Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Hit the road

The best laid plans have gone awry which is how I find myself typing at my computer at 10:45pm, rather than tucked up in bed asleep in preparation for what promises to be a tiring day travelling with children tomorrow. We have to get all six of us up and out by 9:15am, a feat of Hurculean proportions that has never been attempted successfully before, then keep the children calm and fed during a day spent in the car, on the ferry and at a strange, foreign hotel. That should be a doddle then.

Still it will be our first break flying (or should that be driving and sailing?) solo with all the children since the twins arrived. We have done weekends with the bigger boys and a holiday with the grandparents to take up the slack, but this is our first go at being proper parents to our new and enlarged family. I am hoping it will prove to be more of a success than our first ever holiday with child, which was an Italian odyssey of searching for swings and organic produce to feed our precious firstborn.

This time round I have taken the precaution of stuffing the car full of pre-prepared organic meals so I don't spend my week trying to puree lentils by hand in an ill equipped holiday kitchen and the twins have yet to be introduced to the joys of swinging, so fingers crossed it will all go swimmingly in our more experienced hands.

We are off to sample the delights of Disneyland Paris, our credit crunched attempt to feed the big boys Mickey obsession without paying the fare to Florida, and then a week in the South of France, which should just about wipe the horror of traipsing around theme parks from my mind before it's time to turn around and drive all the way back home again.

I can't say I am looking forward to changing nappies in French service stations again, as I remember many an unsavoury experience en route to skiing holidays when the older ones were babes in arms, but I have noticed a recent Pampersification of the aires of France, so hopefully the hole in the ground stops are a thing of the past. But I can say I am looking forward to 30 degrees of sunshine, proper croissants and access to enough swimming pools to gives us a slim chance to tire all four boys out sufficiently to sneak in a siesta or two.

I will report back on my return, but I fear that I will need a holiday to get over holidaying with four children, so suggestions for a relaxing mini break sans enfants on a postcard please.

Au revoir.

Saturday, 22 August 2009

Empty nest

Who would have thought it? A house with just six-month-old twins seems a peaceful and calm haven compared to the usual mayhem and chaos that is our family life. The big boys have been spirited off to the grandparents house for a little summer break, so us parents are having some quality time with the babies. It's delightfully laid back and relaxing to only have to worry about feeding and entertaining the babes. There are no screaming fights, no small boys who must be exercised or like Gremlins fed after midnight will turn demonic, no disputes over toys and no whining and whinging if the television is switched off or away from cartoons for a moment or two.

Boy do we miss them. The house is so quiet, tidy and empty. I think this little sojourn has proved my point that we need four children to keep us amused as we just don't know what to do with ourselves without our quartet of slave drivers demanding our services day and night. We have lazed around in bed, read the paper in the sun, watched the motor racing in peace (him, not me of course), but above all we have realised how our two big boys complete us.

I miss number two's chubby arms snaking around my neck to give me a mystery cuddle, I miss number one's innumerable declarations of love and the incessant chatter of both of them. I miss the buzz that fizzes all around my gorgeous little big boys, and while it has been a real treat to be able to cuddle my babies without their older brothers spoiling the fun by demanding drinks, food, channel changes or a referee in their eternal battle for supremacy, I am counting down till they return in all their boisterous glory.

Fortunately twin two clearly realised that mummy and daddy needed a bit of cheering up as he chose today to roll for the first time to much clapping and excitement from his devoted parents. He clearly takes after our firstborn as unlike his twin who wobbled away like a weeble for weeks trying to get over onto his tummy, he, just like his big brother, isn't going to do anything until he has it down to a fine art. So instead of rocking frantically to roll himself over like twin one, he calmly tipped himself onto his tummy on the playmat, his grey blue eyes giving us a look as if to say 'I can't see what all the fuss is about'. What a little star.

Twin one on the other hand is keeping us distracted by slobbering and dribbling all over the place with his first full blown cold. He has kept us busy wiping him up with copious amounts of tissues and changing his top what seems like every five minutes after he has soaked it yet again with one or other type of bodily fluid.

So even though twins seem like an easy life, we can't be entirely derelict in our parental duties and should still retain the essential skills required to run the family till the big boys return in a couple of days.

Friday, 21 August 2009

Sent packing

Sometimes I look back to those carefree days of mini breaks and business trips, when all packing meant was slinging a few essentials into a smart black case and whizzing off to the airport in the back of a cab. If only things were so simple nowadays. This summer thanks to lots of indecision and failed attempts to save money we will end up going away twice and staying in a total of six different places, this weekend the big boys are also having sleepovers at both grandparents houses. The upshot of all this toing and froing is that I seem to have spent the majority of the summer break packing or unpacking.

My husband laughs at me when I pore over the property details of any potential holiday rental to check if it has not a pool, a sea view or barbeque, but a washing machine. Laugh he may but he's not the one who will end up endlessly washing for weeks after we get back in order to tackle the vast backlog of dirty laundry we amass if unable to wash while away.

But it's before we go that the pain really begins. Packing for a family of six is challenging enough. How can I make sure we have all the many baby essentials, times two for twins, enough clean clothes for everyone that I don't have to fire up the washing machine the moment we walk in the door and still leave room for any people to sit in the car.

Even with our giant bus of a car, plus roof box, fitting in two travel cots (nowhere provides more than one, and most holiday homes charge a fortune for a death trap of a cot that I wouldn't let a dog sleep in), two highchair substitutes (the babies are still at a point where we need somewhere safe and comfortable to park them and feed them), a steriliser, bottles, milk, food, toys, bedding, nappies for the journey, baby slings and a pushchair is a challenge. And that's not even counting all the paraphanalia the big boys insist on carting around with them. They both insist on their own suitcase full of toys to strew around the car and then scream as they get lost/crushed/appropriated by a brother, portable DVD players (a must if sanity is to be maintained on a long journey), cuddly toys, sweets and drinks (just to make sure we have to make regular toilet stops).

Once all this is in the car mum and dad are left with a tiny corner into which we squash a few clothes, swimsuit and essential toiletries. Fortunately there is no need for holiday luxuries like fat blockbuster books that I used to read whilst whiling away the hours baking on a sunlounger, or sunscreen for grown ups - I have long forgotten pampering myself with gorgeous smelling lotions, now I just rely on a squirt of the kids livid green, apple scented spray to keep the sun's rays at bay.

I can quite understand why some parents booked in for a weekend away the moment their plane touched down from their holiday en famille, if ensuring the kids don't drown/burn/get lost en route isn't hard enough work just the packing and unpacking is enough to have me screaming for a solo spa break.

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

A bad day

Today I woke up early with a cold lump of unspecified dread clogging my throat, a headache already clawing greedily at my temples and incipient tears that threaten to spill over at any moment. I feel angry, resentful, I want to lash out and share the pain. My targets are many and varied.

My husband for failing to combine being a loving and devoted partner and husband, a hands on dad who always puts his family first, with commanding a huge salary so I no longer need to shoulder the burden of coming up with even a small portion of our household income.

My children for making me adore them so much that the idea of deserting them to go out and earn the living that would make life so much easier rips me apart. They are the only people I have ever loved instantly and unconditionally, the only family who has never broken my heart - I cannot give them up, even if I cannot do them justice in the way that I so crave.

My job for being so fickle that I cannot contain it into simple days or hours as it spills out and expands to fill every gap in time. Its demands are unreasonable and yet it is unforgiving should you fail to meet them.

My mother for her enduring love for my father, and her fulfilling and sustaining career that prevent her from meeting my every selfish and childish need.

The woman who will never read my blog, who we work so hard to stay near so that she may bask in the golden affection of her family, yet who freezes into icy introversion should the lashing, wild waves of our rough and stormy life ever threaten to spill over into her neat existence. Whose experience of motherhood was so cushioned by family, friends, au pairs and above all money, that she has no idea of the value of a kindly extra pair of hands in a life that teeters on the brink. Who recoils from the messy, hard parts of family life, whilst relishing the pretty, civilised aspects.

But the person who disappoints me the most is myself. For failing to swim smoothly across the surface of my life, without revealing the weak little legs paddling so hard underneath. For not being able to solve every problem, earn money, raise happy children, survive on lettuce and workouts to achieve the perfect figure, for having scruffy clothes, unruly hair, a fat stomach. For feeling that from time to time I might crumble, crushed to dust under the weight of life.

For being self indulgent, for being unable to count my blessings, for not being able to see things from other people's point of view. For being tired, greedy, cross, irritable, resentful, shouty and often bored.

I want to be able to go for a mooch around the shops, without having to listen to the screams of the twins in their buggy, without balancing one on my hip to soothe him, only for the other to screech in indignation, so I my arms are heavy and aching and still no one is happy. I want to be able to leave the house, close the door and have silence envelope me, I don't want to change two nappies, pack two lunches, soothe tempers and buckle four wriggling boys into their seats before I can even leave my own driveway.

I don't want to forever be answering questions, entertaining, cuddling, feeding, changing, shooing, reprimanding, bringing up boys. I don't always want to be the centre of attention, the only one that will do.

And yet, conversely and perversely I could never give it up. These are my family, my messy, loud, grumpy, difficult family and I don't want them brought up by anyone other than their own messy, loud, grumpy, difficult mother. I need to be the sun, however darkened and spluttering, around whom they revolve, but sometimes I want to hide behind the cool, dark moon and just enjoy the stillness.

There is no helping me, no making things better. Still tomorrow is another day and the schizophrenic nature of family life means that there's every chance I will wake up on the right side of the bed and all will be rosy once again.

Monday, 17 August 2009

Second in command

This morning son number two crawled into our bed, curling his drowsy little body around me, tickling my nose with his silky soft dark hair. He nuzzled into me whispering 'I love ju mummy' and as he relaxed into a doze waiting for 'wake up time', when the alarm blares us all into reluctant action my mind wandered back to his baby days.

I always think that number two was a bit short changed, he came along when we were in the depths of a financial readjustment (read we were broke and struggling to keep a roof over our heads). I was stressed over meaty questions like whether I should go back to work and if so whether anyone would want to employ me after two years of brain atrophying birthing and mothering. My other half and I were communicating in the eloquent marital language of moody silences and bitter recrimination and in the midst of all of this was a tiny, vulnerable baby that just seemed to heap more responsibility onto our already bowed shoulders.

Add to that an only-just-two-year-old brother who was still a baby himself and saw no reason to limit his demands just because mummy had another little soul to nurture now, and I was at breaking point. Which is probably why, when I look back now, very little remains in the baby memory bank for number two.

What does stay with me though are the best, shining moments of my tiny little man's first days, weeks and months. My first night with him will always rank as one of the happiest moments of my life. Those hours with my newborn baby son, his body robust and solid despite arriving two weeks early, padded with fat, his head soft with a dark velvet fuzz, his lips eagerly seeking me out and suckling as if his life depended on it. Such a pleasant surprise after his older brother who reacted to breast feeding as if it were the cruelest form of torture.

Although I was exhausted after a long and tricky labour, I felt that immediate and instant rush of love for this sturdy, sweetly crinkled baby. As he snuffled against me I was suffused with a tenderness and adoration that took me months to achieve with my first son, such was my shock at the transition from independent woman to sole carer for someone utterly dependent.

When my first son and I were delivered to the maternity ward I clung to my husband as my anchor in this storm of black emotion. I begged the nurses to let him stay with me, terrified of being left alone with this alien stranger and when he left I forced myself to keep the sleep I craved at bay, too afraid to take my eyes off my son for a moment lest some unknown disaster befall him.

In contrast when number two arrived I shooed my husband away, I wanted to be left alone with this wondrous creature so I could wallow in this brand new love affair. I stared at him not in fear or anxiety, but to drink in his perfection, to suck up every moment of this thrilling new being I couldn't wait to get to know. I slept fitfully waiting for him to wake up so I could scoop him out of his hospital crib and hold him close, allowing him to drink in my milk, while I drunk in his beauty.

I fell in love that night in the most profound and pleasurable way and the memory is one of pure happiness. In the morning when my husband reappeared he tentatively opened the door to the ward, worried that the same tear streaked visage of black despair would greet him, as it had just under two years previously. Instead he found me smiling with my baby boy cradled in my arms, like a latter day Madonna and child. How he must have heaved a sigh of relief.

While things naturally didn't stay quite as rose-tinted once the rigours of domesticity and the demands of sibling rivalry kicked in back at home, I still recall shafts of joy in this tense time. As a newborn son had a perfectly round head, dusted in fine, black, velvety soft hair and puffy, inqusitive little eyes, giving him he air of a mole recently emerged into the light - so my dad bought him a knitted burrower and laid them both side by side in his cot. M and his mole.

