Category Archives: motherhood

My child is not like me

Raging Bull reading a book‘I am a dumb reader!’ This is the Raging Bull’s damning verdict about herself. She hasn’t made a huge amount of progress with her reading at school. For her, progress is defined by the color of her reading book (color denotes level). She may not be able to read words very well, but she is very good with colors.

I say what every parent would say in the circumstance: ‘But you can be a good reader. You just need a bit more practice and to try a bit harder. You will eventually get better at it.’

This is not cutting it with my feisty five-year-old. ‘Reading is boring,’ she announces sulkily, shooting me a look that dares me to contradict her.

For someone who has loved reading all her life, this is basically like sticking a needle in my eye and twisting it.

The truth is, she may not actually like reading, and I’m going to have to come to terms with it. At the moment, I’m hoping this might have something to do with the fact that her ‘reading’ books consist of people called Pip and Kip and a dog named Fluffy. They are about as interesting as a week of rain in the middle of summer.

So I gamely say to her: ‘But the books get more interesting when they have chapters.’

I don’t think she buys this. She’s listened to me read chapter books to her big sister and she’d rather pick her toes.

It makes me wonder why it would bother me if my child turned out to dislike the things I love, because I think it would. I could pretend to be a cool-as-anything parent, who would not give a shit as long as the children are happy. And I do want them to be very happy, but is it so bad to want them to share my love of Nancy Drew and Agatha Christie?

(A disclaimer: if she didn’t like shopping and clothes, fine. She will actually save herself a lot of money and angst. But books, for crying out loud, she has to like books.)

Already, the Raging Bull has rejected another of my lifelong loves. She took a handful of ballet classes and concluded that they were ‘boring’.

Once she got over the novelty of the tutu and the pink leotard, she couldn’t be bothered with all the discipline. All she wanted was to leap through the air and pretend to be a fairy, so she didn’t see the point of doing repetitive exercises.

In fact, her attention span seems to be about five minutes unless she’s watching the television. If it’s related to watching a screen, she could be there for hours.

I think it’s easy to assume that our children will turn out a bit like us. We look for the similarities in our kids and not so much the differences; but the odds are that they will turn out more different than the same.

After all, they are individuals and not miniature versions of their parents. Believe me, I don’t want them to turn out like me, but I’d like my two girls to share some of my interests. I guess that’s what it comes down to.

In the eight years I’ve been a mother, I’ve concluded – very unscientifically – that the Chatterbox more closely resembles me, with the Raging Bull closer in personality to her ‘wild’ father.

At least her wild father likes books, though.

I am not yet teetering on the edge of total despair as far as the Raging Bull is concerned. I figure that once Kip and Pip are out of the way, she might come round to the idea of sitting down with a good book. She might even let me read a chapter book aloud without getting distracted before Chapter 2.

But I’m not entirely betting on it.

Have your kids started showing signs of not liking something you love and how do you feel about it?

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Love is in the air

Raging Bull in back garden

The Raging Bull knows more about flirting than I do

It’s summer and love is in the air. The Raging Bull, four and three quarters, has (at last count) 100 billion boyfriends. She tells me this nonchalantly one afternoon, flashing me her innocent puppy-dog eyes. It’s a figure she enjoys repeating to anyone who will listen.

I’ve only met a couple of the boyfriends so far. One is an older ‘man’, about 7, who was mortified when the Raging Bull grabbed his hand as we were walking down the street. She then ramped up her affections slightly by leaning over to kiss him. I’m afraid this didn’t go over too well, but she was nonplussed.

The other little boy has been chosen as the Raging Bull’s next playdate friend. They’ve spent a good while jumping off sofas and laughing with each other at the local coffee shop. They seem to have bonded over their babyccinos.

Meawhile, I have it on good authority (her older sister’s) that she is actually engaged to be married to someone else.

It’s all very cute, and I laugh along with her games of chasing boys in the playground, which currently has the innocence of a kitten playing with a ball of yarn.

Part of me wonders, though, if there comes a time when a playdate between a boy and a girl is considered awkward. I can’t imagine inviting a boy over for a playdate when he’s approaching double digits. It just seems a violation of some sort of unwritten rule.

