Thursday, 28 June 2012

What should I wear to my husband's 40th?

It seemed like such a good idea at the time:

Please wear your favourite thing (and your swimming costume).

It's B's 40th on Monday (let's skip over the oh my goodness where on earth did the last ten years go bit) and we are having a party.  It's a These are a few of my favourite things party, because that way he gets to have all the stuff he likes: champagne (on offer), hot tub (hired - hence the swimming costume), karaoke, disco, roast pork, poppadoms (the curry house is bringing 100 round at 6.30 on the evening), ice cream... All in the garden (if the rain ever stops).

So obviously, the dress code is your favourite thing.  Which seems so easy, until you think about it.  Because actually my favourite thing is the thing that makes me look most like Angelina Jolie and least like a slightly stressed, slightly flabby, slightly saggy mother of four. (Angelina has six, or seven, which must be easier, economies of scale, and all that). And I don't seem to have a magic wand handy.

I've narrowed it down to the fact that I can't buy anything new (because that feels like cheating) and I genuinely like dressing up (in the posh, not stupid, sense), so where plenty of people are planning on coming in their pjs, that's not for me. I want to look splendid, and pjs (or at least my pjs) aren't splendid.  And I'm definitely wearing these:

But what else?  Because while B might be quite happy to have me in just gold sparkly shoes, I'm not sure the Scottish Borders is ready for that.

Here's the shortlist.... leave a comment letting me know what you think. I don't promise to do what I'm told, but some independent thoughts (and not that I need my legs waxing, that's next Tuesday) would be very much appreciated.

We could go sort of smart casual-ish.  These are absurdly flattering jeans (although better with shoes), and it's a nice top, although looking at the pictures I'm not sure it doesn't make my body look long and my legs short, which they are, but still....

Or the other extreme.  Nothing casual about this. I bought it for a friend's wedding in 2003.  Still love it:

Downsides: it appears to make me fade into the background, but I'm hoping that's just the picture.  Oh, and no bra... possibly unwise in a woman who has breast-fed (and sort of appears still to be breast-feeding) four children.

Or this.  I made this dress out of fabric my brother bought back from his gap year in China. Quite proud of that, but not sure I still have the figure I made it for. 

Or what about this?  I bought this in a charity sale about two weeks ago for a fiver.  It makes me feel all flirty.

B's always been quite a fan of this dress, which I bought with a friend (the same one whose wedding it was, as it happens) in about 1999.  I'm not convinced it does that much for me, but he wants me to put it to the vote:

He's also quite keen on this one, my amazing coat, bought on a whim for my birthday about five years ago in a funny little shop by Baron's Court tube, but I haven't got anything that really works underneath it (this purple job's a bit of a poor compromise), and as I've mentioned I'm not sure the Borders is prepared for the alternative:

So what about this?  Bought for the day after our wedding, when all the people my parents like but we don't know were invited for lunch.  Got a bit of a red wine stain on the front of it from a wedding about a month ago, but you can't really see it...

Or this? It is one of my favourite things, after all....but is it really that sort of party? And am I prepared to risk it?

Answers on a postcard (or in the comments box, if that's easier...).

How to keep your children entertained for the whole* of the holidays

I had a shock on Tuesday.

It was the end of term.

Yes, readers South of the Border, you did read that right.  The END OF TERM.  On TUESDAY.  It's not even the last week in June and I have all of my children all of the time.

Until, even more weirdly to someone raised on English terms, the 12th of August.

As I said.  Weird. I'm sure I'll get used to it, but nonetheless, and I say this as someone whose children are still only in school/nursery half days, it has caught me unprepared.

Still, we have survived the first two days, unscathed, thanks mostly to the Toucan Box.

I was sent the Toucan Box about a month ago, and I foolishly started it then, but it is, genuinely, not only one of those "ideas I wish I'd had" but also one of the very few freebie/testy/bloggy things I've been sent that I will, honestly, be spending my hard earned cash on again.

