07/10/2014 09:27 BST | Updated 07/12/2014 05:59 GMT

The Accidental Cougar

When being maternal gets misconstrued

It started innocuously enough. After an abs session at the gym, I happened to fall into conversation with the new fitness coach, Tom. He asked me about my exercise routine and goals, I said I wanted to drink wine and eat chocolate guilt-free. I asked him what he did before joining our gym and he told me a bit about his career, including playing county rugby. He said he had to give it up because...and here I found myself uttering this deathless phrase:

"You don't want to ruin your beautiful face."

I don't know why I said it. It just came out! Of course, I had noticed that he was a total hunk of divinity, but very much in an "ooh, his mother must be proud" kind of way. I can honestly say when he mentioned the rugby thing that I went off into a reverie about my oldest son's (aged 6) very recent foray into this sport and was ratcheting through my various feelings on the subject - dreams of World Cup glory, fears of a smashed-up face - which led to my final comment. I can thus excuse what came out of my mouth, to myself. But Tom now backs away whenever he sees me coming. You see, I have become an accidental cougar.

Once I was a flirt; now I am a mother hen.

This was by no means an isolated incident. It all started when I had my first child.

Once you become a mother, you feel full of such emotion and power that sometimes it feels like you could mother the whole world. Mother to one, mother to all. Now I've had three, and am permanently around other people's children too, I can't keep my maternal manner at bay. In general, this ought to be good for society - offering a kind, interested and sympathetic face to the general public.

However, when it comes to males young enough to be my sons - at a stretch (I'm late-thirties) - it can backfire sometimes, as I've discovered. "Good for your muscles!" I'll call gaily to the young chap pushing the trolleys in the supermarket carpark. He nearly rams them into a car. "Oh, you look a bit tired today," I recently told one of the baristas at my favourite café, as if I were going to proceed to put him down for a nap. He said he was hungover; I asked whether he was out with mates, in a 'check he got home safe' type way. He seemed to construe this in an 'are you single?' type way and now I can't order my decaf cappuccino without ducking knowing smiles from him and his pals.

But I can rise above this. I know my intentions are pure. It's too late with Tom - if I tried to retract the "beautiful face" (still cringing) comment, it will just seem like I'm protesting too much. As long as I limit myself to transactional-based chat and keep my cheery commentary for my own children, I may yet shake off my reputation. Is it just me or do you ever find yourself being an Accidental Cougar?

See my blog Wry Mummy for more mummy-related humour.