Here Comes The Big Third

Here we go then, little love: the third trimester. The final stretch.

I do wish it weren’t my beachball face doing so much of the stretching. It’s almost impossible now to take a selfie where my extra chins aren’t hogging the attention. But I am trying hard to let the weight irritation go, this time around. It’s mostly worked, which is sort of astonishing to me. I haven’t weighed myself since June, and I don’t care. I take my clothes off to get into the shower in the morning, look at this giant curve of belly in the mirror, and think it looks rather lovely, actually. I mean, I really think that. I can’t say enough how foreign that is to me.

I can still walk, as long as I waddle straight into the embrace of a groinular hot water bottle afterwards (2sexy2handle). I am mostly remembering to take my medication. At night I groan and hurt and throw Gaviscon tablets into my mouth with desperate abandon, and she kicks a lot. So I don’t sleep much, but HA, sucker, that ain’t getting better any time soon.

I am anxious, though. Not about labour, newborns or having enough love to go around – we’ve done all that before, and odds are that it’ll be alright again. I just lie awake at night, for hours, imagining catastrophes. In the first trimester I once found myself (in a secret and ashamed way) wishing I were feeling horrible for someone more tangible – you’d go through just about anything for your children, wouldn’t you? The ones you can see and touch, the ones you love so much it hurts? It’s not so easy to suffer for someone who’s only just managed to move from blastocyst to embryo. I don’t know if that makes sense at all. These are the things you find yourself thinking when you’ve narrowly avoided a deep-dive vomit into your handbag in a public place.

Now I have the opposite problem: she feels like a person to me already. We decided to have a third because we felt like there was someone missing – now it feels like there’s a space shaped like her, waiting for her to step into it. I am in, all the way. I am so excited, which means I have lots to lose. My brain likes to remind me of it at 11.30pm.

But I am getting ready. Do you hear me, love? I am trying to be ready: for a last labour, a last first newborn cry, a last whirl through breastfeeding and weaning and sleep schedules. There’s a lot for me to get wrong, but her brothers will be able to tell her plenty about that. Barbara Kingsolver wrote something about last babies that made me sob the first time I read it, long before I had any of my own, and I think about it often now:

‘the baby who trails her scent like a flag of surrender through your life when there will be no more coming after…

She’s the one you can’t put down’.

It seems like a good plan, and I’m sticking to it.

2016: the things underneath

I know, I think this might be the latest I’ve ever posted one of these. And I was just going to leave it – it feels irrelevant to relive 2016 halfway through January, not to say depressing – but I was surprised: it cheered me right up. Looking through all our photos, remembering the small, lovely things that happened in-between and underneath and despite the cataclysmic world events. Perhaps there’s something to be salvaged there, after all.

Anyway, here’s a map of 2016 in photos, tweets about bodily functions, and interesting things to read. Feels like it was made for your next long bathroom break, so hey: take fifteen minutes on me behind a locked door, while your children yell for status updates on your evacuations.

The January where we had literally no idea what was coming

An American broccoli and cheese soup recipe.
Frozen broccoli – ok
Cornstarch – um
1 loaf processed cheese food GET OUT GET OUT GET IN THE SEA

***

I know I should turn my nose up at chicken dippers, but I can’t ever truly disapprove of apostrophe-shaped food.

I read and loved:

This TOTALLY CONVINCING take-down of why Aragorn had no right to the throne of Gondor.

And I wrote: 

An impassioned defence of Always Taking The Damn Nap, Yes Always.

 

The February Heath Ledger and I Were Not The Same

Hey casual acquaintances! Just to say all my weirdness stems from my laser-focussed and obsessive attempts to seem less weird.

***

Sometimes I think that Heath Ledger dancing to Golden Years in A Knight’s Tale is one of the most exquisite moments in our human history.

(It is, though.)

I read and loved: 

This convincing explanation for why Harry Potter in Book Five is the absolute worst.

A gorgeous thing about To Kill a Mockingbird and our inner Scout Finches.

And I wrote: 

Something about David Bowie, and hawks, and dancing with toddlers (this is my favourite thing I wrote all year. Peaked early).

A controversial (as it turned out) article about how all two-year-olds are irrational tyrants, and we should definitely stop saying they aren’t.

 

The March We Survived A Transatlantic Flight With Small Children

2YO: I want a snack

Me: what kind? You’re already eating porridge

2YO: a…a green snack

Me: be more specific

2YO: I waaaant…porridge

***

I remember being a kid and consciously deciding that Belle ate the Be Our Guest food off-screen, because otherwise the waste was too annoying.

I read and loved:

Hilary Mantel (argh!) on Henry VIII’s bearded, Queen-stealing best friend (argh!).

This thing that basically confirmed my suspicion that Ben Affleck is a forever dirtbag.

And I wrote:

About Harry Potter and my teenaged life (terrible photos aplenty).

