I’m currently in the middle of drafting a revisit of a Q&A post I made seven years ago and one of the questions has warranted, I think, a bit more exploration. Namely the one that I get asked fairly often by anyone who has known me a certain length of time. Didn’t you say you were going to have four? I wanted four. When B1 was born, I still wanted four (eventually). When B2 came along I still maybe wanted four but fully recognised that, as she got to the sleeping-through-the-night-reliably stage, things were good as they were. B3 was a surprise and that pregnancy was the toughest because I was older and had a one and five-year-old to chase about. Gone were the days of lounging around watching daytime TV as I waited to go into labour… The hours before B3’s birth were taken up with the school run, Tumble Tots, having to go and have my heart monitored at the surgery because I kept getting palpitations, feeling a lot better and deciding to take eldest to her acro dance class and then, eventually, once I had the time, labour.
Mention a fourth to my husband and he has no trouble at all remembering these moments:
Unfortunately, and somewhat unfairly I think, the memory of the mother can be a fey and fickle thing in comparison to the father, thanks to those pesky reproduction hormones/memory scramblers. I can KNOW that pregnancy is usually quite shit, there are no guarantees of a healthy baby at the end of it and that early parenthood is really really hard, and yet my ovaries are all:
Luckily, by the time I was pregnant for the third time, I had an inkling of memory-lapses to come. That’s why there exists a word document on my computer with the label ‘read this if you ever feel tempted to have a fourth child.’ I wrote it when I was approximately 8 months pregnant with B3 and it contains such delightful reminders as:
Shooting pains across stomach when I walk, enough to make me stop in my tracks.
Aching hips when I lie on one side in bed.
Sometimes actually too heavy to heave over onto other side.
Can’t sleep, need toilet, just been to toilet, now awake, shooting pain, fear of labour, need toilet again.
Thighs enormous. Legs enormous. Arms podgy. Everything fat. Not cute. Cumbersome and heavy. Every pregnancy worse, imagine size of thighs by a fourth. Might never see toes again.
So unfit, so self-conscious, want to hide.
Can’t lift B2 easily, can’t hold her on my lap, feel like we’re both missing out on her babyhood.
Only coat which fits now is awful, tent-like shroud of unattractive frumpiness.
Need to pee every 10 minutes. No exaggeration. Worse as day goes on. Hurts to get up and hobble to toilet. By time I hobble back, need to pee again.
Bloody hell but I could murder a glass of wine.
Physically hurts when baby moves. It doesn’t feel normal, it feels like something is beating me from the inside. What is it doing? Aches and pressure, doesn’t feel right or normal, not sustainable.
Newborns are cute but they’re no fun. They keep you up all night, savage your nipples, shit incessantly, they don’t smile.
Nourish and love your body back to itself. Don’t do this to it again. It has done its part.
Time to be a mum now, not a baby vessel. Value yourself more than that; value your children more than that.
We used to trot out the old ‘he wants two, she wants four, we’ll compromise on four’ line as a joke. And if I’m completely honest, I probably would still have a fourth (now the dust has settled and B3 is more self-sufficient by the day) IF my husband wanted one. But he doesn’t. Which means that having that fourth wouldn’t so much BE a compromise as it would compromise… and when you look at what it would compromise, then the choice becomes an awful lot easier.
Besides, you know, my thighs have only just got back to normal. Not to mention that if we did end up having another one, this blog-post would make me look a right tit.
Have I mentioned that I’ve written a book? More details can be found here. Be sure to subscribe for more information, check out my author page on Facebook or follow me on Twitter.
Sunday, August 1st 2021, approx. 1am: I am lying half off a semi-inflated camping mat next to my sleeping two-year-old son, our bodies gently vibrating with the beat coming from the neighbouring field, contemplating my past experiences with music festivals. The highs. The lows. The bands. The toilets. So far this weekend we’ve been dealt an interesting mixture: broken tent poles followed by tent-battering storms, a sleepless night, one of our party’s tent collapsing on him and his two-year-old in the middle of the night, hat competition success, kids rocking their little socks off to live music for the first time (that they can remember), a tummy bug making its sinister circulation through our group, a *really nice* falafel wrap, excellent company, great atmosphere, decent music… All things considered, if you write off the first night it’s all been quite succe-
The high-pitched wail comes with an insistent thread of panic from the tent’s other compartment. I scramble to my feet, untangling and fumbling through sleeping bags, zips, a crowded middle compartment and into the small enclosure shared by my daughters just in time to see a plume of vomit splatter all over my four-year-old’s sleeping bag. Ah, I think to myself. Yes. That seems about right.
