Monthly Archives: May 2012

Spinning plates

Laura Sllinn

I was never much cop at maths. You know you are never going to excel in a topic when your 3rd year maths teacher can only mention neat handwriting as the sole redeeming feature of my mock O level exam paper. So whilst I may not be able to add up five numbers without resorting to a calculator, at least I can write them down in a bloody straight column. Was I the only one driven to tears by the black art that was simultaneous equations? And here is another equation that is pretty much unsolvable: one mother, divided by two children, multiplied by a fucking long list of jobs, equals… Well, I can take a stab at what this equals, actually. A multitasking nightmare of epic proportions.

It is said that women are good at multitasking and I myself have taken pride in my ability to keep several task-based balls up in the air at any given time. Whether men are shit at this is a matter of debate that I do not wish to be drawn on. Let’s just say I have seen men drink, breathe, talk, keep an eye on the football on TV and appreciate the aesthetics of a passing lady in the pub, all whilst being seemingly engrossed in my inexhaustibly detailed description of my fascinating day. But I will not meander further down this discursive path, for fear of ending up in a town called Clichéville.

However, I now realise that previously I was merely playing at multitasking. I was a rank amateur, a pretender to the throne of job completion, a whipper-snapper amid the true professionals of getting shit done: with humble genuflection, all hail the real victors…  mums with more than one child.

On any given day when I am at home with both E and B (and let’s be clear here, this is two days out of five, which is probably one day more than my sanity would prefer) I am spinning plates like a lactating whirling dervish.

Last week, I was breastfeeding B. This activity in itself is a silent siren call to postmen, delivery men, neighbours, Jehovah witnesses and double glazing salesmen to ring the doorbell. It was all I could do not to squirt the window salesman in the eye with my breast milk and shove his sodding promotional leaflet up his nearest unglazed orifice. Meanwhile, B is slung under my arm, eyes agog, mouth open in a bereft ‘O’, thinking ‘hang on a flipping minute, I am sure there was a nipple in my mouth a second ago… where the hell has it gone?’ The postman narrowly avoided a full frontal breast exposé when I rushed to the door and forgot to pull down my top. It was only the breeze caused by my uncharacteristic velocity through the hallway that alerted me to the al fresco boob seconds before I opened the door.

So, half way through a feed E announces that he needs a wee and maybe a poo. I grit my teeth. Of course he does. It makes no sense that he would have wanted one in the three preceding hours when I did not have a hungry baby clamped to my breast. So I attempt to get up and shuffle to the bathroom with E whilst still breastfeeding B, which results in only minor agony and semi-permanent nipple dislocation as I inadvertently move B away from my boob as I walk.

With B in one arm, I hoist E onto the toilet seat using the other, poke his willy between his legs and perch opposite him, on the edge of the bath. Oh, and did I mention that I have a mobile clamped twixt ear and shoulder, on hold for the doctor’s surgery?  Apparently, I am informed by a recorded voice, I am third in the queue. Hmm, I know this sort of queue. This is the sort of queue in the supermarket where you think you have lucked out as there are only two people in front of you, and then one of them turns out to be a senile, arthritis-ridden, half-blind octogenarian who has split her shop into six as she is running (sorry, I mean crawling) shopping errands for her less able friends, can’t fathom out the chip and pin machine and then forgets her number, then her name, then her bladder control.

My arms are starting to ache as they support B as he feeds, and I try to disguise my impatience as I enquire of E if he is actually going to have a wee or if we are having a family outing to the toilet just for the sodding fun of it.

I stare at the wall tiles, thinking about the basket of wet washing that has been sitting in its present position, approximately ten inches from the washing machine, for over five hours. This thought depresses me, so I then think about the ironing, which I abandoned yesterday when B woke up from a nap and have not had a chance to go back to. Which leads me to consider the contents of the sink, wherein one of B’s vests is still in soak from the day before when he pooed so hard it squirted out of the top of his nappy. The utility room looks like the Mary Celeste version of a bloody laundrette.

