Honesty is the Best Policy

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A friend told me recently that I seem to be having a really good time. She saw the photos I plaster all over social media and unsurprisingly concluded that life with my four-year-old, James, was picture-perfect. An enviable routine of playing in the sun, yoga, swimming, painting, and baking sessions where James and I laugh over a batter-spattered kitchen. When I hastened to tear down this lovely mirage, she exclaimed: “Thank God!” with the palpable relief of one mum finding common ground with another. Sadly, James and I don’t spend our days picking daisies and skipping down South Street. But how honest are any of us about parenthood?

Honesty article - James holding daisy

First off, all those activities. Yes, I take James to lots of groups and classes, but that seems to be the parenting norm these days. I gather it’s no longer the done thing to let kids run around the streets, chucking a jammy piece at them once in a while. But sometimes I really have to force myself off the sofa and out of the house. Sometimes I have to take a deep breath before I walk in the door of a new playgroup – they can be scary places, for adults! A room chock-full of people you’ve never met before … is it just me who hesitates?

Even when we stay at home it’s not necessarily plain sailing. My washing machine is full of small stones and pine cones and there’s Lego in the hoover. We had to take James to A&E to get a pea removed from up his nose. He pulled down our curtains and once, memorably, he called the police. I love the idea of baking with James, picturing a scene of cosy domesticity. Instead, James will inevitably sprinkle flour all over the kitchen floor before cracking a couple of eggs into my cup of tea. We make more chaos than cake.

The number of awkward situations a small child can put you in is infiniteThe truth is, being a mum doesn’t necessarily mean I’m any good at it. Or that I’m going to love it 24/7. My feelings when I’m with James generally run through the following: peace and contentment, awe, pride, boredom, exasperation, remorse … and so on. And that’s not to mention embarrassment – the number of awkward situations a small child can put you in is infinite.

I took James to his pre-school check-up recently, the one where a health visitor assesses your child’s development and readiness for formal education. A bright, articulate boy, James decided to utter nothing but “Eh-oh!” to every question he was asked. After 45 excruciating minutes, we were released. “He can count to 30, in French…” I sputtered, faintly, as we left. “Eh-oh!” said James.

At other times, James can express himself with perfect clarity. During the summer, we were walking through the park and fell into step behind a young man wearing shorts. “Why are that man’s legs so white?” James exclaimed in astonishment. While I paused to gather my thoughts, he continued loudly: “Mummy, that man’s legs are so white. Why, Mummy? Why?”. Mortified, I attempted to halt this line of questioning, hissing: “Because we live in Scotland!”


In the hope of topping up our own tans, we left the country a few weeks later for a short holiday abroad. I had been savouring the joys of flying with a small child – that whirligig of ever-moving limbs flailing around a cramped space – when our pilot negotiated a particularly bumpy landing. “Don’t they learn how to land planes anymore?” I grumbled as we prepared to disembark. James waited until he was passing by the smiling cabin crew before shouting back to me: “Why don’t they learn how to land planes anymore?”

Honesty article - James laughing

Naturally, it can only be for the best when mums tell it like it is, and our children grow up to be truthful and forthright. However, I had cause to reconsider this one evening when my habitual longing for a G&T took me to meet a friend at a bar, with James in tow. It had been a beautiful balmy day so we sat outside on the terrace. But, before I’d even taken my first sip, I saw the notice nearby proclaiming that children under five were not allowed on the premises. I could hear the ice clinking in my gin, I could smell the lemon and, as a staff member approached, I panicked. She said politely: “May I ask how old your child is?” and I smoothly replied: “He’s just turned five”. It wasn’t until she began to walk away that James piped up in clear and ringing tones: “I’m four!”. I’m told my face turned every colour of the rainbow, one by one. Too much honesty, James, too much.

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