Tag Archives: Henry

School jumpers

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He loves it.

He came out on his first morning, beaming.

‘How did you do?’ I asked.

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

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

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

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

A science-y kind of birthday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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One thousand and ninety two

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Dear Henry,

Today you are three. Today has been a good day.

It’s getting harder to write about you properly, because describing you is becoming a challenge. The sweeping generalisations we hold up to babies – he’s loud; he’s busy; he’s a good sleeper – are poor greyscale things when held up to the patterned light of a three-year-old. You are multi-layered and contradictory, full of depths that surface and take us by surprise. You are increasingly a person. This is something we will both have to get used to.

Let’s just write you into this page a little. You talk. And talk and talk. You don’t say ‘I fell down’, you say ‘gosh, that was a tumble’. You don’t say ‘it’s dark’, you say ‘look, Mummy, outside it is dark and werry gloomy’. We laugh at you and with you a lot. Following your thought processes is like trying to catch a spark in blackness. It is difficult, but oh, it illuminates such lovely things.

You are passionate and emotional, as I think all toddlers must be, and we are learning to navigate this together. Not always very well. You love dinosaurs, books, trains, racing cars, Winnie the Pooh (a bit left-field, that one). You still run everywhere and only from the waist down. You whizz so fast on your little balance bike that I have to sprint alongside you with the pushchair, watching your hair stand on end. You can say seven wordless things just by raising your eyebrows. As of this morning, you do not own a single pair of trousers that fit.

I think now that all of my children will be special to me in their own way, and nothing will ever take away from the miraculous firstness of you. You were the moment I heard a jagged newborn cry through my own exhaustion and pain. The point at which everything in my head and heart changed all at once was marked, indelibly, by you.

I watched you open-mouthed, astounded, that first long night. I still do. I think I probably always will.

Today we have ridden trains, conducted serious experiments in the Science Museum, eaten chips in Covent Garden. Today we bought you pick-and-mix, and every time Teddy pulled on your sleeve for a foam banana, you very quietly and kindly passed one over to him. Today has been a good day. I hope you’ll remember some of it.

May three be good to you, little boy.

You are good to us.

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His mother called him ‘WILD THING’

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What follows: your weekly note about toddlers.

I haven’t written about Henry much, lately. It’s not because he’s going through a bit of a capital-P Phase – though he is – and I only want to write about the good stuff. I think this clingy, angry thing he’s been trying on has its roots in insecurity and growing pains, and – I don’t know, I suppose I feel he needs his tender parts covered until he feels more like himself. So he’s been a supporting player here for a little while.

He’s still here, though, so I thought I’d write down a few toddlerisms for posterity.

This is the Henriest Henry face there ever was. If you were to bottle up the essence of Henry, this face would be on the sticker.

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His grammarisms are always the best part of my day.

‘Mummy, this da-longs to you, yes?’

‘Look, Mummy, I covered in licker!’ (He means ‘glitter’, and this is never a thing you want to hear when you can’t see him.)

‘I not very well, I have a tummy-head’.

‘Look how smart I are!’ (Drying his hair with a hairdryer.)

(To Siri, on the iPad): ‘HELLO. HELLO. I NEED TO SPEAK TO TIMOTHY’.

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The other day, mid-toilet break, he told me to close the door ‘uzzerwise someone see me in my wee house’. He likes the idea of things having their own houses. This is actually the least embarrassing thing he’s said loudly in a public toilet. Others in the top five include [looking under the cubicle wall]: ‘I can see someone! LADY, I CAN SEE YOUR SHOES’, and, of course, various encouragements to his own anatomy and mine, which we will not reproduce here.

He’s experimenting with ‘Mum’ and ‘Dad’ at the minute – who knows where he got them from – and finds this so terribly noteworthy that he delivers them both in double forte. It’s like a trombone blast at the end of every sentence: ‘I got you a cheese-apple, DAAAAAD. Coming, DAAAAD’. (What is a cheese-apple?)

He narrates to himself when he’s feeling fancy. ‘I going this way, said Henry. Let’s open the door, said Henry’. I could make the fact that he’s apparently the star player in his own life into some metaphor or other, but let’s just comment instead that he’s still well on track for drama school.

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A little while ago he got very passionate about the alphabet, and learned half the letters. Now – hello, two-year-old – he’s gone off it and will only identify P and K, for which he still has a sentimental attachment.

