Monday, 30 November 2009

My Guilty Pleasure

There are too many good topics to choose from this week from Josie's writing workshop at Sleep is For the Weak...but this is just a quick one. And it's a little bit pathetic and I can't believe that I am about to reveal it publicly.

My guilty pleasure. I'm not a soap addict, cannot bear reality TV, am driven mad by most day-time telly and dislike the television being on just for the sake of it.

BUT ssshhh, don't tell my husband: For the last couple of weeks, at 2pm I have been tuned into ITV3 for The Darling Buds of May re-runs. I have tried to analyse this. What is the appeal of a television series that was first broadcast in 1991? Am I aspiring to be Ma Larkin, continually producing children and simultaneously baking? I very much doubt it. I don't know what it is other than perhaps wanting to grab hold of a piece of the warmth from that fictitious household. But it certainly adds a glow to a dreary afternoon and has become my guilty secret.

I do try and ensure it coincides with a long feed for Gilby so that I can justify sitting in front of the television for this length during the day, but really, I am starting to worry about myself!

Saturday, 28 November 2009

What Spacial Awareness?

Oh the shame. To have to call my husband to the rescue like some pathetic damsel in distress, sobbing and snivelling in my own driveway.

Let me explain a little. My husband loves cars and works in the trade. I, on the other hand, don't really 'get' them. Beyond details like a decent stereo and being a nice colour, I couldn't really care less, as long as they get me where I want to go. They all look the same to me. I could probably tell a Mini from a Porsche, on a good day if pushed. So a car is just a car. But with the arrival of Gilby back in July, and now having to have two car seats as well as all the other accompanying 'stuff' (potty, pram, changing bag, etc.), things had got a little bit squashed in our old, er, 'silver' car.

So a few weeks ago, my husband brought home a seven-seater thing that looks a bit like a small bus and has these amazing slidy doors, so you can get children in and out however tight the parking space. I had a stronger positive reaction to it than I normally do to a vehicle, so Daddy took this as a good sign and promptly bought us this, er, 'green' one. It had one damaged panel from the previous owners and so he took it straight to the paint-shop and got it all straightened out.

Trouble is, it's a wee bit bigger than the last one. The same afternoon that he brought it back all perfectly repaired, I managed to scrape exactly the same panel on our gatepost. He was...a little bit cross. But we got over it with a little laugh and some jokes at my expense about poor spatial awareness.

On Friday morning our neighbours were parked in such a way that when I tried to turn the car round there was even less room than usual. I embarked upon something approximating a 57-point turn and somehow I got stuck, quite literally, on the gate post. I had cunningly managed to manoeuvre myself into a position whereby I couldn't move forwards or backwards without scraping the side and causing untold damage. I don't know how I managed to do this. Neither did my husband, when he arrived home from work in the middle of the day, at my blubbering behest to get me out of this predicament.

At least it was a different panel this time.

Friday, 27 November 2009

Things I'll Never Do Again

You know before it happens that parenting will involve sacrifices - financially, emotionally, physically. Things that I once took for granted like going to the pub, or spending one day of the weekend in my dressing grown watching entire box sets of television series: These I knew would be a thing of the past. But there are some other by-products of becoming a mum: strange things that I didn't anticipate being affected, but that I am now fairly convinced I will never try again.

Pre-motherhood I was happy to try most things: sky-diving, bungy-jumping, white-water-rafting, river-boarding; you named it, I would have given it a go.

Now with two very small people that I am responsible for, I have suddenly lost my derring-do. It no longer seems appealing to throw myself from a perfectly sound structure for the sake of bouncing up and down on the end of a large bungy cord. I was a keen recreational diver before Gertie and Gilby came along, and though we have been diving once since Gertie's arrival, I was a lot more cautious and risk aware than I ever was before.

So here, for the record, are some of the other lost activities:
  1. Roller coaster rides (I know they're perfectly safe, just no longer have any desire to do it).

