Monthly Archives: June 2013

So let’s play… Sleep or no Sleep?

Sleep or No Sleep Laura Slinn

“Welcome, Ladies and Gentlemen, boys and girls, to the latest edition of the ever-popular game show ‘Sleep or no Sleep?’. Brought to you in conjunction with Red Bull, Berocca and Calpol.

So with no further ado, we join Dad in his one year old’s bedroom. Oh, it’s not looking good… baby B is sitting  up in his cot and clapping… Dad is lying on the floor. Interesting strategy there, from dad. Less hands on, more hands over his ears. But the clock is ticking, folks… we are forty-five minutes into this round already and B is showing no signs of going back to sleep. Dad is not looking happy and has decided to try a new approach…yes, he’s now stroking B’s back. B is settling… it’s tense here, Ladies and Gentlemen… but it might just be working… B’s eyelids are slowly closing…

Oh no! Dad has tip-toed out of the room too early and B was playing him with a sleeping bluff, folks! Classic baby manoeuvre. And now baby B is screaming again! All together now… let’s say it… ‘Sleep or no Sleep?’. It’s now 2am, a definite ten minute penalty incurred there… oh dear, now Mum is in the room. This could get messy… and I’m not just talking about her hair – that can’t actually get any messier. Is she trying to scare baby B back to sleep? Ha ha ha, only joking folks. I’m sure she won’t look quite that bad in daylight…

Mum is looking at baby B. Would you believe it, Ladies and Gents, she is playing her Calpol card within minutes of getting into the room! Incredible. Wait… well, this is a confident strategy, using up all her tricks in one go, but she has decided to give him milk as well. Dad is out that room quicker than a crawling baby out of an open door… once he has delivered Calpol and milk from downstairs, he knows his part in the game is over for a while, and boy oh boy, does he look relieved.

So here we go, we are into the second hour of ‘Get that bloody baby back to sleep!’. Mum is giving baby B the Calpol. For anyone just joining us, it’s been an unsuccessful night so far for mum and dad. It looks like they might be heading back to bed with no sleep… which would be a shame, as they have been great contestants to watch, if a little dishevelled. Uh oh, folks, mum has made a real schoolgirl error and given baby B the Calpol syringe to hold. He thinks it’s play time! Disaster for mum at this late stage of the game. Ooh, now the syringe is being poked up her nose… she is not looking pleased about this dramatic turn of events. It will take some parenting nous to bring this one back from the brink.

But she manages to prise the syringe out of his hand and he has now settled with his milk. A good strategy, I think, but has she deployed it too early in her shift? Only time will tell, folks, so stay tuned.

Okay, the milk bottle is empty… this is crunch time for mum. Has the milk worked? Mum is on the edge of her seat, rocking baby B gently, and I have to say Ladies and Gents, we are all on the edges of our seats too… will he close his eyes? The suspense is killing me… oh no! Baby B is waving! This is a disaster! And remember, mum has no strategies left now… she entered this round a little light on ideas, it has to be said… this one is really going down to the wire.

Well, this is unusual… she is putting him in his cot anyway… ooh, I don’t like the look on her face… she is not happy. She strokes his back… oh yes, she’s done this before. A very professional movement of the hand, palm down. Oh, and some shushing. I think this is a sign of mum’s desperation… she’s leaning on the cot side, head  down… oh dear, it does appear she may be dribbling a little, what with all that shushing. Enough to put you off your Horlicks, so probably now’s the time to take a quick commercial break…

…so welcome back to  a very exciting edition of ‘Sleep or no sleep’. Mum has been stroking baby B’s back for a long time now… hold on, she’s stopping, hand poised mid-air. She’s leaning into the cot to try and see if he’s asleep… now that’s a high risk strategy folks, we’ve seen that backfire before. But she’s feeling confident and is slowly tip toeing backwards toward the door… she must remember the peg puzzle left on the floor. One step onto that and it could all go horribly wrong… no, she’s avoided it. Good work there, mum. Her hand is on the door… this might be it, folks, at just under forty minutes for her stint. She could still escape with some sleep.  Unbelievable! Calamity! As she opened the door baby B sat bolt upright and has begun to cry again. Can you believe it? That’s at least a fifteen minute penalty, right there. Both mum and dad have fallen for the sleep bluff! Twice in one night. Those two are really up against a professional Sleep or no Sleeper, I think you’ll agree. Disappointing for them, but as parents of two you would think they’d know better by now…

Okay, so it is quietening down in the bedroom again, Ladies and Gentlemen. Back stroking resumes. Mum is looking tired now, though. I am not sure how much longer she can do this for. She checks the clock… she’s been in there a good fifty minutes now. Last time she did a fifty minute stint was a week last Tuesday, stat fans,  but let’s not forget that it was only last night that she was in with baby B at 4.30am.

