I am writing this whilst leaning back – reasonably heavily – on my cat cushion. Not a feather-stuffed, velvet-covered cat cushion, mind: it’s a real life cat cushion. Living and breathing. Slightly more supportive than an inanimate one, if you must know. And the constant, heavy purring is incredibly relaxing – those vibrations, along with his occasional squirmy rearranging of the limbs, provide a sort of low-key massage chair effect.
Not at all like one of those massage chairs that you get at some hairdressing salons or nail bars. Where on earth do they get those monstrosities from? I don’t think I’ve ever felt safe in one, let alone relaxed. The clanky rollers that move up and down beneath the pleather surface, the “fingers” that knead at your shoulders…it’s like being massaged by Edward Scissorhands, except that he’s doing it crouching on your back wearing rollerskates.
Anyway, I don’t know why the cat has suddenly taken to squeezing himself behind me as I sit at my desk – it’s as though he’s developed some sort of squashing fetish. The more I lean back, the more he loves it. It’s all very odd and I’m not sure I’m entirely comfortable with it, despite the fact that it feels really nice. I just worry about his little bones, or that he might suffocate. But still, he jumps in and crawls into the space behind my back and then pokes at me with his paws until I lean back and exert some pressure…
I’ve been at my desk a lot. I know you probably think I’ve been off having a lovely old time, but I have been working. Just not online. No checking Instagram every ten minutes, no Twitter notifications or Youtube alerts: just good old-fashioned typing away on Microsoft Word, typing like it’s 1999.
I say “working” but I use that word loosely because my brain is still very firmly in lockdown mode, despite the country starting to open back up for business. My brain just won’t seem to exit itself from the emergency energy saving programme it entered back in March; whenever something pressing needs to be done, it replies telepathically with oh, don’t worry about it. Life’s too short. There are bigger fish to fry. And other clichés. A rolling stone gathers no moss.
That last one wasn’t really relevant but it’s always been a favourite. Mainly because I don’t fully understand it. Why would you want to gather moss? It always sounds a bit like some stuffy aunt saying to you, when you’re young and all you want to do is go to Bali and get shitfaced on a beach with semi-naked hot guys wearing shark-tooth pendants, “oh, all of that gadding about! You’ll never be able to collect a load of rubbish porcelain dolls and put them in a dusty glass-fronted cabinet in your lounge if you carry on travelling to exotic places! Where’s your ambition, girl? A rolling stone gathers no moss! Don’t you want to stay in one place and know the same set of thirty-three people for your entire life? How will you ever know Maureen from number sixty-four’s business if you keep up this relentless penchant for discovering the wider world?”
I had some notes on what the kids have been up to, because this is supposed to be a life update. They have been making little things from modelling clay (an elephant, a toadstool garden, pictured above – guess who actually made them both? Thank you, yes, I know they are brilliant), making dens around the garden, populating the dens with every single toy they can find and then leaving them out overnight to go soggy and finally, bringing stuff inside that should be outside. Leaves. Stones. Snails, dead or alive.
I feel as though this is a very particular parenting era that we are experiencing right now, with its own set of rules and quirks. It changes every week, but I think I could sum up the current era (daughter: just turned five, son: three and a half) with the following headings: inflexibility, warm hands and continuing exhaustion.
Inflexibility. There is suddenly a real lack of wriggle room when it comes to negotiations. I find it so frustrating, trying to get two small, loud people to do stuff they don’t want to do that I frequently resort to a) making threats I later don’t have the energy to uphold (“I will take all of the toys from your bedroom and put them in a bin bag if you don’t stop whacking her with the space robot!”) and b) telling minor fibs. Usually my little lies involve something being closed or something needing batteries. “Can we watch the iPad?” “No, it needs batteries.” “Can you make us a den in the living room?” “No, the living room’s…closed.”
Warm hands. I’m trying to appreciate the feeling of small, warm hands in mine. Because my daughter is now almost as tall as me, seemingly, and it’s becoming increasingly difficult to pick her up. She’s just suddenly quite long and unwieldy. It’s like trying to walk along carrying an olive tree, or, I don’t know, a small hat stand. A clothes airer. Everything’s angular, rangy. Limbtastic. And so I know that soon I’ll be weeping over that poem – how does it go?
One day you will carry them on your hip then set them down
And never pick them up that way again
(If you ever want to have a maudlin old weep then read the whole thing – it’s called The Last Time. In fact I’ll type it out below for you. Hankies at the ready.)
So yes, even though she’s still grabbing my face for kisses, and the three year-old still likes to be picked up and carried now and then, and both of them still curl their little warm hands into my palm when we walk along, I know that they are growing up faster than I can process and that I must remember every tiny detail. Perfectly round tummies sticking out of the gap between outgrown pyjama tops and bottoms, messy, sweaty night-hair, tiny arms that seem as fragile as bird bones when you rub them with sunscreen, mispronounced words (favourite of the week is Trinoceros, which I personally think is an excellent replacement for Triceratops), the instantly-recognisable little call of “Mummy? Mummy?” from up the stairs, the spilt drinks and dropped food, the theme tune to World Kitchen on CBeebies (every day at noon on lockdown, the soundtrack to our luncheons), the very particular bedtime routines…
Continuing Exhaustion. My final defining characteristic of this particular life era: ongoing, relentless exhaustion. Sometimes I try to look back on the baby years and work out whether they were blissfully relaxing in comparison, or horrendously tiring. Maybe as things get easier, and you get more sleep, you become spoilt and you think you’re more tired, but on the other hand, babies are pretty low-maintenance in comparison to small children. You feed them, you change their nappies, you (eventually) get them to sleep, but for the majority of the day you can manage to do stuff like make a cup of tea, fold some laundry, write a few emails, and you can do it all whilst the baby stares at a shadow on the wall and catches invisible butterflies and drools on itself. Not possible with kids. Maybe things change, but at the moment, 5+3, there’s a window of approximately eight minutes when they will quietly and enjoyably play and then all hell breaks loose. And if hell isn’t breaking loose then someone is asking a question, repeatedly, with exactly the same intonation and rhythm, over and over again until someone answers, and quite often it’s not even a question it’s just a statement phrased like a question, which is irritating and incorrect at the best of times but when it’s on robotic repeat for over thirty seconds it’s easy just to absolutely lose your mind:
“Mummy he put lego in my ear? Mummy? He put lego in my ear? Mummy he put lego in my ear? Mummy? Mummy he put lego in my ear?”
