So, absolutely no one has asked me to write a guide for being less worried, or about parenting, or about eating more vegetables. No one. And I’m not qualified to give any advice because I live in a two-bedroomed basement flat with five badly-behaved boys and I am slovenly with the domestics and my law career stalled somewhere in the early 2000’s and I don’t iron anything.
But, I was on the no. 94 bus today and I was trying to distract myself from the shouting snaggle-toothed baby and so I mentally composed some Life Rules. They turned out to be quite good. So I think I should write down some of these thoughts because there’s no use just having internal monologues all the time without releasing them into the interweb, right? Because that’s where we get all the wisdom, right?
You should not eat that much, and you should know by now that sugar makes you fat and cravey and that butter and cheese and eggs are really all you need for breakfast. If you buy Ottolenghi’s “Jerusalem” and you try one thing a week, you will become brilliant with vegetables, and thinner and excited about how roasting broccoli and cauliflower changes them from flaccid grey depressed lumps of soft sulphur into bright crunchy delicious oniony food of the angels. It’s true. And then you might discover tahini and roasted chopped nuts on everything and then you are like ‘Vegetarians, I get you now! And I’m sorry for thinking you were all pale and clueless! And I think that restaurants that only offer you mushroom and cheese puff pastry things are really insulting!’
Have them, if you fancy, and don’t worry too much about them. Look around you, when you are drowning in a sea of parental anxiety and guilt and woe, and notice how many people have grown into adulthood and who are functioning perfectly well. Yours will too.
1. love them,
2. feed them a variety of good food and let them feed themselves,
3. give them a safe home,
4. put them to bed earlier than you think,
5. get them reading or making useless things with the recycling or dancing or running around, although some screen time is inevitable and actually perfectly fine.
2. crap food,
3. stupid violent movies,
4. tvs in their bedroom,
5. early exposure to bad porn,
6. not enough sleep.
Don’t worry too much if they climb things or get grubby or take physical risks. Let them shimmy up a tree and go barefoot and eat a bit of food that fell onto the ground. Let them walk to school on their own when they can handle traffic and encourage them to buy milk from the corner shop when you run out, and get them doing some chores. I never do this, but it is undeniably a good idea.
If they fall out of the tree and bleed a bit, or if they even BREAK SOMETHING (!) it’s ok. Because scabs heal and broken bones mend and they need to feel what it feels to take a risk. They need to fail and fall sometimes and you need to let them. No more helicopter parenting, because it is gross and makes them wimpy unappealing adults with no good stories to tell.
Remember that your kids aren’t actually more special than anyone else’s are. And you should probably all go out to a homeless organisation and volunteer the next time you are overwhelmed by your crap parenting. Because it probably isn’t that bad. Your kids probably aren’t that bad either – certainly nothing that some running around outside won’t fix. And if you shout at them and you are mean to them, then apologise and move on, because it is quite possible that they were being horrible and they deserved to see you get mad.
6. Belief systems
Be tolerant and good towards other people, because that’s what Jesus said to do, and (I imagine) all the other great and good people who have inspired religions said the same thing. I remember a song we sang in the Salvation Army hall when I was small, about a sparrow, and the words were:
“For if the Father’s eyes are on the sparrow, Then surely he will care for you.”
This sentiment, of a big kind God keeping an eye on you and caring about you, even more so because you aren’t just a sparrow, has been a very good thing to carry with me. I am not an anxious person, and I don’t worry about things too much, because I have learnt to abdicate responsibility for things beyond my control. So, when I tell people we are going to Turkey for our holidays again this year, and they look aghast and say something about terrorists, I say it’s ok, I probably won’t die from terrorist activity, and if I do, there isn’t much I can do about it. Right?
So it is good to have a belief in something, ideally something kind and big and good.
If I had donned a tight pair of lycra pants and massive teeshirt and ran around Tikipunga’s streets when I was 12, instead of this late-blooming running-love, I wouldn’t have had to feel weird about food and fatness and stressed about my bum in jeans for all those years. I would have been strong and fit and toned and I would have felt that I had some control over my body, the way I do now, at nearly-40. I haven’t been thinner or fitter ever in my life and it is enormously gratifying and liberating.
Never buy tampons again. Get a mooncup instead. It is amazing, and it turns the squeamishness and grossness of your period into a new experience. You bleed for less time, and you come to know your body really well, and you are like ‘If only I knew about this when I was 12, along with running and tahini.’
I feel I have so many more wise things to say, so I had better have a part two. Which I think will be something about how if you had to summarise everything I have ever learned, it would be this:
Don’t Be A Dick.
More on that later. Can’t peak too soon.
Photos Now To Lighten The Mood:
Barnaby sang at the Westminster Hall with some other schools and the Bach Choir. Oh, how I cried and how Mark cried (internally, mind). It was fantastic.
It is obviously summer here, with heat waves and pooling upper-lip sweat, and summer fair after summer fair. In direct contravention to what I said in point 2.2 above, here is the baby with an enormous mound of candy floss, to rot his teeth and make him mental:
We had a teacher’s only day a few Fridays ago, and I took all five kids to the Southbank to see the Carsten Holler show at the Hayward Gallery. They behaved like proper nice kids and I almost wept with the shock and gratitude. Sometimes, you are reminded that you may well be raising good people who can listen and who will help you drag the buggy up tube station stairs and who can respect gallery objects.
Me in a £12 leopard-print playsuit. Why? Because Turkey will be hot and my running has ironed out the back of my thighs for the first time ever. Necessary? No! Kind of hideous and spooky in equal measures, like a big lunging toddler mixed with Bet Lynch? Yes. Mark was really kind and said it was fine to wear, but only at the beach in Turkey and only inside the flat in London. And I’m down with that. I don’t think he thought I would post this odd come-hither instagram photo to the world either, but why not? A little bit of wrong can only be right, once it is filtered enough: