Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Baby fat

I am a firm believer in the fact that, whatever those wafer thin celebs would have us believe, it's not until your youngest child is at least two years old that you can even begin to tackle the big belly that is the unwanted byproduct of babies. Unfortunately for me, every time my boys have reached that magical age I have found myself pregnant with another one, if not immediately, pretty soon afterwards.

When my middle boy was two I did actually start to eat less and exercise more, which I am told is the secret formula for dissolving chocolate induced calorie intake. I sweated away on treadmill and exercise bike and subsisted on celery and cottage cheese and my waist size did shrink a little accordingly, but then I found myself on holiday in the home of junk cuisine, the US of A and staring that tell tale blue line in the face. Cue stuffing my face on portions designed to satiate the appetite of a giant. I came home with a belly that suggested I was five months, not five weeks pregnant.

Cooking up an excuse not to shed the pounds this time round will be trickier as even I don't think I can really justify having a fifth child just to justify my chip consumption. I had decided to allow myself the indulgence of waiting the twenty months until my twins are two until I tackled my tummy, until my other half ruined it all and decided to diet all by himself.

Every time I pop a naughty but nice treat, just thinking about how good he is being makes me feel guilty. Not that I think this is entirely a bad thing, but it's alright for him. He sits in splendid isolation in a office bereft of treats like choccie biccies, crisps and an untold mountain of sweeties I have confiscated from the boys for the good of their teeth. Not to mention the fact that children's tea time sadistically coincides with the moment my tummy's rumbles reach epic proportions. Who can resist those leftovers when its hours since lunchtime and supper seems aeons away?

It's that age old problem for the stay-at-home mum, how to look like a yummy mummy when everything around you conspires to turn you into a mum with a tum. Still when the first thing your sons say when asked to describe you is that you have a big belly, perhaps its time to break my own rules and start to slim down before my youngest boys are out of nappies and eating for themselves.

The first problem I have set myself to solve is how, by the end of a day when I can hardly muster the energy to summon a takeaway, can I can prise myself from watching the contestants whip up a feast on Celebrity Masterchef, to actually make one of my own, and just to make it even more challenging, one that forgoes all things fun and fattening, while remaining tasty?
Suggestions on a postcard please....

Monday, 22 June 2009

Big family blues

Yesterday, my sister-in-law (who is a Russian, six-foot, stunningly beautiful ex-model, a whole other story, but not the ideal person to sit opposite as you chow down at a family barbeque), told me about a dream she had had. She said that she had dreamt she was pregnant and that the baby was a girl (she has two boys and longed for a daughter), in the dream she had to choose between going ahead with the pregnancy or aborting in order to pay for her sons to go to private school. With a smile curving her gorgeous lips she said that she had chosen to pay the school fees rather than have the baby. 

It hit my like a kick in the stomach, firstly she was saying she would rather get rid of a child than subject her sons to the same education that my boys are having, and secondly the implication was that instead of having lots of kids, you should think about the prospects of the ones you already have. Oops, what a bad parent I clearly am for spreading our (altogether more meagre) resources in wafter thin portions between my four boys, and secondly for abandoning them to the tender mercies of the state education system. 

I had a bit of an esprit d'escalier moment as I wished I had taken her up on the premise of her dream, but it wasn't until I got home that I realised just how bloody annoyed I was about it, and the general assumption that by having more than the standard two children you are somehow doing all of your offspring down. 

When I think back to my own childhood, I hardly recall the material things my parents bought for me (with the notable exception of the Girls' World disembodied head, which will stay with me forever). Instead I remember the things we did together as a family, the trips out (always budget and usually involving sleeping in the back of my dad's Luton van), the cake baking, gardening and doughnut eating competitions. I also remember longing for more siblings to share the fun. I had just one sister who was eight years older and left home almost as soon as I became aware of her existence. 

I have never met a single person from a big family who wished they had had less brothers and sisters, or indeed a mum of many who wishes she had stuck at two. So why do throwaway comments like my sister-in-law's rankle so much? I suspect it's because it's always hard to challenge the norm, and particularly so in the privileged enclave of London we inhabit (just so long as we can keep up the mortgage payments), where amongst certain mummies anything less than private school all the way, with a good dose of expensive extra curricular activities thrown in for good measure, is virtually tantamount to child abuse. 

