Friday, 30 December 2011

Protection from bad things

On Thursday (Dec 29) the baby and I were at King's Cross station in London about to head home. I could see some kind of protest near the station entrance and a few police officers but it was nothing too out of the ordinary for London. 

As we got near to the station entrance something happened.* The protestors rushed the police or the police rushed the protestors, who knows, but batons were raised and we saw a bloodied face and a swarm of police and protestors. This was all about 5 metres away from us and the situation went from nothing to something in a matter of seconds. I grasped the buggy tightly and ran onto the main station concourse. 

From there we got on the tube home and we were both fine. In fact the baby hadn't even noticed. This was a relief because one day of course I'll have to explain to her that sometimes horrible things happen, but for now I am content to have her think there is nothing bad in the world that her mummy cannot protect her from.

*The only news story I can find about it is here, on the Huffington Post website

Thursday, 29 December 2011

Are you a 'born' parent?

One of the interesting things about having a child is how other people view you in relation to your role as a parent and how this corresponds, or not, to how you view yourself.

I have, for as long as I can remember, wanted children, and I have also thought of myself as a maternal person, the kind who makes faces at babies on buses, gives good hugs, always has a hanky down my bra if needed to catch tears and is happy spending a few hours doing crafts or building models or pretending to drink imaginary tea. In fact this image of myself is so ingrained that it didn't occur to me that other people might not view me in the same way, until a woman I knew some years ago and met again recently, said that she hadn't thought of me as that sort of person.

Turns out that some people were taken in by me pretending to be focused on my career above all else. And whilst it shouldn't matter how anyone else sees me. I've mulled over this comment rather a lot. It irks me that I should have been misunderstood in this way, as if it reflects now on how I am as a mother, even though it was probably a throwaway comment and even though there is no reason that this person should have ever known about my yearning for children, or my fear I would not get them. And of course because even if this were true it should not reflect on how I am now I am a mother.

At the other end of the spectrum. I was thrilled when a newer friend, one who I have known for a few years but have become closer to recently as our children are similar ages, referred to me recently on her blog as "a born mother" (at least I think that was about me). She cannot know how pleased that made me. Which is ridiculous really because whether we have always wanted children or whether our children were unplanned, whether they came quickly or took a long time, whether we are naturally maternal or have to work at it, we are no better or worse as people and as parents. After all, we all love our children. all try to do our best by them and all face challenges along the way.

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Why books should get dog-eared

My daughter got the lovely Kipper's Birthday by Mick Inkpen as a present. Not only is it a lovely book, but it comes with a lovely introduction by the author in which he says:

"What any author wants is for his books to become dog-eared and familiar. I've been lucky enough that my very young readers are particularly adept at giving their books doggy ears in no time at all."

Which is a lovely thing to write as I had been holding back the paper books in favour of board ones so that they don't get too ripped and creased. Now I realise how silly that is.

Monday, 26 December 2011

A couple of hours is all it takes

My husband took our daughter  out for a few hours on Christmas eve so I could get a few essential things done in advance of the big day. You know, find the potato peeler, wring the turkey's neck and quality control the chocolates, that kind of thing. It was a busy couple of hours but relaxing too. Because it didn't have what one book (possibly the Kate Figes one I wrote about here) terms the interruptibility factor, the knowledge that at any moment the baby may need you and need you now. 

(Not that other adults might not be on hand of course. But even when my husband is there, or my parents, or a friend, I know I may be needed to feed, to wipe a tear, to reassure. It's my failing, not theirs, because they are capable without me, but I am not capable of leaving them to do it.)

I enjoy cooking but having a baby has taken the edge off it in a way. Anything that requires specific timing is always at risk of being ruined by the baby waking. Meals that I am throwing together inspired by, but not bound by, a recipe need to be planned out so if I am needed by the baby I can give instructions to my husband on what I was planning to do - not easy when you didn't know what you were going to do yourself. 

Yet I find I just need a few uninterruptible hours or so every couple of months to stay on a relatively even keel. 