This piece for Selfish Mother about what happens once you’re out of the newlywed unicorn phase.

 

The April We Saw Lots of Beautiful America (Before, You Know, All That)

2YO, gagging gently, w. soap dispenser: urgh, soap

Me: did you put soap in your mouth?

2YO: yep

Me: why?!

4YO, wearily: it looks like syrup

***

Ate my 1st avocado-on-toast, so now I go to Instagram Heaven where all surfaces are white & food comes with hydrangea heads at a polite distance.

I read and loved:

This fascinating long-read about a woman with no long-term memory.

A gorgeous tribute to the late, great Victoria Wood.

And I wrote:

A piece about the most reliably thorny question in our marriage: who’s doing all the work?

 

The May It Was Actually Warm, No, I’m Being Serious, Take Your Coat Off

Getting a bit of Stockholm syndrome with this Eurovision presenter: he’s got more attractive the more HOURS this has gone on.

***

Went for my first run in about six months today, and this evening my legs are like ‘can u not’.

I read and loved: 

This invaluable collection of beauty recommendations for all age groups, by Sali Hughes (whom I love).

And I wrote: 

An article about body acceptance and shame.

An ode to babies-no-longer-babies.

And a Selfish Mother piece I had to screw up all my courage for, about gender-flipping periods.

 

The June We Spent Mostly Outside, Trying To Ignore That Other News Thing

I am making lists and 2YO is in the garden.

Me: you alright out there?

2YO. Yes! Do some work, OK?

Me: …ok.

***

Boy sneezes deliberately on the back of brother’s neck: a new low in sibling warfare.

I read and loved:

If Barack Obama Were Your Dad (gave myself whiplash clicking on this too fast).

The Unbelievable Tale of Jesus’ Wife, a juicy saga about academic detective work, history and fraud.

And I wrote: 

A bit of hope for the toddler mothers: it’s going to get better.

A piece for TalkMum about keeping your hobbies and self intact after children arrive.

 

The July Outlander Finally Went Too Far

The fact that Claire would eat a Hershey bar after growing up in England is the most unbelievable thing in the Outlander book series so far.

***

Ten minutes into the car journey, I am now convinced that the thing on my rear wiper is a decent chunk of brown bread. #parenting

I read and loved:

This unbelievably cheering profile of a man who was stabbed on the Tube, and bounced back like a legend (I’m being flippant because I can’t do justice to it in a sentence: go read).

‘I Will Bear Witness, Though Heavy Laden’ (sob).

And I wrote: 

T’s three-year-old birthday letter.

A teary goodbye to H’s first year at school.

 

The August With All The Secret Cheese Crackers and Crying

The thing I have learned is you shouldn’t start using any phrase ironically bc your brain is like ‘cool, incorporating into vocab forever’. I am now a person who says ‘100%’ when I mean ‘definitely, absolutely’, so I am only fit for The Apprentice and quiet shame.

***

Sat here in an empty house wincing, aloud, over gingerbread avalanches. What a time to be alive. #GBBO

I read and loved:

What came next after Bones inexplicably reversed death and never mentioned it again in that Star Trek film (BEST. BEST.)

A hilarious look through a seventies Happy Bride cookbook.

And I wrote: 

H’s five-year-old birthday letter.

An angry post about token girls and token helicopters in kids’ TV.

 

The September of School, and Nursery, and Babies

Parental maths: if I did breakfast yesterday and last Sunday but @mrjeffcoat got up with 3YO in the night, who does breakfast today? Show your working.

***

I just accidentally sat on a big blob of breakfast porridge and for a moment thought I’d managed to poop my pants by osmosis #miracle

I read and loved: 

I am sorry about both of these, but I weep with laughter every time: this calculation of the exact amount of banter in that photo of the Eton boys meeting Vladimir Putin (remember that?); also, this weird and wonderful thing about the fox on Splash Mountain coming disturbingly to life.

The power of internet friendships, by the founders of The Toast (I love them both, and this is beautiful).

And I wrote: 

An honest appraisal of the first trimester, third time around (spoiler: it sucks).

A piece for TalkMum about five things you shouldn’t worry about when your baby starts school.

 

The October Facebook Sassed Back

Since I shut down my Facebook newsfeed (<3) I get this message there instead: ‘You’d have more items if you added more friends’. Pure sass.

***

Me: it’s wet. Let’s just walk in our woods and then fetch something to bake.

5YO: or! We could play here in the warm and then have a calm lunch.

I read and loved: 

This lovely bittersweet article about tracking our different lives on Google Maps.

I will read anything that trashes ‘clean eating’ for the dangerous nonsense it is: this is sensible and good.

And I wrote: 

When is a roast chicken not a roast chicken? When it’s this.

 

The November We Won’t Talk About Except In Trivialities Like The Below

Marriage is two consecutive text messages: one recording in loving detail the consistency of our child’s vomit, the next, filthy innuendo.

