Sunday, June 30, 2013

I abandoned my child!


Okay, I didn't really abandon my child, I just left him with James quite a lot while I went out to do things for, well, for myself this weekend. It's nice to get out sans baby every now and again, and I'm very lucky that I can, but I always feel spectacularly guilty for leaving him. That infamous scene in There Will Be Blood has been running through my head constantly for the past two days.

I had a great time, though. First off I had my third driving lesson on Saturday morning. It went far better than the previous two, and this week I only had one near-fatal incident. Baby steps. After that it was home for a quick change and then into town to catch up with C, L and V for a late birthday lunch. We went to the Riding House Cafe, ate eggs florentine, drank wine and disappeared into Wimpy-sized chocolate fudge sundaes. It was so good that we decided to make it the inaugural meeting of Weekend Brunch Club. That's my kind of club.

Daddy daycare had gone well. When I got home James and Samuel were both sporting stacking cups on their heads.

Today I had an appointment at the hairdressers (my grey roots were coming through so badly I was starting to resemble a badger), so knowing that I wouldn't be around for a chunk of the afternoon, I frogmarched the boys to the park in the morning for some organised family fun. Yes, I have become that person. Still, with swings and seesaws galore, we all did have fun, be it organised or otherwise.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Friday morning

James lays Samuel down next to me. He spent the night breakdancing in his cot (Samuel, that is - not James). I am tired. He is wide awake. He smiles. I smile. I peel myself off the mattress, prepare a bottle, trip over some stacking cups and think, 'I'll tidy those stacking cups away later.' I don't tidy the stacking cups away later.

Samuel's just gone to sleep. I dry my hair. I throw on my clothes like a whirling dervish. A godawful rumble erupts from outside and the whole building shakes. I suspect a sink hole, and wonder whether we'll feature on BBC Breakfast in some capacity tomorrow. I look outside and see that it's not a sink hole - it's roadworks and they're right outside Samuel's bedroom. I look at the baby monitor. Samuel is breakdancing. I sigh. I go to collect him from his cot. He smiles. I smile. I sit him down next to me while I colour in my face with Touche Éclat. I show him how to put blusher on. He looks unimpressed and puts Mister Clicky Turtle in his mouth.

We are waiting in the church hall's soggy vestibule. Outside the rain is pouring. Inside the baby music class before ours is finishing up. Two mums next to me who I don't know are talking about how they burn in the sun. I interrupt them and tell them I am so translucently pale that when I sit on a white plastic sun lounger, I am invisible to the human eye. They smile politely. I don't know why I just said that. I am tired. Samuel throws up on his trousers. We go in and we merrily shake and chew maracas for three-quarters of an hour. He smiles. I smile.

'Did you know that the wipes they use to clean the instruments here have alcohol in them?' asks my friend at the end of the class. I peer at our babies, trying to detect any signs of drunkenness. My findings are inconclusive. Me and Samuel leave. We slalom back through the wheelie bins of collection day. We get in to the flat and it looks like there's been a humanitarian disaster. It's exactly as we left it. I notice a funny smell. It could be anything. Nappy bin. Fruit peelings. Cunningly concealed cat sick. 'I'll look for the source of the smell later,' I think. I don't look for the source of the smell later. I pop Samuel in his high chair and start to prepare his lunch. It's pretty much the afternoon now. I hand him a rice cake to snack on and he smiles like he's been presented with an Olympic gold medal. I smile.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

A cultural outing

I love the work of LS Lowry. As someone who grew up in a bleak, industrial landscape in the Midlands and then who lived in the North West for three years, his paintings speak to me in a way that no other artist's do. I see a beauty in those belching chimneys, quarrelling crowds and satanic mills. They make me feel at home.

So when I heard about Lowry and the Painting of Modern Life, the brand new exhibition at the Tate Britain, I had to go. Cue me and Samuel heading off for an adventure yesterday. The Tate's easy to get to from Crystal Palace - overground to Vauxhall, then a short dander over the river. It's super baby-friendly too. As soon as I got in the queue to pick up my tickets, someone came to help me, collected my tickets for me, directed me to the lifts and pointed out where the baby changing facilities were - and all without me asking.

We headed into the exhibition. It was its first day. It was extremely busy, and I had a buggy. It was extremely quiet, and I had a child who can go off like a fire alarm at any given moment. I was a little nervous. But I didn't need to be. I got lucky. Samuel conked out as soon as we got in there, leaving me to carefully weave the buggy through the crowds and happily take it all in. They really are stunning paintings, magnificently unsentimental and gloriously gloomy. 

From what I read, the exhibition is trying to dispel some of the art world's snobbery towards Lowry. So it did make me laugh when I saw that the gift shop was selling flat caps. Perhaps not dispelling snobbery entirely, then.

Anyway, Samuel was still asleep when we left the exhibition, so I decided to use the opportunity to give some Turners a quick shufty. 