  2. Taking my regulator out of my mouth for a photograph whilst scuba-diving (see photo).

  3. Diving from the top board at a swimming pool (as if).

  4. Rock-climbing (really used to enjoy this but ropes now look way too flimsy).

  5. Running for a bus (just a practical impossibility this one, with prams, bags, small people, etc.)

Thing is, I don't miss them - just wonder if that courage is temporarily displaced or gone forever!

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Blue Shoes

I am delighted to be responding to Josie's Writing Workshop prompts this week at Sleep is For the Weak, because here is someone inviting me to talk about shoes: A dangerous topic, since, like most women, I have a long and complex relationship with my footwear. The challenge is to identify shoes which somehow reflect your personality. I wonder how a pair of shoes that you choose to wear could not reveal something of you in someway...

These objets d'art are my current favourites.

Bright blue and always commented upon.

Saved for special occasions like Gilby's baptism and some summer weddings. But only with the dress that you can just about see in the picture that has the same electric blue tones.

So what exactly do they say about me? Poised, sophisticated, impossibly glamorous, a little bit showy but not afraid to make a statement, perhaps? I wish.

In fact what they say is 'bought really cheaply at TK Maxx, pretending to be something they're not, and the straps at the back need to be continually hoisted up when no one is looking.'

Just about sums it all up really.

I thank you.

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

What's in Santa's Sack?

This morning I asked my two and a half year old daughter what she would like Father Christmas to bring her. She thought for a moment and then (and this made my heart hurt) said that she would like him to come down the chimney with some nappies for Gilby (her four month old baby brother).

I know that times are hard in the current economic climate, but really!

Monday, 23 November 2009

Early Political Stance

It appears that, despite the government's recent controversial advertising campaign targeting children in the fight against global warming, I have failed to breed the next generation of eco-warrior!

The weekend saw us make our fortnightly trip to the local amenity tip to clear our accumulated recycling materials. The local council are good enough to collect cans and plastics one week and newspapers and magazines the following week, but in spite of my best efforts our household seems to produce much more than this, necessitating the extra trip. (Incidentally, they don't collect glass and we do seem to have the odd wine bottle to dispose of too.)

Anyway, what this means is that Gertie is familiar with the excursion and its associated boredom. She has to wait in the car since she can't reach to help while Mummy and Daddy feed the recycling bins. Her frustration is increased by the fact that we are usually on our way to somewhere far more interesting, so the tip becomes a symbol of her delayed pleasure. (I am building all this as an excuse to justify her reaction that I will share with you in a moment...)

This week's trip coincided with a sudden escalation in the frequency of the 'why' questions. The conversation went something like this:

"Why are we going to the tip?"
"Because we need to do the recycling."
"Why do we need to do the re-skykling?"
"So that some of the things we use can be turned into other things."
"Why do they need to be turned into ummer things?"
"Um, so that we the environment."
Short pause.
"Mummy, I don't want to save the enviro-men!"

I am desperately hoping that what she actually meant was that she would rather be elsewhere at that particular moment...

Friday, 20 November 2009

Weighty Issues

Earlier this week I had to visit the health visitor and the vet within the space of an hour. Both appointments followed a remarkably similar pattern and included my baby and the cat (Iggy) being weighed. Both, it seems, are doing fine.

So Gilbert is a healthy baby boy, hovering around the '75th percentile' and staying nicely on his curve. This apparently means that although he is above average weight we don't need to worry about anything. He is 16 weeks old now, and the contrast between this and his sister could not be marked.

She was born nearly two and a half pounds lighter, nearly two and a half years ago. The pregnancies were very similar (though I was much sicker second time around) and I put on approximately the same amount of weight during each. I have breastfed both, introducing a single bottle of formula at around the 14 week mark.

But first time round the health professionals would not leave me alone. Gertie remained on the '4th percentile' and they insisted that she was weighed weekly. I was constantly made to feel inadequate for the slow rate at which she gained her weight, and felt incredible pressure to stop breast-feeding in order to ensure that she got all that she needed.

