Dear Arthur, aged 18 months

Half way between one and two, and you’re brilliant. I could leave it there, only I’m scared of forgetting everything and not being able to tell you what you’re like. Obsessed with cars for starters. You love them and you can name lots of vehicles in your own Arthur-speak: car, digga, tacta, amunance, nee-naw, tayne, aberdane (this covers all aeronautical specimens). You shout them out, time and again, every time you see one, each sighting so exciting to you even in this city where cars are almost as plentiful as people. A car park is your idea of heaven, and when we took you to a motor museum in the Lakes you went bananas, running round and touching all the wheels on the classic cars. A sweet, bearded man followed us around with a rag to wipe off your little handprints.

Your moods are extreme. You can go from happy and carefree to complete meltdown stampy tantrum in a second, if the thing you’re trying to do doesn’t work, if I stop you from doing something dangerous, if I try to (God forbid) change your nappy or trim your nails. You’d be happy rolling around in your own muck with nails like Edward Scissor-Hands. It’s a little bit heartbreaking when you sob “all done” when you want us to stop tormenting you with care.
On the rare occasions when I’m not right near you, if I’m having a bath or a walk after your Dad’s come home and you’re in bed, a memory of you clamping your legs round my waist as I pick you up, kissing me unbidden or smiling at me will sneak into my head and I will grin and miss you. I miss you when you’re asleep, bottom sticking up in the air, hand clutching a car or teddy, but I’m glad you seem fonder of it now. It makes us both less grumpy.
I’m still breastfeeding you, although you eat much more now and would have Weetabix for every meal if you could. Oh, I’m sure some people think I’m mad, but on a good day that lovely cuddle and stillness is still wonderful. I gaze at you, trying to commit everything to memory. You want more if you’re feeling overwhelmed, or we’re in a new place or situation. These days you run your little toy car across my chest as you drink.

You’ve been walking for ages now, 7 months, so you’re pretty good at it. We go for walks in the park with your reins, you trot beside me and point out anything interesting. I’d take them off only I’m pretty sure you’d do a runner. The new daredevil climbing is interesting too. I can leave a room for thirty seconds, come back and find you standing on an item of furniture, trying to get the pictures off the walls. You think it’s hilarious; I think it’s terrifying.

You know everyone’s name in the family now, chanting them as you look at photos. Amma, Pa-pa, Nana, Dad-dad, Auntie, Uncle. You’re getting the hang of your cousins’ names too. Mummy, which was a distant dream when you turned one and would only say Daddy, is your favourite word to shout when you’re happy, sad, or need food. Which covers everything, really.

My current favourite of your words and phrases took me a while to work out. You’ve been picking up the phone and saying “Allo!” for a few weeks, but recently you’ve started addressing things, insects, people and greeting them with “Allo, cee-cee.” I realised recently it’s your version of “Hello, sweetie”, something I say to you. You’ve been calling the ants and woodlice in the garden sweetie.

We’ll be moving house soon. A new chapter for our little family, new friends, new streets. A big upheaval in any life, but when you’re only 18 months old it’s an even bigger challenge. I can’t wait. You make everything more fun.

I love you.

Mummy.

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Dear Mary

This is the unedited picture of me moments after giving birth by emergency c-section. Tiny Arthur was finally out.

I wasn’t one of those women who got to experience labour pains. I’d been called in for an induction which never happened. The evening of my admission to Wigan’s Albert and Edward Infirmary they monitored Arthur and his heart rate was insane. Up and down as if I was in labour; only I wasn’t.
Moments later someone arrived to take me to the delivery suite. I made the poor girl go back and check. After all, I wasn’t in labour. What I didn’t know was that at that moment the emergency team were prepping in case they were needed. I was wheeled off, hyperventilating and terrified something was wrong.

In the delivery suite I met Mary. Strong, smiling and the most calming presence I have ever come across. I focused on her, begging her to get my husband as the surgeon took the decision to operate and the delivery room suddenly went mad with activity. Will had already gone home for the night because this wasn’t supposed to happen.
She calmed me, held my hand, called Will and reassured me he was on his way. I was in shock, crying and apologising to anyone who would listen, and still Mary soothed me. It was all about me as far as she was concerned.

