Saturday, 12 October 2013

Hello panda eyes

Forget the panda cam craze capturing the hearts of the nation, more hello panda eyes. Claudia Winkleman, you have nothing on me. Not that she looks like a panda of course in fact she's smokin' the kohl look. It's just this tired bear's eyes isn’t an intentional look.

Let me explain…

It has become a daily occurrence that I find myself looking in the mirror in the ladies' at work and have to do a double-take. Who is this woman I see staring back? It usually happens just after that mid-morning lull; after about 10 cups of tea. The face staring back looks like an avalanche has taken place under her eyes. ‘Oh no’ I think to myself, ‘my make-up has smudged’ as I try to smear it off but nothing moves. Not even a baby wipe will suffice.

Nope, because what I've got are bags. Eye bags, dark bags, sleepless night bags, bags that even a cucumber slice or a tepid tea bag isn’t going do the trick.

Concealer – you used to be my friend. Now – nothing will work on these caves. These are more than ‘50 Shades of Grey’; they are every shade of purple in the spectrum. I’ve become Violet Beauregarde from Charlie and The Chocolate Factory and any moment now the Umpa Lumpas are going to come in and turn me into a huge blueberry.

At first I thought it was my mascara: maybe I need a more expensive brand? They drum it into you in the adverts, so it must be true: ‘luxurious, lengthening, luscious, life-changing’ as the pretty girl flutters her feelers. Then underneath you see the small-print: 'Model’s lashes have been enhanced.’

Still refusing to entertain the fact these circles might actually be my own skin colour, one day I got a cut under my eye; turns out I had been smudging, smidging and scratching too much and literally swooped the skin away, all in the name of vanity. Ouch.

I’m in a need of a make-over (or maybe some rest?). Instead of leisurely clothes shopping, my lunch breaks now mainly consist of doing the nappy run. Literally, I am a crazy panda-woman pegging it across the supermarket car park with a huge bag of baby essentials, rushing to get back to the office.

So I've sunk like the Titanic and this new look has reached new depths. I thought I had a style crisis before (see Lady in Red, below) but this is nothing compared to now. I need a touch of ‘Touche Eclat’, a hands-on make-up artist, ooh and a foot massage wouldn’t go amiss either.

Perhaps I’ll just have to tattoo the eyeliner on permanently, if Claudia can do it… Lady in Red

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Let it be

Resignation: a word that conjures up images of quitting and giving up. For the past year I have been writing, on and off, about a quest to find sleep, the real REM sleep; the stuff dreams are made of. So what have I learnt? That like most things in life if you fight it, it becomes a battle and then life becomes a bit of a struggle. And we’re not here on this planet long enough to be struggling – welcome to the new Zen, well kind of…

According to a study in New Zealand, by a year old, more than 85% of babies will sleep through the night for a solid 8 hours. Looking around at all my parent friends that percentage is sort of right. We just happen to be in the minority and well, that’s OK, I think. It’s all too easy to compare with friends when their darling sleeps like an angel and yours abruptly awakes like an amphibian on acid.

Equally, when you seek out the 15% of parents whose child never sleeps, it feels good – we are not alone! You too are up every few hours with a teething/nocturnal/wide-awake child. At 3am I know that maybe 5 of my friends are up too, we may as well have a conference call (and a coffee).

After meeting up with some friends for dinner one night whose children didn't sleep either, I had a bit of an epiphany. Having tried every single tactic in the book, and please don’t tell me to cry it out (the T-Shirt has been worn, 4 times) and even after having the sleep clinic out (didn’t know that service existed until we needed it) we are at where we are; still tired.

So this new tactic is not to have a tactic at all, it’s just one of acceptance. And it feels good. I feel like an athlete: for over a year I’ve pushed my mind and body to cope under extreme exhaustion, I’m running a marathon of (mal)function. No wonder I lost my baby weight and more (I guess there has to be some bonuses right?), I’m fuelling up on carbs and catnaps and I’m still managing to make decisions and make sense, just about.

In the virtual dustbin goes the emotive emails that promise you a child who sleeps; the ones you signed up to at 2am when you thought you had discovered the answer. The psychological sales technique that plays on (the already sleep deprived) parents' guilt and worry that if their child doesn’t 'get enough sleep' they will be not develop, grow, walk or talk (ever) and they'll be at the bottom of the class.

