Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Home sweet home

When I was a working girl (in the cleanest sense of the word), I used to see my home asa glorified hotel, somewhere to sleep of the excesses of the week and occasionally spend the odd rainy Sunday afternoon slouched on the sofa. It certainly wasn't somewhere I spent much time, and its location was chosen solely on how close it was to the tube and how many restaurants I could frequent on foot to avoid the chore of heating up microwave meals. 

It wasn't until I had son number one that I realised just how important where you live is once you have children. From spending a maximum of about an hour a day of awake time in my flat, I was suddenly a stay at home mum in the most boring sense of the word, stuck in staring at its walls 24/7. 

By some fluke or subconscious brooding instinct I actually found myself living in North London's baby central, where the local Boots stocks nothing but nappies, teething gel and formula - something which had been frustrating when all I wanted was Alka Seltzer, but now was a Godsend. As I pounded the streets around my flat in a vain attempt to alleviate the boredom and get the baby to shut the hell up, I learned more about the area in the nine months after his birth, than I had all the years I'd lived there before baby (BB). 

BB I had the local takeaways on speed dial, knew where to get the best pizzas and where the loos were in all the pubs. After baby (AB) I knew which pharmacy stocked the widest range of soothers, which cafes didn't mind if your baby regurgitated his lunch on the floor and the fastest route to the duck feeding pond. I also knew which shopkeepers would open doors for the buggy and pass the time of day with a harassed housewife, and which laid traps for the unwary mother like steep steps to the loo (thanks Starbucks) and staff employed exclusively to recoil at the sight of a child (thanks childrens' book shop and cutesy toy shop). 

I knew which expansive, expensive houses I dreamt of living in as my tiny flat became ever more crammed with the garish plastic detritus that is part and parcel of becoming a parent, I knew which parks attracted the beautiful Eastern European nannies of the rich, and which welcomed the dowdy mothers stuck looking after their own offspring, which playgrounds had cafes where the food was edible by both adults and children and had a clear view of the climbing frame, and which had a children's menu that ran the gourmet gamut from soggy chips to cardboard chicken. I discovered what a babyccino was and why crayons are such an important addition to the dining table. 

But it wasn't just the local environs that I was getting to grips with, I was also getting to know my home anew. Where once I'd loved its charming old fashioned features, now all I wanted was wipe clean surfaces and no nooks and crannies to keep clean and germ free. I got acquainted with my kitchen on midnight puree preparation marathons, bemoaned my tiny freezer as I cooked ahead to meet the appetite of my tiny charge. I discovered what a mouli was (thanks Annabel Karmel) and why anyone who has ever used one understands just how essential a piece of kit a food processor is. 

When we finally moved on to accommodate son number two, instead of looking for period features and great eateries, I searched for a house with easy access to a park, a supermarket and a child friendly cafe. And don't get me started on our third move where the only thing we cared about was school catchement areas. 

So having children has certainly taught me the importance of home comforts, but as one once again imprisoned by the relentless schedule of babies feeding and sleeping routine, forgive me if the staycation imposed on us by our credit crunched finances this summer isn't quite as appealing as the colour supplement trend makers would have me believe. Because no matter what home might be to me nowadays, the one thing it categorically is not is a holiday. 

Baby logistics

I think that when I am done bringing up my four boys I will be well qualified to take over as head of logistics for UPS, Tesco or any other multinational company who comes a knocking. Just organising my boys social lives is tricky enough, balancing parties, playdates and piano practice requires flawless organisational skills, and when it comes to moving them around it's like rounding up troops ready for combat.

During the Easter holidays we visited a friend for an afternoon, and yet the boys' luggage filled all the available space in our bus of a car, what with nappies, feeds, monster pushchair, assorted essential toys and spare clothes it looked as if we were moving in. And don't get me started on how much I took with me for a couple of days with my parents, suffice to say that I am sure the kitchen sink was in there somewhere.