All the way through it she was there. Just before I had my spinal she told me Will had arrived, and even when he came into the room and held my hand as they got Arthur out Mary was still reassuring us. When he was born it was Mary who showed me my baby and asked his name, who weighed Arthur, with Will by her side. It was Mary who stayed with us in the post-op room, encouraging Arthur to breastfeed. She did it so well that we’re still doing it nearly 18 months on.

Mary even sent us a congratulations card. I can’t tell you how I felt when I received it. I’m hoping to take Arthur to see her one of these days.

When this campaign happened last year I wasn’t ready to write this story. It was still too raw. Pampers are donating £1 to the Benevolent Fund for the College of Midwives for every story like this where a parent says #thankyoumidwife.

Mary, you were amazing.

#midwife #internationaldayofthemidwife

Toddler Travels

It feels like an age since I wrote my travel post last June. It IS an age. Mountains have risen and fallen, stars have been born and died, and somehow Arthur has turned from a baby into a toddler, much as I hate to admit it.

 

This holiday has been slightly easier in the sense that we’ve come to my family’s caravan in the Lakes. We spent the first week in a lovely holiday place with extended family, which was great fun and awesome for Arthur thanks to all the attention he got. I’m going to talk about our second week at the caravan since that’s probably more true to most people’s holiday experiences, with no willing babysitters! It’s a place I’ve known and loved for fifteen years, and even though it requires a little jiggery pokery in the second bedroom to fit Arthur’s cot in, we make it work. There’s so much I love about coming up here, but honestly the sense of peace and oneness with the landscape is the best bit.. The “van” is on a working farm, with sheep, rabbits and cows dotted around and the work of the farm continuing around us. The view from the living room window is straight out over the fells to the best sunsets in the world, and I love nothing better than watching it dip behind the landscape with a glass of wine or beer. It’s different every time; sometimes gentle pastels, sometimes a blaze of riotous colour. If you’re lucky and it’s a clear night the sunset will give way to an inky black sky that will eventually put on the galaxy’s best light show; aka the Milky Way. But enough about the location; it’s time to talk about what we’ve done right and wrong so you can learn from our mistakes.

 

Let’s start with the bad news, shall we?

 

  1. Overpacking. Yep, despite the fact that toddlers really do need lots of crap, they really don’t need that much crap, especially when they’re in a new and exciting place. I also didn’t need this many clothes, even for two weeks. There’s a launderette near where we’re staying and it’s very easy to drop off our clothes and get them all nicely washed and folded for us. We could have done this holiday on a lot less. Our biggest issue on the way back will be TOYS. We’ve got enough toys and books for Arthur to open his own shop, most of which have been, ahem, picked up thanks to extremely generous relatives since we’ve been here.
  2. Sleeping arrangements: I don’t think we’d really got this organised properly before bedtime on the first night, which meant it was all a bit of a disaster. Lots of howling and a good old-fashioned three hour wake-up, which meant the whole family was in a complete grump the next day. We needed to rearrange all the furniture in the room to make it work, and it would have been much better if instead of trying to stick rigidly to bedtime we’d let Arthur explore his surroundings and enjoy the excitement. He simply wasn’t ready to go to bed, and forcing the issue made things worse. Lesson learned.
  3. Baby-proofing. Last time we came to the van Arthur was crawling and cruising all over the place, but his first steps were still a month or so away. We could build soft-play cushion forts and not worry about him. This time he’s opened every cupboard about 50 times, tried to climb up the shelves in the kitchen, pulled the fireguard down, learnt how to open the flipping doors, hidden one of his shoes in the fridge and on and on. Worst moment so far was when he opened the front door to the caravan and fell out onto the stone steps. Only my husband’s cricket reflexes stopped him from falling head first and hurting himself; as it was he just had a shock. The doors are well and truly locked as routine now, and the next time we come we’ll do a quick scout round to make sure everything is Arthur-proofed, which is a level up from normal baby-proofing, alas.
  4. We didn’t download any of Arthur’s favourite CBeebies buddies. ERROR.

 

The good stuff!

