Friday, December 3, 2010

And breathe...

You're walking through a forest when suddenly a clearing opens up, there's dew on the ground, green shoots below your feet and you can see blue sky above...Jack slept seven hours in a row.  Of course, I wasn't also sleeping for those wonderful consecutive hours but soon, soon... For a moment I can breathe or at least take a breath rather than gasp for air! The Kindergarten admission process is finally coming to an end, we have the keys to the new house, a new bedtime routine seems to have taken the sting out of the end of the day, everyone is apparently healthy, things are looking up, my Mum arrives tomorrow, and it snowed in England and I know I'm biased, but didn't it look beautiful?

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Keeping the magic alive!

I remember going for a walk with my aunt once.  We walked over the cliffs, and to keep her two younger children engaged and more importantly walking, she cooked an imaginary cake. We pulled the seed heads off tall grasses and threw the sugar into an invisible mixing bowl. We cracked acorns for eggs and blew dandelions for flour. We put the cake under a gorse bush cooker and by the end of the walk we pulled it our from between a gatepost. And, here's the best bit, when we got home, there on the centre of the table was a floral plate with a marzipan topped Battenburg cake on it. I was just old enough to know the ruse, to know that Battenburgs only came from Asda, but I was young enough too to get caught up in the magic of an imaginary cake becoming real.
So earlier today Max was asking if we could do 'pretend cooking with real ingredients'. I think he worked out that cooking up the left-over turkey from Thanksgiving was as much real cooking with real ingredients as I was going to manage for one day. There are lots of things I've been saying 'yes' to recently that I perhaps wouldn't have a few months ago.  Yes, because Jack is crying, yes because I can't think straight, yes, because otherwise it always seems to be no.  So letting Max have a few things from the cupboard to cook something 'pretend' felt fine. I'm happy to encourage anyone in the kitchen - you never know, in a few years time it might pay off! So while Oli napped and Jack nursed, Max took ownership of a small casserole dish and some select spices.  We talked about what might go into the making of a cake and decided that a pretend cake could have a pretend egg, not a real one this time.  But this boy had planned on making his pretend cake with real ingredients and he had the contents of the cupboard in mind.  He was very tacit about the whole thing though.  He came over to where I was sitting and asked if I could open a packet of mulled spice. I thanked him for asking and gave him a clove.  Then he came over and announced his cake needed some chocolate. Ha! Of course it did. Dom dug out the cooking chocolate and gave him a square of it. I assumed it would go straight in his mouth.
Jack stopped nursing, Oli was up from his nap and it was time for the beach. The casserole dish sat on the kitchen floor, the contents marinading while we got some fresh air and tried to avoid wet feet in the surf.  A few hours later, back home, supper has been eaten and we are closing in on bathtime.  On the sideboard there is a small casserole dish, half full of water. It smells mildly of cinnamon and has a brown scum on top. There's definitely a few broken lengths of spaghetti in there and a dash of milk.  I think there's some flour and there's even that square of cooking chocolate. I accept the amount of work that has gone into it and know I'll have to wait a bit before I can reclaim my dish.  Anyway, I'm back nursing Jack again and Dom takes control of Max and Oli, but with one eye on the cricket.
When I come downstairs half an hour later I find Max buttering a 9 inch by 4 inch cake tin.  Oli is watching his brother in awe, encouraging this gastronomic feat. Oli mostly likes 'Unny' these days (that'll be honey to you and I) but he looks like he has complete confidence that this brown scummy water could indeed become a delicious chocolate cake.  Australia have dropped a catch Dom tells me. He assures me England have a chance now.  I watch Max, face contorted, waiting for the mixture to spill across the floor. But no, he pours it into his greased pan and it is me that encourages him to put it in the oven. I twist some knobs and turn a dial pretending to turn the cooker on.
Later, far too late in fact. and in spite of my eyes being hot with tiredness, in spite of the laundry that needs hanging up, in spite of the bottles that need sterilizing, the dishwasher that needs emptying, in spite of my hair that needs washing, I know a cake needs baking.  I wash out the scummy water and make the quickest cake I know, a banana cake in a bread pan, and wonder if the magic will live on!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

7 weeks, 3 boys, 1 woman in need of sleep

I began this blog just over two years ago.  It really started as a simple way to capture some of the adventures in parenting that I was sure to forget.  How rapidly one stage slips into another and within weeks you can barely recall that once you could balance your child on your forearm, cup his head in your hand.
But the past seven weeks have been harder than I imagined.  It has given me neither a moment to post anything nor the desire to capture much of it.  Don't get me wrong. Jack has peachy cheeks and I love him despite the crying, but he does a fair amount of the latter and it doesn't do much for the nerves. Jack's arrival coincided with Max developing a rash that the doctors thought might be chicken pox. For 24 hours we tried a crazy kind of quarantine that would have been totally ineffective if it had been necessary. We were lucky, then, that Max actually had a poison ivy rash.  The quarantine was lifted but the sleep deprivation set in and when there are two other children demanding your time and energy, it takes you to new and strange lands.  For one, it sends your anxiety levels through the roof.  It also rubs away at your patience. Let's just say, the past few weeks have not had me demonstrating motherhood at it's best.  Throw in breastfeeding worries, worries galore, a bout of mastitis, trying to buy a house, kindergarten tours with or without a babe in a sling, kindergarten application forms and interviews (so, tell me, what do you see as your child's particular strengths, talents, and weaknesses?) and Jack's vocal gymnastics and I can't say I'm having much fun.
I realise all these things are a mere inconvenience when you consider there are parents keeping vigil in the pediatric ICU.  I know I am lucky.  And knowing that, makes me try to focus on what I really do want to remember; like the rare and fleeting smile Jack gave me from his cot the other morning, or the way Oli likes to hold Jack's hand while he sucks his thumb, as if Jack is his very own raggy.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Oli's words, a selection...

Oh yook Mummy!
Li-boat dumming!
Oh no Mummy!
Bug hurt me.
On my yeg.
My eye broke down.
Airplane dumming!
Day-you me up!
No, down.
No, you do it!
No, me do it.
You help me Mummy.
No, me!
O-there Mummy!
Up there!
Down 'air!
Right Max?
O-day Mummy.
Me sad. Want Daddy.
Me sad. Want Danny.
Me tie-yed.
In my bed.
Stro me!

