Paradise… once you get there.

  Entering the spacious British Airways 777 and locating our seats at the front, with ample legroom and a pulldown table on which to place a bassinet for our 19-month-old, my fiancé and I may, perhaps, be forgiven for feeling just the tiniest sproutings of optimism. Here we are, about to embark on a two week holiday in the Caribbean on a nice, mid-morning flight, and said 19-month-old has been deprived of a suitable amount of sleep so as to, surely, guarantee an imminent and long nap. We’ve equipped ourselves with an immigration-busting amount of toddler snacks and an assortment of new and old favourite plane-friendly toys, as well as a laptop full of Peppa Pig and In the Night Garden. And, if that wasn’t enough, we have the assurance of six additional members of my other half’s family sitting behind us and dotted about the plane. As we sit down we notice another, similarly aged small child sitting in the row opposite. Looking back, I’m not altogether sure why this was a reassuring sight… Perhaps I had illusory expectations of empathy, or the conspiring whisper of a failsafe tip to amuse a bored toddler shared across the aisle? Perhaps my innocent, pre-11-hour-flight-mind entertained deluded visions of the two toddlers amusing one another as we parents sat back and watched The Imitation Game with a nice beaker of white wine?

Needless to say, within 40 minutes of take-off all expectations, illusory or otherwise, deluded visions and certainly any remaining straggling, apocalypse-defying roaches of optimism have pelleted, bird-poop-like, back down to the Gatwick runway. Gone, too, are 80% of Lara’s carefully selected and rather expensive plane snack selection. Toys old and new lie in ruins a toddler’s throw span from our feet. It’s around this point our dour-faced air host duly hands us our ‘bassinet’ – read slightly larger-than-average baby bouncy chair harnessed to the pull down table in front of us, rendering our pull-up entertainment systems un-pull-up-able (not that we’ll even be able to contemplate any entertainment during the next 10.5 hours). A foul smell drifts into my nostrils and I look, innocently, towards the toilets at the front of the plane. Across the aisle, the sweet-faced toddler settles at once into his bassinet, cuddled in a blanket and gently suckling on his dummy.

Lara has never liked a bouncy chair. She was never one of those small babies you could strap in and then allow to gently undulate themselves to sleep. As I recall, she only really started to appreciate her bouncy chair when she discovered she could bend double and access delicacies on the floor from it. So one can perhaps understand her rage when her hapless parents attempt to strap her into one on a plane full of un-asleep people. Never mind my subsequent discovery that the terrible smell lurking like a guilty, gassy dog about my nose is not, in fact, coming from the toilets up ahead but from the chair itself, or, more precisely, the still-ominously-damp strap that goes between the legs. Call me paranoid but I know what baby diarrhoea smells like. And now my baby, her clothes and my lap, despite none of us having committed any such defecatory offence, smell that way.

Two hours later and I find myself keenly resisting the urge to throw hateful looks at the couple opposite, tucking neatly into their in-flight meal as their toddler continued to slumber without a peep. I, meanwhile, am busy spooning actually-quite-tasty pasta into mine and OH’s mouths due to his heroic (well, it would have been if he’d had a choice) relinquishment of his chicken tikka to our still-very-much-awake, curry-loving offspring… all the while trying to avoid breathing through my nose owing to the still-present ‘bassinet’, mocking us odorously from its entertainment-restricting perch. 

Time seems to coagulate into pools of scorched-eye misery as Lara rages, literally, against us, the bassinet, the machine (being us, again, wrestling her into her gro-bag to encourage a sleep-like environment) pausing only to gratefully accept some desperate (and ultimately useless) Calpol. We manage, at some point, to corner our sour-faced host and tell him he might as well take the bassinet away. I tell him it smells. He protests that he “got it from its packet, it will have been cleaned”. Me: “Well it smelled like baby poo and it was still wet.” Him, very uninterestedly: “Oh. Well, maybe it wasn’t cleaned very well.” And that was that.  

Grateful respite comes as members of the family take turns attempting to entertain Lara, who is by now at the mood-swinging, unpredictable stage of toddler tiredness, roaring with laughter even as the tears of rage continue to track down her cheeks. I attempt to watch several inflight films, from Cake (too depressing) to Little Miss Sunshine (a trusty favourite but had forgotten the ear-splitting scream at the beginning. Too reminiscent of real life) to The Imitation Game which I can tell is good, but I’m not quite getting enough of to actually retain chunks of the plot, due to a squint-inducing screen and a strange audio quirk which renders Benedict Cumberbatch all mumbly but Keira Knightley almost unbearably shrill. 