Still when I woke up this morning enveloped in a fog of gloom about my poor life choices, the storm clouds were chased away by the five adorable men I have foolishly chosen to share my life with. My husband gave me the one gift he knows will always cheer me up when he handed me one of my four-month-old twins to hold. As I looked into his sapphire eyes and stroked his perfect pink cheek, I knew I wouldn't swap him for all the school fees in the world, and nor would his brothers who get far more pleasure from each other than they could from any classroom, however rarified the other pupils. 

My older son bounced in, resplendent in his school uniform, raring for another day at school. He has never been happier than when he left his posh private nursery with its tiny classes and hothouse academic atmosphere and entered the rough and tumble of his school's huge nursery. As he thrilled at the babies' gummy smiles and shouted 'Only another year to go until we can really play with the babies', I knew that I  had enriched rather than deprived his life by providing even more playmates to join our own private madhouse. 

A big family is never easy, and not just because of all the washing, cooking, tidying and organisation it requires, other people's judgement of our choices, however inadvertent or innocent, can make it even  harder to cope. Still next time someone makes me feel like I have made the wrong choice for my boys, I will just have to come back an re-read this post to remind me just how wrong they are. 

Saturday, 13 June 2009

Cloud nine

Just a short thought today. After a riotous morning when all four boys joined us in our bed, Jonah fell softly asleep amidst the pillows and billowing duvet. I couldn't bear to wake him up as his tiny, peaceful body looked like an angel cocooned in a fluffy, endless cloud. To be a baby asleep in a vast double bed must feel something like that I imagine, surrounded by softness with the scent of mummy and daddy enveloping you as you doze in an infinite sea of cosiness. Heavenly bliss. 

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Love is...

Yesterday I received a love note. It said 'I just can't tell you how I feel about you', an outpouring of a love so profound that there aren't the words to express it. This morning I woke with an arm flung possessively around me, warm breath soft on my cheek and the whispered sleepy words 'I love you' caressing my ears. 

My drawers are full of handmade jewellery, cards crafted with passion wishing me better, wishing me Happy Birthday or just wishing me love, my days are punctuated by kisses, lingering embraces, absent caresses. Just entering a room I can feel it light up with love, with happiness at my just being there. I have the power to make everything better, brighter and more beautiful just by my mere presence. 

I am not in the first flush of passion with a new lover, I am not one of those sickening married couples who can't keep their hands off one another a decade into togetherness. I am a mummy to four boys and I can't help wondering if its somehow wrong that the romance in my life stems almost entirely from them. 

I love my husband, very much, but we have been together almost 10 years and it's a long time since our passion drove us to write notes of devotion, bring home a wilted bunch of flowers from the park just to see the smile of joy that receives them or indeed grab each other in passionate clinches for no reason other than we just couldn't help ourselves. 

Instead these overblown gestures are reserved exclusively for my sons. There are days when I just can't resist pulling them in for kiss after kiss, when I can't hold them tight enough and when my love for them threatens to see me overflow with tears of sheer delight. And the feeling is mutual. 

That note, the one bursting with love too immense for words to constrict, that was written for me by my five-year-old. The arm tight around my body this morning, the whispers of love, that was my three-year-old. Each time I walk into the room, my twins eyes light up with love, their baby faces blown up with toothless smiles, I can make them switch from tears of despair to grins of delight just by making a silly face or cradling their tiny bodies. 

For each of my four boys I am the most beautiful perfect woman who ever walked this earth. their worlds turn around me, they can't get enough of me. I sit upon the sofa and two handsome, clever, charming boys are instantly fighting over who can sit on my knee, who loves me the most, who can create the most beautiful card, write the most loving note, express the depth of their affection most eloquently. Soon these two will become four and I am still attempting to work out a system whereby each can have equal claim to me. 

Of course unlike those grown up love affairs where the road ahead is unknown, where what starts with a kiss can lead to heartbreak, indifference or life long devotion - who knows? I know that my sons will smash my heart into tiny, shattered pieces as they must to escape this bond so strong between mother and child. 

While my boys will forever be the loves of my life. The cleverest, best men I will ever have the privilege to love (alongside their daddy, the man who made them, of course). I will fade. I will always be mummy, but that passion must be transferred to new loves, to women who will bear them their own infants, to women who can offer them everything a mother cannot (and I hasten to add would not wish to). 

I know my sons will break my heart, because while I know that I must give them the gift of independence, I know, even now, years before I have to face the fact of it, that it will hurt me beyond belief when I can no longer bask in the sunlight of their love for me, when the declarations of adoration dry up and to be replaced teenage indifference. 

