Thursday, 31 March 2011

Out on the town

I love London. But I do hate braving the city with toddlers in tow as our capital is far from child friendly. But this morning I was greeted by gloomy rain and the prospect of entertaining testy twins for the day.

My preference would have been to loll in front of daytime TV while they raised merry hell around me, only rousing myself to fetch a fresh beaker of app juice when decibel level of the request threatened to rupture my eardrums. But the cleaner was in and I find that someone buzzing about tidying up around you takes all the joy out of indolence. So I had to come up with a Plan B to entertain us.

There is always soft play. But I am convinced that if I have been a really bad girl in this life I will awaken from my death bed to an after life spent in a draughty warehouse filled with hyped up toddlers diving into pools of multicoloured balls and bouncing maniacally into each other on a sticky-to-the-touch inflatable castle. Forget wine and honey, in my purgatory I will be sustained by juice cartons, soggy chips and cardboard chicken nuggets for all eternity.

This is probably why I lighted on another plan that could only have been born out of desperation. I decided that, with the sterling assistance of grandma, I would take the boys into London to the Roar Roar Museum (aka the Natural History Museum). The twins signalled their approval of this madcap scheme by dancing a strange bobbing jig whilst simultaneously roaring at the top of their little lungs. This in contrast to the reaction when I revealed our destination to my mum, who went white. I decided to take her silence as acquiescence, rather than her being struck mute with shock.

Taking one toddler into London is rash. There are such myriad ways in which you can lose, maim or even kill a small child on the streets of the city, from dropping him down that gap on the Tube platform we are all warned so assiduously to mind, to him being ground to a pulp by the chomping black jaws of an escalator, to him dashing under the wheels of a passing black cab or being scalped by a passing tourist's backpack.

But taking two is nothing more than a fool's errand. The first, and probably most serious, problem is that you cannot take a pushchair with you as double buggies and public transport mix about as well as a surfeit of tequila shots followed by an early breakfast meeting the next day.

This means your toddlers have to walk, or be carried. Which really means they have to be carried, for after one or two steps on unfamiliar pavements, both twins decided that this walking lark really wasn't for them and both stood, arms outstretched above their heads demanding 'Carry, carry'.

Despite all my best efforts, which involved lots of shouting and pretending to walk off without them, they would not budge. Instead they simply made me look bad by standing sobbing noisily, parting the crowds of commuters, whose hardened hearts were clearly touched by the rivers of tears pouring down their chubby little cheeks.

Eventually we reached the museum, by which time both me and my mother were ready to drop, backs screaming in protest at carrying our heavy burdens. I was all for turning round and going home, but grandma is made of sterner stuff. She marched up to the information desk and, waving her Freedom Pass aloft, demanded a wheelchair.

Like an OAP Boudica there was no stopping her and the twins were soon nestled on her lap as I wheeled them all off in state. 'It's a taste of things to come', cackled grandma evilly, so I turfed her out and made her walk. We got quite a few strange looks as the twins endlessly climbed in and out of their transportation making it quite clear that it was entirely unnecessary for health reasons, unless you count their carers' sanity, but our wheeled chariot saved the day.

A good time was had by all, Jonah was introduced to the blue whale, which being made of fibreglass didn't gobble him up, Zach fell in love with many a stuffed bear, bear, and they were both terrified into silence by the animatronic T-Rex (I am thinking of investing in one for home).

When we left I was sad to leave our wheelchair behind, but the twins were a lot easier to handle on the homewards journey as they both fell asleep, lolling on their upholstered Underground seats like two drunks sleeping it off on last tube home.

Although I would caution anyone not to try it on their own, our day out on the town with the twins was a triumph, after all we all made it back in one piece and there was not a multicoloured ball or bouncy castle in sight. If that's not a result, I don't know what is.

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Doing the Disney diet

The boys are currently counting down the days until we jet off to Disney World, and while I share their excitement at going on holiday, I am more than a little apprehensive about how I will deal with the gargantuan portions of greasy food that usually accompany a break Stateside.

