Pokerface over potatoes

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Sitting down to eat dinner together as a family was such a pivotal part of my childhood and so it was something the Beard and I wanted to incorporate into our family life as early as possible. But eating dinner with our two munchkins is something of a game of a chance, we spin that wheel and wonder what kind of dinner we are in store for.

The baby, who only started on solids recently, has taken to dinner time well. Perhaps a little too well. She likes her food. She gets angry if she doesn’t get fed quickly enough and you wouldn’t like her when she’s angry. Actually you probably would, I mean trying to keep up with the angry rage pickle’s irate demands for more chow while simultaneously trying to enjoy your own meal is not without challenges, particularly if the dinning option isn’t something you can easily eat one handed. Yet as she bangs her arms on the Ikea high chair table top and desperately lunges at anything she thinks might be a spoon it is satisfying to watch her enjoy her dinner.

This brings me to my other niblet, whose penchant for nibbling on our carefully prepared culinary creations seems to have neither rhyme nor reason. Dinnertimes with her are like taking the same handful of sand and throwing it up in the air and knowing that it will always fall slightly differently. We can prepare a meal for her one day that she cannot get enough of with frequent repetitions of ‘delicious’, ‘this is nice’ or ‘yummmmm’ that a few days later are ‘yuck’, the plate of food angrily pushed away from her and a flat out refusal to even lick the food, let alone put it in her mouth and swallow it.

Feeding your children seems like such a basic fulfilment of their needs that it makes it incredibly difficult when they won’t eat the meal you have prepared.

I may have already mentioned, and if I haven’t should have so that you can marvel at my magnamity, that the Beard generally goes out once a week to meet up with friends leaving me to contend with evenings, mealtimes and bedtimes solo. The first time he did this it was so bad I decided not to reply to a single one of his messages sent throughout the evening as I didn’t want to say anything that might ruin his evening. Until of course he came him and then I unleashed the trauma of that parenting endeavour.

This is probably a good time to point out that up until recently we have both been off work and able to tag team the parenting so that managing them all by myself for prolonged periods required some adjustment. And night times involve a fair amount of juggling as multiple parenting tasks must be ticked off before you can even think about sitting down and chilling out at the end of the evening. Have the children been fed, changed, read a bedtime story, pried out from underneath their baby sister’s jumperoo, arm wrestled into a sleeping bag and begged to stop taking their PJs off? Has the sacred Babbums (also known as a Paddington comforter been located) and are there batteries in the ‘moon star’ light projector? Are they asleep or is one screaming so shrilly the neighbours are looking up the numbers for animal control? And finally you can relax.

The first time was horrendous but after that these evenings got better. I would strategically put on an episode or two of whatever tv show is flavour of the month to give me time to prepare food and make sure I had all the changing gear, PJs and Babbums located before even commencing operation bedtime.

I got into a routine and was starting to feel a bit more relaxed about the whole thing. A week or so ago I made a daal. Something the little one used to love eating but hadn’t had for a while, coinciding with this new phase of whimsically deciding she will or will not eat.

We’d already had a few rocky mealtimes at this point and I had, as all sane people do, resorted to the internet for some advice on smoothing out supper.

One of the ideas we are trialling is letting her choose what she wants and help herself. So I made the daal and rice, toasted some pitta to go with it and laid out everything on the table in separate bowls.

We sat down to eat, I asked her if she wanted some rice, gave her one spoonful and then another as she asked for ‘more peas’ (which I think means more please, because if she actually wanted peas then I really failed her), same with the daal and I had to persuade her to just take a few pieces of pitta rather than the entire bowlful. I was confident this would go down well.

I didn’t want to make a fuss so started eating my food and simultaneously feeding the baby her bowl of mush. It took me a while to notice she wasn’t eating anything. I’d figured I was a shoe-in with the pitta and she would at least try that, but no. She was not feeling the pitta, the rice or the daal.

My cool started to warm up. I cleaned up the baby and found her some toys to play with before attempting to negotiate with the uncompliant child. ‘Just try the pitta’, ‘do you want some rice?’. Cue child kicking at her sister’s jumperoo and setting off the jaunty jungle tunes that come with it.

‘Can you stop that please and just sit down?’ My reserve has now fully melted and is moving towards boiling point.

Uninterested in my wheedling, she decides now is a good time to start grabbing the curtains and standing up and down on her chair (she recently decided she doesn’t want the high chair or booster seat and like suckers we accepted this).

We’ve been at the table for thirty minutes she hasn’t eaten anything and I’m trying not to panic but my cool is now steam that is collecting on the ceiling and I completely lose it. I end up screaming at her to sit down. At first she thinks this is funny but then there is a little lip quiver and she finally complies, repeating ‘sit down’ ‘sit down’ over and over again. I am trying not to bang my head on the table and the baby is trying to eat a spoon she has been left to play with after throwing all her other toys on the floor.

After forty five minutes I give up and get both children ready for an early night because I simply cannot take anymore.

After putting them to bed, venting to the Beard over whatsapp and googling around issues of toddler eating habits I calm down and can collect myself enough to go back into the little one’s bedroom. She’s still awake (she usually happily chats and sings away to herself after we put her to bed) and I calmly apologise to her for losing my temper ant not making dinnertime enjoyable for anyone. She doesn’t say anything but pats me on the head and asks me to sing her a song so I assume all is forgiven.

I know I didn’t handle the situation well so am already feeling guilty about that when a few hours later she throws up everywhere and I add another scoop of guilt to my now overflowing bowl as I realise that she may not have wanted to eat not because she was being difficult but because she wasn’t feeling well.

All in all, not a great night.

Dinnertimes have on the whole been better since then and I’m trying to not take it personally if she doesn’t want to eat something, offering her a simple alternative and no longer withholding dessert if she wont eat her mains. I’ve concluded if she misses the odd meal or only goes to bed with a yoghurt in her tummy she’s not going to starve and the less I stress about it the better it will be for everyone, but sometimes its hard to maintain the poker face as the evening slips away while she painfully picks her way around a piece of pizza she helped make.

We’ve also decided that one night a week, we’ll have dinner just the two of us once both girls are in bed so that we can each enjoy our food without the roulette of wondering whether this mealtime will be monstrous or marvellous.

The luxury of being ill

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I had a friend come visit me and the kids (the Beard was out) one evening not long after we’d moved back to the UK and she asked me what things I missed now that I was a parent.

