09/09/16 Tales From... The Other Mother

I’m an efficiency ninja


Time sure does fly when you have twins! Said someone somewhere with twins, I’m guessing.

And it really has; who can believe they’re going to be two this month!? I mean, how has that happened? Yes, I understand how time works, but it feels like only yesterday that I had no little boys and here I am today with two little boys who are going to be two! That’s two and two. Does that make four? What am I saying? I think I need to stop drinking…

It’s amazing how much you manage to get done when you have kids. I am infinitely more productive now that I have no time, which makes me wonder what the hell I was doing with all that free time before they arrived. I went for days and days with nothing to do until my gig in the evening. I know I was writing, but I’m writing now, so what was I doing between the writing? How many trips to the fridge and cups of tea did I make to squander all that time?

For those of you who don’t have children, if you think you’re using your time effectively, I can tell you now that you’re not. Have a baby, seriously, just one (not twins – that’s madness) and you will get shit done. If you have a two-hour window to do your accounts, send a few invoices, make dinner, do the washing-up and put the bins out, you will tick everything off your list.

Pre-kids, I could go for days in my flat lounging about in my pyjamas, ignoring the smell of the overflowing bin and staring out of the window as my girlfriend complained that she’d found yet another box of my receipts under the sink. These days I am an efficiency ninja. Yes, there are still boxes of receipts I haven’t looked at in months, but they’re now sitting on a shelf in the study. I know, it’s like I’m a grown up.

“I can honestly say that I am a better person since we had children. I don’t mean a better human – I’m still an incredibly self-involved dick – I just mean I have become a better version of me: Jen Brister Version 2.03.”

Sometimes I miss my old life, and by ‘sometimes’ I do mean ‘every morning when I sit down for breakfast’. Back in the old days (two years ago), I would sit quietly with a coffee and read the news on my phone. I might take an hour pottering about, eating cold toast and reflecting on why a particular promoter was ignoring my emails/phone calls/smoke signals.

These days as I sit down for breakfast, I am rarely alone. Just this morning I found myself teetering on the edge of my stool as my two boys clung to each of my legs shouting, “Mama! MORE!” “Mama TOAST!” “Mama BISCUIT!” I pretend I can’t hear them until the volume reaches a level that forces me to abandon not only my breakfast but also any other activity or job I deludedly thought could be tackled in their company. The fact is, when you have twins they won’t let you do ANYTHING.

God knows I love them. You have to or you’d be on Craigslist trying to swap them for a pair of speakers (at least you can control the volume on those).

Of course there are days when I’m with my boys where I’m lucky if I leave the house without looking like I’m homeless. Clearly I haven’t nailed this parenting lark and maybe it’s because I’m the ‘other mum’ that I still look to my wife (yes wife, because girlfriend makes us sound like we’re tragic middle-aged women suffering from arrested development) to lead the way in most things.

“Should I be doing this?”

“Should he have that in his mouth?”

“Am I allowed to… (insert anything you like here)?”

She is, of course, the boss in all things and as such is always quick to tell me when I’m not quite doing it right.

“That T-shirt doesn’t match his shorts, take it off.”

“The washing isn’t going to hang itself.”

“You forgot to buy nappies again!”

It’s encouraging words like this that keep me on track and I’m grateful for that.

Fortunately for my wife I am incredibly laid-back and easy-going*, so I’m happy to let these things slide.
*scared of her

“For those of you who don’t have children, if you think you’re using your time effectively, I can tell you now that you’re not. Have a baby, seriously, and you will get shit done. ”

I also know that she has learned a lot from me, too. For example, she now knows that you can make a convincing fart noise using the palm of your hand and your armpit, dinners are way more fun when eaten off the floor/wall/furniture, and throwing all the cushions off the sofa and playing ‘bundles’ in the living room is always a winner and never* ends in tears.
*mostly

Despite many of my protestations to the contrary, I can honestly say that I am a better person since we had children. I don’t mean a better human – I’m still an incredibly self-involved dick – I just mean I have become a better version of me: Jen Brister Version 2.03. By the time I get to Version 2.10 I’ll be writing lists, sticking to deadlines and filing my tax return early. I really can’t wait for that day.

Until then, I’ll just remind you that I’ve been up since 6am and by 10am I’d already emptied the recycling, fed and dressed the boys, finished the washing-up, hung out the washing and taken the boys to the park. Yup, I am winning at life!

I think I may have peaked too soon.

Can I go to bed yet?

My wife says, “No.”

29/07/16 Tales From... The Other Mother

Remember when I was someone with something to say that didn’t involve children?


Sometimes I miss the old me. The ‘me’ that had no responsibilities, that could go out whenever she wanted, meet friends, drink with no fear of how a hangover could quadruple in pain when you have to get up at 4.30am, the freedom to see shows, eat out, etc.

But most of all, I miss good old fashioned ‘conversation’. When I think back to the conversations my girlfriend and I used to have versus the ones we have now, let’s just say I’m not entirely sure we haven’t both been lobotomised.

I’m not saying that we’d spend hours discussing politics or literature or indeed anything highbrow, but we used to chat about our lives, our friends, maybe I’d crowbar a few political rants in (“Yes Jen, the Tories are dicks, can we move on?”). But whatever we talked about, it felt like ‘adult conversation.’ The last debate my girlfriend initiated with me went a bit more like this:

“Which Postman Pat do you prefer? The original or Special Delivery Service?”

“Um… I quite like Special Delivery Service.”

“How can you say that? The original is way better!”

“I think the music is more catchy.”

“Jen, have you noticed that Pat can’t be trusted to get anything right? The guy has one ‘special delivery’ to do ALL DAY and he messes it up!”

“I relate to the guy; he’s a bit of a klutz.”

“And what’s with all the fancy motorbikes and helicopters, hmm? What’s wrong with using his van? WHO DOES HE THINK HE IS, JAMES BLOODY BOND? HE’S A POSTMAN FOR HEAVEN’S SAKE!”

I’ve never seen the woman get that passionate about anything, not even the birth of her children.

“To our children we are nothing if not interesting. Only yesterday the ‘bigger one’ stared at me intently as I explained the difference between his potty and an actual pot that he’d found in the cupboard.”

I don’t know when this happened exactly, but at some point we became the dullest people on the planet. When you start debating the naturalistic qualities of a kids’ television program aimed at the under-sevens, it’s time to scream out your window for help.