Winnie the Pooh. Oh my twelve-times-a-day. The other day I caught him with his hand in our jar of honey, and that clean-up is not nearly so pleasant in real life, FYI.

I am still waiting for the switch that says ‘ohhhh, THAT’S where my solid waste should go’. Since I can’t stop him soiling his pants every day, I decided to stop minding. It’s working pretty well.

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He has cleared every plate, three times a day, for four days in a row. Miracle. On the other hand, he also spent his past four nights learning how to climb into Teddy’s cot, necking half a bottle of gripe water – cue frantic medical Googling – and coating Teds head to foot in Sudocreme. Which is to say, he’s growing.

He almost doesn’t fit into my lap now.  But he still wants to, and his face still looks like he’s won the lottery when I turn up unexpectedly. So two-and-three-quarters, you’re welcome to stick around for a while yet.

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I am your quiet place, you are my wild

For posterity.

Here is Henry.

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He is two-and-a-bit, and watching a ten-minute YouTube video comprised entirely of trains whizzing through platforms at high speed (who makes these?!).

‘Whooooooooa.’

‘So big and so fast!’

[personal favourite] ‘Oh goodness, that’s a big train!’

The talking is incessant. He parrots everything, and knows it’s a trick we find hilarious. I see a lot of myself in him, which is strange: wordy, impatient, wanting validation. Sometimes it’s my voice that comes out of his mouth. That’s strange too, finding out the things you say most often.

‘Steadyyyyy! Steady Henry!’ (This is something he says when he’s doing something dangerous. When you have a boy like Henry, you need a good stock of synonyms for ‘careful!’)

‘You haf a nice sleep, Mummy? Henry haf a nice sleep.’

‘Listen. LISTEN. LISTEN, YES PLEASE.’

‘Thass disguthtin.’

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He still eats an adult-sized portion of banana porridge (‘nana possiss’) every morning, and so I don’t worry too much about how much he eats the rest of the time. Though in fact he’s a lot better at mealtimes than he was. He loves toast so much that he has no concept of bread, and thinks every loaf is just toast-in-waiting. He eats ketchup with a spoon.

He is under the impression that he runs this joint. We clash a lot. I am trying to ride easily over the tantrums, lightfooted, bearing in mind that after two comes three, four and five. Some minutes I succeed. Some minutes I call him all sorts of names in my head so that none of them come out of my mouth. When he’s cross, he flounces over to the freezer and sweeps off the magnetic letters to the floor. Then he turns slowly around to look at me, eyebrows all ‘YES. THAT’.

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I have to say no so often that I try to say yes whenever I can. This is why he’s sat next to me wearing his dinosaur backpack. Which he wore all night, in bed. The other night he wore his coat with the hood up. Toddlers are weird.

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Every evening we run through the list of large animals that are not waiting in the dark at the bottom of our stairs.

‘Mummy, no tigers?’ ‘No tigers’.

‘No sharks?’ ‘No sharks’.

‘No bears?’ ‘No bears’.

‘No dragons?’ ‘Definitely not’.

The other night he put his head on one side, and said ‘I luff yooooou!’ in a sing-song voice. First time ever. This wild boy, all sweetness for a second. I will never get tired of that.

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This Is Where We Are: A letter to my son on Mother’s Day (2)

Having read about it here, I wanted to write about how I mother my babies day-to-day, every Mother’s Day. The first was here. Here goes the second. 

Dear Future Version of Henry,

Today is my second Mothering Sunday, and you are eighteen months old. We are sat side-by-side in the big bed, you tucked under my arm and watching your third episode of ‘Sarah and Duck’. You’ve got a dribbly cold, which is the reason we’re at home on a Sunday morning, and also the only reason you’re happy to be tucked anywhere. I’m making the most of it. Usually you’ve got too much to do.

Oh, I am in love with you, little boisterous boy. You sprint through a world of vivid colour where every last thing is so interesting it’s worth climbing a bookcase for. You should exhaust me completely – our energy levels are not, at the moment, on a par – and sometimes you do. Mostly I marvel at how keenly you feel everything: you’re always astonished or powerfully curious or hilariously excited or heartbreakingly sad. I mean, I never considered how interesting a cake fork was, before you insisted on inspecting all twelve of them in the cutlery drawer. You do not believe in sitting still, not for a second. You sleep like a champ, but only because you’ve knocked yourself out all day wrestling with chairs and sofas and me.

