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. 

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Fascinating Facts about Me (Courtesy of the RA Award)

It’s nice to be appreciated.  The lovely Older Mum and Bod for Tea have both recently bestowed the Reader Appreciation Award on me as a thank you for reading and commenting on their blogs.  Both write superbly and their blogs are always an enjoyable read.  Do check them out if you haven’t come across them.  As is customary with these things, one accepts the award graciously, answers a few questions about themselves and then passes the baton onward to some other worthy recipients. 

So, dear readers, here are some hitherto unknown gems about me:

Where do you do most of your writing/ blogging?
I’m a mother; of course it’s in the kitchen.  Most of my posts are written at the kitchen table, with my bottom perched on an IKEA chair. Whatever time of day it is (usually morning when I’ve dropped Pip off at pre-school) I need to have the light on. The kitchen at Faulty Towers is long and dark and the back of it receives very little natural light.  Post renovation it will be an uber modern glass cube, so possibly I might find I have the opposite problem and will be a purchasing an ‘anti - glare’ screen for my laptop.

This is my view from the kitchen table. The previous owners incorporated a dresser into an old chimney breast. I hate this dresser with a passion, the plate rack is useless, so I use it for Pip’s books, in case he needs encouragement staying at the table to eat his tea.  The rest of it, aside from housing some rarely used recipe books, is just a magnet for attracting rubbish 24/7.  However often I tidy it, a) it still looks messy b) it attracts more stuff.  As I say, I can’t wait for my new kitchen.

If I’m not writing in the kitchen, you can sometimes find me indulging myself in a coffee shop like this one.  
Today whilst writing this I have supped a decaf Cappuccino and scoffed a chocolate and vanilla muffin.  I am ashamed to say, I have now completely given in to late pregnancy gluttony.

What is your favourite time of day and why?
Weekday mornings, post 9.15am.  I find getting Pip to pre-school on time a massive effort. Even if we’re up and breakfasted by 8am, we still seem to get to pre-school after the doors have opened.  Something always happens in those last precious ten minutes to delay us; Pip suddenly decides he needs a poo, or MUST take a certain toy with him that we then can’t find, or the traffic is bad.  Mornings are always a rush, rush, rush.  When I return home around 9.30am, I exhale deeply, make myself a cup of tea and take half and hour to relax after the mania of the previous hour. I love my own company and this is the time of day that for half an hour I’ll spend some quiet time reading/ blogging and taking stock of what needs to be done that day.

Have you ever googled yourself and been surprised at what you’ve found?

Thanks largely to my surname, I’m lost in a sea of google obscurity with lots of other people that share my moniker.  Funnily enough, I don’t mind this, in fact I quite like it. My maiden name was more unusual, and I didn’t like the fact people could google stalk find me. I’m a very private person, being one of many makes it easier to hide - if I want to. 

One material possession you could not live without?
My 11 inch MacBook Air.  A present from my husband.  I LOVE it.

What is your dream car?
I’m actually a bit of a petrol head. I love cars. I'm also very lucky, I have owned my dream car.  A BMW Z4 coupe, in metallic black and a real head turner. I called him Rocky, as in Rocket rather than the Sylvester Stallone film.  Sadly when I reached seven months pregnant with Pip, he had to go to make way for a more family friendly vehicle.  I have some very fond motoring memories of my little rocket though; pre-children I definitely fancied myself as a modern day Penelope Pitstop.

Who would play you in a movie of your life?
Jennifer Aniston.  People have commented on the similarity of my hair to hers on numerous occasions, and I guess I am quite ‘girl next door’ like she is.  My dress sense is not dissimilar to hers,  I like her effortlessly casual style, but the way in which she also can scrub up for an awards ceremony without looking overdone.  Plus, I'd like to think any movie about my life would be lighthearted and full of laughs.

Do you have any siblings?
Two younger brothers.  Despite the spats of childhood, we all get along well.  My younger brother is particularly fabulous at helping me out around the house with all the DIY tasks my husband is not so gifted at.   He's also the only person I know that may be slightly more partial to a slice of cake than I am.

What’s your Star Sign?
Aries; the first of the fire signs.  I’m not sure how typical I am of Aries, all in all I’m a pretty laid back kind of person, but that said, when something flares the inner embers within, there’s no stopping me.

Do you have any pets?
No.  Although in a series of recent hormonal pregnancy moments, I have been toying with the idea of giving a home to a Bengal kitten named Dorian Grey. He’s a beautiful chap, spotted grey and with darker grey markings, like a leopard. Currently, I am trying to see sense and not give in.  I grew up in a house with two cats, and much as I love them, I think the cat hair would drive me mad these days, plus, trying to manage a cat and a new baby might just be too much.  What do you think?

Any guilty pleasures?

Cake. Come afternoon; 2.30 - 3pm I just love a nice sit down with a cup of tea and a slice of cake. Pip does too; I’ve created a partner in cake crime.

You can't beat a good Victoria Sponge
My blog - I feel guilty about the amount of time I spend on it, sometimes taking the time out to blog feels very self-indulgent.  Added to this, is also the fact that it’s a secret from family and friends (but, that’s the subject of another *probably lengthly* blog post.)  Anyway, as the lovely Julia at Julia Writes says; writing is cheaper than therapy.  In the madness of being a mum we all need something to keep us sane. This is mine.

