Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Things my parents have argued about ...

OK this could be a really long post. My parents, who separated more than 20 years ago, really don't like each other very much. At all. A much shorter post would be 'things my parents haven't argued about'.

But anyway, this isn't actually a post about family dynamics, it's a post about books. I'll explain.

My sister and I were raised in a house full of books. Our teacher mother was obsessed with the written word, and had much more patience than I have with my own child. Although it was probably easier to resist the lure of the 42" flat screen babysitter in the corner before CBeebies was invented.

Emma Bradshaw posted this quote from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory on her blog, and it instantly reminded me of life on Fairholme Avenue in our childhood home which felt as big as a castle. A castle with its own library.

The nursery shelves held books galore!
Books cluttered up the nursery floor!
And in the bedroom, by the bed,
More books were waiting to be read!
Such wondrous, fine, fantastic tales
Of dragons, gypsies, queens and whales
And treasured isles and distant shores
Where smugglers rowed with muffled oars,
And pirates wearing purple pants,
And sailing ships and elephants...

There were books to read ourselves, eyes straining under the covers in the gloam of Manchester twilights when we should have been asleep. There were trips to the library and sometimes, for a treat, to the tiny bookshop wedged into Urmston precinct between Boots the chemist and the pound shop.

Then there were books that were read to us. In later years my sister and I held each other and cried as Bambi's mother died, and begged my Mum to stop reading. Before that there were picture books. Dog-eared and with pages attached with sellotape we had the same stories read over and over again to us. Being a sentimental old fool, I've rebought many of these old favourites for T, the originals having been donated to my Mum's school in the years after we outgrew them, or finally consigned to the great library in the sky when the missing pages outnumbered the remaining ones.

Thus we have Meg and Mog, Peepo, Funnybones and of course the book which has become a bit of a blogging obsession for me, Dogger.

There is something about Shirley Hughes' illustrations which brings the simple story to life. I went to an exhibition of her artwork at the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool a few years ago and saw the original Dogger, the toy the story was based on, locked in an airtight fishtank in the manner of a priceles antique. Smaller than I imagined, and definitely well-loved, he bore little resemblance to the picture in the book being 'pulled along on a lead made of string like a real dog'.

T adores the story, and unlike some of his other favourites (Meg and Mog's Touch and Feel Counting Book) it's a delight to tell. Bloody good job as we've heard it at least once a night for the last three months. But I don't mind. I sit by the side of his bed, reciting it by heart as he turns the pages and points out more and more detail. It's even Daddy friendly, allowing my husband to have taught his son to recognise a Dalek, part of the fancy dress parade montage in the section about the school summer fair.

In my childhood home though, an innocent tale of sibling love was apparently a source of marital discontent. The section where Mum gives Bella the money for two ice-creams, and Dave shares his with Joe? Joe wanted 'more in-between licks'. Apparently my parents argued over the inflection ... was it more, in-between licks or more 'inbetween licks'. Each parent picked their own side. Twenty years on, my Mum can still remember.

I find it hard to imagine any clearer sign that their life as a couple was nearing its natural end, and there's no contradicting that it was for the best. But this story is filled with such happy memories for me. As it's woven into the threads of T's childhood, the endless repetition almost guaranteeing he'll read the same words to his own first born, I can't imagine compromising this feeling for anything, and I'm sad that my parents' recollections are not as strong, or as comforting, as my own.

Saturday, 25 July 2009


One of the last tasks in the final days of my old job was a difficult one. As part of the BBC's poetry season I was given a group of 10 sullen teenagers, some technology and an empty room for two days, challenged with turning them into poets.

I was actually pleasantly surprised by the group. They responded well to short work by Michael Rosen and Roger McGough, and argued that the example I'd found online couldn't possibly be a Haiku because it had just the wrong number of syllables, alright?

