Sunday, December 27, 2009

More sprouts!

"Santa came!"
"Ooh! "

I don't think anyone was quite sure what to expect of Louis on Christmas Day, including Louis. Could an 18-month-old really "get" Christmas? I mean, it's all pretty bizarre, what with a tree suddenly appearing in your living room dripping with what are basically toys that he's not allowed to touch, and men dressed in red popping up all over the place: at parties, on houses, in gardens, in pictures. 

But come Christmas morning, Louis was pretty excited that "Santa came" and the "stocking" we'd hung up the night before had stuff in it to "open". Especially when Santa turned out to be a lot less fussy about gender specific toys than his Mum and brought him a "digger sand". (Am not sure what happened to Father Christmas; I guess Louis must have picked up more American than we thought.) Although he scoffed the "orange" Santa had left, he was more excited by the "money" that "Dan-dad" and G'ma Sue had stuck on Mummy and Daddy's presents. Apparently it's a Dutch tradition. Nobody tell him they're actually chocolate!

Judging by the pile of presents for Louis, no one had thought to test out the old adage that little children are just as happy playing with a cardboard box all day as a pile of presents. Not that I'm complaining. Louis' presents are all brilliant: lots of lovely, stylish warm clothes, a wooden 'sicycle', his first train set, some great Lego, books, a mini wooden toolbox, "jamas" with matching toy, and his very own "Piggle" doll that I bought him somewhat misguidedly in slight desperation at not having found anything else.  

Like his Mum, Louis took his present opening slowly to start with, but as he warmed up the wrapping paper came flying off. He made a useful present delivery man but only if the recipient didn't mind him doing their "open" for them. Somehow we stretched "open" out all day, but only after pausing for a cliff walk and an enormous lunch - Louis' second of the day. 

Lunch probably provided the biggest surprise of Christmas. Even though Louis's non meat-eating Mum relented and dished him up a smidgeon of turkey, the bird barely got a look in from Louis, and not just because there were eight different veggies accompanying G'ma P's bird. No, the biggest shock was Louis' taste for sprouts, sprouts and "more sprouts". Someone tell the sprout marketing board. Louis even has a special sprout pose when his face bunches up in excitement at the thought of yet more. I guess it means he'll be a cheap date for the rest of the festive period given that sprouts always seem to be discounted in the supermarket after Christmas. "Happy Kissmas" everyone. 

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

More tree-ditions

So much for my fleeting plan to do a 12 days to Christmas countdown blog. There's now only two to go but suffice to say, we've ticked off a fair few more traditions. There's been the getting sick one (Louis, twice, and now DJ); the Christmas tree stress; and, a new entry for the Noughties, the nightmare that is internet shopping when you lack the luxury of a concierge, as in DC. 

The tree stress was classic. Initial disagreement over where to buy tree followed by B&Q being totally sold out of all things festive by 15 December, which incidentally was the earliest we've ever decided to do a tree. Then the tree that we brought home from the super pricey flower shop near us was vastly bigger than anticipated, so of course didn't fit in the tree stand we had. But could we find another tree stand, anywhere? Obviously not. Even when we'd managed to cadge one from 'dand-dad' we then had the joys of not one but two sets of tree lights breaking. It clearly would have been insane to imagine we'd be able to buy another set so 'close' to Christmas - thanks Selfridges - so we were stuck waiting for one to arrive in the post from John Lewis, only of course the 5mm of snow on the ground means that there hasn't been any post for days. 

And what has Louis made of all this? Well, he's enjoyed the additional Christmas cooking: 'stir it biscuits' and mince pies. And he's already firm friends with 'Santa', although he snoozed through the trip to his grotto that 'Curry and Go-seph' had planned for us the other day. But his favourite part of Christmas has to be the tree. Or the tree decorations to be more precise. He spends most of his time taking them all off. At least I can put him to work on Twelfth Night. 

Monday, December 14, 2009

Christmas present

Christmas comes early

Am still thinking a lot about Christmas traditions. Although I've always enjoyed them, having Louis seems to elevate their importance. Like the cake wishing. I'm already wondering what sort of Christmases Louis will remember having had when he looks back on them one day. Obviously I realise time is on my side. He is only 18 months and clearly has trouble just remembering what he's done each day. But, still. It gives me something to think about other than my general fatigue .

Given that we're going to G'ma P's for the actual day, my musings thus far have been fairly materialistic. Specifically: will we be a heavy-on-the-presents family or a more spartan one? I'll never forget friends I had (still have) who must have had diametrically opposed Christmases: one, I'll swear, was pleased to get the two items on her Santa wish list, while the other would spend the entire day opening presents and have a totally new winter wardrobe at the end of it. (But actually, seeing as she didn't get bought any clothes for the rest of winter it was more a question of distribution, my mum pointed out.)

I'm actually getting rather alarmed at the thought of Louis getting lots of Christmas gifts. Which might explain why I haven't bought anything yet. By the time I've finished plotting the cost versus how long I think he'll play with something on some sort of mental graph with x being the amount of space it will take up and y its contribution to the plastic fantastic universe, somehow the transaction never gets made. So far, I haven't bought: a trampoline, a wooden bus, a hobby horse and an Iggle Piggle duvet cover. Not to mention a mini wooden kitchen from John Lewis. (Although the only reason there is that it's £106. If it wasn't it, I'd snap it up.) It's saving me a fortune. But I can't help feeling a bit mean.

That said, the only person who's asked me what Louis might like is my dad, so perhaps the 25th won't be the giftfest I'm imagining! And I already vetoed the replica police bike, complete with siren, that my mum was looking at. Nobody tell Louis!

PS Have just realised how horribly materialistic all that was. I should be worrying about which Christmas church service to take him to. Whoops.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

That'll be a D-

Okay, so can someone please tell me when it's supposed to get easier? This parenting lark? I've barely scraped a D- this past week, which was capped last night by Louis pushing his firetruck round the living room at, I kid you not, 11pm, screeching "nee nor nee nor". (At 9.30pm, I'd got so bored trying to persuade him to go to sleep that I took him downstairs to watch Gossip Girl with me. My hope that he'd crash out backfired: he watched agog, and this morning was telling DJ - who'd been at work - all about "Goss Goss".) He then proceeded to wake hourly from 3am....