And then my thoughts turn to my cup of tea. As I wince from arm ache brought on my prolonged bath-edge breastfeeding, I picture the now-cold tea on the kitchen table, abandoned as I answered the clarion call of B’s hungry wailing. I can count the number of hot beverages that I have finished on the fingers of one hand since he was born. Well, at least I could if that hand was not full of breast.

And there it is. My life with two children is just like the tea drinking. I have so many unfinished jobs, tasks and thoughts going on, and so little time to do it, my head is in danger of exploding every time I consider my predicament. I am spinning plates left, right and centre and to be honest, they are all looking more than a tad wobbly. Which reminds me, I must get round to finishing the washing up…

Spray that again?

Another fun session at an indoor play centre. It must be the sticky laminated tables that are so irresistible. Oh no, it’s because you can lose your child legally and safely for a good hour or so without a second thought, leaving you to chat and drink foul coffee and pretend to have a life. Well, that’s what it used to be like. Now I chat, drink foul coffee and hope that B stays asleep in his car seat. 

Which is what is known in the trade as Wishful Thinking. So as I grapple with getting B on my breast for an afternoon snack, E appears, hot and sweaty from his exertions climbing over a vinyl-covered landscape of fun.

“I need to wee,” he announces.

“Can you go with daddy please?”  I ask.

“No, you mummy.”

“I can’t darling, I’m feeding.”

“You mummy.”

I can sense this is not going to end well. No amount of cajoling from us gets him close to agreeing to go for a wee with daddy, and even my fail-safe negotiator’s trump card  of chocolate buttons falls of deaf ears –  so not wanting a puddle of urine to mop up I reluctantly decouple B from my left breast and hand him over to daddy.

As we approach the loo I am wondering how the hell I am going to lift him onto the toilet, given I am still physically recovering from the C Section and to say it is slow and painful would be a bit like saying being hit by a bus chafes a little. And given that I then will have to support E to stop him falling into the toilet, I am desperately casting around for a Plan B as we approach the ladies.

Plan B hits me as we enter the toilet. Or rather, it hits my foot. I look down to see a little plastic stool. The thoughtful play centre owners have supplied said item to aid little people on the toilet. So full of this thought they seem to have been in fact, it appears there was no room left to think about cleaning the toilet. It is one of those toilets about which you wonder if it is humanly possible to carry out your business without ever coming into contact with a surface. We enter the cubicle, and I eye up the slightly hairy, stained toilet as I lift the seat with the tip of one finger. I glance at the toilet handle, which could be designated a site of biological interest as it must be home to at least seven undiscovered strains of bacteria.

“How about weeing like a big boy, standing up? We can use this really cool stool.” I casually say to E, expecting an instantaneous knock back.

“Okay,” he replies. I can’t get the stool in place and his tousers and pants down quick enough, in case he changes his mind.

“You need to hold your willy, poppet,” I instruct. “Point it into the toilet.”

“No, you do it.” E replies.

“No, you’re a big boy, you can do it.”

“No, you do it.” Right, I know when to bow out gracefully from a stand off and this is it. I fear that if I push him, I will end up back at Plan A which could set my recovery back weeks, not to mention the nauseous thought of E’s backside being in prolonged contact with that grim toilet seat. I am no clean freak – from the moment we started to use bottles with him as baby, dropping the teats were subject to the five second rule – just so long as they were not on the floor for more than five seconds, no re-sterilisation was required (and you were allowed to count to five very, very slowly). But even I baulked at the cavalier attitude to hygiene in this loo.

So I lean over and hold his willy. There are many things I would rather be doing at this juncture than holding my son’s tackle in a filthy toilet, but necessity is the mother’s lot, apparently.

“Ready, ” I say with a nod.