 

  1. Frankly, coming somewhere we know like the backs of our hands. No stress, no drama, just somewhere we adore. We don’t have to worry about finding out where to go or what to do (although we have researched local soft play places), we can just concentrate on enjoying it and taking each day as it comes.
  2. Baby waterproof clothing. The Lake District in April = wet.
  3. Being baby led. Sounds obvious, but we’ve worked out a way to get the most out of the holiday whilst making sure Arthur has a good nap each day that isn’t affected by travelling around too much. We get up early (as if we could do anything else), go and do something very local like a walk round the local park, a visit to the swings or a mooch round the shops. We head back to the van for lunch (making this a cheap holiday too), and then do something in the afternoon depending on what the weather’s like. It’s an incredibly chilled out way to do it, and it means we’re still getting to do plenty of stuff and feel like we’ve had some lovely time together. Figure out what will work around your own tiny tyrant’s needs and just do that; forcing whole day hikes or bike rides on an overtired baby is a bad idea. Well, I think so anyway.

 

Hope this helps if you’re planning a Spring/Summer holiday with a toddler or two!

Fifteen Months

(Please note that as ever I am only talking about my own experience. All mothers should do what they need to and what is right for them without reference to anyone else).

Today I’m marking 15 months since Arthur burst into our lives. Along with that is the milestone of another month of breastfeeding.

In one sense I’m amazed we’ve kept going this long. I look back at the pregnant me who was convinced I’d just breastfeed until six months and then miraculously Arthur would start eating well and drinking from a bottle, just like that, and I can’t believe how daft I was. It’s all been so much more complicated than that, what with allergies, bottle refusal and the fact he wouldn’t even have water from a cup until he was 13 months.

Even so, the strange thing is that most of the time I really enjoy breastfeeding. There’s so much written now about how painful and difficult it can be, and certainly we experienced a little of that during the early days. I never expected to like it.

The most difficult aspect of our breastfeeding “journey” has always been the fact that nobody else can help. It’s still a struggle, especially at night. When you’re on the third feed of the night and your back aches, your head aches, you can’t reach your water and your partner is snoring away blissfully whilst you inwardly curse them, breastfeeding is less than fun. Arthur’s sleep is something I wrote about in my previous post, and the one thing that will reliably calm him is boob, but it is tough.

Despite all of this I still want to continue. The day feeds are now a lovely point of stillness and repose, a chance for us to cuddle in days full of toys, learning, new words and zooming around everywhere. He’s started to feed more during the day, and I wonder if this is a way of getting some reassurance now that his little world is getting bigger all the time. When he had a tummy bug a couple of weeks ago I’m not sure what we would have done without breastfeeding as it was the only sustenance that passed his lips. I find it hard to imagine how I’ll parent without it.

So, how long will I keep going? Hard to say. Certainly to 18 months, probably beyond that. It’s not always easy, but it is always worth it.

Together

Sleep, sleep, sleep. I’ve spent so long thinking about it, worrying about it, trying to fix it. I’ve written several pieces for the blog about Arthur’s sleep and how difficult it’s been, but I’ve canned all of them. They all seem so moany, so ungrateful somehow. How dare I complain about this gorgeous boy, this boy I longed for for so long when he can’t help it and he’s only a baby?

The fact is that even the parents with that amazing baby who sleeps through the night from 6 weeks onwards will eventually come a cropper with sleep. Maybe it’s worse if you’ve had it that good to suddenly go back to multiple night wakings or (shudder) the 2-4am party. I don’t know; I can only go on my own consistently grim experience. Arthur has always been fine at napping and found sleep at night difficult. At his worst he wakes up once an hour (thankfully we haven’t seen those days for a while), at his best he’ll do one middle of the night feed then wake very early to start the day. Those nights have always been rare, but it’s been my mission to achieve that as a starting point. None of this “sleeping through” nonsense for us. I honestly think I’d be awake with crippling anxiety if he did that anyway.

Arthur is very advanced in a lot of ways. He’s been zooming about the place since eleven months, has amassed an impressive vocabulary for one so little (although he’s still to give me any kind of name consistently), can tell you where lots of body parts are and makes some impressive animal noises. He’s great fun. But he’s still only fourteen months old, which by any standards isn’t a long time to be in the world. He’s been poorly for pretty much the entire winter which has ramped up breastfeeding again, and now he’s old enough to ask for it he also understands when he’s told he can’t have it, and that makes him sad. For the last few weeks, in order to try and get him a bit of sleep we’ve given in and pushed him to sleep in the pram upstairs and left him there while we have something of an evening. The problem with that tactic is that he has to be transferred, and as any parent of a newborn knows that’s pretty hit and miss, never more so when the baby in question is a pretty heavy lump rendering stealth unlikely.