In fact I did not do this but carried on feeding her myself until she was nearly 16 months, although I worried about her continuously for the first six months until she was also taking on some solids.

She remains around average height, but slightly below average weight, so a slim build. She has been very healthy during her short life so far, and I know that by the time she is in her teens she will thank me for her slender frame, and that all the anxiety will have been needless.

I have done nothing differently for the new baby: my diet is the same as it always was, he feeds a similar amount. And yet I am praised for his 'bonny' development. I have done nothing, as far as I can see, to influence this. And so it makes me a little bit cross. I have come to the conclusion that babies are just the size they are, and a new mum should not be made to feel terrible (and certainly not consider giving up breast-feeding) because they don't conform to a silly chart.

And the irony of the whole story really lies with the cat, I think: the vet was delighted with her condition and her weight.

"You're obviously doing a wonderful job of looking after her. She's in a tip-top state for her age."

Hmm. Right. I didn't bother to explain that Iggy rarely puts in an appearance at home during the summer; Though her food and water bowls go down and get refilled with regularity, her ladyship is entirely elusive. We occasionally catch the odd glimpse and are lucky if we manage to find her to flea her. I have no idea where she sleeps between April and October. But as soon as the weather turns cold and wet she plants herself in front of the fire and doesn't move from our hearth until March.

So she has only been back being 'looked after' for about a fortnight. Lucky, really, that we're doing such a good job...

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Any Old Iron

The Ironing Monologue:

What sort of time d'you call this? Any sane person would have done this the night before, you know, when the kids were asleep. It's called 'prior planning'. Shirt for Daddy and dress for Gertie. It would be so much easier if you weren't trying to make breakfast at the same time. That way marmite might not appear on one or both items. Oh - you're not putting me away just yet. There must be more to come.

A short while later.

Do stop smiling so smugly; they're only shirts. You've managed a grand total of four - that's not even a week's worth. And anyway, everyone but you knows that you should start with the collar and then the yoke. Do you even know what a yoke is? Some starch would be nice. I suppose the nozzle's still blocked and you've neglected to do anything about it. Still, you seem to have your own 'unique' technique, don't you? Draping a sleeve in the cat-litter: all part of the process.

And don't pretend you know what you're doing with that dial. Don't you think it's about time you added some water? Some of us are a little bit thirsty here, particularly with the way you use the 'steam' setting so unpredictably.

Tut. Tut. Was that a little swear word I heard? Don't you know why I've left that nasty black mark on the front? It's because you don't clean me. There. Serves you right.

What's that coming out now? Your jeans. That must mean that you haven't given them enough time to dry. Again. No other reason I would see them, is there? It's not really my job, is it? The waistband will still be damp after and you'll only regret it later when you have a red itchy mark around that roll that passes for a tummy. Don't you have anything else to wear?

Blimey: tea cloths too. That's a rarity. Your mother must be coming over. That explains the pathetic attempt to impersonate a domestic goddess.

You're fooling no-one, especially not her.

This is my second attempt at the writing workshop, courtesy of Josie at Sleep is for the Weak. I have opted to imagine that a familiar household object is self-aware and conscious, and have written a short monologue from the point of view of my iron. We don't have the best relationship: I have only been blogging for just over a month, but ironing has already come up on several occasions during that short space of time so it seemed appropriate!

Sunday, 15 November 2009

Lazing on a Sunday Afternoon

I know this photograph doesn't look like much, but it depicts something truly momentous. Something that is happening right now, post lunch on Sunday afternoon. Something that has happened for only the third time since Gilby's birth in July. Something rare and remarkable when one is never very far from the madding crowd: BOTH CHILDREN ARE ASLEEP At The Same Time.

Given Gertie's newfound independence, you will not be surprised to know that despite having only just reached the tender age of two-and-a-half she gave up having a day sleep some time ago. She can be persuaded to have a short nap after lunch, on occasion, when something really special is happening later in the afternoon and she knows that she doesn't want to be tired for it.

