Father’s Day is a vile capitalist construct. But, hey, some of the bastards aren’t bad.

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Er, yes, so I’ve been a bit slack with this recently. It feels like last week was March – time is playing tricks with me, the bastard. But I guess the thing is that since I started back at work, my days were following roughly this pattern:

Wake up at 3am to feed Felix; wake up at 5am to feed Felix; wake up at 7am to feed Felix, and Teddy and me, go to work; work; run to nursery at 5.30pm; feed Felix and Teddy; put them to bed over a protracted time; eat food; freelance; feed Felix at 10pm; bed…

… and so it went on. The bit that changed was that eventually the people that were hiring me to do freelance possibly saw through my paper-thin facade: “Oh no, it’s FINE! I can work whenever you need me to! I’m enjoying this! I will make it work!” and dumped me. And suddenly I am able to cope. I’m also suddenly unable to afford to get my eyebrows tinted quite as often as I’d like and am therefore looking a little Tilda Swinton, but who doesn’t love a bit of Tilda?

So yes, I’m back at work. Actual work. And – incredibly – I’m loving it. I don’t resent it, I don’t feel pushed into it (see previous career); I don’t feel like someone wants to push me out of it (also see previous career); I feel (whisper it) valued. And – also incredibly – one of the main reasons why I’m enjoying it so much is (agh oh god, what the hell am I saying?) Dave. Dave! I know!

So, the thing is, we decided just before I went back to work that Felix was just too young to start nursery, and it was going to be just too bloody expensive. And I say ‘we’, but to be honest, it was actually more Dave’s thing than mine. But he was right. (By the way, whenever I say things like, “Dave was right” or anything else that paints him in some kind of vaguely positive light, could you not pass it on to him, please? Ta.) This meant that Dave was going to be looking after Felix full-time four days a week, and Teddy part-time (Teddy swans off to nursery whenever he can be bothered).

The first day I went to work, I was nervous as hell (and had knockers like lead balloons, thanks to Felix suddenly going on strike – thanks for that, missus). But my nerves were nothing on Dave’s. He looked green by the time I walked down the road. He was holding fat Felix in one hand, and trying to prevent Teddy from running after the recycling truck like a rabid dog with the other. And he just looked terrified.

The terror has largely gone, but only to be replaced with a weary, greyish look. Felix is sleeping better these days, but she has an unfortunate habit of launching into the day at 5.13am with a poo in her nappy the size of her head to contend with. Morning! We take it in turns to get up with her. Each time I get a “lie-in”, I feel so guilty: I get to sleep until 7am, and then all I have to do is go to work. He has to look after TWO babies. And one of them is a massive pain in the arse.

And he’s doing a brilliant job – he takes them to the park (I wouldn’t leave the house!), he feeds them actual food (not just packets of things that say ‘organic’ on them in really small writing with a footnote beneath that says something like, “we only said ‘organic’ to prey on your weak mothering ‘skills’ – if you think for one minute that Hugh F-W fed his kids any of this rubbish, you are very much mistaken. Still, it doesn’t have any sugar in it. OH I’M SORRY YES, IT DOES, IT’S RAMMED WITH THE STUFF! Oh, and don’t forget the trans-fatty acids, a touch of palm oil, and a dead dolphin. But look how cute our sales pitch is! We use a font that looks like a crayon! Seeya!”), and at the end of every day, he tells me a) how much they’ve pooed and eaten, and b) that he loves them more than me.

Can I just point out that I was looking after these two small people for five months, and it was HELL. HELL. I wouldn’t go back to that if you made me with pointy sticks. It was utterly diabolical. For a couple of months at least, Teddy was going through some awful older sibling thing; he hated me because I’d bought Felix to terrorise him – he raged against me, bedtimes were horrific and screamy and lengthy and awful. And then suddenly they weren’t, and suddenly I was back at work, and suddenly I love them with that big, huge, heavy heartedness that Dave has always talked about. Annoyingly he still feels like that after spending all day with them. I only feel it now that I have seven hours a day to dick about on Facebook.

So this is a plea, really. All you cretins (I wanted to type ‘blokes’ there and didn’t, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t largely mean that) that are going out to some cushy job leaving your partners at home to look after the kids; you arseholes that return home and curl your lip at some piece of untidiness, or raise an eyebrow at an unwashed partner or a disobedient child. You utter twats who come home after being away for a night or two and balk at having babies thrust at you the minute you walk in. You wankers who don’t get up to do a feed in the middle of the night because you’re the one going to work the next day. You verminous bottom-feeders who not-so-secretly think, ‘what’s so difficult about childcare’? You. You know who you are. I’ve done both sides, and I know the truth.

That stuff about ‘parenting being the hardest job in the world’ is largely bullshit, obviously – I wouldn’t begin to equate a day of lead-mining and/or defending your country with guns (just the two worst jobs I could think of off the top of my head, I have a feeling there are worse out there*) with the dual responsibilities of making sure the toddler doesn’t eat all the toothpaste and preventing the baby from falling in the tumble dryer. However. That said. It is fucking hard work. Much more than you think it is, if you don’t do it. And no matter what I’ve said before, and no matter what I’ll say after – Dave is bloody brilliant at it, and I love him to death for it.