***

Me: [sigh] 5YO, just let him do what he wants  

This is the youngest-child-rearing policy I never meant to have, yet somehow do have at 5.30pm

I read and loved:

How a Kashmiri mother’s cooking bound her to her daughter.

Behind the scenes of a full-time carer in Anne of Green Gables – one of the best things I read all year, this.

And I wrote:

This about why it’s important to be a bit of a rubbish parent sometimes.

 

The December We Stayed Home For Christmas And Now We’ll Never Do Anything Else

5YO: so then you tie our laces together

Me: right. Why?

5YO: for the game

Me: I want you to know I’m doing this against my better judgement

***

Does it hurt?’

‘I’ve got other stuff that hurts more’

‘Like what?’ 

‘Things from my past’ <-the point where I decided this book was Not Good

I read and loved: 

Something we desperately needed by this point: eight ordinary heroes from 2016

And this very heartfelt, touching letter to the midwife who blew in with the snow

And I wrote: 

An installment of Notes from the Trenches with, could it be, a little less excrement than usual?

Maybe the small things in this year will turn out to be unexpectedly cheering too? Here’s hoping.

2017 feels like the year for a different kind of resolution

Do you get the feeling that resolutions aren’t quite in vogue at the minute? I’ve seen a lot this week about chucking out the diet plans and exercise regimes in favour of cozying up on the sofa, without trying to hang your sense of well-being on a set of tick boxes or numbers on a scale.

With all this I heartily, heartily agree. I am always anti-diet: why anyone would add voluntary self-deprivation to a month that is already going to be cold, dark, wet and hard work without any of your input, I have no idea; also I am especially anti-diet now I am shaped like a cheeseburger and basically fuelled by them too, but let’s say that’s my issue rather than yours.

And I know what the tyranny of the tick-box is like. As though powering through an arbitrary list of tasks/getting a certain number of likes/seeing the number I want on a weighing scale somehow gives me permission to be happy. It’s seductive (because it pretends to be controllable), and it’s also bull. I am more complex than any sum of my parts, worth more than a list of conditions anyone has set, even when I’ve set them – and so are you.

Still, despite all that: I believe in the power of writing things down.

It’s because some things are true but easy to forget. It’s because writing things down makes them audible, ordered, and always within reach. I was reading the other day about the earliest example of the written word – it’s a 5000-year-old clay tablet from Mesopotamia about beer rations, which only shows that human beings have been interested in the same things since always. (The tablet is the size of a computer mouse, and the British Museum has loads but has to keep baking them in a SPECIAL ANCIENT TABLET KILN to preserve them properly; I mean, the whole piece was wonderful.) Anyway, a professor of philosophy talks about how writing not only enables complex thought but calls things into being that didn’t exist before. Writing things down made it possible for us to create, and more, more vitally and wonderfully: to hold onto our creations when human chaos barges in to foul things up. As it tends to.

So I spent last night’s episode of Silent Witness (SILENT WITNESS IS BACK, YOU GUYS) carefully putting my intentions this year into writing. Nothing too prescriptive or number-driven. Pinned between ink and paper, my resolution to be kind to myself, and my husband, and my multiplying children.

Take your small kindnesses. Carve them deep into clay. Bake them hard and fast.

Until you can see them. Until they’re something real.

Merry Christmas, ya filthy animals

 

Hey, we made it. And I for one am grateful to know that in any year, even one as unsettling and sad as this one has been, there are some Christmas constants: a Christmas-eve-eve viewing of Home Alone (this year, for the first time, they got the jokes and roared), pancakes, hot-radiator-and-pine-needle smells, this reason-for-the-season video, a frantic search for a Christmas tree video song that’s much cooler than we are, lazily blinking fairy lights in the semi-darkness, and at least one slightly awkward smile in our Christmas photo. This year I count three…and a half?

I have explained seventy-two times that today is only Christmas Eve, and so Father Christmas will come tonight, and today is not present-opening day.

Oh man, I love it all.

Happy Christmas to you, dear friends. I wish you quiet, and peace, and time with those you love.

Notes from the Trenches: 9

Instagram looks like this. My text messages do not.

One of my favourite things about these Notes from the Trenches posts – aside from the fact that I think a good bit of unfiltered honesty makes all of us feel a little less insane – is that when I look through my last six months of frantic text messages, I can see how much we’ve changed. Every half-year seems to come with its own theme, and it’s rarely the same as the last one. Does this mean there will come a day where I’m not texting Tim about unbridled public faeces disasters? Oh, I live in hope.

This last six months I have mostly learned: that my tolerance for three-year-old tantrums or five-year-old stubbornness when combined with pregnancy is at the sort of miniscule level not much higher than, um, zero. And that our pitched battles over the heating will last until one of us dies (then I will keep turning it up from beyond the grave, cackling).

Look, see: your normal is normal too.