If that was the cherry on the top of my bad mum week, I cooked the cake on Wednesday when I broke every mummy rule in the book after Louis hit his head. Well, before, really given that I shouldn't have let him escape from the swimming pool in the first place. I was just about to scoop him up when, obviously, he slipped backwards, smacking the back of his skull. Ooops. Mistake number two was deciding to get back in the water with him, whereupon he was promptly sick, then thereafter they just kept on coming. Let's just say the NHS Direct nurse clearly thought I was nuts when I told her he was asleep during our phone call. In my defence, it was nap time and he'd been awake since half five.

I then ignored her advice to take him straight down to A&E in favour of going to Chloe's first birthday party. Only to spend the whole time stressing out that Louis was way below par and did indeed need to get checked out. So for some reason I thought it would be a good idea to wait until his dinner time to break my A&E duck and take him along. Turns out the rest of south London had had a similar idea. The upshot is I didn't even manage to pull off a successful A&E trip: the wait was so long that once we'd seen the triage nurse I decided to scarper.

As it turned out, my initial judgment that he was probably okay, was probably the right one. Well, I'm guessing it was because he was clearly back to his old ways last night. Unless insomnia is a sympton of concussion that I don't know about? Perhaps it's just as well that we've had to cancel the babysitter tonight because DJ is sick. I'm thinking this evening just wouldn't have been the best time to attempt to leave Louis (asleep) with someone he's never met before. Though it is a shame about our evening out.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Christmas wishes

'Stir it cak'

Talking of getting old, one highlight of having your own family, as oppose to just being part of one, is that you get to start your own Christmas traditions rather than just join in everyone else's. For me, this means getting to put the tree up earlier than Christmas Eve. It also means making my own cake, rather than just one at my Mum's. That's because of all the traditions, by far the most important is our annual baking session, and not just because we have sweet teeth.

Far more important are the Christmas wishes you make while stirring the mixes. It's always the same Christmas pudding recipe but we switched to a different cake one about ten years ago - from Leith's cook book if you need one. Various friends have joined in the wishing over the years, sometimes even telephonically. We're semi-religious about our wishes, which meant I had to time my cake baking last year for a weekend when Bam-ma was visiting. I recall having to substitute quite a few ingredients - who knew glace cherries were morello cherries in American? - but it came out okay in the end. And I think my wish came true.

I have high hopes for 2010 because this year I've managed two wishing, sorry, baking sessions: one at Bam-ma's and one at home (we needed a cake too plus DJ needed a chance to wish). Louis was in 'cak' heaven. Despite being seriously overtired this morning, 'stir it cak' kept him entertained for easily an hour. First he had to help me measure the raisins, currants and sultanas. And re-measure them to make up for all the ones that ended up on the floor. It all got very 'sticky'. Then he had to 'stir it' and keep 'stir it'. Until it was time to 'weeeeeeesh'. I think his must have come true, because five minutes later I caught him with his finger in the bowl. 'Nice!'

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Getting old

At 18 months

Getting old, it has always struck me, boils down to a handful of things. In no particular order, these include listening to the Archers (a Radio 4 evening drama for US readers), listening to the Today programme (a morning news show on Radio 4), listening to Radio 4 generally, taking up gardening, birdwatching and hoovering before you have visitors.

And that's just for starters. Other markers, for me at least, are being called Susanna not Susie - for some reason, I remember being adamant when I was little that I'd have to be called Susanna when I was a grown up - cutting my hair short, properly short, not just in a bob, and wearing high heels to work.

I'll leave you to guess which ones I've succumbed to so far. There is one more key trait, though, to which I'll admit I'm guilty. And, surprise, surprise, it concerns Louis. Actually, there's another: you definitely had to be old to have kids. To be more precise, it concerns Louis and time. Namely the passing of time, which, as everybody knows, just gets faster and faster and faster the longer you live. When you're small, an hour can stretch on for a lifetime with a whole day, especially Sundays, lasting an eternity. And not in a good way, as I recall.

But now. Oh no. Now time is a completely different concept, speeding up practically daily. Thanks to Louis it is blindingly obvious how quickly it is galloping by. For instance, do you know what day it is today? It is his one-and-a-half year birthday. Granted, not a conventional milestone to celebrate, but it feels like a milestone nonetheless. Not least because it casts me back so clearly to this time last year, his six-month marker. We were in Boston, spending the weekend with Mum, and I recall that at six months, with his new taste for baby rice, Louis seemed all but grown up.

Little did I know then how old he'd seem today, 5 December 2009. If all his chatting - he's started stringing words together now - wasn't evidence enough of his aging then how about this: from now on he is apparently no longer a baby. Or so says my BabyCentre email anyway. And to be honest, I'd have to concur. I guess that might explain at least why I've been trying to wean him. It doesn't explain, however, why I feel so bad about doing so.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Never rock a newborn and other 'useful' tips

A Day Three pre-rocked Louis
I'm never alone when I rock Louis to sleep. Aside from the obvious, I can always count on the company of a nagging voice in my head that gets stuck on repeat. "Don't get your newborn used to being rocked to sleep; you'll regret it when they're 17 pounds." That little gem was one of the many priceless tips I gleaned from my extensive pre-birth baby book reading: I find it comes in particularly handy now that Louis is 17 months and a good 10 or so pounds past that 17 pound cut off. 

Given how 'useful' that bit of advice turned out to be, I started thinking about all the other so-called top tips I wish I'd never read while pregnant. Up there with thou shalt not rock your baby, was the one about those glider rocking chairs. You know, those ridiculously comfy (and expensive) chairs, that adorn "proper" nurseries. Well, apparently they're lethal. All that rocking might comfort your baby so much that they get too used to it. Plus heaven forbid you should actually be comfortable for all those hours and hours - and hours you spend nursing and soothing your child. Avoid! Avoid! 