Now mole has been swapped for his constant companions, his 'anmals' a disreputable rabbit and his two starry night girls, one pink, one purple, whose ears he sucks to send himself off to sleep, rendering them smelly and sodden, but so very essential and adored. But I keep the mole in his precious box, so one day I can tell him all about how I used to stand, staring at them both over the cot rails, as I stroked the sable fuzz on my baby mole's head.

He was the cuddliest baby of all four. I used to call him 'scooped up', because the moment I saw him I had an irresistible urge to scoop him up into a hug. He would often drift off to sleep on my shoulder, dribbling contentedly until we transferred him, floppily relaxed into his cot to slumber on. Even now, once he is asleep you can carry him, draped over your shoulder from sofa or car seat to bed without him stirring.

His early contented and calm nature has given way to a cheekier little boy, who has little interest in following orders, but is quick with a sloppy kiss or an infectious giggle, which gets him out of trouble instantly. We often try to tame his wilder side with varied success, though I suspect we are secretly proud of his intransigent nature and wilful independence - at least I know I am, as it reminds me so much of myself.

The other factor that works in his favour is that he is genuinely a beautiful boy. He has shining dark hair, milk chocolate eyes, chubby, dimpled cheeks, smooth, olive skin and a squidgy little tummy. He is perfectly symmetrical, I know I checked using Photoshop, and his gappy-toothed grin squashes up his whole face into a vision of joy.

But his physical beauty isn't his only appeal. He has an answer for everything, which he delivers in a comically dramatic style. He walks into any room and instantly has a friend, he strides into his nursery and announces 'I'm here', as if with his arrival the fun can really begin. He can talk the hind leg off a donkey, and he instinctively knows just when you need love and comfort, he can twist me around his little finger and drive me up the wall. He shares his love equally and generously, and is a jolly ray of happiness that can pierce the blackest mood.

I realise now that first night was just the beginning of a life long love affair between me and my number two.

Friday, 14 August 2009

Twice as nice

The other day I foolishly took my twins to my local Tesco, it took me over two hours to get around as in every aisle I was stopped by someone who wanted to coo over the twins and share some horror story about someone they knew who had twins. As ever, while they admired my gorgeous duo, they had nothing but negative things to say about being a mummy of two at a time.

I think this perception of having twins as being a nightmare is put about by mums of just one who can't imagine what it would be like to meet doubled demands. I understand as I felt exactly the same way when I had just the one baby, but I know this attitude scared the hell out of me when I was pregnant and a new mum to my two, so I thought that for once, instead of contributing to the vast body of work about how downright dreadful they are, I would list just a few random thoughts about what's wonderful about twins.

For all the moments when my twins scream and shout at the same time, there are those where their gurgling giggles ring out together, when I play peekaboo and not one, but two gummy smiles light up or when I walk into their room in the morning and two pairs of eyes greet me, crinkling into a sleepy, slow, hello smile.

When I leave my two on the playmat, only to come back and find that they are holding hands, toys discarded beside them as one another's fingers are far more fun. Or when they gaze in absolute fascination at each other, CBeebies, burbling forgotten in the background.

Or when I came downstairs to find twin one crying, while twin two gently stroked his arm, as if to comfort him.

One of my most precious memories is of the sight of them when they were newborn, bundled up into their tiny hospital crib, nose to nose as they slept, curled around each other like kittens in a basket. Even now when I check on them at night I am overwhelmed with love for my two perfect babies. It's like all those emotions I felt when I gazed at my single sons, doubled, and I am a glutton for it.

Another benefit of two is that there is never a shortage of cuddles. When grandmas and friends swoop in and snatch one away, mummy still gets a look in with the second one, which in a strange way has made me feel closer to my twins, despite the fact that with them my attention has been spread thinner.

I love they way they have started to chirrup at each other, and smile when they catch sight of one another. As my single babies started to sit up and pay attention to the world, they wanted mummy's undivided attention to keep them amused, my twins have found something far more diverting - each other. All babies love other babies, and mine are lucky enough to have one to play with all the time.

The feeling that is the best of all though is having my arms, lap and tummy covered in squirming, soft, warm babies. Just like cake and biscuits, one deliciously smiley, chubby baby is simply not enough.

And of course once you have been a mother to twins, there is simply nothing you can't do, so the world is your oyster if you can just get out of the house to catch it....

If you know anyone who is having twins, please feel free to share these few happy thoughts about what's in store as I am sure that there will be plenty of people only too ready share their opinions on how hard and horrible it's going to be.

