An Open Letter to People with Twat Dads

 

Dear People with Twat Dads,

I love this photo of me and my husband 6 months ago today, in our tiny courtyard garden during the prosecco and spring rolls post-marriage ceremony reception for about 20 people, which we insanely thought it was a good idea to host in our impossibly small house. There is a reason people don’t invite you to their house on their wedding day. Nevertheless this had special significance for us, as this house was the last house my Dad lived in, and he died in the room behind us in the photo. I spent a large chunk of my life without my Dad in it: 5 years of living together, 10 years of sporadic weekend-ish/phone contact, 10 years of complete estrangement which ended when I popped round to this very house for a simple cup of tea 5 years and 6 months ago. It felt good to have some part of him there in the wedding, in the garden full of geraniums he had tended and in the thistles in my bouquet which represented him so well: Scottish, blue, spiky and difficult to handle.

What’s the point of the following tldr, overly sincere, unfunny and quite possibly irritatingly patronising essay? Am I about to give you advice I never would have taken myself, precisely because I’m no longer in the situation you are still in? Yep. You should know by now that Open Letters aren’t really letters, if they were they wouldn’t be open and on the internet. This is about me and this is an opportunity for me to over-share my opinions and dirty laundry. It even ends with lyrics from a Neil Young song. Stay tuned if you can bear it. I blame the fact I’ve got partial facial paralysis, am on a lot of steroids and have subsequently been relieved of childcare duties for two whole days, enabling a stunning return to being able to actually hear my own thoughts for more than 2 minutes.

As I imagine many children of divorced parents with peripheral or complicated and upsetting relationships with their fathers feel, I spent the majority of my life until my father died intent on denying any similarity with him whatsoever. It’s extremely difficult to make a positive identification between you and the person who provided 50% of your genetic material when you experience their behaviour as uncaring. I was knocked sideways after my father’s death by the realisation of how determinedly I had punished him by withholding my love from him. For many years I was very angry with my Dad and for valid reason. Later, we had established a new relationship, predicated essentially on me going to visit him because I was bored / lonely / sad, to drink cups of tea and eat all his biscuits and listen to him telling me wild and fascinating tales of his young adulthood in Australia, riding horses bareback and tripping on acid while riding a motorbike and throwing bread to the pigeons. Sometimes he’d talk about his childhood in the tenements of Glasgow, bone achingly poor, hungry and cold, terrified of the majority of adults in his world, often subjected to brutal violence. Rarely he’d share anecdotes about his later years living as an old Western man in Bangkok, I didn’t like these stories about “hookers” and bizarre friends with names like “Cherokee Charlie”, the descriptions of whom always conjured up images of a kind of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest-meets-The Beach in my mind. He seemed to get that I wasn’t a keen audience to this kind of story, but in his characteristic style would occasionally find it irresistible to test the waters. There were numerous things about my Dad which I disliked, many which pissed me off and some which infuriated me. But the time shared in common ground was priceless.

During these few short years of harmonious and mutually beneficial contact, I determinedly never replied when he told me he loved me, I made an effort to one-arm hug him. I don’t know if he noticed or if he accepted that was his dues. He was ill for years with Parkinson’s, but when he became ill enough to warrant hospitalisation with what turned out to be pneumonia, our relationship made a radical shift. I watched him sobbing in desperation as he sat crumpled into his sofa, describing the pain in his chest to his best friend, confessing how terrified he was of climbing the stairs each night, communicating in every way other than spelling out “please end this”. The walls I’d put so much energy into maintaining in my heart were smashed through by the strength of compassion it’s impossible not to feel when you see a fellow human in such sad desperation and fear. I felt physically sore in my chest. Later, finding an empty milk bottle so that my brother could help Dad pee into it, rather than face the effort of the 8 metre stagger to the bathroom, I crumpled.

That same evening, I explained to my brother that I felt an awful lot of painful compassion for Dad but that I found it hard to respect him. In hindsight this seems like a fine enough position and one I wish I’d been able to connect with sooner, but perhaps it surfaced when the time was right. Over the following weeks visiting him in hospital, my compassion and his vulnerability paved the way for frequent and genuine expressions of love, remorse for the wasted past and deep sadness for the lost future. Those harrowing hospital days filled me with a haunting sense of Orpheus glancing back towards Eurydice. Leaving him there so terrified and vulnerable felt like abandonment to the gates of hell.

