Wednesday, September 29, 2010

0.0003% Alcohol

A few years ago, back when Roberto and I were free and easy, we visited friends of ours who had two small children. After a fun day of us thinking perhaps this having kids business wasn't all that bad, it came to that time in the evening when children are exhausted and go a bit nuts.

We watched our harassed-looking friends try and corral their offspring for baths, bed and beyond. The father, noticing what were evidently terrified looks on our faces, quickly said, “It's not all terrible, you know,” while being gripped around the leg by a howling child, and attempting to hold on to another using a sort of fireman's lift.

Small children suck you dry, there is no two ways about it. In the case of my baby son, quite literally. He nurses so often I may as well invest in a grass skirt and just let it all hang out. It would save me a lot of time, money on ugly nursing bras that do nothing for your silhouette, and probably make the Amazon delivery guy’s life a bit more interesting.

In my daughter's case, she is still incapable of understanding that other people, i.e. my husband and I, have needs outside of hers. Sometimes it’s somewhere between 8 and 9pm and I am dead on my feet tired. I haven't yet eaten dinner, and I'm at that point where I just want to crawl into a corner, gnaw on my hand for a bit, and fall asleep. I'll say something like, “OK, I'm going to say goodnight now. I'm very tired and hungry, and I need to go and take care of myself.” And she'll respond, quite cheerfully, with: “Read it please,” shoving the eighth story book of the evening into my angst-ridden face.

I don’t think we have a budding sociopath on our hands; it’s just that she doesn’t quite have empathy yet. A bit like some of the people I've worked with over the years, the difference being that she is actually two going on three, and not just acting that way. It’s starting to change though, the other day I woke on the sofa to find she had partially covered me with a blanket of hers, and shoved our son’s plastic toy keys in my armpit for company.

Our son is getting bigger, quite a lot bigger actually. Although he has just gone four months, he fits into 6 to 12 month clothes, some of which quite snugly. I’m kind of kicking myself for my over-zealous shopping at the start, as a lot of the stuff has gone unworn. He's not really fat, but more so kind of big with large paws for hands and long feet. I'm thinking American footballer, in his spare time, that is when he's not inventing life saving vaccines and writing Pulitzer prize-winning tomes.

To deviate briefly from the fascinating life I lead right now, I find it genuinely strange that people are so shocked and surprised by the recent spate of footballers cheating on their wives and girlfriends. Or rather, let me rephrase that; the recent spate of footballers getting caught cheating on their wives and girlfriends. I thought that when you dated or married a footballer, it was like marrying into the mob. You kind of know your husband does stuff you'd rather not spend too much time thinking about, but you enjoy the lifestyle enough not to let it worry you too much.

A funny moment for me (I imagine not so funny for poor Coleen) came when one of the prostitutes Wayne Rooney slept with reported that he wasn't particularly good in bed. I think the word she used was 'boring.' I’m not sure anyone was too surprised by that. At least, according to one of the many women Tiger Woods slept with, he had some moves to go with that monstrous appetite. In the case of Rooney, I imagine his idea of doing something risqué involves removing his socks before getting into bed.

We are looking to buy a house at some point in the future. This means we have had the pleasure of getting to know our local real estate community rather well. These guys dress like Wall Street bankers. I'm assuming the thinking is that it makes them look successful, and thereby bound to be successful at selling your house or finding you one. But to me all those expensive suits are just a reminder of what big a cut they get from selling your house. Or indeed how much they are going to try and drive up the price of the house you are buying. On our recent holiday in America we met an estate agent who actually owned the agency. He wore an old shirt, a pair of faded shorts, and trainers. That man I trusted.

I'm not sure how it works in other parts of the world, but where we live a favourite little caveat beneath the price on the brochure is 'guide price.' There's no such thing as offering low, going up a bit, and then eventually getting the place for something around the mark the sellers sort of wanted anyway. No no no, that little caveat means the extortionate amount listed is just for starters, you've got to offer even more, and quite possibly get into a bidding war.

And if that isn't bad enough, the estate agents have a way of making you feel cheap if you aren't capable of chucking in an extra 50 grand or so. I mean, it’s just another 50 grand right? I’d really love to see where they live. And then there are the dirty tricks; take my advice, if someone says to you the house you want is going to a silent bid, save yourself a lot of anguish and walk away there and then. These things, as we learnt from bitter experience, never turn out well.

My mother, who is visiting with us at the moment, is obsessed with weight loss shows like ‘The Biggest Loser.’ I always know when she’s been watching one, because she’ll sit down for lunch with a worried look on her face and say something like, “Just a little for me please, I don’t want to get Type 2 diabetes.” My mother resembles a piece of string and eats like a bird, so I don’t know what her worry is.

I on the other hand, eat like a horse. Everyone tells me this is normal when you are nursing. My concern is that my stomach is going to stretch and get used to all this extra food, making it tough to go back to the way things were before. Not to mention getting a taste for all the sugary stuff I enjoy right now. I think I’m going to have to go cold turkey on the Chocolate Digestives and mini Magnums.

I’ve got some sort of bronchitis-type thing. I went to the chemist today to try and get cough mixture that was nursing-friendly, but that would be effective enough so it doesn’t feel as though I’m about to cough up my left lung. She found something, pointed at the ingredients, and told me it had a tiny bit of alcohol in but nothing that should be harmful. I reflected on the large glass of red wine I allow myself at night, but said nothing. You’d be surprised how superior people can get when it comes to your breasts and what you do with them.

Friday, August 06, 2010

The naked Impie Warrior Princess and routine versus baby-led

I look at my daughter, aged 2 years and 8 months, and how completely unaffected she is. She says whatever's on her mind, laughs hysterically and manically when she is happy, screams and cries if she is angry or sad. Tells you she loves you spontaneously in the same way that no amount of prompting can illicit that term of endearment if she is not feeling it. She strips off her clothes if she feels the urge, regardless of who may be visiting. She looks at her body and its various parts with the detached curiosity of a first year medical student. She uses the potty or toilet in front of anyone if she needs to go. She flings her arms around you laughingly and embraces you fiercely if the desire takes her, and avoids an embrace if it doesn't. She says pointedly if she likes something and someone or if she doesn't. She is, and I'm painfully aware it's only for a tragically narrow window of time, absolutely free, present, and human without any of the baggage we collect along the way.

