Tag Archives: Little Things

It’s all coming back to me now

11pm. I’m sat in bed next to a baby I will need to wake up soon, eating a boat-sized slice of buttered toast. I don’t know of any diet that recommends toast after 10pm, but I am trying to look after myself. And sometimes that looks like going to bed at 8.30, so I get a couple more hours’ sleep before Imogen’s middle-of-the-night feed. And sometimes it looks like cutting yourself an inch-thick slice of toast and sitting in fresh pyjamas far too late, to do the things you desperately wanted to do this evening before the baby’s bout of trapped wind said ‘mmm, actually no’.

I wanted to write this, and to pack away her newborn clothes (she has grown out of her newborn clothes already) (sob), and I was hungry, so here I am.

I am in that baby phase where just getting from 7am to 9am every day feels like this:

but already she’s seven weeks old and her cheeks alone have their own address on Google Maps, and her teeny tiny newborn photos look like someone else. I love her, I love her, I am completely obsessed – and Tim is totally her favourite. I’m like a needy super-fan whose celebrity crush doesn’t know she exists. I mean, not quite, of course, I exaggerate, she thinks I’m alright; but she adores her Daddy. It’s gorgeous to watch and also sort of annoying, like MY BODY ATE ITSELF TO BIRTH YOU, CHILD: LOVE ME BEST.

After paternity leave, and then my mum’s two-week visit – both blooming marvellous – I’m now getting used to doing things solo. Mostly I’d forgotten how much extra time things take. Getting out of the car with bags AND a baby. Making dinner AND soothing a baby. I keep coming across new things and thinking ‘Right, so, how to…because I’ve got this baby here? And how can I…? Should I put her…? Um?’ It’s coming back to me, in bits and pieces.

I do tend to find it very difficult, getting lost in intensely practical, menial routines. Patting out need fires from morning till night, and not doing much else. I tend to slip into resentment easily, brooding over the unattainable luxury of being able to leave for a quiet office in the morning, and not coming back till your day’s tasks are done. I miss writing, thinking, reading. Feeling vaguely competent. Sleeping in blocks longer than four hours, day or night.

But then, oh, my dear, there are moments of such transcendence. I do mean that, actually – I’m not being melodramatic. Yesterday I’d been for a run – one of the wonderful side effects of that gestational diabetes fiasco is that I now associate exercise with anxiety relief – then came back and dressed in my yellow jumper, which fits again. My yellow jumper! We had twenty minutes before the school runs, so I sat on the bed under a blanket, Imogen on my lap, and watched Netflix. I took hilarious photos, and laughed so much she twisted her head right around to look at me accusingly, then gradually my body heat lulled her to sleep. Oh gosh, I was happy. I was so happy.

Tonight we drove home singing along to the Moana soundtrack – H and T’s current all-consuming obsession. I watched H in the rear-view mirror, as he forgot his perpetual self-consciousness for once, for once, and sang his heart out. ‘I am Moanaaaaaaaa!’ I thought I’d give anything at all to capture the expression on his face, and knew I’d never convince him to do it on video. So I tried to fix it hard and deliberately in my memory, like pressing a diamond into its setting. The sun was low and warm over the sheep in the fields, and there was a big ghost moon hanging in the sky.

I have a few little flashes like that, like tiny jewels – the white-hot stab of happiness when I coaxed a first smile out of Imogen; the serious expression on toddler Teddy’s face as we twirled to Starman in the kitchen; H singing with closed eyes in the rear-view mirror, the evening sun touching his face.

Midnight again. Midnight, my old friend. It’s feeding time. And then it’s time for bed.

Now take a deep breath

Teddy disappears as soon as we’re through the doctor’s door. I keep half an eye on his white-blonde head, bobbing around the pharmacy shelves, while I sign the form and pick up my latest flavour of tablets (this week: iron! For extra energy and black poo!). They’ll go on the shelf with the daily aspirin, and the multivitamins, and the lucozade from the glucose tolerance test I took yesterday, though the tolerance it tested most of all was my ability to go without food for half a day without Actual Murder happening.

He has settled himself at the toy table by the time I turn around. ‘Ted’, I call across the waiting room, ‘Ted, we’re not staying today’. He looks mildly peeved, but drags himself over to me.

‘I wish we could stay at the doctor’s every day’, he tells me as we leave, little hot hand in mine.

‘Why?’ I ask, amused.

