Thursday, 31 December 2009

We All Really Needed That

Whilst the festive period played havoc with Gertie's sleeping patterns, Gilby found the departure from normal routine similarly disruptive.

We stayed with family for Christmas night and Boxing Day night and he and his sister slept in the same room which doesn't usually happen at home.

So different place, different set-up, travel cot, lots of noise, and no routine as Mum tried to 'go with the flow', all led to a rapid disintegration of the night time experience for all concerned.

Sometimes he wakes up once, often twice and occasionally three times, so nights are not brilliant anyway; but on the upside he goes down to sleep really easily at 7pm with no fuss and goes straight back to sleep after each feed.

Not over the festive period though. He turned into some strange version of my baby that I suddenly didn't know: crying every time I tried to put him in the cot, waking up much more often and refusing to go down happily after a feed.

This was complicated by the fact that I was desperately trying to prevent him from waking his older sister, sleeping in the cot beside him, so I couldn't leave him to cry.

Anyway, Christmas night was bad. We didn't have longer than two hours between feeds at any point and sleep deprivation coupled with a small hangover (or large, for my husband) was not a recipe for tranquility.

Boxing Day night did not start well, and after agreeing that Daddy would give Gilby a formula bottle at next waking to see if that would encourage him to sleep a little longer, we both fell very soundly and gratefully to sleep, utterly exhausted.

Gilby duly awoke some time later and Daddy did his duty. I looked at my watch and whispered, "You'll never guess what: it's five to four! He's gone for a whole six hours!"

"Brilliant!" he whispered back sleepily in the darkness, "We all really needed that!"

Gilby woke again and I leapt up to breast-feed him thinking it must now be early morning. But no, bizarrely, three o'clock pointed the hands on the dial of my watch. How could that be? Unless I had misread the earlier time: it must have been twenty past eleven, not five to four. So he (and we) would have been asleep for a whole hour and a bit before that first feed, not the six hours we thought we'd had.

Marvellous. Yes, Daddy, we all really needed that.

Monday, 28 December 2009

Sleep is for the Drunk

"Christmas time, mistletoe and wine,
Children staying up past bedtime..."

Amidst the fun, fine food, Father Christmas and frivolity, Gertie was a little sleep-deprived over the festive period. Life was just too exciting to have a nap during the day; why, she might have missed something important like the opportunity to open another present. Waking up early was obviously par for the course, likewise going to bed late.

Her tiredness manifests itself in the usual ways: squealing and lots of high-pitched noises, increased likelihood of bumps and scrapes and tumbles. A corresponding reduction in pain threshold resulting in frequent tears. More tantrums and irrational behaviour (like the bread roll that was flung violently across the table at a party yesterday because Daddy had innocently cut it in half and Gertie didn't want a 'broken' one.)

But when she is really, really, really tired she moves beyond these tell-tale signs into a whole other zone.

Her words become slurred and sentences disintegrate. Thoughts and ideas seem increasingly random and following her chain of thought is nearly impossible. Her eyes start to roll back into her head and there is no other way to describe it: she begins to resemble an adult who is more than a little tipsy.

Frankly, she fitted in just perfectly this Christmas.

Thursday, 24 December 2009

On Stockings

Ho ho ho, he's nearly here. And Gertie's just about got a grip on the whole thing, with one or two minor confusions. She keeps insisting, for instance, that we must get to Bethlehem by tomorrow. I've explained the problems with the traffic because of the snow, but she's not convinced.

Last year she was a bit too young at nineteen months to do the whole Christmas thing, in spite of my very best efforts. She couldn't get the hang of the word 'stocking', and insisted that Father Christmas was going to put presents in her 'tight'. I thought this quite an impressive use of the singular at the time.

This year, aged a bit more than two and a half, she has got a far better idea, and we have hung all our stockings around the fireplace ready for the arrival of Santa. ("Not Santa Claws, Mummy!")

The trouble is that we don't have a stocking for Gilby as he only arrived in July - so he hasn't got last year's one - and I didn't think of it until today.

No matter - Gertie has solved the problem for him. "It's all right, Mummy, Gilby can use one of his socks."

Have you seen the size of a five month old baby's sock? I think this is a tad unfair. So either Gertie hasn't really got the idea at all, or she is in fact rather clever in ensuring that she gets far more gifts than her little baby brother!

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Three Wise Mothery Things

I am thinking in threes this week due to nativity overdose: three wise men and three shepherds (and only three more presents left to get).