I think it’s safe to say that, like so many things, my festival experiences have been most memorable for the things that went not-so-well. And the things that went not-so-well tend to refer to weather, toilets, Drunk Twats, camping, weather, inappropriate footwear, weather and, more often than one would hope, vomit. On the other hand, it’s thanks to festivals that I can say I’ve seen live performances by the likes of Oasis, The Killers, Ed Sheeran, The Prodigy, Tim Minchin, Tom Jones, David Guetta, Maroon 5, Tinie Tempah, Labrinth to name but a few. I can’t actually remember seeing half of them, but what I do recall is brilliant, if a little fleeting… Far stronger memories include the surprisingly heavy addition the dozen or so bottles of WKD rolled into my tent and sleeping bag made to my camping rucksack as we traipsed across a really long field from the car-park to the campsite of NASS in 2004. My friend and I at V-Festival 2005 getting completely freaked out while camping alone in a field of Drunk Twats and calling her boyfriend and his mates who drove for five hours to stage a heroic gate-crash rescue for the remainder of the weekend. Rocking up to V-Festival 2012 in my newly-purchased boho maxi dress and feeling the hideous realisation that I’d completely missed the dress-code of arse-grazing denim hotpants and wellies (the latter despite it remaining a stubborn 30 degrees all weekend without a scrap of mud in sight). Hard to say whether the lowest point of that particular weekend was the affect of the heat on the already-rancid festival toilets, the subsequent discovery on one such visit that I had started my period or the unfortunate vomiting-in-shared-tent incident. To top it all off, I had to work on the Monday afternoon (probably a press week) and my flat was having plumbing work so I couldn’t even nip home for a shower first. Still, The Killers were good. I think?
In any case here I was, nine years later and at an entirely different kettle of festival. Farm Fest, a light-hearted, family-friendly affair in the rolling hills of Somerset; small, unpretentious and perfect for one’s re-introduction to the festival scene after an absence of almost a decade and the addition of several extra people. And, actually, I couldn’t fault the festival itself. The atmosphere was wonderful, we never felt threatened or unsafe, the music was good, the staff were plentiful and seemed on top of things. Even the toilets were nowhere near the level of gross that I’d come to expect thanks to the sawdust-scoop-when-you-poop thing they had going on (though I did get to the point where I brought a sanitiser spray every time I went and stopped letting the kids use them at all in favour of the travel potty midway through day two).
Camping, on the other hand… We haven’t been camping since 2018. We knew the tent had a couple of glitches. We ended up wrapping two of the poles in electrical tape after they shattered during assembly, tying guide lines back on, sewing up holes… Still, it went up and up it stayed. We went to bed on the first night tipsy and optimistic, all three kids asleep in varying degrees of tangled sleeping bags and limbs in the tent’s second compartment. Then the wind started, and I don’t just mean Hub’s ale farts. I mean a >50mph battering courtesy of Storm Evert which had crept onto the weather radar just that morning, promising high winds mostly around Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly. Miles away from Somerset, we chuckled. No one was bloody chuckling by midnight. By midnight I had an utterly freaked out B3 clinging to my neck in our compartment as we tried to comfort him (while entirely unsure if our buckling tent was about to collapse on us at any minute). Next pitch over, our friend’s air tent did collapse on him and his two-year-old daughter, who woke up in a puddle… After rescuing her and battening the tent as best he could, he then promptly came down with a tummy bug. Our other friends took me and B3 into their van for the rest of the night after his screaming showed no signs of abating… Suffice to say, none of us got a lot of sleep but there was certainly a spirit of Dunkirk type thing going on.
The next morning brought no respite from the winds as well as the unwelcome news that the festival itself was postponed due to health and safety concerns brought on by the weather, which meant no breakfast other than dry Weetabix, bananas, cucumber and crisps (kids loving life at this point). At this point, sitting in the car as it was the only non-windy place, we wondered whether we should just give up and go home. We decided to stick it out (mostly because I’d spent most of the week before going a bit extra on my hat competition entry) and Hub came up with the idea of unloading the entire back of the car into the tent, folding the seats down and turning it into a play area. We got out the colouring books, restaurant-toy-bags, charged one of the tablets and well, actually, they bloody loved it and spent most of the rest of the weekend asking if they could go back to the ‘fun-zone.’ Ten points to the Citroen MPV.