The irony is that we are all like this as small children, and then our parents, carers, teachers, and peers spend an insane amount of time and energy telling us not to because its impolite, socially unacceptable, not nice, etc, effectively killing everything that is spontaneous, beautiful and free about the human spirit. So we develop affectations, insecurities, and coping mechanisms in order to fit in, and then later in life spend a lot of money on therapy or crappy self-help books trying to recapture that freedom of just being that came so very naturally in the first place.

Anyway, that's me just being maudlin. But I think there's something there to be aware of when raising your children; do so with a light touch.

Our little boy is 11 weeks old already. We haven't done a formalised routine with our son, as we did our daughter - what I liked to refer to as Gina Ford light. It's given me a very good compare and contrast on the baby led and routine method, both of which, I have to say, have their plusses and minuses to my mind.

The routine (i.e. baby eats at four hour intervals at the same time every day and sleeps around the same times and gets the night and day thing sorted fairly early on), gave us a lot of freedom in that we knew more or less when our daughter would be doing what, and also, because her feeds were scheduled, a pretty good idea if she was hungry or not. It may seem pretty self evident, but actually in those early weeks everything is a guessing game, and you find yourself spending a lot of time putting the baby to your breast or making and wasting bottles, trying to figure out if they are hungry or not. Hunger being the most obvious reason babies tend to cry.

With the routine we were able to plan nights out with a sitter fairly early on, knowing that give or take half an hour, our daughter would be asleep at x o'clock, and only require another bottle or feed at x o'clock. She travelled extremely well and we could arrange things more or less around feeding times which made life very easy.

We also had her sleeping through the night, as in 7pm to 7am from around 5.5 months and barring waking a few times (only for a few minutes) for a pacifier in those early months, or if she was or is ill, she is still a good sleeper and continues to go down at night and sleep through without any hassle.

On the down side the routine, again especially in those early months, was a stress. It doesn't just happen over night, it takes a lot of work, and there are days when it goes a bit pear shaped and you have to work to bring it back into place. I used to get anxious if we didn't do things on time because I knew that everything was intricately linked to the bigger picture and if one thing went wrong the whole thing would be affected.

Visits with friends had to be scheduled if they wanted to see her, because I knew she'd be awake for an hour only, in which time I also had to nurse, change the nappy etc, and if they wanted to cuddle her they'd get only a small margin of time to do so before she was swaddled, and put to sleep in her basket in a darkened room. We were also a lot less inclined to bundle her up and go out to dinner in the evenings because again she needed to be bathed at a certain time, fed, and in her darkened bedroom without any distractions to sleep. Yes it's true, perhaps we took it a bit too far, but as I said, this was the light version!

Our little guy on the other hand is 100% breast fed (our daughter was combined breast and bottle), and try as I might to get him onto the same sort of timing routine as we did our daughter, I find it extremely difficult. He doesn't last 4 hours between feeds throughout the day. He likes to eat when he wants to, and sometimes that is twice in an hour. Sometimes he sleeps very little during the day - a few cat naps, other times he does a four or five hour sleep in one go. Fortunately he more or less has his night's worked out, so he goes down to sleep at 8pm or thereabouts and then wakes twice or sometimes three times, but twice on a good night, to be fed before waking at about 7am again.

On the positive side I don't worry too much about when he's eating (he is gaining weight steadily so evidently we are OK in the department) or sleeping. Although sometimes I do worry if he sleeps for an exceptionally long period during the day as I know we are going to have a wakeful, albeit often happy, little chap in the early hours who requires walking around by dad as he serenely surveys the room for an hour or so.

We also don't think twice to put him in his pushchair and take him out in the evenings, and if I miss bathing him at 5.30pm in the evening, I top and tail him and do it the next day. So yes, a much more relaxed approach.

People say that nursing is very convenient. This is true and it's also not true. It is convenient in that you don't have to wash and sterilise bottles or indeed spend money on formula. You also don't make and waste bottles when you are trying to figure out if your baby is hungry or not. There's no need to worry about taking bottles, sterilisers and the right amount of formula with you when you travel. And if you are stuck somewhere you always have milk, if you'll excuse the image, on tap at the perfect temperature, without frenziedly tyring to find a clean bottle. People who bottle feed will appreciate that terrible feeling you get when your child is screaming and you are stuck in traffic or out somewhere and you realise you've used your last bottle already because you thought you'd be home long before now. It is truly horrible.

The inconvenient bit is that if you are nursing exclusively, i.e. not even expressing, you are effectively that child's only means of nourishment. So no asking your partner to do the 2am feed so you can have some sleep. Also, as with our son, a lot of nursed demand-fed babies don't always do so on a routine, so if you need to go out and leave the baby with someone, it can be difficult to plan. I believe this changes as the baby gets older and that they do more or less start to nurse on a routine, but I'm yet to get to that point.

It is also not always convenient to nurse in a public space. Some women are so expert at it that they lift a top or jumper, pop the baby underneath and do so without anyone being the wiser. For those of us with more, how should I say, obvious and larger breasts, it's not quite as easy, and the whole process requires a scarf to cover up and a lot of faffing with a crying hungry baby. Plus, some places are not so keen on you nursing on their premises and as a nursing mother you spend a lot of time walking along high streets looking into coffee shop or restaurant windows eyeing out quiet corners.

Superficially you are obligated to wear button down garments, unless you are OK with showing off your belly as you lift your T-shirt, in order to access your boobs without exposing too much of yourself. And then there's the gross unattractiveness that is the nursing bra, and believe me regardless if they have polka dots or are made of lace, they are still ugly. Plus of course an endless supply of breast pads (like large cotton wool pads to stick inside the bra so you don't, er, leak).

