Monday, 28 September 2009

corporal punishment

The week started badly.

On Monday I pulled a muscle in my calf chasing Snooks across the fields. My embarrassment was doubled by the fact that it was in the company of two other mums who are both currently, serenely pregnant with their seconds.

Their firsts were girls. They don’t know…yet. So my sprint to reach Snooks before he reached the path where the commuter cyclists belt along regardless was comically and very suddenly halted and replaced with an agonising hop as I continued the race against disaster.

And it has continued like that ever since.

The injury was actually a recurrence of a recurrence. The original tear was made years ago playing tennis, only in those days, the friend drove me home, found an ice pack to put on my leg, elevated on a cushion and brought me dinner.

The first recurrence happened in the privacy of our own hallway where, in the guise of the Cuddle Monster I took off in pursuit of Snooks rather too suddenly for my old calves to cope.

Having hopped around for a couple of days at home the leg was sort of on the mend when the second incident happened, this time at my mortification in front of an audience.

On neither occasion was I driven anywhere or given any cushions of any sort. I just did the usual stuff, only on one leg.

Tuesday morning was worse. Snooks had been referred by a kind but rather zealous GP to an ENT consultant after having a couple of nasty ear infections. I had learned that my family does a strong line in very narrow ear canals, which can cause complications resulting in slight but temporary loss of hearing. This revelation had helped with a number of unanswered questions about my own childhood, not least why I, and both my brothers spent time in hospital in our pre school years. It also means we all have quite cute ears.

We had already paid the consultant one visit, scorched into my brain with the memory of Snooks throwing up in the back of the car just as we swung into the hospital entrance, causing me to swerve and almost take out a woman just leaving the hospital grounds who glared at me with the understandable fury of someone who has just been given a clean bill of health only to be totalled by some idiot careering about in the car park.

He had suggested a ‘wait and see’ policy, and this was the ‘see’ bit. Whether Snooks remembered the previous visit or was simply demonstrating a family loathing of all things medical (his birth is the only good thing I have ever known happen in a hospital) he took against the whole plan the minute he spotted the place and had to be cajoled, ordered and finally bribed with chocolate buttons into the building.

Now I don’t know about you, but I would have expected that any medic who has ever treated any child before for any condition would have some idea that they may be a) frightened and b) not keen on having things poked in their ears.

But unfortunately both the technician who attempted to carry out the pressure test on Snooks’ ears and the consultant who wanted to look in them were aghast to find Snooks howling like a banshee.

Nevertheless I reluctantly went along with the plan to hold him firmly while things were poked in his ears, right up to the point that the specialist (not a doctor actually; he was a Mr therefore a surgeon. Not the same thing at all) suggested that his frantic behaviour was caused by frustration due to a loss of hearing and therefore was evidence that he needed an operation to cure it.

For the record, Snooks’ hearing is fine. His language is excellent for his age and he has lately been heard to hum Ally Bally Bee reasonably accurately.

Fuelled with tear-filled indignation that Snooks’ distress should be interpreted as a special need and horrified that a doctor should recommend surgery on such flimsy evidence I rejected the advice and left.

By Thursday I had discovered that if I wore high heels I could walk on both legs, which was good because it meant I could finally leave the house (hopping will only get you so far), but bad as it made for some unorthodox wardrobe choices for my weekly Pilates class. However I simply had to go as by now I was in desperate need of realignment, in more ways than one.

Things could have got very complicated at this point as a friend who suddenly needed someone to look after her daughter asked if I could help. Through a rather impressive mums-jungle-telegraph, her little girl was delivered to us that afternoon, fed, changed and tired which meant, mercifully, she fell asleep almost instantly, leaving me to entertain Snooks for two hours without letting him know that someone was sleeping in baby bear’s bed.

By Friday, Fortune seemed at last to be smiling as I was fit enough to take Snooks out to a playgroup where we met up by chance with the same little girl now in the care of another jungle mum and her son whom we joined for lunch.

It did not last. Snooks began to drool ominously, developed a lovely crop of ulcers around his mouth and embarked on a coughing and gagging campaign, which continued pretty much unbroken for the rest of the day.

Many spoons of Calpol and not many hours of sleep later I can confirm that his canines are well on the way. As I write, both he and the Engineer have come in and fallen asleep on the bed where I am holed up with my laptop. I’ll keep you posted.

Sunday, 20 September 2009


I have got nostalgiaitis.

I think it is the changing season.

My sister and I once agreed that New Year ought to be celebrated in September not January. It just feels right, especially if your childhood revolved, as ours did, around the academic year.

Last Tuesday was a stormy day. In the morning, the sky was dark grey, threatening rain and a strong noreaster was blowing.

