Saturday, 30 January 2010

Wardrobe Malfunction

Gertie has become furiously insistent on choosing her own wardrobe every day.

I am happy to encourage this independence, but it comes with a price: The hideous concoction of clashing colours that are perfectly acceptable to a two year old. She is happy for me to rectify wrong-way-round or inside-out errors, but not to offer style advice.

Today, for example she is wearing no less than five different shades of pink, and has explained how she is 'all matching'. (She isn't.)

Now I don't know whether to intervene while I still have the chance; since, frankly, she is not going to accept my fashion insights in a few years time. On the other hand, it seems a shame to stifle the self-expression of toddler. I think I will just have to accept the second-glances as we walk down the street.

Thursday, 28 January 2010

Going Postal

It was hard to choose a prompt for this week's writing workshop from Josie at Sleep is for the Weak. (The voices in my head often comment on the things that people wrongly assume about me...) But I have gone for number one: tell about a time when you refused to compromise.

I refuse to compromise over poor service, particular when shopping, banking, or dealing with utilities.

I have just spent six weeks switching bank accounts for the sake of a £22 charge. It was an awful lot of bother to go to, switching all the payments in, direct debits and standing orders, but I absolutely knew that I was in the right. And I was absolutely determined not to let 'them' win. Why should they? It just made me so angry. I have closed the two bank accounts of my children which were held there too, opening simple building society savings accounts for them instead. So I feel quietly smug about it now. That will teach them to try and take £22 from me. And I have taken great delight in writing a letter to the bank in question explaining all my reasoning. Again, a ridiculous amount of bother to go to, but it made me feel much better.

I am quite a letter writer. It only takes a few minutes and always seems much more satisfying, as well as often being more productive, than a request or complaint by email or in person.

As well as the bank thing, I am waiting to hear from my local supermarket. I was overcharged for the third time in a row: you know, when something is on special offer so you pick it up for that reason and then when you get to the counter it doesn't register on the till? In the olden days, BC, I would have noticed it immediately and been able to rectify any descrepancy on the spot, but these days I am always busy at the counter trying to persuade Gertie that she doesn't need the packet of crisps/biscuits/sweets that she has managed to pick up from somewhere, whilst simultaneously trying to soothe Gilby as for some reason he always seems to need a feed the moment I start trying to select groceries. So I am somewhat distracted and just hand over my card to pay with barely an acknowledgement of the total, only realising the error when I get home.

And I know it sounds a little petty, but it is an awful lot quicker to bash out a short letter than to load up the car again with children to return to the store.

And it makes a trip to the post-box quite entertaining; there is always an interesting reply waiting for me.

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

To Tell, or Not to Sleep? That is the Question

Gilby doesn't really sleep at nursery.

I need to put this in perspective by saying that at home he sleeps a lot. Probaby sixteen hours a day, even though he is nearly six months old.

He doesn't appear to be able to stay awake for any longer than two hours at a time when he is in the comfort of his own cot. It is quite likely that he will sleep for most of the morning, and then take an afternoon nap for an hour or two following a strenuous lunchtime, when he evidently uses up all his energy in eating.

So when I collected him on Monday and they said to me, "He's done really well today - he slept for nearly three quarters of an hour!" I couldn't really share their excitement. Nor could I explain his inability to settle properly at nursery. If sleeping during the day was an Olympic sport, this baby would definitely be in with a medal chance.

Initially I thought that it must just be due to the noise and distractions - but I have been to visit during 'quiet time' and it is really peaceful.

And as I put my baby down tonight, it suddenly dawned on me why he is not able to sleep. Because of course, the lovely carers at the nursery would not dream of settling Gilby on his tummy, which is where he is most comfortable. It has become so normal to us, in spite of the horror expressed by the health visitor, and so I didn't think to mention it. And now I don't know whether to or not - because of course, it is not the done thing at all. I am an extremely naughty Mummy.

So I don't know whether to risk the wrath of the nursery by explaining, or continue letting Gilby exist on a fraction of his normal sleep requirements.

Thursday, 21 January 2010

Like Taking Candy from an Adult

Gertie made a big breakthrough in Gertie-world today. She worked out that she could simply go to the kitchen cupboard, open the door, and help herself to the expensive Belgian chocolates nestling in there, specifically for grown-ups. Easy.

She has gone to bed now, probably kicking herself for not thinking of it before, and just a little bit wiser to the ways of the world.

And it strikes me that plenty of my parenting relies on her simply doing what she is told. I think I am going to have to up my game.

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Rose Tinted Glasses Perfectly Perched

After three days back at work I am already guilty of wistfully viewing the last six months of maternity leave through rose tinted spectacles.