Then, in no particular order of irritation and uselessness we have: 
- Don't carry your baby around too much in a sling. He/she will get so sick of hearing your voice that they'll start tuning you out. (With thanks to, 'What to Expect those first 12 fraught months for that one, a personal favourite that yes I did worry about as I burbled away to Louis.)
- You're the boss, not the baby: don't let him/her dictate when he/her needs to eat. Put the baby on a schedule asap and don't be its slave. (No prizes for guessing where I read that. And yes, I know I want shooting for even picking up the dreaded Gina.)
- Think EASY and you'll have your baby in a routine in no time. That's Eat, Activity, Sleep, You time. (You think it's obvious when the baby's still in your tummy, but you try keeping a newborn from sleeping after a feed, or getting it straight to sleep after playtime. Actually, don't. It will drive you nuts. Thanks for nothing Baby Whisperer.)
- It's never too early to start getting baby used to a bedtime routine. (But what the books don't tell you is that do that and you'll miss out on all those opportunities of taking out your very portable newborn. Plus routine, schmoutine: I was anal about bedtime from about week three and fat lot of good it did me.)
- Start expressing milk pronto so the baby's dad can do the 11pm feed and you can go to bed early. (It might sound sensible, but that advice is just wrong on so many levels, from making you stress about expressing when you have better things to worry.)
- Sleep when the baby sleeps. (What if it doesn't? Or you can't? Another way to make me feel incompetent.) 
- Avoid vibrating baby bouncers. Ditto singing mobiles or anything else that will get your baby too used to a sleeping 'crutch' ever to fall asleep by himself. (And make life even harder for your sleep-deprived self? Brilliant advice, that. Advice that I diligently followed, opting instead for a beautifully designed number that I liked but Louis - sorry Great Aunt Claire - never adored.)

I could go on, but I'm seriously depressing myself. I had intended to balance this post with a list of tips I did find useful (that'll be quite short, then) plus add some of my own, but I've already broken Daddy J's golden "keep it short and sweet" blogging rule. I'd love to hear which "tips" keep you constant company in your hours of need. Or, cynic that I am, any that did indeed prove sanity saving. 

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Bugging me, Bugaboo (ah-haaa)

Regular bwb readers will know that Louis and his buggy don't exactly always see eye to eye. Not the one he's pushing in the picture but the one that cost us a small fortune that I thought I 'had' to have before he was born. These days he seems to spend more time 'buggy surfing' than actually sitting in it. Which means that I too have a love-hate relationship with his pushchair. As fellow bloggers will know, there's nothing like writing about something to vent your wrath, and I got to do that in spades this week, with a comment piece about, yup, buggies in the wake of the great Maclaren saga. I'd be interested to know if anyone else feels the same.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

17 months going on 3 days

Last Sunday at the Flower Market

I blame it on the picture. Ever since I posted the photo of Louis as a newborn, he's decided to behave just like one. If it wasn't for the extra 15 odd pounds he's carrying round and the blonde rinse, I reckon I'd struggle to tell the difference. 

Take the past couple of nights. After napping during the evening, he's proceeded to wake up hourly - yes, hourly - during the rest of the so-called night. I swear there's precious little difference between the amount of time he's then spent nursing and when he was a few days old. His favourite place for sleeping still seems to be in my arms: last night he only dropped back off at 1am after I sat up cuddling him for the best part of an hour. 

Then there's the buggy. Yet again I spent half of our walk home pushing it with one hand while carrying him with the other. It brought memories of walking home from Borough Market with him aged three weeks: my Mum pushing his buggy and me carrying him, worrying I'd get him into bad habits. Yet this time there was the small matter of him weighing the best part of 25 pounds (I'm guessing - to know for sure I'd have to either brave a session at baby clinic or stand on our scales holding him and I'm not prepared to do either). 

Not that I'm really complaining. How can I when someone seems to have pressed the fast forward button on time and he'll be all grown up before I know it? Besides, he makes up it all in other ways. Perhaps if new borns popped out being able to say "Mummy" and plant mushy kisses on their mothers' lips then PND rates would plummet. 

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

A special birthday

Birthdays are funny things for Mums. For instance, I now realise that the day itself is of far more significance to my Mum than to me. After all, she's the one with the actual memories of 3 November 197.... no, on second thoughts, I won't say the year!

I remember last year (for bwb passed it's own little birthday last month, something I had meant to highlight, but never got round to, story of my life) musing something about how even my own birthday got hijacked by Louis. So I expected more of the same this year. Especially as I was recently reminded that it was all downhill in terms of birthday enjoyment once you'd had a child.

But actually I don't think that's right. It sounds selfish to say it, but I honestly think today totally revolved around me, not Louis. My lovely friend and her son made the day very special, and it was more of the same later on when we went out en famille for an early supper. Even the waitresses contributed, bringing me a surprise birthday pudding and candle. (To be honest, I think a round of, 'Happy Birthday to Me', which I'd spent most of the day singing to Louis, mainly because every time I finished he laughed and said, 'More!,' helped.)

So, chin up fellow Mums: you might not relish the passing of another 12 months in terms of what it does to the age on any forms you fill in (or the wrinkles on your face) but your birthday can still be special. If you doubt me, just give your baby/toddler/child a huge hug and think how much nicer it is to have them around to share it with.

*I would post a birthday pic, but my phone broke this morning and I forgot to take my camera out with me. So, instead, I thought you might like one that I just came across of Louis on his actual birth day. Plus I don't want to be able to see how aging a year of not sleeping is!

Monday, November 2, 2009

Part-time living

Four months in to my new part-time life and I'm still trying to figure out what I make of it all. And I mean 'part-time life': working three days a week means I not only do the job and Mummy bit part time, but everything else as well.

Yet tough as it is to squeeze five days work into three, it's probably the part-time family stuff that I find hardest. We pretty much operate a one-in, one-out policy on the parenting front in this house, which speaks for itself. The only reason I didn't stop writing bwb when I came back from DC was because I spend so many evenings alone.

Then again, part-time friendships aren't exactly easy. We're useless socially because one of us is usually working - day or night - and dinner party invites for one just don't happen. I'd love a decent night out, but can't even manage to organise that for my birthday.

