Browsing through the Sunday papers, I was musing over the insidious and pervasive pressure on Parents these days, to rise to the challenge of breeding the most beautiful, multi-talented and socially adept citizens of tomorrow. The pressure begins "in utero", as the expectant Mother is supposed to retain her size 6 figure throughout gestation, by living on edame beans and skinny non- caff lattes, whilst remaining at work until 40 plus weeks, with Mozart on ipod, strapped to her belly and Gina Ford on her spreadsheets.
Once the Child rearing project has commenced (either via elective non vagina-threatening C section at 38 weeks, or water birth with self hypnosis) the pressure continues to mount. Disciples of Ford will have their progeny sleeping through the night on 3oz of breast milk expressed whilst simultaneously organizing a years' worth of NCT coffee mornings/baby massage appointments/Nursery viewings .
The other mere mortals among us however, will be staggering around in our pajamas at eleven in the morning, knocking over piles of unopened post and leaving soggy breast pads lying about, like S.O.S missives to lost sanity.
But the Competitive mother will have vaulted back into her Boden Capri pants and will have hot- footed it to Baby Yoga, in a cloud of post natal smugness and Cath Kidston co ordination.
I remember quite vividly sitting in a baby clinic in south London with my son in his pram ,watching one of these Uber Mothers regaling the Health Visitor, with how clever little Oscar, could now roll over, smile and hold his head up at a mere three months old. My own son, however resembled little more than a rosy, weetabix- encrusted wittchity grub who would occasionally give me windy boss- eyed grins!
But that was only the beginning. For some women it seems, are driven by some inner demon to "Out Mother" every woman within a 20 mile radius?
At a coffee morning in a smart Brixton town house, as I stared bleary-eyed into a cup of strong tea (probably why my baby didn't sleep through the night, caffeine gets into the breast milk you know) the hostess coaxed her daughter Alana away from the Duplo, with an organic bread stick and thereafter got her daughter to perform her impressive repertoire of the Alphabet, Numbers up to one hundred and a nursery rhyme in Mandarin. As we sat agog, I noticed out of the corner of my eye that my son, not wishing to be outdone by his little playmate, had decided to run his tongue along the length the skirting board, up and over the chrome radiator paying particular attention to each groove, down the other side, round the BT phone socket and out the door into the sea- grassed lobby. His feat of endurance seemed to pale into insignificance in comparison to my Hostess's tiny progeny, so I kept quiet.
But beware, for now the competition steps up a pace as children reach school age. Having secured a place, by fair means or foul, at a catchment school with the an Outstanding OFSTED; the Competitive Mother really moves the goalposts ,catching out the complacent and rattling the nerve of even the most laid-back and self assured parent on the Playground.
Not even the smallest detail is overlooked from their child's Sigg water flask (no gender-bending phalates) to the recycled, bamboo t shirt in their child's PE kit. Every single second of the day is mapped out with military precision, in order to maximize productivity.
I used to screech to a halt in the school car park each morning, with my son bouncing around in the back of the car still clutching his breakfast toast and wearing his school tie Karate Kid style, around his shocking, unbrushed bed head. Every day, without fail, I would park next to the Mercedes containing the Yummy Mummy of my son's little classmate. Mother and daughter would be passing the time with Flashcards or Musical Times Tables on the CD player, waiting for the school bell to ring and offering sympathetic glances in my direction, as I rummaged frantically in the foot well of the car for the elusive missing school shoe, that my son would have kicked into the front of the car after escaping from his Britax car seat's five-point harness, like an infant Houdini!
But, competitive or not; every Parent hopes in their heart of hearts, that their child will have one special talent that makes them stand out amidst their peers. The early infant contenders wielding Suzuki violins, Kumon Maths certificates and swimming medals may have had a head start, but with six years of Primary school and the world debt spent on out -of -school activities, Parents always hope that their child will show some kind of sporting, artistic or intellectual ability that can be bragged about over lunch with other mothers or at the gym. However for those of us whose offspring's main talents lie in the field of excessive nose picking, Pokemon obsession and repetitive Simpsons impressions it can be a wilderness out there.
A friend recalled her feelings of inadequacy upon receiving a round robin letter inside a Christmas card from a friend . The letter skimmed briefly and insincerely over Best Wishes for the Holiday Season, before launching into a full- scale catalogue of their children's sporting and academic achievements. It left the reader in no doubt, as to the Olympic and Ox bridge potential of the couple's two children. Bored by his mother's absorption in the letter, my friend's son filled his mouth to overflowing with salad leaves so they hung down his chin like a cellulose beard, before clamoring " Mummy! Mummy! Mummy! MUMMY!! Look I can chew like a cow" as my friend looked on in resignation.
Whether it is the sweatband -wearing, Nike-clad Coach Dad on the field at Sports Day, or the Mother with a Carlucci picnic at a cricket match; the child whose Father emailed a Russian Space Station for the Year 2 project or the child who went to Norway to "really understand" icebergs in Geography; there is an impossible standard that most of us will fail to meet. Critically, the Wise and the Good, will understand the need to shield our children from any disappointment that we may feel regarding their accomplishments, for the sake of our children's precious self esteem. But there will always be the Parents who feel the need to fulfill their own frustrated ambitions through their children by ricocheting their offspring between tennis club and ballet lessons. How many though, whilst wallowing in the satisfaction of having plied their children with every opportunity to excel, will have completely failed to notice the tiny pearls of genius that their children might have been born with? Talents that never even required a standing order or eight months on a waiting list? Sometimes to lack ambition but to have strong belief and a sense of wonder in your child as in individual, is all that is needed. Parenting is for People, not for Players.