Written by Jen Brister


Tales from the other mother

Jen Brister is a mum. No, not that one. The other one. This month, she’s sure she’s doing something right. No, really. She is.

Illustration by Louise Boulter.

Illustration by Louise Boulter.

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.)

Read all of Jen’s other mother adventures here.


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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.