Tuesday, October 28, 2008

What we do today?

Max, Oli and I were just leaving the library last week and I was thinking about what I could cobble together from the fridge to give Max for supper when I remembered I'd left a potato boiling away for, I checked my watch, nearly 2 hours... Envisioning San Francisco's trusty fire service lined up outside our house, lights flashing, I realised we would have to hurtle back to Pine Street to do some damage limitation. Getting Max to walk in one direction without being distracted is a challenge at the best of times, but the right direction? and at speed? Forget it. My only recourse was to pick him up, all 30+lbs of him. So, pushing Oli in his stroller and holding Max on my hip I started my gallop home. We were doing quite well until Max, thinking this was great fun, leant down to the handle bars of the stroller to 'help' me push. So now Max is horizontal and I have my arm around his waist still pushing the buggy. Max and Oli are virtually rubbing noses, and Max is grinning, loving this unexpected game. Oli is looking a bit startled. He has good reason. Two blocks to go and we come to grief in a jumble of bruised knees and grazed knuckles, and the stroller is resting on 2 wheels and the handle bars. Oli, thank God, is strapped in and looks like a little parachutist, only it's a stroller rather than a billow of silk behind him. When we finally limp into the house the saucepan is browning a little but there are no flames and no firefighters. Max is very disappointed at the lack of 'Fy engines'. So much for the high drama! I need a stiff drink but instead, feeling a little shaken and wearing Thomas the Tank Engine plasters on my fingers, I settle down to read Max his library bounty, 'Fix-it Duck'.
I love our local library. The childrens' section has magnetic letters you can stick to the wall, a little puppet theatre, wall charts with strings to pull, and of course books galore. The only problem for me, is that the kids' area is at the far end of the building away from any of the interesting literature. Max will not be dragged away from the magnetic letters ('Letters are make words, Mummy') so I'm stuck looking at the junior reads or the parenting books. For that reason, my library bounty from last week was 'Be A Parent, Not A Pushover', which I think tells you something of the forthright nature of my eldest son. However, when I finally get to take a look at the book, I see that it's 'A guide to raising happy, emotionally healthy teens'. We are a decade away from the teen years but for lack of other reading material I'm now a hundred pages in and wow, do we have some fun ahead of us! With chapters focussing on anger and negotiation, discipline and communication it seems that stage is going to require double the energy I have now. I've just got to a bit about family rituals, important because they are all about 'how we relate to one another, how we change, heal, and celebrate.' It got me thinking about the rituals we had when I was growing up and the one that stands out was 'The 3 Ws'. This was not a forefunner of the www. you see at the top of your screen. It stood for Wet Windy Walk and was most often greeted with a groan. I can feel the rain stinging my face just thinking about it. It sums up my family's commitment to the outdoors come rain or shine and a belief that a good blustery walk can cure most ills.
As for the rituals we have in our embryonic family, I hope boiling potatoes dry is not one of them (I have to admit, it's not the first time it's happened). Being in sunny California means the wet and windy part of The Three Ws doesn't happen very often. I'm sure we'll develop our own rituals over the years. One habit we've got into with Max is recapping on the day at bedtime. 'What we do today?' he will chirp from his bed - yet another delaying tactic as we approach lights-out. But it is therapeutic for me too...if there's been some 'Naughty Step' action, we can put that to bed too, but at the same time say all the fun things we did. Sometimes I don't recognise having done the things Max talks about but I suppose it all comes down to interpretation. This evening he said, 'Mummy was dancing'. I couldn't think at first but then remembered jigging Oli around in the stroller in the kitchen to Johnny Cash. And the day I lacerated my hand, endangering my children to try and save my burning home was simply, 'There were no Fy engines'.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Halloween is coming...

