This is your house now: a tour for the person about to buy my house

I’ve had this post in my head for months, and months. The thought of writing it kept making me cry at inconvenient points. Now we finally have a fixed move date (in, um, two days), it’s probably time to let it out. 

Come on in. This is your house now.

Here are some stairs. You’d better get used to that, because there are a lot of them. I don’t want to know how many times I’ve staggered up and down with furniture and work bags, then later car seats, endless bags of groceries, and boys, always boys. The very first time we came here to stay, straight out of the taxi from a South African honeymoon, we found a basket of food and wedding presents just here. We carried it upstairs and sat on a brand-new bed to open them, and laughed a lot.

Once we manhandled our old oven down the steps, just the two of us. Don’t ever do that.

We don’t have a cat (people always ask). The boys like to use the cat flap for poking their heads through. I wouldn’t recommend this either.

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Come in here, to the living room. The kitchen is small, but we’ve attempted all sorts. Mostly pies and things involving potatoes. Do you like pies? This oven does.

I brought my first baby home to this room, and I set the car seat on the floor just there and thought how alien it looked, and how nothing would be the same again, for my whole life. There was a before and an after, and the point in the middle was marked by that car seat on the floor. I was so sore, and so frightened. Then we sat on the sofa just here, battered and bruised together, and I smelled his head, uncurled his tiny fingers, and knew he belonged here just as we did. It worked out alright.

Henry walked for the first time from that sofa to that chair. He’s climbed up here and fallen off. And here. And here. And (lots of times) here. Right here is where he said ‘car keys’, which was the phrase that set loose all the others. Teddy worked out how to propel himself backwards here. And here he went forwards. And here (see those dents on the floor?) he went turbo-charged.

If you lie on the sofa and the weather’s just right, you can look straight up through the skylight like it’s a window into space.

Come and look out of the bay window. It’s nice. Be warned though, the neighbour will be able to see you dancing from their window.

This is a good floor for dancing.

***

This room started off as a study, became a nursery, then Sarah’s room, then back into a nursery for two boys instead of one. I thought a lot (too much) about putting that green on the walls, but now it reminds me of industrious train-building afternoons, early bed-head mornings, and quiet nights with soft breathing and soft warm bodies. I like a room with history, and this one has the most.

I like to sit here on the sheepskin, against the radiator, and write.

***

Upstairs again, and this is our room. I think of love and lazy mornings and that magnificent balcony. Sitting on the edge of the bed for a 4am feed, everything still, breathless with ache and wonder.

Teddy arrived just here. Yes, here. There’s a reason the carpet is new, and it isn’t that we liked the pile.

I’ve saved the best till last. Look, here’s where the sun floods through the skylight onto the floor. I’ve sat here to dry off, to cry, to read, to shut my eyes and let the sunshine bleed through my skin and light me up from the inside out. Sometimes I’ve sat here feeling broken into pieces. But I promise you, sometimes I’ve felt like every wonderful thing I ever dreamed of has flown through this window and landed on my lap.

We’ve been so happy here the walls must hum with it. It feels like I’m leaving my heart behind. It feels like I’m ripping myself in half.

Stand here, and let the warmth come up through your feet. This is your house now.

Tread softly, because you tread on my dreams. Oh my dear, they have been multi-coloured, diamond-sharded, breath-taking things.

I’ll let myself out.

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Dear exercise-haters: you’re doing more than you think

Tim is running a marathon next year. I know, he is p r e t t y intense and very impressive.

I have no concept of what running 26.2 miles actually means (since for me it would only mean prolonged but certain asphyxiation) so I will leave the imagining to him. What it means for the moment is an exercise schedule including long runs, even longer bike rides, and the wearing of much lycra.

I am sort-of happy about the lycra, in that while lycra itself is a bit gross by definition, there is also so. much. leg.

What it also means is that he comes home starving and ready to eat like Henry VIII on weed. I join him in this endeavour, because I am a supportive wife. But I am not burning an extra 900 calories on a slow day, dear readers. So he’s eating a pig-inside-a-duck-inside-a-turkey and banging his mead goblet on the table, feeling revived, and I am eating the same and only feeling greasy and bloated and sad.

This is a problem. I love a marathon man, and I am an exercise-hater. We are basically the Romeo and Juliet of Sports Direct. The only exercise I ever enjoyed was dance class (a LONG time ago) and the yoga class I used to go to, pre-babies. I’ve never found a replacement. All other forms of exercise I have tried make my cells weep. I have done it, because I feel I should. But I hate it. Do you hear, Pinterest quotes superimposed over sweaty abs? I. HATE. IT.

It seems deeply unfashionable to be an exercise-hater at the moment. My Facebook feed is full of Zumba enthusiasts and excited spinners. There’s also, you know, the science (heart health! endorphins! ability to punch robbers in face!). Don’t worry, fellow exercise-haters: I am unlikely to start posting about My Fitness Journey any time soon. But all this proximity to sweating and good health has made me realise that, busy or not, exercise-hater or not, I need to start earning my own goblets of mead.