So filled with that odd coupling of hope and longing, I decided to take Snooks out to play on the common.

With not another soul in sight, we weathered it for about an hour, watching the trees bow like heavenly courtiers in the gale and amusing ourselves by chasing a plastic bag across the common. At this point, those purveyors of nursery school for all children between the ages of six months and four years will be crying: “ See what she subjects that poor child to! See how unstimulated and lacking in social skills he is (Let’s not even get started on her)!”

Actually Snooks loved it and tells the bag story to everyone he meets. He tells the story of how the strong wind caught the bag as I emptied its contents (the football) onto the ground, and whipped it out of my hand, how it blew all the way across the common and how we chased it and were only able to retrieve it when got struck against the fence by the road. Only he says: “Oh no. Bag. Blew. Stuck. Road.” The boy has a future in copywriting.

Anyway when eventually our ardour for the blustery outdoors waned, we took refuge at a friend’s place where we were restored with mountains of toast and wonderful strong coffee.

It was while our two giggly boys were jumping up and down on a bean-bag to look out of the window that my friend happened to show me a photograph of herself with her late mother. It was taken a few years ago - a head and shoulders shot of the two of them together. It looked nice.

At home later that day, I remembered that another friend of ours has a similar framed photo of herself with her late mother. It is a perhaps no coincidence that we three became friends when our babies were born within a week of each other, all feeling that aching loss so keenly, but rarely mentioning it.

Casting around I realised that there is no evidence on show of my life before Snooks and the Engineer, for which I can only blame myself. Years ago I imposed a ban on family photos on the wall, which the kind Engineer accepted without much resistance. (An exception was made for his older children who remain in our hallway, captured on a beach as their prepubescent selves). I had two reasons: first, photos of the ones who had passed simply failed to replace them and second, photos of the living paradoxically, and spookily, always bring to my mind a line from a Doors song “I won’t need your picture, until we say goodbye”.

Slowly, over the years, one or two have made their way onto our shelves as the Engineer has cunningly made presents of framed photos for birthdays and anniversaries, easing me in with happy holiday snaps of the two of us.

And while I can spend a good few hours gazing at the digital images of Snooks on screen – an activity which keeps me happy during the evenings when I am missing him because he is asleep – it took until he was one year old before I was prepared to have a framed photograph of him on show.

The other day Snooks was snookling on my knee and playing with the pendant around my neck. Then he sat up, studied it for a moment and pronounced: ‘A lady’. He had managed to open the old locket I was wearing which contains a photo of my mother, half my age, about to take on the world. It is a black and white professional portrait in which she wears a classy silk scarf and her trademark enigmatic smile. It is how I like to remember her.

I tried explaining to Snookie who she was but none of the words seemed to fit. She was never made for ‘grandmother’; ‘gran’ sounds a bit Eastenders and ‘granny’ is just a joke. She was known to the grandchildren she met as ‘Nanna’, ‘Nonna’ and ‘Bubbles’. But without the intimacy of that acquaintance, these did not seem to describe the woman in the locket.

‘Lady,’ Snooks repeated.

Lady it is.

Monday, 14 September 2009

smells like golden syrup

People go on a lot about the smell of babies.

I used to wonder what the fuss was about. So far as I could tell they smelt pretty average.

Their lives, as observed by me from a safe distance, also seemed to emit some real stinkers – obviously, the dirty nappies, but also the foul smelling stuff in jars that they live on, or so I thought.

(Snooks steadfastly refuses to eat anything from a jar unless its name contains the word ‘pudding’ or ‘dessert’. He makes an exception for William Christ Pears, which of course have become known as ‘Jesus Pears’. But there is more chance of getting him to eat his own slippers than consume any unappetising gunk dubiously dubbed “broccoli bake”).

There was also that milky smell you notice when you walk into the house of a newborn baby, where an exhausted mother has usually resigned herself to wearing milk-encrusted clothing (I once heard of a new mum going on her first big night out, without realising that she had baby puke all down the back of her black Prada coat) and dabs half-heartedly at the sofa when bubs delivers curdled lunch back up onto it. I remember, in the early days, holding Snooks at arms length as hot milk jetted like a geyzer from his little screaming mouth right into my face.

And then there is that lovely, recently-bathed-and-regularly-laundered smell which only small children seem to be able to carry off; in adults it just smacks of weird Howard Hughesy type germ obsession.

Since having Snooks I have found that a whole range of olfactory experiences come as part of the very primal role of motherhood.

On more than one occasion, for instance, a doctor has been consulted on the subject our Snooks’ fishy smelling breath after a waiter told the Engineer that it was a sure sign of infection. That time it did turn out that poor little Snooks had tonsillitis but subsequent similar investigations have only thrown up the probable explanation that he had fish for tea and has indigestion.

