Sunday, February 25, 2007

Confessions of a laid-back Mother.

Sometimes, despite the books and the WHO and the gurus and the mother's groups and all the facts and figures, I think I may be overly relaxed as a parent.

I give as an example the handful of dirt Charlie ate the other week. Now, most mothers of my aquaintance would not have been out in the garden in February with their baby, no matter that he had on so many layers he could barely move and was swaddled in blankets and hats and gloves and toys and sat in a warm chair. They just wouldn't have done it. And, if they had, they would in no way have put him on his belly near the edge of a playmat after a particularly heart-rending cry so that he could watch them digging fence-post holes. Remembering, of course, that at the moment, C is of an age where copying a parent is his big thing. Did I know that Charlie would dig in the dirt? You know, I think I probably did. In fact, it is more than likely that somewhere in the far distant reaches inside my head (and there's a lot of unexplored territory back there), I may even have been thinking 'heck with it, let him eat dirt, it'll be good for him'.

My reaction upon seeing his fingers in the dirt was to lift him up lighteningly quick and check around his mouth (dirt) and then in his mouth (more dirt) and then to rush to the tap to wash him off - but did I then spend the next few days hovering around him in a panic waiting for him to show signs of some terrible disease? No. I didn't. In fact, I went on to forget about it completely until he pooed it out two days later.

The reactions of my fellow Mums to this have run the full gamut from shock to horror, partly at the dirt and partly at the 'out in the garden' bit, although I did have a reasonably humourous response from one enlightened Mum who suggested that now may be a good time to save myself the trouble of sterilising his bottles (true, but I still do anyway). My Mother however howled with laughter and this is yet another example of How Things Were Different in the 60s when I was a baby. Did I eat dirt when I was a baby? Knowing me, undoubtedly. Did my Mum panic? Knowing her, not a bit.

This however is not the first time I've been overly chilled out on Charlie's behalf, certainly in comparison to other Mums around me. I mean, I took him on the tube and to yoga AND to the cinema among the heaving masses before he'd had his shots. I always bath him in the real bath and these days I hover my hands a whole two inches above him and let him splash about on his back practically on his own. I've taken him into swimming pools. I let him drink out of a water glass at a restaurant. Should I be expecting social services to drop over? He's always warmly dressed, well fed, he's napping in the day, sleeping through the night, putting on weight, developing normally... but I have this creeping worry that somehow, I am a Neglectful Mother.

I just wonder about all the safe-guards we put up for our children against dangers and if firstly, there is a point where we reach over-kill and secondly, if I can trust myself to know where this point is. I mean, I don't want to expose my son to risks, but equally, I don't want to over-protect him so that he doesn't know what is dangerous and what isn't - or worse, leave him with no immunities against bacteria, virus attacks and allergens.

So, where do we as parents draw the line? Clearly some things are obvious, like putting gates at the top of stair-cases and keeping the bleach under lock and key ('Mummy, this lemonade tastes funny!') and not letting him play with fire. But other things, like letting him play in the garden or kiss the cat or washing his high-chair in normal soap and not anti-microbial, super-bacterio-blasting monster-bleach are decidedly up for argument.

To a certain extent I am going to follow the rules. No peanut butter or honey until he's 2, careful exposure to foods that can trigger allergies, sterile bottles, washing soft toys to get rid of dust-mites - anything backed up by medical science. But stopping one's baby from digging in the dirt and then using anti-microbial soaps on everything seem to me to offer the sort of protection that will stop him from developing immunities to the things that he will be exposed to the minute he leaves the house.

Ultimately I may be walking more of a middle line here than most of the parents I know but I attribute my own rude health largely to a country upbringing replete with cow, chicken and guinea-pig manure, stinging nettles, mud and bending down to drink unfiltered water direct from the same stream the cows drank and possible peed in, not to mention playing in haystacks and digging in the dirt. A lot.

While raising Charlie in London is going to offer a host of larger, faster, subtler and more dangerous dangers, without going overboard I still want to loosen his wrappings just a litle bit and let him build up some armour.

Is this too relaxed?

