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.