So here are my three gifts in Christmas week, my Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh. Three things which I have learned since becoming a mother, and which have featured with varying degrees of drama in my life this week:

  1. Never wear a long dangly scarf or beads while supervising a potty situation.
  2. 'Messy play' is a great idea, in theory.
  3. Sick over one shoulder is perfectly acceptable; over two, suggests carelessness.

Number one speaks for itself, really. In number two, whilst my back was turned red paint became lipstick and an ugly scene ensued. Number three was pointed out whilst I was at a Christmas party. Nice.

Monday, 21 December 2009

Delicate and Dangerous

Like most parents I am constantly amazed by my daughter's command of language. In her two years and seven months she has amassed a vast amount of vocabulary, much of it quite sophisticated.

The trouble is, I'm not sure that Gertie has entirely grasped the concepts behind the words. Here are three sentences she has used in the last three days:
  1. Whilst brandishing a large pair of scissors, foolishly left out by me following a Christmas wrapping frenzy, "Mummy, are these really sharp and dangerous?"
  2. Whilst holding aloft a small and very fragile Christmas ornament, "Mum, this is very, very delicate, isn't it?"
  3. Whilst approaching the grill pan, cleverly designed only to operate when open at toddler-catastrophe height, "Is this burning hot here, Mummy?"

There is no need to share my replies to each of these questions.

Thursday, 17 December 2009

Pencil Power

Gertie found a great new game today.

At first I thought it was really sweet.

She found all the pens and pencils from my pen pot in the kitchen, then lined them up on one of the kitchen chairs, and with a tea towel, tucked them all in to bed. She spoke tenderly to every one individually, commenting on how tired they were and how much sleep they needed.

"Ah, my darling little girl," I sighed to myself, as I got on with my household chores, going past every now and then with a basket of washing or a pile of clean clothes to put away.

It was only later I discovered why the pens and pencils were all so tired, poor things. And I got very, very cross indeed. They were tired because they had been 'climbing up the walls'. The long, arduous climb for the poor pens and pencils involved lots and lots of scribble. And that, therefore, added to the days chores as I spent most of the afternoon scrubbing off as much as I could.

I am guessing that this won't be the last time it happens.

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Party Pooper

It was Gertie's nursery Christmas party today and she was sick.

This doesn't surprise me in the least because her timing is fantastic. Last year she contracted chicken pox three days before Christmas so that we were in quarantine for the big day. Whole other story - but back to the present. She regularly tells me that she feels sick and my typical response is unsympathetic: "Ok, well finish your lunch and you will feel better; just drink some water and you will feel better; a bit of fresh air and you will feel better..." This morning, however, she seemed genuinely under the weather. Subdued, clingy, and a little shivery.

I was upset. Mostly because I didn't want Gertie to miss her Christmas party and the arrival of Father Christmas ('wrapped, named present to the value of not more than £5' had been supplied by us the week before), partly because we had made a plate of marmite sandwiches as our contribution to the festivities and I didn't want them to go to waste, and a little bit because I was due to be spending the day with an old school friend that I don't get to see very often and it would be distracting enough with the baby, let alone a sick toddler accompanying us. I know: selfish thought. Shouldn't really reveal it in a public forum...

Anyway, the party was fancy dress, so Daddy and I glanced at each other conspiratorially: "Why don't we just try your gold princess dress on with the tiara and see how you feel?"

One glance in the mirror seemed to do the trick and I haven't had the dreaded call from nursery to come and collect her. I do think however that I have discovered the real root of the problem, because my other method of persuasion was along the lines of, "And you don't want to miss Father Christmas do you?"
No response.
"You do want to see Father Christmas?"
Short pause.
"No...I want to see Grumps!"
So she would have preferred to be seeing her grandfather today instead of a random old man she doesn't know. Fair enough!

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

More Car Horror

Given how busy life is in the run up to Christmas, I am going to cheat with this post and use something I just found in my diary from not long after Gertie was born. Two and a half years ago I don't even think I knew what a 'blog' was, but clearly I would have been 'at it', had I been aware. It also seems quite appropriate given that I have been blogging about my poor knowledge and skills in relation to cars recently...

"All new first-time mums are anxious to get everything right. But no matter how hard I try, I seem somehow to always get it completely wrong. I fear that I may be in the running for this year’s worst mum in the world award.