After much trial and error, we’ve found a routine that works for us both at the moment. Daddy fetches you from your cot in the morning, and you lie between us for an hour, hiding under the covers and tweaking our noses, until we’re ready to get up. You take long morning naps while I work, then I fetch you lunch and the rest of the afternoon is ours. You love books, red peppers, your pull-along doggy, the fluffy side of your monkey blanket, other people’s breakfasts, jumping from high places, and Daddy, always Daddy. You would give up ten strawberry yoghurts to have that man chase you around the kitchen. You hate having your teeth brushed, being made to eat when you don’t want to (often), broccoli under any circumstances, and being told ‘no’. We are working on the time-out thing, at the moment. Thus far, not an astoundingly successful experiment. Neither do any of my warning faces have any effect whatsoever. I’ll keep trying.

I feel a great deal more pressure now you not only need to be fed and clean and rested, but also stimulated and taught: given good habits, trained out of bad ones, exposed to people and principles that will open your eyes and make you everything you could be. It’s a lot to do in an afternoon, and I am no great paragon of any of it myself. But somehow, despite all that, I feel more secure now in mothering you than I ever have before. This has been my favourite age so far. You are good company. I can see so much of what you are, and it gives me hope. I want you to keep forging new paths. I want you to be graceful, and grateful, and kind. I want you to read the whole of Roald Dahl’s back catalogue, but that’s probably a goal for another year.

I can’t tell you how much being your mother has changed me for the better. You have my heart and soul and everything in between. I hope you can feel it. I finally begin to understand that the glory of motherhood is this: no matter how far you move away from me, some part of you, for me, will always be that little boy lying between us and kicking his legs in the bed, babbling secrets into the half-darkness. I’ll have that forever. What a gift, my dearest boy. What an inexpressible gift.

With love,

Your mother.

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Dear Future Version of Henry, my hair doesn’t always look like an insane person’s wig. Promise.

A Henry and a half

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He’s a handful and a half

A noise and a half

A long thin string and a half

A happiness and a half

A year and a half (today!)

Oh, how we love you, little eighteen-monther. Keep on climbing.

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This Is Where We Are: A letter to my son on Mother’s Day (1)

Having read about it here, I wanted to write about how I mother my babies day-to-day, every Mother’s Day. Here goes the first.

Dear Future Version of Henry,

Today is my first Mothering Sunday, and tomorrow you will be seven months old. I am sat in a puddle of quiet, feeding you before your nap. You’re not much interested in feeding these days apart from as a comforting book-end to sleep. The knowledge that this connection between us is winding to a close is breaking my heart just a little. You are so big now. You are so completely yourself. You’re hardly my creation at all.

It has taken us this long to cobble together something like a routine, but we’re getting there. Neither of us are great at sticking to a routine – I am too indecisive and you are too energetic – but it does us both good. You nap twice in the day if we’re lucky, and most of the night. You will eat sweet potato till it comes out of your ears (or nose, more often), but choke extravagantly on anything more solid. You do everything extravagantly: lunging at things you want to put in your mouth, burying your face in my neck in a fit of excitement, bouncing like a grasshopper in my lap. You are always in the throes of some passion or other. You are never, never still. I think you’re going to give me a run for my money as soon as you can actually run.

You love singing, Sir Prance-a-Lot, your door bouncer, books that are solid enough to get in your mouth, labels, my hair and Daddy. You hate pasta, getting dressed, and doing anything for longer than five minutes.

In some ways I struggled with the transition to full-time mothering, needing more validation and more structure than you were able to give me, but I’ve grown into my life as you’ve grown into yours. I’ve been surprised at how natural it all is. I know every inch of you. I can sense what you need without really having to try. You want Daddy when you want to be happy, and me when you want to be sad. I know I won’t always be able to fix your problems so easily, but oh, I wish I could.

I have so many hopes for you. I want you to be independent and confident and curious. If I could have you be anything, I would have you be kind. I worry about you constantly. I suppose it will always be like that. But I love who you are and who I’ve become since you arrived. I only have you to thank for that.

With love,

Your mother.

A Birthday

It was an ordinary day. Until, suddenly, it wasn’t.

I had big plans for Thursday. The house was a mess. My hospital bag needed a few items before it was finished. I was going to make a white chocolate torte in the afternoon, because some days are white chocolate torte days, and that felt like one of them. I just had another antenatal appointment at the Royal Berks to get through first.