The mornings now need to be organised with military precision. In order for four of us to get out of the house with something resembling sanity, everything needs to be completely prepared the evening before.

All nursery bags ready packed, lunches made, clothes laid out, work clothes pre-selected for the grown-ups. (Particularly Mummy, as the stuff that she used to wear to work no longer fits quite properly, so a high degree of creativity is required to generate a working wardrobe...) And the cars need to be properly arranged in the driveway so that I can make the first getaway, leaving Daddy to do the nursery run.

Even so, the first few days have been slightly fraught and I have made it to work with only seconds to spare.

And when I get home there are a mountain of domestic things to do before I can even begin to relax. Stuff that used to take me all day now needs to be crammed into a couple of hours; less if there is to be any chance of some fleeting relaxation during the evening . I know that this will all calm down and that we are only a few days in so not yet fully into the swing of things. I know that life will regain a more sustainable rhythm - but right now it is all quite hectic. So I look back lovingly to last week and the week before, and the week before that when:

The house was always clean (I picture it with freshly cut flowers in most of the rooms); I was completely on top of the laundry and ironing; I managed to bake bread and even mince pies; I cooked nice meals regularly; I read books, played imaginative games and did various puzzles with Gertie all day long; there was time to do my blog; I read plenty of improving novels.

But anyone who has been reading this blog for longer than a week will know that there is not an ounce of truth in this. In fact, there were plenty of days where simply managing to get dressed by mid-morning was cause for extensive celebration. My iron and I do not have the best working relationship, and any day where there was baby sick on only one side of my head was considered a good hair day.

This is written in response to Writing Workshop 10 by Josie at Sleep is For the Weak.

Thursday, 14 January 2010

Chicken Scraps, Anyone?

Despite the snow's best efforts to prevent me, I have managed to get Gilby to his first few settling in sessions at nursery this week, in preparation for my return to work.

Feeling guilty about the whole process anyway, I have taken extra care with packing his bag and preparing his lunch and bottles. Everything is carefully named; special 'dishwasher-proof' labels on the plastic items and his cot sheets have his name sewn in. I never do sewing! It is as though all this extra detail will somehow make up for the fact that I will not be with him through the day soon.

Anyway, he went off for his first half-day yesterday, and the one thing I had forgotten to get was a lunch-box for him. So I just took an old ice-cream container, put his name on the top and filled it with all his goodies. He's only just weaning so we are still at the mush and puree stage.

Now, I also keep an old ice-cream container near the sink to fill with scraps for the chickens. It makes me feel good to throw out less rubbish, and the chickens feast on Gertie's left over porridge, the vegetable peelings, the remains of supper. You know where this is going, don't you?

My husband did the nursery run yesterday morning, taking Gertie and Gilby in together for the first time. He was explaining all the timings carefully to the nursery carer who would have responsibilty for Gilby.

"And my wife has made him a delicious lunch..." and he lifted the lid of the carton with a flourish - to reveal the extremely unappetising chicken scraps. You quite literally would not feed them to a dog.

Failed again!

(Much laughter ensued, and he did come back and get the right box but I have a feeling that I will not be allowed to forget this...)

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Old Enough and Large Enough to Know Better

January is a time when thoughts inevitably turn to getting fit, being healthier and losing weight - and clearly, when the new year 'detox' fails, the solution is gym membership.

If you have not succumbed already, then a word of caution. Last September I signed up as a member of my local golf club. This has nothing to do with a passion for golf (it is a silly game that I am rubbish at) and everything to do with a multi-million pound refurbishment of the gym, swimming pool and spa and very reasonable off-peak membership - £36 a month to include all classes and as many visits as you can make. They also have a wonderful creche.

So obviously I am regularly swanning around in lycra, receiving admiring glances at my svelte and trim post-pregnancy figure. Well, no. Because of course with two small children and in spite of the 'wonderful creche' there is never any time to go. I have calculated that my average visit costs £18. This goes up dramatically if I am forced to use the creche (not included in the membership and payable by the hour). A bargain!

And this is not the first time I have been suckered in to unrealistic gym memberships; in waving goodbye to my monthly direct debit I might as well throw a bundle of tenners into the passing wind every four weeks. I am old enough and 'large' enough to know better!

This is my 50th post - how did that happen? And written in response to this week's writing workshop posted by Josie at Sleep is for the Weak: What I am unable to learn no matter how hard I try.

Monday, 11 January 2010

My Baby has a Super-Power

My baby has a super power.

