Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Seeking a Third Way

The box says it all

If Barack Obama can do it in the White House, then why can't I in Louis' (alright, alright, my) bedroom? I'm talking about finding a Third Way, a path between left and right, or in Momspeak, a compromise between the ultra liberal, baby-led approach to parenting, and the rigid, cry-it-out-they're-only-a-baby option. Specifically, I'm seeking a Third Way between the frankly unsustainable 24-hour drinking culture that Louis regards as the norm and the frankly unpalatable alternative of a hysterical baby who refuses to fall asleep on his own, no matter how long I leave him alone in his crib. 

The problem I have, as regular BWB readers know all too well, is that Louis is not one of life's natural sleepers. And that's putting it mildly. Even as a newborn, he was barely sleeping 12 out of every 24 hours. Now, at nearly 11 months, he's down to about eight hours a night - and that's only when he treats himself (and us) to a mini lie in. He's barely sleeping two hours at a stretch, which is taking its toll on us all. When he wakes, as he's due to round about now, it isn't playing he's after, but me and as much liquid refreshment as he can slurp. 

Ask anyone (or any book) how to cure him of his nighttime Mum addiction and they'll all say the same thing: I have to leave him alone, to cry, until he realises I'm not coming back and learns to settle himself back to sleep. The common term for finding this baby epiphany is "breaking him", the idea, I guess, being "to break" him of his need for me and my milk supply. Or "to break" him of his habit of using me as his sleeping crutch. But what if I don't want a broken baby?

The problem I have is that I refuse to believe that the only way to teach him to be a man in such matters is to leave him to cry. He hates it, I hate it, end of story. I know all the theories: leave him for progressively longer stretches, popping in in between times to reassure him he hasn't been completely abandoned. You can do this from the doorway or next to his crib but one thing you're not supposed to do is to pick him up. Stick to this brutal regime and, all the books/blogs/websites/parental confidantes merrily assert, it will do the trick. 

But what if I don't want to? What if I simply can't? Can't endure his hysterical cries for more than five minutes at a push that is? What if I want to find another, more humane solution to our plight, a so-called Third Way of parenting that transcends the liberal/fascist Mummy party lines that so many of my co-Mummies seem to follow? 

Well, I'm six weeks into my concerted attempt to find that illusive Third Way. I can do all the back patting and head stroking I like, but as soon as he's anywhere near his crib, he's utterly miserable. He can even be fast asleep on my shoulder, only to wake up the second I lean over his bed. Which means that so far my mission is failing miserably. Where Obama is managing to cross the Democrat/Republican divide, I seem to be stuck in the lefty lactivist camp of feeding on demand and hang the consequences. 

Any suggestions welcome. As long as they aren't just to shut his bedroom door and buy some better earplugs. 

Friday, April 24, 2009

Louis juggling

So, this weekend marks a year since I stopped working. Hard to believe. I'd ask where it went, but I guess the giant baby trashing our house instead of jiggling about in my tummy pretty much answers that one. Scarily this means I have to go back to work all too soon. (I never did take that redundancy cheque.) Which inevitably poses the thorny question of what to do with Louis? 

With Louis-sitting volunteers pretty thin on the ground and nannies a no go because they earn more than me, the options appear to be nursery, nursery or nursery. Or at least they did until we actually went to visit one. I'm trying not to rule it out in my head in case we end up having to dump Louis there, but let's just say I'm less than enthusiastic. Even DJ was barely lukewarm: he took particular umbrage at the fact the nursery styles itself as offering "family solutions". 

What to do? One other possibility would be DJ attempting to juggle his shifts so that one of us would always be home with Louis. Pros to that scenario: no nursery and a whole heap more cash to spend on nappies each month. Cons: DJ and I would be like ships in the night - quite literally. It would be tough, but, as a post on the New York Times parenting blog this week shows, we'd hardly be breaking new ground by sacrificing our time for the sake of Louis. Blogger Lisa Belkin calls the scenario (as highlighted in an article in The Oregonian) "the complex dance [of] modern parenting". 

With nurseries costing up to £85 a day (and that doesn't even include nappies), many families have no option but to seek an alternative when it comes to working out who might look after Junior. You'd think the Government might like to help out a little more - after all, the taxes I pay on my salary help to plug the gaping hole in the public finances albeit in a minor fashion - but apparently not: the childcare vouchers they provide towards the cost will barely cover Louis' lunches. 