And now to show my appreciation for some of my lovely readers. I honestly appreciate each and every person that visits my blog and reads my ramblings, and in that sense, picking individuals out makes me uneasy, as I don’t want anyone to feel unappreciated. So, to all the wonderful readers and commenters that have supported Mummy Plum over the past 15 months, thank you.  If you'd like to pick up the baton and tag someone, please do.

Finally, if you are a regular reader of my blog and have never commented, I'd love it if you said hello,  I do love to know who's reading and it means I can pop over and say hello to you too. x

Friday, 23 November 2012

Mother Food

I learnt a new word this week.  Galactagogue.  I rather like it.  It means ‘leading to milk’ and comes from the ancient greek words, glacta (milk) and gogos (to lead).  This fascinating discovery came courtesy of a great book I have been reading; Mother Food - a book of wisdom for breastfeeding mothers.  This book is about the benefits of a lactogenic diet and how eating the right foods (galactagogues) can have a significant effect on the production of a mother’s milk and her health.

Books on such a subject aren’t normally ‘me’.  It’s not that I’m not interested, it’s just that I find I’ll buy them and then never read them, despite my best intentions.  My journey to this book however, started with another.

A few weeks ago, I attended a second time mum’s group.  One of the other (very lovely) mums in the group had kindly bought along some books to share.  On the table was a book; ‘Contented Calf’ - Nourishing recipes for breast feeding mums.’

I picked it up and flicked through it.  In day to day life, it’s very rare that I cook anything from a recipe book these days (despite owning many), so the irony that as a breastfeeding mother of a newborn I would find time to explore a new recipe book was not lost on me.   As I continued to peruse the book with a wry smile, my mindset changed, I found myself drawn in, the premise of a lactogenic diet interested me, as did the idea of foods specifically to nourish breastfeeding mothers.  I recalled how, after breastfeeding Pip exclusively for a year, I felt physically depleted, despite eating a relatively ‘healthy’ diet. I recalled how, by the time he reached his first birthday, I felt and looked run down and was experiencing a number of health problems, particularly with my teeth and gums.  I felt drained, a husk of my former self.

And so it was, that I ended up bringing that cook book home and embarking on a marathon batch making exercise.  One of the key factors that inspired me was the fact that many of the recipes in the book were things I would normally cook; spaghetti bolognese, beef stew, chicken soup.  This meant that it didn’t feel hard work making and preparing them.  The ingredients were virtually the same anyway, with the addition of  a new item, such as a herb or vegetable, here or there.

The author of the 'Contented Calf' recipe book credited another book; 'Mother Food' with being a key source of inspiration and a font of information on the subject of a lactogenic diet. With my interest well and truly piqued, I decided to order a copy from Amazon.  For once in my life, the book arrived and didn’t sit on the shelf. I read it, and I really enjoyed it.

Mother Food is written in simple layman’s terms and easy to understand. I found the first two chapters on the history and origins of ‘Mother Food’ and the basics of a lactogenic diet particularly enjoyable.   There's some interesting advice in the section; ‘Keeping your health the best it can be’, on how to deal with sweet cravings and losing baby weight whilst breastfeeding as well as balancing the use of caffeine in the zombie period of those first few months. It also looks at how adjusting certain elements of a breastfeeding mother’s diet might help with colicky or particularly sensitive babies. 

What I particularly liked about this book is the author’s voice.  Whilst it is a pro-breastfeeding book, it doesn’t appear to be written by a breast feeding militant. It does not preach about how much ‘better’ it might be for a woman to breastfeed, but instead, is written from the viewpoint of a woman who recognises that breast feeding successfully can be a challenging journey for a mother; one that can require a lot of support and looks at a number of ways in which a woman can help herself on that journey.

Whilst I found the whole book interesting, the most useful sections are the later chapters of the book which discuss lactogenic foods. Some of these are also listed in the Contented Calf book too.  I thought I’d share some of the foods and suggested meals that I plan to try and include in my post-baby diet.

Porridge - Oats are heralded as very beneficial to breast feeding mothers.  A good bowl of porridge can set you up for the day; oats are well known for the benefit of slow releasing energy.  Dried fruit: figs, dates and apricots are also supposed to be particularly good for lactating mothers so I plan to add these to my porridge (or muesli), or eat them on their own as snacks.

Snacks - Houmous with pitta bread. Chickpeas are another superfood for breastfeeding mums. It’s easy to buy a pot of houmous and leave it in the fridge.  With some wholemeal bread or toast it’s a great, easy snack, or can be eaten as part of a bigger meal to make a more substantial lunch.  

Whole grain breads and crackers - Turkey, mozzarella and tomato, Houmous, carrot and sesame seed are just some of the recommended sandwich fillings in the recipe book. Particularly good to know with Christmas coming up and all that left over turkey to eat.

Nuts and Seeds - Sunflower Seeds, Sesame Seeds, Almonds (the most lactogenic nut) Cashews, Pecans.  I'm not much of a seed person normally, but if I’m feeling up to it, I might try making Multilayer Mummy’s 'Tasty power energy snack,' easily made and stored in the fridge.  Bowls of nuts are always abundant in our house in the festive season, so this year I'm going to make sure we have almonds and cashews in ours.

Fresh Fruit and Berries - Apricots, Peaches, Nectarines, Plums are recommended. I plan to try and make some smoothies -  a great way of incorporating fruit into my diet easily.