Despite not yet being able to sit by himself, or crawl at all, and being only able to roll from front to back, not the other way round - he is somehow capable of transporting himself over a considerable distance when my back is turned.

I can only assume that he does this through some kind of tele-transportation process as seen or Star Trek or perhaps Dr Who. I can leave a room and return to find him in a totally different and seemingly impossible location.

So far he doesn't seem to have developed this super power beyond the limits of a single room, but I'm sure that will come.

One Large Parcel of Guilt, Perfectly Wrapped

I'm carrying around a large parcel of guilt and it's not just a result of the Catholic education, though I'm sure that features.

I was set to go back to work on Friday. Full time. Gilby is not quite sixth months, but given term times, exam classes, financial considerations and all the rest of it, this seemed like the moment.

He was booked in for 'familiarisation' sessions at the local nursery. He will be going three days a week. His sister is already there and she will be attending on the same days. So far so good. On the other days I have an ex-student coming over from Australia to look after them, and Daddy will have one of those mornings off too, to take them both to their swimming lessons. And the grandparents are all very supportive. Great.

But the snow interfered with Gilby having his practice gos at nursery as it was closed last week. So now I am supposed to return to work without even being sure that he is settled. My Australian friend has problems with her visa and has not yet booked flights. And to make things worse, when we visited this morning, I discovered that he is the youngest baby at the nursery by three months.

What on earth does that say?

So all in all, for what would be a difficult time anyway, my guilt and anxiety are growing by the second. It's not feeling very happy-new-yearish any more!

Saturday, 9 January 2010

A Personal Challenge in the Public Domain

I have decided to sign up to the 2010 Reading Challenge, to read 100 books in a year. You can find details here.

At first this sounded like no problem; after all, I read all the time.

Well, no, actually, I don't. I like to think that I do, and I certainly did in my pre-motherhood life, but now reading is a luxury that happens only in snatched moments. The pile of 'to read' books has grown and grown over the last couple of years.

And actually, 100 books in a year realistically means two books a week. I don't think I managed even half that in 2009, which means that this really will be a challenge.

So I will make time to read this year. Proper time. Consciously sitting down to read and trying not to feel guilty about it. And not just when I am on holiday.

I have begun well so far, having already completed Messiah by Boris Starling (I am a sucker for a good crime novel), Salmon Fishing in the Yemen by Paul Torday (my book club's next book - interesting, but too much of a boy's book in narrative terms) and a re-reading of Tess of the d'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy which I will be studying with my A-level group when I go back to work next week.

I have also begun Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier, which was a lovely, unexpected Christmas present.

And it means that I will get through some of that enormous outstanding pile. I am particularly looking forward to Audrey Niffenegger's new book as I loved The Time Traveller's Wife, and The Behaviour of Moths by Poppy Adams; I remember reading good reviews of it. I have been meaning to pick up the Gormenghast books by Mervyn Peake for about four years. This year I will!

Any other recommendations gratefully received...

Friday, 8 January 2010

Prodding the Baby

Gertie woke me with a 'boo' when she arrived in our room at some ridiculous hour that I believe some people regard as the morning today. I don't, and so I promptly sent her straight back to bed.

The baby monitor chuckled - quickly revealing that she had not, in fact, taken my advice, but had instead decided to go into Gilby's room. I went straight in and found that she had woken him up by poking him through the bars of the cot.

Furious, I physically escorted her back to bed this time. But of course it was too late; there was no way that Gilby was going to go back to sleep now. Admitting defeat I turned on the light.

"Daddy, I'm afraid it really is going to have to be the morning," I explained as I brought Gilby into our room. "Hold him for a sec while I go and get Gertie."

But could I get Gertie? No I could not, because she was already fast asleep with her blanket over her face. She remained that way for another hour and a half. Brilliant. Thanks for that, number one daughter.

Thursday, 7 January 2010

High Five!

I am delighted to have been tagged by Mum With Carrot in Her Hair for the High Five meme. Beginning my blog has been a major highlight, but so many people have offered that so I won't include it. Here are five other highlights of my 2009:

1. On the 3rd March at our twenty week scan finding out that 'Minibunks', as we had christened my bump, was not only healthy and growing perfectly but was a boy! Now we would have a little brother for Gertie, which I knew, despite my husband's protestations, was what he really wanted. Gilby arrived safely (though not quite in the manner planned) on 27th July.

2. My husband getting through to the televised stage of Masterchef. Strictly speaking this should be his highlight, not mine, but I was thrilled.

3. Getting my bicycle for my birthday. I probably shouldn't include a material thing, but it really was a highlight as I had wanted one for ages and my husband managed to select the perfect model. The timing wasn't brilliant as I was seven months pregnant and I have had periods in my life where I have had a slightly better centre of gravity than that, but it has had plenty more use since the birth.

