Monthly Archives: October 2012

Baby on Board

There are some things in life I have never, and will never, understand. How an aeroplane stays in the sky. How a small circular shiny disc, for all intents and purposes looking like a silver coaster, contains music. How Lady Ga Ga gets away with it. And sitting in traffic the other day (do not fear, the long-term fatigue has not quite made me lose my marbles yet, I was in the car) I suddenly realised that there is one more mystery to add to the list: Baby on Board signs.

I hadn’t really paid them much attention until that joyous moment in the contra flow traffic jam, but ever since, I see them bloody everywhere. It seems they are multiplying like some car-borne virus. I was staring at this  yellow diamond-shaped sign swaying gently in front of me and it provoked a thought comprising just one word: Why? What possible use has a sign such as this? It is like ears on children’s cardigans: utterly pointless and highly fucking irritating.

It can’t possibly be to tell people that there are children inside the vehicle, with the aim to warn other motorists that just in case they were thinking of ramming into the back of them, think twice please as the heirs to their Ford Focus and extensive collection of popular crime thrillers are sitting not five foot from their front bumper. Now, whilst I am not always conscious of every thought that slips across my grey matter, I am pretty damn sure I have never considered that it might be a laugh to rear-end someone, and then change my mind when I see the Baby on Board sign suckered to the back window.

But what else can their ‘look at me I’m the colour of sunshine and make you want to scream’ purpose be? Maybe it’s fertility bragging. ‘Check me out, with my perfect ovaries and my works-like-a-dream cervix, there’s a baby on board’. But babies are two a penny, one look at Costa coffee at 11am will tell you that, it’s not the most impressive brag. And then yesterday I saw it. The same jaunty yellow diamond, with the words ‘Twins on Board’ stamped across it. If that is not a boast about your reproductive capabilities, I don’t know what is. I am praying against all statistical hope to be sitting behind a car with a sign proclaiming ‘Triplets on Board!’ I fear I would be overcome by the overwhelming urge to get out, punch them in the face for the sign and then shake their hands in utter admiration of having three children.

And then today, sitting again in that same traffic jam, enjoying a kid-free car – with no Zingzilla’s soundtrack on repeat, no requests to read out the road sign for the eighty-sixth time, no strange clicking noises that have me straining to see in the rear view mirror if E has opened his door, no pokes in the neck from the twig that he insisted accompany us on every journey and no strangled gurgling sounds from B that makes me glance backwards repeatedly to see if my youngest is choking  – it dawned on me. It’s to warn other drivers that there is every possibility, at any given moment, that the driver will be doing 30 miles per hour with one eye on the back seat, one hand on the CD player, half an eye on the carton of juice that is being waved between the front seats and a foot trying to flick away a Smartie that is under the brake pedal. Leaving very few limbs driving the car and approximately half and eye on the road. Baby on Board is just a nice way of saying: ‘Warning! Distracted parent on board. Liable to swerve as beverages are handed to thirsty off spring, brake hard inadvertently as they shout at their kids or lose control of the car as they try to explain what a speed camera does’. And let’s face it, you’d be bloody hard pushed to fit all that onto a yellow diamond.

And it isn’t much better if there are two of you in the front. About a year ago, we were out in the car with E. We had nursery rhymes on the CD player, I was struggling to open a box of raisins and hold E’s beaker of drink between my knees,  and we were all singing along merrily. We were like the bloody von Trapps but with less smocking. At a particular rousing chorus of If You’re Happy and You Know It, M momentarily took both hands off the steering wheel to clap. At the precise moment a police car was coming the other way. M clamped his hands back on the wheel and we held our breath, just waiting for that siren to come on. But thankfully they carried on, not having seen the flagrant dangerous driving on display. They must have had kids in the back.

