Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Starbucks is not a creche

I was at a restaurant this week with two friends and an array of small children of various ages. One of the babies threw up inside of and in fact all over my son's pushchair. We had no idea it had even happened until my daughter, pointing, asked in that loud matter of fact way children have: 'What's that?'

The pushchair had been parked between my son and my friend's baby while they sat in highchairs chatting away. It was covered in the stuff, even dripping with it, slowly making a messy pool on the floor. But what was most troubling of all, aside from the smell that is, is that we'd completely failed to notice this child being sick centimetres away from us. I guess the fact that seconds later she was happily munching on a piece of bread as though nothing out of the ordinary had happened may well have lent to this terrible oversight on our part, but it still sort of bothers me that I missed something so fundamental.

Small children, babies especially in my experience, can be sick in this way and it doesn't appear to bother or distress them in the same way it does adults. You just don't see a baby, his or her head hanging over a loo, thinking to themselves, 'Oh dear god, there goes the broccoli'. Or, 'Oh no, no, no, now we are down to stomach acid! It was in my stomach a moment ago dissolving things and now it's in my mouth and nose!'

To the external observer (a few revolted looking diners at nearby tables) we probably appeared terrible parents. The small kids were doing what small children do when their patience for sitting in restaurants has reached its limit (you have about 30, 45 minutes tops), climbing on the sofas and being a bit rowdy. There's a baby throwing up, and in the middle of it all we are eating our lunch, yelling at the rowdy kids, having some kind of disjointed conversation, 'No Nathan, no, stop that now! Can you pass the olive oil please? Yes and as I was saying, they do really good self catering chalets,' and feeding said babies.

I guess its no surprise that we missed the vomiting incident.

Starbucks and small children, vomit or no vomit, is a tricky situation. There are always the people who take their coffee, get out their laptop, and hunker down with a serious look on their face. Some may well be working on the formula for an end to cancer, but there are some I'm sure, that are cruising Facebook. There are days I'd quite like to be cruising FB myself rather than preventing my daughter from rearranging the Fair Trade coffee bean display area.

These people sit down and emit a certain 'Quite please there are people working here' vibe, reinforced by the shooting glances they aim at you and your kids from time to time. Which is all well and fine, if, say, you were in a cafeteria at the Beeb, or indeed a library. And to quote Jerry Seinfeld who I was lucky enough to see last month here in London, 'A mocha does not an office make.' Thank you Jerry.

I'm with people on noisy kids. I don't care for it, and when I do get a rare opportunity to be in a coffee shop on my own (cruising FB on my phone), lovingly cradling my decaff latte with soya milk (also known as a 'Why Bother?'), I sure as hell would prefer to sit there in relative calm and actually hear the dulcet tones of Nina Simone or whatever elevator music they are playing.

But, on the other hand, there are droves of parents out there that would simply go stark raving mad without the Starbucks's of the world. Babies and small kids pre school NEED airing, as do the parents. It is essential. And sometimes you are sat at home with this small person, and you can feel those four walls closing in on you. To get out, somewhere, anywhere, where they serve a semi decent cup of coffee, where you don't have to brave the windy or rainy elements of the park, where you don't have to fork out 15 quid for a 45 minute soft play session, where you can just sit down for a bit and not be at home, and where you can feel like you are a part of the human race again. A visit to Starbucks with your baby for half an hour during the day is salvation to a lot of people.

The women who arrive in packs with their pushchairs and kids and take over the place are another story. I am occasionally one of those women, and it's not me that's taking over the place, it's my child. It's important to get into the habit of blaming your kids for everything early. But again, what do you expect a nearly four year old to do but practise ballet and circus moves in the small open space between tables while her mother discusses school uniforms and the merits of iron on labels versus sew on?

Children get bored and do what children do to entertain themselves. We shouldn't put them in adult environments and then be surprised when they don't manage adult behaviour. But god knows, sometimes you NEED that coffee, and you NEED to get some adult company. And I open handily apologise to everyone else about the noise and the inconvenience we are causing you while you drink your Venti. But rest assured your patience and understanding on this matter serves as an important public (mental) health service.

Yesterday, at a friends' house (see, we aren't always at Starbucks), I overheard my daughter playing a game and talking to her doll. , "Now Rosie, what the hell are you doing?!" I think I sunk down into my seat a little and nodded my head as if to say, 'No idea where they get this stuff from?!' But I have been known to use that phrase almost always when she is attempting to harm her little brother; push a piece of plastic Lego into his leg, grind his hand with her elbow, sit on his lower back as he frantically tries to crawl away.

