Monday, 9 May 2016


It's been ages, I know. Blame Belgium. Blame Catholicism, I don't know. We had a FIVE DAY FUCKING WEEKEND, I went through all the Kubler Ross Bank Holiday Weekend stages by midday Saturday.

The stages of Bank Holiday Weekend:

Gin Fuelled Denial

Box Set Blindness

Collective Activity Bargaining

Catering Ennui

Hiding in Lavatory with Phone Anger

Procrastinated Homework Depression

Gin Based Acceptance

Everyone Go Back To Work Now Please

Yesterday was Mother's Day in Belgium. F was forced by school to write me a poem (excellent, included references to early morning chicken wake ups and Oscar's "regard noir") and made his own bath foam, which was very impressive. L, now free from the yoke of school-imposed gifting, had to be cattle prodded by his father and only came up with the goods late afternoon, but when he did they were impressive:

Angry Murder Owl

Angry Owligami

I am a bit bewildered by being a mother currently, which I think must be standard for parents of 12 and 14 year olds, or at least so I tell myself. I mean, I'd still take it over babydom any day and they are funny and delightful and make me laugh and I am sure they are on the way to becoming basically sound human beings, but the constant nagging inchoate sense of Doing It Wrong oppresses me. Too much of this, not enough of that? Leave them to it, get involved? Am I too involved with one, not enough with the other? Or is it the other way around? How do you deal with their worries (never openly expressed, they are their mother's children), their orthodontics, their Internet search history? Who the fuck knows. On these occasions I like to turn to The Times, which has weekly pieces explaining to me exactly how I am going wrong (the reasons vary from week to week, ideally positing diametrically opposed theories of parenting for extra middle class meltdown potential). I don't really. I like doing practical things like washing pants and buying replacement compasses and making scones, because they feel useful, or necessary, or something. If I muster enough small stuff, I can avoid thinking too much about the big stuff. In any case, I'm not sure if you ever feel like you've done a good job on the bigger parenting stuff. It's probably just like everything else in adult life - a worrying, chaotic muddle, brightened with shafts of joy as blinding and unexpected as Belgian May sunshine and the odd patch of quiet satisfaction you never appreciate as much as you should.

I do like reading good writing about the weirdness and ambivalence of being a parent though, and there were a couple of good ones this weekend, none of them about having the larger variety of children in particular, but excellent reads.

This is beautifully written and interesting. It didn't particularly chime with my experiences (probably due to having no professional ambition or desires at the time I had my sons, indeed one of the things I remember thinking when I was pregnant the first time was that it would allow me to "get out" of work for a while, Jesus) but if I only read things that did, I would mainly read about Shetland ponies, eclairs and despair.

This was a super interesting (if not always very cheery) read about the varying degrees of pleasure, reward, purpose, happiness in parenting.

This is so beautiful on the ordinary, admirable business of being human, what we leave behind, what having a mother or being a mother is about. Made me think of my own.

There are lots of things I want to write about now that everyone has gone back to work (though next Bank Holiday is a WEEK TODAY, JESUSSS), so I will do so. But now I need to review my Dutch irregular imperfects again.


30% Histamine, or whatever the fuck happens when every insect in Wallonia decides to eat you simultaneously
30% Lost receipt gloom
20% Bank Holiday Belly
10% Still waiting for undelivered desk
10% Unable to identify a suitable summer equivalent to my winter punishment soup lunches. Salad - at least the way I do it - doesn't quite do the trick. Any suggestions?



cruella said...

Will read your recommended pieces when I've caught up with Everything from invoicing to meeting notes deadline for EU committee (parliament, on a SUNNY DAY LIKE THIS, how dare they), winter storage depression on balcony (need to buy very many plants) and washing mountain from lovely weekend trip south.

As for parenting and long weekends: I've escaped now that the youngest is 18. They stayed back, I fled for four heavenly days of sea, cowslips and rosé. And I'm sure I've thought every single thought on inadequacy concerning the real stuff of parenthood.

LuLu Anna said...

Hi Emma,

I have four children aged 25-18, and I would say that the one thing all parents share is the feeling that you are not doing it right.(Anyone who thinks they have all the answers is clearly an unsuitable parent). All you can do is the best that you can in the circumstances. I used to beat myself up about all the occasions I'd been less than patient and seemed to have become a child myself... I can remember flying upstairs after my daughter following a tirade from her, thinking how has it come to this? My dear husband has always maintained that the children need to appreciate that you are human too and that sometimes they are insanely annoying. I have made it a rule to apologise if I get it extremely wrong, just like I would expect them to do so (which doesn't always happen).

