Friday, September 28, 2007

All hail

Another night, another bedtime routine, another sleepy baby. The spud has not only been sleeping through the night for the past two months, he has been happily going to bed with no complaint and for this I thank the God 'Routine'. I have to confess that for most of my life, I have not been the most faithful of worshipers at the shrine of this god. In fact, I would go as far as to say that I worshipped the Anti-Routine. Oh, yes I did. I have, in my wilder youth, stayed up all night and sat in a diner watching people get on the tram to go to work and sneered – oh, I did. You see, back then I had no need for routine. What is this thing ‘routine’? I would ask myself. But now, now, I have paid for my sins. I have suffered at the hands of the 3am fuss, the 4am cry, the 1:30am tantrum and the 5am wake-up and I am sorry, I will never doubt the power of the God of Routine, or, may I just say the 'Great' God Routine, ever again.

At the start of the spud’s little life, I confess that we played fast and loose with his bedtime. I mean, we tried to get him to sleep every night around 7, but if he wasn’t tired or if he kicked up a fuss, we were pretty flexible total walkovers. I can’t count the number of times we ate dinner with the spud perched happily in his little bouncy chair making googly faces at his toys and every few minutes or so looking meaningfully at my cleavage. He’d go to bed, sleep a bit, wake up and shout at us and the Frog would leap up and have him watching CSI before you could say ‘let him cry it out’.

After considerable reading and listening to friends, I finally caved in and worked out a sort-of-a routine. Slowly, slowly, we started to stick to it. And you know what? Bugger me golly gee if it didn’t work.

Now, after several months, our sort-of-a-routine has firmed up into something robust enough that the spud is now anticipating every little step. Come 6pm he’s whining for his sippy cup and I put on ceebeebies and he sits on his beanbag with juice and a little snack gaping at Upsy Daisy while I put out his dinner and then put him in his high chair. After a variable amount of food, he gets down and stuck into some serious playing – we’re talking Speed Playing here - throwing every toy out of his box and clambering around the house clutching a ball in one hand and often something in his mouth as well. It’s important, you see, because it the Last Play Of The Day and he has to cram it all in at once.

Up until a couple of weeks ago, he would stand by the bath while I undressed him and, inspired by the water running, might have had a little wee-wee while he watched intently as it filled. Now, however, he's not interested in the water running At All. Now, the bath running is like the final bell signifying 'end of playtime' so as soon as his clothes are off, my little naked son tears off across the floor as fast as he can crawl, giggling and cackling while I stomp behind him saying things like ‘I’m going to get you’ and ‘I’m right behind you’ until squealing, he throws himself headlong onto the sheepskin rug (I know, I know, it’s like a Mills and Boon novel round ours) to be tickled. It’s about as cute as a baby can get, frankly and I’m still not quite sure how I managed it. I guess I figured I’d probably pop out a baby who already had a tattoo and both Joy Division albums. But there you go, or rather, there he goes, giggling away madly. The end of the routine sees him lying with his bottle while I lie beside reading him a book. If he’s perky, once he's done he wriggles off the bed and tries to rush to his toys before I can stop him but once I pick him up and carry him into his room, no matter how lively he was the moment before, he snuggles into my shoulder and sighs a bit and most of the time, he’s asleep before I even put him to bed.

I do credit the routine for this. Every step of the way, from the moment Iggle Piggle gets into his boat until the moment he gets carried into his room he knows what’s coming next - and it all leads to a nice big sleep and, not to forget, a nice big martini for Mummy while the Great God Routine rumbles away happily in his alphabetised heaven.

Amen to that!

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

2B or not 2B? 5G, in fact.

Here we go again, time is passing by without leaving much of a trace, except, perhaps, on my skin which I swear is looking saggier every day. I’ve got to the point now where no matter what the spud does I am scarcely surprised and I seem barely to notice changes in him, until one day I just can’t get that t-shirt over his head and I realise he’s grown out of yet another wardrobe. This led to a major milestone in the spud’s life last week – his very first pair of Clarks shoes.

Those of you who have not grown up in ye merry olde land of ye gin and tonics may never have experienced that most British of childhood experiences, the regular visits to Clarks to have one’s feet measured. When I was a child, this involved putting one’s foot onto a metal box while the sides excitingly slid in, stopping when they hit foot. When one pulled out one’s foot, one’s new shoe size was revealed to the ponderous sighs of one’s parents. The shops were inevitably dim and slightly dusty and filled with navy Mary Janes and black daps. Lots of places sell children’s shoes but really, there is only one Clarks - which is why, despite putting out only one fashionable shoe a decade, there are still Clarks shoe shops on every high street in Britain.