Well let me tell you Mrs-trying-too-hard-to-sell-your-book; my son is a genius (every child is to their parents, non?)! I am flabbergasted at his understanding, communication and ability to learn and pick things up at a rapid pace. For a one-and-a-bit year old, he understands absolutely everything, and tells us everything. He started talking at 9 months old and has been chattering away ever since. He wants to learn everything and demands to know what it is and how it works.             

Aha! I thought, let’s try and ‘talk’ him into sleeping. If he understands what we are saying, communicating back and is willing to try everything, perhaps he will sleep… But the experiments only made us laugh: when we asked him where he sleeps, he points to his cot. So far so good, ‘Your monkey is going to sleep now’ (shakes his head and says ‘no’). ‘Close your eyes now please’ (prods his fingers over his eyelid with one eye still open, smiling) ‘Mummy is very tired’ (prods his fingers in both my eyes and shuts my eyelids one by one). ‘You are going to have a long sleep all night like a big boy (shaking his head saying ‘uh-oh’). One night at 4am he woke just to tell us that the ‘door was over there, oh look!’ as if we hadn’t already walked through it half a dozen times that evening.

This morning, the baby alarm goes off at 5.30am after a broken night’s sleep. So I scoop him up and smother him in kisses. He starts giggling uncontrollably and it’s the best sound you can ever hear to start the day off.

And so I am resigned to the fact that we fall into the 15% of parents whose child wakes frequently in the night. Perhaps relaxing about it he will start to sleep better by not having the underlying tension of a haggard mother trying to get him to snooze. One of my best friends texted me to say if she could buy sleep she would. Now there’s a thought; what about banking it too? If someone could invent that I’d happily start up a savings account. In the mean-time I’ll take a deep breath and just go with it. It is what it is and it’s OK.

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

I'm a neurotic mother, get me outta here

Weighing in at under two stone, you’d think the littlest member of the family would be the easiest to transport. Yet the smallest person in the household comes with the most paraphernalia you can squish into a car boot.

Being a keen traveller, and aspiring travel writer, I figured that until I can do the latter, I need to go somewhere before I can actually write about it. Now that we have an addition to our family, it makes travelling around much more strategic; instead of the usual last-minute passport check, it’s now a planned military operation: ‘Have we got bubba’s change of clothes (for all seasons)/milk/nappies/ highchair/ toys/ etc.?’ and I swear that’s just for one night.
The thought of a holiday – seven full-days, getting on a plane, brings me out in a heat rash already.

I’ve been very lucky in that I’ve dipped my toe in most foreign shores: from your 18-30s girlie gallivants – sunrise to sunset European party package deals to your slumming it in Shanty towns. I’ve done the Brits-abroad backpacking, swum in shark-infested waters and got all romantic in Rome. I’ve stayed in most types of accommodation from mouse-infested hostels in New York to palatial hotels and private lodges in the South African mountains and floated to a swim-up bar in a tropical Thailand storm.
I’ve skied, safari’d, shopped, strolled, sailed, sunbathed and sight-seen. I even got married on a Balearic island. I think I’ve ventured pretty far, so why is it now difficult to travel ten miles down the road with a little person?

My initial reaction to planning a holiday or small trip should be one of excitement, but in reality, my first thoughts now are ‘Will there be a chemist nearby where we can buy Caplol?’ just in case, naturally.

A relative once nicknamed me ‘Nueromum’ - an amalgamation of neurotic and mother - we joked about it at the time, but actually, I think she may be onto something…Because I’ve now turned into a What If? Parent (WIP) e.g. ‘What if he gets poorly when we’re away? What if we haven’t packed enough nappies?’ etc.
And speaking of packing – our son’s day bag is always spilling out at the seams with stuff. There are even sections in there for different scenarios – teething, mealtimes out, rainy days, you know, just for what ifs.

The furthest we ventured with the wee one was a road trip in the UK to visit some rellies when he was three months old. We drove for about four hours – on a straight motorway with a couple of pit stops en route and bubba slept peacefully the whole journey. It’s not exactly anything to write home about but it was a sense of achievement at the time.
Help! Have I lost my sense of adventure now I’m a parent? I really hope not, I hope that our son can be well-travelled and cultured and see much more of the world that I have so far.

