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SO Thursday 8th March 2018 is International Women’s Day. It’s also the one day of the year when I feel part of a ‘sisterhood’. I never had a sister and I don’t even have enough friends to book a bowling lane, but on International Women’s Day I get to align myself with better women doing great things and feel a kinship due to the fact I have a vagina. Go vaginas!

I’m lucky enough to have a platform to raise awareness of awesome women, so on international women’s day 2018, I give kudos to the following females, rocking in a world that’s still not free from sexual discrimination.

I salute you, shaven-headed 18-year-old Emma Gonzalez, for speaking out after the valentine’s day shooting in Florida. Your elegant, passionate speech stirred hearts and turned heads. Your shaming of Trump was perfect when you said:

“I am going to happily ask [US President Trump] how much money he received from the National Rifle Association [NRA],", adding, "OK. You want to know something? It doesn't matter because I already know," she proclaimed.

"$30 million!", she went on. "And divided by the number of gunshot victims in the United States, in the one and one-half months in 2018 alone, that comes out to being $5,800 [per victim]. Is that how much these people are worth to you, Trump?"

Here’s to you, Tarana Burke, an America civil rights activist and the first person to use the hastag #metoo to raise awareness of the widespread sexual abuse and assault in society. You first used it 12 years before Alyssa Milano stumbled on it. Your #metoo hashtag was used more than 12 million times as women round the world shared their pain and was responsible for a handful of high profile men losing their jobs. Thank you.

Hand claps to Christine Jardine, a Liberal Democrat demanding the House of Lords be renamed House of Peers. You pulled no punches when you said: “The current gender-specific House of Lords title is no longer appropriate. It feeds into an outdated and unacceptable narrative that political decision-making is a man’s job. In this centenary year of female voting and election rights, it is surely time to recognise that our upper chamber is not a male preserve.”

Pressure is starting to mount about where to send the eldest after primary school. Fundamentally, my beliefs are simple. I don’t think people with money should be entitled to a better education than those without. Children should go to the schools closest to them. If your local community is good enough to live in, then the community school should be good enough for you children. If your local school isn’t performing well, how will it ever get better if us parents do not invest in it?

Going to school with a mix of children from other ethnic and social backgrounds will help prepare kids for life. It’s important they see, and learn alongside people better off and indeed worse off, than themselves.

I don’t think any secondary school in the south east will provide a ‘bad education’. We don’t live in a third world country, nor do I believe secondary school is the only chance to get an education.

How many of us knew what we wanted to do and be when we were 11?
When I was 11 I wanted to be a helper in the local old people’s home because I used to visit an elderly relative there and got to push the tea trolley..

I didn’t know myself, what I wanted to do, or have the confidence to pursue it until I was 26 and pregnant. It took multiple dead-end jobs I hated for me to realise I needed to claw myself out the rut I was in. I saved up, went back to school, got my NCTJ journalist qualification and now I do a job I love.

My eldest daughter wants to be an artist. She’s quirky, but she’s no Bob Ross. People have spoken to me about getting her an art scholarship at a private school, but the very idea repels me. Can you imagine a kid of mine among privileged princesses?

Unsurprisingly, I went to the local school. At the time it was not doing that well. Kids from the ‘undesirable estates’ promised to ‘flush your head down the bog’ and the teachers didn’t seem to notice if you were there or not. They were old and jaded, doling out the same worksheets each week, and the staff room stank of fags and stale booze. Unless you were incredibly self-motivated (AKA a swot) then school was a chance to catch up with friends, flirt with boys, and make weekend plans.

Yes we rolled our skirts up, but under our shirts were padded training bras. There was one girl who’d flash her bits for a Mars bar, and admittedly she was quite popular, (and quite chubby) but it didn’t make inspire me to copy her. I was more of a Snickers girl. I left school with a handful of GCSE’s and my virginity intact. I deemed it a success.

