Category Archives: being a parent

Vaulting a guide rope in my harems

These harems weren’t meant for vaulting, but that’s just what they did…

Sunday, August 1st 2021, approx. 1am: I am lying half off a semi-inflated camping mat next to my sleeping two-year-old son, our bodies gently vibrating with the beat coming from the neighbouring field, contemplating my past experiences with music festivals. The highs. The lows. The bands. The toilets. So far this weekend we’ve been dealt an interesting mixture: broken tent poles followed by tent-battering storms, a sleepless night, one of our party’s tent collapsing on him and his two-year-old in the middle of the night, hat competition success, kids rocking their little socks off to live music for the first time (that they can remember), a tummy bug making its sinister circulation through our group, a *really nice* falafel wrap, excellent company, great atmosphere, decent music… All things considered, if you write off the first night it’s all been quite succe-

The high-pitched wail comes with an insistent thread of panic from the tent’s other compartment. I scramble to my feet, untangling and fumbling through sleeping bags, zips, a crowded middle compartment and into the small enclosure shared by my daughters just in time to see a plume of vomit splatter all over my four-year-old’s sleeping bag. Ah, I think to myself. Yes. That seems about right.

Farm Fest 2021: all that went on in the showground was bloody marvellous. Everything else shall never be spoken of again (it shall).

I think it’s safe to say that, like so many things, my festival experiences have been most memorable for the things that went not-so-well. And the things that went not-so-well tend to refer to weather, toilets, Drunk Twats, camping, weather, inappropriate footwear, weather and, more often than one would hope, vomit. On the other hand, it’s thanks to festivals that I can say I’ve seen live performances by the likes of Oasis, The Killers, Ed Sheeran, The Prodigy, Tim Minchin, Tom Jones, David Guetta, Maroon 5, Tinie Tempah, Labrinth to name but a few. I can’t actually remember seeing half of them, but what I do recall is brilliant, if a little fleeting… Far stronger memories include the surprisingly heavy addition the dozen or so bottles of WKD rolled into my tent and sleeping bag made to my camping rucksack as we traipsed across a really long field from the car-park to the campsite of NASS in 2004. My friend and I at V-Festival 2005 getting completely freaked out while camping alone in a field of Drunk Twats and calling her boyfriend and his mates who drove for five hours to stage a heroic gate-crash rescue for the remainder of the weekend. Rocking up to V-Festival 2012 in my newly-purchased boho maxi dress and feeling the hideous realisation that I’d completely missed the dress-code of arse-grazing denim hotpants and wellies (the latter despite it remaining a stubborn 30 degrees all weekend without a scrap of mud in sight). Hard to say whether the lowest point of that particular weekend was the affect of the heat on the already-rancid festival toilets, the subsequent discovery on one such visit that I had started my period or the unfortunate vomiting-in-shared-tent incident. To top it all off, I had to work on the Monday afternoon (probably a press week) and my flat was having plumbing work so I couldn’t even nip home for a shower first. Still, The Killers were good. I think?

Why a bikini, you may ask. Why indeed.

In any case here I was, nine years later and at an entirely different kettle of festival. Farm Fest, a light-hearted, family-friendly affair in the rolling hills of Somerset; small, unpretentious and perfect for one’s re-introduction to the festival scene after an absence of almost a decade and the addition of several extra people. And, actually, I couldn’t fault the festival itself. The atmosphere was wonderful, we never felt threatened or unsafe, the music was good, the staff were plentiful and seemed on top of things. Even the toilets were nowhere near the level of gross that I’d come to expect thanks to the sawdust-scoop-when-you-poop thing they had going on (though I did get to the point where I brought a sanitiser spray every time I went and stopped letting the kids use them at all in favour of the travel potty midway through day two).

Camping, on the other hand… We haven’t been camping since 2018. We knew the tent had a couple of glitches. We ended up wrapping two of the poles in electrical tape after they shattered during assembly, tying guide lines back on, sewing up holes… Still, it went up and up it stayed. We went to bed on the first night tipsy and optimistic, all three kids asleep in varying degrees of tangled sleeping bags and limbs in the tent’s second compartment. Then the wind started, and I don’t just mean Hub’s ale farts. I mean a >50mph battering courtesy of Storm Evert which had crept onto the weather radar just that morning, promising high winds mostly around Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly. Miles away from Somerset, we chuckled. No one was bloody chuckling by midnight. By midnight I had an utterly freaked out B3 clinging to my neck in our compartment as we tried to comfort him (while entirely unsure if our buckling tent was about to collapse on us at any minute). Next pitch over, our friend’s air tent did collapse on him and his two-year-old daughter, who woke up in a puddle… After rescuing her and battening the tent as best he could, he then promptly came down with a tummy bug. Our other friends took me and B3 into their van for the rest of the night after his screaming showed no signs of abating… Suffice to say, none of us got a lot of sleep but there was certainly a spirit of Dunkirk type thing going on.

The next morning brought no respite from the winds as well as the unwelcome news that the festival itself was postponed due to health and safety concerns brought on by the weather, which meant no breakfast other than dry Weetabix, bananas, cucumber and crisps (kids loving life at this point). At this point, sitting in the car as it was the only non-windy place, we wondered whether we should just give up and go home. We decided to stick it out (mostly because I’d spent most of the week before going a bit extra on my hat competition entry) and Hub came up with the idea of unloading the entire back of the car into the tent, folding the seats down and turning it into a play area. We got out the colouring books, restaurant-toy-bags, charged one of the tablets and well, actually, they bloody loved it and spent most of the rest of the weekend asking if they could go back to the ‘fun-zone.’ Ten points to the Citroen MPV.

Also pictured: ominous clouds of doom and what my weather app described as a “brisk breeze”

Eventually, of course, the storm abated, the festival opened, we donned our tie-dye and had a pretty good first day. The second night brought tranquil weather, we all slept well (we put B3 in with me and Hub turned the ‘fun-zone’ into a single bed) and the next day (Saturday) was great. Our friends got over the tummy bug and won best group in the hat competition, the kids enjoyed a mini rave in the kids’ tent, we donned glitter, temporary tattoos, hair chalk and face paint and joined others dressed in a multitude of festival gear from patchwork to tie-dye, butterfly wings and even a tribe of bees… With nary a hotpant in sight, I did not feel even the slightest bit self-conscious in my wellies, harem pants and ancient crochet top with a rainbow painted on my face. We managed to pull all three kids along in the festival trolley. B3 got in a decent nap in the tent. We even got a “parenting goals” compliment from a bright-eyed young couple who clearly had no idea what they were looking at.

