Sunday, 30 September 2012

Week 56- knowledgeable nods, swimming trials and Gary Barlow's advice

I dread people asking my opinion on stuff. Whether it be the presidential elections. Or what kind of music I listen to.

Cos the truth is I'm not sure anymore.

I can't remember the last time I sat down and read the papers. Or watched something other than X Factor on the telly. My cultural references are determined by what Gary Barlow says.

I've become an expert at the knowledgeable nod. Combining the authoritative 'ummm', when I find myself, sometimes for the fourth or fifth time that day, totally out of my depth.

The best line of defence, I've found, is just don't say anything, otherwise you get your self into a complete conversational cul de sac.

I'm sure I used to have opinions about stuff other than whether Tyrone should leave Kirsty if she doesn't go to a counsellor on Corrie.

For the meantime, maybe what Nancy and I need is a bit of variety. A greater wealth of collective experience to draw from when I try and cover up the vacuum if someone attempts to engage me in conversation about something current.

My dad gave Nancy some money for her birthday and suggested we do something nice for her instead of putting it in her bank account.

So I thought I'd get her posh swimming lessons.

That way she gets to go in a pool that isn't sub zero temperatures. And I get to take her to somewhere once a week that isn't Card Factory, Boots, or Aldi.

So I rang up to book her in.

And the woman asked how experienced Nancy was at swimming.

And I asked her what she meant.

And she said, what's her ability.

And I lied.

I said she'd been to loads more lessons than she actually has.

And now she has a trial. She's one and she has a trial to see how good she is at something.

She's one, and she's being tested against other one year olds.

I thought the main hurdle with posh swimming lessons was finding the money to pay 12 quid for half an hour every week.

Not testing her to see if she's the next Michael Phelps.

Have I inadvertently become a pushy mum? I genuinely only wanted Nancy and I to have a nice time for thirty minutes every Thursday morning.

Now I'm nervous for her that she won't remember how to cling onto the side of the pool. Or might freak out if they try to dunk her underwater.

To be frank, it's sometimes a complete ball bag trying to work out what kind of person you are after having a child, let alone, what kind of a parent you want to be.

I know I don't want to be shouty mum. Or a mum who tries too hard to be down with the kids. I want to be able to cook. Not just hummus on toast, but stuff that looks good, smells nice, and takes longer than 2 minutes to make.

I want to know enough about politics that I don't embarrass myself if Nancy asks a question.

I want to feel driven by work, committed to my family and know more about what's going on in the world than who Nicole Scherzinger's mentoring this year.

But for the meantime, I want Nancy to be a one year old who doesn't have to meet anyone's expectations, other than to be happy and healthy.

And especially not when it's costing twelve quid every half hour for the privilege.

But, in the words of Gary Barlow, 'I don't think you'll ever be happy about anything unless you've done it.' Wise words Gaz.

Mind you, he did also say, 'After a gig I get to the hotel all psyched-up from being on stage and get stuck into 'Homes and Interiors' magazine.'

I guess it's difficult to know who to take advice from these days.

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Week 55- dairylea triangles, Kelly Holmes and doing the sniff test

The 4.30am starts have now become so regular that I walk round in such a fug that I can't work out if I've said things out loud to people, or just shouted them in my head.

I think it's because Nancy's teething again. Now, I can't begin to imagine how painful it is to have razor sharp teeth slicing through gums, and it must be a royal pain in the arse when you cry and scream, and it takes someone to clumsily ram a finger in your mouth to suss out what the problem is.

But seriously, how many teeth is she going to have?

Surely, she can just get on with the existing seven. I mean, it's not like she's grinding raw meat. It's all I can do to convince Nancy to suck a dairylea triangle.

But she seems to have found something that relieves her discomfort. Pulling up my t-shirt, finding the most wobbly, malleable bit of my tummy, and throwing her head at it.

This started off as a bit of a laugh a couple of weeks ago.