 

24 June

[It’s the day of the Brexit referendum result: I have cried all morning, and run off to the woods to avoid humanity. Then this.]
A good day all round. T also got dipped in. The bike fell over with him in it.

 

16 July

Danger of taking boys to Sports Day:

‘Look, that fat man in the grey is going to lose’.

‘SHE’S really slow. Go faster lady!’




8 August

H: I don’t want a bath today.

Me: you have to, you’re dirty

[disappears for fifteen minutes; reappears naked]

H: Mummy, I accidentally wiped myself all over with wipes so now I’m clean.

(Accidentally?)

 

31 August

How was your day? IKEA go ok?

I think you mean ‘your-KEA’, according to T.

 

9 September

‘No, it’s not screen time. That’s later.’

‘AH. I  GONNA PUNCH EVERYSING.’

(5 mins later)

‘Mummy, come hang out wiz me while I poo’.

Emotional hurricane.

 

5 October

Another poo in pants morning – in Holland and Barrett, no spare pants, toilets a 10-min walk away [horror face].

We managed to get there and I remembered I’d just bought some face wipes. So he got cleaned up with tea tree oil (!) and went pantsless (and, presumably, slightly stinging) to the car. Unpleasant.

 

6 October

YES HEATING NAZI IT WAS TIME

 – Retribution: 

Right, just for that I’m stapling the spare duvet to ours so that you overheat to death at night.

 

22nd October

[On the way home from a funeral]

Right, done and dusted. 

WHOA, sorry, unfortunate idiom to use on the way to the crematorium! Pretend I didn’t say that. 

 

25th October

We got out after all (they played nicely for an hour then tried to kill each other with colanders. Fresh air it was).

 

2nd November

T has caught our putrid throat. He kept waking up and crying, and wasn’t awake enough to tell me why (in the end his coughing tipped me off). Eventually he woke up more and I said ‘T, what’s the matter?’ He screwed up his little red face and croaked ‘Things…just DON’T GO WIGHT’. How existential.

 

6 November

I’m getting an early night.

[40 mins later]

THE CROWN IS SO GOOD I AM CRYING

– Thought you were getting an early night? 🙂

I only watched one. I’m about to turn in and feel sad about George VI’s lung cancer and excellent kingmanship.

 

9 November

PS, I solved the mystery of the magic decreasing heating.

 

11 November

I forgot to tell you: that thing that has been inevitable since September happened yesterday, when I apparently sent T to nursery wearing one of his shoes and one of H’s.

 

15 November

Exiting Tesco.

Pull up next to the car and notice a weird white stain on the door. Where did that come from, I think. I lick my finger and see if it comes off. No joy. I click the unlock button and nothing happens.

THEN I REALISE IT’S AN IDENTICAL MAZDA TWO SPACES AWAY FROM MY CAR, TO WHICH I JUST APPLIED MY SPITTLE.

 

17 November

Phantom Menace, and T sees Jar Jar Binks.

‘Um, is he a dinosaur? Or a frog?’

Unfortunately I haven’t got a clue what’s going on so I can’t answer their m a n y questions.

– Simple – he’s an alien!

Oh, well I knew that one. It’s my ‘someone’s attacking that planet for some reasons and these magic Jedis are involved because more reasons’ bits that are lacking somewhat.

 

20 November

T’s poo arrived. In two parts. In his pyjamas.

I only saw/evacuated one part, and stepped backwards onto the large, squishy other.

Thank you, washable bath mats.

 

26 November

Do I Need The Loo Or Am I Being Kicked In The Anus From The Inside: The Pregnancy Story

 

2nd December

THIS IS THE WORST ONE BY FAR:

T: where’s your special willy?

Me: my what

T: your special willy

Me: it’s called a vagina, remember?

T: [puts head down on my lap] I can’t hear it

Me: yeah, no, they don’t sing or anything

T: they don’t?!

– You guys talk too much about private parts…

If he asks, I have to tell him the truth! Even though it makes me do a full-body cringe. 

 

7th December

I just want you to know I came thiiiis close to McDonald’s this lunchtime, but heroically refrained.

– Lunch? It’s only 11.30am!

Yeah, that’s when we have lunch. I’m hungry all the time; it makes no odds to me.

 

17th December

Nice relaxing bath (eyeroll).

Yes, they’re both sat on a stool right next to me, having carefully moved my phone and book somewhere else, and are telling me about their favourite Pokemon/poking my giant belly. Just sign me up for a Lush advert, eh?

Previous Notes from the Trenches are here. I’ve been sending screechy pixels through the air since H was tiny. Well, you have to. Why should Tim miss out on all the fun? 

What does Father Christmas eat for breakfast? Weeto-ho-hos. (Sorry.)

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Forget personality types – this is all I want to know right now: are you a short-and-sweet Christmas person, or a tree-up-in-November person?