Playdates seem to be governed by a secret code that goes something like this:

  1. Don’t assume you can go to someone’s house over and over again. Eventually you will need to reciprocate or face a shrivelling up of invitations.
  2. Children with working parents might not be popular playdate friends for the reason stated above.
  3. Some playdates will involve dinner or lunch; others never will. But if your child has eaten at someone else’s house, you should probably think about doing the same for their little angel.
  4. At some point the parents don’t expect you to tag along on the playdate; they’d prefer it if you just made yourself scarce (unless you happen to be friends).
  5. Boys and girls don’t tend to mix very much unless the parents know each other.
  6. Some playdates will involve numerous emails, text messages and planning. Others will happen spontaneously.

I can only assume (hope?) that one day the Raging Bull will snap out of her boyfriend phase and find the male sex repulsive. Isn’t this what happens to all little girls? It certainly happened to me for more years than some would say is healthy. The British Husband will argue that I still hold the male sex in suspicion. They are to be tolerated, of course, but not always trusted. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Happy Father’s Day

Father's day messageI don’t know whether this is a Freudian slip or if it’s just a straightforward spelling mistake, but the message came out as: ‘Happy farter’s day’.

Whether she intended to or not, the Chatterbox has managed to capture an essence of her father’s personality.

To all dads out there, happy father’s day.

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We’re all short of time, survey finds

 

Larry David on DVD

A great way to spend your precious spare time

Time. When you are a working parent or even just a parent to small children, time is taken up with so much stuff that it’s hard to understand just where it all goes. Much of it seems to be spent doing things of no consequence.

When I find myself with 20 minutes to spare in the evenings – perhaps while the overtired kids are slapping themselves in the bath – I feel fidgety. I don’t know whether I should be sitting down and staring out the window or doing some minor chore that is undoubtedly lurking somewhere.

There are always clothes to be put away, clothes to be sorted, dishes to be washed, dishes to be put away and half a dozen other things to boring to mention.

So it comes as very little surprise that a survey of British families has found that, on average, they only spend three hours of quality time together in a working week. Nearly a quarter of the families surveyed said they get less than one hour of ‘us time’ together between Monday to Friday.

Before we start moaning about how our modern lives are destroying the fabric of family life, let’s just say that I regard this survey as less than scientific or impartial.

The research – based on an online survey of 2,005 British parents in May 2014 – was commissioned by HouseTrip, a company that is conveniently using the findings to urge people to take a holiday together.

But there is probably some truth in it. I have no idea what ‘us time’ is during the week, frankly. I’m usually so exhausted by the time I get home, that the only thing I really want to do is crawl onto the sofa, eat dinner and stare at the television. Sometimes I’m not even sure what the people on the TV are saying, but watching the flashing images is of some comfort.

Which, it seems, is how the majority of people feel too. According to the same survey, 65% of couples (who are parents) spend their precious ‘spare time’ watching television over talking (33%) or having sex (31%).

That clears that up, then. I always knew I was average.

This lack of time also explains why the blog has been neglected for so long. It has been sitting in a corner of my mind, occupying my thoughts nearly every day. But I have not felt inspired to sit down and get anything written in the evenings because I am too damn tired after a day spent running around.

If one of the few things you can rouse yourself to do in the evenings is watch TV like a zombie, I can highly recommend season three of Curb Your Enthusiasm over any conversations you might be tempted to have with your partner or children.

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Mothers and daughters

Raging Bull and Chatterbox

In matching outfits on mother’s day

It was mother’s day recently in the UK. Here’s a recap: took the kids shopping for shoes; nearly lost it on the floor of Zara Kids after an afternoon of fruitless searching. Got one pair of shoes in the end, but felt psychologically scarred from the process of trying on an array of buckled sandals on a four-year-old, who had sticky feet. It made me conclude that, yes, I love shopping for shoes but only for me.

Now that I have got that out of the way, I can move on to the subject of mothers and daughters. I read something in a newspaper recently about how mothers are often critical of their daughters, more critical than any other person in their life would dare to be.

I have personal experience of this, both as a mother and a daughter. I come from a Mexican family, where criticism is doled out as often as chili is used for cooking. Mexican families seem to believe that they have a right to tell you where you erred in your life, even if you think everything is going well. What you think is really not the point; it’s all about what they think – they are judge and jury.

My mother, who probably inherited some of her parenting techniques from my stern grandmother, had a habit of telling me when she didn’t like something. It could have been my hair, my clothes, my makeup or any number of things.

Sometimes her advice to me was invaluable. When I unfortunately grew a moustache at the age of 16, she introduced me to my first pot of facial bleach. I use the same brand to this day.