But then in the quiet moments, you miss that incessant background noise, it’s as though all of the life has been sucked out of the room. The sound of a dripping tap is suddenly mournful, rain upon the window panes just feels a bit empty. You sip on your tea/read your paper/pick dirt from under your nails with a butter knife/insert any other enjoyable activity, and the silence is almost deafening. And you think to yourself, ah, isn’t it lovely to have a house filled with kids’ noises, and then one of them comes in and clangs a metal spoon along the radiator and you almost self-combust with the ferocity of your conflicted emotions.
I’ll leave you on that deep and uncharacteristically profound note. Oh and here’s the poem:
The Last Time (author unknown)
From the moment you hold your baby in your arms you will never be the same
You might long for the person you were before
When you had freedom and time
And nothing in particular to worry about
You will know tiredness like you never knew it before
Days will run into days that are exactly the same
Full of feedings and burping
Nappy changes and crying
Whining and fighting
Naps or a lack of naps
It might seem like a never-ending cycle
But don’t forget…
There is a last time for everything
There will come a time when you will feed your baby for the very last time
They will fall asleep on you after a long day
And it will be the last time you ever hold your sleeping child
One day you will carry them on your hip then set them down
And never pick them up that way again
You will scrub their hair in the bath for one last time
And from that day on they will want to bathe alone
They will hold your hand to cross the road
Then will never reach for it again
They will creep into your room at midnight for cuddles
And it will be the last night you ever wake to this
One afternoon you will sing “the wheels on the bus” and do all the actions
Then never sing them that song again
They will kiss you goodbye at the school gate
The next day they will ask to walk to the gate alone
You will read a final bedtime story and wipe your last dirty face
They will run to you with arms raised for the very last time.
The thing is, you won’t even know it’s the last time
Until there are no more times. And even then, it will take you a while to realize.
So while you are living in these times, remember there are only so many of them and when they are gone, you will yearn for just one more day of them.
For one last time.
I’ve been dithering over whether or not to post a life update this month; it seems almost flippant to talk about mundane, everyday events when such momentous things are happening in the wider world.
I don’t know whether anyone really needs to hear about how my three year-old is now “dry at night” but still quite enjoys doing a leisurely poo on the lawn. Or how my nearly-five-year-old told me the story of Peter Pan and said that there was a crocodile who swallowed Captain Hook’s “cock”.
On one hand, I know that the goings-on in my little sphere are completely irrelevant and insignificant, but on the other hand those tiny events are my entire world. Don’t get me wrong; I’m totally and utterly aware of what’s happening outside – I’m absorbed in it, completely, to the point where I often can’t sleep. The brutal murder of George Floyd, the rallies and protests, the anger and fear and passion, the chaos of a global pandemic, the outrage and the lies and the constant streams of stats that make no sense, it all flies around my head constantly, as I’m sure it does for most of you reading.
So yes. Huge world events and teeny home ones. But I have written this update every month for five years now and have never missed the correct day. Granted, I always leave it until the last minute and so never have enough time to write everything I want to say, but I’m honestly happy if I manage to jot down a few pertinent observations. My daughter building a slug home, for example, and crying when the slug ran away. (Ran! Haha. Sprinted. Honestly, the poor slug must have thought he’d entered some kind of nightmarish torture garden with both kids looming over him and dangling bits of cabbage and trying to get him to climb into the toadstool house.)
Or the snail she named “Fragile”. Or the little note she wrote me after the slug had left home saying
“Sad slug gon. Angelica.”
Oh, sidenote: I don’t want to be one of those madly annoying mums who show off about their kids, but I am clueless as to what my daughter should be able to do at almost-five. I was just taken aback that she suddenly started writing stuff, with no help, considering the fact that we have done a grand total of TWO HOURS homeschooling in the whole lockdown period. Do small kids just learn…telepathically? Because I have willed her to learn something, anything, so maybe that worked…
Or does it count that you spell things out to them when you read? Because I’ve done that a bit, but honestly not much. I’m so confused as to how she’s suddenly had this leap in knowledge when the most she’s allowed me to “teach” her is that a) not all men with beards are called Mr Twit b) pavements in America are called “sidewalks” and c) you can’t go around corners on a wordsearch.
Things I’ve taught my three year-old, who is a completely different kettle of fish to his sister and quite literally will not listen to instructions: a) don’t drink water from the end of a hose pipe b) don’t drink water from the dog’s bowl and c) don’t drink water from the shower drain. Oh wait! d) don’t drink water from the bit of drainpipe that’s been left next to the back door.
You’d think he’d been raised by alleycats! He loves toiletting al fresco, eats with his face in the bowl and loves nothing more than a curl up and a head stroke.
On that note, I’ve done enough historical data entry for this month – I have the hormonal headache to end all hormonal headaches and so must to bed. As someone in the tudor times would have said. Possibly before doing a dump in a porcelain bowl, throwing it out of the window and then clambering onto a mite-infested mattress. Until next time…
Here I am, wafting about underneath a canopy of wisteria. It all looks very serene and idyllic, but don’t let appearances fool you! Just out of shot: a cockapoo eating the remains of a small dead bird, a three year-old trying to touch the remains of the aforementioned small dead bird, Mr AMR shouting at both the dog and the three year-old in an attempt to get them to leave the dead bird alone and a four year-old crying because her empty blackbird eggshell has broken again.
(The egg is called Layla. Everything seems to be called Layla in this house, from dinosaur torches to “precious” stones that have been unearthed from the flower bed. But now we also have the remains of a tiny egg, called Layla – it’s the smallest slither of impossibly delicate, pale blue shell. It started off as roughly two-thirds of an empty shell, but four year-olds have no concept of the word “fragile” and so within two seconds it became half of an empty egg and half a day later the majority of that had disintegrated too.)
