Thursday, 29 December 2011

Three's A Crowd

My husband wants a dog. He’s done with pro-creation.

I refuse to get a dog. I’m undecided about babies.

I hate dogs. Huge jumpy ones, ratty handbag ones, fictional ones called ‘Spot’ that hide in baskets – the lot. Show me a picture of ‘cute’ puppies and you might as well be presenting me with a photo of a Rottweiler chewing a human leg. I feel nothing. Man’s best friend? No best friend of mine would bark at the postman, pee against a lamp post and hump everything in sight.. oh wait a minute…

However, bringing a third child into the world, purely to prevent my other half from arriving home with an abandoned mutt, would probably be classed as a little drastic. And wrong.

As would, my other secret idea, that I could use my experience to write a no-holds-barred pregnancy book. Because when I was pregnant with my first, I really don’t remember reading any advice on how to stop yourself freaking out, that there’s a real human being with fingernails trapped inside your body. Or how you can be certain that the family sized bar of Dairy Milk you just scoffed, won’t overload your placenta and give the baby a sugar rush. Or at what point during full-blown labour, it’s acceptable to start ignoring your mother’s texts.

No, if we decided to get busy with number three, we would have to have a really good reason. Like a feeling that our family wasn’t ‘complete’ without a third screaming infant in it.

We did originally plan to have three kids. I’m one of two and frankly, I found it a bit boring. However much I tried to persuade my parents to have another and preferably a sister this time, for some reason they seemed content with me, my brother and two moulting cats. Luckily I had cousins I was close to, which occasionally made me feel like I was part of a bigger, livelier, family. We had fun.

But some people assume that because I have one of each, there’s no need to try again. And there is some logic in that. Certainly, that’s how my other half sees it. We’ve replaced ourselves with two Mini-Me’s, there’s an heir and a spare, job done.

And then there’s the car issue. Anyone with two humongous child car seats wedged into the back, understands that a car is designed for the average 2.4 children (one kid in each seat and a third child folded in half in the middle). I love our car. But we’d have to swap it for one of those seven seater buses. As someone who’s been driving for 14 years and still breaks out in a sweat at roundabouts, there is no way I’d be able to drive a car the size of our kitchen, without putting lives in danger.

Actually, the average UK family now has 1.7 children, apparently. Because that was another worry of mine – the overcrowded population, stretched resources, the future of the earth etc. But then if lots of couples are choosing not to have kids and I have an extra one, can’t I just see it as using up their quota?

Because I’m banking on my kids being useful members of the population. Our three and a half year old son wants to be a shopkeeper and an astronaut, which suggests he could potentially make a useful contribution to both the economy and science, while our 21 month old daughter is a dab hand at building towers. Who knows what skills a third one could bring?

Look, if I’m really honest, I just don’t know if I can be bothered to go through it all again. Nine months of nausea, incontinence and saggy bras, followed by at least a year resembling a zombie, while pureeing carrots, with puke down my cleavage. Not to mention the excruciating bit, where I squeeze the little darling out of my nethers.

And I’m really not sure I could cope with three, physically or mentally. Even now, when I’m driving along in the car, I have to do a sudden head count, to ensure I put both children in the back.

I just don’t understand how you hold three hands when you’re crossing the road? Or how you push one on the swing, catch another coming down the slide and stop the third peeing by the tree in the middle of the playground? How on earth do you give all three the love and attention you’d give just one, when you can’t afford a nanny to give some for you?

And if two little people whining ‘Mummmmyyyyyyyyyyyyyy!!!!’ from 6am to 7.30pm, sends me heading for their secret stash of chocolate buttons, what would I be like if there was an extra little whiny voice – especially if it’s whining at three o’clock in the morning?

The trouble is, my son starts school in September and my daughter is off to nursery in a matter of weeks. It’s finally time to re-enter the world of work, where there are adults who talk about matters other than which schools their kids have applied for. Where you can go out for lunch, without having to crouch down on the floor when no ones looking and pick up half a bowl of cheesy pasta, 37 sugar sachets and 5 forks. A place where you can write an email to your boss, without anyone jumping on your lap, tapping in ‘iraeiowhprawjsalfgjlasgnlhiovhaoivrji’ and pressing ‘send’. Do I really want to forfeit the return to me-dom and the chance to rebuild a career I feel I only really just began, in order to wipe another child’s arse?

I mean what if it was twins? Or triplets? Or if the worst happened and there was something wrong with them? Shouldn’t I just stick with the two I’ve got and be grateful?

But money and stress and stretchmarks aside, I guess it would be nice to add another little giggle to the gaggle. Another playmate for our little best mates. And let’s face it, more kids means more chance of grandkids and more people to take care of you when it’s your arse that needs wiping.

Because I’ve seen how my parents and their sisters pull together when times are tough and they do create two indestructible teams. Splitting everything three ways rather than two, takes the pressure off - whether it’s catering for a family dinner or supporting a sick relative. If one is feeling weak, the other two bring them strength.

