15 Things I Want My 7 Year Old Daughter To Know

Our cat eating Barbie

Molly our cat protests at the impossible standard of physical perfection demanded of women which contributes to epidemic cultural body dysmorphia and continued gender inequality…

The Biscuit Thief is turning 7 on… wait for it… 12.12.12. YES she is my magic, alien, mystical baby. In preparation for this milestone, I have been thinking about all the things she is now ready to know:

1. It is awesome that you get yourself dressed for school now, but it’s always good to include pants on the inside of your leggings.

2. An apple is a kind of fruit and a mac is a kind of lightweight coat that keeps the rain off.

3. It is not funny to say “cock” in front of granny even though it appears to make daddy laugh.

4. Barbie is not representative of women. Anywhere. In any way. And the cat was right. (See photo)

5. No, it is not acceptable that, as a woman, you are likely to be paid less than your male counterparts doing the same work. The fight for equality goes on and I’m sorry we still haven’t fixed that for you.

6. The one hour kazoo concert you gave was… unforgettable…and  mummy is REALLY SORRY that she can’t remember where she hid put your kazoo afterwards.

7. Disneyland is closed.

8. The ‘F’word is not ‘fanny’.

9. Shreddies are not really “knitted by nannas”.

10. The Tooth Fairy can do all that stuff because a) she’s magic and b) she’s a woman.

11. The feisty, determined, rule-breaking, wildness in you that is so hard to parent sometimes, is exactly what will make you an awesome adult.

12. It is not going to be possible to meet Rapunzel. She’s a fictional character.

13. There isn’t really such a time as ‘Gin O’Clock’.

14 . Mummy and daddy are not perfect, but we love you very much.

15. Actually, mummy is perfect.

Forget the Yummy Mummy: What About the Laddy Daddy?

Primrose Hill Russian Tea Room BliniThere was a piece in the Guardian last week in defence of the ‘yummy mummies’ accused of causing the downfall of a blini-selling tea-room, Trojka, in North London’s Primrose Hill. I have tried to trace the original story and actually, it’s rather unclear who made the original ‘yummy mummy’ comment but it appears to be attributable to another Primrose Hill cafe owner, Amit Jain.

Whatever the truth of the original story is, the subsequent emphasis on the ‘yummy mummy’ angle highlights the fact that, if things rhyme or alliterate, IT’S REALLY HANDY FOR JOURNALISTS!  It’s especially useful if you can dismiss or target large groups of women gathering together with one sweeping derisory phrase such as ‘yummy mummies’, ‘pram faces’,  ‘lipstick lesbians’ or  ‘witches’. Ok, so they don’t all rhyme or alliterate, but there does seem to be a witch-hunt mentality behind all this. So, before we get to witness a huge bonfire consisting of melting Bugaboo prams at this year’s Primrose Hill fireworks display, let’s just hold on a second. Here is my letter to the PUMPs (People Upset with the Mummies of Primrose Hill):

Dear PUMPs,

I understand that it is VERY LIKELY INDEED that the terrible fate which has befallen your High Street is more likely to have been caused by a group of lactating women than, for example, world recession or triple rent increases. Yep, definitely a bunch of ladies, especially those breeders with muffin tops and leaky boobs who should not really be seen in public until they have ‘got their body back’. But come on PUMPs, if you are going to blame an entire substrata of society for ruining your world, you must GET YOUR LINGUISTIC  CATEGORISATION OF PARENTAL GROUPS SHITE TOGETHER! It’s a bit like botany; you’ve got your Daisy family, and then all sorts of sub Daisy…

Are you sure, for example, it was not in fact the LADDY DADDIES  who destroyed your business? It is the laddy daddy who blocks your doorway, not only with an SUV-sized pram , but also an actual SUV every Sunday. This happens because their yummy mummy wife abandons her ‘domestic duties’ every weekend in favour of having a pedicure and getting her chakras realigned by that buff yoga master who wears tiny pants at Tri Yoga. Yes, it’s because of the laddy daddies, those hipster fathers with their Converse clad feet and G-Star jeans, who idle away so many hours over one Gluten-free muffin while perusing the Sunday papers and ignoring their kids, that you have thought on many occasions about homicide.  Perhaps Primrose Hill cafes are closing because the laddy daddy (unlike the yummy mummy) never notices when their hemp-clothed offspring Tarquin and Rainbow have failed, yet again, to stop the family’s Cockapoo from shitting under the table.