Friday, October 15, 2010


A toy dodo has joined our collection of farm animals.  An innocent mistake.  A big squat bird that could be mistaken for a turkey, particularly when shuffled in among the hens and guinea foul.  But the fact is, it's a dodo, and it's extinct. This has made for a great deal of questioning.
My husband and I agree that Max could break someone under interrogation - CIA, FBI, QC - he'll be well suited to any of them when the time comes. Every day he works on his technique. I am usually the witness upon which his tactics are tested. And tested. He simply refuses to drop a line of questioning. Did it all begin with the dead pelican we spotted on the beach that day? How did it die? More recently the subject under examination has been the tram lines along the San Francisco waterfront.  Simply put, there are tram lines, they stopped operating in the fifties and the trams have probably been smelted down into jam jar lids. There's a boarded up tunnel where the engines used to run and in one swift scan of the eye you might think, well there used to be trams here, how things have changed. If, however,  you're a four year old boy with more than a passing interest in vehicles you just might not be able to let these details go.  For example, if there used to be trams, where are they now? Where did the tunnel go? Why's it been boarded up? For that matter, why aren't the trams still working? What did they carry? And where to? Could they ever come back?  These questions had been put to me in a thousand guises.  Basically the truck was more convenient, full stop.  Next, your honour!  And sure enough, just when you are able to sigh with relief that the tram question only comes up every other day rather than every hour, the next subject is just waiting for answers.
Enter, the dodo.
We consult an encyclopedia. I'm determined to get this one early. (Sometimes the internet just provides too much information, too many tangents.) Together we read; 'The dodo was a large flightless bird that lived in Mauritius but was extinct by 1681, due to hunting by man.'  Concise, I like it. Where's Mauritius? We find a map of the world and identify the island speck in the Indian Ocean.  Then, I'm under rapid fire. Extinct means they're all dead? (He's incredulous).  Extinct like dinosaurs? Why were the hunted?  To be eaten? (There's a hint of disgust and surprise as if he's never tasted chicken...) How did they hunt them? Would they use pots to get them? Did they use boxes? Did they use screws?
'Probably spears and guns' I say before my son's bizarre knowledge of instruments of torture make me nervous.
'I think they used guns.' he says.
He is quiet for a moment.
'But why were they hunted? Were they all eaten up...'
Perhaps I should have just pretended it was a turkey.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Essay live

I promised you I'd remind you, so here it is, my essay on the Minnesota Star Tribune's parenting blog, Cribsheet.  The dynamics of having a newborn in the house are vivid at the moment, as I live and breathe Jack's first weeks.  It's funny to think back to Max's first days as I have in the essay - I can't say I'm feeling much more experienced third time round...

Thursday, October 7, 2010

New Arrival

I can barely believe I am a mother of three. Hardly road-tested, for sure, but a mother of three all the same.
Jack is eleven days old and however hard I try to hold on to his one-day-old features, they are already fading. The little boy who felt so unfamiliar to me when he was born. I suppose that shouldn't be a surprise, we were meeting him for the first time after all, but his was a face I didn't recognise and it threw me.  Max and Oli had just looked so alike, hadn't they? Induced a week early, Jack had lighter hair than either of his siblings at birth and he had little dimples on his cheeks. It was a face I couldn't see beyond. And perhaps that is where I have gone wrong, in even attempting to see beyond the moment. Childbirth can only be experienced in the moment and yet as soon as Jack was in my arms I found myself casting about in the shadows; looking to the past for guidance and reference points, already comparing this little boy to his brothers, comparing his sleeping habits, his temperament, wondering, was he happier or hungrier, thinking how long was it that I swaddled the others, or what soothing techniques I used?
Four years on, the hospital is the same. These peach and grey walls welcomed my first son, these pale green hospital gowns, warm from the heater, still have their delicate detail of purple snowflakes. It all comes back to me; the first tentative walks to the bathroom, the panic button by the loo, the oversized underwear, the constant checking of body temperature and blood pressure, the babies on clear plastic trollies swaddled in blankets decorated with pastel coloured footprints.  I think back to Max's birth and how our lives as parents began, trying to remember the tiny details, trying to remember those first few nights, the specifics of feeds and changing and burping, trying to make comparisons that might enable me to take confidence, looking for signs that say, 'yes, I can do this'.  And all the time, my mind is also casting forward; looking to the future, trying to problem solve imagined scenarios, wondering how things will work out. We are indeed lucky that Jack appears healthy.  So many things could have already gone wrong.
Jack and I have been discharged.  His features have already changed and he looks more and more like his brothers. I hear Max and Oli hurtling down the corridor to find my room.  Max is running. Oli will be racing to catch up, angled for a fall which miraculously doesn't happen. They pile into the room giggling. Max is feeling confident but Oli takes comfort in his thumb, waiting to see what happens now.  I grin from ear to ear seeing them. Their moon faces loom large, their eyes so wide and full of colour. I have spent the last 24 hours cupping Jack's head in my hand, his tiny almond eyes are all pupil, inky black.  I suddenly feel every pound of Oli's weight when I lift him onto the bed, he is no longer the baby I had before the weekend. 
When we get home Oli chuckles at the sight of me nursing 'Baby Dak'. His words come slowly and well punctuated: 'Baby, eating, yous, tummy, right?' Max gets quite cross with the inaccuracy of this statement, 'No, Oli, he's drinking.'
I couldn't have hoped for a more loving reception for Jack by his brothers.  There are kisses and clammy palms on his head. Yesterday Max barricaded him in with chairs around his stroller, 'to keep him safe'.  Oli, too, seems delighted with the new addition, despite being ousted from 'my dot' and put in a grown-up bed in Max's room.  It was something I thought we'd do a few months down the line but in the interests of everyone's sleep, the plan was accelerated.
And among all this, I feel towards the older boys, an aching tenderness, like I've cheated on them somehow.
'Stro Me!' Oli demands at bedtime, head down, bottom in the air, thumb in his mouth.
'Stro Me!' I begin stroking his back, and he pulls at his pajama top, indicating that he wants my palm on his back, skin to skin. My hand tingles a little from the rubbing and I close my eyes trying to seal this in my memory, trying to make this another moment I won't forget but knowing in my post-partum haze that my mind is not a tidy filing cabinet. 'Remember this', I think, because too soon, it will be gone.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Closing in...

I am cooked. I equate it to that feeling on a long haul flight (with a toddler or 2) when you feel so rough and tired and rotten that you think, just let this stop or more precisely, if this hunk of metal goes down, I’m OK with it. My point is, I'm ready to be unpregnant. 
I'm both excited and nervous to meet the shifting aquatic creature who has been residing in my tummy these past months.  I cautiously imagined the little blastocyst at just six weeks, and by eight weeks I was living with the taste of metal in my mouth, salivating if I hadn't had carbohydrates within the hour. Everything made me nauseous; the sight of my maternity clothes, the touch of wool, the hum of the refrigerator, the aisles of food in the supermarket, the faint smell of gas from the cooker.  
We found out early we would be having our third boy, that I would be a mother of sons. I brushed off comments from those who said 'Bad luck!' as if a daughter was the trophy and another boy, the booby prize. But it hurt that I didn't have their support. And perhaps it hurt too, because if I looked at myself squarely, I realised there was a raw nerve there. I would never have a daughter.  Of course, I love my boys. It wasn't that I'd never shop for marshmallow hues in the clothes aisles at Old Navy, but I suppose as a woman, I felt I'd learned a thing or two and although I'm no teacher, I wanted to pass it on.  I was ready to champion her career choices as an equal to my sons, I was ready to make sure she grew up with as much confidence too.
I thought about my own role as a daughter and rightly or wrongly sensed I may have provided more family cohesion over the years.  It made me wonder about the shape of my own testosterone-infused family in the future. Such musings are dangerous though. Who knows what this little boy inside me will be like?  All I know about him are movements I cannot fathom. I cannot tell an elbow from a heel as his shape twists and turns inside me.  I know I must get on with being the best parent to my sons, rather than a mother to a younger self or a girl I will never meet.  
And there it is again, a tightness, a twitch, a strange twinge, an awkward pressure. My whole body is engorged. I pull Dom's hand across my stomach. This is the last time we will feel these jelly movements coming from within my swollen tummy.  Each time, the movements shock him, make him shudder even. So far along and yet still how strange pregnancy can feel.

