Wednesday, 30 December 2009

My best present

Look away now if your children aren't great sleepers as today my boys - aged 6, 4 and 10 months - gave their parents the best Christmas present they could ever have dreamed up. They let us sleep until we were woken by a phone call at 10am. To anyone who is not a parent to small children this might seem like a very small gift, but to those of us more accustomed to being roused from our slumbers by a tiny body launching itself onto our head in the early hours of the morning, those extra hours of sleep were the most priceless treasure.

After what seems like aeons of mass catering and all the attendant tidying up, we are both exhausted, with that pleasant grey tinge to our pallor that hospitality mixed with children seems to bring on. But today it seems to have faded to a far paler, more elegant shade and the bags under my eyes have shrunk back to mere suitcases, as opposed to a trunk large enough to pack to emigrate to the other side of the world.

Still these are not the only gifts that have been bestowed on us this festive season, the babies have been full of the spirit of giving and have divvied up the following tricks to delight us:

Twin 1 has added sitting up from the crawling position to his battery of activities, though his crawl action is still stuck in commando mode. He has also developed a new skill as a human vacuum and has been found sucking up wax, pieces of wood, tinsel and dropped Christmas pudding over the past week. The upshot of this is that I have to manically sweep up after everyone in an attempt to keep him alive until his first birthday. However, he does help me with this, following me around like a lame puppy picking up all the dirt I have missed on the front of his clothes.

Twin 2 is still firmly resisting the urge to move, as he spreads his arms octopus-like, around him to sweep up whatever object he desires. If it lies outside his reach he simply resorts to screaming until one of his slaves provides it for him. This seems to be a highly effective method.

To reward us for his labours he will bestow upon us either his brand new, regal wave, which sees him twirling his baby hand at the wrist just like a real monarch, or he will look at us with his piercing sapphire blue eyes, and slowly blink them closed. To behold this is a pearl beyond price and no matter how many times I try to persuade him to to blink to order he's having none of it, he does it in his own time when he feels one of his subjects deserves the honour.

The older two have been most gracious in actually playing with most of the toys they have been given, rather than just dumping them in a pile and returning to their favourite past times which include beating each other up, having screaming rows, whinging for the TV and running around the house yelling like banshees. Though there has been plenty of time for all the latter activities in between unpacking the contents of a cargo ship from China and making copious trips to the dump to rid ourselves of a small village of impenetrable packaging.

Overall, a good time has been had by all though I have been feeling a little melancholic about the fact that this is the last Christmas I will spend in the company of babies, as by next year the twins will surely be up and running (though I shan't count on it with twin 2), and wreaking an all new, toddler version of havoc to compliment their big brothers' antics.

Having said that when I thought son number two would be my last, every milestone he reached filled me with sadness and nostalgia, whereas with the twins this is watered down to a mere twinge, and much soothed by the idea that this is also a journey that will see me change my last nappy, shove mush into my last ravening maw, fight my last battle with a pushchair and eventually leave the house without lugging half of its contents with me. So although it was fun holding twin one back from ingesting pine needles and small baubles, or dangling twin two from my hip as I attempted to stuff turkey and ice a cake, I am well over my desire to add more babies to the mix.

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Merry Christmas

I have decided the only way to snatch five minutes peace amidst the festive mayhem is to hide in my office and pen a post. I have spent the day coughing away with a seasonal cold as I variously helped my husband clear out our garage to make it into a cosy little bolt hole for my parents to stay in over Christmas (it was either that or they would have to drive around the ice rink of the North Circular to a godforsaken Travel Lodge), prepped enough food to feed an army of relatives, dandled babies to stop the incessant screams and pondered on all the things I am sure I have forgotten.

Don't get me wrong, I love Christmas, but from one year to the next the sheer scale of work it involves seems to be wiped from my mind, a bit like the pain of labour slips away once the baby is out, enabling you to contemplate having more than one offspring. I also find myself feeling flustered at the very concept of managing the timing of the day. I normally do get everything onto the table and cooked in time, but each year I set myself a new challenge, like adding an extra recipe or a complicated array of vegetables, just to spice things up a bit.

This year I have decided (rather indecisively) on three types of stuffing, because they all look so nice and I want to try them, I have also whipped up two extra desserts, one a decadent Bouche de Noel for Christmas Eve (a nod to my European years) and the other a chocolate confection for those who don't like the traditional pud. Not to mention the ham that is bubbling away on the stove as I type and the 9kg turkey resting resplendent in the fridge. It makes me tired just thinking about it.

I think that despite the inordinate amount of calories packed onto a Christmas plate it's actually the most slimming meal of the year. I spend so long rushing around preparing everything from cranberry sauce to brussels with chestnuts from scratch that (a) by the time I come to attempt to eat it I can't bear the sight of it and (b) I have expended more calories shopping and cooking for this meal than any other the whole year round.

Still the house has got a warm and Christmassy feel to it, with the grandparents safely here and installed, the children bouncing off all four walls and sneaking forbidden peeks at the mysterious packages secreted under the tree, the smells of Christmas cooking wafting around the house and a weariness in my limbs induced by hard work expended make our house as hospitable as possible at this special time of year.

I think it must be time to start cracking open one of those many bottles of Christmas spirit and really getting into the swing of things. I doubt I will be able to sneak off again before the big day so I will take this chance to wish all of you a Merry Christmas.

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

U-turns and tinsel

Am pink of cheeks as I retract my last blog post. It seems we are not ones for big life changes after all and are rather fond of our little rut. After what seems like aeons of soul searching we decided to stick with plan A at least until the children are able to fend for themselves a little better. To be honest the family are all pretty settled, the boys love their school and the babies are happy with my new nanny, work is going fine for me, so my other half didn't want to rock the boat for purely self gratifying motives.

It's much harder for him to admit that he is having to postpone his dreams, and I really feel for him. I admire him for putting his needs last and the family's first. I hope that he can be happy in making this selfless move so that we can all remain blissfully static. I guess this means I will have to be nice to him for a while. Or at least ply him with alcohol on a regular basis.

Anyway, back to the much more important issue in hand. It's almost Christmas, and although work is insisting on continuing up to the bitter end all this freezing weather is putting me in a festive frame of mood. I am a little disappointed by the poor show of nativity plays, son number two did a fifteen minute display that saw the little ones warble a few verses of Merry Christmas and Jingle Bells before being hustled off stage to spare the tinies from getting too bored. I felt short changed as he is leaving this nursery at the end of term so this was his last nursery nativity.

Still at least he got to do one, eldest son has been deemed too old for the three kings and all that jazz, so it's no Christmas play at all. Apparently us parents have to be content with the harvest assembly they did earlier in the year. Still it's better than a friend's daughter whose school decided that the most festive party piece they could put on was a rendition of The Godfather. Presumably the seasonal twist was that it was a reindeer rather than a horses' head that found its way under the covers?

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Brave new world

I was up until 3am this morning having what I think is termed a life changing conversation with my husband. No, we are not divorcing, but he is walking out on his job of the last six years and that seems to be almost as traumatic. To cut a long story short he's fed up to the back teeth of his daily grind, I am finding it hard to work with four kids, so we've decided to combine forces and try to find a way to create that elusive life work balance.

I am in equal parts terrified and elated. We are both poorly fitted to 9-5 jobs, being far too interested in spending time with our children rather than locked on the tube or in a traffic jam. Sadly no one was cut out to be the breadwinner, but that essential bread still needs to be won. The idea is that by splitting our time between family and work we can do both more justice, and if that pans out I will be the happiest girl in town, of course the 3am chat was more about what happens if Plan A goes tits up and we end up trying out cardboard boxes for six.

Trouble is that sometimes in life you have to take a risk to have a hope of getting what you want in life, yet I hate any hint of change, even if ultimately it might be for the better. I am a yellow-bellied coward and my glass is forever half empty, yet I don't want to constantly pour the cold water from said glass all over my husband's plans and enthusiasm as he will need all of his get up and go to kick start a brand new career.

I guess I will just have to put my strong and supportive head on and hope like hell that it all works out and I will look back on this particular life choice as one of the few that made sense. Wish me luck, I fear I may need it.

Monday, 7 December 2009

Blog blues

My blog is my indulgence. I love to write, but mostly I am a gun for hire, writing what other people commission me to, some of it is interesting, some of it isn't, but it pays the bills which is the main thing. My blog on the other hand is my place to write about whatever the hell I like. If people read it, it gives me a warm feeling inside, but if they don't I still enjoy the process, so it's a win win situation.

Of course this probably means my blog will never make me a penny, but never mind. It also means that my blog tends to be shoved to one side whenever a paying writing job comes along, which is why it's pages have been rather blank of late. As a freelance journalist you have to take work whenever it comes up, and sometimes that means you are faced with many deadlines all crowding around you for your attention. Of course these are the good times, as when you can't see a deadline for dust you know you are in trouble.

I suppose that means my blog is a bit like my mother used to describe my sister, it only hears from me when I am in trouble! That's not strictly true, but in my ideal world I would spend far more time blogging and far less working, but until my lottery numbers come up it will have to take it's place at the back of the queue.

But one of the main reasons I try to keep my blog up to date is to keep a record of my growing boys, and to that end I must report on a development on the movement front. My twins are pretty slow to get on the move, which as I am terrified of the havoc they will wreak once they start perambulating, is no bad thing. But twin one has now developed his own unique means of transport.

He has taken to dragging himself along by one elbow in the manner of a wounded soldier hauling himself off the battlefield, hence his brand new nick name of commando. Despite looking most cumbersome he can get around using this strange motion and now follows me around the kitchen seeking out places to injure himself. Last week he was sporting a real shiner thanks to falling head first into the fire place, which was hastily hidden by a cushion after he pointed out it's potential for danger in such a dramatic fashion.