*In fact, one ex of mine spent a summer vacation loading fresh pig hides onto a pallet. It was a hot summer. The ones at the top would be crispy. While the ones toward the bottom were still rather… flaccid. Yes, even I would prefer childcare to that particular experience.

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When will I be the parent I wanted to be?

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There are two of them, and one of them is puce, screaming blue murder while you try to change her nappy. This nappy has failed to contain the litres of vile contents, which you are dabbing at uselessly with one of the tiny cut-price wet wipes you decided to buy because they were on offer. As you dab, she kicks her stupendous thighs free of your grasp, and dollops of yellow shit splatter up her legs, arms and hair, over the one top you have that doesn’t cling to your wobbly bits and which was fresh on that morning, and you’re pretty sure a couple of spots of it might have landed in your mouth, while you’re shouting, “GET OFF THE CHANGING MAT,” trying to be measured and calm and not caps lock about it all, while the two-year-old capers in and out of the poo dollops, shrieking mercilessly and emitting a constant stream of: “Teddy want a cuddle! Teddy want a cuddle! Cuddle! Teddy done a poo! Teddy hurt foot! What’s this? What’s this called? WHAT’S THIS CALLED? WHAT’S THIS CALLED? Treat! Snack? Rice cracker! Ricecrackerandbutter! Crackerandbutter! CRACKERANDBUTTER! WHAT’S THIS CALLED? Mummy look! Mummy LOOK! Mummy LOOOOOOOOOK!”

But suddenly it’s all changed, and instead of me doing this, it’s Dave. He’s doing it. And the reason he’s doing it is because I’ve started work. I’ve actually gone and got a bloody job. And not only do I need to change the title of this blog (yes, yes, I know, and I should make it look less shonky while I’m at it, thanks for reminding me) but I also need to stop whinging about the fact that I don’t have a job. Because I do. And it’s started. Today.

And because I was so caught up in the guilt and the awfulness and the what-the-fuck-have-I-done-ness of trying to cope with a toddler and a baby simultaneously, I completely forgot to think about how utterly bereft I might feel having to spend all my time away from them. It’s bloody awful. I couldn’t think about Teddy without a little tear springing to my eye* which is just not cricket in a new office, surrounded by new colleagues, wearing new officey clothes, and trying to be professional and not swear, cry or leak milk out of one’s boobs at any given moment. And I couldn’t think about Felix without said milk having a little spurt. A fine-knit pale grey sweater was not the best choice, in hindsight.

By the time I got home, I had one boob the size and consistency of a large grapefruit (the other one just sat there, being all unhelpful when it came to balance and aesthetics and all of that – bad boob), a stomach full of stress, a heart full of guilt, and I had about seven minutes with Teddy before it was bathtime. Felix smiled at me gloriously and gummily, largely ignoring the bionic breast I was beating her around the head with.

Who does this awful thing to women? Who makes us fall in love with these helpless, loud creatures when we’re not looking? And who then makes us think that the best thing to do would be to go to work so we can pretend to be the women we were before we procreated? Why is that a good thing? Wouldn’t it be far better to stay at home playing Duplo, covered in a patchwork of bodily secretions, and not wearing mascara for weeks on end on account of not leaving the house?

Me. I’ve done this awful thing to me. The grass is always so much greener absolutely everywhere I look. When I was at home, looking after the sprogs, all I wanted was to have something creative and interesting to think about again. And while I was child-caring, I thought I was – largely – making a pig’s ear of it all. Just last week I thought to myself, when am I going to be the parent that I expected I was going to be?

When I imagined myself as a parent, I thought I’d be all about the home-made play dough. I’d be the baker, the creative crafter, the inventor of games, the singer of songs, the wearer of aprons goddamit. Now I am a parent, I’ve discovered that I’m the impatient shouter who wields the TV remote like it’s the holy grail. I’m lazy. I swear at them, sometimes not under my breath. I resent them, they irritate me. And Dave is so much better than me at all of it – he’s more patient, more kind, and he adores them with his huge great heart, and they adore him right back. Inside my head, I used to slink off back to my cave with my tail between my legs after shouting at Teddy to get into bed, and hear Dave singing This Old Man, and Teddy giggling, and feel like the most rubbish parent alive.

But now I’m back at work, and I can see I wasn’t that bad. And it wasn’t that bad. And they’re not that bad. But that, in fact, this is bad. That being able to pop into the Farrow & Ball shop in my lunch hour isn’t quite the reward I’d hoped. That you don’t need to be feeding them organic quinoa and parsnip bread, and entertaining them with home-made racially diverse puppet shows to make them into nice people. That flavoured rice cakes and CBeebies are necessary tools, and bribery with both of these things is widespread and acceptable. And that now I’m going to be missing Felix’s first roll, first step, first word, and Teddy will call out for Dave in the middle of the night when he has a bad dream. And so now I really am the crap parent I thought I was last week – but now it’s not because I’m lazy while I’m with them, it’s because I’m not with them at all. How do you win? I’m not sure you can. Unless, of course, you’ve just fashioned your dungarees into two turbans, one sari and a yarmulke for tomorrow’s matinée.

