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Monthly Archives: February 2012

Closely following the hymns for the Royal Wedding

Bringing up children is accompanied by non-ceasing ‘music’. Buy two children, get the soundtrack free! Some of it is actual music with notes and a beat, some of it is pure, unadulterated noise. In my case, quite a lot of it is homemade music coming out of my mouth. Then of course there are the sounds that come out of different body parts…described nonsensically as a ‘toot from your boot’ in our house, or sometimes, when in an exotic mood, ‘tooti frooti from your booty’, which is a little more accurate.

This seven year soundtrack began with serenading bump number one with Mozart sonatas. The bump was unfussed about Mozart, seeming to prefer total silence, ie, when we were tucked up in bed, at which point bump had a riotous, underwater disco. Bump number two did not get the luxury of having in-utero concerts, but had to make do with endlessly repeating nursery rhymes on a loop.

The bumps then arrived and, moments after taking in their first lungful of air, they let it all out again in ear-splitting, indignant squawks. ‘Where am I?’ they were complaining, and ‘Who turned all the lights on?’ and ‘Put me back in my comforting little pool-world where all I had to do was suck my thumb and dance, while everything else was done for me, including breathing, eating and pooing.’ Pre-children, the cries of newborn babies (often heard at the checkout) triggered the general thought, ‘That mother really ought to do something about that extremely loud, irritating sound, which she is thoughtlessly inflicting on me.’ The cries of my own newborn child (often heard at the checkout, all day, and all through the night too) triggered the thought, ‘My baby is in perilous need and unless I comfort them now, they will be scarred for life.’ That urgent newborn sound had the uncanny ability to tear through my carefully cultivated ‘art of sleeping through anything’, including whole pre-dawn conversations with my mother, and would rip me out of bed before I even knew I was awake.

The efficient night-long alarm call began to get less frequent, and at four months old my little fat son sang me the most beautiful song a mother can hear: he laughed. Just when I thought I couldn’t give any more, just when I thought being awake all night was a pretty raw deal, I squished his fat little thigh and he let out a pure little gurgle of joy. My daughter didn’t wait as long to reward me with her happy trills, I just to lean over her and go, ‘Baaaah’ and she’d let rip from about three months old. Of course, she also had her big brother to amuse her, which he did. One of his tricks was to grab both her ears and jiggle up and down saying, ‘Mus Tus! Mus Tus!’ This was comedy gold to Roseanna.

Next came quite a few years of ‘singalong’ sessions. Other babies and toddlers seemed to actively enjoy these sessions, bleating along, or doing all the twinkly hand gestures, or lying, with their faces happily pressed into another child’s shoe for Sleeping Bunnies. My two would sing at home, but as soon as we were out and about would just retreat to Mummy’s lap and stare aghast at all this public, moronic behaviour. Feeling a little embarrassed by this glum response I would then try to compensate by being triply eager, singing with gay abandon and hammily acting out all the actions. By the time my kids went to school and nursery I could have won a Grammy for those nursery rhyme performances.

Now, joy rapture, we have ‘normal’ music in the car on long journeys. We all sing along to a random selection of The Beatles, Crowded House, Michael Jackson, Disney showtunes and so on. One of my top musical moments in recent times was driving through the majesty of Glencoe, light bouncing off the mists in the distance, and all of us singing, at the very top of our lungs, ‘I want it that way’ by the Backstreet Boys. Oh yes, I do want it this way, forever please.

Daddy does his bit

Days in the life of a mother at home is of course only half the story of family life.  The other half is days in the life of a father at work.  But let’s begin at the very beginning – it’s a very good place to start.  Well, actually the very beginning is perhaps a little too steamy for this blog, but let’s fast forward to Day 2 in the life of Bean Number One.

Picture the scene:  A young woman sits on a nursing chair, the very chair her grandmother nursed her mother on, except there is not very much actual nursing going on.   Having been through one of the hardest physical experiences known to human beings, she is now expected to keep the end result of her herculean labours alive…with her boobs.  These boobs have, up until 48 hours ago, had nothing like this level of responsibility resting on them.  They have gone through the smartie stage, been put in a first bra, been admired from both far off and close quarters, but mainly their role has been a passive one.  But now the young woman needs her boobs to work, because at that very moment she is looking at a little face that is so exquisite, so perfect, that it pains her with its beauty.  And her heart is vowing over and over again, that she will keep this little life alive, WHATEVER IT TAKES.

