Tuesday, April 28, 2009

What Are The Chances?

There really ought to be a law against people over 40 consuming a birthday shot. And then another. And another. And if anyone is searching for evidence of why this law is necessary, you really should have been there on Friday night.

Why is it that after a g&t or two, shots just seem such a great idea? When I hold a shot in my hand it never occurs to me in that moment that I am a thimble away from a guaranteed hangover. And that in between said shot consumption and the resulting hangover, there will be the compulsory embarrassing behaviour, revealed in horrifying flashbacks over the course of the next 24 hours, causing me to sink my throbbing and tender head even further into my hands, turn off the phone and pull the covers even more firmly over my head.

As you can gather, it was a good night after all. From what I can remember.

I do remember leaving the house actually feeling quite spry and glam. For the first time in a very long time, the attempt at creating 'girl's night out' hair and make up had been quite successful. The taxi arrived on time - another first since moving to the hood six months ago. We convened on a stylish roof top terrace for cocktails, making quite a glamorous and intimidating group even amongst the beautiful and willowy mini-skirted 20-somethings.

I do remember pacing myself drinks-wise - my usual style is to sling back alcohol like it's Ribena, with the liquid barely having time to touch the sides. It's as though there is an internal rugby team in my head cheering "down in one, down in one, down in one..." - tho I rarely need the encouragement. I was definitely sober enough at this point to negotiate the maze of tables in my heels to check out the loos. (Is it just me, or do other people always feel the urge to check out the toilets of a new swanky place, as though they are the definitive gauge on whether or not a venue truly lives up to its reputation?) I do remember the loos were a bit weird - a little bit too communal for my liking. I had an initial fright on entering, until I realised that the white blocks on the walls weren't urinals but super-trendy hand dryers (hmmm, maybe on reflection this does indicate that I was not quite as sober as I had liked to believe at the time).

We moved on from the glamorous terrace with all its beautiful people to a buzzing restaurant a few blocks away, filled with clones of similar fashionable wannabes showing lots of fake tan skin and big white teeth.

I do remember ordering wine and sharing delicious appetizers.

I even remember getting a lesson in how to meet new men - gladly demonstrated by one of the mums in the group - who simply sashayed over to a table of 20 men, plonked herself in the lap of the guy at the head of the table and proceeded to flirt shamelessly. She made it look so easy, but I am not sure I will EVER have the balls to replicate it.

I also remember flirt-extraordinaire mum returning to the table and ordering shots. And then the details begin to get a little...hazy.

In my version of subsequent events, half of the crew left after dinner at about midnight, while the remaining gals - including myself - headed to a downstairs lounge masquerading as a very small nightclub. As is usual in these salubrious joints, it is standing room only unless you pay $250.00 for a table, which comes complete with a bottle of vodka on ice and various mixers. One thing I remember quite clearly about the evening is that I didn't have to reach into my purse for cash or card at any point in the evening. But magically within seconds we were all seated at a table being poured indecent sized vodkas even by my standards. I do vaguely remember at this point trying to suck fruitlessly on an icecube, in lieu of a much needed glass of water. Needless to say, judging by everyone else's subsequent reports, it was a piss-poor attempt at sobering up although the only thing I will say in my defence is that at least I tried.

The next two hours are a distinct blur. Apparently I danced like a bitch on heat non-stop, only taking the opportunity to sit down when I inadvertently lost balance during a particularly extreme hip gyration and fell into a chair. It sounds to me like an exaggeration that can't possibly be true but I am assured by many that it actually happened - and not just once but several times.

At this point in my life I am beginning to question whether these pole dancing lessons are actually a good idea. Provocative dancing, when done fairly anonymously in a very dark room with just a handful of other women who are also intent on releasing their EC (Erotic Creature), is all well and good. Practicing raunchy moves in the privacy of your own home, usually to the sole amusement of two cats, isn't going to harm anyone. But. Writhing around in a crowded nightclub like a teenage-pop-queen wannabe is also another thing that is not to be recommended when you are in your fifth decade. I mean, let's face it. I AM middle-aged. Maybe Madonna can get away with it. But quite frankly I am not Madonna and do not have the dance floor technique or talent to persuade anyone that I am.

I think the real danger in taking pole dancing lessons is that I have also reached that stage in life where, quite frankly, I couldn't give a shit. I have always loved to dance but was much more self conscious when I was younger. Now I really couldn't give a monkeys whether or not I make a fool of myself. Which is just as well.

