Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Jingle Bells

“Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells” and so sings my three year old morning, noon and night. The fact that she’s not blessed with dulcet tones makes it even funnier. An off-key screech greets us in the morning, and a hushed hum lacking harmony filters down the monitor in the evening. This is it. My first Christmas in 32 years that Santa will Ho Ho his way down the chimney again and I’m as excited (possibly more so) than my apoplectically animated daughter who has been wearing her Santa dress every afternoon for 5 weeks in eager anticipation. We’ve just put the finishing touches to Santa’s cookie which we made (looking forward to that I must say!), and have decided which carrot to leave Rudolf. Somehow she’s got it into her head that it’s Santa’s birthday tomorrow and Christmas is his party – and who am I to rain on her parade? So apart from Jingle Bells we have to sing Happy Birthday to Santa on a regular basis.

We’ve given them their stockings which we’ll hang with great ceremony at the fireplace before they go to bed – although my 18 month old, Poppy, has gotten into hers and refuses to come out.

I think more than any other part of Christmas (apart from creeping downstairs in the morning with them to see if Santa has made his delivery of course), is putting them to bed tonight, whispering excitedly about Santa coming down the chimney (I love the fact she has accepted this with absolutely no doubt, as if it’s the most natural thing in the world) and then hubby and I will open a bottle of wine and wrap their presents and fill their stockings (and eat the rather yummy looking cookie). I am so excited I actually feel giddy.

It’s like the Christmas day of parenthood. This is what it’s all about. This makes the unendurable nights, the torturous tantrums, the frustrating suction of any sort of ‘me-time’ from my life worth it. This is the pay-off. The bells are jingling, and I can almost hear the sleigh bells above our house. Ho ho ho, and a merry Christmas to everyone. And for once, I won’t be grumbling when I hear jingle bells beside me at 6.30 am.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Born Again

So my husband has finally persuaded me to have another baby. That sounds like I don’t want one – I do. I really do – when I look into the future and see a tea table full of chatter and stories, I desperately do. When I look at newborn babies, I desperately do. It’s just the thought of taking 20 steps back down the ladder of independence. It’s just the thought of being pregnant exhausted and sick and looking after two children under three. It’s just the thought that all my hard fought writing time will evaporate in a puff of epidural.

But, my ‘I desperately do’ outweighs my ‘it’s just the thought that…’. And so I’ve made a decision. Whatever happens over the coming months, if I am blessed with a successful pregnancy, then I am determined to not fight, not resent, and not pout, but to enjoy the last time I do this. I will write for the rest of my life. I will have ‘me time’ again at some point. But I won’t nurture a baby again and I don’t think I did justice to my first two pregnancies. The first was raw and terrifying, all shock and awe that left me reeling with post-traumatic stress. The second was hurried and harried, a penance to pay as quickly as possible, my first smile in nine months the morning my daughter was born.

I remember a few weeks into my first pregnancy, blue lines zigzagged across my bludgeoning breasts. A chaotic map of mammary ducts and I realised – a little terrified – that my body was getting ready without me. My body was rearranging itself and leaving my head behind. Even after Daisy was born, my brain never quite caught up with my body’s transformation from single focus to multi faceted machine. I would stare at her, mesmerised and wonder where she came from. I was quite a creative person I thought. I’d even knitted a few choice jumpers (albeit the sort one would only wear on a remote west of Ireland island). But this perfect piece of engineering? This angelic arrival? How could I possibly have made her? And so I never fully accepted – believed – I was actually going to have a real baby. That actually breathed and cried. An actual person. The fact that stored neatly (or not so neatly as it transpired) behind my puzzled belly button was another human being – that I was making – seemed way beyond my imaginative capability.

“Why are you so tired?” my husband would stupidly ask.
“I’m making eyelashes today” I would announce majestically from my horizontal position on the sofa. “Tricky work those eyelashes.”
Or toenails. Or fingers. But despite my giggles at such maternal magic, I never quite believed that was what I was actually doing, despite the trillions of books and websites I was devouring along with my folic acid and banana fruit smoothies. Every new hour, every new symptom was analysed. I poured over the sections that listed the possible side effects of each trimester, gleefully ticking the horror list of swelling ankles, heart burn, bleeding gums like some test I had to pass. I didn’t have varicose veins. What was wrong with me? Was I not doing it right? Where were the damn piles? Ah great, indigestion. Damn, it hurts.

I was too busy being worried about the bad bits to be happy about the good bits. And of course my colour coded neatly typed birth plan merely made a mockery of my final tenuous grasp at control. The moment the heart monitor jabbed it’s distress call, I was no longer in any sort of control as my baby was ripped from my body before I could even say “I’m pushing!”.

Still doey eyed and lovesick, I got pregnant again before my baby’s first birthday. Quite a bit before. And then my husband got a job overseas. There was no ‘let’s put this baby back in the jar until a more suitable time’. He went, I stayed and struggled with a wilful toddler, pregnant and pouting at the unfairness of it all, my second confinement like a prison sentence. I love my daughter dearly but let’s face it. Guantanimo Bay would be a lot more successful if they swapped water boarding for toddler torture – locking inmates up with a toddler 24 hours a day – they’d confess to anything to get free! There was no escape, no reprieve and certainly no time to nurture my pregnancy. I had backache, piles (oh good, got them this time), heartburn and chronic tiredness. More purgatory than pregnancy. My husband came home two weeks before Poppy was born and I had no time to blink before we clutched our hearts in the rollercoaster ride of two under two.

And so now I approach my third. I say my third, but it is really my fourth. Sadly my third didn’t make it, forever a butterfly in my garden of daisies and poppies. Another reason why this one has to count.

I know now to appreciate my miracle. I know now that worrying won’t change the outcome. I know now to love every minute, every change, every blue zigzag, and every careless kick. This will be my last, and in a way, my first. There will be no shock, just awe. I will languish in the lavishness of my belly, resting my hands on top, knowing that afterwards for a while, maybe forever, I will go to rest my hands on my mound and feel disappointed there is none. The private pride of knowing the secret within me, the ridiculous bond I will have with them, unknown but loved entirely already, so that when they emerge it’s like they’ve always been there. To clutch my cleavage and sashay my voluptuous glory down the street, goddess, magical, majestic.

It may not be a perfect pregnancy. There may be pain, and scares and exhaustion. But it will be a perfect pregnancy because it is a miracle. A magical maternity miracle, and one I intend to enjoy.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Is writing compatible with motherhood?

Virginia Wolf didn’t think so. She sacrificed being a mother for being a writer. And didn’t one of those early women writers actually give up her children so she could write? And can we even put down the proliferation of our best loved Irish writer, Maeve Binchy down to the fact she has no children?

Ok, I hear you saying, what about JK Rowling? Millions of words and millions of pounds later, she’s a shining example of successfully combining motherhood and writing. Aha, I suggest. She writes children’s books. That means she probably gets all her ideas from them, and can count reading over her work as quality child time. She can even arrange playdates with Daniel Radcliffe.

A room of our own? That’s a laugh. I don’t even have a pen of my own. My office? My desk? My room? A large Orla Liely bag which contains all my current musings and laptop that I clutch to my breast looking for a quiet corner of the house. Sometimes the bag retreats to Starbucks and sets up office there. I’m a writer in waiting: waiting for the kids to sleep, waiting for the Dora half hour on TV, waiting for my time to come after everyone else in the house has been taken care of.

I met John Boyne recently. I discovered he wrote the first draft of his best selling, multi-award winning, Hollywood-film-showing novel, Boy in the Striped Pyjamas in two and a half days. TWO AND A HALF DAYS! That’s how long it takes me to scrape the Weetabix off my laptop so I can find the delete button to rid myself of the appalling drivel I wrote the previous week in between cooking, cleaning, washing, ironing, shopping, arse-wiping, knee-kissing, jigsaw constructing, rocket making (cosmic pink with tinfoil windows), and remembering to breathe. Like all good writers, it seems I need a wife. But my kids need a mother so what’s a woman (writer) to do??

I’ve just had to stop writing this in order to construct a rather fetching ‘tent’ in the playroom by draping some blankets over some chairs. I’m pretty sure Stephen King doesn’t have this problem. (Not that anyone is likely to want to get in a tent, no matter how pink, with Stephen King.) Still, the point is, it’s hard. I know enough wonderful women writers who are mums struggling with the same issues as me (and actually, I’m sure it’s not restricted to writers.) How do we find time to do what we love amid doing what else we love? To clarify, I mean being with our children is the other thing we love. I did not mean, and never will mean, thinking about what food to give us all, shopping for the food I’ve still not thought about, cooking the food I’m still not sure what it’s going to be – just something that starts with the left over onion in the fridge and see where my (lack of) inspiration takes me, washing up the dishes the food was not eaten off, hoovering the food off the floor, and washing the clothes that are covered with the food I’ve been thinking about all day.

How do I correlate wanting to be a full-time mum with being a full-time writer? How do I even correlate being a part-time mum with a part-time writer? I can’t, because I can never be a part-time mum or a part-time writer. Both are in my blood. Both are what I am. I cannot successfully be one without the other. If I was no longer a mum, I would have no inspiration to write. If I was no longer a writer I would be a terrible, disgruntled unhappy mum.

I don’t know if that makes me bad at both, or just in one of those places that no matter how often I ask the question, there really just is no answer.

So I’ll carry on being both, doing both, shunting one in front of the other occasionally, trying to find the balanced line. I’ve just danced with them to Abba, and read the Princess book. Again. Now they’re having tea with dad, and I’m clutching my Orla Kieley bag to my chest. My time.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

From the mouths of babes

Will my children ever know what today meant? They will grow up never knowing it wasn’t possible for a black man to be President of the world’s superpower. Another thing they’ll take for granted – along with their mother being able to vote, our Irish nation in peace with itself, apartheid something from a fantasy novel.

My two girls will grow up thinking – knowing – they can achieve any position, any career, any desire they have, not only because that is what my husband and I will tell them every day, but because all kinds of people before them have fought to give them that future.

