Monday, 30 January 2012

Sunday, 29 January 2012

In which I actually read a book

It may not seem like a great achievement, what with me being an English graduate and all, but I have just finished reading a book. A novel in fact. A whole one, from beginning to end. It took about two weeks, on my twice a week commute and in little snatches before bed. It was the first novel I have read since having my baby over a year ago and yes, I am pleased with myself.

What is it that stopped me, an avid reader, from reading? Time, yes - I have had a glut of it but it’s not the right kind of time. Concentration, also yes – I have had a deficit of it. But it’s been more than that I think. Novels deal with big questions. Of life and death and roots and families and aspirations and declines and parallel worlds and alternate universes, of friendships and relationships and enemies, and of mysteries and revelations and truths and lies. I just wasn’t ready.

Then two weeks ago I felt the urge. I took a book from our shelves determined to read it. It was Andrea Levy’s Fruit of the Lemon. I knew I had enjoyed Small Island by the same author several years ago, that she was the right kind of author for my return to reading, combining big issues with accessible writing, kind of intellectual holiday reading. I didn’t know that it referred in part to Crouch End, the small part of north London I hang out in with the baby – so much for being an escape – but that aside I enjoyed it. It wasn’t a masterpiece but that was a relief – I wasn’t ready for a masterpiece, but as novels go, it was pretty solid. But the best thing about it? It’s given me the hunger. I’m not sure what to read yet but I’m ready (or should that be read-y). I’m looking at the shelves as I type and all I can think is ‘bring it on’. It’s so exciting.

Related post: Things to do on maternity leave when you're braindead

Thursday, 26 January 2012

Where did the years go?

In my head I am 32. I am, admittedly, not that much older, but it hit me the other day that at my next birthday I will be 34 and it just didn’t tally with the age I thought I was.

Which is odd because birthdays are important to me. I don’t subscribe to that whole don’t make a fuss thing. What’s not to like about presents, balloons, cake and a whole day to celebrate your existence? What’s more, I think birthdays become even more important once you have children because it’s an opportunity for them to learn about the pleasure of giving and making other people feel special, about saving pocket money for presents and attention not always being on them.

And while I remember my last birthday, the lunch with friends, the nice gifts and the fish and chips in the evening with Mr, I just didn’t take it in properly. My brain, addled by eight months of sleep deprivation at that time, just didn’t register the change in number. And now, when people ask me my age, I automatically say 32. I feel like the 490 or so people in Samoa who lost their birthday this year when the country decided they’d had enough of being a day behind their major trading partners and skipped December 30th.*

I wonder whether I will ever catch up with myself.

*Yes really, there are just 179,000 people in Samoa, which divided by 365.25 is 490.

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

A blog about the blog (again)

It amuses me no end that the most common search term that bring people to this blog is 'what does a baby peacock look like?'

Let's remind ourselves:

Though I have regular crises where I worry that maybe some people will believe that is really what a baby peacock looks like. So feel I should include this picture which is what some baby peacocks also look like:

The second most popular search term is 'What shall I wear to give birth?'.

Here is a suggestion from the NCT:

"Every pregnant woman deserves a little black dress to birth in! The Womama Birthing Wrap is the only clothing designed specifically for labour and birth, allowing you to feel comfortable and feminine on your special day. This beautifully light, practical wrap is made from super soft cotton and allows for quick easy access for skin-to-skin contact as soon as your baby is born."


And here is what one woman wore on One Born Every Minute - a bikini/skirt combo she designed herself:


(I mock, but she seemed to have a lovely birth in water without too much pain and with the bikini on throughout.)

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Teach diversity? We live diversity

My daughter has started nursery and on the first settling in day where I had to leave her for a short while and entertain myself I went to the library round the corner from the building and looked up the Ofsted report. I’d read it before but wanted to reassure myself that we weren’t leaving her somewhere grossly inappropriate.

The report is ok. It’s not totally brilliant, but not awful either. It’s one of the tools we used to select a nursery, along with cost, convenience, safety and atmosphere. Above all, in fact, atmosphere. Would our daughter be happy and well cared for were the main questions we asked ourselves.

But there is one particular line in the Ofsted report that I find particularly irritating. It says “The promotion of inclusion and diversity is generally satisfactory; although not prominent in feature at the setting.”

