The only is not lonely

Have you seen The Duchess, the new Netflix comedy created by Katherine Ryan? It is very funny and her incredible school-run outfits have inspired me to put on a sparkly headband even though I am still, to all intents and purposes in ‘writing clothes’, or pyjamas to other people.

The show focuses on a single mum with a successful career who is very close to her child. There’s a scene at a body positivity conference where she is being interviewed and is asked ‘where is your child right now?’ and Ryan’s character challenges the question and the implication that single mothers don’t know how to raise their children. In this sense, the show is great at challenging stereotypes around lone parenting – like I said, the mother is fulfilled in her career, has a great support group around her and has a close bond with her daughter. But my smile started to fade a bit when she started talking about her child. The daughter decided that she would like to have sister and suddenly the narrative shifted. ‘She needs a sibling’, cried Katherine, echoing the desperation that a lot of mothers feel around providing their kids with everything they need. But it also suggests that an only child is an abnormality or in want of something. And this pisses me off. Later on in the show, a character is revealed to be an only child and describes himself as ‘smothered’ by his mother, who apparently cuts up his food for him and still kisses him on his lips as an adult. A lot of shows get applauded for their bravery at challenging stereotypes but are still get away at poking fun at a group of humans who a) cant do anything about their situation and b) maybe don’t feel like they are represented accurately at all. And that group is the only child.

In Working Mums, only children are described as ‘aliens’; in Catastrophe, the only child family of Fran, Chris and Jeffrey are cold and distant from one another, in contrast to the jumbled up chaos of Sharon and Rob’s crew. In Crazy Ex Girlfriend, Nathaniel is deemed to be spoilt and lonely because of his only child upbringing. And of course, Friends, which gets its own flack at the moment for a variety of reasons around representation, chooses to ridicule Chandler for being raised a singleton.

And yes, this is personal. After the birth of my son, I always assumed there would be more, but after many years of trying, there wasn’t. And you now what? There were several years where I felt very very sad about this, but now, I don’t. I don’t have family around me, so raising two kids would mean no time for writing outside in the garden listening to some smooth Bossa (as I am now) It would mean sweaty gym kits, after school clubs, shit and noise. I would always be tired. So, no, I’m fine, thanks. I’m not saying your experience of parenting (of two or more) is any better or worse than mine, but please respect the difference. Please stop presenting my kid as a weirdo for a cheap laugh. Stop presenting any kid as a weirdo for something that they can’t change. Go after creepy men or Holocaust deniers instead. It’s a cheap trick and a boring trope.

Perhaps I hold on to these perceived slights in the media because of my experience, granted, but I get enough little digs in real life anyway. Women telling me it’s time ‘to get one with the other one’ in passing, asking whether ‘i’m trying for one at the moment’, describing their own family of two as’ the perfect balance’. I actually feel sorrier for these kids, as they are growing up with ignorant, convention-swallowing dickheads for parents.

It feels very nice to say all this by the way. Thank you if you are still reading.

So please, world and by world I mean the media apparatus that we now experience our lives through, just leave only children alone (ha!) They are not de facto future murderers. They are not any more or less happy than kids with siblings. If you want to produce a truly original show, create it so that the single child experience is a happy and fulfilling one.

Sleep fighting, or I how I learned to stop moaning about tiredness and use it as a source of delirious creativity

Last night was not a vintage night in my household.  We were very much awake for most of it, so much so that I just had a mid morning nap, brief and blissfull, on the playstation console.  My son is also feeling the burn, pressing his forehead and eyes into any available solid object like coasters and baby wipe packets, while hankering after any unavailable solid object (I saw the way he looked at my slipper).  But it is his damn fault that we are tired, with his constant flailing and griping – when will he learn?!! By 8 months, they should have this down, shouldn’t they?  But no – if my son were a Viking, he would go by the name of ‘Theodore, the Sleepfighter’.  So, yes, we are really tired.

 

Fact 1 – no one is surprised when, as a new parent, you say you are tired.  Fact 2 – gatherings of new parents will try and out tired each other with anecdotes of extreme acts  committed while tired (you were so tired that you put your car keys in the fridge? I was so tired that I voted for UKIP!)  Fact 3 – it is an entirely boring conversation to have, up there with routes taken to destinations and one’s health.

 

I am going to own the tiredness.

 

So my son is a little peaky today – teething undoubtedly, grouchy, pissed off.  He’s okay though, in fact he is now asleep in his chair, beaten but unbowed.  Instead of trying to sleep (what a loser would do) or cry about being tired (same), I will use my delirium to think about all the ways T would have been treated through history for his current, slightly ‘off’ condition.  Bearing in mind that I have no sense of history, or geography, which is akin to having no sense of time or space, which is akin to being accurate, this should be a short and highly speculative (i.e historically false) list.  Here we go:

 

Viking era – T would have been offered to the Gods.  His moods would be used to discern the weather.  I think he would be a talisman.

Middle Ages – T would have been diagnosed by a monk with having too much bile and would have been covered in leeches.  If this didn’t work, he may have been declared a devil child.