* I admit it, I love the bastard**.

** I’m being technical here, not rude.

Breaking: children are horribly childish

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And so you see, there I was, sitting here this afternoon, enjoying this incredible time when BOTH babies were asleep. These particular stars could have collided for a minute, maybe five. So I was sitting here, at the kitchen table, lazily browsing for the perfect waterfall cardigan (I’m just sooooo two years ago fashion-wise, always. It’s my cross. That, and the chubby knees) and the buggers didn’t wake up. I had a perfect, quiet, baby-free house for TWO HOURS. And what did I achieve in those two hours? A fairly flammable-looking cardigan, by the looks of things, and I made an appointment to get my eyebrows painted back on again (a necessity: I am currently unable to muster any sinister looks, say anything archly, affect sarcasm, or be surprised at anything – I’m just a tiny forehead melting into nose holes). Suffice to say, it was a bit of a waste.

So here I am – while him indoors fixes the world’s problems one operating system at a time – desperately trying to feel as though I’ve achieved something today.

What I was going to say, before all of this kicked in, was my current thoughts about babies and toddlers and how everyone says, ooh missus (they might not say that, but bear with me), don’t wish the time away! Lord, no! It’ll be gone in a flash, and the next time you look they’ll be 45 and pushing you into a nursing home, if you’ve managed to hold out that long! Ha ha!

I understand that time is a tricky bastard and no mistake. But that doesn’t stop me from, y’know, um, wishing the time away. I don’t want them to be vile, greasy teenagers, knocking back my Marsala and knocking up next door’s 14-year-old*, obviously. Obviously. But in these last few weeks I’ve had to cope with the two of them AND me suffering from 17 viruses of various descriptions – mainly liquid-based – and the one thing that’s been running through my head is, for god’s sake, why can’t you blow your sodding nose? STOP SNUFFLING. Stop. Snuffling. It’s midnight. 1am. 2am. 2.03am. Stop. It.

I think it’s fair dos at those points in the night to wish a leetle tiny bit of time away, don’t you? Teddy still can’t blow his nose either – he just sort of spits from his mouth. Yes, I know, village idiot and all that.** A couple of weeks ago, he started randomly running around the kitchen – as he tends to do after his fifth snack of the morning. Sometimes he does this pretending to be a helicopter (“Bzzzzzzz! Bzzzzzzz! I’m ‘Arold!” – this is Harold the Helicopter from Thomas the Tank Engine, and I’m to blame for the southeast London accent, of which I’m supremely proud to have developed in the westcountry). Sometimes, as was the case in this instance, he runs around at full pelt with no trousers on, shrieking, “Chase you! Chase you! Cheeky!” like a badly translated Carry On film.

After a very long two minutes, I said, “Oh my GOD, just grow UP!”

Which instantly worked, of course. For these past two weeks he’s taken great delight in exclaiming, “Oh my GOD! Oh my GOD! Oh my GOD!” whenever we’re in spitting distance of the easily shockable (I think he can smell them), sounding very grown up indeed.

Be careful what you wish for and all of that. And yet I wouldn’t suggest that his life is suddenly whooshing past my eyes at a galactic rate just because I asked for it to: while Teddy is cheerfully blaspheming, he’s doing it with his trousers pulled down to his knees, while grinding fistfuls of rice crispies into the living room rug. He’s definitely still a toddler, albeit one of the more annoying ones.

 

*This child does not exist. Yet. And my child wouldn’t do that. Then. If that child existed. What kind of enormous bloody great hole have I dug myself here? HELLO hello hello hellooooo (that’s an echo, that is).

**He can’t jump either. White men – and small toddlers, it turns out – are rubbish at this particular talent. You should see him at the end of the “Hop Little Bunny” song (no idea what this is? I hate you more than you can possibly imagine): he just flexes up and down on his toes as though he’s limbering up his calves for a half marathon. Idiot.

One toddler, one baby, one JOB…

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Manatee Portrait

 

Cor blimey, missus – it’s been a loooooong time. Turns out that having a baby and a toddler – TOGETHER – takes up a fair bit of time. So where were we?

Right. I’d had Felix, she was, y’know, okay and all. I’d got over the whole birth thing without tremendous trauma, and Teddy was being very noble about giving up his only child status. Noble, brave Ted.

Fast-forward a few months, and things have moved on a little. Felix is massive. Vast. The bastard offspring of Rubens and Beryl Cook. The nurse who administered her jabs described her thighs as “juicy”. Having first had a very slender Ted (of whom health visitors would express worry and send me into spirals of self-doubt about my dried-up witchy old breasts not producing enough food for him. Bloody bloody BLOODY health visitors), this has been one of the best gifts Felix could have ever given me. Her lard. So, this has resulted in me feeling a lot more calm, and a lot happier that she won’t starve to death. A bit of formula in the afternoon tends to keep her topped up too. (Having a baby? Try combined feeding. Honest. It’s the future. The kind of future in which you have a plump child; the kind of future where you might be able to leave your baby in the care of another for more than 45 minutes; the kind of future where you can get PISSED. Lovely, lovely future.)