Eventually, of course, the storm abated, the festival opened, we donned our tie-dye and had a pretty good first day. The second night brought tranquil weather, we all slept well (we put B3 in with me and Hub turned the ‘fun-zone’ into a single bed) and the next day (Saturday) was great. Our friends got over the tummy bug and won best group in the hat competition, the kids enjoyed a mini rave in the kids’ tent, we donned glitter, temporary tattoos, hair chalk and face paint and joined others dressed in a multitude of festival gear from patchwork to tie-dye, butterfly wings and even a tribe of bees… With nary a hotpant in sight, I did not feel even the slightest bit self-conscious in my wellies, harem pants and ancient crochet top with a rainbow painted on my face. We managed to pull all three kids along in the festival trolley. B3 got in a decent nap in the tent. We even got a “parenting goals” compliment from a bright-eyed young couple who clearly had no idea what they were looking at.
It wasn’t all sunshine and flowery headbands, though. Gone are the days of casual day-drinking in a sunny field whilst lazily watching parents running after their grubby-faced urchins and thinking, mistily, maybe I’ll do that one day. There are still nappies to change and snacks to fetch. It’s not so easy to vault a guide rope to prevent a small boy mounting a display tractor whilst wearing harem pants and wellies. We lost shoes, we lost mood rings, we dropped a £3 artisanal ice cream on the grass 30 seconds after it was handed over, we found shoes, we took t h r e e h u n d r e d y e a r s to choose a (already forgotten about) selection of cheap souvenirs from the gift stalls. We kept losing the rest of our party as we all tried to keep up with whatever time schedule whichever kid was dictating at any given time… But, overall, we had a good time. I mean, we could have done without the storms and the vomit but… well, how would I ever remember it all?
This is the question my almost-4-year-old posed to me, extremely seriously, on Saturday afternoon. And for the life of me, I just don’t know. Furthermore, when I laughed and asked her to tell me the answer, expecting some witty punchline, she informed me that I “was the silly one now,” whatever that meant.
And that just about sums up the conversations I’ve had with my kids over the last week.
B1 wanders into my office with her Eye Witness book about wildlife.
B1: Mummy, can I read you an interesting fact?
Me: Yes, but quickly please, I’m in the middle of something. [something being proof-reading my novel, absolutely not twatting about on Reddit or Twitter… ahem]
B1: *spouts something about tigers or giraffes being able to do something impressively disgusting with their tongues*
Me: Wow, that’s… er… cool [or something equally vague yet encouraging with the hopeful air of dismissal about it] *looks back at manuscript, mutters to self* Hmm… does [character name 1] actually kill [character name 2] or did I just vaguely imply that without going into any explanation whatsoever?
B1: Who gets killed?
Me: Oh, no one. It’s just in Mummy’s book.
B1: Someone kills someone else in your book?
B1: I don’t think you should have anyone kill anyone, Mummy. Is that really the sort of story you want to be writing?
B1: *stern look*
Me: OK. Fine. No one kills anyone. No one dies ever, is that better?
Me: OK. But, you know, sometimes bad things have to happen to your characters in order to make a story more interesting…
B1: But you don’t have to make them die though, do you? You could just make something else happen.
Me: Like… a giant, green alien pops up out of the ground and hands everyone a bunch of flowers?
B1: Maybe I should help you write your stories, Mum.
Me: *clicks sulkily onto Reddit*
B3 enters office bearing a bowl from the kitchen which he proudly holds aloft.
B3: Nack! Nack!
Me: Snack? You want a snack?
B3: Yes! Come’un Mumma. ‘At way!
*I go and get him a snack and he disappears contentedly into the living room*
-TWO MINUTES LATER-
B3: Nack! Nack!
Me: No, that’s enough snacks for now.
B3: Joo! Joo!
Me: You already have juice. Why don’t you go and draw me a picture? Here’s some paper and a crayon. I’ll come and see what you’ve drawn in a bit.
-FIVE MINUTES LATER-
Me: *enters living room to find blank piece of paper on the floor, B3 staring at the TV, crayon nowhere to be found* Where’s your lovely picture you were going to do?
Me: Why are there lines all over the wall, B3?
Me: Did you draw on the wall?
B3: *proudly* Yes!
Me: *mutters under breath while fetching damp cloth*
B3: *has meltdown as artwork is destroyed and crayon placed on high shelf*
Me: *wonders if it’s too early for a G&T. Upon discovery that it is only 11am, decides to get B3 another snack. Gets one for self too. Wonders why jeans feel snug.*
Me: B2, what was the thing you were trying to ask me about elephants and bananas again?