It's a box which arrives at your door with no fewer than four (yes, four... if you eke them out, that's one a week, so 2/3 of the holidays done) crafty activities, a story book (Dazzle Duckling - I thought it was quite annoying, but that might just be because I have read it approximately fifty times in the last three weeks), colouring pictures, instructions, inspiration, and, and here's the impressive bit, all the stuff you need:  all the glue, the glitter, the paper, the funny little matchsticky things, the card, the sequins, even the bird seed. The whole bang lot.  All you provide is scissors.  For the distinctly craftily challenged, this is priceless.

Here's a little gallery of us making our stuff over the past four weeks.  Stupidly, as I've said, we started it pre-holidays, so now we've finished it and are going to have to get another one.  You, if you are five miles South of me, have three weeks to prepare. You have been warned....

How it arrived....

 We started with the peacock collage... (each of them had a different colour)


We did the colouring in, too

 Next up, the bird feeder.

Quite a lot of audience participation required here

In situ. Although if the truth be told, it didn't survive the combined onslaught of heavy rain and even heavier pigeons.  RIP bird feeder.

Next up, the toucan family.  This was our favourite.  I liked the very gloopy paint that didn't go everywhere when knocked over

and they liked the toucans (actually I'm quite proud of these too, although they are a little fragile for the amount of loving they've been getting):

And last but not least, we had the bird glider.

It doesn't glide:

But we enjoyed colouring it in:

The Toucan Box isn't cheap (if you sign up for one a month for a year it's £16.95 a month, and it's more expensive than that if you sign up for a shorter period of time), but it is absolutely, totally, from the bottom of my heart, worth it.   If you know me and have small children, these are your presents...


Full disclosure alert - they sent it to me for free.  But I honestly will be buying them in future.

*ish... but you could definitely call it 2/3...

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

The secret agony of every parent.

M is ill at the moment.  Not, I hope, really ill, but ill enough that the words "maybe we'll admit him if" have been mentioned.

While I sat in the surgery for the second time in 24 hours, M floppy and listless against me, I realised that when you're pregnant everyone wants to share their stories with you.  They tell you about stretchmarks and piles, forceps and stitches, epidurals that don't work and midwives that don't care, sleepless nights, colic and exploding nappies, stomach upsets, fighting and whinging.

They tell you about the night, six weeks in, that their husband said: I can't take this any more, and walked out, letting the door slam behind him.

Or the New Year's Eve in Edinburgh when their two week old twins screamed and screamed, until babies and parents fell into an exhausted, fretful sleep at 11.45p.m.   A sleep which lasted only fifteen minutes before the whole world exploded in a crash of light and noise and heaving I can't cope sobs.

Or the time they fell asleep on the sofa, cuddling their three day old baby.  And the baby rolled off them onto the floor, and they woke to the scream, and the wide open eyes of accusation and pain.

And all those things are (and were) awful.  Frightening and painful and tough.

But none of them is the worst thing about parenting.

This is the worst thing about parenting.  Everyone must know it, but no-one talks about it:

You can't keep them safe.

They are the most perfect human beings ever to have existed and you'll never be able to keep them safe.

When L was about four days old I rang my mother in tears.   I couldn't bear to put L down because I was frightened that she would never wake up.  But I was scared of more than that. I was scared of everything: grazed knees, tummy upsets,  broken limbs, broken hearts, muggings, assaults, injury, illness, death.

My baby will get hurt, and however hard I try I can't stop it, I said, through sobs.

That's what being a mother is,  my mother said.  I still feel like that about you.  Admittedly, I don't worry so much about you having a bath on your own, but I don't sleep well if you're out of the country and I start to panic if I ring you twice and I can't get hold of you.  It doesn't change because you're grown.  It's just there, and it never goes away.

I didn't know. How could I know? No one told me.

Every night before I go to bed I do the rounds of my children.  I go to A and S first.  Normally one of them has fallen out of bed, so I pick her up, and steal an extra cuddle.  I tuck her in, and then her sister.  I kiss them both, listening to the rush of their breathing.  I go to L, normally face down in her pillow, hair hiding what little of her should be visible.  I brush it away and kiss her too.  I move to M's room.  I can't reach to kiss his face over the bars of the cot, but I stroke it, and lift his hand, simultaneously pleased and nervous when he moves - is he going to wake? - and kiss that.   Each little kiss is a memory of that conversation with my mother.  They feel more vulnerable in their sleep, tucked up in their warm safe beds, than at any other time, and I feel acutely, painfully aware of that vulnerability.

