Written by Jen Brister

Lifestyle

Tales from the other mother

Jen Brister is a mum. No, not that one. The other one. This month, she comes to the conclusion that her secondhand qualifications for the job might be a little rusty…

Illustration by Louise Boulter.

Illustration by Louise Boulter.

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.

Read all of Jen’s tales of other motherhood here.

@JenBrister

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Written by Jen Brister

Jen Brister is a stand-up comic, writer and comedy actor. A regular performer on the UK and international circuit, she has also written for BBC Scotland and presented for BBC 6Music.