In which I am not a bronze god


At some point along the way, I’ve turned into a person who can leave the house having forgotten to brush her teeth. And not just once, often. If it makes you feel any better, I’m never any less disgusted when I remember. It doesn’t make me feel much better, though.

Today was an accidental dirty-teeth day. which should have told me something. The weather is good at the moment – lovely, in fact; a generosity of sunshine and clear April skies – so I decided to drive down to Winchester: Tim was working just a few miles down the road, so I thought we could take some sandwiches and have a nice walk, then meet up with him after work.

I was halfway up a ramp in a multi-storey car  park, making an especially tight turn, when my power steering died. Let me tell you, until you’ve had to wrench a full car up a hill, back into reverse because you can’t turn fast enough, then forward again juuuust managing to miss the parked cars and all of this using only your own puny arms, you do not know the meaning of panic sweat. There were cars queuing behind me, Tim wasn’t answering his phone, I was blocking several people in, and both the boys were grumpy. And then my phone was about to die. Thankfully a beautiful hairy man helped me get the car into a space, for which good deed he has earned his place in Paradise. Then I got through to Tim, who came and wrestled my car out of the car park so the AA could come get it, leaving me his in return.

When I make grand, impulsive plans and they end up causing a lot of bother, I feel so foolish. Babies are a juggling act, a plate spinner of enormous proportions, and every time I feel like I’m getting the hang of it I get conked on the head. But if there were ever a city to heal a battered day, it’s Winchester in the sun. That cathedral is something else. There are so many lovely little alleyways and intriguing shops. Today there was a market, and we admired cheeses and gaping fish with great enthusiasm.

If you follow the path alongside the cathedral, under a series of archways, you eventually end up at a little square pond, where a great bearded bronze someone glowers over the proceedings (Jesus? Hercules?). It’s so quiet and forgotten-about back there, it feels like another world. Henry had just fallen over his own feet – a particular talent – so to distract him from crying I told him that the pond was magical. We picked two shiny brown leaves and dropped them into the water.

‘Now you have to make a wish’, I told him. ‘Let’s wish for… a milkshake’. (Priorities.)

He didn’t say anything, but looked down at his floating leaf, absorbed.

‘What will you wish for?’ I asked.

‘Stars’, he said.

We bought milkshakes from Shakeaway, later. Some wishes I can grant, but I am puny-armed and only human. If you ever happen to be in Winchester, and follow a little path behind the cathedral to find a square pond and a bronze god, do ask him how he’s getting on with Henry’s stars.




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Nine in, nine out

nine in, nine out3

My second pregnancy felt like the longest nine months I have ever slogged through. I thought that the award for Slowest Time Movement Ever had already been won by my sixth form media studies class on a Monday afternoon, during which the hands of the clock gave up their lives and fell off the wall out of boredom. But Teddy’s pregnancy, my giddy aunt. It didn’t half go on.

Perhaps it was that swirling boil of unknowable emotions: could I love him, was I ready to be a mother again, what would Henry think? Or perhaps it was the fact that I couldn’t sleep or sit down for longer than five minutes without my left bottom cheek catching fire. Yes, probably it was that.

Look, though – oh, look. He was worth every last second.

(PS, it’s his skinny three-month-old photo that startles me the most. His eyes, his nose, his mouth…but on a different face.)

(PPS, TINY HENRY ALERT, TOP LEFT. His nine months in-and-out post is here.)

Hey, if you have a spare clicking finger and a mild fondness for this blog, perhaps you wouldn’t mind voting for me in the MAD Blog Award finals? You can find me under Best Baby Blog. Voting closes soon! Thank you so much!


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After eight

At night the house is quiet. Our house is never quiet, except at night. Our beleaguered downstairs neighbour takes a deep breath, probably, and goes to light a cigarette, definitely: the smoke drifts up through our open window.

I tend to sag once the boys are down. The relentless pressure of being everything to these two squashy bodies all day leaves a dent that takes hours to fade. I go through our rooms without my little satellites just to feel the silence pressing on my ears. Their stuff is everywhere, everywhere we’ve been. A visitor wouldn’t have any trouble working out who lives here, and how I feel generally about housework. There’s a pair of tiny moccasins underfoot when I sit down on the loo, and an abandoned, mournful-looking stuffed dog on my bedroom floor. Sir Prance-a-lot is parked up by my bedtime reading. It feels like they’ve left bits of themselves behind, and for a second it always makes me feel bereft. Which is ludicrous, frankly.

