Friday, 14 October 2016

Who am I, now I'm a Mother?

I'm 36 years old and I'm having an existential crisis. I doubt I'm alone. I fear this happens to everyone at some point, but most definitely to Mothers. And Actors.

I've been out of work two weeks and I am, as my agent amusingly suggested, 'twitchy'. I had forgotten the neuroses of an actor. The lack of control. The waiting for the phone to ring. It's struck me that I find the admin of acting much like the admin of dating. I bloody hated first dates. When other people would tell me how exciting they found it, the 'will he, won't he like me/will I like him', the analysis of conversation and written communication after the event, the waiting, I hated it. Did I mention the waiting? And acting is much the same. Not the actual 'acting'. But everything else around it. It requires an ability to appear interested and engaged, but with no hint of need. To keep abreast of everything that is going on in the acting world so you can spot possible opportunities but without actually stalking anyone. Tricky. Twitch.

Now. So that's half of it. The other is being a Mum. Well, a parent, but I'm gonna go with Mum for now.

It strikes me that most Mums who do go back to work head back after 6 months plus. So they hit the 'Who am I, now I am a Mother' question pretty early on in the child's first year. I think somehow I've delayed that existential question. Until now. Because if you go back to work swiftly (15weeks) and it's different work, and it's all consuming work (as theatre really is), then you don't really have time to ponder the meaning of life.

Cut to today. I've been out of work for two weeks (after nearly 11 months), so I am, bar the auditions and the odd pockets of time for writing (his one a day nap or when his Dad takes him off for an afternoon for me), a stay at home Mum. And I'm not gonna lie folks, it's been hard. And I'm not even talking about the obvious stuff, like how knackering it all is when it looks like you've achieved nothing. I'm talking about the question of 'Who am I, now I am a Mum?'

I believe we have character and personality traits that are probably fairly embedded by 36yrs. But it's also true, I think, that we are what we do. We are who we hang out with...... So on some days, I am a hopping rabbit (I'm trying to be more energetic animals in an attempt to get fitter), who speaks, and points out what EVERY single object is, what colour it is, whether we've seen it before, a tired rabbit who has changed some nappies and wiped up (let's be honest, occasionally eaten) my child's regurgitated food, whilst breastfeeding and ordering the weekly food shop online and put some washing on and wondered just how demented my own Mother is when she keeps calling to tell me about this extra special kitchen top surface she's had put on, which is so brilliant you can't put anything hot on it (No. Me either. Sounds something like calico. Who designs a kitchen top that can't have hot shit on it???!!!), whilst also enquiring how long we can survive without me working, a zombie rabbit with high blood pressure. If that's not an oxymoron.

We had two nights out this weekend - dinner on our own, and a friend's wedding on our own. We barely socialised and spent much of the evening snogging in a corner. I felt a vestige of an earlier incarnation of me. Of us. Our early dating (the good bit, when we'd already established we liked each other). Our child-free days. I felt horny. Then we got home and I felt guilty for enjoying those feelings. I felt excited that our son was still awake and we could hang out with him. I felt disappointed that after that, we were both too knackered to act upon our earlier foreplay. This is parenthood. A fucking maelstrom of emotions. Often conflicting.

I rarely feel like the old me. I hang out with friends and we click right back in, but I'm always only 75% in the conversation because I have an eye on my child. Or on my phone if he isn't with me. I've also turned into someone I used to hate. Someone who used to utterly baffle me. The person who doesn't reply to emails or texts for days. Weeks. Months even. I never used to understand that person. But now I do. I've got them all. I know I need to contact them. I want to contact them. I just need time. And headspace. It's the headspace that's the thing. There's no room at the inn. It took me 6 months to send Thank you cards for Hector's 1st Christmas. We're knocking on the door of 3 months since his Birthday and I have yet to begin. To be fair, I haven't even spent all the birthday money he got yet. Lucky him!

I tell my husband I've become a version of me that I don't like. The nagging one. I mean, I nagged before, but now, boy can I nag. Because that chore I mentioned 3 weeks ago, and 2 weeks ago, and 1 week ago, is taking up precious headspace that I can't afford. He's getting better. I am doing more chores. Only fair. And necessary. Because a nagging wife ain't hot. And a nagging wife doesn't want sex because she is too irritated. And irritated is just a little too far away on the continuum from angry, for good angry sex.

And yet, I'm a good version of me overall, right? I'm looking after a whole other person (two, if you count the husband). Thinking for them. Organising for them. Loving them. And I'm working a bit: researching what theatre and tv is coming up, aka stalking everyone. I've even made a spreadsheet. That's how I roll. And I'm writing a web series with my friend. And I'm trying to write jokes for a new set. But the mechanics of joke construction and uncensored thought seem, on occasion, to be a pipe dream I can only wave at on my two free afternoons when my husband takes Hector to art class or to the park (he basically throws glitter at glue and then eats it from what I can gather). I'm a less fit version of me. I've managed 3 days of long walks and one online yoga class in two weeks. There's a long way to go. I carried a child and the stomach knows it. It displays it proudly as I resignedly hoik up my Asos leggings that have become staple clothing. That and the two nursing bras I am yet to replace. And yet I get to throw a ball with my child and sometimes not realise that an hour has passed as we laugh at each other.