It's working part time that's got me into this mess. When you're still on maternity leave, it seems such an elegant solution to the conundrum of whether to go back. But from this side of the fence the reality is pretty different. It's just not possible to feel you do either the job or the baby justice. Although I'd like to think Louis suffers a little bit less than the paper. Mainly because he gets to hang out more with his Daddy, not forgetting the lovely Anna and his 'Bam-ma'(s) when they have time.

The old guilt of the working mum is as old a chestnut as they come, yet each new mother struggling with her conscience comes to the issue afresh. The conundrum got an airing this weekend when the Observer's political editor described why she'd decided to resign and get to know her toddler instead of working round the clock. It's a great piece, but only served to magnify my own work insecurities because anyone who knows me knows I'd never have cut a holiday short to return to work! (As retail correspondent I managed to miss the bid battle of the century when Philip Green tried to buy Marks & Sparks because I was getting married.) I utterly applaud Gaby Hinsliff for quitting but slightly worry that she's called her inevitable blog usedtobesomebody. It hardly makes it sound like full-time motherhood has much going for it.

And the solution? There isn't one. Not working full time, not working at all, and not even working part time. What to do?

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Louis Samson

Working the mullet look
Matching bouffants

Call me shallow but one of the most pressing concerns I had when Louis was tiny concerned his hair. Namely, would all the lovely locks he was born with fall out? And, more pressingly, how long would they take to grow back? Not that bald babies aren't cute.... it's just that hair looks pretty good too.

Fast forward 16 months and I can report that Louis did keep most of his hair, save a slight stripe round the middle (which apparently his Dad lost too). But happily it wasn't long before Louis's bouffant was rivaling his Dada's. (See photo above.)

Interestingly, it seems that Louis shared my early worries. I know this because he won't let me near him with a pair of scissors. I've tried on several occasions, but he's having none of it. If I so much as pick up a pair, he starts pulling the most miserable face while frantically combing his hair flat; he's clearly very proud of that blonde "bouffe", as it's colloquially known in our family.

More interestingly, those rare occasions I have managed to trim the odd bit (and I mean 'odd bit' - you should see how raggedy the back is), are always followed by Louis getting sick. In Bermondsey, in Athens, before we left for Paris the other day.... I'm starting to understand where Samson was coming from. One man's bouffe is another man's mojo.

Still tired after all these months

Back in the day, you know, B.L., when I used to think being tired was that feeling that hit you around 4pm on a workday, I remember reading that the average new parent lost out on around 800 hours of sleep during that first year of their baby's life. I have a feeling I've blogged this fact before, but to be honest, everything gets a bit hazy after more than a year of sleepless nights. I do, however, recall a sinking feeling of dread at the prospect of all those sleepless nights. And days. 

But thinking about the past 16 or so months, as I was while putting Louis to bed the other night, I started calculating another, far more pertinent figure. I wanted to know how many hours I'd spent actually trying to get him to sleep since he was born. I'm talking about all that time spent rocking, singing, swaying, pushing (the buggy), nursing, nursing, nursing, praying, crying, nursing, walking, nursing, patting, singing, nursing.... You get the drift. 

So, I totted it all up, pretty conservatively I might add, and I reckon I've spent the equivalent of two months trying to persuade Louis either to nap or sleep. Yup, two months. Give or take a day or two. If that sounds unlikely, consider that this is a child who even as a newborn, when most babies apparently sleep an average of 20 hours in every 24, he was getting by with barely 12 to 14. Not for want of my trying, I might add. 

Fast forward 16 months and Louis's (non)-sleeping habits still dominate most of my days - and nights. Every now and then, there's a glimmer of hope that things might be improving. Like tonight, when he miraculously fell asleep about 10 minutes after I switched off the light. But that's forgetting about last Friday, when he had me practically begging him to shut his eyes after he spent a good two-hour stretch of the early hours awake. 

The reason I'm writing about sleep - again - is because I thought I'd link to a piece I wrote recently in the Independent about our travails. It may not have yielded the answer, but writing it was pretty cathartic. I mention it mainly for all the great comments and tips that readers posted at the end of the piece just in case they might come in handy for anyone in my boat. And if they don't, then let me just add one more observation that I received in a letter from a very kind reader. Even non-sleeping toddlers grow up eventually. And that time passes quicker than you might think. Even at 4am. 

Monday, October 5, 2009

Eco mountain living

There's a certain irony about tipping up at an eco-resort with a toddler. Come to think of it, there's a certain irony about eco-resorts, but I digress. Having a baby has to be the un-greenest thing anyone can do, regardless of how many cloth diapers you might wash or wooden toys you find at charity shops. (And for the record, my cloth diapers went through the wash all of, oh, two times and our house is full of so much plastic tat it can feel like stepping into a Chinese toy factory.)

Not that we headed up to the eco-retreat of Milia, in the moutains above Chania, to try and assuage our new parent guilt at creating another carbon-guzzling citizen.  These days, as I toss another day's worth of dirty Pampers in the rubbish (whoops, I meant Nature Babycare, although I reckon Pampers leak less at night) or get through yet another age range of baby clothes, I have almost accepted my lot as planet destroyer. But I'm not knocking Milia's green status. 

Milia bills itself as a traditional settlement where, for a tidy fee, you can live like Cretan peasants of yesteryear. (Yet another irony, surely.) All the guest houses have been restored from the ruins of old village cottages. Luxurious they are not. But it's a great idea for a resort. I'm not sure it was the best place to head with a toddler, however. Especially one who chose our one day in the mountains to get sick. It was like being in the Navajo Nation all over again. But on the plus side, at least he slept for most of our walk, ahem, rock scramble. 

Louis survived but I think his personal jury is still out on mountaineering given that every time we've taken him above sea level thus far he's become ill. At least after downing sufficient Calpol he managed to enjoy elements of being there. Namely the four footed ones: the 25 or so cats and umpteen goats were definately his highlight. I would post more pictures as evidence but I've misplaced my blogging camera. Am very much hoping it's not still in Crete, because we're now in London.....

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Holiday vocab

"Cat" hunting

One thing that's been really fun has been Louis' Greek holiday vocab. Okay, so his eating strike/illness (yes, another holiday illness - we're beginning to think he's trying to tell us he doesn't like travelling) means he isn't quite saying 'spanokopitta' or 'gyros', but he's got the seaside stuff down pat. 