It’s easier maybe, definitely much simpler, to reach a place of peace and acceptance of my difficult father now he’s dead. Some would say this is an attempt to white wash the past or to re-write history. I would say it’s a choice to salvage the beauty and the positives from a chaotic family history and to cherish the multiple and various good things that truly existed in my father, and to acknowledge his very real love and care for me, expressed in the ways he expressed it and felt by him as he felt it, rather than by contrast to my (probably quite reasonable) ideas of what that should have looked like. I say this is easier now he’s dead for two reasons:

  1. He’s not here to fuck up my hypotheses by being a twat or annoying me, saying stupid things or being a shit parent. I can reflect on our relationship as something that’s over, at least in its physical dimension of our two hearts beating in one room or his ability to answer the phone and say things I don’t invent. Occasionally a room in my house will become inexplicably filled with an overpowering stench of Benson and Hedges, which dissipates almost as soon as it’s arrived, I’ve said “alright Dad?” and got my husband to confirm the smell is not in my imagination / caused by him secretly smoking round the back of the house, which he genuinely believes I don’t notice. I don’t have to continually find a way to negotiate a relationship with my Dad because he’s dead. I recognise this is not so simple if your Dad is still alive and frequently a twat.
  2. The reconciliation my Dad and I were able to reach when he was dying was, somewhat ironically, simultaneously extremely simple, easy, organic and authentic, and utterly impossible unless he was dying. The sight of my emaciated father, looking me in the eyes with a clarity I’d never before experienced, simply listening to me, simply replying with surprise and acceptance when I expressed a view he’d perhaps previously rejected or not ever considered, was surely only possible because he was dying and it wasn’t about winning or being right. Our Big Conversation, when it finally happened, was based on the determination of two different people with a complex past and with a shared objective of honesty, love and ensuring a way of experiencing peace in the future rather than leaving behind a wreckage of upset and confusion and unasked, unanswered questions. We just wanted to understand each other. It was as simple as that and that’s why it was so effective. The answers were all deeply satisfying because they were honest and no one was measuring them. I’m not sure if I’d have been able to keep it that simple unless he was dying.

Since he died, I’ve discovered whole new elements of my father’s love for me which I previously had no idea existed. People have shared stories of his devotion to me when I was a baby. I’ve learned how much he loved and missed me everyday of our 10 year estrangement – something I would have refused to believe prior to his death, still measuring how he did behave against how I thought he should have behaved, rather than accepting that sometimes people love people but are completely ineffective at communicating that in an intelligible way. My sister has told me how boring phone-calls with him became since I came back into his life, as every time she took the time, effort and expense to call him from Australia all he wanted to talk about was me and he never asked her anything. My brother has helped me remember my father was bi-polar, which doesn’t excuse poor fathering and mad behaviour but goes a fuck of a long way towards explaining at least some of it. They both explained how broken he was by the loss of me and our brother, and I realised that this brokenness often unfortunately manifested itself in behaviour which made us distance ourselves from him further. I’ve read poems, aching stanzas of EE Cummings, painstakingly copied out in shaking hand, all in capitals and full of the sincerity and truth which I recognise from finding that another’s words express something I can’t.

Recently I’ve got back into Neil Young in a major, Dear Serious, haunted poet kind of way which I enjoy indulging myself in because no one who lives near me in rural Cambodia will notice if I play the same song 50 times in one morning. I’ve become more relaxed about, and even enjoy, accepting I’m similar to my Dad in a lot of meaningful and artistic ways, as well as in my inability to resist giving people stupid nicknames, relentlessly piss taking, littering my speech with an array of fucks, buggers and piss. These lyrics knock me sideways: Old man, look at my life. I’m a lot like you were. / Lullabies, look in your eyes, run around the same old town. Doesn’t mean that much to me, to mean that much to you. / Old man, look at my life, I’m a lot like you were. Old man, look at my life, I’m a lot like you were.*

HERE’S THE PATRONISING ADVICE: phone your Dad, if you can. The worst that can happen is he’ll prove he’s a COMPLETE twat, at least then you’ll know and you can always check again in case he stops being one when he’s dying. There’s also a strong possibility that he’s maybe only 80% twat and that he’s got nice biscuits, which you should eat all of to compensate yourself for his failings as a father.

