What Kind of Parent are You?


I was lucky to receive three cards on Mothers’ Day. The first to arrive was a sparkly depiction of two unicorns-large and small-portraying an idealised, rainbow-backed vision of motherhood, cosy, pretty and delightful. The second a hand-drawn picture of two figures side-by-side, one larger in trousers [me], the other small in a dress [Grand-Offspring]. The third a photo of a ravaged old hag.

Of course I’m delighted by all of these depictions of myself, as parent and grandparent, for a variety of reasons. For one thing, they’ve all remembered the day. If your Offspring have negotiated all the hurdles on the way to adulthood and continue to communicate with you it must be some kind of miracle.

Parenting is like navigating the seas, periods of calm punctuated by violent storms. Sometimes the storms are catastrophic. Sometimes the calms are flat enough to believe you are becalmed and stranded, never to reach the shore.

When the offspring are safely grown and in their own nests you may consider your duty done but that is very far from the truth. You continue to feel responsible, to offer support, to care, in a way that few creatures in the natural world do [except perhaps for elephants?].

Myself, 38 years ago and pregnant, I was an ignoramus on the subject of babies. While I was acquainted with the development and behaviour of young children, when I had the first I was exhausted and  panicky in equal measures-a rabbit caught in the headlights. My long held belief that babies ate and slept was shattered. As they grew I was unprepared for the frustration, penury and utter boredom that life with toddlers can be. But in other ways they were, at that time, the very best part of my life.

Becoming a grandparent is well documented as delightful and easier [in that you ‘can hand them back’] although there are hazards and traps to avoid. I was prey to much advice as a new mum-‘Pull yourself together; you’ve only had a baby’ was one gem [as I lay strapped to various devices in the hospital bed, post Caesarian Section]. So I try to stick to merely describing my own experiences while also attempting to adhere to parental rules and guidelines regarding treats etc

There is a huge variety of parenting styles, from controlling to liberal and most are dependent on our personalities as adults and, perhaps, our own experiences as children. There is no such thing as a perfect parent so we must rely on guesswork, friends or manuals to solve conundrums like faddy eating. The fact that I came to depend on the quaintly old-fashioned ‘Baby and Child Care’ by Dr Benjamin Spock demonstrates how long ago I became a mum. But if not trendy, his approach to child rearing seemed calm and sensible at the time.

Above all I do hope I’ve managed to maintain some vestiges of humour as they’ve grown up. Long may it continue!


The Loneliness of the Self-Scanner

Been to a supermarket lately? Noticed anything?

Those of us in the UK who don’t have our groceries delivered [and I have penned a blog post about this in the past: Wandering Around in the Bagging Area] and who frequent supermarkets are being subjected to an offensive regarding the way we gather our comestibles etc.

It goes like this: A number of members of staff are allocated to diverting we unwary shoppers into the self-checkout tills, or worse, into the scan-as-you-go system.

From the shop’s point of view, I suppose the aim is ultimately to cut out manned check-outs altogether, chopping their wages bills and perhaps maximising shop floor space.

A quick glance around the store tells me I’m not alone in being unenthusiastic about the automisation of the shopping experience. For a start, it’s not like I haven’t tried it; it’s just that they are never fully automated, are they? Something always goes wrong. A number of people have to be employed simply to sort the glitches which renders the machines pointless-

Then there’s the term ‘self-check-out’. It’s a little too uncomfortable for those in later life. Myself, I’m not ready to ‘check-out’ yet.

Scan-as-you-go may well be the answer to the supermarkets’ prayers but it has no appeal for me.  We have grown used to weighing and labelling our fruit and vegetables in French supermarchés, however I’ve no desire to scan each and every thing I want to toss into my trolley. I want a carefree wander among the aisles, browsing and speculating.

