E Jane Dickson: 'Conor pays attention to the radio, as there are clearly mother-baiting techniques to be learnt'

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The Independent Online

On the radio phone-in, a woman who is supposed to be commenting on abortion laws delivers an all-purpose rant against single mothers/older mothers/mothers who work/mothers who don't bake, many of whom, she suspects, are illegal immigrants.

On the radio phone-in, a woman who is supposed to be commenting on abortion laws delivers an all-purpose rant against single mothers/older mothers/mothers who work/mothers who don't bake, many of whom, she suspects, are illegal immigrants.

Since I qualify on almost every count, I am tempted to ring in with my favourite joke: how do you confuse a Daily Mail reader? Tell them asylum-seekers eat single mothers.

Since I am trying to draw a silhouette of Conor on a sheet of hardboard, I let it go. I expect there is a special place in Daily Mail hell for mothers who mutter and curse when forced to make costumes for National Book Day.

In celebration of this thrilling marketing event, schoolchildren across the country are required to turn up for school dressed as their favourite literary character. Clara and her best friend Elena have decided to go as Borrowers, which is great news, since Elena's mum is a kind and creative genius who whizzes up two professional-standard costumes before you can say "papier mâché". Conor, with blithe disregard for body type, is keen to go as Flat Stanley, which is why he is lying on said sheet of hardboard shouting while I trace his outline with a Magic Marker.

Because he is giggling and shouting "careful of my willy!" every time I attempt the tricky trouser part, he doesn't realise that I am shouting not at him, but at the woman on the radio. When the penny drops, he pays keen interest to the programme as there are clearly important mother-baiting techniques to be picked up.

"So, Mum," he says, as I threaten to nail him to the board if he doesn't stop wriggling. "What is an unmarried mother? Are you one because you un-married Dad?"

"Technically, that makes me a divorced mum," I explain (though I'm privately tickled by the semantic possibilities). "What the lady on the radio is getting so excited about is mums who have babies without ever having been married."

"Babies without being married?" splutters Con, like a Tory backbencher. "I didn't think it was possible. Are you sure?"

My assurances, clearly, do not meet the case. Con takes the matter to a higher authority and five minutes later, Clara appears, arms folded, in the doorway.

"If you can have babies even when you're not married, does that mean you're going to have one?" she asks me.

"No, darling," I tell her, pulling her on to my knee. "You don't need to worry about that. I have absolutely no plans for more babies."

"I wouldn't mind a baby," says Con, while Clara glowers at him. "Babies are nice. You make faces at them and they laugh."

"Like this," I say, making faces until both kids are helpless. "All the same, Mummy," says Clara, extricating herself, "you will try not to have a baby, won't you?"

An unequivocal answer is clearly important to her. "Absolutely," I say, wondering exactly when this role-reversal thing started. "Consider the matter dealt with."

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