And when I look at friends who have two siblings rather than one, I do notice the additional noise and the extra drama, but most of all I hear the added laughter.

I guess it’s just hard when everything you planned for since being a little girl - marriage, babies, free access to the wine rack - becomes something you’ve done, rather than something you dream of doing. To declare that my childbearing years are over, makes me feel old and past my best. Nothing has ever made me feel more useful, than carrying an unborn child. But then again, it’s not about me anymore.

So, right now, my maternity clothes are stashed in the drawer under my bed, the Moses basket is wrapped up in the loft and the highchair is folded up behind the sofa. One day, I’ll stick the lot on eBay. But I’ll leave them be for now – just in case…

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Diagnosis: Mother

You know those awful women driver jokes? Well, I am one. Or was, until a new friend came into my life - the parking sensor. Ok, so the conversation is limited, but that loyal little alarm has magically reduced the frequency at which I veer into parked cars. It has also prevented my bill-paying husband from carrying out his threat to incinerate my car keys, saved my children from soaking up some inappropriate ‘mummy’ language and lessened the chances of the car repair centre, creating a private parking space with my name on it, funded by my last dozen visits.

Which is why I wish, that a similar piece of technology existed that could be attached to my daughter’s head. Perhaps then, a warning beep-beep-beep-beeeeeeep, would have shocked my 18 month old ball of energy, into avoiding a face-first collision with the corner of my son’s bed.

However, due to lack of funds and engineering skills, when my little girl careered into the solid wooden frame, instead of a useful beep, I simply heard a thud and spontaneous screaming. I say heard, because I was failing to pay attention to my toddler and three year old, as they danced about my son’s, supposedly child-proofed, bedroom. I’d like to explain that I was busy selecting entertaining yet educational bedtime stories, or unfolding two sets of freshly washed pyjamas or arranging teddies in height order in the cot, but I can’t, because in fact, I was scrolling through Facebook on my phone, in case something important had happened to anybody I once met.

I spin around, sweep up my crying daughter and desperately search her face for injury. I panic that she’s hurt her right eye, but she opens it wide enough that I can see its unharmed. She has a tiny red mark on her cheek, but other than that, she’s unscathed. Phew! Then I sweep a strand of hair off her face and Oh Dear God! A huge, golf ball sized lump, with a purple line down the centre, has popped out of her perfect little forehead.

Should I panic? After all, this was not the first time my daughter had received a significant blow to the head. There was the incident when, as a newborn baby, she had been lying angelically on her playmat, next to her older brother and out of nowhere, Toy Story's Buzz Lightyear had whacked her over the head. She had let out a piercing scream and instantly fallen asleep. Possessing no legitimate medical qualifications, I frantically searched Google for ‘head injuries’, while scientifically assessing the impact of the weapon, by hitting myself over the head with it.

Meanwhile my daughter had woken up refreshed, I had a headache and Buzz Lightyear began his three week stint in solitary confinement.

But back to the present…

Now, the reality is, that if you’ve got a ratio of one adult per child in your house and one child has a strange looking lump on their head, you’re probably going to take a trip to A&E, just to be on the safe side. But when you’re alone with two children, whom you’ve been waiting to put to bed, since 5am that morning and you’re only 30 minutes away from achieving that dream, the last thing you fancy doing is spreading panic to the grandparents, by asking them to babysit the healthy child. Because, while they’re sat in front of your TV with your M&S chocolate brownie bucket, you’re pacing the floor of A&E with a hysterical toddler, for four hours, only to be handed a bottle of Calpol by the doctor and sent home.

Yes, unfortunately I speak from experience. Because I’ve spent many an occasion in the children’s A&E waiting room of our local hospital, with my son, when the ratio was in his favour.

And each time, we were surrounded in the blood-stained, pee-lined room, by the obligatory sick kids, who are clearly actors, paid to make the waiting area look busy, to excuse the ridiculous waiting times. There is always, without fail, ‘child with nasty sounding cough’, ‘child throwing up into cardboard tray’ and ‘silent child, who just looks a bit peaky’. None of whom look like they need to be in A&E and all of whom, look like they could pass something much nastier onto my child, than the ailment we came in for.

So on seeing this foreign body on my daughter’s head, I was in no rush to whisk her off to casualty.

There was always the option of calling helpline, NHS Direct. But I didn’t phone them either, because I’d dialled that number a year earlier, when my accident prone daughter had received a similar looking bump to the back of her head.

I’d answered the operator’s standard 100 questions, in order for him to arrange for a nurse to phone me back, so I could answer exactly the same 100 questions.

“Yes she has stopped crying.”

“No she didn’t lose consciousness”

“No there’s no blood.”

“Memory loss? Er hang on”… “small, inarticulate baby - do you remember falling off the sofa?”

I was told to dose the patient up on Calpol and watch her like a (neurotic) hawk over the next 72 hours, for signs of ‘unusual behaviour.’ Which is when paranoia really sets in: Has she fallen asleep or is she unconscious? What’s the real reason she won’t eat this fourth sandwich? Is she trying to tell me something, by bringing me this toy stethoscope? Has she always had that mad look in her eye?

