Monday, 6 December 2010

I don't like dieting

Funny isn't it how everyone says that diets don't work, it's just a question of eating less. Errm...isn't that the same thing? My tummy certainly seems to think so a week into my new healthy eating regime. Some might say that deciding to lose weight in the run up to Christmas is somewhat foolhardy, if not downright bloody stupid. Guess what? They'd be right.

If it isn't enough of a nightmare simply trying to tame my rampant appetite for all things edible, trying to do it as everyone from the TV to Starbucks is trying to ram mince pies, turkey sandwiches and creamy hot chocolate down my throat is a living hell. I am trying to tell myself that it's all a question of retraining myself to prefer a nice healthy bowl of lentils to a steaming bag of chips, but my brain, being an iota or two above subnormal, just ain't buying it.

Still it has to be done as I am sick of choosing from the tent rails in clothes shops and looking like someone stopped in the middle of inflating me into a bouncy castle. Not to mention my raised chance of developing diabetes thanks to a body that seems to be not only incapable of telling my stomach that yes, it has had enough, but also to regulate sugar in my blood. Cheers for that.

This morning I had my first induction to the gym. It has been years since I darkened the door of such an establishment, but with temperatures dipping below freezing and my general tendency towards sloth it seems like the only answer. I was put through my (slow and painful) paces by a personal trainer, who had me drowning in sweat and blowing like a buffalo after about 15 minutes of gentle walking on a treadmill, all of which reminded me quite why I hate gyms.

All I can do is visualise how unbelievably gorgeous I will look once I reach my desired size, and forget that for all the weight I lose I am still pushing 40 with all the associated wrinkles and crinkles that rather ruin my soft focus fantasy of myself. Wish me luck, I have a feeling I am going to need it.

Friday, 26 November 2010

An inspiration?

Today someone called me inspirational.  A lovely compliment, but I think perhaps she mistook desperation for inspiration. You see me and Sarah Beeny seem to be the only mums of four small boys who are actually foolish, or in my case impoverished, enough to actually try combining bringing them up with having a career. 

I think most mums with a brood of tiny children simply give in to the demands of their family and give up on any attempt at gainful employment, and I applaud that sensible and inspired decision. I am not sure I could cope with being a mum of four without working. Apart from the obvious financial incentives, there is the fact that work is effectively a day off. 

A typical day with the children is like skating round an ice rink while trying to catch melted chocolate in a colander. A messy, tiring and fruitless pursuit during which you are prone to many a slip up. Don't get me wrong I adore my days with the children, but a rest cure they are not. 

Sitting in front of a computer tapping away, or nattering away on the phone doing what passes for an interview, well that's more like it. I can tune out the screams and rows of my bucketful of hyperactive eels (otherwise known as my sons), while I concentrate on keeping abreast of what's up on Facebook

People may say to me they don't know how I do it, but I mostly do it, by not doing too much of it at all. Looking after the boys single handed is a sweet treat for a couple of days a week. Looking after them full time would be hard labour and I am not sure how much any of us would enjoy it. 

My nanny, both because she is more sweet natured than me, and is paid to be, is far more tolerant to the boys foibles and intensely slow way of doing even the simplest of chores than I am. While I am reduced to a foaming at the mouth, screaming harpy within an hour of the older boys' return from school, she glides serenely through those prickly after school hours, safe in the knowledge that she can leave at bedtime. 

While the boys forever say they would love mummy to look after them, I think the reality might be a bit of a disappointment. Spending too much time with the boys aggravates my allergy to shrill cries of 'Mummy, mummy, mummy' and stretches my multitasking powers to breaking point. 

While I can juggle deadlines, meetings and interview slots like a circus performer, I find my brain begins to fizz as I try to cope with a dirty nappies, inconsolable tears, requests for drinks/snacks/help with homework and an full scale little boy fight - all of which inevitably kick off simultaneously. 

It seems to be a rule of thumb that everything always happens at once in family life. For example the boys could sit for a good few moments in rapt silence as they watch a DVD, but the instant that a nappy is filled or a glass of juice is spilled, suddenly all hell breaks loose and a previously serene scene instantly descends into a chaos of demands. 

It's a bit like the rule that says the moment tea is on the table, one of my children will disappear for an epic poo, and won't reappear until everything on his plate is cold and inedible. Or the rule that says that when one twin topples over and is in tears, will be the moment that the second one reveals that the contents of his nappy is now seeping into his socks. 

So far from being an inspiration by combining work with family life, I think I could be considered a bit of a skiver and shirker. It's those mums who are at the coal face 24/7 who deserve kudos. They are the ones who combine management skills that would put any CEO of a FTSE 100 company to shame, with the patience of a saint. Instead I simply hide away in my office, putting my fingers in my ears and singing 'La, la, la' to blank out the bubbling torrent of family life that rages through the house below me. 

Monday, 15 November 2010

Arts, crafts and little boys

This weekend I spent a lovely afternoon at Masterchef Live at London's Olympia. As my husband pointed out I am a real housewife at heart and I like nothing more than to while away my time nibbling on samples of fudge and cheddar cheese, which is good as pretty much every other stand in the place was touting the 'creamiest' local fudge or cheese.

My absolute favourite stand of all was Mad Cow Fudge (from 'Uddersfield, geddit?), not only do they genuinely sell the best ever treacle toffee the lovely lady who served us was the most hilariously bitchy girl I have ever met.

Clearly this Northern lass was unimpressed by the London crowd, particularly the woman who demanded a sample, only to screw up her face in disgust declaring 'I don't like fudge'. 'So why did you ask for a sample?' asks our stalwart server. 'I just wanted to check that I still didn't like it'. I ask you. I am sure they went away convinced that it was grim down south.

We also tried our  hand, courtesy of the lovely PR for Plenty kitchen towels at making Christmas chocolate. Much cackling ensued as jokes about getting coated in chocolate were cracked via text to our absent husbands, one of whom was convinced that we had strayed into the Erotica expo. Sadly that is next weekend and the only sausages we tasted were of the ourdoor-reared pure pork variety.

It was great fun as we got to play finger printing with melted chocolate, although my attempts at this delicate art looked as if I had let my toddler twins have a go. Which brings me neatly onto the preposterous suggestion that our teacher made that we try this at home with our children. My friend, who has a nice, well behaved six-year-old girl was very taken with this idea. But with my four unruly boys I was horrified.

If I were to let loose my pack of little boys on a pot of molten chocolate, I would not end up with some pretty decorations for the tree, instead my whole house would be redecorated in sticky brown - not a colour I would choose from the Dulux chart.

The thing is, try as I did when my first was tiny, boys and arts and crafts mix like lemon juice and milk. In otherwords a revolting mess is the only way things ever end. My mother once let my son have a go doing some glitter cards for Christmas - and we were still picking shimmering flakes out of the carpet when we moved out three years later.

Mess is not the only problem. It takes time to set up a craft activity, laying out protective newspaper, finding scissors that are sharp enough to cut, glue that hasn't dessicated with disuse and play dough pots that still have their lids. This wouldn't be a problem if my boys actually played with all the paints and pens for more than a nanosecond, before losing interest and drifting off towards the nearest gadget with a screen.

I think perhaps I found the answer at Fine Burger Company in the O2 Centre yesterday though. It has touch screen computers set up at the tables where you can do finger painting and stamping onscreen. Needless to say the boys were transfixed and I had the most peaceful meal out with children that I have had since the first one was born.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Hello dolly

I thought that having boys would release me from clutches of dolls. I never could stand them as a child. All my Sindy dolls would instantly have their hair coloured with felt tips, cut off into strange asymmetric styles and their limbs gruesomely dismembered from their bodies. I was not a girly girl when it came to playing with dollies.

Son number one has always been in touch with his feminine side, but he expressed this in a desire to dress up in his best girlfriend's fairy dresses. I could never take him on a play date with her without him coming downstairs strutting his stuff in glittery tulle and a sparkling tiara. Even now he is seven he still lovingly steals glances at the sequin encrusted dresses on display on the girly side of clothes shops. Poor lamb, still there is plenty of time for him to moonlight at Madame JoJo's when he is older.

Son number two and four are man's men. They love nothing more than kicking a ball around or trundling trucks across the floor boards. They would sooner don a builder's hat than a princess dress and have no interest in dolls, prams or nurturing anything, apart from the notion that they should be allowed unfettered access to the snack cupboard. In otherwords they are boys through and through.

Son number three though is a caring little soul. If anyone in the house cries or looks upset he is at their side in a flash. He blows smacking kisses at them and tries to fling his tiny arms around them. If his twin is upset he will stand with a look of the utmost concern in his deep brown eyes, gently stroking his brother's back. It entirely passes him by that the reason his twin is crying is usually because he has been told off for staging yet another attempted raid on his brother's food, toys or personal space.

His sweet nature appears to carry across to inanimate objects too though as after a visit to that self same best girlfriend of number one he discovered a dolly. He grabbed it's squishy body to his little chest, the scarily lifelike eyes swivelling up under coy eyelashes, and he carried it around with him for the rest of the afternoon.

