Friday, 24 July 2009

On the road

Another quickie as I am currently drowning in an angry swell of packing, but I thought I had better post that I survived - just - my close encounter with my four boys. Actually as long as you stick to a routine as rigid as rigor mortis it's not too bad, but any deviation (like swanning off to a business meeting as I did today) and that way chaos lies. At least it's a lesson learned.

Tomorrow morning we hit the road for wet Wales so it will be radio silence until I report back from the wilds of the West, so it's over and out from us and remember to wave as you see our travel cot fly past out of the roof box on the M4.

Thursday, 23 July 2009

One huge leap for Mumof4

Today is a momentous day, and I only have a few minutes to record this moment in family history for reasons that will become apparent now. Today, July 23 2009 is the first day that I will be in sole charge of all four of my boys for the entire day, and I am terrified.

I have looked after various configurations of my offspring, and indeed cared for all four of them for a few hours at a time, but thanks to meticulous planning, grandparent cajoling and spending a fortune on childcare I have never had to care for all four, single handed for an entire day.

Today, due to an unlucky alignment in my stars all my usual back up mechanisms have failed and I am now preparing to take my first small step as a solo mummy of four. Beat that Neil Armstrong.

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

We're all going on a summer holiday

The reason I never have two pennies to rub together is because the moment money hits my pocket (or indeed sometimes before it does) I am planning ways to spend it. My main expenditure has always been holidays. Before I had my boys we would plan exotic jaunts to powder white beaches, diving beneath azure blue waves to chase multicoloured fishes, or chic city breaks where I could flex my credit card on foreign fashion and killer cocktails. Since having children my sights have been lowered, but sadly the costs have not fallen in line with the quality of holiday.

For the past few years we have decamped for a family trip to Florida, taking in the tacky delights of Disneyworld and making sandcastles on the vast, empty beaches. The weather was warm, the food was cheap, the characters fluffy and the shopping abundant - everyone was a winner.

But this year we, like so many others, have been credit crunched, and rather than our usual long haul trip we are going to Wales. Oh how the mighty are fallen. I recall childhood holidays with my Welsh aunt, lurking in her gloomy living room as rain lashed on the windows and the TV refused to speak English or shivering as my toes turned blue while I paddled in the icey sea. These are not happy memories, so why am I taking my children back to the scene of the crime?

Blame a combination of nostalgia, which served to rose tint my recollections, wiping out those sand filled sandwiches and windswept route marches along the clifftops, replacing them with frolics in sun drenched meadows and ice cream slurped in a race against the sun's warmth, and a recent delightful return to the land of my fathers, where we basked in luxury on a press freebie to Bluestone in Pembrokeshire and glorious, unseasonal sunshine.

This heady mix meant that when my mother found a cottage she could just about afford to rent for us all I jumped at the chance of a free holiday, failing entirely to look this gift horse in the mouth. Now as I am about to pack up mummy, daddy, two small boys and the twins, plus all the necessary kit in preparation for our five hour drive to a cold, rainy outpost of the British Isles, I am beginning to spot the cavities and halitosis that I had so blithely ignored in said horse's mouth.

The idyllic fantasy of an old style family holiday is fast morphing into a terrifying trial whereby we have to invent entertainment for all the children without the aid of modern technology - please God let the television have learnt English - whilst attempting to remain civil as we are forced to share close quarters with the aged grandp's.

The plan is to go into what my mother calls 'holiday mode', which if memory serves means seeing the funny side of flea infested hotel beds, salmonella infested restaurants and sibling infested vehicles. It never worked back then, but my fingers are firmly crossed that it's an adult skill that I must have acquired somewhere along the way.

So I shall pack our cases, pray for sunny weather and tempraments, and console myself with the thought that at least I won't have to queue up to have my photo taken with a larger than life sized mouse this year.

Mummy moments

My friend and blogging queen, Nappy Valley Girl posted a great story about a trip to the beach where she discovered her inner teenager had left the building, leaving a quivering mummy shivering in the shallows. It got me to thinking about all the ways that being a mummy has changed the way I get through the day.

Firstly, acquiring children has forced me to become a mistress of time management. Where once I could while away hours in leisurely pursuits, such as magazine reading, coffee drinking and navel gazing, now every spare moment of my day is timetabled like a military operation as I seamlessly segue between bottle washing, nappy changing, Playdough modelling, school running and fishfinger baking. Of course I can always sneak a few of my contingency minutes for a blog post from time to time, but that's about it for down time.

