Monthly Archives: September 2011

Breast not mention it

I hear on the radio that there has been yet more research into breastfeeding. And lo, the medical profession doth say: children who are breastfed are better behaved than those who are not. Fact. Oh for fuck’s sake. Can we please have a moratorium on breastfeeding research? I think mothers may have the picture by now. Breastfeeding is good. Super-breasty-duper. But does all this research really persuade more mothers to breastfeed? Does it really win over those floating nipples? (Which are a bit like floating voters, but with a much higher propensity to lactate).

Mostly, this research seems just to make mothers who can’t or won’t breastfeed feel like pariahs who are going to raise stupid, disease-prone, ill-behaved morons. Mind you, I guess it does provide an alibi for bad behaviour. The next time E tantrums (it happens on a regular enough basis that I have turned it into a verb) I shall just sigh, look down with a woeful expression at my breasts and say: “He would be such a well behaved boy if my boobs had not been a bit broken and I could have breastfed him for longer.”

And just how much money, in these cash strapped times, are the government pumping (to stay with the breastfeeding lingo) into research? I do not go out of my way to read up on the latest missive about how the benefits of breastfeeding are practically verging on the miraculous – I managed three months, which means my boobs should at least be in line for beatification – but I have read countless reports in the newspapers of new research.

“So, Trevor, how much have we got this time?”

“Let’s see, breastfeeding research fund…here we are…a hundred grand.”

“Excellent. So we could track a good representative section of babies from birth, both those who are breastfed and those who are fed formula…”

“Watch your bloody language, Nicholas.”

“Sorry Trevor. Those who are fed ‘the unmentionable’ – then we can track behavioral traits, conduct regular reasoning and cognitive tests, off-set the data against identified affluence, class and nurturing factors…we could really advance the breastfeeding debate this time.”

“We could…”

“But…?”

“But we won’t.”

“We won’t?”

“Nah. Can’t be fucked. All those babies, dribbling milk and puking. God, it turns my stomach. Not to mention all those hormonal new mothers. Jesus. And let’s face it, we both know what the results will be.”

“We do?”

“Christ, don’t they teach you anything in medical college these days? Look, we just need to identify a few attributes that will guilt new mothers into breastfeeding, preferably those that will seemingly solve a couple of societal ills… you know, breastfed babies are less likely to wear hoodies, if you breastfeed your baby exclusively for a year they won’t get in-growing toe nails, only two percent of rioters were breastfed… that sort of thing – and that’s it. Job done.”

“Oh…right. Well, in that case, pass the Digestives.”

“Digestives, Nicholas? Digestives? We have a hundred grand at our disposal. I have three cases of Duchy Original Shortbread in the stationery cupboard.”


Mornings are (well and truly) broken

E wakes up at 4.45am and refuses point blank to return to bed. After some pointless efforts made to return him to his own bedroom, brought to a resigned end by a double whammy of extreme fatigue (from me) and extreme stubbornness (from him) he inevitably crawls into our bed as M leaves for a ridiculously early meeting. I have a notion that E might curl up next to me and have another snooze. But oh no. He has other ideas. Like kicking me. Oh, and pushing his fist into my Adam’s apple until it touches the back of my throat. And pinching my left nipple hard with an accompanying “beep beep!”.

“Stop,” I hiss through gritted teeth. So he moves to phase two of Operation Shitbag, by whinging over and over and over: “mummy, I want milky. I want milky. I want milky mummy. Please.” If he thinks the first ever voluntary use of the word please is going to get me out of bed at 5am to make him a beaker of milk he is very much mistaken. I could cheerfully throttle him. Actually scrub that. There is nothing even remotely sodding cheerful about this situation. I am beyond pissed off to a degree that even startles me. I am so tired after five consecutive 5am starts and to add injury to fatigue someone has crept in to the bedroom whilst I was sleeping and inserted sandpaper under my eyelids, replaced my bone marrow with concrete and extracted my brain, leaving only an ‘I Owe You’ note in its place.

But it’s not just the tiredness. It’s the punching and the pushing, the kicking and the pinching, and the insistence that he sleeps on my pillow as he grinds his forehead into my face so that my eyes water that is killing me. I lie on my hands, in my tiny slither of double bed that I have been afforded by my bed-hog of a son. Actually, it is probably the safest place for them right now, as they are twitching slightly, wanting to slap E’s leg as his foot smashes into my chest again.