At some point pretty early into the dancing we were surrounded by guys all trying to muscle in on what appeared to be classic mums-who-don't-get-out-much-and-could-be-up-for-pretty-much-anything action. The one thing I do remember through the blurry alcoholic haze is that there appeared to be a hunky guy invading my personal space the majority of the time. In days gone by I would have been offended and simply moved away to dance unobstructed (towards the next chair I was ultimately destined to propel myself into arse first in the vain hope that I would simply rebound to my feet). But now I am a floozy and a slattern and am so fucking grateful for any male attention, that I simply continued to dance like a strumpet. If there had been any more writhing I would have either left the building with a snake charmer certificate or an STD. Possibly both.

The next morning slowly dawned and I made a valiant effort to lie-in but just felt too crap not to get up and attempt to be rescued by pill-based remedies washed down with caffeine.

The phone rang at 10-ish - my lovely friend regaling me with tales of the evening and lots of drama that I had been too inebriated to register.

And then I receive a text. From hunky dancing guy. We had arranged to meet for lunch. We had?! News to me. And how on earth did he get my number (at this point I begin to sweat and realise that I could turn up for lunch to meet a guy with my number etched into his forehead with indelible ink - I mean, I may have no recollection of actually volunteering this information, but judging by the gaps in my memory that's not to say that it didn't happen).

I decide to live dangerously and meet him for lunch. I am hoping I will recognise him. The combination of dark dance floor, dryed out contacts sticking to my eyes and alcoholic optic nerve dysfunction creates a vague image of a potential axe-murderer that I saw once on CrimeWatch. In all fairness, I am hardly a picture of health and innocence myself. My eyes are bloodshot and every cell in my body, but particularly those in my face, are holding onto every minuscule molecule of water they can get a grip on. I look distinctly puffy and hungover. Every time I try to walk my right hip flexor twangs painfully and my right hip simply collapses towards the back of my knees. I begin to wonder how much it might cost to rent a zimmer frame for the week.

Anyhoo. Long story short - dancing bloke was British. On holiday from Birmingham. Very sweet but wore white shoes. Sorry - maybe they are all the rage now back in the UK but...I don't think so. We had a nice-ish lunch but he definitely wasn't the 'hunk' that I remember through my beer goggles.

British? Birmingham? What are the chances?!

Friday, April 24, 2009

Oh the Drama


What was I thinking? Two glasses of three week old wine (topped up with tonic to make it something resembling palatable) on an empty stomach...on a school night...the night before a big night out. Couple that with staying up late on the interweb. Stupid, stupid, stupid. I knew I felt pretty drunk when I finally staggered up to bed. I knew I should drink a glass of water and possibly down some tablets. But did I? No, of course not. That would have been far too sensible. Is this really the way that I live my life on the edge right now??

Because, of course, that is going to be the night that I am up with Johnny Drama - the boy who NEVER WAKES IN THE NIGHT. Being awake with a three year old between 2 and 4 in the morning, with a hangover, is not a fun way to spend a couple of hours. I eventually pulled him into bed with me and he rolled elaborately around the bed as though he was filming a Britney Spears video. I have to say that I was still so inebriated (after just 2 glasses...it's so sad. Where is the stamina of my youth? Oh yes...back in my youth) that I did manage to feign a coma whilst Johnny Fidget knickers kick boxed his way around the circumference of the mattress. But I can't kid myself that I have had a good sleep or feel in any way rested and enthused with the new day.

As a result I look and feel shocking and the last thing I want to do today is go kick up my heels tonight and paaarrttaay.

PLUS the Chicago winter has morphed suddenly and unexpectedly into Summer today. We have a 24 hour heat wave, which has thrown all of my outfit plans out of the window. I don't have the quintessential sexy dress or anything remotely fashionable to throw on over leggings. I do have several pairs of gorgeous f*ck-me sandals - but what is the point of those when they are going to be hidden under my bog standard jeans (designer admittedly, but still...boring) or a pair of smart black trousers that make me look like I am dressing for a job interview?


Oh if only all of my problems were this superficial...

Moan, moan, moan, moan, whinge, whinge, whinge - what a grumpy old ratbag I have become.

Okay - time to get my act together, go and buy miraculous eye concealer, drink my weight in H2O, make friends with a bottle of Ibuprofen, close my eyes and pick any bloody outfit at random from my wardrobe...and have fun with my friends.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Friends are the Best Medicine

The boys are back at school, I am more rested and therefore feeling a bit more chipper. I survived the gloom of the weekend with the unexpected help of friends and life feels a whole lot more tolerable and glass-half-fullish.

It makes me realise that I have a real talent for being a moaning minnie combined with an unhealthy mix of misery guts - but have very little talent for actually reaching out and asking for help. I tend to think that these are my problems, my hard times and I just need to try to suck it up and get through it alone. Just confiding in people how unhappy I am might provide brief relief but usually makes me feel more alone than ever before. My tendency is to expect people to constantly have me in their thoughts and include me in their plans, but of course life isn't like that most of the time. People are so busy getting on with the drama in their own lives - it's not that they don't care or sympathise but of course it isn't top of mind for them to be volunteering their company when they are not even aware that I need it.