For the last year or so I have been driving round in a little two-seater convertible. What do you mean I wasn’t ready to have a baby? Admittedly it wasn’t the most suitable vehicle for my final months of pregnancy, and I probably more closely resembled a shuffling hippopotamus than a chic glamour-puss as I got in and out towards the end – but with the actual arrival of my little one it became totally impractical and had to go. One last trip, I thought, as I strapped the car-seat and my newborn into the front. I heard a strange clicking noise as I busied myself with seatbelts and straps, but thought nothing of it. Until I shut the door on Gertie and realised that the clicking noise was the automatic locking system and my bag and keys and phone and baby were securely stuck, inside the car. And no, I hadn’t put the roof down yet, so there was no way to get in.

I had to leave the car to attack someone with a phone, to then scream in tears at my husband who, in turn, drove home from work with the spare set of keys to resolve the crisis. But as I waited for him, I was also expecting social services to appear at any moment. Gertie fell asleep and was oblivious to the whole sequence of ‘abuse’ and whilst the whole debacle was a complete accident, that knowledge did little to help my self-loathing bad-mother vibe. Needless to say, I never took that ‘last trip’ in my car, and was happy to see it go.

When I meet up with the other mums, Gertie is the one with the worst cradle-cap – that somehow must be my fault. She is also the only one who is able to poo through her nappy and all over whatever cute outfit I have dressed her in. Nowhere seems to do mustard yellow baby clothes, as this would be the only way we could make it through the day without looking totally incompetent. The discussion about routines happens, well routinely. Unfortunately the closest we come to the ‘r’ word in our house is in knowing that at some point we will go to bed, and at some point(s) we will get up.

We do do lots of nice things together. We went to a little music class earlier this week. One of the other mums refused a coffee at the start, because she was breastfeeding. So am I. Gosh. She wouldn’t like to hear about my current level of wine consumption then.

But I love my baby dearly, impossibly, indescribably. The problem is that I am used to being successful at work and, in my past-life, being good at things generally. And I am blatantly not good at this mum-thing. Yet. Good job I am going to have many years ahead to perfect it

Well. Good job I've got it all sorted out two and a half years later, isn't it? Not like I've ever phoned my husband in tears and had to get him to come out from work...

Sunday, 13 December 2009

Legs Aren't Happy

A quick share of Gertie's latest little gem.

"Legs aren't very happy, are they, Mum?" The grave pronouncement was accompanied by a frown and dismissive shake of the head.

I have to confess to being slightly confused by this one; had she seen mine recently? Admittedly it is midwinter and they are not awarded quite the same degree of attention as they might be during the summer months. But this observation from my two-and-a-half-year-old was a tad harsh and insensitive. Some clarification was definitely required.

"Er, aren't they, darling? Why's that then?"

Looking at me straight in the eye, very earnestly, "Because they don't have mouths to smile."

She didn't actually add, "Duh, stupid!" But it was implicit in the tone.

By this definition there must be quite a lot in our world that isn't happy, but obviously 'legs' in general are the things that concern Gertie the most right now.

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Are You Proud About Me, Mummy?

Here it is: the official portrait of the two things in my life of which I am most proud. This is the one that the godparents and aunts and uncles will get with their Christmas card this year, the one that says, 'look how sweet our family is'.

It's quite amazing that the photographer managed to get them both with their eyes open and focusing roughly in the direction of the camera, though only one is smiling. Gertie looks protective and adoring of her little brother, instead of making a half-hearted attempt to gouge out the eyes of 'Pinchy Boy'.

So this is the image that we will project to the universe. And my proudest moments happen on a daily basis now: Gertie swimming a couple of feet of the pool or struggling over a cramped attempt to write the first letter of her name or getting herself dressed with her tights inside out. She knows how I feel about some of these things and will ask, "Are you proud about me, mummy?" somewhat presumptiously, but with good reason.

And though the photograph above is lovely, I am just as proud of Gertie when she is running round in her pyjamas with her swimming costume over the top and a nappy on her head looking like some sort of deranged toddler superhero....

So am I proud 'about' you? Always, yes.

This is written in response (sort of, breaking the rules slightly, a bit) to prompt #2 from Josie's writing workshop at Sleep is for the Weak this week.

Monday, 7 December 2009

Knickers and Alligators

I'm often reporting the things that Gertie says that I find entertaining, but this time her father is the unwitting subject.

Gertie has successfully completed her potty training now, and accidents are rare. She did have one at nursery the other day though which resulted in her having to borrow a pair of 'nursery nickers' which I duly washed and put in her bag to return.

Daddy does the nursery run on his way to work, so responsibility was left with him. It's always done on the run and on this occasion he dashed in with the small pink knickers held aloft and called out to one of the (young, female and quite attractive) staff, "Jade, these are yours," before realising the implications of what he had said. There were smiles and blushes all round, apparently.