We weren’t friends these days, the Royal Berks and me. I had a snarky blog post all written about how their obsession with collecting my bodily fluids was getting in the way of our relationship. ‘You have some of the early signs of pre-eclampsia’, they kept saying, after I’d spent another three hours being poked with needles and hooked up to baby monitors, ‘but we’re not concerned. Yet. Come in next week. And bring in another milk bottle of urine, because we love those.’ I sped to the hospital at an unearthly hour in the morning, cursed my way through several roadwork diversions, went the wrong way round the one-way system in the car park and had a squashy-faced old man glare at me like I’d emptied my special milk bottle over his head, then misjudged the distance in the parking space and ran into the wall, and was beginning to feel like one white chocolate torte wouldn’t be enough.

‘You’re back!’ said the blood-taking lady with the moustache I’d met earlier in the week. ‘Do they want another sample already?’

‘Apparently’, I smiled, pushing my special milk bottle under the chair with my foot, since I don’t like to show large quantities of my waste to strangers.

‘Well. Thirty-eight weeks, right? You’ll be ready to have it soon, whatever happens’, she said.

‘Oh, I hope so’, I groaned. Dramatic Irony Fairy looked up from the corner and coughed, hammily, but I was too busy gathering up my keg of wee to notice.

An hour later, a doctor was telling me that they’d finally collected enough of my fluids to conclude that I needed to have this baby today.

In a panic, I called Timothy. ‘Today. TODAY. Tim, my hospital bag isn’t finished. We don’t have the crib set up. And I didn’t do any of the housework!’

Not even unexpected babies faze the Unflappable King of Crises. He leapt on his bike (insert superhero music here), cycled seven miles in a torrential thunderstorm, paused to wring out his t-shirt in the train toilet, and landed dripping on the hospital carpet before you could say ‘awkward personal place examination’, which, coincidentally, was what was happening to me upstairs.

Once I’d written a list of things we needed, he’d gone home to get them, and I’d eaten a really big bag of prawn cocktail crisps, the shock had worn off a bit. Tim promised that if there wasn’t time for him to do the housework by the time we were sent home, we could gently swaddle the baby Jeffcoat in the mountain of clean laundry at the foot of our bed, thus solving the crib problem at the same time.

Prawn cocktail crisps have a well-known soporific effect.

By 6.30 that evening, my uterus was ready to rock.

Inducing a baby that isn’t ready to come out on its own is a tricky business. Sometimes the hormone drip doesn’t work at all. Sometimes it takes hours and hours. And sometimes it works far too well, and your contractions are so strong you need extra pain relief you hadn’t planned for. But I’d barely been on the drip for fifteen minutes when the contractions started, all by themselves. For the first hour or so I hung onto Timothy’s neck and breathed with the smell of his collar in my nose. Then they got worse, and I forgot about everything except the gas-and-air nozzle in my teeth and the grip of his hand and the need to breathe, and move, and breathe, and move until it was over. The midwives changed shift, and the second one was blonde and jolly and wonderful. She put her hand on my back and told me I was doing brilliantly.

It changed soon after that: the pain stayed hot and pulsing in my back, but I felt like there was a large stone in my nether regions that needed to be evacuated, pronto. I realised that this was the ‘urge to push’ everyone kept going on about, and the stone was TJ’s head, and that meant my body knew exactly what it was doing, and it was almost over. The last part was optimistic. I pushed for an hour and a half. And I think I sobbed, and I definitely said I didn’t want to do it anymore, and Tim has the bruises to prove how hard I squeezed his hand. A doctor came in and said that it was taking too long, and they had me on my back with my legs in stirrups and were about to use that big sucky thing that looks more like it was meant for plunging a toilet, and I knew I didn’t want any of that action, so pushed one last push with every muscle in my body.

And out he came. I can’t say I looked at him and felt an overwhelming rush of love and belonging, like they talk about in all the baby books. What I felt was relief, and bewilderment, and a strong sense of unreality. I knew he was mine, but it felt like he’d been lent to us for a morning, and we’d be checking him back in before we went home.

A few hours later, I’d been moved to the ward upstairs, Timothy had gone home to sleep and sort out that pile of swaddling laundry, and it was just me and the little person we’d just decided to call Henry. He blinked out of his crib at me, and I remembered that I could pick him up any old time I wanted. So I did. He looked at me, and I held his head in my hands and realised I’d already memorised every inch of his face. I told him that I was his mother. I told him what a wonderful boy he was going to be, and how much we loved him, and that we were so excited he was here. And I knew, with a heart-deep sting of truthfulness, that I meant every word.

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