These days, not much has changed. The shops are brighter and the Mary Janes are now pink but a machine which is undoubtedly a mechanical foot-measurer still exists. The spud’s feet however were measured by a nice man who I am certain sold me shoes when I was 6, using a sizing ruler with a little slider on it. Of course, baring the spud’s feet and crouching down beside him gives him a great excuse to kick a stranger totally senseless while grinning widely and sweetly, like a miniature Malcolm McDowell but without the bowler hat. ‘Aww’ said all the shop assistants as the nice Clarks man retrieved his teeth from the floor.

‘What size is he?’ I asked, having no clue what size a baby’s foot ought to be. ‘5G’ said the nice Clarks man, maintaining a rictus grin while backing away. ‘Is that big?’ I asked again ‘Well’ he said with a smile, pointing to the cute little baby shoes ‘none of these go up to that size’ and he indicated a small shelf of serious looking shoes. I wasn’t sure at that point whether or not a satisfied little smile crossed his face as he watched me furtively clocking the price tags. Mentally I began cancelling holidays for the next ten years as I calculated how regularly we would have to repeat this routine. As we bumped our way out of the shop in the buggy, me clutching to my chest the precious bag of shoes, the nice man called me back. 'Here' he said, holding out a little card with a date scribbled on it 'come back around this time so we can check his size. He should be out of these shoes by then'. I looked at the date. It was next week December, meaning we would be doing this every three months until the end of time the spud stops growing.

The real trouble is of course that now we know the spud's shoe size, suddenly we are obsessed with buying him shoes. The Frog is the only man I know who can compete with me on 'size of shoe wardrobe' and therefore, as two shoe obsessives, we have already bought the spud a cute pair of size 6 boots for later because they were on sale. Suddenly, time passes not in increments of days but in the spud’s shoe sizes. I’m not sure what this means for my skin, but my bank balance is surely going to be in need of artificial enhancement fairly soon.

Monday, September 24, 2007

oh, wonderful

I am so busy at the moment, working away in my cellar (I am a freelance project manager and sit in my cellar office wielding an electronic whip and chair at various techies while calming panicky and technophobic clients) that I haven't had time to craft the post that the spud's recent activity deserves.

Therefore I'd like to hand you over to my marvellous brother who is staying in the old family house one last time before it goes for rent or for sale and who has said it all for me today.

Here's to you all. Lots of love and more later.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

eyes wide shut

Well, it’s been a long couple of weeks of things happening and I haven’t had much focus or will or anything but here we are in the middle of the cliché that life goes on… and here it is, going on. We’ve actually had some wonderful days here at the end of the summer, with the Spud and friends. We visited the Wetlands Centre in Barnes where the Spud tried to climb dutifully backwards down the slope and into a pond and where he followed the older boys around adoringly and then when he couldn’t keep up, painfully sweetly he played by himself until there were other children to follow. We’ve played in the park, in the garden, in the nursery, in the studio, at other people’s houses, we’re professional players now. We play with blocks and cars and things that go ‘beep’ and things that go ‘bang’ and things that go ‘jangle’ and I’m not just talking about Mummy’s nerves here, although mainly, I suppose, I might be.

I don’t know how all you other Mums out there cope. Really I don’t. Stay At Home Dad once posted that he’d looked longingly at a beer at the Numberjacks hour and I can confirm that not only is that really rather early, it’s also the time at which my vodka receptors tend to have a little twinkle themselves. Not, you understand, that I am making the Spud’s lunch while face-down in the sauce, just that sometimes, on some days, it seems like a tempting choice. I think, if I had even the smallest moment of my own that I might not be so resistant to the attractions of the potato's purest moment however it is astonishing just how much time a good play can take out of the day. I mean, really, by the time we’ve emptied the brick box and knocked down a few towers the morning has disappeared and suddenly there I am in the middle of sandwiches and apple juice and then it’s off to the swings and suddenly it’s time for In the Night Garden and Somebody’s not in bed! Who’s not in bed?