But today is just an ordinary Sunday afternoon. I was downstairs giving Gilby a feed, knowing that he would probably drop off to sleep shortly afterwards and that would give Gertie and I some quality time together. Daddy works on a Sunday and so she had been promised painting and puzzles.

Upstairs, things had gone ominously quiet. The sort of quiet that precedes the destruction of a prized lipstick, or will find entire contents of drawers emptied out into the middle of rooms - that sort of quiet. But no, madam had simply popped into Gilby's room and decided to have a little kip on the rug.

So there we are. And now - I have no idea what to do with myself! I feel as though I should really make the most of this rare opportunity. What am I doing writing this post? I could, doing more housework...or something.

Friday, 13 November 2009

The Battle of Pyjama

There have been a few developments since Wednesday's declaration of a war of independence, and a subsequent escalation of the Battle of Pyjama.

Since Gertie can now dress and undress herself with consummate ease(ish), getting ready for bed poses no problem. The trouble is that that state can just as quickly be reversed.

This evening, whilst Gilby was going for his usual evening feeding frenzy and Gertie was happily ensconced in front of the bedtime hour, Miss I-Don't-Need-Your-Help-Cos-I-Can-Do-Everything-All-By-MySELF decided that she could just as easily get out of her pyjamas. Powerless to stop her with the baby pinned to my breast, I had to simply look on.

After performing a deft strip, she ran around the living room in circles gleefully shouting at the top of her voice: "I'm a Nunga-Punga; I'm a Nunga-Punga". (This is a long-standing family word for 'naked'.) We use it generally as an adjective, but Gertie seems to have developed it into a proper noun. The way she says it suggests that whilst in this state she has some impressive powers, like she is declaring "I'm a Ninja, I'm a Ninja."

Nothing could persuade her back into her pyjamas, and so she conducted her nightly 'yogo' moves in front of Waybuloo in her birthday suit. As she takes this part of the evening ritual very seriously indeed, performing naked had the effect of somehow giving it a further mystical dimension.

Thankfully, as the bedtime hour progressed and we were earnestly guessing whether we would be travelling by Ninky Nonk or Pinky Ponk she decided that she was a 'little bit chilly' and back on went the pyjamas. I am very pleased as Daddy chose this moment to walk through the door. A few minutes earlier and things might have looked very peculiar indeed.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Surplus to requirements

I knew that motherhood would be a gradual process of letting go; I just didn't realise it would happen by the tender age of two and a half.

Gertie, who until today has needed me to do or at least to supervise and support with all sorts of jobs - like wiping her bottom, brushing her teeth, wiping her nose, doing up her laces, helping her to get dressed - has suddenly decided that she can do everything 'all by mySELF'.

I came to collect her from nursery this afternoon and she told me that she needed to go to the toilet before we left. "Fine," I said, putting Gilby's car-seat down and preparing to go in and help.

"No mummy, I don't need you," she informed me matter-of-factly, locking the door firmly behind her. I peered over the top of the cubicle to see her cope admirably with the task, but she happened to glance up, and caught me.

"No mummy, don't look!" she commanded.

"Er, right." After a minute or two, I heard the bolt draw back and out she came, head held high.

After supper I went to fetch her pyjamas, to discover that she had selected different ones and was already busily getting ready for bed. The pyjama bottoms did take a few attempts to get right, and it was very funny watching her put her head to the bottom of them to try and figure out why her foot hadn't come out, but after her earlier statement of independence I was loathe to get involved.

So, after a mere thirty months, it appears that I am largely redundant.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

The 'Hands-Free' Kit

I love to carry Gilby round in a sling. It is a very rustic affair, in bleached cotton, given to me by a friend. I don't know the make but it looks like something that women in some Lesser-Economically-Developed-Countries might sport. It is a brilliant device though, and has affectionately become known as my 'hands free kit'. I can do virtually anything (including blogging) whilst Gilby is nestled in there.

It does have one major drawback, however: It can look, from a casual glance, as though I have sustained a rather nasty injury and am nursing a broken arm rather than a very small child. I was attending a church service a few weeks ago and a concerned parishioner cornered me on the way out.

