Thursday, 28 January 2010

Pack up your old kit bag

Tomorrow we are going on holiday. Hurrah. We are snatching the boys out of school and making a run for it to the pistes of the French Alps. I know this type of pursuit is frowned upon by the education authorities, but I think my boy can live without a week of spelling and maths at just six.

I am beyond excited about going away with the tribe, mum and dad have been bribed into coming along to play ski nannies, but the one thing that stands between me and true euphoria is the fact that we have to pack before we go. It's not as bad as it once was as we are finally saying goodbye to bottles and the steriliser as the twins are one in just over a week, but thanks to the addition of two babies we still need a double buggy, two travel cots, toys, bedding, nappies, baby-friendly cups, plates, cutlery etc. That's without even thinking about the bulky ski clothes that we have to pack for all six of us, ski boots, skis, toboggans, thermals and so it goes on.

I did say to my husband, who is conveniently working right up until about a second before we leave, that perhaps he would like to take over some of the packing duties. That is until I remembered that whenever he is asked to pack one lunch for the babies he manages to forget a key component like food.

To be fair to him he does do a sterling job packing the more manly aspects of our travel kit. He spent last night getting grubby under the car while he wrestled with snow chains, just to avoid a repeat performance from our last ski break when we managed to break one of the chains around the wheel of the car, much to the amusement of the French mechanic who rescued us. He also packs enough cables to keep a small branch of PC World happy, I'm not sure quite why, but he assures me they are all essential to sustain life while on the move.

Though I suppose I shouldn't complain as part of my problem is that I have never learnt to pack light. I dither over what the weather will be like (in a ski resort!), and end up with at least six outfits that never escape the suitcase. I am better with the boys, perhaps because men's clothes are so simple. Just pack enough jeans, T-shirts, socks and pants, plus a couple of fleeces and you're done.

With me I have to ponder how to cover up and look halfway human whilst in a sub-zero environment best suited to those blonde lithe girls who look great in sportswear. In London I can hide under fashionably flowing tunic tops, but in the Alps the uniform of jeans and fleeces make me look like a poorly wrapped sausage, inelegantly escaping her casing.

Still a week away from the early mornings of the school and work run amidst the beauty of the mountains should be enough to compensate for these fashion dilemmas, even if the diet of cheese and more cheese will do nothing to alleviate them.

A bientot!

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Growing old gracefully

When my mother used to get frustrated dealing with her aging parents, she used to hiss 'If I'm like this when I'm old, you must tell me' in exasperation at their latest old age antics. Of course she never defined at what point she would become old enough to be reminded of this. Her own mother was still pitying 'old people' well into her 80s, spurning wheelchair transport despite a distinct lack of ability on her pins, because these were devices that should be left free for the elderly. I am sure all those centenarians were most grateful for her concern.

The trouble is that there comes a point in any adult child's life where the worrying switches between the generations. Where once your mum and dad were the ones hovering with concern over you, cuddling you when you fell in the playground, coaching you through exam stress, mopping up your tears at your latest broken heart, helping you move out after the divorce and letting you sleep off your newborns' excesses, at some indefinable point the worry swaps from their shoulders to yours.

Of course just as you shrugged off their concerns, convinced that you knew best in the teeth of the evidence, so your parents will do the same to you. My own mum and dad have long run a business that spans two countries, it has always been a source of frustration to me as never knowing quite where your parents are has an unsettling effect on family life. But when they were younger I simply had to swallow my annoyance and accept that this was what they did, and if they were happy then so should I be.

Now though, when they arrive at my house grey with exhaustion after another early start and interminable journey, my father spending most of his time asleep on the sofa as he recovers from the twin effects of Parkinson's and intercontinental travel, it's harder for me to support their life choices. I wish I was a more empathetic person, that I could just step away and let them get on with it, as I am sure is the prescribed way of dealing with your elders and betters, but I'm not.

I want to fix things for them, I have the same urge to wrap them in cotton wool and protect them from the ravages of life that I have towards my babies. The difference is I can attempt to tell my babies what to do, but there is no way I will get away with this with my parents. I can offer my advice (for which read rant and rave in angry frustration) which they promptly ignore with all the insouciance of a teenage me.

I should be happy that my parents have a way of life that they find sustaining and interesting. But, just as a parent should be happy when a child revels in a precarious career, yet secretly longs them to swap it for the stability of a 'proper job', I can't help but wish they could find some kind of lifestyle that was a bit less taxing, and more settled, in their advancing years.

Perhaps it is one of life's little jokes that the parents you caused so much worry and concern whilst growing up, pay you back by dishing the same right back at you in their old age. If so I shall be taking notes during my four-year-old's next tantrum, just so I can replay it to him when I am in my dotage.

Monday, 25 January 2010

Get if off your chest

I have had my morning rant today on British Mummy Bloggers where CraftyCreative has started a conversation about breastfeeding in light of a Norwegian study which debunks the claims that breast is indisputably best for babies.