Friday, September 24, 2010


Much excitement today - no, not the fact that Max had to be picked up early from school with suspected ear infection, although it had Oli and I speeding off hastily in the car to rescue the patient, only to find him happily reading Richard Scarry with the school administrator, and no, there's no new addition to the family yet. The excitement is this, that I had word that an essay of mine (one you might recognize) has been selected for 'Mother Words week' on the Minneapolis StarTribune's parenting blog, CribsheetMother Words is a wonderful writing course led by Kate Hopper which I signed up for earlier in the year. Well, every year Cribsheet celebrates the power of women's writing about motherhood by featuring essays from Mother Words alumni.  You'll be able to read the essays the week of October 4th, but if you check in here I'll be sure to remind you!  Thank you Minneapolis!

Thursday, September 9, 2010


Oli turned two at the end of last month and I haven't even mentioned our celebrations. For my own sanity I needed to keep it low-key. His best friend was there, though. That was easy, being as it is, his brother.  A few friends came for tea and I surprised myself by getting the bunting up and even producing a chocolate cake (It's taken four years but it seems my kitchen is finally well-equipped enough for baking). Oli however looked either serious or seriously disappointed in all the photos we took.
A little background here - the boys' father loves to gee up a birthday. Days, even weeks before, there is a ton of preliminary chat about how the day is going to pan out, what's going to be eaten for breakfast, the flavour and consistency of the cake, the size of the slices at teatime, what it'll feel like being a year older.  I, on the other hand, down-play the whole event; my theory being that you can't then be deflated. But in truth, a lot of the fun is in the anticipation and I know this, so I should probably join my husband's ranks.  But since it falls heavily on my shoulders whether or not my child gets enough birthday attention, and there's always something I've planned that I haven't managed to get done in time, I just can't enlist.
So, this year, Dom had asked Oli about his forthcoming birthday and how he was feeling about being two. His answer was a flat denial, 'No'. No? How could he not want his birthday? He is obviously more like me than we thought. Turns out he most certainly did not want to be two, he wanted to be three.  Therein lay the disappointment (and the difference between he and his mother). Hence the two candles did not elicit a smile of any description, although the cake consumption was overseen with much concentration.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Don't let me forget...

how Oli quietly took me by the hand, this morning, walked me over to his book, and pointed out the tiny picture of a 'raffe' on the back page. It was the page that told him about all the other stories he could collect by the same author.  Perhaps we will one day collect them all, but I think before we do there may have to be a story about a giraffe that lost his gir.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Summer Camp

We have just finished our first foray into summer camp, our first foray into this good old American tradition.  Summer camps weren't a part of the geography of my childhood or anyone I knew in fact. So, remembering my own summer holidays of idleness and unscheduled days I felt a little bad sending Max off with a pack-lunch in his backpack for a morning at school. Because it took place at school, the new one he is going to in September. And part of our thinking was that he'd be familiarising himself with the new building, new playground, new faces.  And part of the thinking was that he's been idle and unscheduled since the beginning of June...and it's now the end of August.  My main objective though was that he would like his new school. And like it he does.
During the course of the week, they designed boats with various bits of life's shrapnel; bottle tops, plant matter, sticks and corks. Max chose bottle tops for his, and enhanced it with paper and sellotape. Grinning, he proudly declared: 'And mine SANK!'  So they worked out that wood and corks were the best boat-building materials and at the end of the week, took just such a vessel down to the sea to float out under the Golden Gate Bridge.  After so much entertainment I was feeling fairly confident about the school transition thing.
'Yes' he told me, he liked his new school, wasn't going to miss the old, and then with emphasis 'because the loos are so much better!'  So much for boat-building!

Thursday, August 12, 2010


It's been a tricky adjustment back to life in the States after a whole month in the UK. I've been grumpy for a week. I can admit this, but don't even think about nodding in agreement.  Any of you boys, that is.  Anyway, I'm getting better.  It was a holiday after all. It had to end. And it will always be there.
Indulge me a little. Let me wallow in the smell of rotting seaweed, brought in by the ground sea of that stormy spring tide.  It's not to everyone's taste.  The sway of the boat as the rainbow feathers bring in a black, green, glistening mackerel from the dark sea.  Not like it was decades ago, of course, when they were hauled in by the dozen. And never a storm in July back then. That's what I'm told.  In those days, (forty years ago was it?) the boats spent months tied to the moorings and came in only to have seaweed scraped from their hulls like fat sheep ready for shearing.  Who can blame me for a little nostalgia when the past is something everyone there refers to, relishes in, even outsmarts one another over.  The way it was, the way it's always been.  The lie of the rocks, the lie of the land. And so I watch Max catch his first mackerel, his first rock-cod and I try to capture it with a photo, but really I'm hoping it is the smell he falls for, the sway of the boat, the scales on his hands, the sea salt starching his hat; not just a first memory but a whole topography to tread through.
What else? Buckets, spades, a treasured cowrie, lollipops on the beach, crickets on the green, grasshoppers and caterpillars to observe, paths through the maize, the potato harvest in full swing, crabs at low tide, boats in the river, feet in the ford, wet shoes again...

Thursday, August 5, 2010

San Franciscan Summer

We are experiencing our first real San Franciscan summer; foggy and cold.  We've been told again and again that July and August are actually winter in this pocket of geography but never quite seen it in all it's murky glory until now.  How it escaped us for the past four years I'm not sure, but it certainly wasn't this cold and I'm sure we had glimmers of sunshine at some point in the day. But something's not right when you are considering putting on the heating in August in the Northern Hemisphere.
All is not lost though, we have happy memories of summer in blightly to get us through the cold spell here (who'd have thought it!)

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Make Do...

Last night I had my geometry set out; compass, set square, protractor. I was trying to design a pattern for a sunhat.  Send Max out for a minute in the sunshine without a hat, even if he's slathered in factor 50 and his ears start bubbling. It's not pretty, let alone healthy.  The past few years have seen lots of sunhats grace our home, but they seem to go missing with alarming frequency.  So rather than buy yet another one to lose to the wind, it seemed only right to turn to my bag of fabric scraps and my trusty geometry set.
Various parts of my super soft Seven jeans that ripped at the knees (and elsewhere...) have now been reincarnated in my attempts to patch up my childrens' clothes, and I thought I'd use the last remnants to test out a hat pattern.   And so the Recycled Seven jeans sunhat was born.
While I was pouring over my tracing paper and trying to remember some rusty facts about circumferences and radii (is that the plural of a radius?) it occurred to me that making clothing patterns would have been a much more sensible use of my GCSE Maths class than struggling with vectors, which always alluded me.  What about it Mrs Scott, in your apricot pencil skirt?
Turns out pattern making is, in fact, a lot harder than actually just sitting down and making a hat. 3D is somehow more meaningful than 2D. I cut a beautiful circle with a 16cm radius (yes, it is radii, but you don't need it in the plural) and then I fairly quickly abandoned the paper and mathematics and just got on with making the hat.
I think the finished article still needs some work but it's hot these days and we are in need of the hat, so it is prematurely off the production line and being put to use.  It was actually meant to be the 'test' hat that I would then remake in nicer fabric, but then Max gave me a hand at the sewing machine while Oli was sleeping, and decided he wanted that hat, his hat and no other.  Working at a sewing machine with a four year old is both enlivening and infuriating. There were lots of questions about the mechanics of the machine, particularly about the foot and the little jagged bits that help feed the fabric under the needle.  It reminded me that there are parts of the machine I still don't fully understand or know the names of, and it is especially useful having the very person you are designing for so close to hand.  His head was almost permanently in my way.  Less useful is it, when you look on the floor for a dropped pin and find your stitch and tension adjusted by the time you sit back up again.  Luckily the spool ran out half way through so we had the very exciting diversion of putting thread on a bobbin.
And now I'm feeling like quite a hat-making veteran.  Last Christmas my dad got a home-made version of a Breton fishing cap to replace an old, ripped, rotten one that had blatantly been loved too much. I stole it from his fishing cellar and set to work on a replica.   Today, recycler of old jeans; tomorrow, milliner to all the family...

