Too fat to notice

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I had a terrible accident today. A calamity I have strived to avoid for some time now. But when your jogging bottoms don’t fit past your thighs and even your pj’s are struggling to hold the whole package together it is inevitable that one will eventually…. fall onto the scales.

So today it became official. I realise that everyone who has had the pleasure of me in their eye line (or let’s be honest, me blocking out their entire field of vision) probably already knows. I realise I have been blindly stuffing my face with anything not nailed down, and licking the coating off of anything that is. I realise that I have only worn one pair of trousers to work for the last few weeks. I realise that moving the tumble dryer from the garage into the house has allowed me to blame it shamelessly for the shrinkage of everything I own. But even I have to give in now. I am officially the biggest I have ever been. Fat enough to be a Jeremy Kyle audience member. Infact, to hell with the lies, fat enough to be ON the Jeremey Kyle show. Let’s go all out – fat enough to EAT Jeremy Kyle if he sat still near me for long enough.

I currently cannot remember the last time I felt full. I vaguely remember what it’s like to feel completely bloated and a little sick because I’ve eaten too much but I have stretched to the point that there is not enough cake in the kingdom to sate my appetite.

I have reached a crossroads that I genuinely believed would not be in my path any more. After losing weight last year and feeling that I was on the road to a healthier, happier, more slender future, I genuinely thought my days in the plus, plus, plus size department were over. I was smug. So more fool me. Because now I have to make the decision we all dread…

Do I get a grip, control my intake of food and literally work my fat arse off until I can go back to wearing clothes instead of soft furnishings?

OR

Do I just admit defeat and try to win at competitive eating instead?

Seriously – these are the only two options I have given myself. With some forethought I could have published my heavy eating more openly online and charged a fortune for men of a certain inclination to tell me to eat the whole Vienetta that I was going to eat anyway. I feel a little sorry for the men I have deprived of enjoying my journey to the heaviest I have ever been.

But moving onto the more serious viewpoint of my current wobbly stature. I have asked myself why. Do I eat because I am bored? Sad? Lonely? Could I have a medical condition that has put me here? Can I add up the expected weight gain from stopping smoking, medication, change of lifestyle and come up with the massive figure I see on the scales? No.

No. No. No. No.No. No. NO!

Excuse after excuse has got me here. I wasn’t this heavy when I was growing my heaviest child. I wasn’t this heavy when insignificant ex left. I certainly wasn’t this heavy when I first got heavy or any day since then.

I am the fattest – not biggest, I haven’t got taller – that I have ever been in my entire life. Ever.

And I am disgusted with myself.

However (and here’s my usual quandary, the twist that gives me the reason to blog in the first place) I don’t know how to get thinner. Sure I know the theory. Move more, eat less right? But I’ve never actually done it before.

When insignificant ex left he took 2 stone with him. This is brilliant weight loss because it’s pure girl power weight loss. This is Mother Nature looking out for her crew. Heartbreak is the most sure-fire way to drop pounds. Sisters are doing it for themselves? No. Mother Nature is doing it for us – sucking the extra fat right off us in order to help us find a new mate. It’s prehistoric but it’s awesome.

The story of my fat arse goes back to when I first moved in with insignificant ex. So many moon (pies) ago. It is the only subject of our destructive relationship where I feel genuinely sorry for him. I was a very healthy, fantastically well-shaped size 10/12 when we met. Within 6 months I was a size 18/20 and weighed around 4 stone more than the woman he had met.

Hey, Mother Nature works both ways you know!

I have, like most women, fluctuated over the years but I have not been anywhere near the size or weight that I still see myself as in dreams for almost 15 years. (I was skinny for longer than I’ve been fat – therefore I still dream skinny!)

I tried the 2 big group weight loss programmes. Lost a stone after my daughter was born with Weight Watchers. Put it back on. Lost 2 stone after my son was born with Slimming World. Put it back on. Then put some more on. And a little more. I was at my heaviest at that point when insignificant ex left. Lost 2 stone. Would love to say I did it through diet and exercise but I really didn’t. Like I said, Mother Nature. However, that bitch is yet to respond to my letters and explain why I’ve put not just that 2 stone back on but another bloody stone on top! I’m not eating any differently – seriously, I’ve always been able to pack it away. I don’t move less – I’m on my own with two kids now and still work so I’d say I move more. So why has she made me fatter?!

Okay, maybe I do eat a little more luxury food than I used to. Give me a break – takeaway once a week isn’t the end of the world when I just want to keep the kitchen clear for one bloody day. Maybe I do move  a bit less if I think about it. Afterall, I joined the gym. And I went like, three times. And I swam twice. (Not meant to be funny, those 5 visits were a big deal!)

I was trying to put it down to the fact that I cook from scratch significantly less now I’m of single mum status. But that’s only partially true. Today I baked – from scratch – 24 mince pies, 12 jam tarts, 6 salted caramel centre vanilla muffins, 6 plain vanilla muffins and 4 small cakes from the leftover batter for the children. Oh and there’s a chicken in the oven. This is turning rapidly into a new chapter of The Very Hungry Caterpillar…

At this strange juncture in my life I am genuinely concerned that I am becoming too fat to notice. There is a fuzzy place in our field of vision where the fat people live. We see the toned slender ones very clearly, lusting after their shape and energy. We also see the morbidly obese ones, thankful that we’re not them and can still see our own toes. And in the blindspot are the fat people. Those of us that are still mobile but not running. Not fat enough to stand out for the wrong reasons and not svelte enough to stand out for the right reasons. I am making peace with the fact that I will likely be a family of 3 for a while. But I would eventually like to add a new significant other to our overflowing dinner table. I do hope I can now come to terms with the fact that I must give away atleast 75% of all baked goods and cook for 3 people instead of 3 armies from this point forwards. Because I really don’t want to be too fat to notice forever.