It wasn’t all sunshine and flowery headbands, though. Gone are the days of casual day-drinking in a sunny field whilst lazily watching parents running after their grubby-faced urchins and thinking, mistily, maybe I’ll do that one day. There are still nappies to change and snacks to fetch. It’s not so easy to vault a guide rope to prevent a small boy mounting a display tractor whilst wearing harem pants and wellies. We lost shoes, we lost mood rings, we dropped a £3 artisanal ice cream on the grass 30 seconds after it was handed over, we found shoes, we took t h r e e  h u n d r e d  y e a r s to choose a (already forgotten about) selection of cheap souvenirs from the gift stalls. We kept losing the rest of our party as we all tried to keep up with whatever time schedule whichever kid was dictating at any given time… But, overall, we had a good time. I mean, we could have done without the storms and the vomit but… well, how would I ever remember it all?

Bloody nice to be home though.

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Why can you peel a banana but not an elephant?

This is the question my almost-4-year-old posed to me, extremely seriously, on Saturday afternoon. And for the life of me, I just don’t know. Furthermore, when I laughed and asked her to tell me the answer, expecting some witty punchline, she informed me that I “was the silly one now,” whatever that meant.

And that just about sums up the conversations I’ve had with my kids over the last week.

Sunday:

B1 wanders into my office with her Eye Witness book about wildlife.

B1:         Mummy, can I read you an interesting fact?

Me:        Yes, but quickly please, I’m in the middle of something. [something being proof-reading my novel, absolutely not twatting about on Reddit or Twitter… ahem]

B1:         *spouts something about tigers or giraffes being able to do something impressively disgusting with their tongues*

Me:       Wow, that’s… er… cool [or something equally vague yet encouraging with the hopeful air of dismissal about it] *looks back at manuscript, mutters to self* Hmm… does [character name 1] actually kill [character name 2] or did I just vaguely imply that without going into any explanation whatsoever?

B1:         Who gets killed?

Me:        Oh, no one. It’s just in Mummy’s book.

B1:         Someone kills someone else in your book?

Me:        Um…

B1:          …

Me:        …

B1:         I don’t think you should have anyone kill anyone, Mummy. Is that really the sort of story you want to be writing?

Me:        …

B1:         *stern look*

Me:      OK. Fine. No one kills anyone. No one dies ever, is that better? 

B1:      Yes.

Me:      OK. But, you know, sometimes bad things have to happen to your characters in order to make a story more interesting…

B1:      But you don’t have to make them die though, do you? You could just make something else happen.

Me:     Like… a giant, green alien pops up out of the ground and hands everyone a bunch of flowers?

B1:      …

Me:     …

B1:      Maybe I should help you write your stories, Mum.

Me:      *clicks sulkily onto Reddit*


 

Monday:

B3 enters office bearing a bowl from the kitchen which he proudly holds aloft.

B3:         Nack! Nack!

Me:        Snack? You want a snack?

B3:          Yes! Come’un Mumma. ‘At way!

*I go and get him a snack and he disappears contentedly into the living room*

-TWO MINUTES LATER-

B3:          Nack! Nack!

Me:        No, that’s enough snacks for now.

B3:          Joo! Joo!

Me:        You already have juice. Why don’t you go and draw me a picture? Here’s some paper and a crayon. I’ll come and see what you’ve drawn in a bit.

-FIVE MINUTES LATER-

Me:        *enters living room to find blank piece of paper on the floor, B3 staring at the TV, crayon nowhere to be found* Where’s your lovely picture you were going to do?

B3:          …

Me:        Why are there lines all over the wall, B3?

B3:          …

Me:        Did you draw on the wall?

B3:          *proudly* Yes!

Me:         *mutters under breath while fetching damp cloth*

B3:         *has meltdown as artwork is destroyed and crayon placed on high shelf*

Me:        *wonders if it’s too early for a G&T. Upon discovery that it is only 11am, decides to get B3 another snack. Gets one for self too. Wonders why jeans feel snug.*


 

Wednesday:

Me:     B2, what was the thing you were trying to ask me about elephants and bananas again?

B2:      It was. Um. You shouldn’t peel an elephant.

Me:     But why would you want to peel an elephant?

B2:      *thinks very hard* Because… Maybe he wasn’t being very sensible.

Me:      *confused* Who, the elephant or the person peeling it?

B2:      *with the air of talking to someone incredibly stupid* No, the banana of course.

Me: …

B1:      Mummy, you know she’s trying to tell the one from my elephant joke book, what’s the difference between an elephant and a banana – you can peel a banana but you can’t-

Me:      …peel an elephant! *laughs slightly maniacally*

B1:      *looks at me with an expression of mild concern* It’s not that funny.

B2:      But why can you peel a banana but not an elephant?

FML. 


Positive

I’d known it was coming. The symptoms were all there, after all. I’d thought we’d been so careful, we always were… But clearly something had slipped through. Someone. I should have known it was too good to last. I should have known it would happen, sooner or later. Still, when the result flashed up in its little window, I was shocked. How were we going to cope? What were we going to do? I looked again. Yep, no denying it. Positive. I reached for my glass of wine, because I may have had fucking Covid but at least I wasn’t pregnant.

Fortunately, I’ve been one of the lucky ones. I’ve had symptoms for just over a week and the worst thing has been the loss of taste and smell, mostly because I’ve no idea how long it will last. The first few days, back when I thought I just had the kids’ cold – the viral wheeze aforementioned here – I mostly had a bit of a headache I ascribed to several evenings spent partaking end-of-December measures of gin and a slight cough that was so pathetically infrequent I didn’t give it a second thought. I didn’t feel great but I certainly didn’t feel pandemic-level poorly. Then, on New Year’s Eve, the oven wasn’t broken. I’d cooked a slow-roast pork shoulder and realised, around 4pm, that the oven must be broken because the house wasn’t suffused with the usual scents of slow-roasting crackling and succulent, fall-apart meat… But, of course, it was. I just couldn’t smell it. And suddenly this insidious virus which had ravaged across the entire planet had made its way to my home, my family, my lungs.

That was almost a week ago. I’m OK. Most of the time I feel perfectly normal. If this were any other year, I would count myself as fully recovered from a bit of a non-starter and no longer contagious, though I’d have thought the lack of smell and taste a bit odd. Still, if I were working in an office I’d have gone in every day, merrily passing round the germs.

I’m not trying to be blasé with this post. I’m aware that I am extremely lucky to be so relatively unaffected by this virus (touch wood). I know lots aren’t. There is a lot of fear out there. I don’t want to bluster out a trite, “Don’t be afraid!” because there’s plenty on the other side of the coin, and some of them are the 30-somethings on ventilators in ICU. My own kids, if they did indeed have Covid over Christmas (and at this point, it’s looking likely that they did) had it worst than most kids are ‘supposed’ to. There are no definites, it’s just a game of likelihoods. It’s only been around a year or so, after all. I was likely to be OK, and I am. My kids were likely to be less ill than me, and they weren’t. I can’t criticize the government for locking us all down again (the management and the timing of it, well, that’s another story) over something I wouldn’t even bother to use a sick day on, because my mild non-starter is another person’s death sentence. That’s why we’re all so scared, I guess. That’s why we’re all still so scared.