What a lot of links for a Monday morning.

Now I have a confession to make, and one that I kept for my own blog. Breastfeeding turns my stomach. It always has and it always will. Now I am not saying this means no one should be allowed to do it, this is a personal phobia and has no bearing on how other mums choose to feed their babies.

I remember as a child feeling physically sick when my mother told me she had breastfed me. Just the idea of suckling had my stomach turning in an ominous way. Even as I type the words now I feel a bit queasy. My mum always told me that when I had my own babies I would feel different. My maternal instinct would kick in and suckling my young would come naturally. Perhaps it might have worked better if son number one had been a natural breastfeeder, but he took one look at my poor engorged boob and turned his head away in disgust. Like mother like son it appeared.

I struggled on, brainwashed by the breast is best message. I latched him on to bleeding nipples, I clenched my teeth in agony as he listlessly sucked and dropped off time and again. I refused to let a sip of the poisonous formula pass his precious lips and weight fell off him. He screamed with hunger for most of the time and his skin turned an alarming shade of yellow as his dehydrated body couldn't wash the jaundice out of his system.

What made it worse was that I had had gestational diabetes while pregnant (and me a breastfed baby!) and so he had to be forced to feed frequently from the moment he was born to regulate his blood sugar. One particularly humiliating memory is of an Irish midwife, with very poor personal hygiene, grabbing my sore breasts and literally milking them into my screaming baby's mouth. Frowning and complaining all the time that I was too useless to get my own baby to feed.

This for a woman who was so freakishly afraid of being seen in the nude that I had always covered up, even when stepping from shower to bathmat if anyone were present. The pain and shame will be forever etched into my memories of those horrific post-natal days with my first newborn.

I had thought that as my mother had claimed, breastfeeding would come naturally. That I would pop a beatific baby onto my boob and hey presto he would suckle away, and then loll off in a drunken haze to sleep, satiated on his mother's milk. But far from this heavenly scenario, breastfeeding for me was like the inner circle of hell.

Every time my baby cried I would cringe away from him. I grew to almost hate him with his constant need for feeding. I despised everything about breastfeeding, from the blue veins that marbled my enormous breasts, the constant leakage, the aching pain of let down, the lumpy soreness when we failed to empty my breasts, the sore, cracked, bleeding nipples, the ugly bras stuffed with breastpads that constantly smelled like rancid cheese.

Ugh, just the memory of it makes me so glad I will never have to do it again.

But, and this is a big but, I know it's not the same for everyone. I started off with a disadvantage in the shape of my strange phobia and perhaps if I had begun with son number two who was happy to take food from any medium, things might have gone more smoothly.

I don't judge any woman for breastfeeding - yes it still turns my stomach, but that's my problem - and I can see the lovely, cosy relationship breastfeeding engenders. In fact sometimes I have envied the closeness that breastfeeding mothers have with their babies. My sons have generally been happy to go to anyone, which does make my life easy, but also sometimes made me feel less special to them than those babies who could only be comforted by mummy.

As I have said in a previous post I am a firm believer in each to her own when it comes to mummy tactics. However, I do feel that it's crucial that new mums aren't made to feel guilty, or failures, if they decide that breastfeeding isn't for them or their child. There is so much more to being a mother than how you choose to feed your child, that it seems a shame to feel as if you have let your baby down just because you can't breastfeed for whatever reason.

If we could just respect each other's choices the experience of becoming a mother would be so much less fraught. After all when you are dealing with sleepless nights, the shock of becoming a parent, the fear of keeping your baby safe from harm, the last thing you need shaken on top of that is the sour opprobrium of others mothers as they mutter darkly about your choices.

Sunday, 24 January 2010


And so it begins, the howls of tired twins ring around the house as they scream themselves snotty in dinner-bedraggled highchairs. The boys twirl amidst the debris of tea and a day spent playing indoors, trying to fit all four of their legs into an oversized pair of underpants sent to my as part of some long forgotten PR campaign. "Right, upstairs", screams whatever harassed parent has been delegated to handle the dreaded bedtime.

Upstairs trail the boys, taking no notice of the destruction they leave in their wake. Back downstairs they are sent to tidy up at least a modicum of the mess they have made throughout the day. I once made a threat that I would throw away any toys that were left to moulder at the bottom of the stairs waiting for their owner to drag them back upstairs to their rightful abode. But I soon relented when I realised that in a matter of days almost all their toys, including their precious cuddlies, would end up making the bin man's day.

The babies are carted upstairs, held at arms length to avoid being coated in whatever delicacies they had for tea. They are at that age when more of their food ends up smeared across their faces and down their clothes than ever reaches their mouths.