What battles will my children fight? What barriers will they batter down? What ceilings will they shatter? I don’t know, but I do know that today is another step towards ensuring they will be able to fight, will have the courage to battle, and can reach high enough to shatter.

And really, in such a historic moment like this, it takes a child to put it all in perspective.
Recently we made a big deal of Daisy throwing all her dummies in the bin. When she went searching for them a short time later, I had to tell her the bin man had taken them away. She contemplated this information, pondering I suppose, just what a bin man was having never seen one.

This morning my husband told her it was a special day. A black man had just become the most important person in the world. She looked a little put out. “Yes,” she said, none too pleased, “and he took my dummies away!”

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

changing goalposts

The books and the magazines and the mid-wives tell you how to prepare for motherhood in lots of different and useful ways – what cots to buy, how to structure feeds, how to keep your precious babies safe, and the holy grail of course – how to get them to sleep. But nothing and no-one can prepare you for the emotional rollercoaster those little bundles of neuroses will take you on. There is no manual, no DVD, and certainly no preparation to equip you for the mental, psychological, and emotional journey you are about to embark on.
The life-rattling rollercoaster of parenting is full of highs and lows, turns and dips. Rarely is the path smooth, and rarely is it straight – and perhaps that’s why it is so fulfilling and challenging. One week you are flavour of the month, (which is always a blessing and a curse), and the next week its dad’s turn and it cuts you like a knife. How annoying the constant phrase “mummy do it” can become, and how much you miss it when you suddenly hear “daddy do it.” One minute (the exact one in which you are trying to cook their tea) they are clingy and needy, their arms outstretched pleading for your undivided attention, and the next (the one you finally sit down and want a cuddle) they are striding out for independence and push you away - you are currently surplus to requirement. You need the patience of a church full of saints… and not just because you have to read The Tiger Who Came to Tea 26,290 times with exactly the same enthusiasm. But because it is the hardest job in the world.
But the most difficult part of parenting I have found is the constantly changing goalposts. Just when you think you have it all figured out – they toddle off in their inimitable way and change the rules. Just when you pat yourself on the back for a job well done, a new challenge looms large and ominous, casting a grey cloud on your glistening rainbow. There is no time to catch your breath – or they’ll be catching you out.
And it starts early. Just when you think you’ve got the adorable new docile baby thing sussed, they start getting frisky and demanding more stimulation. You finally manage the whole breastfeeding lark and after five months of frustrated fumbling you eventually feel like earth mother, when the books start telling you to wean them off and give them proper food. You just get the hang of a rainbow of pureed fruit and vegetables spooning nano-milliletres into their gaping mouths, when they start demanding finger food and you worry about chocking, even in your sleep. You think you’ve just come to terms with crawling and have the house well and truly finger-proofed when Wham! You wake up one day to find them walking and a whole new set of challenges await you. You’ve just mastered the terrible twos when potty training looms and you are left a quivering wreck on insecurity and frustration.
With every new success, comes a crushing realization that there is a fresh ‘next-step’ loitering around the corner waiting to trip you up. You barely have time to stand back and congratulate yourself on the mastery of a new skill (your, not theirs!) and you tumble back to the bottom rung of knowledge as you try to figure our how to potty train, or discipline, or teach them how to cross a road. I think in nearly three years of parenting I’ve had about two weeks of status quo. Two weeks when my toddler wasn’t embarking on some new psychotic personality phase at the exact moment I had just about learnt to cope with the existing one, and my baby wasn’t morphing before my eyes into a teething, tetchy, crawling, walking toddler.
I’m not sure I could realistically expect much more, having had two babies in two years. With childhood being one long journey of discovery (yours) and phases (theirs), two different journeys in parallel were unlikely to merge into a golden path of calm. Our yellow brick road is bumpy and adventurous. It’s breathless and chaotic, but I guess the best journeys are. So my advice for surviving motherhood? Eat well, because you have to have the strength to be the adult all the time, even when you want to throw a tantrum of your own. Sleep well whenever you can, because they won’t always. And hold on tight. I liken it to sitting in the passenger seat (because you will rarely feel like you are in the driving seat…) of a rally car - you just have to buckle your seatbelt and hold on until your knuckles are white – because surviving motherhood is a hairy ride that will leave you exhilarated and terrified, deliriously happy and dementedly shocked, often at the same time. Only the brave need apply - you are going to need a heart of cotton wool, wrapped in nerves of steel. Oh, don’t think for a second there’ll be time for patting yourself on the back. There’s always a new challenge waiting for you.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

News Flash! Mums are superheroes!

At last, scientific research has proved that baby-bearing makes us brainy. Tell us something we don’t know! So as we wash up endless dishes at the sink and wipe up after another messy meal, we know we can do complex equations in our head, and reel off the most amazing facts known to man. Ok, so we don’t necessarily want to, but at least we know we can because it's official.

New research has revealed that once we get over the mind-numbing stupidity of baby-brain during pregnancy – this is in fact caused by our brains re-calculating to prepare us for the vast mental capacity needed for motherhood (see, I’m sounding brainier already!) – we come out the other side cleverer and better able to cope with multiple tasks (who needed research to tell us that?).

Apparently studies carried out on animals including primates (our closest cousins… see how much I know??), show mothers become braver, are up to five times faster at finding food and have better spatial awareness. Who needed a study to work that one out?? Have you ever seen a mum confront anyone who so much as looks at her child the wrong way? I felt murderous intent the first time another child at playschool was rude to my Daisy! And as for finding food five times faster?? Ever watched a mum with toddlers in tow do a food shop? Speedy supermarket shopping should become an Olympic sport. My last trip round every aisle in Superquinn took a breathtaking 16 minutes! Ok, so Poppy needed treatment for whiplash from me pushing the trolley round the baked beans too quick, but at least I got out before two temper tantrums exploded around the petit filous section. And as for increased spatial awareness? If speedy shopping is an Olympic sport, then negotiating a double buggy through the inconceivably small aisles of most highstreet shops deserves a Nobel prize in engineering.

Another part of the research found that women’s senses became more acute after childbirth, enabling them to recognise their own child’s odours and sounds. I knew this already. When both my girls where is still in nappies I found I had the strange ability to know which one had done the poo as soon as I walked in the room. Probably not a skill I was going to put on my CV, but still, it kept me entertained.

Finally, the study showed that women who give birth after 40 are four times more likely to live to 100. Four times! So finally I can sleep well knowing I might just be around long enough to keep Poppy out of trouble. Because although she’s only 17 months, I know, just like I know it’s raining today, that that child is going get into trouble all her life. How do I know? Just another one of those super-power skills we mothers have.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Getting by with a little help from my friends

Picture the scene. You had a demented night with your crying, teething baby. Your reluctant toilet-training toddler has thrown the potty across the room and used the carpet instead. There is poo on the walls, Weetabix on your new shirt and wails of despair coming from all three of you. You want to run out of the front door screaming, but instead of reaching for the latch you reach for the phone. It’s time to cash in on one of your life-lines, and call a friend.

Now I know I’m making the following statement fully aware there is no actual scientific evidence to back it up. But I’m going to save somebody lots of money on research because I know I’m right - humanity would have dried up millennia ago if mothers did not have good friends. Having a baby is hard enough. Without friends to guide, steer and carry us through the experience, it is near impossible. Most women just wouldn’t survive motherhood without good strong friends, and civilisation as we know it would be extinct.

Friends in need really are friends indeed, and there is no needier a time than after you’ve had a baby. But of course, like most things in life, friends come in two varieties – the good and the bad.

Everyone has a bad friend, and every mother has a bad mother friend. They’re easy to spot. They’re the ones who automatically launch into a monologue about the prim perfection of their beastly beloveds, who never actually ask how you are, and manage to look immaculate and preened even when they’re “frazzled, darling.” (I’m of the firm opinion these people actually have full-time nannies and therefore do not have to wash pee off the stair carpets, hide their roots under a cap because they have no time to go to the hairdressers, or wear sweatpants because there is pesto pasta on all their other clothes.) My advice is to ditch them quick! Let’s face it, when you’re feeling fat and frumpy, the last thing you need is Posh Spice landing on your doorstep.

Good friends on the other hand know exactly what you are going through, and know that most of the time, what you need is to vent your frustrations on a listening ear, a hug and a strong cup of tea (chocolate biscuits essential). A friend is someone who knows the song in your heart, and can sing it back to you when you have forgotten the words, because they have been exactly where you are now. They know the harrowing harangues of a mother on the edge of reason; they understand that the witching hour (the one before the kid’s tea when hell usually breaks loose) is called so because you turn into one; and most importantly, they know that you are still you, somewhere underneath all the guilt, anger and frustration. Luckily they also know that you just can’t help yourself when you harp on endlessly about how wonderful your beautiful babies are, and smile in agreement.

There is a reason why pregnancy is referred to as ‘being in the club.’ Because mums join together in support and sanity of each other, and you don’t need to be life-long friends to help out. Mums seem to instinctively know when another of our tribe needs help. You see it every day: when someone gives you a reassuring smile across a crowded shop when you are trying to tame a screaming toddler; when someone carries your tray to the table in the café while you push the buggy and get the high chair; when someone lets you ahead of them in the toilet queue because they know every second in that queue is fraught. And when you lift you head above the swirling waters of early motherhood and take deep breaths again, you too become the smiler, the tray carrier, and the queue waverer. Because you where there once and know how it feels.

Every time someone I know has a new baby, I wait a week until the mothers have left, and arrive armed with her dinner for that evening. I make her tea and listen to her talk about her child as if she was the first woman to ever give birth to a beautiful baby. I make her a cup of tea and clean up the dishes before I leave. I even offer to do the laundry. And when they inevitably thank me I smile and tell her that someone did it for me, and she will now do it for someone else in the future. Because that’s what “being in the club” means. Because that’s what friends do.

We roll our eyes in camaraderie at tales of potty-training fiascos, we nod in agreement at the latest discipline techniques and we cheer enthusiastically when baby eats her first pureed pear. We offer advice when it’s asked for, offer our shoulder when needed, and offer a tall glass of chardonnay when essential. Eating buns in sympathy with her distressed lack of weight loss is also fairly standard.