Luckily for me I am surrounded by amazing women who, it appears, would love to be there for me if I reach out and ask for help.

And that's what happened on Saturday and Sunday.

After writing my post on Saturday and feeling tearful and exhausted, I mustered the energy to call a friend who is also a single mum (actually, she is a single 'mom', but that's by-the-by). Was she free Saturday afternoon to get together? Well, blow me down. Actually she was. So Saturday afternoon I spent with a glass of wine in hand, having a good ol' natter with my friend while the boys and her daughter entertained themselves for nearly 3 hours. Then we were joined by another single mum and her daughter and the three of us gals succeeded in solving most of the world's problems before dinner (don't you find that happens when women get together?). It was just what I needed and all of a sudden life seemed a lot less scary and a helluva lot more tolerable.

On Sunday I unexpectedly received a text from a single dad friend and we met for breakfast and before I knew it 2 hours had gone by. In the afternoon another amazing friend came over and I cooked dinner and her 2 kids and my boys combined forces and destroyed the house. It was pandemonium. It was bliss.

And to top it all off, one of these lovely ladies offered to organise a girl's night out on Friday, to celebrate my birthday. I mean, how thoughtful is that? So tomorrow I am out on the town with all these new friends that I am just getting to know, plus my oldest and dearest, and I am feeling very lucky. This is just the sort of night out that I like. It has all the important ingredients:

1. It is an opportunity to get tarted up

2. There will be alcohol and maybe the opportunity for a bit of a bop

3. It is all about....ME. And as I love to be the centre of attention, I will just enjoy it while it lasts.

(And talking of new friends...the last time I went out on the town, a couple of weeks ago, I got chatted up by a guy who I thought was rather sexy. He bought me a drink - completely unnecessary because I was already totally inebriated and up for anything - and we flirted and then had a little bit of a snog. My God, he was a good kisser. I am living such a strange life where I can go out and kiss a complete stranger on a girl's night out. I think I could become quite the floozy in my old age. Anyway, he takes my number and calls me the next day. All well and good. We chat but it's a busy week and I don't have the time to meet up. So he calls me again on Sunday and we arrange to meet tonight. But then my babysitter cancels so I texted him on Tuesday and we re-arrange for last night. And that's the last I hear from him. I am expecting a call or text all day to confirm where we are going to meet. But nothing. What the fuck is all that about? Oh well. His loss. The @!%$&^%&!!!!)

And whilst on the subject of friends, it would be churlish not to give a big shout out to my wonderful sister and my mate living in London who practically inundate me with texts, emails and phone calls EVERY DAY. I don't know what I did to deserve you two but let me tell you here and now that it is utterly and totally 100% appreciated.

As for my new interweb buddies - I can't express how incredible it is to receive such caring messages and advice from women that I would walk past in Sainsbury's without batting an eyelash of recognition. Thank you so much. Must stop now because I have had two glasses of wine and am entering the gushing and teary eyed Gwyneth-at the Oscar-Podium state. Just to say, it is really and truly appreciated from the heart.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Long Weekend

It was my birthday yesterday and that should have improved my mood. But it didn't. Not really. I had lots of lovely cards and really thoughtful phone calls - but if anything it made me feel all the more distant from my nearest and dearest.

I really want to stop feeling this meloncholy. There isn't a day goes by when I don't feel the urge to sob. I can't really articulate how desperate I feel. How ill-equipped I am at being a single parent. I am afraid to voice the darkness to a doctor for fear that they will take my boys away from me. And what's the alternative? A barrel full of pills? I don't want to go there again. Unless my medical coverage can provide a stand-in husband on a co-pay basis of course....someone to sit and drink coffee with in the morning, someone to share the discipline, someone to share the sniggers with when the boys do something unbearably cute that they are totally unaware of. And last but not least, someone who can give me a big hug at the end of day. Who will possibly make me a cuppa and nestle up to me on the sofa and in bed.

This is the first time I have ever been without a man in my life since I was 17 and it is very strange. It is hard to keep give, give, giving to the boys, when I am not getting nourished in return. I am exhausted.

TATFT (Tired All The Fucking Time). That's me in a nutshell.

Happy birthday to me.

Okay. Nap time over. Time to plaster a smile back on my face. Find another reserve of energy and patience from somewhere. And try not to let the boys see how much I am struggling.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Hair Today...More Tomorrow

So the boys are back and the house is once again strewn with an array of toy landmines instead of Gap sale bags, till receipts and half drunk cups of coffee.

I am already exhausted by their energy - there definitely seems to be an inverse relationship between their energy and mine, as though they are little energy sapping vampires. As the day wears on, like the proverbial Duracell bunny they just go from strength to strength. I never really start the day from a position that I would honestly describe as strength and it just gets worse from there. By the time bath time rolls around I am a limp, listless deflated version of myself craving horizontal slobbing whilst watching mediocre TV.