This very morning we took tea with another friend where I was forced to commandeer her newly cleaned kitchen to prepare twin two's special milk, the only one he is prepared to drink without screaming all the way through a feed. Then he and his brother proceeded to scream for food, for cuddles and for no discernable reason, until I was forced to remove them, rudely leaving her to clear up the lovely lunch she'd prepared, rather than continue to inflict their unruly behaviour on her peaceful existence.

Now we have been invited to a party with a friend who lives on the other side of London, which for those who don't live in the Capital with its delightful traffic, is much the same as being invited to a party in Manchester in terms of travel time. I really want to go and I want to take my babies to see my friend as she is about to move abroad, but in order to fit this feat around their feeds I have to arrive before the start of the party, leave before the end and utilise her entire kitchen during it to organise feeds.

As I write this light dawns and I think I have worked out my babies' ulterior motives. Thanks to their list of demands that would make any diva blush, they will ensure that none of my friends will want to see me anymore, leaving me free to mastermind their exacting social schedule.

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

You know you're getting old when....

Perhaps its just looking after four children that makes me feel so old all of a sudden, but there are more and more signs that I am getting a bit long in the tooth that I am finding it hard to ignore. So in the spirit of list making I decided to record everything that is making me feel ancient at the moment, feel free to add your own thoughts: 

You know you're getting old when:

1. The edgy young comediennes of your youth are getting lifetime achievement awards. See French & Saunders at the Baftas. 

2. Your entire teenage music collection ends up on a music retrospective show. 

3. You remember Now that's what I call Music 1 coming out on double cassette. 

4. You know what a mix tape is. 

5. You remember when the BBC was polite enough to explain what colours were for 'Viewers in black and white', and when telly wasn't on 24/7 and you spent hours staring at that girl and her gollywog and gollywog wasn't a dirty word. 

6. TV footage from your younger days looks as old as Pathe news reports did when you were little. I saw a show from the early days of Spandau Ballet in 1979 and it looked like ancient history, but I was eight at the time. 

7. You lived in a time before the internet, email and mobile phones. 

8. You find yourself baffled and slightly angered by txt spk. 

10. The grey hairs are beginning to outnumber your natural colour. 

11. A blue rinse and beige slacks don't seem like such a bad look after all. 

PS If you find yourself agreeing with number 11, it's time to think about a one-way trip to Switzerland. 

You're it

Caring for my children has once again distracted me from writing about them, but now I have been tagged by two of my favourite bloggers Nappy Valley Girl and Are we nearly there yet mummy?  which has forced me to return to neglecting my children in favour of my keyboard. 

Tagging reminds me of my own playground years when it was social suicide to remain 'it' for too long and as I  have been delaying for a couple of days now, I am the equivalent of Norma No Mates, so I'd best get down to it and reveal more about me, me, me....

1. What are your current obsessions? 
At the risk of sounding obvious as a mother of four small children they are, in no particular order, sleep, wine and chocolate.  

2. Which item from your wardrobe do you wear most often? 
I'd have to say it was my old faithful 'big' jeans. Though this would imply that such a thing as small jeans existed, and I'd hate to mislead my readers. 

3. Last dream you had? 
Anxiety dreams 'r' us supplied the following gem last night in which I had a  huge row with my (Jewish) father-in-law in which he accused me of being a Nazi. Work that one out if you will. 

4. Last thing you bought? 
I am sure some bloggers can offer glamorous answers like a to-die-for pair of Jimmy Choos or similar, but I last bought nappies, a bottle of Colief (in the vain hope that Zach would stop screaming through every feed) and a birthday present for a four-year-old. They don't call me predictable for nothing you know. 

5. What are you listening to? 
My three-year-old screaming up the stairs "Can I watch TV now mumma?"

6. If you were a goddess, who would you be? 
Well I'd like to say a domestic one, but again I don't wish to mislead, and one glance at my post-twins belly is all the answer I need, it'd have to be buddha. 

7. Favourite holiday spots? 
A question to which the answer has changed immeasurably since I had children. Pre-children a remote hillside in Umbria or a shopping break in New York, post-children anywhere that provides crayons with every meal, out-of-work actors dressed as their favourite TV characters and a good babysitting service. 