Then I headed down to the cafe and managed to get a piece of cake in before my little masterpiece awoke from his slumber. Bliss.

And once he was up and at 'em, I gave him his lunch in a high chair, and he enjoyed a spot of people-watching. After a quick nappy change we were homeward bound, feeling very pleased about having gone on an arty adventure.

But while I may love Lowry, not everyone's a fan. When James got home he said, 'So Mummy took you to see some Northern stick men, did she, mate?' 

Lowry and the Painting of Modern Life is on at Tate Britain until 20 October. 

Monday, June 24, 2013

Project: garden

There were lots of rubbish things that happened this weekend. We had absolutely no water pressure so I enjoyed what my mother would call a 'character-building' shower. I think the character I built was that of a pork pie, though, because I then had my second driving lesson and the coordination skills I displayed in it of were only equal to those of a stodgy savoury snack. Having said that, my low expectations led me to believe that I'd actually done reasonably for my second lesson up until the point that my instructor said, 'Don't worry - everyone has crap lessons.'

Talking of crap, the worst thing that happened this weekend was Samuel suffering from a horrible bout of constipation. I reckon it must be down to us introducing protein this week. Nothing sucks more than seeing your baby in pain like that. But thanks to a little bit of prune purée he seems to be well on the road to recovery today. I shared my relief, so to speak, with my husband with a text reading, 'the soft poo is back!!!'. Who said romance was dead?

But, before I start to sound like a total Negative Nelly, there was one fantastic thing that happened at the weekend. The gardeners came and sprinkled some magic dust on the overgrown wilderness at the back of our building and we've finally got something that resembles a garden. The grass is patchy (it was seeded in October and doubled up as an all-you-can-eat buffet for all the pigeons in south London) and there's still loads to do, but soon we can have little picnics and games out there. Given that we filmed this video when we moved in two years ago, to show my parents what the garden was like, we're pretty chuffed.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

For what it's worth

My husband is off out to meet one of his friends who is six months' pregnant. He asked me what advice he should give her about becoming a mother. I told him that, as someone who only just realised that they'd been fastening the baby car seat dangerously incorrectly for the past seven months, I'm probably not the right parenting guru to speak to. But then the desire to stick my oar in became overwhelming, and here are the top three tips I came up with for any new mum.

1.  Read up on routines. 
Even if you intend to be led by your baby, just give a few books about routines a cursory glance. I so wish I'd have done this. If you are entirely clueless, as I was, it will give you a very rough idea of how an average baby might spend their day, what they might need and when. It may also prevent you from experiencing three months of round-the-clock screaming, where baby starts to view you as that nice but incompetent drip who got booted off The Apprentice, and you start to view baby as Joffrey from Game of Thrones.

2. Join an antenatal group. 
Yes, you will spend several awkward hours trying to make polite, interested, comments about uterus illustrations from the 1970s. And yes, you will try not to laugh as your teacher pretends to breastfeed a Dora The Explorer doll in her conservatory. But you will also meet a bunch of people who you may not have a lot in common with yet, but who you will soon be spending an unthinkable amount of time with discussing green poo over cold cups of tea. It may not sound like your idea of fun right now, but it's actually amazing.

3. Upgrade your socks. 
Becoming a mum goes hand-in-hand with removing your shoes on an industrial scale. Play group? Shoes off. Music class? Shed the trainers. Visiting your mummy friends? Park your boots in the hall. Don't get caught out like me and be forced to flaunt your shamefully threadbare socks to all and sundry. Get some new ones. It's hard enough trying to get yourself to look 'together' as a new mum. But when you've just about managed it (ie, wiped the projectile poo out of your barnet and put on the pair of jeans that you're pretty sure didn't get pee'd on), the last thing that's going to make you feel tip top is spending three sleep-deprived choruses of 'Row Your Boat' staring at the big toe that's poking out of your socks. For this reason I have just splashed out on some gorgeous stripy numbers from Boden. They make me cheery whenever I wear them, and they make babies think I am a CBeebies puppet. 

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Stir crazy

Our fridge was starting to resemble the garden of Eden again, groaning with bounty from the weekend's Sainsbury's delivery. It meant only one thing: today was purée-making day. 

But the fridge wasn't the only thing that was groaning. So was Samuel. He's got really clingy of late and cries every time I'm out of his line of sight. He wants to be carried everywhere and isn't happy to be left on his play mat for even a minute. It meant I had to peel, chop, cook and purée all the while entertaining a grizzling child. I resorted to singing and dancing to show tunes, using sweet potatoes as props. It was a challenge. 

Later on, after two loads of washing, one dishwasher cycle, one pile of cat sick and an awful lot of tiny grumbles, I needed to get us out of the flat and blow away the cobwebs.