Over the last four months I have managed to shed almost as many stones of blubber and I really, really don't want to put any of it back on again as it was such bloody hard work shifting it in the first place. At home I have developed a disciplined approach, whereby I eat very little and haunt the gym floor to such an extent I am almost on staff.

But being away, in America of all places, is going to be tough. A normal break in Florida is saturated with trips to fast food joints, from Waffle House to Dennys. Breakfast is a stack of fluffy pancakes drenched in sweet maple syrup with a side of crispy bacon, the way only the Americans make it. Lunch is burger and chips theme park style and dinner is some calorie laden combination of cheese, fries, steak, pizza and ice cream.

It is no wonder that the US is home to the super obese. I know if I lived there I would require a mobility scooter to drive me from one feeding trough to the next. The trouble is that while I may be a woman of elegance and sophistication in many areas of my life (ahem), when it comes to food my tastes have not left the trailer park - at least not when I am on holiday.

I suspect it's that same foreign blindness that means you will happily toast yourself lobster red, wear unsuitably small clothes and drink luminous cocktails in a way that you would never dream of at home, that allows me to gorge on fast food that I would actively avoid in the UK. I would never kick off my day with an Egg McMuffin here, but in America it seems rude not to.

My eminently sensible other half tells me I shouldn't worry so much. But after spending months attempting to persuade myself, in the teeth of all the evidence, that I no longer crave fatty, sweet treats, I am terrified that just two weeks in the birth place of junk food will see me backsliding at a supersonic pace.

I am just hoping that if I spend enough hours pushing a double buggy around the baking hot parks, traipsing from visits to Mickey Mouse to rides on It's a Small World, I will burn off at least some of the excess calories I am destined to consume. But it's questionable whether I can take the unrelenting 'magic' of Disney without self medicating on comfort food.

Monday, 14 March 2011

Toddler OCD

Now I don't like to make light of such a serious condition, but I have grave concerns that twin one is showing increasing signs of OCD. My husband was the first to notice this worrying tendency as he wiped said son's hand for what seemed like the millionth time during our lunch out yesterday.

Between each bite my boy would thrust out his spotless hand and yell ''And, 'and'. We fast came to realise this meant 'Wipe my hand this instant you fools', by means of his increasing volume, frenzied shaking of the offending hand in our faces and requests for 'White, white', which is toddler for wipe.

Twin one has always had hysterical tendencies, his nickname as a babe in arms was Stroppy thanks to his constant yelling and he has yet to grow out of this particular phase. If you provide food which is not to his taste (for which read pretty much anything other than pizza and yoghurt) he will firmly zip his lips shut and swivel his head away a la Exorcist. The moment he is done with his food he declares 'Binished' and promptly goes to throw his plate from the tray of his highchair, you have to move fast before it and its contents hit the floor.

He has now also taken against nappies and spends most of his day yelling 'Poo, poo. Mappy, mappy', which translates as 'How can any civilised toddler be expected to walk around with anything other than a pristinely clean nappy? It is an outrage'. It does not, however, mean he has done a poo. As he won't calm down until he is changed, we are now going through nappies like they were going out of fashion, which I suppose in a way they are.

There is nothing that is expressed with anything approaching calm, if you ask him for a cuddle, you might get one, or then again he might look at you in horror and scream 'No cuggle, no cuggle', ask him to sit down and invariably you are met with a firm 'No dit down, no dit down', but the real trigger is bed. Just metion the B. E. D. word and he melts down, sobbing 'No beddy, no beddy', whilst beetling off as fast as his little legs will carry him.

He is just lucky he is unbearably cute with it, or he would just be downright unbearable.

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Happiness is....

So it turns out that young, married, childless couples are happiest. I don't get it myself, how could anyone not see a day spent with small children as the ultimate in adult fulfilment?