*(Specifically the good bits though, I think I’ll leave the multiple-divorce, absent-parenting, Bangkok hookers, furious temper, financial illiteracy, actual illiteracy and incessant chain smoking to you, Dad).

Love from,

Bonny with a paralysed half face, 30 years-old and blissfully alone listening to Neil Young on her 6 month wedding anniversary to a brilliant man.

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Kids and drugs

My unforeseen success with An Open Letter to Flop has totally fucked me over. I’ve been unable to write anything since and instead I simply read the entire internet. There are a lot of really boring bastards out there. In lieu of actually writing anything new, I’m attempting to get the ball rolling by simply posting this drivel from last year which I found in the arse end of my computer. Enjoy! 

Last week* whilst feeding the ducks (with my toddler) I found myself in the unfortunate position of being duty bound to reprimand some 10 year old kids for smoking. I was prevented from completing this task initially by the fact that I am scared of kids and latterly by my realisation that the ringleader of this motley crew, this sinister Pan leading lost boys from cradle to gallows, was in fact VAPING.

I usually harbour the illusion that I understand kids because I recently was one. In a similar way, I believe teaching must be simple and I could do it as I have been to school before. This attitude unites kids and teachers in the accurate belief that parents are all dickheads.

I now see that I do not understand kids.

These kids have literally cut out the middle man in their nicotine addiction journey.

They haven’t even picked up a cigarette and they’ve already quit.

Can you even tell a kid off for vaping?! Is it even technically naughty? Ought I to have clapped this child on the shoulder conspiratorially, chuckling “good for you love, I’m two years off the cigs myself and I wouldn’t go back if you paid me!”, perhaps done a few demonstrative deep breaths to really drive the point home?

What happens to the traditional slippery slope of gateway drugs when the kids have bypassed the real shit and gone straight for the replacement therapy? It’s now a short, sharp, steep step from vaping to knocking back methadone in the pharmacy. The traditional spliff-to-intravenous-in-6-short-months trajectory nothing but a shadow of a memory.

If they’re standard vaping at 10, what the hell will they be on at 11? These kids begin with the same equipment as every adult female long-term vaper I know: a standard, basic e-cig. Subtle, simple, easily confused with a biro. The men, on the other hand, carry around a sort of electronic briefcase, which they transform into a saxophone-computer, impossible quantities of smoke billowing out of their smug o-shaped mouths, pointed to the sky, like some sort of one-man steam train meets nuclear power station.

I despair for the youth of today.

Their hedonistic mind-expansion landscape is a bleak and barren land.

A minefield of legal highs which create the kind of buzz which makes you want to rip your own testicles off. Literally.

Gone are the halcyon days of chain smoking roll ups while riding the serotonin tsunami, dubstep and Stevie Wonder’s greatest hits providing an incongruous backing track for the euphoric realisation that we are all just the children of the family of the world, man.

I don’t know what the point of this blog was but just to confirm that I’ve glorified the use of drugs and also pretended to have ever had a positive experience involving dubstep.

 

*Last week, last year, whatever.

Why Baby Group is Shit

It’s possible that baby group was destined to fail to live up to my unrealistically high expectations, which can be best summarised as: Freshers Week. I assumed I’d meet my Best Mum Friend For Life within seconds of walking in and we’d dye our hair some totally mad colour, do six Jaeger Bombs and the whole thing would culminate with all the Mums hanging off each other in a circle, jumping up and down to Mr Brightside with eyeliner running down our faces while all the babies sat quietly watching a DVD about Cambodia (obviously at least 60% of the babies in my baby group freshers week would be Khmerglish). In hindsight this was perhaps a bit much to ask of 45 minutes at my local library.

The list of things which piss me off about baby group is endless, but I have condensed it into the following five subheadings because I know you lead a busy life, presumably attending a shit tonne of shitty baby groups. Buckle up this is going to be a bumpy ride.

