Tidying: the impossible task

So I have (just about) survived my first week as a ‘stay at home’ mum. I have enjoyed being able to do the school run every day and spending time alone with Bethan, watching her playing with a tube of wrapping paper like Luke Skywalker brandishing a light sabre and grasping new words such as “noobum” (new bum) and “drink!” (Which she says in exactly the same manner as the Father Jack character in the ‘Father Ted’ TV series…thankfully, she has abstained from yelling “Arse! Feck! Gurrrls!” so far). It has also been strange, but nice, to have avoided photocopying, laminating or binding anything at all this week.

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Preparing to duel with Darth Vader

It hasn’t all been easy, though. For example, following the epic amount of washing which was required yesterday due to Bethan’s triple vomit night/day, I couldn’t ignore the horrid brown slime which had gathered around the seal in the washing machine anymore, so I bought some brightly-coloured cleaning solution for it (it resembled Mountain Dew soft drink, so I thought it would be hardcore on the slime-removal front). Today I set about cleaning it while the girls were playing in the living room.

Within 1.57 seconds of me donning the marigolds, the first of the fridge-raiding parties took place. “Mum! I want a drink!”, followed by “I want a treat from the tin/ a custard/ some bread/ a tomato/ chicken on a stick/ Netflix/ a different film/ a shoe for my pony/ noobum…” I started to feel very annoyed when Bethan decided to dance in the puddle on the floor in front of the washing machine and then made off with the surface wipes, emptying the whole packet into the ball pond, while Catrin had a massive tantrum on the floor about a chocolate penguin. The nagging intensified further and I ended up shouting at them both.

They went back into the living room and a suspicious silence ensued…with intermittent suspicious giggling. I took the marigolds off for the 726th time and went to investigate. It turns out that they had covered the entire floor (every inch of it) with toys, wooden blocks and shoes…and (when angrily tidying all of that up) I discovered that all of the balls from the ball pool were now, mysteriously, situated down the back of the sofa.

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Not ideal
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Seriously…?!

I think I might open the bottle of Baileys tonight while I ponder how to pack and tidy the whole house within 3 weeks to be ready for moving day with my sanity intact.

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3 weeks to go

Late night surprise

12.30am and I heard the familiar pad pad pad pad of Bethan’s feet on the landing…I opened my eyes, called to her through the gloom and she clambered onto my bed. Every night she does this – then we cuddle and she falls asleep again, but this time I detected a horrid stench of something untoward and turned on the light.

Bethan was covered in chunky, pink vomit.

I carried her to the bathroom and took her stinking, slimy onesie off and wrapped her in a towel while the bath was running…she looked very sorry for herself and I felt bad for her as she shivered and looked up at me with a bewildered expression.

One hot bubble bath, removal and replacement of a substantial amount of puke-encrusted bedding and a set of clean pyjamas later and we returned to bed and I just sat in silence, cuddling her until she was on the verge of sleep.

Then she vomited again.

More clean pyjamas, bedding, etc. and back to bed again. This time she fell asleep and I lay next to her watching the colour return to her cheeks. I couldn’t help but think about the ‘what ifs’…I didn’t hear her being sick, what if she had choked while I slept?!? I stayed awake and listened to her breathing and the occasional car passing the house outside until there were more cars and my alarm sounded.

She was really chirpy when she woke up and enjoyed throwing plastic balls around the living room with her sister and shouting ‘boo!’ at random people we passed on the school run. I concluded that she must have eaten something bad (although I have no idea what) and I reflected on the silver lining that, having finished work last week, I wouldn’t feel the guilt of having to call and say I couldn’t go to work today.

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The washing machine has been working overtime today

All was fine until she stole a mini babybel from the fridge while I was upstairs for a few minutes wrapping Christmas presents. I found the plastic wrapper, but not the cheese. An hour later I found myself on my hands and knees cleaning chunks of half digested cheese with the purple wax still attached out of the carpet as Bethan watched and grinned at me.

I know I can’t protect her from everything, but I do feel like such a bad mum when she is ill – like it is totally my fault – and I will worry about her and think about the worst case scenarios long after she has forgotten she was sick, while she is busy thinking about how to maximise her mess-making opportunities. I guess I always will worry about her and her sister, even when they are adults.

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Still grinning mischievously, despite her impression of the girl from The Exorcist.

Feeling Proud

“I want four bits of bread”
“Four? That’s a lot!”
“No mummy! What’s two add two?”
“Four”
“See! It’s only two add two, so it isn’t a lot!”

I was so taken aback by her persuasive prowess that I gave Catrin four slices of bread, as requested. It is possible that she will remember this victory, hone her blagging skills further and grow up to become a used car salesperson or an MP, but I’m so proud of her rapid development in confidence and use of language.

