No 61. Parents are vile

“Ralph! Don’t do that to Scarlett” (“Ralph”, pronounced “Rafe”)

“Isabella, come and eat these crudités” (honestly)

“Scarlett – don’t hurt the lady” (the lady being me)

Today Mini and I went for a cheese toastie in our local café only to be confronted with 13 toddlers and babies along with their 7 vile bits of parent. Their vileness was thus:

  1. They had taken over every table in the café (never mind that I also like to spread myself out)
  2. Their buggies blocked every exit (never mind that mine has often done the same)
  3. There was child-detritus all over the floor (never mind that they looked incredibly apologetic, and Mini has done similar)
  4. They were too busy talking to each other to mind how their kids were getting in everyone’s way (never mind that Mini gets in someone’s way at least five times a day)
  5. They were posh (I have been accused…)
  6. They were young (I have not recently been accused…)
  7. They made me even more aware of the impression Mini and I make on others as we widely and noisily dander about our business, thinking we are the centre of the universe.

All parent-hating is now essentially self-loathing dressed up as something slightly more Daily Mail-ian.  My instinct on arriving at the café was to pull a disgusted face and leg it – which others have done to me upon seeing Mini regurgitate her dinner, or sneeze and then delightedly suck all the snot down into her mouth.

I’m revolted at myself every time I ask for a ‘Baby-cino’ or shove my way past people on the bus to get to the disabled spot.  I am embarrassed for myself whenever I go on about how Mini dances or talks, or how gorgeous and funny she is.  Because all of that makes me One of Them: a vile parent.

The British are often accused of disliking children, but I think it is really their parents who we dislike. We think of them as either child-obsessed and smug (well-behaved children) or selfish and lazy (noisy children).  We don’t want them invading our public spaces, either in the real world of pubs and cafes or the virtual world of social media.  Even the word ‘parenting’ is annoying me as I write it.  Was it invented in 2001?  I’m sure my mum never “parented”.

My blog has been described as an effective contraceptive(!), but the reality is that I take so much pleasure in my daughter, I’m embarrassed to show it – afraid of being a vile parent in the online world, as well as the real one.

This post is dedicated to the woman I met in the park last week.  After we mutually flapped about whether our kids should be in nursery she told me that she was trying a new “parenting philosophy”. I internally groaned until she told me that this new philosophy was summed up as “woman, calm the fuck down”!

I’m now trying to apply it myself.  Am I a vile parent?  Oh, woman – calm the fuck down.

No 60. There are 20 things you should never say to a single parent

You don’t look like a single parent.  You must get loads of benefits. You’re so lucky to only have you and the kids to look after rather than a grumpy old man…

Gingerbread (the charity that advocates for single parents) has compiled a list of things not to say to single parents – apparently drawn from things people have said to their members.  Some of them ring a few bells (particularly “I’m like a single parent myself, my partner is at work so much” and “well, you chose to be single”) but most are so bizarre I can’t imagine anyone ever said them.

For instance, “that’s so sad for you. You must be sad all the time.”  No.  Nobody has ever said that, ever.

“Have you met a new man yet?”. Perhaps someone’s grandma might say this (in the same way as grannies are programmed to ask about your lovelife if you’re under 30) but nobody else.

“I can’t believe you didn’t try to work it out for the sake of your son”. Wow.  Perhaps tweeted by an ex-in-law who hates your guts?

My favourite, most weird thing someone (allegedly) said was “you could use your son to get women”.  People are so strange. Can you imagine if the genders were reversed?!

There are so many of these lists – thing not to say to someone with cancer, things not to say to someone who’s just lost a parent, things not to say to someone with two heads (Zaphod Beeblebrox aside…).  Their target readership is surely only those of us suffering with the affliction. I’m not sure anyone other than a single parent would choose to read a list of things NOT to say to single parents.

The article ended with the 7 things you should say to a single parent.  The short version is “you’re amazing. Let me surround you with admiration, chocolate and alcohol”. Given that this is pretty much a universal way to make people happy (whether suffering illness/bereavement/double-headedness or none of the above) I’m not sure it deserved the aspirational photos and obvious advice: “bring wine and cakes”.

This post is dedicated to anyone who brings me wine and cakes.

http://gingerbread.org.uk/content/2051/What-not-to-say-to-a-single-parent?utm_medium=email&utm_source=Gingerbread&utm_campaign=4989745_Membership+-+monthly+enews+-+Nov+2014&utm_content=20Thingnottosay&dm_i=KP,2YY41,BQ3YLM,APCZ7,1

No 59. There will be daily opportunities for embarrassment

I am sitting in a darkened corridor in a block of flats, accessing my ex’s wifi through his locked door. It is 8.30am. I have just realised that not only do I look like a refugee who’s swum to Islington for safety (little sleep, tipping rain, no umbrella), I have also put my top on inside out.  At 9am, I will be having telephone conferences in the corridor – my ex’s neighbours’ stumbling over my steaming legs as the timer-switch light clicks on and off.

