Monday, 7 October 2013

Foreign countries

So. I haven't been around here much lately. I haven't been around anywhere much lately, to be honest. Let's not mince about - it's been pretty grim. Hellish, at times, even. At least if hell is a frantically teething baby who refuses to sleep, then erupts into inconsolable wailing if he gets too tired. Because why didn't you make me sleep earlier, woman? Whhhhhhhhhhyyyyyyyyy??? Now I can't even breathe because of you. I haaaaaaattttteee yooooou. Etc etc. Repeat. And die.

Yes, yes, I know. It's not the apocalypse. It's not death, disease, or famine. It's just a lack of sleep. From the outside, I'm quite aware that I look like a miserable, self-obsessed, moany, lazy, boring boring boring cow. But from the inside, tiredness like this is just torture. It just keeps chipping away at you, day after day. After a couple of nights, all you can think about is sleep. How little you've had, how tired you are, how and when you're going to get some. You start fantasizing about the future, when your children have grown up and left home, and you're free to just sleep all day long, and do nothing else. It takes away your sense of humour, your sense of perspective, your personality. And your writing ability, if this post so far is anything to go by. I started feeling resentful of anyone else who got to sleep more than me, which was basically the rest of the world, as far as I was concerned.

And, my lord, it makes you boring. All I can talk about is sleep, and how tired I am. I'm sure everyone who has had the misfortune of encountering me in the last couple of months has been ready to bite down on the cyanide pill after two minutes in my dismal presence. I know how awful I am to be around, but I just can't help it. When I'm this tired, and there's no prospect of getting more sleep any time soon, everything feels grey. It's like I have a bag tied over my head, which makes witty conversation rather difficult. Basically, it just makes me so very, very sad. And everything makes it worse. Knowing I'm being boring makes me sad. Seeing what a disgusting state the house is in makes me sad. Seeing what a disgusting state I'm in. I start to think that nobody really likes me, that I don't really have any friends, that I'm useless, ugly, a bad mother.

Unsurprisingly, I've started to wonder whether I actually have postnatal depression, rather than just being terminally knackered. I mean, it's not normal to feel like this. All mums are tired, but they don't go around weeping because the living room floor needs vaccing, and they don't have the energy to do it. But then I get a couple of hours sleep in a row, and feel all sunshine and light and yay! Let's do some washing and dance around the house with Flumpy, singing show tunes and farting glitter. And I don't think PND works like that.

But it gets wearing, scraping a couple of hours sleep a night, then being shouted and screamed at all day by someone you don't understand, who doesn't understand you. You think they hate you. You start to think you might hate them. Then you hate yourself for even thinking that. And you know that most of the shouting and screaming is because this other person is tired and needs to sleep, but just try explaining that in baby language. Because one thing tired babies are incapable of doing is going to sleep (one of many serious design flaws in my opinion. Along with teeth that have to slowly and torturously make their way through delicate gums. Give them teeth at birth, for godsake. I'll take savaged nipples over months of pain ravaged baby any time). You simply cannot force the little buggers to go to sleep, much as you may be tempted into a little light smothering into mild unconsciousness. (Joke! JOKE! Please don't call Childline, anyone. Motherline, possibly, should such a thing have come into existence).

I've said before (over and over again, to boringness and back, I'm sure, but bear with me, I'm tired, and originality was one of the first things to go to the wall after the revolution) that having a small baby is like being in a foreign country where you don't speak the language.

Lumpy, at three and a quarter, is a bit like America. He does some odd things I don't really understand (like maple syrup with bacon. Whaaaaat? That's America, not him, by the way, though he probably would, given the chance), but we ultimately speak the same language. Flumpy is an undiscovered Peruvian rainforest tribe. I'm trying to make friendly contact and offer some shiny beads, but he mainly wants to stab me through the head with his spear. And who can blame him?

But we're getting there. Slowly, I'm learning the key phrases. Realizing that beads, however shiny, are a bit patronizing.

And I love him, despite the spear. Good lord, I do. The other day, at nearly midnight, I'd just fed him. At 8pm he'd screamed so much, refusing the bottle of expressed milk he normally happily falls asleep slipping down. I thought he had to scream himself asleep, eventually, so exhausting it had to be, being that angry. Like crying it out, I suppose, except cradled desperately, lovingly, in the arms of his grandma, father, then mother, as he was. Eventually he did lapse into unconsciousness, but only after the boob had been liberally applied, the evil bottle cast aside.

But midnight was different. Calm and sleepy, sniffly and sweet. Stirring just enough to justify getting him out of the cot and into my arms, to get this first night feed out of the way in hope of a couple of hours sleep as recompense, rather than a half hour doze broken by outraged screaming. And he was lovely. Heavy with sleep, sucking quietly and rhythmically. Utterly relaxed, surrendered to it all, his arms not flailing and fighting as normal. Afterwards I held him on my shoulder, tiny yet solid, huffing hot little breaths into my hair, cheek to cheek. And I loved him more than anything. More than sleep, more than time, more than freedom and youth and all the things I've cried the loss of over the last couple of months, made crazy by exhaustion and guilt and failure.

You're a foreign country, my darling boy. An exotic tribe. But one day we'll both be fluent.

Thursday, 8 August 2013


[DISCLAIMER: I realize how deeply irritating and unamusing those 'ohmahgawd, my kid said the funniest thing today, let me tell you all about it again and again so you can pretend to laugh while actually wanting to tear your own ears off and eat them' things are. I know, believe me. So all I can say for these is, sorry. I am that parent wanker.]

Lumpy follows me into the loo: "I have to come too," he says, matter of factly. "Because I'm the wee wee supervisor."

During a picnic in the garden, with genuine panic: "Mummy, mummy, the brie might blow away!"

At the play session, in the Wendy house, holding the door shut against a determined crawler who wants to come in. I intervene, giving the standard bollocks about sharing, blah blah blah. Lumpy looks at me with great sincerity and says "But I can't let her in, because of the sign. The sign on the door says 'no babies allowed.'"

At the pub, pretty much out of nowhere: "Instead of calling you mummy, we could call you Jim."

Okay. I'll shut up and go away now.

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Flumpy's newborn survival guide

Hallos! Flumpies hear. They haz tryed to keep me quiet, buts I shall be herd. I haz tied ups boob ladie and stollen her computerz. And so's, allows me two present...


Newbornz! Lets me guide yous. I am now verys old and wize ands can tell yous what you needz to get yous threw this difficults earlie stage.

1. BOOB.
This one is a bits obviouses. Howeverz - there are peoples out their who will tries to keep you from your rightful access to the BOOB, limitings you to a mear 25 hourz a daze. You needs to make it clear from a verys earlie stage that the BOOB is yourz and yourz alones, and thats you rechoir excess at alls time. If their iz any delays, SCREAMZ. Gets youre boob ladie trained ealie. Iz worth the efforts in the long runz.

Okays, so whose else iz into bondages? I knows I am. Makes it clear that if the parentals wants you to sleepz, they must keeps you well rapped. If they donts, flails around as much as possibles, smack yourselfs in face, claw at eyes, ect. They will learnz.

It iz temptings to just make boob ladie carry yous around at all timez. Howevers, sometime iz good to let her use her handz - mainlie so she canz wash nappys and dance like performing monkeys for entertainments. At this times, slings is usefuls. Also offers grate oppertunities for clawing at skins with youre carfully sharponed fingersnailz. And headbuttings. All goodz.

Sometimez milks is not enuf. A persons getz thirstie, you nose? Parentals thinks you needz barfs for keepings cleanz, but oh noes. Iz reallie for drinkings. Whenevers boob ladie look aways, dives into the luvli barf waters and drinks as much as you canz, pref threw noze. Iz delicus.

This is verry importants. You must sleepz for at least 21.5 hours a daze. Or for 5. One or the otherz.

Donts tell the parentals which, though. This is evens more importants.

Self explanatries.

Ands that iz it. All you needz to survivals youre first 13 weaks. Good lucks, comrades!

Monday, 15 July 2013

12 weeks

To my lovely little Flumpy.

You're 12 weeks today. 12 weeks of smiles, giggles, outraged howls, four-hour cuddles, and adventures. So many adventures.

We've been to London - just you and me, on the train. All I have to do is pop you in the sling, or click you into the car seat, and we're off. You'll go anywhere with me, it seems, so long as I bring my boobs. We went to Henley, and you behaved so well that they almost let you in to the Steward's Enclosure - but unfortunately you weren't in a blazer and flannels, so no go. I've rediscovered shopping - something Lumpy hasn't tolerated for years. But you're happy to come along for the ride, so we haunt Cowley centre once again (maternity leave wouldn't be complete without it) - rampaging through the chavs and charity shops. We attack the four-mile walk into Oxford with gusto, to watch a strange array of films at the Big Scream mother and baby screening. But you don't scream, rising above such lowly expectations of your behaviour, and I sit there and glow with smugness.