Still, I like the fact that when our son is upset, like after he got his first round of shots recently, I can put him to my breast and he is immediately comforted. Likewise when he is upset or unsettled during the night. And then there's the fact that he has gained weight in leaps and bounds since his birth, and I feel a tiny bit of pride that I've contributed to that. There's literature about how good it is for baby to be nursed, and some which says a lot of the benefits are really minuscule past those early weeks. I honestly don't have a firm opinion on it either way. I guess I'm as conditioned as most to think that it is largely beneficial, and I'm going to roll with it for a few more months, but most likely not past 6 months. Even I have my limits as to how long I will endure broken sleep and such unattractive underwear. And my feeling is that two things will prevent me from nursing longer (1) when my son gets teeth, and (2) when he can address me in perfect English asking for it.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

"I'm counting till three!" and other sins

When you become a parent, much to your dismay, you find yourself making the same mistakes your parents made. The difference being that they didn't know any better, and in this day and age of Oprah, you ought to.

I blame it on being severely sleep deprived and therefore not in possession of my faculties. It's the only explanation for some of the rubbish non sequiturs I've found myself spouting of late. Like, 'It's no because I said it's no,' or, 'I'm counting till three' (what's supposed to happen after three I have no idea), or, 'I'm not asking you again,' (of course I ask her again).

Fortunately I have yet to resort to cutting Julia's beautiful babyish locks into a Nazi Youth League inspired short back and sides because 'hair is like grass, the more you cut it the thicker it grows.' I swear to god this is the logic my siblings and I were subjected to for years, resulting in people thinking I was a boy for the first five years of my life. And why it was so important we had thick hair in the first place is yet another incomprehensible mystery.

The fact that my mother took this advice from the vertically challenged compulsive lying Cypriot barber in our neighbourhood is beyond any and all reason. Strangely, she could distinguish that he was maybe, quite possibly, lying when he said he had been the personal hairdresser to Elizabeth Taylor for years, but not that he was talking bollocks about the structure of hair follicles and the fact that what you do to the ends has nothing at all to do with the roots, or indeed one's genetic predisposition towards fine or thick hair.

So it was a happy day for us children when the idiot put tinfoil on my mother's newly permed hair (with chemicals still on) and stuck her under the drier. First she noticed her ears feeling rather hot, followed by the smell of burning hair and smoke. It took months of continual hot oil treatments and haircuts at a rather more sophisticated hairdressing salon for her singed pompadour to recover, her ears requiring an intensive moisturiser to abate the excessive peeling. But best of all, thereafter we children got to choose our hairstyles and direct stylists who actually understood how to cut hair as opposed to just shearing it.

But back to the threats us parents make; I have a theory that the more you pick on a child and their behaviour (easy to do when you are tired and irritable and things you'd normally ignore suddenly really annoy you) the more defensive they become and start acting out. Recently, I noticed that the more I argued with Julia about things she does - silly childish things to get my attention - the more defiant she was becoming and it started genuinely depressing me how much we were arguing with each other. It felt like everything was becoming a battle, and I mourned the great relationship I had with my little girl when I could make her laugh, and vice versa, or distract her and all would be well.

Having reflected on why our relationship had changed so much, I had to concede what is true of every relationship in life - the dynamic is co-created. Certainly there is the plain and simple reality that due to the new baby in the house and having being usurped as the Majordomo, there was bound to be some regression and seeking of attention. The fact that at this point the baby requires my attention most of the day leaving little for her, also doesn't help. Then there's also the fact that being a little kid she does things she shouldn't because she is pushing boundaries and asserting herself.

But the rate at which she was doing these things and the way she reacted when I told her off, was telling about how I was handling the situation too. So by easing up and having a sense of humour about stuff and being a lot more patient (god help me), it's had a really positive knock-on effect with her too. It's genuinely been quite a dramatic change.

Sure, there are still times when instead of laughing about something I find myself yelling out, 'Jesus Christ! Get that electrical adaptor (plugged in) out of your mouth now!' but by and by, there has been a marked improvement on both our parts. And Julia, in all her graciousness, has taken to telling me, 'I'm sorry you shouted at me like that,' said in a poignant apologetic tone as though benevolently done on my behalf. I have no doubt she would make an accomplished Catholic in the guilt-inducing stakes.

On my end I don't really have a life outside of my children right now. An exciting moment comes when I have an opportunity to sit down for five minutes and read Heat magazine (apparently Lindsay Lohan's biggest fear about her pending 90-day prison sentence is possible weight gain), or feel like I am living on the edge when I crack open a can of Diet Coke. Just think of what that Aspartame might do. God I'm reckless.

I've started trying to regain some sort of regular human appearance, as opposed to the blob in stretch trousers with roots even Shakira would be ashamed of. I saw my stylist a couple of weeks ago, and we drank Starbucks while he stuck foils in my hair and reminisced about that day, so many moons ago, when he coloured my hair for Roberto and my wedding. Back when I had one chin, and only wore support pants on Friday nights.

Our holidays are coming up. I had two bathing suits delivered in the post (I do all my shopping online these days - changing rooms being far too traumatic). The good news is that they fit, the bad news is that they are enormous. Still, I think I should be awarded points for bravery in as much as I plan to wear the things near the general public and a body of water.

Finally and totally unrelated, I wanted to spend a moment to express how saddened I was to learn about the tragic death of Sebastian Horsley. For those of you who didn't know him or of him, he was an eccentric London-based writer who's rather controversial autobiography, 'Dandy in the Underworld' (so controversial that the Americans refused him entry into their country), had just been turned into a West End play and was in the process of being turned into a movie.

I met Sebastian on a few occasions as he attended the same poetry functions as me at my club, back in the days when I still had a social life. Despite looking at me as a hungry dog might appraise a juicy steak, he was surprisingly shy and extremely courteous in person - in stark contrast to the violent, sexual, and in your face shock-factor of his book, or his articles for the Erotic Review for that matter.

