8 October 2017
If you speak to anyone who knew me in my uni days, you’ll know that a saintly attitude to all things alcoholic has never been part of my style. I enthusiastically embraced the opportunity to get cheerfully smashed whenever it presented itself, and was even paid with a six-pack of beer (Black Label, no less – talk about a class act) when I did stand-up comedy at the Student Union. Whether or not this improved my act remains a mystery…and is one of the many reasons I thank God almost daily for the invention of camera phones only after this time. At one of the big party universities in South Africa (the amount of beer drunk by our tiny student population of 7,000 was always a point of pride), going ‘large’ was standard, and I look back on that time with huge fondness, and a wincing liver.
At this point, I would also like to insert a warning to my children for when they are older, and as nuggets of parental wisdom go, I’d say it’s pretty significant – never ever (ever) drink the yucca at a Rowing Club toga party. Being woken up at 5am by the Sunday Times truck is always a bit annoying after a big night. When you open your eyes and can actually see every bolt on the truck’s tyres because you’re sleeping on the central reservation of the main road outside your university (having been carried there on the sofa you’d fallen asleep on – bloody rowers and their ludicrous upper body strength), it’s time to make a resolution to steer clear of all lemon-based vodka punches for good.
However, in all this time of happy debauchery, I can pinpoint less than a handful of times where I tucked into a drink because I felt I ‘needed’ it, and with kidneys that were wont to throw an infection at me on a regular basis, going out stone-cold sober was never really a hindrance in terms of enjoying myself. Talking at the top of my voice or making a tit of myself is not something I’ve ever had to rely on alcohol to help me do, so its presence on a night out was generally more as part of the fun rather than the point of the exercise. If I couldn’t drink because I was antibiotics, that really wasn’t a good enough reason to stay at home.
My endometriosis kicked in just a month after I finished university, and with it came the need to consider ‘lifestyle choices’ – the dullest of all the choices, let’s be fucking serious. Along with a special diet to try and manage my symptoms, I was forbidden from indulging in my favourite beers, red wine, and G&Ts. This was a proper case of ‘hashtag sad face’ as I enjoyed these things enormously, but I was willing to do anything necessary. The fact that this gave me a kind of reverse version of the ‘Heathrow Injection’, where I lost about 10 kilograms (22 pounds) in six months, was certainly a case for ‘hashtag smug face’, which made up somewhat for the lack of yummy Merlot in my existence. But, dark times were ahead… My first glass of red wine after a six-month break absolutely sank me. I was embarrassingly drunk after about four sips, hungover after another four, and fast asleep about 15 minutes later. I was suddenly the world’s cheapest, and dullest, date.
Gradually I worked out that wine and champagne were the major no-nos, but that clear spirits like gin were fine. However, I would be able to nurse that G&T for well over two hours, and my absolute limit for many years was two – unless I really wanted to feel like a warmed-up corpse for two or three days. Gradually this amount has been reduced even further to, well, almost nothing. For the past year, I’ve had to concede defeat and stop ordering my beloved amaretto sours (has there EVER been a more perfect cocktail??), as any alcohol at all means I can literally feel my liver and kidneys growing too big for my body. It’s like my organs are doing an impression of a helium balloon, and it bloody hurts. So, I am now the lucky llama who is pretty much faced with the choice of Coke or sparkling water when ‘out out’ (although, can we just have a moment’s shout-out to the GENIUS makers of Seedlip non-alcoholic spirit – it’s sensational with tonic, but not available everywhere just yet).
Much as I would still like to be able to enjoy my favourite alcoholic beverages, the fact that I can’t drink isn’t something that bothers me or makes me any less likely to go somewhere I know people will be drinking (when even my sons’ favourite soft play centre stocks wine for the grown-ups, this would be nigh impossible anyway – I’d like to add that I can well imagine that the addition of wine to an adult’s experience of soft play could only be a vast sodding improvement). What has become rather boring, however, is the reaction of other people when I decline a glass of prosecco and ask for something soft instead. After running through the various reasons why I bizarrely wouldn’t want a drink (pregnant? alcoholic? puritan?) the person who offered me the drink will more often than not ask with an exasperated air, ‘then why not?’ I have tried saying ‘it just doesn’t agree with me’, but this tends to elicit a reaction that suggests I’ve just announced that I’d quite fancy shagging Donald Trump. However, the more detailed description of my whole alcohol/swelling internal organs link is way more detail than anyone needs at a cocktail party.