But I have Covid. And I am OK. I’m also a journalist, however lapsed, and I will say this: there is a far bigger market for stories of healthy people getting Covid and not being OK than there is for people getting it and mostly being absolutely fine except not being able to taste chocolate or smell nappy poonamis. Make of that what you will. And, in the meantime, I will continue to stockpile the Christmas treats for when my palate recovers and tackle the stinkiest of household jobs while I can’t smell them. Yesterday I cleared away the ill-fated sourdough starter I made last lockdown. Tomorrow I’ll give the kitchen bin a scrub. Home schooling has been re-established, the kids have been taking their exercise from the garden and Go Noodle (sorry Joe Wicks, we will never be PE people) and next week we will be allowed outside to walk among the fearful once again. In the meantime, we will stay home, recover and try to stay positive. In every other sense of the word, that is.


The NHS that saved Christmas

Not having lived under a rock for the past billion months, we always knew that Christmas 2020 would be departure from the norm (being the hosting, feeding and general merriment/mayhem of the masses over several days). We decided to embrace it for what it was: a chance to have a quieter Christmas, a break from the usual chaos, an opportunity to see how it compared. We delivered our various gifts at safe distances, saw most of the relatives if only briefly from doorsteps and, by the time our area had been headbutted into Tier 4, we had stocked up and settled in to have the ultimate Quiet One At Home. Never did it occur that any of us might not actually be home for it.

B2 started the week with the snots. NBD, we thought. She soon perked up after a day or two, just as the inevitable mucus began to sprout from the nostrils of Bs 1 and 3… No one had a persistent cough, no one had a temperature, and no one’s taste or smell had been affected as far as we could tell, so we mopped noses, Calpoled and Carried On. December 23rd found B1 rendered quite limp and lacklustre on the sofa, pale and bleating of a sore throat. B3, meanwhile, already the cuddliest of the three, became progressively cuddlier as the day went on, his breathing becoming if not laboured but a little huskier than usual as the torrents of snot continued to flow.

It was around 5am the next morning, Christmas Eve, when alarm bells started to stir, if not immediately clang to life. B1 was up, groaning and generally being rather over-dramatic about needing to pee whilst not feeling well and AAARGH there was a SPIDER less than TWO METRES away from her and it MOVED! Roused by these nonsensical, nocturnal caperings, B3 croaked his displeasure from his bedroom as I shepherded B1 back to bed with a dose of Calpol 6+ and firm instructions to go back to sleep as quietly as possible. I brought B3 into bed with me and H, at which point I noticed his breathing had become quite loud and panty, which I thought was down to the effort of bellowing whilst full of cold. A few hours later, once we were all up for the day, the panting had turned into strange grunting noises. Cue – via a bit of dithering, two ultimately redundant calls placed to 111 and the local surgery and, finally, some plainly-worded advice from my various medical relatives all over the space of about 20 minutes – a parenting first, the panic-wrought drive to A&E.

Despite my never having set foot in an A&E with my kids before (or ever, as far as I can recall) there have been some near misses along the way. When B3 was one day shy of four months old, he scared the bejesus out of us when he presented with a non-blanching rash all over his legs which looked horribly reminiscent of every picture of meningitis I’ve ever seen. But, although the timing then was pretty appalling – we had just climbed out of all mobile phone signal/WiFi/4G range down a cliff to a beach in the depths of Cornwall during a family holiday and he’d also done a massive, nappy-defying shit – I think the timing of this occasion ranked worse. A trip to hospital within a Tier 4 epicentre of a rampantly peaking global pandemic on Christmas Eve? Yes. Definitely worse.

August 2019 vs December 2020…

The experience itself, however, was infinitely better, which is weird because he was actually ill this time. I think probably because I knew within 5 minutes of arriving what was wrong and that he was more than likely going to be much better in a matter of hours… Last time it was all stomach-twisting worry about what the hell was causing the strange rash, despite all indicators being that he was absolutely fine (which he was, incidentally, the diagnosis concluding that the marks had been burst blood vessels caused by the carrier I’d used getting down to the beach). The route to that conclusion, though, was traumatic to say the least –desperate driving down country lanes, holding my poor, wriggly boy still so the doctor could try and puncture through his peak four-month-old chub for a vein, wretched attempts to get a urine sample manually (we were on the paeds ward for about 10 hours and he didn’t pee until the ninth) the hints of suspicion when the questions turned to what sort of ‘trauma’ may have caused the marks… All this over the backdrop of increasing hunger, the insistent wedging of a slightly-too-small one piece swimming costume under my very cheap shorts and t-shirt and said garments’ lack of breathability coupled with the warm day leading to a horrible awareness of one’s own increasing malodourous-ity.

This time, however, everything was far more straightforward. We queued for less than a minute and were admitted through to the paediatric A&E before I even had time to text Hub to let him know we’d arrived. The friendly and reassuring nurse took B3’s obs and gave an initial diagnosis of viral wheeze and treatment with a Salbutamol inhaler within a few minutes of us arriving. She also reassured me that I had done the right thing by bringing him in, which made me feel about a million times better because the last thing I wanted to do was burden the NHS unnecessarily during the Covid shitshow when all he needed was a cuddle and some Calpol.

Four hours later, with a far less wheezy B3 and a whole lot of medical gubbins stuffed into my nappy bag, we were heading home. There had been one hairy moment where all B’s symptoms improved except his breathing rate which had stayed high and there had been talk of sending us up to the paediatrics ward for further observation via a Covid swabbing because 2020… But in the end the paeds doctor came down to us and it was concluded that we could carry on his treatment – inhaler, antibiotics in case of pneumonia and a throat spray due to something about mucus indicators – at home. The most stressful part of the whole endeavour was when I realised I’d set off without my wallet and couldn’t make the bloody contactless Samsung Pay app work on the parking machine.

Meanwhile, at home, B1 had taken a turn for the worse. Not to be outdone by her baby brother, she, too, had developed a wheeze and laboured breathing. Worst of all – and always, since the age of 3, a sure sign of illness in B1 – she had taken a nap. Hub had called our GP, updated him on B3’s situation and procured a probable same diagnosis and a prescription for a reliever inhaler of the same ilk. By the time B3 and I got home, she was already receiving her first treatment.

There followed a long night of anxious breathing-monitoring and increasingly adept inhaler-administration and none of us got a terribly great amount of sleep, but Christmas morning dawned all the same and we awoke (B3 starfished in our bed having vocalised the Absolute Unacceptability of being Expected to Sleep in One’s Own Cot after being Rudely Awoken by the Evil Administrations of a Breathing Aid Smooshed over One’s Face) to the excited bellows of our seven-year-old telling the unconscious three-year-old that Santa Had Been. It was not, by a long stretch, the most ideal of Christmases, but it was certainly one we will all remember. The one when we all stayed home and were incredibly happy and grateful – particularly to the fabulous NHS staff of Frimley Park Paediatric A&E unit – to do so.