Anyway. I read an article at the weekend that discussed something called “cottagecore” which apparently is a sort of romanticised vision of what people think their lives would be like if they lived in the country. Possibly in a tiny, wisteria-hung, seventeenth-century thatch cottage, making pots of jam on the AGA and securing little squares of red and white gingham over the tops of the jars with bits of old string.
Now I’m not one to shatter people’s dreams (I also don’t live in a cottage, so perhaps I don’t even count) but if you’re living in the city and tinkering with the idea of finding a remote abode somewhere and replacing your daily London commute with Zoom meetings plus a weekly office trip then note that:
a) you will never make jam, or if you do then you will make it only once
b) you will want to take a sledgehammer to your AGA within a matter of weeks
c) your thatch will have a bazillion insects and small, crawling animals living in it – think of it like Mr Twit’s beard, but with more activity
Oh, it’s easy to see country life as one big romp around the haystacks in a smocked white dress, but the reality is is that you’ll spend 90% of the time wearing your oldest tracksuit bottoms and mud-caked wellies, standing on the roof of your car in an attempt to find some mobile phone signal. And if you’re doing that then you’re probably trying to phone the oil people to come and fill your oil tank or the sewerage people to come and empty your septic tank or a roofer to come and repair your ancient roof.
I jest, of course. I am the most susceptible person ever to romanticised visions of pastoral life – how do you think I ended up here? And country life has much going for it – a slower, less frenetic pace, clean air, lots of space and greenery and wildlife, gorgeous old stone houses and picturesque #cottages – but dear God don’t think that you’ll suddenly turn into the sort of person who has time to make jam. Unless, that is, you’ve already got the time to make jam.
One of the biggest things I’ve realised, since moving to the sticks, is that plopping yourself somewhere geographically different, especially somewhere more remote, will not in itself automatically change your life. We moved from the outskirts of London to the depths of Somerset with a two year-old and a six month-old baby and for some reason, perhaps because I was postpartum and slightly crazed, I thought that by escaping to the country we would also escape the overwhelming intensity of our everyday lives. But if anything it made life harder. People (the three that we knew in our new county!) were suddenly more spread out – there was no peering out of the window on the offchance that we’d get a friendly wave – and each trip to the shops or a cafe or a baby class involved an epic loading and offloading of small children into the car, so much so that eventually I just didn’t bother.
And you think you won’t miss the bright lights of the city (“I never use the theatres anyway! Why pay such a premium to live in a city when I don’t even use it?”) but once you’ve unpacked all of your boxes in your remote Herefordshire manor house/Devonshire bothy and you’ve knitted your hemp blanket to keep the vegetable patch warm, won’t you be itching for just a little bit of excitement?
Just playing devil’s advocate! Don’t shoot the messenger!
It has taken me the good part of three years to get used to living in the countryside. Granted, I did double-whammy and moved the whole way across the country as well as going remote (what can I say? The house sang to me like a wanton temptress) but still. There are things to consider – things that don’t seem important at the time of moving, but will gradually creep up on you after the three month Honeymoon period is over.
It starts with a general sense of unease – a niggling feeling of is this it? – and then it grows, daily, until winter sets in and you feel the full, bleak force of untempered weather. Because there are no distractions, really, if you’re out in the middle of nowhere; you wake up and look outside and it’s all about the weather. In winter that means rain, rain, wind and a lot of mud. In a town, or in the city, you notice the weather but I feel as though it’s more of an inconvenience if it’s bad – and a huge bonus if it’s good. Life still goes on, streets have Christmas lights and stalls have mulled wine; but if there are no buzzing cafes, bustling pavements and nice shops, and your immediate entertainment involves walking, tending to the garden and more walking then… It’s a different way of life.
I now feel at peace with it, but it’s taken a while and I’m not afraid to admit it. I’ll also come out and say: it can be lonely. There.
So, people lusting after the cottagecore life; if you’re feeling isolated now, in lockdown, then it’s a good time to consider how you would feel with the slightly different level of ongoing isolation that living remotely brings. True, outside of lockdown you are free to socialise and visit family and meet friends at the local organic (“all meat is raised and butchered on the estate!”) pub but everything is slightly more effort. You don’t just pop out for a donder to the shops if you live in a hamlet – you pop out to walk the dog and yes, you see the owls taking flight as the sun goes down and you get to appreciate the sound of absolute, definitive silence as you lay your head on your pillow at night, but you have to ask yourself, would you miss the sound of human life around you?
If the answer is no then go full steam ahead with your #cottagecore dream. Have chickens pecking at your doorstep and dry your boots on the top of the AGA and lomp down to the river with the dog instead of queuing to get into the tube station at Holborn at rush hour. For me, the benefits of living in lots of space and peacefulness vastly outweigh the perks of the city, but then I did live in London for over a decade, then a few more years within easy commuting reach, and I feel as though I got my fix.
So who am I to tell you what you want? If the #cottagecore life seduces you and you find yourself on Rightmove then the best of luck – maybe I should write a guide on what to consider! Just don’t expect to make jam…
Oh, the dreaded PMT week has worked its way around again and I am trying to keep a lid on my symptoms, this month, rather than barking rabidly at members of my family and occasionally frothing at the mouth.
Last month’s PMT, at its peak intensity, saw me pacing up and down the driveway in the rain, inexplicably grasping a garden trowel and devising ways I could get revenge on my husband for something he had done but that I couldn’t quite remember. It could have been anything – the world is my disgruntlement oyster when I’m on the hormone highway to the Red Roof Inn.
At the moment he’s hiding from me, maybe watching Pointless, which in itself incenses me to an almost vessel-bursting degree. Because when I have PMT and I have to work I don’t like anyone to be a) having fun or b) relaxing. I prefer it if everyone sits in absolute silence, staring morosely into thin air and telepathically beaming me sympathy vibes.
Except that my three and four year-old couldn’t care less about my PMT or brain-strike (MUMMY LISTEN TO ME! MY (note: imaginary) FISH HAS A SLICE MISSING FROM HER TAIL! CALL THE DOCTOR!”
“It would be a vet,” I say, “and I don’t think vets do home visits for fish that they can’t see.”