The bath bubbles warm and inviting, but soon cools as the boys run riot, ostensibly tidying, but more realistically moving mess around in a random pattern. The babies wriggle like eels as we wrestle with the million poppers that hold their clothes in place. Twin one has made attempting suicidal leaps off the change table his speciality. I would change him on the floor but I stand even less chance of holding him place when we are on a level playing field.

Once the babies are finally wrested from their clothes, the boys have dragged their own jeans and T-shirts off into a heap on the bathroom floor, all four are slickly embraced by the chilly bathwater.

It's a joy to behold all four of my boys, shiny wet with bubble beards, splashing and playing together in our tiny bath. The oldest holds twin two, while the four-year-old laughs with delight as he tips water over twin one's head. Giggles and squeals ensue, water slops onto the floor, toys are fought over, bodies are washed (after a fashion). Groans ensue as we insist that it's time to come out of the bath before they are all wrinkled before their time.

Warm bodies are wrapped in fluffy towels, boys rush dripping water from their soggy feet, leaving wet prints on the carpet. Babies sport dribbly white beards of toothpaste as we attempt to brush their meagre clutch of teeth. The boys rush around their rooms, naked as the day they were born, the bath having all the calming effect of a double shot of espresso.

The battle of the poppers recommences in the babies bedroom. The boys finally pull on pyjamas and dump their sodden towels to join their discarded clothes on the bathroom floor. Eventually everyone is ready for bed, hair damp and fragrant with baby shampoo, breath minty and skin silky soft and deliciously scented with the powder fresh perfume of newly bathed boy.

Shall we have a story? Or shall we retreat to the sofa with a bottle of wine? Oh alright, just a short one then. We are transported to worlds of pirates and friendly monsters, aliens and spacecraft, magic and witches, polar bears and talking dogs for the last 10 minutes of the day.

Kisses, cuddles, a marble and a hug (don't ask), demands for water, CDs, lip salve and one more final kiss and cuddle are met. Finally, the babies are chattering quietly in their cots, the four-year-old is loudly humming the tune to Star Wars and the eldest is thudding around his room doing goodness knows what.

Peace at last, and finally time for that bottle of wine.

Sound familiar?

Saturday, 16 January 2010

Melodic memories

My great friend and brilliant blogger, Nappy Valley Girl, has tagged me for a meme about songs and the memories they hold. Her own post on this was beautifully elegant and evocative and left me with a tear or two in my eye as she conjured up such vivid memories of her lost youth. Her eloquence inspired me to actually take up this tag, which I must admit I rarely do as I am a very naughty blogger, so here goes.

Songs are like scents where just the hint of a familiar tune can instantly transport your mind back to a specific time and place. The melody sweeping you away from the here and now back to a smoky disco, a doomed love affair, a sun drenched holiday or romantic interlude.

For me the strains of Anastacia's Not that kind has me back shivering on the button lifts of Val d'Isere as I sobbed my way through an early skiing holiday, not a sport that comes naturally to someone with a phobia of heights. Brian Adams Run to you reminds me of a school girl romance, Careless Whisper takes me back into the arms of spotty teenage boys trying to cop a feel to the last slow dance of the evening. Carly Simon's Coming around again is sodden with tear-drenched memories of my very first broken heart.

But the song I decided to choose is one that is associated only with happiness. Dean Martin's You're nobody till somebody loves you was the song that played as I walked down a rose-petal strewn aisle with new my husband. The scene was Vegas, I had just rushed in my crystal-encrusted, silver high heels down the corridors of a giant casino, my veil whipping behind me to the trill of 'Wheel of fortune' from thousands of slot machines. Gamblers glanced up and gave me a fleeting smile, one of the many brides who tie the knot in Sin City every year.

I arrived at the tiny chapel with moments to spare and glanced up at the monitor where I could see my darling man bopping nervously to Rat Pack tunes. I couldn't wait to get to him, but we were both stiff with nerves as we said the vows we had written for each other. Like most couples we hardly had time to take in what was being said before it was all over and I could take his arm, hear Dean singing and walk out of the chapel as husband and wife.

Now whenever the song comes onto the radio or pops up on an iTunes playlist, even if we are in the middle of a vicious row, we can't help but look into each other's eyes, hold hands and remember that day. The song has the power to cut through any disagreement, to have us up and in each other's arms dancing around the living room on a rainy Tuesday night.

I am sure it's far from the most original choice of a wedding song, but it means the world to me because it sums up how it made me feel to marry my husband, the words encapsulate how we complete one another, how our love for each other makes each day that much better than it would have been had we never met.

Amidst the chaos of family life, when we are forever at the beck and call of small boys and romance is in short supply, it's nice to have a song that can take you back to the days when rose petals were laid before you and you danced beneath a painted Venetian sky, in a sparkly dress and shiny high heels. When you were serenaded by valets as they opened the door to a white stretch limo loaded with champagne and your dearest friends.

So my pick is the song that can brighten any day for me by adding a sparkle of romance to the dullest day.

