Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Lights, camera, action

I love watching films and looking at photos of when my boys were babies, seeing my grown up six-year-old transported back to being a chubby baby marooned on a play mat, or singing "Three little men in a flying saucer". Or my four-year-old rewound to a long-past Easter, his face gluttonously smeared with chocolate, or to the day he learned to walk still holding one hand high in the air as if he couldn't quite believe he didn't need someone to hold his hand.

The only problem is that I can never remember or be bothered to actually shoot any footage or take any photos. It doesn't help that our camera's battery life is about a nanosecond, and that it is usually hidden away somewhere whenever I decide that I want to capture something for posterity. I also find it very hard to watch life through a prism. My family were never great ones for photos, for much the same reasons of disorganisation and laziness as me, and it came as a rude shock to learn that my father-in-law topped off every gathering with a painfully long photo shoot.

I still recall his last attempt to catch seven small boys aged from about six months to six perched on a bench in his garden. There was never a point when one of them wasn't crying, but he wasn't going to let that deter him. All the adults were gurning and jumping around like nuts to try to get them to smile, while the children looked on with concerned bemusement at this bizarre behaviour from their elders. I must admit the end result was more than worthwhile. A precious record of their childhood and a special family day, but I could never go through the pain of acquiring such a shot, I would prefer to rely on my, admittedly rather unreliable, memory.

When I had my first son we took literally thousands of pictures of him, and while I adore reminiscing as I watch these memories suspended on a computer screen, I am not sure we really needed second-by-second photo reportage of the birth. Thank goodness my husband stayed away from the business end or we would have ended up with a video nasty.

Indeed I haven't forgiven him for two particularly choice birth shots from my later babies. The first shows me splayed out on a bed, mercifully covered up, but with one enormous boob dangling out as it's suckled by a blood-streaked son number two. The second is of me in the recovery room after having the twins sliced out of my belly, I look like a beached whale with disturbingly waxy, pallid skin, piggy eyes behind my unflattering old glasses, a greasy slick of hair and the twins perched like plucked chickens in my flaccid arms. I am thinking they won't want a print of this one to stick in a silver frame on top of the mantlepiece.

My sister-in-law is a model, but even her post-birth shots are pretty disturbing. Before the birth she even managed to make the heart monitor belt look like a fashion accessory, after it she is as pale as her gown, apart from the deep, black circles under her eyes and looks rather shocked to be holding a baby in her arms. I suppose it should make me feel better that even a professional can't pull of a great photo within moments of popping out a sprog. But recalling the horror of my birth photos, it really doesn't.

Having given birth to the twins in the uber swanky Portland Hospital where the likes of Victoria Beckham, Billie Piper, Jools Oliver and (ahem) Jordan, had their babies, I discovered the secret to looking great post childbirth. If you've signed a deal with OK or Hello to show off your newborn, you can book an in-room make up artist and stylist to ensure you look perfect for your close up. There are brochures for this upmarket service in all the bumpf you are given when you book in. Still I would expect no less from a hospital that gives you a bottle of Champers when you leave, as opposed to a few left over cotton wool balls, which is all I took home after my NHS births.

I think family life is a double-edged sword for the photo phobic. While I adore having pictures and video of my boys, and would like to think that when they are grown up they can look back and see photographic evidence of how much mummy loved them, I hate, hate, hate actually being photographed. Looking at photos of me I have concluded that either I am ugly enough to scare the horses, or I am chronically unphotogenic. If I am not gurning or sinking deep into my many double chins, I am slumped in some ungainly slouch to best show off my unenviable collection of unsightly bulges. I am not sure my boys will look back that fondly on the minger standing next to them in all their childhood photos.

It is even worse when I have to do photoshoots for work, which mercifully I don't that often. I think the newspaper I write for has realised that using photos of me will scare off their readers, so now I rarely get asked to write anything that requires a photo to go with it. But in the far off days when I did have to be photographed for work, it truly was cruel and unusual torture.

Firstly there was the pain of being dolled up to look like the ideal representative of middle England, which usually meant being tugged into some shapeless pastel dress, having my hair teased into a latter day 80s BIG hair do and being caked in enough slap to make a WAG blanche. The first time this happened my oldest son took one look at me, and ran away crying that he wanted his mummy back.

Then there is the shoot itself. Normally I hide behind anything available while being photographed. Normally there is a well placed child or two for me to bob behind, so all you can see is a relatively inoffensive mop of hair, or the odd eye peeking out. But when it's you they want a photo of, there is no ducking behind an innocent pair of babies. And the shoots go on for HOURS, perhaps because it takes that long to get a halfway decent picture of me, but my God it's a painful exercise.

The only real advantage to all of this is sometimes I have been able to cadge a set or two of professional shots of the boys from the snappers, which is lovely as they are geniunely model good looking, even if I do say so myself. Unfortunately the last shoot I did was six-weeks after the twins were born when I was still post pregnant bloated. The twins, my husband and my boys all look gorgeous, but right in the centre of each shot is me, wearing some horrible cream get up that makes me look like a quivering vanilla blancmange in their midst. A job for Photoshop methinks.