While parental partnership certainly can get you through the dark days and share in your pleasure of the delightful days, there are times, when (sorry men,) friends are just better. We get each other in ways perhaps that men, who no matter how ‘new-age’ or ‘metro’, whistle off to work leaving you at home with a neurotic breakdown and a grizzling monster just don’t – or can’t – understand. One man had it right though and no truer word was spoken. “I get by with a little help from my friends”, sang John Lennon. I certainly do.

(Published in Modern Mum, Autumn 2008)
(c) AKG 2008

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Working Girl

Life is all about phases. Once I was the burning-the-candle-at-both-ends-highly-motivated-successful-career-girl, and then I became the sleep-deprived-slobber-covered-breeding-feeding-weary-worn-stay-at-home-mum. And now, lo and behold, I’m a part-time writer… and TV book reviewer (RTE1, Seoige Show).

Ok, actually the real title is Full-time-mum-and-maker-of-my-husband’s-sandwhiches-and-housekeeper-and-part-time-writer-and-TV-book-reviewer, but when I’m asked I might just stick to the last part. A new phase in our lives has begun, and although I mourn the loss of what we had, I run squealing in wild abandon to a new life. For three years my toddler was mine, and we were free, but now she bounds into playschool without a backward glance into a world without me. I have cared for my baby constantly for the precious 16 months of her life, but now she is minded three mornings a week. I’m scared and I’m a little sad. But, I am also writing – and not just in the stolen moments when the kids aren’t looking. I can hardly contain my joy. I burst little sniggers from my mouth. My mind jumps from list to adoringly written list to decide what to do next. Now I no longer have to cram all my work into the silent hours of lunchtime sleeps, or the dark hours of night. I feel new life breathing into my fuzzy brain. It’s only ten hours a week, but they are MY ten hours. Mine all mine. Ten hours! How many words can I write in ten hours? How many emails can I send? How many blogs can I read? How many blogs can I write? How many articles can I devise, and pitch and write and send? How much money can I earn? Ok, the answer to the last question is probably not very much, but who cares? Who cares when I have ten whole glorious, gluttonous, gorgeous hours to write? My ‘business plan’ shines out like gold on my pin-board, and now I also have a gig reviewing books on day-time TV – which of course is just a gorgeous excuse to go buy some new clothes!

I love being a mum. It’s everything I thought and 1000 times more. But I missed me. And for ten whole hours I get me again. We didn’t have an easy start…. Instead of a week of words, we had a week of weeping. Tears at the playschool door (mine were hidden, my daughter’s were streaming down her face as she clutched frantically to my skirt). Back at home, the new childminder patiently tried to persuade my wobbler to stop burying her head in my lap as she screamed at the indignation of meeting someone new. Everyone was in uproar at the new changes to our life. Better change that title to Full-time-mum-and-wiper-of-tears-and-emotional-wreck-and-maker-of-my-husband’s-sandwhiches-maker-of-my-toddler’s-sandwhiches-and-housekeeper-and-part-part-time-writer. Change is as good as rest they say? They obviously didn’t have kids.

BUT, four weeks in and I shout, “I did it!” quoting my nearly-three year old (a phrase only surpassed by her favourite indignant statement “I do it!”)

OK, I was being very optimistic with those ten hours a week – typically, just as I get an inch, Daisy takes away a mile and drops her lunchtime sleep the EXACT week I get childcare for Poppy. But, I’m not going to moan – Daisy is settled in playschool, Poppy is adapting to the indignation of my minor abandonment, and I have written and I have thought and I have pondered. I feel ten feet tall. I even wear real clothes. Without elasticated waists. Life is almost perfect….

(C) AKG 2008

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Back to school for us all

My husband and I are scared. Very very scared. There is a dark and dirty cloud hanging over our heads and in moments of anxious insecurity we whisper surreptitiously to each other – “Do you know the laws of physics?” While we wash the dishes we mutter under our breath, “Any idea why the sea is salty?” As we get ready for bed, we eye each other up across the duvet and query, “Why do stars twinkle?” Our daughter has just started Montessori and we know the Age of Questioning is going to start soon. The Spanish Inquisition has nothing on the relentless quizzing of a toddler on the cusp of a world of wonder. Are we up to the job? Haven’t a clue.

I have hot flushes just thinking about what I don’t know – and should. Like how things work for instance. Seriously, just how does a computer actually function? This is going to be the mainstay of my kids’ lives, as fundamental to them as food and drink. Yet I’m 38 and have only now just plucked up the courage to join Facebook. I still don’t get WiFii, and after three years with our current computer, we still don’t have connected speakers. How does it all work? Haven’t a clue.

Ok, maybe I can justify not knowing too much about the technical stuff, but what about a clock for example. Pretty basic you’d imagine. But to actually know how it works? I presume it has something to do with finely tuned cogs… but how exactly? Haven’t a clue.

Or how does an airplane actually fly? I get in them all the time but still can’t figure out how me, 200 other people, and all our over-sized baggage actually lift off the ground. We take our girls on lots of flights so I really should figure out the answer to this one soon, but for love nor money I’m stuck. I know it has something to do with big fans on the sides, but really? Actually? Haven’t a clue. As for helicopters? A complete modern mystery of the world as far as I’m concerned. And where do things come from? I have the basics – I can even show my girls a loving variety of vegetables from the garden. But how about pineapples? Watermelon? And why and how do certain things happen? Early this year my daughter experienced her first real snow. It was fun, and ‘cold and wet’ was about as deep as our conversations got. But next year, can I tell her where it comes from and how it is formed? Do I know why every snowflake is different? And who the hell figured that one out anyway? What’s the difference between snow and hailstones? And for the love of god, will someone please tell me exactly how the globe is warming??

With these questions furiously spinning around my frenzied brain, I realize I have some studious cramming to do. Never mind waiting until they bring back homework and I have to revisit the mental anguish of Pythagoras’s Theorem, and multiplying fractions; it’s back to school for us now.

In moments of anxiety, we make all kinds of promises. We could watch desperate documentaries instead of watching Desperate Housewives. My extravagant subscription to Hello could be replaced with an exemplary subscription to National Geographic. And while we currently curl up on the sofa together and watch TV after putting the girls to bed, we could seriously contemplate reading encyclopedias of an evening. Aloud. To each other. If we feel really fun, we could even crack open a bottle of wine and quiz each other!

But as we eye each other up at the dinner table, worried in case one of us has been doing some secret swotting, we come to our senses and chuckle. This is what makes parenting such fun. It’s an ever evolving journey of never-ending learning, and as we prepare our children for the years of study ahead of them, I guess it means we are all going back to school. How does a vacuum cleaner work? Haven’t a clue. But I’m sure I’ll figure it out along the way. In the meantime, I’m off to watch Desperate Housewives. Desperate ain’t the word.

(c) AKG 2008

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Change is as good as a rest... who are they kidding?

Life is all about phases. Once I was the burning-the-candle-at-both-ends-highly-motivated-successful-career-girl, and then I became the sleep-deprived-slobber-covered-breeding-feeding-weary-worn-stay-at-home-mum. And now, lo and behold, I’m a PART-TIME WRITER!!

Ok, actually the full title is Full-time-mum-and-maker-of-my-husband’s-sandwhiches-and-housekeeper-and-part-time-writer, but when I’m asked I might just stick to the last part. A new phase in our lives begins, and although I mourn the loss of what we had, I run full speed ahead to a new life. For three years my toddler has been mine and we have been free, but this week she began playschool five mornings a week. I have cared for my baby constantly for the precious 15 months of her life, but now I will have a childminder to look after her three mornings a week. I’m scared and I’m a little sad. But, I am going to write. I can hardly contain my joy. I burst little sniggers from my mouth. My mind jumps from list to adoringly-written list to decide what shall be my first task. Now I no longer have to cram all my work into the silent hours of lunchtime sleeps, or the dark hours of night. I feel new life breathing into my fuzzy brain. It’s only ten hours a week, but they are MY ten hours. Mine all mine. Ten hours! How many words can I write in ten hours? How many emails can I send? How many blogs can I read? How many blogs can I write? How many articles can I devise, and pitch and write and send? How much money can I earn? Ok, the answer to the last question is probably not very much, but who cares? Who cares when I have ten whole glorious, gluttonous, gorgeous hours to write? My ‘business plan’ shines out like gold on my pin-board and I check and re-check my breakdown of hours.

I love being a mum. It’s everything I thought and 1000 times more. But I miss me. And for ten whole hours I will get me again. But maybe not this week…. Instead of a week of words, I’m having a week of weeping – and that’s just me. Tears at the playschool door (mine are hidden, my daughter’s are streaming down her face as she clutches frantically to my skirt). Back at home, the new childminder is patiently trying to persuade my wobbler to stop burying her head in my lap as she squeals at the indignation of meeting someone new. Everyone is in uproar at the new changes to our life. Better change that title to Full-time-mum-and-wiper-of-tears-and-emotional-wreck-and-maker-of-my-husband’s-sandwhiches-and-maker-of-my-toddler’s-sandwhiches-and-housekeeper-and-part-part-time-writer. Change is as good as rest they say? They obviously didn’t have kids.

(c) AKG 2008

Thursday, August 28, 2008

There's always a rainbow on a rainy day...

Like almost everything bad I’ve experienced in life, there is inevitably some good somewhere hidden in all the crap. It happens with the little things. It happens with the big things. Take the little bad things. The other day I was literally in the middle of texting my husband that I was having the worst day of motherhood to date – my toddler having thrown the mother of all tantrums in Tesco exposing me to the butt of all those looks of sympathy / ‘what a bad mother she is’ and I was now trying to feed said toddler and rebellious baby who was point blank refusing to eat anything I waved in the vicinity of her mouth, when, between me threatening to either abandon them in the café and go for a drink or cry, a lovely woman came up to me and said, “What beautiful girls you have, and so good to sit there quietly.” I looked at her as if she’d sprouted a snout and begun to fly. My girls? Good? And I looked at them and there they were, being all beautiful and good and gorgeous. She changed the course of the day for all three of us.