Mostly I like to keep my Christmas in December. I think it’s more magical when it’s extra-concentrated. Like condensed milk straight from the tin (YES). That is, until we got an invitation to have breakfast with Father Christmas at Wyevale Garden Centre last Saturday. At the end of November. But it was breakfast with Father Christmas! How could we refuse?

Of course, breakfast meant quite an early start. When we arrived at our local Sherfield-on-Loddon branch, minutes after it opened and with no other cars in the car park, we wondered at first whether we’d arrived in the right place. Awkwardly we shuffled through deserted aisles of greenery and scented candles, watching nodding Father Christmasses and tiny battery-powered trains moving eerily for an audience of no one.

‘This is, um, weird’, Tim whispered to me, while the boys tried to warm their hands on a pretend fire. It sort of was.

Then, huzzah, it turned out that we were in the right place after all. Elf-ladies ushered us and a few other families into the restaurant area, where we found a gorgeous Christmassy table laid up for us. H and T had name badges and colouring mats waiting for them, and there were crackers to pull and photo props to pose with (which they loved).

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Barely were our comedy moustaches in place when the cooked breakfasts arrived. The boys recently decided that bacon is their favourite food item in the whole world (same, guys, same), so they were hilariously excited. The staff were lovely, coming to check on us frequently and refilling our giant hot chocolates whenever we looked around.

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After breakfast came snowman cookies to decorate, with sprinkles, marshmallows and little tubes of icing. H and T were already beside themselves by this point, so got stuck in and really enjoyed it. Bacon, chocolate, marshmallows, royal icing, Elton John’s majestic ‘Step Into Christmas’ bouncing along in the background: check. ENTER SANTA.

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I am sorry to tell you, if you’re new to this parenting lark, that Christmas is where you become a wobbly sap of a human being. This is the first year both boys have been old enough to properly ‘get’ the Father Christmas thing, and it’s already melting the ice around my curmudgeonly heart. They gathered the children all together on the carpet and made them shout for Santa and, oh, oh. Look at their faces.

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Spoiler alert: he arrived.

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The lovely thing was that after he greeted all of them together, everyone went back to their tables and each family got some time to themselves: a little chat with Father Christmas, lots of photo time, and then their present (which was included in the ticket, huzzah). When it came to our turn, T whispered frantically ‘I want to show Santa my cookie!’ – then, alas, ran so hard with the plate in his hands that he dropped the cookie and broke it…twice. But Father Christmas soon cheered him up. It was ADORABLE. Is it always like this, parents?! Am I going to cry every December from now on?

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Once we’d waved goodbye to Santa, we had loads of time and space to finish eating and drinking, (re)decorating broken cookies and gathering up our things. We saved the presents to open in the car and they both loved them. Then we got to go home, still well before lunchtime, and huddle up together on the sofa all day. It felt like such a treat.

I don’t know if Father Christmas is a really central part of the festivities for you, but for me he’s never really been the lynchpin of the whole thing. My favourite parts of December tend to be Christmas trees, carols, food, nativities – though I don’t know whether that’s the adult in me talking now. This year, suddenly, I am in love with it; every little bit of it. They were so utterly thrilled by the experience that it set our December off beautifully. Even if it was still in late November. Bah (un)humbug.

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Disclosure: we were invited to try Breakfast with Father Christmas, which was jolly lovely of Wyevale Garden Centres, but (as the photos show, I hope) all the festive glee was ours. They also do a Tea with Father Christmas, if early mornings and bacon aren’t your thing. You can look up the whole schedule for December here. We’re definitely going again next year!

Angry mummy: Try again. Fail again. Fail better.

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Tim is away for a fortnight. It’s the longest he’s ever been gone. The night before he went, I admitted I was nervous.

‘It’s not that I can’t handle it’, I told him. ‘I can. We will be fine. It’s just I’ve never done solo parenting for so long with two children AND a pregnancy. I have never been more short-tempered than I am now, and they have never been less inclined to listen to me. So I don’t know how it’s going to go’.

It’s true that if you’re looking for something that will poke holes through your parenting self-esteem, pregnancy will do the job nicely. They are watching much more TV than I would normally allow – hours of it, while I shuffle through glacially-paced housework or just sit next to them, exhausted – and I am snappy. Irritable. I am not willfully unkind (we still read, talk, laugh at each other’s jokes), but there is so much less give in me. I can feel it, bleeding through the edges of my self-restraint: a brittleness that means I raise my voice the second time, not the tenth; that means I want things done now, immediately, in exactly the way I’ve asked.

None of this has been my finest hour. I feel it. I think they feel it too.

I have been in a couple of parenting discussions lately where we’ve talked about the importance of being authentic in front of your children. I read a lot of articles where the language of motherhood is expressed in endless, self-immolating sacrifice. Cherish every moment. Sleep next to them, and wake up whenever they wake up. Carry them constantly. Play imaginatively at the park. When they push back, draw them in with extra love. Be present. Be present. Be present.