Our photo collection is also a record of how I have failed in one of my many mothering goals. When I was growing up I used to really resent the fact that while my parents had tons of pictures of my older sister, there were none of me. Mind you thinking about what I have just written, perhaps this was for a good reason. Anyway, I decided that with my own children equality would reign supreme and I would ensure we had just as many pictures of son number four as we did of number one.

Well that didn't work. We have gigabytes of storage devoted to images of our eldest growing up, from the first shot of him slick with vernix and a cone-shaped head all squeezed out of shape by his recent journey down the birth canal, to him standing handsome and tall in his Year 1 school uniform. Numbers two, three and four have plenty of baby shots, taken when we had nothing better to do than stare lovingly at our offspring, but the coverage soon tails off and if we have taken a photo a month of the twins I would be impressed.

Still at least I can forgive my parents as now I know that the dearth of images of mini me isn't evidence of their negligence or lack of affection for me, simply that time runs out faster the more children you have and there just isn't so much of it to waste on niceties like taking pictures, however nice it is to look at them in the future. Either that or I looked just as bad as a child as I do now, and they were just doing me a massive favour by not recording my formative years.

Saturday, 27 March 2010

I just can't stop loving you

Jacko's voice streams out of the speakers, smooth as liquid caramel, I feel your body melt into mine, my breath lifting the silken curls at the nape of your neck. I breathe in the scent of your tissue soft skin, stroke my hand down the length of your back as you rest your head on my shoulder, fitting perfectly into the crook of my neck. Your arms reach up to curl around me, your legs curve around my hip. We sway to the music and I just can't stop loving you.

I am dancing the best slow dance of my life and it's at 9:30am and my partner is my 13-month old baby.

As I shuffle around clinging onto his tiny body, he nestles his warm pyjama clad body into my nightie as neither of us has managed to get dressed yet, and the love I feel consumes me. Tears form in my eyes at the strength of my emotion, I want to pour the adoration I feel into my baby boy by some mystical process of maternal osmosis. I want him to feel how much I love him like a warm cocoon enveloping him.

He is so beautiful to me with his magical blue eyes that flash from sapphire to indigo, fringed by impossibly long black lashes, which curl down to touch the curve of his pink and ivory cheeks. He has a coquettish charm that will get him everywhere; splaying tiny fingers over his face to play peekaboo and clapping wildly to show his joy with the world.

His hair is a crazy spun gold mess of corkscrew curls, and when I blow gently on his face they shift into flyaway patterns making him blink and giggle. His laugh is infectious, a crackly, hoarse sound so close to crying sometimes I need to check his smile to make sure tears aren't on the way. He melts me with his habit of shuffling around on his belly following me from room to room like a devoted puppy, his face collapsing in a mess of tears if I don't scoop him into my arms instantly.

I am a writer, and I can't help but want to encapsulate just what it is that makes my boy so special in words, but as I write I realise how impossible my task is. As so many romantics have written before, the words 'I love you' are a meaningless and mean way of trying to explain the feelings they are designed to convey. I feel the same way. I could write forever about every little thing he does that makes my heart expand with love, that makes me laugh out loud, that makes me want to hold him tight to me and never let him go, but I could never capture the sum of all those myriad moments when you feel as if you might burst because you are so in love.

Fortunately, I know that any other mother who reads this knows just what I mean.

Thursday, 25 March 2010

Frozen in time

There are some moments in my children's lives when I would like to press the pause button so I could savour them for just that little bit longer. That moment when your newborn baby first opens his eyes, and his unfocussed gaze gradually fixes on yours and that first spark of true love is ignited. The slick of massage oil over a tiny tummy tight with its fill of milk, the glorious smiles and giggles when your baby discovers the joy of splashing in the bath, the thrill as your baby hauls himself up to take his first step. All of these moments I wanted to grasp and freeze in amber so I could take them out and marvel at them when my children are grown.

My oldest son had a playdate the other day with a friend we hadn't seen in several months. Last time I'd gone to pick him up they had been sitting on the carpet playing Hungry Hippos, two little boys who were still soft with the last vestiges of toddler fat, their faces round with baby fat and their school uniforms looking like they'd been borrowed from an older brother.

This time they sat, side by side on the sofa, Wii controls waving frantically to continue some onscreen intergalactic battle. They was no trace of those overgrown toddlers, instead these were unmistakably little boys. The planes of their faces had grown more distinct, their bodies elongated so school trousers flapped at their ankles. Shirts were untucked and ties askew. Instead of seeing in them the babies they once were I could see the teenagers they will become.

I love to watch my babies grow into boys, and in time I will love to discover the men they will become, but sometimes I wish they would do it a little more slowly. That those days of wobbly steps and sticky cuddles, when nothing was more fun than a trip to the swings or an afternoon spent grinding playdoh into the carpet, would last a little bit longer. My babies have gone from crib to climbing the stairs at warp speed and I am not happy.

When I went on to have my third/fourth bite at the baby cherry, I was determined not to miss a thing, but naturally life got in the way and as I was working, eating, sleeping, looking after their brothers the twins have inexorably grown up. Like all parents I can hardly believe that the babies that lay, light as air in my arms, sleepy with the shock of entering the big wide world and swallowed by their tiny babygros, are now on the verge of walking, munching on toast and pizza and articulating their first words.

And I know, again as any parent does, how soon these two will be slouched on the couch, game controller in hand and school trousers grown to small from one week to the next. If my parents are to be believed this doesn't slow down as they still recall the little girl who they tucked into the cab of their lorry with a jam jar of milk and a jam sandwich, and now she is a mother of four boys of her own.

Time is far from an absolute concept, I recall that when I was waiting from one birthday to the next as a little child, a year seemed to take forever, now they sweep by in the blink of an eye. I think I need a Sky+ control for my real time life, so I could pause the best bits, and replay them endlessly, while swiftly fast forwarding all the boring painful bits like so many corny ads. Now that's something for my budding scientist of a son to invent.

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Vive la difference

The brilliant Alphamummy blog just pointed me in the direction of a very interesting piece in The Times about the so called tyranny of motherhood that is holding a generation of earth mothers back.

The central kernel of the theory espoused by the French book, upon which the article is based, is that mothers are their own worst enemies; tying themselves down by trying to live up to a perceived ideal of motherhood, from eternal breastfeeding to organic pureeing and giving up on careers to become full time mums. So rather than being able to toss out a child or two and move on, we are becoming enmeshed in a web of our own making whereby our children become burdens that hold us back.

The author of the book who, at 66 has had three children and has scores of grandchildren, claims that if we could all lighten up a bit and stop obsessing about motherhood we would actually end up having more, rather than less children. Thereby boosting the birth rate and providing the workforce that will keep us in beer and fags in our old age, or perhaps in the French's case vin et Gauloises.

Much as it pains me to agree, as I have four children to my name probably as a result of a hugely lax parenting regime, I fear I must. You see people often tell me how calm I am despite being a mum to four boys aged six and under. My secret? I work, therefore I don't often deal with the grubby nitty gritty of parenting my boys. When I do I adore every moment of it, and often wish I could swap it for my days spent slaving at a hot keyboard, but if I really were to do the swap I think serene mummy would be the first casualty.

I also seem to have unwittingly followed all the other advice in the book. I didn't breastfeed, I gave up on organic purees in favour of pots and jars after baby number one, my boys have always had strict(ish) bedtimes and didn't sleep in our room with us beyond the first few weeks. Both the older boys were shipped out to relatives so we could go out and go away from babyhood, and went to nursery at 18 months, while the twins have been cared for by other people since they were born. I went back to work pretty quickly after each child was born and have often, to my shame, prioritised my career over my children's everyday needs.

Do I think this is the perfect way to parent? No, I wouldn't dream of claiming to have found that particular Holy Grail, but it is probably the reason why having four children hasn't been the burden it might have been to a more hands-on mother. I sometimes look at new mums who are grey with exhaustion after spending night after night awake with breastfeeding babies, and I do wonder if the nutritional benefits make up for the psychological trauma inflicted on those poor, sleep deprived mums.

I am far too scared of the pro breastfeeding lobby to ever voice these opinions at the time, but I know I couldn't have got through the early weeks without the support I got from my mum and my husband who did the lion's share of night feeds for me. I also know that I would be a far more frazzled person if I hadn't taken what is thought to be the easy way out and opted for most of the mod cons that make motherhood easier from an epidural to a nanny.

So perhaps this book does contain a grain of truth. If we could all chill out and let go of the notions of what makes a perfect mum it would allow us all to enjoy our children more. Of course some mothers will always get a huge amount of joy out of making their children into a lifestyle, and why the heck not? But does this mean we should condemn those mothers who want their offspring to be a part of their life, but not what defines how they spend every moment of it?

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

A beast of burden

I have been worrying for sometime about how I would cope with the constant carrying phase with twins. I recall with son number one that this particularly onerous milestone coincided with my pregnancy with boy number two. I have vivid memories of balancing my ever heavier son on top of my burgeoning bump. Once I walked the entire, not inconsiderable, length of my local high street with my toddler balanced atop an eight-month baby bump, another time my little boy screamed the place down when my considerate husband tried to take the avowed mummy's boy from me for a few moments to give me a break.

Still carrying one child might be a burden, but it's one that most mums are able to bear. Carrying two just seems like a physical impossibility beyond a certain point. Even when the twins were tiny, carrying both of them was a feat that was usually only attempted over short distances between sofas, now that they are hefty pre-toddlers I can hold them both for about two minutes before my arms start to turn to jelly and threaten to tip both of them onto the treacherous wooden floor below.

Trouble is, no one told the twins about the difficulties of carrying two at a time, and they want to be up in my arms just as much as their older brothers did. Twin two shuffles around after me using his, surprisingly swift, commando crawl, tears running down his blotchy cheeks, blue eyes fringed with impossibly long black lashes raised beseechingly at me, his lips wobbling with despair at my refusal to heft him around with me everywhere I go. Naturally I give in and sweep him up onto my hip. He is the slimmer of the two so this is definitely the easier task.