Not that you are incapable of showing your displeasure. Ninety eight per cent of the time you are sunniness and serenity, taking everything in, following our conversations attentively, and wiggling each of your limbs in sheer joy at the sight of the leaves swaying above you. But that two per cent of the time - if we've let you get too tired, or I dare to attack you with the snot sucker, then, my lord, you know how to show it. Look on my wrath, you parents, and be afeared.

At these times, while jiggling your outraged, rigid body, I whisper that you're meant to be the easy, placid, second baby. That I only signed up for this because that was what I was promised. But that's not fair. You are so incredibly happy, good-natured, and cheerful, it's just such a shock when you do cry that it seems strange and extreme to us. We're just so lucky. So lucky that you're you.

You are so like your big brother in so many ways. Sometimes it's like I've just dozed off and I'm back there, three years ago, a brand new, totally clueless, mother of a little Lumpy (as opposed to the consummate professional parent I am now, ho diddly he). You look like him, smile like him - oh, those explosive, open-mouthed, half-moon grins. You gave me one of those first thing this morning, after I scooped you out of your cot. You are just delicious. I could have eaten you up right there, but then I'd have gone to prison for cannibalism, and there'd be no one to wash your nappies, and my boobs would explode within five hours, and that would be no good. So I restrained myself.

From your magnificent array of coos, squawk, and grunts, I think you'll be a talker, just like Lumpy. At least, I hope so. Though I may regret that wish in two years time, when I have two little loonies shouting at me all day long.

I hope you will laugh as much as he does. You've had a good start - you giggled for the first time, last Friday. We were standing by the river, on the way back from the pub, watching a rowdy boat full of post-GCSE students with extraordinary hair (what is it with young people and their hair? And, more importantly, when did I become such an extraordinary old fart?) passing through the lock. I was leaning over you in the pram, smiling at you like a loon, laughing and tickling you in the armpits. And you giggled and giggled and giggled. What a brilliant sound that was. I keep trying to get you to do it again, but you resolutely refuse. Perhaps you were actually laughing at the oddly dressed young 'uns on the boat.

We're out of the really new, newborn phase, now. You're no longer a cross little maggot, who I couldn't put down for two minutes. You like your own space now, happily wiggling on the floor with Lumpy's pals from three years ago, Mr Bee, Zed-Bo, and Mr Moose.

You're sleeping on me less and less, and actually nap more easily in your cot (though you only ever stay asleep there for an hour max, whereas if I can get you to drop off on me, you'll stay there all day long, for hours on end, even now. I love that. You can sleep on my chest for as long as you want, till you're in your thirties, if you like. People may think that's weird, and we may be shunned as social pariahs and freaks, but so be it. Snooze on, little man.

But even as you're growing up - every minute, every hour, before my very eyes - you still seem to need me - or want me, rather. Sometimes, when I reach out to you, as you're lying on the floor, or in your cot, you grab on to my hand and pull it towards you, holding on so tight. And my heart just melts. I love you, my little Flumpy. You make that so very, very easy.

Monday, 8 July 2013


Lumpy, at the model village - his special request for a third birthday treat. He watches the model train pass under a bridge, runs to the other side, and strains to see as it disappears round a corner. A small contented sigh escapes as he turns and walks along the path. Then his face lights up again. "A train!" he shouts, breaking into a sprint.


*         *          *

Flumpy lies on my lap as I'm slumped on the couch. I look down from the television, and realize his face is filled with a half-moon smile, gummy and gorgeous. "Geeeeee eyyyy ahhhhh," he says. "Geeeeee eyyyyy ahhhhhh," I reply. "Mmmm maaaaah," he says. "Mmmm maaaah," I reply. This goes on for half an hour. It's the best conversation I've had for ages.

Photo: Raaaaaaaaah!

*          *         *

Lumpy's birthday party. His special surprise has arrived - a bouncy castle. As soon as it's inflated, he's on there, flinging himself about with delight. Eventually he's persuaded off, and goes into the house to wait for his guests to arrive. "I love my bouncy castle," he says as he's walking away. "I love him because he's my friend."

Three hours or so later, the party is in its final stages. Sweaty from too much bouncy (can you ever have too much bouncing? Really?), the guests decide some cooling off is required. Body after body squeezes in to the world's smallest paddling pool. There is much squealing and splashing. We take photos. This will be excellent blackmail material in a few years' time.

End of the party. One of the mums (of whom I am slightly afraid) pauses as she herds her triplets out of the gate. "I have to admit," she says, "when you said 10 till 2, I had my doubts."
"Oh," I say. "Why? Was that not enough time?"
She snorts. "Too much time. Two hours. That's how long a children's party is. But you did it just right." (I think she means we let the children run wild and didn't attempt to corral them in any way). "And I'm totally going to steal your way of doing pass the parcel. I've never liked it before, but your way was great." (My way is putting a present in every layer of paper, with enough layers for each child. Somehow, everyone ends up with a present. What's the chances?).
I swell with pride.

*          *          *

After a grizzly morning, when nothing seems able to settle him, Flumpy finally falls asleep in my arms. I carefully carry him up the stairs, to put him in the Nature's Nest. Halfway up I stop and just stare at the sweet, tiny, curled up, snoring bundle. And I feel glad. So very glad.

Photo: Pooped

*          *          *

Monday after Lumpy's birthday weekend. I go in to nursery in the afternoon, bringing the 28 party bags I filled the night before, then subsequently emptied in the morning, to take out the packets of Haribo, so that each parent can be asked if their child is allowed such evil sweets. Flumpy comes, strapped to me in the sling. Every child strokes and pokes him. He blinks inquisitively at them.
We play musical chairs. Lumpy insists that I play too, holding his hand. As the chairs reduce he gets more anxious. "I don't want to miss," he says. "I don't want to miss." He gets knocked out when there are three chairs remaining and dissolves into tears. He says he won't join in any more games, so I scoop him up, and we dance together for musical statues, laughing every time we freeze. Flumpy sleeps on in the sling. My arm sings with the strain of holding Lumpy up, but I won't put him down. We win.

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Tri your luck

On Saturday, my boob was rather sore (yes, it's hot and heavy boob chat again - you've missed that, haven't you?). It felt a bit like when my milk had come in back on day three or so, when my boobs transformed overnight into gigantic, rock solid torpedoes rather reminiscent of Jordan's artificially enhanced assets (except they really, really hurt and spurted milk constantly, which I'm guessing doesn't happen with your average page three girl's fun bags). Well, it was a bit like that, but only on the left side, and only in one place, on the very top of the aforementioned boob. There was one section that just stayed hard all of the time, and was getting increasingly sore, to the point that I was wincing if Lumpy threw himself into my arms for a cuddle. And it's not great to push your toddler away, screaming like a harpy, when he's being affectionate. That's the sort of thing that leads to complexes in later life.

So, of course, I turned to Dr Google, as all sensible people do in this day and age. And there I discovered that I most likely had a blocked milk duct. The advice for curing this was to feed the Flumpy as often as possible, and to rest. Take to your bed, the interwebs said. Now, usually I would greet such advice with delight, and immediately gallop up the stairs with a week's supply of chocolate, IQ-lowering magazines, and Flumpy under my arm.

Unfortunately, this weekend I had something else to do. Something which didn't involve lying around in bed all day, stuffing myself with maltesers and reading about Jessica Simpson's baby bump.

Rewind about 9 or 10 months, when my lovely friend The Engineer suggested we sign up for Blenheim Triathlon. She wanted a challenge to aim for, and wanted to recruit me as a training partner. I had an inkling I was pregnant, so I held off a bit until we'd had the 12 week scan, all looked well, and we had a due date. Okay, so the due date was six weeks before the triathlon, but that would be plenty of time to recover and train, right? Wonderful thing, delusion.

Well, it certainly gave me something to aim for during the pregnancy. A little background: I've never been much of a runner. Swimming is good, I've been doing that most of my life and the 750m splashabout involved in Blenheim wasn't that scary a concept, even without much training. The cycling was a bit middling - I cycled every day to work and back (towing 30lbs of Lumpy on the way back), but that was only about 4 miles each way - in Blenheim I'd have to do 20kms - over three times that distance. And I'd never done any sort of bike racing before. But I reckoned I could do it, though probably not very fast. Then there was the run. Okay, so in a sprint triathlon that's only 5kms. I can run 5kms - in fact, just after the triathlon idea was voiced I ran that distance on a treadmill and it was only slightly horrifically painful. About a week after that I found out I was up the duffer.

As I documented last time around, I like putting my unborn child at risk by going mental in the gym throughout pregnancy, and this time wasn't going to be any exception. But this time I was going to run! I hate running, I'm crap at it, and every step is torture to me, but godammit I was going to run, and I was going to like it. Or not. But you get what I mean.

Since the treadmill 5km had been so excruciatingly painful, I decided to get back to basics. I found a couch to 5km program, and, pathetic though it felt, started to do that - walking for 1 minute, running for 1 minute, and building slowly up. Since Lumpy was born, I haven't had masses of opportunities for going to the gym, so I was pretty much limited to once a week. But I kept trogging along, shaking the running machine, and scaring everyone else in the gym as I got progressively bigger and more heifer-like.