I’m not really surprised at the level of our conversation given every interaction I have with any adult type person leaves me struggling to find something/anything of interest to say.

“So what have you been up to?”

“Oh you know… We’ve been busy with the kids…”

“Bet that must be tiring.”

“Yeah it is… So Brexit, eh? That was a bummer… Jesus, can we get some alcohol so you don’t notice just how boring I am?”

It’s to be expected I guess. After all, aside from work, all we do is look after our children. That is the role of a parent.

Yes, I get to go away and lead the glamorous lifestyle of a jobbing comic – I recently had the pleasure of staying in a Best Western in both Liverpool and Nottingham, which I can highly recommend if you’re looking to stay in a windowless cupboard with two centimetres of plyboard separating where you sleep from the toilet. I won’t lie to you, after two weekends of this decadence you start to miss being gently introduced to 4am by a child screaming directly into your face.

The only consolation to be had from this is that our children haven’t noticed – to them we are nothing if not interesting. Only yesterday the ‘bigger one’ stared at me intently as I explained the difference between his potty and an actual pot that he’d found in the cupboard.

“One is to do poo poos and the other one is to cook dinner in.” It feels good as a parent when you know that you’re making a connection with your child. Although I should add that he was wearing his potty on his head at the time, so it was hard to tell how seriously he was taking our chat. My point still stands.

“When you start debating the naturalistic qualities of a kids’ television program aimed at the under-sevens, it’s time to scream out your window for help.”

Fortunately we’ve been told that this ‘dull’ stage is temporary and it’s not long before you get your personality back. Although I’m not sure everyone will be happy to hear this, as my mother bluntly told me the other week, “Yennifer, I think you should know that you’re a lot less annoying since you had children.”

You could glean from this that I have matured as a human being since becoming a parent, but I think she and I both know it’s because I don’t have the energy to contradict every little thing she says for no reason.

Maybe I should celebrate the fact that I am a ‘better person’ right now; it’s sad that my friends won’t get to experience it as I never really see anyone. But rest assured, despite being the equivalent of a wormhole in terms of interesting conversation, I am still great company because I simply don’t have the energy to be a massive bellend.

Only time will tell if having kids will eventually make me a more rounded and fascinating individual. So far, interaction with other parents is screaming, “NO WAY!”

In the meantime my girlfriend and I will continue our heated debates about whether Mr Bloom ever played bass in an indie band in the 90s or how much we’d have to raise in a Kickstarter campaign to never see Mr Tumble again or whether Igglepiggle and Upsy Daisy are having an illicit affair that only Derek Jacobi can confirm or deny.

Either way, one thing is for certain: Postman Pat should sack off his ‘special delivery service’.

01/07/16 Tales From... The Other Mother

Please don’t sniff my denim


Before you have kids, there is no person in your life more excited for you to have kids, than your mate(s) with kids. Their enthusiasm on hearing about the pregnancy is over and above every other person you know, including your mum. “YOU’RE HAVING TWINS? THAT’S AMAZING! I’M SO HAPPY FOR YOU!”

“Why are you shouting?”

“I DON’T KNOW!”

Of course with hindsight I can see why they temporarily lost their minds. Finally they have a friend who is about to join the ‘I’ve got no life’ club and they couldn’t be happier that they’re no longer alone in a sea of sleep deprivation, puke and tantrums.

I feel like I need to prefix everything I’m about to say with this: I love my boys, I love them more than I’ve loved anyone or anything in my life and have no regrets that they are here.

BUT.

I think some of my mates could have been a bit more upfront about the whole experience. “Honestly Jen, children change your life, you feel so fulfilled, the first time I felt unconditional love was when I held my daughter…” Blah blah blah.

“I want you to know that prior to having children neither my girlfriend nor I would have considered leaving the house with urine on our jeans. Fast forward 20 months and neither of us have the energy to give a toss.”

Nobody ever sits you down and says, “Listen mate, a word to the wise: some days are like a horror show – you don’t sleep, you can’t go out when you want to, you have to go to the loo with the door open, you’ll never finish a cup of tea or coffee again, you have to eat your ice cream behind a bin in the garden, your sex life all but disappears and your social life as you know it, is over. Anyway, congratulations!”

Of course you don’t want to be the downer on someone’s good news and no one can really prepare you for what’s in store. To be honest I don’t know how I’m so surprised at the state of my life today, having spent the last 20 odd years judging every mum I’ve ever seen on a school run. “Bloody hell love, make an effort! Run a brush through your hair! Christ! Are those Crocs?” As women, when we talk about feminism, let’s be honest, there is no one more judgemental of a woman than another woman.

I’m not proud of my behaviour, particularly as now I see that judgement in the eyes of other women as I struggle down my street wearing clothes that scream, “I’VE GIVEN UP!”

The compromises you make when you have children are quite frankly insane. You put up with stuff that prior to having kids you would never have considered. Just the other day my girlfriend asked me to sniff her jeans, “Why?” “They’ve got piss on them – I just want to know how bad it smells.”

I want you to know that prior to having children neither my girlfriend nor I would have considered leaving the house with urine on our jeans. Fast forward 20 months and neither of us have the energy to give a toss. Your standards slip and finally drop to a place that you couldn’t have fathomed just two years earlier.

Here’s something that I seem to be fine about these days: poo under my nails. Now I know some of you are going to read this and visibly wince, as you should. There is nothing OK about having poo under your nails and had I found a speck of faeces on my hands two years ago I would have been scrubbing my hands in the sink with a wire brush and some bleach. Now, when I find poo under my nails I find myself saying, “What is that? Is that… poo?” Then I scrape it out with my thumbnail and carry on with my day.

“As I reach our bedroom I finally lose it: ‘WHY DOES OUR BEDROOM SMELL OF POO? HOW IS IT THAT THE ONE PLACE WHERE WE NEVER HAVE A SINGLE NAPPY, STINKS OF SHIT!’”

Just two months ago I found myself having a tantrum, an actual tantrum in my house at the age of 41. Who have I become? As you know we have twin boys, so we have double the amount of everything, including nappies. Which means that on a daily basis we have a lot of poo coming out of our house. And I mean A LOT.

On this particular day I found myself in my living room shouting at my girlfriend, “Why does the living room smell of poo? Have the walls of this house finally absorbed the smell?”

