Tag Archives: motherhood

Stretching the maternal elastic

Child standing on beach

“When your youngest starts school you’ll get really broody.” That’s what people told me and I expected them to be right. Just when you think you’ve passed on your last babygro, there comes a niggle inside that makes you want to snatch it back. As the weeks ticked down to my son starting school, I was anticipating a hollowness that I’d need to fill. It turns out that the reality was quite different. I wasn’t losing my baby boy after all – I was learning to share him.

My eldest started school shortly before her 5th birthday – the oldest in her academic year and, without doubt, ready to be there. Her brother, however, seemed far from prepared to start his journey. Still chubby-cheeked and throwing monumental tantrums, he was my baby and doomed (sorry, son) to be preserved as such. It wasn’t about their difference in age though. Let’s be honest, it was all about my apron strings and how ready I was to cut my son loose (or at least to accept he would only be hanging on with one hand whilst the other hand busied itself with growing up).

I’ve mummied and (s)mothered him. I’m not ashamed to admit that. He’s an unabashed mummy’s boy (although show me a boy who isn’t) and could never, ever cope in the big, wide world without his mamma at his side. Or so I told myself.

Then came his first day at school. I didn’t need to be dragged from the classroom door. I wasn’t beating my chest or producing reams of tissues from my pockets. The world didn’t end. When my son stepped through the classroom door, he clutched his bag and his water bottle like a little man, not a baby. It was then I knew that letting him go was for his own good. For four years I had kept him to myself, not wanting to believe he could function without me. It’s hard to accept that you need to share those you love to help them grow, even if that might mean them growing away from you.

We’ve reached the end of the first half term and my son is well on his way. We’ve each had tears. For me, it was when I dressed him in his uniform for the first time. For him, it was the day when his new best friend didn’t arrive at school. Seeing your child locked into the education system is daunting when they are only 4 years old, can barely get themselves out of a jumper and are borderline self-sufficient bottom-wipers.

Have his new adventures stopped him being a mummy’s boy? Of course not. I’ll be defending my right to keep the maternal elastic taut for many years to come. (One day I’ll have to share him with his future partner – a thought that already makes me bristle.) He still comes into our bed every night. I’m still his first port of call for cuddles, back rubs and – more frequently than I’d like – bottom-wiping.

Sharing him with the world has made it even more precious when he comes back to me. He exists and thrives without me. However hard it is to see him do that with the help of others and without me, he is learning to be his own man.

The wobbles

Wobbly teeth

We’ve just potty trained my 3-year-old son. No more nappies. Less junk to lug around when out and about (or there will be when we can stop taking out multiple changes of clothes ‘just in case’). Happy days. But it also brings with it a sprinkling (if you’ll pardon the urinary pun) of sadness as another milestone passes. Potty training is a significant stage as it finally marks your child’s transition out of babyhood. As every parent knows though, just when you think you’ve conquered one challenge, there’s always another one waiting around the corner. Just in time to soothe mummy’s throbbing ovaries, my 5-year-old has her first wobbly tooth.

It’s all too easy to dwell on the passing of the baby years and forget that there are plenty of new milestones to look forward to. A wobbly tooth might not seem to warrant as much relentless bragging about as a child’s first steps but in some ways it is more significant. As adults, we don’t remember uttering our first words but we do remember our first wobbly tooth (or at least a wobbly tooth). You may even be lucky enough to remember that stage when it’s almost out and you can twist it around 360 degrees on just a string of gummy flesh. Failing that, you’ll be certain to remember clicking it with your tongue. Perhaps you really did wrap string around the tooth and tie it to a door. For once, here is a memory-maker that’s not just for the parents.

Let’s not forget that the wobbly tooth also represents another opportunity for parents to weave a web of lies. From now on, it’s not just the Father Christmas myth that we need to keep alive – it’s the even more implausible existence of the Tooth Fairy (a being only slightly more plausible than the Easter Bunny). Maybe it’s because the Tooth Fairy promises merely a coin and not a pile of gifts, but it has been far harder to persuade my daughter that this dental diva exists. She knows that fairies (of the general sort) aren’t real, so why should this very niche model exist? She did seem won over by my suggestion that if you swallow a tooth, the Tooth Fairy has to search through your poo for it. There’s nothing like the hilarity of bodily functions to make you want to will something into existence.

She really has to trust me on this one. The fact that she isn’t so ready to trust me and accept the Tooth Fairy without question is another sign that she is growing up. Every milestone, albeit exciting, carries with it a hint of sadness. Or, if you’re more of a glass half full type, every milestone is something for you to relish getting your parenting teeth into – but I reckon you’ll still feel a bit wobbly inside.

All change please!