Toddler across aisle eventually wakes up and begins to play happily with Play Doh. Lara steals his book and my hopes of their playing happily with one another are dashed in twenty seconds of baleful stares. They spend the rest of the flight ignoring one another. He sweetly watches Peppa Pig on his mother’s laptop with some cute child-friendly headphones. Lara, probably wisely given aforementioned audio quirk, refuses the inflight headphones so we have to play our episodes of Peppa and Night Garden on very low volume. Having been awake for more hours than she usually sleeps at night, we attempt sleep-lulling Lara with the jigglyshuffle, which, probably because she hasn’t gone to sleep this way for at least six months, renders her perplexed, rather cross and still very awake. Toddler across the aisle settles down for his second nap, bottle in mouth, and his father throws us a judgey sort of look as Lara continues to whine miserably. I wonder, briefly, if this is karma for ever having felt a scrap of smugness at Lara’s never having needed a dummy or a bottle to sleep. 

Plane lands in Antigua and perfectly-nice-but-now-unfortunately-enemies-for-life family disembark along with 80% of plane’s passengers. Lara has now gone from tired and irritable to riding her 38th wind and is quite happily playing peekaboo with her grandparents, who’re sitting behind us. We complete the last stretch of the journey to touch down in Tobago an older, wiser and decidedly smellier family than before. Upon the retrieval of Lara’s buggy at baggage claim and the insertion of her into it, she promptly falls fast asleep and stays that way until we reach our holiday home about 45 minutes later. Despite it being gone midnight UK time, Lara uses the tantalising new reality of finding herself in a whole new place to fuel her 39th wind, running up and down the veranda and then gifting me with such a huge nappy-full of defecation I do not realise that it has stained the only-really-useful-holiday-vest I’ve just changed into until the next morning. 

Things, I’m happy to report, have become decidedly better since then. Despite a fairly sleepless first night (during which I spent at least two hours being beaten about the face by my suddenly-desperate-to-co-sleep child) the second night went like a dream and we’ve all caught up on sleep and settled quite happily into island life. Our party has enjoyed incredible views, paradisiacal beaches, rainforests, waterfall swims, varying degrees of burns, many pina coladas, awesome food and some excellent snorkelling – leading to an equally excellent ‘shark scare’ for one of us – and, of course, the obligatory contribution of our blood and flesh to a variety of oddly silent insects. All chronicled in much better detail by the blog of my future brother-in-law and his OH here

As I write, the breeze is gently lapping at my face as the Caribbean sun beats its unforgiving steel drum upon the dancing palm trees, potted asphalt, obscenely lush flowers and flattened creatures surrounding our villa. In a short while Lara will wake up from her nap and we will wander the quarter mile or so down to Stonehaven Bay, our local stretch of idyll. There, I shall have a suitably calorific cocktail, either a pina colada or an island-style margarita, and then take a dip in the bath-temperature sea as OH dances Lara back and forth from the lapping waves. 

On tomorrow, that barb on the horizon, that bitter little cinnamon twinge at the back of my tongue, we will dwell not. Tomorrow our little scoop of tranquility reaches its crescent of conclusion. Tomorrow is the bastard flight home. 


10 times I utterly unimpressed my daughter this month…

My child is known as something of a tough crowd. She takes a good ten to twenty minutes to warm up to people, and eliciting a smile has always been a bit of a challenge. After 17 months of comedic dancing, exaggerated sneezing and barking not so much like a dog as an unwell guinea pig, I have come to accept that my child is just a bit stern. There’s nothing wrong with that. Her laughs are all the more precious for the toil they demand. And, what’s more, the girl throws a damn good shade.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


The end of a [cramped, often sweaty but cool, though, right?] era

“Fun to be seen driving” are the words used by TopGear to describe the VW Beetle. Having driven one for the best part of two and a half years, I would add that indeed, it is possibly more fun to be seen driving a Beetle than it is in fact driving a Beetle. Not that I didn’t love every minute of being said driver of my particularly iridescent sapphire specimen.