Twin one who had, up until then, been happily devising new schemes of destruction involving the contents of the recycling bin and a precariously balanced step ladder, looks up with his huge brown eyes, clocks his twin in my arms and instantly a frown clouds his brow. His lips start to shudder and his eyes fill with tears ready to flow down those rosy cheeks. All plans of developing a Heath Robinsonesque means of world domination are forgotten, the empty bottle that had been so absorbing moments before is dropped at his feet and a howl rents the air.

Oh dear, he wants to be carried too. What's a mum to do? Well in the name of equality I plonk down twin one, who was contentedly playing with the buttons on my shirt, and whip up his inconsolable brother. Cue a role reversal so swift you would miss it in the blink of an eye. Twin one is now snuggled into my side, casting smug looks at his brother who has collapsed onto the carpet in a pool of misery at being cast aside so thoughtlessly.

So good mum didn't work, now it's time to institute bad mum tactics. I dump twin one on the floor next to his screaming brother and march off without looking down at their matching, tear-streaked faces. The noise is deafening as they both yell in protest at this shameful treatment. I plug my ears 'La, la, la I can't hear you' I sing. Only it's a blatant lie, even the profoundly deaf could hear this racket and I pity our poor neighbours.

I could (a) sneak off into another room and pretend that none of this is happening, or (b) try and gather up both of them only to be imobilised clutching two wriggly twins on a voluminous bean bag until they calm down enough to play on their own again. While option (a) is always tempting, the screams are reaching the point where the neighbour will call in either social services or the noise pollution team - or perhaps both, so I grab each twin under the arms and heft them gracelessly over to the nearest beanbag.

We all three sink into its depths in relative silence, until their close proximity to each other on my lap precipitates a new fight over who gets to finger the buttons on my shirt, or who should have ownership of the one toy I managed to scoop up with us on my descent into the beanbag. They may have won one skirmish, but there is still a whole war to carry on with on the battlefield of twindom it appears.

Monday, 22 March 2010

Hurrah for twins

I have spent the last few months working on a series of articles about twins for a health website. By their very nature they have focused on the problems associated with twins from the dangers during pregnancy to the complications arising from premature birth and the raised likelihood of disability, learning delay, post natal depression and problems in developing individuality.

Top this with the recent articles about how having multiples means you are more likely to be put under financial strain and your marriage has a higher chance of ending in divorce and it's almost enough for me to put my twins out for the dustmen. Though no doubt they wouldn't take them and I would find them howling on the driveway with a little note attached saying I should have taken them to the local recycling centre instead.

The only thing that saves them from being sent out the same way as their myriad dirty nappies is that I just don't see my precious boys as in any way part of that overwhelming load of negativity. My pregnancy with the twins was prone to no more complications than those when there was only one baby inside, they had to be persuaded out at 37 weeks at a huge and healthy weight, and so far are developing just like any two normal babies. Both crawled earlier than my first son, twin one is well on the way to walking just as my second son was at 13 months, they can each hold a cup and drink for themselves, something my nephew had still to master at age two.

As for me and the other half, well we are as broke as ever, but I can't say I have noticed a huge change with the arrival of the twins. I spend money like water until he points out that the well is dry. As for emotional strain, in some ways I think that having two babies to care for can actually diminish this. When you have one or two children you argue over who works the hardest, who does his or her fair share of childcare, who had the longest lie in or the laziest weekend, with twins to look after you are both equally hard done by, which brings its own kind of equality to a marriage.

Also you are far to exhausted to spend your precious down time rowing with each other. Why scream and shout when you could sink into the sofa with some chilled Sauvignon Blanc and the new series of Flash Forward? In that we are both one hundred percent in agreement.

But more than that all our children unite us in love for them and our family, and the twins just bring along a double dose. I was staring at the back of their water slicked heads in the bath the other day. One round as a cannonball, with otter slick straight dark hair, though when it dries it develops an adorable curl just behind his ear, the other has long, slim skull, smattered with fine, spun gold curls. As I stared in wonderment at these gorgeous boys we had created I knew that each holds my heart in one yoghurty sticky paw and in the other resides my husband's. I know that nothing connects us as much as our love for all of our children, so how could adding two more to the mix do anything other than strenghten that bond?

If a marriage is weak and defined by material contentment, then yes I can see that twins might be the straw that breaks the camel's back as they don't leave much space to pamper each other, at least in the early days. But if you love each other and your children then it will take more than two babies to break you apart. In fact you might just find that they bring you closer together like this lovely piece by another twin mummy illustrates.

I'm so over it

I remember being on holiday with my two older boys, when they were four and two, and watching the chubby younger brother toddle around after his brother. He could walk, talk, feed himself and was on the verge of giving up his nappies. In short life was about to become a whole lot easier. And I could feel my heart cracking inside my chest.

I couldn't bear the thought that my baby was growing up, that I would never again feel the soft as air warmth of a newborn held against me as he drank in warm milk and melted into sleep, that I would soon walk past Mothercare without a second glance, that parks would once again become alien flashes of green in my urban landscape rather than the essential lifeblood of a sunny day out. I would pore over catalogues of baby products and feel myself mourning over those tiny weaning pots, the miniscule babygros, even, most bizarrely, the breast pads and pumps.