Meat - Chicken, Turkey, Venison.  The author of Mother Food was a vegetarian for many years, and she does not make as many suggestions for red meat meal solutions as found in the ‘Contented Calf’.   However, from the ‘Contented Calf’ book, I’ve batch cooked some great beef recipes for the freezer.  These include:

Spaghetti Bolognese, Beef Lasagne, Beef & Venison Stew and also Chicken, Almond and Apricot Casserole and Fish Pie.

Vegetables - Dark green leafy vegetables, broccoli, cauliflower, potato (sweet and normal) asparagus, green beans, peas, carrot.    Soups are a great and easy way of getting a good intake of vegetables, and don’t take long to make either. I’ve also experimented with a new recipe, Butternut squash and Kale Lasagne (again, from the Contended Calf) to go in the freezer.

There are lots more suggestions than the ones I’ve listed here, however these are things that I am most likely to eat and have therefore cooked.  I don’t for one moment expect that I’m  going to have time to recook these things in the first few months after baby arrives, but in the short term, having a well stocked freezer full of nutritious food will hopefully help.  

If this all looks a bit 'worthy', rest assured, I'm also planning to indulge in a good few slices of cake too; all new mums deserve some benefits.  Now all I have to hope is that EB is able to step up to my engorged ‘galacta-gogos’ without too many problems.  

*All opinions expressed here are my own. I am not trained to give nutritional advice. I was not sent these books to review, but merely wrote this post to share my interest.*

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Preparing to be a Big Brother

We spent a lovely day with Pip on Sunday; we went to the local farmer’s market and then to the nearby adventure playground by the river. Afterwards, we walked up to a local beauty spot for tea and cake, and then wandered aimlessly through the muddy grounds and fallen leaves.  Pip insisted on holding both of our hands, only letting go to climb the odd tree.  He looked so sweet, dressed in green, bright red and blue with his co-ordinating wellies, and he still seemed so young to me.  It was a special day, appreciating him, and being together just the three of us.  I wondered if it would be our last weekend alone together before three become four.

He understands that EB will soon be arriving in this world.  In odd moments, I detect a hint of apprehension or insecurity. He has asked me a lot recently, "Do you love me,  Mummy?", "Am I your best friend, Mummy?". I have done my utmost to assure him my love for him knows no bounds.  In other moments, I can tell from the questions that he asks, or the little things that he does, that he is looking forward to EB’s arrival and being a big brother.

I have tried not to underestimate what a significant change having a sibling will be for him; he has had us completely to himself for the past three and a half years.  In preparation for the arrival, I’ve tried to take a few steps to prepare him for what’s about to come, and to also ensure he doesn’t think EB is going to be able to merrily go off on a bike ride from day one. (Something that has been mentioned more than once, although he has declared that EB’s bike is going to have ‘super slow wheels’.)

Reading : Books about Babies
We’ve been given a couple of lovely books to help young children understand pregnancy and becoming a sibling.  Our favourite is ‘There’s a House inside my Mummy’.  The book tells the story of a little boy who is about to become a big brother, and explains what is happening to his Mummy and her body.  It is written in rhyming prose, and has prompted some wonderful questions and conversations with Pip.

At one point the book explains that it’s like a giant warm bathtub inside Mummy’s tummy. Which prompted my son to ask; "Do you have taps in there?”.  I guess you can’t fault his logic.  The description of Mummy’s bellybutton as a 'tummy telephone' with which to communicate with baby has also been very well received.  And I confess, I have been guilty of ‘faking’ some kicks as Pip talks through it to EB (or at least pushing my belly out quickly) which has met with great delight.

The other book we’ve been reading, is ‘The World is Full of Babies.’ If your child likes animals as mine does, this is a good book as it looks at how different animals are born and nurtured in comparison to babies.  It also shows images of a mother breastfeeding her newborn which can be difficult to find in books for children this age.


Looking Back 
We’ve also spent some time looking together at photos and videos of Pip on the computer when he was a baby.  He loves doing this and hearing stories of what he was like as a baby, and I’m hoping this has helped crystallise in his own mind what EB will be like, and just how little he’ll be able to do at first.  “No darling, he won’t be able to make an ENORMOUS Lego tower straight away”.

Preparing for the Home Arrival
I’ve read on a number of occasions that children can feel insecure when new siblings arrive home, and that it is best for Dad or another relative to hold the baby when they are first introduced to the older child.  You can never predict how things will happen in the moment, but I’ll try to bear this in mind when the time comes.

Many people have suggested that it is a good idea to have a gift from baby to give to their older sibling, so a long hankered after hunk of Octonauts plastic, complete with 'slime pellets’, has duly been purchased. Pip also loves balloons, so depending on how things go, and if the babysitting Grandparents are up to it, we thought we would let him decorate the house with a few of them prior to EB’s homecoming.  I know this will make him extraordinarily happy.  

Entertaining Pip whilst Breast Feeding
The reality of this is what worries me most about EB's arrival.  Regular readers will know that Pip formed a strong attachment to my breasts, and I am still not sure how he will feel about EB being allowed to step up to the milky bar.  One suggestion that was shared with me and which I plan to try is the introduction of a Breastfeeding Box.

The premise behind this idea is that the box is filled with different activities to do daily. Sticker sheets/ a new book/ crayons and a colouring sheets/ a cheap toy.  It comes out when mother is breastfeeding and is put away after each feed.  I don’t know how Pip will respond to this, but today we sat down and decorated our box together.

