Lately everything seemed to be middling. I had unwittingly inserted ‘Middle’ into my name, a word synonymous with average, intermediate, moderate and so-so. Eugh.
Traditionally I do not fare well in the middle, when a world of extremities is much more entertaining. I am either unashamedly dressed to the nines or I look like I have been recently defibrillated. Like Frank Sinatra, I am often riding high in April or shot down in May. I am either super fit, surviving on a plant and protein based diet or stuffing spoons of Nutella into my mouth, while hiding behind the cupboard pretending to organise the spice rack.
Yet ‘Middle’ seems to be out to get me. There’s midi skirts, mid-life, I have a middling job and mid-length hair. But perhaps worst of all and without time to prepare…
I have Middle Aged Children.
I obviously don’t mean midway through life but midway through childhood and this middling situation has started to cause some discomfort. What commenced as simply keeping them alive has evolved to guidance towards a fulfilling, prosperous, hopeful and happy life. Unsurprisingly the guidance chapter had not featured in my parenting blueprint especially when we consider how my journey to parenthood commenced.
I got pregnant because of an orange dress.
Not just any orange dress. It was Grace Kelly mixed with Doris Day and it was glorious. It was also very expensive. I had spoken at length with The S.O about dress acquisition, slowly increasing the price during each interaction but the result was always the same…
DICKHEAD. I should never have married him. After weeks of tossing and turning at night and enduring nightmares where one of my friends sashays into a party wearing it, I decided somethings were not meant to be. Until I returned from work one day, walked into our bedroom and there it was hanging from the light fitting and The SO was grinning like Richard Gere. After screaming for at least 75 seconds I dropped my drawers instantaneously and the rest is history.
The day I found out I was pregnant I screamed for 150 seconds.
Surely you need to apply for some form of licence to parent at 26. I was just getting into the groove of pretending to be grown up. Buster was still new and I was clearly making an arse of raising a puppy let alone a baby. I was going to get fat again and I wouldn’t be able to go to nightclubs and stay out ‘til 4am. My career was over (Praise the Lord) and my parents would kill me, I mean kill me and OH NO, I hadn’t even worn the bloody stupid orange dress. I HATE the orange dress.
The S.O was thrilled.
He had rushed home from work after I sobbed frenziedly down the phone screaming, ‘come quick, emergency, emergency’, so really any other news than fire would have been received favourably. He took me in his arms and said exactly what I needed to hear, ‘but this is great news, a mini Judy.’
OH, a mini Judy.
A cute round baby bump. Thick lustrous hair. Glowing skin. Strong nails. A beautiful baby. And like everything in life, I embraced it with the enthusiasm of a bull in Pamplona.
Pregnancy carries huge benefits. For the first time in my life I had a taut stomach, I had to shop for an entire new wardrobe and my hair was so swishy that I could smother someone with one flick of my mane. I could eat and eat and eat, mostly pavlova (dairy, fruit and protein) and The S.O and I entered a bubble of contentment. I left nothing to chance and I was prepped for motherhood. I wished every night for a baby boy. (Please let it be a girl, please let it be a girl, please let it be a girl.)
Then there she was.
Not only was a baby born that day but a mother and that perfect moment that I first laid eyes on her is etched into my soul forever. She was giant (built on cake), she was a very strange reddish/purple colour, she was screaming and she was perfect.
I did as I was instructed, ‘just keep her alive’ to perfection. I took help, I took advice, I didn’t read any stupid books, I let her sleep when she was tired, I fed her when she was hungry and I know everyone was a bit shocked but I was good at this, I loved this. I had no friends with babies, no one to enjoy maternity leave with and no one except Sister 1 and Sister 2 to rely on, but together us three were a marvellous little team.
And then Game Over.