By then, my ‘freak’ neon light is fully flashing above my head, and it’s guaranteed that I’ll need to have this ‘why I don’t drink’ conversation at least seven or eight more times that evening. One memorable dinner party consisted of me being thoroughly questioned on this topic for the entire starter and most of the main. While I have absolutely no problem verbally wanking on about myself for hours on end, I can’t possibly imagine that this is a topic that would fascinate anyone? Surely we should all still be arguing over Brexit? Or judging other peoples’ parenting? Or complaining about the cost of installing nuclear bunkers in our gardens? I can’t be alone in thinking that whether or not I have a glass of wine is literally the least interesting topic of conversation in the entire history of, well, wine?
I have developed my own theory about this fascination with non-drinkers (or, at least, the ones without a ‘valid’ reason for abstaining), and it comes down to the simple matter of judgement. Not my own, I must clarify. I have absolutely no opinion on someone else’s drinking habits - whether you crack open a bottle of Pinot at 5pm on the nose because your children have screamed non-stop since school pick-up, or if some days you fancy a pre-lunch aperitif, I can’t see why I would possibly care. In fact, I often wish I could join you. Likewise, if you get tanked on a night out and I need to hold back your hair as you have a chat with the porcelain telephone, I would only really start feeling somewhat judgy about your behaviour if you literally puked on my shoes. It’s your body, it’s your decision, and as long as it doesn’t endanger you or anyone else, I can’t summon up the energy to feel one way or another about it. In fact, there is never a shortage of something to drink when you come to my house, even though neither Mac nor I drink any of it ourselves. If you come for dinner, you will not be expected to neck litres of nettle tea – there’ll be a variety of delicious options, and even the prospect of taking home any remaining open bottles as we won’t want to waste them – surely that’s no bad thing? Adult party favours for the win!
This ‘judgement’ I speak of is entirely projected by other people onto me, which I think you’ll agree is rather strange. Surely it has no impact on your life? I will still get louder and sillier as a night out progresses, and will happily be the last to leave the dancefloor. As an added bonus, I’ll be able to drive you home afterwards, while having no objection to the fact that you’ll probably feel the need to tell me how much you’ve always loved me at least 17 times. When you wake up the next day and want sympathy for the fact that you’re hanging like a pair of dog’s bollocks and still have to try and effectively parent your children all day, I will be full of sympathy - not pointing and laughing as I jog past in my athleisure wear.
I have no moral objection to other people’s drinking, but I do object to being labelled as a party pooper for not indulging alongside everyone else. I also don’t particularly fancy a round of applause when I do decide I really fancy a beer once in a blue moon. Drinking is not a moral issue (unless it compromises your treatment of others, or indeed yourself), and I’m dubious of campaigns that try to make people ‘Sober Heroes’ for charity. If you want a drink, have a drink. If you don’t, then don’t. But if you feel like you’re somehow powerless to make that decision in the face of peer pressure, whatever age you are, then that’s a conversation you need to have with yourself. And, hopefully, the people around you won’t make a big deal of it if you make the decision not to.
P.S. This photo of my 20-year-old self doing stand-up was taken by one of my best friends (and now godfather to my youngest son), Trevor Crighton. He’s @trevorcrighton on Instagram.
12 March 2017
Houston, we have a biter.
As with all things parenting-related, just as you think you’ve got a particular age or stage waxed, one of your tiny humans throws a behavioural curveball. And this one’s about as antisocial as it gets.
My eldest, Skellies, was mostly a rather mellow two-year-old, and his tantrums were generally restricted to well-timed meltdowns in the frozen foods aisle of Waitrose. His sense of humour failures were more about a good solitary wail on the floor, rather than involving anyone else in the drama. It turns out more and more that the differences between him and Flea are, unsurprisingly, far more extensive than just their brown-haired/brown-eyed and blonde/blue-eyed appearances.
