Tuesday, 11 September 2007


‘Our last Sunday afternoon of summer vacation was spent floating on our backs in a jade green lake, watching the light grow low and golden on the trees that lined the shore.’ Written exquisitely by fellow blogger Mary Alice, her words encapsulated a summer spent with her family, ending in a perfect moment, a snapshot captured in time.
I marveled at her prose, yet my overriding emotion was one of inadequacy. I too attempted one last afternoon on the beach, one more that would be etched in my children’s memory as a scrapbook of long, hot summers, immediate if unsustainable friendships, diving for pebbles in a sparkling blue sea, sharing out sandwiches, finally relishing the much promised ice-cream, eaten whilst shivering under a towel cuddled on my lap.
The reality of course was far from the infant utopia I so often strive for, in fact within seconds of launching herself fully clothed into the sea, the Red Head was shivering and wanting to go home, whilst the five year old was bored and the twelve year old, “Really, really uncomfortable on this beach mat. Why do you get the chair?”
Rather too audibly I asked myself, and for the hundredth time this summer, ‘why do I bother?’ I simultaneously undressed one sopping child, built a sandcastle for the other and removed a couple of intrusive pebbles under the mat of the other. Finally I sat back in my chair and looked out to sea, reflectively. Why was I so hopeless at creating a perfect family life, the ones that yummy mummy’s bleat on about? Much as I tried this summer, my kids have constantly squabbled and made the sort of messes that only a conceptual artist could appreciate. I seem to have spent the last six weeks demented, screaming, yelling and issuing threats. My children, far from being dewy eyed with emotion at the joyfulness of their infancy have been wet eyed due to my storming and switching off of televisions with threats that Santa will never come if they don’t play with the bloody toys they already have. My eldest children, more perceptive to the tensions, have commented that their parents show no demonstrative affection to each other. “Why don’t you kiss dad?” asked our son.
“Yeah mum. Your’e always stressed. Always cross”. Would this be their prevailing memories of their Cornish summer holidays? A crazed mother, to mad and bad even to respond to their father’s embraces.
I attempted enthusiasm, “C’mon let’s go and have one last dip of the summer!”, and extricating myself rather clumsily from the chair I let my sarong fall.
“My God mum”, exclaimed my eldest, covering her eyes, “Haven’t you heard of a bikini wax?” I looked down and sure enough what escaped the confines of my swim suit certainly warranted a whip around with a Bic razor, but hell, it was too late now, I’d have to brazen it out.
“Vat? Are you not coming svimming viz me?”
“Mum. Don’t. That terrible German accent is not going to kid anyone, besides even German women aren’t as hairy as that”. I shrugged my shoulders, took my five year old’s hand and ran into the sea. Fancying herself something of a mermaid, she is quite fearless and loves being in the water. Soon the Red Head joined us and for a brief moment in time, I too looked like a celebrity mummy - all paparazzi shots of laughing and giggling in the surf with my adorable infants. It was heart stoppingly cold however and try as I might, I could not make intelligible conversation, my fight for survival being imperative.
Later, as we left the beach we met an old acquaintance.
“Hello Alice!” she said cheerily as her husband rubbed lotion onto her shoulders before getting down on the sand and building their children a wonderful, sand racing car. “Isn’t it awful? I can’t believe they start school in a couple of days. It’s just been the most perfect summer hasn’t it?” I looked at her carefully but there wasn’t a trace of sarcasm in her voice.
“Do you want a cold beer darling?” she asked her husband, placing a loving hand on his bare back. He turned around to kiss it, “Thank you angel, you think of everything”. They smiled at each other a little longer than was decent. I thought I’d be sick.
“Well I’ve got to go”, I said with equal cheeriness, “Name tapes to sew, you know how it is”.
“Alice! Life is too short to sew on name tapes” and they both laughed, her handsome chest now pressed up against his rib cage, “Buy a marker pen and live a little”.
That night, after the youngest were put to bed, awake and protesting, I swung my salty, hairy legs onto my sofa and took a long slurp at my G&T and watched Nigella.
As the ending credits rolled up the screen, the phone rang. “Cor! Now that’s what you call a woman Alice”. Hubby.
Really? I can’t stand her. Oh I’m sure that she’s very nice but that fake, always harking on about her busy, ‘I’ve only time to look edible as well as flash fry a steak and mash some white beans’ lifestyle and those coy looks to camera that imply us lesser mortals empathise with how hard it is on her. Taxi to Waitrose? And back again? Caramel croissants after a night out when most of us scrabble for the ibuprofen and our pillows? Crunchy calamari with garlic and girlfriends; lipstick, high heels and black satin? It’s a bogus lifestyle, filmed in a mock kitchen, where in one article I read, she is ‘shifty’ regarding the number of servants she employs, but, you can bet your caramelized bottom dollar she has a housekeeper and nanny.
Ditch the act Nigella and fess up… Give me a chance; my husband thinks you’re for real.