My girlfriend, who as always was busy with more important things and was frankly not taking me seriously just shrugged her shoulders. I wandered into the kitchen, “Hang on, why does the kitchen stink of poo? Have our hygiene levels dropped so dramatically that we’re OK with our kitchen smelling of crap?”

I stormed up the stairs. “The stairwell stinks! What the hell is wrong with this house?” By this point I am apoplectic and as I reach our bedroom I finally lose it: “WHY DOES OUR BEDROOM SMELL OF POO? HOW IS IT THAT THE ONE PLACE WHERE WE NEVER HAVE A SINGLE NAPPY, STINKS OF SHIT! I CANNOT LIVE LIKE THIS A SECOND LONGER!”

It was only moments later when I went into the bathroom and looked in the mirror that I realised: I had poo on my chin.

“How long have I had poo on my face?”

“Ages.”

“When were you going to tell me?”

“I wasn’t; I just assumed you knew it was there.”

I didn’t realise that things had got so bad that my girlfriend thought I was fine about having poo on my face.

I’m not going to lie to you; it’s pretty hard to claw back any dignity from that point.

Fortunately my girlfriend’s standards have dropped as far as mine, as I pointed out to her when I let her walk through the streets of Brighton with sick on her back.

What can I say? You’ve got to get your kicks where you can.

30/05/16 Tales From... The Other Mother

Neither twin is actually called Dooda.


“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” Or something. No but seriously, names can be confusing, not least if you’re Mum, but not ‘the actual mum’; you’re the ‘other one’.

We’ve spent the last 20 months drilling our proposed names ‘at’ our children, “OK, say Mama… no, Ma-Ma… No I’m Mama, she’s Mummy. No not Bunny. MUMMY!” But they’ve come to their own conclusions and they are that we’re both Mama and Mummy. Yes it is confusing.

“I think he’s talking to you.”

“No he’s definitely talking to you.”

“Well he’s looking at you.”

“What the hell is that smell?”

“Yeah, he’s definitely looking at you.”

Nothing has brought me as much pleasure in the entirety of my middling life than hearing my sons call me ‘Mama’. Initially I couldn’t get my head round it, my desire to correct them was, at times, overwhelming: “Guys, can I stop you there. OK, how to explain this… I’m not officially your Mum, I mean I am still your Mum but I’m not your actual Mum-Mum. She’s sitting over there with a look of exasperation on her face. I hope that helps.”

Don’t worry, I have never said this out loud. Well, only once and they didn’t seem to have any idea what I was going on about.

“For those of you who think it’s hilarious to suggest the name ‘Mad’ ‘cos it’s a mixture of Mum and Dad, trust me when I say it’s a lot funnier in your head.”

I don’t know why I’m surprised to hear them call me Mama. I have literally spent the entirety of their lives referring to myself in the third person to really drum it in. “Mama loves you.” “What did Mama say about putting dirt in your mouth?” “No, Mama doesn’t like it when you bite her.” I imagine it’s as irritating to hear out loud as it is to read. Does everyone do this, or is this just the insecure workings of the ‘other mother’? Answers on a postcard please.

Just be grateful that my third person references haven’t stretched to adult conversation: “Jen’s really tired.” “Jen’s just popping to the shops.” “Yes, Jen would love another drink.” I think we can all agree that it wouldn’t be long before someone rightfully punched me directly in the face.

Picking a name for yourself as a parent is a weird thing to do. If you’re hetero, of course there is no question of who you are and naturally what your name will be. You don’t have to sit with your partner and work it out: “OK, so we’ve got Mama, Mummy, Mum, Mom, Momma, MiMaw, Mum-Mum, Mother, Madre, Mam, MamaJen, MummyJen, MumJen, MJ & M…”

It’s a bloody minefield. And for those of you who think it’s hilarious to suggest the name ‘Mad’ ‘cos it’s a mixture of Mum and Dad, trust me when I say it’s a lot funnier in your head.

I’m not entirely sure how much difference it makes either way. Yes my boys are calling me Mama for now, but I know that might change as their vocabulary grows and their pronunciation improves.

I mean, trying to make sense of anything they say is hard work. At the moment the big one calls the little one, ‘Dooda’. All you really need to know is that my girlfriend and I did not name one of our kids Dooda, or anything close to Dooda.

To be honest, naming your children can be its own separate nightmare. It took us a long time to come up with our boys’ names and like all soon-to-be parents, our process was unique to us. My chosen method was to declare my love for one name and then rigidly refuse to consider any others.

To be fair, most of my girlfriend’s suggestions were pretty wacky; at one point it really felt like her choice of name depended on the room that she walked into: “What do you think about the name Radiator?” “I think Tongs is a nice name.” It helps to be rigid when the alternative is naming your kid ‘Coving’.

Oh and just a bit of advice for any people out there who are waiting for a sprog to arrive, or are in the midst of naming their baby, or might consider the madness of children in the future.

Whatever you do, do not under any circumstances tell ANYONE the name of your baby before it arrives. You will not thank your friends for their ‘input’. “Markus? I hate that name! I went to school with a guy called Markus and he was a complete bellend.” See? Not helpful.

“If your baby points to a random man and calls him ‘Dada’, don’t go bright red, contradict your baby loudly and overcompensate by talking about how your boys have two fantastic uncles who’ll be fantastic role models – it looks weird.”

Still, I am loving that we have a Dooda in the house and that my children are finding their own language to describe things and themselves, even if it is mostly gibberish. The reality is that when your baby starts to talk they’re just sounding, so whatever comes out of their mouth is just, well, sounds.

You can’t take it personally when they spend six months shouting, “Dada!” every time you walk into a room. It’s not cause they think you’re their Dad; it’s just easier to say Dada than it is Mama. So don’t get paranoid about it; don’t think to yourself, “Is it my haircut? Should I put on a bit of makeup? Is this shirt too androgynous?” It’s not about you. SO FOR THE LOVE OF GOD CALM DOWN!

Also, if you’re in a public place and your baby points to a random man and calls him ‘Dada’, don’t go bright red, contradict your baby loudly and overcompensate by talking about how your boys have two fantastic uncles who’ll be fantastic role models – it looks weird.

I’m glad we’ve cleared that up.

And so here we are 20 months into this never-ending rollercoaster ride and I am officially a ‘Mum’ because my kids have told me so. It is the best of times (apart from the 5am starts, the endless poo and the horrific tantrums) and I’m making the most of it. That’s really just code for, “I’m too tired to do anything else.”