Or are the Zappa Pappa’s to blame? These carefully bearded men-with-children who are still  intent on pursuing the career of a Rock God are not to be confused with DJ Dad (carefully bald) whose children were conceived at a rave in Brighton years ago to the sound of Sean Ryder’s twisted melon. Their kids, Tiger and Wilderness, pop Smarties like pills and wait for the blue ones to kick in before ramming other customers with their scooters in a repetitive manner while DJ Dad orders a fry up.

LET’S BE CLEAR. Was it the Wanker Bankers? The Trad Dads? The Tubby Hubbies? WHO IS REALLY TO BLAME FOR THERE BEING NO MORE BLINIS IN PRIMROSE HILL? Or is it, like Freud always said, really mummy’s fault?

Love Me x

(A slummy mummy who can’t afford one of your lavishly iced cupcakes anyway)

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5 Things to Do This Half Term That Cost Under £1

I’m really looking forward to half term week with my 6 year-old Biscuit-thief, and I’m determined not to watch Cbeebies even once, however much I miss it.

This is my top five list of things we’ll be doing that cost under £1! Yes! These activities cost less than a sausage and yet, are somehow priceless.

1. Do a mind control experiment

I seriously LOVE this experiment and can still remember doing it when I was 7. IT CHANGED MY LIFE and is the best possible way to teach children the power of positive thinking. Literally, mind blowing.

You will need:

  • A packet of cress seeds
  • Some kitchen towel
  • Three trays/old ice cream containers or similar
  • Three labels/stickers
  • Some thoughts
  • Some words

Pad the bottom of each container with kitchen towel then, with a measuring jug, pour equal amounts of water into each tray – just enough to dampen the towel, not soak it. Then, sprinkle roughly the same amount of cress seeds on top of the dampend kitchen towel in each tray.

Make three labels; one that says something nice like “love”, one that says something horrible like “hate” and leave the third blank. Put one label on each tray. Place the trays side-by-side so that they get equal amounts of light and heat.

Now, here’s the important bit: over the next week, encourage your Biscuit-thief to say or think really lovely things towards the LOVE tray. They can say and think equally mean things about the HATE tray and have to ignore the third tray. Every day, they need to pour equal amounts of water into each tray to keep the seeds moist whilst thinking and saying lovely or mean things to the relevant seeds.

You and they will FREAK OUT when, by the end of half term, the LOVE tray of seeds has grown faster with thicker stems than the seeds in the poor little HATE tray. It’s a bizarre, brilliant life lesson courtesy of cress. And watch the penny drop as your sproglets realize the damage they are doing when they call you a smelly fart head.

 2. Colour code the week

On Monday morning, decide with your sproglet what the colour theme of each day will be for example, Monday = Red, Tuesday = Yellow etc. Whatever you do that day, from the clothes you both wear to the food you all eat, there must be an emphasis on that colour.  They can count how many red cars, how many people they see wearing red jumpers etc on that day. The screams when they see a purple car on purple day… you have no idea. Not only will you realize that very few of us can really get away with that pastel orange Top Shop are trying to sell us, it’s also brilliant when the kids get to Friday and realize they have to eat lots of greens. Crafty eh?

3. Play Boredom Bingo

Boredom Bingo

Play Boredom Bingo this half term!

My 6 year-old is never happier than when she has a clipboard and pen in her hand. Maybe she’s going to be a polling officer or telly-offy type person when she grows up. I worry about her love of bureaucracy, it’s as if I’ve taught her NOTHING. Anyway, she makes lists in connection with whatever we’re doing. For example, on a trip to our local corner shop, the Biscuit-thief will make a list of ‘expected sightings’ to tick off like:

  • A woman crying
  • Some dog poo
  • Someone hugging a hoodie
  • An abandoned mattress
  • A really cocky urban fox

Apart from the fact that we REALLY MUST MOVE house, an average trip is transformed from boring milk run to fascinating detective trail. If she spots all five things, she has to shout, “BOREDOM BINGO” at the top of her lungs and wins a kiss from mummy. I really must copyright Boredom Bingo.