‘Because they have Star Wars plasters, and those toys’.

‘I bought you the Star Wars plasters’, I remind him. ‘You can look at them in the downstairs loo any time you like’.

I did, too. This boy has accompanied me to most of my appointments this pregnancy, and they’ve piled on more in the last few weeks. He has sat in a wide variety of waiting room chairs, swinging his legs, eating cereal bars or watching the iPad. He knows that sometimes they take away some of my blood with a pin, that we mustn’t forget either his snacks or my bottle of pee, and the whoomph-whoomph-whoomph of his almost-sister’s heartbeat. He’s never complained, but I still felt guilty enough to buy the Star Wars plasters the last time we visited. He has been actively hoping for an open wound ever since.

***

When we get home I know I’ll need to lie down sharpish, so I ask him whether he minds watching some CBeebies this morning. Of course he doesn’t. I ask him because it’s me who minds. On go the Twirlywoos, and I settle him under a blanket and open the little box of iron supplements. They’re supposed to give you terrible constipation. After some consideration, I pop an iron pill into my mouth with one hand, and a dried prune with the other. Every action has an equal and opposite reaction, right?

***

She moves, and moves, and moves. I’m amazed she still has room, but I get the most astonishing(ly painful) triangular lumps poking out of my belly day and night. I am reading baby books again, listening to hypnobirthing tracks, buying sleepsuits, and have generally skipped forward mentally to the point where she’s a baby, not a five-pointed uterus star. So I sometimes wake up surprised to still be pregnant. Ted thinks – after he asked where the baby would come out and I gestured too vaguely – that she’s going to squeeze out of my feet. I haven’t corrected him. (Would that be better, or worse?)

***

In the playground, and everywhere else, all anyone asks me now is how I’m feeling, and when my due date is. Which I don’t mind, because it’s mostly all I can think about too. After one of these conversations – one of the school mums running in one direction, Henry and I hurrying back to the car in the other – he asks ‘What does the 29th March mean?’

‘Oh’, I say, ‘that’s when the baby is supposed to be born’.

‘On the 29th March?’

‘Well, thereabouts’.

He thinks. Then he says, with an air of dawning wonder, ‘So…so that means, after the 29th March, you won’t have a belly anymore, and you’ll be able to bend down, and ride your bike again?’

He’s known that the baby will come out eventually, I realise, but not that I won’t be like this forever. He thought this puffing, exhausted, snappy version of his mother was all he’d get. I think about myself a year ago, manhandling a pushchair over tree roots in a yellow jumper. I think about getting that back. I think about never having this again, this holy thing where I carry a child blindly, not knowing what they will look like or the precise pin-sharp contours of their personality, only that they have a decent set of elbows and are about to break my heart open, all over again.

I think I want to cry a little, for at least two reasons.

‘That’s right’, I tell him, firmly. ‘I’ll be able to do all that again. Just like before. Only there’ll be a baby, so it’ll be even better. Put your seatbelt on, please’.

I just catch his answering beam in the rear-view mirror, as I switch on the engine and drive off.

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? 

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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Notes from the Trenches: 8

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Do you know what? My Instagram lies.

Well, not totally, not properly…the same way Facebook isn’t properly evading corporation tax and I didn’t entirely eat an jumbo-bag of Mini Eggs whilst gawping at Tom Hiddlestone on the TV last night. It’s just that my Instagram feed shows our best bits, and when it includes our worst bits it’s just the picturesque ones with a nice filter. That’s what Instagram does, and it’s good at it.

If it’s behind-the-scenes madness you’re after – the blood, the tears, the endless, endless bodily waste – you need my daily ranting text messages to Tim. Ever wondered if your normal was actually normal? Read on, and don’t mind me weeping.

 

30 September

In the five minutes it took to hang up some wet clothes, Teddy has a) got a chair and climbed onto it, b) emptied an entire packet of Ritz crackers onto the hob, and c) crumbled some cheese into the water bottle, I mean WHAT.
I’m actually quite impressed at how much cheese he managed to get into that bottle!
I KNOW.

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1 October

YOU KNOW THAT WALLPAPER

IT’S ON SALE AGAIN.

IMAGINE THIS ON THE FAR WALL.

JUST IMAGINE.

I’m now imagining you shouting ‘JUST IMAGINE’ at me…

You love it when I forcibly demand that you imagine things

 

10 October

I cannot tell Twitter this because I am deeply ashamed; I can only tell you. I just absentmindedly tried to scroll this book with my finger. Now I need to go CHOP ALL MY FINGERS OFF.

