How do you read your news in the morning? Do you scan down the headlines, looking for what’s important? Do you gravely read the articles matter, even if they’re boring as hell? Or are you like me, heading straight to the opinion section to alight on something trivial yet annoying to set you up for the day? (Tip: start with the Guardian online, and if all else fails, work your way right down to Femail.)
This morning I didn’t need to look far for my morning grump. Over in the Guardian Hannah Betts is writing about the “Peter Pan Generation”, aka “Generation X-ers”, people whom she describes as “the true squeezed middle”. It’s yet another of those pieces which rants about the previous generation, the baby boomers, having enjoyed unprecedented privilege before pulling up the ladder behind them. Betts has got a point, certainly. Still, like her, I was born in the 1970s and I don’t think our generation have had it all that bad, certainly not as bad as young people today. Not only was a university education still free in the early 1990s, but we’d been raised in the age of Ross burgers, Supermousse and Cheggers Plays Pop. Looked at from this perspective, we weren’t really all that deprived.
Anyhow, Betts feels extra hard done by because the older generation see women such as her – “single, childfree and mortgage-less” – as having failed to grow up and take on serious responsibilities, hence the reference to Peter Pan. I can see where she’s coming from. I don’t think it’s anyone’s business to judge a person on what “responsibilities” they have or haven’t taken on. Children are not the be all and end all in proving one’s mettle as a serious adult (like most parents, I’m still waiting for me to grow up, too). However, Betts then goes on to stretch the Peter Pan metaphor a little too far:
[...] the notion of the Peter Pan Generation holds a specific resonance for women of my age. A quarter of us will not breed, the figure rising to half of those with degree-level education. If we are choosing to be Peter Pans, it is because we do not seek to be so many Wendys. I would rather have an “infantilised” life full of narrative, comradeship and adventure than Wendy’s plodding existence of mothering, drudgery and domestic confinement. Seen in this context, Neverland provides not a feckless, but a liberational narrative, in which swashbuckling boasts greater appeal than shadow sewing.
Hmph. As one who has “bred”, my immediate response to this is fuck off. What makes you so sodding exciting?
I rather resent the idea of a mother’s life being reduced to “drudgery and domestic confinement”, set against the apparent “adventure” and “swashbuckling” of the childfree. I mean, give me a break. Yes, my life may not be “full of narrative” right this minute (whatever that means) – and yes, the key event for this week may be my youngest starting potty training – but I am really struggling to see how much more thrilling my life would be if I were writing moany articles for the Guardian (as opposed to, um, writing moany posts for my blog).
I don’t wish to sound like some pissed mum at a wedding, getting up to dance in order to “show the young ‘uns a thing or two”. On the contrary, I’m not under any illusions about how exciting I am beneath the mummy disguise. It’s just that neither am I under any illusions about how exciting I was before I had kids, which is “not very”. Caring for children does limit what you can do and achieve, but not that much. Let’s not get carried away. We wouldn’t all be superheroes if it weren’t for those pesky kids.
When I was pregnant with my first child, every weekend I’d think “quick! I’d better do all those things I won’t be able to do once the little one arrives!” But then I never had the time, nor the money, nor indeed the inclination. Or else whatever it was I wanted to “get out of the way” just wasn’t the done thing if one was with child (i.e. smoke and drink for Britain – anyhow, I’d been trying to get that one “out of the way” for years).
Certainly, if I look back to my early twenties – i.e. before I met my partner – I had the kind of lifestyle which, if you are a Hollywood starlet, Closer would describe as being “out of control”. As I wasn’t a Hollywood starlet, it can only be described as “being pissed most of the time and shagging around”. You can’t (or at least shouldn’t) do this if you have kids in tow. Even so, while I’m not going to say I look back on this time with horror and shame – it was quite good fun, really – I wouldn’t consider it a major achievement. It wasn’t really much of an “adventure”. It was just stuff I did because I didn’t have anyone else to consider.
I don’t know – perhaps I’m judging too much by my own standards. Perhaps the life of Betts and others like her really is much better than mine was pre-children. Perhaps she is out swashbuckling every weekend. It could be that in an age of choice, those of us who become parents do so because we’re boring sods anyhow. Still, as a woman and a mother, I rather dislike the description of an existence such as mine as “plodding”. It just really isn’t that bad! Well, anyhow, I’m off to Sainsbury’s to buy milk, bread and more age 2–3 underpants. See, that’s a “liberational narrative” in itself.