Tuesday 30 December 2008

Calpol Christmas

We once went to stay with some friends who rather sheepishly showed us an entire draw stuffed with Calpol spoons. It was an impressive number; clearly their two small children had consumed vast quantities of the pink stuff in their short lifetimes (and these parents were both doctors - go figure).

Anyway, it reminded me of a famous quotation from TS Eliot's Prufrock: 'I have measured out my life in coffee spoons'. Well, this year, we have measured out our Christmas with Calpol spoons. We have got through more bottles in the past week than we have in the past 12 months. Even The Doctor, whose usual opinion about these things is that less is more, was doling it out liberally. Meanwhile we ourselves have been high on Lemsip for the past couple of days.

We somehow all managed to share out our ailments onto alternate days of the festive period; Littleboy 1 all quiet and floppy and hot on Christmas Eve; Littleboy 2 full of snot, fever and wretchedness on Christmas Day and Boxing Day. The morning of the 27th seemed to provide a brief lull - or perhaps it was the eye of the storm? - before I went down with an evil cold in the evening. Then yesterday I was swiftly followed by The Doctor, who got so cold watching Superman Returns last night that he wrapped himself in our buggy's fleece cover. Meanwhile the boys were still supremely snotty and waking up at all hours of the night. And, in other news, both my father and father-in-law seem to have succumbed too......

Anyway, that's enough moaning. We did enjoy some of Christmas, despite the coughs and splutters. Highlights included getting pleasantly, but not indecently, drunk on sparkling wine on Christmas Eve with our neighbours; eating a fantastic turkey from Moen, the Clapham Old Town butcher, cooked to perfection by The Doctor; listening to the Littleboys and their cousins roar with laughter at Tom and Jerry on Christmas evening; watching their delight at unwrapping lots of Lego and Playmobil (although my heart did sink on registering the number of individual pieces in each set); sitting down by a roaring fire to watch the film Stardust with lots of family; cuddling up with Littleboy 1 to watch Madagascar (which I enjoyed as much as he did) and, this morning, as I ventured out of the house armed with Kleenex for the first time in days, the beauty of a sunny, frozen Clapham Common, with Littleboy 1's pure glee at being able to skim chunks of solid ice across a pond.

And, perhaps the greatest achievement of all, we managed to spend three days in a house with eight children under the age of eight, six of whom are boys, and not go completely insane.

Monday 22 December 2008

Party on?

Christmas party season is in full swing. In other words, you can't pass a pub or restaurant without seeing large groups of people wearing party hats and looking slightly worse for wear, the Tubes are heaving with drunk people and the streets, even in the more sedate areas of Nappy Valley, are adorned with pleasant little offerings of vomit in the mornings.

Five years ago, when I was immersed in the glamorous world of media and advertising, these pre-Christmas days would have passed by in a champagne-fuelled whirl. And this morning, as I was thinking back to those heady days, I thought it would be an interesting exercise to compare my festive season then and now....

Then: Look forward all day to the office Christmas party.
Now: Look forward all day to the moment when the Littleboys are asleep in bed.

Then: Get glammed up in little black number and knee boots for Christmas do
Now: Ask husband what you should wear to his work party. Receive the reply: "Well, remember that you are a consultant's wife."

Then: Start drinking at lunchtime in the pub; finish at 3am at a seedy bar
Now: Start drinking at 8pm watching Eastenders. Cork up bottle after 2 restrained glasses and hit the mineral water as you don't want to cope with two small children AND hangover.

Then: Spend evening throwing shapes on the dancefloor
Now: Spend evening throwing Lego back into Lego box

Then: Singing along to Robbie Williams, Kylie or whatever cheesy music playing at office Christmas do
Now: Singing along to the Cbeebies Christmas song (sadly becoming rather addictive)....

Then: Stumble in at 4am and hunt for nurofen in the vain hope of warding off hangover
Now: Stumble downstairs at 4am and hunt for Calpol in the vain hope of placating crying child

Then: Spend morning after a party gossiping in feverish, hungover fashion with workmates about who snogged who, or who had been totally indiscreet about an important office-politics related matter (although annoyingly, you could never recall what this was the next day).
Now: Spend morning after a party arguing with recalcitrant small boy about what pair of pants he's going to wear.

Then: spend family gatherings in a boozy haze of over-indulgence and occasional arguing
Now: spend family gatherings trying in vain to control children, clearing up after them and fetching them stuff to eat and drink, while staying stone cold sober in order to drive them home.

So have I turned into a boring, sensible parent? Would I still be ABLE to go out and party - even if I wanted to?