My husband says I must not think of these things, but I don't have his gift of living in the present. I am damned by an inability not to taint today with imaginings of the future. But for now I treasure each moment, each cuddle, each note and store up the outpourings of love to keep me warm with my memories when the last person my sons want to kiss is their mum. 

When I meet women in the street who look wistfully at my young family, clearly longing for the days when their own sons fought to hold their hands rather than forgot their birthdays, I understand why they say 'Enjoy every moment, because it's gone before you know it' and I intend to follow their advice. Nothing can ever match the adoration of a mother by her infant sons, and I intend to savour my moment in the spotlight. 

Friday, 5 June 2009

The joy of sleep

Before I had children sleep was something I took for granted. I went to bed, head hit pillow and within moments I was in the land of nod until the shrilling of my alarm awoke me again. Since I had children sleep has taken on a whole new meaning. 

I first understood the value of sleep when I gave birth to son number one, who took a whole 36 hours from waters breaking to entering the world, during which I think I caught about 15 minutes of sleep. By the time he was actually born I felt as if I had run a marathon and then been hit by a bus as I passed the finish line, but instead of being able to burrow under the duvet to recover I was expected to look after a newborn baby I had no idea how to care for. 

We were wheeled back to my  hospital room and in the darkness I wondered how on earth I was supposed to look after this delicate, precious thing in my crazed, exhausted state. It seemed to me downright dangerous. As I sat red lidded desperately trying to stay awake so as to maintain my vigil over my newborn son, a nurse suggested I tuck him up in bed with me. I was horrified. I had never felt as tired and I was sure I would slump, leaden on his tiny frame snuffing out this new life almost as soon as it had begun. 

I sat rigid with terror and tiredness that whole night, craving the moment that daddy would return and could take over watching our offspring like a hawk, but what I hadn't reckoned on was the army of visitors who would arrive in his wake. Every time my heavy eyes closed another over excited uncle, auntie or grandpa would arrive to drink in the joy of our brand new baby. As he was the first new child to join the family I could understand the excitement, but as each helium balloon bearing wellwisher turned up all I  really wanted was to be left alone in a darkened room to sleep and adjust to my new role as mummy. 

Things didn't improve much once we got  home and discovered that for our son, night and day were pretty interchangeable. While we gratefully welcomed the nighttime, he knew not that this black sky signalled time to sleep. So rather than curling cosy under the covers, I was rudely awakened at two-hour intervals by his croaky cries of 'Error, error', or at least that's what it sounded like to me, as he demanded milk, cuddles and an explanation of this alien new world he found himself deposited in. 

As his mother and the one constant in his brave new world, it fell to me to care for him in these lonely night time hours. I was attempting to breastfeed so only I could soothe his hungry little tummy, and as I didn't seem to be doing a very good job of it he slept hardly at all in those first few weeks. 

I became a sleep deprived zombie, propelling myself from chore to chore. Robotically feeding, holding and comforting my child as I fantasised about something that had once seemed so mundane - a good night's sleep. 

When the twins were born and my husband and I were juggling night feeds with two hungry mouths to feed, I found myself weeping with black depression at the turn my life had taken. I could take no pleasure in my tiny twin boys, in fact I would gladly have put them up on eBay if my husband had agreed. What was wrong? It was that dreaded lack of sleep again. As soon as my own mummy took over the helm of night feeds for a day or two life returned to normal and I could contemplate my boys with the joy they deserved, and feel grateful for the new additions to the family, rather than resenting their arrival and the disruption is heralded. 

Now I am four children down, I understand that these broken nights do pass, but never again will I take sleep for granted, or underestimate its importance. 

Thursday, 4 June 2009

Happy holidays

I have just spent the last five days experiencing holiday villages for the first time, and it got me to thinking just how much having children has changed the concept of holidays for me. 

Before I birthed my boys, a holiday conjured up images of sitting on a sunbaked square, shaded by arching plane trees, their branches casting shadows over the cafe terraces below. A glass, beaded with drops of condensation and filled with sparkling bubbles of local brew sits in front of me as my toes play absently in the sandy dust beneath my sandals. The buzz of a Vespa breaks into the torpor of an afternoon wasted, the scent of sunbaked asphalt mingles with exotic cigarette smoke. An indolent city break spent wasting time and money under sunny skies. 