Oh, all of my energies have to be ploughed into being civil. My head pounds, the blood races around my arms and legs and sends them at once buzzy and at the same time desperately fatigued, as though I have flu. I feel panicked, at this time of the month – out of control. It’s the same sensation I get as when I’m dreaming that I’m falling through space, free-falling, the feeling of weightlessness tainted with pure dread that happens just before I startle myself awake. I wouldn’t be great even without responsibilities, in PMT week, but now that I’m in a giant pressure cooker of continuous domestic duties and unceasing child-borne demands and –
“MUMMY! YOU HAVE TO GET THE VET FOR LAYLA THE FISH AND ALSO I NEED A POO. GET THE VET NOW, MUMMY, HERE’S YOUR PHONE.”
My nerves are jangled. My iPhone almost slips to the floor but is caught, ham-fisted, and passed to me covered in Nutella. All of my senses are heightened. I feel as though my skin has been thinned and that all of my nerve endings are more exposed. A door slam makes me jump, the sound of someone starting a hedge strimmer two fields away makes me want to pull on my wellies and march over and demand silence.
I’m surprised that the family haven’t crafted some sort of giant snake-holding stick, to keep me at arm’s length. With a loop at the end of a long pole so that that they could snare me and I could sit collared at the kitchen table, angrily sipping my camomile tea and darting my forked tongue at them.
I always thought that the standard “brain fog, excruciating 24 hour headache and water retention” variety of PMT was bad enough, but lockdown PMT is like experiencing all of the aforementioned things whilst being chased by a swarm of angry bees around a shop selling expensive crockery. Wearing an itchy woollen suit that’s too tight around the torso.
Have you experienced Lockdown PMT yet? How was that for you? I am busy sketching out an Escape Cupboard for next time, seeing as though it’s quite likely we could still be in the same socio-domestic situation. I’m going to line it with all the empty egg boxes I’ve been collecting, but not filling because my chickens have decided they don’t like laying eggs this year, so that the walls are soundproofed. And then I’m going to put in one of those shitty little mini fridges that make more noise than a Boeing 747 jet engine and fill the mini fridge with cans of Coca Cola and bars of Dairy Milk. I’m then going to steal the family iPad, download every single episode of Friends and lock myself in the cupboard for six days.
When they open the door to retrieve me I shall be a spotty mess, gurning from the sugar overloads and subsequent lows, but at least nobody will have heard me scream…
Life update? Oh, nothing much to update you on here. I wasn’t even going to bother with a life update this month, seeing as though things have been so uneventful and dull…
Sorry, was off in dreamland again. Trying to find some escape from the world crisis and the emotional pressure cooker that is my own home. Jeez Louise, what a shitty month!
It seems slightly petty to follow the usual trajectory of my life updates, which tend to start with something ridiculous and then move onto all of the things about parenthood that seem to constantly take me by surprise. I could tell you about how my youngest (three years and two months old) has started to say his little sentences with comically clear and crisp pronunciation – “Mummy, no T-reeees in the Ocean?” – and I could bang on for hours about Miss Clever-Clogs (five in June) and the way she’s suddenly got the hang of reading. The b-u-g was under the r-u-g.
But I have an overwhelming sense of feeling a little bit removed from reality at the moment. As a family we’re stuck in our own little bubble, here, more than ever before (I mean the combination of having young kids and moving out to the sticks is always going to isolate you whether you like it or not!) and it’s difficult to know what to write about. Are we all experiencing the same lockdown, wherever we are in the country or the world, or are we each having entirely different times?
Here’s what I’ve been up to for the last three-ish weeks (we’re on day 19 of our family self-isolation now): I’ve been a teacher, a mediator and a comforter, I’ve played shopkeeper, I’ve played cinema owner, I’ve invented eight different trampolining competitions and created numerous obstacle courses around the garden. I’ve watched Mulan, Toy Story 4 and Lady and the Tramp (Disney+, what a lifesaver!) and I’ve sat through hours of CBeebies. I’ve made a dragon out of a toilet roll holder, I’ve planted apple pips that will likely never grow, I’ve been inventive with food ingredients and then had to give the rejected meals to the chickens and I’ve had to give myself an emergency crash course in “having patience”.
Because it’s all just wearing a little bit thin, isn’t it? Being in such close proximity to others, even though they are (hopefully) the people you love the most. If you have small beings around then I won’t need to tell you that the work involved is constant and relentless; although I have to say I’m starting to get into the swing of it a little bit now. I just have to accept that I can’t really get much work done – even if I have the pocket of time freed up to work, I don’t have the all-important transitional period that you need to switch from mum-mode to work-mode.
So I’ll keep this update relatively brief – I’m not sure I have anything particularly novel to add, other than that I almost set fire to my foot with one of those electric pedicure things. You know the ones with the sandpaper that spins round? I was a bit over-zealous with it and now I have a slight dent in the ball of my foot and the bathroom smells of burning flesh.
Oh, it is grim this Covid situation, but I’m trying to retain a sense of humour. So many lives lost, so many jobs lost, so many lives changed forever – and nobody was expecting it at all. I think that’s the biggest shock. And I feel so all at sea with it, as though my little family unit is just bobbing along in this massive ocean where there’s no land in sight and no way of really knowing what’s going on…does everyone feel this way?
It’s hard to know whether any of the people in charge are doing the right thing, or doing certain things for political gain, or making colossal mistakes – I’d rather like for there to be a huge loud voice in the sky that would suddenly boom out, as though over a giant tannoy, and say
“hello world! This is your captain speaking!”
Wouldn’t that be amazing?
“Hello, Ladies and Gentleman. This is your captain speaking. My apologies for that rather bumpy takeoff – you’ll have noticed that I didn’t make any announcements; the crew and I had your safety as our primary concern and so we decided to concentrate on the control panel rather than lose all of your fucking lives in one colossal go! Anyway, we’re now cruising along at a steady RO of 0.9, having flattened the curve, and so long as you all stay with your proverbial seatbelts on then I have every confidence that we’ll have a successful landing in a new, very changed but very pleasant land.”
I just want someone to be in charge. I’d even turn religious if it meant that some Godlike figure would take control and pop his/her head out of the clouds to make wise decisions!
I must go. I’ve done my knee in on the trampoline and it’s the same side as the foot fire incident, so I’m off for a soak. May you and all of your loved ones be safe and healthy – if you feel the need to see my reassuring face (ha!) on a regular basis then you can find me most often on Instagram @modelrecommends.