Secondly, having children has made me both more and less brave than I was before. Like NVG I am even more terrified of any threat to my personal safety than I was pre-children. It's not so much that I am scared of the pain and suffering that any injury might cause to me, more that I am petrified by the thought of what might happen to the precarious balance of childcare arrangements should the commanding officer of the family go AWOL.

Where once I would happily wander home long after dark on the way back from a night out, now I make sure I have a taxi booked every time I venture anywhere after dark for a wine or two, because now if I were to be attacked on my way home who would take care of my boys?

Same goes for any sporting activity (though those who know me might say any excuse). I used to love riding, but now the mere thought of getting on a horse, with all the possiblities for being thrown right back off again that that entails, terrifies me. I hate to imagine the impact of wearing a plaster cast would have on my already frazzled abilities to care for my children.

Thirdly, I appear to have lost the ability to have a coherent conversation. This is not to say that I am not the consummate chatterbox, just that each sentence seems to drift away into the ether well before its conclusion as my mind wanders wondering just why there are blood curdling shrieks simultaneously coming from at least three rooms of the house. Perhaps it's a lucky coincidence that most of my sentences are cut off halfway by a small boy shouting 'Mummy' at the top of his voice, so I never need actually recall what my point was going to be.

Fourthly, I can no longer dress myself. Of course I can drag on a random assortment of clothes to render me decent should I venture out into the local park or supermarket which are my regular haunts, but the concept of putting together a co-ordinated outfit that is neither made from stretchy materials nor faintly stained by baby drool is entirely alien to me now.

Finally, (because my brief window of opportunity is closing in fast), I have lost the ability to say no to food. Life is just too short and too busy to try to live it on anything less than 5,000 calories a day. I ask you, how can I be expected to cope with the quadruple demands of four small boys, twinned with the incessant attention grabbing of the washing machine, dishwasher, steriliser and toy mess without enough fuel to power a small nuclear plant?

Sunday, 19 July 2009

All about me

A big fat thank you to Who's the Mummy? for letting me know that my baby blog has won a place (albeit number 93) in the Top 100 Parent Blogs. I am now proudly displaying my first blogging badge, though fear I may now become as obsessed with my chart position as an aspiring pop starlet.

She also nominated me to complete a meme and describe seven of my personality traits, so here goes:

Brave (or stupid) - I have four boys aged five and under, what more evidence do you need?

Organised - Shh. Don't tell anyone, but I've already bought all my son's uniform for next term and they haven't even broken up yet. Apparently this makes me sickening.

Pessimistic - The glass in not only half empty, it's cracked and the contents is draining away before my eyes.

Gluttonous - I see food, I eat it. I see scales, I hide. Enough said.

Argumentative - See that last word? It's mine.

Forthright - If I have an opinion I'm not afraid to share it, which is good if you are an editor in search of a writer prepared to froth at the mouth in print for money or bad if you are my husband trying to watch Formula 1 in peace.

Arty - Which is really just another way of saying I am crap at maths.

Now like all good memes I pass on the challenge to seven more bloggers Nappy Valley Girl, A Modern Mother, More than just a mother, Rebel Mother, Are we nearly there yet mummy? And 1 More Means Fourand A place of my own

Saturday, 18 July 2009

Quiet please

The twins are going through a tetchy phase at the moment, which essentially means that if they are both awake they are indulging in relay crying. The way this game works is that one, usually twin one, starts his familiar whine of 'Mmm, mmm, mmm'. This sharply increases in volume and frequency until it develops into a full blown shriek, at which point I usually give in and bundle him up into a cuddle, before my eardrums burst.

Blissful silence reigns until twin two notices that there are mummy cuddles going and he isn't getting his ration, at which point his tiny bottom lip sticks out in an irresistibly cute pout, then his cheeks start to flame red and his mouth opens to emit a roar of disapproval that almost matches his brother for volume and far outweighs it when it comes to garnering sympathy - he just sounds so pathetically hard done by and who can resist that lip?