… a small sidebar…

……on why I haven’t blogged since September.

It’s not that I haven’t drafted any posts. I have. I think *should really blog something*, then an idea comes along and I start drafting it out. And then, usually mid-draft, I realise that it’s boring or irrelevant AF and it ends up languishing half-finished in my blog folder. A few months ago I wrote an epic four-pager about the peculiarities of trying to get a novel published via traditional literary agents/publishers. It was quite a cathartic exercise but the finished article never made it online because I suspect it would’ve been mind-thumpingly dull to anyone other than fellow aspiring authors. And it had bugger all to do with parenting.

A few weeks later another draft also wound up languishing on an open-ended sentence, but this one for reasons which ultimately completely changed my morning routine. It started off as a bit of a tirade about how I was spending most of my mornings in a beanbag on the living room floor due to B3’s clinginess. Halfway through the draft I realised the problem wasn’t him, it was me – I’d become stuck on ‘survival mode’ and was using it as an excuse to be a bit lazy and shit. Long story short, we now spend more of our mornings after the school-run either at the playground or on the hunt for Really Interesting Leaves That We Love and Must Not Ever Be Parted From or inside, doing something invariably messy. We are both happier and the clinginess tirade has become unnecessary*.

Kinetic sand: a cure for clinginess with the unexpected bonus of turning your tiled floor into a slip-n-slide for weeks afterwards!

Another reason why I haven’t blogged is because I’m trying to become a published novelist. That’s what I spend most of my child-free hours on. I’m not there yet, nor am I particularly close to being there yet, but I’ve had just enough professional encouragement to justify plugging away at it. Plus I can’t imagine ever wanting to do anything else quite so much.

*I suppose I could have turned it around into a thing about how doing more stuff with your kid is generally better than plonking them in front of Peppa Pig 24/7, but I’m pretty sure most parents know this and I’ve already had to edit the crap out of this paragraph in an attempt not to come across as a preachy try-harder. Which I am definitely not. I wouldn’t be able to recite pretty much the entirety of seasons 1 -3 if I was.


The day I tested my child for Covid-19

It was 6am and I had drunk too much wine the night before to enjoy any part of being awake this early. Unfortunately there was a sobbing child standing next to my bed with a croaky voice telling me she didn’t feel well. I stared at her for a few confused moments before her entire body shuddered with a hacking, throaty cough. My brain instantly zapped back to those panic-stricken, croupy nights of her babyhood and, just like that, all traces of wine-fug disappeared. We were five days into our family holiday in Norfolk, about to embark upon a busy weekend of carefully planned celebrations for my brother-in-law’s 30th. Britain’s South-East was buckling under a heatwave. We were five months into the Covid-19 pandemic.

I took B1’s temperature while Hub gave her water and settled her onto the sofa with her favourite teddy and a blanket. 37.5. A smidge high, but only a smidge. We gave her Calpol and cancelled our plans for the beach. A few hours later the patient was tucking into bacon and eggs happily, though the cough interrupted from time to time. She thought she might have a little nap – something for which, in her entire six years and 11 months on the planet, she has never once volunteered. She coughed a few times in her sleep and woke around 1pm, pale and with a temperature raging at 39.6.

poorly b1

Half an hour later, Calpoled up and cheerful once again, B1 sat in the back of the car, peppering me with questions as I nervously drove through unfamiliar streets to our nearest test centre on the outskirts of Norwich. Hub had made the appointment minutes after her latest temperature reading and we’d been given a slot between 2 and 2.30pm. We’d calmly tried to explain what was going to happen to B1, who, fortunately, has always been a pragmatic and sanguine sort not particularly prone to anxiety. Her only real moment of concern was when she misheard Hub explaining that she was going to have her nose swabbed and thought we were going to swap it. My phone, battling the 32C heat from its perch on the dashboard, periodically swerved between giving directions and informing me that it was too hot to function.

test centre

At the test centre, a re-purposed Park & Ride establishment, instructions were given to me via signs held by be-masked, apron-wearing individuals (who, incidentally, looked a bit like they shared my phone’s sentiment). I had to confirm my identity with my driving license and hold up a QR code for someone to scan through the window to check B1 in, then we were directed to another area. A sign was held up with a phone number for me to ring on my protesting mobile so I could speak to a person on-site, who told me what I needed to do for the test. I was then permitted to lower my window just enough to be handed a test pack before being directed to reverse park in a bay. So far, so efficient. Apart, of course, from my growing nervousness that I was to be the lucky, grossly-underqualified individual tasked with the mission of swabbing my daughter’s tonsils and nostrils for the deadly virus currently bringing the world to its knees. I was beginning to wonder at this point whether swapping them would be less trouble.

cv test

The test looked fairly straightforward. I read the instructions several times over, making sure I pretty much knew it by heart because I really didn’t want to be faced with the awkward situation of having to consult a pamphlet mid-swabbage. Besides, it was now 34C in the sun, my windows were closed and my engine (and, therefore, AC) were off. I could literally feel the sweat beading on my temples. Swab both tonsils for at least 10 seconds, make sure you don’t touch the cheeks or tongue, then insert it up the nose until it will insert no further and swirl it around there for another 10 seconds. Then what? Then put it in a little tube of red liquid and close the li… But where was my little tube of red liquid? We had no tube of red liquid. Christ, it was hot.

The CV-19 testing guidelines advise that for young children, a spare adult should come along where possible so that one of you doesn’t have to clamber into the back seat. It also advises that no unnecessary extra people/siblings travel in the car with the symptomatic individual. Figuring that the easiest solution all round was for just one of us to transport and test B1, I had at least had the foresight to remove one of the baby boosters from the back seat. Therefore, though I’d already clambered into the backseat and then back into the front to summon (via my hazard lights) a cheerful masked man for our elusive red liquid vessel before scrambling back henceforth, I was thankfully not faced with the reality of trying to wedge myself into the one-year-old’s car seat to actually administer the test.

“Try and make it a game,” advised the booklet. “Pretend you’re tickling their tonsils.”

I don’t know what kind of games the makers of these booklets like to play with their children, but needless to say we won’t be replacing Junior Monopoly anytime soon. B1 tried to keep her mouth open. She tried very hard not to gag or cry as I rubbed the cotton swab against one and then the other tonsil, telling her it would be over soon and hating the world and its virus with every word. To be honest, I don’t think we managed 10 seconds. We might have clocked six. In any case I did what I could before I judged the risk of her vomiting, clamping shut or wrenching her head away bigger than the prospect of retaining an intact sample. Next, I poked the same swab up her nose – which seemed relatively gentle in comparison, which probably means I did it wrong – and, finally, plunged the bugger into its tube of liquid. Both of us pouring with sweat, I climbed back into the front seat and switched on the hazards, the engine and the AC in one movement.