From the writer of Mothering Frights comes the debut book Womb with a View., a no -holds barred (or should that be no holes barred given the subject matter?) account of the hilarious, petrifying, life-changing, I-want-to-lie-down-and sleep-for-a-month-even-if-that-means-I-am-lying-in-my-own-poo pregnancy and first six months of motherhood. For more information, new extracts and to PRE-ORDER (check out the subliminal purchasing message using only the CAPS button) go to http://www.jodienewman.co.uk. The first print edition is selling like breast pumps. Sorry, hot cakes.


Womb with a View: Second extract

This is the second extract from Womb with a View, my forthcoming book that will be published mid-November. You can find out more about it, about me (well, someone might want to) and pre-order the book at www.jodienewman.co.uk. There is a limited first edition being printed as we speak, and the book is a perfect size to slip into someone’s Christmas stocking, so hurry on over there. Go on, the washing up can wait a bit longer.

Maternity Clothes

If ever an object provoked a reluctance to purchase, it is the maternity garment. You buy in the full knowledge that in six months, or sometimes in four, you will have no more use for it. Now I am aware of women who buy clothes seasonally, who keep up with the latest trends and use terms such as ‘capsule wardrobe’ but I have never actually met any in the flesh. Or in the rococo-print pin-tuck shift dress with matching gladiator flats. Personally, I tend to weep if I have to discard an item of clothing before I celebrate its tenth birthday, so to buy something with its life cycle already down to less than a year is a little hard.

It would be easier if I could don the aforementioned item and be transformed into a glowing, elegant vision of a pregnant woman. Unfortunately, it is more likely to make me look like a large whale that happened to swim through a capsized container of charity clothes. It is difficult to feel sexy when your trouser waistband is mainly constructed of heavy-duty ribbed elastic panels and your top seems to have been cut from a leftover hot air balloon.


The last will and testament

We are trundling along the road when E stops.

“Look at that car, mummy,” he says excitedly.

Boys and their cars: there seems to be some irrefutable genetic imperative at work here. This boy thing – to look at cars, to turn a bent twig into a gun (“It shoots a hundred, mummy,” he informs me, just in case I was not aware that he was in possession of quite such an impressive killing stick), to jump around roaring with his fist in the air like some kind of Simba / Superman hybrid – is a fairly recent development. It was not that long ago that he stated pink was his favourite colour and was as likely to want to play with his friend’s toy pushchair than a car. Now, he crinkles his nose and contemptuously proclaims “ugh, that’s a girl’s toy,” when he sees an advert for a doll. His criteria for a toy these days is roughly how much damage it can inflict, how many cars it can contain or how fast he can make it go.

“Look,” he repeats. I follow the line of the stick… sorry, gun, and see a red convertible sitting in someone’s drive.

“Lovely,” I reply.

“What’s that funny roof?” I got up at 5am this morning due to my younger son not wishing to remain lying down for a moment longer whilst there was poo in his nappy, and I can barely summon the energy to zip up my boots, let alone answer Why questions, but I take a deep breath. The trick is to give just enough information to satisfy him, but not so much that it provokes another question. Here goes.

“It’s a special type of roof that folds back, so that when the sun comes out you can drive without a roof.” Hmmm, I don’t think I shall come out of this unscathed.

“Why?” Damn. “Errr…” Yes, come to think of it, why did someone think that having no roof on a car was a good idea? They don’t think it would be a good idea on a house, for fuck’s sake. Or a train. There’d be a newspaper tornado and that double mocha latte wouldn’t last the distance.

“… because it’s fun.” My explanation hangs lamely in the air as we start to walk again, and for one glorious moment I think that the conversation has ended. Then E stops again. Buggar.

“Mummy, when the person who owns that car dies, can we have it?”

Shit. This, I was not expecting. Double shit. How did we get here for Christ’s sake? We were quite happily having an utterly pointless conversation about a convertible and somehow we have managed to stumble into the terrifying territory of having to try and explain the concept of bequeathing your possessions to your loved ones when you die. Who the fuck mentioned death to him? Oh yes, that was me, Parent of the Year 2012.