4. Make a sculpture from your tears

This is genius because you can turn your nervous breakdown into a science experiment:

You need:

  • A jam jar with a lid
  • Some string
  • A spoon
  • Some water
  • Some salt
  • Some tears

Make a small hole in the lid of the jam jar and put a piece of thickish string through it, tying a knot at the top so it can’t fall through the lid. Fill the jar with warmish water and add a few table spoons of salt. Mix with a spoon and let the salt dissolve. Every time you or your sproglets cry over half term, catch a few of the tears in the jam jar to add to the salt mix. Place the lid with the string onto the jam jar and behold as over the week, the salt clusters around the string to form a gorgeous, crystalline gem. The size of the crystal will depend on how many tears have been shed. BRILLIANT.

5. Celebrate the Jubilee 1977 style

OK, hands up, I’m not a big Jubilee fan. In my book, any women who has been sitting on the throne for 60 years probably needs medical attention and a good dose of Syrup-of- Figs. It’s constitutional constipation! So, I’m bringing an element of 1977 into my house by allowing the Biscuit-thief to cut up a t-shirt and write her favourite rude word on it (‘fou-fou’) so she can wear it for the whole Jubilee day. Also, to avoid the crowds that will be gathering along the river Thames to watch the floating pageant thingy, I will re-enact this at home with some toy plastic boats in the bath tub whilst simultaneously encouraging my daughter to throw all her piggy bank savings out the window.

Ok those are mine, have you got any additions that cost less than a sausage? Whatever you do, enjoy yourselves. Happy half term everyone!

How I Passed My Driving Test

Driving Test Pass

If you see this woman, drive away.

A wise woman with a French accent once told me, “Until you can drive a car, you cannot drive your life.”

“But that’s ridiculous,” I scoffed through a mouthful of biscuits. “I am completely in control of my life!” Then I slipped on some cat sick and banged my head on a door frame. I had not only lost my keys again, but also my mojo, my waistline and, damn it, my sense of life-purpose too.

Perhaps she had a point.

I had recently turned 40 and two weeks before that, my dad had very suddenly and very shockingly died. It was my first experience of primary, knee-buckling grief, and it unravelled me profoundly. Part of my healing, was to finish the job my dad had started 25 years before on the summer heat- cracked roads of a New Hampshire mountain; I was going to pass my goddamned driving test if it killed me. Yes! In his name, I was finally going to grow up, grow a pair and drive my life.

So, for my 7th driving test attempt (yes, I know, but before you laugh disdainfully, unless you took your test  in an inner city on a budget of £50 in a stick shift, you can totally talk to my disinterested hand) I took myself off and away from my family for a five day ‘crash’ course (really bad name choice) culminating in a test on the final day.

My first day did not bode well. I was met by a Boris Becker look-a-like in a scarlet Ka that smelled so strongly of air freshener I immediately had an eyeball-popping coughing fit. For the entire 5 day course I wheezed asthmatically, although I actually have the lungs of a whale.

On Day One, I explained to Boris about my nervous wreck-ness; how I could sort of drive, but just couldn’t handle the test itself.  In the past, my exam nerves rendered me temporarily deaf and incapable of understanding the words “left”, “right” or “stop.” For the duration of the test, I would leave my body and look down on the proceedings like I was having a near death experience but without the angels. I didn’t mention this to Boris, but I was actually profoundly terrified that if I could drive, I would probably kill someone.

After pouring my heart out to Boris, I searched beseechingly his shell-suited frame for evidence that he might be my savior. A creeping sense that I was going to be disappointed  finally overwhelmed me and so I cried. By way of comfort, Boris told me about his recent divorce. This was going to be a long five days.

Turns out Boris’s ex-wife slept with his best mate. “Oh that old cliche,” I said empathetically as I scraped the Ka painfully into third gear.

“Yeah…I found them at it,” he said through gritted teeth.

“Oh… er… um…” I manage to impart wisely as I juddered the car into a parking lot at McDonalds (his suggestion for lunch). “I cant imagine why… er… how awful.”