To all the parents: I salute you; it can be hell out there but apparently it’s worth it. And for those of you who don’t want and have never wanted and will never want or have children… please stop looking so bloody smug.

21/04/16 Tales From... The Other Mother

I’m sure I’m doing something right. No, really.


Kids, who’d have ‘em, eh? Well, our parents for a start, I don’t know what they were thinking either, to be honest. Being a parent is hard; I’m going to go all out and say it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my 41 years and I’ve tried reading A Brief History of Time. Honestly, that was the longest 11 minutes of my life.

As a person in charge of, and responsible for, two small people, I am amazed at how much of my time is spent just thinking about them.

Prior to their arrival I can honestly say that I spent most of my time thinking about, well, me really. I mean not just me – sometimes I’d watch the news, feel sad for a nanosecond and find myself thinking about someone a lot less fortunate than me. But mostly it was all about me.

God, I sound awful, but really it’s not my fault, I’m a standup comedian and if there’s one thing we’ve nailed as a group, it’s self-absorption. I’d say just ask any comedian, but I forgot to mention our lack of self-awareness.

I’m grateful every day that I don’t have to do this parenting lark on my own. I don’t know how single parents do it. I also don’t know how we’re not handing out awards to these people every year.

At the bare minimum there should be an annual parade where all the single parents are invited to march through the streets of their town while the rest of us stand by the sidelines shouting supportively: “YOU GUYS ARE GREAT! KEEP GOING! ONLY 24 YEARS TILL THEY MOVE OUT!”

Single parents are heroes because they have to be everything to their kids: nurturer, disciplinarian, boundary maker, educator, listener, supporterer. I’m pretty sure that last one isn’t even a word, but you get my point.

“I can make my boys laugh. I would feel better about that achievement if later on I hadn’t caught them both laughing hysterically while throwing a spoonful of yoghurt at the wall.”

I, on the other hand, have the luxury of having a robot for a partner, which means that organisation is not something I have to worry about. My girlfriend also earns way more than I do, which takes the pressure off my endless creative pursuits that either earn nothing, or less than nothing (no Edinburgh Fringe for me this year).

She’s 100 per cent devoted to them, completely on top of their developmental needs and milestones and has already completed their first baby book. See what I mean? Robot.

Meanwhile I have been very proactive at… hang on… I have been on top of… wait a second… I have been wholly responsible for… Jesus! What the hell have I been doing for the last 18 months?

Nobody knows. Even when I asked my girlfriend point-blank what I’m bringing to the parenting table, I could see her eyes searching for a response.

“Jen you do loads of stuff!”

“Like what?”

“Well you look after them and… you know… other things… What about the other day when you made them laugh? They loved that!”

Great, I can make my boys laugh. I would feel better about that achievement if later on I hadn’t caught them both laughing hysterically while throwing a spoonful of yoghurt at the wall.

Look, I know I’m doing something right, because my girlfriend’s not the kind of person to massage my ego if I’m failing at something.

When we first got together I had to tell her to stop coming to my gigs, as her feedback was a little too honest: “You were fine! I laughed in places, but that guy over there, wow, he hated it and so did that woman in front of me and that group of people by the door…” I GET IT. THANK YOU. There’s only so much feedback my self-esteem can handle.

But when it comes to our boys she trusts me, and that’s a big deal right? I have entire days when I am completely responsible for two human boy-people and no one bats an eyelid.

“I barely have time to go to the bloody toilet for crying out loud and when I do, I have two small boys standing next to me screaming, ‘Weeee weeee!’”

I’d go so far as to say that very occasionally I actually look like I know what I’m doing. Not every occasion, granted. There was an incident recently with a roundabout and a cheese sandwich that didn’t make me look great, but we’ve moved on from there. At least the cheese sandwich has; I have no idea where the hell that went.

I guess it’s OK to admit that I struggle at being ‘a parent’, I can’t be alone in feeling overwhelmed by the sheer relentlessness of it all. There doesn’t appear to be any quality ‘down time.’ Sure, we get our evenings off, but by 7pm I’m catatonic. I can barely string a sentence together, let alone ‘make the most of my evening.’

And Radio 4 can bog off: no one wants to hear famous creative types bang on about how productive they became once they had children. “I wrote my first three books in under a year after my first child was born.” Good for you love; I’ve written a shopping list and I’m going for a lie-down.

Between changing nappies, distracting them, feeding them, stopping them from climbing up the back of the sofa, running after them, pulling various objects out of their mouths, taking them to the park/farm/playground, cuddling them when they cry, holding them when they’re tired, washing clothes, bathing them, endless bloody cleaning… WHO HAS TIME TO BE CREATIVE?

I barely have time to go to the bloody toilet for crying out loud and when I do, I have two small boys standing next to me screaming, “Weeee weeee!” It was funny the first couple of times, but I’ll be honest with you, that joke is wearing thin.

Sometimes I have to remind myself how easy I have it. We are a middle-class couple with a ‘nice’ home in a ‘nice’ part of the world, with two children WE WANT. We’re not fleeing a war, our kids are healthy, we’re not rich but we’re not poor by any stretch of the imagination.

We are indescribably lucky and life is as sweet as it’s going to get. So on the days when I wake at 5am with what feels like a killer hangover despite not having had a single drink the night before, crippled by exhaustion and trying not to inhale too deeply as I tackle the contents of a nappy that a grown man would be proud of, I remember that where I am right now, is exactly where I want to be. (Also, wine. Wine REALLY helps.)

22/03/16 Tales From... The Other Mother

Sharing DNA


Sometimes I look at my boys toddling about, playing and generally minding their own business and I think: “My god, you two are the cutest, loveliest little chaps a beige lezza could hope for!” I’m not biased in any way, I’m just stating the facts as I see them and you’re all going to have to get on board.

I didn’t think I was going to be one of those parents – you know, the annoying ones that bang on about how great their kids are: “Little Jeremy is just so intelligent, you can tell by the way he picks up on things so quickly.” Jeremy is three months old and has no idea what his hands are for, but yeah he seems like a regular genius.

But now, I am officially one of those twats. Several times a day I hear myself saying, “Oh those boys are so bright!” For those of you without children, ‘bright’ is a word used for and about any child that can vaguely interact with another human being.