When he ate he tried to share his food with the dolly, upturning his cup into its face. Later on he gave a tiny doll-sized bottle and cuddled it to help bring up its burps. Or at least I think that is what he was doing. He was the model father to that dolly, it was just a shame to leave it behind.

When I told his nanny all about his antics she cried in recognition that all he does when he is at playgroup is pick up the dollies and wheel them around in a buggy. Being a twin his favourite is a double buggy and apparently he cannot be prised from it during the group.

Now I am sorely tempted to buy him his very own dolly to play with. I just don't know if I can cope with its beady little eyes following me around the room and there will be hell to pay from his big brother as I still haven't bought him that dress I promised him years ago.......

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Hello strangers

To quote the inimitable Harry from The Only Way is Essex 'OH MY GOD'. So much has happened in the last few weeks which is why there has been radio silence chez FDMTG. And then I go and kick off my first post in ages with the shameful confession of my new guilty pleasure - the so dreadful it's addictive The Only Way is Essex.

I just love it, they are all so touchingly cardboard and shallow, with their Tango spray tans, oh-so-unnatural hair extensions and deliciously chavvy accents. The real reason I adore it so much is because at heart I will always be an Essex girl myself. Had I not been plucked out of this most maligned of counties at the tender age of 12 I have no doubt that I would have misspent my youth flaunting my cleavage and suggestively licking my lip gloss at The Sugar Hut in an unveiled attempt to shag blokes like Mark. Oh the shame.

My infinitely classier and more high brow husband is still shocked at just how authentic an Essix accent I can come out with. When I put it on his middle class sensibilities have him cringing in disgust as he begs me to revert to my everyday, classless tones. So I am loving the antics of the Essex crew and marvelling at their attention to detail when it comes to dolling themselves up.

It's no wonder we never really see any of them doing any work, as they must spend all the hours they aren't propping up the bars in the nightspots of Brentwood, getting their nails/hair/make up done, being spray tanned, sticking on vajazzles, working out at the gym and researching where to get the best boob job. And that's just the boys. 

I guess I am living proof that you can take the girl out of Essex, but you can't take Essex out of the girl.

Aside from my latest addiction the other things that have been keeping me from blogging are, in no particular order, a family crisis of too much tedium and painfulness to share, multiple birthday parties - thank God they are all over now and the momentous occasion which saw the final boy take to his feet (warning super cute video alert, though due to all the maternal shrieking it's best viewed with the sound off). Oh and throw in much work related stress and perhaps it is no wonder that the poor old blog has been pushed to the back of the queue.

But now I am back and raring to report on the mischief made by my all-walking family. I finally feel as if I have four sons, as opposed a mixed bag of sons and babies, however I do think that collective noun for my sons should be a 'chaos', as their capacity to wreak it has increased ten-fold with their developing perambulation skills.

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

It's party time

October is a busy month chez FDMTG as boy one and two both have their birthdays this month, so I find myself in the annual round of chasing up RSVPs to find out if 1, 10, 20 or 30 of their friends plans to attend, tracking down elusive themed party decorations, expelling expletives over the cost of balloons - how can a puff of helium in a plastic bag cost so much - and generally tearing my hair out.

I am not sure quite how children's parties go so out of control. Back in my day parties were held at home, there was pass the parcel with just the one prize, pin the tail on the donkey, jelly and ice cream and a slice of cake wrapped in a napkin to take away.

Nowadays you have to hire a hall and a professional entertainer months in advance, order decorations, usually themed to go with some long defunct show or film that the boys are currently obsessed with, at great expense online and amass a party bag that would have constituted a proper present back in the 70s.

And I consider my parties to be relatively restrained by modern standards. I don't hire in face painters or a bouncy castle and my party bags are a modest collection of cheap toys and a slice of cake. My boys have left parties in the past clutching hardback books as going away presents that probably cost more than the gift they had given to the birthday child.

The problem is that I LOVED birthday parties when I was young, which is why I love throwing them now. I still remember the excitement of going to my friend Sara's parties. I loved her house with its pastel carpets and neat decor, I loved the excitement of ripping the newspaper layers off pass the parcel, the enormous anticipation to see who would be the lucky one to win the prize. The thrill if it was you who got to unwrap that small package of sweets.

I adored the wonky iced home made fairy cakes showered with silver balls and multicoloured hundreds and thousands, none of your fancy swirly iced cup cakes back in the day. The ham sandwiches on white bread, the Hula Hoops and Monster Munch, the joy of mixing jewel bright jelly into milky ice cream and sucking up the messy results through a straw.

I want to give my children those treasured memories of special days with their friends, though I am not sure that they have the same degree of appreciation as they are just so pampered. What was a huge treat to me, is just an everyday weekend to them. They got to parties all the time and each one is more extravagant than the last, so it is hard to tantalise their jaded palates.

I know this is my fault as a parent. I know I should get tough and make my children appreciate how lucky they are so they can experience the same excitement I felt over birthday parties. Trouble is I find it so hard to spoil their fun by rolling out my own version of the Monty Python Four Yorkshiremen sketch. So fingers crossed I will have pulled out enough stops to pique their interest this year, now I must go and track down a Dr Who birthday cake.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Bye bye baby

My oldest boy is in Year 2, my middle son is in Reception and my twins are almost two. I think I can safely say that the baby stage is behind me now. While we still have dual potty training to negotiate and twin two is stubbornly refusing to walk, we are on the home run now.

In one way that makes me feel relieved and hopeful that I might one day stop feeling so exhausted all the time, but in another it makes me feel a huge sense of loss that my baby days are over for good. I relish my sons' growing independence, but in the past by the time my youngest child was starting to walk, talk and feed himself I was plotting my next baby. This time I am entering uncharted territory as I know there won't be the patter of little feet on the way ever again.

I have wanted babies since I was in my mid-twenties. I had a few bumps along the way what with a first husband who wanted nothing to do with children, or indeed me as it turned out, but I eventually had my first boy when I was 32, then the next at 34 and the final two at 37. So for the last decade and a half my thoughts have been taken up with the acquisition of babies.

I spent most of my 20s longing for babies and all of my 30s pregnant or dealing with babies, so what does the next chapter of life hold? I am a little scared to look as my mind is still firmly rooted in the breeding phase.

I still can't pass Mothercare without cooing over the tiny newborn clothes. I can't quite get my head round the fact that I will never have to stock up on those bright yellow packs of Pampers New Born nappies, though I feel less sentimental about those brick sized maternity towels that sat so uncomfortably in my post baby pants.

I am sure there are other mothers who feel a sense of release that they will never again have to waddle about swollen with child, that they will never have to battle with feeding a newborn, or endure the endless sleepless nights that accompany the arrival of a new baby. These are the mums who ruthlessly throw out baby clothes the moment their child has grown out of them, toss out the buggy the instant their toddler is up on his feet, and joyfully button up their pre-baby jeans as they turn their trim, toned backs on the messy business of child rearing.

I am not one of those mothers. I am still hanging onto my huge post preggy belly, along with a whole lot more baggage that came along with my babies. I know I won't have another child, I don't even want one, but what I do want is a blueprint as to what happens next? As my children grow up and I am forced to wave goodbye to all things baby? Will the nostalgia fade, or must I simply hold on till I can grab my grandchildren out of their mother's arms to drink in that sweet scent of newborn baby?

Monday, 4 October 2010

Our just desserts

They say that we get the children we deserve. Is that so? Well what I want to know is what did I do to deserve the hoard of mess making monkeys who have descended into my calm and orderly life over the last seven years?

I grew up in a house where tidying was scorned as somehow demeaning, with the end result that our house was usually extremely messy, if not to say dirty. There was the year when we had no sink, so the washing up mouldered in the bath waiting for someone to lower themselves to actually, you know, do it.

There was the ecosystem that lurked at the back of the kitchen cupboards, which once spawned a whole generation of baby mice. There was the teetering alpine landscape of papers and documents that was forever on the brink of a devastating avalanche.

There was the  DIY that just never got done; from the complex - wires dangling from the ceiling with light switches attached - to the aestetic - wallpaper that hung from the walls in desolate strips, revealing patches of the last owner's taste in interior decor. I think you get the picture. My parents were not house proud.

I however was a changeling, a cuckoo in this supremely untidy nest. I would close the door on the house of horrors and retreat to the neat as a pin sanctuary of my bedroom. I must have been the only teenager who voluntarily did my own hoovering, dusting and washing, all in an attempt to create a little oasis of tidiness amidst this desert of detritus.

I haven't changed. I still tidy up everything I used to make my lunch with before I take a bite, I still find myself getting a little bit twitchy when a pile of magazines is askew or the sofa cushions aren't lined up correctly. I will admit to drafting in help to keep these OCD tendancies at bay. I have a super tidy nanny and a cleaner twice a week, so while I tap away on the keyboard I know my house isn't gradually disappearing under a morass of mess.

But I am under siege from my own children. Or as they shall hitherto be known, the hoard of mess making monkeys. From the moment we began to amass baby stuff during my first pregnancy the clean lines of my home have become increasingly blurred by the ever growing heap of plastic crap that pursues children wherever they go. From the change mats, mobiles and bottles of babyhood to the Lego bricks that find their way into every nook and cranny and dismembered action figures of today, I am fighting a losing battle.