Thursday, June 17, 2010

One of the privileges of being four...

...listening to The Beatles with a laundry bag on your head. Perhaps the acoustics are better in there.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Baking *with apologies to opera lovers

We still have a few biscuits left (cookies if you're reading over here).  There was an operatic quality to their making.  With Max on holiday for the summer he has been pestering me to do some 'big boy' cooking. The way he went on, you'd think we never set foot in the kitchen together. The truth is we've baked several loaves of bread and dozens of cupcakes not to mention jelly and ice pops. In addition, don't I cook supper every evening? I'm not usually averse to help from small hands.
This latest burst of interest may have been prompted by our chalking out a hob on the deck and by me giving the boys an old, scratched non-stick frying pan that had been singled out for a yard sale. For a day or two, he and Oli were happy mushing up the quota of rice and lentils I had given them, and picking apart a bulb of garlic. Then I lost a good portion of cocoa powder to the project when I wasn't looking and I was none too happy.
The clamouring racket for big boy cooking became louder still.  I've only seen a few operas in my time, and, thug that I am, I can't say they are really my thing. But there was something in the rising libretto from my children, that reminded me of some sonorous operatic recitative.
We decided on an oat and chocolate recipe and set about.  The bashing of the chocolate squares into chips briefly dispelled the rising tension. The dough was mixed, first in a bowl. 'Can I lick the spoon' became the predictably cacophonous chorus.  After much effort I realised the electric mixer might do a better job than we were doing at breaking up hard butter. Dough covered wooden spoons were dispensed. Silence. Followed by the applause of the blender. Act 1 was over.
We transferred the dough back to the mixing bowl to fold in our broken chocolate.  Oli reached a stunning alto in his demands for more licking - spatulas, spoons, bowls, anything would do, no doubt mixing blades if he could have got his hands on them.  Luckily my normally ill-equipped kitchen was able to provide 2 spatulas. Silence again and the end of the second act.
For the final drama, the suspense was building over the licking rights of the large beige mixing bowl. Another 2 wooden spoons would be needed to keep things fair. Unsullied tablespoons of mixture did, incredibly, make it to the baking tray.  Was the oven door licked? I have a feeling Oli might have seen his mirror image in it, dough smeared, and wondered if he could lick it off his reflection.
Golden, the cookies emerge 20 minutes later. The opera is over but the players do not return for the final bow; satiated on uncooked sugar, butter, oats and chocolate (with evidence of this smeared across their clothes) they are seeking new excitement from trucks in the flower beds. It actually gives the cookies, and the chef, a moment to cool. Exit left.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Sporting Allegiance

Max had his last day at preschool this week and is now 'on vacation' for the summer.  Oli fell asleep in the car on the way over to his brother's party, the grand finale of the term.  Three songs had been practiced and prepared for the event. The first was a baseball song which Max had let slip at home in short bursts: '1, 2, 3 strikes, your out! At the Old Ball Game!' seemed the most enduring line.  This song, I'm told, is the 'Humpty Dumpty' of sporting songs in the States, they learn it in the crib.  I'm not sure that's true and maybe it was a coincidence but that very evening, as if to challenge any place the game might one day take in his heart, Dom found the Lightening Seeds chant, 'Football's Coming Home' on youtube and we had several renditions of Skinner and Baddiel reminiscing about the glory days of Gazza and Shearer.  It proved very popular.  It's still in the balance but since a song is the surest way to my sons heart, I think football (aka soccer) may have out-manoeuvred baseball.  Yesterday, of course, England met the USA in South Africa for the World Cup. It was harder to get to the bottom of his allegiance being, as he is, born of English parents but holding a US passport.  The vitriol between the 2 countries seems to be at its worst, with the oil crisis in the Gulf of Mexico at the hands of BP, not that Max is aware of it.  Initially he declared he was for England but then he realized the US were dressed in blue - his favourite colour.  Difficult.  He also likes 'rainbow' he tells me - so with England's goaly in green and the USA's in orange and then of course the yellow refs - he was liking all of them too. Oli sucked his thumb on the sofa next to us and went to bed at half time.  We actually missed the US goal (or shocking English mistake, depending how you see it) and by the time the final whistle went we were involved in 'playing airports' which is the jeux de jour these days.  Max is obviously keeping his allegiance close to his chest for the time being.

Friday, June 4, 2010


Miss Harvey.  Imagine a woman with a full waist, a full floral skirt and a chin full of whiskers.  Mrs Tiggywinkle, in fact. In my mind she wore sensible laced shoes and nude tights, probably stockings, and a cardigan even on the hottest days.  Her chin fell off her face to her ample chest and wobbled when she talked.  It seemed that she was always smiling, or chuckling, at least to us kids and calling us 'ansome'.  Did she wear glasses? I feel she must have, she was surely in her seventies and spent most of her time sewing. The combination must have resulted in the little round spectacles I remember.  Yes, she wore them on a string, like a necklace. The fact that she came to sew for my mother for a week in the summer seems alarmingly antiquated, but there you go.  Thinking about her brings back some of the magic of the summer term at school.  What was it that made it so special?  The summer uniform, a turquoise cotton tunic which meant we didn't have to wear a tie.  Or was it that we were allowed to play in the school garden rather than on the concrete parking area? There was a tyre swing at the bottom of the hill and endless shrubs to hide in.  Maybe it was athletics and the build up to sports day.  Or that when we came home it was still light for hours and the combine harvesters rumbled on past bedtime.  Was it knowing Miss Harvey was at home, perhaps even sewing something for me, for one precious week? My mother will say she mainly hemmed curtains and mended bedsheets. But I know she sewed me a tutu, with candy pink voile. I remember posing for photos in it, standing on the hot slate outside the kitchen windows.  I think I might have insisted on wearing it til bedtime. I have a horrible feeling it was too tight for me. Not so Cinderella after all.  I think Miss Harvey had to let a seam out.  I do remember that I got my pet rabbit's claw stuck in the trim and blood on the shimmery silk.  I wonder if I wore it again, I was no Darcy Bussell. I have a vague memory of an actual ballet performance - just the one - I was the marshmallow at the back.
In her youth, I think Miss Harvey had worked for my paternal great grandmother - as a full time seamstress? The luxury of it! Surely I must be in line to inherit a mansion somewhere. But perhaps I have it wrong.  I know she was proper Cornish and by the time I was observing the detail of her chin and wondering if I too would grow whiskers, she had decided to never again leave the county.  I think it was she who announced 'I don't go abroad no more', meaning she wouldn't travel north of the Tamar.  Beautifully put.  My mother tells me that as a teenager she was advised by her aunt not to marry her sweetheart or she'd be 'dead before she was 21.' We are only left to wonder whether the aunt was particularly vicious or especially insightful and wonder too about the boy and what became of him.  Miss Harvey never married.  All this has come back as I sit mending endless pairs of boys trousers.  Dom's been away this week so it's occupied my evenings - what a riveting life I lead - but I admit the idea of sewing for an hour is a lot more appealing than a morning out shopping, with or without a boy or two.  And you know, I think I've found the method for a near perfect patch...Miss Harvey would be proud.

