My daughter, Scout, is 13 years old on Sunday. And no one is more amazed than me that I managed to get her to this age physically, if not mentally, unscathed.
It’s not the thing to say, I know, but I'm going to say it anyway – I don’t always enjoy being a mother.
I didn't see the fun in changing nappies. Those first 3 years of not sleeping weren't the best years of my life, to be honest. And her tantrums around supermarkets made me want to put her in someone else’s trolley and hope they’d scan her with the rest of their shopping and take her home.
I hated making small talk in the playground with other mothers. I resented having to cut packed lunch sandwiches in a certain, special way or face World War 3.
I don't enjoy helping out with homework, attempting to solve maths equations that I had no chance of solving when I, myself, was in school, equations that I’ve got even less of a chance of solving now.
I dread parents’ evening, having to brush my hair and put on the only smart jacket I have and act all sensible. I don’t enjoy the constant drama, stress and worry that comes with a teenage girl.
But apart from all of that, being a mother is alright.
I’d like to think that, despite the list of things she could write that she has had to put up with because of me for the past 13 years, Scout thinks I’m alright, too.
I asked my favourite MILFS their opinions on being mothers.
Over and out. X
Crystal Jeans is a Wales Book of The Year winner. We met at University many years ago. She didn’t have a daughter back then and you’d think becoming a mother would make her a nicer person, but it hasn’t. She is a top writer, though.
Write a poem, she said, about motherhood and writing and stuff. I’ve taken over the Parthian website, she said. I’ll post it. Thing is, I don’t have time to write a poem. Poem’s need lots of tinkering and time to sit and I don’t want to vom out any old thing and have it go live.
That’s not true.
I have the time, I’m just not willing to make the time. Not when I’ve got lots of prose to edit. That’s the thing with balancing parenting with writing – there are all these things you want to do, all these projects to start and finish. You have to set yourself priorities – what is most important to you? Well, right now, the thing most important to me is prose, editing my prose, and that’s a shame, because I love writing poetry. And I haven’t written it in years.
I’ll tell you the whole truth.
I have more spare time in my day than many parents. Up until the last couple of weeks, I’ve been out of work. Unemployed for three years. I had to drop the kid off at kindergarten and pick her up. The rest of my time was spent writing, looking after the kid from 1 till bedtime, housework, social visits and boring fucking To-Do list stuff. I had the time to write, and I did. I made the time. I just finished a 125,000 word novel in the space of 9 months. But I also spent a lot of time lying on the sofa watching RuPaul’s Drag Race.
When I was in my twenties, I didn’t watch much TV. I didn’t have a TV actually. I wrote furiously. I was in full-time uni and I was working between 19 and 50 hours a week at a care home and I was doing karate lessons three times a week and walking my dog an hour every day. I wrote poetry, prose, essays. I couldn’t do that now. My daughter goes to bed at half 7 every night. That, on top of the 4 hours in kindergarten, could equal 8 hours a day to write. But like fuck I’m going to write 8 hours a day.
Parenthood is exhausting, but it’s a strange kind of exhausting. It goes to work on you deep, right into your bones. At first it’s the sleepless nights. Then the kid’s starting to move around and it’s the constant surveillance, having to stop your toddler from hurting themselves or swiping all their food off the table onto the floor. Then there’s a nice brief reprieve where your kid finally stops all that shit and listens to you. And then comes the demands and the wants. Play with me, Mummy.
And then the monotony of the school drop off. And underscoring all these phases is the guilt. That you’re letting your kid look at YouTube videos too much, that you’re not playing with them enough. That you should want to play nonsensical imagination games with a couple of beheaded Barbies and a robot called Park Bench Poo. It grinds you down, the guilt. It’s in the bones.
I could write a poem now, you think, once the kid’s settled in bed for the night. Or I could de-bra and watch Netflix and pop some bubble wrap. After all, I’ve already written 2000 words this morning. And the new season of Better Call Saul has just come out. And you can’t make money out of poetry, unless you’re Kate Tempest. Fuck it. Bra off, press play.
I’m lucky. I’ve written a 125,000 novel in 9 months. But it cost me. I’ve neglected friendships and I’m getting fat and there were times when I felt my mental health slipping a little. Because I had to make a choice – writing or the other stuff. And I will always choose writing. For the sake, ironically, of my mental health.