So I pop twin one down, in order to pick up and comfort twin two. Big mistake, HUGE. The moment his body hits the bouncy chair or baby mat I have chosen as his resting place he is rigid with rage, and his little mouth becomes a gaping maw of noise at the injustice of having his quality time cut short, just so mummy can shut his brother up.

So I move onto plan B, which involves trying to pacify two cross babies on one inadequate lap without bursting into tears myself. I joggle one up and down while vainly trying to hold the other in the crook of my arm without dropping him. A solution that leaves no one happy, the babies know they are being short changed by this uncomfortable arrangement, and I am twisted up like a contortionist with the complaints of my two baby sons ringing in my ears.

Time to crack the glass open on the emergency plan, which entails a soporific cocktail of Cbeebies and early milk. Sod the routine, by this point I will do anything for a bit of peace and quiet.

I am hoping this exhausting phase will end once they finally learn to entertain themselves by sitting up and rolling over, but as yet, despite much vocal effort, there are no signs of the little ones stepping up to the next developmental level. So for now I shall be forced to continue to worship at the alter of Mr Tumble and friends.

Friday, 17 July 2009

Stop all the clocks

We just unpacked son number one's bag from school. There are only two days left of his year in Reception, and in that cliched fashion, I can't believe how fast it has gone by and what an emotional wreck it leaves me looking through evidence of how my baby is growing up.

There is a fashion nowadays to send home a book full of photos, work, quotes and pictures to show you just what your child has been up to all day. The other week we had one home from son number two's nursery, filled with pictures of him wreaking havoc and having fun. It's a delicious record of those secret hours they spend away from home, and the first precious possession I would rescue from my burning home.

I remember gluing in the pictures of Power Rangers and pizza before my firsborn started school, making the book together just like we had done everything together for the whole of his short life. We talked about his favourite things and what made him who he was and the biggest part of that was mummy, daddy and his family. Since starting school he has grown so much more independent, bringing friends and teachers into his circle of influence, learning to read and write about his own likes and dislikes, and although I am so proud of the boy he has become I desperately miss my baby. That chubby toddler who depended on me for everything and who is disappearing before my eyes like the morning mist on a hot summer day.

He is impatient with my tears as nostalgia prickles them from my eyes. 'Mummy, why are you crying?', he says, puzzled and just a little bit irritated. You can almost hear the man in him dismissively snorting 'Women!'. I can understand why he is in such a rush to move on, life is so exciting and round every corner there is a new adventure for him. But for me he is my adventure and every corner he turns he is getting further away from me.

I always thought that my years as a mummy to little children would be the best of my life, although at times I can't wait for them to be done with, but I never understood how having a child presses the fast forward button on his parents' lives. Where once one year was much the same as the next, perhaps I got a promotion or moved from one job to another, but essentially the monotony of working meant time passed slowly. But now as I watch my babies grow from a toddlers to boys, I have a yard stick to see just how fast the sands of time are whizzing.

I know this all sounds rather maudlin, and in actual fact I'm not that sad about it. I just wish sometimes that sometimes I could step off the most amazing rollercoaster of my life, bringing up my boys, and savour a moment in time, capture it in amber and keep it with me for more than the fleeting days, weeks or months that it lasts in real life.

I am so proud of my gorgeous son. I thrill to his achievements, swell with admiration over what a beautiful boy he has become. I adore his clever wit, his lithe good looks, his excellent manners (who knows where he got them from?), but sometimes I want to wrap him in a cuddle and rewind to the days when his soft baby body would melt into mine, drifting off into dreams of milk and mummy, rather than arching to run away and play on his computer. I want to hold on to the wobbly moment of his first steps, the goobledegook of first words, the aimless days whiled away at the park, ice cream dripping down his face, bread meant for duck feeding ending up in his toddler tummy, when his greatest pleasure was spending time with me.

But instead I must stay firmly strapped into my seat and try to enjoy the ride. At least I have all those books sent home from school and nursery to remind me of all the best loop the loops we have left behind.

The social whirl

Since having children my social life has dwindled to the odd evening out at the cinema or local Italian and a series of chats at the school gates, for which I am pathetically grateful. Making and keeping friends when so much of my time is taken up with running the lives of my four small dependents often proves a challenge too far. It's not that I don't care, it's just that the idea of picking up the phone for a chat with a real, live person at the end of a day of nappy changes, force feeding puree, transforming Transformers, wiping bottoms and endlessly tidying up toys has all the appeal of poking my eye out with a sharp stick.

