Sunday 31 August 2014

Week 153- scruffy women, shopping trolleys and shuttle buses...

I caught a glimpse of my reflection at Gatwick airport last weekend and didn’t recognise myself. I literally thought I was walking alongside a bedraggled, scruffy woman who was carrying far too much stuff, until I stopped, and she stopped and I realised I was looking at myself.

How has this happened?
Now, I hadn’t expected that I’d be swanning through the airport pulling a full Louis Vuitton luggage set on our first family holiday as a four. But seriously. We are one step removed from pushing our worldly belongings along in a Morrisons shopping trolley.

It’s just impossible to travel light with children, I get it. But this is made all the more apparent when you have to weigh your bags.

We had gone over to Ireland for a few days to visit some old friends and had, initially, just paid for the flights with carry on cases.

But whilst packing prior to the trip, I realised I was living circa 2010 when, pre-children, all I would need to go abroad for a mini break was a pair of heels, a couple of pairs of pants, some dry shampoo, a toothbrush and a tube of industrial strength concealer.

I think I need an inbuilt alarm that goes off whenever I try and plan something that shouts, ‘DON’T FORGET YOU HAVE TWO CHILDREN NOW. EVERYTHING TAKES YONKS AND INVOLVES VAST AMOUNTS OF PARAPHERNALIA.’

As I tried, in vain, to squeeze a week’s worth of clothes for four people into three titchy cases, I realised I needed to pay for another bag. Fifteen kilograms is a huge amount of weight if you think of it in terms of body fat, but it’s nothing if made up entirely of pants, socks and nappies.

And having filled one extra bag with alarming ease, I paid for another bag. By the time I’d confirmed my card details with Ryanair for the third time, the bags were costing pretty much as much as the flights.

As we boarded the plane we pushed our way down the aisle, Ben with three suitcases and a toddler under his arm, me with a rucksack strapped to my back and a baby strapped to my front, and wedged ourselves into our seats.

But getting onto the plane was a cinch compared to getting off it.

We’d liberally distributed our stuff in the overhead compartments and had to wait until literally everyone was off the plane to retrieve it.

Which would have been fine if we’d got a move on.

But doing anything quickly is virtually impossible with a baby and a two-year-old, so by the time we reached the door of the plane, the staff were about to take the steps away.

We’d taken so long that we’d missed the shuttle bus. The passport control officer closed his booth and had to be brought back to let us through.

The airport was completely empty. At the baggage reclaim our belongings were going round and round on the conveyor belt.

It felt like it had taken us as long to disembark the plane and retrieve our luggage as the length of the time we were in the air.

But we can tick that one off the list now. Our first flight as a family. Done.

Sunday 24 August 2014

Week 152- organic toys, nicking nail varnish and dressing like a princess...

It doesn’t matter how much you spend on organic, ethically sourced, gender-neutral toys for your children. They will always prefer to play with the cheap, plastic rubbish, or ‘bin fodder’ as my friend affectionately refers to it.

Same goes with clothes.

My daughter has tonnes of beautiful stuff. I literally mean boxes of it. I’m not showing off. I am, by my own admission, a middle-of-the-night-whilst-breastfeeding-eBay-obsessive, so she was always going to do well out of that.

But, when given the choice of either wearing a pair of gorgeous BNWT Boden dungarees or a Disney-style princess outfit in luminous pink with gothic black netting, that was bought from a jumble sale for 20p, is at least one size too small and looks like a dog has had a good go at it, there is, of course, no competition.

This has been her outfit of choice for the last few weeks.

And that’s how we rocked up to a campsite over the bank holiday weekend. She squeezed it over her normal clothes on an absolute scorcher of a day, so was completely roasting.

Her other favourite thing at the moment is finding ‘special treats’ wherever we go.

These ‘treats’ can vary from leaves to snails to discarded receipts.

So imagine her absolute joy when, as we were pitching the tent, she found a bottle of acid blue, glow-in-the-dark nail varnish.

She’d already buddied up with a bunch of older girls on the site, who had been over several times to introduce her to a variety of dogs, so we assumed one of them must have dropped it.

