Saturday, 16 March 2013

Macho salad

A thing that surprised me after I got married is that people treat you differently when you've got a husband. I don't know if it's the same for men and I can't quite put my finger on it, but I suppose the closest word that springs to mind is respect: you get more respect.

I didn't realise that I wasn't being treated with respect until suddenly I was getting some. Even though Giles and I were living together - even after he was my fiance, it wasn't the same as saying "my husband." Once you say to someone "my husband" something in their manner shifts. It is as imperceptible as any kind of prejudice, but it is there.

I had thought that our recent two rounds of building work were so trouble-free because I was better with builders, more honest and upfront and less apologetic. But I think the fact was that I had a husband. Not a boyfriend, not a live-in lover, but a husband. God only knows why it makes a difference, and maybe it doesn't make a difference to everyone, but it made a difference to me. It's so sad and fucked up, it says such awful things about us, as people - but I think it really might be the case that if you are married, everyone just backs off.

And I exploit it, shamelessly. "Oh" I hoot grandly but politely down the phone to anyone who's asking for anything "my husband makes all the decisions like that. I'm afraid I simply couldn't possibly talk to you any more about it or all the cotton wool in my head will catch fire from the friction of my three braincells rubbing together."

It's a terrific laugh.

Having children is more complicated when it comes to respect. Day to day, as A MUM, you get no respect at all. You're just a nuisance with your fucking buggy and whining, pissing, shitting, puking baby/toddler. You're in a shit mood. You very occasionally forget to say thanks when someone holds open a door because you're in the middle of a Technicolor daydream about murdering the bus driver who was a bit mean to you just now, and you then form the basis of that person's lifelong prejudice against mothers. "I once held open a door for this woman with a buggy," they will say at dinner parties, "and she didn't EVEN say thank you. I don't know what's wrong with women once they've had kids. It's like they think they're so special."

It's also tricky between women who do have children and women who don't. You can connect, and get on and laugh at each other's jokes. But there's a gap there. When you are with another mother, you can get out a packet of chocolate buttons and aggressively bribe your child with them. You can stick Peppa Pig on for 2 hours so that you can sit down and bitch hard and in peace about someone else's new kitchen extension. You can shriek "Christ another poo? What the hell is wrong with you?" to your child. You can get ever so slightly tearful because child #2 just nodded off for 20 mins in the buggy on the way home and so won't do it's lunchtime nap today.

You can do all that without suspecting that the child-free woman is sitting there, looking at your walls covered in scribble, or floor studded with Play Doh and ancient peas going: "Fucking hell, get me out of here," or "Fucking hell if I had kids I wouldn't do it like this." Even if she is not thinking that, she might be and that causes the faintest of discomforts, like someone, not far away, playing clusters of wrong notes together on a piano.

Another mother, even if her parenting methods are completely and totally anathema to yours, will rarely, unless she is a total monster, judge you too badly for it. I mean, she will judge you, because that's what we all do - we're either starry-eyed with admiration ("her house is so tidy, she is so organised") or we judge ("I don't know how she can live like that.") But it's done so internally, quietly and subtly that no-one will notice, not even for a millisecond. The most powerful and detectable thought other mothers have is usually: "Whatever works for you, man." And that is, in its own way, a sort of respect.

But society, in general, likes MOTHERS, when they are not in the way, or moaning on about being tired, or expecting anyone to admire their revolting, dim children. If you've got children, somewhere, then that's a good thing. And the more you have the more people defer to you on everything. I mean, up to four children. Five or more children and people assume you have some sort of addiction.

The greatest thrill I get these days is when I am out in town without Kitty, looking extremely pregnant and I come across someone who assumes it is my first child. It might be someone with a baby, or a toddler, or just a random person who wants to acknowledge that I am up the duff (which is fine). "You all ready then?" they'll say. Or the mother will say "you've got all this to look forward to." And then I smile sweetly and say "It's my second". It is the female equivalent of pushing up a shirtsleeve to reveal a tattoo on the forearm that reads "légion étrangère". Maybe it's because I have a horror of being vulnerable, being patronised, of being weak, which could probably do with another six weeks with therapy. Or maybe, deep down, we all just want a bit of respect. 

Food needs respect, too. And a thing that rarely gets any is salad. We have started eating in this house for dinner a thing I have named Macho Salad. I may have got this phrase from somewhere else, but I don't know where. But anyway, macho salad is what it is. And what it is is a salad that will do for an entire dinner, that a man would not be ashamed to be seen eating. 

It consists of assorted leaves, meat or fish, some sort of thick dressing (probably made partly with mayonnaise, or blue cheese) a good scattering of firm beans - like soya beans, maybe some shards of parmesan? Nuts and seeds (sunflower is good), avocado? Chopped or quartered egg? And of course a scattering over the top of croutons, for crunch. 

Last night I made one that consisted of 3 chicken thighs roasted for 45 mins (the fourth was eaten by Kitty for her tea) and chopped, a bag of mixed leaves plus dainty strips of beetroot, cucumber, a dressing of mayonnaise, olive oil, lemon, vinegar and a lot of salt, avocado, soya beans, croutons and sunflower seeds. 

We ate it while watching Friday Night Lights, feeling very butch. But then we ruined it by having an alcohol-free beer apiece. Because you've got to draw the line somewhere. 


  1. A very langorous Cambridge don who was over for lunch (an old chum of Husband Mk1, who was, still is, I believe, MA D Phil Oxon) turned to me and - in desperation, I think - asked me what was it like being a mother. I said I hadn't a clue, but I was throughly enjoying being (insert infant child's name)'s mother, I couldn't speak for the rest.

    I felt no respect whatever.

