Tag Archives: motherhood

The Island Of Sea Women by Lisa See



If you love stories of strong, fearless women, their relationships to each other and family, the depiction of their path, stumbling blocks and successes, you will love this book. Lisa See gives us wonderful characters living amid a terrible yet fascinating history.

The Island of Sea Women is as exquisite in its rendering as it is heartbreaking in its storyline. Set over the course of seven decades it follows the lives of Young-sook and Mi-ja, best friends from Jeju, an island province of South Korea. Young-sook’s future as a haenyeo, a member of her area’s diving collective is guaranteed by her lineage. Mi-ja on the other hand is the orphaned daughter of a Japanese collaborator (Jeju was occupied by Japan for much of the beginning of the Twentieth Century) and as such tainted by default and ostracised by the village.

They meet as children when of course neither status nor heritage matters. Thanks to Young-sook’s mother being chief of their collective Mi-ja is granted an opportunity to dive and the other haenyeo have no choice but to accept it. Jeju’s matrifocal culture is steeped in traditions and beliefs. The depiction of customs and ceremonies utterly enthralled me and led me to marvel at the massive differences in cultures and yet also think about the common thread linking so many women – that of family and motherhood.

I quickly became attached to both Young-sook and Mi-ja, so different but so incredibly dedicated to one another. The girls live in a time of colossal change, they are fated to navigate life against the backdrop of horrifying events as the Second World War and its aftermath rages close by and rends the region apart. The milestones of life – marriage, babies, work, death of loved ones take place in spite of the upheavals but are by no means unaffected.

You will cry and feel heartsore. You will grit your teeth and knit your brows as you keep pace with Young-sook and Mi-ja. You will will them on. You will find yourself researching the history, in awe of the facts and of your ignorance. You will put a visit to Jeju on your bucket list. You will miss the book once you read the final page.



Working Girl

Working Girl

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Sadly I’ve missed the 80’s boat – even the second time around – so don’t have the chance to take on the best back to work look ever. But in terms of that feeling of empowerment and desire to succeed, I’m giving it my best shot.

And seriously, oh my god, everything a lot of people say is true! Going back to work after taking time off to concentrate on motherhood is the best bloody feeling in the world! The fact that I am working in my first regular paid job in sixteen years may have some bearing on my ridiculous sense of excitement as might the fact that I have landed my absolute dream job but the changes it has brought me, and by definition, the whole family are massive and nearly all positive.

After over a month the novelty has yet to wear off. A regular income of my own, getting dressed in an outfit I’ve thought through instead of chucking on active wear (and sometimes actually doing something active) or scruffy jeans and a tee because all I have planned is time with a reading group at school followed chores. There are so many reasons for the whole change in my mindset. Following are a few.

Being seen as something other than the mother, the shopper, the coffee drinker, the wife, the referee, the chef, the nurse, the cleaner, the party pooper…

Being seen as a person who knows about something other than earaches, kids suppers, the place to find the best value organic bloody meat.

diane ackerman quote life

Being able to direct and advise people on what to buy for their seven year old grandchild (boys at least – I’m still getting to grips with girl reading past the Worst Witch – all suggestions gratefully received).

Being in on book news, reading reviews in the paper having seen the book already.

Being part of a team that doesn’t include anything else my life – that is mine.

Being appreciated by my boys, who when I first started threw their arms around me at the end of the day like I’d been away a week (this has somewhat worn off).

Being challenged to plan and organise more. Coordinating diaries with Andrew around school pick up and after school sports.

Being able to buy myself flowers (I actually often did this but felt like I was taking the food from my children’s mouths – or at least putting fish fingers instead of flathead in).

Being part of the workforce, a woman who feels empowered and knows her worth rather than telling her family they have no idea of it.

Being really bloody grateful of my decades old make up regime. Seriously, I still have the same eyebrow compact I bought at uni – think this simply shows how seldom I used to bother with my appearance.

Being able to buy myself a pair of earrings that I never would have done before – it took three times in and out of the shop before I committed. Also the savvy saleswoman going from telling me that the 30% off deal would be finishing soon to finishing in about five minutes in order just to get me the hell out.

Being able to share bus chat with my husband. Honestly. We swap stories about the most irritating of irritating passengers flirting excruciatingly with his paramour (describing what he was wearing was the least of it), to sharing our incredulity at other passengers rudeness, or the fact that they are bold enough to apply their full face of make up in public.

Being able, on my days off, to read and read, when previously if I sat down and opened a book the dark cloud of ‘should be doing x, y and z’ would look large bringing on a massive sense of guilt and probably a bout of really bad baking.

Being able to be around books all day, obvs! Seriously, I walk through the door at the beginning of my shift, inhale deeply and feel happy.

Being unable of containing my the small kernel of smugness when people tell me that working in a bookshop is their absolute dream and I do a little happy dance inside thinking ‘I know, but I”m doing it!’

I’ve said to friends I wished I’d known this sooner, that the satisfaction I am getting from being both mum and worker is a feeling I could have done with ages ago. I wrote, I know, and that did bring me happiness when it was going well. But I didn’t cope well with the insecurity, the rejections, the having to pick myself up after a disappointment. However, I do believe life is all about timing and opportunities and that while we make many of them ourselves, often our paths have to cross with another’s at an auspicious moment.