Saturday, May 29, 2010


Days are gently slipping by and at this moment Max is sitting in the garden, a bag of trains tipped into a pile on the grass, while he works out the mechanics of a fire engine's twisted hose. The blossom has turned brown and is being blown from the trees in little flurries of confetti.  Only a minute ago, there was pink bursting out across the hawthorn and the flowers were bending the branches low with their weight.  So it is already summer and to prove it, we have harvested, and eaten, the best of the broccoli from the garden.
Another marker of summertime are the plethora of events in the city called 'Kindergarten Night', where more experienced mothers give the greener ones, like me, a snapshot into the next stage of our lives.  I am wide eyed with fear about the 'process' of tours and screenings and interviews and essays written about your child that are needed in order to scale the apparently impenetrable walls of private education. I'm left wondering if the public school system might not be better all round.  But somehow you feel you should give private a shot, with state funding in crisis and all.
The key to all these interviews and essays is, quite obviously, to know your child. This will not require a PhD but somehow seems harder than it should be. I think I've resisted labels, Max is this or that. Things change after all. The truth is he dawdles when we walk anywhere and falls - no, he lies - on the ball when we attempt to play soccer.  He's only really watched rugby matches with his father and in a sense he's right, there's generally a lot of lying on the ground.  What he's missed, obviously, is the physical exertion beforehand.  I'm not sure sport is his thing but it must be said, he is fiercely competitive. He wants to be first at breakfast, first out of the bath, first down the stairs, and he doesn't hide his frustration when he's not. He loves music and has done so ever since he could indicate he wanted 'zic on!' from his car seat. Does that make him musical? He does have a ukulele - but when I took him to a kinder music class recently he refused to come into the room and sat outside until I decided to abandon the idea and we all walked home.  I'm obviously going to have to get a firmer grasp on all this come September.  We will see how we fare.
In the meantime Oli is labeling everything, in a much simpler form: 'Os' for horse, 'Dar' for star and car and 'Dow' for cow.  'Dog' has a silent g. I'm pretty sure 'Bo' is milk but it's not always the case. But my favourite must be fish, he says it with a breathy sound that seems to summon up aquatic speed, 'whith' he says, repeating it three or four times as if to try and get a handle on this elusive, slippery creature. He becomes more adamantly independent every day but has just figured out if he stands right in front of me with arms in the air (the 'Arrest Me' position) he will generally get carried.  It rare enough that he wants my help. In his highchair earlier he said 'Bo.'
'Do you want some milk?'
'No, bo'.
'You can see a boat?'
'You want a kiss?' It was a long shot but I thought I'd give it a go. He said nothing and I lingered too long, my nose in his hair, my lips on his warm temple.
Funny to think that one day I will miss carrying 27 chunky pounds of boy weight around, perched there, legs straddling my expanding tummy.

Sunday, May 16, 2010


Last week we made a trip up north to a remote ranch near Ukiah.  It was beautiful; rolling grassy hills with clovers of red and purple and pink and white. There were bright California poppies and pale checkerblooms, blue and yellow irises and tall lush grasses.  In the lake nearby, tiny silvery fish gathered in the shallows and their graceful sludge-coloured neighbours glided around in the deeper water.  Max and Oli showed little enthusiasm for exercise. Is so much effort really needed for such a little walk? I admit it was hot. Even by ten in the morning the cicadas were chirping loudly from the trees, like so many flicked elastic bands.  Luckily the lake provided a stone-throwing entertainment that could pass for physical exertion and of course sticks were in plentiful supply for poking, proding and as pretend fishing rods. The other day Max told me with excitement that he knew the kind of job he'd have when he was bigger. His job would be collecting sticks.  It makes sense, he gets a lot of practice. By the sounds of it, it will be a global search and supply company, he told me he would have meetings in Penzance and Denver. 

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Daddy Love

For some time now, Oli, at twenty one months, has been consumed with Daddy Love.  This is a love that cries 'Nooo', like a character in slow motion trying to prevent someone falling off a cliff, as Daddy leaves for work every morning. It is a love that careers full tilt into Daddy's knees when he returns at the end of the day. It is a love that whispers his name at the slightest hint of his presence, a foot on the step, a key in the door; 'Da-dee?' it asks in hushed tones that I have only otherwise seen him reserve for diggers.
Quite remarkably my four year old still loves me and tells me so with urgent spontaneity. He tells me 'You're my best friend' and asks if I'm his best friend too. Sometimes he tells me he loves me and then asks if I can make the lego loader that's too complicated for a four year old's dexterity. Sometimes he tells me he loves me and asks for ice-cream.  But often he just sidles up to me and says 'I love you Mummy' and it seems to come from nowhere. I know it will not last. When I pitched up at his school last month during circle time, the friend next to him nudged him and said, 'Aren't you excited, your mom's here?' It was the time I brought cupcakes for his birthday.  He was grinning as he looked at me and while his friend spoke to him, but then he turned back to his friend, shrugged, and carried on listening to the circle time story.  No, it cannot last and it seems Oli's 'Mummy stage' too may already be over.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Haiku commended!

Ever heard of haiku? I hadn't until last week but I had a mention for my efforts in a competition organised by the teacher of Mother Words, my recent writing course. 3 lines, 5-7-5 syllables, or go to wikipedia for a better description! The competition was entitled 'what no-one told me' about motherhood.
You can see the winner here.

Friday, April 23, 2010

No Singing Please!

We celebrated Max's 4th birthday last weekend; pass the parcel, preschool friends and a chocolate cake in the shape of a boat. All seemed to go well; the sun shone, no-one scraped a knee, that is until our rendition of 'Happy Birthday'.  It reduced the recipient of the song to tears. I know he has a specific music taste (punk pop and hard rock it seems), but does that mean the family's tuneless efforts are going to be banished forever? These were not passing tears, the boy was gasping for breath at points, his face red and wet. Rage? Embarrassment? Offended sensibilities? The following day, his actual birthday, when we went to preschool, his teacher took him by the hand and I told him I'd be back later with cupcakes. I heard him tell the teacher...'but I don't want anyone to sing.'  So a few hours later, twenty friends sat around three separate tables on kindergarten chairs licking frosting saying 'Yummy, yummy in my_______' and ending the sentence with every noun possible except 'tummy' and giggling into their spongecake, and we didn't sing.  One rather zealous boy began a loud 'Haaaap...' but was reminded of Max's birthday rule and got back to the serious business of butter icing and giggles.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

A rare moment of quiet

So rare in fact that I crept around to find the camera and felt like David Attenborough as I stealthily climbed onto the breakfast bar to take an aerial shot of this species in a fleeting moment of silence:

Monday, April 12, 2010

Sex Education Part I

Max has been asking me recently about how he 'got into mummy's tummy'.
'Good question' I say.  I have read somewhere that this is a perfect stalling tactic when you get the hard ones. And it's true, it gives the mental cogs just enough time to get going and create a diversion.
I pause. 'That really is a good question...but it's quite complicated and I'll need a pen and paper to help with the explanation.'
Each time the subject has been raised I've been relieved that we're in the car or in the garden or out for a walk, no paper or pens in sight. Then yesterday, quite forgetting my promise, I suggested we do some colouring and out came the crayons and pencils.
'Now...' said Max and I immediately saw where he had got me. Drawing equipment was sprawled about the table.
'Lets do how-Max-got-into-mummy's-tummy'.'
We glossed over the nitty gritty, he is only three, and talked about how mummies have eggs inside them which presumably left him thinking we women are some kind of relative to a chicken.  There followed a balloon-like pencil drawing of me; lungs, heart, diaphragm, stomach, intestines; that was about as much biology as I could fit in (and remember) and still leave enough space for a womb with Max inside.
He was delighted with the mini balloon-shaped little boy floating around in there but wondered if it was very dark inside, to which I replied, yes it was.
'Why is it so dark?' 'No windows' I say.
'How long was I in there?' Max's face looks serious. 'Quite a long time' I answer.
'How long?' he asks again, and then, 'why do I have to get so old in there?'  I loved this, 'so old'.
I tried another picture of dividing cells that started sprouting legs and arms. My artwork didn't look very convincing but I was quite enjoying the excercise. A few minutes later Dom came and sat next to us.  Max obviously had a nagging concern that he had been wasting precious time in utero.
'But why so long?'
'You can't drive a new car...' Dom said and paused to look at me. My frown showed some concern that my biology lesson was being consumed by exhaust fumes but Dom's eyes said 'trust me'.
'You can't drive a new car out of the garage until all the parts are inside; the engine, the seats, the radio...'
That was all he said and with that Max trotted happily off to make a garage out of lego.  Car analogies are obviously the way forward.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Easter in Canada

Max had so much chocolate he asked if it would still be Easter when we got back home...

Sunday, March 14, 2010

'Oh me-anne!'

'Oh me-anne!' Max says when I ask him to wash his hands.  'Oh me-anne!' he says when I tell him his fish fingers must be finished before he can have chocolate cake.
I can't stop myself from repeating it.  I don't mean to mock, but oh me-anne, it's pure American drawl coming from our pure English boy.
Apparently Alex says it round the block table at preschool and PJ says it too. That's what I'm told. I smile and think of these three boys in a conference around the duplo.
The language of frustration: 'Oh me-anne!'

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Pelican Brief

The other day we went down to the beach and before we had got very far we saw a tangle of feathers and pale drowned intestines wrapped around what, perhaps the week before, had been a splendid looking brown pelican.
'Please don't go near it, Max.' I pleaded, as he started approaching it, a piece of driftwood in hand, with which to prod the poor thing. I tried explaining about bugs and diseases on a corpse, but trailed off.  It felt too gruesome, especially as I think I even said the word 'corpse'.  Both boys were briefly distracted by throwing sticks in the stream.  As we left, though, we again passed the dead pelican, its wings tangled and bent back on itself.  It was mangy and swollen.
'Why did the pelican die?' Max began to ask.
I offered a range of answers; old age, caught in a storm, drowned, bird flu.  These answers weren't offered with a huge amount of conviction, and they were received with even less.
'But why did the bird die?'
We were climbing the steep, sandy steps at the back of the beach, trying to make it to the car before the rain started again.  The sky had darkened. I offered the same answers and tried to hurry him along.
'But whhhhyyyyy? Why did it die?' Max began to whine.
I like talking with Max. I like the way he sees the world. I'm curious about the connections he makes. I really try to listen, and I try to give honest answers.
'But whhhy?' he moaned.
I confessed I didn't know.
'I'm cold' he said, followed quickly by 'Why did the pelican die?'
I read somewhere that a 3 year old sees death and divorce as reversible states which might explain why Max then asked me, 'What is the bird saying.'
'It's dead Max, it's not saying anything.' Brutal but honest.
'Why? Why is it dead?' The whining was getting more intense, more infuriating.
'Are you angry that I don't know or that the bird is dead?' I asked him.
We'd lost sight of the pelican but Max could easily have been dragging the thing - it's putrid smell and fetid feathers following us in the form of this endless whining.
In the end I promised Max that, when we got home, I would look up 'common causes of death in pelicans' and we could probably work out what had happened. We eventually got back to the car.
Toxic runoff was the answer to my internet search which, as you can imagine, involved another extended line of questioning.
Then today I said, 'I know, shall we go to the library?'
'To get a book out about how birds die?' Max asked. It came out of nowhere. We hadn't touched the subject of dead birds for days, but it came back to him with all the vivid immediacy of an electric shock.
'How did the pelican die?' he asked me again with the freshness of an enthusiastic puppy. He must have heard my deep intake of breath. He rephrased it as best he could. 'Pelicans die. How?'

Saturday, February 27, 2010


'Give Oli some more cheerios!' Max demands. 'I want to win!' Oli doesn't know it is a race, right to the last one.
While I accept this is a dirty tactic, I like the idea that Max has found his competitive streak. Less appealing is it, though, when his bike careers into the stroller wheels when it looks like we just might round the corner home ahead of him.  And there's been a need to explain the dice rolling rules too.  He's crafty; he wants the magic number 2 in the Balancing Game we play, he gets the hand symbol. Not good.
'Oh', he says, 'I think it's your turn.'
I saw through that early on and I like to believe we now have an honest dice roller amongst us.
At the end of the game, Max is triumphant: 'I have wind!' he says.
I enjoyed that for a while but you'll be glad to know I have since corrected his grammar.

Friday, February 19, 2010


'I want to be a daddy.' Max told me recently.
'Not a mummy?' I asked.  We're in San Francisco after all.
'No, I want to be a daddy.' He was firm about that.
'Why?' I asked
'Because daddies play.'
Well, that threw me.
I stay at home, I cook, I launder, I kiss things better. It's not glamorous and it's not playing, but I also build train tracks and garages and wigwams and farmyards. We imagine airports and make up check-ins and boarding passes and flight plans. We make pizza together and mash potatoes. We go to the beach and to places where he can get up speed on his bike. We rake the garden and plant seeds and grow sunflowers. We do colouring and stamping and endless storytelling.
But Daddy makes a rocket ship in the sitting room. And that is real playing.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Pigeon Post