With Flea, it started with pushing, pinching and throwing, initially directed at his poor older brother, who is remarkably forgiving and rarely retaliates in kind when his brother grabs a fistful of hair, or thumps him on the head with a Thunderbird rocket. However, this behaviour soon became a feature at playgroups, and anyone who had something he wanted would find themselves with an extremely fast, extremely determined, extremely sturdy little bruiser headed their way. Long gone was any chance of a cup of a coffee and a chat with the other mothers – I became his shadow, an ever-present bodyguard for any other children he might come into contact with.
As exhausting as this was, it started to improve slowly and surely, and I thought perhaps we had finally moved through this rather challenging stage. Turns out he was just gearing up for the main event, and in the last few weeks, he’s started channelling Mike Tyson in a big way. Last week, he actually managed to draw blood from my friend’s two-year-old, and it was only the fact that she has four children, and a hugely forgiving nature, that we haven’t been banned from visiting her again until Flea leaves for university.
When Skellies was little, he had a friend who went through the biting stage, and I remember how vigilant his mother had to be. The important thing was that she never let it slide, and every incident was dealt with swiftly and firmly. I respected that, and would never have dreamt of blaming her for this stage. The important thing to remember, whether your child is the biter or the bitten, is that this is just that – a stage. It can be a reaction to tension or trauma at home, but it’s more often just a reaction to being a toddler. Also, just because you’ve had an older child, or children, who would never have dreamt of biting, it doesn’t mean your youngest won’t turn out to be a little pit bull. Likewise, a biting first child doesn’t mean a whole brood of little nippers. Since Flea started with this, most of the friends I’ve mentioned it to have said that at least one of their two or three kids went through it too. So, even if you haven’t experienced it yet, don’t assume it’s only something that happens to other people’s children.
Whether frustrated because they can’t yet verbally express what they want or how they feel; overwhelmed by a particular environment or crowd; or annoyed because someone else has the toy that they want, biting is rarely a planned, strategic action. It is more often than not a reaction that takes toddlers themselves by surprise, even if you as the parent have seen the warning signs building up. Flea often looks shocked by what he’s done, and usually I can actually spot when he’s about to bite, and manage to push back his forehead (just) before those tiny jaws lock on to their target (once he has locked on, I sometimes think it would be useful to always carry a hose loaded with cold water - you’d have more success convincing a piranha to let go of a steak!)
Like with so many strategies for effectively dealing with ‘bad’ behaviour in children, vigilance and consistency are essential. As knackering as it is, I can’t take my eyes off Flea even for a moment in a setting with other small children. This is important, not only to help stop him before he bites (and, as my small child, he really does need me in this situation), but also to ensure that other parents realise you are taking this seriously – it’s very upsetting when your child is hurt, especially by someone else, and can be very hard to understand if it’s not a stage you’ve experienced with your own offspring.
Then, if you don’t quite manage to stop the biting from happening (and, as I said, kids are quick), your response to the situation needs to be the same every time. In Flea’s case, I remove him from the immediate vicinity of the bitten child (to a step or a chair nearby is good), and get down to his level so we are eye to eye. I tell him that we do not bite, as it’s sore and it’s unkind. This is a message worth repeating once or twice. In my experience, a child this age won’t always understand that they need to sit and think about what they’ve done (it’s effective later on, but they’re usually so shocked by what’s happened, and have no concept of time at age two, so sitting there for a long time doesn’t help).
Rather, I suggest that he sits there until he’s ready to say sorry to whoever he’s bitten, and then I turn my attention to the injured party to see how they’re doing and give them my attention. Making a big fuss of the biter only reinforces the idea that this behaviour gets them attention, so rather concentrate on the child that’s been bitten. He then always sits a bit before coming to say sorry (or just shouting ‘sowwy’ from wherever he’s sitting – always remember that feeling embarrassed is not the exclusive preserve of adulthood).