As for company creches, dream on. The fact that there are barely any women in senior roles in the media hardly helps but then again most professions are just as bad. Only today a Mum I know told me quite how badly her request to work part time had gone down with her employer, Barclays. And companies wonder why they get stuck just employing men?

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Hanami in SE1

We missed many things leaving DC. Friends obviously but also the onset of Spring. And in DC that means just one thing: cherry blossoms. The city goes crazy for hanami - the Japanese love affair with all things floral, especially the cherry blossom that bursts forth on the trees lining the Tidal Basin. (The trees were a gift from the mayor of Tokyo in 1912.) DC being DC, it takes its hanami homage very seriously: there are parades, sushi celebrations, kimono fashion shows and more. Luckily the trees played ball and the blossoms coincided with the designated National Cherry Blossom fortnight - I hear some years they are a little less obliging. 

Now Bermondsey is no Washington and Reverdy Road is hardly the Tidal Basin but it does boast some pretty spectacular cherry trees of its own (not sure of the origin, but am fairly certain they weren't an official gift from the Japanese). Spring is a little later in London than DC so the blossoms took a little while to get going, but were all the prettier for the wait. We've apparently missed a trick though: hanami is traditionally a time for an all-day or all-night party beneath the blossom. I hardly think Bermondsey's St George's Day celebrations will pass muster. Next year perhaps.  

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Happiness is a baby called Louis?

An unspoken new Mummy rule makes it okay to moan about the odd aspect of Motherhood but not okay to bemoan becoming a Mum. The former is essentially a prerequisite of any playdate, the latter suggestive that you might be suffering from the dreaded PND. 

Yet, as any new Mum knows, this Mummying lark is no picnic. Sometimes it feels like I've spent the past 10 or so months merely obsessing about one worry after another. Will he want to breastfeed? Will he want to stop breastfeeding? Will he like his buggy? Will he sleep in his crib? Will he ever sleep through the night? You get the drift. Just about the only things that keeps you sane are those ray-of-sunshine moments that punctuate the angst: the smiles, the "Ma-mas", the giggles, the cuddles, the milestones. 

Daddy J's take on it all is that parenthood is all about extremes. The highs are higher but the lows are lower. And you can find pleasure in the simplest things. Who knew a bath could be so much fun? Or you could be so pleased just to make it out for a coffee? 

As the first year anniversaries approach - I stopped working a year ago this weekend, we moved house nearly a year ago, Louis's first birthday is just around the corner - I can't seem help looking back at what life used to be like. And then wondering if I'm happier with the one I have now. Or not. According to a piece in last week's Times stating that kids won't make you happy I'm not. And apparently it's only going to get worse: researchers at the Paris School of Economics found life satisfaction rose during pregnancy and year one of parenthood only to plummet for the next four years. 

The article concluded: "Children give us many things - raising them can be both rewarding and meaningful - but an increase in our average daily happiness is probably not among them." The author claims we "should celebrate" that fact but declines to explain how. I guess that's why ultimately there's no roadmap to being a parent. As with our roadtrip, presumably the journey will be worth the effort but I guess a few wrong turns are inevitable. And with that, I'd better go and try to calm an irate Louis who at 10.30pm sounds like he's had enough of his crib for one night. 

Thursday, April 16, 2009

The Ghost of School holidays Future

Louis and Zach fuelling up for the melee

If last week's fear was of future holidays spent shivering at the British seaside, then today's was far worse: a wet afternoon in London during the Easter holidays. I had, of course, forgotten it was still the school holidays when I'd suggested meeting Zach's Mum at the uber child-friendly Royal Festival Hall on the South Bank. Too child friendly as it turned out. 

After the boys had scoffed lunch - Louis decided Zach's peanut butter sarnies were far tastier than his own homemade butternut squash risotto, go figure - we adjourned to the back of the RFH, a massive concert hall famed among the "Sarf London" Mums crowd as the top meeting spot on the river. They - rightly - like it because kids can wreak havoc in the big ballroom at the back, which is stuffed full of beanbags, cushions and soft sofas. That's the upside. The downside is it was rammed full of hyperactive children using it as a substitute adventure playground because of the rain. 

