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.

 

No. 53 we’ve come a long way, baby

14-09-12: nf – 12:53, 3.02, 5.30, 7.20. Day: S8.18-9.03, F9.33-10.10, S11.05-12.10, F12.15-12.30, s 12.45-2.30, F2.33-3.00, F4-4.20, S5.45-6.00?, F6.15-6.35, F8.45-9.20

On the train back from a conference today I flicked through my notebook and found the first few pages covered in code: dates, numbers and letters all in my handwriting but momentarily impenetrable.

It took me a few seconds to recognise what they were: the detailed record of night feeds (nf), feeds(f) and sleeps(s) of a small baby. What demented loon would do such a thing??!  Well, err… me apparently, when Mini was 5-8 weeks old.

Mini’s dad and I were having a trial separation and I’d made the rather odd decision not to tell anyone but rather to pretend he was still coming home every evening — adding an unnecessary strain into an already trying situation.

Like a maniacal worshipper, I monitored everything she did, trying to get a sense of control back by measuring the (hopefully) widening gaps between feeds and wake-ups.  I remember poring over these numbers hoping for a pattern that showed “things are getting better”.

Looking back on those scribbled notes, it all seems rather anguished – a person dragging themselves through the day minute by noted minute.  And it made me realise how far Mini and I have come. I’ve let go of any semblance of control as it’s far too clear who’s really in charge.  And right here, right now, life is very sweet.

 

This post is dedicated to Fat Boy Slim (and the songs of 1998)

No 52. David Cameron is not right about grandparents (or anything?)

These last few days I’ve been undergoing the Family Test. Not Cameron’s Family Test to check if I’m one of that happy group of Normals who will benefit from his excellent policy decisions, but the true Family Test — a tour of Mini’s grandparents.

This disastrous idea came about because of the annual Holiday Question (HQ).  The HQ always used to be “who will I go on holiday with, and can I persuade them to walk up big hills with me?”. In my recent brief and disastrous time as part of a couple  it was “is there anywhere on earth we can go without becoming Angie and Den circa 1987?”.  Now the HQ is “is it actually possible to have a holiday alone with a toddler?”.  (I’m sure that David Cameron thinks the holiday question is “will the taxpayer think it’s ok if I holiday in my third home in St Tropez?).

I really don’t know what other lone parents do.  If you’re broke, forced to take time off at the most expensive time of year and no longer able to do normal singleton holidays, you have two options: sit in a cave for two weeks with Cbeebies on a loop, or descend on relatives in the hope of conversation and occasional respite.

And Lo!  My idea of a grandparental tour was endorsed by the great man himself — David Cameron has told me the truth once more: apparently grandparents are the saviours of the modern age. They yield billions to the economy in unpaid childcare and he approves, deeply.  I may not be a building block in his big society (lacking a marriage certificate), I may not pass the family test (being a blood-sucking single parent) but I CAN contribute to Dave’s grand vision by having baby boomer grandparents for Mini.  Perfect.

Ye gods!  I was yet again sadly let down by DC’s vision of life in Britain today.  The only grandparently duty performed was to follow me and Mini round the house with a hand-held hoover until I could take the psychic torture no longer and wrenched it from said grandparent’s hand promising to leave each room backwards as I hoovered up after the biscuit-shedding beast.

To be fair, one step-grandparent did take Mini to the post office for an hour. I’m sure Dave has already calculated the £7.25 she has saved the nation.

The reality of 21st century grandparenting is apparently to take as many cruises as possible while sloshing Pinot Grigio around and gaily yelling “I’m selfish and it’s great!” (A direct quote).

Perhaps Cameron’s speeches would ring slightly truer if he voiced the Boomer-creed — “I’m selfish, and it’s great”. It would then be clearer that his perpetual use of the word “family” is really just a way of ignoring the voice and needs of the single, the childless, the poor and the disadvantaged

 

This post is dedicated to everyone who hasn’t enjoyed their holidays. I raise a glass to every moment of supressed rage, every misunderstood comment, every unhelpful hint, every pointless compromise. And here’s to getting back to work. Cheers

(This post is laced with additional bitterness as my laptop is broken so I was forced to write it long-hand [my Berol callous from 1990 still bears the load] and then pinch  a PC from a friend to type it up as the library is closed on Tuesdays due to budget cuts.  Thanks again DC)

 

No. 51 Your mum will always be your mum

Ah, my mother. Truly, she loves a drink. Last weekend we went to Brighton together for a break from our respective caring responsibilities. It was hot, it was rainbow-bright and in a slightly hysterical fashion we managed to wander through some of the most unsalubrious parts of the city downing 250ml of wine at a time.

After about 10 rounds of “oh, let’s have one more”, we both realised it had gone too far and, laughing maniacally, staggered into the b and b.

It was then that my mum decided she was “just too hot” and attempted to put on the air-conditioning. This involved climbing onto the bed and pressing a button at ceiling height. I panicked slightly as she teetered on the edge of the bed, so decided to try to help her. Completely miscalculating how much I’d had to drink, I fell off the bed sideways (rather like Delboy in the pub scene) and tore a ligament in my shoulder. For the next 30 minutes I lay on the bed shouting “mum, I think I’ve really hurt myself”, while she pottered around the room, completely ignoring me and talking to herself

“Now, what am I doing? Have I done my eyes?”

“Mum, I think I’ve really hurt myself!”

“I’ve done my eyes haven’t I?”

“Mum, really, I think this is bad.”

“Where is my shoe? Oh dear, I think I’m a bit tiddly”

“Mum. I can’t move my arm. I think I’ve really hurt myself”

“Have I done my eyes?”

Once I had recovered slightly (two days later) I realised not only that I hadn’t torn my shoulder — only pulled it — but also that we had both played out the exact same roles we did in my childhood: she blithely ploughing her own furrow, and me shouting for attention in the background until she told me that whatever I was complaining about was “psychological”.

When it turned out that there wasn’t a tear in my shoulder she, eyes rolling and tongue tutting, declared that was the reason she hadn’t paid me any attention in the first place.

The roles you establish with your parents never fade.

Sadly, in the last two months I have lost both of my grandmothers, and hearing my 71-year old father break the news that his mother had died really brought home how, no matter how old you get, your mum is still your mum.

I’m incredibly grateful for what my mum has given me. Although I turn into a petulant teenager whenever we’re together, there is no naughtier drinking partner, nor better rock in crisis. I just wish she’d passed on that cast-iron stomach…

This post is dedicated to my nan: 26 Dec 1912 — 21 July 2014