So now we cut to another figure.  An heroic one, whose heart is also raw with love.  He has valiantly rushed out at some ungodly hour, on a quest for a steriliser.  He returns, triumphant, holding aloft his prize, only to find that somehow boobs and baby have made friends and, for now, the primal panic has been held at bay.  But this does not mean his task has been in vain, because, by rushing out to provide for the immediate needs of his wife and child, he has also demonstrated that he will also do WHATEVER IT TAKES for his family.

So, at the very beginning of the story, both my husband and I, in our different ways, made that extreme, subconscious vow that all parents make to their children.  From this point on, our roles as mother and father are exactly equal, because we have exactly the same amount invested in this little family of ours: everything.

So here’s where all the guff about working mothers, mothers at home, fathers at home, part time mothers, three-quarter time grandparents etc gets all silly. Underneath all the superfluous details about where we are when, all parents are simply trying to act out the equation:

Enough Money + Enough Care = Happy Children

In our family unit, it has panned out that my husband is the one going out the front door every day to bring home ‘Enough Money’, and it just so happens that I am the one providing ‘Enough Care’, but of course, getting that balance right is a process of trial and error, and in the capitalist society that we live in, perhaps a little too much emphasis is placed on the first half of the equation, while the second half can be left a little too much to chance – and Cbeebies.

Mummy loves mopping in her high heels

When I was doing my MA in ‘Camp Frolicking’ at the Central School of Speech and Drama, I was cast as the housewife in the musical ‘Working’. The lyrics to that hateful song have haunted me ever since:

‘All I am is just a housewife, Nothing special, nothing great. What I do is kinda boring, If you’d rather, it can wait. All I am is someone’s mother, All I am is someone’s wife, All of which seems unimportant, All it is, is – Just my life…’

I was determined that I would never feel like that, that my answer to the question, ‘So what do you do?’ would never be, ‘I’m just a housewife’. I was determined that whatever I chose to do, it would be important.

However, there is an element of truth to these lyrics. Aspects of the job of being a mother are insanely boring and repetitive. So far this morning, I have: hung the children’s school uniforms on the radiator, then taken them back off the radiator and put them on my children who are old enough to do it themselves, cleared away the breakfast, got the wash from last night out of the tumble dryer, put another wash on, and made two healthy, fresh, packed lunches, most of which will return home at the end of the day, slightly chewed and spat on. This is a small percentage of the jobs that have to be done every single day of the week, apart from weekends, which have their own set of tasks.

My husband is a very good, kind man, and does his fair share of the tasks when he’s around. But he really isn’t around that much. As far as he’s concerned the single, most difficult, household chore of the day is washing up after the supper that I’ve made for us. He does this massively arduous chore most evenings, and so leaves me to float around all day, doing practically nothing around the house. NOT.

Then, there is the added dimension of competitive housework. All women do this. When first going to someone’s house, you subtly check out their level of ‘acceptable cleanliness’. Once clocked, you then know how clean and tidy your house has to be if and when they come round to yours. In the past I have made joking references to my floor only being cleaned if my daughter happens to wee on it (fairly often actually) and instead of understanding chuckles, have received only horrified stares…

But the truth of the matter is, I’m not a housewife. I love my house and do my best to make it a home, but I married my husband, not a three-bed, end of terrace. The important thing is the people that are in it. And these important people include ME. I am also important, and if I spend all my free time chasing my tail, doing the endless jobs that being a homeowner requires, I would begin to feel, well, a little less like a wife, mother and woman, and a little more like a slave. If and when I do get round to dusting the tops of things, it will be a cause for celebration, and we will re-name the day ‘Clean tops-of-things Day!’ But, up till then, I would much rather sing Noel Coward songs and make myself cry/ help my son make green, sugar-crystals/ randomly decide to move all the furniture in the sitting room, and declare it ‘much better’.

So, is my life unimportant? My family certainly don’t think so. Or at least I hope not.