Equally, while I often wistfully reminisce about the good old days when evenings were wasted in bars, clubs and expensively chic restaurants (oh, who am I kidding pubs and gourmet burger bars were about my limit), in reality an evening slumped on the sofa watching the bitchily fantastic Four Weddings on Living TV and downing half a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc is my idea of heaven. Which is probably why I'm far from the most popular girl in town. How can I expect to have a whole host of mates, when I can't actually bothered to speak to them or see them from one month to the next thanks to child induced exhaustion?

Fortunately I have found the solution that prevents me from entirely retiring from society. For while I may not have that many flesh and blood friends, online I am the hostess with the mostest and my virtual buddies are probably the reason I have refrained succumbing too frequently to weepy lonliness during the enforced purdah of having babies and the solitary career of a freelance writer.

Indeed the internet has even helped me to remain close to my real world friends, because now they can keep up with my antics via Twitter or my blog and so when we do finally meet it really is as if we'd hardly been apart. A good friend of mine, who you may know as Nappy Valley Girl has recently moved to the US, and before she left we joked that we'd probably be in closer contact now than we ever had been when she lived just across the same city from me.

I know many complain that social network sites like Facebook and Twitter are destroying real friendships and taking their toll on our psychological wellbeing, but to be honest the way my life is right now I couldn't do without the contact they do provide. When life is getting me down a miserable update on my Facebook status will see my friends rally round to post cheering comments, when I want to boast about my success a Tweet means everyone can share in my joy and when I am worried about the babes a post on Mumsnet lets me know I'm not alone.

Perhaps this virtual community is no substitute for those coffee mornings of old that must have sustained mums back in the day when everyone of us was at home, but in today's modern age where stay at home mums are an endangered breed and so many of us work home alone, I for one can't cope without my internet buddies. In fact my worst nightmare is losing broadband connection, though I am not too sure what that says about me. Probably that I ought to get out more.

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

A pig of a disease

I am a hypochondriac, every ache is cancer, every pain ebola and the internet has only worsened this debilitating condition. As soon as a symptom, however innocent, materialises in me or one of my boys I am instantly online diagnosing some rare, life threatening condition, so you can imagine how the latest swine flu scare is playing out chez moi.

My son's primary school has already had two confirmed cases, though they refused to tell us in which year group they were. Cue me quizzing my boy every afternoon to see if any of his class were off sick. I have had to resist the temptation to place a cordon sanitaire around the house, hosing down the big boys with disinfectant when the return from school and nursery to prevent all those nasty, piggy germs oinking their way to my vulnerable babies.

Last Friday we had our own brush with piggy flu panic when twin two spiked a temperature of 38.5 C and was grisly and cross all day. Although my natural instinct was to grab him in my arms and run screaming into the local A&E, I restrained myself and simply called NHS Direct for more advice on whether my hot baby was actually suffering from swine flu. Fat lot of good that did me, I was just told to call my GP, which I could have done in the first place, thereby bypassing this uneccessary (and undoubtedly ruinously expensive) 'help' line.

So I called the doctor and the doctor said (two and half hours later) that she didn't know whether it was swine flu, although it sounded as if it might be, and that if he didn't cool down pronto I should call the out-of-hours doctor service as she was about to go off duty. She also added that while I should give him Calpol to bring the temperature down, I also shouldn't give it to him as it would mask the symptoms - helpful.

So I shoved some of the pink elixir down his throat - much to his vocal disgust - and hoped for the best. I was all for dashing off to the hospital just in case, but my husband was the voice of reason and reminded me of our last brush with medical emergency when Jonah suffered a high temperature at just seven weeks. It was a nightmare of blood tests, sleepless nights and fear, that all added up to an unspecified virus that went away on its own.

For once I listened to his sage advice and sat tight, though I did insist that twin two sleep with us, which, as they now sleep in their own room was a real treat. Listening to him gently snuffling in his sleep and lifting his warm drowsy body into our bed for a sleepy cuddle at first light was a nostalgic indulgence.

Fortunately by the morning his temperature was gone and so was his bad temper, and he was once again my smiling, blue eyed boy. My husband was right and my panic was over, but listening to the tragic news about the six-year-old girl who died of swine flu within 48-hours of falling ill fills me with an ice cold sick fear fuelled by those horrific 'what if' scenarios that any parent can't help but play through their heads at such a time.