And the really weird thing was that I started to enjoy the running. I know. I was baffled and concerned, too, but I decided just to run with it. Run with it. See what I did there? Ah ho ho, I am so amusing.

I got to the point of being able to run for a bit over 20 minutes, without too much distress, wailing, or random violence. By this point, I was about 32 weeks. Then, I got ill with the Evil Cough of Death and Suffering and missed a couple of weeks because I was too busy moaning about my cough. By the time I got back in the gym I had got a bit bigger, and a lot worse at running, all of a sudden. So I went back to running and walking, only managing about 1km of running at a time. I kept it up till 38 weeks, by which point I was only managing about 500m of running at a time and generally broke any treadmill I lumbered on. I then got banned from the gym, naturally, so couldn't do any more training. But luckily Flumpy plopped out less than a week later, so the was okay.

And the cycling? Well, I'd kept up the old commute and Lumpy drag as well, though also getting progressively slower and more sweary. The last cycle I did was on the Thursday, 5 days before Flumpy's arrival, having cycled in for my last day of work, heading back with a pot of tulips dangling from my handlebars. The day before that I'd hauled Lumpy home, and it had been the Worst Cycle Ever, officially. There was a gale force wind blowing in my face, pissing rain, well, pissing all over me, and I was not a happy walrus on wheels.

However, I knew I had a secret weapon up my sleeve. Or, rather, in my shed. Because for my birthday, Mr Badger had bought me this little beauty:

Photo: Awesome birthday present (have just about got over the fact it's not made of chocolate).

Yep, a real proper racing bike. It was a thing of beauty, and would no doubt make me super speedy, just through the power of its gorgeousness. Unfortunately, since I was 36 weeks preggo on my birthday, I hadn't actually got a chance to ride it. Also - check out that saddle. There's a chance that would disappear entirely if I attempted to sit on it. Yowzers.

So I had to wait. Until two weeks after Flumpy arrived. At which point I was ready for an adventure with The Engineer.

Photo: Awesome ride this afternoon on the new bike with my wingman May Deegan. C'mon Blenheim tri, I'll have you.

With all the glorious Oxfordshire countryside at our wheels, we decided to cycle around the ring road. This was mainly because it has a cycle path beside it, and we were a bit scared of falling under cars if we went on the actual road. My padded pants hadn't arrived yet, but luckily my big squishy gel-filled saddle had, so the lady parts just about survived the trip. And, man, was it a lot more fun than running. I abandoned my plans of becoming an Olympic marathon runner, and decided to go for the Tour de France instead. Over the next few weeks I got out on the bike a few more times, going right round the ring road again, because I just can't get enough of diesel fumes and tarmac, and also doing a bit of a Tour de Abingdon. It wasn't a lot, but I'd realized I could cycle 20km without too much trouble, and I'd learnt how to change gear, and how to get my water bottle out of its cage without falling off (getting it back in was a different matter).

I also went for a couple of runs. At the first one, about two weeks post-Flumpy, I reckoned I'd probably be able to run about 500m before needing to stop, as I had in my last session at the gym. So I started trogging up the road, fully prepared to stop running and start crying after a few minutes. But, to my great surprise, I carried on. I did just under 5km that day without stopping. Yes, it was very slow, but it was a start. And my god, how much easier it was than when I was carrying a sack of baby and all the trimmings tucked inside my abdomen. Who'd have guessed?

I managed about a run a week in the five weeks leading up to the triathlon from then. They got faster, and easier, and yes, to my shame, I started to enjoy them. I hadn't done any swimming for about 50 years, but as I said above, I had the confidence of an idiot on that front. In the last few weeks, I decided I'd better check I hadn't actually forgotten how to swim, and took myself down to the pool. And luckily my inner fish re-emerged - a bit stinky, it has to be admitted, but floating (bloated and on its back).

And that was it. My guide to (not) preparing for a triathlon.

On the Saturday it was The Engineer's turn, so I took my sore boob, and my numerous progeny, down to Blenheim to watch her. And she was magnificent. But my goodness, it looked like hard work. Luckily, I'm currently so sleep deprived, that I pass through life in a bit of a daze, so the reality of it didn't really sink in. Not until I was forcing my boobs into a rubber suit by the side of a lake, and saying goodbye to little Lumpy, possibly forever.

 Mmmm, mummy smells of neoprene. And fear.

And then I was throwing myself into a lake, along with 250 fellow loonies. Luckily, I've done this a few times before, so the whole frenzy of splashing, flailing bodies wasn't too disturbing. I knew that this element should be my strongest by quite a long way, but it still felt fairly hard. I hadn't done any open water swimming for almost a year, and hadn't competed for nearer two, and I quite wanted it to be over by about halfway. But I kept on flailing along with the rest of them, and didn't seem to be being overtaken too much, so assumed I wasn't doing too badly. However, because I am a total twat (as evidenced in numerous places on this blog) I hadn't spat in my goggles before the race started. If you're not into throwing yourself into cold water (and why aren't you? Weirdo) then you might not know that the difference in temperature between you and said cold water generally makes your goggles cloud up, seriously limiting your ability to see. For some reason (I'm a bit vague on the physics of all this), spitting into your goggles then rinsing them out stops this happening. But this time, for some unknown twattish reason, I thought, nah, I'm not going to do that this time. Who needs to see?

Well, me, it turns out. After about 300m my goggles started to steam up. By halfway I really couldn't see much at all. So I had to just follow the flailing bodies closest to me, and hope they were going in the right direction. I have no idea whether this led to me swimming in the wrong direction because I couldn't see. But somehow I eventually got to the finish, and was hauled out of the water by one of the lovely helpers who were standing at the shore to drag us soggy idiots to safety. The helper also unzipped my wetsuit for me, which was great, because I couldn't really feel my hands any more.

Then we came to the Blenheim Special - the sneaky little extra bit of the triathlon that they don't really tell you about until you're doing it. Once you get out of the lake, you have to run to the transition area, which is in the courtyard of the palace itself. Unfortunately, between those two things is a massive great mountain, akin, I would say, to Everest. Or Snowdon, at the very least. All right, it's just a bit of a slope, but lolloping up that while wobbly, barefoot, soggy, and trying to get yourself out of a rubber suit is a bit of a challenge, to say the least. I'd planned on walking up this hill, while calmly removing the top half of my wetsuit, but, caught up in the excitement of the moment I started to jog. It was bloody knackering. Eventually I got to the top of the hill, and heard the first cheer of my supporters.


 Yep, all those people were there to cheer me on. I'm really, really popular, you know.

I lumbered into the palace and managed to find my bike. I flapped around for a bit, then managed to get my helmet on, swig some energy drink, and peel my wetsuit off without falling on my arse - achievement! I almost left without putting my shoes on, but remembered at the last minute, before grabbing my beautiful steed and galloping (alright, still lumbering) towards the bike start. I leapt onboard, dropped down onto my handlebars, and started pedalling, attempting to channel my inner Chris Hoy (I have the thighs sorted, though the rest leaves a little to be desired). Luckily my adoring fans were there to scream at me, so I pedalled good and hard, and actually felt quite pro.

Now, The Engineer had told me about The Hill on the bike course. But I hadn't really taken in how big this hill would be. I pedalled up a couple of little mounds and thought 'was that it? That wasn't that bad, really.' And then we had a steep, exciting downhill bit, went over a cattle grid (thankfully covered), and I hit it. I changed down gear. Then down again. And again. And a few more times. We were now at the point where I was pedalling really rather fast but not actually going anywhere. Crippled snails were overtaking me. But I kept going. And the Engineer, bless her heart, had told me that when I got to the Portaloo, I was almost there, so that kept me going (while we're on the subject, why exactly was there a Portaloo at that point on the course? Are you really going to decide, nearly at the end of the biggest climb on the course, that it's a perfect time to hop off and have a wee? This didn't occur to me at the time, but it does now.) At the very top of the hill there was an almost comically stereotypical army sergeant dressed in fatigues, bellowing at everyone as they whimpered their way up the last few metres of hill. As I approached he reached a new level of incandescence, screaming 'Stop being so pathetic! It's almost over! Pedal!' I genuinely though he was yelling at me, because I was going so slowly, before he added 'Get back on your bike!', and I realized that, as I did still seem to be mounted, he was obviously talking to someone behind me, who was so despairing, they'd got off and decided to push. Though he did spit at me as I passed.

Not really.

After that, we had a bit of flat, and I found that even though I was quite woefully slow on the hill itself, everyone else seemed to go into shock afterwards, and I managed to overtake lots of people. The same was true on the massive downhill which came next. Everyone else seemed to use their brakes on this bit, while I flew past them yelling 'Come on, you saps! It's free speed! Free speeeeeeeed!' Before crashing into a fence in a ball of flames.

In surprisingly little time, I was nearing the end of the circuit. I knew this because there was suddenly a line of army cadets telling me to prepare to dismount ahead. The previous day, while spectating, we'd come across this part of the course, seen everyone jumping off their bikes, and assumed it was the lead in to transition. Then we'd noticed them jumping back on, about 10 metres later. It turned out that the previous day, a bus had crashed into the bridge built over that section of the course, which was meant to carry the mass of spectators safely across, without them being run over by speeding bikes, rendering it unusable. So the spectators had to run across the course itself in the gaps between cyclists. In an event with over 7000 people competing, there aren't a lot of gaps, so they were making the cyclists dismount, run for a bit, then get back on, while they screamed at the spectators to get across the road, now! Quick! Quicker! No! Stop! STOP!

