Tag Archives: parent

Aaargh! Am I turning into an adult?

Yep it’s a valid question. I never, ever wanted to become a grown up but it’s one of those unfortunate facts that as we age, the changes are so imperceptible that, for the most part, we fail to notice. That might be why, if you asked me or anyone for that matter, if we feel any different inside now, to the way we did as kids, the answer is likely to be a resounding no. Yet apparently there have been changes – in my case, anyway.

On our way back from Spain we stopped in a rather lovely town called Niort in France where we stumbled on a small gallery, in a lovely old building, displaying a series of photographs documenting a short period of time in the life of a graffiti artist. There were some cracking photos and I actually love a bit of graffiti art, myself. France seems to be particularly good for it, or maybe it’s just that its motorways are; less traffic + less CCTV = more multicoloured letters.

Nice.

Graffiti art in Niort, France.

Anyway, as we went round I pointed out the photos I liked to McMini with my usual enthusiasm. McMini was interested too but seemed slightly bemused. Oh dear and I do so want him to enjoy art because he’s quite good at it.

However, when we got outside we got to the bottom of his bemused attitude. The conversation went like this,

‘Mummy, you don’t really like graffiti art do you?’
‘Of course I do.’
‘Really?’
He sounds incredulous.
‘Yeh.’
‘But you’re a grown up. Grown ups should disapprove and be saying, “Those terrible kids what are they up to now?”’
‘Your Mother is not a grown up,’ says McOther.
‘Yes she is!’ says McMini.
‘You think?’ I ask.
‘Yes,’ says McMini.
McOther is looking very dubious but with a twinkle at the corner of the eyes because he knows how completely horrified I will be to hear this.
‘Flippin‘eck! I’ve convinced my child I’m an adult!’ I say. ‘How did that happen?’

How indeed?

The idea is, frankly, horrifying! When I was a kid, I never thought my parents disapproved of much, well, no they did but not in a pissy small-minded adult way. They disapproved of bad things like punching people, stealing, bullying, being unkind, hurting animals and stuff like that but they couldn’t give a toss if someone was untidy, had illegible handwriting, was late to things or was, say, gay. At one school I went to there were a couple of girls who made life hell for a lot of people – to the point of giving someone a nervous breakdown – but they had neat handwriting, they were on time for everything and always looked tidy so as far as many of the teachers seemed to be concerned they were paragons of virtue, whereas I was ‘slapdash’ and untidy in my work; well no, actually, I had a form of dyslexia. Looking back on it now, those girls were incredibly unhappy at home and dealt with their unhappiness by spreading it. I suspect the teachers who praised them, who I saw as traitorous and unjust, were merely trying to instil them with some sense of self worth.

Sorry, going off on a tangent there, I guess what I’m saying is that as a child and then a young woman, I loved that my parents totally seemed to get that timeliness, tidiness and conformity, though fine traits sometimes, were worthless if the person displaying them behaves like a piece of shit. Likewise, their complete lack of concern over the sexuality of the people I came into contact with. They probably spotted that my gay friends were gay way before I did and back then in the 1980s any difference in sexuality could be a major stigma even among the supposedly liberal youth, let alone folks of my parents’ generation.

As I grew older and started to do rebellion, it became very obvious that my parents were right behind me and, indeed, that they were a great deal more anarchic, liberal, forgiving, free-thinking and generally open than most of my supposedly avant garde acquaintances. They seemed to revel in eccentricity of character and loved anyone who was prepared to think deeply and challenge the establishment. I remember my father desperately trying to get me to say the word, ‘fuck’ in mixed company because he felt that some of the older people there were rather pompous and deserved a good shock. I suppose he simply approached language, and swear words, with the same lack of prejudice as he approached everything else.

Mum dragged up all sorts of gloriously textured words to replace invective, troglodyte, nit-wit and strewth were some of them. Dad, on the other hand, was an occasional but enthusiastic swearer – usually when he was frustrated or angry, I don’t recall him ever swearing at people. When he mowed the orchard, colliding with the low branches of Every. Single. Tree. He used to eff and blind like the most foul-mouthed squaddie. Mowing sessions were rated on a scale of buggeration, ‘how many buggers was that one, Dad?’ we would ask. He would try to be cross for about a nanosecond and then laugh and say something like,

‘Far too many, and there were a few fucks as well!’

