Category Archives: babies

So here it is, Merry 30

Nothing will hammer home the approach of a new decade of age quite so adeptly as a teenage girl. It’s Sunday, December 11th, I’ve acquired enough shopping to elongate my arms at least another two inches (which I am to feel mainly in my neck and shoulders for the next week) and I’m standing in the queue at Primark in the centre of Reading. In front of me tower two smooth haired, leggings-clad teenage girls of an indefinable, wilderness-angst age. One of them notices one of the impulse buys lining the queue walkway, a handbag organiser that I may or may not have been surreptitiously admiring. She snorts and says, “Oh for god’s sake, what a Grandma thing to buy!”

And there it is. Mortality.

It’s been a suspicion of mine for some time that I’m no longer quite ‘down with the kids’, possibly because I still think of it as ‘down with the kids.’ This suspicion was confirmed when I felt the need to write myself a ‘to do’ list on Monday and then happened to glance a rather jaded eye down it.

I have, mostly, done all these now... except the bloody car tax

I have, mostly, done all these now… except the bloody car tax

That’s right, my memory has reached the stage of degradation whereby I need to have ‘de-flea bedroom’ written down in order for me to actually remember to do it. You’d think being bitten alive on a nightly basis would be reminder enough. You really would.

But, you know, there are benefits to getting older. I wouldn’t want to go back. I certainly wouldn’t want to go back 15 years. Every year brings new experiences. I had a baby, I got married, I wrote two books, bought, sold and bought another house, got promoted to editor of a magazine. I’ve done a lot for 30. And every week brings more new experiences. For example, this week I learned that the secret to de-fleaing one’s house requires a great deal of pure, unedited, incanfuckingdescent rage.

I’ve learned new words. I’ve learned to feel other words. Love. Grief. Joy. Pride. Labour. Words that, at 15, only spun and drifted from the tips of my fingertips, just as they should.

And, sometimes, things don’t feel all that different at all. Standing there in Primark, with presents for my loved ones digging grooves into my fingers, the queue shuffles forwards as the two girls began to discuss a party. “I don’t want to go to Alex’s ugly party,” one exclaims in a fit of pique. “I don’t even like him, he’s a ginge!” Ah. That old chestnut. I’ve certainly changed since I was 15* – I wouldn’t dream of allowing some bigoted, overgrown child’s comments to embarrass me these days – but perhaps the world of 15-year-olds hasn’t, that much. That bothers me. But it doesn’t surprise me.

Maybe that’s the saddest thing about getting older. When the surprises begin to fade into cynicism and innocence becomes a hard-eyed search for faults and cracks. It’s hard to be an optimist now. But not impossible… There’s so much still to look forward to – all the things I haven’t done yet. House renovations. Wedding anniversaries. More books to write and, hopefully – one day – publish. Family holidays. More babies, and guiding them through their own wilderness-angst years. Perhaps these are the sad, past-it ambitions of a handbag-organiser-admirer. I’ll take them any day. Cynicism hasn’t totally consumed me yet. After all, I’m only 30.

 

*Perhaps my new year’s resolution – or new decade’s resolution, if you will – should be to drop the whole “that’s the same as racism” response I came up with at 15 and launch into song instead…

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The Laments of Lara W, aged two and three quarters…

The carrots I asked for were too crunchy to eat,

There was a single, dastardly crumb on my seat.

I did not grant permission for my hair to be brushed,

Nor for the contents of my potty to be flushed.

I think it’s you, not me, who’s the loon,

for not wanting to wear a bobble hat in June.

And of course a tutu is suitable attire

For splashing in puddles and swinging on tyres.

 

We’re finally at the park, but my face is still grim

There’s a child on my slide, and you won’t remove him!

That girl has an ice cream, you must get me one now

No I won’t be distrac- oh, look a moo cow!

What do you mean it’s now time to go home?

We just got here, I have every right to moan.

But if your suggestion really won’t be parried,

Well then I must insist I am carried.

I don’t care if your arms hurt, I’m quite happy here,

Rubbing my muddy boots on your rear.