It’s life update time again, and rather than bore you with all of the tantrums and CIA-level negotiation we’ve been having to do around here, with our three and a four year old, I thought we could talk about bedtime routines and (more specifically) some of the crazy things I’ve done to get the kids to bed over the years.
Because the other day I suddenly realised that I’d almost forgotten the first little baby bedtime routines. The ones that we started right in the beginning. Those halcyon days when you could just plonk them in the cot and they couldn’t get out. Bliss! Now the routines are more like challenges on Crystal Maze; “can YOU get your three year old boy into his racing car bed without cracking a dent into one of your shins and saying F*CK F*CK B*GGER at the top of your voice whilst managing to give him a drink of fresh water and not allow it to spill which would mean changing his duvet? Work it out, release the crystal and I’ll stand here outside the bedroom door tootling away on my flute.”
I’m not saying that the baby days were easier – the crackling of the baby monitor, half an hour after you thought they were asleep! The feeling of utter weariness at having your three hour window of “me time” interrupted again! – it’s just that bedtimes now are so much more demanding. I’m like a court jester crossed with a minimum security prison officer. I love it and treasure the moments, because I know that in the blink of an eye they’ll be teens and I’ll be barred from even entering their rooms, but my God is bedtime intense!
I’ve nearly always done my daughter’s bedtime, mainly because my son, who is eighteen months younger, never used to go to sleep until he had breastfed from me for hours on end, and so when he was about ten months old Mr AMR started to give him a bottle to make things easier. We then inevitably ended up splitting off into our separate teams in the evening – one child each, and each of us with our own little bedtime quirks and (probably inadvisable) habits.
We’re very lucky in that – mostly – both of us are around for bedtime and so we’ve kept up this “girls’ team / boys’ team” sort of split. Trying to put two young children to bed on your own is chaotic and soul-destroying in equal measures, like herding cats, and I absolutely doff my cap to anyone who does it on a regular basis. Or all the time.
But let’s rewind back to the first proper bedtime era that’s still reasonably fresh in my memory: we can call it the Robot Head Cinema Era. I had bought the kids an Early Learning Centre plastic robot that was large enough to house a moon buggy (toy, not real one) and spacemen figurines. I worked out that if I opened up the doors on its head, the resulting space was exactly the right width for gripping my iPhone horizontally.
And so I used to fire up iPlayer, select a trippy programme called In The Night Garden (if you don’t know what this is then I recommend a viewing for research purposes, but only if you’re not taking mind-altering drugs. It would be enough to send you permanently bonkers) and we would watch baby TV from inside a plastic robot’s cranium.
Total madness, really. I would sit there hunched over, watching along with her (I have no idea why we did this on the world’s smallest screen when we had a huge telly directly beneath us, and a comfy sofa, and a roaring fire, etc etc) and I would feel my neck begin to slowly fuse to my shoulders and my lower back go into spasm, but I was always too tired to shift position.
Then there was the “rap song nursery rhyme” phase. I have no idea why I started this, and it’s the sort of thing that really you should take to your grave, not write about to hundreds of thousands of people, but anyway: I used to do this very bad “beat box” thing and then rap out a version of Little Miss Muffet.
Don’t even ask me to do a rendition, it is never happening and so it’s pointless going there. (I can tell you though that after the “whey” I did do a very funky “hey, hey-hey-hey!” I also did a vague form of twerking when the spider “sat down beside her”.)
The rap rhymes started off a new phase, what is now known as “doing the lullaby”, and we’re still going strong a couple of years down the line. Ah, that’s sweet! you might think, especially as my daughter is going to be five in the summer. But no. It’s not sweet. It’s a magnificent feat of poetic improvisation, that’s what it is. Because not only do I have to make up a new song ON THE SPOT every night, the song also has to rhyme and it also has to be relevant to the chapter of the book we’ve just read.
So, for example, we did a great lullaby about George’s Marvellous Medicine and the horrid grandma, although admittedly I did completely crib the tune (and some of the words) from the CBeebies Christmas panto. (Sniff-Sniff, Delicious Children!)
I sang about Grandma’s puckered mouth looking like a dog’s bottom and her face being as hairy as a mole, except that I had to make “bottom” rhyme with “mole” so ended up saying “bottomhole”, which isn’t ideal.
But it’s actually a very good brain workout, making up rhyming songs with no notice. Firstly you have to think of a tune (usually I nick one from an advert or popular song du jour) and then you have to – completely on the hoof mind! – come up with some lyrics.
And it’s not like Baby 1 is a particularly easy customer – she frowns at anything resembling a half-rhyme and definitely picks up on nonsense words that I’ve just thrown in because I’ve gone into panic mode.
George stirred his pot all day and night
Grandma was really in for a fright!
He stirred it with his wooden spoon
And even put in some of the moon…
“Mummy what? How did he put in some of the moon? Are you sure he did that?”
Anyway, it’s fun and I wanted to write it down because one day she won’t want the lullaby, she’ll say “ugh, you’re so embarrassing, get OUT OF MY ROOM!” and my heart hurts to think of that so I want proof that it happened.
Mind you, some nights I am totally not up for composing what amounts to an eighth of a low-budget West End musical on the spot. Especially if the chapter we’ve read, the chapter that must (it’s the rules) provide the inspiration and bulk of the content, doesn’t quite lend itself to a lullaby.
Last night I read the bit in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory where Grandpa Jo uses his last pennies to buy a chocolate bar for Charlie, in the vain hope that there might be a golden ticket inside. It’s called Chapter 10: The Family Begins To Starve.
Not so jolly.
“Do a lullaby about the chapter, Mummy!”
“Why don’t we do yesterday’s chapter, about Charlie’s walk to school and the smell of the chocolate? Sniff-Sniff, Delicious Chocolate?”
“No, it has to be about the old people in the bed and the cabbage soup and the snow. And don’t sing it in the Oompa Loompa tune again!”
Last night’s lullaby tested my artistic talents to the max, I can tell you. I’m the flipping lullaby master. I know you’re desperate to hear some of these lullabies, but again: not going to happen. Satisfy yourselves with the knowledge that I sang about cabbage soup to the tune of a Les Mis hit and managed to rhyme “cabbage” with “baggage”. That has to be enough.
