Boy’s best friend

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‘Woke up this morning feeling fine, though I’m covered in a little grime . . .’ sang More-Guin* to Zee this morning.

Zee looked at More-Guin and smiled, gave him a ginormous hug and promptly swung him around by his wing, bashing him into the side of the cot.

That’s when I appeared. ‘Good morning darling,’ I said. ‘Shall we get you up?’

‘MORE-GUIN!’ shouted Zee.

‘Yes,’ I replied, ‘More Guin’s coming with us.’

We lazed about for a while and I pointed out that your PFF was looking a little dirty; covered in last night’s dinner, from when you planted him face-first into a bowl of spaghetti.

You looked at me with big wide eyes. ‘More-Guin, bath?’ you asked, before grabbing him and toddling off towards the bathroom.

‘MORE-GUIN, BATH!’ you squealed.

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Ah. Nearly. But not quite. Let’s try something with a little more power. More spin.

Off we went downstairs. Lovingly you shoved your beloved pal into the washing machine and slammed the door. ‘More-Guin go round the corner! Go More-Guin, go!’

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We set More-Guin off on his soapy adventure; after 30 seconds you demanded ‘More-Guin OUT, OUT NOW!’

But no, it wasn’t to be. You took it upon yourself to pull up a chair and lovingly observe More-Guin as he spun round and round and round. And round.

Then you got bored and it was time to go out, to while away an hour on Blackheath in the sunshine. We sat in view of the church and cherry blossom in full bloom, as you declared every dog to be ‘BLUE!’ and ran around in small circles.

When we came home you fell asleep, More-Guin’s waterlogged ways entirely forgotten. I sent the little fluffball on a final spin before hanging him out to dry; idly wondering if the peg would hurt his wing before reminding myself ‘He’s not real.’

But he is to you.

No sooner had you awoken than you were calling his name. I took you outside, you ran to him. Your reunion was a joyful one. So joyful in fact, that we really must look into buying More-Guin II, for fear of him ever being lost in a park or street or tube.

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This whole soap story will no doubt reoccur next week – there was more dinner related face-planting only a few hours after MG was dry. Lather, rinse, repeat.

I hope that in years to come you’ll look back and remember More-Guin with a smile. I thought this post would help with that. Though I suspect it’s me who’ll be far more attached to the memories of you and that little black and grey bird, and the way he’s by your side, morning, noon and night. Washing machine adventures aside.

*More-Guin stands for ‘More Penguin’ as he is the second of two little penguins you own. True toddler logic.

i carry your heart

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Last night you told me you loved me. I say it to you every night as I put you down to sleep in your cot (I’ll have said it about a million times already that day, too). Our conversation goes as follows:

‘Night night Zee.’
‘Nu-night.’
‘Sleep well.’
‘Slee-well.’
‘See you in the morning.’
‘See you MORNIN’!’
‘Sweet dreams.’
‘Swit-dreams.’
‘I love you.’
You smile and continue guzzling your milk.

But last night you said ‘I love you’ and I caught my breath and closed your door and left your room and my eyes filled with hot tears. The night before, you’d said ‘Lud you’ and I didn’t know what to think, and passed it off as you just copying what I was saying.

Well, my sweet boy, I love you more than I can say. More than I can adequately express, as I’ve said on here before. Last week, via a friend’s blog, I read the following poem. I feel I must have already read this poem, it seems so familiar, yet it took me completely by surprise.

This.

All of this, is all I want to say to you:

[i carry your heart with me(i carry it in]
By E. E. Cummings

i carry your heart with me(i carry it in
my heart) i am never without it (anywhere
i go you go,my dear;and whatever is done
by only me is your doing,my darling)
i fear
no fate(for you are my fate,my sweet) i want
no world (for beautiful you are my world,my true)
and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you

here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart

i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)

Being breezy

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I keep looking out of the window at our washing line, eyeing it suspiciously. Since Saturday, it has hung between two trees in our garden; trees now blooming with white blossom, which fills me with joy. Spring!