It was lots of fun. And there's nothing like trying to jump off your bike, run for 10 metres, then get back on, with nervous, wobbly, bike-tired legs. Amazingly, I didn't fall on my arse, but many did, so at least the poor spectators waiting to cross had something to entertain them.

As I remounted and 'sped' off for my second lap, the course got progressively busier. It turned out that my swim, despite being done blind, had still been reasonably speedy, but now the rest of the field had got onto the course. This made things a bit more interesting. You get all sorts at Blenheim, from total beginners (like me), up to the real pros, with their reflective goggles and pointy helmets. Bike-speed wise, I seemed to be somewhere in the middle, which meant half the time I was being overtaken by pointy heads, and the other half I was attempting to get past people on mountain bikes.

Going up the hill a second time was actually better than the first. Partly because I knew what was coming (and had the shouty sergeant to look forward to), but also because there were a lot more people around this time, and - lo and behold - most of them were just as slow as me, which was strangely reassuring, and helped me to keep going. And I knew that when I got to the top, I only needed to do it one more time. Hurrah!

Once there, I powered across the flat, and zoomed down the hill as quickly as I could, leaving the sensible people (aka wimps) in my wake. Then it was off the bike, on the bike, and round once more. The third time up the hill there were even more people wobbling around beside me. One bloke, who became something of a personal nemesis during the race (we'll call him the green fuckwit because he was wearing green and yes, you guessed it, he was a fuckwit), seemed under the delusion that he was much faster than everyone else and plonked himself on the right hand side of the course, where he proceeded to go slower than everyone else, while also preventing anyone from doing any overtaking. He was also really quite wobbly, and incapable of going in a straight line. He wobbled over to me at the bottom of the hill, I swerved to the left to avoid him, and went off the course completely, and onto the grass. I was convinced I was going to actually fall off, but somehow managed to stay on my wheels. I then proceeded to chase the green fuckwit, overtake him, and smack him soundly round the head. Metaphorically, at least.

After getting up the hill for the last time, I felt rather revived, and pushed on through to the finish, even overtaking a few people on the remaining hills. Unfortunately, I seemed to have forgotten that the finish of the bike bit wasn't the finish of the entire race. As I stumbled back into transition, I realized just how knackered and wibbly my legs really were. I managed to find my racking spot, and hung my bike back up. I swigged a bit more energy drink, and decided to neck one of the energy gels I'd brought. It was fairly sticky and gross, and I realized what I really wanted was water. But there was no time for that, so I started stumbling towards the run start. Or what I thought was the run start. It was actually the bike start, again, and this caused a bit of confusion among the marshals, who started shouting at me, asking whether I was a runner or a swimmer. I considered saying I was a cyclist who'd forgotten their bike, but thought better of it, and followed their directions to the actual run start, which was right back up where I came from and all the way around the transition zone.

And it was at that point that I realized my legs really didn't work any more. They were just useless bags of flesh jelly flapping about beneath my hips. It was most disarming.

I somehow got round the courtyard, tried to escape out of the spectator exit, before a marshal helpfully shoved me in the right direction again. Then I had to climb over a bridge over the bike course (which miraculous had not been crashed into by a bus). It was steep. It beat me. I walked up the second half, before forcing myself to run down the other side. and onto the course proper. I was practically dead, and I had barely even started.

I limped and shuffled along the first straight, which, rather cruelly went right past the peel off for the finish. I knew I had to come round and right past it again before I would finally get to run down there and stop. Luckily, my cheerleaders were just at this point and screamed cheerily at me, while Mr Badger told me my time so far, and assured me that I was going to break 2 hours.

I had my doubts. I was running as fast as I could, but it really didn't feel any quicker than walking. I was barely lifting my feet off the ground, and already breathing like a total sweating pervert. I shuffled my way over the bridge, where I knew there was a water stop. I was desperate for water. The energy gel felt like it was lingering in my throat, which was therefore both sticky and sandpaper dry - a delightful combo. I lolloped past where the water had been the day before. A man handed m an energy gel. But there was no water. No water. I kept lolloping, hardly believing it. No water. I was going to die, surely.

At the 1km mark, I decided to eat the energy gel, though it was frankly the last thing in the world I wanted at that point. It was sickly sweet, cloying, and gross, making me thirstier, if anything else. Thankfully, just after this there was a big downhill bit, so I managed to keep putting one foot in front of the other. At the bottom of the hill, the course flattened out. And then the overtaking began.

I have never been overtaken by so many people. In fact, I don't think I've ever really seen so many people. I kept plonking on, as I watched yet another back disappear into the distance, trying to console myself with the thought that I was making all of these people really happy by letting them overtake me.

I sang songs in my head. Counted steps. Recited Shakespeare's sonnets (yes, really). Anything to make the time, and the metres, pass. I couldn't believe how slowly I was going. This wasn't running, surely. But it was the best I could do.

At long last I got to the second (though actually first, wah!) watering point and almost rugby tackled one of the helpers to get the cup out of his hand. I let myself walk while I drank it, then forced myself to 'run' again. The course stayed flat, then started going uphill. I plodded on. By this point, the palace was back in sight, and there were people at the sides of the course, cheering everyone on. Some kids held out their hands, and I managed to raise mine to touch against theirs. We turned a corner, and the course went onto a patch of grass. If I'd thought running on the tarmac had been hard, it was nothing to running on this bloody grass. Eventually (i.e about 50 metres later) we got back onto the tarmac, and down the straight towards the finish. Except I wasn't allowed to finish. I had to do another lap.

My crew cheered me on again, Mr Badger telling me that I was apparently on to do the run course in 34 minutes, which even to my addled brain sounded wildly optimistic. However, this crazy time managed to distract me over the next kilometre or so, as I tried to work out how on earth I could be doing 5.4kms in anything less than an hour at this pace. I refused to take another energy gel of rankness, and made it to the downhill bit again. Just like on the bike, this second lap actually felt slightly easier. Though considering the previous lap had been one of the hardest things I'd ever done (exaggerate, me?) was not that surprising. At least I knew what was coming, and, more importantly, knew I didn't have to do it all over again.

I went though my sonnets and songs again, making myself say one particular one five times, counting on my tightly clenched fingers. And then I was at the water point again. I actually took two cups, making up for the lack of water at the first watering point (I was a little bitter about this - can you tell? I think I'm hiding it well.)

I was still being steadily overtaken by everyone in the entire world. But then I saw someone walking up ahead. I should have made this a target - to actually overtake someone else - think of that! But instead, my body rebelled, and took it as a an excuse to stumble to a walk itself. I let myself get away with that for a few steps, convinced that my 'running' couldn't be any faster than a walk anyway. Then I gave myself a kick up the arse (metaphorically, again - it was quite a metaphorical race in general) and started running again. And you know what? I caught up with the walking bloke. Surprisingly quickly. I was genuinely, utterly amazed that I was going faster than walking pace. And that was enough to keep me going for the rest of the race.

I had one wobble when I convinced myself that the yellow sign up ahead was the 5km marker, and that I therefore only had about 500m (or less than 10% of the total - I like stats when I'm suffering), to go. But, as I approached it, I realized it was actually the 2km marker from the previous lap, and I actually still had at least 1km to go. I almost sat down and gave up, but by now my legs were too numb to respond to anything going on in my brain, so I just kept 'running'.

Soon (well, not that soon, but it was all relative) I was back on the cursed bit of grass again, and then it was just the final straight to go. And this time I got to go to the finish! I tred to count down the metres as I dragged myself down this last straight. I tried desperately to up my pace for the finish, and even managed to wave at the crowd. But, my god, it was a long way. It took me two hours to get down that finishing straight alone, at least. And I still believed that, even as I crossed the line, and saw that my total time was 1 hour 51 minutes.

Oh my lord, it felt so good to finish. So, so good.

And, oh my lord, I want to do it all over again.

Check out those thighs, Sir Chris Hoy.

(and my boobs didn't actually explode. In fact, by the next day, the lump had gone, and they were back to their normal, merely gargantuan selves. So I'm insisting the official advice on the blocked milk ducts NHS page be changed from 'take to your bed' to 'do a triathlon'. Or at least 'wrap yourself in rubber and sweat a lot').

Thursday, 30 May 2013

Apres birth

So, I managed to tell you all about the day Flumpy fell out. Up until the actual moment of falling out, at least. And then the story abruptly stopped. But you know what? Stuff happened after that. The world did not cease to exist at that momentous instant (though it sometimes feels a bit like it did). So I might just burble on a bit about what happened just after Flumpy was born, if that's ok with you? And I might jibber a bit about home birth and how I became a committed, unwashed, tofu-bothering hippy. Or I may end up talking about something else entirely. Like fish. Or Postman Pat. Who knows. I'm a bit rusty at this blogging lark. Bear with me.