I think his rule of thumb is that if it has the potential to maim or kill it must be interesting. Toys are swept aside as he shuffles off towards a lit oven, muddy shoes, the cat's bowl and the cleaning cupboard and if you have the temerity to try to save his little life you are met with wails of frustration. I think it will be soon time to instigate a twin cage (otherwise know as play pen) so when I can't keep my eagle eye on him, I can lock him away from harm.

His brother is still contentedly sitting down playing with toys, looking on with detached amusement as his twin struggles around. I think he's like my eldest who spent months pondering movement, before simply starting to crawl and walk perfectly, so one day he will just appear at my heels without all the ungainly shuffling and struggling suffered by his more thrusting double.

Both the twins are now well into the separation anxiety phase, so every time I leave a room I am followed by a cacophony of disgruntled screaming as they are convinced I will never return. Surely they should learn that the more the scream the more likely their prophecy is to come true?

So now the exploits of the twins Commando and Sitting Bull are committed to memory and my blog I must go back to work once again.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Three nights in heaven

No this is not my first foray into porno posts, but a homage to my weekend away sans enfants. Thanks to some amazing, and some might say foolhardy, grandparents we managed to escape the brood to spend three whole nights in Venice - henceforth known as heaven. Now I must admit that after the couple of weeks of illness and childcare chaos I'd had preceding our little trip three nights in a Travel Lodge off the M1 would probably have appealed, simply because the children would find it hard to crawl into our bed at night there. But Venice was much, much better than that. It actually had the magical effect of making us feel like proper grown ups again, instead of simply worn out parents.

I loved the little luxuries of walking at a normal pace rather than at the dawdle of a four year old, of negotiating public transport and shop doorways without the encumbrance of a double buggy, of having a bed that was several hundreds of miles away from the threat of infant night pirates hijacking the duvet in the early hours, of eating a meal out at a leisurely pace and with no need to make apologetic faces at your fellow diners as your children screech, fidget and drop food on the floor, of being able to saunter for hours without inducing whines about aching legs and the need for drinks, of being able to walk past a toy shop and not give it a second glance, of sitting with a cup of coffee and just drinking in the scenery with no one pulling at your sleeve and chanting "Mummy, mummy, mummy' incessantly to get your attention....I could go on, and on, and on.

It was delicious revelling in divesting myself of my four demanding boys, but this delight was compounded by being in one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Hollywood couldn't have made Venice up, this mysterious and majestic city that rises like a giant folly from the deep green lagoon that surrounds and threatens to engulf it. We travelled from the airport by water bus, a novelty in itself, and as we chugged through the black waters towards the dancing lights of the island it was easy to leave the cares of the world behind like so much displaced luggage.

Despite exhortations to look at this or that art gallery or fantastically frescoed chapel, we chose instead to explore the maze of streets that span out across the city, climbing artfully carved bridges over jade green canals, watching fellow tourist slide by on the silver and black painted gondolas, piloted by the only men on earth who can make a striped jumper and beribboned boater look macho. Each street is an adventure turning you into dead ends adored by a delicate fountain or candlelit shrine, tiny alleyways where the buildings above lean so close that resemble a newly in love couple bending in for a kiss, thick damp black beams creating tunnels between the buildings that spit you out into the brightness and bustle of the Grand Canal. Overlooked roads and forgotten turnings make even a simple trip out to supper into a secretive assignation.

The streets shadowed by the grand scale of the pallazzos and pensiones that line them are lit by jewel bright shop windows, tempting you to buy bejewelled and glittering masks, garish curls and beads of Murano glass, butter yellow crumbling chunks of parmesan, fragrant pillowy Panettone studded with fat raisins and sweet nuggets of orange peel, wafer thin slices of rose pink ham and slabs of porcelain white nutty torrone. Needless to say our suitcases returned bulging with goodies and the boys have been dashing around the house in sparkling feathered masks ever since.

A city built on water is such a captivating folly, we couldn't help but marvel at the everyday transported into something special simply by being loaded onto a boat. Where else in the world would you gasp at a rubbish truck, taxi or DHL delivery vehicle - but somehow seeing a washing machine delivered by boat, or watching a man about town wriggle under the canvas of his tiny motorboat to retrieve his shopping is so much more captivating than when these things are done by car and van. A choked high street at home is entirely lacking in charm, but when there are stately gondolas dodging vaporettos suddenly everything is enchanting.

The highlight of our trip for me was not the Pala D'oro at St Mark's, though I did love its childish extravagance, it looks as if I'd let my six-year-old loose with gold paint and shiny stones and told him to do his worst, extravagant, overstated and so very, very shiny, or the fabulous Italian food which never fails to please even in the most downbeat tourist trap, but a gliding ride down the Grand Canal at dusk. We had walked for hours down the back streets leading to the station, shopping and snacking on sticky cannoli and our feet had had enough, so we hopped on the water bus to chug back to the centre of town and our hotel.

We snagged seats right on the prow, and the chill evening air drove out the tiredness, forcing us to snuggle into our coats and scarves and settle down for the ride. Water buses may be charming, but they are far from fast. We gazed at the magnificent palaces that line the grand canal, some chessboards of pink and cream bricks, some wedding cake confections in white marble, all with turrets and crenellations a plenty, some with faded maroon and gold flags fluttering from high windows, others dark and neglected.

Windows shone with elaborately gaudy chandeliers dripping crystals and delicate glass decorations from sky high ceilings, occassionally nothing was lit apart from a tiny loft window hanging high above the water, weaving tales of grand folk fallen on hard times, holing up in the last room the could afford to keep open. Many had boats moored outside, bobbing in private boat houses, some the Porsches and Ferraris of this waterlogged domain, shining with varnished wood and sleek lines, others the clapped out bangers with scraped plastic hulls and ragged canvas roofs.

As we ploughed through the darkening waters from stop to stop, the light faded and the buildings shifted from an ethereal blue grey of twilight, to more dark and stately presences, as their shadowy facades glinted off the dark waters. A rush hour bus ride, lifted from mundane to magical simply by shifting location.

Of course the other huge high of the trip was actually spending time together, having the chance to remember why you fell in love and that it's more than just the shared chores of family life that bind you to each other. And this task was aided and abetted by our romantic backdrop, as I am not sure that motel off the M1 would have left us quite as starry eyed.

But now we have landed back in the real world with a bump. I was dashing along the road on the school run today, having been woken at 5am by a bed raider complaining of a temperature that miraculously disappeared as soon as he'd burrowed into bed between us. Yesterday I came home from work turning my key in the lock to the sound of my two eldest sons screaming at each other, they stared up at me teary eyed and started explaining their greivances at the top of their voices. But for the moment I can still close my eyes and be back watching dusk fade to darkness on the ink black waters of the Grand Canal and remember that there is more to life than that mayhem contained with my four walls.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

My achey, breaky heart

Today was the first day in his school and nursery career that my oldest son refused to kiss me goodbye. He strolled into his classroom, trying to attract the attention of his disturbingly pretty teacher, without a backward glance. As I stood plaintively waving goodbye the kindly teachers assistant asked "Aren't you going to kiss mummy goodbye", to which he went puce and violently shook his head.

He is only six and already I am an embarrassment to him.

I knew it was coming, all mothers of older children have tales of the careless heartbreak inflicted by growing children as they morph from cuddly toddlers who can't get enough of you to sulky tweens who are far too hip for hugs, but I just didn't think it would arrive so soon.

I am crossing my fingers that at this young age that it's just a phase as he is still all to willing to sit on my knee and twine his arms around my neck in the privacy of the home, it's just public displays of affection that he has begun to scorn. But it has to be a sign of things to come and I don't like it one little bit.

Although I relish the growing independence of my big boy who can now dress, wash, read and help out all by himself, I can't help but miss that little boy whose face dissolved into tears at the prospect of two and half short hours away from me in nursery. At the time I was eager to unwrap his distraught body from around my legs and get on with the tasks of the day in that small window of freedom, but now it's on the wane I long for that unbridled devotion.

I love my boy and I know I will grow used to this new, more detached, incarnation, but today will always be a black day to me as today is the beginning of the end of my baby, as this big boy takes his place.

Still at least I have three more hot on his heels to make up for those missing cuddles, and as one is screaming in his cot right now, I'd best stop for now.

Friday, 13 November 2009

Transformers under my pillow

It's been a turbulent few days chez FDMTG as a nasty virus has felled us one by one, our childcare and cleaning arrangements have unravelled simultaneously and my work has decided to take a turn for the busy. It's enough to make me (almost) regret having four children.

When times are good, having lots of boys to kiss and cuddle is dreamy, but when illness strikes or the tangled web of support that keeps us all going snags, I really do find having a large family cumbersome in the extreme. It all started when my stalwart mother's help began to reveal that she simply wasn't up to the job of juggling my four boys. In her defence it wasn't what we hired her to do, but in my defence I can't afford to pay her unless she can tame the boys sufficiently for me to be able to work in peace on the days she is in loco parentis.

To cut a long story short I have now had to start the painful task of searching for a new nanny to take on the task of boy management two days a week, which is a boring round of posting endless adverts, contacting agencies and doing interviews. While some of the nannies we have seen have been lovely, it disturbs me the number of women who reply to an advert for an experienced nanny who have never actually looked after one child, let alone four. Still fingers crossed the perfect Mary Poppins is waiting just around the corner.

The next brick in my castle to fall out of place was my cleaner of six years throwing in the towel. It comes as no surprise to me as she is the brightest most conscientious woman and is desperate to start a family of her own, but I take to change like a fish takes to fresh air so all this staff movement left me a dribbling wreck.