8. Reading right now? 
Oh dear, I blush to admit that the most I can manage is trashy magazines at the moment and I just can't get enough of the ups and downs of the likes of Jordan and Kerry courtesy of Closer. But I did just finish Jane Moore's Perfect Match a twisted tale about a designer baby, which was ultimately rather far fetched, but quite gripping along the way. 

9. Four words to describe yourself
Exhausted, shattered, tired, repetative.

10. Guilty pleasure
Drinking far more units than is good for me. 

11. Who or what makes you laugh until you are weak? 

12. Most treasured possession? 
Love letters from my boys. 

13. Planning to travel to next? 
After many miserable childhood holidays there, I swore I'd never do it, but needs must during the credit crunch, and I admit reluctantly that it's Wales. 

14. Best thing  you ate or drank recently? 
A half bottle of Ruinart champagne, courtesy of their PR. Delicious and if you stick to it all night you don't get a hangover the next day. Honest, I tried it out on a press trip many moons ago. 

15. When did you last get tipsy? 
Sunday evening. Smirnoff is quite right, vodka and ginger ale really does make a killer Moscow Mule. 

16. Favourite film ever? 
It's a Beautiful Life or Iron Man, I can't quite decide....

17. Care to share some wisdom? 
Hope for the best, expect the worst and take what comes. 

18. Song you can't get out of your head? 
Five little speckled frogs. 

19. Thing you are looking forward to? 

20. What makes you proud? 
My boys and (very occasionally) my work. 

Rules of the meme. Respond and rework. Answer the questions on your own blog. Replace one question. Add one question. Tag 8 people. 

You're it: 

Thursday, 23 April 2009

Hey ho, hey ho, it's off to work we go....

I went to a party this weekend, it was a momentous event actually as it was the first that son number two has ever been invited to in  his own right. Up till now he has simply clung onto his brother's coat tails and looked up beseechingly at the birthday child's mum when it was time to go in the hope that she would bestow a spare goodie bag on him. 

Since he has the most enormous chocolate brown puppy dog eyes this strategy is usually a success as I have yet to meet the mother who doesn't melt under his stare. Sadly that includes me, which is probably why is is quite so naughty, it's impossible to stay cross with someone so cute. 

But the other momentous thing about this party was that I met a mum who had more children than me. Normally when I reveal the fact that I have four children all the other mums reel back in horror as they wouldn't dream of being silly enough to go for more than the sensible two they already invariably have. I have begun to feel a bit like a pariah in mummy social gatherings thanks to my excessive breeding habits, so I was so pleased it was my turn to suck in my breath when one of the other mums told me she had gone one further and had five children. 

What made me feel even better was when the most glamourous, beautiful mum in the room piped up that she had four children too. The stereotype of us uber breeders is that we all rush through life without a moment to brush our hair or change out of our stained jeans - but it turns out that's just me. This woman had sleek dark hair, a tiny waist wrapped in a delicious dress, perfect makeup and her own TV show. Her kids are quite a bit older than mine, so seeing this vision of loveliness gave me hope for the future. 

The other notable thing about these two mums of many is that both of them had worked throughout. Now my twins are only 10 weeks but thanks to a painful shortage of cash I decided to write a piece or two just to actually pull my account a little further out of the red towards that ever receding horizon of black. 

The response of everyone around me is to assume that I am superwoman, juggling four young sons and a 'career'. I hate to shatter their illusions but what all of us multi mummies agreed was that we loved to work to give us a rest from our many kids. After all, what's easier combining the diplomatic skills of a Middle East envoy to keep your offspring from killing each other, with the talent of a Michelin chef to tickle their fickle tastebuds and a love of tidying that would make Kim and Aggie look messy, or lounging around in front of a computer all day while someone else deals with the hard labour of bringing up your children? 