While I am easy going with a lot of stuff (why ride children when they have a lifetime of enforced soul destroying conformity ahead of them?), I cannot and will not abide physical violence and bad manners. I am also painfully aware that as my son grows he will, not long from now, be bigger and stronger than my daughter and revenge will be sought. I have warned her that even in his little baby mind, right now he is tallying up her transgressions and retribution is not far off.

I actually managed a few adult, baby free, put on lipstick and Spanx kind of evenings last week. Yes, out, on my own, in the big night time adult world. It's strange being out there sans the protective barrier of the large heavy nappy bag or desperately-in-need-of-a-wash pushchair. You enter a room or sit down at a table and take a minute to adjust. Sometimes, in the early part of the evening (before I've had any wine and sometimes forgotten I have kids), at times I instinctively look around me to spot one of my children or where my pushchair is parked, only to notice people without mucous running down their noses, drinking things without Nesquik in them, and making intelligible conversation. Ahhh, yes, that's right, the children are at home in bed and their father is minding them. *Breathe out*

I make a conscious point to not talk about my children too much, because I'd like people to believe that there is more to me, more of my brain, than my ability to extol the virtues of my beautiful talented amazing children. And that I have opinions about things like strike action, oil prices, Hillary Clinton's hair, etc, outside of my (super fantastic) progeny.

So I introduce myself, and inevitably it comes up that I have two small children and the person I am talking to glasses over for a bit while I spend about five minutes talking about them, accompanied by requisite iPhone photos. But then I try and move the conversation onto other topics. You can usually note a glimmer of relief on the faces of people who don't have kids because the whole topic for them is merely raised as a matter of politeness and needs to be brief, and then more important things should be talked about. Like Greece's debt, and how amazing Kate Middy's (sorry, Catherine's) style was on the Canada trip (even if she is a tad too thin these days). And I have a lot of opinions on these things, especially the latter, because one of the many disjointed and interrupted conversations my mother friends and I have is how to shift the baby weight, so we watch Kate's progress closely.

But what I most love about my forays into the world of adults and wine and lovely stuff, is the weird shit people come up with. Stuff that is not about kids, but uniquely adult. Like
a couple of months ago I was out with a few women for a friends birthday, and a male friend of one of them told me that he completely lost his erection when a woman he was about to bed took off her clothes to reveal that she had not visited Brazil. Having spent about five minutes talking to him (too much time) I thought to myself that he was lucky this woman, in fact any woman, even got as far as his bedroom. God he was boring and full of shit, and so narcissistic. I was tempted to tell him that when you have kids and no time, your husband is just so grateful to get any kind of sex (hairy or not) even with a wife that is dozing off to sleep, that he counts his lucky stars and thanks Buddha. But I'd already filled my 5 minute 'my wonderful kids with pictures' quota so I just bit my lip instead.

I have made a solemn oath that I am going to write more. I have even pasted a picture of the Royal Tenenbaum cast on my wall as inspiration. I used to have a good readership, admittedly people who came to see links to pictures of Lindsay Lohan's crotch, but hey, hits are hits. And I do still have a life outside of my children (OK not much of one, but some) and opinions on things (see Kate Middy note) so it's time to get back into the world of the literate and share my two cents worth.

Whoever thought that stay at home parenting involved watching Oprah and doing art out of pasta and glue had no idea. Which reminds me, when I get a chance, I really should do the pasta art thing with my daughter because she would really really love it.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Sleep and this and that

I had to have blood taken last week at the hospital. I arrived to see about 40 people in front of me, some of whom sounded as though they were about to cough up their left lung. The germ phobe in me wanted to run out of there screaming and not stop until I had plunged into a hot bath full of bleach. But reason prevailed; with small kids the opportunities to go and wait for two hours to have blood taken don't come up that often.

I had just settled down between two surly looking men (no obvious symptoms), when a man came out and announced: 'For those of you who are waiting, there is a completely empty blood room in the basement.' About five of us raced downstairs and were seen to asap. I think some of those waiting upstairs didn't have English as a first language and couldn't understand him, and the others probably felt that after waiting a couple of hours they'd be damned if they were going to give up their place in the queue.

I've had a few spells of being ill recently which hasn't been good. It's taught me a valuable lesson though, and to quote a Middle Eastern taxi driver (who gave me this bit of wisdom en route to an antenatal appointment back when I was pregnant with my son), 'A woman is like mother earth, she must take care of herself. If she gets ill, everyone that relies on her suffers.'

