Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Catch 22

For me, it' s bed time. His, not mine, although there's an inevitable knock on when it's always gone 9pm before you even start thinking about dinner or snatching some down time. Should I stay, or should I go? The dilemma gets me every time. No prizes for guessing what he says. Repeatedly. So I stay, but know that if I go I'd be doing him a favour. Or would I? He certainly doesn't seem to think so when I try and creep out.

Each night is like a game of Russian roulette. Sometimes if I stay, I just prolong both our agonies because he ends up staying awake just to make sure I haven't snuck out. But if I go, he gets so upset that I just end up flying back in to calm him down. And cuddle him. Again. Except for the odd miracle occasion when leaving him is the right choice because without my presence to distract him, he'll give up on the day that much faster and fall asleep. But then again, sometimes he'll do that when I cuddle him. Although sometimes he won't.

Part of me is desperate that it's been two and a half years and still I dread bedtime. But another part of me knows that he won't want to cuddle me forever and even those two and a half years have gone quickly (if you excuse the interminable hours/days/weeks spent waiting for him to drop off). The real catch 22 is that I feel if I leave him to cry now, then I may as well have abandoned my no crying rule years. Sometime I think we'd have all been a lot happier. But then I remember how sweet natured he is, and I like to kid myself that that's got something to do with him never having had to give up on the world because no one came. Until, that is, it's time for bed and I'm in a fresh quandary about what to do again.

This post was inspired by Josie's writing prompt at Sleep is For the Weak. I've long intended to write something for it as oppose to just write words in my head and this week, for some reason, I decided the time had finally come. I hope she thinks the subject matter apt......

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

BMB Carnival time!

So, it's carnival time. Which for the unBritishMummyBloggersinitiated is a bi-monthly celebration of blogging posts. I had intended to suggest a theme, but didn't get the chance because entries started arriving about four weeks ago! And if you think that means I haven't pulled them all together at the last minute, well, think again. Enjoy. I know I did.

Pants with Names wonders how kids suss us out so quickly

Kate takes 5 seconds to embarrass her other half....

Muddling along Mummy wants to know if it's possible to fall back in love?

Carly at Mummyshoes on the cut throat world of baby modeling

21stcenturymummy tackles the torture that is miscarriage

Mama and More bemoans how she’d rather her little girl never felt she needed make up

Musings of a Busy Mum muses how to make the best of a bad soup

Maggie at Red Ted Art, on making a hobby horse for 50p

Mummy From the Heart sees red

New Mummy wants people to give mums a break

Sharon at I heart Motherhood on The big C

Hot Cross Mum reveals how dads are really from mars

Mary at A Small Hand in Mine has some wise words from Dr Seuss

Rachel at Mid 30s Life on beating the gym humiliation

Mission to Motherhood seeks the hidden domestic goddess within

Metal Mummy on debunking common myths

Monday, November 8, 2010

Packing T-shirts and toddlers

Just what do guidebooks have against toddlers? Or new parents come to think of it? For some reason the Lonely Planet et al seem to have decreed that toddlers shouldn't go travelling. Turn to the section about children, and it's always all about older children with absolutely no tips for the under threes. Or fours, or fives.

Yet they're missing a trick. Take Madrid. A fantastic city for young kids as it turns out, contrary to its reputation as party central. The best thing is practically every plaza comes with a playground attached, from the brilliant one on Plaza Oriente, just in front of the Palacio Real (think Buckingham Palace with slides) to the two on Plaza Santa Ana, one of the city's most picturesque. And that's without counting all the ones in the Parque del Retiro. Then there was the tapas. Snack central. (Although I would like to know if there are any guidelines on the number of salty olives a toddler should eat in one sitting?) And it's totally walkable. We didn't make a single Metro journey - and we saw a lot of Madrid. It's also largely pedestrianised; buggy nap heaven. Plus everyone went crazy for Louis. Even the lovely lady in the clothes shop who followed us out into the street and begged me to pop him on the potty inside a changing cubicle rather than make him freeze outside.

It's not that the playgrounds were hard to spot. But a line or two pointing them out might have been nice. That way, Louis could have been bouncing on a see saw on the plaza just off one of the main shopping streets while I browsed, instead brumming his car in the gutter. Some advance knowledge that it was there would have been helpful, rather than leaving us to stumble upon it after Louis fell asleep. What gets me is that we're pretty much the last generation that will use guidebooks. So their authors could bear us in mind when they're updating them. Don't they realise that those student backpackers grew up? Or were we really not supposed to pack the toddler along with the T-shirts?

Friday, October 29, 2010

A potty break

Note to self: it might have been a good idea to tone DOWN the emotional pants blackmail five days before going to Madrid rather than ramp it up. Something tells me the reason the books don't include a chapter on potty training a toddler while on a city break is because You. Just. Don't. Do. It. (Or at least I imagine they don't. It's a bit of a blur, but I think I gave up on baby books in about Louis's eleventh month of round-the-clock sleeplessness. Either way, I knew not even to open the Gina Ford potty-trained-in-a-week tome my neighbour thrust in my direction the other day!)

I was nervous enough about the prospect of a city break with a toddler. Especially to a city that doesn't even get going until several hours after toddlers are supposed to be asleep. So imagine my delight when Louis announced earlier this week that he wouldn't be wearing nappies again, only Thomas pants. (Oh foolish mother that I am to have dangled the prospect of Thomas pants in front of his former nappy wearing self!)

We've only ourselves to blame: that morning he'd moaned about me changing his nappy so I told him the only alternative was the potty and the pants. Trust Louis to call my bluff! "Okay. Nappy off. I'll sit on the potty. And wear Thomas pants." Turns out his Daddy J is equally to blame. They'd had one of those am-I-a-big-boy? conversations the night before, that ended with DJ telling him that big boys didn't wear nappies. And so now he doesn't. Well, apart from to sleep. But considering he told his nursery carer he'd rather play than nap for the past two days that's two less nappies worn already. (Cue more worries that he's given up his lunchtime nap as well - just in time for a city where everyone takes a siesta.)