I know all of this might make me sound like a right spoiled madam, moaning about nannies and cleaners like a true domestic diva. I hold my hands up in shame as I often feel sharp pangs of guilt that I don't give up work to look after my baby boys, but what I earn makes the difference between happiness and misery in our household, so to give up isn't really an option, and child care problems go with the territory.

As for a cleaner, I am far from ashamed to say that when I am not slaving over a hot keyboard I would far rather cough up for someone else to scrub the toilet and clean the oven, than spend even more time away from the boys doing those tiresome chores myself.

Now all these hiccups on the domestic front are unsettling enough, but on top of this son number one came down with a feverish cold on Monday, followed by me, son number two, son number three and now dad is showing worrying signs of illness. This bout of sickness brought home how painful a big family can be as we haven't had an unbroken night of sleep in a week, what with late night (or even worse early morning) requests for water/medicine/cuddles/trips to the loo.

Each night we put our head to the pillow in trepidation wondering which of our many offspring will be the one to wake us from our slumbers tonight. That is if we can get to sleep what with the detritus left in our bed by the sick little boys who have inhabited it during the day. I have variously ousted books, pens, biscuit crumbs, crayons, magazines and a menagerie of soft toys before there was room for me to lie down, and tonight it was the eponymous Transfomer under the pillow courtesy of robots in disguise-obsessed son number two.

The final straw in this week that quite rightly ended on Friday 13th, was that the client I am working for at the moment managed to wipe out all the work which I had done the previous week leaving me with the tedious task of doing the whole lot again. Cue many hours spent at digital grindstone with a streaming cold and misanthropic outlook.

I am crossing my fingers that all will be well tomorrow as we are due to brave the gale force winds and rain to make the journey to visit Lapland UK in Kent. And so Christmas begins.

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Book club

Almost forgot that I promised myself last night to recommend a fabulous book I just finished reading. It's a bit gory and gruesome in parts, but so beautifully written and such an engaging story if you can deal with the nasty bits it's a wonderful read. To be honest the books I mostly read have pink sparkly covers and require zero brain cells to comprehend, as that is about how many I have left at the end of a day with children.

But this one is actually intelligent and thrilling, and nothing to do with boyfriends, babies, motherhood or any of those typical topics I find myself reading about over and over again. It is the sort of book I would love to write, but know I never will. It's imaginative and so gorgeously phrased you can almost feel yourself in the situations described. The book is called City of Thieves by David Benioff. Give it a try and let me know what you think.

It's in his kiss

Yesterday, halfway through the manic morning routine that is back with a vengeance after half term, my husband stopped his impressive juggling act of dressing one child, feeding another and trying to do up his shirt buttons for a nanosecond to remind me that we had got together on this very day 10 years ago. 'That's nice dear', I replied with a swift peck on his stubbled cheek as I simultaneously shoved sandwiches into a lunch box, mixed up yoghurty goo for the babies' breakfast and attempted to shimmy out of my nightie and into some semblance of day clothes in time for the school run.

Now, as I sit at my desk with a little space to contemplate, I realise just how much things have changed since that day 10 years ago. My husband was then a fellow journalist who I knew vaguely from the press party circuit, which back in the pre-Credit Crunch days was pretty active, spinning us unworthy hacks from one swanky do to another. A great, if deeply unhealthy, life when you are young, free and single or would like to be.

I was in the throes of a nasty and elongated break up and he had proved to be a stalwart shoulder to cry on. Although he later revealed that this uncharacteristic empathy was actually an elaborate ploy to get into my pants, I appreciated it at the time, as so many of the other men around me were so much less subtle in their seduction techniques.

That fateful night I was working late in an attempt to avoid going home to my misery, he was walking past my office in Soho to go to his brother's wrap party just around the corner. As he passed the plate glass windows of my place of work he spotted me and rapped on the panes to get my attention and invite me to the do.

So many things should have stopped us from getting together, what if I hadn't worked on the ground floor, what if I had been sensible and avoided all romantic entanglement given my fragile state, what if he had been sensible and avoided this woman with all her pantechnicon of emotional baggage?

Fortunately prudence isn't in either of our natures and I accepted his invitation. We sat huddled in a dark and smoky booth revealing all our most glamorous and attractive points to each other - naturally this didn't take long and we soon decided to give up on the chit chat and get down to some serious snogging. But not without me issuing my now famous proviso (which I was sure would scare any right-minded man off) and refusing to kiss him until he agreed that in principle he would like to have children!

Now I know this makes me sound certifiable, and him too as he still leant in for the kill, but let me explain. At the time I was in a turmoil over my split, and one of the key reasons it didn't work out with the ex was because despite the fact we had been together for many years he was adamant that he didn't want children. I thought to myself, I am in my late 20s, I want kids asap, I am a total emotional wreck, I will give this poor boy a chance to run a mile, but if he does choose to stick around then at least I know we are singing from the same hymn sheet.

Ten years later with the smokey bars of Soho a distant miasma of the past, we are still belting out the same tunes as we rush around after our four boys. The notes might not be quite as melodic, but I am glad I checked if he was daddy material before our first smooch, and I am even more glad he was mad enough to kiss me anyway.

Saturday, 31 October 2009

My little pumpkin

Tonight I stood beside my firstborn's bed, the dim lamplight brushing the contours of his face, I watched his chest rise and fall with the regular breath of sleep and started as he rolled over in bed, afraid I had woken him with my silent regard. He is six today, a Halloween baby and always our little pumpkin. I am wiped out after throwing a spooky birthday party for him and traipsing the local streets trick or treating, bringing home a haul of sweets that should keep him going until his next birthday.

As appears to be the case with children, each milestone you reach seems to race up upon you at an ever faster pace. I cannot believe the boy sleeping peacefully in his room below where I type is the tiny baby I held in a hospital bed, petrified at what I had gone and done, just six short years ago. I think the bond I have with number one was forged in such adversity that it has a quality that none of my other children can match.

I love all my boys with a passion that defies belief, but nothing is quite the same as the experiences you share with your precious firstborn. I am not sure this is an unalloyed benefit to either of you. I certainly made many mistakes with number one, and the intense gaze of parental attention isn't always a good thing, but it's certainly unique.

My first pregnancy was so magical. I found the whole sensation that something, another human, was growing inside me, so alien. I couldn't quite equate that burgeoning bump with a real live baby, and when my boy did arrive he was nothing like what I had expected. Conditioned by adverts on the TV which portray babies using six-month-olds who can sit up, smile and play, my newborn son was a revelation to me, and more in an apocalyptic sense than a pleasant one. His blank eyed stare chilled me, and I found it hard to wait hand and foot on this being that seemed to give nothing back.

We never got along with breast feeding and I still recall one night when he looked up at me, his dark blue eyes seemingly filled with malice as yet again I was unable to satiate his hunger. I almost flung him away from me across the bed I was so frightened by him. I would grimace smiles at him as I had read that you must smile at your baby, lest he feel unwanted, but every time I heard him cry I would cringe away from the inevitable painful battle that would ensue as I tried, and invariably failed, to feed him.

That said, although I found getting to grips with being his mummy unbearably hard, he is also the only baby I could devote myself to without distraction. When I look back at his baby days I recall holding my tiny son close and dancing away with him for hours, feeling proud that I could bear a child and still have some idea of what 'the kids' were listening to. I can't hear Maroon 5 or Keane without instantly being transported back to my old living room, holding my baby son close to my heart and weeping tears of love for him, wetting his bald and uncomprehending skull with the damp outpourings of maternal passion.

We went everywhere together, me and my boy, we spend every hour of his first few months learning how to be mother and child, learning how to love each other, and the result is an intense adoration that can, at times, exclude all others.

This is the boy who leaves me love notes under my pillow and the child who made me realise how much I loved being a mummy. I think with all my subsequent children I have been trying to recapture that feeling of wonder (tinged with a heavy dose of terror and trepidation) you have with your firstborn. I have since come to understand that you can't turn the clock back and that it is a feeling exclusively reserved for number one.

The others get the benefit of a more relaxed and confident mummy, but they can never experience that topsy turvy journey into parenthood, where you become aware of the depths of passion and despair that your child can stir up in you, where you experience the first kick, first birth, first night feeds, first crawl, steps, words and on and on it goes.

My first baby taught me how to care for him and for his brothers, and as he grows older I learn more and more from him. But no matter how old he gets in some part of my heart he will always be that blue-eyed baby who taught me how to be his mummy and for that I am forever in his debt. He owns a special place in my heart that no one else could ever share and that will be my birthday present to him for the rest of his life (although at six I think he preferred Rosie, his sparkly pink unicorn from Build a Bear!)

Thursday, 29 October 2009

I heart London

I have lived in London for the past 15 years, the longest I have ever lived anywhere and in that time I have lived, studied, worked and partied in most areas of the city, so when I take a walk amidst its grimy backstreets and grand boulevards it conjures a multitude of memories. Today, thanks to a confluence of circumstances including daddy taking a day off over half term to take the big boys to see the Lion King, my indomitable mother's help B taking charge of the babies and me being booked in for an appointment with my dentist whose surgery is just behind John Lewis on Oxford street I found myself trekking from theatreland in Covent Garden to the bustle Oxford Circus.

This was a real trip down memory lane as I used to work in the heart of Soho - not plying the traditional trade associated with that area, but writing interminably dull reviews of even more boring computer products - as you can imagine the the best bit of the job was the location. I could while away my lunch hour exploring the back streets around the office for everything from exotic sex toys (not that I ever did) to sifting through the sparkly gewgaws in the dusty little bead shop perched on the corner of a forgotten street just behind the altogether more regal Regent Street.