Meanwhile, Teddy has turned into some kind of blathering genius. Overnight, he went from pointing gormlessly at cars and saying, “want” to pointing gormlessly at cars and saying, “can’t reach that, mummy.” He sings to us (tunelessly). He tells us what he’s been doing at nursery (largely vehicle-based). He recites whole passages of Tabby McTat (he’s a busker’s cat, and his meow was LOUD and STRONG). And all of this is spoken in a pastiche Italian accent, like he’s stepped out of a slighltly racist 1970s sitcom: “Give-a me-a car”. Odd.

And alongside his geniusness, he has further blossomed into possibly the prettiest child I’ve ever seen in my whole life. That kind of makes the whole motherhood thing a lot easier to handle. And it definitely makes all the rest of his crazy development an easier pill to swallow. No-one told me about the biting – that wasn’t mentioned at NCT. Great bloody chunks he’s ripped out of my arm. And do you know the really irritating thing about it? He’s still a fussy little bugger with just about every single food group aside from cake – but apparently human flesh is a goer. Anyhoo, I forgive him everything, because he looks so damned cute in a hat.

And finally (because I can hear a snotty Kraken stirring), it looks like I’m going to have to change the name of this rather beautifully designed blog (I know, I know – it looks horrendous. This is what happens when you’re married to a designer. It’s like that whole thing about cobblers’ wives going barefoot – designers’ wives are an embarrasment on WordPress) – because very shortly, I am going to be an Employed Person. Don’t worry! I’ve still got plenty to moan about! It’s only a short-term contract! But along with employment comes, it transpires, massive, baggy, bone-shaking guilt. The Genius and the Fat One will be left to fend for themselves, while I swan about in Chanel suits, smoking fags and wearing lipstick. None of that is strictly true, of course (I’ve not worn lipstick for decades) , but that’s how it makes me feel. Guilt, guilt, awful awful guilt. More of that next time, I’d imagine. Pip pip.

What if you don’t love your babies?

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I read a lot of childcare books before I had Ted to try and work out what to do with him when he got here. In among all that stuff about how to change nappies and how to spot meningitis, there was a bit about how you were supposed to fall in love with your babies as soon as they popped out. Your eyes would meet theirs, all the adrenalin and all those hormones would collide, your pupils would dilate, and you’d fall instantly, hugely in love.

This is my experience.

When I had Ted, I’d been stuffed full of Pethidine and I was hooked up to an epidural. I wasn’t sure how to push, because I couldn’t feel anything. He was eventually sucked out by ventouse and I didn’t feel the slightest twinge. He was flopped on to my chest, looking pink and unwrinkled, and actually rather beautiful. I stared and stared into his eyes, waiting for this rush of love.

About four weeks later, I said to Dave, “Do you love him?” and he was of course shocked that I’d even asked. Dave fell in love with Teddy instantly – he has absolutely adored him from the very first day. But four weeks in to my first experience of parenting, I still wasn’t sure if I loved him – in fact, after four weeks of very little sleep, love was definitely not the emotion I was feeling.

But then there was the first smile, and a little after that, there was a bit more head control, and a few weeks after that, the ceaseless crying ceased a little, and Teddy started to use other verbal tricks to get our attention – he cooed and giggled. And around that time, this huge blanket of love that I feel for him now started to envelop me.

With Felix, I felt sure things would be different. It was my second (it would be easier), she was a girl (I would have an instant affinity), and I was determined not to take any offered drugs (I wouldn’t be off my head).

But it turns out it wasn’t. Felix was flopped on to my chest, all purple and grey and wrinkled, covered in that hideous vernix stuff, looking rather more like Gollom than I’d hoped. Within a few minutes, she had to be whisked off for oxygen as she wasn’t quite doing the job of breathing on her own. Dave was terrified; I was nonplussed. Of course, it helped that I’d seen this a million times on One Born Every Minute, but I really wasn’t at all bothered. I was more worried about the fact that I still had to get this grim placenta out, that I was still having contractions that were making me feel a bit sick. Its was all me, me, me. Not her, her, her.

She was fine, of course. She came back, she eventually latched on, it was all fine. I had a piece of toast, a bath, and then we went home.

Felix is seven weeks old now, and I’ve been through exactly the same experience as I did with Teddy. I love her now, I do, but it’s been a gradual process: for those first few weeks, my main emotion towards her was resentment and resignation. Oh she’s crying again, only I can do anything about it. What a chore.

I felt protective of her, of course, but I didn’t feel anything remotely like love for her until a couple of weeks ago. The smiles really helped, and the coos, and just the other day she turned her head while she was sleeping, and she looked really very cute. So it’s there now, I promise.

But this is the thing: I’ve not had postnatal depression, or even baby blues – I’m in rude emotional health (I’ve been watching Frasier a lot; I’m pretty sure that’s all the psychoanalysis I need). I guess I’m just not a huge fan of newborn babies.

I had no idea I’d feel this way! I didn’t realise you could. I’ve watched my friends have babies and fall massively in love with them the instant they saw them, and I just assumed that would happen to me. In fact, what I was worried about before all this baby stuff happened, was not being able to love a toddler: a walking talking person who screams through meals and kicks and bites and wants you to read him the same book 17 times, and when we’re in public will only talk in phrases he’s learnt from the telly. But I love that toddler SO MUCH it merely adds to my resentment of the baby.

