Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Two is a magic number

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

A little piece of heaven

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, 21 June 2010

Date night

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 17 June 2010

The power of no

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

The patience of a sinner

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, 14 June 2010

Psst...over here

It's summer fete season and I have the good fortune to have an unwell child, which means I have a legitimate excuse to avoid the school gate with its ever present press gang of PTA members. Of course if I dare to breach the perimetre of the school gates in a dash to drop or pick up from nursery I must run the gauntlet of their clip boards and oh-so-polite notices in the classroom door.

It's not that I mind helping out at the school, in fact I quite enjoy whipping up a batch of fairy cakes and I can even be persuaded to brave the baking hot school hall filled with shrieking children that is the fair itself, but God preserve me from manning a stall. I find dealing with my own children in the state of high excitement induced by crowds of their peer group and excessive consumption of overpriced candyfloss hard enough to cope with, let alone dealing with a whole school full of them.

I am just not a child-friendly person. I have friends who can instantly come down to the level of any child, coaxing smiles from tears, telling a joke that it pitched perfectly for their infant audience. These are the mums who have Tardis like bags that hold everything from sachets of Calpol to silencing snacks, a fascinating array of toys and enough nappies and wipes to service a nursery. I am the kind of mum who discovers that she forgot to pack tissues just after her child has sneezed a gush of snot down his face, or that I have no nappies or wipes as the poo seeps through a pastel babygro.

It might sound ironic, coming from a mum of four, but I can't cope with children en masse. Again I know many other mothers who think nothing of having dozens of children milling around their house, taking all the waifs and strays their children collect at nursery, school and in the park and feeding each and every one of them a nutritious home cooked tea. They have sleepovers for dozens and host vast parties for the whole class in their cramped back garden. The mere prospect has me hyperventilating into a brown paper bag.

I had the boys' cousin for a sleepover (our first) this weekend and I was tense with anxiety from the moment he arrived until his dad picked him up the next morning. Not that he was any trouble, well no more than three young boys always are, it's just that I couldn't relax with an alien child, albeit a related one, in our midst.

Perhaps it's because with my own children I can scream and shout at them to get them to behave, whereas with someone else's child I feel the urge to come across as reasonable and fun. Or perhaps it's just the fear that if something were to happen to him in my care I would never be forgiven or forgive myself, or perhaps I just don't like children, other than my own, that much. It's probably a bit of all of these things, but either way the experience has left a pall of exhaustion hanging over me for the entire weekend, so it clearly didn't agree with me.

This is why I duck and dive to avoid the clutches of the PTA. It's not that I don't wholeheartedly support their efforts and I am happy to shell out vast sums of cash to show my solidarity, I don't mind giving up my evenings to cake baking and stuffing pots for the jarbola stall, just please, please, please don't make me have to stand behind our class stall and deal with all those children. I have enough trouble coping with my own.

Thursday, 10 June 2010

I am guilty

Last week was half term and like a good mummy I took several days off work. I stopped on Wednesday once the nanny clocked off, and didn't go back until this Tuesday thanks to an inset day that was helpfully tacked onto the end of the holiday. We went paddling in the Diana Memorial Fountain with daddy, we played in the sand for hours and hours, we went on a boat to Greenwich and toured the Maritime museum. In short a good time was had by all.

The net result of this was that I had a stack of work waiting in a sullen pile waiting for me to return to the chains that normally bind me to my desk. Tuesday was a day from hell where interview, followed interview, followed interview. Wednesday I was knee deep in uploading content to the website I edit when the phone shrilled a hole in my concentration. It was grandma who was on boy watch that afternoon to tell me that the firstborn's stubborn verucca had developed a unsightly accessory in the form of a ginormous blister that was threatening to take over his whole foot.

Down went the tools once again, website half finished, but all thought of work were dashed away by my concern for the boy. I rushed over and was overwhelmed by the magnitude of his swollen tootsie. It was off to the walk in clinic, naturally the GP was closed, where his blister was lanced and he was put on super strength antibiotics to clear up the underlying infection.

Trouble is, while the immediate problem is solved we are left with a limping six-year-old who feels very sorry for himself. And when six-year-olds feel sorry for themselves the one person they want to know about it is mum. He has been laying on the guilt trip about me daring to work ever since the early hours of the morning (when admittedly I did have to shoo him away so I could do a quick spot on the radio).

The end result is that I feel those horrible tendrils of maternal guilt wrapping a stranglehold grip around my heartstrings. I want to bin all my productive plans and sit on the sofa cuddling him in my arms and telling him how loved he is. But if I do that I will have to cancel a long overdue visit to the office of one of my main employers, which I won't be able to reschedule for a week. Not an option as I am working to a tight deadline for a big project that must be completed before I disappear for the whole summer holiday.

