Sunday, 23 December 2012

From Paper Birds to Tin Men

“I can make a paper bird” you said; ” I’m rather good at making paper birds.” That was nineteen years ago. I hardly knew you, but true to your word, you reached for a piece of paper and with the skill of an origami expert, created a little bird; a swan. Crisp, sharp and precise, the white bird sat on the desk between us.  You picked up a pen and drew a love heart on one of the wings and gave it to me. “For you.” I’d so hoped you’d give me the bird. I’ve still got it all these years later; in a memory box preserved for safe keeping.

Paper birds will always make me think of you.  For our first wedding anniversary, the theme was paper.  I racked my brains for weeks wondering what I could buy you, a thoughtful token, in keeping with the theme, to mark the occasion.  In a flash of inspiration, I looked back to the start and presented you with a book; ‘Bugs and Birds in Origami.‘  

Last Christmas you made lots of birds using brightly coloured papers.  We hung them from cotton threads in the conservatory.  I was so pleased with them.  “ They look wonderful.” I enthused, “Next year we will use gold and silver and glitter.”  Our new baby has meant we haven’t had time, but it doesn’t matter, because last years are still there, faded slightly from a year of sunlight, but still bright, cheerful birds. I feel happy when I see them.

This week we celebrated our ten year anniversary. We’ve passed the markers of cotton, iron, copper and wood and each time have honoured tradition with a themed gift. Never anything ostentatious, just a token, exchanged each year at the same small, candlelit Soho restaurant. This year the theme was tin, symbolic of flexibility.  Are we flexible? I like to think so.

Finding a tin themed gift was a challenge.  A baked bean can wasn’t going to cut it. I tried to take inspiration from the Wizard of Oz, but, somehow, tenuous links to the Tin Man didn’t seem quite right.  Thankfully you seemed pleased with your cufflinks made with tin sourced from an old Cornish tin mine. Thank goodness for your many double cuffed shirts, otherwise I wouldn’t have known what to choose for you. Even if I say so myself, the Cornish pasty design was inspired. After so many years of playing violin to your sob story of how as a student you were once so poor you couldn’t even afford a pasty, well; they seemed fitting and symbolic.

You are always so thoughtful when it comes to presents.  I thought you might struggle this year, but as ever, you came up trumps. What could be better for a woman with a serious cake habit and a penchant for pattern, than a set of designer cake tins?  Beautifully packaged, five Orla Kiely tins nestled one inside the other, each a different style. I love them. 

Exemplifying flexibility, we forsook our usual bijou enchanting restaurant and instead had lunch down by the Thames whilst Pip was at pre-school.  The air was fresh, the sky was blue, seagulls cawed ( how odd there were so many.). We sat looking out on the river from the glass fronted restaurant and EB slept peacefully the whole time.  The restaurant had a charming exhibition of prints depicting collective nouns. You know how I love a good collective noun, looking at them added to the specialness of the occasion.  If we want to be correct we should make your next set of birds in white paper. Then we truly would have a ‘whiteness of swans”.

Afterwards we walked home by the side of the river. The tow path was deserted. Just you, me and EB. We took some portrait snaps of each other, and joked about our additional crows feet and grey hair ten years on; the fact we’re shadows of our former youthful selves.  Everything seemed so still, so calm, the only sound the odd seagull or water lapping at the shore. Walking by your side always feels good.  Peace, happiness, love and some new cake tins. It was a perfect day. x

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Baby Lag

I’ve hit the wall. The wall of tiredness. Exhausted in a good and happy way, but never the less, downright shattered.  Feeding through the night is tiring business.  The last couple of nights have been particularly hard. EB seems to be ravenous from 3.30 am and then seems to want to feed, poop, feed, poop until the sun rises.  Struggling with wind he doesn’t want to go back into his moses basket either, just to sleep on Mummy, who he prefers to be sitting up so he can lay his head on her chest whilst she rubs his back.  At around 5.30am, Pip arrives in our bed and asks for his milk.  Trekking downstairs to a freezing cold kitchen extension that doesn’t have central heating is too much, so the microwave placed in the corner of the bedroom whirrs into action, and I pray the ping won’t wake EB, if indeed he is asleep.  At 6.30 am Husband gets up and starts to get ready for work, and so the day begins.

The beginning of my day is now very different. Bye bye luxurious hot shower. Hello to a new world; chucking on the nearest set of clothes, pulling my hair back into a pony tail, splashing some water on my face and a quick tooth polish before breast feeding a baby with one arm and trying to encourage Pip to eat his porridge with the other.  Then a rush to get out of the house and get both of them in the car without Pip being unforgivably late for pre-school.  All things that a million other mothers do every day with the polish of professionals, but frankly, things that this newbie is struggling to get to grips with.

By 2pm each day the failing winter light makes me feel as though it's night time.  Lights have to be on indoors.  I feel disorientated.  It makes the tiredness even worse.  Baby lag does indeed feel very like the similarly named jet lag. Yesterday I had to take EB to the midwife clinic. "Please confirm your name," the nice administrator asked at reception. I stared at her trying to compute what she had said. "Midwife" I said blankly.  "No dear, your name".  My brain felt foggy. I looked at EB and said "Mummy, can’t remember her name". I was only half joking. Finally, my brain clicked into gear again, working in tandem with my mouth and I was able to communicate.  The woman on the desk clearly thought I was bonkers.

Tea and cake are high on my list of coping mechanisms right now. As is fresh air.  It makes me feel human, I pray that it won’t rain all day on the mornings when it is precipitating heavily.  It’s no wonder they recommend Vitamin D supplements for post natal women and babies, getting enough sunlight in these winter months can be difficult if there is a monsoon hanging over west London.

Late afternoon and Pip’s bath and bedtime are the times of day I am finding hardest.  I want to spend time with Pip after picking him up from pre-school, to do something constructive; but the tiredness just saps at me.  Today wasn’t so bad, constructing a lego castle was time spent enjoyably for both of us whilst EB slept, but some days it isn’t so easy, particularly if EB is struggling with colic.  Likewise, bathtime/bedtime for Pip can go either way. If EB is asleep, then it’s just like it’s always been, we can cuddle up and have stories together. If he’s awake, and crying, then it’s hard, hard work. Trying to get a small boy out a bath and dry him whilst holding a windy, crying baby requires the arms of an octopus and the patience of a saint, and reading a story to the soundtrack of screams, is nigh on impossible.  Pip has been a superstar and hasn’t complained once, but I do feel sorry for him when his special time at the end of the day is compromised by a crying sibling and a stressed Mummy trying to be all things to all little people.

Post 8pm when Husband has returned home from work and Pip is in bed,  I soothe my aching, milk posseted self under a waterfall of hot water.  Something as simple as taking a hot shower feels so good by that time of day.   Thank goodness for the full freezer that makes preparing dinner a doddle.  Between my batch cooked efforts and trips to the local ‘Cook’ store, we haven’t had to worry about preparing much at all, which is just as well, as otherwise we’d be living on take aways.

Despite feeling more exhausted than I can ever remember feeling before, I am blissfully happy. That said, I am limping towards Christmas and grateful that some respite is in sight.    Husband will be at home for a good chunk of the holiday period to help out ( change nappies/ burp colicky babies/ play games /read stories) and has also been appointed head chef with the task of preparing a delicious lunch on Christmas day. Visiting Grandparents will hopefully also step up manfully to the challenge of pitching in and helping out. I’m looking forward to having the extra help and recharging my batteries.  Nearly there, only five more sleeps ( or lack of sleeps) to go.

Friday, 14 December 2012

The Alternative Nativity Play

The nativity play was scheduled for exactly one week after EB’s due date.  In the last weeks of my pregnancy I crossed my fingers and prayed that EB wouldn’t be late. I was desperate to see Pip in his first nativity play.  It was a milestone I’d looked forward to.

I love the story of the nativity, seeing the small children dressed as kings, shepherds and angels and singing around the crib.  For me, it epitomises the true meaning of Christmas.  In my childless years, I contented myself with watching children dressed up at the early evening carol service on Christmas eve, but, I always hoped that one day I would get to watch my own child in a nativity.  When I was in labour with EB, I said to Husband whilst wallowing in the birthing pool, "At least I’ll get to see the nativity play now". Nothing was going to keep me from watching Pip’s thespian debut.

We filed into the church on the grey winter’s morning last week, EB sleeping soundly in his pram; I prayed silently that my youngest lion cub would sleep peacefully and not awaken and choose to elevate his roar to full extent within the churches elevated arches. He didn’t, and slept peacefully the whole time.