When Dom and I lived in London, we had a small roof terrace, off our one bedroom apartment, that we could access by climbing through a sash window half way up the stairs. Outside, there was enough room for a little BBQ, a few folding chairs and a hydrangea in a pot.  I had some empty plant containers, a bag of potting soil and a pair of secateurs stuffed in one corner near the window, and in the summer the terrace served as a welcome extra room. We were on the third floor and the street we lived on was a busy bus route with double-deckers grinding gears outside our bedroom window.  The roof terrace, though, looked out over our neighbours’ gardens and the soundproofed and thus silent Maida Vale Studios.  One day in early March, when I could see fresh green shoots on the brittle hydrangea branches, I went out to the terrace to sit in the sun.  After a few minutes there was a sound behind me. Thinking it was a rat; I leapt up and clambered back through the window.  I knocked a chair over and made enough noise to scare the birds off the roof above me.  I assumed my intruder would have scarpered too. Inside the apartment, I managed to catch my breath and take a second to look at the scene I had scrambled from.  Nestled on some gardening gloves in a plastic flowerpot was a mangy looking pigeon. The bird viewed me from its quarters, beady eyed and severe. From behind the glass I tried to shoo it out of it’s newly adopted home.  I tapped the window and made the kinds of noises I used to make out beating through the bracken when I was younger, trying to put up pheasants on my father's shoot; ‘Eye, eye, eye, eye, eye.’
There are plenty of pigeons in London, scabby grey things with mangled feet and beaks blunt from pecking on the pavement. This was no rare breed and I didn’t fancy it making a home in my spare room. I grabbed a broom to give it a poke through the open window. It didn’t want to budge but I was determined to get it airborne and with a few more prods it shifted uncomfortably and took reluctantly to the sky.  I climbed back onto the terrace to see that it had left behind a shabbily made nest of sticks and feathers. As I stood above it I could see the reason for the bird’s steel eyed stubbornness: eggs, two of them, a pigeon pair, white and just a little smaller than chickens’ eggs. 
I have a friend who is effortlessly chic, highly efficient and utterly organized. It was that friend who called me, just as I was thinking what to do with the issue of the pigeon nursery on my roof terrace. 
‘It might be quite sweet to watch them hatch in a few weeks time.’ I said.
‘Hatch?’ She was evidently disgusted. 
‘You want pigeons coming back to breed on your terrace?  Because you know, that’s what they’ll do. They always return to the place they were born.’
‘Oh, no, I don’t want that.’ She had won me over in one concise argument.  ‘Pigeons carry diseases, don’t they?’ I added.
‘Well you’ll have pigeon shit all over your roof terrace.’
As she said that, I could already smell the pungent fungal droppings. It was decided. I made enough noise to keep mum away and climbed back out of the window. The eggs were still warm. I cupped them in my hands. I couldn’t bring myself to break them but I put them gently in their new nest among the musty potato peelings of my kitchen bin.
Then my brother called. I told him what I’d done and his words chilled me;
‘A mother is a mother, Em’.
Neither of us were parents in those days. I appealed to him with the disease, shit, annual breeding arguments but he didn’t shift position.
I was a little unnerved by the violence I had so dispassionately carried out.  I admit too, that a few years later, when I became a mother, I was scared to be left entirely on my own with my fragile newborn.  I told myself I had never held such a vulnerable being, never been depended upon so utterly.  But on the roof terrace high above that dirty bus route, I had held life in my hand and I had been found wanting.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Oh no!

I'm about to start a writing course and I've been struck by writer's block...what else is happening around here? Well, the camera is with the Nikon service department, so no pictures either.  And I realise my last few posts were full of grumbles...apologies for that. Tomorrow I'm going to find happiness in everything.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Mind Games

Do you remember playing The Memory Game? It involved a tray of household objects, maybe twenty or so, random finds; a torch, a match, a pencil, a drawing pin, elastic band, stick of lip balm, pebble, candle, that kind of thing. You'd have a minute to memorize everything in front of you, and then the tray would be taken away and you'd have to write down all the objects you'd seen.  I'm not sure Max has the concentration for it yet and Oli would just eat the items, but I'm looking forward to playing it around here one day. I don't remember being particularly good at it, but for a while now my daily activities have resembled an elaborate form of this game. During the day, I will see things; a digger on a windowsill, a sippy cup lid under a bookshelf.  Sometimes I'm conscious of it and sometimes I don't even know I'm registering these sightings.  But when a digger is called for, I am usually able to say, with some precision, where it is.  Of course, it's only me who is ever going to be looking for the sippy cup lid, and that's when I go back to the bookshelf, get down on hands and knees, and retrieve it. It's at this point, that I wonder why I didn't pick it up when I saw it in the first place.  Perhaps I had my hands full. Or maybe my brain was preoccupied.  I sometimes worry about what is going on in there. It's not helped by my eldest: Max's latest thing is to ask me a question so random he could be sleep-talking;
'Is the shark going into the waterfall?'
This verbal trapeze comes out of nowhere and swings across my comprehension. I'm thinking about supper or laundry or life's eternal admin.
'Yes.' I say, while still grappling with the image I have just confirmed exists.
The glittery leotard disappears from view. There's a pause before the sequined artist swings back;
'What is the shark saying?'
I have to think for a second. 'Whoooooooooaaaah splosh' I manage.
The oscillating stunt performance comes back at me.
'Why is the shark going into the waterfall?'
I feel like saying 'hang on, you started this...' but I know that won't work. Sometimes I manage to make something up, something that might have caused this curious dream sequence to materialize.  Sometimes my brain never quite catches up with the scene that was created.  These are the conversations that are dominating things around here.  Who knows what it's doing to my cerebral core.  At the beach the other day, Max knocked his bike over and I was telling him to pick it up; except that it came out as 'Max, please can you pick up your swimming costume.' Where did that come from? Early dementia? I think I will start assembling that tray of objects, and consciously exercise what brain cells are left.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Dear Max and Oli,

I have something to tell you. Dom and I are going to have another child, another brother or sister to join our family.  I can't tell you how much I love you both and although I hope this won't change anything, I know it will. Not my love for you, but it feels inevitable that things will be a little more hectic, perhaps a little more stressful, another child will no doubt create more instances of conflict, more need to share the toys and our time.  Love is not finite, it just gets bigger and bigger, expanding in your chest like a peony in the sun, so beautiful you could cry.  I will only love you more, but I admit I'm scared. I want to do right by you but I have no road-map, no model to follow, no experience of three children, no idea of the condition of the middle child, nor what it is like to be the eldest, nor what it means to be the last of three.
Before I knew I was pregnant (a mere 4 days ago), the idea of three children was perfect; I felt that if it didn't happen there would be an unknown loss in our lives.  An absence in the cozy muddle of our home. But now the pregnancy is a reality, I admit I wasn't expecting to be this scared. It's hard to sleep at night. I'm worrying about every aspect of this tiny blastocycst, it's health, it's schooling, it's Christmas presents. I'm worried about being judged by those, like myself, who are concerned about the world's swollen population.  I'm worried about being able to do it, about being the mother I want to be. I'm worried about change, about managing it, about laundry and cooking, about getting back to work, about getting back to the UK, about getting old.
Perhaps, when (and if) we hit the 'viable' 12 week mark I will have found some equilibrium, to stop the racing of my mind.  If we reach full term I'm sure I will be ready.  But, rightly or wrongly, I wanted to tell you how I feel and, at this emotional junction in our lives, tell you again how much I love you.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010