Our nearest grocer is an upmarket, dearer one and dominated by older, retiree shoppers. Some of them are very elderly, shuffling around in slippers and comfort clothing, dependent on the trolley for support. In my younger, more ignorant, more impatient, time-poor days I’d castigate the elderly shoppers, fumbling for their purses, dropping things, peering with rheumy eyes at the card reader, but as one whose hands are no longer entirely at their owner’s bidding I have more sympathy for the slow, muddled, dithering old folks as they dawdle up and down deliberating at the freezers and pondering over the bread.

For a number of the lonely elderly a chat with a checkout operator may well be the only small piece of human contact they’ll get that day. If the human interaction element of the shopping experience is denied them they’ll be deprived of an essential bit of contact. I too want this minute bit of engagement. I want to be greeted, to be asked how I am, to have a snippet of conversation about the loaf I’ve selected or how beautiful the apples look. Maybe when I worked all day [talking] and only wanted to lie down in a dark room when I got home I’d have relished the thought of completing the shopping quickly and in solitary silence but I’m not sure that becoming fully automated is such an advantageous initiative.

There are already threads in the media over our screen use; how we choose to peer at tiny screens instead of conversing, how we’d prefer to play solitary screen games rather than engage with other humans. What effect is all this solitary behaviour going to have on us in the future? Answers on a virtual postcard…

Last Laugh of the Laughing Gnome…

What a lot of insincere garbage has been spewed about David Bowie this week! I suppose the press is having an orgasmic moment at the gift his death has given them. We’ve been treated to scenes outside his New York apartment, scenes outside his Brixton flat, scenes outside the place in Berlin where he stayed; what next? Scenes outside a hotel in Llandudno where he might have had a holiday as a child? If he was anywhere now he’d be laughing his multicoloured socks off like he did in that unmentioned-in-the-reports early single, ‘The Laughing Gnome’ [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZyQxTWDLZ8o]

We’ve heard how he ‘changed my life’, ‘changed the face of Britain’, ‘changed world politics’. What next? Changed evolution? Changed the climate? –Oh no-that’s managing to change all by itself.

Of course everyone has had to leap onto the grief bandwagon-from the PM to astronaut Tim Peake. Interviews with ‘grieving’ fans have included a vast number who can surely barely have heard of him, having been born in the 90s. ‘You’ve got your own style icons and musical heroes!’ I want to shout, ‘Leave ours alone!’

But who are they, the world famous, ground-breaking musical geniuses of today? I suppose I am as guilty of ignorance regarding current musical talents as my parents would have been about Bowie, but how many of them span the decades as he did? Ed Sheeran? Justin Bieber? Heaven forbid! Sam Smith and Adele may have produced songs for James Bond movies but I doubt their catalogues will endure forty years.

I was a student when Bowie turned out what I consider to be his best albums, ‘Hunky Dory’ and ‘Aladdin Sane’. These were the upbeat, optimistic, rocky tunes that I still feel were his best; not for me the introspective, brooding ballads that came later. In truth I am probably just a little too old for him to have been a hero since I had cut my teeth listening to rock and roll and came to student-dom from teenage years as a fringe hippy, already having attended Chicken Shack, ELP, King Crimson, Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd concerts. I arrived to my hall of residence with Carole King, Cat Stevens and Tyrannosaurus Rex LPs to play on my Dansette record player. I adored The Rolling Stones and became obsessed by The Faces. Later I did buy my two favourite Bowie albums, but only these.

Glam rock was already underway by the time Bowie reached a pinnacle. We all bought into it with platform boots, satin shirts and colourful ‘loon pants’, much to the bewilderment of our parents, a generation who were scandalised daily by the appearance, behaviour and culture of the young. Little did they know that Punk was just around the corner and was about to erupt in a grungy rash of piercings, abusive language, noise, snot and vomit.

Now there is too much horror in the news for anyone to be shocked by the culture of youth. Perhaps that’s why music, fashion and popular culture has become so commercial and sanitised? Or is it simply that there is nothing new under the sun? Ho hum…


It’s not You-it’s Me…honest!