Mum seems to have decided enough is enough now. She is slowly straightening up… ooh, what was that noise  – the cot or her hips? Mum freezes. Will it wake the baby? No, folks, I think she might have got away with it. Perhaps her first lucky break of the evening. She tiptoes out of the room, forwards this time. The most utilised manoeuvre of the Sleep or no Sleep parents we see. And she knows the floorboards well, sidestepping The Creaker with ease. Tension is mounting here… will she make it out of the room? Remember, she needs to get back into bed and under the duvet before she can officially declare it dad’s turn again. She must watch out for the pyjamas-caught-on-the-door-knob trap, it was a classic Sleep or No Sleep? moment when she inadvertently slammed to door due to pyjama entanglement but not a moment she wants to repeat…  she is almost breaking into a tip-toe run as she crosses the hallway… she’s into the bedroom… this is looking good…. looking good… yes! She is in! Duvet is deployed. And there is no noise from baby B. Nice work, mum.

Well, what a great show, folks. Mum and dad took nearly two hours to get baby B to sleep and go back to bed with only a couple of hours sleep left in the bank, if they are lucky. But let’s just look what they could’ve won! Yes, a full night’s sleep! Yes, you’re right, it does deserve a round of applause. Seven hours of glorious slumber, brought to you from our co-sponsors Single Living. Never mind, mum and dad. We’ll see you tomorrow night so you can have another thrilling attempt at ‘Sleep or no Sleep!’ And remember – keeeeeeeep yawning!”

Swinging from the handle of the grill door with gay abandon

There is a cornucopia of toys in our house. A profusion of play things. A smorgasbord of activities. Or, as I usually refer to them, a Whole Heap of Plastic Crap. Okay, not all of them are plastic, we do have some wooden toys. These are the items that gather dust on the shelves, alarmingly staying put where they are meant to be whilst the rest of the detritus masquerading as young children’s entertainment  eddies and swirls around the house being slowly obliterated by two boys, who appear to have two modes of play: destruction and destruction10.

Which is why we haven’t really bothered buying many toys for our youngest. There was simply no more room left on the shelves and despite ‘sort toys’ being on the to-do list for approximately the last 18 months, we have just not got round to it. I did walk into the play room about five months ago with every intention of doing it, looked at the cupboard whose door won’t actually shut due to the immense amount of stuff crammed in, surveyed the shelves, (well, I surveyed what was on the shelves, I can’t actually see the shelves, they are totally buried in crap), sighed heavily and walked out again. Opportunities to get rid of toys are remote: firstly, it requires no children – specifically, no four year olds. Otherwise he suddenly develops a born-again fascination with a toy designed for a three month old and clutches it to his chest to protect it from the evil Charity Bag. Once, I did manage to fill a bag with toys to give to charity when he was otherwise diverted, and stupidly left it by the front door. An hour later, all that was left was an empty carrier bag and a trail of toy parts.

B does have some baby toys – a few from us, more from friends and family – but they are small in number and, it appears, in attraction. Why play with a plastic phone that has weak flashing lights and tinny voices coming out of it, when you can chew the helmet off your big brother’s Play Mobil fire man? Why roll a musical ball along the floor when you can trap your small fingers in a pull-back-and-go stunt car?

But even these ridiculously age-inappropriate toys hold only the dullest of allure for my one year old. Whether it was the paltry selection of toys on offer when he first realised that there was more to life than lying on your back, shitting at will and drinking whatever was waved in front of his nose (God, that sounds like Heaven…) or his general obtuseness, I have no idea. But what B really loves are not toys at all. His favourite play things are as follows:

The washing machine. Not only does it have plenty of silver buttons, all of which make loud, annoying beeps, there is a huge turny-knob-thing just crying out to be turned and turned and turned and turned. And if he can just get his leg high enough, there seems to be a fantastic opportunity to play Wall of Death with the shiniest of shiny silver drums.

The dishwasher. Oh my god, the excitement of it all. Just like a washing machine, except more lights. And sometimes, a really fascinating whirring sound.

The radiator knobs. B can sit for ages, turning these. They often come off in his hand, never to be seen again. I dread the next time the heating comes on: we will either freeze or melt, depending on just how far he managed to turn them.

The DVD player. In the “old days” when there were video players, parents would bemoan the fact that kids would post toast into the slot. No more of that malarkey, you pesky kids, we have DVD players now. Hah. But, B thinks,  eyeing up the DVD player as I have forgotten to shut the child-locked cabinet door, I am going to get this small piece of Lego into that thin slot even if it kills me.