I knew I had broodiness bad when I felt jealous watching my sister-in-law scrubbing out Avent bottles. If even the most hated of baby activities made me feel melancholy, I knew this wasn't just hormones speaking. I began a relentless campaign of attrition with my husband, who was more than happy to hang up his spurs after fathering two healthy boys. He came from a family of two kids and was content to have created his own family in its image.

He saw us as coming out of the woods, with the boys growing ever more independent, meaning that life could go back to semblance of normal. One would soon be in school, the other in full time nursery, my career was going great guns. Why, he queried, rock the boat?

Why indeed? Because I knew that I would regret for the rest of my life the baby that I had never had. That I would long until the day I died to have had one more bite at that particularly sweet cherry. That I needed to hold my third child in my arms, that I couldn't see my family as complete without him. Of course there was a big part of me that wanted him to be a her, but that wasn't the main motivation. I needed my baby to complete me, and in the end my husband saw that resistance was futile and gave in.

The rest, as they say, is history - or at least it is if you regularly read my blog - as I got more than I had bargained for and ended up with a bonus baby and a family of four. But I am grateful for this as it has cured my broodiness good and proper. At school last week I saw a friend's new baby. Where in the past I would have clamoured to hold her and wished she was mine, this time I looked at her, oohed and ahhed, and thanked my lucky stars she wasn't.

As soon as my youngest boys finish with any item it is given or thrown away instantly. I no longer want my attic cluttered with baby junk, I know there will be no more patters of tiny feet in this house and I am glad. Perhaps it took having twins to cure me of my baby addiction, or perhaps I would have been fine with my third baby. After all I never wanted a family with four children, but either way I am glad to feel happy that my back is turned on babies, but not nearly as glad as my husband is.

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Twice the price

Last year I took my two older boys to see Disney on Ice as a birthday treat. At around £150 for a family of four this was an extravagance for a special occasion. This year I looked and to take my new family of six it would cost almost £300. In the past few years I have taken the big boys to Florida on holiday, again not cheap, but just about affordable on our two incomes, this year the flights alone ran into many multiple thousands. Perhaps it's no surprise that even though most twins are born into relatively affluent families, they still end up facing financial hardship and are more likely to divorce as a result.

But, while I would never say no to an extra bob or two to help meet the costs of bringing up my children, I think the real strain that twins put on a couple is more practical than financial. Just one baby can be shared between two parents, allowing each to take a break and have a bit of down time. One baby doesn't tie you to the house because overcoming the obstacles put in the way of a double buggy is just too much trouble when you're a tired, overwhelmed parent of multiples.

Yesterday I took my two boys to the doctor to get a vaccination. I am lucky, my nanny was able to come with me and help out. But having an extra pair of hands on this trip wasn't a luxury, it was a necessity. My surgery doesn't allow pushchairs, and even if it did I doubt my monster buggy would make it through the door.

As they are far too heavy for me to carry both on my own, the only way I could get both to the doctor would be to leave one alone in the car, while the other remained on his own in the waiting room, while I rushed out to retrieve his brother - hardly ideal with crawling, curious babies. Then we'd have to repeat the whole performance after they'd both been jabbed too. A far cry from the cuddles, kisses and care my first two sons had when they went through their early injections and it left me wondering how a mum of twins would cope alone.

Most shop doors are barred to me on my high street as they are either up steps or too narrow to get through, and if I do make it inside I am met with tuts and huffs as people try to squeeze past the pushchair to negotiate the narrow aisles. I wouldn't dare take the pushchair on the tube, and my local station can't be navigated without climbing two flights of stairs anyway. Buses are out due to space constraints, so my only means of transport is the beleaguered car. Which has to be an enormous gas guzzler just to fit my four children and their paraphernalia inside. Another huge cost levelled at many parents of multiples.

That said it was my choice to go ahead and have my boys, and I wouldn't change it for the world, but it has given me a new perspective. I feel a lot more empathy for anyone consigned to a wheelchair, as I now realise how many doors are closed to them and how isolating that can be. I also realise how no one who hasn't had twins understands the challenges we face.

Where my family rushed to help with one baby, with two we have been left to cope alone far more. People are too overwhelmed by the concept of managing two to want to help out. Nannies have come and gone under the strain of dealing with two babies at the same time. Babysitting offers have all but dried up, and forget about going away for any more than a night. Even then only one set of grandparents is prepared to take on all four, which again narrows our options.

I think that having twins is bit like any life changing event and it reveals the true depth of any relationship. I have grown cool towards family members who have backed off as if we had contracted a particularly nasty infectious disease since the mere mention of my twins arose, so I can quite understand how it might come between a couple.

It is intense and overwhelming to cope with a newborn baby, coping with two is be too much for some to handle. I just thank my lucky stars that our twins came when we were already ground down by caring for two demanding little boys, so it wasn't quite such a shock to the system as it might have been first time round and that at least there weren't three inside me as that probably would have been a stretch too far in more ways than one.