However, for the past two nights we’ve managed to go back to those heady nights of one short wake-up. I think I’ve figured out what he’s trying to say to us, why he struggles so much.

He needs to be with us.

We’ve tried him in his own room on and off since six months, but it’s never lasted. I’ve always thought that was just for my convenience; multiple night wakings for a breastfed baby are much, much easier if that baby is in the same room. For the last two nights, however, after his bath (and making sure I’d given plenty of milk feeds in the hours prior to bed), I’ve put Arthur in his trusty travel cot in our room and sat with him. He has books and his teddy; I have my book too. He complains a little, chats a little, picks his nose to make me laugh, reaches out his hand to me in protest. It’s adorable. I smile and ask him to try and go to sleep. More dancing. Then it happens. The key in the lock.

“Who’s that?” I ask him. A huge, beaming smile comes over his face. “Da-dee?” he asks. His Dad bounds up the stairs, two at a time, desperate to see his lad. They have a touching little chat, and Arthur demonstrates where his eyes, nose, mouth and ears are, sometimes getting them wrong on purpose with a little grin. After a few minutes, his Daddy kisses him and goes downstairs to make dinner. Arthur looks at me and cries, so I get him out of the cot and feed him.

He falls asleep. He knows we’re all home, together, and that’s what he’s been missing. That knowledge that his beloved Daddy has come home.

When we come up to bed he stirs a little but just rolls over. He knows we’re there and he’s happy with that. We sleep, all three of us together, just as families have since families began. I don’t wake and strain to hear him; I don’t need to. He’s right next to me.

He won’t be little forever, and when he’s older and more independent I can’t imagine ever regretting the nights he needed us to be together in order to sleep. I won’t get this again. Time to stop wondering how to fix what doesn’t need fixing. Time to start enjoying the process.

The Longest January On Record

It has been, hasn’t it? I’m not the January hater that so many are due to the fact my birthday falls earlier in the month, but Lordy this one has been long. We’ve been ill for pretty much the entire month and despite being an Autumn/Winter enthusiast I am now waiting impatiently for a bit more light, especially since that will mean more playing outside for my extremely active toddler. I’m writing this on January 130th.

Last year I posted about my take on New Year’s Resolutions and why they’ve never worked for me. In 2018 I’ve taken a similar tack to last year. Here’s how I’ve done January:

  1. Word Of The Year. For 2018 that’s “Contentment”. The last few years have been an absolute roller-coaster ride and this year I’m hoping for a little less drama and a lot more… well, contentment. A lot of that, of course, has to do with how I react to things rather than the events themselves.
  2. This year I used a lovely tool called Year Compass to review 2017 and plan for 2018, using my bullet journal to record my responses. It was lovely, and I thoroughly recommend it.
  3. I’ve got a focus for each month, which I’ve recorded in my bullet journal so I can look at it easily to remind myself of what I’m doing. I’m really looking forward to February’s Month Of Lipstick which was last year’s highlight.

If, like me, you’ve spent January with a head like cotton wool hiding from your responsibilities because you feel too rubbish to engage with anything, this is a good place to start. You can just as easily set intentions for your year at this end of the month, or really at any time. It’s just a gentler way to do it, and far more fun.

Happy New Year to you all.

My London

I’m a Northerner born and bred, and yet last September I was able to say that I’d lived in London for as long as I lived up North. 18 years, to be exact. I used to hear the clichés from friends and family a lot. “I like London, but I couldn’t live there”, or “I’ve been to London. Never liked it. Everyone’s so rude, nobody talks to you.”

Well, having lived here for so long (I think now I can actually call myself a Londoner) I can tell you that the second thing is nonsense. Most people visiting London only actually go into the centre of town, shops and shows. You’re usually only going to meet other tourists there; so really, you’re not meeting that many Londoners. They’re all at work, you see. The other thing worth mentioning is that Londoners will absolutely talk to you. IF YOU ACTUALLY BOTHER TO TALK TO THEM. And despite popular belief they won’t edge away, or look at you like you’re mad etc etc. They’ll smile and pass the time of day just as they would anywhere else. Our next-door neighbours gave us presents when we got married and when Arthur was born. The lady a few doors down brought us a load of toys hers have grown out of. Since having Arthur I’m on nodding acquaintance with many more neighbours and have made friends in the flats opposite. It’s a community like any other.