We check in on them before bed. I can forgive those vulnerable faces anything while they’re sleeping, and since most days I have to, this is usually when I do it. We untangle limbs and push hair off foreheads while they breathe and dream of brightly-coloured somethings. Then we go upstairs, leaving their things where they sit, where they wait all the quiet night to be claimed and discovered and loved again in the morning.

20140410-110016 pm.jpg

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Hatchet job

Basically all hair should look like this.

Basically all hair should look like this.

This is the story of a disaster.

Do you ever get so stressed you do something really, really stupid? I do. Normally my version of stupid looks like five doughnuts and a chocolate biscuit. Today I took a pair of paper scissors to my fringe and chopped it till I felt better. Then, somewhat predictably, I felt a great deal worse.

I had a meeting this morning. I didn’t intend to get this busy, work-wise, with two little boys and no childcare, but they were exciting projects I didn’t want to turn down, so here we are. A morning meeting, and apparently I have no office-appropriate clothes anymore, so five outfit changes, and a tiny teething boy and a larger boy who won’t ever get off my lap, and yet more wee on the floor, and then finally a fringe so long I couldn’t see. I intended to book a haircut for next week, but so far that had gone the way of the dentist appointment I’m supposed to be making and the cupboard I’m supposed to be cleaning out: no-cheffing-where, that’s where.

The wee was the straw that broke the camel’s back. I can’t stop my toddler from soaking the carpets, my crazed brain said, ten minutes before I had to leave. But by GOLLY I can sort out this fringe.

I got the scissors from my stationery box. Brushed a bit. Then hacked.

About halfway through I realised that this was a terrible, horrible, no good mistake, and froze. There were long bits and short bits and very short bits all fraternising willy-nilly on my face. My scissors were not sharp and my hair was dry. Is half a chopped fringe better than a completed one? I decided to stop, on the grounds that I had no idea how bad the second half might get. And so, pinning back the hair-vomit on my forehead, I shook Henry off my leg and ran for the car.

Oh, the grief of a self-inflicted horror cut. I put on the radio and everything mocked me. No Doubt singing about a failed relationship, like me and the fringe. That song from Dirty Dancing - me and the fringe used to dance like that. Radio Ga-Ga – only people without mutilated fringes could be this cheerful.

I’m sure I cut a fine jib at the meeting. I went straight from there to my hairdresser, and flung myself upon their mercy. In case you were wondering, confessing to an immaculately coiffed woman that you cut off half your fringe because your toddler won’t pee properly is sort of a last-rags-of-dignity life event. They were wonderful, and didn’t laugh [in my hearing].

And that is why morning meetings, paper scissors, pee and a singular lack of ready doughnuts is a pit waiting to entrap those with fringes. I believe this is an appropriate time for an internetism, dear readers: please, learn from my fail.


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The big mistake I made with potty training


WARNING: much talk of bodily waste.

I would rather fall into a pile of cow manure than potty train a toddler.

I don’t know why I have such strong feelings about it. I daily do unspeakable things with sick and snot and exploding nappies, but none of it perturbs me like the potty. It’s just one of those overwhelming feelings that well up from deep within, and I must be true to myself. After a couple of abortive attempts, I took the late-as-possible approach with Henry, which chimed nicely with my own laziness. Potty train a child early, my friends assured me, and you’ll be in for weeks of wet-carpet horror. Train one late, and they’ll do it themselves within a couple of days.

No contest. In a beautiful world of unicorns and rainbows, I would like our potty training experiences to be:

1. over and done with quickly and in one go. No farting about between pants and nappies for months, disinfecting puddles of wee at inconvenient moments;

2. as little effort as possible, given that, for Henry, it’s a lot to ask to go from peeing happily in pants without recrimination, to peeing in a box on purpose.

This is perhaps too optimistic. But I was hopeful (and happy to keep putting it off till I thought he was ready).

