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Wednesday, 21 December 2011

The Parents' Wishlist

Here's what I wish my true love could give to me:

On the twelfth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me
Twelve hours' sleep,
Elevenses with coffee,
Ten trips to Tesco,
Nine presents wrapped up
Eight days in a week,
Seven carpets hoovered,
Six dinners cooked,
FIVE MINUTES' PEACE!
Four nappies changed,
Three washes done
Two sleeping children,
A biscuit and a cup of tea!

On the bright side, we did get a ginormous Christmas tree half price today because its top had fallen off. Can't wait to decorate it.

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Christmas loading. Please wait...

Everything is ready to be done, but absolutely nothing is done, and it's driving me insane.

100 blank cards are sitting on my kitchen table, waiting for me to have enough time to do finger painting with Abi (who will likely manage three of them before she wants to get down and do something else).

A bag of Christmas cake ingredients is sitting in my baking cupboard, waiting for me to soak the fruit in brandy overnight.

A drawer full of wooden cotton reels and acrylic paint is waiting for me to decorate the reels as part of Abi's stocking present.

Bags full of presents that have been ordered from the internet are now sitting upstairs, still in their postage packaging, waiting to be unpacked, wrapped, labelled and re-sent.

See what I mean? Everything ready to be done, but nothing actually finished.

So what have I been doing instead?

Well, I've been ringing handbells at Victorian Christmas fairs. I've been telling Christmas stories to children at late night shopping events. Today, my right arm is sporting a beautiful ukulele bruise from playing "A Band Of Angels" five times, in five different schools, while wearing a tinsel halo.

Basically, I've been far too festive to actually achieve anything Christmas-related. Except this:



This is actually an unfinished project from last year, poor Thomas had to use it and then give it back to be finished! I'm rather proud of it now, although I have to wonder whether that snowman is really a snowman, or a clown juggling stars. He doesn't seem sure.

So, LAST Christmas is finally sorted. Now for this one!

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Ah, the joys of pregnancy

TheRev: *sneaks up behind me and kisses me behind the ear*
Me: (taken by surprise) What?!
TheRev: Sorry. I was just trying to kiss you in a place that wouldn't make you vomit.

Sunday, 4 December 2011

On our Jesse tree yesterday - and today...

Yup, that's me, behind already. I had a feeling this wouldn't last long!


The rainbow was yesterday's: the verse from Romans is "The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life". And today we have the funny little tent thing hanging in the background, with the verses Genesis 12:1-7, the call of Abram. So Noah and Abram: two men who were told to drop everything and do something completely absurd instead.

Speaking of which, today's puppet extravaganza went very well indeed, and I now have dreams of a children's puppet team that perform silly songs with random props at regular intervals.

Mary and Joseph made it across the gully between the windowsill and the chest of drawers, and are now regarding the hazardous passage across the top of the chest with trepidation: to their right, a steep tumble into The Rev's sock drawer, never to be heard of again.

In Abigail's crib, the animals have been arranged with pleasing symmetry so far by Abigail herself. I wonder what she'll do as it gets more crowded.

Friday, 2 December 2011

Snakes and sheep

Today on our Jesse tree:


That's a snake around an apple, for those unfamiliar with the complex art of making 25 different Biblical symbols out of bits of balsa wood, sequins and shiny sticky tape. The symbol obviously stands for the story of the Fall, found directly after the creation story in Genesis, but the verse (Isaiah 53:6) is the one about sheep which, due to a student Christian Union prone to 'memory verses' The Rev and I both immediately chorused to the tune of The Bare Necessities:

All we like (click) sheeep have gone astray
And turned each one to his own way
But the Lord has lai-aid o-on hiiiim
The iniquity
Of all humanity
Isaiah fifty-three, ve-erse six!

So, the world is made and people have already gone astray: the stage is set for God's rescue plan for humanity.

And speaking of stages being set, I spent a chunk of this afternoon behind a puppet stage with some of the 10:30 club kids, howling with laughter as we put together a puppet song/dance to "Micah No. 5" (Apologetix) for Sunday morning. The moment when one of them appears above the puppet screen inexplicably wearing flashing antlers with bells on is not to be missed.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

It all begins...

Happy new year, members of the Church! The liturgical year began last Sunday, Advent Sunday, and we of the 10:30 Club heralded it in by making miniature Advent wreaths out of plasticine and birthday cake candles.

Hopefully the 10:30 club children were looking forward to lighting a new candle every Sunday (and then quickly blowing it out again, as birthday cake candles aren't really meant for this kind of work!) and were able to take a new Advent tradition home to their families.

Hopefully they didn't already have as many Advent traditions as we do.

Six years ago, The Rev and I sat down and amalgamated two families' worth of seasonal tradition, creating a few of our own along the way. This year, with Abigail taking part as well, we have gone from the sublime to the ridiculous.

Here is our Advent table:


We have an Advent Crib Calendar, given to Abigail by her Nanou as a baptism present. Each door reveals another figure to go into the nativity scene.
Then we have a beautiful cross-stitched pocket calendar, sent all the way from Greece by Aunty Lili for Abigail to enjoy this year. Today, the first pocket intriguingly revealed a wooden star with the letter H on it, and a little card telling us to read Deuteronomy 18, 15-19.

We have our Jesse tree, which I have been gradually making ever since our first Christmas as a married couple. This will be the first year when all 25 pieces are already made and ready to go - though some of the earlier ones are already in need of some TLC!

We have a Guess-the-Saint Advent calendar, another gift from a few years ago.

We also have a conventional cardboard calendar and an Advent candle. And how I resisted adding a chocolate calendar to all this, I shall never know. It was probably the sure and certain knowledge that I would have to share the chocolate with Abigail.

Also in use but not on the Advent table is our own Advent wreath, and our Christmas Crib which is set up empty in the sitting room; Mary, Joseph and the donkey will begin their journey at the left-hand side of our bedroom windowsill tonight. Hopefully I'll remember to move them before they start gathering dust, or disappear under the little piles of receipts that The Rev likes to deposit there.

I thought, as I sat after all the ceremonies for the day were complete and waited for the candle to burn its way down past number 1, that it would be a fun (!!) challenge for me to try and blog our Advent progress daily - even if it only means posting a photograph of what the calendar has revealed or what has been newly hung on the Jesse tree. Hopefully I might occasionally have a few moments to add some deeper thoughts or some news too!

So, on our Jesse tree today:


Genesis 1 verse 1: In the beginning, God made the heavens and the earth. And so it begins.

Monday, 21 November 2011

Introducing the reason for my inblogitude...

Hello. I'm back.

And yes, there is a reason why I haven't been blogging since September; but I think I might have trouble convincing you that it's a very good one.

When I started this blog, I did warn you. Honestly I did. Go back to my very first post, and you will find that I noted a phenomenon that had been the death of all my adolescent diaries: the moment something momentously bad or momentously good or just plain momentous happened, I stopped writing. It would generally be because I couldn't explain the event adequately straight away in the time that I had, and then I would leave it too late to make it worth recording at all.

Well. Let me introduce you to the reason that I haven't blogged since September:


There he/she is. And it's not just that I couldn't think of anything else to write about, but wasn't allowed to tell anybody about the above until the day that picture was actually taken. It's also the phenomenal, crippling, chemical hormonal tiredness that comes with the first trimester of pregnancy and has meant that I have had NO time of my own. When Abi was awake, I was with her, and when she was asleep, so was I. For 14 weeks.

I hate the first trimester. I really do. It's not fair that the time you feel crappest, sickest, most tired and most worried about the whole thing coincides with the time that you're not allowed to get any sympathy because nobody is supposed to know (although I have to say that anybody who has actually seen me in the flesh over the past, say, 8 weeks is either extremely unobservant or will have guessed instantly.)

Now that I'm 15 weeks along and beginning to feel human again, I've been able to reveal my 'secret' and suddenly everyone is asking me how I'm feeling, how I'm coping and whether I want to sit down. No, OK? I don't want to sit down. I wanted to sit down a fortnight ago. Actually, I wanted to lie down in a little hole and die quietly a fortnight ago. But now I'm feeling quite bouncy, thankyouverymuch.

So there you have it. I expect to be a fully functioning blogger again very soon, and might even manage to write about something other than pregnancy. Don't stop following me!