Now all I need to know is how much easyJet will charge us in excess luggage when we bring back a suitcase full of Louis's wet trousers.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Manga Mama

Some kids get magicians at their birthday parties, others get princess makeovers. But REALLY lucky ones get an original Manga portrait as drawn by my very talented friend Sonoko, who recently launched what must be London's only Manga portrait party service. Actually, make that Britain's only Manga portrait party service. For a frankly small amount she'll come and do a ten minute portrait of every child you've invited. You can read more about it (and watch a video demo) on her Manga blog.

And you should, you really should. Just think of the party kudos: how many other party bags contain an original Manga portrait? And she's seriously good. Her other projects include designing jewellery for Anna Lou of London and Giles Peterson's set at this summer's Standon Calling festival. You can read more about her work as a graphic artist here.

And the the record: this is NOT a sponsored post. (I don't think the Manga Louis she did as a present for his second birthday counts.) In fact, I've never done a sponsored post because I'm not on any PR radars. (Not that I'm complaining!)

Monday, October 18, 2010

The nursery net

I know, I know. The "n" word seems to feature in a lot of my posts at the moment. (Well, two out of the past three at least, and considering the (ir)regularity with which I seem to blog that's quite a lot.) But I can't help it. I can't stop thinking about it. The nursery. And specifically, the nursery net. So called because I realised through the tears on Friday (mine and his) that we're caught. In the net. He might not like going - an understatement last week when, for the first time, he cried all the way there, both days - but, like a fish on the deck of a trawler, I don't think we can escape.

You see, I'd always consoled myself with the thought that if it all got really bad, there'd be an exit. A childminder, or a nanny. But despite him hitting a new low of late (he moved into the older kids room a few weeks ago and it hasn't gone well), I think I'm going to have to let him tough it out. As the lady who runs it pointed out, if I take him out now (aged 2 years and 4ish months), I'll only wind up trying to make him go again at some point in the not too distant future.

Even if I don't pack him off to pre-school, or whatever the term is for the full five-day affair that seems to be all the rage, the minute he turns three, I guess there's always the lure of those three free hours a day. (Provided the Tories don't get there first, and let's face it: they should, I can afford to pay his way.) And then there's school proper, which seems to begin earlier and earlier. I'd always thought kids were five when they start, but with a June birthday, Louis will barely be four as things stand. I would happily consider "redshirting" him (an American term for holding them back a year before they start school, which you can read about in this NY Times piece) but that seems to be one American fashion yet to cross the Atlantic.

I realise he might end up settling down; a new routine in new surroundings is a big deal when you're only two, plus he only goes two days a week, which I know is harder. But then again he might not. As the nursery lady reminded me, some kids just always cry when dumped. (*Helpfully* with an actual anecdote about a boy who never got used to being dumped by his mum, right up to still crying when he started school.) So for the meantime, I reckon we're stuck in that net. Now, how do I break it to Louis?

Monday, October 4, 2010

The perils of Thomas

Hard not to inhale deeply at today's Mail story about the "little boy trapped in the world of Thomas the Tank Engine". It can't have been only me thinking, 'There but for the grace of God.....' Yet there is one big difference between Louis' Thomas obsession and the boy in the article: I'm trying not to let Louis find out that the Thomas of his many books also moonlights as a television star. Not because I think TV is inherently evil, as the piece goes on to imply, but just because I. Can't. Take. Any. More. Thomas.

Can someone explain what it is about the cheeky tank engine? Personally, I can't imagine a more boring series of books. Especially if you're *lucky* enough to own some of the original stories. Back then, children's authors didn't mince their words so the trains' adventures are described in full technical glory. There are sidings; couplings; buffers; and many, many more trainspotting terms that I don't understand let alone a toddler. Yet he couldn't be more gripped. Night, after night - with plenty of mornings, mid-mornings, pre-lunchtime naps, and mid-afternoons thrown in for good measure - it's Thomas, Thomas, Thomas. Not forgetting the hours spent pushing mini Thomas and pals round his own train tracks.

Bizarrely, I think the obsession was triggered by a cook book. A free one I got sent at work uselessly telling you how to make all sorts of impossibly different character cakes. I brought it home, Louis discovered it, and would spend hours getting me to explain how you make a Thomas cake. But I also blame the person who gave him two Thomas books for his first birthday! (If only the bump in her tummy was male, I could get my own back, but alas!)

(That said, Thomas did - briefly - become cool last night when Louis discovered an interactive Thomas playmat in his friend Yoppy's room that translated every single Thomas train into Japanese. I liked "Hen-ly" and "Haloldy" best. I want it!)

It was interesting, though, that the Mail piece, which was based on a paper published in the Journal of Developmental and Behavioural Pediatrics, used evidence of the boy's fixation to rail against television. Louis is (almost) as into Thomas and yet he takes all his stories from an old-fashioned book. I personally think TV can be an excellent teacher - as does Desmond Morris we learnt last week. Plus, I'll never forget one taxi driver crediting the Disney channel for his 12-month-old daughter already being able to count up to ten. And the lessons Louis learns from Charlie and Lola are invaluable. Not to mention the vocab. Perhaps the trick is just not to let him find out that there's such a thing as a Thomas DVD....

Monday, September 20, 2010

Nursery: the hidden upside

Who knew there was an upside to nurseries? Certainly not me when I had to take Louis last Friday morning. It was always going to be tough, my first drop off after nearly a three-week break, and it was. Tearful, he clung, begging to be picked up for "one more cuddle", his plea of desperation for when the going gets really tough. Like at bedtime. It didn't help that his new "key worker" had a day off and there was another new face in the room. Somehow I managed to peel him off and make my escape, his "I want my mummy" refrain ringing in my ears for the rest of the day.

