Monthly Archives: April 2013

Hurling the parenting baton down the stairs

I am not saying that I am obsessed with sleep (or the lack of it) but when I woke up yesterday I started planning my early night fifteen hours in advance. M was out for the evening, I had thrown caution to the wind and decided to leave the ironing for another day (again) and so there was nothing standing between me and a 9.30pm appointment with my bed. Oh, the bliss.

And sure enough, come half nine, I was nestled under the duvet enjoying a few pages of my book, welcoming the drowsiness as it ebbed over me. I did a quick mental calculation of how many hours sleep I could be in for if the boys slept until their semi-usual 6.30am time. I stopped counting after I reached eight hours, for fear the excitement may get the adrenaline pumping too fast and keep me from dropping off.

At ten to ten, I put my book down and closed my eyes. It was at this precise point that the monitor sprung to life, and B started to cry. I left it a few minutes, quietly grinding my teeth and waiting to see if he would settle, but it was not to be. Reluctantly, I went into him and having done the usual checks – forehead stroke to make sure he wasn’t hot, a sniff in the direction of his bottom, a feel around the sheet to make sure he wasn’t trying to snooze in a puddle of his own vomit – I patted and stroked him until he finally fell asleep.

That was just a one-off, I told myself as I slid back under the duvet twenty minutes later. He’ll sleep now. Life would not be that unfair to me that he will wake up once more.

And indeed, life wasn’t that unfair. It was utterly, irrevocably evil, throwing a spanner so unwieldy into the works and laughing manically through its halitosis as it wreaked its wicked havoc. Between ten o clock and half past midnight, B woke up crying every quarter of an hour or so. In and out of his room I went, stroking and shushing, shushing and stroking, each time with a little less compassion and a little more barely concealed irritation. There seemed to be absolutely nothing wrong with him, and I was starting to struggle to shush him gently as I was finding it increasingly difficult to part my clenched teeth and pursed lips. Every time I went into his room, I thought about the long, uninterrupted night of sleep I wasn’t having and wanted to sob.

At 12.45am, as I was doing another round of stroking and placating, I heard M come in. I ran to the top of the stairs and practically hurled the parenting baton at him, so desperate was I to get into bed. I knew I was being unfair, given that he had been on a night out and was probably almost as desperate for sleep, but if I didn’t hand over the parenting baton right now, I may well club someone over the head with it until my arm fell off.

Back to bed I went, averting my eyes from the clock. I knew bloody well what the time was, but I wouldn’t give the clock the satisfaction of actually showing me that I had just spent the last three hours in a holding pattern from bed to cot and back again. I turned the monitor down low and sunk into bed, exhausted. I could hear B crying, but I was so tired I was pretty sure it wouldn’t matter, as I would be asleep in seconds. A quarter of a hour later, and I am still staring up at the inky gloom of the bedroom ceiling, listening to B cry. Fuckity fuck.

I throw back the duvet and scatter some choice expletives around the room as I head downstairs. Time for the big guns. I load up with Calpol and a bottle of milk and return to B’s room, before leaving M to it. Calpol and milk imbibed, B starts to cry again. I bury my head in my pillow and hit the emergency swearword button.

It is about 3.30am when we give in, and bring B into bed with us. There is nothing I hate more than sharing my bed with my children. Oh no, hang on, there is one thing. Sharing my bed with children who may or may not be ill, but have decided that sleep is for wimps and if they are not going to get any, nor should mummy and daddy.

I lie there quietly fuming as B slaps my arm, babbles loudly in my ear, pulls my hair and generally runs the risk of being thrown out of the nearest window. Then he cries a bit, as if he had been having too much fun making my life a waking misery, then suddenly remembers he should be in his cot and so makes a point of being upset, just to justify his position.

And let’s talk about his position. Here is a child of one year, who can only just peer over a dining chair. And yet he commands at least three quarters of the bed. At one point, he settled horizontally across the bed, with his head pressing into my chest and his feet wedged on M’s neck. One of us was comfortable, the other two were pondering how much trouble they would be in if they snuck off to the spare room. Eventually, at about 4am, B falls asleep lying right up against me and I can finally close my eyes. At which point I hear the soft padding of four year old footsteps coming toward the bed. Please no. This is just not funny anymore.

M, a little too eagerly for my liking, volunteers to take E to the spare room so that he can get some sleep. And so there we are, at half past four, exhausted after a six hour game of musical beds and a particular favourite of mine, ‘guess what’s wrong with me, I won’t sleep’.  

