Category Archives: feeding a baby

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.


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.


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.

How to do a wedding with a toddler

Last weekend we attended the wedding of my other half’s stepbrother. Having attended a wedding-like event (a party for a certain big birthday of my mum and her best friend) with Baby 1 back in June, we already had a few ideas on what not to do. The main one being the futile attempt to get Baby 1 to sleep by walking her up and down in the buggy while infinitely more exciting things occurred in the party of which we all then, inevitably, missed the majority. I’m pleased to report the family wedding went without MUCH of a hitch, aside from the getting of which for the lovely James and Emma, and the unfortunate decision to let me supervise our five-year-old niece with a video camera (she only dropped it once. And proceeded to shoot the rest of the vow-taking upside down. Which I noticed REALLY QUICKLY. 45 seconds, tops.) So I thought I’d compile a (hopefully) useful list of tips for any other toddler-shackled party goers.

PREPARATION STAGE

  1. Probably best to get all mobile offspring ready before you. Otherwise you run the risk of tripping over the hem of your maxi dress (currently bagging around your waist due to the swift abandonment of the search for your most non-painful-yet-asset-boosting bra) as you chase your giggling, bare-bottomed child around the house. Although remember not to get them ready TOO soon, otherwise you run the risk of the cute outfit you’ve spent weeks imagining them looking SO gorgeous in getting covered in Weetabix. Or worse. Which brings us on to number 2:
  2. Make sure you take a photo of them in said cute outfit WITHIN TEN SECONDS OF PUTTING IT ON THEM. Especially if you have a little girl with an aversion to any kind of hair style and all un-rubberized footwear.
RIBBONS, though

RIBBONS, though.

THE CEREMONY

  1. Right, so you’ve made it to the venue, bra is doing what it’s supposed to, obligatory excruciating shoes are firmly on feet, adorable pigtails have long since been disgustedly pulled from child’s hair but their dress is still mercifully ungrubby. Now comes the most testing time of the child attendee’s patience. All I can say is make sure you bring plenty of un-noisy toys that won’t ruin the derriere of your outfit if you accidentally sit on them – books, stickers, magnets, teddies, poky-limbed dolls… Pretty much anything, but NOT play-doh. WOE BETIDE YOUR DAYGLO-COLOURED BOTTOM IF YOU BRING PLAY-DOH. We also loaded a tablet with Peppa Pig and Pixar and let her watch it on silent, which she did, not entirely silently. If all else fails, make sure you sit next to an outer aisle which will make you feel all Mi5 if you have to do the duck, scoop and bail.
  1. If the venue has a bar, make use of this before the ceremony. Children pick up on stress. Children pick up on calm. Particularly the calm of the parent who has just demolished their entire designated driver alcohol limit in one fell glug.

    Peppa PIg. Truly you earned the hours I've spent slaving over your cakey effigy.

    Peppa Pig. Truly you earned the hours I spent slaving over your cakey effigy.

FOOD

  1. Often, if they have invited a few young children, the bride and groom will bear this in mind when planning the meal. Ours provided fantastic little activity packs for each child and, as a result, what could have been a fiesta of whines, food-throwing, dress-staining and general misery of the type to send any designated driver straight into the arms of an open bar, was avoided. Yes, the corner of our table looked like a small bomb had hit a toy shop via the food court by the end of the meal. Yes, there were a few pouts and arguments between cousins about whose toy was whose. Yes, at one point I did have bubble mixture poured over my arm and spent the rest of the evening watching people wrinkle their nose in confusion at my vaguely chemical scent. But, all things considered, everything went extremely smoothly during dinner and the speeches.

    Our bride and groom provided this amazing activity pack for each child. Along with the occasional help of Mr Tablet, Lara was occupied throughout the whole meal!

    Our bride and groom provided an amazing activity pack for each child. Along with the occasional help of Mr Tablet, Baby 1 was occupied throughout the whole meal!

AFTER FOOD

  1. For me, this was the most challenging time. Not just because it was now a good hour after Baby 1’s bedtime and my control pants were navigating ever further north, it was also around this time we suffered an unfortunate nappy incident, the likes of which we haven’t seen for a good ten months or so. Which brings me to emphasize: BRING SPARE CLOTHES. Kids sample all sorts of food they might not be used to at a wedding. Some handle it fine. Some have explosive diarrhoea.
  1. Find a place for your child to run around. After said incident of indigestion, I felt like we might be heading for a swift departure. Baby 1 also happened to be in the snotty, unreasonable stage of getting a cold and I was by no means unconvinced that another incident of bowel excitement was on the cards. Fortunately, once we went outside and she discovered a little boy of her age to chase, all misery was soon forgotten and a good amount of energy was burned.

