The Choice Delusion

Yummy mummy; yes, I’ve used this phrase, although I prefer the south London version “nappy-valley” types, and yes, I wasn’t being entirely charitable at the time. I see them a lot, on Clapham Common and in Battersea Park, in groups, expensive baby-gear, good scooters, private-school uniforms on the older siblings. Heavens, for a brief period after my child’s birth, I might even have been mistaken for one of them!

Not lately, though. My son and I have for years sat alone on café patios, me content to make catty mental notes from behind my expensive latte, he gulping his overpriced pasta and sauce before disappearing to scoot round the bandstand with the rest. If the nappy-valleys ever break from their vocal self-absorption to look back at me, I am assumed to be a sad single-mother who shagged the builder in a drunken moment (not a million miles from truth, but that’s another story); a fairly common assumption about white mothers of unmistakably brown kids.

I was waiting just before home-time to buy a new book-bag a few weeks ago in our primary school office; it was I think the second day of the new school year; I and no doubt other parents were anxious not to be late for pick-up. In front of me at the office window were two yummy-mummy new reception parents, of the type rarely seen at our school, both monopolising the office staff with endless enquiries about school uniform; “you see he hates wearing short sleeves, or collars, can he wear a long sleeved T shirt instead? And what about shorts? And mac? And shoes, he likes his stripy ones  . . ?”

All of which info is available on the school website and numerous school newsletters. Meanwhile the clock ticked on towards three-thirty, and the queue of more typical (dark-skinned, council-estate) school parents built up behind us. Eventually I and several others aborted our mission and went to fetch our kids.

I believe our school is considered up-and-coming. More and more local parents in a position to choose may well choose it. Nothing wrong with that; on the contrary, these are just the sort of confident, go-getting parents our school and its PSA needs, right? Right. But my irritation, and I’m sure others’ , is about something deeper; it’s the complete lack of awareness of the extent of our privilege they (we?) tend to exhibit, even as we move amongst the less-favoured.

What does it mean to be us – metropolitan and fully able to afford it, in the way Rowan Davies describes? For clearly, our city is full of other parents; clearly not everyone with kids moves to Battersea, Primrose Hill or Putney! What I really can’t stand about the nappy valley types is their assumption that theirs is the only lifestyle that merits consideration at all.  The mother-apartheid now, and I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating, is not between those who work and those who stay-at-home. It’s between those who have choices, including about work, and those who don’t.

“It wasn’t an option! We had no choice but to go private!” is the shrill cry of many non-council-estate parents round here, after one horrified glance at all the brown faces in the local state playgrounds. No choice? They take choice, as a birth right, so much for granted, they don’t even know the meaning of the word.

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About marytuda

An accidental first time mum in her fifties reflects on all things maternal from position of perpetual outsider and prolonged state of shock. An urban odessy through parenthood plus from one who thought she'd never go there.
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