Despite the chaos, fearless Louis was undeterred, desperate to join in the melee. Unfortunately the brats running round didn't think to look out for any children smaller than them and poor Louis got bundled by a boy old enough to know better as he charged across the floor. I, obviously, freaked out at the boy, who at least had the decency to apologise before running off. 

For me, shouting at the boy was an instinctive reaction: he hurt my baby, so I screamed at him. But I guess the incident begs the question of whether it's okay to tell off other people's children? I wasn't sure what was worse afterwards: Louis's screams or the glares I was sure I was getting from other parents for daring to shout at another child. Either way the afternoon was another hideous glimpse into my future life and the bedlam of over crowded tourist attractions during the school holidays. I also got The Fear about Louis growing up. What if he turns into the sort of little boy who rugby tackles 10-month-old babies to the ground?*

*For anyone who's worried, Louis seemed to be back to his normal menacing self by the time we got home but I'm obviously monitoring him closely.   

Friday, April 10, 2009

The Ghost of Holidays Future

Breton boy on the beach
Et avec Mama
On the white cliffs
Seaside sweater

The court of King Louis - as his retinue was known back when he actually had a retinue, i.e. pre-DC - decamped to his summer residence at the seaside this week in the latest of my many unpacking avoidance strategies. (His summer residence being Grandma Penny's house, which is smack bang on the seafront overlooking France. On a clear day at least.) Daddy J was briefly in attendance before he headed back to town for his first string of night shifts since getting back to Today. (Unlike me, he gets paid for his.) 

It was odd being at the beach the week before Easter because the place was swamped with visitors. And by visitors, I mean holidaying families with two or more kids in tow. And by odd, I mean that I find seeing parents with older children like seeing the Ghost of Holidays Future. Or Anything Future, come to think of it. It's one thing to get (kind of) used to looking after a baby, but I struggle to imagine life with an actual child. You know, one of those mini people who can walk, talk and think for themselves. (Not that Louis can't think for himself: he makes his views on certain subjects, like sleeping alone in his crib perfectly clear.) 

Will those Mums and Dads flying kites and eating soggy sandwiches with their assembled brood be DJ and me in years to come? And does that mean British seaside holidays are all we can aspire to from now on? And most pressingly: what on earth do you do with older kids while on said holidays? I've got fairly good at pretending to play with Louis while really I'm doing something else - you can bash a xylophone and shake a maraca while reading the paper if you try hard enough - but I can't imagine that going down particularly well with your average four year old. 

I stare at the Mums that I see on the beach with their children and wonder if they're not just a bit bored. What do they talk about? Don't they find hanging out with children all day just a bit, well, childish? Given the speed with which the last ten months has flashed by, I guess I'll get to find out soon enough. 

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Saturday mourning

Louis among the mourners
'Nuff said
The glamorous Blue Market
The cortege leaving the estate

Like it or not, Louis is a Bermondsey boy. For now at least. So it was only fitting that he should join the rest of Bermondsey in Saturday's drizzle to pay his respects to its most famous resident. That would, of course, be Jade Goody, or "Jade from Bermondsey" as the pink flowers spelt out on the front of her hearse. 

Spending the past six months in the States meant we - happily - missed much of the media storm that preceded Jade's untimely death from cervical cancer two weeks ago. Jade being Jade, however, the rags-to-riches reality TV star managed to make a front page story in the New York Times, which says it all really about her hold over the press. 

I've never had much time for the media's fixation with Jade, who shot to rollercoaster fame after appearing in Big Brother about eight years ago, finding the vicious circle of criticism and adulation that surrounded her somewhat nauseating. But there's no denying her draw for millions of Brits who felt they could identify with someone the NY Times summed up as a "working-class Paris Hilton". Certainly in Bermondsey last Saturday morning Jade felt a lot less like a vacuous reality star and far more like a real star. 

People turned out in the hundreds to line the streets, flowers in hand, tissues at the ready, to pay their pajama respects - well, it was Bermondsey, and it was only half past eight in the morning - to the local girl who had made it good, well, had made lots of money at least. Being Bermondsey, we were half expecting a mobility vehicle drive by, but made do with four or so hearses stuffed to the gills with wreaths. As well as flowers in the shape of a Marmite jar (because you either loved her or hated her) and a camera to reflect her draw over the paparazzi, other wreaths mocked her ignorance, ensuring that her most infamous malapropism, "East Angular", literally followed her to her grave. 

