Sunday, 20 February 2011

Does the Modern World Understand Motherhood?

Here are some things I used to think:

1. Women with prams/pushchairs think they own the street. They should make more of an effort not to inconvenience other people.
2. Breastfeeding in public is weird and exhibitionist. I'd like to have a cup of coffee without having to look at some random stranger's tits, thank you very much.
3. Parent and child parking spaces are unfair and unnecessary.
4. People in restaurants should control their children better.

Here are some things I think now:

1. It's hard enough manoeuvring the pram as it is, without free-walking, unencumbered idiots glaring at you and failing to get out of your way.
2. Breastfeeding in public is sometimes necessary. I'd like to have a cup of coffee, thank you very much.
3. Parent and child parking spaces are a godsend.
4. People in restaurants should control their children better.

The reason for the change of heart is, I assume, obvious. Life with a baby has opened my eyes to a number of things, like how much poo I can actually stand to deal with (a lot, it turns out) and how much sleep I really need (less than I had always assumed). But the thing which really plays on my mind is how very different my perspective on life is now, compared to what it was before, and how very harsh I was in my attitudes towards people with children.

I'm not someone for whom motherhood has come as a surprise, a biological ta-daa! just as I hit thirty. I always wanted children, always planned on one day pushing the pram and suckling the hungry infant. I just wasn't going to do it like all these inexplicably self-absorbed mothers I kept encountering, whipping their breasts out whenever they felt like it, or barging down the centre of the pavement with their two-seater Bugaboos, mowing down innocent shoppers like Boudicca cutting a swathe through a Roman legion.

Then I had Milly and everything changed. Breastfeeding in public became a necessity if I wanted to, you know, actually LEAVE the house, and after every session trying to get some necessary shopping done in town I'd always breathe a sigh of relief as soon as I reached the safety of the back streets, where I could push the pram along without an unending soundtrack of I'm sorries and excuse mes, punctuated by the constant clatter of me bumping into things. These mothers weren't self-absorbed and inconsiderate, they were just trying to get through the day. I'd been the self-absorbed one, putting my own free-walking, unencumbered convenience ahead of that of those who needed to cater for their children's needs as well as their own.

I know I'm not alone in this. At my NCT classes we were all concerned about breastfeeding in public, because we didn't want to freak people out as we, ourselves, were freaked out by it. And I've had many a discussion prior to getting pregnant about the way some mothers act like they should get special treatment just because they've got kids.

So now I can see how bogus that attitude was, my question is: how are we getting it so wrong?

How have we drifted so far away from the idea of hearth and home, amongst all our lattes and broadband providers, and movie channels, that we've become so uneducated about what being a mother actually involves? Why do we look at what these women have to do and see nothing but an affront to our modern, super-convenient lives? Why is "God, the place was full of bloody kids, what a nightmare" such a constant refrain among our litany of lifestyle complaints?

Most people don't have children 'til their thirties, and many spend most of their twenties trying to avoid them. "I don't do children" is said with confidence, as though a complete lack of understanding of how to approach a child or a baby is something to be proud of, a badge of honour that proves the wearer is cool and, importantly, young. "OMG, all they talked about were their kids!" is another cry, followed by "it's like, stop trying to convince me to have one, is that all you can talk about!?".

I don't know when it started. Maybe it was when Rachel from Friends had a baby with no discernible change to her lifestyle, figure, and attitude, except for the occasional half-hearted wave of the hand towards a baby monitor. Maybe it was already happening, as women who chose to put off having children for the sake of their careers also chose to demonise those left in the home as lazy, outdated traitors to the feminist cause, while angry homemakers responded by branding their sisters in the workplace as selfish and shallow.

I don't know how this situation can be remedied. There are two separate worlds trying to exist in the same space, each with little interest, it seems, in the needs and concerns of the other. We need to bring motherhood, and family, and home back to the centre of society, but how? How do we create a world in which the public needs of the mother are not only understood, but accepted and celebrated? And how do we do it without undoing every social advance society's made since the first suffragette thought 'You know what? I reckon there's more to life than this whole staying-at-home-and-having-kids thing. I wonder if anyone else feels the same way?'.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Some thoughts on money

Milly is asleep and I, unusually, am not, so I'm writing this and it's about money.

I'm having a long-term, on-off debate with Annikki about whether money is worthy of desire. She holds the firm opinion that it is not. She has known, she says, several properly wealthy people, and their money hasn't made them happy in the slightest. She would like everyone to live in identical houses, so long as she is allowed to paint hers a different colour. She feels that none of the things that really matter in life can be bought, so why waste time and energy scampering and drooling after cash?