4. Having my poem, Apgar Score, published. Since this post is all about me(!), I will reproduce it here:


There was a final tearing wrench
before we went from one to two.
They held you up in alien air
And took you for a minute.
Then they placed you on my skin.
I smiled, uncertainly, for the camera;
You turn your squashed-up face away
And in to me, as though to tunnel back in.
I didn’t know what to do
So I cried, I think;
And you cried, I think.
But somehow we muddled through.
Soon they took you from me again,
And did some things to that tiny you:
Weighed and measured and judged.

On display in that glass box
You passed your first tests.

5. This one might also seem a little odd, but it was going to the NATE (National Association of English Teachers) conference back in April. It was a whole weekend away with the chance to think about my teaching in a very focused way with no distractions. I had also been trying to get to the conference for five years and this was the first time my school had agreed to let me have the time and pay for the trip. I went with a good friend and had an amazing time - and these 'solo' experiences are so rare now.

So I know that lots of people have already been tagged with this, but I would like to pass it on to:

Hungry but Happy Mummy

It's A Mummy's Life

And anyone else who hasn't already been tagged but would like to share 2009 high points!

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Day Six in the Big Sober Household

It's day six in the Big Sober Household.

And the housemates have fallen off the wagon.

It began with a sloe gin, currently involves wine for Mummy and cider for Daddy, and will end...well, who knows?

I would like to blame the adverse weather conditions. In fact I'm going to.

We had no power for nineteen hours. No heat, no light, no hot water, no hot food. And whilst it looked more and more beautiful outside as a foot of snow fell, inside the picture was grimmer.

We couldn't go outside and enjoy the weather as we knew that we wouldn't be able to get warm and dry again afterwards and I don't do 'cold' very well at all.

We were four in the bed by this morning. It was way too cold for Gilby (who definitely takes after his mother) and began turning blue at about 3am. So we broke the rule and let him into our bed. What else could I do? And we couldn't very well refuse Gertie when she began screaming at 5am because there was no night-light and she couldn't find her door.

By lunchtime I had had enough. We do have an open fire for this hearth-mother, but our log delivery is due next week and we only had a handful left. Not good. So my husband stole a 4x4 from work and we invaded the in-laws, affectionately known as Grumps and Mumps.

And a sloe gin was just reward for finally building the perfect snowman in their garden (in the dark).

We will resume the January detox tomorrow, when normal order is restored. Ish.

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Helluva Day So Far

It's been a helluva day so far.

We have had endless pony rides, been on holiday to Africa, opened dozens more presents from Father Christmas, mended a broken sleigh, (that was very tricky and involved lots of cardboard tubing) had our own bear hunt, and sported a succession of bizarre haircuts - and we haven't left the house. (It was way too cold for that.) Gertie's powers of imagination are amazing.

Sometimes I don't quite get it and she will tell me, "No Mummy, not like that. You need to have your legs much further apart to ride a pony," as she leads me twice round the table in the kitchen on my tiptoes trailing on 'ribbon' reigns.

"Oooh, wow, we're going really fast!" I cry, anxious to contribute something to the make believe.

She will give me a withering look. "That's not fast, Mummy. Don't be silly."


And apparently, I still had my helmet on when I went to kiss her goodnight. Easy mistake.

I don't usually embrace her play with this much enthusiasm; in fact, as you can tell, I'm pretty rubbish at it. But I am back to work next week as my maternity leave with Gilby ends, so making the most of every single second. And actually, that's just about as long as it takes to fly to Africa these days, as it happens.

Monday, 4 January 2010

Life's Little Pleasures

I have been invited by The Wife of Bold to join the meme to list the ten best things in my life that are free. I love to think about life's little pleasures and remind myself of them - especially at new year, even though they change all the time. Some of them I can engineer, and some of them just have to happen spontaneously. Here are my current ones, in no particular order:

  1. Watching a good crime drama with high production values. My addiction for Morse a few years ago has now been replaced by series like Wallender.
  2. Doing anything together as a family, like our walk on new year's day or all going swimming.
  3. Reading a book in the bath. It feels really indulgent and I am going to do lots more of it in 2010.
  4. Riding my bike to the shop. My husband bought me a very retro 'sit up and beg' bike for my birthday last year and if it is a nice day I so enjoy a ride down to the local shop on a Saturday or Sunday morning when he is home to look after the kids. I feel healthy and free.
  5. Scrapbooking. Creating a beautiful record of our lives and generating order from the chaos of a bundle of photographs and some dog-eared tickets or a theatre programme gives me a real sense of satisfaction.
  6. Feeding scraps to my two chickens, Cecily and Isolde. They are so absurdly grateful and I feel a little like Ma Larkin.
  7. Seeing my name in print. Sadly, even if it is just for a silly letter or filler in a magazine I get a little narcissistic buzz.
  8. The feeling of total relaxation that comes when the house is completely clean and tidy and I am on top of all my chores. This one happens very, very rarely.
  9. Watching Gertie do something charming and unprompted, like give her baby brother a spontaneous kiss, or throw her arms around my neck and clasp me in a suffocating cuddle, or do something little and helpful around the house without being asked.
  10. Sitting by a roaring fire with my husband on a cold winter's evening when we have shut out the weather and the woes of the world.

Good. I feel better for all that. Looking forward to seeing if any of them happen today!

Sunday, 3 January 2010

Gertie the Friendly Ghoul

I seem to have been writing about sleep a lot lately, mostly because I haven't been getting enough so it is frequently on my mind.

But as well as the baby, Gertie has her own sleep issues. We have had a nightmare (pardon the pun) getting her to sleep in a bed. We tried to make the transition from cot to bed back in May, just after her second birthday. Partly because we would need the cot a few months later for Gilby when he arrived and we wanted to disassociate all the change from him by doing it early, and partly because Gertie was moving into her own, grown-up bedroom so it seemed a good time.

And it was. She has always been a good sleeper (unlike her little brother!) and for a few nights it all went really well. Then for some reason we had to have the travel cot out and that was it. She wanted to be in the travel cot and not in her bed. She also liked to fill the cot with dozens of her 'people'. This is what she calls all her soft toys and dolls even though it makes her sound like the leader of a cult of cuddly animals.

And as she herself has grown over the last six months, and filled the cot with more and more toys until it just looked so uncomfortable for her to be in there. It also meant that she had to wear a nappy at night since she simply couldn't get out of the cot to go to the toilet.

So after all the disruptions over Christmas we did a really mean and parenty thing and pretended that we had left the cot behind at Gertie's grandparents house, thereby forcing the issue so that she would have to sleep in the bed.

Again, this went well for the first couple of nights, after the novelty of getting up once or twice to go to the toilet had worn off. But then the midnight visitations began.

Silently she will enter our bedroom. We will be fast asleep and will sense rather than see the ghostly, thumb-sucking, blanket-trailing form that might then suddenly loom out of the darkness by the bed. It is really eerie. And unlike during the day when she can talk for Olympic Gold, during the night she says nothing.

So I don't know if she is sleep-walking or not. She is happy to be ushered straight back to bed but may well appear again a few hours later. She has also taken to coming in and not waking us up; I know this because her door and our door will be tellingly ajar come the morning. One night this week I discovered her just sitting on the step outside the bedroom door.

So our sleep is disturbed once again. And annoyingly, Gertie's appearances are usually between the hours of midnight and three, just at the time when Gilby seems to be soundly asleep and not needing a feed. And my ears are constantly on the alert for Gertie the Friendly Ghoul...

Friday, 1 January 2010

Bashing the Pedals for a Perfect New Year's Day

We've just spent the most perfect new year's day.

Gertie got up quietly and played with her little brother for a good hour this morning, giving us a tiny lie-in following last night's (moderate) celebrations to see in the new decade.

A large, leisurely breakfast followed; then a long walk through the woods from our house to a nearby pub for lunch beside a roaring log fire. (Entirely appropriate for this Hearth-mother.)

On the way home there was plenty of splashing in puddles, or 'bashing the pedals" as it is forever known in our family since this is how Gertie used to pronounce it when it first became one of her favourite things to do.

Lots of fresh air for the children put the colour back into their cheeks and means that they have both gone down to bed willingly and a little early.

How different from hungover, unproductive new year's days of old! The me of now bears hardly any resemblance to that person a decade ago who hadn't yet met her husband, was barely at the start of her teaching career and who most definitely did not have any interest in having children.

I spent the millenium eve a decade ago on Westminster Bridge awaiting the fireworks and 'river of flame' with a group of girlfriends. It was a cold, depressing evening, with my overriding memory being of drinking too much cheap wine from plastic cups resulting in us having to take turns to surreptitiously wee (if such a thing is possible) within a huddled circle of the girls due to the fact that we couldn't move off the bridge because of the crowds. I lost my sister for a couple of hours, she sprained her ankle and it took hours to get back home. Now this year's experience was far less dramatic but much, much happier.

What a difference a decade makes.