No matter how odd I was considered to be at school, I fitted in at home and surely that’s what good parenting is, isn’t it? Giving your kids somewhere they fit, where it’s OK to be who they are while they try and find out what that is.

When I went to university I desperately tried to persuade my friends to visit me at home for the weekend because if only they would, I knew they would be able to make sense of who I am. Few were brave enough. It was very, very hard to make friends my first year, until someone happened upon the fact I was good at art. Then, suddenly, there was a new box to put me in. I was no longer a southerner (and therefore scum) I was ‘the artist’ and all was fine from there on in.

Always, I have hoped that if I had children of my own I would be like my parents, which is why the idea that McMini thinks I’m a grown up is so alarming. Have I officially Lost My Sense of Humour? Have I Become Set In My Ways? Have I started to believe I’m right about everything? I hope not. As a woman of faith, my politics seem to be moving further and further left as the mainstream moves further right so maybe it’s OK. Maybe there’s hope for me.

The fact my friends weren’t as anarchic my actual parents was a terrible disappointment to me as a youngster. If I’ve turned into one of those normal bastards, at least I’ll spare McMini that. It’s awful having to bite your tongue with people your own age because they tell you off for swearing or mentioning periods, admitting to a fart, or whatever, as if they’re anally retentive prudish pensioners (except both sets of my grandparents were similar to my parents). Seriously, though, teenagers trying to be grown up can be so fucking prissy. Actually, anyone who feels they have to try and act like a grown up can be is pretty fucking prissy. That’s why the thought that responsible adulthood might have crept up on me fills me with such despond.

As a kid, I rebelled against the Draco Malfoys of my school life who despised me because, among other things, I wasn’t attempting to get my end away with every male who crossed my path. But to me, boys weren’t the complex mystery they saw. Living with a brother and in close proximity to 500 of the buggers does that to a girl. Looking back, I suspect the real reason they hated me was because I was happy and they weren’t but they couldn’t articulate it, or perhaps the failure of their sporadic efforts to be nice to me so I would invite them home and give them a pop at those 500 boys was part of the problem too. The official reasons they gave for hating me were very faux, things like my being too posh or not posh enough, or ‘so immature’ (ie having a sense of humour). Deep down we all knew that the hatred was irrational and the excuses fake. Nothing like someone giving you shit because they want to and then trying to pretend there’s a logical reason to make you start questioning the status quo.

But McMini isn’t bullied, thank heavens. And I hope he never will be. There are no Dracos for him but that means that when the time comes to rebel he may well rebel against me. I am, kind of, braced for this but I’m still not sure how I’ll go about empathising. Will I be able to? Will I just become entrenched in my position, be Eddie to his Saffie?

Throughout my school and working life, barring a couple of notable exemptions, I have always been lumbered with a someone who decides, upon meeting me for the first time, that their raison d’etre from now on will be to make my life a misery. I seem to have something in me that enrages total and complete bastards to the point of mania and while on occasion, I feel smug at being able to piss off the small and petty minded so comprehensively, it can be hard going. What a relief it was to give up work and step out of all that and, for the first time in my life be bastard free!

But now I wonder, have these recent, glorious years without my own personal nemesis corrupted me? Am I like Lister in Red Dwarf? When he complains that Holly has brought back Rimmer, his arch enemy, and not one of his friends, he is told it’s because Rimmer is the crew member most likely to keep him sane. Do I need a total wanker in my life to keep me on the straight and narrow? Have I gone normal in these glorious tosser-free years? Or is it simply that I lack the strength of character to have that open-minded, easy going confidence of my parents?

I hope I will be the kind of parent to McMini that I had. I hope that when I’m in my 80s, I’ll be as anarchic as my Mum and that McMini, in turn, will be the same in his 80s. I hope I’ll always be able to grow and think and adapt my view. I hope I never lose that curiosity of viewpoint that my parents still have, even now. To give you an example:

My mother was a debutant, she’s had dinner on the Royal Yachet while The Queen was still living there. Twice. But she’s fully convinced socialist. She thinks that ideally we would just pass a law to re-nationalise the railways, power infrastructure, the lot of it, and then have it run by people who knew what they were doing (which is many of the folks there now) and who could tell the government what dividend it was going to have each year so they could invest properly in the infrastructure as needed, rather than having to stand and watch their companies being bled dry.