Obviously, I disagree.

I don't mean obviously I disagree because her views are ludicrous, (they aren't) or obviously I disagree because I'm middle class and we're all money-grabbing social climbers, mainlining aspiration like it's heroin, (we're not) and I don't mean obviously I disagree because I'm a Tory and we like to lick money (mmm, tasty money). I disagree, obviously, because I wouldn't be sitting here at half eight in the morning writing this post instead of snoozing with my daughter or re-reading The Jane Austen Book Club if I didn't think there was a strong and woefully underused argument for the other point of view.

And it is woefully underused, because to admit to wanting more money, lots more money, in your life is to draw, at least, raised eyebrows from your crowd, and, at worst, to label yourself as a materialistic cash-junkie with no sense of what's genuinely important in life. "She wants to be rich?" people mutter to themselves, "How SHALLOW!" I protest that I'm not shallow, I just think I'd be better off being, well, better off. "She thinks money will bring her happiness!" they then exclaim, quietly and with a touch of smug. "How DELUDED."

Well, I'm neither shallow nor deluded. I just want to be rich. There, I said it, bold-faced and brazen. Judge me if you dare. I want to have a choice of lovely houses to buy from, with many large rooms and a huge garden for Milly to run about in, rather than gloomily checking Rightmove every day to see if something has miraculously appeared in the £170-180,000 price bracket that has more than 2 square feet of garden and a living room you can actually fit a sofa into. I want to go into a car showroom and choose a nice little three-door for Milly and I to tootle about in, instead of looking on Autotrader for sixth-hand old bangers that actually we can't afford anyway. I want to cook with wonderful ingredients, and go to the opera and the ballet, and do Open University courses, and take foreign holidays staying in luxury hotels with spas I can afford to use. I want to buy Simon tailored suits for his birthday and have the option, the OPTION, of sending Milly to private school when she's older. I think these things would make me happy.

It's too easy, too tempting to diss wealth. Of course there are unhappy rich people. There are even people who appear to be palpably suffering for being rich. On the TV last night I saw a clip of a reality show about super-wealthy American teens in which a sixteen year old girl was presented with her $67,000 Lexus at what was, apparently, the wrong moment. She threw the biggest strop I've ever seen, swore at her mother, shrieked "I can't believe you! You've ruined everything! The party's off!" and stormed out in floods of tears. Clearly unfettered access to the best of everything was taking a heavy toll on this child's soul. But it needn't have been like that. The girl's money gives her access to education, travel, people, places; it's not money's fault her parents are jackasses who don't know how to say no. It's also not money's fault if people have bad marriages, or are weak or mean or distant parents.

It's a con to blame money. It makes you think you'd be crazy to want it, which is useful if you're never likely to get it. It makes you think you're breaking free of the class system by rejecting the very thing that puts some people at the top and others at the bottom. But that's the biggest con of all. Have you ever seen any of those films or TV shows where an 'ordinary' family suddenly come into ooodles of money? They live their lives, and they squabble, and bitch, and bicker, then the cash appears like magic and for a while there's a wet dream of conspicuous consumption and everyone has what they always wanted. But wait, what's this? Cracks start to appear, the bickering starts up again, this time over who crashed the Audi in the martini glass-shaped swimming pool. The family starts to implode as integrity becomes corrupted and values disappear. All looks lost until the money somehow vanishes as easily as it arrived. "We were better off all along!" the family cry, tears of enlightened joy in their eyes. "Money made us miserable!".

Bullshit! Money didn't make them miserable, it was what they did with it. You never see people in these dramas using their sudden wealth to access the arts or education, to broaden their horizons, you just see them going crazy for gold-plated Ferraris, like apes in a banana shop. That's because a drama about a family who suddenly get money and become happier, better people for it doesn't make for much of a story. And because the real message of these things is that you, Mr and Mrs Poor Person, you can't handle money. You don't know what to do with it, so it drives you crazy. So back you go, back to where you belong, lesson learnt. Breaking free of the class system, my arse. Like I said, it's the biggest con of all.

So I say hurrah for wealth. It may make stupid people stupider and mean people meaner, but poverty doesn't have such a great track record in that department either. There's nothing shallow about wanting to have better, nor is it deluded to suppose that having it will increase my already quite substantial enjoyment of life. Aspiration is a beautiful thing, so let us aspire to have more and to be more. Come stargazers, come climbers, come dreamers, come doers, come builders of ladders and stairways and rockets. Come, my friends. Onwards and upwards.