Thursday, 5 November 2015

A Pair of Pink Trainers: Thoughts on Family, Fertility and Fitting In

I had a pair of pink vinyl trainers, once. A university student during an amazing era of dance music and clubbing, I really wanted to be a part of it. I didn't always like the music. The drugs made me messy and panicky after a bit. But it was happening, my peers were part of it, I embraced it.

So I bought this pair of pink trainers. From Oxford Street in London. I think they were limited edition, imported from the USA. They were amazing. But you know what?

They didn't fit.

Obviously that works as a metaphor, as culturally they weren't the right fit for me, like staying up late or loudly socialising (I could have been a part of the choir, the Chapel, I realise now, but that wasn't a right fit at the time either.)

But I mean, they didn't physically fit.

I wanted to have this pair of pink vinyl Converse trainers so badly; they symbolised the times for me. With my cute little plaits, original Adidas tracksuit top and flared Top Shop jeans I like to think I looked on trend. (This reminds me that I wore my Dad's big black fluffy 70's coat at this time, too. Oh I looked the bomb with a cigarette in my mouth. Or not. ) In the college bar and at parties, I looked the part. Or thought I did. And I so wanted these fancy trainers, that squeaked when I walked, that I spent a lot of money on them - even though they didn't come in my size!

They were always a little too big. So, if we're talking in metaphors here, it was the opposite of being too big for my boots. My shoes were too big for me. But it was a time of style over substance. Marlboro Lights. Tarantino films. Trainspotting. Good times. I found a lot that was good, and real, to hang on to. But I was always a little out of sync. Physically and metaphorically.

Twenty years on, I really feel for the young adult I was starting to become during those times. The things I thought I had to do, be, and of course wear, to enjoy myself. As someone who has never tried to lose weight by dieting, perhaps it's the equivalent of trying to lose a dress size; to fit the way you look to the way you think looks best to the world around you.

Now I'm forty, I've reclaimed a style of my own that's evolved over the last decade - I love what I wear, and it works for me. I don't even worry about being out of sync with the stylistic and cultural zeitgeist, because I'm past that. But it's funny, as yet another person today asked how I cope with having four children - my shoes are still out of step. I'm largely surrounded by families with two children or less. I think perhaps it shouldn't make a difference, but realistically, it does.

Not just practically, but that I made a conscious decision to have a 'larger' family - that I use and have used a fertility awareness method to both become and avoid becoming pregnant, because that is my moral, ethical and religious outlook. It's unusual amongst my peers, the people I was educated with, and the parents I know from the playground. And interestingly, it's out of step with the people with whom I worship. Although I feel that the Anglican setting I belong to is quite catholic, it's definitely not Catholic with a capital C. The only time I have seen another family of four in church is when I went to an ecumenical service at the Roman Catholic Church in our town.

I've stopped taking all of the children at once to our church because I find it too difficult to manage, rather than the fact that we stick out like a sore thumb - but at Christmas and Easter and other times we go as a whole family, we do! I don't think we are a talking point in particularly, and I would like to be a positive role model for having more than the average number of children; although, I probably do so badly trying to manage them that would never happen! But this doesn't cause me worry or concern; I just feel slightly out of kilter.

On the radio yesterday, however, I heard a debate about China's changing its policy to 'allow' couples to have more than one child, and I could literally feel my world grinding to a halt and my stomach start to churn. One of the participants was demanding that all people need is educating to see that having one or two children is enough, and the world would be a better place. A lot of economic, ethical and even moral arguments for population control were wheeled out and those who supported the Chinese government's position literally refused to see anyone else's point of view. I literally cannot comprehend this blinkered attitude. I understand all the rational arguments for limiting population size, and don't seek to dismiss them or nullify them. It's just that actually, humanly and spiritually, I feel that they not only destroy personal autonomy and choice (however 'selfish' these choices may be or are perceived to be), but equate to a political power assuming that they are greater than a natural one. I personally see the way the universe works in a spiritual way, but even if one doesn't - having another human being in control of your fertility doesn't sit right with me.

(My brother-in-law, his wife and children currently live and work in China. Our family might go and visit them in 2017. I suspect it may feel a little like wearing the wrong pair of shoes.)

I wonder what ever happened to that pair of pink trainers. And the girl that wore them. I don't mourn for them, though; I celebrate the opportunities they had. But I am thankful for the person that I have been allowed to become; the family I been allowed to have; and the constant process of personal change I am encouraged to undergo, as a person, as a political subject, and as a child of God.

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