Then two things happened. The first was that the boys caught back-to-back cases of hand, foot and mouth – not too awful in itself, but requiring two full weeks indoors. The second was that we ordered new carpets for our stairs and bedroom, which arrive next week – meaning that now it didn’t matter much what happened to the floor, but in a week it definitely would. Give it another few months and we might be in a different house, where it would matter even more (and he’d be so unsettled it wouldn’t be right to try).

It seemed like all the stars aligned, and then spelled out the phrase LET HIM LEARN TO WEE. I capitulated.

Oh, it is holy hell. On day one I sat him on the potty every twenty minutes, and he still timed his four pees in the spaces between. One was on the bathroom floor. One straight into his sheepskin rug. Another on the piano, when he paused in the middle of a climbing expedition, lifted his leg and relaxed in all senses (what). Day two he seemed to spend mostly on the potty, but still sprayed his liquid waste hither and yon like a gleeful elephant in a water hole. By the time he consented to bring his A-game for Daddy on day three, I was thinking longingly of the cow manure. We’re now on day six, and while most of his pees are in the right place, I’ve discovered the truth known by mothers long past: a little boy stuck into playing would rather marinate his own legs than stop what he’s doing.

He has, incidentally, perfected the art of doing the solid stuff once a day during his nap, when he’s wearing Lightning McQueen pull-up nappies. I should be regretting this missed opportunity for learning, but I’m not.

After two days I wanted to pack it in entirely, but he’s old enough that stopping would be more confusing than helpful. And there’s my mistake, you see – there was the fatal flaw. I charged in for both of us, and now I can’t get out. You should never listen to carpet deliveries, or quarantine, or the nagging feeling that you’re putting it off unnecessarily, or even the helpful ‘oh, he’s not potty trained yet?’ comments swirling in the air around you, but only to your own instincts. You know your child the best. My instincts said ‘not till he’s almost three, you fool’. They’re saying it even more now, but it’s too late.

I am not potty training Teddy till he graduates.


As a final thought: I have a very distinct memory of peeing my pants in my Reception class, and my horrid teacher giving me a whack on the head and sitting me in a corner. Days later we were singing in the hall and our little voices one by one became shrieks of surprise, as we were all doused by a creeping puddle from a poor sap called Richard. We ended up stood around the puddle in a circle of judgement, staring down at it in silence, while the teacher berated poor Richard in front of everyone (she really wasn’t very nice). But we were FOUR.

How long will this go on?!


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A lovely Make a Long Story Short giveaway

The Brotherhood of the Chair That Pushes. I'm in.

The Brotherhood of the Chair That Pushes. I’m in.

I worried about a lot of things in the run-up to having children. Would I end up with my stomach hanging out around my knees? Would I ever get a good night’s sleep again? Would I be able to use a snot-sucker* without gagging?

*yes, these exist. And no, I can’t.

I was overwhelmed by all of the stuff, too. The options for pushchairs, cribs, car seats, breast pumps and bath wash were mystifying. I became one of those scary people looming over pushchairs in the park, crazed look in my eyes, trying to see what kind of brake it had and whether it might fit through a doorway. I was obsessed.

Double pushchairs were even worse.

Do you know what I wanted? A conference of pushchairs, and a nice lady to tell me ‘this one does this. And this one does this. Here, have a go’. Luckily, ‘conference of pushchairs’ is actually a thing, except it’s called a Baby and Toddler show, and it’s for much more than pushchairs. There’s one on 25th-27th April at Bluewater in Kent, with brand representatives, lower prices for all sorts of baby and toddler gadgets, products you can’t buy on the high street and various advice workshops, and I am THERE. I don’t need a pushchair anymore, but who knows what else I might find?!


Do you want to come too? The organisers have very kindly given me a pair of tickets to give away!

Here are the details:


Bluewater Baby and Toddler Show


25th – 27th April


Glow, Bluewater, Greenhithe, Kent, DA9 9ST

In their own words?

  • Guaranteed best prices on car seats, buggies and furniture
  • 150+ top brands and products to test, try, compare and buy
  • Meet knowledgeable experts who will help you find the right products for you and have hands-on demos
  • Hear practical advice from our experts
  • Every aspect of parenting, birth and feeding, sleeping, nutrition, finance and more is covered at our free advice workshops
  • FREE parking all day and a stress-free day out
  • We’re a bump and baby friendly show with easy access and free baby changing and feeding facilities

Is there anyone there who can potty train my toddler for me?