B2: It was. Um. You shouldn’t peel an elephant.
Me: But why would you want to peel an elephant?
B2: *thinks very hard* Because… Maybe he wasn’t being very sensible.
Me: *confused* Who, the elephant or the person peeling it?
B2: *with the air of talking to someone incredibly stupid* No, the banana of course.
B1: Mummy, you know she’s trying to tell the one from my elephant joke book, what’s the difference between an elephant and a banana – you can peel a banana but you can’t-
Me: …peel an elephant! *laughs slightly maniacally*
B1: *looks at me with an expression of mild concern* It’s not that funny.
B2: But why can you peel a banana but not an elephant?
I’d known it was coming. The symptoms were all there, after all. I’d thought we’d been so careful, we always were… But clearly something had slipped through. Someone. I should have known it was too good to last. I should have known it would happen, sooner or later. Still, when the result flashed up in its little window, I was shocked. How were we going to cope? What were we going to do? I looked again. Yep, no denying it. Positive. I reached for my glass of wine, because I may have had fucking Covid but at least I wasn’t pregnant.
Fortunately, I’ve been one of the lucky ones. I’ve had symptoms for just over a week and the worst thing has been the loss of taste and smell, mostly because I’ve no idea how long it will last. The first few days, back when I thought I just had the kids’ cold – the viral wheeze aforementioned here – I mostly had a bit of a headache I ascribed to several evenings spent partaking end-of-December measures of gin and a slight cough that was so pathetically infrequent I didn’t give it a second thought. I didn’t feel great but I certainly didn’t feel pandemic-level poorly. Then, on New Year’s Eve, the oven wasn’t broken. I’d cooked a slow-roast pork shoulder and realised, around 4pm, that the oven must be broken because the house wasn’t suffused with the usual scents of slow-roasting crackling and succulent, fall-apart meat… But, of course, it was. I just couldn’t smell it. And suddenly this insidious virus which had ravaged across the entire planet had made its way to my home, my family, my lungs.
That was almost a week ago. I’m OK. Most of the time I feel perfectly normal. If this were any other year, I would count myself as fully recovered from a bit of a non-starter and no longer contagious, though I’d have thought the lack of smell and taste a bit odd. Still, if I were working in an office I’d have gone in every day, merrily passing round the germs.
I’m not trying to be blasé with this post. I’m aware that I am extremely lucky to be so relatively unaffected by this virus (touch wood). I know lots aren’t. There is a lot of fear out there. I don’t want to bluster out a trite, “Don’t be afraid!” because there’s plenty on the other side of the coin, and some of them are the 30-somethings on ventilators in ICU. My own kids, if they did indeed have Covid over Christmas (and at this point, it’s looking likely that they did) had it worst than most kids are ‘supposed’ to. There are no definites, it’s just a game of likelihoods. It’s only been around a year or so, after all. I was likely to be OK, and I am. My kids were likely to be less ill than me, and they weren’t. I can’t criticize the government for locking us all down again (the management and the timing of it, well, that’s another story) over something I wouldn’t even bother to use a sick day on, because my mild non-starter is another person’s death sentence. That’s why we’re all so scared, I guess. That’s why we’re all still so scared.
But I have Covid. And I am OK. I’m also a journalist, however lapsed, and I will say this: there is a far bigger market for stories of healthy people getting Covid and not being OK than there is for people getting it and mostly being absolutely fine except not being able to taste chocolate or smell nappy poonamis. Make of that what you will. And, in the meantime, I will continue to stockpile the Christmas treats for when my palate recovers and tackle the stinkiest of household jobs while I can’t smell them. Yesterday I cleared away the ill-fated sourdough starter I made last lockdown. Tomorrow I’ll give the kitchen bin a scrub. Home schooling has been re-established, the kids have been taking their exercise from the garden and Go Noodle (sorry Joe Wicks, we will never be PE people) and next week we will be allowed outside to walk among the fearful once again. In the meantime, we will stay home, recover and try to stay positive. In every other sense of the word, that is.
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…
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.
Baby 3 at 12 hours old: fitting into my hand all teensy-like.
Which brings me onto point number two:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
Always pack wet wipes. Because who, seriously, chooses to pee into the wind?
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.
Little did they suspect the giant, rogue wave about to make a crashing appearance…
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.