Thursday, October 19, 2017


She didn't need any help with the poster, had it all mapped out in her head. Votez pour Elsie! it said in big letters, each coloured a different colour of the rainbow. She stuck a photo of herself in the corner and carefully wrote out key words to remind her what to say when they did their presentations. Pas timide et courageuse; j'ecoute les autres; joyeuse. All qualities that she thought would win over her classmates. Once the poster was done it was time for bed. Elsie turned and looked at me on her way up the stairs. 'Mummy' she said in a quiet sad voice. 'I don't think they'll pick me.'


Bounding in through the door, her first words were 'I am the delegue de classe!' I was overjoyed for her, thrilled her confidence had been given the boost she deserved. 'Well done!' How did the presentation go?' I asked. 'I told them everything, and they gave me ten votes. The others got 4 and 2. Yasmine got 1.'

At dinner she was quiet, then suddenly burst into tears. 'I feel sorry for Yasmine.' she sobbed. 'I wish she'd got two votes.'

Friday, October 6, 2017

Preparing for number three

It’s funny, you start a family and it’s all new and terrifying and exciting, then bit by bit you get good at planning and organising and soon you’re used to having the lunch boxes ready each morning and getting the homework book signed and life is pulling you along in the fast continuous current and then one day, a couple of months before your third child is brought into the world, you stop. I stopped. I stopped and stepped back and took a good look at this life I have here.

Sitting in a cafe on my day off this week, I ordered a coffee and glass of water. I sat by the window and watched the world carrying on outside, feeling smug that I had the luxury of taking a break from it all for a change. I thought about how rarely I do this, but how my body was increasingly encouraging me to do it more often. I thought about life, about my work, my wonderful life partner, my incredible kids. The radio was playing Queen. I've paid my dues, time after time. I've done my sentence, But committed no crime. And bad mistakes ‒ I've made a few. I've had my share of sand kicked in my face, But I've come through. An unexpected tear came to my eye. Bloody hormones.

The woman who brought my drinks eyed up the bump and asked me how far along I was in broken French. ‘7 months,’ I replied smiling, ‘about six weeks to go…’ she sighed and shook her head, ‘how we women suffer’ she muttered as she returned to the bar.

I was surprised. I didn’t feel like I was suffering.

I gave it some thought though, suffering women. From unequal pay, to women being forced to marry their rapists, there is plenty of evidence around that the woman in the cafe was right.

Then my thoughts turned to girls, which soon took me to my girls. My big girl Elsie, who has just turned seven. Seven! When I was first pregnant having the baby was such a shock. I’d thought about the pregnancy part, but felt woefully unprepared for the actual keeping-a-baby-alive part. Well, we kept her alive, and she has thrived ever since her early days of what I mainly remember as consisting of bright red angry screaming, mainly on her part...

She had a space-themed birthday party last weekend. ‘Bet you’re pleased it wasn’t a princess make-up party’ a colleague, who knows me too well, remarked. Yes, I sure was. I am proud of the smart, sensitive, curious child that she is. I am proud that she accepts my declarations that nothing is only for boys or only for girls, proud that she calls out sexism when she encounters it and proud that she loved her rocket-inspired party games.

Elsie knows that in just a few short weeks our lives will be invaded by another little creature. When we talk about events happening in the future her standard question is ‘is that before or after the baby is born?’ She says she’ll help us, and I don’t doubt that she will. She won’t be the scared insecure 2 year old she was when Molly came along. She is certain of her place in this family.

Then there’s Molly. Stubborn, confident Molly who fights hard to stake out her place in this world. I remember her as a smiley easy-going baby, who has grown into a smart, less easy-going child who can have us in hysterics one minute and then bring us to our knees with an almighty meltdown the next.

She says things as they are, but has a soft spot for babies and animals and loves a cuddle. Who doesn’t love a cuddle? A friend asked her the other day if she was looking forward to being a big sister. ‘No!’ she remarked right away ‘I don’t like babies!’ She said it for the laughs, but the joker character is an attempt to hide her vulnerability. She constantly compares herself to her older, clever sister and is wary of having her baby status removed by the newcomer. We’re going to have to be patient with her.

Women suffer.

When I got pregnant again, I think we assumed the baby would be a boy - I have a brother and Marek has a sister, so the two girls were already a surprise. Elsie wanted a brother so much she kept asking, after every scan and every appointment if the doctor knew FOR SURE we were having another girl, or if it might still be a boy. The Polish family took a similar approach, ignoring our declarations that it was a girl, repeating the question in the hope of a different answer next time. At a family party this summer I fixed my smile to my face as countless aunts and cousins met the news with ‘oh, so you’ll be having a fourth then!’ and unconvincing variations along the theme of ‘oh dear, well, as long as she is healthy that’s the most important…’. I didn’t really know how I felt. Protective of my family, irritated that others cared so much about something that was nothing to do with them, outraged that nobody saw their reaction as insensitive or improper. There was a sort of inevitability about us having three girls (and it’s so practical - we have all the clothes…) but there was as well an undeniable draw towards the unknown. What would having a son be like? I will never know.

Women suffer.

I realised about a week ago that I was really looking forward to having another girl. I realised that rather than being solely about balance, there was a clear sexism to all the assumptions about needing a little boy in the house. I realised that if someone treated a child of mine differently from the others just because he was a boy, I would find it almost impossible to bear. All children are different. All children deserve to be treated equally. Girls are born at a disadvantage in this patriarchal society, but that does not mean they have to grow into women who suffer. My tribe of girls will be strong and smart and questioning of this world. They will be champions.