The washing line, however, has been bringing me somewhat less joy, and more a feeling of *whispers* getting older. I’ve never had my own washing line before. There’s never been room for one. At our flat in Brixton you couldn’t stretch your arms out horizontally in the kitchen, let alone hang a line anywhere.

The washing line was purchased during a trip to Homebase last Friday evening, where I was happily distracted from thoughts of middle-aged-ness (Homebase! Friday night!! DOOM!) by a phone call from a dear friend telling me she’s pregs. There I was jumping up and down with glee in the lines and pegs aisle. Thank you M for giving me cause to do so, instead of stomping up and down declaring ‘I do not WANT to buy pegs! I am young and I should be in a BAR drinking gin, I am YOUNG!’ etc etc. I tried to make myself feel better by buying a vintage style peg tin, and pastel coloured pegs, but nothing could shake this feeling of washing line woe.
Of course this is ridiculous, it’s a washing line, for goodness sake. It’s so nice to have a garden to give one a home in. But it’s more what it represents. It makes me feel like a sensible, responsible grown-up, which I sort of have to be, given that I am a parent. And of course, washing that has been freshly dried in a warm Spring breeze smells so DAMN GOOD; no amount of ‘Summer Days’ or ‘Lavender Blossom’ or ‘Cotton Fresh’ liquid in a bottle can better it.

Really, beyond the washing line, what we are making here is a home. We *still* can’t quite believe our luck, and Zee toddling around the garden is lovely to behold. Yesterday after nursery (it’s still light! MORE JOY!) I asked him to help me bring the washing in. He clutched the peg tin in his chubby little hands and trotted up the path, exclaiming ‘WasHING! ‘SCHOCKS!’ PEGS! TREE!’. He ‘helped’ me and then it was time to head back in. He clutched the tin again in one hand and reached for my hand to help him down the steps. I was struck by the thought that it’s these moments that make memories; holding hands in the early evening sunshine, my little boy at my side. That washing line and I have years together ahead of us. Z’s little socks and pjs and vests and t-shirts on the line will get bigger, and bigger, and bigger. I will remember the first time he ‘helped’ me with the washing. And I will feel glad, not sad, about it.

Doesn’t mean I can’t still go out in bars though. Girls, ASSEMBLE! All this talk of growing older and doing the washing makes me want a gin.

Proper joy

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We seem to spend quite a lot of time telling Zee not to do things. Most of the time, it’s for his own good, because we don’t want him trying to stick his fingers in plug sockets, or running into a road, or poking himself in the eye with a fork and that’s all pretty reasonable.

Yet sometimes, when I’m telling him not to smear yoghurt in his hair or to drench the bathroom floor with his exuberant bath time splashing, I think to myself ‘Does it really matter?’

His hair can be washed. The floor can be mopped. He is two. He is lively and curious and playful and funny and dammit I want to be more like that too! I’m not talking about letting him run wild, and they say you should pick your battles. But these little things aren’t really battles, they’re just things that make extra work, and every single day it adds up and is tiring. But every now and again, to coin a popular phrase, can’t I just let it go? He is positively ecstatic when he’s splashing away in the bath, and seeing his grin and hearing his giggles makes me beam. His face covered in food at teatime; isn’t that what a toddler should be doing? Because it’s safe to say that all too soon, as he grows up and learns ‘proper’ behaviour, his carefree toddler abandon will be gone, and I will miss it.

Walking to the park today, as he stopped every few moments to inspect something new on the ground or to point up excitedly at the ‘SHKY!’, I imagined what it would be like if I actually did behave more like him . . .

Waking up singing
Every single morning, I hear him chattering away in his cot, talking to Cat and Guin and More Guin, shrieking and sometimes singing. Singing away, nonsensical babblings that are lovely to hear. I can’t even began to imagine what H would do if I woke up in the morning and burst into joyful song, complete with hand movements and waving some teddy bears around. I can barely grumble a ‘hello’ in the mornings, let alone make it through a whole chorus, but what a refreshing start to the day it might be.