DISCO

  1. Having thought at around 8pm that we might have to call it a night by 9, I’m pleased to say we actually didn’t leave until well after 10.30pm. This is because, in no small part, to Baby 1’s discovery of the dance floor and the gaining of her third wind. As previously mentioned, we’d already experienced the option of trying to get her to sleep at this stage of an event and failed, so this time we decided to let her go for it, have a dance and pass out as and when she herself saw fit. And she had a riot. Actually, we all did. After all, it’s not every night you get to do the macarena in all your finery while your two-year-old clings to your hip and occasionally bats at you, uttering: “Mummy!” in a fairly appalled tone of voice.

Paradise… once you get there.

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

Needless to say, within 40 minutes of take-off all expectations, illusory or otherwise, deluded visions and certainly any remaining straggling, apocalypse-defying roaches of optimism have pelleted, bird-poop-like, back down to the Gatwick runway. Gone, too, are 80% of Baby 1’s carefully selected and rather expensive plane snack selection. Toys old and new lie in ruins a toddler’s throw span from our feet. It’s around this point our dour-faced air host duly hands us our ‘bassinet’ – read slightly larger-than-average baby bouncy chair harnessed to the pull down table in front of us, rendering our pull-up entertainment systems un-pull-up-able (not that we’ll even be able to contemplate any entertainment during the next 10.5 hours). A foul smell drifts into my nostrils and I look, innocently, towards the toilets at the front of the plane. Across the aisle, the sweet-faced toddler settles at once into his bassinet, cuddled in a blanket and gently suckling on his dummy.

Baby 1 has never liked a bouncy chair. She was never one of those small babies you could strap in and then allow to gently undulate themselves to sleep. As I recall, she only really started to appreciate her bouncy chair when she discovered she could bend double and access delicacies on the floor from it. So one can perhaps understand her rage when her hapless parents attempt to strap her into one on a plane full of un-asleep people. Never mind my subsequent discovery that the terrible smell lurking like a guilty, gassy dog about my nose is not, in fact, coming from the toilets up ahead but from the chair itself, or, more precisely, the still-ominously-damp strap that goes between the legs. Call me paranoid but I know what baby diarrhoea smells like. And now my baby, her clothes and my lap, despite none of us having committed any such defecatory offence, smell that way.

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

Time seems to coagulate into pools of scorched-eye misery as Baby 1 rages, literally, against us, the bassinet, the machine (being us, again, wrestling her into her gro-bag to encourage a sleep-like environment) pausing only to gratefully accept some desperate (and ultimately useless) Calpol. We manage, at some point, to corner our sour-faced host and tell him he might as well take the bassinet away. I tell him it smells. He protests that he “got it from its packet, it will have been cleaned”. Me: “Well it smelled like baby poo and it was still wet.” Him, very uninterestedly: “Oh. Well, maybe it wasn’t cleaned very well.” And that was that.  

Grateful respite comes as members of the family take turns attempting to entertain Baby 1, who is by now at the mood-swinging, unpredictable stage of toddler tiredness, roaring with laughter even as the tears of rage continue to track down her cheeks. I attempt to watch several inflight films, from Cake (too depressing) to Little Miss Sunshine (a trusty favourite but had forgotten the ear-splitting scream at the beginning. Too reminiscent of real life) to The Imitation Game which I can tell is good, but I’m not quite getting enough of to actually retain chunks of the plot, due to a squint-inducing screen and a strange audio quirk which renders Benedict Cumberbatch all mumbly but Keira Knightley almost unbearably shrill. 

Toddler across aisle eventually wakes up and begins to play happily with Play Doh. Baby 1 steals his book and my hopes of their playing happily with one another are dashed in twenty seconds of baleful stares. They spend the rest of the flight ignoring one another. He sweetly watches Peppa Pig on his mother’s laptop with some cute child-friendly headphones. Baby 1, probably wisely given aforementioned audio quirk, refuses the inflight headphones so we have to play our episodes of Peppa and Night Garden on very low volume. Having been awake for more hours than she usually sleeps at night, we attempt sleep-lulling Baby 1 with the jigglyshuffle, which, probably because she hasn’t gone to sleep this way for at least six months, renders her perplexed, rather cross and still very awake. Toddler across the aisle settles down for his second nap, bottle in mouth, and his father throws us a judgey sort of look as Baby 1 continues to whine miserably. I wonder, briefly, if this is karma for ever having felt a scrap of smugness at Baby 1’s never having needed a dummy or a bottle to sleep. 