Friday, February 23, 2007

To eat, perchance to wean

It's all getting very complicated about now. Apart from the struggling, 50-fingered monster who has replaced my dear sweet darling tiny little baby (ahem) we are about to enter the wonderful world of weaning which is rife with the type of confusing information I have encountered since the day the blue line showed up in the pregnancy tester.

The World Health Organisation recommends no solids until 6 months - what they don't say however is how much he should eat after that and what. Everyone else naturally has a lot to say on the matter and there is a complex plethora of baby gurus with books out on the market on how to wean one's infant.

The first thing that confuses me is that while everyone is keen for babies to eat nutritiously starting with fruits and root veggies and then grains, there seems to be a conspiracy to get one to feed one's baby something called 'baby rice' which is wallpaper paste by any other name. It's nice and bland and smooth and hypoallergenic and perfect for tiny palates - it does not however appear have much by way of nutrition and is effectively just a way to thicken up milk and I am struggling to see the point. It is however everywhere and I found myself buying a box despite my feelings on the matter. It had the word 'organic' written on it and I was powerless to stop myself.

Secondly, while the gurus all cosy up to the WHO and say 'these days the recommendation is to breastfeed until 6 months' blah blah blah, they all give instructions for weaning that start at four months because it's a fact that most women are back at work by 6 months and keen to get babies eating as soon as possible. By the time the gurus get around to telling one what to feed a 6-month-old it's all 'babies should be having iron and texture and flavour and three meals a day'. So much for 'baby rice' and one-week schedules where baby eats the same thing every day - Charlie would be at school by the time I'd moved him onto real food.

So, for those of us who are able to breastfeed for 6 months, the question of what to feed and when is a little fuzzy. This may be a good thing. After all, when I ask my Mother what she weaned me onto the answer is usually something like 'goats milk and olives and oh, you loved salami' as clearly in the 60s there were no rules, no gurus and babies just ate whatever stayed down. I seem healthy enough though and so perhaps it's time to relax just a little. Having said that, I am currently obsessing over such concepts as superfoods, allergies and iron and so I sense I will not be as relaxed about it all as I would like to pretend.

Charlie being Charlie, I'm sure he'll have his own ideas. Although he has had no solids and will have none until this time next week when he turns 6 months, he is currently showing a lot of interest in whatever we eat. By 'no' solids' of course I am discounting the half-teaspoon of banana he's eaten in the past week (I reckon he'd have had the lot if I'd let him), the oatmeal he had this morning to stop him from leaping into the bowl and the handful of dirt he ate in the garden last week that made it successfully through his digestive tract and arrived unharmed in his nappy two days later. Charlie, you see, is keen to eat no matter what the WHO say.


Friday, February 16, 2007

Thrill Skill Baby

Here we are, as unlikely as it seems, with a five-and-a-half month old baby sleeping peacefully in his cot. New readers of this blog may think of us as experienced parents to whom having an infant is a normal experience - anyone who knows us however is probably still lifting their bottom jaw back into place following the shock of seeing D and me carrying around an actual baby.

This of course is nothing compared to the shock we have had. Anyone who has read this from the start will know that we had a serious case of denial about the baby arriving. To some extent, we are still suffering under a similar delusion in that we seem to think that what we have on our hands is a perma-baby. You know, somewhat squawly and messy but we're on top of it all now. Difficult, but controllable by virtue of the various restraining devices there are on the market - doorway bouncers, vibrating chairs, high-chairs, car-seats... And face it, even a playmat is fairly restraining when you're talking about someone who can't even crawl yet. It naps, it sleeps and if it gets really annoying, just shove a boob in it's mouth and that normally does the trick. Isn't that it?

What is becoming increasingly obvious however is that Charlie isn't in on this little fiction, rather he is doing all he can to prove to us that he is NOT a baby but is in fact a growing boy with growing needs who By God needs to be taken seriously. What this means is that he is developing skills at a rate of knots. Not, however, useful skills like, for example, being able to roll in two directions so that if he gets himself wedged up against one of the arches of his play gym he can roll back. Neither is he able to sit up, crawl, feed himself, dress himself or go to sleep without a lengthy routine or three.