The current nighttime routine doesn’t end with the lullaby however; I then go into Baby 2’s room, negotiate his floor, which should be called “The Torture Garden” because you can’t go two steps without spearing your foot on the upright plastic ladder of a toy fire engine, or the spines of a toy Stegosaurus, and I have to sing him a lullaby.
He only likes two tunes: the first is Soldier Soldier (won’t you marry me with your musket fife and drum? Oh no sweet maid I cannot marry you for I have no [insert item of clothing] to put on)
and the second is Five Little Ducks (went swimming one day, over the hills and far away. Mummy duck said “quack quack quack” but only four little ducks came swimming back).
With both songs, I have to think of more and more outlandish versions to keep him satisfied. In terms of the soldier’s clothing, we have moved on from actual items (pants, socks, a gaberdine) to abstract ideas (sadness, time, reluctance); last night the solider had “no happiness to put on” and had to get himself a “loud thunder” from the grandfather’s chest.
In the “five ducks” song, the ducks have become dinosaurs. Which would be find, except that they don’t quack, which totally bollocks up my rhyming pattern. I can’t work like this. The pressure is too immense. Especially now that “five little dinosaurs” have become “five big stegosauruses” and they stomp instead of swim, roar instead of quack. I should be paid for this level of superhuman lullaby effort.
Anyway, I’m sure this is boring you to absolute tears, so I leave you with the comforting fact that the bedtime routine, including fetching dolly from two floors down, then coming back up and going back down to fetch Calpol, then coming back up and going back down to find Batman, Bumblebee transformer and Heat Wave transformer, then going to the bathroom to collect fresh water – cold tap run for forty-five seconds to ensure suitably icy temperature – and then supervising various toilet trips and so on, consumes approximately 2,300kcal, which means that the many chocolate-based “evening snacks” I subsequently devour are completely A-OK and justified.
What’s your bedtime routine? Kids, no kids, dogs, no dogs; I need to know any weird, over-indulging stuff you do. If it involves a robot’s head, all the better.
Well, life is hurtling along and Baby One (four and a half years old) asks for “quiet time” so that she can “write her thoughts in her diary” and Baby Number Two (three today!) has started sleeping in a big boy bed.
Now listen; some of you might be thinking that three is a little old to only just be sleeping in a proper bed but to all of those with boys, who have unleashed them from a cot earlier than this: WHAT AN EARTH WERE YOU THINKING? The cot is the single most useful tool of restraint: yes it resembles a small prison and I loved it for precisely this reason. With child incarcerated within it, I knew that he could not (in this order): put his finger in plug sockets, put the hands of small dolls in plug sockets, trap his own hands in the door jamb, trap other parts of his body in the door jamb, trip on the edge of a rug and bump his head on the chest of drawers, trip on the edge of the rug and bump his elbow on the chest of drawers, attempt to scale the chest of drawers, attempt to scale actual wall, which is smooth and without foothold so I have no idea why anyone sane would even try, collect every hard and spiky toy from around the room and arrange them just inside the bedroom door, tread on aforementioned spiky toys and hurt his feet, and finally, have a go at eating the spiky toys thus hurting his mouth.
The cot days are over and now the world presents danger at every corner, except that now it’s worse because Baby Two can simply clamber out of his bed and tackle these dangers head-on whilst everyone else sleeps, blissfully unaware. What the hell are you supposed to do? Reinstate the baby monitor with the movement pad? Set up some motion sensor lasers so that if he crosses the room an alarm sounds? Knowing him, he’d work out a way of clambering over and under them, like Catherine Zeta Jones in Entrapment.
So yeah: tips please.
Baby One is making developmental leaps of her own at the moment, turning from small child to fifteen year old Emo. She likes to make up songs in the bathroom, take selfies on the iPad with a sad and slightly grumpy face and is prone to complete meltdown if others struggle to understand exactly what she’s trying to say, usually a detailed description of whatever scrape or graze she has acquired during school hours or a request for a snack involving Nutella.
Talking of snacks and meltdowns, we had an eco-related incident last week that really got me thinking. On many levels. Not least that my four year-old is more educated on environmental matters than I was by eighteen…
“Mummy, can I have bagel with Nutella?”
“Nope, it’s not the weekend.”
“UGH! Please Mummy! Just this once! PLEASE! I hate cereal! I hate yoghurt with honey! I hate fruit! I hate berries!”
“You had all of those things yesterday and said you loved them! You can have cereal.”
“PLEASE MUMMY! Just half! Just half and then cereal!”
“OK, a tiny bit,” I said, mainly because I’d been up since 5.45am and wanted only to put my whole head inside the freezer and shut the door.
“Did you know we need to check all of our ingredients for palm oil?”
“Do we? Now?”
“Yes, Mummy, check for palm oil and if it says palm oil then we shouldn’t pick it.”
“We can’t eat it if it has palm oil?” (Shamefully I haven’t really been checking for palm oil as religiously as maybe I should, but I don’t eat a hell of a lot of processed food so there hasn’t been much to check. Until now.)
“We shouldn’t pick it Mummy, when we’re in the shop. Listen to me! We shouldn’t pick it. If it has palm oil in we should pick something else up instead.”
“Very good, that’s amazing to know that already!”
“Yes, because it kills the forest and then the Orangutans die.”
“That’s right! Shall we check some food things now? What shall we check? Oooh, let’s check the Nutella!”
Her face went ashen. Suddenly – I think maybe for the first time ever – she realised that there was perhaps going to be a proper, potentially life-changing moral decision presented to her. She was acutely aware that she was under the spotlight. Would her favourite foodstuff in the whole wide world, her sacred Nutella, betray her?
I held the jar beneath the magnifying glass, for this is now how I have to read labels until my monocle arrives in the post, and read out the ingredients list:
“Sugar….” Drumroll. “PALM OIL!”
I was expecting a note of surprise to her reaction, but the dramatics far surpassed anything I could have dreamed of: the tiny eco-warrior quite literally crumpled with dismay, folding herself to the ground and sobbing.