So, remembering the warning signs and not wanting to build up a record of mysterious head injuries, I decided I’d just sporadically jab a bag of frozen peas at my daughter’s forehead every time she ran in my direction, in a vain attempt to bring the swelling down.

And give her Calpol. Which is easier said than done. Because no amount of pleads, bribes and threats, can persuade either of my children to voluntarily swallow the pink stuff. Fortunately, I am very experienced at holding a child in a headlock, while ignoring their pleading eyes and squirting 5ml of medicine down the back of their throat. It is possibly one of my least favourite mothering tasks, besides cooking, but I’ve come to the conclusion that the alternative i.e. not administering the drugs, is far worse.

Because I did that once and my son ended up being carted off in an ambulance, with febrile convulsions, caused by a rapid rise in temperature. Which is not something I’d repeat in a hurry. Mainly, because they insist on taking you to that bloody A&E.

So anyway, my daughter’s head. No A&E, no NHS Direct, Calpol administered, all under control. Only then my husband, picks the only night of the week, I really don’t want him home from work early, to come home from work early.

In he comes, up the stairs, one , two, three..

‘OH MY GOD! She’s fractured her skull!’ he cries.

‘No she hasn’t!’ I insist, with a manic chuckle.

‘How do you know?’ he demands.

Ok, hide the doubt, shift the blame, look confident.

‘Because NHS Direct said?’ I respond.

‘We should take her to A&E,’ he declares.

NHS Direct said not to? ‘I offer.

‘OK, if you’re sure.’

Am I sure? Am I just being lazy? Or am I being sensible? Hmm, maybe I’ll just Google it one more time. Now where’s that phone?

Saturday, 20 August 2011

She's Off Her T*ts!

My top three fears when pregnant with my first child were:

1) That there’d be something wrong with my baby

2) That labour would be so painful that I’d need an epidural, which would go wrong and I’d permanently lose the use of my legs

3) That I might accidently poo, while pushing the baby out

My top three fears when I was pregnant with my second child were:

1) Breastfeeding

2) Breastfeeding

3) Breastfeeding

Yes. There was only one thing on my mind while I was packing a fresh tube of nipple cream into my labour bag. Was I going to be able to breastfeed this time around, or was I about to re-live the trauma of my failed attempt with my first child?

There had been no doubt in my mind, when I was pregnant with my firstborn, that I was going to breastfeed. The government’s ‘Breast is Best’ campaign had done its job and I was well and truly educated in the undisputable health benefits of breast milk and the evil of formula milk.

Having attended a talk by the hospital’s breastfeeding councillor, where milk powder had been likened to feeding a child KFC, I’d spent my savings on all the necessary equipment, from a £400 feeding chair, to the best electric breast pump on the market and the obligatory range of peep-hole tops.

However, once my son had torn his way into the world and the consultant had screamed at the midwives for their incompetence, we were hurriedly moved to the postnatal ward and abandoned. Several hours later, still in discomfort from the birth and exhausted after a long labour, it suddenly occurred to me that I hadn’t fed my baby. In a panic, I rang the bell, but no one came. So I undid some buttons, introduced my son to his first pair and he latched on. Eventually a midwife popped her head round the curtain, said the baby looked like he was feeding properly, ticked a box that I was breastfeeding and disappeared.

Within hours, we were home and my baby started crying, so I happily disappeared upstairs to the feeding chair. Two weeks later, we were still there. Only by this time, both of us were crying - me in agony and he in hunger…

Our difficulties, did not spring from a lack of support. From the day following my son’s birth, I was visited on a daily basis by midwives, who would take the time to check that I was breastfeeding correctly and tell me what a wonderful job I was doing.

They listened, as I told them how my son would suck indefinitely, never wanting to let go. That when I couldn’t take any more of the pain and frustration of sitting for an hour and a half, with a baby at my breast, I would pass the inconsolable infant to my husband, just so I could go for a pee. Then he would hand my screaming son back and I would begin the process all over again.

I told them how neither my son nor I, ever slept for longer than an hour and the only place he would settle was in my arms. And how I’d given up attempting to get dressed, my appetite had disappeared and I was so exhausted, that I couldn’t speak without crying. But they just told me to keep on breastfeeding – it was best for my baby.

A few days later, when I decided I couldn’t take any more of my son’s wailing and the pain, I got into the car in my pyjamas, with my screaming baby in the back and was driven off to a breastfeeding support group at the hospital. Once there, I fed my baby, was told by the councillor that I needed bigger bras and was sent home again. By 04:00 the following morning I was so desperate for help, I phoned La Leche League, a support group for breastfeeding women and was counselled down the phone for 40 minutes, while my son yelled in the background. It made no difference.

By now, I was answering the door to the midwives in my knickers with my son attached to my boob. Dignity had gone out the window with my sanity. I was starting to have visions of laying my son down on the floor and walking out of the door - just walking and walking until I could collapse in peace. The cards were flooding through the letter box, ‘Congratulations! What wonderful news!’ and all I could think was, ‘why are they congratulating me? Why did no one tell me that having a baby is horrific?’