This afternoon I had a couple of hours of free time while the boys were kicking up a storm with the babysitter and, as it's my birthday on Friday, I decided to treat myself to a beard, leg and bikini wax. Now this might not be every one's version of a 'treat' but being the masochist that I am, and there being no birch twigs nearby to flay myself with, it would have to do.

And yes, you did read it right. Beard wax. And no, I am not making a veiled reference to a certain part of my anatomy that I have often heard my sister describe as 'the bearded mussel'. Captain Underpant's incredibly generous gift to me, post birth, was the instigation of facial hair on my chin. In the past 5 years these previously dormant hair follicles have overtaken their nipple and uni brow counterparts in terms of both production and tenacity. Keeping the beard in check is now a daily concern. Oh God, how I wish I was merely writing this for comic effect.

(Johnny Drama was no less generous as it turns out. His 'gifts'? Well, obviously there is the partial lobotomy referred to in my profile. Tho this is more of a consolation prize, to dull the impact of 'gift 1' combined with 'gift 2'...a breast reduction. How it could have been physically possible for my breasts to get any smaller is beyond me. I look back at the days when I was a full A cup - yes, you did read this correctly, stop sniggering at the back - with a certain misty-eyed nostalgia. Now I am relegated to a couple of dried raisins sitting on a ribcage and it couldn't look less feminine. Even wearing a junior bra feels excessive. Combine that with the nipple and facial hair and you can see why I am a little nervous about re-entering the dating arena. And we haven't even touched on the joint 'gift' yet - the post birth nether-regions. But don't worry, we're getting there.)

Now I have always been a very hairy beast. I was born prematurely resembling more primate than human - and that look has merely amplified over time. I was hairier than all the kids at school, including the boys, and most of the teachers. One of my earliest memories was sitting in the reading corner, I was probably about 6, with my legs stretched out in front of me. Soon enough all of my so called friends, instead of reading the latest scintillating installment of Janet and John, were sniggering at my hairy legs. Cue one tearful child (that would be me, in case you were wondering) charging home and ceremoniously throwing away all her ankle socks. My mum, rather sympathetically, bought me a case full of knee length socks and tights that I wore religiously throughout my school days, irrespective of the weather and even with swimsuits, so I could avoid further humiliation.

Of course, kids being kids, this just wasn't possible. I ended up being the girl at senior school who was mocked for having hair poking through her socks. There just weren't socks thick enough to hide it. Again, one particular incident sticks in my mind of a group of the 'cool' girls standing around one lunch time teasing me that even a lawn mower wouldn't do them justice. Cruel, yes. But shamefully true.

My mum finally relented when I turned 13, bought me a battery operated shaver and gave me permission to shave them off. I was ecstatic and locked myself in the bathroom to begin the long and arduous process. After I had shaved one leg bare, and was looking at its pale and shimmering gloriousness, the batteries ran out of the shaver. It was a Sunday night. There were no more batteries in the house and I was about to go to synchronised swimming practice. My dad thought my new look was hysterical 'you look like an audition for the Black and White Minstrel show' he chortled. Cue more tears, a teenage tantrum and locking myself dramatically in the bathroom, vowing never to re-emerge. Finally my mum rescued the situation by allowing me to borrow her razor and shave the remaining leg. My initiation into the world of the smooth legged people was complete.

And it has been the bain of my life (well, one of them anyway - my rampant grey hair is right up there next to it) ever since.

So there I am this afternoon, lying on sheets of tracing paper, my ankle cranked behind my ear lobe while the technician (such a polite term for a person who, in medieval times, would surely have been the sadist grinning maliciously at you from the end of a torture rack) slathers hot wax copiously around my lady bits. I'm not even sure my gynecologist has seen my anatomy in such detail. Now when I first started waxing 20 years ago, things were pretty simple. The only pruning option was a short, back and sides and this was fine by me, thank you very much. Nowadays, it seems that it is more the norm rather than the exception for the pruning to be a little more...extensive. And ultimately, invasive. Brazilians and Hollywoods are all the rage. This has never concerned me before, because ex knew I was a short, back and sides girl (on a good day) and he either liked it or lumped it. Now I am faced with the prospect of potentially having sex with American men at some point in the future, who expect either a cue ball or a landing strip and nothing more.

I wouldn't describe myself as a wimp where pain is concerned. Surely I have proved that to all who care to doubt it by accomplishing natural child birth not once, but twice? But having the nerve to go through with a Brazilian? Just can't do it. I intend to every time I book the appointment. I am a person who likes to keep up with the times. Heaven forbid there is a trend that I am not participating in. But once my legs are akimbo, displaying practically my intestines to all and sundry, my confidence deserts me. It's all I can do to gnash my teeth down to stubs while the short, back and sides is being performed - I can't voluntarily take any more.