I’ve picked up a variety of bits and pieces to fill it with; Thomas the Tank Engine sticker books, colour your own Christmas cards, cheap 99p packs of crayons, plus some other small activities and toys.  Thomas the Tank Engine books or Ladybird first readers also fit nicely inside our box; I am hopeful that during a breast feed there will be good opportunity to sit and read with Pip. One shop I found especially good for filling our box with these bits and pieces is Tiger. Danish by origin, it stocks some great stocking fillers/ craft items at rock bottom prices, but with better quality than you’d find in the £ shop. I also picked up a few bigger craft activities which hopefully will be useful on those dark, cold winter afternoons when we are house bound and need an activity to occupy us.

Other than these simple steps, I can’t think of much more I can do. I just hope the integration of a fourth person into our family is smooth. The above is all good in theory, I guess only time will tell what happens in practice.  

How did you prepare your older child for the arrival of a sibling? What worked for you? Do you have any do’s or don’ts to share? I would love to hear your thoughts.

Friday, 16 November 2012

Autumn for Boys

Autumn; season of Mother waking and peeking around the curtain, praying she won’t find rain.  Like puppy dogs, small boys still need to run free, whatever the weather.  Thermal under layers are worn, hats, gloves, and down filled coats are found and fitted. "He’ll be too hot,” says Daddy, but Mother won’t hear of it. Hearing the constant repetition of the words “I’m cold” is as painful as wind whistling through her ears; she decrees that even the scooter must wear ear muffs.  

Autumn; season of den making and adventure. Of forays into dark woodland, possibly inhabited by Gruffalos, searching for fallen sticks and branches, with which to make secret hideaway houses.  Cold bark peeling from damp, branches reveals bugs underneath, met with bravery and the words; ‘I'm not scared’. An industrious spirit fills the cool air as big sticks, middle sized sticks and small sticks are lined up, perhaps against an old tree, in a lean-to fashion and first attempts at a bivouac are made. Later, proud faces look on admiring the rickety handiwork of a family effort. It’s not big enough for a grown up but splendid abode for a three year old miniature person.  ‘It’s perfect’ he says, satisfied.

Autumn; season for treasure hunting. Round, brown mahogany conkers grace the ground, with a patina so rich they appear to have been polished.  "Honkers" are the new best thing, filling every pocket, then magically reappearing in the drum of the washing machine.  A collection with no apparent purpose, other than the satisfying end result of being brought together en-masse; a conquest of conkers - filling a whole bucket.

Autumn, season of muddy wellies. Squelch, squelch, squelch. Ooops.  "Where’s my welly gone?"  Ah.  Stuck. In. The. Mud.  A cry from the observant mother bird; "Don’t put your foot do...w...n".  Too late.  Now, two muddy wellies, and one muddy sock.  "Let’s try and find a muddy puddle; wash the wellies off."  Hmmm. That puddle looks more like a lake, a swamp. “Watch out....”  Sp..l..a..s..h!  Oh no.

Autumn; season when mother tries to remember a plastic sheet for the boot of the car, minimising the damage of mud splattered footwear and raincoats. The time of year when little boys find themselves sitting in their underpants in the car on the way home, the heating set to full blast, because they’re just too filthy for Mother to allow them to do anything else.

Autumn; as a red button nosed, exhausted boy defrosts on the sofa late afternoon, Mother sneaks into the kitchen and savours the joy of warming her hands around the hot cup of tea she has looked forward to all day.  Never has a hot cuppa tasted so good.

Linking up for the final time, with the highly eloquent Older Mum in a Muddle and her fabulous #One Week meme.  Click on the badge below to discover wonderful descriptions and photographs of other people's autumn experiences and for information on how to join in during the 'winter' week.
one week

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Autumn Blessings #R2BC

Mother Goose like
I’m 38 weeks pregnant today and in full nesting mode. It feels great,  I feel great.  Finally, some order seems to be creeping into the chaos, thanks to the efforts of my wonderful parents who visited last week and helped us to build the cot, assemble the pram and hang curtain rails amongst numerous other tasks, in order to help us get ready for EB’s arrival.  The hospital bag is still only half packed, but if a sudden dash to the hospital is required, I can cobble the necessaries together at the last minute.  The big remaining question on my mind now is; can I complete a washathon and get to the bottom of my always full laundry basket before baby arrives?

A Positive in the Negative

As a Group B Strep carrier there was a chance that GBS would be active as I approached EB’s birth. Last week, I had a private test done to ascertain if it was present, and thankfully the result came back negative.  I am so pleased, not only for the elimination of potential risks to EB, but also for myself.  This result means that I do not now need to have IV antibiotics during labour and will also be eligible to give birth at the hospital birthing centre rather than on the labour ward, which is something I really wanted to try and achieve. What will be, will be, but I feel so much more positive about EB’s forthcoming birth on the back of this news.

Snapshots of a Moment in Time
The proofs of the photographs that Pip and I had done recently by a professional photographer came through this week. I’m really pleased with them. I had hoped to have lots of pictures of us together in the autumn leaves, but alas, drizzling rain meant it was not to be.  As it turns out, maybe it was for the best.  The ongoing precipitation meant that we did most of the shoot indoors, and towards the end had some fun with Pip decorating my bump with painted hand prints. I wasn’t sure what I’d think of the end result, but the photographer captured Pip and I and the relationship between us beautifully.  No-one knows we had this shoot done so hopefully these pictures will make a great surprise Christmas present for my husband and family members.