My girlfriend and I literally lost our shit when one of our boys learned to nod his head in time to the music. Within seconds we were imagining attending the Grammys with him: “What are you going to wear?” “I dunno, a suit?” “You don’t own a suit!” “I’ll have to buy one!” “What about shoes? You’ll have to get shoes!” Yup, we’re insane.

Being described as ‘bright’ as a toddler is meaningless and yet I mean it sincerely. I think my boys really are smart, even though there is concrete evidence to the contrary. A day hasn’t passed without the bigger one accidentally headbutting a wall at least three times a day and the little one still licks the pavement.

“Even when I explain I didn’t do it, my girlfriend did, my brain still doesn’t seem to connect the basic dots: that in terms of the conception and birth, I was completely surplus to requirements.”

I know my vision of them is slightly skewed, because when they were born I can remember thinking they were so beautiful, but looking at the photos now I realise they more closely resembled hairless, blind field mice.

I had this conversation with another mum and friend, and she told me: “Of course you think your kids are the best, it’s because they come from you and you’re genetically programmed to think that.” Is that it? Genetics? Because if it is, strictly speaking in the world of science and basic biology, I’m not actually related to them. In any way. At all.

It seems weird that I can forget that, but I do, all the time.

There are clues, the first being that I don’t look like them, unless you squint, or you’re partially sighted or you’re one of those people who has a Pavlovian reaction when introduced to someone’s kid: “HE LOOKS JUST LIKE YOU!” “Thank you! But my son is standing over there…”

To be fair they don’t really look like my girlfriend either. The little one has her eyebrows and the bigger one definitely has her nostrils, but aside from that they could be anyone’s. Don’t tell her I said that.

Day to day this genetic fact doesn’t get in the way and mostly I don’t notice it, unless someone asks me about the birth, or breastfeeding, or pregnancy. But even then when I explain I didn’t do it, my girlfriend did, my brain still doesn’t seem to connect the basic dots: that in terms of the conception and birth, I was completely surplus to requirements.

If I’m honest, the first time I really thought about the whole gene thing was when I looked through a baby book, not a book about babies but a book where you record your kid’s first steps/wink/burp and add photos etc.

Truth be told, we don’t need one because my girlfriend is already compiling all of this stuff on a ‘time saving’ application online. Apparently it only takes 16 hours a day for 400 days to complete (What isn’t easy about that?) hence why I thought buying an ACTUAL book might be an idea.

So there I am about to recommend this book to my girlfriend when I see that the first two pages are about the parents. My Mummy and My Daddy. Fine, I’m not the dad; we can change that to My Mummy and The Other One. But, the whole point of these two pages quickly becomes apparent. It’s all about the genes.

“A day hasn’t passed without the bigger one accidentally headbutting a wall at least three times a day and the little one still licks the pavement.”

“My Mummy’s eyes are this colour and My Daddy’s hair is this colour.” My brain starts going into overdrive: “Obviously we can say what colour my eyes and hair are, but actually my genetics are really null and void in this instance, so would it be more appropriate to replace my details with the donor’s? But then he’s not their dad, he’s just the donor; I mean, does it matter that I’m not genetically related to my boys? Will they care when they get older? Will they feel cheated that they don’t have a dad to learn man things about? Will they wish that the Other One would just bog off and bring Dad back!”

Above the din of my neurosis I can just about hear my girlfriend say, “So shall we buy it?” “ABSOLUTELY NOT, IT’S A BLOODY CON!”

They’re 18 months old, it’s my first neurotic wobble and I’m going to allow it, mainly because it’s in the past and I can’t actually change the fact it happened.

Being the Other Mum can feel weird sometimes; you do have to figure it out for yourself and with your partner otherwise you can end up staring wildly at a book in a shop before shouting at your girlfriend for no good reason.

I guess genetics mean a lot to some people and for others like me they don’t matter a jot. I can’t imagine loving my two boys any more if I’d had them myself, and even though we might not share the same DNA, I happen to think we’re quite alike.

After all, they’ve always got food down their fronts, they have no spatial awareness and you can’t get them to do a single thing unless it’s punctuated by applause. We’re like peas in a pod really.

12/02/16 Tales From... The Other Mother

A near-constant state of neurosis


Before the arrival of my two boys I used to be easily irritated by people with kids. Women with buggies were the worst: “Don’t mind me love! You just take up THE ENTIRE PAVEMENT and I’ll just take my life into my own hands by stepping on to the road to let you past!”

Of course I am that woman now, but I’m worse than that woman because I have two kids, so my buggy is like a spaceship on wheels and takes up the width of nearly every pavement I walk down.

I can see the look of utter contempt on people’s faces, as they’re obliged to let me past; I smile and thank them, occasionally widening my eyes to assure them I’m aware of the inconvenience. Often nothing is said; every so often I may even get a smile, but more often than not I hear a muttering under the breath: “How much space do you need love…?” “Don’t mind me…” “For fuck’s sake!”

I almost always ignore these comments because I’m a better person and I can empathise with their frustration. How are they to know if they don’t have kids themselves? But on one occasion as a young woman muttered a series of fairly abusive insults under her breath, I took umbrage: “What do you want me to do, love? Transport them by hover board? Roll them into a ball and kick them down the street? Fly them overhead attached to a kite? THEY’RE BABIES! This is how we move them from A to B!”

She looked at me like I was mental, “I wasn’t talking to you! I’m on the phone!” Whatever, I think she got my point.

“I never thought I’d become one of those mums and yet just the other day I had to literally slap myself in the face to stop myself from prefixing a point about global warming with the words ‘Maybe it’s because I’m a mum now…’”

The truth is, mums can be annoying, I don’t mean your mum or even my mum, I just mean ‘mums’ in general. There is a smugness about them that you can’t put your finger on. They’re constantly banging on about how tired they are, the sacrifices they’ve made, they start sentences with the words, “As a Mother…”

Even the most liberal and relaxed of mums can sound like they could get a job writing for the Daily Mail: “When you have kids your perspective changes…” “You wouldn’t know this because you don’t have children…”

I know some of you are reading this and thinking, I have mates who have kids and they would never say any of those things. Of course not: we don’t say them out loud because if we did we’d sound like we were auditioning to play Melanie Phillips in a badly conceived musical, but the fact is we think them, we think them ALL THE TIME!