On my way out of the door that morning, laden down with resources for the first session, I'd grabbed a rarely used magnetic poetry kit from one of the kitchen drawers and added it to my bag of props. Now I divvied up the words, each student getting 10, and asked them to compose their own poems.

I realised just in time that I was probably risking a teenage giggle fest, and removed three letters from the pot, the magnet saying 'sex' was stowed in my wallet whilst the workshop continued. I didn't need to give the group any extra ammunition. I promptly forgot about it of course.

Fast forward to Friday, and I met a friend at the local pool for our weekly aquanatal session. The seventeen year old lifeguard collecting the fees shared some sort of hilarious anecdote with his friends as I scrabbled in the bottom of my purse for the correct change. Four pounds ten, fifteen, sixteen, eighteen, nineteen, twenty. Got it! I handed over a pile of silver and copper and waited for him to confirm I'd counted the right amount. The coins clattered into the till, there was a pause. Oh no, is it short? I rummaged in my bag again to find my purse, and unzipped it, ready to dig out the five pence or so I'd probably miscounted. The lifeguard studied what was in his hand. What's this? He held it up to me. Ah yes, that little magnet, those three little letters I'd removed from the kit earlier this week were there, stuck to the back of a 1p piece. Sex.

I went purple. The lifeguard's friends fell about laughing. She wants you mate! She's after you! It was a message! I tried to explain, but my garbled mutterings about poetry were lost amid the cackling. The lifeguard looked me up and down, taking in my giant bump, Primark vest and super sexy maternity leggings. My head drooped. I apologised, and grabbed the magnet from his hand, stuffing it back into my purse and making a dash for the changing rooms.

Accidentally propositioning someone? Now that's poetry.

Thursday, 23 July 2009


There is no denying that T has a real thing for the girls. I don't know whether it's because the majority of my friends have small pink children, but he does seem to attach himself to female persons with ferocity.

T quite likes men. He's always pointing them out, his favourites being 'man in van' and 'yellow man', for K our next door but two neighbour who works as a refuse collector and is often out and about in his high vis jacket. He adores my husband of course, and Grandpa. Other little boys though? Meh!

T has two cousins, C and A. A is 8 and the absolute apple of T's eye. He talks about her constantly, fetching her picture from the bookcase and asking to 'kiss A'. C, well when asked who we're going to see when we go to Essex to visit the outlaws T goes through the names in a list, counting them on his fingers as he goes ... Papa (Grandpa), Mama (Grandma), A. Then he stops. I prompt, who else? We look at the picture of two smiling siblings in school uniform next to each other. Who's that with A? Choo choo! C? Yes, choo choo. T plays with a big box of C's old trains at Grandma's house and, it appears, has been relegated to nothing more than a provider of Thomas-themed entertainment. He doesn't even have a name.

T's two best nursery friends, G and A, can do no wrong. I picked T up on Wednesday evening and, in the car on the way home, asked him what he'd done that day. 'Gave A a kiss' came the response. It must have been some kiss to be the highlight of eight hours of fun and play.

On Thursday evening he was playing in the garden when I arrived, and was so excited to see me he almost strangled himself trying to climb out of the window of the Cozy Coupe toy car for a cuddle two seconds sooner than could have been achieved had he opened the small plastic door and clambered out of the opposite side. The Mummy joy lasted only a few seconds though before he spotted G still playing away and demanded to 'get down'. He ran over, arms outstretched, they hugged and kissed and trotted off, hand in hand, babbling about something or other.

I know like many features of this toddler age (including insisting on cuddling his milk cup to sleep every night) this is a passion that will probably pass. Despite my previous rantings on people who stereotype the sexes, there are very few little boys who go to school still happy to be dressed in a tutu like their best friends. In the mean time though, I stand at the nursery door, peeping through the glass window, and watch him share books and toys with the people who, for now, are the centre of his nursery universe.

I do hope he loves his sister just as much.