I was starting to feel pretty uncomfortable by then, like I was having a last meal with someone whose wife didn’t actually leave him, but who was probably in a bag in the trunk of the Ka. Was my last meal going to be an acrid McVeggie burger with limp Mcfries and was I going to be McDead by the morning?

After five days of grueling driving lessons punctuated by soul destroying conversations, Boris’s endless narrative of woe and misogyny and twenty greasy food stops, I felt no more prepared to face the examiner than I had been before.

The night before the exam, highlights of the preceding days ran before my eyes;

  • Me, crying in the middle of a roundabout.
  • Me, abandoning the car at some traffic lights and sobbing on a curb.
  • Me, finding it impossible to poo due to the sudden intake of junk food.
  • Me, calling my husband and yes, sobbing while warning him not to get his hopes up.

Later that evening, deflated and dreading the test, I met up with a lovely old friend of mine who, over catch-up pots of tea, gave me this advice:

“Sara, it’s 20 minutes of your life. Just act. For 20 minutes, act like you know what you’re doing. All the examiner has to do is believe you. Make him feel safe even if you don’t feel safe yourself. For God’s Sake woman you are a MOTHER!  Do what you have to do every day. Pretend. Pretend you’re happy even when you’ve had bad news. Pretend the 3 1/2 hour music concert was wonderful. Pretend you’ve had days when the sheer breadth, scale and depth motherhood hasn’t threatened to swallow you whole. Pretend Father Christmas is still coming although you’ve been out of work for a year. Pretend daddy is coming home. Pretend you’ll never die. Do what you do when your kids are scared, pretend you’re not!”

So, the next morning during my test,  I gave an Oscar worthy performance. I made Ryan Gosling in Drive look like a boy in a GoKart. I pretended I wasn’t scared, and by some miracle, I passed.

Three years on and I’m still afraid of motorways. I have yet to attempt the Chiswick roundabout or the Westway, and I still have to plot out every car journey before I undertake it. The fact is, I conquered an exam, not my fear of being in control of things I perceive to be powerful. A reluctance to put my foot down on the pedal of my life, to whack it into fifth gear and GO ALL THE WAY UP TO ELEVEN still has a Darth Vader type grip on my core being. But I’m getting there. Dad would be proud.

Top 5 Things I Love About Kids

It is with great joy that I have joined Kate Takes 5’s listography  with this post on what I love most about young children.  I could make a top 5 list just out of the things they say, always so true that it hurts ~ such as my youngest’s conviction that M&S stands for ‘Marks and ‘Spensive’ and that the F-word is ‘fou fou.’

The little biscuit thieves certainly take the DULL out of being and aDULLt don’t they? Here it is, my Top 5 things I love about kids:

 1. Hysteria

I love that children’s natural, ‘neutral’ setting would register somewhere between hysteria and OCD in an adult. If I screamed and nearly wet myself every time I saw a puppy or spent two hours readjusting my socks so that the seam didn’t ANNOY ME MUMMY, people would worry, right? Kids go up to 11, and I like that they make me seem calm by comparison.

2. Their dress sense

Leaving my daughters to dress themselves has been one of the great joys of motherhood. My youngest specializes in an ‘all seasons in one go’ look consisting of one leg warmer, a ballet skirt, a woolly jumper two sizes too small (that I’m pretty sure I gave to Oxfam) an empty toilet roll tube on each wrist and a necklace made of tampons.

3. Their slapstick humour 

I love that kids think the body is funny; I adore their raw, bawdy, bottom-worshipping hilarity. Children find being housed in this human form hysterical as  they haven’t grown to resent the restriction of it yet or torment themselves that their body should look like someone else’s. Kids seem amazed that they have a body  at all, and they LOVE the noises it makes.  If you want to make a child laugh, keep it body based and just punch yourself in the face with your own hand. You’ll see what I mean.

4. That they have no sense of occasion

How lovely to be a child and exist in happy bubble land with no sense of occasion.  I will never forget how my two-year-old blew loud raspberries while I read a eulogy for my father at his funeral. My daughter’s mouth farts echoed around the crematorium like swear words at a nunnery and it was brilliant. Her making everyone laugh was more testimony to my dad’s legacy than any of the words I had written.