So do I want to be the old me? Well, yes, sometimes. Do I want to be the new me? Sometimes. When I work out exactly who that is. If I work out who that is. I'm told I do a good impression of 'scary wife with a heart', and my friend referred to us both as middle aged last week, so at least I know my casting finally, if nothing else.

PS if I owe you a text, an email, a thank you card, a play date, a coffee.... I'm on it. By Christmas at least.

Sunday, 22 November 2015

A working mum

My Mother can often be heard telling people how I began my career at the RSC aged 8, as a munchkin. Which is about as relevant as when she tells them I have my gold medal in acting from LAMDA, still unaware that that is somewhat less impressive than actually having been to LAMDA, despite my advising her of this on numerous occasions. My Father, in his speech at our wedding, remarked that I earnt more as a Munchkin than I have ever earned since, in the performing arts.

Tomorrow that changes. Tomorrow I start rehearsals for the RSC for two shows for their Summer Season at The Swan. And it is brilliant but bittersweet. Not just because it's taken circa 12yrs to get that call. But because I am on maternity leave from my office job. Because we have a 15 week old little boy called Hector. And he is the best thing I've ever done in my life, other than meet and marry my husband.

So, having planned to continue sitting on my arse, watching Sky Box Sets and eating cookies whilst I breastfeed, I will be up and out of the house by 8.45am tomorrow, having got up at 6.45 to try and do two boob feeds and express some milk.

We've spent the weekend talking and thinking logistics. Our families don't live anywhere near, and friends will help out on the odd day, but they have jobs and partners and children of their own to look after. We've got childcare to help look after him and bring him to me each lunchtime for a feed and a cuddle and bring him back home (courtesy of the rather wonderful Bea & Co). My ever supportive husband (courtesy of his extremely understanding boss) is going to work from home. Then we have to work out our move to Stratford and whether we rent out our London flat. I know - a no brainer. But possibly not when you see how much stuff we have to sort out. It probably is time to throw away the blow up sex dolls bought for that Edinburgh show.

I've found myself holding Hector tighter in the last 48hrs than ever before. Staring at his face and repeating Mama over and over at him so he doesn't even contemplate anyone else holding that title, even if he doesn't get to see me for most of the day. We were planning to move him out of our bed, into the side cot but now I'm thinking I want him by me whenever we have the opportunity. I can't even imagine how hard tech weeks and understudy weeks with performances in the evening will be.

But I'm hoping it is worth it. In fact, I know it will be. Once the shows are up and running I'll get most days with my baby, and to do what I've always wanted to do in the evenings and the odd matinee. And that's a pretty good life, right?

And more importantly, the more parents that do it, the easier it will get. The RSC has a nursery. PIPA has just launched. My friend went off to Malaysia to film when her bubba was 6 weeks old, and was apparently expressing milk in the forest. So if she can do it, so can I. There are brilliant women and men pushing for this industry to accommodate working parents, not least my agent and the RSC casting team, and for them I am thankful.

And I might start crying on the bus tomorrow morning on my way to work. In fact, I'd bet money on it. And I might start crying again when he arrives at lunchtime for some boob. And I might not get to socialise with the cast at breaks cos I'll be in a room with a breast pump. And some cookies. So if you see me crying, or indeed with my tit out, or both (because believe me, those two things are in no way mutually exclusive), feel free to come and say hi, or give me a hug. Maybe not whilst I've got my tit out actually, but after. After would be fine.

And in the unlikely event that you're in the production and reading this, know that the stain on my jumper is not an early, and let's face it, odd, character choice, but probably just regurgitated milk. 

To be continued....  

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Women Beware Women

Today I’ve read two posts about breastfeeding – a blog from a woman who was contacted by FB messenger by the Manager (female) of a bar/café she frequents (and got married in) to request that she ‘cover up’ when feeding her baby as people had complained, and a post from a friend moaning that a woman had been breastfeeding what looked to be a 4 year old, on the tube, with her tit out. And it strikes me, that whilst women fail to support other women, we have no hope. Not a chance.

