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.