 

12 October

Made tomato soup and a crumpet for T’s lunch. Immediately he pours his glass of water into the soup, making it inedible. And refuses the crumpet, even once I put jam on it.

And so, naptime.

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28 October

[Getting Cursed Child tickets]

OMGOSH two minutes till it opens! I don’t know how you do eBay all the time – I am freaking out

Aaaaargh

50 seconds so poised so ready

Ok there’s a random queue and I’m number 6902. Wut.

I am going to stare at it until the time passes.

I don’t know what on earth you get to do with a £100 ticket. Like, lick Harry Potter’s face?

 

29 October

Literally thirty seconds after we’ve struggled into our seats at the cinema, having persuaded Teddy to climb the stairs and come sit down when he cannot tear his eyes away from the screen and my hands are full so I can’t grab him, but we get there eventually and get settled with popcorn trays on laps…

‘I need a wee.’

OF COURSE YOU DO. OF. COURSE. YOU. DO.

 

5 November

PS, Ted just bit his tongue, and wanted me to fix it in the usual way: a rub and a kiss. I did the rub reluctantly but I have to draw the line at kissing his tongue.

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19 November

There is no fury like that of a mother who ALMOST got a nap until the blasted postman rang the doorbell twice. Awake, angry, tired toddler. No sleep for anyone. OUTER DARKNESS. OUTER DARKNESS FOR THIS MAN.

 

4 December

Ted is singing Happy Birthday to his jumper. Festive.

***

The ‘we need to stop at Sainsbury’s quickly before lunch’ plan went terribly wrong. He’s sparko, I’m sat in the car park starving to death. WHAT NOW.

Resist the temptation to Drive-Thru!

HOW DID YOU KNOW I WAS RESISTING THAT TEMPTATION WITH ALL OF MY CELLS SIMULTANEOUSLY

I AM SO HUNGRY AND SOMEONE WOULD POST CHIPS THROUGH MY WINDOW IF I ASKED

***

I bought Ted a fish biscuit from Sainsbury’s bakery. Home now, and he’s just eaten the icing eye…and is now freaking out because the fish is blind.

This is a morally conflicted situation.

Update: He has overcome his scruples.

 

29 December

When ur about to captain the Victory to defeat Napoleon and ur getting so pumped

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13 January

H: T hit me!

Me: T, did you hit H?

T: Thomas is a…a big bad naughty engine

Me: Is he? What’s that got to do with you hitting H?

T: Thomas hit H in the head.

Quick thinker slash diabolical genius.

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15 January

H: Who are we going to visit?

Me: A nice old lady called Ma.

H: Ma? Isn’t that a planet where all the aliens live?

Me: What? Oh. No, that’s Mars.

H: Oh right.

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11 February

That moment when you realise your 2YO freakishly knows all the words to Life on Mars.

‘Take a look at the –’

‘Laaaw mayn waitin’ dela wong guy’

 

15 February

[Just after my gum operation]

Twice yesterday T said ‘I smell your mouth’. And not like it was a good thing. 

 

7 March

So I changed T’s disgusting diarrhoea nappy while you were there, right?

Ten minutes after you left:

‘Mummy! I did a poo in the bath and it’s weally nasty!’

Ten minutes after that:

‘Mummy! I sat down on the toilet to do a poo and there’s already some in my pants and now it’s on my finger!’

Just as we were about to leave: another dirty nappy from T.

Monday, I rename thee: faeces day. May all who sail in her have joy.

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8 March

‘I ate my bowg’

‘Your what?’

‘I ate my – I ate my snotty’

‘Oh, don’t do that – that’s disgusting’.

*emphatic suddenly* ‘NO. THAT’S THE RULE.’

 

9 March

I made a fatal error with that cat poo, by the way.

Cleaned the carpet, then got out the hoover, but wasn’t wearing my glasses.

Hoovered over a ‘leaf’ that turned out to be the original turd.

The ur-turd.

And spread it all over the carpet again *horror face*

 

10 March

What a GREAT NIGHT this has been.

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Yes, I was sleeping between them, and T’s feet pretty much reach H’s shoulder in this photo, and it went super well, thanks for HA HA HA.

(Previous Notes from the Trenches are here: one, two, three, four, five, six, seven. It’s so weird how, even under the umbrella of Small Children, your life still changes completely all the time. Wonder where we’ll be in another six months? More vomiting, probably.)

