Last Monday, it was International Women’s Day where we celebrated half of the world’s population. Today is Mothering Sunday and/or Mother’s Day, whichever you prefer. As an actual woman, it felt pretty good having two days devoted to me in a seven-day period.
As a freelance writer, pre-Covid, I used to spend a fair chunk of my time composing Top Five Lists for clients. Top Five Family-Friendly Christian Attractions in London. Top Five Best Generosity Tips. Top Five Best Gins in the UK. You get my drift.
On this grey March day, I thought it might be fun to compile a Top Five list about being a woman. Lots of it is great. Some not so much. So here it is, and remember, you read it here first:
Top Five Things About Being a Woman
1. You spend a lot of time in the grip of hormones. The teenage years (crying, worrying that you are the wrong shape and will never find anyone to love you, obsessing about the correct way to apply your mint-flavoured roll-on lip gloss); the pregnancy years (picking a fight with your husband over nothing and claiming he clearly doesn’t love you, weeping hysterically over an advert with a baby in it, strapping yourself on to the Trimester Rollercoaster); the fourth trimester (where you have a very, very small housemate who expects you to be available to feed, nurture and entertain around the clock, watching in horror as your body turns into a giant, dressing gown clad larder) and finally, the menopause (exhaustion, crying, hot flushes, rampantly enthusiastic Fallopian tubes putting you through one last hurrah).
2. Being a woman means that you never have to explain why you spent an hour and a half in the loo at the pub with your friends. It’s just something we do. Get over it, men.
3. You can change your appearance quite radically if you fancy it, without too much work. Long hair, short hair, curly hair, makeup, no makeup, girly clothes, the androgynous look. Whatever. And if anyone criticises you, you can roll your eyes and claim they are so last year.
4. You don’t have to shave your face every morning and buy aftershave that claims it will make you ‘More of a Man’ (whatever that means).
5. If you do decide to go down the reproduction route, people make up for all that crying and worrying and stretching and contracting by giving you flowers and balloons and presents and telling you how clever you are. Which is good.
I’ve been a mother for nearly eighteen years now. Since lock down began, I’ve been sharing my house with the sainted Mr Ruth, our eldest son, now a 6 foot 2” heavily muscled heavy metal drummer who eats a lot of chicken, our second son, 6 foot 3” and a big fan of science and psychology and our daughter, rapidly reaching my height and a huge lover of animals and Stranger Things. I used to introduce them to things – table manners, walking, saying please and thank you and so on – but these days, they’re expanding my horizons in all sorts of ways. I’m finding motherhood far easier now than I did when they were tiny, and every day was a carousel of howling, reluctant naps and lavish soiling.
I’m still a freelance writer, but I now have a novel to my name, The Diary of Isabella M Smugge. My heroine is a pretentious aspirational lifestyle blogger, who has recently moved to the country with her husband, three children and Latvian au pair. I had lots of fun writing the scenes involving family life, since Isabella has enough paid help to mean that she only does the bits of parenting she fancies. Most of us don’t have that luxury, going overnight from career person to unpaid cook, cleaner and chef.
In the early part of the book, I wondered what the first day of primary school would look like in the Smugge household. Here at Leigh Towers, it involved a lot of cajoling (me) and ignoring (them). Shoes were lost, bookbags misplaced and all the time the clock ticked relentlessly on. I would frequently abandon all hope and pile them into the car with a plate of toast and jam each and instruct them to eat up as we hammered down the lane from our little hamlet to the village school.
Isabella is a very different kettle of fish. In the early part of the book, she views her children as helpful props in the constant struggle to feed the marketing monster. Breakfast is an opportunity to pose the three of them eating healthily while smiling and looking in the right direction. She doesn’t have to worry about keeping on top of the washing, producing a regular stream of meals or tidying up the mess. Someone else does all that, leaving her plenty of time for personal grooming and career development.
My fellow mothers in the playground at primary school were largely just like me, harassed, dishevelled and always on the back foot. Isabella views people like this with surprise and a certain amount of judgement. ‘In London, I didn’t particularly stand out, but here – well! Most of the women hadn’t even bothered to put on make-up. There was a distressing preponderance of drooping leggings and tired leisure wear and everyone seemed to have at least four children. Nothing better to do, I suppose.’
Learning how to be a mother was often terrifying, and I spent a lot of time doubting myself and comparing my attempts to others. Isabella begins to realise that parenting isn’t all about the photo opportunities and by the end of the novel, she’s certainly more in touch with her children. Every year brings a new challenge, but also new blessings.
Happy Mother’s Day to you all!