No 66. 10 things you need a partner for (an annoying buzzfeed-style list for single parents)

  1. Putting up curtain rails. I have attempted this. Please imagine a pair of quizzical eyebrows over a disappointed looking window.
  2. Opening jars. Though not a weedy feebleton, I do have issues with jars.  Even now, I occasionally find something that Mini’s dad has put the lid on and I’m completely unable to get it open again.  It’s bad  co-parenting etiquette to phone your ex just to shout at them for having superior upper-body strength, but when I couldn’t get the stove-top coffee maker open after the break-up, I fear I may have succumbed.
  3. Lie-ins. Parents you meet in the park at 8.30am, who are “there to give their wife a lie in” become your nemesis.
  4. Moving furniture. Wardrobes, chests of drawers and shelving effectively become “built-in furniture”.  No more of that “might this look nice over here?” nonsense.  The house will look the same for the next 10 years.
  5. Being ill.
  6. Making decisions. When there is nobody’s opinion to ignore, you can never truly have the courage of your convictions. This is especially true at 3am when deciding whether your kid needs to go to A & E
  7. Surgery. A subset of 5), but one that’s currently particularly galling, as I have to cancel a planned dental op due to lack of cover. Who needs a working mouthful of teeth, eh?
  8. Getting anything at all out of a church service. Sitting in crèche every week is perhaps not the spiritual work-out you were looking for.
  9. Privacy. You may wish to go the toilet alone, shave alone, throw up alone, have a personal conversation with your doctor, but you can now only do these things between the hours of 11pm and 4am. That’s the window when your child will definitely leave you alone. Maybe.
  10. Eating out. As a couple you can eat in shifts, look after the child in shifts, socialise with the friends you haven’t talked to properly in two-years in shifts. Alone, you end up hungry, irritated and unable to even remember aforementioned friends’ names.

This post is dedicated to everyone who’s read a Buzzfeed List whilst loathing both themselves and the author.  Our brains are being slowly dissolved.

No 65. I’m not holding out for a hero

You know the shtick.  A beautiful, tired-looking woman waits tables in a restaurant as her third job.  A rich — or ex-special-ops — older man orders a cup of coffee. They click. He is drawn into a conversation about her sick kid/violent ex, and decides that this is the one. This is the one he’s going to rescue.  Of all the needy, gorgeous ladies out there, he’s gonna “take on” this woman, her problems and her child. They will either end up together (romantic), or she will end up dead (slightly less romantic, but he’ll romantically avenge her death, so that’s alright).

I’ve been watching a bit too much Netflix recently, working my way from one trashy action series to another, and the single-mum-in-need-of-rescue is a dominant narrative.  The framing is so ubiquitous it’s becoming hard to imagine what an equal relationship as a single-parent might really look like.  The stereotype forces all these women into using their vulnerability as their USP, waiting for a paternal presence to sort their lives out for them; give them a fresh start, or get them killed.

I’m not averse to a bit of rescuing.  Mini has been sick all week… my ceiling has a weird leak in it… I wouldn’t have kicked up a fuss if a chisel-jawed American had helicoptered in and sorted it all out for me (though I don’t think Liam Neeson fixing my tap washers and cleaning up vomit would get much financing as a concept).

It’s a challenge working out what a single-mum has to offer a prospective partner.  Everything is so much more complicated and timetabled and unclear the second time around.  So perhaps that’s why so many resort to holding up a hero-mirror for their suitors: please rescue me, rescue me, rescue me. It’s a tad depressing.

On the plus side, you tend to get a great soundtrack.

 

This post is dedicated to Massive Attack and Madrugada

No 64. Don’t try to imagine the worst thing you can imagine

Standing in the fourth circle of hell, looking in, is as close as I can get. This week I learnt of the death of a toddler.  Even third-hand, three steps removed, standing on an outer ring, the pulses of invisible grief from the centre have shocked me into looking away.

I refuse to think about the tiny details: I’ve blacked out the sliver-thin window onto the thing I can’t imagine.

In the early days of Mini’s life my baby-friends and I talked quite openly about the dread that would grip us about our kid dying. We were still humming from the hormones of birth and it felt completely natural to face the darkest thoughts, and talk about them. But as the tidalwave calmed down a little, we all put those fears into a carefully locked box and tried not to disturb the seal too often.

Younger people revel a little in the thrill of grief, working out what it feels like when a pet or an acquaintance or a distant grandparent dies. But as the griefs of life pile up, deep emotion is at our fingertips all too readily without having to roll it around our hands and play with it. The deaths of friends, relationships, parents, marriages create a well of sadness that is all too easily accessed.

I’m not surprised how little we acknowledge the paralysing fear of a child dying.  It’s something so unhealthy to talk about, so voyeuristic to look at in others.  But when the reality strikes, even in someone else’s life, the acidic ripples are unavoidable, and all you can do is try not to be knocked down.

“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth… will be able to separate us from the love of God”

This post is dedicated to the small, empty space at the centre of the circle.

No 63. You really do get by with a little help from your friends

I have a very sophisticated anti-intruder system at my house called Nine-Foot-Rose.  It’s not a giant, terrifying old lady (though, I wish…) but rather a triffidy plant with inch-long spikes and a killer attitude.  The taller it grew, the safer I felt, until last week when it came crashing down in high winds – taking the rotten trellis with it.

I realise that this disaster is hardly up there with war, earthquake and flood but I went into emergency-panic meltdown and decided the best response was to sit tantruming on the floor, rather than doing anything about it.  Just what any sensible grown-up would do.

I couldn’t fix it by myself and was convinced that every burglar in the neighbourhood would be rubbing his hands with glee at Rose’s demise. It felt symbolic of life in general: the never-ending stream of January colds, sad news, work, snot and wee (potty training) had left me pretty close to collapse, and I was all up for following Rose’s example – lying down with a mighty groan and not getting up again.

But then, I was rescued.  A true, Disney rescue. A group of friends picked me up off the floor, armed themselves with a variety of tools, took Mini away from me and spent two hours babysitting, drilling, hammering and cutting, until the trellis was up and the (decimated) rose was back in place. My contribution? I made cups of tea.

From being paralysed by alonenes and incompetence, I became surrounded by practical love.  There are so many cliches about friendship and 28,423 excruciating memes telling us how precious friends are.  But for all their naff pictures and terrible fonts, the memes are true.  Friendship is what makes life rainbow-coloured. Friendship picked me up and made me put the kettle on.  Friendship is the only thing that keeps us going through the January cold and dark until the sun starts shining again.

This post is dedicated to Rachel.  An incredible, dedicated friend to so many and a much missed colleague and wise counsellor. (Rachel Stevens: 8 February 1978 – 7 January 2015)

“Some people go to priests, others to poetry. I go to my friends.” (Virginia Woolf)

No 62. Embrace! Embrace! (And “brace! brace!”, in equal measure)

Given that I forgot where I put a turkey sandwich on Boxing Day (sandwich’s location; still unclear. My mum is waiting a few weeks before locating it with the power of smell…), there is no point me making new year’s resolutions, as I will instantly forget them.

So, instead I have decided that 2015 will be the year of one unforgettable word: EMBRACE!  The lone parent life is a perfect lesson in not having control – you either brace for impact or run towards the approaching hazard with both arms open. And so, this year, I plan to:

  1. Embrace shortcuts. Before Christmas I had been patiently trying to brush a sticky patch out of Mini’s hair.  Day after day of screaming fried my nerves and eardrums, until I just grabbed the scissors and cut a big chunk off her hair while she was asleep. No more sticky patch, no more brushing. I’m sure she’ll get over the Midwitch Cuckoos look
  2. Embrace re-invention. In the manner of Madonna, I think personal revolution is the way forward for 2015.  At the moment modelling myself on Siouxie Sioux, I’m thinking I may go a little Dawn French this year (baggy clothing, snacks in my tummy folds, wry expressions) before emerging butterfly-like in September as Angelina Jolie
  3. Embrace embracing. My family do not do physical contact well.  I remember my brother’s stricken face the first time we went to a Christian youth group and everyone started hugging.  I can see his eyes widen in horror as he was encased in an Evangelical Man Hug.  I have struggled with greetings and farewells ever since – worried about the possibility of hugs or kisses that I might misjudge.  My worst incident was with my freshly-minted step-dad: we were both shyly trying to kiss the other on the cheek, and we ended up kissing on the lips and then not looking each other in the eye for several hours.  This year I’m going to be proactive in opening my arms, so there is no room for misinterpretation
  4. Embrace myself. Perhaps a physical impossibility but I’m discarding the Mea Culpa and going for self-love this year. Remember, it’s all about meeeEEEee.
  5. Embrace the new. My first new thing is a new vocabulary.  I will no longer use “single parenting” (which I loathe).  It will now be saying “mummifying”.  Prepare for my posts to get even more confusing.

And, of course, I’ll be bracing: for more of the terrible twos, for potty training, for ongoing ex-negotiation, for applying for schools (she’s only TWO for goodness sake), for possible house-moves or new jobs or new partners. Who knows? Whatever it brings I’ll be strapping Mini into her buggy, and me into my parachute and opening my arms.

This post is dedicated to poets everywhere, and particularly Billy Collins:

You know the parlor trick.
wrap your arms around your own body
and from the back it looks like
someone is embracing you
her hands grasping your shirt
her fingernails teasing your neck
from the front it is another story
you never looked so alone
your crossed elbows and screwy grin
you could be waiting for a tailor
to fit you with a straight jacket
one that would hold you really tight.

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