Category Archives: family

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.

back to normal

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 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!”

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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.

 

 

 


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.


Mum of MUCUS (with the mildly helpful gadgets)

Life as a parent is all about tackling novel challenges, and last week I got to experience being a mum of Multiple Unhappy Children Unleashing Snot (or MUCUS, if you will) for the very first time. It all began when summer finally ended (yes!), Lara went back to pre-school (YES!) and promptly came home with the start-of-term lurgy (NOOOOO!) All I can say is that at least this illness didn’t involve the gastrointestinal bodily fluids of last term’s ailment. No, as colds go this one was mild, her temperature never got past the warmer side of 37.5 and, aside from an irritatingly persistent mental block against the act of blowing one’s nose, our pre-schooler emerged unscathed a few days later.

Husband didn’t catch it. I didn’t catch it. I thought, with the naïvety of only ever having cared for one small person at a time, that my super-fat breastmilk (not to toot my own horn but the child could smuggle walnuts in those cheeks of hers) would protect Baby 2 from catching it. Turns out, that theory only really pans out if the feeder has the cold and the ensuing antibodies, which of course I did not. And, being a mum of the Insta-Facebook-boast generation, I’ve never discouraged those cutesy photo op moments when their heads are smooshed close together and neither one is grimacing. Of course she caught the cold.

I knew it was all too good to last. The two hour naps. The newfound ability to sleep for six or even seven hours at a time (not every night, I hasten to add). At first I thought it was a(nother) growth spurt… Then the snot began to flow in entirely disproportionate ratio to the size of the nose producing it. I had forgotten just how pitiful the mewling of a mucus-filled infant lacking the ability to breathe properly could sound. I hate it when I can’t sleep properly because my nose is stuffed up. For a baby who doesn’t yet realise she can actually breathe through her mouth as well the experience must be all kinds of scary new torture. No wonder the poor little scrap woke every hour or so in a panic. And yes, there are the mildly helpful gadgets to offer some relief – the saline drops, the humidifiers, the chest rub, the nose-sucker-outerers*. I say mildly helpful because any small comfort is almost instantly evaporated when your child breathes in, smiles for exactly one second and then sneezes, unleashing a whole new nose-full of misery. Ultimately, as with almost every hurdle one faces with small babies, the only real fix-it is time and patience.

cold stuff.jpg

Yep, the red bit goes in your mouth…

The websites say it can last a week or more. Luckily we only had a handful of bad nights and, though the snot is still far more of a present feature than one would like it to be in one’s household, normal service has resumed and both children seem to be well on their way to recovery now.

That just better not be a tickle I can feel in my throat.

 

 

*What you see here is the NoseFrida, which is not, in fact, a stern respiratory nurse of vague Eastern European descent beaten down by the damn patriarchy but still ruthlessly passionate about extracting mucus from small babies, but a device for clearing tiny nostrils using an entirely disgusting-sounding-but-surprisingly-effectual-and-hygienic method. Google it. If you dare.


The night is dark and full of nappies…

Seven weeks on, and there are so many things I could say about having a second child. I’ve drafted and re-drafted this blog post over the last few weeks and every time it’s run three or four pages long… What is the most important thing to talk about? The difficulties? The exhaustion? The new struggle of getting two little ones out of the door on time in the mornings? The unprecedented joys and crushing lows? It’s all there. It’s all relevant. But, for me, I guess the most significant revelation since the big arrival of number two is how much of the following I didn’t know, realise or had simply just forgotten…