I will make no claims to expertise in this area – as I’ve made abundantly clear, this is new territory in my seven years of parenting. But, I have seen other parents go through it, and I’ve read up on the topic, and Mac and I are navigating our way through as best we can. What has really struck me though, is the tremendous sense of shame, of feeling that you are somehow failing as a parent. Also, of suddenly not recognising part of your otherwise sweet, loving toddler. As much as you tell yourself that this is a stage, it can be tremendously challenging to maintain perspective.
The temptation to hide yourself away until your child is old enough for boarding school is pretty overwhelming. This isn’t helped by the strong reaction of others – whenever Skellies has been on the receiving end of a bite at nursery or school, I’ve been taken aside by a stressed-looking teacher, clearly anticipating my shocked and appalled reaction. In hindsight, I’m so grateful that I’ve always reacted calmly to this news, and never condemned the biting child as somehow destined for a lifetime of antisocial behaviour (or their parents for raising a little fiend that would dare to nip at my child!)
However, as long as you are clear on your strategy for both preventing and dealing with this behaviour, and you’re giving your child lots of positive attention for positive behaviour the rest of the time, you are not a failure, and there is no shame to be apportioned here. You’re not raising a bad child, just an otherwise awesome kid who is struggling to get to grips with an often rather overwhelming and overstimulated stage of development, with endless new experiences and appropriate responses to get to grips with. Your lovely little human hasn’t gone anywhere; they just need your help and consistent responses even more than usual.
Always remember, there are so many more parenting challenges to come (stay calm, this is not the part where I recommend an emergency bottle of wine in the nappy bag), and there’ll be times when those with previously ‘perfectly-behaved’ kids will find themselves flummoxed by a completely unexpected unacceptable behaviour, while your kid sails through. This is why being smug about someone else’s child’s behaviour is never a good strategy, and yet another reason to practise a bit of compassion in these situations.
And, I promise I’m not saying that just in case your tiny human is the next to find themselves with my little vampire locked onto their arm at playgroup…
26 February 2017
Let me start by saying that I really like Facebook. No, scratch that, I love it. As someone who went to four different schools, attended university more than 600 miles away from home, and then moved to London without even waiting to attend my graduation ceremony (or indeed telling many people), I love being able to stay in touch with all the fabulous people who’ve drifted in and out of my life. I am so immensely crap at correspondence – letters, emails, Whatsapp – it all brings me out in a social anxiety sweat. But, with a simple ‘friending’ on Facebook, and the occasional ‘like’, comment, or quick chat over Messenger, I can check in with people I last saw when I was eleven. Some of these remain nice friends to have purely on a social media basis, but I’ve been able to meet up with others in real life, and some friendships have been rekindled stronger than ever.
In exactly one week, I will have been a Facebook user for a decade. I remember how exciting it was to reconnect with people I hadn’t seen for ages, and to see what was happening in their lives. I had only been engaged for three months, and it seems so quaint now that we told our family and friends about our engagement either over the phone or in person. Just a few months later, and it no doubt would have been a photo of the ring and a gushing announcement (#soblessed).
However, much like any good thing (ice-cream, gin, democracy…), there are downsides. Facebook, and social media in general, doesn’t just present external dangers in the form of trolls, fake news, and distressing images and videos of every variety. It also presents an infinite number of opportunities for you to genuinely offend others, compromise your own privacy and reputation, and generally make a tit of yourself. While all the lurking nasties are enough for several blog posts (and books!) all on their own, I think for now we can just stick with the slightly narrower topic of how to keep your shit together when conducting yourself on Facebook.
• Consider your audience
I am the last person to suggest self-censorship on Facebook, and I don’t feel inhibited when it comes to strong opinions, or indeed bad language. However, it helps to remember that I am friends on Facebook with, among others, my mother, my mother-in-law, my former boss, and one of the teachers at my son’s school (we became friends after he was in her class – being social media besties with your child’s current teacher can get complicated). I don’t think of any of them with a sense of hand-wringing anxiety before I click ‘post’ (all the aforementioned people know I swear like a sailor anyway), but it’s always good to bear in mind that, if there are things you would never say in person to some or all of your Facebook friends, then you probably need to rethink why it would be okay to do so from behind a keyboard.