It’s like when you are confronted with the hugest, smelliest, mind-of-its-own poo-ey nappy and you look up to check it’s not actually a large sewer infested alien on the change mat and you get the smile to melt your heart and a gurgle of delight that makes you laugh in your soul. It’s like when my mum lost her handbag recently while looking after my girls. I felt guilty, she was distraught and our annoyance hung in the air and spoiled our day. And then there was a knock on the door. And there was a woman and there was my mum’s handbag and we smiled at how good people can be.

And then there’s the big things. My recent miscarriage was traumatic and terrible and terrifying, and also testament to the incredible spirit of love and friendship that surrounds me. My mum stroked my hair, my friends called and gave me hugs. People – so many people, sent me flowers. Others bought me chocolates. And people I’ve never even met wrote to me and sent me their love. Women shared their own stories of loss and I knew someone out there understood. In the midst of loss, I felt loved. Thank you all.

(c) AKG 2008

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Miscarriage of Justice

The last of the summer butterflies dance in the garden, fragile and beautiful.

Like a butterfly, my little baby was not destined for a long life. It’s time was measured in weeks, like a butterfly. And like a butterfly, she caught my breath as she danced and dipped into my dreams, fluttering and fragile… on her way out as soon as she began.

The moment I saw the scan I knew it was over. I knew my dream had died.

And like all things parenting, so little was in my control. Several days later, my body went into labour. I cried out in pain, I bent myself double and with the same horrific ease that you came to me, you slipped from my body, and fluttered away.

I still don’t know how to grieve for you. I still don’t know how to recognise you and live my life without you.

But for some reason, every time I see a butterfly I think of you and smile. And so it seems, you have shown me yourself. We already have two beautiful flowergirls, Daisy and Poppy. And just as our house jingles to the jangle of their laughter, so our garden sways in the splendid colours of red and pink and white and purple as daisies and poppies dance in the breeze. And I see a beautiful butterfly dance among them and I know you will always be with them. And I with you. My flutter butterfly.

(c) AKG 2008

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

The Two's - Terrible or terrific?

They’ve been so awful, for so long, for so many people, that the phrase ‘terrible twos’ has become fearfully familiar phraseology in the dictionary of parenthood, along with ‘teething toddler’ and ‘temper tantrums’.

So why are they so terrible? Why do they fill even the most stalwart of parents with dread and throw normally competent mums and dads into incompetent messes? And can we see through the mist of terror to appreciate the terrific theatre the Year of the Two can give us?

The main reason the Terrible Twos are just that, is because our little precious smiling amenable wobblers have now become little precocious screaming ambivalent warriors; tearaway terrors who have all the exuberance for exploration, all the indignation for independence and all the delight for discovery, but none of the fear or restraint yet required to keep a parent’s sanity intact. The second reason is of course our little babies have now become mere bundles of emotion. Extreme emotion is always difficult to handle and with the Terrible Twos there is nothing done unless it is extreme – extreme upset, extreme anger, extreme frustration, extreme unhappiness, and extreme jealously. And that’s just you. Your beloved has more emotion building up inside than their little bodies can contain so it explodes like a gas, hot air and pressure escaping in a teary tirade of tantrum.

Our toddlers have also discovered a vital piece of human physiology – willpower. And once they’ve got their little brains around that minefield, they ain’t letting go of it anytime soon. I bet I’m not the only parent who hears “I do it!” a hundred times a day. And with willpower comes another important lesson – for both of you. Testing of boundaries. They have to push you and push you and push you, and by doing so (if they haven’t pushed you over the edge of sanity) they will learn valuable lessons of life – right and wrong, good and bad, safe and dangerous.

A lot of tantrums are borne out of frustration – and again I mean the kids here! On the cusp of communicating, they know what they want and they know what they like, but it’s not always that easy to make you understand.
It’s also one of the trickiest ages to discipline. They’re got all of the ingredients for bad behaviour – energy, enthusiasm, temper, and willpower, but none of the reasoning and rationale needed for easy obedience. Let’s face it – the naughty step is a game to them, reward charts are meaningless because they can’t count their stars, and good old fashioned begging is a poor last resort. But the main reason the terrible twos are so hard is the plain fact that they are getting smarter and much harder to fool! Up until now you can tell as many little white lies as gets you through the day – it’s broken!; there are none left!; I promise we’ll go tomorrow!. Now they know that it just needs a new battery, that there are plenty left – and of course they remember your promises the next day. After promising my little girl she could have an ice-cream if she went to bed quietly, her first words the next morning were “ice-cream!” They were also her second, third, fourth and fifty-fifth.

Is it all bad though? If you catch us on a good moment, most mums of two year olds will smile warmly and claim it to be such a wonderful age! They are bursting with energy and enthusiasm for everything around them – so the exuberance can be a bit overwhelming for everyone, but who can resist laughing with joy as they splash through puddles, roll down hills, and bounce on the bed all with enchanting squeals of delight. It is only now, after months of being a ‘baby’ – all toothy grins and immobility – that their half-hidden personality is bursting through as they make jokes, perform to captive audiences and know just how to get you grinning despite yourself. Best of all, because their communication is developing the connection between you is increasing and there is no drug in the world to beat the feeling of love and elation when you teach your little one to do something for the first time and they look to you for approval, clapping their hands with joy and your eyes engage in the moment … it’s magical. For me the most amazing thing about this time is the incredible amount they are learning every day – new words, new understandings, new excitements.

So how do we cope? How do we minimise our desperation and maximise our delight when our bundles of joy become bundles of emotional overloads?

We have to let them win occasionally – there have to be some ‘yes’s’ amid the torrent of no’s. We have to become Masters of Deception – up the mental agility to deceive to achieve. We have to understand their frustrations and try and put ours aside a little. They are learning, they are on the bottom rung of the command chain, constantly being told what to do, what not to do, being pulled and pushed this way and that. Let them be the boss (when it suits us!!), make some choices, and decide what cereal to have for breakfast. Help them up the first rung to becoming a little person in their own right. Be strong and firm though and make sure their boundaries are clear and consistently kept. We won’t be doing anyone any favours (especially them) by giving in to them all the time. They have to learn what is acceptable and unacceptable behaviour – that’s our job. We are parents first, and friends second.

Finally we have to find the humour in everything they do. Even in the midst of a temper burst, they can be a one-person entertainment show. It’s not going to last forever… so take a deep breath, and take it all in. Before we know it they’ll be moody teenagers and we’ll be wishing they were two again!

Like all things in motherhood, it’s a little terrible and a lot terrific. Enjoy it when we can. It will only last a year. For every time our toddlers throw a tantrum there’ll be plenty of other times they’ll make us laugh – often at the same time!

Published in Modern Mum, Summer 2008
(c) AKG 2008

Monday, July 28, 2008

Change as good as a rest?

It takes a week to pack. The holiday lasts a week. It takes a week to unpack, wash, dry, iron and put away all the junk. The ratios just don’t add up…

Luckily we have a spare room. It’s called “Nanna’s room” but she is banished from visiting prior to a holiday as her room is transferred to the ‘packing chamber’. I used to work for UNICEF – travelled to war-torn countries and packed the night before. It was easy. Iraq? Long sleeves and flip flops. Sierra Leone? Short sleeves and sports bra (very bumpy roads). In my previous life I travelled the world for two years with one rucksack slung over my back. It held all the knickers I needed and one saggy bra kept all my bits in check for all 674 days. Now? A week’s holiday on the west coast of Ireland requires military precision and 104 lists.

Not exactly war torn but it certainly has its fair share of bumpy roads, and with the arctic / tropical summers we have, it’s like packing for two different holidays. Oh, and throw in two kids and a busy husband and I need a logistical plan of epic proportions to remember everything – washing and ironing has to be planned days in advance, medical kit, clips, books, toys, buckets and spades, swimming gear (hot and cold weather dependent), potty, toilet seat, pink toilet paper, nappies, pack lunch for the journey, favourite snacks, favourite spoons, favourite dishes etc etc etc. One saggy bra no longer fits the bill I’m afraid – two kids later I need a structural engineering masterpiece.

And two things happen.

Ten minutes into the journey my husband asks if I packed the kid’s DVD. I deflate in frustration. The one thing I forget out of the 4729 things I remembered and it’s the first thing that’s required.

And every holiday I pack my ‘me bag’. Stuffed with my writing magazines, my books, my writing notebooks that in a moment of mammary maladjustment I think I’ll get the time to enjoy, the bag remains forlornly and depressingly untouched, like the beach bag on a two week holiday of rain.

But then two other things happen.

I fall in love with my family all over again as we play together for endless sun drenched / rain drenched days, and I rejuvenate enough to know that this exhausting time of young babies is time finite. I’ll keep packing my ‘me bag’ and one day, on one holiday I’ll open it. That’ll be the day my kids can entertain themselves - and a little part of me will rejoice and a little part of me will weep.

(c) AKG 2008

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

the original women writers

I’ve been feeling a little daunted of late. Giving up my high flying career to look after my girls seems to have morphed into a full-time child-rearing job, combined with a (very) part-time writing career, swamped by the domestic drudgery of housekeeper, cook, cleaner and general slave to everyone else’s wishes.

As I fight a loosing battle for some time to call my own (having long given up on a room of my own, a desk of my own, a moment of my own), I’m afraid writing has taken the biggest hit. As I lie under the duvet desperately grasping another ten minutes of rest, I console myself that I’m not leaping out of bed earlier than my sleeping angels to write, by the fact that I’m a hectic mother of two under three and exhaustion has won the day. I pat myself on the back for getting through the day without causing anyone any actual physical harm, and meeting my magazine deadlines. I shrug my shoulders at the long list of writing I should / could / would be doing if only I had the time / childcare / energy – my blog (once daily, then weekly, now sporadic), other blogs, my diary, my novel.