I bought my Beetle in the summer of 2012 as my ultimate, single girl-about-town classy set of wheels, despite being a) not actually single and b) far too terrified to actually drive it anywhere about my town – being London at the time – except out, via the south circular, to work. But man, did I love being the girl driving the Beetle. Pedestrians would stare enviously (or so I choose to interpret) as they hastily retracted their toes from the zebra crossing, other Beetle owners waved, and car washers would chuckle and mock the little fake flower in the test tube vase next to the steering wheel.

Around six months after I bought my Beetle, I got pregnant. Approximately seven and a half months later, upon receiving ownership of a fairly standard-sized travel system pushchair, I discovered just how incompatible this car is with family life. Even without a seat, the frame simply did not fit in the bloody boot. I had to take the two back wheels off. Every. Single. Time. If that wasn’t enough, I of course had gone for the three door, four seat version in a pique of I’m-only-25-I’m-not-even-thinking-of-having-kids-yet logic. This made getting baby + car seat in and out PARTICULARLY FUN. I’m not even going to talk about the beige interior. Suffice to say it doesn’t meld well with babies, or any of the items said creatures ingest and… yeah.

It was also around this time – being the summer of 2013 – that I realised my most heinous oversight at the time of purchase. The car did not have air conditioning. Yes, it had heated seats and a standard heating system which made it a particularly cosy drive in the winter, and I hadn’t really noticed the lack of AC too much the summer before, when I’d been a svelte size 8-10 with thighs that didn’t rub together and was still in Beetle honeymoon period. But, two stones bigger and with a new, 120mile round commute to and from work, the novelty of my Beetle ownership wore off around the time I heaved myself into the driver’s seat ahead of a two hour jaunt on the m25 and saw the car’s thermometer merrily reading 40 degrees.

The sweat just went everywhere.

Still, I muddled through and continued to enjoy the odd moments of pretending I was still that young, single girl-about-town as I motored down the A322, singing along to Rihanna on the iPod dock as the baby snoozed out of eye-line. Then, this Christmas, I picked my sister and her two kids up from the airport. They had one suitcase and a pushchair. Something most cars, even neat little hatchbacks, can handle without so much as a tailgate dip of protest. Not my bloody car. The suitcase would only go flat in the boot if I sat on it. The pushchair would not go anywhere except wedged in front of my sister in the front, with her passenger seat as far back as it would go (fortunately my second niece is tiny for her age. And I’m fairly sure her hip dysplasia was diagnosed before the subsequent 200 mile journey from airport to Devon.)

It was then I had my Roy Scheider moment. I was going to need a bigger car. Sure, I wasn’t going to get eaten by a shark if I didn’t, but having any more babies invoked images of driving along with the boot duck-taped half open over one buggy while I towed the other along behind me. Besides, I was sick of having to climb into the back seat – even with the time-perfected twist, stoop and pivot – every time I needed to get my increasingly large Lara in and out. The mileage was still decent, paintwork fairly spotless, age not bad and I had six months on the MOT.

car fb

You will be pleased to know that though I am silly enough to sacrifice any serious offers of purchase for cheap Facebook LOLs by posting a light-hearted advert including the word sh!t in the description, I’m not quite so stupid that I would make this blog post live before keys changed hands. Therefore, I am happy to announce that the Beetle has gone *pang* and I am now the proud owner of its much more sensible, much more bigger brother, the VW Tiguan. The drive is noisier, the diesel more expensive and I am now one of those SUV mums, but the other day I managed to get BOTH buggies and a suitcase into the boot without obstructing any vision out the back window. I guess that girl about town grew up. And got really boring.

 


Two Legs Good, Four Legs Better

It’s been a very, very long time since I wrote on this blog. Mainly because most of my pre-Christmas moments of Lara-free time were spent wrapping every present in sight (with the inevitable result being that all the sellotape on all the name tags failed by Christmas day and we very nearly ended up in the awkward situation of my sister’s new boyfriend unwrapping an Iggle Piggle doll.) But really mainly because I’ve been struck down with a lurgy, the likes of which find one lying on one’s side of a 3am, emitting a strangled, dying-cow like parody of breathing, not-so-silently hating the man and child hatefully sleeping so hatefully peacefully nearby. Then, of course, said child caught said lurgy and after a few nights of traipsing back and forth from her cot with water, tissues, calpol, vapour rub and anything else I could come up with which might render her unconscious once again sometime before 5am, I was far too exhausted to do anything during the day apart from lie on the sofa, sniff and work my way through all the Christmas chocolate.