I clear my throat. “Who told you that people give other people their things when they die?” I try to be casual and dismissive, to make out that this is definitely not a Big Thing, or a Naughty Thing, whilst I ascertain quite what he knows about it. Obviously, I need to work a lot harder at parental nonchalance – he gives me a sideways glance and then just shrugs. A shrug that says quite clearly I can ban television for a month, withhold all chocolate treats, or push Play Mobil firemen up his nostrils, but he is not going to answer that question.

So I plough on. “You’re right, poppet. When someone dies, they will leave a list of who they want to have all their things, because they don’t need them any…” Hang on, back up, back up, this is veering toward the conversation about where people go when they die, and that is one explanation I am not about to attempt. The greatest minds in science and religion have spent millennia pondering this knotty conundrum, I am not about to start attempting to explain it to a four year old twenty minutes before Tesco shuts.

“…so they give them to their friends and family.”

We walk a bit further in silence. I shoot him a quick look to see his reaction to what I have just said. Does he look sad? Bloody hell, is he thinking about us dying? I am going to have to work hard to allay his fears, I do not want him burdened by such thoughts. We walk a few more paces, as I mentally berate myself for my utter idiocy in ever mentioning the D word. I look at E again and he is frowning intently. Shit. He has obviously taken it to heart and is struggling to come to terms with it all.

“So,” he says finally. “When that person dies, can we have that red car then?”


First exclusive extract from Womb with a View

This is an exclusive extract from Womb with a View, my forthcoming debut book about the unjoys of pregnancy, birth and the shock of being a new mother. You know, the shock that hits you like a jugganaut full of concrete. Then reverses back over you. Twice.

Shameless plug alert: the book will be published next month, and will be available for purchase through my website. Details will follow shortly (once I have dried the baby sick from my keyboard and finished writing the site).

 

On the disappearance of the definitive article

Call the grammar police, someone has made off with the definitive article. As a consequence, neither the GP or the gaggle of midwives can describe my foetus as ‘the baby’.

“How’s baby?” asks the midwife. “THE baby is fine, thanks,” I reply.

“Have you felt baby kick?” enquires the GP. “No, the baby has yet to kick, though if you insist on dropping the ‘the’ again when you refer to THE baby, I fear I will be kicking you up THE arse,” I nearly reply.

They don’t drop the ‘the’ in any other sentence. They don’t say “pop up on couch for me please.” They don’t ask “When did you last see consultant?”

I don’t say “Please, shut fuck up.”


Don’t hold your breath…

It is E’s bedtime. We have got through the entire process, from turning the television off to reading books without a hitch, a tantrum or a whine. In fact, as I was running the bath, E came up the stairs, informed me that he had turned the television off and was ready to get in the bath. I nearly fell down the toilet with amazement and briefly pondered the likelihood that during Jungle Junction,  E had been abducted by aliens who had left his much better-behaved clone behind. Fingers crossed.

So I am tucking him in, and lay my head on the pillow next to his. I am feeling more than a tad smug about my suddenly impeccable parenting skills (obviously his good behaviour has nothing to do with E himself, it is simply a by-product of my super-parenting).

“Don’t do this,” he says sternly, theatrically inhaling an exhaling several times.

“What, don’t breathe?” I ask.

“Yes, don’t breathe mummy.”

And then I say something so spectacularly stupid, so utterly wrong, that even as the words are falling from my mouth I am recoiling in horror at my own idiocy: “But if I don’t breathe, I’ll die.”

The words linger in the small space between my face and his. Now I am bloody well holding my breath, sending a hurried prayer to the god of deafness that he did not hear what I had just said. What sort of a dim-witted parent mentions death three minutes before sleep? Oh yes, that’ll be me then. Fucking well done me. A huge great bombshell of a thought, exploding across the duvet. Go to the bottom of the parenting class. In fact, don’t. Stand outside the classroom with a sodding great hat on my head marked with a D and await further punishment.

There is a long pause. I start to hum, as if some tuneless rendition of Bob the Builder will distract him from the question that is forming in his head. I am so desperate to avoid the inevitable, that I nearly offer him some chocolate buttons.