I also notice that while I have little trouble tolerating the smell of my own offspring’s nappies, I still cannot stand the smell of other babies’ offerings and have to resist the urge to gag when they come a bit too close.

While once the universal use of Johnson’s Baby Powder might have explained that special baby smell everyone is after, its banishment as a suspected cause of some ailment (which escapes me now, and anyway I don’t want to get sued so should not be too specific) means it cannot be the source.

And anyway, in an effort to retain Snooks’ inherent sweet scent, not to mention his remarkably good skin, I have avoided using any fragranced products on him and until recently resisted the common practice of a daily bath. Until he was running around outside every day, it really seemed unnecessary to me, though this omission did raise a few eyebrows.

So just the other day, when, as I was nuzzling into the back of his head while we watched telly (this is the only time he allows me to do this) and I suddenly noticed this magic smell, this potent potion, I knew for certain it was not the result of any manufactured product but must have been that elusive baby essence.

“That’s it!” I shouted to no one in particular. “He smells like Golden Syrup.”

If it is the case that I have identified That Baby Smell that sends broody women into orbit and reduces grown men to tears, then Tate and Lyle should start cashing in.

However I like to think that maybe this is just Snooks’ very own delicious aroma.

If only old Kurt were here to sing about it.

Monday, 7 September 2009

who's counting?

Snooks is eighteen months old today.

It is a landmark, which for those readers without children may seem like cheating. Who marks months? (A quick mental calculation just made me 535).

Before I got pregnant, I met a second time pregnant friend for lunch. The conversation went like this:

“Hi, how are you doing? How far gone are you?”

That was me, trying to sound interested but not really and not knowing what the correct terminology was for a grown married woman happily with child, as opposed to a teenage school friend who had still not told her parents.

“72 weeks.”

Of course she did not really say that but she might as well have done. Her answer was given in weeks, which I then visibly struggled to calculate into real money.

“You are going to have to get used to this if you are going to have a baby,” she sighed, and filled me in about the whole 40 week deal.

Then once they are out and about, one segues from week counting to month counting at about 12 weeks when they have reached an age worth mentioning in months.

This continues until the big ONE when everyone shifts to years for about a month and then back to months again for the foreseeable. (Two is not foreseeable at this stage, believe me. It seems like a century away).

Once you have mastered this spectacular shift of bases you have the school years to count, which bewilderingly do not begin with one. What kind of mean trick is that to play on us all?

Just as our clever little offspring are starting to grasp the Hindu-Arabic basics, we launch them into a system, which defies it.

‘Year One’ is actually the second year. They start in ‘Reception’, which could more accurately be called ‘Year Zero’ and in my day was simply, and logically, ‘Infant One’.

A nice man at the council explained it all to me over the phone the other day.

“Ah no we don’t call them infants anymore and there are no juniors either, well actually there are a couple of junior schools but not many so perhaps easier if we just don’t count those…” etc

“So when they reach year six, they have actually been at school for seven years?”



So although I know it’s unhelpful when someone asks, as a kind stranger did yesterday, how old Snookie is and I reply ‘Seventeen months and three weeks’, but he just isn’t one any more.

The Engineer and I were recalling just last night how changed he is since his first birthday. His face and legs have thinned out a bit; his hair is thicker, blonder and slightly calmer; he can run, quickly and confidently; he can kick the ball the whole length of the hallway; he can jump, sort of (he jumps down which means he jumps from standing to sitting. He is very proud of this); he can open the gate which encloses the no dog area of the common as well as the gate outside the house which he mastered as soon as he could walk; he can dance, combining hand waving, foot stamping and revolving in circles. His favourite dance song is Back in the USSR by the Beatles on account of the jet engine intro; he can climb onto the back of the settee, the dining table and footstool in our bedroom all of which have opened up new worlds of exploration for him and new heights of anxiety and vigilance for me; he can use a fork and a spoon and can hold a knife correctly but at the moment just uses it to whack peas which stray off his plate; he has paddled in the sea at and subsequently slept on four different beaches, two UK two Mediterranean; he voluntarily turns onto his tummy and swims in the bath, which he loves so long as no water passes anywhere near his ears; he hates tomatoes, broccoli, melon, any breakfast cereal (a toast man through and through), milk (other than mine) and rice cakes; he also hates M&S, nappy changes and lullabies.

He loves balls, large and small; cars (including Formula One racing cars which he observed when his father was watching the Grand Prix on television with the comment, “Cars. Fast.”); tractors; diggers; trucks; planes; helicopters; his boy buggy; blueberries; potatoes; cheese; hot cross buns; fish (salmon, tuna, cod - even prawns); peas; Iggle Piggle; kites; the sea.