 

We’re home and it’s high time my dinner was made

But I’ll scramble my eggs, and I won’t accept aid.

What? Why would I eat them? No, this sort of spread

Is only acceptable when spread on one’s head.

Oh look, there’s some honey, let’s add that in too,

And some milk and ooh, sugar! Well, what’s wrong with you?

Don’t make such a fuss, it’s just honey, eggs and sugar

See, I’ll pull it out, oh no, oh wait – Aaaaaagh!

Get it off, get it off, get it off, get it off!

Oh God, you’re not moving FAST enough!

What’s this stuff on my plate – green isn’t a food!

No cake till I eat it? Well now that’s just rude.

I don’t remember agreeing to such a decree.

Oh was there ever a life of such misery?

 

I can’t just be rational – I’m not yet even three,

And there’s so much that doesn’t make sense to me.

Some days I don’t think I’ll ever reach the prize

At the end of all the why, why, why, why, whys.

But one day you’ll look back with a nostalgic smile

When you recall my hair in this great, eggy style.

And the memory of my frowns will make you laugh,

but in the meantime I absolutely will not have a bath.

But if you insist on my undressing, you really can’t blame me

For running away… Oh look! A wee wee!

Yes it has been a while since my last random wetting

But sometimes I just can’t help forgetting.

 

It’s bedtime, so you must read me ten books, let’s go

And don’t scrimp on any of the words or I’ll know.

Daddy must read to me too now you’re done,

With all the voices and actions I like, every one.

I need water, I want doggy, I’m hungry, I must poo…

What will it take to bring me downstairs with you?

Ok, fine. I’ll stay here… but I want one last kiss,

And we can all agree, I’m not happy about this.

Because it’s really not easy to be quite so small,

No, I wont say night night… I’m not tired… at… a-….

 

PS – your earrings are in the toilet.

 


Your toddler is perfectly normal. Now shut up.

Is your child a budding Michaelangelo? The next Darcey Bussell? Destined for a life of OCD-like repeated rituals? Or are they just a NORMAL TODDLER?

OMG. Better start saving for art school!!!

OMG. Better start saving for art school!!

When you’re pregnant, all you want is to meet the little passenger in your belly. You’re consumed by questions to which you have no way of knowing the answers… What will they look like? What will they be like? Will they be musical? Will they grow up to solve crimes? Will they inherit your talents for baking/DIY/remembering erroneous tidbits of celebrity trivia? They are literally swathed in fleshy, protruding mystery. And then they are born and, save perhaps the question of their appearance (and that can be temporary) you still don’t really know any of the answers…

I seem to come across so many parents who seem determined to label all their children’s quirks and preferences as early as possible. Their child likes to clap their hands to a piece of music. Destined to be a conductor. Two year old likes books with rhymes: obviously a budding poet. I’m not saying it won’t happen… Sure, it’s possible a child destined to be a mechanic or race car driver might show an early interest in cars. It’s also just as possible the child might grow up to shun all forms of motorized vehicle and insist instead upon traveling everywhere in a pony and trap.

I don’t mean to rant; I’m genuinely mystified about the clues behind who toddlers are and who they will become. The other day my daughter burst into tears because I couldn’t understand her when she kept telling me to “shut the door” as she brushed her teeth in the bathroom (the door to which was firmly shut… you see my confusion.) Turns out she wanted me to close the lid of the toothpaste. Does that mean she will grow up to be fastidious about lids and germs and tidiness? (Given her genes I am inclined to think not…) Or was she just being a demanding, frustrated toddler?

If my child throws herself down when I refuse to hand over my laptop is it just her tiny toddler brain rendering her temporarily insensible due to an excess of exhaustion? Or am I preventing the next Steve Jobs from their earliest enterprising explorations? Earlier today we took a particularly muddy walk around the lake and she insisted I carry her AND her boots which she didn’t want to wear AND her scooter bike. Because it was “too muddy to walk.” Now this is probably just her being a stubborn toddler, right? RIGHT? SHE’S NOT GOING TO DO THIS WHEN SHE’S 15, RIGHT??