What he can do is to wriggle out of anything he's not physically tied into, jab at the computer keyboard until he's caused the machine to collapse, tug at the phone while it's in the hand, roll over on the changing table, pull eye-glasses off faces, tug hair, grab anything within reach and toss it onto the floor, and most recently, lift my shirt and yank meaningfully at my boobs without the niceties of waiting until we are in the security of our own home.

All this advancement is making it increasingly clear that he is about to start doing such adventuresome and high-maintenance activities as crawling, walking and falling down the stairs. This means that I will no longer have a baby, that babies are indeed just for Christmas (one Christmas anyway) and not, in fact, for life - and somehow, I feel totally cheated.

Apparently, babies grow up to be Something Else and all that expensive Stuff is about to go into the cellar or be sold on eBay so that even more expensive Stuff can take it's place. Out goes the play-mat, the baby-gym, the Bumbo, the pram, the moses basket, the car-seat, an extensive wardrobe and the bouncy chair. In comes the high-chair, a bigger car-seat, spoons and bowls and non-spill mugs, pull-up pants, potties, bath chairs and things that go 'beep' and require batteries. Out goes taking him to the supermarket while he sits angelically in his buggy and in come the flailing and grabbing fingers and having to go back in to pay for what-ever tat it was took his fancy when I got too close to the shelving. In, now I come to think of it, comes on-line shopping. Hooray!

Anyway the upshot of all this development is that I am going to have to face the fact that soon he will be able to run away, answer back and tell everyone what it is that I really do during the day ("and then Mummy locks me in the nursery and drinks vodka!!!")

Now, unfortunately, I know what my mother really meant when she used to give me a meaningful look and say 'you were Such A Lovely Baby'.


Monday, February 12, 2007

21st Century Schizoid Babe

I have come to the conclusion that somewhere along the way I either actually had triplets, or that Charlie has three completely distinct personalities.

I was looking at him through the gloom at 12:30am last night while stuffing his face with a boob and hoping it would get him through the night (it did) and I saw such a serious little face. Granted, he was completely asleep but the expression of quiet expertise on his face and his controlled movements showed that here was a baby in the know, a baby with a serious job to get on with and one which he knew he could do well. Breastfeeding is the one skill Charlie has mastered above all others. Ignoring bodily functions, he's still learning most things but eating, now that's something he can do - and it shows. No wasted movements when he's hungry, no mucking about. Straight in he goes and he gets to work massaging and manipulating things to get exactly what he needs - and the expression on his face is so adult. The same serious concentration can be seen on the face of any expert at their job whether it's pouring cement or mending watches, the face says 'I know this. Welcome to my comfort zone.' C looks so mature and capable when he eats that it's impossible to reconcile this baby with the others that seem to inhabit his body, he seems almost adult.

Next, there's the demanding, shouting baby. Panic-stricken at having rolled over and being unable to roll back, this baby is all about need. He's not in control of anything but he desperately wants to be and he's fighting all the way. He doesn't want hugs, he doesn't want cuddles, he doesn't want clothing or toys, he doesn't really know what he wants specifically, he just wants to be in control. Another serious little face, this baby can spend ages reaching and fiddling and grabbing and chewing and drooling and is only satisfied when he's done something for himself that he was trying to do and if he can't, he relapses into hysterics and shouting and often ends up sobbing himself to sleep on my shoulder after a particularly heavy-duty bout with his bunny on the playmat. He is perhaps the most babyish of all of Charlie's personalities, the one that mostly makes me see how very little he really is, how very small and vulnerable.

Finally, there's the clown. This Charlie is more like a little boy than a baby. He's responsive, happy almost anywhere and can see the funny side in anything. He smiles a lot and when there's nothing to smile at he looks at a parent hopefully and waits for them to do something funny. He'll play with nearly anything, will wrap his arms around a parental neck for hugs and has even taken to diving open-mouthed onto a parental cheek for a second in what can only be the mirror of a kiss. He's a charmer and a flirt this baby. He'll smile at anyone and if there's another child in the vicinity will try to hold hands. He's no more dextrous than the grumpy baby but he seems older and more aware - and funnier.