Right, where did we leave me? Sitting in a birthing pool with bits of unidentifiable (and some disturbingly identifiable) gunk floating past, clutching a outraged Flumpy. I stayed in the pool for quite a while, despite the fact that it looked like some kind of hideous body fluid soup. Everyone else bustled around doing stuff - I really have no idea what stuff, as I only had eyes for the squirming little creature I was holding up at eye level. His skin was like damp velvet, a tiny seal who'd emerged from the murky depths of the pool. I kept laughing, hardly believing what had happened, how it could possibly have been this easy, how I was sitting in our bedroom with a new baby which had been inside me just a few minutes before. This huge, redefining thing had happened, and we hadn't even left the house. It was all a bit hallucinatory.

Eventually I decided to get out of the pool. There's only so long you can sit around in a vat of your own afterbirth, frankly. The midwives - there were two of them now, as the second one had turned up about half an hour after Flumpy had emerged - made a nest for me on the bed (rather conveniently, this happened to be on Mr Badger's side - wah hah hah haaaaaaaaaa!), and I somehow managed to clamber out of the mank bath (only leaving a slight snail trail of gore), and hop across the room while juggling a baby who was still attached to my nethers by an umbilical cord. I'm sure I have never looked more alluring.

Once ensconced in our bed nest (which was made up of around forty pillows - way more than we actually have on our bed. Midwives must have some magic ability to make pillows breed just by looking at them), I decided to introduce Flumpy to the BOOB. And, surprise surprise, it was love at first sight. Or first suck, more accurately. He slurped away happily while Mr Badger popped open a bottle of champagne - the perfect isotonic post-birth drink, ideal for replacing all of those lost fluids with bubbles and alcohol. We asked the midwives if it was okay for me to be necking booze, and they said "It's your house" - demonstrating one of the major advantages of home birth: the ability to raid your own drinks cabinet minutes after spawning. You don't get that in hospital, let me tell you.

Then we all waited for my placenta to plop out. Now, my placentas like hanging around a bit - obviously it's way too comfy inside my womb. Or else they don't really like the idea that once they do emerge, they'll be tied up in a bag and incinerated. Most likely the latter, actually. And who can blame them? But eventually it blobbed out and the midwives took it off to have a good poke at, because that's what midwives really like doing, the weirdos.

Then began the great post-birth clear up. Which I got to watch from my comfortable nest. Nothing like lying around in bed watching other people mop up your bodily fluids. Probably the most disturbing aspect of this was watching the pool be drained through a see-through hose. Mmmm, lumps.

By this point, Flumpy had got bored of us all, and fallen asleep. Because we are stupid, we didn't take advantage of this and go to sleep ourselves, failing to recognise that this was the last chance we were going to get for, ohhh, the next five years or so. I also had to be poked and prodded by the midwife a bit more, to check that Flumpy bursting out of me at such a rate hadn't torn me any new and undesirable orifices. And, to everyone's astonishment, it hadn't. Actually, I wasn't that astonished, as I'd been there when the whole thing had happened, and it had felt fine. Really, genuinely fine. And though the painkilling powers of water during birth have been widely documented, I don't think it's so effective that it can stop you even noticing your lady parts being rent asunder.

Reassured that all was intact and no major surgery was required, I was allowed to have a shower (though the pervy midwives insisted on watching me do a wee first. These people are sick, I tell you). Then, having checked that Flumpy had all the usual parts and appendages, the midwives packed up their bags and left. Sadly, despite my attempts to persuade them of my theory that if you have a drug-free birth you should be given the unused narcotics for recreational use, they weren't convinced, and didn't opt to leave the gas and air behind. No nitrous balloon parties at ours any time soon. Sad face. :(

So there we were, in our bedroom, with a new baby. It was about 2am. We were parents of two. We looked down at the sleeping Flumpy, in all his innocence and boundless potential.

And then he woke up.

Oh bugger. Here we go again.

Saturday, 25 May 2013

Big brother

Last week, I had to look after both of my children. All day. On my own.

I know. Shocking, isn't it? I don't know quite how this was allowed to happen, but somehow - somehow! It was. That's just the sort of society we live in these days, I suppose.

I'd managed to avoid this hideous task up until now, through a mixture of cunning and grandmothers. Monday to Wednesday, Lumpy (the big one) is in baby prison (they call it 'nursery', but we all know the truth. They have them breaking rocks the minute the door closes behind you. And quite right too. Little freeloaders.) Then on Thursday, Grandma Badger comes along to help wrestle with the little horrors, and I run off and hide under my duvet, and pretend I'm still 12 and have never even heard of 'children'. At the weekend, me and Mr Badger get to argue over who has to tie them up next, so that's okay.

But Fridays. Oh, Fridays.

Fridays used to be the Lumpy and Mummy day. I probably moaned about having to look after him on my own way back then, but I've chosen to block that memory out, and create a new one, which is full of soft-focus images of us skipping joyfully through fields filled with spring flowers, fishing for sticklebacks in crystal-clear babbling brooks, flying kites, baking cookies, and other unlikely and possibly mythological pursuits. In reality, I think we probably spent most of the time sitting slack-jawed in front of CBeebies, eating Wotsits.

The first couple of Fridays, Mr Badger was on paternity leave, so that was okay. The next one, I cunningly planned a visit to Grandma and Grandpa Badger's, and forced them to help supervise my horde of bratlets. But then it came to the fourth Friday of Flumpy's existence, and no one else was prepared to put up with us. I was on my own.

And I have to admit, I was absolutely petrified. So far, on days when it's just been me and Flumpy, we've pretty much spent the whole day sat on the couch, watching DVDs, with a day's supply of biscuits within easy reach. And this arrangement suits us both just fine, thank you very much. I like being a lazy, biscuit-munching sow, and Flumpy likes sleeping on lazy, biscuit-munching sows. What he doesn't particularly like is being removed from constant human contact and put anywhere other than in the loving arms of his mother (or any arms, to be honest, as long as they belong to a human with a pulse. He's a little tart, truth be told). This is fine if you have absolutely nothing else to do, but if you have to, say, leap to attention at every barked order that your little dictator of a toddler barks at you, then it can be a little difficult.

Whenever I thought about managing these two slightly demanding little darlings on my own, all I could visualize was wall-to-wall screaming. Most of which was mine.

Let's just say I was not looking forward to it.

But it was going to have to happen. Even I couldn't avoid looking after my own children for the next 18 or so years (though at least by then I could just take them to the pub and get them pissed). So I manned up, and accepted my fate.

But I had a plan. Lumpy has recently developed an obsession with bouncy castles, and while desperately googling 'things to do with my toddler to stop him shouting at me' I had discovered a soft play session in a nearby village, which also included - gasp! - a bouncy castle. And it was on from 10am-12 noon on a Friday. Perfect. All I had to do was get through breakfast, then I could bundle them into the car, and go to the Toddler Distraction Session, which should give me a couple of hours without excessive amounts of screaming. Then we could go home and I would somehow produce lunch (most likely Wotsit-based) and then bundle Lumpy up to bed for his nap, and collapse for a couple of hours, with Flumpy on my chest. Then there would just be a couple of hours to kill (hopefully not literally) before Mr Badger would be home, and I would be able to throw the baby at him and run screaming from the house.

That was the plan. There was probably going to still be a fair bit of screaming, but at least I had a plan. The time would be filled. We would get out of the house. There would be witnesses, and this would hopefully prevent acts of violence.

Now, I should probably say something about how Lumpy has been since becoming a big brother. Lumpy - you remember him? He's the one I used to blog about a lot, and post endless cute pictures of. He's still pretty cute, just quite a bit bigger, and with a considerably larger vocabulary.

I really wasn't sure what Lumpy would make of Flumpy before he arrived. Up till now, he's shown absolutely no interest in babies, and, frankly, who can blame him? They are pretty boring. So the best I was hoping for was that he'd simply ignore Flumpy, rather than trying to put him in the oven, or chop his toes off with scissors or somesuch.

But the biggest surprise has been that he genuinely seems to like Flumpy. Love him, even. Whenever we go out he always says 'Don't forget Flumpy! We have to bring Flumpy!' He is exquisitely gentle with him - holding his hand, kissing his head, tickling him. He sings 'Twinkle Twinkle, Little Star' to him when he cries. And, most astonishing of all, he lends him his blankie. Now, Lumpy and his blankie have a very special relationship. Nothing comes between them. They are soul mates. It is the love story of the century. He does not lend this thing out. But his little brother obviously warrants an exception. It makes my heart glow to watch them together, and I know it will get better and better as the years pass, and Flumpy changes from a grizzly flailing maggot (harsh but fair, I'm afraid), to a giggling, adventurous partner-in-crime.

