Monthly Archives: July 2012

Travelling light?

The travel cot. A misnomer of the most epic proportions if ever there was one. ‘The so-fucking-heavy-your-arm-might snap-off-at-the-elbow cot’ would be more accurate. I can barely travel across the bedroom with it let alone on holiday, it is so bloody heavy and cumbersome. We are away for a few days and it has taken three months to pluck up the courage to sleep anywhere other than at home, due to the ridiculous load of baby shit you are forced to take with you. Three nights away equates to a car boot full of paraphernalia, including the aforementioned travel cot that takes up a disproportionate amount of space in relation to the baby it is meant to house, and so footwells and back shelves are called into action as overflow storage. A trip away takes a week to plan and half a day to pack for. I am the first to admit that when it comes to organisation and logistics, I can err a tad on the side of over-zealousness. Okay, I admit, it, I am obsessive about making lists and forward planning. But even I was getting a little narked at having to create revise three of the ‘stuff to pack’ list just because there was just so much sodding crap to remember.

But I digress. Back to the travel cot. Which fucking morons designed this thing? Granted, it does fulfil half its function. It does an okay job as a cot. But then again, so would a large cardboard box. But the travel bit? I am surprised Trading Standards haven’t slapped a law suit on them for a hideous breach of trading standards. Or at least just slapped them.

Yet its resemblance to a barrow load of breeze blocks in the weight department is not the only thing that is fundamentally flawed about this sleeping apparatus. It makes me wonder what the bloody hell the designers were thinking. 

“Okay Brian, new brief in. For a travel cot.”

“A what?”

“Travel cot. For babies. You know, those horrible small things that shit a lot.”

“Oh, right.”

“Look, I know we’d both rather be designing Ferraris, but…”

“I’d rather be picking my arse than designing a travel cot.”

“Listen, you can do both, it’s not fucking rocket science. We’ll be done by lunch.”

“That’s ten minutes from now.”

“Precisely. So. A cot. That travels. Ideas?”

“I don’t think babies should be allowed out the house until they are two.”

“Jesus, it’s gonna be a late lunch at this rate. C’mon. Ideas.”

“Okay, let’s start with a big metal frame.”

“Good, it must be stable. I like your thinking.”

“Metal will make it so fucking heavy it might persuade parents to stay at home.”

“Fine, whatever. Metal it is. Height. About like this?”

“Seventy five centimetres, I reckon. Just high enough…”

“To stop toddlers climbing out?”

“…to make the average height mum have to drop the baby the last two inches as she can’t reach the mattress.”

“Fine, I’m too hungry to argue. What about the collapsing mechanism.”

“Can we make it collapse in the middle of the night?”

“No.”

“Christ, you’re so fucking picky. Pass the pen… something like this… ”

“Blimey, that looks almost impossible to work out unless you read the instructions.”

“Exactly. It passes the ‘does it make grown men weep’ test with flying colours. We can print the instructions on the bottom of the mattress, no fucker is ever going to read them. Well, not until they have spent an hour trying to erect the bloody thing by pushing the base flat first.”

“But your mechanism works on the opposite principle.”

“Exactly.”

“Right. Fabric sides?”

“Plastic netting, I reckon. Get that stuff that sounds really bloody irritating when the kid scrapes his nails down it. They’ll love that at three in the morning.”

“Anything else?”

“Make the mattress really hard. It’s only what they deserve.”

“Hmmm. It seems you have designed something more akin to a mobile torture chamber than a travel cot.”

“Excellent. My work here is done. Let’s go get some chips.”

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Routine-schmoutine

B is fourteen weeks old and our thoughts turn to a routine. Or a new routine, to be precise. He has not put this on the agenda – mainly because his agenda consists solely of three points (drink milk, sleep and shit) but also because he can’t hold a flip chart pen due to his lack of mastery of his opposable thumbs. It is us, the foolish parents, who want a new routine: a new place for B to sleep and a change of night feeds. The latter is mainly due, it has to be said, because we have consulted The Books. Those paperback bibles of lies that make you think that you, too, can have a semblance of a life and have kids. They come in a variety of guises, from fascist parental dictatorships to warm and cuddly and childcentric, but they all have one thing in common. They all make it all sound so fucking easy. Dotted with photographs of delightful looking children representing all major ethnic groups, gurning gleefully at their coiffed and non-sweaty parents, those books all tell us that we have got it wrong. Until the point at which I opened those evil tomes, I was quite pleased that B slept from 7pm until 3am before he woke up hungry – but apparently, that is not right. He should have a 11pm feed then sleep right through until 7am. Foolish me. What was I thinking, getting a full five hours sleep before having to feed him? Now, I should know bloody better. I already have one child that proved that ‘sleeping through’ is about as rare as a tantrum-free two year old and that routines are like a lottery win: we all dream of it, but it always happens to some other lucky buggar.