I actually did end up with a Brazilian once, although not voluntarily. I was 22 weeks pg at the time (what was the 'technician' thinking?) and had foolishly booked an appointment at a new salon. Before I had time to defend my poor innocent pubes, they were slavered in hot wax. All of them (well, apart from that tiny bit that's left...for dignity). 'Holy Fuck' I thought. 'There is only one way that is coming off, isn't there?' My eyes are still smarting as I recall the memory. Where there used to be hair was now a very swollen fanny dotted in blood. As the days went by, the swelling reduced and the blood eventually healed into little scabs and fell off. It certainly didn't look 'normal' to me but at least it no longer resembled a freshly plucked chicken rump.

And then I went into labour. Of course, I was still only 22 weeks and a matter of days pg. During the 3 days I was in hospital I was examined in mortifying detail by many high-risk specialists. I think one would have done - they all reached the same conclusion after all - the others were just there to see the pg strumpet in room 522. I tried to explain it to one of the nurses at one point, but I don't think it was as unusual for her as it was for me. Now on reflection I am glad that my one and only foray into extensive pubic topiary was witnessed by half of the male doctors in Chicago. I have more than enough proof that, albeit by force, I did subject myself to a Brazilian at least once in this lifetime.

And of course, having been through vaginal childbirth a couple of times, there isn't just the pain to consider is there? I mean, it is now freakin' obvious why the hair is there in the first place...to disguise the distorted war zone that used to be my neat and tidy vagina pre-kids. Remove too much hair - combine it with the raisin tits and chin stubble - and I am going to be reduced to shagging guys with a penchant for lady boys.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

My Dirty Little Secret

So in my week of no-children bliss I was chilling out yesterday watching Oprah during what would usually be the kids bath and bedtime. While drinking vodka. I can't tell you how decadent it felt. The subject was motherhood - the warts and all version. It was reassuring to watch this programme and feel SANE. As sane as every woman featured who was openly admitting how bloody tough it was. The focus of the hour was mums dirty little secrets. Here are a few of them that made me chortle:

'I fear being alone with all three of my kids for any extended period of time...like an hour or more'

'We forgot to buckle our 2 year old into his car seat. When we went round the corner, he flew over to the next seat and screamed 'fuckers!''

'Sometimes I purposefully stay at work one hour longer at the end of the day so I 'miss' the bedtime routine'

'My son threw a colossal tantrum in the middle of a nice boutique. To stop the screaming I took the gum out of my mouth and shoved it into his. Then I realised that all 5 people in the shop including the manager were looking at me completely horrified'

'I do my son's homework just so we can get through it faster. I grab his pencil and he looks at me like I've lost my mind'

'One morning I couldn't find my travel mug, so I poured coffee into my son's sippy cup and drank it in the car on the way to work'

'Planning dinner usually throws me over the edge. One night I was stressing out and my 4 year old just looked up at me and said 'just order a fucking pizza!'

'Note to husband: Dinner? Don't even ask. There is no dinner. There will never be dinner. Just stop coming home hungry. Unless YOU have a plan, there will be no plan. And by the way, I'm hungry too'

The overall consensus was that most mothers feel alone, inadequate and overwhelmed. Now I don't know if it is the same in the UK because I have been raising my boys in the US, pretty much without any support, but in my experience American women just aren't as candid and open as their British counterparts. This side of motherhood is rarely discussed in America. Most of the mothers that I have come across find it incredibly difficult to admit that their life is less than perfect. In general, people here seem just more cheery. They prefer to put on a brave face. All the time. There is not the tendency to let your guard down easily. It appears to me that many women are uncomfortable being honest about their true thoughts and feelings, for fear of being judged as anything less than perfect. And I find that really hard to be around It is exhausting keeping up the appearance that everything is A-OK when in reality it can often be the polar opposite.

A few of my friends in the UK, who had their children around the same time that I did, would openly admit that motherhood was not a dream come true. Unless you were refering to a pretty bloody horrific nightmare that you couldn't wake yourself up from. These smart, funny, successful women were quite open about the fact that they were struggling with it every day. Loving their baby was easy. Loving being a mother...not so much.

I remember at the beginning one well-intentioned mum telling me to 'just trust your instincts'. Well, the only prevailing instinct I had at that time was to leave my inconsolable colicky baby on a church doorstep and run screaming for the hills. So it was obvious that my maternal instincts were a little off kilter and couldn't be trusted. Now I wouldn't say that my instincts serve me any better and even now the boys are older I usually rely on a combination of good old common sense and the boundaries of the law to restrict my 'instinctual' behaviour where motherhood is concerned.