So what is the answer I gave? Is it being able to lie in until midday on a Sunday, lazily arguing who will get out of bed first to get to the boulangerie before it close? Is it the easy ability to get dressed and wear the same outfit all day without being vomited on or attacked with sticky fingers (who am I kidding, I still wear the same outfit, I now just deliberately buy stuff that will look less obvious when I smear the snot trails into the fabric)? Is it the ability to just take off for an impromptu night out without a month of planning and hard bargaining with the other half (no I am going to the dentist’s half an hour early so I can enjoy some alone time in the waiting room, but you got to see an actual person you like for an entire evening the other week so we are even…)? Is it the ability to take off for delightful weekend breaks or adventurous travel plans that aren’t based around pushchair accessibility and potential enjoyment isn’t balanced against potential traumas involved?

Nope. Because all these little things, while undeniably nice, pale in comparison to how blooming great it is to be a mum to two amazing people. I mean, obviously they have their moments, you may have picked up on that if you’ve read a blog or two of mine before, but on balance my children (I can’t speak for everyone else’s, some really do seem like horrible little oiks) make my life so much richer. At least that’s what I tell myself when I tighten the budget once again and consider the possibility of living off porridge for a month to help cover some of the childcare costs.

However, there is one thing that I do miss in my now children filled life. I miss the luxury of being ill. Not properly seriously ill, nothing redeeming about that, but the kind of ill where you could snuggle up in indulgent self-pity. The best kind of ill where you actually feel okay or at least not terrible, so long as you don’t actually move all day, but feel bad as soon as you stand up so that you can justifiably enjoy being curled up on the sofa with a blanket, watching crappy films on tv with a steaming cup of fresh ginger, lemon, honey, cayenne pepper, cinnamon and rum (don’t knock it until you’ve tried it, will blow through your sinuses and leave a pleasant aftertaste).

We’ve all had a bit of a cold of late, babes two, and the Beard and I have been taking it in turns to feel awful. That is, taking it in turns around the schedule of a demanding two and a half year old, which means trying to give each other little breaks during the day while the other one distracts the children for as long as possible.

The Beard was sick first, I nobly tried to give him a relaxing day with a bit of a lie-in although this was ruined by the eldest screaming the house done because I brushed her hair, and then later I gave him some downtime when I took both girls out by myself for a couple of hours. Then it way my turn. Obviously my illness was worse than his, because of it being mine, but I staggered on throughout the head-foggy mornings and sinus-clogged days doing my best to think of interesting activities for the child that entailed lowest level energy input for me (soft play out, child charging around the museum in). Yet that evening the Bearded One had the audacity to cough in my presence and ask how I was feeling in the put upon tones of someone who would like to share their woes of physical health. Well I quickly nipped that behaviour in the bud by explaining in no uncertain terms that I still wasn’t well and he’d had his turn at being ill and that he wasn’t allowed to be ill again. Jokingnotjoking.

Seriously though, grown up illness has to be staggered in our household. At least now we are in the UK, it’d be easier to call in some reinforcements if we ever succumb together. Our first Christmas with the potato in France everyone got a stomach bug. Baby first which was good as we had enough energy to make sure she was sorted during her day of orifice projections. Day two we were hit. Fortunately spudlet’s sickness had visibly passed but she was still really drowsy so we could get away with spending most of the day in bed with her between us as we nudged different toys in her direction. That time the Beard definitely had it worse, we were both really sick but as I was demonstrably more sick than he was so he had to be the one to get up and change the babe (and me at one point, now that’s love) and make sure everyone had enough to drink (which involved sometimes just putting the babe on my boob as I babbled hallucinating nonsense) and that sick buckets and sweat absorbing towels were readily cleaned and available.

Thankfully we haven’t experienced a sickness like that since then but I live in dread of hurricane hurl hitting our shores again in the future. That’s not really a sickness you could have enjoyed child or no but at least without the child we could have both just slept our way through it.

The double whammy of sifting through sick days with children is that children multiply the amount of sick days that you have. They are little germ magnets sharing their grubby toys and licking each other’s faces (paw patrol has a lot to answer for). Children literally rub their germs all over you and then pretty much laugh in the face of your idle hopes of a nice sit down so you don’t pass out while attempting the weekly shop.

So yes, here’s my advice to the future parents of the world, if you feel the cold welling up or a dose of man-flu coming on, really lean into that and make the most of it because you will never have the time to give in to that with relentless children that couldn’t give two hoots whether you feel spiffy or not.

Oh and hangovers, avoid hangovers at all cost. Hangovers are of course sickness of your own making which just means you get to feel grotty, your child wont care and you can berate yourself for being the definite cause of your own illness.

 

Preparing for re-entry into the world of work

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I’m likely to be starting back at work soon and that’s been churning up a lot of emotions. I’ll only be working on a part time basis and it’s a temporary contract so who knows what will happen after that, if I’ll find another part time role, whether we can afford for me not to do that or whether I need to consider full time options. Obviously I’m hoping that I’ll win one of the premium bond monthly lottery prizes of a million pounds but in case that doesn’t happen I recognise that we probably do need something of an income to live and I, albeit very reluctantly, accept that I may have to contribute somewhat significantly to that.

Anyhoo, with the countdown to my maternity leave ticking away as my baby transformed from a teeny newborn to a chubba bubba in the blink of an eye, combined with said baby trolling me with sleep patterns that do not always resemble either sleep or patterns I am struggling not to burst into the tears at the thought of a drastic reduction in my time with the girls. I was in a playgroup the other day and trying to guess which of the multitude of grown-ups were parents, grandparents, nannies, childminders and nursery workers when I suddenly felt a sadnesss weighing down on me at the thought that so many of us have children but then have to employ other people to look after them.

Obviously this is a hormonally, sleep-deprived over simplification of the many reasons and responsibilities that cause parents to return to work. And actually, although not without its problems, I found it a lot easier to go back to work after my first child. This time around there has been so much upheaval for me in the last few months, with not only the family expansion but the return to the UK and the readjustment that has entailed, that has meant these months have flown by a lot quicker. However, I also recognise that a benefit of the maternity eave that is necessary to attend to my baby’s essential needs has also allowed me to spend a lot of time with and really start to enjoy the company of my elder child.