  • Labour fucking hurts. I knew this the first time around. Then when Baby 1 got to about 18 months old those sneaky, broody hormones snuck in and slowly wiped out the memories of the screaming-bad contractions, the long hours of pain so extreme I could not bear to stay still. It wasn’t that bad, I thought, It can’t have been that bad if I’m willing to do it again… Seven and a half weeks ago it occurred to me – with crashing immediacy – just how very much I had forgotten how very bad it had been. And although my labour this time around was a lot less traumatic because it wasn’t so long and there weren’t the complications or interventions of the first time around, it still really fucking hurt.
  • On TV a woman will give birth (after about 13 seconds of pushing and not nearly enough mooing) and out pops a squeaky clean, wide-eyed, cooing six-week-old giant. Real newborns do not look like this. My firstborn looked like a small, red, angry little frog when she was born. My second-born resembled a puce, incandescently furious old man complete with nose furrow and milk spots. I say this with all the love in the world – beauty comes later. Eyelashes form, the eyes open properly and then they start to fill out in all their cute, squishy glory. It’s all a work in progress…
  • Sleep deprivation is a form of torture. With baby one we settled into a fairly consistent routine of three hourly wakings and feedings from day one. Baby two had her days and nights the wrong way round for at least the first week, meaning she was up sometimes every 40 minutes at night. Some people can function well with as little as three or four hours of fractured sleep at night. I am not one of those people. In my working days I’d be sluggish if I got less than seven. It’s not just a case of being tired; it’s feeling that soul-sapping exhaustion that sinks through your limbs and into your core, making everything so heavy, so dull and sad that you struggle to see the good bits of the day. Fortunately, with number two I knew – know – it won’t last for long in the grand scheme of things. Just knowing that makes all the difference.
  • Having 13 months of breastfeeding experience does not a breeze feeding number two make. Sure, she got the hang of it faster than Baby 1 did – 10 minutes after birth as opposed to two days – but the exhaustion of trying to feed any which way I could in the first few nights lead to a poor latch, which resulted in a cracked nipple. A graze on one of the body’s most sensitive parts which was then relentlessly agitated by a baby’s mouth every hour or so did not make for a quick, easy healing process. But, barring that little complication, breastfeeding has been easier, on the whole, this time around. There haven’t been any bruises or stretch-marks. Expressing is easier. Supply is better. The process is altogether much quicker far earlier on. It’s like my boobs have settled, with not so much joy as resignation, back into their former roles.

    bfeeding

    No one will ever stare at your boobs with the same intense adoration as a breastfeeding infant. The feeling will not be reciprocated.

  • Small babies are not always consistent. Some nights she will sleep up to 6 hours in one go and not need a nappy change at all. Other nights we’re up every 2-3, nappy bulging, smells emanating. It’s a nocturnal, foul-smelling, eye-rubbing adventure.
  • The jiggly-shuffle. It still works on the evening grumps, although now it hurts my back. This baby is slightly larger than my last one, I’m *sure* that’s all it is.
  • Times can be dark. There are some days – especially in the first week – when people say “congratulations” and a part of you thinks “why?” On the flip-side, there are other days when you want to stop life just as it is because you can’t imagine it getting any better. The lows may be unprecedented, but so are the joys. Watching my firstborn flourish into her new role as big sister. Receiving those first gummy smiles. Having my nappy changing technique described as “like those pitstop trucks in Cars.
    It’s hard. It’s exhausting. It’s flabby. It’s new. It’s unprecedented, in wonderful ways. It’s Baby 2. She’s here.

The sh!t jeans

These days, accidents are a fairly rare occurrence. And, when they aren’t, most of the time it’s a simple case of a little bit of wee on the carpet we’re planning to get rid of eventually, or a pair of pjs shoved in the washing machine a few days earlier than they would have been… Compared to this time last year, we’re out of the woods and frolicking in our dry, big girl knickers. However, sometimes there will come a day with an Accident. Think the park on a semi-busy weekday, toddler weeping in shame, your face radiating the heat of a thousand suns as you desperately try to mop the large puddle off the slide with three wet wipes, your own sleeve and the hopes and dreams of the several small children forming a queue. Frustrating but manageable. Brushed off with a rant. Forgiven with a strong gin. Laughable in approximately two to three days.

And then there are ACCIDENTS.

And that means several things. Firstly, the setting will be as public as public can be. Think supermarket at rush hour, the park on a warm weekend, the preschool playground at drop off time, a coffee shop chain at 10 past 1… Secondly, it will probably involve poo. Or vomit. Possibly a really huge, stinky-like-they’ve-eaten-nothing-but-asparagus-then-fermented-it-for-a-week wee. But most likely poo. And not the solid, manageable kind (if such a thing exists once nappies are a thing of the past). Thirdly, your child will be wearing a particularly nice and complicated-to-wash outfit, like a lacy dress or a suit or, in one memorable case, ballet tutu complete with extortionate ballet tights and even-more-extortionate, properly-fitted ballet shoes.

