Sunday, 29 June 2014

Week 144- heat waves, clammy jeans and going to London...

I’ve done it. I’ve been to London with a nine-week old baby. And it wasn’t nearly as difficult as I’d expected.

Actually, that last bit’s a lie.
To start with, there was the matter of what to wear.

I was going to meet an ├╝ber-glamorous old friend from home. We had arranged to meet on the South Bank outside the Tate Modern. This wasn’t a trip to the park over the road or singing nursery rhymes in a community centre.
This was my reintroduction to civilisation.

I’ve got one pair of size 16 stretchy jeans that I’ve been living in since giving birth to my son. I panic my face off when they have to go in the wash as it means either promoting a pair of jogging bottoms I normally wear in bed to ‘day wear’ or hair-drying the jeans to a clammy level of dampness and wearing them straight from the machine.
As a consequence they’re totally filthy, as it’s easier to just sponge off sick/milk/pasta sauce than risk catching pneumonia.

And then there’s the double top conundrum.
The only way to successfully breastfeed without exposing your entire stretch-marked midriff to anyone within a 10-metre radius is to wear another top underneath the one you’re going to be hoiking up.

Now, that was fine when I was breastfeeding my daughter, as it was a cold autumn and the more layers the better. But this time round we’re in the midst of a near-daily heatwave so wearing an extra layer is like walking around in a bodysuit made of electric blankets.
So, having unsuccessfully tried on numerous pre-baby clothes, I had to admit defeat, sponge off the jeans, and shove on two T-shirts. Then we set out in the 26+ degree heat for our trip to London.

The trick is to go to an access-friendly station when travelling in London with a child.
That way you just hop in the lift and it’s job done.

Or, you can unknowingly go to an access-friendly station, get some poor woman to help you carry a pram down and up several flights of stairs and only then realise there’s a lift.

That’s an alternative, and one that definitely doesn’t help solve the two-tops/sweat problem.
But we got there.

I’d forgotten how beautiful London is. How impressive it is to walk along the river. And what a joy it is to just sit off, have a coffee with an old friend and remember some of the things you enjoy doing as well as being a parent.
I’d also forgotten what time rush hour is.

Having been off work for the best part of four months, my brain has now defaulted to key times for children. So at 5.30pm I said my goodbyes, doing the maths that if I caught the 5.40 from Blackfriars I would be home in time for my daughter’s bath.
But obviously the rest of London was making their way home after work.

What had, up until that point, felt like a mega success, suddenly fell apart as train after packed train pulled up at the station. People were literally hurling themselves at carriages to get on. I couldn’t really see how they’d feasible manage to squeeze one more person in, let alone me and a pram the size of Fiat Panda.
So we waited. And waited. And my son got hungrier and grumpier.

And finally we got on a train. The wrong train. Of course. So had to get off at Gatwick and wait for a connection to Brighton. Then all the trains south were delayed due to signal failure.
Two and a half hours later, the train, which normally takes 50 minutes, pulled up in Brighton.

I could have let it defeat me. It was tempting. I felt like the walking dead and by this stage was starting to smell a bit trampy.
But instead, I picked up my sleeping son’s hand and made him high-five me.

London. Done.

Sunday, 22 June 2014

Week 143- lollies, limping and Keyser Soze...

My daughter can smell out junk food in the same way that babies can allegedly smell their mother’s milk up to 20 feet away.

You only have to rustle a Snickers wrapper in your bag, and she’s asking, ‘mummy what’s that?’

I think I’ve brought this on myself.
It started with a bit of harmless bribery to get us all out of the house. ‘If you put your shoes on, we’ll see about getting you a treat when we’re out.’

But I was clever enough to be non-specific about the ‘treat.’

We’d get to the park and she’d ask me what she’d be getting and I’d wing in, telling her the act of going to the park was the treat. Or a carton of juice. Or a banana.

But she’s not a total idiot.

I couldn’t keep on passing off the stuff she was going to be getting anyway as a treat for long before she wised up to it.

And soon we were back to square one, with me attempting to negotiate her out the house while having an eight-week-old strapped to my front like a fat suit.

So I had to raise my game.

I realised the trick was hold a couple of cards back, don’t give the game away entirely.

 You can offer chocolate. Just don’t say what kind so you can then present a titchy bit without not being true to your word.

Or crisps that turn out to be the ones from the healthfood shop and are virtually air.

Or a lolly that’s made out of 100% juice so it’s just a drink really.

I thought I’d got it nailed, until the other day it dawned on me that she’d been playing me at my own game.