Out of all the new American mums that I met, only one would readily confess that she was finding the whole experience 'brutal'. Needless to say, we spoke every day and compared notes on how fucking awful the day had been. Then she got a full time nanny and went back to work and that made things a little less brutal for her. She was still knackered, but she was able to drink hot liquids, go to the bathroom by herself and maintain an adult conversation for longer than 30 seconds without interruption and her life felt a little more balanced. I was so envious.

It has taken a long while for me to be able to admit it but I actually find being a mum incredibly dull and tedious most of the time. I really love my boys but find their company a little too...infantile for my liking. All that endless squabbling. The endless 'knock, knock, who's there, poo-poo-head, poo-poo-head who? poo-poo-head garbage can!' jokes which, no matter which way you look at it and irrespective of how cutely they're relayed, are just not funny. The ever growing laundry mountain, the never ending meal and snack preparation, the constant tidying up, the repetitive trips to the playground. None of these things do ANYTHING for me.

I have never particularly enjoyed playing 'house'. So the fact that I feel tied to the house for many hours of the day and night really gets my goat. I don't bake. I used to love cooking for dinner parties, but those days are long gone. I don't do crafts. I don't garden. I don't clean. I like travelling, shoe shopping, sparkly things, make-up, eating out, lying in and being self-sufficient. HA! Not a good combination of ingredients for maximising the 'joys' of motherhood me thinks.

I spend most of my time trying to maintain a facade of enthusiasm for things that just bore me ridged. I guess my fear is if I don't work this hard to pretend to the boys that looking after them is anything other than relentless and brain numbing I will end up exhibiting the same nonchalant indifference that my mum displayed. My mum was, and is, a lovely,vibrant, loving woman. There was no shortage of hugs and kisses in our house. But looking back, there wasn't much about motherhood that particularly inspired or fulfilled her. I can't remember her ever really delighting in our company. If I ever told my mum I was bored (of just entertaining myself all day) she would glibly respond, 'only boring people are bored' before returning back to whatever she was doing. If I persisted she would advise me 'well, go do something useful - maybe you can find some traffic to play with'.

I remember very clearly how this made me feel - that spending time with me was not high on her list of priorities and that I just needed to suck it up and get out of her way. I do not want my boys to feel this way.

But at the same time, I need to acknowledge that being mother hasn't really changed the core of me. I have always been a person who loves a challenge, loves change. Doesn't really like standing still too often and loves the opportunity to just get on and do things. When left to my own devices I am not prone to fannying about or taking my time over anything. So the phaffing about that I experience now I am a mother on a daily basis frequently tips me over into crazy-doolallylady-land.

And I guess that is okay. So I find being a mother predominantly DUUUUULLLLL. That doesn't mean to say that I find my children dull in the slightest. Quite the opposite. They are the most imaginative, inspiring, playful, unique, adorable people that I have ever lived with in my life. I love them to bits. But I need to find a way to break the monotony and predictability of my life - something that injects energy and passion into 'Nicola' which will make this whole mum thing a little less of a permanent chore and a little bit more of pleasure.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Give Me A Break

So it is the start of the Easter holidays and both boys are at their dad's for the first week. The house is very, very quiet. I love the first 24 hours of solitude. Then I start to get bored with my own company and, left to my own devices for too long, this leads to heavy, morose thoughts like 'no wonder my husband stopped loving me' and 'it's a wonder I have any friends at all - they're all obviously piling up points in heaven whilst simultaneously vying for Patron Saint of Friendship awards'.

The holidays started well. Captain Underpants had an Easter sing-song in his class that the parents were invited to (soooo cute), , followed by an egg hunt around the school (a debacle). Captain Underpants had a huge turnout on his behalf. There was me, his dad, the babysitter and Johnny Drama all watching 20 five year olds earnestly sing along to an English CD of Little Bunny Foo-Foo, Little Peter Rabbit Had A Fly Upon His Nose and Chick-Chick-Chick-Chick-Chicken. Captain Underpants, for all his many talents, takes after his father and does not have an apparent dancing gene. But he enters into it heart and soul and just observing his obvious delight in our attendance makes my heart ache with love. Watching his little bum wiggle to 'lay a little egg for me' is truly a sight to be behold. He's not going to be getting many ladies on the dance floor with that particular move but I love him all the more for it. The CD is British and, for me at least, that is worth the tuition fee alone.