And then there are the times she pulls a pair of pants over her head, catches my eye and we share a laugh. I like to think at times like these that we are in-sync, bolstering an unbreakable mother-daughter bond that will see us all the way through the dreaded terrible-music-taste tween and mother-hating teenage years. I like to think it, but I don’t really, truly believe it. Because no one can predict what a person is going to truly be like from the age of two… You could possibly hazard a guess. Maybe even a good guess. But you can’t tell for sure.

Right, must be off to baby ballet class now. Because whether she is or isn’t the next Darcey Bussell (again, the genes are sadly a precursor towards the likelihood of the negative) there are only so many years I will be able to get her into a tutu.


The Art of Peeing in a Pot in my Living Room

It has begun. There’s no putting it off any longer, no excuses, no way back. Some mothers hate nappies. They long for the day when their child can piddle on demand in a toilet, the early morning cries for help wiping their fragrant bottom, the end of rank nappy bins, rash-inducing, knuckle-peeling wet wipes, the daily hoist of the legs to encounter the wonders beneath… I’m not one of those mothers. I like nappies. I don’t mind changing them. It’s 2 minutes of my time as opposed to, oh, 20 minutes chasing a wet-legginged two-year-old around the house while she insists that she does not want to get changed and she is perfectly happy being soggy-bottomed because “it smell nice, Mummy,” and as far as she’s concerned there’s absolutely no problem at all with climbing onto and rolling around your freshly-made bed. Not to mention the five hour stretches of bargaining, bribes, tears, tantrums and hard-won, foul-smelling triumphs circling the union of bare buttocks and plastic pot in the middle of the living room.

But this is it now. We are officially potty training. Or, at least, we’ve made a sizably conscious effort to start. Mainly because Lara had begun to scream whenever I told her I was going to the toilet and insist she needed to come with me to use the potty. (She didn’t, but I figured that if she was old enough to use the potty as a manipulation tool, she was old enough to be taught, you know, how to actually use it.)

We’re not yet doing the hardcore staying-in-all-day-every-day-until-she-gets-it approach, mainly because I just can’t watch Finding Nemo that many times. But we are wearing big girl pants as soon as we get up in the morning and after nap time, and we are sitting on the potty in exchange for stickers and ‘chocolate butts’ (buttons, incidentally, but I’m too delighted with the pun to correct her) and we are seeing results in the potty occasionally and on the floor often. It’s going ok. I mean, she only actually goes in the potty when she’s been plonked on it (usually only under the condition she is allowed to play with Mummy’s ‘i-dad’) and happens to need to go. And when I gleefully turned her round this morning and joyously asked her what she had done – so cleverly, so miraculously! – in the potty, she replied, in a very bored voice, “S’ juice, Mummy.” So I’m fairly sure we’ve got a way to go before she really fully understands what we’re getting at with this crazy new game, but when you consider she’s had two and a bit years of letting rip whenever and wherever, it’s not hard to see why it takes time to change such an ingrained behaviour. In fact, if I think about it in those terms the whole task tends to take on disproportionately large and looming qualities and I find myself fighting the urge to bury myself under a duvet of wipes and Pampers, so what keeps us going is the mantra of taking it all one day at a time.

In a way, it’s oddly similar to the gargantuan task of planning a wedding: one day at a time, try not to think about how much money I’m spending and hope that when the big day comes, no one is peeing on the church floor.


The Great Santa Debate: Why I am a Proud Liar

 

 

I took my toddler to see Santa this week. She was pretty excited about the prospect of meeting “Fada Wissmus” beforehand, but when we actually stepped into the grotto she went completely silent, stared straight ahead and pretty much refused to acknowledge the poor guy with the red suit and the passably good beard. There were a lot of one-sided questions, furtive attempts at jollity and a decidedly awkward moment when Lara decided she was more interested in trying to steal Santa’s little decorative reindeer than receiving her gift. Sure, the whole concept of Father Christmas is a bit much to expect from a two-year-old, but at least we got some fairly ridiculous photos and a rather nice jigsaw puzzle out of it.