“I didn’t like that, Mummy,” remarked B1, unhappily, as we delivered the sealed sample into a bin of similar-looking specimens from the car window.

I didn’t like it either. In fact, as mum experiences go, it was right up there with jabs and holding a four-month-old B3 down whilst doctors tried to get a blood sample. But, like all of those things, it was necessary. And, all things considered, the test itself was quick and relatively painless. Then again, B1 is an easy-going, rational, neuro-typical almost-7-year-old. Heaven help us if we ever have to test our 3-year-old.

Retrospectively, the funny thing about the whole experience was that we didn’t get B1 tested for CV-19 because we seriously thought she had it. I mean, she might have, but the chances were pretty low. We tested her because she had two of the symptoms (though the cough was far less frequent and more wet and croupy than the one we’d been warned about) and we were going to be seeing loved ones, some of them fresh off the shielding list, over the next few days, as well as visiting several family-friendly attractions. We knew that a negative test result would mean a hell of a lot more than us saying, “It’s probably just a cold.” On the other hand, a positive result would have spelled disaster not only for our holiday but for that of the friends and family we had already seen at that point… We didn’t think it would be positive. But, as at least three of my past pregnancy tests will tell you, sometimes these things are, however unexpectedly. As it happened, this time we were right. B1 took it easy for a day or so and was back to her usual self within 48 hours, nary a hack in sight* and, that particular day aside, we went on to have a bloody great holiday.

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B1 a few hours post negative test result, back to normal and atop a large rock

So there it is. It’s wasn’t the great Antiguan Chicken Pox Debacle of 2018. It wasn’t even the Mercifully Short-lived Meningitis Scare of Cornwall 2019**. But I didn’t share this story for the dramz, I shared because this time next week my children will, like most of the nation’s, be going back to school/nursery. I’m sure I’m not the only one worried about the torrent of bugs which we’ve come to expect from the first few weeks of term, and what that will mean this particular September. What counts as a sniffle and what means we have to self-isolate and get tested? How much time off work will that mean? Is any cough the wrong kind of cough? Oh yeah, and what if it actually is Covid-19?! I don’t know any of this, but at least I can say what it’s like to take a child to get tested. If that helps anyone worry a little less… Well, then it’s worth sharing a relatively unexciting blog post with a relatively-unexciting-but-hopefully-clear, searchable title.

*We are, however, still dealing with the legacy of the Great Covid-19 Scare of August 2020 in the form of Torrential Snots still emanating from the nostrils of B2 and B3. Bloody wish we could swap those.

**I’m beginning to wonder if maybe we shouldn’t go on holiday anymore.


The Prattling Wibbler Returneth

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I temporarily made this blog private last year. I did this for several reasons, the main one being a Massive Attack of The Wibblies. The Wibblies, also known as Crippling Bouts of Indecision and Fear which render one Irritatingly yet Decidedly Undecided*, are a phenomenon to which I am unfortunately prone. I read a few posts and wibbled, ‘yep, that’s quite embarrassing,’ so I made it all private for a while. But then I found myself back here, a few months down the line, to look up when Baby 1 started sleeping through the night. And then again, to see when Baby 2 began solids. And, more recently, when exactly it was that Baby 1 started walking because at the ripe old age of 15 months, Baby 3 absolutely can but very much shan’t and it is a phase which feels somewhat reminiscent. And I came to figure that if any of my strange ramblings about parenting help anyone, even if it is just an older, wearier me, then I can live with the cringing likelihood that I’m coming across as a bit of a prat. So, like any responsible prat, I will own my prattling. Even the breastfeeding poetry. I am, much like the average first-time poster on the Mumsnet AIBU board, *donning my hard hat*…

…and I thought I would re-commence my prattles with a list. Because a blog post list feels safe and familiar and less likely to incur an attack of The Wibblies over the pressing of the publish button. My list is of the things that have struck me as significant in the parenting of my three small persons over the past 15.5 months. There have been highs, there have been lows, all mostly set within the indeterminate grey, dolloping minutes where things are all just OK but there are still at least five things I could list off the top of my head that I’d rather be doing

  1. Parenting a newborn is ALWAYS hard. I don’t think anyone would argue that parenting a newborn in addition to a one and five-year-old is not extremely hard, but in some ways I found Baby 3 the easiest in terms of general newborn hellishness. Probably because it hadn’t been so long since Baby 2. Probably also because I had spent the preceding nine months fretting about just how hard it was all going to be. Also, to B3’s credit, he didn’t have colic or reflux and was an excellent, proficient feeder from the get go, so that was a massive help, as was the lack of birth trauma. Still, I am not a fan of the newborn months: the worry, the pain, the brutal exhaustion… Don’t get me wrong, having a squishy little tiny one is lovely when they fit the teeny onesies and snuggle into your neck for naps and make those cute little snuffling noises… Do you know what’s also lovely? Cuddling someone else’s teeny little snuffly one and then handing it back, going home and enjoying a full night’s sleep.

    nugget

    Baby 3 at 12 hours old: fitting into my hand all teensy-like.

    Which brings me onto point number two:

  2. Sleep. No one is obsessed with sleep quite so much as the parents (more so the breastfeeding mother in our case) of an infant under the age of whenever-it-is-they-reliably-sleep-through-the-night. With all three of mine I have reached the point at some stage during the first year where I honestly did not know if they would ever sleep through (I don’t mean the baby handbook technical definition of ‘sleeping through’, though in the early weeks this is certainly not a milestone to be sniffed at, I mean the civilised, put-them-down-at-7pm-and-don’t-see-them-again-until-after-6am nirvana that seemed so unreachable for so long). However, although Baby 3 showed all the signs of reverting back to newborn feeding patterns and sticking to them determinedly through to toddlerhood when he was about 9 months old, he was sleeping through the night quite reliably by the time he was one, just like his sisters. I think there are several reasons why, but the three predominant ones that spring to mind are age, luck and sleep training. The first two are out of anyone’s control; the third is not.

    A Little Side Bar on Sleep Training
    Sleep training helped Babies 1 and 3 in particular (Baby 2 only woke up once a night from a very early age whereas B3 regressed from one wake up to several for a long time as mentioned above, so he needed the help). The best thing about sleep training your third child is that you can learn from the mistakes of the first two. Mostly B1, who had an epic sleep-association with feeding. With number three I stopped giving him his bedtime feed upstairs when he was about 9 or 10 months old. This made absolutely no difference at all to the amount of times he woke up during the night for a feed, but once we got to the point where I knew he definitely could sleep all night without milk, it helped break the association between food and sleep. He was able to fall asleep in his cot for naps and at bedtime without breastfeeding, he just needed help to work out that he could do it during the night as well. I still went in when he cried, but once he worked out that I wasn’t going to feed him in the night anymore, he slept through. Of course, it wasn’t as simple as all that and there were the odd nights when he just wouldn’t settle, so sometimes I would revert back to feeding if all else failed, but for the most part, that was the turning point.