She thinks that MPs are never going to go after people like Google to collect the proper amount of tax, partly because … lawyers … and partly because unlike the Victorian times the Conservatives so espouse, rich people these days ‘have no proper religion so they don’t know how to behave. They have no compassion, they’re not going to set up the Joseph Rowantree Foundation, or build Port Sunlight. Those days are gone.’ But mostly she believes the Googles of this world will always escape tax because this country is still run by the 200 most intelligent people in each year at Oxford and Cambridge, no matter what the social background from whence they come, and so the UK branches of these companies are run by folks with whom many of our politicians are friends.

‘It’s awfully hard to have dinner with someone one night and send his company a writ the next morning,’ she says.

She’s right, of course, it is, and just as much if you’ve come up from the gutter and want to maintain your status as if you’re a weak-willed trustafarian. And principles only get you into trouble. After all, look what happened to St Thomas A Becket. The politicians will be looking to their post political careers, speaking, being on boards … none of that’s going to happen if they go round clobbering their future employers. Mum agrees this is bad but thinks it’s human nature and that the state needs to accept the humanity of its elected servants and find ways to earn money through something other than the taxes people like Boris and Rhees Mogg will have neither the balls nor the inclination to collect.

‘We should feel sorry for them really, they can’t help it, they haven’t a clue how to behave,’ she says with sweeping disdain.

So if some utilities etc were state run, PROPERLY, I might add, Mum thinks we’d have more money to give to the NHS.

It’s a bit of a cop out, she admits, because like me, she thinks that the government should go after people like Google for the tax they owe. After all, by paying their employees so little that they can’t survive, people like Jeff Bezos are, basically, taxing the rest of us. Buy your goods for less on Amazon but pay an extra £5.00 a week on stuff for the food bank their zero hours, underpaid employees have to use. Oh and some extra tax, because you’d better believe the government will collect yours, the poorer you are, the more heavy handed they will be because they know they’ll get it – you can’t afford to fight back. But they collect the tax so that they have the money to run the state services Jeff’s stressed employees will need to use when their worry and over work have made them ill. And now we’re coming out of Europe, of course, it will be even easier for Jeff and his friends to screw their employees over because our compassionate conservative government will get rid of all that annoying red-tape-shaped employment law.

Will I be as anarchic as that when I’m 85? Will McMini have parents like I did? I really, really hope so.

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Shingles anybody? It’ll make you feel better.

I was looking at this post, earlier and a few days before that, this one.

Both are about trying to balance career with other things, in the first being a Mum, in the second illness. So this is not for the people happily churning out a book every month, or painting prolifically. It’s for the people who could but haven’t the time.  My books take about 2 years to write. If I had the glorious luxury of being able to write 9-5, the whole year I reckon each one’d take 6 months, tops. That, right there people, is frustration.

Eyebombing, the only art I have time to do nowadays.

Eyebombing, the only art I have time to do nowadays.

However, these days, I think I’m surprisingly happy with my lot and I’ll tell you the secret. Shingles. run with me on this one, it’s going to take a while.

This isn’t a Mummy Blog but I am a Mum, which is why I thought I’d write this post is for the other Glacier Girls and Guys who are living slowly because they’re parents and they have to. It’s also for anyone who is a Parent who feels that by not enjoying each and every single minute they are somehow betraying their child(ren). In any job there are going to be bits you don’t enjoy. Being a parent is a job and in this respect, it’s like any other.

The other trick, I think is that we all tend to get a bit Monty Python Fork Sketch about being parents. Sometimes, all we see are the bad bits. That’s a habit but it’s not an easy one to shake especially among those of us who tend to be a bit anal about getting everything right. Seriously, though it’s amazing how quickly the good bits become background noise.

McMini goes to school but in the holidays, mostly, it’s just me and him. Sometimes it’s a challenge – usually on days when my energy levels are not quite compatible with his – but mostly we have fun. I think we always  have but it’s only recently I’ve been able to see it like that. Because… well… the truth is, I had a bit of a melt down.

A little while back, three, four years ago? Something like that, the reactor really cracked. The journey down took a year.