But now I must confess to being shamed. I’m reading a book called Can Any Mother Help Me?, about a group of women in the 1930’s who were isolated and bored and stressed from marriage and motherhood. In those days women gave up their jobs when they married and raising a handful of kids by yourself was the norm. One day a lonely woman wrote an ad in The Nursery Times asking if any other mother could help her. She was desperately lonely and isolated, and needed creative interaction. She got so many replies from so many women around the country they decided to set up their own secret magazine. They all took anonymous names and wrote articles about their lives. Taking them through their child-rearing years, through the second world war, through marriage breakdowns and life’s highs and lows, these women found solace in their writing and their friendships. The magazine – called CCC (Co-Operative Correspondence Club) – lasted for over 55 years.

Their lives where often harsh, and many had been educated but forced to become nothing more than domestic drudges after marriage. They endured bringing up their children alone and in austere circumstances during the war and they fought their own battles to find identity, creativity, and achievement. They were brave, funny, witty, enduring, strong and smart. They worked much longer and much harder than I do, and they still found time to write. For 55 years these women literally wrote the story of their lives, weaving a weapon against boredom, domestic drudgery, marriage and motherhood. Life gave them something to write about, and their writing gave their life meaning.

So, it’s 5.30am. I’m writing. And it feels wonderful.

(c) AKG 2008

Monday, June 30, 2008

Re-Learning the Lessons of Life

This morning my one year old taught me a valuable lesson of life. I lay in my lazy Sunday bed reading my book while Daisy and Poppy played in the curtains. Their combined giggles and glees were like an ice-cream on hot day… all you need.

Then they made their way over to my wardrobe to pull out my shoes. One by one they were inspected and thrown to the side while the next discovery was made. Then Daisy asked me to pull out the mini step-ladder from under my bed so she could reach the other shoes. The ones I deliberately keep up high away from grubby hands. But it’s Sunday, and she said please without prompting, so I pull it out and set it up, and grubby hands paw my red suede heels. Lesson 1: it’s always worth an ask. The answer might just be yes.

Once Daisy lost interest, Poppy then assesses the step-ladder. It only has two steps but she’s never climbed one before. Climbing is a very new skill, and I could see the step-ladder was going to be a practise ground. And so I watch from the cover of my duvet. She tries to climb them like stairs but they’re too narrow. Eventually she realises she can do it if she holds onto the sides to pull her up. After several attempts she ascends the first step, and contemplates the second. She climbs down. This takes a degree of tricky footwork but she gets there. She then practises the first step over and over again. Up and down. Up and down. Up and down. Coos of self-appreciation accompany her efforts. She then tries the second step. Unsure. Unsteady. She wobbles. I clench my hands in restraint and stay behind the confines of my bed. This is her lesson to herself. She makes it. Squeals in delight to herself. She looks down at the floor anxiously and begins her descent. She gets it wrong, has to climb back up. Tries again. Four attempts later she gets it. For the next 15 minutes she climbs up two steps, and climbs down two steps, practising her new skill over and over again. She doesn’t give up and she doesn’t give in. Each time she assesses the space between the steps and the step and floor. Her feet just touch. It’s a tough climb but she does it over and over again. As my pride swamps me I realise she’s given me Lesson 2: try, try and try again. At last you will succeed. Practise, practise, practise, at last you will perfect.

She’s one and she knows that instinctively. I’m 38 and I’ve long forgotten it. There are things I want to achieve but I keep giving up at the first wobble. I look at her and I see that I must try and try and try. I must keep trying until I succeed.

I thought I would be the teacher, but this is a relationship. We both give and we both take. She will keep teaching me and I will keep trying. One step at a time.

(c) AKG 2008

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Home is where the heart is

Having a lazy morning with the girls. We’ve read books in bed, with Sam the cat curled up between us as the pigeons coo outside our window. Today will be a stroll rather than a sprint. Yesterday a job opportunity came my way. A six month leap into the real world. For a brief moment I really did flirt with the ‘old me’. I could see her putting on her smart suit, I could imagine her striding off to the train, and my heart pounded a little as I saw her waltz into a room full of adults and take on the world. I ran my hand along the rail of pretty cloths that gather dust above the piles of weary-worn jeans and sweat pants in my wardrobe. Just a step away from being mummy-me and a step into business-me. And it was so tempting. Like a glistening cool pool on a hot balmy day.

But then I woke up this morning and the girls clambered under my duvet and we read Rumble in the Jungle. Daisy practised her lion roar and Poppy triumphed her first elephant trumpet. That would all be gone.

We then padded out into the garden in our pyjamas and threw water and sand on the grass and chased the cat. That would all be gone.

We ate lunch together and Poppy finally got to grips with putting a spoon in her mouth. Daisy had a tantrum and I felt like strangling her but we got through and she chased Poppy up the stairs with squeals of giggles. I kissed them both and got a cuddle back and off they went to sleep. All that would be gone.

As they sleep I claim my private peace at the computer and write. I write my blog, I write my next magazine article. I watch the news. All that would be gone.

We teach each other. We show each other. We talk. We giggle. We share our world and that would all be gone. They also drive me up the wall, drive me to distraction and drive me to edge of sanity, but I have no doubt that would not all be gone. In fact, with a rushed morning and the dregs of their day, I’m sure that would not be gone at all.

I would gain so much by going out to work again. My sanity. My self-esteem. My identity. We could certainly do with the money. But I would loose so much more. We would loose so much more. So for now, home is where my heart is.

(c) AKG 2008

Friday, June 13, 2008

Pretty in Pink

When I had two little girls I did think my life would be viewed through the rose-tinted glasses of princesses and girlie things. Little did I know though, just how pink it would get. I’m currently at risking of drowning in a sea of pink. My eldest daughter is two and a half. Just two and a half. I thought she would be at least five before my fashion advice was no longer required and an independent princess would emerge. But no, the Pink Revolution has arrived and it’s taking no prisoners. I’ve been punked. Or should I say, pinked.

The princess is a tough cookie and has very high pitched demands. To do a quick inventory of the latest pink accessories, we have shoes (all pink, every single pair, including wellies), pants, dresses, bags, doll’s pram, coat, clips, ribbons, pens, chalk, and blankets. And it doesn’t end there. No, no, no…. the pink pound knows no limits. Out shopping recently in the supermarket, she spotted some pink loo roll. Clutching the packet to her chest like a box of treasure, she carried it down all the aisles until the checkout. Now, while the rest of us use white, but she will only perform if there is pink to wipe up with. Her favourite poem is about a Pink Yink who likes to wink while drinking pink ink. Enough I thought! But no. If you can’t stand the pink, get out of the kitchen. At a recent picnic I asked her what sandwiches she wanted – Egg? Peanut butter? Chicken? Ham? “Pink” was the answer. Ham it was then. She will only eat pink yoghurt and drink raspberry smoothie. Surely things have gone too far when her favourite food has nothing whatsoever to do with taste??

But the thing that tickles me… well, pink… is that this is not nurture – this is pure nature. Somewhere deep inside her genetic make-up, a pink princess has burst free. I always dressed her in trousers and although I bought the odd pink item, they were outnumbered by a rainbow of greens, reds, blues, purples and orange. The pink has come from within – the pink link of genetics.

Last week a new development took place. The princess has become a warrior. She now refuses point blank to wear trousers. Only “pretty skirts” and “pretty dresses” which, of course it goes without saying, are pink.

And so I sigh and give in. I fought a good fight, but I now concede defeat. Pink is the new black. The new blue. The new red. Pink is powerful and pink has won. So I must take my pink princess and march forward enjoying the innocence of such a glorious colour….. no doubt I’ll be wanting it back when the black days of Goth descent upon us…

(c) AKG 2008

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Happy 1st Birthday

My baby is one. Last night I held you when you woke up and cried in the middle of the night… you were just hours from being one and I sat in our rocking chair in the dark holding you in my arms and wondered at the fact I had been holding you for a year. A whole glorious year. And that wonder wandered to a question I just can’t answer. What did I do before you? What did I do when I woke during the night before you and Daisy came along? How empty and lonely the dark of the night must have been. I have only held you in my arms for one year of my 38 years and I cannot for the life of me think what I did before. Holding you is so real and complete that it is hard to imagine my life had any real meaning before you and Daisy filled my arms, and my heart. A year ago I didn’t know you. I loved you of course, loved your swell in my belly, and your kicks under my ribs. But I didn’t know you. I couldn’t wait to meet you but I could never have known the beauty of you. I could never have imagined your serenity and your twinkle. I would never have thought you up, because you are beyond all expectations. I could never have imagined how special you would make me feel.

Only one year and I have become a better mum, a better person, a better woman, a better writer and all because of you. Happy 1st year my precious girl… and thank you in advance for all the wonderful years ahead… so many adventures together, so many hugs, and smiles and belly laughs. What did I do before I held you at night? I just don’t know. But I’ll hold you every night in my heart for the rest of my life.

(c) AKG 2008

Standing Up For Routine

There has been a lot of debate recently – in fact, there has probably been arguments since the first homo sapiens were born – on the best way to bring up a baby. Recent rantings have escalated in no small part to the C4 documentary series Bringing Up Baby last autumn, which followed three methods of childrearing with a view to exploring which was best. Naturally they couldn’t come to a conclusion because at the end of the day, different approaches suit different people. But sadly it also failed because – in the interest of TV ratings no doubt – it focussed on the extremes of each method which was pointless because as everyone knows, no baby is text book and all the ‘rules’ out there are to be used as guidelines to be adapted to fit in best with your situation. Scandalously though, to some degree, it also involved child cruelty – and I point the finger here not just at Truby King leaving hungry babies to cry, but to the continuum method which seemed to stifle infant’s need to exercise their limbs, and, worse, encouraged children aged two to play with knives!

The greatest damage though I felt was the impact it had on modern routine methods. Sadly all ‘routine’ methods are now being lumped together when in reality the Truby King’s militant approach bears little relation to any other book I’ve read on the subject including Gina Ford.

Now I’m going to do something I don’t normally do out loud. I’m going to stand up and confess “My name is Alana, and I use Gina Ford’s Contented Little Baby book”. Why am I normally a little reticent about this? After all it’s one of the best selling books on the subject of childrearing, and in my experience, it works (and by ‘works’ I mean developing a very contented little baby). What I have noticed is that people who use a routine method pass no judgement on those who don’t – merely shrug with a ‘there but for the grace of god go I’ as mothers talk of sleep resistant babies, whereas people who don’t use the routine method – and I would vouch have never even read the book – seem to feel they have the right to criticise us who do. So I want to start a revolution. I want to stand up and be proud and urge all you who quietly follow Gina, to scream it from the rooftops.