"Oh dear," he murmured. "That does look serious. How on earth did you do that?"

Glancing down at my baby of only a few weeks old, I didn't really have the heart to explain. Frankly, it was going to go down a whole road that I wasn't prepared to explore with a complete stranger...

Saturday, 7 November 2009

When I was a baby...

Little Gertie is preoccupied with all the things that Gilby does that she used to do when she was a baby. She is fascinated by breast-feeding and acknowledges sagely that this is the way she used to get her milk. (She also likes to hitch her dress up to feed her doll when we are out and about, but that is another story.)

All the toys and equipment that have come down from the loft for Gilby she knows that she used to use, and even if we have bought something new we have to pretend that it was hers first.

She also loved the idea of my 'baby tummy', and because some of the other mums at nursery are also expecting or have just had babies, this idea is being reinforced all the time. So she is aware that she too came from my tummy, and confidently pronounced that it 'tickled' when she came out of there. Well, if that is what she would like to believe...

But I did have to put my foot down when Gertie and Gilby were having a bath together a little while ago and she pointed to a certain part of his anatomy. "Mummy, I used to have a willy when I was a little baby, didn't I?"

Friday, 6 November 2009

Life in Fast forward

I went into work yesterday. I'm not due to return until mid January, but it was one of my 10 'KIT' (Keeping In Touch) days. I have another 11 weeks at home, but the time seems to be just whizzing by. Life is in a permanent state of fast-forward. He is only 15 weeks old, but where has my newborn baby gone?

So the work visit was painful in all sorts of ways. I was there for three hours and was overwhelmed by the level of stress and workload; most people were too busy to stop and talk (the bells, the bells: I work in a school) and after a recent OFSTED inspection pressures have been piled on.

It was not an attractive picture, and I had to pretend that I really cared about this stuff when all I could think about was my husband, at home with both children for maybe only the third time. What scenes would I come home to? Had I expressed enough milk for Gilby? Would the cat have been fed?

I am so not ready to go back. After Gertie, I took eight months off, and by the end of that time I was perfectly prepared to return. I found being at home incredibly frustrating at times, couldn't cope with analysing my day and realising that the chief achievement had been managing to iron three work-shirts for my husband. I remember phoning him at work one day and making him come home because the baby was crying and I didn't know what else to do. I couldn't bear the general, overwhelming responsibility for another tiny human being twenty-four hours a day.

I wanted to generate some sort of normality and get the old 'me' back in any way I could, and the obvious way was to go back out to work and even being in a high-pressure job seemed so much easier than being at home all day.

Worse was going out to any number of activities - baby massage, baby yoga, baby music, baby swimming, baby poker (I have made this last one up, but you get the idea). The level of competition between mums was frightening and off-putting. This time round we still do many of those things, but it is the ones that I enjoy as opposed to the ones that I think I ought to be doing, and we don't really care what anyone else thinks!

But this time round something else has happened too. I have embraced the role. Gertie is (mostly) so much more fun to be with now that she is a proper little person who does funny stuff, and being at home with two really tests my skills of organisation and patience. Ironing a few shirts is easy; I can do it whilst singing nursery rhymes to Gertie and nursing Gilby in the sling and cooking supper. Ok, so meltdown is also still a regular feature (last Sunday, for instance), but it is all worthwhile.

So, for once, I am not looking forward to the new year when it will all end.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

No birthday cake

I am very grateful to Josie at Sleep is for the Weak for providing the inspiration for this post on loss. This is my first attempt at the Writing Workshop, so here goes:

Can you feel loss for someone you have never known?

November 3rd was her birthday, so an observer from the windmill late in the afternoon would have seen in outline against the lonely horizon this: a woman struggling in the wind and rain with a trug of planted flowers over her left arm and a bouquet of flowers in that same hand; a heavier load weighing down the other. In fact, a car seat, containing a 15 week old baby boy. Behind, a tired little girl, running every few steps to keep apace.