1. Shit advice

When you give birth, the midwife hands you your baby and says “Congratulations! It’s a girl! Do you take her to any baby groups?” Confused about still being alive after 24 hours of unfathomable pain, this question stumps you. “…B-b-b-baby groups?” you whimper, stunned to realise that you’re 1 minute in and already totally fucking everything up.

Your fatigued mind tries to rationalise the situation: how could you have taken her to baby groups already? You’re still joined together by the umbilical cord! It’s ok, you’re hallucinating, maybe the pethidine was a bad idea. You’re exhausted, you’re not thinking straight, you don’t need to go to baby group. You need to deliver the placenta. You’re doing a great job. Breathe. You got this.

WRONG. You are not hallucinating! You really are a terrible parent! A medical professional really has just asked you if you take your minute old newborn to baby groups, which it would be in every sense impossible for you to have taken her to yet. This question is real. This is how much people need you to take your baby to baby groups. Get used to it, people are going to ask it more and more often, at increasingly higher pitches, until eventually they phone Social Services, screaming into the receiver, “well she’s always clean and fed and looks fairly happy but I personally don’t feel it’s necessary to still be breastfeeding a nineteen month old child and for crying out loud THE LUNATIC IS NOT EVEN TAKING IT TO ANY FUCKING BABY GROUPS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

Rather than risk your precious baby being placed in the foster care of some unfashionably dressed people who are, undeniably, much better parents than you, it’s a good idea to give baby groups a try. You can trust me, I know what I am talking about because in the past 19 months, I have been to a baby group twice. That’s two different groups, one time each, and I am here to share my valuable and extensive knowledge with you.*

2. Shit people

A blind man walking into the library at midday today would have chided his usually dependable dog. “For fuck’s sake, Sally! I told you to take me to the library, not the perfume counter in Boots! You are worse than satnav, you shit!” This is the legacy of the veritable cloud of Chanel No 5 left in the library by the participants of “Bounce and Rhyme Time”. You will think I’m exaggerating and, while that blind man thing was completely made up (wtf is a blind man doing in a library?! Braille, you ignorant arseholes), the perfume smell really was stunning. People who have so much money that they literally have nothing better to do with it than exchange it for a smell are not the kind of people who have ever noticed that the newsagents discounts all their bakery items after 8pm on a Tuesday. Much less have they strategically planned their toddler’s bedtime routine around this knowledge. Ergo: these people are not my people.

3. Shit music

May I suggest we replace the inaccurate, belittling and, frankly, inconducive to gender equality “Mums on the bus go chatter chatter chatter, chatter chatter chatter, chatter chatter chatter” with the more factually representative “the Mums on the bus go paranoid delusions, sauvignon blanc, cook the fucking dinner, less pay for equal work, nips IN tits OUT, weird bread substitute for bread which is less calorific than bread because it’s not really bread, what the fuck, what the FUCK.”

This morning, choking back my ideals, I made it through the first few nursery rhymes without incident, resisting the urge to sing about the little boy who, as we all know, actually lived down the drain, said fuck you to the master and fuck you to the dame. So far, so tuneless. To my horror, after the usual suspects, there followed a cascade of further songs. Panicked, I looked about me, only to observe that all these pashminas with designer flip flops knew the words, melodies and the actions, which their perfectly manicured hands sliced through the air with a fierce, robotic force. Imagine a cult gathering. Wide-eyed women singing at an almost imperceptibly slightly too high pitch. They move in flawless unison, perfectly synchronized, like something off Britain’s Got Talent. Tune after tune, rhyme after rhyme, the dance goes on. These are kids’ songs I didn’t even know when I was a kid. Where do they get this knowledge from? It’s not Cbeebies, it cant be. I know all those songs. Even the Glaswegian nurse one. Maybe it’s from books. But we’ve got some books, we read books, we’re not animals! We look at books.