“Nooooooo!” she cried, the world’s most distraught and disappointed human, “say it’s not true!”
“The question is,” I said, enjoying myself in that perverse kind of way you do as a parent when you suddenly – for a rare and brief moment – feel as though you’re the one in control, “the question is, do we eat it or throw it away?”
She was relieved when I answered my own question by saying that it would be even worse – and very wasteful – to throw it away, and that we must finish every tiny scrape.
“But we will look for chocolate spread with NO palm oil?” she asked. Impressive dedication – and rightly so. I was actually quite moved and proud and also relieved that this is something they are learning, aged four. When I was at school, even when I was leaving school, most probably, the most I knew about the environment was that using more than two sheets of loo roll was terrible because trees were cut down to make it. Later I realised it was more of a budget thing and that nobody cared about the trees anyway. That’s if the bog roll was even made of paper in those days. Terrible shiny stuff, Izal was, you’d get a lethal paper cut on your fanny if you didn’t wipe with due consideration.
NB: I have found a good article with Nutella alternatives – I’ll try some and report back!
You can read all of my monthly life updates, painstakingly written on time and in full for the past four and half years, by clicking here and browsing the titles.
I’ve had a slightly longer break from work than anticipated; but don’t worry, there’s nothing sinister afoot. I’m not ill, the dog didn’t die, I’ve not had a drastic facelift that meant I needed to hide behind bandages for a month. I was just absolutely shattered before Christmas and then the school holidays (aka “the great relentless abyss of no childcare”) completely finished me off.
I won’t harp on about Christmas not being a holiday – you can read this post from the same time last year and just update the kids’ ages – but it’s safe to say that having a four and two year old is as much work (possibly more) than having a three and a one year old. At least toddlers (generally) haven’t discovered eye-rolling and chat-back. At least toddlers are vaguely amused by wrapping paper, empty boxes and the jangly bell from a Lindt bunny tied to the end of a piece of ribbon. Fast-forward a year and the children now want painting games on the iPad and festive biscuit-decorating sessions.
Anyway, to cut a long and fairly pedestrian story short, I decided to take a few casual days off when school started back last week so that I actually had more than twenty seconds to myself. It was great. On the first of the two child-free days (there were four school days in total but Ted only goes to nursery part time) I stayed in bed looking for second hand velvet sofas on eBay and browsing for vintage rugs on Vinterior. On the second child-free day, which – alas – wasn’t consecutive – I went to Bath in the morning with Mr AMR, had some lunch and then sorted out the shoes and boots in the utility room. Bliss.
So that covers the two days last week when I actually had some proper time off: what of the rest of the “holiday”? What an earth have I been up to, seeing as though I’ve been on a self-imposed social media ban which theoretically should free up about nine hours a day? Here’s a run-down: brace positions, people, it’s a wild ride.
I learnt how to use the scanner thing at Sainsbury’s. Have you used these supermarket handheld beepy scanner things? I’m not talking about the self checkout tills, which are so useless and stress-inducing they make me want to chew off my own feet, I’m referring to the handsets that you pick up at the start of your shop and take around with you, zapping barcodes as you go, so that at the end of your shop you can just pay and go.
No unloading the trolley at the till only to pack it up again and then unload it into the boot of your car. (Sounds such a ridiculous waste of time when you write it down.) No watching helplessly as your bottle of Malbec slowly rolls along the conveyor belt, straight off the end and then smashes on the floor. No performance anxiety as you try to pack your bags in front of the people waiting in the queue behind you – the pressure as you feel them judging your packing speed and dexterity! The shame as you fumble to retrieve your bag-for-life from the floor! The panic as a loose lime you’ve reached for rolls away, escaping your grasp. You can feel your audience’s eyes trained upon you – they wince as you pack heavy potatoes on top of squishy cherry tomatoes, they breathe an audible sigh of relief when you realise that the milk is leaking and ask if someone could possibly get you another.
“JANET! JANET! Six litres of full fat on checkout nine! The woman’s got a leaky one!”
None of that when you use the handheld scanner. Utter genius, it is. Although I have to say, don’t let your kids mess about with it. I almost paid for eight giant boxes of dishwasher tablets and a “Pressure King” pressure cooker.
I saved over £290 on curtain tie-backs. Yes, you heard me – £290! The one from Samuel & Sons that matched my tasselled curtain (photo above) would have been £300 inc VAT and I managed to get an (admittedly much plainer) version without the tassel but with all the same tying-back abilities in the Laura Ashley sale. Eight quid! The fact that it took me around ninety-five man hours to research alternative tie-backs is by the by. I’m pretty sure my labour costs were more than the original tie-back…
I made Yorkshire Puddings properly for the first time and they were immense. Quite literally. I put a bit too much batter into each tin and they rose to just about fill the top oven. I think one of them was almost ten inches tall. Who cares, though – more is more when it comes to Yorkshire Puddings, surely? It’s the only part of a roast dinner I’m actually bothered about. Next year at Christmas I might just make myself a giant Yorkshire and fill it with gravy. Bit of al dente broccoli. Scrap of turkey and a dollop of cranberry and I’m done.
I took the stair gate off and now Mr Bear the cat is an omnipresent menace. Honestly, life was easier when he was confined to the ground floor. Now that he has free run of the house he sneaks up on you when you’re in the shower, jumps onto your back when you’re sitting on the loo and pounces on the kids’ feet in bed. He’s having an absolute whale of a time. Although I caught him pointing his claws in the direction of my velvet upholstered Soho Home bed the other day and so the gate might have to be resurrected. It’s been so nice without it though – just walking down the stairs, freely, without having to wrestle with the lock and then risk breaking my neck tripping over the frame. We could have taken it down about a year ago if it wasn’t for the cat and his penchant for creeping about the place and using furniture to sharpen his nails…
I did a self-imposed social media ban. Which I’ve already mentioned, but it’s worth saying again: I didn’t look at any social media from the 21st of December until the other day. Amazingly, my screen time didn’t go down, but that’s because I used all of the social media time trawling the internet for furniture bargains. I reckon if you squished all of the time together, I spent a full day and night searching for stuff on Vinterior – the scrolling started to make me feel seasick! (By the way, if you want to get £50 off your first order with them use RUTH CRILLY in the code box. This isn’t a special affiliate setup – anyone who orders with them can get a code.)