So why am I an advocate? Because for me, and lots of my friends, it works. I accept that it might not work for everyone, and pass no judgement on how other parents bring up their children as long as everyone is happy and the baby - and family and marriage - is thriving. For me, following a routine has made my baby rearing enjoyable, satisfying and fun, and more importantly, I have two very very contented little babies, and one very happy family.

I’m the kind of person who lives by lists, and I personally love routine. When I had my first baby two and a half years ago, I was overwhelmed - with love, and with fear. And while I was a very competent adult who had backpacked the world and reached the top of my career, I was pretty clueless with the little bundle of joy who, without having to pass any sort of test, and with no instruction manual, I was allowed to take home from the hospital. And so I read some books. Actually I read a lot of books. And I decided to follow the one that seemed to fit my personality, and our family’s needs, the best. I don’t agree with those people who rubbish the use of books and say it should all be instinctual. Personally I felt like I’d had a lobotomy and could hardly remember my name, so trying to find, never mind rely on my instinct was too frightening for words and I know most mothers feel the same. Also, what is wrong with reading books? In ‘the good old days,’ mothers probably didn’t need to read books on childrearing because they were surrounded by their mothers, grandmothers, aunts and a close-knit community. Certainly in the West, those days are gone, and so of course we seek out advice. When we learn to drive, we read up on the road codes, take driving lessons and pass a test. When we buy a computer we read an instruction manual. Why on earth, when we do the most important thing we’ll ever do, would we not consult the experts?

Routine methods are criticised because they organise children to fit into our Western lifestyle. I’m unsure why this is seen as a negative. Surely it is an essential! The continuum method – where the baby is physically attached to the mother or father for the first six months of its life, including sleeping in the marital bed – is apparently based on a tribal method. I worked for UNICEF for years and travelled to several African countries where indeed the women carried their babies around with them all day, strapped to their bodies. Why? Not because they had debated the best way to bring up a baby! But because that was essential to their culture and way of life. Those women had to carry the babies with them as they worked in the fields, or ground corn or walked miles for water. They didn’t have crèches and they breastfed. They don’t sleep in the same room as their children because that is what some expert tells them. They do it because they don’t have lots of bedrooms! They bring their babies up in the manner that suits their lifestyle, and we should do the same. What is best for the baby, and its family, is surely what enables the baby to thrive best in its actual situation.

Routine works for two reasons – it benefits the baby and the family. Firstly, children thrive on the familiar. As a baby, the routine is developed to ensure she is never hungry and never over-tired. As she gets older, the same daily patterns of food, play and sleep, food, play and sleep gives the child comfort and security, no matter where they are or what they are doing. My two year old finishes her lunch and pulls me to the stairs to take her up to bed because she knows she is going to have a lovely lunch-time sleep. If we are out, I put down the buggy seat and she goes to sleep there. Every single night of her life she has had the same bed-time routine – tea, play, bath, books and bed. It means she is secure in the knowledge that while so much changes around her, there is comfort in the familiar. We can travel anywhere and as long as we can give her the comfort of the same bed-time ritual, she is happy to sleep. Both my toddler and one year old old baby have developed great sleep patterns, sleeping through the night, and eating well, (of course they have their off days like everyone else – they’re not Stepford children!)

The second reason it works is that it helps a mother’s sanity and compliments the family dynamic rather than disrupt it. I know when my babies will sleep; I know when they will want to eat. I’m not trying to second guess their needs, and I can arrange our days accordingly. I’m not saying it’s easy – it’s bloody hard at first but the benefits are worth it, a hundred times over. Every night since Daisy was born she went to sleep at 7pm. Even in the early days of initial parenthood my husband and I were able to sit down together in the evening and take stock. Now, both of them sleep through the night from 7pm and, having devoted ourselves to them all day, we now devote time to each other, sitting down together every night for a meal and a chat. My babies are happy and sleeping well, and we as a couple are happy, still able to spend essential quality time together. Our children are the centre of our world – but they don’t rule it. We are the parents and it is our responsibility to set the boundaries. I’m aware that what has worked for me and others like me, won’t work for someone else. That’s as it should be – life would be very dull if we were all the same. My children will be no cleverer or happier than someone who takes a more instinctual approach – what works is what makes the family happy. But for those who do follow Gina Ford, or routines like hers, please, stand up and be proud. Be content, and enjoy your contented little babies.

© AKG 2008
Published in Spring issue 2008 Modern Mum Magazine

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Driving me Potty

Potty training. A mental and physical challenge that requires uber-human degrees of patience and endurance. Tested to the limits, it demands a seismic shift in perspective, and a complete overhaul of the world as it’s been known. It necessitates tireless concentration, methodical application, and in fairness, it’s quite tough on the toddler too.

I have never been so mentally exhausted since, well, probably I learnt to use the loo myself. But the worst of it is, that the tiny strain of independence my child and I had taken from each other, has now been catapulted back so we are suctioned together like unlikely peas in a pod. From having to hold her as a newborn, to having her sit clinging desperately to my leg as a wobbler, to tentative crawls around me, to exuberant walks away from me, to actually staying in the playroom while I make a cup of tea in the kitchen (such little but such enormous milestones!) we are now back to square one. We are now constantly only a potty distance apart as I chase her round the house like a demented Desperate Housewife asking manically “Do you want to use the potty????” every time she moves. “Step away from the carpet” is my only other speech these days.

I cannot leave the room. Not for a second. The minute I do she wees on the floor. The actual minute. I cannot leave the house. Despite setting her on the loo before leaving, the minute we leave and get into the car she does a wee. The actual minute.

Every time she successfully deposits a wee or a poo in a myriad of receptacles dotted strategically around the house and garden I jump up and down whooping like a hyena, hugging and kissing her, shouting Hooray as if she’d in fact laid a Golden Egg. The Golden Egg of my independence. One less nappy change I surmise … I have a baby with a fully functioning toilet system so some days between the two of them it’s just a constant stream of reeking and rancid wiping. However, now nappies seem so sanitary compared to the steaming puddles on the floor and smelly squidgy pant packages.

We’re 5 days in and are both low on enthusiasm. My Potty Chart is a depressing reminder that there are still more misses than hits. The house reeks of Dettol and wee. But as the man of the great challenge program proclaimed, “I’ve started so I’ll finish.” We shall continue our quest, my daughter and I. And until our independence is reached we shall travel this epic journey together and just hope a Smartie at the end of each success is enough to keep us both going!

Copyright Alana Kirk-Gillham 2008

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Wonderful Women

Last night I laughed until I cried. I wept and screeched like a banshee and hooted and howled. I laughed in a way that only women can make each other laugh. From the belly and from the soul.

It’s so easy to moan. Really it is. Some days I make it an Olympic sport. I moan about the house. I moan about the weather. I moan about money, or lack of. I moan about my children. But today I’m not going to moan. About anything. Not one tiny thing. Because last night two girlfriends gave me a tonic that will set me up for days.

I don’t see them that often, but true friends don’t have to. We can pick up wherever we left off, and we know that should we need each other, we’ll be there. Absolutely. Friendship is a bit like a plant. Sometimes it’s in full bloom, fragrant and bursting with energy. Other times it is dormant and quiet. But it is always alive; living, breathing and growing. Last night we were in full bloom. One has just danced with cancer, but thankfully has now left him stranded on the dancefloor. The other has things in her life that would darken many a lesser person. But these two magnificent women brought only sunshine last night and we laughed and talked till the wee hours. That’s what I love about women. We can be talking about death and the depths of our despairs one minute and be clutching each other in laughter the next. There are no disparities between the two, because as in life, they are inter-linked.

Family is the blood that pulses round our bodies keeping us going, keeping us warm. But friends – good friends – are like the air we breathe – they invigorate us and stop us suffocating on life.

According to the African proverb, women hold up half the sky. Indeed we do. But many women I know hold up half the sky with one hand, and brush a rainbow in the sky with the other. This is a thank you to the wonderful women in my life. To the girls that keep me a girl no matter how old we get, and to the women who are a place I call home.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Is she demented?

Not a good start to the day. 6.05am and Daisy’s dulcet tones rudely stir me from slumber. I don’t know about any worms, but the only thing this early bird caught was a ratty retort from her cranky mum. She whined, I whinged and by 6.15am we were already in a full scale battle.

Something has possessed my two and a half year old. My angelic delightful Daisy seems to have vacated her body and the Omen’s devil Damien has taken residence. I’m sure her head even spun 360 degrees during yesterday’s tantrum. Where has my sweet girl gone? I can’t cope with this deranged monster that is now dominating every moment of every day. Her little sister has just cut her first tooth and crawled her first wobbly movement in a forward direction. What did she get for her efforts? A quick yelp of praise from me as I carried my demon daughter to the worn out naughty step. I wracked my weary brain for some sign, some planetary shift, some scientific explanation for what has caused this chaotic conversion from sweet to sour, from terrific to terrible, from amiable to angry. But as I checked the fullness of the moon I realised with a shock – all that’s happened is I’ve entered the scary sceptre of terrible Two-dom.

It’s now a daily battle of her will against mine. Daughter pitted against mother. Peace versus chaos. And I’m stumped. I’ve managed teams of ill-suited people. I’ve out-manoeuvred testy Boardrooms. I’ve survived bitchy bosses. But this? A two foot bundle of over-wrought emotion? I’m outwitted and out-energised.

Motherhood is all about climbing the slippery slope of experience until occasionally you get a foothold where you can catch your breath and look down to see how far you’ve come (never look up to see how far you have to go – that’s a vista too far). But this? I feel I’ve lost my footing and slipped right down into the black abyss of ignorance, where I know nothing. Where’s the god-damn manual?? Where are the instructions? I spend so much time on reward charts, naughty steps, counting methods, shouting, begging and ignoring, I haven’t the energy to just run away.