Apparently it was a suspected heroin overdose. Knowing what a narcissist Sebastian was and the fact that all his dreams of major fame (notoriety having long preceded that) were about to come true, I prefer to think it was a terrible tragic accident as opposed to suicide. RIP Sebastian x

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Well you did ask

People, friends of mine that have one child and are considering having another, ask me what it's like having two kids. Like my experience and opinion is going to make one bit of difference to their insane evolutionary drive to procreate repeatedly. But what the hell, I humour them anyway. I tell them about a heavy smoker I met many years ago. A psychologist, he told me he had never touched a cigarette in his life until such time as he got a job at an institute for the criminally insane, and by the time I met him, he was up to 40 a day. That anecdote pretty much sums up what having two children is like for me right now.

There are good days, days when the baby eats and sleeps well (he has reflux so these things are far from a given) and Julia happily fits in and around him and we do stuff together when he is asleep and she plays on her own when I am seeing to him. Time flies and before we know it Roberto walks in the door at 6pm to a relatively calm happy scene. We have dinner as a family, bath and put Julia to bed, and catch up on a bit of TV and time together before going to bed after the baby's next feed.

Then there are days, days which I fondly refer to as 'hell,' when, for example, I am nursing him and J is attempting some or other death defying stunt which she just happens to illustrate within an inch of her brother's small head. I ask her calmly and repeatedly to please refrain from whatever craziness she happens to be doing, and she continues and eventually I have to raise my voice. She starts to cry and yell, 'I DO NOT LIKE IT WHEN YOU SPEAK TO ME LIKE THAT!,' and because I am attached by the skin of my breast to the mouth of a small and hungry locust, I am incapable of going over to her, cuddling her and explaining why I said what I said, and what it all means. And so she cries louder and harder.

At which point the the baby, distressed by the racket, detaches and starts to cry too - sucking in loads of air which is just great for his delicate digestive system. Still hungry but too upset and sore to latch on, I then have to get up and try and wind him and console him while J continues with her tantrum, and I try very hard not to feel resentful towards her, especially as I know where it's all coming from.

By the time Roberto walks in the door in the evening, I resemble Jack Nicholson hacking through the bathroom door in 'The Shining' - all wild eyed, crazy, and angry as a disturbed hornets nest because he has the audacity to need to pee and wash his hands before taking the increasingly heavy baby off of me that very second.

That evening, the baby has a rough time settling, J throws a tantrum because Roberto wants to bath her and not me, she struggles to go to sleep, meaning one of us is either holding the crying baby or seeing to her. Then the moment she does settle, around 10pm, we quickly tidy the house which has a blanket of toys just waiting to be trod on by a bare foot in the middle of the night, pack the dishwasher, and then wait for the baby to wake up to for his 10(ish) feed. And then hope and pray he settles quickly and sleeps well between that and the 2am and 6am feeds. Which can often be more like 11pm, 2am, 4am and 7am feeds, with lots of bleary-eyed walking in between

Times like this and I become strangely envious of a friend of ours's recent solo trip to Antarctica to bird watch. I hate cold places and have zero interest in bird watching, but boy does that idea suddenly seem like heaven to me.

Oh, and then, because things aren't hard enough, thrown in for good measure is the guilt factor. I feel tremendously bad about the fact that I spend an increasing amount of time telling J off. I'm not a bossy sort of person and giving orders and being an authority figure has never been my thing. Probably one of the reasons I'm repeatedly walked over by people who work for us, but there you have it. So to have to tell someone what to do and sometimes say, 'You cannot do this or that, because I said so and I know better,' feels very strange and somehow wrong as it leaves my mouth. What, I sometimes ask myself, makes me think I know what is better for J then she herself? Yep, I know, the teenage years are going to be fun.

I don't believe in the term 'naughty'. I think it's a lazy blanket term which doesn't address the complex array of behaviours which little people frequently display. To know your child and understand that more often than not they act out because of x, y, or z means you can address the issue at hand and hopefully nip it in the bud or at the very least ensure that the next time it happens know where it's coming from. This seems a lot more productive and far less ambiguous to me than labelling something or a child as 'naughty.'

Knowing this however, still doesn't make it easier. Like, for example, when they put sandwich bags over their heads and call our 'Look at me' cheerfully, your heart stopping as you respond with 'Jesus Christ!' resulting in peals of laughter from said little person. Or when they drink the bath water, drag your pashmina through the indoor flower bed (damn bloody ultra modern houses and their bloody indoor flower beds), or step off the potty after a particularly messy poo and come and sit on the rented suede sofas (which come with the rented house) without wiping their bottoms. Or attempt to touch the face of their newborn brother with the hand that's been fiddling with that unwiped little backside.

All of this makes me sound like the most inattentive mother, but with two, one of which is a babe in arms who requires almost round the clock carrying because lying down means gross discomfort, I simply cannot be there all the time to see what J is getting up to. And so she sometimes does this crazy shit, I try (and fail) to reason with her which means I get angry and tell her off, she gets upset, and so and so and so.

But it's not all bad. We have the weekends, when Roberto is around, and we take the kids to breakfast and the zoo and the park, and the whole thing, this family thing, makes sense. When J says to me as I'm tucking her in at night, 'Sometimes I feel left out when you are trying to nurse Isaac,' or 'I love spending time with you Mummy,' or 'I love you the most after playtime when it's time for bed,' and I respond with my usual refrain (much to her delight), 'Ah, but I love you all ALL of the time.'

And then, much later in the evening, when both of the children are clean, bathed, and safely tucked into their little beds, we laugh and smile during those precious eight minutes and thirty seconds of free time, and agree how lucky we are and how much we have to be thankful for. And indeed we do.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

And then there were two

I'm writing this while England play the USA (football), and I should probably be sleeping, because it's a rare moment when both our children are sleeping and the house is blissfully quiet, apart from my lovely husband yelling at the TV as the USA have just scored their first goal. But the blog calls and all two of my readership have been asking for an update, so here goes.

I had our little boy almost four weeks ago - my god it's gone quickly. That tends to happen when you have two children it seems - time flies. With Julia those first few weeks and months seemed to take forever, both in a good and a bad way. The bad being that I felt as though I had been hit by a truck, and my life as I knew it was gone forever and now seemed to slow down into a blurred Groundhog Day of sleep deprivation, extremely sore breasts, and baby baby baby.