There’s a line in one of my favourite books, Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez that seems pretty apt ‘and she discovered with great delight that one does not love one’s children just because they are one’s children but because of the friendship formed while raising them.’ I remember being reassured by that before my first daughter was born and it has become even more applicable in the recent months when I have been able to devote so much of my time to both my children.

My eldest is of an age where she is changing and developing at a rapid pace. Her vocabulary and powers of communication grow stronger day by day and that is enabling her to exert her personality in ever deeper shades. The truth is I want to be around her and, right now, she wants to be around me. As my last blog touched on I know this isn’t a state that will last forever and the idea of having to give up on time with her at this precious stage is, quite simply, a little bit heart-breaking.

Having said that, I know that she needs space away from us to learn new things and test boundaries and start to find her way in the world. So while I want to be around her as much as possible (aside from when she is driving me potty and I really don’t) but I also know that that isn’t the best option for her in the long run. She’s always been a sociable child and I think benefited greatly from her regular contact with other children via the childminder and frequent play-dates when we were living in France. So with all this in mind we agreed it would be best to start her in nursery, on a part time basis, as soon as possible. She had far more settlement visits than required, even after we argued with the nursery about this, knowing that she’d quickly adapt well to the change and would benefit from a little more structure to her week and some regular play sessions away from her parents and surrounded by other kids.

As anticipated, she has taken to her new schedule really well, aside from a little reluctance to get up early enough to get to nursery, like her parents she isn’t much of a morning person. But it’s definitely been the right call for her and I hope that even if my work doesn’t extend beyond my temporary contract we can find the funds to keep her in nursery. Because, my word, is childcare expensive!

As my current work situation is not long term I’ve been scouting other job options and have come to the conclusion that I need to be earning a serious ton of moolah to have anything left over after forking out for childcare for two children, and this is assuming that the beard will be able to find a job with a salary that can meet all other living costs.

If we had thought about the financial reality of childcare costs in the UK, there is a good possibility that we might have delayed the arrival of baby (and would therefore have had a different baby entirely, now there’s a whirlwind thought) aiming for a three year rather than a two year gap purely so that we could have benefited from the 15 hours of free nursery care that three year olds are entitled to.

Clearly people have different opinion on the optimum age gap between siblings but its pretty tragic really to think that so many people are forced to make these decisions not on what is best for their family in an ideal scenario but what is financially feasible. Perhaps I am just being incredibly naïve about all this, and should accept more readily that with a family comes responsibilities that include ensuring you are in a financially strong enough position to be able to provide for any offspring, it just seems sad that these kind of fundamental decisions can be so restricted by the status of your wealth, or lack thereof.

For me being able to work part time is a good solution to being able to give my children the space they need while being able to maximise the time I have to enjoy being with them and all the benefits that hopefully brings to everyone. Whether this is something I’ll be financially free to continue once my contract is over is another story, but whatever the future holds I will adapt to the situation we live in and make the best of it, because what else is there to do?

Pretending not to be a parent

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I wasn’t sure if I was going to write a blog post tonight but as the baby has been a bit of a monster for the last two hours I thought I could do with an excuse so that I can legitimately hide out in the living room while the beard tries to settle her. I am playing the game of pretending the screaming child is not mine. These are not the elements of parenthood that most people ‘fess up to and I admit I am not particularly proud of myself right now but sometimes for the good of your sanity you just have to give yourself a little break every now and again.

I feel like this week has been particularly challenging. I am not sure why.

I was coming back from some child activity this week that I’d been to on my own and I landed child number one in front of the tv and left child number two screaming indignantly from her cot whilst I struggled to unpack and fold up the pram outside so I  could put it away in the cupboard under the stairs. Having condensed ourselves from roomy French flat to what I believe would be described in real estate terms as a ‘cosy’ London apartment there is no longer room to leave prams set up in corridors.

Our front door is a bit enthusiastic about not wasting energy or allowing strangers in so has a tendency to swing to and shut you out on a regular basis, we learnt the hard way that you need to keep your keys to hand until securely across the threshold. Anyway, as I was contending with the pram and all its accoutrements and the door swung to once again behind me I eagerly drunk in the silence. Our flat is at least of a solid enough construction so that the noise of a screaming infant does not travel through a closed front door. And I’ll admit, I briefly contemplated ‘accidentally’ leaving my keys inside on the next buggy emptying run so that I would end up being locked out.

Sure, wanting to be locked away from your children isn’t the most motherhood promoting of thoughts but in my defence the hubby wasn’t far away and it would only have been for ten minutes or so of shivering on the doorstep outwardly bemoaning my bad luck, inwardly warmed by the thought of ten blissful minutes abdicating all responsibility. You’ll be please to know, and can put down the phone to child services, that I did not give into temptation and carried out the operation of getting in the house with two small children, a buggy that has bred all sorts of stuff in the underbelly of its storage unit in the hour or so you’ve been outside, and bags of shopping hanging off the pram hooks. Getting back into the house is marginally easier than getting out of the house which requires a more detailed consideration of planning and preparation to make sure you don’t leave behind one of the essentials such as the snacks/nappies/wipes/children.

Recently I was asked how I enjoyed motherhood. I wasn’t sure how serious a question it was and how detailed an answer was required, I suspected that the stock ‘it’s amazing’ answer was the one I was supposed to trot out and indeed I did, although I added the disclaimer that it did have its challenges from time to time. Challenges being akin to when a teacher would tell you your answer at school was interesting, interesting meaning wrong, challenging meaning it could be really bloody difficult.

Don’t get me wrong I love my girls more than I could ever have thought humanly possible, I would crawl over broken glass and eat my own arm for them if required. It’s just that sometimes I’d just like a little time off and I’m not very good at making that happen or taking advantage of opportunities when presented.

For example, this afternoon the beard took out the senior and generally more demanding monster for the afternoon and he asked me how I was going to enjoy my downtime with just the teeny one (note that even my downtime still involves a level of parenting) and I didn’t know how to answer or what to do. Just chilling at home didn’t really seem an option so I harnessed her up, bagged a brolly (has been a miserable rainy day today) and tootled off to vote again (there having been a mix-up preventing me from doing so in the morning, not because I have been committing voter fraud) before trudging around the shopping area on the trawl for Christmas presents. Quiet time equals time to get stuff done, not time to just be.

