Monday, July 25, 2011

I wrote this piece for a magazine just after I joined Twitter. A year has passed since then and, like all relationships, Twitter and I have had our ups and downs: there was the passionate honeymoon phase, followed by the ambivalent plateau stage and then the "even the way you chew drives me crazy" period but, as we celebrate our first anniversary together, I want to pause and look back at how it all started.....

I Tweet, Therefore I Am

In the time-honoured tradition of my conflicted relationship with all things technological, I came late to Twitter. Informed by those in the know that tweeting was the latest “big thing,” I decided it would be best to bury my head firmly in the sand and ignore it for as long as possible. What was the point of embracing this new media phenomenon sweeping the world when I could simply pretend it didn’t exist instead? After all, this was a policy that had worked perfectly well for me in the past. I was already successfully blanking Facebook, Bebo and all those other convoluted social networking tools - I wasn’t about to be seduced by this new kid on the block. Besides, if I wanted to talk to people without having to go to the trouble of actually speaking to them I still had my dear friends - email and texting - to rely on.
But, as time rolled on, I began to get curious. Just a little. And so one night, I logged on to see what all the fuss was about. I wasn’t going to get sucked in of course, I was just going to look, prove to myself that I was right to avoid this Twitter like the rabid plague it surely was. But before I could say jeepers tweepers, I found I’d opened an account (, and uploaded a dodgy photo to accompany it. It had all been so incredibly easy, even for a tech dinosaur like me – either this tweeting thing was a piece of cake or I was a computer genius and I just hadn’t realised it before.
“What’s happening?” my new page asked me flirtatiously that fateful night. My fingers hovered over the keyboard as I dithered about how I should reply, a wave of sudden uncertainty washing over me. What should I say? I could hardly admit “Em, not very much to be honest.”
Foolish pride prevents me from revealing here just how long it took to compose that first tweet. Let’s just say my husband asked me, more than once, if I was feeling all right as he ferried cups of tea up and down the stairs to me.
The trouble was, the truth was dawning: My tweets had to be witty and relevant. They also had to be concise - I had just 140 characters to play with. Not only that, I had to reach out into the abyss to other tweeps – “follow” people, get them to “follow” me. This made me feel quite ill with fright. It was the nail-biting cyberspace equivalent of going to a party where I knew no-one and standing at the edge of the room, nervously plucking up the courage to join in the conversation, hoping someone, anyone, would talk to me. (On the upside, I didn’t have to roll out the Spanx to squeeze into my little black dress - pyjama wearing and tweeting go hand in hand.)
Then there was the lingo to contend with: what were tags, RTs, abbreviations like LMAO? When someone #FF me, I didn’t know whether to thank them or run and hide. It was all so strange and unknown. But the conversations - as people shared information, interesting websites, personal angst - were fascinating.
Within days, and against all the odds, I was hooked. Before I knew it, I was refreshing my page constantly to check for new messages. I was also sneaking away from the dinner table to consort with my PC like some sort of Twitter junkie. Where was the harm? It was all such fun right?
But Twitter has its downsides too, as I would soon sadly learn. Just like at parties, there were people on-line who wanted to corner me near the cold meat buffet and tell me their every waking thought – like they were thinking about cutting their toenails soon – yes, really.
There were also lots of fakers. Take a new follower of mine – let’s call her Julie. Julie seemed perfectly nice to begin with. Until, that is, she kept asking me to look at naked photos of her. You see, Julie didn’t want to befriend me at all – she wasn’t even a real person - she was spam.
But, despite the negatives, I keep going back for more. Mostly because, although I’m still a newbie, I have already found real connections on-line – Twitter is a wonderland for writers like me. I’ve even met some famous faces. My claim to Twitter fame - and a story I hope to dine out on for many years to come - is that I am one very well known person’s 666th follower. When I pointed this out to him, as I felt duly obliged to, he kindly tweeted back, wanting to know if this meant that if he read one of my novels backwards it would be Satanic text. I’m taking it as a compliment - after all, chick lit has been called lots worse. Now, I really must go, I haven’t checked my account in, oh, at least twenty minutes. Who knows what I’ve missed….

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Super Mammy

I wrote this for a charity anthology a few years ago. Not much has changed since!