Autumn - My favourite season
Yesterday was a perfect autumn day, as I walked about in peace, getting my jobs done whilst Pip was at nursery, I allowed myself to slow down and enjoy the carpet of yellow, brown and red leaves strewn over the pavements and the wonderful colours on the trees.  It felt good to slow down and appreciate the canvas of the world around me.   I reflected on how different life is now to this time a year ago, how we never know, with the passing cycle of the seasons what life will bring.  This time last year, I felt stagnant, now I have life blossoming within me.  I feel blessed.

I'm linking this post up to Reasons to be Cheerful at Mummy from the Heart.

Reasons to be Cheerful at Mummy from the Heart

Monday, 12 November 2012

Autumn Traditions

    Autumn; my favourite season.  The colour palette of the world changes from green to russet and conker brown hues;  rich warm tones surround us, reminding us that we can find warmth even in declining temperatures and that it is time to drag woollen jumpers, hats and scarves from the back of cupboards.

    Autumn; season of preparation, of busyness.  Nights become longer, days become shorter,  I always have the feeling that there is much to do.  Events crowd the autumn calendar, defining months. Halloween, Bonfire Night and amidst it all, preparations for Christmas.   Harvest festival reminds us that we should store for the cold months ahead. Root vegetables are evicted from the garden. Apples are picked from October trees and mixed with blackberries from the hedgerows to become mouthwatering pies. We forage for sweet chestnuts in woodland near my parent's house, to roast on the fire, or make into stuffing. Sloes are picked and left to ferment in gin; to become a welcome festive winter warmer.  We bake, we make, cooking in batches.  One pot stews simmer gently for hours and are then frozen for colder days. Knitting needles click into action with a sense of purpose, knowing that what they create will be worn and well received. 

    Winds start to blow, trees shed their leaves, they whirl and swirl, jumping about fields and pavements.  Mother nature is blowing her nose, ridding herself of what she does not want, sweeping out, cleansing, to guard against stagnancy and rot. Finally, tree branches stand bare and frozen, and we are in winter, cold, slow, season of stillness; we hunker down and wait for life to spring again. 

    Winter holds little appeal for me.  The cold light of January dulls my spirit. The start of the year drags.  Yet, autumn I love.  I like the feeling of a long ‘to do’ list that the season gives me. I like it’s rich colours, the blowing of the breeze, the sense of wrapping up, of people, of presents.   My feelings for Autumn are deep rooted in family tradition.   This is the time that we make Christmas puddings, and have done every year, ever since I can remember.

    In the October half term, my mother’s dogeared, handwritten recipe book would be pulled from the bottom drawer in the kitchen, an orange checked, battered affair, illustrated with deep purple grapes. Inside, pages and pages of handwritten recipes in cursive hand and sometimes my own childlike scrawl. Sellotaped towards the back, in my grandfather’s looped handwriting, a recipe passed through the family from my mother's great aunt Alice, given to her when she was a kitchen maid, at a country house.  At the top of the page, written in a different, unknown hand, the title;  ‘Super Christmas Pudding’. 

    Our family tradition upholds one rule for making Christmas puddings. Every member of the family must be present in the household during the making of the pudding.  Pudding making therefore always happened in the early evening, when darkness had already closed in, shortly before my Dad returned from work.  We made in bulk, usually with enough mixture for two puddings, in a huge bowl. 

    Making Christmas puddings was a sensory experience.  First, we’d add raisins, sultanas, currants and mixed peel; dried fruits from sunnier seasons to add warmth and zest to the pudding. Next, chopped almonds, for texture and sweetness.  Nutmeg, which we cradled in our hands like a small birds egg, was grated gently, exuding an exotic fragrant aroma into the kitchen.  Tiny pieces of carrot and apple were added to the bowl too, bringing vibrant, joyful colour to the dark fruity mixture. We crumbled any lumps in our small fingers as we added the remaining dry ingredients:  flour, breadcrumbs, suet, rich dark, brown sugar sometimes in pieces that seemed as hard as stones - stones that must be crushed.  Then, a squeeze of lemon; performed on a special lemon juicer. How we loved to twist and turn the lemon round and round on that speared head, trying to squeeze out every last drop.   When the time came for the important business of stirring, it was all done by our small hands; sifting dry ingredients, letting small pieces of fruit drop like precious gems through fingers.  All the time, tasting, testing, exclaiming, proclaiming. ‘This is going to be the best Christmas pudding EVER’.  Finally, the wet stuff; our strategy never changed.  Small hands piling the ingredients high to the side of the bowl, making a volcano like hole in the centre. A drop of vanilla, eggs.  Gooey now.  Barley wine, a strange alien taste, foaming up inside the hole, and then the final flourish, the brandy. One of us would hold the tablespoon, whilst Mum poured out the measures,  we’d marvel at the strong, vapours from the golden brown liquid glistening on the spoon, whilst afterwards daring each other to lick it.

    The solemn matter of the ceremonial stirring came last, sealing the magic into our pudding. Each and every one of us would be called to the kitchen table in turn, a large wooden spoon passed along the line. We all enjoyed our own separate moment. Stirring clockwise, using all our miniature might to move the spoon through the thick fruity, fragrant mixture, eyes shut tight, we each made a wish.  We never told, we never talked about our wishes, pudding wishes were sacred.

    Into the bowls, tops wrapped in muslin and string, boiled to sterilise. Then placed on a shelf, in the small room at the back of the house to mature, sometimes for Christmas that same year, but usually for Christmas the year after, to be watered at three monthly intervals until then, with liberal sprinklings of more brandy.  A sense of specialness, even when we were young. Family puddings, made to the secret recipe; different to everyone else's.

