Monday, 14 March 2016

The Secret Diary of an Eighteen Month Old

Started shouting at full volume to make sure everybody woke up startled. Dozed for a bit. Resumed shouting. Can't make out the exact conversation from Mummy and Daddy's room but it seems to be a disagreement over who should get up. Why wouldn't you want to get up? Who wants to lie in bed when you're awake?! Adults are weird.

Got carried downstairs. Mummy always smiles at me, kisses me then tells me I stink. Every day. Yes I do have a 'stinky bum bum.' It's hardly a surprise, is it?! She then changed my nappy before I was allowed my breakfast which made me cross because I spied my big brother tucking into his cereal. I kicked Mummy when I had poo on my foot and it left a stain on her trousers. Surprisingly, she said that this was 'just great.' Phew.

Daddy left wearing his smart trousers and shirt. Where does he go every day? 

Tipped the toy basket over. Didn't fancy anything in there. Mummy tried to simulate car racing on the floor with tiny cars but she does it all wrong. Got cross at Mummy's toy car ineptitude.

Felt a bit bored, so I messed with the telly again by pressing all the buttons on the remote (major LOLs watching Mum trying to sort it out as she mutters that rhyme about the duck's cake).

Went to the park. I'm confused about what I am supposed to do here, because Mummy always tells us that it 'will be nice to run around!' but then seems agitated when we run around. She is particularly agitated when I run to the edge of the climbing frame where they have the pole from Fireman Sam, and keeps trying to move me back to the bit where there are railings on all sides. How boring is that? Eventually, after lots of sighing I'm removed from the climbing frame altogether and as she attempts to wrestle me into the pram I assume the stiff-as-a-floorboard position to illustrate my unhappiness with the situation. Sitting imprisoned in the pram isn't 'running around' is it? The protest did at least secure me some yoghurt raisins.

Ate my lunch really nicely. This lulled Mummy into a false sense of security about my independent feeding capabilities (groundwork for teatime, see 17:00)

Mummy picked me up and cuddled me on the sofa with my brother to read a story. They said I could 'join in' but then the pair of them got cross with me when I wanted to hold it and turn all the pages myself. Once again, I have no idea where I stand. Nobody understands me. I just want to turn all of the pages.

Started feeling a bit tired so cracked out the 'I'm tired' signals (pulled my ears, rubbed my eyes, did the glazed-over stare and the sucky-mouth thing like when I'm chewing Mummy Pig's foot). Became un-tired when Mummy put me in the cot. Did the sad moany noises so she felt guilty while she sorted out the washing. Turned up the volume to shouting after I heard her tell my brother that I would 'settle down in a minute.' We all went back downstairs again. Mummy doesn't know why she bloody bothers.

Went over to see what Mummy was doing on her computer. Pressed some buttons. This was not well received. She turned it off.

Stuck a whole hand in my spaghetti hoops. Lobbed the spoon. Cried because the spoon was on the floor and my hand was covered in hoops. When Daddy got home, Mummy was scrubbing spaghetti hoops off the skirting board. She told Daddy I had 'been like this all day.' Erm, that's not fair. She forgot to tell him about all the fun we'd had on the climbing frame and reading a book, for a start.

Received my daily telephathic notification from the Toddlers' Union that the Witching Hour had started. Treated everyone to a constant snotty whingey tone until Daddy said he 'couldn't bear it' and put me in my PJs.

Made sure I fell asleep in my best angelic pose - one hand up by my cheek and a slight smile seems to be a winner. Pretty sure I heard them both whisper, 'Love you sweet pea' so it definitely did the trick. Will commence the shit storm at dawn.

Saturday, 5 March 2016

Mother's Day Without Mum

'Are you doing anything with your mum for Mother’s Day?’ Oh god.

This question, when asked in general office conversation, used to bring on a kind of anxiety sweat and leave me wishing I could morph into Flat Stanley and escape under the door. Usually, a simple, ‘Nah, not much!’ would cover it and I’d swiftly make an ‘urgent’ phone call, praying the discussion would shift to last night’s Coronation Street by the time I had finished. The problem was, any level of truthful natter would have opened an uncomfortable can of worms. It turns out ‘My mum’s dead, actually,’ is not a workplace crowd-pleaser.