Pip’s face as he entered the church and saw us in the pews was a picture. He was so excited that we had come to watch him perform. He looked fabulous,  my little king; resplendent in a jade green sparkly cloak and a glitter crown (although I actually think it looked more like a Bishop’s mitre.)  Someone had been handy with the face paint and he sported a fetching, black goatee beard.  He delivered his gift of Myrrh to baby Jesus with a deferential bow, and then made off with his human camel.  It was an Oscar worthy performance.

A sea of apple phones videoed and photographed every movement of the twenty five little people that populated the altar of the church.  Cameras mounted on tripods recorded, SLR’s flashed.  In the midst of it all, I tried my best to take some pictures, but for some reason, the automatic setting on my trusty camera failed me.  Whether the light in the church was too poor, or the camera had a fault I did not know. I found myself becoming tearful.  Why was the camera not working? Why couldn’t I get a good shot of my little king?  Husband had a go, his attempts were no better.  I felt panic rising. Adrenalin coursing through me. His first nativity; I had to get a good picture.  The mother next to me sporting a Canon SLR seemed to be getting great shots from what I could see on her preview screen. Why couldn’t I? Flash, flash, flash went my camera, but still the shots were dark, Pip barely visible.  Exasperated, I wanted to scream. Tears pricked the backs of my eyes.

Perhaps a divine being was looking down on me in that moment in that church.  Someone with greater clarity than I, and able to see the bigger picture.  For somehow, in those moments, I was able to realise that I was getting myself into rather an unnecessary mess.

The voice of reason spoke to me; "Why not just enjoy the moment? Sit back, marvel at the chorus of slightly out of tune voices, the happy smiling faces, the small boy dancing like a camel that has spent too long drinking from a trough of Lucozade.  You don’t have to capture every moment of your child’s life in picture perfect form.  You’re missing the best bits by faffing around with the camera. Be present in the moment."

When I got a grip of myself, I felt much better.  I realised, hiding behind a camera, trying to capture the perfect picture sometimes can stop you seeing the bigger picture.  Stop you seeing those small sideways glances; those looks that say; ‘Are you watching me, Mum? ‘Are you proud of me?’. Focussing on whether to switch between auto focus and manual to try and get the best shot, distracts and can stop you giving those encouraging smiles back, those silent high fives that fly from the audience to the stage.  Afterwards, as we ate mince pies in the church hall, I wished I’d pulled myself together sooner.  I felt a little sad.

That evening, using the spare bed as a stage, Pip decided we should all participate in an impromptu ‘alternative’ nativity play. I was allocated the role of Mary, Husband was Joseph, and a toy Hippopotamus was baby Jesus.  We were all directed by Pip with great precision; I hadn't realised he was such a Spielberg in the making.  The King (Pip) bought gifts of Pyjamas and Pyjama socks to baby Hippo Jesus.  He sang a lovely song about the Greatest Star, one I’d missed earlier that day, probably when I was pre-occupied with my camera woes, and another song, ‘Rat-a-tat- tat’ as he knocked on the door of our imaginary stable. EB slept peacefully in the moses basket, and as my older son delighted me with his imagination, I made sure that I was present in the moment, every second of it.

Pip’s play had a very different ending, Mary and Joseph were told that they needed to chase the King around the upstairs of the house, because, apparently, all Kings like to be chased - and to run away as fast as they possibly can, chuckling and squealing with delight.

As I tucked my little King into bed that night, I held the memories of the second play as close to me as the first one that day. It was almost like he’d known, and given me a second chance to see the best bits, my own private show. 

A lesson learnt; sometimes the memories themselves are worth more than the time spent trying to capture them.

Monday, 10 December 2012

And Baby Makes Four...The First Two Weeks

It has been nearly two weeks since our little man entered this world. Time has passed in a happy blur.  Days of the week have morphed from one into another, to the point I’ve asked; ‘What day is it?’ with worrying regularity. Hours seem to have flown by, with little distinction between day and night, unsurprisingly really, given that I’m awake for most of both.