Or perhaps a white beach, dotted with deep blue padded sun loungers, an umbrella propped between them to hide you from the burning sun. The sea, lapping turquoise and tranquil, the air tinged with the peachy scent of suntan oil and a fancy, frozen cocktail dripping into the powdery sand. A blockbuster hangs loose and unread from a lazy, sleepy hand, sunglasses shade my eyes as I doze, luxuriating in the precious freedom of escaping the office. 

The arrival of my son ripped the sunglasses from my nose and the book from my hand as he demanded entertainment, all the time, and if we failed to deliver the perfect child-friendly break he would retaliate by ruining our adult fun. The first holiday we took as parents we were unaware of these demands, and booked ourselves into an idyllic mountainside cottage in Umbria. Big mistake. Huge. 

He alternated from hurling his eight-month-old self at the untended and lethal rose bushes, attempting to leap off the precipitous (and therefore no longer idyllic) mountainside, he refused all offers of food and gave up sleeping for the duration of the break. We ended up spending most of our time hunting out elusive Italian swings and seeking out organic veg to mush in a vain attempt to mirror his diet back home. By the end of the break I really needed a holiday. 

Next time we booked into the plastic pleasures of Disneyworld. Instead of sipping an icy cold cocktail in a pretty piazza, I slurped up frozen lemonade as I watched fibreglass elephants dip up and down on mechanised arms to the squeals of their preschool cargo. Instead of travelling the world it was brought to me in all its santised, Americanised glory on the  'It's a small world' ride, which bobbed me seamlessly from Israel to Iceland without a sniff of jetlag. 

I should have hated it, and at times I did, but what made swapping culture and experience for kitschy cheese and crayons with every meal, were the smiles on my boys faces. While I may cynically sneer at the Disney machine, my boys are too young to see the corporate cogs and instead are dazzled by the spectacle. Their eyes shine as Mickey comes to life and Belle blows them a kiss, they are amazed by fantastic fireworks and amused by sprinkling and spurting swimming pools, and that's enough for me. 

Thanks to the credit crunch and the arrival of my baby boys, this year holidays are strictly home based, which is how I found myself trying England's answer to America's family vacations, Centre Parcs. As we huffed and puffed up and down the hills on unfamiliar bikes, I missed the land trains and trams of Florida, but as I watched my boys dive like otters into the manmade waves and play fight with handpuppets made in the onsite craft room, I realised what it is that makes a good holiday for me now. It's a simple formula - if they are happy, I am happy. 

Now I just have to bide my time until what makes them happy is to go away with their mates so I can return to those pre-children holidays again. 

And the award goes to....

As a relative newbie to the blogsphere I am not as au fait with cyber etiquette as might be considered polite, but I did want to send out a big thank you to three lovely bloggers who have given my infant online diary awards. So cheers to Brit in Bosnia, Maternal Tales and Rebel Mother

The only snag is that when I whipped over in a frenzy of anticipation to pick up  my virtual gongs I discovered that in return I have to pat other blogs on the back so's to speak. Now it's not that I have any objection to dishing out the praise, but I simply don't have the time to follow any other blogs. It's not that I don't want to. There is nothing I would love more than to spend hours at my computer reading about the joys and sorrows of other mums, particularly as there are some amazing writers out there. It's just that with four boys of five and under, a sick as a dog husband and a sorry excuse for a career, I find it hard enough to keep my own blog updated. 

The problem is that just the act of my sitting down at the computer to write has a mystical effect on my household.  It starts off peaceful enough, which is why I decide to snatch a few moments to spend some quality time at the keyboard, but the moment I start tapping away a wailing sound begins to emit from the bowels of the house. 

It could be son number one whose own computer has been struck down with an mysterious virus that means he can no longer access the Playhouse Disney website - a disaster of epic proportions, or son number two demanding that someone arrive to wipe his bottom post haste, or either of the babies objecting to a lack of milk/dummy/cuddles/attention (delete as appopriate). Whatever the reason I'd bet my last Rolo that within moments of my fingers hitting the keys the plaintive cry of 'Mummy...' will ring out loud around the house. 

I have noticed a similar cause and effect taking place when I try to make a phone call. The boys could be sitting nice as pie, but the moment one of my friends, or even worse one of my editors, calls with an urgent message, they are instantly twined around my legs, whining and wailing at the top of their voices, until I can't  hear a word above their clamouring for my attention. 

So I'd like to say a big thank you for all those lovely awards, each one gave me a lovely warm glow inside, but please don't think me ungracious or ungrateful if I don't reciprocate. It's not that I don't care, it's just that I can't extricate myself from family life for long enough to have a life of my own.