It's easy to forget when you get wrapped up in the all-consuming needs of your children and family, but it's so true. I got very ill with the flu (and shortly thereafter bronchitis), and one morning I was literally unable to get out of bed. The rest of the days I just felt like death but carried on as you do when you have kids, but on this occasion I was simply too ill to get up. Someone had to help me with the children, get my daughter ready and take her to school, see to the baby, and it was horrible and scary. A stark reminder that if something happens to you, well, it doesn't bare thinking about.

So I've learnt that it's vitally important to beg, borrow, or steal help from time to time. Get a bit of rest where you can take it, remember to nourish yourself, and if someone offers to babysit (barring any criminal record or penchant for your wine collection) take them up on it and enjoy some time out for yourself or with your partner. Jokes aside, you absolutely have to take care of yourself physically, emotionally and mentally (not that these things are unrelated or even separate) so that you can take care of your family. And a bit of fun from time to time, dare I say it even a bit of reckless abandon? And an opportunity to forget all the responsibilities and just be the you that doesn't care for or worry about others all the time? Well, essential really.

I recently had a spring clean of my closet. It's evident that the items I've had for absolute ages (those that have survived successive culls over the years), are items I've spent a little more on and where I've chosen classics: black woolen trousers, fitted shirts, a simple and well cut cocktail dress. They last because they are good quality, suit my shape, and they defy trends. I think Tim Gunn would approve. The items in the chuck or give away pile are almost always impulse or trend purchases. And I hate to say it, but the really cheap stuff is never good at surviving the rigours of the washing process. It's a false economy. Less is definitely more. At the age of 36 I think I'm finally coming to appreciate this.

Our baby is almost 8.5 months old. Time flies. We feel like we've surmounted the hump - i.e. the really difficult (and at times nightmarish) bit of the new born months and juggling two children. This morning I even had, heaven forbid, a brief (very brief) thought about the merest possibility of having a third child.

It was about this time, when Julia was nine-months-old and we were in the swing of having a child and enjoying her, that I contemplated having another for the first time. Funny thing about human nature; you just get over the tough bit, start really enjoying your child/ren and having some time to yourself again, and you think, 'Hmm, why not go and throw myself back into the wars again?'

I seriously doubt we will have more children. It's just that I woke up to the sound of my baby boy gurgling and 'chatting' to himself in his cot (the best alarm clock in the world, other than say, a sultry good morning kiss from a sleepy lover), and I thought, 'Oh my goodness he is so wonderful and cute and lovely, and he's going to be one-years-old soon and no longer a baby, and I won't get woken up by those lovely gurgling sounds ever again.' (Legal note here: This momentary lapse of judgement did in fact follow a most excellent night's sleep.)

This kind of dangerous thinking is how perfectly sane people land up with a rugby team of kids. It's true.

Which leads me to my next point; While our baby is growing up, sleeping through the night (praise the Lord), and is happy to play (supervised) independently, it's still full-on and hard work mostly because we have two small children.

Our three-year-old daughter has pretty much skipped early childhood and become a teenager overnight. I say this because I believe she is supposed to be entering a parent-pleasing phase at this age. No idea what happened to that? She is so stubborn it drives me crazy. 'But why do I have to do dat? or 'But why can't I do dat?' have become standard phrases. Followed by me retorting with things like 'Because the alternative is plummeting a meter or so and breaking bones on the hard tiled floor, that's why, " or "Because you've watched enough television and too much of it rots the brain."

We also get into these incredibly time consuming and annoying tautological exchanges which go as follows:
Her: No I don't want to
Me: But you have to
Her: But why?
Me: Because of X Y or Z (I give an overtly generous explanation given the fact that these conversations usually take place when we are running exceedingly late for something)
Her: But I don't want to do dat sing
Me: Listen, sometimes we all have to do things we don't like doing, but it's not all bad right? I mean, you get to see your friends at school right? And that's fun isn't it?
Her: But I don't want to go to school, it's too noisy
Me: I understand that it's noisy, but surely there must be some things you enjoy about school?
Her: But I want to stay home wis you
Me: It's three hours and then you are home with me all afternoon, now let's go we are running very late
Her: But I don't want to go

And on and on and on and on, until I become the mother you see in the supermarket shouting at her kids and you think to yourself, 'Those poor children, that women has no patience at all.'

On other days the children play together and I sit nearby sipping (and amazingly get to finish) a cup of tea, smiling beatifically and thinking, 'Ahhh, this is lovely. I love my little family,' that is while ensuring she doesn't bend his fingers back, place plastic bags in her mouth, or he doesn't chew on the underside of the rug or eat newsprint.

It's all good. But then pretty much most things are after a good night's sleep.