At some point later, as  morning is shining its laser beams of light through the crack in the blinds, I wake up (hardly accurate as a statement, as I was barely asleep, given that there was always at least a quarter of my brain telling me ‘don’t roll over, you will turn your son into a pancake’) with B spread-eagled where I usually sleep, leaving me to teeter on the very edge of the mattress with no duvet and a persistent sensation that I am about to topple to the floor. I blink the gritty, slow blink of someone who is lacking in at least six hours extra sleep.  I peer over my son’s slumbering body at the wide, comfortable expanse of bed behind him which M had vacated – but dare not move B over for fear of waking him. So I lie my head on the corner inch of my pillow, clench my buttocks and hang on for dear life. Which, in the cold light of the early morning, through the fug of not having slept for more than an hour, seems a bloody perfect metaphor for parenthood.

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Meet my son, Dyson

B, now the grand old age of one, is still inordinately delighted about his greatest achievement to date: crawling. Me, possibly less so. Once, when I could plonk him down at will and go off and do something, I could return a few minutes later to find him in the same spot. Granted, he was sometimes flat on his back or with his face ground into the floor boards due to an ill-advised attempt at movement, but nevertheless, he stayed put.

Now, he crawls at every given opportunity, and at pace. My Danger Radar is now on full alert, given that he is obsessed with stairs. We have hauled the stair gate out of the loft and fitted it, but no one in this family, including myself, ever remembers to shut it, so I am usually alerted to the fact that B is attempting a stair expedition due to the the sound of a stair gate creaking as he grasps it, usually followed by the thwonk of metal frame hitting forehead and I am saved from any further attempts to scale the dizzy heights of the stairs by his ineptitude at coordinating body and hand.

His pleasure at crawling is only exacerbated by the delight of now being able to haul himself up with the aid of appropriately chin-height objects, such as the sofa, the dining chairs, my knees and a precarious mountain of ironing. He is not standing unaided, but thinks he is. A few days ago, he pulled himself up next to the sofa, and so proud was he of his mighty achievement, he actually gave himself a round of applause. With hands no longer steadying him on the sofa cushion, he fell backwards, thus demonstrating without a shadow of a doubt that pride, does indeed, come before a fall. With a bang on the back of the head on the floorboards following shortly after.

I am getting neck strain by repeatedly engaging in one activity in front of me, yet spending most of the time craning my neck round to see what moving-based mischief B has entangled himself with this time. Yesterday, I took him into the bathroom whilst I ran the bath for the boys, and whilst I was busy scooping plastic fish, a small octopus and a yellow dingy out of the way of the running water, I heard an ominous splash from behind me. I turned, to see B standing at the toilet, hands on seat. I tried to not feel queasy thinking about just how many germs were at this precise moment gaily jumping from seat to hand, and instead eyed him suspiciously. There was a wide grin across his face as he looked from me, into the toilet and back again. I sighed as I peered into the bowl. His rattley-bell-thingy (as we snappily refer to it) lay at the bottom. Oh good. I pull B away from the toilet and put him down away from trouble, with a stern warning to stay away from the toilet, which is met with the usual gleeful giggle he gives me when I adopt my stern voice. There is nothing I like more than shoving my hand down the toilet. I retrieve the toy and dump it in the sink, trying not to think about the atoms of poo that would forever be lodged inside the metal bells, the part he really likes to suck.

Thirty seconds later, as I turn to test the water temperature, I hear another clatter. This time, he has pulled the bathroom bin over and is holding a used tissue between thumb and finger, dangling it in front of his face for closer inspection and imminent taste.  I leap over and spend the next few minutes wrestling cotton buds from his clenched fist and peeling old tissues from his trousers. Crawling is meant to tire out the baby, which I thought could only be a good thing in terms of sleep at night. I don’t know about B, but I am bloody exhausted.

And the eating. Now he is mobile, he is like a marauding animal foraging for scraps in the undergrowth. Or chair legs. Everything that is small goes in for a suck and a chew. Everything else – sofas, chair legs, shoes still attached to legs – gets a good old lick and at least three attempts to get it in his mouth anyway. If my son could dislocate his jaw like a snake, there would be nothing left in our house bar a wardrobe and a pot of blackcurrant jelly (he doesn’t like jelly).  I may not be able to tell the difference between the cry of my son and anyone else’s (and much to my husband’s amusement, after being with my eldest for four and a half years, I still answered ‘Yes?’ to a complete stranger aged around six shouting ‘mummy’ when we were at the zoo at the weekend), I can tell the nuanced differences of B’s mouth movements at a single glance. I look over as he sits on the kitchen floor and there is that unmistakable chin movement, a slow, circular motion like a cow chewing the cud. I rush over, scoop round his mouth with my finger and find a lemon pip. When did we last have lemons, for god’s sake?