My children seem to be ruled by some primeaval instinct to spread toys around their territory. No matter how often I scream (or cajole or bribe) at them to put things away, they just don't seem to be physically capable of tidying effectively.

Though be fair the oldest has shown some signs that we may be related. When he was a toddler he would hold out his dirty hands out to me and cry 'Mucky, mucky', until I wiped them clean. His favourite activity was to then take the wipes and wipe all over the floor with them, thus revealing that I am not as good a housewife as I might like, as they always came up black with grime.

When I once took him to messy play at the local arts centre the poor child almost had a nervous breakdown. He looked at the paint streaked over his clothes and went into a tearful overdrive of 'Mucky, mucky', until I took him off to the toilets, stripped and washed him down. The teacher took me aside and said I should probably help him to learn to cope with mess a little better. I huffed in disgust as I pulled him out of the class, wiping furiously at the last remnants of paint stuck in his golden toddler curls. We didn't go back.

When he went to school he invariably came home with stickers for being good at tidy up time, which always made me laugh as despite his neater nature any mention of a similar routine at home was met with wailing protests and a grinding of play dough into the carpet.

But the other three deserve Phds in mess making. They can turn a beautifully tidy room into a sea of plastic toys, leaky cups, discarded raisins, smears of felt tip and ripped books in seconds. And their attempts at tidying up are from the classic male school of helping out. So utterly incompetent that you are compelled to snatch the toys from their dawdling hands and do it yourself.

In fact some attempts to tidy up from son number two are more likely to create mess rather than clear it away. Like when he decides to clean the windows with moisturised baby wipes, leaving smears of oily cream all over them, or when he insists on carrying plates to the dishwasher, slopping their contents onto a freshly mopped floor as he goes.

I dream of the days when I can tidy a room and expect to return to it sometime later and find it in the same pristine state. Now I feel as if my life is one long round of straightening up rooms, for as I am busily tidying up in one, my hoard of mess making monkeys is unleashed next door with predictable consequences.

So do I deserve these mess making monkeys? Perhaps it is payback for my priggish youth, when I am sure my tidiness served as a silent reproach for my parents' slovenliness. Or perhaps it is just because some greater power decided that I needed to be kept busy. Who knows? But justice will be served if their own children inherit their unmatched skills for untidiness and their wives are clever enough to leave the mess for them to tidy up.

Friday, 1 October 2010

Halloween comes early

As my oldest was born on Halloween almost seven years ago now, we like to go to town on what always was an essentially American holiday. He is lucky he was born when he was, back in my day you were lucky if you got to dunk for apples on Halloween. Now every house in our suburb has glowing Jack O'Lanterns grinning spookily from their porches, and glittering black tinsel dangling sparkling spiders draped across the door.

Every year we go trick or treating, another new invention imported from across the Pond, but one that I have grown to love as I will always associate it with my boy's birthday. I will never forget the year when we first took  his little brother. The sight of him wobbling off in his fat pumpkin suit, plastic bag in hand ready to his booty at each door was just adorable. And the grin on his face when he saw how many sweets he had amassed had to be seen to be believed.

As I am pretty sure my children don't read my blog - well certain in the case of three of them as they can't read - I will admit to binning the vast majority of sweets and then denying any knowledge of them when they asked about their whereabouts. Some mums opt for eating the sweets (for the good of their children, you understand). But as I  have spent the equivalent of at least two Caribbean holidays at the dentist replacing teeth already worn out by my own childhood sweetie habit, I feel it is best to rid the house of such temptation.

This year Halloween falls on a Sunday so I imagine the streets around our house will be filled with miniature vampires and ghouls begging for treats. I think it would totally flummox most of them if you asked for a trick. But I wouldn't try it with some of the misfit teenagers who knocked on the door last year - I wasn't even sure if their outfits were in fact fancy dress, or just what they wore to menace people on an everyday basis.

Courtesy of Tesco we will be well prepared for the birthday celebrations this year as they hosted a lovely event in London yesterday for a select few mummy bloggers (none of whose blogs I had ever heard of - blush - but I am sure they are brilliant and much more professional than my own little offering) to show off the new Halloween costumes and give a sneak preview of Monsters vs. Aliens: Mutant Pumpkins from Outer Space.

Both were a hit with the boys, as you can see from the pictures of my little bats (though I am not sure if the oldest looks more like a bat or part of a 70s glam rock tribute band), but the film was a particular success with son number two giving it a standing ovation at the end. We've already watched our DVD again today, and I can see I will be royally sick of it by the time Halloween comes around.

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

The fine art of kvelling

It is becoming clear to me that my children are exceptionally gifted and talented, and while The Daily Mail assures me this is no guarantee of success, I still see every reason to kvell about it. For the uninitiated kvelling is the Jewish parent's (usually the mother) habit of boasting about their offspring no matter how mediocre their achievements may be. As a shiksa I learned this skill from my Jewish mother-in-law, who in fairness has plenty to kvell about in her sons.

You see while the older two are plainly geniuses in the making, the twins are even more advanced (that is if you gloss over the fact that twin two at almost 20 months has still to take his first step). You see as well as talking - incessantly, if incomprehensibly - they are now reading too.

I found twin one standing on tip toes straining to pull a book from the embarrassingly disorganised and overstuffed bookcase. He was hooting 'B, b, b', which plainly meant 'book'. When I handed him the tome he was after he plonked himself down on his be-nappied behind, opened it up and started gabbling away. Obviously he knew exactly what he was reading out loud, and it was my own limited intelligence that meant I couldn't understand every word.

Then twin two joined in on the act. Sitting up in his big brother's bed, book in hand (upside down, but surely that just means it takes even more skill to read it), burbling away and slowly turning the pages. I can't wait to tell the mother-in-law all about how my under-two-year-old was tackling Harry Potter with such aplomb.

But it's not just with the written word that they are showing precocious skill. My nanny recently showed me a picture of them duetting on the piano together. She didn't mention how melodious it had sounded, but they looked impressive perched on the stool, fingers on the keys and gurning for the cameraphone.

What will it be next? Perhaps in one of their stints mixing mud and water in the garden they will stumble upon the cure for cancer, or maybe as they unpack the kitchen cupboards onto the floor they will model some complex molecular structure out of spoons and plastic beakers. They sky is the limit, so yah boo sucks to the Daily Mail, my talented children are the exceptions that prove the rule.

Monday, 27 September 2010

Ask the experts

Thanks to this blog and my contributions to Parentdish, I am sometimes referred to as a 'parenting expert'. I am not sure what this tag means. I have no qualifications in parenting other than having given birth to four boys, and so far kept them relatively free from harm. Perhaps that is enough though, as to me parenting has never been something academic based on ideologies and theories.

When my boys were born I learned first hand the meaning of unconditional love. I didn't think about it, or plan it; it just hit me like a train. I had brought these precious, vulnerable people into the world and it was my job to try to protect them, to be a port of call in whatever storms their lives will bring. To be their cheerleader, their shoulder to cry on, their champion and their biggest fan.

I am under no illusion that children need to be given boundaries and sycophantic love is in no way beneficial, but if my mother love can help them to feel safe in the big, bad world then I believe I have done my job. But that makes it sound like a chore, and I have found it to be more like an instinct. As I would shy away from fire, or avoid a precipitous drop, I love my children. It is built into me like the primeval urge that it is.

I cannot imagine giving birth to a child and simply not feeling that way. Or feeling that way but letting life get in the way of that emotional response. Perhaps I have been lucky that it was so simple and straightforward for me, maybe for others it is a hard fought battle that can never be won. That is so sad for all involved.

I make no claims to deserve the title of expert on anything in life, but I do believe that the one thing that qualifies you as a good parent is if you make sure that love for your child informs every choice you make. I believe we all owe that to our children, as we are the ones who chose to take on that huge responsibility by bringing them into the world. The only payback we can expect is to hope for their happiness and wellbeing.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Silence is golden

I went to visit a friend today who has an adorable three-month-old baby and what struck me most was the silent calm in her house. It took me right back to the peaceful early months with my babies, when they did far more sleeping than screaming. Everyone thinks that the new baby stage is the worst, and the sleepless nights are tough, but the serenity of a calm or sleeping baby is not to be underestimated.

I still recall the sedative effect of baby twin two. I could hold his body in my arms and instantly feel relaxed as he dozed in my arms. The feeling of his milky sweet breathe on my cheek, the supple slump of his tiny body on my shoulder all induced a blissful state of relaxation.

When the older boys were out at school and nursery and the babies were snoozing in their Moses basket the house was a place of infinite calm. An oasis of peace amidst a desert of rushing around doing chores, breaking up fights and generally attempting to run a household.

My house now is never this quiet, unless everyone is out. I can always hear the twins' toy disputes raging down below, or the trundle of the walker being pushed around at top speed, or the clash as all the children's cutlery is unloaded onto the tiled floor for the umpteenth time. Once the boys are home there is the screaming over the XBox, the yelling from the trampoline, the weedling cries of mummy as they attempt to tempt me from my keyboard.