My mum is visiting and as my child clamps her iron lips together refusing her breakfast, lunch and dinner, I notice my mum look away before I see her amused smile break into a full-blown smug grin. I made her life hell when I was two. This is her revenge. We reap what we sow.

I’m really not looking forward to the teenage years…

Friday, March 14, 2008

A room of my own...

Women didn’t even have the right to vote when Virginia Woolf first voiced our need to have our own piece of space in a Room of Our Own. A hundred years later and feminism has taken us beyond Virginia’s wildest dreams I imagine. Back then as a single woman, she was refused entry into a library without the escort of a male gentleman. Today there are few, if any, buildings we cannot stride into, and even have the chance of running should we so desire or work hard enough. However, one thing remains the same. How many women – and us mothers in particular – have a room to call our own? A space that is ours? A refuge from the hurly-burly tumble of motherhood?

I for one don’t have a room of my own. Not any more. Not one room. Not even a cupboard that locks or has room enough for me to hide inside (believe me, I’ve tried!). I have two daughters under two and a half years of age, and by two my eldest had discovered the delights of trying on my new red suede high heels (scored before I’d even worn them), could reach into the drawer and unzip my make-up bag, (I won’t go into the implications of liquid blusher on a cream carpet) and stand on the windowsill to reach across my dressing table to pull my necklaces and beads off the rack. But it’s not just the physical assault on my belongings, the loss of scared things that are mine (as every mother knows – a two year lives by the motto, what’s mine is mine, and what’s everybody else’s is mine too). It’s that little pocket of solitude, that tiny oasis of space, that miniscule crevice of peace, a place to run screaming to and slam the door shut should the desire overwhelm us. My daughters have it. My husband has it – an office at work, a shed, the study. Even the damn cats have it. But somehow between being a child and having a child, I lost the right of privacy.

When I was young I had my own bedroom. Poster laden walls and heart patterned curtains with secret hiding places for furtive writings and diaries stuffed with longing. As I grew up and chased life in a tirade of exciting adventures I had many rooms, in many houses, in many towns, in many countries; rooms that, when all was said and done were mine to close the door on, and say goodbye to the world. And then, when I had wilted, recouped, rested, regathered, I could throw open the door again to say hello to world, myself intact and recovered.

I only ever actually owned one of those rooms – well, three to be precise if you included a bathroom and kitchen/lounge area – and that was the best room of all. Mine, all mine. Well, mine and the cats. I can still just grasp that glorious feeling of how good it was to wake up on a Saturday morning, the blinds still down and hiding me from the outside, the door still bolted to keep me safe inside, as I languished indulgently in my space, alone to decide how the day would proceed, with space to just be. But no sooner had I secured my room (s) of my own, than I invited someone in to share it. Our love took over and we moved on to own multiple rooms together in a sorry house that whispered of many stories untold. Now I own several rooms, but none of them are mine; no part my husband doesn’t share (and clutter), no area my daughters don’t ransack. I don’t even close the toilet door anymore – that intimate moment of privacy too has been stripped away by an insecure toddler. And since giving up my full time desk-job to look after the family and pursue a freelance career, I no longer own an office where people would knock to enter and I could choose to welcome them, or not.

Now don’t get me wrong. I wouldn’t change one second of motherhood (well, ok there are about 30 seconds I might exchange) but here I am. 37. A mother and writer. And for the first time in my life I have no room to call my own. I write at the dinner table amid dollops of baby food and smidgens of egg yoke and between piles of ironing. I was deliriously happy recently when my husband grudgingly allowed me to store some old crockery in the shed so that I could have a whole half cupboard of the dresser to store my laptop and writing. A whole shelf! Who needs diamond rings when you can have a whole shelf, I ask you? When I surveyed a bunch of mum’s recently about their thoughts on motherhood, one of the strongest moans was lack of privacy and personal space. And I don’t think we even dream of anything grand. All I want is a little corner of the house that belongs to me; a place where all my piles of ‘stuff’, and notes, and ‘things’ can congregate together in harmony. I’d like to feel I belong, rather than have bits of me scattered around the house in every available recess like a hobo in my own home.

But for now I suppose I must create my own ‘room’, my thinking and writing place. My solitude must take place amid the hectic squealings of motherhood. My creativity must fight its way through the mundane acts of domesticity. I must claim my room where I can; in my head; in the car as I wait for the lights to change; in between the nappies and the boiled eggs and soldiers; in bed as the moon recedes and little voices have yet to break the silence of the morning. And maybe one day I will have a room again; one that’s just mine. With a door. A soft door that’s knock is mild and not intimidating. A gentle knock that I will gladly say ‘come in’ to. Because I can.

(c) AKG 2008

(Published in Spring 2008 issue, Modern Mum)

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Forget multi-tasking - we're multi-careering!

The other night my husband asked me why I was tired. He knows this question is grounds for divorce but he seems unable to stop himself. I gave him a withering look and explained calmly: “I’ve been in peace negotiations since 6.30am this morning. Between conflict resolution and crisis management I have not had a break and it’s now 7pm. If I was part of the Israeli – Palestinian peace talks – something for which I am highly skilled – I would not now be standing making your bloody dinner.” That ended that particular conversation.

And so when we went on holiday recently and, as I have frequently done since resigning a high-powered job to look after my two babies, I hesitated insecurely over what to write on the landing form’s ‘what do you do?’ section. I looked at my clan who were imploding around me and quickly scribed “chief negotiator", extremely pleased with myself. Now I look forward to filling in those wretched forms. The other day I decided to be ‘project manager’ – organising the lives of a two year old and a baby requires titanic skills in that area.

I had thought when I took time out (note I’m not saying time off) from full-time employment that my CV would start looking a bit threadbare when I emerged from the posit lined clouds of early motherhood. But I have to say I’m now rather pleased with it. I reckon by the time I’m ready to face the weary world of work again I’ll be up for any job.

I am top management material with my negotiation, conflict resolution and crisis management skills, ability to work weekends and availability for on-call duties 24 hours a day. I’m a people person; albeit a Little People person. I can also add Structural Engineer to my portfolio having emerged relatively unscathed from the what-appears-to-be-deliberately-so-frustratingly-stupidly-designed-this-had-to-be-invented-by-a-man array of baby and toddler items that needed assembling. I hadn’t cried for years before I had to put together our first baby’s pram.

Naturally I am a highly trained nurse who not only can apply Poo Bear plasters with ER precision but can now calculate a temperature with a mere hand-to-head swipe. I am Teacher, often of things I never knew I knew! I am Inventor, Artist, Masterchef. I am Pillow and Punching Bag. I am Cleaner and Chauffeur. I am Hairdresser and Bodyguard. I can speak when sleep-deprivation has sucked all words from my brain. I can sing while stirring the soup and writing out the shopping list.

Finally I am a Diplomat. In the midst of recent potty training Daisy decided she wanted to wear pants to bed. Clearly a straight no was not an option: she’d cry, and I’d get annoyed and who needs that when the clock is ticking down to “MY TIME”. It had to be a yes that satisfied all parties. So now she leaps into bed at night with her pants over the top of her sleep suit like SuperToddler. And you know what? Surely that makes me a SuperMum? Must add that to the CV…. Now, who wants me? And what are the holidays?

(c) AKG 2008

Monday, February 18, 2008

Why has no-one invented Satnav for mums??

After months of hint-dropping – and running empty on present ideas – against my better judgement, I bought my dearly beloved a Satnav for Christmas. Unable to cycle to work anymore, he’d bought his own car and I thought at least I’ll be blissfully unaware of the new woman in his life. But a bit like Princess Diana said, there are now three people in this relationship. Not content to confine the maddening mumbling map to his own car, he brings it into mine whenever we travel en famille.

Her irritatingly banal BBC news voice enters the vacuum of our car, disallowing any real conversation and coming between us like a filling in a sandwich.

I wouldn’t mind if we genuinely needed directions. I wouldn’t even mind if I was a rubbish map reader. But we don’t. And I’m not. Still, every journey now is delayed for ten minutes while he studiously enters in the digits of our intended destination (which is only 2 miles away down a straight road…), and then we spend the next 40 minutes being dictated to by a disembodied fishwife telling us every .2 of a mile to turn left, turn right, go straight, go here, go there. Go to Hell I want to yell, but I try to accept this new marital relationship with some dignity, even while she is leading us on a merry dance round the most circuitous route known to man (and woman).

The first time we used it, it duly took us to Bridewell Lane. Unfortunately it was Bridewell Lane in a different town to the one we wanted. As I bore into him with that well-perfected, raised-eyebrow look of disgusted condescension, he muttered something about using proper postcodes and cheerily reset the damn machine to start the farce again.

Seriously… under what other possible circumstances would a man enjoy – nay, love – being dictated to by a stern humourless woman he doesn’t know??? Ok, let’s not go there.

So with conversation impossible, and the kids screaming in the back from being strapped into their carseats for an illegal amount of time while Bossyboots in the corner drove us all round the bend, and another, and another… I got to thinking. Why hasn’t someone invented a Satnav for mums? Let’s face it. When you first bring your babe home from hospital, who wouldn’t pay their life’s savings for a kindly voice in the corner telling you when to feed the baby, when to put the baby to sleep. Make a cup of tea. Sit down. Phone your mum to come over and do the ironing. When to pick up the baby. Dress her in warm clothes – no, not that silly, the pink one! Hold her silly, she’s crying. No, not that way – over your shoulder, she needs winding. Do you know nothing???

On second thoughts…. Maybe not.

(c) AKG 2008

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Deceive to Achieve!

When I lovingly rubbed my pregnant stomach, thoughts meandering on the beautiful relationship I was going to have with my child-to-be, birds tweeted and blossoms bloomed in my rose tinted vision of girlish giggles and hand holding happiness. I wanted an honest relationship, one where I talked to her openly, and she learned from my wisdom and off we trotted into the sunset with bunnies hopping beside us.

And then I became a mother. A real one. Not the fantasy type we see in magazines, and parenting books.

We do have an honest relationship, my two year old and I - as long as the truth suits me of course.