I have the kids on Saturday and we have a lazy morning. I am woken up by a naked Johnny Drama in tree pose. 'Look at me mummy. I'm a mango. They're pink'. It takes a few seconds to click...'oh, you're a flamingo are you sweetheart?' 'Yep, a fu-mingo. They're a bird on one leg. Can I have a snack?' and so my day begins. We sing Happy Birthday to Granny, which seems to make her day, before heading off to a sports class. There are always lots of protests - and for the life of me I can't see why. Every week it is the same whinge...'we don't want to go' repeated ad infinitum for at least 2 hours solid. And of course when they get there they run around like greyhounds out of a trap and have a whale of a time. What is that with kids? I am concerned that they are developing similar traits to me - where everything on my daily agenda is usually greeted with a giant sigh and the thought, 'Oh God, do I have to? I really can't be arsed.' I would make an effort to set a better example but...'Oh God, do I REALLY have to? I just can't be arsed'.

I follow up sports class with a trip to their favourite park. It features a couple of wooden forts and as soon as they arrive I usually see neither hide nor hair of them for at least an hour, while they make friends and chase their new chums from one end of the park to the other. So I sit myself in a bit of sunlight and get out a book. But no sooner had I immersed myself in the story then Captain Underpants, whilst demonstrating a 'hand stand' (I am sure Olympic judges would disagree with this loose description but the intention is there, I promise), succeeded in lodging a huge splinter in his palm. It smarts. He is distraught. I do not have the obligatory first aid kit to hand to deal with the situation and short of calling out, 'Is there a doctor in the park?' I am not able to offer a short term solution. He tries to be stoic about it and potters around the playground with his injured hand tucked into the opposite armpit for the next 30 minutes, but he is distracted and distressed. I make an executive decision to head home so I can morph into my favourite alter-ego, Florence Nightingale.

Of course once we do set foot in family territory Captain Underpants has the screaming ab-dabs every time I even approach his hand to take a closer look. I breath deeply and tell myself severely to remain calm and patient - neither of which are natural states, in fact they are the ones I find the hardest of all to accomplish. I get all the first aid equipment to hand. Sterilised needle - check. Sterilised tweezers - check. Batman plasters - check. Antiseptic cream - check. I talk to him reassuringly about how my mum used to fish splinters out of my body on a regular basis and that it will only hurt for a little bit, but he's having none of it. I lose my rag and try to shout him into submission, but funnily enough that technique is less effective than 'calm and patient' so we watch another episode of Star Wars the Clone Wars and I wait it out. For 3 hours.

Finally at the end of my (admittedly short) tether I call ex and ask his advice. I am just not capable of pinning Captain Underpants down whilst performing delicate surgery and need some assistance. To my surprise he offers to come over immediately to help. Johnny Drama adds to the tension at this point by repeating over and over, in his gravest tone, that daddy is coming to chop Captain Underpant's hand off - just like Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker. (I KNEW he was too young to watch that bloody film.) By the time daddy arrives Captain Underpants is very agitated and on the verge of losing it completely. Daddy starts off brilliantly with reassuring chit-chat but this soon escalates into the use of brute force and the sound of a young boy who could very well be being hung, drawn and quartered for all the ear piecing shrieking that's involved. I get a quiet satisfaction from the constant sobbing request 'mummy do it - I want mummy to do it' so I take over the role as house surgeon and in 2 minutes the splinter is dug deep out of the soft innocent flesh and relative calm and order once more prevails. Within seconds the splinter is forgotten and at long last we can get on with our day again.

A couple of hours later I drop the boys off at their dads. I am slightly aggrieved at their nonchalant goodbyes, but even more irritated at ex's new bedlinen and wall art. It galls me that he has the money to spend on such luxuries when I am counting every penny for petrol and groceries. A little later I reflect that I don't have a need for either a new duvet cover or a picture for my wall and my irritation fades. I have just got to stop comparing our lives and finding mine lacking as a result. I have a tendency to resent the fact that ex is out nearly every night of the week, whilst I am tethered to the house tending sleeping children, a slave to BBC America for yet another night running. I am jealous of the fact that he is out and about, wining and dining, while I am eating a jacket spud or, more than likely, a bowl of cereal, for my dinner. It doesn't feel like there is a fair allocation of parental responsibilities right now. But I know deep down I would rather be with my boys as the 'primary carer' and have ex be Disney Dad than the other way round so I stuff thoughts of injustice and 'bastard' away and get back to watching BBC America.