I recently realised that, outside of discussions with close friends and family, I don’t often vocalise how proud I feel for fear of appearing to cross the thin line into bragging territory and annoying others. It feels a bit sad to hold back expression of such a positive feeling, particularly when I have no intention whatsoever of claiming that anything or anyone I am proud of is superior to the subject of anyone else’s pride…so I will, on this occasion, share a few things which made me proud during the past couple of days.

Since she started school in September this year, Catrin has amazed me with the speed at which she has learnt to read and write…she always loved books but recently something just ‘clicked’. Last night, as she decorated her homework with a colourful array of sparkly shapes (which she arranged with meticulous precision), I checked her school contact book to find she had moved up another set for reading. I am so proud of her hard work and proud of the lovely girl she has become too…yesterday I practically had to run up the steep hill to school while pushing the heavy buggy with Bethan in the seat and Catrin on the buggy board in order to get Catrin to school on time (thanks to some badly timed nappy action on Bethan’s part and a pushchair which refused to unfold, in accordance with the Law Of Sod) and, having consumed a few too many biscuits recently, it was fair to say I was out of breath by the time I reached the top of the hill (and I totally failed to ‘style it out’ amongst the last of the queue of parents who were nonchalantly and not breathlessly sashaying through the gate in their leopard skin prints and principal boy knee-high boots when we finally arrived). Catrin could clearly hear me wheezing and muttering as we approached the gate and tried to cheer me on…”Nearly there, Mummy! You can do it! Well done, Mummy!” This morning she stepped onto the buggy board ready for the morning school run, but then stepped off it again and said “You know what, Mummy, I can walk. I don’t want to hurt you”. How thoughtful of her (or maybe she didn’t want me cramping her style by turning up at school looking like I had just come last in a marathon whilst dressed in a novelty ‘stressed mum’ costume).

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Homework time

Bethan does, of course, make me very proud too. She has such a cheeky and funny character (which she uses to her full advantage whenever she has been naughty and wants to get away with it)…this morning after tipping a whole box of tiny Lego pieces onto the floor, she ran towards me with arms outstretched calling “‘Ummy! ‘Ummy!”. She has never done this before and I instantly forgot about the Lego spillage. Yesterday she tried to find my husband inside my phone after I had finished a call with him and kept saying, in a soft voice “‘Addy? ‘Addy?” She is making sense of the world around her and doing so with a constant mischievous grin on her face and smiley eyes (well, mostly constant apart from moments of protest due to food envy or removal of control of the iPad). Today she spent a few hours playing at Catrin’s former preschool while I attended a committee meeting and was completely happy to trundle about, making a Christmas decoration out of lollipop sticks and cotton wool, splashing in puddles until her soggy trousers needed replacing and consuming a fair amount of jam sandwiches and banana without being at all concerned about where I was. She has become much more confident and chatty lately and will soon be a ‘big girl’ like her sister.

I very rarely say that I am proud of myself, but I was quite pleased with two little things which I achieved yesterday. Firstly, I made a bracelet out of sea glass which I collected from a beach in Jersey earlier this year (I have recently rekindled my love of jewellery making, but more on that another time); I remembered the enjoyment I felt in searching for little items of ‘treasure’ on the beach and I was proud to be able to turn them into this:

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Lovely green sea glass

I also had a little triumph last night in that a photo which I had submitted in a report to BBC Weather Watchers was shown on the BBC London News weather forecast! I love weather and only joined the Weather Watchers scheme a week ago (you can join too here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/weatherwatchers ) so I felt so privileged to see my photo behind the weather lady’s left arm. It was the icing on the cake end the end of a good day.

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My photo!

Sunday

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Frosty sunrise

I felt a searing pain in my left ear as a maniacal giggling toddler stamped on it and I winced as I opened my eyes just in time for the other child to turn the bright ceiling light on. 5.30am on a cold Sunday morning…time to get up, apparently.

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“I am as cold as a polar bear and I want breakfast. Now.”

As the sun rose over a frosty corner of England and Catrin began working her way through her entire dressing-up repertoire (which had to be worn over her pyjama onesie, making trips to the toilet a bit tricky), I contemplated the necessary excursion to the supermarket (which was made particularly essential by the consumption of the last Barney Bear cake bar in the cupboard).

Following a heated debate about when it is not appropriate to repeatedly shove a tiara into somebody’s eyeball and the extensive post-lunch clean-up and decontamination operation, we braved the unpleasantness which is an extremely busy Sainsbury’s on a Sunday afternoon. Now, I see many lone parents on the same food-buying mission with multiple children but, somehow, my daughters always appear to have the loudest, shriekiest voices in the whole supermarket and I feel like hundreds of eyes are glaring at me as I tell them both, yet again, to “Stop garrotting your sister!”; “Put that turnip down!” and “Don’t ram any more people with the trolley!”. I tried to zone out to regain a shred of sanity as we approached the dreaded Fruit Shoot section, but I found the work experience boy with the intensely bored, monotone local accent advertising “Meat bawwwwls” over the tannoy really annoying too. The cold blast of winter air as we left the store and the hoards of depressed Sunday shoppers behind was most welcome.