And that's without mentioning the constant stream of people who keep my my domestic life afloat. The lovely nanny clucking and chatting to the boys, the cleaner bustling around the house, my mother just popping round to drop off a book and steal a cuddle from one of the toddling twins. It never ends.

I am thinking that my friend should perhaps sell tickets to us more harassed mothers as I am sure that half an hour in her peaceful house did me far more good than an age spent being pampered at a spa, with the added bonus of a delicious baby cuddle thrown in for free.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Quality time

"I want mummy". This is a cry that is commonly to be heard in my house. The boys behave as if I ration my time with them until the point where they are virtually starved of maternal affection. It's as if I am one of those old fashioned mothers who fills her time with luncheons and games of bridge, only breaking off for a brief goodnight kiss before the children are spirited back to some far off nursery with their starched nanny.

For goodness sake I work from home three days a week. I do every school drop off and often sneak off to do pick ups too. I pop down frequently in the day for a hug or a quick chat. I am not some distant figure who only looms large at breakfast and bedtime, and yet my boys act as if I never there.

I bend over backwards to fit in special trips with the older boys, taking them out for meals, to the theatre, shopping and days out. If push comes to shove I will always sacrifice work to be there for my boys.

I miss the boys all the time I am not with them too though, so perhaps I should have more sympathy for their feelings. Perhaps I should understand that all the hours we spend together count for nothing when held against those hours we spend apart. But it makes me feel so torn. I would love drop everything and be with them all the time, but we have bills to pay.

My husband was trying to explain this to our son when he burst into tears as I revealed I was going out to meetings on two days in a row, but this seemed to have him sobbing even harder. Even my mother said that the boys might prefer me to the money I earn - though I am not sure the mortgage company would.

I just can't win. I often wonder if by bending over backwards to deliver as much quality time as I can I actually makes things worse. The boys might be happier if I didn't keep randomly popping up whenever I have 10 minutes free. But I am too selfish to give up my stolen cuddles and I think that they would miss them too.

I suppose I will just have to carry on doing what every other mum does, muddling through whilst feeling guilty.

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

First day at school

Yesterday was number two son's first day at school. In his inimitable fashion, when the time came for mummy to leave he didn't even look up from playing with the toy dinosaurs as he threw out a nonchalant 'Bye mum'. He simply oozes confidence and has a magnetic attraction for other children that I can't help but envy.

Within seconds of entering any new situation he has picked up a coterie of mates who hang on his every word. At a park he will be playing with children in an instant and a passerby would think they had been friends for years. This summer he did two weeks in at a summer school. Within a couple of days I was already getting invites for playdates.

What a contrast to his own dear mum who was as socially awkward as he is sophisticated. When I look back on my first day of primary school there is no comparison between our experiences. Where he sauntered in and picked up a conversation with his playmates as if they had been friends forever, I remember being paralysed with shyness and unable to even lift my eyes to look at the other children, let alone address a word to them.

You might assume this is because my son had been in nursery with at least a portion of his class, but I lived in a tiny village so there were virtually no strangers in my classroom. It's just that the whole idea of school filled me with dread, whereas he has been counting down the days before he could start 'big' school.

I suppose it helps that his brother is there, and it also helps that school has changed immeasurably since I went. Back in my schooldays the happiness of the children didn't even make it onto the teachers agenda. I remember being stuck behind a desk unable to do the simplest things like have a drink or go to the loo without asking for permission. Being terrified of the whole experience and longing for the moment my mum would pick me up and deliver me from this hell.

By contrast my son was most reluctant to leave once his first half-day was up. He was puzzled as to why he wasn't staying for a whole school day like his brother. On the way home he quizzed me as to when he would be able to go to school 'properly'.

I suspect a lot of the difference is down to personality, but I also think that schools want children to enjoy themselves too. Perhaps sometimes to the detriment of their academic achievement, but I remember being crippled by shyness induced by the bullies at my school, while my teachers turned a blind eye - if indeed they noticed at all.

I was kicked by the boys, had my hair pulled by the girls. I was mercilessly teased because my mum was the only one who took the suggestion that pupils might not want to wear uniform seriously. I would stand in my jumble sale pink jumper amidst a sea of deep green school cardigans and feel a prize idiot.

I didn't fit the mould of a petite and pretty little girl, and boy did I pay for that. School started badly and didn't get much better for several years. So I am very glad that times have changed and my own little boy declared his first day at school as 'fantastic'. Let's hope it's as much of a mark of how his school career will go as my impression on my first day was for me.

Monday, 6 September 2010

Party politics

I am the first to admit that I am no expert on etiquette. While some young ladies may have been learning deportment and how to deploy the silverware, I was more likely to be found in some low dive necking vodka, sucking on Marlboro reds and flirting with boys, but even I know that when you are invited to a party you should let the host know if you intend to turn up or not.

Well I guess there are some exceptions to this rule. Hideously drunken student revels do not require an RSVP as the more bodies necking lethal punch, snogging and vomiting in the garden the better is the best rule of thumb at those bashes. But in most other cases if someone is kind enough to invite you, or your offspring, to a party, then the least you can do is put pen to paper, or fingers to keypad, and reply, either in the positive or the negative.

But oddly, this little lifeskill seems to be one that many, many modern parents have simply skipped. Whenever I whizz out invites to my boys' birthday parties I will get some lovely parents who reply promptly, letting me know if their child can come or not. Then I get a few (who I will admit are more like me), who will let me know within a week or two of receiving the invitation. I think the latter is acceptable, as long as you give enough notice before the party.

But then there are those who simply don't say anything, leaving the hostess in a quandary as to what to do. Should I lay on food and party bags for all the non-replying guests, just in case they turn up on the day? After all I would hate for a child to go without sandwiches to chuck on the floor in favour of snorting up as many sugar-laden treats as they can lay their hands on. And I don't want to be faced with a weeping infant who is the only one not to go home with a party bag stuffed with plastic crap for them to instantly lose down the back of the car seat on their way home.

That said if their parents haven't got the common courtesy to simply let one know if their child is going to turn up or not, perhaps being left out would be a useful life lesson to learn - for the parents at the very least.

I think that perhaps one year I should employ a doorman with a list of those children whose parents haven't bothered to let me know they are coming. He could scan his clipboard and halt all the offenders at the door with a curt "You're name's not down, you're not coming in".

Sadly I suspect that such hard line tactics might lead to a slump in popularity for my poor boys. So it looks like I will just have to grin and bear it, and make sure I have a stash of spare party bags and sandwiches, just like every other year.

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Bathtime blues

Before I became a mum I thought I knew which bits I would enjoy the most and bathtime was definitely one of them,  probably because it was something I remembered fondly from my own childhood.  But I found that when you are the grown up bathing doesn't hold quite the same allure. 

In fact I have discovered that bathtime my least favourite times of the day, and the job that I will most eagerly palm off on anyone else foolish enough to volunteer, or simply be in the vicinity come the washing hour. While I liked nothing more than to while away hours slicking on foamy moustaches, slopping water over the sides of the tub and splashing my poor old mum, I hate being on the receiving end of water play. 

If I am in charge of bathtime it is a strictly time limited activity devoted entirely to cleaning the boys. They are in, washed and out before they can think of demanding bubbles or that I sculpt their soapy hair into outlandish punk styles. If I can fit in tooth brushing in under 10 minutes I am a happy woman. I know this is mean, but I just can't bear to witness the carnage that goes with a successful (from the boy's point of view) bathtime. 

The sodden bathmat, floor swimming in soap suds, their skin prune-wrinkled after hours under water. The towels dunked in the bath, leaving a trail of drips over the landing carpet, the hair still white with soapy bubbles that despite water being flung everywhere still haven't been rinsed out. I am a bath time killjoy. 

This has come as real surprise to me, as when my first son was a baby I loved bath time. When he was first born bathtime was like a religious ritual. I had had the importance of the bedtime routine drummed into me by so many parenting books nothing could disturb our schedule. I would reverentially bathe his little body, using all organic unguents, I would cuddle him up in a special fluffy towel to dry him, then anoint him with baby massage oil, and finally pop him up in his hypoallergenically laundered babygro. Of course he still screamed blue murder the moment we put him in the cot and refused to succumb to sleep, but I still quite enjoyed the whole process. 

But it's just not the same with four boys to cleanse of a night. They are unruly as seals playing in the surf and a million times more messy. Gone are the peaceful days of blowing bubbles and baby massages, now it's like manning a sheep dip. Still at least it adds another useful skill to my every growing CV. `

Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Schoolgirl error

Oops. My boy was almost humiliated by his useless mother who was convinced that he went back to school tomorrow, but was helpfully disabused of this impression by some helpful school mum friends. Trouble is my boys' school loves to play musical chairs with inset days in order to bump up its attendance figures.

Don't get me started on quite why the teachers can't train during the aeons of school holidays they already spend out of the classroom, but if we are to accept the argument that teaching is so arduous that you need at least six weeks off to recover from a term of managing primary school children, which now I come to think of it isn't quite as preposterous as I first thought, the school regularly snatches back inset days from us parents chomping at the bit to return our beloved offspring to the classroom.