Teenage boys (I've had 3 of those) are a nightmare because they treat every nugget of information as precious to them, and not to be shared with their parents and this covers everything, letters from School forms that need filling in etc as well as the exploits of their classmates (which you almost certainly don't want to know.) Even if they don't want to communicate with you, they need to know you are there for them, and keep talking to them whether they want to listen or not- we always eat together when we can round a table. Sometimes prepare to be blind-sided by your other half- we were having a discussion about underage drinking when husband (who went to boarding school in York btw) explained that he routinely used to frequent a pub when he was 14. Oh how the boys enjoyed hearing the exploits of Dad-lad. But he could also talk to them about being at school in the 70s when boys were high on LSD, and how frightening that was. As a Mum another thing I do is to keep insisting on hugs and physical contact. For all their bravado young people do need to know they are cherished and appreciated, even if you get "Oh Mum..." groan.

You will get through it and one day one you will wake up and think what splendid young men I have produced- how did that happen?

All the best

Lulu Anna

PS My kids (with the exception of daughter (23) and no 2 son (20))are absolutely rubbish at Mother's Day , don't take it personally

Anonymous said...

to distract from receipts, insects etc... this is on Radio 4 Extra catch up: Kenneth Williams reading Cold Comfort Farm it is tip top - in 6 episodes of 30 min. extremely cheering!

Patience_Crabstick said...

Angry Murder Owl is magnificent!

Anonymous said...

Summer lunches: you've got to make lots of different sorts of salads, a new one almost every day, just keep the salad-making rolling, and mix them up together on the following days so it's not so boring, until you've been good long enough or someone gives you a look or something and then you put some different salads (or at this point you can throw any given salad away for any reason, this is called a cleanse day) in a toasted wrap with lots of cheese and enough chili to not taste the salads anymore.

Flora Fauna Dinner said...

Cold soup.

Lesley said...

I raised a boy, now nearly 20, mostly as a single parent. The worst year was around 15 when we seemed to argue all the time about little things and I felt I was just a nagging machine. The biggest help was having a dog, which was something for us both to love and somehow the love for him spilled over, if you get my meaning. I agree, boys don't talk much and mine expects a lot from me, still, but he's a lovely boy. I'll miss him when he leaves later this year but I'm also glad he's going. Don't overthink, all things will pass and generally things work out OK - that's been my philosophy. Oh and try to make a game out of getting one over on the little bas**rds!

Patsy said...

Such a poignant piece on the pain of parenting. Know exactly what you mean about busying oneself with small things to feel useful when the big stuff is potentially completely out of control. My nearly 16yo boy will now tell me nothing of his private affairs, is yet to leave school trousers anywhere other than in a stepped-out-of-pile on the floor, but can finally have a measured argument and still wants me to massage his smelly feet in front of the tele. Which like a sucker I do, every time. Who would have thunk it.

Anonymous said...

Dear Waffle, thank you for the links, very interesting reads.
Absolutely, doing small things helps immensely, especially when things are hard. I remember being very intent on doing laundry and overzealous about folding everything into neat little piles and matching socks together when it seemed that things couldn't possibly be more difficult. In a way I suppose it was comforting because it was a way of nurturing when I really didn't have the faintest idea how to fix everything that had seem to have collapsed all of a sudden. I could at least fold the sh*t of of t-shirts and smooth out wrinkles in trousers. I guess it's about exerting a level of control somewhere, if we are unable to do so in other areas of life. I also overexerted myself in the kitchen, coming up with the weirdest concoctions, even though I didn't know if they would even be eaten because everyone had lost their appetite. Some kind of instinctive drive urged me to clean, cook and tidy, to arrange to veneer of normalcy for the situation, I suppose. In a way, it is what kept me going, because someone had to do the bl**dy housework, didn't they?
Like the name of the film, "the kids are alright". Your boys are lovely and you're obviously doing a brilliant job at this parenting thing. It's clear from your blog and from your book that you have a special gentleness about you, a special empathy, a keen awareness of emotion and of the depth of human experience: your own and that of others. That is something that no parenting guide can teach and it is the single most important thing that is needed, I think. If only all kids had someone that perceptive in their lives!

Do you need ideas for family lunches or solo lunches just for yourself?
The summer lunch par excellence is gazpacho, I drink it by the gallon. I recently discovered quinoa (about 10 years too late, I know) and cook it in slightly less water than recommended so it doesn't get soggy. You can make a large batch of it and then add different chopped veggies to it every day. Alternate with couscous, again with less water to avoid sogginess. Good quinoa is really tasty and versatile as well as providing tonnes of protein. Hummus and raw veggies are a staple as well. Apparently the water that is used in jars of cooked chickpeas (which I always used to discard) is the latest hipster miracle ingredient, given the name "aquafaba":
So maybe make a batch of hummus (cooked chickpeas, juice of one or more lemons, a couple of cloves of garlic, pinch of salt and olive oil in the blender) and then whizz up a couple of aquafaba meringues for the mid-afternoon slump?
P.S. Sorry this is so long and rambling. I love your blog and am very happy to see all the great reviews of your book :)

Anonymous said...