I imagine there are women, specifically those that have had experience with babies or small children, or who have grown up in big families, who take to motherhood naturally and instinctively. With me it was a learning experience, and while I loved my little girl from the start, I had to learn how to be a mother in the weeks and months following her birth. I'd say I'm still learning. And there were also times where the relentless responsibility of the undertaking had me wanting to run into the street screaming. Probably a good thing then that when it comes to exercise I am inherently lazy. But yes, a pretty serious and life changing shock to the system.

This time round the responsibility is no less full-on or relentless, and times it by two because we have another child, but it feels easier somehow. We're used to bad or broken sleep (although it never fails to suck), we know how to take care of an infant, how to hold him, that he won't break, that every little skin imperfection is probably not the start of meningitis, and also, that the hectic nature of these early weeks passes and things get easier.

The first time round you don't know that it gets easier. I mean, people tell you that, but you don't believe them, because there are the same bastards that told you having a baby was wonderful and amazing. And here you are manically sleep deprived, emotional and hormonal, fighting with your husband because he had 6 minutes and 30 seconds more sleep than you and didn't get you a cup of tea, and your body and breasts are desperately sore. What in god's name is amazing and wonderful about any of this? With our second all of this is still the case, but somehow it's in perspective.

I had a C-section again which was OK, but you know, quite frankly, I don't want to go through that experience a third time. The epidural for one thing is horrible - there's just something perversely disturbing about having someone, and indeed knowingly and willingly allowing someone to stick a sharp thick needle in your spine, especially while you cannot see what they are up to back there. They give you a local anaesthetic to numb the area before they dicky about with your spine, but that in itself hurts like the bejesus, and then you feel this weird sensation as the anaesthetic enters into your spinal column. Oh god, even remembering it makes me feel sick.

This wipes out all sensation in your legs, and let me tell you, that messes with your head big time. I had this overwhelming desire to shift my right buttock and couldn't. And I wanted to move my legs too and couldn't, and then had anxiety about the fact. I think the nurses were getting a bit tired of me asking, 'But I will get feeling back right? I mean, how long will this last?' while nervously gnawing on my lower lip.

But I was in good hands and as far as these things go it was swift, expertly done, and before I knew it I had our little boy in my arms and the rest seemed to fade into the background. That is until the blood pressure machine in the recovery room started playing up and I had a few nurses standing around looking very worried because my blood pressure was so very low - so very worryingly low. There I was holding my little one, looking at their worried faces and asking, 'Should I be worried?' followed by, 'so when will I be able to feel and move my legs again?' Fortunately someone cottoned on that it might be the machine and a new one was brought in and I was deemed OK.

The recovery has been fine, but it's major surgery and they cut through quite a few layers and this hurts. For a few weeks after you cannot lift anything heavier than your baby, which is tough when you have a toddler that needs lifting in and out of a high chair or onto a toilet. Plus just walking around is difficult. I'm starting to get to the point now where I can go out and do a fair walk and it not hurting too much, but I still have a few aches and pains and days when I need to take something for it.

So back at home and the big question everyone has been asking is how is J, our little girl, who is two and a half, taking to the whole thing. The fact is she's been pretty amazing actually - remarkably patient and understanding and also, it has to be said, a bit indifferent. She frequently asks to have the baby on her lap, but always, as it would seem, when the poor little guy is about to feed or in desperate need of winding and not wanting a zealous little sister fawning all over him. And there are also times when she doesn't seem to notice him and happily carries on with whatever she is doing.

I try and include her in things as much as possible and we have this system where while I am nursing she turns the pages of a book so I can read to her at the same time. But yes, she's a star and happily tells people she has a little brother and there have been no threats or proclamations to the effect of, 'I hate that baby' or 'I want to kill that baby'. Thank god. She calls him 'a little peanut' and when he cries tells me he most likely needs to have milk. Her tolerance, understanding, and patience for someone her age blows me away.

Juggling two children on the other hand can be tricky. I have someone that helps me with Julia in the mornings, but until she arrives, and in the afternoons it can be difficult, and there's a bit too much TV watching for my liking. The other morning I was sitting at the kitchen table nursing our son, feeding our daughter her breakfast (she's not a big fan of eating), and trying to read to her all at the same time. In between spooning cereal into my own mouth. It brings a whole new meaning to the words multi-tasking. Or other times, nursing our son while watching our daugher clutching 'down there' knowing I have minutes to get her to a toilet before she christines the floor, while she stubbornly insists she doesn't need to loo.

Before number two, Roberto and I were an excellent tag team and would take it in turns on the weekends to have lie-ins or playing with my daughter in the afternoons so one of us could have a nap. Now he's pretty much responsible mostly for J, and I am responsible for our son, because I am nursing so it just makes more sense that way, and we briefly swap so we can spend time with the other. There is no break for either of us at the moment, so we have to remember that and be kind to each other, which sometimes we forget, mostly because we're tired and wondering where that scrap of personal freedom we'd managed to salvage for ourselves after having our daughter has gone.

We're going to start easing our little guy into some sort of routine now, which is really a lot less malevolent that what it sounds. For some reason a lot of people have this terrible notion of what it involves - like it's some sort of Victorian torture of small children, but it's really just a good tool for everyone in the house, and J certainly thrived on it. The idea is that the baby eats regularly to avoid dehydration and gets their daily nutritional intake, and then has these good chunks of sleep in between. Babies also don't really distinguish between night and day, so again the routine just helps things along so you don't have a little guy wide awake for two to three hours in the early hours - as has happened to us for a couple of nights recently.

And now I need to quickly grab an hour or two of sleep before our son wakes up to feed, and hope and pray we have a better night ahead of us. If I get five hours I'll be laughing.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Paints, prams, and Phil Collins

So I'm in Ryman's this week, perusing the paint selection in the kids arts and crafts aisle. I spot these large bottles of paint which state on the label that they are 'washable' but not suitable for finger painting.