It is an amazing and lucky feeling – I just wish I could pull off Melanie’s hair.

mascara quote

Try a few years…

Boys…in multiple



It takes a woman of a certain disposition to mother boys (that is supposed to be plural, I am sure one gorgeous specimen is generally a breeze).  This might come naturally to some but if it doesn’t you will soon learn to adopt it – or suffer I fear.  If you were a Daddy’s Girl growing up or are the lucky sort of female on whom men bestow compliments and favours (and I am neither), your journey might be even more tricky as boys do not treat their mothers with the reverence and adoration I was led to believe.  Despite what I was assured by a great number of older ladies when the boys were small, I am not treated like a queen, in fact, many is the time I have had cause to exclaim with gusto, ‘this isn’t a bloody cafe’ and even ‘what did your last slave die of?’ The latter was actually a conversation stopper as the boys vacillated between wondering guiltily whose demise they had in advertantly caused and pondering whether they were, in fact, allowed a slave (resulting in my initial point being lost entirely).

Even for those of us with brothers – who fought madly with brothers no less and would proudly claim our lack of princess-y qualities – the sheer physicality of boys, especially when they are in plural, is astounding.  Mine at least seem quite incapable of watching TV, playing Lego, playing in the garden without poking and prodding and just physically winding each other up.  The testosterone seems to be more concentrated as the number of brothers increases too; does anyone else find they get more and more boy-like?  Edward might as well have entered the world saying “put your dooks up” or in Scrappy-doo speak “lemme at ‘em”, the ‘em’ being his big brothers.

 A new friend of mine from the US recently shared with me, as we watched our boys rolling about on the ground after football training, that she had been told this is how boys fill their love buckets.  My sons have numerous buckets and they are all bloody overflowing. 

There is nothing subtle about my children (though in my experience there is nothing subtle about most men so I don’t know why I’m surprised by this).  What you see is what you get, which lots of people tell me makes them more straightforward than girls but also means that every emotion is writ large; things are either awesome or the absolute end of the world.  ‘I hate you’ is unfortunately heard often, directed at a brother for pinching a toy or a parent for suggesting teeth brushing.   I have, thankfully, developed great fortitude in this area and manage, mostly, not to take it personally.  It does also mean I am treated to sudden explosive (and often physical, I have been knocked to the ground by a joyful hug) outpourings of love which I wish I could bottle since the feeling it creates beats any other high.

The knock-on effect of this un-subtle way of being in the world is the offence or worry caused to others.  I have had a lovely old dear in our local supermarket (which a friends mum has nicknamed God’s waiting room on account of the demographic of the customers) say to me “I was really worried about that little boy”, as I browsed a pop-up clothes stall while Edward stroked the handrail on the escalator (shocking, I know).  I’m not even sure she knew he was mine, I think she just needed to share her concern with the closest person.  I’m sure she was quite horrified by my casual, ‘oh, I’m sure he’s fine’ in response, expecting I suppose to galvinise me into action being a younger and possibly responsible person.  I probably disappointed her in that, but I’ve developed what I like to think of a knack for knowing when to intervene with my boys, which perhaps doesn’t always come across so well.

Yesterday they did me proud though as we spent the entire day hanging around Willoughby shuttling from swimming to park to swimming to indoor play centre to train station to collect Andrew and then back to swimming again (yes, the boys were very weary).  They barely fought (I had planned like a demon and had many distractions and much food) or complained as we pinged in and out of the car.  They probably did have rather more sugar than usual (travel sweet game anyone?) but when, being the last to leave Wizzy World they took it upon themselves to tidy the whole of the baby area, I thought I would burst with pride (whether filling the house up with balls and jamming as many soft blocks as possible to the climbing structure is the usual method employed by staff I wouldn’t know).  What I would like to know is why, having demonstrated their outstanding skill in housework, I am still their slave.


Motherhood Survival Club


Yesterday I saw a mum sitting with her two sons outside a café burst into tears as one of them dropped a piece of the jigsaw puzzle he was tackling for what must have been the umpteenth time.  His wails of frustration combined with her unchecked tears told me a very familiar story.  I considered asking if she was ok but resisted as she almost visibly pulled herself together, regaining her composure and possibly re-applying the mask that she turns outwards to the world.  She could have been any one of us, mothers holding everything in the most delicate balance, working so hard simply to cope with the everyday pressures while the world calls us ‘capable’ and ‘clever’ and ‘super’.

Oh to be able to let our guard down sometimes.  To be able to say, ‘I really need a break’ without being judged a basket-case or a failure.  And more importantly, not judging ourselves as such.  Whether working or stay-at-home, we are all simply trying to do the best by these funny, engaging and beautiful little individuals.  Their reliance on us is absolute (even though from the age of about seven it seems they would hotly deny it), our moral compass is their indication of right and wrong, our values their touchstones.

My parents jokingly say that my brother and I turned out alright despite them (with a few bumps along the way).  I now know this to mean that they did not obsess over the minutiae of our extra-curricular learning or whether we were learning vital social skills, these would come simply through our being a part of their world and learning as we went along.  There was so much less chatter about how to do everything and what was right and wrong and therefore, I wonder, fewer judgements of each other?

Don’t get me wrong, I know the resources available to parents now are quite amazing and provide a very real support to many many parents, as the use of online sites such as Mumsnet and Kidspot attest.  It is all too easy though to allow the constant flow of advice and information to overwhelm you, to feel as though you are the only one who doesn’t know how best to sooth a colicky baby, discipline a belligerent toddler, guide an older child through the rough and tumble of the playground.

We all have our inner voice, our gut instinct and the knowledge that there is no-one on earth who knows our children as we do.  We should perhaps turn inwards a bit more, listen to ourselves and not bow to the pressure of others’ perception.  We all deserve membership of the Motherhood Survival Club, a place of no-holds-barred mutual congratulation and understanding.  Life with small children is exhausting, bewildering and exhilarating.  There are no prizes for heroics and probably not a great deal of thanks at the end.  However, as we tell our children, as long as we try our best, are kind, and remember the old adage ‘do as you would be done by’, we should all come out relatively unscathed.

If you have managed to stomach my pontificating (as my Dad would call it), have a look at the post on Children’s Books, please add your own list, the diversity of favourites is amazing!