Inhaling the exhaust fumes, stalking the cracked pavements, watching the taxis, buses and white van drivers wrestle for precedence on the clogged streets, dodging pedestrians dressed to kill for a day behind a desk transported me instantly to my days as a young, free and single girl about town. I strolled past the famous Algerian Coffee Stores on Old Compton street, the toasted tang of roasting coffee twirling itself into my nostrils and the distinctive rich dark scent of the beans reminded me of the day I stood in that very shop just hours before a deadly bomb ripped apart the gay bar next door.

That was a surreal night with all the streets of Soho cordoned off by banners of rippling yellow police tape. My friends and I sat in the pub, shocked that such violence had been wrought so close to home, and yet somehow enlivened by the drama of it all as panicked calls and texts poured into our mobiles from worried relatives and friends. In London you always feel at the heart of the action, and that's an addictive sensation.

The Christmas lights are strung up above Regent Street, webs of light bulbs forlorn and shorn of any finery by the daylight and without a purpose until some Z-list celebrity is plucked from obscurity to switch them on so they can glint and twinkle bringing festive magic to glint and glimmer as they're reflected by the tempting store windows so desperate to part us from our cash in exchange for that perfect present. The shops here are just so much more majestic than the average high street, there is no tacky Tesco or ill stocked Boots with shambolic shelves of shampoo and shaving foam to break the run of gleaming plate glass-fronted emporia, no matter that most of them are hawking made up tartans and gaudy crystal to the passing tourist trade, there is still a feeling of majesty to the shops on this elegant avenue.

Cliched as it may sound even the air seems to pulse with an energy that is lacking in the sleepy suburb that motherhood has washed me up in. Everyone is a hurry, being swallowed into the maw of the tube, as stale warm air belches up from crammed subterranean stations, sharp-edged carrier bags swing from chic wrists, slicing their way through the crowds, their expensive contents demanding the path be cleared for them, gaggles of tourist giggle and jostle earning irritated tuts and sharp elbows aside from locals with a more pressing destination than the next branch of Starbucks or a tat merchant selling I Heart London Ts.

I used to be part of all of this, I used to push my way through these crowds, I used to shop in these shops, drink in these bars, eat in these cafes. I was one of the throng of Londoners who move at a pace that makes a pushchair a liability and a small child a ball and chain dragging at your hand.

Do I miss it? Of course, sometimes, on a day like today when I feel my pulse quicken with excitement as I walk through the centre of my home town past Nelson's Column, The Royal Opera House, the magicians and opera singers of Covent Garden's street theatre, the vice dens of Soho. The dusty little hardware shops that still cling on amidst the sleek chain stores, the bars where a messy crowd of actors, singers and wasters spill out onto pavement tables savouring an expresso and a cigarette as they watch the world go by, the elegant squares with their pristine wedding cake white Georgian facades, which no longer hide the salons of the demi monde, but dull firms of lawyers, accountants and financial advisors.

I love my city and perhaps that's why, unlike so many of my mummy contemporaries I cling on to London life rather than packing up and putting myself out to pasture in the provinces. Of course I know all the arguments about schools, quality of life, smaller mortgages and bigger gardens, and I am not so smug as to not say never say never. But could I live without my fix of metropolitan life? What could I find to dazzle me in the same way as the shimmer of the white lights strung along its banks glittering on the glassy ripple of of an ink black Thames?

My London has shrunk beyond belief since I had children. Anyone who has ever tried to navigate the capital with a buggy, let alone a double one, will know that after one or two sweaty journeys which saw you hefting child, pushchair and assorted paraphernalia required for a day out of the house up flight after flight of precipitous stairs amidst the tuts of a hoard of commuters, knows you soon give up and stay local. I have tried to hush a screaming baby as I wheeled him around an exhibition at the Tate, I have almost been thrown out of the Tate Modern when my boys refused to accept that those primary coloured installations where not an imaginatively conceived play area but priceless art. I have almost lost one son amidst the pressing Christmas crowds at Fortnum & Mason and I have lost count of the number of times I have tried to explain why licking anything on a Tube train is a BAD idea.

In short I find it safer and less stressful to stay within a three mile radius of my home when I am with children, where there is ample parking, plentiful baby change areas and no one is annoyed when half of a meal ends up spread beneath the chair of a tiny diner. But despite this it still makes me feel that little bit better about my tiny little life, knowing that there is one so much bigger just a few stops down the tube line.

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

I am not worthy

Just a quickie as I am wrung out after having to actually care for my children without the assistance of school or nursery, courtesy of half term. I wanted to offer a big, slobbery kiss of gratitude to for namechecking little old FDMTG as one of the Top 50 websites and blogs for parents. I even managed to come in at number 18, which isn't bad for a blog that has yet to reach it's first birthday.

Now it's blush makingly flattering to be placed in such eminent company as the queen of kids grub, Annabel Karmel and the government itself, albeit in its nanny state Change4Life website format, I do feel that I really am not worthy.

I began my blog, not to offer advice to other parents struggling under the load of too many children, but as a means to write about the thing I love the most, my family. If along the way my syrupy praise for my twins makes one or two multiple mummys feel that bit less like topping themselves after a day of tandem screaming all to the good, but what I really wanted was to be able to record my precious years as a mum to little boys before they faded from my ever diminishing memory for good.

I wanted to record in black and white those fleeting moments when a 36 hour labour, flabby belly, not a moment of peace and a bank account that weeps in gory red every time I dare to check it, all seem worthwhile, or indeed a small price to pay for the joy that my boys bring into my life. I wanted to remember the pride that swelled my bosom when twin two learnt what a reaction it got when he started to clap, when twin one started to sprout the odd incongruously long hair from his barely there barnet, when son number two fells me mid rant about his untidiness/rudeness/downright violence, with a cuddle and the words 'I love joo mummy' and I wanted to grasp hold of the last few years as my firstborn transitions from my baby into a big boy.

In short my motives were purely selfish and if some of what I say strikes a chord or makes someone else smile, that's a bonus. So thanks so much for elevating my blog into something more noteworthy than the drivellings of a time pressed mum of four, but the pleasure really is all mine.

Saturday, 17 October 2009

My mummy must haves

I note with interest that a lot of successful bloggers seem to devote quite some time and energy to reviewing products. Now clearly my own little wafflings are far to esoteric (and under read) to merit anyone trying to promote a product contacting me with a view to canvassing my opinion on baby products.

To be fair with my background I wouldn't be too keen on reviewing much for free in any case. I have worked as a professional reviews editor in the past and have also reviewed the odd thing or two for (a pretty paltry) fee for the Made for Mums website, and as a writer by profession I only give my words away free here.

However, as the internet is awash with people eagerly advising mums on the merits of this or that bottle warmer or deluxe pushchair it got me to wondering about those products that have stood the test of time over the past six years with my boys. Those things that really have been indispensable, that proved to be worth every penny and that I was always glad I'd bought. As opposed to all the bits and bobs I was seduced or cajoling into buying, which made the trip from box to bin without ever really making much of an impact.

So here in no particular order and for no financial gain, but perhaps to be of some use to any new or prospective mummys out there, are some items we couldn't have lived without:

1. The Symphony in Motion mobile from the dubiously monikered (or is that just my dark mind) Tiny Love. This beauty gave me 15 minutes of peace and quite for the first few months of each of my baby's lives - enough to have a shower, a silent scream or just to lie on the floor to regroup - vital at that newborn stage.

2. Grobag sleeping bags. When son number one was born, my friend who lived part time in France, gifted me with a couple of baby sleeping bags, at the time an unheard of in the UK. They were fantastic ensuring my son was kept warm and cosy with no risk of suffocating himself under deadly blankets. Since then bags have become de rigeur over here, and for good reason.

3. A Whoozit. This is the toy I send to all my best friends when they sprog., After trying pretty much every toy under the sun to keep my baby amused this one came up trumps every time. I will admit the twins are not as enamoured as their singleton brothers, but they have the altogether more amusing option of playing with each other's hands/faces/feet, but I'm afraid these diverting playthings are for display purposes only, so I am unable to recommend them for purchase.

4. A Little Tikes Adjust n' Draw table. I always blench a bit at the price of any Little Tikes wodge of moulded plastic, but this table was worth every one of the many pennies it cost. It gave sterling service throughout the toddler years of son one and two, being used as a dining, play and drawing table, and once boisterous number two came along as a climbing frame and perch from which to watch the television and torment his big brother. It now languishes in the garden, thanks to our smaller house that can no longer accommodate a dedicated children's table, but I have plans for it should we ever finish the garage/playroom project.

5. The Gruffalo. To be honest I can't take credit for this as it was bought for me by the same friend who introduced me to baby sleeping bags. I sure do owe her as she also explained the merits of Calpol, without which I don't think I would have survived the last six years. This book is a gem and my boys have heard it a thousand times and been to see the stage show about three times. If you haven't read it, do.

6. Baby Björn baby carrier. Another one with a price to make you wince, but again ours has carried three babies (we bought another - on eBay where it was much cheaper, in fact free as my mum paid - for the twins). It's the most comfortable sling I could find and is a Godsend when you want to get a baby to sleep but have chores to do, or just want to walk without a pushchair, or with one of your other children in the pushchair.

7. Maclaren pushchairs. I have written about my pushchair habit before on this blog, and in fact our tally has now risen to nine in total, following an unfortunate incident involving a senior moment from grandma, the double buggy and the school run, so I feel qualified to comment on the merits of various models. I have owned many buggys from the eyewateringly expensive to the downright cheap and nasty, and every time I return to the Maclaren. It's the lightest, most reliable and least ridiculously overpriced brand on the market in my opinion.

8. Baby Björn Potty Chair. Without this throne of the potty world, so number two would probably still be in nappies at 4. It was the only potty that was remotely regal enough for his pampered botty to patronise, and it had the added benefit of an easy to flush away removable bowl, which made the whole job as palatable as pouring away poo could be.