Now I should say here (before the Emails come) that there’s nothing wrong and an awful lot right with all of these philosophies: if they work for you and your child and make you both happy, go for it. I use many of them myself, and try to do better in the many areas I fall short. But my issue is that they all seem to combine without leaving room for human error, for normal human limitation. I don’t see a lot of acknowledgement that you are a person too, a person with a long history of her own that existed long before you became a mother, with loves and hates and boundless complexities, plenty of which have little to do with your beloved children.

I don’t know anyone who wouldn’t automatically put their children’s needs before their own, and I’m not advocating the opposite here. But is their emotional health well-served by watching us give and give without any space for ourselves, without any visible screw-ups and apologies? I don’t want my children to aim for perfection, swallow their own flaws and beat themselves up when they inevitably get it wrong – but they’ll try, if that’s what they see me do. I want them to make mistakes, learn from them, and empathise with other people’s. I want them to feel the value of a heartfelt, meaningful apology. I want them to know that the substance of life is in the repair, not the plain sailing.

I want them to know that everyone has their own stuff, their own boundaries, their own imperfect histories. And they will too. And they should. To be this way is not a failure. Or, rather: failure is not a failure. It’s part of being a human in the world.

So sometimes they play and I read. Or they watch TV and I scroll through Twitter, only half-listening. Everyone in our family functions better if we get a good night’s sleep, so everyone is supposed to sleep in their own damn bed. I will happily read them three-inch piles of stories under a blanket for as long as they want, but I need them to make up their own games at the park. Sometimes they push me too far or ignore me for too long, and I shout. Sometimes I want to sit in a chair by myself for five minutes, until I’m ready to leap back in. I have an unusually small tolerance for baby voices (LITERALLY ZERO), but if they want to dance, I will always dance. And I place a great deal of value on treating books and people well, not littering, and apologising properly when you’ve messed things up.

If they had a different mother they’d have different stuff, but there’d always be plenty of stuff.

I want them to know that I will always try, always love them, always make it my highest priority to be their safe space, always make mistakes, always have my own way of being their mother, always, always apologise and mean it.

And they will make do with me, as children do. We will make room for each other, and they will tell laughing stories about my failures around the dinner table, in the time-honoured way children have always mocked their parents. That’s fine. I think, finally, I’m in a place where I don’t want them to only see my good side. It’s more important to me that we learn and keep learning – together, messily, and over and over again – how to be a human in the world.

Gloves on backwards, as per. Good HEAVENS I love that child.

Gloves on backwards, as per. Good HEAVENS I love that child.

This business of working out how to be a more patient parent is, um, an ongoing series. You can find the other posts here

October, you beauty

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Hello.

Here I am, which is unusual enough, because whenever I have a spare hour and have to decide between Lying Still or Anything Else, the Lying Still tends to win. It’s frustrating having to slow down, especially now the sickness has gone (whee!). I like to get on. I keep having to remember not to define myself by things I can’t always do.

I feel quite anxious about this pregnancy, in a way I didn’t with the others. Oddly my visits to the midwife make this worse, not better. Most of the time I can assume (or tell myself to assume) that everything’s fine. When I go to the midwife, I have to wait the agonising three minutes before she finds the heartbeat, and get test results back where ‘this is a little unusual, but nothing to worry about’, I mean CLEARLY I WILL NOW WORRY ABOUT THAT THING, WHAT DO YOU TAKE ME FOR.

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Still, without the sickness, I am gathering myself together again, bit by bit. Folding some laundry. Taking the boys out for walks in the woods. Making proper dinners, and eating them. Meeting deadlines, cleaning the kitchen. Reducing my snack breaks from seventeen a day to an entirely reasonable eight. On Sunday I wore a dress that I loved, and pushed Tim off to bed while the boys and I went exploring and did not eat a single bag of beef crisps all day, and it felt like the best day of my life.

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Yesterday I baked a new kind of apple cake that turned out to smell (like apples) a great deal better than it tasted (mostly like baking powder). Still, the baking was therapeutic, and it was a much cheaper way to make the house smell nice than dropping £30 on a White Company candle.

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I feel like doing a Rocky air-punch on the rare occasions I get to hand out fat slices of homemade cake after school. It makes me feel like Mary Poppins. Although –

H: ‘What are these on top?’

Me: ‘They’re called almonds.’

H: ‘Urgh.’

Me: ‘They won’t taste of much by themselves. You’re supposed to eat them with the cake.’

[Five minutes pass]

Me: ‘H, haven’t you started yet?’

H: ‘No, I’m taking out all of the Normons, because they look awful.’

Take that, Normons. Sorry for the body-shaming.