Thursday, 11 March 2010

Mother love

It's Mother's Day on Sunday. Something my husband greets with much groaning and moaning, as being the dutiful son he is he takes this day quite seriously. There will be bunches of flowers and cards for his ma and his grandma, and the last thing he needs is another mother, this time of his sons, to make a fuss of, as was illustrated by his long face at the prospect of this special day.

Therefore I decided to put the whole shebang into the hands of a far more willing volunteer, thought whether my husband will really thank me for this remains to be seen. You see for my oldest son the prospect of making a fuss of mummy is heaven, as he is currently in a seriously loved up phase.

Last week he visited a friend and impressed his little playmate's mum no end by spending most of his time there crafting a heart-bedecked card to his own mummy, which he spells out as Heart u Heart Heart y (it works better with pictures, honest), declaring 'You are the best. I love you'. He topped this when he sneaked out to the playroom in the garage and whipped up a letter, with a perfectly crafted cut-out pink heart on the front, which read 'To mummy. I love you. You are the best. If I had a chois of mummys I'd choos you. I'd love to have a night together'.

This last a reference to our much postponed date, planned as a reward for a top notch school report, but so far not actually organised. Clearly I am not worthy of such praise.

Still who better to arrange a mummy worship fest than its current high priest, my perfect little firstborn. The only thing is he does have a tendency to let power go to his head, and ever since I uttered the words 'You are in charge', he has been bossing his poor younger brother and father around mercilessly. He seems to have grand plans of some complex military-style maneuver dedicated to his beloved mum.

Perhaps next year my husband will decide that it is better to leave the organisation of Mother's Day in his capable hands, even if it does mean triple the burden, at least he won't have to put up with the bossing as well.

One of those days

I was wondering today if it's possible to have post natal depression for a whole year after you give birth? I am perhaps being a touch melodramatic, as I know I'm not really depressed, but I do rather wonder when the dark clouds of stress, and if I am honest boredom, will lift to allow me to feel positive again.

Don't get me wrong, I am quite happy with life in general. I have four lovely boys, a well-paid, if precarious and sometimes fickle, career and a husband who loves me despite the fact that I am as far from a supermodel as it's possible to get. I should spend my days counting my blessings, it's just that life with work and small children can be such a grind.

I was chatting about what has happened since the twins were born and realised that in one short year we have had to deal with all of the following: the birth of the twins and recovery from a C-section, an operation to remove husband's tonsils when the twins were three months old, following a particularly nasty bout of the bug when the twins were about a week old. Not to mention me returning to work far sooner than planned, due to opportunities I couldn't turn down, three different nannies, a career crisis from my husband and the usual array of everyday nuisances from spells in hospital to explosive tummy bugs.

Now I think this is a pretty average year for a family with four very young children, but even though I know we are no special case, it still gets me down from time to time, the sheer relentlessness of it all. In no particular order I dream of uninterrupted sleep, no alarm clock in the morning and no nighttime visits from one or other small boy, I dream of having more to look forward to than a takeaway curry on a Friday night, of being able to travel without having to accommodate four small boys and pay the exorbitant prices charged during the school holidays.

I want my day to end with a glass of wine, a meal out, a trip to the cinema or a relaxing hour or two with a book, not with clamour of bedtime, when twin one screams the house down to register his disgust at being banished to his cot, the boys require coaxing through every stage of the bedtime process from doing a wee through to actually climbing under the duvet.

But above all of those unreasonable demands I crave some peaceful me time. I miss my boys when I work, but I also miss having an hour to myself, in my house, to just be alone. My home is full of the constant flood of childcare that allows me to work and then with the constant flood of children that require it. There is never a moment when I can sit in silence and know I will not be disturbed. Sometimes I feel like a prisoner in my office, banished from the rest of the house which is colonised by the army of people we seem to require to keep family life running smoothly.

I often envy those sensible freelancers who work free from the burden of children, who can sit and drink tea in their pyjamas as they dream up the perfect article. Never mind if I have no deadlines I have to get the eldest to school, which requires getting dressed, the others up and breakfasted, which means I can't laze in bed with my laptop, and then my house is full of strangers who probably wouldn't appreciate me wafting around the house in my nightie as I attempted to capture that ever elusive muse.

Still only another four years until all four are at school and I can at least beckon peace into my home as I shoo them out of the door.

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Down with celeb mummy memoirs

Is it wrong that I can't help but feel a slight leap of joy when I see that Tess Daly's book on motherhood has flopped in the bookshops? Not that I have anything against Tess, per se, in fact I imagine she could do without another drubbing after finding out all about her husband's grubby little text habits, but I am just so sick of celebs preaching about motherhood. It's as if they are labouring under the impression that just because their pretty faces have graced our television screens they somehow know more about what it is to be a mum than the rest of us.

Myleene Klass, Jools Oliver, Melanie Sykes and Mel Giedroyc (of Mel and Sue 'fame') to name but a few, have all penned baby books after popping out a sprog or two, clearly believing that their experiences were somehow so unique that us mere mortals could learn a thing or two from them.