I hate to tag other people as I don't want to impose on anyone's precious blogging time, but I suppose needs must and this is rather a lovely little meme, so I shall send it on to a couple More than just a mother, who I know that if she has the time she will write something wonderful as she is such a brilliant writer and to Iota, who has probably already been tagged by lots of other people because she is so popular.

Mothers & sons

As a mother of sons I have learnt the meaning of unconditional love, what it is to be willing to die for someone else without a second thought. No doubt it's the same for mums of daughters, but as I have four sons, and that's more than enough children for me, the emotions felt for a girl child remain a closed book to me. My boys have plucked at my heartstrings in a way I never knew was possible, they can melt me faster than a snowman in a heatwave and woe betide anyone who would dare to hurt a hair on their perfect heads.

Of course all of this unbridled emotion is setting me up to become the mother-in-law from hell. Every wife knows how deeply frustrating it is when your other half's mum can't see a single thing wrong with him, and whenever a dispute arises you are immediately cast in the role of villain. No mother can ever lay an iota of blame at the feet of her idolised boy and, by God, that's annoying from a wife or girlfriend's point of view.

Even if your husband is a oaf beyond belief, whose idea of helping with the housework is lifting his feet while you hoover under them, his mother will still think you get him to do too much around the house. My own mother-in-law used to badger me about letting my husband have more free time for himself at the weekend, to which I wanted to howl 'He's gets to commute all alone in a quiet car twice a day. Indeed he gets to leave the house every day. What more does he want?!'

She has since given up trying to argue my husband's case, probably realising that with four children in the house the concept of me time for either parent is a dim and distant fantasy. But I suspect that deep down she will always think that I am not good enough for him. I don't take that as an insult because I don't think that any woman ever could be, and I understand that completely.

Although my boys are well below marriageable age, I still know that whoever they choose won't be quite up to scratch. How could she be when my sons are nothing short of perfect? And how could she ever hope to love them as much as their mummy does? However, I hope that I will be able to hide my entirely unreasonable point of view from my future daughters-in-law, for the sake of family harmony if nothing else.

It's funny how much I dwell on what will be for my baby boys. My husband thinks it is one of the many things that contribute to my near certifiable state (in his opinion at least), but I can't help but rehearse how I will react when a new woman enters their lives. I obsessively store up all the things that I would wish for from the perfect mother-in-law and promise myself that she will be me. But no doubt when the time comes I will ignore all my own good advice. After all I've never achieved perfection in any other sphere of my life, so I don't hold out much hope that I will achieve this goal in one of the most vexed relationships of all time.

Perhaps it's fair enough though as there has to be a flip side to the rose-scented adoration heaped upon us by our boys, and that is that us mums of sons know that our eventual fate is to become a mother-in-law, which is a role that no one covets.

Thursday, 14 January 2010

Chalk and cheese

Son number two started a new nursery this week, which is attached the the primary school his brother attends and which he will go to in September. The good things about this are that he really needed a change of scene after being at his old nursery since he was two and the school nursery is amazing. The bad things about this are that the school nursery only provides two and a half hours care between 1-3:30pm, as opposed to the five hours care between 9am - 2pm that his old nursery gave.

This has caused untold problems on the domestic front as not only do we now have four school runs to interfere with the babies' daytime nap and feeding routine, we also have a four-year-old as well as 11 month-old twins to entertain and feed every morning. Tomorrow is my first day to experience this joy as Fridays are my mummy day, and I must say I am facing the prospect with some trepidation, as with snow still thick on the ground three me and my tiny tots are pretty much housebound. Still I have plenty of housework to keep me entertained, so I just hope they find watching me struggle with the washing just as diverting.

But the really noteworthy aspect of my little boys' new start is his reaction to the change in circumstances and childcare. He rocked into the nursery on his first day as if he'd been going since birth. As I dropped him off he turned away with a nonchalant 'Bye mum', and looked a bit surprised when I told him I couldn't go as I had to stay and settle him in. 'OK' he said and ran off to play in the sand without a backwards glance.

I sat in the parents room devouring my book and appreciating the peace and quiet as he played away happily. He was a bit miffed when we told him he had to leave early as new starters have shorter days. Thanks to the snow and the schools decision to close at the drop of a flake of it, we didn't return until the next week when I had to leave him for the whole session on his own. His teachers looked dubious, but as I predicted he had a ball.

The next day I took him in and on the way we bumped into one of his new best pals, they ran off together down the slope to nursery as if they'd been mates for years (no mean feat when you are only four). Already he has cast aside his old friends and has a brand new gang around him in an instant. I fear for future girlfriends if he can move on so fast without a backwards glance.