Monday, 20 April 2009

Easter treats

The Easter holidays are finally over and the bunny is back in his hutch for another year. Having dreaded two weeks alone with my children fuelled by excessive chocolate consumption and with none of the usual distractions of school and nursery, I am pleasantly surprised by my first free time with the fearsome foursome. 

When I had my children I was always determined to have small gaps between them (probably because my sister is eight years older than me and still wishes I'd never been born!), but having seen how easy it is to manage a five-year-old and babies I am beginning to see the error of my ways. 

When son number two was born it was an endless round of meeting the needs of a demanding two-year-old who couldn't see why the arrival of a baby brother should impede his ambitions of world domination, and a newborn who saw no reason why he didn't deserve his own personal slave just as much as his big brother.  

Teatime was a cacophony of screams from the oldest who wanted mummy to tenderly feed him morsels of food just like she had before the arrival of that pesky baby, and baby who wasn't happy with the delay to his dinnertime this slow food movement caused. 

Nursery pick up time always seemed to coincide with the exact moment that the baby decided he was on the verge of starvation and wasn't afraid to let me know how strongly he disapproved of my slack service. In response I would spend the entire journey screaming nursery rhymes to drown out the yelling from the car seat and the pricking from my conscience that baby number two wasn't getting quite the same Rolls Royce treatment I'd given my first born who'd never waited for a meal in his life. 

At storytime my lap became a battle field hotly contested between the incumbent and insurgent child, a battle which still sees the occasional skirmish break out to this day. But at least I can justify my ever expanding thighs as the time is fast approaching when they will have to be commodious enough to seat four. 

In those dark days I would phone my husband in tears begging him to speed home from work to relieve me of my charges, before I was relieved of my sanity. Looking back I can't quite see why I was so keen to breed again. 

This time round, despite the fears of both us and our nearest and dearest harboured about our ability to cope with four children aged five and under, it has so far proved a much more pleasant experience. The big boys are both besotted with their baby brothers and vie for the privilege of fetching a bottle or inserting a dummy into a Munchesque shrieking maw. Instead of being the hindrance I anticipated, they have proved to be an invaluable help. 

So I'd like to say a big thank you to my big boys for ensuring that I reached the end of the holiday without reaching the end of my tether. 

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Let the games begin

It's the Easter holidays and the twins have decided to make their own fun. All you need for this are the following ingredients: 

A fine pair of lungs
Copious amounts of bodily fluids
A wonderful sense of timing

We have been playing this game for the last hour. 

The ever inventive Jonah came up with the idea, by sitting up after his mid-morning feed and throwing the contents of his tiny tummy up over himself, the sofa, the floor and best of all in mummy's face. What fun. 

Never one to be left out Zach chose this moment to fill his pants in explosive style.  

Up I whizz to change my sick-coated baby, deciding that as Zach wasn't yelling he could wait his turn. Off come his clothes and nappy, at which point Jonah pulls his next trick and wees all over me. Fortunately after the sick outburst I had had the foresight to dress down for this part of the game and was changing him in my bra and knickers, the rest of my clothes lying sodden in the washing machine. Let's just hope the neighbours weren't looking, as the sight of me half dressed is more than enough to scare the horses, let alone a semi full of Polish car dealers. 

Once I was decent again it was Zach's turn, and as I picked him up from the moses basket I realised that this wasn't just any common or garden poo, this was a super squirty one that covered him from knees to neck, taking in all his clothes and sheet beneath him. Clearly he was worried that mummy's washing machine might stop working for a nanosecond.  

Up I go to the nursery again to hose down baby number two, as baby number one screams blue murder downstairs having woken up to the fact that he has lost half his meal between the sofa cushions and is still a little peckish, so as soon as Zach is up and dressed it's down to feed Jonah what's left of his milk. 

When, even after all this fun and games, the boys still made it clear they wanted to carry on playing by screaming in stereo, I resorted to mummy's best friend - Calpol. I justified pacifing them with the pink elixir with the fact that they had their jabs this morning. So far so silent, so now mummy can count down the seconds till they can be let loose on the Wii during the school holidays in peace  and quiet. 