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A very loud game of ‘boo’ in the soup section is hilarious, apparently

Much of the afternoon was spent untangling an entire ball of wool which Catrin had inexplicably draped and entwined around the entire two floors of our house like some sort of fiendish game from the Crystal Maze (I didn’t win the crystal). I was feeling quite cross when Catrin tip-toed up to me and told me she had a secret which she must whisper into my ear. I fully expected her secret to be something along the lines of ‘I have a piece of Lego in my pocket’ or ‘I want a sweetie’, but she whispered “I have tidied everything up”. I didn’t quite believe her as ‘tidying’ usually means putting a single block of Duplo back in the box or hiding one of her school shoes, so I had a look in the living room and was very happily surprised to find that the floor was completely devoid of the random selection of Gruffalo domino pieces, plastic balls and half-eaten slices of pizza!

I admit that, these days, I do find myself more easily irritated by mess, noise and defiantly grumpy small children than I used to…but my heart also melts in an instant whenever one of them does something lovely or even just smiles at me. When they were both tucked up in bed and snoring this evening, I stood for a moment and watched them breathing and, as it does every night, all the frustration of the day disappeared.

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A hot mug of sanity

The Cheese Thief

The cheese thief looked up at me and grinned while clutching a very large block of chewed cheddar. She giggled fromage-fresh breath and me and scuttled away to continue her clandestine feast while hiding behind the living room door in the company of the dog-shaped draught excluder. Bethan the fridge raider was at it again…and I had only averted my attention from her for no more than two minutes. At least she was distracted by the cheese before she decorated the carpet with liberally sprinkled strawberry yoghurt again.

Yesterday was my last day at work and, as I switched off the laminator and closed the door to the reprographics room for the final time, I reflected on the good, less good and outright bizarre moments I had experienced there in the past four years…from the crashed spaceship I built on the roof out of items from the skip (which somehow was mentioned in the school’s first Ofsted report), to the 5-foot tall reprographics-themed Christmas tree I made out of reams of paper and items of stationery, to dressing up as Fawkes the Phoenix for World Book Day only to be firmly informed by a small child that I “should not have come as a chicken because there are no chickens in Harry Potter”.

In a few weeks’ time I will be leaving our house in Crayford and making the long journey with my two girls to Stirling in Scotland, where we will join my husband and move into our new home. It was a big decision to make the move but we know it is the right decision and, although it is hard being hundreds of miles apart for a couple of months while my husband works in Scotland and we wait for our new home to be ready to move into, we both believe that the change is for the best. I am really looking forward to our new start and our lovely new house…I have visions of us sitting by the Christmas tree in our toasty warm living room while watching the snow drift gently down outside (probably followed by wrestling a giant cheese from Bethan and washing a copious amount of spaghetti bolognese out of her hair… as, amongst the many changes, there will be some constants).

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Caught red-handed

Christmas 2014

I was still feeling quite ill when I headed into London on the train with my 1 year-old daughter, her pushchair and a rucksack after work on the Friday before Christmas. I arrived at London Bridge in the midst of Friday rush hour, struggled down one escalator, carrying baby, buggy and bag…then stood on the platform and watched commuters surge in front of me as I tried to fold the buggy again while holding the heavy, wriggling sprog under my arm. I was dreading transporting the whole ensemble through the tube to Euston and then up to North Wales when a Good Samaritan approached me and offered to carry the buggy for me. I gratefully accepted her help and thanked her (quite a few times)…she even stayed on the tube for a stop longer than she intended to and carried the buggy up the escalators at Euston for me. Cheered by her good will, I boarded the train to The North feeling festive.

Several hours later (most of which were spent in wonderment at the woman in the seat across the aisle who started replenishing her makeup as we passed through Milton Keynes and finally finished it at Crewe…her face was about 1 inch deep in layers of foundation, powder, blusher, bronzer and suchlike by the time the cosmetics toolbox was packed away), we joined my husband and my eldest daughter at my parents’ house.

We spent the next few days hunting for Gruffalo in Delamere Forest, meeting up with family at a soft play centre in Cheshire Ice Cream Farm and basking in the glow of my Dad’s extensive collection of fairy lights while opening some presents early. I don’t get to see my parents and sister very often as we live so far away, so it was great to see them at Christmas.

Gruffalo hunting
Gruffalo hunting
Ball pond!
Ball pond!

