Firstly, let me congratulate me on actually delivering the second of my promised monthly blogs, especially after the parenting shock-fest that was half-term. Suffice to say, this post has been written in snatches: while standing… More
When I announced I was pregnant with my third child, people were suspicious. Really? A third? Are you quite sane? Then came the assumptions. Either it was an accident, ho ho, or we must have been after a particular gender. I already have one of each and I meticulously plan everything, so hey, believe it or not, I willingly walked into a life of nappy-brained chaos.
Many of my mum friends talked about a sense of completion. Whether through exhaustion, career aspirations, finances, or simply feeling satisfied, they knew. Time to draw a line under the baby years. No more sleep deprivation, wee in the face, or soggy rice-cake mushed into the carpet. One friend said she felt liberated the day she went on Ebay and sold her Bugaboo for parts. Another bragged about redecorating a living room that had once been the club of all things bright, plastic, noisy and light-up.
I heard them:
‘You know, I actually have time for myself again. I’m planning to take up colouring. By the way, it’s my fortieth soon. Anyone fancy a late-night bender? Like the old days? Honestly, my pair get up and sort themselves out for breakfast, so if I need a lie-in, I can have it.’
Yes, I heard them.
But it didn’t make a difference.
I didn’t share – or even know – that ‘done’ feeling. I wasn’t ready to give up the annoying toys and all-night feeding marathons. The idea of harvesting a Bugaboo didn’t feel me with joy. It made me feel sad. I wanted another baby, another child, another person in my family. Regardless of whether I had the spare energy or the means, I absolutely had the love.
After such a mixed reaction, however, it struck me that having three children is no longer a common choice. In the good old days, you were only a ‘large’ family if your dad had to drive you to school in a mini-van. Now, it seems three is the benchmark for crazy, oversized rabbles of children that no one wants to invite to play-dates.
It’s no secret that the world is designed for families of four: hotel rooms, tables in restaurants, hatchback cars, and, oh my, lest I forget, affordable three-bedroom semis, they all offer nuclear-sized comfort. Throw another small bottom into the mix and it either gets illegal, cramped or expensive.
Financial comfort, particularly in our current housing market, along with reasonably priced holidays and an intense dislike of screeching, are all good reasons to stick to two. Yet, when that maternal instinct starts to tug, as anyone who’s felt it knows, the power is all-consuming.
Fast-forward a year, and I have my wish, my third, my little prince. Some of the aforementioned struggles have indeed become part of our every day fabric (affordable larger house anyone?), but others have never materialised. I honestly don’t notice the day-to-day stress any more than I used to. What I do notice, however, is the increased happiness. My family feels complete.
Once again, it’s that time of year when local council road ‘improvements’ conspire against me getting anywhere in a timely fashion. What are they fixing and why do they have to do it all at once? This week, the after school rush to swimming lessons became 40 long minutes of fury, as I found myself driving from one contraflow traffic jam to another, with a car full of shouty children, then nearly ripping off my front tyre in a cavernous pothole that I’d prefer to describe as a trench. I have lots to say about the stress of managing swimming lessons with seven and five year olds, but the journey to and from the pool is usually the easy part.
It is the season of the angry local driver. Evidently, I’m not alone in my ire. You only need to type ‘potholes’ into a browser, to discover a gaggle of websites such as fixmystreet.com and potholes.com, where residents can name and shame the damaged tarmac in their area, up and down the country. Hey, if the internet is good for one thing, it’s for venting small-scale frustrations.
Of course, road conditions deteriorate in winter months. It’s understandable that the pothole problem increases around this time, but sometimes it seems as if the cracks are being left to grow and seethe, while ‘other’ mysterious road works are popping up all over the place.
It’s a double whammy: craggy tyre-busting tarmac on highways that are too congested to bear, due to random repairs of seemingly everything but the craggy tarmac. I hear lots of rumours about council tactics, how they aim to spend allocated funding by the end of the tax year, in order to secure future money – hence the plethora of non-essential work in the run up to April. Surely, however, the impact of multiple road closures and contraflows could be better managed?
I don’t dare to presume any expertise in the subject of town planning. Give me a role on the team and I suspect any high-dudgeon self-righteousness would be hastily replaced by a sense of the impossible. And the inevitable. The fact is someone somewhere will always be affected by some roadwork or other, which doesn’t mean we shouldn’t fix roads. I do, however, now have a pathological fear of the swimming run and would like a solemn promise that, in weeks to come, it will be more tolerable.
I could always vote with my feet and make the decision to walk. I like walking. All that fresh air and exercise. Ah wait. Now I remember. The last time I took a stroll with two children and a baby buggy, I was forced to step into a busy main road, because the chunk of pavement that the utility service had dug up, blocked-off and abandoned, gave me no room to manoeuver.
On second thoughts, maybe I’ll just hibernate until the work is complete. Or get an avatar on potholes.com and go wild.
