Oh childless readers of this blog, do me a favour! (Not right now of course, but after you’ve finished reading and pressed both ‘like’ and ‘share’). I want you to take your keys, walk out of your house, lock up behind you and Walk Somewhere. Quickly. Run if you want. In any direction that draws you. To the top of a hill to look at the view. To the hairdressers and come out looking like a punk. To the public toilets, where you shall urinate or deafecate to your heart’s content without being watched, hurried or made to read ‘Where’s Spot.’ To the pub – no, Dammit – to the cheesiest 70s nightclub you can find! Dance, my friend. While Life gives you Lemons. Do it! Do it now!
Those of you who do have children, some of you have been kind enough to be impressed when I said that my toddler will – albeit painfully slowly – walk a mile; or that I walked the seven week-old Tiddler up to a mountain corrie and breastfed it there (I might brag that when the Toddler was that age, she and I climbed Snowdon). Or that I go camping with them both.
Well, I just wanted all of you to know that I’m impressed if you have managed to get your hair cut in the last six months, or if you ignore / quiet the screams and brush your child’s hair every day, or if you did your face this morning, or if you and / or your children are wearing socks that match. I don’t understand how such people ever leave the house. I might be writing this in a mountaineering club hut (having been rained off the campsite) but my legs are as hairy as that spider’s on the wall; I haven’t had a shower for a couple of days and my hairbrush got buried in the car when we were running away from the final downpour. And even had I not spent all morning supervising the toddler’s death-defying leaps around the bunk-room, even had I been at home on a normal playgroup day, I’m not sure I would look so very much different.
On baby group mornings, the Toddler wakes me up. I persuade her to wear an apron, put some Shreddies in front of her, quickly breast-feed the Tiddler while Todder’s eating, leap up just in time to rescue the important letter that’s about to get milk poured all over it, change the Tiddler’s nappy, coax the Toddler to stand still while I remove her PJs and apply some clothes, take them all off again because there’s been a funny noise and a funny smell and I now need to change Toddler’s nappy too. Then I scrape milky Shreddy-goop up off the floor, pause to attend to Tiddler who is screaming, assemble appropraite-sized spare nappies and in between all this, rifle through my wardrobe / bedroom floor for a deoderant stick and some clean-ish clothes. When I finally arrive at playgroup, red-faced, late and harrassed, I am invariably greeted by the cheerful voices of a dozen immaculately dressed and made-up women with toddlers that don’t have Something Sticky on their sleeves and it’s all I can do not to run back out again. How do you do it, ladies? How? When did you go shopping for those clothes you’re wearing that fit? And suit you, dammit? You must have been in the changing toom for at least ten minutes. How did you entertain the children while you did that?
Some of these mothers are Extremely Impressive. They have partners who are At Work all day, not trainee mountain-guides who admittedly climb for days at a time but also come home for days at a time and help out.
But some are More Extremely Impressive Still. Some of those women, my friends, are Single Mothers.
I just can’t imagine it. I will hold my hands up to once thinking of a particularly obese type-two diabetic single mother I met a few years ago, ‘Why the Hell doesn’t she listen to the doctor and get some exercise?’ – but that was when I was young and judgemental and since then my eyes have been Opened. How and When could a single mother of two under-fives get chance to do any real exercise? It’s not as if she can do a sneaky couple of lengths on her own while entertaining her kids at the swimming-baths: she’d have to stay in the shallows for the whole time and make sure they don’t drown. I’ve already proven that you can’t go for a satisfying, calorie-burning walk with a toddler in tow (and if you put mine into a buggy, she’s wailing for stimulation within five minutes). And if by some good luck that lady had someone she trusted to take the kids for an hour or so each day while she didn’t have to be at work, would she spend that hour going for a jog? Of course not. She’d surely be catching up on the housework while resisting the urge to run to the nearest corner and fall straight to sleep.
But even that lady had taken the trouble to put some make-up on that morning. In fact she looked nice. How did she do it? HOW? I’ll bet her toddler didn’t get dressed extra-fast and then sit and read quietly to let Mummy get ready.
I was always a great believer that ‘I haven’t got time’ is no excuse for anything. After all, we each and every one of us have twenty-four hours every day. ‘I haven’t got anyone to take the children’ is a better excuse, but I have a part-time house-hubby so I can’t really use that. So why am I still despairing? Why aren’t I well-dressed and groomed as a woman in a magazine?
Because I don’t prioritise it, of course. I could have spent half an hour his morning on my appearance. But I’d had a hard night: the Tiddler and I had been screaming at each other until the small hours. So I caught half-an-hour’s extra lie-in while hubby bathed Toddler. I would have told you that I needed that lie-in but of course, I know that I didn’t. The Ladies with Husbands who Work wouldn’t have had it, let alone the Sinlge Mothers. They’d all have been bathing the toddler and they must have been doing their hair and make-up in the bathroom mirror at the same time.
My mother brought me up thinking that plucking your eyebrows, wearing a lot of of make-up or spending a lot of time on your hair was unusual behaviour: it was years before I twigged that it was my mother (who had never done any of these things and still looked good for her age) that was unusual. By then, I’d copied her and was quite comfortable walking around looking less than groomed (less groomed than she ever was, in fact) and I have carried that attitude with me all my life. Of course, it’s all well and good when you’re in your early twenties and look okay-ish whatever you do. It’s only since post babiness, that ‘I feel fatness’ and ‘I’m getting oldness’ have got their grip on me, that I have really begun to worry about it.
An Auntie of mine – who knows me better than I gave her credit for – wrote a reply to the first few posts in my blog. ‘These things make some women feel better,’ she explained. ‘That is why they do them.’ And later, ‘If you don’t know how to curl / blow-dry / straighten your hair….Learn.’
And she has a point. I have a full twenty-four hours in my day; my baby is still young enough that I don’t have a job to go to right now. More crucially, I even have Support. And I have half-an-hour more sleep than I need some mornings. See? I have Lemons.
So I plan to find some time to Make An Effort. But half an hour a day won’t find my children wearing matching socks, I’m afraid.