So off we went to Norwood Park. With a frankly embarrassing lack of stone dinosaurs and no ducks in sight, it's not as glamorous as Crystal Palace park. But it's so close. And, towering way up above London, its views are amazing. It's definitely a good place to go if you need to feel a sense of perspective. The playground is really lovely too, so I popped Samuel in a little swing to see if he liked it. He wasn't too sure, but I think he liked looking at everything that was going on around him and taking it all in. My hair frizzed in the humid air and my hay fever kicked in on the walk home, but I didn't care a jot. Sometimes you just need to get out and breathe in the fresh air.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Father's Day

Samuel is super lucky to have a dad like James.

When I was in a real mess after giving birth, James had to take the reigns with Samuel. He was the first person to hold him, to change him and dress him. He had no experience with babies at all, but he threw himself right in, immediately falling in love with this grumpy little newborn he'd been presented with. 

Since then, his repertoire of fatherly skills has expanded to include pirate voices and monster hands, not to mention providing an excellent baby barber service.

He's a great dad, and he deserved a great first Father's Day. Unfortunately I was in charge of arrangements, so what he got was a walk up a hill in the rain and a quick coffee at Caffe Nero. Mum fail. 

Still, as we pottered around Crystal Palace's triangle we popped into Papagaio, a fantastically retro new toyshop, and James bought a couple of toys to entertain the little man. The biggest hit was a crocodile glove puppet which Samuel giggled at every time it went 'Snap! Snap!' That was a pretty fun way to spend a Father's Day afternoon.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Vroom! Vroom!

When I turned 17 I couldn't stretch to driving lessons. After all there were alcopops to buy with my paltry (poultry?) earnings from my weekend job at KFC. 

Then I moved to London at 21 and bused, tubed, trained and walked everywhere. 'What idiot needs a car in London?' I thought. And then I had a baby and realised that I'm the idiot who needs a car in London. I want to be able to take Samuel out and about to parties and to swimming lessons without contending with long walks in the rain. I want to be able to whizz over to friends' houses without the stress of bumping a buggy around stations and grumping about delayed trains. I want to hop in the car my Dad got for me and head up the M1 to Granny Kate's house whenever the urge takes me. 

So today, at the grand old age of 33, I took my first driving lesson. I didn't have a clue what I was doing, of course. When my instructor asked me to indicate left I managed it fine, but when he told me to indicate right, I switched on the windscreen wipers. 

It was terrifying! I got home sweaty but elated. Me and Samuel are on the road to freedom. 

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

From the bookshelf: Hairy Maclary from Donaldson's Dairy

The absolute favourite part of our day is story time. I read a couple of books to Samuel before every nap, and then James reads him a few more before bedtime. No matter how tired, grumbly and flappy the little man is, it's amazing how a brightly coloured book can command his attention and calm him right down. I'm sure he hasn't got a clue what's going on in them yet, but he looks completely entranced and is full of concentration as soon as you start to read. Of course, it's always possible that he's just filling up his nappy.

As a word nerd, I'm in hog heaven with all of these books. To be honest, the ones I read to him are  the ones that entertain me the most, and my current favourite is Hairy Maclary from Donaldson's Dairy, which was a gift from my mum. It's apparently an '80s classic, although I never came across it as a kid. Packed with rhyming couplets and ridiculous lists, it's great fun to read. And it's all about dogs. I love dogs.

So Hairy Maclary from Donaldson's Dairy goes out for a walk ...

... and, one by one, all of his canine friends join him. Each time a new pal joins the walk, the book recaps on all of the dogs' names, until you have a terrific tongue-twister of a list. They all have amazing names and characteristics. I particularly love Schnitzel von Krumm (with a very low tum) and Hercules Morse (as big as a horse).

Eventually the merry band encounter Scarface Claw, the toughest Tom in town ...

... and, terrified, they all bugger off home with 'a scatter of paws and a clatter of claws'.

It's a top book. If you'd like to see some other gorgeous children's books, take a look at the beautiful' We Like To Read' posts over on Tigerlilly Quinn, one of my favourite blogs around, and the inspiration for this post.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Samuel at seven months'

Babies are weird, aren't they? After a weekend of misery, we've just had a couple of days of giggly, bouncy, unmitigated joy. He's been a delight. I don't get it. It's like they instinctively know when you're feeling tired and broken and pushed to your limit, so they spend a little time reminding you why you took on the gig in the first place.

He's seven months' old today. Still no teeth, but he can just about sit up on his own, he can roll (but mainly chooses not to. Lazy.), he can pass things from hand to hand and is a pretty dexterous little chap. He recognises his toys, and people too, I think. I reckon he's starting to hit the shy and clingy stage because he gets upset whenever I leave a room (I've never felt so popular).