Or does the fact that the highlight of my Christmas season so far has been seeing the (brilliant) play of The Gruffalo with Littleboy 1 show that, in the immortal words of Buggles' Video Killed the Radio Star, (which I was singing along to in the car this morning, much to the Littleboys' bemusement) 'we can't rewind..we've gone too far'.....?

Wednesday 17 December 2008

Tis the season...to go to the DHL depot

Oh, the joys of Christmas shopping online. It's just great. No fighting the crowds, queuing at the till or being pressurised by pushy salespeople into buying something totally unsuitable. With just a click of the mouse and a flex of the credit card, you are ready to go. Bliss.

Until, of course, it comes to delivery. And when you are out of the house half the week at work, and have to get out of it for at least a couple of hours on other days in order to maintain your sanity with two small children, you will inevitably miss the all-important arrival of the parcels.

So instead of queuing at the shops, you get to queue at the delightful Royal Mail sorting office. My local one is a benighted place that moves at snail's pace and is only open between 8 and 12 in the morning. I swear they must go off, make tea, do the crossword and phone their grannies during the time it takes them to find most packages. And the other customers don't exactly help - forgetting to bring any ID and then arguing about it, or turning up, as one woman did the other day, and saying 'I'm expecting a parcel from my sister,' without having any notion of from whence or when said parcel had been sent. All great fun when you have two bored Littleboys in tow....

Then, you return from picking up one item, only to find that in your absence, another one will have been delivered. And a card left, telling you to collect it between 8 and 12....it's like postal groundhog day.

Now, Royal Mail's problems are well-documented, but I have to say that this year my worst experience was at the DHL depot. Having missed a delivery twice, I decided to go and collect it myself from their depot on a South London industrial estate. I found the place easily enough, as there were literally scores of yellow vans emerging from its entrance, no doubt laden with presents (so does that make DHL vans the modern-day reindeer?). But once inside, there was no sign to indicate where to go and I drove around in vain, avoiding forklift trucks, until a guy in overalls took pity and pointed me in the right direction. I then stumbled around in the freezing cold looking for 'customer reception', which turned out to be a dingy office behind a barbed wire fence.

By the time I had queued and was handing my slip over, I was desperate for the loo, so stupidly enquired whether there was a customer toilet....

Much consternation. Endless discussions behind the counter. Er, no, actually - well, there might be, but it was being painted. I started to tell them not to worry, but it was too late; they genuinely wanted to help, so a female member of staff was fetched from the bowels of the building and ordered to show me to the staff loos.

We went through a series of locked doors with combination codes to reach it (apparently the male staff weren't allowed to know the combination to the female loos; I'd rather not start to think about why). When we finally reached it, the resigned-looking DHL lady was very apologetic, and no wonder. It was squalid: water leaking all over the floor, no soap or paper towels, broken loo seat. And this was her workplace, poor thing. I was pretty shocked - sure, I wasn't meant to have seen it, but surely DHL, a multinational corporation, could afford a decent loo for its staff?

And so this Christmas, perhaps we should remember the unfortunate ones. While we sit at home gleefully ordering presents online, an army of downtrodden Santa's DH-elves sit in dingy offices with sub-standard loos, sorting parcels, so that global corporations can cream off the profits. Merry Christmas, everyone!

Monday 15 December 2008

Rockin' around the Christmas Tree

A new discovery: the Littleboys have terrible taste in music. Although it's probably all my fault...

To get them into the Christmas spirit and entertain them while The Doctor was away, I bought them a CD of Christmas songs aimed at kiddies called 'Rockin' around the Christmas Tree'. I must admit I didn't look very hard at it in the shop (Trotters in the Northcote Road, since you ask), as I never have time for such luxuries when the Littleboys are with me, but I assumed it would probably have old favourites like Jingle bells and Rudolph the red nosed reindeer on it. But no. It turns out to be a compilation of all the naffest Christmas pop songs ever, from Slade's Here is is, Merry Christmas to I wish it could be Christmas every day, with a really cheesed up version of Santa Claus is coming to Town and a massacre of White Christmas thrown in.

And guess what - they LOVE it. Littleboy 1 has stopped demanding to watch the DVD of The Jungle Book after their bath, but instead wants me to put on 'Christmas songs'. Whereupon he dances around the room energetically, wanting me to twirl him around and around and laughing hysterically. Littleboy 2 tries gamely to join in (although I note that he often has his rather censorious look on his face, so maybe he secretly disapproves).

So this weekend, we took the Littleboys to a carol service, in the rural Berkshire village where The Doctor's family have a cottage. It was rather magical; the walk up the pitch black lane, hearing the church bell and wrapped in our winter woollies, to the tiny, candelit church decorated beautifully with holly, poinsettias and berries; the traditional carols, which I remember so well practising in the school choir (I could still sing the descant even now); and the fact that the Littleboys were pretty well-behaved ( I know - again - what's going on?).