Quite what inset days are for I am not sure, perhaps the teachers simply sit around knocking back neat vodka and having a calming smoke in preparation for the new term. Well I know that is what I would need if I were subjected to a class of 30 under-10s day in day out. I am a jibbering wreck after just six weeks in the company of my four small boys.

Whatever it is they get up to, the school has decided to get smart and match up inset days with the days with the days their pupils are most likely to skive off anyway. In our area of North London that means that the we have two inset days booked for the end of next week, that conveniently match up to the Jewish New Year.

However, there is another inset day that is to be held tomorrow, thereby delaying the start of school by a full 24 hours. Not sure what the purpose of this one is, other than to make all of us who paid through the nose for full price holidays gnash our teeth. For if all three inset days had been tacked on to the end of the holiday, the children would have had this (infinitely cheaper) week off school and I could have gone to a tropical island paradise instead of having a wet week in Wales.

Ah well, at least my son was saved from walking up to a closed school gate tomorrow, and at least I am all up to date with uniform, thanks in part to the kind donation of a school uniform pack from the lovely people from Clothing at Tesco. In return for their generosity I have posted a picture of some of my goodies below and I am nominating fellow mummy blogger Adventures of a Lady in Training to receive her very own pack of school clothes.  Enjoy.

Oh I do like to be beside the seaside

Driving rain, howling wind, grains of sand painfully whipping your face, toes dipped in the waves instantly blue with cold and the temperatures shivering in the low teens. The joys of a British seaside holiday.

As my boys huddled in wetsuits, shrouded in towels to keep out the cold. As we crunched on sandwiches gritty with sand, licked ice creams that were only marginally colder than the air temperature and watched as the black clouds above opened up their bellies to pour cold water on all notions of a sunny day beside the seaside, I vowed never to darken the shores of my native land again.

The thing is Britain may be beautiful, with is verdant fields, rocky cliffs, pretty bays and acres of sandy beaches, but it is also bloody cold and wet, particularly during the summer holidays. You might think that in August you would have an outside chance of good weather, but you would, of course, be wrong. We had to put the heating on during our week in a cottage in Wales, and I was more interested in ordering warming hot chocolates than a Flake 99.

This is not a summer holiday, this is an endurance test. My poor children can make the best of anything, and my eldest was happy to swim in the frozen waves, lips turning a scary bluish tinge after a few moments in the water, while the twins loved slinging pebbles into the icy stream that ran down the centre of the beach. But this is definitely not grown up fun.

For me a beach is about lying on a cushioned lounger, powder white sand hot between my toes, the sea azure clear and bath water warm. If I take a dip it is among flashes of bright tropical fishes, not at the risk of severe hypothermia. I want to drink cocktails, not a hot mug of tea, and I want a beach picnic to be charcoal grilled fresh snapper, not greasy fish and chips.

I think that our perception of holidays squews with age. The reason we found ourselves shivering in Wales at all is thanks to my dewy-eyed memories of childhood holidays spent on the very same beaches, walking along clifftops decked in wild flowers, endlessly hunting for marine treasures in the myriad rockpools, diving under the waves as we dared ourselves to swim ever closer to a creepy shipwreck. All these memories are bright with sunshine, but surely this can't actually have been the case? It was Wales after all.

I just hope that when they are older their memories of our Welsh holiday will blot out all the rain clouds and simply recall the one perfect sunny day that lit up our week of freezing rain.

Friday, 13 August 2010

My little wrecking balls

I am upstairs. The boys are downstairs. I can just imagine what will greet me when I descend into the pit of destruction that they will have created in my brief absence. I suspect my sons may possess a special talent for mess making never before witnessed in a civilised(ish) household.

This morning the twins played in our dining room cum playroom for all of half and hour, and by the time they were finished the entire floor was obscured by a mass of discarded toys. They then moved upstairs to continue their work and had soon emptied all the toy storage in their bedroom transforming the carpet into a plastic jungle.

Lunch time didn't stop them in their tracks. As soon as they had eaten their fill they began to dismantle the leftover sandwiches, mushing them into super sticky globs of food and lobbing them across the room, under their chairs and at each other. It was scene of devastation when I scraped them clean for the only period of time that they aren't making a mess - their nap.

Though I say they don't make a mess, but that's not strictly true. Every time I go in to wake them up all the toys from their cots are strewn across the floor with gay abandon, any blankets or socks are stuffed between the cots or down the side of the mattress, and if they have a messy nappy then more often than not its unmentionable contents will be adorning their once clean sheets.

I think it must be genetic though, as their big brothers aren't much better. They are quite brilliant at getting toys out, yet borderline moronic when it comes to putting them away again. They will drag out board games, Playmobile, DVDs, Lego, felt tips and toy cars and spread them in a thin, yet strangely painful when met with a bare foot, layer around the house.

I was amazed when a friend moved to Oz recently and she handed over some old toys to another friend who has just had a new baby, not by her generosity, but by the fact that she still had all the parts. Toys come into our house to be dismembered. I don't think we own a single set or game that retains all its constituent parts.

When my first son was little I used to diligently collect together all the bits and bobs of each toy and keep them all together in labelled boxes. Then one day he emptied all his worldly possessions onto the carpet and mixed them around like some deranged witch stirring her cauldron.

It was carnage. Mr Potato Head lost an eye, several jigsaws ended up missing vital organs in the chaos while I Operation's heart was broken for good. After that I kind of gave up and allowed my boys to surf on a tide of mess, just so long as it was all shoved into boxes and bags under the bed at the end of the day.

Now my eldest son's midsleeper bed is held up by a mountain of broken toys and the remains of dressing up costumes, as well as the sheafs of leaflets he insists on picking up wherever we go. While son number two is often mislaid whilst burrowing under his own bed in search of some long lost play thing.

As if to prove my point I must sign off now as my boys have just yelled up the stairs that twin two has been very naughty and has emptied an entire tissue box all over the living room....

Thursday, 12 August 2010

The conundrum of the school coat

There are times when my life seems to be spiralling out of control. When the deadlines and washing bunch up in mountains of Alpine proportion, when the food for lunch boxes is still in the shop, when the tea is late and the boys appear to be brought up by Cartoon Network. And then there are the times when I can pat myself on the back for my enviable organisational skills.

This is one of those times. I am stickler for purchasing school uniform well in advance, for which read sometime in July before they even break up. Why is this? Because the first year my boy went to school I blithely assumed that I could rock up in late August and buy everything I needed in a single shopping trip. How naive was I?

Other super organised mums had scoured the shelves months before leaving them as bare as a wheat field after a plague of locusts has swooped through. As I disconsolately picked through the few shirts, vests and trousers that hung lank and unwanted on the racks, finding nothing in my boy's size, I vowed that I would never get caught out like this again.

From that term onwards I was on the web scooping up three-for-two deals as soon as they popped up, cackling at how much cash I had saved. I revelled in having my pick of vests, shirts, socks and shoes in my boys' sizes. Small things please nowadays.

This year I have been lucky enough to have been given a helping hand in my quest to win the most organised mum prize by the lovely people at You see while the basics of school uniform are easy enough to come by, assuming you adopt my early bird tactics, the school coat is another matter entirely.

It has to be light enough to cover the early autumn, but warm enough to keep my boy toasty when the cold winter weather hits, it also has to meet the exacting standards of my eldest who could give Gok Wan a run for his money when it comes to being fussy about his clothes. To this end Very has kindly sent me a black fleece lined Animal jacket and very handsome he looks in it.

But my mini fashionista is more than capable of looking a gift horse in the mouth and turning his nose up at it, to make a cocktail of my metaphors, so it was with nervous trepidation that I tried it on his majesty. However, he declared the lining soft (high praise indeed from Mr Fussy) and said that collar wasn't scratchy (a big problem with little boy's coats apparently). He then proceeded to tear off around the house in it, taunting his little brother over his lack of a new jacket. I guess that means it passed the test.

So a very big thank you to Very for solving this complex problem for me. Now I just need someone to step up and sort out his shoes and we are good to go back to school.

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Telly addicts

Oh darling television, how I have missed you so. From Cartoon Network for its soporific effect on my older boys, to the calming tones of CBeebies for the twins, how have I lived without my electronic babysitter for two weeks?

I know it is generally thought to be a 'bad thing' to allow your children near a TV set, and if you do dare to stoop so low then you should at least make sure their viewing is virtuous and strictly time limited. But I am sorry, I have no idea how parents coped before the advent of the telly.

I try to monitor how much they watch, and I do ensure that my boys have far more time playing outside or beating one another over the head with random plastic toys in the house, than they do slumped in a hypnotic stupor in front of the screen. But I think I would have lost the plot years ago if I couldn't have bought myself the odd 10 minutes (OK I admit it hour or so) with bribe of some quality screen time.

Whether it's keeping the twins quiet while I snatch a shower after breakfast, or pacifying the older ones when I absolutely must make that work call or hit that looming deadline, TV has saved my sanity, and professional reputation, on more than one occasion.

Of course this virtual entertainment is no substitute for spending time with the children, but I will say one thing for it, it has taught them lots of things I never knew. Son number two has an encyclopedic knowledge of the best deals available from domestic energy suppliers, and often pipes up with some random fact that he has picked up during his hours in front of the box.

