Tuesday, 19 June 2007


I’ve been feeling mightily cheesed off of late. It seems however hard I work, however much I cook, clean and bleach I am fighting against a tide of too many children with too many possessions. I am the mother screaming in the garden as small children rampage through my newly planted shrubs, I am she who cried last Sunday on entering the toy room to find every single board game and every single jigsaw puzzle in one big pot mess on the carpet. It was a daunting task to have to get on the floor and laboriously pick through each and every piece and return to its rightful box. It took hours.
My son and his great gazumping teenage friends, arsing about on the trampoline, have made a hole in it – directly in the centre rendering it null and void. Subsequently that just about finished off the weekend as it was Hubby who found the hole and went ballistic. Said son is apparently grounded. All very well for Hubby to dole out these punishments when he doesn’t have to work as the jailer, “You’re i/c of grounding Alice”. Now, as I have a son who never even leaves his room, being made to stay there with his guitar and MSN buddies is hardly punitive, so instead, he has been made to come downstairs of an evening and make charming conversation with his mother and sister.
The sister in question, who likes nothing better than to see her brother in the cack, has taken a great delight in making him watch That’s So Raven, Friends and various other American girl TV shows. But believe me there is only so much American TV mingled with sibling provocation that I can cope with.
Consequently, I have sat night after night tearing my hair out, knackered and stressed, fed up with the incessant round of domestic toil that saps me of my joy and ability to laugh when yet another cup of juice in spilt onto Hubby’s newly sanded floors or more felt tip is scribbled with Picasso-esque creativity on walls and doors. How in fact did the Red-Head get hold of the after sun gel that has dyed her bedroom carpet blue? How did three DVD’s get posted under the cupboard in the sitting room? A fixed, immovable cupboard at that. They are now there for ever. Happy Feet, The Little Mermaid and Shrek 2: waiting to be excavated and puzzled over by a future Tony Robinson.
Clutching a glass of wine as the terrible two jumped on their beds upstairs and the detritus of dinner glistened on the table cloth, chairs and floor I pondered the meaning of (family) life.
I thought of my new friend who is 76. When I took her Cardiff recently she gave me her life story. It would be impossible to not live to be 76 without a story to tell but hers is quite exceptional. I could only listen in awe as she described how life had been for her as a young navy wife.
For starters, her husband was away for years not months or, as in my case, Monday to Friday and, each time he came home he very generously gave her another baby. For a woman who has only known safe family planning and free contraception, it is hard to imagine that every time one got amorous with one’s husband yet another pregnancy was a real probability. Consequently my friend ended up with eight.
I struggle with four children with, at my disposal: a microwave oven, a gas self-cleaning cooker, a Dyson, anti-bacterial sprays in every hue and scent, a washing machine, a tumble dryer, a powerful steam iron, every electrical kitchen gadget ever invented, a dishwasher, a TV/DVD and Sky, a computer, electric lighting, central heating, free prescriptions and palatable, safe, over the counter drugs for my children, a CD player in almost every room, phone and mobile phone and a seven seater car. Not only did my friend have none of those things, neither did she have modern fabrics and textiles that are easy to wash, dry and iron. Even more significantly, and something that I take for granted, her schedule never left her a moment of freedom. Socialising with a friend was unthinkable, not only was it deemed morally reprehensible but when was there time in the day? When her husband was at home, so did she have to be. Dinner on the table and all that jazz, with a family of ten to cook a roast for on a Sunday, even church was off limits.
It got me thinking, not, how did she cope, but why is it that we modern women find it so difficult to? Many of my friends and acquaintances are regularly taking anti-depressants. But the pressure for perfection is intolerable. Made so by women, to women. From the moment of conception other women tell their ‘sisters’ what is expected of us. No drinking, smoking; breast feed, give up work, don’t give up work. Sleep with your child, put child in pram at bottom of garden. Not out of nappies yet? Not talking yet? It goes on and on and on until we are confused and confidence in our most natural instincts has deserted us. Men don’t give this advice. Angst and guilt is a woman’s domain.
Men have often made me feel boring, glazing over when they know ‘I’m just a mother’, but only other women have judged and condemned me. Only this week I met a woman with one child who asked if I had any children.
“Four”, I said.
“Wow! That’s not even hobby children”. Most definitely not, but when I did have only one I don’t remember it being a walk in the park. Are those who only have one or two meant find it all so easy? With such unreal expectations no wonder Prozac is a wonder drug.


sally's hubby said...

What a brilliant post! You tell it exactly how it is. As a member of the male species I'm one step removed from the angst that you talk of, but in my case it's only a VERY small step.

Sally has found a very cheap and efficient way of dealing with the playroom piles of barbies/jigsaws/barbies/games/barbies... They are sold in supermarkets and hardware shops in rolls of 10 or 20. Big black binbags. Do it now before the council starts charging extra for every bag over the arbitrary household quota!