Perhaps it is the tiredness, or the bewitching allure of a full night’s sleep, but before we know it we are changing B’s routine and waking him to feed at 11pm. The first two nights goes swimmingly. Ah, we think, what a breeze it is, this routine malarkey. B takes his 11pm feed then sleeps until nearly 6am, which round these parts counts as a lie in. It is about the point at which we start congratulating ourselves on our brilliant parenting that it all goes terribly wrong. Take last night, for example. B wakes at 10pm, screaming for milk. We dutifully oblige, just to shut him up. He then wakes at 2am and is only consoled by more milk. I have seemingly just got back to bed when he wakes again. It is 4am, according to the clock, although by this juncture I am so fucking tired I am not sure I could read my own name printed in 72 point type held four inches from my face.

More glugging of milk ensues, before I return B to the cot where he moans, kicks his legs and generally is a miserable sod. A three-feed-a-night scenario is not quite what we had in mind when we changed his routine, it has to be said. Nowhere in those bloody books did it mention that your baby might end up consuming his own not inconsiderable body weight in milk and suddenly develop an aversion to being put in his cot. I wouldn’t mind, but he’s only been in his cot for a week, since we moved him out of our room (for which I say a mighty hurrah). I know his brain is small and under developed, but he surely can’t be bored of his new surroundings already? Putting him in his cot for a sleep is becoming a high tension, knife-edge drama, particularly at 6.30pm, which I usually refer to as wine ‘o’ clock. Will he stretch out his arms and fall straight to sleep or suddenly enter scream mode? I usually hold my breath as I lower him in, gently shushing at the same time and perhaps throwing in a gentle hum. (It is not uncommon to be gasping for breath like a netted halibut after a few minutes of this, as I am using up far more oxygen than I am taking in, just in case any sharp intake of breath might just be the trigger to set him off). I will him to sleep whilst I keep my hand on his head. I am not sure why. Why the sensation of wearing a hat would encourage sleep I don’t know. His eyelids are closing at an interminably slow rate. Closer… closer… then suddenly his whole body jerks and he is wide awake again. Fuck.

So I start the whole bloody process over again. It is getting tricky to shush effectively through gritted teeth, but I do my best. His eyelids start to droop again, slowly.. . slowly… then B farts and jolts himself out of his near-slumber. Fuckity fuck. I try not to look at the clock or think about the glass of wine that awaits me downstairs as his low-level whinging suddenly ramps up into full-scale screaming. This boy does an impressive nought to screamy in under six seconds – he’s the frigging Ferrari of the weeping world. It’s no good, I am going to have to pick him up. Which is tantamount to admitting defeat in my book, and no one likes to be bested by a three and a half month old.

And so there I am, baby in arms, swaying back and forth to try and get him back to sleep. I do this for so long I am not sure if the creaking sound that I can hear is the floorboard beneath my feet or my hips. I may have child-bearing hips from a size perspective, but they are not designed to spend hours at a time moving in a circular motion. One morning I shall awake to find both hip joints have crumbled to dust and I shall have to mount my torso on a lazy susan. Finally, he seems to have fallen asleep, so in increments of five millimetres, I lower him into the cot, ignoring how much this makes my back hurt. It will all be worth it if I can get the little sod to sleep. At the moment his back touches the mattress, his eyes spring open and he immediately starts to cry. I take a deep breath and try not to join him in the wailing. What the fuck is wrong with him? I am clenching my teeth so hard that I fleetingly wonder if it is possible to push your teeth up through your gums and into your sinuses. I guess I am about to find out. After another round of shushing, lullabies, head stroking, stomach patting and poking him in the eye (okay, I didn’t do that last one. But I did think about it) I am out of ideas and patience. I decide to leave for a minute and then come back once I have prised my own fingernails out the palm of my hands. I go downstairs and switch the monitor on. Less than three minutes later, all I can hear is the slow, deep breathing of a baby fast asleep. Ah. It seems that it was me all along that was stopping him from sleeping.