I really suck at relaxing. The evenings, once both minions have finally settled (or at least until the littlest one wakes up again), are my best opportunity for having a bit of me time and sometimes I like to just squander that on a bit of Netflix. Other times I find myself wasting a good chunk of time debating whether it’s better to just go to bed and sleep while I can or to stay up and watch another episode/ read another chapter or have a bath.

Most of the time I ultimately just end up wasting about two hours casually browsing through social media and the BBC news app whilst I try to figure out what to do with myself.  When you get to the alleged news stories about being single at Christmas that’s generally a good time to move ont tom something else. Why is this even in the news? Is it purely to break up the tedium of Brexit or misery of stabbing stories that otherwise dominate?

It’s like tonight, I could try to go to bed early(ish) now that the beard seems to have settled her, but I find myself tapping away here instead. The baby hasn’t been sleeping well, ergo I have not been sleeping well and I’ve got a bit of a miserable cold on top, so as much rest as possible makes sense when caffeine can only do so much for me tomorrow but on the flip side blogging means hiding out, pretending I am capable of more than the odd flight of fancy of a carefree childless existence, and a therapeutic spewing of my disorganised thoughts across the computer screen.

At least this is a better outcome than spending multiple hours going over the same old Instagram posts over and over again. Anyway, time to draw to a close, a new dawn, a new day and no doubt new ‘challenges’ but also new opportunities for love, life and laughter await.

Release the Kraken!

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Generally once a week I go to softplay with niblet and the monster and if the beard isn’t DIYing/jobhunting/hiding out from his family sometimes he’ll come with us. For those not in the know softplay is pretty much as it sounds there’s soft stuff to play with that theoretically you can’t hurt yourself on. Theoretically because the place is designed for children so if you are an adult trying to chase your toddler around the obstacle course at speed there is scope for injuries to pride in addition to the aching joints of scrambling through what is essentially a hamster run for small children.

On Monday I went solo. There were a few other kids but they were a bit younger than my eldest and so she wanted me to join in her in the rat run and chase her around. The previous week she managed this by ingeniously stealing my shoes and hiding them in the monkey cage (note that shoes are absolutely forbidden in the softplay sanctuary) so I had no choice but to offload the baby to an adjacent parent and scamper after her.

Sometimes I can stay in the grown up area with the excuse of needing to ensure the teeny one isn’t either stolen by a deranged mother who has suffered one to many blows to the head of the kiddie iron curtain that blocks one of the softplay routes or trampled by someone else’s pint sized person. Yet on Monday the miniest-me gave me no excuse not to join her sister, by sleeping soundly for the duration in the adjoining room. It’s not always a good thing when your kid is a solid sleeper.

Don’t get me wrong softplay is fun, think of it like a mini parcour but where the biggest risk is damaged pride rather than broken bones, the problem is having to keep at it with my Duracell bunny of a child with her limitless supplies of energy. After a couple of laps I want to rest up a bit, but no chance of that.

The other problem Monday was my choice of clothing. I’ve been trialling this new thing recently where I no longer save my best clothes for best, having accepted that life as a mother of two means these sorts of occasions are going to be few and far between and that a skirt has the same likelihood of sticky child survival rating as a go to pair of jeans. Also having moved into a smaller space in London than we had in France with seriously reduced storage options I have had a stern talking to myself that if I don’t wear stuff then I have to throw it out.

I’ve actually really been enjoying taking a bit of time each morning to put on clothes that make me happy and feel like a bit more of a real functioning adult, with the caveat that whatever I wear has to be easily breast accessible so that I can whip out the baps on demand for bubba.

In conclusion, on Monday, I wasn’t really appropriately addressed for softplay in a dress and tights combo as I scampered about the micro maze trying to keep up with the whirlwind that somehow I created (I am yawning as I write this at the ripe time of 10pm).

Yet the skirt and dress was the least of my problems and the real issue was the nursing bra. Honestly boobs and motherhood are a nightmare. Sure, they are a fairly essential piece of kit if you are going down the breastfeeding route but the headaches they cause, not to mention the backache with the engorged pendulums (penduli?) swinging off your front. Maybe its less of an issue if your pre-pregnancy breasts were of the perky pancake variety, in which case you might be pleased as they slightly increase to a more tactile satsuma size. What is not joyful is if you started off well-endowed in the chest department, had one baby and went up a couple of bra sizes and then was horrified to discover that with pregnancy number two they swell yet again so that as you are looking to buy some new maternity bras in Marks and Spencers and you realise that you need the next size up which doesn’t actually exist in store even in the plus-sized section! If I have more children I’m going to have order some kind of boat cover tarpaulins to keep these mammoths in check.

I do not have great fitting nursing bras, they are not underwired, presumably so that when you have a hormonal surge you aren’t tempted to rip out the wire and jab it in the eye of the next person who asks you whether your baby is ‘good’ (they are a few weeks old, the concept of good and evil is a bit beyond them at this moment, or at least so they’d have us believe). The lack of a wire does help a bit with the comfort levels but does not help with containment.

I think the problem with my boobs is that they have had a taste of freedom and now they want more. They want to roam free and find out who they really are as they go off and do their own thing. This make me and my breasts a little out of sync as what I want is for them to stay in place long enough that people don’t mistake me for a piece of abstract art and so that milk doesn’t leak all over the shop.

So on a normal day I’m regularly adjusting the girls and trying to put them back in their roosts on a fairly frequent basis, on an active softplay day where I am scampering around a three foot high tunnel in my best Quasimodo impression trying to keep up with the tearaway two year old this is the perfect opportunity for the Kraken to try to escape. With no wire to keep them separated and too many clasps and hooks on the other side their best option is to work together and spring from the centre so that I found myself struggling with a very fetching uniboober scenario. As I’m scampering about trying to keep up with the child and keep the beasts of burden under control, hocking them back into place and in doing so accidentally unhooking them every so often so that they can make a dash for freedom from unexpected directions, I realise this is not the life I imagined for myself when I was a little girl daydreaming about my future.

Sure motherhood is full of wonders of life and a love unlike anything you ever thought possible but it’s also full of embarrassing bodily mishaps that no-one prepares you for.

The staff selling softplay admission have security cameras and were therefore able to witness my inner wardrobe wars. I suspect this is the reason why I got half priced entry when I went today.