Unknown. But I WILL FIND OUT.

To enter the giveaway, click on the Rafflecopter link below. Extra points if you do actually know anyone who will potty train Henry for a fee. Ends midnight on 11th April

If you’d like to buy tickets, you can also get 33% off using the discount code BWB31

*** click here —> a Rafflecopter giveaway ***


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The glory of womanhood; or, eighteen things men can’t understand even when they try

Very rigid gender stereotypes are not my thing. Men can paint their nails; they can have a deep and spiritual relationship with chocolate; they can cry over The Notebook. (Likewise, plenty of women don’t do any of those.) I think ‘men are from Mars’ articles are generally lazy and annoying, and we should all just knock it off.

But the other day I was talking to Timothy and realised there was no possible way he could understand what I was talking about. It got me thinking about the necessary gaps between us. Then I was overtaken by the Great Spirit of Buzzfeed, and compiled a list.*

the glory of womanhood; or, eighteen things men can’t understand even when they try



1. the hideous moment when you pull off your hair towel and your wet, prickly, unpleasantly warm hair hits your naked back

2. the five attempts it will take to manually unlock your pee muscles so you can pee standing up

3. the embarrassment of thirteen-year-old you finding that you have grown little Toblerone boobs, then compounding this indignity by having a middle-aged woman with cold fingers measure them so you know how small they are (men have uncomfortable puberty changes too, of course, but none of them are quantified)

4. the second you stand up after giving birth, and all of your internal organs tumble back down through your empty torso to where they should be

5. being hyper-aware of the hairiness of your legs during the months after everyone else starts shaving and your mum still says you can’t

photo via


6. the sweet, sweet release of taking your bra off before bed

7. the tickly weirdness of having a small hand grab your hip bone from the inside

8. knowing what a speculum is for, and wishing you didn’t

9. the leaping-into-a-lion’s-den anxiety of trying a new hairdresser for the first time

10. the exquisite lightness of being, the day after that monthly unpleasantness is over


free at last

11. wanting to sob, shout and stab something all at once during the first week of breastfeeding, when latching is still an issue

12. the relief of having a deep, soulful, bare-everything conversation with a friend of the same gender

13. also, giggling

14. leggings

15. jabbing yourself in the eye with a mascara wand

photo via Estee Lauder

she’s just asking for bother

16. the comforting rightness of sitting with your legs crossed, no matter how many times you’ve been told you shouldn’t

17. the intermingled fear and hope of going shopping for new jeans

18. the fierce euphoric connection to the babies you made, carried and gave birth to, springing itself upon you at the most unexpected moments (3am, the grocery line at Tesco, forcibly brushing their teeth, watching them demolish a pork pie).

So don’t even try it, Mr Jeffcoat. Some things are mine alone.

*this is not a serious exploration of gender issues. Please don’t send me emails. Also I think I might get Timothy to do a Glory of Manhood list to balance things out. 

UPDATED TO ADD: golly, Glory of Manhood sounds wrong. Sorry. 


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Teething, in a sentence


when I hold out the full spoon you snatch it quickly and dislodge the food

like someone talking down a panicky gunman, finally getting hold of the weapon and knocking out all the bullets.


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This Is Where We Are: A letter to my children on Mother’s Day (3)

Dear Future Versions of Henry and Edward,

Today is my third Mothering Sunday, and you are two-and-a-half and nine months old, respectively. We are tucked up in bed again, this time because you have hand, foot and mouth virus. Before I had children I thought HFM, if I thought about it at all, was a disease for cows. Motherhood is not so much a learning curve as a learning ski jump, with no skis attached.

You first, Teds? You don’t often get to go first.

Henry and I call you ‘bear’ at home, and it suits you. You are a golden-haired, roly-poly, beaming little thing, and you remind me more of a bear cub than a baby. Your eyes are an untroubled, unclouded blue. Honestly, Teddy, I could go a hundred miles and not find another person as sweetly lovely as you. You are the sort of boy who sits in a two-inch bath clenching his fists and squealing, because nothing has ever been as good as this bath, ever. I can put you on the bed with a piece of paper, and twenty minutes later you’ll get a bit bored so I’ll need to mix it up a bit and show you an interestingly coloured sock. You’re that kind of lovely. You’re the sort of lovely that smiles so wide there’s not room on your face for the whole of it, because that’s the kind of smile you think everyone deserves.