A few months ago the three of us were in a hotel and my husband and daughter went out for a few hours. I was meant to go back to sleep but the hotel's bath was big and the towels were fluffy, so I ran a deep hot bath and stayed in it for 90 minutes, during which I managed to finish the only book not about babies that I've managed to read this year (and I've only read two about babies - these have not been my finest months intellectually.)

After the bath, in what I consider to be the pinnacle of luxury, I had a shower. It was one of those big rain cloud showers in a bathroom tiled in black a little like how I imagine an upmarket brothel to be, and the light hit it just the right way to make the water look like shimmery threads of silk. My brain was so addled by lack of sleep and dehydration from such a hot bath that I felt compelled to take a picture of it (above). Those couple of hours, not even ruined by only having cradle cap shampoo to hand, saw me through the next couple of months, just as I hope my Christmas eve preparations will. Funny how that's all it takes, just a few uninterruptible hours. 

Thursday, 22 December 2011

The Christmas card list

When my daughter was born, just over a week before Christmas last year, much to the amusement of family and friends it was vitally important to me to write Christmas cards and include her on them. I had our cards in my hospital bag and my parents were dispatched, the day she was born, to get me multiple copies of a picture of the baby to include in the cards and many stamps to bring back the next day. Each evening when my husband left our bedside he did so with envelopes to post.

It's not just that I wanted to share our good news, though that too, but I wanted to write our daughter's name again and again and in doing so confirm her existence. We, the three of us, wish you a merry Christmas.

This year we've become that vomit inducing family who puts a picture of our child on the front of our cards. It's a sticker of her on a swing and not a printed picture and certainly not a posed family shot but still, I make myself want to throw up. Somebody shoot me.

It's second nature to me now to write my daughter's name in cards. It's no longer new. My hormones no longer rule my actions, or not all the time anyway. But that we can do so, and sign her name, and send best wishes from us all, still feels incredibly important. It's why I think those friends we've not seen or spoken to since the last card remain on the Christmas card list and us on theirs. Not because they need to receive our card, but because we need to send them. Because the act of writing, the act of signing a name and sending it out there into the world, it proves you exist, that you're part of something, that you're still here.

Thursday, 15 December 2011

The difference a year makes

Years are odd things. They're not completely random lumps of time, what with being based on lunar cycles and planets going round suns and the tides and all that, but why 365 days should feel so different to 364 or 366 is an odd one.

Yet as my daughter is on the cusp of turning one I feel rather emotional about the whole thing. It's no coincidence I'm sure that today, as we geared up to say goodbye to her time being nought but not nothing, I had a terrible day, full of tearful encounters, silly clumsiness and general wobbles.

I'm thrilled too of course, as well as emotional, that she's made it this far, that we've made it this far, and that she's grown so much, in every sense. I celebrate her life every day, constantly in a state of gratitude (and fear) for her existence, but to share this joy with others on her birthday is extra special.

When it came to writing her birthday card all of this, it turned out, could be expressed in one short phrase that has always seemed rather quaint before. But in three words it sums up all that I want for my daughter - many happy returns.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Tips to improve postnatal care - The Nursing Times

I was thrilled to have this article about my tips for postnatal care published on the Nursing Times website - available here

Related posts:
Ways to improve postnatal care #1: Don't call me mum
Ways to improve postnatal care #2: Change the sheets
Ways to improve postnatal care #3: Help us buy the basics
Ways to improve postnatal care #4: Allow partners 24 hour access
Ways to improve postnatal care #5: A debrief for all new mums
Ways to improve postnatal care #6: Be consistent
Why I love the NHS

Take a fox, a chicken and some corn...

You know that puzzle where you have to get a fox, a chicken and some corn across the water without any being eaten in a boat that will only take you and one other at a time? That is precisely what getting out of the house with a baby is like. You need to get the baby in the buggy or car with the nappy bag and anything else you need without leaving anything outside unattended and with only two hands to carry things.