9. Pampers. It might sound stupid, but I simply couldn't cope without these nappies. When I first got pregnant I toyed with the idea of being eco friendly and not leaving my children with the legacy of a landfill filled with their poop, but after a few explosive experiences I knew that I had to leave the nappy department to the professionals. I have exclusively used Pampers ever since and in six years of using nappies I can count the leaks after the wild newborn stage on my fingers.

10. Our TP Big Bouncer trampoline. An 8ft enclosed play area that has kept the boys amused, fit and out of the house for the whole two years since I bought it in a fit of uncharacteristic generosity. No garden should be without one.

11. Ugg boots and Birkenstocks courtesy of Costco. Comfort is next to Godliness in the life of a busy mum, so bugger the high heels as long as they slip on quick and comfy for the school and supermarket run they have pride of place in my wardrobe.

12. Little People Ramps Around Garage. Most toys are utter crap. They may entrance the children momentarily, or even for a month or two, but then invariably they end up cluttering up endless toy boxes until they make that unceremonious trip to the dump, or if they are still in good nick, the charity shop. This toy, however, proved to be the exception. It was bought for son number one for his first birthday by some childless friends of his daddy. Despite their then lack of progeny, they hit the jackpot and it's still a favourite almost six years on, we even have all the cars and people...somewhere.

No list of things I couldn't do without would be complete without mentioning the cuddlies. I can't recommend where to buy them as your babies will all adopt their own, but of everything I have bought over the child years the only ones who have become family are Barnabus, son number one's teddy from Mothercare, Rabbit and the Misses Starry Nights, son number two's constant and smelly companions. I am still waiting to see who will fill this starring role for the twins, but there is a certain gangly knitted toy who is my favourite for twin one, while twin two is very fond of his Taggie, but I'm not sure it's a done deal yet.

I am not big on memes, as I don't want to overburden other bloggers with tasks to complete when most of us have more than enough of those in our everyday lives, but if you are interested then why not have a trawl back through your baby years and see what you remember of all the gubbins you acquired. Perhaps we could come up with the ultimate list and save new mums a pretty penny or two with our wisdom. Although I know I for one was in such a baby retail frenzy I wouldn't have listened to a word!

Happiness is....

Yesterday I had a day alone with the twins, thanks to various social arrangements keeping the big boys out of the house all day. What bliss it was to spend the day with my two babies, without the constant interruptions and demands of their older brothers.

After our long and much needed naps for both me and the babies I took them out for a walk in our local park. The leaves on the trees are all turning so the horizon is an dazzling blend of shades, with bright golds blurring into darker umber and vibrant red, all sprinkled with the odd prickle of acid green from those trees determined to hang onto their summer finery until the bitter end. Those leaves that have fallen from the branches crunched under the wheels of the pushchair and the light was that unique mix of day and dusk with a dark, rose pink sunset just peeking out above the clouds. The air was chilled without the bitter bite of cold that is just around the corner. In short it was my perfect sort of a late afternoon.

As I wandered past the playground where both my big boys have spend many happy hours since they were little, filled at this time of day with the after school and after nap crowd of little children and their parents, all enjoying the last few afternoons where the park is still a tempting prospect, I got to thinking about what a lovely phase of life we are all in right now.

Of course us mums of little children have it hard, they are a lot of work and I am certainly not immune to days when I long for my boys to be grown up and able to wipe their own bottoms, make their own meals, stay in bed past 7am and go out and leave me in peace. But if I am honest I suspect this is the happiest I will ever be in my life.

I don't mean that the rest of life is a bleak canvas, but I think that for me my little sons add such a vibrancy to life that once they are grown and gone I will spend the rest of my years reminiscing about the glory days of their youth. I have a sneaking feeling that everything else one does with life is just filling in time, creating pleasure that is simply there in the gummy smile of a baby, the wobbly canter of a toddler, a cosy cuddle with a tiny child or the gushing adoration of a little boy.

I love a decadent weekend away, a good film at the cinema, a meal out or a cosy evening in a deux as much as the next person, and I do look forward to the days when these leisurely pursuits feature more prominently in my life. But I savour the days with my children in a way that I never have with any of these other transitory pleasures of life. I know my time with my little boys is finite and this gives it a profundity that is absent from the more indulgent joys in life.

I suppose I adore being needed, feeling like I am the leading lady in their little lives. I love watching them grow and develop, watching indistinct newborns turn into people in their own right. I love the silly words they pronouce with such gravitas in those early days of speech, I love the wobbly walk of a boy who has only just acquired this new skill, the shuffling crawl that gets them into all sorts of trouble. The baggy bottoms of those toddler trousers, swelled up with a nappy that sags and bags to indicate the dire need for a change. I love the empassioned cuddles, the limitless enthusiam and energy of the very young. The way that they can find fun in everything they do, from a baby in screaming fits of giggles as he bangs a saucepan with a wooden spoon to my eldest boy laughing with delight as he played chicken with the icy waves on a Welsh beach.

I wish that I could capture this time in amber, bottle it up along with that delicious baby fragrance of warm, sweet milk, crushed rusk and powdery talc, so I could take a deep draft of it when my life is tidily, peacefully free of little ones, just to roll back the years and step back for an instant into the happy chaos of mummyhood once more. I suppose that's what grandchildren are for.....

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Birthday boy

Today son number two is four, and very proud of the fact. He marched into nursery this morning declaring 'I am four, I am a BIG boy now', and instantly set about that uniquely male pursuit of comparing spoils with one of his best friends who is also four today. It turns out that although his friend's badge is bigger, it's not a Transformers birthday badge and is therefore infinitely inferior, phew.

Whenever one of my sons has a birthday I try to carve a few quiet moments in the day to recall the day of his birth. I am assuming this will become ever harder as they get older, but at just four years distance I can still remember pretty clearly how I was feeling on this day in 2005. I had been induced the day before and all the midwives were convinced that because this was number two the moment the magic gel hit my bits I would instantly pop out my boy.

Oh how wrong they were. I spent a boring night waiting for those elusive contractions to start and begging the midwives to give me more drugs to kick start the whole show. Despite my recalcitrant womb, which remained stubbornly contraction-free, they were still unwilling to move things along and by morning there was still no sign of him. My husband was very happy about this as, although he claims to scorn all superstition, he didn't want his son to be born on the 13th of the month.

Day two of twiddling my thumbs and waiting for any sign of action found us taking a walk in a beautiful nearby park. I still remember that the weather was unseasonably warm and we sat outside the park cafe on pretty white garden chairs, the sun beating down on our backs and me, on a strict fast, lusting after the cakes and crisps being consumed by the usual crowd of mums, toddlers and retirees. I lumbered around the park, feeding the ducks and missing my own toddler who was back at home with grandma, hoping that the rolling movement of my cumbersome body would somehow persuade Mr Baby to make his entrance into the world.

It was a sign of things to come though, as son number two is wholly disapproving of both doing as he is told and doing anything at speed. On dragged the hours, I was back in bed and finally more drugs were dripped into me in the hopes of getting those elusive contractions going. At last it seemed to work and I was wheeled into the labour ward. More drugs, a fuzzy sickness descends and much of the next few hours is lost in an opium induced haze.

My experience of hard drugs is entirely limited to those administered during childbirth and from the effect they had on me then I can safely say that I don't think there is any chance of me becoming a junkie. Far from making me feel floaty light and full of joy, morphine and its ilk send me into a vomiting, shivering state that I wouldn't replicate for pleasure.

When I was at my posh private hospital after having the twins, I entered this 'delightful' phase as a result of the morphine drip I was given after my C-section, the solicitous midwife mopped my brow and said 'You don't do recreational drugs do you dear", in the slightly awed tones of one more accustomed to dealing with a far more louche celebrity crowd.

Anyway I digress. After many more hours of sickness and delirium, a reassuringly efficient consultant came in and said that if the baby wasn't out within 15 minutes it was a C-section for me. By this point I would have agreed to someone gouging him out with a rusty spoon I was so desperate to give birth. Fortunately the doc had one more trick up her sleeve, quite literally as it turns out, as she shoved her hand inside me and rummaged about in a manner that brought to mind James Herriot birthing a reluctant calf from it's surprised mother.

Fifteen minutes to the second later my darling baby popped out into the hands of the consultant serenaded by the dulcet tones of Jamie Cullen. The first thing he did was look for the food, setting the pattern of a lifetime.

He was the most adorable baby, after my skinny little firstborn, his thick padding of baby fat was a pleasant change, as was his readiness to eat. Son number one had wailed and screamed at the mere suggestion of breast milk, chewing down agonisingly on my nipple only to bat it away in disgust. We never really settled with each other until I moved onto the bottle which he took to instantly. Son number two didn't mind where his food came from, as long as it was plentiful.

My first night with my second baby remains one of best nights of my life. It distilled all the adoration and passion of first love into eight dark hours in a stark hospital room. With son number one I had clung to my husband when he had to leave, terrified to be left on my own with my firstborn. With son number two I shooed him away as soon as possible so I could get some alone time with this gorgeous new boy in my life.

I was as exhausted as the first time round, but what was absent was the abject terror, I was a confident mummy by now and I knew how change a nappy, bring up burps and feed, so rather than being scared of my baby I simply couldn't wait to get to know him.

That first night was spend in a daze of love, I would feed him from breast and bottle so he was satiated, he would sleep for two hours and then wake with a gentle, crackling newborn cry. I would hold him close, feed him up and he would go down to sleep again. We spent the night recovering from the excess of labour and birth and falling into endless, infinite love.

When my husband returned, with some trepidation, in the morning he was greeted not with the white faced fear of two years before, but with the beatific smile of a woman in the first throes of a love affair. How he must have heaved a sigh of relief.