Having been briefed that she had to return it to its owner, our daughter marched off around the campsite clutching the nail varnish, asking all the girls if it belonged to them. Which it didn’t.

So she claimed it as her own and began, without any encouragement or prior experience, painting her toe nails with the concentration of a surgeon.


I have spent the first two and a half years of my daughter’s short life making a right fuss that children should be whatever they want, can wear whatever colours they like, can play with pretend kitchens or power tools, that it’s their choice.

But for now it turns out my daughter couldn’t be happier than when she’s sitting off in a field dressed as a princess, painting her toe nails with nicked nail varnish.

I think the real punch in the tits came when a fellow camper walked past and said to me: “It’s so lovely when you can dress them up like that. Give it a year or two and she won’t let you.”

Sunday 17 August 2014

Week 151- Lazy Susans, beige food and four in a bed...

If I could go back and have a chat with my pre-child self, there are a few things I'd like to ask her to do.

The first being, save up for a decent-sized double bed.

Don't waste all your disposable income on over-priced large glasses of vin rouge and clothes from Primark that you'll wear once and then give to a charity shop.

Get the biggest bed money can buy. And make sure it comes with a hard mattress.

That bit’s very important. Because you’re going to be spending hours, if not days, hunched over in it feeding a hungry baby. And making do with a second-hand one with about as much resistance as a marshmallow is only going to result in you walking around doubled up and very bad tempered.

There will also be four people sleeping in the bed. And not in a ‘Rita, Sue and Bob too’ kind of way. Think more, Grandpa Jo and family in ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’. It will be hot, stuffy and there will be nowhere to escape, so make sure the bed’s bloody huge or you will spend the entire night being squashed by at least one human being.

My suggestion would be: talk to your partner about anything and everything.

Make sure you find out each other’s perspective on life. That sounds a bit heavy going, but it will be worth it. Know each other’s likes, dislikes, opinions, what films you’ve watched, favourite books. The works.

Because you’re never going to be able to finish a sentence again. Every conversation will be interrupted by a small person asking to go to the loo/watch Frozen for the millionth time/ have a drink/ go to the park/have another peanut butter sandwich/find a small bead that has become a hugely important hidden treasure that’s wedged underneath the fridge.

And when they have gone to bed, you’ll be too tired to talk. But that way you can guess what you might say to each other based on memory instead of actually having to say anything.

Third, learn to cook. Properly. Not just following a recipe from one of the cards you pick up for free on the way into Sainsbury’s. Learn how to bake, to make stews, to cook by taste. Because otherwise your repertoire will be a Lazy Susan of beans on toast, fishfingers and pasta and pesto.

Which is fine for a couple of nights.

But three years in, your daughter will be living on a prison-style menu of Weetabix for breakfast, peanut butter sandwiches for lunch and pasta for tea. And when you do try something a bit different she will refuse on principle as it’s out of her comfort zone because it’s not beige.

If you learn before children, healthy and varied eating will be a way of life, instead of an expensive experiment that everyone thinks tastes disgusting.

But mainly, don’t panic. Don’t freak out when you find out you’re pregnant. Because it’ll be brilliant. There’s a massive trade-off, course there is. But it’s worth it.

Even if you’re only going to have ten centimetres of duvet to sleep under for the next few years, know that you’ll be sharing your bed with literally the best people in your world.

Sunday 10 August 2014

Week 150- scratch cards, cruises and nicking someone's fruit...

In a parallel universe we live in a five-bedroom house with a massive garden and a huge open fire. All surfaces are dust-repellent, there are obscene amounts of storage, so I never tread on a rogue bit of Duplo again, and the high-ceilinged walls are painted throughout in different shades of Farrow and Ball.

As we are currently house-hunting, the reality of our budget in this universe is starting to sink in.
The thing is, something’s always got to give.

If you want to live in town, you have to give up the idea of a garden in favour of a ‘patio’, which is about four paving slabs overlooked by neighbours on all sides.
Alternatively you can live further out of town and get a bigger place, but have to accept a potential life of loneliness as not even your best mates will take the three bus journeys to come and see you.