But it's happening when ever I sit down now.

She drags her walker round till it's pointing in my direction, gets a determined look in her eye and starts waddling at speed towards me.

And she's getting strong. Now, I don't claim to be Siobhan Hyland (Britian's strongest woman, who used to be a fatty, I totally looked her up on Wikepedia), but I thought I could at least hold my own against a one year old.

Turns out I can't.

I can't get her to ungrip my t-shirt before she gives her teeth a work out on my stomach. I can't unpick her fingers from the cupboard door full of plastic boxes and potatoes before she scatters them all over the floor. And I can't get a pen out of her hand if she's mad keen on crawling round the house with it.

I think there's a moment of clarify after your child turns one when you realise you've got to get a grip. That you're not going to get more sleep, more of a social life or more svelte unless you get a plan together.

And that it's not OK to wander round the house in something that narrowly passes the sniff test, because you assume that no-one will drop by.

I had one such moment this week.

Nancy's teething has given her the most awful tummy, poor girl. I mean bum explosions of such epic proportions that Ben panic carried her through the flat to the bathroom leaving a Hansel and Gretel path of diarrhoea behind him.

And as I washed Nancy clean, Ben set to saving the carpet with a cloth and Vanish.

Now the eureka moment was when I saw that he'd used the plastic box I give the childminder Nancy's sandwiches in, to fill with water to clean the floor. And I started going on about how I would have to go to Argos to buy a new one.

And then I caught a glimpse of myself in the window.

I was wearing a t-shirt I'd worn the day before, slept in, and was strongly considering wearing for another day. Jogging bottoms that had so little elastic in the waist that Nancy only needs to give them a gentle tug and they're round my ankles. And I was getting cross about Tupperware.

So. I'm chucking out all my pre-Nancy clothes that make me look pregnant/ too old/ too young / too cheap/ too wacky in an ex-art student way.

And I'm going to get fit.

Or at least commit to wearing the slendertone though the whole of X Factor.

Kelly Holmes was 34 when she won the 800 and 1500m.

I'm 34 now.

I've probably not given myself enough time to train for that.

But I can at least do enough sit ups that Nancy's face doesn't entirely disappear next time she's looking for a bit of respite for her gums.

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Week 54- Jamie Oliver, lentil farts and daytime drinking

I know Nancy won't remember anything about her first birthday, other than what we tell her, and the hundreds of pictures that we took. But then, I'm not even sure if the first birthday is for your baby. Or if it's a day to celebrate that you've done it. You've got through a whole year.

The entire day was overwhelmingly emotional. I hadn't really expected that whenever anyone asked how I was doing, or what we'd have be up to this time last year, I'd start having a shoulder shaking, ugly faced cry.

I think it's because you don't ever think about what it is to give birth after its happened.

Not really.

You share your birth stories with other new mums in the months shortly after your baby's born. And maybe have a quick reminisce when you have a look at early day pictures.

But the day your baby is born is probably the only day in your whole life where you know exactly what you're doing virtually minute by minute.

And you don't have the headspace to think about it at all after it's happened.

We went to the park round the corner for Nancy's party, and strung up some bunting between trees in the playground. Ten of her friends, who are coincidently children of our friends, came to hang out with her.

Turns out Nancy has got a lot more adventurous since the last time we went for a play there. I thought she was still at the 'push gently on the swings' stage, but as I took my eyes off her to unpack the muesli mum style picnic of cucumber sticks, hummus, oat cakes and sultanas, Nancy sped off towards the climbing frame and clambered up the wooden steps and fearlessly disappeared into a tunnel.

She must have been doing loads of stuff with the childminder while I have been inadvertently stunting her development by mollycoddling her.

I thought it would be a cracking idea to bake her a sugar free cake.

Now, I'm no Jamie Oliver, but I've come to the thinking that banana isn't a good substitute for good old fashioned sugar. Or butter for that matter. Mind, I think that was a bit of an oversight on my part.