Seven little things that have made my life better in 2016

 

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I’ve been spending my nights mostly not asleep this week. I’ve had a couple of imagine-all-the-horrible-ways-you-could-lose-your-children sessions (MOTHERHOOD, THE BEST) and then last night, somewhat more prosaically, I spent hours seized up with fear about not having put the bin out.

I dunno what’s causing it. It’s new to me. Brains are great, sometimes.

Anyway, today – having woken up too early, too tired, too cross over nothing – I have been practising self-care. I went for a run this morning, though I hate it as much as I ever did, because even I know that endorphins are a thing. Then a hot shower. Then clothes as close to pyjamas as I could wangle. Then I put on makeup carefully and with both hands while T watched Cars. Then Heinz tomato soup and a buttered crumpet. Then I took the damn nap.

This evening I feel a little more like myself, thanks to all those little things. So in that spirit, I thought of seven other little things that have been making my life better so far this year, and wrote them down. None of them are putting the bin out on time, though I managed that too, eventually.

 

1. A laundry basket with two compartments, no, seriously:

We saw this little beauty in TK Maxx on a day in which we were decidedly not in the market for items larger than our youngest child – we’d come on the train; we were about to head off for a cheeky Nando’s – but we couldn’t say no to this. A laundry bin with two compartments is essentially self-sorting, and you don’t even need a robot. Do you know how much time I save not tossing urine-sodden underpants and ancient sweaty lycra into white and dark piles? I could eat a bacon sandwich in that time. And I have.

***

2. Not weighing myself anymore:

At certain times in my life this pestilential thing has been necessary – when I had weight to lose, for example, and needed to track it. Other than that, though: why. Ever. Why. I have spent so many years tailoring my feelings to that unfeeling box on the ground. Weight fluctuates daily for many reasons: how much water you’ve drunk; what kind of exercise you do; the details of your loo expeditions; if your hormones are up, down or have run off to sea. Your body changes as you do, because you are mysterious and expansive and full of hidden depths. If you’re making effort to treat it well, why bother sticking it on a scale like a slab of meat? I have decided to end the tyranny of the weight box, and I LOVE it.

***

3. Housework + audiobooks:

Imagine being in the bottom half of a giant egg-timer, like Jasmine at the end of Aladdin, only instead of sand tumbling ceaselessly onto your head, it’s toys. And dirty plates. And biscuit crumbs. That’s basically what it’s like keeping house with small children. Now imagine if you did all your washing up with Stephen Fry sat on the counter, talking to you about Harry Potter. Much better, eh? I never do any housework without an audiobook. The HP cycle is my old reliable, though it’s a bit disconcerting when I go straight from the end of Book 7 to the beginning of Book 1, and shriek HARRY YOU ARE MARKED FOR SLAUGHTER STOP WORRYING ABOUT HOMEWORK in the middle of the laundry. I have a couple of my favourite novels on audio too; and the BBC Radio app, especially the drama section, especially during Agatha Christie season (!!!), is a cave of wonders.

***

4. A proper weekly planner app:

Do you know how long I have been searching for a week-to-view planner app? My whole life. I just want to know whether to schedule something for Monday or Thursday without having to flick through seven screens. It’s not like it’s the holy grail. Finally, this month I found one. It’s called Weekly Planner, helpfully, so perhaps I just wasn’t looking hard enough. Guys. My productivity has been OFF THE CHARTS. I also use a thumbs up emoji to tick stuff off, so it’s like a Roman Emperor decided to let me live because of my unstoppable efficiency, ten times a day.

***

5. A store-cupboard, thirty-minute crumble recipe:

Sometimes you need crumble and custard very much indeed, but you don’t have crumble topping, or enough apples, or the time and leisure to take the skin off your knuckles coring them. This is a problem I have frequently, and never more so than in January. Recently I hit on the idea of tinned fruit crumble, because it takes no time at all to cook and you can keep in the ingredients for emergencies. You can have it on the table half an hour after your initial hankering if you have a food mixer, I kid ye not. Here you go:

  • put one tin each of peaches, pears and mangoes into a dish
  • whizz up 150g flour, 50g sugar and 100g cold butter in a food mixer/processor (or your hands are fine; it just takes a bit longer)
  • put crumble mixture over fruit in dish
  • bake for 20 mins in a hot oven (220 ish)

I hope you always use twice as much custard as crumble, because this is the route to happiness.