“Why will you die if you don’t breathe?” he finally asks.

“Well…” Give me bloody strength. Pass that can of worms please, I don’t think it’s open enough yet. “Because your body needs the air that you breathe to live.” Every sodding thing I say seems to be an invitation to ask thirty more questions. I glance at the clock.

“Why?” Oh, the joy to be had when a toddler utters that word. A few weeks ago, I counted fifteen ‘whys’ in a row before I ran out of lies and had to lock him in the shed.

“Your lungs need air to make your body work…” Yes, that is exactly what is called for. A biology lesson. The perfect accompaniment to the autumn-term  module Musings on Death.

“So if I hold my breath…will I die?”

Damn you and the irrefutable logic of a four year old.

“No darling. You can hold your breath for a long, long time before you die.” Am I ever going to bloody stop mentioning death to my son?  “You can hold your breath underwater when you swim and not die.” There’s that word again. I really must stop it.

“So can I swim to Africa holding my breath?”

I feel the inexorable trickle of life force leaving my body through a unspecified orifice.

Err… probably not, no.”

“Can I swim to Australia holding my breath?”

Fucking hell, this could go on for some time.

“You can hold your breath for as long as you want, you will not die.” Oh, I seem to have mentioned dying for the fourth time in one minute.

He looks at me for a while, then pulls the duvet up under his chin.

“Night night, mummy.”

“Night night.”

I leave the room, wondering just how long it will be before my son wakes up sweating and screaming, clawing at his throat for air, screaming ‘I’m going to die! Help me!”.

Parenting skills? I fear I may be excluded and sent to the woodwork class instead. Ah well. Anyone need a tree mug?


Is it wine ‘o’ clock yet?

Having started my day at 5.30am, rescuing B from being stranded on his tummy, wedged sideways in his cot (prompting the thought that it is about bloody time he learned to roll back again, for crying out loud, it’s not as if he’s too busy), the day already threatened to be painful. However, at that point, with my bed hair and half-closed eyes, I  just didn’t know how painful, how quickly.

I cajole E into the car to take him to nursery, having already had to threaten him with no television to get his shoes on – not an auspicious start it has to be said – and I try to ignore a sense of unease that today is already not going to plan. There is only one plan in the mornings: get E to nursery without whinging, refusing to comply or crying. It sounds so simple; a plan so straightforward it barely constitutes a plan. But I am a parent. So I know that this plan can be the most ambitious, crazy idea ever to have been formulated, a plan so fiendishly difficult to pull off, only fools and mothers ever attempt it. To be fair to E, we have had a long, long stretch of mornings that have gone without a hitch. He has been weirdly compliant, chirpy and so utterly well behaved that I started to think that the petulance was a phase that he had grown out of. It would have been nice to think that along with his too-short trousers and too-tight tee shirts, we have packed his petulance and stroppiness in a box and popped it in the loft, for his little brother to try on in a couple of year’s time. Alas no.

I park up in the nursery and go round to open his door. I am tired and a bit pissed off from the early morning cajoling that I have been required to undertake to get us this far, but I smile and give him a breezy ‘let’s go,’ whilst holding my breath to see what happens. Shit happens, is what in fact then transpires. He turns away and refuses to get out.  I take a deep breath and ask again nicely, a request which is roundly ignored, so I take the toy that he is holding and toss it onto the seat next to him. This, in my son’s book, is the gauntlet being thrown well and truly down. Or a Play Mobil spaceman, to be precise. He starts to howl. I straighten up and quite fancy a howl myself, but at that moment one of E’s classmates and his mother walks by.  I smile as if to say: a screaming child? What screaming child?