I never thought I’d become one of those mums and yet just the other day I had to literally slap myself in the face to stop myself from prefixing a point about global warming with the words “Maybe it’s because I’m a mum now…”

WHO AM I? Well, I am a mum, albeit the other one and as such I am now in a constant state of neurosis.

If you want to know what the real gift of becoming a parent is it’s basically STRESS, ANXIETY AND ALL-OUT FEAR. I’m not a neurotic person: I can’t say prior to my boys’ arrival that I’ve worried too much about well… anything.

“I no longer have the time to be the self-obsessed, ever so slightly narcissistic and inward-thinking bellend I’ve been for years. My giveafuckometer about most things has not really flickered for a while and it’s completely liberating.”

I mean, I’m not saying I’ve had no shit in my life, but overall as a middle-class woman living in England, life has been pretty sweet. And now as a parent I feel like I’ve been given two of the greatest gifts a woman who wants children can have. TWO CHILDREN! And I didn’t even have to squeeze them out of my vajayjay, I got someone else to do it. I mean talk about a charmed existence!

But now they’re here, all I do is worry about them. I literally have to go into their room about three times every night just to check they’re breathing. I have terrible uncontrollable awful fantasies that a car is going to lose control whilst I’m pushing the buggy and career into them, squishing them to a pulp, or that they’re going to get sick and die, or that they’re going to hit adolescence and decide heroin sounds like fun, or that they’ll be in the car with me and I’ll crash it because of a reason that I can’t think of right now!

I have these thoughts ALL OF THE TIME. Maybe I really am neurotic, or maybe I’m just an average parent. Whatever the reason, it’s taking up a lot of my time.

Not that that’s a bad thing because it means that I no longer have the time to be the self-obsessed, ever so slightly narcissistic and inward-thinking bellend I’ve been for years. My giveafuckometer about most things, including my career, has not really flickered for a while and it’s completely liberating. I finally have someone else that is more important than me. BUT it also means that I now have so much more to lose and that is terrifying.

Of course, you can’t live your life thinking about death and you can’t bring up your kids worrying that every step they make could lead to disaster, and yet I can’t take the time I have with them for granted either. I would donate my limbs, my organs, my eyes, my LIFE if it meant they would live to a ripe old age but you can’t do that, and life offers no guarantees for the people we love. So I can only live in the present and enjoy every minute I have with my boys, even if that minute includes scraping poo from under my fingernails or watching them throw the dinner I made for them at the kitchen wall.

And so I have to remind myself of what my mum said to me when I became a mum – what you have is all you can give and that’s always going to be enough for your children if it comes wrapped up in love.

Dedicated to Will Houghton – b. July 1995 – d. January 2016.

21/01/16 Tales From... The Other Mother

I might be a little rusty…


Welcome back! I say this because I’m assuming you’ve read the other two and haven’t just stumbled on this third instalment by accident. If you have, can I ask that you stop reading now. Yes now! You really need to go back and read the other two first, not because there’s any kind of narrative to this nonsense, but if you start on this one, your judgment may be that bit harsher. So, off you pop.

Right, where was I? Oh yeah welcome back etc. While writing this I’ve been asking myself just how honest I should be, mainly because it’s hard to be honest and sound like a good parent. Oh, what the hell, I’m going to say it out loud…

I think I might be a bit shit at this.

Not appalling or neglectful, just kind of incompetent. I can’t seem to get my head around the fact that I am responsible for two tiny boys. Obviously not just me because that would be madness; my girlfriend takes on at least 70 per cent of the ‘actual’ responsibility. If it were left to me my boys would still be eating raisins. I’ll come back to that in just a second.

The reality is that feeding them, changing nappies and getting up 20 times in the night is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to being a parent. You have to know stuff, lots of stuff, all kinds of stuff – I’m saying ‘stuff’ because I still don’t know what it is; I leave that to my girlfriend. The amount of time you need to spend on the internet researching this ‘stuff’ is a full-time job.

“You would think with a job as full-on and all-consuming as being a mum you’d do your research, look up some of the basics even. Not me.”

Now I would go into the detail but it’s boring, and probably why I haven’t done any of it myself. But as boring as it is, it’s also ESSENTIAL so you know how your kid should be developing. I don’t do it. And I don’t need to do it because in my head I still think it’s the 70s and by that I mean:

‘What would my mum do?’

I think this is a pretty foolproof response given that I’m still alive, and I’ve always thought that my mum did a pretty good job of bringing us up. She was strict but fair; protective while also allowing us the occasional opportunity to maim ourselves.

As she had four kids in five years I’ll put this down to exhaustion on her part, but whatevs. The point is, she is my go-to when it comes to a lot of my decisions. As it turns out, things have moved on since the 70s… quite a bit, in fact.

My first ‘mum’ mistake (for the sake of this article anyway) was giving my boys raisins as a snack. Most of my childhood was made up of health foods, dried fruit and carob bars instead of ACTUAL chocolate.

Sweets, biscuits and crisps were for special occasions like birthdays, Christmas and arbitrary Saturdays where my mum would surprise us with a fun-size Mars Bar that we would literally suck on for four hours solid, not knowing when we might receive another oily caramel, weird nougat thing.

Coming from a household where sweet things were mostly hidden or banned, I figured raisins are a healthy and nutritious snack for my young boys. WRONG! Did you know that in every raisin there are 2458 cubes of sugar that can rot your children’s teeth to two tiny brown nubbins? DID YOU KNOW THIS? DID YOU??

“My girlfriend went on a research binge, reading books, Googling the hell out of his symptoms, scouring blogs and forums. I on the other hand spent my time watching funny cat videos on YouTube while calmly and firmly telling her he was fine.”

Forgive the hysteria, but if you feed your kids raisins in public this is the kind of questioning you’ll be on the receiving end of from a passive-aggressive middle-class mum reassuring you that it’s just best that you know this sort of thing, while carefully banking your faux pas so she can tell her NCT mates at the next coffee morning, “Raisins you say? SOMEBODY CALL SOCIAL SERVICES!”

The truth is, I don’t know anything about well… anything. This is the story of my life. Anyone who knows me, will also know that I don’t let my lack of experience or know-how stop me from doing ‘anything’. You would think with a job as full-on and all-consuming as being a mum (And let me tell you it IS a job) you’d do your research, look up some of the basics even. Not me. “How badly can we really mess this up?” Well, pretty badly as it turns out.