Monday, 10 August 2009

Forbidden fruits

It's amazing what parental activities end up on the banned list when you live under a child dictator, but just so that I never step out of line again I decided to put together a crib sheet of the top 10 outlawed occupations for the enslaved parent:

1. Sex - clearly a no, no as this might lead to more children, and as such to more people who will attempt to share your toys and parental attention. This activity is prevented by early morning wake up calls, late night bed visits and well-timed illnesses that spookily coincide with sign of amour between the oldies.

2. Shopping - with the exception of toy and/or sweet shopping. Any other purchases by or for parents must be averted at all costs, so trips to shopping complexes, supermarkets, garden centres, car showrooms or estate agents must be disrupted by the mother of all tantrums. Suggested techniques include piercing screams, laying on the floor and waving legs and arms around wildly, explosive bowel movements or the destruction of everything in sight. The latter is particularly effective where the merchandise is of high value.

3. Reading anything without pictures - reading to children is an activity which is to be encouraged by persistent whinging, but reading as a grown up pass time is strictly forbidden and must be prevented by tugging sleeves, requests for drinks, food, cuddles and a new DVD until your grown up gives in and gives up.

4. Conversation - chatting or any other form of adult conversation must be nipped in the bud immediately, using the patented constant interruption method. If out and about, for example the school run, you could try the simple running into traffic manoeuvre to disrupt any social gathering.

5. Sleep - even novice infants are aware that the best way to keep the adults passive iss via sleep deprivation. This can start with random crying bouts throughout the night, graduating onto scary dreams, wet beds and monsters in the cupboard.

6. Long car journeys - adults must learn that cars should be regarded as travelling dustbins and therefore entirely unsuitable for long trips. They are fine for getting from A-B thereby avoiding too much walking on the part of the child, but any attempt to travel for longer than half an hour must be undermined by regular demands to stop for the toilet/sweets/sickness.

7. Going out - captive adults should on no account be allowed to escape. If they attempt to leave the house without their infant guards in tow all methods should be employed to stop them, clinging to ankles, crying, emotional blackmail, imaginary illnesses etc.

8. Bathing - adults must maintain a basic level of personal hygiene, but long soaks in the bath and solitary visits to the bathroom are not encouraged. Any adult spending upwards of 10 minutes in the bath must be joined by at least one child immediately, this is particularly important should they indulge in such fripperies as reading the paper, lighting candles or listening to the radio.

9. Television viewing - Any viewing apart from CBeebies, Jetix and Cartoon Network is strictly forbidden and the moment an adult settles onto the sofa with remote in hand, a child should distract them by bouncing up and down next to them, running races in front of the screen or initiating a complex negotiation about the acquisition of a new toy for their collection.

10. Relaxing - this is a cardinal sin, and yet adults are constantly trying to slip a little relaxation past their ever vigilent children. There are many ways to undermine relaxation, but the most successful have proved to be in-fighting, breaking precious items or self harm. If all else fails try the killer combination of all three.

This post is written with thanks to sons number one and two who have attempted to thwart our night out with varying methods including tears, plaintive wails that they will miss us and complaints of a sore bottom.

Write on

One of my nicest virtual friends and the powerhouse behind sites such as You've got your hands full and Have a lovely time sent me a meme about the writers who inspired us along the way, be they fellow bloggers or the old fashioned print types and after the blush-inducing compliments she paid me in hers it would be churlish not to compile my own and pass it on to some of my own favourite bloggers, so here goes.

Which words do you use too much in your writing?

However and it's and its in all the wrong places as my pedant of a husband is far too fond of pointing out.

Which words do you consider overused in stuff you read?

Swine flu

What's your favourite piece of writing by you?

The only one that actually makes me cry when I read it is this tribute to my grandmother.

What blog post do you wish you'd written?

I am ashamed to admit that I hardly have time to read anyone else's blogs, but one post I loved and that made me realise that there was life after twins is this one by More than just a mother.

What is the strangest thing you have ever been asked to write about?

It's a tough choice between stress testing my cat and weighing my boobs in a bowl of water to find out their true size. Fortunately neither made it into print, so I can't share my conclusions with you.

Name three favourite words

Trespass, kitchen and commission

And three words your not so keen on

In house writer

Do you have a writing mentor, role model or inspiration?

Nappy Valley Girl who taught me all about mummy blogs with her own.

