I can’t bring myself to say it. It’s a word that has such cringe-worthy, mildly naff connotations.
There she is. There is absolutely no way of bringing up this word without glossy magazine covers spouting ’10 confidence-boosting tips’ or the worse into my lethargic grey matter. It’s been cursed with the female-focused media wand of naffness and subsequently it’s a sad, sorry collection of letters that no one wants to go near – other than ever-patient life coaches who try to freshen it up with a jazzy logo and promises of non-soggy cornflakes in the cereal bowl of your mind.
It’s, in essence, the coffee cream in a brimming box of Quality Street.
But it’s at the heart of everything I’m trying to imprint on my three-year-old daughter, Mae. Confidence is the clunky old Dickensian key that opens up all those doors of possibility – avenues that could lead anywhere; we’re currently on ‘sandwich maker’. Without it, she’s left with a limp, worn piece of sandpaper and the promise of great things on the other side of that heavy oaken door. “Just sand away poppet and you might get through!”
No, confidence needs the mother of all re-brands. It’s the heart of everything I want Mae to hold close as she grows into a wonderful buttoned-up-to-the-eyeballs woman. A woman who will never think about sniffing poppers and will only edge into boyfriend territory aged 21 when she’s fully qualified to sort the keepers from the twats.
(If my teenage years are anything to go by, she’ll have shacked up with Dean from Abbey National at 16 spouting guff like: “sex is just, like, natural. You [Mum] need to chill out about this stuff. It’s nature.”)
But how do you ‘teach’ confidence? It’s not exactly on par with the old ABC’s and where the hell is Sesame Street on all this? Big Bird it’s time to stop flapping and fly my bombastic feathery friend.
I recently gave up on trying to Wind The Bobbin Up and asked Mae if she’d like to sing her own song. She refused the first 18 times (as any sound-of-mind human might) when I requested this bespoke jig; perhaps wondering if, once again, I’d lost my maternal mind and if I even knew what a bobbin was.
But last night we had a musical breakthrough – on par with Susan Boyle chirping up on Britain’s Got Talent. Mae unveiled a song about ‘Stripey Stripes The Angry Stinky Poo Zebra’. It was part rap, part nursery rhyme with a hint of the Paw Patrol theme tune.
The song went wonderfully off-piste. It was pre-bathtime and she abandoned those daycare-ravaged threads with wild abandon and started bouncing about baby butt naked rap rhymin’ away until, of course, she had a catastrophic collision with a rather angular toilet cleaning brush.
This all led to inconsolable wailing and it felt like Stripey Stripes The Angry Stinky Poo Zebra was no more; just another quashed flatulent zebra dream.
But there it is; that’s the juncture where the C word comes into it’s own. When you’ve had a massive run-in with some grim bog cleaning equipment and find yourself alone (hopefully not naked) on the bathroom floor thinking you were, perhaps, stupid for singing from another song sheet.
It’s that shame-drenched moment when you want the bobbin safely wound up; you seek solace in the wheels on the bus going round and round, and you really do want to row row row your boat gently down the stream.
That’s when confidence steps up to the life challenge. It’s not chatting with the bon viveur of Hugh Huntingdon Whittingstall, it’s not wearing a jazzy swan-inspired frock a la Bjork, it’s not standing on a stage delighting the crowds with your surprising package in the stage adaptation of Equus (thanks Daniel Radcliffe, quite the Harry Potter U-turn). It’s certainly not Theresa May’s affinity with a leopard print LK Bennet pump.
It’s popping the toilet cleaning brush back into position, it’s drying yourself (and tears) off, it’s remembering where you were pre-catastrophic slippage and it’s grabbing that song sheet – your song sheet – and continuing to sing horribly out of tune to the beat of your own drum.
It took two hours to get Mae confidently singing that Stripey dit once more; it has taken me weeks to bring myself back from the darkest of brinks. But without a peak there is no trough and without confidence, you are left only with a limp piece of sandpaper and a heavy oaken door.
For me, it’s the key to true girl power. And that’s what I really, really want for Mae.
Photo: Miles Aldridge