Still it is lovely to see him settle so fast after spending my oldest sons' entire nursery career prising his clutching hands off my coat and turning away with the sound of his sobs of 'Mummy don't leave me, I want to stay with you', ringing after me. Even today when I dropped him off at his classroom I had to rip my coat out of his hands and run off in order to get him to sit down with the rest of his class on the carpet.

Son number one has had untold dramas with his friends, who perhaps predictably are all little girls. There was his best girlfriend who upped and moved out of London, leaving my poor baby emotionally scarred, then there was his nursery bride who ended up going to another school. When they met again at a soft play area a few months into reception it was as if Romeo and Juliet had suddenly been brought back to life in the happily ever after version of the play.

When he started school their were spats over who was best friends with who, and who could join the coveted clique, some days he was in, some days he was out with all the attendant ecstasy and agony. Thankfully for the moment things seem pretty settled, but I am sure it's only a matter of time until we hit another rocky patch.

Son number two on the other hand went seamlessly from one group of boisterous boys to the next, hardly seeming to notice the new names and faces. Perhaps its the benefit of being a proper boy whose concerns run only so far as football and the best way to cause the maximum amount of destruction in the shortest period of time. He is not a deep human being, as long as his basic needs for television and chocolate biscuits are fulfilled he's pretty happy. Not for him the existential angst that plagues his poor big brother, who was already having sleepless nights over the concept of death at the age of three.

It's funny how different our children turn out and a strong argument in favour of the nature, as opposed to nurture, when it comes to what determines their personalities. But does that mean that I can just give up and lie idly on the sofa as nothing I do as a mummy will affect the outcome anyway?

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

The tooth fairy

As my eldest son is now six we are all eagerly awaiting his first wobbly tooth. Lots of his friends are beginning to sport that distinctive gap toothed grin, but so far his pearly whites are all staying stubbornly put. No surprise really, he's always been a late starter and if things follow their usual pattern he will retain all his milk teeth until most of his classmates have a mouth full of new gnashers and then suddenly all his teeth will fall out in one go, only to reveal a brand new set beneath.

But the real point of this post was to share a gem that was passed on to me by my dentist when during a brief chat about when we might see the back of eldest sons' milk teeth. Now back in my day when you lost a tooth you were thrilled to find a shiny, sharp edged 50p under your pillow, but now the tooth fairy's rates seem to have undergone inflation like so many other things in life.

Naturally I would expect some degree of increase, but given my sons consumer desires run no higher than sweets, of which I am sure the fairy would disapprove, and cheap toys, I think that £1 is more than fair. However, it seems like I am way off the mark with my miserly sum, or at least I would be if I moved in the same rarefied circles as the rest of my dentist's clients.

He told me that when his rich clients' children come in, with the nanny in tow rather than mummy who is far too busy lunching and spending to bother herself with her babies, he loves to ask them what the tooth fairy left for them under their Frette pillowcases. I have asked everyone I know to guess how much the answer is, but that doesn't really work on a blog so I will have to reveal all and just imagine your shocked gasps of horror.

It turns out that the going rate amongst the monied classes for one dinky little tooth is £150!

Now even if I were a billionaire there is no way my child would find £150 under his pillow in return for his baby tooth. It's a terrifying insight into people who clearly think that pounds mean parenting. How could any mum and dad really believe that a child should receive such an enormous sum from the tooth fairy. How would her tiny wings carry it in the first place and, while slipping a coin under the pillow of your sleeping child is relatively straightforward, wouldn't the rustling of all those crisp notes disturb their beauty sleep?

Mind you rich folk are clearly crackers as the other tale he shared with me before shooing me out of his chair in favour of those patients with far more cash to splash was about one yummy mummy who trilled: "We gave the children a real treat this weekend, they went on a bus!". He looked a bit puzzled, after all these kids live in London where buses are a pretty common form of transport. "Have they never been on a bus before?' he ventured. "Oh no, nanny took them on for the first time just to see what it was like. But don't worry we had the chauffeur following behind, so when they got tired of it they could get off and back into the limousine", she explained.

I suppose when you are accustomed to a life such as this you'd better save up all the pennies or pounds the tooth fairy leaves as you are sure to grow up with very expensive tastes.

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Fat busters

I hate dieting, I really, really hate it. And I know all the guff that health gurus spout about not having to diet, just having to eat more healthily, but we all know it's the same thing. If I naturally wanted to chow down on pulses, lean protein and veggies then I wouldn't have a spare tyre to rival the Michelin man's, so eating healthily adds up to a diet for me.

Ever since I had the twins and therefore lost the excuse of pregnancy for my wobbly belly I have been looking the other way and pretending that I hadn't noticed the fact that the bump has hardly reduced since I had two whopping babies whipped out. I simply don't want to cut out scoffing my face in favour of actually using my treadmill or hopping on the Wii fit for a workout.

Given the choice between an hour of sweating like a pig, turning a fetching shade of beetroot and feeling as if I have gone 20 rounds with Mike Tyson, or slobbing on the sofa with a big steaming pile of fish and chips, well my decision is a no brainer.