There are a few other babies in there. There's one who gets the horrors at night and sometimes in the day and who cannot be consoled in any way and just has to be cuddled until he has cried and drooled himself out into a parental shoulder. There's also the struggler who is vaguely related to the grumpy baby but who is more dextrous and can wriggle away from a wash-cloth, a dropper full of Calpol or a pair of nail-clippers with superhuman strength.

Everyone has multiple sides to them and I wonder was each of these will develop into - which one will be his dominant personality, how they will all grow - and which one is going to be the most trouble in the end. Mr. Grumpy after all may turn into a boy who spends hours bent over a computer taking it apart and making it run faster while Mr. Happy may turn into an irresponsible prankster who steals the car keys to drive his equally underage date to the pub and Mr. Expert may turn out to be a banker with nothing to say for himself.

I guess it's all part of the fun we signed up for on this very, very long ride.


Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Motherly Love... The Inside Story

I think it's about time we blew this Motherly Love thing wide open. I have always thought that whatever this thing is it's very suspect if not downright dangerous.

Motherly Love is clearly a Class A substance. It can keep you up all night and the next day in a considerably impaired state - yet is completely undetectable by the police should you choose to drive to the shops under the influence. On Motherly Love you have superhuman strength and can carry a pushchair, an 18 pound baby and 5 bags of shopping up the front steps without dropping your keys. It speeds you up; in the space of one half hour period you can do a load of laundry, tidy up the house, get dressed, change the baby, dress the baby, make breakfast eat breakfast and still have time to email your friends to tell them how tired you are and how you don't have time to do anything.

If you're in doubt as to it's hallucinogenic properties, consider this: Motherly Love makes everything So Interesting. A simple walk through the park turns into a journey of amazement as one stops to talk to every other Mother one passes. The smallest detail about one's baby is suddenly Extremely Important and not only that, but one has time to listen to other mothers talking about their babies as well. Skin, ears, hair, if it's on a baby, it's suddenly Riveting. Not only that, but every inch of the park is fascinating as well - the duck pond, the bark of trees, the paddly pool... One finds oneself introducing the baby to every shrub and flower and bench on the journey, saying it's name and reverentially dragging baby's hand across it's surface - a psychedelic trip into Wonderland.

On Motherly Love, one can lie beside one's sleeping offspring for hours stroking it's head, kissing it's cheek and having one's finger squeezed. One can tuck one's hand protectively around it and under it's bottom and just lie there smelling it's hair and basking in wonder and happiness (mainly that the thing is asleep, but I digress). Every feature is endlessly fascinating and should the baby awake, look up at one and smile, well the entire world explodes in little shiny bursts.

All is not roses however, no matter how much one believes one has turned into Superwoman as Motherly Love does considerable and potentially permanent damage. Firstly, hearing. While it appears to make hearing more acute and allows one to detect the slightest baby whimper during a tornado from half a mile away, this is in fact a trick. It actually creates a sort of deafness in which it is possible to have a leisurely lunch and even a shower while the baby is screaming at the top of it's lungs and not hear a thing. This can create serious problems as one's beloved partner can talk for hours about their terrible day and not one iota will register in one's eardrums.

Next, one has to take into account serious damage to one's eyesight. It is not only possible, but probable that one will leave the house wearing the particular badge of Motherly Love - a smear of white baby-vomit on one shoulder. One can even put clothes into the 'wear again' pile only to find under careful examination several instances of the badge on every single piece. One can look in the mirror and think that one looks great and only the unforgiving eye of the camera tells the truth about how dreadful things really are. When the baby gets up in the morning covered in scratches from his uncut fingernails, the Motherly Love abuser will feel awful for the first 10 minutes however after that will fail sequentially to notice the scratches until they disappear and even, potentially, fail to cut the fingernails either.