Look, LOOK!
During this morning’s aforementioned walk to the park, there was a lot of:

‘Blue DOOR!’
‘Black DOOR!’
‘CAR!’
‘TRACTORRR, TRACTORRR!’ (van)
‘WOOF-WOOF!’
‘KWACK-KWACK!’
‘SHKYY! PLAANE!’
‘TREEEEEEE!’

His observation skills are second to none. I might try it next time H and I go for a stroll. A lot of shouting excitedly and pointing, reminiscent of every time we’ve been to Ultimate Power Ballads. It’s important to take in one’s surroundings. H might pretend not to know me, but at least he’ll be fully up to date on what’s all around us.

Mess. Everywhere.
Zee’s attention span isn’t that long, so all around the house, there are discarded books and toys and crayons. Bits of paper, his pink toy buggy, his ride-along lion, his scooter. His stuff is everywhere. Of course it is. He’s two. If he runs off whilst brushing his teeth and feels like leaving his toothbrush in his toy tent, he will. At meal times he’s pretty nifty with a spoon, but sometimes only scooping something straight from the bowl will do, with his feet up on the table. Next time I brush my hair, whoosh, that’s my hairbrush being chucked over my shoulder! If I happen to finish drinking a coffee whilst standing in the hallway, then on the floor my mug will go! Laptop in the fridge, glasses in the bath, Kindle in a saucepan. Bolognese sauce on my face? Custard in my hair? So?

SPLASH!
I’ve already mentioned his bath time, but what about mine? Never mind a piping hot soak with lavender foam and a candle burning, I’m gonna splash and splash and kick and kick till there’s water everywhere and my hair is soaked. Water in my eyes, on the floor, on the walls. Hair can be dried, floors can too.

Because I DON’T WANT TO!
As an adult, when it comes to doing things you just don’t want to, it’s the norm to try and find an excuse or a polite way of saying ‘I’m afraid I can’t.’ But not if you’re a two year-old. Oh no! ‘No’ becomes your favourite word – and what’s more, people expect it of you. Well. Clean the house? But I don’t WANT to. Spend the afternoon in the supermarket? NO! Organise my expenses? Sort out the junk in the spare room? Wash the car? ‘NO, NOOOO NOOOOOOOOO!’ *wails and slams fists*. Man, that feels good.

Of course, none of this is acceptable behaviour for a 28 (plus six years) year-old. What a sorry state we’d all be in if it was. But I like the idea of sometimes just being more ‘kid’ about things. And not making a big deal of stuff that isn’t.

Judged

To the mother who had a go at the mum whose little boy disappeared for a few terror-filled minutes at the park just now, I have some questions.

What is the matter with you?

Did her frantic screaming of her little boy’s name disturb the tranquility of your sunny winter’s afternoon?

Have you never taken your eyes from your child for a few moments whilst out?

Could you not see her wild-eyed panic when she did not know where he was?

In those horrible moments, when she was rushing around shouting ‘He’s five, he’s wearing a blue hat and coat, he was just in the playground’ to everyone she saw, did you not feel her distress too?

I ran off in the opposite direction with Zee, to see if he was by the library. He wasn’t.

As I came back into the park, it was quiet once more, and in the glare of the sun I could see her by the fence, watching children playing on the slide opposite.

I breathed a sigh of relief; if my heart was racing, how must she be feeling?

I stopped to ask. She was suddenly lost in a stream of consciousness as she tried to explain what happened. I could see she was overwhelmed. The tears came as she said ‘And then another mum had a pop at me for not watching him, but I . . . But I . . .’

I did the only thing I could think of to do, which I would want in that situation. I hugged her and told her they are so fast, it must have been horrible, she should go home with her boy and have a large glass of wine tonight.

So, to Judgemental Mum. I hope you find your empathy. I hope this never happens to you, and you don’t experience the sharp end of a stranger’s tongue in the midst of a frightening time.

It’s every parent’s worst nightmare. So be kind if you witness it. No one needs to be made to feel worse than they already do. Your judgement was not welcome. Your kindness, I’m sure, would have been.