Monday, 6 April 2009

In sickness and in health

This time yesterday my eyes were heavy with that dull, grainy ache of tiredness that comes of a cocktail of sleep deprivation and stress. This is because instead of spending my weekend on our first adults-only weekend away since the twins birth at a luxury hotel in Oxfordshire, I spent it on a camp bed in the paediatrics ward of our local hospital staring at my sick baby boy through the bars of his institutional cot. 

The drama began to unfold on Friday evening when we noticed that Jonah was running a fever, further examination showed he had a temperature of 39.5 degrees, dangerously high in a seven week old baby. Off I sped to the walk-in clinic only to be told that I should have rushed him straight to A&E but, despite this urgency, I was now not not allowed to leave until he had seen the clinic doctor who could refer him to the hospital. 

I had entered the NHS labyrinth, a place as torturous and topsy turvy as any Lewis Carroll rabbit hole.  I suggested that rather than wait around ticking boxes I take him directly to the hospital where he could get the treatment he needed immediately, and this threat to untangle the loops of red tape that held us was enough to miraculously free up the previously fully occupied doctor. 

After greeting me with the patronising comment 'First time mum are we?' just because I had had the temerity to demand that my burning up baby be seen ahead of the usual drunks and miscreants who appear magnetically drawn to medical facilities, the doctor finally referred me to the hospital. 

I dragged baby, car seat and all, to the paediatrics ward, where I had been told to go, only to discover that my boy still couldn't be seen as we hadn't been booked into the computer in the A&E department, and without a hospital number he couldn't be treated. Off I trudge wasting even more precious time, baby now screaming for his increasingly late feed, out to the inner circle of hell that is the emergency waiting room. 

I fight off an incoherent drunk who is determined to continue his slurred row with the receptionist about his taxi rather than allow anyone to actually book into the magic computer system that opens up the next stage in your quest to see a doctor. 

Hysteria is beginning to take hold and I am boiling with frustration that my potentially seriously ill seven-week old baby has now been waiting over an hour to be treated just because we have to dance this administrative jig in order to see a doctor. Finally we are in the children's A&E, guarded fiercely by a dragon of a nurse who seems to have been milked of all her human kindness. 

As an aside it always amazes me that women so lacking in sympathy or empathy seem so often to choose to work in children's health. Most mums have tales of midwives who appear to take sadistic pleasure witholding care and compassion when new mothers need it most and the woman we encountered who was specifically employed to cope with the emergency health care of children seemed positively annoyed with having to deal with a stressed mother of a sick child. What is it that draws such uncompassionate people to the caring professions? Perhaps some kind of perverse desire to work against their strengths. 

Once we had finally jumped through sufficient hoops to gain enough points in the NHS game to win the chance to see a real live paediatrician he was determined to test my baby boy for every illness under the sun. Here was me labouring under the impression that after almost a decade of medical school, plus plenty of practical experience, he might be able to throw some light on the problem without subjecting a tiny baby to a battery of possibly unnecessary tests. 

I told him the whole family had been suffering from a nasty virus and that dad was laid up with severe tonsillitis, but he was still determined to carry out blood tests, lumbar puncture and canulla insertion. I know it's better to be safe than sorry, but I did feel that a touch of common sense wouldn't go amiss. In the end I insisted we moved up one rank in the doctoring hierarchy for a second opinion and bargained down to just a canulla for blood tests and antibiotics, but no needle in the spine unless it was absolutely necessary.

To cut a very long, sleepless, anxious weekend of tests and temperatures short, the baby boy did have the virus and is now well again. And no, he didn't need that lumbar puncture.  

But as I carried him out of his hospital room, safe in the knowledge that my child is well, I suddenly realised that as I was wrapped up in frustration of arguing over minor treatments on a baby who was clearly not too unwell, all around me were families who weren't fortunate enough to be caught up in such petty grievances. There was the baby we had seen being carried down the corridor in an oxygen mask, a boy running around with renewed energy thanks to a blood  transfusion, a tiny, pale girl confined to her bed after surgery. 