I am introducing J to a basic version of the colour wheel and mixing colours to create new ones. We go through a fair bit of paint as a result of her watching intently as I carefully create green or orange, and then enthusiastically following suit by mixing everything together resulting in a muddy brown/blue colour, while whimsically uttering, "A little bit of red, and a little bit of blue.... ." And then, "More red, more blue I've muddied the colours!" (toddlers could teach dictators a thing or two). I dutifully wash out the mess and start from the beginning by putting neat little dollops on the palette. A slow, repetitive, and very messy process, but all in the name of learning.

So back to Rymans and the large bottles of washable paint that are not for finger painting. I'm confused, so I grab the nearby assistant, who looks 16-years-old. Admittedly since I turned 30 everyone that is 25 and younger looks 16, but I digress.

I ask her why something that is washable may not be suitable for finger painting, not that J does much of the latter these days, that's if you discount her penchant for panting her hands, her legs, and pretty much any visible surface of skin with a paintbrush she holds fairly adeptly. And then demands a bath. As it was on sale in the kids section and talked about being washable, it was evidently not going to be toxic, so I was just trying to establish what the deal was. The exchange went something like this:

Me: So this label says it's washable, but you cannot use it for finger painting?
Her: Yes, that's right. You cannot use it for finger painting.
Me: But why, I mean, if it washes off?
Her: As you can see on the label, it is washable, but you should not use it for finger painting.

At this point I am tempted to say, ''I'm sorry, but do I have eejit tattooed on my forehead?" But I don't need to, my expression says it all. Seeing this, she thinks a bit and then says, "because kids can put their hands in their mouths"
Me: But they could do that with finger paints too right?
Her: You cannot watch them 24-7, they could put there hands in their mouths or something like that, which is why we put on our label (er, you mean Crayola puts on its label) that they are not for finger painting.

Realising I was getting nowhere, and not wanting to get into the whole, actually if you know anything about kids you will never leave a toddler alone within arms-reach of paint, ever, I said thank you and bought them anyway. Turns out they don't wash off the hands quite as easily as the finger painting stuff but that's the only visible difference.

Had my 37.5 week checkup today and our baby hasn't engaged at all, much like his sister during this point in my pregnancy with her. Which is why I required a c-section with her and am booked in to have one with him. Saying that, you never know, he may decide to surprise us all and trigger labour, but my doctor thinks that's unlikely due to my pelvis which is apparently small or something and there is no space for the head to settle into. I'm so sad I take this as some sort of compliment, "Yes that's right people, I have a small pelvis - I'm really, secretly, beneath it all, a thin person."

I think I've got everything ready, more or less. We just need to assemble the double buggy/pram (for two kids) thingy that we bought. My god, if there ever was a captive audience just waiting to be robbed (aside from ageing women and the cosmetics industry that is), it's parents. The price of baby apparel is frightening. Some of my friends and I have a system of swapping things as and when we need them which has served us very well and saved a bunch of cash.

I always advise new parents not to buy a pram (you use it for the first 3 or so months only) - borrow rather, or get one of those contraptions that starts off as a pram and then converts into a pushchair. Although in my experience it's rare that these doubling up things are ever a great success at doing both things really well, not unlike the shampoo&conditioner trend of the 80s. Also, whenever buying anything, ask what it comes with and what's included. So many of these things, despite the enormous cost, don't include basic stuff, requiring you to spend more to get the 'extras.' A bit like the iPad and the stand, or never mind that, a case. God, don't get me started on laptops not coming with cases as standard, or digital cameras for that matter. Itemisation is definitely one of the devil, I mean, marketing world's most profitable inventions.

Last night I took a stroll to the little Tesco's on our high street and walked past an exotically attractive woman handing out belly dancing class pamphlets. She gave one to me, and I looked at her and said, 'Well, I've certainly got the belly." Her eyes fell downwards onto my bump, and her face spread into a smile, "Oh maybe for after," she said. I think I might look into that at some point. I mean, I've always been someone who has a 'tummy' so why not put it to good use? Display it, and jiggle it about, instead of trying and failing to get rid of it, As you can see, rationalisations ahead of losing the post baby weight are already in progress.

So the big UK elections tomorrow. And yes, I, cynical me, am going to vote. For years I'm avoided doing so because my feelings on politics have always been that the candidates are all as bad as each other - just in varying degrees. But then something happened, or rather, someone happened, that being Barack Obama and the US elections and for the first time I thought, 'Here's someone that's really different and will (at least try) and make a real difference.' It changed how I view politics. Now, although I still think we are forced to pick the best of a bad bunch in these UK elections, I think rather have that, then have the worst of a bad bunch be voted in.

And on a parting note, I leave you with this ahead of making your vote tomorrow: Forget public service cuts, if the Tories get voted in, Phil Collins may well return to Britain. Could you really live with yourself if that happened?

Just a thought.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Oh baby baby

So I'm on the last stretch of my pregnancy, the operative word here being stretch. In fact, I don't think there's enough skin left on my belly to do any further stretching, my backside on the other hand is doing just fine in this department.

It's a miracle how we manage to carry these little people inside of us, and just when you think there is no more space, you get even bigger. Then there's the waddling, sore back, aching joints at 3am when you really really need your sleep what with a toddler to see to at 7am. And 24/7 exhaustion accompanied by dark circles under the eyes, that not even industrial-strength concealer can conceal.

We had a lovely long weekend in Disneyland Paris with our daughter recently. A sort of last fling for the three of us before her position as Number Uno gets usurped for ever, and we are grounded for a few months. She had absolutely no concept of who Mickey Mouse was and what any of that Disney malarkey was about. However irrespective of what the character was, chipmunk, mouse, etc, it was as though a bunch of giant soft toys had come to life. For some, especially those on acid, a nightmarish scenario, but for our almost 2.5 year-old animal mad toddler, heavenly.

Then there were the rides, the copious amounts of diabetes-inducing candy on sale, and of course the merchandising. Alas, our daughter became au fait with the expression, 'I want to go to the shop,' and we came home with a toy Pluto, an acid green 'Frog Princess' dress and feathered tiara to match, and a toy white cat which she (strangely) named Tito. Indeed, Tito the good time communist cat - appropriate naming coming from a pint-sized dictator.