4. Shit ethnic diversity

As a middle-class white woman in rural Buckinghamshire, I was devastated to find that baby group is full of white, middle-class women. Stony faced grown women, eerily raising their newborn children to the sky in the centre of a circle as they chant “OH, the okey cokey” in the manner of an ancient tribal ritual, except it’s happening in the village hall and everyone in the room, with the sole exception of my baby, is white

Black people with babies, where are you? Please can you invite me so I can go there too? In all my wealth of experience of baby group, I have never seen a black person there. You are probably all too busy being structurally oppressed and murdered by the police. Cambodian people don’t have baby groups because they’re too busy being traumatised by genocide and working inhumanely long hours making clothes for H&M in borderline slave labour conditions. In this context I’m reluctant to say that exclusion from baby group means either of these groups of people has “lucked out”. Baby group is an undeniably first world problem experienced only by rich white people. It’s not a real problem. But real problems aren’t funny so stop judging me and laugh at my jokes, just one more subheading to go:

5. Shit outcome

Contrary to the impression you may have got thus far, I’m not actually slagging off people who go to baby group, or even people who enjoy it. Baby group is not about the babies, they get enough of that baby shit in their normal daily life as a baby. The baby group empire is built upon the desperation of millions of parents, teetering so precariously on the precipice between mental illness and full blown alcoholism that they voluntarily pay to sit in a cold church hall at 10am, simply to not be the only grown up in the room. It is therefore both remarkable and depressing that baby group is essentially a 40 minute masterclass in how to avoid making eye contact.

In summary, baby group is shit because the music is shit and it’s at a shit time of day and everyone’s sober and white and no one is laughing with their eyes. If I wanted to spend more time with my kid not laughing, I would stay at home. Would men do it? Would men pay a fiver to sit in a circle with other men, self-consciously nodding to shit music for 45 minutes? Yes, and you should too, but in the pub.

*Since initially drafting this blog, I have become a convert to baby group. We now go to two separate clapping clubs on a weekly basis. I even pay for one of them. We went this morning and it was fucking brilliant. The group leader was totally on one, big mad eyes and singing really, really hard. You have not lived until you’ve witnessed a church hall full of toddlers when the bubble machine is on. However, I urge you to suss out the vibe in the room before bellowing, “look at them! They bloody love it! The bubbles are like baby crack!” To describe the response as ‘lukewarm’ would be generous. 

Fucking immigrants.

 

This is not the LOL festival the letter to Flop was. It’s an expression of the powerlessness and exasperation I feel in the face of UK immigration law which in this instance didn’t allow me to have my partner with me while my Dad was dying. That’s right, move over Flop, Theresa May has ruined my life. 

 

Fucking immigrants

White people.

Rows of beds of white people.

Fat white people.

Old white people.

Fat, old, white people.

In bed pissing themselves complaining about the service and reading newspapers about fucking immigrants.

Being taken care of by

Having incontinence pads changed by

Fed by

fucking immigrants.

And my (brown) baby is dragged around a hospital ward

Playing with the buttons

Sitting on the pissy bed

When she should be at home with her dad

So my arms could be free to help lift my dad,

Give him a hug then go home and be hugged.

But instead

I juggle the wriggling baby full of life

and the skeletal dad staring at death.

Life’s full spectrum in front of me and each extremity is incontinent and scared and crying,

Dribbling spoonfuls of pureed chicken from mouths to chins to chests.

I juggle needs, pees, tears, teas

Heart stopping fears.

Then

I juggle and struggle down corridors into car

Through rush hour traffic to home to cook to eat (crisps)

Bathe and soothe my baby while 12 miles away

In a hospital ward in a concrete town,

In rubber gloves and a cheap plastic gown:

A woman named Beauty bathes and soothes my own Dad;

Mohammed makes his tea;

Simba preps morphine to help him sleep less fitfully.

I watch my milk-drunk baby slip into dreams

6,000 miles away from her Dad.

Three weeks later

on Skype

I describe the sight

of siblings, friends and cousins carrying my Dad.

The twenty or so guests dancing round the coffin.

England’s full up!

There’s no more room!

My Dad’s a bucket of ash on a shelf

But he’s still closer to me

Than my daughter’s Dad is allowed to be.

Because this is the price he has to pay

For fucking emigrants.

An Open Letter to Flop

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An Open Letter to Flop

Dear Flop,

Despite the firm assurance of a Cambodian fortune teller that, as of March 2016, everything in my life was going to be easy, I’ve been having a really hard week. During times of struggle I ought to be more vigilant with the TV schedule, but today I absent-mindedly allowed my daughter to watch Bing (I left her in the cot – which is never used for sleep but as a kind of baby prison while I have a shower – next to the telly). While listening to Bing’s whining and your characteristically level-headed, in control, considered, informed and confident response, I felt myself spiralling into a familiar black hole of inadequacy.