Life changes

A few months back I made a momentous decision. I decided to leave the company where I had worked for 12 years (ie since I was young) and set sail on the choppy seas of being a freelance. This is my first week of living that decision. Whilst my head is spinning and I’m rattling between excitement and fear, sometimes you just have to grab life with two hands and have a bit of a tussle.

Since the brood arrived, I’ve always worked: full-time after my first then part-time after my second. I never really considered not working (aside from if I won the lottery obviously). I know that I don’t have the patience or organisational skills to be a stay-at-home-parent – and lashings of credit to those that do. It wasn’t until after my second child was born that I started to have pangs about missing out on spending more time with my rapidly growing kids. When we started to look at primary schools last year it suddenly struck me that the school years were really, truly, frighteningly close. No longer was I simply looking backwards at what I achingly thought I had already missed but I was suddenly conscious of what I might miss in the future.

Although I know most people manage it, the thought of having to organise pre- and after-school care for my eldest filled me with horror. I realised how important it is to me to be able to drop my daughter off (and pick her up of course – really, what kind of parent do you think I am?!) and to be there to help with reading and homework. Perhaps I am too idealistic. In reality I may end up cursing the school run, scuttling away from the gates because I can’t fit into skinny jeans or because another mother has looked at me in a funny way. Visions of sitting at the kitchen table doing sums together may turn out to be running battles over the TV remote and whether it’s okay to substitute a packet of Haribos in place of tea. Do you know what though? If I don’t try then I will never find out. Life is too short.

Continuing my current career as a freelance allows the flexibility I need as my daughter skips off into the education machine without a backward glance at me. Her brother will follow her in two years’ time but until then I am looking forward to spending more one-to-one time with him – something he hasn’t had over the last two years. He will continue to go to nursery three days a week to give me some ‘work time’. I believe strongly that nursery is a great social environment for children and that my two have benefited enormously from it. Yet I still struggle with the guilt that I should be doing that job, especially now I have opted to work from home, and wonder whether advocating nursery simply serves to make myself feel better. When I drop my son off at nursery and return home to my desk I know I will feel an overwhelming urge to go back and get him and wrap him in my arms (gorgeous little chunk that he is). It seems that parental guilt is never ending even when you’re aiming to do the best for everyone.

Now I just have to persuade my husband that it isn’t acceptable to guffaw when I say I’ve been working. But that’s another post and another strain of guilt entirely …

Vicky Arlidge: From nappies to neeps

Mum, Can You Wipe My Bum?

Vicky Arlidge, a St Albans composer and musician, takes her one-woman comedy show to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe next month. Here she talks to me about her journey from teaching toddler music classes to gearing up to raise laughs at the world’s largest arts festival.

When Vicky Arlidge posted a performance of her song Mum, Can You Wipe My Bum? online she didn’t expect it to receive over 10,000 hits worldwide. It was the start of a new direction in Vicky’s career, transforming her from composer, music teacher and musician to stand-up musical comedian complete with ukulele and keyboard.

Vicky is now looking to bring her observational comedy about the frustrations of being a mum and wife to a wider audience.

“I could be giving it all up,” she laughs nervously when asked to picture the scenario when her Edinburgh Fringe Festival run is over: “It goes terribly wrong, I get no audiences, I get terrible reviews and no one’s interested”.

With her hair neatly clipped to one side, Vicky appears unassuming – your everyday mum on the school run. But on stage her incisive wit and ability to make her audience squirm in recognition is far from ordinary. An accomplished musician, Vicky has over 20 years’ experience of composing for theatre, television and film as well as performing and teaching music. In 2008 she set up Pitter Patter Music to provide music classes for babies and toddlers in St Albans – you could say she is used to a tough audience.

“I’m not the funniest person I know”, says Vicky. ”The only difference between me and everyone else is that I’m the one who’s got up on stage, I’m stupid enough to do that.”

With songs such as Raucous Raunchy Sex Or A Nice Cup of Tea, The School Run Madrigal Vicky describes being a mother as an essential part of her comedy: “Fifty per cent of my comedy is about being a mum”. Vicky has hit a winning formula judging by her recent sell-out preview show in St Albans. Still glowing, Vicky looks back on it as one of her “best audiences ever”.

Vicky discovered her talent for musical comedy when she set out to write a pop song after a testing day.  “I was a full-time mum,” she says, “getting really frustrated at not doing anything creative – just changing nappies and dealing with tantrums all day long and going a bit nuts.” That pop song turned into Mum, Can You Wipe My Bum? When it became an internet hit, Vicky realised that she missed the buzz of having an audience: “I never thought I’d be a musical comedian, it never entered my head until I was 40-whatever. I just fell into it.”

