‘You can say that Mum, but I don’t actually care. Because it doesn’t matter what people think of me, as long as I’m happy and I’m not hurting anyone.
‘Yeah Mum, it doesn’t matter what people think of you, as long as you’re honest.’
Ok, now The Girl is joining in. I’d thought we were just having a competition to see who could make their mint last longest on the way home from school. But this conversation seems to be… hang on. The Boy’s talking again…
‘That’s what you always tell me Mum. To never let other people change me. Just be myself, be honest. You always say that.’
Ye-es, but I didn’t think it would actually sink in. Mums are supposed to say stuff like that to their children! It’s the Second Law of Parenting. Wait, The Girl has something more to add...
‘You don’t care what people think of you, Mum. Why should we?’
Oh. Ah. Hmm. Hnnnrgggh. Blondies, learn from me. Learn from my mistakes. Hold me up as an example of what not to do and be. Do you really want to end up like me? No, shut up, don’t answer that. And then the next day, sitting in the park after school, I was chatting to Another Mum, and of course she asked why I hadn’t gone back to work. Seeing my hesitation, she rushed to fill the gap.
‘Sorry, it’s none of my business, you don’t need to…’
‘Oh, I’m fine about it. It’s just a bit uncomfortable for other people when I tell them. Basically, I had a massive nervous breakdown, and haven’t worked for four years.’
‘Oh, right.’ A very long pause whilst she clearly tried to think of something to say. ‘But you seem really happy. Whenever I see you with The Blondies, the three of you are always laughing.’
RUBBISH PARENTING ALERT in other words. Parents aren’t supposed to have fun with their kids, are they? It’s A Bad Thing to laugh with them, isn’t it? I don’t know. Actually, it probably is A Bad Thing if I’m the one doing it. I think that at some point I must have missed the ante-natal seminar on how to be A Parent, as opposed to Me With Added Blondies. I just can’t get my head around it. And so I do stupid things that parents aren’t supposed to do. Like tell The Boy that my nickname for my sister is Biggus Sissus (added black mark for that because he totally got the Monty Python reference). Or roar with laughter at a car registration plate that ends in ‘VAJ’ (they got that one too). Or sing the Lelli Kelly song outside a shoe shop, accompanied by a dance routine with jazz hands, oblivious to passersby…
But then, like I said earlier, I used to be quiet, well behaved and so very, very nice. My clothes were plain, my hair was left alone, I could be trusted in polite society. I would never have dreamed of doing the Ghostbusters cartoon dance on the way to school to make The Blondies laugh, or shouting STOP!!!! HAMMER TIME! at them to get them to stop bloody whinging at each other. I was as unlike myself as it was possible to be.
I was so dull. And the thing was that people didn’t like me, because I was so dull and small and placid and so very, very nice. And so I got worse, and they treated me more unkindly, until any semblance of personality had all but withered away. And it’s taken a while for it to come back.
It was always there, of course. But fearing that people wouldn’t like the real me, I buried it deep down. What brought it back was the discovery of one last act of viciousness on the part of Mortal Enemy number 1. I don’t know why, but I can remember the discovery of it, sitting very still, at the dining room table, teeth clenched, lips thin, staring at the letter and feeling something snap. Bitch. I thought. BITCH. Even now, that I’m far away from you, you can’t help yourself.
It’s not a pleasant feeling to be hated. Especially when you don’t know what you did to become so loathed. But something fell into place that day, and I realised that it wasn’t my fault. That I’d agonised and fretted for so many years, denying who I really was, to try and make someone like me, when they never would.
And about a second after that, another thought arrived. Who was this timid little creature? This frumpy, overweight, listless streak of beige, who never laughed, rarely cried, and had stopped listening to music years earlier? Good god almighty, this person is me.
It wasn’t like in films. I didn’t leave the house half an hour later with a brand new haircut, in a flowery dress, sunglasses on, kickarse attitude in place. It’s taken bloody ages, if I’m honest, to get to the point where I no longer give a toss what people think of me. Obviously, there are people whose opinions I value, and people whom I care about, to varying degrees, but what’s different is that I’m not seeking to gain approval from anyone. Not now.
Often, when I write something personal, like miscarriage, or ATOS, people say I’m being brave. I don’t see it that way. I’m being honest. I spent ten years being, bluntly, dishonest, and it nearly destroyed me. If I can’t be honest with myself, then how can anyone else trust me? So if that means an impromptu SCHOOL PLAYGROUND DISCO on the way home, so be it. Or having a rant about selfish bloggers on here. Or any number of things that seem like a good idea at the time… My circumstances haven’t changed since I stopped being that repressed, withdrawn, miserable failure 18 months ago. But I am happier. The Blondies are happier. And from this twatty blog and twitter, I’ve found a fair few people who apparently like the real me, and tell me so (which only encourages me to be more me).
So on balance, I suppose I agree with what I’ve taught The Blondies, without really intending to, blindly parroting the platitudes of parenthood. Always to thine own self be true and that. Don’t let other people change you. Hurt no one. Don’t be the person you think people will like. Be happy. Be yourself. Be honest.