• Enough with the vague venting
A good rant can actually be quite amusing, and your friends may be entertained, or make you feel better. However, an obnoxiously vague rant about how you’re always taken advantage of because nice guys finish last, quite plainly directed at someone you’re Facebook friends with, will only make everyone who sees it smash their foreheads on their keyboards, and then click ‘unfollow’. Hot tip, we all think we’re nice guys, and we all think we’re being taken advantage of from time to time, which raises the tough question of who all these ‘other’ selfish bastards actually are…
• Be grateful for what you have, and sensitive to those without
Just as you find my posts about my children (and the endless accompanying photos) a bit grating, so too do I find your extravagant PDAs and photos of your cats a bit heavy-going. However, it is your God-given right to post what you like about your own life, much as it is mine, and I don’t feel the need to hoik up my ranty pants about what people find important enough to share. Where I do think we need take a pause is in understanding that our posts are seen, and can’t be unseen, by friends who may be struggling to conceive/have suffered a loss in pregnancy/grapple with the reality of never being able to have children. Much along the same vein, there will be those who have recently been divorced, bereaved, bankrupted, or lost a dearly-loved pet.
Don’t stop posting your thoughts or photos or rants, but try to practise genuine, non-smug gratitude as much on Facebook as we all should in real life. Some people would give anything for the opportunity to have the very children you are cheerfully joke about giving up for adoption, and they’re smart enough to understand that you’re being entirely tongue-in-cheek, but it will probably still hit a nerve. If someone chooses to be offended by something you say because they hold a strong view to the contrary, then that should be part of a healthy difference of opinion and debate, but maybe a bit of sensitivity and kindness would make social media, and life in general, just that little bit more bearable for those genuinely having a tough time.
• Don’t like stupid shit or pages
It’s true that some people are a bit new to Facebook, and struggle to get to grips with their privacy settings and who can see what on their timeline, but I am continually astounded by the way in which seemingly intelligent and tech-savvy people ‘like’ racist, pornographic, or right-wing content and pages, without apparently ever realising that WE CAN ALL SEE YOU. The same goes for sharing funny videos that originally come from deeply misogynist or dubious pages. I’m personally a little more forgiving of the sharing of ‘fake news’ that seems credible – this is a fairly recent hot topic (even if it’s not a particularly recent practice), but we’re all working out what is actually genuine. It’s not sensible or forgivable, however, to click ‘like’ on some utterly bonkers BNP-style racist propaganda, unless of course you genuinely want to announce to your 247 Facebook friends that you are, in fact, a big ol’ racist…
• Don’t announce other people’s news for them
This is a particular, personal bugbear (although, thankfully, it’s never actually happened to me). If your friend has just squeezed out eight pounds of brand-new human, and you’ve received a call or text message to that effect, but there is nothing yet on social media, it is not your job to make the announcement on their behalf on their Facebook wall. The same goes for engagements, divorces, deaths and boob jobs. If they haven’t personally posted about it to their wall, stick with a private message until they do. Thunder stealers have their own special section of hell, alongside queue-jumpers and people who mispronounce ‘specifically’.
For those with kids, some further things to think about:
• Again, consider your audience
Do you know every single one of your Facebook friends personally? I have one or two that I’ve worked with in far-flung places of the world, but I’ve never actually met. Even knowing everyone personally is no guarantee of anything – the harsh reality is that any potential danger to your children is just as likely to come from a close family friend or relative. The important thing to consider is just how much information you’re providing in any given post or photo. As much as I strongly reject the Daily Mail-style hysteria that suggests that just about everyone you meet must be a paedophile in disguise, it doesn’t hurt to consider what information you’re sharing. An obvious one is school photos with the school logo in view. Again, I’m not suggesting that a first-day-of-school photo of your child is headed straight to the Dark Web if you share it on Facebook, but at least give it a moment’s thought. No social media account is completely secure – even if you do a good job of maintaining your own passwords and access, your Facebook friends might not.