Saturday night I spend at an all night Kabbalah study. Yeah, yeah, I know. Sounds a little bit like I might be off my rocker but whatever works, right? Now the Kabbalah Centre, well in Chicago at least, is not the place to go if you are on a man hunt, believe me. Not like the local McDonalds early on a Saturday or Sunday morning - full of dads with kids, many of them single, presenting fairly rich pickings for a woman in my circumstances. But spirituality does not seem to attract a hot bed of good looking men, unless you count the ones that are gay and that would take you quite some time. So I naturally assume the new guy I meet, just after the clock strikes midnight, is gay. He's probably in his 40's, incredibly well dressed (unlike me - no makeup, lank greasy hair and practically in my pajamas) and tanned. The tanned part concerns me a little. I make the mental assumption that he is either a fan of sunbeds or eats one too many carrots and instantly dismiss him. Mistake. Turns out, when I am eavesdropping into his conversation, that he is from San Diego (OK, being from the west coast obviously explains the healthy colour and could contribute to his stylish appearance) and definitely not gay. We chat. I do my best to flirt, batting my naked eyelashes behind my glasses in a meaningful and spiritual way. During the 'study' I sneak glances at him across the room and keep myself awake by trying to picture him with no clothes. I imagine him being the sort of man who can take me to heaven and back - Phnaar, phnaar. I know it's not very spiritual but, trust me, it's been a while. I don't come across many men that are even worth fantasising about, so I just enjoy the moment and when dawn breaks I feel that I have gained more from the study than I had anticipated. We leave together and he asks me if I fancy a drink. And this is where I always go wrong and probably why I am alone humping my pillow when the urge takes me. 'No thanks - I can't face the thought of any more coffee'. Er hello? Did he say 'coffee'? The truth of the matter is I am feeling grimy and ugly and just want to go to sleep. We hug goodbye and he tells me I smell lovely, which is the nicest compliment I have received in quite some time.

On Sunday I spend most of the day in my pjs reading a great book. Finally at 3pm I get in the shower to wash my skanky self and then tart myself up a bit, throwing on my best underwear and a pair of booty shorts, to go to a pole dancing class. I have only just resumed taking classes, after an 8 month break, and my arms, legs and hips are already a patchwork of bruises. My whole foray into pole dancing is probably worthy of a dedicated post. It's not even worth trying to explain the feeling of femininity and liberation I gain from it. And being able to climb a 20 foot pole, hang upside down legs akimbo and then spin around - sometimes elegantly, sometimes not so much - in a variety of 'tricks' has boosted my confidence in many ways. Spinning around a pole isn't necessarily that difficult. But doing it with style and panache is a little more challenging. As usual, the class is a 2 hour experience of sensual female expression and by the time I leave there is a spring in my step (and a crick in my neck) and I rush home to get ready to go see The Ting Tings.

On my way I ring the boys to say goodnight. They are both missing me. Captain Underpants asks when he can come home. His voice sounds very sad and carries the weight of our separation in it. My heart sinks like a stone and I throw every ounce of love that I have for him into my voice and hope that he is able to feel it. I know they have had a lovely day, but now it's time for bed and they just want their mum. I could feel a sense of satisfaction from it but I don't. I want to just sob with the guilt.

When the call ends I then pick up a message from my friend that she has lost the concert ticket I gave her and won't be able to come. Pants. I am slightly irritated that I am going to have to go on my own but more irritated at the fact that I really need the 50 bucks she owes me and I am not sure now whether that is ever going to materialise. I don't have any money on me whatsoever and decide, fuck it, I'll drink a diet coke on my way there and save myself both the trouble of getting to a cash point and the $6 or so for a beer. It's snowing a storm (honest to God, Chicago winters and springs are the absolute pits) so I take the risk of parking on a permit street. If there are any parking ticket Nazi's out in this blizzard on a Sunday night then I decide I will quite happily pay the ticket in homage to their dedication.

The venue is tiny and it is easy for me to get within spitting distance of the stage. The audience is mixed - lots of teenagers and young'uns but also many people sporting a more weathered look. I stand next to a woman who I judge to be a similar age to me. I assume she is with the bunch of giggling fresh faced teenagers just in front of me but it turns out she is there alone. Hubby has a duff leg. Friends couldn't be bothered to go out in the snow. But she loves The Ting Tings and didn't want to miss it. We chat a little and find out we have kids of similar ages and also a mutual friend in common. She lived in London for 5 years, is a self-confessed Anglophile and would move back in a heartbeat, which warms me to her even more. When the band comes on she lets out the meanest and shrillest whistle I have ever heard and we both dance like a couple of nutters who don't get out very often. The band are fantastic and the crowd go 'wild'. Which by Chicago standards means 80% of the people there, give or take a few, look like they are enjoying themselves and, every now and then, clap along when prompted. It's certainly not like watching a great band in the UK where, in my experience, the crowd goes 'mental' and dancing and providing backing vocals to all the songs is customary. This difference has always bemused and perplexed me a little - in a music or even a sporting environment American participation can be pretty tame, much different to a Brit's natural reaction. But chuck them on a game show....well, you know what I am talking about. Different kettle of fish. Odd.

At the end of the gig, cool rock chick mum and I exchanged numbers. I don't want to harp on about karma and all that, but it certainly felt that the universe had played a part in orchestrating our meeting. I left with my ears ringing and a niggling concern that all that head banging might result in me needing to wear a neck brace for the remainder of the week.