Motherhood second time around is just as wonderful as the first time, in some ways, an enhanced experience, due to the confidence that comes with having done it before. Still, there is so much that I’d forgotten; meconium filled nappies, engorged breasts, how windy babies scream, that as soon as the cold air hits an exposed baby boy in a nappy change, there’s a likelihood you’ll be covered in a sprinkle of tinkle. That if you pick a naked crying newborn up, it will surely poop all over you. It’s all coming back to me now, rather like riding a bicycle. Instinctively, I just seem to know what to do. And rather like getting back on a bicycle after a prolonged absence from cycling, bits of me are also aching in places I’d forgotten they could ache.  Thank goodness for Lanisoh.

The first two weeks with EB has been much easier than I remember our first weeks with Pip being. Pip spent most of his second week in hospital, so I’m relishing the calm of this time around.  EB sleeps a lot, he feeds a lot; his latch is a little hit and miss, but he’s getting the hang of it.  This is where experience has helped, because in those few moments where breastfeeding has been tricky, when he’s got mightily cross when he can’t latch on, I have found myself calm and patient, I’ve had the confidence that we’ll get there in the end and each time, we have. 

Pip has been fantastic, although with the attention of doting Grandparents for much of the past couple of weeks, it hasn’t really been representative of what ‘real life’ will be like.  For the most part, he’s taken EB’s arrival in his stride.  The thing he seems to have found most difficult to deal with is EB’s crying, he will clap his hands over his ears and say ‘ Mummy, make it stop’.  To be fair, EB does seem to have rather a loud cry; there's certainly nothing wrong with his lungs.  On one occasion this week, Pip stood at the crib and sang a lullaby for his little brother.  When his sweet tones failed to stop the escalating wailing, he made for the living room door with tears in his eyes.  His lullaby hadn’t worked, and to a three year old, if a lullaby is meant to soothe a baby to sleep, that’s what should happen.  Seeing his tears, after trying so hard to make his little brother stop crying, pulled on my heart strings so hard I literally felt physical pain within.  In that moment, I felt torn between comforting EB and comforting Pip.  Thankfully, Husband was around to help with EB, and I was able to hold my oldest in my arms and reassure him that it was nothing he had done wrong, that despite his crying, I  was sure EB had appreciated his lullaby.

The hardest part of this past couple of weeks has been managing Pip's pre-school drop off on my own with the two of them. I've only had to do it on my own a couple of times, but frankly, it's been a nightmare.  On those occasions EB's chosen to poo, be sick, cry at the worst moments, whilst Pip has stuck to his regular trick of needing the loo at the last minute, spilling something down himself, insisting he needs to take a particular toy with him. We've been a well and truly disorganised rabble.  Trying to logistically manage getting them both in and out of the car and then find a parking space whilst avoiding the traffic warden has been painful.  I have continually questioned why I didn't send Pip to the school three minutes around the corner. Clearly more focus is going to be needed to minimise ongoing stress at drop off/ pick up.  As far as I can tell, it needs to be planned like a military operation. I just need to find the brain space for long enough to suss out how I'm going to do it.  In the meantime, I try to see the funny side of these calamitous moments; for instance, the poo rocket that shot right out of EB all over my cardigan just before we were due to leave the house this morning. Sometimes when you're up against the clock you just have no option but to use a baby wipe and move on.
Taking into account the sleepless nights, I feel remarkably good in myself. No less tired than in the last weeks of pregnancy. In fact, I’ve noticed I have much more energy to play with Pip now. I’ve felt much less sluggish than I did in weeks 38 and 39. My body clearly appreciates the lighter load.  My balloon like stomach is deflating nicely or so I thought, until Pip asked ‘Mummy, why is your tummy still fat? Do you have another baby in there?’. You can always trust children to give you an honest appraisal of how things are.  Despite my son’s unintended ego quashing, I'm fairly happy with how my post partum body looks two weeks in. That said,  I’m a big believer in the 9 months on, 9 months off rule,so I’m not going to stress about losing the paunch yet; that's a focus for sometime in the new year - once all the mince pies have been eaten.  Emotionally, I haven’t had too many wobbles either. Less so than last time.  I’m trying not to sweat the small stuff, to not be too controlling or do too much.  So, I’ve missed the last post for Xmas to Australia, despite my best efforts to get to the post office on two days this week - it’s not the end of the world.  Likewise, I’m not sure if I’m going to get around to finishing my photo calendar this year to gift to Grandparents. It’s currently half finished, but if I don’t get to complete it before the print deadline they’ll just have to have it in January.  I can’t be all things to everyone right now, and there’s no point driving myself crazy trying to be. 