This brings me to the worst of it: Memory. This is the most pernicious and dreadful of the side-effects of Motherly Love. In fact it is likely that even one dose of the drug will impair memory permanently. I have, for example, already forgotten how awful the birth was and the only reason that I know that it was awful is that not only did I blog it several times, but I remember clearly telling my husband at the time that it was the worst thing that had ever happened to me and that I would never do it again. Well, but I would in a minute - in a second. THAT's how bad the effect of this drug has been on me. Forgetting to trim baby fingernails is the least of my problems. I have sat beside my infant while he has done a very noisy poo, and yet a couple of minutes later while ostensibly waiting for him to finish, I tried to put him into his pram without a clue why he was tetchy. I have gotten up in the night knowing that it was the second time I had gotten up and yet with absolutely no memory of the first. I have woken in the morning with the baby sleeping smugly in our bed and no memory of how he got there.

All in all under careful examination, it's likely that Motherly Love is a good thing, even though there will be casualties. Without it, mothers would suddenly be in a lonely and potentially isolated world where the washing machine always needs running, the house is always dirty and the baby is always in need. They would notice that they have had no sleep, often for many years. They would notice that they had not been eating well or regularly, they would begrudge having no time to shower and being permanently covered in filth.

Without Motherly Love, in fact, the whole business of Mothering would be a much less appealing prospect and life would definitely be nastier, more brutish and shorter (say, a few weeks long...) and the population would undoubtedly be smaller. In fact, given the current population, we can probably blame the entire environmental and political mess the world is in now on Motherly Love, however equally we can praise it, for without it's example, who would ever learn to love?


Saturday, February 03, 2007

Bullfrog among the tadpoles

Well, we've done it again, packed up what feels like every baby-related item in the entire flat and driven to the airport. This time we forgot the connectors that attach the car seat to the buggy. I say 'we' here however this does really mean 'me'. Having been in charge of all things baby-related I then had to get up 4 times in the night with the little spud and resultantly, anything I hadn't already packed got left behind in the morning-after haze.

I think science should be looking very carefully into the constituent components of breast-milk. On a diet of nothing but this, Charlie can get up 4 times in the night for half to one hour each (not to eat, mind you, but to roll around in his cot, throw off his blankets, wriggle out of his pjs and then get cold and scream), dance for an hour in his bouncer a couple of times a day, have a lovely time kicking and pooing on his mat all day, have a few scant naps and be raring to dance all night the next night. Seeing as it is my body producing all this get-up-and-go energy, it's hardly surprising that I forgot the car-seat connectors. What is more suprising is that I remembered the car seat. And the baby.

Having arrived here in France we jetted directly to the grandparent's house where C was duly prodded, bounced, cooed at and made a fuss of and he duly smiled and cooed and made faces back. We left him in the capable hands of his Papi et Mami and sat down to a brief meal and I could hear them discussing him terms of wonder in the other room 'Mais, il est ENORME!' 'Il et si lourde!' 'Oh la la' (no, I'm not making this up). Clearly, the lovely and petite mamans of their other five grandchildren produced perfectly tiny little French pixies and they were not expecting this enormous Colonial potato who is now paddling around in their gene pool.

To be fair, Charlie isn't fat. He's just huge. Long and solid. Much more suited to cutting down trees and frying up pancakes over an open fire than looking chic and tousled and Parisian in a rollneck jumper. About this I am a little sad. Ignoring the fact that both D and I are fairly tall and somewhat solid individuals ourselves, I had somewhat hoped that enough French blood would be running through his veins that he would have a certain delicacy of features, however alas, this is possibly not to be - and in fact it may be the petite nature of D's belle-soeurs who provided that shot of 'je ne sais quois' into D's family. Who knows. Either way, I love the little spud even if he has taken this opportunity to throw up into my hair, even if he is about to grow out of his expensive car-seat, even if he is draining me and killing my back. I just can't help it, I love him and I sat in that kitchen thinking 'that's MY baby who's huge that is, I did that, aren't I clever, isn't he lovely?' and all sorts of other mindless, Motherhood-related soppiness. In fact, it was worth the entire flight just to see him cooed over by other people clearly as besotted as I am, just as it was when we went to Canada. I guess there are a few side benefits to this travelling thing.