Despite my claimed readiness, when the wee shoots out I am slightly taken unawares. I thought I was pointing his willy down into the bowl of the toilet. It certainly looked like it was. But it turns out I was sorely mistaken, and it is, in fact, pointing fairly skywards. The first few seconds of wee hit the flipped-up toilet lid with some force. Buggar. I immediately adjust my aim downwards but in doing so must have inadvertently tightened my grip, which seems to effect the direction of the pee, and sends it off at an alarming angle, covering the right hand side of the toilet rim with more pee. Bollocks.

I relax my grip and over-compensate by moving his willy too far to the left, spraying more urine on the other side of the rim. Jesus wept. Who knew you had to be a trained fucking marksman to be left in charge of a weeing penis? By the time I have got this dangerous weapon under control, E has emptied his bladder and the stream slows to a dribble, leaving a series of drips first on the rim and then down his legs and in his pants. Bloody hell, that was tricky. Granted, this is the first time that I have been left in charge of a peeing penis, but really, that is one ridiculously senstive bit of kit. Give me a garden hose any day of the week. I am amazed no one has turned it into an arcade game, employing a series of pop up targets to shoot at as you grapple with the hair-trigger willy controls, battling against other willy shooters in the multi player option. Actually, that’s pretty much how I imagine a group of men behave when lined up at a urinal.

I feel momentarily guilty about spraying the toilet lid with my son’s pee, but quickly conclude that it probably knocked more germs and filth off than it contributed, and after washing hands, we depart the scene of the grime… sorry – crime, swiftly.

Keeping abreast of it

We are at an indoor play centre, at our first family outing since the arrival of B. Well, if you discount the trip to Asda, that is. Although don’t under-estimate the excitement I felt on that momentous outing, the first trip I had made since the C Section, practically the first time I had left the house. It was all I could do not to whip out the video camera to record the occasion, but even I recognised that twenty minutes of footage of us stockpiling cotton wall balls and tiny nappies would soon lose its appeal.

I am feeding B, propping him up on my bag which I have on my lap. I don’t know how mothers breastfeed with dignity. I have seen it with my own eyes – the casual popping on of the baby, who quietly and quickly goes about its business, a cloth draped neatly over mummy’s shoulder to hide all hints of breast flesh and drippy nipples. Me, I have several attempts at getting B to lie in the right place on the bag, using one hand to prevent him sliding to the floor, whilst the other holds my boob and tries to make his mouth and my nipple meet. There then often follows a brief arm wrestle with my son as I try and extricate his hand from his mouth, or from on top of the nipple or from under my boob, all of which prevent him from latching on. For some, getting a baby to latch on is like the mutual attraction of two magnets, yet for me… sometimes, I find it is more like trying to push together two magnets with the same polarity; I get close, then the two parties inexplicably swerve away at the last minute. Fortunately this time, B latches on with only a couple of false starts, which leaves me to awkwardly try and get the mussie over my shoulder and down my front to cover the inordinate amount of breast that I inadvertently have on show.  Did my mussie shrink in the bloody wash or something? However I position it, it seems to leave something on display. I sigh, and give up. Fuck it. What do I care? I have no dignity left after giving birth to two children, the last shreds of it seem to have been extracted during the last C Section. The surgery team should not only have measured the amount of blood I lost:

“Okay, so that’s 600 millilteres of blood lost.”

“Got that.”

“And two litres of dignity.”

“Shit, really?”

“Yup. It was going okay, then we all got a look at her half-shaved pubes, and that was it, the floodgates opened. Look, it’s all over the bloody floor.”

“Should we do a transfusion to replenish? I can cross match a litre of dignity no problem.”

“Nah, fuck it, she’s going to breastfeed in public, she has no use for dignity now.”

I get B settled on my breast and have assembled my features into a strained look of nonchalance. There is no way I can avoid the truth; I am just not cut out for breastfeeding. Mind you, it was worse the first time round. E and I made a rubbish attempt at it and never really improved. E was the baby for whom the phrase ‘titting about’ was truly invented – he was off and on my boob during a feed more times than a tourist on a sight-seeing bus with a day pass. It took him so long to feed that it was time to start the next one by the time he had had his fill.