OK I will admit a bunch or two of sour grapes as I am sure that if some publisher had been willing to stump up the cash I would have been first in the queue to write my own little baby book. But would that have made my experiences any more valid or useful to any other mother? There are scores of mummy blogs just like mine where you can read the thoughts of other mothers, for free, and decide for yourself if you think what they have to say is worth listening to or not. Do we really need celebrities to add to wealth of chatter that informs modern day parenting?

What with Gina Ford and Tanya Byron, Jo Frost and the Baby Whisperer, there are enough professionals to guide us through the maze of bringing up babies, should we feel the need of a helping hand, without that pretty girl off the telly adding her two penneth worth. Are we really so shallow that it would make us feel better about stretch marks, or morning sickness, sleepless nights or feeding problems, just because we know that the host of Strictly Come Dancing has experienced them too?

Perhaps I am out of step, as I am no fan of the celebrity book. I was filled with horror at the queues outside WH Smith in our local shopping centre when Jordan was doing a book signing. It was made up of pre-teen girls, wobbly midriffs bared under pink velour tracksuits, hair pulled in high pony tails and lips glistening with gloopy lip gloss, all clearly aspiring to ape their idols' career choices.

Again I have nothing against Jordan, I might not want to live like her, but I admire her tenacity and clearly she has oodles of business savvy and a rare talent for self promotion, but as a role model to young girls I think she leaves a lot to be desired. I want my children to dream of becoming surgeons, astronauts, firemen or builders, not Dream Boys or Z-list celebrities who would roll up to the opening of an envelope.

Perhaps it is my old timer disgust at the current trend to court fame for it's own sake, rather than on any particular merit or talent, that puts me off these books where celebrities opine on motherhood. If I want to read about breastfeeding, or sleep routines, or how to shift my preggie belly, I want the advice to come from lactation experts, health visitors, paediatricians, dieticians and fitness trainers. In other words people who have put the effort in to learn about their subject, rather than a dizzy blonde whose experience of child bearing and rearing is probably not as extensive as my own.

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Playgroup politics

This morning the lovely nanny (as opposed to evil ex-nanny) tripped off down the road, gaily pushing the buggy and clinging onto my four-year-old's hand. But despite making a beautiful tableau, there was no way I wanted to join them because they were off to a new playgroup.

Now I am a journalist by trade, which means I have to talk to people I don't know all the time, from interviewing the great, the good and the downright dull, to picking my through thronging press parties, schmoozing with PRs and making new friends on far flung junkets. In short I am not usually socially inadequate when it comes to meeting new people, that is unless they are other, unknown, mums. And where else is a more seething hotbed of this hostile species than the playgroup?

When I had son number one I thought that the playgroup would be the natural extension to the antenatal groups were we mums-to-be had bonded over our bumps and copious amounts of biscuits. I imagined that I would find myself amidst women cast adrift in the same boat of lonely new motherhood as me. That I would make new friends and that instead of wandering aimlessly around the park with nothing but a sleeping baby for company, suddenly I would be initiated into that garrulous society of happy looking mums who populated the local cafes and parks.

Little did I know that the last place you will make new friends is at playgroup. Instead the more savvy mums know that this is a vicious place with more exclusive cliques than any school playground, and woe betide the mum who doesn't turn up armoured to the hilt with her own friends. You should never travel alone to a playgroup, instead you must travel as a pack in order to fit in.

The first outing I made with baby number one I sat for the entire two hours of the group watching him sleep through the whole thing, while not one mother spoke to me. I tried to smile warmly at the women I had naively assumed would be my new best buddies, but all they did was give me a pitying glance before returning to the intimate conversation they had previously been conducting with their own cabal.

I swiftly learnt that playgroups aren't really worth the time of day until your child is old enough to whizz off and wreak havoc with the other pre-schoolers. At least that way you can bury yourself in a good book for a couple of hours, only rousing yourself from the plot when your little darlings' screams threaten to reach a pitch that could pique social services' attention.

So no, I really didn't envy my poor nanny having to walk into a room of women who would not give her the time of day even if their lives depended on it, and would probably only deign to speak to her to berate her should if one of my children dare to steal a toy from one of their precious poppets. A cardinal playgroup crime and one punishable by an extra layer of ice settling over the cold shoulder treatment.

Still she is fortunate to be an entirely separate entity to the mums, because as a nanny no one expects to become her friend, apart from the other nannies, who always seemed quite nice to me, and a whole lot more laid back than all those uptight, unfriendly mummies.

The only thing worse than a new playgroup is a music group, when the ostracising reaches ever higher levels as mums are happy to conduct entire conversations over you and your baby while you struggle to stop him eating the instruments. And there is the added humiliation of having to tunelessly sing along and inelegantly dance about while hefting your unwilling child along with you. Even worse, there aren't even tea and biscuits to make the outing even vaguely worthwhile.

Perhaps it's no surprise that I have yet to go to a single class or group with the twins, and have no intention of breaking my duck. I justify my antisocial parenting technique by comforting myself that in a family of four boys they have more than enough toys to fight over and rowdy children to jostle with in their own home, without the need to venture out and seek further child-induced chaos.