• Consider your children’s response to what you’ve posted
If your children are still small, this needs to basically take the form of an imaginary conversation with their teenage/adult selves. Would they be happy with the photo or funny comment you’ve shared? How would you explain to them why you’ve shared that part of their lives and childhood?
I often post about my kids on Facebook, and I’m fully aware that I am going to refer to them on this blog, but I try to have this conversation with them in my mind each time I post about them, or indeed the more complex parts of my personal life. It’s not necessarily that it shouldn’t be said or shared, but it should always be a conscious, deliberate thing.
• Your children’s future digital footprint
Anyone old enough to read and understand this post has likely had the benefit of a childhood free of social media, but our children don’t necessarily have this choice. We have all (hopefully) been able to choose what is part of our legacy on the internet, but by posting about our children, we have removed this choice from them. This is not something to feel guilty about – our parents and ancestors left us with some serious shit to deal with (the environment is a good place to start…), and that is just how the passage of time works. However, that same imaginary conversation I mentioned above really needs to enter into your thinking when you post about them online in any format or forum (blogs included!) What will a potential boss be able to see when they type in your child’s name one day?
• Privacy settings
Please make sure you are aware of your privacy settings on Facebook and all your social media accounts. Because my Instagram account is completely public, I don’t post pictures of my boys’ faces. I have many friends who do, and others who use their children as part of their business or brand building (something that can provide opportunities, financial or otherwise, for the family as a whole). There is absolutely nothing wrong with this. None of my friends who appeared in ads or on TV as children have ever complained about their moment in the spotlight – it was usually great fun. Likewise, it’s entirely your choice to never post a photo of your child anywhere online, and this does not make you awkward or self-righteous.
The important thing is that you are fully clued-up about what everybody on the internet can see, and how you would deal with any possible implications. Even being trolled on Instagram can be bloody hurtful, so you need to be totally clear on what you’re sharing, and how you feel about the possible infringement on your own, or your children’s, privacy.
• Consider the amount of time you spend on Facebook (or social media in general)
This one is less about what you’re actually posting on Facebook, and more about the behaviour you’re modelling. I’ve had the odd tut from people on the tube when I’ve been on my phone and one of my boys has been sitting next to me or in their pram. It’s really no-one else’s bloody business how or when you choose to use your phone. The only thing that is important is the behaviour you want to model for your child. If you feel you spend possibly too much time on Facebook, consider whether you’d like your child to spend the same amount of time each day on social media. If not, then the example begins with you. Facebook and Instagram were my best friends during hours of breastfeeding in the middle of the night, and if I see someone on their phone at the playground, I don’t automatically assume they’re a rubbish parent. Just make sure that you’re happy with the picture of digital engagement you’re presenting to your kids.
I am probably guilty of getting it wrong on some, or indeed all, of the above points. In fact, I first wrote down the blog title idea of ‘The Age of the Perpetual Overshare’ after only a year on Facebook, and I’ve watched with interest how social media has evolved, as well as our relationships with it. Its pros and cons could be listed over several hundred pages, but, ultimately, it boils down to one simple concept. It is the responsibility of each one of us, either as individuals or on behalf of our children, to clearly define how we want to conduct ourselves in this vast online space. Nobody wants to end up the digital equivalent of that person at the cocktail party with their skirt tucked into the back of their knickers.
12 February 2017
So, the dreaded V Day approaches, and my email inbox is struggling to cope with the deluge of emails advertising the latest fashions in sexy lingerie. I use both the terms ‘fashion’ and ‘sexy’ with trepidation, as they seem to be appealing mainly to those who think ‘Fifty Shades’ is the definitive manual for a healthy romantic relationship. I may just be bitter, as the idea of that much complicated scratchy lace and frilly bits leaves me rather more terrified than turned on – but then, I’m also the woman who managed to punch herself in the face trying to pull a pair of Spanx back up in a particularly narrow public toilet cubicle, so I can’t really be trusted with anything more complicated than an M&S cotton knicker.