Next time I think my husband will have to tie me up with my cordon sanitaire to stop me from whipping my boys off to the doctor to demand Tamiflu at the first sign of a flushed cheek.

Monday, 13 July 2009

Tweetie pie

At last my baby blog is growing up and I'm learning to Tweet. Not sure I am quite up to Stephen Fry's level of sharing just yet, but it will be good for those off the cuff, 140 character rants we all need from time to time.

In an attempt to share with more Tweeting mummys I've also joined up to TwitterMoms. See the widget below for some more of their blogs - good, bad or indifferent, I wouldn't know, but they promised me that joining up would get me more followers.

Sometimes this blogging lark is like a cult. It's got its own language, etiquette and the goal is to convert as many readers as possible to your own brand of worldly wisdom. I promise I won't be handing out cherryade anytime soon though, so you are safe in my hands.

Twitter Moms: The Influential Moms Network

Everyone's a winner

Summer is sports day season and it seems as if we are living at my sons' school and nursery watching their little legs pump across the field, their eyes screw up in concentration as they try to keep that pesky egg on the spoon. But really I wonder why they try so hard when their teachers are so determined that there be no winner, no matter how far a child streaks ahead of it's classmates.

At son number two's nursery each child was handed a golden medal at the end of the day, no matter if they had performed as well as an Olympic hopeful, or as abysmally as a teetotaller in a drinking game. How are our children supposed to understand the point of competitive sport, when the whole point of it - winning - is expunged from it?

As the fastest boy in the class powers over the finish line, arms held aloft as he yells 'I'm the winner', a teacher swiftly moves in to gently remind him that 'There are no winners, it's just a bit of fun'. Does that really make the boy at the back of the pack feel any better, or just taint the victor's joy as he feels reprimanded for celebrating his win?

Schools are happy to celebrate achievement in other realms - come top of the class in maths or reading and you'll be rewarded, what's so different about the sports field? And what sort of message does this send out to the kids who might not be so hot in the classroom, but are smoking on the track?

It's as valid a profession and achievement to excel at sports. Indeed those pretty young WAGs aren't tarting themselves up to win the heart of an accountant or lawyer, instead they want to snare the ultimate prize; a professional footballer. Who cares if he may not be able to add up how much he earns, his prowess with a ball trumps any amount of zeros a good education can add to your salary. *

I am not suggesting that being good at sports is a reason not to try in the classroom, but it seems unfair that those children who excel physically are not heaped with praise in the same way as those who impress academically.

I know when I was young I was always the last to be picked by any team, having the co-ordination of a Parkinson's sufferer and the speed of a sloth. Yes, it was humiliating, but it just made beating those sporty girls in a spelling test that much sweeter.

What is the worse of two evils? To reduce all our expectations to the lowest common denominator - to allow those who fail to dictate how we treat those who triumph? Or to encourage our children to revel in their victories wherever they take place?

I suspect that the modern 'Everyone's a winner' school of thought actually means we all lose out.

*Note that I DON'T want my boys to end up with WAGs and am, as such, relieved that so far they show much more promise off the school field than on it. Phew.

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Children of the credit crunch

Today was son number two's farewell concert at his nursery - not that he's leaving or anything, it's just what they call it - and I got to musing over how many of the ex-pat Japanese mums that populate our little corner of North London seem to have come here with the express purpose of procreating. Every one of them has at least one or two toddlers and most have a baby strapped in a sling to their chest too.

(I will not digress here into how annoying it is that despite their many children they all, to a woman, remain tiny slips of things).

I came to the conclusion that it was their response to being stranded on a foreign island with no career to distract them. Which got me to thinking that this might explain the recession baby boom which is predicted as more and more women fall foul of redundancy and find themselves stuck at home with nothing better to do than make babies.

I will admit that my twins were born slightly out of this motivation. As number two was growing up I was expected to try to actually turn my half hearted career as a writer into something lucrative and serious. What a terrifying prospect, better get preggers immediately and avoid all that pressure, methinks, or thought.