The bottom drawer. We have a set of drawers in our kitchen. Inevitably, there is therefore, a bottom drawer, otherwise known as the Home for the Lost, Abandoned or Unidentified. It’s like the immigration department for general household shit: stuff comes to my attention that I don’t know where it’s from, or where it should be going to, or if, indeed, it has any rights at all to be in the house, so in the bottom drawer it goes, for processing and sorting at some later, unspecified, probably-never, later date. Chargers that have been separated from the appliance to which they once gave life, a single candle stick, a spare piece of venetian blind, a glass place mat that weighs roughly the same as a breeze block, three egg cosies, and a whole load of other shit reside within. Until, of course, B opens the drawer. In which case, every single item bar the place mat is removed, licked, chewed and thrown over his shoulder, roughly as many times as I care to replace everything back into said bottom drawer. I think I may just be done with it, and give him a bin to put everything in the next time.

The toilet. Just thinking about this makes me gag. That ceramic Mecca calls B from wherever he is in the house, and off he crawls at pace, transfixed by the siren-like call of the bowl. He has a sixth sense on whether the bathroom door has been left open and the moment my back is turned, he heads off to hang out with the loo. What he likes most is grasping the seat and rubbing it with his hands. And more often than not, one of the two other males in the house have left the seat up, so B can really get down and dirty, sliding his hands around the toilet rim. You know, into all those places in which the bacteria have created major conurbations safe in the knowledge that the lazy bint who cleans the loo never really gets the brush to.  I cannot even bear to think about the germs that he collects on these little sojourns, and when I consider the times that I probably haven’t caught him and washed his hands, I feel slightly nauseous about how many of those pooey germs were then sucked from his fingers into his mouth. Ugh. You’d think it would make me clean the toilet three times a day, wouldn’t you? You’d think, huh? Instead, I am running him up a pair of cleaning mittens, so that at least his toilet-rubbing sessions are a little more productive.

The cooker. Bloody hell, it’s like an adventure playground, this one. Who needs sodding Thomas Land when you can give yourself an adrenaline rush by swinging from the handle of the grill door with gay abandon? Or make the oven light go on and off like some crazy grease-laden disco? Or turn the knobs on the hob until one falls off? The designers at Fisher Price could labour for years to come up with a toy this diverting, but they would fail. The cooker truly is the king of entertainment and not only that, sometimes, fish fingers even appear out of it. Bloody hell fire.

But I may have come up with a solution. Peel the branding labels from some of his toys, and stick them on to the appliances. Because you can bet your bottom dollar the moment that he sees the cooker was made by Duplo, or the DVD player was manufactured by Brio, he would lose interest right there and go and find a rusty screw and an angry anaconda to play with.

Bubbles, pink limbs, fishing boats, flannels, a yellow fish with Botox lips

BUBBLESI am not a fan of the bath. I mean, I have nothing against it as a bathroom fixture, it’s just the whole having a bath thing. All that wallowing in your own skin cells, all that squeaking of skin against plastic, all that contorting to wash your hair. Give me a shower any day of the week. Or every day, in fact.

And, it turns out, I am not that much more of a fan of giving other people baths, either. Bath night for the boys in our house rolls around far too frequently, every other day. I am sure when I was a kid, we had a bath just every Sunday, but like parental smoking in a car with the windows up, or Angel Delight, or bikes without helmets, weekly bathing seems not to be the done thing anymore. Shame. I seemed to remember I quite liked Angel Delight.

The Books – and I refer to parenting books as such, in one great mass… a condescension of parenting books, perhaps – talk of bath times as a great way to relax your child, to send out cues to them that it is time to wind down and prepare for bed. Or, if you have a bath in our house, to wind them up into a frenzy of excitement, to scream and laugh as manically as possible and to create water-based chaos the likes of which haven’t been seen since those poor sods slid down the deck of the Titanic.

Now, without wishing to go all Delia on you, here’s a recipe: Take two boys, one four and one fourteen months. Add a load of water, some cups, a load of bath toys and stir. What’s this a recipe for? Sodding disaster, that’s what.

B is obsessed with splashing. As soon as he gets in the bath, his arms are off, like the Duracell bunny, flailing at the water repeatedly, faster and faster as he gets more excited, squealing with joy. E cowers at the tap end, shouting for him to stop, often deploying a flannel to shield him from the worst. It is mildly amusing for three seconds to witness this, until I realise that I am also getting soaked. Water drips from my face. I have bath water in my eyes: my pathetic attempt to stay dry by hiding behind my hands is really not having the desired effect. Inevitably, E surrenders, and joins in the splashing too, soon laughing hysterically. Super. This bath time has been in full flow for all of about four minutes and I am already soaked to the bra.