No more travel for me now, not until our anticipated little one is a few months old. I have trouble getting off of the sofa, let alone an aeroplane or walking around sight seeing. It's a strange feeling when you are waddling down the street and suddenly experience this seismic shift in your belly - not unlike the scene in Alien, although without the teeth, and bursting out of your stomach and killing people thing, thank god. Plus lots of stabbing cervical pains/sensations which halt you mid step, requiring a few deep breaths to get your bearings back. People on the street have looked at me as if wondering if all their E.R rerun watching may come in handy.

I've noticed a pattern in the stages of both my pregnancies when it comes to personal appearance. It starts off with me being super excited and wearing pregnancy clothes even when I don't need them. Then starting to need them and buying far too many, a lot of which look great on the (tall thin ) model in the catalogue or celebrity (damn you Heidi Klum, damn you!) , but stupid on me. Here's a tip - if you are short and squat, don't go for loud Pucciesque prints. Ditto on leggings.

Then I splurge on expensive cosmetics and makeup as compensation for feeling depressed about my massive weight gain, and to detract from the stupid Pucci prints. And then there's the end bit where I am just so happy to have three remaining items that still fit me that I live in those same clothes. Combined with the discomfort I spoke about in the first paragraph and there's not too much hair blow drying and makeup application going on either. My husband comes home to someone resembling Fester Adams in sweats, albeit with (bad) hair, and shorter.

Julia remains exceedingly excited about the arrival of her little brother. There is a lot of talk about milk drinking, visiting said brother and me at the hospital, and imitating a baby crying. I've been honest with her and told her she isn't going to get an instant 'playmate,' but someone who will need to be fed often, will (hopefully) sleep a lot, cry a lot, and soil nappies. I have however assured her, her baby brother will most likely enjoy being read to, cuddled (gently!), and given bottles of milk. She seems happy with that.

On the subject of bottles of milk a recent piece in the Daily Mail about a local celeb that had required a C-section and had difficulties nursing, had what I thought was an unfairly negative reaction in the form of numerous comments. The usual rubbish by people who have no medical training and a lot of whom, I hate to say, were men.

Having spoken to my consultant, who is a woman and in her late 60's (i.e she's been around the block and has the same equipment), there are a few reasons why a woman may require a planned C-section. It is not, as those opinionated eejits would have you think, only for extreme life-threatening medical emergencies on the spot.

In my case for example, I have something dodgy going on with my pelvis which along with a baby that never descended at all, not even an inch, led to a planned C-section two days ahead of my due date. Two other family members had the same issue and as it went undiagnosed in their cases, landed up having to have emergency C-sections after difficult and traumatic prolonged labour and attempts at natural birth.

Then there's the nursing thing and the usual barrage of comments that women these days just don't try hard enough etc. While I'm sure there are women who choose to bottle feed from the onset, which btw I think they are entitled do, there are also those of us who give it the good ol college try and once again thanks to our physiology, aren't able to continue. I'm sure there are numerous articles on the makeup of the breast and how complications in this area can arise, but hey, why bother with that when you can judge someone from a totally ill informed perspective?

Oh and then there's the whole thing about how women should forgo pain relief during labour, because it's more natural. Yes, passing a kidney stone is natural too, I'm sure, but when my father was taken to hospital on all fours screaming in pain, strangely it wasn't suggested to him that he forgo any pain relief.

It's all down to individual choices, which I just wish people would respect. Go natural, push that baby out without any pain relief, fantastic. Decide you want to pay extra and have your baby via C-section because the idea of natural birth terrifies the hell out of you, great. Who cares, as long as both mummy and baby come out of it safely? Recently I read how a teenage child bride in the Middle East had died after three days of difficult labour. So even the 'natural' method is not without risks, again down to physiology and unexpected complications.

I think at this point, with four weeks to go, I should probably avoid reading the Daily Mail altogether. This is a publication after all that insists on using the word 'Chaos' in at least one of its daily headlines. But whether it's down to pregnancy hormones and growing chronic discomfort, or the fact that I'm just a sad old cow who likes the occasional fight, I think I quite enjoy venting spleen in those comments facilities. There I've said it.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

And so and so

I'm in that final stage of my pregnancy where you become a complete bitch, or at least, where I have become a complete bitch. I don't want to lump all third trimester women into the same category because there are some, admittedly annoying ones, who are glowing and floating about in their size 6 skinny pregnancy jeans all happy and chirpy. So maybe I should just speak for myself and say that most of the time I am fairly annoyed, sweating the small stuff (something I try very hard not to do usually), and definitely not wearing any skinny jeans. In fact I'll go further and say I resemble a hippo - front and back.

The thing about hormones, and women that have suffered from PMS will know what I'm talking about, is that it feels as though your patience and tolerance levels are chronically worn to a thread. You don't want to be like that, but it's very difficult to control and you find yourself experiencing rage-like feelings over something like a coffee machine that doesn't work, have fantasies about destroying the dishwasher with a hammer because it won't stop beeping, or, in my case, extreme anger at my cleaner that has screwed up yet another one of my items of clothing. Made worse by the fact that due to my earlier hippo reference, I have about 5 items of clothing in my wardrobe that actually fit me right now. This jumper being one of them. There's also not a hell of a lot of decent pregnancy kit available so when you find a good item you value it. Again, this jumper being one of them.

OK, so I probably shouldn't have said to her: 'See that jumper over there in the plants? I threw it there in a fit of rage when I noticed that it no longer fits me. In fact, it's completely ruined,' accompanied by clenched fists at my side and bulging eyes. The woman must think I am barking mad. She's also not had children so she may not get the 'very pregnant so must be going through the nuts phase' thing either. Not an excuse I know, but one I'd hope would afford me some tiny glimmer of understanding.


Morocco - yes, Morocco, we just got back from there. A north African country bursting at the seems with hard sales people, not so charming snake charmers, lots of stray emaciated animals, and also some of the nicest people I've met. A beautiful country in many ways, and also very poor. I found it hard to make up my mind about whether or not I liked the place because I found, probably unsurprisingly, my feelings on this shifting from day to day.