Flop, what even are you? Are you his Dad or what? Does he call you Flop because of some progressive parenting choice you’ve made to deconstruct the normative model of the family? Are you a neighbour or some kind of paid help? I’m not trying to be narrow minded. I’m just trying to understand why you never seem to lose your shit, Flop. We never see you in the background putting your car keys in your bag really hard or muttering about how well you did in your fucking degree while mopping up yoghurt with a fistful of angrily scrunched baby wipes. Flop, do you ever have to count to ten?

How do you get the shopping out of the car? Do you leave Bing in his car seat, even if he’s crying, while you get the stuff out of the car and into the front door? Do you lock the car between each car-to-front-door journey? What the fuck do you do in the petrol station, Flop? What if the pay-at-pump is out of order? You just don’t seem to feel panicked, Flop. You seem like you’ve got it all in hand and I’m not even sure if you have hands.

Flop, have you ever mouthed “arsehole” behind Bing’s back – not so as he would have heard but maybe passers by would have noticed – because you walked straight past Clarks despite the fact your destination was Clarks and you felt Bing was somehow responsible? Have you ever spent eighteen pounds on a pair of Clarks wellies you didn’t even like, simply because you didn’t want to go home having not achieved the task of buying Bing some wellies? Flop, when was the last time you had to bite your car key to stop yourself crying at the till because you were exhausted and you only paid for 90 minutes parking and you had 3 minutes left but you were a 4 minute walk from the car and you were trying to enter your pin number with a struggling Bing gripped precariously under your left arm and your right hand self-consciously grazing the pram handle to check if your handbag was still there? Do you even have a handbag, Flop? Are you made from a sock?

Do you ever feel like you’ve inadvertently waterboarded Bing when all you wanted to do was wash his hair? What’s your stance on refined sugar? Do you ever think that maybe you make the same tired old joke about Bing only eating Pom Bears so no one realises you lose sleep over your failure to get him to consume anything other than breastmilk? Are you on Instagram? Does Bing like blueberry nicecream? Do you? Do you drench it in maple syrup and eat it anyway? What do you mean “no”?

Do you ever worry about rickets, Flop, despite the fact that Bing is unusually tall? Does rickets run in Bing’s family? My boyfriend has bendy legs but is that hereditary? Or was it cos he was born in a war? Do you think it’s wrong that he’s 30 tomorrow and we’re so far away? How will I make him a cake, Flop? People say we’re lucky we have Skype but have you ever been on Skype, Flop? Is it the same as a hug? Why can we print a kidney but the internet doesn’t work when it rains?

What’s the deal with Sula? If she tried to hit Bing would you hit her back? Do you think we should stay in the EU, Flop? Or should we become part of America instead? Did you go to Normandy in Year Seven, Flop? Remember the ferry and everyone putting the waists of their coats over their heads so they nearly blew away and it rained the whole fucking time you were there? What about Calais, Flop? It’s all very well being able to explain to Bing that when he has a sleepover he has to be prepared to mix bedtime routines but how do you explain to him that some people don’t have a bedtime routine because they don’t have a bed because they live i.n.a.f.u.c.k.i.n.g.t.e.n.t.?

Are you a single parent, Flop? You never seem to go to work but you live in a big house and we never see you checking your Lloyds app and going pale in the face and mouthing “oh SHIT”. You’ve got a massive orange fridge which can’t have come cheap, Flop. Flop, how do you cope with the crushing responsibility? Do you ever panic that Bing will be kidnapped while you’re in the shower, despite the fact you can see him and the front door is locked?

Flop, I bet you don’t have to write “brush Bing’s teeth” on your to do list in order to remember it. I bet you just do it. Every day. Twice. And I bet you really do it, rather than just let him chew the toothbrush while you do your eyeliner. You don’t even wear eyeliner, do you? Have you ever had to Google “what exactly is soft play” because you don’t actually know? Of course you haven’t. You invented soft play. You’ve never even got an apostrophe wrong, you perfect bastard.

Flop, do you well up because the music to Waybuloo is ambient?