But despite this amazing positivity from Lumpy, there have been a few bumps over the past few weeks. We've seen a marked rise in tantrums - he's been quick to tip into hysteria over laughably minor things. There have been a lot of night wake ups, where he's had us running to his anguished cries, only to ask for a toy car or a "snot blow" when we get to him. There's been a whole lot more of the low-level, irritating naughtiness so beloved of all parents. Now, some of this may just be normal two-year-old behaviour, brought into sharper focus because of our tiredness and general despair. Mind you, that tiredness and despair has certainly led to us being far less patient, quicker to snap at him, and less inclined to put up with things we would have happily ignored before - so we're certainly at least partly to blame. Other things seem to be directly linked to the massive change that has happened in his life, and the new person who's suddenly appeared in his family, usurping his position as only child and general centre of attention. He's repeatedly begged to be allowed into our bed, for example - seemingly convinced that that's where Flumpy is sleeping. This has led to moments of heartbreak and irritation in equal measure, and more than a few 'we've ruined our own lives, and destroyed the personality of our previously lovely little boy' incidents.

So it's not perfect. Lumpy likes attention, and Flumpy is clearly the new attention thief around here. Lumpy wouldn't be human (or a toddler) if he wasn't just a little bit jealous. His mummy is suddenly attached to a little parasite for nearly 24 hours a day, and answers most requests with a pathetic 'I can't right now - I'm feeding/holding/changing/strangling your brother.' This is not too bad when there's someone else around, ready to distract Lumpy and shove his gob full of Kinder egg in compensation. But I was dreading how it was going to be when it was only me. Was I going to be able to aim the Kinder eggs well enough to get them into the wailing mouth? It's only a small mouth, even when stretched open in anguish.

But it was going to happen, like it or not, so we all waved goodbye to Mr Daddybadger on that fateful Friday morning, shut the door, and we were alone.

And you know what? It was actually okay. There was actually very little screaming. I managed, for once in my parenting life, to stay fairly patient, in the face of forty thousand 'why' questions, accompanied by a background of newborn grizzling and constant demands for BOOB! The half bottle of whiskey may have helped, but I'm crediting my all round saintliness.

We started off the morning with lots of books. After the morning feed, Flumpy was cruelly constrained to the carseat (rather than being allowed to recline all day in my arms, which is his favoured position - similar to many men, in fact. Ha ha.) He stayed there without too much complaining, remarkably. Before too long, it was time to rush around madly to get everything together and attempt to leave the house. Again, this was achieved with a remarkably small amount of distress. We all got in the car and headed off to the soft play session, which was supposedly in a community centre in a nearby village.

I say supposedly because when we got there, there were hardly any cars in the car park, and no sign of any sort of play session, soft, hard, or otherwise. The doors were locked, and peering through a window showed only an empty hall. Luckily, Lumpy had spotted a park round the back, and was so impressed with the rope bridge that he was actually convinced that this was the soft play session. We played in there for a while, until I spotted another confused looking mother dragging a small boy around. I asked if she was looking for the play session, and whether she knew anything about why it didn't seem to be on. She was, and she didn't. This at least reassured me I wasn't completely insane, but didn't get us any closer to bouncy fun.

However, I had a Plan B, because I am actually Supermother, and not the hopeless, twattish excuse for a parent that I appear to be. There was another soft play session on at the Sports Centre in Abingdon, just a ten minute drive away. We would go there, and all would be well!

Except, Lumpy didn't want to. He wanted to go across the rope bridge again. And again. And again. This may have been my fault, as I was so amazed at his ability to get across it on his own, that I lavished rather over-extravagant praise on him the first time he did it. So now that was all he wanted to do, and any suggestion that we leave this beloved bridge and go to a fun play session was enough to reduce him to howls of protest. So we had the faintly bizarre situation of me standing in a park, imploring my crying toddler to go to a fun play session because "It will be fun! [duh!] There'll be a bouncy castle! Toys! Fun! Please stop crying! Please can we leave this park! Arrrggghhhh! Etc!"

Eventually something clicked in the genius mind of my beloved son, who finally realized that a fun play session was, in fact, something that might be fun, rather than evil torture designed by his evil mother to ruin his life and stop him climbing across rope bridges, and we were allowed to leave. Halleluiah!

We got to the sports centre just as the session was starting. It was, somewhat bafflingly, called 'Creepie Crawlies', despite it being aimed, clearly, at walking children, and featuring very few insects. It was, basically, a massive hall into which a ton of toys and even more children had been poured. Lumpy was delighted. He leapt straight onto a pedal moped and started tearing around the hall, while I plonked myself down on a bench with the other lazy mothers and wondered if it was time to poke Flumpy awake for a feed (he is, invariably, desperate to feed AT ALL TIMES. Except when he's actually due for a feed, when he will fall into a deep, contented, oblivious sleep. Contrary little so and so.)

We spent the next hour and a half rather happily - Lumpy merrily charging from bouncy castle, to moped, to balance beam, to crash mat, to soft shapes, to playhouse, to bouncy castle, and back again. Flumpy and I trailed in his wake, trying to keep up. And then when they turfed us out at noon, I decided to go all extravagant and treat us to lunch in the sports centre's cafe. Because we know how to live.

Flumpy contributed to this delightful meal by sleeping through the whole thing, while me and James chatted and laughed together. It was almost like having lunch with a friend - I wasn't putting up with Lumpy or trying to control him, I was just enjoying his company. It was really very nice. And I realized that the day I'd been dreading had actually been one of the best in a long while.

Because, you see, something else happened when little Flumpy was born, along with the sleeplessness, the jealousy, the anxiety, and the total loss of any shred of freedom we still possessed. Lumpy became a big brother. For good or ill, he was not the baby any more. He was another step along to growing up. And though that makes me sad in a strange, sentimental sort of a way, it is also rather wonderful. Because the person he's growing up into is really rather wonderful. I don't just love him (which I have to do, obviously, since he is the product of my womb), but I like him, more and more each day.

Flumpy has meant things will never be the same around here again. And, slowly but surely, I'm learning not to be scared of what that means.

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Two weeks in

A fortnight down, and we're all still alive. There have been tears, an extraordinary amount of poo (mostly Flumpy's and not mine, thankfully), many sticky buns (though not nearly enough), and fairly woeful amounts of sleep. But we're doing good. Amazingly so, really.

This is helped by the fact that Flumpy is, quite frankly, a superstar. A snortly, grunting, sleepy little superstar. In the interest of the complete honesty policy practiced on this website, I should probably admit that I'm really not that into newborns. Strange maggoty creatures, that are either really, really cross, or asleep, and move between the two states instantly and unpredictably. In my experience, the relationship with a newborn is all a bit one-sided - you don't get a lot back for all the effort you put in. Mainly - and this is the real deal breaker for me - they don't communicate at all. Except for screaming, which is frankly a pretty poor level of chat in my opinion. If they do deign to open their eyes, they stare at you with a cold and distinctly disapproving air. It's all rather unnerving. Just like I find it rather uncomfortable being in country where I don't speak a word of the language, up till now, the newborn phase has been something to be survived through. When they start to smile, it's like we're finally learning how to talk to each other - though it's not till the chatty stage of toddlerdom that I feel like we're getting fluent.

But Flumpy. My little Flumpy. Okay, there's part of me that can't wait for him to be two, so I can find out what he's thinking, how he feels, and what he makes of the world. But he's also pretty wonderful, right now. He's so warm, and tiny, and content to sleep on my chest all day long, while I watch endless crap on TV. His skin is velvet, his feet miniature perfection. Yes, he doesn't talk much at the moment, and his unsmiling gaze can be withering at times, but there's also something deeply beguiling in his complete and utter self-abandonment when he's in your arms, and the cute, small-furry-mammal noises that he makes. Squeaksnuffleeeep.

There are still times when he's bloody annoying, of course. He is a world-champion grunter, and seems to have an ongoing grudge match with his intestines - with the major battle going on every night between about 2am and 5am, which is rather less than delightful. He also has a fairly irritating habit of waking up in the night outraged at being so distant from the BOOB, and giving all signs of needing milk immediately, as in RIGHT NOW WOMAN! And then, the minute I have scooped him from the cot and into my arms, he's completely dead to the world again. It's as if I exude chloroform from my nipples (which would be a useful skill, certainly, though one I'd rather quell when dealing with a newborn in the early hours). If I put him back in the cot, then approximately 30 seconds later he's squawking in anger again. This process can go on for hours, and I've developed a range of methods to try to rouse him enough to get him to latch on, most of which are bordering on the unkind, such as blowing in his face and poking him in the collarbone. It's always fun to decide what constitutes acceptable cruelty, and what veers into the realm of abuse when you've only had 2 hours sleep in the last week.

Apart from that, though, he's pretty darn good. He would like to BOOB pretty much constantly (rather like his big brother, I seem to recall), but he's generally fairly polite about it, and keeps the screaming to a minimum. He just loves to be cuddled, and who can resist that? It's rather flattering, really, that all someone wants to do is be close to you.

Yep, Flumpy may well be the baby to convert me to newborns.