At least B tackles the job with a bit more gusto, and as my agonising nipples will testify, that boy has a suck to rival a Dyson. Jesus, when he latches on it is all I can do not to throw him out the window in an attempt to quell the agony.

But I fear that my obviously inadequate breasts are just not up to the job. B wants the breast milk  convenience store to be open 24/7, whilst my boobs are more like the corner shop, open for a short time five days a week, manned by an unfriendly idiot and liable to shut for a couple of hours without any prior notice or sign on the door.

I am already sneaking in the odd bottle feed and what a joy it is. I was on the verge of giving up on the breastfeeding completely, but the lovely health visitor did persuade me to persevere. I was in two minds, but she did refer to those health professionals who bully mothers into breastfeeding as The Breastapo, which suddenly made me warm to her even more and listen to her advice. The bottle feeds I give B are tinged with guilt that I am not doing my proper, motherly duty. But then I touch my sore boobs, and look at the delightful lactation stains on my top, and think about the hassle of breastfeeding in public and the way B smacks his lips continually after he has drained my boobs as if to say ‘right, that was a lovely amuse bouche, mummy, but where’s the bloody main course?’ and I soon feel better.

And anyone who dares say any different better watch out, as I will happily squirt them in the eye with a jet of milk frommy left nipple. This mother is armed and dangerous. My boobs don’t even have the safety catch on, you know.

The nemesis returns…

Ah yes, I remember this feeling. Welcome back, my gnarly old nemesis, my Achilles Heel, my focus of hatred… and prepare for battle. Sleep Deprivation has returned.  We are about five weeks in, or significantly more if you factor in the late pregnancy insomnia, nocturnal pregnancy indigestion and 3am womb karate that my foetus used to indulge in. Five weeks of a new baby. Welcome B, and help yourself to my breast milk, my sanity and my sense of humour. What’s mine is yours and what’s yours… well, quite frankly, as it pretty much consists only of yellow poo, a loud cry, trapped wind very dry skin, you can bloody well keep it.

When you have kids, I didn’t realise that you get two free extra large bags for life. They’re the ones under my bloody eyes. The only saving grace is that I don’t have time to look in the mirror these days, and if I do accidentally come face to face with one, I avert my gaze quickly. After all, no one wants a wizened old hag with bed hair and slightly smeared eyeliner for a reflection,  do they?

The extreme fatigue comes unbidden, not even stopping to wipe its feet,  infiltrating my brain and my bones, seeping it’s leaden evilness into my marrow and deadening my synapses. It  forces my brain to play tricks on me, so I can be found putting fresh milk in the mug cupboard, asking M the same question three times in five minutes and still not comprehending the answer, and all this whilst wearing my jumper inside-out and back-to-front and not noticing until I take it off to go to bed.

A few nights ago, I woke up as B started to cry. As my eyelids scraped open I tried to focus into the inky gloom of the bedroom. It was then that I realised I had absolutely no idea whether I was lying in bed, or had fallen asleep in the chair that I use to feed B at night. That’s bloody ridiculous, I thought, not being able to tell if I was lying down or sitting up. I remained still, waiting for the knowledge to come. Tumbleweed skittered across the space between my ears where my brain used to be, before the lack of sleep shrunk it to the size of a small pea (or petit pois, if you want to be a bit more middle class about it). No, I am still not sure if I fell asleep in the chair or managed to get into bed, and it was starting to freak me out a tad. I reached out to touch something – anything – that would give me a clue as to where I was. I touched fabric… probably the duvet… but it could be the feeding cushion. For fuck’s sake, this is bonkers. Finally, as I poked a leg sideways, I orientated myself and realised that I was in bed. But not for long, as B’s cries for milk were getting more insistent, so I got up, picked up B from the Mose’s basket and sat in the feeding chair. At least I think I did.

That little episode, probably lasting less than ten seconds, alarmed me greatly. What kind of a sodding idiot does not know the difference between sitting in a chair and lying in bed? I could think of an answer to this, but quite frankly, I am too fucking tired…