This nursery is in Haringey, one of the most diverse areas in the entire country. Over 120 languages are spoken by its residents. And the nursery, while not representative of local families financially (due to the cost of childcare), is pretty representative ethnically. The children and the staff come from many cultures. There are several languages spoken, talks by parents on where they come from and displays about different countries. And while I can see that in less diverse areas specific promotion of diversity and inclusion might be needed, my daughter, and the kids at her nursery, live diversity every day. In the people who look after them, the kids they are looked after with, the streets they walk down, the shops they pass, the homes they come from. In fact if she was to be taught about the real world in which we live she’d need the specific promotion of the fact many places are homogenous and some people are bigots. Yet they call the promotion of diversity satisfactory. Well I think it’s outstanding.

In need of Hug

Before we had a baby we occasionally babysat for a friend's little boy. His bedtime book for a while was Jez Alborough's Hug.

I'd forgotten about Hug until I spotted it in the bookshop today and bought a copy. It's the story of Bobo, who spotting all the other animals enjoying a hug, gets more and more distressed until he finds his mummy for a hug of his own.

Until I had a baby I don't think I realised the sheer terror the thought of your baby needing a hug and not being able to get one can bring, and the absolute love Alborough gets across in his picture of Mummy and Bobo finally getting their hug. The baby got it too. We read it once and she immediately turned to me and nestled in for a glorious, breath each other in deeply, wonderful hug.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

The nicest bookshop

My local bookshop, the Big Green Bookshop in Wood Green, is really nice. I feel a special connection to them because not only did they host events to launch my books but the owners, Tim and Simon, have met my parents and my parents-in-law and been nice to them all. They know my daughter’s name and have even kept an eye on her in the buggy while I dashed across the road to Sainsbury’s. In Yiddish, they are what one might call mishpucha, part of the wider family.

Not only are they nice people – and you can see just how nice by looking at their blog here and here – but they run a singing and storytime session for kids three times a week on a donate what you fancy basis. With tea and coffee. In fact my friend When You Are That Woman wrote about how nice they are ages ago here.

But one of the reasons I am particularly full of love for them at the moment is they quite happily take suggestions for kids’ songs. So at the Big Green Bookshop the wheels on the bus still go round and round but the nannies on occasion snog, the dads knit, and the mums think deep thoughts. No ageism or sexism on us thank you very much. I’ve not yet suggested the verses we sing in the car, where the teens scratch their arses and the tramps drink special brew, but I’m sure they’d allow it. What’s more, when a child in the shop suggests an elephant for Old MacDonald’s Farm, an elephant it is. E-I-E-I-O.

Their willingness to adapt lyrics has made me examine the words myself. I remember reading in Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes that nowhere in Humpty Dumpty is there any suggestion that Humpty is an egg. Similarly, I have realised that there is no reason to suspect that Old Macdonald is a man. I’ve not yet suggested to Simon and Tim that the lyrics should occasionally be “And on that farm she had an elephant” but the reason I love them so much is that I know they’d be receptive.

Their blog:

Their website where you can order books:

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Who loves me?

I found this lovely present while browsing online - almost, but not quite, as good as my idea of personalised family top trumps with categories for presents, cooking, cuddles etc.

Available here

Monday, 9 January 2012

The point of GPs (and google)

When I was just responsible for my own health, I had quite a disregard for GPs. I frequently felt I knew more than them, and very much viewed them as an irritant whose games had to be played in order to get the next level, the specialist. In fact I used to joke about how we should be able to take an exam to get an 'advanced citizenship card' which would earn you the right to stand for public office, have your votes counted twice and self refer to specialist doctors. 

But GPs come into their own when you have a baby. (Or perhaps it's because I changed surgery from a horrible one to a nice one around the same time, to one where you get what you want not by shouting at the receptionists but by being nice to them.)

Sure I still sometimes know more than them after a quick google, but I underestimated the reassurance they can give the parents of small babies, particularly in the early days when every rash and spot and cough seems disastrous. Some months I feel I practically live at our surgery. Yet still they never seem to mind, reassuring me that they would always prefer to see a baby if the parent is worried, than miss a problem. 

Of course I still trust myself more. When one GP at our surgery dismissed concerns over one of my baby's eyes at three months, I called Moorfields Eye Hospital and on their advice went to their A&E where indeed a problem was diagnosed, and fixed. 

And when she has a temperature it is still down to me to ensure she gets the necessary checks to ensure she is fully well, and to remind the GP which tests they need to order. 

But working in partnership with a concerned, informed, insistent parent, they do a good job. 

So I've given GPs, in my virtual world in which I run health and education policy, something of a reprieve. For now I shall keep them. Health visitors however, well that is another post altogether...