We’ve got our back-to-school bugs and September Rages mostly out of the way now, I hope (T is feeling ‘asspalootely better’, if you ask him). Both boys have settled into their new routines. We cycle to school whenever the weather’s kind, and then after school H and I do a mad dash from one playground to the other, a mile and a half away. T comes bursting out of nursery, jumper sleeves rolled up to the elbows, usually filthy and clutching all his bags, which he hands over to me before they race their bikes home. H would always win, except that T cheats.

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See? Cheating.

See? Cheating.

It feels like autumn has been slow in coming, but now we have crunchy leaves, misty mornings, and reddening holly berries all over the place. There’s a whole colony of enterprising mushrooms growing out of the gigantic pile of horse poo down the road, and I feel compelled to point them out every time we pass, for educational reasons. While also holding my breath. Motherhood is weird.

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I’ve been reading a lot. There’s something about cold weather that gives me permission to retire with a blanket and a book – which is what I really want to be doing all the time anyway. I read a very unusual book (From A Clear Blue Sky) about grief and siblings by Timothy Knatchbull, who was on Lord Mountbatten’s sabotaged boat when it was bombed by the IRA in 1979 (Mountbatten was his grandfather, and Timothy was in his mid-teens). Timothy survived, and so did his parents – just – but his twin brother Nicholas died. Years later he wrote the book to come to terms with the griefs he’d buried at the time. It’s not political at all, very honest and completely fascinating. I thought it was wonderful.

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I’ve also reread The Poisonwood Bible (Barbara Kingsolver has never written a better), Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies (because I watched the BBC adaptation, and missed it), an Agatha Christie every other week (The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. FLAWLESS) and last week got hold of David Mitchell’s new-ish novel, The Bone Clocks. Which is as mad as David Mitchell ever is, and as delightful. And if poetry’s your jam, or you would like it to be, you must get hold of The Emergency Poet. It was compiled by a superhero woman who literally bought a discontinued ambulance and drove around in it, offering consoling poems to people who were struggling. What a life! It’s a gorgeous thing.

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Are you watching Poldark? It’s as beautiful as ever to look at, but I’ve been put off a bit this series by the fact that Ross Poldark is kind of a jerk. Look, screenwriters, if you want us to believe that everyone likes him, you have to give us some reason why. It can’t always be scything topless and glistening in golden fields. That combination of getting into debt, being surly and condescending to his wife and galloping worryingly near cliff edges is not calculated to set the heart afire.

Also Bake-Off. BAKE-OFF. Every episode brings us closer to the last one ever, and the fact that this series is so delicious is both helping and hurting. Like eating an entire plate of Tudor pies in one go (I would. Did you see them? I WOULD).

Who ate all the pies? (Me, probably.)

Who ate all the pies? (Me, probably.)

T helped me watch the first Harry Potter film a few weeks ago. Some observations:

‘Dumbledore! He’s the master…head’. (‘Headmaster?’ ‘Yeah.’)

‘Look, it’s Yogrid!’

‘Harry is using a… a feather crayon.’

‘My-knee? Who’s My-knee?’

(Harry, onscreen: ‘And Snape wasn’t blinking.’) ‘I’m blinking. Look.’

[sigh] ‘I am weally not a-pwessed.’

I’ll win him over eventually.

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Chicken, and all my other love stories





When I want to give them Sunday, I give them roast dinner.

Food is my love language; it’s the tongue I speak with most feeling. I remember bleary bouts of flu as a child, interrupted with lunch trays of velvety rich Heinz tomato soup, buttered crumpets cut into tiny triangles, webs of melted cheese skittering over the top. It’s the meal I go back to when I feel in need of succor, the one I make when someone else is. I snip the crumpets into triangles with kitchen scissors, and lick the butter as it runs down my wrists.

Yorkshire being Yorkshire, and Sunday being Sunday, we made and ate roast dinners every week after church – not just in our house, but in everyone else’s too. We banished our younger siblings to the carrot-and-potato peeling, while we applied ourselves to the tricky bits. Mixing the Yorkshire pudding batter by sight, watching for the proper glub-glub drip off the end of the whisk. Crumbling unwrapped stock cubes into a pan of meat juices in order: two chicken, one lamb, one Oxo, one spoonful of marmite, stir. My mum added precisely the right amount of salt into the boiling mass of potatoes with a flick of the wrist. Vegetables, stuffing, crispy-skinned chicken, gravy: it rose and steamed and crisped and browned, until it was done and we ate and poured lakes and lakes of the gravy onto the food we’d made together.

We did that every week, and called it Sunday Dinner, and I never knew it was possible to do anything else.

The south has given me food-love too, or it’s probably more accurate to say that adulthood has, and the south is where I’ve spent it. We have our own special dinners now, food that means more than food: pancakes on Saturday mornings, pints of Phish food ice cream from the carton on Friday nights. I know what their favourites are, and plan steaming lasagnes for Tim after a hard day, sausage pie with buttery pastry for Henry, cheesy pesto pasta for my heathen toddler.