"to arrange a veneer" sorry about the typo(s)

cruella said...

Aïe, aïe - read "F is for phone" and teared up because I also gave birth to my first child in Holles Street and now I was parachuted through time-space. She tells a terrifying and beautiful tale. Nothing much seems to have changed in the place, even though for Ireland it must have been unusually calm when I was there. I didn't see or hear one single other expecting mother or newborn apart from my own jaundiced son in the Cow & Gate labelled crib. Strange days.

Unknown said...

Oh dear, next weekend is Pinksterdag, isn't it? I remember marching hopelessly in the drizzle around Soest dragging 5 year old twins(who had only had a week to snigger ripostes around "Hemelvaartsdag" as the most hilarious word yet in Dutch) & an eleven weeks old baby with my American mother who was becoming increasingly furious at everything in the Netherlands being closed YET AGAIN/AS USUAL. My Dutch father started to laugh & announced it was Tweede Pinksterdag which she thought he had made up in order to inflame her more. To this day (the baby is 17 now & her brothers 22), I call & wish her the happiest felicitations on the second day of Pentecost.

Helen said...

Freelance lunch, summer = can of cold chickpeas laced with fridge litter.

Waffle said...

HELEN. I can't in all conscience get behind this. Though that is probably why I am getting inexorably fatter, since halloumi wrap does not equal bowl of punishment soup.

I also don't hold with cold soup, lunch suggesters.

Gazpacho anon - You say lovely things despite your cold soup suggestion and I give heartfelt thanks for them. It is ANOTHER day of minor parenting disasters so your kindness is especially welcome xxxxx

Sophie said...

How about tabbouleh (better made with bulgar than couscous)or this, which is also damn fine made with red rice? I find you can halve the dressing ingredients (5 tbs lemon juice = 1-2 large lemons which is quite a lot!).

Anonymous said...

Dear Waffle, you always make me laugh. I don't normally like cold soups myself but gazpacho is really in a class of its own. It's practically liquid salad, come on. Maybe give it a teensy try? It is the best thing possible to eat/drink/slurp when the mercury hits 40º C as it does on a regular basis where I'm based. I concede that it may taste different in other less warm places.
Minor parenting disasters are a constant here. What is it with young teenagers that prevents them from packing their bags properly at home and at school? I have lost count of the number of missing books around here. Funnily enough, the mobile is never forgotten at home or under the desk at school. I wonder why that is? I'm in full mean mother mode now and have confiscated the mobile phone until tomorrow morning. I also don't rush to the rescue asking other mothers for missing homework. I'm hoping these tactics will have an effect at some point between now and adulthood but somehow I get the feeling that I'm just at the start of this particular tunnel of doom and that my rages only affect my own innards, which are no doubt shrinking and shrivelling as I rant about developing a sense of responsibility, etc.
Onwards and upwards, they grow up eventually!

Anonymous said...

I think you might like this story by Lucy Caldwell published in the Irish Times today:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the NYmag link. I found it strangely consoling.

Unknown said...

I just read the book and was very touched. What a time you had. How lovely the way you describe Olivier. He sounds wonderful.
Sorry about the microwave. There seemed to be a good reason for it at the time but I've forgotten what that was.

Waffle said...

Kate - Oh, it's still in regular use, by me and Julia if not by him! Actually I think he does use it for porridge sometimes... xxx

Anonymous said...

My one reliably thoughtful adult child (son- one of 4 kids) gave me the only card I received for Mother's Day, and on the front of the tastefully pink-striped card it says, "None of your kids are in prison." Inside it says, "That's a motherhood blue ribbon right there". So I suspect I must have done the job well even though in all those years I endured all the parenting disasters possible, including discovering green enamel paint running down the driveway into the neighborhood street just as I was rushing off for work. (Something about the punctured paint can and the new dart game, though of course none of the kids knew a thing about it.) Cynthia

Anonymous said...

By the way, I loved your book and felt that I was virtually "with you" all the way through. I knew from your blog that it would be just as wonderful and wasn't disappointed and am now busy recommending it to all my reading friends and family. Cynthia

Waffle said...

Cynthia - Oh, THANK YOU! I am very pleased.

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