That she’d become a bit of an expert at manipulation, and I hadn’t even seen it was happening right under my nose.

We were in the park. It was hot. She hadn’t had a nap and I was feeling more than a bit ratty.

As my daughter ran round the park she inevitably fell over, being all knackered and disorientated. It wasn’t a nasty fall. Just a tumble. But still. She said she’d hurt her leg, and started limping. I checked and it didn’t look like she’d done any damage, but then she asked, ‘can I have a treat for being brave?’

I faltered. She could see the weakness. And she was limping.

And then a friend who was also in the park with her children called over that she’d been to Aldi and bought lollies for all the children and did my daughter want one?

She heard the magic words and I watched as started first to limp over to her, and then slowly she broke into a fast trot, finally breaking into an arm-waving sprint.

No sight of an injury.

I was watching Keyser Soze from The Usual Suspects.

She’d totally played me. And the little girl with the total inability to fib?

As Kevin Spacey would say, ‘like that, she was gone.’ 

Sunday, 15 June 2014

Week 142- Darcy Bussell, Rastamouse and dancing to car alarms...

There are many things I’ve gained since becoming a parent.

An ability to love someone unconditionally, even when they are screaming themselves purple literally inches away from my face, for one. 

For another, resilience to personal criticism. ('Mummy, why is your stomach so wobbly/ your trousers so big/ your legs so spiky?'; 'Please don’t sing/ talk/ help me/ walk next to me.' That kind of thing.)

But most significantly, I think I’ve gained the power to become impervious to embarrassment.

I don’t know whether this is a bi-product of sleep deprivation or that the majority of my day is spend talking to someone who is too young to answer back so I forget how to behave in the ‘real’ world, but I’ve noticed that more and more frequently I am in situations where, pre-children, it would have been a bit toe-curling, but now, I don’t even bat an eyelid.

For example, I used to be a slightly self-conscious dancer. I don’t think I was ever bad at it, I was no Darcy Bussell, granted, but I think it was more that overwhelming awareness that other people were much better. Or had more rhythm. Or a more mature taste in music. (‘No I really do like Girls Aloud, I wasn’t being ironic.’)

But now, I would literally dance to a car alarm.

I think this happens from being socially and culturally starved when you first have babies. Weeks if not months go by when you don’t see anyone other than your partner in the evening. And your musical references are mainly nursery rhymes or the theme tune from Rastamouse.

So given an opportunity to dance to something/ anything these days, I’ll now grab it.

There was a celebration event on The Level this weekend to mark the first anniversary of its revamp. It was formerly a recreation ground for heavy drinkers, but the place has now been reclaimed by parents and young children.

Part of the entertainment was a selection of live bands. They must have only just started tuning up when me and several other mums were on our feet, poised, ready to pull some moves.

As the music started, we instantly began properly dancing, not shuffling appreciatively, but going for it like we were out and five pints into the evening.

I looked around and all the rest of the audience were stood still, whereas the mums were all giving it large (do people still say that? Did they ever used to say that?).

Why? Because God knows when we would next listen to loud music that didn’t sound like Alvin and the Chipmunks again. And afterwards, I felt rejuvenated. It wasn’t exactly nightclubbing but it was the closest I’m going to get for some time.

My children have striped me of my dignity and with that, every shred of self-consciousness.

Thank goodness.

Maybe we can start to have some fun now.

Sunday, 8 June 2014

Week 141- laddered tights, long car journeys and Total Recall...

There’s nothing more depressing that scanning through your wardrobe the night before going to a wedding to realise that you don’t have ONE item of clothing that isn’t a) skin tight to the point of stopping circulation or b) totally out of fashion as the last time you were invited to something posh was when the Spice Girls were in the charts or c) both.

In hindsight I hadn’t planned very well at all for our first family trip away together.

I thought we’d just chuck everything in the car in the morning, be out of the house by 10am, at the venue by 12pm, and have a lovely afternoon mooching round leafy Berkshire before going to the evening do.

How could I have forgotten EVERYTHING about planning to travel with a tiny baby?

So. There was the outfit crisis to start with.

I’d luckily been lent a dress by a friend. She thought it might have possibly been a long top, but, as I couldn’t squeeze into anything else, and wasn’t prepared to wear it over my maternity jeans, it would have to do.

That faff took a good part of the morning.

And then there was the packing. I have to pack for three people now. Not two. A third of whom is less than a foot tall but comes with so much paraphernalia that we could have done with a trailer.