Monday, 19 September 2011

Not Me! Monday

Not Me Mondays are the brainchild of the marvellous MckMama, veteran Mummy blogger.

Our dishwasher is NOT still broken. Is has NOT now been broken for over two weeks. We did NOT, out of a mixture of desperation and laziness, continue to use it for most of that time. Our crockery did NOT come out with a white powdery film on it, which I did NOT simply polish off with a tea-towel before putting the items away. I did NOT eventually find mould inside the dishwasher. It did NOT turn out, when the repair man eventually got here, that the dishwasher's heating element was broken so that all our stuff had been washed in cold water for a week. I am NOT now gradually washing everything again by hand. We are NOT still waiting for the stupid little electronic part to be delivered to the repair man so that he can come and fix it. This will NOT cost nearly as much as a new machine.

While trying to find a repair person, The Rev did NOT lose his patience with all the evil giant corporations who create false 'local' web pages and then phone you back from somewhere like Swansea. When one of them phoned him back, he did NOT tell her that the dishwasher was now fine because he had "laid hands on it and prayed". When she asked for clarification that the dishwasher was working, he did NOT shout "Yes! Praise the Lord!" and hang up the phone. He did NOT later refer to this as "lying for Jesus".

What have you all NOT been doing this week?

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Squeaky Clean

Abi Jane has a new obsession with cleanliness. Unfortunately, this is resulting in her being grubbier than ever.

Let me explain.

Abi has worked out what wet wipes are for (a bit slow on the uptake, I know) and while previously she used to kick and scream whenever her face and hands were wiped, now it's even worse - she wants to do it herself.

Ever wanting to encourage development, of course, I let her. After dabbing her mouth daintily with one corner of the wipe like a miniature Hercule Poirot, the job's done as far as she's concerned - and off she toddles, covered in jam. Any attempt to finish the wiping for her is met with absolute outrage that Mummy doesn't appear to find her standards good enough.

Wipes, according to Abigail, are also for wiping surfaces, books, the carpet, the bottom of your shoe, the sootiest bit of the fireplace - and THEN your face. And then Mummy's face.

She likes them so much that yesterday, she took most of a packet out of the packet while I was next door preparing dinner, and hid them in her toybox for future mess making fun.

Meanwhile, upstairs in her nursery, she's become tall enough to reach the drawer where I keep her creams, cotton wool and other small hazardous items like nail scissors. (I'm going to have to start sellotaping things to the ceiling, I think. Or sellotaping her to the ceiling.) The other day, she found the cotton buds and approached me clutching one with a quizzical expression, and I made the mistake of showing her what it was for: "See, they're for cleaning your ears...NOOOO, don't actually put it in your ear! Yes, I see that it does also fit nicely up your nose...no, don't put it back in the box now, it's all...oh Abi, just give them back..."

Abi has also carried this new love of cleanliness into the realm of tidying, and follows me about while I am tidying up, collecting things and helpfully putting them in the bin. It would be marvellous, but the things she collects are mainly books and soft toys, and her bin of choice is the nappy bin.

Yuck.

Still, this answers the question of what to get her for her birthday and Christmas - toy cleaning equipment! I'll just have to be prepared for the months of extraordinary mess that will be bound to ensue...

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Evening Hymn

Recent conversations about writing parodies of hymns led me to think of this parody of The Day Thou Gavest, which I wrote ages ago on a different blog. When I searched for it, I found to my distress that the whole blog (it was an ancient MSN Space one) had vanished into the ether, along with the only copy of the song. Happily, The Rev had a go at searching too, and although he didn't dredge up the old blog, he did find that someone else had kindly reposted the lyrics on their own blog - and so we have them back, and before they get lost again, I'll repost them here. I regret to say that, despite the request in the final line, the words seem even more true to life since motherhood...

EVENING HYMN

The day thou gavest, Lord, is ended
The darkness falls at thy behest
To thee my morning prayers should have ascended
But I was grumpy and sleepy and stressed.

I'm sorry, Lord, that I have stumbled
Through today without your word;
And any prayer I might have mumbled
I'd be surprised if you have heard.

And I will soon be deep in slumber
My night time prayers cut off midway,
I wouldn't like to count the number
Of things that I'll forget to say.

But wait here, Lord, while I am sleeping,
You know the troubles of my heart,
And when my snooze alarm starts beeping,
Help me to make a better start.

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Toddling through Greenbelt

I spent last weekend storytelling at Greenbelt. It was mainly fab. I mean, there was lots of good stuff. I got to meet Bridget and Adrian Plass and actually have tea with them; I got to perform a new show called A Special Pair Of Shoes; I bumped into plenty of people I know, which is always fun, and I enjoyed channelling my inner hippy in festival dresses, rainbow striped knee-high socks and multiple jangly bracelets.

I also had Abi Jane with me.

Now, two years ago I went to Greenbelt at 20 weeks pregnant, and I think that more people told me then that I was mad than they did this time around. But 20 weeks pregnant was easy. Sure, I "stood" in several queues for talks on my hands and knees because of the constant danger of fainting, and I developed a very close relationship with the nearest set of portaloos to my tent, but all in all, it wasn't difficult.

However, here is just a flavour of what Greenbelt was like with a toddler.

We arrived ("We" is me and my wonderful friend Bekki, who I should say at this point looked after Abi a huge amount and kept me sane), and needed to unpack the car and put up the tent, preferably before it rained. For a while, Abi Jane was evidently either going to scuttle off into the depths of the campsite as fast as her legs would carry her, or take the tent apart as fast as we were putting it together.

But then she found the bag of food. So that was OK.

Camping itself wasn't too bad. Abi got the hang of tent life with surprising alacrity, even though bedtime did not include the usual bath.


The first night, she and I both woke up at about the same time - 3am ish - mainly because it was freezing cold. I sat up and piled everything I owned on top of her, and she went back to sleep. I didn't. The second night, she woke at 5:45am and the third night she was awake between 1am and some other hour that I didn't care to look at.

It wasn't the nights, though, so much as the days. The main problem with taking a toddler to Greenbelt is that for every hour you get to spend doing things like this:
you have to spend about twelve hours doing things like this:

until you feel as if your brain is going to leak out of your ears. The festival programme sits in your bag mocking you: "Look what you could be doing if you weren't on your fourteenth circuit of the showground pushing a little plastic car!"

On the second day, I discovered the Parent Support Venue. That was lovely. You go in looking tired and harassed, and they give you free cups of tea and magazines to read while you watch your offspring bashing other peoples' offspring over the head with Fisher Price toys. They provided baby baths, too, but I didn't like to imagine the carnage that might ensue if I actually tried to fit Abi Jane into one of them.

It was also on the second day that I finished putting Abi Jane to bed at about 7:30pm and realised that I hadn't been to the toilet for over twelve hours. Because you can't if you have a pushchair and a toddler with you and your only option is a queue for a tiny, muddy portaloo. Unless, of course, you leave the pushchair and the toddler outside to the mercy of the queue, which was tempting at times.

Yet despite all my complaining, I still somehow contrived to enjoy myself a lot of the time. There were unexpected pleasures, like meeting a family of complete strangers because Abi Jane decided to wander into their tent. They turned out to be absolutely lovely people from Norwich, another clergy family, who allowed Abi Jane to mess about with crafty things while we chatted about rural ministry. They weren't in the Daily Diary, but they were one of the best bits.

I don't know quite what I'd imagined would happen. Did I entertain visions of Abi Jane playing happily at my feet while I listened to scintillating talks, or sleeping through late night comedy sessions, or dancing along to music at the mainstage? Did I really not suspect that she would be grumpy at being contained, sleepless and whingy? I'm not sure, but in my foolishness I am already starting to contemplate going back next year. Surely with a nearly-three-year-old it would all work much better...

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

To sleep, perchance...

We've definitely reached that awkward stage at which it's time to drop the afternoon nap, but impossible to actually do so.

The main problem is that Abigail is rarely tired enough to go to sleep straight after lunch, but is shattered by about three in the afternoon, by which time is far too late for her to go to sleep, as she will then sleep until suppertime and be up all night. And for everybody who thinks they have the simple, Supernanny answer to this (I could hear the sharp intakes of breath from here) yes, she really does sleep for up to three hours if she naps, and no, I can't just wake her up after twenty minutes or whatever the magic number is, because waking Abigail up turns her into a screaming, wailing, howling, red-faced demon who acts as if she is being tortured for the whole of the rest of the day. Last time I tried it, she cried for the best part of two hours without stopping. Once she's asleep, she's asleep and that's it.

