Charlotte's Web

Blogging my world since 2006


Going Grey with Obama

Please note that I:

am in very good company:

Barack going grey

I swear here and now, in the company of my three children and some discarded pieces of Lego, that if Obama gets in and becomes President of the USA, I will never dye, highlight or ever maltreat my hair again.

After all, we grey-hairs must stick together.


Musings from the Pool

In the last two weeks, I spent a lot of time here:

It gave me the chance to examine closely and at length other people’s bodies. Let me say this, there is almost no such thing as a perfect body. Flaws are everywhere. While looking at bodies large and slender, I was also able to examine my own weight madness. I think my attitude to weight is odd and skewed, coming as I do from a family who believe on seeing one another that it is acceptable to say things like, “You look like you’ve lost some weight! Last time I saw you you had buttocks like a zebra.” Or who like to fling an arm around a pregnant woman and announce to a group of 12 people that, “Charlotte will lose all this weight as soon as the baby is here.” Or who think it is helpful to say to a pubescent 12-year-old, “I see you have inherited the Von Mengershausen (read: Teutonic and large) thighs.”

As grown-ups we have to own our madness and not still blame our families for every single one of our failings, but having had such a fertile start, my twisted attitude to weight has grown apace like a feral and overactive vine. While I relaxed reading in a lounger stood in the shallow waters of the pool watching my small people cavort, there was a dialogue between my weight madness and my sane mind. It went something like this …

Weight madness: Fat people shouldn’t have tattoos.

Sane mind: Anyone can have tattoos. Even if I don’t like them much, it’s anyone’s right to decide how to decorate their bodies.

Weight madness: Oh God, look at the size of her. How can she bring herself to put on a bikini?

Sane mind: She is relaxing and enjoying her holiday with her family. Isn’t that lovely?

Weight madness: I’ve never seen so many fat teenagers. Look at that brazen one.

Sane mind: Yes, there are a lot of fat teenagers. Children nowadays have different pressures to face. It’s better that she’s out there having fun with her friends than cooped up at home feeling sorry for herself.

Weight madness: I wish my thighs were thinner.

Sane mind: I’ve had three children. My thighs are a badge of pride.

Weight madness: Yes, but look at my stomach. It’s gross.

Sane mind: My stomach could be a little trimmer.

Weight madness: I’d better lose all this weight before I go to Berlin in September. I don’t want (dear and accepting friend) to go back home to South Africa and tell everyone how fat I am.

Sane mind: She loves me for who I am not for the size of my thighs.

Weight madness: True, but she’ll still go home and tell everyone how fat I am.

Sane mind: South Africans are more weight-obsessed than anyone else I know. Look at all these happy fat Italians. They’re having a lovely time and no-one’s feeling self-conscious at all. I could let my stomach hang out a little more if I wanted to.

Weight madness: No I musn’t! I won’t be able to see my feet. I’m going sit down in the water so only my thin bits show.

That bit of internal insanity aside, here are the facts:

1. I am 10 kilograms heavier than I was when I left school in 1986.

2. When I left school in 1986 I had the beginnings of a food disorder, during which I ate an apple for breakfast, a Slim Slab for lunch and only the vegetables at supper. No-one noticed that I was not eating enough, and everyone congratulated me for looking so thin. The disorderette went away after about six months when my hunger thankfully returned.

3. There is a five-kilogram window in which my weight radiates up and down, depending on mood, season and hormones.

4. I wear the same size clothes as I did before I was pregnant. The clothes are sometimes a little tighter, sometimes a little looser.

5. My husband and my children think I am gorgeous.

6. I have never mentioned weight to my children. I tell them they are beautiful, and they are. My weight madness dialogue is completely internal.

Despite knowing all of the above, I still believe – when I am at wrong end of that five-kilogram window – that I am out of control and shameful. How mad is that? I sucked in all those weight messages my family sent my way like a thirsty camel hitting the oasis. The messages were thin = good, fat = bad; thin = good girl, fat = shameful girl; thin = stand up and be proud, fat = run away and hide and don’t come out until you’re thin again.

