On Friday Willow and I spent some time together in town because my car ended up in the garage. We had a walk around, bought a few groceries and ate some breakfast. On the way back home in a taxi, Willow suddenly turned to me and asked,
‘Mummy, why is that man pulling food out of the bin and eating it?’
I glanced over to take a look. Sure enough, there was a man doing just as she described. He looked sad, frenzied and cold. As the taxi drove on, I gathered my thoughts quickly. I knew that my response needed to be explanatory enough, and also not to be naive. But I also needed a reply that was fully appropriate for my 4 year old to hear, process and understand.
‘He’s eating the food from the bin because he must be very hungry’ I said.
Honest, straight forward and clear but I knew that Willow needed and deserved more than that from me. So I added, ‘… some people don’t have enough money to buy food to eat, or have anywhere to live’
Willow looked right at me, her eyes wide and bewildered,’But why doesn’t anyone help him and make him some dinner? You don’t eat food from the bin!’
She was baffled. What she had witnessed went against all her own nurture experiences, her understanding of food consumption and the basic hygiene practices and rules we instil in our children from a young age, such as not to eat food from the floor or the bin, because it is dirty.
The conversation sparked some serious thinking from me. At 4 years old, Willow is beginning to see the world as it really is; both wonderful and dreadful, equal and cruel. I want to teach my children to be caring, to have empathy with those less fortunate. To be keen to change the world positively. But if I keep them wrapped in a perfect world bubble, that is unlikely to happen. Sometimes, the things that appear pretty simple, are actually very complicated, that’s the difficulty with parenting, our instinct is to protect our kids from harm and negativity. We want to avoid opening those cans of worms that may frighten or confuse them.
When we arrived home, Willow and I talked further. I gave Willow reassurance that there are people who help those in need. Shops, businesses and charities that offer food, shelter, support and care. I explained that he Salvation Army building (that we drive past on a morning on the way to school) is one of those places. That it is a safe place for people who have no home or money for food to go to for help.
But what about other often linked issues that come with homelessness? Addictions, mental health, abuse, immigration, lack of knowledge/support, the list goes on. These social issues are like Pandora’s Box, often unanswerable. I decided it best to avoid much of these issues. At 4 years old, Willow would unlikely understand these layers of deprivation just yet. The simple, clear explanation, reassurance and a discussion about how people can help, was enough. It gave Willow more of an understanding of the world, I hope but also perhaps a more awareness of herself and her own life.
Sometimes, in life things don’t go as we plan them to. Decisions we make affect our lives and we have to live with the consequences, whether positive or otherwise. I think it’s important to recognise suffering and hardship with our children to a certain extent. It’s a way of the world sadly, but it also encourage ways of change or have discussions about ways others can help. Social issues are important to us all, they affect us all and so involving children from a young age is perhaps a way of improving our world. Increased awareness, kindness and empathy goes a long way when sadness is unfolding worldwide whether it be through social or economic issues, politics or acts of God causing crisis, discrimination or devastation.
Through my parenting, I hope my children remain kind and to have courage to stand up for issues that are unjust, as they see fit. To understand that life is not always fair, but to have the inclination to keep going. I hope they become inspired to help others less fortunate than themselves as they learn about the world’s issues. But for now, I just have to try my best to guide them the best I can, to be good little people. Little people who love, care and notice. Little people who ask questions. Little people who notice that the world is not, fully as it should be and little people who remain curious, and compassionate.
Since my children were born, I have not only been known as Michelle, (or Mac as my friends call me) I have also been known by two, rather special small people as ‘Mummy’. It’s a name I did not choose of course, it’s the name naturally given to a woman once they become a parent. It’s a title, a special appellation.
The first person to call you Mummy however will unlikely be your child. It will most probably be a friend, a midwife or your partner/family member. You have to wait until your baby speaks for that rite of passage, and even then, first you will probably be ‘Ma-ma’. With my own children, Gabriel’s first word was ‘car’, but Willow’s was actually ‘Ma-ma’. Gabriel was car obsessed and shortly after that came Da-da. I remember spending time stood in front of my first-born, urging him to repeat after me, ‘Ma-ma, Ma-ma!’ eventually of course, it happened, and just as it was when Willow uttered the phrase, I felt an obliterating elation.
Why? I had finally made it in life and earned my stripes as a Mother. Hadn’t I?
Perhaps the title ‘Ma-ma’ or ‘Mummy’ made me feel like a grown up. I know when I first became engaged, married, pregnant or held my first-born, I felt a little like a fraud. A teenager stepping into the big wide world of parenting; scared, anxious and pretty clueless. You have to learn on your feet and let’s face it, blag things until you understand them. You can read all the parenting books on the shelves and listen to all the other parents on this planet, but nothing compares you for the real thing. Being a Mummy is like a special ticket into a VIP world, that you did not know existed. All of a sudden you can talk to strangers with ease, you are rarely alone and you always have something to discuss with other parents, you are universal. You now have a purpose, and a whole load of responsibility.