I half expect to see E frothing at the mouth when next look into the car, such is the ferocity of the crying.  He is showing no sign of abatement and I ponder my options. Leave him in the car and walk home appeals, but is not really practical: it’s a bloody long walk. I sort of know what feels like the sensible option. Somewhere in my fatigue-ridden brain is the notion that I should sit in the car, wait patiently for the histrionics to pass – as they inevitably will – and then calmly walk to the building. But this thought, the least stressful strategy and by far the least embarrassing as it keeps my atrociously behaved child out of the gaze of other morally superior parents who have offspring who are not in the throes of a large case of the screaming ab-dabs –  is buried beneath a large mountain of barely-contained fury and the insistent and repetitive thought of: get this fucking child into nursery NOW.

So I manhandle him out of the car, hissing threats of losing his new bike through a rictus grin in case anyone is watching. I have an urge to drag him by the ear, but instead torso-lock him and manage to get half way to the door before exhaustion kicks in and I have to stop. He starts walking back to the car. I start to really, really wish I was somewhere else. Anywhere else. We stare at each other for a while. I swear, if there had been more room, we would have circled each other. It’s a sodding stand off at the OK Corral.

Now what? I am too furious to think straight but decide abandonment is the next tactic, so head off to reception. “No!” he wails, “don’t leave meeeeee.” His volume is ear splitting, which is nice, as I think someone nineteen streets away had not been aware of the ruckus until now. Finally, we are in the foyer, but there’s still one more door to negotiate. The girl on reception, who would have seen the whole charade on the car park CCTV, asks him if he wants to hear a story about the fish. God bless her for trying. If I was sitting where she was, I would just be pissing myself laughing at such gross parental ineptitude.

Somehow I finally manage to get him up the stairs. This makes it sound just a tad easier than it actually is.  E sits down on every step and wails, heaving his body in slow motion up to the next step with seemingly Herculean effort. His attractive half-cry, half-moan bounces off the cavernous stair well to warn everyone that there is an incompetent mother in the building being bested by her offspring.  By now, several people have witnessed our little performance. There is something quite special about having your son’s tantrum and your own ineffectual parenting style exposed to the world. It’s like a little bit of your soul shrivels up and dies. My dignity would also be severely dented, but I have had two children: the last shred of my dignity was mopped up from the hospital floor years ago.

Eventually, about three years after we left the house, we are in pre-school and are calm. Well, E is calm. I am pretending.

Knackered and utterly pissed off, I go back downstairs, passing reception. “Is it time for a glass of wine?” I ask the girl who is still sitting there, probably replaying those CCTV tapes and wetting herself with uncontained mirth.

She laughs, then looks me firmly in the eye, just to make sure I wasn’t being serious.

As I head to the car, I stop momentarily and think. Just to make sure I wasn’t being serious.


Party like you just don’t care (and now I don’t)

E has turned four, and to mark the occasion we rashly decided that we should arrange a party for him. I think we may have been drunk at the time. The utter horror of having twenty marauding children in our home means that we fork out for a party in a soft play area to spare our aging sofa. It might be cheap to have a party in the house, but I really do not fancy spending the next four months wiping half-masticated chocolate fingers from the book shelf or catching a whiff of pee where a little girl got a tad too excited about playing musical chairs and pissed on the carpet.

The one redeeming feature of this particular soft play centre is that the party area is upstairs, and the play area is not. So all the kids sod off to roll around on over-sized vinyl cubes, leave trails of snot across the slide and terrorise the babies in the under-three area, whilst the adults stay upstairs and chat, coffee in hand. Now that’s my kind of party (which is a sad indictment of my social life, but hey, I have been a parent for four years, and it kind of goes with the territory).

Every so often a child will clamber up the stairs, sweat springing from strands of hair plastered to their red little face, and we will pour a glass of juice down their neck and send them on their way. But the calm is short-lived. Initially due to the staff – two girls who look at you with utter contempt because you had the temerity to ask them a question whilst they were sending a text, or checking Facebook. Actually, I doubt they were checking Facebook. I am on Facebook, which means they probably wouldn’t seen dead on it. It’s probably now the equivalent of an evening at the local village hall: just for oldies who smell a bit.