4pm. I am wandering around the 99p shop killing time before a doctor’s appointment. Mini decides to do a particularly vigorous bum-jig and propels everything sitting on the buggy-hood across the floor.  A young woman helpfully gathers up my belongings: including a Tupperware pot of wee. She doesn’t meet my eye.

5.30pm. I manage to get Mini to the doctors. She cheers up massively once there and (having spent the last two days like a heated-dishrag, refusing all food), begins to run about randomly punching ill people and scarfing slices of bread. I wrestle her into the doctor’s room where she attempts to cover her ears, nose and mouth simultaneously to prevent the doctor doing anything except examining the top of her head.  As we leave, blushing slightly at her apparently miraculous recovery, she vomits with impressive force, spattering a passing toddler, as well as coating her own clothes, the buggy and a portion of the reception.

Happy Wednesday!

Lone-parenting is a daily embarrassment – whether it’s uncontrollable weeping at the John Lewis advert, or realising that you’ve had Weetabix on one earring all day – there’s never a blush-free 24hrs.  But today was the particularly special sick-child-working-parent conundrum. After a terrible night I realised I was going to have to cancel the day’s work (which included 8, yes 8 meetings – 2 of which I’d already cancelled once). My ex kindly came over first thing to give me 2 hours of grace to get as much done as possible before he went into work himself, and I raced to his flat to use his child-free space, his wifi and his coffee machine – only to realise I hadn’t brought the right key for his door.

I can’t say there was much improvement from then on.

I’ve blogged about embarrassment before (the nappy-change-on-the floor-of-a-commuter-train incident still wins the Blush Factor), but I’m a bit shocked at how hardened and un-English I’ve become.  Maybe it’s tiredness, or entitlement or just plain grumpiness, but I seem to say sorry less and less as time goes on. I didn’t even apologise to the poor woman who opened her front door this morning to discover me sitting in the darkness, pulling my top up over my head, lit only by the glare of a laptop.

This post is dedicated to the doctors’ receptionists who defied all stereotypes and leapt into good-humoured action with a surprising array of cleaning products.

No 58. Toddlers are timelords

Yesterday I accidentally bought a pair of on-trend trainers: New Balance (though I thought they were called “New Frontiers” until I checked the label for accuracy for this post). It was tipping with rain and my trainers had disintegrated to the point where I could see a cheeky little toe peeking out.

It’s impossible to buy new trainers without worrying they may have been sewn together by a small child in a hot, cruel country, but there was no time to browse the charity shops.  So I shut Jiminy Cricket down, squelched into the neon-nightmare that is JD Sports, grabbed the least-offensive pair I could see, and bought them before my conscience could stop me.

It was only as I left that the Tinchy Stryder behind the counter began to tell me how on-trend they were and I realised my error.  Pink hair, footwear for 15yr-olds… I was barrelling into a mid-life crisis.

In the scheme of recent identity crises, lone-parenting has topped the bill. I’ve been so busy wrestling with how others see it, and how I see it myself, that I haven’t had time to worry about whether I’m being ‘age-appropriate’.  It was only when a colleague recently referred to my work-team as “the children” that I realised some of them are 15 years my junior. I’d jumped from being a youthful high-achiever to the creaky overlord of a group where being born in the 90s isn’t unusual.

I’m unsure how this has happened. Given that every day feels like it lasts a decade, how has time slipped by so quickly? A friend came to stay and couldn’t stop herself from regularly glancing at her watch and yelling “what?!  It’s still only 10.30am??!” (or whatever time it was).  She couldn’t believe how long the day stretched out while accompanied by a 2 year old.

Has Mini been doing some time-bending in her spare time?  She’s constructed it so that every day lasts 48 hours, but each year is whistling by in the time it takes to change a nappy.  Cunning child.  Now all I need is to learn how to reverse the flow.

This post is dedicated to all of London’s Peter Pans. May your jeans always be skinny and your hair artfully clipped to hide the greys. Now I know why you’re trying to look younger: you’ve lost ten years to the toddler timelords.

No 57. If it exists, it’s a risk

When I first became a Christian, my youthleader asked me to imagine standing before God and having my whole life played out on film in front of an audience of friends and family: including every petty thought I’d ever had and every secret action I’d taken.  It was all there for the people I loved to goggle at.

(Incidentally, I can confirm that while this hellish idea scared the bejeesus out of me, it totally failed to moderate my thoughts or behaviour).

And now we have the modern-day equivalent: the leaking of private pictures from the cloud; phone hacking; snapchatting and having it ‘saved’. Your innermost thoughts have never been so likely to become public.