Taking the long way around

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I was in my Sainsbury’s local this evening where the women on the checkouts were discussing a new queuing system whereby people with prams would have to go around if another buggy user was already there because there would be no way to pass otherwise. One of the women commented that it seemed unfair that people with buggies have to go all the way around and I smiled and told her that parenting was all about taking the long way round.

The first time I realised this was shortly after monster numero uno was born and we went to visit the gardens of Voltaire’s chateau in Ferney-Voltaire where we were living. We’d frequently been pre child and after a somewhat gruelling walk up the top of the hill where the chateau was located (which became more gruelling as the first pregnancy wore on) it had been a simple thing to hop up the steps into the shop that served as gateway to the attraction. Ahh steps. With a pushchair in tow we now had to take the long and windy route up the ramp and seek out someone to allow us special access through the ramped entrance.

At least there was a ramped entrance. With a hefty piece of wheeled kit to take around I developed a new sympathy for the daleks. The inability to mount stairs, enter a narrow doorway or turn around in tight spaces is enough to drive anyone to plan for world domination and creation of a new world order with step-free access for everyone.

And it isn’t just stairs and narrow doorways or tightly packed boutiques that prove challenging, I had honestly never noticed how shockingly bad the pavements were in the town we were living in until I was trying to manoeuvre the potato on wheels on taxing adventures of things like getting to the carrefour marche to stock up on Nutella and eggs. And don’t even get me started on the cardboard boxes of the world who would see pavements as parking spots causing me to unleash the pedestrian rage that was constantly boiling away that could amount to loudly condemning them or on one occasion leaving a banana skin on their windscreen. I’m sure that really showed them.

All this was annoying with a pushchair but at least I could, albeit not without some struggling, wrestle the buggy on and off pavements and around the potholes, etc., how wheelchair users were supposed to live independently and manage those hazards I’ve no idea. The kinds of diversions I had to take with the buggy must have been nothing compared to the constant need for rerouting that someone in a wheelchair must have had to do to get from one side of town to the other.

At least the obstacles on pavements is less of an issue in London. There are enough ticket-happy traffic wardens in my area that anyone thinking of parking in inappropriate spaces is certainly going to get rewarded with a hefty fine and the constant fear of being sued means that councils tend to do their best to ensure dangers and blockages amidst public walkways are addressed as quickly as possible with the means available.

Living in Greenwich is great but we have been trying the occasional jaunt outside of the borough and travelling with two little ones means at least one pushchair is usually essential. There are so many things that I took for granted when we lived here previously sans children. Like how easy it was to just get on a bus. You see the bus, you get on the bus, sometimes its full so you have to stand up which was annoying. With a buggy you see the bus, you must check if the pram limit has already been reached before getting your ticket, if it has you have to wait for the next one or the one after that. If you have an appointment to get to you will either need to leave ridiculously early to allow for possibly being refused access to several buses or you walk.

Then if you get on the bus you have to manage parking, ensuring the break is on, settling the bigger niblet, who doesn’t want to stay in the pushchair if the bubba is in the harness, and if the bubba is in the harness finding a secure enough spot that you can sit or stand without risk of endangering the mini one with a sudden brake of the bus, all whilst jolting along from one red light to the next.

Then there’s the tube. I used to just open up the tfl app, or use googlemaps to plot out my route for me. Now I have to consider things like what stations have step free access? What time of the day will I be travelling? Are we going to get crowded out by school kids or commuters? There are certain activities that are just off limits if they necessitate the taking of transport between 4-7pm.

We went to the Olympic Park one morning this week and headed back a bit later than planned so that by the time the bus dropped us at the nearest stop to home we were well into the bigger minion’s naptime. After an active morning charging around the park she had fallen asleep on the bus and so the beard decided that rather than waking her to get her into the pram he’d carry her home.  The quickest route home involves an overpass over a busy road. Carrying a 14kg package nestled over one shoulder the beard decided to take the quicker route of the stairs and so I duly trundled off with the babe strapped to my chest pushing the surplus pram via the very long and windy ramp.

Even when we don’t take out the buggy, life with children continues to require taking the long way round. Googlemaps estimation of how long it takes to walk somewhere should include an obstinate toddler mode whereby you factor in the route takes twice as long, requires constant doubling back and accounts for the time spent stopping to stare at a particularly interesting bit of stick we have found along the way. Even if the bigger one decides she wants to run somewhere and you think this is great we are moving at an almost normal pace then you still need to account for time spent dealing with the aftermath of at least one tripping over and the cleaning up and comforting that that entails.

I am not the most patient of people. My now husband, then boyfriend, used to laugh at me for how I’d race along to reach my destination regardless of whether we actually needed to be anywhere in a hurry or not. So adjusting to the meandering needs of children on wheels or who want to stop to take in the view has not been without its challenges. However, it also isn’t without its merits. For me being forced to stop to take in the view or to really think about why this leaf is quite so fascinating is probably quite beneficial for the soul. Or at least it would be if not at a time when I need to get to our destination to placate the screaming baby or happens to be that the exciting plastic bag worthy of prolonged inspection is directly in front of the religious fundamentalists who if they aren’t put off by the insane glint in my eye may actually want to have a conversation!

Every day she needs me less and less

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Everyday she needs me less and less
It’s clear to me she’s becoming self-possessed
I watch developments with mixed feelings of success
Because everyday she needs me less and less

The first time we gave the baby actual food (puréed carrot if you want to know) her face contorted through the visible emotions of shock (this isn’t boob!), disgust (this isn’t boob!) and outright horror (oh my god, this isn’t boob!). Yet she let us attempt a second mouthful (this isn’t boob?) and a third and a fourth until we finished the small pot of mushed up vegetable we’d prepared.

She took to the new addition to her diet (she was still predominantly on milk at this point) pretty well, and since that point we gradually started introducing her to more and more tastes and textures. Up until about a year old she would still pull that initial face of disgust with the first mouthful of whatever we gave her even if she’d than happily settle in for a good chomp of mouthfuls two and beyond.

She’s happily eaten most of the different foodstuffs and flavours we’ve introduced her to. The things she has not been so keen on have generally also been things neither of us would eat. There was a lentil stew I added a strange tasting bouillon cube too that didn’t go down to well. She loves my very gingery and garlicy daal and is a big fan of the beard’s red curry. Although nothing tops a yoghurt or a freshly baked sugar free (although now she’s one we add a little honey) chocolate banana muffin with raspberry. In fairness those muffins are good, so when we back a batch we have to instantly put half in the freezer to prevent the beard and I from devouring our child’s snacks.