    Then you get the other extreme which is men trotting out that being a mother is the hardest job in the world, which is just tosh as well.


  2. I usually do that sort of salad when I'm pretending to myself I'm thin and healthy, eg in the lead up to a wedding or other event I don't particularly want to go to but feel like I should look good.

    As a single, childless, recently redundant mid-20 year old, I garner no respect, but look forward to someday doing so. Until then, I can drink in the afternoons without fear of being judged, because there's nothing else to judge me on!

  3. You hit the nail on the head re: mothers and respect.

    Salad sounds fab. May do it tonight - thanks for the inspiration!

  4. Finally, someone else who's watching Friday Night Lights. I bloody LOVE that programme.

    I totally agree with the "whatever works for you man" attitude between mothers. I'm always strongly aware that I'm muddling through with this whole motherhood business and the biggest relief is when someone else lets on they are too. I'm most judgey/suspicious of the ones who seem to be sailing through it all!

    I love your blog by the way. Apologies if this comment is all over the shop, there's been some wine. (ha, just typed that as 'there's been some wime'. Hmm)

  5. I have had a husband but don't have one now. It is useful to have one, for lots of reasons. I now put Mrs. in front of my name when asked my title. I have often invented a husband who is away on business when having builders round to quote.

    Your salad is just like a Club Salad, which is usually chicken, often with bacon, and avocado.

  6. Oh yes! I definitely noticed the husband effect. I think it's because people know that someone has your back, so they're afraid to bully you. And because you know someone has your back you stand taller and behave more confidently. They fear you.

    As a single woman I wept bitter, bitter tears (to other single woman friends) about the way married couples gang up on you at dinner parties. I've never forgotten those horrible evenings and no-one in my marriage is ever going to bully a single woman (no matter how judgey she appears and no matter how much fun she is having drinking in the afternoons).

    When I have the energy and the headspace I try to look out for my single friends -- I've no idea if they enjoy Sunday lunches sitting next to our toddler, but at least I do extend the odd invitation. And I try to be "there" for them at crisis time -- even if I am distracted by small hands.

  7. Yup. I used to be one of those judgemental women (often ranting that I never wanted children), eyes flicking towards the exit of whichever of my mates houses I happened to be stuck in while their children ran riot. I was bored stupid by them and their children. And now, hypocrite that I am, I find myself on the other side, as a mother, with a kitchen encrusted in toddler gunge, with childless friends who no doubt feel the same as I once used to. And so the cycle continues! Fab post.

  8. Katherine Magee17 March 2013 at 16:28

    Would you mind sharing the identity of your trouble-free builders? My (respect-enhancing) husband and I are preparing to turn the first two floors of our NW5 house into a building site and positive builder recommendations are hard to find. Happy to send you an email if you would prefer not to post publicly.

    Incidentally, as an infrequent cook, I made your pork belly hotpot the other day with considerable success.

    1. Sure! They were called More Space, but they specialise in extensions and conversions (lofts, basements, side returns etc) and don't take on general building work, which is a shame as they're brilliant. But if you ARE having any of those sorts of things done, do look them up because they were brilliant, husband or no.

  9. Elizabeth Medovnik17 March 2013 at 19:40

    I'm trying to remember whether or not I was judgmental before I became a mother but I've completely lost my memory since Mimi was born, so I have no clue.

  10. I'm not a mother so can't comment on the rest of the blog, but I agree totally about the husband thing. It's so old fashioned, and yet just using that word really makes a difference. Ridiculous/hilarious, particularly for someone like me who was single forever, dealing with builders etc. and yet now just employing the 'h' word changes everything. Ha!

  11. I love salad and what I am most proud of as a mother is that my youngest, who is 5 and a boy positively loves his salad. I feel a great sense of achievement in this. He can sit with a bowl in front of him and scoop it up with his hands. Makes me happy!

  12. There's another part of the married respect thing that I don't think anyone's mentioned yet, but that I've noticed, which is that marriage is still seen by many as a kind of rite of passage into full adulthood. Less than a generation or two ago, but it's still there. This one can affect both men and women, but sometimes people give you a sense that if you're unmarried you're not quite a real 'grown up' yet, that somehow you haven't fully matured but are still existing in some kind of extended teenage limbo. Parenthood is another big 'now you're an adult' thing too for a lot of people.

    I can't figure out how consciously the people who act this way are that they're even doing it, but I've seen it enough to be sure it's there.

  13. oh god, the married thing is true. So true. And now you mention it, the motherless woman thing (I am one) is true to. I feel so bad. I am sure when I have children I will sit there one day cursing 'old me' who used to judge and not understand. Anyway, I am so happy that you watch Friday Night Lights; it's my guilty pleasure and now I feel slightly less guilty. Though Tami Taylor always leaves me feeling like I will never ever be as good a wife as she is. That woman is a machine.

  14. True about people assuming your youngest/unborn is your only one. My oldest is now at school and at toddler groups with my 2 yr old I see mothers with a toddler and a newborn look at me like 'you have no idea how hard this is, just you wait'. Actually I know exactly what it's like so love to have the opportunity to mention big sister. Love the blog!

  15. Ah, yes! Then we have the approach of the married mums to me as I was then, a single, working mum! Quelle horreur! You would have thought I was abusing my daughter hourly for the way I was made to feel!

    I'm now a twice-divorced mother to a 21 year old. I've reverted to my maiden name, and insist on being a MS - horrible term, but who would choose to be a Miss at 50 something? BTW - never managed the marriage thing - does that mean I've never managed to grow up either? Musing .........

  16. ha ha ha. My friend who's a mother of many and about 26 recounted feeling a similar thrill when someone snapped at her 'wait till you've got another one' and she said 'actually i've got five'