And, sadly, I can add my own personal hell-screening to that list: don’t think that the bile and bias of private messages will stay private. One day you will forget to sign out of your account.  And one day, the very person you’ve been ranting about will open your laptop and see the heart of an immense and personal darkness written about them.

Usually, this kind of idiocy only happens on Eastenders (why on earth wouldn’t you log out of your emails when your ex is babysitting, Sharon?!), but unfortunately I’ve been navigating this stormy and oil-slicked sea for the last few weeks.

Like my teenage self, standing before Fellini-God… I’m finding it hard to know how to apologise for the contents of my head and heart.  In the ongoing cover-up of emotion that defines single-parenthood, I allow myself the airlock of this blog, but also the free breathing space of email and facebook messaging – where I can grump away without repercussion. And it’s a wrench to discover that that freedom is an illusion.

We are all ultimately hemmed in by the things we want to keep private. And in a world of hyperconnectivity, it seems clear that the only way to ensure that privacy, is to keep those thoughts entirely unspoken.

 

On a lighter note, this post is dedicated to the colleague who decided to drunkenly hurdle the chenille ropes in a 4-star hotel this week. Your secret is safe with me. The video will never be released (-;

No 56. You need to fight not to fall into misandry

Yesterday I wore a black dress and high heels.  I walked to the childminder with Mini.  A man leaned out of his van and yelled “suck it” at me.  Today I am wearing scruffy jeans and a big jumper.  I walked Mini to the park and a man leaned out of his van and yelled “lezzer” at me.

(I didn’t even know that the term “lezzer” was still in use… surely it died in 1990 along with neon socks?).

This isn’t an everyday occurrence; I do occasionally get van-man comments but, like most women, I ignore them to the point of forgetting them instantly. Most of the time (miserable wench that I am), it’s “smile love/cheer up love, it might never happen”, which is basically just someone inviting you to punch them in the face, and is therefore relatively inoffensive.

The last two days’ comments have got under my skin though – probably because I had a very verbal, comprehending toddler with me at the time, and I don’t see why she should start to have this shit at such a young age.

Man-hating is all too easy in the land of the single mum.  It’s almost obligatory really –with a tinge of passive-aggression when you’re pleading dumbly with some poor male neighbour to help you with DIY, or when making sad-eyes at couples where the man does kind things for his partner.

I’ve had double-glazing salesmen in the house this week as well which, believe me, has not endeared me any further to mankind.  I don’t know if this is a universal experience but it was as though they were trying to flirt me into submission – making excessive eye-contact and taking a faux-interest in my life, to get me to part with £5,000 for some plastic windows.  It was like a first date that ends in a robbery.

In an attempt to de-misandry-fy I was even temporarily tempted to re-enter the land of online dating, but one quick look at the available pool of e-men reminded me that avoiding the losers, the users and the booty-callers is pretty much impossible, and I hastily unplugged.

I’m not naturally a cynic or a hater.  I refuse to be bitter or jaded!  And so I’ve decided I need to Fight The Hate.  On my current trajectory I’ll be in an all-female commune by the time I’m 40, and I don’t think Mini deserves such a fate.  I’m going to focus on nothing but the goodness and greatness within men.  Just give me some evidence guys.

Please?

This post is dedicated to the anti-fracking men in skirts at the climate change march last weekend.  You were amongst the weirdest people I have ever met, but were also a shining example of both goodness and greatness.  Hooray!

No 55. “The future’s not set…”

I am being mentored as a ‘woman in leadership’ (lead me to the biscuit tin, oh mighty leader!). As part of this mentoring I’ve been asked to create a vision board of what my ideal future would look like. This is akin to something you would do in year 7 art – cutting pictures out of magazines and sticking them onto a piece of paper.

I’m struggling to make it work.  I’ve currently got one picture of a big bookcase, one of a hot air balloon and another of Nick Cave.  I hadn’t realised that reading, floating and murder ballads were going to make up such a big part of my future.

When it first became just me and Mini, I focussed on surviving. For me this survival phase lasted about a year and gradually, over the last ten months, I’ve been working out what living looks like.  But it’s still very much in the present tense, and the idea of envisaging my utopian future is a bit of a stretch.

I may even be going in the opposite direction – planning for dystopian chaos.  I’m not at the Sarah Connor stage just yet (despite the biceps), but with the news getting more apocalyptic every day, there’s part of me that wonders if my leadership vision board shouldn’t be filled with pictures of Ray Mears and plants to forage for rather than images of arts and culture.

To quote Terminator, “the future’s not set. There’s no fate but what we make for ourselves.”  And to quote Kindergarten Cop (all Arnie films carry equal philosophical weight on this blog), “kindergarten is like the ocean: don’t turn your back on it”.

This post is dedicated to the Quakers I met today. A vision of peace, community and equality, all dressed in splendid jumpers.  Respect in every way to you all.