But anyway, excesses of mucus and sugar aside, the latest issue in this game of parenthood has been walking. Or, as I like to put it, Lara Taking Her First Steps and then Sitting On Her Arse and Refusing To Take Any More.

Lara was a fairly late crawler, or so it seemed at the time. She spent a good two or three months on all fours, a look of heavy concentration on her face which would rapidly turn to despair as she would slide onto her belly and propel herself backwards, usually ending up underneath an item of furniture, dusty and displeased. She first managed that very slow and unsteady crawl forward a day before she turned 10 months. From that moment on, she was a baby on the go. In about a week she went from doddery, sideways-deviating, Cardiff-girl-on-a-hen-night crawling to a baby-shaped bullet on all fours. So, I assumed that once walking became a reality, she would be the same – master those first independent steps and then voila, walking baby.

How wrong I was.

From crawling at 10 months, Lara progressed as normal to cruising on furniture, walking holding onto two hands and then, finally, walking holding onto just one finger. At 13 months she stood on her own. Just before she hit 14 months, she took her first steps – from Daddy to Mummy, a distance of about two feet but – at the time – surely the greatest two feet ever transversed by any homo sapien ever to stagger across the planet. “She’ll get the hang of it,” friends told me, that week. “Any day now she’ll get that confidence and then she’ll be off.”

Nearly two months later and it’s all we can do some days to get her to repeat those few independent feet. Her development hasn’t halted – she’s now able go from sitting to standing on her own and walk from there to a point of ‘safety’ sometimes around five or six feet away. Everything else is perfectly normal, as verified by my usefully-vocationed paediatrician sister (apart from the size of her head, which is apparently on the large size. Possessing the birth canal through which it made a memorable journey not so long ago, I find this revelation slightly redundant.) She just hasn’t turned that corner between being able to walk and actually electing to do so on a regular basis. The funny thing is, if the challenge were vertical she would have smashed it long ago. She was scaling the stairs around the time she first started crawling, and worked out how to get herself down them around a month afterwards. She can climb the steps of a slide on her own, has worked out how to put her little plastic chair next to the sofa and climb from one to the other, and can get herself down again from any height by lying on her belly and dangling her legs over the side.

Why walk when you can CLIMB?

Why walk when you can CLIMB?

It’s just the walking thing.

I’m not really worried about it. Sure, my competitive mummy instincts are perhaps somewhat ruffled as I watch her peers practically skip around her at soft play. But I know there’s nothing physically wrong… And I know that by trying too hard to encourage her to walk I could actually make her less keen to do so, so I’ve tried to back off and let nature take its course… But it is hard, especially when I have a sneaky suspicion her reluctance may be the fault of my own genes. I took her to get her feet measured the other day and she was only just a 3, which the shop assistant said was usually the size fitted to babies just starting to cruise… So she’s got tiny feet… and an enormous head. Gary has size 11 feet and always seems to find hats which fit. I, on the other hand, wear dinky size 4s and always find issue with the ‘one size’ rule for headwear. Clearly my small-footed, large-headed genes have caused a heady imbalance of stature, rendering the independent toddle a feat of terrifying magnitude for my daughter. No wonder she hugs the wall.

walkingMy bad, Lara.


Toddler TV: Bedtime Ally or Root of All Evil?

itng

To be honest, I never paid much attention to how much TV my baby watched, mainly because she never paid much attention to watching TV. Around the time she started pulling herself up on the TV cabinet and staring wide-eyed at Ant and Dec’s mild innuendos (ok, I’m a Celeb is my one reality TV weakness. That, and Dance Moms. And BGT when it’s on…) I began to wonder if perhaps I should switch off the occasional backdrop of recorded primetime entertainment during playtime. When I read that children under two are recommended not to watch any TV at all because it can impair speech development, I felt downright guilty. (It’s true, though, if you think about it… You’re not doing anything to encourage linguistic prowess when you and your child have both paused, mid block building, to stare slack-jawed at a desperate Z-lister eating kangaroo balls.)