It’s not just the nappies, the endless changes of clothes, the milk, the wipes, the spare bottles, but it’s also a doubly buggy which is basically the size of the boot of a Fiat Punto.

Two hours later, and the packing’s done.

But like clockwork, the baby then needs feeding, and I’m not talking for a couple of minutes.

I mean a life-draining length of time.

I imagine I end up looking like Arnold Schwarzenegger at the end of Total Recall when he breaks through into the oxygen starved atmosphere.

At the crack of 2pm, we’re eventually in the car to begin the two and a half hour journey to the venue.

The toasts are at 4.15pm, so we’re aware that we’re cutting it a bit fine.

I suddenly remember I haven't packed any tights. It’s one thing wearing a dress that might potentially be just a top, but it’s another doing it with mottled purple legs.

After leaving four convenience stores empty-handed, Sainsbury’s Local comes good with a pair of tights that are such a thin denier that it’s hardly worth it.

And we’re off.

Its 2.30pm, we’ll miss the toasts, but if the motorway’s clear we might make the speeches.

Half an hour up the motorway and I enquire whether Ben’s picked up the baby carrier that slots into the bottom of the pram. No. Of course it’s a no. This means that when we get there, we’ll have to carry him in our arms throughout the whole event.

So we turn round at the next junction.

OK. So we’ll probably miss the speeches. But hopefully get there in time for something to eat.

As Brighton appears on the signs again, our daughter claims she feels sick.

Two seconds later and she’s thrown up all down herself, her chair and the back of my seat. In a vain attempt to help I put my hand out to catch it. I’ve no idea what comfort that will offer but now I’ve got sick all up my arm too.

We get home. The ten second turn-around to pick up the baby carrier turns into twenty minutes as I hose her down with the shower.

And then we get back in the car.

Two and a half hours late, we eventually turn up. A super-quick change in the hotel and we’re ready.

And as we arrive at the reception, I lift the baby carrier up, the Velcro sticks to my tights, and as I pull it off, ladders appear up and down my legs. I’ve also got the mother of all colds so I’ve no idea how much we still smell of sick.

But we’re there. We’ve made it.

We’ve survived our first family trip.

Sunday, 1 June 2014

Week 141- Come Dine with Me, half term and memorising songs from Frozen...

I have no idea how a full-time mum of two young children does it.

I've had one week with both kids while the childminder was on holiday during half term and I feel like I've aged about 15 years.

There's just so much to think about.

It's the really practical stuff. Like, how do you entertain a two-year-old for five days when the baby is feeding for up to TWO HOURS STRAIGHT.

I know the programming schedule of Channel 5's early morning children's viewing, Milkshake, like the back of my hand. Milkshake's kind of like the chav version of CBeebies; it's a bit like comparing Sunny Delight and hand-squeezed organic orange juice.

But it's home to Peppa Pig, meaning my daughter will happily watch it from 6am till 9.30am given the opportunity, so that's cracking news.

The thing is, you're almost running on adrenalin on day one and two of half term.   

I was thinking I'd got the two-child thing nailed.

Granted, we couldn't make it out the house before midday, but at least we were all relatively clean and fed.

That's another thing about being up from ridiculous o'clock. You're starving by 10.30am, so we had been having lunch at about 11ish.

The beginning of the week got off to a flying start.

We went to a farm. Drove out of town to see friends who were yet to meet Thomas. Made cakes. Well, Betty Crocker made them, we just added water, but still.

Basically, I showed my hand too soon.

Because by Wednesday, I'd not only run out of ideas. I'd totally run out of steam.

A whole week is ages to think up fun things to do which also involve a sofa to breastfeed on.

I used to imagine that full-time mums spent their time drinking coffee with friends and watching reruns of Come Dine with Me during the day.

I now think they are a little a bit super human.

If I ran a multi-national company and I interviewed a woman for a post who said she'd spent the first few years of her children's lives looking after them full-time, I'd be like, yep.

You're hired.

Because if you can do that amount of multi-tasking and leave the house wearing matching shoes, you will be fine at managing a team of people and a multi-million pound budget.

By Thursday, I'd given up trying to find entertaining things to do and bought Frozen on DVD.

And by Friday afternoon we'd watched it a total of four times.

I never thought I'd be the kind of mother who stuck the TV on when things got a bit trying.

But turns out I am.

At least, that is, until we can get the feeding down to less than one hour at a sitting.

On the plus side, my daughter and I can almost duet to 'Love is an Open Door,' and I know all the words to 'Let It Go', so it's not like it's been time wasted.