Four years on and I love my boy even more. He still eats and sleeps like an angel, he is even more beautiful than those big brown eyes and mole soft cap of velvety black newborn hair suggested he would be and he still likes to dictate his own timetable.

Happy birthday to my big four-year-old boy, and thank you for proving to be just as amazing (and more so) as I believed you would be on that very first night I spent falling in love with you.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

My boy is growing up

This morning I stood at the side of son number one's school hall and watched his Year 1 assembly (and a big thank you to my twin mummy friend who told me about the show and made sure I didn't miss this seminal moment in his school career). My boy played the part of a pig with aplomb and panache, I am sure there could be a career ahead of him treading the boards, but apart from this Thespian talent the big thing that hit me was how grown up he looks and acts.

Just 12 months ago he was in the yellow uniform of a Reception child and sat and squirmed through performances. As soon as he spotted a parent in the milling throng he would be waving, blowing kisses, shouting out 'I love you mummy and daddy'. This year I got a reserved wave and coy smile before he turned back to whispering and giggling with his friends.

He looked so tall and handsome in his white school shirt and tie, nothing like the tiny, yellow clad little ones who had come to watch the big children's play. It's hard to believe how much my baby has changed in just one year. I will admit to a strong pang of nostalgia for that little sqidge of a child, but to be honest I am proud of how my boy is growing so independent.

I waited behind to give him a sneaky cuddle after the show, and while he was happy to curl himself into my arms and let me kiss his thatch of curly blonde hair, he was soon pulling away to get to the playground with his friends. This time last year he would have been clinging to me in tears, begging me not to leave him. I can see that in a few years, perhaps even next year, I won't be permitted these public displays of affection with my adored boy, so I am just happy to take what I can, while I can.

I love to see him growing up, becoming a boy and no longer my baby. I love that he has his own life with his own friends that is entirely independent of me, I know how important my own private life was to me when I was growing up. The friends you make take you through all the ups and downs your parents can never truly share in and they are essential to a happy childhood. I wouldn't wish for a boy who still clung in tears to his mummy when he was too old for it to be appropriate, but I will admit that I do miss the tiny boy for whom it was entirely appropriate.

My darling boy is so handsome and clever, so perfect to me and a source of such pride and joy, I revel in each new experience he brings into my life, but I am afraid that I will always cling on, silently weeping, to my memories of him as a baby boy. Ah well I shall just have to gracefully accept my starring role as embarrassing mother, as clearly it is the part in his life that has my name written all over it.

Monday, 12 October 2009


This morning twin one was wailing in his cot, most put out at the slow delivery of breakfast and parental attention, though not necessarily in that order. Unfortunately as he is at the bottom of our litter of little boys I knew he would have to wait until the older boys were dressed and breakfasted in time to rush out to school and nursery.

As a mum of four I am pretty immune to baby wails, but I took pity on him and decided to try an experiment to see if I could calm him down while I wrangled his brothers. I popped him out of his cot an in next to his twin. The silence was instant, as he wriggled up next to his brother and began to play with the unfamiliar cot toys that lived next door he was as contented as he had so recently been choleric.

It struck me once again how nice it must be to have a twin. With my single babies there was no such simple route to serenity. They required the full capacities of mummy to soothe their woes, and even she got pretty boring at times as there is no substitute for a playmate of your own age. The twins, though hard work in the practical sense are proving to be quite a bit easier in the entertainment stakes as they find each other so endlessly fascinating.

A good natured game of tug-o-war over a toy, or just staring at one another's antics, is so much more diverting than the incessant re-runs of Tellytubbies that I used to quiet the older boys. In fact the twins aren't in the slightest bit interested in the charms of CBeebies, so perhaps this time round I can earn my good mummy badge and not resort to the remote every time the going gets tough, at least not with the twins.

The only thing is that I do wonder if they are holding each other back, as each is so content to roll about on his tummy watching his brother at play, that there is still no sign of sitting up, let alone crawling, and they are now the grand old age of 8 months. Not I hasten to add that I am bothered, son number one failed to crawl until he was 14 months or walk until he was 18 months, and I must admit that twins who can only get around on their tummies are far easier to keep track of than ones who can get around on their hands and knees, so long may it last.

Friday, 2 October 2009

Time flies

Tonight my mum put the babies to bed and when she came downstairs she commented on how fast they are growing up. It seems only moments ago that I was beached on the sofa, counting down the minutes until the twins were born and now they are such squirming bundles of energy, working so hard to learn how to sit, crawl and ultimately, walk, talk and wreak havoc for themselves.

They look so different to their newborn selves too. Twin one was a scrawny little creature with plucked chicken legs and a baggy face that had too much skin for its delicate bones, while twin two was just a tiny streak of a thing with long skinny legs and a concave little belly. Now twin one is a chubby cherub with ruddy cheeks bursting out beside his berry bright eyes, arms and legs solid with many bottles of milk and dishes of pureed goo, tummy a rotund, replete ball of a thing, twin two is still slender and tall, but there is more flesh on his bones and his hair is a glorious crest of tufty blonde curls.

I still remember the early days when they would curl around one another like kittens in a basket, half filling their crib, serene and unmoving, now they are rolling around in two cots, waking up upside down and back to front in a chaos of toys and blankets. Twin one can wriggle around the room on his belly and is determined in his pursuit of wheeled toys. Twin two is still mastering the art of rolling from front to back again, but he's a mean bouncer and seems to have understood that shaking his head violently from side to side is a great way of saying NO to anything he doesn't want to eat, drink or do.

The biggest change though is that they are finally starting to notice each other. Admittedly it is often only so they can steal each others' toys, but today as they sat side by side in bouncy chairs twin one reached up to touch twin two's face, and then they both sat staring at each other, smiling shyly as if they'd only just been introduced. Twin one's hand dropped down to grasp his brother's fingers and they held hands tugging gently at each other as if to test if this brand new toy was really real.

All babies love other babies, so I can only imagine how much fun it must be, as a baby yourself, to find that you have your very own, live, baby to play with in your house all the time. Twins can be hell on earth from time to time, what with their stereo screaming and endless needs and demands, but at moments like this I feel sorry for all those singletons who will never know the joy of having a permanent playmate, of never being lonely or bored because there is no one of your own age to amuse you.

The sight of my twin boys, fingers entwined, eyes entranced and mirrored smiles, makes up for those millions of nappy changes, those fraught meal times where I try to satisfy two appetites instantly, those days when the moment one stops, the other starts. It might not be easy with twins, but the rewards are twice as great, so it all evens out in the end.

Monday, 28 September 2009

Songs of praise

A new book called Nurtureshock is causing a storm across the Pond by suggesting that our modern, softly, softly, parenting tactics are fundamentally flawed and breeding generations of lazy, spoilt brats. Not having read the book I can't really comment, but reading the reviews I think they have a point or two to make.

It turns out that telling our little darlings that everything they do from a indecipherable scrawl of a drawing to a bashing out a few notes on the piano is 'absolutely brilliant' is doing them no good at all. The aim of such indiscriminate praise is to build self esteem, but high self esteem has no benefits (other than to make a child insufferably arrogant), according to the studies published in this book.

The second string to their theory is one that I have talked about on this blog before, the death of competition in schools in order to make all children feel equal. This is also a non-starter, as it just sails over the heads of the children who are all well aware of who is fastest, cleverest, prettiest and most popular, just as we all were in the harsh days of winners and losers that prevailed when we were educated.

I do think the book has got a point. A little constructive criticism goes a long way, and when I tried out this theory on my son this weekend it worked a treat. He was writing up his homework, letters appearing of every shape and size, and normally I would simply have praised him to the rooftops despite the fact that his 'b' was Lilliputian while his 'r' was gargantuan. This time as well as telling how well he was doing I pointed out that the letters were meant to be the same size and line up. He listened, tried harder and learnt something. A point to the authors of Nurtureshock.

However, before I relegate praising my children to the dustbin of child rearing theories, I would like to question the idea that high self esteem has no value. It may not, as the authors assert, have no impact on their marks or behaviour, but I can tell you from my own experience it makes you feel a lot better about yourself.

My mother was brought up by two clever parents who never saw fit to heap praise upon her for her achievements, now perhaps she is a case in point to prove the theories of Nutureshock, as she remained staunchly convinced of her own abilities. However, it having done her no harm she treated her own child, me, to exactly the same methods with a markedly different outcome.

I don't remember my mother ever fawning over my offerings from school. When I spent weeks making her a top in my sewing class she fell about laughing at the mangled fabric when I handed it over to her. Yes, her reaction was a fair and accurate reflection of the quality of the garment - it was appalling, I am no seamstress, but I was devastated. She was utterly unimpressed by the time and effort I had devoted to making the bloody thing, just because the end result was so rubbish.

The same goes for those daubed paintings I dragged home, they were never pinned on the walls with pride, again she just smiled and sadly patted me on the head saying that, just like her, I couldn't draw. Again true, I am no artist either, but again the truth hurt coming from my mum.

Even the things I am good at don't always hit the spot. I wrote an article once. My husband read it and it moved him to tears, he declared it brilliant as did the editor of the national newspaper in which it appeared. My mother read it and said it was 'Fine'. I suppose I should have recognised this for the high praise that it was, instead once again I was cut to the quick by her subdued reaction.

When I speak to my mother about this, she says I should know her by now, it's just her way, and I do try to take what she says as she means it, rather than how it can sound. From her an 'Alright' or 'Fine', is like someone else jumping for joy and spinning cartwheels of delight, but I think that inside me there will forever be a little child seeking that misplaced maternal pride that would, according to Nurtureshock, have done me so much harm.