On the days that I work I beetle away down there in my cellar until I happen to glance at the clock and have to lurch up into the light blinking damply to pick up the spud from his Dad after lunch. If I’m very lucky I can sneak in a trip to the shops, or, god forbid, a load of laundry before the afternoon turns into one of those cartoon cyclones with bits of stuff poking out from them – a toy here, a nappy there, an unpaid bill, a dozen grabby fingers and three flailing baby feet, only one of them with a shoe on it. I find myself sitting limply on the sofa at around 9pm having magically scoffed a plate of food that I barely remember because, not having eaten all day, my body has absorbed it before it hit my belly and trying to find something to say to the Frog – who, if he has had child duties that day, is equally washed out.

I was speaking to another Mum today about this and we agree that it’s not actually Motherhood that’s tiring – at least, not with just little spudlet. It’s the rest of life that is tiring. Looking after a child all day is a hoot – wandering around parks and historic buildings, playing with bricks and going on the see-saw. It’s all the other stuff that suddenly seems impossible. Doing any work. Taking the laundry off the line. Paying the bills. Cleaning under the armchairs. Give me a pile of wooden bricks and I’ll amuse myself the spud all day. Give me a pile of laundry and suddenly, I’m exhausted.

Tomorrow I do a few hours work and then it's just me and the Spud with an entire afternoon to waste. Unfortunately we are going to have to waste some of it playing with the vacuum cleaner and so I think I need to get in some extra sleep in preparation. Who's not in bed? I'm not in bed.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

All my old ladies

I was in the process of writing yet another post based on my boobs when I got a call that my cousin had succumbed to pneumonia this afternoon. She turned 89 a few weeks ago and she was a good friend of mine. I don’t buy the ‘she had a good innings’ line although it has an element of truth and I used it myself a few weeks ago when we nearly lost her the first time. She may have been old but she was still a girl inside, still capable of laughing at fart jokes and swearing at her doctor and having conversations that rambled everywhere because there are so many things of interest to talk about. She was a proper intellectual and the sort of botanist who would climb Snowdon in the rain to see a rare grass. She constantly surprised me, was endlessly good company and was never shy of dismissing something as rubbish if it patently was. I’m going to miss her a lot.

My Gran is 99 and hoping to make her 100th birthday in February and two days ago she fell and broke her hip. She’s recovering in hospital now but she’s in pain and I guess nothing is certain when you’re 99. She’s one wonderful woman, I get my picky fingers and love of textiles from her. She taught me to weave and when her shoulder finally gave out, gave me her loom on which I am a faltering learner. She also taught me how to play cards but didn’t pass one enough of her skill to make me rich at poker, unfortunately, however she did pass on her prodigious ability to absorb gin, not to mention her boobs which, when she saw them sprouting on my 15-year-old-frame she immediately recommended I reduce via surgery. It was she who taught me about structural architecture as it relates to the female form, not least by displaying some of the most unbelievable pieces of 1950s engineering nestled in her top drawer which I would give my eye-teeth to own these days. When she was 76 I stayed with her for a week and we stayed up late playing cards and drinking and skinny-dipping at midnight. I’d like to see her but for now I have to wait to see if she’s going to hold up.

I once had a vision of myself at 80, living happily somewhere wild and vaguely cut off. It’s stayed with me and maybe that’s why I get along so well with women who've got a few decades on me, I guess I’ve always assumed I’m going to be one, one day. I’m lucky, I know a few and I’ve known them well and I get to spend good time with them, if not always enough of it. I’ve picked up some pretty good tips and I’ve been able to introduce the spud to them all so that one day when the time comes he'll know enough to be nice to his own old lady.

Here’s to Liz, I’m glad I got to tell her I love her, I’m proud to have known her. She’s leaving a big hole. Here’s to all our elders and betters, let’s hope we can live up to them.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Nice matters?

I’ve been very kindly given another award, the ‘nice matters’ award, from Laurie over at Just One Sheep. She outed herself in my comments as otherwise she’s known by the very scary moniker ‘Threat Assessment and Response Canada’ which is a Toronto crime blog that I wish existed here in my area. It’s quite un-nerving reading but also riveting, even for an ex-Torontonian like myself.

Nice does matter, of course however I do worry that this is never going to sink into the small hard ball of matter that is the Spud’s head. He greeted our friends’ nine-month-old girl with several large taps to her head and followed up by a serial stealing of her toys yesterday; and, while he appears to realise that ‘no’ means Mummy is upset (but heck, who only knows why?), for the most part he is yet to connect the word and gesture with the concept ‘oops, better stop fiddling with the cat food’. Hence, he is still menacing the cat, the cat’s food and any electronic item unfortunate enough to exist within the same square mile. This, despite copious uses of the word ‘no’, the gesture for ‘no’ and all sorts of other new-parenting-type alternatives such as exclaiming ‘but Sammy will go hungry. Why don’t you play with this?' {moves Spud to other room, offers wholesome wooden toy, is spurned and spends rest of afternoon fishing Spud’s fingers out of the cat’s bowl}.