Turns out, you’re not supposed to put ballet shoes in the washing machine.

ballet shoes.jpg

Nope, you’re really, really not…

“How do you wash them, then?” I politely enquired of the Dance Ma’am upon buying the inevitable replacement pair.

“Wet wipes,” she replied.

Right. So the next time a ballet ACCIDENT occurs, I am expected to take the not-supposed-to-get-wet items, use an already-wet receptacle to mop up [smear around] the excess fluids, then air them out as best I can while hoping that, for the remainder of the time it takes for my child’s feet to grow another size, none of her tutu-clad chums notice the squelchy noise and the slightly pissy aroma emanating from her twinkling toes? Right.

Then there are the sh!t jeans – a strange, pungent phenomenon that I hope is not exclusive to my own household. Lara owns a pair of jeggings – fairly innocuous-looking, suitable for both park and pre-school, hard-wearing and of a denim shade that, wonderfully, goes with pretty much every top she owns.

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To top off their sheer excellence, they’re blimmin’ designer and I did not even have to pay for them as they were inherited from her older cousin. A truly winning item of sartorial achievement, no? No. For some unknown reason, nine times out of ten, when an accident, Accident or, indeed, even ACCIDENT occurs, she will be wearing these jeans. They get more rounds in the washing machine than any other item of clothing any of us owns, or have ever owned.

Why do I continue to dress her in them? Well, partly because they’re so damn convenient (and before you judge me, you try pairing a fluorescent, multi-coloured, polka-bespotted cardy with a suitable item of leg-wear). But also because they are the only item of Ted Baker apparel in the entire household and therefore must be worn in an irrational, get-your-money’s-worth vein of logic (made all the more irrational, of course, by the fact that I did not even buy them). Every time I dress her in them, I think: “Surely not. She’s just been to the toilet. This time, we’ll be fine.”

Then, invariably, we find ourselves on the park swing, urine dripping, no spare pants to be had, not a shred of a wet wipe to our names.

Some tricks I’ve learned along the way:

  1. Always pack spare pants. Even if your child has literally just done a poo bigger than his head and peed for Britain before leaving the house, bring spare pants.
  2. Pack spare spare pants. And spare everything else. Even socks. Especially socks. Otherwise you will end up having to either give up your own socks or try and make a temporary pair out of toilet roll and napkins because even if it’s July and she’ll become allergic to them as soon as she steps through the front door, your toddler definitely, definitely needs sockies now, Mummy.
  3. Wet wipes leak. I don’t know how, I don’t know why, but that is the only explanation I can give to my entire spare cache of clothes ending up wadded up into a sad, cursed little ball of saturated hopes and dreams in the bottom of my mummy bag. Best thing to do is wrap the spare clothes in a plastic bag. An extra plastic bag is NEVER A BAD THING to have. Or don’t pack wet wipes. You know, if you’re that sort of dance-with-the-devil, pee-into-the-wind type of serial lunatic.
  4. Always pack wet wipes. Because who, seriously, chooses to pee into the wind?
  5. Even if your child has been toilet trained for three years, widdles on demand to the theme-tune of Peppa Pig and has been wiping her own arse since birth – never forget ANY of the above. Ever. Only at the stage where your mummy bag has long been relegated to the back of the cupboard and the word ‘accident’ is more likely to invoke images of broken condoms and impending grandparent-hood than pungent puddles can you probably rest assured that they are at least responsible for their own spare drawers. Until then, the day you take your child’s continence for granted is the day you end up in a Sainsbury’s toilet with despair in your heart and a plastic bag wrapped around your child’s bottom.

