I love Ariel


It would of course be lovely if I could be one of those amazing Gentle Parents who aim to act always by consensus, who empower their children to make good decisions for themselves, who never assume dominion or authority over their children – and all that.

Wouldn’t Ariel be lucky if she had a mother like that? A mother who would never shout or punish or say things like If you hit mummy again then mummy will hit you, and I’m bigger than you so it will hurt – let alone follow through with such a threat… A mother who would always be calm and reasonable, or at least wiling to apologise and admit that she’s wrong if she occasionally fails to practice what she preaches…

Well I do truly and genuinely admire people who can follow that model effectively, and in all honesty I do aspire to it, in my way. But I’m not capable of doing it, not all the time, if ever. It’s too hard. If I haven’t the energy or the time to discuss and negotiate, I just don’t. I assert my authority, I threaten, in the event of disobedience I carry out my threats, and I never (hardly ever) back down, even from the fights which in all honesty I wish I’d never started*. I do all these things, and I don’t even feel bad about it.

* Like the one over whether or not I’m going to get out of bed at 5am to accompany my perfectly capable Ariel to the toilet, just because she doesn’t fancy going on her own…

It would be so much better, I’m sure, if I could manage to be a Gentle Parent, but I’m not. I wasn’t brought up that way, I’m not made for it, I wouldn’t know how to do it and stay sane, and I’m not sure (now) that I would even want to try.

Yes, I am somewhat authoritarian. My name is Maia and I am an authoritarian parent.

It isn’t all bad. I am less authoritarian than my own parents and, if she chooses to be a parent, I am hopeful that Ariel will be less authoritarian than me. And I’m not, as the title to this post hints, the worst possible mother. For one thing, I am here: every day. Every day, I get up and I do parenting – some days I do it well, other days not so well – but every day I am here and I am doing it, I am being a parent. And that is not a small thing. It amazes me that so many people do it, because it is not a small thing.

Today is a day
to stand back and say
that this is okay.

So I’m making my peace with my mothering, authoritarianism and all. I’m accepting that there is only so far I can go in unlearning my earliest lessons in how to parent. I am steadily realising that I am not, never will be perfect, in mothering or in anything else – but that, as it turns out, this is OK. I’m OK.

It’s good to know. If nothing else, it’s one less worry to distract me from actually being the person, the mother, that I want to be.

I have given suck, and know
How tender ‘tis to love the babe that milks me

“The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent full of doubt.”

Something clicked while I was playing in the bath with Ariel this evening. We were pretending to be at the beach, making sandcastles with my trusty yellow bathjug standing in as a bucket. Ariel could barely even wait for me to lift up the jug-bucket before she was enthusiastically splatting my imaginary sandcastle and yelling with glee – “I broke it down mummy! I splatted it all over the place!”

And I remembered some theory I had read somewhere* about how young children destroy things because, not having the skills to create, they enjoy destruction instead as a way to feel powerful and thereby align themselves with the grownups. The idea is that children (unless they have had a very liberal education and a very sheltered existence) will generally see adults as powerful and themselves as powerless. Because they experience their powerlessness as oppression, they want to become powerful and so they enact power in their games, practising in earnest for the power they crave. An adult builds a tower, a child knocks it down.

If I remember rightly, the author proceeded on the basis that once the child has learned to create – to build wonderful towers of its own – the child will enjoy creating far more, as the more adult (and so more powerful) occupation, and leave off destruction as the mindless splatting of its (powerless) infancy.

Of course, it may not work like that. Maybe the child is encouraged to enjoy destruction and not to reach towards creativity. Maybe destruction is modelled to that child in the home, in the school, in the media, in the world. Maybe the joys of creation are never even seen or approached, let alone taught. Destruction is so easy, there is such a satisfyingly powerful thrill – perhaps it is an addiction – and creativity is a slower, more careful, more patient activity, taking time and skill and effort. A slow pleasure, with pride and joy to be had, but no dramatic climax. The difference between midwifery and Caesarean – or something like it.

And I began to wonder, in the warm water, in a flight of monthly connectedness, whether it is as simple as this: as simple as the possibility that men** have – to borrow from an old, old saw – womb envy. They feel that they cannot create life, they see that women can create life – the ultimate creativity. Lacking the ability to create, they take pleasure instead in destruction… especially in the destruction of the creatrix… because it makes them feel powerful, because by destroying us they are stealing our power for themselves. Maybe the child that is/was mankind feels that it has been always kept out of creation, maybe it has felt that way for thousands of years…?