My children are now a little older. At age 4 and 5 they are capable of choosing what they want to call me themselves. We have naturally progressed from Mama to Mummy and sometimes, when Gabriel is feeling cool, I am ‘Mum’. I have to admit that losing the ‘Mummy’ title makes me a little sad. Maybe because it’s the end of an era, I now no longer have toddlers, my children are growing up and they themselves are making the decision that ‘Mummy’ is perhaps too baby-ish for their street-cred. It leaves me feeling nostalgic. Silly really, because I am still the same person, in the same role and our mutual love remains. I give my heart unreservedly, regardless. The work of motherhood is so valuable, aside from a chosen handle and that’s what is important.
It does often make me smile though, when these names and titles are used collectively. ‘Can all the Mums step forward’ or ‘Would the Mummies mind moving their prams’ etc. At the doctors, or schools you will be, for years addressed as ‘Mum’ or ‘X’s Mum’. It’s like our names, (or other titles) are no longer needed or required. We are suddenly like a herd of cows, being ushered and en masse, addressed by others. Of course, it’s privilege to be a parent, a Mama, Mummy, Mum or Mother I just wonder if these on occasion, over-used titles ever contribute to the identity crisis that parenthood sometimes brings?
What about myself? Mothering has no age limit- I have had my own Mama, Mummy, Mum, Mother journey and I am firmly placed at Mum, where I have been I expect for around 30 years. When I am extremely unwell, like last year when I suffered for months with Viral Pneumonia, I felt comforted when I saw or spoke to my Mum. When life goes wrong, or I need help my Mum is there. She is my Mum, but she will never be, ‘just a mum’. I can’t imagine a ‘re-brand’ now, least not to Mother! Although of course, that’s what and who she is, penned onto my birth certificate and next of kin documents.
I sincerely hope that I would never become ‘just a mum’ to my own children either. Once the title becomes personal, special and extraordinary, the concept of the title becomes less relevant doesn’t it? Parenthood is an action, and the titles are insignificant without the substance. My children can call me what they like actually, as long as I am doing my best that’s all that matters.
So what should we give to our children as part of motherhood, taking the role and the honour? Aside from the obvious, I think we need to give our children positive role models of women at all times, whether you are a Mama, Mummy, Mum or Mother (or something else) biologically or otherwise, we should fill our lives with other interests and ambitions as well as focusing on care and love. Despite the wonderful titles, and the transitions encountered; we have more than one string to our bows.
Week 3, the week that it became difficult. During the first week of Veganuary, the change felt exciting new, and the concept of trying new foods/cooking more often was good. But what happens when you are busy at work and life gets in the way? The week was that week. I have stuck to the Vegan diet strictly, but I will admit, there has been times when I considered just giving into convenience and grabbing a cheese sandwich or slipping some milk into my tea. (Did I mention that I am missing milk in tea??!!)
Anyway, regardless of the stress of the week, I got there. Food this week for lunches included more jacket potatoes but mostly, toasted bagels with houmous and tomatoes, falafel and also, veggie burgers and salads. For dinners, my meals included finally trying some of the Fry’s family schnitzels and nuggets. I was a little nervous as I am sure I had tried them previously and wasn’t keen but actually, they were pretty nice! I am definitely going to continue buying their products, Vegan or not. I teamed the schnitzel with some homemade avocado salsa, and potatoes it was tasty!
I ate out at Wetherspoons with friends again, as I mentioned last week, they have a good Vegan menu and for caffeine fixes, I have continued with the extra-shot-extra-hot-soy-latte coffee fix too.
This week I have learned that Linda McCartney sausages can become boring, as can tofu. I have attempted to add a few easy-cook items to my plate just to help on those cant-be-arsed-cooking type nights. I was also quite surprised to learn that some of their pastry products (YES! I miss pies..) are actually Vegan. Items such as the sausage rolls and vegetarian Country Pies are up for grabs. They also have some new products that I am yet to try, including a pulled chicken and shredded duck meat substitutes! You can see the Linda Mc Cartney Vegan range here.
I also purchased the Quorn Vegan fillets to make a Thai red curry with. They tasted nice, but dryer than usual. A refreshing change from tofu in any case! As I am one of the Quorn Blogger Ambassadors, Jake and I also have also been developing a dish for them this week too which was exciting. Jake is a Head Chef and super talented food wise so it was great for us to create something special together. The theme they requested was one-pot so we made a Vegan, Chang Mai style noodle dish, it was amazing! Keep an eye out for that on the Quorn website!
Next week is the last week of the challenge. I am going to see how I feel at the end of the month but currently I feel like I could live my life as a Vegan, but I am not sure I want to fully commit to it at the moment. Again, this week I have not missed cheese. I am still in shock about this, I thought I would CRAVE it, but it’s the drop of skimmed milk I miss bizarrely!
January has been a long month for many reasons, but completing Veganuary has certainly given me something else to consider, focus on and also enjoy so I am really pleased I took the challenge.
See how I get on in my final week next Sunday..