It’s a worry. One spends one’s time trying to be a reasonably decent human being despite one’s rampaging inner urges and finally, having made it through cough cough forty cough odd cough years one pushes out a new human who has NO idea what it can possibly mean to be polite or nice or to share his toys. Back when I were a young ‘un (any sentence referring to one’s youth has to be said in a Northern accent… blame Monty Python) society as a whole was fairly polite and after some serious mind washing instruction from my parents it was easy to play along as there were examples of good manners all around. Now, however, it seems as though it will be impossible to teach the spud any sort of manners when there are grown adults in the playground (as there were yesterday) who themselves are sitting on the playthings and not getting off even when a circle of babies has formed around them crying and reaching out their arms. OK, so I exaggerate but I don’t see how that Mum yesterday could have sat for so long on the motorbike rocking toy with all those little boys around her watching hopefully while her own daughter ran up the slide pushing other kids out of her way and kicking them on her way down. I’m sorry but some people are appalling and, with those sorts of examples, it’s no wonder the spud can’t understand why manners are so important. Oh, that and he’s er, only one year old… but you get my drift.

It’s quite a wake-up call watching the behaviour of some people in the playground. While most parents smile at each other and at least give the pretence that they are teaching their children sharing and caring, there are some who are actively in there encouraging their little ones to be first, to be fastest, to stay on longest. These children then spend their time wrecking the park for all the other children, who then have to act in the same dreadful way just to get a trip down the slide. They then go on to menace others - and so on and so on until 20 years later they're pushing each other to get on the tube first and everyone's miserable.

Nice should matter to everyone, I guess. Another martini, bartender - and one for yourself.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

in the sand pit

We have a massive sand pit in the park next to our house. It's like the king of sand pits, it's about twenty feet square, is sunk 2 feet into the ground and has a slide and climbing frame in the middle of it. I've always held off from taking the spud in there for obvious reasons. You know, sandy fingers, sandy knees, sandy nappies, sandy buggy, sand in the house... oh, and sand on my boobs.

So, today, after running into a friend in the park who was taking her daughter to the sand pit, I took the spud down and let him loose. It's kinda good, the sand pit. It has walls and no stairs so he can't get out; there's lots of kids playing in the sand for him to pal around with and, apart from hitting his head on the bottom of the slide, nowhere for him to hurt himself. In fact, it's kinda great in the sand pit. I mean, even nearly brilliant.

What has become clear however is that my dear little spud is in no way as socialised as I would like to believe. He really doesn't understand that just because he wants to play with something it doesn't mean that he has any right to it for any length of time. As I wasn't expecting the sand pit, I didn't bring any sand-pit toys. Other Mums however have already had their moment of sand-pit satori and come to the park specifically to let dear diddums get sand in its ears. They therefore carried buckets and spades and rakes and cars with big wheels, all of which was like catnip for the spud. He would crawl up to a group of children, insert himself cunningly into the middle and wait for someone to lose interest in a toy, then grab it up and start energetically imitating whatever it was the other child had been doing.

This was all very cute until Mums started leaving and taking diddums with them - and, crucially, diddums' toys. I was forced to sit cringing in a corner while the spud refused to give up the rake and then do that apologetic, hunched walk of shame that one does in front of other Mums as I rushed to swoop him up. He sat with his arms out, shaking and going bright red with rage and disappointment, his little face crumpled and wet, doing the very long, very silent in-breath that babies do right before they let loose with a war cry. Poor little spud, he just doesn't understand why he can't have the things he wants. After two episodes of this, guiltily I took him out of the pit and rushed him to the toy shop however failed to buy him a bucket and rake because I would have had to also buy the spade, a watering can and several nasty looking plastic things covered in cartoons, all handily wrapped in a net bag and for the sort of money I would expect to pay for a real, life-sized bucket, spade and rake. And a martini to go in the glasses. Or two.

I will however have to buy him something for the pit because despite my sandy decolletage, acquired when swooping my tearsome lovely to my breast, the sand pit is a big winner and the real reason is nothing to do with the spud, sadly, it's to do with me.