NO!

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Two little letters, spoken with big force.

One little word, which covers myriad things. No, he does NOT want to get in his buggy to go down the steep hill. No, he does NOT want to cuddle Mummy, only Daddy. Or Guin and his other toy penguin, More Guin. No, he does NOT want to put on his shoes to go out to play, he only wants his SHLIPPERS.

We have the following conversation seemingly on a loop:

‘Zee, shall I get you dressed for nursery now?’
‘NO!’
Are you going to see your friends today?’
‘NO! FRENNNDS!’
‘Are you going to see Ceylan?’
‘KENNY!’
‘Are you going to see Sophie?’
‘FIFI!’
‘Are you going to see Jaye?’
‘DAYE!’
‘So can I just get your pyjamas off, I need to get you dressed?’
‘NO!’
‘Do you want to go to nursery?’
‘NO!’
‘Do you want to stay here with Mummy?’
‘NO! GUIN!’
‘Okay.’
‘Okay Mimmy.’
‘So shall I get you dressed?’
‘NO!’

He is very nearly two and I am told it will be terrible but what does that really mean? These conversations that make no sense are amusing to all of us who love him dearly; his furrowed brow, his serious expression, his puckered lips when he is forcefully declaring ‘NO!’ are cute in their own way. This angry little person, who isn’t really angry, just a toddler not in control of his emotions, trying it on, a battle of wills. Getting him dressed for nursery and undressed for bath time are currently the biggest battles. He wriggles and writhes and hollers; he flings and flails and it is tiring to deal with every single morning and night.

This evening he was positively distraught at bath time, screaming ‘NOOOO!’ until he was purple whilst standing in the bath. I talked to him quietly, trying to soothe him with the water but his little face was forlorn.
I asked if he wanted to get out.
‘NO!’
I asked if he wanted to stay in.
‘NO!’

He got out. He screamed. I held him and we talked. Well, I talked, he disagreed and agreed with me in turn.
Then he got into his pj’s, sleeping bag, cot. He smiled so sweetly. ‘Ni-night Mimmy.’
He squirted milk on his nose and smiled again.
I can’t imagine two being truly terrible.
He’s too lovely for that.
Famous last words?
Am I really naive?
We’ll see.

In conversation with my toddler

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‘Fa-NA! Fa-NA’ he shouts enthusiastically, pointing at the lighthouse in his What Can You See, Spot? book.
‘Kack-Kack!’  he exclaims gleefully whilst pointing to a duck.
‘YES!’ I agree, ‘Yes! Quack-Quack, duck, that’s right, duck!’
Then he looks serious and shouts ‘Shun, SHUN!’ and I continue to beam as he points at the fat yellow sun.
‘Can you see the flowers Zee?’ I  prompt.
‘Fowarr, FOWARR!’  he shouts, his finger jabbing at the image of a light brown squirrel.
‘Nearly darling,’ I assure him, grinning like a fool.

My baby is nearly two. Two? It seems stupid to say that I can’t believe he’s nearly two, because he was born nearly two years ago, and so this is the order of things. The moment of his birth remains as vivid to me as if it had happened this morning; his screaming, his helplessness, his tiny hands and feet. Yet here we are suddenly, two years on.

Now he toddles everywhere, charging around boisterously, bellowing and giggling and exuberant. I am overwhelmed with love for him, it is constant. This brilliant article by Eva Wiseman describes this love as a ‘bruise being pressed, continually, by a strong thumb,’ it’s ‘two centimetres from grief’. Yes. It is entirely so.

And now he is talking more and more and I don’t know why, because again it is meant to be, but when I ask him questions, he answers and I am surprised. I was goldfish-esque at his first stringing-together-of-words, though they weren’t those three words I’d been longing to hear. Not that ‘Done a poo’ isn’t useful information to have, but still. I’m amused when my question is ‘Can I have a hug?’ and he joyfully yells ‘No!’ and scampers away, charging back at me five seconds later. I continue to grin like a fool when he repeats after me ‘I luh Mimmy.’ Now that was a heart-melting moment. I didn’t cry I didn’t cry.