I have lost weight in the past, through the usual tried and tested methods of eating food that I really don't like because it isn't packed with fat and sugar, and doing lots of exercise, which I don't really mind but find hard to fit into my day. But every time, given the least excuse, I will have my hand elbow deep in a packet of ready salted and mysteriously my waist measurement starts expand again.

My other half has recently lost loads of weight in a very sensible fashion, he simply cut down on his portion size and the weight has fallen off him, and he claims not to have suffered too much in the process. The thing is although he likes his food and did have the belly to prove it, he's not a total pig like me. Even when he was more of a porker, he would always eat just one chocolate after dinner and rarely indulged in snacks, whereas I find myself snorting sweeties down as I slouch on the sofa of an evening, can't resist that mid afternoon pick me up of cake or crisps and am magnetically drawn to children's leftovers.

I still maintain that the weather outside is too cold to embark on a major self denial exercise, but sadly I think the time has come to cut back a little. When even the outsize trousers are straining to do up, and you are ordering sizes that are outside the teens the moment has come to just say no.

I am officially not happy about this turn of events, but if I can motivate myself to do a bit more and eat a bit less, hopefully come the summer you won't see reports on the news of me being harpooned on a holiday beach.

Wish me luck.

Monday, 11 January 2010

Gina's on the naughty step again

Clean cut Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg has got the knives out for Gina Ford in his bid to secure a few more votes in the upcoming election.

Now Clegg is a man who I admire for trying to promote the much maligned concept of paternity leave, a subject close to my own heart as my husband always struggled to get support for the time he took off when we had our sons. When baby number two was born he was called back into the office when he was less than a week old. In protest I tagged along too and proceeded to breastfeed my newborn in the upstairs office - that'll teach 'em.

But on this issue I must beg to differ. Perhaps I am not a full Ford convert - I never put my lipstick on or ate a piece of toast at the decreed time, and I also never stuck so rigidly to the routines that I was afraid to leave the house at nap time. However I found that routine was the only thing that got me through rearing four babies. Knowing when they would eat, when they needed to sleep and how to get them to go to sleep enabled both me, and my baby boys, to get through those early months with a minimum of tears and sleepless nights.

A lot of my fellow mums have marvelled at how I have managed to bring up four children all of whom sleep through the night, and all of whom have done so since 12 weeks at the latest - the twins were sleeping through by nine weeks - well my answer is twofold. Firstly all my boys were bottle fed from quite an early stage, which I do think helps with sleeping as formula, whatever else its pros and cons may be, does seem to fill up baby tummies faster than breast milk. Secondly, I stuck to a daytime nap and bedtime routine right from the early weeks.

Every day my babies were put down for regular naps in a darkened room, though they would occasionally take a shorter nap in a car seat or pushchair and every night they had a bath, story and bed. I will admit that I haven't been quite so regimented with the twins, but I've tried to put them to bed at the same time most nights and it seems to have worked so far.

That said I am the last person to dish out advice on what will work for other mums. I'm just sick of being preached at by politicians and other assorted experts as to the rights and wrongs of how to bring up my own children. Clegg may well feel that following Ford's strictures is like shutting a baby in cupboard, but my view is that if it works for you and your child then go for it. Just as not everyone is suited to strict routines, equally not every family or every baby is suited to the type of laissez faire parenting Clegg appears to be promoting.

As long as you bring up a happy, healthy family there is no 'right' way to parent, only the best way for you and your children. It's different for mothers who work than for those who can stay at home with their children, different for mums who can cope with sleep deprivation and those who can't function without their seven hours a night minimum and babies are different. Some are easy going and don't need too much routine to keep them happy, others are fractious and need a sense of structure in their day.

I think that perhaps if we all trusted our instincts as to what works best with our own babies and stopped relying on books, or politicians to tell us what to do our families might function a whole lot better. Perhaps I am preaching just as much as Clegg, but I would love it if mothers felt confident enough to hoe their own row when it came to raising their own children, rather than constantly having their instincts undermined by so called experts who are vying with each other to offer their own, often conflicting views, on how it must be done.

I shall now gently step down from my pulpit and leave you all to drag up your own kids in whatever way you see fit. If only the politicians would do the same.

Note to self

I am having a hell of a time getting my nose back to the grindstone after the Christmas/snow break. I have a ton of work to do, childcare in the house, a computer and phone at my disposal, but can I get down to it? Can I heck. I seem to have lost the ability to do anything gainful with my time. I can blog, tweet, faff around on Facebook and generally waste time on the web, but I can't seem to actually get the old grey cells firing sufficiently to actually have an intelligent conversation or write anything coherent (for money that is).

This really has to stop or the coffers will genuinely run dry, but strangely enough it's so much more attractive to waffle on about me and my own little interests than try to write about what an editor will actually commission me to.