We head to the "sand" so we can go "swimming" in the "sea" and then take a "shower" when we come out. His other favourite pursuit is to go "cat" hunting: this being Greece there are plenty around to chase among the bushes. I can feel a kitten hunting mission of my own coming on when we get home...

Although he's struggling with Raphael's German - "key" is just so much easier to say than "schlussel" - he's having lots of fun playing "cou-cou" with Mathis, the very sweet two-year-old from Versailles who is our next door neighbour here. 

Then there's "bum". For a day or two we were stumped about where that one came from, but then all became clear when he started pointing excitedly to the "bummer". Which is, obviously, the camera. Try it, "bummer" isn't as far off as you might think.....

Baby Butlins, Chania

Captain Monkey's breakfast
Louis and Raphael
Posing on the Marimekko cushions

So, it turns out that despite our odyssey to get here, Daddy J might just have struck holiday gold with his choice of hotel. Not only is the Ammos, near Chania, an i-escape pick (that website will bankrupt us, damn it), but it also does a mean sideline as a Baby Butlins.

Forget designer one-pieces; the accessory des vacances is a cute toddler. From Mathis and Athena, to Raphael and Noé, the Ammos is swimming in little playmates for Louis. And being one of Crete’s few boutique hotels, the Ammos attracts a cosmopolitan crowd, making poolside playtime into a virtual UN crèche. In fact, we wondered whether Nikos, the owner, had some sort of EU-style quota system in operation when it came to bookings: we counted Dutch, German, French, Poles, Brits, Greeks, Italians and even Danes, Swiss, Icelanders and Russians among the guests. Louis will be practically chattering in Esperanto by the time we get home.

Nikos apparently has a website called Baby Friendly Boltholes to “thank” for his baby magnet status. I am still trying to decide whether that's a website to use - or avoid in the future. If this stay has been anything to go by, then having other babies around is a real bonus. For one thing, it makes all the parents heaps friendlier. You have to be when your little ones are all sharing toys and splashing in the sea together. Which means that come bedtime, we've got someone to share a glass or two of wine with as well. Double bonus. 

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Taking it easy

After abandoning the buggy
Why don't my shoes have pom poms?
The view

This time, we swore we'd get it right. Holidaying with a baby. Not for us the madness of a two week roadtrip; instead, we'd seek island serenity. Not the deserted, hut on a beach, almost-camping-in-a-vastly-different-timezone kind, but the child-friendly, mod-con equipped, Mediterranean kind of island. Greece would do, we figured. Or more specifically, Crete. After all: you can fly straight there from Gatwick. What could be easier? 

Except that in our vocab easy seems to be a dirty word. So, rather than book a direct flight to Heraklion, which would have been but a short hop in a car to the boutique hotel DJ promised would represent positively our last, last blast before a future of actual camping holidays beckons, we thought it might be more fun instead to fly to Athens and take a ferry. To the furthest Greek island that you can get to, thereby turning what could have (and should have) been a relaxing two week beach holiday into more of a hybrid city and beach affair. And just to make packing even more fun, we decided to throw some mountains in for good measure. Because there's nothing like trying to squeeze three types of clothing into two smallish bags to put mummies in a good pre-holiday mood!

At least we weren't doing our usual getting-up-in-the-middle-of-the-night thing. No, this time we thought we'd play it safe and get the afternoon flight. We did all the calculations: landing at 9pm Greek time would be only 7pm back home making it barely a late night for Louis once we finally managed to check in to our hotel. But somehow I forgot to take account of the fact that by the end of the flight he'd be so wired by the excitement of traveling that in future I think even that 3am alarm call would be more painless. 

And for the record, Athens, for all its Olympics makeover, is still Athens. That is to say, chaotic, dirty, crowded, pavement-less, traffic-ridden, and utterly buggy unfriendly. (Not that Louis minded that we had to leave the buggy behind on day two: these days you can't even bribe him with snacks to stay in it. I wonder if Bugaboo does refunds?) We hardly helped ourselves when it came to trying to take it easy on the sightseeing front. We ended up walking round the whole of the city, including taking a funicular to its highest point, on our first day. If this sounds like toddler hell, then consider the mummy torture of zooming straight past shop after shop, not to mention cool looking bar after cool looking bar. 

Next time, I guess we're getting that direct flight straight to the beach. And staying put once we get there.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Great birthday wishes


There's birthdays, and then there's great birthdays. And my grandpa's 92nd birthday today definitely falls into the latter category. Not least because since Louis came along, his status has been elevated from "merely grand, to great". (I quote from the card he sent when Louis was born.) 

92. It makes you think, doesn't it. About lots of things but mainly that if Louis is lucky enough to clock up a similar number, then he'll have lived to see in a brand new century. The 22nd. Now there's a thought. Happy birthday (Great) Grandpa! 

Monday, September 14, 2009

Missing shadow

Pants protest without Louis
And reunited with my shadow

There comes a point, during that first, looooong, year of motherhood when you begin to wonder if the day will ever come when you will get the chance to shake off your shadow and venture out, solo. Such is the intensity of that relationship it can be hard to remember that the umbilical cord actually was cut at birth. Especially if you don't have the luxury of family or friends who can take the odd shift to give you a bit of a break. 

I should know. For the six months I was in DC the only Louis downtime I got was the odd yoga class. I began to wonder if I'd ever manage to use both hands simultaneously again or walk down the street without either a baby strapped to my body or a buggy in tow. Or worse. A baby strapped to my body AND a buggy in tow. (Or a stroller as it was then.)

Don't get me wrong. Come the weekend, provided DJ was actually in town and not off on one of his trips, he'd always offer to take Louis off so I could have a break. But I never wanted to miss out on time spent a trois. So I stuck around. 

And I hardly let having Louis around 24/7 cramp my style. Whatever I wanted to do, he just came as well. (With the exception of going out for a night on the tiles; somehow that just never happened!) Which meant he got about a fair bit. One of my personal favourites - and I imagine his if he can remember - was the Prop 8 protest march we went on with Sara, Jen and Alex. 