More than just a mother who if she isn't, really should be a professional writer as she puts those of us that are to shame. Although she is no doubt sensibly wasting her talents in a job that is far more lucrative and reliable.

And in the real world I love Chris Cleave's Down with the Kids column in The Guardian, not least because his family reminds me so much of my own, apart from the fact that he got the girl I ordered as baby number three.

What is your writing ambition?

To overcome my essentially lazy nature and stop dreaming about writing books in favour of actually writing them.

OK now it's tag time and I am going to send this meme to:

Nappy Valley Girl

More than just a mother

Brits in Bosnia

Wife of the Bold

Not wrong, just different

And hey, why not, Chris Cleave (even if he doesn't have a blog)

Saturday, 8 August 2009

Out and about

Yesterday was another single-handed day, though thanks to help from a very kind friend it wasn't quite the challenge as I was expecting. But, it did get me to thinking about just how tricky getting out and about with two tinies in tow is. The other day a mum of one asked me how I managed as she found it hard enough to juggle one. I almost choked on my latte as I spluttered 'Jugggle? One?!" in incredulous tones as I tried to keep track of the mass of eels that constitutes my four boy family.

To be fair to her I found number one the hardest to come to terms with. I hated the constraints that travelling with pushchair, change bag and querulous baby imposed on my life, but looking back I don't know what all the fuss was about. Taking care of one, single, solitary baby, would be like a spa weekend to me now; a haven of serenity filled with rest, relaxation and space for contemplation.

I firmly believe that had things gone to plan and we had ended up with just the three children we bargained on, life would have been much simpler. Of course caring for a baby is always hard, but just one could have tucked under my maternal wing as I chased around after his brothers.

Two, however, pose a much greater problem when it comes to the days out required to keep two lively boys from trashing the house/killing each other/tormenting their mother over the summer holiday months. Take our recent trip to Center Parcs. Husband had taken the firstborn off for some male bonding on the water slides, a fortuitous surprise meeting with another mum from number two's nursery meant he had been whisked off to try out the baby slides with her son. Which left me with just the two babies, bobbing happily in bright orange swim seats.

At first this was the picture of tranquility, until the moment that the wave machine started and the entire population of the pool descended on our hitherto peaceful spot. Twin one got splashed, and given his choleric nature, let rip with a tantivy of objection as loudly as his baby lungs would allow. Twin two, no doubt shocked by the ruckus in the seat next door, decided to join in and there was I, clinging onto two rubber rings filled with red, screaming babies, thinking 'Now what?'.

It was a choice between joining in with the howling or somehow manhandling twins, rubber rings and me out of the pool without drowning anyone, then getting them out of their rings and into towels without dropping anyone. Option one seemed the most attractive, but I'm a mummy so I can't give in to the fear, so there I stood trying to slide the stuck fast ring off twin one, as he yelled in protest, while trying to stop twin two from floating off into the wild, blue yonder of the wave pool.

When I finally managed to extract them both there were no hands left to rescue the rings. Cue someone walking off with the rings, clearly thinking this was their lucky day, so to add to my struggle with my slippery little suckers I had to chase after her to retrieve my precious rings.

Once the rings were back with their rightful owner, and the babies wrapped up and calm in my arms all I could do was sit, jiggling each one on my knees and wait, impatiently, for my husband to return and relieve me of one so I could function again. Just one example of the fun and games that is the lot of a roaming twin mummy - and that's with people around to help out.

Yesterday was a similar assault course, which variously included a purportedly child friendly restaurant complaining bitterly that my double buggy was blocking off another table, despite the fact that they had huge swathes of the restaurant cordoned off, and that I was with a party of mums and kids whose spending would probably make up the loin's share of that day's takings. Then I found my bus of a car had been blocked in on both sides by other drivers, making it near impossible to actually get the children back into it. Fortunately I was with other mums who could prevent my boys from flinging themselves under the wheels of other vehicles while I attempted to wedge each one in, but when you're on your lonesome then they just have to take their chances in the traffic.

Perhaps it's just life's way of telling me that I should reside in purdah until the boys are old enough to look after themselves, but those four walls don't have close in quickly when you are locked inside them with four boys high on summer holiday freedom.

So maybe I should just pass on these tips to those of you lucky enough to have only ever had to juggle one baby at a time. If you see a twin mummy in trouble, please do lend a hand, she could do with some extras and she might even forgive you for asking if they are twins if you can be of some use to her. And, for your own sake, if you see a baby bus with four child seats inside, give it a wide berth in the car park, you car's bodywork will thank you.