Am also finding it so hard to let go of my boys. I have loved being a proper mummy to them (albeit with all the attendant helpful relatives that the festive period provided) and I am hating handing them back to nanny, school and nursery. Little boy two has just left the locked door of my office in tears crying for a cuddle, which makes me feel doubly guilty as all I am doing is blogging, not running a high powered career, but I know the time has come to impose some order on all of us.

To which end I shall shut up my bleeding heart, prevent myself from rushing out to cuddle weeping boy two and scoop up my sick babies to wipe their noses and hold them tight. Sign off from my blog and pick up the phone to talk to someone work related in a vain attempt to get myself back into the unfamiliar and unwelcome working mummy mode.

Sunday, 10 January 2010

Feeling my age

Up until I hit 37, I'd never felt old. I don't have much grey hair, in fact thanks to the magic of L'Oreal I don't have any at all most of the time, I am blessed with a relatively wrinkle free face, much padded out by my less than slim build, I am no more tired than the average mum of mini children and I have relatively little problem recalling all the minutiae that goes into running day to day life. But just recently I have been really feeling my age.

Without concealer my face looks a fright, with dark brown circles surrounding my eyes and red veins spidering out across my cheeks, I think that even if I ever did manage to lose my spare set of tyres my poor old skin would never bounce back, my hands are beginning to take on the mangled look of my mother's thanks to a shared propensity to arthritis and when I bend down I find myself making those creaking and puffing noises I associated with someone much older. But now I begin to realise that I am fast becoming that someone.

I know that others will laugh at this pseudo mid-life crisis, and I am aware that I am hardly ancient, but it's just that I suddenly don't feel young any more. Well at least not physically, inside I think we all stick somewhere between 17-25 forever, but outside I am beginning to show the wear and tear of the years.

Of course shifting a few stone and taking the time to take better care of myself would probably help, but I don't think it would turn back the clock. I always used to scorn the nip and tuck brigade, and swore that I would grow old gracefully. Sadly it is dawning on me that without a perfect bone structure and devoting a life to preserving yourself then grace deserts most of us with the advancing years and the cheat's route looks ever more appealing.

I am probably too much of a chicken and definitely too poor to actually go under the knife, but I no longer think those blessed with more courage and cash who do are quite as pathetic.

I am sure that this melancholy patch was partially inspired by my sons animated discussion as to what they were planning to do with me once I was dead. First we covered how graves are dug and my eldest and most devoted son's initial plan was to build his house above mine in order to stay close to me. Then he hit upon the idea of exhuming my skeleton and placing it in a glass case labelled 'My mummy's bones'. I am sure his future wife would be thrilled to have my old bones adorning her sitting room!

I know it's a sign of their great affection for me, but it's a little depressing that they are already planning for my demise when I haven't even hit the big 4-0 yet.

Another thing that plays into my malaise is that I foolishly married a younger man. While Hollywood's cougars might hook up with a toy boy to make them seem more vigorous and vivacious, all it makes me feel is old. While I stand on the brink of celebrating hitting my fourth decade next year, he will be younger than I am now as I blow out those 40 candles and he never lets me forget it.

Still at the very least getting older has to give me the right to finally admit that I actually prefer a night in with the telly above any other form of entertainment and my idea of heaven is a cosy bed, a good book and a lie in in the morning. There are some comforts to getting old after all.

Saturday, 9 January 2010

A whiter shade of pale

I couldn't bear to give this post a snowy title as it's just so predictable that all that is on my mind is the snow. But I thought that given the British preoccupation with the weather I would while away some time coming up with my own personal pros and cons of the white out.

Pro snow

Tobogganing - or boganning as my four-year-old calls it - one of the best fun ways to work off the excess energy that is constantly threatening to boil over in my boys. Watching the four-year-old whizz down the local slope backwards, forwards, on his tummy on and on his back at breakneck speed with a huge grin on his face and cheeks rosy with a combination of exertion and cold is a sight hard to beat.

Snowman building - although I left this to the menfolk, I love looking out of our French windows to see Jolly the snowman manically grinning back at me, his charcoal eyes and pointy carrot nose the archetype of his kind. His spindly stick arms outstretched as if to catch more falling flakes of snow. Thanks to the hold off in the thaw he still looks as good as the day he was born, rather than the usual English snowman who only retains his glory for a scant 24-hours at best before sliding into premature middle age and dissolution.

The first snow day - When the flakes have formed a pristine, pillowy blanket which gently covers all the grit and grim of the city making it look sparkling and perfect, airbrushing imperfections away with its white embrace, and we are all snow bound in the house drinking hot chocolate and revelling in our radiator heated cosiness a snow day is nothing short of idyllic. When the other half is forced to stay at home rather than whisking off to the office and abandoning me to my familial fate and the boys are still sufficiently entranced to stop in their usual pursuits of winding each other up and destroying our house brick by brick I could almost wish that this temporary halt in proceedings would last forever.

