Illustration: Kelsey Davenport

DESPATCHES FROM THE SCHOOL GATE

Motherhood opens you up to criticism from strangers – and I’ve had enough

This week, a perfect stranger told Liz Dashwood she should think more responsibly – "as a mother". For once, she gave him what for

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Yesterday afternoon, Thomas and I were making our usual trip home from school via the Tube. And as usual, I let him – as is his daily delight – go up the stairs that run between the up and down escalators while I keep pace with him on the former (occasionally stepping down sufficiently to allow him to “win” at the top).

What was not usual was that on this particular afternoon, on the eighth journey of the 10 I make a week this way with my son, was that a man – 50ish, neat, in a suit – drew alongside me on the escalator and started to berate me for letting Thomas do this.

“Outrageous!” he said, too loudly and too near my face. “What are you thinking? What if he falls? You should think about these things, AS A MOTHER.” That’s my favourite phrase in the world, by the way. Because it is only AS A MOTHER that arseholes think we can truly process anything. And so, very much, on he continued as the escalator made what started to feel like its very slow progress indeed up to the exit.

It is only AS A MOTHER that arseholes think we can truly process anything

As ever, my first instinct was to cower. Apologise. Explain. Explain that this is pretty much the only bit of freedom I allow him. Explain that he is the most cautious, sensible child I’ve ever met and is no more likely to put himself recklessly in danger of falling than a 60-year-old matron of the WI is. Explain that my heart is in my mouth every time he does it, because, yes, accidents can happen and because whenever he reaches the little landings that break up the huge run of stairs the top of his head that is otherwise in my view at all times momentarily disappears and that even though I know – I KNOW – no one can have spirited him away, because there is no one coming in either direction – the staircase is so long it would be death to any non-Olympian adult – and I don’t believe in ghosts (although they insinuate their way into the rush of tortuous imaginings that flood my mind during that half-second I cannot see him, I will admit). Explain that, nevertheless, I have decided that my fears are, on balance, unreasonable and that he should be granted this boon while I learn to get a grip on myself and prepare for the day when he will want to do something more truly unbearable, like go to a sleepover or walk to the shops or not let me kiss him while he cleans his teeth. Explain that this is one of the eight million conscious and subconscious calculations in seven dimensions I do every day, that my life – AS A MOTHER – is basically a ceaseless parsing of his needs, mine, now and in the future, adjusted for impact on others (family, friends, strangers, commuters at rush hour), shortness of time, menstrual cycle (by day 26, my neuroticism reaches such heights it’s all I can do not to pack us all into a lead-lined bunker and slam the hatch) and whatever miscellaneous other factors the day hath brought.

But – and I don’t know how or why this happened; I can only assume that the gun-blazing spirit of Oprah at the Golden Globes moved through me or something – I didn’t. I didn’t cower or apologise or start explaining or justifying myself. I just started shouting. Well, not actually shouting because – AS A MOTHER – I didn’t want to upset or frighten Thomas, who was labouring up the last few stairs as my interrogator and I reached the top. But I managed a fine, fine display of clenched-teeth fury as I turned round and snarled, “Who do you think you are? What gives you the right to say anything to me? How dare you? Who are you to me? WHO ARE YOU?”

He actually backed away. He backed away, AS AN ARSEHOLE, turned on his heel and started walking swiftly out of a different exit.

Ladies, it felt marvellous. AS A MOTHER, obviously, but even more so as a woman who has had – like most of us – to listen to this kind of shit in most areas of her life for most of that life. I have added “more snarling” to my list of New Year’s resolutions. As there are a lot of arseholes around.

@LizDashwood

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Illustration: Kelsey Davenport
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despatches from the school gate
PARENTING HONESTLY

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