Obviously it isn’t as simple as this. But suddenly, in the bath, the connectedness of creativity, destructiveness and power come together, in a viscous glob – as the destructive powerlust of those who cannot create. Of those who cannot create – life.

Which all leads to the obvious question: would men be happier if they used compost toilets? What comes from their bodies, nourishes the land, and food grows. Could compost toilets change the world?

——————————–

*I am pretty sure it was in Bertrand Russell’s “On Education” (1926) but I don’t think I have the book any more so I can’t check the reference.

** Tiresome, I know, but I feel I should point out that I don’t mean “men” etc as meaning all men or any particular men but only as broadly referring to constructed masculinity. Or something.

Look what we woke up to this morning!

Ariel and I went out to make a snowman and chuck snowballs – I don’t think she’s ever seen or experienced proper snow before, and she was completely delighted. After we built the snowman we knocked it over and jumped up and down on the snow.

It has been very strange weather today. One minute it is warm and sunny, the next minute the sun goes behind a cloud and everyone’s shivering – sun comes out – starts snowing – sun back out again – chillly for a bit – sun – hail shower – snow – sun – and so it went on. Talk about April showers!

This is what we all got up to on the allotment yesterday – although I took the picture *today* during one of the sunny spells (my camera battery had run out yesterday):

We finished clearing, digging and manuring the third bed.

We also dug over both the first two beds, planting potatoes in the far one, and starting off some asparagus in the middle one. There is one row of asparagus, leaving half of that bed free for salad or something this year, with the idea of possibly adding more asparagus in that space next year. We also put a tayberry (nearest camera) and blackcurrant (farthest) in the “bit” left over from where we dug the asparagus bed too big. Everything we planted got covered in straw because the weather forecast was for snow and frost and things so we wanted to keep their feet warm. :)

Meanwhile, back at home today I’ve started mangetout, purple sprouting broccoli and pumpkins for the allotment, all from seed – and I’m having a go at some thyme from seed for my own garden, as well. I have a bunch more seeds which I haven’t yet started including “normal” (green) broccoli, dwarf beans, baby carrots, brussels sprouts, and okra (and, again, a variety of herbs for home). I also have calendula – marigold – which I bought on impulse because it is pretty and I had heard somewhere that it is a good one for companion planting because it attracts the nice insects or something. I’m not sure we will have space or energy to do all these for this season, especially as we also plan to do courgettes, normal carrots, sweetcorn, runner beans, peas, leeks, tomatoes and probably some other things I have forgotten.

It’s all so exciting!
Yesterday I was even hyped up while digging the trenches for the potatoes…

Oh, and tonight I made a veggie lasagne and (apart from courgette, tomato, onion, non-stringy celery and aubergine, most of which Ariel pretty much refused to eat) loaded it with home-sprouted mung beans, and garnished it with cress and rocket thinnings, both also home grown – super yummy. Ariel sucked off the sauce from a bean sprout and pronounced that she liked them because the bean end looked like a nipple, and then proceeded to hunt through her dinner saying “oh look mummy I found another nipple” every 15 seconds. She had me doing it after a while, as well, so I think mung bean sprouts might now be renamed nipple sprouts in our house. Oh dear.

What else? I planted my own potatoes at home (and covered them with soggy cardboard as a temporary frost protection). My american land cress, perpetual spinach and spring onions have all germinated, along with some of the mixed salad leaves – although now I think about it, maybe the onions haven’t. The others definitely have though! And I made a raised bed planter for my blueberries and planted them out. I’m experimenting with coriander too – apparently if you just chuck the seeds from your kitchen onto some soil and water them, coriander will grow. I’ve put some in the ericaceous compost in with the blueberries and some in another planter nearby, one I’ve had for ages and never given any TLC (it will become home soon to the herbs I am growing). I suspect that neither of these is especially suitable for coriander but I didn’t have anything else prepared so that’s where it ended up.

I feel – quite literally – full of the joys of spring.

There’s no denying it: Ariel and I have begun our weaning journey in earnest.

This is a time I knew was coming but tried not to think about. I don’t know how to parent without breasts, without milk. I don’t know how to feel like a mother if milk is taken out of the equation. What’s the difference between a mother, then, and just some woman whose house you happen to share? Is there one? Does it matter?