We are definitely going to be the kind of parents that spend a day helping their children search for the chocolate that we know we ate the night before.

We’ve been giving her certain things she can eat by herself: baby biscuits, homemade snacks, bits of toast, etc., but everything else we were spoon-feeding her.

Just to note here that the term ‘spoon-feeding’ when used in a derogatory sense to imply that someone is passively eating up the information they are given without any effort, is clearly used negatively by people that have never actually tried to spoon-feed anyone. All those adorable pictures of babies covered in different kinds of edible gloop are not so numerous because they are all cleverly staged click-bait (although I don’t doubt that some of them are, but that’s for another post), it’s because the allegedly simple process of transferring food from a container to a baby via a spoon is nowhere near as easy as ‘spoon-feeders’ may have us believe.

Recently, however, the little one has decided she’s got this and our help is no longer required. If she can navigate a banana with her sticky paws she can manage a simple bowl of porridge/scrambled eggs/risotto.

Ha!

I’m not renowned for my patience. I very decidedly did not want the wedding favourite ‘love is patient, love is kind…’ at our wedding because that did not resonate with me in any way, patience is not a virtue of mine. I was worried about this before having a baby, yet I was presently surprised when little Tinko was born at how patient I can be with her, even if that patience fails to extend to anyone else around me (sorry cats, beard, colleagues, traffic lights, the list goes on). I may have been lulled into a false sense of security as this new dining routine is really testing me.

Mealtimes used to take about 15 minutes, I’d feed her in the mornings or evenings (the beard took the lunch and snack shifts while I’m at work) and we’d have time for a play before I went off to work or she went down to bed.

Now, she wants to do it herself but is still learning how, as she finely tunes her developing motor skills, dinner time his tripled in! Additional time to be spent on more fun activities has been reduced significantly as the little one limps through her linguine. It can be really frustrating as you watch her for the umpteenth time fail to put the spoon far enough in the pot to pick up the grub or to get some small morsel of food on the utensil only for it all to drop off into her lap as she turns the item of cutlery round to get a better grip, having no concept of how gravity works against her in such circumstances.

It is really hard to resist the urge to wrestle the eating implement out of her grasp and just do it for her. But if you try she’ll just scream at you until you give it back, or will try to eat the food with her fingers (pasta with your fingers is one thing, soup is another).

So far I’m doing pretty well at keeping my cool, even if on a couple of occasions I’ve had to ask the bearded one to step in as I struggle to stay in neutral as the babe is crying because she can’t get the food to stay on the spoon but won’t let you help.

Now she’s really getting the hang of it and I’m very proud of her but I realise that with every new skill she learns she also needs us that little bit less and that also makes me a bit sad.

I think this is one of the biggest challenges at the heart of parenting. As a parent you love your child so much, you want to do everything for them, to protect them from any harm, but your objective is to raise an independent person who is capable of navigating the challenges, hurts and also triumphs that lie in store for them by themselves. As they get older they will need you less and less and move further away from you as they and the relationship you have with them evolves. This is absolutely the name of the game but it’s also kind of tough.

Parents will tell you they love their children selflessly and I do not doubt the strength of that desire to put your child’s needs above your own will override everything else, but there is also that selfish part of you that loves being quite so loved. We all want to feel like we have an essential role to play, whether as parents, friends, in our careers or other areas that are important to us. Whilst we may be irreplaceable in some of these aspects in others, if we are doing them right, then we are creating the structures and support that enables our children, friends, colleagues and others to keep on trucking whether we are there or not.

For now I’m trying to fete the mastery of my minion’s spoon control and focus on how awesome this is for her but also for us as it means we can eat together without the beard and I having to gobble up our grub in shifts as the other one assists little miss.

Catpain’s Log August 2017

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Catpain’s Log August 1

Ate a nice baby bird today, prepared severed remains for grown ones but I was shooed away with my offering so delivered it to kindly neighbour next door instead.

Grown female leaked outside of normal litter tray, clearly broken, grown male took her away and returned alone three good snoozes later. Grown male seemed emotional and electronic square bipped a lot throughout the evening.

Catpain’s Log August 2

Grown male left out limitless biscuits, must be going on holiday again so will have to share litter with incompetent incontinent sister. On the plus side I can eat body weight in biscuits.

Catpain’s Log August 3

Surprisingly grown male returned again last night but biscuit tower of infinity remained in place, must be mistake, will eat as much as possible before he realises error. Sister hissed at me when I tried to eat some even though there is clearly enough food to last nine lives. Voiced disapproval at 2am, grown male seemed to register complaint.

Still no sign of grown female, fear grown male may have eaten her, should have accepted offerings provided for useless non-hunters earlier in the year.

Catpain’s Log August 4

Was having a good day, much eating, long snoozing, pulled some of my sister’s hair out and creatively dispersed it around house in Feng Shui manner, energy was flowing well.

But then!!!! Hard to get words out!!!! Too angry to express myself properly.

Bah!

Grown male brought grown female back, so not eaten after all, or maybe just eaten part of her, seems less fat than before, but also brought back unwelcome micro being. This was not approved. This was not what I signed on for.

Bah! Will make lives hell for foreseeable future until problem is rectified and micro one returned to wherever it came from.

Catpain’s Log August 7

Severed a bird, spread body parts around the house, hope the grown ones step in them! Have indicated intense disapproval of new situation but monstrosity remains. Tried to punish grown ones with night time yowls and dispatching sister to play song of our people on wardrobe doors but to no avail! They are up every few hours poking micro one, forcing it to eat, seems much more capable of looking after micro one than selves, will be no more delivery of tasty animals for them, from now on they only get beaks and feet.

Catpain’s Log August 12

Micro one persists, waking me from frequent naps, so upset I only ate twice my normal amount of biscuits today. Thank heavens at least biscuit of dreams remains in place, still take it in turns with sister to yowl around 6am to demand grown ones decant some biscuits from tower into bowls immediately adjacent. Obviously we could just take themselves ourselves from the tower but that is besides the point.

Grown female clearly fed up so left Grown male and micro attention thief alone, returned five minutes sobbing and covered in blood. Grown ones are incapable, what were they thinking in trying to look after micro one?