If there is more of a reticence in a big city you can’t really blame us. We live a different way, with different worries and concerns. Over the past few years we’ve watched as our beloved cities have been targeted by extremists and our people killed on the same streets we walk every day. It’s difficult to keep being friendly to everyone you meet under that strain. After the London Bridge attack I really struggled to go back into the centre of town. Having a baby with me was probably the main reason. I have to wave my husband off to Soho every day for work, and if he can do it, so can I. This is my city, and it always will be; my Borough Market, my Strand, my Camden Town, my South Bank, my Angel. These are the streets where I became an adult, staggering out of pubs and clubs with my friends at university, catching the Number 12 night bus (highly recommended if you like watching a drunken bust-up), living at seven different addresses in Southwark, Islington, Hornsey and back to Southwark again. This is where I fell in love with my husband and married him, this is our son’s first home. I’ve conducted choirs and orchestras here, taken kids on endless trips, written and chatted in cafes all over the city. Private members bars, pubs, museums, galleries, opera houses, concert halls, parks, trains, tubes and buses.

I love this place. The view from Waterloo Bridge will always make me catch my breath in wonder, and my husband and I still argue about which side is best as we try to look at the view and the road at the same time while we drive across the river to visit our families. Ah, the river, Old Father Thames (or Mama Thames if you believe Ben Aaranovitch’s excellent Rivers of London series). It divides us into two halves, causing jocular debates about which is best, North or South. I’ve lived South more than North, but I’ve got a secret space in my heart for the trendier North, especially Camden where I had my first proper teaching job.

Despite all of this our house is on the market. It’s time to move on.

I always knew that if we finally did manage to have a child I’d want him to have a similar childhood to mine. It’s a personal thing; there are plenty of awesome kids I know being raised in this amazing city, and we could stay and do the same. It would be easier in many ways; moving is awful, and our home is lovely. It’s just that after my pregnancy when I went back to the North something shifted. There’s a longing for open sky, for walking boots and woods, and hills to explore in the fresh air. I never expected to feel that way. I thought I’d want to live here forever, but my pregnancy and becoming a mother has changed me. I can’t deny that. I’ve been rearranged somehow.

We visited friends outside of London last weekend. It was lovely, and although we didn’t do much exploring while we were there we did have time to exhale. Driving back into town through Wimbledon as the streets got narrower and the buildings taller, I felt the sky get smaller and suddenly I knew. I’m ready.

But you’ll always be my first love, London.

Hot Chocolate Stories

For as long as I can remember I’ve had this thing for hot chocolate. It’s not so much a drink as a state of mind; soothing, nourishing, decadent and delicious. I don’t drink it that often; it’s as if I forget it exists for a while and then have a sudden wild enthusiasm for it and have it every night for a week.

At the moment I can’t have dairy because of my son’s allergies. Perhaps because of that I’ve found myself thinking a lot about the best hot chocolates I’ve ever had. I remember them in a way I’d never remember a cup of tea or coffee (although my Dad definitely does the same thing with coffee and has spent his life trying to recreate one he had in Crete in 1978).

A Spanish Stroll

I was seven and we were staying on the Balearic island of Menorca. We’d just been out for tea, me, my parents and my little brothers, and we were strolling through some sand dunes near a lighthouse when we came upon one of those lovely bar/cafes you get on the continent. I don’t remember much about it except for the cool parasols and the fact that it was twilight, and I was wearing my new shawl, because lace shawls were all the rage just then; and that mum and I had hot chocolate. I can still see the thick glass, the sediment in the bottom, and taste the rich sweetness of it. God, it was good. I’d never tasted anything like it before. I’ve never found anything like it since.

A French Breakfast

We used to go camping to France every year from when I was nine. One year we arrived on French soil very early in the morning, and we all had the kind of appetite you get after a long journey. We started the drive and had to “keep our eyes peeled” for somewhere to eat breakfast.