My excuse for reminiscing like this is that last week I found myself at another protest. But because it was a Friday, and because I was there for work, I was by myself. Well, I say "work" - what I really mean is that I was there on work time because I'd have gone regardless. It was a protest in support of Lubna Hussein, the Sudanese UN worker who was on trial facing 40 lashes for the crime of wearing trousers. I'd written a piece querying where the International Sisterhood was when it came to supporting her, which had led to a (very terrifying) slot on Women's Hour and the aforementioned protest. 

I'd been there about half an hour, when I realised something was wrong. Something was missing. My shadow. I'd been so used to dragging Louis along wherever I went, it just seemed wrong that he wasn't there with me. I missed him. Hard as I would have found that to believe had you told me that all those months back when I longed even to drink a coffee without balancing a wriggling little bundle of menace on my knee. I guess that from now on he'll always be an extension of me to some extent. 

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Where's "Mama"?

Louis and Mama throwing "stones"

It's a fascinating thing watching babies learn to speak. Endless months of babbling and then, finally, the odd word emerges from the baby burble. I obviously liked to kid myself that his first word was, of course, ma-ma, way back at about month seven. But, clearly, Louis was just discovering that pursing his lips and breathing out at the same time gave him a 'ma' 'ma' sound, to add to the others in his repertoire. And then it was on to the next consonant. And the next one. 

I say "clearly" because for months now Louis has obstinately refused to say Mama at all. He'll "Dadada" until the cows come home, and has done since, oh, so long ago that I forget exactly when. And he definitely means Dada when he says it. He' says it when Daddy J comes home, when he sees photos of DJ, when he hears him on the stairs, etc etc. But when he sees me - in the flesh or in pics? Nada. 

Now that he's trying out even more words, it's interesting to try and work out why he chooses the ones he does. "Nana" (for banana) was easy. He was pretty much weaned on bananas and has eaten at least a treeful ever since. "Quack, quack" because he was obsessed with ducks (although he apparently also thinks that dogs and cats also quack). "Key" and "car" came spilling out of his mouth simultaneously, which makes sense, I guess and reflects his love of both. Especially "keys". 

Then "shoes" are exciting because wearing them means he gets to go out. And "stones" just popped out at Grandma Penny's the other day because he was having so much fun throwing them on the beach. "Toes" and "nose" were an easy addition because we spend quite a lot of time looking for them and pointing to them. Today he was trying for "squirrel" (although it's a tough one to spit out) while watching one in our garden. 

I figure that what all those words have in common is they are all things that make him happy and excite him. Which begs the question of what exactly do I do? I guess he's just starting as he means to go on: taking his Mama for granted. 

Sunday, September 6, 2009

The solution to losing the sleep battle

Louis outside Monmouth Coffee

When did it become lose-lose to have a kid? I refer to the options, as presented to me at 1am last night, for getting Louis to sleep properly. My choice: the pain of 15 months and counting of less than five hours of broken sleep a night, or the pain of listening to a hysterical Louis if we instead opt to leave him to figure out sleeping by himself. And, heaven knows, I seem to have spent enough time trying to help him.

Too much time, apparently, according to a new study I wrote about in the paper today, which blames anxious mums for having offspring who refuse to sleep. There's no point trying not to worry, either, because by the time you've had the baby, you've already done the damage: it links expectant mums' beliefs about sleep with the reality of life with their newborn. Marvelous. Thanks for that.

Some months back I blogged that I was searching for a Third Way, a compromise between leaving Louis to cry himself to sleep and being there for him every time he woke. Well, we called off that search pronto after a hideous week of trying to persuade Louis to spend all night in his cot and are firmly back to square one. Which is frankly, pretty tiring.

What I want to know is, how did it all go so wrong? Contrary to the Israeli study, I was adamant before Louis was born that I could get him to sleep well. I started a bedtime routine for him pronto and spent countless hours coaxing him to sleep by himself in his Moses basket. All was going so well, at three months he was sleeping though. Too well, as it turned out. I blame the jetlag when we moved to DC, but that's probably a lame excuse.

The truth is, I haven't a clue what I did wrong. But more worryingly, I haven't a clue how to put it right. And I'm tired. So tired. My one saving grace is that I've discovered the ultimate caffeine antidote to a(nother) bad night. It's called a Flat White, and it's an Aussie invention. I even managed to get a story into the paper about it. (My job's pretty good really: I get paid to write about things I'm interested in!) All I can say is, try it. And if it's not on the menu, ask anyway because if your barista knows his stuff, he'll whip one up. And, boy, will it wake you up! Louis, you're forgiven. For one more night, at least.

Monday, August 31, 2009

The gender gap

Louis modelling Great-Granny B's bangles

Time was, when any mention of the gender gap would automatically start me off worrying about how much less I was sure I was earning than my colleagues or how few female editors there are around. But that was B.L. Since Louis arrived on the scene, the gender gap means something entirely different.

Like just how different are boys and girls anyhow? I mean, from the offset? Do baby girls like wearing pink shoes because they've thought about it and they just prefer the colour? Or do they just get pink shoes forced upon them because there aren't any other choices? And do baby boys want to play with a fire engine? Or read a book about trucks? Or wear blue?

It's hardly an original thought, but I still can't help wondering what baby boys and girls would actually prefer, given the choice. Watching Louis these past few weeks I'm not much clearer. I mean, he made a beeline for the glitziest pink shoes he could find in John Lewis the other week when I let him loose on the shoe department. (Naturally, I bought him the dullest blue pair I could find, although I did later wonder whether it would really have been such a bad thing to let him have had the pink pair.)

And he just loves those baby strollers little kids have. In fact, I got so bored of him stealing all the little girls' ones in the playground that I eventually got round to buying him one of his own. He adores it. Even if it is blue.

Then there's the jewellery. A box of bracelets is just about the best toy ever (thank you Great- Granny Barbara). Well, along with the hairdryer.

