Smacking heads

Yesterday evening, as I was peering into the red, furious face of my eight-month-old baby, just before she vomited with fury all over me, as a protest against going to sleep, I thought to myself, sometimes, being a mother is a tough gig.

For three and a half hours I patted and shushed as she screamed and flailed like a small angry gnome. And when, unable to bear the hysterical wailing, I relented and picked her up, she stopped crying, looked at me and laughed.

Downstairs, everyone was eating spaghetti bolognese – everyone except me – as my pint-sized slave-driver ensured my plate went cold. Baby wept. I wept. “Go the F to sleep,” I pleaded. I might as well have been smacking my head against a wall, for all the notice she took.

It’s karma, probably. I wasn’t a perfect baby myself – nor was I an angelic child. I remember going to the park with Tutti, Fluffy and her friend Terri and thinking it would be a good idea to push the swing as hard as I could, with Tutti standing unawares in front of it. It smacked her right in the head. She sent me to sit in the car in disgrace, where I watched Fluffy and Terri play without me, and I cried.


Anyway. This morning the baby woke up all sweetness and smiles. The air was frosty but the sun was shining and I breathed a sigh of relief that night time was behind me (for at least another 10 hours) .

The baby was at her typical daytime, happy, bouncy best – not least because the incredibly kind folk at Fisher Price sent me a Rainforest Jumperoo for her to try and I can stick her in it and actually get stuff done while she squeals with excitement at the music, bounces on her tiny feet, spins little spinny things around and watches the flashing lights. Every day I put her in it and it’s the same level of excitement (she’s like a goldfish…). Being able to detach her from my person and listen to her being happy rather than screechy has revolutionised my day indeed.

Smiles. Brought to you by Fisher Price.

But now it’s night time (again). I’ve just sat down again after being almost deafened by screaming (again) and thrown up on (again). I’m pining for day time already, for the smiles and the squeals and excitable bouncing.

And one day, I’ll tell her the story of how she was terrible at sleeping and just about drove me crazy. Just as Tutti reminds me of how I caused her morning sickness that ruined her European holiday. And smacked her in the head with a swing.

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Moments

I had a bit of a ‘moment’ on Friday morning, as I was driving Matty to the station. I’d woken up feeling irritated, sort of grumpy, a bit dissatisfied like when you’re really, really hungry and the only thing that will suffice is a burger and chips, so you go to a restaurant, and when your order comes, it turns out it’s nouvelle cuisine and your burger is  ‘deconstructed’: a few crumbs of dehydrated bread, a sliver of wagyu, a microscopic cube of pickle, and a light sprinkle of microherbs atop an artful smudge of sauce.


“I feel like I haven’t achieved anything,” I said to Matty.

Matty reminded me that indeed I had achieved things – not least in the last seven months: birthed a baby and written and edited not one but two magazines.

I wrote and edited this. The Edition, issue 1.

But that wasn’t quite what I meant. I’m not discounting the fact that I’ve managed to create a gorgeous, flame-haired, mini-human whom I love ferociously, or, that frequently, after putting mini-human to bed at 7pm I work happily on aforementioned magazine until midnight or 1am.

I gave birth to this. Marnie.

It’s more a feeling that I don’t have enough space, at the moment. Space to do the things I’d do if I had more time for myself: regularly updating my blog, for example, or painting again once in a while, or practising the piano so I don’t lose my very limited repertoire completely. I have so many ideas for the children’s books I want to write and illustrate and the jewellery I want to make and the sculptures I want to create – but there’s just no space. Not an inch.

I drew this. ‘Horse on Motorbike’, charcoal on paper

I feel overwhelmed by all the things I need to do: I have so many phone calls to make, to friends I’ve neglected as weeks have turned into months; there are a million clothes to fold and put away, but no matter how much I do, the mountain of mess gets bigger, not smaller. I’m feeling deafened by so much social media screaming for attention: the Instagram narcissists vying for likes, the Facebook braggers and the oh-my-god-you-have-to-click-on-this-or-life-won’t-be-worth-living clickbaits. (I try not to click! But I do, and then I fall headfirst into a meaningless internet vortex).

I painted this. ‘Tutti after chemo’, acrylic on canvas.

I’m exhausted. So exhausted. The baby never sleeps, and when she does, it’s in fits and starts. An hour here. Forty minutes there. She wants to be attached to me all the time. I’ve become a half-adult half-baby hybrid. Exhausted. Exhausted.