I cried a little bit.

Then of course there are the moments when H and I look helplessly at each other as he lies prostrate on the floor, screaming, really screaming, beating his fists and turning purple because I won’t let him scoop crisps from the bin. Our looks of helplessness are borne of astonishment, coupled with trying not to laugh at the lunacy of it all. I recently read a description of a toddler as ‘an emotionally unstable, mini dictator.’ And as we gaze at him raging on the floor, oh how these words ring true.

But then there are those priceless moments we share, when he does something so utterly lovely that we can’t help but catch each other’s eye. We grin as he clasps his little hand in mine to help him up the stairs, babbling earnestly ‘Bear, guin, tac, Mimmy, bear, guin, tac, guin Mimmy, GUIN!’  For it is nap time, and he likes to be in the company of his chosen three bears; Cat, Penguin and, erm, Bear.

We were told each stage gets better and better. As two approaches, with his new words, expressions, games and his gorgeous, tumbling curls growing by the day, I can see how.

Though when it comes to these tantrums, I’m employing the practise of breathing very deeply. And repeating ‘This too shall pass’, which has also proved handy these past exhausting, blissful, wondrous, sleep-deprived, happy, hopelessly-in-love filled almost 24 months.

Weighing on my mind

RunningIt’s an obvious theme at this time of year, but I’ve been thinking about how I think about my weight every day. Every single day. Not a day passes, hell, maybe not even an hour passes each day when I am not conscious of what I am eating and drinking and thinking about my size.

Oh and it’s so boring, isn’t it? So tedious to be aware of it, to worry about it considering the million and one things that are actually worth worrying about. Where does this worry come from? I was wondering about this whilst running on Saturday, which I hadn’t done in ages. Well, that’s a lie because I went running on Christmas Eve, but prior to that, my trusty Nike running app informed me I hadn’t been running for six weeks. Why? Why was this?

Because frankly my dear reader, I COULD NOT BE BOTHERED. That is the honest truth of it. I am a reluctant runner. It’s been so cold, or work’s been busy, or it’s been raining, or there’s been a sofa and a blanket with my name on it, or yet another interrupted night with Zee has scuppered the following morning’s run or . . .

It’s so much easier to not go than go, isn’t it? But I enjoyed these last two runs in beautiful countryside in the cold winter sunshine. I pushed myself further each time, up and down steep hills whilst cringing at the parts of me that wobble when they should be firm, berating myself for Not Being Slim. I used to be slim, thin even.

I used to go to gym classes at lunchtime, three or four times a week. Sometimes a gym class and a run after work, when I was feeling especially keen. For ‘keen’ read focused mainly on my wedding dress. And it felt so good, you know? That is the reason I am preoccupied with it now. Because it felt good. Feeling uncomfortable with one’s size does not.

I can lose this weight, it’s nothing some running and 5:2’ing can’t shift. I just wish it wasn’t always on my mind. I wish I felt prouder of myself for that four mile then five mile run last week, instead of focusing on ‘should’ve done more’. I know so many women whose weight is a preoccupation. Women who have had children and in between the exclamations of joy and pondering will we ever not be tired again, come the throwaway comments of ‘But nothing fits me any more’ or ‘God I just need to lose this weight’ or ‘Delete that photo, I hate the way I look’. And it makes me want to scream ‘But you are amazing. Look at what you’ve done. Look at what you are learning to do. Look at that lovely baby you made who made you change your shape.’

But then again, of course, it all comes down to what makes you feel good. So it’s kind of a vicious circle. I try and tell myself all of the above, but I know I won’t stop thinking about it until this weight has gone. My choice to lose it, my choice. Then maybe I can stop dreading those scales. And treat myself to some new jeans.