Friday, 6 January 2012

My favourite place

The nearest 'nice' area to where I live is Crouch End. It's a bus ride away from my 'hood and is kind of a village within London, with a shopping street based around a clocktower, a dozen places to get coffee and cake and even more places to buy nik-naks and overpriced wooden toys. It's nice. When we find a spare couple of million perhaps we will move there.

During the past year the baby and I have tried most of the coffee places and other eateries. We've had overpriced coffee in the 'artisan' bakery, cake that looks nicer than it tastes in the 'Salon de the' and retro cupcakes from the baker eaten in the park. Recently I ordered the baby her first cup of frothy milk - I couldn't bring myself to say the word 'babycino' - free at Starbucks if you have a drink yourself.

But it turns out that my absolute favourite place for a coffee (or something harder) in this cutesy area is none of these, but the big Wetherspoons.

It used to be an All Bar One. Wetherspoons got rid of the polished floor and fitted a new swirly carpet. I like this defiance. The drinks and food are cheap, the highchairs plentiful, the babychange clean. Hell, they even have a coffee loyalty card. And you know what, I'll take a few old men smiling benignly over their 10am pint over the 'whose buggy is better' appraisal of the rich mums any day.

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Is it a girl or a boy?

Above is a picture of one of my favourite of my daughter's outfits. True, the patterns are somewhat contrasting, but the flowery trousers captured summer beautifully, and, well, what's not to like about construction vehicles? (For those who are interested in such things, the trousers are from Tu at Sainsbury's, and the top is from Mothercare.)

Buying clothes that are not all pink or all blue is, as anyone who has tried to buy for a baby in recent years will know, very difficult. Where other colours creep in to girl's ranges, nice reds for example or bright yellows, they are girlified with bows or glitter or hearts (because as everyone knows, boys don't have hearts).

I started my maternity leave ten weeks before my baby was due, and used nearly every day of that leave online searching for baby clothes in primary colours. There are some out there, but they are nearly always expensive. I allowed myself one - a beautiful striped ensemble from Toby Tiger. It was the outfit I dreamed of bringing my baby home in. Alas it was too big and footless, no good for a teeny baby in the middle of winter. She wore it eventually, including for one of those cringey photoshoots we 'won' at Snappysnaps (if winning is the word when what it is is winning the opportunity to have a photoshoot and then be offered the chance to buy the results on massive canvases costing several hundred each. We declined of course, opting for two small prints, also extortionate, and I don't even like them. My husband had taken his glasses off to avoid glare and doesn't look like him and the Toby Tiger outfit - it just looks a bit odd.)

Anyway, I work very hard at making sure not all the clothes my daughter wears are pink. She's had t-shirts with lions on and brown corduroy trousers and owls and stripes and coats that look like they belong on a football manager circa 1984. They are all from the boys' sections of shops. And of course she's worn her fair share of dresses and bows and pinks too - I don't disallow them, I just want her to grow up knowing there is a choice. (Even Marks & Spencer, who did a lovely five pack of brightly coloured vests last year, branded them for boys, with the girls' version being, well, girlier, turquoise not blue, pink not red, etc).

The thing is, if she's wasn't wearing pink, strangers on buses and in queues and in shops would ask me all about my little boy. (This happens less so now her hair is longer). And much as gender doesn't matter, this riled me a little. It hasn't changed how we dress her, but it does explain why this was one of my favourite outfits of last year - it baffles strangers at first but they usually rightly concluded that while a girl would be dressed in construction vehicles, a boy would probably not be in flowery trousers.

Monday, 2 January 2012

Some blogs and articles I like (an occasional series)

This is a really moving post by Ghostwritermummy on the importance of dads before, during and after birth.

Related post: Ways to improve postnatal care #4: Allow partners 24 hours access

It's all about me!

A friend rang last week to ask when she could see me. I went through a list of dates in my head. Some days every week the baby will be at nursery and me at work, and all of those days my friend will be at work anyway. Evenings are difficult because of bedtime and being bothered to go into town afterwards which leaves weekends so let's compare diaries and see what we can come up with.

That's when the friend explained. She loves seeing the baby of course (and she has been a wonderful quasi aunty the past year), but she meant when could she see me.

So accustomed am I to people wanting to see the baby, and so thrilled I am by the obvious pleasure she gives people, that it simply hadn't occurred to me that someone might want to just see me, alone, for fun, not to talk conception or fertility or babies or parenting and not to coo or cuddle or play, but because I am their friend and they want to spend time with me.

It knocked me for six. In a good way.