I think he's desperate to do more than he can do – it's like he has things to do and places to be, but he's annoyed that his body can't get him there just yet. He doesn't just want to stand and walk, he wants to Riverdance. He's got busy legs that are always kicking, and his nickname at Monkey Music is Michael Flatley. It won't be long before he's mobile so it's time for us to start baby-proofing the flat in earnest – everywhere I look I see sharp corners and towers of boxsets ready to tumble.

In the meantime, I am going to enjoy the toothless gummy smiles.

Sunday, June 9, 2013


Teething is occurring. The dribbling is astonishing but the grizzling is something else. The poor little man is in pain and he just doesn't understand it, so he cries and grumps and demands attention at all times. If you're not within a foot of him throughout his waking hours he wails like a banshee. He wants his mummy and daddy, but then gets upset when he realises that their powers to make it all better don't extend beyond cuddles and Calpol. It's pretty heartbreaking. Hope those toothy pegs put in an appearance soon.

I'm also finding it exhausting to the point of tears. We'd planned a sunny weekend in the park, but the grey skies put pay to that and we stayed in, which was a mistake. Sad babies have an ability to make two hours feel like ten and being stuck within the same four walls made it felt like the longest afternoon in living history. James let me nap a while this morning, while I dispatched him him off for some sleep this afternoon. But napping barely touches the sides so I'm off to bed now, where I will probably have dreams in which I worship a squeaky deity called Sophie le giraffe.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

And he wore: Grumposaur

Samuel's growing so quickly. Whenever he gets new clobber, he seems to outgrow it almost instantly and I feel like I'm constantly packing baby clothes away in the loft (and, to be honest, always dreamily wondering whether we'll ever have cause to use them again). So, I'm going to post some of my favourite blink-and-you'll-miss-them outfits, starting with this lovely Grumposaur vest by Little Goliath. It was a very apt gift from my friend L (not that you can tell from his happy little expression in this picture).

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Have baby, will travel

Public transport with a buggy. I've been putting it off forever. The thought of bumping up and down steps, the crowds, having to ask people for help and annoying fellow passengers with screams coming from my general direction all sounded like a recipe for disaster. But I couldn't live in my safe little Crystal Palace bubble forever, and on Monday the point finally came when I had to brave the train as I was due to pop into my office for the obligatory 'meet the baby' visit.

As always seems to be the case with me, it wasn't nearly as bad as I thought it would be. I mean, the steps at Gipsy Hill and Vauxhall weren't much fun to negotiate, but I simply slipped Samuel into the trusty Baby Bjorn and bumped the buggy without fear. Once aboard, Samuel seemed to enjoy the novelty of looking out of the windows and he didn't cry once. But as a seasoned London commuter, what really surprised me was how kind and helpful people were if they saw me struggling with steps or with the gap between the train and the platform – someone came to my aid every single time and loads more offered. Londoners get a bad name for keeping their eyes down and ignoring each other, but throw a buggy into the mix and they're lovely. Or maybe I just had good luck on Monday. 

The work visit went well and Samuel was a hit. My favourite of all the compliments that he received was that he had 'a lovely shaped head'. After a cuppa at one of my favourite cafes, the Tea House Theatre, it was time for the return journey. As he snoozed all the way from Clapham Junction to home, I thought to myself that now we can do the train, the world – or London at least – is our lobster.


Monday, June 3, 2013

Food is fun ...

'Food is fun, until one.' That's how the saying goes when it comes to weaning. My mother-in-law took this a bit too literally recently when she tried to feed Samuel chocolate cheesecake - we only narrowly managed to stop her.

But weaning really is fun. I love making purées for the little man with my own fair hands, knowing that they're all packed with good stuff. I love watching his face when he goes into food zombie mode and opens his mouth ready to gromph down his meals. I love watching him learn how to feed himself finger foods, feeling prouder and prouder each day as he gets a little bit better at finding his mouth and sogging whatever goes in it. Sometimes he even swallows some of it! And the way he grins, so pleased with himself, when he grabs the spoon at the business end and makes a monster mess? I think I love that the most.

But weaning makes me anxious too. I've read the Anabel Karmen and BLW books, and I still feel pretty clueless. The worries come thick and fast. What if he chokes? What should I do on the days when he just refuses to eat? When should he start to drop the milk feeds? Is he drinking enough water? Is he getting enough iron? How can I get out and about at lunchtime with him when lunch is such a spectacularly messy affair?

What's more, when it comes to being responsible for developing a child's healthy eating habits, I feel pretty under-qualified. After all, when I was in my twenties, my 'balanced diet' consisted of beans on toast, Frosties and white wine. I wouldn't have known a sweet potato if I'd have sat on one.

Yet again as a new mum I'm way out of my comfort zone. But the worries and feelings of inadequacy have to be taken off the menu. I'm just trying to chill out, let Samuel lead the way and enjoy the weaning journey as much as he does. We'll just leave the chocolate cheesecake for a little while yet.