Sunday, 19 July 2009

You and Me Song

Our house is full of family photos. There's the small, scrunched baby, eyes tightly closed, his face full of thought, cuddled up to a small blue teddy in a hospital plastic fishtank cot. There's the nursery portrait of a toddler who's changed so much more in the months since it was taken. There's even a rare photo of the three of us on a Welsh beach last year. I have a double chin on this one, but there are so few pictures of Mummy, Daddy and boy that it made the cut. I just try not to look at it too much!

T is confused though. When looking at pictures of himself, he says 'you!'

Who's in the picture T?
(pointing) Mummy ... Daddy ... and YOU!
Well yes darling it is you, but you don't say you, you say 'me' ... look, I'm Mummy and in the picture that's me!
Yes, Mummy me, Daddy and youuuuuu.

I assume this is a learning process, part of T's complex language development, and will pass soon. Has anyone who has been there and done that got any advice?

On the plus side, I've realised why he was getting so cross when I opened yoghurt pots, fastened his shoes and carried his bag in response to the command 'you do it!'

Monday, 13 July 2009

Sending me potty

Try as I might, I have been utterly unable to distance myself from the Parenting Olympics. By this I mean the 'my baby's better than your baby' because s/he walked/talked/went to University earlier than yours thing, and the inference that because of the above I am a better parent/person than you.

I've been on both sides of it. Friends were agog when T got onto all fours and crawled at just over five months old. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't intensely proud, and of course I didn't keep it to myself. Conversely, I more or less hid in the house when, for more than a month after starting to walk properly, he went back to his much loved crawling and resolutely refused to get to his feet again as his friends toddler happily around him. My exclusively breastfed baby piled on the weight in the early days, often more than a pound a week, turning mums of skinny minnies green with envy. Of course this came back to bite me on the bum when, between four and twelve months, he failed to put on more than a pound in total!

Try as I might to embrace the 'they'll do it when they're ready' mantra, there's nothing that makes you (by this I mean me of course) feel worse than a raised eyebrow at baby group when you say no little Johnny or Jimmy isn't sleeping through the night/cooking his own meals/solving sudoku's yet.

I thought I'd more or less passed the Baby Olympics stage though. T's NCT peers are all walking, and talking at about the same level. I'm quite happy being neither exceptional nor lagging behind. But there's something big and scary looming on the horizon, and like feeding, sleeping and even how many layers your baby is wearing, it's something everyone seems to have an opinion on. I'm talking potty training of course.

Now I'm being sensible about this. Come October I'm going to be changing lots, and lots, of nappies. I know toddlers have a tendency to take a step backwards, reminding you that they were the first baby here you know, once a younger sibling arrives, and T isn't even two until the end of September. I don't know what posessed me then to pick up a couple of luridly coloured potties on a trip to IKEA a few months ago.

Pick them up I did though, and they've sat there, mainly being used as hats/storage containers for toy trains/trip hazards to barefooted parents for more than a few weeks. That all changed thanks to Gabriella though. One of T's nursery cohorts (whom he endearingly refers to as 'babby') she's trained over the last month or so, and sits on the potty during the toddler room's regular 'nappy change' periods. Not one to miss out on a bit of one on one with his favourite girl, T has been asking to sit on the pot alongside her, and of course, is learning what it's for. Last week we had our first 'at home' potty wee. I did have a little glow of pride, until he put his hands in it and wiped them on me afterwards.

All this has made me wonder whether I should be rethinking the issue and planning to train T properly before the new baby arrives. I even wonder whether he might force my hand. Fighting to put his nappies on has become more and more of a strain, although he's always loved a bit of running about naked time, and he's started to remove wet and dirty ones himself if I don't have chance to get to them first. I have to admit that I've actually no idea how the whole things works, and the thought of days without leaving the house whilst he gets the hang of it fills me with dread.

This afternoon, after our music class, I took T to the library for a bit of distraction. The children's area is bright, with a small table and chairs, puzzles, floor cushions and accessible book cases for littlies to choose their own reads. There are also a selection of Bumbo seats. The library doubles up as HQ for the local Children's Centre and mums are encouraged to bring babes in arms from a very young age to foster a life long love of books. So far so good.