But I push that pain away, down into the depths of my self.  I ignore the knowledge.  Don't look at it, don't speak about it.  Pretend it isn't there.

I can't keep them safe.

And, somehow, I know that every other parent, even though we never talk about it, feels it too.

Monday, 25 June 2012

We will fight... and we will never surrender.

Sometimes I think it wasn't only as babies that my children were channelling Winston Churchill.

Friday, 22 June 2012

HELP! - How do you entertain four children for 1,002 miles?

In three weeks' time we will be heading off on holiday.

It will, I hope, be brilliant.

But we are driving.

So that means an hour and a bit to Newcastle. Then 16 hours on a ferry.  Then nearly 12 hours on the road in Holland, Belgium and France.

I am told, by google maps, that where we are going, not far from Lyon, is 1,002 miles away from where I am sitting now.

And L gets car sick, so DVDs are not an option.

So we are going to need help...

We're thinking story tapes and CDs, but we need recommendations. L is just five and is loving having Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and his ilk read to her, but S and A are 3 and a half and haven't got the attention span for "chapter books".  Their only request so far is Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.

M of course gets no say in this yet.  Nor does B, incidentally, although he's likely to be less tolerant of Twinkle Twinkle on a loop.

Any ideas?   Songs, stories, activities?

And if all else fails, I do at least now know the French for Soft Play Centre.


Thursday, 21 June 2012

Why stopping is, now, right for my baby (even if it doesn't always feel right for me)

M is one.

And I have stopped feeding him.

And, in the end, the two are not related.

I'm not really ready to stop.  But the thing is, that this isn't about me, it's about him.

I don't want to stop because I don't want to lose that moment of closeness.  I don't want to lose that little face smiling up at me. I don't want to lose that hand, stroking my face.

But there is no reason to continue.  I read, a couple of weeks ago, a post over at The Mule in response to the Time article showing a mother breastfeeding her three year old.  In it, the Mule asked women who were still breastfeeding past one to post their pictures and say why they were still doing it.

And many of them said "There was no reason to stop". 

I commented on that post, because I said that for me there was no reason to continue.    I had spent time trying to find independent, peer-reviewed research to show health benefits for mother and baby in feeding past one.  But I couldn't.  The WHO recommends breast-feeding for two years, but as far as I can gather that's because they are advising the world, and have to take into account water supplies and adequate nutrition, neither of which are, I hope, going to be a problem for M.

I intend no criticism of those who do feed past one, or two, or more.  But I knew, for me, continuing wasn't about M, who really wasn't very bothered at all, but for me, who was.

So I said I'd stop.  But a week, two weeks, later, I was still going.  Still with no reason to carry on other that that I wanted to hang on to that baby closeness for one day more.

And then I read an article in Saturday's Guardian.  It was one of those articles that had me nodding smugly as it went on about the amazingness that is breastmilk - the perfectly designed cocktail of healthy bacteria it contains, the miracle of oligosaccarides, the fact that no-one really knows how it works - look at me, I thought, I'm such a great mother that I am still giving this to my baby.

Until my smug smile was summarily removed.  Because apparently, as well as this wonderful cocktail of perfection, I'm also feeding him all the toxins I'm exposed to.  All the pesticides, the fire-retardants, the plastics and polymer residues.  And more than that, I'm actually using him as a dustbin for them, off-loading them from the fatty tissues in which they are stored into him as fast as I can.

I have no idea how accurate this research is. I don't know if it has been independently funded (by SMA, anyone?!), or if it has been peer reviewed.  But I do know that this is what happens in the food chain, and I find the logic that it is also happening in me sufficiently compelling that I have stopped.

I can find no reason to continue, and now I have a reason to stop.

Just like that.  I gave M his last feed on Tuesday.  And I took its picture for posterity.

And guess what? He's fine with it.  And so will I be.

Monday, 11 June 2012

The small stuff - in print (and maybe live)!