Once it gets past midday, therefore, I only have one question to consider in all of my planning for the afternoon: will she sleep or won't she? This afternoon, for example, I realised that I needed to buy wine and parmesan cheese for tonight's dinner. Driving to the nearest town is no good; it's too far, she'll almost certainly fall asleep in the car and then I won't be able to go into the shop until she's woken up. It's too hot for her to sleep in the car today anyway, even with the windows down. I might just make it to the nearest village with a village shop, because at least if she falls asleep on the way there, I can leave her for two minutes while I dash in and buy wine and cheese. But what if she doesn't fall asleep? We could stay in the village and go to the park too, but then that increases the chances of her falling asleep in the pushchair on the way there, or if she doesn't, in the car on the way back, and...no, wait. All this information is too much for one small brain. It's much better expressed in a flow chart:


So that is how I plan even the briefest of excursions these days.

Monday, 18 July 2011

Not Me! Monday

This week I did NOT leave the dishwasher open while I went and attended to some other emergency.

I did NOT return to find Abi Jane climbing about inside the dishwasher.


She was NOT inexplicably covered in yoghurt.



What have you all NOT been doing this week?

Friday, 15 July 2011

Friday Firsts

This week's Friday Firsts are nice and easy!

This week was the first time I ever told stories to two cameras instead of an audience. So it involved all sorts of new experiences, including...

- spending hours in a room with five other people, without EVER looking any of them in the eye
- watching Chip's hilarious stories without ever once laughing (or smiling, or twitching, or coughing or sniffing, or joining in with any of the actions!)
- having to start a story again because my stomach rumbled
- having to start a story again because the cameraman's stomach rumbled
- watching (and smelling) a fly cremate itself on a massive halogen lamp
- allowing a man I'd only just met to powder my nose for me (I know that sounds rather dodgy, but it really did just involve powder...)

Next week is going to be very boring by comparison...

What did you all do for the first time this week?

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Not Me "Monday"

Today is NOT really Tuesday.

I was NOT doing my headless chicken act far too much yesterday to write a Not Me Monday post on the right day.

This week, I did NOT send The Rev to London to collect lots of furniture from my parents, who are moving to France. He did NOT arrive back with a van full of things, some of which were more unexpected than others, and not all of which were furniture. I did NOT have nowhere to put anything. I did NOT unpack it all with a rising sense of panic, and I did NOT have a fit of hysterical laughter over a chrome toothbrush holder. I do NOT currently have a double bed in my front hall because it needs to be taken apart before it will fit up the stairs. Abigail and I did NOT bounce on the mattress this morning.

Also this week, I did NOT take Abigail to the summer songs of praise service, even though it started at her usual suppertime and finished well beyond her usual bedtime. I did NOT achieve a quiet baby in each of the readings by repeatedly offering her a packet of blueberries. She did NOT decide she liked blueberries and eat every single one, and she did NOT produce a purple nappy as a result.

Oh yes, and when we left Abigail with some friends overnight so that we could go to the theatre and have a late night out, I did NOT leave my housekey in my car parked outside their house and so did NOT add twenty minutes to our homeward journey by having to go and collect it. I did NOT realise this just as we were pulling up to our front door. IT WASN'T ME!

What have you all not been doing this week?

Friday, 8 July 2011

Friday Firsts

A little while ago, in one of those random, slightly winey evening conversations, somebody asked me to think of one thing that I had done for the very first time that day. At first I scoffed at the idea that I would have done anything new on a perfectly ordinary day, but after a few suggestions I surprised myself by being able to think of quite a few first-time things – not huge events, mind, but still genuine first times.

The conversation has inspired this brand-new 'meme' of Friday Firsts. Each week I will try to think of some things that I have done or experienced for the very first time that week. If you are a blogger and want to join in, just leave a link to your own Friday Firsts in the comments here, and don't forget to put a link to this blog in your entry!

So, this week was the first time I've ever....

  • Honked somebody else's car. I'm normally a nervous and fairly bad driver who wouldn't dream of judging anyone else's driving, let alone take my hands off the wheel for long enough to let them know about it. But on this occasion I was on home territory – my own road in fact – so felt entirely justified in honking the dangerous idiot who decided to overtake me when I was already doing just over 30mph in the 30 zone, and then speed off into the distance so that he was out of sight by the time I'd reached the corner.
  • Played (rather than just singing) a duet with The Rev, who is learning the guitar. We worked out guitar and ukulele parts for Dinah Washington and Brook Benton's 'You Got What It Takes' and learnt it. It was fun. The ukulele part scrambles my brain, though, so we're not quite at performance stage yet – I can't seem to play it and sing at the same time!
  • Performed in the rather scatological Dragon song from A Little Bird Told Me, the show that my very talented business partner is currently touring while I'm doing this stay-at-home mum thing. He kindly let me join in with the song at our business birthday party – four years! - and it was a laugh. I am now doubly jealous of the people who get to do it over and over again in theatres all over the country.

So, what have you all done for the first time this week?



Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Redistribution

Abigail's latest favourite game is redistributing various parts of the household.

It all started last week while I was doing various internetty things after breakfast, putting off tidying while she amused herself.  I became engrossed in something on Facebook, and after a while I was dimly aware of a repeated set of noises going on behind me.  They went: Sliiide...clatter...toddle toddle toddle...rustle...thump...toddle toddle toddle...sliiide (repeat ad infinitum).

I turned around to find that Abigail was very methodically emptying one of the kitchen drawers into the laundry basket across the room, one plastic cup at a time.  She would not be diverted from this: she went back to doing the same thing even after twenty minutes of getting dressed and reading a fascinating story about farm animals.

Over the week it has developed into something of an obsession, and very quickly gone from cute to extremely irritating.  Abigail is utterly convinced that her dinnertime paraphernalia does not belong in the white drawers where it lives.  We can never find a beaker, cup, bib or plastic bowl now except by accident: today I discovered three sections of sippy cup, two bowls, a lid and a bib in the washing machine.  They've also ended up stacked neatly on my coffee table, inside the Noah's Ark, underneath a chair and collecting soot in the fireplace.  One beaker even made its way up into Abigail's bedroom, although how that happened I have no idea as we now have a stairgate.  By the end of each day, the white drawers are completely empty.

Once again I find myself completely baffled by toddlerhood versus evolution.  Strange enough that, as I mentioned several posts ago, toddlers seem instinctively programmed to self-destruct, but what is THIS about?!  I mean, do baby apes spend their days happily moving twigs from one tidy pile into three not-so-tidy piles where their mothers can't find them?  And if they do, why do they?!  What future skill is it honing, or more to the point, what lost-in-the-mists-of-time, vitally-important-for-survival skill of our ancestors is Abigail recalling when she fills my washing machine with beakers?

While I'm working that out, I'm also toying with various solutions.  Put locks on the drawers, and hope that she doesn't turn to the cupboards which contain china?  Give up housework and cooking in order to follow her everywhere she goes and discover where she puts things?    Do my own redistribution, find a new home for feeding equipment and fill the drawers with toys instead?  Attach tracking devices to her bowls and beakers?  Wait until she can talk and then ask her where she's put everything?!  Answers on a postcard please...

Monday, 20 June 2011

Adventures in Housewifery

I have recently decided to Do Something about my appalling lack of organisation and skill when it comes to cooking.

Previously, food in this household has worked gone like this.  I notice that the fridge and freezer are both empty. I panic and buy a vast amount of food on the internet.  Mr Tesco arrives with his van and delivers entire crates of tins of tomato, more bread than I have room for anywhere, several tonnes of meat that happened to be on offer and somebody else's sundried tomatoes squashed underneath the wine.  I remember to cook at about half past five every evening, when Abigail needs to eat at 6.  It's far too late to defrost the meat and I don't have all the ingredients for anything fancy, so I use what I have and invent something.  Sometimes, depending on what happens to be in the fridge, it's successful.