The job description shifts from ‘physically demanding, unpaid, exhausting role available, 24 hours a day, constant worry, no time off’ to ‘24 hour a day mind fuck job, anyone, anyone…’
You got through pregnancy, you got through the birth (I can’t even talk about the fact that no one tells you that babies actually come out your bum), you have nourished and cared for them, you have experienced 3 years of not knowing whether you are awake or not, you have smuggled gripe water over the border with it taped to the inside of your thigh, you have made the mistake of dying your hair orange, you have tried on the orange dress every day until it finally zips up only to realise that you have nowhere to go. Instead you wear it around the house only for The SO to catch you and then you have an argument because you are tired and feel like a total knob, when really you just wanted to feel like yourself again for ten minutes. You have struggled through returning to work and childcare. You’ve had to endure other mothers shite on about their boring routines and just when the fog starts to lift and you see a glimpse of your former self you decide to have another and another. The wheels start to turn again. And then they require guidance.
Guidance? From me? You are having a laugh, I have absolutely no idea what is going on.
I mean how do you approach parental guidance without totally screwing them up or worse still placing all your own insecurities or shortfalls on them? We often fixate on an area with our children that we ourselves have had difficulty with.
Like the parent who was bullied and is hypersensitive in ensuring that their own kids don’t go through the same thing.
Or the parent who may have had difficulty in making friends who is the Queen of playdates.
Or the parent who struggled with sport, who has the kids enrolled in 9,000 afterschool activities.
Or my own guilt that our financial strains have meant that our kids have missed out on travel and holidays and experiences. As a result I find myself working extra hard to make them constantly happy (no one is happy all the time) and when they are not, I believe I have failed.
We want to give our kids the chance to do the things that we didn’t or conceal them from the pains we knew. We all do it. It’s human nature.
But they are not us.
Their experiences will be different from ours. Instead of overprotecting and over-guiding, should we simply be teaching them to fly? Teach them to be strong, show them that we too are flawed. That it’s ok not to be liked by everyone or indeed to like everyone. That life is tough but beautiful.
The S.O often tells a joke that always ensures that he is creasing himself laughing, it goes …
‘I wanted Pamela Anderson in the bedroom and Darina Allen in the kitchen, but I got it the other way around.’ (Oh S.O you were a Dad long before we ever had kids.)
Well I wanted to parent like Mrs Doubtfire but look like J-Lo. But sometimes I too get it muddled.
The mini-me is now 12 years old and I have entered unfamiliar territory. She frightens me when I look at her. She is tall and beautiful and sporty and outgoing but she’s essentially a kid in a young woman’s body.
We lately had the technology and social media chat (again) about how the world is filled with total nut jobs who can track you down on your phone and that social media is dangerous and not to be taken lightly. I have to admit, I don’t really understand it all. It’s terrifying and exciting. I imagine it is like the Microwave in our day. We didn’t know what it did, we feared the radiation, ‘don’t look into Mary, you’ll be blinded’ and we marvelled at the person who could cook a whole chicken inside in it.
I also remember the excitement when we got the answering machine and facsimile device at home in the 80’s. ‘No one touch it.’ The mothership recorded her message into the Barbie sized tape with the poise of Anne Doyle. ‘This is a telephone answering machine. We are unable to come to the phone but please leave your name, telephone number and a brief message after the tone and we will get back you as soon as possible, Thank you’. Well it would want to be a brief message as there’s bog all room left on the tape after that big mouthful Anne.
Ok, I know it’s not the same but I suppose the point is that technology is always advancing and what can seem terrifying actually turns out to be something we just heat the beans up in! Perhaps the internet won’t lead to World Implosion, maybe their brains won’t shrink and maybe they’ll be ok?
There’s also the recent ‘relationship and sexuality’ addition to the syllabus at school. I’m sorry what? I have a few thing to add to this…did you know class it can actually be quite hard to fall pregnant?
I was nearly knocked off my Vans when my six year old, after I asked what she did in school, told me she learnt about penises and vaginas and that from now on we are to use the correct terms. ‘Eh ok, let me just grab my vagina pack and I can drop you to your Mandarin lesson’!
This was soon followed by my nine year old telling me that at school they learnt about good lies and bad lies. He told a fictional story about a babysitter who had her boyfriend over for some extra-curricular activity and the babysitter asked them to lie. (Who told you?!)
‘So now I know the difference between a good lie and a bad lie.’
I don’t, WTF?
‘Can you tell me a good lie Mum?’
‘ This dinner is delicious.’
And a bad, ‘Mary that skirt is amazing on you.’
And then last year I had to give the full ‘talk’ to the eldest and I knew she was judging me as she asked, ‘Did you do that with Dad?’