I would just like to confirm for those that wonder or may be facing life as a reduced family in future, that it is often cheaper and always quicker to serve up processed goodies on a daily basis and call it cooking because I waited for the oven to heat up. But we can all cook from scratch on a daily basis and turn out cheap yet beautiful food. I know I can because I did it for years when insignificant ex was still significant. I don’t do it now because I simply don’t have time.

Just like exercise, cleaning the house and walking the dog. I am adamant that I just don’t have the time. I’m far too busy eating….
 

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“Until you acknowledge that depression is an illness, you will find it much harder than necessary to get better.”

These are the words told to me by many a caring professional lately. My depression has been likened to diabetes, cancer, broken bones and even the common cold. Comparisons that I am not comfortable with.

I have always been quick to scoff at those around me, apparently too depressed to function in a socially acceptable manner. A staunch supporter of the ‘suck it up’ and ‘get over it’ clubs.

And now here I am.

I have recently acknowledged that I may have been clinically depressed (rather than the flippant ‘God, I’m so depressed’ that most of us throw out there) for an awful lot longer than I care to admit. I have, at times, been unable to find the will, let alone the energy, to drag my sad carcass out of bed. I have gone longer than I will admit to in public, without showering or cleaning my teeth, choosing instead to hold myself together with dry shampoo and polos because turning the taps just seems too hard today. I have taken an inordinate amount of time off work, off friends, off family and, ultimately, off life. I’m not proud of myself but I have lied to people I love and people who have gone out of their way to show they care about me, just to avoid having to ‘people’. Not quite as innocent as a white lie for sure, but certainly no worse than beige when put into the bigger picture of terrible lies told in this world.

On my best, heavily medicated, less cloudy days, I have maintained the personality that people know me for. It is undoubtedly easier for me than some to appear ‘normal’ as I have never been considered a particularly sunny persona. Dry witted and sarcastic is often easier to fake than cheerful and polite, of that I have no doubt.

On my worst days? Well, these are the days I keep hidden. Tears shed alone, uncontrollable sadness over everything and nothing. Guilt, fear, paranoia, regret. Between the hours of 9am and 3pm I can’t even look at myself in a mirror on my worst days. I pull it together when the children come home, do the things a single mother must do and save the tears that are left for after bedtime. I try my hardest to let their smiles lift me back up. Sometimes they do. Sometimes just hearing my children play and giggle and be themselves is more than enough to make me shake myself back into the real world. But on a really bad day? Well, nothing can make that go away.

I carry a weighty guilt on my shoulders because I currently find it impossible to sympathise with other people. Given recent events we all are shockingly aware that things could undoubtedly be worse. That no matter how bad a day we’re having, there is and always will be, someone worse off. Not just internationally as we have all seen but also much closer to my own home and heart. To those friends who suffer right now with bigger problems and more ‘real’ issues than me, please believe me that I am truly sorry that I just cannot engage in you and seem to not care. It’s not intentional. In a way I am jealous that your problems are so much more real, more tangible, than mine. But I just don’t seem to be able to find my empathy right now.

So why, with all this in mind, do I still struggle to admit that I am actually ill? It is not my intention to belittle any form of mental illness or any person reading this who battles daily against their own uncooperative mind. We are all battling with our demons at different stages of our own journeys and I wish you good luck and strength to get through today. But I just can’t yet accept that I too am sick.

Illness to me is physical. It’s headaches and back pain, broken bones and rashes, colds and stomach bugs. It’s physical pain and physical symptoms. I suppose that I am, at my worst times, in genuine physical pain. Headaches that I cannot shake, feeling nauseous in social situations, panic attacks in the supermarket. And I do show physical symptoms; shaking hands, pale faced, lack of sleep evident in the way I drag myself through the school gates.

Yet I still don’t want to say ‘I’m ill’.

And it’s my refusal to acknowledge my depression as an illness that is often the only thing that keeps me going. I fear that giving in to the ‘illness’ of depression will give me free licence to completely hand myself over to it, to wallow in it and potentially lose myself completely. By admitting there is a genuine illness present I am opening a door that I have worked hard to nail tightly shut. Having spent so many years saying ‘I’m fine’ to convince myself more than anyone else, it’s a hard habit to break. Because I am not fine. Not even close.

I have taken the opportunity to embrace the facts when I have needed it the most and have come very close to saying ‘I’m not well’. I have sought help. Had conversations. Taken the lid off of various long-buried boxes. I have started to walk down a number of very difficult avenues in order to try and find the tunnel that will eventually lead me to the light. I don’t like it. It’s exhausting, this roller coaster of reliving my life in one sitting. I don’t like it.

For the first time in my life I have times where I am completely alone. Days where there is absolutely nobody present to hide myself from. It’s the onset of these lonely days that have brought out the very thing I have tried to hide for so long. My tiny demon has turned from minor and fleeting – late night worries, that are always gone by morning just because there was someone else present – to a huge cloud I carry constantly with me that only rarely let’s a slither of sunlight through.

Battling with me is not easy. Battling with myself is horrendous. Anyone who has had to do it in the past will agree that I rarely lose an argument. I am a ballsy, opinionated, honest woman who can always be counted on to hand out those bitter pills. I don’t wallow, I don’t enjoy self-pity, I don’t feel sorry for myself. But i am generous with my time, caring, concerned – a good friend. Friends I have gained in the more recent years will not know who I’m talking about. I’m sorry you never met her and you only know this version. Perhaps if I can complete this journey and find version 1.0 of myself again you won’t even recognise me!