I ponder this for a while as I take a dainty sip of wine (or inhale the entire glass in three mouthfuls, I can’t quite remember). It suddenly seems obvious. After all, if someone was leaning over me whilst I was trying to sleep and they insisted on rubbing my head, patting my stomach and humming some out-of-tune melody, I would scream as well. So. It seems less is more. Less fannying around and more time for wine. Now that’s my kind of parenting.


Baby Osmosis

I try to stay well away from attempts at profundity; I have learned it just does not suit me. On those rare occasions that I say something that I consider profound, it comes out sounding like a cross between a fortune cookie motto and a third rate Yoda. But having spent the last three months in the company of my new baby, a thought has been brewing. I appreciate that it is not for the author of a statement to judge it’s intellectual credentials, but given all my other thoughts for twelve weeks have been along the lines of: ‘ooh, that’s a yellow poo’ and ‘does that pee stain on my top really notice?’, cerebral excellence is all relative.

So here it is, my thought. It concerns the relationship between mother and baby. As an individual, I am me (don’t panic, that was not it) – my physical self with clear boundaries. It is instinctive what is me and what is not me – what is other. A touch from another is clearly other; it registers as external. I remember the outrageous thrill of touching tongues with friends in the playground (please don’t tell me it was just me. Although perhaps I do need to clarify – this was not a regular occurrence, like playing tag or horses. It happened once. Okay, maybe twice.). Anyway, the whole tongue thing. It was part thrilling, part strange and part disgusting, experiencing the other – a transgression of my boundaries – so intimately. Someone else’s touch on your skin registers as not you. The smell of another’s skin is different – after all, I can’t detect the smell of my own skin, as it is me and I am so used to me that I am incapable of consciously sensing me. Or as my dad would delicately put it: ‘Smell it? I’m sitting in it.’

But with a baby, who is definitely other, being outside of me and a separate being, there appears to be no boundary. It is the strangest of experiences, by dint of the fact that I am so intimate with this other person and there is no strangeness at all. B’s skin against mine does not feel like someone else is touching me, it just feels like me. If someone (even someone I know and like enough to get within twelve inches of them) sneezed at point blank range in my face, I would recoil in horror, moments before slapping them hard about the face. But when B does it, I don’t bat an eyelid. Okay, I may blink excessively, but that is more about the fact that there is a shower of snot atoms raining down on my eyes.

I smell B’s hair and it is a smell so utterly familiar it can only be mine, and yet it is not. He is sick on my hand and as it dribbles slowly under my watch strap I have no compunction to hose myself down in a chemical spill tent. I have had other people’s babies vomit on me, and whilst I may have retained a veneer of calm, inside I was screaming ‘get this disgusting shit off of me right now’ as I returned said baby to its owner with a rugby-style toss before scraping my skin clean with a potato peeler.

It is like there has been some kind of osmosis between me and B; we are boundary-less. Now, I do realise that he came from within me, which may explain this whole baby osmosis thing. I also think the mummy gene is at work here too. You know the mummy gene – the one that switches on when you give birth and fucks with your eyesight so you think that your baby is truly, the most gorgeous baby ever born (even though he looks like a genetic breeding experiment involving a turtle and a frog). It’s the gene that allows you to accidentally taste your baby’s sick without the subsequent need to cut your own tongue out due to an overwhelming sense of utter disgust. I actually did taste B’s sick one day, and I remember thinking ‘actually, it’s not that bad’ which just goes to show, there is some weird shit going on here. It is what is responsible for finding a lumpy smear of yellow poo under your fingernail and not gagging. That mummy gene takes your disgust threshold and pushes it so far, it drops off the edge of the sodding horizon.

There is also perhaps the very practical reason which is that B spends a huge amount of time in close proximity to me. On my boob, on my lap, cradled in my arms, held on my shoulder… he is touching me a large proportion of the day. And more of the night than I would really care for, given the choice. I am so used to having him with me, that waiting for the kettle to boil the other day, I found myself gently swaying from side to side in a comforting, calming motion, and I wasn’t even bloody holding him at the time.