Thursday, 6 August 2009

He's on a roll

Big news chez FDMTG, at four days shy of six months twin one has learned how to roll. At first he kept his new skill under wraps and the only evidence was that every time I left him alone, on his back, on a play mat, I would return to find him balancing on his round little tummy, head in the air looking around for the applause he knew was his due for being so very clever. I think perhaps he was trying to perfect the little shimmy required to get over his pesky arm, as this morning he finally revealed all, and with a couple of hefty wriggles he rolled like a little Weeble right over onto his tummy for all his family to see.

Much cheering and clapping ensued to congratulate him, though I will admit a dark thought crossing my mind, because this is the first step towards movement, a stage which fills me with apprehension. Chasing around after one half mobile, seriously curious child was a trial I would rather forget, trying to keep tabs on two sends trickles of chilly terror down my spine. Still so far twin two shows no signs of giving up his favourite prone position, preferring to doze peacefully and leave it to his brother to battle with his physical limitations.

I think the first suggestion of perambulation is my cue to return to work and hand the problem over to someone else.

Sweet dreams

I am a stickler for sleep. I am so terrified that relaxing my routine would result in endless sleepless nights, thereby turning me into a ravening, child hating zombie, that I never, ever give in to the temptation to wrap my babies up inside my arms at night and let their soft baby snuffles lull me to sleep.

But tonight I was in for a rare treat. Thanks to a mammoth nap today the babies were both awake when I went in for my nightly check. Jonah was predictably tied up in knots with his blanket, being physically incapable of stillness, but when he heard the door creak open his twisted out of his cocoon to face me and as soon as his dark eyes spotted me a smile split his face in two, cheeks bursting out in rotund joy like two perfect, tiny apples.

He made that 'I'm so happy to see you' chirrup and pumped his tiny arms and legs in an ecstatic greeting. He was so irresistible that I confess to breaking all the rules and scooping him out of his cot and covering him with kisses until he was bubbling with giggles. His body warm and soft from his bed and his gummy smile wide at this unforeseen nighttime cuddle.

The occupant of cot next door was clearly disturbed by all the fun and games as I noticed a pair of blue eyes were creasing up in a hello smile, while soft gurgles and squeaks suggested that it was now time for twin two's turn in mummy's arms.

There is nothing more delicious than an illicit kiss and snuggle in the darkness of the babies' room. The night air is a fug of milky sweet baby smells, their sleepy bodies seem to melt into your arms, while their adoring eyes shine out in the dim light dancing with amusement at this special midnight treat.

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Musical pushchairs

My husband has just pointed out to me that with my latest push chair purchase I have brought our tally up to eight in the past five years. Surely some kind of record?

It's a bit like tree rings you can trace our family history through the number of buggys we have bought:

1. A Mamas & Papas Pilko, bought at vast expense by doting grandparents to ferry around our firstborn in the style to which he would have been better off not to become accustomed. It was huge, it was bulky, but pre-baby it was the pram du jour (this was in the days before the Bugaboo, Quinny or Phil & Teds). I hated it from the moment I unpacked it. My husband had been chief pushchair researcher, which should have set alarm bells ringing as he has a strange fondness for complex gadgets, and this was no exception, requiring three hands to operate the folding mechanism. It was a travel system, which meant that in theory the car seat should click neatly onto the chassis allowing you to transfer sleeping baby from car to pram without waking him. In reality the clips were so obscured he woke up every time, and you were never sure if he were safely anchored or could tip off at any moment, as indeed he did once to his vociferous disgust.

2. A Maclaren umbrella buggy. It was with a huge sigh of relief that I ditched my posh pram for a cheap Maclaren as soon as son number one could sit up. It did sterling duty until....

3. I had son number two when number one was only just two-years-old. Enter my first double buggy. The Combo. It was lightweight and came with a friend's recommendation. But I hated the way the seats reclined (or indeed failed to do so) and the straps were useless for restraining unruly toddlers in times of need. It was also impossible to carry any shopping on the handles - a major flaw for a retail addict such as myself.

4. A second Maclaren for son number two. This time one that was even lighter and more compact. Bliss and again still in use today when he can persuade us to push him around.