But when I want a special Sunday, when I want to offer them something in my open hands that means comfort and care and togetherness, I buy a whole chicken. Tim has never been trained in the roast dinner dance, so I direct him to vegetables while I whisk creamy Yorkshire pudding batter, toss salt over boiling potatoes, unwrap gravy stock cubes and lie them ready on the counter like surgical instruments.

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I make a diagram with lots of arrows to make sure I know when everything comes in and out. Open the oven door, slam it shut. Roast and stir and carve. Good glasses on the table, pretty napkins on the mats. Until it’s all ready and I push it towards them, watch them pour lakes and lakes of gravy on their plates, and eat.

And they don’t speak my language, of course. A roast dinner is not a Sunday Dinner, not in their world. If I made a roast dinner every week they’d get bored. They wouldn’t understand that I am offering them Sunday afternoon, a childhood, a warm kitchen exhaling the smell of roast chicken. All my love, and the best of gifts I know how to give them.

They don’t speak that language at all, but I hope they see my open hands; that somehow, we are communicating love through chicken – love and love through all my wordless, clumsy signs.

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Take three

An appropriate visual metaphor for this, the first week of sickness.

An appropriate visual metaphor for this, which was the first week of sickness. Down to earth with a bump.

I cried when I saw the little cross on the pregnancy test.

I always do cry, because all those things you’ve signed up for nebulously, ambiguously, in your head, are now out of your head and busy turning into a blastocyst in your actual body. Suddenly they’re all definitely going to happen. Doesn’t matter how much I wanted it – and I did want it – I usually need ten minutes, a cry and a Dairy Milk to get my head around it.

(‘I can do this’, I’d said to Tim some weeks before, propped on my elbow in bed, when we made the final decision. ‘Look at me. You know I can do it’. He’d heaved the sigh of a man who could see years of bubbly white vomit on his shirt shoulders again, and said ‘Yes, I know. Let’s do it, then’.)

The first trimester is a weird, lonely time, I find. You beat yourself up because you’re so lucky, think of how lucky you are in comparison, what a miracle, what a flipping lucky miracle – and instead you feel sick, and headachy, and fat, and angry, and not lucky or miraculous at all. The guilt about what you should be feeling adds to the rest of it, and you can’t tell anyone about it. Isolated in a bubble of misery that often, honestly, feels like a bad dream.

I found out early, by chance, and spent two nausea-free weeks furiously cooking two dinners a day, and freezing the extras. This helped.

Other things that helped: getting outside even in slow motion, singing loudly in the car with a spear of icy air pointed directly into my face, and eating a continuous, joyless parade of meat-flavoured crisps, cheese crackers and cold Sprite (someone call Deliciously Ella). By the first week in September I had a sore throat, and was – in the tradition of Gaston – roughly the size of a baaaaaaarge. Which was a neat coincidence, since I also had a Gaston-like level of personal charm. Especially in the evenings when the boys wouldn’t go to bed, and I would happily have paid a cadaverous man a large sack of gold to take them away in an asylum cart.

We got through the days quite nicely with morning outings, lunch and then a movie for them while I laid in bed and gently moaned. I cracked sometimes in the evenings and cried about how useless I felt and how much TV they were watching. But mostly I didn’t look further ahead than the next meal, and felt alright about doing what I had to do to keep going. Tim picked up absolutely everything I let drop and never made me feel bad about it. I thought to myself all the time that it was lucky H had no idea what pregnancy was like or what it was for, or he would’ve cottoned on immediately. He was terribly concerned about my ‘very long germ’, worried that the rest of them would catch it, asked whether I was going to be sick whenever I retched in the car (eventually I started passing them off as burps, which gave me a reputation for belching prowess that I do not deserve). But he gave me so much leeway. He was so kind. I was amazed.

I also spent quite a lot of time lying on floors. I haven’t vacuumed for several weeks. Make of that combo what you will.

Eight weeks after the cross on the pregnancy test, the Dairy Milk, the crying, we walked into the ultrasound room at the hospital. The screen blurs and bubbles and then there it is. A heart, a hand. An apricot-sized baby that is real, after all, and really there. This baby refused to get into the measurement-friendly horizontal position, and spent ten minutes bracing its legs against the wall and springing up and up, like an Olympic swimmer. I’ve never had a baby do that during a scan before, and I couldn’t take my eyes off it. Brace and spring, brace and spring. Underneath my skin having the loveliest of times, all this time.

(‘There is a baby in here and it will have to come out of me‘, I gasped, on the way out. ‘I know! You wanted it to!’ Tim said, half-exasperated, half-amused. He bought me a Kit-Kat, and a packet of Malteasers.)

You tell people, and everyone cheers. The bubble pops. Out you come, and find yourself not alone, not a misery after all: just a grower of an actual heart-and-hand baby, and the luckiest one of all.

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