Because the only thing worse than shopping for jeans is shopping for jeans when you’re planning on not being this size for much longer. Best to make those awful, bright, glaring fitting-room lights worth the trip. *Holds that thought whilst gazing longingly at the mince pies and custard . . .*

The Opposite of Easy Like Sunday Morning

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I am in a spa.
I am in a spa in beautiful countryside, sitting in a heated outdoor jacuzzi, sipping champagne.
Even though it’s freezing outside, I am so warm, and relaxed, sipping champagne as the sun sets.

I hear a noise.
I tense.
What could that noise be?
I am in a spa.
There are no loud noises in a spa.
The noise gets louder.
Oh wait.
Wait a moment.
I’m not in a spa.

I am at home, in bed and that noise is my baby, in his cot.
It’s 3am.
The noise is only going to get louder.
If I’m lucky, it may stop; a bad dream. He rolls over and goes back to sleep.
If not; if it’s his teeth, he will cry louder and louder and I will go to him and he will reach up for me, still crying.
I will bring him into our bed, and begin a balancing act on the very edge of the bed, as he stretches out next to his daddy.
And they snore.
As relaxing spa experiences go, I will not be recommending this one on Trip Advisor.

All change

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Last weekend we were at Embankment with some friends who were visiting from home. For the first time in ten years, I pointed to the magnificent building with the clock face overlooking the Thames and said ‘That’s where I used to work.’

What I didn’t say, was that for the last ten years, that building has been one of the most important places in my life. Inside that building are some of the most talented, funniest, kindest and warmest people I could ever have had the fortune to work with. Inside that building are some people whom I will be friends with for the rest of my life. ‘Colleagues’ doesn’t even come in to it. Inside that building are books, books everywhere, the corridors are an explosion of colour and imagination and stories. There are rows of black and white photos of some of the most iconic and beloved authors in the world. Inside that building, I spent hours reading brand new manuscripts and writing about them and thinking and talking about stories and reading and writing all day long. For someone who loves books, it was a magical place to be.

But all good things must come to an end.  It’s important to try new things and I tried to be a full time working mum. I tried so hard. To sum it up quite simply; it’s not for me. In four months Zee will be two years old. I will never get this time back. It’s not that I don’t want to work; far from it. I am now freelance, he will still go to nursery; I will work. I will continue to do what I love and earn money and be independent and have a life for myself outside of being a mum. But I am lucky enough to do a job that allows me to work from anywhere, at any time. And now I am in charge of my time and I will decide how much time I spend with my son.

So even though I miss that place and those people, this change is good. It isn’t a sacrifice. I am currently reading the excellent How to be a Woman by Caitlin Moran, one of the funniest, bravest, most intelligent books I’ve ever read. Last night I read page 227 of the chapter ‘Why You Should Have Children’ over and over again and then I read it out loud to H and as I got to the end I had to stop for a deep breath. What I love about this piece of writing is how she concentrates on the positive side of being a mother. It’s so easy to talk about how tired you are ALL THE TIME, how you can’t go out at night without it being a military operation to plan and execute; how honestly – sometimes you just don’t even want to. The mess, the washing, the stuff, so much stuff, everywhere. The tiredness, the tiredness, the tiredness.

Pic5But here Caitlin Moran talks about being ‘high on ridiculous love’, about being ‘mugged by Cupid’ and how ‘You, in turn, observe yourself from a distance, simply astonished by the quantities of love you manufacture.’ Yes, yes and yes. She concludes by talking about how it all comes down to the simplest of things. ‘All you ever want to know – the only question that ever really matters – is: are the children all right? Are they happy? Are they safe? And so long as the answer is ‘Yes’, nothing, ultimately, matters.’ Thank you Caitlin Moran for articulating what I have been thinking for so long. I think I love you too.

So now we are alright. Looking back on the time when I was preparing to go back to work, I wasn’t alright. I wasn’t alright about it at all. It broke my heart. But it was a good experience, all in, and now I am proud to have made the changes I needed to and to have the freedom to be with my cheeky, mischievous, grinning, funny, noisy, sweet, kind little boy when I choose.

In that building I had a Word of the Day board. Today’s word? Lucky. In big, bold, thick green felt tip pen. LUCKY.