Monday, November 15, 2010

Creative Parenting

An article written for my local parenting magazine, Seeds & Saplings. I hope you don’t mind my duplicating it here for you.

I recently finished a book that I had picked up in the library, believing it to be a kind of grownup, female Adrian Mole – Bridget Jones with wellies on, I guess. The Desperate Diary of a Country Housewife. I anticipated amusing mishaps involving mice and attempts to pluck pheasants. I anticipated jolly japes and cultural malapropisms… Instead, the yawning chasm between Country Living idyll and hellish, wet, lonely, dilapidated nightmare chilled me to the core. The author, abandoned in deepest rural Shire by an international jet-setting husband barely functions as a mother of two (and subsequently pregnant with number three), friend, wife or even human being, for the eighteen months of their self-imposed exile. The (female) community attempts to absorb her into their carousel of lattes and ponyclub but the author feels they share little common ground…The final discovery of the wholly untouched ‘craft drawer’ and the realisation that the idyll of perfect parenthood is largely unachievable regardless of your postcode and organic surroundings, I found all too familiar…

A large proportion of Seeds & Saplings readers are, no doubt, ex-commuters or at least ex-Londoners, moving out of the Big City to the Little City for the simultaneous convenient proximity and satisfying distance. The standard S&S mother seems (by my extraordinarily unscientific guesswork) to be driven, intelligent and passionate, forever suspended in a dream of guilty cross-roads, decisions, career what-ifs and potential commuter-widow to boot. Or maybe that’s just me.

I know I’ve done little to undermine the idyll of flourishing creative housewife in this column. I wanted to take this opportunity, in my first birthday article, to set the record straight. I’ve spent the first nine months of my daughter’s life meandering in and out of bouts of blackness. Call it Post Natal Depression, call it almightily skewed expectations, call it an extended lack of sleep and a VERY active baby…

As an ex-Londoner, an ex-career girl and an ex-most-other-things, I have spent the last year ‘trying’. Trying to maintain my creativity for my own sake as well as for my daughter (‘Oh yes, I learned to bake at my mother’s knee, from as young as I can remember…’)… trying to maintain a shell-shocked marriage without leading my husband into thinking that sex (and therefore, horror of horrors, another baby) may be in the offing… trying desperately to make this life, this new version of me, this ‘Home Counties Mummy’ label sit comfortably without feeling entirely fraudulent.

It hasn’t been without its ‘moments’, nor without prescription medication, but I can honestly say that throwing myself headfirst into NCT life and, by extension, St Albans life, has allowed me to see behind the veneer. You well-turned-out mummies with the beautiful buggies and wholesome vegetables in the reusable carrier bags are all also trying. Trying to get your kids to eat. Or sleep. Or take turns on the slide. Or not thump my daughter for her umpteenth attempt to steal your kid’s ricecake.

Motherhood, indeed parenthood, is a great big conspiracy, a great big club, a great big gang, and it has taken me two thirds of my daughter’s first year to be grateful I’ve joined and not regret, in every waking moment, my unsuspecting lifetime membership.

In my experience, local mummies can be guilt-ridden, frazzled, stretched (in every, and I mean every, sense of the word) and exhausted… But they are also friendly, honest, caring, thoughtful and eager to help. And so, with that experience in mind, I hope you take my one and only suggestion for holiday fun with the requisite KILO of salt… I will be trying to do this activity too, but for now, the husband’s at work, the dinner needs cooking and my daughter’s bathtime is looming… Excuses excuses…

And that’s the activity. I have spent all year trying to be and forgotten to actually be a mum. I remind myself that washing up can wait, that laundry can hang from the radiator for another hour and that presents can be wrapped, with wine to hand, late on Christmas Eve if necessary. The house may be an utter bombsite and we’ll be having fishfingers for tea (again!), but Tilly needs to have a story read to her, a song sung, a rattle shaken, and by golly, I’m the one to do it.

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