                Here’s a thing. I’ve noticed as I’ve got older that I’ve a tendency to realise and acknowledge negative traits I have picked up. Is this a common phenomenon, I wonder?

                There is one habit I have that I’ve been loath to confess-even to myself. But during a stroll with my [mental health nursing student/+psychology degree] daughter I ‘fessed up to one of my unappealing characteristics and it is this: On occasions, whilst out and about, I may see someone I know and go to certain lengths to avoid them.

                There is no excuse for this behaviour, nor, I must admit any special reason. It is not necessarily associated with dislike, or embarrassment or the fact that I am in a hurry-a condition that is rare these days. It is not isolated to any particular person, although immediate family do not generally come in for this treatment, and certainly if they did they would be more than ready to let me know.

                I am willing to wager that there are times when the subject of my evasion has not only clocked me but has also caught on to the fact that I have actioned a deliberate path of avoidance, a notion that is both uncomfortable and shaming to me! Nevertheless it is a behaviour I continue to pursue for no purpose that I can identify.

                Once I’d mentioned this to my offspring she was quick to reassure me that she, too, was inclined to behave this way, which led me to wonder. Is this a family attribute?

                Curious to pursue the inquiry I questioned Google and was rewarded with a plethora of websites on the subject. http://www.wikihow.com/Ignore-Someone provides a variety of methods for shunning people and http://www.succeedsocially.com/runintoacquaintance explains how to steer yourself out of conversing. Although both of these sites is a mine of advice on how to deal with the situation, neither of them makes clear the reasons why you should want to ignore someone you know. Succeedsocially does point out that it might be someone you do not have a lot to say to, but even this does not fully enlighten me.

                Then I came across http://awkwardlist.com/2012/02/13/106-bumping-into-someone-you-have-as-a-friend-on-facebook-but-dont-talk-to-in-real-life/ which provided a great deal of entertaining anecdotes and potential social difficulties. I was much reassured. The whole meet-greet-small talk situation is fraught with complexity.

                And I really am not like this all the time-just occasionally, when not feeling especially sociable.

                So to anyone who knows me and has noticed me scuttling round the end of an aisle in the supermarket, pretending an uncharacteristic interest in plumbing parts in the window of the heating engineer’s or burrowing deeper into the pages of a newspaper in the library I can only apologise and say it isn’t you…it’s me…

What well behaved Mummies must do-and not do…

                When Mothers Day comes around it is always delightful to see or hear from one’s offspring, receive cards and display graceful acceptance of their dutiful appreciation. But other than this I tend to feel a little melancholy as the day arrives; because I have reached the advanced stage of becoming the oldest generation, the matriarch, if you like, and this means I have no older, female family members to choose a card or buy a bunch of flowers for.

                I also grow more aware, as my adult children grow older of the pitfalls I can easily fall into whilst attempting not to replicate the behaviour of my own parents as they aged. Whilst I have promised myself what and what not to do, I begin to realise that I may transgress without knowing it! Horrors! So in the interests of keeping to the regime of well behaved, uncontroversial, un-embarrassing mother I write this list of Dos and Don’ts for myself.


Dress appropriately

Remember that song about the ‘Harper Valley PTA’?…[a number one hit for Jeannie C Riley in 1969] Well I suppose most people will be too young! Basically it was about a ‘mom’ who wore miniskirts to the school parents’ meetings. Whilst I am not yet ready, I feel, for elasticated waist, floral skirts and Bri-nylon ski pants I must be aware of the minefield of fashion faux pas that stretches ahead.


Undertake age-appropriate activities

One of the difficulties with this one is that I don’t actually know what activities are or are not age-appropriate. Should I be attending flower arranging classes, knitting things and playing Bridge? Or is it ok to take up motor-bike riding, learn electric guitar and go to raves?



Remember things

That thing about going upstairs for an item and returning with something totally different does not improve with age, rather it becomes worse. Being aware of memory loss does not address the problem. What was I saying?