It's one of those little acorns, mighty oaks moments...

I wrote a post, which lots of people loved, which was flattering enough in itself, but then two things happened:

First, Pickle Pie sent me a lovely print of more of my small stuff, which is gracing the wall in my new kitchen as I type!  I love it - and they were brilliant about trying to match up the colours and also putting up with my dithering and mind-changing.  And it's beautifully framed too!.

And now I'm told that one of my posts has been selected for reading at BritMumsLive!.  And although I don't actually know which post it is yet, I can't really imagine it's any one other than this.  And even if I can't go, and I can't do it, that still feels like a big thing from a very small post...

Sunday, 10 June 2012

On embryos and difficult choices

Here's a thought:

You want a baby.  You really want a baby. You've been trying for years. You've had all the invasive tests, answered all the personal questions, bought all the ovulation kits, thermometers and folic acid.  But it's not happening.  In fact the doctors tell you it probably won't happen, not on its own.

The NHS offers you one chance at IVF.  They will pay.  You know you can't afford to go it alone so this is your one chance.  Or you've had your NHS chance and it didn't work, and you have scrimped and saved, and this is your one private chance.  Or you've had four or five goes and the doctors have told you that this is the last attempt.

And in a petri dish (not a test tube) sperm meets egg, and embryos are formed.  And there are lots of lovely healthy ones.  Six, or eight, or ten.  Each one a potential child.

So how many do you put back in?

Obviously you don't want to be octomom, and they wouldn't let you in this country anyway.  But you really, really, want a baby, and you know that the more embryos you put back, the more chance you have of having that baby.

But more embryos also means more likelihood of mulitple births, and you also know that any multiple pregnancy is higher risk. You know that it might mean birth defects, or prematurity, sometimes extreme prematurity, or behavioural difficulties, or, even if everything else is alright, two (or three, or four) tiny babies screaming at you at hourly intervals through the night, or two (or three, or four) teenagers slamming doors and throwing crockery across the room.

A childhood friend and his wife recently went through IVF. They had two embryos put back. One split.  They had triplets at 24 weeks.  Two are still alive, but struggling.  We are optimistic, but there are many hurdles to overcome, and the likelihood is that one, or both, may have ongoing health issues.

So how many do you put back in?

I don't know.  I've never had to make that call, and am very grateful, on many levels, for that fact.

But NICE, the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence is contemplating reducing the number of embryos that can be transferred in order to reduce the number of multiple births, to protect the health of both mothers and babies.  They have published a consultation document, and are asking stakeholders to comment.  TAMBA, the Twins and Multiple Births Association, has, in turn, asked its members, of which I am one, for their thoughts.

I adore my twins. I wouldn't be without them.  But they were healthy, and my pregnancy was healthy, and I had no element of choice about conceiving them anyway.

But if I had, how many would I have put back in?  I don't know. And I don't envy the people who have to decide.

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

When worlds collide

Did you have a brilliant long weekend?

We did.  We got sun, too! Lots of it.  Lots of fun as well, with lots of lovely friends staying - six adults and eight children in total.  It's what we wanted this house to be when we bought it, and it lived up to every expectation.

But now it's over.  Which means I'm looking at the next big social event in my calendar.

Which is, or is supposed to be BritMumsLive (spaces or no spaces, incidentally?). 

Only that's my virtual life. And in my real one that Friday is, I was told last week, L's last official day at nursery, with prize giving and presentation.  And I'm her mummy, and that will only happen once.

And it's not just that.  We've been invited to a lunch on the Sunday (with train times I can't be back here until mid-afternoon) and a big party on the Saturday. They'll be fun, undoubtedly, but it's more than that. We're still, slightly, two years in, finding our feet socially - sizing people up as potential friends, edging our way into circles and cliques, making our mark - and so turning down chances to meet more people and perhaps make new friends seems a mistake.

But that's my real life, and my real world.  What about the virtual one?  What about the fact that the agenda looks really interesting, and, more, that this is my chance to make other real friends, out of the virtual ones I already have?

What about the fact that I've bought a ticket, and am booked on a train?

What would you do?