Mostly it's not.  Mostly, Abigail has some frozen delicacy like fish fingers (she throws it all on the floor anyway), The Rev insists on eating whatever his latest diet dictates (soup or salad) and complains if I cook anything containing calories, and I end up eating the vegetables that I have cooked for Abigail even though I know she won't go near them, then making myself some pasta late at night when everything's calmed down and nobody is throwing food at me.  In the meantime, the several tonnes of meat that Mr Tesco bought sits unused in the freezer, the bread goes mouldy and The Rev snacks on the sundried tomatoes that I didn't buy and leaves the empty packet in the cupboard because he's so adorably absent-minded.

The all-shiny New Plan goes like this: I sit down at the beginning of the week with a pile of recipe books and decide on one delicious, nutritious meal per day of the coming week, taking into account the time taken to cook each one and carefully aligning them with our calendar engagements.  I then make a shopping list including only the ingredients needed to create these perfect dishes, plus a reasonable amount of bread etc for lunches.  I then cooly refer to my list as evening approaches, swan gracefully into my kitchen where I have everything I need waiting for me, prepare a magnificent meal and serve it to my loving family, who eat it all together with great appreciation, applause and murmurs of surprise and delight.

Well, we're two days into the first week of the New Plan, and so far it hasn't been...quite like that.  On day 1 I had planned a recipe that I already know how to cook, you know, just to start off safely and easily.  It was pork and prunes in a cream sauce.  Only somehow, in my brilliantly organised weekly shop I somehow managed to forget the prunes, even though they were there in black and white on the shopping list.  This may have had something to do with the fact that while I was doing the shopping, a grumpy toddler was sitting in my trolley ripping pieces off my shopping list and sprinkling them on the floor.  So I improvised for day 1, and we had pork and caramelised apples.  I say we had it; Abigail wouldn't touch it and The Rev only wanted a little bit, so I had some of it, and the bin had most of it.  And now there's a pot of cream sitting in the fridge which is not in my List.

Today was day 2.  For day 2, I am ashamed to admit, I had turned to - oh, I can feel myself blushing - the student cookbook.  I was going for simple and fast.  Well, it's no wonder I never used this stupid book when I was a student; I only had one hob between an entire corridor of people, whereas this recipe finished by requiring an oven for 40 minutes!  Having not read the recipe properly, this occasioned a cry of dismay followed by several bad words as I attempted to get the preparation part done in minus time with a screeching toddler attached to one leg and The Rev, inexplicably and quite obliviously, crooning and playing my guitar in the background.

Nonetheless, only ten minutes later than planned, I served this:
Now the recipe may call it Courgette and Bacon Bake, giving the impression of a healthy and adventurous meal, but that thing is basically an omelette.  An omelette that took nearly an hour to prepare and caused an unreasonable amount of washing up.

Having said that - we did eat it together.  The Rev stopped singing long enough to appreciate the vegetable content, and Abigail ate five mouthfuls (I was counting) before throwing the rest on the floor and demanding banana.

Tomorrow it's Basque Sardines.  Heaven help us all.

Friday, 6 May 2011

Motherhood and God

A while ago, when Abigail was nearly a year old, a good friend asked me what becoming a mother had taught me about God.  I had to tell him to wait for the answer, as it was going to take me several days to think about a question like that!

After a good deal of thought (and gentle nagging from my friend who wanted his answer!) I eventually replied that most of all, motherhood had taught me about how utterly uncompromising God must be, how demanding of perfection.  It was a reply that surprised even me slightly, but try as I might I couldn't truthfully say anything slushier or gentler.  My experience of motherhood so far had shown me how fiercely and instinctively protective I was of my child, to the extent that I didn't want anything bad to happen to her at all - from pain and illness right down to not quite being fed on time, my desire for her experience of life was absolute perfection.  

Of course it's something that no parent can provide, and of course in this world every negative experience is a necessary character-building mountain to scale and all the rest of it, but for the first time I fully understood why God demands the impossible - perfection - in his world, and why He was prepared to go to such extraordinary lengths to achieve it.  I really think that I would take any pain in Abigail's place if I could.  I don't feel that way about The Rev or any other of my family or friends - I can say that I hope that I would, ideally, be self-sacrificial for them, but with my daughter it's different - a deep, instinctual knowledge that yes, I would.  

At the time, I couldn't think of anything else significant that I'd learned from the great Theological College of Motherhood, but more recently Abigail has been producing plenty of sermon-filling incidents.  It must be something to do with becoming a toddler.  I don't doubt that The Rev is keeping a catalogue to bring out on future occasions (poor girl...)  One that I noticed tonight was about communication and prayer.  

Abigail was having her supper when suddenly, she started asking for the cheese grater.  No, she doesn't speak yet, but I knew she was asking for the cheese grater: she was reaching towards it and doing her "uh uh uh uh" noise with which she usually makes herself understood.  So I said, as you'd expect a responsible mother to say, "No, dear, you can't have the cheese grater".

Now, I have no idea whether Abigail understands exactly what I say, but as she continued her escalating frustrated squeals, it occurred to me that she probably has no idea whether I understand what she is saying either.  How can she tell the difference between my incomprehension of what she wants and my answer being "No"?  The only way that Abigail can be sure I've heard her is if she gets what she wants.  If she doesn't, then naturally she simply continues to ask, getting louder and more tearful all the time.  Which describes my relationship with God more or less perfectly.  Is it any wonder that a "No" or a "Not yet" from heaven simply sounds like resounding silence?  But until I know for sure that I've been heard, I'll just keep going!

Dear God, uh uh uh uh uh UH UH UH UH!!!! Amen.

Monday, 2 May 2011

Health and Safety

You know, I despair for the evolution of our species.  If it's all supposed to be about survival of the fittest, why are toddlers programmed to self-destruct?

If anything long and bendy falls into Abigail's hands - a skipping rope, a pair of my tights, a pair of her tights, a headband - it goes straight around her neck.  A bag of any description gets put over her head.  Anything exactly the right size and shape to be choked on gets put into her mouth.  Anything climbable gets climbed, even though she can't yet walk on her own; but once she's on a high surface, her instinct tells her to get off it head first (though we have had some success in teaching her to wiggle backwards off the sofa).  Given a room full of fascinating toys, she will make a beeline for the one dangerous thing I've overlooked, and she makes original and innovative use of the most innocuous-looking objects: this morning, she used our tall wheeled vegetable rack as a walker, and when it fell over, instead of letting go she kept hold of the shelf she was clutching and ended up balanced precariously on top of its narrow side, her legs kicking into space as she hung on for dear life.

Everybody knows that this is completely normal for a 16 month old, (although why it should be I have no idea.  Do mother gazelles have to tell their babies not to play with lions?  Do baby zebras have to be taught how to drink from a lake without drowning themselves in it?)  And yet, I have to confess, I haven't really babyproofed my house.

We have a stairgate - it's just not attached to the wall yet.  Neither is any of the furniture, not even bookcases.  Our electric plugs aren't filled in with little bits of plastic and our toilet seat is not locked down.

This is partly because I'm still living in hope.  I'm hoping that it is possible, through a simple strategy of closed doors and constant supervision, to bring up a toddler safely with a healthy respect for the word 'No' and a basic understanding of what not to touch - one that will serve her as well in toddler-free friends' houses as it does in ours.  Another part of it is realism.  In a house as cluttered and disorganised as ours, there will always be something to worry about, especially given that creative use of everyday objects I mentioned earlier.  Probably having an enormous clear-out of excess junk and furniture would do more for Abigail's safety than fixing a stair-gate to the bottom of the stairs in case she manages to climb a significant number of stairs in the ten seconds it takes us to follow her from the kitchen to the front hall.

I do wonder whether any of this will change as Abigail gets more independent and able; already she is happy to spend far longer than you'd expect playing in a room by herself, and I don't want to have my back turned the first time she works out how to remove a screw cap from a bottle of bleach, for example.  It may yet transpire that we have to move into a padded cell until she's 25.  In the meantime, I shall be answering her apparent death wishes with a firm belief that it will take longer for her to do herself damage than it will take for me to work out where she's gone and chase her there.