Porn Star Martini, anyone? Okay, not the opening line you’d usually expect from a column about mum-related things, but to be fair, porn stars were the last thing I was expecting when walking my children to school the other day. Same walk, same route, same crossing, five times a week. All pretty humdrum and then… whammy! Out of nowhere: a suggestively dressed woman, full-pout, tan-thighs, making eyes at me from a large poster on the wall of a nearby bar/dining establishment.
Said poster also happened to be positioned right in front of the pelican crossing where my children and I stood waiting for the green man, allowing enough time for my 5 year-old son to absorb all the fleshy bits of this puzzling image:
‘Mummy, why isn’t that lady wearing trousers?’
And for my 7 year-old older daughter to practise her phonics on the images’ accompanying tag line: Porn Star Fridays. Cue the obvious:
‘Mummy, what’s a porn star?’
‘Er. Interesting question. I’d say it’s… it’s… um… someone who… um… helps people.’
Pause. Wince. Think quick.
‘Hey, kids, is that a Minecraft-shaped tree over there? You know, I do believe it is. Right there. A lovely square-shaped piece of topiary! Oooo, shall we go and have a look?’
Off we scurried. Now, I’m no Mary Whitehouse, but the job spec for porn-stardom was career advice I really wasn’t ready to hand out yet. Ditto any bird/bee-related discussion.
I’ve since learned that the poster was nothing more scandalous than an ill-judged piece of promotional material for a Friday night martini cocktail. That’s fine. Cocktails with silly, saucy names have long been part of drinking culture (Sex on the Beach, to name but a few). But facing this out to a high street, in an area full of young families and people of all ages and sensitivities? It just felt wrong. Not to mention a teensy bit misogynistic. And, well, tacky,
Unsurprisingly, my discomfort was joined by other school parents who’d seen it and felt a similar ‘Ew! No!’ type of reaction. It wasn’t long before a #takeitdown twitter campaign was hatched. Suddenly, we become the Mumsnet brigade of Essex. Lots of blustery tiger-mum feminist fire, but with bigger bling and hair extensions.
To their credit, the drinking and dining establishment in question has now removed the offending poster without quibble, but hopefully they and other venues will think twice about what they cast to the unfiltered public on the outside of their buildings. It’s fair enough that businesses need to advertise, but not at the expense of local decency.
I have since tried a Porn Star Martini for myself (in the interests of research, of course). It’s a drink too sickly for my tastes and there’s definitely something freaky about all those passion fruit seeds, although they do provide tang. But as for the meaning of the cocktail’s name… on second thoughts, I’d rather not know.
A year ago today, I began editing the final draft of Born Free Elephant Rescue. One of the things I love about writing is that it brings you to knowledge you’d never otherwise get to. I only had the obvious insight into elephants, before working on the book: that they were big, grey, trunky, tusky and famed for having a good memory. By the time I finished, I’d fallen in love with these incredible, complex animals.
One of the things that really struck me, was the elephant instinct for parenting. Adult females gestate their babies for 22 months – the longest of any mammal. As a veteran mother of three human babies, I’d say that’s pretty hardcore! And after such a lengthy pregnancy, it’s no wonder elephants make remarkably gentle and tender mothers. Nina’s story, one of the elephants featured in Elephant Rescue, is absolute testament to this. She had an amazing and moving journey, from being orphaned by poachers, enduring 25 years in captivity, to being given a new lease of life in the wilderness by Born Free. She then did a great job of raising a calf of her own – something no one ever thought would happen.
I will always feel a special connection to Nina’s story. While editing the book, I was going through my own trial of motherhood, looking after my very premature baby in Special Care. Arguably, authors are at their best when writing about subjects that really matter to them. All I can say is that a little piece of my mothering soul is definitely wrapped up in this book.
Happy Mother’s Day.
Born Free: Elephant Rescue is now available for pre-order:
It’s World Book Day, an occasion I love. I frequently tell my children there’s nothing more incredible than getting lost in a good book. Consequently, books tend to get lost around them. Books of all shapes and sizes seem to spread throughout house – on the floor, on the sofa, under beds, in beds, and sometimes actually on the bookshelves where they’re supposed to be. We have a strict household rule: always put the school reading book back in the school bag when you’ve finished. Otherwise, it will be consumed by the bedroom-that-looks-like-a-library-exploded-in-it and mummy will end up with a fine.
In my view, reading is a gift. Hand-in-hand with imagination, it allows a person to explore places, characters, ideas and situations that wouldn’t be feasible in real life. No, not even Minecraft can compare! I like computer games and television, but a great read offers an escapist intimacy that no other form of entertainment can match.
As a children’s author, parents often ask me how their kids can be encouraged to read more. It’s really quite simple: give reading a sense of value. Make it pleasurable. I read with my rabble daily, even if it’s only for a few minutes. And while learning to read is important, it shouldn’t come at the expense of enjoyment. My seven-year old daughter reads competently now, but she still loves being read to, because it allows her mind to relax into the storytelling. It keeps her wanting more. Eventually she’ll be able to handle the big, exciting books all by herself, but it doesn’t hurt to show her the way. I want her to know that there is so much more to reading than the prescriptive logic of letter sounds and blends.