Sorry to hear about the trampoline. Ours felt like a huge extravagance at the time, four years or so ago, when it was a combined Christmas present for all five. However, it's been the very best investment we could have made. It's just about the only thing which will unstick certain of our offspring from the sofa in front of the TV and entice them to get a whiff pf fresh air.

Mary Alice said...

Alice - you said all the things I have been feeling myself this week. I have been in tears several times and it's only Tuesday.

I swear, if you and I lived next door to one another, instead of across the pond, we would have the most fabulous conversations.

I laughed out loud when you talked about your daughter torturing the teen son with “That's So Raven”...my daughter does that very thing to my teen son, who makes horrible grouchy grumbling sounds. I think he is actually allergic to “That's So Raven” - it seems to make him itchy and incredibly agitated!

Sally Lomax said...

Guilt is my second name. And yes recently we have removed large piles of unwanted toys. However with the youngest now 7, I can. But until this year that hasn't been possible. Instead I had 16 year's worth of toys piled in big piles and very often very untidy. Enough to drive you demented.

I agree completely about the women having caused the angst. I think that although our ancestors had some things harder, the lines were clear cut and there was no question of trying to work / or having to make the decision not to work and then justify it/ or to justify working.

I also think that having children ranging over a period of ten years is more difficult tidiness wise, because you have mess from every age group.

Great post as always. I must buy one of the Saturday WDP's one day, so that I can see you in print!

Alice Band said...

Sally's Hubby - We loved the trampoline for the very reasons you said - it got them outside. We bought it in America from K-MART so it wasn't particularly expensive - so we are very aggreieved that it's bust.

MAry ALice - Wait until next weeks blog. Don't talk to me about tears!! Maybe one day we'll get together for a coffee. I have a dear friend living near Wolfboro and that big lake, anywhere near you?
Sally - I write for the Western Morning News! Good to know that I am not alone in feeling as shit as I do!!

enidd said...

excellent post, alice. enidd has often wondered why we women seem to sabotage each other. it does help to nip it in the bud if you notice it, so thanks for the reminder. with no children and a very cushy life, enidd has masses of respect for people like you and sally, who bring up four.

Lisa said...

Wonderful post!
I, too, have gone the garbage bag route lately. "Clean up the floor or I'll throw it away."
You would think they'd learn after the third bag (wow, they really have too much.) WE never had so much when we were young!
I totally agree about the woman thing. It's apparently totally acceptable to look another woman up and down and make a snap judgement, and not think you're bitchy?!
I've worked, I've been home, home is MUCH harder! (And I feel like a screaming banshee half the time,too.)Back in those times, though, moms were not expected to drive all over and entertain the children, no matter the things they didn't have.
Oh, well. I support you, fellow women, I promise!

belle said...

Oh my, having no children I can't even imagine what life must be like but what kills me is that, even without them, I am stretched to breaking and taking the Holy Grail of Prozac.
Just running a house, garden and demanding job does me - and that doesn't include trying to keep LOML presentable!

Alice Band said...

Enidd - Great to hear from you. How is it is San Fran? There is a wonderful Ben And Jerry's ice cream shop on the corner of Haight/Ashbury.
When my husband and I visited we weren't in a coffee shop 5 minutes before he got invited to a fisitng party. I was most put out.

Lisa - I too am a banshee!

Belle- LOML? Love of my life? Kids or no kids we are all going crazy!!

belle said...

Alice - you are dead right LOML is love of my life!
I'm impressed with your post on naval wives then and now. My gran and great gran were both naval wives of the old school (my great gran and her hubby had to live separately during leaves to avoid the baby per leave thing. sad but also nice that they fancied each other so much!).
The next generations decided that RN full time was too much and both my uncle and I were in the RNR - keeping a civilian life going as well as an RN career.
Wonder where the lifting of pressure was there then???!!

Little Miss Moi said...

Dear alice band. I'm not sure, as I'm not a mother... But I think it's harder to cope these days because of the 'way of the world' - and the things that are wrong with the world. I look at kids today and things have changed since I grew up (I'm 27). These days, parents perceive (whether it's true or not, but quite often it is) that neighbourhoods are more dangerous, so the kids are confined to the house and yard. This means that they're in the parents' faces a lot more than I ever was - I was one of five kids and we'd leave home on our bikes at 8 in the morning, come back for lunch for an hour, then leave until 6pm at night. My mum had lots of time during the day to do her own thing (we were all recruited into chores when we were six, mum did the washing and hanging, and that's it. She was good at recruiting us!). These days, kids can't leave the yard because we've all heard horror stories of what happens to kids. At home, they get stir crazy and frustrated.

I have a good friend who is 30 with three kids, her eldest being 5. When I was five I was out playing and riding the bike around the neighbourhood with my brothers. Her son can't even ride a bike because he's never had enough yard to practice regularly, and going to the park in inner city Sydney where there were some questionable characters meant he was restricted with how far he could ride so she could keep her eyes on all three kids...

Bleh rant but... it's a symptom of our society.