Cue nine months of a bloating belly as my work gradually dried up in response to falling advertising revenues in the titles I worked for. I lost two regular columns just before I popped and I was so glad I had the babies to distract me from watching the faltering embers of my career turn ash grey and cold. If I hadn't been about to give birth I would have been in fits of panic about the grim turn of events, but as it was I was too busy working out how to walk with a bump the size of a whale strapped to my torso, so it barely registered.

It really is no surprise that tough economic times see us retreating into the family as a way to escape the harsh realities of the job market. When times are good and you can pick up well paid part time work that combines passably well with spending some time with the children, the life of a working mum is very attractive. A bit of you time to earn some cash, combined with just enough time with your children to enjoy them, but not so much that they start to annoy you. Perfect.

But when times are tough and we are all expected to work twice as hard to earn half as much, it's a relief to me to be able to hide behind the piles of nappies, bottles and splatters of puree, rather than have to beat my way to that elusive commission against the younger, fitter, footloose and childfree writers who are my competition.

That said when I idly suggested that perhaps we should have another, just to continue to delay my return to the workforce you understand, my husband turned ghostly white and said a most emphatic 'No'. It's a good job I finally got published again today or I think my marriage might have been in jeopardy.

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Mr J. Bones

This one is a special entry in praise of my gorgeous little twin number one. After yesterday's post my husband asked me in rather plaintive tones 'Don't you love him?' I suspect he was referring to my comment about twin one's cries sounding like nails on a blackboard and his uncanny ability to spend most of his waking hours screaming at me about something or other.

I have to concede that I only painted half a picture of my rotund little wonder boy. You see he may be stroppy, but in between screaming bouts he is the jolliest baby any mummy could ask for. His gummy grin has enough megawatts to light up the room and there is nothing that doesn't capture his ever vigilant imagination.

Dangle a toy in front of his huge, dark chocolate brown eyes and they will follow it like a cat hunting down a mouse. He will raise his chubby fingers ready to grab it with a delicious gargled giggle bubbling from this throat.

Blow a raspberry on the smooth olive curve of his belly, feeling the silken skin sink deliciously under your lips and you will be rewarded with a peal of baby laughter that fills you with joy. Watch his pink marshmallow thighs pump and wriggle as mirth takes over his whole body and you know he aches to jump up and play. Stroke the soft curve of his cheek and wonder at the perfect bow of his lip, the pudgy snub of a nose and the delicate peach fuzz of black hair that covers his skull like a fine velvet. I simply marvel at the sheer perfection I have managed to create.

From the moment he pushed his way out (alright he was cut out, but you get the picture) he was intent on being first in the queue for parental attention. I always think he filled out his mummy application form all wrong. Instead of ticking the box asking to be the child of conscientious first time parents, his attention was momentarily distracted and instead he mistakenly checked 'Twins to harassed parents of four'.

Poor boy. He is never happier than when he is held aloft in my arms, the better able to survey his kingdom. His problem is really that there are just not enough hours in the day to pay him the attention he so richly deserves. If I were able to devote the hours to him that I did to son number one, I suspect he would share the same smug contentment as my firstborn. As it is he is constantly having to upbraid me for my neglect and remind me of my maternal duties.

Is it any wonder that he screams so much when I have the temerity to do housework, look after my other children and perhaps even do a stroke of work, when of course I should devote myself wholeheartedly to his care?

But where twin two may calm and soothe my nerves, jangled by his brothers incessant cries for attention, twin one adds glitter to my life like the sparkling fizz of champagne bubbles with his energy and joie de vivre.

If only he could work out that his delightful charm would wend a much faster path to my heart than his screaming complaints. One smile and I melt, a giggle and I am a puddle of love for him. So in answer to my husband's question. 'Yes, I love him, more than life itself, just like all of his brothers'.

Best of British

Just a quickie today to say a big thank you to Brits in Bosnia for including my humble blog in her carnival of British mummy bloggers. Pop over to her blog to have a read of the fantastic writers (and me!) she has collected together today.

Monday, 6 July 2009

There's no comparison

I love all four of my boys to distraction (although you wouldn't always be able to tell from the way I scream and shout at them sometimes), but I can't help but compare them to one another. I know I shouldn't, but it's particularly bad with the twins who naturally go through each phase at the same time.

You see each boy has his own distinctive character traits, some of which can melt me as fast as an icicle in the desert and some of which drive me to a whole other kind of distraction.