I was surprised how long it took me, but I refuse to feel guilty about it. Diana Ross was right: you can’t hurry love. The way I work is that I love them more the bigger they are, the more personality they have, the less fragile they are, the more you can do with them. I thought I would never love Ted as much as Dave did, but I caught up in a stumbling, breathless, sprinting, almighty final push to the finish: and now it feels like my heart is going to explode every time I see him. Teddy is my world… and Felix will be too.

 

Why motherhood is like being on TV in the 80s.

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Cor… Hello, there! S’been a while, ain’t it? So there I was, with a newborn, worrying about when would be the next time I’d do the hoovering, and that was, like, FOUR WEEKS AGO. And here I am, with a newborn, worrying about the next time I’ll be able to do the hoovering. It’s been a long month.

And I’m typing at a million miles an hour because he’s napping, she’s napping, the other half is out, and I’ve got about 3 minutes before it all goes stupid. The only reason she’s napping, by the way, is because the next door neighbours have had a power cut, and they’ve got an industrial generator going in the front garden which is a couple of decibels short of a pneumatic drill and just as calming. However, for a four-week old baby it’s akin to a heavenly choir whispering a spot of Brahms while one is rocked on a cloud of cotton wool. She’s an odd fish.

The point of this one is that the whole process of childbirth and beyond has made me think about humans and animals and how, at this incredible, traumatic, life-changing event in one’s life, the two become indistinguishable. And it’s really very disturbing.

I’ve never really thought of myself as an animal before, but the noises you make during labour are nothing short of bestial. Aside from the very specific “Oh my god, give me an epidural NOW” ones. I don’t think animals know that one yet. Dolphins might, obviously.

With Felix, the noises that emerged from me were these low-down, deep, gutteral things. I’m not sure I could repeat them if I tried. And so loud, so repetitive – and weirdly so helpful while you’re in the thick of it. I remember concentrating as hard on making the noises as I did listening to the noises that were emanating from me. “Grooooaaaaaaaaaarrrrrrrrrrrmmmmmmmmmmmmmm” Something like that. For about a minute each time. The day after, it took me a few minutes to work out why my throat was killing me. I could sit down, I could pick things up, my recovery was awesome – but god, my throat.

And when it got to the really pointy bit, I largely had my eyes closed – just concentrating on the pain, the gas and air, and the noises. I closed myself right off from everything around me – it was a peculiar, animalistic, cave-like experience. I remember it now – now that the pain has faded a little – and I remember feeling fantastic in that moment, every time a contraction subsided, that I’d worked through it and achieved it and wasn’t stabbing anyone in the process. And overwhelmed that I was doing all of this on my own.

Yes all right, there might have been a whiff of entonox, and Dave and the midwife were chivvying me along obviously, and yes, well, there was the tiniest drop of morphine, but besides all that, it was all down to me, in my cave, bellowing. I closed my eyes and groooaaaarrrrmmmmed my way through it, and felt the most mammal-like I’ve ever felt. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever felt like a mammal before. But there you go. At those moments, I wouldn’t have been any more surprised had I sprouted a thick pelt, grown hooves and shouted “MOO”.

And then there’s the other thing. The boobs thing. If I hear another baby crying, I get a sudden feeling as though a tap has been turned on at my shoulders – this is what’s known as letdown, when your boobs prep themselves for feeding your baby. I get it when I see another baby, when I talk about Felix, when I talk to people about the weird sensation that is letting down, and right now, goddamit. (And every single bloody time I’ve forgotten to put breast pads in. Every. Single. Time. Ooh! What are breast pads, I hear you cry eagerly? If you don’t know, it’s probably best you don’t find out about circular sanitary pads you put in bras to stop your woman-milk leaking out, it might make you feel a bit unnecessary.) It’s the oddest sensation, and one which is so difficult to explain, but suddenly makes you completely aware that you are a mere step away from the animal kingdom – not even a step; a shuffle, a heartbeat. Me, cats, cows, dolphins… All simultaneously leaking milk whenever we hear small things cry.

So yes, there we go – I have more in common with astonishingly good 80s TV shows than I thought. There I was hoping I’d turn out like Cagney & Lacey (YES, both of them, they each had their plus points) or at the very least Hawkeye, but it turns out I’m Manimal.*

 

*You really have to be my vintage to appreciate just how fabulous I am to remember this often-maligned but truly wonderful series. You see, it was a MAN who transformed into ANIMALS. Hence, MANIMAL. Okay, he was a little limited, I think he only did panther and eagle – I can’t remember a vole or a meerkat, for instance, but I’m sure he had it in him. There was an episode once where a beautiful ladyfriend thought he’d turned into an elephant, but he hadn’t really, it was just for the purposes of the hahaha ending credit bit. So. No elephants. But panthers! PANTHERS! God it was good. I think it was on just before Knightrider. Saturday afternoons in 1983 truly were the BOMB.

Oh, didn’t you want the whole birth story, then?