There has been some debate in the press recently about the morality of perpetuating the Santa myth. One line of argument is that we’re promoting what is essentially a big fat lie, making hypocrites of parents who bring their children up to believe lying is wrong. My problem with this is that it asserts, out and out, that lying is always wrong. I’m sorry, but I just don’t agree. I have no problem with lying if it’s with good intentions. When my dad was dying and shaved his head he asked me if it looked good. I lied then. Was that wrong? Is it really, truly wrong to lie to children about a kind, magical man who gives them and every other child on the planet presents on Christmas Eve without expecting a thing in return?

I don’t remember asking my parents whether Santa was real, probably because by the time I was old enough to ask, I was old enough to know I didn’t really want to know the answer. It didn’t damage our relationship. On the contrary, I credit them with the reason why Christmas time was so tummy-squeamingly exciting for so long in my life. Come to think of it, I don’t actually know anyone whose relationship with their parents has suffered as a result of them lying to them about Father Christmas for however many years. Nor do I know anyone who has suffered in any way whatsoever as a result of having once believed in Santa. So what’s the big harm?

We’ve already covered the grey area around the ‘evil’ of lying. What about kids getting freaked out about a strange man coming into their bedrooms at night? Call me naive but isn’t part of believing in Father Christmas believing in his goodness, his innocence, the great equality of his generosity towards all children in all the world? Our kids are going to become as cynical and suspicious as we are soon enough, why hurry the process? And, if your kid really is that freaked out, just put the damn stocking downstairs like they do in America.

It all comes down to childhood, I think. If your Facebook newsfeed is anything like mine, there aren’t many days that go by without someone sharing a meme lamenting the loss of those carefree, innocent days. Who doesn’t miss the reaches your belief could stretch to when you were little? The days when the tooth fairy, Easter bunny and, yes, Father Christmas were perfectly reasonable… That’s why we keep trying, for so long. That’s why we lie in bed at 12 years old, eyes determinedly shut as dad muffles a swearword as he stubs his toe on his way out with our empty stocking. Even in those days of heady adolescent awakenings, there still flickers a tiny, iridescently vaporous glimmer of belief that maybe, just maybe, it’s not dad at all… The tiniest shadow that’s only there because it’s trying so hard not to die. Something you may no longer remember or want to acknowledge now you know – so irreversibly – better.

 


Do you even know what a junior doctor is?

I didn’t, and my own sister is one.

Every doctor in the UK who doesn’t hold the title of consultant or fully qualified GP is a junior doctor. In other words: the person who took over the difficult delivery of your baby, the person who treated your child in A&E, the surgeon who performs an emergency operation on them.

Chances are, last time you or your family were treated by a doctor other than your GP, that person was one of the 55,020 junior doctors currently working for the NHS.

The fact is, the public is largely ignorant about who these people actually are. I’m very close to my sister and yet when I read about the imminent strike action this morning I wasn’t even 100% sure if she would be part of it… Surely, I thought, these ‘juniors’ are the fresh-faced, JD-from-Scrubs types wandering around under the watchful guidance of seen-it-all registrars? No. My sister is 30 and has been a qualified doctor for over six years. At the moment she is an ST3 (specialist trainee, 3rd year) in paediatrics, working full-time at a London teaching hospital in general paeds and gastroenterology, whilst studying past-time for a Masters in global child health. She will continue to be a junior doctor for at least another five years, more if she has children in the meantime. One of her friends has two kids and works part-time as an ST2, also in paediatrics. She will continue to be a junior doctor for at least another 11 years, more if she has any more children.

A junior doctor delivered my daughter and stitched me up afterwards. Junior doctors helped care for my dad when he suffered and died from cancer. I have been lucky enough to avoid an A&E trip with my child so far, but when that day (or night) comes, it will be a junior doctor who treats her. I know how I would feel if that person were exhausted from the extra hours they have been forced to work due to the “removal of safeguards on excessive hours” clause in their new contract.