But in the mean time just know that under the dark cloud I am still there. Fighting to make my way back into the sunlight every single day. Some days I fight harder than others. Some days I don’t fight at all.

I don’t ask that anyone be patient with me. I don’t ask for special privileges. Part of the reason I may push you away is so I don’t have to ask you to be gentle with me. Needing support does not sit well with me. So I will hide and cry rather than ask for your help. Not because I don’t love you. But because I don’t love me.

I am trying to accept the inevitable. In order to move forwards I must take what I consider to be a step backwards, and acknowledge that depression is an illness, I am depressed, therefore I am ill.

How will I work through all of the tangled knots in my mind? One at a time. Piece by piece and day by day I will conquer each demon until all that is left is me.

Penny version 1.0. No further updates required.

It’s been a while…

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Two years. It has been more than two whole years since I added anything. I am hanging my head in shame. Well, not really.

I’ve been busy! Not fun busy. Just busy.

Significant other has moved out and become insignificant ex. Squigglers are much less miniature – the girl being 7 and in Year 3 and the boy being nearly 5 and started in Reception (gut-wrenchingly hard to let him go!). I am clinically depressed and fighting to put my life back together.

Wow. That’s a cheerful entry back into the world if I ever saw one!

Most significantly, I no longer iron! The realisation that life is too bloody short to worry about creases, hit me the day insignificant ex left. Ironic, given the years of arguments about not having enough time to iron and how nobody ever helps with it!

I now spend my days not even putting the laundry away, let alone concerning myself with the suitability of appearances.

Please don’t misunderstand. My life is not falling apart. I have just reassessed.

It has taken me almost 18 months to realise that clean floors and flat clothes and shiny skirting boards are just not a priority. We’re never late for school, we always eat breakfast, lunch and dinner, we wear creased but never dirty clothes and we focus on our happiness. Me and my tiny team.

We all know children are resilient. When friends separate, go through divorce, become a split family; we all say the children will be fine. They will get used to it and they will cope. This is true. Complete and utter undeniable truth. However, in the build up to them being fine and getting used to it and learning to cope, it is really quite horrid for them. It would be easy for me to wallow daily in self-pity and depression. Stay in the pyjamas I’ve worn for 3 weeks and watch Netflix with the curtains closed. But there are two teeny tiny souls that look to me every single day. I am their benchmark for how to function in the world. I am their cleaner, their chef, ridder of monsters, storyteller, educator, their world. I am their mother. And the hardest thing any of us can ever do as mum, is watch our children learn to cope.

Insignificant ex and I have been separated for 18 months now. But in reality we have only been apart for the last 6 weeks. Up until this point we have, in no particular order, tried to be friends, tried to get back together – twice, seen other people (think that might just have been me though), spent time as a family, spent time apart with no contact and spent Christmas together. It has a been a very confusing and emotional time for all concerned. None more so than the children.

The desire of us as parents to keep our family together for the sake of our tiny people is at times overwhelming. We wanted so badly to paper over the cracks of our relationship to save them the pain of adjustment. Sadly, we have made the past 18 months much more difficult than it needed to be. Our attempts to ‘try’ have confused our children and on some days, left them reeling. Daughter has developed a deep sense of guilt surrounding us both and therefore retreats into herself if either parent is mentioned in front of the other. Son has neither the benefit of age nor understanding to really comprehend what has happened or express how he feels about it all, so he has become a boy that cries at the drop of a hat and constantly demands attention. We are working on these things. Daily assurance that it is okay to be whoever they need to be today. Endless hugs and encouragement and they are happy, underneath and above all the little adjustments they are making.

Neither of them are to blame for their bad days and they are very obviously the centre of my world, more beautiful and complex than they have ever been and I protect them fiercely as only a mother can. I defend my son’s outbursts and my daughters surliness with all my heart and soul. Because they are not to blame for the people they currently are. They are true products of their environment. An environment that I have created through wanting to preserve their family, all the time knowing I would eventually have to watch them adjust.

It would be easy to blame insignificant ex. And at times I have. More often than I care to mention. But decisions have been made and I am enforcing them now. My fear of letting go, although strong and often debilitating, is not enough to hide the pain my children feel when they see their parents unhappy. Letting go has become my main goal in life. Not just where insignificant ex is concerned but letting go of all that affects my ability to be two whole parents now instead of just one half-hearted mum.

Insignificant ex is still very significant to our children. They still see him, sleep at his house every other weekend and enjoy their time with him. He is a good father and he will always be their daddy. His presence in their life is not something I will ever have to doubt. But in between their visits we have life. School work, swimming lessons, responsibilities. I am the enforcer of life’s rules. Day after day I patiently explain why vegetables are important. I am the full time parent that introduces new food every week and encourages the tiniest of tastes. I oversee the war that is bedroom tidying and if they are sick it is me that takes time off work to care for them. They are everything to me. And the guilt I feel for not realising that when we were a family at full capacity, is sometimes overwhelming.