I wrote some weeks ago that a night came when Ariel chose not to have MummyMo at bedtime. She chose CowMo instead. I think she had been impressed by some chance remark of mine that the reason Oliver Dunkley had CM at bedtime was because he was too big for MM. (Yes I know. It seemed like the easiest answer at the time.)

After that first night of abstention, the choice between CM and MM for bed-time milk went about evenly one way or the other, but mornings were still the undisputed territory of Teh Booby. One day maybe ten days later, Ariel overslept and completely missed out on on her morning MM (a very rare occurrence indeed – this is not a girl who oversleeps, never mind missing out on mo as a result) – but still decided to have CM at night. That was the first time she had ever gone 24 hours without mummy mo.

Last week she hurt her tongue. I think she managed to strain one of those little muscles or whatever at the root – ever done that? it hurts! – so that it really hurt her to use her tongue for suckling. She told me she couldn’t have any mummy mo, and had CM instead. She was upset, and I told her that if she felt better later on she could have some mummy mo then. She didn’t. In the morning:

ME: How does your tongue feel? Do you want some mo?
HER: I will try… (trying)… oh I can’t mummy.
ME: Poor old you. I’ll get you some CowMo and then we will try again tonight if your tongue is better at bedtime. I’m sure it will be.

For the next three days – the same, morning and night. She would go to latch on, and then pull back – it doesn’t work, mummy. I began to wonder if that was it.

Then on Saturday afternoon, she tried surreptitiously to lift up my T-shirt:
ME: Hey, what are you doing?
HER: I’m going to have some Mo now.
ME: At bedtime you can have some.
HER: Well I am too big for Mo now because I am three.

And at bedtime? She “tried” – but it doesn’t work anymore mummy.

I wondered whether she was putting it on. I couldn’t believe her tongue was still hurting and she wasn’t really complaining about that. Nor was she making much more than a show effort at latching on. Could she be pretending? Why would she?

I began to wonder if this is how it goes when children forget how to, or lose the ability to suck. Even though I also believe that this theory is probably nonsense (grown-ups, even those who haven’t sucked mo for years, could manage it – why not a little girl who had some only a couple of days ago?) and in any case three is too young given that everything I have read points to a natural weaning age of at least four… Anyway.

Fast forward through the night to Sunday morning. Ariel woke early. By 7am she had run out of ideas for amusing herself quietly and came back to bed, wanting Attention. Which I was not ready to give her. Do you want some Mo? I tried. (In the past this would have been sure-fire – this time I was less confident.) So she made her now familiar half-hearted attempt to latch on, complained that it didn’t work, and sat right back up. But you didn’t really try! Have another go, properly this time.

And she did. It was so nice.

After she’d had her fill (and I’d had a bit more dozing time) she said But mummy – I am too big for Mo. We cuddled. I told her that she wasn’t too big. I told her that she could have Mo if she wanted, that she could choose and that she was still quite small, that she could still have mo if she wanted, even if she was quite big as well.

[If it hadn’t been for her obvious conflict, her conflict between wanting mo and wanting to be big (like Oliver Dunkley?), I would have been cautious about writing this. I would have felt like one of those women that feature in the minds of anti-breastfeeding Daily Mail readers, a woman who manipulates her child into breastfeeding for her own selfish purposes. I freely admit that I had selfish reasons on this occasion for wanting Ariel to have some milk, a good long milky cuddle – huh, I wanted to sleep! But also, my little girl had full agency in this. I wasn’t manipulating her. I was giving her permission. I was telling her that she didn’t have to grow up all at once, that she could be getting big and at the same time still be quite small. That it was OK to want and need her mummy. My words to her were not commands, not imperatives, but permission.]

She had a bit more.
In the afternoon, she tried the T-shirt-lifting trick again.
And at bed-time she chose CM…
…this morning MM, at bedtime just now, CM again.