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Sweet like honey

Today my nanny referred to my second son as the sandwich filling in our family, coming, as he does, between his neurotic older brother and demanding little twins. I thought this was a splendid way to refer to my gorgeous little middle child, implying that he is the sweet, moreish filling, that sticks our family together and adds a good dollop of interest to our set up.

I replied that yes, he was the honey in my boy sandwich. To which he flew off on a tangent suggesting ever more disgusting ideas for sandwich fillings before alighting on a noxious concoction of ham, sausage and honey - yum.

This got me to thinking about that age old question of birth order and how it affects our personalities. I am a youngest child, but grew up more like an only child as my sister was miles older and left home when I was still very young. I am sure my more demanding tendancies arise from having been the focus of what little parental attention there was, and I will admit to the odd strain of spoilt brat from time to time. My husband is the second child and I am sure even he would admit to being the indulged baby of the family from time to time.

Our own children also follow these time honoured patterns. The eldest is hugely demanding and seems incapable of amusing himself without some level of adult involvement. Surely a hangover from the days when he couldn't breathe without a gaggle of interested grown ups congregating around his cot to get a closer look. He's has first child syndrome particularly severely though as he was also the first grandchild on both sides, so for the first couple of years of his life he was a little Buddha sitting patiently as we all worshipped at his chubby little feet.

Middle boy, the honey in our sandwich, is more independent, but well suited to be in the centre of the family as he knows how to get noticed. While he is capable of playing for hours by himself in his bedroom, making up imaginative games all on his own, woe betide you if you ignore him when he wants his dose of attention. Mr Middle has a temper on him that can raise the roof, and he's not averse to playing up to grab himself a spot in the limelight.

I am ashamed to admit that his needs probably do come last far too often, as he is forgotten in the mess of dealing with his sensitive big brother and his two little brothers. I hope this doesn't inflict any lasting damage on his sunny soul, and fortunately he does seem to be of a robust nature, so fingers crossed he will survive being squished between his brothers.

The twins are slightly unfortunate in having come along as a twosome, as I am sure if I had just one little baby to lavish my attention on he would have been spoilt rotten. As it is no matter that I long to spend hours enmeshed in baby embraces, if I spend too long cuddling one baby, the other will register his displeasure by screaming at the top of his lungs, until I swap from one twin to the next, and so it goes on. Perhaps this will save them from growing up too over indulged, but I would have liked the chance to wallow in my baby one more time.

Only time will tell how our bread and honey will turn out, but I love the idea that my middle child now has a truly special and sweet role to play in the family.

Monday, 1 March 2010

Lie in politics

No, the title of this post is not a reference to the frantic posturings of our beloved politicians as they square up for the imminent election, but the infinitely more complex negotiations that surround the explosive question of the weekend lie in. Back when we only had one or two children, my husband and I used to be kind to each and operated a rotating system, whereby we each got at least one laze in bed of a weekend.

Since the arrival of the twins, this luxury is long lost in the mists of time. Now, while we very occasionally allow our other half a wallow beneath the sheets, more typically we will be joined at some ungodly hour by a wriggling child or two, who will proceed to fill the dawn hours with whines for Ben 10 to be switched on on our bedroom TV interspersed with and requests for reassurance after some trumped up bad dream, water, medicine, back rubs, cuddles.....

To be fair to my husband he is much more generous than I am, and I am often to be found nestled under the duvet while he wrestles with dressing four boys and shovelling cereal down their throats. But breakfast chez FDMTG really is a two-parent job so I don't really think it is fair to leave him to cope single handed too often.

Of course there are the weekends when we are fully signed up members of the bad parent club, and we send our big boys down to watch television on their own, and block our ears to the plaintive wails that waft upstairs, ever louder, from the twins' room. We snuggle under the duvet and indulge our wildest fantasies - that we don't have four children who will inevitably require our attention sooner rather than later, and that we can stay in bed, all day, venturing no further than the kitchen for necessary sustenance. Oh what very heaven that would be.

I think that couples who with no children don't realise just what a precious commodity they possess. I know I wasn't aware of the value of time to myself, or time as a couple, when both were in plentiful supply. I remember squandering mornings that we could have spent luxuriating in bed surrounded by a mess of weekend papers and scratchy croissant crumbs, by foolishly getting up and going out.

If only I had realised how these precious opportunities would be snatched away from me as soon as babies arrived, I think I might have spent all my spare time pre-children in bed, just appreciating the delight of it. Wallowing in the sensation of being able to stretch out on the sheets without hitting variously a freezing cold pair of feet, a soggy sucked cuddly toy or the sharp edge of some cartoon sci fi toy that had been abandoned during a night time raid on the parental bed.

It is a rare night that we aren't joined by a nocturnal guest or two, and this is while two of our brood are still locked into cots at night. I dread to think what it will be like when there are four little boys free to rampage after dark. I am crossing my fingers that by the time the twins are able to negotiate the stairs the older boys will be too grown up to want to snuggle into my bed. Fat chance I suspect, but as in most matters parental, I live in hope.