My in laws came to live with us for three months, from May to September. I love them dearly and gladly took them in but I found it peculiarly stressful. The fact that I did upset  me. November, the cold set in and my Dad took a real nose dive. My worry about my parents intensified along with me feeling that I was failing them. I crept through the winter, torn between staying at home and looking after my boy and going down to Sussex and looking after my folks.

Meanwhile, I was trying to be a decent Mum, fun to be with, understanding, full of ideas, kind and loving, when I couldn’t remember the last time I’d completed a thought without being interrupted and felt like shit.

Then one of my friends was diagnosed with lung cancer and given 5 weeks to live and  I took stock. I had a loving husband, a lovely little boy, a very dear family, a fantastic group of friends and a car to die for. Hell, I’d even written a book. I knew it was all good but the frustration of caring for a little one and being torn in two different directions at once was beginning to get a bit  much. I knew I was happy ‘on paper’ it was just that in reality I didn’t seem to be able to convince myself. I was perennially angry and mardy and grim and I didn’t like it. Or me.

During this time, I didn’t write or paint. There just wasn’t the slack in the system. The ambient levels of background worry continued to climb into the red zone, my emotional glass was full and the tiniest thing on top would make it brim over and have me in tears. Eventually it all went pop.

It was a Friday, late March or early April and I got home from dropping McMini off at nursery and started to cry. I cried for hours. I mourned for my Dad, for my friend, and for my Mum as she shouldered responsibility for everything my Dad had used to do. I picked up McMini from playgroup puffy eyed and wondered if I was having a nervous breakdown. But I finally understood how it was I could love my life, and the people in it, the way I did and still be sad. And it was OK and it made sense.

The next morning, I woke up feeling as if a huge weight had been lifted, with a new and certain understanding of my world…. and shingles. I’ve never felt so shit and so relieved at the same time. Sure, shingles was bloody painful, but I knew I’d hit the bottom. The only way from here was up, and finally I had some fucking clue which direction up was in. And I felt something else. I felt strong, and solid, and grounded.

Shortly after that, my friend with lung cancer died and in the same week another one did, too, unexpectedly, three days before his 42nd Birthday. I became aware that you can lead a full and happy life, and still find your brain is in a bit of a knot. So, thinking I might need a bit of help I went to the Doctor to see if I could get some counselling on the NHS.  She referred me for something called cognitive behavioural therapy although by the time I got to the top of the waiting list, I’d kind of worked it out for myself, but the basic gist is this:

  1. You cannot do everything you want to do, only what you can do. This is the hardest thing in the world to accept.
  2. Once you’ve understood your limitations, think of ways to work within them and let the other stuff go.
  3. Concentrate on doing things that play to your strengths.
  4. Draw a line under your mistakes. You can’t change them. Move forward and aim to avoid making them again.
  5. Concentrate what you’ve achieved rather than what you’ve failed to do.
  6. If something is wrong, tackle it. Fix it.
  7. Don’t look at other people and compare them to you, they and their circumstances are different.

If you can manage that, you can enjoy and appreciate the things you are able to achieve and you’ll feel less trapped by the stuff you haven’t done. And that will make for an easier going, happier you and perversely, I’ve found I achieve more now that I’ve stopped worrying about it… (mostly). Sure, I am not the daughter I hoped I’d be and probably not the mum, but I know I’m fulfilling both roles about as well as I can and I’ll settle for that.

Yes, is difficult to adjust to the glacially slow process of your own life once there are kids in it – and I’m the queen of the big Jessies there, because I only have one. It’s also difficult to adjust to the fact there are bits of your brain, like your intellect, that you don’t get the chance or just don’t have the energy to use.

However, Amanda Martin’s post (the first link) summed it up perfectly when she said that the whole point is, she wouldn’t trust anyone else to do it. I wouldn’t and as for progress on other things. Well, it’s a bit like getting over shingles. When you are chipping away at something day after day, it’s easy to forget what you’ve achieved.

A few years ago, when I was absolutely at the end of my tether, I remember complaining to a friend, in tears, that I’d only written five words that day.

“Well,” he said, “That’s five words that weren’t there yesterday.”

And that’s the trick, isn’t it? Not to look at the oceans of stuff you haven’t done and the stuff you don’t have but to let all that bollocks go and look it the way it really is.

Life hasn’t stopped. It’s just slowed down; and who knows, we may be hankering for this when faster times come.

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