A lot of this is sentimentality, of course. This is, if future accidents and conceptive disasters are avoided, my last baby. This is the last time I have to deal with a newborn and all of the exhaustion, emotion, and mystery that involves. And for that I am truly thankful. Last time, with Lumpy, a lot of the experience was coloured by the fact that I was very aware that I was going to have to go through all this again, at some point in the future. All those sleepless nights, all those frustrations, they were just part one. Even when we reached milestones and achieved breakthroughs, it wasn't the end of anything. But now. This is it. And, for perhaps the first time in my life, I'm managing to live in the moment, at least part of the time. I'm stopping just to enjoy this. This sleepy little thing who finds my chest the most comfortable, safest place in the world.


This isn't going to last forever. In no time at all, he'll be wiggling to escape my lap, desperate to explore the world. But for now, he's all mine, and I'm all his.

Including these rather delicious feet.

Mmm. baby feet. Nom nom nom.

Friday, 3 May 2013

An ode to pâté

(This poem is not guaranteed 100% fresh. Consume at own risk. Product of a hormonal mentalist).

Oh pâté, I love you, so smooth and so creamy,
Whenever I scoff you, I go a bit dreamy,
I missed you the whole time I was up the duff,
And now Flumpy's out I just can't get enough.

You could be the posh stuff or economy kind,
Made from hooves, bums, and nostrils, I really don't mind.
I'll spread you on toast, or a crusty white roll,
Then shove it all quickly straight down my gob hole.

I know you're just meat paste with a poncey French name,
But I would still love you without froggy fame,
You're better than Stilton, more thrilling than Brie,
I'll eat you for breakfast, for lunch and for tea.

Ok, you may harbour some nasty listeria,
But now I'm not suffering from pregnant hysteria,
I find all those warnings just quaintly ironic
I would scoff you if you carried plagues bubonic.

Monday, 29 April 2013

Something of an early arrival

I had great plans for some pregnancy posts. There were lots of things I wanted to write about in these last couple of weeks of pregnancy: worries about whether this was all a terrible idea (and what the hell we were going to do about it if it was); was this interloper going to ruin Lumpy's life; how on earth we were going to cope with two (two! 100% more than we were used to) children; how pregnancy had been different this time around (aka, moaning); and, of course, our plans for a home birth, and how that was inevitably going to be thwarted by me going two weeks overdue and having to be induced, in hospital, surrounded by angry doctors poking me with various pointy implements. At least, during the three weeks of pre-baby maternity leave this would allow, I'd get in plenty of time for lazing, napping, more lazing, and a good chunk of blogging.

Allow me a moment for a ironic laugh. A ha ha ha ha haaaaaaaaaah.

I finished work last Thursday. This would, in theory, give me ten days before my due date. Ten days to get my house in order, squeeze in a bit of pampering, and a healthy dose of the aforementioned lazing (I am a big fan of lazing, as you may have guessed, and have found my opportunities for it sorely limited over the last 2 years and 10 months). We had a minor panic on the Thursday night when my feet seemed a bit swollen and my blood pressure was a bit up. Here we go again, I thought, remembering my incarceration in the hospital last time around with the pre-eclampsia that never was. I had a midwife appointment the next day, and couldn't stop the waves of dread from flowing in. I'd be admitted, for sure, and end up being induced that weekend. Tears may have occurred.

But miraculously I got through the trial by midwife and was released for good behaviour and unproteined wee. I didn't even have to have another appointment for two weeks, which would take me to May 3rd, and a full five days overdue. A whole two weeks in which to panic about failing to go into labour naturally and getting induced. I walked out of the doctor's in a daze, and went for a pedicure, subjecting a poor unsuspecting beautician to my swollen hobbit feet, and emerging with swollen hobbit feet with nice red toenails.

I looked after Lumpy, wondering if this would be our last day of just us, together, and guessing it probably wouldn't. We had a lovely weekend, taking Lumpy swimming, drinking in the long-awaited sunshine, and having picnics in the garden. It was all very idyllic, and my mind kept playing on how a new baby would fit into this comfortable little family unit we already had, veering between thinking it was going to blow it all apart, like a small, screaming, poo-bomb, and hoping it might slot right in, be one of us.

I was really looking forward to the few days after the weekend. Lumpy would be at nursery, and I would have the days all to myself - unimaginable bliss. I had a massage booked for first thing Monday morning, and waking up that day with no contractions or any other sinister labour signs, I felt rather pleased with myself. Over the next few days I would do all those little things that just had to be done before the Flumpy arrived, but had somehow been ignored over the last nine months. Plus a lot of lazing, naturally.

I waved off Lumpy, who was aware something was up and got a bit grizzly leaving for nursery. I had to pretend I was following on my bike, until they were safely out of view. Nothing like a good bit of parental deception! Then I dashed back into the house for a shower, because what masseuse wants to massage a heavily pregnant smelly badger (or a heavily pregnant fragrant badger, for that matter - but hey, I had little control over those other factors). The massage was at an entirely new place, as the lovely masseuse I'd been going to throughout the time of great swelling and fatness (as I had come to think of pregnancy) wasn't well, so had cancelled my original appointment. This going to a new place actually made me feel strangely vulnerable, in my beached walrus-like state. But I manned up, and drove to the appointment. I'd considered biking, as it was only 3 or 4 miles away, and I'd been cycling to work a few days before. But sense triumphed for once, and I also thought I'd like to have a rampage round the shops afterwards, and didn't really fancy carrying seventeen shopping bags back on my handlebars.

I had the massage, which was very nice, if rather strange. It was a special kind I'd never come across before, where you lie on your back on top of two giant heated water-filled cushions. The masseuse slips their hands between you and the pillows to massage your back, so you don't have to turn over at any point. It's all a bit wobbly and oleaginous and strange, a bit like being massaged in the sea in the middle of an oil slick. And also slightly pervy-feeling - but let's not go there. She also massaged my feet, which, in my drifting dreamy state I remember being mildly concerned by, as my usual masseuse has always made a point of avoiding them, as supposedly it can bring on labour. I also found myself wondering what would happen if my waters broke while I was lying on this strange water-cushion contraption? With all the oil and water, would either of us notice?

But I managed to get through the hour without bursting or birthing, and drifted out into the sunshine to see what shopping delights Abingdon had to offer. Being a total scabby cheapskate, I spent most of my time in charity shops, before a frenzied food shop in Co-op, where I stocked up on essentials like crisps, frankfurters, and chocolate. All this time I was checking to see if I felt any twinges, any sort of rumblings or impending signs of a baby wanting to make its way out of my orifices. But there was nothing.

I drove back home, ate some strange combination of food for lunch, then had a sorting/lazing compromise by sitting on the couch watching the endless episodes of Masterchef I had recorded over the last few weeks, while going through a ridiculous mass of old make up, hair gunk, and deodorants that had been taking up half of our bathroom for the last year. I was very bold, and threw half of it all away, then decided enough was enough, and retreated to bed for a while, to listen to my natal hypnotherapy CD again. This CD was the home birth version of the one I'd used last time, and is all very 'breathing in golden light', 'going to your special safe place', and visualizing your cervix, but it worked last time, and I actually really enjoyed the 40 minutes of stopping and just breathing that it offered. I often fell asleep after listening to it (or even during it, recently), but this time I was strangely alert, and felt reasonably awake afterwards. I lay in bed for a while, but eventually dragged myself out, and went to make a bolognese for that evening. Still no signs or squeaks of labour, though I did note that Flumpy hadn't been moving as much as he usually did. I decided not to panic about this - my placenta was anterior this time, so cushioned some of the movements, and he'd never been the most kicky and wiggly of babies, anyway. I rang Grandma Badger and told her about the massage, and reassured her that nothing was happening on the baby arrival front. We joked about how I should send her a text before calling from now on, so she didn't panic that I was in labour every time the phone rang. I''m sure I said something along the lines of 'oh, he won't be here for ages'...

Mr Badger and Lumpy arrived back from work and nursery (respectively), and we scoffed the bolognese. Then, as always, the boys went into the living room to watch an episode of something improving, like Abney and Teal or Bob the Builder, while I went and got Lumpy's bath ready. I finished running it, and had a sneaky wee. After finishing, I went to sit on the floor and realized I was still weeing.  And I couldn't stop it happening. I had, spontaneously, become utterly incontinent. I had been sporadically incontinent during this pregnancy - particularly during a vicious month-long cough that I'd had back in January, and my introduction to the world of Tena lady had been utterly miserable, so this was not a welcome development.

Except... it didn't quite feel like wee, or weeing. I jumped up and sat back on the loo, and felt a rush of liquid falling out of me. The stuff that was on the bath mat was also not very wee-like, but looked like it had come from somewhere else entirely (if you catch my vaginal drif. SO to speak. Oh god, it's only going to get worse from here on in, you know...)

Not quite wanting to believe it, I started to admit that this was my waters breaking.


This hadn't happened to me last time. Well, obviously it had happened at some point, but I had somehow managed not to notice it. God only knows how, as the amount of liquid coming out was quite remarkable, and certainly not something you'd miss. I gingerly got up off the toilet, and sat back on the floor, studiously avoiding the pool of liquid beside me. A few minutes later, Lumpy and Mr Badger came up the stairs.

"I think my waters just broke," I said. "I'm a bit scared," I added, rather quieter.

"Ah," said Mr Badger. "Right."