Being a single parent is hard (understatement of the century). I have never doubted it and I am now living it. The departure of insignificant ex was always a hurdle I would eventually conquer. We all know full well that nobody dies from a broken heart (apologies to those with any kind of congenital heart disease, but you know what I mean!) and from the moment life became 3 instead of 4, I started work on removing him bit by bit from my heart. Every part of my love for him that I removed was replaced with my children. Every thought of him that I let go of became thoughts of my children. Every inch of space in my house that I erased him from, became filled with my children. I have always loved my children. Completely and utterly. But I never understood how much more I had to give them. I believe that our capacity to love is endless. There is room in our hearts for an infinite number of people. But the removal of the most significant adult in my life for many, many years showed me how consuming it is to have to consider another persons feelings. I know this is standard practice for people in relationships and I’m not suggesting those unbroken families love their children less! But when the unit is whole, the love is shared between two parents. There is someone else there to pick up the slack and deal with atleast half the hugs. To intervene when you question yourself and your parenting ability. To field the questions on life, love and biscuits that children are constantly learning about. There is somebody else there when you simply don’t have time to be everything to them.

When insignificant ex left I believed with every fibre of my being that I would not cope as a single parent. The mere thought of being on my own and dealing with everything life throws at you independently was terrifying. Nightmare inducing, stomach churning fear. I was not going to cope.

And then I did. All of a sudden I found myself more capable than I dreamed I could be. Skills and knowledge that I thought I had lost came flooding back when there was nobody there to do it for me. I quickly worked out that finances are so much simpler when there is only one adult to account for. No furniture is so heavy that it cannot be moved alone if empty. And anyone can hang a picture. I can’t use a drill and that bothers me. But I will learn.

And in the process of freeing my own self-awareness, I am teaching my daughter to be capable and my son to be respectful. The capacity in my own heart for those two tiny souls is endless and vast and I had no idea. I love them more every single time I lay my eyes on them, even when they won’t put their shoes on and they drive me to tears. I love every version of them but most of all I love the part of them that loves me back. Unconditionally, deeply and intensely. I love the part of them that knows I am only human and is absolutely at peace with me doing my very best, even when it doesn’t always seem good enough.

We are a team. The three of us. And we are as strong as any unbroken family. Because they are not broken. They are still the same beautiful souls they have always been. They just split their time. They have two Christmases. And two sets of birthday presents. And two extended families.

For the first time in my long relationship with their father, they are getting the absolute best of everyone around them. They have someone in their life in all corners of the country that all bring something different to their table. They are loved. They are not and never will be, used as pawns between their parents. They are adjusting. They are learning to cope. And most of all they are happy.

Lazy Days and Ice Creams

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For the first time since being a school child I find myself NOT wishing the summer holidays to be over. This is new.

Between the end of my own education and having children I have always longed for the end of the summer holidays. Don’t get me wrong, I always wished I could have 6 weeks off from whatever I was doing but the summer holidays are actually a right pain in the arse when it’s not ‘your’ summer holidays.

Going away costs a bloody fortune, everywhere’s packed to the rafters with kids and parents, the roads are busy and those not working through them always look smug or exhausted.

When we first moved to our current house I especially hated the summer holidays because of the bell ringers. I took the battery out of the doorbell about 3 weeks after moving in here and 6 years later it has never been replaced. I will never forget the sight of significant other frozen in a racing start pose by the front door while he waited for the local teens to ring the doorbell and leg it at midnight or the funniest option – post a frog through the letterbox! He caught them once and I ask no questions about what went down because it stopped for about 2 years after that.

The summer holidays, like time in general, seemed to go on forever when I was partaking in them. Long lazy days at the park, building dens in the wood, exploring along the canal and later on going to town with friends, swimming at the outdoor pool and getting in all kinds of trouble that we hoped our parents would never discover. Hazy memories of first kisses and first other things, sunny days (I have no recollection of it ever raining for more than 5 minutes when I was on holiday) and the firm belief that the ice cream man would be driving past any minute.

Today, he drove past my house and the sheer excitement oozing from my children transported me back to my youth and the simple pleasures I enjoyed just by being off school in the sunshine. I know our weather’s not much cop these days and as adults we only ever seem to remember the rainy days but it fills me with sentiment when I see my own squigglers running naked round the garden with water pistols and I know these are the moments they will carry with them.

They will remember the hours spent on the swing, the days sat shrivelling and shivering in the ice cold paddling pool. Trips to feed the ducks, play in the park and friends coming to visit.

It warms me to realise that they won’t remember the days where I say no. No I won’t play, no you can’t have another biscuit, no we’re not going anywhere today. My half hearted parenting is not what will stay with them but my ice cream van treats and giving in to 5 year old’s daily request for takeaway once a week will. They will remember being let loose with a box of chalks and drawing on anything that didn’t fly away in the garden. They will remember our holidays and they will remember sleepover’s at Nanny’s house. They will remember with the same fondness I have for my own youth, how long the summer holidays lasted. And as they get older and freer, they will make their own different yet scarily similar memories to mine about friends, adventures, mishaps and not getting caught.

Now I am working again and enjoying all the perks of a term-time only contract I can once again appreciate the simple joy of 6 weeks off. Yes I still have the children to look after so there’s no chance of recapturing my own youth. But I do now have the chance to see friends, spend time with family and enjoy the squigglers and all their random questions.

I still don’t like the overrun play structures, the gangs of parents at the park or the ridiculous amount of traffic. I miss being able to take preschoolers out and be one of only a handful of people at the beach, the farm, even soft play hell. The swimming pool resembles an overcrowded fish tank on a rainy day and the farms are filled with clearly traumatised animals desperate to attack at the first sign of an open gate.

Our summer holidays are 3 weeks in and it has taken until now for my daughter to start resembling herself again rather than a hormone-fuelled miniature teenager and it has also taken this long for my son to stop trying to kill his sister just because she’s here all day. And to be honest its taken this long for me to find my groove as this morning was the first time in the summer holidays that I have taken the hoover out of the cupboard and used it instead of just moving it from room to room with good intentions.