5. Artwork

I agree with Kate that kid’s artwork is one of the greatest gifts of parenting. And, it’s a gift that JUST KEEPS GIVING, and giving, and giving. My girl is really into sculpture and made this ‘snow scene’ out of salt and her own freakishly sticky spit.

Sara Bran Sculpture

Salt & Spit by Mia Bran

Her portrait of me below really captures my.. essence?

Sara Bran by Mia Bran aged 6

My mum by Mia Bran aged 6

And finally, she has been dabbling in multi media with this performance based installation piece entitled Do Not OPen This Box There’s a Girl In It:

Sara Bran box

How to give mummy a heart attack

Kid’s are brilliant. I rest my case.

5 Things I Really Should Know By Now: Notes on Growing Up

When I was a child, I assumed that by the time I was in my forties I would have achieved certain things. I imagined I would be living a life of sophisticated inner-peace as I breezed around my creative business empire wafting of Eau du Coutts and Cotswolds. Instead, I exist in a primordial soup of chaos fuelled by caffeine and crumpets and what is more, there are important things I STILL don’t know such as:

1. How to reverse park

Sorry, but I just I can’t do it. It gives me a hurty neck and I get all confused. I have parked blocks away just so I can do a fronty entrance.

(And yes, all the above also applies to sex.)

2. What I want to be when I grow up

I’m not sure whether the lack of certainty here is about not knowing what I want to do, or not being sure what the general signifiers are that one has ‘grown-up’ and I’d like to know. Is it about having your hair ‘done’ regularly and acquiring a mortgage? It’s certainly not about having kids because that’s sent me into some kind of potty-talk induced decline. Plop. You see, the word still makes me laugh and I know I’m not the only one.

So what is it? HOW ARE YOU SUPPOSED TO KNOW THAT YOU ARE A GROWN-UP if no one gives you a certificate in assembly to you show that you are? I am a big believer in having something to work towards like a badge or a small engravable trophy. So until the passage to adulthood is made clear to me and broken down into small, achievable goals, I’m not playing. *Folds arms, kicks over toy bucket and sulks.*

3.Which clothes suit me

This may be a natural consequence of  Point 2 above, but I have no idea what looks good or even acceptable on me any more. This is partly because my middle-aged body is a stranger to me (as I explain in this blog). I usually go out looking like a cross between Fearne Cotton and Fern Britton which looks something like this:

Britton Cotton Bran

My face, Britton’s boobs, Cotton’s pegs

I’d be on my own What Was She Thinking page every week if I were a magazine. I don’t have a little black dress that always works, my killer heels do actually make me want to die and the last time I wore something saucy in the bedroom, my husband got the giggles and did a tiny sick in his own mouth.

I used to know this stuff, but it seems that ‘the knowledge’ fell out of my croissant along with my children.

4. How to save money and be all sensible about investments and ploppy stuff like that

You’d think by my mid-forties I’d have some savings or own some ‘stuff’ but my net worth has about the same value as an actual tiddler-net from an actual garage. I have put aside exactly diddly, zilch, nada, not a sausage. I like to think that this is because I have chosen instead to invest in skills that I do not have to ever retire from like writing and having v. smart children who I have guilt-tripped into making sure they feel they owe me.

“You will look after yer dear old mum won’t you? ” I say to my talented girls as I drop my pants and show them my caesarean scar for the 6,000th time.

So, if all you own is one cardigan, a pair of unwearable shoes and a hair dryer, you are not alone my friends.

5. How to accept that my husband really does love me

I just assume that I irritate the hell out of my husband and that at some point he will get fed up and leave me. I press his buttons daily (no, not those ones) in a perpetual test of his love like my 6-year-old smears bogies on my living-room wall to test mine. Even after 12 years of his consistent, patient, steady loving, I just can’t relax. Perhaps I just don’t really believe that I’m that lovable, or maybe it’s because I’m a child of that dreadful hairy 70‘s era when men did what the fuck they wanted when they wanted with whom they wanted while women were stuck somewhere between liberty and tradition. Why is it that women assume they will be left for a younger, prettier version of themselves, and men assume they will be abandoned for a richer, better provider? Perhaps the old adage is true, that until you truly love yourself, you won’t believe that anyone else can. Or perhaps learning to let someone love you is Lesson One in growing-up.