The cold cons

The second and subsequent snow days - OK so it's enough already, the kids have already been home for two weeks for Christmas and it's about time school and nursery took over the job of entertaining them again. The roads and pavements are lethal, every time I want to leave the house I have to dig the car out and all my childcare is snowed in leaving me in sole and pissed off charge.

Schools closing - (see above). How is it that my husband can drive to work to leave me on my own with the children, but the teachers can't reach the school in order to take them off my hands again?

Penury - as a freelance I only get paid when I work, and thanks to the above problems, time to put my nose to the grindstone has been in short supply, add this to the the Christmas break and newspapers' Scrooge-like ability to skip payments that land anywhere within about five weeks of the festive period and the bank account is looking as red as Rudolph's nose.

Getting dressed - This is challenge enough in our house, but once you add all the layers required to keep the big chill out as well as just the basic essentials, leaving the house takes the best part of an hour by which time I have usually forgotten why I wanted to go out in the first place.

So I am not sure if I love or loathe the snow, but at least it gives us all something to talk about in order to distract us from the post-Christmas blues.

Monday, 4 January 2010

New Year Blues

I hate January. It is the worst month of the year. Far from a fresh beginning it seems to have morphed into a month which we are all meant to spend atoning for the sins of the previous year, or in this case decade. From the jolly excesses of Christmas and New Year when drinking before 11am and chocolate for breakfast were the order of the day, we are supposed to instantly ditch all forms of comfort in favour of an ascetic existence of no booze, diets, exercise in the freezing cold and a general reassessment of our feckless existence.

Well I say Bah Humbug to all that. I have made a grand total of zero New Year's resolutions, I do not intend to diet, take up any exercise or give up booze until the sun is out for more than 8 hours a day and the temperature rises well above freezing for more than a nanosecond. I just think the cold, dull, depressing first month of the year is the worst time to try to mend your ways. Not only is there precious little in the way of motivation when we are all shrouded in infinite layers of warm weather clothes and the only thing we want to tuck into of a chilly, dark winter's evening is hearty comfort food, the world and his wife have taken over every gym in the country for the annual months of dedicated exercise that will inevitably give way to apathy and sloth come Valentine's Day.

I think that warmer weather that sees us shedding our layers of wool and fleece, and with a less biting desire to fill our bellies against the cold is a much better time to contemplate coming up with a new you. Of course this could all be delaying tactics on my part, but whatever the case I could not be less inclined to come over all health freak right now. I need a large glass of wine and the promise of a takeaway to get me through this most gloomy of months.

One bright speck on the horizon is the twins first birthday though. Before all our family birthdays fell in September and October which made the start of the year even more bleak and lacking in promise, but now we have a double celebration coming up on 9 February, so at last I have something to look forward to in dead of winter.

Not that they are having a big party as I learnt long ago that the more effort expended on a first birthday the less it was appreciated by the birthday boy. With son number one I held an epic do with all his baby pals, the whole family, a hand made cake in the shape of a pumpkin (his birthday is Halloween), made from all organic, baby friendly ingredients, complete with the entire range of Organix snacks for the kids and a full buffet for the grown ups.

My son proceeded to fall asleep just as his tiny guests started to arrive, then scream his way through the party, sitting in outraged disgust as all his friends crawled around him, showing off their early prowess against his stubborn stillness. Son number two had a much smaller family party which I think he enjoyed, and the twins will be getting cake and lots of cuddles, but still a birthday is always a reason for cheer when you are under the age of 25.

Over the age of 25 is another matter, and this assessment of achievements that happens on birthdays is another vice that I can't help but indulge in at the start of the year. I felt quite faint at the idea that this year my eldest son will be seven, while number two will finally start school in September. How did my life flash by that these babes in arms should be schoolboys in what seems like an instant?

I know friends with older children tell me it's the same throughout their lives, that one minute you are changing nappies and seeking out soft play areas, the next you packing their cases to send them off to university, but I never quite believed it until now. It sends cold shivers down my spine in the watches of the night the speed at which my life is travelling now. I want to press the pause button so I can stop and enjoy my boys childhood, instead of watching it rush past in a blur like an express train whipping through a provincial station.

Of course on a more selfish note this speedy growth of my boys speeds my own ageing process up. If I were without small people growing ever larger around me perhaps I could kid myself that I was as young as I feel, but with the sons I once cradled in a single arm now up to my chest this illusion is harder to maintain.

So not only is New Year depressingly full of born again healthniks, the papers that were just weeks ago pushing lucious Christmas treats at us now outlining hard core detoxs, the weather maintaining a frosty stance and work back in full swing again, I am fighting a losing battle against the more cosmic thoughts a new year brings. Therefore I declare that I shall indeed have a happy New Year by avoiding everything associated with it.