There should be a name for this baby osmosis-thing. Perhaps in the spirit of tabloid celebrity reporting, where writing two separate celebrity names takes up far too much of the headline which could otherwise be filled with reader-pleasers such as ‘phoar’ and ‘cellulite’, it should be a hybrid word. Or a hybord. How about instead of Mummy and Baby, it is Maby? Nah, too equivocal. What about Bummy? Oh. Perhaps not.

So here is that thought again: how can my baby be other and yet I experience him as me? I was pondering this again the other day as I lifted him out of his Mose’s basket, thinking about the lack of a boundary between him and me. There seems to be nothing about him that is other. Then I noticed he had a large globule of pus-coloured gloop seeping out of his left eye. Before I could do anything about it, his head swayed and bumped into my face. Somehow, that globule of gunk ended up on my bottom lip but I only realised this once I had inadvertently licked my lips and eaten it. And there, as I tried to not let my tongue touch my teeth and my throat momentarily constricted with an instinctive abhorrence, I found it, the limit to our boundrylessness. It comes in the shape of eye pus.


B4… hit. A4… miss

Is it considered a little shoddy on the parenting front to be consoling a distraught baby, clasping him tight to my shoulder and gently shushing and rocking him, whilst behind his back I am playing Battleships on my iPhone? I put forward one mitigating fact in my defence: I only have to sink six more ships to be promoted to Commander.


What shall we do with the drunken baby?

A curious thing occurs to me. Being a baby and being roaringly drunk seems to be pretty much one and the same state.

B only has intermittent control of his own limbs. On occasions, they are possessed by his masochistic alter ego who finds great enjoyment in scuppering all attempts at coordination. B slowly raises his hand, mouth open, staring intently at his fingers. The hand moves slowly, with small wobbles, toward the intended target. Closer and closer… nearly there…his mouth widens slightly in anticipation…  just a couple of inches to go… then oops, at the very last minute the hand is diverted upward at speed and he punches himself squarely in the eye. And just like watching a drunk attempt to put a key in a lock or an arm into a jacket sleeve, it provides much mirth for all onlookers.  And when I say onlookers, I mean me. Well, looking after a baby is not really high-octane stuff –  I have to take my kicks (or punches) where I can get them.

B also lacks focus. I don’t mean in the ‘gets easily distracted from his 1000 piece jigsaw puzzle’ kind of focus. I mean if he looks at something for too long, he goes cross-eyed. And boy, does he like to stare, with that slightly head-swaying intensity that also often accompanies those who have imbibed eight pints. He passes many a long hour gaping at a hand or a foot.  And every time he looks at them anew, he looks astonished that he possesses them. I am sure his feet-gazing is provoked by the fact that he has no comprehension of why the hell he actually owns a pair of legs. After all, they don’t bloody work, as any drunkard will confirm.

There is also a startling similarity with sleep. B can doze off, chin on chest, in the chair, only to wake up in bed, wondering what dark force transported him there whilst he was asleep. I can personally testify that I have lost whole tube rides home whilst under the influence, pondering how I arrived on my sofa when my last cognitive thought was ‘Have last orders been called yet?’  And the sleep of the three month old and that of an alcohol-addled adult are not that dissimilar either – both have the ability to wake up with a start, absolutely alert and ready for action, then three seconds later be slumped back into sleep, unrousable and for all intents and purposes, comatose.

And like all good drunks, B has the ability to cry like a baby for no good reason, and then before you have time to say ‘please don’t dribble snot on my shoulder’, starts to laugh like he’s just heard the funniest joke known to man.

And don’t get me started on the whole unprovoked laughter thing. Drunks and babies are equally annoying on this front. I can pull faces, do silly dances and sing stupid songs (just to clarify: I am sober at this point. Being a mother means you no longer need the excuse of half a bottle of Jack Daniels to act like a twat) and B will not crack a hint of a smile. But when I turn away and look back some time later, he is practically wetting himself with mirth. I did ask him to share the joke with me, but he was having none of it. He was looking directly at my hair though, so he may have had a valid reason for such hilarity – I don’t measure my bad hair instances in days, I prefer months as it saves so much time.

There is one further similarity, but for the sake of the scatologically sensitive amongst us, I will draw a veil over any further explanation. Or a fresh nappy, to be more precise.

So. Drunks and babies. Perhaps our drunken nights as adults are a futile attempt to recapture our blissful, stress-free days as a baby. Or maybe being a baby is just a year of practising how we are likely to spend quite a large proportion of our leisure time fifteen or so years hence. Either way, pass the Jack please.