Sometimes I wonder whether, if people actually took the time to read all the stories printed about being a parent in the media, anyone would ever be motivated to procreate again.
If you judge parenthood on the excitable and overhyped stories which creep up on my Facebook feed, it is a constant stream of judgemental Janes, sneering mums and unhelpful shop assistants.
This week my social media accounts have been overwhelmed by stories, blogs and comments about the poor lady who was asked to leave John Lewis because they had received a complaint about her tantrumming toddler. There is no doubt that whoever made that complaint was a thoughtless moron, and the staff member who acted upon it by asking them to leave was naïve and insensitive to say the least. I can guarantee you that no one in that store felt more uncomfortable and put out by that child’s tantrum than the mum, and to be asked to leave in such a way must have been pure humiliation.
Yet we love these stories, because we love to be outraged. We share them with our friends, perpetuating an idea that large swathes of the world are against us mothers, determined to be mean and spiteful just because we have children.
Angry tales about how badly breastfeeding mothers are treated abound. Again, this treatment is completely out of order, but the prevalence of these angry responses paints a skewed view of a world where strangers are lurking in corners just waiting to jump out and shout at anyone who dares to feed their baby anywhere but their own house or the privacy of a dank public toilet.
And if you think the stories paint a bleak picture, just take a look at a parenting forum.
Lonely, exhausted and stressed over my difficulties to feed my son during my first maternity leave, I discovered the horrors of these forums first hand. Desperate for advice on how to feed, I turned to the internet for support and solace but found the exact opposite: page after page of desperate stories and judgemental comments, with only a spattering of kindness to break the misery.
Thankfully, I came to my senses and went out into the real world, only to discover that actually…people are lovely! Random strangers would stop me in the street to talk to me about my baby, passers-by would go out of their way to open doors for me or help me down stairs with the buggy. Having lived for years in London and never managed to exchange more than a few words with a stranger, suddenly I became an actual member of my local community. I’ve breastfed two children and never had more than a handful of funny looks (at least that I’ve noticed!). I’ve dealt with hideous toddler meltdowns in public and only once wanted to punch someone in the face for their unprompted attempts to intervene.
Sadly, there will always be some people who are thoughtless and unhelpful when you are trying to deal with children, and the sleep deprivation that comes with parenthood will inevitably make those moments feel a hundred times worse. But for anyone who begins to feel that the world is against you and your children, let me leave you with this story…
I was having a crap day today. Stressed, sleep deprived, soaking wet, with a whingy baby and having earlier left my son’s beloved scooter on the bus, I boarded the number 73 grumpy and dreading the journey home. When my son suggested singing ‘This old man…’ to cheer me up, I forced myself to join in, hoping the rest of the passengers wouldn’t mind. Then, as we reached ‘he played three’, a jolly old toothless lady on the next seat joined in. Then the lady behind. Then the lady next to her. Before I knew it, half the bottom deck of this busy bus were engaged in a spontaneous flash mob style singsong, before each smiled or told me what a lovely boy I had as they disembarked. It was one of the loveliest moments I have ever experienced.
You see, some people are gits. But most people are lovely.
“You’re going to a festival? With a three year old? While 7 and a half months pregnant? Are you mad?!!”
Erm, yes, looking back I probably was. We knew it would be tricky, but had been whining for some time about missing live music since the onset of parenthood, so when a friend suggested we all go together we threw caution to the wind and booked our tickets to Latitude.
As the months progressed and my bump grew bigger, tiny doubts grew in my mind. My first pregnancy had been a walk in the park compared to the aches, pains and exhaustion of this one. However, the internet reassured me festivals were full of pregnant women: one source told me Glastonbury even has an on-site midwife just in case anyone goes into labour! How had I never spotted all these pregnant women before? Looking back, I guess they didn’t feature in my early festivalling years of bouncing around to Rage Against the Machine at Leeds.
Despite having done my research, practically I was no better prepared than before, but I felt optimistic. If they could do it, so could I! My only concession was to buy a set of camping chairs – we didn’t have a tent, or anywhere for the toddler to rest during the day, but hey, we could sit down if we wanted. Let’s go!
I won’t say it was all plain sailing. For a start, we forgot our son’s bed, meaning the three of us and my by now ginormous bump had to squeeze up on a smaller than double blow up bed. The up side was it kept us warm as temperatures plummeted in the night, a possibility we hadn’t considered when we decided to forego sleeping bags in favour of a couple of cheap blankets. Our blind faith in the English summer and the warmth of canvas proved to be as idiotic as you would expect. Turns out our optimism was more to blame for insomnia than my pregnancy, but I guess we’d better get used to sleepless nights!
The low point came on Saturday afternoon. After having failed miserably to get my son to nap, we began the trudge from the tent to meet my husband and I attempted to ‘nip to the loo’. I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to fit in a festival toilet cubicle with a three year old, a backpack, two camping chairs and a baby bump, but it’s not easy. Then, with truly hideous timing, my freakishly laid back son finally discovered his ability to throw a tantrum. Thank god we hadn’t yet left the family camp site. I’m not sure my crouching, head in hands, so close to the urinals would have been so sympathetically received elsewhere.
Still, despite our odd moments, we found our family festival mojo and I can only describe the weekend as bloody brilliant!
Watching my little boy air drum to The Vaccines ‘20/20’ on his Dad’s shoulders was a true polaroid moment; listening to Naomi Shelton in the glorious sunshine while 3 toddlers attempted to throw popcorn in my mouth was one of my most fun festival moments ever; and, while it may not have been my finest moment of parenting – letting the boy fall asleep at 10.30pm in the middle of a field with a sugary lollipop in his mouth – I have rarely been happier than reliving my teenage years and shouting along to ‘Don’t Look Back in Anger’, my little man and other half by my side. Plus, maybe listening to Noel Gallagher in that field as he drifted off to sleep will endow him with a little more cool than I ever had as a kid.