How could I do it? I couldn't stop thinking how wrong it felt for all that a) it's only two days a week, b) it's actually a very nice nursery and I know he's lucky to have a place there, and c) aren't they supposed to teach even toddlers useful skills such as socialising, etc, etc? And yes I'm assured he calms down once I have left, although he does spend the day asking after me. (And Daddy J, I'm sure.)

But then today it struck me. The upside. I don't have to worry that he prefers someone else. Not for us, the scene last week when a friend's toddler was cuddling her childminder when her mum was in the room. Or at playgroup today when one mum had to watch her two year old toddle off after the nanny he shares with another boy. Louis is mine, all mine! And I can stop worrying about the parade of new faces at nursery.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

La bella citta

Us urban mums are beset by guilt. There's the guilt that Louis can't scooter down the street because there's too much dog debris; the guilt his trips out involve the tube and the shops rather than his bike and some fields; the guilt that I need to drag him out in his buggy to get anywhere useful; and the guilt that our garden is the size of a postage stamp.

And yet. Day one back in the big smoke after a week luxuriating in the Italian hills with little but baa-ing sheep and partying grasshoppers for company and Louis couldn't be happier. It's not that he didn't enjoy la bella campagna - all that earth was perfect for his diggers - but he was genuinely thrilled to be back in London. What with buses, building sites, trains (including his own personal "toot" from a Bakerloo line driver), and taxis to look at I'm beginning to think city life with a child isn't too bad. It's certainly stimulating: there's always something different coming down the road, even if it is just yet another type of construction vehicle.

Maybe all those parents who claim they're moving out to the countryside for the sake of their kids actually have themselves in mind. Or am I just speaking as someone with a pre-school age child?

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Imperial Digger Museum

You know when people tell you not to worry about something until it happens? Well, sometimes they're right. (Only sometimes, mind.) Last week's destination was a trip to the Imperial War Museum (triggered by collective parental guilt about our lack of knowledge about the Battle of Britain after a visit to Louis' great-grandpa). I figured we'd able to do a quick crash course, while Louis amused himself looking at an aeroplane or two and wandering through the trenches. What I hadn't figured was what I'd tell him the museum was all about. After all, war is a tough concept for anyone to grasp, let alone a two year old.

But as it turned out, I needn't have fretted. Louis took one look at the giant caterpillar tracks on the tanks dotted throughout the ground floor and said: "Diggers!" After that, it was just a question of dragging him away from them long enough to find the Second World War exhibit. Which we did, but only after walking through the replica trenches at least six times. (Again, concerns that he might be scared by the dark, like a fellow toddler who was inconsolable after her parents tried to take her in, were pointless; he adored them, mainly because we had to walk on the "train track" because of all the mud....) Only Louis would watch a black-and-white film of the Blitzkrieg through France twice over because he was waiting for the German Panzer digger brigade to reappear.

The only disappointment was that you can't actually climb into any of the diggers, sorry, tanks, although you can walk through the nose of one of the bomber planes and explore a submarine. And that he didn't give us quite long enough to atone for years of ignorance about the finer points of the Battle of Britain. So instead, I wrote a comment piece about it for the Indy on Sunday, which you can read here if you'd like. And no doubt we'll back at the Imperial War Museum soon enough, if only on another "digger" hunt.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Having it all

So, it's official. As a working mum I can give myself a pat on the back for making the right decision and not staying with Louis 24/7 because he'll turn out the same either way. Or I could if I had a hand free. Because as a working mum, as everyone knows, "hands" and "free" aren't exactly sentiments that go together. Which is why any sane person grabs every bit of help that they can, whether it's the odd extra hour of childcare courtesy of some very kind grandparents or the ultimate luxury of a fortnightly cleaner (doesn't ask what the house looks like on day 13).

Or at least they do, if they're anyone but Emma Thompson. The actor and mother-of-two decreed this week (ironically via a publicity interview for her latest Nanny McPhee film) that working and mummying don't mix - unless you have a household full of staff to do the dirty work for you. Which was a timely dig at all those supermum celebrities who neglect to mention their back up when they preach about the effortless joys of being a mother (naming no names, Gisele-breastfeeding-should-be-law-for-six-months-Bundchen or Angelina Jolie). Weighing into the debate about how people's working lives just aren't working for a lot of women, Thompson claimed she never wanted to "delegate the running" of her house to others so that she could forge ahead with her career.

I applaud her sentiment but I'm heartily sick of the likes of her trying to pretend that their lives remotely resemble the wider populace. And I don't believe for a minute that she cleans her own toilet. Or mops her kitchen floor. And I resent her implication that she does. (I also resent the fact that I, like millions of other people, try somehow and see parallels between my own life and the rich and famous, but that's hardly her fault.)

It would have been more useful if Thompson had made more of the fact that she hadn't had her biological child until she was 41 to point out the ludicrousness of the situation that means any ambitious women out there feel they have to prove themselves in the workplace before allowing themselves the chance to have a family. Now that we'll all be working well past our dotage, isn't it time that someone pointed out it makes vastly more sense for women to have children in their 20s and then hit the world of work in their mid-30s, when, let's face it, they'll still have a good 40 years toil minimum ahead of them.

Perhaps that way we could move on from the debate about whether working mums are or aren't the devil's spawn. And women really could have it all.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Art attack: part two

Inside the Serpentine Pavilion

More news on the toddler-friendly gallery front (on the offchance anyone is following what seems to have become what newspapers love to dub an "occasional series"): we stumbled on two more gems this past week. The first is admittedly obvious: Jean Novel's giant red tent - well, at least that's how I sold it to Louis - outside the Serpentine in Hyde Park. It's their annual summer pavilion-cum-cafe; architecture and caffeine, a winning combination. Louis enjoyed the chill out corner, complete with red air mattresses and red beanbags to bounce on (everything's in iconic London red; even the fruit and vegetables growing in the garden) and DJ and I enjoyed the coffee. There are chess tables and ping pong tables, so it might be fun checking it out without Louis too, especially as it's open into the evening.

