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’s been thinking about whether to care about sharing when it comes to DNA.

Illustration by Louise Boulter.

Illustration by Louise Boulter.

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.

Read all of Jen’s other mother tales 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.