***

6. The 10pm alarm clock:

Let me say for the sake of honesty that I am awful at this one, but when I do it I feel so much better. I am a terrible, terrible fiddler in the evenings, and can spend literally hours soaking in the experience of looking at Twitter without being jumped on. But late nights make me feel gross in the morning, and not taking the time to wind down properly also takes its toll. So I have a recurring 10pm alarm, with the idea that when it goes off, I stop whatever I’m doing and go upstairs. I can have my own bedtime routine for half an hour, and then go to sleep at a decent time, properly switched off. It’s a blooming miracle.

***

7. Trying to get better at things:

You know what always makes me feel more satisfied, more hopeful? No, not Netflix (YES NETFLIX). Making progress. Some kind of progress, in something. Much of the labour I perform is manual, repetitive, quickly undone, and though I know it’s not, it can feel pointless and stagnating. I need to feel like I’m making progress. Last year I tried hard to read more and to let the boys see me reading – both for my own enjoyment/sanity, and so I could show them that reading is a thing I do for pleasure. This year I want to carry on with that, and I’ve started baking new things more regularly, and trying to practice the piano a little more. By which I mean, a little more than the none I was doing before. It’s totally doable.

***

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What are your little sanity-savers so far this year?

 

Two time-stoppers

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(i)

I am walking to school. Pushing the pushchair with two hefty toddlers in it, wellies mud-streaked, balancing H’s scooter over the top with a spare finger, sweaty enough to make me feel like this is exercise. It’s one of my favourite things to do. The light is grey as steel, but the woods look good in anything.

I look up, and there’s a kite balancing on the topmost branch of the nearest tree. A kite, or a hawk? I never know. I wish I did. We see them quite often, wheeling far overhead, but I’ve never seen one perched before. This one sways gently on its spindly seat. So much bigger than I expected. A muscled, burly chest, layered with feathers. I’m overwhelmed by how solid it is, how heavy and powerful it looks, how its stillness communicates itself as terrifying, ferocious observation. I wouldn’t like to be a sparrow in the field below and feel that glare on my back.

I stop the pushchair and point up. ‘Look, can you see the bird?’ I want them to see it too, and I don’t want to move before it does. Then I don’t have to: it lets out a pure, cold, bird-of-prey cry, the kind I’ve heard on documentaries but never in front of me, never slicing through the air on top of my head, and peels off. Wings open smoothly as it falls and then it’s not falling anymore, but flying. It must have seen a sparrow.

I let out my breath, and push on.

 

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(ii)

I have heaved all three of our shopping bags in from the car, and closed all the doors. It’s our doing-things day, the one where I wheedle T around two supermarkets and clean up the house after the weekend. I love restocking our empty fridge and cupboards, cramming the shelves with a week of fresh food. Planning and making our meals answers one of my deepest, most basic needs as a mother: I can feed them good things, I can keep them well, I can keep them loved. I think about this every Monday, stuffing onions into the fridge drawer.

‘Put music on?’ T asks.

‘Of course’, I say. ‘What would you like?’

I don’t really expect him to answer, but he screws up tiny nose and does: ‘Um…Starman’.

We’ve been hitting the Bowie back catalogue hard since he passed away. I suppose you pore over someone’s genius more when you know there’s no more to come. The boys are old enough to recognise them this time around. They love them, though they’re not as fierce about Life on Mars as I am.

I crank up the volume and the slightly discordant guitar riff jangles through the kitchen, then Bowie comes in for the first verse, that hard, spare voice lingering over the repeated ‘oh-oh-ohs’. T starts to dance, all shoulders and lunges. I join in, swirling my coat around us like a cloak. He grabs my hand and I spin us both round in lazy circles on the kitchen floor, waiting for the moment where the chorus kicks in with a rush and an octave leap.

I know this is something I’ll remember years later: this minute, this chubby hand and leaping toddler and soft late-morning light and Bowie loud in the air. I can feel it solidifying into memory in front of me, like our edges are turning sepia before we’re quite done with them. Possibly I’ll never listen to Starman again without being transported right back here. Swishing coat. Hand in the air. T’s laughter. And here comes the chorus: Star-maaaaaan, waiting in the sky.

He laughs. I laugh. I get out bread, grapes, cheese, and make us some lunch.

What January has to say for itself

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Hello lovers. Let’s go rambling.