I don’t have a big writing project on at the moment. I’m at the tinkering stages on three full-length novels (one of which is coming out next year, by Honno) and I’m trying to find an agent. I’m back working at that care home so my time is now even more limited. But maybe, I tell myself, I’ll just leave off writing the big stuff for a while. Take time to smell the roses. Play with my daughter, watch Netflix, and finally start honing that collection of poetry I’ll never publish. Because one day my kid won’t want to play with me, and though I like to tell myself that this day can’t come soon enough and bring it on (crafts, eurgh), I’m pretty sure it’ll just be sad.
Kate North has just published her latest poetry collection, The Way Out. I asked her to write something for my blog and then she went and called me a gobshite. I am a lot younger than Kate and I consider her harsh comments to not be very “motherly” at all.
When Rhian asked me to write something about being a mother and how that fits into my writing life my initial thoughts were ‘no ta’, because men don’t get asked about being a dad and how that impacts their writing. I do think it would be a good thing if more men were asked about what fatherhood means to them. I wonder if Rhian will do a fatherhood blog with some of Parthian’s writer dads?
Two things made me reconsider my initial response. One, Rhian is alright. I like her, she is a talented and funny writer and she is a bit of a gobshite. I don’t like to say no to nice people. Two, why shouldn’t we talk about motherhood? Becoming a parent has changed me and it informs my view of the world. I feel like it has opened rather than closed doors. Motherhood can be positioned as something limiting. Huge responsibility is placed on your shoulders (a whole life!) and there are expectations and priorities to consider.
In addition to the weight of responsibility, weird stuff starts happening too. Like, you’ll be in a supermarket and an elderly lady will start cooing at your baby without even acknowledging you are standing there, and then she’ll pat him on the head and just walk off without even making eye contact with you.
Then there are the flashbacks. Suddenly you are your own mother tying your shoelace. The park in which you are stood, at the swings, is the same park in which you were pushed on the swings as a toddler. You come to spiritual realisations such as cake is not evil but vital to human existence. You meet people on the edge, parents who are generally worried about whether Pippa’s chances of getting into medical school will be affected by the viewing of another episode of Paw Patrol. You find yourself reading articles entitled things like ‘Will my iPad give my child a crack addiction?’
All of this experience is utterly enriching as a writer. I have buckets of novel ideas, how to choose? I have never been more reflective of my own life experience, it is hard not to write poems. Writing, for me, is an act of discovery as much as anything else. I write to uncover meaning, to try to understand the world in which I live, the world in which I am bringing up my son, the world in which my son will become a man. Writing will guide me through this.
There are some poems in my new collection, The Way Out, drawn from my experience as a mother. It is a collection about life choices. It’s about how your choices today can change your life tomorrow. It’s about taking ownership of things in the here and now. In my here and now, as a mother, I want to equip my child to live in the world as a happy and thriving adult. This poem is about that:
Whether you leap into the world a frog prince
fall out of your mother a birthed foal
wheel through the door a spooling thread
reach the window as a fire-fighter,
your way in won’t show you
how to cross the road, gliding
like the jay or using the pelican,
how to eat the apple, seeds and core
or quartered with a knife, how to kiss,
open mouthed or nipping like a mouse.
You can see the world
in monochrome or technicolor;
choose to deseed the chilli or not.
Clare Potter is an award winning poet and wonderful person, and definitely one of my most favourite MILFS in the world.
A Real Poet Should Never Get All the Ironing Done
Mam was a teenager having me. I was (what used to be known as) a ‘geriatric mother’. I could, if I’d followed my mother’s path, be a mamgu at this stage. But here I am with an 8-year-old girl and an 11-year-old boy. I’m tired/excited, overwhelmed/blessed, loved-up/impatient – all the opposites in one day, hour, of being a writer having reached a potentially expansive place professionally while also parenting two kids who have a choca-block social calendar – and needs! It still surprises me I have to feed them EVERY day, and make sure there are clean vests and mouth guards that fit for Tae Kwando and remember to change their beds so their sheets don’t look like the shroud of Turin. I know, grow up.
But I sometimes strop over these things, like a big kid who forgets that she is no longer centre of the world. It’s an ugly characteristic for a person with grey hairs. I am deeply grateful for my children in my life, and although they set whizzbangs off in my heart, give cwtshes that melt the skin off me, and teach me to be a nicer human being, I often want more space; time to slow thoughts, to meander in my days, to contemplate that image of this morning, my voice reverberating in my grandfather’s old mantle clock.