Mary Alice said...

Oh dear Alice, I am ever so sorry if my writing caused you to feel inadequate during your day at the beach. Trust me, my children grumble and grouch too. My hairy bikini line could put someone’s eye out. I just chose to ignore those things. And apparently fairly effectively! I have taken a few psych classes in my day and one day - if I don't lose all my credits in the moves - I will be a marriage and family therapist... The favorite theory that I have learned is Cognitive Behavioral - based on the idea that our thoughts cause our feelings and behaviors, not external things, like people, situations, and events. The benefit of this fact is that we can change the way we think to feel / act better even if the situation does not change….. I practice this theory like there is no tomorrow…. otherwise I might spend much of the day in the fetal position sucking my thumb!

Alice Band said...

It doesn't take much to make me feel inadequate, in fact a woman going home to say she's off to bake a cake makes me want to shoot myslef for being so totally crap!! And as for those women who do 'cratfs' with their kids, well don't get me started!

Lisa said...

LOL! I was just thinking that couple would make me want to hurl when you wrote it!
I swear the kids have some type of 'time of the month' especially right before school started, I was a raving banshee and they were like PMS-ing lunatics.
I think all my 'good mummy' trips ended badly: me swearing under my breath, one child crying, one not speaking. Oh, yes, what a lovely freaking day!
Oh, and Nigella? Men really are clueless when they think someone is like they are on tv in real life!
It's not just you, I swear, you just articulate it much better!

Broker said...

Give me a drunken hairy Delia any time......

Sally Lomax said...

Our days are normally spent desperately trying to sort out screeching children. I think that my children hate each other.

And as for Nigella..........

Although I was a big fan of her first hubby, John Diamond. I used to read his column every week and was gutted when he died. she wrote about make up and stuff then.

Times change!

Sally Lomax said...

p.s. CRAFTS!!!! And people STILL give my kids sets with a million beads in, for craft making at Christmas. I think they do it to spite me!

Alice Band said...

Lisa - you made me laugh - thankyou!
Broker - A drunken, hairy, Delia? The mind boggles.
Sally - I too loved John Diamond and was thrilled when he answered one of my emails. As for bead sets, I have four stashed away!!

Anonymous said...

hello mami

mind the gap said...

Although I have no children, I find that a decent G&T can cure all ills. Temporarily anyway. Chin up!

Nigella said...

Alice, darling, you've caught me out. I only employ a few people - a nanny, a housekeeper, a cleaner, a driver (it's so hard to park at Waitrose, sweetie), a gardener for the organic veg and a masseuse for my poor old back after a long day in the kitchen with the cameramen.

What is your hubby thinking of? Sounds like you need some help too, darling.

belle said...

I have no children but I have a good memory. My parents used to have rows when I was little - I hated it and got into bad behaviour in the hope that it would divert their attention to me and stop them shouting at each other. Of course, it just made things worse.
But now when I look back to the 1950s I realise my sister and I were given fantastic opportunities, never got second best because we were girls, travelled all over and were treatead as adults most of the time.
Lucky us!
(Alice - wonder why Blogger has put its comment instructions in German - weird!)

Alice Band said...

enidd - very funny.! You got me going there for a second, although I couldn't see that Nigella woudl bother finding me!