Category Archives: family

In which I am not a bronze god

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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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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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

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

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

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Spiderweb!

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

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Outnumbered

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We were driving out to the woods on Saturday evening, and Tim switched on the radio. Cyndi Lauper came on, because this is Heart Radio, and they like their Saturday nights to start with a cheese board.

Tim whipped up the volume, and I yelled out of the window, picturing myself in sleeves as big as my head.

Whoooa GIRLS just wanna have fu-un

Whoooa GIRLS just wanna haaaaave fuuuuun!

Then I yelled, equally loudly, ‘I AM NEVER GOING TO BE ABLE TO DANCE TO THIS IN OUR HOUSE’.

Because, of course, I have boys.

Sometimes I think the girl-ache will eat me alive. Genetically speaking, we’re likely to have boys until we decide to stop having anyone. I have lingered in frilly-dress aisles and directed mournful glances at baby headbands and flowered vests. My well-thumbed, twenty-year-old copies of The Little White Horse and A Little Princess sit hopefully on my shelf, but are likely to be ignored in favour of Artemis Fowl and Lemony Snicket (just to be clear, I know boys can love A Little Princess too, and I think Lemony Snicket is a wordy genius. But, you know, statistics). And there are things that a mother can only have with a daughter. The vulnerability and prickly magnificence of being a woman is something that is precious to me. I would like to share it with someone who has my heart.

We arrived at the woods and wandered in. The sun was going down, with the kind of light that clarifies. Henry was poking in a muddy puddle with a stick, flat cap pulled down low over his eyes. He passed me another stick without looking at me. ‘This one yours, Mummy’, he said.

I settled down to poking. It’s underrated, I think.

As the sun set, I took over Teddy’s back carrier so Henry could sit on Tim’s shoulders. The darkness came in behind and around us while Henry listened for owls, and I listened to Teds sigh and coo behind my head. He is so beautiful, this one, that some days all I can do is squeeze him.

‘The woods are lovely, dark and deep’, I said to Henry. ‘What’s the next line?’ He looked at me and raised his eyebrows.

Oh yes, that was it. I raised my voice and my arms, because in the dark, with your wordy boy who understands you completely, and your tiny boy who adores you too much to care, you can do that sort of thing.

‘The woods are lovely, dark and deep,

But I have promises to keep -

And miles to go before I sleep,

And miles to go before I sleep’.

I looked over and he’d raised his skinny arms too. Teddy huffed again behind my head. I felt like I was made for this.

‘I heard an owl’, Henry said.

‘Me too’, I said.

We went home.

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On learning to love the mud

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Boys love mud. I’ve had to learn to love it, too. Last Sunday we went for a walk around Lardon Chase and The Holies, just outside Streatley, and even on a sunny day we slipped and slid. We left the pushchairs behind, put Teds in the back carrier and Henry in wellies.

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You notice a lot more when you’re going one-eighth of a normal walking speed. The feeling of crunchy bark on the trees, the pattern of sunshine and shade on the ground, the exact sucky-squelch of the churned-up soil. Sticks become swords and molehills launching pads. He tends to be more interested in where we are than where we’re going, and I try not to yell for him too often. Wandering by yourself in a sunlit wood is one of those childhood experiences that needs to be lived so you can remember it later, and the mud on the seat of your trousers is your triumphant souvenir.

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A toddler’s guide to making pancake day go with a bang

First, wait until the table is set nicely.

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Then announce ‘I’m going to sit here, Mummy’, and park yourself next to the chocolate. Cram at least five squares into your mouth before she has time to turn around.

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Make sure your little brother is wound up to the point that he will only be carried, then insist on stirring the pancake mix. Make a blank face whenever your mother points out the hot pan, just to whack up the anxiety levels (NB: don’t actually touch this. It’s hot, and you are not stupid).

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Discover an exciting new chocolate yoghurt on the table. Get out your biggest spoon, and dig in.

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Refuse any notion that this is not to be eaten from the jar. Fools. (When they make a fuss about this, cry a lot.)

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Remember the white chocolate you were stealing so gleefully earlier? Once it’s melted, you’ve never seen anything so disgusting. Do they expect you to eat this filth? Cry a lot more.

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Make a late claim that you like pancakes now, just long enough for them to make you another. Eat three bites and then abandon it. Ask for the chocolate yoghurt some more.

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Take so long over all of this that the baby has to wait twice as long for his dinner. What does this idiot know, anyway? He’d probably eat melted chocolate if they gave him half a chance.

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Good job, soldier! Your mother’s face now looks like this. Go to bed in the glow of a job well done, and start planning for Easter.

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Hey, do you have a spare couple of fingers and a mild fondness for this blog? I’d be ever so grateful if you’d nominate me in the MAD Blog Awards! Say, Best Writer or Best Baby Blog? There’s only a week left!

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In like a lion, out like a lamb

And March came in with a beam.