Female friends and relatives were directed upstairs to the feeding chair and greeted by a half-naked, teary eyed wreck and a hysterical baby.

And still the midwives came, with their “keep going!” and their “breast is best.” And they’d watch as I’d stamp my feet in agony as I attached my son to my breast, as his suck sent stabbing pains through my chest. To then be told, "he’s not on properly if it’s hurting, take him off and try again!”

Still no one would weigh my now skinny, jaundiced baby, frightened it would discourage me from breastfeeding, if he’d lost a bit of weight.

Then a week in, as I was sitting, listening to nursery rhymes in my feeding chair, I found myself gripped by the lyrics of Mary Had A Little Lamb and before I knew it, I was in floods of tears over the beauty of the relationship between Mary and her baby sheep.

That was when I knew that I had completely lost the plot. I don’t even like animals! Something had to change. I phoned my husband, who by now was starting to suspect I had post natal depression. He told me to do what felt right and speak to the midwives.

But when you’re exhausted, hormonal and scared, you don’t trust your own judgements, so when I said to the midwife that I’d had enough of breastfeeding, they suggested I express milk after a feed and give that to my son in a bottle.

So after each 90 minute stint with a baby on my boob, I attached a pump to it. Now there wasn’t even time to pee, let alone sleep. And I sat and I sat and it pumped away and to my dismay, after an hour, all that was in the pump bottle, was a dollop of yellow puss and a spot of blood. But I persevered and sometimes, rarely, but sometimes, an ounce or two of milk would come out. And so desperate was I to feed my baby, that I fed him the contents of the bottle, regardless of what was mixed in with that milk from my bleeding boobs.

I knew it wasn’t right. But I was so indoctrinated against formula milk, that somewhere in my disturbed mind I thought it was better to have a hungry baby than a formula fed one. And the midwives, the supposed experts backed this up. After all, what did I, a first time mum know?

Then I had a brainwave. Maybe I could get breast milk from another woman! It was better to use some poor cow’s over-active milk supply than feed my baby powdered milk from..well, some poor cows. So I googled ‘milk banks’ and found that any donated milk goes to premature and sick babies, not sick mothers with hungry babies.

So there I was, two weeks on, still in that feeding chair and the doorbell rang, for my daily midwife visit. It was a male midwife, in his late 50s. I was suspicious.

He produced a pair of scales, for my son’s first weigh-in. I was excited to see how much weight he’d put on after all my efforts.

But I could see in the midwife’s face that all was not well.

“Have you got a bottle and some formula milk?” said the midwife.

“I don’t want to give my baby formula milk,” I said.

“If you don’t give your son a drink of formula milk now,” he replied, “I'll have no choice but to admit him to hospital.”

I felt numb. My two week old baby had lost over 10 per cent of his body weight. He was dehydrated and desperate for food.

“What will they do to him in hospital?” I asked.

“They’ll give him formula milk.”

So, terrified that my baby was going to be taken away from me, I watched, as this stranger, poured formula milk into the lid of a bottle and slowly trickled it into my son’s mouth.

Then, for the first time since his birth, my son slept. And all I could do was cry.

I had failed my son. Not only had I unintentionally starved my poor, precious baby for two long weeks, but now some guy had fed him this disgusting, powdered milk concoction. He’d clearly drugged my son with this poison - why else would a feed send him to sleep? It didn’t occur to me that babies always sleep when their tummies are full, because my baby had never had a full tummy.

Sensing my distress, that wonderful, sensible, caring midwife, suggested I continued breastfeeding, but then after each feed, I ‘top up’ with a little formula.

So I did. And it quickly became obvious, as my son hungrily sucked at the bottle of formula milk, that despite all my efforts, I had virtually no breast milk.

But still I couldn’t accept it. It’s like the breastfeeding campaigners had rewired my brain. I was completely indoctrinated. But having put my son through so much distress, I no longer trusted myself to make a decision. So I phoned my friend who had given up breastfeeding after six weeks.

“I need you to tell me to stop breastfeeding,” I said.

“Stop breastfeeding,” she said.

So I stopped. And my son started to put on weight for the first time. Then he began to sleep – not brilliantly, but enough to get by. And the crying became less frequent. And when his nappies became heavy and wet, it suddenly dawned on me, he had been so dehydrated that he hadn’t been weeing. And even when I’d told the midwives that I couldn’t tell if there was any urine in the nappy, they’d just fobbed me off, saying it was hard to tell these days, as nappies are so absorbent.

Now the only place I wanted to walk, was out in the sunshine, with my baby in his pram.

The next day, one of the original midwives came. I told her I had stopped breastfeeding.

“Oh well,” she said, “I suppose it doesn’t suit everybody’s lifestyle.”

I said nothing. What I wanted to say was, ‘no sorry, it doesn’t suit my lifestyle to starve my baby to death, while my mental health deteriorates. Yes, that really gets in the way of long lunches and manicures, you judgemental b****.’ But I didn’t, because I felt ashamed.

