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.

No 54. Every day is judgment day

Today, judgment sat upon me in its black-capped splendour.  This blog has, in part, been an exercise in how to get to grips with being a single parent while wrestling with internal and external judgment, but I was blindsided today by a judgment that hadn’t troubled me for over a year.

A Christian friend let me know what she had felt and said, but not related to me, two years ago, about the fact I was living with someone i wasn’t married to.

I had always known that a significant proportion of my Christian friends had had hidden feelings about this, ranging from pastoral concern to condemnation, and I was aware that there must have been discussion, prayer and gossip about my situation of which I had no knowledge.  But to be presented with the reality of some fairly bleak words that were spoken about me – which I won’t chronicle here — was something of a shock. (I hasten to add, following some PMs, that I don’t think my friend did anything wrong and I hope nobody thinks I’m judging her with this post…).

And so i’ve decided to lay all of my judgments bare, to ensure that nobody is ever knocked sideways by surprise condemnation from me.

So…  Silent Judgment Be Heaped Upon You if:

1) You looked at the naked pictures of Jennifer Lawrence. In the words of everybody’s mother: “you did it because everyone else did? If everyone else jumped off a cliff, would you do it too?”.  Truly, shame.

2) You let your dog poop on the street and don’t clear it up.  This is probably a universal judgment, but if you’ve ever dealt with a two-year old delightedly picking up something brown and squashy from the pavement, you’ll feel it deeply.

3) You post personal love messages to your spouse in public fora while you’re sitting right next to them. I know this is me being a bitter old hag, and nothing to do with you sharing your happiness, but tough, i’m judging you.

4)  “oh no, i couldn’t eat anything, that coffee filled me up”.

5) A particular frown and sigh from the judging chair is reserved for you if you posted on “women against feminism” http://womenagainstfeminism.tumblr.com/ (although I have a strange affection for the website ladiesagainstfeminism.com because of its splendid use of parenthetical remarks (which i favour myself) to make misogynistic comments (which i don’t favour quite so much))

6) You use the phrases “Biblical manhood” and “Biblical womanhood” to prevent individual Christians from expressing their true talents and characters, but instead forcing them to conform to norms that are, essentially, not Christian.

7) You don’t help people with buggies on escalators (cf: pretty much every post i’ve ever written)

8) You were born in the 80s or 90s and are now an adult.  Just stop it, ok?

To be honest I could go on through to 300 judgments but I fear i may alienate all those i know and love, so i will pause there and get back to watching Battlestar Galactica. I’m sure I’ll be injudiciously adding to the list as the bottle of wine goes down…

This post is dedicated to the man in the Museum of London with whom i had a splendid conversation about how women’s increasing removal of body hair has correlated with the increasing bushiness of men’s beards. We theorised that there is only so much hair available in London at any one time.  Truly, we are wise.