So, yes, weaning is definitely on her mind. I think she knows that she isn’t quite ready yet, but she is starting to look towards the day when she will be ready. She realises that big people don’t have mummy mo, and she sees herself as someone who is getting bigger. She knows the time will come and she is trying to wrap her mind around the idea of living without Teh Booby. She is experimenting, practising. This is good, I guess. This gentle lead-up is giving me the chance to wrap my mind around this weaning idea, to experiment and practise breast-free parenting before she weans for real. She is weaning us both – gently…

I know I look so big to you,
Maybe I seem too big for the needs I have.
But no matter how big we get,
We still have needs that are important to us.
I know that our relationship is growing and changing,
But I still need you. I need your warmth and closeness,
Especially at the end of the day
When we snuggle up in bed.
Please don’t get too busy for us to nurse.
I know you think I can be patient,
Or find something to take the place of a nursing;
A book, a glass of something,
But nothing can take your place when I need you.
Sometimes just cuddling with you,
Having you near me is enough.
I guess I am growing and becoming independent,
But please be there.
This bond we have is so strong and so important to me,
Please don’t break it abruptly.
Wean me gently,
Because I am your mother,
And my heart is tender.

I had lunch with a (male, single) friend today. He mentioned that it was Valentine’s Day. Yes, so I hear. We compared plans – which is to say, neither of us had any. I mentioned that I have a slightly cynical attitude to the whole sleazy commercialised hetfest. (Although I didn’t put it quite like that.) He was sceptical. Surely if you had a bloke, and he said that to you, there would be trouble. I shrugged. I’ve learned not to get into conversations that start “if you had a bloke”.

Ariel made me a card though, and some heart-shaped biscuits. It says Love From [Ariel] inside, she announced. Because I Love You. I love her too. And I don’t need this monstrosity of a “holiday” to remind me of that, or to remind me to tell her about it.

We live our love. We don’t need to buy it.

This afternoon, we were doing a puzzle and in the background was a particularly odious interview with Martin Amis (to whom I took an intense and unexpected personal dislike, the self-satisfied smugness of him, ugh!) on the World Service about Islamism and the brown menace.

If it will aid your understanding, you can picture Ariel wearing her Father Christmas costume: this is what she selected this morning after I had vetoed the summer dress.

Anyway, all of a sudden, in the midst of trying to fit Dora the Explorer’s elbow onto her backside, she hit me with:

HER: Mummy, what’s a Muslim?

So this is pretty much the way the conversation went…

[Disclaimer: I am going to paraphrase some of my answers, because in reality I was struggling to answer all the questions in terms a 3-year-old can understand, and there was an amount of unming and ahhing and backtracking. Also, it was a pretty long conversation which didn’t necessarily flow in the logical order that adults seem to need, so I will probably have misremembered some parts or the order in which they went. There were several parts when we went through people she knew – and some she didn’t, like Oliver Dunkley and Dora the Explorer – and decided that some of them were, might be, probably weren’t, or definitely weren’t Muslims; I couldn’t be bothered to reproduce that bit since it was somewhat repetitive. Anyway. Here it is, worth recording even in slightly butchered form… :) ]

ME: A Muslim is someone who believes in a religion called Islam. Muslims believe that there is a god who is called Allah and they have a book called the Koran which helps them decide how to live and what sort of things they should do.
HER: What things do they do?
ME: The Koran says that you should treat people kindly and with respect. There are some special rules as well, like not eating food that comes from pigs.
HER: Are we Muslims?
ME: No.
HER: Is Oliver Dunkley a Muslim?
ME: I don’t know.
HER: Who is a Muslim?
ME: Some of your friends at nursery are Muslim. I’m pretty sure that Amal is.
HER: But she might not be?
ME: Well I haven’t asked her, so I don’t know for sure. But you know that she wears a scarf on her head?
HER: Yes
ME: Well one of the things that Muslim women sometimes do is to wear a scarf on their head, so quite often women who have a scarf on like Amal’s are Muslims.
HER: And she has Eid. Like we have Christmas.
ME: That’s right. Eid is a Muslim festival. And there are lots of other religions as well, which have their own festivals and celebrations. Hindus have Diwali, and Pagans have Yule. You remember we went to a Yule party?
HER: Yes and we made candles for Diwali at nursery.
ME: Yes – look there’s the candle holder you made.
HER: Why aren’t you a Muslim?
ME: When I was growing up I was taught a different religion. And I don’t believe all the things that Muslims believe.
HER: What are you then?
ME: I’m still trying to work that one out. There are lots of big questions about why we are all here and what it all means and where everything came from – as you get older you’ll find out what different people believe about these things and then when you are ready you will be able to decide what you believe.
HER: What do you believe, mummy?
ME: You know what? I think that’s something we can talk about another day.
HER: I believe in Father Christmas.
ME: Father Christmas?
HER: Yes, he came to our house with some presents.

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