A small hiatus in the general stream of bed-based violence occurs and I relax slightly. Perhaps he will fall asleep. I squint at the clock: 6.10am. All is not lost if we can squeeze in a fifty minute snooze.  Even though I have to keep one buttock clenched to ensure I don’t topple out of the side of the bed, lying there next to E, as he pulls my arm around him, I can’t imagine why I was so angry with him. I feel his body warmth on me and I inhale the smell of his hair. Slap him? What was I thinking? I close my eyes and feel a wave of tiredness pull me down. All is quiet.

Then E whispers “bogey…”

I open one eye to see him rootling around his right nostril. Fine, I don’t care if he has his index finger poked half way up his bum – he is still, and not inflicting severe pain on any part of my anatomy, and I can feel sleep slowly creeping up on me as my eyelids close.

“Bogey…” Ellis repeats in a whisper, “…on mummy’s eye…” and a second later I feel a slightly gooey finger slide across my eyelid leaving a trail of wet slime behind it. Jesus. I could seriously slap that boy sometimes.


It’s driving me potty

laura slinn

Potty training. Two small words. One whole lot of damp, pants-wetting, pee-smelling trouble. M and I have discussed potty training E, and keep coming to the same conclusion: wait until he is ready. We feel justified in this, an attitude that could otherwise be construed as cowardly, lazy and based on enlightened self-interest, as this is what The Experts say. You know. The Experts in The Books.

It is also backed up by friends who have forced their kids into being trained early due to a number of reasons, mainly the impending birth of a sibling, less often due to them really wanting to spend their days mopping up puddles of piss. They all say don’t rush it, as it makes it harder and this, we agree, is practically scientific fact and we are right not to have done it yet.

We have had a potty in the bathroom for a while though, just in case the urge ever takes E. It gathers dust next to the radiator, with only the occasional outing into the middle of the floor when E wants to use it as a receptacle for catching his discarded socks as he undresses for bath time. I ask him every night before he gets in the bath if he wants a wee on the potty, to which the firm and immediate reply comes: “No.” Which is short for: “No. I am about to sit in a nice warm bath where I can be thoroughly entertained by watching myself pee in the water to my bladder’s content. Heck, I can even wiggle my willy so the pee jumps out of the water a bit.”

One evening though, standing there naked, he says yes. Bollocks. That has thrown me. I pull the potty nearer and hold E’s hands as he gingerly lowers himself onto the potty. On contact, he springs to his feet. “Too cold!” he protests. I suddenly get an overwhelming sense that we may have molly-coddled our son a tad too much. I make a half-arsed (excuse the bottom pun) attempt to warm it up by rubbing it, wondering if a Genie may materialise any second. I put it back on the floor and E reluctantly reseats himself. Due to some ridiculous design flaw (in the potty, not in my son), there is a large raised curved part between his legs, causing his willy to stick up in the air. This does not bode well: one of us is about to get it in the eye. I can imagine the scenario eighteen years hence:

“So, E, tell me why you have always had a phobia about urinating?”

“Well, when I was two my mother made me piss in my own eye”.

I try to poke his willy back down, but can’t quite get it to do what I want it to do, which I would like to say is the first time I have encountered this problem with the male appendage but quite frankly, can’t. I poke at it again. E is, quite understandably, getting a bit pissed off with having someone jab ineffectually at his pride and joy and bats me away. Finally, I get him to reposition himself and we finally get tackle positioned correctly.

“Finished!” yells E, and jumps up. The potty is dry. Sod it. Let him piss in the bath.


Questions, questions…

Laura Slinn

E’s questions come thick and fast.

“What’s this, mummy?” he enquires, holding up an item from his play farm.

“It’s straw, sweetie,” I reply.

“Whassit do?”

“Errmmm…horses eat it…” I reply, tentatively. Oh no, hang on… don’t horses eat hay? So what the fuck is straw? Or is it the same thing as hay? Surely not. “…or perhaps it is straw, in which case rabbits sleep on it.”

Christ on a bike. E has yet to hit three and already I am teetering on the brink of the crumbling edifice that is my general knowledge.

A little later, we are out for a walk and E stops by a short post at the side of the pavement. “What’s that?” “It’s for…electricity. I think. Or it could be gas.” E looks up at me, blatantly unimpressed. His silent gaze forces me into a somewhat unwise further attempt at an explanation.

“The sign shows where the pipes are that run under the ground,” I nod, waving my arm up and down the pavement. “They carry the electricity… or gas… although it could be water come to think about it…” Bloody hell, my head is starting to hurt. Luckily, E is distracted by a ladybird and I am let off the hook.