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Of course it did. After the long, brown dreariness of January and February, in comes March with a spring in its step. It’s my favourite month, and not just because it crams in our anniversary, my birthday and mother’s day with more celebratory breakfasts than you can shake a stick at. March is the month of the purple crocus, crowding under any old scrubby tree it can think of. It comes blazing with the promise of brighter things.

We spent today altogether – O, miracle! – at Mottisfont Abbey and Gardens, in Hampshire. You drive down a long, straight Roman road just the other side of Winchester, past a quarry, through a village, blinded by sun and green. Since we came with wellies and pushchairs, we decided not to do the house today, but the gardens were a dream. Sometimes I feel like the National Trust designs these places with little boys in mind.

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Here’s a secret: one of the best things about having small children is that when you get to a walled garden path just begging to be a runway, you can buzz around like an aeroplane and no one stares [much].

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We decided to do the Meadow Walk, forgetting that now it would be an Underwater Walk. It was, but we sloshed on, fording the bog with the pushchair. Teddy made a valiant effort to stay asleep, and very nearly managed it. I remembered – again, too late – that my beloved Joules wellies have a hole in the bottom, and it might be time to find some more that I could love as much (NEVER). There were daffodils waiting on the other side.

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Look, I hate to brag, but Henry now says ‘en guarde!’ when he wishes to challenge you to a sword fight, and I kind of think it’s my finest motherhood achievement to date.

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(PS, if you think you know how to spell ‘en guarde’, but you’re not entirely sure and you don’t want to look stupid, don’t Google it. The first hit is a Wikipedia page called…well, you can look it up. Is this a Google joke?)

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One of the trees was called Madame Lemoine. Is this not an utterly perfect thing? Everything was budding and poking its way through grubby earth towards the sun, and I sympathised entirely. March is my favourite month, and you guys, we made it.

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Seeker

The Quest

High, hollowed in green
above the rocks of reason
lies the crater lake
whose ice the dreamer breaks
to find a summer season.

‘He will plunge like a plummet down
far into hungry tides’
they cry, but as the sea
climbs to a lunar magnet
so the dreamer pursues
the lake where love resides.

Denise Levertov (b. 1923)

I read this poem and think about early love. Because once you’ve found the person to whom you say ‘yes, forever’, then the quest is over, isn’t it?

Today I thought, no, actually, it isn’t.

Every last thing about mundane life is designed to make you forget about early love. Council tax, the little balls of hair in the corners of the carpet, nappy bags, chilli and rice for dinner. Chilli and rice is a prosaic meal. It’s not a meal for lovers. (We eat it all the time.)

When one of you works too hard and the other is too prone to fits of cabin fever, and both of you, now you think about it, spend a lot of time getting poo under the fingernails, well – keeping that intake of breath and whirling in the stomach takes effort. It’s like trying to hold a butterfly in your hands. It needs seeking out, all the time. What a heroic and beautiful thing, to seek out first love and hold it tight, the delicate flutter on the palms of your hands.

Today is Valentine’s Day, and after a week like this one, our highest of high V-day dreams involved packing the boys off to bed early enough to eat something nice. Then Sarah called in howling rain to say she was nearby, and did we want her to pop in to watch the boys while we grabbed something quickly to eat. I took out a toy car from each pocket, put on my elephant-sized raincoat and off we popped. We had a Five Guys burger and talked about where we want to take ourselves this year. It was blissful. We weren’t dressed up to the nines and they’re not sweet nothings, not anymore. But why would you want to talk about nothing, anyway? These are our everythings.

Falling in love is the easy part. Working to stay there – that takes a quest.

We can keep seeking together. I can’t think of a better Valentine promise than that.

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I wanted cajun fries, he wanted regular. But we both wanted cherry vanilla Coke.  [this is love]

 

 

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We’re going on a bear hunt

Or, in other words, How To Visit Your Local Park Yet Again In Rubbish Weather Without Going Insane.

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We’re Going on a Bear Hunt is one of Henry’s favourite books – you should hear his pronunciation of ‘what a bleu-la-ti-foo day’ – so I suggested we go to the park for a bear hunt of our own. There are a lot of bear-friendly hiding places in Prospect Park. We checked them all.

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We found the thick, oozy mud (and so did my car boot)…

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…then the deep cold river (squelchy duck pond)…

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…then the big dark forest.

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No bears. I speculated that they might be hiding under the tree roots. Henry scoffed. Too small for bears, he said. They’re probably having their lunch. Still, we brought a (very unimpressed) bear with us as a back-up, so we weren’t totally empty-handed.

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Of course, we should have known. When you go looking for bears, you’ll end up finding a swirly whirly snowstorm, which in real life doesn’t go ‘hoo wooo’, but something more like FEEL MY ICE BRICKS AND DESPAIR, FOOLS.

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We’re not going on a bear hunt again (until all of us have dried off, and February decides to stop being a prize ass).

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