Who doesn't want to be woken up by two small boys charging into their bedroom at a most unsociable hour screaming: "Mummy, daddy, [insert name of relevant brother] is being mean to me". Swiftly followed by a heated denial from accused sibling, followed by noisy sobs from both boys.

As we pull the duvet tight around our ears in a vain attempt to drown out the noise and hold on to slumber for a few more precious moments, up the stairs float forlorn cries of "Mummy. Daddy. Cheeha", signalling the awakening of the twins and the subsequent awakening of their bellies and thus increasinly hysterical demands for breakfast (in otherwords Cheeha, which is toddler for Cheerios).

Up we haul ourselves, fingers crossed not too hungover from having drowned our parental sorrows the night before. Downstairs to deal with the war zone that is breakfast. Four locusts descend and make short work of toast, cereal, milk, juice and anything else they can get their claws into, leaving nothing but the husks of their repast scattered liberally around the dining room.

As they trail around the house, spreading more crumbs and making continual demands for yet more food and drink, we unload and load the dishwasher, washing machine and tumble dryer, and make a stab at pushing back the tide of mess that continually threatens to engulf the house. What's not to love about this picture of domestic bliss?

Then it's out with the bullhorn to give the older boys a subtle hint that it's almost lunchtime so perhaps they should get dressed. We know we should have started this process earlier as for some mysterious reason it seems to take small boys approximately two hours to pull on socks, pants, T-shirt, jumper and jeans - a process that we parents have pared down to mere seconds by now.

As we snap at the heels of the older boys to hurry up, we are simultaneously rounding up the toddling twins and holding them down to change nappies and put on their clothes. This is faster than getting the big boys dressed because we are in charge, always assuming there hasn't been a tidal wave of poo produced as a result of their prodigious breakfast.

So now it's at least 1pm and therefore feeding time at the zoo yet again. We cannot face the Sisyphean task of feeding and clearing up quite so soon after the last time, so we decide to brave a restaurant. Now I love eating out, because someone else has to cook, serve and get on their knees to scrape up the filth splattered about by the children, but I will admit that it is no longer the indulgent, relaxing pursuit it once was.

Instead of sitting pondering the menu, nibbling on olives, taking our time over our meals and enjoying a glass or two of wine, and then perhaps dessert and a coffee. Now we are under starters orders from the moment we enter the restaurant as we know we have a half hour window to stuff food down all of us before the troops get restless.

Us adults just pick the first thing they like the sound of while making the tricky choice of which of the dishes on the usually highly unimaginative children's menu is least likely to be met with disgust by the boys. Then we grab the first passing waiter, gabble out our order and beg him to hurry. All the while desperately attempting to keep all knives, breakables and salt and pepper shakers out of reach of the twins.

Our food arrives and goes cold as we variously chop up and distribute the children's food, and then do our best to persuade twin one that it is unlikely to kill him, so could he perhaps stop screaming for a moment and give it a try.

I would love to neck down an entire carafe of wine to bathe this whole affair in a more fuzzy and attractive light, but I know that being mildly pissed and a mother is a dangerous, if tempting, mix. Instead I stick to fizzy water, which the boys constantly purloin to make their apple juice bubbly and spill all over the table cloth.

Time is abruptly up and the twins began to querulously demand: "Hout, hout", which means they want out and once they have escaped the confines of their high chairs, no one is safe. Chairs will be dragged around, cutlery snatched from neighbouring tables and woe betide and glassware that comes within reach. It is our cue to demand the bill post haste and beat a speedy retreat.

Naturally it is raining so we can't let our dogs, oh sorry boys, loose in the park. Instead weakened by the best part of a day spent in their company, we give into the boys wheedling demands to visit a toy shop. A serious error in judgement.

Toy shops are the inner circle of hell. As I explained to my boys, I like watching them deliberate over which plastic piece of crap they want to bring home to instantly lose interest in, about as much as they would like spending time with me in a clothes shop watching me umm and ahhh as I choose the perfect outfit. Reluctantly I conclude that at 39 years of age it would be inappropriate for me to express my boredom by lying on the floor and crying, but I am sorely tempted.