Take it from me. Or, better yet, take it from the sh!t jeans.

beach-with-jakey

Little did they suspect the giant, rogue wave about to make a crashing appearance…


Shout out to my eggs…

Autumn 2016

The bigger house has been bought. The wedding has happened. The DVLA has been updated. We’ve been ready for, well, years. Let’s get on with it…

A few weeks later the boobs feel a bit off, the gin tastes a bit wrong, and sure enough, the second line on the fragrant stick makes a faint but unmistakable appearance. The Ragu is pregnant. The womble occupied. A bump is once more hitting the road of our lives – and my midriff – and it is time, sadly, to put. the. wine. down.

We were extremely lucky. But there’s always more to the story, and for us, this one began long before the day a week before the wedding when I put my half-finished packet of pills away for good.

Spring 2015

Baby 1 is all cute squishy cuddles* between 12 and 18 months, tottering around but still light enough to pick up without needing to conjure memories of PE teacher instruction first (“lift with your legs, not your back, Sarah**!”), sleeping through the night, no longer breastfeeding, still napping for a good two to three hours during the day. I was writing novels, blogging semi-regularly like a boss, watching daytime TV, taking the delightful offspring for buggy walks in the woods, having play dates… Life was great. Why wouldn’t we want more of it?

Then my partner proposed. We spent the next 24 hours discussing wedding plans, honeymoon destinations, plotting really-funny-actually-and-not-at-all-geeky-and-lame ways to tell our friends and family, and somewhere between the first and second bottles of prosecco, we realised that none of these plans fitted the next couple of years with a new baby. I didn’t want to be a pregnant bride. I wanted to get drunk, dammit, and I wanted to go on a honeymoon that wasn’t governed by leaking boobs, strict bedtimes, wailing infants and toddler-approved activities. I remembered what it was like when Baby 1 was first born. I didn’t want to have to juggle caring for a newborn and a toddler with, well, anything, let alone planning a wedding. So we decided to wait. It was a sensible decision and, this side of what turned out not only to be a summer of wedding planning but also house moving, I can safely say it was 100% the right one. But I can’t say it didn’t sting, just a little bit. I still had this wanting feeling. It didn’t just go away because I told it no. People around me got pregnant and I swallowed the jealousy. The months began to pass. The babies came and grew. The wedding was finally booked for the following year. Life continued to tick on by. The wanting yawned and poked. I ignored it.

Winter 2016/17

So you see, it wasn’t really as simple as it first sounds. This child might not have been tried for for very long, but it’s been dreamed about for years. And it’s never as simple as wanting to have a baby = positive test = all good, lovely and fine for the next nine months. Pregnancy is bloody terrifying. There are so, so many things that can go wrong. The first 12 weeks are mostly spent terrified of spotting blood everytime*** you go to the toilet, analysing every twitch and twinge south of the equator, not to mention battling sporadic moments of nausea and dry heaving your way around the single, plain cracker that you know to be your salvation (even if your stomach does not). On top of all that, your list of people to complain to is annoyingly short because of the high risks, which brings us round full circle to the ever-present anxiety and knicker-checking. Every day is a hard-won battle. But every day also brings a little more light as you inch ever closer to the time when the risks drop and the nausea goes and it is suddenly, miraculously, OK to feel excited because suddenly everything is actually all a little bit more lovely. You know you will probably get there. You know that everything will probably be fine. But you also know that sometimes, it is not.

We were lucky. We made it out of the first trimester, saw our awkwardly-positioned infant cavorting on the ultrasound screen and smiled through the pain of a full bladder and the really-quite-hard pressure placed upon it by the sonographer’s wand thingy as Bubby Number Two refused to reveal its neck measurements… And now, here we are. The grandparents have been informed. My sister has started knitting. The bump is firmly lodged in my midriff. The anxiety is… well, it’s under control. And, yes, things are looking admittedly lovely.

I just wish I hadn’t lost those bloody scan photos.

*spot the rose-tinted mother-to-be conveniently forgetting all the tantrums and poo explosions.

**naturally my crapness at PE lost me the right to be called by my given name for the five years I took the subject

***and, when pregnant, everytime becomes a hell of a lot of times. Something I had forgotten in the interval of four years.


Why is my bathroom so filthy?