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Sensible girl

Determined not to follow in her mother's footsteps, Abi Jane is getting acquainted with the driving seat nice and early.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

A Slice in the Life of The Rev's Wife

Mothering Sunday, 7.40am.  I am standing in a cloud of icing sugar, trying to create buttercream icing for 10:30 club.  This is more than usually difficult since I don't have any butter, having only decided to ice cakes for the children's mums the night before, when I finally abandoned all the complicated origami flowers I found on the internet.  I am hoping that Tesco Olive Spread will do the job.
Abigail is sitting at the kitchen table consuming Weetos.  She has them in her hair, up her sleeves and stuck to her lap.  Thankfully she is still wearing her pyjamas.  I have icing sugar in my hair, down my front and streaked across one eye.  I am not wearing my pyjamas.  I can hear the Rev moving about upstairs.  He probably still is wearing his pyjamas, although he has an 8:30 service to get to, because he has the astonishing ability to go from bed to presentable in under three seconds and he flaunts it mercilessly.
I taste the OliveSpreadCream icing.  It tastes of olive oil.  I add more icing sugar, humming the song I've just written and am now trying to learn in time to sing it with the 10:30 club kids.  I mentally run through the props and items I need to take to church with me: apart from coloured icing pens and sprinkles, I need one floppy fabric doll, two metres of shiny blue fabric, an old stained t-shirt of The Rev's, a spangly white blouse of mine and a basket.  Can you guess the Bible story?!
I taste the icing, which is now horrendously sweet with traces of olive oil.  I have a brainwave and fetch vanilla flavouring.  Abigail sticks her hand in her cereal bowl and spills sticky chocolate milk all over the table.  The Rev appears in the doorway buttoning his shirt and asking whether I've seen a dog collar.  I tell him to try the nursery (Abigail likes to remove his dog collars and chew the ends of them.)
I taste the icing.  It tastes absolutely foul, of very sweet vanilla flavoured olive oil, but I have a suspicion that the children will pile the cakes so high with sprinkles and sweets that nobody will notice; I give up and pack the bowl into a bag with the icing.  It's time to de-Weeto the baby, dress her in something decent, remove as much sugar as I can from my hair, clothes and face, collect together my props, remember all the silly animal actions in my song and go to church.
What better way to celebrate Mothering Sunday?

Monday, 21 March 2011

Not Me Monday

Not Me Mondays are the brainchild of the marvelous MckMama, veteran Mummy blogger.

Ummm...I did NOT completely forget Not Me Monday last week, did I?

Well, over the last two weeks then...

I did NOT attempt to babyproof the kitchen cupboards with the cunning use of elastic bands looping the handles together.  I did NOT fail to point this out to The Rev, who does NOT still have visible bruising on his thumb from where the elastic band snapped.  I did NOT subsequently buy some real cupboard locks, which are NOT still sitting uninstalled on the kitchen counter.

I did NOT buy Abigail yet another pair of baby shoes without her actually being there in the shop with me, just because they were pretty.  They were NOT too small, again.  I do NOT have absolutely no idea what size her feet actually are.  I am NOT putting off having them measured until she starts walking on them, for fear of being coerced into buying unnecessary shoes like the 'crawlers' which are constantly being advertised in my email inbox.

I did NOT resort to Heinz toddler food after another week of Abigail's refusing to eat anything I cooked.  She did NOT eat every last spoonful of it, smacking her lips.  I am NOT seriously considering just feeding her on it until she is no longer a toddler.  I do NOT want to cause injury to health visitors for their insistence that a baby won't do this if you never feed them jar food.  It's not true, people.  They just like the jar food better whether they are used to it or not.

And in non-baby related news, I did NOT take on very enjoyable storytelling job that involved my hiding in bushes and lying down in the mud in a nature reserve for a whole morning, and I do NOT consequently have the worst cold in the history of ever.

What have you all NOT been doing this week?

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Stuff My Baby Can Do

Generally, blog posts with titles like this one send mothers like me running for cover, reluctant to read another list of things that other peoples' tiny geniuses (genii?) have accomplished.  Abigail seems to have set out from the very beginning to be unremarkable in terms of development.  Rolling over at five months, sitting up and eating solids on the dot of six months, she particularly enjoys teasing us by doing something once - just to show us that she can - and then not repeating it for several more months.
Take her laughing, for example.  She gave us one laugh,  really very late - I think she was nearly five months when she first really giggled properly - and then practised an astonishing variety of facial expressions, from bemused to sardonic, over the next few weeks as we tried everything in our power to get her to do it again.  Even now, there are no guaranteed ways to make Abigail laugh.  Everything works once, and after that it isn't funny any more.
However, in the face of constant emails from companies like Bounty, which arrive in my inbox with the title "FIFTEEN MONTHS!!!" and inform me that my daughter must be walking, talking and attempting basic Quantum physics by now, I thought I would indulge and celebrate some of the things that she can, very suddenly and somehow unexpectedly, do.
You see, I've noticed a fascinating change in her over the past week, and it has to do with how she treats her surroundings and her toys.  She suddenly seems to know what everything is for.  Where only a month ago she would have picked up a baby doll only to chew its hand, she now says "Baba!" holds it the right way up and tries to clean its face and hands with a baby wipe.  She can drive her sit-on car (which, before, only went backwards) around the kitchen, making a "Brrrrm!" noise and beeping the horn.  If she finds a sock, she tries to put in on her foot (she succeeds in draping it over her toes) and when she picks up a soft toy, especially one of her bears, she gives it a cuddle.
Puzzles and Duplo blocks have suddenly come into their own.  Abigail has, as if someone had flicked a switch in her head, stopped wanting to destroy things and started wanting to put them together.  Skittles that she used to delight in knocking down are now carefully stood up.  Towers are shakily constructed.  She's got the hang of her stacking rings and tries putting them together in lots of different combinations, often getting them nearly right; although she won't be persuaded that the big green one goes on the bottom, but prefers to balance it right on top of the finished cone like a sombrero.  And the shape sorter!  She knows what to do with that, too, and we can have actual games of Abi-get-a-shape, Mummy-find-the-hole, Abi-put-it-in that go on for at least twenty minutes of undivided concentration - and even the occasional giggle.

Thursday, 10 March 2011

What, no TV?!

Last Sunday, we gave a pancake party for the congregation of our church, and the 10:30 club (that's my little children's group) were there in force.  They arrived, looked around for a bit, went off to the sitting room where I had left some games and so on for them, and sent a spokesperson within about two minutes with the question:

"Whereabouts is your TV?"

"We don't have one" I replied, and enjoyed the resulting expression on the boy's face.

Now, this was a little bit of a lie.  In fact we do have not one, but two televisions.  One of them is situated in the room we call the 'snug', which also contains either a sofa or a large pile of washing, depending on how organised we've been recently.  That television is not connected to an aerial, however, mainly because it didn't work when we tried, and so it's purely for DVD/VHS watching.  The other television is in our bedroom.  It's a teeny one that receives four fuzzy channels, but a friend lent it to us when Abigail was going through a phase of very early waking and it proved to be a Godsend that bought us a few extra minutes of sleep while Pingu was on.  We don't use it quite so often now.

We chose not to have a television downstairs when we moved, mainly because of our experience of having one in the sitting room of our previous house.  The thing consumed activity, time and conversation like a voracious beast.  The main problem was, in a tiny house such as it was, that it was far too easy to leave the TV on in the background all the time.  You could hear it from the kitchen.  You only had to think "I'll just see what's on to liven up the ironing" and suddenly, it was three hours later and you'd channel-flicked your way through the morning, doing all the chores at half speed with one eye on the screen watching something that wasn't even remotely interesting.

These days, if we want to watch something, we use the internet.  It's impossible to flick the channel and 'just see' what else is on when the programme ends, and we can get back to our lives instead.

I'm very tempted to get rid of even our little TV as Abigail gets older.  On the other hand, I grew up not watching television and ended up in a sort of contemporary cultural vacuum, which came to a head when The Rev nearly threw the Articulate board at me for not knowing who Arnold Schwarzenegger was.  I don't want Abigail's future husband lobbing board games around, so perhaps the television should stay.

Or perhaps the solution is to watch children's television on the internet too, in which case I can be very pick-and-choosy.  Something Special is in.  Pingu: in.  Pokoyo: in.  Waybuloo: out.  Definitely way out.  And the jury is still out on In The Night Garden.  I can stomach most of it, but I just can't stand knowing that it's narrated by the wonderful Derek Jacobi, Shakesperean actor and forever Cadfael in my heart, who just should not ever be made to say something like, "But Tombly-boo Oo, that's Tombly-boo Un's pinky-ponk juice!"