T was quiet. I'd left him pulling the dinosaurs out of an ELC wooden peg puzzle, and was rooting in the book bins to find a decent bedtime story. Then I heard a squeal. 'Mummy. Wee wee!' I looked up. T had pulled down his shorts and wedged himself into one of the Bumbo seats. He was in the process of undoing the velcro tabs on his nappy as I raced over to him and quickly explained that although they did look a little bit like a potty, those are actually chairs for little babies and not toilets for big ones! At that precise moment my mobile phone started to ring from the bottom of my bag, under a collection of Tesco shopping and the assorted accoutrements that make life with a small person more bearable. The librarians who had been watching my attempts to extricate T from the seat and dress him quickly with interest, now tutted loudly. Red with shame, I shoved T under one arm and (bag still ringing) headed swiftly for the exit.

Ignoring the fact I might not be able to show my face in the library again for a little while, today's fun reinforced that I might actually have to potty train on T's schedule, whether I'm ready or not. And, having looked carefully at both a Bumbo and his Ikea potty. Can you really blame him for getting confused? I am!

Sunday, 12 July 2009

What's in a name?

Naming a child is an awesome responsibility. 'This be the Verse' by Philip Larkin probably applies much more to little Adolfs than it does to Stevens and Bens. That's not to say all names have to be picked from the Top 10 of course - I was always the only Eve in my school, and it wasn't a bad thing - but there are limits.

One of the most monstrous celebrity names of recent years has been Katie Price and Peter Andre's daughter, 'Princess Tiáamii'. Peter said "I wanted to name her after both our mums and then I just woke up one morning and thought ‘I know! We’ll just put them together!'". I've obviously ruled out Barhris or Chrisra for our new baby, but creativity in child naming doesn't stop with making it up entirely course. A friend of a friend called her son Maxx, yes with two x's, to make it 'different'. It doesn't have the aural thrill of 'Princess Tiáamii' of course, but will create an added frisson of excitement on his cheque book in years to come.

We've been hunting for a suitable name for my growing bump. Having given our son an Irish name (phonetically spelt, not made up!) something that 'matches' would be the ideal. I'd originally wanted Florence, but its quintessential Englishness just doesn't go with T, or to be frank our appalling surname.

Then I found it. OK, I didn't find it myself, it was mentioned in passing on a thread on a baby name forum (yes, there are such things, and great entertainment to be had by reading them!) ... THE name. One of the only suggestions which my husband hasn't instantly dismissed (lets gloss over his ideas, including Clarabelle and Gertrude) it's grown and grown on me and I now have 'the fear' that someone else will somehow 'discover' it and 'steal' it before B-day. Yes, I realise this is ridiculous, but the pregnancy hormones seem to have over-ridden my 'rational' gene.

Then I panicked. What if the name, our name, HER name, had some hideous connotations I'd not previously discovered. What if I am planning to saddle my daughter with the same name as a porn star or brand of feminine hygiene wash? Perfect fodder for schoolyard ridicule. So I googled it of course.

Results included a group of libraries in New Mexico, a blog from a dedicated Australian knitter, photos of a sweet Swedish toddler and a famous sportsman's wife. Nothing too scary, although I suppose in the next 18 years there's plenty of time for that to change!

Thursday, 9 July 2009

Co-sleeping, toddler style

Way back in the beginning I posted about how much I loved co-sleeping. The power that came from having my little boy snuggled in close to his Mummy, the ultimate sedative. Well things have changed a bit since then.

We've all grown of course, T both upwards and outwards, me mainly outwards and in my need for a full night of uninterrupted sleep. So last night when I heard T wake as I listened to my Rainbow Relaxation (more on how the hypnobirthing is going coming very soon), I didn't mind too much when my husband brought him into bed with us, as I knew we'd all get more rest that way. How wrong could I be?!