Family and friends have been brilliant. There seems to be something about babies that brings out the best in people, either sending their wishes and kind words, cooking for us, popping into see us.  Babies seem to bring people together, reaffirm bonds, friendships.  Everyone seems to have fallen completely under EB’s spell. Not least me.  He reminds me of a little seal pup, his eyes are so dark blue.  I’m completely in love with him.  Sage advice from wiser souls has been to enjoy every minute of this phase as it’s gone so soon.  Despite the pressures of Christmas/ the house renovation project/wanting to give Pip his fair share of attention, I really am trying to do this.  As one of the cards I received this week proclaimed, ‘Babies are such a nice way to start people’.  They are, it’s almost a shame they grow so quickly. Already EB’s toes are pushing against the feet of the newborn babygro’s.  The 0-3 month sizes look so large, I can’t believe he’ll soon fill them, I’m drinking in every minute and savouring every second of these precious days.

Saturday, 1 December 2012

A New Arrival

Perhaps it was the full moon; midwives say that maternity wards are always busiest when the moon is full. Perhaps it was the fact he sensed that if he came one day early, his birth date would be exactly double the numerical value of his brother's. Or maybe, he just couldn’t wait any longer to meet us.

At 5am we drove swiftly through the streets of west London to get to the hospital. The world around us was gently coming to life. Lights flickering on in houses, people walking with purpose through the streets.  It’s funny the things that go through your mind; despite more pressing things to occupy myself with, I found myself wondering what on earth so many people were doing up and about at 5 o’clock in the morning.

The birth centre was silent and dimly lit when we arrived. Not one other labouring mother. Just me.  I found calm in the stillness of it all.  A short while later, the birthing pool was filled, the lights were turned down low.  As I eased myself into the warmth of the water, it soothed the increasing pain of the contractions.  The midwife sat one side of me, husband the other.  A large clock on the window sill marked time. It seemed to move slowly. The light outside changed from dawn to daylight and the world outside became alive with the hustle and bustle of a new day.  Insulated from it, the three of us stayed within the small room, silent and peaceful. Patiently waiting.  As the rise and fall of contractions reached their crescendo, I knew he was close.  Just minutes away from being in my arms.  Relief. The midwife busied, getting a clamp ready for the cord, towels ready to dry us. Moments later, there he was; pushed through the water, into my waiting arms.  My vernix covered water baby.  He didn’t cry, but just looked towards me and made a croaking noise, as if to say ‘hello’, like it was the most natural thing in the world.

I’d tried hard not to imagine what he would look like, to not have a pre-determined picture of him in my mind. As it was, EB turned out to be more gorgeous than I could ever have imagined,  a mass of dark hair and deep blue eyes.  Not small, at 8lb 13oz, but in my arms he still seemed tiny,  a scrunched up ball of minuscule fingers and toes and a tiny red rooting tongue as bright as a strawberry.   Six hours later we bought him home. 

His big brother is delighted with him. Their introduction, one of the most heartwarming, wonderful memories of my whole life.  Pip, sweet, caring, and delightful, as ever.  The genuine joy on his face at meeting his little brother and holding him in his arms is something I will never forget.

It’s been an exhausting but wonderful few days. It feels like EB has always been here.  Already I can’t imagine life without him.   Slowly we are adjusting to life as four.  Three days in, EB seems a pretty chilled out baby.  He sleeps most of the time and has embraced the challenge of tackling my increasingly swollen breasts with gusto.  Pip loves his little brother and is adjusting well.  He sings him lullabies when he cries,  I am so proud of him.  He seems larger to me now, no longer seems the little person he was three days ago. I keep telling myself, he is still the same, it’s just my frame of reference has changed. That he is still my Peter Pan.  That there is no sense of loss, only the joy of gaining another.

Family and friends are visiting to pay homage to the new arrival, but in small periods in between we are beginning to find our new sense of ‘normal’. (Although frankly our new normal cannot possibly continue to include quite as much cake in Mummy’s diet - but for now, it’s ok).  Feeling our way on this new journey, everything feels good, feels celebratory.  I feel calm and contented. My boys seem calm and contented. We’re all a bit tired, but it’s all good. Happy Days.