Category Archives: mess

The Prattling Wibbler Returneth

shoes

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.


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.

the-jeans

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…


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 Art of Peeing in a Pot in my Living Room

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

But this is it now. We are officially potty training. Or, at least, we’ve made a sizably conscious effort to start. Mainly because Baby 1 had begun to scream whenever I told her I was going to the toilet and insist she needed to come with me to use the potty. (She didn’t, but I figured that if she was old enough to use the potty as a manipulation tool, she was old enough to be taught, you know, how to actually use it.)

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

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


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.

WTF, dog owners of east Berkshire?

A month or so ago I noticed that my 3-year-old Converse trainers were looking a little worse for wear. By which I mean they had crossed, like many an elderly pair of shoe (or indeed person) over the line of general infirmity and were now disheveled, smelly husks of what they had once been. So I decided to indulge in a new pair of trainers and, when I saw a pair of slip-on, memory foam Skechers with psychedelic uppers and 30% off, I snapped them up faster than you could say, “30% off what, though?”

A day after they arrived, I took Baby 1 out to the lake down the road from our house with her trike. Inevitably, I ended up dragging the trike and carrying Baby 1 around most of the way… but, hey ho, I had my new shoes! The colourful patterns sparkled in the sun, the soles felt lovely and grippy with their deep grooves and the memory foam soles felt delightfully squishy underfoot. Alas, this was not the only squishy thing underfoot. About halfway around the lake I started to smell something. Something bad. Something disastrous. It seemed to be wafting intermittently, and at first I assumed it was coming from somewhere nearby – maybe the lake? Maybe the overflowing doggy bin we’d just passed? Sadly, no. When we arrived home I discovered the worst had happened. And it had happened all over my brand new shoe.

To say I was mildly irritated is putting it, well, irritatingly mildly. It did NOT help that when I took the shoe outside to wash off the damage the stupid, cheap hose we bought last year kept popping off the outside tap. Ten minutes later I was soaking wet, my hands were freezing, the hose had sprayed god knows what back into my face and there were still stinky oozings nestled deep within the cursedly deep, grippy grooves. But I soldiered on, and several broken twigs, curses on hose manufacturers, shoe designers and dog owners later, my shoe was finally passably clean. Or at least no longer quite so smelly.

I was angry at the time (not the least because this wasn’t the first time I’d worn in a new pair of shoes this particular way). I was – to quote a former newspaper colleague – incanfuckingdescent at the time. But once I’d cleaned myself off, changed my clothes, posted the obligatory disgruntled Facebook status and had a glass or three of wine, I forgave and forgot. Until today. Today we went back to the lake. Today I took great pains to watch exactly where my no-longer-virginal Skechers trod. Unfortunately, one cannot explain to a 22-month-old that she must stick to the path lest an errant canine bottom has hovered over that interesting patch of dry leaves she’s scurrying off to explore. And, sure enough, I tried to believe that telltale smell was coming from the bin. Or the lake. Or – gods be good – that other toddler’s shoes. I checked my own shoes several times. I didn’t check Baby 1’s until we came through the door. Until I shut the front door and could still smell the Stench of Footwear Doom. Cue curses, cue hose battle, cue outfit change.

On the plus side, her feet are so tiny the area covered by the offending substance was far less than that on my shoe. It didn’t take long to clean. And, biggest plus of all, they weren’t new shoes. And I should be grateful, I suppose, for the small mercy that this particular dog hadn’t hovered over the spot where she stumbled on a root and went face-and-hands splat in the mud. TBH, probably wouldn’t have laughed so much if it had.


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.


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