I’ll give you an example: The smaller of our twins – whom we’ll refer to as ‘the little one’ to protect his identity – had a terrible time for the first six months of his life: discomfort, erratic sleep, not feeding regularly and not putting on weight as quickly as his bigger brother.

Understandably we were worried. Now my girlfriend went on a research binge, reading books, Googling the hell out of his symptoms, scouring blogs and forums. I on the other hand spent my time watching funny cat videos on YouTube while calmly and firmly telling her he was fine.

Now before you go all out and judge me, which frankly I would too, we as a couple had pretty much gone through all the possibilities: colic, reflux, silent reflux, constipation, cranial something or other. But it was becoming obvious that it wasn’t any of these things and as the symptoms were worse at night we got the help of a sleep specialist.

In one night she told us that she thought he was actually in a lot of pain, which was probably because he had an allergy to dairy. “Great!” my girlfriend said, relieved that we might have found the reason. “WHOA!” I said. “Who is this woman? She’s spent one night with our son and SHE KNOWS something we don’t? I mean, what the…? Can I get a bit of support here? Should we be taking our son off your nutritious boob and on to some weird formula just because some random woman says so? I think NOT!”

Anyway my girlfriend put him on some weird formula and less than 24 hours later he was fine. I know, I know, I hate me too.

“My mum was strict but fair; protective while also allowing us the occasional opportunity to maim ourselves.”

It’s not just the responsibility bit that I’ve failed at; I also don’t feel like I’m one of those mums that’s willing to go the extra mile for my kids. Don’t get me wrong, I have given up a lot of things for my children – mainly my LIFE – but there are certain things I’m just not prepared to do.

On hearing about our little one’s allergy and how pleased we were that we’d successfully introduced dairy into his diet again, I was told firmly by another mum that that was a bad idea: “Dairy protein isn’t healthy; you’d be better off giving him almond milk.”

“Er, OK…” “Honestly, Jen you can make it yourself! Soak one kilogram of almonds in water overnight, then in a blender grind the almonds…” I zoned out at this point “…and then sieve the milk through a pair of tights. Easy eh?”

Not really, no. I’ll tell you what is easy: opening a bottle of whole milk and pouring it into another bottle. THAT is easy. Stop judging me! He’s not intolerant anymore and he loves milk… and raisins if I’m honest.

So, what have I learned? Well, having kids is harder than having a cat, that’s been a big lesson. Oh and my girlfriend’s always right. What else? Yes, yes I know! When in doubt get your girlfriend to Google it. OK, fine! I’ve learned nothing. Go away.

28/12/15 Tales From... The Other Mother

The perils of small talk


Now that I’ve made the decision to write these articles/updates regularly, I am very aware that being a parent and stories of other people’s children are BORING. I know this, I really do. In fact I’m conscious that even when my friends ask me about my boys they’re just being polite.

Just recently I made the mistake of launching into (what I realise with hindsight was) one of the most dull anecdotes I’ve ever told: “Oh my God it was so funny because L tried to climb into this box but he couldn’t. Ha ha ha! And then he just got stuck so we had to pull him out! Ha ha ha!” *tap tap tap* “Is this thing on?” See what I mean? BORING.

You’d think something as huge and as life-changing as parenthood would make you more interesting. No, in fact it makes you the opposite of ‘interesting’ because nothing ‘interesting’ happens to you anymore. The most remarkable part of your day is wondering how an eight-month-old baby can do a shit so huge that it’s not only gone up his entire back but managed to cover his shoulders. Try starting a conversation with that anecdote and it’ll be your last of the day.

“Small talk is horrific at the best of times but add lesbian parents in there and it’s a social minefield.”

During my girlfriend’s pregnancy all we heard from other parents was, “It’s so exciting! It’s a magical time; you’ll get so much from your kids; you’ll grow as a human; they’ll make you a better person, it’s so fulfilling!” And it is all of those things.

It’s also ever so slightly horrific.

For a start, you have no more time. I mean NO TIME to do anything. Not even to go to the toilet. If I’m on my own with the boys, I have to poo with the door open. I’m a 40-year-old woman taking a dump while my two one-year-old boys chew on a bog roll; this is not what I envisaged from parenthood.

The truth is I don’t know what I envisaged. To be honest I’ve probably watched too many Pampers adverts. I just thought there’d be a bit more giggling in soft focus and a lot less screaming in stereo.

Don’t get me wrong: I love being a mum blah blah blah, but there is a part of me that cannot believe how I took so many things for granted. Before I had children I used to have fantasies about travelling, going for expensive meals out, weekend city breaks, nights in a hotel with my girlfriend, you know the usual guff. Since the boys arrived I fantasise about commuting to Reigate to work full-time in an office doing data entry, just for some ‘me time’.

Travelling anywhere with twins requires organisation. If you go away for more than one day you have to pack with military precision. You cannot wing this shit. I know this all too well after leaving the house without any spare nappies and having to wrap my son’s bum in my jumper. (No I don’t have that jumper anymore.) Fortunately for me and for my boys, my girlfriend is the most organised woman on the planet. She’s the kind of person that makes a list of all the lists she needs to make. I find it frightening that she always knows where her keys are – it’s like she’s a witch or something.

It’s just as well she is otherwise we’d never leave the house, which at times might be preferable to having two boys screaming in the back of the car for an hour while we try to navigate our way through traffic.

“’Which one of you is ‘mum’?’ Given that my girlfriend has done ALL the hard work carrying them for nine months, I find myself pointing at her.”

The other problem with leaving the house with two small humans is the endless small talk you have to suffer with strangers. You’d think people had never seen a couple of babies before. Other parents are the worst: “Oh my God, they’re so adorable! I have a son and a daughter, they’re 28 and 24 now, they’ve both graduated from university and have great jobs!”

All parents do it, they have to tell you they have kids and then give you their CV. “Not only did I have children, I have two successful ones which means that I’m a shit-hot mum and winning at life… anyway, good luck with these two.” I’m sure that’s not how it’s meant but what the hell am I supposed to say to that? “That’s wonderful! My son just learned to hold a cup so we’ll be on the blower to MENSA any day now.”