The sane part of me has completely accepted my Von Mengershausen thighs, but the weight madness stills scrapes away in the back of my head critiquing myself and those around me who dare to wear a bikini when they clearly shouldn’t. I need to send the weight madness for re-education, from whence it can come back a Beth Ditto fan, shouting “Love me, love my zebra buttocks”. Most importantly, it needs to look at other people and not run through an exhausting checklist of how they could look better. At best, it’s superficial, and at worst, it’s cruel.

Thin-propaganda free, I could relax a little more at the pool. It takes a lot of energy being mean.


Birthday Party Madness

Nearly four years ago, when we were offered the chance to leave England and move back to Germany, we leapt at the chance. At the time, we were poised to decide whether to send Lily to the village school or the posh little girls’ school ten minutes’ drive down the road. It was an invidious choice: either we’d be paying nearly 4000 pounds a year for an excellent and elite education, where she would have small classes, be able to learn to play an instrument, do art and theatre and meet lots of little girls from “nice” homes or we could expose her to something more normal, distinctly more mediocre and a lot cheaper. Despite being cash-strapped, we were leaning towards the former, because, English society informed us, private schools were the only way to guarantee our children university entrance and good jobs.

What a relief we didn’t have to make that decision. If we had gone for the posh school, this is the kind of madness we might have encountered. It’s an article from today’s Observer about how competitive parents are spending thousands on children’s birthday parties. Imagine if our child had gone to the posh school and we were having to send her to parties with chocolate fountains and Ooompa-loompa tossing Willy Wonkas. Imagine the shame she might have felt when her friends were invited home for some cake, colouring-in and pass the parcel. It must take enormous sanity and strength of conviction (not to mention a more limited bank balance) to refuse to take part in the madness.

The school our child attends here in Germany is the local state school, where she’s in a class of 26. The parents range from Porsche-driving, designer-wearing yummy mummies to parents with a lot of face furniture and tattoos, via book-reading foreigners with funny accents (that would be me). Children learn that society contains a mix, that not everyone is privileged, that not everyone has a car, let alone a house.

Birthday parties here are extremely sane. The kids arrive having had their hot lunch at home, so they are full and not overly interested in party food. I learnt this fast. The first party we gave in Germany was for Daisy’s second birthday. I was nervous to get it right, and egged on by my visiting mother-in-law, completely over-catered. The two-year-olds sat and stared bewildered at the enormous birthday tea we had concocted. They nibbled on a few things and then quickly disppeared to the playroom in the cellar to spend a happy two hours sliding down Daisy’s birthday present – a big plastic slide. I realised then that it was about doing rather than eating.

Every year, for both girls, I have to tone down my tendency to go beserk on the catering, and have now just about got it right. There’s always a birthday cake, a plate of homemade biscuits and possibly some muffins. And we always have tons of leftovers. My memory of birthday parties I attended was that it was all about the food – a huge, sanctioned, sweetie-fest in which I would eat and eat until I could fit nothing more in. But perhaps that was just me. Then I would go home and have an asthma attack from all the preservatives. What a fun child.

However, here in Germany, it’s all very modest. It’s expected that you only invite as many friends as the age your child is turning, so you never have to invite the whole class, which, given that all our birthdays fall in winter and have to be indoors, is a blessed relief. The focus is on the activities rather than the food. We try to find party games that are containable (our sitting-room isn’t big enough to run races in) and not overly competitive (to avoid crying). One day our family will be given credit for introducing pass-the-parcel to Germany. Our little guests love it, although at our latest party, the birthday girl unintentionally managed to win the gift, which nearly caused a riot. We always play a great German game called Flasche Trehen, literally Spin the Bottle, where the birthday girl spins a plastic bottle. She then opens the birthday present from the person at whom the bottle is pointing. This can take up to twenty minutes with uncoordinated bottle spinning, and present-opening and admiring, so it’s a big favourite with me. We always have some dancing and a bit of Musical Statues, and have been known to play “Pin the Crown on the Princess” or “Pin the Tail on the Easter Bunny”, depending on the theme of the party.

It’s an unwritten rule that you craft. This used to stress me out, until I developed a nifty line in princess crowns. My husband also photostats party theme-related pictures from the girls’ colouring-in books, which keep the little party-goers busy for ages. For the last birthday, I found a €2 box of beads at Woolworths, and we made necklaces. Bargain! We had eight happy princesses. I’ve also learnt not to fill up the time completely with games and crafts, because party-goers also like some free time to run around the house screaming. I imagine this ad-hoc wildness will feature more as Ollie grows up and starts to invite his little friends round for parties.