But I work in a school now. So no matter how much you hate me for it I’m allowed 6 weeks off. And I plan to make every single day last as long as it did in my youth when time moved slower, the days were sunnier and everything was simple. The squigglers are tiring, hard work, whiny and annoying on some days and on others they are happy, playful, able to entertain themselves and eachother and generally lovely to be around.

And you’ll know when its a good day because I’ll be looking all smug.

Hey Hey I Wanna be a Rockstar!

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Ever noticed the transformation of an ugly person into something quite beautiful if they can sing?

What I would give to be able to sing. Obviously, like all tone-deaf people, I think I can sing. And 5 year old loves a singalong with mummy but even through the haze of motherly love I know she inherited my voice. 2 year old shushes us every time we so much as start humming so maybe he’ll be a better singer or the next Simon Cowell? But oh how I would love to be tuneful and immediately attractive regardless of weight, attire or complete disregard for personal hygiene. Wouldn’t life be so much simpler if all we had to do was a rendition of ‘I Will Always Love You’ to make friends and influence people.

I have developed quite an affection for Robin Thicke of late. Not bad to look at by any means in normal life but to be honest, not really up my street on an average day.
However, standing against the wall with a number of semi-naked women prancing round him while he stares on in the most chauvinistic, derogatory way that I have witnessed since Freddie Starr was allowed on TV has become quite appealing.
The video is degrading without a doubt and I’m no feminist but even hubby got bored halfway through and that never happens when boob is on show! I’m talking ofcourse about the uncut version – the one I had to wait till the kids had gone to bed before I said to significant other “Have you seen this? They’re all bloody starkers!” (Testament that I’m getting old and prudish and should stick to Radio 2 and knitting.)
But despite all this that man becomes incredibly attractive when the music starts.

Now like I said, he’s not exactly hideous when not singing so maybe a better example would be my favourite X-Factor winner to date – James Arthur. Incredibly talented, can’t wait for his album, a worthy winner indeed. But if there was ever a solid case for supplying paper bags to people in order to not offend the eyes of an average looking population then he is front and centre. Now I know there is an element of professional help involved with this particular young man. A well fitted suit, decent haircut and the removal of what are now trendy glasses but I will always see as ‘crappy NHS’ frames, can take someone a certain distance but it cannot actually erase someone’s face. But my goodness, isn’t he just a chameleon and a half because when he starts growling his way through ‘Impossible’ I see him completely differently. To the point that if I really had to… Yeah, I would!

So many singers over the years have been revered by men and women alike for the person they are on our stages and screens but let’s be honest – there are so very many of them that you would cross the street to avoid if they stopped singing.

Rob Thomas sang with Carlos Santana some years ago – ‘Smooth’, one of my favourites. Now there is a man that actually became even less attractive while he was singing – the faces he pulled were so similar to both the squigglers as babies when filling their nappies that I can only assume he was in deep pain through the entire video. And purely because he was singing (to me, obviously) I wanted to get on a plane and chase that man around the world!

And here’s one that will firmly cement your image of me as a sicko – Richard O’Brien. You know him – bald, hyperactive host of the Crystal Maze in the early 90’s. Yep, that’s the one. Yes, I do mean him. Cult film fans will remember him fondly from The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
Now a quick explanation of my history with this film. I was 12 years old, on holiday at a woodland resort in Sherwood Forest. I was allowed to stay up late. Mum and dad were doing whatever my mum and dad used to do at night (certainly not that thank you very much!) and I took ownership of the TV remote. Flicking through all 4 channels repeatedly I stopped aghast at the sight of what I thought at the time was an ugly woman in a basque. (I later realised this was infact Tim Curry but not until I saw him in another film and told my dad he looks just like the woman from Rocky Horror. That was a lesson in the modern wonders of gender I wouldn’t soon forget!) Now if I had not missed the start I would never have watched it but as it was I tuned in just as they started… doing the time warp! Awesome! And so began my odd, pre-teen love affair with what is still one of the weirdest films I have ever seen.

Back to Richard O’Brien. When I was MUCH older – well into my 20’s infact – my mum got me Rocky Horror on DVD. Now I hadn’t watched it for years, not surprisingly its not shown very often on tele these days. So I was quite excited to see it again given that I was fairly sure I still knew all the words and dance moves! And there it was. Near the end. Richard O’Brien has taken control and is telling Tim Curry in no uncertain terms that they will return to Transylvania through the medium of song. He really belts out one line and for just one second he becomes scarily attractive.

Don’t judge me.

But I’m sure we’ve all got our own ‘singing pretty’ list. Maybe not as ‘diverse’ as mine but what kind of world would we live in if everyone thought Richard O’Brien had potential?

