Louise Boyce charts the noise and chaos of “the Calpol years” to make fellow mothers laugh, but some opportunities for nuance are missed.
“Mummy, Mummy, watch!”
“When can we go home?”
“Mummy, Mummy, Mummy, watch!”
The noise and chaos of life with young children courses through Louise Boyce’s Mama Still Got It, which charts her experiences of what she calls “the Calpol years”. Boyce seeks to help mothers laugh and unwind after a long day, by sharing funny and relatable stories about her own long days with potty-training, Halloween costumes, and endless demands to “Mummy, watch!”
Boyce, a model and parenting influencer with over 450,000 Instagram followers, became popular via Instagram video sketches where she impersonates her children pestering her – these sketches struck a particular chord during the 2020-21 Covid lockdowns. She thus strives to counter the stereotypical mumfluencer mould, where many mothers present themselves as constantly poised and “perfect”, and her book continues in this vein.
Using the structure of the school year, Boyce gives a month-by-month account of life with her husband and their three children (aged roughly between two and ten, although the book zig-zags across memories from different years). We go from the September scramble of getting children to school on time, through to the August trenches of holiday flights with kids.
Boyce is adept at the exasperated humour that many mums rely on and this book did make me laugh, especially in its early chapters. When a fellow mum at the school gates in September politely asks her if she had a nice summer, she imagines launching into a speech that kicks off with: “No, it was a juggling, expensive mess and I don’t want to set foot in a Pizza Express for a good six months.”
Boyce also has a good eye for the details of parents’ lives, from exhaustedly picking peas off the floor after dinner, to desperately trying to stop toddlers playing with toilet brushes. She focuses on entertaining us and mostly steers clear of society’s poor treatment of mums, unlike other books on motherhood that have come out this year, such as Nell Frizzell’s Holding the Baby and Lucy Jones’ Matrescence. She seems aware that this is well-trodden ground elsewhere.
But it feels like a shame that the book mostly sticks to this tone – that of an anarchic sitcom where kids cause chaos, mums like Prosecco, and dads always find ways to be away/on the loo. The book can at times feel like it’s just hitting one note when, by contrast, family life contains many layers.
I found this particularly tricky with Boyce’s jokey descriptions of her husband, who always seems to be doing a 40-minute stint in the toilet, busy on his phone, or at the gym when she needs help with their children. Sure, it’s funny to start with…
But by the time the book hits Christmas and Boyce is doing all the festive work single-handed, and especially when the book hits March and her husband doesn’t help her to have a Mother’s Day lie-in, you start to wonder: Is this still funny? Isn’t this also a serious issue for both mothers and fathers? What deeper feelings do Boyce and her husband have about this imbalance, especially as they both have careers to pursue?
The book does have some more nuanced moments – and these work well. In one chapter, Boyce gets a rejection phone call for a modelling job while at a supermarket with her kids. She segues from funny anecdotes about family supermarket trips to talking about how models get sidelined if they have children. She explains how she started her blog, Mama Still Got It, as a stand against those who write off working mothers and dent their confidence.
The final chapter, written by her own mother, is also witty and moving at the same time.
I enjoyed this book. But, as I was reading, I often felt like there was a better book in there, just below the surface.
This book review is part of Workingmums.co.uk’s Summer Book Club. You can read some of our other reviews so far here and here.