Of course my mum does tell me she is proud of me, and as a grown up I know that her manner may not always imply it, but she does think highly of me when it comes to my talents. But as a child I desperately wanted her to think everything I did was wonderful, and because this was not her way I have been left with a sharp awareness of my shortcomings and any pride in my talents has been hard won.

I am sure some of this arises from my own personality. I have enough children to know we are all born with our own character traits no matter how we are brought up, but I do not believe that praising your children won't make them happier in the long run, and won't equip them with the confidence to enjoy life even if they aren't the best at everything.

If you can blast out a song on the karaoke stage, who cares if you sound like a cat being strangled if you are having fun? If you can splash a bit of paint on a canvas and feel a sense of achievement it doesn't have to be good enough to hang in the Tate. What is the benefit of making our children aware of their shortcomings? No amount of constructive criticism could have made me a better singer or artist, but without it I might have been able to get some enjoyment out of these activities instead of just feeling self conscious.

As with all things there has to be a happy medium. It's no good praising your tone deaf child to the rooftops only to see her humiliated on the X Factor as Simon Cowell snarls 'Who was it that told you you could sing?', to which she reples 'My mum', but equally if you make your child feel that they could always do better then you will strip away their self confidence and leave them handicapped in a world where brass neck and faith in your own abilities will get you a long way.

So while I intend to take a little of what the book says on board, and try to encourage effort and striving in favour of just saying everything my kids do is wonderful, in general I do think most of what they do is pretty fantastic and I am not afraid to tell them so. So I am sorry boys, if Nurtureshock is right, then I am going to carry on being a bad mother.

Saturday, 26 September 2009

Many happy returns

Today I am 38. Not a big birthday, not a notable age, just edging nearer to 40, but not close enough for it to look really scary yet. But what struck me was how birthdays can so often slip away without you even noticing, yet some seem to summon birthday wishes and treats from such scattered sources that they coalesce to make the day into something truly special.

This year I went out drinking and dancing with my mummy friends, the latest addition to the roster of friends I have racked up so far. The mums who kept my spirits up while I was huge with the twins, who visited me to drink cups of tea and cheer me in those first few miserable weeks of being a new mum to multiples. The mums who pick up my children from school when I am stuck in the rain, who give me a break by arranging a play date, who chat to me as I walk up the hill to school, who babysit for me when I am desperate to leave the house. The mums who keep me sane and let me know I am not alone in the struggle to bring up small children.

Then my darling mum and dad came up to visit. My mum had baked a cake, coffee and walnut, my favourite and what she has cooked for me every year of my life as far back as I can remember. Wobbly red icing wished me a Happy Birthday and wonky candles were swiftly blown out for me by my boys. My dad had designed a card that meant so much to me, far more than anything Hallmark could say. We ate, we drank and despite my advancing years I felt like a special little girl again.

Today, the big day, my boys sang Happy Birthday to me while I lay under my duvet like a decadent queen. My husband brought me breakfast in bed and thoughful presents. A gorgeous bunch of flowers arrived from one of my dearest, oldest friends who I haven't seen since I got married thanks to her rock chick lifestyle out in Nashville. A card full of news arrived from my friend from university, the one who dragged me out of the door to lectures and is probably the reason I actually managed to get a degree, the one who I spent drunken nights declaring was my best friend forever, but perhaps there was a grain of truth in it too. My oldest friend in the world wished me a happy Facebook birthday and despite my being the worst person in the world for keeping in touch still wants be a part of my life decades after we shared secrets as school children.

I was taken out to tea in London, the boys scoffed jewel bright dainty cakes in an elegant hotel lounge and actually behaved quite well. We walked through smart streets back to the car amusing ourselves by trying to spot magical entrances to Harry Potter's Diagon Alley and dreaming up ways to discover the mysteries and secrets hidden behind the smart facades of the wedding cake-pretty houses we walked past.

It's easy to feel drab and isolated as a mum of four small boys. To feel as if you live to serve, but I am grateful to everyone who made my birthday such a happy one by making me realise that there is a lot more to me, past and present, than washing bottles and folding babygros.

Monday, 21 September 2009


The other day my husband, exasperated at my moaning, wailed 'You just don't understand the demands on my time'. I burst into manical cackles, because although I quite accept there are many things in this world I don't understand (quantum physics, the appeal of Danni Minogue and people who forget to eat to name but three) time management is not one of them. He was after all speaking to a woman who manages work, four children, three child carers, two schools and the remnants of a social life.

Today is a case in point. I am working on a tight deadline for a big project, but during my working hours I have had to have a meeting with son number two's teacher as he is having problems with his erstwhile best friend that lead him to wake up at ungodly hours in the morning and wail at the mere mention of school. Then I had to sit through son number one's piano lesson with him as otherwise, instead of learning how to pound out that middle C, he just sits on the stool and sobs for me.

My final task was to witness the pantomime of the lost garage key (our sole means of access to said repository of junk), which had been carefully placed in a very sensible place by son number two, but one which he couldn't quite recall. After much screaming at him to remember what he had done with the precious key, to which he looked at me blankly and said he couldn't remember (men!), my mum (one of my three flavours of childcare) found it in the pushchair, which meant he thundered back up to my study to celebrate his vindication.

I won't even mention the screaming baby with a severe case of nappy rash due to the inordinate number of poos he seems to feel the need to do or the chaotic state of the house that calls to me to tidy it up every time I exit my office, or the million and one other chores from making an appointment with the doctor to sorting out my flaking cuticles that forever get pushed to the bottom of my to do list. Or all the things I need to organise ahead of the big boys birthday party, or the fact that I haven't seen or spoken to any of my friends for weeks because I have not a second to sort out a suitable time and date.

Still as husband would quite rightly point out, if I am quite so near to the end of my frazzled tether perhaps I shouldn't be spending my time blogging about it...

Sunday, 20 September 2009

MAD world

In the FDMTG household we are suffering from a severe case of Mummy Attention Deficit (MAD). It's a little like the altogether more serious ADD, but in this case the attention deficit is from mummy, not child, hence the acronym. If you are worried this might affect your own offspring I have compiled a list of symptoms:

You may find that every time you are not in the same room as your child, plaintive cries of 'Mummy, where are you', start to ring around the house within moments of your disappearance.

If you sit down with your children you will find they crawl onto your lap and refuse to get off unless bribed with copious amounts of chocolate.

If you have help to assist you in looking after your children then you will note that every time a child related chore arises, for example fetching cold drinks, making tea, taking shoes off, supervising piano lessons only you will be allowed to complete it. No matter how hard your nanny/grandma/daddy tries to intervene only mummy will do. Any substitute will be met by bloodcurdling screams and physical resistance.

Should you attempt to shut yourself into your office to make a phone call/do some work/write your blog, you will instantly be interrupted by small people demanding to sit on your lap and 'stay widge you', one of my mini MAD sufferers told me, when asked how long he intended to remain stuck by my side as I attempted to meet a deadline, that he was staying put 'until you are skellington mummy.'

Any attempt to leave the house alone will be nipped in the bud, so no matter how boring your errand you will find your small MAD afflicted children demanding to accompany you. No quick pop to the shops or indulgent pamper at the nail bar, every trip to the outside world must be supervised.

To be fair to my poor, ailing boys I have brought all this trouble on myself by returning to work, albeit part time and from home, which has meant I am no longer at their beck and call all day, every day.

Though I note with interest on strange feature of this disease. If I am upstairs in my office, attempting to appear professional it seems to result in a real upsurge in symptoms, however should I be occupied in the kitchen making their tea or folding their clothes, strangely it goes into instant remission and they can suddenly cope without me for a moment or two. It seems housework is allowed, but work, work is not. A most curious facet to this little know complaint.

The only known cure for MAD is to replace the deficient mother with some kind of reliable entertainment device. I find that I can clear up all the symptoms of this troubling malaise by giving in to the constant demands for computer play or DVD watching. A few seconds in front of their chosen screens and all thoughts of mummy are forgotten in a haze of colourful pixels.

I wonder should I contact the Lancet with my findings?

Thursday, 17 September 2009

Jealous guy

I was reading one of those baby development websites. You know the ones designed to make you feel that your baby is destined for life in the remedial set as he has failed to master any of the arts he has the potential to achieve. I laughed out loud as I read that the babies should now be sitting unaided, drinking from cups and whizzing through advanced calculus by now.

Fortunately my first son taught me to take no notice of anything printed on these baby websites. I remember agonising as friend's babies sat up, crawled and walked, while my boy remained steadfastly motionless. At his first birthday party all the other babies where crawling around like crazed beetles, while he sat like a Buddha, fatly serene in the centre of all the action. He didn't crawl until he was 14 months, by which time his contemporaries were up and running around the park, and it took another four months before he took his first step.

We always say that he was thinking about it all too much to actually do it, as once he did walk he didn't have the usual clumsy toddler gait, falling over all the time and wobbling unsteadily about ready to topple at the first obstacle. Not for him the ungainly process of learning to walk, instead he thought it all out and by the time he got up and took his first step he had it nailed and never really looked back.

Now he is as elegant and swift as a gazelle and one of the fastest, most agile boys I have ever met, so it just goes to show that what they do now, bears no relation to what they will achieve later, so yah boo sucks to Babycentre et al.

I seem to have strayed somewhat from my original point though, which was the one point of developmental information that did seem to ring true for the twins. It said that at this age babies suddenly realise that they are individuals in their own right, rather than just an extension of their mummy, or in the twins case of each other.

I was interested to read this as twin two has just started to show the first signs of jealousy around his brother. The other day twin one was crying in his bouncy chair, twin two was playing happily with his feet, absorbed in his favourite game of sock removal. I picked up his crying brother and gave him a cuddle to soothe him, not reaction from twin two who was now contentedly chewing on the removed sock.