I suppose animal welfare in any very poor country is not exactly going to be priority. But it doesn't make seeing something like a dog so severely emaciated and ill, its back legs struggling to support it, having little option but to void its bowels in the middle of a busy traffic-ridden street because it simply cannot help itself, despite the risk of being run over. Or stray cats by the dozen in every nook and cranny, or donkeys, small depressed-looking creatures, over-laden with carts filled to the brim with this and that. Animal lovers would find this a hard place to be in, there is no doubt.

Then there's the hard sell aspect. I am not averse to a bit of bargaining, I've certainly done it here in London at one of those carpet places which have had a 'closing down sale' sign outside for the past 10 years. But what I find extremely difficult in Morocco is the absurdity of the process. For example, an item that is valued at around say 10 quid, would, upon request, be stated as 100 quid. I kid you not. You know it's way too much, he knows it's way too much, but it's part of the ritualistic sales dance that you start with a stupidly high price and then find some sort of middle ground. You then offer something like 5 quid, he laughs in your face and says be serious, and you say OK 10, then he says, how about 60, and you say,15 ,and and and. And eventually you land up paying something like 25 quid for it. If you are really good you walk away and the guy runs after you and you get it for 12 quid.

Less brazen folk, especially in such a poor country, find this incredibly tough, but as the owners of our riad (house-like hotel) told us, the guy is not going to sell it to you for a price that he is not happy with. Albeit he may only make a profit of 5 quid as opposed to the 25 he wanted, but he will still be making a profit. And the mortally offended look they affect? Apparently also part of the sales spiel. But also, look at the item, decide for yourself what you feel it is worth and what you are happy paying, and go from there. Don't worry about how much he is making on top, and don't haggle for the hell of it, especially on cheaper things.

You get the hang of it eventually, but most people get ripped off on their first excursion out into the Souk and later find said items for a fraction of the price somewhere else. It's all part of the 'Welcome to Morocco' initiation ceremony.

Another thing I found difficult, is the culture people have of touching your child without asking your permission. In this day and age of swine flu, active TB, generic stranger bad hygiene etc, you don't want people grabbing or kissing your toddler or babies hands (which small children have a habit of putting in their mouths all the time). While I relish a place that is so welcoming of kids, I draw a line at the man that was just scratching his scrotal area or sneezing into his hand, touching my daughter. But maybe that's just me.

What's worse is when you encounter the hard sale guy who also happens to be a child hand toucher. We ran into one such person in the main square in Marrakech. We went to take a look at the snake charmers because Julia (our two year old) is animal crazy. Now neither Roberto or I are averse to spending a bit of cash for an experience, and were more than happy to hand out a bit for a picture or for watching something. But this guy didn't even wait for us to approach and enquire. Before we knew it he was right down at Julia's pushchair level forcing a green snake at her telling her to 'Touch it! Touch it!'

It became an infuriating point of principle with me and I said, 'No, I don't want her to touch it.' He replied that it wasn't venomous and then back to Julia, 'Touch it touch it.' And I said, 'That's not the point. She is my daughter and I say no, so it's no. I am the parent.' Again he ignored me and that's when we got angry and hot footed out of there. Now had the guy been sensible he would have apologised and I would have said, 'That's OK, we just want to watch your colleague over there do the snake charming thing and we'll give you some money toward it.' Or hung back to find out what it is we wanted in the first place.

So no sale for him, me steaming mad, and Julia now upset and crying because of the heated exchange. Perhaps I'm overlooking the desperation a lot of these people have to make a living, and at the same time I defend my position to ensure my child's safety.

Oh yes, and then there's the language thing. Morocco is a French/Arabic speaking country. Most people in Marrakech spoke at least a bit of English, what with all the tourists to rip off, I mean, sell to. We had quite a bit of difficulty at our resort near El Jadida because a lot of the support staff (waiters, house keeping, room service etc) did not, despite the hotel website being both in French and English.

Room service orders were often a case of room service roulette - never quite knowing what one was going to get, despite using Google Translate and a lot of bad charade-type mining to explain orders. Knowing a few words like, 'Please', 'thank you', and 'if you touch my child with that effing snake I will kick the shit out of you', aside, you really have to speak it properly to communicate the nuances. For e.g. we found it incredibly difficult to get a warm glass of milk as opposed to a hot one for Julia. The word in French for hot is chaud, for warm it also appears to be chaud, adding 'pour baby' made little difference. Likewise it took us three days and the receipt of some interesting items to finally find someone who understood and brought us some washing up liquid for Julia's drinking cups. But again, that's most likely sweating the small stuff, and as my mother would rightly point out, 'Be glad you had a glass of milk in the first place, what with all those poor starving animals about.'

For eight of the ten days of our holiday we had based ourselves near El Jadida at a beach resort. Unfortunately the weather was bad, not bad compared to the Hades-inspired stuff we were having back in the UK, but not exactly bikini-wearing Pina Colada drinking hot either. Windy, most days highs of about 17 degrees Celsius, and often overcast. Perhaps that's a February thing or a global warming thing. But due to my advancing pregnancy it was the only time left for travel.

Morocco is quite beautiful in a busy crazy sort of way, and the countryside, or at least the bit between El Jadida (near Casablanca) and Marrakech, is beautifully green. A middle-aged American couple we met had done a lot of touring around Morocco, including travelling to the dessert and having a bourgeois (mobile toilets, full-kitted out tents) Sherpa(esque) camping experience which they said was great fun. They were loving it. The food can be very good, the sights were colourful, and there's certainly fun to be had. I'm also (usually when not pregnant) the sort of person who loves doing the whole camel riding thing, excursions, strange experiences etc. So maybe next time.

I'd like to think we made the most of it, and also staying at a place which had a baby club allowed Julia to have a nursery-type introductory experience and Roberto and I to get an hour here and there to chill out. Also, just time to relax and spend time together before number two comes along and the sleepless nights, sore leaky breasts, and arguments about who has had 8 minutes more sleep arise. Or as the Hallmark co would like us to believe, 'Our bouncy bundle of joy arrives courtesy of the stork.'