What Louis made of it all it was hard to tell: either way he can at least say he was there. Although unlike Obama's inauguration, I doubt he'll be buying the memorial badge. 

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Popping to Wholefoods

A swing break en route to Wholefoods

If moving back to London has been tough for Louis given that he's lived more of his life in the States than in the UK, then on the same criteria it's been equally tough for me. Think about it: I've been a Mom twice as long as I've been a Mum. 

Which has all sorts of implications when it comes to reassimilation. Like which baby cereal will Louis eat? And which diapers, sorry, nappies should I be buying? How should I buy them even, given the wonderful doesn't exist over here? I can't take Louis for a walk in his stroller any more, or put him to sleep in his crib. (Cue wry laughter at that mini lament from those who know where Louis actually spends the night.) And I sure can't spend every day wandering around town on foot seeing friends, shopping at Wholefoods, visiting museums, tailing Barack. 

Or can I? After in fact managing to tick off half that list the previous day, on Thursday Louis and I decided that to feel more at home in London we'd walk to Wholefoods to do a spot of grocery shopping. What could be more normal? Except what was a 40-minute round trip in DC turned into an all day walkathon as "popping" to Wholefoods actually meant getting to High Street Kensington and back - a 14-mile round trip. That's 4-ish hours of walking - well, it is if you forget about the swing/milk/restroom/lunch stops en route that turned it into more of an 8-hour round trip. Meeting my friend Katharine for lunch in High Street Kensington helped to break up what must rank as one of the longer walks to buy a block of cheese. 

As for helping with our resassimilation - it turns out that Wholefoods stocks Louis' preferred diaper brand du jour, Seventh Generation. Naturally they're twice the price of the ones in the Superdrug down the road, but hey, they've still got to be cheaper than getting them airmailed from DC. I just knew that the Independent's move from the Isle of Dogs to High Street Kensington had to be a sign that I should in fact not seek redundancy despite my commute more than quadrupling. I wonder if Louis will thank me as I plonk him in nursery?

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Barack to nomal

Big Ben, Little Louis
The Obama army
ABC's Huw Edwards, aka Charles Gibson
Silvio's head. Rear view. 
Gratuitous London shot

Week two of real life back in London and Louis is still struggling to come to terms with his world turned upside down. Gone are the leisurely mornings spent hanging out with his best girl, Soph, in DC's best coffeeshop, Baked + Wired. Gone are the long stroller naps down the Mall while his Mom takes a raincheck on her planned museum visit because, well, there's always tomorrow, isn't there? Gone too are the weekly playgroup dates at his friends' houses. There's no Alex, no Leo, no Julian down the road anymore. He hasn't even got baby yoga to look forward to. Instead he gets dumped in a deathtrap of a house that he's told is home - even though he's spent most of his life in America. 

As a young newspup, he's been particularly missing the frisson of excitement that came from living in a city made cool again by the arrival of the Obamas and their entourage. Gordon and Sarah just don't do it for him like Barack and Michelle, or was it Sasha and Malia he was eyeing up from beneath his buggy hood every time we walked past the White House? 

What to do to shake those post-DC blues? 

The answer arrived in the form of Barack's first presidential visit to Europe (the media seem intent on portraying his trip as his first foreign foray but aren't they forgetting he popped to Canada last month? And please, if Canada has been demoted as a country, then no one tell those maple leaf badge toting Canadians....) Suddenly the day had a purpose again: we could spend it traipsing across town in the quest for a brief glimpse of Barack. Or possibly Michelle's latest frock. Infinitely preferable to joining in the protests in the City. (Er, protests against what exactly? The G20 meeting to try and fix the mess? Didn't the bankers themselves already break capitalism?) 

Our hunt took us past some of London's top sights like Big Ben, giving us an excuse to snap a pic or two of Louis in case his new American friends were missing him. The massive police presence helped Louis feel a bit more at home: all those sirens going off during his nap made it more like a typical day in DC. As did the presence of plenty of Obamaphiles hanging round outside Buckingham Palace, Obamabilia in hand. It was like inauguration day all over again. Sort of. Even DC's media circus had transplanted itself across the pond: Daddy J spotted ABC's top news anchor Charles Gibson.  In the event though, we failed yet again to see the Big Man himself, missing his arrival at Buckingham Palace by minutes. Our only G20 spot? The back of Silvio Berlusconi's head.