It has been a while since I’ve written as Wannabe Super Maman. I think just trying to constantly do the right thing by the kids – let alone be anywhere near achieving “super mummy” status – has been consuming my mind, body and soul.
Super Petite Fille 2 (Super PF2) was born on 18 August. She is a “beau bébé”, as they say here, as she was 4,650kg and is currently wearing vests for a nine-month-old. Elle pousse bien! (She’s growing well!)
Over the last five months I haven’t had time to deal with much outside of Super PF2, Super Petit Garcon (Super PG), who is now four, and Super Petite Fille (Super PF), who is 22 months.
A five-month tunnel vision project
Super Homme and I have pretty much had tunnel vision over the last five months. We’ve been doing what we need to do to minimise the chaos (of which there has been quite a lot), make sure each kid feels loved and not left out, and deal, as best we can, with some of the post-new-baby fallout (often resulting in tantrums, screaming and tears).
Things are definitely getting easier of late. Super PF is even calling Super PF2 by her name instead of just “le bébé”, but it has been difficult at times and I had to forget about doing things for myself for a while.
But I didn’t push myself to write about the challenges, say, at 2am between night feeds, which I might well have done if the circumstances had been different.
What stopped me, what left me unable to put fingers to keys was in part a result of how I was affected by the news surrounding the immigration crisis. The emotional impact of this ongoing disaster kind of froze me.
How could I write about the joy and love I was feeling for my new baby, share my experience of being a proud mum of three, tied up with all the complications and the tiredness, when families and young kids are being forced to leave their homes and are fighting for their lives?
In this post-Brexit, Trumpian, terroristic era, to me it feels as though the ambience of the world has changed. We’re now living on a planet where an unprecedented immigration crisis means that families fleeing violence and death are being shunned and ignored by governments – and demonised and humiliated by a right-wing voice that is scarily getting louder and stronger. These people, mostly families like us, are often tragically dying while trying to reach safety.
There are too many stories about refugees fleeing danger on overcrowded boats and drowning, having probably paid all their savings to a smuggler for the privilege. Many of those that survive live in cold, squalid conditions, temporary camps (relying on the kindness of volunteers and charities) and they too have babies, toddlers and four year olds, just like me.
Last year I wrote an article for ZDNet about the charity that was providing free WiFi access to refugees arriving in Lesbos. Usually tech-savvy and educated, those lucky enough to make it need to use their smartphones to find out where the camps are, how to register, and so on. Once in the camps the charity’s crucial support enables them to live their lives – from charging their phones to providing information.
During my research for a previous article about how Philippe Starck’s Ideas Box could transform refugee life, I was shocked to learn that the average stay in a refugee camp was around 17 years. Can you believe that?
If it’s tough anyway when you have a home, food, washing machine, bed, someone to hug, books to read and a daily routine, can you imagine how unbelievably stressful and unbearable this must be – year after year after year?
The only way to live peacefully together is with tolerance
I have been thinking about these families while abundant fascist and bigoted new stories – ones that would be barely believable as fiction in House of Cards – have played out on our political landscape recently. If I thought that our democratic processes were being affected by false propaganda during the Brexit campaign, it had nothing on the threat to democracy brought about during the recent US elections.
We are all different in the world and when looking at the big picture, how to best look after the world for our children, I have never understood why more people in power, those with authority, with a platform and voice, do not more vigorously promote tolerance – and actively provide education to citizens on how and why to be tolerant – as possibly the only way for us all to live together peacefully.
For those who are racist, what is the alternative? What does the KKK, who are now scarily in our mainstream news again, hope to achieve? Deportation or death to all who aren’t white? Segregation (didn’t go very well in South Africa, did it)? More wars? For those who are sexist, does perpetuating the belief that men are better and should be more powerful than women help us all to live together? There will always be men and there will always be women! Where does it lead us? More rape (surely there can’t be much more?), more violence against women? How can you stop people having their own faith? More persecution? Wipe “them” all out who aren’t like “us”? Where does it stop? It doesn’t, it never will.
In her Golden Globes speech Meryl Streep said something very important (provoked by Trump’s mocking of a disabled reporter). She said: “The instinct to humiliate, when it’s modelled by someone in a public platform, it filters down into everyone’s life because it gives permission for others to do the same.” She then said: “Disrespect invites disrespect, violence incites violence.”
The fact is that we all live together on this planet. We are all here, all of us, men, women, kids, black, white, Asian, Caucasian, gay, straight, trans, Muslim, Catholic, atheist, Jewish…there is a long list here of differences that I won’t finish, but you get the idea. There will always be people with differences on this planet. This is never going to change. It will never, ever be any other way.
The only way for us all to live peacefully is to be tolerant of others. Tolerance and respect, if it is practised by enough people, will invite tolerance and respect.