Soft play hell

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Since starting school last year, 5 year old has been invited to and attended around 20 birthday parties. 2 thirds of these have taken place in the venue I will end up in if I don’t become a better person before my life is over. I talk ofcourse about the living hell that is soft play structures.
I am not a slender woman. I am not a healthy, energetic, fit woman. The very idea of having to fight my way up foam steps, through rollers designed for tiny people, down tube slides that don’t look big enough for my thighs let alone any other part of me and into a ball pool filled with goodness knows what bodily fluids terrifies me intensely.
But eventually you have to join in. I cannot, in all good conscience, forever ignore the last line of the invite. You know the bit, that subtle yet clearly desperate plea from the birthday child’s parent that says ‘parents are welcome to stay and accompany their child’. First degree blackmail if you ask me.
I have avoided this for the last year quite skillfully. 5 year old often goes with friends and one of their parents. On a few occasions, significant other has taken both the squigglers in order for 2 year old to run off some steam and take his aggression out on new children while hubby can appear the dutiful parent by attending.
Finally I have succumbed and, quite frankly, my regret was palpable from the moment I walked in.
Having started my new job I have very much missed my girl-friends. My ladies who lunch with children and my only line of sanity in a world of children’s tv and nappy changes. My other competitive non-doer mums who have become my oasis in the desert.
So under the guise of catching up over coffee, I finally surrendered to the party invite on the understanding that 5 year old would find the party host if she needed anything and not bother me!
Now this particular friend – I’m going to refer to her as ‘the cleaner’ from here on in for ease – is a much more sociable creature than I could ever hope to be. She’s a midday supervisor (dinner lady to you and I) afterall so automatically has a link to the other parents as she is considered to have inside information on our children. So while the cleaner networks I am forced to start a new blog because interacting with strangers is just not my thing!
And given the strangers that are here it’s no surprise. Now bear in mind that there are women here that I ‘know’ in so much as I have witnessed them on the playground or we have a mutual friend somewhere along the line. We are on shy smile terms at best, a cold nod at worst.
I am happy to observe these mums from a distance but there are 3 in particular who I could say hello to but instead I would rather blog about them anonymously! (Is it any wonder my circle of friends is so small?!)
First there’s super aggressive mum. We spoke briefly at the beginning of the school year and she seemed quite annoyed that I did not agree with her when she said the reception classes really should ‘get their arses in gear because we haven’t got all bloody day to stand around waiting’. She was quite adamant that our shared reception teacher should actually start getting them ready to leave immediately after lunch so she didn’t have to wait. Don’t get me wrong, I’m no easy-going Earth Mother and I did notice very early on that our classroom always seems to be the last door to open but this is because it’s a class full of children like mine that can’t possibly get their coat on now because they’ve seen a rather pretty light on the wall and it needs to be inspected.
There is something about this particular mum that makes me think she is ready to start punching at all times so I have always been polite and generous with my playground smiles but, right or wrong, I do avoid her!
Next to her, rather unfortunately, is meek and mild mum. I have actually tried to start conversations with this mum which is very unlike me but she always looks so very sad. One quiet day in the playground she was particularly watery-eyed and even my own meagre maternal instinct can’t ignore a crying woman so I used chasing my son as a good way to stop when I passed her. Now, the cleaner would probably have had the sense and confidence to go up to her and say ‘are you okay?’ you know, the sensible thing to do. I on the other hand am not used to talking to strangers so all I managed was eye contact, a pitying smile and the words ‘has someone died’. She looked at me like I’d just escaped, gave me a very nervous giggle and turned away. We have not spoken since but equally I haven’t seen her speaking to anyone else either so I think I’m in the clear. She now sits shaking next to aggressive mum, teary eyed and ready to run every time there’s a loud noise.
Mum number 3 in the close by group is part of what I refer to as the ‘beautiful family’. She is gut wrenchingly pretty, always impeccably dressed and made-up and perpetually serene. Her husband is painfully handsome and I often find myself staring at him open mouthed – very embarrassing at my age. She has 2 sons – the youngest is in 5 year old’s class and by all accounts is the Hugh Hefner of reception children. His older brother has moved on to become a very popular child and always looks like he’s just been snogging someone. You just know that these children will continue to grow in popularity and you can’t even console yourself with the possibility of them being ugly teenagers when you look at their parents. They are also very rich. Not that I’m bitter…
Now the cleaner chastised me severely at the end of soft play hell when she found out that I do already know beautiful mum but have made no effort to become friends with her. She is infact a lovely, down to earth woman who I have had encounters with many times over the last few years. I have no problem with her and she is always very friendly when I see her, no reason infact not to get to know her better and make a new friend. Except, as I explained to the cleaner, I do not make a habit of pursuing friendships with people when I know I cannot maintain my own standards to match theirs. My current circle of friends fully expect to see me in clothes I have pulled from the bottom of the washing basket, wearing no make-up, hair scraped back and angry face firmly fixed. They also know we are usually skint and I feel no pressure to pretend otherwise. The cleaner was not impressed and I know why. She is a woman that has enough confidence to carry herself among any group of people. She has the Essex attitude down to a tee which not only makes her approachable but makes it seem easy for her to approach others. But anyway, my life is such that I am only just acclimatising to having friends as an adult and I do not need the complication of friends that I feel inferior to.
That said, the cleaner, the beautiful mum and the unsociable blogger did all have coffee together after the party for a couple of hours and it was very nice so we’ll see if polite smiles become chatter in September when we return to the school run.
My other observations of soft play hell consist of militant lunch supervision and the cling on 8 year old.
At a 5 year old’s birthday party is it acceptable to bring your 8 year old with you? Usually I would say yes but in the case of this particular 8 year old the answer is definitely no. Now, I may be on my own in admitting this but I know I’m not alone in the concept. There are some children in this world that I just don’t like. Some of them I have come to dislike over time as I’ve gotten to know them, others I take an instant dislike to and this girl is sadly one of them. Now I’m all for making allowances when it comes to upbringing, issues and lack of parenting but I can’t help myself from sometimes meeting a child and thinking ‘I’m glad you’re not one of mine’. She took to carrying my daughter around like a baby shortly after we arrived which did not go down well and she also spent quite some time sitting with us asking when she could sing justin beiber – when soft play hell freezes over was my reaction to that. I’m sure in her own way she is a sweet child that struggles to makes friends and will eventually come into herself and find a way of being less annoying. However, after firmly planting herself at the head of the party table and loudly declaring how much she wished she was allowed party food too because she’s oh so hungry while her father took a not so subtle step back, my opinion was set.
Which brings me neatly to lunch and my final point. If you ever subject yourself to a party at soft play hell in the future then you will see this for yourself.
After pointing 5 year old in the direction of the table, making sure she had a drink and enough junk food to make her morbidly obese I sat back down a safe distance away from the party. And then I saw it. Apparently I have the only child in Suffolk that can eat unsupervised. Every parent there stationed themselves firmly behind their child like an army General and did not abandon their post until long after the yoghurts were gone. A military line of arm-crossed, fixed stare parents, watching over their child to ensure what exactly? That the child next to them didn’t spit in their squash? So they didn’t have to reach out and pick a single item of food out for themselves? Or perhaps it is a new competition that I was unaware of? Your child ate 15 chicken nuggets but mine ate only cucumber and dust. Your child is probably hyperactive due to the 4 cups of sugary lemonade consumed whereas mine is centred and calm due to all the chamomile tea? Can their children really not be trusted to eat alone or is it that these parents are laying claim to their children to make it apparent they attended the party. I now fear that only the cleaner and the beautiful mum know that I was a party parent and the rest of the crowd may believe me to be some weirdo who sidled her way into a 5 year old’s birthday just to sit and watch.
The answer is clear. I must either be more involved and interactive at the next one, socialise, network, play and supervise lunch like a bodyguard OR stay home and send 5 year old with a friend. It’s a tough one.

