Listening has never been the greatest skill of mine. I’m a jibber-jabberer, fond of my own voice. Who would have suspected I would have started a blog, eh?
Becoming a stay at home mother has forced me to start listening a lot more. It is so important that your hearing is attuned to detect hair brained schemes in the making, or to know who really did throw the washing up liquid bottle on the floor so you can discipline the right person in the right manner.
Sometimes the kids scream and shout desperate for attention. Sometimes they go quiet. And sometimes, most worryingly, you can hear the wrong sort of silence. It’s the sort of silence that means imminent doom is on the horizon: miss its pressing nature, and shortly after you won’t know what’s hit you.
Such has my power of listening improved since having the first born, I can now listen in a multitasking-mum type fashion. I like to start the morning listening to kids demanding more porridge, and Chris Evans on Radio 2. It’s a family breakfast show and as such it eases me nicely into the day ahead.
This morning I had an ear out to the news, and vaguely heard some rumbling about free school meals. From September, all infant school children (kids aged 4 -7), will be entitled to a free, hot school meal. Given I will have two of my three in this age bracket come September, I have been pretty pleased about this turn of events.
Later that day I got home, and I popped the radio on again. It was some hideous call in show. One of the speakers passionately supported free school meals. But then it turned out that she thought they should be made compulsory. She later declared that only 1% of packed lunches met ‘recommended nutritional standards’.
Immediately, I went from generally liking the nice, mundane, useful idea of having dinners provided for my kids, to abhorring it with every cell in my body. Because, if you were a parent, and you were listening to this woman talk, you did not hear, “only 1% of packed lunches meet recommended nutritional standards”. You heard, “99% of parents cannot be trusted to do what is best for their own children.”
I resisted the urge to lob the washing up liquid bottle on the floor in anger. I briefly toyed with the idea of calling the show to discuss my hair brained idea of getting parents to form a union and to start a general strike. Instead, I turned the radio off, forgot about the whole sorry episode and fell silent on the subject.
This ritual is happening more and more. At least, that is how it feels since I started to listen more to politicians and policy makers. They announce to great fanfares the need for us to promote the British Values of freedom and the like. They totally refuse to accept that parents who rely on state education should be trusted to make day to day lifestyle decisions on behalf of their children.
I get fined if I decree it would be beneficial for my kids to take time off in term time. I am not able to opt my 5 and 7 years olds out of phonics screening and SATs. There is an, ‘attend parents evening or else you will be fined’ policy being broached. I support the desire to ensure the very best for all this nation’s children. Threatening me with sticks, though, will not give you my support. Instead, it will pit me against you and create an air of mistrust between us.
For example, I daren’t tell you that today, in my son’s brown breaded, olive-oil spreaded, fresh veg and fruit’ed sandwich box I PACKED A FUCKING HOB NOB BECAUSE HE IS A FIVE YEAR OLD BOY NOT FUCKING GWYNETH PALTROW. Who knows what could happen if the news got out?
Actually, is it that I daren’t tell you? Or just that I can’t be bothered to tell you? Because since becoming a mother, despite having an excellent career, education, family, capacity to love and capacity to jibber jabber about my own opinions, nobody has ever asked me, “what do you, mother, believe would be the best way for this state (your elected servant), to help you raise well adjusted, happy children? Would, for example, a bit of parental autonomy and trust in your abilities and instincts be useful?”
Then I realise I am sounding irrational. I am behaving like my kids do when they scream and shout desperate for attention. So I go quiet.
And what you really, really need to consider is can you shut your opinionated mouths for a moment and listen to my silence, and the silence of many like me? Because if you get better at listening you might detect that this is not a respectable silence you can hear, it’s the sort of silence that means imminent doom is on the horizon.
Miss its pressing nature, and you won’t know what has hit you.