Repeat Oneself

My own offspring are not slow to remind me of stories I’ve already told them, remarks and events they’ve heard before, which is, of course only too kind of them. I’m sure it is a most galling and irritating trait. I imagine, however that if I were to stray off into the realms of fantasy there would be much more cause for alarm.

My own offspring are not……..[oops!]



Like what they like

There is only one thing worse than your mum hating your music. That’s if she likes it. Apparently one should not claim to share one’s sprog’s taste in music, fashion, film or any other area of culture, or even, in fact know that these names exist, or ask about them. [Relates to number 2 of the ‘dos’].




This must be the worst behaviour any ageing parent can display. ‘You don’t wanna do it like that’- the most annoying words any adult offspring could have the misfortune to hear. I resolve to hold my tongue, that is if I can remember to do so.


Happy Mothers Day!

At some point in our lives as parents we cease to become god-like beings our babies look up to and want to emulate and become mildly comic and ridiculous caricatures of ourselves or annoying, cloying, drivelling old buffers.

How to avoid all this? I really don’t know.

Answers on a postcard…….[or in the comments box, please]






How Rude!

                Now I’m aware, as I begin this post, that this one is going to come across as very GOW [Grumpy Old Woman], but I’m going ahead with it anyway. Is my perception somehow skewed, or am I correct in noticing that general politeness, manners and consideration are on the decline? Could it be my heightened sensitivity due to becoming a geriatric? [most senses become rather more dull as one progresses towards expiry, don’t they?] Perhaps in the previous life of gainful employment [gainful to me financially rather than in any other respect] I was too knackered to notice anything much at all.

                Back in the hazy mists of time there used to be a sitcom called ‘Citizen Smith’, starring Robert Lindsay as a young, urban anarchist type attempting to change the world. Faced with anyone whose behaviour he disapproved of he’d write their name in a notebook and promise, ‘Come the revolution, they’d be up against the wall’. I can often find myself sympathising with his ideals. Whether a recent phenomenon or not, there are glaring and unacceptable behaviours out there in society, in all spheres. This is just a random selection of them.

Yacking shop assistants.

This is ignorant. They gas to each other while they are serving you, failing to even so much as look your way as they pass your change. Pointed and loud ‘thank yous’ rarely have any effect. I’ve experienced this in supermarkets, small shops, cafes and bars.


Two or more people are walking along a pavement together, side by side. They are coming towards you. The width of the pavement does not allow for more than two. What happens? They continue to walk towards you as if you were invisible, causing you to flatten yourself against the wall or step into the road to avoid being trampled underfoot. Nothing ever induces anyone to walk single file to enable someone to pass. And similarly…


Where only one column of traffic may access the road due to parked cars etc it is polite to wait. Most do not wait. If you are the waiting car, how often does anyone wave their thanks? Then there are the people who push into a queue uninvited, or drive across a ‘keep clear’ box and sit there, studiously looking ahead to avoid your wrath.

Public Transport.

Shouting on mobile phones [often explicit details of sexual exploits], screeching to accompanying passengers, throwing rubbish on the floor-these are the least offensive activities on the bus. Worse are actual assaults. I’ve been fortunate so far not to experience too much of this but know those who have.


Sailing through a held door and ignoring the kind holder of it, bullishly pushing through and letting it swing back in the next person’s face etc etc. You know what I mean.

The Cinema.[or theatre, or concert-any performance really]

Eating noisily [and malodorously], chattering, commenting, shrieking, talking on mobile phones, wearing big hats, putting feet up on back of seats.


All of the above plus reclining the seat back as far as it will go so it squeezes the person in front to a pulp, spreading out over everyone else’s seat [and both armrests].


Trolley wars. Need I say more?

                There’s no room in the curriculum for etiquette lessons. In any case the rudiments need to be learned before the onset of school. So come on Mums and Dads, ‘teach your children well’ [Crosby, Stills and Nash]. You’ll be doing them [and us!] a big favour.