His little cousin once impressed his parents no end by correctly identifying a particular constellation of stars. As they sat back congratulating themselves on having sired a genius, he revealed that he had picked up this particular nugget of information from Peppa Pig. So far from rotting his brain it had enhanced his education to a point where he may be regarded as virtually a prodigy.

So I am glad to be back home with this life enhancing tool, not least because its lure has enabled me to write this post in peace. Bliss

Monday, 9 August 2010

Welcome home

So we are back from our two weeks in the sun in the South of France and boy could I do with a holiday. We stayed in a lovely villa with a private pool, the sun shone, the wine flowed, the cheese oozed and the children were relentless. As anyone who reads this blog is aware, I love my boys, but my goodness they are hard work.

At home I have a support system of nanny, grandparents, school and a Early Learning Centre's worth of toys. On holiday I was stripped of all of these luxuries and left at the coal face of parenting for exuberant small boys. I am exhausted, worn out. I need to lie down on a beach for two weeks to recover.

During our 'holiday' we enjoyed such pursuits as fishing twin one out of the pool - which he fell into a grand total of five times over the two weeks - you'd have thought he have learned his cornering skills left something to be desired after the second splash landing, but no in he went again and again, only to be instantly scooped out by one of his ever vigilant parents.

Other fun and games included watching like hawks to ensure none of the boys sneaked down to the pool while we weren't looking, carting a disconsolate twin two around as he was only happy when glued to his mummy, screaming wails of despair at all other times, or refereeing incessant fights between the two older boys, whose favourite holiday game was baiting one another.

Then there was the fun hunt for high chairs. Despite staying in a child friendly resort, most restauranteurs looked at me as if I had asked them to serve up a dirty nappy when I requested two high chairs. The blanket response was a French shrug of the shoulders and a sharp 'Non' when asked for somewhere suitable for toddlers to dine.

The end result was many meals spent with both parents fielding wriggling toddlers on their laps, trying in vain to make a safe zone on the table cloth that was free of knives, glasses or any other sharp objects that could be used for damage and destruction of either property or people. I think the reason the English believe French children are so well behaved in restaurants is because the French are more sensible than to try to take them out to eat until they are old enough to understand reason and work a knife and fork for themselves.

As we drove around the delightful Provencal countryside, I was almost drooling as we whizzed past little vineyards offering desgustation of the local tipple, or shady courtyard eateries hidden away in delightful medieval villages. I longed to stop and hike to see the view at the top of some ancient ramparts or to splash my feet in they crystal waters of a deep green river.

Instead we went to a hot and dusty park filled with animated cartoon characters singing piped French pop, ate hot dogs while under attack from the vicious local wasp population and marvelled at the sugary confections on offer at the Haribo museum.

I concluded that perhaps the south of France is not the dream destination for a family with four small children. Next time round I think we will travel a deux to the delightful looking luxury hotel I spotted in the gorgeous village of Gordes, and the children can stay at home.

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Here comes the sun

Or more accurately here we go off into the sun. It is almost time for us to brave a car filled with four fractious children in our epic quest for two weeks in the sunshine. I have already located and packed earplugs and copious amounts of junk food and DVDs in a vain attempt to keep everyone happy on the road.

Usually peace reigns until about two hours before we arrive, at which point the whinging begins, reaching an ear bleedingly painful pitch at around an hour before we arrive. Thus ensuring that by the time we actually reach our destination I have to be physically restrained from throttling the lot of them, until my husband can find a bottle of wine and funnel it down my throat. At which point the holiday once again seems like a good idea.

Anyway the upshot of this jollity is that FDMTG will be shutting up shop for the next couple of weeks, while I recoup my creative juices in time for copious posting about our fun and games abroad.

But if you miss me while you are away, then you can always get your fix from my new column on Parentdish UK. It's called Slugs, Snails and Puppy Dog Tales, an unmissable weekly missive about my beloved boys. I will admit it is a little out of date as I wrote a few to keep it going while I am away and they are all about twin one's stubborn refusal to walk, which he miraculously overcame on Monday. But hopefully it's a fun read anyway, and there are a lot less mistakes and typos thanks to the wonderful editor at Parentdish, so that's a bonus.

Bonne Vacances to everyone and I shall be composing my virtual postcard on my return.

Monday, 19 July 2010

Look who's walking

Am writing this in a state of high excitement as twin one has just taken his very first steps. So far, despite being a working mum, I have seen the first steps of all three of my boys (the fourth still being stuck at a crawl for the moment). It is just such a monumentally thrilling moment marking the transition from baby to toddler.

As son number two screeched out 'He's a toddler now mummy'. Indeed he is, albeit a wobbly and slightly unconfident one. I am so proud that he has overcome the fear that has so obviously been holding him back as he is just so proud of himself. As he tottered his first few steps from the living room doorway to the sofa where I was sitting I could feel my eyes filling with tears at his huge achievement.

I was squealing away to his nanny to look at my clever boy, while reaching for video camera and phone to tell his dad, but the most important emotion I felt was such immense love for my clever boy. He has teetered on the brink of this next stage for months and months and it is just so wonderful to see him make the breakthrough.

Now I just have to work out how to deal with one tottering walker with one stubborn crawler. Advice on a postcard please.

End of term

It is the last week of term. As I walk along the familiar route to school with my six-year-old's hand in mine, it hits me that this is the last week we will share our one-to-one chats on the school run. For two years he and I have walked the pavements between our house and his classroom sharing our views on matters as diverse as what happens after you die, is there really a God and which is our favourite alien in Ben 10.

This type of quality time is rare in a family as overcrowded as ours and we have both savoured our mother son bonding walks. I would like to say that they need not end when the four-year-old joins us, but he is not one for such erudite discussion. Instead I imagine our walks will be punctuated with much bickering, the odd crying fit and me yelling at him to hurry up as he holds the world record for dawdling.

This makes it sound as if I don't enjoy the company of my middle boy, and this is far from the case. On his own he is a delightful companion, he will chatter away about this, that and the other. His mind is not troubled by such philosophical issues as his big brother, but he is a great conversationalist with a refreshing take on the world. He is also very complimentary, which always goes down well with the ladies, especially his mother.

The problem is when you combine the two boys, it will often result in a rather disorderly and volatile compound. They are masters at winding each other up and competing for parental attention. Not the recipe for a pleasant school run. Perhaps it is time to give daddy a turn at walking the boys to school, while I stay behind and tackle the slightly less challenging task of preventing the twins from battering each other too severely over the latest toy dispute.

Thursday, 15 July 2010

Scary monsters

When I was little I used to love to scare myself silly by watching Dr Who. I would position myself outside the living room door, which was half panelled in glass and peak up through the panes at the onscreen antics of the Daleks and Cybermen.

This was back in the days of Tom Baker, with his maniacal grin and extra long stripey scarf wound around his neck, long before he became the distinctive voice of Little Britain. The days of K-9 and interchangable hot pants wearing female sidekicks.

Half the pleasure was the thrill of being frightened, the grating electronic "We will exterminate" crackling from tinny TV speakers, cardboard Cybermen lumbering awkwardly towards the cowering protagonists, who surely could have escaped them at a light jog. I used to have nightmares about being pursued by these prop cupboard aliens.

On one memorable visit to Madame Tussauds, when I was surely old enough to know better, my mum had to carry me crying out of the Dr Who exhibit as I was sure that wax effigy of The Master had turned around and touched my leg. I haven't had the courage to go back since.

When the all new Dr Who started I was so excited and I loved Christopher Ecclestone's portrayal of the Time Lord, but my husband had no time for the shakey sets and less than slick, ironic British dialogue. He didn't grow up with the Dr and perhaps he was too old to see the appeal. The children, on the other hand, were too young, so I rather let it go by the wayside, missing out on most of David Tennant's stint in the Tardis.

Now, however I have found a new accolyte in son number two. He adores being scared and is tough as old boots when it comes to creepy stuff. He sat through a whole two episodes about the terrifying Weeping Angels without batting an eyelid, while I was jumping all over the place and stealing his cushion to hide behind.

My oldest isn't made of such stern stuff, and too much creepiness on the TV leads gives him terrible nightmares, so Dr Who became my secret treat with number two. We would cosy up on the sofa, pillows to hide behind at the ready, and watch the adventures of Matt Smith and the delectable Amy.

It brought my childhood passion for the time travelling Dr back to life and ignited it in my little one. It made me realise that reliving the pleasures of youth is one of the great things about children. I don't get as much of it as my husband who has happily dusted off his old Lego and Transfomers toys, whilst endlessly watching Back to the Future and Star Wars with them. But now I see the attraction, I just need to persuade him to put some glass panes in the door and then my oldest can join in too.

Monday, 12 July 2010

Stuck in the middle

Last week I sat in an overheated school gym straining to hear as a panel of Reception teachers told us what to expect when our children enter their classrooms next year. As I fanned myself with a sheaf of important pieces of paper relating to the beginning of son number two's education, I will admit to tuning out, after all I've been there, done that with number one so it's all old hat.