Take son number one. He is a sensitive and caring soul. His love for me knows no bounds, he will write me notes, take my side in every altercation (unless it's against him), he is clever, handsome, but frustratingly, entirely unable to entertain himself, unless plugged into Ben 10 or his computer.

I blame myself for his gnat length attention span. When he was a baby, my precious, only firstborn boy, I would pore over baby development books trying to find ways to amuse him while ensuring he grew up to be a child prodigy. I would dangle ribbons in front of his unfocused baby eyes, read him books, dance around the room with him, play him classical music and generally never leave him alone for a second. The end result is predictably a boy who wants constant attention.

I wasn't about to make the same mistake with son number two. Oh no, I'd learned my lesson and I firmly ignored him as a baby, parking him in a swing and getting on with the demanding business of keeping his brother amused. The end result is a sunny little boy who will happily create game after game all on his own. However I hadn't quite perfected my mothering skills as he is just as capable of amusing himself by wreaking havoc and destruction. Drawing on the walls, painting on his clothes, wrecking his room, his brother's room, the baby's room and in fact any room into which he sets foot.

He is also much less bothered about keeping mummy happy than his older brother. When number one was young he would bawl his eyes out at the slightest raised voice, number two would just try to shout louder, perhaps to get himself heard against his attention consuming sibling. In fact the one way my darling second boy always made sure he wasn't entirely ignored was by raising merry hell over the few things he did care deeply about - food, cuddles and disputing the ownership of all his brother's favourite toys.

The twins have yet to make their mark on the family as a whole, confined as they are to bouncy chairs for most of their waking hours. But between themselves there are distinct differences. In fact I have given them petnames to reflect their personalities - Stroppy and Floppy.

Stroppy twin one is the shoutiest, most hysterical baby I have had the 'pleasure' of knowing. If he's hungry he screams. Tired? He caterwauls. Bored? He yells. Want's a cuddle? He shrieks. He is constantly struggling to force his physical abilities to catch up with his ever active little mind. He's like a meerkat, always craning to see what's around the next corner and holding him is like trying to contain a squirming puppy.

Floppy twin two is the opposite. If he cries it's like the desolate roar of a baby lion separated from his pride. Unlike his twin, whose cry is as grating as nails on a blackboard, his is so pathetic you ache to hold him and comfort him. He has the gaze of a sage contemplating the mysteries of the universe, and his mind is far to occupied with philosophising to bother with the physical. He is happy to sink into a cuddle and the arms of Morpheus so holding him is like a tiny dose of sedative in the midst of a chaotic day.

Whether these traits will continue for the rest of their lives remains to be seen. But a psychologist friend of mine told me about a study into birth order that certainly rings true for my numbers one and two. Apparently firstborn babies are more likely to succeed academically - I knew all that ribbon waving and classical music would pay off in the end - while second children are more likely to be happy and get more girls. So when number two is a surf bum with a gorgeous chick on his arm, I hope he will write me a postcard to thank his mummy for her early neglect.

Sunday, 5 July 2009

It's party time

In the past couple of weeks we have been invited to three parties to celebrate the 5th birthdays of Jacob's classmates. I was lucky, his birthday is in October, so the bar was set pretty low as there were no other celebrations to compare ours to. This year I doubt I will be so lucky, as kids are getting ever harder to please.

Take today's extravaganza, the super mum in charge had organised a carnival of imaginative games, a treasure hunt across the fields, complete with antiqued map, real digging for the bounty at the end, bats and cobwebs hanging from the trees along the way and a 'ghost' clad in a sheet studded with sweets, to chase. Not to mention a hand-baked cake, in the shape of a stately pirate galleon, complete with sparklers in the cannons and plaited licorice ropes, sailing on a blue iced ocean to a treasure island, which when cut into by the birthday boy spilled out golden chocolate coins. No pressure then on any mum who dares to follow that jamboree.

Another mum whispered to me that she was glad her party had been the day before, as there's no way she'd have been able to compete. I was glad mine had been months ago, so my poor showing was long forgotten. All I did was hire a hall, entertainer and whip up some sandwiches, which back in my day constituted a pretty good party.