It’s not that I mind talking about it – I was fifteen when she died (the big C) and after you’ve said ‘she died’ enough times it becomes quite matter-of-fact. It just doesn’t feel that matter-of-fact for other people, who invariably feel the need to say that they’re sorry/they didn’t know/it must be so hard, to which it is customary to respond that it’s fine/it was a long time ago/you’re not upset. And by this point the YouTube clip of the Ninja Cats which has been providing belly laughs all morning has been turned off as a mark of respect, as tumbleweed crawls towards the photocopier.
One time, the casual question thrown my way was, ‘Help settle the debate Sarah – do you bother with Mother’s Day flowers for your mum or do you agree they’re a rip off?’ Oh dear. Think think think.

‘Erm…well, supermarket flowers aren’t always as pricey, and you have to expect some mark-up on these commercial days.’ Phew, awkwardness averted. (Much less awkward than the factual, ‘I don’t buy her flowers every year, just the years I’m taking a bunch to the spot we scattered her ashes.’)

The late '80s, with my mum and sister
To be honest, when February rolls around and all the ‘show her she’s really special’ Mother’s Day advertisements start popping up I have always had a bit of an internal groan. I stopped groaning in 2012 when I became a mother and, for the first time in a decade, Mother’s Day shifted from being a day I yearned to hide under my bed to a day I finally had a part in. Yet while Mother’s Day is easier for me since I have had the kids, the day-to-day feelings of loss and sadness at not having Mum here have greatly intensified.

Being a mum without mum here is hard. Four years into the parenthood adventure and practically-speaking I’m doing all right. I get through most weeks just fine - though it has to be said I’ve significantly lowered the bar on what ‘just fine’ means (sometimes the bar is on the floor). I have a great network of family and friends to help with the day-to-day logistical challenges, and not having Mum here to do the preschool run and take the kids to the seaside isn’t problematic.
It’s just sad. 

Last year we took Henry (three at the time) to London as a treat. We live in Devon, so the chaos and buzz of the capital blew his tiny mind in all the best ways and made for a pretty special trip. I was probably extra keen to take him to London because I have been holding such fond memories of the time my mum took me to London in the summer holidays (my sister had gone camping, my Dad had gone fishing, and London was a trip for just the two of us). The frustratingly sad thing about the exclusivity of our trip is that I no longer share the memories with anyone. My awe at seeing the Cirque du Soleil, the entire day we spent simply hopping on and off double decker buses… I have racked my brain trying to remember where we stayed, where we ate dinner, whether we went to the Natural History Museum or not. I will never know these things. 

Of course the biggest tragedy is that Mum never knew she was a grandmother. She never saw her daughters become mothers and she never got to stand in a draughty church hall proudly cutting the world-famous chocolate-button birthday cake she would lovingly have made for her grandchildren. They are missing out, too. Sometimes, when we’re heading off on a day trip and I get that familiar ‘Oh god, we’ve forgotten to pack something important’ feeling, it dawns on me that I have lived with a similar feeling for thirteen years. 

There is always something not there that should be there. Mum will never not be missing. She will never not be missed. 

Conversations about Mother’s Day no longer make my cheeks flush red or leave me staring at the floor. Sometimes, I embrace the commercialism and buy an overpriced bunch of flowers to take to her beach, though I’m just as likely to do that on her birthday, or on Boxing Day, which is the day she died. Sometimes, I wish she could join us for our Mother’s Day carvery but I don’t spend the meal absorbed in those thoughts because I invariably spend it picking up the food Jude has lobbed from his highchair and encouraging Henry to sing the Farty Bum Song at a slightly reduced volume. It’s one Sunday in the year when I relish a bit of pampering as payback for the tiny humans I birthed.

It’s all the other days, the ordinary days, which remind me what has been lost. For me, for Mum, for the boys.

Doesn’t cancer have a lot to answer for?

Wednesday, 2 March 2016

Mother's Day: Posh Face Cream and PEAS

I’m never quite sure what to make of Mother’s Day. On the one hand, it always seems like a lot of fuss over what inevitably turns into a normal Sunday with the added bonus of a CD and/or a Toblerone ‘from the kids’ thrown in. On the other hand, there is something heart-warming and pretty smashing about a handmade card and the promise of a lie-in (even if the card is 99.9% the work of nursery and the lie-in is scuppered by the sound of an actual physical fight breaking out over the Power Rangers Dino Charge downstairs).