The other lot that can’t get enough of us is basically any human type person that has ever met a twin. “My Mum is a twin!” “I’m a twin” “I have twins!” “My favourite movie is TWINS!” OK, no one has ever said that last one. Again, what are you supposed to do with that information? “That’s great to hear, thanks for letting us know… OK, BYE NOW.”

Small talk is horrific at the best of times but add lesbian parents in there and it’s a social minefield.

“Which one of you is ‘mum’?” Given that my girlfriend has done ALL the hard work carrying them for nine months, I find myself pointing at her. All conversation is then directed at my girlfriend.

“Twins are so much work; you’re doing a great job!” At this point either one of us could say something, but we don’t; we just continue with the most awkward conversation in the world.

“Still it’s great to have a friend helping you out!” Yeah I’m the helpful friend who changes nappies, gets up half a dozen times in the night to rock my ‘friend’s’ boys to sleep, cuddle them when they’re sick, feed them when they’re hungry. I’m THAT helpful.

I know we’re both at fault here and more recently we’ve decided to just deal with the question as it comes up and say, “We’re both mums.” Two weeks ago, the question did, unsurprisingly, come up again. This time we were at a Christmas fair in rural Sussex. It was obvious we were the only gays in the village that day; I was also the only vaguely foreign person there too. In fact we were the only people there under 50.

“The most remarkable part of your day is wondering how an eight-month-old baby can do a shit so huge that it’s not only gone up his entire back but managed to cover his shoulders.”

After spending 20 minutes watching my girlfriend haggle over a birdhouse (don’t ask) we eventually found ourselves in a small room. In the corner, three elderly women were knitting baby clothes and we surveyed their wares on the table in front of them. With our boys strapped to our chests, the dynamic was pretty obvious and my immediate thought was, “I don’t want to get into this conversation.”

Naturally, questions were asked: “How old are they? What are their names? Are they sleeping through yet?” We took it in turns to answer before I decided to find a clean exit to the chit-chat by buying something. “I think we’ll take these booties, they’re for a friend who’s having a baby… Not for us ’cause we already have two…” Jesus, why are you still talking woman?

There was an awkward beat as I saw the women take in the scene before them. In my head I could feel their judgment and confusion but before we could make a hasty retreat the third woman, who had been sitting quietly and hadn’t asked us any questions, took my money and said, “Well, they’re very lucky to have you both.” I was so disarmed by her comment I nearly welled up. “Oh thank you… we’re… um… yes, well we feel very lucky too.”

I learned a lot that day, and not just that knitted booties for a newborn baby are going to itch like hell. That day I was reminded that being the other one is no different from being any parent – you just have to remind people who don’t know, that you’re not the friend, the help or the nanny. You’re the “other mother” and if your kids have two parents that love them unconditionally, well they’re more than lucky; they’ve hit the jackpot.

25/11/15 Tales From... The Other Mother

Being “The Other Mother”


I am a mother but not that ‘Mum’. I’m the ‘other one’. Confused? OK, let me back up a bit. My partner (she’s a woman; we’re not solicitors) gave birth to two beautiful boys last September. Already there’s a lot to take in here: gay mums, twins, solicitors – believe me, I’m still reeling myself.

The thing about being the ‘the other mother’ is that added to the life-changing experience of becoming a parent is the never-ending explaining that comes with being the non-biological Mum. Yeah I did just describe myself as a box of detergent. You’d think after saying that out loud to strangers on more than one occasion I’d strike it from my memory. Nope, it’s become my go-to response. What the hell is wrong with me?

When I’m out with my boys people just assume that I’m their only mum and that’s fine by me. The difficulty comes when people ask questions: “Was it a difficult birth?” “Are you breastfeeding?” “Does your husband help with the night feeds?” The answer to all of these questions is of course, “GO AWAY!” But I don’t say that; instead I stare blankly into the middle distance searching for the right way to explain my situation.

“I’m not their mum. I mean I am their Mum but I’m the other one. What I’m saying is, I didn’t squeeze them out of my… you know…”

At this point I find myself gesticulating vaguely between my legs while trying not to make eye contact with a woman now staring at my crotch with a look of confusion and discomfort on her face. Unsurprisingly, I’m not making many ‘mum’ friends.

It’s not like anyone cares – I live in Brighton, for crying out loud! A place that prides itself on its alternative, gender-queer, trans-focused, vegan, green-voting, allotment-loving, feminist-led, gay-loving, organic, muesli-munching credentials. Let’s be honest, we didn’t move here by accident. So what is my problem?

For a start I’m acutely aware that I didn’t grow them in my uterus for nine months, suffer fainting episodes in my second trimester, carpal tunnel syndrome in my third, as well as swollen ankles, painful tits and a bladder squeezed to the size of a fun-size Milky Way. And to top it all, NO BOOZE!

People have asked me, “Jen, how did you decide that you didn’t want to be the mum that carried your baby boys?” And to that I always reply, “I put a lot of thought into my decision, but the real reason is… because I’m not fucking stupid.” Why the hell would I go through all of that when I can get someone else to do it?

I am of course acutely aware that outside of Brighton our ‘alternative unit’ may challenge some people’s idea of what a family should be. I have been asked ridiculous questions like, “Who’s the ‘dad’ in this situation?” Um, there is no dad in this situation; there are two mums in this situation. I really hope that’s cleared that up.

“Yeah but, who’s going to teach the boys to be men?” We’ve bought a couple of box sets of Top Gear so I think we’ve got that one covered.

“What if you make your kids gay?” Here’s hoping we do, and to make sure it does happen we always dress our boys in gold lamé onesies and only let them listen to show tunes while watching Xanadu on a loop. No, they won’t be particularly ‘manly’, whatever that means, but on the flip side they won’t be raging misogynists either.

The truth is my girlfriend and I are just like any other new parents on the planet. We’re not doing anything differently or better or worse, we’re like everyone else: completely clueless. I’m not going to lie to you, most of our parenting skills have been taught to us by Google. We spend half our lives asking each other questions we know the other one has no idea how to answer: “When are they supposed to start walking?” “Are their poos supposed to be as big as this?” “WHY WON’T HE STOP CRYING?”

My boys have been on this planet for a whole year and I’ve learned a lot, the main thing being that being a mum doesn’t begin and end with conception, pregnancy or even birth. Being a parent begins the day you’re handed a brand new baby human and told not only is he yours, but that you’ll be responsible for him until the day you die. What the WHAT? We’re one year in and the journey has only just begun. God help us.