And I will. In October (probably). When things settle down. When I don’t have quite so many Doctor Who episode blogs to read at 11pm. Until then, to ease the guilt, I have compiled a list of STEALTH EXERCISES I’m doing right at the moment. If you are a fellow hater, you might find these helpful.

- carrying fifty pounds of boy up and down the stairs when they’ve both mysteriously lost the use of their legs at the same time

- continual manhandling, assembling and lifting of the HEAVIEST PUSHCHAIR KNOWN TO MAN

- sprinting up a flight of stairs after hearing an unmistakable ‘face in toilet’ kind of splash

- elevating heart rate by holding breath during abominable nappy changes

- elevating heart rate by stumbling over a silent toddler in the dark hallway at 1am on my way back from the bathroom

- using all possible muscle strength to prevent the Tesco trolley that always veers to the right from crashing into the Pringles aisle

- full-body-wrestling Teddy, the human demolition ball, into a set of clothes every morning

- squeezing self onto toddler-sized slide and pulling self out by sheer force

- 5pm – 6pm, where NO ONE WANTS TO BE PUT DOWN, EVER.

Doesn’t that make you feel better? I should put this on Pinterest. If anyone would like to apply to be my sweaty abs, send cover letters to the usual address.

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I do jumping too, sometimes. Jumping counts, right?

School jumpers

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He loves it.

He came out on his first morning, beaming.

‘How did you do?’ I asked.

‘QUITE WEEEELL!’ he shouted back, arms in a victory V.

I see we are raising a classic British child, who uses ‘not bad’ to mean ‘really good’ and ‘quite well’ to mean ‘verily, mother, I have had the best morning of my life so far’.

We are not quite getting to grips with a new routine where half our day is gone with the school run and the other half is taken up by staggered naps. Teddy and my work are getting particularly short-changed. I am also quite terrifyingly awkward at the school gates, as anticipated. But we’re getting there, and we’ll get there better once we’re five minutes’ walk away instead of twenty minutes’ drive (in just a couple of weeks!).

I miss him. I am only just beginning to realise how much of our days will revolve around school from now on. I have lost a time when we invented everything around him, and I’m allowing myself a bit of space to mourn for it. But other things are on the horizon too: library books, history videos, bonkers German nouns, residential trips, PE, maths, piano lessons, friends. Bad days, good days, non-uniform days. I can’t wait to see what he makes of them.

If Les Miserables was performed by my one-year-old

The struggle is real. 

Look Down Teddy

Look down and see
the sweepings of the street
and eat them
they are ambrosia
whatever your mother says

Valjean Arrested Teddy

Tell Her Reverence your story
let us see if she’s impressed
you were splashing in the toilet
you have faeces on your vest

Factory Teddy

At the end of the day you’ll eat nothing for dinner
tomatoes are rank little globules of pus
and you’ll put them on the floor
and the inside of your nostrils
that’s as far as you’re willing to go
where are the cheerios

Who Am I Teddy

Who am I
that other baby in the mirror isn’t your favourite
is he

Do You Hear the People Sing Teddy

DO YOU HEAR THE BABY SING
BELLOWING LOUDER THAN BIG BEN
IT IS THE PROTEST OF A BABY
WHO WILL NOT WEAR SOCKS AGAIN

CLOTHES ARE TOOLS OF THE OPPRESSOR
CLOTHES ARE SATAN’S TOILET ROLL
YOU MUST WEAR ONLY YOUR SELF-RESPECT
AND A CEREAL BOWL

***

A cure for the Monday blues

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When you release a fourteen-month-old into the wild after a morning of Septemberish errands, he cannot believe his luck, and for the next hour he’ll be like OH MY WORD LOLS EVERYWHERE, EVERYWHERE I LOOK.

Then after lunch you’ll give him a spare grape, and he’ll laugh appreciatively, all CLASSIC, YOU’VE DONE IT AGAIN. Grapes are hysterical.

Once his brother is in bed he’ll want to get in there too, so you’ll pass him your phone for distraction. He likes the photo on your home screen, and every time the screen goes black he’ll pick up your hand, carefully, carefully, and move it over to the button for you to make it light up again. ONLY YOU KNOW THE ANCIENT SECRET OF THE ON SWITCH, he’ll think, and laughs, because you are the best of all humans on this earth.

At some point he’ll stand on your internal organs to better reach the telephone. ‘Teddeeeeee…’ you’ll say, warningly, and he’ll turn around to flash his six teeth in your direction. Then, while holding eye contact, he’ll push the router off the table casually, his eyebrows all YES I DID, WANT TO SAY ANYTHING ABOUT IT? NO? RIGHT THEN.

What I’m saying, I think, is that fourteen-month-olds are pretty great, and if you can get hold of one, you should.

A science-y kind of birthday

Just a quick one about Henry’s birthday, before August is properly over and all my posts turn into meditations on apple crumble.

I didn’t organise a party this year, because we thought we’d be moving house in the middle of it. Then we weren’t moving this month after all (and do not even talk to me about that) but by then it was too late to coordinate everyone’s schedules. So instead of one medium-sized family celebration he had… three small celebrations, one after the other. I think he came out of it rather well.