Going to the doctors office these days makes me feel so deficient as a mother.  To start with, the past two times we've been, it's because I've left Oli unattended for a split second, and he has used that nano stroke to endanger himself.  This time it was a wooden door, the hinge side.  He'd crawled in to the downstairs loo, (not the actual loo, obviously, I'm not that incompetent...well...I don't want to tempt fate here, quick close the brackets).  The thing is, Oli's got a fixation for steps these days, even though he's not yet walking.  There's a lot of hauling up the stairs with me playing goaly behind him.  But on this occasion he had spotted the step we use so Max can reach the sink.
'Ah' he thought, 'I'll just crawl in here and while pulling myself up, stick my fingers somewhere where they can be crushed.'
That's when Max decided to swing the door closed.
I confess I cried too. I know I shouldn't have. I should have been telling him he was fine, it would all be OK. But there was so much wailing and so much snot across the face. It looked agony, his fat little finger swelling as the tears leaped from his closed eyes. There was no blood and I made sure he could still make fist, but it was nastily swollen. I searched desperately for the arnica cream which I've obviously put, for easy access, in a place where I expect bruises to take place, but of course, now I can't remember where that is. I'll add that it's quite hard to rummage through the medicine cabinet with a child on your hip, when that same child (who's stopped crying) is also trying to find something in this new and exciting cupboard he's never had access to before. 
During all this time, Max had shut himself in the bathroom where the injury had taken place. In a way I was quite glad. I couldn't really be angry with him, he'd only been shutting a door, after all.  Even so, a cross word might have escaped me if I'd seen him. Even though he didn't know Oli's hand was in the way, he was also shutting him in the bathroom with the lights off.
In the absence of arnica, I used ice. Then I called the nurse. I was hoping she'd dismiss my worries and reassure me, but she started talking about x-rays and splints. The only available appointment she could give me was slap bang in the middle of nap time.  As soon as she'd said 'x-ray', I'd known the finger was fine, but now I had to take the booking didn't I?  I could hardly refuse.
So there I am, in the waiting room, taking my deficiency on the road.  It's hot and we wait and wait some more. Max starts lying on the chairs, then crawling under them, he makes sqwarky loud noises despite my attempts to silence him.  Oli seems delighted to be in the pediatric office again.  He thinks Max's noises are the perfect soundtrack and tries out his own.  The sharp syllables hurt my ears and presumably other people's too.  I bribe Max with Rolos, the ones I'd promised to buy him if he did a pee in a public loo earlier that morning. The child has a phobia of automatic loos, the ones which flush without you touching anything.  I get it, but it makes extended outings problematic.
We are ushered into one of the doctor's rooms where it is even hotter and the wait seems even longer. Both boys are now flushed and hyperactive. Oli's on the bed, Max is crawling around on the floor. I try to protect the tissue paper covering the doctor's bed.  I try to protect the expensive-looking equipment the doctor uses to check eyes and ears; both have coiled cords hanging down which are endlessly alluring to my children. I try to protect my children from themselves.  I feel like I'm in a library full of glass books and they're all falling off the shelves and I'm the only one there to catch them.
When the doctor finally arrives I forget the niceties and start rattling off the details of what happened, desperate as I am to get out.  He has a slow measured style that makes me regret not pausing at least to wish him a happy new year.  I've told Max to sit on the chair while Oli's finger is assessed. That's when he gives me away by asking if he'll get more chocolate. The bribery is out.  The doctor pretends not to hear.
The assessment is brief and I hear the magic words; The finger's fine.  I scramble for the door and even though our exit is delayed by Max's protracted thoughts on sticker choice,  I can already feel the joy of rain on my face and the relief of taking my deficiency back to the privacy of my own home.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Time to Eat

I often find myself calling breakfast, lunch, or supper, breakfast.
'Just come and eat whatever meal this is.' I tell Max.
Oli has no choice; he's strapped in, a tray before him, with a spoon sticking out of the food in question.
The performance is about to start.
This evening it is cold chicken, a slice of avocado, some potato salad, a fish cake, some cheese and a few cherry tomatoes - anything that is still edible in the fridge.  This does not go unnoticed.
'Actually chicken is not my favourite.' Max chimes in.
Fortunately he decides he likes potato salad, then gags and complains I've left the skins on. At what point do I insist on table manners?  I hear myself become the mother I promised never to be.
'Just eat your food, and stop whining.'
Slowly the noise level begins to rise.
Carefully, Max starts to take his supper apart. Skins are peeled, fish cakes dissected, avocado squashed.
I try to help Oli get the spoon to his mouth without large dollops ending up on the floor. But the child who needs help, loudly refuses it; the other, who can quite easily put a fork to his mouth, is noisily demanding it.
'I neeeed you! I don't like the skins!'
The one ear I had on the radio is now reluctantly and firmly tuned to suppertime FM.  I remember that children need hydrating and pour out two cups of water.
That's when I notice a persistent droning about apple juice.  Max is well aware of the new rule about milk or water at supper (introduced not for dental hygiene but specifically to curb the drone).  Meanwhile Oli is desperately and noisily pointing at the counter tops; apparently he can see the one thing he really wants.  I scan the surfaces but can only spot a packet of bagged salad and half a cup of cold coffee in a cafetiere.
'Ma..Ma, Ma..Ma.'
He wants me? I give him my hands.
Ah, banana? From his vantage point, I know he cannot possibly have a visual on the fruit bowl, but I'm willing to concede this one.  I walk over to the dresser.
Max is beside me speaking loudly about a bruise.
'You've been hurt? Where?'
'I want a prune' he says.
I manage to get him to sit down again and when his plate is cleanish I open the packet of dried prunes.
'Just one or you'll be on the loo for hours.'
On second thoughts I give him three.
Hands are mopped, buckles unstrapped and the boys are returned to the important stuff of trains and cars.  The show is over, and I still can't really remember whether it was lunch or supper.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Turning Four

Every day this year (except, perhaps, the time he was vomiting into a bucket in a hot flat in Havelock North) Max has asked me if it is his birthday.
'Not yet.'
I suppose, as we approached this new decade, Dom or I must have let slip that this was the year in which Max would turn four. And what with being away from home this Christmas and away from family too, Max has been enjoying a drip-drip effect with the presents.  There were gifts on the day and more (those that hadn't made it into our luggage) when we eventually got home. Consequent trips to the post office have yielded yet more treats in snowflake wrapping paper within brown paper packaging.  All these presents; it makes Father Christmas look downright half-hearted.  So despite the drama of the first week of Max's new year (the aforementioned vomiting) he actually thinks 2010 is shaping up beautifully.  And a birthday would do very nicely about now, thank you.
'No, it's not your birthday today.'
'Is it tomorrow then?'
'No, not tomorrow.'
'But it was Lailey's birthday?'
'Yes, but you have a different one, on a different day...several months away.'
January, February, March, April. We count the months. He's not interested in what happens after April.
Hunter is the next preschool friend to have a birthday. Max has obviously been thinking about it, a lot;
'Will Hunter look different?'
'What do you mean?'
'His face...'
I realise Max must have overheard us talk about people getting older, people changing; contrasts made more stark because of the distances we have imposed within our family by moving to America.  It's all about degrees, but how is Max to know.  I reassure him that Hunter will look just the same. After all, Lailey didn't change did she? And he'll see the same face looking back at him in the mirror on his own birthday.  I just can't vouch the same for his mother, but I won't tell him so.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Back from the Southern Hemisphere

Hello there. Hello.  I know, it's been an age.  But we have not had the most promising start to 2010. Max spewing up the spicy sausages he'd especially stayed up for on New Year's Eve - that was the start of a week-long worry about whether he was hydrated enough, what was he ailing from, would he keep down the egg we'd just given him, was yogurt really a good idea, why had we come so far from home this Christmas, where had I put the disinfectant, was the lethargy a sign of some other illness, why was it so hot, when could I give him some more paracetamol, how could we get rid of the flies, how could we make sure Oli didn't get the same thing. With flights postponed for a week, we were holed up in a flat in Havelock North and began wondering if we would ever get back to the US...
I have never been happier to set foot on American soil than the moment we landed last night, particularly as we'd had an extra night in a hotel airport in Auckland, courtesy of Air New Zealand, because our original aircraft had some sort of mechanical failure. They love to bandy about that term but never tell you what the problems is - if they are going to talk about mechanical failure, they might at least get technical - was it the wing, the engine, the landing gear?  Perhaps it was lucky we never found out.
Bad things come in threes they say. And this afternoon I managed to lock Max in the car in a parking lot by the sea.  Two park policemen failed to get him out.  We'd just left a friend's fourth birthday so once I'd reassured Max that it was me that was locked out rather than him that was locked in, he settled in to the lollipops in his goody bag.  Thankfully Pop-A-Lock, in the form of Denis, tattooed up his neck and ring in his lip, came to our aid. Max was released and then promptly strapped back into his seat for the journey home.  I'm wondering whether, in fact, we should ever leave the house again...