Plane lands in Antigua and perfectly-nice-but-now-unfortunately-enemies-for-life family disembark along with 80% of plane’s passengers. Baby 1 has now gone from tired and irritable to riding her 38th wind and is quite happily playing peekaboo with her grandparents, who’re sitting behind us. We complete the last stretch of the journey to touch down in Tobago an older, wiser and decidedly smellier family than before. Upon the retrieval of Baby 1’s buggy at baggage claim and the insertion of her into it, she promptly falls fast asleep and stays that way until we reach our holiday home about 45 minutes later. Despite it being gone midnight UK time, Baby 1 uses the tantalising new reality of finding herself in a whole new place to fuel her 39th wind, running up and down the veranda and then gifting me with such a huge nappy-full of defecation I do not realise that it has stained the only-really-useful-holiday-vest I’ve just changed into until the next morning. 

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

As I write, the breeze is gently lapping at my face as the Caribbean sun beats its unforgiving steel drum upon the dancing palm trees, potted asphalt, obscenely lush flowers and flattened creatures surrounding our villa. In a short while Baby 1 will wake up from her nap and we will wander the quarter mile or so down to Stonehaven Bay, our local stretch of idyll. There, I shall have a suitably calorific cocktail, either a pina colada or an island-style margarita, and then take a dip in the bath-temperature sea as Partner dances Baby 1 back and forth from the lapping waves. 

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


10 times I utterly unimpressed my daughter this month…

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


Daylight Saving Time f*cked up my life

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

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

On Sunday the clocks went back and the precious hammock cradling our lives in this delicate nirvana of sleep-fruitfulness was abruptly floored by the morbidly obese arse of that cruel concoction called Daylight Saving Time. The same morbidly obese derriere, ironically, which once granted me an extra hour in bed on many a chilly October Monday morning. Who could have known that an hour would change so much? I was expecting the 6am wake up call on Sunday. It wasn’t pleasant but I got on with it, and the flipside was that Baby 1 went down happily for a long morning nap around 9am. That afternoon she refused a second nap. As she had slept for two hours that morning, I wasn’t too surprised – she’s never been a huge fan of the afternoon nap. That night we were all exhausted and, though I did try and keep her up till her normal bedtime, I ended up giving in at around 5.30pm and preparing her dinner half an hour early. I thought I would then draw out her dinner, bath and bedtime routine to try and get as near to 7pm as possible. The minutes ticked on, and before I knew it it was 6.07pm and I was creeping out of her bedroom, nerves shot, mind smooshed by tiredness and hand firmly extended towards the glass of rosé left over from the weekend, fully committed to trying again tomorrow.

On Monday morning (yesterday) we made it to about 6.30am before the screams to get up now, please, Mummy became un-ignorable. After only sleeping an hour in the morning, I was sure she would keel over in grateful oblivion the second I jiggly-shuffled her into her afternoon nap. Nope. I spent no less than three hours in and out of her room trying to weedle her into sleep as she resolutely screamed in my face/ clawed at my chin/ beat up every toy in her cot and then performed bear-acide over the side of the bars. Around 3pm I put her in her pushchair and walked her round the garden. She responded by trying to grab the leaves off the trees, squawking like a banshee every time I tried to rock the buggy in the soothing, repetitive motion that, six months ago, would have rendered her unconscious in seconds, and periodically twisted herself around to peer at me incredulously. In the end I gave up. To her credit, Baby 1 managed to stay up until her 7pm bedtime without too many breakdowns, and I felt sure, by the time I went to bed myself, that Tuesday, at least, would bring a portion of normalcy back to our waking up time. These hopes were duly dashed at approximately 5.35am this morning.

I suppose, when you think in terms of babies’ sleep cycles only being 90 minutes long, you can appreciate how much an extra hour – suddenly given, unasked for and with no warning – might mess with their sleeping pattern. And, I suppose, though there are always bound to be those babies whose parents will smugly admit that the extra hour didn’t bother young Rufus in the slightest, he’s actually sleeping more since the clocks went back, I should have always known that Baby 1 would not be one of those babies. Who wants to nap, after all, when there are stuffed animals to be murdered, kitchen cupboards to disassemble and unattended appliances to mount?