I have to hand B a constant flow of bath toys to avert him from his splashing. He takes one in each hand, inspecting, tasting, biting. The bath water stills, the noise level drops, and my blood pressure does too. He loses interest in the purple fish, and mid wash of his back, I have to quickly grab the fishing rod and put that in his left hand. This causes him to drop the nail brush in his right, and I scramble to find a replacement. B is already waving his free arm up and down, slapping the water’s surface, gleeful that his hand is now unencumbered. I shove a fisherman toward his right palm, and he grabs it. Phew. Another soaking averted. I manage to get him washed before he releases the fishing rod, and I give him whatever I can reach in the morass of bubbles, pink limbs, fishing boats, flannels, a yellow fish with botox lips, dinghies and plastic sea creatures: a plastic cup. This, it turns out, is what is called in parenting terms, a right fucking mistake. Because his arm is still going in and out of the water, except now, on the up-stroke, he is carrying a full cup of water, which releases its contents at the apex of the flail and a large arc of bath water sails out of the bath and onto the floor. Repeatedly.

“Stop!” I scream, leaning in to confiscate the cup and getting a faceful of water for my efforts. E is in the throes of hysterical laughter, and B is so pleased with himself I shouldn’t wonder if he isn’t actually wetting himself with excitement at this precise point. I splutter back on my haunches, briefly pondering if I should just leave them in there until there is no water left or B’s arm drops off, whilst I go and have a glass of wine. Finally, I manage to grab the cup. You know bath time is not going quite to plan when you realise that there is just as much water outside the bath as in it.

Another bath time irritant, albeit with slightly less collateral damage, is the flannel sucking. I don’t know why the boys insist on doing it, and I have even less clue why I find it so abhorrent, but barely a bath time goes by that I am not asking one of them to take the flannel out of their mouth. Is it that bad to drink the bath water? I have no idea. But seeing there is every likelihood that B has pissed himself laughing in the water, and the flannel is very possibly encrusted with eye gunk or mucus, I certainly would not consider it my drink of choice.

And even when bath time is not traumatic, when I am not soaked to my pants, E has not yanked the flannel out of B’s clenched mouth threatening the existence of the precious few teeth that B actually possesses, or I have managed to wash E’s hair without ten minutes of fervent negotiation, there is the underlying dread of the end of the bath. I have to get E out first, as I have tried it the other way round and it is a disaster. Getting B dried and in his night clothes first sounds harmless, but I did it once, and that was enough. I put him in his sleeping bag-dungaree thing and plop him on the floor so that I can deal with E. What I actually have done is turn him into a half-baby-half-slug, as his legs are now trapped inside the bag and he can’t crawl or stand up. So instead, he half-drags himself around the bathroom, crying with indignation, mopping up the puddles as he goes. It only takes one full change of soaking nightwear to show me the error of my parenting ways.

When I have two dry, clean boys, we all exit the crime scene. The floor is awash with water. Pants lie in the shower tray where E flung them from his toe. Dirty clothes drip from the windowsill, the towel rail, the sink edge. Towels are lying crumpled and damp in the corner. The purple fish lies on the floor tiles, staring unblinking at the ceiling. I wipe my damp face with the back of my hand. I am not sure if it is bath water or sweat. Christ, you know what I need right now? A nice relaxing bath…

Offspring Osmosis

Laura Slinn

Being a parent is a curious thing. Curious in the way that you move the wheelie bin and something strange and slimy is hiding there, and you pick up a stick to poke it, because you are curious… just perhaps not curious enough to actually touch it.

One of the most curious things about being a parent is the gradual erosion of your own identity. My borders are constantly dissolving, grain by grain, into my children. I am a large soluble paracetamol, gently fizzing away in a glass of children. Except I am more likely to cause a headache, rather than relieve one. And I don’t come out of a box. Nor can you buy me from a chemist. Apart from that, it’s a bang-on metaphor.

Where once there were dinner parties (I know, get me, we used cutlery and everything) there are children’s parties in soft play centres, where my lunch consists of the crusts of slightly dry cheese sandwich and half a carrot stick, or whatever else my son has deigned to see fit not to consume. I seem to have swapped my social life for my children’s, to the extent that now their parties are my social life. I talk to other parents: about kids, or schools, or places to go to exhaust kids sufficiently that they will sleep, or a number of other conversational topics that are me, but not-me.