Even so, a very wise and dear friend recently reminded me that although life with a small baby can be tough, these are the years I’ll look back on as some of the most beautiful of my life. Just like the pain of childbirth, I’ll forget the crosseyed-with-tiredness delirium and the feeling of being suffocated by unfulfilled ambition.

Instead, I’ll remember how precious it was to have a baby yet unable to speak but so hilariously expressive. Who squeals with arm-flapping excitement when I walk into the room. Who has the juiciest, most kissable cheeks and hands you can’t help but squeeze; so small and pudgy, with dimples where her knuckles should be. I’ll wish I could hold her – as I do now – as her eyes flutter shut and she nuzzles into me like the sweetest, warmest, milk-drunk koala. Even for a moment. You see, the thing about moments is that they’re fleeting. They slip from our grasp and tick-tock away no matter how hard we try to hold onto them. So I know what I have to do. I have to lower my expectations of myself. I have to put down my mobile phone.  I have to be in the moment with my sweet little baby and remember that one day I’ll look back and wish I could be exactly where I am now. Right here.

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A Tribute to Tutti

Twelve hours before I gave birth to my daughter, Marnie, Tutti made me a midnight snack. Cheese and butter soldiers, lovingly stacked, Jenga-style, for me, her 33-year-old daughter, who has never grown out of thinking that toast tastes better, bite-sized.

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Marnie-in-utero and cheese toast soldiers.

In hospital, as I was pushing, feeling sure I was soon to expire from exhaustion, she held my heavy, anaesthetised leg, to help my baby emerge. Matty offered solid encouragement well away from the business end. (“Don’t go there, mate,” a friend had warned him. “It’s like watching your favourite pub burn down.”)

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In the maternity ward, where the food is not always edible, Tutti brought me my favourite Chicken Tandoori Za’atar toastie and a vanilla milkshake from Café Zivelli, so I could have a delicious lunch and feel momentarily removed from the dreary room, with the call bells constantly beeping and the babies wailing in corridors.

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This is what hospital food looks like.

When we came home with the baby, bleary eyed and shell-shocked, Tutti wielded her brilliant bub-soothing powers to quell the pterodactyl-shrieks of our perfect newborn, ensuring it wasn’t nearly as stressful as it could have been. And when Matty moved upstairs so he could get some much needed sleep to fuel his busy days at work, Tutti stayed up with me way past midnight until baby fell asleep.

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She’s done infinite loads of washing and ironing and grocery shopping and cooked delicious healthy meals and laughed in the face of endless vomming and nappy changing (the baby’s, not mine) and has been instrumental in ensuring that I don’t turn into a pyjama-round-the-clock-wearing, scarecrow-haired, makeup-free hermit. (The refrain of ‘Put some lipstick on!’ ever ringing in my ears).

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And I think that if I can be even a quarter of the mother to my daughter that she has been to me, Miss Marnie will be a very lucky little girl indeed.

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Tutti, me as a baby and Tutti’s mum – my darling grandmother Minnie, who Marnie was named after.

 

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Marnie

My daughter Marnie entered the world with barely a squeak. Barely a whimper.

One minute everything was going marvelously. I was lying in bed feeling utterly relaxed, delighting in the little green light that flashed every 15 minutes indicating I could top up my epidural.

The next, there were suddenly too many people in the room. Too many furrowed brows. Hardly a sound but for the slowing beep of the baby heart monitor. I held my breath. I may have prayed.

Marnie was not having a particularly good time of it, thanks to an entangled umbilical that had strapped her in like a seatbelt. And for all my red-cheeked, vein-popping, labour-intense pushing, she was not going anywhere fast.

The kind-faced obstetrician wielded the forceps. Don’t worry, just the small forceps, he told me. He could have been using giant salad servers for all I cared – I was blissfully oblivious to whatever contortions my nether regions were performing, thanks to the spectacular spell of anaesthesia. All I wanted was to expel my little baby from her womb with(out) a view and for her to be okay.

And then, finally, she arrived; sweet and squashed, foaming at the mouth. Silent.

She was placed on my chest for all of two seconds, then whisked away to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit to have life rubbed briskly into her pale pink body; to be oxygenated and aspirated and hooked up to monitors and tube fed.

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Matty was no longer in the room since he’d followed Marnie to the NICU (quietly plutzing over his dramatic start to fatherhood). I lay in bed feeling shell-shocked and amazed that a human being had just been squeezed out of me.

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I didn’t get to hold my baby properly for a couple of days. The first time I met her, a good few hours after her delivery, I peered down at her in her plastic crib and stood awkwardly, unsure of what to do with someone so small and vulnerable – with her toothpick limbs and bobble head. I almost felt I should extend my hand with a formal ‘pleased to meet you.’ After all, we had only just met, even if she had lived inside me for the most part of a year.