Passing through a small town we found a café. Well, I say café but it was actually someone’s front room. We were excited about the fresh, crunchy bread with little pats of butter, the croissants and the steaming coffee, but ten-year-old me asked for hot chocolate. Perhaps I was thinking back to Menorca.

Do you remember those battered metal jugs for water at primary school? The ones that beaded with condensation when the water was cold on a hot day?

The friendly woman (waitress? chef?) brought out one of those. It was steaming, and she set it in front of me. It was full to the brim of creamy, foamy, delicious hot chocolate. “Is this all for me?” I asked, stunned. The woman didn’t speak English but she understood the sentiment of what I said and nodded. Mum (who seems to be ever-present in my hot chocolate stories) peered over delightedly. I hope I offered her some, because I know that jug of delight defeated me and we had to go when I was barely halfway down it.

Hot chocolate served in a jug. Perfect.

When your baby gets a little bit older you’re sort of expected to go back “to normal”. People stop offering help, and start expecting you to be back to the way you used to be. As if you had some kind of lengthy convalescence and are now back to full health.

The thing is, though, you’re not.

Your joints still ache from breastfeeding. Your back hurts. You get barely enough sleep to survive. Your body feels like it’s been rearranged somehow; it’s still not entirely yours. And that’s not even thinking about the psychological effects of having a baby; the lasting effects of PND or PNA, constantly worrying about the little person you brought into the world and love so much you’re bewildered and frightened by it. After a year has passed you’re probably trying to juggle work with parenting, and, if you’re a stay at home parent, you might be bored out of your brain. Whichever path you’ve chosen (or been forced into due to circumstances) you more than likely feel guilty. It probably gnaws at you.

Whatever you’re doing right now, at this moment, your little person is there, in the background on a loop in your mind as you worry about whether you packed enough snacks for tomorrow and whether that rash us just post-viral and whether it would be selfish to get your partner to take over for a couple of hours so you can meet up with your friend who’s going through tough times.

I don’t have any answers for you, I’m so sorry. I won’t trot out the cliché “you got this” because if you’re anything like me a) you find it annoying and b) you feel very much as though you don’t got this.

All I will say is that I’m pretty sure most women feel like this after having a baby, and that it takes a lot longer than twelve months to get over pregnancy and birth, especially if you’ve endured trauma in either or both. All I will say is it’s OK. You’re OK, or, if you aren’t, you probably will be soon. Try as much as you can to reclaim something you used to love; even if it’s just relaxing in the bath with a paperback. Cling to your mum friends, because they know. They really do. And this:

Well done.

New Year’s Eve. It’s been tricky for me for a while. You see, I lost someone very close to me just over nine years ago, and a great many of the brilliant New Year parties (and the not so brilliant) had her in a starring role. Since then I’ve tried to play along but my heart’s just not been in it. People talk about Christmas being tough for the same reason, but for me this particular night is when I feel the need to honour my friend, when I think about her even more than usual. Over the years it has lost its sting, but I remember that first year, watching the fireworks at a bustling party and thinking “She can’t kiss me, text me or phone me this year. It’ll never be the same again.”

All this might sound gloomy, but honestly it really isn’t any more. Last year, the first with my son, we made the decision to stay in, watch a film, drink fizz and laugh at the Hootenanny. You can just about see the fireworks in London from my doorstep, but I was warm in bed instead. It was the first time I’d felt 100% positive about the night in a long time.

The Christmas holidays are bloody hard work when you’ve got two loving families living 200 miles apart and you want to fit everyone in. Not that hard compared to a lot of people, I know; but we seem to spend a lot of time in the car. We have a blast, and this year Christmas was fantastic, but we tend to be pretty tired when we finally make it home. I decided that if we were always going to have to be away for Christmas Day, perhaps we could reclaim New Year. Have it as a little celebration, just the three of us. I can’t think of a better way to ring in 2018.

Thanks to you all for taking the time to read the little bit of writing I’ve managed in this first full year of being a mum. It’s been wonderful, challenging and exciting, as all the best years are. Sure, the 31st December is just another day; but you can’t deny there’s a lot of magic in all that joyful hope and expectation. I’ll raise my glass to my little family, my beloved friend, and to all of you.

Happy New Year ❤