It’s the small things – the little comments or events in life that go unchallenged, that set Feminism back. Like the argument I had with a female work colleague when she said if a women can’t accept a wolf-whistle graciously, then there is something wrong with her. She is a woman of an earlier generation, the generation that accepted sexism and the occasional pat of the bum as the norm. A woman who is now aghast that some of her generation woke up and decided to go after the men that had overstepped the line in years gone by. I explained to her that a woman should be able to walk down the street and not get wolf-whistled at, because if she isn’t able to do that, then women aren’t free to roam. That this is why we live in a rape culture. Because it’s somehow ok to comment upon women, in a way that doesn’t happen with men. We had to end the conversation because she fundamentally felt that women were taking things far too seriously.

But back to the breastfeeding – because for me, arguing for a woman’s right to breastfeed (if she so chooses) in whatever place and way she wants, is surely a core tenet of Feminism? Breastfeeding is often not just a case of the baby emerging from the womb, with an innate knowledge of how to feed, and how to find your nipple in the dark. They might need you to hold and squeeze your boob so that they can latch. So please bear that in mind next time you see a woman feeding. And know this – that any comment which is along the lines of ‘could you cover up a bit’ or ‘why are you still feeding them at this age’ or 'you shouldn't expect to be able to express if you're going back to the office' is unsupportive of breastfeeding and women in general. And commenting on someone using formula is equally unhelpful. Either way, you aren’t standing alongside your fellow woman, and it’s usually women making the comments.

Then there’s the issue of pay and work. Yesterday was the day when women effectively stopped earning for the year, compared to men. I mentioned this date last year in an office, and half the women seemed embarrassed I had brought it up. None of them seemed particularly aggrieved, which I found astonishing. I think some women are just scared, and I think they are more so because if they know they might go away and have a baby, they don’t want ‘to push it’. As if somehow the fact that they might take some time off to have a child means they aren’t entitled to be rewarded properly for the work they do. And then I genuinely think some women don’t want to think about it, because they don’t want to become ‘too feminist’, they don’t want to get ‘too angry’, because it’s ‘unladylike’. And it’s this lack of balls, for want of a better phrase, that threatens our progress just as much, if not more, than the attitudes of men.

The Government have announced that companies will have to publish details on bonuses as well as salary, by gender, and I can’t wait. As women, we have to support the other women we work for, and those who work for us. If women are in the minority in a workplace, then sadly, the tendency is to look after number one (because you have to!), and sometimes at the detriment of the other women. Because if you’ve already argued for a bonus for yourself, you probably aren’t going to stick your neck out for another female member of the team, lest you look biased or come across as too pushy. Despite the fact that the scales are already weighing in firmly on the side of the men in team, and they’ve probably been remunerated very nicely, thank you very much. And if you haven’t argued for a better pay rise or bonus for yourself, and then one of your female employees pipes up, where does that leave you? Embarrassed, I would hope. Eager to change the world, I would hope.

It’s the times in my life when I haven’t stood up for other women, or been as kind as I could have been, that I’m most embarrassed about. I've written about the lack of Sisterhood before. And I know I’m part of the problem - my husband often notes how frequently I comment on women that have ‘had some work done’ on TV. I don’t know really why I do, but I do, and I know I should stop. Because once my son is old enough to understand, I don’t want him growing up in an environment where he thinks it’s ok.

There’s a drive for men to get more  on board with Feminism, though most of the men I know are pretty feminist to be fair. But it’s the women that need to get on board. We need to stop accepting less that we are worth in the work environment and ask for more. We need to stop doing more of the household chores if both of us are working. We need to stop buying magazines that denigrate other women. We need to smile at that woman breastfeeding on the tube with her tit(s) out. But most of all, we need to support other women. To fight for them. To stop commenting on their choices unless we have something positive to say. Because I fear we are totally buggered if we don’t.

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

February - A Sexual New Page.....

January is over. You can officially abandon the failed resolutions. Or can you?

Forget the diets (well, I say that, but I am attempting no booze/processed foods for the next 2 weeks. I know. Total yawn), forget the overpriced January gym memberships, and try to ignore the frankly appalling weather. You’ve probably given up on the first two already.

The New Year has passed. It's mid Feb. Your resolutions might have gone awry, but you can begin again! You remember that back to school feeling – a new pencil case (just me?), a new skirt that you could hitch up when you were out of sight of your parents, and a new notebook – blank and clean for your innumerable and not so clean thoughts ;-) It strikes me that February, unlike January, shouldn’t be about aesthetic improvements, but mental and emotional ones. A chance to write a new page – a sexual new page. You could:

1)   Adopt the 5-2 diet of sex – you could have sex 5 days a week with 2 days off, or twice a week with 5 days off, or if your sexual appetites are somewhat different, you could swap each week. I’m guessing I know which one I’d pick....
2)   Dry February/March. Literally. Dry. No sex for Feb and March. Now, I’m not entirely sure what the benefits of this would be. Maybe to build up anticipation/sexual frustration/test your relationship to breaking point? That sort of jazz...? Or you could view it as a ‘no penetration’ February. Which might be a good way to explore more foreplay and alternative endings. Well, I say alternative. I don’t mean no climax. Just maybe different types... Tantra? Multiple? Another female orgasm post the male one? The choice is yours. Well, it might be his, in which case he might go for the face/breasts every time, but a change is as good as a rest, so they say.
3)   A new position each time? You could make it your mission to get through the Kama Sutra in February. And March. Or twice a day for the rest of Feb.... Now, like they say on all good gym applications, consult your doctor if you’ve got any conditions that might make the positions fatal. But it would certainly cheer up the cold rainy nights eh? We usually have wine on a Saturday night, but I’ve suggested we have sex marathons instead. I think he’d prefer the wine, truth be told, but he’s having the Lotus. Like it or not.
4)   Just oral for a month? Not quite the Slim Fast diet, admittedly. But nutritious just the same, so I’m told.
5)   Have sex every day in February and March. It’s a tall order, I know. But if there’s ever a month to do it, January is surely it. And this woman had sex every day for a year and overcame her body insecurities along with it, so a month isn’t so much to ask, is it? 

Whatever you do this month, be safe and don’t take yourself too seriously – have a laugh, make up a silly tune, pull a funny face. Tell a bad joke that you find hysterically funny. Sex should be fun. You don’t have to work through all your best impressions and anecdote repertoire whilst engaging in one sesh, but a little light-heartedness amongst all that passion can work a treat. 

Gem x

Sunday, 2 February 2014

What would my Matriarchy look like?

Towards the end of last year, I went to see Bridget Christie’s wonderful one woman show ‘A Bic for Her’. It’s all about feminism. It is the funniest thing I have seen in a long time, so go grab yourself a ticket if you haven’t already. Bridget says the definition of feminism, is, basically, equality. Which raised a lot of questions for me – do we want equality in all things? I for one am more than happy for a chap to give up his seat on an overcrowded bus for me. Providing he hasn’t assumed I’m pregnant #firstworldproblemsforthelargerlady. And if we do want equality, how do we get it? And, more fundamentally, what does that equality look like? The sort of questions you could spend a lifetime exploring. Much like the ‘1001 wines you must try before you die’ book I saw in the off license yesterday. So that’s the next 20 years sorted ;-)

So I started thinking (on the basis that we do live in a Patriarchy), what would a Matriarchy look like? Or rather, what would my Matriarchy look like? I found a brilliant article by Gloria Steinmen called ‘If Men Could Menstruate’, which the female readers (and maybe the male) will enjoy J But I also wrote my own list – it’s far less radical than some I found on google. And I’m not entirely sure it’s a Matriarchy, rather just how I’d like the world to be for a bit – so we could sit in it, live in it, see how it feels, and then work out which bits work and which bits don’t. So here goes:

-          A crèche in all workplaces

-          Non gender specific sport at schools

-          All toys and clothes to be non gender specific (I’m talking primarily colours here, rather than not allowing for breasts and genitalia). 

-          Naked men on Page 3. And on TV for that matter. Think Daniel Craig coming out of the water in that Bond Movie. But all the time. 

-          Men legally required to take the pill (and thus responsibility for pregnancy) unless the couple have agreed they want a child. ie all single men must take the pill. We keep the periods, they can handle a few chemicals.

-          Men have taken on the mantle of organising all social activities/maintaining friendships, and women just rock up.

-          Generally accepted that men do all the cooking and washing, and women do it occasionally as a token gesture.

-          Teenage sexuality comprises mostly of boys going down on girls, rather than girls scrambling to oblige blow job requests in cupboards at parties.

-          Men cry as much as women. And that’s ok. In fact, it is positively encouraged. As is men talking all about their feelings

-          All writing/imagery about women should be to do with health and strength, rather than weight. 

-          Air brushing is subject to regulation and legal limits – not entirely sure how we’d police/mandate that – maybe 2% max off the inner thigh, 5% on the boobs, 10% on the testicles.... that sort of thing. 

-          TV panel shows are full of funny, ballsy, witty women, who take up the majority of air time, and then there’s just a token male guest who gets the odd line (cf Bridget Christie, and in fact, all female comedians....!).

-          The cultural perception of women who explore their sexuality and sleep around is one of heroism and empowerment. Men who do the same are viewed as slutty. 

-          Christian Louboutin has developed magic shoes, at a 10th of the price, which make walking in heels as easy as walking in flip flops. This has also coincided with fetishism of men with thin feet, thus forcing a large percentage of the male population to walk in highly uncomfortable shoes if they wish to get laid.

-          Strip joints become properly unisex. I have no issue with men going to watch naked women. I just think us women should have a similar area in each of the clubs. But maybe just with naked men who give us massages/blow-dries whilst reading aloud some erotic literature.

So, those are my suggestions. I’m sure there are far more worthy ones. I look forward to hearing yours ;-)

Gem x