I was not often without a book on the go before kids. This has not changed. In fact, I have more on the go now. It’s just that now, they are Matilda, That’s not my Tractor (so stop fucking touching it) and Billy Bean’s Dream. Which in and themselves are not all bad, particularly Matilda, as Dahl rocks a good insult (I am so going for ‘you empty-headed hamster’ next time someone pisses me off), but plots can generally leave a little to be desired and character development is often a little overlooked.

And apparently, your first name is made redundant the moment you become a parent. Staff at nursery call me “mum” in conversation. E’s friends call me “E’s mummy.” The GP calls up and asks for “E’s mother.” (They never call up for me: I rarely bother calling them with my ailments. I call on more or less a weekly basis to enquire after the seriousness of gunky eyes, red rashes, raspy lungs and toe splinters on behalf of my children, I cannot bear to call them again with a trifling matter such as my tibia is sticking out of my leg. Okay, I am not that stoical, I may call them for that one).  Conversations at home involve other parents not being called by their proper name, and any vain attempts to do otherwise are pointless:

“I saw Karen today.”


“Karen. You know, you met her on the High Street.”

“No I didn’t”

“Yes you did. Joe’s mummy.”

“Oh, yes, Joe’s mummy. I know her. Why didn’t you say that in the first place?”

“I don’t know, maybe because I was trying to stop every parent being defined purely by their offspring and reclaiming their right to a first name.”

“Alright, mummy, keep your hair on.”


I am not me: I am defined in relation only to my offspring. I refer to my husband as ‘daddy’ when we are en famille, a habit I never consciously started and now can’t stop. It’s got so bad that I found myself calling M ‘daddy’ when the kids weren’t even around, and neither of us thought it at all strange. Which it most definitely is in my book, which is a thick volume entitled ‘Things I will never do when I become a parent’. The entry about never calling my spouse daddy is right there, alongside never sniffing your baby’s arse to see if they’ve had a poo and never bribing your kids into good behaviour. Yeah right.

And if I ever labour under the illusion that I am my own person, the fact that I am used as a human climbing frame / adventure playground / mode of transportation puts paid to that. If I am not heaving my one year old around, I am sitting on the floor with him pulling at my clothes to aid his standing, or he is barrelling across my lap as crawling round my legs get to the other side obviously  seems like far too much effort. Or it’s E, hanging off my arm, or pushing me from behind, or asking for a piggy back, or rolling on top of me when he comes into the bedroom in the morning. I have no concept of personal space. These days, when travelling on the tube without the kids, it takes all my will power to resist asking anyone if they want to sit on my lap, so used I am to having someone squashing my thighs or rubbing the back of their head into my face.

Even the most personal of activities is no longer a solo gig. Even when I am on the loo, me time is out of the question. In they wander, the eldest looking for a chat, or to just see what is happening, the youngest to try and get his hand in the toilet or to pull at my knickers. Now, I know some people think having a shit should be a social activity. I have seen bathrooms kitted out with a pair of toilets, side by side, so the shitees (I may have just made that word up) can have a nice chat, or play chess, or play Top Trump Turds, or whatever the hell it is they do when engaged in simulshitting (ditto) but that, alas, is not for me. I have always enjoyed the solitude of a bathroom, which has only been heightened now I lock the door and put an immovable rectangle of wood between me and the kids. But even then, there is something curiously off-putting about someone rattling the door handle for the entire time you are in there. I find it takes the edge off the relaxation.

It seems that there are no corners of my life safe from the creeping osmosis of children into my identity. Even when they are not with me, my brain has been sufficiently occupied that I am still consumed by my role as parent. I went to the theatre a few months ago without the kids, in a rare grown-up outing, and loud music suddenly started. Half of my brain went into panic mode and I looked round to see if the boys were alright, as I know E is not a fan of anything louder than a fairy’s sigh. At a meeting, someone had a small crumb on their face. I actually put my hand in my pocket to find a tissue before I realised that it probably wasn’t that socially acceptable to wipe the face of a man you had met just five minutes previously with a spittle-dampened tissue. Quite an ice breaker though. In some social circles, I am sure it passes as a chat-up line, but for me, it was the sad realisation that conversion to Mum was almost complete.

Once there was Me, defined by my personality, my life, my job. Now there is  Me.2. Now on the face of it, this is definitely a software upgrade. But with any upgrade, it does cause much consternation at times, it can be more than a little baffling, it’s cost you a whole heap of money, you can stare for ages and still not know what the fuck is going on and sometimes it can cause the whole system to freeze. And I have the very occasional urge to press Ctl, Alt, Delete. ..