The watcher would have witnessed the strange convoy heading along the flagstone path past the church and then turning right onto the grass and across a line of graves.

What that spectator could not guess is that none of the party have ever met the woman at whose grave they now lay flowers.

For that woman is my mother-in-law, who died 5 years before I met her son, and 11 years before we married. A woman who never got to know of even the possibility of the existence of her two, beautiful grandchildren.

Rosemary - for remembrance - is in the bouquet. An irony, since none of us remember. And the flowers are all pink, for this small thing I know about her: she loved pink.

And Gertie, who has not even begun to formulate a concept of mortality, and knows that we are leaving flowers because it is a birthday, asks,
"Why doesn't Grandma Janey have birthday cake, mummy?"

And I can't explain, but feel an inexplicable loss. For this woman that I never knew, whose son I know so intimately: a mother who never got to see her own children grown and married and happy. And I look at her grandchildren and hope that I will be granted this grace.

Monday, 2 November 2009

Pinchy Boy

We didn't have our happiest ever Sunday yesterday.

For Gertie, the terrible twos (which I have been fervently denying the existence of for the last six months) have finally kicked in.

At breakfast, she refused to drink from her cup as it was the wrong one. It was right the day before, so this was bewildering. Then there were tears because she didn't want the raisins 'hidden' in her cereal. (This is usually a fun game that causes plenty of giggles.) The banana got mashed into the 'cup of wrong' and smeared over table and face while I popped into the next room to give Gilby a feed. I came back in to carnage over the freshly washed floor. What has happened to her oft-commented-upon 'astonishingly good toddler table manners'?

Then there were two tantrums in public places (one of the prostrate-on-the-floor-kicking-and-refusing-to-move-variety), followed by a poo in the knickers (I have proudly been telling everyone how quickly and how well Gertie has potty-trained) but worst of all was the new nickname she has designed, completely independently, for her baby brother. We like nicknames in our family, and all have one. But Gilby's is NOT and NEVER has been, 'Pinchy Boy'.

And you can probably imagine the associated actions that come with the name. And yes, his pudgy cheeks do look invitingly 'pinchy', but surely not to a two-year-old? This is a worrying development as she has previously been very affectionate towards the new arrival.

She has gone to nursery this morning, giving everyone time to regroup, and Gilby's 'pinchy-boy' cheeks some much-needed healing time.

Sunday, 1 November 2009

S.A.D: Supermarket Affective Disorder

I take in a happy, giggling child to the supermarket and inevitably leave with a red-faced screaming toddler. Equally, I have to steel myself for the trip; I skip in nonchalantly but leave on the verge of a migraine.

Now my question is why? Gertie is generally well-behaved and helpful, and Gilby will often sleep through the whole process, so it has nothing to do with the children being difficult. What exactly happens then, between the vegetable aisle and the checkout?

I have tried to analyse the experience. My mood takes a dive with the initial battle for a parking space. I don't even bother with the parent and child parking: those sacred spots are evidently reserved for more divine beings.

And then I put it down to a combination of terrible acoustics that amplify and simultaneously muffle the sound of other screaming toddlers, the unnatural headache-inducing lighting, and the trolley rage caused by overcrowding in too-narrow aisles.

Finally, and this is the clincher - the dispute over the special offer prominently displayed (and probably prompting a spontaneous purchase) that then doesn't materialise when you get to the till.

Depending on which supermarket we are in (and I change regularly in the vain hope that things may be better elsewhere) this results in either a 'supervisor to checkout 3' or another queue at customer services. Is it worth it for the 87p saving, I have to ask myself. "Yes," I screech back internally, 'Or they have won"!

Somehow all these things must impact on Gertie too, so that for no discernable reason she is in her own two-year-old rage by the end. I will monitor the age at which it seems to effect Gilbert. Or perhaps it is a gender-thing: my husband seems far less prone to Supermarket-Affected-Disorder.

Thank goodness for online grocery shopping. Worth every single penny, I say.