Monday, 7 March 2011

Not Me Monday


Not Me Mondays are the brainchild of the marvelous MckMama, veteran Mummy blogger.

This week I did NOT agree to perform two completely different programmes and two different schools, one the day after the other.  The second of these schools was NOT in Greenwich.  This did NOT result in my having to learn and perform nine stories over 48 hours, and one of the stories did NOT involve arranging a giant tangram seven different ways, which I did NOT also have to learn.  That was NOT me at Diss station at eight o’clock in the evening, clutching a giant tangram and an A2 sized magic notebook and discovering that my card didn’t work in the machine on the platform.  That was definitely NOT me getting on the train anyway and praying that it would work in the ticket collector’s machine and that I wouldn’t get fined.  And if you think you saw me the following day, haring through Liverpool Street Station trying to get on a train that left ten minutes ago, and then having to double my travel costs by updating my ticket to a peak fare, you didn’t.  It WASN’T ME.

I did NOT end up having to ask my mother to come from London to look after Abigail while I went to London to tell stories, due to sheer bad planning.  I did NOT also have to ask my husband to look after her on his work morning and take her to the childminder while I told stories.  I am much more organised than that.  So I did NOT have basically no contact with my daughter for two days, and I was NOT so exhausted upon returning that I continued to let The Rev do mornings and bedtimes for a few more days.  I was NOT only made aware of how few bedtimes I've done recently when I found that I didn't know which sleeping bag Abigail was using while packing to go away for The Rev's day off.

What have you all NOT been doing this week?

Saturday, 5 March 2011

Having Retreated

Apologies that this is a week late.  I have just come out of a week of work that would have looked fairly normal by most people's standards, but being fairly new to the work-at-home mum thing (especially as I don't actually work AT home most of the time) it turned me into a frenzied whirlwind.  I learned and performed eight stories in two days, and one of them involved arranging a tangram in seven different ways while improvising at speed; and that's the last time I accept two different programmes from two different schools, one the day after the other.

Anyway.

Here's a sample of what transpired at Lee Abbey:

 An example of the kind of creativity that takes place on this retreat, this extremely awesome elephant was made (not by me, I hasten to add!) from the top of a 4-litre milk carton.  I am definitely going to try it when I next have some time on my hands.
 Abigail evidently felt inspired by her surroundings and got stuck in with some creating of her own.  She enjoyed having a friend to play with, too.
 I should point out that she didn't make those professional-looking swirls, she's just very good at holding her pen in exactly the right position so that it looks as if she did.  She's too little to know that plagiarism is frowned upon.  Oh, and the green dots on her face...I don't know, ask her Daddy.
 There he is, look.  Ask him.
 This is a painting of the ducks that we saw every morning on our walk between the cabin where we slept and the chalet where we met with the others for breakfast.  There were two of them in the stream, and the drake was always sitting right on top of a little waterfall; it looked as if, if he lifted his feet up, he'd whizz straight over the top.  I would have taken more photographs of the duck painting as it developed, but I began to fear for the carpet. 
And here's The Rev relaxing with his daughter.

Saturday, 19 February 2011

Retreating

Look at that, bless her.  She can read upside down and everything.

Retreat (verb) 
1) To take quiet time away from the normal routine of life; to spend in prayer, relationship and reflection.
2) To give yourself another treat.

We're about to go away for five days to the beautiful Lee Abbey, where we will be 'retreating' as a family together with some very creative people, walking on the blustery beach, road-testing a brand new Mei Tai (pictures to follow!) and indulging in the kind of messy play that I would never dare to inflict on my own home.

Unfortunately there can be no blogging while we're there, as there is no internet or phone reception whatsoever.  Not a sausage.  Not unless you drive into the nearest town, anyway, which sort of defeats the object of being on retreat.

Be sure of a photographic diary of our time away next week, though.

Sunday, 13 February 2011

New Tabs

I have found myself referring so often to my birth story and breastfeeding journey on forums, that I've come to the conclusion it's simpler to post them here as permanent pages.  That way, I can refer to them with a link instead of rewriting a whole explanation each time.

So, if you are interested (and not overly squeamish) feel free to clicky on the tabs above.

Saturday, 12 February 2011

Our latest purchase

Abigail, her Nanou and I found this splendid creature in a charity shop for only £13.  What a bargain.


It reminds me, somewhat disturbingly, of a praying mantis.


Or maybe a begging dog?  That's a less shuddersome image, I'll stick with that.

Anyway...I've wanted a back carrier for a while now.  I have images of myself strolling off up mountains with Abigail perched between a sleeping roll and a tent, although I think in reality The Rev might get more use out of it than I do!
It's a pretty nifty item.  It's incredibly light, has a fully adjustable seat that should last Abigail a good few years, and a cool flicky-out bar at the bottom so that the baby can sit safely on the floor while not being worn.  This makes it nice and easy to get on and off - I even managed it on the train with Abigail, two bags and a buggy.

Abigail thinks it's hilarious, second only to riding on Daddy's shoulders, so I'm serenaded with squeals and giggles as we march along.  It didn't take her long to discover that she could pull my hair, either.  However, when that doesn't prove entertaining enough, it's apparently also comfy enough to take a little nap:


Bless.  It's designed with a padded headrest and a padded bar in front, and she still managed to fall asleep in the most uncomfortable position possible.

Friday, 11 February 2011

Notes To Self

For future reference:

  • When you are planning a 2 hour train journey with a one year old, pack plenty of toys and amusements, however many bags you already have to carry.
  • When choosing a seat, do not select one next to somebody who is reading a newspaper.
  • When the baby attempts to steal the newspaper, do not use a pot of vegetable crisps to distract her.  They can make a real mess of newspaper-lady's trousers when shaken hard enough.
  • When newspaper lady finally departs, do NOT pass the newspaper she leaves on her seat to the baby, even if she is really screaming for it.

  • If you do make all the above mistakes, remember to apologise profusely to your fellow passengers as you all scrunch and crunch your way out of the train.

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Should giving birth hurt?

The highly entertaining channel 4 documentary One Born Every Minute, which has everyone who is either contemplating or remembering labour glued to the television every Monday night, has also given rise to a large amount of criticism from those who believe that the births depicted are all too, well, hospitalised.  The consensus seems to be that the women featured on the show, for the most part, aren't giving birth properly.  There's too much intervention; only two examples so far of breastfeeding; hardly any skin-to-skin contact despite the poster displayed on the wall of every room reminding midwives to encourage it.  And Netmums are currently discussing the disadvantages of giving birth lying down on this thread.  I must admit that I've joined in: "Why have none of these women been taught to breathe?" read my Facebook status on Monday; "Or to keep mobile?" replied a friend almost instantly.  It's both fun and easy to criticise when you're not the one doing it.

Woven in with this more general criticism are advocates of very natural births who seem to be of the opinion that, with enough mind over matter, any woman could squat down under a tree and pop out a baby in a few calmly controlled breaths.  And, in a couple of places I've seen the question: "Monkeys can do this, so why can't we?"  I think the implication is supposed to be "When we were monkeys we found this easy, and modern medicine has made it more difficult."

This annoys me, not necessarily because I think labours should be like the ones on One Born Every Minute rather than natural and calm, but because it is a very bad argument.  There are two extremely good reasons why we don't give birth like monkeys (and they both come under the general subheading "We Are Not Monkeys); one is that we can walk upright, and the other is that we can think.

Pelvises for upright walking and large brains are great for getting around and dominating the world, but they are a very bad combination for giving birth.  This excellent article explains why, as well as outlining other major differences: did you know that a baby monkey, once its arms are out of the birth canal, does the rest of the work alone by pulling itself out on its mum's fur?  Or that a monkey comes out facing its mother, whereas the crazy twists and turns that our walking pelvis has given the human birth canal mean that not only does the baby have to turn several times on its way down, but that it then comes out facing in the wrong direction to be given any help?  Where most primates can pull a half-born baby out if it seems stuck, in humans to do so without medical knowledge risks damage to the infant's spine.