When I needed a dress for the prom, she took me shopping and helped me pick out a tasteful black dress. I still look at that picture, taken on the day of that dreadful dance, and think it looks okay. This was 1991. I could have ended up with a frilly monstrosity that would make me want to hide the picture in a drawer forever.

But she has also been a critic, even recently. If she thinks my hair is getting too long, she is quick to point out that I really do need a haircut. ‘I don’t think you can get away with long hair at your age,’ she will say. If she doesn’t like how I have teamed a top with a belt, she will tell me. She still tells me I slouch. ‘How can you be a dancer with that posture?’ she will ask. I am 40.

I have mostly accepted this as being part of what mothers do. But should they interfere with their unwanted opinions, especially when the ‘child’ is an adult or nearly one?

With two daughters of my own, who are getting old enough to remember what I say to them, I am wondering what is constructive criticism and what isn’t.

red shoes

A battle has been waged over these shoes – I love, Raging Bull does not

For instance, I catch myself telling my seven-year-old that her hair is a mess. ‘Have you brushed it already?’ I will ask, in exasperated tones.

If she says she has, I will ask that she do it again, because ‘it’s still a bit of a mess’.

In what could be a refrain of my mother’s own words, I told the Raging Bull the other day: ‘You really need a haircut. It’s too long and very untidy.’ But so what if it’s untidy?

I assess their clothes and try to point out when the colours don’t match. I sometimes don’t approve of what they pick out and might tell them so. My battles with the Raging Bull over her entrenched ideas about clothes are totally infuriating.

‘You can’t wear that dress with those tights,’ I will judge. ‘None of it matches, honey,’ adding a term of endearment at the end to soften the blow.

But the Raging Bull often thinks she looks fine and will sometimes tell me so.

Where will this lead? Will I one day say they have gained more weight than they should, or instead that they’re too skinny? Is that being critical, telling the unpalatable truth or doing my motherly duty?

Will I point out that I don’t like a certain colour lipstick or that an eyeshadow is garish, even if they feel comfortable with it?

Will I tell them when an item of clothing is inappropriate because I deem it to be tacky instead of too revealing?

Women are already undermined daily, in a number of ways. Young women, we are told, lack confidence and perhaps that’s why there aren’t enough women in politics or in FTSE 100 board rooms.

If a mother is picking her daughter apart, however subtly and gently, will this affect what they think of themselves and how far they will go in life?

I know my Mexican mother had good intentions; she told me what other people wouldn’t. Maybe she crossed the line sometimes, but I have crossed the line with her. I now tell her when I don’t think something looks good, and I will suggest something else. It’s back and forth between us, and the dynamic has changed. Neither one has the upper hand.

As an adult you learn to hold your tongue sometimes, because you know that words can hurt other people’s feelings. I think I need to learn this lesson all over again as a mother.

 

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A working mom’s day

Raging Bull

The Raging Bull at four and a half

I once read this tip from a working mother: dress your kids in their clothes for the next day the night before. That way you don’t have to worry about what they are going to wear in the morning.

It might sound more extreme than throwing yourself down a mountain on a board, but the advice comes from some high-flying chief executive. On bad mornings, though, I do wish the kids would wake up miraculously ready, like robots that just need to be switched on and marched out the door.

So I am facing another working week. On one particular evening recently I had just picked up the kids from the childminder after yet another stress-inducing commute on the tube. Knowing that there is nothing to eat in the house, I drag the kids into a local supermarket that mostly sells pre-packaged food. I tend to fall back on the packaged food at 6pm on a weeknight.

I stare at the aisles, my eyes hoping to alight on some inspiration. I end up buying fries – they call them ‘frites’ here to make them sound posh – that you just pop in the oven. The other part of the meal, I figure, will come to me like a blot of lightning. It doesn’t.

I get home at 6.15 with a small selection of random groceries, the Raging Bull’s artwork, two water bottles, one child’s backpack and a change of clothes stuffed into a plastic bag. Since becoming a mother I’ve developed some sympathy for mules.

All I could think about was sitting on the sofa and watching House of Cards on Netflix while drinking a glass of wine. But instead I knew that one of my chores would be putting out an array of black socks on a drying rack after they’ve come out of the washing machine. (I don’t have one of those fancy things called ‘tumble dryers’.)

There was no English Husband at home, so I’d be lucky if I sat down by 9pm.