I thought I might have ballsed it up when the recipe said to pour the mixture out of the bowl, and I had to scoop it out with my hands and pat it into the tin like putty.

So the morning of Nancy's birthday, I went back to the supermarket to rebuy all the ingredients, and made another mediocre cake. It was the kind of thing one of mum's friends who owned a health food shop used to offer us when I was little, when we went round to their house that smelt of lentils and farts.

Thankfully, Ulrika had made the most beautiful chocolate cake with Nancy's name written in baubles. And the children and parents let out a collective sigh of relief.

Then three days later it was my birthday, and Nancy was with the childminder.

So, Ben and I tried to cram everything non-child friendly into eight hours.

I wore totally inappropriate clothes for a midweek daytime. A dress that wouldn't be out of place at a wedding, and high heels that shouldn't really be worn outside the bedroom if you were that way inclined.

I looked more like I was doing the walk of shame, instead of celebrating my 34th birthday.

We went to the pictures at 11am to watch a thoroughly depressing film about prostitution and failing schools.

Had a paddle in the sea.

And most importantly, went to the pub in the day.

Seems our days of daytime drinking are on hold for the time being. After pint one there was talk of going for a snooze. Pint two and it felt like the hangover was creeping up. And then we had to go pick Nancy up from the childminder.

I know we pay for Nancy to be looked after, but there was still that bunked off school and don't want to get dun feeling as we chewed on gum on the bus so we didn't stink of beer when we knocked on the door.

All in all it felt like a valiant attempt at a grown up birthday with children. Good job I wasn't thinking of having an all singing one this year, as Nancy's taken to sucking my mobile. The dribble/electrical appliances combo hasn't worked out brilliantly, and all the numbers have deleted, the ringtone has defaulted to some old school dance music that wouldn't be out of place at a 1998 free party, and to end a call with someone you need to take the battery out the back.

So even if I had decided to go mental, find a babysitter for the first time, and stay out past 10.30pm, it wouldn't matter anyway, as I don't have anyone's numbers now to invite them out.

On the plus side, two birthdays in one week does have its advantages. We only have to cellotape the happy birthday banner to the wall once.

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Week 53- breast pads, spin classes and the arrival of Pootle

My contractions started early in the morning on 10 September 2011 .

I'd woken up in bed with a mixture of excitement and complete fear, as I took a deep breath and tried to work out whether the low pain deep in my gut was a baby on its way. Or wind.

I got up and walked around a bit, leaving Ben to sleep as it was the middle of the night.

And I sat off on the sofa and thought about how life would be in a day's time.

And I couldn't.

No amount of shopping for baby gros and washing them in non-bio powder, or watching One Born Every Minute, or stocking up on breast pads, or writing and rewriting my birth plan, could have prepared me for that moment.

For ten years it had just been the two of us. Getting pissed. Going to festivals. Jumping in the car at weekends to go away and see mates. Making split decisions about what we were going to do that week or that year.

And in a day all that was going to change. There was going to be three of us. A brand new person.

I could feel Pootle's head deep down in my pelvis as another throbbing wave came over me.

I knew I should sleep because I was about to embark on the most physical, violent, messy, emotionally draining experience of my life.

I'd never even done a spin class properly. When the trainer used to shout out to crank up the resistance, I used to pretend to turn the dial, and then spend the next 20 minutes free-wheeling.

And soon, I would be pushing an entire human being out of me and into the world.

I started panicking that I wasn't ready for all this. That we hadn't had long enough as just Ben and me. That we wouldn't know how to cope with another person in our life. That there wasn't enough space in our flat or in our hearts.

And on cue Pootle stretched, bringing things back into focus, and I wondered what the baby would look like. And whether it would be an Arthur or a Nancy.

I hung out in Pootle's yellow room, and tried to imagine what the Moses basket would look like with someone in it.