    This autumn we made Christmas puddings with Pip.   Another descendant in the generational line, sharing the recipe, placing hands in the bowl, shovelling dried fruit into his mouth in greedy handfuls, just as I did when I was a girl.  Aunt Alice’s recipe on the table, Mum, Pip and I, stirring, each making a wish. Just as my family have done for years and years.  A sense of tradition and belonging, a sense of continuity.  A sense that  however much things change in the world around you, some things, will always be preserved if they are precious enough.

    The ceremonial making of the Christmas puddings, just one of the reasons why I love autumn.

    I'm linking this post up to the fabulous 'One Week' meme over at Older Mum in a Muddle.  For more details click on the badge below.


    Tuesday, 6 November 2012

    I'm not a Housewife

    The physiotherapist was rattling through the questions on the piece of paper in front of her at breakneck speed.  In a matter of seconds her quick fire technique had established my age, marital status and number of children.   Next up; employment.

    “Are you working?”
    “Have you been working?”
    “So, you’re a Housewife?”

    Hmmmm. I paused.  Housewife. Not a word I hear everyday. Certainly not a word I usually use to describe myself.  But clearly one that the NHS uses to bucket it’s patients when classifying their occupation (or lack thereof).


    “Well, I guess that would be one way of describing me”  I conceded, allowing rationality to get the better of me. She smiled.  Suddenly I felt more aware of her relative youthfulness, her efficiency, the fact that her badge had the word ‘senior’ on it. The familiar shadow of feeling lost as a woman without a defined work occupation crept over me.

    The ‘Housewife’ comment niggled for longer than the intermediate discomfort that came as she tried to ‘level’ my hips and pulled at my legs.  As I drove home from the hospital later, I tried to determine why it bothered me so much.   In the strictest definition of the term, I am a housewife.  So, why did it wrangle so? And if I didn’t want to be referred to as a housewife, what did I want to be called?

    For me, the word Housewife sounds old fashioned. It conjours up images of a woman in a time warp; a 1950’s post war woman, delighting in trialling and purchasing new consumer goods for the home, a woman who truly marvelled at the invention of the washing machine and how it would revolutionise her life.  A woman, who after years of rationing and austerity, enjoyed experimenting to now make more indulgent recipes, or making her own clothes.  The media of the day, women’s magazines particularly, propagated the fact that women enjoyed this role (even if in reality some wore false smiles to hide their gritted teeth.)
    She looks happy with her lot in life.

    If a modern day equivalent of this woman exists; (Anthea Turner and her series ‘The Perfect Housewife’ springs to mind,) then I’m nothing like her.  In one small snippet I saw of this series, Anthea was organising her linen cupboard; neatly folded white duvet and pillowcase sets were colour coded with tied ribbons to indicate the size of the sheets; which were pressed to perfection and folded with meticulous precision.  In contrast, my linen cupboard is chaotic and unorganised. I never know if the sheet I select is going to fit the bed, and if I’m honest, nine times out of ten I’m rooting through the wash basket on the day guests arrive to find a fitted sheet to wash and dry on a quick cycle before they get here.  Likewise, the advent of a revolutionary invention for accomplishing household chores is never going to get my party started; I’m just not the kind of girl that gets excited about the fact that Mr Dyson has launched a cordless hoover.  

    Perhaps that’s the issue; I have no desire to be the best housewife on the block.  Before I give the wrong impression; that I have slatternly like habits and reside in some slovenly dive, I should say that I do have standards.  I like my home to be clean, neat and tidy.  I like the bed linen to be pressed and not creased.  But I don’t enjoy doing all these tasks myself, day after day. I confess, I pay a cleaner to come once a week to keep on top of it.   I then dip in and out of the additional things that need doing; the necessary ‘deep cleans’. Tasks such as performing a proper limescale cleanse on the toilet are much more likely to get me animated.  Using a Harpic toilet bomb, observing the cautionary ‘must wear gloves warning’ and watching it all fizz up, feels more like an exciting high school chemistry experiment than a household chore.

    Maybe my aversion to the word housewife is because I feel a certain element of guilt that I’m not doing everything in the domestic sphere myself, that I pay someone else to do the things I don’t enjoy, whilst I sneak off and do something more enjoyable. (Play with my son, do something to enrich my own mind.) Perhaps there is a subconscious shame niggling away at me that I don’t personally have any desire to excel at what I deem to be the mundane chores of domesticity.  If the title were ‘House Manager’ instead, perhaps I’d feel the cap fits a little better. But that's me all over; far happier to direct than execute.  Or perhaps it's deeper rooted than that, that after nearly four years out of the workplace, I still struggle to accept my new role, struggle with the fact that people are oblivious that I once worked hard, added value and made a contribution to the workplace too.  Work can define us in more ways than we ever realise.

    The more modern title of ‘Stay at Home Mum’ is slightly more palatable to me than 'Housewife.'  At least that implies that I am occupying myself with the important task of looking after my children, and investing my time and energy in them.  Experience has taught me that being a stay at home mum is not a soft option, but it is something I absolutely want to do my best at.  It’s a choice I’ve made (for the medium term) and as such, I do feel a sense of responsibility comes with this choice; for me to try and do it ‘properly’; to help Pip learn as much and do as much as possible in these years that I am with him.