Regardless of whether you are a ‘WAHOO it’s Mother’s Day!’ family or not, there’s certainly no escaping the build up to the day as ‘Make your mum feel special!’ advertisements kick in. Mother’s Day is everywhere: on the telly box, online, in magazines and newspapers (and, apparently, when you’re shopping in ASDA and an advert for some book called The Unmumsy Mum comes on approx. once every 20 minutes, sorry about that…)

“What do you really want for Mother’s Day?” I was asked by somebody this week and I reeled off my textbook response: “Oh you know, a lie-in, time with the boys, possibly some posh face cream where you don’t get change from a fiver.”

And do you know what? I would be happy with all (or any) of that. If Henry draws me a mess of crayon squiggles I will display it proudly and explain to visitors that is obviously a picture of a Ninja Turtle battling a Lego Nexo Knight. If James produces the CD I’ve been hinting at (Justin Bieber – yes I’ve converted to Belieberism and I fancy The Biebs a little bit, I’m not hiding it any more) I’ll be genuinely quite chuffed.

Growing up, I always bought my mum a load of tat for Mother’s Day and she either quite liked it or pretended that she did. (After she died, I kept the ‘No.1 Mum!’ Mother’s Day bear I’d bought her years earlier from our local newsagents – she had displayed it proudly on her dressing table, even though as bears go he was a bit shit). 
The 'No. 1 Mum' badge has worn off, sad times.
Are you wondering when the peas are going to feature in this post? Well, right about now. I’m not talking mushy/garden/green peas, I’m talking about the charity PEAS (Promoting Equality in African Schools). Bit random? Hear me out…[As I typed charity I couldn’t help but wonder how many people would groan and/or press the back button on your browser as if the page was on fire, which I totally understand – you have probably seen a gazillion other charity posts already today].

So why am I banging on about PEAS? It probably won’t come as any great surprise that I am inundated with fundraising/petition sharing requests each and every day and I struggle to even read them all. I have always known that if I shared every charity/appeal request I receive that before long you would become pissed off with my gentle nudges to donate ‘just £1’ (All those ‘just £1s’ mount up, right? You cannot give £1 to everybody). On top of that, I always face the same dilemma: which one to share? How can you possibly choose one worthy cause over another? It is for that reason that I started the week with absolutely no plans to highlight the work of a charity for Mother’s Day…

…And then, as I started contemplating my posher-than-usual face cream and daydreaming about time alone in the car with The Biebs (not like that), I changed my mind. I changed my mind because something I had read about PEAS inspired me.

I am a lucky mum. Not just because I own two nutty and hyperactive bright and healthy boys but because before I became a mum I had the privilege of an education. Year upon year of primary, secondary and eventually University education. I took all of that for granted, not because I am knobheadishly spoilt but because an education is the norm here. You go to school because, well, because that is just what you do. And usually, by the time you have children, you have some kind of education under your belt.

In most schools across Uganda – where 1 in 10 adolescent girls (aged 15-19) are mothers - childbearing marks the end of education, full stop. This is a sad (and avoidable) state of affairs, not least because a girl who progresses beyond primary school and further into secondary school is three-times less likely to contract HIV in her lifetime; will earn
over 150% more income in her career, and; any child she has is three times more likely to survive beyond the age of five. Pretty staggering figures.

PEAS are on the case. They build and run secondary schools to ensure that girls (including those who are mums) see the benefit of continued education. They have also created ‘Girls Clubs’ at many of the schools which focus on providing menstrual hygiene kits and management advice, lessons on female empowerment and encouragement to believe in their potential to achieve. 

 I have a strong enough following to help raise awareness of the work PEAS does so I'm giving it a shot!

Are there other worthwhile charities you could donate to?
Absolutely there are. Loads of them. This is simply the charity (and the mums) I have decided to support this Mother’s Day.

Is this a direct plea asking you to donate
No, not really. You will donate only if you feel inspired to and I wouldn’t have it any other way. (I did check that you can donate 'just £1' though, you know, just in case).

Happy Mother's Day for Sunday. I will let you know if all comes good on the face cream and CD front.


You can donate to PEAS here.