Surely the very term “safeguard” should ring alarm bells here? These restrictions on hours – currently 48 hours a week under the European working time directive – are there for a reason, that is why they are called SAFEGUARDS. Who are they there to protect? The person pushing numbers in a office? The hand holding a scalpel? Or your child, underneath that scalpel?

One of the scariest facts of the matter is that many of these junior doctors are now considering giving up working for the NHS in favour of working abroad. When you consider the pay cut (up to 30% for some), longer hours and cap on locum pay (doctors who temporarily fill in for another) this new contract promises, it’s not hard to see why.

These people aren’t striking because they’re greedy. The so-called 11% pay rise becomes irrelevant once the subsidies for out-of-hours work has been removed. Pay progression will be suspended for less than full-time training. If my sister chooses to have children in the next five years, she will face a similar story to her friend.

The British Medical Association (BMA) is calling for the chance just to negotiate the terms of this contract. There are plenty of petitions to sign for members of the public to show their support for junior doctors – but according to my sister, the biggest battle is raising public awareness. Considering her own flesh and blood didn’t know exactly what a junior doctor was until this morning, I’d say she has a point.

Jeremy Hunt wrote a book about dismantling the NHS – its privatisation is a very real possibility. But just remember, it won’t be a private healthcare provider who treats your child for anaphylactic shock at a birthday party next weekend. And it won’t be a private doctor who sees you in A&E at 3am when your baby’s temperature has crept to 40 degrees.

You know who it will be.


My baby’s growing up… and I’m glad

 

It seems like it was only yesterday that the only words she could say were “Mama,” “Dada,” and “Peppa.” Now it’s all “I got bits!” and “Stop singing, Mummy!”

My tiny person who thinks and farts is now a significantly less tiny person, who laughs and calls them “poopytoots”. She still sleeps in a cot. She still wears nappies (“NO botty on potty, Mummy!”) and she still likes cuddles. But she can ask for them now. She can tell me that the reason she’s crying is because I’ve given her the wrong toy to sleep with. She can tell me she’s whining because she’s been awake for at least three minutes and no one has come in to say good morning, open her curtains and extricate her from her cot. She can really quite insist that the five minute drive to Co-op would not be acceptable without having her toddle bike clutched firmly across her car seat.

Gone are the guessing games. The wild-eyed gesticulation and urgent grunts. The frustrated screams… well, they’re more verbose, at least. Gone are the daily plunges into the exhausting, exasperated worry of just not knowing what the hell is wrong. Gone are the days when just a smile was just enough.

The odd 3am scream has become all the more nettling with the insertion of our names. The demands for more snacks/dropped toys/Nana/dinosaurs in the car result in all the more frustrated cries due to the inability to comprehend patience.

My child is more demanding than ever because she can demand more than ever. Grunts have become language. Requests now come with, “pliss” and “hagoo” attached. I get told “lusss ooo, Mummy,” but I also get told off – more sternly and more frequently than ever in my life – on a daily basis. God forbid I fetch her “soos” (shoes) instead of her “soosss” (juice). I’m no longer “Mama” but “silly Mummy,” “noisssy Mummy” and, thanks entirely to her father, “stinky Mummy.” She demands pieces of fruit and discards them as soon as they’re peeled. Inanimate objects are blown kisses and bade goodnight at 7.15am each morning (“night night, bath,” “night night, toilet.”) Strangers are greeted enthusiastically (“Hi! BIG man!”) My hand is shunned on walks. She hardly ever asks to be carried.

My small person surprises me everyday, and I’m not just talking about the times I happen upon her grinning up at me with  her face racooned in my eye shadow. Yes, it’s still hard. Yes, she had a cough last week and was up at all hours and yes, the clocks going back once again screwed us up royally. But it’s more worth it than ever before. The sentimental nostalgia for babyhood is there, but next to the pure joy of playing with, talking to, singing (when permitted), reading and laughing with this growing toddler… There’s just no comparison.

Lussss ooo too, Lara.


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