So the blog posts have fallen by the wayside of late, and it’s definitely not because I’ve been cleaning my bathroom. Here is what has been keeping me away from WordPress and the Cif…

  1. The Wedding is officially Less Than A Month away. Somehow we’ve gone from the comfortable safety cushion of  Plenty Of Time to the final countdown, complete with increasingly wild-eyed and short-tempered replies to the simplest of questions (“How’s the wedding planning going?” “Are you all organised?” and “What do you want for lunch?”). Every day has begun to herald new and surprising bills and every intake of breath has a tremulous quiver of panic at the bottom of it. There is just so much to remember, so many lists which have gone missing, so many details that rely on my ability to remember them…I even fell a tiny bit out of love with my beloved the other week. No, I’m not talking about Gary. Turns out a lovely, multiple-layer wedding dress, 30C heat and my thighs unfairly resorting to two large legs of ham that’ve been left out in the sun until they take on an unhealthy, perspiring stickiness do not mix well. Let’s just say the dress and I parted ways with a distinct air of resentment between us – I weak-kneed with dehydration, she needing to be “aired out” as the seamstress solicitously put it. But it’s not all been a mad stress; I get to strap on my crafty pants and inflict the (poor) fruits of my AS-Level B-grade art skills on my wedding stationery, and I went on the hen do of my dreams last weekend, complete with laser tag, an Ice Bar, penis straws, games and a LOT of mummy dancing…

    10 points for spotting the penis straw

    10 points for spotting the penis straw

  1. The Move. Let’s move next year, we said. We need more space, we said. But don’t worry, we said, we’ll time it really well so it’s after the wedding. Whatever we do and wherever we go, it MOST CERTAINLY WILL BE AFTER THE WEDDING. So, naturally, our completion date is a slim three weeks before. But, you know, last time we did a House Move it was in the weeks before, during and after the birth of our first child so really if it didn’t happen at a time fraught with ground-breaking life-changes, we probably wouldn’t know how to do it. That’s what I tell people, anyway, when they ask me if we really understand the mountain of stress we’ve put upon ourselves. There’s nothing like a bit of humour to cover up the rising impulse to punch a person in the throat.

    It's happening...

    It’s happening…

  1. I’m officially a full-time WAHM (work at home mum). That’s right, I’m working the most I have done since the days of my waddling commutes back in 2013, and I’ve managed to somehow get an editor’s role behind my name. True, it’s by default due to a close colleague’s illness and I’m not making a big deal of it or presuming for one moment that the position will continue once my contract runs out, but ironically enough my career has never flown higher. And, one of the best things about it is that I get to work from home. I knew writing those novels over my maternity leave would be useful for something – it might not have landed the publishing contract I was looking for, but it’s certainly given me a hard dose of the discipline I need to knuckle down and churn out trade news, features and interviews while everyone else frolics in their paddling pools. And sometimes, on a quiet day, I can take a little break and frolic too. Because perks.

    Perks :)

    Perks 🙂

  1. I’m still a mummy first and foremost. Yes, I’ve had to rely on help with childcare a lot more recently, but that’s ok. Maybe it’s even a good thing. Baby 1 loves spending time with her grandparents, great-grandparents, cousins, aunts, uncles, etc. She loves going to pre-school two mornings a week during term-time. The days when we can go for a walk and feed the ducks or head to the park are all the more precious. But, schmaltz aside, I do feel guilty for not having her as my sole focus anymore. And I do miss those carefree days when my only responsibility was entertaining my little girl. I know one thing for sure – if and when I have another one I certainly won’t take one moment of my maternity leave for granted.

So there you go – we’re currently living in that limbo between exchange and completion on a house move; those uncomfortable few days where the bathroom is steadily becoming more and more filthy but there’s no point cleaning it until the Big Clean of next week. Wedding prep happens in the scrambled moments when work is quiet and Baby 1 is not paying attention (she loves her some lace and craft paper). Somehow I’m managing to edit the entire editorial contents of a fortnightly trades magazine in between all of the above… And Baby 1 is still alive, thriving (albeit on slightly more screen time than she probably should be) and hasn’t yet climbed out of a window or stuck any of my centre-pieces to her head. But, you know, there’s still time…


The Laments of Baby 1, 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.

 


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.

 


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