IMG_4461


I’ve seen the future and it’s throwing a tantrum

It’s been a busy few weeks chez the Bris-cott household. Baby 1 has notched up the litres of foreign pool water swallowed and added Spanish and Italian to her palate, we’ve seen a hell of a lot of our families and I’m still scratching after being bitten to buggery by a variety of Mediterranean critters. The holidays have been lovely. Baby 1 was, on the whole, very well-behaved – she did not scream too much on the flights, she performed nicely for several babysitters and generally didn’t wake up in the night too much after the initial few days. Having come home in a haze of sun-balmed tranquillity, ready to get back to the old routine and even begin taking on some freelance journalism work, I was therefore wholly unprepared for the sudden emergence of Monster Child.

I don’t know if she somehow knows that I’m planning to wean her off the boob during these, the weeks surrounding her first birthday, but all of a sudden my previously manageable – if not quite angelic – little girl seems to have regressed into a very very angry, inconsolable infant. First there’s the new scream she’s perfected – an ultrasonic rip of pure outrage, mauling your eardrums like a sonorous blade. Here’s a little taster:

Secondly, there’s a new wariness bordering on loathing for her formerly well-respected (if not quite beloved) cot. As soon as she catches sight of it, she begins to cry. I breastfeed her, she usually falls asleep, but as soon as I lower her in, as soon as one square millimetre of her paralytic, gro-bag clad form hits the mattress, she’s awake and re-mustering her assault on all ears within a mile radius. This all whilst standing and rocking against the bars, her face, showing up on the monitor, a paroxysm of rage.

She can keep this up for between 5 and 20 minutes before falling asleep with her head hooked over the bar and then, eventually, sitting back down and plunging headfirst onto the mattress and thankful oblivion. By this point I can either breathe a sigh of relief and enjoy that second glass of wine I’ve just poured (or coffee if it’s a nap rather than bedtime) or in about ten minutes or so she will start crying again, haul herself up to a standing position once more (why? When have you ever awoken from an unhappy slumber with the innate compulsion that standing upright will make everything better?!) and the whole sorry cycle will repeat itself. At night I am reminded of those first few weeks of sleep training around month five or six where I would watch the clock and pray. Now it’s just ridiculous. On Monday night she woke up at 3.30am. I left her, painstakingly, till 3.55am by which point she had put herself back to sleep and woken up again about four times, before giving in and going to get her. At 4.55am she was still feeding. Surely this isn’t normal for a healthy eleven-and-a-half-month old?!

 

Then there’s the eating. I’ve moaned about this before, I know, but since then things have developed – not the least of which her ability to work out my tricks. She seems to go through cycles of eating almost everything I give her for about a week or so, then barely anything at all. At the moment, she’s so knackered after not napping or sleeping well she’s at her most fussy and I’m lucky if I can make her something she will deign to taste, let alone swallow. Tired of cooking and wasting food, I’ve resorted to mini sandwiches, Babybel, cucumber, toast fingers, banana, nectarine and yoghurt. Anything vaguely resembling a pudding is, of course, inhaled without question.

 

Nappy changing is also a constant battle these days – gone are the moments of peaceful smiles and winsome chirping when placed upon the change mat. Long gone. As soon as we are laid down upon the mat, we scream, we writhe and we kick. As soon as we are bare-bottomed, we must escape by ANY MEANS NECESSARY. As soon as a new nappy is produced, we must fight all attempts to have it fastened to one’s rear and instead grab it and hang on with the grip of a very small Titan, using teeth if needs be. If the opportunity to get a foot or indeed any other appendage inside the dirty nappy before it is discarded and then smear the contents onto any part of the nappy-changer arises, we must seize it.

I wouldn’t mind the fussy eating, nappy battles or even the lack of sleep if it had come at a better time. As it happens I’ve just taken on my first freelance gig and am trying to scrape as much work into my Baby 1-free moments as possible. Which, at the moment, is proving an almighty challenge as my Baby 1-free moments mainly consist of watching her wage war on her cot bars through the monitor, trying to wedge the phone under my chin while scribbling undecipherable shorthand into a notebook and desperately trying to ignore the echoes of her screams as they gnaw round my lower intestines. Will it get any easier? According to my far-too-cheerful plumber, father of two grown up sons, no.

I can only hope that this horrible phase is just that – a phase – caused by a combination of post-holiday unsettledness, unusual noises in the house (we’re having a new shower and dishwasher installed, a mere 10 months after moving in) and that old, reliable tune – teeth. As it is, weaning off breastfeeding is sliding ever lower on my list of priorities right now as it is one of the only sure ways of calming her down. Plus, she doesn’t bite anymore. Which is nice of her. Hopefully, in a few days or weeks I will report back with happier news. For now, however, I see those Terrible Twos and I raise them Onerous Ones.


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