I have just put the finishing touches to a pirate hat for Max's Halloween costume. It's the first year I've actually managed to make at least part of an outfit for Max. The first year we were here in San Francisco I couldn't get my head round that fact that people dressed up as just about anything at Halloween. Wasn't it all about the undead? Didn't it have to be spooky? Apparently not. I even hosted a party for crawling tots and the guests arrived as ducklings, puppies, bugs and butterflies. Max in a pumpkin outfit was about as scary as it got. The thing is, people buy outfits here - the entire kit. I thought dressing up was about creating something from nothing or at least using a bit of ingenuity; bat wings out of a broken umbrella or a beard out of cotton wool balls. It was a proud moment for me last summer when Max won second prize in a fancy dress competition dressed as a barnacle with an egg box strapped to him like a sandwich board!
But why wouldn't you buy the whole shebang when it cost just $10 for Max's entire jack-o-lantern gear that year, including hat and stylish booties (He won't thank me for those!). I'd actually gone out and bought a swathe of orange fabric and planned for Max to be home-grown but, throw in the felt for the pumpkin face and the velcro I'd have needed when my sewing skills failed me, and I could have bought another costume at least, and that's not even mentioning the agonizing hours of actually making the thing without a pattern or even a clue where to start. So when someone mentioned how cheap the costumes were, and having failed to craft something myself, I went off to the nearest children's shop. By this stage it was pretty close to All Saints Day (I really had been holding out for my make-and-play skills to come the the fore, but alas) so the selection wasn't huge...no cute puppy outfits but I think the pumpkin felt more in tune with the Halloween I knew so I was a happy customer. I'm frugal by nature and have since become more eco-concious, but buying that outfit outright just felt like I was cheating. I'm trying to lead a less disposable life and recently heard that of all the stuff we buy, within 6 months we are using just 2% of it. To buy an entire outfit that you'll wear for probably less than 5 hours just seems wrong. So this year I'm trying to strike a balance between having that one-off fun and making something that'll last.
Until a few weeks ago, I still wasn't sure that Max 'got' the whole dressing-up-at-Halloween thing. I had asked him twice what he wanted to be, and both times the answer had been 'pirate'. But still I thought he just wanted to BE a pirate, as if he was answering the question, 'what do you want to BE when you grow up?'. It seemed fairly logical - the pirates in his favourite book don't eat vegetables and are never told to go to bed - Max's dream scenario. But I think the subject has been discussed in the playhouse at preschool because Max is now talking about 'dress up' and since I started on the pirate outfit, he's been switching what he'd like to BE about every hour or so. But for the first time in my child's life I have actually created his outfit. One big incentive is that his preschool have a Halloween party so Max really doesn't have a choice - the 'dress up' is compulsory. But that's my concern...now that I've finished the hat, cut out the eye patch, dug out the belts, the bandana, the bracelets it's going to take me a sack load of pieces of eight to get him to put the kit on. I've tried wearing the hat myself; this works for food as he'll eat what's on my plate but not on his own, it doesn't work for hats...I just look silly wearing one that doesn't fit. I've tried just leaving the hat lying around but of course leave things lying around that you DON'T want him to touch and he's got his sticky fingers all over it - the things you DO want him to meddle with, you guessed it, he's nowhere in sight. There's still a week or so to go so I'll have to think of some new tactics - wrap it up as a present? That might work. I'll let you know how it goes. What's Oli going to be? Well he'll be in the pumpkin outfit from 2 years ago, booties and all, sorry little one - but you can be pirate next year I promise.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Wave Hello to Thomas!