Littleboy 2, who was recovering from a nasty cold, fell asleep in his pushchair as soon as we entered the church, which was convenient for us at any rate. Littleboy 1, after an initial bout of liveliness, calmed down and sat on my lap and sucked his thumb for most of it, so he had the pleasure of me warbling carols in his ear. He played up a bit later, trying to slide on his stomach like a seal when we went up to look at the nativity crib, but luckily there were some much worse-behaved kids around (little girls of about seven sniggering and getting told off when the trendy vicar talked at length about how we should consider the poor unfortunates who 'don't even have a duvet'.).

Anyway, I thought he had enjoyed it but when we got home, I asked him if he had enjoyed the singing. He considered for a moment and then shook his head.

"No?" I pleaded. "Not even Away in a Manger?"

"No," he said. "Need more reindeer songs."

So, that's it then. My children prefer Slade to Away in a Manger. And I am to blame....

Tuesday 9 December 2008

Man of the House

The Doctor has been away in Calfornia for a few days at a conference (he claims it's terribly hard work and he has awful jetlag: boo hoo). And, incredibly, my Littleboys have been on their best behaviour.

It's as if Littleboy 1 has decided that while Daddy is away he has to be the man of the house and take care of Mummy. For example, he became very concerned for me the other day when we were trying to find a parking space by a playground, and couldn't, as for some reason all the local white vans seemed to have parked in the precious 'no meter' spots to have their mid-morning fag break. "Oh dear, Mummy, don't worry, let's find another one," he kept chipping in from the back seat in a consoling voice as I fumed about the lack of spaces.

There have been very few tantrums, both boys have eaten all their meals with minimum fuss and this morning they even agreed to wait until they got to nursery to have their breakfast, as I was going to work and we were in a hurry. (Usually, this argument cuts no ice and they have two breakfasts, one at home in the midst of the chaotic rush to get ready and one when they arrive.) They both sat dutifully through their haircuts yesterday like little angels, prompting the hairdresser to comment on how good they were (music to my ears, as it is not a refrain I often hear). Littleboy 2 has enjoyed his birthday and Littleboy 1 hasn't even stolen all his presents. Yet.

But Littleboy 1 has also taken advantage of the situation by creeping into my bed constantly in the early hours. This is not in itself unusual, but my usual rule is that if it's earlier than 6am, I put him back in his own bed. (I do this partly because I don't want him getting ideas, partly because I find it hard to sleep when he lies there wriggling and kicking until it's time to get up).

The last few nights, he has snuck in quietly, hardly making enough noise to wake me. He then cuddles up without his usual kicking. And if he hears me stir, knowing that the situation is delicately poised, he has taken to softly whispering in my ear: "I love you, Mummy". And how could I possibly put him back after that?

Men. They always know when to say the right things.

Sunday 7 December 2008

Two years on

About two years ago today, I was lying in an operating theatre, wondering if my new baby was going to be OK.

It was an emergency c-section at 35 weeks, following four grim weeks of incarceration in hospital with bleeding due to placenta praevia. I had been warned that the baby might have to be born early, and I had been told that by about 36 weeks the chances of the baby having to go to the NICU (neonatal intensive care unit) would be much reduced. So we were nearly there. But, to add to the fun, I had also been warned that there was a small chance that the c-section would result in a serious haemorrhage – which would mean an immediate hysterectomy for me.

So, as you can imagine, my thoughts as I lay there were not of the marvellous joy of giving birth.

But it was all over quickly. And there was Littleboy 2 – tiny, but perfectly formed, beside me and staring hard up at me with eyes I could already tell were going to be blue and stay blue. He seemed fine, and the relief was indescribable.

A couple of hours later, the fun started again. Just as we were sitting there phoning friends and relatives, the midwife decided that his breathing sounded a little odd. A neotnatal doctor was called, and wheeled my baby off to do some tests.

Ten minutes later The Doctor stormed back in. “Our luck’s just not in,” he said miserably. Littleboy 2 had a suspected chest infection and had been admitted to the NICU. He had been stripped of his nice little babygro, put in an incubator in his nappy (oh, the indignity) and wired up to lots of machines. Someone brought me a photo of him, but I couldn’t go and see him until the next day.

Littleboy 2 was prescribed strong antibiotics and was the next day downgraded to the ‘special care’ unit (and we never really got to the bottom of whether he really had a chest infection or not). There, although tiny, he looked enormous compared to most of his ward-fellows, who were so small that some of them could really have been mistaken for dolls. He lay there sweetly sleeping, wrapped in blankets, with his little thick shock of black hair sticking up. He reminded me of a baby hedgehog. (He was so cute that one of the NICU doctors, a 20 something girl, said that she hadn’t never felt broody before until she saw this one).