I am all for home birth.  The snow thwarted us with Abigail, but next time I definitely plan to be at home (and to have a summer baby!)  But I am not going to live in denial either - birth is painful, it is hard and in some cases it's dangerous.  Perhaps it's meant to be:

To the woman he said,

   "I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing;
    in pain you shall bring forth children..." (Genesis 3:16)



Whether you look at it evolutionally or Biblically, pain in childbirth is the price humankind have paid for knowledge.

Monday, 7 February 2011

Not Me! Monday

Not Me Mondays are the brainchild of the marvellous MckMama, veteran Mummy blogger.

This week I have NOT been fighting a constant losing battle with Abigail over food.  I did NOT resort to spreading vegetable pasta sauce onto oatcakes so that she would eat it.  I have NOT just finished a telephone conversation with The Rev, who was NOT despairing because Abigail hadn't eaten all day and was now making him late by not eating.  I have NOT spent lots of money on things called 'Breakfast Biscuits' and I have NOT kidded myself that they must be a perfectly healthy alternative to cereal.  I do NOT EVER succumb to that kind of blatant advertising.

Also this week I have NOT mentally broken several times when Abigail tried to crawl off the changing table or bed while I was changing her.  I did NOT literally throw her at her sleeping father and tell him to "put his daughter's trousers on" on one of these occasions.  And I did NOT leave her bare-legged for most of an afternoon because I didn't have the strength to put the trousers on AGAIN.  I did NOT turn the heating up so that I could do this without feeling guilty.

OF COURSE NOT.

What have you all NOT been doing this week?

Sunday, 6 February 2011

By Any Other Name

There's a thread on Netmums at the moment about baby names that have been made illegal in various countries for all sorts of reasons - mostly because the child would be 'exposed to mockery', although in Germany it appears that they have a very specific list of allowed names and that being 'unclear as to whether it is a boy or a girl's name' will cause a ban.

The pope has also been appealing for sensible names recently.  There was a time not so long ago (our great-grandparents' generation) when a priest really could change a child's name at a baptism.  Nowadays baptism is no longer a naming ceremony, although many parents still think it is - it's a ceremony of entrance to the church.  It remains legally a reason to change a name, but most children are named long before they are baptised, and what the priest says doesn't make any difference.  Had my poor Aunt Reada been baptised today, she would have been able to be called Freda, no matter what the deaf priest heard.  My favourite story is the working class family who wanted to give their son the name 'Algernon'.  At his baptism, when the priest heard what they were planning to name him, he growled "Don't be daft!  I baptise you Bob", and the poor chap remained Bob from that day on until the day of his wedding, when he found himself having to explain to another priest why the name on his birth certificate was Algernon!

Names are really difficult.  Knowing that you are creating a moniker that will remain attached to someone for, hopefully, a good 80-100 years, is enough to stop anyone in their tracks.  I think I may have fallen prey to over-analysing it when it came to naming Abigail.

For years, my first daughter was always going to be called Imogen.  It's a Shakespearean name, apparently.  Except it isn't really; it's a miscopy.  Evidence shows that Shakespeare, who at the time was heavily into naming his heroines with meaningful labels such as Perdita (Lost) and Miranda (Wonder) really wanted to call this one Innogen (Innocence) rather than Imogen, which doesn't mean anything.  (Baby naming books will tell you that it means 'Image of her mother', but that must be a false etymology because surely that would be ImAgen?  And anyway, who wants to be the image of their mother?  And what if the baby comes out looking like Dad?!)

I just couldn't bring myself to call my daughter after an unfortunate mistake, even if it was really pretty.  And 'Innogen' sounds like something you take for constipation.

In the end, we had three names and we waited to see would Abigail would look like.  If she looked like her father, she would be Abigail (meaning: Her Father's Joy).  If she looked like me, Isobel, which is a form of Elizabeth; and if she looked like neither of us, Meredith.  I secretly loved Meredith, which means Great Leader, but The Rev hated it because it's originally a boy's name and it's neither a Biblical name nor a saint.  He was probably right.  I'm glad we ended up with Abigail, which met all our demanding requirements: a pretty name, can be shortened several ways, with a good meaning, can be said in other languages, comes from the Bible, and the only girl called Abigail that I ever taught was quite nice, really.

Despite all this, I still wonder occasionally whether we will regret calling her Abigail, because it seems to be insanely popular - we know three other Abigails her age already.  No matter.  It suits her.  If she has to go by Abi Jane for the whole of her school life, so be it.

Friday, 4 February 2011

You Know You're Tired When...

Most parents have tiredness in common at some stage.  Pregnancy itself comes with a kind of dreadful chemical tiredness which was like nothing I've ever felt before - especially right at the beginning, when you're still at work and before you've told anyone, so you have to think up other reasons for falling asleep in the middle of a sentence.

Just for fun, here's a list of things I have genuinely done, either while pregnant or through general lack of sleep since Abigail was born.

I Know I'm Tired When...

...I pour all the pasta into the sink, forgetting to put a colander underneath it, and then cry about it.
...I drive from the post office to my house on the wrong side of the road, only noticing when a large truck comes in the opposite direction
...I get into the car wearing my slippers
...I do an entire supermarket shop before realising that I left my purse at home with all my money in it (and I was so proud that I had my well-equipped nappy bag with me!)
...I tell The Rev to "sit at the table like a good boy" when it's dinner time
...I spend several minutes, while tidying Abigail's baby jigsaw, trying to fit an elephant into the slot marked 'rhino' and wondering why it won't go
...the fridge is the first place I look for my car keys

And I have a baby that sleeps!  I think there should be 'TP' (Tired Parent) plates to stick on your car and warn other drivers...and perhaps I could also design a T-shirt that says, "Speak slowly to me...I'm a Mummy'.

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

That Thing You Do

I think that every parent/child relationship has a Thing.  An area of lowest confidence, a land of unavoidable conflict; that one subject which is certain to make a parent bristle when other parents start to talk about it.  The one area of life which is best summarised by a cry of "I've tried everything and nothing works and I just can't bloody do it any more!"

For Abigail and me, it's always been feeding.  At a baby group, if mums are talking about sleep, I'm chatting happily; if they're complaining about constant crying, I'm the envy of them all; but if they bring up the subject of food, I'm the one skulking in the corner or studiously entertaining my oblivious daughter with a plastic sheep.

At first it was breastfeeding.  The moment my milk came in, it all went pear-shaped.  Abigail couldn't latch properly - we still don't really know why.  After a week, on Christmas day in fact, she was whisked back into hospital and put on a cannula because she had lost 20% of her body weight and was at risk of a stroke from high sodium levels.  I had to 'top up' with formula, but was producing so little milk by then (having been full of milk she didn't drink just days earlier) that 'topping up' basically meant feeding.  By the time we got home three days later we were formula-feeding exclusively.

I was determined to get back to exclusive breastfeeding, and I did, by the time Abi was 8-9 weeks old.  (I might post about how I did it later if the mood takes me, but that's all you need to know for now!)  But she still wasn't latching properly.  Midwives, lactation consultants, breastfeeding peer supporters and a paediatrician checking for tongue tie couldn't help.  We'd just have to soldier on.

There followed nearly a year of the most trouble-haunted breastfeeding journey I've ever come across - possibly because anybody sane would have given up.  As all my mummy friends got over the first breastfeeding hurdles and started to enjoy themselves, we struggled on as if wading through treacle.  Even the health visitor ditched the usual script and advised me to give up for the sake of my mental health!  I had two bouts of mastitis, constant cracked nipples, and for several months Abigail would only feed from one side sitting up and the other lying down, which ended in my lying flat out on the wet grass, in March, in the middle of Alton Towers, feeding her on a pile of coats.  I rarely had the impression that she was enjoying herself much, and I wasn't loving it either.  Then we tried to re-introduce an occasional beaker (after weaning her) and that was a nightmare too, as she couldn't cope with any kind of valve and couldn't get a thing out of a bottle.  Eventually she took to a free-flowing beaker and we just changed all her clothes after every drink.

Finally, a week before her first birthday, I was once again struggling to give her the bedtime breastfeed (the only one left every day) when she bit me very hard, then screamed and refused to go back on.  She'd been wriggling, biting and fussing for weeks, but I finally got the message, and that was it.  No more mummy milk.  I tried briefly to feel disappointed, but I couldn't - I was mainly relieved.