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So. First off, sorry for the huge delay between posts. Secondly, reason being is a whole new life form. And thirdly, there’s a good chance this is going to be a very short post, as both of them are currently asleep, and in the Venn diagram of toddler/baby sleep patterns, my experience tells me that I’ve got roughly 7.5 minutes to dash this off.

She arrived the day after my birthday, which was extremely polite of her and, I suspect, an indication of things to come. The birth story is as follows:

  • Yes, the labour was shorter than with Teddy.
  • But not that much shorter.
  • Turns out that, yes, it still hurts second time around no matter how many midwives tell you how “slack” you might have become after the first birth. (Midwives should not use the word “slack” in relation to anything other than time-keeping.)
  • NO BLOODY EPIDURAL.
  • (But not through want of asking.)
  • Diamorphine, however, was gratefully received, and was absolutely bloody marvellous.
  • I felt every single burning push. It was horrific.
  • But also incredible.
  • I’m not sure if I pooed. I suspect I might have, possibly while straddling the bed with my bum in the air, lowing like a cow. If you have to poo in public, I thoroughly recommend assuming this position for the most effective nightmarish flashbacks.

So she was born at some time after 5 – neither of us are clear on the time, to be honest. I’ve yet to look in the Red Book (for the uninitiated, this is a little like the Red Room in Jane Eyre, but in literary form, and with slightly less moths) to discover awful truths like weight (teeny), head circumference (ginormous) and so forth.

And we’ve called her Felix. This will result in a post all by itself in time to come. But let’s for now say that when we told everyone that Ted was going to be called Ted, we had a pretty much unanimous response of, “What a cool name!” Which was rather lovely and affirming for us, having worried about the name for about 40 weeks.

With Felix, we’ve also had a unanimous response, which has been: “Huh?”

Which means I’ve been very defensive about it – telling everyone from midwives to relations that harrumph, I just love the name, I knew a girl who had the name when I was little, Felix wouldn’t suit a girly girl kind of name in any case, I like strong names, and BLAH BLAH BLAH. Why are you questioning our choice of name in the first place? Why do I feel so defensive about it? I think it’s an AWESOME name – I would have loved to have been called Felix, were I not already called Esther, which is also a pretty cool name, in my humble. And lots more other things which I’d go into were it not for the fact that the smallest Kraken has awoken and I have to busy myself with getting a boob out and trying not to scream in agony when she latches on.

More on the delights of breastfeeding anon! For now, she’s here, and YES she’s called Felix, and YES she’s not that bad.

My calm and rational response to being two days away from due date.

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It’s not dull anymore. It’s terrifying. Hair-pullingly, face-scrapingly, nail-chewingly terrifying. I’ve got two days until my due date and I’m absolutely weeing myself with fear. (Not literally. My pelvic floor is cast iron, I’ll have you know.)

This is the second time around for me, and that means a number of things, but more importantly it means that I’ve done absolutely no preparation whatsoever. I’ve not been to any NCT classes, I haven’t read a single book – or in fact a single page of a single book*, I’ve done about 3.5 pelvic floor exercises – mostly now, as I’ve typed the words “pelvic floor”, I haven’t massaged my perineum (if you don’t know what this is, do NOT Google it or you’ll be scarred for life), I haven’t done a solitary yoga posture (unless “reaching under the sofa for three-day-old banana” counts), I haven’t researched correct breathing techniques. I’ve done nothing. Nothing. And suddenly it’s upon me like the biggest of brick walls slamming me in the face, and I feel so woefully under-prepared it makes me cry just thinking about it.

The two scary things are: childbirth (again) and having TWO to look after.

So with the first fear I’m just naively hoping that I’ll remember things from Teddy’s birth and do all the good bits (the Tens, the breathing, the swiss ball) and avoid the bad bits (shouting like a banshee, accepting pethidine as pain relief, not being demanding enough). But every birth is different, right? What if this is worse? What if it’s longer? What if I can’t do it? What if I need a c-section? What if Teddy needs me while I’m screaming blue murder? And what if it hurts just as much? What if I’m rubbish?

And then with the second fear, there’s this: now we’re going to have two of the blighters. Two. What on earth do you do with a toddler and a baby at the same time? Have I made the worst mistake of my life? Is Teddy going to hate me? Because you see the thing is, since I was made redundant back in June I haven’t really stepped back on to the mothering bandwagon very well – I’m just clinging on by a fingernail, to be honest. Before I went back to work, Teddy attended all sorts of classes – soft play, singing, baby sensory, swimming, massage… But then I went back to work, and I really only had him for one whole day a week to myself, so we just went to the park usually. Or the library. Or Waitrose.

And then work finished, and I failed to sign up to any other classes because I didn’t believe that work had… finished. We’ve been to the park a bit, and the odd play date, but I’ve never quite resumed where I left off. This makes me an utterly appalling parent in my eyes. It seems like everyone else is either following a regime of structured play dates throughout the week, or their child is running freely in woodland learning all about nature, or they’re doing both these things at once.