He was fed my expressed breastmilk through a tube; I spent my days trekking back and forth between the postnatal ward and the NICU with pumps and tubes and sterilising equipment. But it was difficult to begin breastfeeding him properly, not because he didn’t want to do it, but because he was so hard to wake up. Premature babies can be incredibly sleepy, and to wake him, we had to strip him of his clothes, tickle his feet and basically make him bloody furious enough to scream.

Because of this, Littleboy 2 lost more than 10% of his body weight, and after a week the NICU doctors were still reluctant to let him go home. By this point I had spent more than a month in the hospital and was beginning to feel like I’d never see the light of day again. (Luckily, because it was December, it was dark most of the time anyway).

But, we begged and pleaded, and I fed him like crazy, and eventually we were allowed to take him home. I was told sternly that I must feed him every three hours for at least 20 minutes, and warned that he would be weighed a few days later and if he hadn’t gained weight, it would be back to hospital for the poor mite.

Luckily, Littleboy 2 passed his test, and never had to return to the NICU. He went on to develop a voracious appetite (maybe due to the mammoth three hourly feeds?) and is now a bouncy, lively two year old chatting away (he said ‘spaghetti bolognese’ yesterday – how impressive is that?)

Although he still has those same determined blue eyes (he has a repertoire of serious stares and has been predicted to become a judge) and thick shock of (now blond) hair, it’s hard to believe he was ever that tiny thing in the incubator.

But I try not to lose sight of it; it reminds me just how wonderful it is that he’s here.

Wednesday 3 December 2008

Seven up

First things first, I must pass on the lovely award so kindly given to me by Bush Mummy. I'd like to award it to Mom/Mum who writes hilariously about living in the US, as well as Tara at Sticky Fingers, who has effortlessly made the transition from blogging for a newspaper to blogging for herself recently. Both are definitely superior scribblers.

Secondly, the plucky Hadriana, from Hadriana's Treasures, has tagged me to write some lists of sevens. So, after a little deliberation, here they are.

7 things I plan to do before I die

1. Buy a villa in a warm, Mediteranean country
2. Write a book that I am actually proud of
3. Speak another language (preferably Italian) fluently
4. Get into the dress that I wore on my 30th birthday again
5. Interview someone really, really famous
6. Cook like Nigella
7. Ski a black run without being scared

7 things I do now

1. Worry needlessly about the practicalities of moving to the US
2. Spend time blogging when I should be looking after my children/finding freelance work
3. Speak only half arsed French and have very basic smatterings of Italian and Spanish
4. Get into my dressing gown and watch tv
5. Interview marketing directors and ad agency people - if they deign to call me back
Cook the same meals every week in rotation
7. Ski nervously

7 things I can't do

1. Blow up balloons. I don't know why not - I just can't do it.
2. Wire a plug (I know. The shame).
3. Change a car tyre (ditto)
4. Any DIY, to be quite frank.
5. Bring myself to go on a Mark Warner holiday
6. Take people who are using 'corporate speak' at all seriously.
7. Waterski. Maybe one day I'll learn...

7 things that attract me in the opposite sex

1. A wicked sense of humour
2. Self-confidence (but NOT arrogance)
3. Appreciation of good food (and ideally, ability to cook it)
4. Generosity
5. Ability to do the things I can't (like DIY, car stuff: see above)
6. Appreciation of a good book
7. A sexy smile

7 things I say most often

1. Just stop it now.
2. No, you're not having wrap and hummous again. You had that for lunch.
3. Come ON.
4. No, that's Mummy's hot tea
5. Why have you taken your shoes off, again?
6. No, Beebies is finished now. It's bedtime. It's dark. It's NIGHT time.
7. Thank god: they're in bed.

7 celebrities I admire
(hard one this: admire for their looks, work, politics? and do they have to be alive or dead? I've gone for a random selection..)

1. Oscar Wilde - witty and talented
2. Louis Theroux - witty and rather gorgeous
3. Judi Dench - great British actress
4. Meryl Streep - great American actress
5. Hugh Laurie - good actor, funny and sexy
6. David Tennant - ditto
7. Barack Obama - most promising politician

7 favourite foods

1. Roast chicken
2. Fish and chips
3. Toast, butter and marmite
4. Spaghetti bolognese
5. Anything cooked at The River Cafe
6. Green & Black's white chocolate
7. Japanese dumplings from my favourite local restaurant

7 other bloggers who can do this too if they so wish (but please don't feel obliged)

3. Susanna from A Modern Mother
4. Tara