Not to mention the change in the party games - today every child got a sweet each time they participated in a game. The frazzled alpha mum ran around making sure no one got left out - not even the uninvited siblings (blush). I have enough birthday parties under my belt to remember the days when only the winner got a prize, and every layer of pass the parcel wasn't studded with a goodie, forcing the need for precision timing of the music, so no one is left out, or treated twice.

But no matter how hard we all try to titillate our tiny ones, they are a jaded bunch. When it was discovered that today's treasure was simply more gold chocolate coins some of the older children scoffed scornfully that it wasn't 'real' treasure. What were they expecting? The Koh-I-Noor diamond?

This year I am tempted to fall back on the excuse that with four kids I can afford neither the time nor the money to create a super party like today's. Instead I am thinking of investing in a fabulous new product I saw being pushed on kids' TV today. The Wii It's my Birthday game. Interactive party games with no mess, no prizes and no effort. That way everyone really is a winner - especially mummy.

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Things you can't do with twins

Managing simple tasks with one baby can be challenging, with two many everyday activities suddenly turn into impossible feats of endurance that only the most foolhardy would attempt. Here's my, off the top of my head, list of a few things you should under no circumstances undertake with twins in tow.

1. Take the bus. Today the twins and I went for a stroll along the green walk behind our house. It's a lovely shady place to hide from the heat, and we spent a blissful half an hour playing under the arching shade of a magnificent chestnut tree. But all this having fun meant that I lost track of time and the twins switched instantly from peaceful to passionate complaints about the lack of tea. Now there is a bus that can whizz you home from the park to our house, but this option is barred to my baby twins as you have to fold down your buggy to board the bus. Short of growing another pair of arms there was no way I could carry two babies and a folded double buggy onto the bus. So instead I 'enjoyed' a hot, sweaty route march home, serenaded all the way by the stereo screams of my starving babies.

2. Share a bubble bath. One of my little pleasures with my two singleton babies was wallowing in their bath with them. Feeling their slick soft baby bodies close against mine again, dribbling water over their downy (or down right bald in my firstborn's case) and watching them blink in surprise as this brand new sensation. Blowing bubbles and splashing water way over the sides of the bath. They loved it, I loved it and my husband was in hysterics when he came home from work to find two or three in the bath. But with two babies the mix of water and wriggling infants is downright lethal. Again I have tried to come up with a solution. I could bath with one, but the inevitable screams from the other would somewhat destroy the atmosphere, not to mention all the unsightly naked running around that would be required to towel dry one, undress the other and return to the bath. Not quite the fun, relaxing experience I so fondly remember with numbers one and two.

3. Use a baby sling. OK they do sell twin slings, but at over £100 a pop and only lasting till they are three months old this investment seemed a little profligate, and now that my two monster babies weigh more than 14kg (30lbs) combined there is no way my back could take two in a sling. But again I am sad to miss the freedom of strapping a baby to my front and having a whole two hands free to link up with my other sons as we cross the road or roam the shops. Instead I am resigned to being forever at the helm of a stately double buggy.

3. Support your local shops. The only way me and my double buggy can support the local shops is by helping to prop up their doorways when it becomes immovably wedged between the jambs. Unless we want to cause lasting structural damage us twin parents are relegated to the evils of supermarkets, shopping centres and out-of-town retail parks.

4. Feeding outside the house. With one baby whether you choose breast or bottle, once you are over that awkward initial period while you both get to grips with feeding, it's pretty easy to feed while out and about. With two it's a whole different ball (boob or bottle) game. I didn't breast feed, after failing abysmally with one baby, I wasn't about to attempt it with two, but I am not sure how twin mummies can breast feed two at a time, without either giving the entire populace an eyefull, or shrouding themselves in a breastfeeding burkha. That said bottle feeding isn't any easier. You have two choices, feed one, while the other shouts loudly to all and sundry about his awful, neglectful mother, or feed both and lose the use of both hands for the length of the feed. The latter is just about doable on your own, but very ill advised if you are in company of one or more other little boys, who take their mother's temporary disability as an opportunity to wreak havoc unchecked.

5. Get anything done. It is a rule that with twins the moment you start anything that isn't entirely focused on servicing their needs, they will do everything in their power to stop you. Take this blog post for example, it has taken me five attempts to get it up online, and even now as I type twin one is yelling for attention as I have been distracted by my own concerns for far too long for his liking, proving my point perfectly.....