Greetings from Spare Oom: A Fairy Godmother Guest Post

“Salakadoola mechika boola bibbity bobbity boo, put ‘em together and what have you got?”

(c) Disney

Yes, what have I got? (c) Disney

Greetings from the Fairy Godmother! I live in the remote kingdom of Spare Oom, in the perfect city of Floor Drobe where I flit around in sparkly pink frocks and entice the birds to do chores. Strangely they disappear as soon as someone does a poo on the floor…

Alas, much as I would rather I lived out the above, it is not so. I share this house with some marvelous, stroppy, screaming for more dinner, squidgy, scrummy people. And their offspring.

They would tell you otherwise, but really I am the fortunate one. Yes I wipe dirty bottoms from time to time and use jedi mind control to make the Girl sleep but I am really reaping the benefits. Don’t believe me? Here’s a list:

 

1. All the fun of being a parental figure, for as long as you decide.

Yes. I get to give them back! Throwing children in the air is brilliant. Putting them on your shoulders and smelling what can only be described as the Breath of Satan is not. But it’s ok! Because you can shout: “The girl has pooed!” and then not have to deal with it. Unless you are the babysitter. Then, often literally, tough shit.

 

2. Having a real understanding of what it’s really like to have children.

All broodiness has now been cured. Seriously. Maybe not permanently – I have only recently left ages that end in “teen” but I know that I want to do other stuff with my life, not just be confined to the prison of children. Though it does come with free Stockholm syndrome so I guess it’s not too bad.

 

3. A nice easy way to begin adult life.

A sort of bridge between my own family and truly going it alone. I am an adult in a family. Turns out it was exactly what I wanted.

 

4. Very poor Dutch

I am now fluent in toddler Dutch! Sort of.

 

5. Swooping in and Saving the Day

Everyone likes doing this. And to stressed parents it is as easy as “I’ll watch them in the bath”, “I can put her coat on her”, “Here are his shoes” and the ultimate “Would you like a cup of tea?” That selfish selfless moment of feeling great because you made someone else’s life a tiny bit better.

 

Of course there are many more but I think you get the picture. In reality I am but a cameo in this ensemble of hugs and spilled yoghurt. Much like the Fairy Godmothers that we know and love, much of the time I am busy trying on silly shoes but appear just in the nick of time to magic you to the ball. Or give you those extra few minutes of sleep I know you desperately need.

 

Bibbity. Bobbity. Boo.

 

My body is beautiful: Loud ‘n Proud

True Beauty

True Beauty

If you saw me – if you have seen me – if you know me, you would probably want to kill me if I ever said anything negative about my body.

I am thin. I am tall. I have long legs. I can eat cake all day every day and not get fat.

(I will now duck down behind the sofa to avoid whatever projectile you managed to get your hands on while reading the above.)

And yet…

I have never been happy with my body. Like everyone else, in my spotty teenager years I took my good points for granted and just yearned for the things I didn’t have: thick, wavy hair (mine’s very straight and straw-like), a pretty face (mine is a bit blotchy, a bit spotty, a bit angular), less skinny arms (mine are slightly skeletal) and impressive breasts (…). I was a smart kid in school, but all I wanted was to be beautiful. I felt crushed every time I auditioned for a play and was yet again passed over for the role of the “pretty girl” and instead ended up playing somebody’s mother. It never occurred to me that perhaps this reflected my acting ability rather than my appearance.

I met my husband, who like the proverbial drop of water slowly hollowing out the stone set about re-training my eyes to see that I really am beautiful.

I actually struggled to write that down because somehow I still don’t believe it is true. I still feel like there are “beautiful people” and the rest of us.

I loved being pregnant, because it fulfilled many of my wishes: my hair was thick and lustrous, I filled out a little, my boobs were AMAZING (I am getting those nursing bras framed for posterity) plus, added bonus, I had made a tiny human.

I was proud of my body.

What skinny people look like when their stomach muscles give up. (C) Roger Hargreaves

What skinny people look like when their stomach muscles give up. (c) Roger Hargreaves

I was even prouder of my body when I had given birth. Maybe not so much the first time, but definitely when I gave birth naturally to my daughter, who came out feet first in record time. I was superwoman.

Since then all the teenage doubts have crept back in. Things I never really appreciated about my body have decided to take a holiday. Things I was never very happy with anyway have exacerbated.

I find it hard to be proud of my body.

How about you?

As women, we are being poisoned by advertising, by magazines, by public opinion. We are constantly being told that there is one way to be beautiful and one way only. There is no room for stretch marks, for sagging, for scars, for bulges. We are being told to “get your body back” with exercise videos and gym memberships – as if we had lost it.

My body is not lost. I have found it. I have discovered what it is for. I am learning and re-learning that I am beautiful.

A group of poets – and I am proud to be one of them – have banded together to fight for our works of art, our post-baby bodies. We have produced five poetry-postcards about our changed and changing bodies, which we are distributing around cafés and libraries and toddler groups for free. You can catch a glimpse of them here and read more about the project.