I was suddenly ashamed by how irritated I had been to have to wait a few extra hours before we were discharged. I realised how very lucky I was to carrying my baby out smiling after a couple of days of Calpol, rather than staying, soaked in chilled fear because tests hadn't come back all clear and my child was really sick. 

As the doors swung closed and I walked away from  the children's ward I prayed that I would never have to gaze on those cheerfully colourful murals painted on its walls to distract me from just how black life can be. 

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

The curse of childcare

Back in my pre-children days when I had a career, I used to think that work was a hassle. Now I realise I was spoilt, at least then I didn't have to pay for the privilege of just being there, never mind choosing just what sort of childcare was likely to (a) do my children the least amount of long term psychological damage (b) cost marginally less than I earn and (c) keep them alive and amused for the inside of a working day. 

It's not as if there's no choice open to us working (or attempting to work) mums. In fact there are a plethora of options from cajoling the grandparents to taking out a second mortgage to pay for a nanny, through childminders, pre-schools, nurseries and au pairs. 

Over the five and a bit years since I had son number one I have used most of these methods with varying success. 

The aged grandp's have the benefit of being free, which is always welcome, but the disadvantage of having lives of their own, which is most unwelcome. Gone are the days when grandmas' most pressing task of the day was to choose whether to bake a Victoria or chocolate sponge. Thanks to emancipation they are no longer sitting peacefully knitting in a rocking chair just waiting for the moment when you decide you've had enough of playing peek-a-boo with the sprog and want to get back to the office for a real conversation and pay cheque. 

No they are working, going on holidays, socialising - in short doing all the things you'd like to do while they look after your children - and booking a day of childcare can be as complex and fraught as arranging a presidential visit. 

My own sets of grandparents are actually very good, but even they are starting to baulk at the prospect of caring for four children, and speaking as one who does it every day, I can't say I blame them. 

So that brings us to nannies. I had a nanny. I loved her, she was like a mother to my children, only way, way better. She played with them, cooked with and for them, took them out, gave them baths, bought them presents - in short she did all the things I worked so hard to avoid doing. We all cried when she left to have her own baby, the selfish so and so. 

Now we have four children the danger money they demand means a professional nanny is no longer financially viable. 

Then on to nurseries. When Jacob was tiny and I was a nervous and conscientious first time mummy, I looked at LOTS of nurseries, from the chi chi creches that demanded the equivalent of the national debt in return for a few hours of a 19-year-old Latvian squidging Playdough with your beloved to industrial premises that housed as many children as was humanly possible while their poor mothers toiled away. As the serried ranks of grubby toddlers laid out to sleep on yoga mats on the floor in the latter reminded me of  a scene from a Ceausceau-era Romanian orphanage, I opted, terrified, for the former. 

Jacob and I loved the posh nursery. He because his best girlfriend went their too, me because I could almost call myself a yummy mummy by association; I have never seen so many gleaming 4x4s driven by equally gleaming women as a pick up or drop off time. Sadly we fast realised that we couldn't keep up with the Joneses or the fees and as soon as he hit three we moved him to a free state nursery. 

After the peace and calm of his private nursery, where class sizes were kept small by limiting the number of people who could afford to send their children there to the bare minimum, his state nursery was like visiting hour at the asylum. Everywhere your eye landed their were crazed maniacs chasing around, but we soon came to understand this is just what a room full of 56 children under 5 looks like. 

As your child can only begin its career as a benefits scrounger with a free state nursery place at three, you can opt for a private pre-school to take him off your hands at two. But this only useful if you have a very understanding boss who will let you work until 1pm and no later every day. Fine for ladies who lunch (early), but not ideal if you actually need to earn enough to cover the fees. 

The final options of childminder and au pairs remain a closed book so far. But give it time, with four small children to get off my hands over the next few years I am hoping to have tried out the full house of childcare options before I'm finished. It's either that or leave them to the tender mercies of the least qualified person of all - their mother.