I make a point of not getting on with anything until T falls asleep. At the moment that means I slump over Twitter exhaustedly and with shoes on, for nearly an hour. He got used to Audible Fun Stuff going on after his bedtime over Christmas, so he likes to have a little cot-potter after lights-out. Just in case someone’s going to come and get him. He’s just given in, so I’ve taken off my boots, and am (Hades voice) ready to rumbllllllle. (H is sparko five minutes after I leave, of course. School.)

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We are back in a routine after a week of inevitable new-term sick bug. Last week we didn’t shift very far away from Netflix or pyjamas, and ran out of Calpol, and didn’t leave the house more than once for five days. That sort of week is rather nice for a day or so, then forms a very short runway to insanity thereafter. I know the theme song to our newest Thomas film now. KIDDING I KNEW IT ALREADY.

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Getting back to normal has made what was a pretty dreary January into something quite bracing and lovely. We walked back from school the long way yesterday afternoon. Watching them call for the Gruffalo in the middle of the woods and get comically stuck in mud-swamps made my head feel like it was opening up again at last. It’s very cold, bright and frost-glittered. Good skies. Indoors, I am making big lasagnes, shepherd’s pies, vats of enchiladas – and engaging in a running battle with Timothy where we turn the radiators on/off without the other one knowing.

We are keeping the kettle almost constantly boiling, and our favourite is mixing two spoons of hot chocolate with two spoons of Horlicks. If I tell you we call it a Choco-(W)Hor(e), will you think less of us?

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T feels very two this month. One blimming up and down after another. Stubborn. Delightful. Hideous. Hilarious. Beginning every other sentence with ‘I don’ WANT to’. Making his toys talk to each other. This afternoon he came to insist that he had a ‘twiceratops stuck down here’ (gestures at groin area). The only triceratops I know about is the size of Teddy’s head, but I brushed my hand down his front anyway. Nothing. I told him to go and play. About half an hour later I changed his nappy and, sure enough: a small plastic triceratops, embedded in his squishy toddler belly. Who knows how it got there. The triceratops is too shell-shocked to say. Never doubt the two-year-old, is the lesson from that.

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Oh, but you can give me a million years of four and I will take them off your hands. Four is the best. Four is your reward for getting through three without running away to sea to be a ship’s monkey. This evening H had to work through the letter B. He produced a whole row of them, pencil held carefully in his left hand, then wrote ‘Boo’. I told him about exclamation marks, and he drew one in precisely at the end, then put another one at the beginning too (!Boo!) ‘so it’s even more shouting!’ He laughed at the triceratops thing harder than I did, and ate all his lasagne. Four forever pls.

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I’ve just finished A God in Ruins, by Kate Atkinson, which is the companion piece to Life After Life, the book I love so much I keep it in my glove compartment for emergencies. The sequel made me feel so much some of my cells died from the strain. Life After Life is a gorgeous family-drama-with-reincarnation-twist, and is the most harrowing depiction of the Blitz I’ve ever come across. A God in Ruins does the same thing for the RAF bombing campaign over Germany, gives the beloved characters slightly disappointing lives thereafter, and ends with a twist like a gut punch. It’s gone back on my shelf, and I haven’t dared look at it since. Tomorrow I will be charging through January’s book club book, with ten hours till book club, because leaving books till the last minute and causing myself great stress is my ABSOLUTE speciality.

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We have just booked tickets to my brother’s wedding in the Spring. California, Oregon, Utah. I am utterly thrilled and also doing a full-body cringe at the expense of carting four humans across the Atlantic, as per. Please send your San Francisco recommendations if you have them! Even better if it’s food-related, but you knew that.

February is historically my least-favourite month (HOW CAN IT STILL BE COLD AND WITH NO GREEN ANYWHERE) but with enough skies like these, I think we’ll be alright. I think I could get on with January after all.

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What it’s like

Maybe there’s something about having a houseful of people in their twenties, long before they start thinking about kids, that makes you concentrate on all the things you can’t do now you have children.

(Like staying in bed beyond 7am. Like popping out to the cinema spontaneously. Like, I don’t know, eating a meal and only having to think about your own table manners.)

Anyway, I can’t help doing that occasionally. But I find it useful to remind myself what motherhood is, as well as what it’s not.