On our return to the house, E turns to me and says “Mummy, what does smoke do?”

Okay, that’s it. I quit.


The long goodbye (with antlers)

Waving Goodbye (Bad mother)

Elton John is wrong. Sorry is so not the hardest bloody word. Look: I kick your shins – ‘oops, sorry.’ I bump into you with my shopping trolley – ‘sorry, didn’t see you there.’ I accidentally drop your hamster down the drain – ‘oh, clumsy me, I am sorry’. See. Easy. But goodbye? That’s the hard one.

Saying goodbye to E as I leave him in nursery can be tough. Since moving up to the pre-school class, involving a literal move up the stairs to the room on the first floor, the breezy goodbye I used to toss into the toddler room as I cantered to the car is a thing of distant beauty. These days, it is a Russian roulette of a farewell: will it be wobbly bottom lip, a white-knuckle grip on my collar or a cheery wave?

E is in that ‘settling in’ period, where he is still acclimatising to being a very small fish in a loud, big, turbulent pond, a pond full of bigger, more confident fish, sorry, kids, most of whom have better control over their opposable thumbs, their bladder and know more words for ‘willy’. So the morning drop-off can be a little emotional for him.

The carers have a strategy for kids who struggle to say goodbye to mummy or daddy. I find it a slightly curious strategy, as it seems to involve prolonging the agony for as long as is humanly possible. They take the child to the large, first floor window and wait for the parent to appear in the car park, at which point said parent must stand under the window, wave a long, final goodbye and leave.

For the first week or so, I did this with a heavy heart and an ever-increasing sense of ludicrousness. A heavy heart, as it was sad to see my little boy pressed up against the window, his short, sobbing breaths repeatedly creating momentary circles of mist on the window as he forlornly looked down at mummy, who was clearly abandoning him. Ludicrous, as I had utterly sworn to myself that I would not be one of those frankly moronic parents who wave up at the window like they’ve just got off a Sunshine Coach – and yet there I was, waving like a buffoon and feeling like shit for leaving E. Bad, bad mother.

But a couple of weeks in, I thought that if I had to partake of this ridiculous charade and watch E miserably waving goodbye to me, perhaps I should make more of an attempt to elicit a smile from him before I leave. This may have been a thought born of enlightened self-interest, as leaving him happy gave me less indigestion after my breakfast. But there are limits to what you can do when you are separated by double glazing ten foot above ground level. The fallback tickle is redundant, the upside-down swing no good. So I do what any self-respecting adult would do. I put my outstretched hands either side of my head to create comedy antlers, stick out my tongue and give it a them all a good old waggle. Bingo. A smile. A small part of my dignity shrivelled up into a ball inside me and withered into dust at the precise moment my tongue came out, but hey, I left E with a smile.

And like everything you do as a parent in a moment of desperation and idiocy, it then becomes expected. E would wait with anticipation at the window for me to make an utter tit of myself. Sometimes other kids would look on, then glance at E as if to say ‘holy shit, you poor buggar, is that your mummy?’

I then confess to M that I am doing the ‘Antler Adieu’ and he reciprocates with a confession that involves him doing a comedy ‘trip up’ outside the window to elicit a laugh from our son. I feel momentarily relieved as that seems marginally more idiotic than my farewell, then doubly worried that both of us might need to see a shrink.

I decide that perhaps I should try and wean E off of my farewell with antlers, due to the law of diminishing returns that states that it becomes a little less entertaining for him every time he sees it, which is inversely proportionate to the shame and humiliation that grows within me when I am doing it. Because whilst leaving my child in someone else’s care all day sometimes makes me feel like a bad mother, let’s face it, I’d be a much worse mother if I had to look after him myself. There are only so many incidents of Play Doh in my hair and stroppy insistences of him sitting down on the zebra crossing before one of us would be locked in the shed. As it is, he gets to play with his friends all day and I get the comparatively easy job of working for a living. He gets professional care, a lesson in socialisation and fun and I get to keep my sanity. It’s a fair exchange.

I come out of nursery one morning and there, in the spot under the window, is a mum. I watch her saying goodbye to her daughter. She is actually dancing. Clad in a pale pink cagoule, legs kicking, arms swinging, she looks like a pantomime orang-utan with ants up her arse.  It is at this precise moment that I make a promise to myself… and the Antler Adieu is never, ever seen again.


Mmmm… medicine

E has a stinking cold. I prefer it when he brings home a painting from nursery, but this week, he has brought home a particularly virulent strain of nose snot. Mind you, it is a close run thing with some of the items he brings home.