But, on the flip side, he's obsessed with cars. He's just started saying, 'kar, kar, kar' whenever he hears or sees one. Which is kind of his first proper word. (Well, if you ignore the dadas (Daddy), nanas (initially banana, but now a generic term for food and/or drink), or 'ack, 'ack (started out as quack but now gets applied to any two or four-legged animal).)

Being able to say car is one thing, but I don't plan to encourage the love of all four-wheeled vehicles that most little boys seem to have. Don't get me wrong, I'm not going to paint his room pink or only let him play with dolls, or anything like that. But I'm all for a bit of gender balance. I will, however, stop FAR short of the Swedish couple whose child is known only as 'Pop' and who gets dressed one day in a boy's outfit and the next in a girl's.......

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Messing with the mumosphere

Didn't realise I was dabbling with fire last week when I decided to write about the phenomenon that is mummy blogging. I thought mummy blogs were just about mums having a bit of fun once junior was asleep if they'd run out of box sets to watch. I'd call them "lonely", only apparently that's insulting.

All I can say is that when I started writing babieswhobrunch (on Louis' behalf, I might add) all those months ago back in DC, lonely was exactly what I was feeling as I knew precisely no one in Washington. Blogging was a way for me to chat with friends and family back home, and to keep them posted on what Louis and his then mom were up to. Now I'm home, I like to write mainly for my lovely American friends, who I miss more than words can say. And yes, I still find it fun. Harder to squeeze in, now that I'm writing for a living again, but fun nonetheless.

But judging from the comments my piece has elicited I now realise that many mummy bloggers take themselves far more seriously than I could have ever imagined. No wonder mummy blogs are such a PR magnet: blogging mummies clearly wield serious clout, within the mumosphere at least.

I, for one, am not knocking it, whatever some of my readers might have thought. All power to the citizen journalist. Even if they'll eventually put me out of a job. I know one baby who'd be pleased.

PS: Thought it might amuse bwb's US blog fans that despite the ructions I seem to have inadvertently caused the mummy blogging community, babieswhobrunch was named blog of the week on the British Mummy Blogging forum! That's something I'd never have imagined all those long, lonely months ago in our poky flat in Dupont Circle. I think Louis' profile is causing some confusion though. I guess there just aren't that many blogging babies out there.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The F-word

There's nothing like writing an article about feminism to trigger some intense soul searching for the working Mum. Specifically, my piece was a column about the Sudanese trouser-wearing journalist Lubna Hussein who is facing a public flogging for her "indecent" attire. I asked why feminists hadn't made more fuss about Hussein's plight, and that of oppressed Muslim women the world over? 

I reckon the answer's pretty simple: everyone's just too busy really to worry about what's going on the other side of the world, even if the treatment of women like Hussein is truly horrific. Part-time Mums like me are the worst offenders. We're trying to juggle motherhood with a career and end up pretty much failing to get to grips with either. We're neither feminists nor anti-feminists (or whatever the antonym is, Google didn't help). Which means that causes like Hussein's get overlooked in favour of what we're going to cook for dinner, or how we can squeeze in the food shopping. 

I'd suggest making amends by signing this iPetition in support of Hussein. But I can't see that it would do much good. Better get back to the pureeing, then. 

Friday, August 7, 2009

The new taboo

Now that Louis is 14 months old, admitting that he's still being breastfed is somehow the new taboo. I don't know why, but once a baby (toddler?) passes that 12-month milestone, breast milk changes from being the elixir of life to a sort of secret moonshine best drunk under the cover of darkness and preferably in your own home. That's if you choose to keep the fact you're still breastfeeding under wraps. If you - shock, horror - choose to advertise the fact that you haven't yet weaned your probably-by-now toddler, then you'd better be prepared to swap your earth Mom status for that of a raving lactivist. (Somehow, they always seem to be raving. And not in a good, all-night party sort of way.)

As a working Mum who's still breastfeeding her baby (there, I admitted it, shoot me now), I know I'm in the minority. The very, very small minority. It's tough. Especially when I don't make it back for bedtime. Which is most of the time. I can, however, draw some solace from the fact that since being back at work, I've managed to write two articles on breastfeeding. The latest, last Sunday, was particularly pleasing as it righted some serious wrongs that had been propagated by a rival newspaper the previous week. Namely that one of the world's leading paediatricians, Dr Michael Kramer, had apparently said there was "very little evidence" that breastfeeding helps prevent a range of illnesses. Disturbing stuff for anyone pro nursing.

Only, the thing is, he didn't say that. As he told me. And as I got to write about. You can read it here if you like. Now that's got to make it almost worth going back to work and leaving Louis. I said almost.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009


There must be something wrong with me. I've been a Mum for 14 months (to the day), so you'd think when I stumbled upon what was, quite literally, Yummy Mummy porn - a kids-centric, organic cafe in Dulwich Park, that virtually had its own Bugaboo parking lot out front, you'd think I'd be over the moon. Wouldn't you? Wouldn't I? 

Well, no. It was all a bit too Yummy Mummy, right down to the special children's menu, the special kiddie playzone, and the special sectioned off half of the cafe for all the very special little Dulwich babies and toddlers hanging out there. Not forgetting their special Mums. 

I think the problem was - and this really isn't the green-eyed monster talking - that sectioned off bit. This was one Mum that took umbrage at the sign delineating the equally special non-Mum zone. Somehow I still can't quite handle the parent apartheid that seems to come with the Mummy turf. Not that I haven't cringed at the sight of little Bertie or Flora tearing round a restaurant come Saturday lunchtime because his (full-time working) parents lack the authority to control him, but I resent how every Mum gets tarred with the same brush. 

Which was why we avoided the cafe, delicious as the meals looked, and will another time stick to the likes of the extremely-kid unfriendly Pho, a Vietnamese mini noodle chain that is our top London pick for somewhere to eat. It could hardly be less set up for kids: the food is spicy, the music loud, the cafe cramped, and there's nowhere to ditch the buggy, but it's all the more fun for all that. More to the point, Louis adores it. He's already a regular. This was him on his second visit, slurping noodles like a pro. (Really, though, he's just practising for his Lady and the Tramp moment with Sophie.) 