The Super Mammy
Before I had children, I had a very clear picture in my mind of the perfect parent I was going to be. For starters, I definitely wasn’t going to be uptight. There’s nothing worse than a Mammy who won’t get on the floor to play or have a go on the bouncy castle, just because she thinks she might look idiotic. Well, there are lots of worse things, of course there are, but I knew I wanted to retain a sense of fun, even if, as a parent, I would be obliged to pretend to be a responsible adult most of the time. Anyway, I was used to looking idiotic, so that wasn’t going to be a problem for me. So, I’d be jovial, but I’d also be careful about setting rules and boundaries. There would be no somersaults or risky manoeuvres on the bouncy castle for example - that would be totally off limits. There’d also be no jumping off kitchen countertops, no running with scissors and no poking eyes out with forks.
As well as being a barrel of laughs, I’d be really nurturing. Not in an overbearing or scary stage-school mother way of course. Yes, I’d encourage my children to shoot for the stars and use their talents (which would be too many to count, obviously), but I’d also teach them to be kind and not step on others’ dreams on the way. I definitely wouldn’t suggest that they injure another child accidentally on purpose to land the lead role in the school Nativity Play, for instance. Ahem.
I’d be a counsellor and friend and the first person they would turn to in trouble - not that they would ever get into any trouble in the first place, because, in my infinite wisdom, I would steer them away from making any bad choices. And, while I was doing all that, I’d also cultivate an herb garden, grow my own fruits and vegetables and cook delicious, nutritious meals from scratch every day. My Mensa children would be poster kids for healthy living and I, in turn, would be feted by everyone from Jamie Oliver to Supernanny. I’d be a cross between Ma Ingalls from Little House on the Prairie and Nigella Lawson. In short, I’d be a Super Mammy.
It has been more than eight years since my first child was born and there are some days when, very briefly, I start to think I am Super Mammy. OK, so I may not be an award-winning chef (I’ve got the licking-your-fingers-suggestively bit down pat, it’s the baking I struggle with) and I have yet to plant any herbs or vegetables but there are times I can believe I’m doing a good job. The goal posts have shifted a bit of course, because, these days, meeting my parenting ideals doesn’t mean growing dinner from scratch. It means negotiating a whole host of little hurdles with as much good humour and as few calamities as possible along the way. A good morning, for example, means not forgetting the children’s school bags. A very good morning means remembering their hats, music and football boots too. If I can accomplish that and everyone is still smiling then I can start to feel smug and think, for a split second, that I have the measure of this parenting lark. It’s then of course, right when I’m patting myself on the back for a job well done, that a shining example of award-winning motherhood will pop up from nowhere, burst my perfect-parent bubble and remind me, swiftly and without mercy, that just because I can manage a measly task or two without disaster striking, a Super Mammy I am not.
A true Super Mammy is easy to spot. For a start, she’s on time - or early - for everything. She doesn’t struggle up to the school gates, miles late and red in the face, vexed with the exertion of a morning spent unsuccessfully trying to bribe a child to eat something, anything, before school. She’s also never less than impeccably dressed – she wouldn’t dream of wearing pyjama bottoms under her coat to do the school run and she never pulls on a hat to hide the fact that her hair hasn’t been washed in a week. She’s always perfectly groomed – and so are her children. Not for them a school jumper that has never seen an iron or a pair of shoes that are only ever cleaned with a baby wipe in the car just before reaching the school gates. Not for them hair that hasn’t been brushed properly or socks that don’t match. Super Mammy prides herself on ironing even her children’s underwear and polishing their shoes every single night before bed. All her progeny brush their own hair before they leave the house every morning – a habit she instilled in them from toddlerhood. And she couldn’t imagine how any mother would let a child loose in mismatched socks. All it takes is preparation. Preparation is key and she, for one, can’t sleep easy until everything necessary for the school day is organised and neatly laid out the night before – that prevents delay in the mornings, meaning her children have sufficient time to eat the organic porridge she lovingly prepares for them at their leisure. It is this commitment to preparation that sets a Super Mammy apart from the likes of me (purely a pretender).
Super Mammy is supremely organised. She does not forget which child has a play date and which had a keyboard lesson. She never mislays a child’s homework and then bribes that child to tell the teacher the dog ate it. She never arrives at school to find the yard deserted because she didn’t read the note announcing a staff training day. She does not have “trouble” with notes. She does not have trouble with anything.