While he was off exploring other children's toy collections, I kicked off my sandals, sat next to my friend and buried my feet in the sand and you know what? It feels GREAT to bury ones feet in cool sand on a warm day. I was in heaven. I wriggled my feet so much that they are smooth as the spud's butt at the moment, completely exfoliated. In fact, I think I'm going to have to force the spud into the sand pit on a regular basis.

For his own good, you understand...

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Happy Birthday, baby!

I just want to say Happy Birthday to my son, today. OK, so I already have, like about 1000 times but this one is in writing so it's different. I think. I waltzed him around the garden this morning singing the Altered Image song 'Happy Birthday, Happy Birthday, Happy Birthday, Happy Birthday' but since I can only remember the chorus I just sang it over and over and over again until the neighbours undoubtedly put their heads under the covers (it was 9am) and prayed for silence. He bobbled around on my hip with a big grin on his face because we were outside and dancing and Mummy was being silly, presumably.

One set of his grandparents gave him money for a winter coat. The other set gave him a toy drum complete with sticks, a tambourine, maraca, xylophone and jingle-bells, ie, a head-ache-in-a-box. Guess which was the gift from MY parents????!! He loved loved loved the drum however and so I can hardly hold it against them... although I will try to do so in a creative way when it comes to their up-coming birthdays...

We had a picnic for a few of his friends in the park this afternoon and he spent all day eating organic baby snacks and being very happy hanging with a big group of people outside on a nice day. I guess it's sort of the way we as humans would naturally have lived in the past, great hairless groups of us lazing about under trees with our offspring. Not sure about the place of Pringles and fairy cakes in this historical view of mankind mind you but there you go.

Anyway, on to say Happy Birthday to my lovely son, who, having crawled and rough-housed all afternoon is now sleeping the careless sleep of the tired infant, both arms flung out and breathing the sort of deep, quiet breaths that make a parent dash frantically over to listen at his nostrils.

We sat, the three of us, before the arrival of our friends, we sat on the grass and felt like a family. Or at least, the Frog and I sat on the grass, the spud tore off as fast as his knees could carry him into the great green yonder. We sat and sort of smiled in wonder that an entire year could have passed so quickly, without us really noticing. They tell you that this is going to happen, they, the books, Those Who Have Gone Before, they say 'It'll just fly past, you won't believe it' and it does, and we don't. A whole year. Gone.

I know why though, it's because before one is a parent, one has many, many things to focus on. Work, friends, family, life, the changing of the seasons, shoe sales. One notices time going past because one is waiting for various things to happen, one sits at a desk looking at a calendar, reads newspapers, takes holidays, buys shoes. Time does pass more quickly as one ages but it doesn't disappear. Not completely. Once one is a parent however, things are crammed into the moments around the edge of one's offspring and one only takes quick bites at the life one once consumed completely. Time passes un-noticed except for the daily changes and developments. Moving, grabbing, holding, picking up, rolling, crawling, teething, standing, units of time measured by growth and development, not by the ticking of a clock or the turning of a calendar.

A year. A year of the spud. A year ago today, right here in this living room, he pushed out into the warm waters of the birth pool and bubbled up to the surface. I remember being surprised at how solid he was when the midwife lifted him out of the water and put him on my chest, as if babies should be soft and floppy and unresisting. He was a bit blue and grey at the edges and had a dreadful cone head. Once the cord was cut he was dried off and put against his father's chest to warm up and go pink while I was diverted into the mopping up part of childbirth, the bit they never show in movies, the bit where you push out the placenta and get dropped into a bath to clean up.

After my bath the midwife put him on a boob... and he's pretty much stayed there for an entire year. He could hold his head up from the moment he came out of the womb, his little conical grey noggin was questing around for the remote controls before his cord was even cut or his eyes could focus. He cried a little bit and I, who would probably have imagined that my first words to my son would be something deeply profound to put him on track for the rest of his life could only say 'and who are you? who are you?' to him as if he could possibly answer. The answer, of course, was that he was my dearest darling spud and the light of my life, but I could only guess at that back then.

A year ago he lay in the moses basket by our bed making little creaking noises and looking like an alien. We stayed up all night listening to him breathe and taking off and putting on various items of his clothing as we tried to guess whether or not he was too hot or too cold. Back then we had no idea what to expect from him and now, a year later, he lies in his big cot in his own room and we still have no idea what to expect from him, most of the time at least.

It's been an amazing year, a wonderful year and I can only hope that this next year will be the same.

Happy Birthday, Charlie, Happy 1st birthday. I love you, spudlet.

Thanks for coming by, everyone, it's been great to have the word, wit and wisdom of others in this time.