Guilty much girls?

Featured

I have discovered something. Nothing shocking, life-changing or even that interesting but it is still a discovery. Since deciding to write a blog I did a few quick googles like you do to see what was about and decide what direction my own rant should take.
Now my major discovery was of the sheer volume of mum-written blogs available to the world. Women just like me – unfulfilled, tired of cbeebies, looking for a creative outlet so our brains don’t shrivel up and die.
Now this is not an attempt to make you read my blog over anyone else’s – I imagine this shall become lost to the back pages of google within a few days and I am genuinely fine with that. Writing it is making me feel better and that was the whole point. No, there is actually quite an important point coming – trust me.
So I’ve found all these thousands of mum-blogs, some are clearly more read and successful than others and some, just like mine, are purely an outlet for the one woman writing it. But they mostly seem to follow a similar theme. Honesty about parenting.
A lot of these blogs have struck me as a way to tell the world that none of us mums are perfect. We all shout, we all (however briefly) consider packing a bag and walking out the door, most of us have been known to hide in another room with a strong drink and it doesn’t seem any of us are abusing our children, hindering their chances in later life or scarring them for eternity when we walk off mumbling something about getting on our last nerve.
Some bloggers paper over what I consider to be normal parenting with humour and others turn their last line of text over to an apology and a guilt ridden statement of how much they love their children. (I am clearly setting myself up as paper over the cracks with a joke kind of blogger – bloody kids, ha ha)
Now my question is this. With so many honest accounts of parenting, the straight from the horses mouth point of view on the struggles we all go through and the complete concrete back-up that these blogs can give us, why then do we still feel the need to carry that tonne of guilt around with us? Why do we question our every move with our children no matter how many people tell us they do the same half-parenting?
It is because there are actually only 2 types of mum and because I can’t be the only one that has noticed this, I am going to try to help us all let go of the guilt.
Type 1 is competitive do-er – they are (on the surface) by the book parents. They’ll tell you they don’t shout, their house is always clean, their children eat everything offered to them and they appear to live in a perpetual state of mania, always looking like they’re about to either burst into tears or laugh hysterically too close to your face. Type 1 mother is competitive about how much they do with their children. Toddler groups, reading books, activities and amount of quality time spent together.
Type 2 is competitive also but in complete reverse. I am a type 2 mum. I discuss at length with other type 2’s how little I do with my children. We compete about who has been to the least amount of structured activity, who hates toddler groups the most, who has the messiest house and so on. Type 2 mums rarely look polished so when we do make a touch of effort it is noticed by all – trust me, it was quite the playground frenzy last month when I put on some mascara and brushed my hair. As a long-standing member of the Type 2 brigade and being related to many in the Type 1 group I can tell you one thing for sure.
My God do we feel guilty. All of us. Every single one, without exception. We ALL feel guilty about something.
I blame society. I blame Type 1’s and Type 2’s. When I was pregnant with daughter I foolishly believed I would enter into a secret sisterhood of fellow mums. A circle of trust where no-one judged each other because we were all knackered and we were all mothers and we were all women. Battling against the men of the world who could never understand the physical and emotional change we have gone through. Standing up to our childless friends with all their free-time and disposable income.
Well ha bloody ha to that.
Women are bad enough for judging but mums are like the devil – judging not only you but your relationship with husband and children, your appearance, your lifestyle choices and all neatly justified by the mother tag we carry. I know it happens because I do it myself.
And I feel bad for it.
At least I do now that I’ve admitted it.
Now this bits important so sit up straight – you are NOT bordering between type 1 and type 2. You may think you are but please read on. If you think you’re both, then you’re type 2. If you disagree so strongly with that statement that you’re puffing out your cheeks and going a little bit red then you’re also a type 2 and that’s the real kicker and the wonderful twist to my story.
We are ALL type 2. To one degree or another we all wish our children would leave us alone, be it for 5 minutes or 16 years. We all have a dirty bit in our house – if you’re like me its in every room but if you’re trying so hard to be seen as type 1 then its probably the cupboard under your stairs or some other hidden place. And nobody enjoys toddler group, crafts that we spend 3 hours clearing up for the sake of 10 minutes activity or having the same conversation about why vegetables are good for you over and over and over again.
Its time to stop thinking we’re different to other mums because of what we do or don’t do in our homes, with our children, at our work. We are all mums, we are all women and therefore we should all try and point the finger at each other a little bit less and look to the root of what has made us so competitive in one form or another.
Some believe the answer lies with the men in our lives and the men all around us. Living up to our husbands imaginary standards because we feel ‘less’ since we had children. Rebelling against our husbands because we feel done over in the groundhog day ritual of housewifery. And for those single mums out there, do you secretly feel like you’re trying too hard in order to become a non-single? We all, with or without partner, puff up our feathers a little when we see a fit bloke, don’t we?
Well here’s the thing. We can easily blame our hapless men because let’s be fair – they’re not going to argue with the crazy woman in front of them. Its an easy pill to swallow for us mums when we lay the blame for our ruined bodies and dirty houses on the men around us.
But the actual problem is us. The sisterhood of mums that exists only to male us feel inferior. If we could only band together and be as honest as the thousands of blogs tell us we can be then perhaps we would all be a little more comfortable with ourselves and a little more forgiving of each other?