Our next step is our Twitter campaign #showusyourbelly. Please join us in creating a slideshow of what normal bodies look like. Send in your anonymous picture to sarah@paperswans.co.uk and join other proud women in showing off real beauty.

There is more to come: opportunities to write blog posts on the topic and share them, or to write poetry and fiction that celebrates the diverse and beautiful female form. Keep an eye on the website for new ways in which you can get involved.

Meanwhile, as usual, you can link up your Loud ‘n Proud posts by clicking on the link below. Tell us how proud you are of your kids, or yourself. Maybe you too are learning to be proud of your body? Link up and shout it from the rooftops!

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World Cup Craft

I hate football.

I hate watching sport.

But there is something about being an ex-pat that suddenly makes you excited about things that at home you would have spurned as you would spurn a rabid dog.

Driving my car around my English town, I put on home-made mix CDs and sing along with unabashed abandon to cheesy Dutch songs from the 80s that my friends over in the Netherlands wouldn’t be caught dead listening to. I don’t even dare name them because my friends read my blog and I’d be able to hear their mocking laughter all the way across the North Sea. Some of these songs have become my son’s firm favourites, it’s that bad.

Similarly, I was not bothered about watching Holland play in the World Cup when I still lived at home. But now that I am abroad, this is a little bit of nationalism that I find myself indulging in. I watched the Netherlands play Spain with only half an eye, not expecting much, but in the aftermath I couldn’t help feeling a little thrill of national pride whenever people commented on the score to me (5-1, btw. For The Netherlands. Just saying).

So when it came to their second match and I discovered it was on at 5pm, I decided to make a thing of it. I told the kids that we were watching “Nederland” play football in the afternoon as a special treat. The Boy was excited, but I realised that he had very little concept as yet of supporting a national team (flags, colours, football songs) or even of football. He wouldn’t know what he was watching out for or when to cheer.

Time for some craft, I decided!

Materials

Materials

I got out some white paper and some chopsticks to make flags with, some scissors, pritt stick and coloured paper. The kids did all the glueing and I cut the red and blue paper into strips to stick onto their flags in (roughly) the right places.

little crafter

finished

Ready for waving!

Ready for waving!

Then it was time to explain the rules of football. Just in case you are a novice yourself, this is what you need to know: there are two teams. Our team is wearing blue and orange. When they kick the ball into the other team’s goal, you cheer and wave your home-made flag. (You’re welcome)

pitch

The kids managed longer than I had expected. The Boy was keen to see the number at the top of the screen change from 0-0 and kept asking me why I “oohed” or “ahhhed” or groaned or tutted. I tried to stay patient and give him the details he craved (“that player was very naughty and pushed the player in the yellow shirt”). I knew the Boy had been needing the toilet for at least half an hour and I had tried suggesting he might see if there was any surprise wee before the match started but he insisted he didn’t need to. Twenty minutes into the game he squeaked: “I need the potty!” He dashed into the kitchen and just as the door swung shut behind him there was a deafening roar from the orange-clad fans in the stadium: Holland had scored the first goal. He stopped himself at the brink and came in, trousers around his ankles, to see what had happened. The numbers had changed! He went back out to finish the job but no sooner had he disappeared from the room or another shout went up, this time from the green and yellow fans. Australia had scored! My poor boy wailed: “I can’t wee if they keep shouting ‘yay!'”

The Girl was not into it. It wasn’t long before she got bored with watching tiny people run up and down a green screen and started wailing that she wanted Dora, Boots and Diego. I asked the Boy what he wanted. He admitted that he wouldn’t mind a bit of Dora, Boots and Diego either. So we switched to Nick Jr and learned to say “por favor” instead. I couldn’t blame them really. Despite my new found patriotism, I still struggle to suppress a yawn when faced with 90 minutes of football and at half time I was starting to long for a rip-roaring adventure with Dora myself. Perhaps for their third match this afternoon I should just stick to waving a paper flag while watching the highlights…

 

I will be wearing nothing but words: poets bare all

Less than a week until I get to meet some of my very favourite writers/bloggers in real life. In honour of this momentous occasion I could post a little profile of myself or show you pictures of the clothes I will be wearing (I can’t, I haven’t decided what to wear and anyway, all my clothes are in the wash), but instead I wrote a poem as a little tribute to all the wonderful writers that I am getting to know.

 

Trauma

 

We stretch out a hand
and leaves turn
reluctant or relieved
to show the shadow-side
of the statue hewn
polished and displayed
for eyes other than our own.

It is no surprise.

What propels us to
page after page
of verse or prose
rhyme, metre, blank,
with plot or not
but a violent reflex
to puke up our pain?

Inside it lurks and eats
until we waste away
but here held in my hand
it is less than nothing
that thing I shape, control,
fashion into ugly,
beautiful, crafted life.

 

(c) Judith Kingston, 2014

 

Hope to see all you Prose for Thought and Paper Swans people on Friday!

If you really need to know, I will probably be wearing shoes.

If you really need to know, I will probably be wearing shoes.

Pop!