At one of E’s friend’s house, at a play date to which B inevitably gets dragged, we all go into the garden. I put B on the grass, chat with my friend, and a few minutes later I look back at him to see that he has mud smeared all round his mouth. I know they say what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, but B is really testing that theory to destruction.

I have in the past few weeks retrieved a Play Mobil compass, a variety of magnetic letters (in fact, I should keep them to one side to see if they end up spelling anything, like ‘help me I’m choking), three stones, a die, the end of a pen, an old  pea, a blob of blu tack, a leaf and an array of scraps of paper. Which leads me to ponder: what the hell have I missed? I wouldn’t be surprised if an x ray was done of his stomach and its contents that it closely resembled the swag bag of a highly efficient Borrower. I have yet to find anything suspect in his poo, but I am sure it is only a matter of time before nestled in his nappy is small magnet from our memo board, or some tiny gold coins from E’s pirate set.

I then inevitably think about what a disgusting state my floors are in. I could hoover them more frequently, I muse. I might even glance over to the cupboard where the hoover is kept. And then the remaining ounce of my energy escapes through an unspecified orifice and that is the end of that.

What I really need is to invest in one of those mini-hoovers hilariously styled just like a proper one, but only three  inches tall and designed to vacuum your keyboard. (Yeah, because I have plenty of time to do that). I could give B’s mouth a quick once-over every hour to suck out whatever items he has managed to collect in his cheeks, like the kleptomaniac hamster he is. Well, it beats hoovering the floor for fuck’s sake. Sod that.

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The Incredible Human Sick Bowl

E has just finished his course of antibiotics for a chest infection, and I breathe a sigh of relief: another contagion banished from the house. Even B is well, having shaken off his viral cough in a matter of days – although not before he passed it generously on to me. And given that I am old, worn out and haven’t had more than two consecutive decent night’s sleep for four and a half years, I am struggling after two weeks  to feel anything other than lousy. I have a sneaking suspicion that my immune system packed away its sword, threw a few essentials into a holdall and got the hell out of me a few months ago, so fed up was it of the constant battle with snot, coughs and unspecified viruses. So my current cough has claimed squatters rights and shows no signs of moving on. At least it is just me that is ill now, I muse, in a most uncharacteristic show of maternal martyrdom. Blimey, I must be ill.

But I should not have worried, for by ten ‘o’ clock that evening, mere hours after the last spoonful of that yellow antibiotic elixir passed through E’s lips, he awoke with a temperature of 40 degrees. This is concerning. 39 degrees is tolerable. Even 39.6. But reaching the hallowed ground of 40 shifts whatever he has into more worrying territory. I peer into the gaping abyss that is my medical knowledge. Just a fleeting temperature or suspected meningitis? The start of a cold or an infection so aggressive we may need light sabres to fight it off? That’s the thing with kids and illness: there seems to be no way of telling. From this point, it could go two ways: vanquished by a dose of Calpol or the start of a life-threatening  illness. Let’s flip the coin and find out.

I sit next to him on the bed, stroking his hair, as M runs to fetch some Calpol.

“I feel sick,” he says, which translates as: “There is a tsunami of vomit rushing up my gullet as we speak.”

With an air of resignation, knowing that the sick bowl is under the bed and out of reach, I cup my hands together and hold them under his chin. Sure enough, a huge stream of stomach contents lands warm and foul-smelling in my hands. Ah. Welcome to my life. The Incredible Human Sick Bowl. There is so much of it that it is threatening to dribble over the top of my fingers, and whilst uttering meaningless platitudes such as ‘you’ll feel better now’ (yeah, because I always feel smashing right after I have puked) I concentrate on keeping the sick off the carpet. E is distraught so I throw a few more impotent words in his direction whilst I glare at the sick in my outstretched hands, willing it not to spill. E’s arms starts to flail about wildly and I glance up, wondering for a fleeting moment if he is having some kind of fit. But no, he is gesticulating with abject horror at the smallest of sick splashes that have landed on his pyjamas, the full extent of the collateral damage he sustained when the vomit struck. Well, don’t mind me, with my hands full of your lumpy stomach contents, smears of sick on my arms and tracks of yellow vomit slowly making their way down the backs of my hands. This is obviously nothing compared to that miniscule fleck of puke you seem to be screaming at. M arrives with wipes and medicine, and quickly daubs E clean, before gently wiping his mouth and offering water. And I say again, don’t mind me, frozen to the edge of the bed, trying to both simultaneously look at the sick in my hands to ensure I am holding steady, whilst trying to move my nose away from the smell. I will just sit here for a while longer. I send up a quick prayer to the God of Coughs to have mercy, because one tickly throat incident now and we may all end up wearing what E had for tea  four hours ago.