Victorian Era – he would have been diagnosed with something, anything, in front of a paying audience.

Early 1900s – He would have been diagnosed as hysteric and sent for dream analysis and then a cure in Switzerland.

1920s – given rum

1950s – given some of those new fangled wonder drugs that everyone is talking about

1970s – bathed in breastmilk and forced into tree pose while someone cleansed his aura with a mung bean

1980s – sterilised and placed in a hyperbaric chamber

2010s – analysed via online forum by various warring factions  who weigh in on the best possible way to treat him based on what they had read online.  This in itself would then become an online story on a clickbait website.

 

As it is, I will watch him for a bit and then give thanks for the fact that he is asleep and then quietly retreat to somewhere comfortable … like a playstation, for example.

 

Night night.

 

 

 

 

Enjoy the ride, man

There a few things for which I stop and congratulate myself; to be honest it is not, on reflection, because I do little to be proud of , because I am more often involved in pulling baby porridge from my hair (am I alone in enjoying the sensation?)  But here is one thing; since my son started crawling and rolling or both at once – crolling? I have raised nappy changing to performance art.  I would happily charge someone to come in and watch me change a nappy – stick some ‘Tubular Bells’ behind it and I could sell it to Cirque du Soleil.  After extensive reviews and rehearsal,and an out of town run, my son and I have decided that nappy changing should be a) done in total silence (effort grunts are acceptable) b) he should be allowed to coat his own hand in sudocrem and c) at least one limb should moving contrary to the rest of the limbs at all times (my own or his).

 

I am also proud of my ability to use my son as an excuse for all manner of slovenly behaviour.  Grocery delivery man arrives and STILL in pyjamas? I have a 6 month old baby, so …… you know (raise eyebrows and nod to self as if this is more than sufficient justification).  Floor of kitchen resembles that of a lowdown tapas bar on the outskirts of Malaga?  Well, you know, with a 6 month old baby, it is just so hard to keep it clean and etc etc.  My son is now 8 month olds – I am not neglectful , this just demonstrates for how long I have used these particular line of thought.  Again – practice has raised it to an art form!

 

But I have been thinking about the end of Maternity Leave and the big return to work.  All around me I am seeing mothers lose their shit at the thought of going back, mothers for whom Maternity Leave and childcare has been not so much a roller coast ride as a log flume.  There’s been lots of water and the trajectory has been pretty much downwards for the duration.  I am sure there are private moments of intense joy and calm – I know there are!  But the public aspect of early motherhood is characterised by fraught interactions and the idea that martyrdom is good.  This seems pretty universal across the forums of motherhood – from the coffee morning meet up, to the WhatsApp group, to the mothership (no pun in- well maybe pun intended) – the online discussion.  Intra-mum exchanges, in my experience are 75% of the time on the subject of their child’s health and development and usually conclude with a plea for reassurance or consolation.  I know that from time immemorial, mothers have come together to discuss their children and find solace in the tough times, but add to this the layer of singular angst surrounding return to work and the tension reaches panic room level.

I am on a life raft – a unique life raft which offers baby yoga and sensory sessions, but a life raft nonetheless, floating along, evaluating my own and my son’s life  and finding them pretty pleasing thank you very much.  Gradually I notice women disappearing – I don’t see them do it at first – suddenly they’re not there anymore.  And I notice women around me noticing this – and I start to hear a low pitch whining noise, and then I realise it is coming from the woman next to me.  And then I see her do it – she leans back and throws herself over and I never see her again.  And the mood on the boat, which had been so pleasant up to now, starts to change – it gets rockier, the women start to cry and the waves get rougher, because we’re lighter in number and I have to prepare myself for leaping over the side.  I want to spend as much time as possible just staring at my baby because I WON’T EVER SEE HIM AGAIN but I also want to enjoy my last moments of freedom as a person who has hobbies and a social life, so I divide my time between speed-reading books described as ‘life-changing’ on the sleeve and cuddling my baby – and feeling guilty about not doing the other all the time.

 

And then, I hope, I’ll get pulled over the side.  And it, like most things, will probably be fine.  Okay, I may not always have porridge in my hair to look forward to.  But I will probably even enjoy being a worker and contributing to society, not just feathering my own nest. I may even enjoy wearing clothes again.  Who knows?  All I can do at the moment is try to reason with myself and my frankly hysterical response to returning to work.  Did I mention that I have two months left before i go back?  Yep.  Ages.  But it is the Crucible effect, infectious.  Once one person starts frothing at the mouth about visiting nurseries and arranging pick up times, we all do it.  But I am determined to enjoy the ride for a s long as possible, dammit – a concerted fightback, if you will.  Here are a few things that I will try out to keep myself in check:

 

Make a list of things that are good about work.

But some new clothes for work

Give the hysteria I feel about end of Mat Leave a name and face, a character.  Mine has cats, flyaway hair and writes afternoon dramas starring Jason Priestley for Channel 5 (none of which are green-lit)

Sit still for a bit every day and be calm.

Plan in a few trips.

Wear pyjamas and don’t stress about the food on your floor.  Or your face.  Or in your hair.

All suggestions gratefully received!