Sincerely,

Bonny, 28, Buckinghamshire

The Angkor Wat Motherhood Challenge

I went to Angkor Wat yesterday (bear with me). I should imagine going to Angkor Wat features on many bucket lists and I acknowledge my fortune in being able to go there both yesterday and the day before, bringing my lifetime total up to four visits: in bucket list terms, I should be dead already. If you look on Instagram and do a search for #angkorwat, you will be rewarded with streams of mind-blowing sunrise/sets, gnarly tree roots growing through ancient ruins which Angelina Jolie once leapt about from in almost-labia-revealingly-short shorts. Taking a brief step away from Instagram and into real-life, Angkor Wat is a mosquito infested humid nightmare, ruined by swarms of tourists either covered in lycra, sun hats and cameras or elephant print trousers, tattoos and culturally insensitive t-shirts, depending if they’ve come here from the East or West. Young children with bony limbs and nylon clothes follow you around trying to flog you “ten postcards for wun duh-lar” while their mothers sell you instant noodles for two. Close your eyes and imagine a stray dog. Now imagine that stray dog in Asia. It has excess, tough, furless skin from being constantly infested with I dread to think what. I swear some of them have balls and tits. There are millions of them and they are everywhere. Red dust sticks to your lips and you will be drastically overcharged for a bottle of water. You can ride an elephant for $20 but first you have to be able to look it in its sad old eye. In short, I challenge anyone to not be pissed off and disappointed within 20 minutes of arriving.

Similarly, motherhood is not all it’s cracked up to be via social media posts. (Well done for making it this far and I hope you’re enjoying the significant impact of the metaphor I began in sentence one.) Go to Angkor Wat. It is fucking mind-blowing. Yesterday, at Angkor Wat, while wrestling my red-faced, sweaty, screaming 1 year-old daughter away from one of the aforementioned stray dogs (she adores all woof woofs), I asked her father, “if you knew what having a baby was like in advance, would you have done it?” I’m not going to quote him here but suffice to say that we reached the unanimous paradoxical consensus that, of course we fucking wouldn’t, and we’re extremely glad we did. The extent of the highs and lows of parenthood are difficult to describe and frankly almost inhumane to experience. As a great man once said, life is a rollercoaster, once you are on it you have almost no choice but to continue and there are intermittent, enjoyable reprieves.

Speaking about motherhood often feels penned in by bookends and caveats which acknowledge the struggles of others. I feel I’m supposed to apologise because:

  1. I got pregnant (by accident, sorry! Trust me, unplanned pregnancy is no picnic)
  2. I had a healthy pregnancy (apart from being in Cambodia with no access to “proper” prenatal care, in 40+ degree heat and cohabiting with scorpions)
  3. I had a vaginal birth with no epidural (sorry NOT sorry, worst day of my life, more on that another day)
  4. The baby and I were both healthy and allowed home the same day (which is not the warm, fuzzy experience one might expect from the movies. More a tearstained, blood stained, hobbling, stitched up, acid pee, terrified mess)
  5. I breastfed (and still do, despite the first week being a black-nippled, insomniac screaming hell and the present baby being able to walk across the room to latch on, sometimes testing out her six teeth)

I once made a Facebook post about how giving birth is horrendous and anyone who says it’s the best day of their life must have a shit life (this is my first ever blog post, if you don’t like it please don’t lose faith because I’m really fucking good on Facebook, specifically via stati, and I hope with time I will master the art of witty writing at length). Cue comment from a family friend that “other women struggling with infertility would give anything to go through this experience!” Unfortunately, other women’s battles with fertility do not change the fact that I contracted for more than 24 hours and then pushed a human out of my vagina, and that I liked exactly no aspect of that 24 hours.

I see posts on the ‘Facebook Motherhood Challenge’. I read opinion pieces by left-leaning, broadly feminist writers whose work I usually feel aligned with, slating the “smug-club” for shoving their ovaries in the Facebooks of friends suffering miscarriages. (Perplexingly, for me, at least one of these writers has previously vehemently defended women’s rights to multiple abortions without fear of upsetting people who want kids, yet now criticises women’s rights to be publicly proud of their children in case it upsets… people who want kids). I write a rant about it and a close friend comments that the fact people have time to post photos of their kids is evidence that motherhood is not as taxing as mum-led propaganda would have the world believe. (Insider info: many Mum-posts are done on the bog or with one eye monitoring the proximity of the baby to potentially fatal hazards, sometimes both).