That was my last midwife visit. Once the breastfeeding box is unticked, you’re no longer a concern. But she wasn’t the only one to judge.

“Shame on you,” was the response to my bottle feeding, from a relative and retired paediatrician.

It doesn’t help the guilt, that when you decide to bottle feed a baby, you immediately become part of an underground movement. In order to know which milk to choose, which brand of bottle, how to sterilise and all the other questions an anxious mother has, you must seek out another member of this tribe. Why? Because midwives, antenatal teachers and even advertisers are banned from promoting formula milk, just in case a mother falsely starts to believe that Aptamil or SMA or Cow & Gate is better for her baby than mummy’s own milk. As a result, buying a tub of formula milk, feels like purchasing something illegal and dangerous. It’s the aptly named ‘nanny state’ gone mad and it’s having a damaging effect on mothers and babies, at a time which should be the most special of their lives.

Even formula milk websites are forced by law, to show visitors a warning about the content of the site, before they enter a page with information on its products! It seems formula feeding has become something that everyone knows goes on, but no one is allowed to mention.

Despite everything, when I fell pregnant with my daughter, I knew that I wanted to give breastfeeding another shot. During my first labour I’d consumed every method of pain relief possible and would have raided the supply cupboard for more, if the epidural had allowed me to escape from the bed. Concerned that one or more of the drugs may have affected my milk supply, I decided that second time around I was going to go cold turkey. After all, how much could it hurt?

Haha! What an idiot. Let’s just say it stung, quite a lot. But anyway, I managed to push out 7lb15oz worth of child with no toxins in my bloodstream. The baby was then led straight to my breast and all was well.

36 hours later, it had become obvious to me that my daughter was starving, so I made her a bottle. I shed a few tears (mainly because I could have had an effing epidural!) and put the episode behind me.

Or tried to. Everywhere new mothers turn is another ‘Breast is Best’ poster. Every week in the press, there’s another report that breastfed children have a higher IQ, a stronger immune system, more chance of having magic sodding powers. But I know that breast milk is better for my children, I’m aware that I’ve ruined their lives, now leave me and my boobs alone!

Midwives shouldn’t be under pressure to push mothers to breastfeed. They should be trained to recognise that the health of the mother and baby is paramount. The definition of good health, does not mean the use of breast milk - it means a thriving baby and a sane mother, whether this is achieved by a breast or a bottle.

If 80 per cent of women give up breastfeeding in the first six months, I can’t be the only one to feel that breast isn’t always best, can I?

Sunday, 7 August 2011

The Kids Are Revolting

The little girl was hungry. She was sure she hadn’t eaten for days and there was no sign of a loved-one offering nourishment. She heard a familiar creaking sound and turned. In the distance, the lid of the dustbin had been lifted. Confident she could see something glistening inside, the toddler padded towards the bin as fast as she could, hoisted herself up on her tip-toes and reached into the depths below. As she withdrew her miniature hand, she was rewarded with a crust of bread sprinkled with a delicious layer of strawberry jam. She shovelled it into her mouth as fast as she could. Heaven.

“Ergh! That’s disgusting!” cried my husband, “Did you see what your daughter just did?”

“She’s just being resourceful,” I reassured, “luckily, I emptied the bin after I poured in the contents of the hoover.”

So there you have it. My 16 month old daughter eats out of the kitchen bin. It’s probably not the most hygienic source of food, but in her defence, she’s just copying her mother. Not that I feed myself out of the bin, what do you take me for?! No, that’s just how I’ve been known to feed my children.

Before you call Social Services, let me explain.

My children fall into the rather irritating category of ‘fussy eaters.’ They reject food with the same disdain that Simon Cowell rejects X Factor candidates (only the deflated teenagers pick themselves up off the floor). Despite asking my three year old son six times before I make his breakfast, that he definitely, without doubt, 100 per cent wants jam on toast, it’s not unusual for him to turn his nose up at the toast before I’ve even finished spreading the jam. “Toast?!” he’ll wail, “But I wanted jam sandwiches!”

My daughter, upon seeing the toast, may think about eating it, but should she see a punnet of grapes lying on the side, she will hurl the toast at the nearest kitchen appliance and scream for fruit.

So that is why, after only eating grapes for breakfast, half an hour later, my daughter will beg me for toast. Which is when I realise I used the last of the bread, making jam sandwiches.

But there’s toast in the bin! How bad can it be? After all, this is the child that will drop a raison on the pavement and put it straight back in her mouth – whether it is actually the raison or not; the girl who after eating Play Doh by mistake, will return for another mouthful, the toddler who won’t eat a potato but will quite happily chew on shoes. So bin food, in comparison, is relatively clean, right?

It wasn’t meant to be like this.

Three years ago, when I discovered that I wasn’t able to breastfeed my son, I promised myself I would try and make up for my incompetent milk supply, by only giving him homemade, organic, nutritious food. Forget five-a-day - my son would eat ten a day, never dream of snacking between meals and his only reference to McDonalds would be a song about an old man with a noisy farm.

