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.