Teddy gets to go to the library if he’s lucky (and that’s only because it’s above Waitrose). So I’ve completely ballsed it up, parenting-wise. And in the meantime, I’ve become completely dependent on a husband who works from home, who helps me with everything Teddy-shaped – I don’t even park the car on my own. Now we’re facing the prospect of two small, very dependent beings, and I’m going to have to drink a very large can of Man Up, and I just don’t feel ready for it. I almost cried half an hour ago trying to get Teddy out of the car on my own. And then I almost cried again, when he demanded his train set when he should have been napping. And then I almost cried again when he went to bed, finally, without a murmur.

How am I supposed to evolve into a proper parent, and quickly, before it’s all too late, and they’re both in therapy? And how am I supposed to make sure that both of them are happy, tolerant, measured, unshouty beings, when I feel none of those things?

I am so scared. My life is about to be tipped upside down AGAIN – and it could be in a matter of hours, or it could be days, but it’s going to be very soon, and I really really wish I’d read a book about it.

 

* A single book to do with childbirth, that is – I finished Sarah Waters’ latest last week which was FABULOUS but didn’t give me much of an insight into birth and child-rearing, for which I shall only score it 99/100.

And you thought Waiting For Godot was dull*. Try waiting for childbirth.

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I’m 38 weeks and 3 days. Which means I’ve got 11 days until my due date. Teddy was 6 days overdue, and lots of people are saying that generally speaking you can expect your second to turn up around a week earlier. These are the facts, people.

Another thing: at my midwife appointment this week, she did all the usual checks (they’re largely blood and wee-based – it’s all very primal having a baby), and after a little while, said to me, “do you think this baby is going to come early?” At which, I said I had no idea. It was only afterwards that I realised that this might have been rhetorical. She thinks the baby is going to come early.

Of course I’m just clutching at straws. Cos the purposes of this post is one of time. These last couple of weeks have taken a million years. And the fact that I’ve still got the best part of a fortnight to get through is just killing me. This is the slowest gestation period known to man, I’m pretty sure of it. I think elephants have pretty long ones, don’t they? And I heard last night something very silly about Jackie Chan (I actually had to google “Jackie Chan gestation period” at one point, and I suggest you do too – I think he might have been trying to reinvent himself as a fetal Chuck Norris), but neither elephants nor Jackie Chan have had to cope with the torment of my gestation period, which – as it stands – has been about 17 years so far.

What is it about these last few days that means they stretch out so interminably? I’ve tried to keep my diary full, I’ve tried to even enjoy having a bit of time to myself, I’ve tried to bake and clean and do all sorts of dull things like that to take my mind off it, but nothing has worked. It’s still like a bad sci-fi film where the horizon keeps on getting further and further out of reach.

But while I’m here, the baking thing brings me to my second whinge. Nesting. What an awful, awful concept that is. Nesting. I’m a mama hen, shaking out my tail feathers, and settling down plumply over a clutch of eggs, keeping them toasty, while my handsome cock (yup, I’ll stick with cock) wanders off to forage for grubs to keep me fatly sustained until they hatch. Nesting. It’s up there with referring to oneself as “Mummy” to other adults, or suggesting that all women love cupcakes**.

Several people have asked me if I’m nesting, and it makes me furious. Okay, so it’s true in the last few days I’ve decided to paint the living room – and you don’t half look like a twit when you’re 9 months pregnant wobbling around on the top of a step ladder, I can tell you. Why I didn’t decide to do this a couple of months ago beats me. On top of this, yesterday – which is housework day (YAY for Fridays! My favourite day of the week!) – I found myself washing the front door.

Let me make this quite clear right now. I am not an avid cleaner, and I don’t enjoy it. I do everything I can to simplify the cleaning regime – even down to the clothes that we (very occasionally) buy. Every item in mine, Dave’s and Teddy’s wardrobe is made of stretch jersey for purposes of iron-avoidance. Everything. Even shoes.

So how can I explain the living room painting and the front door thing? Well, it’s certainly not nesting. What I put it down to is this very slow march of time until the earth-shattering pain of childbirth. The fact is that I’m spending all day, every day, trying to figure out how to fill up my time in a useful way. And yesterday, at about 4:45, the most useful way I could think of to fill up time was to wash the front door.

I cleaned it with Ecover, btw, which means that no-one will even notice. I would have used bleach, but after two nights on the trot where Teddy squeezed out poos of eye-popping proportions in the bath, we’re right out.

Anyway. This isn’t really a proper post, is it? It’s just me marking time. 11 days and counting. Might write one next week, might not. Depends if I’m getting pissed off at being in denial at pregnancy terms that apply to me, or if I’m busy cleaning the shower tiles with a toothbrush.

*Seriously, it is. No matter if they bung Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen in it, it’s still utterly, painfully, nose-twitchingly boring. Oh ha ha, one of them’s wearing a funny hat, and I remember him from Star Trek. NO. Still not funny.

**Cupcakes. Hideous bits of flavourless sponge covered in grotesque mounds of sugar and butter that look like something Barbara Cartland has just shat out. This is what happens when the UK goes mental for all things American – ooh cupcakes, don’t they sound luvverly, we say with our quaint cockerney accents, forgetting that our own version of small cakes – the delightful fairy cake – is far superior in every single way.

The best way to get a baby to sleep through the night is…

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…to not consult with the baby in the first place.