E’s temperature has dropped a smidge, but I am still concerned. His torso is outrageously hot, his face red.  “I think one of us should sleep with him tonight, ” I suggest to M. “I’ll go and get you a duvet,” he replies. That’ll be me, then.

I switch the fan on in E’s bedroom, a remnant from the summer. Although I may have just dreamed we saw the sun.  I lay down on a makeshift mattress on the floor next to E’s bed. I am immediately freezing. Now, I am no expert on aerodynamics, but there was something bloody curious going on. I lay with my back to the fan, shivering under the duvet, facing the bed. And yet, somehow, I was getting a sodding  great breeze in my face. A cold one, at that. I lay there, listening to E breathing as he drifted off to sleep, no doubt having nightmares about his soiled pyamas, and cringing every time the fan swung round to chill me that bit further. I push the thought from my mind that if he is sick again, there is every chance he will lean over the side of the bed and puke on my face. Well, this is fun.

I cough for a bit into my pillow, desperately trying not to wake E, who keeps letting out quiet moans which have me springing into a sitting position and feeling his forehead. Every time I sit up, the cold air inveigles its icy fingers under the duvet and I feel just that little bit more crap. I need a tissue as my nose is now running profusely, but I’ll be damned if I am getting up in these sub-zero temperatures. I deploy my son’s nose-wiping tactic and use the back of my hand. Sometimes, it’s useful to have been through two childbirth experiences: I have no more dignity to lose.  I lie back down, trying to work out which part of my body has now broken cover and is outside of the duvet territory getting frost bite. Maybe I should get into bed with E and let his radiant heat warm me up a bit. He moans again, and I sit up to check on him. Shit, is it really only midnight?

I get a faint whiff of sick as I move around, trying to find a comfortable position. I sniff the pillow, my hands, my arms, the front of my pyjamas. ‘So what did you do last night?’ ‘Well, after I caught a bucket load of my son’s warm sick in my bare hands, I held onto that for a while for a laugh, then went to bed in a wind sock, spread my own mucus across the back of my hand and then spent ten minutes sniffing round like a crazed bloodhound trying to track down the unmistakable aroma of vomit.’

I peek at the clock. One in the morning. I have yet to sleep, unlike my ill son, who is sleeping the sleep of the righteously-empty stomached. I have had many shit ideas in my time, but sleeping on the floor is right up there.  I start to consider what excuse I might use to swap places with M. I cough hard, to see if I can wake E up, thus meaning that my presence in his room is more of a hindrance than a help, and giving me good grounds to quit. He doesn’t flinch.

Another hour passes. I can’t breathe through my nose due to my sinuses being packed full of Lego, meaning I am now breathing through my mouth. I am afraid my teeth might get so cold they may snap off. At 2am I am freezing, miserable and knackered I can’t take any more. I crawl from E’s room a broken woman, smelling faintly of vomit.  Parenting. It really is the gift that keeps on giving.


Splintergate

“Mummy, mummy! I’ve hurt my foot!” I am in the bathroom changing B as E charges in, frantically hopping. I am assuming from all the yelling and bouncing around that I will not be reaching for the phone to dial 999 any time soon, and he may, indeed, be making a Bit of a Fuss.

“There’s something in my toe!” he yells, threatening to cry. I put B on the floor and pull E onto my lap to inspect his foot, anticipating that there will be nothing to see. Instead, there is a rather large splinter. Bugger.

I explain to E that we need to get the splinter out and I will do it with my nail. Should I lie and tell him it won’t hurt a bit? At least that way, he will probably let me do it, and by the time he realises that I have sold him a whopper, it will be out. Maybe it is the long-term fatigue, but I decide at this point to go for the truth, because I am an idiot.

“Look, this will hurt,” I start. Already, this doesn’t sounds like a great approach. “But you are a brave boy…” Well, at least I managed to slip one fib in. “… so as I get it out, I want you to shout very loudly, and carry on shouting until I am done.”

I am quite pleased with my shouting idea. The theory is that he will be so busy yelling he won’t notice what I am doing. Theories. I am bloody full of ’em.