Saturday, October 22, 2016


Elsie knocked on the window and waved. She pressed her drawing up against the glass and I smiled up at her and carried on raking the leaves. Molly was with Marek, further back in the garden, putting the ivy branches and leaves he was ripping off the fence into the big compost bin. She had to stand on her tippy toes but she was doing a great job.

I finished the last pile of leaves and grabbed the brush. There were more leaves round the front.

I swept down the path and out onto the pavement. A man was walking down the road so I left the rest of the pavement and went to the leaves on the drive. As the man passed, he turned and said something.

"Sorry?' I paused in my sweeping, and the man asked me directions to the local swimming pool. I leaned on the broom, pointing the direction and he smiled and thanked me. As I returned to my task, I noticed he hadn't moved. I thought he was saying something else.

"Sorry?" I repeated, and he explained that he'd told a cyclist the wrong way. "I thought it was more over there," he pointed. 'Ah, no, more that way." I said, and kept on sweeping.

The guy was hanging around. I started to feel uneasy.

"I guess you're married' he ventured next. "Yes." I said, not smiling now. Expecting him to give and up and move on.

"Is your husband here?" he asked. I felt sorry for him. He looked like he was missing a brain connection or two. "Yep," I confirmed, "in the garden."

Surprised he still hadn't moved, I kept my head down and continued my sweeping, unsure whether to abandon it, and go back into the garden, or brave it out. Defend my patch.

He was mumbling again.

"What?" I said. I soon wished I hadn't.

"The thing is" he repeated, "I've been looking for someone to suck me".

My eyes grazed his erection, sticking out, pale and white from his jeans. I took the conscious decision not to give him the thrill of a reaction, and walked calmly to the side gate.

"Marek" I called, "there's someone showing me his penis out here. I think you should come."

At my raised voice, the man started off down the road. As I watched, he pulled his hood over his head and walked faster.

"What is it?" Marek called, appearing round the corner of the house, rake in hand. I repeated the problem.

The man wasn't running, but was far enough down the road. As Marek stepped out onto the pavement he disappeared, presumably down the side passage that leads to the path running down the back of the gardens.

Marek set off after him, and I scooped Molly up, hot on his trail. "Come with me", I said, shutting the side gate behind me.


It wasn't until I was on the phone to the police, girls hushed beside me, that I realised I was shaking. My voice wobbled as I repeated the details, and assured the police officer I didn't need anyone to come and see me. My thoughts were with my young girls, and the horror that someone could do something so vile within metres of their safe lives. "I just want you to know that someone is doing this, right now, right here."

After the call, Elsie watched me trying to explain the shock, trying to reassure them that I was ok, but that a man had been nasty and it had made me feel sad. Molly showed me how to wipe the tears with the back of my hand. She offered her doudou. I hugged them close and wished I could protect them.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Three years of spuds

In July 2013, we'd just bought the land, only partially cleared it, and had managed some courgettes and tomatoes.

In July 2014, we planted potatoes and they got blight but the girls helped us dig up the harvest for the first time, and the potatoes themselves were fine.

In July 2015, we tried out the other side of the garden for potatoes, and got a few, interesting, knobbly ones

In July 2016, the potato plants got blight again, but when we dug them up, we found the potatoes fine again.

The girls got properly stuck in this year.

We all know what we're having with our roast tomorrow...

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Molly the charmer

We are at a family reunion. I am speaking with one of my Dad's cousins, when Molly appears, and watches our conversation with interest.

'Hello!' the cousin says, and I introduce Molly.

'How old are you Molly?' She holds up three fingers.

'I have a granddaughter the same age as you then! Poppy is three.'

Molly looks up at her, confused by the term granddaughter. 'Is that a boy or a dog?'

* * *

We are at the Center Parcs pool. Six little girls from our family splash in the water, and Molly separates from the crowd to watch a baby playing with her mother. She leans down and starts smiling at the baby.

'Hello Baby!' she says, leaning a bit close, and not being at all careful about where she's splashing water.

I wander over and suggest she doesn't crowd the baby, who is happily ignoring Molly.

'What's it called?' Molly asks the mother.

'Freya' the woman says, 'she is called Freya.'

'That's a funny name' says Molly, and turns back to her group with a last little wave to the baby.

* * *

We are walking through Sherwood Forest, on our way to the big old oak we have heard so much about.

We see yet another dog, and as it comes close, Molly points. 'Look, that dog looks like a pig!'

'It's a dog called a pug Molly' I say, catching the owner's eye despite him desperately trying to pretend he didn't hear a thing. 'Isn't she sweet!'

'She's called Milly' the owner says, 'would you like to stroke her?'

'No thanks' Molly says, and continues on her way.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016


Elsie has taken the big white envelope I've already emptied and a black biro and is scribbling on the back.

'What are you drawing Elsie?' I ask, surprised by the unusual content of the scene she is creating.

'It's a prison!' she says brightly, adding bars to the windows.

'Who's in the prison?' I ask, noting the small window at the bottom, with a little stick figure just visible within.

'A bad man' she says. 'He wanted to make a big war. A war with the whole globe.'

'So now he's in prison?' Molly checks. 'Why is he on the roof?'

No, that's not the bad man!' Elsie says, laughing. 'That's the princess!' I recognise the standard long hair and big grin of Elsie's favourite subjects.

'What's a princess doing in the prison?' I ask.

'She's not in the prison, she's on the prison' Elsie explains. 'She's keeping an eye on things.'

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Breakfast table copycats

Elsie: When I grow up I’m going to be a doctor, and then when I retire I’ll do another job.

Molly: When I grow up I’m going to be a doctor, and then when I’m tired, I’ll sleep.