‘No no. He did that to me.’ Oh Christ hang on that doesn’t sound right. ‘Ask Nana.’
‘Nana did that too?’
‘Yes love, I’m afraid she did.’
What a mess!
Then there’s the school bit and friendships going awry and them having to learn how to deal with all the different personalities. You want to tell them so badly that nastiness is just a phase and that it’ll all pass. But that’s bullshit because you know they will have to listen to assholes and bitchiness their entire life. And you want to say ‘point out the little shit and I’ll deal with it,’ but instead you need to teach them that it is a reflection on the other person, not on you. That there will always be someone waiting to tear you down, but you must be someone who builds others up. If someone is mean to you it is because they hate themselves or they want to be you.
Hah! Who I am kidding. I still struggle with all of this. People can be shits, deal with it!
The entire time that you are making a mickey of it all, you have the Grandparents and the annual Parent Teacher meeting to further cement your failings.
And to add insult to injury, I recently moved from the ‘Cool’ zone with the kids to the ‘Naff as hell’ zone. Suddenly they start to say hurtful things, like ‘that’s not the words mum,’ as you sing away to the latest hits. I had Despacito all mixed up and suddenly I am my Mother rapping away to Snoop Dog in the 90’s. Or ‘Please stop beeping and waving at the boys in my class out the window,’ or ‘please never wear your hat with the double bobbles ever again.’
And you want to shout, I invented COOL. But then you open your mouth and out pops The Mothership.
‘Don’t back chat me.’
‘If you don’t have anything nice to say don’t say anything at all.’
‘Oh she gets that from me.’
‘You’ll always be caught out in a lie.’ (Except that time I said I was going to see the Christian Slater movie and instead I went to the Zoo Bar. It is too late to ground me.)
And for Christ’s sake don’t ever slip into the friend zone with your kids as they will walk all over you. Even though they make you laugh more than anyone else in the world and you’d have more fun on a night out with them than you would with most, you must keep remembering, I AM THE PARENT, I AM THE PARENT. And that recently a man with no teeth made a pass at you and that you are in fact old enough that it wasn’t entirely indecent!
It’s exhausting, it’s a minefield. There is no room EVER for airing your views on parenting as it will get you nowhere. It’s a sure fire way to rub someone up the wrong way or of getting a banana stuffed up your exhaust pipe. ‘Oh I got ANOTHER puncture outside the school after I was chatting about what secondary school I’m sending Jimmy to and highlighting the superior education he will receive.’
No Mary, you asked for that puncture.
The best way to parent is to shut your mouth, decide your own way and do it.
Don’t rely on other people, don’t do what others are doing and for Jesus’ sake don’t talk about it. Unless it is family, you must zip it, lock it, put it in your pocket because all you should care about when it comes to parenting is what is going on inside your own walls.
Surely if you love them, if you spend time with them, if you talk to them, if you laugh with them, if you teach them to be kind and you let them see that we are not perfect and it’s ok to make mistakes; if you don’t over protect and smother them, if you give them wings and teach them to fly, they will turn out ok, no?
We really only have them for a short time. They are not really mini-me. They are their very own person who will probably disappoint you at some point and who will astound you at another. We won’t always agree with their choices bur we must listen and here it comes…guide; not lead them.
Last year the eldest wore ‘That Orange Dress’ in her school play as an ugly sister in Cinderella (very poor casting and costume design). It was a bittersweet moment as she pranced about in the very dress that started her journey. (And marginally creepy.)
As I send her off in September to secondary school, I feel proud of how I’ve managed thus far. She will walk away from me swishing her hair and I will hope that she turns back to look at me. But I know she won’t. She is brave. I made her this way, but I’ll always have her back.
For the moment with the kids, I’m happy to stay in this middle ground for a while longer. The alternative is them being grown up and gone, and then what…
This blog is dedicated to Emma Hannigan. A very brave woman who recently wrote to me when I asked her advice on writing.
I am humbled to hear that I inspire you. Keep fighting the good fight and keep writing the book! I have no doubt that your daughters can see what a wonderful mum you are. Clearly you are setting them a wonderful example of how to be a strong and courageous woman. Well done you!
Love and light