Catpain’s Log August 14

Grown reinforcements have arrived, the more grown female and more grown male. I miaowed and presented my bumhole for inspection upon their arrival but they seemed to only be interested in macro-one – unbelievable!

Our grown ones seem to have gone to sleep whilst more grown ones attend to macro one, not surprised that thing has them up at all hours. Hopefully more grown ones will take it away when they leave

Catpain’s Log August 17

More grown female and more grown male left without taking small one with them. Other more grown ones arrived today, keeping claws crossed they’ll take the unformed one away.

Catpain’s Log August 18

Licked all the sauce off mine and my sister’s dinner, ignored rest, ate some more biscuits instead.

Wanted to ask friends for advice on how to survive tiny fledglings but remembered I am cat and have no friends.

Catpain’s Log August 21

Grown male relative female arrived. Showed her my bumhole. Again, astonishing lack of interest! Did at least take some phots as sister and I artfully posed on outdoor furniture.

Grown male relative female spent much time with micro one, after recent visits refuse to get hopes up that this one will take it away. Not that I can blame grown male relative female, no-one in right mind would want to lumber themselves with tiny squawking device.

Catpain’s Log August 24

Artfully prepared dead bird for grown male’s yearly celebration, seemed uninterested. Grown female made cake and set it alight. Alas, micro one not sacrificed in flames.

Catpain’s Log August 26

Shredded last remains of sofa arm cover today, finally exposed foam lining, reconditioned, raw materials are so in right now.

Grown female sad at not being able to leave small one to return to land of origin for party of other grown ones where a grown female wears white and there is an excess of cake and paper covered nonsense. Perhaps will realise gravity of additional human presence and find way to undo error?

Catpain’s Log August 28

Grown ones haven’t returned or given away small mistake yet, losing hope and begin to fear micro one is now a permanent fixture. Can only hope its lifespan is as long as your average stupid sparrow in mating season.

Catpain’s Log August 31

Undeveloped one remains, learning to tolerate it.

It doesn’t move much but does continue to disturb important moments. Woke me up from three of my twelve naps! Took my revenge by ‘affectionately’ digging claws into grown female when she tried to sleep after feeding small one. Got sprayed in face with water pistol but worth it.

A Trio of Travellers

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At first, when I was pregnant, I thought that having a baby would mean an end to my wandering days, that I wouldn’t be able to book flights to a random destination just because they were cheap and have the kinds of mini adventures I’d enjoyed previously.

Like many expecting parents we planned a baby-moon or two to make the most of our carefree coupledom before the baby ball and chain would tether us to the ground.

At some point a friend who’d already had a baby and was much more enlightened than us pointed out that actually travelling with a child was possible, not even that difficult, you just had to factor in a couple of extra details  in your planning, don’t book a room on the fifth floor of a hotel without a lift.

Being a migrant, with all our family and many of our friends based in a different country, a degree of travel has, at any rate, been essential to introduced loved ones to our loveliest one. Flying from Geneva to the UK is also not the most arduous of journeys (unlike some of our baby parents friends who’ve travelled to Canada and Australia to introduce their newborns to family).

Our munchkin was due at the start of August and we had been invited to a wedding in the UK at the start of October, we didn’t know if the babe would arrive according to schedule and weren’t sure how long it’d take to process her application, but we hoped we’d be able to sort her a passport in time and optimistically booked flights on basis that it was better to book early and not pay crazy extortionate last minute prices but potentially risk not being able to go. I think we booked flights around July and it was during the booking process that we first spelled out her name, I found the whole thing too strange so made Tom type in the characters that enabled easyjet became the first to see our baby’s name in print.

As it turned out, the little turnip arrived a few days early, the passport was processed by the end of August (sadly not quite in time to make it for another dear friend’s wedding) and we had plenty of time to prepare ourselves for our first family flight to the UK.

A neighbour recommend the use of Muellin oil to help prevent popping ears and I’d already read that breastfeeding on the plane or giving the baby a dummy or something else to suck on was supposed to help.

As it was our first UK trip and I was on maternity leave we planned to stay in the UK for a little over a week to take in as many friends and family as possible, outside of those chums we’d see at the wedding. So as it was a prolonged stay and babies necessitate so much stuff we packed a suitcase in addition to the cabin bags, baby bag and pram with removable car seat.

Navigating the airport via luggage drop-off, security and passport control was manageable if a bit of an exercise in juggling as we traversed through the terminal shifting bags and baby and accoutrements between us.

The flight itself was not terrible and aside from a bit of crying on departure the teeny one was fine, snoozing through most of the flight.

Our biggest mistake was in not realising that although you drop your buggy off at the plane you don’t get it back until you get to baggage reclaim and as the first airport we flew to was Gatwick this meant a 10/15 minute walk having to carry baby bag, two cabin bags and a bag of duty free in addition to the baby. So the Beard lugged the luggage and I managed the mini one and we vowed to pack the harness and to make the most of the pushchairs both sets of grandparents had picked up from charity shops, for future trips.

Since then we’ve travelled a lot, probably more than we did BC (Before Child) as within a year we’ve been back to the UK on six separate occasions as well as travelling to Sorrento and Split. I think our child has flown more in the first twelve months of her life than I did in the first twenty-one years of mine.

‘Tato-tots will not fondly recall the first time she flew on a plane, whereas I will always remember the first time I flew (with my parents to the Algarve when I was about 12), because by the time she’s old enough to form those kinds of lasting memories she’ll probably have already flown a distance equivalent to the circumference of the globe.

It is becoming more challenging flying with her as she has grown and become more alert and interested in what’s going on around her. We can no longer expect to have an easy flight with a child contentedly snoozing in our laps and the Beard and I have to mentally brace ourselves for what is starting to become a fairly exhausting mission (considering no flight so far has been more than 90 minutes), trying to keep a lively little one entertained in confined spaces as we move from one line to another to coop ourselves up in set seats and then repeat the line shuffling before strapping her into a car seat and making the journey back to whichever grandparents’ house is base of operations for the visit.

I am pleased that we did manage a couple of actual holidays this year too, with a break in Sorrento with just the three of us in the Spring and a trip to Split with friends at the start of the Summer. I think next year we’ll need to be a little more strategic to maximise the use of my leave, navigate the Beard’s study requirements, manage the friends and family visits and still get some actual recharge-your-battery type holidays in the mix too, all whilst the teeny one becomes less teeny and more of a terror as mobility increases and willingness to sit still decreases.