    Sleep training is a controversial topic and there are legions of parents who don’t agree with it. Others try it and it just doesn’t work. B2 wasn’t receptive to the same pick-up-put-down method we used with B1, so with her I used a gradual-retreat method which seemed to help. Mostly, though, sleeping through the night just comes with time. Some lucky ducks get six weekers sleeping through, some poor buggers have six-year-olds who still can’t settle.

  3. Potty training B2 was a helluva lot easier than B1. I think this is partially because we didn’t push it, partially because of lockdown and also because we knew what was in store and wanted to delay the inevitable as much as possible. One day she said she needed to go and we realised she hadn’t yet gone so we sat her on the potty, where she proceeded to do her business and look at us in some bemusement as we thrust praise and chocolate buttons upon her. Once that had happened we had no choice but to proceed. The transition to using the toilet occurred swiftly after we discovered that a potty and a crawling baby in the same room together is not a fun combination for anyone. We do still have accidents, of course. And I don’t put her in the sh!t jeans, but that’s mostly because I’m not sure where they are and, in any case, B2 is a creature of dresses and skirts who simply does not do jeans.
  4. I pick my battles. In a lot of ways I’m not as lenient as I was when there was only one opinionated small person in my life. I certainly wouldn’t drive anywhere with B2 clutching any sort of rideable vehicle across her chest. On the other hand, I have been known to utter the phrase, ‘Do what you like for Chrissake just stop bugging me!’ but usually only if I’ve been woken up unreasonably early and haven’t had any coffee yet. If they want to watch Masha and the Bear whilst eating their breakfast nicely in the living room without impaling one another with their spoons, that’s fine by me. If B2 just wants to wear dresses and skirts and is able to remember that she needs to hold them up whilst using the toilet, that’s fine too. If the girls are playing games on their tablets whilst the baby sleeps and I go for a run or attempt to get a little writing done, well at least they’re using their brains. Just as long as they’re not watching YouTube. Learned that one the hard way.

    kids playing

    Rare harmony. I take a picture because it really does last longer. And by ‘it’ I mean the second it takes to take the picture.

  5. Lockdown. I thought it would be everything I’d ever dreaded – the pressure of home-schooling, no routine, no baby/toddler classes, no playground, no distractions from the snack cupboard, no socialising… Actually, it was fine. Actually, it was almost kind of good… Home school was probably the biggest challenge. Some days were better than others. We read our prescribed e-books, we struggled through the maths worksheets. Occasionally we went a little extra and did science experiments,  collages, gardening… And then there were the days when she just was not in the mood and neither was I, and everything felt like a battle. But we got through it and both of us seem to have retained the ability to read, write, remember most of the blasted number bonds to 20 and function fairly normally. And, actually, I totally underestimated how bloody nice it would be not to have the pressure of getting three children and myself up, changed, fed, dressed correctly, teeth-brushed, hair done, out of the door and all the way to school without injury before 8.50am every morning. I don’t even get dressed before 8.50am these days. It’s almost like when I only had one baby.

    I suspect September is going to come as something of a terrible shock to the system.

Lara and Ben school

In the throes of home-schooling

And here I’m going to wrap things up, not because I’ve done much more than skim the bare bones of the past 15 months, but because B3 is trying to shove half-chewed celery in my mouth. There are many more things to say. I haven’t even begun to cover the miasma that is the first year of parenting a boy baby as opposed to a girl (spoiler: the difference is genitals) and I’ve barely touched upon the impact of the big C-word, not to mention all the new parenting stumbling blocks that have occurred this year… Wobbly teeth. Latest attempts to claw back a bit of pre-baby fitness. The time we called 999 completely unnecessarily. The continued laments of B1 now aged six and three quarters (spoiler: Mummy told her to stop playing Minecraft and go have a bath). I may still be a bit wibbly at times, but I’m not done yet… or, at least, I don’t think I am…

 

*As a lifelong sufferer of The Wibblies, I am laying claim to the phrase and its description. Mostly because I love a good oxymoron.


The Story of a Third Pregnancy (aka Throwback to the days of Gravity and Professional Hairdressing)

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Me, hovering around the 9th month of my first pregnancy. When things still pointed up (mostly) and my bed may have been cheap and untidy, but I was, at least, very unlikely to find Shopkins and singing Moana dolls in it.

It’s not just about that soft gleam of naivety in my eyes. Or the fact that I’ve clearly visited a professional hairdresser sometime in the last few weeks rather than squinted over a sink with a comb and a pair of rusty bathroom scissors, feverishly swearing whilst trying to remember that teenager’s YouTube tutorial. It’s not even the sad reality that gravity has yet to slump my pregnant belly into this strange, over-hanging pouch of a baby-hammock I’m currently sporting… It’s all of it. The fact I have no fucking clue what’s about to hit me. The destruction that tiny little foetus daughter of mine is about to wreak on my body as she makes her slow way out of it. The annihilation of grown-up evenings, solid blocks of sleep, freedom… I knew it would be hard. I didn’t know about the life sentence of worry, obsession, googling every little quirk and symptom, their tiny fingerprints on the corners of my heart even when I’m miles away and they are safe in their beds…

preg no 3 b

And today. Same top… could have worn the same jeans, but that would require fitting into them.

But I didn’t come here to get all deep. I came because I’m on the brink of a full-term third pregnancy and I thought I would re-visit a couple of moments from my first and second pregnancies and think about what’s changed. Not just gravity. Though, gravity. Yeah. That’s a thing. Also age. I’m not exactly ancient now, but I don’t half feel old when I look at these photos. My life isn’t even as stressful, in some ways, as it was then. I don’t have to get up at 6am to commute 60 miles to work, I don’t have press days or exhibitions to attend. The dreaded vox-pop is a distant memory. I’m a SAHM attempting to get a novel published. My life at the moment is pretty good. And I can say that without feeling too hateful because I know in a few weeks it’s all going to be turned to shit upside down once again.

B 1

August 2013. My first (and only) baby shower, featuring innocence, gravity and Ewan the Dream Sheep, a popular sleep aid for babies.

Maybe that’s the thing about third pregnancies… There’s no innocence anymore. When I had my second daughter it had been almost four years since my first, which makes a huge difference. I had, for the most part, forgotten the tearing agony of full-on labour. I’d forgotten the darkness of the early nights when the baby is feeding for the millionth hour and has just pooed AGAIN which means in a moment you will have to haul your broken, torn-up body out of bed and change her, waking her up in the process and ensuring at least another half an hour of feeding to re-settle her back to sleep for a paltry 45 minutes before the next cycle begins. When you look at the small mountain of used nappies stacked beside the lovely, grown-up designer handbag you won’t be using again for at least a year and wonder why the hell you have done this to yourself again…

B2

March 2019. I’m not angry, Ewan. I’m just disappointed.