I lean into his toe and he starts to shout. With one fingernail at the end of the splinter I start to push, trying to get hold of it at the other. E is trying to yank his foot away, so I tighten my grip and go in again for another attempt. The splinter will not budge, and finally, E gets free and jumps away from me, still yelling. He stands in the corner of the bathroom, looking at me reproachfully, still screaming. Ten minutes later, I have left the room with B, gone into the kitchen and E is still yelling. Okay, the whole shouting strategy was shit. I admit it.

Eventually, he calms down and there follows a long, protracted negotiation about me having another attempt, this time with tweezers. How can I fail with tweezers? He turns down chocolate buttons, a magazine and a variety of other failsafe bribes but I get him in the end with an ice cream /chocolate sauce combo. So we assume the position again, I know I only have one attempt at this before he pulls his foot away, so this has to be good. I am feeling the pressure as the tweezers approach the end of the splinter. I may actually be trembling. Just a few millimetres to go… I pinch down on something, E yelps and jumps away. I inspect the tweezers, where a tiny fragment of skin is trapped. Bugger.

We are already late for Play Barn, so I get B ready and tell E he will have to go with the splinter in, if he won’t let me take it out.

“Nooooooo,” he wails. “I don’t want to go to Play Barn…I don’t want to go to Play Barn…”

“We are going.” I reply.

“I don’t want to go. I don’t want to go. I don’t want to go.”

“Tough.”

“NOOOOOO. No. No. No. No. No. No.” ” E’s shouting is reaching something of a crescendo, and my patience is reaching something of an end. He screams and yells for a good few minutes more, then sits down, arms folded, tearing dripping down his cheeks. I think the appropriate parental response here would be a sit down next to him, give him a cuddle, empathise with his painful foot and not go to Play Barn. This is what the perfect parent inside of me is telling me to do. But instead, I tell her to fuck off. I have had the sum total of two hours sleep and I’ll be buggered if I am staying in the house with him all morning if he is going to be in this mood. So instead, in one of my finest parenting displays, I stand over him with hands on hips and say: “You either come to Play Barn or I will take you to the doctors. And the doctor will take that splinter out with a HUGE knife.” It is possible that I stretched my hands out to indicate a knife more suited to decapitation than splinter removal.

E’s eyes widen with fear. “I want to go to Play Barn, ” he says quietly.

En route, I tell him that our friend Jane who will be at Play Barn is a doctor and she will take the splinter out with my tweezers and it probably won’t hurt. After my ill-advised truth telling early doors, lies seem to be dripping from my mouth like dribble from a teething baby. Jane is not a doctor. But I reckon she’s quite practical and could probably give the splinter a go. He declines, however.

After what turns out to be an expensive sit-down at Play Barn, with E refusing to join in for most of the session, we return home and I call the nurse for splinter advice, meaning we spend an entire weekend dressing the wound with some nasty smelling paste and with E making an inordinate amount of fuss every time I have to take the bloody plaster off.

By Monday, the splinter shows no signs of moving, so we end up at the nurses. E enquires as to how big the nurses knife  might be, so I am glad I haven’t given him a deep-rooted fear of the medical profession, or anything.

E sits on the couch, his foot de-socked and ready. A second nurse appears, claiming she saw there was splinter removal going on and came to have a look as she loves splinters. Right-o.

The nurse approaches the foot with the biggest pair of tweezers I have ever seen, and already E is getting jumpy. I have my arm around him, ostensibly for comfort, but actually as a restraining device. The nurse dives in. Blimey, there is no fannying around with this one, she goes straight in for the kill. E starts screaming at the top of his voice, kicking and lashing out. Splinter-Lover grabs his legs, whilst Tweezer Nurse leans across his ankles to try and keep him still. E thrashes around more, twisting and turning his body. I throw myself over his torso to stop him twisting right off the couch. Three grown women struggling to keep a four year old under control. I wonder if we should call for back up. Like the entire local rugby team, perhaps. The splinter removal seems to be going on for a long, long time. The people in the waiting room must wonder when the GP started torture as a side-line. E is screaming like a wounded banshee and my words of comfort are buried in his tee shirt as he struggles violently and I get a violent faceful  of arm. Eventually, she gets the splinter out and almost immediately calm is restored. E sits up, smiling.

“Well, he’s got a bit of a kick on him, hasn’t he?” Splinter Lover says, breathlessly. We are all breathing hard and sweating slightly. I rub my face where I was karate chopped by my son.

“Do you want a sticker for being brave?” asks the nurse.

“Yes I bloody well  do,” I reply.