One day as I am on my way to the garden at nursery to pick him up, I notice a tray of small jam tarts. It does takes me a moment to recognise what they are though – first glance does put me in mind somewhat of the leftovers of a particularly nasty road traffic accident. Having done the handover with one of the girls (‘he’s had a really good day’, she says, just as they say every day, even when in the next breath they then tell me that he has been bitten by another child or bumped his head on the slide) I try to make a quick exit, but she gleefully reminds me to take a jam tart home. I select a tart, trying to pick one that looks least likely to have a bogey in it, or have been poked by every grubby finger in the class and we take it home to eat after E’s fruit. Given its four centimetre diameter, it is surprisingly heavy and lands on the plate with a dull thud. One bite in and E abandons it, offering me a bite with his customary generosity that appears about ten seconds after he has decided he doesn’t like something. I refuse, but after much badgering, I relinquish and take the smallest bite possible. Holy shit, how does pastry get quite that hard? Actually, I would rather not know as I am already feeling a tad nauseous.

So here we are, at bath time, with E sneezing his way through giving me a bubble beard, producing quite impressive slugs of shiny, green mucus from both nostrils at an alarming rate. As I carry him, wet and shrouded in a towel, to his bedroom, he starts to struggle and whinge. Laying him on the change unit to get him dry, I sense a full-scale paddy just around the corner so launch into a desperate diversion tactic.

calpol, Laura Slinn

“Right,” I say, in the most obnoxious sing-song, children’s-presenter-type voice, “my nice thought is… the beach!” I smile manically like a simpleton (it comes surprisingly easy). “What’s your nice thought?” But E is not to be distracted from the task in hand – his mission to wind himself up into a total frenzy. So I bring out the big guns: the promise of Calpol. Well, he has got a terrible cold. It’s not as if I am just using it as a bribe to behave. As if. That would be irresponsible.

The guarantee of the strawberry elixir does start to work, but I sense I am living on borrowed time, so I hand him the spoon, just to build a little anticipation. This does the trick, and I breathe a sigh of relief. Now, where were we? Oh yes. “My nice thought is… going to the park,” I lie. “What’s yours?

E pauses for a moment. “Medicine.” Okaaaay. This is less a diversion, more of a statement of intent.

“My nice thought is…ice cream,” I say, which is at least true. “What’s yours?”

“Medicine.” Hmm, this isn’t going quite to plan. I sigh.

“My nice thought is… playing with Play Doh. Another whopper. “What is your different nice thought?”

“Errr… spoon.”

I fear E has a one-track mind; a track leading only to that diminutive, slightly sticky bottle of strawberry loveliness that is currently residing up on the shelf. So I administer two spoonfuls of the aforementioned life-saver and start the bedtime routine, thinking about the imminent large glass of red wine waiting for me
downstairs. Now there’s a proper nice thought.


A zebra in my shoe

Laura Slinn

I was never a meticulous, house-proud, zero-tolerance-to-mess, death to clutter kind of a gal. I wanted to be, I really did, but two key factors constantly impeded my dream: my inherent laziness when it came to tidying and the fact that M and I are just a little bit messy, all the time. I have always wanted a constantly tidy house, one where the dining table can be used for its primary purpose of dining without having to clear a smorgasbord of crap out the way first, but it has just never happened. Mind you, it has always been a controlled mess. The newspaper pile might be swollen and threatening to topple, but it is definitely a pile. A few dirty mugs might linger unwashed longer than is strictly necessary, but at least they congregate around the sink.

But with E, all tidiness bets are well and truly off. How does one small human being create such chaos with such little effort? And despite our attempts to at least constrain the mess, there is no crevice of the house left uncluttered. Shit just gets absolutely everywhere. I walk into the bathroom for a pee and there is a Santa hat discarded in the middle of the floor. A cricket bat lies abandoned under the kitchen table. A zebra nestles in my shoe.  A small car wheel appears in my knicker drawer. A two-inch plastic rod with a threaded end, once part of a construction kit but now universally referred to as ‘the red thing’ turns up
absolutely everywhere: first by the cooker, then in E’s bed, then down the back of the sofa cushion. I swear I throw the sodding thing away in a fit of pique, only then to see it floating in his bath the next day.

There is nowhere I can cast my gaze without some piece of child’s crap staining my peripheral vision. I feel like I am in the middle of some domestic-scale demonstration of entropy in action. A gradual decline into disorder: I may have that written on my gravestone. Or perhaps just on my medical notes.