The second exhibition I picked purely with me in mind. Francis Alys at the Tate Modern. I'd stumbled on him a year ago at the National Portrait Gallery where he'd curated, rather than painted, a room full of portraits of a Catholic Saint, Fabiola. I may not know my religious art, but somehow her image, side one, head hooded with a red veil, is hauntingly familiar. All the more so in fact after seeing 300 or more different takes on her that he scooped up over the years at various car boot sales or what have you and hung in a single room, barely inches apart. So simple and quite outstanding.

This time Alys, a Belgian artist who has lived in Mexico City since the mid-1980s, has some powerful stuff to say about the state of Latin America. Witness a video of a man pushing a giant block of ice around Mexico City on a hot day. Unsurprisingly he is left with nothing to show for his endeavour. Likewise the driver of a VW Beetle that tries to drive up a steep dirt track to the soundtrack of a brass band rehearsing. Every time the band stops, the car stops, sliding back down the track. There's also footage of around 500 people strung out in a line along a sand dune. Spades in hand, they advance, step by painful step, digging as they walk in a futile attempt to move the dune. The video of children building a sandcastle on a beach as the tide turns has a similar message about the futility of life, especially for a Latin American. Ditto the one of children skimming stones into the sea. Plip, plip, plip, plip, sink. Plip, plip, plip, plip, sink.

All those videos made it another perfect exhibition with Louis in tow; the sand and digging an added bonus. Not to mention getting in early with such a vital life lesson. Or is that a bit bleak?

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Toddler logic

(A piece of watermelon; but it might as well be a sausage!)

You've got to love a toddler's logic. And here's two reasons why: 

1. Louis and the sausage. 
It's the end of a BBQ at ours. So far, so delicious: Geof and DJ have enjoyed some Mummy-made beefburgers and sausages, while Louis and I have tucked into the usual vegetarian barbecue fare of aubergines, peppers and some halloumi for good measure. There may even have been a corn on the cob. But now Louis is trying to work out how he can wangle some ketchup. I attempt to point out that he can't have any because, "ketchup is just for sausages". So Louis, my darling veggie son who hitherto has turned up his nose at even the scant bit of chicken I've reluctantly offered him, immediately declares: "Louis wants a sausage." 
Me: "Really? But Mummy doesn't like sausages."
Louis: "Louis likes sausages!"
Me: "Really? Are you sure? Mummy really doesn't like sausages."
Louis, smiling: "Louis LIKES sausages." 
Me, grimacing: "Okay then....." 
And, readers, he ate the sausage; well, half of it. Liberally doused in ketchup. 

2. Louis and the bicycle
One of Louis' best books is one that a friend bought him just before we jetted off for DC: Little Louis Takes Off. It tells the tale of a little swallow, little Louis, who can't fly, so instead of flying south with his family for the winter, he has to travel in an aeroplane. After (re-)reading it the other day, I contrast "Little Louis in the book" with "Big Louis" who is reading it. 
Pause, as Louis' brain works overtime to recall all those conversations (aka tantrums) we've had about bicycles that conclude with me telling him that 'no, he can't have a bicycle until he's a big boy'....
Louis: "So now Louis is big, Louis can have a bicycle!"

Tell me how I can argue with that?! 

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Ernesto Neto: the toddlers' artist

In the interests of balance - well, I am theoretically a journalist as well as Louis' mum - I figured it wasn't fair to moan about the dinosaurs at the Natural History Museum without eulogising about the amazing exhibition we went to this morning. (On the dinosaur front, I'm told that first thing on a weekend is the time to go, plus we managed to miss the moving dinosaur that was at the end of the very hot and sticky throng of people in one particularly crowded gallery.) 

But back to today. After giving up on seeking out kid-focused museums, we figured we'd use yet another overcast, dull day we had all together (heatwave; what heatwave?) to check out Ernesto Neto at the Hayward Gallery. The exhibition is part of the South Bank's summer homage to all things Brazilian. Which thankfully stretches beyond the ubiquitous Haviana flip flop. Two things inspired us to go: my lovely and very talented artist friend Sonoko, who is keen to see it, and the much photographed open-air swimming pool that is part of his show and which would have provided respite from the heat, had the weather not been lousy. 

If you don't know Ernesto Neto - and if so, join the club - he belongs to the tactile school of art. He doesn't so much make sculptures as redecorate entire galleries with wonderful interactive creations you can touch, sit on or even climb into. He has transformed the internal concrete mass of the Hayward Gallery into a sensuous living organism, with nylon membra strung from ceiling to floor to create tunnels and caves that suck you in before spitting you on the terrace where you can take a dip in an inflatable, crocheted pool. (Provided you're taller than 1.10m. And have brought your cossie and a towel, which we, inexplicably, hadn't.)

I want to say it was parental heaven. Just imagine: an art gallery where you won't run the risk of being thrown out just because your toddler/child has come within looking distance of an exhibit; an exhibition you're actually encouraged to interact with. But I'm wary of sounding exactly like the sort of nightmare the Independent's art critic feared would regard Neto's work as the ultimate bouncy castle for their "shrieking Toms or Daisys". 

In my defence, I was so busy telling Louis not to touch the sides of the extremely tactile nylon tunnels that the gallery attendant told me not to worry so much! Needless to say, Louis had a blast. And thankfully the Hayward isn't a magnet for the fluorescent-yellow bibbed school crowd that make places like the Natural History Museum such a nightmare so we did too. In fact, I can't wait to go back. If I thought I'd be able to get value out of the members' bar at the Royal Festival Hall I'd pony up for South Bank membership, which would give me a summer's worth of floating in Neto's pool. If I didn't have a sub 1.10m Louis in tow, that is. 