At last we leave, and for a few blissful moments they fall asleep in the car. We can chat without constant interruption, and we can listen to the radio without them asking what the title of every bloody song is. Thank God for Google is all I can say, or else they would think every tune ever written was snappily titled "I don't know".

Peace is shattered when we arrive home and guess what? It's time to feed them again. As I make sandwiches with four different fillings and milk with four different flavours, my husband unloads the dishwasher. As he tidies up the debris a few moments later I deal with the umpteen wash of the day as they decide to play football in the kitchen.

The only consolation is that it is almost bedtime and, after an arduous round of baths, pyjamaing, stories, cajoling to brush teeth, they will all, eventually, fall asleep. For a few brief hours it will be as if we don't have children, and we can get a taste of the happiness of a young, childless, couple, before they all wake up again.

Friday, 11 March 2011

Curiosity killed the cat

My children are nosy, they cannot keep their beaks out of anything, no matter how little it concerns them. It is a very irritating trait as it renders private conversations impossible. It also means one ends up explaining far too many tricky concepts to them, often to their detriment.

The problem is that they overhear a snippet of chat and badger you mercilessly to explain the exact context.  I have repeatedly tried to tell them, in increasingly infuriated tones, that if I wasn't addressing them personally it is none of their business, but this just floats over their heads like so much hot air. It's amazing how such painfully observant little people can become selectively obtuse when it suits them.

Take this morning. I made a brief reference to my husband about an incredibly sad story a friend told me last night. I suppose I should have known better than to say anything in front of my pair of inquisitors, but I never learn.

Initially I tried to deflect them, but that's a bit like trying to stop an inferno with a water pistol. Then I explained that they really didn't want to know what I had been talking about as I knew it would upset them, but they refused to take my word for it.

They took turns for the entire school run to try to break me. If they had had a naked light bulb and a pair of pliers I think I would be without fingernails by now. Under intense pressure I cracked and told them an abridged version of the story. At the end both said in unison: 'Now we feel really sad. Why did you tell us?' You just can't win.

Thursday, 10 March 2011

A nitty problem

As the sun made a rare appearance from behind the clouds today, it struck my boys' fair head, but instead of drinking in the beauty of his burnished curls I noticed a smattering of those tell tale little white eggs audaciously clinging to his golden skeins. 'Bastards' I hissed. I hate nits with a passion. Just thinking about them has me digging my nails into my scalp in a frenzy of scratching.

They have been doing the rounds at school ever since he started, but by keeping his hair as short as possible without straying into skinhead territory, so far we have avoided the dreaded head lice. This time we are not so lucky, and the evil pests have decided to colonise my sons' hair.

All I can say is foolish move dear louse, for this is not a welcoming house. Within moments of spotting those nasty nits we were in the car and on our way to Boots to find sufficient weaponry to wreak instant annihilation. I left laden with evil smelling potions and sharp fanged combs. There was no way this encroachment could be allowed to continue and now I an arsenal to fight back.

As soon as we got home my son was immersed into a bath like a sheep dip to have his hair combed to within an inch of its life with the highly recommended Nitty Gritty comb, which I am assured is the best way to remove the blighters. Naturally this was not enough for me, as once I had combed his hair to a sleek matinee idol sheen, I then slathered it with Nelson's Nice 'n Clear, which by the smell alone could kill from 50 paces.

I am hoping that my zero tolerance approach will have beaten those pesky pests into submission, but if not I will have to bring on the big guns and spray my childrens' heads with noxious pesticides. None of your hippy dippy homeopathy for me, I will be quoting Apocalyse Now as I Napalm those lice to kingdom come.

I am just grateful I have boys,. I still have painful memories of my aunt wrenching a nit comb through my unfeasibly thick, long hair when I caught nits from my cousins one summer. I swear she took sadistic pleasure in yanking thick sections of hair right out of my head. At least my sons short back and sides only take seconds to comb through, though that doesn't seem to have cut down on the amount of tears shed during the process.