I had it all worked out. I had my baby food cookbook, 75 varieties of feeding spoon and enough ice cube trays to freeze all the puree in North London. When it was time to wean, I threw the contents of Sainsbury’s organic fruit and veg department into my car and set off home to cook. And cook. And cook.

I’m not surprised jar baby food is a multi-million pound industry. I had no idea how mind-numbingly, boringly long it would take to peel, de-stone, chop and steam, blend, distribute and label. And in order to introduce my son to every food type under the sun, I found myself making new batches of slop on a nightly basis. The irony is, that after I’d spent two hours, trying and failing to de-skin a tomato, the last thing I’d feel like doing was cooking me and my husband dinner. So I didn’t. Our local Chinese/Indian/Italian supplied that.

So it’s mildly frustrating, when the next day you warm up your lovingly made ‘broccoli trio’, sit opposite your little darling in his highchair and gently guide the first spoonful into his mouth, only for him to spit it in your face, burst into tears and chuck the entire pot on the floor.

By the time my son turned one, the legendary baby food wizard that is Annabel Karmel, began to take on a familiar, bearded rival - Captain Birds Eye. I was starting to ask myself why I was dipping a cod fillet in crushed cornflakes, only to then be forced to chase my son around the kitchen with a forkful, when I could just pop a couple of fish fingers in the oven and be done with it? So I did. And he liked them. And there was a lot less washing up.

When my daughter came along, I would have loved to have followed the baby guru’s advice of making one gorgeous family meal, liquidising it for the baby, chopping it up for the toddler and eating the rest ourselves. But, if all your son eats is fish fingers, boiled eggs and pasta, you’re going to be serving up some very odd baby mush. Equally, I didn’t feel right pureeing two onion bhajis, a chicken dhansak and a garlic naan.

I’ve tried all the tricks with my son – removing the food and letting him go hungry (he’s not bothered), putting things on my plate so he’ll get curious (he doesn’t), bribing him with a treat (no treat is worth eating greens for), but all to no avail. His sister actually thinks his name is ‘EAT!’ as she hears me yell this at him so frequently.

I’d think there was something medically wrong with my little boy, seeing as how he manages to survive on so little food, but having seen him at birthday parties, I know there is nothing abnormal about this child’s appetite. The quantity of cake my son can consume is astonishing. You know when people say, they can always fit in a pudding after a meal because they have a separate dessert stomach? I’ve finally concluded that my son only has a dessert stomach.

My daughter, has not yet been introduced to cake. Grapes are to her, what chocolate fudge cake is to her brother. I treasure this time, because I know that when she discovers that the bad stuff, is the good stuff, there won’t be anyone rifling through the bin for toast, when there’s cake in the cupboard…

Saturday, 23 July 2011

Raising the Alarm(s)

I spent many a minute of my adolescence sitting on the loo at my friend Zoe’s parents’ house. Not because I had some kind of embarrassing problem – this is pre-children - but because they have inspiring wallpaper in the downstairs toilet. It’s covered in priceless sayings, my favourite being, ‘Don’t tell people about your indigestion, “how are you?” is a greeting, not a question.’ Arthur Guiterman.

There are several relatives that I would like to direct to that toilet, now I come to think of it. But generally, when I ask someone “how are you?” they say, “fine thanks, you?” and I say “yeah fine.”

But I’m lying. What I really want to say is “I’m absolutely shattered, thanks for asking. I haven’t slept in three years and two months and the way things are going, I’m probably not due a decent night’s sleep for another decade. I can barely construct a sentence, I have the air conditioning on minus 20 to stay awake when I drive and because I don’t drink coffee, I eat my body weight in chocolate daily, just to give myself a sugar rush, which is making me fat. Oh and excuse the bizarre imprints on my face, but I fell asleep, face down on the sofa for ten minutes before I came out and only woke up because my child started screaming down the monitor. Apart from that I’m fine thanks, you?”

I have to admit that when I was pregnant with my first, I was totally naive about the effect a baby would have on my night’s sleep. In fact, after an embarrassing incident at work - when I fell asleep at my desk and woke up to half the team standing in a circle around me, while I indiscreetly wiped the dribble from my face - I was kind of looking forward to ridding myself of the pregnancy tiredness.

I’d heard about these ‘sleepless nights,’ but I just thought it meant the baby might wake up sniffling in the night and I’d swing it about a bit, sing some sort of lullaby and it would drift off back to dreamland.

Then in 2008, my son burst into the world and I haven’t had a full night’s rest since.

Turns out, I gave birth to an insomniac. We offered him a moses basket, a crib, a cot, our bed, a sling, a buggy, the car, even a changing mat! But after an hour of slumber, day or night, he’d wake up screaming.