JudithMetGroeneMauws1983HoutenBed

As children, both my brother and I had a favourite cuddly toy. You know the toy I mean. The one that has to come absolutely everywhere with you, the one that shares your bed and the one you sneak into your bag when you go off to uni and hide under your pillow so that fellow undergrads don’t spot you with it.

My brother’s was “Nijlpaardje” (Little Hippo). He started off looking healthy and plump, but after years of love he ended up being pretty much invisible from sideways on.

Nijlpaardje, looking plump, a long full life still ahead of him

Nijlpaardje, looking plump, a long full life still ahead of him

My comfort object was Mauw. This was a peculiar animal, knitted in bulk by my grandmother and distributed to all her many grandchildren. In some houses the Mauws lived on the shelf, but mine became The Toy and I carried mine around everywhere I went by its long ear. Mauw was originally intended to be a slightly elongated rabbit, but I decided that Mauw was actually a totally unique species. I invented a Mauw country with a Mauw society and drew maps, wrote guide books and published magazines for young Mauws, complete with advertisements for Mauw hair gel.

Mint condition Mauws

Mint condition Mauws

Mauw is quite disgusting now and mostly unravelled. He is spending his final days in a bag in my knitting drawer, waiting to go to the Great Mauw Meadow in the sky where he will be reunited with Baby Mauw, who was tragically lost on the way to the library during a school trip when I was 6.

I even drew portraits of mauw. Such was my devotion.

I even drew portraits of mauw. Such was my devotion.

Now I have children of my own and I can cuddle them and take them everywhere – and it is their turn to have comfort objects. Almost from the moment The Boy could crawl and interact with his cuddly toys, I was eagerly waiting to see which one would become his favourite. He eventually decided on Teddy – not what I was expecting, but it made sense. It was his very first bear, given to him at birth by Gran. On the rare occasion that he wakes up in the night, it is because he can’t find Teddy.

Then my daughter came along and we looked on with interest to see what she would fix on. She seems pretty keen on hugging and carrying around almost anything furry or squishy and has been particularly excited about “wabbits” of late. But there does appear to be one constant companion, the only one she actually asks for early in the morning if it has not come downstairs with her.

It is Pop, her doll.

image (3)

Just in case you were impressed with the imaginative name, it isn’t. “Pop” is just Dutch for “doll”.

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Pop being force fed grapes

Pop gets carried around everywhere, pushed around in a buggy, hugged in bed at night and kissed gently on the head in the same way that I kiss The Girl’s. She gets put down for a nap, coerced into drinking juice through a straw and occasionally gets her head lovingly bashed in with a foam fire axe.

The Girl is very protective of Pop (axe attacks aside). The other day Pop was in the car with us and the Girl played Horsey Horsey with her on her knee. I thought this was adorable, and later on at home I took Pop and bounced her on my knee in the same way. The doll got snatched off me and I was told sternly by The Girl: “No. Not mama horsey Pop.” Then she sat down and did it herself.

There is one small issue with Pop. A ticking time bomb waiting to explode.

Pop is not actually hers.

Pop actually belongs to the Boy.

The doll was bought for The Boy by Opa and Oma when his little sister was born, in the hope of encouraging gentle, nurturing feelings in him that he could transfer to his new baby sister.

I have quietly made the shift as Pop became more and more beloved. To begin with I referred to her as “the doll”. Then slowly as her popularity grew, I started to talk about “The Girl’s doll”. The Boy has not objected to this. But there may come a moment when he remembers the doll was originally his – and what will we do then?

I hope I will be just as wise as my mother was about Hippo.

You see, Little Hippo was originally mine. Bought for me in Hamley’s on a holiday to the UK.

I had forgotten about this for years. Then one morning I woke up and suddenly remembered. I remembered the day that the little hippo was bought for me, and that it was actually mine. Aflame with a fire of righteous indignation, I marched up to my little brother and took the toy off him. I can’t remember how old I was, but I was definitely old enough to know better, and my brother definitely not old enough to shrug it off. Hippo himself was already greatly slimmed down through years of devoted cuddling. My little brother cried and cried, and my mother came to see what the fuss was about.

I explained that Hippo was rightfully mine, and I wanted him back.

My mother was quiet for a moment. Then she said: “You’re right. Hippo is actually yours. If you really want him back, then you should have him.” Then she pointedly turned to look at my little brother. He was in floods of desperate tears, inconsolable at the thought of losing his favourite toy for ever. I looked too, and realised that I couldn’t do this. Yes, perhaps Hippo had been bought for me, but he really and truly belonged to my brother. I couldn’t take him away.

So I gave him back.

I still look back on this as my mother’s finest parenting moment. She was strictly fair, but let me discover for myself that sometimes there were more important things in life than what was ‘fair’. It was a very valuable lesson in empathy. Let’s hope that when the moment comes and The Boy demands to have Pop back, I can do the same for him and his sister.

Until then, Pop is enjoying being read to and fussed over and snuggling on the Girl’s lap in much the same way that the Girl and her brother love to cuddle up with me – always welcome visitors now Mauw’s glory days are over.

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