For me, this month, it’s

having your two-year-old burst into a room full of people and search every face, anxiety all over him, until he finds yours, and his whole self relaxes.

sitting outside their room reading while they watch a Thomas film, and having them come out to check on you, one and then the other, every thirty seconds.

listening to your four-year-old read a book, his stubby forefinger pointing to the words as he makes the sounds, and feeling like a proper adult parent, doing this Real Parenty Thing, and also that you might die with pride and also that it’s almost time for Enid Blyton, surely.

carrying your too-heavy toddler through the crowds at Buckingham Palace, explaining when he asks that yes, the Queen is probably inside, and she’s probably eating some toast. He looks pleased with this answer. He tells his auntie. Suddenly he gasps, pats both hands solicitously on your cheeks and says ‘Mummy! You’re so cold! Where’s your coat?’

holding your four-year-old’s hand during a long muddy walk, and talking about dinosaurs. He tells you the difference between two dinosaurs you’ve never heard of (one has four claws, the other has two). You have no idea how he knows this. You envision a future, oh, very soon now, where his entire interior life will be joys, interests and complexities that have very little to do with you. The thought makes you feel excited, and a little bereft. Which makes you feel like an idiot but, after all (you reason), becoming less important to someone is hard to do, no matter who it is.

walking to school, one of them in the pushchair, the other scooting next to you, and a grey squirrel runs up the nearest telegraph pole in a flash of fur. For once you all see it, and all at the same time. You watch it up the pole, along the cable. It makes a leap sideways, three feet to the nearby tree. Tiny feet splayed against grey sky. All three of you – two-year-old, four-year-old, thirty-year-old mother – let out a delighted ‘oh!’ as it jumps.

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When motherhood means impersonating furniture

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Our heating chugs into life at 5.30am. The whole house groans and shifts, boiling water trickling into radiators and pushing out hisses of warm air. Getting ready for us all to wake up with our alarms an hour later, even though in this darkest winter month the sun won’t rise until nearly eight o’ clock.

About twice a week the noise wakes Teddy up. He’s a light sleeper anyway, not like his dead-to-the-world brother who topples off the toilet regularly when we wake him up to pee. As soon as he’s awake he yells for one of us in a croaky voice, and I get up sharpish to rescue him, since a Teddy unattended is one that will soon rouse half the street.

We pad back to the big bed, through the dark and the new warmth, and I lie him between us, As soon as I’ve settled myself he wriggles over determinedly and wedges himself into my side. It’s a bizarre thing that a boy who needs strapping down during the day (if you want him within sight) only wants enclosure at night. He sleeps best in his cot, jammed up against the bars. When he’s not in his cot, he likes to pretend I’m one. I don’t usually sleep well with fierce little elbows under my ribs and a hoarse, admonitory ‘Mummeeee, I need a cuggle‘, floating out of the dark every time I move away. So I don’t sleep much during that last hour, as you wouldn’t if you were pretending to be a cot. But it feels like hibernating in endless cosy blankets with a tiny, fluffy, indignant animal, and if this is what it is to be a cot then I never want to move anywhere at all.

***

At half-past three we roll in from school, cold and wet. We’ve never done full school days in winter before, and this stormy November has severely cramped our style. No walks and no outings: just school, a snack, and then – since H is too frazzled for homework and too damp and exhausted to play – we put on a film. Old-school Disney, new-school Pixar, Harry Potter with the proviso that we stick to ones that are almost age-appropriate.

I have been in two-year-old mode all day, and switching abruptly back to four-year-old interaction is jarring and wonderful. I can’t eat chocolate sneakily and pretend it’s grapes, but we can have proper conversation. So he tells me about his day while I turn on the radiators and hunt for the remote and the rain batters the inky windows in bursts. Then as I find it and sit down, he curls right against me like a cat. The music starts up, T hops to his feet (he can’t sit still under a blanket for a million pounds) and we’re off.

At some point I extract myself to put in some more washing. H immediately whimpers after me ‘Mummy! My neck hurts when you’re not here!’ Meaning, of course, that he’s using me as an armchair and now I’ve left his head to fend for itself. It’s not all that comfortable being an armchair – I’m twisted round the wrong way and I’ve needed the loo for about half an hour – but today I leave the washing where it is and come back. The radiators hum gently with hot air. It’s dark and blustery outside, and my four-year-old only wants to sit with me, and if this is what it is to be an armchair then I don’t want to move anywhere at all.

Besides, I don’t know how much longer they’ll want me as part of their furniture. Not long, probably. Not very much longer at all.

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