I watched the anxious first timers stick up their hands and ask endless questions about what their little darlings will get to eat for lunch, bizarre this obsession with food, no one seemed in the least bit bothered by what their children will be taught. I sat back, smug in the knowledge that my under indulged little son will eat anything put in front of him. Perhaps because I have never given him any choice in the matter, unlike number one who had a choice of freshly prepared feasts at every meal.

Sometimes I feel guilty that my middle boy's life seems to pass by in the slipstream of his older brother. While we worry and fuss over every little detail of the eldest's life, he just bombs about under the radar lighting up our lives with his jolly smile. My middle boy is the kindest, funniest, sweetest thing, but he never gets the credit he deserves as he is always following in the footsteps of his older brother, or helping us clean up after his younger brothers.

The thing is, while many would say that this is bad thing, and I am sure it has its downsides, he is probably my happiest child. He hates fuss and is a laid back, independent little soul. He can play for hours on his own, but knows how to elicit a cuddle if he needs one. He can be naughty and play us up, but mostly he is just a cheeky little monkey at the heart of our family.

Although I have been waiting for months to send him off to school, he is old for his year and quite disturbingly precocious, now that the time is almost nigh I will admit to the odd pang.

He has been at my side for so long, trotting along chattering away, helping entertain the babies, baking cakes, jumping on the trampoline, begging for a few more minutes of TV, warbling away the lyrics of 'There's nothing sweet about me', just bumbling along in his adorable way, that I now feel bereft at the idea of him being taken away for the best part of the day.

I missed my first son terribly when he went off to school and I still sometimes resent the hours stolen away by the National Curriculum, but I thought I would be glad to finally send number two off. I am not. I will miss my baby. I may not always recognise how precious he is, and for that I am sorry, but I do know what joy and fun he brings into my life, and how sad I will be when it is taken away for the whole of the school day.

I will miss him bubbling along in the background and I will miss his friendly little smile lighting up when I pop downstairs. Now school is almost here I don't want my baby to grow up so fast. I am surprised by the lump in my throat as I imagine him all togged out in his new uniform, but still I find the words blur before my eyes at the thought of it.

Monday, 5 July 2010

Talk the talk

The twins may still not be able to walk the walk, but they are sure starting to talk the talk. Perhaps this should come as no surprise in our lazy, yet verbose family. They are clearly learning by example that hot air is the most valuable currency in our house. While they wobble about clinging onto the furniture for dear life, and my mummy friends are increasingly beginning to ask 'Are they still not walking?' they sure can chat.

Twin two has graduated from his 'No, no, no' phase, to add in 'Mum, mum, mum' and 'ai-plane' (aeroplane) to his growing vocabluary. In fact he is almost obsessed with aviation as his brother is with gadgetry, and every time anything flies over head his little finger points upwards as his big, greeny blue eyes track its flight path.

He is still clinging to his old 'No, no, nos' too, although now they are put into context as he jabs a finger at the object of his disapproval. Yesterday when I told his twin off for throwing food on the floor (a thrice daily occurance), he turned around, wagged his finger at his brother and said 'No, no, no' to him.

I was grateful for his support as usually his response to being reprimanded for anything is to giggle manically and carry on regardless. Perhaps if we gang up on him my tellings off will have more effect, though I shan't be holding my breath.

Both twins have perfected the comic 'Uh oh' and chorus it out whenever something is dropped or broken - which is pretty frequently giving their penchant for lobbing anything they can get their hands on at the floor with as much force as they can muster.

Still it is lovely to see these seeds of conversation growing in their tiny minds, I can't wait for the baby babble to flow freely. Although as my husband points out it will not be fun when all four of them can argue with us using real words, rather than a cacophony of squeaks and squeals.

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Two is a magic number

Next week is Twins, Triplets and More week. The idea is to raise awareness about the challenges that can face the parents of twins or more. This is a laudable aim, but I think that perhaps one of the best ways to get parents ready for twins is to bolster them up with some of the good news about having two at once.

I love my twins. They have been the most fantastic, frustrating, tiring and amazing addition to my family. Yet I clearly recall when I had my first son standing in my bedroom, staring over his cot and thanking my lucky stars that I had not had twins. The sheer hard work and anxiety of caring for a single newborn had wiped me out and worn me down to a paper thin sliver of exhaustion. If I were one to wear hats I would have removed my headgear in honour of any mother who could cope with two at a time.

But then, after two singletons, there I lay, stretched out on a bed with my belly gelled up ready for the ultrasound of my third pregnancy. As soon as the scanner hit my distended stomach, two little images came up clear as a bell on the screen. My twins lay one on top of the other, as if on bunk beds, both gently waving their limbs at me, content in their own amniotic sacs.

All I can say is that I was glad I was already lying down, as the shock would surely have felled me. I had no inkling that I had twins on board. I had been sicker than usual, but with two older boys aged three and five to run around after, I had put this down to tiredness and a lack of time to cosset myself.

My husband and I walked around the ultrasound clinic, one twin was lying in an awkward position so we were trying to persuade him to move, whilst our pacing gave us a chance to absorb what we had just been told. Our whole lives would have to shift, our house and car were too small to accommodate two new arrivals, and my husband had only just got his head around having one more baby.

I am ashamed to admit it, but for a moment I did consider not going ahead with the pregnancy. I was overwhelmed by the concept of twins and wasn't sure that I could cope. Those dark thoughts from the early days with my firstborn tortured me, and I wondered if I would snap as I had predicted once presented with two babies.

My husband shut down this avenue instantly, telling me I would never forgive myself and would regret it for the rest of my life. I knew he was right, but I was terrified. I have never considered myself a poster girl for motherhood and here I was embarking on a journey that would see me taking care of four children, two of them newborn babies.

When the twins were firstborn it was hard. I didn't breastfeed, but even with the help of my husband and any other willing family member, looking after two babies is tough. The interminable night feeds and the fact that during the day when one slept, the other inevitably woke up. The days when I would spin between two moses baskets, not knowing which one to comfort, and which to leave crying. Juggling two wriggling babies, both of whom were more put out that comforted by my cack handed efforts to care for them.

But the sight of my two tiny boys curled around each other in their crib like kittens in a basket, noses touching, tiny hands reaching out for one another in their sleep, made the hard work seem more bearable. I felt honoured by the fascinating and rare privilege of being able to see two humans develop and grow in parallel. Or at least I did when I had time to have such deep thoughts, which wasn't often in the early days.

I know that those twin mothers mired in the trenches of double doses of nappies, sleepless nights and the sheer slog of taking care of twins, might sneer at my rose-tinted reminiscence, but those rare, heart melting moments were the only thing that got me through those early days.

Snuggling two babies onto my lap after a successful feed, feeling their tiny bodies relax into mine. Allowing us a pause in our day, to just sit and be together amidst all the chaos of caring for them was what kept me sane. Remembering that these weren't just little machines designed to make work for mummy, but actually my precious boys, was the best way to forget about the mountains of washing and the endless sterilising of bottles - if only for an instant or two.

But for me the true joy of twins kicked in when their personalities started to blossom and I could finally get to know each one of them as a person, rather than a chore.

My boys are non-identical in looks and nature. One is a sleek, dark otter, with poker straight hair, that coats his skull like fine fur. His huge eyes are black brown and bright with intelligence. He climbs on anything that sits still for a moment, yet at 16 months his fear of walking remains intact. His brother is a golden lion cub, with flyaway curls and eyes of ocean green blue. He knows his mind and will not be stopped once he has an idea fixed in it.

Each is beginning to communicate, with me and with each other. They screech at one another over disputed ownership of toys, and they combine jabbing little fists with ear piercing squeals to explain their every need, be it for food, drinks, comfort or supremacy.

While I don't sense a huge dependence on one another, I know that for my twins each is like a familiar piece of the furniture to the other. Sometimes I will catch them glancing at each other, only to dissolve into fits of giggles over some joke only they can share. They fight constantly over toys, but equally play for hours together.

With my single boys I was a full time entertainer until they went to nursery. I was constantly plagued by demands to come up with some new diversion, with the twins they have each other, which is far superior to anything mummy could come up with.

I understand now with the insight of a slightly seasoned twin mummy, that having two at a time is actually a blessing, not a curse. It is hard work, but then nothing worth having comes easily, but it is the most rewarding, endlessly interesting and delightful treat to have the joy of two babies at the same time. For me two is definitely a magic number, and to keep that in mind is probably the best preparation for coping with twins I could offer.

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

A little piece of heaven

Your golden head is bowed into my chest. I can feel the tickle of the fine hairs at the nape of your neck. I breathe in deeply, drinking in the scent of you. There are top notes of baby shampoo, mixed with the sweet fruity fragrance of the yoghurt you had for lunch and undoubtedly rubbed into your hair.

But the base note is a perfume all of your own, clean, fresh and pure. You smell like you are mine, my baby, my love. I would know you anywhere just from a single sniff of the soft skin of your neck.

Your arms shift slightly as you relax into my body, using me as a pillow. You are not asleep, you are awake and enjoying being a part of me as much as I am loving holding you. I know this is a snatched moment. At 16-months peace and stillness are brief phases.