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Dino-sorry we went

To be tired of London, is to be tired of life as Dr Johnson famously said all those centuries ago. But I wish he hadn't. Every time I get frustrated by living here, his words come back to haunt me, making me feel bad for not being more grateful for living in one of the world's great metropolises. Yet I bet Dr Johnson didn't have to queue behind the longest line of fluorescent-bibbed schoolchildren before he could use the loo in the Natural History Museum. Or fight his way across London on the Circle line to get there in the first place. 

And if he'd kept quiet, then chances are we wouldn't have felt the need to schlep all the way to South Kensington to fill a bonus day en famille after the weather gods kiboshed our beach plans. Instead, we'd have been happy with our umpteenth trip to the Tate Modern, just so we could pretend it's walking distance from where we live. (To be fair, it is; it's just a very long walk.) But no, we thought we'd take Louis for that childhood rite of passage that is visiting the dinosaur skeletons, especially as his current favourite Charlie and Lola episode ends with them donating the fossil they have found to their local museum. 

In retrospect, we should have aborted once we saw the queue. To get in. But we dutifully trekked to the other entrance, even if it was at least a mile from the dinosaur in question. It wasn't the distance we minded, but the fact that we had then to negotiate the length of the museum to find the dinosaur hall. And everyone else in it.... On the plus side, Louis did spot a bonus digger, or half a digger, in the lame exhibition about our earth's resources. Or whatever it was. But on the downside, that meant the second we finally made it to the dinosaur, Louis took one look and announced: "I want to see the digger." 

And the moral? Next time we get the urge to test our zest for life we're sticking well clear of anything aimed at children. Art galleries, yes; museums popular with kids, no. I hope Louis took a long, hard look at those dinosaur skeletons because it's the last he'll be seeing of them for quite some time. Until he dons his own fluorescent yellow vest on some future school trip I imagine. Provided London doesn't totally tire me out first.  

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Double trouble

What is it about toddlers? Why do they have such a bad reputation? Louis has just turned two, which by all accounts should make him twice as annoying as when he was one. But frankly he's anything but. I realise I'm tempting all kinds of fate in writing this, which partly explains my recent reticence in posting (either that or I'm still struggling to come to terms with my new look), but if anything life with Louis is getting easier, not harder. 

If I'm honest, I'd always been dreading this. Dreading him hitting two. Double trouble and all that. Babies, I figured I could deal with. After all, they don't want for much beyond copious milk and a warm chest to cuddle. And with enough coffee even the sleepless nights were bearable. Kind of. But two year olds. Quite a different matter. For starters, you actually have to do stuff with them; you can't just tout them around on endless walks and lunches out. And this prospect had, frankly, terrified me. Thinking of them as their own little person, with opinions, and wants, and needs. That, that scared me. 

Yet the reality is quite, quite different from my misguided anticipation. And what I'm wondering is, why? Why is it that everyone fears a toddler? Why do you only ever hear about the tantrums; the frustration - theirs and yours; the potty training nightmares; the sibling jealousy? I'm not exaggerating the bad press they get. Just the other day I got an email at work from some random PR telling me "two-thirds of parents admit their toddler is a thief". (Apparently they filch stuff from shops.) 

So I realise this might be unpopular and I'm prepared for it to come back and bite me on my copious behind, but just for the record I'd like to pay Louis a tribute. Heck, I'd like to pay all toddlers a tribute. They're funny and smart and loving and sweet and darn good company, all at the same time. And that's a lot more than I can say for most of their parents; present company very much included. 

Or am I totally bonkers?? 

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

New year, new look

Same old haircut though!

New year, new look. Well, it was probably about time. Not sure I like it though. I know the white on black font was never very popular but I liked it, which is why I kept it for so long. But, well, bwb is getting on a bit now; at least, its protagonist is. Can you believe he's two? Post to follow.... 

But for now, let me know whether you like the look. Or indeed like the blog. Bwb has had a bit of a hiatus of late, and to be honest, with the exception of Sophie I hadn't thought anyone had noticed. Or cared. But then one loyal friend did email me with a request. That said, she's not loyal enough to comment! Talking of comments, please do. I love them. Honestly. And I'll comment back and everything. I promise. 

But back to the new look. Blogger promised it would be so easy, but I feel let down by the result. And I'd really like a swanky header. No clue how to do one though. Heavens, I can't even upload a twitterpic. But seriously. Do let me know what you think. Please? 

Monday, June 14, 2010

Chai baby

It's the little things that make a holiday. 

- Like those two men sending two cups of Turkish tea over to DJ and I while we were grabbing a little respite from the Istanbul hubbub in the courtyard of a mosque while Louis napped.

- Or Louis declaring that "Louis come swimming too" after I told him I fancied climbing down the steps from the pontoon into a very wavy sea for a swim. And coming with me. And loving it. 

- Or even our ill-advised late evening ferry over to the Asian side, which resulted in the best Turkish food we've had plus two lovely pedestrianised streets to wander through that deserve to feature in my future best buggy pushing spots in the world travel guide. 

- Not forgetting Louis dancing in the street to a busking band - and drawing nearly as big a crowd as the singers. 

- And our impromptu late-afternoon Ergo walk through the ruins of Olympos, or the "falling down houses on the beach" as Louis called them. And, more importantly, chancing on a little Anatolian shack serving yummy pancakes just as it became impossible to ignore a little voice insisting "Louis is hungry". (At 6pm. It was fair enough.) 

- Plus the tractor we spotted "resting" on the grass by the runway from our window seat on our flight to Antalya. 

- Then Louis declaring he was "floating all by myself" in the swimming pool when I finally persuaded him to try on his armbands. 

- And more dancing: this time on the beach en famille after dinner with Norman Jay DJing in the background. And those half 11 bedtimes that meant we were getting the same amount of sleep as Louis. Plus a lie-in until, oh, at least 7am and sometimes 8am. 