There is no fun to be had in lying up against the bedside table, nose squished into the wood, as two boys, naked from the waist up, bellies rising and falling in synchronisation as they snore gently and (husband) not so gently, spreadeagle next to you, stealing all the pillows.

I got up and went to sleep in T's bed (I realise it's sounding a little Goldilocks now) where the matress was too thin to get comfy. I lay awake for almost an hour feeling very cross that we sprung for an, erm, sprung one and it's Not Very Comfy At All, before realising my pregnancy weight is probably equivalent to 10 toddlers, which might explain it. I was just drifting off when I remembered I'd left my mobile phone on charge, the handset under my pillow to deaden the sound of the morning alarm, stopping it travelling through the wall and waking T before I get my precious few minutes of morning to myself. Toddlers and wires don't mix of course. I had visions of T becoming tangled, hurting himself, and had to get up and remove it before I could settle.

My husband woke me at 4 am as he got up for work. His side of the bed vacated, I staggered into our bedroom again, grateful at last to be able to stretch out full length. T was still snoring. I fell into a much needed sleep, mobile (now fully charged) back under my pillow for the 7 am wake-up.

It never came of course. I came to when the light was still cold enough to indicate the hour was barely past six am. Something small pinged my face, and again, and again. I groaned and opened one eye. T had found my ipod on the bedside table, where I'd abandoned it at the end of the Rainbow Relaxation what felt like days ago. The pings were the earphones, being swung like a lassoo.

T looked inordinately pleased to have woken up with a ready made playmate next to him, just ripe for poking and prodding. He handed me the ipod.

"Mummy, mummy .... YELLOW SUBMARINE"!

My husband, and his mix tapes, have a lot to answer for.

Tuesday, 7 July 2009


We live in a Lancashire mill town that is full of noise. Surrounded by countryside, the birds begin to tweet at 4.30 am. The clock on the church at the end of the road chimes every hour, albeit five minutes late. In the days BC (Before Children) we'd often be woken at 10 am on Sunday mornings by the first tooting horn of the steam train on the heritage line run lovingly by volunteers and tracing a route through a line of local villages.

These days of course, we're up long before 10 am on Sundays. Despite all of the noise of the house we never miss the tooting though for T is obsessed - properly, utterly, passionately, madly - with trains.

There are worst things to be obsessed with of course. We have residents' passes for the heritage railway, meaning we can travel the entire route for less than half price (free for T) and making it an ideal lazy-idea day out. Standing in the garden and waiting for the toot which tells us a train at our small town station is ready to depart can occupy him for hours (well, half an hour maybe). And then there are the words. How many not-yet two year olds know what a piston, carriage, funnel and level crossing are. Well, I mean apart from the ones I see waving frantically from the vintage British Rail windows as we pause at the flashing lights and wait for the train to cross.

There is only one problem. I cannot bloody stand Thomas The Tank Engine.

I'm not adverse to children's brands entirely of course. We have enough In The Night Garden paraphenalia to open a small shop. I like the programme though. The colours, the pace and tone, the music, even the long unexplained absences of the Wottingers.

TTTE is completely different. The Rev W Awdry had a grand imagination, but the day to day goings on on the island of Sodor (which incidently must, according to accent, be located somewhere off the coast of Liverpool) aren't sufficiently interesting to keep T (or me!) distracted for more than a couple of minutes. Plus the newer TV versions of Awdry's stories are shown on Five as part of their Milkshake children's programming, presented by imbeciles who are at least 10 years younger than me. With adverts. Bah humbug!

The toys are hugely expensive. We have a small plastic helicopter with a rotating blade, it was a couple of quid. Paint him white, add eyes and call him Harold and he's suddenly a tenner. And have you tried the books? Yawn. I should have been suspicious when the library versions were still remarkably new looking, despite having been on the loan circuit for a couple of years.