I just finished reading Bird Song by Sebastian Faulks, a novel about WWI. My great-grandfather served in WWI, in the trenches. He came home missing an eye, deaf in one ear and never spoke. He lived well into his 90’s, so I got to spend time with him, in silence. We watched Laurel and Hardy or Tom and Jerry and he’d always pour the last of his tea into his saucer for the dog.

He had two budgies called Snowy and Joey. When Joey got too old to fly back into his cage, grandad made him an intricate ladder out of matches. I imagine it was a miniature version of the crude ladder he might have climbed down into the tunnels in Flanders. He was so proud of that ladder, but when he turned to show Joey, he mis-stepped and trod on him.

As a kid, I loved this story but was never allowed to laugh. In the spring, he made cuttings of geranium plants and the sun room smelt like soil. These are the only pieces I have of him, an incomplete jigsaw. He died when I was eight. My aunt told me it was peacefully in his sleep, but I later found out he died shouting for the guns to stop.

His high-backed Parker Knoll chair was passed down to me. I’m still too scared to sit in it, in case it holds his secret horrors. For years I remained respectfully silent in my wondering about his years in France, but since reading Bird Song, my curiosity will not be quieted. I contacted distant relatives, seeking information, and with the scant details I gleaned, signed up to ancestry.com.

Within minutes I was looking at his service record. The form was right there on my laptop. His signature scrawled in pen, swearing to be faithful and bear true allegiance to his Majesty King George the Fifth, so help him god. He was 18 years old.

I felt guilty for finding it. Here was what he didn’t want me to know. He was in the Royal West Surrey Regiment, in the Labour Corps, providing unskilled labour, and then he was put into the infantry. He served on the front line.

My quest is not complete. I plan to find his exact regiment and location, and then I’m going to go to that field in France and stand on the soil he toiled on. Even with all I know about WWI, it will only ever feel like a field to me, I never risked my life there, or took another’s.

Some people think children should not learn about the war. Some people think WWI was called the great war because we did well, not because so many people died – pushed over the top in a slow march to their inevitable death.

I can’t comprehend how I was ever in the same room as a man who had to witness these horrors. Perhaps if I hadn’t known a small piece of him I wouldn’t feel so moved by the books I’ve read and documentaries I’ve watched, but I can still see the brown speckled skin on his hand as it shook holding his tea. His hands were always shaking. What did those hands do?#

 

Sometimes I wonder why I thought having children was a good idea. It’s not them, they’re great, it’s me. I constantly feel guilty for being such a poor role model and even more guilty for bringing children into a world where kids get shot down in schools, terrorist attacks are commonplace, university degrees don’t ensure employment ( but do promise debt), and getting on the property ladder will probably be impossible. Your best hope for debt-free home ownership is if your parents die and leave you cash.
 
Is having a child a selfish thing to do?
 
More’s to the point, what do I do now? Ultimately, my job as parent, is to prepare my daughters for life. I’ve been trying to navigate the maze for 36 years and I’ve learned you only ever get more and more lost. Further down the rabbit hole, until it’s harder and harder to get back to the place where amusement can be found in raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens. You start life weightless, but inevitably, over the years you’ll have to carry insecurities, financial worries, relationships and responsibilities.
 
I want my daughters to have the best experience of life possible, to find the joys I found and a map to avoid the painful pitfalls, but it’s not possible.
 
I can cover their peachy skin in soft vests from Marks and Spencers, and warm their socks by the fire, but at some point they’ll have to go out into the big unknown and learn what life is about. For that they’ll need thick skin, tough enough for words and rejections to not hurt.
 
I don’t want them to grow up thinking life is going to magically unfold like a yellow brick road because at some point they’ll discover the Emerald City is only green though tinted glasses and magic is just an illusion. Do I wait for someone else to break their bubble or start telling them now, that life is often unfair, unfun and unfulfilling.?
 
