I was lucky, growing up. School and that came pretty easy to me. Across the different subjects I could understand what was expected and how to achieve good results. Outside school I took on loads of extra curricular activities too, there was no stopping me. There too (barring some pronounced limitations of physical ability) I was able to do well. Music and art, maths and science, I got them.
I didn’t realise at the time, of course, that I was benefiting from a system that was essentially built for me. While I wasn’t quite a middle class white male living in a first world country, well, I was pretty much most of those things. I wasn’t simply good at things, as I might have felt at the time. I wasn’t especially talented or competent. I was good at the things that I was preconditioned and prepositioned to be good at. And I grew up within a system and structure that rewarded those things. I was very lucky indeed.
At school there were some choices to make. Like most Irish teenagers, I went to a single sex secondary school; all girls. There, there was the option of taking home-ec, or domestic science, through which I might have learned something about cooking and maintaining a home. I had absolutely no interest in that. I couldn’t see how those skills related to a successful life in the world that I could see around me. A world, in hindsight, populated primarily by men. But not to worry – “girls could do anything”, we were already being told in the 90’s. In Ireland we had a female president! As a woman, I could be successful in that world too.
Socially, I wasn’t quite so successful. I was never much of a talker, for starters. The best thing that could have happened to me was starting to work in jobs where talking to people was a requirement for success. Now, through talking, there was a clear objective to obtain – a sale to make or service to provide, a customer to make happy. It turned out that it wasn’t talking itself that was the problem, so much as knowing what I wanted to say. Outside of work though, I was still brutal at a party.
Moving from school to work the same sort of good luck gave me the ability to succeed. When you start out in a new job or a new company, you just have to figure out the system and the rules. There are usually some guidelines to follow. If you’re able to take it all in you can do well. Learning to drive, the same principals applied. If you got the right teacher, for example the outqualified Swedish teacher that got all your male mates through passing first time, you could do it too. And what do you know, you’re making your way in the world!
It’s probably this relative ease that I’d had the luck of experiencing through my life that made me arrogant at the idea of becoming a parent. Some of the jobs that I’ve had have been really hard! And I know that for certain because they’ve paid quite well. (I mean, surely in this fair old world we live in, pay is directly correlated to the difficulty of the job, right?)
Being a parent, on the other hand, couldn’t be all that hard. People from all walks of life have been doing it forever. I had to think that it was all pretty well worked out by now. And for someone who’d been getting on so well as I had, surely it would be a piece of cake. Oh what a surprise it has been to learn that I’ve been making the wrong choices all my life, for when it comes to being a successful mum.
In the first place, there has been a notable lack of guidelines in this induction process. I’m good at taking in rules and getting up to speed on expectations, but where are they? People have been doing this forever, surely there are some things that one simply should or shouldn’t too. I’m not an avid rule follower, but I like to know the rules, to understand the best way round them. So where are they? Where’s the bloody manual?
No such luck. No indeed, in fact it turns out that the best way to get any sort of decent information in all this is through, wouldn’t you know it, socialising. Through talking, through making friends, through finding the one’s that you can trust and building allieships. This is not what I’ve been training for.
Communities are strongest when they are not provided for by their governments. That’s when people need to come together, to unite, and provide support for one another. As a middle classed white person, it’s not something that I’d experienced before. How had I suddenly fallen into a category of the unsupported, of a minority? I was still the same person I’d been before. So what had changed? All of a sudden, I was categorically a woman.
In the first few months of parenting this came as quite the shock. Luckily for me, I found some resources to fall back on. In the face of the utter onslaught of impossible and contradictory advice that the internet provided, and that circulated through the mouths of friends and peers, I found that critical thinking skills, (probably accrued through years of successful education) became incredibly helpful.
Lucky as I am, I’ve been able to get through that initial period of shock. I didn’t realise that another big blow was still to come. But it did. Right around the time that my girls turned six months, I was served another shocker. I was going to have to cook.
When I was a young kid my dad shared with me his trusted method for cooking an egg, his one and only cooking ability. Now, in this very blog post, I am going to share this treasured family recipe with you, dear reader, so do, please, pay attention to this gift:
- Crack an egg into a mug
- Cover the mug with a small plate or saucer (this is an important technical detail)
- Place in the microwave and heat for 50 seconds
- Tip onto a piece of bread, Season to taste (cooking term), and Enjoy
It’s a great technique. And for the last 30 years, when I find myself on my own and peckish, I will turn to it. Simple and effective. However, the task of introducing my girls to a well rounded and nutritious diet was quite another thing. That egg recipe was not going to get me through this.
Ok, in truth, there are a lot of products easily available to help with weaning. But, I’d chosen a method of feeding that I wanted to go with, and it meant providing the babies with food of different shapes and textures. And this made it hard. All of the advice for this method of feeding recommends home cooking. From scratch. And there aren’t any products on the shelves that are suitable for feeding babies in this way. Or are there?
As far as I can tell, it all comes down to salt. Babies can try pretty much anything, but you have to be careful about salt. So why the hell is there so much salt in everything, I wanted to know. I never asked for my food to be so heavily salted, what is this all about?
I imagine there is an element of preservative in there, that salt keeps food for longer, making it possible to run a profitable line of perishable goods. But hang about. There is a health food revolution happening, and in a big population like London, it makes it possible to have those fresh and healthy foods available. I looked, I studied the meaning of the nutrition information, the ingredients. These healthy food ranges seemed fine, perfect, in fact, for a baby. And better, indeed, then the cooking of a complete novice who was likely to put her children off their food through bad cooking.
So why was no one referencing these types of food for healthy family feeding? Everywhere I looked, “ready meals” were deemed a no no. I asked some professional nutritionists about it, bravely, I thought, venturing the idea that these meals might be ok. With a degree of wariness, I was given advice about salt and sugar content, but advised for the most part to stick with cooking myself.
I do realise at this point that this post has now descended into a rant about cooking. It’s just that, it really doesn’t need to be this hard. With some clearer information about ingredients, some clearer guidelines on what’s suitable, you might not need to be both a mathematician and a scientist, on the go in the grocery shop, all while caring for needy infants. Things could be a lot more straight forward.
It’s just an example. An example of how parenting is somehow, despite being how the human race exists, treated as a minority situation. Pushed to the margins along with the women who are pushed there to manage it all. While the world continues to provide for the middle classed white man, who apparently shouldn’t be concerned with matters of the home.
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