I must have hinted at all these chores or given the impression of exhaustion when the four-year-old Raging Bull asks me earnestly: ‘Are you fed up, Mommy? Do you think you’re fed up?’

The Raging Bull, now four and a half, has reached the climax of her cute phase. I fear that this is the cutest she will ever be and then, like the fragile spring blossom on a tree, it will be gone.

I laugh, knowing that one day I will wish for this moment to happen again. No matter that I nearly lose my sanity every week, that I run around from one place to the next, often barely catching my breath. Or that I never quite know what homework is meant to be turned in on which day, or when the ‘reading day’ is meant to be or the PE day.

Never mind that family dinners are fraught affairs in which I don’t even have time to sit down with the kids. I just go from kitchen to table, ferrying food, fruit and water, hoping to get it all done by 7pm so that they can have their bath.

But one day in the distant future I will wish for this all over again, just to hear a four-year-old tell me that she loves me.

 

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Stephen Lawrence: a mother’s fight for justice

Motherhood has not been a transcendental experience for me. I have moments when I absolutely love being a mother and other times when it feels like a parade of tedious chores and mini frustrations. But this is who I am now. I can’t go back and wish for another life, and I don’t want to. I have no regrets about becoming a mother, but perhaps I can take the experience for granted.

This came into absolute clarity recently when I listened to a mother speak about losing her son. This was no ordinary mother and no ordinary death. This was Doreen Lawrence, mother to Stephen, a black teenager who was killed in a racially motivated attack at a London bus stop in April 1993.

To people in the UK, the name of Stephen Lawrence is unforgettable. I wasn’t even living in London when the 18-year-old was killed, but the name has been seared into my memory because of what happened after his death. The police led a corrupt investigation into his murder, which ultimately allowed five suspects to walk free.

As a result of the Metropolitan Police Force’s bungled investigation, the Met became the subject of an in-depth inquiry. The Macpherson report, released in February 1999, found the Met to be ‘institutionally racist’. As a direct result of the report, the double jeopardy law changed in this country. As of 2005, you can be tried twice for the same murder if compelling new evidence comes to light.

Eighteen years after Stephen’s death, a new trial based on forensic evidence was called. Two of the five original suspects were convicted of the teenager’s death in January 2012 because of blood and fibre samples taken from their clothes.

Two years later I am listening to Doreen Lawrence recall some of these events in a session called In the Eye of a Media Storm. She is interviewed by BBC journalist Mark Daly, who reported on the murder case. He also presented a special programme called Time for Justice, which followed Doreen for 12 months.

I am not much taken by famous celebrities, but I am in awe of Doreen’s quiet dignity. She considers each question carefully before answering and keeps her emotions in check. There is no crying and yet sometimes I feel as if the tears are only just below the surface. She talks about losing her identity (‘sometimes I don’t recognise myself’), the break-up of her marriage under the strain (she’s now single) and how she found the media attention to be a ‘nightmare’ at times.

She explains how she is by nature a private person driven into the spotlight because of wanting justice for her son. ‘I didn’t want the attention,’ she tells Mark. ‘I do things because I know I need to do them.’

Despite her socially disadvantaged background, Doreen refused to allow people – some of them with imposing jobs and titles – to brush her off. She kept asking questions of people in authority. ‘I was able to speak in a way in which people listened to me,’ she says. This included demanding an inquiry into her son’s murder and the investigation that followed.

In what is an emotional moment, the journalist asks Doreen why this case achieved such prominence when others like it have been forgotten. She answers simply: ‘Because Stephen had me. I knew I would never let it go.’ It doesn’t come across as a boast, only the plain truth.

Mothers make sacrifices, small and big, all the time. For Doreen, however, the sacrifice was enormous. She lost herself in the 19 years she spent trying to bring her son’s killers to justice. She lost her marriage and perhaps gave up on things she might have wanted for herself.

I’d like to think I’d have the strength to do the same for my children, but I simply don’t know. The person you become after a tragedy is something you can never know until it happens to you. I certainly never want to find out what it’s like to bury a child and, worse still, lose that child in a violent crime. But I take great solace in this mother’s love for her child. You don’t have to be a parent to respect her indomitable character or to understand her immense bravery.

Doreen is now a Baroness with a seat in the House of Lords. She says she is going to use her voice to help those who don’t have one. ‘Everybody should have a voice,’ she says at the end of the session.

And wouldn’t the world be a better place if everyone had a mother like her too?

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