Fundamentally, I’d say it’s never too early to get a child interested in the existence of books. It starts with those squishy cloth books and bath books, with simple nursery rimes and cuddles. Next, come the board books, which tend to be enjoyed more for their chewable quality than their content. Gradually, however, curiosity unfolds. My eleven month old now gets the idea that pages turn and that there’s good stuff on them. He likes to point at things and listen to me repeatedly say the words ‘cat’, ‘mioaw’ and ‘shed’. He has a long way to go before he’s head down in Harry Potter, but I’m pleased he’s started the journey.
All this aside, however, World Book Day has triggered a few cold sweats this year. With two school age children, I now have two costumes to come up with. This means buying on Amazon Prime (expensive) or getting crafty with some fun fur and bubble wrap (lame). My eldest has shown marvellous loyalty by suggesting she goes as one of my characters – good girl! My middle boy is currently deciding between Harry Potter and Ron. He prefers Ron, but in his clear-cut five-year old’s mind, it’s best to be Harry, because Harry’s the hero. And, actually, from my point of view, drawing a felt-tip zig-zag scar on a forehead is far cleaner than messing about with a box of ginger hair-dye…
Yes, I’ve been away.
Feels like I’ve come back from the dead. And I pretty much literally have. (More on that another time…)
In short, I am now recovering from a life-threatening pregnancy complication. All is good and I’m thrilled to be back at my laptop and back in the world of books books books…but, oh, oops, I’ve gained a tiny but perfect premature baby along the way!
So far, he sleeps, sleeps, feeds, poops, then sleeps some more, which is very conducive to blogging and resuming promotion of BORN FREE ELEPHANTS and IN THE GARDEN which, for those of you who are new to my work, are my latest children’s books. But I know babies and I know that as soon as the prodigal son hits his due date and beyond, this is all set to change. The luxury of time will become the race for time. Half finished blog entries and one word tweets… I’m thinking ‘HELP’ or ‘BABYTAKEOVER’
So currently I’m nurturing a theory that it’s all about hours. One hour a day to work on new words for the new novel. One hour a day to edit said words. And one hour a day to toy around with social media. Everything else will be a blur of nappies, cuddles and milky lips. Exactly where I’ll find these magic hours is yet to be seen, but here’s a clue…I’m currently typing left-handed whilst I jiggle, soothe, wipe baby puke and breast-feed…oy vey…
Well, yes, it’s been a while since my last blog entry… *cringes*…so much for last year’s vow to commit to the growth of my online author/artists platform. I do, however, have a very good excuse. One that involves high-stakes, suspense, life-or-death drama, an unpredictable plot development, and – I hope – a very happy ending…
No, it’s not the machinations of my latest novel. It’s pregnancy.
More precisely, pregnancy with problems.
I’ve been lucky enough to get pregnant for a third time (always wanted three…don’t ask!), but rather less fortunate to wind up with a serious complication called: PLACENTA PREVIA MAJOR (…sounds like a sinister piano concerto?)
In brief, my disgustingly behaved placenta has led to lengthy hospital stays, blood transfusions, a super-scary life-threatening haemorrhage at 25 weeks, and now long-term bed rest (which is no mean feat when you have two smallies to take care of – many thanks Mum, Dad and Julian, for pretty much taking over the running of my life!)
But the end is in sight. My docs are hoping I can make it to 34-36 weeks, when they will pluck the baby via c-section and the *normal* chaos of daily life will resume. I honestly cherish the thought of school-runs and cooking and walking to the local shops…just the simple things I’ve been denied over the last few months.
I also can’t wait to restring the threads of my career. On that note, two of last year’s writing efforts, THE GARDEN (a non-fiction early reader for Orion Children’s Books) and BORN FREE: NINA THE ELEPHANT’S STORY (a gorgeous real-life animal rescue story, in conjunction with the Born Free Foundation) have now appeared on Amazon and are available for pre-order. Check them out! Check them out! Just type in my name! And I’ve also been working-up some canvases, anticipating a solo-exhibition of my Epping Forest-inspired abstract landscapes later this year.
Anyway, here’s to the imminent safe arrival of Baby ‘Peanut’ (…named by my 3 year old), to more blog entries, more books, more paintings…and lots more fun.
Till next time.
To do a daily craft activity even if glue and glitter is involved
To say an immediate ‘yes’ to requests for cycling/scootering/park/football/swimming
To recognise that two ice lollies and a Baby Bell do not constitute a meal
Ditto Belvita breakfast biscuits
To water the garden as necessary and not just with children’s spontaneous outdoor weeing
To put a stop to said weeing
To enforce the wearing of clothes in public places
On day-trips, to make a *delicious* array of homemade picnic food, rather than resorting to happy meals
If lucky enough to get to go to Westfield at night, to leave overtired, tearful children at home (unlike the rest of Stratford)
To understand that the ‘self-administering’ bedtime routine has it’s limitations