Since we'd found out I was pregnant, we'd started to get our act together, without even realising we were doing it.

We'd moved twice, so we could buy a flat, which, disappointingly, had stunk of fags and wet dog when we first moved in. But we'd painted it, and cleaned it, and got new carpets. Learnt how to bleed a radiator, bought a Quentin Blake picture of the BFG for Pootle's room, and mowed the grass.

And this was what it was all for.

I sat for a bit longer. It was still dark outside, and completely still, with only the occasional sound of a car driving by. And I thought for one last moment about how life had been up until now in our bubble of two. And how we were going to have a son or daughter who would be in our lives for the rest of our lives.

And then I felt an unfamiliar tightening deep in my core that momentarily took my breath.

And I went to wake Ben to tell him our baby was on its way.

Sunday, 2 September 2012

Week 52- first steps, Beetlejuice and Mary Jane shoes

Nancy's taken her first step. Two, if you're counting. And more like a lurch and a panicky, arms flapping fall into my arms, if we're getting into specifics. But nevertheless, this seemed like the moment to crank things up a gear, and get her her first pair of shoes.

Now, maybe I'm a traditionalist, or just completely out of the loop as to where you buy stuff for children over the age of 11 months, but Clarks seemed to be the only place I could think of to go to.

And mid-week on a sunny day seemed like a sensible time to go, when half of Brighton was at work, and the other half seem to be lying on the beach.

Clarks looked like a vision of calm. With three shop assistants idly lurking around. So I went up to one of them and proudly announced that we were here to buy Nancy's first pair of proper shoes.

She gave me an unexplained sympathetic smile and pointed me towards the lift to the first floor.

As the doors opened, I understood the smile.

I was looking at what could only be described as a riot.

There was well over 60 kids of varying ages screaming and running around. Every one of the tens of massive poufs were occupied by zozzled looking parents.

And in the middle of it, a woman in her 50s was frantically shouting out numbers. She gave me a deli style ticket with 105 written on it. The number on the electronic board read 70.

It felt like sitting in the waiting room at end of Beetlejuice, sans the guy with the shrunken head.

I'd totally forgotten it was the week before school started, and parents throughout East Sussex had come in their hundreds to kit out their kids.

And to make matters worse, everyone had at least two children.

The woman stood next to me held ticket number 112. She had three children, aged between about 4 and 7, who kept running off and returning with shoes that sparkled and flashed. She was totally at her wits end, as they were there to buy androgynous black school shoes.

She looked at me, then Nancy, and said, 'don't buy them shoes until they really need them, seriously, don't. This trip is going to cost me over a hundred quid.'

But after forty minutes, Nancy eventually had her feet measured, and we had a look at pink, purple and brown cruising shoes. (Cruising shoes? How wrong does that sound?) We went for the purple ones.

And then got stung for the first time. Twenty five quid. Whaaaat?

And just as I'm recovering from that blow, the shop assistant took a picture of Nancy wearing her new shoes, which was nice, gave it to me, then, POW. Blow number two. She suggested that we should come back in six weeks to see if she needs a new pair if her toes touched the end. SIX WEEKS?

Twenty five quid for a pair of shoes that are only going to last six weeks. Are you shitting me? I could get three pairs of vintage Mary Jane's from eBay for that price.

But I guess this is just the start. The first six months of her life, all Nancy needed was breastmilk, a clean nappy and a babygro that wasn't covered in sick.

Now shes a little girl, one who helps me take her clothes off at bed time by putting her hands in the air. Who wears proper shoes to cruise in. That's never going to sound right, however many times say it.

But for the moment, I can comfort myself in the knowledge that it's me that chooses what she's wearing everyday. In fact more often than not, we leave the house Danny De Vito and Arnie style, both clad in Breton stripes.

And at least we've got Nancy's first birthday present sorted then. Eight new pairs of shoes over the next 12 months.