She walks everywhere with purpose, her diligently organised handbag tucked neatly under her arm. This handbag is her portable office, and in it are the tools that allow her perfect existence to operate without a hitch. An endless supply of antiseptic wipes, nutritious snacks and bottled water is only the start of what the handbag can hold. Super Mammy loves nothing more than a pseudo emergency situation so she can really demonstrate her worth and the extent of her organisational capabilities.
Your child has a nosebleed? Good news! Super Mammy will come to the rescue in a jiffy with an icepack she just happened to have to hand! Your child falls and rips the knee of his trousers? Don’t panic! Super Mammy has a sewing kit to hand and will carry out an instant repair. (Her new motto for these credit crunch times is mend and make-do – she’s even learning embroidery in her very limited spare time.) Your child forgets his lunchbox? Never fear, Super Mammy always makes a spare, just in case.
Super Mammy does not try to keep track of her life by writing notes to herself on scraps of paper and the backs of supermarket till receipts and then promptly losing them. Super Mammy’s pride and joy is her To-Do list. She keeps one copy in the handbag (in its own special pouch) and a carbon copy on the cork notice board at home, where an intricate colour coded system alerts her to any possible hiccup in her finely tuned and expertly timed day. Super Mammy updates this list hourly without fail so she can keep one step ahead of her hectic schedule. She never misses a parent-teacher meeting, forgets to make a child’s dance-recital costume or is caught unawares by a school bake sale. She meticulously files past medical appointments in chronological order so she knows exactly when her child received each jab. She does not shove medical receipts into a kitchen drawer and hope they will somehow sort themselves out.
Super Mammy is confident she is prepared for every eventuality. A last minute birthday invitation? No problem! Super Mammy always bulk-buys greeting cards and an assortment of kids’ gifts – she keeps a stash in her boot specially. She does not skid to a halt in front of the supermarket five minutes ahead of a child’s party and then race inside to choose a random present. She carries a roll of Sellotape everywhere – she has never resorted to using Winnie the Pooh plasters to wrap gifts. She also keeps spare clothes, neatly ironed and folded in a recycled bag, in the car just in case her child ever throws up on her pristine upholstery after consuming too may sugary goodies while he has been away from her watchful eye. She could not contemplate having to mop up a child’s vomit with pages torn from a woman’s magazine, and she has never been forced to ask a child to wipe his dripping nose on his sleeve because she always has a pack of pre-softened Aloe Vera tissues in her purse. She brings her child’s borrowed books back on time. She has never received a notice from the library to inform her that if she doesn’t return The Gruffalo within a week she will have a nice day out in court.
Super Mammy has an herb garden. And a vegetable patch. She never serves her family fish fingers that may be past their sell by date or tries to pass off spaghetti hoops as vegetables. Instead, she clips wholesome recipes from magazines and involves her child in meal preparation (Little Johnny just loves to roll homemade pasta!). She does not watch Rachel bake on TV with a glass of wine in one hand and a packet of crisps in the other. She does not vow that she will cook like Rachel some day. She could give Rachel a run for her money right now if the mood took her. She has been buying exclusively organic produce for years. Actually, she’s recently acquired a few hens of her own (little Johnny likes nothing better than to collect the fresh eggs every morning). She does not buy supermarket spaghetti sauce and pretend it’s her own.
Super Mammy’s child is extra special. Little Johnny slept through the night from birth, smiled at four days, rolled over at three weeks, sat at two months, walked at six months and wrote his first sentence at one year. Super Mammy now enrols him in every available after-school activity to help him reach his potential and she encourages others to do the same because everyone knows children are sponges and it’s up to parents to expand their inquisitive minds. Super Mammy floats from one hellish activity to another serenely. She doesn’t develop a hunted look or a serious coffee addiction because every afternoon is now filled with a soul-destroying round of never-ending extra-curricular past-times that sucks her soul dry. She relishes the challenge of being in two places at once – especially when flute clashes with violin on a Tuesday.
So, there you have it. All the evidence adds up to one irrefutable, conclusive fact: I am not a Super Mammy and I never will be. I am not organised, I am not focused, and I probably will never have an herb garden or a vegetable patch. But I am also not losing precious sleep over it because, luckily for me, I don’t have to be a Super Mammy to have Super Kids. And they are what make me Super Happy.