, with flamingoes and ferns and woods with the mist rising off an unseen lake were particular highlights, and I loved, loved, loved Red Riding Hood's ball gown, and some really witty touches on other costumes. As for the dancing, it was, honestly, captivating.  I could have watched the pas de deux (see? more technical terms...) after the Sleeping Beauty awoke for hours.  The sheer fluidity and athleticism of the dancers was extraordinary and what really came across was how much they were loving what they were doing.

Oh, and it was really funny too.

So thank you so much to Scottish Ballet, who have got a new fan - I was previously slightly dreading having to take the girls at some point, and now I can't wait.  And to everyone else, although you've now missed it in Edinburgh and Glasgow, you'll still catch it in Aberdeen, Inverness or Newcastle.  Highly, highly recommended.

Scottish Ballet: The Sleeping Beauty 2011 - Trailer from Scottish Ballet on Vimeo.

Friday, 13 January 2012

Making babies

I know all about making babies, right? I've got four after all, and the making of them was the easy bit.

And anyway, even if I did want to find out more about it, not only would I (being me) be too embarrassed to buy a book about it, I certainly wouldn't be advertising it on the internet...

That's what you're thinking, isn't it?

Well, it's ok. You're safe.  You can relax.  This is a book review, and it is a book called Making Babies but it's not what you're expecting. Or at least it's not what I expected.

And that's why I'm reviewing it, because I was asked, for the first month of the Tots100 Book Club, to pick a book that meant something to me, and to recommend it to another blogger. And although I tried I couldn't pick anything else.

Because I want the whole of the Tots100 to read this book. And then I want them all to email me and tell me what they thought.  Because I found I couldn't read this book dispassionately.  Maybe we can never read any book dispassionately, but this one took it to an extreme.

It was actually sent to me over a year ago, by the lovely Pants With Names, when I was newly pregnant with M.  And I couldn't read it.  I tried, I really did, but it was too close to what I was experiencing.  I couldn't divorce Anne Enright's "indifference to the world" from mine.  As she says,  I was "generally, as opposed to locally, pregnant" and I was, as she was, a mess.  I was in the middle of  "the stupidity of it, the blankness, the senseless days and the terrible, interrupted nights".  And I couldn't cope with reading someone putting into words better than I ever could (although goodness knows, I tried) the immediacy of that experience.  It was like having someone else pick your scab.

B, on the other hand, had no such qualms.  He picked it up and snorted with laughter the whole way through it.  I couldn't supress the suspicion that he was actually laughing at me, and not at sentences like:

"Every couple you meet is in an advanced stage of negotiation, whether thy have children or not... Marriage is like Churchill and Stalin breaking off, at Yalta, for a quick shag. Oh all right then, you take Poland"

And after I had M, it was still too raw. Still too new.   She says:

"The body has no imagination; this is why you never take a jumper with you on a warm day, just in case.  The body has no memory, which is why sex is always such a surprise"

and in reading this book, in the newness of new life, I was forcing those memories and I just wasn't ready for them. 

Six months later, M back on the weight chart, sleeping through and feeding happily, and I devoured this book much as he does whatever concoction of mush I shovel at him.  If I say it's a collection of essays about motherhood, that's true, but it's so much more than that.  Anne Enright says she wrote it because she "felt it was important.".  She "wanted to say what it was like".

And, for me, it is, and she did.  In a way no pregnancy guide ever could.  This book is motherhood. In 193 pages.

But, as I say, I couldn't be dispassionate about it. And maybe I still can't. Which is why I'm recommending it to Trish, of Mum's Gone To.   She loves her books, and we've had lots of good chat about books, but she's well out of the baby stage, and so I'd love to know whether this resonates with her as it does with me.  Let me know...

There is so much more I could say about this book, but I'll never say it as well as Anne Enright does these:

On having a second child:
The most surprising thing is that the love repeats as much as the pain

On maternal guilt:
And still there is an overwhelming sense that no matter how properly we reproduce, we are all DOING SOMETHING WRONG and no one knows what it is.  

On out-grown clothes:
You can never give it away because you still don't believe it - any of it - you need proof that they were once so small.

On toddlers:
She is only two.
Though sometimes, I am two, too.

And on children:
They are our enduring love.

Tots100 Parent Blogger Book Club

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Politics. This time it's personal.

So, apparently, after lots of hot air on both sides of the Border, we're going to get a vote.

Scottish Independence. Here we come.  Or not, clearly, depending on what happens in 2014.

And, somehow, it feels personal.

Because I'm English.  Born there. Bred there.  But Scotland is my home.  And the home of my husband (Scottish) and my children (well, what are they?).  It's where I live and where I hope to die.  I belong here now.

But if Scotland, and the Scots (does that include me?  Do I get a vote? Will they be breathalysing voters for evidence of Irn Bru before they let them enter the polling stations?  And what about the many, many Scots living in London, or Luton, or Lusaka?) vote to end the Union, for right or wrong that will feel like a rejection.

A rejection of England and the English.  And, given that I am English, a rejection of me, by a country in which I have never felt anything but welcome.

I'm sure, in the years to come, we will hear plenty of arguments about how it's not England that subsidises Scotland, but the South East that subsidises the rest of the country (ies), or about how Scotland's in an arc of prosperity that includes Ireland and Iceland (bet Alex Salmond's wishing he'd never come up with that one), or economic this and social that, and what would happen with the pound, or the NHS, or defence, and how we do or don't need each other (and whether we ever have), and I suspect that I will have an opinion (ill-founded or otherwise) on many of these.

But for now, this isn't an opinion, it's an emotion.  And it feels personal.  And I don't like it.

Monday, 9 January 2012

How to tell if your children are just being fussy.

B:    So what are we going to feed these children tonight?
Me (bored of thinking about it):   Pass
A (making her position clear):   I don't like pass.