To Max's utter delight, the Thomas DBD has entered our home. ('DBD' sounds so sweet it seems a shame to correct him, that also goes for numana (banana), grabble (gravel) and washing macheem) For Max, everything about the Thomas DBD is exciting. First there's the box, one of which actually sings out Thomas tunes. But even the ones that don't sing are spoken of with breathless joy: 'Look Daddy, who's that? It's Thomas! Thomas says 'peep peep'.' And the narration doesn't stop there...each episode begins with Thomas' arrival at Knapford Station: 'Who's that Mummy? It's Thomas! Is he going to stop?' (pause) 'He stopped, Mummy, he stopped!' Then there's the title shot where a boy with a bike looks down on the track from a bridge: 'It's the boy with the bike, Mummy. And there's a shed, Mummy'. And even though he has now watched most of the episodes at least 3 or 4 times, especially when we lost the remote and could only watch the first couple of episodes over and over again, he still looks at me as the story nears it's climax and gasps; 'What's going to happen, Mummy?' And before you know it, it's the credits - for Max another moment of awe: 'Look at the letters Mummy! Look at the letters....Letters are make words!' Of course, I'm swollen up with pride that he can identify that 'T' is for 'Thomas' (Ok, ok, I'm ignoring the fact that 'H' is also apparently for 'Thomas') But to tell the truth Thomas is doing my head in. We have the little figures, the track, the books, the backpack and now these endless dramatizations with their theme songs, jingles and Thomas going 'peep peep' and his endless quest to be a Really Useful Engine. The DBD normally goes on while I am washing Oliver in a bathtub on the kitchen table, conveniently keeping Max in one place while my hands are otherwise occupied. Sometimes I tell Max he can watch the DBD 'when Daddy gets home' which means Daddy is greeted with double the normal enthusiasm and a few minutes later I'll see my boys unwinding to 'Percy and the Signal' or 'Duck Takes Charge'. Somehow the DBD at the end of the day is like those TV screens at motorway service stations or sports bars, however much you try and turn away, your eyes are inevitably drawn towards them, like moths to the flame. Dom may be looking at his blackberry or opening some post while Diesel shunts the Troublesome Trucks but the episodes are still permeating his every pore. Earlier Dom had emptied the dishwasher for the 15th time, taken in the laundry from the clothes horse outside, given Max a bath and put him to bed with yet another story about Thomas being a Really Useful Engine. He leaned in for a kiss when we were finally downstairs together and said 'Haven't I been a Really Useful Husband?' I, being the Fat Controller, could confirm that indeed he had.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Dear Max and Oli,

I'm finding my blogging feet with this, or more accurately dipping my toe in for the first time...so here's the first of my letters to you to tell you about your life while you are small and so helter skelter hectic and keeping me so busy. Oli, you are now 6 weeks old and, I'm touching wood as I write this, being a total angel - especially at night. After the 10pm 'dream feed' you are waking just once around 2 or 3am and then sleeping through til 6 or even 7am. One of the benefits, I suppose, of producing a 9lb 6oz baby. Max, you've had your moments in the last month or so but to be fair, you are being very sweet with Oli. I'm sure I saw you whispering something to him while he was cocooned in his stroller yesterday. And when we were reading a book earlier you stroked Oli's rabbit soft hair and insisted he should turn the pages; 'No, Oli do it!' I think Oli smiled a little as you touched his head. I hope all this bodes well for your future together.
Talking of Oli's hair, I'm afraid he is moulting. His mohecan is now bordered by baldness at the sides. It's not a great look but seems to be a rite of passage in this household as Max was just the same, only he also had the delightful coiffure cocktail of having mullet at the back. I have to admit, the look is a little unnerving and somehow makes the skull seem to bulge in the wrong places...but the doctor measured Oli's head circumference only last Friday so I'm sure all is well with our beautiful boy.
We seem drawn to compare Max and Oli. I think it is partly because with your first baby, it's hard to imagine how your little one could be anything different, D+E=M. But Oli provides living proof that D+E can also equal O. Somehow, by making comparisons, the identities or characteristics of both seem clearer. But it's early days...Now I think about it I'm not sure Max smiled for the first 3 months. In the hospital I think Max was quite genuinely cross that he was in the hands of such an amateur. I remember struggling for the fifteenth time to swaddle my newborn, but like a wailing octopus his limbs kept wriggling out at every attempt. A matronly nurse appeared and took one look at my flailing, noisy child and gave the swaddle an authoritative tuck, binding him up like a parcel ready for posting. Max immediately calmed down, relieved that at least someone knew what they were doing. Needless to say, I've abandoned the swaddling early on with Oli, recognising that I was more stressed trying to achieve it, than he would be soothed by it. But luckily Oli seems happier from the start. Not to say he's in any better hands, but he has a wry little smile at the corner of his mouth which looks rather knowing. Perhaps I do know what I'm doing.