This carried on for ten months, until in a fit of desperation, I contacted sleep expert Andrea Grace, who I instinctively knew I could trust because she’d been on This Morning( before you ask!) For a small fee, she taught me how to get our son to sleep and stay asleep. The woman’s a miracle worker. For the first time ever, our son slept longer than an hour, which meant I slept for several and it didn’t even bother me that he now woke every day at 5am. She said we could work on the early morning problem, but I couldn’t be bothered. He was sleeping – woohoo! And then I got pregnant again.

I thought this time, surely, I was due one of those miracle babies that sleeps from 7.00 till 7.00, from birth and then has five, three hour naps in the day. I was going to be one of those really irritating mothers who complain because their baby woke at 6.59am, which means they’re soooo tired.

Needless to say, out popped another screamer. However, I decided that with Number Two, I wasn’t going to get into the same sleep deprived mess as I did with Number One. I stuck to Andrea’s rules and eventually they worked. Only this time, I can’t cope with my little early morning alarm.

My daughter might be ready to tackle the day at 5am, seven days a week, public holidays included, but I’m not. It’s probably got something to do with the fact that I’m incapable of getting an early night, because I rely on my precious child-free evenings to do housework/blog-writing/Corrie-watching.

Unfortunately, my late night activities have consequences. Like the time I dosed off on the sofa at 6am, while my daughter was playing with the house phone. I woke up, she was still alive, no harm done. Then around 8am, while I was pottering around in my manky pink dressing gown making the kids toast, the police arrived on my front doorstep. Turned out, when I’d passed out, my neglected one year old daughter had decided to randomly dial 999 and grass me up. I was slightly embarrassed, yet secretly impressed with the situation. However, sods law says that when I fall down the stairs and crack my head open, my daughter will pick up the phone and dial the talking clock.

So it doesn’t surprise me that sleep deprivation is used as a form of torture. Apparently, symptoms include hallucinations, paranoia and disorientation. Yep, that explains why I thought I saw a packet of Oreo cookies in the fridge this morning, accused my husband of stealing them and then discovered them down the side of the sofa…

But seriously, this lack of sleep does make you go crazy. Take the time, a close friend had a baby, I went out and bought a beautiful pair of pink booties, only to remember on the way home that her baby’s name was James. Or the time I was driving myself mad, trying to remember which station Paddington Bear was found, or when I took my son’s own books back to the library instead of the ones he’d actually borrowed. Us mothers call it ‘baby brain’, but I’m sure it’s something a lie-in till midday could fix.

So next time a parent of small kids tells you they’re “fine, thanks – you?” don’t believe a word of it. And if they’re telling the truth, I want to know their secret!

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

The Princess and the Sprog

I can’t wait till Kate Middleton has babies. I’m getting a bit irritated by her skinniness and her stylishness and that perfect Princess thing she’s got going on. Yes, like many, I was gripped by The Royal Wedding, despite having to watch Pippa’s cellulite-free arse slink up the aisle. But I feel like she’s had her moment as the beautiful bride, now it’s time to grab the Prince, throw the bodyguards out the door and royally get down to business.

Oh no, I’m not bothered about them creating an heir. I just want to see Kate turn up for her first baby photo shoot, in elasticated Mothercare pjs, with regurgitated milk over her shoulder, bags under her eyes and projectile baby poo in her hair. Then, I might start warming to her.

Of course it won’t happen. She’ll have 57 nannies who’ll deal with all the nasty stuff, while she teeters out of the labour ward in a size zero Alexander McQueen number, with perfectly coiffed hair and next season’s lippie. After all, she’s bound to take advice from her new BFF Victoria Beckham, who I imagine had a full entourage waiting for her in the postnatal wing, lest she smudge her mascara during the C-section.

Unfortunately, it’s not just celebrity mums that make giving birth and the consequences thereof, look so easy squeezy. There are perfectly groomed mothers everywhere, who appear to have momentarily turned off their straighteners, popped out a baby and then carried on styling their locks, like nothing happened. And what’s worse, they’ve remained looking glamorous ever since.

I’m not one of those mothers. It’s been nearly 16 months since my daughter made her entrance into the world and I still haven’t managed to fit into half my wardrobe, let alone look stylish.

What I don’t understand, is how I’m supposed to buy these on-trend clothes when my children alternate between tearing out of the shop door and flinging themselves on the floor with rage? How do I concentrate on blow drying my hair, when my kids are launching themselves off the back off the sofa? How do I apply eyeliner, when my little one screams the house down if I stop her from eating the contents of my make-up bag?

Before I had The Boy and The Girl, I had all the time in the world to beautify myself. If I had a party to go to, I’d spend an entire day getting waxed, manicured and blow dried. Then all I needed to do was try on some dresses, get stressed because I thought I looked fat in all my dresses, ask my husband which dress I should wear, get annoyed because he’d chosen the dress I specifically said I did not want to wear, text my friends to see what they were wearing, choose the dress I originally planned to wear, try on every pair of shoes in my wardrobe to see which one made my cankles look thinnest, turn my cupboards upside down looking for the right handbag and apply lots of lots of make-up. And I’d still run late.