To date, (though it changes daily) he can say: ball, sun, sky, sea, fish, kite, cat, tiger, light, dark, cold, hot, tap, bread, breast, cheese, cake, biscuit, rusk, blueberry, apple, banana, bear, truck, tractor, car, boat, plane, helicopter, train, phone, drum, buggy, fast, Daddy, Joe and bye bye.

However it is the frequency and force of his newest word – no (accompanied by a vigorous shake of the head) – which mostly marks the change from the cute little dumpling photographed on his first birthday.

While the time seems to have slowed to a crawl since I started spending my days watching our little boy’s every move, paradoxically he is changing faster than I can write.

The days may be long, but every one counts.

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

lost and found II

There is a God.
And in fact there may well be a St Anthony too.

Last week I described the agony over the missing Linus shoe and my pact with the powers that be that I would do the right thing if it were returned to me.( lost and found)

Well get this.

Exactly a week after shoe-gate, a friend came over to visit for the day along with her eight-year-old son. In between games of football and superheroes (which somehow merged so that players could be temporarily frozen and therefore rendered unable to chase the ball, except Snooks of course, who was the Evil Genius Baby whose special powers meant that if he got his hands on the ball, it would be an end to the world as we know it) I told her the sorry tale of the lost shoe and the morally dubious acquisition of the substitute pair found on the wall.

The Engineer, incidentally, refused to take Snooks out in the pair found on the wall. He also (my harshest critic) made me take all the swear words out of last week’s post. “People will think you were in a bad mood when you wrote it,” he said. I bloody well was!

After she had left to make the journey back across London I visited the shop where I bought the original Linus shoes to see if another pair had miraculously appeared in stock since I last checked

I was still carrying the odd remaining shoe around with me, just in case the lost one turned up and I had to prove ownership, and so showed it to the shop assistant, inspiring her to go the extra mile and check if any other stores had them in that size.

There was one pair left, she said, on the other side of London, in Snooks’ size. They would keep them for 24 hours.

Now here was a coincidence, or if you prefer, evidence of the power of god/good, working in the world. The friend who had visited us that day just happened to live in the very place and by another flukey fact, I happened to be driving over there on other business later that night. If she could get to the shop before it closed and buy the shoes, I could pick them up on my way home and order would be restored to the universe.

My dear friend leapt into action, piling her poor young boy back into the car (having just made the one hour drive across the city) texting that she would contact me once the mission was accomplished.

By 10.30pm that night, I returned home with the shoes and waved them under the nose of the sleepy Engineer and the sleeping Snooks.

But hold on. Was St Anthony not supposed to find the old shoe, rather than magic up a new pair? This can hardly be held up as evidence of his existence, let alone his ability to deliver results.

Nevertheless, I decided to keep my side of the deal and replace the stripey foundlings on the wall, accepting that pragmatism sometimes has to fill in for the odd cosmic glitch or that perhaps St Anthony just had shares in a certain popular high street store.

And so it was that I left the house the next day to meet another friend, with the stripey foundlings and the old odd shoe in the bottom of the pram. It being forecast for rain, the precious new pair was safe and dry at home, still unworn.

Back at the site of the previous day’s Superhero Football, this friend and I were engaged in a game of Manic Hokey Cokey, which involved holding our boys by the wrists and flinging them at each other, while they squealed with excitement, when she mentioned that she had read last week’s shoe saga and thought she might have spotted the missing one on the other side of the common.

The only reason she had left it behind was because my post had lead her to believe that it had been lost in the café. Indeed, when writing, I had implied that it had been left behind during the commotion over the superbuggy incident. But as the good Engineer had grimly pointed out, this was really just my attempt to lay blame at the feet of the ubermum. The truth was, it could easily have fallen out of the bottom of the pram on the way home.

Sure enough when we got to it, the diddy shoe dangling from the metal fence was indeed the matching opposite to the one in my pram. A kind soul had tied it so securely that I had to wiggle the knot undone with the corkscrew of my Swiss Army penknife. It had been there for more than a week but was in perfect condition.

Oh the joy! I think there may have even been a tear. The friend, whose son is the same age and size as Snooks, offered to buy the new pair and the circle was complete. Almost.

On the way home I left the foundling stripeys, improved by a spin in the washing machine, at their place on the wall with another prayer to St Anthony that they would be found by the mum who had lost them.

As I continued home, I thought about my latest favourite novel, Vernon God Little which as the title suggests, is about how god isn’t ‘up there’ but amongst us, down here.

And I gratefully thanked the god in my friends, for being my friends, for listening to me, for bothering to read this blog and for going out of their way to help me.