And it’s not just the third-time-round parent-to-be who has well and truly lost that sparkling gleam of new-baby excitement. First time around we were surrounded by such intensely excited relatives that I was a little scared one of them might make off with the newborn from the post-natal ward. Nowadays I’ve come to quite enjoy the look of abject surprise when I answer the door/ remove my coat/ walk into a room. Even my own mum has told me, more than once, “Ooh, I just looked at you and thought you’d gotten really fat for a moment then!”

C 1

A lazy, idyllic Sunday with bun number 2 in the oven…

 

C 2

…and now. Personal space ain’t what it used to be…

But the biggest difference of all has to be the fact that I know this is probably the last time I will do this. So I am trying to make the most of it… Such as I can. Yes, the novelty of feeling the baby kicking has pretty much worn off at this point. Or at least been counter-balanced by the shitty indigestion, shooting round ligament pains, fanny daggers, occasional incontinence and all the other delightful symptoms one can expect to experience at least once or, in my case, repeatedly over the nine long months. Yes, as I heave my swollen, unrecognisable body out of bed to go and pee for the eighth time that hour, I do look forward to not being pregnant anymore. But I haven’t forgotten the darkness up ahead. I haven’t forgotten that life is about to get really hard for a while. That labour is really fucking painful. That newborns are bloody hard work. That around caring for one I’ve also still got to be up and ready in the mornings to pack a lunchbox, dress the toddler, take all of us to school/activities on time… as well as think about starting potty training one day soonish, losing the masses of winter/fuck-it-all-this-is-the-last-one baby weight I’ve piled on and temporarily pause all plans and processes for novel publication for at least the next six months.

D 1

Back when the baby thing was still a novelty and I had yet to perfect the ‘touch my bump and die’ glare…

So I will go to the toilet again. I will cuddle my daughters around my enormous, protruding belly for as long as I can. I will shift into a comfier position on the sofa in the evenings and enjoy not having to negotiate a cluster-feeding infant whilst also obsessing over the opportune moment to go to bed in order to wrack up the biggest possible number of sleeping minutes… I will smile beatifically at the eleventh person to ask me how I am feeling today, and agree that haven’t I gotten big, and yes, I’m sure I certainly will have my hands full with three of them… But perhaps the strangest thing of all is that despite all the cynicism and impending doom, I am still excited. Definitely not the same way I was five-and-a-half years ago. Or even 20 months ago. But I am still looking ahead, past the labouring and the nights-of-nappies-darkness and the early weeks of trying to adapt to a probably quite horrible ‘new normal’… I’m looking forward to the other bits. The tiny, greyish-purple, brand new body passing into my hands. The relief that I never have to endure another second of childbirth. Sleepy, snuffly snuggles into my neck. Sisters becoming sisters again. And him; our boy. And all the complete wonderfulness he will bring us.

 

 

 


Stranded in paradise

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Day 23 on the island

The burned skin has long peeled off and the once bulbous and red-raw wound of Husband’s spider bite has faded into barely a freckle. “We’re going to a new holiday home today!” I say, trying to energise the words as I did so effortlessly three weeks ago. Child 1 just looks at me wearily. So does her baby sister. “Another one? But mummy, I want to go to SCHOOL!”

I’m not complaining. Or at least I’m trying really hard to see the bright side which is an extended holiday with my lovely family, mostly free of charge (once the travel insurance claim goes through) in the Caribbean. It’s pretty darn bright when you look at it that way. But there’s the other side to the coin where we are confined to a small apartment with Husband attempting to work remotely on a five hour time difference while I come up with increasingly screen-reliant ways to entertain two small children. At mealtimes – banished from mixing with others at the restaurant – we come up with what we can with sparse ingredients foraged from the tiny (but devastatingly expensive on the scale of £7 for a bottle of milk) onsite shop. At night the baby wakes repeatedly.

There is no end in sight.

And we’re almost out of beer.

Ok, maybe I am complaining a bit.

Day 1
We think it’s just a heat rash. Child 1 seems absolutely fine, chatting away and extremely excited to be on the first abroad holiday she can remember. Surely if it were chicken pox she would be poorly?

Day 2
It is most definitely not a heat rash. Blistering spots have erupted all over my porcelain daughter’s skin. “She’s got it bad,” we laugh, safe in the comfort that her temp is normal and her spirits are high. We will later come to realise that she did not, in fact, have it remotely bad.

Day 3 – 5
The spots peak and scab over and we are able to venture out to the beach, keeping a safe distance from others. Child 1 looks a little less leper-like and has fun splashing about in the sea. Her temperature remains normal and the only time she seems bothered by her affliction is when she wakes hot and itchy in the middle of the night.

Day 6 – 12
“I don’t expect Baby 2 will get it,” my mum (a retired nurse) tells me. “After all, she’s still breastfed. Surely your immunity will pass on?”

“I don’t know,” I reply, “that’s not what I’ve read online…” But secretly I’m hopeful. The holiday rolls into its second week and we all sleep soundly through the night. A small crop of red spots on Baby 2’s arm fail to materialise into anything sinister. Sisters fly in and sisters fly out. We drink the rum punch. We laugh a lot. We relax.

Day 14
With that impending sense of quite-ready-to-go-home-now-thank-you well-being we move from our villa to an apartment. Our original holiday was to be 16 days long on the virgin islands (visiting the place where my parents first met in recognition of the 10th anniversary of my dad’s death) but due to the continued damage caused by last year’s hurricane, this fell through and resulted in us having to book an apartment for the last two nights of our holiday. That was the plan, anyway.

Baby 2 is fractious and sleeps badly the first night in our new place. The original red spots have faded but she has begun itching her head, messing her hands along her hair line with an urgently perplexed look on her face.

Day 15
We are due to fly home tomorrow. There are a few unidentifiable red splotches on Baby 2’s head but as the day wears on she becomes more cranky, stops eating with her usual gusto and by the evening the unmistakable blisters have rashed their way over my baby’s soft skin. Her neck is particularly bad, and there are the beginnings of spots on her arms and face as well.

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Day 16
Baby 2 is covered in spots. Covered. She looks like a poster child for chicken pox. They are in her ears, on the palms of her hands, the soles of her feet. Barely a square inch remains unblemished.

We phone our travel insurance who tells us we will need confirmation from a doctor to be sure it is the pox. We arrange for a brusque doctor to visit the apartment which she does so and, in the space of 3 minutes confirms it is chicken pox and that we can’t fly for at least a week and that we now owe her $200 USD. We then make another expensive call to the travel insurance while establishing that we are able to stay in the apartment for another week. Husband contacts work to see if he can work from here. I email Child 1’s nursery. We cancel classes and ask the neighbour to carry on feeding the cats. Mum goes home without us.