Then twin two looks up, his blue eyes cloud as he notices that there are cuddles going on and he is not included. They darken from a bright, slate grey, to a stormy indigo, his mouth opens in a red maw of disapproval, a scream emits and the eyes squeeze out angry tears. The sock is discarded, forgotten as he makes it quite clear that if one twin is getting a snuggle, the other one wants in.

An ungainly few moments of hefting and wriggling later both boys are smiling and settled on my hips. I can see this twin thing is just about to get a bit more tricky, but at least it means there's the possibility that I will end up with biceps to rival Madonnas as they don't half weigh a ton.

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

It's a small world

Is it wrong that I found myself feeling mildly excited by the prospect of walking the aisles of our local Tesco? On second thoughts don't answer that. The thing is my world has shrunk to such minuscule proportions since having the twins that any trip out of the house, however mundane and workaday, is a thrill nowadays.

It used to be that I would feel a fizz of anticipation at the idea of a night out with friends, or a mini break to a romantic foreign destination. Now I plan my day around a half hour trip to Boots to mooch around amongst the baby clothes, or if I really want to push the boat out I might visit the nearby shopping centre for a browse amongst the boxes of chicken Kiev and over priced, undersized ladies fashion.

Don't get me wrong, I am not entirely unhappy with this turn of events. I have never been a party girl, or yearned to 'travel', complete with backpack full of rancid clothes and seedy encounters on sandy beaches. In fact I usually found that even when I did go out or away the high point of the event was returning home, planting myself on the sofa and recounting my adventures. They were more fun in the retelling that in the living.

When I was 18 I went to India, which was the de rigeur activity for a gap year back in the 90s. I took a rucksack packed with water purifying kit, clean syringes, antibiotics, Immodium and malaria tablets, my head filled with terrifying tales of dysentery and disaster on the road. The culture shock was terrifying, I had never gone further than a package tour to Italy and here I was in the teeming, boiling, alien mass of humanity that was Delhi. I lay in my filthy flea pit hotel bed, sweating under a rickety fan, shaking with fear and longing for home.

I certainly found myself on that trip, but what I found out about myself is that I am timid and prissy in the face of an alien culture, I didn't gasp in awe at the gleaming white palaces suspended as if by magic in the centre of a glassy lake, at the monkeys scaling ornate Hindu temples or the glowing jewels studded into the tragic marble edifice of the Taj Mahal. No I was too busy being shocked by the people pooing in the street in broad daylight, and then reaching nonchalantly up to stir a pot of curry they were hawking to passersby, or the leprous beggars, their decaying limbs swathed in greying, filthy rags and the skin and bone children with their piteous liquid eyes beseeching you for a rupee whenever you walked the streets.

I was terrified, horrified and desperate to get on the next plane home. When it came to the day of my departure there was some kind of a problem at the airport, I don't recall what, but there was the threat of having to remain another day. I broke down in tears and begged my way onto another plane back to Blighty. I have never returned.

I have met many people who have adored their time travelling, who are full of entrancing tales of magical chance encounters, life expanding experiences, beautiful beaches and sensuous strangers, but I found out at an early age that it really wasn't for me.

Perhaps one day I will return to India, it is after all a beautiful and magnificent country, but this time I'd want to travel in the comfort and style that all the backpackers I met so scorned, but which I secretly envied. For now though I am quite happy to limit my travelling to Tesco with my twins.

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Autumn days

As I walked son number one to school there was a definite nip in the air and a scent of autumn in the breeze, while for some this might herald the onset of raging SAD as they mourn the disappearance of summer (such that it was), the crunch of crisp brown leaves underfoot and the tang of bonfire smoke on the air fills me with a tiny thrill of anticipation.

Autumn has always been my favourite time of year, perhaps because it's my birthday in September, so the arrival of the cool weather and darker nights are forever associated with parties, cake and presents. But more than that my perfect day is clear, crisp and chilly, the sky a searing ice blue, the trees shedding their leaves to spend the winter months in stark, majestic beauty, the grass a vivid emerald green, rather than the parched, dry brown of summer. The evenings draw in and windows glow orange and welcoming with lights turned on, the streetlights haloed with mist as the evening chill takes hold.

I love the festivals of winter, bright lights of celebration to raise our spirits in these dark and cold months. Halloween, with its imported pumpkins and trick or treating, and also the birthday of my first ever boy. Children shrieking in the streets and ghouls and goblins knock from door to door in search of sweet treats, jack 'o' lanterns grinning crooked bright grins in dark doorways. Warming suppers of thick soup, crisp baked potatoes with crackling skin splitting to reveal their fluffy contents just begging for an indulgent slick of golden butter. Fireworks glittering in a frosty night sky, exploding into a million jewel bright sparkles on a velvet black background.

The earth rich and wet, dark and fecund, mud squelching underfoot on a rainy day, puddle jumping with the boys, watching as wellies fill with water to their delight, cold feet forgotten in the gratifying spray of water that soaks all around. Searching for conkers in the park, splitting their spikily hostile shells to reveal the satin sheen of their dark brown fruit, a natural gem that takes pride of place amidst the tangle of plastic toys to be found, long forgotten, shrivelled and wizened months later.

The shine of car headlines on a dark road, a city made magical, the mundane masked by darkness leaving a map of fairground lights in its place. Children rushing back to school, uniforms stiff and new, little hands pulling at unfamiliar ties, new friends to make, new lessons to learn. Spring might be the season of rebirth, but autumn to me has always been the season of possiblities.

And of course the real reason that I love autumn so much is because it means next stop Christmas. I know I am meant to come over all grown up and Scrooge like bemoaning commerciality and hard work, but I just love Christmas from hunting for sparkling baubles to filling my house with the warm, spicy fug of boiling puddings. But that I feel merits a whole new post, and unlike the shops I don't want to lay out my festive wares until much nearer to the big day.

PS FDMTG has found fame at last with a mention on LBC's website. Here's to lots of new readers and if you did find me that way, welcome and please make yourself at home in the madhouse.

Friday, 11 September 2009

My day off

Today I am officially 'not working', however as I stood up to my elbows in scalding water, scrubbing out bottles and contemplating the kitchen nightmare that is the inevitable result of family breakfast I began to ponder just what the meaning of work is. After all when I am working I pay someone else to do what I do when I'm not working, so really doesn't this just mean I am on call in one way or another 24/7, 7/7, 365?

A typical 'not working' day pans out as follows:

Get up, dress some configuration of our four children with the help of husband, cajole big boys to brush their teeth (that's on a good day, on a bad day I just say 'Sod it, they're only baby teeth, they'll fall out anyway), feed babies milk, feed babies breakfast, scream at big boys to eat their breakfast as we are as ever, in a hurry. Change son number two's clothes as he has spilt jam/milk/chocolate spread/bodily fluids all down himself. Make packed lunch, force son number one into school shoes and out the door with husband who is working.

Force son number two into school shoes, coat and out of the door whilst simultaneously strapping babies into double buggy to walk him to nursery. Walk home with babies, clear up breakfast chaos and start the first wash of the day. Put babies back to bed for a nap, whether they want one or not, so I can fold washing, do some cooking, sneak in a little clandestine work/blogging, have a shower and get dressed properly.

Get babies up, feed them milk and lunch (hopefully home cooked, see above, but more often than not overpriced organic goo from a pot). Take babies for a walk to pick up son number two. Park number two in front of a DVD to recover from nursery, entertain babies, provide unending drinks and snacks for the TV watcher. Bundle up all three into pushchair, coat, shoes for arduous walk to pick up son number one from school. Spend the journey explaining to son number one just why the babies can't walk so he can go in the pushchair because his legs are tired. It must be exhausting all that Ben 10 watching, poor lamb.

Collect son number one, walk home with not one, but two, sons complaining of aching legs, thirst, hunger and general discontent. Try to avoid the corner shop which seems to stock the world's largest supply of E-number laden sweets and ruinously expensive magazines adorned with flimsy toys which break the instant they are unstuck from the cover resulting in tears of despair all round.

Park son number one in front of his computer to recover from the stresses of school. Try to persuade son number two to play upstairs or outside as he has already mainlined enough TV to cover his weekly quota. Fail abysmally and comfort myself that at least they are both quiet. Amuse the babies by dangling toys in front of them and smiling at them for about a nanosecond before I get bored with that and embark on yet more laundry and tidying.

Feed the babies milk and tea, while fielding the older boys pleas that despite the mountain of biscuits, juice, dried fruit and yoghurts they have consumed since coming home they are now at the brink of starvation and require feeding NOW. Cook big boys tea only for them to refuse to eat most of it on the grounds that it might actually be good for them, and this despite the imminent starvation of just moments ago.

Scrape remains of tea into the bin, tidy up chaos left on the table, floor, chairs and toilet (don't ask) following tea time.

Bath babies and big boys, a wet and perilous affair only leavened by husband's possible early arrival back home to lend a pair of hands. Dry children, easy with babies, a wild chase around the house with big boys. Cram all four into pyjamas, brush teeth for those who have them, read the babies a story and put them to bed. Read the big boys a story to the accompaniment of blood curdling screams which are the only way twin one seems able to lull himself to sleep.

Put son two to bed, for the first time of the night. He will inevitably be up later in search of water/company/reassurance following a scary dream. Son number one trails downstairs to force us to watch children's TV for even longer or pursue an endless conversation about super powers. Sink my first glass of wine, order a takeaway, collapse onto the sofa and hand over the reins to my husband.

Compare this to a working day where I hand over most of the above to someone else who is paid to do it and spend the day on the phone and tapping away at my keyboard and I think that perhaps I should split my week more accurately into days when I am paid, and days when I am not, as this sure doesn't feel like a day off to me.