It’s life but not as we know it

So, life has changed for me and my little family.

Before 5 year old was born, significant other and I made the decision that one of us would always be home with our children. That is to say, if we both wanted to work then it would not overlap. We have always believed that people these days are too quick to hand their children over to secondary carers. With an adjustment to your standard of living then it is completely possible to grow up like me and many other 80’s children who had a parent at home at all times. Yes, yes we all want to provide the best in life for our kids but the reality is that we are entrusting our children’s formative years to people who are often total strangers and, let’s be honest, could be teaching them anything. Don’t get me wrong – my friend whose daughter was in full time childcare almost from birth hasn’t, I’m sure, been encouraged to chew tobacco or pick pockets but does she know for absolute certainty that the people in charge of her care were interacting with her and developing her social skills or were they drinking coffee and catching up on their weekends? (Quite like me and said friend do now infact while the children entertain themselves. Which doesn’t count in this context ofcourse because we’re the actual mothers and therefore our own level of neglect is negligible!) Anyway my point is that hubby and I made a decision that we hoped would benefit our children emotionally whilst we worked around the financial consequences.

So having made the decision it was agreed that I would return to work (being the main earner at the time) and hubby would stay home with daughter. When I gave up work at the 18 month milestone in daughter’s life, hubby went back to work. Now we always knew that if we were to both be employed whilst still standing by our plans then I would need to find part-time work to fit his hours.

Well isn’t that bloody well easier said than done! I am shocked and frankly quite appalled at how hard it is to get not only a part time job but a part time job in a supermarket. We all have to endure the weekly food shop and even with the joys of online shopping, at some point we all run out of milk and have to pop in for emergency supplies. Correct me if I’m wrong but there are some total f*****g morons working in supermarkets these days. People far less approachable than sewer rats or pox ridden children. Men and women who are surly, rude, incompetent and frankly not fit to be in public service. So why, oh why, did it take me almost 4 years to get a job with these total f***wits? Please don’t be offended fellow supermarket workers. There is a large and unseen section of you that are massively overqualified for the job you’re doing. You know who you are because you ask yourself daily ‘why am I the only one doing any work?’ I do know why it took so long for me to be honest. I wasn’t wearing the right frame of mind to begin with. I underestimated the importance of pretending I am someone else. The raw truth is that I am surly, rude, often incompetent and not fit to be in public service but with the right frame of mind I transformed myself. My application form was a testament to every hint of customer service I had ever forced on to the people around me. My previous 5 years in HR became the most fantastical customer service role you had ever known – my brief encounters with staff (and they were very brief given that I worked in a poultry processing plant and everyone smelt kinda funky) turned into my aiding of their progress and career development in a friendly and calm way that is a skill you cannot learn in my opinion. I shit you not – these are things I actually said in my interview. Also don’t mistake my expansion on experience as lies. I never lied, I merely focussed on the smallest detail in order to impress. But I digress. Eventually, after years of applications and ‘thanks, but no thanks’ letters I finally managed to step into the world of the unappreciated retail worker. My first 6 weeks were fun. My last 6 months were not. I realised very quickly that I needed more and I also realised that ‘family-friendly’ and ‘work-life balance’ are phrases used only in interviews – so I wasn’t the only one in the room that expanded on the truth!

Back to the whole point of this blog entry – despite ending up in retail I had also been applying for many years to school admin departments. Not just because I had failed dreams of becoming a teacher but come on parents – who doesn’t want to work in a school? No childcare issues during the holidays, no childcare issues outside of school hours, 6 weeks off in the summer – yay! And finally, after eventually accepting that getting a job in a school with no school experience just wasn’t going to happen… I’ve only gone and got a job in a bloody school! Handing in my notice to my former employer felt incredibly freeing and made me realise how unfulfilled I have been for so very many years now.

(A quick sidenote. I know some of my former colleagues and also a very good friend from another retail outlet will read this. The moron comment is not aimed at you!)

So now all that’s left to do is to deal with the slight niggling guilt I feel about arranging childcare for the 2 year old monster for a few months. So much time was devoted to his sister – from both her parents – that I do feel I am giving in by backtracking on my own deal. However, I am also so pleased to be using the independent person side of my brain again instead of just the mum side that I am pushing the guilt aside. Plus, he doesn’t listen to a word I say so maybe someone else’s tone is on a level he can hear?

The time has come to reclaim our life and blimey – its all a bit exciting!