Day 17 – 21

We settle into a new routine of sorts. Husband works as best he can, being five hours behind the UK. I take Child 1 to the pool while Baby 2 naps. We have a few horrendous nights – the most memorable of which finds us up at 4am, trying to forcefeed calpol into an incandescently rageful Baby 2 whose temperature has rocketed to 39. She screams as I try to dab calamine onto her spots. She screams when I try sudocrem. She won’t feed. Even a bath (the failsafe B2-calming-method) produces bewildered, mournful sobs. In the end she tires enough to accept the boob once again and falls into a fitful sleep as I Google all the chicken pox remedies I have no hope of laying hands on…

Day 22

The doctor arrives and we wait with bated breath, secretly convinced she will take one look at Baby 2’s much improved skin and issue the all-important ‘fit to fly’ note. We should know by now, really, not to get our hopes up.

“No,” she barks. “The scabs are not dry enough.”

“Aren’t they? They look pretty dry to me and it’s been a week now… We were really hoping to fly tomorrow…”

“No, how about Monday? I’ll do it for Monday.”

Bugger.

Day 23

More emails are sent to husband’s work, Child 1’s school and all the other commitments we have over the next working week that it never occurred to us we might miss. Our travel insurers confirm what we have suspected, that without the doctor’s note they cannot book any flights for us. Moreover, they tell us that some airlines require medical clearance which can take a further 48 hours to come through.

Meanwhile our accommodation agent finds us a new holiday home to move to and we make another trip for provisions, not knowing whether they will be for two days or 10.

Day 24

The new holiday home is lovely. It has  stunning sea views, it’s light and breezy, large enough for all of us and has a pool. But it’s not home. And, for the first time ever, I think, it occurs to me that you can be in the most beautiful, luxurious setting in the world but if you want to be home that is the only thing you will see, no matter how far you look.

Still, we make the most of it and have fun in the pool. To celebrate our last night of being unfit to fly we go to the restaurant for dinner. The children behave beautifully and Husband and I enjoy a much-anticipated pina colada.

Day 25 (Monday)

We wait with bated breath for the doctor to email. Our travel insurers, five hours ahead, remind us to send them the note as soon as we get it. And we wait some more. At 10am we phone her and she says she will get to it as soon as she can. After another chase she finally sends it at 4pm and we forward it on to the travel insurers, knowing full well that at 9pm they will have long gone home for the day.

Day 26

The travel insurers say they are looking into flight options. Child 1 decides to make cards for all her teachers and friends back home. She hasn’t been to nursery for over a month now and this week we are missing important meetings and introductions for next year when she will start reception. Husband tries to work. Baby 2 – looking laughably healthy now – reveals a new tooth. She will turn one year old in four days and has now spent a twelfth of her life in Antigua.

And here we remain in limbo. The drinking water has run out and so we are drinking tea and milk. We’re trying to save the blisteringly hot hike to the shop until we know when we need to book our airport taxi. We are saving the last two beers for the receipt of plane tickets.

I know there are many people who would say that they’d take an extra holiday any day over the mundanity of normal life. A month ago I probably would have been one of them. But there’s extra holiday and then there’s being ready to go home and not being able to… A repetitive mantra which pounds into your head at 3am when your baby has reverted to sleeping and feeding patterns you thought were long behind you: Iwanttogohomeiwanttogohomeiwanttogohome. Knowing that saying it does nothing but make the feeling worse and yet you want it so badly you can’t not say it. Like being in the throes of labour but trying not to think about the pain.

Home. It’s such a simple thing responsible for so much mental wellbeing. Because no matter where you are there’s really, after all, no place like it. Not even paradise.

 

 

 


The journey to innocence

Babies are fascinating. They’re such creatures of pure, unfiltered instinct. There is nothing remotely deceptive about them. They aren’t even particularly innocent, not in the same sense that an older child is. My four-year-old believes in fairies and unicorns and magic. My four-month-old will give the same baleful stare to the garden centre Santa as she gives to most objects, furry creatures and toys crossing her line of vision, no matter how eagerly they are shoved into her face proffered. The four-year-old will give us increasingly rambling, far-fetched explanations as to why she needs two puddings despite not having finished her main dinner. The four-month-old will desperately mouth anything that comes into contact with her face. It’s a crude analogy and I apologise for it, but sometimes she really does remind me of the walkers from The Walking Dead. She responds to the purest, basest instinct to feed. We even call babies’ mealtimes “giving them a feed,” like we’re dehumanising what they’re doing because it’s so unlike what it becomes – three solid meals defined by the time of day. Babies don’t eat when they’re not hungry. They don’t graze or snack. They take in exactly what their body needs when they need it. They feed. Like animals. Like zombies.

When my eldest was a baby I remember being puzzled by this sense that she didn’t seem to have this innate innocence that little children are supposed to have. I now realise that it’s because this comes later, with the rudimentary understanding of the world that toddlers develop. Babies are only innocent in the very simplest sense of the word. Nothing much has happened to them yet. They don’t know how to be naughty or manipulative or deceitful. They also don’t know how to take you at your word when you tell them that magic is real. You look at their eyes and you find yourself wondering: what do you really know? What will you lose, as you grow? When will she realise that my bare arm isn’t food, though it’s warm and made of flesh? When will she realise that people still exist even though she can’t see them? When will she bring a toy to her mouth and not suckle?

You forget how fast they grow. The four-year-old comes out with new phrases perhaps once or twice a week and you think, “Wow, where did that level of comprehension come from? How did you piece together that logic without anyone showing you the map?” But the four-month-old changes almost daily. She studies your face and waits for you to smile before she does. Everything is a new challenge to study, from a fallen leaf to the route out of the dreaded car seat, not to mention those puzzling-but-awfully-tasty starfish things at the ends of her arms. She arches and levers her body until it moves, rolling the world into something new all over again. She hears your praise and files it away. This is a good thing. I will do this again. You put her into her cot and make it dark and she remembers that this means sleep. She wakes up alone and cries. You appear and she grins because it’s you, and you exist.

The love is the purest it will ever be. She loves absolutely and unconditionally because you keep her alive; but she also needs you absolutely and unconditionally to keep her alive. When your body is broken and your head is pounding she needs you. When you haven’t slept and your brain feels like something has crawled into your ear, curled up somewhere around your thinking parts and died, she needs you. She doesn’t care about the funny or the clever things you say. She doesn’t think you’re pretty. She doesn’t think you need a break. She doesn’t care about your great personality or that you lost 2lbs this week. She just needs you.

No one will ever need you so much as your babies. No one will ever love you quite the same way. And no one will ever be quite so fascinating.


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