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Bad Mommy

Louis taking a walk in his new shoes
And showing me the kind of shoe he wished I'd bought

Seeing as Bad Mommy Confessions are all the rage - heck people even manage to get New York Times bestsellers out of the stuff - I thought it was time to get in on the action. So, the other Sunday, when I was reunited with Louis after surviving another week of work, I was getting him dressed when I spotted that his feet were no longer the feet of a baby. Gone were the milky white, super soft feet of an innocent, in their place, the reddish roughened, blistered feet of a little boy.

Hang on, did I say 'blistered'? Yup, that's right. Little Louis' toes were covered in blisters. Which could mean only one thing: his shoes were too small. Sure, when the John Lewis lady told me his then new shoes might only last a couple of months I was listening. And I had tried to check occasionally to see if he still had any toe wriggle room. But clearly I hadn't tried hard enough because there was only one way Louis' toes could be that blistered. They must have spent days squidged into shoes that were too small. Whoops. (I'm tempted to point out in my defence that I hadn't been with him for the past three days but I doubt that's in keeping with a Bad Mom Confession.) 

Boy did I feel bad about it. Not least because letting his shoes get so small totally defeated the point of going to such agonising lengths to buy his special shoes in the first place. But most of all I was just annoyed it meant another trip to John Lewis, my bete noire. Punishment indeed. Louis was in heaven shoe shopping though. Although his choices presented me with a dilemma: what to do when your little boy picks out the pinkest, sparkliest shoes in the shop? Repeatedly. We stuck with the boring blue ones, for now. But would it be so bad to let him wear pink? Or would that really turn me into a Bad Mom? 

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

"Those" Mums

Testing the water

I feel the need to confess. I think I've become one of "those" Mums. You know - the ones who massage the truth about what their children can do. As in: "Sleep through the night? Oh yes, since day 3; Talking? What, you mean, your's isn't?; Walking? Months ago, months ago." 

But it was for a good cause. Namely swimming. Or to get a spot on a swimming course, to be more precise. They're rarer than gold dust in these parts. At least, the ones on the posh course in the Guy's Hospital hydrotherapy pool are. Must say a lot about the local swimming pools I reckon. Anyway, being me, I'd never got round to trying to get Louis onto on of the swimming courses at Guy's, mainly because I was told when he was about one week old that it was impossible. 

Given how much he loves splishing and splashing (to quote one of his DC songs) I thought I really should make an effort, hence I found myself in a phone queue to the swimming lesson guys Little Dippers for about half an hour yesterday. Needless to say, all the courses he was suitable for, like the beginners ones because his Mum's never bothered doing one with him before, were booked solid. Until about Christmas. So I found myself being somewhat liberal with the truth about his splishing prowess. The handful of times I'd bothered to take him in DC turned into: "Swimming? Oh yes, I can barely get him out of the pool. Under water? He's like a little fish." Okay, so I lied. But it was for Louis' sake. Honestly. 

I was more than nervous when we went along today for our trial class. Especially because the main activity in the class I was joining seemed to be ducking babies under water. Repeatedly. And by 13 months, it was touch and go as to whether that special baby diving reflex - Nirvana album cover anyone? - would still kick in. Thankfully, Louis didn't let me down. Or, more importantly, drown. What worries me now, though, is what next? Once you've tasted the falsehoods of competitive Mummying, where will it end? 

DC crew

Somewhat belatedly, I've just remembered I wanted to post this lovely pic of some of Louis' DC crew (Sophie, Tommy and Alex being the glaring obvious exceptions). This was on Julien's first birthday. We've been really sad missing everyone's parties. Perhaps we could time a trip next year to catch some turning 2's. (Also, I've realised we should get some flying in before Louis is two and he's suddenly a way more expensive flying companion.) Stay in touch, y'all. 

Monday, July 6, 2009

Mum's so-called writing job

Taking a break

Louis thought his DC friends might like to know what his Mum's been up to since she started abandoning him three days a week last month. It seems she's found a new writing gig, which might explain why she's been neglecting bwb of late (although she promises to rectify that). Something called the Independent on Sunday, some sort of soft backed book that gets rewritten every week. He's still waiting for the board book version though. 

Anyway, here's a link to an article she wrote this week on, of all subjects, breastfeeding. It's about how 60% of British mums are apparently put off nursing because they're worried about offending passers by. Not that she's ever been made to feel uncomfortable. Then again, most of Louis' outdoor feeds were done in DC. Or, to be more accurate, in Baked + Wired (which for British readers does the best coffee in DC, bar none. And some pretty good cupcakes too). 

She also wrote a piece about Slumgirl Dreaming, by the Slumdog star Rubina Ali, which is apparently the youngest autobiography ever published - she's just nine. But what about this blog? I've been writing about my life since I was four months old. That's got to count for something. 

TV dinner

So Roger Federer made tennis history by winning 15 Gram Slams at Wimbledon yesterday. And Louis was there to watch. Sort of. We actually wish he'd wrapped up that fifth set (16-14) a little quicker as we'd been hoping to walk to the river to enjoy the last of the sunny weather. Plus I was worried for the heavily pregnant Mrs Federer. Four-plus hours of tension in the sunshine can't have been good for her or baby-Federer-to-be. As for winning that 16th, 17th and 18th title, Federer sounded pretty confident on the radio just now that he'd get there but baby F might have something to say about that. I'm guessing that to be a grand champion of champions you need to practice a little. And sleep. 

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Happy, er, 13 months, Louis!

I can't believe it. I failed to mark the milestone of Louis turning one. For months, I'd been thinking about what to write, what to say, how to describe my feelings and.... I failed. Suffice to say it was major. And yet, it was just another day. A grey, English day down at my Mum's on the coast. But we had fun. Happy belated birthday Louis. And a big thanks to everyone for all his great presents. One month on, here's a flavour of what we got up to. 

Our bubbles from the night before (to mark the fact that 12 months earlier I'd been in so much pain!)
Present number one!
Thanks G-A Claire!
The balloon was the biggest hit.
Our trip to a rare breeds sanctuary (far more PC than a zoo...)
The cake
More balloon fun
Splashing in Louis' Lido (with thanks to GP)
More Grandparental presents the next day
And finally, thanks to the Californian crew