You love cherry tomatoes (what?!), apple puree, your purple spider, bouncing on your chubby feet, being in water, anyone who will look at you twice, and your brother, who is the brightest thing in any room you’re in. You hate…well, actually, I can’t think of anything. Except maybe being ignored for too long, at which point you bellow so loudly the glass shatters in the photo frames. You eat well; you sleep well; you throw up like it’s an Olympic sport. When I pick you up and you huff contentedly into my hair, I squash my face against yours and look sideways. All I can see is cheeks.

Two babies has been an adjustment I can only think of in natural disaster metaphors: a tsunami, a tidal wave, an earthquake. But it hasn’t been a disaster at all, and that’s because of you. Do you know how rare it is to find someone who evokes in you utter, uncomplicated joy? That’s you, my darling. So bright I can’t look at you straight. You have the sort of light that people are drawn to, and I’m only grateful it landed on me first.


Henry, you quicksilver boy: you are skinny, sandy-haired and full of burning energy. Your eyes are blue with the most extraordinary rings of greeny-yellow: they remind me of those fire-veined pebbles you find on beaches, still wet from the sea. If I told you this you would fix me with that look you get, eyebrows raised, mouth quirked up on one side: that, good madam, is ridiculous. You love a good joke, and I’m often your best one.

You love books, sausage pie, the twenty-seven ‘waysing cars’ you have stashed everywhere, Finding Nemo, sprinting, sitting in patches of sunshine in your bath towel, and Daddy. You hate salad, being made to take off your towel and get dressed, sitting in the Tesco trolley, and being reminded that I am in charge. You are rapid-fire chatter, ingenuity, single-mindedness, throat-gurgling laughs. When I push you high on the swings, you close your eyes and tip your head back to the open skies. You invite me to dance during the closing credits of any film we watch, and I would never dream of turning you down. You are clever as heck. Let’s say that now while you’re too young to get it. Oh gosh, you really are.

We have a more complicated bond these days: you want things and push back when you can’t have them; I lose my temper over your stubbornness more often than I should. We are parenting now in earnest, and often I feel a terrible tearing mix of frustration and fear and pride and love. I suppose that’s how you become less of me and more of you, and there’s something wonderful in that. I love you fiercely for your wholeness and integrity. Regardless of who’s watching, you are always most perfectly yourself. I have this sense of you as a poised arrow: fearless, determined, ready on the string. I can’t fathom where that headlong rush forward will take you, but I can guess. So high, my love, so high I can only watch you: so blazingly, beautifully high.

With love and some hair-pulling (on all sides),

Your mother.


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Virused, outside

Some truths all little boys know in their bones. You can be blistered and crusty but the park still loves you. The best way to get over an achingly dull case of hand, foot and mouth is to get out in a gale and shout a lot. And it still counts as quarantine so long as there’s no one else there.


We’ve been spending a lot of time in Goring and Streatley, lately. Not on purpose (inhabitants of Goring, you can rest easy in your beds). A couple of weeks ago the boys and I hopped on a train for a couple of stops, came off at Goring, admired the weir with a very tight grip on everyone’s wrist, and stopped in a cafe for hot chocolate. Last week Tim and I got an unexpected afternoon off when Tim’s mum popped in for a few hours, so we went back intending a country walk. It pelted it down five minutes into our opening swing competition, so we ran back to the same cafe and ate pastries instead.

Today – windy, bright, hotter than it’s been for months – we went back to the park with blistered boys hoping it would be deserted. It was. Isn’t it better to be quarantined here than at home feeling gross in front of an iPad? We think so.

PS, let me apologise in advance for the ludicrous number of photos in this post. The light was good, and crusty or no, I couldn’t narrow it down.




Ted’s hair. My goodness. He’s like a newly hatched chicken, but twice as ridiculous.




‘Boys, we’re going to go for a walk now. On the proviso that you DO NOT LICK ANYTHING’.



Before we realised quite how hot it was going to be (i.e., very).



How many ‘Henry runs with determination’ photos do I have? They are numbered as the sands of the sea.




(Hand, foot and mouth: you know where you can shove it.)


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