Oh the joy of working motherhood. I love my boys and I always try to prioritise them, taking time off when I know they will be off school and rushing to their side in even the tiniest of an emergency. But when their convalescence clashes with work is when it really starts to bite. Should I cancel an important meeting just to give him exactly what he wants, even though now he is happily off playing with his grandparents who are in charge of childcare today? Or should I leave him in their capable hands and deal with the pit of bubbling guilt and whisk into London to do my job?

I know he will be fine, in fact I can hear him giggling downstairs now, so I guess the call of my career will be met, but it's on days like this that I wish I was a SAHM who could simply devote myself to my boy when he needs me. Mind you if I am brutally honest I would probably be tearing my hair out with frustration and boredom within half an hour of coping with a vaguely unwell six year old and his three smaller brothers, so perhaps all my maternal fantasies are just that, and I am better off leaving well alone while I tussle with HTML.

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Sex in the City

I went to see the SATC 2 movie last Friday. It was opening night and cinema thronged with thirtysomething women who have grown up to the antics of Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte and Miranda. We all fancied that we could identify with one or other of them, and we all wished we had a shoe collection to rival any one of them. I sat through the entire series, glued to the implausible plot lines, ridiculous fashion and the quaint idea that female friendship really does transcend all.

I loved the first movie, when we all got the satisfaction of finally seeing the Big/Carrie storyline reach it's white tulle conclusion, albeit with a few bumps along the way. But movie number two left me cold. The problem, apart from the risible attempt to bring a serious commentary on women's rights in the Middle East into a frothy chick flick, was that married, menopausal mothers just aren't that glam.

When Carrie and co were bed hopping and sharing angst over their latest love affairs, I was hooked. I was on the edge of my seat as I waited to find out what would happen between Smith and Samantha, what was it that Miranda saw in speccy Steve, and could Charlotte sink her waspish ways to wed her semite in shining armour? But do I really want to know how sexy Samantha overcomes hot flushes? Do I care about Charlotte's woes over motherhood, and could I care less about Carrie's worries about becoming an old married couple or Miranda's work\life balance dilemmas? No.

Watching the girls whizz around the streets of Manhattan in their skyscraper heels was delicious escapism. I would revel in the fashion, the sophisticated bars and luscious young men. The cocktails, the brunches, the to die for apartments and glamourous careers. It was just the contrast I needed to making ends meet in rainy London, with a love life whose highlight was a takeaway on the sofa on a Friday night.

But the latest movie shows me that no matter how expensive the heels, sophisticated the decor or elegant the friends, as soon as age, marriage and motherhood catches us, we are all the same under the skin whether it's smooth and burnished with Fake Bake or chapped by washing up liquid. I don't want to know. I want the girls to remain perfectly glamourous. I don't want to see those starry women grow wrinkled, the fabulous dresses making them look like so much mutton dressed as lamb, the sex scenes becoming that little bit uncomfortable, not because of their kinkiness, but because of the creaking you can almost hear as those limbs entangle.

So I bid a sad adieu to SATC. It was great while it lasted, but now it's as stomach churning as watching your mum snog a waiter at a wedding.


I honestly, cross my heart, swear that I do not want any more babies, ever. Well at least not until grandkids and the benefit of them is that I get to skip the whole pregnancy, labour, birth and sleepless nights shenanigins. But when I stumble across pictures of my newborn sons I still feel a faint tug of the heartstrings when I realise I will never have another baby of my own.

I was searching for an email address today and found an old picture message I had sent just after the twins were born. It's a fuzzy snap of my babies, swaddled in their hospital blankets sleeping nose-to-nose in their see-through plastic crib. At 15-months it's a long time since those boys could sleep in a tiny crib, but seeing this picture took me right back to those otherworldly days spent in the cocoon of a hospital room, schedule dictated by feeding, check ups and gradually getting to know my two new sons.

After each birth their was a period spent in the bubble of new motherhood. Naturally it was more marked, and longer, with my first boy. The sheer horror of the birth followed by a painful adjustment to caring for my tiny boy kept me swaddled from reality for months, rather than days or weeks. My routine was sharpened by anxiety that I was getting things right, worrying that he was feeding enough, and why was he sleeping so little. My whole world shrank to a tight grip around my precious baby.

Of course things settle down, faster and faster the more children you have, but I still have a strange nostalgia for that post traumatic after birth period. When you are divorced from normality by the profundity of what has happened to you. When you are swaddled into a hospital routine yourself, and horrible as this might be, it also has a unique fascination. Nothing in your life has been or will be like it again. Any more trips to hospital are likely to be entirely of a negative nature, with no sprinkling of joy to give them that edge of ecstatic hysteria. I will never trail out of a hospital dragging foil helium balloons and a car seat filled with the rest of my life.

I wouldn't want to relive those day and I never want to deal with the physical and emotional demands of a newborn baby again, but those memories are etched, flashbulb bright, on my mind, and staring at that grainy, mobile phone snap of my boys, takes me right back beneath the blankets of my hospital bed, tiny boys draped delicately in my arms, like a crisp new page opening on a new chapter in my life.