Occasionally – usually if he’s overtired – Teddy takes ages to go down for his nap. He just sits in his cot and chats to himself (“Carrrr… Donkey…. Bahkeee… Book…”), and rattles the bars like a frustrated inmate. And this was the case today. It makes me think I should move his nap from mornings to afternoons, and I don’t know if that’s feasible or if it’s a good idea, even. So it’s one of those things that can drive a person to Google. Which is what I did.

“Force toddler to move nap,” I typed. I realised I probably didn’t need to use the word “to”, but I’ve never got out of the habit of typing full(ish) sentences into Google. I blame Ask Jeeves. For many things, obviously, but specifically for this general search term stupidity.

Towards the end of the page, I found this:

http://anunschoolinglife.com/sleep-freedom-letting-kids-find-their-own-sleep-pattern/

Now. You don’t have to read it if you can’t be arsed. In a nutshell: you should let babies and children work out their own sleep patterns; it’s fine for them to go to bed at midnight if they’re toddlers, or not at all if they’re teenagers. It’s also fine to have your children sleep in the same room as you for years. It’s all fine. The writer admits that she is not “a morning person” and that this works for her.

What a load of crap. I’ve read a lot of hippy bullshit about kids – acres of it. But stuff like this makes me furious. Someone, somewhere, is going to read this and think, “oh okay, the best way to ensure my children have a good night’s sleep is for them to decide as babies when they’d like to go to bed.” And someone, somewhere, is suddenly going to have absolutely no life and really angry, really tired children.

Each to their own, I understand this. I have friends who are more relaxed about bedtimes, and it suits them just dandy. I realise that the focus on bedtimes and naptimes might be quite a UK-centric thing too: my nieces are French, and we have friends who live in Italy, and for both of them a much later evening is normal and desired. But to suggest that children should figure out their bedtimes for themselves is just ludicrous.

And can I say right now that I am absolutely, positively, definitely NOT going to tell anyone how they should look after their kids – you do whatever the chuff you like, okay?

But here is the important bit: have you ever spent time with a tired child of any age? Tired children are nothing short of monstrous, and it’s not their fault. They scream and shout; they punch and kick; they deliberately ignore you; they hare around like possessed people; they destroy toys, valuable things, lives, hearts; they drive you to drink. And sometimes they can do all of these things at once. And do you know what the odd thing is? They don’t know that they’re tired.

Think about it. How many children of, say, three and under, have you seen making practical, sensible decisions about their own daily routines? “Ah yes, mother, I think this evening I shall be taking a shallow bath with blue duckie followed by a small, dry sherry and a fine cigar. Then if you would be so kind as to read Maisy Tidies Up, that would be most conducive to an agreeably somnolent atmos. Pip pip.”

Children under three are far more like to rub poo in their hair than make a rational decision about when to go to bed. It’s up to you, the adult, to help them learn how to put themselves to bed and sleep through the night.

There are various methods to help you do this. We did sleep training with Teddy at seven months, and to be honest, I don’t think I’ll last that long with the new one. Sleep training, for those blissfully unaware, falls into a number of camps. These are the three that I know about:

  1. Leave babies in a cot to cry themselves to sleep. Repeat over several nights, until the crying is reduced, and everyone’s happy.
  2. Leave babies in a cot to cry for a bit. Soothe them and leave them to cry. Repeat, repeat, repeat, until the crying is reduced, and everyone’s happy.
  3. Leave babies in a cot to cry themselves to sleep. Stay in room with them until they sleep. Next night, stay in room but a little further away. Repeat, repeat, repeat, until the crying is reduced, and everyone’s happy.

These things are supposed to work. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t. With us, we plumped for No.2 and it worked. When you’ve been subsisting on 2.5 minutes of sleep every four hours, it can be nothing short of miraculous.

I spoke to a friend recently who was extolling the virtues of sleep training. Now, she was much tougher than me, and had gone down the first route, and she’d done it much earlier than I had too. But her reason was this: she was a terrible sleeper, always had been, and had suffered with insomnia her entire life. She knew how crippling it can be. She was desperate for her children to not suffer in the way she had, and that’s why she did it.

This makes sense. What doesn’t make sense is the rampant stupidity of the article above: in essence, we don’t like getting up in the mornings (subtext: we probably go to bed late and/or don’t sleep very well during the night) so we are forcing our children to follow our sleep patterns. What the writer doesn’t understand is that as much as she’d hate to admit it, it’s just another kind of sleep training, and one in which the kids are going to be absolutely shattered in school (unless you’re homeschooling them, in which case, good luck to you) and unable to do a lot of stuff their mates are doing. 9am trips to the swimming pool? Missed. Early exam? Failed. Generally being in a massive piss before 11am? Yup.

I’ve banged on at length and I haven’t even touched on the children-sleeping-in-your-room thing. How do these people get around to making more than one baby if they have kids sleeping in their room until they’re 15? Don’t even think about how they managed that.

I’m not telling you what to do. Do what you want. By all means, if you like your children staying up late with you, then do that. I’m not giving you advice on how to get your children to sleep through the night, I’m just telling you what we did. Just don’t follow her advice, that’s all. Seriously, don’t.