    They’re both labels at the end of the day.  One, slightly better in my mind in the other, but if I’m honest, the real crux of the issue is, I’d rather I wasn’t labelled singularly as either of these things.  I accept for the purpose of form filling and bureaucracy I need to be defined as something; the NHS, insurance firms, have their boxes to tick.  But in these, the years where I give myself to family, I do feel the need to remind myself that I am not just defined by the title of 'Housewife'.  (Not easy when you even have to request your husband to gift aid on your behalf.)

    I am more than a housewife,  I am more than a stay at home mum.  I’m a woman of many hats, even if some of them are invisible to others.  I’m a multitasking professional plate spinner, a project manager, an interior designer, a cook, a playmate, a writer, a style icon (ok, maybe not that one). I am a multifaceted woman.  People can refer to me as a ‘housewife’ if they like, but I know I’m so much more than that.

    If you don't work, what do you refer to yourself as? Does being called a housewife bother you? Am I getting my feather dusters ruffled up over nothing? 

    Wednesday, 31 October 2012

    Growing Pains : 35 -36 Weeks Pregnant



    “I feel like someone has attacked my groin with a cricket bat.” I said to my GP. “It really hurts.” I was putting it politely.  Actually, I felt like screaming.  I do feel like screaming. The constant throbbing in my pelvic region these last few weeks has been responsible for a severe lack of sleep, regular tearful interludes and a small fortune being spent on maternity cushions.

    Further discussion and a short examination from the GP resulted in a diagnosis of SPD. The GP said she would try to arrange some urgent physiotherapy at the hospital, but with five weeks to go, I did not hold out much hope.  Recent experience has shown that it takes two weeks for a letter to even leave the typing pool at my GP’s surgery.

    I took matters into my own hands and on the advice of a friend visited an Osteopath. This relieved the pain somewhat as did the addition of a most becoming maternity belt.  Helpfully, this came with no instructions, yet, it seems that as long as you look like a weight lifter, and said belt is holding up one’s belly with suitable support, it’s doing the job properly. 

    Taking weight off the pelvis as much as possible is reputed to be a good thing, so finally, the birthing ball was inflated and has since been put to use (as well as serving a secondary purpose as a giant football).  All these things helped slightly, but the pain was still there, nagging away in the background.  It was therefore a great relief when the community midwife took pity on me last week and put in a separate referral to the physio. Thankfully this seemed to travel at missile speed and resulted in an immediate phone call and an appointment two days later.  My initial visit didn’t cure all ills, but it did help, and I was given some helpful suggestions to deal with the pain ( a pregnant woman always should have a packet of frozen peas in her freezer, apparently), and the reassurance of some ongoing treatment.

    I’m trying very hard not to focus on how dreadful it can feel, especially during the long, dark sleepless nights. And certainly, I’m not thinking about how on earth I’m supposed to ‘push through the pain’ to bring my watermelon sized baby into the world.  No, I’m not thinking about that at all. 


    My little man has become a dichotomous little devil in the past few weeks, I am struggling to understand him. On the one hand, he wants lots of cuddles and asks constantly; "Do you love me, Mummy"? I tell my sweet boy I love him so often, I’ve been surprised he’s even felt the need to ask this. But obviously he does.  I’ve also noticed that after a period of improvement, his little hand is now continually creeping back inside my top at every opportunity for a reassuring breast fondle.  I think he senses that change is finally afoot; that the little person is coming.  The hanging of new curtains, the assembly of the cot, the hustle and bustle of preparation are all starting to make EB's pending arrival real for him. Perhaps the prospect of being a big brother is more daunting than I thought.

    I’m also finding that he can make the leap from being a sweet little boy to teenage-esque behaviour in one fell swoop.  I’ve witnessed more defiant behaviour in these past couple of weeks than I can ever recall before.   He is normally a good boy, I can’t fathom what it is. Preschool influences?  Insecurities about his forthcoming sibling arriving? Being a 3 year old?  On all counts, it’s exhausting. 

    We have the best days when I haul my sorry self into action and make sure we’re doing something; a focused activity or play date. It’s just that I find it so tiring. I feel disappointed with myself, that I’m finding these last few weeks hard, and not making the most of every last precious moment together.   People give you lots of advice about how to deal with introducing your child to the new baby, or, how to cope in those first two weeks, but what I’d really love is some advice on how to entertain your child and keep harmony in the last few weeks of pregnancy, when really, all you want to do is rest.  

    How did you manage in those last few weeks?

    Saturday, 27 October 2012

    1950's Pregnancy Advice for Mothers

    When I was pregnant with Pip, my grandmother gave me this pamphlet.   A 1950’s manual, given to Health Visitors, of which she was one, to aid them in educating pregnant women.  I was amazed she had kept it all those years. In fact, 69 years since it had been printed.  It smelt old and musty.   It’s cover was stained and dogeared, from years of use.  The title was simple, one word; MOTHER.   A little legacy, given from her to me.  An act of sharing, between two women, one who understood motherhood, and one who had yet to learn anything.

    I devoured the preface with interest, a section called ‘Mothers as Pioneers.’  I loved that fabulous title. This section addressed the fact that mothers are very important people (naturally).  It encouraged mothers to educate themselves and do their own thinking, particularly in regard to public health.  Mothers were encouraged to make use of ‘aids to pioneering’ in the post war period; newspapers, the wireless, the free library, the public health department, and importantly, to have a ‘hobby’.

    “Keeping up our hobby, practising our best bit of work, not only gives us job, in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred it makes happier the people around us.”