Here’s some background on the members of my Newsfeed smug-club:

  • A Mum of premature twins who have spent several spells of their short lives in hospital with chronic lung problems.
  • A Mum who, due to UK immigration law, gave birth (at 7 months) without her partner by her side. She is effectively a single parent and intended to take a longer maternity leave, but returned to work full-time when the baby was 6 months old in order to collect enough payslips to prove she meets the financial requirement for her child’s father’s settlement visa application, which they will put in later this year.
  • Several Mums who’ve gone through Post Natal Depression. One who is still in the middle of that nightmare. (And these are just the ones I know about).
  • A Mum who injected her stomach with hormones on a daily basis, went through invasive and upsetting procedures to implant embryos, some of which “failed” (read: miscarriages) and some of which, mercifully, didn’t.
  • A Mum whose baby lived for one day, a Mum whose baby lived for one year.
  • A Mum who had the same as Shabnam off Eastenders and thought she’d never have a baby.
  • Plenty of Mums who have healthy children, healthy incomes, healthy relationships and yet still find mothering a daily fucking nightmare.

I for one would advocate people using social media to talk about the dark side of life. I think we’re a way off from being comfortable with posting “recovering from a miscarriage” or “partner is unfaithful” or “we have carved out a financially unsustainable lifestyle and I don’t know how we can get out of it”, but those who find humble-boasts grating could choose to interrupt their Newsfeed with a bit of cold reality. I’m not about to use my first ever blog post to make the earth shattering observation that Facebook is not an accurate representation of real life. The assumption that the people posting happy pictures of happy kids are somehow inherently denying the difficult reality of others is infuriating. The very people taking part in the “Motherhood Challenge” are more than likely posting triumphant evidence of the small successes in what is otherwise an unending struggle for them personally. The best piece of Mum-advice I received when my daughter was a week old was to celebrate every tiny victory. Behind every smiling photo is 23.5 hours of tears, being punched in the tits and worrying about how the fuck you are going to simultaneously pay all the bills, feed them the right stuff and ensure they don’t turn out racist.

Ideally, women should just shit the kids out, maintain perky tits and a tiny vadge, seamlessly apply lipstick and keep the house in full working order – in summary, maintain the outward presentation of someone who is physically, psychologically and emotionally unchanged by the ABSOLUTELY FUCKING TERRIFYINGLY LIFE-ALTERING EXPERIENCE OF BECOMING A MUM.

I’m nearing 30 and went to a decent school. Every day my Newsfeed is filled with entrepreneurs posting pictures of keys to new houses and cars, bottles of bubbly in Beefa, a lo-fi filtered lobster, cheeky Tuesday cocktails and so on. Presumably Monday morning still hurts, no matter how healthy your air miles balance. So why do people assume that nothing lies beneath a photo of a pudgy faced idiot covered in pureed spinach or splashing their chubby little wellied feet in a puddle full of goose shite? To describe mothers as “smug” about the rare occasions when the kids are clean, dry, safe and happy and to claim this mum-bashing in some way defends other women? Please, women, at least be on our own fucking team. Flic Everett wrote in the Guardian today that “in reality, the “motherhood challenge” is simply another way to measure women and find them wanting”; ironically, Everett’s entire piece was based on, um, finding fault with the women who chose to take part. Nice.

What is the moral of this blog post? I have yet to meet a smug-Mum. Even those like myself who are sensationally good looking and intelligent are tormented by anxiety and inadequacy. The Facebook Motherhood Challenge is, at best, an opportunity for mothers (who, I find, are almost invariably also women) to acknowledge the fruits of their own labour, perhaps getting a little bit of the acknowledgement from others we all so crave, expressed via likes. At worst it is vacuous mum-spam, which all Mums are guilty of anyway, and it’s very easy to unfollow or delete. In summary, I sincerely recommend everyone attempts to visit Angkor Wat before considering parenthood.

Here’s a photo which shows me smugly combining breastfeeding with visiting ancient ruins:

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