I used to like what I think ware called logic puzzles, where you are given a grid and some key facts and have to rule out and rule in combinations to find out who did what with whom. Having a baby is like that too. You have some facts and some possible answers and have to go from there. For example, the baby liked weetabix and apple yesterday but today only likes porridge and clementine. What will she like tomorrow? The answer of course is banana. Why? Because nothing about babies is logical, stupid.

I always thought such puzzles were just a way to keep teenagers quiet on flights. I never realised they were really a way of socialising us so we'd be ready for parenthood. If I had I would have tried to complete them, rather than throw them away in a fit of pique whenever I got something wrong.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Being project manager

I saw Naomi Stadlen, author of What Mothers Do: Especially When it Looks Like Nothing speak recently at the wonderful Big Green Bookshop. She led a discussion, based on her new book How Mothers Love: and how Relationships are Born, on whether mothering is different to fathering, or whether they can both fit in to the catch-all title of parenting. And I've been thinking about this since then and why it is that mothering is different.

I don't think it is because of the tingly nipples when the baby cries or the supersonic hearing that means I am the one who wakes up at the slightest snuffle in the middle of the night or the acual carrying the baby inside you, though all of that is incredibly important of course. I think the thing about being a mother, as opposed to being a father, is, in the words of The Apprentice, you are 'project manager'.

Perhaps this is nothing to do with gender and everything to do with it being the woman who tends to be at home most, in the first year at least, but it does mean that even if tasks can be shared the task of knowing what is going on isn't. Because it's not about who changes how many nappies or who empties the bin or who gets up in the night, it's about someone needing to have a whole picture view. I know how much my daughter has eaten, because if she has several not hungry days in a row then perhaps she is ill. I know if she has taken her medicine and whether we need to get the prescription refilled. I know when she last did a poo, and whether there is anything to worry about there. It's not just bodily functions. I also know whether she is growing out of her clothes and needs new ones, whether she has enough blankets and whether her feet need measuring.

This isn't a complaint - I want to be the one who knows these things - but it goes some way to explaining why it is that the job can never be properly shared, and perhaps why it shouldn't be. After all, knowing all of this takes up a lot of brain power. For two of us to do this may be a waste of those precious cells. But there has to be someone with the whole picture, and that person is usually the mother.

Related post: These books saved my life

Thursday, 8 December 2011

The Mummy State #1: Reflective strips on every child's coat

The Mummy State. Where everything is banned or compulsory. 

Ideally I'd impose this on adults too, but the first rule of policy suggestions is not to alienate everybody all at once so let's stick to kids. I want a reflective strip on the coat of every child so they can be seen by motorists whatever the weather and whatever the time of day or night. I suppose you could just insist a strip is sewn on at home, but let's put the onus on retailers and designers and say there should be one on every child's coat sold in the UK. It's not that far fetched an idea - we expect cyclists to have lights on their bikes and cars to use their headlights in the dark. 

Just because it's compulsory doesn't mean it can't be funky of course. Make it a row of flowers or a lightening bolt, or perhaps a constellation of stars or a lion, but whatever you do, make it glow. 

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Where does all the time go?

I was thinking this week as I left work that what I think I have lost, in being a parent, is that sense of time. I walked past a student sitting in a comfy chair reading a book and drinking a coffee and I thought about how I never really appreciated the idea of having time when I had it, when there are no competing demands and time is something to be filled.

I wish I'd appreciated the glut of time when I had it. Now each unit of time must be accounted for - just enough time to have a bath before I need to feed the baby. Just enough time to zip the hoover around the crumbs she's made. Just enough time to swig a drink before making lunch before facilitating a nap before heading to playgroup before fitting in emails before putting the washing on before thinking about dinner before ringing my mum before grabbing a cheeky cuddle with my husband.

My favourite line ever from a play is from Waiting for Godot.

Vladimir: That passed the time.
Estragon: It would have passed in any case.
Vladimir: Yes, but not so rapidly.

It's been nearly a year since our daughter was born and each moment, even the most difficult ones, have been magical, enough to almost turn athiest me into an agnostic. But where the time has gone, I cannot say. It has passed far more rapidly than it used to.