Fingers crossed my opening salvo will have been savage enough to rid this house of the pestilence visited up on it, as woe betide any louse that fails to heed this warning.

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Fickle affections

I have noticed that there comes a time in every boy's life when mummy is cast aside in favour of fresher fancies. No, I don't mean when they are teenagers, I mean the terrible twos. With each of my sons I have encountered a phase just after their second birthday when I am no longer what his heart desires.

With the oldest two, the only woman for them was my mum. I would put out my arms for my offspring and they would bat me away, whipping round to cling to my mum for dear life. If she had to prise them off her they would writhe away from me, screaming for their beloved grandma. In fact the only thing that reminded them that they had a mother was when they hurt themselves, at which point poor old granny was instantly cast aside in favour of their first love.

Thankfully, for me at least, these phases were short lived, and I only had to endure being spurned for a month or two, before they returned to my arms with renewed adoration. But I will admit that this kind of rejection was hard to take. I guess it is the price I pay for being a working mum, as they always transferred their affections to whoever looked after them while I was tied to a hot keyboard.

This time around the twins have fallen head over heels for their lovely nanny. I can't say I can blame them as she is tall, blonde and beautiful, as well as having a heart of gold. But I will admit to a pang or two when my two-year old howls with despair when his nanny says it's time for her to go home, yelling 'No mummy' at the top of his voice when she tries to hand him back to me.

The only way she was able to escape yesterday was when he banged his head, and the shock reminded him that mummy wasn't so bad after all. I am just glad I have been through this twice before, so these actions have lost their sting.

I also see a certain logic to their choices as both my mum and my nanny are much nicer than me. They try to please the boys, providing them with whatever their hearts desire and generally pampering them royally. On the other hand their mother spends most of her time distractedly drumming into them that independence is a virtue, particularly when it comes to entertaining themselves while I fiddle around on my iPhone or empty the washing machine. Perhaps it should come as more of a surprise that they are ever won back round to mummy.

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Make believe

Do you remember the days when you could tell your children anything and they would believe you? At Christmas the merest whisper of a bad report to Santa and they would scuttle off to do your bidding. Tell them that babies are made with special cuddles and that was explanation enough. When they ask why they should do something 'Just because' was enough of a response. If you had a hissed row with daddy on the phone you could explain away the floods of tears by saying you got something in your eye. Boy do I miss those days.

My children are too savvy by half nowadays. Take my five-year-old. At the moment we are not watching TV for reasons to complicated to go into. Now pre-TV ban my threat to get them to make their beds was that if I came in and found duvets on the floor and toys scattered around, there would be no screen time. Cue me saying 'M, why isn't your bed made?' 'Well mummy are we still doing our no TV experiment?' he responds. 'Yes', I admit. 'So there isn't any point in me making my bed is there as I can't watch TV anyway'. The boy is only five.

I spluttered that I could easily think up another punishment and he reluctantly straightened his pillows, but we both knew he had won that battle of wits.

Next up is his big brother. I have been having some problems with my own parents recently, but believed I had thoughtfully and successfully kept them from my sons. More fool me. 'Mummy why don't you like grandma very much at the moment?' trills my seven-year-old. 'What do you mean darling?', I ask, all innocence. 'Well you did throw her out of the house didn't you?' he replies.

A slight exaggeration of events, but I will admit to some very heated exchanges of late, I just hadn't realised that he had been taking notes throughout. I had tried so hard not expose him, but he doesn't miss a trick.

Sadly, sophisticated as they are in some areas, tact is not one of them. There is simply no brake between brain and mouth and they are more than capable of repeating any waspish aside or nasty comment thrown out in anger as gospel truth, much to the detriment of my relationship with my in-laws. I am just hoping that this sign of maturity will arrive as fast as their mastery of the art of observation and negotiation have.