I never thought the best bit of mothering advice I received would come from my brother, but one day he cunningly told my neice that the zoo was closed for repairs when she was hounding us to go. I raised my eyebrow in admonishment (only being a mum to a baby at this stage, I was foolishly allowing myself that sanctimonious 'that's not how you're supposed to do it' air people-who-are-yet-to-do-it' have).

"Deceive to achieve, Sis. Deceive to achieve. It's the only way," he claimed as my neice sauntered off to play with her doll, satisfied she was not missing out on the elephants.

I was shocked of course. This was not how I was going to do it. Oh no no.

Oh no indeed. It's astonishing how quickly one's sanctimonious know-how evaporates the second children reach the Age of Un-reason.

Now I actually pride myself on the creativity of my deceptions. It amuses me in ways my husband finds rather disturbing. My latest Uber-scam (if I may be so modest) is the Brocolli Bombshell. After months of feeding my beloved organic, home-cooked, multi-coloured, multi-nutritional, multi-tasty morsels, the wretched Age of Stubborness took hold and all things green became the deal-breaker on culinary negotiations. Here was the deal - she would not break.

As I pleaded with her one day that she could not have Pesto Pasta for every meal, the little devil of deception that lives in the dark recess of my brain whispered back to me.... "Oh yes she can....."

My eyes fell upon the frozen bags of pureed vegetable cubes I'd just made for my baby. Aha!

Now Daisy can have Pesto Pasta as often as she likes - she just has it with two cubes of pureed broccoli, or green beans, or courgette - absorbed and hidden by the strong flavoured, green coloured pesto. Riding high on my success, I now chuck a cube of cauliflower in with her pasta cheese sauce.

I can't win them all. And nor should I. She has plenty of scope to get her way. But those moments when I secretly win - the ones when she is happy with my answer, and I rub my hands with witch-like glee - Score One for mummy! Yes I know, I really should get out more...

(c) AKG 2008

Friday, February 8, 2008

Are we on Speed?

Speed is a relative notion - just ask the hare and the tortoise.

Last week, when my mum came to stay, she took half an hour to make a tuna sandwich. I was incandescent with impatience. In the time it took her to butter two slices of bread, open a tin, spread some mayo and slam it all together (although in fairness, she would never slam, but gently place together - herein lies the beginnings of our differences methinks), I had fed the baby, detached screaming toddler from self-imposed prison under the dining room chair, prepared our dinner, read half the paper, watched the news headlines, put the babes to bed and sent two text messages. I was about to start hoovering the house in a fit of agitated pique when the plate finally arrived at my table.

It certainly looked the same as mine would have. It didn't seem to taste any different than the ones I make. But there it was in all its glory - the Half Hour Tuna Delight.

And so began one of those mother daughter debates (you can use other words here such as arguement, rant or fight, but for the purposes of diplomatic relations, I'm sticking with debate). She says I do everything too fast - I eat too fast, I talk too fast, I walk too fast, I drive too fast. I even, god forbid, get ready in the morning too fast! Of course I splutter my indignation at such suggestions - doesn't she understand I have so much to do? If I don't do everything at warp speed I'll fail as a mother, loose my husband and the house will disintegrate around our very ears. As for the children, how else am I to get through the day with two little monkeys if I don't move at Olympic pace?

She gives me that look. You know the one. The look that says, Oh please. You think you have it hard now? Try doing all that - but with none of the time saving devices you have - I had no washing machine, no tumble dryer, no microwave oven, no steriliser, no disposable nappies, no car! And by the way, how did I produce such a drama queen?

It's amazing how much one's mother can say with one slightly raised eyebrow.

Naturally I poo pood her with that condascending tone that we reserve for our mothers, something along the lines of 'in your day you didn't have half the pressures we modern mums do' and raced off to hang the washing out in 1 minute flat.

But between you and me, I think she's right. I barely finish one task before my mind has moved on to the next. My children must wonder who the mad woman is who attacks them with a facecloth every morning before ramming a toothbrush into their mouth, swirling it around and yaking at them to 'spit' before they've swallowed their last bite of breakfast. I'm not sure I've ever actually walked down my front path to the car - I'm usually just a blur of movement with a baby under one arm and 14 bags hanging off the other, shouting at my toddler to hurry up.

So it's a bit late being February and all. But here's my New Year's Resolution. Chew my food. Walk down my path. Let my kids finish their breakfast. I'm not sure I can stretch my tuna sandwich making skills to half an hour, but I'm going to give it a damn good try.

(Published in March/April 2008 issue of Infant & Maternity Magazine)
(c) AKG 2008

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Cherish your angels

Yesterday a close friend of my husband's died.

Just like that.

He was 39, funny, caring, outrageous, and kind. He leaves behind a shattered wife, and the two loves of his life - aged 3 and 18 months. Yesterday, in a moment of freak accident, as his snowboard careered off the edge of a mountain in brilliant sunshine and glorious surroundings, their young lives changed forever. His exhuberance for life was only matched by his adoration of his girls - girls that will now grow up without him to hold their hands, to dance in puddles, to shout "Daddy, Daddy" when they find a ladybird in the garden.

I know his wife, his many many friends, and his family will make sure those beautiful girls grow up surrounded by the best memories of their dad they can offer. And despite my lack of religious belief, i know - because it can be no other way - that he will walk beside them every step of their young lives.

last night my husband broke down as we went in to check on our own girls. so precious. so beautiful. so needing of us. so let's cherish them. let all of us who have them, cherish them.

lets make sure we hold their hands, dance in puddles and chase ladybirds in the garden. we must, not only because we can, but because we owe it to those who can't.

(c) AKG 2008

Survival Guide to Motherhood

Ok, here are some simple questions. If you’ve never had a baby, you can be excused for wondering why I’m asking them. If you are a mother, then you’ll know there are no simple answers and these are the questions that torment us on a daily basis. Are they deep and meaningful? No. Will they contribute to the great philosophical debates of our time? Probably not. But as a parent, you’ll be asking them every day, and if you are anything like me, ranting whenever you get the chance.

If you are a mother with at least one baby (and the answers get harder with each additional child!), how do you:

Pee in public?
Shoe shop?
Get your legs waxed?
Buy petrol?
Go food shopping?

These might seem like mundane tasks that most of us can do with our eyes shut. But throw a toddler into the mix and they become near impossible feats. Let’s take a few examples. I have a newborn baby and a toddler under two, both still in nappies. Now throw in a double buggy and the inevitable plethora of bags (handbag, change bag et al) and I’m like an elephant tramping through the forest destroying everything around me. I should come with flashing orange lights and a siren. Shopping for shoes (in crammed stores where they come with a price tag under €300) is just not possible. Shopping in any high street store, where the gap between clothes stands seems designed to be exactly two inches narrower than my pram, is an obstacle course. Having had my fill of back peddling to extract clothes dragged into my pram wheels, reversing out of shops because I can’t get to the back where the really nice tops are and manoeuvring a heavy pram, two children and 14 bags up a flight of steps because there is no lift in the shop, I now buy my clothes on-line – you get to shop when the kids have gone to bed, drink a cuppa while perusing the latest trends and have them delivered straight to your door. I’ve been forced to become a Boden Babe.

Now excuse me while I talk toilets. No matter how many times I do the maths, a buggy just doesn’t fit into a public loo cubicle, and many baby changes now don’t have loos in them, so I have been forced on several occasions to pee in public… literally. I’ve had to jam the pram against my cubicle door so the babes are in sight while using the facility with the door open for all and sundry to watch. I know people say you leave your dignity at the hospital door when you have a baby, but you’d think you might be able to keep it intact on a shopping trip! I’m going to be sexist here, but shops, loos and shopping centres must have been designed by men. Of course they don’t actually mind peeing in public, but for goodness sake, can someone not think to make cubicles a bit wider? I no longer choose shopping venues for their actual retail opportunities, but purely for their toilet facilities. Ask me about any shopping centre or high street in a hundred mile radius and I can give you a loo rating. Maybe we should invent a standard symbol for shopping centres – if you have a child you can pee in this store!

And as for those essentials that us women need to carry out to look semi-human? As if it isn’t bad enough that we have to carry excess baby fat, look ten years older because of sleep deprivation, and forget some days to even brush our hair, it’s also impossible to even get our legs waxed. There is such a niche market for a beauty salon with crèche facilities! There is a fortune to be made for someone with two ounces of sense.

And petrol. Are we really supposed to put petrol in our cars and then take a toddler and baby out of their car seats, into the shop, pay, pull said toddler off the sweet counter, ignore subsequent tantrum, and then strap them all back in again???? I’m sure I’m not the only parent who would drive miles for the luxury of a pump attendant.

One major high street retailer gives the impression of being family friendly and all for helping mums. They provide highchairs and baby change facilities, and flasks of hot water to heat baby’s bottles. But they won’t heat baby’s food so if I go out for the day I can feed my baby, but not my toddler and the tables are so tightly squeezed together you can’t get your pram at the table. Everytime I go into town now I have a mental map of where to pee, where to change nappies, where I can eat and feed them, and where I can get into and through the shop with minimal destruction.
Now I’ll admit, we women are pretty adept at the daily Great One-Handed Assault Courses – holding a baby while achieving all manner of domestic chores, but really do they have to make it so difficult? In 21st century Ireland, why is it so hard to be a parent??

Looking after kids is difficult enough without the added stresses of bad planning. But I guess if we all start voting with our feet, these places may realise that they have a captive – and desperate – market of parents who need help!. There are a few far-sighted places that know how to make our lives just that bit easier. The new Dublin shopping centre at Dundrum is an example – all the kids shops together, baby changing on every floor, large open food areas and even a crèche! A major supermarket also takes the stress out of food shopping by allowing you to zap barcodes and pack your food into shopping bag as you put them into the trolly saving you that awful assault at the end of the shop of taking everything out and then packing it all away again. I wouldn’t contemplate shopping anywhere else. Maybe if the hands that rock the cradles start rocking the boat a little, we’ll get the facilities we need – and deserve!

(Published in Modern Mum, Winter 2007 issue)

(c) AKG 2008