Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Time and tide wait for no man

Children have a way of cutting you down to size. There was the time Youngest said, “Mummy! Your boobs look really droopy when you do that!” as I lent out over the bath to wash his hair. Or when Middle One told me how much he loved his “beautiful” nursery teacher, Elaine, and I stupidly asked, “so do you think Mummy is beautiful too?” “Of course not.” He replied.

So I wasn’t particularly surprised when Eldest pondered out loud at the dinner table one evening last week that he had absolutely no idea what I was going do with myself once Youngest left primary school. “Quite soon you’re going to have no life at all, Mummy,” he said, hitting that particular nail on the head with a crash. Thank you darling. The thought had occurred.

At the moment the primary school is punctuation in my otherwise free-form life. It provides a start and end to my working day; my closest coterie of friends from its seemingly endless stream of lively, intelligent mummies (and daddies) and a rolling itinerary of events, from more prosaic Friday morning assemblies and afternoon teas, to glamorous Friday and Saturday night discos, parties and quizzes, the most memorable of which was the PTA Stars in Their Eyes evening, one of the best nights out I’ve ever had. (Which isn't saying much but should in no way detract from how good it was).

Indeed, as Eldest made his remark I was just sallying out of the house to the Christmas shopping evening and, as a Class Rep, I’m currently selling tickets for the forthcoming comedy night (hosted by local celebrity Arthur Smith, don't you know).

So, although it may be a bit soon to start panicking, (Youngest still has the best part of three years to run) Eldest is right, of course: I am aware that a deadline of sorts is looming even if it is still a little way off. Perhaps deadline is the wrong word...watershed? I was even more aware of it after I went to see Clocks, a film that was showing continuously until recently (it’s just finished) at the Glass Cube Gallery off Piccadilly.

Clocks is a film lasting 24 hours consisting a series of very cleverly cut clips from hundreds of movies that happen to reference time, either visually or verbally, running exactly to real time itself so that it too is a clock, of sorts. It’s very, very clever, I might even say, brilliant. Not only are the clips wonderfully edited to make a beautiful whole: a piece of moving art, but the continuous, minute by minute reference to time and the passing of time with endless clocks and watches and alarms, creates a sort of profound shared experience. It's a commentary on the transient nature of life (no less!) and its meaning seemed to build as it went on.

When I saw it, it was lunchtime so, inevitably, there were hundreds of clips involving lunch and eating. Among many other things, it made me think about how much time is spent preparing and eating food, especially a mother’s time.

Paradoxically, I didn’t have much time to stay and watch it because I needed to eat and get back to school to collect Youngest at 3.15. I hope to be able to see more of it again one day. Perhaps when Youngest leaves primary school and I have more time on my hands.

P.S. It's not an accident that lots of words are in bold. Did you get it? Husband didn't.

Monday, 15 November 2010

Gouging out her kidney with a spoon.

“She would happily gouge out her own kidney with a spoon if I needed it,” said a friend of mine in the playground. She was talking about her mother. I know how she feels. A mother’s love knows no bounds, is at times almost overwhelming and this week, more than most, I’ve had reason to reflect upon it.

Remembrance day was spent on a Year 4 school trip to the Imperial War Museum where we stopped in still and silent contemplation at eleven o’clock to hear a lone bugler play. Gently, I tucked my arm around Youngest as he sat next to me on the bench feeling his fragile little frame leaning against me. The very thought of war, its pity and its pain, causing harm to one of my own sons…

I will always remember reading Birdsong in the days immediately after Middle One was born, twelve years ago this week. We were still living almost entirely in the bedroom, cocooned away together from the world in those precious first few days. I would breastfeed and read at the same time: milk flowing out as the words flowed in.

I fed him for hours on end to ensure that bond between us - or so I hoped - and as I did so, I read and read. That particular book broke my heart: all those young men, boys still many of them, wrenched away from their own mothers, dying, muddy and alone, in agony. In the heightened emotional state of new motherhood I gripped my boy baby to me with tears of rage and fear: no one would ever hurt my child, not this one, not any of them. But of course, from time to time, little things do hurt them, at least emotionally, and there’s nothing I can do about it.

There is no world war (thank God) and nothing vaguely approaching the scale of a war for us, but the sad truth is that no mother can protect her child from little pains in life, what Shakespeare memorably calls the ‘slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.’ These will always find their mark and there’s nothing we can do about it.

Eldest, miserable at school because he’s separated from his friends by the new GCSE timetabling; Middle One anxious about yet another test; Youngest upset because he’s demoted back down to the bottom swimming group at school and, “all the girls laugh at me.” I haven’t the power to avert these petty struggles and injustices, little things that will inevitably allay them from time to time but will quickly heal. Still, they loom large in a mother’s mind at four o’clock in the morning when she lies awake staring at the ceiling.

Someone once told me that a mother is only ever as happy as her least happy child. It’s so true.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Banana bread

Eldest loves banana bread but he doesn’t like bananas. Youngest and Middle one don’t like either. Eldest loves risotto. Youngest and Middle one can’t stand risotto. Eldest and Youngest love sausages. Middle One says he hates sausages but he used to love them. Eldest doesn’t like pasta but he will eat lasagna. They all despise baked beans and neither Youngest nor Middle One will eat lamb anymore because ‘it’s cruel to eat a baby animal’. You get the picture. Mealtimes can be a fraught affair to say the least and thinking of something interesting and nutritious they will all enjoy isn’t easy.

“Not this again!” Are words every mother dreads as the little darlings approach the dinner table, especially when you’ve slaved over a hot stove for an hour and a half while they watched the Simpsons, or bickered, or played on the X Box, and they seem be uttered more frequent nowadays than they used to be. But I stick to my guns. We all eat together at about 6.30 or 7 when husband gets home (unless they have a friend over for tea) and we eat the same thing, in theory. Sometimes, I think the easiest thing would be to have a roast dinner every night because at least they all love that (as long as it’s not lamb).

But perhaps I should take heart because I recall a hovering and anxious mother informing me, as she dropped her child at our house for tea, that her son would only eat ‘breaded products’. It took me a while to cotton on: she meant fish fingers, or chicken nuggets, both with chips, and nothing else. And I remember another child informing me, as I served him fish pie with peas, “I don’t eat peas, man.” I don’t know what was more annoying, the fact that he refused his peas or calling me “man.” (Actually, I do.) Then there was the child who burst into tears every time I accidentally gave him juice instead of water, even when he'd reached Year 6. All of which just goes to show that however annoying ones own children are at the dinner table it’s never as annoying as other people’s.

The other great advantage of feeding the children the same meal as us is that it saves on the cooking and the eating, otherwise there’s always the danger that I might find myself eating twice: fish fingers are just so hard to resist aren’t they? A friend of mine once put her children’s delicious leftovers in the dog's bowl to stop herself from eating them, again. But then, ten minutes later and after a large glass of wine, she took them out and ate them anyway.