"What's 'waters broke'?" asked Lumpy, attempting to pull off a sock. "Buh-dooooing!"

Mr Badger and I exchanged a look.

"It means Flumpy Pie might be coming soon," I said carefully. "In less than 48 hours, anyway," I added, looking at Mr Badger again. Waters breaking before labour, I thought. Induction, drips, hospitals. Bugger bugger arse.

"Buh-doiiiiiiiiing!" said Lumpy, pulling off his other sock.

"I'll ring your mum," said Mr Badger. Then, "I'm a bit scared too."

I gave Lumpy his bath, trying to be completely normal and cheery, while my head was going 'gaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhh!' and more pools of amniotic fluid were pouring out of my lady parts and onto the now rather sodden bath mat. I scooped Lumpy out of the bath [splosh!], wrapped him in a towel [gush!], and pretended to eat his toes [dribble!], just as normal, except I was leaking.

We got him ready for bed, me thinking 'is this the last time?', as if an atomic bomb was about to exit my womb, rather than a baby.

"If you're a very good boy," I heard Mr Badger say, as he and Lumpy headed to his bedroom to read stories. "You might have a baby brother in the morning."

Oh shit, I thought. That would mean I'd have a baby too.

Not ready not ready not ready. Need more lazing time.

This was different to last time, too. Last time, after my hospitalization of ridiculousness, I had an appointment with a consultant the day after my due date, where I was pretty sure she was planning to tie me to a bed and induce the arse out of me. So going into labour the day before his due date was a massive relief.

I took some deep breathes, got up off the bathroom floor, folded up the sodden bath mat, and went to change my trousers. Over the next hour or so, I changed my trousers about seven times. I could practically see my bump deflate as all the fluid poured out. Seriously, how the hell had I missed this last time?

Grandma Badger had said she'd head over straight away. Even if I wasn't going into labour tonight, it would be better for her to be there, than to get a desperate call hours later. I felt distinctly comforted by the fact she would be here, to look after Lumpy if needs be. That had been one of our major concerns over the whole process - what if I had to be transfered to hospital unexpectedly? I really didn't want to drag him out of bed and dump him in a strange house amidst panic and sirens.

I did some panicky tidying of the bedroom and the kitchen, vaguely aware that there may be midwifes in the house at some point soon, and if they saw the state of the place they'd probably shove a plug up me, refuse to let a baby be born in such a tip, and whisk it off to social services as soon as it emerged. At least I'd bought biscuits that morning.

At about 8pm, I was just jittering around the kitchen, when I felt a vague, mild crampy feeling.

Hmm, I thought, glancing at the clock, that's interesting.

Five minutes later, there was another one.

Mr Badger came downstairs, and I updated him on this new development. He disappeared quickly upstairs to start pumping up the birth pool (this had been his number two concern, after the 'what to do with the Lumpy' issue). I got the birth ball out and bounced up and down on it in front of Paul Hollywood's bread programme on the telly. Something that looked truly disgusting, but was no doubt really delicious, was shown rising in fast forward. I closed my eyes and breathed. 3-2-1 relax. Go to the special beach. The special beach in the Maldives. Drink a bloody great cocktail. In your mind.

The contractions were fine. I started timing them on an app, just to be sure. They were about 45 seconds long, every five minutes. But I could talk through them, and they were only mildly distracting. Mr Badger came back down, then decided to call the midwife. He was put through, and chatted briefly to her, explaining that we'd had a pretty quick labour last time. She said she'd come over straight away, but was up in Bicester, so it could be a little while. Mr Badger headed upstairs to start filling the birth pool, with a bucket supplementing the hose, running up and down the stairs from the bathroom to our attic-conversion bedroom about twenty times. At least it gave him something to do.

Grandma Badger turned up just before 9. We chatted for a few minutes, before I went off to the loo, just as a stronger contraction hit me. It still wasn't bad, but I definitely had to stop and think about it, and I was starting to channel the inner cow once again, letting out a deep moooooooo as it lasted. 

Hmm, I thought, as I pattered back into the living room, glancing at the clock. I wonder if he'll be born today or tomorrow.

The midwife turned up a few minutes later. It was quite odd, showing a stranger into the house and doing the usual small talk, while pausing to contract every 3-5 minutes, and mooing. Luckily she was a lovely Sturdy Irish Lass (SIL from hereon in), and I felt pretty comfortable with her. She looked through my notes, then took my blood pressure.

Ah, the blood pressure. I'm so good at that.

It was fairly ridiculous - 160/95 or something. I had taken it myself a bit earlier, and it had been fine - 120/80 or similar. She checked I had no other symptoms, and I explained about my White Coat Syndrome.

"Okaaaaay," she said slowly, and a bit cautiously. "We'll take another reading in a minute. We don't want that one."

She took it again after another contraction had just died away. It was acceptable this time - 140/85. Still a bit high, but hey, I was in labour. Cut me some slack. SIL seemed satisfied, anyway. She sat back on the couch, and looked at my notes again, noticing that I had utterly failed to fill in my birth plan. Ah yes. I was going to do that tomorrow. During my lovely, relaxing, pre-baby maternity leave.

I outlined what we wanted - as natural as possible, mentioning that we'd been doing natal hypnotherapy. At that, she seemed to switch slightly, watching me more carefully during the next contraction.

"Ah, you hypnotherapy mums," she said. "That's why you've been so calm. Well, maybe we should go upstairs, and I can examine you, and we'll see where we're at."

I walked up the two flights of stairs, mooing gently, then lay on the bed, and had a woman who I'd only met 30 minutes ago shove her hand up my nether regions. It was a little awkward, but needs must. She said I was about 4cm, which I tried not to think about or analyze too much. Last time, I hadn't been examined at all, at any point, as I was virtually pushing by the time we got to the hospital.

She left her hand up there through the next contraction, which was delightful. She said the head was still quite a long way off the cervix, and she'd like to bring it down a bit more before getting into the water, so she suggested I got on the birth ball again for a bit. I decided I needed a wee, so went into the bathroom first, where I had a rather almighty contraction. The midwife popped her head round the door and mentioned that the next few contractions might be a bit stronger, since she'd had a good rummage around in there.

She wasn't wrong. I managed to get out of the bathroom, and stood leaning against the bed, mooing loudly, and weaving my hips from side to side. They were coming quickly now, it seemed. I couldn't really tell, but it must have been every minute or so. Mr Badger held my hands and reminded me to breathe. The midwife watched, and listened, then, after about 10 minute, suggested I should get into the pool now.

"Really?" I said. "If you're sure it's alright?" I knew you shouldn't get in the water before 5cm, as it can slow labour down. It was intense enough at that time that I really didn't want to slow it down. I wanted it done, as soon as possible.

"Yes, I think you should," said SIL. "I think you're progressing pretty quickly."

I vaulted into the water. It felt nice, warm and soothing. But then another contraction came, and I just thought, oh fucking hell. I can't do this. I just can't. I made a little sobbing noise, then, as the next contraction came on, tried to scrabble out of the pool on the wrong side, towards the wall. I was trying to run away from labour.

And then, all of a sudden, I wanted to push. And I did, just a little bit.

My tone of mooing must have changed, somehow, because the midwife apparently let out a big sigh, then sent Mr Badger running downstairs to her car, to get oxygen, just in case. She'd rung the second midwife a while before, but she was still a little while away. With that sigh, she'd realized she was going to have to do this on her own.

She came over to the pool, practically grabbed my face and said we had to slow down and calm down. Whether this was mostly for my benefit, or for hers, I'm not completely sure, but I tend to obey orders, so I took some really deep breaths and forced myself to take a step back, hold off, and relax. Mr Badger got back from the car (the midwife later admitted that she was slightly scared he'd miss the birth, but that she had to take the risk to get the oxygen up there in case the baby needed it.

I think she may have given me permission to push at that point. Or maybe I gave it to myself. Whatever, I pushed. And pooed. Oh yes, I refuse to give birth without doing a great big poo at some point. I was vaguely aware or a slight kerfuffle as the sieve supplied with the pool was located, and some poo fishing partaken in. It'll be the next big thing at the fair this year, I can assure you!

After the next push I could feel the baby's head coming down, though the water was softening everything and making it harder to tell exactly what was happening. I sneakily put one hand down to feel, and there seemed to be some head there. Blimey, I thought. This is actually happening. I think I can do this. A couple more pushes and the head was out. The midwife told me that after the next push I should reach down and scoop the baby up to bring him out of the water in front of me. And, after the next push, that's what I did. One of my fears was not being able to find he baby in the water, and to leave him floating around there indefinitely. So I was very relieved to grab him straight away and bring him up to the surface.

The cord was around his neck. Twice. And then around his body. I vaguely registered this, before the midwife swooped in and deftly unwrapped it. He started to breathe properly, and then let out that distinct, newborn, outraged cry.

I sat back in the water, kissed him, and grinned. This must be a dream, I thought, looking across the room at my bed.

A good one, though.

Hello, my Flumpy. My darling, wonderful, amazing boy, my love. Hello.

I'll even forgive you for stealing all my lazing time. And that's saying something.