- And lastly two hours of pure heaven: getting Louis to nap in his buggy under the shade on the beach while I devoured Barbara Kingsolver's The Lacuna (before it won the Orange prize for fiction award I might add).

But mostly it was that cup of tea. And the second one they sent over after Louis woke up. 

Turkish toddler

Bosphorus boats
Turkish "acorn"
Bosphorus see-saw

If one of the attractions of travelling is seeing the world through other people's eyes, then a holiday with a toddler in tow is like one of those two-for-one offers at the supermarket because you get their take on things thrown in for free. Starting with with the pre-holiday build up. I purposefully kept it pretty short for Louis because he's still struggling with the concept of time. (He's trying: it's amazing how many things we're going to do "tomorrow". Or what we did "last morning".) I left it until a week to go before I revealed we were going away but I should have waited a bit longer. Somehow I'd forgotten that even an afternoon stretches away like an eternity for a toddler; Louis nearly died of anticipation during those seven looooooooooong days. But somehow he made it to Sunday. (And I made it to our 6am easyJet flight, although in retrospect: what was I thinking?) 

Istanbul through a toddler's eyes looks like one big playpark. If Louis wasn't marvelling at the tram that ran the length of the main Istiklal shopping street or the ferries that ply the Bosphorus, he was having fun careering down one of the city's many steep cobbled streets or snacking on the corn on the cobs that are hawked everywhere. "Acorns" he called them. Other excitements included the men fishing off the Galeta Bridge that bisects the Golden Horn. I don't know which he enjoyed more: watching the silver sardines jerking around in the buckets or seeing them being reeled up from the sea from his fish sandwich pitstop vantage spot underneath the bridge itself. 

Another Louis Istanbul moment was his impromptu trip to a haman. Our hotel had given his parents a free pass to the city's oldest (and most tourist-friendly) hamam to make up for the drilling that destroyed our day one nap hopes. We had intended to visit the hamam in rotation, for a spot of serious steaming and a massage, Turkish-style. But the lady on the door insisted that Louis come too, claiming a nearly two-year-old could cope with the heat. So, not wanting to deprive him of the chance for a splash about I thought we should give it a go. Needless to say he adored it, even if my massage wasn't very relaxing. Then again, that's hardly the point of one of those abrasive Turkish body sandings. I only wish I could have snapped him wrapped in his little modesty cloth, filling his silver bowl with cold water from one of the cooling off taps. It's an image that will stay in my head forever.  

Then there were the playgrounds themselves. We found two of what must rank as some of the world's best situated swing-parks, right on the shore of the Bosphoros. The first was in the nick of time. Given how down on taking toddlers to Istanbul our guidebook was, warning only that the pavements were hopeless for buggies and decent parks a serious schlep out of the centre, we'd long since despaired of finding anywhere better for Louis to play than the square in between the Aya Sophia and Blue Mosque. But there, like a mirage in the desert, mere minutes after Louis declared, "I think we'd better find some swings now", loomed a picture-postcard perfect set of swings, see-saw and climbing frame. The other, even better, playground was in Bebek, the now achingly-chic northern district where DJ was born many moons ago and which fittingly means "baby" in Turkish. 

If nothing else, our four nights in Istanbul were the perfect reminder that just because something or somewhere might not initially seem designed for a toddler, that's probably a greater reason either to do it, or go there, than not. 

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Sophie Pas-taaah!!

Parents-to-be face many conundrums from whether or not they should find out the sex to where to give birth. Not to mention what pointless baby crap to buy. As if the hours we spent debating which buggy to buy (Bugaboo Gecko, if you're wondering, although in retrospect I favour the Bee) weren't enough, I also stressed about which surname we should use and whether whoever popped out should eat meat. 

DJ might claim the surname was never in contention, but given that I never took his when we got married, I didn't see why it should automatically follow that our child would. Especially as far fewer people have mine, which makes it more interesting. Turned out he felt pretty strongly about it - something to do with it being the only concrete link to him, while I had the benefit of actually being the one to give birth - so in the end I didn't put up too much of a fight. But I did score a good deal out of it. If our child got his surname, then I got to bring them up vegetarian. Or at least start them off not eating meat - even I realise I can't control everything they do. 

Roll on nearly two years, and so far, so veggie. Or pescie, I should say, as he does eat fish. It isn't that I haven't ever offered him meat. There was the turkey he turned his nose up at Christmas, and I've tried him on roast chicken a couple of times, but he just doesn't go for it. (That's my boy!) At a friend's recent birthday party I shuddered as he grabbed a scotch egg, but he barely sniffed it before swapping it for a mini Babybel. The same went for the sausage roll, much to my delight. 

The upshot of his veggie roots is that he's really rather partial to vegetables, although I'm well away that what babies eat and what toddlers eat are completely different beasts and he's very likely to start hating the broccoli with the same passion as he'll chomp it down now. He even had all his Lego animals eating a vegetable feast this morning. (Although hang about, there's nothing odd about cows not eating meat!) 

But for anyone struggling with their daily greens quotient I'd like to offer this pasta recipe from Sophie's lovely mummy Katy. It was such a hit with Louis that it's now called "Sophie pas-ta". It's dead simple: all you do is fry a little garlic in oil, then add frozen peas and spinach (which I'd actually cooked in the microwave), some basil, a tub of ricotta, some oil and some parmesan. Oh, and I chucked in some basil. Whizz it up and there you go. Katy also added salmon to hers but you could always use chicken, or just serve it without. Stirred into the pasta of course. 

You can see how popular it was with Louis from these videos, which basically show him trying - and succeeding - to steal Sophie's lunch. (And me trying to make him ask her nicely for it!) They are extra poignant because it was their last lunch a deux before she flew back to DC. Sob. (And yes, this post was just really a long winded excuse for me to stick up these videos for Sophie's benefit. Although I do honestly recommend the pasta recipe.) 