Still, I can confidently say, travelling with a baby is definitely a possibility it just requires a little more preparation to make sure the route taken and final destination are as baby-friendly as possible. I imagine travelling with a toddler will also be an option but will come with its own set of challenges that we’ll need to figure out.

Supermum to superbum so superrun

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There are lots of things I wasn’t prepared for when our little one made her way into the world. I knew life would change but I couldn’t have any idea how much.

We used to nickname our little potato ‘the life-ruiner’, or more accurately the ‘the life as we knew it ruiner’, and I’m happy to stand by that label. Life BC (before child) is over now and will never be the same again. I can no longer sleep in until midday, indulge in an entire PJ and Netflix weekend or simply go out after work without some serious planning.

But the life we lost is nothing compared to the one we are living now. I am not the same person today that I was before our petite pomme-de-terre entered the world. I’m not a completely different person either, but the difference in me before being a mother and after is massive and can never be undone, it is full of worry and joy and is enriching in ways I could never have imagined.

We are programmed to love and respond to our babies. I remember one mum friend telling me once ‘it’s scary how much you love them’ and that’s it exactly. Although you know that other parents must feel the same way about their children, somehow what you feel for yours is unique and powerful and at times almost scarily overwhelming. Loving your children and particularly feeding/nurturing them releases hormones that make you happy, you experience a natural high that is unlike anything you’ve experienced before.

So, in a way, being with your baby is addictive, it makes you feel good and it makes you want to maximize that feeling. The downside of this is that not being with your baby is not a neutral state but is an absence of that positivity that can equate to a negative black hole ready to suck you in and transport you to a different universe where underlying King-Kong-like tendencies emerge and prepare you for a city-destroying rampage until you get your next baby fix.

When I first returned to work I think I adjusted reasonably well, sure it was hard to go from being with my little one 100% of the time to something like 30% but it was okay. I was good at leaving the office at a reasonable time and would carefully plan for the occasional night out. And I enjoyed being able to focus on my job and engage with adults and make my way through a list of tasks and wear jewellery and all the other many things I never had to consider BC.

However, the last couple of months have been considerably harder, the workload has intensified and the job satisfaction hasn’t always been present, which is intensified when weighed on the scale of being at work versus being with babe. Mostly I am glad to be back at work but maintaining a balance is essential and it is precarious.

Recently I have felt less like super-mum and more super-bummed, struggling with being super-burned-out. I do want to work but I also have to, and at times it is hard not to feel trapped or resentful of having to spend so many hours away from mini-me. I am lucky to work in a place that is full of parents and understands the need for a balance, I am able to work from home one day a week and nobody questions me or others sprinting out the door to get back to our children, but still sometimes meetings run late or work needs to be done that I can’t take home and complete in after baby hours. Staying an extra hour was nothing BC, maybe a later dinner and one less episode of whatever on Netflix, but now it is an hour of not seeing my daughter that cannot be compensated for.

I do not know how people who regularly have to stay late at functions and frequently miss their children’s bedtimes cope with this. I don’t know if it will become easier as time goes by and if it does whether that’s necessarily a good thing.

It isn’t that I am in any worried about her not seeing me, she’s with her daddy, she’s fine, it’s my emotional health I worry about. I need my daily baby fix and if that is interrupted without warning then the consequences are dire; I will become moody, irritable, uncooperative and angry. It is clearly in everyone’s best interests to make sure I can get away on time.

One consequence of struggling to find a work/home equilibrium is that this takes up all my energy. I am more efficient than I have ever been at work because I do not want to be working after hours and I want to prove that nothing is lost in my not doing so, but maintaining this is draining. I then cycle home as fast as my legs can peddle, to have as much focused time with the tiny one as possible before she goes to bed. And after that I am completely exhausted.

Of course it doesn’t help that sleeping 6 hours or more is still a rare occurrence what with a combination of colds and teething or just a baby who still wants to wake up and feed at least once a night, my general inability to get to bed much before 12 most nights, and a cat who invariably wakes me up on those infrequent occasions when I have managed to get to bed early and the baby does sleep through (when I’m feeling generous I pretend the cat is waking me concerned that the baby hasn’t woken up as usual, but as I’m not normally feeling generous at 3.30am in the morning and deep down know she is not a concerned pet so much as a bit of an arse, I mostly contemplate nice places in the countryside we could drive to and just set her free…).

I am trying to mitigate the constant feeling of running on empty by upping my caffeine intake (finally I understand the point of coffee, or magic-bean juice as I now like to refer to it). What also really helps is running itself (strange that expending energy somehow helps me have more energy but there we go). Usually I manage one midweek run that I tie in with my weekly yoga class (as I am already out of the house and in exercise gear its hard to come up with excuses not to). I then aim for a longer run at the weekend and try to time this with baby nap-time so as not to feel too guilty about wanting an hour to myself when carving this out of precious non-work time.

To motivate myself to run, when its so easy to come up with excuses not to, I like to sign up for the occasional competition. Last weekend my brothers joined me in running the Geneva 10k, enough of a challenge to ensure at least weekly runs, but not so insurmountable that a rigid training plan was required.

Despite the obvious fatiguing implications of running 10k the run was somehow revitalizing: the route was beautiful, the endorphins were flowing and the sense of achievement in sprinting across the finish line was on par with the high I get from hanging out with the wee one.

When I’m running I’m wholly immersed in the present, I do not think about anything aside from my immediate surroundings. There are times when I’m thinking this stretch is particularly hard, or this is a good pace, when I focus on my breathing and particularly with the 10k I recall distinctly noting when my breath went from steady pace to steady pant for the last two kilometers. I remember spotting other runners I’d seen earlier, I recalled taking in the beauty of the surroundings and beyond that I don’t remember thinking at all. I certainly wasn’t thinking about the baby, I wasn’t thinking about work, I wasn’t thinking about money stresses or the 1001 other worries that seem to have been dominating my tired little brain of late.

And just as I spend my working days thinking about the next baby high, I am now finding myself thinking about the next running high. I’d better sign up for another challenge quickly and although shoehorning running, working and babytime (and maybe even a teeny slice of socializing) into my essential weekly to-do list may be difficult I don’t think I can afford not to.