At a German party, one provides supper – something completely easy like pizza or sausages and chips – and then the children go home, clutching an extremely modest party pack that, at most, might contain a few sweets, a page of stickers and some bubbles. The emphasis is on play, on fun and on having a few nice things to eat.

My children have never been to a party with an entertainer, a magician or Willy Wonka and are not the worse for it. Modesty rules, rather than madness, and the children love it.


Instant Prozac

(Mr Pomo: Humph.)

As the Literate Kitten has just mentioned, the onset of autumn in the northern hemisphere has brought the blues to the blogworld (and elsewhere no doubt). I, myselfly, have noticed the same. However, purely by accident, I found a recipe to cure the blues. It’s cheap, it’s cheerful and it’s better than Prozac:

  • Take your favourite DVD (my choice was the wonderful new JJ Cale and Eric Clapton collaboration, called something or other)
  • Select a dance partner (mine was my 18-month-old son – actually to “dans” was his idea)
  • Or, be alone
  • If you’re shy, at this point you should draw the curtains or close the blinds
  • If you don’t care, leave ’em open and give the neighbours something to talk about (we chose this option)
  • Dance wildly, singing along as loudly as you can and as tunelessly as you like

God, it was good! Ollie is feeling much less depressed.


Dreaming of Evil Dwarves

Oh, I didn’t sleep well last night. My dreams were disturbed by an evil dwarf, who, grinning maniacally, whispered of extra responsibilities that would weigh me down, of impaired creativity and of vapid words. He was not kind; he was not comforting; he was my inner editor brought to horrid life. His name: Nablo Pomo. Mr Pomo will be sitting on my shoulder for all of November, cackling and pointing out all the holes in my prose.


Luckily, I am not alone. Some brave souls are coming with me. Here’s a list of my fellow blogmeisters who are participating in this month of madness:

Aphra Behn, Cat’s Corner, The Public, the Private and Everything In Between, Healing Magic Hands, Food-And-Family, Make Tea Not War, The White Elephant, White Thoughts, YogaMum

(Please let me know if I’ve left you off the list – I will go back and add names.)

YogaMum is trouncing all of us in her commitment to mental anguish by signing up not only for NaBloPoMo, but also for its big sister NaNoWriMo – National Novel Writing Month. You go, girl!

Anway, please support us all and help to keep us sane by writing the odd soothing comment.


A Random Mind-Burp of Madness

I was walking my girls to school yesterday, and had the following dialogue:

Me to Daisy, “Just let go my hand for one second, I want to put the tissues in my pocket.”

Daisy: “I’d love a biscuit, Mummy.”

Me: “Whut? I don’t have any biscuits. I was just putting the tissues away.”

Daisy: “No, Mummy, you said you had biscuits.”

Me: “No, I didn’t.”

Daisy: “You said ‘If anyone’s hungry, I’ve got biscuits.'”

Me: “Lily? Did I say I had biscuits?”

Lily: “Yes, you said you had biscuits.”

Me: “I don’t remember saying anything about biscuits. I only remember talking about tissues. Are you sure I said biscuits?”

Lily: “Yes Mummy! You did!”

Me: “My God. Are you sure you two aren’t teasing me?”

Daisy: “I promise, Mummy, we’re not teasing you. You said you had biscuits.”

How’s that for scary? I thought I was talking about tissues, and I was apparently talking about biscuits. Or, I talked about tissues, THEN talked about biscuits and immediately forgot that I had. Or, my children heard me talk about tissues, but preferred to imagine that I was talking about biscuits. That would be the version I prefer, but since there are two of them and their brains are younger than mine, I am having to accept that their version (I WAS talking about biscuits) may actually be the real one.

I am going mad. And my madness is presenting itself as an extreme form of over-zealous parenting. My subconscious is burping up random parenting notes. I wonder if it will remain confined to children or if the next time I do an interview I’ll have to remember not to ask the interviewee if he’s done a wee. Or not to remind a friend to put her homework away. Or to avoid kindly offering the guy at the petrol station some lovely slices of cut-up apple.

Biscuit, anyone?