Now, my ‘dressing up’ routine goes a bit like this - throw on whichever dress is the least creased, realise there’s a stain on it, manically try and remove the stain with a baby wipe, throw an old mascara in a bag and run out the door. And that’s for a special occasion.

Oh well. Maybe once the kids are both old enough to spread their own toast, wipe their own bottoms and put their own shoes on the correct feet, I’ll have time to transform myself into a yummy mummy.

But for now, I’ll have to make do with being a messy mummy, with a slight resentment towards certain royals…

Monday, 4 July 2011

A Little Brit Controversial

I’ve recently joined Twitter, in an attempt to re-connect with the outside world and get a moment’s break from my two small children. It seems I’m not the only one on a break, because a throw-away ‘tweet’ can spark a nation-wide outcry in a matter of minutes.

Take for example Hollywood star Russell Crowe, admitting to his 250,000 followers that he thought male circumcision was ‘barbaric and stupid.’ In 140 characters, he managed to make instant headlines and offend Jews and Muslims across the globe. D'oh!

I wasn't offended. Because if I’m honest, I kind of see where he’s coming from. I have to admit, I felt embarrassed telling my friends who aren’t Jewish that I was having my son circumcised, because in their position, I think I would probably frown on it too…

I didn’t officially know that I was pregnant with a boy. However, the 20 week scan photo left little to imagination and let’s just say, our unborn child’s gender was staring us and everyone else who saw the picture, right in the face. Poor sod, everyone had already seen his bits and he hadn’t even left the womb.

But that was nothing compared to what he exposed three weeks after his birth, when The Boy was guest of honour at his first Jew Do. Unbeknownst to him, this ‘welcome to the world party’ was actually his circumcision, otherwise known as a Brit. Before he’d had a chance to smell the smoked salmon bagels, my little boy was whisked away from me and ushered through a heaving crowd of relatives, to meet the deceptively friendly looking mohel. All comfy on a pillow on his grandfather’s lap and dosed up with kosher wine, my perfect and probably drunk son, was then clamped, sliced and deprived of the ‘unjewish’ part of his manhood, while upstairs, all I could do was listen out for the scream.

Ok, maybe I’m making it out to be more gruesome than it is. The actual circumcision is quick and relatively risk free. The mohel is usually a qualified doctor. Every day, people are circumcised the world over for either religious or health reasons. There are even health benefits that it can lower the risks of contracting HIV and penile cancer. But as a mother, when you’ve just given birth to a perfect baby and your natural instinct is to protect your child from harm, sitting back while your child is mutilated, with your full consent, is heart-breaking, devastating, fury-inducing and you feel like you’ve failed as a parent, before you’ve even begun.

I felt angry and cheated. I refused to speak to any of the guests that had packed out the downstairs of our house and stayed upstairs with The Boy until everyone had left. In my hormonal state, my family and closest friends had become a jeering crowd at an execution, rather than well-wishers at what is effectively a baby-naming ceremony - when the baby’s Hebrew name is revealed and his covenant with G-d sealed. To be honest, all that lovely traditional stuff was lost in my desire to snatch my son back and run for the hills…or the nearest hospital.

But you know what? He got over it. We got over it. Everything was fine…eventually. But why do it in the first place? For my husband and me at the time, it was just something that our parents expected. The question was not, “will your son be circumcised?” It was “when’s the Brit, because you know I need to order the Danish pastries?” Any worries and doubts I expressed to my dad, were quashed with “well it didn’t do me any harm,” which is a conversation you don’t really want to pursue..

Because no one seemed to question the ethics of circumcising their sons, I convinced myself and my husband that it must be ok, like losing a fingernail maybe (except less likely to grow back).

So I think the most shocking part came when the mohel first removed the bloody dressing, to reveal something that resembled a cocktail sausage dyed an unappetising shade of purple. We then had to check on the sausage every half an hour, dress it with a Vaseline soaked gauze and wrap it up in two nappies. In shock and not quite sure what to do with ourselves, or our son, we did what any new parent does when left alone with their newborn. We sat him next to a toy monkey, whipped out the camera and took some snaps of him with his wine-soaked finger, for the family album. Well it was done now, wasn’t it!

Because at the end of the day, if you make the decision to bring your son up as a Jew, you’ve just got to accept certain things – a) they’re probably going to be short and eventually balding, b) they’re going to aspire to be a doctor, lawyer or accountant and c) they’re expected to be circumcised.

After all, yes maybe it hurts for an instant, but that’s nothing compared to the teasing our son would receive from his Jewish friends for his extra packaging – how to make (an already ginger) child feel self-conscious! Then there’s how he’d feel if he took a nice Jewish girl upstairs one day (she’d be back downstairs in an instant.) And if he chooses to follow the religious route, we’d have let him down by not forging his physical bond with The Lord a bit sooner. Then if he chose to have the adult procedure, he’d probably need a little more than a sip of wine to numb the pain.

Yes, I wish the initiation into male Jewish life was simply a bottle of chicken soup and a scolding from their future mother-in-law, but then I didn’t’ make the rules.

Thankfully, our second child was a girl.