After much requesting that they get off their arses and do what they are paid for (or slightly politer words to that effect), texter-dum and texter-dee manage to scrape their faces from their mobiles and bring the food. I have had the misfortune to witness a number of party teas now, and the sight of twenty three and four years old eating does not get any less unpleasant. Harassed parents bend over their offspring, optimistically loading up the plate with carrot sticks and sandwiches, whilst the kid just points insistently at the bowl of crisps, making unintelligible grunting noises. There is an undercurrent of parental pressure to demonstrate that little Freddy will eat the vegetables, sandwiches and cucumber and not just stuff his face with a medley of sausage roll, jammy dodger and a Pom Bear crisp. I, and several other parents, were within ear shot of a dad who made the fundamental error of issuing an ultimatum to his child to eat what was on her plate, otherwise there would be no cake. Holy shit, this man was either very brave or very, very, stupid. Never make threats to your child in front of other parents. It is the best entertainment going at a four year old’s party. We all watch him, whilst pretending not to watch. Who is going to back down? What magical tactics will he deploy to get his recalcitrant daughter to comply, thus demonstrating his superior parenting powers? Will she really eat what is on her plate? Of course she fucking doesn’t. She ending up eating the cake anyway, and he eats a large slice of parenting humiliation. We are all a little bit pleased that he has not got some parenting super power that we have not, and then we sigh, because there by the grace of a slice of cucumber and a ham sandwich go the sorry lot of us.

The noise level is rising as the sugar rushes kick in and I decide to bring out the cake and get this whole sitting-at-the-table thing done with. I ask the girls to bring up the cupcakes that will accompany the birthday cake, and they surprisingly comply before nightfall. But with two few cakes to go round. Brilliant. So now I am cutting each cake in half whilst everyone looks on thinking I am the tightest tight arse in tight arse land. I light the candles and plonk the Toy Story themed cake in front of E. This particular creation took me two bloody hours the previous night. I was reluctantly introduced to Royal Icing (why is it called that? Because only the Queen can fucking roll it out without it sticking to everything it comes within three inches of. It’s her icy cold hands, you see) and butter cream. I have lived without knowledge of these two items for many decades, and quite frankly, it was not a pleasant first date getting to know them. The surface of my iced cake looked less like the smooth, perfect cake on the packet and more like the surface of the moon, but a liberal use of Smarties, god bless ’em, and a two inch Buzz and Woody, distracted the eye sufficiently. Or so I thought. After E had blown the candles out, he looked up at me and said: “Can I have a cupcake?”

I was tempted to find out if Buzz would fit up his nostril, but I smiled as I was in public and whisked the cake away for cutting. Which is where I spent the next fifteen minutes, with the help of mother and sister, laboriously cutting, wrapping and bagging up cake, All I can do is keep glancing at my watch to calculate just how long it is until I can have a glass of wine. Ten minutes left.

I feel a tug on my jeans. “Mummy, I need a poo.” I sigh and we head toward the loo. I don’t know what it is about toilets in soft play centres, but they are all utterly disgusting. Actually, I do know. It’s kids. They are the common denominator when it comes to puddles of piss, soggy toilet roll draped across the toilet seat, skid marks and a smell that makes you want to gag. But this is not helped by a general policy to clean them once a week.

We pick our way across the floor, trying to keep to the dry bits. E is only in his socks, and there is only one way his socks are going to end up: pee sodden. I ask if he wants the training seat, and he says he does, so I lift it down from the shelf and a dribble of brown liquid falls to the floor. Oh god, I really might be sick.

Toilet duty over, we return upstairs and hand out the party bags, another evening’s worth of toil surrounded by plastic tat. As the last guest leaves, I ask E if he has had a good time. “Really, really, good,” he replies.

Which is just as well. Because as I stand there, cake stains on my top, my ears ringing with the sound of screaming children, my bank balance and my will to live sorely depleted, I promise myself one thing: next year, it’s a trip to the cinema and a bucket of bloody pop corn.

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