Why the social media ban? I just wanted a quiet and relaxing Christmas (HA!) and to properly stop thinking about work for a couple of weeks. The thing is that I have a perpetual internal monologue as I go about my day – I almost narrate my own existence – and because of this I’m always tempted to write down every thought that I’ve had, or record every action. Quite often little things I’ve done can form the basis for a post here on A Model Recommends, or I’ll jot down a thought that will then become a bigger idea which then requires a longer sit-down with pen and paper to elaborate, and unless I absolutely switch off, one hundred percent, the temptation is always there to quickly write a caption or draft a blog post.
So I moved all of my social media apps to a different page of the iPhone menu so that they weren’t staring me in the face when I opened my phone and then I just sort of forgot about them. I can highly recommend it, at least every once in a while. I actually think I have an OK relationship with social media – I’m definitely not addicted and can easily detach myself – but still. A digital cleanse felt pretty good!
Now I’m finding it quite hard to get back to work, however – I’m dragging myself very slowly into 2020, like a giant, jumper-wearing slug. I have been setting myself absurdly basic tasks so that my brain doesn’t go into shock;
email the sofa-fixing man about fixing the sofa, ask him to fix the sofa and how much it would be to fix the sofa. Can he even fix the sofa?
How are you finding the New Year? Did you set any resolutions or do you have a masterplan for 2020? Mine is to try and be more organised with work so that I don’t feel so stressed – plan my content and commitments in advance so that I know what I need to get done, rather than just fitting in tasks at the last minute or late at night. 2020 is the year of the new, streamlined me!
I made my first school-related Mum Error the other day when I sent Angelica wearing her uniform on something called a “mufti day”. What the hell is mufti day?
Granted, I should have probably Googled it instead of dismissing the mufti-themed email – thinking I have no clue what this means and then deleting it from my inbox – but I’ve never been very good at dealing with things that I don’t understand. I’d rather just ignore them and move on to the things that are easier to process. Ha!
Anyway, I can say that – categorically and one hundred percent truthfully – I had never even seen the word “mufti” before last week. It sounded to me like something to do with hand muffs or maybe a special type of bread roll or a kind of dense, difficult-to-digest cake and none of those things seemed relevant at the time of reading and so I basically just ignored the fact that it was “mufti day” the next day and got on with my John Lewis sales browsing.
Terrible, terrible parent.
Although obviously I couldn’t admit to myself that I was a terrible parent, so instead I became incensed with the school emailing system and the email wording in particular and questioned, at length, why they wouldn’t just use a phrase that everyone would know. Like, I don’t know, “non uniform day”. Because who the hell knows what “mufti day” is?
“You don’t know what mufti is?” said my nextdoor neighbour. “What’s the matter with you?”
“Erm, mufti, yeah,” said my (usually quite conspiratorial) school gate pal, “everyone knows what mufti is.”
I rang my mum. There was no way she would know what mufti was. I’d never heard her utter the word ever, and so really it was mostly her fault that I was so ignorant. She was a teacher for decades, too – if mufti was a commonly used phrased for non-uniform day then I’d have known about it.
“Musty?” she said. “Hold on, I can’t be long, Karl and Linda are here. You want to know about Musty Day? What’s that? I’m sorry, I have no idea.”
“Mufti!” I shouted.
“No, you know, it’s when you wear your own clothes to school.”
“Are you talking about mufti? Mufti day? Ha! It’s MUFTI with an F, for God’s sake. How have you not heard of mufti? I hope you didn’t send Angelica into school in her uniform, that would be so, so cruel.”
Christmas is creeping up on is, isn’t it? I’m planning on taking three weeks off – one to run around buying all of the things I’ve forgotten to plan for, another week to cook meals continuously for people visiting my house and load the dishwasher on repeat and a third week to try and get everything back to normal so that I can start work again.
As I wrote (almost) a year ago, Christmas is not a holiday. So I have set the bar low in terms of expectations this year. Although, I do now have two fully-functioning walking, talking children who can effectively communicate their wishes and also use a toilet, so it should be easier than Christmas 2018. Shouldn’t it?
I’m hoping that Angelica will provide the bulk of the festive entertainment, seeing as though she has transformed, seemingly overnight, into a kind of expressive dance amdram noise machine. She never tires, her ability to improvise nonsensical lyrics and put them to tuneless tunes knows no bounds, she must hold the world record for number of pirouettes achieved before fainting with dizziness. I’m looking forward to the Christmas Gala, which is to be held in our living room and has just one performer who must be applauded loudly as she emerges from behind the sofa to take her bow.
I suddenly have quite a clear vision of my future; I foresee many Saturday afternoons spent sitting on uncomfortable benches in leisure centres waiting for dance competitions to finish. I’ll be the woman in the fleece holding a tin of slightly stale cheese sandwiches wishing that she’d never started the bloody clubs in the first place…
With December comes Elf on a Shelf. Do any of you hide the elf every night? (Not a euphemism.) I honestly don’t know what possessed me to add another complication into our daily routine, but for almost the entire month of December we now have to get up early, ie earlier than Ted, ie 5.50am, to put the bloody elves somewhere imaginative. (LOL.)
Except that we never remember. So one of us has to creep about in our dressing gown as the little sproglings eat their breakfast, find the elves from the day before (we have two, they came in a cheapo two-pack on Amazon) and move them. It’s not a massive inconvenience, but when it’s a job just to remember your own name in the morning adding elf shenanigans into the mix is a recipe for disaster. This morning the children almost saw me move them because I’d shoved them down my pyjama top and one of the legs was sticking out at a jaunty angle.
Anyway, it’s all worth it for the look on their little faces. (Ted and Angelica’s faces, not the elves’. The elves’ faces always have the same look. Slightly evil, worryingly glee. Like they’ve just emerged from a pet shop carrying an axe.) They (Ted and Angelica) are still at the age (two and four) where they believe absolutely, wholeheartedly in whatever you tell them. Elves that watch you and record your behaviour, a man with a red suit and a white beard who watches you and records your behaviour… Actually that all sounds really creepy when you write it down, doesn’t it?