Of course, boobs seem to be the order of the day when it comes to about 95% of advertising, so their use as a marketing opportunity in this instance is not that strange, but my relationship with my own has been less straightforward. And, I’m guessing I’m not alone in this…
I remember buying my first bra with my mother at Woolworths (the equivalent of M&S in South Africa, not the place where English children used to buy their pick ‘n’ mix, just to be clear). It was the typical starter number – two triangles of cotton and a bit of elastic that provided about as much support as Marilyn Manson at a Beyoncé concert. I wasn’t worried though, surely it wouldn’t be long before I’d be needing something altogether more impressive…would it?
Turns out, while I managed to speed through 22 centimetres of vertical growth at age 13, my chest lagged behind. Small boobs can be positively chic on many frames, but rocketing towards six foot, with a back and shoulders like a rugby forward, it felt a little unfair that I seemed doomed to writing ‘FRONT’ on my chest for the rest of my teens. Of course, it really really helped living in a hot country, where I could be surrounded almost every weekend by my tanned, tiny and perky school friends at endless pool parties. Truly, such fun. Going to school socials, where I towered above most of the boys, and wasn’t even able to provide something impressive at their eye level, was an equally joyous form of teenage torture.
Things didn’t improve much at university, but luckily the horror of bra fittings with shop assistants, who gamely joined in the charade of such things even being necessary in my case, provided fodder for some of my biggest laughs on the stand-up comedy stage. I’d also like to take a moment to thank the combined efforts of Wonderbra and SAB Miller for the fact that this absence of bosom did not affect my university dating game in any measurable way. I invested in truly ridiculous shoes to detract from any chest deficit (a girl can try!), and I knew for sure I was being dull beyond all description if a man’s gaze ever wandered south of my eyes.
Of course, there is one, quite magical, and non-surgical, way of enhancing any and all previously-disadvantaged chest areas – pregnancy. I discovered early on in my first pregnancy that, while I may have felt like throwing up everything I had ever eaten, and could be found positively inhaling great quantities of lemonade and pork scratchings (my only morning sickness cure) on the 8am bus to work, my ability to generate whistles from passing white vans had taken a serious leap. The Nork Fairy had finally arrived, at the grand old age of 28, and I was bloody delighted. I positively strutted into Mothercare to be fitted for a breastfeeding bra, safe in the knowledge that the assistant wouldn’t have to stifle a giggle in determining my cup size. And a Grand Canyon cleavage no longer required two hands shoved in on either side in front of the bathroom mirror, it was simply a side effect of trying to wrestle Right Said Fred into daily brassiere submission. Happy days!
In the rosy glow of new baby bliss, it took a while for me to realise, that what the pregnancy Nork Fairy giveth, breastfeeding taketh away. Yes, breastfeeding gives you the most stupendous melons (I mean, terrifyingly so at times), but for many of us (except my best friend, who is a size zero and ended up looking like a Victoria’s Secret model – remarkably she’s still my best friend), it turns out this is rarely BOTH boobs at the same time. You see, if you’re feeding on one side at a time, there’s always going to be one Pamela Anderson to contend with, alongside one deflated Snoopy’s nose.
This somewhat alarming situation manifested most memorably on a night out with my younger, far cooler sister when Skellies was about nine months. A recent bout of food poisoning had allowed me back into my pre-pregnancy skinny jeans (silver linings, people), and I was happily reliving my youth on the dancefloor of a hipster nightclub at 2am. Glancing down, I suddenly realised that one knocker was much where it should have been, but the other was torpedoing its way in the direction of the DJ. Seriously, we’re talking about a five cup discrepancy here. Taxi!
Now that my youngest son has been independent on the beverage front for over 18 months, I am a happily retired cow, and my brief glimpse into the feet-obscuring world of the Playboy Bunny is firmly over. When I went in to Victoria’s Secret to be fitted for yet another new set of bras, the athleisure-clad foetus in charge of the tape measure stared at me in total confusion when I tried to explain the journey my now rather defeated-looking headlights had been through with the carrying and breastfeeding of two babies. That’s okay, one day either pregnancy, or simply gravity, will explain it for her better than I ever could.
And besides, I can now save an absolute fortune on this whole complicated business of cleavage support – I just roll up my boobs and tuck them into my socks.