So with my travel quandary on whether to and where to holiday this year, I turned to my mummy friends who gave some great advice about travelling abroad with a baby:

  • Most airlines allow you to take more than 100ml of baby food/liquid as long as you prove it’s safe to airport security by drinking or tasting it – expressed breast milk anyone? 
  • Buy baby food airside at a branch of Boots
  • Bottle, breastfeed, dummy or generally feed for take-off and landings to help little one’s ears with the air pressure
  • Entertain with a toy that has a suction cup that can fix onto the food tray
  • For long-haul flights, reserve a sky cot if the airline provides one (do they have them for adults, please?)
  • Use a light-weight, fold up pushchair preferably with only one part 
  • Usually airline policies have extra luggage allowance for babies, so check first
  • Wrap baby up in layers that you can easily take off/put on if it gets hot/cold on the plane
  • Pre-order formula and collect it airside
  • Throw money at the situation if you can – buy the extra baggage/legroom etc., happy parents = happy baby
  • Most of all relax – don’t contemplate or stress about routines and ignore the clock; most of the time baby will be relaxed abroad and will be content in the buggy
OK it sounds more doable now in my head. I now have visions of my husband and I sipping cocktails on a roof terrace while the boy is next to us snoozing happily in the pram. I’m imagining walking along the beach with baby on hip... actually scrap that, with him soon to be weighing two stone that may not be likely – perhaps more toddling and dipping his toes into the warm sea and making his first sandcastle with Daddy.

And anyway, I have to remind myself that we are very privileged to be living in a world where we can travel around, have access to almost everything we need in shops and where we can use our plastic abroad. Some people aren’t lucky enough to go away at all. Maybe it’s not so stressful after all? 

Hmm, perhaps this year we’ll just caravan it, one of those trailer-types would do. That way, I could simply fill it all up with the baby bits we need for all those (un?)necessary occasions, you know,  just in case...maybe my inner WIP will still need some working on.

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Walking, talking, living...

I've entered baby world: fully-fledged in parenthood, immersed with infant interaction and now nifty in nappy changing. I first started a baby blog just to jot down the hilarious experiences I found myself having. Unbeknown to me at the time; every parent was blogging about the humdrum of their daily lives. Not only that, but there were awards for these blogs, and some parents were even making a lucrative living out them – well, OK getting by, by reviewing products and events.

Over a glass of red one evening, a friend and I swore we would never be one of those mothers - you know the ones that only talk about the contents of their baby's nappy (especially to friends who don’t have children). Then one day I found myself explaining to a friend's boyfriend – over lunch no less – about a 'poop' disaster that had happened that morning. After realising what I was doing, I cut myself short and apologised profusely. 
I've got to keep reminding myself of ‘that promise’ because I was indeed that very person; I would get agitated when my friends with children would disclose information about their child’s nocturnal nuisances. Switching off, I would be thinking to myself: ‘Yes, I had a lovely holiday, thanks for asking how I am.'

Now I’m mingling (OK, conversing on twitter) with the yummy mummies and I kind of feel like I've been pigeonholed into a new social group that I’m not sure I’m quite comfortable with. Have I turned into a walking, talking, living, blogging mummy cliché? I don't make jam, I don't sew and I certainly don't do domestic bliss. I still want to jet around the world, get sloshed on spritzers, own a villa in Ibiza – and on top of that I have high ambitions with my career. The difference now is my child has given me even more of a drive to be successful; to give him a better life.

If I’m honest, I cringe at the regular gushing baby updates through social media. Even I’m not interested that ‘Phoebe has not eaten her porridge for breakfast’ that morning, or ‘Archie has just been potty trained’ with added photo for effect. Aren’t we already living in world over-saturated with online sharing; one where we have all become a bit narcissistic, without our children’s lives also being documented in a timeline? And don’t get me started on all the parental acronyms that only those-in-the-know, know.