We should never allow violence, crimes and civil rights abuses – or the threat of them – to be inflicted on people. We should never incite them, or condone them, from those in authority to the man or woman on the street.
It’s normal to sometimes struggle with difficult feelings about people who are different to ourselves. It’s normal to be fearful and to find comfort in people who appear to be the same as you. That is part of the human condition.
But the only way we can live in this world together, peacefully, is by having, and practising, tolerance. Otherwise what have we got? Databases tracking minorities? Apartheid? Terrorism? Hate crimes? The rise of the KKK? A nuclear arms race?
The threat to our democracy
Recently I have felt outraged by the rise and effectiveness of fake news, including Facebook’s role, and the alleged hacking from the Russians where one of the goals was to undermine faith in the democratic process.
Trump’s Mexico wall, his disgusting Muslim registry project; Nigel Farage’s Brexit image of mass immigration that matched Nazi propaganda from World War Two; the gradual rise of the alt-right into mainstream US politics, into the White House; the Front Nationale’s cheer in France, first for Brexit then for Trump’s victory which Le Pen sees as a “sign of hope” for the FN (and her frightening goal of leadership alongside Putin and Trump – she is a fan of Putin’s authoritarian-style of government); Trump’s misogynistic treatment of women and othering of minitories (“the blacks”, “the gays”, “the muslims”, etc); the mocking, even, of a disabled man (called out by Meryl Streep); Trump’s threat to journalism and the free press, and his blatant disregard for the truth and tirade launched upon anybody who dares to criticise. “Sad!”
Guilty with privilege
Over the last five months part of me did want to write about how difficult caring for a baby alongside two other young kids can be, especially when you’re sleep deprived.
I could have shared how upset I felt when Super PF bit the new baby on her hand (so frustrated and unsure how her life and family position would be impacted by her new sister) and how getting the kids ready for school and crèche and out the door reduced me to tears some days. Sometimes it seemed as though these mornings – where the baby screamed non-stop for my boob (right after being fed), Super PF fought me as I tried to change her nappy and a defiant nearly four-year-old refused to co-operate with almost every request – would never end.
But I just couldn’t bring myself to write about the details. I felt quite numb for a while, just overwhelmed with trying to do the right thing by my kids and feeling so guilty and privileged that it was only these difficulties I was dealing with.
How could I say anything about what I’m perceiving as problems, I thought to myself, the refugees I’m reading about would do anything to have my kind of issues.
If it is hard anyway, if my kids are having trouble dealing with a new sibling in the family, what on earth would their reaction be to bombs and rubble, dark cold waters and unfriendly strangers in even stranger places. How are these people, these children, managing to cope at all?
Living with the threat of terrorism
I can’t stand the thought of my kids being in the slightest bit of danger. At school and creche the Vigipirate (France’s national security alert system) posters are noticeably more visible, and the schools teach the kids about the best ways to evacuate if there is an intrusion or possible terrorist attack. Even this makes me nervous. At times it makes me want to keep them at home and never go to crèche or school again. The chances are it wouldn’t happen, but you never know. The threat in Europe from ISIS is real and lone-wolf terrorist attacks happen too often.
But even when my thoughts spiral like this, it comes back to how fortunate we are to have our home, a safe place.
The last six months have made me appreciate more than ever before how what seem like the basics are the most important things to be cherished: a home, food, safety, play time, laughter, clean clothes, a sofa, a warm bath, television, and love. I don’t want to moan any more about not finding time to meal plan or how hard it is to keep up with the washing.
I know from having three little kids that sometimes so much is kicking off that nice moments can seem far away, sometimes conflict can take their place and a vicious circle can so easily ensue. This is especially true if post-partum depression or sleep deprivation are in the picture.
But I also need to remember that kids acting up, the “bad behaviour”, it’s just feelings they can’t express, it’s frustration, and the fact that they are acting up means they feel that they are in a safe place where they can let go. I know part of my job is to help them cope – it’s just easier said than done sometimes, especially when they know your triggers.
Enjoy the small moments
“It’s so important to really enjoy all the small moments,” a good friend recently wrote to me while we were WhatsApping, “like dancing round the living room or just snuggling on the sofa watching TV.”
She’s right about lots of things, but especially about this. Small moments like this that exist because you want to share joy, because you want to cuddle and be close, because your child is happy, because you have a home where you all feel safe.
Yes, more now than ever, these small moments really are the best of times – let’s hope that we are not heading into the worst of times, too.
There are so many unfortunate people and families already living in their worst of times. The White Helmets do an incredible job of rescuing people from some of the most destroyed areas in Syria – they need equipment (gas masks, first aid kits, safety goggles, etc) – click here to donate.