For the next leg of our Christmas tour we took a late evening road trip up to the Lake District to visit my husband’s family. The sound of the snoring from the back seats merged with the howling gale and torrential rain as the traffic thinned out and the landscape in the headlights became more wild and remote. We arrived to a warm welcome and a Christmas tree dwarfed by the mountain range of presents surrounding it on all sides. In the run up to the Big Day we took Catrin to watch ‘Peter Pan’ and ‘A Present For Santa’ at Theatre by the Lake in Keswick…she loved both (despite launching herself inadvertently onto another audience member on the row below our seats in the studio). Inspired by the Santa show, she drew a picture of her smiley face for him to take away with him when he delivered her gifts that night. She also demanded that we leave him a mince pie and carrot juice (good to see Santa no longer advocates drinking and flying).

Just a few presents...
Just a few presents…

Christmas is for children really and my heart melted when Catrin realised it was Christmas Day at last…I could hear her shouting excitedly from her bedroom and then the thump thump giggle thump of her running down the stairs to start work on the wrapping paper which needed removing.

It took all day to open all the presents and, by the end of it, I was completely full of dinner, trifle, pudding, chocolates, Buck’s Fizz and Baileys; my face hurt from smiling so much…and I felt particularly lucky. Both of my daughters (the one dressed as Rapunzel, clutching a random selection of lego pieces and a chef’s hat and the one wearing half a bowl of trifle and eating a cracker) seemed to enjoy themselves immensely…their grins and giggles were infectious.

Rapunzel sporting her new hat
Rapunzel sporting her new hat
Got the wrong idea when it comes to eating cheese and crackers
Got the wrong idea when it comes to eating cheese and crackers
Erm...
Erm…

Sadly, the snow which had been forecast to fall across the north weeks in advance (prompting us to pack the sledge in the hope of some holiday tobogganing) fell further south. The only snow we could find was at Walby Farm Park…the foamy flakes fell thick and fast to the ground from two snow machines positioned either side of a huge snowman made out of two hay bales. It reminded me of a dress rehearsal of a production of ‘The Wizard of Oz’ which I worked on many years ago…we used a snow machine above the stage to create a light flurry for the scene where Dorothy nods off in the poppy field…but someone had accidentally set the snow machine too high and the Emerald City ended up resembling a wild munchkin foam party.

Found the snow!
Found the snow!

I ate Christmas cake for breakfast for the next few days (along with some posh-smelling cheeses) and attempted to walk off a fraction of the mince pies and suchlike by hunting yet another Gruffalo (Whinlatter Forest this time) and walking on a beautiful frosty, calm morning at Buttermere. We lived and worked in Keswick for a few years over a decade ago and, I have to a admit, I do really miss the countryside around there…it is beautiful even in the famous Cumbrian horizontal rain and bitter winds combo. I also miss the rarity of a traffic jam (apart from the occasional sheep jam on roads through farmland) and the way people say hello to strangers as they walk past and no-one thinks that is weird or threatens to stab them because they ‘looked at me’.

Beautiful morning at Buttermere
Beautiful morning at Buttermere

As we left for the long drive back to the far corner of England I felt a bit tearful because we had spent such a great 10 days with family in beautiful places having lots of fun that I didn’t want to go back to our little house so far from our families and continue the struggle to juggle work, childcare, my voluntary job and other commitments, while never having enough hours in the day to complete my ‘to do’ list. But holidays can’t last forever and maybe 2015 will turn out to be a great year.

Birthday girl

My littlest girl had her first birthday a week before Christmas. From the day I found out she would arrive in December I said that I would never let Christmas celebrations overshadow her birthday or do the ‘I’ll give her one big present for her birthday and Christmas combined’ thing as so many people with birthdays in December feel disappointed when that happens to them. However, as her birthday approached, the annual winter sickness bug hit our home and first Bethan did her best impression of the girl from The Exorcist (projectile vomit-wise, at least), followed by Catrin a few days later and then, not wanting to be left out, I joined in too. None of us were in a state to host a birthday gathering or make or eat a cake on the anniversary of Bethan’s entry into the world. I did feel bad about that and vowed that I would make her a cake after Christmas and mark the belated moment with friends to make up for it.

Enjoying her new toys
Enjoying her new toys

So breakfast on New Year’s Day consisted of a chunk of chocolate cake with a piece of fondant TV remote control on top of it (I decorated it with Bethan’s favourite things to chew…she is particularly fond of chomping on remote controls). It was 2 weeks late and wasn’t actually in the same year as her 1st birthday, but she got to blow out her candle and decorate the floor with cake crumbs eventually.

Belated cake
Belated cake

I know she will have no memory of her birthday (belated or otherwise), but her big sister will and, one day, Bethan will want to see photos of herself as a baby and I want her to know that she had her special moments just as her big sister did.

Her very own remote control (to munch on)
Her very own remote control (to munch on)