    As I read the pamphlet and turned its yellow, well thumbed pages, it struck me how some of the advice given to 1950’s mothers was still applicable today.  Even in something as simple as the suggestion that mothers should have a hobby.

    By the time Pip was two years old, I was floundering as a SAHM, I’d lost sight of many of the hobbies I’d had before I had him. On a whim,  I took up blogging as a hobby, a way to evolve my love of writing, and almost instantly, I felt more enthused, more creative. It gave me something to think about outside my role as a mother and wife.   It made me happier.   It seems that some wise words are immortal, they have no best before date.

    I recently dug out my grandmother's book again and stumbled upon yet more pearls of wisdom, albeit, some more relevant for today than others.

    On ‘Good Cooks and Bad Cooks.’

    “We have been called a nation of bad cooks. Englishwomen naturally resent this, but if we are honest with ourselves we must admit that taking us on the whole there is a lot of truth in the reproach."
    Cooking has come a long way in this country since the 1950's, but the bitter truth is, I’d be a far better cook without the modern day conveniences of a ready meal or take away at my fingertips.  If I had to cook every meal from scratch, I’m sure my Michelin star would be shining far more brightly in the culinary universe.  I do however, want any home cooked offerings I serve up to be delectable, and as I embark on my pre-baby batch baking for the freezer (ha ha), or think about quick evening meals I’ll be able to prepare after a day with a baby glued to my breast,  these tips may come in handy:

    "A stew boiled is a stew spoiled."  (There’s a good reason to buy a slow cooker if ever I needed one.)

    "Jacket potatoes baked under the sitting-room grate are a most acceptable supper on a winters’ night with butter and a scrape of Marmite."  Oh yes -  I’m a Marmite girl through and through but I’d never thought of having it on a jacket potato. Until now.

    Advice for the Mother-to-be

    On Recreation: "Late hours, stuffy rooms and excitement are not good. In these days of radio nobody need be bored at their own fireside. Praise the homelier pleasures – books, handicrafts, even the forgotten art of conversation."  

    Ah, the forgotten art of conversation.  Would that require both my husband and I to turn off our separate laptops each evening and talk to each other?  Some evenings we sit mute after dinner, staring at our separate screens. Maybe we should be talking a little more; after all, we are about to bring another life into the world. As for forging conversations with others, my making an outgoing call has become a rarity. These days I communicate mostly by email,  text messages and in 140 character bursts.  Perhaps I should engage more. It might help me keep my post-partum pecker up. And we all know; ‘It’s good to talk’.

    On Hygiene: “A sitz bath in a basin placed on a chair followed by a gentle rub with olive oil is very useful in last months."  Well, you learn something new every day; I've discovered a ‘sitz bath’ is a localised bath for the pelvic region. It seems even in the 1950’s they were recommending perineal massage.  How very forward thinking of my grandmother’s generation, and how eloquently put.  Alas, these days we’re not nearly so subtle, you can now find a video on YouTube telling you exactly what to do.  Sometimes I rather favour the less direct approach.

    On clothes for the Mother–to-be: “It is always worth a woman’s while to take some pains with her appearance and never more so than during pregnancy. Feeling and looking nice in one’s clothes is a great help towards feeling comfortable. The modern loose swagger coat cannot be bettered.”

    There is much for a pregnant lady to swagger about - I like the fact they had a coat for it too.  Fashions clearly haven't changed that much since the 1950's, my maternity coat has exactly the same loose A line cut and swing.

    The Mother-to-be gets ready for Baby:
    “Good sensible baby clothes cannot be bought at the ordinary drapers – only at special shops for high price. Don't say you can't sew, you never know what you can do until you try."

    I can’t sew.  There. I said it.  Homespun baby clothes are lovely.  But frankly, the only hand crafted things EB will be getting will be made by my mother.  (I’ve challenged her to make one of these).  Everything else will be coming from Mothercare or Mamas and Papas.  Sometimes you have to be thankful for progress, and as far as I'm concerned, Mothercare babygros are the business.

    Father helps to get ready for Baby
    : “Fathers vary, some are so handy and others, with the best intentions, feel quite helpless if left to think out ways of helping.”  A suggested list of jobs for the 1950's father included: cleaning windows, hanging clean curtains, fetching coal, chopping firewood, keeping the radio set in working order and being able to make a really good gruel.

    In today’s world, my list for my husband looks something like this:  Work out how to reinstall maxicosi isofix base into car,  rebuild cot, hang new curtains (somethings never change). Ensure adequate stocks of champagne, parma ham, unpasteurised cheese for home arrival, ensure adequate pampering time for mother, and that she is given full control of TV remote.  And given the time of able to make a really good Christmas dinner.
    The nursing mother takes care of herself: "Because on her own health depends not only baby’s well being but the harmony of the home".

    Of all the sage advice given here, I like these three golden nuggets:

    1. "Make up your mind before hand which less important things you will let slide - and resolve not to worry about them.Ok. No housework then.
    2. "Ensure mother has her proper times for self-attention too."  Brilliant. A spot of blogging? A hairwash? A cheeky nip down to the High Road sans baby, for a latte and a slice of carrot cake?
    3. "Ensure Father shoulders cheerfully his share of the extra work a baby makes."  Absolutely. Paternity leave running into Christmas...perfect.

    It all sounds so simple, who needs Gina Ford or the Baby Whisperer? With a little help from the 1950's,  this modern day mother is sorted.