You are more likely to crawl about in your determined way, arms raising up above your body making you look like a little chameleon on the move. You will hold your hand to your mouth making a 'Wah, wah, wah' sound like and Indian Brave. You will giggle your insane little laugh, or you will wiggle your hands above your head mimicking me when I yell 'Ta dah'.

Your charm knows no bounds, but you can be quite wicked. I have seen you smack your twin to get him to hand over a toy you are sure is rightfully yours. I have seen you steal his food, sticking your hand in his bowl and crawling away dragging it across the floor like a lion cub competing for his slice of the kill. I have seen you wallop him when he dares to touch any toy you are playing with or when he tries to crawl upon my lap when you are in residence.

But I cannot help but helplessly love you. I see you for all that you are, I see you look like an angel all golden curls and green blue eyes, pink skin and rosebud lips. I have seen you act like a demon, screaming maw wide and red, tears running down your cheeks simply because you have not got your way. Either way you are my precious baby and each side of you makes me love you all the more.

Monday, 21 June 2010

Date night

It's Friday night and I am fizzing with anticipation. I am going on a date. I have two tickets to see Swan Lake at the Albert Hall. I love a ballet, particularly a proper one complete with sparkly tutus and the promise of lots of en pointe. My date is getting dressed, he has chosen a crisp white shirt over skinny grey jeans. His hair is golden, his eyes a striking clear blue and as we walk out of the door together he slips his hand into mine.

My boy and I are going out on the town. No brothers to bother us, just him and me and a whole evening of delights to look forward too. He sits in the front of the car, a rare treat, and helps me to shout at the sat nav. We agree that she has no idea how to navigate London's clog of evening traffic.

Following a mix of her instructions and my instinct ensures that we are late and our pre-theatre supper morphs into a hurried McDs. What a shame, but the boy assures me this is a good thing as 'Now we have to go out for dinner together to make up for it.' He is already planning our next night out, so he must be having fun.

He has his first taste of a black cab. The first he hates thanks to its overpowering air freshener fragrance. It's like swallowing down a fug of recently sprayed perfume, coating our throats with its cloying scent. The second is driven by a typical London cabby, he chats away to the boy about the ballet we are about to see.

The Albert Hall sits like a pink and cream wedding cake, a carved and elaborate confection paying homage to a queen's great love. It throngs with people dressed up to the nines or down in jeans, dinner jackets rub shoulders with sweatshirts, until ticket stubs direct us to our rightful seats. The smart to the boxes and the up close and personal rows, the jeans and sweaters up to the The Gods, to crane down to catch a glimpse of the action.

We are somewhere in between. The adults seated next to us, eye my boy warily. Will he last the night without spoiling theirs by fidgeting and talking? I want to tell them it will be fine, he is special, he is no ordinary six-year-old boy. But they will look upon me as an overindulgent and deluded mother. I decide to let his behaviour speak for itself.

He is wreathed in excitement. Looking down on the round, inky stage, spotting the orchestra taking their seats. Silent and awed by the arrival of the dancers. That said we agree that the first act is a bit boring - the costumes are brown and dull, the dances lack thrills and we both await the arrival of the swans to add their magic.

We are not disappointed. Dry ice fogs the stage, turning it into a misty lake upon which elegant white swans dance and float. When they bow down to allow the prima ballerina her solo, my sons says they look like clams, their skirts forming irridescent shells.

We are entranced and enthralled. My boy spots a trapdoor from which the monster arises, green tendrils of his costume flying, sending bad will spiralling across the stage. Neither of us really knows the story, but it hardly matters, it's the spectacle the counts.

When the show ends he rushes down the stairs to find the back entrance where the dancers had stepped in from. He dashes behind curtains, pursued by the disapproving glances of the staff who are trying to shut up shop. He finds the box that holds all the lighting controls, peering through a keyhole at the many dials and buttons, but there is no sign of those elusive dancers. They are all wiping off greasepaint and hanging up costumes ready for tomorrow's performance.

We walk back to our car through the damp night. It late, hours after bedtime, but his eyes shine in the streetlights, all thoughts of sleep banished by the thrill of being up so late. I assume he will sleep in the car, but instead he is awake to discuss the bits we loved, the bits we didn't and when can we do it all again.

He says to me. 'Thank you mummmy. You are the best mummy in the whole world'. I say that is only because I have the best son in the world. It is true. It's a perfect date. He behaves immpeccably even though it is almost midnight. He is the perfect companion; handsome, engaged, interesting and appreciative.

If only the effect didn't wear off after midnight and the next morning I find him fighting over the Xbox controller with his brother and I am brought back down to earth with a bump.

Thursday, 17 June 2010

The power of no

The twins are just beginning to take their first tentative steps (only metaphorically you understand, they are still maintaining their religious objection to actually walking) into speech. Twin one is as usual leading the way having mastered the complexities of 'Uh oh' and 'Eddo' (Hello), but twin two has brought his own trademark elan to the process.

He might not be able to say much, but what he does say is said with such charm it hardly matters. Ask him any question from 'Do you want to go down?' 'Do you want a drink?' or even 'Do you love mummy?' and his head will shake emphatically, golden curls swirling around his face, big blue eyes shining with sincerity as he says 'No, no, no'.

I am comforting myself with the fact that this is his default answer to any question, so I am assuming that 'No, no, no', is simply a catch all response, rather than a heartfelt sentiment. In fact I know this to be true as when I offered him some chocolate, the head began to shake and the 'No, no, no' was rolled out as he simultaneously reached out and snatched the slab from my hands.

Reaching back into the recesses of my memory I seem to recall that we went through the 'No' phase with all the boys. Undoubtedly this two-letter word is the easiest to master, but perhaps their early adoption of the phrase is due to the frequency with which we use it on them.

As they crawled determinedly towards the precipitous edge of a bed, or went to shove a drool-soaked rice cake into the DVD player, as they snatched a toy from a passing child, or as they held a bowl spilling over with sloppy cereal threateningly over the side of their highchair, all they would have heard from the parental mouth was a screeched 'NO!'. This could go a long way to explaining their precocious understanding of the negative.

Whatever the origin of this fondness for the word no, I can't help but hope it lasts. I love this transitory phase between babbling and talking, when the squeak, chirrups and gurgles of babyhood begin to take the form and substance that will eventually become conversation. I love that they still sound so adorably cute and that we have so many babyisms to look forward to. We still call the TV the tellygibbon, because that is what the firstborn christened it during this phase, medicine is 'meda' and chocolate 'gockgy' for the same reason.

I also love this phase because it means that they are still months off being able to follow me around the house demanding my attention with an incessant stream of 'Mummy. mummy, mummy', until I snap under this linguistic torture.

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

The patience of a sinner

This morning, firstborn's second morning back at school following the drama of his bad foot, I begged and pleaded with him to let me drive him to school. But thanks to the eco-brainwashing that has been a staple of his education so far he refused. Apparently if you walk to school on a Wednesday you get a shiny badge, but if you are driven in you get a big, fat C, next to your name. Something my straight A anxiety freak couldn't cope with, so off we set.

Halfway there and just at the point where it would be pointless to summon a car for the rest of the journey, he melts down into tears that his foot hurts. Hmm, I ponder, what would a good mother do at this point? Sweep him up into a cuddle and dry his tears? Carry him all the way to school on her bended back? Or shout at him "You stupid boy, I told you we should have taken the car?". If, like me, your answer was the latter, then I'm afraid we are straight to the back of the class.

Trouble is my boy has such bad timing. On most mornings our walks to school are leisurely strolls, where we discuss how big the oriental poppies outside one of neighbours' houses have grown, or ponder what the cloud formations herald in the way of weather for the day ahead. They are our special, alone time, and are even more precious as they are due to be shattered by the incessant chatter of his little brother when he starts reception next term. But this morning I was booked to do an early photoshoot for work and I had to get back in double quick time.

As he wailed and his face grew wet and red with tears, I began to tear my hair out as to how I would square the circle of needing to do a quick as a flash school run, whilst also wanting to look after my little boy. In the end bad mummy was quashed and I carried him all the way to school, his arms twined around my neck and my back creaking with the effort. My body is made for slouching at a keyboard not schlepping six-year-olds.

We got to school, horribly late, and then he refused to join his class on a tour of his new Year 2 classroom, as he claimed to be unable to walk. Strange this for a boy who ran up to school yesterday so he wouldn't miss his chance to sing at the open evening. Worse was to come as the teacher said she couldn't leave him on his own in the classroom, so I would have to stay.

I glanced at my watch and realised that the make up artist was due at my door in less than 10 minutes. What to do? In the end a supply teacher was found to sit with my boy and I dashed off wrapped in a black cloak of guilt (again) in order to wait a good 15 minutes for anyone to show up for the shoot. Typical.

As I ranted to my husband to vent my feelings of inadequacy, he gently pointed out that as my life is lived on a knife edge it's only to be expected that the slightest tilt of its axis would leave me all in a spin. Firstborn's illness twinned with my nanny's holiday has knocked me for six, if only I were able to stop myself from taking this out on the children with such regularity. As ever my parenting report is reading could do better in big, bold letters.