By the way, is anyone else opening their 'alligator' every day through December? Gertie finds a piece of chocolate in her's each evening.

Friday, 4 December 2009

The Art of Interruption

Gertie's power of interruption is a wonder to behold. It is an art, in fact.

In a social situation I might struggle to get the right word in to start my amusing anecdote, just getting the timing slightly awry as someone else launches into their own and the moment is lost.

But Gertie's timing is slick and professional and designed to caused maximum disruption to any conversation I might be trying (in vain) to have. It is a skill that, if correctly taught to politicians, could disrupt parliamentary debate. Stand-up comedians could learn from her ability to command the stage (even if that is only my living room).

I understand that in her world she is queen, centre, master and commander of her universe, and my pointless ramblings with a fellow mum, relative or work colleague pale into insignificance beside whatever momentous statement she is about to forcefully decree, but where does she learn the necessary timing to halt my most intense discussions? And it is not just the timing, but the content and the delivery.

Yesterday, I was with another Mum on maternity leave from my workplace. We were comparing notes about our respective return to work (hurtling towards me with a speed that I don't want to contemplate). Naturally the talk became politicised in relation to rights and benefits and just as I climbed atop my metaphorical soap-box I was pushed back down with the un-ignorable announcement that Gertie needed a 'grabby' poo.

I know. I needed to find out too. Stopped, mid-rant. A 'grabby' poo is in fact one which grabs the bottom as it passes, requiring a wet wipe rather than toilet paper. How she knew this to be the case before she had produced it I don't know. But the resultant potty-offering was certainly quite...grabby.

Other show-stoppers are often equally scatological: Last week's, "Mum, there's poo on my foot," couldn't fail to get a reaction.

But equally potent is anything beginning, "I just..." because that little word, 'just'- which should correspond to 'barely' 'merely' or 'only' - seldom means that and usually has more far-reaching implications, as I'm sure Gertie well knows.

For example, "I just bit him," or, "I just gave him a biscuit." (At four months Gilby is not even close to weaning...)

So I will learn the art of social interraction from my two-year-old and perhaps take a leaf from her book at my next dinner party...

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

With Twenty Years More Life Experience

Dear 16 Year Old Me,

I have twenty years more life experience than you do right now, so listen. Actually your older self is just about the only person you would listen to. Being shy and uncertain is ok, and normal, but I'm afraid to say won't go away any time soon, so deal with it.

I could reel off a long list of 'don'ts' here. The incidents, whilst on your gap year in New Zealand and Indonesia, spring to mind. I guess that they are the sort of things that make you who you really are and if you didn't do them a chunk of you might be missing. But do you really need to have bleached blonde hair?

Living in a bus is not one of your finest moments, either, but I suppose it is only a mild and short-lived rebellion and it does give your husband something to tease you about later. All those big anti-establishment ideals that you are about to develop will eventually be replaced by proper, important stuff, so don't take yourself too seriously.

Yes, I did say 'husband'. I know that you think you never want to be married, but you will, and you will be very happy. Your wedding day truly will be the most fantastic day of your life and you DO want a big white wedding. I know, I know, you can't believe that right now, but trust me. I'm not going to tell you who He is, but he will walk into your life when you are least expecting it, he is nothing like you imagine, and he will change everything dramatically. It's amazing.

Don't sit around and wait for anything to happen. You've got to do it all by yourself.

But money is a biggy. You're going to get yourself into an awful lot of debt which will take a long, long time to clear. Buy now pay later should not be a life maxim. Just try and be a bit more frugal.

By the way, Physics, Maths and Economics are the wrong choice of A-level subjects. English Literature is the only one of your choices that you're going to do well in anyway, and you will NEVER use the others. I know that you're trying to please your father, but go with your instincts and take the things you love and are good at, like History and Graphic Design.

Begin writing sooner. You know already that it is secretly what you really want to do. You're not going to accidentally become a writer, it won't happen by itself: you need to work at it and there is no need to wait until your thirties.

But this is the really important bit: It all just gets better and better. There are some big ups and downs in your twenties, but as each year passes you become more content. You'll dread your thirtieth birthday, but there is no need, because in fact it's after that that things start to get really good.

Enjoy every second. Lots of love,

P.S. Childbirth hurts much more than even your mother tells you, but it will be ok!

This is in response to Josie's Writing Workshop at Sleep is for the Weak.