I sort of know what that’s all about, but I want time to find the words; however, the washer’s just finished, the breakfast stuff is still spread over the worktop, and all the coats I threw on the kitchen floor looking for my daughter’s red one (she only wanted the red coat) when we were already late for school, well there they are, a huge Sisyphean mynydd. It broods, all that house stuff that needs doing that I should ignore, that I don’t. Maybe it’s a lack of a real poet’s discipline. Maybe the poems should be more important. Got your tooth knocked out while sparring tonight, babse? Sorry, but Mami did manage to get an awesome poem about a clock and her voice.
I’m being silly. It’s probably the influence of Rhian Elizabeth. I admire her sardonic posts about being a mam. They are shockingly hilarious and painfully true. It’s important we talk about the realities and peculiarities of raising children. But also I think to be gentle with ourselves, especially when parenting when you haven’t got a clue, so that some days it’s your children offering you advice when you’re crying in Tesco car park: ‘Mam’ (says my boy, hands on my shoulders) ‘You’re taking on too much. You just gotta say no a bit more’, or my girl who says ‘Mam you’ve done poams all your life. You shouldn’t just quit.’ They are both right, it’s about finding the balance.
I should be done with working-mother’s guilt especially when they know Mami is in her study nose in the laptop, but they come in to drop off chocolate, without speaking, or rub my shoulders, press their cold outside cheeks on mine. But the best, really, is when I take my nose out of the laptop and let one of them snuggle behind me and I tell him/her to pick a subject and then talk and I write it verbatim.
And the words that flow out of that gorgeous little mouth come with ease and with wings, and it’s not so much that I’m learning how to be a parent, but how to be a better poet. And then, in the poems, and in the children, that’s where I find the instructions to be a better parent.
Rebecca Parfitt is a poet, short story writer and editor of The Ghastling. For some reason she also asked me to be godmother to her baby who I like a lot, but who I also like to swiftly hand back when she starts crying.
There is a pram in my hallway and there are toys in my office. They weren't always there but I can't really imagine a time when they were not. When I first announced I was pregnant, I encountered a few negative comments, things like, that's it for you now, the writing career is over, at least for the next 18 years. You can't be a writer and a mother. Nothing kills the creative process more than a screaming baby.
But actually I'm more determined than I ever was because my time is so squeezed I have to get things down really quickly. I remember talking to writer Francesca Rhydderch about how I would manage my time. She told me how focused she became. When her baby slept she knew there was only a limited amount of time she would have of peace and quiet which meant she had to get stuck in really quickly. You have to focus.
When I was childless I floated around thinking about writing, thinking about not writing, thinking about how I should write when I wasn't writing and then writing and gazing and pacing around and getting distracted by everything around me. By all of the things I could do back then that I can't do now, presumably. But actually I have been more creative in the last 5 months then I was the 5 months previously.
I am finding ways around the method of writing, I don't have to use a pen or notebook. I am exploring mediums with which to do it, for example, I am now sitting in the bath speaking into a dictaphone app on my phone. I'm writing without actually writing, I'm skipping the process – thought to page then a thought edited, formed, twice filtered. My thoughts are appearing on a screen in front of me as I speak, very slowly, very measured.
I am writing because people told me I wouldn't. I am writing because I'm spilling over with ideas. Motherhood is strange, I feel like I've stepped across a threshold, there was a door behind me but it's disappeared, there's no way back to the life I had before. My friend and colleague Amy Wack told me how enriching having a child was. It's true, I'm considering things I never would have before, like, how am I going to be able to write when both my hands are occupied with a small baby in my lap? And those are the times where I seem to be thinking the most about writing – when I'm trapped physically.
Writing, for me, doesn't happen on its own. I have never been able to wake up in the morning, set aside the entire day to writing, and write. I have to exist in life itself before the pen starts to move. When you become a parent you become so in the present, there is nothing else in your life so important that cannot be set down for the future. I am seeing the world from a completely new perspective. I am transformed. My body is altered so my mind is altered. Something came through me. Another person came through me and another version of me followed her. Why wouldn't I be creative?
There is a pram in my hallway, toys in my office, but I am learning to include them, I'm learning to write around them, I'm learning to write within the sphere of motherhood.