I spend my days tidying up after the morning rush and preparing for the evening. I resent it and try to get them to help make beds and load dishwashers but it’s a battle. I don’t want to shout at them all the time, nor do I want them to grow up thinking it’s fine to sit idly while someone else sweeps the toast crumbs from under their feet. I need them to know life will bring them to their knees and they’ll have to get back up, dust themselves off and carry on.
 
When they come home and tell me someone rubbed slime in their hair and called them a snitch for telling the teacher, I’m torn between telling them they did the right thing and making a vat of hideous gloop, so they can get their own back. You can imagine what I’d have done in their shoes, but the chip on my shoulder has gotten me fired more times than I can count - and I've more fingers than friends.
 
My youngest always asks me for a bedtime story about ‘when I was a little girl’. This week I told her about the time my parents took me to Whipsnade Zoo. My brothers went on all the rides but I was too small, so my dad took me to the gift shop and let me pick a teddy. I choose a lion, called him Lenny and loved him with all the passion a kid can love fake fur with plastic eyes. I took that stinky lion everywhere.
 
Years later, on a camping trip to Weymouth, we stopped at a pub and in a moment of childish forgetfulness, I left Lenny sitting by the sink in the toilets, not realising until we were miles down the road.
 
I begged my parents to go back but they assured me he would still be there in a week and they’d stop on the way home. They were wrong and Lenny was gone.
 
My moral to the story was hold close to what you hold dear, but Bliss started sobbing, for the seven-year-old me who’d lost her best teddy. She hugged me tightly and her hot little tears fell on my cheeks. I felt so guilty for upsetting her I told her when I got home Lenny had been posted back to me.
 
I lied to her to make her feel better. Life is not going to do this to her, but maybe my job isn’t to tell her that chocolate is a minute on the lips and a lifetime on the hips, and boys will break her heart. Perhaps I shouldn’t warn her that girls can be cruel, periods are painful and the best friends she’ll ever have are her sisters, because they’re stuck with her. Perhaps I’ll let her find that out for herself and just be there to hold her when she cries.
 
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This week, my husband suggested I ‘get a job’. Any stay-at-home mum will know the impact those three words have on your sense of worth. I thought I had a job. I thought giving up my body, my career and my financial independence to raise three children and run a home was a job. It feels like a job. A job I’m pretty sure I’d never been offered if there’d been an interview as I had no previous experience. 

I used to wear pin striped trousers and shiny shoes. I had my own desk and a job title. I had an assistant who sometimes got my lunch for me. I had reports I had to deliver at sales meetings in board rooms with men in ties who said things like ‘pipeline’ and ‘put it to bed’ and I didn’t even laugh at the sexual references, because I had pin stripped trousers on, and my important report to deliver. I was a serious career woman.

Then I got knocked up, and those men in ties and too-tight suits decided my reports were no longer required. They doubted my brain, as though I’d become a child, rather than a mother. 

Some secret meetings with HR decreed that my assistant, who had not committed the cardinal sin of giving birth, would be far better at delivering reports in pin stripped trousers. I was out. On a Tuesday morning with no notice, I was told I was no longer needed.

I went home and looked at the washing, and the hoover and the dirty dishes. I said goodbye to my cleaner (who I could justify employing when I had ‘a real job’) and swapped my pin striped trousers for leggings. I went to coffee mornings and library sing-songs and told myself it was an honour to do so and that I’d been selfish for ever attempting to be 'more' than a mere mother. 

I told myself I was where I belonged. My waist grew and shrank with more children, scars replacing the skin I used to show off in snappy suits. My life became making my husband coffee in the morning and listening to him rant about how busy and important he is, while the children ignored all my attempts at bedtime. 

I told myself I was glad to be out the rat race. I lost sight of the girl I used to be, who assertively bagged herself a seat on the train to London and won contracts over lunches. I lost my IT skills, my fashion sense and eventually my confidence. Now I’d prefer to clean a boardroom than present to one. It’s the only thing I feel competent at.