I spotted the most amazing house that was selling for the best part of three-quarters of a million pounds and I started daydreaming about what it would be like to live there.
The dinner parties we’d have round the twenty seater oak table; the amazing meals I’d cook from scratch for the children on the Arga; how, as a family, we’d learn to identify the different birdsongs in our football pitch-sized garden, just for a laugh.

In fact, not only would I live in a huge house, I would instantly become a more wholesome, more crafty person who was also so hugely nice that you couldn’t help but be pleased for me and my humongous abode.
I got so carried away with the idea that I started buying scratch  cards, convinced that I was just a quid away from the £100,000 that would enable us to buy it and have some spare change for a cruise while the removal men unpacked.

Until I realised I’d missed a zero off my calculations and I’d need to win at least seven times, which seemed a little less realistic.
One of the best bits about house-hunting is looking round houses you’d never normally get invited into. It’s like a nosy persons dream. You get a snapshot into people’s lives and try to see if you could somehow adapt your life into their space.

But by far the best person to take to viewing is a two-year-old.
If you want an honest opinion about a place, just ask them. They remember the things you don’t. The homes with the great places to hide. The ones that smell weird. The houses that have all the children’s toys out, which, as exciting as it is for a child, is a giveaway that the parents have run out of storage.

It’s also worth remembering you can’t take your eyes off a small person for a minute though.
My daughter has nearly made off with another child’s teddy, has snuck off to use the loo during a viewing and has even started to eat fruit from someone’s fruit bowl.
Never mind. I might be sitting off in my five-bed house in a parallel universe, but I don’t imagine my parallel kids are nearly as much fun.

Sunday 3 August 2014

Week 149- red wine, 30 Day Shred and priority seats when not pregnant...

The worst has happened.

I thought getting stitched up and not being able to sit down for the best part of a month when I gave birth to my daughter was bad.
Or having to walk around with cabbage leaves stuffed in my bra to relieve the strain of mastitis.
In fact, having to negotiate with a two-year-old who’s literally thrown herself on the floor of the big Sainsbury’s and is beating the tiles with her fists on a busy Saturday morning seems like a laugh in comparison with this.
I have been mistaken for still being pregnant.
This is like all my worst post-birth nightmares rolled into one.
I bumped into a friend of the family whilst we were travelling up and down the country introducing our new son to relatives.
We greeted each other warmly, and, as she asked me how I was, she touched my stomach. It all happened so quickly that I wasn’t entirely sure what had just happened. That was until it was followed up by the head-cocked, ‘How are you getting on?’ question.  
And I realised she clearly thought I was still pregnant.
Obviously word had spread that I was having a baby, but it had not got around that it had actually been born.
We chatted briefly, and to avoid any embarrassment, I brushed right over the imminent birth of my now three-month old son and instead asked about her family.
We said our goodbyes, with her kindly wishing me luck, and then she walked into the pharmacy, where I was just about to buy nappies. But there was no way I could let her realise her mistake by allowing her to see me buying something for a baby. To spare both our blushes, I walked around the block, thinking I’d go to the supermarket instead.
But, as is the way when you try to avoid someone, she had beaten me to it and was already in the Co-op. I made a ‘We should stop meeting like this’ gag, as I looked down at my basket which was, so far, full of red wine and chocolate. Not great for an ‘expectant’ mother.
We parted company again but several minutes later, as I went to join the checkout queue clutching the nappies - proof that I had a child at home - I saw that she was also waiting to pay.
So I hid.
I’m a 35-year old woman, and I found myself squatting in the confectionary aisle to avoid further conversations about being pregnant, when in fact I had the baby 14 weeks ago.
And I had a moment of clarity.
With a heavy heart, I took out the multi-pack of Twirls, replaced them with some Ryvita and thought, right then Jefferson, when you get back to Brighton, you are going to unwrap that copy of ’30 Day Shred’ and dust off those dumbbells that haven’t been used since the impulse Amazon buy, and you will squeeze into your old jeans if it kills you.
Either that or totally milk this situ and start using the priority seats on the bus again.