5. Twins on the way and it was time for a new double buggy. I thought I had it sussed this time. There would be no expensive, luxurious, double travel system, instead I passed Go and moved straight onto a trusty Maclaren Techno. At £80 second hand it was a bargain and I felt very smug indeed at its acquisition.

6. A bit of a double entry this one, but our first single Maclaren was nicked from outside the house and was replaced by a new, flashy version courtesy of the insurance company.

7. I was beginning to realise the limitations of my double Maclaren. It might be small but unlike it's nippy single counterparts, it was also heavy and cumbersome, particularly as the twins began to bulk up and and add to its weight. Fortunately my dear friend Nappy Valley Girl, chose this moment to emigrate and her P&T was looking for a new home. I welcomed it with open arms, but sad to say that while it's fabulous for two children of different ages it's a bit of a death trap for twins as, without the weight of a larger child on the front, it's prone to suddenly toppling over backwards in a most disconcerting way.

8. My latest (final?) purchase is an Out n About Nipper 360. After extensive testing in John Lewis (most importantly twin one found the flavour of the straps to his liking) and much internet research, I have finally chosen what I hope with be my last pushchair. It arrives in a few days and I am crossing my fingers that it will be eighth time lucky.

Back to life, back to reality

I knew I was home when I found myself sitting in Starbucks yesterday with son one needing a wee, son two needing a poo, son three wafting bad smells from the nappy department and son four demanding his milk at the top of his voice. My husband was counting the minutes until he could escape the mayhem for the peace of his office, and I was counting the minutes until bedtime - normality had been restored.

Still being away was no picnic and our first holiday en grand famille was an interesting experience. Week one veered from one extreme to the other. One day found us huddling in the front of our car, babies on our laps sucking ravenously away on overdue bottles, watching torrential rain wash down the windscreen as we waited patiently for it to abate so we could escape the vehicle for the delights of a film about cheese (don't ask).

Another day we watched our boys race across a pristine swathe of golden sands, the sea glinting jade and malachite green, waves topped with glittering surf, crashing like a million tiny diamonds onto a sun drenched beach. They explored slick black rocks, peering into the mirror bright rock pools spotting tiny fish dart for cover at this alien invasion, marvelling at the clusters of shining ebony mussels clinging on for dear life until the tide covered them in deep green privacy again.

Son number one mastered the art of skimming stones, delegating the job of finding the perfect round pebbles to me, and body surfing. He and his little brother were slick as otters as they rushed through the surf to catch the perfect wave. Their hair dried stiff with salt, their lips blue with cold and their sleep at night one of exhausted joy. They licked home made honey ice creams, warmed rain chilled hands on hot, salty deliciously greasy chips and had the perfect British summer holiday.

As ever if the boys were happy, so were we, although I did somewhat long for those long, lazy days of relaxation that holidays used to bring pre-children. Even with four adults to care for our four children, the days were still packed with the usual round of chores, damage limitation and diplomatic wrangling that make up the life of a mummy of many.

We did snatch one golden afternoon exploring an idyllic honey farm, exploring a crystal stream clogged with wide open white lilies, watching the bees put our industry to shame, and gorging on fluffy, still warm from the oven, scones topped with generous dollops of whipped cream and sweet slick of honey - a short lived moment of gluttonous bliss.

Week two was an altogether more commercial affair, as we opted for that frazzled parental fall back - organised fun - and booked into Center Parcs. I can quite see the appeal of the place, its a pretty setting and about as child friendly as you can get (if you ignore the vertiginous hills that no child under the age of 10 could even attempt to scale on a bike), but it's just a little bit processed for my liking.

The boys loved the pool, though a word of warning to any other parent who finds themselves as foolishly overburdened with children as us - don't try to take them all swimming together, as that way disaster lies. I was in tears when my husband left me alone with all four for 10 minutes, convinced that at any moment at least one of my precious boys would disappear into the maw of the wave machine. But it's eye-wateringly expensive, busy, rushed and crowded and as for the food, let me just say that I now know where Britain got its reputation for swilling on muck.

To (badly) paraphrase Meatloaf, I would do anything for my kids, but I won't do Center Parcs again.

So now it's back to reality with a bump and my washing machine hasn't stopped spinning since I opened the boot of the car. Still it's three more weeks to go before we do it all again and pack up the kitchen sink once again for our second trip of the summer, though this time it's to the South of France so here's to less rain and better food.