Now all that already seems light years ago, but I still hide when the subject of food comes up, as in the world according to Abigail, anything not hard and dry is not a foodstuff.  She will eat oatcakes, breadsticks, dry toast, rusks and  - to my shame - chicken nuggets.  It's the texture rather than the taste, since anything wet, sticky, squishy or cold goes straight on the floor and nowhere near the mouth.  We have tried spoon feeding, giving her spoons, sitting her with food and leaving her, sitting her with food and standing over her, eating it ourselves with exaggerated choruses of "MMMMM!", hiding vegetables between pieces of bread, singing as a distraction, TV as a distraction, feeding her one weeto at a time and chucking raisins at her through the bars of her playpen as if she were a little caged animal.  Nothing has ever worked more than once.  Oh, and now she has learned how to spit things out in case Mummy dares to tuck a piece of fruit away inside a pot of yoghurt.

I could go on for a long time about how I feel about this, and indeed I have done on Facebook and in other forums, but all I want to say for now is: I am thoroughly sick of hearing about how other people's children love to consume tagliatelle and sauce with their bare hands.  That is all.

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

A bad day for Mummy skills

It's been a bad day for Mummy skills.  Really, if anybody was this rubbish at a conventional job, they'd be sacked.  Fortunately Mummies are very rarely sacked (though the downside of this is that they are also unable to quit).

The Rev is away on potty training (that's Post Ordination Training, to the uninitiated) so this goes to show how much I generally rely on him as back-up parent even when I'm 'taking care of Abigail' and he's 'at work'.  One of the things we struggle with as a family is how difficult it is to keep these two job descriptions distinct when it all takes place under the same roof.

For a start, this morning I put the television on so that I could get dressed, and allowed Abigail to watch Waybuloo, a programme I disagree with on every level including educational, spiritual and artistic levels.  After that I felt like such a bad parent already that I decided to go for a nice healthy walk at about the time that I really should have been thinking about getting lunch.  I put Abigail in the sling because using the pushchair would have involved finding the garage door keys and opening the garage door from the front (tricky at the best of times, impossible with a baby under one arm.)  After a lengthy, damp, cold and generally uncomfortable walk for both of us, we arrived home to find that Abigail had removed a leg-warmer and hidden it in the middle of the hall floor before we'd even left.  I hadn't noticed.

Remembering that I didn't have much in the house to cook with, I made toast pizza (take a slice of toast, spread it with tomato puree, grate cheese on top, add little bits of ham, pop under the grill) for my now tired, cold and hungry baby.  To my surprise, Abigail ate it.  So that brings the total of Things Abigail Will Eat By Herself to chicken nuggets, pizza and rusks.  Mmm, healthy.

After lunch, I tried to persuade Abigail to have a nap, but she must have had about 5 seconds' secret sleep on our walk because she was wide awake and bouncing.  So I took her to the clinic to get her weighed instead - something I haven't done since she was 7 months old because the clinic coincides exactly with her nap time.  I managed to arrive at the clinic without any spare nappies, or even a nappy bag.  Happily I had changed her just before we left, so I didn't have to put a dirty nappy back on in front of the health visitor,  but I'm ashamed to admit that I said loudly, ostensibly to Abigail, "This one's still nice and clean, so we'll put it back on, shall we?"  I don't know whether the health visitor was fooled, considering that I wasn't carrying any bag that could have concealed a clean nappy.

After that, we went to the co-op for a few things and then drove home.  On the way home, Abigail predictably fell asleep in the car, so I mentally cancelled all the things I was going to get done while she napped, and then realised that I had forgotten to buy full-fat milk, the main thing I had gone to the co-op for.  I'm glad that Abigail was too fast asleep to hear the word I said at this point.  Stopped at the post office shop on the way home and went in to get milk, leaving her asleep in the car.

And now she's sitting on the floor, happily deleting apps from my iPhone, since in a room full of toys that's the only thing that would distract her from my laptop long enough to allow me to write this post.

Monday, 31 January 2011

Parenting Style

We don't have a parenting style.  At least, not one that has a name.  Our parenting method, from the very beginning, had three simple steps:

1) read absolutely everyone and everything on the subject
2) watch what the baby actually does
3) mentally put a large cross through everything we've read, and do what the baby seems to need at the time.

For example, when Abigail was about 6 weeks old and we were just coming out the other side of a catalogue of disasters which I will have to blog about later, she began screaming from seven until midnight every night.  We rocked her, sang to her, bounced her, wore her, breastfed her.  At midnight, she would fall asleep, exhausted, and we would put her down in her basket where she would sleep contentedly for at least 4 hours.  We assumed it was colic, since that's what it always is when small babies cry in the evenings.  Colic is code for "we have no idea why they do this".

Then, one evening, just after the screaming had started, I had to do something - I forget what - something like going out to the garage in the snow to get food from the freezer, so I put her down in her basket for the two minutes that it took me to perform this task, and when I got back, she was fast asleep.  I got on with the cooking, assuming that she would soon wake up and scream again.  She didn't.  She slept until 4 in the morning.

It was like the proverbial light coming on.  She didn't have colic - she was just tired.  All our rocking, bouncing, singing interventions had been keeping the poor mite awake, and we had continued to do them because that's what the books we agreed with all said that babies liked.  But Abigail was different.  She didn't like to be held when she went to sleep.  She liked to be left alone in a dark room.  From that night onwards, we started a bedtime routine at seven consisting of bath, story and last feed, and then left her.  She fell asleep within five minutes and it was then that she started sleeping through the night, with only a brief semi-waking for a feed at 4am.  Bingo.

Of course, I am still swatting well-meaning babysitters and friends who say "You're not going to leave her to cry, are you?" at bedtime, while looking at me as if I'm Gina Ford with horns.  What they don't know - and what I patiently have to explain each time to their disbelieving ears - is that even now, at over a year old, if we leave Abigail, she might cry a tired sort of whinge for a maximum of 15 minutes before sleep; if I were in the room with her, she'd be screaming bloody murder and it would go on for hours.  I know it sounds odd, but I suppose it shouldn't be a surprise to me: she is, after all, her mother's daughter, and I can't get to sleep in a car, on a train, or if her daddy is so much as checking his mail on his iPhone lying next to me.  I need dark, still and quiet, too.

I have to remember, though, that this isn't the solution for everyone else's baby.  I did try, once, suggesting to a friend as she paraded her shrieking, obviously tired son up and down the living room: "Why don't you just try putting him down?"  Gina Ford with horns and a tail, this time.  I don't blame her; if anybody had suggested it to me before I worked it out for myself I would have reacted in just the same way.  You have to follow your own baby.  Unfortunately, the benefit of my hindsight will never help anyone else's child.

And that's why parenting manuals don't really work.  Whatever the method is, from baby-led weaning to sleep training, examples are eagerly given of it working and changing someone's life; but you first have to look at your own child and say "Ah, but will it work with this one?"

Sunday, 30 January 2011

Here begins another experiment

Blogs are no different to the notebooks I used to keep diaries in as a teenager.

I would be attracted to them in shops, paw their shiny covers, leaf longingly through their thick pages.  After brief internal struggles I would purchase them, against my better judgement, and take them home.  I would write in them daily for a week, then weekly for a month, then barely at all.  Finally, one of two things would happen.  Either I would see, and covet, another beautiful notebook, or an event so extraordinarily dreadful or wonderful would happen that I would be unable to write about it, but reluctant to continue writing after it as if it had never occurred.  So another mostly empty notebook would be consigned to the back of a drawer, to be cringed over and thrown away years later.

I've lost count of the number of blogs I've had.  I think this is the fourth, but that doesn't count all the pages, websites and forums that I've started and then left.  Two blogs were quite successful, and they were the ones with a particular purpose and timespan: one recording university life, and the other recording my pregnancy (see link to the right).  So, here begins another experiment.  Inspired by Netmums Real Parenting project, and by a few blogs and sites belonging to friends, this blog is solely for the purpose of blogging about motherhood and family life: not only recording our life as it happens, but also commenting on such subjects when they occur in the news or are under discussion in Netmums.

And, in order to persuade myself that this blog is not to be consigned to the back of an ethereal internet drawer, it's not going to go public until I have written at least five posts within the space of a month.  After that, I'll link to it in Twitter, give the address to friends and see what happens.