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.