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Extremely obsessed

True dedication: reading and watching Charlie and Lola simultaneously!

I've spotted another gap in the market. Where is the 37-part animated series of Shakespeare? I speak selfishly of course: if it existed then perhaps when Louis springs a line from one of the "episodes" at me out of the blue I wouldn't feel quite such a fool quoting the next one back. I've lost count of how many scenes from Charlie and Lola we've reenacted on the bus/walking down the street/in the bath/at dinner/in bed etc etc. 

"What's that funny noise? That's not growling, Lola, it's drilling/ Is your daddy Mr Wolf? Is your mummy Mrs Wolf? And are you Arnold Wolf? A Wolf? I knew it, I knew it!/ Charlie! Mum! Dad! Wake up! It's all gone extremely white!" 

Not that I've got anything against Lauren Child's prose; it's really extremely charming. Which is just as well as it seems to be Louis' main source of new vocab. Whenever he comes out with something unexpected, you can bet it's something that Charlie or Lola have just done. This morning he pointed to my tea strainer and said: "That's Louis' tennis. Like Charlie has." And I couldn't quite understand his excitement at my new skipping rope, until I realised that Lola and Lotta are, of course, skipping queens. He is also a dab hand at somersaults and coping solo ("Louis do it on my own"). With thanks, again, to Lola. 

Last night his C+L obsession hit a totally new level when he declared, on climbing the stairs for "bubbles", that he actually was Lola, which meant I could be Charlie. I'm just waiting for him to have an imaginary friend called Soren Lorenson. 

Given how seriously he takes it all, I couldn't help wondering whether Lauren Child ever considers the implications of what she writes. My heart skipped a beat the first time he watched I will not ever never eat a tomato because I'm always waiting for the day he stops eating his vegetables. So when I wound up interviewing Child last week that was the question I most wanted her to answer. (Well, that and the real reason she doesn't have children, but I'm just not that kind of journalist.)

For some reason, I didn't end up including her answer when I wrote up the piece, but if you're curious, no, she doesn't. The other main conundrum she solved was DJ's: he's always been worried that Charlie and Lola lived in East Dulwich but it turns out their extremely lovely life is set in Copenhagen. Even better: it's 1970s Copenhagen. Which explains the funky fabrics. I now covet their sofa, not to mention several of Lola's dresses. Surely far more worrying than being able to recite the scripts?  

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Wait the bus no more

This, to the the casual observer, might just look like any old picture. Of a little boy, sitting at a bus stop. I didn't take it; DJ did. And then pinged it over to my phone while I was at work. They were off for their regular balloon boys brunch with Geoffrey-engine. But I digress. The reason it's not just any old photo is because it marks a watershed moment. Louis can talk. Yes, I know he's been chatting away for months now, but seriously, the kid can really talk. Properly. With prepositions and everything. DJ confessed that although he'd texted: "Louis sitting in the bench waiting the bus!" to make me think that's what Louis had said, the truth was rather different. And he didn't like it. Because it made Louis sound all grown up. What he actually - apparently - said was: "Louis is sitting on the bench waiting for the bus." Which gave DJ quite a shock. 

I mean, it was one thing when I finally faced up to the fact that Louis no longer said "didi" instead of "TV" or "Bam-ma" rather than "Grandma". But peppering his speech with prepositions is something else. I know parents aren't supposed to encourage baby talk, but I always liked it. I loved that he said stuff like "Mummy sit the chair" when he wanted his nighttime milk, or "Gessie" for "Geoffrey" or "Stee" for Steve". I always figured he had the rest of his life to talk properly; I just didn't realise it would begin so soon. Before I know it he'll stop holding out his arms and saying "Mummy carry you". Heck, one day he'll even stop wanting me to carry him. At least I guess he will......

PS: I hope it isn't a horrible cheat given that I'd already written it but I couldn't help entering this in the Gallery because I saw the theme was men and it just seemed so apt. 

Friday, May 7, 2010

Election '10

It was heralded as the mumsnet election but it was frankly anything but. I'm struggling to think of any policies that got mums excited enough to skip down to the polling station this morning. Vote blue and you'll pay more for your nursery place; vote red and you'll be lucky if there's money left to keep state nurseries open. Vote yellow and, well, to be honest, I don't know what will happen. Not that anyone is likely to find out. 

With so many voters still undecided even today about where to mark their cross, I find it odd that neither party made more of an effort to address any of the issues that mums really care about. Okay, so I wasn't expecting anyone to solve the working mother's conundrum of how to hold down a decent job while bringing up a child who isn't a brat, but a little more support might help. 

Or perhaps I'm just making excuses for, whisper it, just not finding British politics very interesting. I can't help but compare this election to the one over the pond that featured so heavily in so many bwb posts. I have been singularly unmoved today, except to fear a future under David Cameron, even if I don't quite know why. And I certainly won't be dragging Louis out of bed at sunrise tomorrow to watch a new dawn

In fact, I'd say the biggest excitement of the entire campaign came this morning when we made a family trip to our local polling station to cast our vote. Louis was full of enthusiasm, mainly for "voting Daddy", although when we told him there was such thing as a "yellow taxi" party he quickly changed his tune. He was especially thrilled to find there was some "crayoning" to do in the booth. "Louis crayon, Louis crayon". I just hope he didn't deface my ballot paper! 

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Memory man

In Yoppy's buggy

Grandma-Stee's diggers

Okay, so I know it will only get harder to think of the right thing to say but I definitely boobed tonight. Upset, as ever, that I wouldn't give him any milk, my milk, that is, not the cow's milk in his red cup, I think I made the mistake of saying something like: 'There's none left. Maybe I can get some more." Why, I don't know. Five minutes later, as I lay in his bed with him (oh yes!), a little voice said: "Mummy, get more milk tomorrow. From the shop." And I know he wasn't talking about popping out to pick up a pint. 