I once went to visit my sister in Los Angeles where we took my new niece to a baby group of some description. It was one of those groups where you have to join in and sing and perform animatedly – very LA. I was absolutely bewildered and felt like an awkward teenager (I was in my early 20s) and that day, I made a mental note to myself to never turn into a happy-clappy parent.

Yet here I am singing 'Head, shoulders, knees and toes' at 6am and I absolutely love it. I’m joined to every gurgling group around and coffee with friends comes with a slice of cake and is a necessary part of the week to discuss our darling’s developments. Without realising, I’m now part of the buggy-brigade and words like ‘Babyccino’ will no doubt become a normal part of my vocab. 
I am so grateful and feel incredibly lucky and blessed to have our beautiful, healthy baby boy. I’ve never felt love like it – I want to kamikaze anyone who may potentially put him in danger. Have I changed? Of course I blimin' have; my whole outlook has changed and I have a new empathy and respect for every parent on the planet. Our son comes first in our little family and I’m usually last. At the very least, I’m so busy being a new mum I microwave my forgotten cold cup of tea about seven times a day. 

Yet despite all this, I still don’t want to be part of the baby blogging world that has become so trendy (passé?). Not that I think there is anything wrong with it. In fact, I think for parents out there who need it; having an online support network, especially for people who may not have one in the ‘real-world’ – and who are experiencing difficulties from the mild ‘Argh! I’m having a moment’ to the more serious post-natal depression – it is essential. 
I have learnt that having a baby is all consuming, and I’m sure I’ve been guilty of only talking about our bundle of joy at times. I'll find a balance, I'm still determined to be successful and make a difference in this world. At the moment I’m a bit in the middle (I’ve always been known to sit on the fence): I’m not quite ready for an all-nighter sans baby but after nine months I’m just about ready to discuss non-related baby babble. Besides, I wouldn’t want to inflict all-night babysitting on anyone right now as our son enjoys his habitual nightly awakenings and cuddles too much.

My next challenge is going back to work next week, part-time mind; the best of both? We'll see I hope so. As for this new yummy mummy social group – maybe it's inevitable – just please, please don't talk to me about recipes, or knitting, or cupcakes…

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Mrs Muscle

I now come with baggage. Not the emotional kind, but literally; I am the bag lady - except I don't ever get to carry my own handbag, oh no; I lug around a compulsory changing bag.

Whilst I've never been into 'It' bags as such, (my husband did buy me a beautiful Balenciaga handbag once) it would be nice to carry something a little less cumbersome; more feminine shall we say.

For some reason, I can't seem to downsize and end up packing for all occasions and even then, I usually forget something necessary. How did I turn into an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink kinda girl?
I mean really, does our little one need three toys, a couple of just-in-case-snacks and a book if we're popping into town?
Do I really need seven nappies if I'm just out for an hour?
Should I bother bringing the bouncer/play-mat/walker/donut/ etc. if I’m popping to a friend’s house for a quick cuppa?
Then there's the time I brought sun cream - amongst other useless items - when he was merely seven weeks old and hidden in the pram under at least 47 muslins so even the tiniest speck of sun couldn't permeate its rays (neurotic new mother syndrome).

On the odd occasion, if he does require a change of clothes, I proudly tell myself 'See, it was worth it' and feel a sense of justification, but my back and shoulders think otherwise. In fact, I am so laden with stuff, the kitchen sink might as well come with us; it makes no odds.
So toned am I, Mr Muscle would be quaking in his vest: for I am now rock 'ard and have Madonna-esque arms. There's no need for post-pregnancy work-outs; along with the monster pram and lead-filled car seat (what do they put in them?) I can carry a tonne, and that's sans baby (and he's a growing lad).

Is it a feminine trait to pack up the whole house I wonder? I've been out with friends and a sheepish Dad has approached us asking if someone has a spare baby wipe. My husband once took the wee one out and left the sacred Sac Magique behind and had to go back for it, he joked, 'At least I didn't forget the most important thing...'
I'm in charge of 'packing the bag' and this is done in methodical fashion: a section for what-if-he-is-a-bit-poorly, a teething-pocket, then there's all the food and more than usual; the zip won't fasten and it's all spilling out.

So how do I streamline? As he gets older he will only acquire more things; next it will be a car, a house... ah, so that's how parenting works...