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The WTF-has-just-happened? face. Seriously. WTF.

There were no sudden explosions of overwhelming love, or fireworks or thunderbolts. Rather, my adoration grew slowly, over days, over weeks; stretching, unfurling like a lazy dog in the sun.

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The many faces of Marnie

And now, six weeks on, I’m amazed at how I’ve adapted. At how I’m able to leap out of bed at 3am and 6am – with a smile on my face because my baby needs me and she’s incredibly cute. I’ve become a morning person and a night owl and everything in between. I’m exhausted and jet-lagged and I don’t mind at all.

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Being a baby = exhausting.

To see Matty with his daughter is incredibly special. He’s a wonderful father, as I knew he would be. And there’s no more devoted a big sister than Tiggy the dog, who looks concerned when Marnie cries, lies by her cot, gently nuzzles her ear and watches on adoringly with big, brown eyes. We’re a family now, and it’s inexplicably lovely.

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Daddy and baby. Carbon copies.

I’m mesmerised by Marnie’s every sound (perhaps not the pterodactyl screech that breaks through the sound barrier of acceptable decibels and could probably shatter glass – but still.) I could stare at her face all day. Her expressions are hilarious. I guess no kid of mine had a choice but to be at least a little bit funny looking.

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Funny faces. It’s in the genes.

Sometimes I have to pinch myself – to think that I’m a mother, with a blue-eyed, red-haired daughter. An impossibly sweet one, who fits perfectly inside a fine-china teacup.

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Three examples your child is a smartarse…

Ok, maybe that title’s a bit misleading. It should probably read three examples of me being a smartarse, when I was a child. There’s no denying that I had chutzpah in bucketloads.

EXHIBIT A:

A letter that seamlessly weaves together love, apology and emotional blackmail

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Dear Mum, Please don’t blame me if I am mean to Sonia. She’s been pretty mean to me and Im upset because you are so sad and crying. I adore you and want you to know I think your wonderful.

Continue reading

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On being a lady of (temporary) leisure

This morning, I woke up and thought it was Saturday. It might as well have been. Same as yesterday and the day before. You see, last Friday, I worked my last day at Prevention magazine before going on maternity leave. It was a pretty magical day.

There were desk balloons.

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There was home made cake.

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There was this incredible picture-perfect specimen of absolute beauty and deliciousness.

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There were pink-frosted cupcakes too, made by my friend Bonnie. But before I got a chance to take a photo, I’d shovelled them into my cake-hole with alarming cookie-monster-like ferocity.

There were flowers.

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There was this most spectacular leaving card.

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And there were beautiful presents, including a scarf from Seed (which is my new favourite thing) and some gorgeous clothes for baby once she comes along.

Anyway. It’s strange, having worked full-time since I was 15, to now find myself facing a small stretch of time doing not-very-much, which will soon be followed by a much longer stretch of time getting to grips with being a mother. At the moment, I’m loving the lazing, and the snoozing, and the coffees out with Tutti and the hanging out with Tiggy. It’s amazing how the days fly by when I’m just moseying around without a timetable or deadline in sight, waiting for that inevitable moment when the baby decides to make her (probably) excruciating exit. (Just give me all the drugs)

But I’m also getting excited about revisiting all my creative passions. I used to make sculptures.

Wire sculptures.

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Bread dough sculptures.

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I used to draw a lot and play the piano, and I would really love to get my children’s book off the ground.

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So the change of pace is going to be very interesting. A chance to see just what I can create next.

Besides the baby.

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A cautionary tale for parents-of-two

When I was about 6 or 7, I wrote my first book. It didn’t have a huge print run (in fact only one copy was produced) and although the text is about 27 years old, I feel its message is still relevant for parents today. Enjoy.

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The Typical Family, Kids & Parents & How the elder & younger kids are treated differently. By Cecily. A. Bennett (Bennett Books)

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To my parents who from this book should learn a lesson.

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BEFORE: In being the only kid, she gets lots of atention

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AFTER: She gets atention when baby is born but not as much

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BEFORE: Kid is nice to sister and gives atention but parents mainly watch baby.

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AFTER: Parent forget about kid and give attention only to younger.

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NOW: Kid may as well be a spirit. She is blamed for everything and gets no atention. Perhaps things will improve when she leaves home. Parents should make their kids feel loved equally. HELL. TORTURE. THE END.

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