It wouldn't matter but his memory is razor sharp these days. He only has to see or hear the most tenuous of triggers and something he did months ago comes pouring out of his mouth. Seeing Simon Hughes' yellow taxi drive down our street this morning had him chatting about the yellow taxis in New York, while just about any mention of a horse reminds him of "Harold the horse" in Central Park. As does spotting a carrot. (He fed Harold a carrot; it was the highlight of his trip.) Then there was the other night in the bath: asking him to turn round got him chatting about Katy and singing Hokey Cokey, which has been her song ever since he got him dancing to it at New Year's. Or there's any mention of Yoppy-chan, which has him prattling on about "Louis in Yoppy's buggy" because they swopped buggies once, aeons ago. 

For months, every digger we saw prompted a, "Digger, Dandad" because his first official sighting of one was with his Grandad. (I'd been walking quickly past them for months, hoping to delay the inevitable obsession.) Now, I fear "Dandad" may have been supplanted as an association: the pebbly beach outside Grandma P's house is a veritable digger park at the moment because they are rebuilding the beach, which had been in danger of disappearing into the sea. Ever since we popped down there last week for a peek (I felt obliged) every time Louis gets to the bulldozer page in his digger book (I didn't buy it) he goes on and on about "Grandma driving the red digger; Stee driving the yellow one." 

With that in mind, I fear I should be very afraid about what he might yell out if we do pop to the shops tomorrow...... 

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Striking that balance

Louis and Soph. (Check out the matching knitwear.) 

I thought I'd cracked it a few months back. You know, struck parental gold by chancing on a solution to that perennial daily battle that is Getting Ready. Instead of expecting Louis to get dressed on demand each morning, which was becoming an increasing struggle, I started bribing him by getting him excited about the day ahead. It started with a proposed trip to a playgroup to see Yoppy. They'd played there the week before, so he was more than happy to put some jeans on if it meant he could see her there again. Not to mention play kitchens while wearing a fireman's helmet. 

I've since used it  practically daily although obviously some excursions hold a bigger appeal than others. Try as I might to get him addicted to his daily frothy, it lacks the pull of my coffee - or his fire engine. And it's hard to think of anything that excites him about being dumped at nursery, although our orangutan cycle ride there - with him strapped to my back in his baby carrier - is helping. (Nobody tell health and safety.)

But I fear my device might be backfiring. On Monday, when I sprung my impromptu plans for a visit to Grandmas on him, he was desperate to leave at once. "Get dressed. See Grandma." I, however, had plans to finish a stack of chores, give him lunch and drive down while he napped. Then again today, with a trip on the big train to St Albans to see Sophie on the cards, it was all I could do to finish my cup of tea before he had bundled me out of the door. I jest not: we were ready to leave well before 9am, a feat never before achieved even on a work day. 

Which made me realise that this parenting lark is all about striking a balance. In this case, it's about how to balance getting him excited enough to put down his lego and get ready but not so excited that I can't get myself dressed first. And if parenting really is about balancing then I can't help but find it ironic that the early days are all about such extremes. I'm talking about the sorts of extremes that get Daily Mail headline writers shrieking that leaving a baby sobbing could damage its brain - for that was how they interpreted Penelope Leach's latest wisdom on the subject in her new book - or the new parenting dilemma du jour: do you, or don't you, Gina? 

Then again, thinking back, I'm not sure whether it's possible to find any equilibrium in those frantic early weeks. My finals-style approach to parenting by attempting to read all the literature out there so I could just use the snippets I liked from each so-called grand savant failed spectacularly. Perhaps we just have to accept that there are no easy solutions. 

Unless you know better?? 

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Sod NCT.... bring on the Lego lessons

Here's a question: how is it that the world seems full of people trying to flog stuff and life lessons to prospective and new parents.... but none of it is remotely useful? Where, for example, are the Lego lessons? It's okay for the architecturally-minded: your towers and houses and farms and cities just seem magically to slot themselves together. But what about the rest of us? For some reason those multi-coloured bricks have me stumped every time. 

Try as I may, I just can't work out how to get them to do anything more interesting than make a very tall tower. (Although I am a dab hand at a spot of colour co-ordination.) Which means I look enviously at everyone else's creations. Even a simple Lego tunnel over the train tracks (thanks Louis' Grandad) had me turning green. And as for Daddy J's Eschereque marvel, with twisting staircases leading up to Lego heaven, well, I refused to let Louis destroy it for days. I briefly had a good thing going with the odd skyscraper, but they weren't very stable. I've tried copying the pictures on the front of the Lego box but what sort of a lesson in creativity does that send Louis? 

The same goes for "crayoning". It's all very well for Louis to demand "Mummy come crayon" but what I want to know is: Crayon what? Even after a 20-year break, I'm still just as useless as drawing horses' legs as I ever was, a fact I still find unutterably frustrating. Louis might be happy scribbling away with a green pencil and calling it a "zebra" but I'm afraid that's a step too avant-garde for me. I found myself cheating and buying one of those how-to-draw-animals books from the Tate the other day, but my efforts are still pretty lousy. You'd never know I got an A at GCSE art. 

Singing would make another potentially useful ante-natal lesson if you ask me. For years, no, sorry, decades, the only singing you ever have to do is either the odd Christmas carol, or in extremis - or better still under the influence - some karaoke after hours. And then suddenly it's non-stop lullabies and nursery rhymes at all hours. And in all locations. We can be in a shop, out for a walk, on the tube: Louis isn't fussy. Neither is he choosy about the actual songs. "Mummy sing it the polar bear one," was his ultimate classic. Um, what polar bear one?? Now it's one of his all-time favourites. 

And what about a drama class or two to help with those bedtime stories? How much more fun would reading out loud be if you could actually pull off the odd regional accent? It might make the umpteenth reading of Tiger who came to tea a bit more interesting. 

Have I missed anything out? Perhaps I could be onto something here......