All of this is surmountable of course. If T loved Thomas ('he's the cheeky one ...' - don't get me started on that theme tune) I'd be gritting my teeth and learning how to properly pronounce Skarloey. He doesn't though. Despite many generous gifts from Grandma and Grandpa - branded clothing, toys and DVDs - he's utterly unfussed with the whole thing, which (lets be honest) is quite alright with me.

Shaky amateur videos on Youtube though, with a close up of that piston on a wobbly zoom, clouds of steam enveloping the Handycam as the videographer coughs in the background. Those he can watch for hours.

Monday, 6 July 2009

Eating my words

Ahem, given my moany post a couple of days ago I should probably be typing this with my head down in shame, but despite being convinced otherwise, I GOT THE JOB!

My new boss called on Friday to offer me the position, and apologised for the delay which had been caused by some negotiation over how to work round my pregnancy. They're v keen to have me on board, which is a good job as I'll only work for 10 weeks or so in the role before going off to have my baby. In fact they'll probably have to advertise for my maternity cover before I've even started!

The whole thing is nerve wracking. I have do actually do the job now, rather than just persuading them I can, and of course I want to repay the faith they've put in me. How to balance my increasing pregnancy and making my mark in a new role is going to be a challenge, but hey, I'm going to be a Mummy to two. How hard can it be?!

Thursday, 2 July 2009


I apologise for having been awol for the last week or so. It has been officially Too Hot To Blog. As an added bonus I had a job interview earlier this week, which threw up the whole question of what to wear as the temperature crawled towards 30 degrees. I settled on black maternity trousers, a smart maternity vest top and funky necklace and a much too small jacket over the top. I managed around 3 minutes, clutching a bottle of water, in the interview room, listening wiltedly (what do you mean that's not a word?!) as the panel introduced themselves before I asked whether they'd mind if I lost the jacket. They took pity on this tomato-faced lightly sweating lump and told me to 'take off whatever I wanted'. I stopped at the jacket, this being an interview for a senior management post, and was marginally less pink for the rest of the hour long ordeal, including, rather cruelly, a presentation to be delivered 'without visual aides'. Waffle aside, I came out thinking I'd done quite well. There were no surprise questions. I managed to shoe-horn almost all of my pre-prepared practical work examples ('tell me about a time when you were particularly creative') into my answers and definitely didn't feel like I'd embarrassed myself.

I'm not sure what the elephant thought though.
What elephant?
Well the one up my maternity vest top of course.

Before applying for the role I spoke informally to the team manager and told him I'm pregnant. I could almost hear him rustling the pages in the 'Book of Appropriate Things to Say' before finding the page which said 'of course you should apply, finding the right candidate, irrespective of circumstances, is the most important thing'. I did believe him, I'm very lucky to work for an organisation that's as family friendly and committed to staff development as the BBC. I knew though that the interview might be a challenge. The panel were unable to refer to my pregnancy. In the interests of fair selection, all candidates must be treated equally and asked the same questions. I felt ridiculous talking about how I'd approach my first six months in the job, knowing I have only three and a bit before starting maternity leave. But what's the alternative? At least the current set up prevents women being unfairly prejudiced. It did feel odd to say the least though.

I haven't heard anything from the panel, or HR, and the interview was Tuesday. This isn't a good sign, as the successful candidate is always told before the unsuccessful ones. I know realistically that changing jobs a few short weeks before going on leave for what I hope will be a full year would have been a strain, especially making a strong start during the period I should be winding down and handing over. But I'm also a little torn. At any other time this would have been my perfect job, I'd be on tenterhooks waiting for the phone to ring, clinging on to the slim hope that no news is good news. Why should this baby make me feel any different? I will have to go back to work, eventually putting two children in childcare for at least a couple of days a week, so why not to a job I am passionate about?

A kick from the elephant reminds me where my priorities lie. Timing is everything, and I have plenty of time to worry about promotion once my next major production is out of the way.