Then we discovered In the Night Garden. Iggle Piggle, Upsy Daisy, Winky Wanky or whatever his name is, etc, provided a colourful, child-friendly haven of kissing, squeaking, incongruous slow-mo nodding, and a flatulent, inconsistently proportioned zeppelin. Yes, viewed by adult eyes it does make one wonder whether or not one should be on a not-so-natural high for it to make any sense. Or indeed whether its writers have been partaking of such. Yes, like many programmes aimed at young children, it plods along a pace that renders adult viewers quite incapable of watching in its entirety without a sneaky browse of Twitter, Facebook or River Island dot com along the way. But its charming narration by Derek Jacobi provides welcome comfort-food for the ear in a reassuringly old-school, Richard-Attenborough-as-Santa-Claus kind of way. You may, like me, even find yourself chirruping “Isn’t that a pip!” when spotting two aubergines of the exact same size in the aisles of Tesco of a rainy Tuesday morning.

But I think the true brilliance of ITNG and the multi-millions lining the folds of the Tombliboos’ troublesome trousers (no wonder they’re always falling down), is its symbiosis with bedtime routines. We never had a problem with bedtime until fairly recently – even when she was at the three-hourly-feeding stage, I tried to keep up a persistent routine of bath, milk and bed. When she started solids, it was dinner, bath, story, milk and bed – starting at 6pm and rounding up at 7ish. Then we stopped breastfeeding, and suddenly I was finding myself with a surplus half an hour messing up the whole routine. I was putting Lara to bed by 6.30pm, and even earlier on the nights she didn’t have a bath. Not only did the earliness mean she would put up much more of a fuss about going to sleep, she was far more likely to wake up before 6.30am the next morning. Then a friend mentioned her little boy’s fondness for In The Night Garden. Starting at around 6.25pm, it’s perfect for after-dinner viewing when it’s not bath night, and when it is, we come back down afterwards to catch the ending – which always features a song, story and the characters going to bed one by one. This brings us to 6.50pm, Lara is tired enough not to put up a fight as I put her down, and is often fast asleep by the time I’ve come back downstairs.

Sure, it’s irritating. Sure, some evenings I just want to punch Upsy Daisy right in her Daisy Doos. Sure, it may be turning my toddler into a monosyllabic robot whose mind is slowly being warped by weirdly phallic hairstyles, a rock-collecting teletubby with OCD tendencies and flatulent aircraft. But, as I type this at 7.07pm with a glass of Rioja by my side, my knees smarting from another day as my main weight-bearers, the baby sleeping soundly in her cot upstairs, it occurs to me that that is a risk we are just going to have to take.


Ode to my breasts, as we finish breastfeeding

Do you remember the time we gave the postman a fright?
We came to the door without doing our top up quite right…
And the time you sprang a leak in the parents room of John Lewis
Who’d have thought being a foodstuff would do these things to us?
Your modesty (and mine) have been well and truly defamed,
And I’m sorry, but your buoyancy will never be the same.

At the beginning, things certainly did look a bit bleak,
We weren’t sure we would make it past the first week.
But then we all got the hang of this breastfeeding game,
The baby gained pounds, though you felt aflame
With pain and colours vividly purple and red,
And you came to view the baby’s mouth with dread.
But slowly you got used to this strange new violation
(Thanks, in part, to a lanolin cream salvation)

The weeks rolled on and the pain subsided,
Into resigned numbness you happy resided.
The bruises and purple-struck nipples slowly faded
And though we had the odd hiccup when you got blockaded,
Nothing really went wrong once we got used to the sensation
Of needing milking, like cattle, on regular occasion.

Oh breasts, I’ve treated you ways you never dreamed of before,
Exposed you to strangers and grandparents in law.
I’ve even fondled you in public to see which is more full,
And written about you on the internet in rhyme – deplorable!

There isn’t a single word of appropriate ilk
To describe these thirteen months of expressing milk…
Painful, blissful, wonderful, worrisome,
Exhausting, uplifting, irritating – but awesome.
This is the most important job you’ll ever do
Yet at times it was a chore I thought we’d never get through.

But to the ignorant naysayers who say breastfeeding is vile
I feel sorry for you. You will never know that smile
When your baby breaks away to beam up at you above,
Surely there isn’t a more pure expression of love?