She started going to what she half-seriously describes as “dodgy comedy clubs”, the training ground for new comedians. Forcing Vicky to learn “from the hardest audience”, they proved to be very different from the musical world Vicky was used to. Why didn’t the bad gigs put her off? “Because I’m very stubborn and determined,” she says firmly. Her tone softens and she adds: “It makes you feel so great, just to laugh. To make a whole room of people laugh is a great feeling.”

Vicky’s humorous take on everyday life has led to her being compared to Victoria Wood. “I’m really flattered,” Vicky smiles. “She’s funny but very funny in a homely way. She has an unmacho humour that appeals to women.” Vicky readily acknowledges that a large part of her own audience is women. But this doesn’t mean her comedy is tame. There is a naughty glint in her eye when she admits her tendency to slip a few bad words into her songs.

The Edinburgh Festival Fringe is a daunting prospect for all comedians, particularly first-timers. The average audience for a show is just three people. Taking part is an expensive business and requires a vast amount of preparation. But with that comes the hope of being discovered and exposed to a nationwide audience.

“It feels like a rite of passage,” Vicky says. “If you want to be a comedian you have to go to Edinburgh. You do it for what happens around Edinburgh. You take yourself more seriously and other people start to take you more seriously.”

Despite being nervous about what Edinburgh holds, Vicky is enjoying every minute: “It’s just the laughter I think,” she says. “I love writing the songs, the creativity. I’d love it if I could give up the day job and write silly songs all day and make people laugh at night – that would be perfect.”

Vicky’s show Mum, Can You Wipe My Bum? runs from August 2nd-10th at the C venues – C Nova, Edinburgh. Tickets are available here.

Remember, remember the … errrrrr …. did I switch the gas off?

Toddler me

As a mum I spend rather too much time lamenting how quickly time passes. Memories ought to document these fleeting years, but, whilst I remember events, I struggle to conjure up memories that make me feel the recent past. It seems as if my memories of my children have been lost in the blur that has been the 4 years since they entered this world.

I had begun to believe that I had a case of advanced and irreversible baby brain. It was therefore a surprise when I started to experience moments of clarity from my own childhood. That feels odd when you can barely remember what you had for breakfast. Little things that I see, little things that my kids do more and more frequently trigger a portal into my formative years.

As we sit as a family on the sofa I am transported back to always being the one to get the middle seat (on what in those days was called a ‘settee’) between my older brother and sister. Tiny fingers on brown velour in the early days (the 70s) then bigger fingers on floral patterns as my parents transitioned from the 80s to the early 90s. To my left, my brother, capable of emitting endless noxious gases (he still is) and smelling of muddy football pitches. To my right my big sister, a grown-up in my eyes yet still demanding that I scratch her arms whilst she watches Top of the Pops.

At the gym on a Saturday morning I look down over the swimming lessons. I remember such lessons well, but what I picture above all is swimming in old pyjamas (I can even remember which ones). I had expected times to have moved on but apparently swimming in pyjamas wasn’t peculiar to the 1980s. It is clearly on the list of things a British schoolchild must endure along with country dancing and learning the recorder. I found swimming lessons traumatic enough but wrap me in waterlogged material and you’ve a recipe for vivid recollection. The smell of chlorine, rubber swimming hats and verruca socks wafts back under my nose. The roof of the poorly lit public bath looms above my head while I wait my turn to try to pick an unfeasibly large black brick up off the pool floor, eyes shut and fully clad in 100% polyester. Fumbling, billowing and, in the main, unsuccessful.

Insights into your own past can of course help you to empathise with the present. Tempting as it is to get irritated by my daughter’s compulsion to collect things and become obsessively protective of them, I am transported back to a time when I was immensely proud of my rubber collection: a plastic sweet jar full of novelty rubbers mainly collected on school trips. Most clear in my mind is the rubber in the shape of a t-shirt which came in a box designed to look like a washing powder packet. I can still invoke its chemical scent – strong enough to induce a sneeze. The joy of setting the collection out, showing it to friends, yet never letting it near a smudge of pencil.

When I despair at my kids’ reluctance to share I suddenly remember how painful it felt when a friend chose Paulette Poodle from my Fabuland collection before I had a chance to. That’s how darned big and important little things can seem when you’re a child. Counting your teddies and religiously wishing each and every one of them goodnight (in order of course) is not necessarily a sign of the early onset of OCD.

I am longing to create for my children memories that they can conjure up in 30 or 40 years’ time and feel, smell and taste their childhood. “Do you remember when we went to … ?” “Do you remember how Mum used to …?” Most important of all, I want those memories to make them feel warm and nostalgic in the same way I do when I catch those flashes of my own smaller, pudgier and easier to please self.