When I was a little girl, I, like many others, was in The Brownies. Now, if you too were ever a young girl in the Brownies, you’ll remember how you had to earn badges by doing a range of ridiculous tasks: like demonstrating that you could lay the table, or forcing your grandmother to let you ‘assist’ her (she was only in her fifties at the time, and didn’t really need my assistance truth be told). You may also, like me, have had to attend a church service once month as part of your role in the Brownies, where you were made to parade down the aisle in your uniform with a flag singing about something (what would we have been singing about? God perhaps, it was in a church after all). Before we were allowed to do this, our Brownie leader would inspect us all and ensure that our uniform was correct and all of our badges had been sewn on. Unfortunately for me, my mum couldn’t sew. I don’t think she even owned a sewing kit. So when one late Saturday night we realised that I was due for my church procession the next day, panic ensued that my badges had not been sewn on and it was too late to find someone to do it.
“Leave it with me” my mum had said, and I trotted off to bed safe in the knowledge that my mother would keep to her word and ensure my badges were all intact the following day.
Which is precisely why, at 10.30 the next morning, I was the 8 year old whose badge was peeling off as she walked through the church, because the pritt stick had started to wear off.
Two decades on, and I too do not possess the ability to sew. I’ve tried, I really have, but I am incapable of doing it. When it was my eldest’s Sport’s day, her team badge was applied using ‘No More Nails’. It stayed on though, and true to their word, I didn’t need to use any nails.
In fact, I don’t possess the ability to do lots of ‘proper mum’ stuff.
I had kind of thought that as soon as I got pregnant, ‘mum’ things would just magically appear in my brain. But they bloody didn’t. So on top of being unable to sew; I can’t iron very well. I can’t knit. I can’t do crafts. I can not garden. My daughter needed to grow a sunflower in school and I killed it. I managed to kill a tomato plant that was ALREADY GROWN in our last house. I can’t do fishtail plaits, I can barely put the sprogs’ hair into decent ponytails. As a result my kids spend most of their days going to school/pre-school like they’ve got there on horseback. I try, I really do. But somehow I can not muster the ability to be good at any of it.
I try to bake. My lord, do I try at that one. It always starts off ok. I have visions of me as a young Mary Berry, making baked creations that all of my friends and family will marvel over. I can just about make a cake, or cupcakes, or biscuits. They look fine. They taste adequate. But if I dare to decorate them, then we’re really screwed. I made my eldest a Supergirl cake, that ended up costing me about £70 in ingredients to try and rectify and that my husband refused to let me serve because it was SO dreadful. I told my friends about said cake, and was reassured that it ‘couldn’t be that bad’. I showed them. It was that bad. I reduced my friend Clair to tears of laughter.
My mum couldn’t do these things either. This was my third birthday cake. Why she had painted the ‘floor’ with ear wax I’ll never know.
She used to insist on making our family’s cakes for every event as well. Can you remember back in the nineties, when we wore hair scrunchies and you couldn’t buy ready made cakes in shops?? ME NEITHER. Which leads me to think that either she actually thought her creations were special, or that she has some sick sense of humour that got off on watching her family force themselves to eat these monstrocities.
At least I learnt quickly that my abilities do not stretch to cake decoration. When was I supposed to learn these skills? Am I the only one? Will my children be psychologically damaged from the lack of well hemmed skirts?
I try to take solace in the fact that I can do other things. Whilst I somehow missed the class at school where I learned how to be the perfect storybook mother and wife, I had other skills that benefited their young lives. Like, I’m awesome at reading bedtime stories. Seriously, I deserve an oscar for some of my performances. Even those bastard Topsy and Tim books can be made semi interesting by my huge range of accents (and yes, Vinda was always Welsh). Also, I can cook. Better than that, I can cook with no ingredients in the cupboard. My husband says he has never met someone who can make a meal out of a parsnip, half a pack of bacon and a pack of noodles. I’m a pretty good driver. I can improvise a song at the drop of a hat and make it rhyme. I know the lyrics to almost every Disney song.
So that’s my hope anyway. I’m hoping that when my girls reflect on their childhood, they’ll ignore their shop bought birthday cakes and lack of home grown suedes, and remember that their mum could recite the Gruffalo better than anyone else.
They’ll have to appreciate those things, because- I suspect- their own children will be the third generation that will never know the pure joys of a well ironed pillow case.