When I asked Hen what he wanted for his birthday, he said he wanted a chocolate cake, and to see his friends. So we held a Favourite Dessert party the night before, with all his best little people, to tick them both off. For the birthday cake, I made The Cake Hunter‘s Ultimate Chocolate Cake that morning. It is an INSANELY good, easy recipe, and I will never need another chocolate cake in my life. The cake actually tastes of chocolate – this is rare, I find – and even though I’m not much of an icing fan, there’s something fudgy and incredible about the frosting. I doubled the frosting quantities, as I wanted to frost all the way around the outside (my cakes tend to need hiding), and threw on gold and silver stars at the end. It turned out pretty well.

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We put up the bunting from Teddy’s party (I will be doing this until one of them is old enough to mind) and bought napkins, pots and dessert flags from the supermarket, which has seriously impressed me this summer with its party gear. In the middle of all this flour-tossing and sugar-inhaling we had a disaster: Teddy tripped over and smashed both his lips against a colander he’d taken for personal use. Oh, it bled like the River Styx, dear readers. I was about two soaked flannels away from taking him to A&E, rambling on the phone to NHS Direct with one hand, wiping nameless gunk out of his mouth with the other. In the end it dried up all of a sudden, and he seemed totally fine. So we all changed our clothes, cleaned everything up, and ate some desserts.

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The day after was Henry’s actual birthday. First, a few presents from friends and admirers to open over breakfast.

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Then we did as birthday celebrators do, and went to London. If our great capital consisted solely of a Tube network, and all you did was ride round and round till you were dizzy, he’d still think it was the best day of his life.

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As it was, we also had Shake Shack for lunch, along with a very serious conversation about whether Shake Shack or Five Guys do the better burger. Tim and I come down on opposite sides of this divide, like poor Littlefoot and his grandparents from The Land Before Time, and I’m not sure we will ever bridge the gap. We put a lit candle in his burger, because if you can’t have a burger cake when you’re three, when can you, eh?

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PS, I love Covent Garden. There was a chap dressed up in full costume and paint as the Mad Hatter, drinking tea from vintage crockery, all SUP GUYS THIS IS TOTALLY NORMAL FOR A TUESDAY.

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We’ve been to the Natural History Museum (‘dinosaur you-see-um’) a few times now, so we thought we’d try the Science Museum this time. He loved it. A word to the wise for parents of toddlers: you need to hit The Garden in the basement (the bit for under-sixes), the cars and planes on the ground floor, and then the Launchpad on the fifth floor (with all the hands-on experiments), and that’s all. Everything else is beyond them, and will only make your feet tired. We discovered this so you don’t have to.

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Know who else was hanging out in the Launchpad that Tuesday? STEPHEN HAWKING. ACTUAL STEPHEN HAWKING. It’s seriously impolite to stare at famous people, I know, but HELLO. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen Tim run so fast.

Happy belated birthday, Henny-Pen. Sorry I often call you ‘Hen’ in public and in front of people who don’t know your name. It makes you sound like a chicken. I know, I know. You can carry it off.

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This School-Mum-in-Training needs an instruction manual and some Valium

I had a huge panic attack today, when I kept seeing ‘First day of school!’ updates on Twitter.

Does not compute, my brain said, as I looked over and over again at the date on my computer screen.

it’s still August no wait is it September after all have I missed the start of September and lost a week somewhere oh crap

No, brain, it is definitely still August and you are in possession of all of your faculties. Some schools in Scotland go back before September, apparently. But it did make me realise how much I am secretly panicking about the start of Henry’s new term.

Because I am not ready for the pressures of being a School Mum. In my head, School Mums stock up on school uniform over the summer holidays, and they always know exactly what to buy. They monitor homework and stick up flashcards. They chat in the playground. They have noticeboards, probably, and stick things like term dates and school trips on them. They are much older and more impressive and more together than me, sat here at 11pm with regurgitated soup in my hair (YES REALLY).

This is not really school. He is barely three, and school is not a thing he does. Except because he has a summer birthday, and he’s going to a nursery attached to a primary school that also requires a uniform, it kind of feels like it is. I am worried about him being sad or feeling behind or getting laughed at because he’s a whole year younger than some of them. But I am also worried about messing things up myself, and making things worse for him that way.

I went to buy grey trousers earlier this week, feeling like I was playing at being School Mum and would be uncovered as a pretender in the middle of Sainsbury’s. They’re the smallest size possible, and they’re still huge on him.

what if he becomes a clown-trouser outcast because I didn’t trawl all the shops for something that looked better

This is the sort of thing I am thinking about late at night. The possibility of an invisible trouser test that I have already failed on his behalf. Do you know the silliest part of this? He doesn’t care at all, and he’s going to love nursery so much he won’t want to come home. This is all tangled up with him getting older too fast, with a sense of keening loss for his babyhood that overtakes me at unexpected moments, with the nap he doesn’t want and the smell on the top of his head he lost a long time ago.

This isn’t really about nursery at all. I still do not know what I will do when the flashcards come out.

what if his teacher doesn’t love him how can she love him like I do are teachers even allowed to love their kids anyway

Help. I only have four days left, and the trousers still aren’t right.

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