But enough of this sap, all I really wanted to say
Was that I’m sorry but glad I can finally put you away.
Not just the baby’s, you’ve also benefitted my health,
A job damn well done, if I do say so myself.

Dear breasts, you can rest now, your work here is done
Well at least [she whispers] till I have the next one…

IMG_1229


Daylight Saving Time f*cked up my life

Since my last moan about the difficulty of reasoning the necessity of naptime with an infant, I’m happy to say that things have been looking up. We are down to just one breastfeed a day – which I know may not seem like much of an achievement, but remember this is the child who would happily refuse all fried, crispy and chocolate-dipped solids in favour of a little boob action – which we do just before she goes to bed. I’ve figured out a new way of getting her to nap without breastfeeding or resorting to her screaming in her cot for hours – I just have to hold her and jiggly-shuffle from one foot to the other while I count to 300 in my head. She’ll usually complain when I put her down, but then she will settle and snooze for, sometimes, up to 2.5 hours at a time. She’s been going down at around 7pm at night and usually wakes around 7.15-7.30am for the day. The last few weeks she’s even made it to the territory of 8-8.30am a couple of times, blessing me with the sweet, almost-forgotten decadence of a lie-in – the likes of which I haven’t experienced since the happy weekday mornings of early maternity leave, kissing Gary off to work before snuggling back down under a floral-smelling sheet with a pillow wedged between my obese pregnant knees.

I should have known it was all too good to last.

On Sunday the clocks went back and the precious hammock cradling our lives in this delicate nirvana of sleep-fruitfulness was abruptly floored by the morbidly obese arse of that cruel concoction called Daylight Saving Time. The same morbidly obese derriere, ironically, which once granted me an extra hour in bed on many a chilly October Monday morning. Who could have known that an hour would change so much? I was expecting the 6am wake up call on Sunday. It wasn’t pleasant but I got on with it, and the flipside was that Lara went down happily for a long morning nap around 9am. That afternoon she refused a second nap. As she had slept for two hours that morning, I wasn’t too surprised – she’s never been a huge fan of the afternoon nap. That night we were all exhausted and, though I did try and keep her up till her normal bedtime, I ended up giving in at around 5.30pm and preparing her dinner half an hour early. I thought I would then draw out her dinner, bath and bedtime routine to try and get as near to 7pm as possible. The minutes ticked on, and before I knew it it was 6.07pm and I was creeping out of her bedroom, nerves shot, mind smooshed by tiredness and hand firmly extended towards the glass of rosé left over from the weekend, fully committed to trying again tomorrow.

On Monday morning (yesterday) we made it to about 6.30am before the screams to get up now, please, Mummy became un-ignorable. After only sleeping an hour in the morning, I was sure she would keel over in grateful oblivion the second I jiggly-shuffled her into her afternoon nap. Nope. I spent no less than three hours in and out of her room trying to weedle her into sleep as she resolutely screamed in my face/ clawed at my chin/ beat up every toy in her cot and then performed bear-acide over the side of the bars. Around 3pm I put her in her pushchair and walked her round the garden. She responded by trying to grab the leaves off the trees, squawking like a banshee every time I tried to rock the buggy in the soothing, repetitive motion that, six months ago, would have rendered her unconscious in seconds, and periodically twisted herself around to peer at me incredulously. In the end I gave up. To her credit, Lara managed to stay up until her 7pm bedtime without too many breakdowns, and I felt sure, by the time I went to bed myself, that Tuesday, at least, would bring a portion of normalcy back to our waking up time. These hopes were duly dashed at approximately 5.35am this morning.

I suppose, when you think in terms of babies’ sleep cycles only being 90 minutes long, you can appreciate how much an extra hour – suddenly given, unasked for and with no warning – might mess with their sleeping pattern. And, I suppose, though there are always bound to be those babies whose parents will smugly admit that the extra hour didn’t bother young Rufus in the slightest, he’s actually sleeping more since the clocks went back, I should have always known that Lara would not be one of those babies. Who wants to nap, after all, when there are stuffed animals to be murdered, kitchen cupboards to disassemble and unattended appliances to mount?

IMG_4461


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 412 other followers

%d bloggers like this: